eluding our idols: twenty questions on 1 John 2.28-3.12

This coming Sunday (Jan. 11) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue in a study entitled Eluding Our Idols. It’s a close look at what’s commonly known as John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John). To help you get ready for this encounter with Scripture and our discussion of it, you’ll find the following below: (a) the text of 1 John 2.28-3.12 and (b) twenty questions and exercises to go along with this reading.

receiving this word

And now, little children, remain in relationship to Jesus, so that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed in front of him when he comes. If you know that he is righteous, you also know that every person who practices righteousness is born from him.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us.

Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure. Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him.

Little children, don’t let anyone deceive you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous. The person who practices sin belongs to the devil, because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. God’s Son appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil. Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning, because God’s offspring remain in him; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been fathered by God. That is how it is clear who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: everyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, particularly the person who doesn’t love their brother or sister. This is the message that you heard from the beginning: love each other. Don’t behave like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he kill him? He killed him because his own works were evil, but the works of his brother were right. (1 John 2.28-3.12 CEB)

wrestling with this word

1. What exactly does it mean to “remain in relationship to Christ?” (2.28a) How might this call have been especially challenging to John’s original audience? How is it challenging to us today?

2. How real to you is the prospect of Christ’s future appearance? (2.28b)

3. What gives us the ability to delight in, not dread, Christ’s coming appearance? (2.28b)

4. How is 2.29 a rebuke to those who left? How is it confidence/motivation to those who stayed?

5. What descriptors or declarations in Scripture speak deeply to you of God’s love for you (3.1a)?

6. Since the world rejected Christ, should Christians expect/seek, better treatment by it (3.1b)?

7. “… we’ll see him as he is.” (3.2b) What is John telling us we’ll see God to be?

8. How is our holiness fed and fueled by hope (3.3)?

9. “… sin is rebellion.” (3.4) What does this tell you about sin? About you? About God?

10. Why is sin not to be trifled with? (3.5-6) What sin(s) have been called out thus far in 1 John?

11. “… don’t let anyone deceive you.” (3.7a) How can a person grow to become less deceivable?

12. What does John mean in 3.7b? What does he not mean?

13. A person belongs to the one they serve. (3.8a) Thoughts?

14. Christ came to destroy the devil’s work. (3.8b) How exactly did he do that?

15. Is John saying Christians can mature to such a point that they cease to sin? (3.9) Explain.

16. Compare 3.10 with 2.9-11. How are these texts similar? In what ways do they differ?

17. Which archery target ring is labeled “do right?” Which is labeled “do right by others?” (3.10b)

18. Why is it just so plain difficult at times for Christians to just love each other? (3.10b-11)

19. Why did God reject Cain’s sacrifice? Was it about his offering or his life? (3.12; cf. Gen. 4.7)

20. What lessons does John expect his readers to glean from the Cain and Abel account (3.12)?

LIFE group guide: the forgotten verse

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow night (April 14). This guide will enable your follow-up in our LIFE groups of my sermon tomorrow morning from Philippians 3.8-11: The Forgotten Verse. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.

Aim

To examine familiar Scripture more closely, so as to correct common misunderstandings.

Word

… I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3.8b-11)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Complete this sentence: “If someone went through my garbage bags each week, they’d likely be surprised as to just how much ________ I throw away.”

2. Tell us about one of your great “glory” moments in life, or, if you prefer, one of your experiences of profound “humiliation.” Be silly or serious, either one.

3. Tell us of some “good trade” you’ve made in life; a time you truly “traded up.”

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Compare different English translations of the phrase “sewer trash” (vs. 8). What other renderings do you find used?

2. What is a Christian’s righteousness, or if you please, where does it come from?

3. What does it mean to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection (vs. 10)?

4. What does it mean to participate in Christ’s sufferings (vs. 10)?

5. From this text, make a list of everything Paul experiences, or wants to experience, in Christ (vs. 8-11).

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. What has following Christ cost you, that upon looking back, you’re glad you lost?

2. What does it mean to you to know that as a Christian, your righteousness is not really your own, but that of another, given to you?

3. Paul said he had a righteousness “that does not come from the Law” (vs. 9). In what ways have you attempted (or seen other Christians attempt) to “get your righteousness” from sources other than Christ himself?

4. Do you face anything that tempts you on a continual basis to renounce the superior value of Christ? That is, is there anything you sense tugging at you all the time to leave Christ and live life with it, and without him?

5. You’re talking with someone who is yet to believe and they say to you: “I often hear Christians talk about ‘knowing God’ or ‘knowing Christ.’ What does it mean to ‘know Jesus?’” How would you reply?

6. What consistently underscores in your mind the superior value of knowing Christ?

the wisdom of peace

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Oct. 30). This guide will enable your follow-up of the sermon that I’ll preach, God willing, that morning from James 3:13-18. You’ll find these LIFE group discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title LIFE group guides.

Aim

To appreciate God’s peace as we live by his wisdom and how wise it is to live in his peace.

Word

“Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. … (17) What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. (18) Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.” (James 3:13,17-18 CEB)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to simply get us all talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Recount a funny instance of your knuckleheadedness when you failed to use “wisdom.”

2. One thing I do to try and bring peace in a tense situation is to __________.

Dig

These questions are intended to help us grapple directly with the sermon’s primary Scripture text.

1. We’re to have a humble lifestyle (vs. 13). In context, what would such a lifestyle look like?

2. How would everything change if the wisdom from above was not “pure?” (vs. 17a)

3. Compare the wording of the seven qualities of pure wisdom from above (vs. 17) in several different English translations. What variation in wording do you notice?

4. Pick a word from vs. 17 and explain how such is crucial to forming or keeping peace.

5. Substitute the phrase “right relationships between people” for the word “justice” in vs. 18. How does this help you understand James’ point with this whole passage?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word.

1. God is what he expects of us. Recount an instance in the life of Jesus Christ that depicts him living out each of the seven qualities mentioned in vs. 17.

2. Would you say there can be wisdom in a church without peace? How about real peace without wisdom? How do you think James would answer those two questions?

3. What sort of things would you expect to be common in a church that was well exercised in the seven qualities enumerated in vs. 17? What would you expect to be hard to find?

4. James points to the seven qualities in vs. 17 as distinctives of true heavenly wisdom. What would you say the church today tends to emphasize as her “wisdom distinctives?” How does the list you come up with differ from the list here in James?

5. James says the experience of peace among Christians doesn’t just happen, rather, it is the result of deliberate effort. It’s like the work of a farmer (“sow … seeds of justice;” vs. 18). What qualities must a farmer exhibit when planting seed and expecting a harvest? How are those qualities necessary for the work of planting seeds of peace?

6. As a group, recite and practice the last sentence of vs. 17 until you have it memorized.

7. Pick one of the seven qualities in vs. 17 that you would say best completes the following sentence: “If I was truly wise, I would personally work hard at becoming more __________.”

God’s friend

So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. (James 2:23-24 CEB)

Today’s devotional consists of an exercise, some reflection, and a question.

The exercise
Brainstorm a list of what it means for you to be a truly close friend to someone. Then, having created that list, refine it by applying that list to what it means to be counted as a friend of God.

Some reflection
The friendship spoken of that Abraham enjoyed with God included, among other things, the fact that God had required of Abraham to slay his son as a sacrifice to him. True enough, God stayed Abraham’s mind and hand in the matter at the crucial moment, but nonetheless, the fact remains. Clearly, to be counted as God’s “friend” involves much, much more than warm, fuzzy feelings between the parties involved and doing a few good things on any given day of the week.

A question
Are you, like Abraham, “God’s friend?”

This is how Scripture itself was made complete when it said Abraham believed God and God considered him truly ‘righteous.’ Even more so, God called Abraham his ‘friend.’ Just having faith in God doesn’t do it. It’s obvious now that being right with God demands your follow-through with faith. (James 2:23-24 DSV)

In the name of Jesus, Father and Friend, may I come to truer and truer trust in, temperament toward, and tradition with you, without tremendous test and trial from you, I pray. But Father, do bring whatever is necessary. Your will be done. Amen.

journey through James (13): twenty questions on James 2:14-26

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 2:14-26. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: replacing the emptiness of foolishness with the fullness of faithfulness. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. (James 2:14-26 CEB)

1. What statement in this passage is most striking to you? Why?

2. Make a list of what this passage specifically says faith without faithful activity is good for or like.

3. “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.” (vs.15) What does this passage have to say about the common teaching today known as the “health and wealth gospel” (i.e. prosperity gospel, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, etc.)?

4. Who is responsible for meeting the physical needs of the Christian poor?

5. What other passages in James come to mind when you read the illustration of benevolence? (vs.15-16)

6. “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (vs. 16) What are some modern, roughly equivalent statements you use when you say something to, but do nothing for, someone you see in need?

7. “Faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (vs. 17), but is faith necessarily alive when there is activity? Suppose a very active Christian friend confides in you that while they’re doing many good things in Christ’s name, their faith in Christ has faded and at times even appears to be nonexistent. They’re deeply troubled by this. In light of this passage in James, what can you say to them?

8. How are you guilty of sometimes hoping for or expecting faith to be seen without your actions (vs.18)?

9. To what does James have reference and what does he mean by the phrase “God is one?” (vs.19a)

10. Should we, as Christians, “tremble” as the demons do (vs.19b)? Why or why not? As you answer, consider the fact that this is the occurrence in the NT of the Greek word translated here as “tremble”.

11. Aside from James’ statement here that “the demons believe …” (vs.19), what other NT texts would lead you to believe such?

12. “… faith without actions has no value at all.” (vs. 20b) Honestly, is there a part of you that disagrees with this statement? Why or why not?

13. Are you “righteous?” Are you “God’s friend?” (vs.23) Interact at heart level with these statements.

14. Recount as much as you can of the story of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar. Having done so, compare your recollection with the Biblical account in Genesis 22. What parts did you leave out, forget, or get wrong?

15. As you did with the preceding question, do the same with the account of Rahab receiving the spies (Joshua 2).

16. Compare and contrast Abraham (vs.21-24) and Rahab (vs.25).

17. Many Biblical personalities expressed obvious faith again and again. And so, of all the personalities James could have drawn from, and of all the incidents in their lives, why do you suppose he selected Abraham and Rahab to drive home his point that faith without works is dead? What personalities would you have selected and what incidents in their lives?

18. Some say what James says here about faith contradicts what Paul says about faith in Romans and Galatians. What is your impression?

19. Responding from this passage, how would you respond to someone who read this passage and said, “So then, if a person does what’s good, God owes them salvation?”

20. “What good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?” (vs.14) In what areas of your life do you keenly sense you need to do a better job of showing your faith? How can we pray for you in these areas?

journey through James (10): twenty questions on James 1:19-27

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 1:19-27. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: “welcoming your working out of his will and word.” To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.

You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.

If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. (James 1:19-27 CEB)

1. Build a list of all the contrasts or opposites that you pick up on in this passage.

2. From vs.19-27, list the things in which we often “blow it,” be it by doing wrong or leaving good undone.

3. Brainstorm a list of reasons as to “why” Christians should do the specific things mentioned in vs.19, reasons other than the one specifically mentioned in vs.20.

4. Of the three matters named in vs.19, which would you say you’re best at? Worst at? Why?

5. Given these Christian’s specific tests and temptations (vs.2-18), what sort of moral filth (vs.21), growth in wickedness (vs.21) or reckless speech (vs.26) can you imagine coming out of them? What link might caring for orphans and widows and steering clear of worldly contamination (vs.27b) have as well?

6. “… man’s temper is never the means of achieving God’s true goodness.” (1:20 Phillips) How do Christians sometimes confuse or equate their not-so-righteous anger with doing the right thing by God?

7. What could happen if we did all the good described here (vs.19-27), but did it without “humility” (vs.21)?

8. How is it that the word is able to “save” Christians? (vs.21b)

9. In what ways do we Christians tend to make “big talk,” but are small on delivery? (vs.22-24)

10. What in this text (vs.19-27) says to you that “forgetfulness” (vs.24) is more than “memory lapses?”

11. If someone “studies” the perfect law (vs.25), what are they doing to “welcome the word” (vs.21)?

12. How is it that what we’re bound to – “the perfect law, the law of freedom” (vs.25) – actually frees us up?

13. Aside from verbal encouragement (vs.22-25), what can a church do to help its members turn their beliefs into real action?

14. In your own words, sum up the three things James has warned us about being misled (vs.16-17,22,26)?

15. We live by “law” (vs.25). Given the context, why might it be important to use this specific word, “law?”

16. What are some of the blessings you’ve seen solid Christians enjoy (vs.25b) because they “walk the talk?”

17. What connect do you see between knowing God as our “Father” and what follows that description? (vs.27)

18. “True devotion” consists of much more than the two matters James mentions in vs.27. Given the context of their tests and temptations, why do you suppose James chose these two items to note?

19. Using only this text, what can we do to actively “keep the world from contaminating us?” (vs.27b)

20. What other passages in the Bible come to your mind as you read this passage (vs.19-27)?

Christ is the goal

“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire is for Israel’s salvation. That’s my prayer to God for them. I can vouch for them: they are enthusiastic about God. However, it isn’t informed by knowledge. They don’t submit to God’s righteousness because they don’t understand his righteousness, and they try to establish their own righteousness. For Christ is the goal of the Law, which leads to righteousness for all who have faith in God.” (Romans 10:1-4 CEB)

It’s a common thought in our times to equate the security of our soul’s relationship with God to the enthusiasm we feel in our heart and the energy we sense in our spirit. That is, the thinking is such that if we’re really on fire about what we believe about God, then there really can’t be any question about whether or not it’s true or if we’re pleasing God. It’s a forgone conclusion. It’s a given. We are righteous because we’re zealous. Passion equals God’s possession. Zeal means we’ve got a tight deal with God.

This passage then surely becomes one of the most sobering of texts in all of Paul’s letters. For here Paul tells us it is possible to be “enthusiastic about God” and simultaneously “not understand his righteousness.” It is quite possible – indeed, was true for a great many – to be “zealous for God” and yet not be “saved.”

Worship is more than a feeling. Being right with God isn’t about how I feel about it, but about God’s declaration of it. Christ is our goal, not intensity of emotion. The depth and intensity of my spirituality cannot be rightly measured by simply weighing how worked I am at a given moment.

No, it’s all about whether Jesus Christ is truly at the center of my life. Only first place for him will do. Second place, or any other place, only makes me an idolater and a seeker of my own sort of righteousness. To know God, that is, have a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with him through Jesus Christ, is the only road to rights standing with God and rescue from Satan, sin and self.

God my Father, in a world full of things to desensitize me to life, it’s tempting at times to see real passion or zeal as the litmus test of all things genuine. When my mind is numbed by all that is, it’s attractive to see genuine feeling as the guiding light to what is in fact truth. But you tell me otherwise. You tell me you are light and your Son is the light of this world. So may you and your Son be my excitement and may my desire to be excited and energetic never lead me away from you. May I not set up “Enthusiasm” as my god and leave you behind. For I pray in your Son’s name. Amen.