Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together: Worship
IA. A Bible Study on Worship
1B. The Nature of True Worship to God
1C. Deuteronomy 10:20-21
10:20 Revere the Lord your God, serve him, cleave to him and take oaths only in his name. 10:21 He is the object of your praise and your God, the one who has done these great and awesome things for you that you have seen.
2C. Joshua 24:15
24:15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!”
3C. Deuteronomy 12:4
12:4 You must not worship the Lord your God the way they worship.
4C. 1 Chronicles 16:29
16:9 Sing to him! Make music to him! Reflect on all his miraculous deeds! 16:10 Boast about his holy name! Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!.
5C. Isaiah 29:13
29:13 The sovereign master says, “These people say they are loyal to me; they say wonderful things about me, but they are not really loyal to me. Their worship consists of nothing but man-made ritual.
6C. John 4:23-24
4:23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 4:24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
7C. Acts 13:2
13:2 While they were serving (i.e., worshipping) the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
8C. Acts 26:7
26:6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, 26:7 a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve God night and day.
9C. Philippians 3:3
3:3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials.
10C. Hebrews 12:28
12:28 So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. 12:29 For our God is indeed a devouring fire.
11C. Questions for Thought
1. In Deuteronomy 10:20-21, what do you think it means “to revere” the Lord God? What is the relationship between “revering” God and “serving” him? What does it mean to “cleave” to God? How do Paul’s words in Philippians 3:7-11ff. help explain this?
2. According to Joshua 24:15, human beings generally have no problem finding something to worship. But what does Joshua command the Israelites to do? What are some reasons why it is important to “choose” whom you will worship?
3. What does Deuteronomy 12:4 teach us about worshipping God? Answer: There is a right way and there are many wrong ways. Read the context to understand this a bit more.
4. What does 1 Chronicles 16:29 add to our understanding of worshipping God?
5. What does Isaiah 29:13 and John 4:23-24 teach about the worship of God? What do you think Jesus means by “truth” and why is important to God that we be concerned about truth in obedience and worship and not just mindlessly following man-made rules?
6. Notice the relationship between “serving” God and “worshipping” Him in the passages from Acts (i.e., 13:2; 26:7). Why do the two concepts stand so closely related? What else can you learn about worship from these passages?
7. Who is the one who enables us to worship in Phil 3:3? How is the worship of God in Phil 3:3 related to the idea of rejoicing or exulting in Christ Jesus?
2B. True Worship and Serving God
1C. Jeremiah 22:8-9
22:8 “‘People from other nations will pass by this city. They will ask one another, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?” 22:9 And the answer will come back, “It is because they quit following their agreement with the Lord their God and worshiped and served other gods.”
2C. Jeremiah 25:6
25:6 Do not pay allegiance to other gods and worship and serve them. Do not make me angry by the things that you do. Then I won’t cause you any harm.’
3C. Daniel 3:28
3:28 Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent forth his angel and has delivered his servants who trusted in him, ignoring the edict of the king and giving up their bodies rather than serve or worship any god other than their God!
4C. Jonah 2:8
2:8 Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.
5C. Matthew 6:24
6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
6C. Romans 12:1
12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service (i.e., worship).
7C. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
1:9 For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.
8C. Questions for Thought
1. Faithfulness to God’s commands is very important to him; true worship without obedience is an empty notion. What does Jeremiah 22:8-9 teach us about this? You may need to read the context a bit to answer this. Read Jeremiah 25:6 in the same light.
2. To what extent were Daniel and his friends willing to go in order to remain faithful to God? How is this a demonstration of genuine worship?
3. According to Jonah 2:8, what happens to us when we turn from sincere, true, and devout worship to the false worship of idols, i.e., idols of wood or any other idol, including money, position, sex, prestige, etc? Why is this a travesty?
4. Why is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:24 so difficult for many of us who live in North America? (NB: Jesus is not saying that some people worship and some do not. No, the truth of the matter is that all people worship; the question, then, is what or whom you worship, not “if.”
5. What is the foundation of our worship of God according to Romans 12:1? What does this text communicate about the cost involved in truly worshipping God? What kind of lives do we seek to live in order to express our single-minded devotion and worship of God? Relate this passage to Daniel 3:28.
6. What is the difference between idols, whether made of wood or not (e.g., power, money, sex) and God in 1 Thessalonians 1:9? How does truly worshipping God relate to “wait[ing] for his Son from heaven…”?
3B. The Conscience of the True Worshipper
1C. 2 Timothy 1:3
1:3 I am thankful to God, whom I have served with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I remember you in my prayers as I do constantly night and day.
2C. Hebrews 9:14
9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.
3C. Hebrews 10:2
10:2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin?
4C. Questions for Thought
1. How important is the conscience in the worship of God? Read 2 Timothy 1:3 and Hebrews 9:14. See also Acts 16:24. What happens to our faith and ability to trust God if we allow our consciences to be stained and defiled by sin?
2. In Hebrews 9:14 and 10:2 how has the cross of Christ made provision for guilty consciences and purification? Is there anything the Lord is speaking to you about through your conscience? Why do you think it is important to have your conscience educated through scripture study, prayer, faithfulness in meaningful relationships, and godly counsel?
4B. Examples of True and False Worship
1C. 1 Samuel 15:22-23
15:22 Then Samuel said, “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams.
2C. Matthew 15:9
15:8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, 15:9 and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
3C. Revelation 4:9-11
4:9 And whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the one who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 4:10 the twenty-four elders throw themselves to the ground before the one who sits on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever, and they offer their crowns before his throne, saying: 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, since you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created!”
4C. Revelation 15:4
15:4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.
5C. Questions for Thought
1. What does God think about those who claim to worship him yet consistently pay no regard to His word? Read 1 Samuel 15:22ff. We learned in Hebrews 9 and 10 that God has made provision for the guilt of sin in the death of his son, but we cannot knowingly persist in disobedience for it gives evidence of an unregenerate heart. We are to cleave to him in trust.
2. We already looked at Matthew 15:9 above. What does the passage mean when it says “they worship me in vain”?
3. Why does John in Rev 4:9-11 repeat the fact that God “lives forever and ever” in a context of worship? Why do you think that’s an important emphasis? What do the twenty-four elders do and what do they proclaim about God?
4. What does Revelation 15:4 say about God? What does the word “holy” mean? How would you relate this to God’s love? (Some Christians never seem to bring those two ideas together very well. Why do you suppose this is so?)
5B. Judgement for False Worship
1C. Acts 7:42
7:42 But God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘It was not to me that you offered slain animals and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, house of Israel?
2C. Acts 17:23
17:22 So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 17:23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.
3C. Romans 1:25-26
1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions.
4C. 1 Corinthians 10:14, 22
10:14 So then, my dear friends, flee from idolatry…10:22 Or are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we really stronger than he is?
5C. Questions for Thought
1. In Acts 7:42 what does Stephen say God did to those who really wanted to worship creation rather than the creator? How does this relate to Paul’s comments in Romans 1:23-25 as well as the gross ignorance and idolatry of the men of the Areopagus in Acts 17:22?
2. What does Paul say about God’s response to his children when they wander into any form of idolatry? In 1 Corinthians 10:14 what are we commanded to do with respect to idolatry? If you are convinced by the Lord that something you’re doing is idolatrous, what would it look like for you to flee? What kind of pressures keep you from fleeing? How does genuine faith in God play a key role in forsaking an idol(s)?
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
Meditate on the material using the questions that are listed as well as any others you think of. Begin the process of relating passages one to another in order to begin to understand the flow of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.
Restate the main emphasis of the Bible’s teaching on worship in a single sentence.
Relate the Bible’s teaching on worship, then, to other doctrines that you know in the Bible. Try and “see-things-together” in order to form a consistent whole. Be careful not to water down passages in order to make a nice synthetic statement; let each passage speak on its own (i.e., from its own context first). Also relate the passage to your life theoretically. Ask yourself what your life would look like if you began to apply some of these scriptural truths.
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. Ask God to give you a perfect heart toward him and strength to focus on him.
2D. Worship Him in music and praise.
3D. Memorize two verses on worship. Meditate on them and draw strength for worshipping God in spirit and truth.
4D. Practice the presence of God for five minutes without allowing your mind to get sidetracked. Use a psalm to help.
5D. Offer all your work and service as worship to the Lord.
2C. Special Applications
1D. Attend a weekend praise conference.
2D. Attend a conference or course that deals with the meaning and centrality of worship in the healthy Christian life.
3C. Training Objectives and Activities
Objective: The disciple will understand that all of life is to be viewed as worship to the Lord and they will deal with any “idols” in their life by confessing and renouncing them (i.e., turn away from them to worship God) in their thoughts, attitudes, and habits.
1D. Share the blessings of extended times of worship with the new Christian.
2D. Worship the Lord together in prayer and music.
3D. Help the new believer secure music which helps him to worship and which is Biblically accurate and Christ-centered.
4D. Talk about the dangers of moving away from the heartfelt and sincere worship of God alone.
5D. Talk about the dangers of idolatry in its myriad of forms and how it deadens the heart toward God.
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Quiet Time
IA. A Bible Study on the Quiet Time
1B. The Needs of Man
1C. Pre-Fall: Man’s Need to Hear from God and Fellowship with Him
1D. Genesis 1:28-30
1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground. 1:29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. It was so.
2D. Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17
2:8 The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. 2:9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.)…2:15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for and maintain it. 2:16 Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, 2:17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.”
3D. Questions for Thought
1. Why do you think it was necessary for God to speak to Adam and Eve before the Fall? Weren’t they holy at that time?
2. To what areas of life does God speak in Genesis 1:28-30? How does that relate to today?
3. God’s word in Genesis 1:28-30 is a pronouncement of blessing and the issuing of certain commands. What new element is added to God’s word of command in Genesis 2:17? What does this teach you about hearing and listening to God’s word?
4. The words of God in Genesis presuppose that man has a relationship with God and can respond in that context. Why is a regular Quiet Time important in that light?
2C. Post-Fall: Man’s Need to Hear from God and Fellowship with Him
1D. Genesis 3:8
3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard.
2D. Verbal Revelation, Events, Theophanies, Visions, Jesus Christ
God has revealed himself in a diversity of ways according to (and in) Scripture. Hebrews 1:3 says that God spoke in times past in “many ways and in diverse manners.” He spoke directly with Adam and Eve, with Noah and with Abraham, for example. He also manifested himself through many different events, the primary one being the exodus of his people from Egypt (Exodus 12-15). Further, there were times throughout the OT that he revealed himself through theophanies, i.e., visible and audible manifestations (e.g., Genesis 18:1-2; Exodus 3:1-3), dreams (Genesis 28:10-17; 37:5-11; Daniel 2) and visions (Gen 15:1; 1 Chron 17:15; Acts 10). Supremely he has revealed himself in the incarnation (John 1:1, 14-18).
3D. Questions for Thought
1. What does Genesis 3:8 teach you about God’s desire to be with his people?
2. How do Adam and Eve respond to God’s presence after they’ve sinned, i.e., knowingly broke a commandment of God? What does it mean to try and hide from an omniscient and omnipresent God (cf. Jer 23:24)? How do we typically respond to God’s word and presence when we experience guilt for sin (cf. Jonah 1:1-3)? What do we need to do in this case (1 John 1:9)? How can a regular Quiet Time help with this (John 13:9-10)?
3. God has revealed himself in a great number of ways in the past. What does this teach you about Him? How has he finally and decisively revealed himself and what record do we have of that? How is the record itself (i.e., the Bible) a revelation from God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)? How does this last truth relate to a Quiet Time and hearing God’s voice?
2B. Examples of Godly Men
1C. Moses (Exodus 33:7-11)
33:7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. And anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp. 33:8 And when Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up and stand at the entrance to their tents, and they would watch Moses until he entered the tent. 33:9 And whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 33:10 When all the people would see the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people, each one at the entrance of his tent, would rise and worship. 33:11 And the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And then Moses would return to the camp; but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent.
2C. David (Psalm 63:6)
63:6 whenever I remember you on my bed, and think about you during the nighttime hours.
3C. Daniel (Daniel 6:10)
6:10 When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously.
4C. The Early Church (Acts 2:42)
2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
5C. Peter (Acts 3:1; 10:9)
3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time for prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
10:9 About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.
6C. Paul (Acts 16:16)
16:16 Now as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means. She brought her owners a great profit by fortune-telling.
7C. Questions for Thought
1. According to Exodus 33:7-11 Moses enjoyed great privilege before God and frequent access to his thrilling presence. But through Christ we now live in the holy of holies, through his Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-25). God will speak to us “face to face” through his word if we draw aside and humbly accept his word to us (James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1-3). This is great motivation for investing the effort to seek God in a Quiet Time.
2. In Psalm 63:6, when did David think about God? Following his example, what could you do along similar lines?
3. What drove Daniel with passion to be alone with God and seek his face? Was this a one time thing for Daniel? What things in your life is God using to bring you to himself in a meaningful and radical way? What things in your culture cause you to want to go to God and seek his guidance? Are you letting him have his way? Meet with him to discern what’s going on in your life and the lives of those around you. Let the Quiet Time with God be the center of your relationship with him and out of that minister love to those in need in your circle of influence. Think of the Quiet Time as a chance to spend time with someone you love.
4. What four elements were essential in the early church’s meetings? How much better would our local church involvement be if throughout the week we sought God on a daily and regular basis?
5. NOTE: Sometimes God will reveal extremely important things to you as you meditate on his word and pray. Of course, he revealed the “inclusion of the Gentiles into the church” to Peter through a vision (Peter sought him in prayer and God revealed his will). He may do that sort of thing for you, but again his primary method (not the only method, however; for God also uses the people of God and circumstances) for leading and guiding his people is through marrying His inspired word (i.e., Scripture) to our hearts and consciences through his indwelling Spirit.
6. In Acts 16:16 Luke says that Paul and he were going to find a place of prayer. It is clear that Paul and Luke understood that seeking God must be done on a regular basis. It is indeed a habit of holiness. How does this relate to your life and the discipline of Quiet Time?
3B. The Example of Jesus
1C. Mark 1:35
1:35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer.
2C. Matthew 4:4
4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
3C. Matthew 14:23/Mark 6:46
14:23 And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
4C. Luke 5:15-16
5:15 But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds were gathering together to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. 5:16 Yet Jesus himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.
5C. Luke 6:12
6:12 Now it was during this time that he went out to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God.
6C. Luke 9:18
9:18 Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and his disciples were nearby, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
7C. Luke 11:1
11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
8C. Questions for Thought
1. What does Mark 1:35 teach you about Jesus’ need to be with the Father and his phenomenal commitment to ensure that he was? Read earlier in Mark 1 and describe the context of Mark 1:35. Busy-ness is a part of living in our society, but we must take steps, as best we can, to ensure that his word does not get choked out of our lives.
2. In Joshua 1:8 the Lord told Joshua that success in his obedience and ministry before the Lord was tied to his meditation on the word of God. In Matthew 4:4 what does Jesus say about that Word? What is the context of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 4:1-11? Quiet Time is a good place to practice the presence of God through meditation on his word.
3. What does Matthew 14:23 and especially Luke 5:15-16 and 6:12 say about Jesus and his relationship with God? Why do you think Jesus prayed so much? What does that seem to imply about our relationship with God?
4. What occurred as a result of Jesus praying so often? Read Luke 11:1.
4B. A Practical Suggestion
I suggest not trying to read through the Bible in one year in your Quiet Time. This means reading three of four chapters at a time and most people take quite a long time to do that. Rather, read a psalm or a paragraph in the Gospels or Paul and meditate on that. See if there are Sins to forsake, Promises to claim, Errors to avoid, Examples to follow, something new about God (the Father, Son, or Spirit). Pray before reading the passage and then pray while reading through it. After you have done this, worship and adore the Lord in praise and prayer (using music is helpful). Then pray for your various concerns including job, family, friends, etc.
The entire Quiet Time could take 10 minutes or 30 or more; the goal is to know and honor God and benefit your spiritual life and growth. For further help on studying and understanding the Bible, see my “How To Study A Book of the Bible” at the website: www.bible.org.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. To have a Quiet Time each day.
2D. To establish a Bible reading program to use in your Quiet Time.
3D. To practice the habit of writing in a journal.
4D. To be able to help another have a consistent Quiet Time.
5D. To have one Quiet Time a week with your spouse.
2C. Special Applications
1D. To organize a weekend retreat focusing on and practicing Quiet Time.
2D. To read a book devoted to this subject.
3C. Training Objective and Activities
Objective: to help the new believer establish the daily habit of drawing aside to hear from God and fellowship with Him (1 Cor 1:9).
1D. Have one Quiet Time together each week for a predetermined period of time.
2D. Share your Quiet Time blessings with a new believer.
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Fasting
IA. A Bible Study on Fasting
1B. The Nature of True and False Fasting
1C. Isaiah 58:1-9a
58:1 “Shout loudly! Don’t be quiet! Yell as loud as a trumpet! Confront my people with their rebellious deeds; confront Jacob’s family with their sin! 58:2 They seek me day after day; they want to know my requirements, like a nation that does what is right and does not reject the law of their God. They ask me for just decrees; they want to be near God. 58:3 They lament, ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers. 58:4 Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fist fights. Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven. 58:5 Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people just humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the Lord? 58:6 No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. 58:7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! 58:8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and the Lord’s splendor will be your rear guard. 58:9 Then you will call out, and the Lord will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you.
2C. Jeremiah 14:12
14:12 Even if they fast, I will not hear their cries for help. And even if they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will kill them through wars, famines, and plagues.”
3C. Zechariah 7:1-5
7:1 In King Darius’s fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. 7:2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melech and their companions to seek the Lord’s favor 7:3 by asking the priests of the sovereign Lord’s temple and the prophets, “Should we weep in the fifth month, fasting as we have done over the years?” 7:4 The word of the sovereign Lord then came to me, 7:5 “Speak to all the people and priests of the land as follows: ‘When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months through all these seventy years, did you truly fast for me—for me, indeed?
4C. Matthew 6:16-18
6:16 “When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 6:17 When you fast put oil on your head and wash your face 6:18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
5C. Luke 18:11-12
18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’
6C. Questions for Thought
1. What does Israel want from God in Isaiah 58:1-2? What is the connection between fasting and desiring to “hear” from God regarding his will and the establishment of justice?
2. If God does not condemn them for their fasting, what does he nonetheless say? What are some of the sins they were committing while they were fasting and what did God say about it?
3. What does this passage from Isaiah 58 teach you about God, his requirement of holiness, the human heart, and fasting?
4. The Israelites were fasting in order to have their voice heard in heaven. This is a good thing, but not when it is done in a hypocritical fashion; God will not tolerate this kind of foolishness. As Paul says, “let us call on the Lord with a pure heart…” (2 Tim 2:22).
5. If we do fast with a pure and single-minded heart (cf. Matt 6:16), dealing ruthlessly with known sin (after all, Paul did say to put it to death) by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:13), and returning kindness and justice in our land, what is God’s promise to the church in Isaiah 58:8-9?
6. Read the context of Jeremiah 14:12 (e.g., chapter 14). How does this passage relate to that in Isaiah 58? How serious is God about our sin? What does God promise the nation of Israel after he had disciplined them and they repented (see Jer 31:31-33)? What does he promise us as well (see 1 John 1:9)?
7. When we fast (not “if” we fast) what is a question we must keep before us according to Zechariah 7:5?
8. According to Matthew 6:16-18 who is the One we are truly seeking when we fast? What does God promise us if we fast only to please him?
9. In Luke 18:11-12 what is the problem Jesus has with the Pharisee’s fasting? It was certainly not that he was fasting, per se, for even in the new wine of the kingdom there is a need for fasting until the consummation and our reuniting with the bridegroom (Matt 9:14-17)? But, Jesus says that in light of his coming, fasting must be done in the present experience of the kingdom and with the power of the Spirit (see below).
2B. The Church and Fasting
1C. Matthew 9:14-17—New Fasting in Light of Jesus’ Return to the Father
9:14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” 9:15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast. 9:16 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse. 9:17 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins will burst and the wine will pour out and the skins will be destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
2C. Luke 11:20/17:20-37—The “Now/Not-Yet” of Kingdom Experience
11:20 But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come on you.
17:20 Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 17:21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”17:22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 17:23 Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. 17:24 For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 17:26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 17:27 People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 17:28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 17:29 but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 17:30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 17:31 On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back. 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife! 17:33 Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. 17:34 I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 17:35 There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” 17:37 Then the disciples said to him, “Where, Lord?” He replied to them, “Where the dead body is, there the vultures will gather.”
3C. Colossians 2:16, 20-23—Fasting Not Merely Asceticism
2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days…2:20 If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? 2:21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” 2:22 These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. 2:23 They have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility, by an unsparing treatment of the body, but they are thoroughly useless when it comes to restraining the indulgences of the flesh.
4C. 1 Timothy 4:1-5—Food Is Good
4:1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 4:2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared. 4:3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4:4 For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 4:5 For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
5C. Questions for Thought
1. What does Jesus say about fasting in Matthew 9:14-17? Does he say that his disciples will fast when he departs? What then can he mean when he says “no one pours new wine into old wine skins”? He cannot mean that fasting is no longer necessary since that makes v. 15 virtually unintelligible. He must be referring to a new and better way of fasting, i.e., fasting and mourning for his return and the full realization of the kingdom. It is acceptable to fast for Messiah’s coming in any situation, whether for his first advent, as in the case of John the Baptist, or in the hope of his second coming, as in our case today. But it is not necessary to fast while he is here, and that is what John’s disciples misunderstood and the Pharisees rejected.
2. What do you learn about the kingdom of God in Luke 11:20? Was it present in Jesus’ ministry? So Jesus (and Paul; Col 1:13-14) spoke about the inaugural form of the kingdom and the coming of the Spirit (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14).
3. What does Jesus say about the kingdom in Luke 17:20-37? This passage refers to a future consummation of the kingdom—a greater and permanent realization of its presence, power, and transforming nature—at the return of Christ. See Matthew 8:10-11; Rom 8:23.
4. Read Colossians 2:16, 20-23 and describe the problem in Colossae. Relate this to what you have learned about fasting. Do the same with 1 Timothy 4:1-5. What are some dangers to be avoided here?
3B. The Purpose and Blessing of Fasting
1C. To Seek God with all Our Hearts and Minds
We fast because our hearts are hungry for him alone and because we know that food, while a good thing in God’s sight, can become an idol (cf. Matt 5:6; 1 Cor 6:12-13; Phil 3:19; 1 Tim 4:4-5), blunting our experience of the Spirit’s Christ-centered ministry. Thus people do not need to wait until a crisis to fast—though proper fasting at these times is very important—we can and ought to fast as often as we want to and feel we need to. In short, when we fast (food or whatever), we are fasting with our hearts directed toward him because we love him, we want to hear his voice more clearly (cf. Dan 9:9-14; John 10:4-5), experience his power more intimately (cf. Phil 3:10-11), walk with him in greater obedience, and see our prayers for personal, family and societal change answered (cf. 2 Chron 7:14).
2C. Weaken the Flesh
Fasting, from both food and other pleasures in life, can bring us in touch with our frailty and neediness as creatures before God. Insofar as this is our experience, we can realize a greater nearness to the Lord in prayer and worship. This is, in part, the purpose for fasting; it weakens the flesh and its power over our wills.
3C. To Focus Our Prayer Life
Again, to the degree that fasting softens our heart and does not elevate in arrogance (cf. Luke 18:11-12), it helps to focus our awareness on the presence of the Lord when we pray. This can lead to an incredible sense of the Spirit’s presence and power. This, of course, ought to be translated into prayer and praise, obedience to Christ, and gracious ministry to others, lest fasting become an end in itself.
4C. To Quicken True Guilt for Sin
Unconfessed sin has a deadening effect on our conscience, mind, will, emotions, and spiritual vitality; it separates us from intimate fellowship with our God and it seriously impairs our God-given mandate to minister grace, truth and love to those within the Christian community and those outside. Sincere, scripturally informed, and Spirit-led fasting should usher in a confession of all known sin, repentance from it, and a desire to live righteously and with justice and mercy in the world. In this sense true fasting quickens true guilt for unconfessed sin and when directed by the Spirit leads to deeper love for Christ, his people, and his purposes in the world. Cherishing known sin in our hearts while we claim to be truly fasting is at best incomplete and at worst hypocrisy of the sort that received some of the sternest words of our Lord; for those who engage in it today, there still remains his warning and his loving (but heavy) hand of chastening.
5C. To Foster Greater Intimacy with and Dependence on Christ
True fasting ultimately leads to a deeper intimacy with Christ and a consciousness of dependence on him for any spiritual good in our lives (cf. John 15:5).
4B. Examples of Fasting
1C. 2 Chronicles 20:1-30
20:1 Later the Moabites and Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. 20:2 Messengers arrived and reported to Jehoshaphat, “A huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Dead Sea, from the direction of Edom. Look, they are in Hazezon Tamar (that is, En Gedi).” 20:3 Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the Lord’s advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast. 20:4 The people of Judah assembled to ask for the Lord’s help; they came from all the cities of Judah to ask for the Lord’s help.
2C. Acts 13:1-4
13:1 Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. 13:2 While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 13:3 Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off. 13:4 So Barnabas and Saul, sent out by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
3C. Acts 14:23
14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed.
4C. Questions for Thought
1. In what connection did Jehoshaphat proclaim a fast? What are some situations in which we as individual believers and especially as communities of believers should come together to fast and seek God. I think we should be fasting and seeking him for our personal lives, families, communities, nations, and indeed his world. Let us mount up, by his grace, and seek him with all our hearts! Let us come before the Lord with righteous fasting and pleading for his will to be done in our homes and nations (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-6).
2. What did God do for the church in Antioch when they worshiped and fasted? What was the result of the Spirit selecting Paul and Barnabas (read the rest of the book of Acts!).
3. How did Paul go about the process of choosing elders for the churches in Acts 14:23? What other factors besides fasting were involved?
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. Fast (food) one day a week for several weeks.
2D. Fast (T.V.) for one week
2C. Special Applications
1D. Extended fasts because of important decisions
2D. Extended fasts in light of missions thrust
3D. Extended fasts because of personal and family problems
4D. Extended fasts for times of national crisis and church struggles
3C. Training Objectives and Applications
Objective: The disciple will understand and appreciate the Biblical role of fasting and will regularly practice it to the glory of God.
1D. Make sure the new believer understands what fasting is and what it is not.
2D. If there are any medical reasons that prohibit fasting food, then, of course, do not fast food. Fast something else.
3D. Share your experience of fasting together and encourage one another in the pursuit of God.
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Serving and Spiritual Giftedness
IA. A Bible Study on Serving and Spiritual Giftedness
1B. Serving and Proper Motivation: Our Gracious Election, Calling, Sanctification, and Hope
1C. Romans 7:6
7:6 But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.
2C. 2 Corinthians 5:15
5:15 And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.
3C. Ephesians 2:8-10
2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2:9 it is not of works, so that no one can boast. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
4C. 2 Timothy 2:20-21
2:20 Now in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others rather ignoble. 2:21 So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.
5C. Revelation 1:5-6
1:5 and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood 1:6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.
6C. Questions for Thought
1. In Romans 7:6 what do you think Paul means by the contrast between serving “in the new life of the Spirit” instead of “under the old written code”? If God’s law is “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12; 13:8-10), what does the apostle mean? Cf. Romans 7:14; 9:30-33).
2. The person who has “come to life” though their faith in Christ can really only have one genuine response. What is that in 2 Cor 5:15? What does it mean to live for Christ instead of for yourself? Whne you’re able sometime, read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Romans 12:1-15:13, noting all the implications of living for Christ and His glory.
3. What is the relationship between salvation by grace through faith and good works in Ephesians 2:8-10? What do you think are some good works that Paul might be referring to?
4. Read the context of 2 Timothy 2:20-21. What is the “great house” to which Paul refers? What are some gold and silver vessels and some made of wood or clay? According to 2 Tim 2:20-21, what then is the condition for useful service to the Lord? How would further seminary education or Biblical and theological training help and/or hinder in this process?
5. Summarize the message of Revelation 1:5-6. How does this text relate to other passages you’ve already looked at in this section?
2B. The Nature of True Service to God and Man
1C. It Is Wise
1D. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
9:24 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 9:25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 9:26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. 9:27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.
2D. 2 Corinthians 8:10-15, 20-21
8:10 So here is my opinion on this matter: it is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, 8:11 to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly, you can also complete it according to your means. 8:12 For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. 8:13 For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. 8:14 At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, 8:15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” …8:20 We did this as a precaution so that no one should blame us in regard to this generous gift we are administering. 8:21 For we are concerned about what is right not only before the Lord but also before men.
2C. It Is Sacrificial and Loving
1D. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10
6:4 But as God’s servants, we have commended ourselves in every way, with great endurance, in persecutions, in difficulties, in distresses, 6:5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in troubles, in sleepless nights, in hunger, 6:6 by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by benevolence, by the Holy Spirit, by genuine love, 6:7 by truthful teaching, by the power of God, with weapons of righteousness both for the right hand and for the left, 6:8 through glory and dishonor, through slander and praise; regarded as impostors, and yet true; 6:9 as unknown, and yet well-known; as dying and yet—see!—we continue to live; as those who are scourged and yet not executed; 6:10 as sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as poor, but making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
2D. Romans 12:1-2
12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
3C. It Is Rooted in Personal Faith and Love for People
1D. 1 Corinthians 15:14, 20, 58
15:14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty…15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 15:58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
2D. 1 Thessalonians 1:3
1:3 because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
3D. Galatians 5:6
5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love.
4C. It Is Single-Minded: Seeking Christ’s Glory
1D. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
1:9 For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.
2D. 2 Timothy 2:4
2:4 No one in military service gets entangled in matters of everyday life; otherwise he will not please the one who recruited him.
3D. Luke 9:62
9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
4D. 2 Corinthians 4:5
4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
5D. Joshua 24:15
24:15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my family, we will worship the Lord!”
5C. Questions for Thought
1. What does Paul mean when he says “run to win” in 1 Corinthians 9:24? How do we as Christians differ from those in the world (v. 25)? Why does Paul talk about “subduing the body” in a context of running well in the Christian life?
2. How does 2 Corinthians 8:10-15, 20-21 show that Paul tried to serve God wisely and for the greatest benefit to all? This is just one example of the way Paul served God. How does it help you?
3. Is there a cost in following Jesus, i.e., in serving him and others? Read 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. What are some of the ways in which Paul commended himself before the Lord and to the Corinthians? How is Paul’s ministry similar to that of Jesus? Notice how tested and proven character, as well as knowledge, is key to serving God properly.
4. According to Romans 12:1, in light of what truth are we supposed to present ourselves to God for service? What kind of sacrifice is Paul talking about? How is it possible to be a “living” sacrifice? Why is serving God the “reasonable service” of an informed Christian? What two commands does Paul give in 12:2? When we obey these two commands, what is the result? How is that related to serving God in 12:1?
5. According to 1 Corinthians 15:14, 20, 58, what is the relationship between “working for the Lord” and Christ’s resurrection? Why is this so important to understand and remember (cf. 15:58)?
6. How do you think faith and love are related to each other? Read 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Galatians 5:6, and Colossians 1:3-8.
7. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 what is the nature of true service to God? In our day to day experience, what are some idols that seek to prevent us from worshipping the Lord unhindered and with sincerity of heart? What must we do with them?
8. What does 2 Timothy 2:4 communicate about single-mindedness in our service to the Lord? Does this mean that we can have no hobbies?
9. What does Jesus mean by “look back” in Luke 9:62? What do you think would happen to a farmer, who having hooked up the oxen and now plowing along, kept looking behind him? In what ways do we “look back” and what are we told to do about it (cf. 1 John 1:9)?
10. According to 2 Corinthians 4:5, what confession stands at the heart of all our service?
11. How is Joshua a model for us? Read Joshua 24:1-28.
3B. Christ as the Model Servant
1C. Mark 10:45
10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
2C. Philippians 2:5-11
2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! 2:9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 2:11 and every tongue confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. Summarize the message of Mark 10:45? What is the ultimate sacrifice in serving God? Why is even this unacceptable to God if it is not done for love’s sake? Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-12.
2. The pattern of “the Servant” in Philippians 2:6-11 is humility, service, suffering, death, and then exaltation. In general, what does this mean for those of us who claim to follow Christ?
4B. Struggles with Service
Fatigue in serving Christ can result from a number of things. First, sometimes we’re physically tired simply from travelling, staying up late with people, working hard at conferences, discipling people in difficult situations etc. What we need to do in these cases, is, as we’re able, simply get back on track with our sleep. Remember, as far as we know, we’ll be serving Christ for many years, i.e., if he tarries and if he permits us breath! This could be a long time; so serve him wholeheartedly knowing that it must be done wisely. Don’t kill the horse so that you can no longer deliver the message! Second, there are times when we are emotionally tired as a result of any number of issues we’ve had to deal with. One that we need to be careful for involves serving the wrong master. Recently we had a leadership meeting at our church to see how everyone was doing. One person in particular was quite distraught as a result of the emotional fatigue incurred through serving into the same depressing situation for a long period of time. But, she came to realize that while the situation was indeed difficult, she had been serving out of wrong motives, i.e., out of a need for personal acceptance and recognition. Now before you judge her too quickly, bear in mind that serving Christ is difficult at times and motivations get fouled up in the process. However, when she sought Christ in repentance, the difficulties were not removed, but she regained a renewed sense of emotional and physical strength. Remember too that often there is a fairly direct link between emotional and physical tiredness.
This is a difficult problem to assess, since effectiveness ultimately comes from the Lord. We plant and sow, but “God causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). Nonetheless, as 1 Cor 9:24-27 talks about, there is a need to evaluate our effectiveness or lack thereof. One of the best ways to go about this, besides asking other leaders and people you respect for help (including reading good books), is to begin a dialectical process of going back and forth from scripture to your experience and from your experience back to scripture. In other words, prayerfully do ministry and then prayerfully read about it in scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:14-17). Get this dialogue going with God, yourself, and scripture and do so in light of the ministry in order to see what God has to show you.
3C. Being Treated Like A Servant
A common occurrence related to being a servant of Christ is the rather stinging and unpleasant experience of actually being treated like a servant! Imagine that! Those who are walking with God realize their calling as Christ’s servants, but not many of us enjoy being treated like servants. Well, if you are really serving Christ, this will always be part of the experience. Now as a leader, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to speak into someone’s life—someone who consciously or unconsciously survives on the service of others, but never lifts a hand to help—gently rebuking and encouraging them to “step up to the plate” and begin to serve their Lord and his people (1 Peter 4:10). Remember too, that as servants of our humble and mighty savior, Jesus Christ, we have never been, in principle, anywhere that he has not already been.
4C. Difficulty Finding a Niche
Some people want God to show them where to serve, and until he does, they’re content to do nothing. This is wrong headed, for the Bible commands us to serve wherever we reasonably can and there are always more needs than can ever be met. Begin serving and from this posture ask God to show you your spiritual gift(s) and more specific areas of service and contribution. Do not sit there and do nothing! This can reflect unbelief and therefore disobedience. God’s leading often comes in our willingness to move out and trust him. So go and serve with all the faith in God and love for people he can work in you (Phil 2:12-13)!
5C. Questions for Thought
1. What are some of your struggles that prevent you from stepping out and boldly serving the Lord? What is the Lord teaching you through them?
2. Who could you ask to pray for you, that God might lead you into the ministries and good works he has prepared for you?
5B. Service and Spiritual Gifts
1C. General Service
All of us have been called as servants and should be serving the Lord and his people in some way on a regular basis. Such is a reasonable and timely response to grace. As I mentioned above, I feel that it is in the context of actually serving the Lord that he reveals to us special areas of service according to the gifts he has supplied to us. Through the advice of wise people, prayerful scriptural reflection, and circumstances—all three of which are organized for us by the indwelling Spirit of God—we will learn to walk in areas of service already marked out for us (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
2C. Specific Contributions: Using Your Gift in Humble Service
1D. Romans 12:3-8
12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. 12:4 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 12:5 so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. 12:6 And we have different gifts, according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 12:7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 12:8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.
2D. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (Eph 4)
12:4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 12:5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 12:6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 12:7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. 12:8 For one is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 12:10 to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 12:11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing to each person as he decides, who produces all these things.
3D. 1 Peter 4:10
4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. We have already seen that Romans 12:3-8 really starts in 12:1-2 (and indeed in the first chapter of the book). In 12:1-2 we saw that in light of God’s mercy Christians are to offer themselves to Him for service. They are not to conform to this world but are to be transformed so that they can test and approve God’s will. In short, then, the context of 12:3-8 is personal and corporate holiness. This must never be forgotten, lest the gifts be sought after as an end in themselves. Thus there is no room for pride, but only sober judgment about one’s gifting (12:3). And we must also be continually reminded nowadays of the organic relationship between each member of the body and all the others (12:4-5). Keeping, then, these truths before us we are ready to proceed into a discussion concerning the diversity of the body and the exercise of the spiritual gifts in 12:6-8. What are the gifts that Paul mentions here? What accounts for the differences of gifts among members Christ’s body (12:6)? Do you think you have any of the gifts mentioned in this list? If so, what one and how can you develop it? NOTE: Some gifts, such as serving, are very broad in their application and may include any number of Spirit sponsored, godly activities that benefit the body. A good litmus test to discover your particular gifting includes (1) motivations in your heart; (2) the blessing of God on your attempts to serve; and (3) the encouragement of others.
2. Who is the author of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6? Why do you think Paul brings in the Trinity at this point? What does the Trinity teach us about God’s unity and diversity?
3. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7, what is the purpose for the spiritual gifts and are they given only to certain persons, i.e., perhaps those who are more holy than others?
4. In Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:7-16, and 1 Peter 4:10 what are some of the gifts God gives to his church? What does each one refer to and how would they function? NOTE: The precise meaning and function of some of the gifts (e.g., “a word of knowledge”) are difficult to be certain about. Ultimately they must be Spirit sponsored, gracious in their delivery, and used only for the benefit of others. They are not to be used for self-advancement.
5. Who decides who receives what gift(s) (12:11)? Read the list and rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 12:28-21? This is very important. Paul can command a church as a whole to let other gifts be exercised (14:39-40; 1 Thess 5:20), but he never commands a certain person to “get” a spiritual gift or even to ask for one. Surely this has some application to us today. Furthermore, spiritual gifts, as necessary, beautiful, and encouraging as they are, are nonetheless not the telltale sign of the presence of the Spirit. The genuine and true confession of Christ as Lord is the sign that one truly possesses the Spirit of God (1 Cor 12:1-3). I do not say this to denigrate God’s amazing grace (for his gifts are really specific, identifiable manifestations of his grace) in any way, but only to relate us rightly to it.
6. What command does Peter give us in 1 Peter 4:10? How does this relate to you right now?
6B. The Goal of Service
1C. To Bring Honor and Praise to Christ
1D. 1 Peter 4:11
Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
2D. Colossians 3:23-24
3:23 Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 3:24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ.
2C. To Build His Body and Help People
1D. Ephesians 4:7-13, 16
4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he took captives, he gave gifts to men.” (4:9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? 4:10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.) 4:11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
2D. 1 Corinthians 12:7
12:7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. What is the ultimate reason for the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Peter 4:11?
2. According to Colossians 3:23 in what manner are we to serve the Lord? Why (cf. 3:24)? What is the danger in serving men only, with our eyes fixed on pleasing them and with little or no thought given to pleasing God? How is this like idolatry?
3. Why were the various gifts given the church according to Ephesians 4:12-13 (See again 1 Cor 12:7)? How do the gifts relate to Christlikeness? Individual and corporate?
7B. Rewards for Service
1D. Mark 10:28-31
10:28 Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you!” 10:29 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 10:30 who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
2D. 3 John 4
1:4 I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are living according to the truth.
3D. Philippians 1:25
1:25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, 1:26 so that because of me you may swell with pride in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.
2C. In Eternity
1D. 1 Corinthians 3:8
3:8 The one who plants and the one who waters are united, but each will receive his reward according to his work.
2D. 2 Corinthians 5:10
5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. What sorts of things does Jesus promise those who serve him in the advancement of the gospel (cf. Mark 10:28-31)? Does this always happen? What ultimately happened to Peter to whom the Lord addressed the promise?
2. In 3 John 4, John says that his greatest joy is to see his children walking in the truth. Is this the reward you want for your service? See also Paul in Philippians 1:25-26.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. Discipling others
2D. Serving in some capacity in your church
2C. Special Applications
1D. Helping in one time events
3C. Training Objectives and Activities
Objective: The new believer will develop a servant’s heart and seek to offer services freely, spontaneously, and without complaining. Further, over time, the discipler will help the maturing Christian to recognize his/her areas of giftedness and to look for avenues to develop this gift(s).
1D. Involve the new believer in a church related project.
2D. Ask him/her to serve in menial tasks.
3D. Do not put the new believer in a position of authority too quickly. Explain why (1 Peter 5:1-11; 1 Timothy 3:6-7). Godly, loving, character always precedes position and authority.
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Fellowship
IA. A Bible Study on Fellowship
1B. Our Trinitarian Salvation and the Nature of True Fellowship
1C. Our Trinitarian Salvation
Our glorious Father chose us in eternity past (Eph 1:3-4). His only Son died for us in the historical past (Eph 1:7). The wonderful Spirit applies the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work to all those the Father has chosen (Eph 1:13-14). Such are the perfect operations of our trinitarian God in saving people.
Thus the nature of true fellowship can only be understood from a knowledge of who God is and how He carries out His will. In short, the fellowship of the saints is to be grasped in the context of God’s nature and redeeming activity, including the new community he has founded to reflect his nature, will, works, and ways (cf. Eph 3:10). True fellowship begins by invitation into the divine community (where love and holiness are paramount) and proceeds from there outward to its expression in the company of those whom God now calls sons and daughters and we call brothers and sisters (cf. John 14:23; 17:23; 2 Cor 6:18; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:1).
2C. The Essential Nature of True Fellowship
The essential nature of true fellowship among believers is relational and, therefore, spiritual/ethical. It is relational and not primarily creedal or liturgical, though these elements may indeed be present. In short, it is sharing in the life of Christ personally and corporately by the power of the indwelling Spirit and regulated according to the Spirit’s inspired word of Scripture. The communion of the saints in this way must certainly be present at the Lord’s Supper, but it is present there because it is present on all other occasions as well, i.e., the Spirit always indwells every believer and moves him/her along to experience the power of Christ in their relationships with other believers. This involves believers in the quest to live loving, holy, and righteous lives for it is impossible to live in known or obvious sin and have spiritual fellowship with other believers; we must walk in the light as He is in the light if we are to have fellowship with one another (cf. 1 John 1:6-7).
2B. Hindrances to True Fellowship: The Effects of Sinful Styles of Relating
1C. The Question of Fellowship and the Unbeliever
There is no doubt that we can share many good and meaningful experiences with non-Christians, whether they be family members or friends in general. But, this is not the same quality of experience that we can share with believers. The bond of the Spirit and the love that He brings about between believers can be much more than is possible when He is absent. Further, true, biblical fellowship centers on the person of Christ and what he means to the people involved. This cannot occur with a person that does not have the Spirit of God and is therefore not a Christian (Rom 8:9). Such a person needs to hear the gospel and trust Christ. Then they enter into the fellowship of the saints.
2C. The Problem of Sin
1D. Unrighteous Anger—James 1:19-20
1:19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 1:20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
2D. Worldliness and Arrogance—1 John 2:15-16
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.
3D. Disunity and Party Spirits—1 Corinthians 1:10 (cf. chs. 1-4)
1:10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose.
4D. Greed and Immorality—Ephesians 5:1-5
5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 5:2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 5:3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 5:4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting—all of which are out of character—but rather thanksgiving. 5:5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
5D. Judgmental Attitude and the Issue of Conscience—Romans 14:1-4
14:1 Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions. 14:2 One person believes in eating everything, but the weak person eats only vegetables. 14:3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. Why does James (1:19-20) say that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak? What happens in a relationship when the opposite is the case? Why do you think some people really do not listen well and others get angry quite quickly? What about you? What role do you think one’s upbringing plays in this? Does our background give us license to sin? Does it condemn us to a life of fruitlessness (cf. John 15:5-6)?
2. What do you think John means by “the world” and “anything in the world”? What is the result if someone loves the world? Is there a middle ground between loving God and loving the world? What is the “desire of the flesh”? “The desire of the eyes”? Further, what is the “arrogance produced by material possessions”? Give some examples. How would false humility relate to boasting? How does this worldly and arrogant attitude destroy meaningful fellowship?
3. The reader is encouraged to work through 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. Then read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 again. What was the cause of the divisions in Corinth and how did they manifest themselves (i.e., along what lines)? Why do you think Satan works so hard to instigate, nourish, develop, and prolong divisions and discord in the body of Christ (Rom 16:17-20; John 17:20-22)? Is this a problem in your church? What can be done to recognize and bring an end to these divisions?
4. Read Ephesians 5:1-5. What does it mean to “imitate” God? What does it mean “to live in love”? What does Paul mean by a “sacrificial and fragrant offering”? How does Christ’s fragrant offering relate to the prohibitions in 5:3-5.
5. Some Christians tend to look down upon other Christians who differ with them on certain theological issues (such as the gifts of the Spirit) or patterns of living. But, while there will always be differences among Christians, there is no need for arrogance and condescension, division and party spirits. Romans 14:1-15:13 deals with the issue of debatable matters and how we are to accept other weaker brothers at the place where they’re at (Romans 15:7).
3B. Characteristics of True Fellowship
1C. Faith in Christ and Love for Each Other—Colossians 1:3-8
1:3 We always give thanks to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 1:4 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 1:5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel 1:6 that has come to you. Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. 1:7 You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf— 1:8 who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
2C. Service—Revelation 2:18-19
2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze: 2:19 ‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones.
3C. Peace—Colossians 3:15
3:15 Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart, for you were in fact called to this peace, and be thankful.
4C. Unity—Ephesians 4:1-6
4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 4:3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
5C. Humility—Philippians 2:3-4
2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
6C. Questions for Thought
1. What two qualities does Paul thank God for in Colossians 1:3-4? How is this a good summary of the Christian life? Where does our faith and love come from according to 1:5? What is the relationship between grace and truth (1:6)?
2. Read Revelation 2:18. What is a solemn pronouncement? Why do you think John refers to the eyes of Jesus as “a fiery flame”? What four things does Jesus say he knows about the church in Thyatira? Did you notice the mention of “love” and “faith,” as well as “service”? Was Christ pleased with their service?
3. In Colossians 3:15 what does the “peace of Christ” refer to? What does the verb “rule” or “be in control” mean? This passage is in a relational context and so the peace spoken of must relate in some way to relationships in the church. In this connection, why would Paul command thankfulness here? How do we normally treat people with whom we disagree?
4. In Ephesians 4:1 what does Paul mean by “calling”? In 4:2 does Paul say “some” humility or “all” humility? What does this mean? Why does Paul focus on the “one-ness” of Christianity in 4:4-6?
5. According to Philippians 2:3 what should our motivation in relationships be? In 2:4 does Paul say it’s wrong to be concerned about your own interests? If not, what does he say? Give some examples of concern for the interests of others as well as for yourself. Theologically speaking, why would it be wrong to show no concern for your own interests?
6. Can you think of any other characteristics of true fellowship? Which ones would you like to see developed in your church? Have you sought God for these things?
4B. The Practice of True Fellowship
1C. Speaking the Truth to One Another—Ephesians 4:15
4:15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.
2C. Humbly Instructing One Another—Colossians 3:16
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God.
3C. Encouraging One Another—Hebrews 10:24-25
10:24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 10:25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.
4C. Sharpening One Another in All Areas—Proverbs 27:17
27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens his friend.
5C. Carrying Each Other’s Burdens—Galatians 6:1-2
6:1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
6C. Forgiving One Another—Ephesians 4:32
4:32 But instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
7C. Praying for One Another—Ephesians Eph 6:18
6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.
8C. Giving Generously to One Another—2 Corinthians 9:6-8
9:6 My point is this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. 9:7 Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. 9:8 And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.
9C. Communing with Christ and One Another—Acts 2:42
2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
10C. Using Our Spiritual Gifts—1 Peter 4:10-11
4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. 4:11 Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
11C. The Proper Use of the Sacraments
1D. Baptism—Acts 8:12 (The standard practice of the early church was to baptize its new members)
8:12 But when they believed Philip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women.
2D. The Lord’s Supper—1 Corinthians 11:23-26
11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 11:24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 11:25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 11:26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
12C. Questions for Thought
1. In Ephesians 4:15, by what manner does Paul say we as Christians will grow up into Christ? Do we always do a good job of holding truth and love in balance? What happens when we are concerned about truth but have no love? Conversely, what happens when we seek to love and yet express no interest in truth? How do truth and love reflect aspects of the character and work of God himself (cf. John 1:14-18; the cross)? At the end of Ephesians 4:15 Paul speaks of Christ as the “head” of the body. What is the role of a head in relationship to the body? Summarize this passage in your own words. How could you apply it?
2. What is the word of Christ in Colossians 3:16 (e.g., the OT, apostolic preaching, the Bible, etc.)? How can it dwell richly within us? What are we to do with it? And in what manner are we to do this? Why is singing and praising God encouraged in conjunction with teaching and admonishing one another?
3. In Hebrews 10:24 what do you think the expression, “take thought” means in reference to spurring others on? Is this a passive attitude or is there a real intention and will behind it? Are you doing that with people? How could you grow more in this area? Further, in 10:25 the author talks about “meeting together.” What does “meeting together” really mean? Is it just that we’re in the same location for an hour? How important is Christian fellowship in this author’s mind? How about yours? What do you think “the day drawing near” means (cf. Heb 10:37; Phil 1:6)?
4. What does it mean, according to Proverbs 27:17, to sharpen another person? What kinds of activities could you do with a friend to help stimulate him/her to love, serve, and obey Christ and to mature as a believer? This can include anything that will help a person become a better servant of the Lord according to the biblical understanding of that idea.
5. Read Galatians 6:1-2. Another aspect of true fellowship involves carrying each other’s burdens. How can we do this? Give some examples. How could we restore a person who found themselves caught in a sin? What is Paul’s warning in this? In this context, then, generally speaking, what is the law of Christ (see John 14:21ff.)?
6. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul commands us, as the church of God, to be kind to each other, to be compassionate and forgiving? What does it mean to be compassionate and to forgive? Is there someone you need to deal compassionately with or perhaps forgive for past wrongs? What does the phrase “just as God in Christ also forgave you” mean? Relate it to the preceding command to forgive others.
7. Summarize Ephesians 6:18 in your own words. What does it mean to be alert in prayer? Using a concordance, find all the passages that speak of alertness and try and discern what “being alert” refers to.
8. What general principle (v. 6 is proverbial in nature) for giving does Paul lay down in 2 Corinthians 9:6? Does this mean that God is an automaton just waiting for us to give and then he will automatically bless? What kind of giver does God love in 9:7? What is the promise that goes with being a generous giver (9:8)? How could you apply this to your life? NOTE: the historical situation that gave rise to 2 Cor 8-9 is Paul’s collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
9. Read Acts 2:42. Can you think of any other passages that speak about our communion with the saints and the Lord? According to all that you’ve learned in this lesson and throughout this study on discipleship, why is this so crucial for the church?
10. Summarize Peter’s point in 1 Peter 4:10-11. How do gifts relate to the grace of God in this passage? Lesson 15 was devoted to the topic of serving and the spiritual gifts. Please refer to that as well.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
2C. Special Applications
3C. Training Objectives and Applications
Related Topics: Discipleship
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Giving
IA. A Bible Study on Giving
1B. The Foundation for Giving
1C. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12
29:10 David praised the Lord before the entire assembly: “O Lord God of our father Israel, you deserve praise forevermore! 29:11 O Lord, you are great, mighty, majestic, magnificent, glorious, and sovereign over all the sky and earth! You have dominion and exalt yourself as the ruler of all. 29:12 You are the source of wealth and honor; you rule over all. You possess strength and might to magnify and give strength to all. 29:13 Now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your majestic name. 29:14 “But who am I and who are my people, that we should be in a position to contribute this much? Indeed, everything comes from you, and we have simply given back to you what is yours.
2C. Matthew 7:7-12
7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. 7:8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. 7:9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 7:10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 7:11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 7:12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
3C. Luke 11:13
11:13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
4C. John 1:16
1:14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 1:15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 1:16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 1:18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known.
5C. 1 Corinthians 4:7 (Matthew 10:8)
4:6 I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. 4:7 For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? 4:8 Already you are satisfied! Already you are rich! You have become kings without us! I wish you had become kings so that we could reign with you!
6C. 2 Corinthians 9:8
9:8 And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.
7C. Questions for Thought
1. What was David asking the people for in 1 Chronicles 29:5? What kind of response did he get from the leaders and the people? Why do you think it’s important to give freely and spontaneously? According to 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 where does wealth ultimately come from? When God does provide for us, what should our response be? Do you praise God for his gifts to you? Do you seek to use them to advance his purposes in the world, akin to what David did in the building of the temple?
2. In Matthew 7:7 Jesus says to “ask, seek, and knock.” What reasons are given in Matthew 7:8-11? What do you suppose Matthew 7:12 means in this context? Why is it here?
3. In the previous verses we have seen that the foundation of all giving is God’s graciousness to us. According to Luke 11:13, what is the most precious gift he has ever given us and how does this relate to all other giving? Read John 1:14-18 also. Again, what is the foundation of all our desires and acts of giving? Based on Luke 11:13 and John 1:14-18, can anyone ever “out-give” God?
4. Read 1 Corinthians 4:7. What mistake had the Corinthians made regarding the gifts they had received? Has this happened to you in your life? What should you do about it?
5. How does 2 Corinthians 9:8 nicely summarize the foundation of all Christian giving? Why do we give? Are we trying to earn favor with God? Are we working for grace or from grace?
2B. The Blessing of Giving
1C. Malachi 3:6-12
3:6 “Since, I, the Lord, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished. 3:7 From the days of your ancestors you have ignored my commandments and have not kept them! Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the sovereign Lord. “But you say, ‘How should we return?’ 3:8 Can a person rob God? You indeed are robbing me, but you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and contributions! 3:9 You are bound for judgment because you are robbing me—this whole nation is guilty. 3:10 “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the sovereign Lord, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. 3:11 Then I will stop the plague from ruining your crops; the vine will not lose its fruit before harvest,” says the sovereign Lord. 3:12 “All nations will call you happy, for you indeed will live in a delightful land,” says the sovereign Lord.
2C. Galatians 6:9-10
So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
3C. 2 Corinthians 9:10-15
9:10 Now God who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide and multiply your supply of seed and will cause the harvest of your righteousness to grow. 9:11 You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, 9:12 because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God. 9:13 Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone. 9:14 And in their prayers on your behalf they long for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown to you. 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
4C. Questions for Thought
1. According to Malachi 3:6-12 the nation of Israel were guilty of not bringing the entire tithe into the storehouse and God was reprimanding them for it. What blessings, however, did he promise if they would respond in faith and give generously to him? What principle can we learn from this? Compare 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 and Galatians 6:9-10.
2. Summarize at least three principles that are taught in Galatians 6:9-10.
3. Both Galatians 6:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 make a connection between giving material goods and reaping a spiritual harvest of righteousness. Explain this connection in your own words. What blessings are related to giving in 2 Corinthians 9:10-15? Think on both a personal and corporate level.
3B. The Practice and Attitude of Giving
1C. Proverbs 3:9-10
3:9 Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first fruits of all your crops; 3:10 then your barns will be filled completely, and your vats will overflow with new wine.
2C. Proverbs 11:24-25
11:24 One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he ought and comes to poverty. 11:25 A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.
3C. Matthew 6:2-4
6:2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 6:3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 6:4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
4C. Mark 12:41-44
12:41 Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. 12:42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. 12:43 He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. 12:44 For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”
5C. Luke 6:32-38
6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 6:33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 6:34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 6:35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you: a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.”
6C. Acts 2:42-47
2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 2:43 Reverential awe came on everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 2:44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 2:45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 2:46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.
7C. 2 Corinthians 8:5
8:5 And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
8C. 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:6-7
8:1 Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, 8:2 that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. 8:3 For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, 8:4 begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints…9:6 My point is this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. 9:7 Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.
9C. Questions for Thought
1. What practice does Proverbs 3:9-10 outline for us? How could you implement it in your own life? Why might it be important to give of the first of our earnings to God?
2. Summarize the principle in Proverbs 11:24-25. Have you ever seen instances of God working in this way?
3. In Matthew 6:2-4 Jesus explains how God will deal with people who give in a hypocritical fashion. How will they be treated by God? Why? What untruth do they probably believe about God that underlies their hypocritical desires?
4. Read Mark 11:45-12:44. The scene is in the temple and the religious authorities are questioning Jesus about the source of his authority. But they do so in antagonistic ways, attempting to trap him in his words. They are leaders without faith in God and without love for others. Why, then, at the end of this section does Mark show Jesus drawing his disciples’ attention to the women in 12:41-44? What does she teach us about true faith and giving?
5. Why is Luke 6:38 in a section dealing with love for enemies? What is the principle Jesus is teaching in v. 38? Again, make sure you relate it to the context in 6:32-38.
6. What does Acts 2:45 teach us about giving freely?
7. What example do the Macedonian churches set for other churches (and us) by the manner in which they went about giving? What does it mean to give yourself to the Lord first and then to people?
8. From 2 Corinthians 8-9 draw out as many principles on “giving” as you can. Relate each principle to others in 2 Corinthians 8-9 and to others in the Bible (consider the principles you’ve already learned in this study). Try to develop an outline from 2 Corinthians 8-9 that you could share with others.
4B. The Need to Give Wisely
1C. Proverbs 19:6
19:6 Many people entreat the favor of a generous person, and everyone is the friend of the one who gives gifts.
2C. Proverbs 27:23-24
27:23 Pay careful attention to the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds, 27:24 for riches do not last forever, nor does a crown last from generation to generation.
3C. Questions for Thought
1. What caution does Proverbs 19:6 bring to mind? Have you ever seen this happen?
2. How do Proverbs 27:23-24 relate to giving and possessing wealth in general?
5B. Hindrances to Giving
1C. Matthew 6:24
6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
2C. Luke 14:33
14:33 In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions.
3C. James 4:1-4
4:1 Where do the conflicts and where do the quarrels among you come from? Is it not from this, from your passions that battle inside you? 4:2 You desire and you do not have; you murder and envy and you cannot obtain; you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask; 4:3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions. 4:4 Adulterers, do you not know that friendship with the world means hostility towards God? So whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.
4C. 1 John 2:15-17
2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 2:17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
5C. Questions for Thought
1. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says there is no middle ground between loving God and loving money; a person is either serving one or the other. How does this relate to giving regularly and generously?
2. In Luke 14:33 what do you think it means to renounce all your possessions? If Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34 that God knows all our needs and provides for us, “renounce” cannot mean to simply give them all away. After all, it would seem that, for argument’s sake, anyway, that they’re from God (cf. 1 Tim 6:17). What then does Jesus mean? Is he speaking hyperbolically (cf. Matthew 5:29)? If so, what is his point?
3. Though James 4:1-4 does not relate directly to giving, it does talk about the condition of our heart and our desires for wealth. Can the person James describes give generously to others? Why not? How is selfishness both ugly (on God’s people) and a serious hindrance to the grace of giving?
4. How does 1 John 2:15-17 straighten us out regarding how we are to view the world and its riches? A wrong view of the world can have disastrous consequences for Christians. NOTE: Here, John portrays the world from the point of view of its anti-God stance and sinfulness. He, of course, is not referring to the world in the sense of God’s creation and its goodness, but the world in its fallenness and rebellion. Relate 1 John 2:15-17 to the idea of giving.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. World Vision Children
2D. Church Giving
4D. Constantly Looking for Needs
2C. Special Applications
1D. Attending Fund Raising Functions
2D. Special Projects
3D. People with Immediate Needs
3C. Training Objectives and Activities
Objective: The disciple of Christ will develop the virtue of abundant generosity and the wise giving of time, resources, and money. They will develop a consistent pattern of giving to the ongoing needs of the church and of looking to meet needs in other special situations.
1D. Share with your disciple your plan for giving money to the Lord’s work. You do not need to communicate exact amounts, but only that you give happily, sacrificially, and consistently.
2D. Help the disciple understand that all wealth comes from God and is to be regarded as His; we are to see ourselves as stewards of his resources.
Mastering A Plan for Formal Time Together—Evangelism
IA. A Bible Study on Evangelism
1B. The Mandate for World Evangelization
1C. Matthew 4:19
4:19 He said to them, “Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.”
2C. Luke 24:44-47
24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 24:45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 24:46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 24:47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
3C. Acts 1:8
1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”
4C. Acts 17:30-31
17:30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 17:31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to all by raising him from the dead.”
5C. Romans 1:16
1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
6C. Romans 15:17-21
15:17 So I boast in Christ Jesus about the things that pertain to God. 15:18 For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 15:19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 15:20 And in this way I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on another person’s foundation, 15:21 but as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
7C. Colossians 1: 23b
This gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant.
8C. Questions for Thought
1. How important is it in Matthew 4:19 that these are some of the first words of Christ to his disciples? How important is it for their understanding of what it means to follow Christ? How do they impact you? Do they have a structuring role in how you view your relationship with God?
2. In Luke 24:44-47 how did Jesus relate himself and his ministry to the Old Testament? What is the significance of this? What things does Jesus say “stand written”? Since Jesus had “all nations” in view here, is it likely that he was thinking solely of the ministry of the early Jewish church? How should “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” be proclaimed today? In other words, what does this phrase mean and how does it relate to believing in Jesus (John 5:24)?
3. According to Acts 1:8 where is the gospel to be preached? What does Jesus imply that the disciples need in order to accomplish this? How does this relate to your life and how can you assist in getting the gospel to the end of the earth?
4. Summarize the message of Acts 17:30-31. What is the motivation for repentance in this passage? What is the proof that is offered for the fact that Christ will judge the world on God’s appointed day, i.e., time?
5. How does Paul describe the gospel in Romans 1:16? Is he focusing on “salvation” as entrance into relationship with God (Rom 4-5), “salvation” as life lived before God (6-8) or “salvation” as glorification in the next life (Rom 8:29)? Is it all of these or one or more of them? How does this relate to your life?
6. What kind of things does Paul boast about in Romans 15:17-21? What sorts of things do you boast about? Meditate on Colossians 1:23b and paraphrase it in your own words..
2B. Everyone an Evangelist
1C. Acts 8:4
8:4 Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word.
2C. 2 Corinthians 5:20
5:20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!”
3C. Colossians 4:5-6
4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.
4C. 1 Peter 3:15-16
3:15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 3:16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.
5C. Questions for Thought
1. According to Acts 8:4, what did those who were scattered as a result of the persecution in Jerusalem and the stoning of Stephen do? What do most people do today when trouble hits?
2. How does Paul refer to himself in 2 Corinthians 5:20? What does it mean to be an “ambassador”? Who is Paul representing? Who do we represent? If Paul’s message is “Be reconciled to God,” who, then, has the problem, God or us?
3. Summarize Colossians 4:5-6. What would it mean to conduct ourselves with wisdom toward those who do not yet know Christ? How can we make the most of the opportunities? Do we even view our relationships with non-Christians as opportunities to love them and share Christ with them? As Christians committed to Christ, many of us sometimes think we need to have all the right answers before we can talk to people about Christ. According to Col 4:6, what is more important than having the right answer when talking to others? How important is it to share Christ in a spirit of love and graciously say, “I don’t know” when you do not know the answer to a question. Be prepared to tell your friends, when they ask a tough question, that right now you do not have the answer, but you’ll get back to them on it. Then go and research an answer. That’s honest and it wins respect for the gospel.
4. In 1 Peter 3:15 what does it mean to set Christ apart as Lord in your heart? Do people often ask you about the hope you profess? This doesn’t mean that the term “hope” has to appear in their question, but does your life give them any cause to think about your God? In 3:16 how does Peter say we should relate the gospel to others? In short, we should never violate the fruit of the Spirit in order to share the message of the Spirit! Why does Peter talk about a good conscience? And, why is our conduct so important in the communication of the gospel (NOTE: Think about what the gospel message is.)? Read Titus 3:8.
3B. The Heart of the Gospel Message
1C. The State of Man
1D. Sin (Romans 3:23)
3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
2D. Death (Romans 6:23a)
6:23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
3D. Certain Judgment (Hebrews 9:27)
9:27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment,
4D. Questions for Thought
1. According to Romans 3:23 has anyone (apart from Christ; Heb 4:15) ever escaped sin? In this verse what does it mean to be a sinner? What is the “glory of God”?
2. In Romans 6:23 what is the result of sin? What does the word “payoff” connote or imply? What kind of death do you think Paul refers to? NOTE: Death can be viewed as spiritual separation from God, physical death, or the second or eternal death (eternal separation from God in Hell). Generally speaking it refers to conscious existence in a realm separated from the presence, fellowship, love, joy, holiness, and power of God.
3. In Hebrews 9:27 the writer talks about what happens after we die. What does the term “appointed” mean? What can each man be certain of following physical death?
2C. The Holiness and Love of God
1D. 1 Peter 1:15-16
1:15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 1:16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”
2D. Hebrews 10:26
10:26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 10:27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies.
3D. John 3:16
3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
273D. Questions for Thought
1. What do you think 1 Peter 1:15-16 means when it refers to God as “holy”? Does this necessarily mean he is an ogre? Was not Christ just as holy as God the Father? So then, what does the term mean and how does it relate to God’s love? What should our response be to the recognition of God’s holiness?
2. How does God relate to those who hear the gospel and continually reject its truth and claim upon their lives? What will God carry out in regard to them? What does this teach you about him?
3. According to John 3:16, a familiar verse to many, what did God do as a result of his love for the world? Why did he give his one and only Son? Where do you stand in relationship to God’s gift of his Son?
3C. The Need for Faith Alone and the Place of Good Works
1D. Romans 4:4-5
4:4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. 4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.
2D. Ephesians 2:8-9
2:8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 2:9 it is not of works, so that no one can boast.
3D. Ephesians 2:10
2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
4D. Questions for Thought
1. What two things does Paul contrast in Romans 4:4-5? Explain the verse and summarize it in your own words? What does it mean for your own relationship with God?
2. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul says that people are saved by grace and not by works. But why won’t works save us (cf. Ephesians 2:1)? Can’t we just keep trying to do better? When Paul refers to salvation as a gift, what does this imply? And, is there any room for bragging about human achievement, either in attaining salvation or living it out?
3. According to Ephesians 2:10, are works important to God? Where do they belong, however, in the “salvation equation”? Are they the “root” or the “fruit” of salvation? Is genuine saving faith ever without some evidence (James 2:14-26)?
4C. The Death of Christ
1D. Romans 5:8
5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2D. 1 Peter 3:18
3:18 Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.
3D. Questions for Thought
1. When did Christ die for us? In what state were we and how many of our sins were still future to him? How great is his love!!!
2. How many times will Christ suffer for sins? Why did he suffer? In 1 Peter 3:18 the Spirit is given credit for the resurrection (see Romans 1:4). Actually, the NT writers view all three members of the trinity as involved in the resurrection (John 10:17-18; Eph 1:20).
5C. Assurance of Salvation
1D. 1 John 5:11-13
5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 5:12 The one who has the Son of God has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. 5:13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
2D. John 5:24
5:24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.
3D. Questions for Thought
1. What does the word “testimony,” mean in 1 John 5:11? What does it refer to and how does it impact you? What does “eternal life” mean (see John 17:3)? What is the condition for the possession of this life in 5:12? In 5:13 why does John say he has written this letter to them? What is the relationship between our assurance of eternal life and God’s written word?
2. What is the condition for eternal life in John 5:24? Do people just grow into having eternal life or is there, according to this verse, a definitive “event” that takes place? NOTE: A person may certainly grow in their understanding of what happened to them when they were saved, but from God’s perspective, there is clearly a moment before salvation and a moment after entrance into a saving relationship with him (cf. Col 1:13-14).
4B. The Heart of a Gospel Lifestyle
1C. Matthew 5:16
5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
2C. 1 Corinthians 10:31
10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
3C. Philippians 1:9-11
1:9 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 1:10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, 1:11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
4C. Titus 1:16
1:16 They profess to know God but with their deeds they deny him, since they are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good deed.
5C. Titus 2:5, 10
2:5 to be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited…2:10 not to pilfer, but showing all good faith, in order to do credit to the teaching of God our Savior in everything.
6C. Titus 3:8
3:8 This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people.
7C. 1 Peter 2:11-12
2:11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 2:12 and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears.
8C. Questions for Thought
1. According to Matthew 5:16 how can we make God known to people? How does this relate to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31?
2. How does Paul pray for the Philippians? In what ways does he want them to grow? What is the purpose of their growth? NOTE: There is both an intermediate and an ultimate purpose involved? What are they? What does the term “filled” imply about our Christian lives in 1:11? Some people barely make it through each day. Is this the way Paul envisioned the Christian life?
3. In Titus 1:16, what do sinful deeds actually end up solidifying? Can true and pure belief exist in a person who constantly lives in a way that is evil?
4. According to Titus 2:5, 10 what do good deeds do? What kind of character traits or virtues does Paul say should adorn Christian women and all Christians for that matter?
5. What is the outcome of good works in Titus 3:8?
6. In 1 Peter 5:11 how does Peter talk about the works of the flesh? What does it mean to be in a battle? Have you experienced this? How do you deal with it? Even though some non-Christians malign the Christian way, we ought still to do good deeds so that when Christ returns these “maligners” may give glory to God admitting that he was at work in his people (cf. 1 Peter 2:11-12).
5B. Dealing with Sincere Objections
1C. The Bible Was Written by Men…
Yes, the Bible was written by men. But, this does not mean that it necessarily errs in what it says, for not everything men say is in error, spiritually or otherwise. Second, the testimony of Scripture is not just that man wrote it, but that man “carried along by the Holy Spirit” wrote it (2 Peter 1:20-21). The superintending work of the Spirit guarantees its truthfulness. While there are often certain kinds of problems in the interpretation of scripture, and certain archaeological and historical issues still remain to be solved (a vast array have already been solved or simply dismissed as mute under the weight of new evidence), there are a number of factors that when taken together constitute good evidence for the divine inspiration of scripture: It was produced over 1500 years by over 40 authors on three different continents, yet (1) it maintains a highly spiritual, yet “true to life” perspective; (2) its wonderful depth and diversity are matched by its consistent testimony to the character of God and man; and (3) it maintains consistency regarding its teaching on the nature of salvation and God’s grace; (4) it has given spiritual life, vitality, and power to millions and millions of people and the church has always recognized it as God’s authoritative, faith producing Word.
2C. I Believe That Jesus Was A Good Man, But…
Everyone should believe that Jesus was a good man, lest they reveal something of their own depravity. How can someone call evil a man who loved others so deeply and sacrificed so much for them? The question is not, “Was Jesus a good man?” Rather, the question is, “Was he only a good man?” We may say a few things in response. First, he never claimed to be just a good man. Second, the record indicates that he claimed much more; indeed, he claimed that he had a special and unique relationship with the Father (John 8:58). Third, he did miracles and raised the dead. From this we would at least have to admit that he was no normal man. Fourth, he claimed he was the only way to God and that all other ways were dead ends (John 14:6). These are not the claims of a good man, for then he would have been a liar; no man, who is simply a good man, can be the only way to God. Finally, the records state that he rose from the dead and both the existence of the church and the personal claims of Christians (down through the ages) to know him (not just about him) argue strongly for the truthfulness of his claims.
3C. What About Those Who Have Never Heard…
The fate of those who have never heard is an important question which has recently been at the forefront of many people’s thinking. Let me say up front that I think this is an important question. I must also tell you that those who have asked it of me, if they were really concerned, should have showed more personal interest in making their own hearts right with the Lord. Since they often do not, I regard their asking as only a red herring in the discussion. But, their sincerity notwithstanding, the question needs to be dealt with.
To answer the question, then, we know that in a Biblical worldview no one will ever come to God apart from the merits of Christ. What we do not know is if God in his infinite mercy has shown himself savingly to others apart from missionary preaching. Certainly he has preserved people and prepared them for the hearing of the gospel.28 Again, he may have even brought people to himself, in the Bible and nowadays, without the aid of a human instrument. But we must stress that this in no way undermines our need to carry the gospel to our neighbors around the world. People perish for not understanding the gospel, and this fact, understood in the proper way, is our responsibility. How shall they believe in one they have not heard? And how shall they hear unless someone is sent (Rom 10:14)? We will be held accountable for our efforts to reach all men with the gospel.
Having said all this, it is important to state that it is quite unlikely that there are “anonymous Christians,” that is, people who are really Christians and don’t know it. The Bible always includes personal knowledge of Christ as essential for salvation.29 Therefore, a worshipping Buddhist, no matter how sincere he/she might be, is not a Christian (and probably does not want to be considered one either). So, while it may be possible that God has revealed himself to people apart from sending a person to preach the gospel, we must say that this is not the Biblical norm, nor does it lead to the unscriptural idea of anonymous Christians.
4C. Don’t All Roads Lead to God…
The answer to this question is simply “no.” Not all roads lead to God. If we make any claim about truth, we believe that there is also error. This cannot be avoided. If we believe there is truth and error, we believe that our minds are able to grasp the difference. If this is true, we believe in the law of “non-contradiction.” In short, we believe that our minds can grasp truth, at least to some degree, namely, to the degree that no two statements that affirm opposite claims about God, in the same way and at the same time, can in fact be true. Either both are false or one is true and the other false. Since this is true, and most religions, including the world’s great religions offer competing core theologies about God,30 they cannot all be true. Either they’re all false, or one is true, or each contains some elements of truth that require yet another synthesis. Therefore, not all roads lead to God.
IIA. Synthesis, Practical Applications, and Training
1C. Ongoing Applications
1D. Friendship Evangelism
2D. Develop Your Testimony (3 Minute/20 minute)
3D. Learn a Gospel Illustration and Explanation with Verses
4D. Invite People to Your Church
5D. Invite People to a Christian Presentation
6D. Give a Person a Book Explaining the Christian Life (e.g., C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
2C. Special Applications
1D. Sharing Testimony
2D. Evangelistic Bible Studies
3D. Short Term Missions
3C. Training Objectives and Applications
Objective: The disciple will know a gospel illustration and the corresponding Bible verses, and practice sharing it a few times with the help of his/her discipler. He/she will also know their testimony and will be helped to share it with someone and then to evaluate the experience.
1D. Supervise a gospel presentation with someone
2D. Reach out to someone together through love, service, and good works.
3D. Discuss and work through developing gospel oriented relationships with others in various common interest communities.
27 Multiple, The NET Bible, (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press) 1998.
28 Often times a Christian will find light and truth (as well as gross darkness and confusion) in other religions. The way we know this is by measuring the religion’s claims against a Biblical worldview. But, it must be stated that the degree to which truth is present in these religions, it is there due to the grace of (the biblical) God through creation and providence.
29 “General revelation,” as it is often referred to, is the positive revelation of God through the created world, but it is not enough to save. According to the apostle Paul, men do not respond positively to this revelation on their own, rather, they suppress the knowledge of God gained through it. This suppression leads to further sin and guilt, and finally to condemnation (Romans 1:18-32).
30 The liberal tendency to water down the obvious differences (i.e., different truth claims) between religions rests on a supposed “view from nowhere” without any supernatural evidence and certainly finds very few supporters among adherents to the religions in question. It is, then, for the most part, simply a view stemming from arrogance, however motivated by pious concerns for interfaith dialogue and respect.
The Unity of Unbelief (Genesis 11:1-9)
Posing for the camera of Playboy magazine cost a 26 year-old stewardess her job recently. The tragedy, as reported in the Dallas Morning News,112 was not her release, but in her reasons for her decision. She had learned that lung surgery was needed and the outcome might not be good. She decided to pose so that the world would remember her.
I admire this young woman’s honesty, but I am grieved by her decision. While most people are not so candid about their motives, the world is filled with people who desperately wish to be remembered. All of us are inclined to build monuments to ourselves in one way or another.
Men must face what has come to be referred to as the ‘mid-life syndrome.’ We reach those middle years when we begin to realize that most of what we intended to do has not yet been accomplished. And we can no longer deny the fact that the better part of life has been lived. Often at this crisis point men feverishly begin to build monuments by which they will be remembered.
This is why the account of Babel, found in Genesis chapter 11, is so important for us. It exposes the underlying cause for building monuments. Better yet, it gives us the cure and teaches us how to face the future with peace of heart.
The temptation is great to refer to this incident on the plain of Shiner as ‘the tower of Babel.’ While all that we have learned about this event may incline us to focus on the tower, it was not the primary evil, but only a symptom. Cassuto, in his commentary on Genesis, refused to title the section in the traditional way because he recognized the real villain.113 Once we appreciate the wisdom of Cassuto, we will arrive at the heart of the story, and its application to us today.
Conditions Prior to
the Confusion of Tongues
Verse one highlights a particular condition of mankind which is not in and of itself evil: “… and the whole earth used the same language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1). We would assume, since mankind came from a common ancestor, namely Noah, that all men spoke a common language.114 Moses began the account of the confusion of languages by drawing our attention to this fact.
Now there is nothing wrong with a common language. It is not evil, nor is it the cause of evil. Communication was greatly enhanced by it. It facilitated community life and was the foundation for unity. Potentially, a common language could have drawn men and women together in the worship and work of God. Practically, it was perverted to promote disobedience and unbelief. God’s gift of language, like other gifts of His grace, was misused. Sinful man cannot do anything but misappropriate God’s gifts of grace.
Our attention is thus drawn to the fact of a common knowledge, not because we would be unaware of it, but because it was the occasion for the evil that followed. Also, it was the condition which God changed in order to prevent this evil which men conspired to achieve.
The Intentions of Man
Man had migrated to the fertile plain in the land of Shinar and there settled down. “And it come about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shiner and settled there” (Genesis 11:2).
It would seem that the offspring of Noah had decided to trade in their tents for a townhouse.115 Yet in the prophecy of Noah we read, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:27).
Leupold observes that the word “journeyed” in Genesis 11:2 literally meant ‘to pull up stakes.’116 Urban life has not been presented in a favorable light thus far in Genesis. Cain built a city and named it after his son Enoch (Genesis 4:17). God had said that he should live as a vagrant and a wanderer (4:12). Nimrod, a descendent of Ham, seemed to be an empire builder also (10:9-12). In fact, it is possible that Nimrod was the leader in the movement to settle in Shinar and build this city with its tower.117
Settling in the valley of Shinar was an act of disobedience. God had commanded men to spread out and fill the land, not to congregate in cities:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.… And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it’ (Genesis 9:1,7).
In verses 3 and 4 the intentions of man are spelled out:
And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth’ (Genesis 11:3,4).
Verse 3 informs us of the intensity of man’s intentions to build a city and a tower. A Palestinian Jew, especially one who had just come from Egypt, would expect any building project to employ stone and mortar. These materials were not plentiful and thus it was necessary to substitute fire-hardened brick for stone and tar for mortar.118
These men did not begin to build without counting the cost. They anticipated the obstacles and were determined to overcome them. The resolve of mankind to build the city despite the difficulties tells us of the intensity of this endeavor. Some have seen in verse 4 a strong religious flavor, as though men were trying to get to God by building a tower.
And they said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth’ (Genesis 11:4).
I do not think such claims can be substantiated. It is hard to believe that Moses would have left such matters to mere inference. The expression, “will reach into heaven,” is not so much spiritual as it is special. It simply implies great height. Such is its connotation in other passages:
Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, ‘The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there’ (Deuteronomy 1:28; cf. 9:1; Psalm 107:26).
No great emphasis is placed upon the tower. It is considered a part of the city. While the Mesopotamian ziggurats of later times were distinctly religious,119 no such indication is given in our text. The purpose for building the city and its imposing tower is best explained in the statement, “… and let us make for ourselves a name; … ” (verse 4).
Arrogance, rebellion, and pride seem to be the root of men’s activities here.120
As is often the case, we do not reveal our true motives until the very last. I think this is true in our text. The last statement of the people of ancient Babel is the key to our passage: “… lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (verse 4).
These people could not conceive of blessing and security coming as a result of dispersion, even though God commanded it. They felt most secure when they were living in close proximity. They saw the future as brighter when they could leave posterity a monument to their ingenuity and industry.121
While rebellion, pride, and unbelief are evident in the story, the underlying problem is one of fear. Richardson put his finger on this when he wrote:
The hatred of anonymity drives men to heroic feats of valour or long hours of drudgery; or it urges them to spectacular acts of shame or of unscrupulous self-preferment. In the worse forms it attempts to give the honour and the glory to themselves which properly belong to the name of God.122
These men of old must have known of God’s command and of His covenant. Otherwise why would they have feared being scattered? But all they had was a promise from God. Their hopes were on abstract words, nothing concrete, and so they placed their faith in bricks and tar.
The following verses record the response of God to man’s disobedience:
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. ‘Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city (Genesis 11:5-8).
As Cassuto has observed,123 this passage is an example of literary artistry. Man’s intentions are curbed by divine intervention.
Verses 5 and 6 have been disturbing to many because they may seem to diminish the sovereignty of God. There is the appearance that God has let a situation get nearly out of control before He was even aware of it. It looks as though one of the angels has informed God of the incident at Babel and God has hastily descended to investigate the matter. Any such conception has missed the point of the writer.
These verses are a beautifully fashioned satire on the folly of man’s activities. Men had commenced to build a city with a high tower that they thought would make a name for them. Moses is suggesting to us that man’s thoughts and efforts, no matter how lofty, are insignificant to God. While the top of the tower may, from the vantage point of earth, seem to pierce the clouds, to the infinite, almighty God it was a barely visible dot on the earth. It was as though God would have to stoop to view it.124 If God should have to ‘descend’ to scrutinize this city, it was due to the insignificance of it all, not God’s inability to keep up with His creation.
If verse 5 describes the investigation of God, verse 6 informs us of God’s appraisal of the situation.
And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them’ (Genesis 11:6).
The evil does not lie in the fact that all men spoke one language. This only provided the occasion for man’s sinfulness to express itself more easily. Yet it did suggest a means of reversing man’s plans.
The completion of this city would in no way threaten the rule of God. Obviously, it would violate the command of God for man to disperse and fill the earth. Verse 6 explains the impact which the success of man’s plans to build this city would have on man. Men would conclude that since they were able to build this city despite many obstacles, they could do anything they set their minds to. A bit of that mentality was evidenced when man first set foot on the moon. I recall that something like this was said: “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” When man’s ingenuity was successfully employed to overcome the many barriers to reaching the moon’s surface, man felt that no problem was beyond a human solution.
In the days of the offspring of Noah at Babel, men placed their confidence in bricks and mortar and the work of their hands. In our time we are just a bit more sophisticated. We trust in transistors, integrated circuits, and technology. We feel that if we can put a man on the moon, nothing can keep us from solving any problem.
It is this attitude of arrogant self-confidence and independence of God which God knew was inevitable if man succeeded. Because of this, God purposed to thwart man’s plans: “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7).
What we see here is not so much a punishment being meted out as preventive measures being taken. The mechanics of the confusion of language can only be guessed at, but the outcome is evident. The project came to an abrupt halt, a monument to man’s sin.
Conditions After the Confusion of Tongues
That which man most feared had come to pass.
“Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whose earth” (Genesis 11:9).
The irony of this event is that what men most desired would have destroyed them, and what they most dreaded would prove to be a part of their deliverance.
In this brief narrative we find some principles which are vital to true believers in any age.
(1) Man’s plans will never thwart God’s purposes. God had commanded mankind to “fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Man preferred to cloister rather than to comply with God’s command to spread out. In spite of man’s greatest efforts, God’s purposes prevailed. My friend, men of every age have learned that God’s will cannot be resisted. You may be destroyed, but God will not be diverted from His purposes. Such was the conclusion to which Saul was forced:
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14).
A friend of mine used to say, “Is that brick wall getting any softer, or is my head just getting bloodier and bloodier?”
No man can thwart the will of God. A life lived in resistance to the revealed Lord of God must end in frustration and failure. No one can succeed at resisting God.
(2) Unity is not the highest good, but purity and obedience to the Word of God. Ecumenism is the watch word of religion today, but it is a unity at the cost of truth. Some regard unity as a goal worthy of any sacrifice. God does not. In fact, the Israelites of old were soon to learn that the Canaanites, unlike the Egyptians (cf. Genesis 46:33-34), were eager to unite with the chosen people of God (cf. Genesis 34:8-10, Numbers 25:1ff.). Unity and peace must never be attained at the price of purity. God’s people are to be holy, even as He is holy (Leviticus 11:44f; I Peter 1:16).
True unity can only occur in Christ (John 17:21; cf. Ephesians 2:4-22). This unity is to be diligently preserved (Ephesians 4:3). But oneness in Christ results in division from those who reject Christ (Matthew 10:34-36). We must separate ourselves from those who deny the truth (II John 7-11; Jude 3). There can be no true unity with those who deny our God.
(3) The communication gap created in Genesis chapter 11 can only be bridged by Christ. The Old Testament prophets recognized the ongoing effect of Babel, and spoke of a day when it would be reversed:
‘For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, My dispersed ones, will bring My offerings. In that day you will feel no shame because of all your deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proud, exulting ones, and you will never again be haughty on my holy mountain’ (Zephaniah 3:9-11).127
The phenomenon of tongues in Acts chapter two indicates the ‘first fruits’ of the renewal which is yet to be realized in full.
Frankly, I am deeply troubled at the ignorance of Christians today regarding the communication gap we experience in our relationships. The communication breakdown has its roots in Genesis chapter 11. Many wives silently agonize at the way their husbands fail to comprehend what they are trying to tell them, and at their failure to disclose their innermost feelings. While Christ is the answer to this dilemma, most of us fail to grasp the fact that it is a problem which threatens our relationships.
(4) Superficial relationships and artificial activity will inevitably miss the meaning of life. Someone has said that the definition of the ‘upper crust’ is, ‘a few crumbs with a little dough to hold them together.’ What is it that holds your life together? How tragic that the Babylonians of old found their security in a city and put their hope in fired bricks and tar.
What frightens me most is that the church has often fallen into the same trap as the world. We find ourselves creating programs to keep people busy and to give them the false security of involvement and activity. While programs are not antithetical to life, they are often a substitute for living faith and devotion and power. In many churches, God could have died 50 years ago and we would still not know it.
I cannot but help think of the church building program as I have considered the tower of Babel. How often we enter into a building program, thinking that it will give people a cause to get excited about, and that a lovely building will somehow attract new members.
God help us to avoid the artificiality of Babel. It is a counterfeit religion that has no life and no ultimate worth.
(5) The Word of God, and not the works of our hands, is the only thing worthy of our faith. The men of Babel began to look at work as the cure rather than the curse. They believed that the work of their hands could assure them of some kind of immortality beyond the grave. Here, I suspect, is the driving force behind the workaholic. He cannot ever rest because he (or she) is never certain that a large enough monument has been built.
Is this not that of which the Psalmist has written?
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:1-5).
Did you notice the reference in verse two to the ‘bread of painful labors’? Surely it is a reflection of the curse in Genesis chapter three, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, … ” (Genesis 3:19a).
The Psalmist knew that work could never give man the rest and peace for which he toiled, but only trusting in that which God would provide. God’s blessing would come through the children which God would give in rest and intimate fellowship (Psalm 127:3-5). Is this not what the people of Babylon needed to understand?
Human endeavor is never satisfying, never fulfilling. Only work which is done for the Lord and in His strength brings lasting satisfaction.
The woman at the well in John chapter 4 sought water to quench her thirst. Jesus offered that which would forever satisfy:
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life’ (John 4:13-14).
That ‘meat’ which was greater than mere food was to do the will of the Father:
In the meanwhile the disciples were requesting Him, saying ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you did not know about.’ The disciples therefore were saying to one another, ‘No one brought Him any thing to eat, did he?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work’ (John 4:31-34).
Have you found the satisfaction and rest which God has provided in Jesus Christ? It alone can satisfy the longings of man.
This “rest” is that for which Lamech, the father of Noah, looked for in the seed of his son:
Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed’ (Genesis 5:29).
God has now provided a salvation for men in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. He has assured men that to as many as believe upon Him—that trust Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life—they shall be saved. That is enough. And that is the only basis for hope beyond the grave.
(6) Much of what man does on this earth is a monument to his insecurity. This passage has impressed me more than ever before because of the intense insecurity of man. I have often felt that the root of man’s sinful actions is willful rebellion or active aggression against God. Man does rebel against God, but the root of much of his disobedience is based upon his insecurity.
Behind the facade of achievement, accomplishment, bravado and self-assurance is the haunting spectra of leaving this life with no certainty of what is to follow. That, in my estimation, is the real reason for the building of the city of Babel and its tower. The people of that day were willing to make nearly any sacrifice to have some hope of immortality. They saw this in the name they could make for themselves.
Have you ever stopped to think about the role insecurity may play in the things you devote time and energy to? Christians who do not fathom the grace of God and His sovereign control are plagued by the insecurity of supposing that God’s work and will is conditioned by our faithfulness, rather than by His. Our insecurity may be the motive for much of our Christian service. If only we can do more for the Lord, we shall feel more secure and certain of His blessing. Such activity is little different than that of those who lived on the plain of Shinar.
We preachers must learn a very important lesson here also. We want to see results from our work. We may be insecure in what God has called us to do. Because of our own insecurity, we may urge others to work harder in Christian activity, and we may motivate this activity by playing upon the wrong motives of guilt and insecurity. These motives are always wrong reasons for Christian service. Service should be based upon gratitude, not guilt or fear.
As Paul has written, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies … ” (Romans 12:1a).
The problems we have discussed are complex, but the solution is simple. We should do what the children of Noah should have done, simply trust and obey. This is the way to have blessing in Jesus.
“The tower is only a detail in the episode--part of the gigantic city that men sought to build in order to achieve their goal. Not without reason, therefore, does the end of the story refer only to the suspension of the building of the city but not of the construction of the tower (v. 8: and they left off building the city). Hence I did not put at the head of this narrative the usual title ‘The Tower of Babel’ or ‘The building of the Tower of Babel’; I used instead the expression customarily employed in Jewish Literature, ‘The Story of the Generation of Division,’ which best fits the intention and the content of the text.” U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1964), II, p. 226.
114 “Literally, the text reads ‘one words,’ i.e., the words were common to all, indicating that all shared them, supporting the translation ‘one vocabulary.’ Syntax (Language) and vocabulary were a single comprehensible wholly understood by all. Communication was swift, and ideas and plans were quickly propagated.” Harold G Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p, 131.
115 “There was also a natural nomadic element, for they were journeying from place to place. The conditions of agricultural life would doubtless necessitate a great deal of movement. In their journeyings they at last arrived at the land of Shinar, the plain in which Babylon was afterwards situated (chap. x. 10). The fertility of this plain would be of special value, and we are not surprised to read that ‘they dwelt there.”’ W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p 108.
117 “Again, as this event in all probability took place in the lifetime of Nimrod, the first individual who is recorded to have aspired to dominion over his fellow-men, and as it is express by said of him that ‘the beginning of his kingdom was Babel,’ nothing is more natural than to suppose that he was the Leader in this daring enterprise, and that it was in great measure a scheme of his for obtaining the mastery of the world.” George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James and Klock Publishing Co., 1976, Reprint), p. 183.
118 “Here Moses inserts an explanatory statement before he lets us hear the rest of their purpose by dwelling upon the unique nature of the materials used--unique for such as are in rocky Palestine with its innumerable stones. For the builders purpose to use their burnt brick in place of stone and bitumen for mortar. Abundant remains of similar structures display how very accurate the author is in his statement. For more substantial buildings not the sun-dried but the kiln-dried bricks were used, and bitumen sealed the joints. Such structures cohere very firmly to this present day. To a non-Babylonian such a mode of building would seem strange as well as particularly worthy of notice.” Leupold, Genesis, I, pp. 385-386.
119 “These ziggurats, over thirty of which are known to exist, were composed of successively smaller stages or stories of sun dried or burnt brick, on top of which was constructed a temple.” Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), p. 46.
120 “In Genesis 9:1 God specifically told Noah and his sons, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish (literally, ‘fill’) the earth.’ In direct disobedience, their descendants were concerned lest they be scattered over the earth and in pride sought to build a city and tower as a rallying point and to symbolize or memorialize their greatness. This God could not condone. Genesis does not say that they intended to enter heaven by means of this tower or that they intended to use it for worship purposes. The Hebrew simply calls it a mighty (‘tower’), which could be used for defense or a number of other purposes, and there is no indication that the builders planned to erect a temple on it so that the structure could serve as a ‘link between earth and heaven’ as the ziggurats did. Moreover, the Genesis narrative implies that such towers had not been built before and that this would therefore be something unique in the experience of man.” Ibid., pp. 46-47.
121 “The primeval history reaches its fruitless climax as man, conscious of new abilities, prepares to glorify and fortify himself by collective effort. The elements of the story are timelessly characteristic of the spirit of the world. The project is typically grandiose; men describe it excitedly to one another as if it were the ultimate achievement--very much as modern man glories in his space projects. At the same time they betray their insecurity as they crowd together to preserve their identity and control their fortunes (4b).” Derek Kidner, Genesis, An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 109.
122 Alan Richardson, Genesis 1-11, Introduction and Commentary (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1953), p. 128, as quoted by Allen Ross, The Table of Nations in Genesis (Unpublished Doctor’s Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), pp. 292-293.
123 In this short narrative we have a fine example of biblical literary art. It comprises two paragraphs, of almost equal size, that constitute an antithetic parallel to each other in form and content. The first begins with a reference to the situation that existed at the outset (v. i), and thereafter describes what men proceeded to do (vv. 2-4). The second recounts what the Lord did (vv. 5-8), and concludes with a reference to the position created at the end of the episode (v. 9).” Cassuto, Genesis, II, pp. 231-232.
124 “As I have explained in the introduction, there is a satiric allusion here: they imagined that the top of their tower would reach the heavens, but in God’s sight their gigantic structure was only the work of pigmies, a terrestrial not a celestial enterprise, and if He that dwells in heaven wished to take a close took at it, He had to descend from heaven to earth.” Ibid., pp. 244-245.
“‘Yahweh must draw near, not because he is nearsighted, but because he dwells at such tremendous height and their work is so tiny. God’s movement must therefore be understood as a remarkable satire on man’s doing.”’ This is a quote by Proksch, cited by Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), p. 149.
126 ‘‘Babel (Babylon) called itself Bab-ili, ‘gate of God’ (which may have been a flattering reinterpretation of its original meaning); but by a play of words Scripture super-imposes the truer label balal (‘he confused’).” Kidner, Genesis, p. 110.
127 Ross understands the ‘pure lip’ of verse 9 to refer to one common language: “Spoken of in the singular, the ‘pure lip’ must mean the language barriers will be broken down to make one universal tongue. The second idea in the expression means that their speech will be cleansed.” Ross, p. 258. fn. 1. Unfortunately the NASB renders the expression as a plural, “purified lips.”
Related Topics: Faith
The Call of Abram (Genesis 11:31-19:9)
Chapter 12 begins a new division in the book of Genesis. The first eleven chapters have often been called ‘primeval history.’ The last chapters are known as ‘patriarchal history.’ While the effect of man’s sin has become increasingly widespread, the fulfillment of the promise of God in Genesis 3:15 has become more selective. The Redeemer was to come from the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), then from the descendants of Seth, then Noah, and now Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3).
Theologically, Genesis chapter 12 is one of the key Old Testament passages, for it contains what has been called the Abrahamic Covenant. This covenant is the thread which ties the rest of the Old Testament together. It is critical to a correct understanding of Bible prophecy.
In Genesis chapter 12 we come not only to a new division and an important theological covenant, but most of all to a great and godly man—Abraham. Nearly one-fourth of the book of Genesis is devoted to this man’s life. Over 40 Old Testament references are made to Abraham. It is of interest to note that Islam holds Abram second in importance to Mohammed, with the Koran referring to Abraham 188 times.128
The New Testament in no way diminishes the significance of the life and character of Abraham. There are nearly 75 references to him in the New Testament. Paul chose Abraham as the finest example of a man who is justified before God by faith apart from works (Romans 4). James referred to Abraham as a man who demonstrated his faith to men by his works (James 2:21-23). The writer to the Hebrews pointed to Abraham as an illustration of a man who walked by faith, devoting more space to him than any other individual in chapter eleven (Hebrews 11:8-19). In Galatians chapter 3 Paul wrote that Christians are the ‘sons of Abraham’ by faith, and therefore, rightful heirs to the blessings promised him (Galatians 3:7,9).
As we turn our attention to Genesis chapter 12 let us do so with an eye to Abraham as an example of the walk of faith. In particular, I want to underscore the process which God employed to strengthen Abram’s faith and make him the godly man he became. Most of the errors so popular in Christian circles concerning the nature of the life of faith can be corrected by a study of the life of Abraham.
Surrounding the Call of Abram
(Joshua 24:2-3; Acts 7:2-5)
Moses did not give us all the background needed to properly grasp the significance of the call of Abram, but it has been recorded for us in the Bible. Stephen clarifies the time that Abram was first called of God. It was not in Haran, as a casual reading of Genesis 12 might incline us to believe, but in Ur. As Stephen stood before his unbelieving Jewish brethren, he recounted the history of God’s chosen people, beginning with the call of Abraham:
And he said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran and said to him, “Depart from your country and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you”’ (Acts 7:2-3).
While not all Bible students agree on the location of Ur,129 most agree that it is the Ur of southern Mesopotamia, on what used to be the coast of the Persian Gulf. The site of the great city was first discovered in 1854, and has since that time been excavated, revealing much about life in the times of Abram.130 While the actual period that Abram lived in Ur may be a matter of discussion, we can say with certainty that Ur was justified in its boast of being a highly developed civilization. There are ample evidences of elaborate wealth, skilled craftsmanship, and advanced technology and science.131 All of this tells us something of the city which Abram was commanded to leave. In the words of Vos,
Regardless of when Abraham left Ur, he turned his back on a great metropolis, setting out by faith for a land about which he knew little or nothing and which could probably offer him little from a standpoint of material benefits.132
If the city which Abram was told to leave was great, the home he left behind seems to have been less than godly. I would have assumed that Terah was a God-fearing man, who brought up his son, Abram, to believe in only one God, unlike the people of his day, but this was not so. Joshua gives us helpful insight into the character of Terah in his farewell speech at the end of his life:
And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods”’ (Joshua 24:2).
So far as we can tell, then, Terah was an idolater, like those of his days. No wonder God commanded Abram to leave his father’s house (Genesis 12:1)!
Abram’s age was not a factor in favor of leaving Ur for some unknown land either. Moses tells us that Abram was 75 when he entered the land of Canaan. Think of it. Abram would have been on social security for over ten years. The ‘mid-life crisis’ would have been past history for him. Rather than thinking of a new land and a new life, most of us would have been thinking in terms of a rocking chair and a rest home.
We are not inclined to be impressed with Abram’s age because of the length of men’s lives in olden times, but Genesis chapter 11 informs us that man’s longevity was much greater in times past, than in Abram’s day. Abram died at the ripe old age of 175 (25:7-8), a much shorter time than Shem (11:10-11) or Arpachshad (11:12-13). One purpose of the genealogy of chapter 11 is that it informs us that men were living shorter lives, and having children younger. Abram was, in our vernacular, ‘no spring chicken’ when he left Haran for Canaan.
All of this should remind us of the objections and obstacles which must have been in the mind of Abram when the call of God came. He left Haran, not because it was the easiest thing to do, but because God intended for him to do it. Having said this, I do not wish to glorify Abram’s faith either, for as we shall see, it was initially very weak. The obstacles were largely overcome by the initiative of God in the early stages of the life of Abram. This remains to be proven.
The Command of God
The call of Abram is recorded for us in Genesis 12:1: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.’”
A better rendering of the first sentence of this call is found in the King James Version and in the New International Version, both of which read, “The Lord had said to Abram, … ”
The difference is important. Without it we are inclined to think that the call of Abram came at Haran, rather than at Ur. But we know from Stephen’s words that the call came to Abram at Ur (Acts 7:2). The pluperfect tense (had said) is both grammatically legitimate and exegetically necessary. It tells us that verses 27-32 of chapter 11 are parenthetical,133 and not strictly in chronological order.
The command of God to Abram was in conjunction with an appearance of God.134 While Moses mentioned only an appearance of God after Abram was in the land (12:7), Stephen informs us that God appeared to Abram while in Ur (Acts 7:2). In the light of all the objections which might be raised by Abram, such an appearance should not be unusual. God also appeared to Moses at the time of his call (Exodus 3:2, etc.).
In one sense, the command of God to Abram was very specific. Abram was told in detail what he must leave behind. He must leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house. God was going to make a new nation, not merely revise an existing one. Little of the culture, religion, or philosophy of the people of Ur was to be a part of what God planned to do with His people, Israel.
On the other hand, God’s command was deliberately vague. While what was to be left behind was crystal clear, what lay ahead was distressingly devoid of detail: “… to the land which I will show you.”
Abram did not even know where he would settle. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “… he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
The faith to which we are called is not faith in a plan, but faith in a person. Much more important than where he was, God was concerned with who he was, and in Whom he trusted. God is not nearly so concerned with geography as He is with godliness.
The relationship between the command of God to Abram in verse 1 and the incident at Babel in chapter 11 should not be overlooked. At Babel men chose to disregard the command of God to disperse and populate the earth. They strove to find security and renown by banding together and building a great city (11:3-4). They sought blessing in the product of their own labors, rather than in the promise of God.
The command of God to Abram is, in effect, a reversal of what man attempted at Babel. Abram was secure and comfortable in Ur, a great city. God called him to leave that city and to exchange his townhouse for a tent. God promised Abram a great name (what the people of Babel sought, 11:4) as a result of leaving Ur, leaving the security of his relatives, and trusting only in God. How unlike man’s ways are from God’s.
The Covenant with Abram
Technically, the covenant with Abram is not found in chapter 12, but in chapters 15 (verse 18) and 17 (verses 2,4,7,9,10,11,13,14,19,21) where the word covenant appears. It is there that the specific details of the covenant are spelled out. Here in chapter 12 the general features of the covenant are introduced.
Three major promises are contained in verses 2 and 3: a land; a seed; and a blessing. The land, as we have already said, is implied in verse 1. At the time of the call, Abram did not know where this land was. At Shechem, God promised to give ‘this land’ to Abram (12:7). It was not until chapter 15 that a full description of the land was given:
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: … ’ (Genesis 15:18).
This land never belonged to Abram in his lifetime, even as God had said (15:13-16). When Sarah died, he had to buy a portion of the land for a burial site (23:3ff.). Those who first read the book of Genesis were about to take possession of the land which was promised Abram. What a thrill that must have been for the people of Moses’ day to read this promise and realize that the time for possession had come.
The second promise of the Abrahamic Covenant was that of a great nation coming from Abram. We have already mentioned the significance of Psalm 127 in relation to the efforts of man at Babel. Real blessing does not come from toil and agonizing hours of labor, but from the fruit of intimacy, namely children. Abraham’s blessing was largely to be seen in his descendants. Here was the basis for the ‘great name’ that God would give to Abram.
This promise demanded faith on the part of Abram, for it was obvious that he was already aged, and that Sarai, his wife, was incapable of having children (11:30). It would be many years before Abram would fully grasp that this heir that God had promised would come from the union of he and Sarai.
The final promise was that of blessing—blessing for him, and blessing through him. Much of Abram’s blessing was to come in the form of his offspring, but there was also the blessing that would come in the form of the Messiah, who would bring salvation to God’s people. To this hope our Lord, the Messiah, spoke, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).
Beyond this, Abram was destined to become a blessing to men of every nation. Blessing would come through Abraham in several ways. Those who recognized the hand of God in Abram and his descendants would be blessed by contact with them. Pharaoh, for example, was blessed by exalting Joseph. Men of all nations would be blessed by the Scriptures which, to a great extent, came through the instrumentality of the Jewish people. Ultimately, the whole world was blessed by the coming of the Messiah, who came to save men of every nation, not just the Jews:
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer (Galatians 3:7-9)
The Compliance of Abram
I am greatly distressed by the glamorizing of heroes, especially by Christians. The giants of the faith seem to be sterling characters with no evident flaws, with machine-like discipline, and unfaltering faith. I do not find such people in the Bible. The heroes of the Bible are men with ‘like passions’ (James 5:17) and feet of clay. That is my kind of hero. I can identify with men and women like this. And, most important, I can find hope for a person like myself. Little wonder that men like Peter and not Paul, are our heroes, for we can see ourselves in them.
Abram was a man like you and me. Moses’ account of his initial steps of faith makes it evident that much was to be desired, and to be developed in him. God called him in Ur, but Abram did not leave his father’s house or his relatives. Now Abram did leave Ur and go to Haran, but it appears to me that this was only because his pagan father decided to leave Ur. There may well have been political or economic factors which made such a move expedient, apart from any spiritual considerations.
Much of Abram’s first moves were neither purposeful nor pious, but rather were a more passive response to external forces. God providentially led Terah to pull up roots at Ur and to move toward Canaan (11:31). For some reason, Terah and his family stopped short of Canaan, and remained in Haran. Since Abram was unwilling or unable to leave his father’s house, God took Abram’s father in death (11:32). Now Abram obeyed God by faith and entered into the land of Canaan, but only after considerable preparatory steps had been taken by God.
I am saying that Abram obeyed God in faith, but it was a very little faith, and a very late faith. But does such a claim contradict the words of Scripture? Is this inconsistent with the words of the writer to the Hebrews?
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).
At least two things must be said in response to this question. First, the emphasis of Hebrews 11 is on faith. The writer wished to stress here the positive aspects of the Christian’s walk, not his failures. Therefore, the failures are not mentioned. Secondly, consistent with this approach, the author does not stress the timing of Abram’s obedience. He simply wrote, “… Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out.” Let us remember that Abram did go to Canaan, just as Moses went to Egypt, but not without considerable pressure from God.
We should not find this discouraging, but consistent with our own reluctance to put our future on the line in active, aggressive, unquestioning faith. Abraham was a man of great faith—after years of testing by God. But at the point of Abram’s call, he was a man whose faith was meager; real, but meager. And if we are honest with ourselves, that is just about where most of us are. In our best moments, our faith is vibrant and vital, but in the moments of testing, it is weak and wanting.
Once in the land of Canaan, the route taken by Abram is noteworthy. It should first of all be said that it was the route we would have expected him to have taken if he were going in that direction. A look at a map of the ancient world of patriarchal times would indicate that Abram traveled the well-trodden roads of his day.135 This route was that commonly traveled by those who engaged in the commerce of those days.
This I believe to be a significant observation, for many Christians seem to feel that God’s way is the way of the bizarre and the unusual. They do not expect God to lead them in a normal, predictable fashion. The lesson we may need to learn is this: very often the way God would have us go is the most sensible way that we would have chosen anyhow. It is only when God wishes us to depart from the expected that we should look for guidance that is spectacular or unusual.
Cassuto has suggested that the places mentioned (Shechem, Bethel, the Negev) are significant. He believes that the land is thus divided into three regions: one extending from the northern border to Shechem, the second from Shechem as far as Bethel, and the third from Bethel to the southern boundary.136
Jacob, after his return from Paddan-aram, came first to Shechem (33:18). Later he was instructed to go up to Bethel (35:1; cf. verse 6). At both Shechem and Bethel he built altars, like Abram, his grandfather (33:20; 35:7).
When Israel went into the land of Canaan, to possess it under Joshua, these same key cities were captured:
So Joshua sent them away, and they went to the place of ambush and remained between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; … (Joshua 8:9).
Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:30).
Cassuto concludes that Abram’s journey unknowingly outlined the territory which would belong to Israel, and that the places he stopped symbolically forecast the future conquest of the land.137 In an additional comment, Cassuto adds the fact that these places were also religious centers of Canaanite worship.138 In effect, Abram’s actions of building altars and proclaiming the name of the Lord prophesied the coming time when true religious worship would overcome the pagan religion of the Canaanites. While the exact meaning of the expression, ‘called upon the name of the Lord’ may not be known, worship is surely described. It is difficult to believe that Abram’s public act of worship was not noted and viewed with particular interest by the Canaanites. Personally I believe that there is some kind of missionary function being carried out by Abram. As such, it would have been an act flowing from faith.
Characteristics of the Life of Faith
From these events in the early stages of Abram’s growth in grace several principles are found which depict the walk of faith in every age, and certainly in our own.
(1) Abram’s faith was commenced at the initiative of God. The sovereignty of God in salvation is beautifully illustrated in the call of Abram. Abram came from a pagan home. To our knowledge, he had no particular spiritual qualities which drew God to him. God, in His electing grace, chose Abram to follow Him, while he was going his own way. Abram, like Paul, and true believers of every age, would acknowledge that it was God Who sought him out and saved him, on the basis of divine grace.
(2) Abram’s spiritual life continued through the sovereign work of God. God is not only sovereign in salvation, but sovereign in the process of sanctification. Had Abram’s spiritual life depended solely upon his faithfulness, the story of Abram would have ended very quickly. Having called Abram, it was God Who providentially brought Abram to the point of leaving home and homeland and entering Canaan. Thank God our spiritual lives are ultimately dependent upon His faithfulness and not ours.
(3) The Christian’s walk is a pilgrimage. Abraham lived as a pilgrim, looking for the city of God:
“By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow-heirs of the some promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
Our permanent home is not to be found in this world, but in the one that is to come, in the presence of our Lord (cf. John 14:1-3). That is the message of the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 2:19, I Peter 1:17, 2:11).
The tent is thus the symbol of the pilgrim. He does not invest heavily in that which will not last. He dare not become too attached to that which he cannot take with him. In this life we cannot expect to fully possess what lies in the future, but only to survey it. The Christian life is not knowing exactly what the future holds, but knowing Him Who holds the future.
(4) The Christian walk is rooted in the reliability of the Word of God. When you stop to think about it, Abram had no concrete, tangible proof that a life of blessing lay ahead, outside of Ur, away from his family. All he had to rely upon was God, Who had revealed Himself to him.
In the final analysis, that is all anyone can have. There are, of course, evidences for the reasonableness of faith, but at the bottom line we simply must believe what God has said to us in His Word. If His ‘Word is not true and reliable, then we, of all men, are most miserable.’
But isn’t that enough? What more should we require than God’s Word? The other day I heard a preacher put it very pointedly. He quoted the shopworn saying, ‘God said it. I believe it. That settles it.’ The preacher said it could be said even shorter. ‘God said it, and that settles it, whether you believe it or not.’ I like that. The Word of God is sufficient for man’s faith.
God has said that all men are sinners, deserving of, and destined to eternal punishment. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the One Abram looked for in the future, to die on the cross to suffer the penalty for man’s sin. He alone offers man the righteousness necessary for eternal life. God said it. Do you believe it?
(5) The Christian walk is simply doing what God has told us to do and believing that He is leading us as we do so. God told Abram to leave without knowing where the path of obedience would lead, but believing that God was leading as he went. Do not expect that God will indicate each turn in the road with a clearly marked sign. Do what God tells you to do in the most sensible way you know how. Faith is not developed by living life by some kind of map, but by using God’s Word as a compass, pointing us in the right direction, but challenging us to walk by faith and not by sight.
As Abram went from place to place, the will of God must have seemed like a riddle. But as we look back upon it, we can see that God was leading all the way. No stop along the path was irrelevant or without purpose. Such will be the case as we can look back upon our lives from the vantage point of time.
(6) The Christian walk is a process of growth in grace. We often read of Abraham, the man of faith, supposing that he was always that kind of man. I would hope that our study of the initial period of his life indicates otherwise. How long have you been a Christian, my friend? One year? Five years? Twenty years? Do you realize that it was probably years from the time Abram was called in Ur until he ended up in Canaan. Do you know that after Abram entered the land of Canaan it was another 25 years until he had his son, Isaac? Can you fathom the fact that after leaving Haran for Canaan, God worked in Abram’s life for one hundred years? Christian faith grows. It grows through time and through testing. Such was true in Abram’s 1ife.139 Such is the case with every believer.
May God enable us to grow in grace as we walk the path which He has ordained, and as we continue to study the growth of the faith of Abram over many years.
129 Cyrus Gordon has suggested that the true Ur of Genesis 11:31 is to be found in northern Mesopotamia, probably northeast of Haran. Gordon’s view is discussed, but rejected by Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp. 63-64. Gordon’s view is held by Harold G. Stiflers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), pp. 133-134.
131 “The city of Ur on the lower Euphrates River was a large population center, and has yielded extensive information in the royal tombs which were excavated under the direction of Sir Leonard Wooley and the sponsorship of the British Museum and the museum of Pennsylvania University. Although no direct evidence of Abraham’s residence is available, it is significant that the city of Ur reflects a long history preceding Abraham’s time, possessing an elaborate system of writing, educational facilities, mathematical calculations, business and religious records, and art. This points to the fact that Ur may have been one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the Tigris-Euphrates area when Abraham emigrated northward to Haran.” Schultz, “Abraham,” ZPEB, I, p. 22.
133 “Although it may appear from a superficial reading of the account in Genesis (11:31-12:1) that God called Abraham while in Haran, thereby contradicting Stephen’s account that God called Abraham in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, the two accounts can be harmonized by noting that Genesis 11:27-32 is a parenthetical account of Terah introduced by a waw disjunctive, and that Genesis 12:1, introduced by a waw consecutive, carries on the main narrative which was discontinued in Gen. 11:26.” Bruce Waltke, Unpublished Class Notes, Dallas Theological Seminary, pp. 14-15.
“Outside the Land, it was given to Abraham only to hear the Divine voice (v. 1); but here, in the land destined to be specifically dedicated to the service of the Lord, he was also vouchsafed the privilege of a Divine vision.” U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1964), II, p. 328. We must remember that Cassuto, as a Jew, did not regard the New Testament to be authoritative. Thus, he seems to have rejected Stephen’s words flatly.
137 “Now we can understand why the Torah stressed, in all their detail, Abram’s journeys on entering the land of Canaan, at first as far as Schechem, and subsequently up to Ai-Bethel. Scripture intended to present us here, through the symbolic conquest of Abram, with a kind of forecast of what would happen to his descendants later.” Cassuto, Genesis, II, pp. 305-306.
139 “. . . Abram’s early history is partly that of his gradual disentanglement from country, kindred and father’s house, a process not completed until the end of chapter 13.” Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 113.
“Abram’s life is a growth in faith developed under delayed fulfillment of divine promises. He is promised a seed and when that seed is delayed, he must somehow see meaning in that delay and learn faith in God. When he is promised a land, and when that land is not given, he must look beyond the promise to its Maker so that he may understand. When he is commanded to sacrifice Isaac, he must obey with a willing heart of love, yet somehow see through to balance the command with the promise of the seed of a nation and leave the outcome to God and to find in God all sufficiency. Through all of his experiences he must come to see God as the origin of all that will endure.” Stagers, Genesis, p . 135.
When Faith Fails … (Genesis 12:10-13:41)
I have entitled this message “When Faith Fails,…” but I wonder if most Christians really believe that their faith can fail. A little thought should remove any doubts. What is worry, but a failure of faith? Worry estimates circumstances from the perspective of one who faces the future as one who does not believe in a sovereign God Who is also a loving Father.
Worry’s bedfellow, fear, is also a failure of faith. Worry finds its concern in the distant and often unlikely future. Fear faces the problem eyeball to eyeball. The disciples were not worried on the storm-tossed waves of Galilee; they were scared to death. And our Lord rebuked them by unveiling the failure of their faith:
And He said to them, ‘Why are you so timid? How is that that you have no faith?’ (Mark 4:40).
Faith does fail; at least, my faith does. So what happens when it does? Do I lose my salvation? Does God’s work in my life come to a screeching halt, waiting for my faith to return? The incident in Abram’s life described in Genesis 12:10-13:4 gives us an encouraging word, and one that is desperately needed by those whose faith will fail.
Abram Faces a Famine
True faith in God is a faith that grows. In Genesis, and in God’s program for men today, faith grows as it is tested. For Abram, the first test was that of a famine.
Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land (Genesis 12:10).
I suspect that Abram, as an immature saint, had no idea that suffering and trials were a part of God’s curriculum in the school of faith. While Abram believed in God, he knew little of Him. He may have thought that the God Who called him was not able to control nature. In the pagan pantheon, the ‘gods’ had various limited powers. Perhaps his ‘god’ was not one to be bothered with matters like rain or crops. It never seemed to occur to Abram that God was not only greater than the famine, but the giver of it, as a test of faith.
Egypt seemed to be the logical solution. After all, God had sent Abram forth “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Perhaps God wished him to continue southward on into Egypt. Another factor was that Egypt was less susceptible to famines. Egypt was much like Ur. Each was blessed by a great river system which allowed for irrigation. Both lands were much less dependent upon rain than was the land of Canaan.
For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you come, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).
Farming in Canaan was much more a matter of faith than in Ur or Egypt.
Nowhere is Abram directly condemned for his decision to go down to Egypt, but later developments make it clear that his actions did not stem from faith.140 Abram did not consult God, but acted independently. No altars were built in Egypt to our knowledge, nor are we told that Abram ever called on the name of the Lord there. His request of Sarai also reflects his spiritual condition. It would thus be safe to say that Abram’s faith failed in the face of that famine.
Abram Faces the Future
It would seem that Abram made his decision to go to Egypt without considering the consequences. Just outside the border of Egypt Abram began to contemplate the dangers which lay ahead.
Sarai was a very beautiful woman,141 and there was good reason to fear the fate of a foreigner whose wife was so attractive.142 The husband was easily expendable in such circumstances. Abram thus appealed to his wife to accept his solution to this problem of his safety. He proposed that Sarai pose as his sister, so that he would not be killed.
Much has been written concerning Abram’s request. Some have thought that Abram was willing to see his wife married off to an Egyptian for his safety, as well as the dowry it would bring him. This, I believe, goes too far. More likely is the explanation of Cassuto,143 who suggests that Abram asked his wife to pose as his (eligible) sister so that when the men of the land asked for her hand, he could stall for sufficient time for them to leave the land.
It really was an ingenious plan. One of the local men would come to Abram to ask for his sister’s hand in marriage. Abram would consent but insist upon a long engagement (long enough for the famine to end). During this time Sarai would remain at Abram’s home where their marriage could secretly continue and the safety of Abram was assured. It seemed that the benefits were great and the liabilities of such a scheme were minimal.
Such a plan was evil for several reasons. First of all, it tended to ignore the presence and power of God in Abram’s life. God had promised the ends, but seemingly He was unable to provide the means. He promised a land, a seed, and a blessing. Now it seemed as though Abram was left to his own devices to procure them.
One must wonder if there were traces of the pagan religion of the Mesopatomians underlying Abram’s actions. Did Abram suppose, like the pagans, that each nation had its own god? Once out of the land God had promised Abram, was his God no longer able to provide for him and protect him? Such thoughts would enter the pagan mind.
Abram’s plan was wrong because it jeopardized the purity of his wife and the promise of God. God had promised to make of Abram a great nation. From Abram a great blessing to all nations, the Messiah, would come. Now Abram was willing to run the risk of another man taking Sarai as his wife. How, then, could she be the mother of Abram’s seed?
Abram was wrong as well because he looked to his wife to bring him blessing when God had promised to bring a blessing to others through Abram: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Abram was clinging to his wife’s petticoat for protection and blessing, rather than to the promises of God.144
Finally, Abram’s plan was wrong because his fears were hypothetical and his ethics were situational. Look carefully at Abram’s fears—they were all future. He had not yet entered the land (12:11), and what he feared was all stated in terms of the future (12:12-13).
Here is a clear-cut case of situational ethics. Situation ethics first of all poses a hypothetical problem which has no alternatives except ones that are morally unacceptable. The lesser of the evils is then justified in the light of the circumstances.
Abram was not wrong in considering the possibility that someone would appreciate his wife as beautiful and desire her for a wife. It was not even wrong to suppose that someone might even kill him to marry her. Abram was wrong to assume that this would happen and that the only way to prevent it was to lie. Nowhere is the promise and the protection of God considered. Sinful deception is therefore begun before any real danger is ever experienced.
Abram’s Fears are Fulfilled
Someone is sure to protest: “But Abram’s fears were not hypothetical. It happened just as Abram had feared.” Not really! Abram was not the victim of what he feared; he was the cause of what came to pass. Abram’s fear of the future, and his faithless plan of action actually caused the event that followed. Much of what we fear is self-fulfilled.
It is true that Sarai was noted as a beautiful woman and this was reported to Pharaoh. But what was most crucial in what followed was the claim from both Abram and Sarai that she was his sister, and therefore eligible for marriage. While we can only conjecture as to Pharaoh’s action, if the truth were known, he felt fully justified in taking the sister of Abram into his harem.
God worked in Abram’s life in a remarkable way. Abram supposed that the possibilities of escape from the dangers in Egypt were only as numerous as those he had considered. Abram made his decision on the assumption that he could foresee the outcome of his actions. God taught Abram the painful lesson that the possibilities for the future are more numerous than we can predict. And so Abram is faced with a dilemma that he never considered.
It was all well thought out and neatly planned. Sarai would pose as his sister, and Abram would put off any marriage until the famine was over and they were gone. But Abram’s plan considered only the men of Egypt: “and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will let you live” (Genesis 12:12).
Never had it entered Abram’s mind that Pharaoh might be interested in Sarai. While Abram could put off the plans of others, Pharaoh would not take no for an answer. He took her into his palace, awaiting the time of the consummation of the union.
There is no evidence of a physical relationship between Pharaoh and Sarai. While the preparation period would normally have been at the home of Abram, in this case it would be at the palace. Sarai would likely undergo a relatively long period of preparation for her presentation to Pharaoh. Such was the custom in those days:
Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women—the young lady would go in to the king in his way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name (Esther 2:12-14).
Can you imagine the lonely, agonizing nights Abram must have spent, wondering what was going on in the palace? Abram had asked Sarai to lie so that it would go well with him (verse 13). And it did go well. Pharaoh sent many gifts to Abram and treated him royally. The only thing which kept Abram from enjoying his treatment was the realization of what it meant. Pharaoh was giving these things to Abram as a dowry. It did go well with Abram, but without Sarai, his wife. Prosperity is never a blessing without the peace which comes from being right with God.
Divine Deliverance and Royal Rebuke
Significantly, God had not yet been mentioned in this event until verse 17. Abram was allowed to fail and to flounder until his situation was seemingly hopeless. We are not told that he cried to God for help.
Without warning, God intervened in the life of Abram. Pharaoh and his household are struck by some kind of plague. Its symptoms may have been such as to suggest that the nature of the offense was sexually related. We are given no details here of the plague, nor of how its meaning was discerned.145
Abram was confronted by Pharaoh and roundly rebuked. Abram had no excuse or explanation. So far as we are told, he did not utter a word in his defense. No doubt this was the wise thing to do in the light of Abram’s offense. Pharaoh was not one to be challenged or angered unnecessarily.
The irony of the situation is obvious. Here is a pagan correcting a prophet (cf. 20:7). It was a royal rebuke that Abram would painfully remember. How sad, however, that Abram could not speak, for this no doubt hindered any testimony to his faith in the living God Who had called him. The Christian’s conduct does greatly affect his credibility.
How different reality was from the faithless reasonings of Abram. While in Egypt, Sarai’s purity was protected and Abram’s life was preserved. More than this, all of his possessions were kept intact. And to top it off, Abram and those with him were escorted back to the land of Canaan.
And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him. So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him; and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold (Genesis 12:20-13:2).
How foolish Abram’s fears must have appeared in the light of history. In order to avoid a famine, Abram was forced to face a Pharaoh. The might of Egypt was not employed against him, but was commanded to assure his safe arrival in Canaan. Indeed, Abram left Egypt even richer than he had come. But none of this was the result of Abram’s faithless and dishonest actions. It was the product of divine grace and providential care.
Verses 3 and 4 recount the retracing of Abram’s steps in reverse order. First he came to the Negev, then finally to Bethel and Ai. And when he returned to the altar he had formerly built, he once again offered sacrifices and called upon the name of the Lord.
Cassuto stresses the fact that Abram’s sojourn strikingly parallels Israel’s sojourn of the future.146 While the occasion for Israel’s presence in Egypt may not have been noble, God’s protection was provided there and they were eventually brought out with great spoils.
Famines would continue to be a part of the life of God’s people in the land to which they were going. But they must learn that famines come from God as a test of faith. If the people of God wish not to face famine, they must face Pharaoh. No matter what circumstance we may be in God is greater than any famine or any Pharaoh. The purity of God’s people must never be jeopardized, for in those days the Messiah was yet to appear for the salvation of His people.
There are many principles in this passage which should greatly strengthen the believer of any age. We shall suggest several.
(1) When God promises the ‘ends,’ He also provides the means. Abram believed God would give him a land, a seed, and a blessing. But in his time of faithlessness he supposed that God did not provide the means. God always provides for what He promises. There is a secular song which is entitled “Workin’ Like the Devil, Servin’ the Lord.” Many Christians seem to believe it. That is not God’s way.
(2) Our faith fails because our God is too small. We know that Abram’s faith failed. We also have seen that this failure did not frustrate God’s plan for his life. But we should be greatly helped to understand why Abram’s faith failed. I think the answer is obvious: Abram’s faith failed because His ‘god’ was too small.
As you know, J. B. Phillips some years ago wrote a book entitled, Your God is Too Small. Personally, I believe that Phillips put his finger on the reason why our faith is so fallible. The emphasis today falls largely upon our faith, rather than upon its object. As someone has said, I may have a little bit of faith in a 747 and be able to fly from here to Europe. On the other hand, I may have a great deal of faith in some homemade contraption which I have built in my garage. That will not get me across the Atlantic Ocean, no matter how great my faith in it may be.
Abram did not know His God well. And this was both normal and natural. He did not seem to think that his God was greater than famine, greater than Pharaoh. What Abram needed was not lessons in increasing his faith, but an increase in his faith by learning the greatness of his God. I believe much of our problem of little faith would be solved by knowing the God we serve more intimately. Abram did not have a Bible to help him, but we do.
(3) Situation ethics is wrong because it refuses to believe in the sovereignty of God. Situation ethics always supposes some kind of hypothetical circumstance in which there is no solution that is morally right. But God’s Word clearly tells us that God never puts us in a situation where we must sin:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (I Corinthians 10:13).
The underlying error of situationalism is that it refuses to accept a sovereign God Who is able to deliver His people, regardless of their circumstances. Release from the slavery of Egypt under the cruel hand of Pharaoh was impossible, humanly speaking. When Israel stood trapped between the attacking armies and the Red Sea, there was no hope apparent. But the God we serve is a sovereign God. He is able to deliver His people from situations which appear to demand a sinful response.
(4) There are no short-cuts to godliness. Abram was taken aback by a famine, supposing that God’s way should not include adversity. But Abram was to learn that God designs the tests of life to develop our faith, not to destroy it.
Leaving Canaan for Egypt, in my estimation, was an attempt on Abram’s part to short-cut the test of the famine. As we have previously said, God forced Abram to face Pharaoh in place of the famine. But beyond this, we must see that, in the end, Abram had to go back to the place where he departed from the revealed word of God. Abram’s last act of faith and obedience was at the altar he built between Bethel and Ai. The end of Abram’s sojourn in Bypath Meadow was at this same altar between Bethel and Ai.
Have you ever considered side-stepping the path in which God has called you to walk? You may, of course, but the way will never be easy. The way of the transgressor is never easy (Proverbs 13:15). And, in the final analysis, we must resume wherever we left off. You cannot defeat God’s program and purposes for your life, my friend. At best, you can only delay them. And even this is a delusion, for in our failures many lessons of faith are learned.
(5) When our faith fails …God doesn’t. Our faith, like Abram’s will fail. But the blessed truth of God’s Word is that when our faith fails, God doesn’t.
Abram chose to doubt God’s presence and power in the face of a famine. His actions were those which showed he was willing to sacrifice principle for self-preservation. In spite of Abram’s failure of faith, God preserved him and even prospered him. Ultimately, God brought Abram to the place that he should have been.
This principle of God’s faithfulness in the face of our failure is one that applies to us today as well: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:13).
Here is the beauty of divine election. God has ultimately chosen us to be His children. (This applies, of course, only to those who believe in Christ for eternal salvation.) Just as He saved us in spite of ourselves, so He also sanctifies us in spite of ourselves. Our eternal security, our salvation, our sanctification rests in His faithfulness, not ours. Here is great comfort for those whose faith will fail.
But someone is sure to point to the verse immediately before II Timothy 2:13: “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us” (II Timothy 2:12).
There is a great deal of difference between doubt (faithlessness) and denial (rejection). Abram did not reject God; he simply failed to believe that God was able or willing to act in his behalf. No doubt Abram thought that God only “helped those who helped themselves.”
My understanding is that a true Christian cannot and will not ever renounce Jesus Christ as their Savior. But we will find times where our faith succumbs to doubt. Trials, tests or adversity may momentarily overwhelm our faith and cause us to doubt, and thus to act in violation to God’s revealed will. Such, I believe, was the case with Abram.
I do not mean for us to take this matter of failure lightly. When men do not purposefully act in accord with the revealed will of God, His purposes are not thwarted. God providentially acts to ensure the fulfillment of His purposes. While we may find ourselves precisely where God wanted us all along (providentially), we will never look back on our sin and unbelief with a smile on our face. Disobedience is never a delight to the Christian. Those long, lonely nights in the house of Abram were not worth the dowry of Pharaoh. Failure is always painful, but it never thwarts God’s purposes for his children.
May God use this truth to keep us from careless Christianity, as well as to comfort us when we do experience a failure of our faith.
140 “The Bible does not condemn his action but the results condemn it; so we are to learn by cause and effect relationships.” Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 143.
“Yet all the indications are that Abram did not stop to enquire, but went on his own initiative, taking everything into account but God. His craven and tortuous calculations are doubly revealing, both of the natural character of this spiritual giant (cf. Jas 5:l7a) and of the sudden transition that can be made from the plane of faith to that of fear.” Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p.116.
141 Abram, we are told, left Haran for Canaan at the age of 75 (12:4). We know from 17:17 that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, making her about 65 at the time of this event. How could her beauty be so great at this age? Sarah died at the age of 127 (23:1). In her day, she was simply at the early stages of middle age. Her beauty was so striking she appeared even younger than she was. This satisfies the matter to my satisfaction, at least. Cf. Kidner, p. 117.
142 Stigers has an interesting footnote on this point: “PABH, p. 55 does state that a certain papyrus document states that the Pharoah had a husband killed that he might have the beautiful wife. Modern times do not have a ‘corner’ on such deeds!” Stigers, Genesis, p. 141, fn. 10.
144 A comment should also be made concerning Sarai’s participation in this scheme. I agree with Leupold, who has written, “Sarai’s acquiescence, however, seems to grow out of the idea that there actually is no other safe course to follow. She was as sadly deficient in faith as he himself on this occasion.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), I, p. 425.
It is true that Peter commended Sarah, and used her as an example for Christian women, especially in the matter of submissiveness. But Peter did not refer to her actions in chapter 11, but rather to chapter 18 and her respectful reference to Abraham as her ‘lord’ at the time when she learned that she and Abram were to have a child of their own. Never is the Christian to sin because someone in higher authority has commanded it (cf. Daniel 3, 6; Acts 5:29).
Related Topics: Faith