1. Christian Integrity and Community
You and your small group are about to study Christian integrity. It makes sense, then, to ask, “Why do we need to be in a group in order to deal with integrity? Can’t we simply hear preaching, study our Scriptures, ask for assistance in private prayer, and exert our own willpower to pursue holiness? What role does a community play in our pursuit of holiness?” This session will address those questions. The entire study, with its group exercises, will help you experience community’s essential role in your growth in integrity.
- Individual Aim: To consider why you need community for your pursuit of holiness.
- Group Aim: To discuss community’s role in contributing to a person’s growth in integrity.
Read Session 1: Christian Integrity and Community.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Ephesians 4 beginning on page 19.
In North American culture, individualism and independence reign. However, the New Testament describes Christian community as interdependent. Interdependence involves mutual encouragement and intimacy.
Interdependent Christian community also includes a commitment to holiness. Though our culture affirms some of the positive benefits of community, it often balks at the uniquely Christian commitment to holiness in community. It sees as “cultish” communities that want members to be mutually accountable to each other for some definite ethical standard.
It’s no surprise, then, that many churches seem to endorse a very private pursuit of holiness.Yet the New Testament presents a community in which the members have a mutual responsibility to one another in their pursuit of holiness. The members of local churches need to help each other grow in godliness.
When asked, “Do you want to live more and more like Jesus every day?” most Christians would say “yes.” But if believers cognitively assent to a desire to grow in Christlikeness, why do so many struggle to see such growth in day-to-day living? What is missing?
In many cases, believers who struggle to grow have a healthy dose of biblical input from over four dozen Sunday sermons annually, supplemented by Christian radio, Sunday school classes, or Wednesday night church services. But are our lives really changed simply by exposing our intellects to more information?
We have been trained to share the Christian message effectively with others, taught how to develop a regular prayer life, and equipped to minister to those in need. We understand that many Christian activities must occur in a corporate, or group, setting. So why do we seldom understand our growth toward Christlikeness, our sanctification, as a communal endeavor? This study will not simply expose you to principles that help you better understand what moral wholeness, or integrity, looks like in the Christian life; it will also encourage you to engage in the process of growth with others.
It must be remembered, first of all, that we are not sanctified merely as individuals but as members of the body of Christ… . We must therefore live in such a way as to advance and enrich the sanctification of the fellow believers whom our lives touch.
––Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace
Growth in true holiness is always growth together; it takes place through the nurture, the work and worship of the church.
––Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology
Believers often mistakenly assume that growing in holiness is simply a matter of either exerting personal willpower or passively expecting God to act. But even those who understand the need for both exerting one’s will and developing dependence on Christ still need the encouraging support of a community of other Christians––at least that is what Jesus and His apostles had in mind.
Paul consistently described a corporate dynamic of growth (Romans 15:14; 2 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11,14; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15; Titus 1:9; 2:4,15). Paul never imagined sanctification of isolated individuals but always of individuals within the context of an intimate community.
For a powerful example of the kind of community believers ought to experience, consider one of Jesus’ final prayers on earth. In John 17:2023, Jesus says He desires believers to have the same intimacy with one another as He and the Father share. One significant reason for that level of intimacy is the encouragement it provides for growth. In that kind of supporting—and at times correcting—community, believers help each other so that their active living is saturated with the principles of Christian integrity.
Participating in this study with a group of fellow believers is no trivial commitment. If you are unwilling to corporately confess your own sin and commit to pursue growth in new ways, this may not be the study for you. However, if you are willing, even if fearfully willing, to enter into this process, you will find yourself not only supported in your struggle against sinful influences but also given a renewed vision and motivation for pursuing holiness.
Read Ephesians 4:1-16. Also, review “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 15.
Observation — “What Do I See?”
1. Who are the persons (including God) in the passage? What is the condition of those persons?
2. What subjects did Paul discuss in the passage? What did he assert?
3. Note the sequence in which Paul made these assertions. (You might number them in order.)
4. What did Paul emphasize? Are there repeated ideas and themes? How are the various parts related?
5. Why did Paul write this passage? (Did he say anything about ways he expected the reader to change after reading it?)
Interpretation Phase 1 — “What Did It Mean Then?”
1. Coming to Terms—Are there any words in the passage that you don’t understand? Write down anything you found confusing about the passage.
2. Finding Where It Fits —What clues does the Bible give about the meaning of this passage?
- Immediate Context (the passage being studied)
- Remote Context (passages that come before and after the one being studied)
3. Getting into Their Sandals—An Exercise in Imagination
- What are the main points of this passage? Summarize or write an outline of it.
- What do you think the recipients of the letter were supposed to take from this passage? How did God, inspiring Paul to write Ephesians, want this passage to impact the Ephesian believers?
Interpretation Phase 2—“What Does It Mean Now?”
1. What is the timeless truth in the passage? In one or two sentences, write down what you learned about God from Ephesians 4.
2. How does that truth work today?
Application — “What Can I Do to Make This Truth Real?”
1. What can I do to make this truth real for myself?
2. For my family?
3. For my friends?
4. For the people who live near me?
5. For the rest of the world?
Read Session 2: Belief and Practice.
Complete the Life Change: Belief and Practice exercise beginning on page 75.
Related Topics: Fellowship