Bible StudyA new study every Sunday
A Growing Faith
Starting Feb 7th 2021
Introduction (Click to expand/collapse)
‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ (Hebrews 11:1)
Could you put yourself in the place of Noah, told to build a boat on the top of a hill in an area that gets hardly any rain. What would you have done when the locals started staring and saying things behind your back?
Could you put yourself in the place of Stephen, stoned to death for his faith and yet to the last proclaiming the greatness of his God? Would you have let it get that far? Would there have even been enough evidence to convict you?
Could you put yourself in the place of Elijah telling the widow to use up all the meagre ingredients in her larder to make him something to eat, because God would provide her with an abundance of flour and oil. Or even put yourself in the widow’s place, asked to share the last bit of food she had in the house. And then there is that awful moment when the young son appears to have died and Elijah gets the blame. How would your faith have fared then?
Faith in one sense can be an odd concept, in that most people have faith in something. We probably have faith in British or American Justice, a ‘sense of fair play’ in a game. Many folks have faith in their abilities to accomplish a task or even to direct their lives in the direction they feel it should go. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But such a faith has its limits, whereas Christian faith is limitless. It is limitless because as the writer to the Hebrews states; it has its focus as much on what will be as what is, and not on self but on God.
There is a sense in which Christians are on a journey of faith from the moment of repentance and an acceptance of forgiveness and salvation. The journey can be long, building up confidence, knowledge, skills and a relationship with God and our fellow human beings. But ultimately it is a journey that despite its trials has a glorious destination.
‘For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.’ (Psalm 18:31,32)
Question:- When you call in the plumber or electrician to fix a problem, what is it about them that gives you confidence in their abilities?
The confidence of others
Read Luke 1:1-4; Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 5:6-11
Luke is our historian, keen to present ‘an orderly account’ of Jesus Christ and the fulfilment of God’s plan for the nation of Israel and through them to the entire world. He goes on in Acts to tell the story of how this happened through the selfless dedication of the apostles and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
He is aware of the writings of others, and though not criticising them, wants to present to Theophilus an accurate account, referencing those who were eyewitnesses (primarily the apostles) and wanting this to be comprehensive so that those who hear or read it might have certainty. Around thirty percent of Luke’s material is not found in the other gospels, and this includes some of Jesus’ well-known parables.
The teaching of Paul has been foundational in the building of Christian theology over the centuries. We know little about his life pre-conversion. He came from Tarsus, a trading centre of the Mediterranean coast which was famous for its university, and his beliefs were those of the Pharisees, which explains his role in persecuting Christians prior to his famous Damascus Road experience. Now his confidence is entirely in the One who met him at that moment, and he assures his readers that there is nothing that can separate them (and us) from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
In his epistle, John makes a connection between human and divine witness. He tells his readers that if they are happy to accept the validity of human testimony, they should also accept the testimony of God regarding his Son, in all that has happened among them.
John tells us, ‘This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’
1.How important is knowing, or having around you, people who have a strong faith, and why?
2.The New Testament is the work of several people, containing a lot of wisdom and teaching. So, do you have a favourite teacher?
Trust in the word of God
Read Hebrews 6:13-19; Psalm 18:30-33; 2 Timothy 3:14-17
The writer of Hebrews is an admirer of Abraham, mentioning him ten times in his book. He is writing to Jewish believers facing the threat of persecution and in danger of falling away from the faith. Like other New Testament writers, he is keen to use examples such as Abraham for having such a steadfast faith, often over long periods of time and under adverse circumstances. God famously blessed Abraham and promised that this elderly man would have many descendants.
This was all Abraham had to go on for many years, but enough to give him hope. When the time was right, Abraham’s offspring became a nation (‘I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore’ Genesis 22:17).
The writer’s message to us is that God is faithful to his promises and we, like Abraham, can hold to that truth with confidence. God’s word is our anchor in any storm that might come.
The Psalmist builds on this theme when talking about his experience of God, his ‘Rock’ when faced with danger, who had ‘armed’ him. God is ‘perfect’, his word is ‘flawless’. David’s confidence in God is as sure-footed as a deer who walks on narrow mountain ledges and has a warrior’s strength.
Timothy is going through a tough time in his ministry, and Paul’s letter includes encouragement to stay faithful to the true message in the face of false teaching, even if this means suffering or death. From his earliest years, Timothy has known the holy Scriptures, and Paul tells him that these are the ultimate source of the wisdom, inspired by God (or ‘God-breathed’), that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
- Which parts of the Bible do you find most helpful, and which do you struggle with?
- How do you view the whole Bible, New and Old Testaments?
- Do you have verses or passages that you turn to in times of difficulty that you could share with the group?
The gift of faith
Read Ephesians 2:4-10; Hebrews 11:1; Acts 27:21-25
There are those who struggle with the word ‘faith’, even though they might love the Scriptures and teaching that they receive through worship or personal study.
It may be a latent desire to do ‘something’ to earn God’s favour, or perhaps a misunderstanding, but the writers of our Scriptures are clear that there is nothing we can do, it is God’s gift to those who believe and are welcomed into the family of believers.
Writing to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul addresses this directly, telling his readers that those who have drawn near to God in a spirit of humility and repentance have received salvation, and raised up to a new life in Christ.
Paul talks of God’s grace and means the undeserved mercy and favour of God. Faith is not something we can rustle up. It is a trusting response leading to a change in the way we live our lives. It is also about hope for now and the future, as Chapter 11 of Hebrews reminds us, referencing the lives of many famous Bible characters.
Faith also leads to confidence, as shown by Paul during a storm at sea; battered, bruised, scared and out of food. Amid a seemingly hopeless situation, he has a word which can only come from God telling him that all the ship’s company will survive. So, he encourages the frightened sailors to trust his faith and his God and have courage.
- If we think of the Christian life of as a walk of faith, where on the journey would you place yourself?
- In his introduction to Romans, Luther stated that saving faith is a living, creative, active, and powerful thing. What does that say to you?
- When the storms of life blow, do you have a well-practiced routine that helps, or to whom do you turn?
Growth in faith
Read 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5; Matthew 8:5-10; Habakkuk 3:17-19
Faith is not a static thing and will hopefully grow as our knowledge of God’s love in our own lives and in others increases. Paul was so pleased to see this happening with the fellowship in and around Thessalonica that he felt obliged to give thanks for what God was doing in their lives.
It is important to encourage faith wherever found, and in Matthew we find someone who might seem an unlikely subject for this, a centurion based in the garrison town of Capernaum. He was a non-Jew and could well have come from Lebanon or Syria. A compassionate man with a seriously ill servant, he knows enough about Jesus to ask for help.
Jesus’ response is a challenge, asking if he is happy for a Jew to do this for him, and the reply that comes back convinces Jesus that here is a man who knows who he is talking to, and where Jesus’ power comes from. Just as John the Baptist felt unworthy to baptise Jesus, so this man felt unworthy of inviting Jesus into his home. As a foot soldier he well understood the concept of higher authority and had faith in the authority and power of God, which came with Jesus. This is what Jesus recognised and commented upon.
A faith that grows is one that can stand firm and face danger head on, and Habakkuk is one such example in his prayer (or song) of lament, expressed at a moment of real uncertainty in the nation’s history when faith was being tested to the limit. In a vision of a devastated economy, he acknowledges the nation’s sin but hopes for God’s intervention once more, and for this he waits patiently.
- What can churches do at a local level to encourage those whose faith is still a seed or only just starting to grow?
- How can a small church fellowship best support those in the local community who are struggling with life, for whatever reason?
- How important has fellowship been in your own faith journey.
Something to ponder:-
Further thought What can you do to help your faith grow? Maybe challenge yourself to find more time to read the Bible, with a commentary (book or app) to help your understanding.
Truth, according to the Christian faith, is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship.
And Jesus, the heart of the Christian faith is the wildest, most radical guy you’d ever come across.
It’s a Relationship
‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live-in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.’ (Acts 17:24,25)
Opening question: – What is the difference between a business and a personal relationship?
Knowledge through creation and revelation
Read Psalm 19:1-6; Matthew 11:25-27; Acts 17:24-28
Very few of us will ever experience the heavens as the Psalmist did, because unless we live in a very remote location there will not be the stark contrast between day and night, or such a volume of stars and galaxies visible to the naked eye because of light pollution.
David lived most of his life outside, hence his love for the natural world and the wonder he writes about when considering the heavens. Unlike some, he did not consider the sun and stars as gods, but evidence of the creative workmanship of the God he worshipped, reflecting his power and glory.
In the passage from Matthew, Jesus addresses God as ‘Father’ and ‘Lord of heaven and earth’, a title that the Psalmist would no doubt agree with. The emphasis is that our understanding of God is not a simple act of reading the right books.
Many scholars have tried over the centuries and failed to find God this way, but understanding comes through revelation, having our eyes and hearts opened to receive the truth, and that is not dependent upon education or position in society.
Paul in his address to the intellectuals in Athens echoes the words of the Psalmist to those who were seeking understanding through intellectual thought and discussion and yet considered gods might be present in things made by human beings.
Paul tells them to look at the heavens and earth again, because it is all given life and breath by God. ‘For in him we move and have our being’, says Paul, and this should be the impetus for all to seek the one true God.
Some questions: –
- Have you gazed up at the sky on a clear dark night? What did you notice and feel, and does it speak into your faith?
- How can knowledge about our planet and its relationship to the universe help in understanding our place in God’s purposes?
Knowledge through word and Spirit
Read Hebrews 8:8-13; Ephesians 1:17-19; 1 Corinthians 2:6-12
The writer of Hebrews uses a quote from Jeremiah, which is a signpost to something new. Historically, God’s relationship with his people depended upon the covenant brought to them via Moses, offering the people God’s blessing if they would be obedient.
The Old Testament attests to the fact that this relationship faced many points of crisis because of disobedience and sin. Now we hear of a new covenant as God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to talk of something radically different, not written on stone tablets but in people’s hearts, where animal sacrifices are no longer required for the forgiveness of sins, and people would truly ‘know’ their God and forgiveness of sins.
This only finds its fuller meaning in the light of Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection.
It appears to have been Paul’s constant prayer for the Christians in Ephesus that they might know their God in the same way that Jeremiah spoke of, with the help of the Holy Spirit. He talks of wisdom and revelation, but his desire is simply that through the Spirit they might get to know, in the depths of their hearts, the God they worshipped, and receive the blessings that come through that knowledge.
It is a similar hope and prayer for the good people of Corinth who were struggling to come to terms with a way of thinking that differed from Greek wisdom. Paul stayed with them, teaching, and encouraging, for a year and a half, and his argument was that wisdom and understanding come from God’s own Spirit, the very same Spirit that the believers have received, so they might also know God and all that he has freely given.
Some questions: –
1.Animal sacrifices might seem rather barbaric in today’s world, but can you see any benefits for a people at the very start of their relationship with God?
2.What do the words, ‘knowing God’, mean to you, and how does some knowledge of the whole Bible help?
3.Perhaps group members could share information about any resources, physical or online, that they have used to enhance their understanding of the Bible.
Knowing Jesus, knowing God
Read Matthew 16:13-17; Ephesians 3:14-19; 1 Peter 1:18-21
Both the Pharisees and Sadducees refused to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, and even with their daily experience of being so close to him, the disciples were still on a journey to discover who Jesus really was.
Some thought he was John the Baptist risen from the dead, others Elijah (who was the one they were expecting as the forerunner to the Messiah). But Matthew extends the list of possibilities to Jeremiah or one of the many other prophets.
So, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, and Peter, acting as spokesperson, confesses that he at last believes that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God. Jesus’ response is that this understanding can only come from ‘my Father in heaven’.
Convinced that the Good News was for all people, Paul saw his God-given mission as a call to preach this message and reveal God’s grace to everyone, even if it brought persecution and suffering. His wonderful prayer for the Ephesians (which could just as easily be for us) is a real Trinitarian offering, as the apostle asks that they might know the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus, and the fullness of God in their lives.
Peter writes of suffering, but he is also reminding his readers of the sacrificial love of Jesus and the true cost of their salvation. A believer’s faith should focus on Jesus, within whom we see the bigger picture of God’s eternal love and promises for the entire world, which is the hope of all believers.
Some questions: –
- What was it about Jesus that made it so difficult for people to make up their minds who he was?
2.The Apostle Paul’s understanding of the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit informed his life and ministry. It would be over a century later that we read the word ‘Trinity’ (via Theophilus of Antioch) so how do Paul’s words to the Ephesians speak to you?
God knows us well
Read John 20:13-16; Mark 6:47-51; John 16:17-20
It might seem an odd choice to begin with the first passage from John, but we are thinking about relationships, and with Mary at the open tomb it is not the appearance but the voice of Jesus calling her name that brings recognition. So often the way we address someone we love is unique to us and says something about that relationship.
Mary’s response is immediate upon hearing Jesus call her. There are echoes of Jesus’ words elsewhere, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).
Mark brings us a miracle in the calming of the storm, but this is also about the relationship between God and humankind. The constant theme in the Old Testament is a chosen people drifting away from their God into uncharted waters, and God hearing their distress and stepping in to rescue them.
God knows his people well, and that was the situation with Jesus and his disciples, struggling against a strong wind. Jesus would not walk past and ignore them, more probably he walked alongside the boat waiting for them to recognise him, and at that point he stepped inside, and the wind died down.
We all mess up now and then and struggle with life. We do not always recognise or ask for the help that can come. God knows us well and is there through good times and bad.
We see this also in John’s Gospel, as he tells of a confused group of disciples discussing what Jesus might have meant about going back to the Father and not being around, and then coming back again. They seem to go round in circles until Jesus steps in to reassure them that this is not the end of their relationship.
The world might rejoice, and they may grieve at his going, but they will see him again and know God’s presence, with the Holy Spirit as their guide and helper (John 15:26,27)
Some questions: –
- Would you say that God speaks into your life, and if so, how?
- Is it your normal practice to bring concerns, fears, joys, and sorrows to God in regular prayer, or only when circumstances cause you genuine anxiety, and how might a daily routine help?
- How do we establish and build up relationships with other people, and does that speak at all into how we might do the same with God?
Something to think about: –
Through the coming week think about the relationship feel you have with God, and what you might do personally to help that develop.
Help on the Journey
‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’ (Matthew 7:7,8)
Opening question: – At what point in attempting to fix something do you normally ask or look for help?
The need for guidance
Read Hebrews 13:20-21; Jude 17-25; Matthew 9:35-36
Although the closing words of Hebrews are a summary of themes within the letter, the presentation has given us a doxology (or brief song of praise) which is as much an encouragement to Christians today as it was to his original readers. The risen Jesus is the ‘great Shepherd of the sheep’ who cares for his flock, enabling believers to live the Christian life, working in us in order that we might do God’s will.
There is a need for partnership says the writer, as God gives us both the desire and the means to do His will, which brings a blessing as we do our part.
We have a second doxology from Jude, but before the song is a warning that there are plenty of tempters and temptations in the world to divert believers from their chosen path. This is reason enough to draw close in fellowship with each other and to God in prayer, where we find strength and direction. Jude also instructs his readers to not forget to show the love and grace of Christ, particularly to those sadly led astray and struggling faith-wise.
Matthew reminds us of how Jesus saw his role among the ordinary folk to whom his message was so often directed. They had seen many teachers, healers and so-called messiahs come and go over the years and they were searching for the real thing. Jesus looked at them and saw an oppressed people, a lack of hope, a feeling of helplessness, sheep without a shepherd to guide them (a criticism of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day).
We know from the gospels that Jesus identified with the role of Shepherd, which people then could easily understand, and which also speaks into our own journeys of faith.
Some questions: –
1.The writer of Hebrews talks about God equipping us with ‘everything good for doing his will’. What might we need equipment-wise for this journey of faith?
- What are today’s temptations that might divert us from the path we ought to be on?
3.In what way does Jesus as Shepherd have meaning in your life?
Receiving God’s guidance
Read Psalm 25:4-7; Luke 12:11-12; Matthew 7:7-11
Some have called Psalm 25 ‘The prayer of a man in trouble’ but the psalmist’s description is general enough, and its declared truths so universal, that this can be a model prayer for any believer needing clarity and guidance from God. Here, David is a man of faith. He acknowledges God as his Saviour, and the source of hope in his life. His desire is to imitate and do God’s will, and for that he needs to know God’s ways, paths, and truth.
Luke’s passage comes at a time of crisis in the relationship between Jesus and the teachers of the law, whose lives were far too closely focussed on keeping the detail of the law and neglected the importance of practicing the love of God.
In the previous chapter there are several ‘Woe to you experts…’ said by Jesus to these men, who were becoming desperate to catch him out rather than accept who he might be. The message of chapter twelve is that believers must make the right choice in who to follow and be faithful to that choice. If asked to defend their faith, the Holy Spirit will give them guidance over the words to use.
‘Ask,’ says Jesus in Matthew 7. If you need help or guidance then ask, and God will supply your needs, because that is integral to the relationship that we have with Him, as our loving Father in Heaven.
Some questions: –
1.In Psalm 25 David is honest in acknowledging that he was a bit of a rebel in his youth. Is it important to remember the old life whilst acknowledging the new, or is it OK to forget from where we have come?
- How easy it to compromise with the world and adopt a ‘Christianity lite’ approach which more suits the lifestyle we aspire to, and what do we need to be aware of?
3.Guidance is important. God says ‘Ask…’ and that is the importance of prayer, but how often do you involve God in your day-to-day decision making?
God’s guidance in action
Read Exodus 13:17-22; Psalm 23:1-4; Acts 16:6-10
For those of us who enjoy exploring an area by foot, planning a route is important, whether using a pre-existent one or consulting a map and creating one afresh. When God led the people out of Egypt there were options, including making their way along the Mediterranean coast directly to Canaan, but along the route were Egyptian garrisons which would have brought them into conflict.
The wilderness route might seem to be a long-distance path, but this is the one that God deemed safest for the Israelites, and Exodus emphasises that it was clear to the travellers that God was with them day and night.
In his well-known psalm, David addresses the theme of God’s guidance, likening it to a shepherd’s care for this sheep, involving continual vigilance to spot and deal with predators and danger from robbers. Fields would be green during winter and spring, but in summer the sheep would need moving to fresh pasture. It is 24/7 care, and because of this commitment the sheep feel safe in with their shepherd.
Paul was aware of the constant presence of God’s Spirit leading and guiding his mission work. Plans and routes often needed changing quickly, and Paul and his companions had to embrace flexibility in their planning and objectives. This did not mean that the Good News missed some areas, because although Paul could not enter Bithynia to evangelise, we find believers there mentioned in the greeting in 1 Peter 1:1.
Paul goes where God leads and at Troas receives a vision directing his team to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel there. It was a real turning point, because this meant that through Paul’s obedience to God’s direction the Gospel went westward, spreading out to include Europe and the Western world.
Some questions: –
- Do members of the group have first-hand experience of God’s planning and direction?
- The Book of Acts contains a record of lives being led by God in the establishment of what became the worldwide Church. Do you feel that we can take this example of God’s guidance as being applicable to all Christians?
- Some Christians talk of doors opening or closing along their journey of faith. Is that a picture that you can relate to?
Results of God’s guidance
Read Genesis 12: 1-5; 2 Samuel 2:1-4a; Acts 18:1-11
Genesis tells us that ‘Abram went, as the Lord had told him,’ and in the bigger picture that meant more than an elderly gentleman and his family moving to a new location, as this was a return to God’s original intention of blessing the whole of humankind (Genesis 1:27,28). Abraham’s obedience is a new beginning and an everlasting covenant. He represents a new Adam and a life of blessing through his seed.
In our reading from 2 Samuel, King Saul is dead, and the time has come for David’s anointing as king over the tribe of Judah. He asks for God’s guidance and having received it is obedient to the call to travel to Hebron and settle in that area with his wives and army. His anointing by ‘the men of Judah’ might be small and in public but follows an earlier divine anointing; ‘So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.’ (1 Samuel 16:13)
When we read the story of Paul, it is difficult not to see a man very attuned to God’s prompting and guidance, whether it was in the direction his mission work should go or here in Acts 18, when the Jews in Corinth were not only opposing him but being abusive. Paul felt tempted to wash his hands of them and go elsewhere, until one evening when staying in the house of a believer, he hears God’s voice saying that he needs to stay in Corinth where no harm will come to him. So, that is what he did for a further year and a half.
Some questions: –
1.Abraham’s faith was inspirational to so many, holding on patiently to God’s promise of blessing for so many years. Patience can be a problem for some these days, why might that be?
2.Have you felt a call from God to go somewhere, visit someone, or consider a particular vocation? How did it come, and what was your initial response?
- How confident are you that God is there with you on your journey of faith?
Something to think about
If you have never prayerfully considered that God might be calling you to a specific work, or have need of your particular skills or gifts, then maybe this is a good time to ask, and not just the once, make it a regular part of your prayer life.
Christian faith is… basically about love and being loved and reconciliation. These things are so important, they’re foundational and they can transform individuals, families. Philip Yancey
God didn’t make a mistake when He made you. You need to see yourself as God sees you. Joel Osteen
Living in the Faith
‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.’ (2 Peter 1:3)
Opening question: – Is there a subject area you would like to know more about, or a skill you would love to develop?
Discipleship involves learning
Read Ephesians 4:17-24; John 14:23-26; Philippians 4:8-9
Paul’s words to the Christians in Ephesus might seem overly strict, with his insistence that their lives must not reflect those among whom they lived – self-centred, greedy, permissive, and insensitive to others’ needs.
Paul reminds them of how things were and emphasises the need to break free from the past and live new lives in Christ. They have had enough instruction to know they need to take off the old self and put on the new, become the people God created them to be, whose heart and attitude reflect something of the light of God.
There is no worse criticism of a Christian than to be told that their behaviour or language is no better than those who they themselves criticise.
Jesus knew that it would not be easy for his disciples and those who followed in their footsteps. He had taught them much in the time they were with him, but memories are short and therefore the Holy Spirit would become their teacher, reminding them of Jesus’ words, guiding them through life, making the living Christ real to his followers in whatever situations they might find themselves. This was Paul’s experience and should be the hope and experience of all believers.
Paul’s final words in Philippians remind readers they have a goal to aim for in their daily lives, to focus on those things that are morally and spiritually good, and as they put all they have learned from Paul’s life and words into daily practice, they will receive God’s blessing.
Some questions: –
- Does the phrase ‘take off the old self and put on the new’ speak into your experience?
- Jesus says, ‘If anyone loves me, they will obey my teaching.’ (John 14:23) How important is continuous learning, through Bible reading and commentaries, to your faith?
- How easy do you find it, in today’s world, to put Paul’s instructions to the Philippians into practice, and have you any advice for those who struggle?
The character of believers
Read Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 5:3-10; Colossians 3:1-15
A criticism sometimes aimed at Christians is that our words and actions do not always sit comfortably with the faith that we profess, a situation that was an issue with Paul as he mentored the early churches through his letters. Think of what God has done for you through Jesus Christ, he says, and there must be a response, a transformation in our day-to-day lives. Paul calls this our ‘true and proper worship’, not confined to chapel, church or cathedral but seen in and flowing from our lives, day by day.
Matthew brings us Jesus’ description of those who show by their lives that they understand what God has been asking of them since the days of the Ten Commandments and are deserving of blessing. Some of these qualities might seem less than desirable as we read through them. However, the rewards are not about material benefit, but found at the level of spiritual experience and relationship with God. The key phrase, at beginning and end of this lovely passage is ‘theirs is the kingdom’. The call of Jesus is for believers to show meekness, mercy, be hungry for righteousness, always looking to bring peace to situations and so on. As we display these characteristics, so we bring a blessing into our fellowship and beyond.
Paul’s words to the Colossians are on a similar theme, emphasising the transformational life that is the only genuine response to God’s grace and love. Set your hearts on things that are higher than those of the world, ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (3:3). The life that God looks for is not about self, pride, or greed, but one that has at its focus compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and forgiveness. It is the lifestyle of Christ which we are to emulate.
Some questions: –
- We only have to view some social media sites to see that people who label themselves as Christians can have extreme views on some subjects. Is there a ‘red line’ that is not for crossing, or are all opinions valid?
- What should people see when they get to know us a little?
3.What do you look for if you go to church somewhere whilst on holiday?
Discipleship comes with a cost
Read Luke 9:23-25; 12:22-34; Philippians 3:7-11
The passage from Luke brings us Jesus being totally open about the cost of discipleship, and comes just he had sent out the Twelve, with nothing except the power and authority to drive out demons, preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick (9:1-9). Thrown in the deep end, they begin to understand with what Jesus wants from them. Soon afterward, Peter confesses that Jesus is ‘The Christ of God’ (9:20) and Jesus senses the time is right to challenge their commitment. ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’
To take up our cross daily is to live each day, not for self, but for Christ. It is not about losing our physical life, but becoming the people that God wants us to be.
Many of us are hoarders of one type or another, be it books, clothes, mementos, items no longer of use to us, or wealth, and Jesus had something to say about that to his disciples in chapter twelve, under a general theme of storing up things for ourselves. There is more to life than this, Jesus tells them. We should be more concerned with freeing up our lives and minds and concentrating on what is of far greater value, namely our relationship with God, for that is where our treasure lies.
Paul knew first-hand what the personal cost of his work was, and in writing to the believers in Philippi he openly admits to his struggles. He is writing to the first Christian community in Europe, and he is ‘in chains’ (1:13,14) which possibly implies more harsh treatment than when he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). To Paul, whatever he achieved in his life prior to his conversion on the Damascus road was nothing compared to his newfound, growing and very personal knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord. He is on a journey of discovery, which he shares in his letters, and nothing that happens will deflect him from this, his chosen path.
Some questions: –
- Is there a ‘one size fits all’ for carrying crosses?
- Do you have a picture in your mind of the person God might want you to be, and if so, do you feel that with help that could be achievable?
- What have you discovered about yourself and God along the journey so far?
Some quotes: –
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that life will never make sense.” Rick Warren
Discipleship brings blessings
Read John 15:9-16; Matthew 11:28-30; 2 Peter 1:3-8
The lovely passage from John’s Gospel follows Jesus’s words about a vine and its branches, and how to be fruitful, a branch must stay attached to the vine. It is the same with a disciple. The Father’s love for the Son is the pattern for the Son’s love for his disciples, and the Son’s obedience to the Father is the pattern for a disciple’s obedience to the Son. Love one another, says Jesus, as I have loved you. What flows from this obedience is the guidance and knowledge that the Spirit brings, and a joy and fruitfulness that is visible and lasting.
The image of a yoke may not have the same meaning as it once did, with ‘beasts of burden’ beings largely replaced by machines on farms, and the traditional master/servant relationship of the past might be easier to relate to. In Jesus’ day the teachers of the law and the scribes made life difficult for ordinary folk who were trying to keep to the letter of God’s laws, such that it became a real burden. Jesus’ own summary of the law, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself’, was a radical re-interpretation, yet he adds that ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’. (Matthew 22:37-40)
So, what Jesus offers is not a set of rules of life covering several volumes, which was the way of the world, but two rules of life that bring blessings both to the disciple and to those with whom they interact. Yokes can bring oppression and signal submission to authority. Those who consider themselves as servants of Christ find rest and refreshment with him even when faced with difficult or stressful situations. That is the promise of Jesus.
Peter’s words speak into this. As our relationship with and our knowledge of God grows, then our understanding of God’s love, peace, patience, and grace grows, and this spills over into the way we live our lives and put into practice the second of Jesus’ commandments, to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Some questions: –
- From crosses to yokes, Jesus emphasises that there is work needed, and the promise is that we shall have the skills and knowledge required. How can the church fellowship encourage and support each other?
- In our reading Peter encourages Christians to have confidence in Jesus’ promises, so their lives might become fruitful. How do you see that fruitfulness developing within your own church and fellowship?
Something to ponder: –
Think about your day-to-day life and where, in your relationship with those you work or socialise with, you can bring a little encouragement and hope.
Grant us the confidence, Lord to step out in faith and become the people we are meant to be, unapologetic in our love for you, wanting to be change-makers, bringers of hope, love and grace into an unbelieving world that has no faith but in itself, is almost blind and cannot see that all it seeks is found in you. Grant us the confidence, Lord to step out in faith and become the people we are meant to be, Amen.
All I am, and all I have, I offer, Lord, to you. I offer you these hands, that you might use them in and through my daily work. I offer you these feet, that you might lead them to someone who needs my help. I offer you these shoulders if you should them to help lighten another’s load. I offer you this voice that you might use it to speak up for those in need. All I am, and all I have, I offer, Lord, to you, Amen.
Bless our feet that they might tread the path prepared. Bless our hands that they might show your love’s embrace. Bless our words that they might share your grace and peace. In your time, Lord, in your time Take the imperfect that is me and create the person that I could be in your time, Lord, in your time, Amen.
As we journey together in the footsteps of faith may we never lose our sense of direction, keep eyes focussed upon our destination, drink from the well and eat of the bread that will bring us life, and hold out our hand to any who may falter or stumble along the way, Amen.
Good Shepherd guide us when the way is uncertain and the path overgrown, back onto higher ground from where we might see, behind us, the place from which you have patiently brought us, and ahead of us once more glimpse your footsteps leading forward, into which we will try and place our own, Amen.
Your light is the only light I need as I travel through life’s mystery. Your word the only voice I hear, that still small voice that leads me to the place where I should be. Your presence is the only company I need, as I walk this narrow road. Your fellowship the warmth I crave to help me on my way, Amen.