Saturday, August 07, 2010

Sunday School Lesson: Giving of Oneself

Purpose: To realize that expressing the mind or attitude of Christ results in a willingness to serve others.

Scripture: Philippians 2:1 – 13

Today’s Bible lesson contains one of the best known passages in Paul’s letters. It is one of my favorites. This passage even contains an early church hymn (verses 6-11).

There is one word that is repeated three times in this passage. That word is “mind”.

When you use the word “mind” what do you mean by it?

There are at least twenty definitions for the word “mind” in Merriam-

Webster’s Dictionary, about evenly divided between noun and verb. No definition that I found matches exactly the usage of Paul in this passage.

I am going to give you a few sentences or phrases with the word “mind” and let’s talk about how the word is used:

“Keep that in mind.” = “Don’t forget about it.”

“I’ve changed my mind.” = (usually) “I’ve decided to do something else.” Or “I’m not going to do what I said I would do.”

“Don’t pay him any mind.” = “He has nothing to say of any value.” Or “He’s full of …..”

“I don’t mind.” = “You are not imposing on me.”

One definition of “mind” is, the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons”.

This definition is not very far from Paul’s definition. Other words that could describe Paul’s us of “mind” include “personality” or “character”. But none of these words completely get it. For Paul the word “mind” included the whole person: thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.

In our student book there is mention of a Sunday School class called the Joy Class. In that class was a sign which displayed the class motto: Jesus First, Others Second, Yourself Last.

What do you think of that acronym?

What would Paul have thought of J.O.Y.?

Paul probably would have agreed but would have added: Putting others first is how we put Jesus first.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

(Php 2:1-4 NRSV)

In Chapter 1 of the Letter to the Philippians Paul called on the Philippians to live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In these verses Paul continued to expand upon what it means to live that type of life.

What is the root cause of most internal conflicts in churches?

Paul put his finger on church conflict in verses two and three: individuals acting out of selfish ambition rather than out of humility. The opposite of “being in full accord” is to be in discord. To act out of selfish ambition is to put yourself first and to make your needs, wants, and concerns the highest priority.

Ambition itself can be a good thing as it motivates us to work hard and do the best job we can. But selfishness combined with ambition is toxic. Nothing undermines a church’s unity more quickly than individuals putting their own self interest above those of others. Selfish ambition is totally at odds with the church’s purpose.

What did Paul prescribe as the antidote to selfish ambition?

Humility. Regard others as better than ourselves and act accordingly.

What does humility mean?

The act of being humble.

How do we become humble?

Does humility require that we put ourselves down or think lowly of ourselves?

What is the difference between humility and insecurity or low self-esteem?

Humility does not mean thinking poorly of yourself. True humility is putting the needs and concerns of others above your own. The root word of “humble” is the word humus which means earth.

Is it possible to think too lowly of yourself? Can humility be overdone?

To be safe which would be better: to err on the side of being too humble or on the side of being too proud?

Humility means two things. One, a capacity for self-criticism.... The second feature is allowing others to shine, affirming others, empowering and enabling others.

Are we to ignore our own interests?

Does anything bad happen if we ignore our own interests altogether?

I must take responsibility for my own needs. If I refuse to meet my own personal needs, someone else must meet them for me. Then I am not placing their needs ahead of my own. That is not humility.

Who has been an example to you of genuine, biblical humility?

If we are to be of one mind, does that mean that we must agree on everything?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Php 2:5-11 NRSV)

How much difference does attitude make? Can you think of an example? Anyone have a story?

There is a story of a certain organization offering a bounty of $5,000 for wolves captured alive. It turned Sam and Jed into fortune hunters. Day and night they scoured the mountains and forests looking for their valuable prey.

Exhausted one night, they fell asleep dreaming of their potential fortune. Suddenly, Sam awoke to see that they were surrounded by about fifty wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth. He nudged his friend and said, "Jed, wake up! We're rich!"

What do we learn about Jesus from this passage?

This early hymn recorded in verses 6-11 portrays the Christ story in three movements: preexistence, existence, postexistence.

Christ has always existed with God.

To say that Christ preexisted, was with God prior to life on earth, is common in the New Testament. At least five passages attest to this idea but the passages are difficult for us because the idea of preexistence is for us finite beings a foreign idea.

Christ is equal to God because he is God.

Christ did not hold on to his preexistent state.

Though Christ is God, he became a man in order to fulfill God's plan of salvation for all people.

Christ chose to empty himself.

Christ did not just have the appearance of being a man—he actually became human to identify with us.

Christ voluntarily laid aside his divine rights and privileges out of love for his Father.

Christ died on the cross for our sins so we wouldn't have to face eternal death.

Up to this point in the hymn it is Christ who decides and who acts, relinquishing claims, emptying himself, becoming human, serving, obeying, dying. Now it is God who acts.

God highly exalted Christ because of his obedience.

Jesus Christ is Lord.

God raised Christ to his original position at the Father's right hand, where he will reign forever as our Lord and Judge.

Is submission of the lordship of Christ limited to the human realm?

How did humility benefit Jesus?

With all of these thoughts in mind what does it mean to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”?

How does humility benefit us?

Verse 11 is one of the most important in the New Testament.

Jesus Christ is Lord.

Those four words were the first creed that the Christian Church ever had. To be a Christian is to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This was a simple creed, yet all encompassing.

Over the years, there have been arguments and disagreements as to what those four words mean exactly, but it is still true and always will be that anyone who can say “Jesus Christ is Lord” is a Christian. If we can say that, we mean that we are prepared to give him an obedience that we are prepared to give to no one else.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

(Php 2:12-13 NRSV)

What is the difference between work out and work for your salvation?

What exactly does it mean to work out your salvation?

From the earliest days of the church, the relationship between the power of God and the responsibility of believers in living the Christian life has been debated.

Is the Christian life essentially a matter of passive trust or of active obedience?

Is it all God's doing, all the believer's doing, or a combination of both?

This is not an unusual question when dealing with spiritual truth; in fact, the same question arises about salvation itself.

Is it all God's doing, or is there a requirement on man's part in response to the command to believe the gospel?

Scripture makes it clear that it involves both God's sovereignty and human response.

Does Christian living require a lot of effort or very little effort?

What part does grace play in our salvation?

Sanctifying grace: for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We work out our salvation only by the grace of God.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunday School Lesson for July 25

Lesson: God’s Own Faithfulness

Purpose: To learn how God’s faithfulness to us requires that we live faithfully.

Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3

Let’s each share the name of someone who has been one example of genuine Christian living for you?

Who have been the persons in your life who have been there when you needed them?

How do you feel when you know someone is praying for you?

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

(2Th 3:1-5 NRSV)

What did Paul request in verse 1?


For what, specifically, did Paul ask them to pray?

He asked “that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere” and “that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people”.

For not all have faith, but the Lord is faithful. In contrast to the faithlessness of those who were opposing Paul was the great faithfulness of God.

What type of opposition does the ministries and missions of the church face today?

Have you ever been prayed for in regard to a specific mission or undertaking?

Have you ever prayed for someone else involved in mission or ministry?

For most of it’s history the Church has been in a process of slow, steady growth. Most of our ministries and outreach seem geared toward a goal of slow, steady growth. Did Paul long for slow, steady growth?

Is the church in America growing today?

After decades of net decline, more U.S. churches are being started each year (approximately 4,000) than are being closed each year (approximately 3,500). Total church membership in the US is up .49% this year to 147.3 million, just under ½ of the total population.

Is the church world-wide growing?

Worldwide the statistics are much more positive than in the US.

There are now about 600 million Christians in Africa. Protestant Christianity grew 600 percent in Vietnam in the last decade. In China there are now an estimated 130 million churchgoers.

Astounding church growth has occurred in Guatemala, Brazil, India and Ethiopia. In Nepal, which had no Christians in 1960, there are now a half-million believers. The Christian population of Indonesia has mushroomed from 1.3 million to 11 million in 40 years. Remember we had the Indonesian District Superintendent here a couple of years ago to preach to us. I got to drive him back to Atlanta after the service. A wonderful man.

The United Methodist Church in Africa, especially has spread rapidly.

What would it take to see a rapid expansion of the gospel in the United States?

How could prayer help spread the message of the Lord?

How does prayer change people or circumstances?

The root word of faithfulness is faith. In current popular usage, the word faith has come to mean in most folks minds an intellectual acknowledgement to a certain set of beliefs. In other words faith has come to be synonymous with belief.

In what ways are faith and belief synonymous?

In what ways are they different?

Faith is much more than belief. Faith is trust, loyalty. Faith is dynamic. Any believer in Jesus can veg out and become essentially a Christian “couch potato”. But faith doesn’t leave room for vegging. Faith demands action.

We are not just hearers of the Word, but also doers.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?....... faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder.

(Jas 2:14-19 NRSV)

If we accept that faith is trust, what allows trust to develop?

Trust forms only in relationship. Good relationships are built upon a foundation of trust, and nothing will undermine a relationship like a betrayal of trust.

Why is prayer important?

Prayer is the language of our relationship with God.

How does prayer protect us?

How does our belief about God affect the way we pray?

One of the ways that we live faithfully is to pray for others. When Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray, he was really asking them to be faithful in their relationship with God. Prayer is a way of connecting with God.

How does praying for someone connect you to her or him?

When we pray for someone, the person comes to the forefront of our thoughts. We focus on her or his needs and concerns and forget our own. Praying for one another connects us with what is happening in her or his life. Our prayers can lead to action on her or his behalf.

Verse 4. When he speaks of “doing the things that we command. . .” are we to do the things our pastors command, or is this commanding only a privilege of Paul and friends?

How much authority should a pastor have, biblically?

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

(2Th 3:6-13 NRSV)

There’s another command from Paul.

In this long section Paul pointed to another aspect of living faithfully. What is that?

Paul discusses idleness and work. According to Paul responsible work is another aspect of the faithful life. Why did Paul spend such effort discussing idleness?

After all, whom does idleness really harm?

Is idleness simply doing nothing, the same as laziness?

Not really. In this context, idleness involves more than doing nothing. It also involves doing the wrong things. It is subtle disobedience that is not in keeping with God’s will and purposes for us. There is a difference between doing good things and doing the things God wants us to do.

Not all good ideas are God’s ideas.

At a church administrative council meeting someone observed, “The trouble with the church is that there aren’t enough committed people.” Someone else said, “The trouble with the church is that people are over-committed to the wrong things.” Idleness can refer to being preoccupied with a thousand-and-one good things that allow us to avoid the things God really wants us to do. We may be busy, but we may be busy doing things other than the things God wants us to do.

Those in the Thessalonian church who Paul called out for their idleness were not just passively sitting around and not bothering anyone else; they were meddling in the affairs of others. What did Paul refer to them as?

“Mere busybodies.”

How could these idlers justify their unwillingness to work and earn a living?

At the root of their idleness was their belief that the day of the Lord was so close at hand that it rendered working meaningless. They apparently reasoned, “Since Christ is returning any day, why worry about living?” These idlers tried to convince their fellow church members of their belief. They were disrupting community life with their irresponsible behavior. Those who were not working were relying on the hard work of others for food and shelter, no doubt causing resentment within the church.

What are some modern parallels of this group waiting for the return of the Lord?

We actually have a term for these types of groups today. They are called “doomsday cults” and can refer to both groups that prophesy catastrophe and destruction, and those that attempt to bring it about.

We have many modern examples: the Unification Church, the group led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Jim Jones Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians, the Heavens Gate group, and many, many others.

For Paul, living faithfully meant working. He knew the value of hard work and commended it to the Thessalonians not only by word but also by example. Paul reminded them that he and his companions were self-supporting during their visit there and did not ask the community to support them.

For those living faithfully, voluntary idleness is not an option. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

What counts as “work worth doing”?

There is value in every kind of work, but doing the kinds of work that make positive differences in peoples lives is a great gift.

What price do the idle pay for their idleness?

Prov 13:4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

Prov 15:19 19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

Prov 19:24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!

Prov 20:4 A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

What are the benefits of hard work?

Prov 12:14 From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.

Prov 14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Prov 22:29 Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

If you could, do you think you would be happier in a world where you didn’t have to work?

Studies show that workers are happier than those who don’t.

If you could engage in any kind of work, what would you do?

What percentage of your average day do you spend doing those things you really like to do?

You should ask yourself that often. If the answer is often negative, you may want to explore some options.

How does a person learn good work habits?

When have you been frustrated with a lazy person?

What kind of help do you think should be given to people who do not work?

Do you think God normally calls us into work we love?

Have you ever heard someone say: “I'm afraid to surrender my life totally to the Lord because He might send me to Africa as a missionary”? Or have you been cautioned, “Don't say what you don't want to do because, sure enough, that's what God will tell you to do”?

What do those statements say about God?

Such statements indicate a lack of trust and understanding of God's love, for He would not call you to be a missionary in Africa unless He knew such a call was best for you. There are many people who serve the Lord in dangerous or impoverished nations, and they would not want to be anywhere else in the world. They love their adopted country and its people, and they know God gave them His best when He invited them to serve Him there.

One missionary couple came back to their home in the United States for a year with their two children before returning to Zimbabwe. Their schedule in the United States was so full and hurried, they declared, “We can't wait to get back to Africa. We love African time!” The place in Africa where they work has no electricity. They go to bed when it gets dark, and they rise with the sun. When they go to a village for a meeting, no schedule drives them. Upon arrival, they send word throughout the village by children. A crowd gathers, and they meet until they are finished. The pace is far less stressful than the frenetic schedule in America.

How literally do you take verse 10?

According to verse 10, if a man won't work don't let him eat. If he comes to us saying, "I am hungry," should we tell him, "Starve."?

A common argument about our contemporary welfare system is that it is an incentive not to work. That is not the whole story. Even before the 1996 Welfare reforms limited lifetime benefits to five total years (two consecutive years) House Committee on Ways and Means analyses indicated that 56 percent of AFDC support ended within 12 months, 70 percent within 24 months, and almost 85 percent within 4 years. These exit rates clearly contradict the widespread myth that AFDC recipients wanted to remain on public assistance or that welfare dependency was permanent.

It is a very, very, very small percentage of Americans who don’t want to work.

Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

(2Th 3:14-15 NRSV)

In these verses Paul introduced another aspect of living faithfully: how we treat those who are disruptive or difficult.

What did Paul advise the Thessalonians to do? Why?

Is what Paul suggesting a sort of “time-out” for unruly church members?

What second piece of advice did Paul offer in verse 15?

The disruptive idlers were not to be treated as enemies but as siblings. Even though they were disobedient, these persons were still part of the church.

Paul offered a first century version of tough love. He did not want the Thessalonians to tolerate irresponsible behavior, and he wanted them to do what they could to correct it. He asked them to treat the difficult members with love.

Is Paul’s advice still valid in the twenty-first century?

Do you believe that the strategies for dealing with disruptive members would work? Why or why not?

Have any of you had to confront irresponsible behavior within the church community?

What happened?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sunday School Lesson: Glory to Christ

Purpose: To discern how steadfastness and resolve during trying times bringing glory to Christ.

Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1

What can we do to keep our faith growing?

What times or events in your life have been most trying?

“These are the times that try men’s souls” Those immortal words are from the opening line of the essay The Crisis written by Thomas Paine on December 23, 1776. The essay was so inspiring to General Washington that he ordered it read to the troops at Valley Forge.

War is a trying time. Especially for the warriors and their families. The winter of 1777 at Valley Forge was a very trying time. It was there that the Continental army was desperately against the ropes — bloody, beaten, battle-weary — and ready to quit. Even General Washington conceded, "If the army does not get help soon, in all likelihood it will disband."

Early into the six-month encampment, there was hunger, disease, and despair. Raw weather stung and numbed the soldiers. The images are heartrending, dramatic and so powerful that they are embedded in the nation's historical consciousness: Bloody footprints in the snow left by bootless men. Near naked soldiers wrapped in thin blankets huddled around a smoky fire of green wood. The plaintive chant from the starving: "We want meat! We want meat!"

The future promised only more desperation and starvation.

Some couldn't take the cold, hunger, and uncertainty any longer. There were numerous desertions. Disease debilitated. Death descended in droves.

No battle was fought at Valley Forge, yet it is considered the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

What happened?

On June 19, 1778, exactly six months after they Americans arrived, a new army anxious to fight the British streamed out of Valley Forge toward New Jersey. They had been transformed from rebels into a Mature Army.

At Valley Forge, we read of words like "sacrifice” but the concept of suffering for freedom isn't easily to understood. What kept these men going? What happened at Valley Forge?

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

But war is not the only time or circumstance that can try one’s soul.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has or will at some time encounter trying times – difficult, discouraging, challenging times.

Sudden illness. Don’t even get me started on that one…..

Chronic illness.

The death of a loved one.

With illness we have to deal not only with the physical issues but also the emotional.

And many illnesses are not resolved quickly. There could be years of pain and discomfort.

If the death of a loved one is sudden and unexpected the shock could be devastating and could linger for years. Even if the death is expected, there could still be long periods of grieving.

Coping with illness and surviving the death of a loved one are some of the most trying times that we will ever face in life. There are also other trials, both great and small, that confront us. Each of us knows what tries our soul.

How can a person go through trials and yet have their faith strengthened?

The believers in Thessalonica were living in a time of trial. The two letters of Paul to the Thessalonians do not detail the nature of the persecutions. Paul does let us know that the Thessalonians were suffering from “afflictions”. This does not tell us whether the suffering was physical or emotional or both. And it really doesn’t matter as to the exact nature of the suffering. Only that the suffering was a result of their Christian faith.

What they need in their trying times was the strength to survive the trials. They needed steadfastness of faith and resolve of will. According to Paul, the Thessalonian believers possessed a great measure of both.

We need steadfastness and resolve during our trying times as well.

This lesson can help us discern how these qualities of character bring glory to God.

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

(2Th 1:3 NRSV)

Everybody pick one of Paul’s letters and turn to the first chapter of it. Read the first few verses.

Here are a few examples:

To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.

(Rom 1:7-8 NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--

(1Co 1:3-5 NRSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,

(Php 1:2-4 NRSV)

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

(Col 1:2-3 NRSV)

What do we learn about Paul from the greetings of his epistles?

All if Paul’s letters contain a “thanksgiving” section immediately after the initial “greeting”. Even when the purpose of one of Paul’s letters was to scold the church, he began most of his letters by stating what he most appreciated about his readers and the joy he felt because of their faith in God. We also should look for ways to encourage and build up other believers.

Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.

(2Th 1:4 NRSV)

What was the first of three specific things that Paul was thankful for in the case of the Thessalonians?

First, he was thankful that their “faith is growing abundantly”.

What was the cause of their abundant growth in faith?

Apparently and ironically, it seems as if the trials they were facing was the cause of this abundant growth in faith.

Do we usually view our trials as a positive thing?

We usually go to great lengths to avoid the pain and suffering of trials.

How can our trials become an opportunity for our faith to grow?

Henry Ward Beecher a prominent preacher of the 19th century said, “We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things.”

Think about that: faith is strengthened on the anvil of trials.

Have any of you ever watched a blacksmith at his forge?

Rough pieces of red hot iron can be shaped into many useful items by hammering on an anvil. The working surface of the iron is actually strengthened by the heating, hammering, and cooling process. This process is called annealing.

How can our faith be annealed by suffering?

What happens is that suffering gives us an opportunity to exercise our faith and trust in God. During times of trial, we tend to turn to God for empowerment and help. Every time we turn to God we strengthen that relationship.

It is the mark of developing Christians that they grow surer of Jesus Christ every day. Faith begins as theoretical and ends as a certainty. The thrill of Christian experience progresses to the discipline of Christian thought and action.

What was Paul’s second reason for thanksgiving?


The love that each of the Thessalonians had for the others was increasing.

What was the cause of the increasing love?

The answer is the same: because of persecutions and afflicitions.

How is it that suffering can increase love?

When we suffer together, there is a feeling that “we’re in this together.” Suffering common trials can draw us closer together and bring out a deeper compassion for each other. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.”

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; (1Co 12:26 NRSV)

I can speak to this issue also. Because of our recent trials there are people, quite a few in fact, whom I have a whole new opinion of. Not that I necessarily had bad opinions before, but folks with whom I had a casual relationship at best, I now think of as family. And family is much more family than ever before.

What is one sure mark of a healthy church?

A healthy church, grows greater in love. And that love shows itself in service. Christians begin serving others out of a sense of duty which their faith puts on them. They will eventually come to the point where serving others gives them their greatest joy. The life of service opens up the great discovery that unselfishness and joy go hand in hand.

What was the third reason Paul gave for thanksgiving?

The Thessalonians “steadfastness” in enduring persecutions and afflictions. Not only was Paul thankful for this but he boasted, like a parent proud of a child’s accomplishments.

The word Paul used (hupomone) is usually translated as steadfastness or endurance is defined as “constancy which endures”. This hupomone does not mean the ability to passively bear whatever trials may befall us but to actively overcome our trials. It accepts the blows of life but in accepting them transforms them into stepping stones to new achievement.

How do you think Paul could see the Thessalonians’ faith growing?

How did he know?

What is the evidence of a life of more and more faith?

Paul called the Thessalonians faith “growing abundantly”. Other translations say “flourishing” or “groweth exceedingly”. Paul could see that their faith was flourishing and that they were all growing in love for each other. Paul chose colorful words to describe this growth. The word translated "flourishing" (hyperauxenei) is used only here in the New Testament and speaks of the type of growth a healthy plant makes. The picture is of internal growth, like that of an oak tree. The word translated "growing" (pleonazei) is also a strong verb picturing something that spreads out or disperses widely—like floodwaters. The Thessalonians' internal faith was flourishing like a healthy plant; their external love was spreading out to many.

How do we grow our faith? What is the fertilizer for faith?

We have to go to God. Prayer, worship, Bible study, works of piety and works of compassion: all are the fertilizer of faith.

When we are going through difficulties, how do we know God hasn’t forgotten us?

What are some reasons we use to explain why we experience trials and hard times?

How could trials and hard times be part of God’s plan for us?

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

(2Th 1:5-10 NRSV)

When someone we love is hurt, what is the natural human response?

We want vengeance. We demand justice. Retribution.

Can our desire for justice cross over into vindictiveness?


What is the difference between our idea of justice and God’s idea of justice?

God’s idea of justice:

But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

(Mat 5:39-41 NRSV)

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

(Mat 5:43-44 NRSV)

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

(Mat 6:14-15 NRSV)

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

(Mat 7:1-2 NRSV)

Is Paul’s view of justice consistent with Jesus’ teachings?

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

(Rom 12:17-19 NRSV)

Paul’s view of justice was in perfect alignment with Jesus’ teachings. In Paul’s view vengeance is always best left to God. God will not act out of vindictiveness but out of loving justice.

Paul was always clear that God is the judge of right and wrong and will hold all (even saved Christians) accountable.

One way to view divine justice is to see it in terms of natural consequences. Those who persecuted the Thessalonians would get what they deserved because they brought it on themselves.

What consequences would be the natural result of the persecutors of the Thessalonian church (and all sinners)?

They cut themselves off from their fellow human beings, harming the unity of their community.

They separate themselves from a life-giving relationship with God.

Paul believed that this alienation from God would continue beyond physical death.

How does grace and forgiveness fit into this picture of justice?

If accountability and consequences are one side of divine justice, then forgiveness is the other. Forgiveness is offered to all, even those who persecute Christians. Remember Paul began as a persecutor.

What did God’s forgiveness do for Paul?

It transformed him into the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known.

Do you agree or disagree with Paul’s portrayal of divine justice?

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2Th 1:11-12 NRSV)

Our sufferings and difficulties can be easier to endure when we know there is a purpose or reason for them.

What reason did Paul give the Thessalonians for their suffering?

They were glorifying God by their steadfastness in the face of diversity.

How would it make you feel to hear this prayer of Paul in your time of suffering?

Lord, whenever things do not turn out the way we anticipate, help us not to become discouraged and fail to trust you. Give us the strength and determination to remain faithful to you regardless of the circumstances or the consequences. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday School Lesson: Pleasing to God

Purpose: To explore the conflicts and connections involved in pleasing God and pleasing people.

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2

In 1780 John Wesley published a pamphlet titled “Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God”. For Wesley one part of what it meant to be a mature disciple of Christ was the joining together of Christian believers in a covenant "to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul."

He urged his Methodist followers to renew, "at every point, our covenant, that the Lord should be our God."

Many churches use a variation of Wesley’s Covenant Service for the first service of every new year or on Ash Wednesday. A modern version of the service is in the United Methodist Church Book of Worship.

In Wesley’s Covenant Service we find these words:

Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable; others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.

In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ.

Do you agree that often our desire to please God comes into conflict with pleasing ourselves and others?

When have you experienced a conflict between pleasing God and pleasing others?

When have you suffered because of your faith?

Paul answered that question in today’s Bible Lesson.

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.

(1Th 2:1-2 NRSV)

What indignities had Paul suffered at Philippi?

That incident is described in Acts 16:12-40. Paul had cast a “spirit of divination” out of a slave girl. Her owners had used this girl as a source of income. Upset over the loss of their money maker, the owners took Paul and Silas before the civil authorities with charges of “disturbing our city”.

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

(Act 16:22-24 NRSV)

When the authorities learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they released them and apologized. But they still asked them to leave Philippi.

Verse 1. “You yourselves know..” Paul uses this phrase nine times throughout the letter to the Thessalonians. (1:5, 2:1, 2:2, 2:11, 3:3, 3:4, 4:2, 4:4, 5:2)
Paul is encouraging the Thessalonian believers to use their own faith experience as a testimony to the reality of the gospel.

“declare to you the gospel of God”

What is the gospel of God?

Gospel translates literally as “good news”, not “good advice” or “good ideas” or “good rules to live by”. The gospel announces the act of God in Christ for human salvation. God is both the content and the source of the good news.

What kind of welcome would Donalsonville give to a new preacher in town when word got out that he had just been released from jail and asked to leave the last town he was in?

What was Paul’s visit to Thessalonica like?

Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

(Act 17:4 NRSV)

Some, but not all:

But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar…..

(Act 17:5 NRSV)

Paul was forced to flee Thessalonica as well. So why does he say that “our coming was not in vain”?

What would have had to have been true for the trip to be a failure?

What does failure and success mean in following God?

At 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, a few thousand spectators remained in the Mexico City Olympic Stadium. It was cool and dark. The last of the marathon runners, each exhausted, were being carried off to first-aid stations. More than an hour earlier, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia—looking as fresh as when he started the race—crossed the finish line, the winner of the 26-mile event.

As the remaining spectators prepared to leave, those sitting near the marathon gates suddenly heard the sound of sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned to the gate. A lone figure wearing number 36 and the colors of Tanzania entered the stadium. His name was John Stephen Akhwari. He was the last man to finish the marathon. He had fallen during the race and injured his knee and ankle. Now, with his leg bloodied and bandaged, he grimaced with each hobbling step around the 400-meter track.

The spectators rose and applauded him. After crossing the finish line, Akhwari slowly walked off the field. Later, a reporter asked Akhwari the question on everyone's mind: "Why did you continue the race after you were so badly injured?"

He replied, "My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it."

Only quitters are failures at following God.

Can you think of examples of people who failed and went on to succeed greatly?

On August 6, 1999, a major-league baseball player stepped up to the plate and made another out—the 5,113th of his professional career.

Was the player discouraged that night? No. Did he think he had failed himself or his team? No. You see, earlier in the same game, in his first plate appearance, that player had reached a milestone that only twenty-one other people in the history of baseball have ever achieved. He had made his 3,000th hit. That player was Tony Gwynn.

Tony Gwynn averages one hit for every three at bats. In baseball one in three is huge.

When you hear the words charlatan and huckster, what behaviors come to mind?

For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

(1Th 2:3-8 NRSV)

Behind verse 3 there are no fewer than three charges and Paul seems to be on the defensive:

  1. It was possible that some charged that Paul’s preaching came from delusion or deceit. Anyone with a truly original thought runs the risk of being called mad. There was even a time (Mark 3:21) when Jesus’ friends came to take him home because they thought he was mad. Christian standards are so different from the standards of the world that those who follow them with enthusiasm can appear to be out of their minds. John Wesley was accused by some of being an “enthusiast” for which he responded with a sermon on the dangers of “enthusiasm”.
  2. It could have been said that Paul’s preaching sprang from impure motives. The word translated as impure was often used to describe sexual impurity.
  3. Paul may have been charged with trickery or attempting to delude others. Charismatic personalities have been known to trick folks into following false beliefs. If a lie is repeated often enough and loudly enough it may become accepted as truth.

Verse 4. Why was Paul entrusted with the gospel?

What do you think Paul meant when he said that God “tests our hearts”?

Verse 5. Why didn’t Paul use flattery? Why is it wrong to use flattery?

A flatterer is a person who manipulates rather than communicates.

Are you honest and straightforward in your words and actions? Or do you tell people what they want to hear in order to get what you want or to get ahead?

Verse 6. Have you ever found yourself looking for praise of men? Have you ever seen a preacher or teacher who gave you the impression that he was only seeking praise for himself rather than giving praise to the only one worthy of praise?

Verse 7. Here for the first instance in Christian literature we have the word “apostle”.

What is an apostle?

Apostle literally means “one sent with a particular commission” such as a deputy or one’s legal representative with power of attorney.

What is the difference between “apostle” and “disciple”?

Disciple means student. All followers of Christ who progress in the faith are disciples. Disciples would necessarily be a much larger group than apostles. We commonly think of the Twelve Apostles, but Paul, James, and other New Testament figures considered themselves and were considered by others as apostles as well.

Verse 7. Who has been an example of gentleness for you?

Why is gentleness important?

Verse 8. Why is it important that we share our lives as well as the gospel?

Paul not only shared the gospel, which many of us want to do, but he shared his life as well. This involved sacrifice; looking out for others' interests and not just his own (Philippians 2:17); and close personal involvement, not impersonal clinical detachment. He loved them—entering into their lives, their joys, and their struggles.

To be effective in reaching people, we must share ourselves person-to-person. When a person feels cared for, he or she will be open to listening to us share about our faith.

You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

(1Th 2:9-12 NRSV)

Why were the missionaries willing to give their very lives for the sake of the Thessalonians? (v. 8)? How did they support themselves (v. 9)?

Love shaped by the gospel is never just a matter of feeling. It always translates into action. The missionaries had such a yearning love for the Thessalonians that they were willing to give not only the gospel but also their very lives for them (1 Thess. 2:8).

Paul now cites an obvious demonstration of his love for the Thessalonians: he supported himself by working as a tentmaker rather than accepting money for preaching to them (v. 9). Paul will later explain in 1 Corinthians 9:1–18 his practice of self-support. There he asserts that he has the right to expect to be paid for his preaching, no less because he is an apostle of Christ. However, he willingly surrenders that right so that his support will not be a burden for those to whom he preaches or an impediment to their listening to the gospel. It is a practice that imitates Christ’s own loving self-sacrifice.

How did Paul summarize the missionaries’ behavior among the Thessalonians? (v. 10)

The minister’s behavior was not just an expression of their lives before God. It also provided the example that shaped the lives of the Thessalonians. It is often said that the gospel is better “caught” than taught. Paul demonstrates that truth in this section.

What did the fatherly care of the new believers include? (v. 11)

How is maternal love different from paternal love?

Can one person embody both kinds of love?

Having previously compared themselves with a nursing mother (v. 7), Paul now compares them with a father counseling his children. He says we urged and encouraged them, stressing an urging on toward a goal, in this case a righteous life. With the word pleaded Paul expresses that his teaching had been urgent and insistent.

Stressing that they had acted this way toward each of you, Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of their individual attention and concern for them. Just as a good father treats his children as unique individuals, so the ministers deal with new Christians as unique individuals.

Which of the two images Paul used (nursing mother or counseling father) is more meaningful to you and why?

What does it mean to lead a life worthy of God?

His point is to urge Christians to conform their lives to the character of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we know God as the God who entered the world as a human being to die for unworthy, rebellious sinners, we are compelled to submit to His authority and become conformed to His image. We want to grow in Christlikeness in response to the wonderful gift we have received.