Unites - Mark 3:22-35

1.      Do you favor either one of your parents?

2.      What characteristics are most prevalent in your family?

Although it isn’t always true we can generally identify people who are of Native American heritage—and proudly so!

 

In all families, proud parents of newborns look for family resemblances that identify the child as theirs; so too our relationship with Christ identifies us as part of His family. The church directory is a representation of part of our spiritual family.

Most of us have children and grandchildren. Some have adopted children and many times as those children grow their habits and mannerisms mimic their adopted parents.

 

3.      What are some physical characteristics you share with your biological family?

4.      What are some ways you try to reflect your relationship with Christ? (Actively involved in the local church. Obedient to the Father. Live by the truth of God’s Word.)

 

In the last session we saw a demonstration of Jesus’ authority over sin as He healed the paralyzed man and said that his sins were forgiven. That action stirred up conflict between Jesus and the scribes. In today’s session the scribes continue to try to discredit Jesus. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, there was growing animosity from the religious leaders as He redefined the rules and threatened the establishment.

Since last week in Mark 2:12 we see Jesus call Matthew to follow Him; Jesus dining with sinners; questions raised about fasting; a lesson on Lord of the Sabbath; Jesus healed a man with a paralyzed hand; we find Jesus ministering to the multitude; and a listing of the twelve apostles!

 

Undivided House! Read Mark 3:22-27

 

Beelzebub: Name for Satan in New Testament spelled differently in Greek manuscripts. The term is based on Hebrew Baalzebub, “lord of the flies.” Regardless of its exact meaning it is clearly a reference to Satan!

Notice Jesus called the scribes over to Him so He could confront their charges against Him!

1.      In verse 23 Jesus asks, “How can Satan drive out Satan?” How does Jesus’ introductory question refute the argument presented by the scribes?

2.      In verses 24-26 what does Jesus use to clarify His initial question to them?

Read Matthew 12:25-28.

3.      What additional information do we find Jesus providing in these verses? (These verses indicate that internal strife would produce chaos rather than unity. To further illustrate His point, Jesus shared another parable. Read Mark 3:27 again.)

4.      How does Jesus’ explanation offset the accusation of the scribes?

Jesus’ enemies were specifically charging Him with blasphemy, but in the next verses Jesus refuted the charge.

Read Mark 3:28-30

5.      What was Jesus trying to do by using the phrase “I assure you?” (What was about to follow was very serious! This passage contains what is sometimes referred to as the unpardonable sin!)

6.      What are at least two truths we can glean from these verses? (People can be forgiven a multitude of grievous sins! There is no forgiveness for a person who “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit.”)

7.      What does it mean to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”? (Jesus was indicating that God is willing to forgive even the most grievous sin directed against Him personally if repented for. However, nowhere in Scripture is there any suggestion that divine forgiveness for the impenitent is ever granted! In other words, rejecting the wooing of the Holy Spirit to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior can never be forgiven!)

8.      How would you explain the unpardonable sin to others?

9.      What ramification does this teaching have for believers today?

10.  Why do people wrongly assume that certain actions are unforgivable? That they have crossed the line and they can’t turn back? (If you are still feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit, you have not crossed the line. If your heart has grown calloused, and you have rejected the Holy Spirit to the extent that you no longer feel conviction for sin, you are in dangerous territory!)

The religious leaders were hardening their hearts with the promised Messiah standing right before them. It’s dangerous to attribute God’s work to Satan, hardening our hearts to the Spirit. Surely there were some of the Scribes who at least thought for a moment, like Nicodemus, “Maybe Jesus really is the Messiah” but rejected the wooing of the Holy Spirit’s urging!

 

In addition to the charges of the scribes, Jesus’ own physical family misunderstood His words and actions.

Misunderstood by Family! Read Mark 3:31-32

 

1.      What did Jesus’ mother and brothers want? (Jesus’ earthly family may have wanted to rescue Him, correct Him, or help Him. Like the disciples, it took them time to understand Jesus and His mission. Perhaps they feared for His life since the scribes’ opposition to Jesus was growing stronger daily.)

2.      How would you respond if your family didn’t understand your commitment to following Jesus?

3.      How do we make it harder for those closest to us to follow Jesus? (They tend to see more of our worst selves! Generally it is perhaps most difficult to be at our best when we are at home—we like to “let our hair down” so to speak.)

4.      What can we do to make it easier? (We can instead show our best to the people we live with—we have more opportunity to show love to them than to others.)

 

United by Purpose! Read Mark 3:33-35

 

1.      Why could “whoever does the will of God” include Jesus’ mother and siblings? (We know that at least one of His brothers became a believer and leader in the church in Jerusalem and wrote the letter titled James in the Bible. Some believe the book of Jude was also written by one of Jesus’ brothers. But most likely they did not fully believe and understand until after the resurrection.)

Jesus is not being rude or neglectful of His family here. He is simply stressing the fact that our spiritual union is much closer that our natural family relationships. Jesus arranged for His mother’s care from the cross (John 19:26-27).

2.       How can we respond when there’s a conflict between what we believe God wants for us and what our family members expect from us? (Jesus was teaching here that the nature of the spiritual family means obeying God!)

3.      How does being members of God’s family affect our daily lives?

4.      What can believers do to truly live out their relationships as children of the King? (Stay connected to the Family and remain obedient to the Father!)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

In today’s study Jesus refuted the charge of blasphemy, continued to reveal Himself as Messiah, and expanded the concept of a spiritual family. As believers, we are integral parts of two families.

1.      When has your commitment to Jesus put you at odds with members of your family?

2.      How did that experience draw you closer to Him?

3.      How did it help you minister to your family more effectively?

Having a strong commitment to God isn’t an excuse for not caring for your family. In fact, the more obedient you are to God the better you take care of your family! We should be seeking God’s will in all of our relationships!

Challenge: Write a family member a letter, thanking that person for showing you how to honor God with your actions and words.

 

Forgives - Mark 2:1-12

1.      Indicate yes or no with a thumbs up or thumbs down. Has a message you’ve sent ever been misunderstood?

2.      Have you ever regretted words said in haste?

3.      Have you had to apologize for words hastily crafted?

 

With today’s social media tools, it’s easy to respond quickly to messages, but our speed of response may keep us from considering carefully our words. The limitation of the number of characters we can post might send a message we didn’t intend. Our responses can make people wonder what gave us the right to say what we said.

 

Jesus never had to back down on His words even if they led to controversy. What some considered outrageous He knew as true. Today we will see some of the religious leaders questioning Jesus’ authority.

 

After Mark’s record of Jesus calling four of His disciples that we finished with last week Jesus drove out an unclean spirit; healed several more people in Capernaum; preached in Galilee; and healed a man with a serious skin disease. Jesus told that man to tell no one but he proclaimed to everyone what Jesus had done. The crowds became such a problem that Jesus went out in deserted places but people would come to Him from everywhere.

 

Faith Expressed! Read Mark 2:1-5

 

Jesus’ authority had already been demonstrated through His teaching, calling of his disciples, exorcising of demons and healings.

1.      What draws people to at least consider what Jesus teaches? (Unlike the religious teachers of His day, Jesus taught as one having authority—Mark 1:22. No one had ever taught as Jesus—John 7:46. He not only spoke with authority He healed and cast out demons.)

2.      What actions did these four men do to help their friend meet Jesus? (First, they believed Jesus could help him. The man may have believed also, but could not come without help. Second, they brought their friend to Jesus. Third, went upon the roof and tore off part of the roof to let their friend down to Jesus.)

3.      What risks did these four men take? (Tore through someone’s roof! They were willing to remove obstacles to get to Jesus. Why couldn’t they wait until Jesus stopped speaking and then approach Jesus, after the crowds are gone?)

An important issue comes up here that we do not want to pass up: Here Jesus connected faith and forgiveness!

Hebrews thought sin and illness were connected. Sometimes they are simply illnesses (Matt. 5:45). However, sin and illness were connected in some way for this man with paralysis. Did Jesus have to forgive him in order to heal him?

4.      What did it cost the friends to bring their friend to Jesus? (Time. Energy. Risk of being criticized. Etc.)

5.      How did these friends show love for this man? (Since God is love, we’re never more like Him than when we meet a real need in a way that truly helps another.)

6.      Faith is something we do, not something we have or hold. How do expressions of love show faith? (Putting yourself in another person’s shoes—or showing compassion and empathy—is central to love expression.)

7.      How might a person show faith in a tangible way today? (We give as an expression of worship and faith. We pray, in faith.)

Doing the right thing is an expression of faith because we trust that Jesus is right. We trust Him so much that we act.

Jesus could forgive sins because He is God. Pause to talk with Him privately about some sins for which you need forgiveness.

8.      What need of this man was most evident to the four men as well as the crowd? (Physical healing. Forgiveness or spiritual healing wasn’t even on their “radar”.)

 

Authority Questioned! Read Mark 2:6-7

 

1.      What was the reaction of the scribes in the crowd?

Jesus saw the spiritual need as more important than the physical need of the paralytic, and He challenged the status quo with His words about the forgiveness of sins.

2.      How were the scribes right and wrong at the same time? (Right, only God can forgive sin. Wrong, thinking Jesus couldn’t forgive sin. He is also God! One writer points out that the scholars of Jesus’ day didn’t believe the Messiah could forgive sin because they did not see Him as God, only a political leader.)

3.      How do you think you would feel if you were expecting a very important person, but only met a few commoners, only to learn later that one of them was the person for whom you had been waiting for in great anticipation, but didn’t recognize?

4.      What are some facts about Jesus that challenge our ability to understand?

5.      How is sin like paralysis?

 

Power Proclaimed! Read Mark 2:8-11

 

“The scribes were likely using the law as a type of litmus test to evaluate Jesus’ teaching. Jesus presented them with a different kind of litmus test—a test of authority.” (PSG, p. 25)

 

Reread verses 10-11. This is the first time Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” This is the first of fourteen times this title is used in Mark to emphasize both the humanity and deity of Jesus.

(Hand out Pack Item 12: The “Son of Man” in Mark.”)

As you study this week read these and reflect on the significance of the term “Son of Man.”

 

1.      How does accepting the teaching that Jesus is God affect other beliefs a person may hold? (If you believe Jesus is God then all other beliefs must be measured by what the Bible has to say. If it agrees with the Bible it is true; if it doesn’t it is false!)

2.      How did Jesus’ actions here further demonstrate that He is God? (He knew what they were thinking. He showed divine authority to forgive sins. Jesus commanded the paralyzed man to stand and carry his pallet home! Jesus is beyond a doubt God.)

3.      What did the others who were listening—the man, his friends, and the crowd of onlookers—learn about Jesus’ character and authority? (Jesus had courage as He spoke the truth to the scribes. No common Jew spoke to the scribes that way. He spoke truth!)

We should speak the truth of God boldly when sharing God’s Word! Not in a boastful way but humbly speak truth!

 

Authority Demonstrated! Read Mark 2:12

1.      How would you describe the way people responded to the healing of the paralytic?

2.      Who responded with praise to God? (Evidently even the scribes were moved to praise God.)

3.      Do people respond with praise to God more about a physical healing or when a sinner is born into the Kingdom of God? Why?

4.      Complete this sentence: Forgiveness of sin can only be granted by __________!

This was only the beginning of the questioning of Jesus’ authority by religious leaders of His time, and continuing today we see people questioning Jesus’ authority.

 

Summarize and Challenge!

1.      Jesus still offers forgiveness to all who approach Him.

2.      How does this statement affect your life?

3.      In what areas should you seek forgiveness to clear the way for God to work in and through you?

4.      Are you sending a clear message to others seeing and hearing from you in relation to the authority of Jesus to forgive sins?

5.      As we approach our planned Revival meeting, who is someone you can help find Jesus?

Pray about who God would have you be concerned and pray for!

Calls - Mark 1:1-20

1.      How would you define the word “charisma”?

(Charisma is defined as a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. A second definition: a divinely conferred power or talent. Another: Charisma is the ability to attract, charm, and influence the people around you.)

2.      Who do you know that has “charisma?”

 

Today we begin a 13 week study of the book of Mark. The most charismatic person to ever live was Jesus Christ. His very presence commanded attention.

This Gospel that bears his name, although we do not find Mark identified as the writer, was attributed to him early in the second century AD. It is also widely accepted that Mark simply wrote the memoirs of the Apostle Peter. Although we can’t know a precise date of the writing it is generally thought to have been written prior to AD70 when Jerusalem along with the Temple was destroyed by the Emperor Nero, although it could have been as late as AD 90.

It was most likely written for a Greek audience because several Jewish customs are explained for the reader.

The events recorded in this gospel are not always in chronological order. When compared to the other Gospels the events may not be in the same sequence but none the less accurate.

The main theme: Mark 10:45—“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark focuses on action and the superiority of Jesus.

3.      What do we know about Mark? (John Mark became famous when he deserted Paul and Barnabus on their first church-planting trip. He was the subject of a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabus that brought about two teams going out to share the gospel. Later, Paul said Mark was a valuable asset and should be brought to Paul—2 Tim. 4:11.)

 

Read Mark 1:1-8

 

Affirmed! Read Mark 1:9-11

 

(Use the map to locate these important places.)

1.      What evidence do you see here that affirms Jesus as the anticipated Messiah?

2.      What do we see in verse 4 as the reason to be baptized by John?

3.      If Jesus did not need to be baptized for repentance and the forgiveness of sin, why was He baptized? (An act of obedience to the Father; Open display of His commitment to His mission as Messiah; As an example to us as we yield in obedience.)

4.      What do these verses tell us about Jesus? (He was yielded to the Father’s will.)

Read verse 10. Throughout Mark’s Gospel we will find a sense of urgency as illustrated in verse 10. In the first chapter alone, we find ten separate examples where this sense of urgency appears.

5.      What evidence do we see here that affirms Jesus’ power to fulfill the task ahead of Him as Messiah? (The Holy Spirit came down visually to testify His presence with the Son.)

6.      If a friend asked why you believe Jesus is God’s Son, how would you respond?

7.      Why is it important to understand and accept His role as Son? (He is our example for obedience to the Father.)

8.      How do these events declare Jesus’ authority? (Jesus’ authority comes directly from the Father.)

9.      How do we demonstrate Jesus’ authority in our lives? (Through obedience! Jesus is our guide for day to day living.)

 

Tested! Read Mark 1:12-13

 

Notice how Mark moves us along quickly with the word “Immediately”!

Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 have a much more detailed narrative of Jesus’ temptation than Mark gives here. John doesn’t cover it at all.

1.      How does knowing that Jesus faced temptation help you better understand His identity? (He was fully man and fully God. He understands what temptation is like for us.)

2.      What role does the Holy Spirit play in these verses? (Jesus was, according to Luke, “led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Jesus certainly had power of His own-after all He is God the Son, but just like us, He was led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is our example in following the leadership of the Holy Spirit.)

3.      What do we learn here about temptation and how to deal with it? (1-it is Satan who tempts us. 2-we can resist temptation in the power of the Holy Spirit. 3-use the Word of God to overcome temptation. 4-everyone is tempted. 5-Heb. 4:15-16 teaches Jesus was “tempted in every way,” just as we are, and He will equip us with His power to resist.)

4.      What does the fact that Jesus was tempted immediately after His baptism teach us? (Many times after a spiritual victory, Satan will attack us to discourage us. Elijah is a great example.)

 

Heard! Read Mark 1:14-15

 

The reference to the imprisonment of John the Baptist was primarily a way to identify that time as the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

1.      What are three basic points to Jesus’ message? (1-“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” 2-“Repent”  3-“Believe in the good news!”)

2.      How would you describe Jesus’ message in three sentences or less?

3.      What sets His message apart from the messages presented by other religious leaders?

4.      Up until Jesus came how did the Jews expect the Messiah to manifest Himself? (They expected an earthly king to rule politically.)

5.      How do we participate in the kingdom as a believer this side of heaven? (The Kingdom of God is when and where God rules.)

6.      How does Jesus help with this? (Jesus calls us to follow Him with our lives!)

 

Followed! Read Mark 1:16-20

 

1.      Did there seem to be urgency in Jesus’ command?

2.      Was there urgency in their response?

3.      What factors might have prompted the disciples to leave their occupations to follow Jesus? (They may have heard about Him secondhand from some who saw Jesus’ baptism and witnessed the dove. We know from other gospels this wasn’t their first time to hear Jesus.)

4.      What might Jesus ask a modern-day person to leave behind in order to follow Him? (Whatever is near to the heart and would stand in the way of full obedience to Him! Jesus doesn’t want us to be unhappy but He does require that we forsake anything that has first place in our heart over Him.)

5.      What might Jesus call you to leave behind—or embrace—to follow Him? (Jesus’ call involves leaving behind certain relationships, pursuits, and loyalties to follow Him. Name some of these, such as selfishness or greed.)

Jesus was calling His disciples not only to literally come to Him, but also spiritually to walk with Him in a new life. We are not only called to “leave” something but we are called “to” something—a joy-filled life of service to the King of kings and Lord of lords and a close intimate relationship with Him.

 

We catch ‘em Jesus cleans ‘em!

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      What do the things a person holds most tightly reveal about what he or she trusts for security?

2.      What is the relationship between holding on tightly and faith?

3.      What do the events and people in Mark 1:1-20 teach us about God’s character? (He loves us and will go to any extent to reclaim us to Him! Jesus is the very image of God!)

4.      Which is your greatest challenge right now: Yielding to God’s authority? Or resisting temptation?

 

Now deliberately do both!

Reunited - Genesis 45:1-15

I watched a movie recently were two brothers were reunited after the Civil War. They ran into each other just as the war was over.  They fought on opposing sides, but they forgot their differences and traveled back home together. They had each fought for what they believed to be right, but when the war was over they embraced each other. One was thought to have died in the war but everyone was glad to see them even though they fought for opposing beliefs.

We may be separated from loved ones because of job relocation, military service, ministry calling, or division in the relationships. Sometimes we may live in close proximity to a loved one and yet be separated because of hurt feelings. Sometimes we allow hurt feelings to fester, and we become bitter toward another family member. Sometimes those torn relationships between family members can be the most difficult to restore.

Where division occurs, God can work to bring about restoration and healing.

1.      What makes restoring a broken relationship so difficult?

2.      What makes attempting to restore a broken relationship worth the effort?

In today’s focal passage we will examine how God worked to reconcile Joseph and his brothers. We will see how God worked through events in Joseph’s life to bring about the hard work of reconciliation.

 

Last week we ended with Joseph being exalted to the second highest position in Egypt because of the wisdom God had given him. Today we find the seven years of plenty have passed and the drought is only in its second year, with five years yet to come. Canaan, where Jacob and all of his family lived, was also experiencing drought. They heard that there was grain in Egypt. So Jacob told his sons to go to Egypt and buy grain. Ten brothers went the first time, leaving Benjamin at home.

Joseph accused them of being spies and kept Simeon as hostage until they returned with Benjamin. After some time Jacob relented and allowed them to return with Benjamin.

What happened next? (Discuss the cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack and Judah’s plea for Benjamin.)

 

(Write “22 years” on the board.)

Revealed! Read Genesis 45:1-4

 

Twenty-two years had passed since his brothers sold him into slavery. Their relationship had been splintered longer than that.

1.      What emotions might have been evident in this scene between Joseph and his brothers? (Joseph wept uncontrollably, even to the point that those in Pharaoh’s house could hear him. His brothers were petrified with fear!)

Joseph spoke Egyptian to his servants, so his brothers had no idea what was happening or about to happen.

2.      If you had been in Joseph’s place, what do you think you would have done?

3.      What is the best way to initiate a reconciliation process? (Bathe the situation with prayer. Come face to face with the real issue between you and the other person. Express your willingness, in love, to resolve the issue. If you are the offended, offer forgiveness. If you have offended someone, in love, ask for their forgiveness.)

Realize it may take more time for the healing than you thought.

There are situations, such as battered spouse or an abused child, where reconciliation is not possible. Legal action may be necessary.

Read Mark 9:50

Read Romans 12:18

Read Romans 14:19

4.      What attitudes, words, and actions should a believer embrace to live peaceably with others?

When people have wronged us, we are wise to avoid getting revenge, for vengeance belongs to God—Rom. 12. In His perfect wisdom, God knows exactly what is best!

 

We’ve seen the emotional moment when Joseph proclaimed his identity to his brothers. Now let’s see how Joseph pointed to God’s plan at work in his life.

Remnant! Read Genesis 45:5-8

 

1.      How did Joseph set his brothers at ease? (He told them not to be worried, because he didn’t plan to harm them. He even told them to forgive themselves because this was all God’s plan.)

When we have wronged others, forgiving ourselves can be just as difficult as seeking forgiveness from the ones we have hurt.

We must remember that if God has forgiven us then we need to forgive ourselves.

2.      How did Joseph’s understanding of God’s purposes help him show forgiveness to his brothers? (Joseph told them that God’s plan was bigger than their hatred of him. He said that it was God’s plan for him to be in Egypt at this strategic point so he could help with the famine and consequently, with their own family.)

3.      Challenges and hardships are part of the human condition. What are the various ways people respond to challenges and hardships? (List on the board.)

4.      How does it change our response to the challenges and hardships when we are looking to see God at work in the circumstances? (God focused rather than “me” focused.)

Read the paragraph that begins, “Spiritually discerning…” from the PSG p. 123.

5.      How can believers increase their awareness of God working in their lives?

6.      How does looking at the big picture of life help a person deal with past hurts and injustices?

 

We see how Joseph continued to focus on God’s plan for his life, unfolding even in the difficult seasons.

Reunion! Read Genesis 45:9-13

 

1.      Beyond forgiveness, what did Joseph display to his brothers who had wronged him? (Joseph displayed mercy, love, kindness, and a concern for the well-being of his family even when his brothers had wronged him.)

God wants us to care for others without judgment if it is in our power to do so. (See Prov. 3:27)

2.      Why did Joseph express such urgency in bringing his father back to Egypt? (Joseph knew the seriousness of the famine.)

3.      How can we show that we genuinely seek reconciliation?

(Give class members a copy of “Path to Reconciliation.” Read the paragraph at the top of the page and discuss similarities as time allows.)

 

We see how Joseph took tangible steps toward reconciliation by physically providing for his father and brothers, as God provided a way. Now let’s see further evidence of Joseph’s mercy.

Restored! Read Genesis 45:14-15

 

As believers, we should carry an attitude of forgiveness and openness. We can’t go through life without being wounded in some way or wounding someone else in some way. We must be willing to humbly ask for forgiveness and with great mercy and grace, grant forgiveness to those we’ve wronged.

1.      How did Joseph show mercy to his brothers? (He initiated the first step of restoration by revealing himself to them. Then he kissed them as a sign of peace.)

2.      How do these verses urge us to get rid of bitterness and hatred? (As Joseph forgave his brothers, God desires that we forgive others as we have been forgiven—Eph. 4:32)

Living at peace with others means we may need to take the first step toward reconciliation with those we have offended or who have offended us.

 

Extending forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us takes courage, but if we are serious about living biblically, we must take the initiative and seek reconciliation.

 

 Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      Privately: In what ways do you identify with Joseph’s story?

2.      How has God’s sovereignty been evident in your life?

 

Take some time to think about why you may need to forgive or seek forgiveness from someone this week. What actions do you need to take?

 

Pray asking God to help you bring restoration to difficult relationships you may have in your life.

Opportunity Knocks - Genesis 41:1-40

(Write “Opportunity Knocks” on the board.)

1.      What are some examples of ways we might use this phrase?

2.      What do we mean when we use this phrase?

3.      Is anyone willing to share a time when you have had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and either took advantage or passed on it?

4.      What factors determined your response? Name some of the reasons why we might miss out on or pass on an opportunity that comes our way.  (Fear—I’m not skilled enough; I just don’t think I can do it; I’m not prepared; I don’t want that responsibility; etc.)

Last week’s session ended with Joseph being thrown in jail after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him. Today we will see how God sends an opportunity to Joseph inside that jail cell.

We will see how dreams are a great part of Joseph’s life once again.

 

Briefly relate the events recorded in Genesis 40:1-41:14 to bring the class up to today’s focal passage.

 

A Problem! Read Genesis 41:15-21

 

1.      Who is Joseph quick to give credit for interpreting dreams? (We still find Joseph as a humble young man. He seems to be the same regardless of his circumstances.)

We know that Joseph had been in prison for more than three years!

2.      After being accused of attempted rape and imprisoned, Joseph could have selfishly taken the credit, feeling as if he was due. What excuses do people give for not giving God the credit He deserves?

There are at least four applications we can draw from Joseph’s experience: First, the world’s wisdom, as wise as it may be, doesn’t have all the answers. Second, in times of adversity, we must keep on serving the Lord. Third, God rewards faithfulness. Fourth, we can point to God as the source of wisdom when called on to address difficult situations.

3.      After all that Joseph had been through, even most recently when the cupbearer forgot him, why did Joseph continue to honor God in his actions? (Joseph could have been bitter and angry toward God about his circumstances, but he chose to give God glory for providing interpretations to dreams. Joseph became better not bitter! He continued to be faithful in the little things even when he could not see the end result of how God would eventually use him.)

We can be faithful to God in our everyday decisions even if we can’t yet see how God will use our obedience for His glory.

4.      Can you recall a time in your life when you have experienced one or more of these four applications?

5.      How can the way we look to God as the source of wisdom in difficult encounters or situations be a witness to those around us?

 

Joseph pointed to God as the source of his wisdom. That same wisdom is available to us today.  Now let’s see what became of Joseph’s opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’ dream.

(Fill in the events found in verses 22-32.)

 

A Plan! Read Genesis 41:33-36

 

1.      What were the details of God’s plan Joseph relayed to the Pharaoh? (Impose a high tax during the years of plenty, 20%; build storage facilities in all major cities; store all of the excess; hold the grain until the seven years of drought come so the people will not starve.)

God had given Joseph wise council for Pharaoh. Notice that Joseph didn’t give up “the floor,” he simply kept on speaking, giving wise advice. He had Pharaoh’s full attention!

2.      When representing God’s interest, especially before unbelievers, what characteristics should we seek to display? (Humility, love, concern for the whole group, etc.)

3.      When we consider the following areas of life, would we exhibit different characteristics in different areas: Work, School, Community, and Social Life?

Have someone read from your PSG, pg 114 the paragraph beginning: “God sometimes places..”.

4.      How does a person discern the difference between an opportunity and a distraction?

5.      What is the difference between an opportunity and a distraction? (I’ll admit that I don’t always approach disruptions like this but we should look for what God is trying to do when we have a disruption. God may just have a divine opportunity for us.)

6.      When we find ourselves in tough situations, how does it help to look for God at work in the circumstances? (We generally want to make everything about us, but God has a greater purpose.)

Isn’t it remarkable that Pharaoh trusted this Hebrew jailbird!

We see Joseph using the wisdom God provided to lay out a survival plan for the time of famine. We will see God’s hand on Joseph’s life in a bold way in these next verses we examine.

 

A Place! Read 41:37-40

 

God has provided here a surprise ending to a situation that no one saw coming!

1.      How did God ultimately place Joseph in a strategic position? (Before Joseph’s imprisonment, he was in charge of Potiphar’s house. Then the warden put him in charge of the prison. Then he became in charge of Pharaoh’s house. Truly, “the Lord made everything he did successful”.)

Sometimes God places us in strategic positions to be His ambassadors so that we can share about Him at opportune moments.

2.      What did Pharaoh giving Joseph full authority over the Egyptian people reveal about Joseph? About God? (Pharaoh recognized God’s hand on Joseph. If God blessed Joseph, Pharaoh wanted his people to be a part of that blessing by allowing Joseph to lead the Egyptians.)

In the lives of believers, the Holy Spirit’s presence sets us apart (Eph. 1:13).

As we submit our lives in obedience to God and allow Him to work through us, people are drawn to the Holy Spirit in us. They will seek us out for wisdom on how to live as Pharaoh sought Joseph.

3.      How can you see that God has used lessons you have learned during challenging times in your life to prepare you for where you are today?

4.      How can you see God at work in those lessons you learned?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      What does it mean to be faithful to God in the little things in your life?

2.      How can you honor God with the amount of responsibility He has given you right now?

 

Tell the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettigger. In 1975, a benchwarmer for Notre Dame Football by the name of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettigger was put in the game in the last 27 seconds. In the only play of his career, he sacked the quarterback and went on to receive fame, immortalized in the 1993 film by his name Rudy. Despite many challenges, Rudy worked hard to secure a spot on the team. Once on the team, he continued to practice faithfully though playing time in a game was highly unlikely. Yet when he got his moment, Rudy was ready because he had been so diligent to work hard in practice.

3.      What steps are necessary to be ready for that kind of opportunity? (Apply oneself in practice; listen to instructions; although it seems unlikely that you would get to play, be faithful in all aspects of preparation. Rudy isn’t the only person to prove themselves ready when called upon in difficult circumstances.)

4.      Are you ready for the next assignment God may have for you?

5.      How can you be committed to God in all things this week?

Father, help us to be faithful to You in our day to day life so we are ready for the next assignment You have for us, big or small!

 

 

Tempted - Genesis 39:1-12, 19-21

Last Sunday we began a four series study on the life of Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son, the first born son to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. We saw God begin to reveal His future plans for Joseph through dreams and we also saw some evil intentions from his own brothers that God will ultimately use to achieve His good purposes. Just as we have seen with Jacob and will see as we study Joseph, the truth of Romans 8:28 is evident in our lives today: “all things work together for the good of those who love God”.

 

We choose our circumstances ___________. A. always, B. maybe not, C. never, D. sometimes.  Maybe we have not have chosen the circumstances but what can we choose about those circumstances? We can choose our attitude and how we react to the circumstances. In our verses last week we see how the truth caused bad blood between Joseph and his brothers. He is sold into slavery and we begin to see God work His will through an evil situation. What different attitudes do you think Joseph could have experienced up to this point? Anger, distrust, loneliness, hate, depression, confusion. We will see how Joseph reacts to his continually changing circumstances and the powerful attitude he displays.

  

   Last Sunday our author ended with Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelites in Genesis 37:25. Today he starts our lesson “Tempted” with Genesis 39:3.  So, where is Joseph? If you do not read Genesis 37:36 or Genesis 39:1-2 you have no idea where he is or what he is doing. We will start with Genesis 39:1-2.

 

Read Genesis 39:1-2 “The Lord Is With Joseph”

   Verse 1 gives us the same information as 37:36 and picks up after the Hollywood Soap Opera story in Genesis 38 about Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar. Verse 1 tells us Joseph was bought by Potiphar, an Egyptian and officer of the guard for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Verse 2 tells us the Lord was with Joseph and it is obvious that God cared for, protected, and blessed Joseph. Instead of being forced to do manual labor, perhaps building Egyptian Pyramids in the hot sun, he held a high position for a slave and lived and worked in his master’s house.

 

Read Genesis 39:3-6a “Successful”

   How did Potiphar know he could trust Joseph, a slave, with all he owned? I think Potiphar saw something different in Joseph. I believe he recognized and believed in Joseph’s integrity and appreciated his leadership skills. Haven’t you experienced the same thing in your life? If we follow God, then people will recognize something different in us. What they see is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Have you ever had someone tell you, “I want what you have”?

   What evidence do we see that both Potiphar and God were pleased with Joseph’s attitude and his efforts? Joseph continued to gain more authority with Potiphar. God was working out His plan in Joseph’s life. The experience Joseph gained while working in Potiphar’s house and managing his property would, one day, be invaluable. We should also recognize that Joseph continued to honor God even though his circumstances were not of his choosing. God blessed Joseph as Joseph honored God. Don’t we see that today? Shouldn’t we remember how God has blessed us in difficult situations because we choose to honor Him with our words and actions?

   Things seem to be going pretty good for Joseph. God is blessing him and the people around him but then…

 

Read Genesis 39:6b-12 “Tempted”

   What do you think, are temptations easier to refuse as we experience success? No. We can get over confident in ourselves. Regardless of our station in life, Satan knows that with a little manipulation he can turn our God-given human desires into weapons of temptation.

   What steps did Joseph take to resist this temptation? He refused her offer. He explained how his master (her husband) trusted him v.8. Then in v.9 he equates this as a sin against God and I believe shows his faithfulness to God. Remember, we have talked about sinful opportunities many times in our class. It is much easier to turn from sin if you have aIready made up your mind to honor God. I think he had already made up his mind how he would handle such temptations. “Woman, I have a good thing going here and fooling with you is not in my job description. Just leave me alone!”

   With the temptation still there, what did Joseph do? He ran! Isn’t this exactly how we should resist the Devil’s temptations? Run, turn away, get away from the sin. Did you notice, this is the second time Joseph has had an issue with his coat.

   Does it help us resist temptation when we realize God knows what we are doing and that we are ultimately accountable to Him? Yes. Perhaps there is a conviction to be considered: some things are always right and some things are always wrong.

  At this point six verses (13-18) that read like a melodramatic scene from another Soap Opera are skipped. Mrs. Potiphar, undoubtedly feeling scorned, contrived a tall tale accusing Joseph of trying to force himself on her and leaving his coat behind when she screamed for help. She tried this story out on the other household slaves and then told the same story to Potiphar when he returned home.

 

Read Genesis 39:19-21 “Favored”

   How are the circumstances in Joseph’ life changing? Potiphar believes his wife’s story and puts Joseph in prison.

   What would you think Joseph’s attitude would be with these new circumstances? Hopeless, bewildered, this isn’t fair, I’m innocent, perhaps he wondered about the dreams he had in the past.

   How can we apply verse 21 to our circumstances today? Just as God saw Joseph in prison, God sees us when we’re going through difficult trials, unjust situations, or seemingly hopeless circumstances. James 1:2-4 reminds us that in the same way God was at work in Joseph’s life, He will work through us in our trials if we let him.

  

Summary: God is honored when we are faithful to Him and His standards.

·         As believers, we should seek to honor God in all that we do.

·         Believers can resist sin, remembering God’s standards and the joy of honoring Him.

·         Believers can be assured that God abides with those who seek to honor Him.

Accept It - Genesis 37:1-27

There is a story about something that seemed bad at the time, but ultimately turned out to be beneficial in the end.

“Before WW II, coal was commonly used to heat homes, which left soot stains on walls. Noah McVicker developed a doughy cleaner to rub the soot off wallpaper. After the war, washable wallpaper and the use of natural gas as a heat source made this cleaner obsolete. The company faced bankruptcy; however, Noah’s nephew, Joe McVicker, learned that his sister, a school teacher, used the material in her classroom as modeling dough. The McVikers marketed their nontoxic creation as a children’s toy, Play-Doh.—PSG, pg. 91

1.      When have you seen something good come out of a bad situation?

In our study today we will explore how God can take a person’s evil intentions and shape the effects of those intentions for His good purposes.

Read Genesis 37:1-4

2.      How can telling the truth cause problems?

3.      How can the method with which we communicate the truth contribute to the problem?

Everyone at one time or another has said or done insensitive things. God can use those moments to teach us how to be more sensitive to others in the future.

Sometimes we have to speak truth that others don’t want to hear, but God can give us wisdom about how to do so in a loving manner.

In today’s study the focus of our study in Genesis turns the emphasis from Jacob or Israel to Joseph. This is the beginning of turning our focus on the nation of Israel as a whole.

 

Rule Over Us? Read Genesis 37:5-11

 

1.      How did Joseph’s dreams impact his brothers? (They hated him more.)

Jacob didn’t try to hide the fact that he loved Joseph more than all the others.

2.      Was there any question as to what the implication of the two dreams was? (Everyone recognized the fact that these dreams indicated his parents and all of his brothers would one day bow to him with their faces to the ground.)

Without a doubt the indication was that Joseph would have position and power over his brothers some day!

God does speak through dreams and other means, but the most common way God communicates today is through His Word.

3.      How can we best use God’s Word as the test for all truth? (We should hold to this key doctrine on The Scripture: The Holy Bible is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error, for its matter based on 2 Tim. 3:16-17.)

“How you say it matters.”

4.      The Bible reveals that Joseph told his brothers about his dreams. It doesn’t tell us how he said it. What should be our attitude in sharing God’s truth with others? (It should be spoken in love—genuine love not mockingly. Eph. 4:15)

5.      Joseph’s brothers saw him not as a brother, but as an enemy. Is jealousy avoidable?

6.      How can jealousy be minimized in relationships, especially between believers?

The pattern of dysfunctional family relationships continues here.

 

Read Genesis 35:12-18—make any appropriate comments.

 

Joseph’s telling of his dreams watered the seeds of jealousy that were growing in his brothers’ hearts. The distance from Hebron to Shechem is fifty miles and another fifteen miles to Dothan.

What Happens to Your Dreams Now? Read Gen. 37:19-24

 

Joseph’s brothers’ deep seated hatred found an outlet for expression. Verse 19 can be literally translated, “Oh look, here comes that dream expert.”

1.      What emotions do we see expressed in this passage? (Hatred, anger, and no doubt fear on Joseph’s part see Gen. 42:21.)

Joseph probably questioned how the dream he had would be fulfilled.  God’s path for us may be different than what we anticipate, but He will always fulfill His purposes for us.

2.      Finally Reuben spoke up and offered an alternate plan but he had ulterior motives, he planned to rescue him later. Are there any things Reuben could have done to diffuse this situation?

3.      What actions can be taken to diffuse jealousy?

4.      How can our own agendas and desires cloud our view of others God chooses to use in a specific way?

 

We see Joseph’s brothers acting out the full measure of their jealousy and hatred. Now let’s see how God worked even in these cruel circumstances.

 

What Do We Gain? Read Genesis 37:25-27

 

1.      How did jealousy impact Jacob’s family? (Joseph was separated from his family for many years, and his father thought he was dead. Jesus even had to rebuke Peter for his jealousy over John’s relationship with Jesus—John 21:22.)

God does not what us to be jealous of His plans for other believers because He has a unique plan for each of us. Rather than allowing jealousy to divide us, God wants us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15).

2.      What did the brothers gain by selling Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders? (Initially they gained twenty pieces of silver, but ultimately, they gained nothing. Rather than gaining their father’s attention, they lost their father to devastation and consumption with grief.)

3.      How do you see God at work in the midst of these brothers’ plans? (It was no small miracle that this caravan just happened to be passing at this precise moment.)

4.      In what ways do we see God at work in Joseph’s life at this point? (Just think all of the different events that had to be coordinated to make this happen! Israel sending Joseph at the right time. The brothers were not at Shechem. The caravan’s perfect timing. Etc!)

5.      How does knowing God is in control give you endurance to face opposition and jealousy from others?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      How are you comforted knowing God’s plans will ultimately be accomplished as you remain committed to Him?

No matter the circumstances God is in control and knowing that helps us at all times, but especially when we walk through challenging seasons of life. The fact that God is in control doesn’t mean there will not be difficult times but that God is with us through those times.

2.      How can we encourage each other at all times, easy and difficult?

3.      How does Keeping God’s plans in mind change the way we pray for each other?

 

Pray for God to bless those you may consider to be enemies, even if they are fellow believers.

If you have a hint of jealousy in your heart, pray that God would help you remove it!

 

Assurance - Genesis 35:1-15

1.      Can you think of some times when we re-commit ourselves or renew our vows to each other? (In times past we would “rededicate” ourselves to the Lord; renew our wedding vows.)

2.      Why renew our wedding vows? Simply put, a vow renewal is a way to celebrate your marriage. Perhaps you’ve made it to a significant milestone in your marriage and you want the world to know you’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Maybe you want to reaffirm your commitment to each other after a rough period in your relationship.

Sometimes it is called a reaffirmation ceremony. As we study Genesis 35 today we will discover Jacob recommitted himself to the Lord and the Lord renewed His promises to Jacob.

 

(Write the four session headings on the board—purify Yourself, Obey God’s Directives, Remember God’s Promises and Treasure God’s Promises.)

In today’s study, we discover four fundamental actions that will get us back on track when life derails us. From Jacob’s example of hearing and answering God’s call on his life, we learn no situation is hopeless when we include God!

 

Purify Yourself! Read Genesis 35:1-4

 

1.      What actions were Jacob and his family to take to purify themselves before beginning their journey to Bethel?

Identify Shechem and Bethel on the map. Jacob and his family were to leave Shechem and journey back to Bethel.

2.      Why was purification important for Jacob’s family? (Jacob was preparing his family for worship of the One true God, so he wanted them to get rid of all idols that would keep them from worshiping Yahweh. They needed a fresh start.)

Jacob knew that his heart and the hearts of his family members needed to be totally focused on the Lord. Jacob felt he owed his allegiance to Yahweh since God had helped him on every step of his journey.

3.       Altars had been used before, but this is the first time we find God giving someone instructions to build an altar. What is the purpose of an altar? (A place to worship God and make sacrifice offerings to Him!)

4.      What actions might a person take today in preparation for meeting God?

5.      Why do we sometimes have trouble identifying and removing idols from our lives? (Sometimes our “idols” aren’t tangible things. God wants us to purify ourselves and remove idols in our lives that may distract us from worshiping Him. Jacob’s wives were not raised to worship the One true God. Rachel even snuck her family’s idols into her belongings.)

Getting rid of all of the idols meant that Jacob’s whole family would be committing to worship Yahweh—to putting away everything that would come before their worship of God!

6.      What things show that a person is purifying his or her life? (Sometimes it is nothing more than a fresh commitment of our life to God and His calling on our life!)

 

(Briefly discuss the events in Genesis 34 to help understand these verses a little better.)

Obey God’s Directives! Read 35:5-8

 

At God’s command, Jacob obediently led his family to Bethel with God protecting them along the way. Notice that protection of God came after Jacob was obedient, teaching us that we must obey God first.

1.      Which is more difficult—obeying God in the big stuff or in the small stuff?

·         Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Gen. 3:24

·         Moses wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. Deut. 3:27

·         King Saul lost his throne. 1 Sam. 13:13-24

2.      How did God move to fulfill His promise to Jacob to receive the land of Abraham and Isaac? (Earlier God had been working in Esau’s heart to forgive his brother rather than destroy him. Here God caused the inhabitants of the land to be afraid of Jacob’s family.)

God works to bring about His purposes for us in ways we cannot always see.

Jacob made a vow in Genesis 28:20-21 that God would be his God

3.      What is the significance of returning to a location where a significant spiritual event took place?

4.      How important is it for those experiences to be relived?

 

Remember God’s Promises! Read Genesis 35:9-13

 

1.      What promise did God make to Jacob here? (The same promise God had made to Abraham and Isaac! God is faithful and will fulfill all of His promises. As the old hymn says: “All Your promises are true, I will lift up my eyes to You. For You’re all that I need. And by faith I receive the wonderful things You will do.”)

In his first Bethel experience, Jacob saw God and the angels in a dream, but now the Lord appeared to Jacob while he was fully awake, reaffirming His promises made at Bethel and Peniel. Although Jacob may have forgotten these promises or taken them for granted, God still remembered His word.

Jacob had spiritually matured. He knew that these blessings came from God and not from anything he could control or manipulate.

2.      Why did God remind Jacob of his new name? (God officially reminded Jacob again when He blessed him. God’s mercies are “new every morning”—Lam. 3:23, and He reminds us we are new creations in Christ Jesus—2 Cor. 5:17. Just as God took away the shame of Jacob’s past by giving him a new name, God gives us a new identity in Christ.)

Notice that when God first appeared to Jacob, He introduced Himself by His personal name Yahweh. Now God referred to Himself as “God Almighty” to emphasize His all-sufficient power to accomplish the great future He had promised to Jacob and his descendants.

3.      What are some promises God has made to you in His Word?

4.      How do these promises influence your daily life?

 

Treasure God’s Promises! Read Genesis 35:14-15

 

Once again Jacob marked the place where he had encountered God. Markers or memorials help us reflect on a significant event. The greatest privilege in life is discovering and treasuring the Lord’s precious promises.

1.      When God finished speaking to Jacob, what sustained Jacob to remain faithful to the Lord? (Jacob set up a stone marker as a reminder of God’s promises.)

2.      What are some ways people commemorate significant spiritual commitments today? (Journaling about important markers in our spiritual journey can bring great encouragement during times of difficulty. Sometimes people will write notes in their Bible to remind them of a special commitment or promise and place a date along with it.)

3.      How do these compare with the actions taken by Jacob?

Remembering God’s promises will help sustain us through trials and temptations.

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      Jacob needed a fresh word from God so God called him to go back to Bethel. Do you need to “go back to Bethel”?

2.      Is there a commitment you’ve made to God in the past that needs renewing?

3.      What helps you remember everything God has done for you?

 

Take time this week to consider God’s Word, a prayer journal, verses prominently displayed at home or work, songs, or other items that remind you of God’s answering your prayers.

 

Identify a way God has shown Himself faithful in your life. Mark your new commitment to God in some way that you can go back to and remember what happened there. Perhaps even this Scripture!

 

Protect and Serve - Genesis 1:27; 9:1-7 Matthew 5:21-22

1.      Do you physically favor your parents? (Share your experience.)

2.      Do your children favor you? (Share your experience.)

Although some of us may “look like” other family members, all of us are created in the image of God.

   Because God created humans in His image, every life has value, regardless of age, gender, race, or nationality. Being made in God’s image, we are to affirm the value of every person and protect all human life—including those in their mother’s womb. Truly, being created in God’s image is more than a privilege; it is a responsibility. Maintaining that image in our lives and helping others maintain that image is a difficult, lifelong process.—PSG, pg 73

3.      How is life a gift?

4.      How is life a responsibility?

5.      What makes life valuable? (We determine possessions’ worth based on the value we place on them whether monetary, trade, sentimental, or personal. To the world, people’s value might lie in their contributions, talents, intelligence, skills, or outward appearance. God values a person based solely on the fact that humans are His creation.)

In today’s Scripture we will focus on God’s view of humans, made in His image.

(Our individual views on abortion and assisted suicide and even allowing a terminally ill elderly adult to simply die can change over time. We must remember that God is merciful and forgives. A young couple could have had an abortion and later discovered the truths of God’s Word concerning the taking of a human life—at any age or stage of development to be sin. God forgives!) 

 

In His Image! Read Genesis 1:27

 

1.      What does it mean to be created in God’s image? (This question is widely debated, but considers the following: God is eternal. Man is eternal, that is man has a spirit, as does God. While God is eternal man’s spirit will live throughout eternity yet to come, as does God. God and humans are personal beings who possess the attributes of personality. These attributes include capability of intelligence and thought, emotion, and decisions of the will. We can discern between good and evil. We are moral agents who decide which choice to make.—PSG pg 75)

While we may not fully understand what it means to be made in God’s image, we are the only creature that carries this distinction.

2.      How does the idea of all humans being created in God’s image run contrary to attitudes sometimes seen in today’s society?

3.      What evidence might a person point to as proof that they value all people? (That we oppose oppression and prejudice of all kinds. We affirm the value of every person as being created in God’s image—not just in word but in action, as well. No racism or any other form of hatred. Read James 3:9)

4.      What is distinctive about how God categorizes humans in this passage? (Men and women are of equal worth in God’s sight, yet God created them to be distinctly different. There is no mix up as to what gender a person is—God didn’t create an “it”.)

 

It’s a first step in the right direction to affirm that all people are created in God’s image. Now let’s explore how we are to protect human life.

Genesis chapters 6, 7 and 8 tell us about the great flood that destroyed all land creatures save those who were in the ark God led Noah to build. In chapter 9 God enters into a covenant with Noah and gives instruction concerning protecting human life.

To Be Protected! Read Genesis 9:1-7

 

Before the flood it seems that all living creatures lived in harmony with humans. It also appears that humans were vegetarians.

1.       What authority did God give Noah upon leaving the ark and starting over with humanity? (God gave Noah and his sons’ authority over all living creatures. God said that all creatures would fear humans.)

In contrast to God’s specific instructions to Adam and Eve about what plants to eat, God gave Noah and his sons’ full authority to eat all living creatures and plants.

2.      Read Genesis 1:28-31. How do the instructions God gave Noah compare to the instructions He gave Adam in the garden? (God told Noah and his sons to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. He also told them to be in authority over all living creatures. God warned them against eating live animals, and that they should protect human life by requiring the life of any creature that took the life of a human.)

While Christians differ on the use of the death penalty, the emphasis God gave to Noah was that human life is valuable, and other humans should protect it.

            God’s requirement for us to protect human life is based on humans being created in God’s image.

3.      How can a believer be the voice of a person silenced by violence? (Be an advocate for pro-life. Let our voice be heard when individuals or people groups are discriminated against. Our efforts should be centered on affirming the value of life by being evangelistic and mission-minded, caring for the welfare of others, speaking for the unborn, stopping abuse and enslavement, standing up for the persecuted, and treating life as precious wherever it is found.)

4.      How can we see value in all people—even those we disagree with or whom we’ve been hurt by? (God cares for each individual life and we should reflect God’s attitudes in the way we live our life. See James 3:9-10)

It is clear from the beginning that God’s plan was for all human life to be valued. Next, we turn to the New Testament and see how Jesus turned the spotlight on people’s heart attitudes.

 

In Action and Attitude! Read Matthew 5:21-22

 

1.      How does Jesus connect our heart attitudes with our actions?

These verses come from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus established the moral code for Christians!

The Pharisees only looked at a person’s outward behavior. Jesus connected the people’s heart attitudes with their actions

2.      In what ways are murder and anger connected? (Left unchecked anger becomes rage, out of control anger.)

3.      How does a person’s attitude serve as a mirror of what a person truly thinks and believes?

4.      What is the difference between respect and tolerance?

5.      Can a person confuse tolerance and respect?

6.      Note the commands given by God in Genesis 1:27; 9:6; and Matthew 5:22. What do these commands reveal about God’s view of humanity? (God not only values human life, but His plan calls for us to show we value others through our attitudes and actions!)

God expects His followers to go further—to show actions and attitudes that value other people’s lives.

7.      In what way do Jesus’ words demand changes in your own attitudes toward other people?

8.      What actions do you need to take in order to bring about these changes?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      What will it look like in our culture today for us to stand up for all people, made in the image of God?

2.      How can we be advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves?

3.      What actions can we take this week?

 

We might ask ourselves, “Why did God even bother to create human beings in the first place?”  Many times we define God as love, and rightly so. God’s love is why he created us—so that His great love would have an object to lavish His love on. So much so that when His creation rejected Him, He would go to the ultimate length of sending His Son to redeem, or buy back what was His in the first place.

How could we neglect so great a salvation! If God placed that much value on us while we were astray how could we do less?

 

The ultimate act of love we can express toward others is to tell them how much God loves them and share God’s salvation plan with them.

Reconciled - Genesis 33:1-15

1.      What comes to your mind when you think if the word “reconcile?” (In accounting it is making sure two sets of figures agree. To make or show to be compatible. In relationships it is restoring friendly relations between two people or groups of people. Cause to coexist in harmony.)

Most of us think of reconcile in terms of people who aren’t getting along with each other—there is more of that in the world than we would like to admit from nations down to individuals.

2.      What obstacles get in the way of reconciling a broken relationship? (Pride. Stubbornness. Hatred.)

3.      How can reconciling with others help a person’s spiritual growth? (The first broken relationship for each one of us is our relationship with God. When we humble ourselves and turn to God we are well on our way to mending relationships. When we find ourselves in a broken relationship with someone it calls for us to examine our heart and ask God to “peel back” the curtain of our heart and reveal any sin that is there. Then repent and reconcile that relationship.)

God can use those moments to focus our attention on Him and remind us that He alone is God. He alone has the power to transform us, but we have to be willing to let Him work in our lives.

4.      What is the relationship between reconciliation and forgiveness? (There must be forgiveness and humility for reconciliation to be genuine.)

5.      Can there be reconciliation without humility and forgiveness?

 

Regardless of how grievous the offense and upset the offended, we can make things right. By resolving his difference with Esau, Jacob depicts both the necessity and method of how we can live in harmony with others today.

1.      Unrestrained fear can make God’s children do unhealthy things. How can believers overcome the fears we face? (Placing our faith in God and giving everything over to Him in faith.)

Put Aside Your Pride! Read Genesis 33:1-4

 

After a momentary lapse of trust, Jacob rebounded, acting as a man who had just met with God. He faced Esau alone, demonstrating His trust in God.

2.      How did Jacob demonstrate humility towards Esau? (Jacob first had to humble himself before the Lord by being willing to go home when the Lord told him to go. Jacob bowed before Esau to establish his intent to seek forgiveness. Jacob had to admit that what he did was wrong and humble himself before his brother in hopes that his brother would offer forgiveness rather than destroy him and his family.)

When we humble ourselves before the Lord and seek God’s forgiveness, then we are able to humble ourselves before those we have wronged and seek their forgiveness as well. True transformation is evident when we approach others with humility.

3.      Knowing pride hurts and humility helps in building good relationships, what steps of preparation should a person take before seeking reconciliation?

4.      How is Esau’s reaction in the story surprising? (Not only did Esau offer forgiveness, but he also ran to meet Jacob, signifying he was glad to see Jacob. Jesus shared a similar story of a father’s forgiving reaction to his son’s reckless behavior in Luke 15:20.)

Notice that in both Esau’s reaction and the father’s reaction, there is no mention of the wrong that had been done by Jacob or the son. God had not only been working on Jacob but evidently He had been working on Esau’s heart also. We aren’t told how God worked on Esau but it is obvious that he had been transformed too.

Believers can choose to forgive whether an offender seeks forgiveness or not. They can also ask for forgiveness whether or not the offended person accepts their apology. However, both parties have to be willing to participate for genuine reconciliation to occur.

 

Be Genuine! Read Genesis 33:5-11

 

1.      What evidence do you see here that both Jacob and Esau demonstrated a genuine desire to be reconciled?

2.      What attitude do you think Esau used when asking about those traveling with Jacob? (Like a relative you haven’t seen in a long time would ask, “Well who are these little ones with you?” All the while knowing they had to be your wives and children.)

3.      Why did Jacob insist on giving Esau the gift of livestock? (God had blessed Jacob abundantly, and Jacob wanted to share those blessings, especially in the wake of having stolen his brother’s birthright.)

When we choose to share what God has given us, we can bless others because God has blessed us. Jacob demonstrated contentment with what God had given him. Rather than showing greed for more as he had done earlier in his life. Jacob exhibited satisfaction with what God had provided for him.

Jacob had matured quite a bit in twenty years. He showed gratitude toward the Lord and recognition that all his blessings came from God!

4.      How can Christians show godly contentment in their lives—in relationships, finances, health struggles, and so forth? (True contentment comes from trusting God to provide for your needs and being generous to share God’s blessings with others.)

5.      What are some ways to demonstrate a genuine desire for reconciliation in a broken relationship?

 

Jacob took the first step with God’s help and Esau reciprocated. To have meaningful relationships, we must seek God’s guidance and then step out in faith as He leads.

Agree On Limits! Read Genesis 33:12-15

 

1.      How would you characterize the exchange here between Jacob and Esau? (Congenial; friendly; humbly spoken by both.)

Notice that Esau offered two gifts to Jacob: one being his company and the second being protection provided by his 400 men.

2.      Why did Jacob refuse Esau’s assistance? (Though Jacob sought Esau’s forgiveness, he chose to part ways on good terms rather than work together.)

Upon reconciling difficult relationships, wise safeguards may be necessary to avoid further conflicts. It is wise to place boundaries on relationships, especially when there have been problems.

3.      Identify any potential problems you may face. What are some safeguards you can create in order to minimize any conflict?

Sensing their differences, Jacob makes sure he established boundaries so there would be no unnecessary conflicts between them.

4.      How important is it for people to agree on boundaries within their relationships?

5.      How long did it take for Jacob to be ready to reconcile? (20 years!)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      Why is forgiveness so challenging, whether we’re seeking forgiveness or choosing to offer it?

2.      How can you offer forgiveness when you’ve been deeply hurt?

Jacob’s successful encounter with Esau was the result of meeting with God at Bethel, Mahanaim and Peniel. Only after being reconciled with God could Jacob be reconciled with Esau.

Reconciled relationships are a blessing from God, with the greatest blessing being a restored relationship with Him.

3.      Is there someone you need to seek forgiveness from or to forgive?

Pray and ask God to help you with this! If God has laid this on your heart, your relationship with God will be strained until you resolve this issue with the other person!

 

Challenge: If possible, get in touch with that person this week, whether by phone, text, or email.

 

(Give personal testimony!)

Transformed - Genesis 32:24-32

1.      When you think of the word “transformed” what comes to your mind?

2.      What is perhaps the most graphic illustration of transformation we find in nature? (The caterpillar to the butterfly. Others may be suggested as well.)

 

Caterpillars must go through a process of great struggle before turning into a butterfly, but the end result is a beautiful creature.

We have graphic examples of individuals who have gone through a spiritual transformation that was not easy for them but the end result is a beautiful life lived out for God.

One of the best I know is the life of Sterling Eggleston. When he and his wife, Bennie Faye married he was not a Christian but she was a committed Christian and faithfully attended church each week. He testifies that each Sunday the last thing he said as she went out the door to church was, “Don’t you give that preacher any of my money.”

He finally gave in and went to church with her and, through the life she lived before him and the message of God’s Word to him, he was saved. The transformation that God did in Sterling’s life is truly beautiful. But while salvation happens at one point in time, transformation (sanctification) is a life-long process molding us into the image of Christ! Transformation requires ongoing, steady, and sometimes difficult steps. In today’s study, we will see how God transformed Jacob.

 

God used a variety of circumstances to soften Jacob’s heart. Listen to the prayer he prays in Gen. 32:9-12.

We pick up the narrative when Jacob is spending the night alone, consumed with thoughts of fear, not only for his life, but for the lives of all those he loved.

 

The Match! Read Genesis 32:24-26

 

1.      How does this passage characterize Jacob’s life?

Think for a moment about Jacob’s relationship with Esau, Isaac, Laban, Leah, and Rachel. With each of these Jacob had encounters that were challenging to say the least!

Because Jacob spent most of his life wrestling with people, God came that lonely night in the form of a wrestler. Note: Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out the identity of the person God sent to wrestle with Jacob, it isn’t important who it was but what this individual’s message delivered from God is important. This “man” was clearly the Lord or one of His angels.

Jacob was absolutely determined to receive a blessing, even if it meant deceiving his father and wrestling with God.

Recall Jacob’s experience at Bethel, then God promised Jacob His blessings. The promise was fulfilled from a material perspective because Jacob was wealthy with flocks, herds, and servants. After wrestling with the Lord all night, Jacob discovered he needed more than material wealth. He needed God and His transforming work in his life!

2.      How do we know Jacob was determined to receive God’s blessing on his life? (Even though his hip was dislocated, he refused to let go. Jacob asked for a blessing. True transformation leads believers to value and seek God’s blessing above all else.)

3.      What keeps people from being desperate for God’s blessing?

4.      How does an encounter with God foster a desire for His blessing?

Evidence of true transformation occurs in our lives as we continue to follow the Lord and seek Him, even in the midst of difficult situations.

I read the following excerpt from a prayer voiced by David Brainerd: “When I really enjoy God I feel my desire for Him more insatiable, and my thirsting after holiness the more unquenchable…”

The more we get the more we desire. But we will never plumb the depth of God’s love for us.

Before Jacob’s transformation could continue, a painful but key element was required: honesty.

5.      When have you wrestled with God? (Most likely it was a spiritual wrestling match.)

 

The Title! Read Genesis 32:27-29

 

Throughout the Bible a person’s name often identified his character and the giving of a new name meant either a change in nature or a change in relationship.

1.      Why do you think the man asked Jacob what his name was? (The man already knew Jacob’s name. He wanted Jacob to own up to who he really was. Jacob’s name meant “he cheats” or “he supplants.” The reality of who Jacob really was came into focus in his eyes now. Jacob’s problem was his sinful character!)

2.      What was significant about the name change to Israel? (The name means “he struggled with God.” And it can mean “God rules.”)

3.      What does the fact that the man changed Jacob’s name mean? (The man had power or authority over Jacob.)

Notice that when Jacob asked the man his name he wasn’t told his name. Jacob had no power or authority over this man.

4.      Jacob would no longer be identified as the “deceiver” but rather the “one who wrestled God.” What comes to a person’s mind when they hear your name mentioned?

5.      How can difficult circumstances help believers mature? (Jacob learned the value of working hard for something, as he had to do to maintain the flocks with Laban. He couldn’t take shortcuts to accumulate his wealth in animals.)

Jacob learned the necessity of facing struggles rather than running away from them. He essentially ran away from Esau after stealing Esau’s blessing, yet many years late, Jacob prepared to face Esau upon returning home!

 

While transformation is a lifelong process, Jacob successfully completed the two major steps. He desperately sought God’s blessings, and then he submitted himself before the Lord in humility.

1.      What does a surrendered life look like from God’s perspective?

2.      What does a surrendered life look like from a human perspective?

The Venue! Read Genesis 32:30-32

 

Not eating the meat from the thigh muscle is not a commandment; it is more like a tradition among the Jews.

 

Notice that before wrestling with God, Jacob’s world was dark—both literally and figuratively. In these verses “The sun shone on him.” Jacob experienced a new day, and a new beginning by God’s design.

Peniel or Penuel is Jacob’s third spiritual landmark and means “face of God.” Jacob’s first spiritual landmark was Bethel and his second was Mahanaim or “This is God’s camp.”—Gen. 32:1-2.

With each heavenly visitation, Jacob renamed the meeting place, acknowledging God’s presence and transformation in his life.

 

3.      What are some life markers for believers?

4.      How can a person’s spiritual lessons be memorialized so the insight gained will not be forgotten?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

I will admit that it is difficult to see a quick transformation in Jacob. But from now on the Bible uses the phrase “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…” about a dozen times. To me, this says that spiritual transformation is slow in some of us, but God can and does use us for His glory and purposes.

1.      How has God transformed your life?

2.      Who would share with us at least one way in which God has brought about visible change through your journey?

 

This week, reflect on where God has led you in the last few years. Record any markers or turning points in your relationship with God. Thank God for His amazing work of transformation.

Home - Genesis 31:2-16

(Draw a large outline of a house on the board, or obtain a picture of a house that looks warm and loving. Tell the class we are going to play a form of the game “Family Feud.” Have the class raise their hand when they have a word or phrase that completes the following sentence: Home is where ___________. Call on several members for response. [Possible responses: “the heart is.” “I’m loved and accepted.” “I live.” “ever my loved ones are.” Etc] Then go on with the following questions.)

1.      What makes a place feel like home?

2.      What makes the longing for home such a strong emotion?

Jacob longed for home after working twenty years for his father-in-law, Laban, and fulfillment of God’s promise to give him a bright and secure future in Canaan. (Read Gen. 28:13-15 to remind the class of God’s promise.)

 

Before Jacob could put his plan into motion, he needed the support of his family. Today’s text describes how Jacob gathered his family together and poured out his heart by sharing God’s vision for their lives.

 

Obedience Required! Read Genesis 31:2-3

 

When hostility developed between Jacob and Laban, the Lord demonstrated His faithfulness by instructing Jacob to return to the land of his father.

1.      What was the source of jealousy and hostility between Jacob and Laban? (God had blessed Jacob in such a dramatic way that almost all of Laban’s flocks of sheep now belonged to Jacob. Whatever wages Laban promised Jacob in terms of the color and pattern of the newborn lambs, God made sure virtually all of the lambs were that color and/or pattern. See Gen. 30:43.)

Following God’s command wasn’t as simple as it might sound. Jacob left many broken bridges when he left home. Read Gen. 27:33 and Gen 27:41.

2.      How was Jacob’s decision to leave different from other decisions he had made? (Jacob’s decision to leave Haran was based on God’s direction rather than scheming or trying to manipulate his own course. God told Jacob to leave and go back home.)

Whenever God calls, staying put may seem like the safe choice, but answering God’s call is the right decision. Even when faced with uncertainties, the best place to live is in the center of God’s will!

3.      What hindrances might keep believers from knowing and following God’s will for their lives?

4.      What reactions are common after making a life-altering decision, even when we know the decision is what God has asked us to do? (We can be fearful of other people’s reaction. We are uncertain what the future holds, even though we know God is leading.)

5.      How has God demonstrated His faithfulness in your life?

 

Obedience Declared! Read Genesis 31:4-13

 

1.      In what ways did Jacob give God credit for all that He had provided? (Jacob led his family to recognize God’s provision in their lives. He outlined for Leah and Rachel how God had taken care of them.)

When we face difficult decisions, reminding ourselves of how God has taken care of us in the past will build confidence for God’s future provision.

2.      Why was God’s identification of Himself in Jacob’s dream significant? (God reminded Jacob of that defining moment at Bethel in which Jacob vowed to follow the Lord.)

Taking time to remember those significant moments in our spiritual journey can help increase our faith when new challenges arise!

Like He had done before, God divinely let Jacob know that He would bless him regardless of what deceitful actions Laban took. Notice again how God remembered Jacob’s commitment.

3.      How do the ways Jacob honored God in these verses compare to how a person might honor God today?

4.      When has “but God” been true of your life’s circumstances?

What Laban did to Jacob was wrong, just like what Jacob did to Isaac and Esau was wrong. But God is always at work to accomplish His plans. The ultimate example of this biblical principle is the resurrection of Jesus from the grave on the third day!

 

The key to God’s blessings was Jacob’s response: he immediately answered when God called. The presence and power of God falls on believers when they declare their complete obedience to Him and Him alone!

Notice how Leah and Rachel described their relationship with their father.

 

Obedience Affirmed! Read Genesis 31:14-16

 

Unlike all their previous disagreements, this time Rachel and Leah reached the same decision. Together, they made four conclusions: First, they had no inheritance; Second, No longer part of that family; Third, Recognized God’s divine plan; and Fourth, Committed to Jacob’s God.

 

1.      How do you think God’s past faithfulness influenced the decision made by Rachel and Leah? (They could easily see how God had blessed Jacob. He came to Haran with virtually nothing and now has a greater flock and more wealth than their father in just 6 short years! (The first fourteen years his wages was his two wives, the last 6 years was part of Laban’s flock.)How did Leah and Rachel express faith in God? (They accepted Jacob’s leadership to follow God by encouraging Jacob to do whatever God told him to do.)

Leah and Rachel were not raised in a home that worshiped Yahweh, the one true God. However, they saw evidence of God’s hand at work in Jacob’s life. They chose to place their faith in God to direct their paths.

 

God will lead us, but we have to accept His plan and be willing to follow in obedience.

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

·         We can be thankful for God’s promises when facing jealousy and hostility.

·         We know God has our best interest in mind, so we can honor God and His directions.

·         Based on God’s past faithfulness, we can take steps of faith!

 

How can you trust God to direct you in your home, workplace, and virtually every area of your life this week?

 

There is one area of my life that I am certain God wants me to improve on and perhaps the same is true for you.

I’m accepting God’s challenge to set aside more time to meet with Him through the Scripture and prayer!

 

Prayer: Father help me to meet with you on a more regular basis and read more of your Word every day! Amen.

 

Promise Kept - Luke 1:2-38

(Note: I am seriously considering having my class read the “Christmas Story” from each of the Gospels and discussing pertinent points and allowing class members to ask questions they may have and make appropriate comments along the way. I would use the following passages—

John 1:1-18 Starts at the beginning with the Word. Key verse

John 1:14.

Matthew 1:18-2:12 Tells of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s view point. Key verse Matt. 1:23.

Luke 1:5-38; 2:1-20 Luke’s gospel tells of Jesus’ birth primarily from Mary’s view point.

The Gospel of Mark was written in Greek for a Greek speaking audience. He does not actually cover a record of Jesus’ birth.)

 

Promise Kept (lesson plan)!

 

1.      When have you had to wait for something that was a long time coming?

Until God sent the angel Gabriel to speak to Zechariah in Luke 1:11 God had been silent 400 years. The prophet Malachi had brought the last message from God in the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean God wasn’t moving and working. Galatians 4:4 “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”

 

In today’s passage, the angel Gabriel brings Mary the most unexpected, life-changing news. Imagine some of the emotions Mary might have felt as she heard Gabriel’s message and began to understand the role she would play in God’s plan for a Savior.

Have a good reader read the three paragraphs “Understand the context” from the Leader’s Guide, pages 44-45.

As is evident here God used heavenly messengers, like Gabriel, to share the news of His plan with the world. Notice the angel’s description of Jesus in Luke 1:32-33.

2.      What does this teach about Jesus’ relationship with believers?

As we turn our attention to Luke 1 in today’s study, we see the promise God kept in sending His Son! God calls us to trust Him as we wait for answers to prayer, and He also calls us to believe Him when the answers we receive are unexpected!

 

The Greeting! Read Luke 1:28-29

 

1.      What’s the significance of God’s choice of Mary and Joseph as Jesus’ earthly parents? (As prophesied—Isa. 9:7—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the lineage of David.)

Ask someone to read the paragraph that begins, “Twice in verse 27 Mary is called…” (PSG p. 39).

2.      Mary was deeply troubled. How might Mary have viewed herself at that moment?

3.      How do you think God saw Mary?

4.      Would you consider Gabriel’s message more troubling or confusing? (Many young Jewish girls desired to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary was an ordinary village girl from a small town in Galilee—300ish population with no public buildings.)

5.      Because of God’s love for us, He took the initiative to provide redemption. What is the relationship between God’s grace and His promised presence?

6.      Why is it important for people to understand that God takes the initiative to relate to humanity and provide salvation?

God can intervene in our life circumstances in unexpected ways if we are open to see Him work!

 

We see from the encounter between Gabriel and Mary that God took the first steps in His plan of salvation. Now let’s see how God’s promise of a Savior would be fulfilled.

1.      How do you feel when someone keeps a promise?

These next few verses remind us that God is the ultimate Promise-Keeper!

The Promise! Read Luke 1:30-33

2.      How would Mary’s baby fulfill Old Testament prophecies?

The phrase “Do not be afraid,” is found throughout Scripture. Almost always when a supernatural event occurs it is to give us assurance that what is about to happen is God working. God wants to replace our fears with strong faith.

3.      Why is knowing the promises of God important to believers?

4.      How does God’s keeping of His past promises give people hope for today?

5.      How did the Jewish people know they should be looking for a Messiah? (God foretold the coming of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis. All of the prophecies foretold about Jesus came to pass through His life, death, and resurrection. The Jews expected an earthly king and, in general, did not accept Him when He came to them.)

Gabriel identified the coming Child to Mary as being Deity. Though He came to earth through normal means, Jesus was not just an ordinary boy being born into an ordinary family in an ordinary town. Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, who came to save those who choose to follow Him. God always fulfills His promises, though often in ways that we do not anticipate.

 

The Explanation! Read Luke 1:34-37

 

Note that Mary did not seem to doubt the miracle Gabriel described, but she questioned how it could happen.

1.      How did Gabriel answer Mary’s questions?

Affirm that there can be times in our lives when we wrestle with honest questions about how God’s plan will unfold.

Here we understand how Jesus is fully God and fully human at the same time! This is the miracle of the incarnation (Emmanuel, God with us)!   

2.      How was the motivation behind Mary’s question in verse 34 different from Zechariah’s question in verse 18? (Mary’s question stemmed from uncertainty of how pregnancy could be possible for her, while Zechariah’s question revealed his disbelief that God could give him a son.)

3.      Why is it important for people to know that Jesus was the Son of God?

4.      How does His identity give us clues about why Jesus came to earth?

5.      What confirmation does God give us that He can do the impossible in our lives? (Confirmation is evident throughout Scripture that God can and does accomplish the impossible and will fulfill His promises to us as well.

Like God provided Elizabeth for Mary, God gives us fellow believers to encourage us in our faith!

 

We see how Gabriel responded to Mary’s hard questions with honest answers that secured her confidence in God’s plan. Now let’s listen for Mary’s commitment to following God’s plan.

 

The Commitment! Read Luke 1:38

 

1.      How would you describe Mary’s response to what God’s plan was for her life?

2.      What rights did a slave have? (None. The slave was completely committed to the will of their owner.)

3.      What difficulties would Mary have to deal with in the coming days? (A young virgin pregnant! Her engagement to Joseph! The disgrace she would bring upon her family.)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

1.      How will we respond to God’s will for our lives, especially when His plan is different than we imagined?

2.      What are some ways in which you can take God at His word and believe Him this week?

God keeps His promises, but we have to step out in obedience and faith.

3.      What can you do this Christmas to keep the focus on Christ?

4.      How can you express your appreciation to God for His incredible salvation through the way you celebrate Jesus’ birth?

5.      What are some practical ways to keep the Christmas focus on Christ, as individuals and as families gather?

Let’s try to turn away from the holiday distractions and focus on the celebration of the Savior in these coming days!

 

As the year is ending and the new year approaches, pray and ask God in what areas of your life you need to step out in faith this next year.

 

Family? - Genesis 28:13-30

(List the following “sins” on the board: lying; adultery; worshiping other gods; murder; denying knowing Jesus; cursing; etc.)

1.      Which of the sins listed on the board disqualifies a person from being used in God’s kingdom?

2.      What are some excuses people use for not taking an active role in Christian service?  What are some excuses people use for excusing others from Christian service?

3.      How might these excuses point to a faulty understanding of God? In what way?

Does a person who has committed a grievous sin and has been confronted with their sin, acknowledged it, confessed and repented have a deeper understanding of God’s grace and mercy than I do! Who are we to stand and say to a person, “You can’t serve because of something in your past!” The role a person serves in may change, but God can and does use sinners…like us!

 

The point is—God uses imperfect people! Actually when we stop to think about it, that’s all He has to work with!

 

Today’s session will reveal that God uses imperfect people with imperfect lives to advance His plans.

Read Genesis 29:13-15

Jacob, sent to Haran by his parents in hope he would find a future wife, found more than a wife. He learned the value of putting those he loved above himself, along with the value of working for what he wanted instead of using deception.

 

Jacob’s Proposal! Read Genesis 29:16-20

 

During the first month Jacob was working for Laban his work ethic impressed Laban. He wanted to agree on wages!

The customs of that day were that the father of the groom or the groom himself would reimburse the father of the bride for taking her in marriage. So for Jacob to offer to work for Rachel was all he could do because he had nothing else!

1.      What of great importance did Jacob find in his work now? (Purpose!)

A lack of purpose can fill one’s life with a sense of hopelessness, making it difficult to get out of bed and face the day. Meaningful work, no matter how mundane, can make time pass swiftly, and most of all, make life worth living.

2.      What kind of work gives you pure joy (e.g. a career, hobby, skill, or volunteer work)?

When we follow God’s plan, we can find joy in the work He gives us to do. God gave Adam and Eve work to do in tending the Garden of Eden. Only after the fall did difficult labor become part of the curse on humanity brought on by our sin.

Purposeful work is a good part of God’s plan for us. Good, honest, purposeful work brings satisfaction!

3.      Why did these seven years seem like only a few days to Jacob? (Jacob was so in love with Rachel his labor had purpose and he worked hard to earn his prize!)

4.      What can be learned from Jacob’s example of purposeful work?

5.      How can we find purpose in our work regardless of the nature of that work? (Col. 3:23-24. Eccl. 9:10a “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”)

 

Laban’s Deception! Read Genesis 29:21-24

 

The bride in this culture wore a veil covering her head and face! The bride was also silent, it seems!

In Session 1, Jacob deceived his father into receiving the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was on the other end of the deception, reaping what he had sown. We should take seriously that in God’s economy, people reap the actions and attitudes they have sown. I had a boss once who was always seeking to get revenge on those who had wronged her or anyone who worked for her. Her favorite quote was: “What goes around comes around!”…and she saw that it did! (Not a Christian attitude. Let God do the payback.)

1.      In what ways was Laban’s deception similar to Jacob’s deception of Isaac? (Laban deceived Jacob, just as Jacob had deceived his father in obtaining Esau’s birthright and blessing. Jacob reaped what he sowed and suffered the consequences of having to struggle between two wives and work an additional seven years for Rachel.)

Ultimately, our choices will reap the consequences we sow, whether positive or negative!

 

Read Gal. 6:7 and Num. 32:23

2.      How could the principle of reaping and sowing cause one to reconsider his or her actions?

3.      How might Leah have felt about her role in the situation? (Leah cooperated with her father’s deception, but she would have been expected to obey what her father told her to do. She was given a husband, but she was not the wife Jacob had intended to marry. She, ultimately, secured for herself the protection of a husband but not the love she desired.)

 

Seven More Years! Read Genesis 29:25-30

 

1.      What kind of emotional state do you think Jacob was in now? (Disbelief, anger, and resignation or acceptance of the situation.)

2.      What do you think about the way Laban behaved?

Believers can thank God for His faithfulness to His promises even when our plans are contrary to His wise design. Little did Laban know, God used Laban to fulfill His promise of making Jacob’s offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth.

From Jacob’s two wives and their handmaidens would come twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel, fulfilling the promised covenant God made with Abraham. God had compassion on Leah, giving her the privilege of bearing Jacob his first four sons who would love her, reminding us God hears the cries of our broken hearts.

 

It is important to note here that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman, evidenced by Adam and Eve and reinforced by the teachings of New Testament writers. Never confuse man’s plans with God’s purpose, and never confuse His permissiveness with His approval.

3.      Why is maintaining a godly perspective in challenging times important for believers?

4.      How can believers maintain a godly perspective?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      How did today’s study help you understand how God uses imperfect people with imperfect lives to advance His plans?

2.      How can we use work to demonstrate Christ to others?

3.      What steps do we need to take to get involved in a work project that benefits our community?

4.      How do your attitudes impact your actions?

5.      What attitude changes need to happen in your life?

God’s plans are often far beyond anything we can plan for ourselves. Sometimes we don’t see how His plans are going to work out for the best, yet we must trust that His ways are higher than ours. Even when we choose our own way, God can ultimately work through our imperfections to advance His plans!

 

Pray that God would give us wisdom to recognize and follow His plans this week!

 

Not Alone - Genesis 28:10-22

(Draw a stick figure on the board and write the word “alone” beside it.”

1.      What are some situations or experiences that may make a person feel alone?

2.      Does a person have to be alone physically to feel alone?

3.      If you were to make a video about loneliness, what setting would you use?

4.      When have you felt alone?

In our study last week we dealt with Jacob’s deception of his father, Isaac, to secure the blessing reserved for the firstborn, Esau. As a result Esau decided to murder Jacob as soon as their father died. Therefore, Rebecca tells Jacob that she was sick of the Canaanite women and wanted to send Jacob off to her brother to get a wife there, among their relatives. Isaac agrees and so they send Jacob off on this long journey, some 600 miles. Jacob had learned about Esau’s plan to murder him so he left in fear of his life by the hand of Esau! On the run, Jacob’s life took an unexpected turn before reaching Haran—he met God!

God has the unique ability to use even our bad choices to bring about His will—Rom. 8:28.

 

Purpose Revealed! Read Genesis 28:10-15

 

In this solitary place, sleep overtook Jacob and he started dreaming, not in the usual way, but divinely.

God used dreams many times to convey His message to individuals: Abimelech, Jacob here, Laban, Joseph, Pharaoh’s cupbearer, his baker and on and on.

God can use any means He decides to communicate His message to His people, or even those who are not His people.

 

1.      What was the significance of the dream Jacob had on his journey? (First, Jacob realizes God is with him, even in this desolate place where he felt all alone. Then God outlined His plan to Jacob and renewed His covenant promise to Jacob’s descendants.  He realized God could speak to him anywhere.)

2.      What was so important about God’s promises to Jacob in verse 15? (God promised that He would be with Jacob and fulfill the plans God had for him.)

When God calls us to follow Him, He promises to be with us through whatever plans He may have for us. We do not step out in faith and obedience alone.  God is with us every step of the way. He also promises that He will fulfill His purposes through us!

3.      What is the connection between God’s presence and His promises?

4.      How does His promised presence give hope and strength?

God’s approaching Jacob was symbolic of God’s coming to be with His people as seen in the Messiah, Jesus.

Here at Christmas time we hear many songs pleading for the coming of Messiah or giving glory that He has come. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” translated to English from Latin by John Mason Neale, is one such song. Can you name others?

 

In a place that was no longer lonely, Jacob was about to do some big things as a result of his encounter with God.

Presence Realized! Read Genesis 28:16-19

 

This event was at least the start of Jacob’s total conversion. He dedicated this place to God, realizing that it was holy because God was there.

1.      How did Jacob know God had spoken to Him? (His dream was so clear and vivid in detail that He felt confident the Lord had spoken to Him.)

Note: God can and does speak to His people in many ways but the primary ways are through His Word—the Bible, and His Holy Spirit. You will never receive a message from God that is in conflict with His Word!

2.      What was Jacob’s response to the realization that He had been in the presence of God? (Jacob responded with awe and worship. He created a marker to remember His encounter with God.)  Recognition of God’s presence should call believers to awe and worship.

3.      Why is it important to commemorate God’s past blessings?

4.      What happens when believers fail to remember His blessings?

5.      What are some appropriate ways we might celebrate God’s working in our lives? (Creating spiritual markers can provide a tangible commemoration of God’s working in our lives.)

When Jacob stole the blessing from Esau, the consequences were that he had to be on the run because his brother wanted to kill him. God freely gave Jacob this blessing, and the result was that Jacob did not have to live in fear this time. Instead, Jacob could worship the Lord freely in faith.

Like “selfies” people take today, Jacob pictured the spot he met God, as should we when we experience God’s work in our lives.

 

Commitment Made! Read Genesis 28:20-22

 

1.      What was your initial reaction when reading these verses?

My initial reaction was that Jacob was trying to bargain with God. Jacob was not bargaining with God, as if buying His favor; rather he offered God his vow as confidence in God’s promise. Jacob’s vow was an expression of faith, not in deceptive plans, but in God alone.

This encounter with God is at least the beginning of Jacob’s total transformation, which may have happened 20 years later in chapter 32.

2.      What do our spiritual commitments reveal about our understanding of God?

3.      What is the relationship between being and doing in reference to our spiritual lives?

4.      Why did Jacob declare that he would give God a tenth of all that had been given to Him? (He placed his faith in God to provide for him. It is also an act showing gratitude for what God has done.)

5.      How does what we do demonstrate who we are and what we believe?

Like Jacob, we are to take steps of faith in response to God’s speaking to us. Does anyone have a testimony you’d like to share with the class concerning tithing and God’s providing faithfully?

Our choices to follow God today will affect future generations who come after us!

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

1.      What spiritual markers are important to your journey?

2.      Would anyone like to share about a time when you encountered the Lord that became a turning point in your life?

3.      How can we encourage each other to take steps of faith? (Pray together. Pray specific prayers as we know about each other’s struggles. Share our testimonies with each other.)

 

Make a list of important spiritual markers in your life. Spend some time this week in praising and giving thanks for all that the Lord has done in your life.

The Deceiver - Genesis 27:18-29

1.      How many different ways are there to repair a wall that has had water damage due to a flood?

A year or so ago Linda and I got to go on a “mission” trip to southeast Texas to help repair a church that had experienced water damage during one of the hurricanes that had come through that area.   We went with Bill Jobe, a builder with a lifetime of experience. There were times when I was left alone to accomplish a small job with clear instructions as to what to do. It is a good thing I had specific instructions because I thought I had a better idea once or twice. My ideas would have led to disaster, as discovered, as the project came closer to completion. I realized that, had I done it my way, I would have had to tear out what I had done and started all over because a circuital step had been left out! With Bill’s experience we were able to complete the project in the time projected in the most efficient way!

2.      How many of you remember a song from several years back by Frank Sinatra titled “I Did It My Way”? How good does that song make you feel about doing things “your” way?

3.      In relationship to God, what is the outcome when we do things “our way”? (Adam and Eve, Abraham, Jacob and a host of people down through the ages have discovered what a mess we create when we try to do it our way!)

Major teachings of Genesis include: Sin is rebellion against God. Salvation comes from God alone. Covenants are key in both the Old and New Testaments; we learn that man often doesn’t keep his end of a covenant but that God always upholds His promises.

The events in today’s study occurred nearly 4,000 years ago and yet the truths of Scripture we can learn are as relevant today as they were the day they happened!

(Briefly tell about Abraham and Sarah, the births of Ishmael and Isaac, the birth of Esau and Jacob as well as the promise that the older would serve the younger. In each event the people took things in their own hands and made a real mess—that still has impact today!)

4.      Today’s main theme is about deception. What may cause a person to intentionally deceive others?

5.      How do you typically respond after you discover you were deceived?

 

(Talk about how Esau and Jacob were born and raised highlighting the favoritism in Isaac’s family. Point out that Esau was the oldest, and as a result, was first in line for his father’s patriarchal blessing! Point out that Rebekah overheard Isaac tell Esau to hunt and prepare a meal and he would give Esau his blessing. Etc.)

 

The old saying, “The end justifies the means” is not true with God.

A Deceitful Son! Read Genesis 27:18-23

 

Isaac sensed something was wrong and questioned Jacob four times. With each question Jacob could have revealed his true identity, but each time he answered with a lie.

1.      How does one lie open the door for another lie?

Jacob’s four lies were about his identity, the meal, God’s help, and his appearance.

The importance of the blessing cannot be overstated. Isaac was passing down the blessing that was passed on to him by his father, Abraham. (Give the class item 9 from Leader Packet, “Birthright and Blessing”.)

So often we want our Bible heroes to be perfect. But we must remember that no one has been or is perfect, except Christ. Read Hebrews 4:15.

2.      When dealing with people who don’t always act with integrity and transparency, what can believers gain by setting the example?

3.      How many times can you be caught in a lie before people lose their trust in you?

To look at this deception and think it was God’s will for it to happen this way is to limit God and think that God needs our help to bring about a desired outcome! God never uses lies and deception to accomplish His will!

 

 

A Deceived Father! Read Genesis 27:24-27

 

1.      What ways did Jacob use his father’s senses to deceive him? (Isaac heard, tasted, touched, and smelled what he was looking for—Esau. Because of his unrelenting favoritism, he believed because he wanted to believe.)

The human senses are not always reliable. The only trustworthy confirmation is God’s Word and the prompting of His Spirit. Read   2 Timothy 3:16-17 and John 14:25-26.

2.      How did Isaac’s and Rebekah’s favoritism of their sons affect their family? (It caused deep division with each other and their sons.)

3.      What are some ways favoritism is seen in the church?

4.      What are some of the consequences that result from favoritism?

5.      How can we prevent it?

God doesn’t show favoritism. Read Acts 10:34.

 

Unaware that he had been deceived, Isaac continued the blessing he had started in verse 23. However, he blessed the wrong son. Unhealthy favoritism set Isaac up for failure and can do the same in our lives.

 

A Stolen Blessing! Read Genesis 27:28-29

 

1.      What are the characteristics of Isaac’s blessing? (Prosperity, Power, Prominence and Protection.)

Isaac blessed Jacob, making him master over his relatives and repeating part of the covenant issued by God to Abraham.

Read Gen. 12:1-3.

2.      What are the consequences of getting ahead of God?

3.      How could Jacob have handled the situation in a more God honoring way? (He could have resisted his mother’s encouragement to deceive his father.)

God desires that we resist temptation, and He provides a way of escape to avoid sin. Rather than trying to force what he wanted to happen, Jacob could have trusted the Lord to provide a blessing for him!

God would have worked out His plan if they had just trusted Him.

But God worked out His plan despite Jacob’s sinful actions, however Jacob and Rebekah suffered painful consequences as a result of their actions.  The right outcome may be realized but there will always be much more pain when we don’t do it God’s way!

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

In what areas of your life can you show integrity and trust in the Lord this week?

 

In what areas of your life are you trying to get ahead of God’s plan in your life?

Are you impatient with working out God’s plan?

Have you even asked God to reveal to you His plan or have you just taken off on your own course?

 

What one area of your life is God asking you to trust Him through your words, thoughts, and actions over the next few days or months?

Just remember realizing the desired outcome does not justify the means!

With Anticipation - James 5:1-20

1.      What are you looking forward to the most?

2.      What are you dreading the most?

3.      What role, good and bad, can anticipation play in a person’s life?

Anticipation can wear a person down if what they are anticipating is bad. But a person without something to look forward to lacks hope.

However, there is one future event believers can be absolutely certain of—Jesus’ return. Today, we will study what James said about living our lives in anticipation of that glorious day.

 

To set the stage for our first passage we need to read James 5:1-6.

(Give a short lecture on the content of these verses.)

 

Patience! Read James 5:7-9

 

1.      What reasons do believers have to be patient? (God is with us! Jesus is coming for us! We’ve read the back of the Book and we win! Suffering will be a thing of the past!)

2.      What does it look like to live our lives as though the Lord is near? (Constant expectation, but working all the while because the time is short. We talk about the “signs of the times” for Jesus to return and it seems each generation can point to some events in their lifetime that point to Jesus’ imminent return. Read 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 2 Peter 3:8. Because 2000 years has passed should not cause us to lose heart.)

3.      What keeps believers from living as though the Lord’s coming is near?

4.      On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the greatest, how does the return of Christ impact your daily life? (To be honest, my own number would be low. My anticipation of going to meet Him in death is higher.)

5.      What impact should the promised return of Jesus have on a believer? (We should live holy lives, trying to share the gospel.)

6.      What impact should the promised return of Jesus have on an unbeliever? (Very little, unless they have had the gospel shared with them and know about Jesus’ expected return.)

 

(Write “Suffering,” “Cheerful,” “Sick,” and “Sinful” on the board or a large sheet of paper.)

Before we read the next passage about prayer, in which of these situations are you most likely to pray? Which is the least?

 

Prayer! Read James 5:13-18

 

James presented three scenarios in verses 13-14. For all three of them, the response is the same: “He should pray.” Whether someone is suffering, cheerful, or sick, he should pray.

 

1.      Why should prayer be our first course of action, rather than our last?

2.      Why might a person fail to start with prayer?

3.      What does who a person turns to first reveal about that person’s beliefs?

 

The emphasis for at least two out of four of these categories is not individual, private prayer, but inviting other people to pray for you. This can be hard in our culture, with our emphasis on independence. We tend to think of a personal relationship with Jesus as private. But all through the Book of James, the emphasis has been on obedience. In 108 verses, James gave 52 imperatives. So we have to take the imperative to have other people pray for us and with us seriously.

 

4.      Why might a group place little emphasis upon confession of sin to one another? (Public confession of sin should be of sin that was committed in public, or has been brought to the public’s attention. We need to have an “accountability partner” who we trust deeply. Our confession to that person is to help hold us accountable in that area of our life.)

5.       How are sin and sickness related? (Sickness may be discipline for a specific sin. However, not all sickness is related to a person’s specific sins. All sickness is a result of the original sin. Sickness and death are part of living in a fallen world.)

6.      When have you seen God glorified through someone’s healing?

7.      What about when a sickness wasn’t healed? (We live in a fallen world, and our bodies are dying. God will sometimes choose to give us a foretaste of the healing that all believers will experience in heaven.)

Ultimately, the prayer of a righteous person will be a prayer for God to be glorified. The most important healing a person can experience is spiritual healing.

8.      What encouragement can we find in verses 17-18? (In 1 Kings 17-18, Elijah prayed successfully for fire to come down from heaven, for drought, and for rain. However, 1 Kings 19 records how, right after Elijah successfully called down fire from heaven, he was so scared of King Ahab that he ran for his life and then “prayed that he might die.” James reminded his readers that Elijah was human, just like us. In remembering both Elijah’s humanity and the power of Elijah’s prayer life, we are encouraged in our own ability to cause change through prayer. However, if we aren’t fully utilizing this power, we should be convicted to pray like we mean it.)

 

Isn’t it fitting that James ended his imperative-filled letter with instructions on how believers can help one another obey all these commands.

 

Protecting! Read James 5:19-20

 

1.      What are two results of being used to turn a straying brother or sister back to God? (“save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” In this verse “death” is physical death not spiritual death.)

2.      What role does prayer play in this situation?

3.      How is it impacted by an anticipation of Christ’s return? (A consideration of Christ’s imminent return adds urgency!)

Read Prov. 10:12 and 1 Pet. 4:8.

While Jesus is the only one who can atone for sins, God uses the loving confrontation of faithful believers to turn the unfaithful to Himself.

4.      What is the connection between loving a brother or sister in Christ and turning them from sin?

5.      How might the return of a straying believer cover a multitude of sins?

6.      What fears might hold us back from pursuing someone who is wandering from the truth? (James reminded believers they have the same power as Elijah. Verse 20 refers to the straying believer described in verse 19. This verse does not mean Christians can lose their salvation. “Death” in verse 20 means physical death.)

7.      How can we overcome these? (Read 1 Pet. 4:7-11.)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

The passages we studied in today’s session dealt with both Christ coming in His glory and our ultimate glorification as redeemed, sanctified, forgiven children of God.

 

1.      What are some ways we can strengthen our group’s ministry to others through prayer?

2.      How can we more effectively pray for others in our group?

3.      How can our class involve others in prayer and ministry to those who voice a prayer need?

 

Call for prayer request, write them down and provide the class with a written copy, either by email, message, or mail.

 

Pray for the needs mentioned.

With Submission - James 4:4-17

(I realize our focal passage doesn’t start until verse 6 but I felt like we need to start back at verse 4.)

 

Write the word SUBMISSION on the board or a large sheet of paper. Ask the class the following questions.

1.      What words or phrases do you associate with “submission?” (Give up; Yield; Surrender; acceptance; consent; compliance; etc.)

(Write the responses on the board. There may be both negative and positive words and phrases.)

2.      Why do you think “submission” is such an emotionally-charged word?

3.      Is submission a good thing or a bad thing? (I just read this week a statement by President Reagan. “Peace is America’s highest aspiration. We will fight for it, we will sacrifice for it, but we will never surrender for it.”)

4.      How can submission in the right circumstances be advantageous to the one submitting? (In a sense we all submit under some circumstances: to our mate; our boss; and ultimately to our Lord.)

Draw a slash between the first two syllables of the word SUBMISSION, so it reads SUB/MISSION.

Explain: When you break the word down, you see that “submission” simply means placing one goal or purpose (mission) underneath (sub) another.

Submission to God means placing our own desires beneath God’s desires. James 4 shows us why that is so difficult as well as how to do it!

 

Through Desire! Read James 4:4-5

 

1.      In what sense were the Christians James was writing to “adulteresses?” (They were “two-timing” God! They were trying to hold on to the world and God at the same time.)

2.      How did James describe what “friendship with the world” is in relationship to God?

The Christian who wants to hang on to the worldly lifestyle is, in fact the enemy of God!

3.      How would you describe the lifestyle of a Christian who wants to hold on to the world and God at the same time? (No matter how hard one tries you can’t live in both worlds! See Matt. 6:24)

4.      In what sense does the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, “yearn jealously”? (See Deut. 6:15 and Ex. 34:14.)

 

Our passions and selfish desires are always at odds with God’s will and desire, which is why verse 6 is so important.

Class, count the number of direct commands as we read these verses.

Through Humility! Read James 4:6-10

 

1.      Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is recorded in Matt. 4:1-11. How did Jesus resist the devil when He was tempted?

2.      How have you resisted the devil’s temptations with the Word of God?

3.      What is the relationship between being humble and being able to resist the devil?

4.      Can a person do one without the other? (“Pride goes before a great fall!” It is only as we humbly yield our will to God that we can defeat Satan’s temptations!)

5.      How do attitudes of pride and humility impact spiritual disciplines, like prayer, quiet time and Bible study? (Pride says we can do things on our own and prevents us from depending on prayer, quiet time, and Bible study for growth. Humility recognizes that we have responsibilities to protect ourselves from sin and to seek God’s help.)

In verses 9-10, James was not suggesting that Christians must go around being miserable all the time. That would contradict what he taught in James 1:2 about trials producing joy. The key to understanding these verses is realizing that James was addressing sinners. Our misery, mourning, and weeping are related to our grieving over our sin the way God does. When we humbly deal with our sin, God will exalt us!

 

Through Grace! Read James 4:11-12

 

1.      How does the gospel make us humble? (We remember that, as believers, our sins were severe enough to warrant death. We are unable to overcome sin on our own and unable to save ourselves from our deserved punishment. When we mourn over our own sinful state, we more likely will be slow to judge others who struggle with obedience.)

2.      Read Gal. 6:1. How does this verse help us understand these two verses in James? (We are not to turn a blind eye to a fellow believer’s sin, but don’t use their struggle as an opportunity to be prideful and slander them.)

We don’t talk about people whose lives are better than ours. We always want to pick someone who, in our opinion is worse than us!

3.      Who is the only One able to judge?

 

Now James talks about God and why we are to surrender to His sovereign plan.

 

Through Submission! Read James 4:13-16

 

Have class members read: Prov. 3:5-6; 16:1-4; 19:20-21; 21:5.

 

1.      Was James telling us not to make plans? (No)

2.      If not, how are we to make plans? (Submit to God by asking Him what plans I should make, and then follow His direction.)

3.      How does a posture of submission help us balance thoughtful planning with uncertainty in the future? (We are to be good stewards of our resources, while maintaining a humble attitude that acknowledges God is in control.)

As believers, we must submit our own will to His. God’s plans are the best plans. He knows the future!

4.      What do these verses say about leaving a legacy? (We likely won’t be remembered for long here on earth, no matter the legacy we work to build up. However, as unknown and fleeting as our time on earth is, we know our eternal future and, therefore, focus on storing eternal treasures. See Matt. 6)

 

Through Obedience! Read James 4:17

 

Living life outside of the will of God is the ultimate expression of arrogance. It turns the believer into a judge and purveyor of truth to others, when that is really God’s role. It plans a life that is not promised to be there tomorrow. Obedience is a key attitude that believers must embrace.

1.      Do you believe what I just read is true?

2.      Which of the attitudes mentioned in today’s lesson is the most difficult to sustain?

3.      How have you found pride to be an obstacle to doing the good you know you ought to do?

God reveals His will to us, and when we respond with delayed obedience, we are actually responding in disobedience. We arrogantly think we can find the right time to obey, but we need to humbly submit to God’s direction and His timing.

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

What has God been calling you to give up or to take up?

Is there an area where you have been delaying in obedience?

 

We are called to humbly submit to God’s will. This includes resisting sin and submitting to God’s plans and direction.

 

What is the first step you need to take to obey God today?

Write that down, and plan to follow through this week.

Be encouraged that when you come near to God, “he will draw near to you”!

With Control - James 3:1-12

1.      On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 the most; how powerful are words?

2.      When you think about words that have made a difference in the world around us what comes to mind?

We just finished a mid-term election. I heard words that were hateful, vindictive and borderline downright criminal.

3.      Consider the last time you were hurt by someone’s words. How did the impact of this compare to the impact of a compliment?

We all have opportunities to speak words that are healing rather than words that tear down and humiliate.

4.      When was the last time you chose to use negative words when you could have used positive words that would help bring healing?

Our words influence others. They can teach and encourage others, but they are also dangerous and able to quickly tear others down. James warned believers to guard their speech!

James skillfully packed over six analogies into just twelve verses. All of them deal with one subject—the difficulty of controlling the tongue.

5.      In your opinion, why is controlling the tongue such an important issue for Christians?

Today we will discuss “Genuine Maturity,” especially as it relates to our speech!

 

When Teaching the Truth! Read James 3:1-2

 

Many, if not most, of the Christians at this point were Jewish converts. The Jews had a high regard for their teachers or rabbis. The indication here is that there may have been many desiring to be teachers for the wrong reasons.

1.      What does it mean that teachers will be judged strictly?

2.      What danger is there for a teacher who really is not ready to teach but insists on teaching? (They may not be teaching the truth, and thus leading people astray!)

If one claiming to be a teacher leads someone astray, that person may leave the church having lost faith in the leaders.

3.      If teachers are held to a high standard, why would someone want to assume that role? (Our speech has an unusually strong power to influence others. Teachers have a special place in this, and must be careful that their teachings are biblically accurate.)

Teachers need to be given positive comments from time to time. Of course, no two people will teach the same, so we must realize God uses different personalities in His kingdom.

The phrase “does not stumble” is interpreted “perfect” in some translations. Of course, this does not mean without sin. It is translated “mature” in some translations.

4.      How does mastery over the tongue prove one fit to teach?

 

Teachers need to be careful about both their teaching and their speech in general, since they occupy a place of influence. Watch out for false teaching, gossip, hateful speech, and hypocrisy.

 

When Influencing Others! Read James 3:3-6

 

James uses three metaphors here: the bit in the horse’s mouth, the rudder of a large ship and a small fire. In each illustration, something very small is controlling something very large. While the bit and rudder can have both positive and negative uses the fire is all negative. While James didn’t say anything positive about the tongue in verse 6, we know that the tongue can be used for good. But James spoke in absolutes.

His point is very clear: Human beings, in their own strength, cannot tame the tongue!

 

1.      How does the skill required to ride a horse or to navigate a ship compare to skillful use of words?

2.      When you think about a small fire burning a large forest, how can words have an equally devastating effect?

3.      What are some strategies we can use to control our speech? (James warned us of the potentially destructive nature of the tongue. Some suggestions for controlling our tongues can include pausing before speaking, prayer, and Scripture memorization.)

4.      When is harsh language acceptable? (Jesus and even Peter and Paul were not always tame in their speech. We should always be thoughtful and controlled in our speech, especially in difficult situations.)

 

Words are Important

 

Words are powerful.                                    Prov. 12:6, 18; 15:4; 18:21

Eph. 4:29

 

Words are a window into                Matt. 12:34; James 1:26;

the heart.                                            James 3:11-12

 

Controlling the tongue is key           Proverbs 13:3; 21:23

to a successful life.

 

God will hold us accountable for    Matthew 12:36-37

every careless word spoken.

 

We need God’s help to control        Psalm 19:14

the tongue.

 

(Read some of these passages as time permits!)

 

When Offering Praise! Read James 3:7-12

 

According to verses 9-10, even our praise of God is corrupted by our uncontrollable tongue.

1.      Why does the praise of God demand a tongue that is under His control?

2.      Why do you think people have this double standard in the way we speak to God and the way we speak to those created in His image?

No human being can control his or her own tongue, but that doesn’t mean it is uncontrollable. In order for a horse’s bit or a ship’s rudder to be effective, what is required?—Someone who takes the reins or has a hand on the ship’s wheel. If a human being can’t do it, who can? See James 3:15-17.

 

The ability to control the tongue must come from outside ourselves, since it cannot come from within. We must constantly ask the Holy Spirit to take control of our speech, since we are not capable of controlling it on our own. The good news is the Holy Spirit can and will help us control our speech if we ask Him to.

 

3.      How can we use our speech to measure the consistency of our walk with God?

4.      How is a person’s speech a mirror of a person’s character?

 

Summarize and Challenge!

 

Ask the class to keep you in their prayers as you try to teach the Word accurately.

 

What are some areas where you need to repent of poisonous speech?  The tongue is disproportionately powerful!

 

What are some practical ways you can use your words this week to help others?

 

A true believer’s speech will reflect a heart changed by the gospel.

 

We all need the transformation process to continue in us.

 

Try to see the image of God in everyone you encounter this week, whether in person or through the media. Speak accordingly!

With Works - James 2:14-26

1.      What defines a hypocrite? (Hypocrisy is claiming to believe one thing but then acting in a way that is not consistent with those beliefs.)

2.      When have you seen hypocritical behavior?

Christians are often called hypocrites by society. While we are unable to live perfectly, true Christians should strive to live humbly and consistently with their beliefs.

The second chapter of James deals with the relationship between faith and works. As we study this passage, we need to continually ask, “What is the difference between saving faith and tangible evidence of our faith?”

 

Dead Faith! Read James 2:14-17

 

1.      What were James’ questions?

2.      How might people try to answer these questions?

3.      Why might a person claim to have faith without any resulting works?

4.      What’s the significance of the phrase “claims to have faith” in verse 14?

At first glance, it may appear that James said faith alone is not enough, and we also need works or deeds for salvation. A closer reading, though, reveals that James was actually speaking out against a claim of faith that’s not demonstrated by works.

Last month, in the book of Galatians, we studied how strongly Paul taught against those who would say, “Faith plus works” saves a person. James is saying “our actions provide proof of a true faith.”

Works are not required for our salvation; they are the proof of our salvation. A transformed life produces fruit!

5.      What is the relationship between what a person claims to believe, what a person truly believes, and how a person acts? (You can claim to believe something but not truly believe it. You can claim to believe something but not act on those beliefs. However, when people truly believe something, their actions will reflect those beliefs –though not always perfectly.)

 

Most of us have been to a funeral. We often say that the person in the casket “looks so natural,” or that they look like they are just sleeping. But we know that there is not life in that body. No matter how good a job the mortician did, no one can deny the person is dead!

6.      If we were looking for evidence that the person described in verses 15-16 truly desired that the brother or sister be taken care of, then what would we expect to find?

7.      What evidence might a person point to as proof that his or her faith is alive?

8.      How do the works of a person reveal the genuineness of his or her faith?

James seemed to anticipate people would want to argue with him on this point. So in the next section, he dealt with the objections people would have.

 

Working Faith! Read James 2:18-19 and Deut. 6:4-5

 

James reminded his readers of the most important faith statement in the Old Testament—Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Notice that in the Old Testament Moses didn’t just tell the Israelites to listen to the truth that the Lord our God is one but also to love God. Recall that last week, we studied James’s command that we not merely listen to the Word but that we do what it says!

 

1.      How does it impact you to know that demons believe the same thing about God that you do? (Intellectual ascent to a fact does not mean you place your faith in that fact.)

2.      Why did James point out that they both believe and shudder? (The demons’ belief in God didn’t bring them peace with God but only multiplied their fear of Him.)

3.      How should our belief in God be different from the demon’s belief?

4.      How should our fear of God be different from the demon’s fear of God?

5.      Why might someone recognize the truth of God’s existence but not follow Him? (The demons exemplify how head knowledge of God does not guarantee a heart that trusts God.)

The demons not only believe that God exists, but they understand His power and “shudder” in response. Nonetheless, they do not respond in faithful trust of God.

 

Saving Faith! Read James 2:20-26

 

1.      How do Abraham and Rahab illustrate the relationship between faith and works? (Abraham was a well-respected Jewish male patriarch while Rahab was a poor Gentile female prostitute. Both believed in God and put their faith in Him. This was seen in their actions.)

2.      Read Romans 3:28 and James 2:24. How do these verses give us a full view of salvation? (Paul was adamant that we are saved only by faith in Christ, not by works or good deeds. James appears to have said that faith is not enough and that we need works, too. However, as we have seen, James was actually saying that a faith that does not produce good works is not a true faith.)

Once again, we do not perform good deeds to be saved; we perform good deeds because we are saved! Good deeds have nothing to do with our salvation but they have everything to do with demonstrating to the world that our faith is genuine. Our faith is truly what it is said to be, or authenticated by our good deeds!

3.      How does understanding that we are saved by faith alone spur us to good works? (A grateful heart will be devoted to following Christ in action.)

 

Summarize and Challenge!

True faith is more than intellectual adherence!

How do we explain that salvation is truly by faith alone in Christ alone but that the evidence for saving faith is action?

Pray, asking God to help us know how to put our faith in action!