One of my favorite names of God in the whole Bible is the one Hagar gave Him—“the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). Jesus saw—really saw the people around Him. He saw the truth Nicodemus didn’t want Him to notice. He saw the desperate need in the heart of the woman at the well. He saw the value of a leper and the love of children and the longing of the adulterer and what the demoniac really wanted to say.
He lived the life, never deviating from love. He endured the sarcasm and sneers and the misunderstanding. He answered the questions and touched the untouchable and cried when He rebuked the unrepentant. He fought the devil with Scripture and with His own unbounded love, and when the time came, He died the death. You know. The death. The one that’s supposed to last forever, and which would have swallowed our entire race if He hadn’t thrown Himself in the way.
He conquered that death.
1. What have you learned about God by looking in the face of Jesus?
1 John 4:19 reminds us that we only love because God loved us first. Love is like air and water—it has to flow, and it abhors a vacuum. Where there is low pressure, wind forms, to move air to fill that low pocket. If you push an upright, empty cup down into the water, as soon as the water can get over the rim, it will rush to fill the hole. Love is like that. When someone is in desperate need of love (that would be us), God’s love rushes even faster to fill the vacuum and pours all over us. If we are living in that love, it will not only pour all over us, it will overflow all around us. When we see someone who is particularly “unlovely” (as we tend to put it, and that’s the polite term!) our first reaction will be to long to pour love all over that person.
We’re never as good at it as God is, of course. We may embarrass or hurt someone when all we meant to do is love. But people can tell when love is real, even if it’s a little inept. They tend to forgive clumsiness that comes from true, heart-deep love.
But what if we don’t respond? What if we put up our spiritual umbrellas when God’s love comes pouring down on us? What if we scrunch up our scroogy hearts, frown ferociously, fold our arms tightly, and refuse to accept the love of God?
Well, it’s not possible for us to stop the flow of God’s love. But it is possible for us to dam up our own hearts so that we’re stones in the river instead of life-giving pumps, passing on the water of life. The water will still flow around us, but there will be ripples and distortions and white water.
Love has to be a round trip to really fulfill its destiny. It has to flow both to us (from God and others) and away from us (to God and others.)
1. Name three ways God’s love has flowed into your life lately.
2. Name three ways God has used His other children to pour His love into your life lately. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. Name three ways you’d like to pour out some of that love on someone else this week. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
God didn’t just sit down one day and decide it would be fun to make a universe and see what happened. He had a plan. He had a plan for this world, and He has a plan for His children. Jesus put it the most succinctly and simply:
Love everybody else.
Do it with all you’ve got.”
That’s a free paraphrase, but you get the point.
If you have a journal, here are some things to reflect on, or you could discuss them with your friends or with your group.
What does it really mean, deep in my heart, that God is the Source of all life, and of my life? What difference does it make to me?
In what ways can I make the face of God visible to those around me through my own life in this world?
When I get up in the morning, what is the first thing I do to remind myself of and bask in God’s love?
Having reflected on these things, challenge yourself to find ways to make them real and visible in your daily life.
How do I order and plan my day to show God’s love to others?
What could I do differently to be more intentional about this?
When was the last time I felt the impulse to show love to someone who was not immediately appealing to me? What happened? What would I do differently another time?
Investing in the Discipleship of Others
To invest myself in the discipleship of others, I am:
willing to be mentored by maturing Christians, and accountable for my spiritual growth.
willing to be humble and honest when sharing my walk as a disciple.
committing time and effort to mentoring growing Christians.
working intentionally to train fellow believers to disciple others.
As Christians, we are not only committed to developing our own relationship with God, but also to helping train and mentor others in their faith.
Look: Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:7-10, Acts 2
Memorize: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
The long-awaited appointment had finally arrived. Jesus told His eleven remaining followers to meet Him on the mountainside of Galilee so He could give them further instructions before His final departure. The men who had been closest to Him for three and a half years gathered together with hundreds of other curious new believers, waiting in anticipation to see their risen Master. When Jesus finally appeared to them, they fell to their knees and worshipped Him. Many in the crowd had seen the miracles and wonders performed by Jesus during His ministry, but something about seeing this God-Man who had escaped the chains of death standing before them caused them to tremble in reverence.
When Jesus spoke, He explained to His followers that they now had a special work to do. He gave them the authority to make disciples of the people of all nations. He told them to baptize new believers and teach them everything He had shared during His time on earth as well as everything that had been written in the Scriptures. This was a huge undertaking for this small group of uneducated, unpopular misfits, but He ended His commission with words of encouragement. He knew their journey would not be an easy one, but He promised to be with them through all of their trials (Matthew 28:18-20, Desire of Ages, pp. 818-828).
A short time later, He met again with the eleven near Bethany. He gave His closest followers a special blessing and told them again that His Holy Spirit would come soon to fill them with power. When He finished speaking, He ascended into heaven right before their eyes. As they stood staring into the sky, two heavenly beings broke the awed silence by reminding the men that Jesus would be back again. The disciples knew they had an urgent work to do, so they returned to Jerusalem to watch and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come and help them finish the work that had to be completed before Jesus’ return (Luke 24:50-51, Acts 1:8-10, NIV).
Just days later, the disciples and other members of the new faith were gathered together to celebrate the Day of Pentecost. While they were together, the promised Holy Spirit came to them and filled them all with God’s power. This allowed them to witness to the crowds gathered in the city of Jerusalem. In that one day, three thousand new believers were converted. These new believers then went on to share what they had learned with everyone they came in contact with.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 remind us that when Jesus gives us directions, and we follow them for His glory, He can use us to do amazing things, both then and now. Every single member of the body of Christ has the privilege and responsibility of sharing in this work. Our most urgent desire should be to share our faith and win souls for the soon coming Kingdom.
This may seem like an intimidating endeavor. Perhaps you don’t feel you have the necessary gifts. Maybe you think that because you aren’t a natural preacher or teacher, that you have no part in this commission, but everyone has a part to play. Whatever your calling or profession in life, you can minister to God’s children. This can be done by being a Christ-like witness to those around you. Comfort the hurting, feed the hungry, share God’s love with everyone you meet. When they believe, they can then teach others, just like the converts at Pentecost.
Jesus’ commission tells us to take His message all around the world. But what if circumstances prevent us from traveling abroad? Ellen White tells us, “While we may not be called to be missionaries to foreign countries, we can still reach souls right at home. We need not go to heathen lands, or even leave the narrow circle of the home, if it is there that our duty lies, in order to work for Christ. We can do this in the home circle, in the church, among those with whom we associate, and with whom we do business” (Steps to Christ, p. 81).
Start with your own family, neighbors, and co-workers. Find ways to show unexpected love and compassion. Tell them what Jesus has done for you. Let them see the changes in your life. Share God’s Word with them. Like a stone tossed into a still pond, you will see the ripple effect as each new disciple goes off to make new disciples. The results of our thoughtful care and ministry toward others will only be fully realized in heaven.
It was Jesus who spoke the world into existence (John 1:1-4). He possesses the power to send beings more powerful and holy than ourselves out to complete the work of spreading Hs message to the world, but instead, He has entrusted us with this task. “In His infinite love He chose to make us co-workers with Himself, with Christ and the angels, that we might share the blessing, the joy, the spiritual uplifting, which results from this unselfish ministry” (Steps to Christ, p. 80). Jesus knows that by allowing us to work with Him, not only will we be a blessing to others, but our faith will continue to grow and mature as well.
Who do you know that needs to hear the Good News?
How have you witnessed to people in the past?
How do we grow when we teach others?
When the believers met together in Jerusalem for Pentecost, they had put away all of their differences and were of one mind and mission. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit would come to them and that they would be given the ability to win souls. They waited eagerly, but not idly. “The disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 37).
We now labor to hasten the day that Jesus will come again in the clouds to take all believers into His kingdom (John 14:2-3). Jesus will come again and everything around us tells us it will be very soon. While we wait, we cannot be idle. It is Jesus’ desire that all should be saved and it is our responsibility to give everyone the opportunity to know of the love and sacrifice that He made for us all.
Why is it important to build relationships within the church?
Can you think of a time that your church family was united to complete a task? What was the outcome?
What can you do personally to help unite fellow believers in your community?
As a follower of Jesus, we are called to spread God’s message to everyone, but in order to be a successful witness, we must allow ourselves to be mentored by others. Our church communities are full of like-minded Christians who have experience and wisdom that can be invaluable to growing believers. Get to know these seasoned saints and learn from them. Humble yourself and share your experiences with them. If you’re struggling in your walk, tell them about it. Maybe they’ve had similar struggles and they have learned how to find success in Jesus. Not all lessons have to be learned the hard way.
Even if you feel you have a lot to learn and a long way to go before you are an “experienced” Christian, you still have an obligation to help train new believers. How many times did Jesus heal and convert a lost soul who immediately ran off to share the story? Take the time to reach out to others. Tell them what Jesus has done for you. Try leading out in a Bible study. You don’t have to be a scholar or theologian. There are plenty of easy-to-follow study guides available to help you guide others through God’s Word. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you as He filled the believers at Pentecost, you will be given the wisdom and courage to complete this work. And don’t worry, Jesus promised to be with you always!
Who at your church can be a mentor to you? Who can you mentor?
In a world of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to share our thoughts with hundreds of people instantly. Most of us update our status several times a day without much thought as to how it will be received by our friends. Occasionally, you may be asked to re-post a status in order to pass a message along to as many people as possible. Perhaps it’s about ending a disease such as cancer or diabetes. Maybe it’s to find a lost pet or to advertise for an upcoming event. Whatever the cause, there are always a few who are willing to participate. Imagine if we dedicated the same time and energy into making new disciples. If we share God’s message to the people living in the end times, and we ask them to pass it on to everyone they know, how many people could be reached?
What can we possibly say to reach the people in our lives? It’s really not as difficult as it might seem. Ellen White tells us in Christ’s Object Lessons that “Thousands can be reached in the most simple and humble way. The most intellectual, those who are looked upon as the world’s most gifted men and women, are often refreshed by the simple words of one who loves God, and who can speak of that love as naturally as the worldling speaks of the things that interest him most deeply.
Often the words well prepared and studied have but little influence. But the true, honest expression of a son or daughter of God, spoken in natural simplicity, has power to unbolt the door to hearts that have long been closed against Christ and His love.
Let the worker for Christ remember that he is not to labor in his own strength. Let him lay hold of the throne of God with faith in His power to save. Let him wrestle with God in prayer, and then work with all the facilities God has given him. The Holy Spirit is provided as his efficiency. Ministering angels will be by his side to impress hearts” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 231).
DISCIPLE IN ACTION
Think of a way you can share Jesus with someone in your life and try putting this into practice. Contact your accountability partner during the week to talk about your experiences.
Start a Bible study or small group with the goal of training and mentoring others who are growing in their faith. Ask your accountability partner to assist you in getting the group started.
In your prayer time remember to ask for help and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Pray for the members of your church community so they will be united in sharing the Gospel message.
Ask God to open doors and provide witnessing opportunities.
Have each person in the group take out their cell phone and write down the names of the ten people they talk to the most. If someone doesn’t have a cell phone, it should be easy enough to come up with a list of names from memory. Point out that each person on the list could be considered either a mentor or someone who needs to be mentored.
Now have them look at each name individually, and write down two people that person knows, who could in turn be reached by them. When this has been done for everyone on the original list, you will have thirty names on the paper. You could repeat the exercise as many times as necessary to make the point that each one of us touches many different lives. Reiterate the fact that if we minister to those closest to us (and allow them to minister to us), they will then go out and continue the work in their own lives.
For encouragement, read Steps to Christ page 83:
The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can be a blessing to others. They may not realize that they are doing any special good, but by their unconscious influence they may start waves of blessing that will widen and deepen, and the blessed results they may never know until the day of final reward. They do not feel or know that they are doing anything great. They are not required to weary themselves with anxiety about success. They have only to go forward quietly, doing faithfully the work that God’s providence assigns, and their life will not be in vain. Their own souls will be growing more and more into the likeness of Christ; they are workers together with God in this life and are thus fitting for the higher work and the unshadowed joy of the life to come.
To help believers build Christ-like relationships, I am showing others how to:
assess themselves, acknowledge defects of character, and invite God to remove them.
work with God to care for themselves and live a balanced life.
cherish, respect, and nurture family members as children of God.
be discipled by other believers in the body of Christ.
resolve conflicts within the home, church, workplace, and community.
Being part of the body of Christ means we must build and nurture relationships with other believers and work together in unity.
Look: Romans 12:4-5, 10-13, 1 Samuel 12:1-25
Memorize: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5, NIV).
King David sat on his throne, half-heartedly listening to the cases brought before him. His mind wandered as the complaints against neighbors seemed to go on and on. He thought about the wars waging in the nations surrounding his lands. He thought about the people God had given him to govern. He thought about his growing family, and then he thought about her – Bathsheba. She was his newest wife and she was about to give birth to her first child. Whenever he thought about her, he felt a pang of grief and regret. He had first seen her less than a year earlier. She was bathing on her roof top while her husband, Uriah the Hittite (one of David’s mighty soldiers), was off waiting out the besieged city of Rabbah. If only he had stayed with his men...
When David saw the beautiful young woman, he thought he had to have her. Even though he already had seven wives and ten concubines, he sent for her. Like a loyal subject, she came to him, and he took advantage of his power and position.
A few weeks later, Bathsheba sent word to him that she was expecting a child. David knew immediately that he was the father. After all, he was the one who had kept the troops, and her husband, away from home so long. Everyone would wonder how Bathsheba’s child was conceived while Uriah was away. It wouldn’t take long for people to start talking about the palace guards who were sent to her house. Surely people noticed her coming to his quarters. Maybe even her grandfather, who was one of his advisors (2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34; 1 Chron. 27:33), would start to question him.
In order to cover his sins, he tried to convince the woman’s husband to go home to spend time with her, but Uriah would not go. He was a loyal, God-fearing man who did not think it was right to spend time with his wife when the other soldiers (and the Ark of the Lord) were still on the battlefield. David did not miss the subtle rebuke to himself in Uriah’s refusal.
When all attempts to send the man home failed, David made arrangements to have him sent to his death on the battlefield. Sure, people were suspicious. It was a siege after all. There was no reason to send the man so close to the walls, but he was desperate. Besides, he was the King of Israel. If he wanted to take the woman as his wife, he had every right to her, didn’t he?
With Uriah out of the picture, David took Bathsheba into his home and now she was days away from giving birth to their child. He should have been happy, but he was miserable.
Just then, a familiar face walked into the court room and interrupted his dark thoughts. It was his old friend, Nathan, the prophet of God. David focused all his attention on the case Nathan brought before him.
Nathan told him of a poor man who had nothing but a little ewe lamb. He loved the lamb like a child and he even fed it from his table. There was also a rich man who had great wealth and countless flocks of sheep. One day, the rich man stole the lamb from the poor man. He killed the pet and fed it to his guests.
David was irate when he heard the story. Surely the rich man could have used one of his own lambs. What a horrible crime this man had committed! “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” he exclaimed (2 Samuel 12:5b). That’s when Nathan looked him squarely in the face and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
David felt as if all of the wind had been knocked out of his body. He knew Nathan was referring to the crime he had committed against Uriah the Hittite. He was just a poor soldier with only one beloved wife, and David took her from him. He knew it was time to end the spiral of wrongdoing. It might have been easier to get angry at the prophet, but David knew in his heart it was time to take responsibility for what he had done. The only real solution was to admit that he had sinned. As soon as he confessed, he felt the forgiveness of God. There were still consequences to be faced, but he knew the Lord was merciful and just.
How does the Bible show God’s mercy in this story? (See Additional Leader Information for more guidance on this discussion.)
David’s great sin is generally looked at from the perspective of the king. We often overlook Nathan’s crucial role in the story. Try to imagine what it was like to walk into the throne room of the most famous warrior-kings of all time and tell him he was wrong. Discuss the following questions as a group.
What thoughts do you think were going through Nathan’s mind when he stood before the king?
Why do you think he chose to use a story to illustrate the sin to David?
What would you do if you saw a friend doing something wrong?
If someone sees something wrong in your life, would you want them to talk to you about it or keep it to themselves? Which would benefit you in the end?
When Jesus came to earth, it was His prayer that His followers would work as one (John 17:11). We are to be like one body working together for a common goal (Romans 12:5). In order to do this successfully, we must be willing to help our fellow believers acknowledge defects of character. This is the only way true forgiveness can be acquired. Knowing this, we have to also be willing to allow others to guide and mentor us. This can at times be a sensitive issue. No one wants to point out another person’s flaws and we certainly don’t want others pointing fingers at us. But as Christians, it is crucial that we help each other grow in a loving, respectful way. If one of our brothers or sisters is sinning and we don’t do anything about it, there will be division among the believers. If we allow conflicts to divide us, we won’t be able to complete the work Jesus has given us to do as His disciples.
So what do you do if you know someone has an issue that needs to be pointed out? Go directly to the words of Jesus: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, NIV). It is important to point out here that Jesus loved pagans and tax collectors, but
He did not embrace their sins.
It’s never easy to confront someone, but if it is done in a prayerful, loving, respectful way, it can help the person grow. Even if our initial instinct is to talk to our friends about the problem or to just bury it and hope it goes away, we have to remember that biblical council was given to us in order to help us grow as disciples.
Have you ever had to witness a fight between friends or family members? How did it make you feel?
How can we prevent hard feelings when we “rebuke” someone else’s sin?
How should we react if someone points out our sin?
In the New Testament letters that Paul wrote to the early churches, we see several examples of conflict resolution that we can learn from. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul talks to the church about several issues, beginning with rumors that the church was divided and arguing among themselves. He tells them directly, “I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1Corinthians 1:10, NIV). Paul wanted the new believers to respect and nurture one another as children of God. He encouraged them to resolve their disagreements and to be united. He often acknowledged his own defects of character and asked God to give him the strength to overcome and remove his own sins. In doing so, he led others by his own example.
We too can be examples to other believers. When we prayerfully assess our own character flaws and pray for God to help us remove them, we are giving a silent witness to those around us. Your friends, family, and co-workers will see the changes God makes in your life and they will long for the same peace. When we work with God to take care of ourselves and others and we strive to live a peaceful balanced life, others will be drawn to our message.
What are some examples of conflict in the Bible? How were they resolved?
DISCIPLE IN ACTION
Journal some of the changes you would like to see in your own life. During your prayer time, ask God to help you with these issues. Document the results.
Think of ways you can show your friends and family members that you cherish and respect them as children of God. Contact your accountability partner during the week to talk about your experiences.
If you have had a past grievance with someone within the church, talk to your accountability partner about the best way to resolve the issue.
In your prayer time ask God to help you see your own defects of character and to remove them from your life.
Pray for the members of your church community so they will be able to put aside hurt feelings and move forward in unity to spread the Gospel message.
Ask God to help you build Christ-like relationships with others and to lead others to do the same.
After reading the story of Nathan’s rebuke in 2 Samuel 11, read Psalms 32 and 51; as a group, discuss David’s repentance and forgiveness. Discuss why God sent Nathan. What might have happened if one of his friends, brothers, or sons had confronted him with his sin? Ask the group to list examples of God’s mercy toward David. Here are some examples as you guide the group through the discussion:
God allowed David to live and to continue ruling Israel.
Even though David and Bathsheba’s first son died, their second son, Solomon, was given the throne (as well as great wisdom, wealth, and respect).
Nathan the prophet sent word after Solomon’s birth that the Lord was with the child. The name Nathan gave the baby was Jedidiah, which means “loved by the Lord.”
David and Uriah’s wife Bathsheba are named in the lineage of Jesus (see Matthew 1:6).
DEBRIEFING LESSONS 6-9
Time: 90 minutes.Try to spend approximately 15-20 minutes discussing each section below, leaving time for small group prayer and commitment at the end.
Discipleship begins and ends with Jesus—the focal point!
Who am I? Who are you? Most importantly, who is God?
Everything, from life on earth, to our personal existence, to our daily dose of New Life starts and ends with the Creator God. Father, Son, and Spirit created us, redeemed us, and are working to rebuild us. We have one idea about ourselves and who we are. Our family has another, our friends still another, and our work or school associates yet another. But only God, who designed us, really knows who we are, and more than that, who we are meant to be.
In Sessions 5 through 9, we have explored the concepts of personal identity and self-esteem, God as source of all, and then how that understanding will impact our relationships inside and outside the body of Christ. We have recognized that if we truly find our identity in God, we will want that same peace and security for others, and will invest ourselves in helping others make that connection with God and their deepest, truest selves. We will seek daily to build strong relationships and to honestly and lovingly resolve conflict when it threatens to undermine either someone’s self-image or the health of the group.
Here is an overview of the four Big Ideas we explored:
(A) True Identity is centered on God’s point of view, not on that of human beings. (B) You are priceless because of the value God has placed on you.
The great Creator God had a purpose in creating this world, and He has a purpose for my life.
As Christians, we are not only committed to developing our own relationship with God, but also to helping train and mentor others in their faith.
Being part of the body of Christ means we must build and nurture relationships with other believers and work together in unity.
During Session 6, we looked at what it means to have a self-identity that is founded in God rather than in others’ or our own opinions.
What are some of the ways you have identified yourself in the past? Have you had a problem with low or unrealistically high self-esteem? Did these lessons help? If so, how?
What does it mean to you to center your identity in God’s view of you? What do you think He thinks of you? If you are worried about God’s opinion of you, for example, if you see Him as angry or vindictive because of your failings, how does this impact your self-identity?
Did your group try the exercise of writing descriptions of yourself or others and then trying to guess who was being described? How did it work? Why were you able or not able to recognize someone from their description?
What are five unique things about you that make you different from another child of God?
How does your sense of being fallen and sinful affect your sense of self? Do you feel comfortable and secure in the knowledge and experience of God’s forgiveness? If not, what can you do? What do you need from your friends and group?
In Session 7, we considered with awe and wonder the living Source of all that is.
Have you always known God created you, or did you learn this recently? Share the differences among the group, and what difference this has made in self-esteem issues.
God not only created physical life, He has offered new spiritual life as well. What are three specific signs of new life you see in yourself? In the person sitting next to you?
What are three things you love about your new life in Christ?
How has He “come, seen, and conquered” in your own life? Share a story that illustrates this. Have you also shared this story with someone who is curious about God and Jesus and the spiritual life? How did he/she respond?
What have you learned about God by looking at Jesus?
Did you journal about things you’d like Him to conquer in your life? What has happened so far in that area? What praises and prayer requests do you have?
Have you tried to increase your ability to reflect God in your daily life? What has changed?
Did you experience the outpouring of God’s love, and have you seen that overflow on to others? What has been the result?
In Session 8, we explored the Great Commission and how it relates to us. We learned that it covers more than just the standard definition of “witnessing,” it includes a life of unity and friendship in the body of Christ, the church.
What are some methods of witnessing you have tried? Which ones did you like or not like, and why? Of those reasons, as you discuss with the group, try to decipher which reasons are simply because of different personality styles and gifts, and which might be actually more or less effective witnessing tools and methods. Do these things change over time and in different generations?
The lesson spoke of ministering and being ministered to. Why are both necessary? What is the danger in seeing ourselves only as those who give God’s love and truth, rather than also as those who need it and can receive it in many different ways? Can you find examples of Jesus being ministered to?
The lesson mentions an accountability partner several times. Do you have one? Have the two of you experimented with different ways of ministering and being ministered to?
In Session 9, we explored the thorny and difficult issues of building relationships and resolving conflict when those relationships falter.
This lesson talked about developing relationships. This could take two forms: developing relationships within the church, centered around witnessing and mission, and building relationships outside the church, for the purpose of spreading God’s love. What are some of the differences, and why do you think this is important?
What is the difference and interrelationship between witnessing and mentoring? Are both important? Why?
Discuss the difference between the role of a prophet like Nathan or an apostle or church leader like Paul in confronting sin, and the role of a single person who needs to talk to a friend about something that’s wrong. Do you think we are ever called to confront sin in another, even if it has no immediate bearing on our own relationship?
For example, if Shari has hurt Lisa’s feelings, it is certainly up to Shari and Lisa to get together and try to heal this relationship. Lisa may have to go to Shari and prayerfully, tactfully tell her the truth: “When you said_____, I felt ______, because I thought ________.” But if Shari sees that Lisa is going out with a man she thinks is an unhealthy influence on Lisa’s life, then what are her responsibilities? What if they see someone in the church who is not a personal friend, but who is doing something that they see as hurtful to the congregation as a whole? Then what are their responsibilities?
When was the last time someone pointed out a sin to you? What was your reaction? Why? What would you do differently? What do you wish the other person had done differently?
To sum up:
What do you see as the single most important factor in building healthy, whole relationships, both with God and with each other?
Session 11a: developing Christ centered family relationships by Ron Flowers
Session 11b: understanding god’s plan for marriage and sexuality by Ron Flowers
Session 12: understanding the consequences of the human fall by Philip Oreso
Session 13: recognizing and responding to the needs of others globally by Kerryan Francis
Session 14: helping believers study and obey god’s word by Steve Thomas and Julian Thompson
Session 15: debriefing session by Debbonnaire Kovacs
Session 11a: Developing
Christ-centered Family Relationships To develop Christ-centered family relationships, I am:
recognizing that my commitment to Christ defines every human relationship.
contributing, supporting and extending unconditional love to those within my family circle.
holding as sacred my family commitments and responsibilities to parents, siblings, as well as the extended family.
practicing hospitality, welcoming into my family or home those whom God brings to my attention.
God made us social beings and placed us in families. He has provided through Christ the divine resources to help us live in unity and harmony.
Look: Gen. 1:26; 2:22-25; Deut. 6:4; Ps. 127:1; Eph. 2:14-22; 5:21-6:4; 1 John 2:9-11; 4:8, 16
Memorize: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’” (Gen. 1:26).
A Rabbi once asked his students, “How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”
One student suggested, “Is it when you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep in the distance?”
“No,” the Rabbi answered.
“Is it when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?” asked a second student.
“No,” said the Rabbi.
“Please tell us the answer then,” urged the students.
Said the wise teacher, “It is when you have enough light to look human beings in the face and recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Until then the darkness is still with us” (Adapted from Henri Nouwen, “Adam's Peace,” Signs of the Times, May, 1989).
The rabbi was giving his students important lessons about human relationships—that ultimately we as human beings are all one family and how we relate to one another is profoundly significant. We cannot tell if the rabbi had ever read the letter of 1 John, but his teaching illustrates very well the truth found there (cf. 1 John 2:9-11).
Designed for Relationships
We have been created in the image of a relational God, who is revealed in Scripture as three persons in close communion with each other—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 3:16, 17). Human beings bear within them the need and capacity for social connection, for intimate relationships. The first human being, fresh from the creative fingers of God, with a Creator to worship, a beautiful world to behold and countless creatures to enjoy, nevertheless sought for special human companionship. His aloneness was “not good” (Gen. 2:18), so God created a woman and brought her to the man in marriage, with the intention that they would be close companions and partners, united as “one flesh” (Gen. 2:22-25). With marriage as its centerpiece, the family is the Creator’s primary provision for the intimate relationships for which the human heart yearns.
Let the Lord Build the House
Sin with its selfishness disrupted the harmonious family relationships that God had created. Adam and Eve’s sin toward God and conflict with each other was followed by the ripping apart of their family by envy, jealousy, and the murder of one son by the other (Gen. 3, 4). All families inherit their legacy: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Nevertheless, unity, harmony, and peace are still God’s design for human relationships, especially in the close confines of home and family (cf. Psalm 133:1; Eph. 4:3; 5:21-6:4). We are called to declare the glory of God, to express in our daily lives the image of our Maker, the triune God who is One (Deut. 6:4) and who is Love (1 John 4:8, 16).
Scripture contends that it is vanity to attempt to build a house without engaging the Lord as the Builder (Ps. 127:1). God must be included in our home and family relationships so that we can have His blessings of love, unity, harmony, and peace among us. Scripture guides us in knowing how to fashion relationships according to the divine blueprint.
How is Christ the key to unity in the family and church?
What does Christ’s making “one” out of “two” (Eph. 2:14) mean to families?
Building on Christ as the foundation.Christ is God’s answer to sin and the disruption to family life that sin causes. Through His death on the cross, Christ reconnects the divine-human relationship and removes the barriers that separate people from each other (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:14-22). “To create out of the two a single new humanity in himself, thereby making peace” (Eph. 2:15 NEB) is language that applies equally to other divisions among people, including those that occur in families. The news that God has dealt with human brokenness through Christ is good news that helps couples to truly know “one flesh” unity in marriage and enables family members to be reconciled when they have been wounded by conflicts. Since God has done this, what is needed now is for individual family members to attach themselves to Christ through faith and through Him to heal the breaches in their relationships.
Becoming one through love. Unity among His followers was on Jesus’ mind when He prayed to His Father on the eve of His crucifixion (John 17:21-26). He pleads “that the love you have for me may be in them” (vs. 26). Agape is the biblical word for God’s love used in this prayer. Experiencing this agape love is essential to unity. It differs from human love in that it is unconditional while human love is conditional; it is self-giving rather than self-serving, and it is unchangeable, whereas human love is changeable, fickle and unreliable. God’s love is not natural to the sinful human heart (John 5:42). It comes into the believer’s life as Jesus dwells there by His Spirit (Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 11).
What are the characteristics of agape love that give it such power to draw individuals together?
Agape love has sometimes been portrayed as stoic and dispassionate. However, it is an encompassing word that includes philos, the love of friends for each other. In the movie “Home for the Holidays,” several adult siblings return home to be with their parents for American Thanksgiving. Their dysfunctional relationships are soon on display and conflicts erupt. One daughter shouts to the others, “We’re family; we don’t have to like each other.” The scriptural view, however, is that Christians—whether at home or at church—should like each other and be friends. Jesus spoke of His disciples as “my friends” (John 15:14). Paul and Peter encourage believers to love each other as friends: with the “warmth of mutual affection” (Rom. 12:10 NEB); with “brotherly love” (1 Pet. 1:22). The truth is that people who are cold seek warmth and huddle together wherever it is warm. Christian homes and congregations should be settings where people are drawn together by all the affection, tenderness and caring of a family where people are truly fond of one another.
In what way does mutual submission express the gospel remedy for the discord, disunity, and distance that sin has brought into families? Discuss the steps necessary to introduce or reinforce this principle in your home.
Submitting to one another. Paul counsels Christian believers to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The word “submit” means to place oneself humbly before another person on the basis of voluntary choice. This unique principle began with Christ (Matt. 20:26-28; John 13:4, 5; Phil. 2:5-8) and characterizes all those who are filled with His Spirit (Eph. 5:18). “Reverence for Christ” is what motivates people to submit in this way (Eph. 5:21 NIV). Mutuality in self-giving was, and still is, a revolutionary Christian teaching about social relationships—all are one in Christ. There are no exceptions.
The proving ground of mutual submission is in the home. If this principle is effective there, it will make a dramatic difference in the church. Paul moves immediately from the introduction of the principle of mutual submission to discuss its application in families. Three pairs of relationships are addressed in Eph. 5:22-6:9—the most common, yet most unequal relationships in the society. The intent is not to reinforce an existing social dominance by one over another, but to show how the faith culture of Christ operates when there is a radically different voluntary submission of believers to one another in love. These directives must have astonished the believers of the first century. They leveled the ground around the cross and opened the way for true oneness to be experienced in relationships.
The gift of forgiveness. At the heart of Christianity is an incredibly wonderful concept—forgiveness. It is God’s gift to families when hearts and relationships have been wounded. Scripture presents forgiveness as both unconditional and conditional. Through the cross of Christ, unconditional forgiveness is offered, even before the offenders ask for it (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18). By His grace God made a fountain that has washed us and invites us to come, repent, and be clean (compare Rom. 2:4). As humans we can forgive unconditionally when we choose to let go of the destructive malice of revenge. We remind our wounded hearts that Christ has atoned for all sin, ours against God and that of others against us. We then pass forgiveness on. The hurt one is now freed within, whether or not the offender asks for forgiveness. It does not, however, free the wrongdoer from responsibility, from the need to repent, or from all the consequences of the abusive behavior.
Conditional forgiveness is presented in Scripture as forgiveness with an “if” that represents human choice to receive or not the unconditional forgiveness of another: 1 John 1:9; (on the part of God); Luke 17:3, 4 (on the part of humans with one another). If unconditional forgiveness is ultimately to be effective in restoring relationships, there must be repentance on the part of the wrongdoer. Recognizable earmarks of true repentance include: stopping the offending behavior, giving a sincere apology, taking responsibility for the behavior and damage done, showing care for the pain of the wronged one, making restitution in every way possible, and making changes to protect against re-occurrence.
Is reconciliation a condition of forgiveness?
Reconciliation—full restoration of the relationship—is not synonymous with forgiveness. Forgiveness can occur and there be no reconciliation, but real reconciliation can certainly not occur without forgiveness, especially the conditional aspect of forgiveness, being addressed. The gateway to the possibility of reconciliation is true repentance on the part of the wrongdoer with all the earmarks mentioned above. Without true repentance, reconciliation is not a safe course to be considered.
At best, reconciliation may take a very long time, if it is possible at all. Sometimes, and we see this often in cases of abuse and violence, even repentance may not be enough to make reconciliation possible. The destruction wreaked in the relationship is so devastating as to leave no building blocks for restoration. All that can be done is to grieve the lost relationship and minister God’s healing grace to the survivors. For reconciliation to take place there must be a desire and re-commitment on the part of both to begin again to rebuild love and trust. When such a desire is present, the reconciliation process may be accomplished over time through improved communication, the processing of the needs and feelings of all concerned, making changes in destructive relational patterns, and the resolution of conflicts and differences in ways that meet the needs of everyone. Through forgiveness, the wounded can find personal healing, but relational healing is a delicate process involving not only forgiveness, but also rebuilding trust.
Lighthouses—The wonder of our faith is the good news that God knows all about us, yet loves us “even when we were sinners” (Rom. 5: 8). He sympathizes with our weaknesses and is full of compassion and longsuffering. Knowing Him, we extend the same loving courtesy to others. We grow to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34). Through our family relationships, God wants to show His love to the world. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). As families learn to live together according to the Word of God, His grace is diffused to all whose lives they touch, winsomely drawing others to Jesus.
Why is it important for Christians to like each other?
How can we like other Christians who seem so very different from us?
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Try placing your name where the word “love” appears. Invite Jesus to bring these qualities of agape love into your life by His Spirit. Discuss with others in your group the insights you received.
DISCIPLE IN ACTION
Enlarge the following diagram to show the relationships in your family as spokes on a wheel with Christ as the hub. The lines connecting family members all pass through Christ. Write your names and those of others in your family or church on the blanks in the circle. How does Christ at the center make a difference in your relationship with the others? What changes in behavior are likely to result when we understand that Christ stands between us and family members as our Mediator? What if only one moves closer to Him?
It can be daunting to lead a discussion on family themes. Here, as perhaps with no other topic, a sub-text is attached to what the leader says. The class hears not only what the leader says, but what each one lives. This reality has led many a leader, convicted that his or her own home falls short of the ideal, to decline to open the subject of family relationships with others, or to avoid bringing up certain topics with which the leader may or may not be comfortable. A subtle message may thus be conveyed that God has to do only with happy homes. Yet Jesus declared that those who are whole do not need a physician, but rather those who are sick. Jesus specializes in imperfect people and imperfect homes. Thus, if leaders can be authentic, can convey that in this they walk with the youth and experience family as they do, that they strive to bring their families to a perfect Savior rather than striving to be perfect without Him, group members grasp hope and strength. The leader becomes an example of one who is experiencing grace and the gospel in the context of family living. Youth go away with a clearer vision of how the Christian message can make a difference in their family relationships.
Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 37: “The first work of Christians is to be united in the family. . . . The more closely the members of a family are united in their work in the home, the more uplifting and helpful will be the influence that father and mother and sons and daughters will exert outside the home.”
Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 99: “The divine love emanating from Christ never destroys human love, but includes it. By it human love is refined and purified, elevated and ennobled. Human love can never bear its precious fruit until it is united with the divine nature and trained to grow heavenward. Jesus wants to see happy marriages, happy firesides.”
Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 179:“The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties--though there will be much of this to do—but union with Christ.”
Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 179: “Picture a large circle, from the edge of which are many lines all running to the center. The nearer these lines approach the center, the nearer they are to one another. . . . The closer we come to Christ, the nearer we shall be to one another.”
Session 11b: Understanding God’s Plan for Marriage and Sexuality
To commit to developing and maintaining sexual purity, I am:
recognizing that my commitment to Christ takes priority over every human relationship.
holding as sacred my commitments and responsibilities to God, spouse, children, and myself.
passing on the Christian faith to my children through both teaching and living an authentic Christian life.
creating moral/sexual boundaries.
committing to live by biblical standards of sexual morality.
Though in our time sexuality has become uncoupled from marriage, these two are closely intertwined in the biblical value system. As God’s gift of sexuality is more fully understood against the backdrop of His plan for marriage, both singles and marrieds will be able to experience greater personal and relational fulfillment.
Memorize: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Gen. 1:28).
A Very Good Day
Creation of humankind as sexual beings. Day six of creation week was a very good day! Then, God created humankind. They were fashioned as sexual beings—male and female. In Genesis 1, God addresses the new humans as coregents over the earth and charges them to use the reproductive capacity of their sexuality to bear children (Gen. 1:26-28). Genesis 2 focuses more particularly on the details of the creation of male and female, including the divine assessment that the absence of a suitable companion for Adam was “not good.” The woman, the “helper corresponding to him,” is created from Adam’s flesh. Rapturous joy bursts forth from the man as he recognizes himself for the first time as “man” and the new being as “woman,” a counterpart and companion for him (Gen. 2:18-25).
Creation of marriage as an institution. On this sixth day, God also institutes marriage as the centerpiece of the family (Gen. 2:23-25). Beginning with Genesis, God’s design for marriage is presented as a lifelong, exclusive union between a male and a female with three essential elements: 1) leaving father and mother; 2) being joined to each other; and 3) becoming one flesh. “Leaving” means that a distinct new family unit is created, publicly recognized by the couple’s families, the community of faith, and the society at large. “Being joined” speaks of a mutual commitment made by the couple that is expressed in a formal marriage covenant. “One flesh” entails their sexual union as well as the process of growth in intimacy, unity, and fulfillment as their two lives converge emotionally and spiritually. At day’s end comes the evaluation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis supplied).
A positive attitude toward sexuality. The report of this day as being “very good”—when humans were created with their sexual characteristics—helps with a problem that frequently handicaps the discussion of sexuality in Christian circles, i.e., dualism—a philosophical view that the characteristics of the physical body are unholy and therefore detrimental to the flourishing of the spirit, which is holy and seen as somehow separate from the body. This idea, traceable to the Greek Hellenistic period, infiltrated both Jewish and Christian thinking with negative attitudes toward the human body and sexuality. Wherever this view is still prevalent, it hampers a wholesome approach to the topic of sexuality.
The Bible, however, presents a wholistic (holistic) view of human beings with no dichotomy between body and spirit. A person is a “living being,” a whole entity with “body” and “breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Worship for the Psalmist, for example, involves the totality of one’s being (Ps. 63:1; 84:2). The wise man encourages his son to freely enjoy sexual delights with his wife (Prov. 5: 18, 19). A whole Bible book, the Song of Solomon, unashamedly presents the sexual attraction and passion that draws a man and woman to each other and blossoms within their married love. In the New Testament, the total person is the object of Christian sanctification; all that one is and has is set apart for the holy purposes God intended (1 Thess. 5:23). “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
To Marry or not to Marry
For men and women to marry is God’s general plan for humankind (Gen. 2:18, 20-24), though some individuals are specifically called, like Jeremiah, to live singly (Jer. 16:1-9). God does not condemn people for not marrying. Christian believers have the freedom to marry or not. Many individuals do not marry and the reasons are varied. The apostle Paul, for example, chose to live as an unmarried man for the sake of involvement in the mission of spreading the gospel, an especially arduous assignment in his time, unbefitting family life (1 Cor. 7:8). For still others, circumstances dictate their choices, such as a personal health or medical condition, the fact that they may be needed more to care for other family members, or the unavailability of suitable Christian partners (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14). The fellowship of the Church, the household of God, is available to all regardless of their state as single or married.
Marriage and sexuality. Sexuality and marriage are especially intertwined in the biblical value system, and though some by choice or circumstances may face adult life alone, the privilege of sexual intimacy is reserved only for marriage. The Genesis blueprint for marriage was reaffirmed by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and upheld by the apostles. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4).
A lifelong union of one male and one female is specifically intended in the divine blueprint, with married couples expected to adhere to the standard of sexual faithfulness to each other (Ex. 20:14, 17; Matt. 5:27, 28; 1 Cor. 6:15-19; Heb. 13:4). Marriage is a covenant relationship, based on promises made to each other before God (cf. Mal. 2:14).
Clearly, sexual intimacy in marriage has a procreative function (Gen. 1:28). A loving home, where a husband and wife have made a covenant with each other in marriage, is the divinely ordained setting for bearing and rearing children. The procreative mandate to our first parents notwithstanding, Scripture never presents procreation as an obligation of every couple in order to please God. Divine revelation does place a high value on children and expresses the joy to be found in parenting (Matt 19:14; Ps 127:3), but the decision to bear children should be intentional, based on factors such as the ability to provide for them (1 Tim 5:8), the well-being of the mother (3 John 2; 1 Cor. 6:19; Phil 2:4; Eph 5:25), and the circumstances into which children will be born (Matt 24:19). We are stewards of God’s creation and of our children. Parenting is a special form of stewardship. We must look beyond our own happiness and desires to consider the needs of others (Phil 2:4).1
Sexual intimacy, however, serves a unifying purpose needed throughout marriage, apart from conceiving children. “One flesh” in the creation account signals this unity and Paul alludes to the mystery of it (Gen. 2: 24, 25; Eph. 5:32). The unbounded delights of sexual love-making in marriage are presented in the Song of Solomon without reference to bearing children. The wise man counsels his son in Proverbs 5 to be satisfied and captivated “always” by the sexual love of his wife (Prov. 5:19). In Paul’s writings, we find that, since each partner’s body belongs to the other, loving mutuality is to characterize the sexual relationship of husbands and wives who follow Christ. Decisions about their sexual experience are made together; neither one should seek to deny sexual privileges to the other (1 Cor. 7:3-5). The scriptural use of “the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18; Mal. 2:14, 15) reinforces the biblical value that marriage is lifelong and shows further that sexual intimacy is to be savored into old age. Sexual faithfulness to a married partner may require sexual abstinence in cases of protracted illness or disability. Separation caused by work or travel especially requires commitment to fidelity. Not that abstinence for marrieds—anymore than for singles—is a small thing, but Christian couples make the sacrifice. Extremity serves only to highlight what they have come to know about the mystery of love in marriage—sex is for marriage and not marriage for sex. (See also “Birth Control: A Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Consensus.” http://adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main-stat44.html. The statement addresses the ethical issues that arise from the concurrence in marriage of the unifying and procreative purposes of sexuality. It offers guidance regarding appropriate methods of birth control.)
This commitment of loyalty and exclusivity to one partner in a marriage covenant is used in Scripture to illustrate the covenant faithfulness of God, the heavenly Husband, for His Bride (Is. 54:5; 62:5; Mark 2:19, 20). No wonder the Scripture declares that God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), even though for the hardness of human hearts it was permitted (Deut. 24:1ff; Matt. 19:8). Each marriage has the potential to bear witness to the power of God working in human hearts to bring the differentness of a man and a woman together in a profound oneness. Along with all the other heartaches and complications it brings into the lives of former partners and their children, divorce mutes that witness.