(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Making Sense of the Bible
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Jeremiah 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-21
Scholar Leslie Newbigin wrote, “Most of us treat the Bible as an anthology of helpful thoughts …from which we can obtain comfort, guidance and direction…. It is rather an interpretation of the whole of history from the creation to its end…and is told from the point of view of the people whom God chose to be the bearers of his purpose.” That’s what the Bible writers said themselves. Jeremiah had to use his words to share the message God gave him. Centuries later, Peter said that although the Holy Spirit led them, men and women did the speaking.
2 Timothy 3:10-17
Paul knew that, when he died (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6), his friend Timothy would face hardship. But he would still have the Bible. It was useful, he said, “for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.” He did not say it would answer all of Timothy’s historical, scientific or financial questions. The Bible exists to tell the story of God’s dealings with humans, and to shape our interaction with God.
Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 15:4-19, Galatians 5:1-6
Christians have wrestled with various parts of the Bible throughout the history of the faith. In the first century, some thought it was wrong to accept uncircumcised Gentiles into the faith. They could quote Genesis 17, which said any uncircumcised male had broken God’s covenant. They couldn’t discourage Peter and Paul, however. God, the apostles said, was leading differently in their day, pouring out the Holy Spirit on all who showed faith in Jesus.
Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:31-44
We saw yesterday that Peter and Paul boldly claimed that, in the light of Jesus, they could act differently than Genesis 17 said. They learned that approach from Jesus himself, who taught, “It was said…but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 (also Leviticus 24 and Deuteronomy 19) limited revenge to “an eye for an eye,” to make retribution proportional and avoid massive retaliation. Jesus said he came to teach a more radical approach: “Love your enemies.”
When Jesus challenged the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he was facing some of the world’s top experts on the Hebrew Scriptures. Often they could recite huge sections of the Bible from memory. Yet Jesus said they had missed the focal point of the Bible’s story—they didn’t recognize him as God among them. As long as they missed that focal point, Jesus said, their vast technical knowledge of the Bible could not bring them life.
To a group of Hebrew Christians, who most likely knew and loved the Hebrew Scriptures, this writer said God had indeed spoken through the prophets “in many times and many ways.” But, he added, God’s greatest revelation, God’s final word, was not a book, but a person: the person of Jesus. “The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being,” and only through the Son can we rightly understand the rest of God’s story unfolded in the Bible.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, thank you for working with people through the ages, for giving us in the Bible a record of how you have worked with them. Thank you, too, that you did not leave us with only that record, but that you came in person, in Jesus, to show us in a real human being what you are like. Help us to read, study and understand the Bible in such a way as to lead us to Christ in our own lives. Help us to stay open to becoming more Christ-like, full of love for you and for others. Amen.
What is your favorite story from the Old Testament and why do you like it? Does this story seem to have anything to do with your own life and faith? Why do we read Old Testament stories to our children? What value do you think this has?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Jeremiah 1:1-3, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Some have said that the Bible is the word of God as heard after passing through a human filter. We may understand this better when we realize that each of us might read the same scripture and yet interpret it somewhat differently based on who we are and what we have experienced. When have you felt that the Bible was speaking directly to you? Do you think the Bible is as “current” to you as it was to those who first heard it? Why or why not? Do you ever feel as if, when you faced some difficulty, you were led to Bible verses that seemed to help you? Do you think the Old Testament prophets felt the same way when they first heard God speaking to them?
- Read 2 Timothy 3:10-17. These verses say the Bible’s role in our lives is to teach, correct and equip us to live in the ways God calls us to. What parts of the Bible have been most instrumental in shaping your faith and character? What parts have not seemed to contribute or have challenged or stretched your faith? Have you seen situations in which someone has used the Bible to create dissention and even hatred? Why do you think this happens? How has the Bible made you a better person?
- Read Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 15:4-19, Galatians 5:1-6. Peter and Paul saw that God himself had changed things long after Genesis was written. This transformation meant that Christians were not to be burdened by “the Law,” but were freed by Christ. Have you seen other ways in which, in more modern times, “rules” were thought essential for salvation? Why did Peter, Paul and James decide to deal with the Gentile converts in the way that they did, rather than following Genesis? What was their basis for their decision? Do some people try to apply old “rules” to new converts today?
- Read Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:31-44. The Law in Exodus limited punishment and retribution to proportional responses, rather than the more massive retaliation common to that time. Later, Jesus changed that approach to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies.” How does it change your world to give up the idea of revenge in favor of the approaches taught by Jesus? Are there times when, in Christ’s name, you can turn you back on your anger and hurt? Do you at least try to deal with people as Jesus instructed? Could it be that the people of the Old Testament time were simply not yet ready (too primitive?) for the more radical nature of Christ’s teaching? Does this help explain why there are apparent differences in God’s commands in the Old and New Testaments?
- Read John 5:35-40. Jesus said that scholarly knowledge of the Bible, by itself, would not lead to salvation unless it led us to Christ who is the source of salvation and life. Does this mean that there’s no real point to studying the Bible carefully, even intensely? How should we focus our Bible study so as to be consistent with Jesus’ message? Can we read the Old Testament, as well as the New, with Jesus as our focal point? Some have said Christianity would not be complete without the Old Testament as a foundation for our faith. Why might this be true? What makes studying the whole Bible important to us as Christians?
- Read Hebrews 1:1-4. God’s final word is not a book; it is a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is “the exact representation of” God himself. The central purpose of the Bible is to lead us to Christ. Have you ever felt Christ’s presence while reading the Bible? How? How important is the concept of love in Christ’s teaching? If we apply that concept to all of our Bible study, could it change our interpretation of some of the more difficult sections? How likely would we then be to use Biblical passages to condemn the actions of others?
From last week: Did you spend some time (with paper and pencil, your computer or tablet or smart phone, or even just thinking under a tree) describing for yourself what “victory” would look like in your life, and what defeats you might face (or have already faced) on your way to that goal? Compare notes with the group, and learn from each other about the goal, the finish line, that you are aiming for. Think about the places where you might need help, and how you as a group can help each other.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
What is the Bible?
“What I began to see was that the Bible is not essentially, as I had always more or less supposed, a book of ethical principles, or moral exhortations, of cautionary tales about exemplary people, of uplifting thoughts–in fact, not really a religious book at all in the sense that most of the books you would be apt to find in a minister’s study or reviewed in a special religion issue of the New York Times book section are religious. I saw it instead as a great, tattered compendium of writings, the underlying and unifying purpose of all of which is to show how God works through the Jacobs and Jabboks of history to make himself known to the world and to draw the world back to himself.
For all its vast diversity and unevenness, it is a book with a plot and a plot that can be readily stated. God makes the world in love. For one reason or another the world chooses to reject God. God will not reject the world but continues his mysterious and relentless pursuit of it to the end of time. That is what he is doing by choosing Israel to be his special people. That is what he is doing through all the passion and poetry and invective of the prophets. That is why history plays such a crucial part in the Old Testament–all those kings and renegades and battles and invasions and apostasies–because it was precisely through people like that and events like those that God was at work, as, later, in the New Testament, he was supremely at work in the person and event of Jesus Christ. Only “is at work” would be the more accurate way of putting it because if there is a God who works at all, his work goes on still, of course, and at one and the same time the biblical past not only illumines the present but becomes itself part of that present, part of our own individual pasts. Until you can read the story of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, of David and Bathsheba, as your own story…you have not really understood it.”
(Frederick Buechner, Now and Then. HarperSanFrancisco, 1983, pp. 20-21.)
How to Interpret the Bible
The Bible is God’s Word. But some of the interpretations derived from it are not. There are many cults and Christian groups that use the Bible, claiming their interpretations are correct. Too often, however, the interpretations not only differ dramatically but are clearly contradictory.
We need…the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word….
We need to approach God’s word with care, humility, and reason. Additionally, we need…the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word. After all, the Bible is inspired by God and is addressed to His people. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what God’s word means and how to apply it.
On the human level, to lessen the errors that come in our interpretations, we need to look at some basic biblical interpretive methods. I’ll list some of the principles in the form of questions.
I offer the following principles as guidelines for examining a passage. They are not exhaustive, nor are they set in concrete.
1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and to whom was it addressed?
2. What does the passage say?
3. Are there any words or phrases in the passage that need to be examined?
4. What is the immediate context?
5. What is the broader context in the chapter and book?
6. What are the related verses to the passage’s subject and how do they affect the understanding of this passage?
7. What is the historical and cultural background?
8. What do I conclude about the passage?
9. Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of Scripture and others who have studied the passage?
10. What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?
Source: by Matt Slick at http://carm.org/how-interpret-bible
When you are so “biblical” that you are unChristian
Here is the irony: too often the most ‘biblical’ folks are the most ‘unbiblical’. What do I mean by this? I mean that if the whole point of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus and you fail to make this your whole point in your life, preaching, writing, conferences, etc…then you have missed the point! And, in this case, your blind spot is glaring. You are undermining yourself!! These folks are so ‘biblical’ that they are unChristian!
I am not talking about semantics here. This is far bigger than this. Remember, it was the hard-core Biblicists that had missed the point of Scripture and ended up killing Jesus. If you are reading the Old Testament like a 1st Century Pharisee then you have a veil upon your eyes (2 Cor. 3). And if you are using Jesus just to be your vehicle towards morality, then you are just like the Galatians.
Our whole lives are to be calibrated by and anchored in the gospel. It is this that is of first importance (1 Cor. 15.1-3). To assume it, marginalize it, eclipse it, or ignore it is just as bad as editing it.
This week, sit down with a spouse or friend and list some Biblical passages that are difficult for you to understand. Find these passages and re-read them together. Ask yourself what these passages might show about how God has worked with people through the ages, and how that relates to Christ’s saving work. Discuss the passages and see if your understanding has improved. Do not be discouraged if you don’t discover easy answers to all your questions. Next week, share with the group what you found in this exercise.