(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)
The Meaning of Success
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.
Today’s passage ends with the only direct quote from Jesus that is not in the four gospels. That’s an intriguing, tangible sign that the early Christians prized and shared information about Jesus before they had the written gospels. But Paul didn’t quote it as an idle curiosity. It was the conclusion of Paul’s witness about how he lived with a sense of well-being and “success.”
When Paul quoted Jesus as saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), he was stressing the same attitude he pointed to in today’s reading. That did not mean that Jesus, as eyewitnesses described him in the four gospels, was self-destructive or weak-willed. He simply lived out values that were at odds with much of his (and our) culture with strength, dignity and determination.
The JerusalemTemple was a huge religious, social and even business center, bustling and noisy. Sustaining the institution required many large gifts—and there were many who gave such gifts. But Jesus noticed, and honored, a different kind of giver. He praised a generous, trusting widow who gave her “fortune”—two tiny copper coins—to the Temple.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace” (verse 8). “You will be made rich in every way” (verse 11). Paul, a traveling Christian preacher who owned, as far as we know, no real estate, no life insurance, and no retirement plan, wrote those words! That does not mean it’s wrong for most of us to have things like that. But it does challenge us to rethink how we define “rich” and “more than enough.”
Jesus stated a basic principle of his kingdom in verse 15: “One’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions.” He followed up with a parable. It was a simple story–a rich man, reaping a large crop, thought of nothing but how to keep it all, adding it to his already abundant supply. Absorbed with earthly wealth, he forgot that, when life ended, none of it would be of any use to him. Jesus knew better, and urged his hearers to become “rich toward God.”
When Jesus told his closest followers that he faced death on the cross, Peter (as usual the most outspoken disciple) tried to talk Jesus out of the idea. Instead, Jesus “doubled down,” telling them that ALL of his followers are called to “take up their cross.” What would be the point, he asked, of a pursuit of earthly wealth or prestige that cost eternity? “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives?”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.
Lord, transform our minds and hearts so that we see life as you do. Give us the inner strength to follow and trust you. May our greatest treasure be stored up with you, and not left behind for auctioneers to dispose of. Guide us into the kind of lives that are rich toward you. Open our eyes to the abundance you provide us and may our hearts sing as, out of that abundance, we seek to be your physical presence to others. Amen.
Would America be a better place to live if a lot more people willingly contributed to the well-being of others? What if more people contributed their time and talents as well as treasure?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Acts 20:17-35. Paul is recounting how he has lived and, in so doing, teaching others the how they, too, should live. If you were to compare how you feel when you willingly give to others to how you feel after you have bought something you really wanted for yourself, which makes you the happiest and which is more lasting? Has your perspective on your needs and wants ever changed? What caused this change? Paul said, “…the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance…” How has God’s grace built you up?
- Read Philippians 2:5-11. Of these verses, the Matthew Henry Concise Commentary says, “The example of our Lord Jesus Christ is set before us. We must resemble him in his life, if we would have the benefit of his death” and “The exaltation was of Christ’s human nature, in union with the Divine.” Is it conceivable in light of today’s secular values, that if we were to strive in life as Christ would have us live, we might live more “successfully,” or is this being naive? Why? Take a few moments and, as a group, describe the components of a life like the example of Jesus Christ.
- Read Mark 12:41-44. In a sense, the Temple in Jerusalem was the “megachurch” of that city. When you give your offerings at church, to whom are you giving? When you donate to charities, to whom are you giving? If we can’t give enough to “really make a difference” and things are tight, should we consider giving what we can anyway? Should we feel guilty if we don’t have enough to make a “meaningful” offering? Should we feel satisfied giving a large amount if it’s not really as much as we feel we are able to give? Does giving, regardless of the amount, enrich us spiritually?
- Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. Here Paul is saying that God promises to make us rich if we are generous. When he said this, Paul had virtually nothing of material value. What does “rich” mean to you in your own life? Would you be satisfied and thankful if you had the same kind of wealth that Paul had? In what way(s) has God been generous to each of you? How can you pass God’s generosity on to other people? How could doing this have a multiplying effect? Could the world be changed by a single act of generosity? Is this God’s plan and intent?
- Read Luke 12:13-21. In this parable, what did the rich man do wrong? How did he measure his success? How did God measure his success? If the rich man asked you, what would you recommend to him to improve his life? How could he become “rich toward God”? Have you seen material wealth, without a rich relationship to God, become a burden? How do we draw a line between providing wisely for our material needs and becoming like the rich man in the parable?
- Read Matthew 16:21-26. Here Jesus warns us about focusing too much on our earthly life and missing the fact that our soul, our eternal self, is far more important. In what ways might we tend to focus too much on our earthly lives? In what ways might we be stingy with providing for our eternal lives? We give to the poor to help them with their earthly lives, but what do we offer to the spiritually poor? What do you think Christ meant when he said, “Take up your cross”? Is this anything like surrendering your soul (or true self) to God? If we follow Christ, are we more likely to find our true self?
From last week: Did you, each morning, pray for your local church and for the broader, world-wide church of Christian believers? Did you pray about how you can be involved in the growth of Christ’s church? How did you feel by doing this?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, October 28, 2012:
Jesus points to this in several of his parables. The Parable of the Talents, the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Rich Fool, the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats all teach this. Success, in the end, is to stand before God and to have him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.” And why will he say this? Because in our lives our primary intention was not to make money, become famous or have power, but, with whatever money, influence, power and resources we had, to love God and neighbor.
There is a theme that runs through the Bible that captures this idea of success. We see it in God’s words to Abraham in the 12th chapter of Genesis: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Most of us want the first part—to be a great nation, to be blessed and for our name to be great—but we don’t really remember that all of that was so that Abraham would be a blessing. As God goes on to say, “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you.” You are blessed to be a blessing. This is the first key to understanding and achieving success.
This time of year every fall in our congregation those of you who are members receive a letter and a commitment card from me. The aim of this is to invite you to think about what you will give to God in the coming year through this church. That decision is largely affected by how you measure and define success. If success is storing up treasures, having as much as you can, then giving any away makes no sense. But if your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions, and if your measure of success is not what you have, but what you gave and who you blessed, and if you honored God, then your giving reflects that. LaVon and I, since we first married right out of high school, have seen our giving to God as an expression of our priorities and our values. The Bible’s guide to how we give is to see our first tenth as belonging to God. It was called a tithe, or firstfruits, and giving it to God was an expression of faith, faithfulness and worship. In addition those in the Bible left their fields unharvested at the edge for the poor. They gave special offerings as there was need. But the tithe was the basic expression of faithfulness.
At some point your income continues to rise, but you lock in your lifestyle—you realize that you don’t need more stuff. So what do you do with the increased income? You invest some for the future, and you learn to give more than 10%. You’re meant to realize that money and influence are gifts and tools you steward on behalf of God. And, though it is not a magic formula, we’ve found that the more we give, somehow the more we have. When we die the measure of our success will not be what’s in our 401k, nor how much we made, nor the cars that I drove. The measure of my success will be in our faithfulness to God, the way we sought to love our neighbor, and what we gave away.
I was reminded of this earlier this month. On the 11th of October a long time member and leader in our church, Joyce Eacock, died. She had been diagnosed with cancer just three months ago. She and her husband Chuck had been on our trip to Israel earlier this year. I went to see her shortly before her death. She was sitting in her chair in her living room, like a woman with confidence and hope. She took my hand and told me, “I will see you again. I’m counting on it.” Then she said to me, “I see things really clearly now. None of this–cars, houses, stuff—matters in the end. The only thing that matters is the memories you’ve formed with the people you love, and your trust in and what you do in serving God.” Joyce’s daughter, Jodi, wrote this week, “Mom had a nice car, which will be sold. She had a beautiful home, which will also be sold. She had very nice clothes that were all donated. The memories that she created, the people that she brought to church, the lives that she touched…that’s what will live on forever. That is success.”
That is what success looks like.
What Others Have Said About “Generosity”
-“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”― John Holmes
-“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. ”― Kahlil Gibran
-“Give yourself entirely to those around you. Be generous with your blessings. A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”― Steve Maraboli
-“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”― John Bunyan
-“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
-“That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all, yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” – Simone de Beauvoir
-“For it is in giving that we receive.”― St. Francis of Assisi
-“If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.”― J.M. Coetzee
-“If truth doesn’t set you free, generosity of spirit will.”― Katerina Stoykova Klemer
-“You make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.”― Winston Churchill
-“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”― Vernon McLellan
Want To Be More Generous? Be Impulsive, Harvard Study Suggests
Want to be a more generous, cooperative person? Don’t dwell on it. Be impulsive.
Our gut reaction is to give, according to a study published Wednesday by Harvard scientists who teased apart the workings of people’s minds when they’re asked to contribute to the greater good at their own expense. Only upon reflection do we become greedy. The research lays bare a sort of tug-of-war that takes place in our minds between two cognitive systems: one that is quick and intuitive and spurs us to cooperate, and another that is slower, rational, and leads us to act self-interested.
“From a philosophical perspective, people have been asking for a long time: is cooperation our initial impulse? Or are we initially selfish and we have to control our selfish impulses?” said David Rand , a postdoctoral researcher at HarvardUniversity who led the work. “People cooperate a lot, but not always. So, from a cognitive perspective: Why? Or how?”
To probe the question, the team borrowed tools and techniques from several fields. Working with evolutionary biologist Martin Nowak , who studies the evolution of cooperation, and psychology professor Joshua Greene , who studies the cognitive basis of moral judgments, Rand gave volunteers a series of scenarios in which they were given money and played games where they could earn more, depending on the choices they made about whether to cooperate with others.
The researchers repeatedly found that people acted most generously when they made snap decisions about how much to contribute, or were primed beforehand to recount a time in which their intuitions and emotions had guided them to a good decision. As people took more time to mull decisions over, or were asked to remember a time that they had benefitted because rational thinking or an emotional response had led them astray, they contributed less.
In one experiment, four participants were given 40 cents each and told that they could put as much money as they wanted into a common pot. The collective sum would be doubled and then dispersed evenly to all four people. Those who made up their minds the quickest were markedly more willing to contribute than those who mulled it over for more than 10 seconds. When researchers introduced a time constraint, forcing some subjects to make up their minds rapidly and others to wait at least 10 seconds before deciding how much to contribute, they found again that those who had cogitated longest gave the least.
“People are asking you a question: ‘Will you contribute to a group?’ … And what they’re showing is that the first impulse is to answer that question in the affirmative and say, ‘Yes, I will,’ ” said Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate and author of the book, Thinking: Fast and Slow. “And then, when people think a bit more about it, they became a bit more salient.”
This week, ask yourself whether God sees you as generous or tight with your time, talents and treasures. Write down your thoughts and decide if any or all of these categories need your attention. If so, make at least one commitment for improvement. Next week, share with the group how this process affected your faith.