(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)
Tempted: The Seven Deadly Sins
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.
Some Scripture stories show temptations coming from outside us (e.g. Jesus’ temptation—cf. Matthew 4:1-11). But James (almost certainly Jesus’ half-brother) knew that often our own inner wishes and wants lead us away from God’s path. This is why so many great Christians through the centuries have practiced and taught disciplines (e.g. meditation, journaling, spiritual direction, counseling) that help us to know ourselves clearly and honestly.
Luke 22:31-34, 39-46
Self-preservation (a basic human instinct) led the disciples to deny Jesus, even though he’d warned them that they would scatter and abandon him. They had not yet fully grasped (as later, facing martyrdom, they showed they had) that they were safer with Jesus than away from him, no matter what happened. As we deepen our faith that in God we’re always ultimately safe, stress will be less able to override that trust in our lives.
Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
“Everyone who has ears should pay attention,” Jesus said (verse 8). This seemingly bland sentence is actually key. One of Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs” is “Recognize the consequences of your action.” In Jesus’ story, each type of “soil” produced different consequences—and we choose, minute by minute, day by day, what type of “soil” we are. Temptation repeatedly tugs us to fall away from God, but paying attention to God’s word keeps us choosing to be “good soil.”
1 Timothy 6:5-11
God calls us to find “great profit” in “holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.” To value money above these traits skews our values and leads us away from the qualities God says are truly profitable. The Apostle Paul, Timothy’s mentor, guided this young leader as he battled against false teachers and false values in his church.
Galatians 5:24 – 6:4
A key part of Christian life (one we often shrink from) is honestly, caringly helping each other deal with temptation. Paul knew this task is delicate, and urged the Galatians to restore one who is doing wrong “with a spirit of gentleness.” He also knew we can only help as fellow strugglers, writing, “Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too.” In that spirit, another of Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs” is “Reveal your struggle to a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.” It can be crucial to know that others who have earned your trust are with you.
In the end, all any temptation can do, whether from inside our self or outside, is to suggest. It cannot force us to act. Central to Pastor Hamilton’s “5 Rs,” with the same message as this passage from Hebrews, is “Rededicate yourself to God through prayer–stop, in the midst of the temptation, and pray, asking for God’s help and strength.” Jesus faced temptation and won, and is always eager to help us choose well.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, you are our mentor and guide; teach us to make your values our values. You have sowed the seeds of your word in our lives and we pray that those seeds will grow into a bountiful harvest. Help us avoid temptation and unhealthy cravings. Remind us that, ultimately, you are all we need, above all else we might desire. In your name we pray, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Why do you think the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, given mixed reviews at best by critics, sold over 65 million copies? Do you have to have read the book to understand this phenomenon, or does knowing human nature explain the book’s popularity?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read James 1:9-18. According to these verses, temptation never comes from God, but rather from our innermost wants and desires. Do we always recognize temptation when it strikes? How do you resist temptation? Do you feel guilty when you fall to temptation? If you fail, does that ever strengthen your resistance the next time that temptation arises? Pastor Hamilton has said that one way to resist temptation is to remember that you are a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ. Has remembering your faith and commitment ever helped you? How can spiritual disciplines help you resist temptation?
Read Luke 22:31-34, 39-46. Have you ever felt that you were strong in your resistance, only to find yourself yielding to temptation? The instinct of self-preservation led Peter to fail, when he was sure he wouldn’t. Although we might not face death as a result of our faith, in what other forms might self-preservation take and cause us to stumble? When we say we are being tested, who or what is testing us? Think of temptations that are particularly difficult for you to overcome. How can anticipating such temptations improve your chances of resisting them?
Read Luke 8:4-8, 11-15. Have you found that you have been a different kind of “soil” at different times in your life? What kind of soil do you see yourself now? Could it be that, during each day, the kind of “soil” we are changes depending on the circumstances and types of temptation we face? Can simply thinking about God help us to avoid temptation? Farmers prepare the soil before they plant. In what ways can we prepare the soil of our souls? As our faith grows stronger, are we are more often good soil, or do you think we are continually challenged to “do the right thing”? Do the number of challenges increase as our faith grows or are they fewer in number? Does age affect our reaction to temptation?
Read 1 Timothy 6:5-11. So, is money the “root of all evil”? What’s the difference between money and “the love of money” being the root of all evil? How can the love of (desire for) money skew our values and lead us astray from God’s values? According to these verses, what are some of God’s values? In what ways are God’s values “profitable”? What Bible stories would have led the people of Timothy’s day to believe that godliness would guarantee personal wealth? In our lives of today, what is around to entice us to love money? What steps can you take today to resist the temptation to look to money for happiness, fulfillment, and security?
Read Galatians 5:24 – 6:4. What do you see as the central message of these verses? If we see that someone else has yielded to a temptation, what are we asked to do? What are we cautioned about? If we are the one who has yielded to temptation, how can we go about accepting direction and accountability from another trustworthy Christian? To what extent have you as a group built enough trust in one another to make this a possibility? According to these verses, what kind of pride is acceptable and what kind is not?
Read Hebrews 2:14-18. Do we face temptations as tough as those Christ faced? This reading said because Christ faced even more taxing problems than we face, he can help us through temptations. Has anyone ever helped you who had faced some of the same problems? How do you feel knowing that Christ empathizes with your struggles? As a Christian, are you more confident in your ability to face life with Christ at your side, or does that alliance seem unreal to you?
From last week: Did you watch for systemic evil in our society? Did you make a list of what you found? Did you pray for our country and for the world that such evils might be contained and eliminated, and pray also that you might be freed from and not be caught up in any evil that might seem to be “the norm”? Can you share with the group what you found and experienced?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of January 27, 2013:
I think the reason the listing of the Seven Deadly Sins stuck with people, so that we’re still talking about it 1,600 years later, is that we look at the list and most of us recognize that we struggle with at least three or four. I’ve struggled with all seven. They are often listed in ascending order of severity (though different authors rank them differently).
1. LUST, 2. GLUTTONY, 3. GREED, 4. SLOTH, 5. WRATH, 6. ENVY, 7. PRIDE
Each of these actually starts with something that is good. But it distorts the good, ultimately by turning the good into a god. I’ve got here a makeshift throne. It represents what is most important in my life—what I will choose to serve, or what I invite to rule over me. Each of the seven deadly sins will eventually lead to the same sin—idolatry….
In our scripture James described how temptation works. James writes, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This imagery is powerful. There is a moment of conception, the idea begins to take hold in our hearts and starts to grow.
So, how do we overcome the deadly sins? Prudentius was a Christian who lived from 348-413 AD. He was, among other things, a poet. He penned the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” and a well known allegory called Psychomachia, which means “Battle for the Soul.” In it he describes our struggle with sins in battlefield terms and notes that it is virtue that defeats the vices:
1. LUST is defeated by FAITHFULNESS
2. GLUTTONY is defeated by TEMPERANCE
3. GREED is defeated by GENEROSITY
4. SLOTH is defeated by SACRIFICE
5. WRATH is defeated by FORGIVENESS
6. ENVY is defeated by KINDNESS
7. PRIDE is defeated by HUMILITY
I’ve often found this true in my life. Being clear about the purpose of your life, and practicing virtue, builds the strength to defeat temptation. Love and faithfulness become keys to battling lust. When I was a teenager dating girls, I tried to think about showing love to them, and faithfulness to a wife I would one day marry as key to not succumbing to lust (which I felt, but attempted to not act upon). Today, I have a picture of being faithful to my wife until we are parted by death. I pray for this. I have remembered this when, over the last 30 years, there were moments of temptation. Temperance—intentionally abstaining for a time, or choosing moderation, is a weapon to ward off Gluttony. Generosity fights off greed. The practice of giving God the first tenth, and then, as our income grew, giving more than that away, has kept our heads on straight about money and the desire for more. Intentionally doing what requires sacrifice and risk for the sake of others is the antidote to sloth. Forgiveness defeats wrath. Saying good things about those you envy, and celebrating their success, defeats the power of envy. And practicing humility defeats pride.
Some years ago I was teaching the youth at the church, speaking on temptation and sin. I offered the kids 5 R’s for resisting temptation. I’ve since shared this with you and, and two years ago at the Willow Creek Summit with 100,000 Christian leaders:
1. REMEMBER Who You Are – You are a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, a leader in the church. You may be someone’s husband or wife, someone’s mother or father. Is the thing you are struggling with consistent with who you are?
2. RECOGNIZE the consequences of your actions. When I’m feeling tempted, I ask myself: will I feel better or worse after doing this? Will I feel more human or less? Will I be proud or ashamed? Will I be more free or will I be enslaved by doing this? Who will be hurt by my actions? If the thing becomes known, what will happen to the church, the people who trusted me?
3. REDEDICATE yourself to God. In prayer I ask for God’s strength, but I also remind myself who is on the throne of my life.
4. REVEAL your struggle to a trusted friend. Part of the power of temptation comes from its secretiveness. When you tell the secret to someone holding you accountable, it loses some of its power. This is why James tells us in 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed.”
5. REMOVE yourself from the situation. When Jesus speaks about sin in the Sermon on the Mount he tells us that if our eye causes us to sin, we’re to pluck it out, or if our hand causes us to sin, we’re to cut it off. He is using hyperbole but he’s seeking to make this same point—remove yourself from the situation.
What others have said about temptation
“Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.” – William Butler Yeats
“Good habits result from resisting temptation” – Proverbs
“Temptation wrings integrity even as the thumbscrew twists a man’s fingers” – Chinese Proverb
“Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them” – John Bunyan
“As the Sandwich-Islander believes that the strength and valor of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptations we resist” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Saintliness is also a temptation” – Jean Anouilh
“Moralists and philosophers have adjudged those who throw temptation in the way of the erring, equally guilty with those who are thereby led into evil” – Mark Twain
“There are temptations which strong exercise best enables us to resist” – John Lubbock
“I am suffering incessant temptations to uncharitable thoughts; one of those black moods in which nearly all one’s friends seem to
be selfish or even false. And how terrible that there should be even a kind of pleasure in thinking evil.” – C.S. Lewis
“It is not only easier to find fault with another person than to examine one’s own character, it is also tempting.” – Martin Dansky
“No man knows what he will do till the right temptation comes.” – Henry Ward Beecher
“Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colours that are but skin-deep.” – Matthew Henry
“Temptation cannot exist without the concurrence of inclination and opportunity.” – E. H. Chapin
“God is better served in resisting a temptation to evil, than in many formal prayers.” – William Penn
This week, make it your personal mission to recognize and resist temptations that come your way. Begin the week and every day with a prayer that God might give you insight and strength to resist. Look for opportunities that might allow you to, invisibly and behind the scenes, help others to avoid their temptations. Next week, share your experiences with the group.