(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 Struggle Between Good and Evil
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.
Genesis 2:9, 15-17, 3:1-14
The Bible first mentioned “evil” in the archetypal Hebrew creation story, which said that in the midst of God’s perfect garden stood the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s gift of moral freedom means each of us has such a “tree” within us, the choice to know good or evil. In the creation story (and in our lives), choosing to know evil produced evil results—shame, conflict and pain.
2 Kings 17:9-17, Amos 5:12-15
Amos was a prophet who pleaded with the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to turn back to God. 2 Kings described the kingdom’s fall, not in military or political terms, but in terms of the people’s moral choices. “Evil” in the Scriptures never existed on its own. It was defined by its opposition to God’s good purpose—“evil” is all that departs from the divine design for a worthwhile, fully human life.
John 1:1-5, 1 John 1:1-10
The Bible writers often pictured the tension between good and evil as the difference between light and darkness. But when the apostle John wrote, he was able to put it in more specific terms. Jesus, he said—the Lord he had seen and heard—was the light who broke into the world’s darkness, and the darkness couldn’t put it out. Jesus was the one who could deliver us from the darkness we find within ourselves.
Matthew 6:9-13, 15:10-20
The prophet Isaiah said the process pictured in Genesis 3 went on: that some people called good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). Jesus found such people even in his day’s religious circles: people who denounced outward ritual violations, while harboring hatred, slander and bitterness in their hearts. His prayer for deliverance from the evil one was a prayer that God would keep the inner springs of behavior pure.
Paul told the Romans, with plainspoken honesty, about how he experienced the line between good and evil cutting through his own heart. Gritting his teeth and resolving to do better, he said, didn’t produce the good results he sought. It was only as he put his trust in Jesus’ grace and power that he found, day by day, God’s grace freeing him from evil’s power in his life.
Ephesians 5:6-11, Psalm 34:13-16
Because the line between good and evil cuts through each of our hearts, each of us daily chooses our life’s direction. Ephesians 5:9 says, “Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.” To live as a child of light is not to choose a gloomy, self-condemning kind of existence. It’s to set out on an adventure with God, exploring and internalizing “every sort of goodness, justice and truth.” As you do that, you are truly choosing good, and living in the light Jesus Christ brought to the world.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, we accept your invitation to live as children of your light. We want to be and to do good, yet we know that evil always lurks in us as well. Help us to substitute your will for our own, and strengthen our lives in you. Light our pathway so that we might light the way for others. Help us to discern good from evil and transform us into greater and greater purity. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
From a viewer’s standpoint, is there a difference between the entertainment audiences saw in the Roman Coliseum and today’s violent movies and television shows? Do murder mysteries and cop shows promote good or evil in society? Why? Do you tune in for the thrill of watching violence, the satisfaction of seeing good triumph over evil, or both?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Genesis 2:9, 15-17, 3:1-14. What does “knowledge of good and evil” mean to you? How does the mention of this in the very first Bible story “frame” the whole rest of the narrative? Do you feel that you can clearly discern between right and wrong for yourself and your actions? Can everyone? Was it good or evil that caused Adam and Eve to “finger point”? Which of the three was guilty of doing wrong, Adam, Eve or the snake? What made what they did “wrong”?
Read 2 Kings 17:9-17, Amos 5:12-15. Do most people, in their day-to-day lives, consciously look for paths toward right and good versus wrong and evil? Did the Hebrews do this in the story of 2 Kings? How can we “seek good and not evil”? Who is the source that defines what is “good”? Who or what defines what is “evil”? What forces in our past might block our ability to embrace “good”? How can we overcome our past if it misdirects us? Is professional counseling sometimes helpful? Do you embrace “good” more than you did in your past? Why or why not?
Read John 1:1-5, 1 John 1:1-10. Some Christians (not many) believe they are fully righteous, living without sin. Do you think anyone can make that claim? Does anyone always do what’s right? Can we “do” anything to compensate for our mistakes? If not, what will save us from condemnation? Why did John link the opening of his gospel to the creation story? What is “the Word” he referred to? Has God ever stopped doing the work of creation? Give the reason for your answer.
Read Matthew 6:9-13, 15:10-20. Jesus met people who denounced violations of Jewish rituals while harboring hatred, slander and bitterness. Are there times in which, for some reason, we might see good as evil and see evil as good? How can this be? Where does it come from? What would life be like if God’s will was done in all human lives? How hard is it to shape our free will to match God’s will? Can this be done? Could this be the key to the words “deliver us from evil”?
Read Romans 7:14-25. Cartoons have often shown this universal, inner battle as a character with a tiny angel sitting on one shoulder and a tiny devil sitting on the other. Do you feel some hope by knowing that even the great apostle Paul struggled with the push and pull of good and evil within? Paul said that our hope was in Jesus Christ. What did Paul mean? Can anyone expect to live completely without sin? If not, can we at least hope that, with God’s help, we can live closer and closer to Christ’s example with each new day? Where does that power to overcome a sinful nature come from?
Read Ephesians 5:6-11, Psalm 34:13-16. Recognizing our struggle with evil causes some Christians to become self-hating, but this is not Christ’s will for our lives. He calls on us to be his light to the world, his ambassadors. Do we have to be perfect to be God’s light? If not perfect, are we on a pathway, Christ’s pathway, of righteousness, goodness and peace? We are blessed with God’s grace, or as Brennan Manning said, “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.” Can you see how you can be imperfect and yet be on the pathway of goodness? If we are imperfect, who is our salvation?
From last week: Did you, in the midst of all the bad news in the media, look for opportunities to see the hope and joy that the Christmas season brings? Did you look for the light of salvation that overshadows all the darkness in the world? Did you make a list of everything that sends a message of love and hope and joy? Tell the group whatever you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon of January 6, 2013:
When the Bible talks about sin or evil, the Greek and Hebrew words are directional. That is, there is a path we’re meant to walk on—God’s path, what it means to be human—and the word “sin” means to stray from that path. This same idea shows up all through the Scripture with reference to evil. Evil is a turning from God’s way. Which is why the word “repentance” means to turn back—a change of mind and heart that signifies a change in direction….
So how do we overcome evil in our own personal lives, and how do we push it back in society? In our own lives it has to do with a choice we make, every day when we wake up, to walk in God’s way, to walk in the light, to live a life of love. We choose this, we pursue it, we pray hard and pursue the moral and spiritual exercises to strengthen our souls so that we have the capacity, with the help of God, to resist the evil so near at hand. We worship and pray and study Scripture and encourage one another.
We overcome evil in our lives by practicing its opposite – by doing good.
Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, for in it Paul gives the key to how we defeat evil. I won’t read the entire chapter to you, but here are a few excerpts: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It is this last line that stands out to me. We’re called not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. We push back the darkness and spread the light by doing acts of kindness and mercy. We do that individually, when we practice love and good deeds. And we know that when work together we can do more than any of us could do apart.
We’re meant to provoke one another to love and good deeds. We’re meant to be leaven and salt and light and by doing this to influence others, to spread the light. Our deeds themselves are meant to bring goodness to light, to spread goodness, and to draw people to God’s path….
My experience is that it doesn’t take much to nudge someone off the path, to move them to join in doing wrong. But the truth is, it also doesn’t take much to nudge people to stay on the path, and to move them to doing what’s right. And this is part of what we do each week, to work together, to offer Christ’s light, to provoke one another to love and good deeds and to overcome evil with good.
We intuitively know that this is how it works—someone showing sacrificial love, willing to lay down their life, inspiring others to do the same. Is that not what every one of the great stories of epic battles of good and evil had? There was the Lion King and Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, Snow White’s prince and Batman, and even Dorothy, who risked death to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West.
Our story is not fiction, not a myth. It is the story of Jesus Christ, who came to save and deliver us, who by his life and death showed us the way, and in his resurrection conquered evil. We are his followers. Our work is to walk in the light, and to be the light, and to nudge others to walk in the light.
My invitation to you today is to make a commitment on this first weekend of the New Year—right now you have perfect attendance—to being in church this year where you can provoke one another to love and good deeds. I want to invite you to make a turn to Christ, to choose to walk in his way and to invite him to make you the person he wants you to be. Finally, I want to invite you to see each day as a chance to push back the darkness by living as a child of the light.
What others have said about good and evil
“God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.” ― Albert Einstein
“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.” ― Charles Dickens
“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’” ― George Bernard Shaw
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” ― Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
“And this is the forbidden truth, the unspeakable taboo – that evil is not always repellent but frequently attractive; that it has the power to make of us not simply victims, as nature and accident do, but active accomplices.” ― Joyce Carol Oates
“In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson
“Evil forges a tornado. But goodness battles in a straight line.” ― Caris Roane
“Poor God, how often He is blamed for all the suffering in the world. It’s like praising Satan for allowing all the good that happens.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
“And I must believe that man has the power to know the right, to choose between good and evil and know that his choice has made a difference…” ― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
“I have never met any really wicked person before. I feel rather frightened. I am so afraid he will look just like everyone else.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
“Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael
“If you boil it down, just because someone else does the wrong thing we are not exempt from doing what’s right.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
This week, watch for private, difficult choices that come up for you which might involve good vs. evil. Seek God’s strength and advice. Make notes for your eyes only that depict the situation, the choice you made and how you made it. Next week, share, not the specifics, but what you learned from this exercise