(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)
Evil in the Name of God
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.
Exodus 20:7, 34:5-10
In Bible times, a “name” conveyed a person’s inner essence. The third commandment dealt with much more than the “cussing” many Christians associate with it (though casual use of God’s name as a swear word is surely undesirable). God revealed his “name,” his character, to Israel through Moses. They didn’t always live up to it, but they recorded and passed on the command that they not use God’s “name” to support actions that were out of harmony with it.
Isaiah 55:1-9, Isaiah 19:19-25
God called the prophet Isaiah, like most of Israel’s prophets, to share a message with God’s people that was challenging—often downright unpopular—yet filled with hope. Isaiah’s vision said God’s mercy was wider than we’d expect—wide enough to even reach out to include Assyria and Egypt, Israel’s enemies and oppressors.
2 Kings 5:1-14
A Syrian general named Naaman had leprosy. An Israelite girl captured in a cross-border raid said she knew of a prophet who could heal him. The king in Samaria thought the Syrians were trying to start a war. Naaman was at first too proud to wash in the Jordan River as the prophet Elisha said. Many of the religious and national attitudes that keep the Middle East in conflict today were at work. Yet God’s love and mercy overcame the obstacles, and the foreign general found healing.
Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:21-26, 38-45
In this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “It was said…but I say to you…”. The law in Exodus 21 (cf. also Leviticus 24, Deuteronomy 19) limited revenge to “an eye for an eye.” In a world in which revenge was often viciously excessive (“you hurt me, I’ll kill your whole family”), Israel’s law of proportional revenge was more merciful than most. But Jesus taught an even more radical approach: “Love your enemies.”
The apostle Paul knew about religious prejudice and hatred—he’d lived it (cf. Galatians 1:13-14). In these verses, he was probably picturing the wall in the Jerusalem Temple’s courtyard that bore signs warning in Hebrew, Greek and Latin that any Gentile who went beyond that wall was subject to death. He also knew from his own life that Jesus’ power tore down the dividing wall between people, and broke through barriers of race, prejudice and fear.
John said the religious leaders, stones in hand, were using this woman to trap Jesus (verse 6). That probably explains why the woman’s partner (she couldn’t commit adultery alone!) wasn’t there—the leaders may well have set her up. They saw themselves as righteous, as upholding God’s law (verse 5). Jesus reframed the issue, saying, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone” (verse 7). After the “righteous” people slunk away in the face of this challenge, Jesus told the woman whose life he’d saved, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
O God, you freely offer us your complete forgiveness, rather than the evil of condemnation, darkness and pain. Help us turn away from our fear, guilt and shame. Help us tear down the barriers that separate us from others. Give us strength to love others as you love them, to be merciful to our enemies. Help us speak and act as Christians, to be like you in every thought and deed. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
What different kinds of things tend to attract people to the Super Bowl? Are there positive and negative reactions that the game brings out in people? Why do you enjoy or not enjoy it?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Exodus 20:7, 34:5-10. God made a covenant with the Hebrew people, and has made a covenant with you. How would you describe the covenant God has made with you? Why has God specifically chosen you to make this covenant with? How would God feel if you were to use his name inappropriately? How similar would it be to call ourselves “Christian” and then to act unethically or illegally? Which is worse, using God’s name inappropriately in words, or acting badly while claiming to be Christian? As a Christian, does the responsibility to act and speak responsibly feel like a heavy burden? How easy or difficult is it to “forget your Christianity” when you decide to say or do something that is “wrong”?
Read Isaiah 55:1-9, Isaiah 19:19-25. Assyria and Egypt were Israel’s enemies, yet Isaiah said those countries would turn away from their wickedness and God would bless them. What is the central message of these verses? How do these verses apply to today’s world? How do they apply to you and your life? How was this aspect of God applied in the story of Jonah (Jonah 3:10-4:2)? Jonah didn’t want God to save the city and people of Nineveh. Are there people you don’t want God to save? As committed Christians, should we do something about these kinds of attitudes and feelings? If so, what?
Read 2 Kings 5:1-14. In this story, fear, arrogance and pride threatened to undermine God’s plan for healing. Do any of those feelings ever seethe in the hearts of Christians and interfere with God’s plan for blessing others? When those feelings arise, are we, as Christians, furthering God’s kingdom on earth, or hindering it? Have you ever found yourself with such feelings? What can we do about this?
Read Exodus 21:15-25, Matthew 5:21-26, 38-45. Is “getting even” a common and acceptable practice in American society? Is “getting even” a part of human nature? Is “getting even” an acceptable practice within Christianity? Why not, if it’s a part of human nature? When Christ said for us to love our neighbor and love our enemies, he used a word that meant that we should care about their well-being. This suggests that Christ was telling us to set aside our feelings for a moment and be more concerned about our actions. Is getting even consistent with caring for the well-being of others? Could Jesus be asking us to substitute his more supernatural, godly response toward others for our more natural, human response? How is this even possible?
Read Ephesians 2:11-19. What do you see as the central message of these verses? If Jesus were to describe us as individuals, would he first and foremost see us as Christians, or as Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.? Do we see ourselves as Christ does, or do we tend to segregate ourselves from others of the faith? Where do we start first if we wish to break down the barriers that such thinking tends to build? What other barriers tend to separate us from others? How do we attack social, economic, cultural or political separators?
Read John 8:1-11. If Jesus said to the woman in the story, “Neither do I condemn you,” what is he saying to you, personally? Can you fully and completely accept the truth of this message to you, personally? Why can’t some Christians fully accept this forgiveness for themselves? How can we help them? What causes us to, occasionally, back up and doubt that God has forgiven us? What can you do when this happens?
From last week: Did you make it your personal mission to recognize and resist temptations that came your way? Did you begin the week and every day with a prayer that God might give you insight and strength to resist? Did you look for opportunities that might allow you to, invisibly and behind the scenes, help others to avoid their temptations? What was this experience like for you?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 3, 2013:
When we were in D.C. last week, I took LaVon, Danielle and JT to the Lincoln Memorial by night. I love seeing this magnificent monument to a heroic president who played such a pivotal role in ending slavery.
On the north wall, to the right of Lincoln’s statue, is the text of his Second Inaugural Address given as the Civil War was coming to a close. And there is a line in this address that stood out to me in a way that I had not noticed before. The line, speaking of the North and the South and their different views of slavery, says, “Both read from the same Bible and pray to the same God.”
Today none of us would believe that slavery, the practice of buying and selling human beings, is in keeping with the gospel. But in 1865 that was not self-evident to everyone. In fact, those supporting slavery had a greater claim to being biblical, at least in terms of the sheer number of scriptures. There are over 100 supporting the idea that slavery is God’s will and intention for human society. The abolitionists did not have a single verse that said that slavery was not God’s will, at least not directly. What they had were scriptural ideas: that all human beings are of value and worth, created in the image of God, and a call to love our neighbor and act with justice and kindness.
This is informative for seeing how the church is currently wrestling with homosexuality. Both conservatives and progressives read from the same Bible and pray to the same God, yet they interpret the Bible quite differently.
On this and a host of other issues my own views have changed over time. And I have come to hold my convictions about matters of interpretation with greater humility. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know. I recognize my three pounds of gray matter is not sufficient to fully comprehend the God of the universe. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. “When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”
Which leads to one last way that we commit evil in the name of God and that’s when we’re just plain unpleasant as Christians, when we judge others, when we are cruel to one another, when we are uncharitable in our words and actions by gossip, or by unkindness. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, “Take the log out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of someone else’s eye.” Here our scripture from Paul is instructive. He says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
We are a people defined by love—love of God and love of neighbor. When we face decisions the question must be, “What is the most loving thing to do?” When we think of what that looks like, we remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I was thinking about what it looks like for Christians who are seeking to get it right to stand up and be heard, to be salt and light and to practice love, and I saw it captured in the actions of 9 year old Joseph Miles of Topeka who, with his mom, drove past Washburn University as the folks from Westboro Baptist Church were picketing. He asked his mom for permission to make his own sign, which he did. His sign, caught in a photo that was shown around the world, said, “GOD HATES NO ONE.”
We may not always agree—clearly we don’t on everything–but we can agree to love, to be champions of love in a world that has seen too much judgment, too much hypocrisy, too much hate from the lips and lives of religious people. Let’s not be imposters, pretenders, fake followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s follow him who said, “They will know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.”
Taking God’s name in vain?
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7, King James Version (KJV)
Do we really even need to discuss this? Everybody knows that this commandment basically says, “Don’t Cuss!” Right?
Well, if that was all there was to it, why write this? ‘Cussing’ is not the best use of our gift of language, a gift that we have in far greater complexity than any other animal on this planet. And there may be places where the Bible tells us that God is not in favor of cussing. But perhaps this commandment has only partially to do with cussing.
First, let’s assume that the traditional view is correct: we are not to use God’s name to cuss. If that is true, we should note how people have tried to get around it! “Dog gummite”, “Gosh Darn”, “Jiminy Cricket” and “Jumping Jehoshaphat” are all ways of ‘cussing’ without ‘cussing’. Are we supposed to believe that by mispronouncing something we get away with it?
This commandment has an additional warning attached to it, which most don’t. That gives this one special, additional meaning, which makes us want to make sure that we do not unknowingly violate it.
This commandment has less to do with what we say, and everything to do with how we live. That is why the additional comment about ‘not being regarded guiltless’ makes so much sense.
So a question: What does it mean to say “in vain”?
vain, adjective: ineffectual or unsuccessful; without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless
When we refer to ourselves as Christians, aren’t we “taking God’s name” in a somewhat similar way in which some brides take the last name of their new husbands? As Christians, aren’t we claiming a lifestyle that is based on the lifestyle and teaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Then, we speak and act badly while claiming to be CHRISTian.
If then, as “Christians”, our speech, actions and lifestyles are, in fact, ineffectual or unsuccessful; without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless, haven’t we taken God’s name “in vain”?
Source: Adapted from http://www.achievebalance.com/spirit/cnc/third.htm
As you go through this week, be alert to the times in which your thoughts, words and actions are inconsistent with your vision of what it means to call yourself a Christian. Pray that God might refine your life so that you might become more like Christ. Next week, share with the group whatever surprised you about your week