(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)
Very, Very Extraordinary
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.
Leviticus 19:15-18, 33-34
Bible students call Leviticus 19:1-37 the “Call to Holiness.” In this passage, God called Israel to a way of life, a code of conduct. These are not just rules for the sake of rules. This Call outlined a way of life that would help Israel function as a loving community, serving one another’s well-being. Israel’s spiritual formation (like ours) involved not only the reverence they showed to God, but also the way they treated all of their “neighbors.”
Scholar William Barclay noted that there were two schools of thought among rabbis. Some believed “there were lighter and weightier matters of the law…great principles which were all-important to grasp.” Others “held that every smallest principle was equally binding.” Jesus, like the scribe in this passage, saw some principles as central, more vital to grasp than others. Loving God and loving your neighbor, both agreed, are the greatest commandments.
1 Corinthians 12:24-13:3
In the Greek culture of New Testament times, humility was “not considered a virtue…but was viewed as weakness” (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments). So it’s not surprising that young Christians in Corinth got into disputes about whose gift was most valuable to the church. The apostle Paul wasn’t writing abstractly about love in this passage. He was telling his converts that, if not exercised in love, no ability had any lasting value.
1 John 4:7-16
As John wrote about how Christians treat one another, he likely thought about himself and Jesus’ other disciples. They jockeyed for position, and got angry with one another at times (cf. Mark 10:35-45). Over time, Jesus re-shaped their thoughts and actions. John knew that loving others with Christ’s love doesn’t spring from a naturally warm human disposition. This kind of active love comes from God, who “has given us a measure of his Spirit” (verse 13).
For many Christians, God’s grace and the salvation it brings produce times of awesome joy and peace. But human emotions are volatile and erratic. At times of pain or doubt, even the strongest, most confident Christ-follower may struggle to feel that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.” That’s why Paul based our ultimate security not in how we feel at any given moment, but in a fact—Jesus valued and loved us so much that he died for us.
The apostle Paul wrote Romans to introduce himself to Christians in Rome, a city he had never visited (cf. Romans 1:10). In today’s reading, he summed up the letter’s first eight chapters, in which he laid out the good news of the gospel as he preached it. For him, God’s love was not abstract or theoretical. He faced all of his life’s challenges with the profound personal certainty that “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We, too, can live each day in that deep, life-giving trust.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
God, thank you for helping us feel the certainty of your steadfast love. Thank you for the loving sacrifice Jesus made for us. Help us to understand that you are love, to know you better so that we might come to love you more. Use us to extend that love to others as we seek to make a difference in our world. Teach us to love others as we love ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Is it easier for men or women to “love others as we love ourselves”? Are men or women more attuned to the plights of others? Is your answer based on how you think men and women feel inside or on how their feelings are outwardly expressed? Or do you believe differences in the ability to love others as we love ourselves are based on factors unrelated to gender?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Leviticus 19:15-18, 33-34. Is it human nature to look out for our own best interests? After that, where do each of us draw the line in caring for the best interests of others—our spouses, our children, the rest of our family, our friends, our co-workers, strangers, our enemies? If we extended our caring beyond whatever is “usual” for us, how would that affect the way we relate to each of these kinds of people? Who are the “neighbors in your life? In what ways are they just like us, even when there are some things that make them seem different?
Read Mark 12:28-34. As a believer, a student of the faith, how much importance would you place upon the passages Jesus quoted as compared to the rest of the Bible—low, medium or high? Why? As Christians, we sometimes tend to locate all the significance of the Bible on the New Testament. Here, as in many cases, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament. What does this say to you about the relevance of the Old Testament? Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves. How would you describe the way you love yourself? Are you ever self-critical? Self-disciplined? Disappointed in yourself? Frustrated with yourself? Angry with yourself? Concerned about your well-being? What light does examining how well or poorly you love yourself cast on the kind of love Jesus was talking about for your neighbor?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:24-13:3. In what kinds of ways did Paul point out that, although we are believers, we are all different from one another? In what key way did he say that we can be alike? How can love for one another unite us? How can love for one another magnify the power and capability of the entire body of “the church”? How can love for one another ensure the continuity of “the church”? Why should we be humble even when we have some or many great gifts and talents to offer to the church? Why should we embrace those whose talents and gifts are very different from ours?
Read 1 John 4:7-16. Where does love come from (where did it originate)? If love comes from God, do we as believers have a duty and responsibility to share God’s love with others? Jesus said he was “the light” and the “living water”—could these be symbols of God’s love? Have you ever thanked God for the love you feel for others? Have you ever thanked God for the love you have felt from others for yourself? Is love a one-way thing? John says God IS love, not just that God loves. What does this convey to you?
Read Romans 5:1-8. Some say that faith is mainly about feelings. Others say faith is rooted in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. What do you think? Verse 3 says we even take pride in our sufferings. What is this saying to you? What kind of a person would you be if you had never suffered? If children are spoiled and overly protected from life’s difficulties, how are they likely to turn out? Does God spoil his children? Does he allow us to come to grips with our own mistakes and their consequences? Does this mean that he doesn’t love us, or does it mean he really does love us?
Read Romans 8:31-39. This is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Rome was the greatest military and political power the world had ever seen. It was as if Paul was saying, “Can Rome, even Rome, separate us from God and his love?” What was the answer to this question? How do you know? (As it turned out, a later Roman emperor, Constantine, was a critical force in the growth of the Christian church.) What could tend to make us feel a separation from God’s love? What spiritual “anchors” help you to stay connected to God’s love and the hope and peace God offers, even when times get difficult?
From last week: As you went through last week, were you alert to chances for you to put yourself in Christ’s hands and counteract evil with your influence as a gentle, loving Christian? If so, share with the group whether you found this to be clear and simple, or terribly unclear and complicated.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Chrostek’s sermon of February 10, 2013:
Three words are generally used for love in scripture: Philia, Eros, and Agape. C.S. Lewis writes a great book describing these different kinds of love, Four Loves. Take a look at it if you’re interested in learning more.
Philia is the first word. Philia is a Greek word for the kind of love we call friendship. Philia means a strong bond between folks with mutual interests or passions. I call this SuperBowl love. It’s love for your friends, co-workers, or commercial watchers….
Eros is altogether different. Eros is perhaps the sense of the word we’re most comfortable with. Eros refers to this idea of ‘being in love’. Eros is different from sexuality, but linked because Eros love is rooted in one’s devotion to another. From this type of love and devotion, romantic love often emerges, thus we get words like erotic. Eros is what we think of when we think husband and wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. Eros is what Valentine’s Day has become about—we buy gifts out of our love and devotion to another.
Yet Eros and Philia to me don’t seem all that extraordinary. These are things we experience frequently. They are ordinary. Which brings us to the third kind of love: Agape.
Agape is different than both philia and eros. It’s best understood as the kind of love that brings forth caring and mercy regardless of circumstance. It’s selfless. It’s sacrificial. It’s rooted in humilty and grace. C. S. Lewis recognizes agape as the greatest of all loves. It’s a love seen most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John 15, we hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Agape is seen most vividly at the cross, when Christ’s heart literally breaks out of love for humanity.
The apostle Paul is describing agape when he speaks of ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13. He writes, “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. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Agape love is beautiful, poetic, memorable—it’s very, very extraordinary. We hear about it at almost every wedding. But it’s not chocolate or hearts or songs…it’s much deeper than that. The common use of this text in weddings has linked it in the minds of many with flowers, kisses and frilly wedding dresses. Richard Hays, the Dean of Duke Divinity School, writes that the first task for any pastor is to rescue Paul’s words from the romantic sentimentality in which popular piety has embedded it. Paul was not writing about love (agape) to talk about marriage. He was writing about the need for agape within the community of faith to transform the world. Paul was instructing the church as to how to build Christian community. The way to do this is through Agape love.
And so he writes to his church, “You can talk in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but if you don’t have love, you’re nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If you have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, or if you have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, you are nothing. If you give away all of your possessions… even if you hand over your body so that you may boast, but do not have love, you gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Building Christian Community, being the church, requires that we live according to agape love. Love is necessary…it’s imperative…it’s the bedrock of living fully a life of faith….
Paul urges his church in 1 Corinthians to be filled with God’s love, to be patient and kind and not arrogant or rude. He reminds us that we are called to be ambassadors of Christ’s perfect love in the world, in this city, in our lofts and neighborhoods. We’re called to build Christian community, love-filled community everywhere we go, and we are called to do this by sharing with others in the same way that Christ shared his life for each of us. Even thinking about this can be scary, but this is what the journey of Lent is for—preparing us, pushing us, leading us, challenging us, to live fully into God’s presence, always looking for opportunities to transform the world by the grace of Jesus Christ. On this Valentine’s Day weekend, be like Christ, love like Christ, and do so without fear. For the next six weeks as we spend time focusing on the gospel of John, allow the love of Christ to meet you where you are most vulnerable, meet others in their moments of greatest needs and get messy.
What is love? Five theories
It’s the most popular search on Google – but what’s the answer? Experts in fields from science to fiction share their thoughts:
The physicist: ‘Love is chemistry’ – Biologically, love is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent. We talk about love being blind or unconditional, in the sense that we have no control over it. But then, that is not so surprising since love is basically chemistry. While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool—a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defense and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.
The psychotherapist: ‘Love has many guises’ – The ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under one word. They had several variations, including: Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle….Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practicing goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding. Agape is a more generalized love. It’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity. Philautia is self-love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself. Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.
The philosopher: ‘Love is a passionate commitment’ – The answer remains elusive in part because love is not one thing. Love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbor, God and so on all have different qualities. Each has its variants—blind, one-sided, tragic, steadfast, fickle, reciprocated, misguided, and unconditional. At its best, however, all love is a kind of passionate commitment that we nurture and develop, even though it usually arrives in our lives unbidden. That’s why it is more than just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment, it is mere infatuation. Without the passion, it is mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.
The romantic novelist: ‘Love drives all great stories’ – What love is depends on where you are in relation to it. Secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air—you exist within it, almost unnoticing. Deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain. Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country. It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way. It is usually at those points that love is everything.
The nun: ‘Love is free yet binds us’ – Love is more easily experienced than defined. As a theological virtue, by which we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves for his sake, it seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another—in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Love’s the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly. The paradox of love is that it is supremely free yet attaches us with bonds stronger than death. It cannot be bought or sold; there is nothing it cannot face; love is life’s greatest blessing.
This week, do you best to live out the admonition to, “love others as you love yourself”. Mentally project yourself into their situations. Be concerned about their well-being, while not ignoring your own. As much as is possible, offer others the support they need. Do this especially for those you have not been especially friendly with. Next week, share with the group how things went.