(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 Requirements of the Lord
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 2:4-15, Revelation 11:15-18, 22:1-5
On Earth Day, we remember that the Bible’s archetypal creation story said God gave humans the task of caring for the good earth he had created. But, even long before the industrial age, humans failed. Revelation said judgment awaits those who “destroy the earth.” God’s work, in which we can join, is to recreate and restore the world to its original beauty.
Psalm 82:1-4, Proverbs 31:8-9
In all human cultures, some people are more powerful than others, and their power (physical, economic or social) gives them a greater ability to affect the actions of others. The natural inclination is for those who have power to use it for their own benefit. But the psalmist and the sages of Hebrew wisdom said God calls on the powerful to speak, not on their own behalf, but on behalf of the powerless and voiceless.
Amos the prophet lived in a time of “conspicuous consumption,” and of conspicuous religious rites, in Israel. Many Israelites believed that on “the day of the Lord,” God would crush their enemies, and make them rulers over all the earth. But Amos saw that their outward religiosity had no effect on how they lived. On God’s behalf, he urged those who profited by exploiting others to change course, to “let justice roll down like waters.”
Isaiah spoke to Israelites who engaged in many religious practices, including fasting, but did so from self-serving motives. They wondered why God didn’t honor their religious feasts and fasts. In impassioned language, Isaiah told them their piety was only skin-deep. They didn’t need showy, external fasts from some kind of food. They needed to “fast” from injustice.
Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24
Jesus was a realist about human nature, and he knew it feels good to us when people praise our good deeds. Sadly, that can mean that even our “generous” acts spring from our need to put on a performance—to make ourselves feel better, or get others to think better of us. But Jesus said that, as his children, we bless others in order to honor God as Lord of our life.
Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Timothy 6:11-19
Jesus said only the principles of his kingdom give us a solid, purposeful foundation for our life. A history of crumbled empires and dramatic falls from power by arrogant rulers shows the accuracy of Jesus’ image about life’s foundations. Paul urged his young protégé Timothy to build his own life and ministry on Jesus’ solid foundation, and to faithfully call others to live by those same principles.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, transform us and free us to truly live in your kingdom where we are fixed on you and on what you want. Reshape us from the inside out and open our hearts to others. Heighten our awareness of the needs of the people around us so that we might act on your behalf and alert us to the needs of the Earth as you intended it. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Are you a supporter of environmental issues? Why or why not? Which environmental issues seem most important to you (water pollution, water conservation, air pollution, destruction of the rain forests, protection of endangered species, etc.)?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
• Read Genesis 2:4-15, Revelation 11:15-18, 22:1-5. Revelation warned about destroying the Earth, God’s good creation. Are you in any way a “nature lover”? At what times do you most feel appreciation for nature? Have you ever seen nature spoiled as a result of human action? As Christians, do we have any special responsibilities with regard to protecting the Earth? God plans to restore the Earth. How can we serve in completing his plan? How could our lifestyles change for the benefit of the Earth?
• Read Psalm 82:1-4, Proverbs 31:8-9. God seeks to bring justice to the world. We often read this as something that will happen in some distant future. How will, or how does, God do this? Can we simply wait for God’s justice to come about? What action does God expect of us? How can we bring about greater justice in the world, or even in our little corner of the world? Do “the powerful” have greater responsibilities to bring about justice than “the weak”? Which are we, the powerful or the weak? Have you “picked your battle(s)”?
• Read Amos 5:14-24. Read aloud the comments under “Wednesday”, above, for some perspective about this reading. God, through Amos, was trying to show Israel the wrongness of their living and thinking. Why did God despise their religious activities? Do you believe any of this could apply to some aspects of Christianity today? Is it possible for us to be Christian in name only? God calls us to stand for justice and righteousness. How do we go about doing that? How does the culture of our world tend to twist us and contaminate us? What can we do to overcome this?
• Read Isaiah 58:1-10. These verses are both a warning from God and a promise. What does God warn against? Who does his warning apply to? What is God’s promise? Who does his promise apply to? Do you believe in this promise? What various forms does oppression in America take today? As Christians, what should our position be toward these situations? How active should we be in combating these situations? If your own attitudes toward the oppressed and the poor are either neutral or cold, rather than warm, would you be willing to try to change?
• Read Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24. Is our desire to receive the approval of others part of the human condition? If so, is there anything that can lift us above that need? How do we overcome what John Ortberg calls “the narcotic of approval”? How do you interpret Jesus’ phrase “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”? How do we do this? If we do this, how are the lives of others affected? How is our life affected?
• Read Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Timothy 6:11-19. Paul was urging Timothy and his flock to avoid the love of money and to embrace the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Today, once again, we face the temptations of the culture of our time. What do we mean by that? Who comprises our culture? Our family, friends, co-workers, government, media, public personalities? How do we go about putting Christ ahead of any negative influences? Can we avoid the love of money while pursuing any form of financial planning? What comprises a healthy attitude toward money?
From last week: Did you wear something gold to remind you to live every hour of every day and treat every person in your life by the Golden Rule? Did this present blessings, but also challenges and quandaries? Can you share with the group some of the rewarding and frustrating experiences as you tried to live a life in Christ?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, April 21, 2013:
Today we turn our attention to the “requirements of the Lord” found in Micah 6:8, one of the most oft quoted texts in the Old Testament: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”…
Micah lived in an agrarian society. At this time wealthy landowners had taken over most of the small farms, leaving the poor growing poorer, no longer farming their own land. Listen to Micah, and God’s, condemnation of the people: “They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away.” (2:2) We read in 6:11-12, “Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths.” In response to the powerful taking advantage of the powerless, to the injustice that was happening in the land Micah, speaking on behalf of God, offered these warnings: “You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you; you shall put away, but not save, and what you save, I will hand over to the sword.”
Micah summarizes the ethical and spiritual requirements of God with three things: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God. In Hebrew the word for justice in Micah 6:8 is MISHPAT. It is a very important word in the Old Testament, appearing 412 times. It is usually translated as “justice.” It means doing what is right, fair and equitable….We see this in passages like Zechariah 7:9-10: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor.”
Zechariah mentions the widow, the orphan, the alien (or immigrant) and the poor—these have been called the Bible’s “quartet of the vulnerable.” They are mentioned often in the Old Testament, and God demanded that people give special concern to ensuring they were afforded justice. Listen to Deuteronomy 10:18-19, where we read that God is the one who “Executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” Proverbs 31:8-9 says: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
It is interesting that today the church spends a great deal of time denouncing sexual sins, but in the prophets of the Bible, there are very few references to sexual sins. The two sins most frequently mentioned were idolatry–that is, the worship of false gods—and oppressing the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. Yet today we seem to devote ourselves to the worship of much that is not God, and we often forget the cause of the poor and vulnerable.
Lest we think this is just an Old Testament concern, I’d remind you that James says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” What did James mean by “unstained by the world?” In the context of the chapter he meant adopting the world’s values.
Doing justice is protecting the rights of the vulnerable. And often this requires acts of great courage….You may not have all the answers, but don’t sit around waiting until you do. Look for those who you are clear are being denied justice, fairness, equity—who are voiceless, powerless and poor—and do something….
Micah says that God requires that we do justice, but also that we love kindness. The Hebrew word for kindness is HESED. It is sometimes translated as “steadfast love” or “mercy.” Old Testament Professor John Oswalt defined hesed in this way: “The word speaks of a completely undeserved kindness and generosity done by a person who is in a position of power.”
This is meant to be a part of the daily rhythm of our lives. We are meant to look around, to pay attention, and to stop to help the one in need. We’re meant to invest in the communities around us and by our deeds, to bless and lift others up….
The last part of the three-fold requirement Micah outlines is to “walk humbly with your God.” The emphasis is on walking with God, and doing so with humility. Too often I feel like I’m asking God to walk with me, to go with me as I do what I want to do. But Micah calls us to walk with God where God wants to go. This is to walk beside God. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels Jesus doesn’t call people mere to believe in him, but his direct invitation and challenge was, “Come and follow me.”
I just started reading Jim Wallis’ new book, On God’s Side. He begins with these words: “Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion—from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for another…Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, it’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships.” I want to walk with God. I want to humbly follow him. And when I walk with him, he leads me beside the still water and restores my soul.
What Is Treasure in Heaven?
In Jesus time, the Jews he was speaking to would have been very familiar with the terms “earthly treasure” and “heavenly treasure”. It was common for their vernacular. In fact, the Jews defined storing up treasure in heaven as deeds of mercy and deeds of kindness to people in distress.
Jesus, in Luke 12:33-34, gives us an idea of treasure in heaven when he says: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
We see here that Jesus equates selling possessions and giving to the needy as treasure in heaven. If I were to define it myself, treasure in heaven would simply be living life with open hearts and open hands.
Open hearts means we have a heart that God has – one for the poor, the weak the disenfranchised and the marginalized.
Open hands means that we live life with a loose grip mentality so that our earthly goods are not used for our own contentment, but rather are used to have an impact on those who are less fortunate for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself said he had come to “Proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18. We store up treasure in heaven by seeking the Kingdom of God through helping others, which demonstrates the greatest of all sacrifices that God made for us!
So how should we respond to this?
Repent From Earthly Treasure
We always need to start here any time we see that we’ve been living for something else besides Christ himself. Turn from earthly treasure and turn to God and worship Him.
Replace Earthly Treasure
Earthly treasure (and our love for it) must be replaced by a deeper love for Jesus. There is only one way to deal with this issue correctly and that is a reorientation back to the greatness of the gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9
Rearrange Our Priorities
Instead of living for six digits, job status, houses, cars, TV’s, vacations, comfort or security – we should be living for the next level of giving, of helping the poor and of using our money for the sake of the gospel!!
In other words, our priorities should be set on simplification for the Kingdom of God, not accumulation for our own earthly kingdom!
Here are some practical ways to rearrange priorities and start living for heavenly treasure:
Build generosity into your budget – start budgeting for giving and start looking to give to others and those in need.
Give time and money to local shelters – The Boys and Girls clubs are in desperate need of volunteers to come and spend time with disadvantaged youth. That’s one out of hundreds of organizations that need help.
Have a garage sale or sell junk on eBay – and give the proceeds away to a hurting family!
Adopt an orphan or become a foster parent – there are so many kids that need good structure and parents who love them.
Teach financial skills to those who need help
Think twice – Instead of accepting a promotion based on money think about whether your job will allow you to invest into others
This week, think about how your own “love of money” might be clouding your judgment. Make a list of these attitudes and situations. Ask yourself what you can do to combat your own attitudes and then act on them. Next week, share with the group any surprises you discovered in this process.