(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 Most Important Commandment of All
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.
Psalm 100 is called “A Psalm of Thanksgiving.” The psalm’s five short verses are rich with praise-filled language and images that celebrate God. Although we sometimes say, with sorrow or resignation, “Nothing lasts forever,” the psalmist didn’t see life that way. He was confident that one vitally important truth is eternally durable: “The Lord is good, his loyal love lasts forever.”
Ephesians 5:18-21, Isaiah 12:1-5
In the ancient world, as today, some people tried to numb themselves against life’s pains with alcohol (as well, of course, as other escape mechanisms). To Christians in the city of Ephesus, Paul wrote that psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and always giving thanks to God were a better way. He no doubt had praise songs like the one in Isaiah 12 in mind.
It’s easy to read a passage like today’s and think, “What lovely, uplifting devotional words.” But remember: the apostle Paul was not writing abstract devotional thoughts. He and the early Christians lived in a world as cruel and unsettling as ours, and one that often turned its hatred and scorn particularly on them. His counsel about peace, praise and gratitude was a survival manual for a spiritual combat zone, not just a set of nice, uplifting pleasantries.
2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18; John 16:31-33
Jesus saw beyond this world. He taught about “the Kingdom of heaven,” not as a vivid way of imaging some spiritual values, but as the defining reality he lived in (cf. Matthew 5:1-16, John 18:33-36, 19:7-11). When facing death on a cross the next day, he said, “I have conquered the world.” It’s little wonder that his follower Paul wrote, “We don’t focus on the things that can be seen…the things that can’t be seen are eternal.”
The apostle Paul’s statement that God’s peace “exceeds all understanding” may make more sense when we remember that he sent this letter from a dank, dreary Roman prison cell (cf. Philippians 1:12-14). Even in those conditions, he had that peace. He shared three of the keys he’d found for God’s peace: to give worries to God in prayer, focus on the good in life and practice contentment.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Matthew 22:34-40
The vital habit, the central key, to living a good life is to trust in, love and serve God. Ancient Israel believed this truth—Deuteronomy 6:7 ensured its continuity with the words “Recite [these words] to your children.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that Jesus, asked what is the greatest commandment, quoted that same simply life-changing call: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind!”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Dear God, we choose to become fully committed citizens of your kingdom, children and servants in your household. We choose to open our hearts to your comforting embrace, shedding our sorrows and worries. We choose to walk with you always and at all times; we choose to worship you in all circumstances, being content with our lives. Fill us, Lord, with your Holy Spirit. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do we as Americans tend to be more thankful for what we have, or are we always demanding more? When things go badly for us, do we tend to look for what we can do better, or feel as though “someone” has cheated us out of what we really deserve?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Psalm 100:1-5. What, in life, lasts forever? What did the psalmist say lasts forever? How might thinking as the psalmist did affect the life of a Christian? When life is going extremely well, what should we remember? Should we “thank our lucky stars”? Should we be proud of our talents and skills for getting us there? Should we be humbly grateful to God? When things are going badly for us, how can this “Psalm of Thanksgiving” help us?
Read Ephesians 5:18-21, Isaiah 12:1-5. Have you ever realized that we often, even as practicing Christians, allow our lives to operate on a kind of auto-pilot, often without even thinking of God? Do you think this is a common experience for most of us? Why are we often so “unconscious”? What can we do to wake ourselves up and praise our creator, thanking him for our many blessings? What can we do to allow him to be a more active participant in the conduct of our lives? Instead of doing things that numb us, what can we do that will heighten our awareness of God?
Read Colossians 3:15-17. Verse 17 begins, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” How often do we do this? Would our lives be different if we all really focused on and followed this verse? Would the lives of others be different as a result of our commitment to this verse? Verse 17 continues with, “…giving thanks to God the Father through him.” On a scale of one to ten, how good (would you guess) are most Christians at thanking God for their daily blessings? How good are you at it? Why don’t we do this more often? In human interactions, have you seen some people who always express gratitude for a gift or kind deed, and others who hardly ever do? What can you learn from those observations about how we relate to God?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18; John 16:31-33. In as few words as possible, how would you summarize the message of these verses? How could Paul say that the troubles of this life are temporary? Do you think this way when you are facing your own difficulties? How do we focus on things that are unseen? Does “spiritual discipline” help you with this? How? Have you ever felt like you have had a glimpse of God’s kingdom? When and how? Do you think God did this for you? Why?
Read Philippians 4:4-12. What do you think Paul meant when he said in verse 12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”? Why did he call it a secret? How would you describe “the peace of God”? Re-read verse 8. Is this naïve, “looking at life through rose-colored glasses”? Is this similar to the “glass half full or half empty” question? How do you see life? Do you “turn your troubles over to God”? Does this help?
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Matthew 22:34-40. From your experience, what moves us beyond being thankful to God to becoming people who love God with all our hearts? Are the same factors involved for everyone? Does this go beyond sentiment, and require our commitment and devotion? Do you think some people feel that such dedication to God somehow diminishes their own worth? Is this kind of pride right or wrong?
From last week: Did you identify a different person (or group) each day to whom you could offer some small measure of unexpected generosity? Did you pray that you would do this in Christ’s name and that he, rather than you, be glorified? Did you accept their thanks, if offered, with humility? What was your experience in doing this?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 19, 2013:
Today we focus on what both Moses and Jesus considered the single greatest commandment in the Bible: the command to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. The great commandment appears as a part of what Jews call the SHEMA YISRAEL. This is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The first two verses of the Shema are pivotal. It begins, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” Or it is sometimes translated, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This affirmation that Yahweh alone is God is followed then by verse 5 in which we find the Great Command. It is the appropriate response to the One who created all things and gives life to everything. We read, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”…
The foundational affirmation of the Great Commandment and the Shema is that God exists. The Bible starts with this central affirmation, “In the beginning, God…” But there are a number of people who challenge this assertion today. So I want to offer some of the reasons I believe in God. You likely have your own reasons as well. But here are a few of mine:
[NOTE: we do not have space to include Pastor Hamilton’s explanation of each point. If you did not hear the sermon, or want to hear it again, please listen to it at http://www.cor.org/sermon.%5D
1. The Beauty, Order, Natural Laws and Majesty of Creation points towards God.
2. I Believe in God Because of the Witness of Others
3. Jesus Miracles, His Death and Resurrection
4. The Impact Faith in God has on People’s Lives
5. God Answers “The Questions Implied in Our Existence”
6. My Own Experience of God….
That finally leads me to the question of how we respond to the belief that there is a God as the Shema proclaims. The Great Commandment summarizes our response: We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. By the New Testament period mind was added to the list, which was a part of the heart and soul in Jewish thought.
This is what we were made for. We find ourselves most fully human when we are seeking to love God with all that we are—our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is meant to be a daily part of our lives. Here we could learn from faithful Jews who remember their mission by reciting these words first thing in the morning, and the last thing before they go to bed, who hang these words on their doorpost and touch them when they go out and come in, and who would seek to recite them as the last words on their lips before they die. Even more important than reciting the words, is living them.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said this is what the Christian life is meant to look like: By the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we’re meant to grow in love for God and neighbor day by day.
In the Hebrew of Deuternomy the word for love is AHEV which included a deep loving affection as well as the way you treat someone you love deeply. In the New Testament the Greek word for love when Jesus is quoted in the gospels is AGAPE which focuses not on feelings, but on doing—on living sacrificially, practicing acts to bless the other. Both are important. We’re meant to grow in our feelings and relationship with God. How do we do that? The way we grow in any relationship. I grow in my relationship with LaVon by telling her I love her, by talking with her and listening to her, by putting her first, by acts of kindness and sacrifice, and by telling her I’m sorry when I hurt her. It is by thinking of what she wants, seeking to bless her and lift her up.
This is meant to be the daily rhythm of our lives with God. We don’t just believe in God, we actually seek to love him with our heart, soul, mind and strength….The greatest commandment, the one in which you find joy and meaning and life, is simply this: “The Lord is Your God, so Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Do this and you will have found life.
What is the Doxology?
A doxology (from the Greek δόξα [doxa] “glory” + -λογία [-logia], “saying”) is a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns. The tradition derives from a similar practice in the Jewish synagogue, where some version of the Kaddish serves to terminate each section of the service. The dictionary defines doxology as “an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service.”
Doxologies are found frequently in the Old Testament. Sometimes a doxology may begin with the term, “Blessed.” For example, Abraham’s servant, upon finding Rebekah (who would become Isaac’s wife), “bowed his head, and worshipped Jehovah.” He said, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:26-27; cf. Exodus 18:10; 1 Chronicles 16:36). B.F. Westcott catalogued sixteen doxologies in the New Testament.
The Gloria Patri, so named for its first two words in Latin, is commonly used as a doxology by Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Independent Catholics, Orthodox and many Protestants including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Reformed Baptists. It is called the “Lesser Doxology,” thus distinguished from the “Great Doxology,” Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and is often called simply “the Doxology.” The Latin text of the Lesser Doxology is “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.” Literally translated, it means “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” As well as praising God, this doxology is also a short declaration of faith in the co-equality of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Another commonly heard doxology is “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” which was written in 1674 by Thomas Ken, a priest in the Church of England as the final verse of two hymns, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” and “Glory to thee, my God, this night,” intended for morning and evening worship at Winchester College. This final verse, separated from its proper hymns and sung to the tune “Old 100th”, “Duke Street”, “Lasst uns erfreuen”, “The Eighth Tune” by Thomas Tallis, among others, frequently marks the dedication of alms or offerings at Sunday worship. It is commonly referred to simply as The Doxology or The Common Doxology. The familiar words are “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Another familiar doxology is the one often added at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.” This is found in manuscripts representative of the Byzantine text of Matthew 6:13, but not in the most ancient manuscripts. Most scholars do not consider it part of the original text of Matthew, and modern translations do not include it, mentioning it only in footnotes.
Although the word doxology is not found in the Bible, the themes expressed in doxologies are certainly scriptural. Praising God for His blessings (Ephesians 1:3), ascribing to Him all glory (Romans 11:36; Ephesians 3:21), and affirming the Trinity (Matthew 28:19) have often been integral parts of Christian worship.
This week, begin each day with a prayer that starts with a few words of praise to God, and is followed by giving thanks for your many blessings. Seek contentment throughout your days, regardless of the circumstances. Next week, share with the group any ways in which your days seemed better to you.