(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)
Preaching and Pursuing Grace
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.
John 16:1-4, Matthew 5:10-12
When John Wesley went to Epworth, his hometown, he drily noted that the curate “did not care to accept of my assistance.” Then, he wrote, “After sermon John Taylor stood in the churchyard and gave notice as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock’…at six I came and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before. I stood…upon my father’s tombstone, and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’ [Rom. 14:17].”
2 Corinthians 5:11-15
John Wesley concluded, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that Christ “died for the sake of all,” not just for “the elect.” His faith that God’s all-inclusive love and grace gives us the freedom to choose our eternal fate was not a mere theological technicality, but the basis for his powerful, urgent preaching of salvation. That belief in God’s free grace and our moral freedom (called “Arminian,” after a Dutch preacher, Jacobus Arminius) became a defining part of Methodism.
It was ironic that his critics called Wesley an unruly agitator. He did reach people in atypical ways that shocked some staid British clergymen, but he was in fact a very disciplined man. It’s no surprise to find that, in the same spirit as the writer of Psalm 119, he wrote in his journal, “About fifty of us being met, the Rules of the Society were read over and carefully considered one by one; but we did not find any that could be spared. So we all agreed to abide by them all and to recommend them with our might.”
After visiting a Methodist “band” (i.e. small group) of coal miners, John Wesley described their commitment in his journal: “No person ever misses his band or class; they have no jar of any kind among them but with one heart and one mind ‘provoke one another to love and to good works.’” This group of plain working people, Wesley said, could be “a pattern” for all Methodists. Love leads to commitment and obedience, as Jesus said in today’s passage. Jesus’ love for God the Father led him to commit, obey, and share God’s love with others, and he calls us to that same kind of commitment, obedience, and love.
Charles Wesley was the family’s hymn writer—probably the most prolific ever, with over 6,000 hymns to his name. John cared about worship music, too, and published “Directions for Singing” for the use of his Methodist societies. Like the Psalms, they urged everyone to join in singing praises to God.
Wesley’s “Directions for Singing” included some specific musical tips that may make us smile (or applaud). “Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength,” he advised. He followed with a caution: “Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation…but strive to unite your voices together.” “Sing in time,” he urged, and in particular “take care not to sing too slow.” But the most important idea came last: “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, send us into every week filled with your Spirit of love, joy, purpose and life. We praise you today and sing to your glory. We offer our lives to you and pray that our lives might please you and bring you honor. Help us to be mindful of your rules obedient in our love, and always grateful for your grace which keeps us steadfast in your mission. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
We think it’s wonderful that God is so gracious. In your experience of work, school, home, neighborhood or other familiar settings, how gracious are we to one another? If there’s a difference, what makes us like God’s grace more than we like being gracious?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 16:1-4, Matthew 5:10-12. In what ways, if any, have you ever heard, felt or sensed the derision of others as a result of your faith and commitment to Christ? How did you handle it? Despite their derision, do you think that the evidence of your faith might have had some positive effect upon them? Could their negative response be, not to your faith, but to the way you expressed it? How could we adjust, alter or reinvent our ways of expressing our faith to make it more appealing and acceptable to others? Are you open to such adjustments?
Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-15. As Pastor Hamilton explained in this week’s sermon, some believe that only those who are “predestined” by God can be saved by Christ, yet in this passage Paul said Christ “died for the sake of all,” not just for “the elect.” What do you believe? Does everyone have the same free choice to accept or reject Christ’s salvation? Does Christ welcome everyone to the faith? Which is more important—having the “right” answers to complex issues of the faith or our love for one another? If we disagree about unclear issues of the faith, how can we still love one another?
Read Psalm 119:1-16. How “in touch” are most Christians with God’s basic rules? Do you get a sense that the psalmist was trying to earn God’s love through obedience (legalism), or that the psalm expresses a love response to God’s love? Why does the Psalmist believe we are happier when we strive to follow God’s rules? Why would we “rejoice in the content of (God’s) laws as if (we) were rejoicing over great wealth”? How can we not forget these rules, keeping them in a prominent place during our daily lives? How would social and international relations be changed if everyone sought to live the kind of life the psalmist described? How would your personal life and work be different?
Read John 15:9-17. How do you understand Christ’s commandment to “love each other just as I have loved you”? Do you believe Jesus wanted us to place the well-being of others ahead of your own? In what kinds of situations might that be the case? Is that self-destructive? In verse 16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you…” Do you think this means we had no choice, or does it refer to what John Wesley called “prevenient grace”—God’s grace drawing us before we even knew God? How does love for another person lead to commitment? Do you find that obedience comes more readily for you if it means pleasing someone you love, or is it still difficult?
Read Psalm 149:1-5. What might it mean for us today to “celebrate (our) maker”? How do we “praise God’s name” or “sing God’s praise”? Do you tend to sing out loud in worship services, or are you reluctant to sing? Do you believe how “good” your voice is should determine if you sing? Are there other ways for us to express our love and praise of God?
Read Ephesians 5:15-21. Paul called his days “evil times.” Was that specifically true of his times, or is it a general description of this broken world? Why do you think so? Do you agree with Paul when he said, “Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity”? In what ways did Paul suggest that being filled with the Spirit was a more satisfying experience? Have you found that to be so? In the spirit of today’s verses, how can we better prepare ourselves before we enter worship services every weekend?
From last week: Did you prayerfully consider whether you have fully accepted God’s acceptance of you? Did you ask yourself if God is calling you to do anything more or different as his ambassador? Did you recommit yourself to your faith and God’s work and seek opportunities to take part in that work? Please share with the group anything significant you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 8, 2013:
Today’s scripture reading, Ephesians 2:8-9, was the source of no less than 40 of Wesley’s sermons, so important was this message that salvation was not earned, but was a free gift of God. Listen again: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works so that no one may boast.” This is a text every Christian should memorize. It is a reminder of a central gospel truth: God is a god of grace, and salvation is a result of God’s grace….
There are two senses of the word grace in Paul’s use of the term that are important for you to know, that were critical in Wesley’s teaching and theology. The first is grace as a quality of God’s character whereby he loves, blesses and is willing to forgive humanity despite our sin. It is this attribute of God’s character that leads God to take the initiative to send Jesus, who he knows will die, in order to redeem and to save the human race.
This is really important, for some picture God as an angry judge, a judgmental father, someone we can never please no matter how hard we try. And unfortunately that picture can be found in parts of the Bible. But Jesus painted a very different picture of God. God is a shepherd who searches for lost sheep. He is a father who runs to meet his prodigal children, he is a Savior who is friend of drunkards, prostitutes and every other kind of sinner.
There is a second sense in which the word is used, particularly in Paul’s letters, and that is grace as an active influence of God in our lives—a force working on us and in us to draw us to God, to put us right, and to restore us into what he made us to be. The agent of this grace is the Holy Spirit….
Wesley often spoke of three forms this grace takes. The first is PREVENIENT GRACE, God’s work in us before we even know to reach out to him. It is this work of God in our lives that enables us to respond to God’s gift of salvation. Infant baptism is a picture of this—that God is working in the lives of infants even before they know to reach out to him.
When we finally say “yes” to God and trust in Christ we experience JUSTIFYING GRACE. This grace is both God’s declaration that we are delivered from sin and death, and also the power of God working in our hearts to change us. Jesus spoke of being “born again of water and the Spirit.” It is the Spirit’s work to make us new. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
We aren’t made perfect when we are justified. I like the imagery of being born anew—being born is just the beginning! Then you’ve got to grow up. That process of perfecting you, of restoring you, is called sanctification. Wesley spoke of God’s SANCTIFYING GRACE as the means of the restoration. It is the Holy Spirit, working in you and through others, that begins to chip away at the old paint and rust, frees up the frozen cylinders, and begins to perfect you.
Wesley was committed to offer the grace of God to the coal miners, the merchants, the farmers to Christ and all other non-religious and nominally religious people. This leads to another point about grace, a point that was the center of one of the great theological divisions of the time, which still lingers to our own.
Those who followed John Calvin, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, believed, based largely upon certain passages in Paul, in predestination. They believed that God had foreordained that some would be the Elect, predestined for heaven. But all others were predestined for hell. This is sometimes called “double predestination.” Calvin’s followers said Christ died only for the “Elect.” The damned could not accept salvation, and the Elect could not resist it. God’s choice was sealed before anyone was born.
Wesley found this to be a repulsive idea and completely inconsistent with God’s nature. He believed that God’s prevenient grace was at work in all people, thus making it possible for all human beings to choose to accept Christ, or reject him. He believed and taught that God wanted all people to be saved. He believed that Christ died for all people and that his atoning work was unlimited. How could God be said to be a God of grace and love, much less justice, and yet create most of humanity for the sole purpose of sending them to be eternally tormented in hell with no opportunity to even respond to his grace?!!!
Calvinists were preaching the gospel hoping the Elect would respond. Wesley was preaching the gospel hoping everyone would respond. The impulse that drove Wesley to preach to the coal miners in Kingswood was his belief that God loves sinners, and longs for non-religious and nominally religious people to come to faith.
What others have said about disciplined living
• God will not make you do something you don’t want to do – He will just make you wish you had. – Wayman Mitchell
• Today, we are overboard on ‘belief’ but bankrupt on obedience. – unknown
• The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in men becoming like Him. – Harry Emerson Fosdick
• Music is a discipline, and a mistress of order and good manners, she makes the people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable. – Martin Luther
• The reason that most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first. – Robert J. McKain
• Obedience will yield for us a great peace. – Hank Houghton
• The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. The morning prayer determines the day. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
• The humblest occupation has in it materials of discipline for the highest heaven. – Frederick W. Robertson
• No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. – Harry Emerson Fosdick
• It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action and discipline that enabled us to follow through. – Zig Ziglar
• If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled. – Martin Luther
• The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
• Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work. – Peter Marshall
• We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician’s instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not “disciplined”? – A.W. Tozer – Source: Christianity Today, November 20, 1987.
• Discipline, for the Christian, begins with the body. We have only one. It is this body that is the primary material given to us for sacrifice. We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves. – Elisabeth Elliot
• No voluntary act of spiritual discipline is ever to become an occasion for self-promotion. Otherwise, any value to the act is utterly vitiated.- D.A. Carson
This week, reflect on John Wesley preaching in a region called Kingswood. It was a coal mining area in Wesley’s day. The coal miners, called colliers, were folks who worked hard and died young. Their children were often poor and undeducated. The miners were a rough group, and, at this time, there wasn’t a single church in the area of the mines where they lived. Where, in Kansas City or the larger world, are there regions today that might be the equivalent of Kingswood? In what ways, direct or indirect, can you be involved in Wesley’s work of sharing God’s grace with the colliers? Is God calling you in any way to get more involved in sharing “beyond the walls” of the church? Next week, share with the group any ideas or learnings you have in this reflection.