(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)
Sanctification: Perfected in Love
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 Wesley, following the teaching of Jesus, said, “Christianity is essentially a social religion.” Jesus did not retreat and live on an isolated island, and he does not call Christians to vacate their cultures for an exclusively Christian environment. God’s followers are to be “salt and light” in the world. God empowers us to “preserve” what is good and live lives that shine light into the darkness of our world.
Paul, as passionate a preacher of God’s saving grace as ever lived, wrote that when we accept that grace, we live as people “created in Christ Jesus to do good things.” To people who argued that grace made Christian actions unnecessary, Wesley said, “Surely there are works of mercy…which are real means of grace. They are more especially such to those that perform them with a single eye. And those that neglect them, do not receive the grace which otherwise they might.”
1 John 3:14-18
The apostle John said no one filled with God’s love could see a brother or sister in need and not try to help. John Wesley wrote of a time when he lived this out: “At Hannam, four miles from Bristol….I made a collection in our congregation for the relief of the poor, [outside] Lawford’s gate; who, having no work…and no assistance from the parish wherein they lived, were reduced to the last extremity. I made another collection on Thursday and a third on Sunday, by which we were enabled to feed a hundred, sometimes a hundred and fifty, a day, of those whom we found to need it most.”
Isaiah 1:11-18, 42:1-7
The prophet Isaiah pointed out, on God’s behalf, the injustices rampant in ancient Israel. Then, three times in four verses, Isaiah 42 said God’s servant would bring justice. John Wesley visited one “poor prisoner,” falsely charged with a large offense instead of the petty crime he’d committed. He wrote indignantly, “2) Where is the justice of swelling four pounds into five hundred and seventy-seven? 3) Where is the common sense of taking up fourteen sheets to tell a story that may be told in ten lines? 4) Where is the mercy of thus grinding the face of the poor? thus sucking the blood of a poor, beggared prisoner?”
Wesley had learned firsthand the folly of trying to earn God’s favor through good works. But he found, as James had, that some other Christians thought “salvation by faith” meant good works are optional. In his sermon “The Mystery of Iniquity,” he said, “When St. James wrote his Epistle….that grand pest of Christianity, a faith without works, was spread far and wide; filling the Church with a ‘wisdom from beneath,’ which was ‘earthly, sensual, devilish.’” Like James, Wesley knew that true faith produces actions that honor God and bless others.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that John Wesley and his followers made a big impact for good, first in Britain and then in America. Studying Wesley’s life reminds us that it didn’t happen with one big sermon or campaign. Many, many (often small) acts of grace and caring in the end changed the world. In his sermon “The Reward of the Righteous,” Wesley urged his hearers, “While you are promoting this comprehensive charity, which contains feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, lodging the stranger; indeed all good works in one; let those animating words be written on your hearts, and sounding in your ears: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto ME.’”
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
O God, keep our eyes and hearts open to see your face in the faces of hurting people around us who need to feel your touch through us. Continue your work in our lives, that we may always bring you glory. Help us to embrace true justice and nurture a giving heart so that we might be your shining lights of love in the world. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do you think that God primarily sees our world as occupied by a group of nations with political and geographic boundaries, by a collection of ethnic groups, by one gigantic human race, or by billions of individuals? What leads you to believe that?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Matthew 5:13-16. Who was speaking in these verses, and to whom? In what ways are some people the “salt and light” of the world? How well are the Christians today fulfilling this mission? Jesus’ imagery clearly pointed to a darkness and blandness in the world. What was he referring to? Are some Christians “good for nothing,” like flavorless salt? How can we avoid becoming flavorless, or hiding our light under a basket?
Read Ephesians 2:4-10. How does the thought that we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good things” spark your imagination? What are one or two “sorts” of goodness you didn’t used to practice, but now do as a follower of Christ? What is your life’s purpose? Does your answer change if the question is what is your life’s purpose as a Christian? Is our life and the way we live it steered by our conscious thoughts, or by some inner, unheard voice? What value might lie in spending some time thinking intentionally about your purpose (or rather, God’s purpose for you) in life?
Read 1 John 3:14-18. How do you react to the apostle John saying that those who didn’t help people in need were “murderers”? What is “compassion fatigue” and how do we avoid it? Are you, as an individual, expected to cure the plight of the needy? If not then, what would John say Christ does expect of you as his follower? How can a ‘drop in the bucket” be turned into a clear, running stream? (Note: To help with clean water, visit iThirst.org, founded by Resurrection member Grant Arends.)
Read Isaiah 1:11-18, 42:1-7. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). Do you think those were just symbolic words about spiritual captivity, or did Jesus, like Wesley, want to help actual “poor, beggared prisoners”? What are some practical ways you, as an individual and as a group, can live out God’s concern for justice today? Is service to others a function of your group? What might be some of the “strategic directions” of your group’s service?
Read James 2:14-26. Is it necessary that we “do something” as an expression of our faith? Is it true that “faith without works is dead”? Has anyone in your life served as an example for you of performing good works in service to God and others? Is it necessary for others to witness our good works? What risks are there if we perform good works so that others will proclaim our strong faith? What should trigger our good works? What good works are you doing now that you might not have done without your faith in Christ, and your gratitude for God’s love toward you?
Read Matthew 25:31-46. In these verses, Jesus spoke of what we broadly call “the last judgment.” Does the idea of judgment make you nervous and frightened, pleased that God will finally set everything that is wrong right, or just confused? What did Jesus say would be the basis for judgment? Do you think he meant that acts of service to “the least of these” earn God’s love, or that they express our response to the love God has already showed us? What are the main ways you are involved in honoring God by serving others?
From last week: Did you reflect upon the poor coal miners of Wesley’s time and similar people today? Did you consider in what ways, direct or indirect, you could be involved in Wesley’s work of sharing God’s grace with areas with no schools or churches? Did you consider whether God was calling you in any way to get more involved in sharing “beyond the walls” of the church? This week, share with the group any ideas or learnings you had in this reflection.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 15, 2013:
Wesley’s faith and that of the early Methodists differed in some ways from modern evangelical Christianity. Often in modern evangelicalism the goal and the gauge of the Christian life is to have a deep and profound “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That is the chief end of the Christian life.
Wesley called people to a deeply personal faith in Christ, to accept God’s love them, and to reciprocate God’s love. He taught and preached that we must trust in Christ for our salvation and be born anew. But Wesley was also clear that this was not the end of faith, but only its beginning and foundation. Wesley taught that growing in Christ, moving to sanctification, also involved loving our neighbor as we love ourselves….
Many evangelical Christians today have only half a gospel, as do many mainline Christians. I came to faith in a wonderful congregation but one where I never remember hearing a word about justice, or serving alongside the poor, or working to meet the needs of those outside the church, or seeking to make the community more like the Kingdom of God. Our mission was to bring people to Jesus and to be more personally pious–“don’t smoke, drink or chew or hang around with those who do”….
Rich Stearns, the head of World Vision and an evangelical, wrote a terrific book, a critique of modern evangelicalism, called The Hole In Our Gospel. One of the quotes I love from it says, “We must move beyond an anemic view of our faith as something only personal and private, with no public dimension, and instead see it as the source of power that can change the world.”
But I’ve also known mainline churches that never emphasized or taught the need for a personal conversion, for trusting in Christ or a personal relationship with him. One key to the revival Wesley and the early Methodists led was that they held both sides of the gospel together. They preached a personal faith, a desire for holiness of heart, and the pursuit of spiritual disciplines by which God’s Spirit would restore the image of God in us. But they also believed that if God were restoring us into his image then he would be restoring us to be more loving to our neighbors, giving us a heart of compassion, charity and mercy so that we would look at the world and see the brokenness, hurts and needs, and we would seek to address these needs as God’s instruments. This dual emphasis on both sides of the gospel is very, very important to understanding Methodism. While it is not unique to Wesley and the Methodists, it is a defining mark of the Methodist revival. This two sided gospel is just basic biblical Christianity….
Wesley ultimately developed what became known as the General Rules of the Methodist people–three simple rules that were meant to be memorized and to remind Methodists of a pattern of life that would help us love God and neighbor. The rules can be summarized as: 1) Do what helps you grow in love for God. 2) Do no harm and avoid evil. 3) Do all the good you can. Avoid evil, do all the good you can as often as you can to everyone that you can, and pursue spiritual practices or means of grace that help us grow in love with God–prayer, scripture reading, public worship, meeting in small groups, receiving the Eucharist, talking about your faith with others, serving others. This was what it meant to be Methodist–trusting in Christ, then consciously, daily, seeking to live for God by Avoiding Evil, Doing Good, and Pursuing the Spiritual Disciplines. Are you a Methodist?…
Which is why one of the requirements for membership, if you choose to join as 150 people did here at Leawood last weekend, is that you serve somewhere outside the walls of the church every year to help our community look more like the kingdom of God…We have so many opportunities to serve, not just on mission teams, but in Silver Link with Senior Adults and a host of others. In addition, we ask you to go on a mission trip once every five years. Next year I’m going to Africa. Where are you going? This is what it means to be real Christians and it is part of the goal of the Christian life–that you might be restored to the image of God, and used by him. In each of our partner churches, and in each of our campuses, and in every one of our services, we’re all called to help heal the world. What role will you play? What calling will you fulfill?…
Salvation is about God saving us from ourselves, from complacency, and heartlessness, and self-centeredness. He is saving us not simply for heaven, but to be his instruments here on earth. He created us to love him, but also to love one another.
From “The Character of a Methodist,” by John Wesley
1. THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist.
2. Neither are words or phrases of any sort. We do not place our religion, or any part of it, in being attached to any peculiar mode of speaking, any quaint or uncommon set of expressions. The most obvious, easy, common words, wherein our meaning can be conveyed, we prefer before others, both on ordinary occasions, and when we speak of the things of God. We never, therefore, willingly or designedly, deviate from the most usual way of speaking; unless when we express scripture truths in scripture words, which, we presume, no Christian will condemn. Neither do we affect to use any particular expressions of Scripture more frequently than others, unless they are such as are more frequently used by the inspired writers themselves. So that it is as gross an error, to place the marks of a Methodist in his words, as in opinions of any sort.
3. Nor do we desire to be distinguished by actions, customs, or usages, of an indifferent nature. Our religion does not lie in doing what God has not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden. It does not lie in the form of our apparel, in the posture of our body, or the covering of our heads; nor yet in abstaining from marriage, or from meats and drinks, which are all good if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, neither will any man, who knows whereof he affirms, fix the mark of a Methodist here, — in any actions or customs purely indifferent, undetermined by the word of God.
4. Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, “Yes, he is; for he thinks ‘we are saved by faith alone:'” I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it? Is this placing a part of religion for the whole? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.” We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God. No, not in all of them together; wherein we know by experience a man may labour many years, and at the end have no religion at all, no more than he had at the beginning. Much less in any one of these; or, it may be, in a scrap of one of them: Like her who fancies herself a virtuous woman, only because she is not a prostitute; or him who dreams he is an honest man, merely because he does not rob or steal. May the Lord God of my fathers preserve me from such a poor, starved religion as this! Were this the mark of a Methodist, I would sooner choose to be a sincere Jew, Turk, or Pagan.
5. “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”
(Mr. Wesley went on for another 13 paragraphs adding detail about Methodists attitudes and actions. The entire text is at http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/The-Character-of-a-Methodist)
This week, consider making your service more “comprehensive” by serving in one way you never have before. If you need ideas, you’ll find many at http://www.cor.org/missions. Start by asking yourself what you already are doing, then prayerfully seek insight into other things you might also do. Try at least one new activity. Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered.