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The First Rule Of Bible Club

Bible study is on again this morning.
What makes this cartoon more ironically humourous is that I don’t think any of them would know where this pop-culture reference comes from.
But you never know…

From The New Yorker.

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A Profound Theological Blunder (via Theology In Verse)

From M. Justin Wainscott’s blog, Theology In Verse:

The following was said by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1972. In 2010, this profound theological blunder has become the preferred method of much of American evangelicalism.

Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him….And the world always expects us to be different. This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.

–Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

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Romans 13:1-7 – Friday Bible Study

God’s Authorities and God’s People

Read Romans 13: 1-7.

Those who receive God’s mercy respond by devoting their whole lives to Him. This devotion is practically expressed in our relationships with other Christians and with those who are not Christians. Here we see how Christians live under the rule of those who may not share our beliefs.

• What sorts of governing authorities do you think Paul had in mind? (Verse 1) What sort of government would Paul have had not expectation of?
• How does verse 1 help us cross the historic divide between the experiences of the early Christians and our present situation?
• Why do you think Paul finds it necessary to stress that all authorities are instituted by God? (Verse 1)
• What is the purpose for which rulers are installed? (Verses 3-4)
• Paul is not advocating the benefit of one type of rule against another here. What do governments bring to society?
• When should we be in fear of our rulers? (Verse 4)
• The moral quality of ancient rulers is no worse than that of modern ones. What are we actually called to be subject to? (Verses 2, 5)
• Verse 5 indicates that we have two motivations to obey our rulers. What are they?
• If we cheat on our taxes, who are we cheating? (Verses 5-6)
• If our rulers seek to prevent us from obeying God, what should we do? (Acts 4:18)

Some comments.
Modern parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage would not have been envisioned by Paul when he wrote these comments. That is not to say that God is surprised. The culture of the time had monarchies, emperor worship and totalitarian regime.
Every ruler, in whatever age, has been put there by God. These comments are apt for any time.
Rulers are meant to bring order. This is not about the form of order, as such, but the contrast between order and anarchy. A bad ruler is better than no ruler at all. That does not mean that a bad ruler is a good thing, though.
Rulers are meant to bring order that promotes right conduct and brings sanction against those who break or fail to keep law.
The only time we should fear our rulers is when we have done the wrong thing.
Rulers have the sword. Note well that Paul contrasts this role of governers with the Christians who do not have the sword. The kingdom of God is not militaristic.
Civil order benefits the free spread of the Gospel.
Absent from the New Testament is any teaching that Christians tolerate their leaders and then replace them.
Obedience is not contingent on the morality or competence of the leader either. Ancient leaders (at least in biblical narrative) demonstrate great personal failings and even evil.
Our obedience demonstrates our recognition of God’s sovereignty over the world and over us. Disobedience of rulers not only incurs a penalty or punishment, but represents a violation of conscience in rejecting God’s rule.
We are actually blessed with freedom (responsibility) to participate in the policy formulation of our rulers and have the opportunity to change them by election.
Those who step outside of legal means to challenge rulers are terrorists/anarchists. Overthrowing a ruler by illegal means with a view to reinstituting orderly rule simply invites others to do the same. Consider Fiji.
Paying taxes is a concrete symbol of accepting God’s authority. It is not contingent on liking the tax-collecter or that upon which the taxes are spent.
If our rulers try to prevent us from obeying God, then we obey God, but accept the consequences. If we are able we have the freedom to leave the place where such rulers reign.

That’s your lot.

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Romans 12:3-8 – Friday Bible Study

Living In The Body

Read Romans 12: 3-8.

The response to God’s mercy is offering ourselves to God and seeking to grow into all that we have been saved to become.

• Why do you think Paul stresses humility as the first practical issue in addressing the Christian life?
• Paul seems to be addressing a wrong direction that being a living sacrifice can take in verse 3. What is it?
• Who is the only one that Christians should measure themselves against?
• What should be the fruit of that measurement?
• How does Paul view the Christian and the Church in verses 4 and 5?
• What is the emphasis of our place in Christ’s body?
• Our skills and gifts as Christians are different. What implication can we draw from that?
• How does that fact relate to Paul’s emphasis in verse 3?
• What does verse 6 suggest about any gifts that we have?
• That being the case, how does that affect our use of our gifts?
• If we have a gift, what does the body have?
• If the body has a need, what does one of us have?
• The list of gifts is representative, not exhaustive. (1 Corinthians 12:27-28) These are examples, not the final word.
• How should we bring God’s Word to bear on others? (cf. verse 3)
• Who should our service be about?
• What is the aim of teaching?
• Exhortation reminds us we are part of a body. How is it important in effect?
• What should our motive be in giving?
• What should be the character of those who lead?
• Why should mercy be mixed with cheerfulness?

Some comments.
Verse three continues from verses one and two which instruct us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices and be conformed to the renewing of our minds. At the same time it is a brief aside, this is not a self centered process that leads to pride and a sence of attainment, but is expressed in growing humility and service.
The idea of a ‘measure of faith’ is not so much centered on the amount of faith that God has given us, but on the perfect faith expressed by Christ. It is that which we ‘measure’ ourselves against and always find plenty of reason to by humble.
We are part of the body of Christ. Salvation is a corporate experience with individual implications, not an individual experience with corporate implications.
Even the fact that each of us have giftings, yet none of us have all gifts demonstrate that Christian community (ie the church) is clearly Paul’s expectation for believers.
‘Lone Ranger’ Christian is an oxymoron. It just doesn’t follow.
This limitation of our gifts should also promote humility, no-one can do it alone.
Our gifts are not given to us for our own sake, they are for other Christians. To withhold them is to deny others what God actually intends for them.
We see the fruition of our gifts in what they bring to others, not in enlarging ourselves. This is not a self-centered activity.
We have a gift, the body has a need. The body has a need, someone has a gift. This is not the same as a skill. Sometimes a skill will not be the gift the body needs. We need to focus on the body, not ourselves. We don’t tell the body ‘this is my gift, you better receive my ministry’.
The list is not exhaustive of gifts, but representative, there are others. This is about the way in which we express our gifts.
Bringing God’s Word in a corrective (prophetic) way needs humility. Everyone’s going to be corrected in this way sooner or later. (Again and again)
Service should be about the needs of others being met, not about attention being drawn to the server.
Teaching is about seeing others grow in knowledge, not in your knowledge being displayed.
Exhortation reminds us that no-one should be left behind, that the advancement of one is vital to the advancement of us all.
Giving is an expression of (cheerful) generosity.
Those who lead are committed to the advancement of those who follow, not in the status of leadership.
Mercy needs to be mixed with cheerfulness, lest our mercy eventually become a source of dissension and resentment toward others.

That’s your lot.

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Romans 12:1-2 – Friday Bible Study

Living Sacrifices

Read Romans 12: 1-2.

Chapters one to eleven explain God’s great mercy in His saving us by justification by grace through faith. Paul now goes on to explain how the saved should respond.

• What is our motivation for Christian living? (Verse 1)
• What is the force of Paul’s instruction in verse one?
• What does ‘offering’ or ‘presenting’ our bodies involve?
• Why are we to think of ourselves as a ‘holy’ and ‘pleasing’ sacrifice? (Verse 1)
• Which Christians are to be totally given over in this way?
• The word translated spiritual or rational in various translations implies that this is a logical action. Why does it make sense to do this?
• Our worship of God is not confined to the time we spend together on Sundays. What does that mean for our lives and sense of vocation? (Verse 1)
• How are we to understand Paul’s instruction not to conform to the pattern of this world or age? (Verse 2)
• The word for ‘transformed’ (Verse 2) should remind us of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Where does the seat of our transformation take place?
• What do you think is necessary to cultivate this transformation?
• How does this help us not to become too frustrated when we stumble?
• Verse 2 speaks of ‘knowing the will of God’. What will of God can we come to know? Will we know every intention God has for us?
• What fruit do you think knowing and carrying out God’s will would bear in our lives?

Some notes:
The logic applied is that the explanation of God’s mercy in chapters 1-11 demands this response.
Offering ourselves is not a suggestion or an option, it’s really the only action that someone who has been saved by God takes.
There is a concious desire to have God first in life that is spoken of. Being a holy sacrifice does not simply speak of purity, but being set apart. Being an acceptable offering is astounding, because the only acceptable offerings to God are those which He indicates He is pleased to receive. That’s us. Each and every one of us.
The word often translated ‘spiritual’ is translated ‘rational’ in the King James. It has a root related to logic or logical and helps us see the point made above, this is a supremely smart and sensible response to God’s love.
All of our lives and activities are part of this offering, this worship. Each action, every day is part of this, in addition to what God commands we do when we gather as the church on Sundays.
This transformation is driven by our minds, learning from Scripture, with the Holy Spirit enabling and encouraging us to put to practive that which we have learned.
We should study God’s Word as part of this offering of ourselves. When we stumble and do the wrong thing we can be encouraged to know this is a process that is continuous.
We can know God’s revealed will from the Scriptures. This is in contrast to God’s unrevealed will, which we only come to know as we live it out. Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
We will see the fruit this bears out in our lives in the verses to follow.
It enables us to live in relationships of wisdom and love with other Christians.

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Romans 11:1-36 – Friday Bible Study

The Future For God’s People

Read Romans 11: 1-36.

Does God turn away from those He has promised to love? That is the question that Paul anticipates. As his explanation of justification by faith draws to a conclusion the Apostle seeks to show God’s enduring faithfulness toward His people.

• Has God rejected His people? (Verse 1)
• Paul makes reference to 1 Kings 19:9-18. What principle is he reminding his readers of? (Verse 5)
• When we read the references in verses 8 and 9-10, should we be surprised at this situation?
• Which group of people have been the beneficiaries of this outcome? (Verses 11-12)
• Describe Paul’s logic about Israel becoming jealous. (Verse 11)
• What does he anticipate in verse 12?
Consider Paul’s analogy of the olive tree. There are a couple of strands of thought at work here. Firstly the nature of the branches, secondly the prerogative of God in grafting and thirdly the fact there is only one tree throughout.
• What is the nature of the branches that are grafted into the tree? (Verse17)
• What is the continuing nature of the branches that were removed?
• Who determines which branches remain and which go? (Verse 21-22)
• What is the point that is made in verse 24 and how should it affect our attitude to the people of the ‘original branches’
• What two possibilities are there when we identify ‘all Israel’ in verse 26?
• Identify the hope that Paul expresses for his Jewish brethren in verses 28-32.
• Verses 33-36 are Paul’s concluding response to the Gospel of justification by faith that he has explained in the previous eleven chapters. How do you respond to his words?

Some notes:
Is Paul arguing that God has rejected the Jewish people? Of course not, Paul is Jewish and a Christian. His conversion is proof God is still calling Jewish people. The reference to 1 Kings is a representative reminder that there were periods when large numbers of the people were not included in God’s calling, but there was always a remnant of some size or another.
The Gentiles are presented as the beneficiaries of this situation. God has not only saved people from among the Gentiles, but the fact that the Gentiles now live as God’s people is meant to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy. In Paul’s argument, seeing salvation by grace, received and lived is meant to be attractive and evocative. The Jewish people, seeing others living in relationship with God by grace, are meant to desire what they have forsaken.
This is to be contrasted with the somewhat coercive and ungracious ways in which Christians have treated Jewish people. Paul is advocating evangelism by example rather than by browbeating.
The note about the olive tree questions just needs to be supplemented by pointing out the fact that usually cultivated branches are grafted to wild stock. Here the opposite is portrayed. The fact the wild branches are chosen and fruitful is a source of wonder. But Paul also points out that if the wild branches are fruitful, how much more fruitful would the cultivated branches be should they be grafted on to the tree again.
There can be little argument that Paul expects that very thing to happen.
It will be by grace, but God’s people will be complete, and at that time in the future there will be a saving of a great number of the Jewish people.
All of this will be to God’s glory, because He will be, and ever is the one who graciously saves. It’s all about His mercy.
That’s why Paul launches into His doxology of praise.
We should do the same.

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Romans 10:1-21 – Friday Bible Study

How Shall People Be Saved?

Read Romans 10: 1-21.

Having demonstrated God’s sovereignty in salvation from the Scriptures, Paul again returns to the situation of his Jewish brethren. How does salvation come to anyone?

• Paul was not criticising the sincerity of his brethren. But is sincerity enough? What does sincerity need in order to be effective?
• What was the true purpose of the law? (See Galatians 3:24)
• Whose righteousness were they mistakenly trusting in?
• Whose righteousness should they have been seeking if they had properly understood the law?
• Given the impossibly high personal standards which the law sets what would be necessary for an individual to feel they had fulfilled them?
• Paul provides an allusion to Moses words to God’s people in Deuteronomy 30:11ff. What is the word that is very near? (5-9)
• Verse 9 speaks of confession and belief. Why do these two words go together?
• What are we confessing and what are we believing? Why are they both vital?
• This invitation is open to all. Consider Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32. Why would Paul reference these verses to his readers? (11-13)
• How are people ordinarily brought into God’s kingdom? (14-16)
• Who is Paul identifying as having heard the message in verse 18?
• Who are those who are not a nation; those who provoke Israel to jealousy? (19)
• What lesson should Israel have learned from God’s salvation of Gentiles? (20)
• What hope should this give us with regard to people who we desire to be saved?
• What impression about God’s attitude toward the Jewish people are we left with in verse 21?

Some notes:
Hopefully, the idea that sincerity is not enough is not that radical. I usually explain to the folk that you can sincerely believe that a bus will not hurt you, but if it does, you will be sincerely wrong. Sincerity must be wedded to truth to be beneficial.
The law was a tutor, a guardian, a school bus driver. Having a tutor is not the same thing as having knowledge, having a guardian is not the same thing as being mature, beign on a school bus will not see you graduate school. They take you to knowlede and maturity. The law is the means to God’s end, not the end in itself.
Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy shows the pattern that Jesus taught that the Scriptures testify about Him. Jesus is the word that is very near.
Confession and belief point to the essential unity between mind and spirit. We are not saved by a formula of words. We are saved by the relationship that God establishes with us. The words give expression to the relationship.
The confession that Christ is Lord points to His divinity. The belief in the resurrection affirms the reality and effectiveness of His saving work.
The message is open to all. The salvation of the Gentiles has been long promised.
Israel had heard this message, but had not responded. The salvation of the Gentles was a lesson that salvation is by grace, and also a lesson not to take God for granted.
The fact that the salvation of the Gentiles is presented as a means of the Israelites being provoked by jealousy to receive the Gospel.
This is a message which speaks of God’s great love for His people, and fills us with hope for their future.
It fills us with hope for all those who have received the Gospel of the Kingdom and have not responded as yet.
God is a saving God.