Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview (March 24, 2019) Calling To Salvation / Called To Repent Luke 19:1-10

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was an excellent picture of restoration.  A father restored his prodigal son with a great deal of grace and mercy.  Central points of the parable included:

1)  A son essentially betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father’s death. 

Jesus and Zacchaeus, Repentance – Restitution – Reconciliation

2)  The son went far away to live a wild and immoral life.  He squanders all that he has. And then, life came at him fast.  A severe famine occurred.  A situation for which he had no control and he could not change. 

3)  While he contemplates eating what the pigs are eating, he realizes his father’s servants have bread to spare.  Feeling defeated and broken, he returns home to humbly ask to work as a hired hand. 

4)  His father runs to meet him and restores him as a son with a great celebration.  The father does this because his son “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.    

This week we continue with the idea of restoration and add to it the ideas of restitution and reconciliation.  In this parable Jesus notices Zacchaeus; a man who is likely despised by other Jews and decides to abide at his house.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Calling To Salvation”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Repent”.  The Scripture text comes from Luke 19:1-10.

Background: 

Luke 19:28 begins the final days of Jesus’ life.  Today’s text is another parable mentioning the lost and found theme discussed in last week’s lesson.  There were lost and found sheep, coins, and people.  In the big picture Jesus is helping us understand how God loves God’s people. 

1) When the sheep was lost, the shepherd diligently searched for the lost sheep.  2)  When the coin was lost the woman diligently searched for the lost coin. 

3)  When the prodigal son was lost the father ran to meet him even while he was a great distance away. 

The point to remember is that God’s love for us is gracious, powerful, and all encompassing.  As discussed last week Luke’s gospel is likely written shortly after 70 C.E.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook says “He is an educated Gentile with a better command of Greek than any of the other New Testament writers.  He portrays Jesus as a man with compassion for all people and he is the most socially minded of the gospels.     

What takes place in this passage: 

Jesus is passing through Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem.  There are great crowds lining the street as people try to see him pass by.  Zacchaeus, a short man can’t see so he quickly devises a plan.  He is likely a rich tax collector also.  He wants to see for himself who this man named Jesus is.  The crowd is so great that he can’t see, so he climbs a tree in hopes of seeing him.  When Jesus passes by he notices Zacchaeus and tells him to quickly come down because “I must stay at your house today”.   

 Zacchaeus hurries down and gladly receives Jesus.  The crowd knows exactly who Zacchaeus is and immediately begins to murmur that Jesus is the guest of a sinner.  They despise him because tax collectors were often corrupt and Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector.  Moved by this encounter with Jesus declares he will give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has defrauded four times.  Impressed by Zacchaeus’ repentance and offer of restitution, Jesus reconciles Zacchaeus calling him a son of Abraham.  Jesus closes this parable with a familiar refrain.  “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost”.  

Context:

There are several ways to contextualize this passage.  We could look at the ideas of:

1)  Salvation – Zacchaeus is restored by Jesus when He declares him as a Son of Abraham.

2)  Repentance – Zacchaeus repents of his actions and declares he will give half his goods to the poor and repay four times anyone he has defrauded.

3)  Reparations – Zacchaeus provides an example of reparations as he seeks to repair what he has harmed.

4)  Restitution – Zacchaeus desires to restore all he has harmed.

American descendants of slavery have a unique claim against the federal government for reparations.  Enslavement of Africans is the foundation of American wealth.  That enslavement transitioned to racial caste, Jim Crow laws, then Federal government endorsed redlining, mass incarceration and other acts that intentionally disenfranchised the descendants of slavery.  Reparations are about repairing or restoring what has been harmed.  Zacchaeus knew he needed to make right what he had wronged.  He repented of his sins, declared he would restore those he had harmed, and then Jesus reconciled him by calling him a son of Abraham.   Repentance, restoration, and then reconciliation, that’s the Zacchaeus model.   

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

Zacchaeus – He is mentioned only in the Protestant scripture in the gospel of Luke.  He is a rich tax collector for the Roman government and has other tax collectors working beneath him.  His four fold repayment was the Old Testament repayment for theft. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Acceptance – the act of accepting something or someone: the fact of being accepted: APPROVAL – Zacchaeus was not accepted in the Israelite community because of his occupation as a tax collector.  He was likely despised.

Repentance – The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin.  It’s linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith.     

Reparation – The action of making amends for past offenses.  It describes Christ’s death in that it restored the divine-human relationship.  In some Roman Catholic communities, the term describes good works or acts of penitence for sins against another person.   

Sin – Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated “sin” with many shades of meaning.  Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes.  It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do God’s wills, or rebellion.  It needs forgiveness by God.  

Salvation – God’s activities in bringing humans into a right relationship with God and with one another through Jesus Christ.  They are saved from the consequences of their sin and given eternal life.  Biblical images of salvation vary widely. 

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Repentance, Restitution, and Reconciliation.
  2. Little man with a big problem.
  3. Reparations – Making right what was wrong.

Questions: 

1)  Has anyone ever borrowed something from you and didn’t return it or returned it in worse condition than when you lent it?  Discuss the attitude of both the borrower and the lender. 

2)  Zacchaeus was likely despised by the Israelites because of his occupation.  Are their people you know who despise others because of what they do for a living?

3)  The crowd murmured when Jesus went to went to stay with Zacchaeus.  Have you faced situations when others talked badly about you for associating with people they didn’t like?

Concluding thought:

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms lists at least 22 variations of the word “sin”.  Sin is what Zacchaeus repented of and sought to provide restitution for.  He was a collaborator with the Roman government, likely cheated many people out of their money, and was despised by the Jewish people.  The good news is Jesus provides salvation for people like Zacchaeus.  His life was changed when he encountered Jesus.  And that’s the way encounters with Jesus should be for all of us – life changing.   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week the Gospel according to Matthew brings into focus hearing the call of Jesus.  We return to Jesus’ call of some of the disciples and the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  In this lesson, we will explore what the call of Jesus means to us personally.

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview (March 17, 2019) Calling The Lost / Called To Return Luke 15:11-24

Jesus teaches the parable of the prodigal son. Luke 15:11-24

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

The call to discipleship remains the focus of this week’s lesson.  Last week the lesson came from Mark 1 and Luke 14. The passage in Mark reminded us of how Jesus chose four disciples.  The passage in Luke helped us understand the cost of discipleship for those disciples and how being a disciple of Jesus today will necessarily cost us today.  Key points of the lesson included: 

1)  Jesus called disciples that were already busy when Jesus called them to a higher purpose.

2)  We are not called to hate our relatives.  And certainly not in the way we understand the word “hate” today.  Hate was more of a behavior than an emotion. 

3)  The true cost of discipleship is placing the spirit and teachings of Jesus ahead of our own desires.

This week we consider the ideas of restoration, how we are restored to God, and how we should be guided by love as we restore others.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Calling the Lost”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Return”.  The Scripture text comes from Luke 15:11-24.

Background: 

Luke the companion of Paul is credited with writing both The Gospel according to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles.  Luke’s gospel is likely written shortly after 70 C.E.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook says “He is an educated Gentile with a better command of Greek than any of the other New Testament writers.  He portrays Jesus as a man with compassion for all people and he is the most socially minded of the gospels.  This 15th chapter records events of Jesus while on his final trip to Jerusalem.  In this chapter Jesus teaches three parables concerning the lost and found.  There is the lost sheep, whom the shepherd abandons the ninety-nine to find the one that is lost.  There is the woman who loses one of ten coins and calls her friends to celebrate when it is found.  And then there is today’s passage, the lost son who is eventually found and celebrated.  

What takes place in this passage: 

Most people refer to this passage as the parable of the prodigal son.  But the full story is really about the prodigal and his brother.  Jesus tells this parable to reinforce (for the third time) the idea of God’s love for the lost. 

This parable runs the spectrum of emotion.  A son essentially betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father’s death.  The father divides his property between the brothers and soon the younger brother departs with all he has to a faraway country.  The younger brother while living a wild and immoral life squanders all he has. When he spent all he had, life came at him fast.  A severe famine came.  A situation for which he had no control and he could not change.  When he spends all his money he hires himself out to work.  It is in this situation that he realizes he would gladly eat what the pigs are eating that he comes to himself.  He is hungry, far from home, and now living worse than his father’s servants.  While he contemplates eating what the pigs are eating, he realizes his father’s servants have bread to spare.  No doubt feeling defeated and broken, he decides to return home and humbly ask to work as a hired hand. 

He is still a long way off when his father saw him coming.  Filled with compassion the father runs to meet the repentant son.  The father orders his slaves to bring the best robe for his son, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet, and a fatted calf to eat.  The father does this because his son “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.                             

Context:

YOLO! You only live once.  Maybe that’s what the prodigal son was thinking when he asked for his inheritance.  While it is certainly a true statement, it does not account for the surprising, unexpected, and unforeseen situations that so often throw us off track.  One could argue the prodigal didn’t intend to end up hungry, broken, and defeated.  No one does.  But sometimes that’s exactly what happens when bad choices are made.  Choices have consequences.  The prodigal’s choices brought him to the pigs before he came to himself and realized there was a better way.

When the prodigal left home he was free from the moral gaze of his family and community.  He could live any way he wanted.  But sometimes life comes at you fast.  In these situations you face circumstances you can’t control (famine) and problems for which you have no solution (money spent and hungry).  Even after all of his failures the prodigal was wise to humble himself and go back home.  But what should not be overlooked is that he knew he could go back.  Here’s the point.  It’s okay to leave home.  But leave in a way that you know you will be able to return if you need to.  

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ:  Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Call (calling) – God’s summons to salvation or to a particular work of service, implying a divine selection.  God called Moses (Ex 3:4) and prophets (Jer. 1:5).  Jesus called apostles (Matt 4:21) Rom 1:1) and others (Matt 9:13); 22:14).

Call, general – A term used by John Calvin to indicate the invitation God extends to all people to have faith in Jesus Christ. 

Parable of Jesus – The stories told by Jesus throughout the synoptic gospels as a way of teaching.  They convey meaning, particularly about the major subject of the reign (kingdom) of God (See Matt. 13).

Prodigal – characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure: LAVISH

Grace – Unmerited favor.  God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding the judgement that is deserved (Rom 3:24, Eph. 1:17; Titus 2:11)

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Life comes at you fast.
  2. You only live once – YOLO!
  3. Wildin out

Question:  This week’s lesson revolves around restoring what was lost and God’s radical grace toward us.  In what ways, have you had to show grace or even radical grace?       

Concluding thought:

The good news is that God chooses love.  That’s the point Jesus is making in this parable.  This parable is a picture of God’s love for us.  Even when we are lost, God patiently and lovingly awaits our return.  And upon our return God treats us to radical grace; a grace that forgives, a grace that loves and a grace that restores.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we continue in Luke.  As Jesus continues the march to Jerusalem he dines with a chief publican.  A rich man named Zacchaeus.  This caused the crowd to murmur but Jesus calls Zacchaeus a son of Abraham.  In this lesson we will again see the theme of restoring what was lost.

Christianity, religion, Religion, Psalms, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview for Feburary 17, 2019 Praising God’s Mighty Works / Our Mighty God Psalm 66:1-9, 16-20

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week focused on a specific yet magnificent place called Zion.  But importantly, we noted that today, we should be the magnificent place that God indwells.  The psalmist associated God’s presence with the location of mount Zion.  The psalmist also proclaimed Zion as the place where God dwelled and described God as her fortress or refuge.  So we as individual Christians are the temple in which God dwells today. 

We also focused attention on Psalm 48:13-14 where the psalmist told us to walk about Zion, observe all of Zion’s greatness, “that you may tell of them to the next generation”.  The point of focusing here was to acknowledge if God has done something for you, you ought to tell somebody.  And even more so you ought to tell the next generation.  The lesson closed with a reminder from the psalmist that “This God is our God”.  This God is the God who enabled building the great Zion.  The point for Christians today is to remember that this God is the God who lives, loves, and inhabits each of us.

Last week’s lesson was the first in a series of love songs.  This second love song week keeps us in the Old Testament book of Psalms.  We remain in the second book of Psalms at Psalm 66.  The focus in this week’s love song is praise for God’s mighty works in our lives.  God’s work leads to praise and praise reinforces our love.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Praising Gods Mighty Works”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Our Mighty God”.  The Scripture text comes from Psalm 66:1-9, 16-20.

Background: 

There are 150 Psalms.  This collection of 150 Psalms is further divided into five books.  The first book includes Psalms 1-41, book two includes 42-72, book three is comprised of Psalms 73-89, the fourth book has 90-106 and book 5 is composed of 107-150.  “Seventy-three are associated with David; twelve with the Asaphites, eleven with the Ko’rahites, three with Jeduthun, two with Solomon, two with Ezrahites, and one with Moses” (New Interpreters Study Bible).  The Psalms include a broad range of prayers, praises, songs of love, poems, thanksgivings and devotions.   “Some are prayers and praises that soar to the heights of spiritual devotion, while others arise from deep pain and distress displaying the depths of human misery, anger, and frustration” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB).  Psalm 66 is included in the second book (Psalms 42 – 72).  Most of the Psalms in this second book are written by David and Korah.  There is no indication of who the author is.  Its superscription simply says “Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel.  To the leader. A Song. A Psalm”.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook describes Psalm 66 as an individual thanksgiving Psalm.  The writer “publicly acknowledges God’s activity on their behalf.  It thanks God for something God has already done or expresses confidence in what God will yet do”.  Townsend commentary describes it as an “all-purpose psalm and probably not composed for any particular special occasion”.  That’s significant because we don’t need special occasions or significant events in our life to give thanks to God. 

What takes place in this passage:

Verse one begins with a familiar refrain – “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:” The New Revised Standard Version says, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;” This Psalm begins with great praise.  The psalmist is excited and enthusiastic not simply about praise, but about praise of God.  In its very beginning the psalmist is not only excited but tells us how we ought to praise.  The psalmist is saying we ought to shout for joy!  I especially like part b of the second verse – “make God’s praise glorious”.  The psalmist is telling us our praise ought to be magnificent, celebratory, and wonderful.  We are commended, encouraged, exhorted, to make God’s praise glorious.  The adulation and exaltation continues in verses three and four.    

Verse five begins a section where the psalmist transitions to remembering what God has done for the nation of Israel.  We are reminded how God turned the sea into dry land and the people passed through the waters on foot. Verse seven gives us another reason to praise God.  God’s power is unmatched.  Although there may be rebellious factions in every generation, and rebellious times in our life, we should know that there is none greater than our God.  Verses eight and nine return to adulation, exaltation, and praise with a reminder that God preserved the Israelites lives. 

Verses 16 through 20 close the lesson with praise for God’s deliverance.  But this is a personal reflection.  The psalmist is writing about his own experience with a God who delivers, a God who hears, and a God who understands.  Verse 16 says “let me tell you what God has done for me”.  This is powerful.  Telling your own testimony is authentic.  Genuineness, authenticity, and being true are characteristics that have great impact on others.  The psalmist testifies in verse 18 that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”.  This should remind us that faithfulness to God is what God desires from us. 

Context:

This is a psalm about praise and thanksgiving.  Perhaps you have heard the song “Glorious (Make The Praise)” by Karen Clark Sheard.  If you have time before or during class consider playing it.  As you think of making God’s praise glorious remember the words of this song – “I was created to make God’s praise glorious”.  That’s an individual response.  A collective response could be with a choir.  A response from nature could be the beauty of a clear blue sky or the majesty of a mountain reaching into the sky.  Whether individually, collectively or through nature, we are all God’s creation and as such God deserves our thanksgiving and praise.  We don’t need a special occasion to praise God.  We sometimes take mundane things for granted.  For example, we may rush through saying grace before a meal and then hurriedly eat and move on.  Yet, there are those who have food to eat but have no appetite.  God deserves our praise and thanksgiving when we are delivered from great peril and in the mundane things of life we sometimes take for granted.  Perfect praise is contingent upon a pure heart, a heart that does not cherish sin.  Even if our present circumstances are not perfect or joyous, we can remember what God has done in the past and praise God for that.   

Key Characters in the textNone mentioned

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Psalm – A hymn, sacred song, or poem. The book of Psalms (the Psalter) is composed of 150 religious poems of prayer and praise of ancient Israel, arranged in five books. 

Praise – (from Lat. Pretium, “worth”) Honor and adoration given to God as a celebration of God’s being and worth.  It is a constant biblical ascription and injunction that creatures should praise God as the Lord. 

Thanksgiving – An expression of gratitude.  A type of prayer in which, both publicly and privately, believers offer their gratitude to God for all blessings and goodness received. 

Gratitude – The response to God and God’s blessings that is an expression of praise and devotion.  In the Christian context, believers respond in gratitude for the “indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15) of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme expression of God’s grace. 

Themes / Topics in this Lesson: 

  1. Created to praise God.
  2. Let everything praise God
  3. Perfect praise

Questions:

1.  God is the creator of the earth and all that dwells therein.  How does the earth praise God?    

2.  Name something worthy of praise for what God has done, for what God is doing and for what God will do in your life. 

3.  Since this is also Black History Month, despite America’s horrible history of enslavement, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and other immoral actions what or how should Black Americans thank God for as Americans?      

Concluding thought:

Although they are very similar, there is a difference between praise and thanksgiving.  Praise requires concentration on a thing, person, or deity that is being praised whereas thanksgiving is focused on what a person has received (Townsend).  We should be grateful for what God has done, is doing and shall do.  With our steadfast faith in God we give thanks and praise.  For all of these lived experiences, good and bad, and for all of the possibilities of what is yet to come we are grateful and give thanks. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week’s lesson is the third in a series of love songs in Psalms.  We remain in the second book of Psalms at Psalm 91.  Here the psalmist looks to God for protection as life delivers trials, tribulations and hardship.  We will be reminded that God has delivered in the past so we can trust that God will deliver in the future.

Christianity, religion, Religion, Psalms, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for Feburary 10, 2019 Pondering God’s Steadfast Love / Our Loving God Psalm 48:1-3, 9-14

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week we noted how Paul reminded the Philippians of his Jewish accomplishments.  His accomplishments, honors, reputation, and standing as a Jew were indisputable.  Yet, Paul uses that esteem to make the point that any and all of his Jewish accomplishments were worthless in comparison to the value of knowing Jesus Christ.  He is not concerned with his own righteousness but the righteousness of God based on faith.  While imprisoned he acknowledges that nothing else really matters.   

Paul also gave a sort of “reality check” to acknowledge that he knows he has not arrived.  Although it is a reality check and he recognizes his situation and status, he “doubles down” on his commitment to Christ.  Paul gladly forgets, forfeits, and renounces all that he has accomplished looking forward to what lies ahead.  This was how he pressed forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Last week’s lesson connects to this week through the continuing themes of our love for God and God’s love for us.  Today’s lesson takes us back to the Old Testament.  This time we look back about 700 years before Christ to Psalm 48.  In Jerusalem, the writer helps us understand even if everything else changes, our love for God never should.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Pondering God’s Steadfast Love”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Our Loving God”.  The Scripture text comes from Psalm 48:1-3, 9-14.

Background: 

The Psalms are in large part a book of books about worship.  “Some are prayers and praises that soar to the heights of spiritual devotion, while others arise from deep pain and distress displaying the depths of human misery, anger, and frustration” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB)).  The book of Psalms is subdivided into five books.  Psalm 48 is included in the second book (Psalms 42 – 72).  Most of the Psalms in this second book are written by David and Korah.  The superscription of this 48th Psalm identifies it as “A song.  A Psalm of the Ko’rahites” and it deals with “The Glory and Strength of Zion”.    

Townsend commentary describes Psalm 48 as the Jewish vision of God’s city and dwelling place, which is Zion.  A Christological imagination of this text would also “apply it to the church, which has been grafted in to believing Israel (Romans 11:17-24) (Townsend).  In other words, just as the Jewish psalmist wrote of the magnificence of Zion as the dwelling place of God.  Christians today should view the church with the same magnificence.  Keep in mind though, the church today resides within individual Christians, not a building, or specific location.  So although, the psalmist is talking about a place whose magnificence symbolizes God’s love, today that place is you.  You are the temple of God that should love and praise God.       

What takes place in this passage:

Verses 1-3 describe a place that reveals love for God.  Notice the majestic descriptions “mountain of his holiness” and “the joy of the whole earth is mount Zion”.  The psalmist associates God’s presence with the location of mount Zion.  This place is where God dwells and shows our loving God as her fortress or refuge.  The NISB clarifies that “Zion is described in the far north, which does not match the geography of the land of Israel.  Isa 14:13-14 talks about this location as the abode of the Most High and the gods”. 

Verses 9 – 14 deal with a number of points relevant for Christian living today.  For example, the psalmist begins with God’s unfailing love when “we meditate within the temple”.  He describes God’s praise as reaching the ends of the earth and God’s right hand filled with righteousness.  Again, we as individual Christians are the temple in which God dwells.  When we take note of God’s creation we should be reminded of Romans 1:20.  It tells us “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made”.  So God is present not only in the lives of Christians but in all of God’s creation. 

Verse 11 describes Mount Zion as a place that rejoices.  Verses 12 and 13 are powerful in that they tell the reader to walk about Zion, observe all of Zion’s greatness, “that you may tell of them to the next generation”.  So, if God has done something for you, you ought to tell somebody.  And even more so you ought to tell the next generation. 

Finally, verse 14 concludes this lesson on God’s steadfast love by reminding us that this God is our God.  This God is the God who has enabled such a great place as Zion to be built.  This God is the God who has brought Israel to such a powerful and magnificent place.  The point for Christians today is to remember that this God is the God who lives, loves, and inhabits each of us. 

Context:

As we approach the Valentines holiday this lesson on our loving God and God’s steadfast love toward us is timely.  The text describes our loving God’s undeniable greatness and love toward us while encouraging us to acknowledge that love and pass it on to the next generation.  That’s also a good point for Black History Month.  There are some things that each generation needs to pass along to the next generation.  For example, it is critically important for White Americans to identify and teach their children about the racist past of America and how that past has affected the American descendants of slaves.  Only White Americans can solve the problem of racism.  Christians follow the example of Jesus Christ.  His is an example of love.  The psalmist of today’s text described Zion as a magnificent place where God dwells.  If God dwells in us today, we too ought to be a magnificent place of God’s steadfast love in each of our communities.  Not just an example of love in the Valentines season.  And certainly not just as an example of remembrance during Black History Month. 

Key Characters in the text:

Ko’rahites – This is a psalm of the ko’rahites.  They are described as temple singers and in Chronicles 9:23, 26 described as “in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, as chief gatekeepers, and looked after the chambers and the treasures of the house of God.    

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Psalm – A hymn, sacred song, or poem. The book of Psalms (the Psalter) is composed of 150 religious poems of prayer and praise of ancient Israel, arranged in five books. 

Zion – (Hebrew “fortress”) Used in the Old Testament for all or part of Jerusalem.  In both Old and New Testaments it refers to God’s heavenly city (Isa 60:14; Heb 12:22; Rev 14:1).  In the Christian church it is an image for heaven. 

Themes / Topics in this Lesson: 

  1. If God is good, you ought to tell it. 
  2. God’s presence provides power.
  3. This God.
  4. Do you love me?

Questions:

1.  How has God shown you steadfast love?    

2.  Verse 13 speaks of telling the next generation.  As a Christian today, what should you tell the next generation?

3.  Since it is also Black History Month, what should you tell the next generation about Black History?    

Concluding thought:

For this God is our God for ever and ever: God will be our guide forever (vs 14).  This God. The psalmist is specific.  This God.  It is this God that has made Zion so magnificent.  The psalmist is intimately familiar with this God.  The psalmist can see the power, might, and glory of this God.  Likewise, it is this God that I tell my daughters about.  It is this God that I am intimately familiar with.  It is this God that has made ways out of no way.  And it is this God that I must pass on to the next generation. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week’s lesson keeps us in the Old Testament book of Psalms.  We remain in the second book of Psalms at Psalm 66.  Many will find some of the passages in this Psalm familiar as its key verse is “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands”.    The focus in this week’s love song is praise for God’s mighty works in our lives.  God’s work leads to praise and praise reinforces our love.

Christianity, humility, Philippians, religion, Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview for Feburary 3, 2019: Renounce Everything for Christ / Press On In Christ Philippians 3:7-14

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week Paul continued in the theme of joy.  He began chapter 2 telling the Christians at Philippi if they have experienced encouragement in Christ, comfort from Christ’s love, and shared in the Holy Spirit then “make my joy complete being like-minded and having the same love being one in spirit and of one mind.  It was important to Paul for them to have the mind of Christ and to operate in unity and on one accord.

He again warns against selfish ambition and vainglory or vain conceit.  Instead Paul encouraged the Philippians and us to “value others above yourselves”.  Humility is the key and Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of humility that Christians should follow.  As Paul addressed relationships, we were reminded that our relationships are horizontal and vertical.  Horizontal relationships are with our everyday encounters with family, friends, coworkers and even strangers.  Vertical relationships deal with our relationship with God.  If the horizontal relationship is unbalanced, the vertical relationship is likely unbalance also. 

Finally, we were reminded that God has given Jesus a name which is above every name.  Names are important and throughout Scripture Jesus and God are referred to by many different names.  Not only has Jesus been given a name above every name, but at that name everyone will confess that Jesus is also Lord.    

Last week’s lesson connects to this week through the continuing themes of submission and love.  We see in this week Paul addressing the proper attitude toward our accomplishments and again dealings with the idea of personal sacrifices for the cause of Christ.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Renounce Everything for Christ”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Press on in Christ”.  The Scripture text comes from Philippians 3:7-14.

Background: 

When this letter is written the city of Philippi is under Roman rule.  Philippi is named in honor of King Phillip II of Macedon, who was the father of Alexander the Great (Boyd’s).  Most of its citizens were Romans and they enjoy all the benefits of Roman citizenship.  In this chapter Paul is likely thinking of his own eternal benefits.  He mentions his earthly qualifications and concludes they are nothing but useless for his resurrection and the cause of Christ.  

Keep in mind Paul is imprisoned when writing this letter.  He is writing to express his joy to the Philippians partly because he wanted them to know of his joy in Christ.  He also writes because the Philippians had heard of his imprisonment and suffering.  Some people believed that an Apostle of Jesus Christ was not supposed to suffer.  In other words, if you are suffering either your God is not real or you have committed some sin to cause your suffering.  So after all of these years of service for Jesus Christ Paul is still dealing with credibility issues.  His credibility is at stake and he writes to also set the record straight.  Note the harsh description of his opponents in the first verses of this chapter.  He is not suffering because of sin but because of his love for Jesus Christ. 

Yet, even in prison Paul finds joy in Christ.  It is one of his “prison epistles,” the others being Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Townsend).   Throughout Philippians Paul exhorts the ideas of joy, affection, loyalty, and sharing.  In this letter Paul helps us to understand that even when we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond.  His example is to respond with trust, confidence, and joy in Christ. 

What takes place in this passage:  

In verses four through six (not is today’s text) Paul lists some of his Jewish bona fides.  His Jewish qualifications cannot be questioned or disputed.  His accomplishments, honors, reputation, and standing as a Jew were indisputable.  He uses that esteem to make the point that any and all of his Jewish accomplishments were worthless in comparison to the value of knowing Jesus Christ.  Paul is not concerned with his own righteousness but the righteousness of God based on faith.  While imprisoned Paul acknowledges that nothing else really matters.  He gladly counts all of his personal losses as nothing but dung for the cause of Jesus Christ.  When Paul talks of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus Christ and becoming like him in his death so that he could attain resurrection of the dead, some commentaries speculate that he is probably talking about baptism (see Romans 6 and Colossians 2:11-15 (Townsend)). 

Verses 12 through 14 is a reminder, a sort of “reality check” that Paul knows he has not arrived.  Yet while it is a reality check, and he recognizes his situation and status, he also “doubles down” on his commitment to Christ.  Paul gladly forgets, forfeits, and renounces all that he has accomplished looking forward to what lies ahead.  This is how he presses forward to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Context:  

Does it bring you joy?  Mari Kondo’s method of organizing homes is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that “spark joy” (Wikipedia).  Does it bring you joy?  In this text Paul found joy in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.  No matter what joys, excitement, pleasures, troubles or problems Paul faced in life, what brought him joy was Jesus Christ.  Of all of his accomplishments in life he would gladly count them as nothing but dung for the cause and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  He was determined to forget the past and look forward to the future.  Specifically, he would forget the past requirements of the Law such as circumcision and look forward to the prize of freedom and liberty in Christ. 

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – When this text is written he is an old man, imprisoned and prepared for his death.  He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ because he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The most prolific writer of New Testament books and martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Humble – not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive 2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission.

Sacrifice – something of value offered as an act of worship or devotion to God.

Renounce – to give up, refuse, or resign usually by formal declaration

Themes in this Lesson: 

  1. Only what you do for Christ will last
  2. What will you lose in order to gain
  3. Keep pressing – Don’t quit now
  4. Does it bring joy

Questions:

1.  Paul uses common if not harsh language in verse two.  Who is he describing in this way?    

2.  Paul warned the Philippians against those who preached keeping the Jewish Law of circumcision and other requirements.  What Jewish customs, traditions, rules, or laws should Christians keep today. 

Concluding thought: 

Paul sacrificed everything for Jesus Christ.  This is how he pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  It’s easy to talk about sacrifice.  It’s easy to say things like WWJD (what would Jesus Do).   But real sacrifice is difficult.  What are you willing to sacrifice when we have so much evidence of evil and corruption in our society?  Are you willing to give up a weekend to march for justice?  Are you willing to commit to financially supporting worthy justice organizations?  What brings you joy?

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week’s lesson takes us back to the Old Testament.  This time we look back about 700 years before Christ to Psalm 48.  In Jerusalem, the writer helps us understand even if everything else changes, our love for God never should.