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Sunday School Lesson (November 17, 2019) Live Holy Lives / Faith That is Focused 1 Peter 1:13-25

Live Holy Lives / Faith That is Focused

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson 1 Peter is written to the scattered saints in Asia Minor to encourage them to live holy lives with a faith that is focused.  In what is modern day Turkey these saints were being persecuted, mistreated, and misunderstood.  This letter is written to encourage them, to tell them to keep the faith, and to let them know that God knows about their suffering.  They are encouraged to keep on holding on because their suffering can be endured in the hope of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus returns, things will be made right.  Just as last week’s lesson encouraged the Thessalonians to imitate Paul, Silas, Timothy and Jesus; this week’s lesson encourages the saints to imitate God.  Peter reminds them to be holy just as God is holy.  It is the central point and purpose of why this letter is written.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Holy

Truth

Background: 

The author of The First Letter of Peter is credited to its namesake – the Apostle Peter.  Peter was a Palestinian fisherman who was well known for being impetuous, hot headed, and passionate for what he believed.  Of all of the twelve disciples of Jesus, Peter is perhaps the most well-known.  Peter was also one of the first disciples, coming after John and Andrew (John 1:35-42).  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes

“Although attributed to Peter, modern scholars debate 1 Peter’s authorship because the Greek used in this letter is among the most literary and sophisticated of the entire New Testament, an accomplishment unlikely for a 1st-century Palestinian fisherman, even if he did speak some Greek.  Additionally, personal references in the letter to Peter’s own experience as a follower of Jesus are rare and oblique.  It is more probable this letter was written in Peter’s name by someone influenced by his ministry.  This person evokes the apostle’s authority on behalf of the letter which was not unknown in the ancient world and in the Bible itself.  This was a sign of reverence for the attributed author’s authority.”

So the authorship is debated but this letter still carries the thought and intent of the Apostle Peter.  Peter likely didn’t dot the I’s and cross the T’s but the thought and intent of the letter is likely his.

This first chapter of 1 Peter is a call to holy living.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define “holy” as that which is regarded as sacred or able to convey a sense of the divine.  Also, that which is set apart for God’s will or use or that which is godlike by being spiritually whole, well, pure, or perfect.  Townsend commentary defines “holy” as saint; pure; or morally blameless.  The idea of holiness is that it is not what is common to humans.  In other words, holiness does not come in the absence of God’s presence.  1 Peter 1:1 tells us this call to holy living is written to the exiles of the Dispersion (1 Peter 1:1).  These exiles are Christians who had been scattered abroad because of persecution.  Peter writes to encourage them even in the face of hardship.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Holy

Truth

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

In Last week’s Sunday School Lesson the Apostle Paul showed us faith that set an example and the Thessalonians showed us how to be examples of the faith.  Paul began his letter with thanksgiving for how the Thessalonians had kept the faith and endured despite the suffering and persecution they experienced.  He complimented their faith, how they had turned from worshiping idols to the true and living God, how the whole region knew about their faith, and how they had imitated him and ultimately Jesus Christ.  These Thessalonians were doing the work.  Paul patted them on the back for doing the work so well, and they deserved the accolades and compliments he bestowed upon them.  They were imitators of Christ. 

I noted how Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for them.  And if you really believe in the power of prayer, that had to be a comforting feeling.  It had to be a comforting feeling to know that the person who organized their church, the one who led them to Christ, was praying for them. 

I noted how Paul remembered them.  He remembered their work of faith, their labor of love, and steadfast hope in Jesus Christ.  And that was important because sometimes it takes work to have faith.  Sometimes it takes labor to have love, and sometimes it takes patience to have hope.  Paul remembers them and it’s good to remember good things.  These Thessalonians were doing good things and Paul wanted them to know, that he knew.

I noted how Paul gave the Thessalonians an enormous compliment.  He told them that they were an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  And if you are an example to all the believers in the place where you live, that’s high praise and that’s saying something. 

I also noted how these Thessalonians deserved their pat on the back.  They were being persecuted!  But they didn’t give up and they didn’t give in.  They persevered and kept the faith and endured the hardship of living a faithful life in Christ.  They deserved Paul’s praise and it was clear that Paul was proud of how they were holding up.  

Last week Paul showed us faith that set an example and the Thessalonians gave us a glowing example of the faith.  Paul wrote an inspiring letter to encourage the Thessalonians.  This week Peter writes to encourage the scattered Christians of Asia Minor to live holy lives with a faith that is focused.  In the same way Paul told the Thessalonian’s to imitate him, Silas, Timothy and Jesus now Peter tells the saints to imitate God by living holy.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Live Holy Lives”.  Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That Is Focused”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Peter 1:13-25. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The Lesson opens at verse thirteen with Peter telling the scattered saints of Asia Minor to prepare their minds for action.  The King James Version says to gird up the loins of your mind.  Gird up the loins of your mind gives you the picture of someone preparing to go to work.  So Peter is essentially saying discipline yourselves, prepare your minds for work, and set your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring when he returns.  Peter is telling these saints to hope with expectation that when Jesus returns grace will rule.  He’s essentially saying, things might be tough right now but you just hold on a little while longer – Jesus is coming back and when he gets back he’s going to make it alright.  These saints are to endure their hardship and persecution with the hope of knowing that Jesus is going to set things straight when he returns. 

In verse fourteen Peter mentions obedience again.  He mentioned obedience upfront in this first chapter in verse 2.  So while this chapter is about holy living and encourages the saints to live holy lives with a faith that is focused, we also see how important obedience is to holy living.  It is an obedience to Jesus Christ not their former way of life. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Peter quotes the Old Testament law of Leviticus 11:44-45 and 19:2.  He reminds them that God has already said “you shall be holy for I am holy.”  Again, this chapter is about holy living and Peter is telling the saints to imitate God.  He reminds them that God is holy and since God is holy they should be also.  This is their call to holiness.  It is the central purpose of why he writes this letter.

In verse seventeen he reminds them to essentially keep the faith during their exile.  He reminds them that God as Father, judges all people impartially according to their deeds.  That’s good news for those who live according to the ways of Jesus Christ.  And he continues that thought by reminding them that they should have a reverent fear of God knowing that God will be their Judge when Jesus returns.  You might have heard the old folk say something like “I’m just a pilgrim passing through.”  That’s the idea I get when I read this verse.  Peter is telling them you’re just passing though.  Do what you need to do, do what you have to do to get through the other side.

In verses eighteen and nineteen he reminds them of the price that was paid by Jesus.  They were ransomed from the futile ways of their ancestors.  They weren’t ransomed with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ like that of a lamb without spot or blemish.  Here, Peter reflects back on Old Testament practices of sacrificing animals as atonement for sins.  The blood of Jesus was a one-time sacrifice and for all humanity. 

In verse twenty Peter tells us that Christ was destined before the foundation of the world.  That reminds us that God knows the ending before our beginning.  Peter wants to reassure the saints that their suffering and persecution is not unknown to God.  And just as Jesus Christ was foreordained to suffer Calvary for the redemption of all humanity their present suffering is not lost on God and would be made right in the coming return of Jesus Christ. 

In verse twenty-one Peter continues the previous thought reminding the saints that through Jesus they have come to trust God because it was God that raised Jesus from the dead. 

In verse twenty-two Peter brings up obedience again.  He tells the saints that their souls have been purified by their obedience to the truth.  It is because of this truth that Jesus Christ is coming again that they should have genuine mutual love and that they should love one another deeply from the heart.  So while this chapter tells the saints to live holy lives with a faith that is focused, we also see how important obedience is to living holy.

In verse twenty-three he reminds the saints that they have been born again.  In the same way he reminded them in verse eighteen that they had been bought with the imperishable blood of Jesus Christ here he reminds them now that they have been born again with the imperishable seed of the living word of God. 

Verses twenty-four and twenty-five close this lesson with a quote from Isaiah 40:6-8.  Here Peter reminds the saints that life is fleeting.  But God is eternal.  I’m reminded of the saying that “only what you do for Christ will last.”  Everything we know about life is in transition.  It is either growing up or growing old increasing or decreasing; life is fleeting but God is steadfast and eternal.    

Context:

Something must happen for us to live holy lives or have faith that is focused.  Neither can happen without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the spirit of God that makes us able to live holy.  One definition of holy is being morally blameless.  Our morals, ethics, beliefs, and principles are based in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Like these saints in Asia Minor, we have hope in a returning Jesus Christ who will reward the morally blameless when he returns.  Like them we don’t know the day nor the hour but we do know by faith that Jesus is coming back. 

Key Characters in the text:

Peter – One of Jesus’ twelve disciples.  Originally named Simon, Peter was a Galilean fisherman, the son of John and brother of Andrew.  (Townsend)

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

Holy – that which is regarded as sacred or able to convey a sense of the divine.  Also, that which is set apart for God’s will or use or that which is godlike by being spiritually whole, well, pure, or perfect.

Truth – That which accords with reality or is genuine.  The Hebrew Old Testament emphasis is on trustworthiness and reliability, supremely God’s (Deut. 32:4).  In the New Testament, Jesus is truth (John 14:6).  The church seeks to understand the truth of God’s revelation in Scripture. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Enduring the hardship for the prize. 

2.  Being holy in an unholy land.             

Question: 

1.  The saints in Asia Minor fully expected the return of Jesus Christ to set right the persecution and suffering they had experienced.  Is there a difference from their expectations and ours?

Concluding Thought:

How can we live holy lives?  We can live holy lives with a faith that is focused on living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Both holy living and focused faith are the keys to every saint’s success in this life.   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson comes from 2 Peter first chapter.  In this lesson we remain on the topic of faith and how it leads to holy living.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Stick To Your Faith”. 

If you want to support this work I accept correspondence and gifts at

1590 Jonesboro Rd SE

Box 150032

Atlanta, GA  30315

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Sunday School Lesson (November 10, 2019) Be Examples Of The Faith / Faith That Sets An Example 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10

Examples of The Faith / Faith That Sets An Example

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson the Apostle Paul shows us faith that sets an example.  The Thessalonians show us how to be examples of faith.  Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving for how these Thessalonians have kept the faith and endured despite the suffering and persecution they have experienced.  He compliments their faith, how they have turned from worshiping idols to the true and living God, how the whole region now knows of them, and how they have imitated him and ultimately Jesus Christ.  These Thessalonians are doing the work.  Paul pats them on the back for doing the work so well, and they deserve the accolades and compliments he bestows upon them.  They are imitators of Christ.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:  

Gospel

Election

Background 

This first letter to the church at Thessalonica is written by the Apostle Paul.  While 1 Thessalonians is the thirteenth book of the Protestant New Testament, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that this letter is the “oldest existing piece of Christian literature”.  Additionally, the late Dr. Cain Hope Felder explains in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that

“Once readers of the New Testament realize 1 Thessalonians is its oldest document this letter takes on much greater significance for understanding the concerns and theology of the Apostle Paul.” 

So this is just a reminder that the books of the New Testament are not ordered according to the date they were written.  The NISB notes “this letter was written about 50 Common Era, some 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and twenty years before the Gospel of Mark.”  Dr. Cain Hope Felder notes that “1 Thessalonians was composed in the immediate aftermath of Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica, after he had established the Christian church on European soil at Philippi about one hundred miles away.”  He notes that Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy enter Thessalonica, after having founded the church at Philippi (under some duress (1 Thess. 2:2)).”  Additionally, I should note that the Thessalonians are mostly Gentiles (NISB) and they also face some kind of suffering or persecution from their compatriots (2:14) (Felder).  So although this letter is very positive in tone and Paul seems delighted to write to the Thessalonians all is not well in Thessalonica.  This newly formed Christian body of believers is experiencing some form of persecution or suffering and Paul is writing to reassure and encourage them.  The NISB One Volume Commentary notes

“the positive tone cannot mask an anxiety over some unspecified persecution the young converts are facing, persecution that may or may not have been also responsible for Paul’s own hasty retreat from the city almost immediately after he founded the congregation.”

This church is facing persecution and Paul seems happy to send them a letter of encouragement. 

This first chapter of Thessalonians deals specifically with thanksgiving.  The NISBOVC explains that “the thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians is unique in its unusual length.  In fact, this section is so long that it may well be considered the main body of the letter.”  So, this letter of thanksgiving is addressed to Gentile converts, whom Paul was forced to leave almost immediately after their conversion, and they are now facing persecution as a new congregation. 

In this letter to the Thessalonians Paul encourages them to be an example of faith.  What the Thessalonians show for us today is a faith that sets an example.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gospel

Election

Review of Last Week and How it connects to this week  

Last week’s lesson opened at 2 Corinthians 13:1 with verse one with Paul noting this as the third time he is coming to the Corinthians.  Paul then quotes the law concerning witnesses, found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.”  So perhaps Paul is telling them this is his third time and this time will be the third witness to establish guilt if necessary.  I noted how Paul had just a few verses earlier in chapter twelve mentioned that “he feared perhaps there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder there”.  Paul was concerned.  That was a pretty long list of things to be concerned about and it seemed that the church in Corinth had some of all of it. 

In verse two Paul got to the point.  He had previously warned those who sinned and all the others and now he was warning them again.  This wasn’t the first time Paul has warned them.  In fact, this wasn’t the second time he had warned them.  So this time he was clear – “If I come again, I will not be lenient.  I mentioned how my wife and I have five daughters.  And there have been many times we’ve said “don’t make me come in there!”  Verse two is the equivalent of Paul saying the same thing.  Paul was telling them, if he has to come again it won’t be nice. 

Paul continued in verse three seemingly in the same breath to say “since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me.  I noted how Paul’s warning here reminded me that I recently heard someone tell a young person “you don’t believe cow horns will hook”.  Paul had had about enough.  He had been disrespected, he had been criticized and he had been insulted.  And now, someone was demanding proof that Christ was speaking in him.  I noted how we need to keep in mind that it was Paul who organized the church in Corinth in the first place and now someone wanted PROOF that Christ was speaking in him.  Paul’s warning was so that “cow horns wouldn’t have to hook” when he got there.  Verse three also dealt again with Paul’s theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness he was raised in power and strength.

In verse four Paul continued explaining his theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus was crucified but lived in power, so too, Paul was weak but in dealing with the Corinthians would be strong by the power of God.

In verse five Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.  In verse two, someone wanted proof from Paul that he was in the faith.  In verse five Paul turned the question back on them and told them to examine themselves!  He continued – “Do you not realize that Christ is in you unless you fail to meet the test!”  Paul wasn’t questioning their salvation.  He was pointing out the obvious – that since Christ was in them it should be obvious that Paul was speaking for Christ.  I noted also that the King James Version used the word reprobate.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines reprobate as “Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation.  In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.”  Paul was telling them they need to be concerned about their own salvation rather than trying to examine his worthiness. 

In verse six Paul told the Corinthians that he hopes they would find out that we have not failed.  In Paul’s mind, if they had failed he had failed.  Paul was their Apostle and as such he was responsible for them.  Conversely, if they were found in good standing Paul would be also. 

In verse seven Paul continued with his hopes that they would not do anything wrong.  He doesn’t want them to do something wrong just so he can prove his power in God.  He wanted them to do right so he wouldn’t have to use his power in God. 

In verse eight Paul acknowledged that he (and they) couldn’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  Paul wanted them to know that the truth was Jesus Christ appeared to be weak but arose in strength and power.  And just as Jesus arose in power, Paul had the authority to use the power given to him by God as their Apostle.

In verse nine he declared “we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.”  In other words, he rejoiced that he may be seen as weak as long as they were strong in the faith.  In fact, he said this is what we pray for, so that you may become perfect.  It was Paul’s hope that they would become fully restored.  Where there had been dissension, confusion, and rejection Paul prayed for a full and complete restoration to the fullness and wholeness of one another in Christ. 

In verse ten Paul reminded them that he wrote those harsh words now so that when he arrived in person he would not have to use his authority for tearing them down but to build them up. 

Verse eleven closed the lesson with Paul’s farewell.  He reminded them to put things in order, to listen to what he had told them, to agree with one another, and to live in peace.  These final verses of this chapter and letter end in a much different way than how the chapter began.  It began harsh.  But It closed in a much different tone.

Last week Paul was concerned about the church at Corinth.  He wrote a harsh and stern letter to both defend himself and to warn the Corinthians to get things in order.  This week’s lesson focuses on the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.  He writes to encourage the Thessalonians and he provides a glowing example of how their faith leads to Holy Living.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Be examples of the Faith”.  Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That Sets and Example”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The Lesson opens at verse two with Paul noting how he, Silas, and Timothy always give thanks to God for all of the Thessalonians and how they mention them in their prayers constantly.  Paul wants them to know that he is praying for them.  If you really believe in the power of prayer, that is a comforting feeling.  Not to minimize this but even if it’s only a cordial greeting it’s still comforting to know that the person who organized this church, the one who led you to Christ, is praying for you.  

Paul continues in verse three letting them know that he remembers them.  He remembers their work of faith, their labor of love, and steadfast hope in Jesus Christ.  Listen; sometimes it takes work to have faith.  Sometimes it takes labor to have love, and sometimes it takes patience to have hope.  These are action words.  These aren’t idle, passive words.  They are active, vigorous, action words.  So Paul lets them know that he remembers what they are going through.  And he knows that they are doing the work; and not only that, but that they are doing the work before God.  It’s good, to remember good things.  These Thessalonians are doing good things and Paul wants them to know, that he knows.

In verse four Paul tells the brothers and sisters that God has chosen them.  The King James Version uses the word election instead of chosen.  Keep in mind that this is the earliest known Christian text.  At this point, Paul isn’t trying to put forth a doctrine of election.  He’s essentially telling them that God is on their side.  They have been chosen and God is on their side.  The NISBOVC explains “Paul claims his initial founding visit was the instrument by which God elected the Thessalonians, Gentiles heretofore being outside the covenant.”  So at this point, the doctrine of election is not likely what Paul is thinking of. 

Verse five continues the same thought about election or their chosen-ness.  Paul explains how the message of the gospel came to the Thessalonians.  Paul’s gospel message came in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction.  In other words, Paul’s gospel message was not weak.  Paul’s gospel message didn’t consist of mere words.  Paul’s message was made of the Holy Spirit and power and conviction.  It seems to me that if you have a real message from God then these are the ingredients that the message ought to consist of.  Paul continues, by reminded them that they know what kind of persons they proved to be when they were with them.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy evidently demonstrated this power and presence of the Holy Spirit with full conviction when they were with the Thessalonians.  

Verse six reminds the Thessalonians that they became imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy and of the Lord.  Listen, they imitated them and the Lord despite being in a pagan city, despite being in the midst of idol worshipers, and despite being persecuted.  Paul says they did this with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

In verse seven Paul gives the Thessalonians an enormous compliment.  He tells them that they are an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  If you are an example to all the believers in the place where you live, that’s high praise, that’s saying something, and that’s a pretty high standard. 

In verse eight Paul explains why he can give them such high praise.  Paul explains that the word of the Lord has come forth from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place their faith has become known.  The faithfulness of these Thessalonians is known far and wide.  There “fame” is spread abroad.  Listen, these Thessalonians deserve their pat on the back.  They were being persecuted!  But they didn’t give up and they didn’t give in.  They persevered and kept the faith and endured the hardship of living a faithful life in Christ.  They deserve this praise and it’s clear that Paul is proud of how they are holding up.   

In verse nine Paul reminds them of how far they have come.  Paul tells them the people of all those regions report what kind of welcome Paul, Silas, and Timothy had and how the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the true and living God.  Keep in mind Paul had to leave Thessalonica almost immediately after establishing the church.  So their welcome was not an easy joyous one.  But these Thessalonians have thus far held up the banner, they’ve kept the faith and Paul is delighted to write to encourage them further. 

Verse ten closes this lesson with an “apocalyptic climax” (NISBOVC).  Here the Apostle Paul encourages them to wait for God’s Son from heaven who will rescue them from the wrath that is coming. 

Context:

Decades ago when I was a brand new private in the United States Army I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law.  Some things you never forget.  MSG Law was a short black man and built solid as a rock.  He could do pushups for days, he could run and sing cadence and never get tired or give out of breath.  He had a distinctive voice.  He talked kinda quiet, until he didn’t.  And then everybody knew who he was and where he was.  All of the young men in my platoon did our best to imitate MSG Law. 

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law.  But the real question, is how my imitation of Jesus?

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – Formerly a leading persecutor of Christians from Tarsus who became the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles (Townsend). 

Key Words: 

Gospel – The central message of the Christian church to the world, centered on God’s provision of salvation for the world in Jesus Christ. 

Election – God’s choosing of a people to enjoy the benefits of salvation and to carry out God’s purposes in the world (1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10).  This doctrine has been of particular importance in Reformed theology. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  It’s been said that “you can imitate but never duplicate”.  When it comes to Jesus imitation is the key and duplication is the goal.        

Questions: 

1.  The Thessalonians turned from idols to worship and serve the true and living God.  Are their idols in our own lives that we should turn from? 

2.  The Apostle Paul profusely thanked the Thessalonians for their faithful living despite persecution.  Are there persons we can thank or at least acknowledge for holding up under pressure? 

Concluding Thought:

How should we be examples of faith? We demonstrate faith in a number ways we take for granted each day.  For example, when we sit in a chair we have faith that the chair will hold our weight.  When driving vehicles we have faith that other drivers actually know how to drive.  Saving faith is belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  If we want to be examples of faith, that’s the kind of faith that sets a good example and one that we all should follow. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson comes from 1 Peter first chapter.  In this lesson we’ll explore the Christian call to living a holy life.  Next week we explore how faith leads to holy living and show faith in action.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Live Holy Lives and “Faith That is Focused”. 

If you want to support this work I accept correspondence and gifts at

1590 Jonesboro Rd SE

Box 150032

Atlanta, GA  30315

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Sunday School Lesson (November 3, 2019) Self-Examination / Faith That Is Tested 2 Corinthians 13:1-11

Self-Examination / Faith That is Tested 2 Corinthians 13:1-11

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson we see the Apostle Paul exhort the Corinthians to self-examination through his own faith that is tested.  Paul has had about enough.  This isn’t the first time he’s written to the Corinthians, it isn’t the second time he’s written and these Corinthians are seriously trying his patience.  At this point, Paul is likely frustrated.  He has had to deal with false accusations, he has had to deal with false theology, and he’s had to deal with personal attacks against him.  He’s had to deal with people questioning whether he’s really an apostle.  And he’s had to deal with sexual immorality with this church in Corinth.  Paul begins this letter to the Corinthians with a harsh warning and if they don’t get it together, he will be forced to show them what his authority as an apostle can really do.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Apostle

Reprobate

Background 

The second letter of Paul to the Corinthians may not be his second letter after all.  It could be his third or even more depending on whether 2 Corinthians is really a combination of other letters.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 5:9 to another letter he has already written to Corinth, so the “First Letter to the Corinthians” is not really the first”.  That’s significant because we generally understand the First Letter to the Corinthians in a different context than what we call the Second Letter to the Corinthians.  The NISB notes “what we call 2 Corinthians mentions another lost letter (2 Cor. 2:3; 7:8-12) and perhaps fragments of (at Least) two other letters or more.”  So the point is, not only did Paul organize the Church at Corinth, he has also been in regular contact with the church to guide them in the ways of God.  As Paul writes the letter we call 2 Corinthians, he has already had some significant history and conversations with them.  This isn’t the first time he has written, it isn’t the second time he’s written and it is likely at least the fourth.  So at this point, Paul is likely frustrated.  He has had to deal with false accusations, he has had to deal with false theology, and he’s had to deal with personal attacks against him.  He’s had to deal with people questioned whether he’s really an apostle. And he’s had to deal with sexual immorality with this church in Corinth.  The NISB notes that this is Paul’s third-longest letter and while the First letter deals with pastoral issues, here the honeymoon is definitely over and all the problems of a long-term relationship are evident.”  The Corinthians complain that “his letters are strong, but his appearance is unimpressive and his speech is definitely a loser (10:10).”  In this letter Paul deals with his theology of weakness as he explains that Jesus Christ was weak in crucifixion but raised in strength by the power of God.  2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Also significant in this letter is Paul’s defense of his credentials as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and the defense of his ministry.  The NISB notes that “Paul’s credibility at Corinth was at an all-time low.  In response he writes a letter of “tough love”, which Titus carried to them”.  There was conflict and dissention in the church at Corinth.  Dr. Guy Nave writes in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “many Christians have a tendency to romanticize the world of the New Testament as though it represented a community of complete harmony with no bickering, or disagreeing over issues of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation”.  He goes on to explain that no such harmony ever existed.  In fact, many of the issues people notice and complain about in today’s church existed in the first century church.  Dr. Guy Nave writes “Members of the congregation not only disagreed with Paul but also questioned his authority and credibility”.  In Paul’s first letter he addressed a report of divisions among the Corinthians, a report of fornication and how it should be handled, and then varying thoughts on marriage, worship of idols, and the collection for Jerusalem.  Paul writes this second letter to the Corinthians (although Nelson’s explains this as his fourth letter to them) “in order to recount his former anxiety and to express his joy over the reform in Corinth” (Nelson’s).     

In this thirteenth chapter we see an Apostle Paul who is harsh.  He plainly warns the Corinthians in hopes of using his authority to build up the Corinthians when he arrives and not to tear them down.  Dr. Nave writes “A true indicator of strength is one’s ability and willingness to labor, struggle, and even suffer not merely for one’s own personal well-being but also for the well-being of those in need”.  Across the years Paul had suffered for the cause of Christ and it was Paul who organized this church.  At this point, it is Paul’s hope that the Corinthians will recognize that the Christ Paul introduced to them, is the Christ who lives in Paul and among them.  Paul exhorts the Corinthians to self-examination all while demonstrating faith that is tested. Some important words to consider from this text include:

Apostle

Reprobate

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week    

Last week’s lesson was taken from the seventh chapter of Luke.  The lesson opened at verse thirty-seven describing a woman in the city who was a sinner.  Verse thirty-seven specified that it wasn’t until she knew that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house that she then brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  I highlighted that Jesus was eating with a Pharisee and Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define Pharisee as a “Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31).  I also highlighted that I often hear people use the term Pharisee as a pejorative.  In other words they look down on Pharisees in a negative way based on the Pharisee’s interactions with Jesus leading up to his crucifixion on the cross and several other places in scripture.  I noted that I wanted to caution us about using the word Pharisee in a negative way.  We shouldn’t say things like “that person is a Pharisee” in a negative way because there are a number of Jewish and Christian scholars who identify Jesus as a Pharisee.  Even though Pharisee’s are portrayed in a negative way in several scriptures we should be careful about using the term in a negative way.  In other words if Jesus was a Pharisee, maybe we shouldn’t call people a Pharisee or look down on Pharisee’s in a completely negative way.  Secondly, I highlighted that the jar of perfume was expensive.  This woman who was identified as a sinner entered the Pharisee’s house without an invitation and brought an expensive jar of perfume because she was intent on blessing Jesus.  She wasn’t invited, but she was going in anyway. 

I noted in verse thirty-eight how the unnamed woman wept at Jesus’ feet.  She wept enough to wash his feet with her tears.  And then she dried his feet with her hair.  And then she kissed his feet with her lips.  And then she anointed his feet with her expensive perfume.  She cried enough to wash his feet, and I added that she just cried her heart out.  She was broken hearted.  But more importantly, I noted that she cried because she knew who Jesus was.  She knew Jesus was the Messiah.  She knew Jesus could heal her broken heart.  And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was.  Jesus knew her heart.  Jesus knew that she was a sinner.  But you didn’t see Jesus condemning her.  I reminded us of Psalm 51:17 that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  That’s how this woman came to Jesus.  She came with a broken and contrite heart. 

Verse thirty-nine gave us an example of why Pharisee’s have a bad reputation.  Simon the Pharisee questioned whether Jesus was a prophet based on the fact that Jesus let this weeping, broken hearted, contrite, woman touch him.  Notice also that Simon “said to himself”.  He didn’t confront Jesus directly with his doubts.  Instead, he thinks these thoughts but Jesus knew what he was thinking.  Jesus didn’t judge the woman, but clearly Simon the Pharisee did. 

In verse forty, Jesus knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts said “Simon, I have something to say to you”.  Simon called Jesus “Teacher” and told him to say on.  I noted that at this point you knew the “Teacher” was about to take the Pharisee to school.  

In verses forty-one and forty-two Jesus began a parable explaining how a creditor had two debtors, one owing 500 denarii and the other owing 50.  When neither could repay the debt the creditor forgave them both.  Jesus then asked Simon the Pharisee “which of them will love the creditor the most”.

In verse forty three Simon the judgmental Pharisee said I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.  Jesus responded with you have judged rightly.  I noted that if Simon hadn’t gotten the point before, at this point it should be crystal clear by now.  This woman was a known sinner.  She knew her sins.  She knew what she had done and she knew what she had not done.  She owned it.  She didn’t place the blame on anybody else.  It was hers and she was sorry for her sins. 

I noted that in verses forty-four, forty-five, and forty-six class was in full session.  Jesus, this Rabbi, this Teacher was driving the point home.  He turned to the woman and told Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came to YOUR house and you didn’t give me water to wash my feet but she bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  I came to YOUR house but you didn’t give me a kiss and yet here she is kissing my feet since I’ve been here.  I came to YOUR house and you didn’t anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  If Simon wasn’t embarrassed, he should have been.  Hospitality was important to the Jewish people and a Pharisee should have and would have known that.  This sinner woman showed more hospitality in the Pharisee’s house than the Pharisee did in his own house.

In verses forty-seven and forty-eight Jesus tells Simon that even though her sins are many she has been forgiven because she has shown great love.  He then turns to the woman and plainly tells her “your sins are forgiven”.  I noted that I could only imagine the great joy this broken hearted and contrite woman must have felt to hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness.  After all she had been through, after all she had done and failed to do, Jesus sees her and forgives her.  What does not get mentioned in the text is whether the Pharisee sought his own forgiveness.

Last week a woman who was a sinner found the healing and forgiveness she needed in Jesus Christ.  Her demonstrated love is profound in ways that are hard for me to comprehend.  This week the Apostle Paul responds to the Corinthians with a harsh warning in hopes they will understand his position of authority even in his weakness.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Self-Examination”.  Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That is Tested”.  The scripture text comes from 2 Corinthians 13:1-11. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

The lesson opens at verse one with Paul noting this as the third time he is coming to the Corinthians.  He then quotes the law concerning witnesses, found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.”  So perhaps Paul is telling them this is the third time he is coming and this will be the third witness to establish guilt if necessary.  Just a few verses earlier in chapter twelve Paul said “he feared that perhaps there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder there”.  Paul is concerned.  That’s a pretty long list of things to be concerned about and it seems that the church in Corinth has some of all of it. 

In verse two Paul gets to the point.  He has previously warned those who sinned and all the others and now he was warning them again.  This isn’t the first time he has warned them.  In fact, this isn’t the second time he has warned them.  So this time he is clear – “If I come again, I will not be lenient.  My wife and I have five daughters.  There have been many times we’ve said “don’t make me come in there!”  Verse two is the equivalent of Paul saying the same thing.  Paul is telling them, if he has to come again it won’t be nice. 

Paul continues in verse three seemingly in the same breath to say “since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me.  Paul’s warning here reminds me that I recently heard someone tell a young person “you don’t believe cow horns will hook”.  Paul has had about enough.  He has been disrespected, he has been criticized and he has been insulted.  Someone is demanding proof that Christ is speaking in him.  Keep in mind that it was Paul who organized this church in the first place and now someone wants PROOF that Christ is speaking in him.  His warning is so that “cow horns won’t have to hook” when he get there.  Verse three also deals again with Paul’s theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness Jesus was raised in power and strength.

In verse four he continues with explaining his theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus was crucified but lives in power, so too, Paul is weak but in dealing with the Corinthians will be strong by the power of God.

In verse five Paul exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith.  In verse two, someone wanted proof from Paul that he was in the faith.  In verse five Paul turns the question back on them and tells them to examine themselves!  He continues – “Do you not realize that Christ is in you unless you fail to meet the test!”  Paul isn’t questioning their salvation.  He is pointing out the obvious – that Christ is in them and it should likewise be obvious that Paul is speaking for Christ.  Note also that the King James Version used the word reprobate.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define reprobate as “Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation.  In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.”  Paul is telling them they need to be concerned about their own salvation rather than trying to examine his worthiness. 

In verse six Paul tells the Corinthians that he hopes they will find out that we have not failed.  In Paul’s mind, if they have failed he has failed.  Paul is their apostle and as such he is responsible for them.  Conversely, if they are found in good standing so is Paul. 

In verse seven Paul continues with his hopes that they will not do anything wrong.  He doesn’t want them to do something wrong just so he can prove his power in God.  He wants them to do right so he doesn’t have to use his power in God. 

In verse eight Paul acknowledges that he (and they) can’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  Paul wants them to know that the truth is Jesus Christ appeared to be weak but arose in strength and power.  And just as Jesus arose in power, Paul has the authority to use the power given to him by God as their Apostle.

In verse nine he declares “we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.”  In other words, he rejoices that he may be seen as weak as long as they are strong in the faith.  In fact, he says this is what we pray for, so that you may become perfect.  It is Paul’s hope that they will become fully restored.  Where there has been dissension, confusion, and rejection Paul prays for a full and complete restoration to the fullness and wholeness of one another in Christ. 

In verse ten Paul reminds them that he writes these harsh words now so that when he arrives in person he will not have to use his authority for tearing them down but to build them up. 

Verse eleven closes this lesson with Paul’s farewell.  He reminds them to put things in order, to listen to what he’s told them, to agree with one another, and to live in peace.  These final verses of this chapter and letter end in a much different way than how this chapter began.  It began harsh.  It closes in a different tone.    

Context

Don’t confuse meekness with weakness.  The meek shall inherit the earth.  The difference between the two is that meek people can do something but choose not to whereas weak people are not capable of doing a thing.  In this lesson Paul demonstrates meekness in a faith that is tested.  In this lesson Paul’s faith is tested in a people that had abused his niceness.  The Corinthians faith is tested as they are exhorted to self-examination.  As it turns out Paul’s meekness is not at all weakness and Paul hopes and prays for the sake of the Corinthians that he does not have to show his strength. 

Key Characters in the text

Paul – Formerly a leading persecutor of Christians from Tarsus who became the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles (Townsend). 

Key Words

Apostle – One sent to act on the authority of another.  Refers to the earliest, closest followers of Jesus (Matthew 10:2-4)

Reprobate – Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation.  In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas

1.  Meekness is not weakness.      

2.  Cow horns still hook.           

Questions

1.  In this warning to the Corinthians Paul hopes that he will not have to be harsh when he arrives in person.  Do church leaders have this authority today?

2.  An Apostle is defined as one who is sent to act on the authority of another and generally refers to the earliest closest followers of Jesus.  What apostolic authority exists today?    

Concluding Thought

We’ve all had failures and mistakes in life.  But this lesson is about leadership and followership.  Regardless of whether the Corinthians thought they were right, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle every problem.  Paul demonstrated patience wrapped in love toward these Corinthians.  But he was prepared to use his authority if necessary.  A good leader knows how to properly use authority and good followers know how to properly confront poor leadership. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week’s lesson comes from 1 Thessalonians first chapter.  Just as the Corinthians in this week’s lesson the church at Thessalonica faced challenges.  Unlike the Corinthian’s the Thessalonian’s handled their challenges in a much different way.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Be Examples of Faith”. 

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Sunday School Lesson (October 27, 2019) Faith Saves / Grateful Faith Luke 7:37-48

Faith Saves / Grateful Faith Luke 7:27-48

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson we see how faith saves an unnamed woman who is a sinner.  She demonstrates grateful faith and she needs forgiveness.  She’s not invited to Simon the Pharisee’s house but she goes anyway.  She goes with a determination not just to see Jesus, but to bless Jesus.  She knows he is the Messiah.  While she is crying at his feet she cried enough to wash his feet and I’m going to say she cried her heart out.  She cried!  She cried because she knew who Jesus was.  And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was.  Jesus knew her heart.  Jesus knew that she was a sinner.  But you don’t see Jesus condemning her.  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This woman demonstrates her love for Jesus and Jesus forgives her sin.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Gratitude

Pharisee

Background: 

This week’s lesson continues in the same book and chapter of last week.  The Gospel according to Luke is the third of the four Gospels.  It is also the third of the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  One of the most notable things about this Gospel is its narrative of the birth of Jesus.  Luke offers one of the most detailed records of the Savior’s birth.     

While Luke’s Gospel does not identify its author by name Nelson’s Bible Handbook tells us that the author “does tell us a good deal about himself.”  For example, both the Gospel of Luke and Acts are written to Theophilus, “a person of high social standing” (Nelson’s).  Nelson’s also explains that “the author is a Gentile and as such is interested in Gentiles and equally disinterested in matters purely Jewish”.  Dr. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder writes in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “Luke’s Jesus confronts the rich so that rich and poor are given equal footing.  Women, the lame, the hungry, and those deemed “other” are brought to the forefront by Luke presenting Jesus as one of and for the oppressed”.  I think that’s an important distinction to note about Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus identifying as oppressed puts him in the company of many of the Old Testament prophets for the Jewish people of his time and helps those who are oppressed today know that God is on their side.   As I mentioned last week, most people understand Luke to be a physician and a writer with excellent command of the Greek language.  Dr. Crowder notes however that “Nothing in the work itself declares the author to be Paul’s companion or a physician”.  She continues, “the book nonetheless bears the name of one who was deemed a companion of the Apostle Paul and a physician (Acts 16:10-17, 21:1-18; Col 4:11-14)”.  So there is some evidence to support the idea of Luke as a physician and Paul’s companion but it is not conclusive.  In much the same way, neither is the date that this Gospel was written.  Dr. Crowder notes that “there is not much to substantiate the time of its writing.  Yet references to the destruction of the second temple and Jerusalem aid in narrowing the time of composition to ca. 80-90 C.E.”.  

The seventh chapter of Luke begins with the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant.  Our lesson this week closes the seventh chapter and deals with a woman needing forgiveness.  The verses between last week’s lesson and this week include accounts of Jesus raising a widow’s son at Nain, and messengers coming from John the Baptist to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

In this lesson, we see a woman in need.  But she hasn’t come to Jesus begging.  Instead she comes with a tender heart of love.  In the same way Dr. Crowder says Jesus identifies with the oppressed I believe this woman knew that Jesus saw her and understood her.  Not only did he see her but Jesus understood her heart.  While this lesson may be entitled Faith Saves and Grateful Faith, I think it could just as easily be entitled a sinners love for Jesus.  This lesson will show us love demonstrated by a woman who sought forgiveness from her Savior.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gratitude

Pharisee

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

Last week’s lesson came from the same book and chapter of this week’s lesson.  Luke the seventh chapter began with Jesus having finished talking about loving your enemies, not judging or condemning others, and a parable about two foundations in chapter six.  When Jesus finished all of those sayings in chapter six he went into Capernaum.  I noted that Capernaum became the home of Jesus after he began his earthly ministry.  I also noted how Matthew fourth chapter explains that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee. 

Verse two explained that there was a centurion who owned a slave whom he valued highly.  The slave was sick and about to die.  A centurion was a Roman soldier responsible for one hundred men.  That means he would have been an official of the Roman Empire and a man with substantial authority over the Jewish people and over his own soldiers.  I quoted Dr. Mitzi J. Smith in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary noting how she explains that “when the centurion describes his slave as “highly valued” (entimos), he refers to the slave’s socioeconomic value”.  I highlighted that detail because I think it’s important to dispel the myth that American chattel enslavement was worse than New Testament enslavement and vise-versa. 

I also noted that the Greek word used for slave (or servant in some translations) is doulos.  The correct term is slave and is defined as a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master.  I quoted Dr. Mitzi J. Smith again noting how she explains that “the owner is eager for Jesus to heal his servant because of the loss of revenue resulting from the slave’s sickness and inactivity.”  I also thought it was important to recognize Townsend Commentary explaining that “centurions who appear in the New Testament are generally shown to be men of positive character”.  And as I noted in the Background section, an enslaved person in New Testament days would not have been treated any better than those enslaved in the American chattel system. 

In verse three I noted that the centurion heard about Jesus and sent Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.  The reputation of Jesus preceded him.  This centurion knew about Jesus before even meeting Jesus.  The centurion already knew that Jesus had the authority and was capable of healing his valuable enslaved possession.  Evidently the centurion had the clout or authority to send Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf.  I noted that Matthew’s recollection of this story in Matthew the eighth chapter, says the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus.  

In verse four, when the Jewish elders came to Jesus they appealed to Jesus on behalf of the centurion.  They wanted Jesus to know that the centurion was deserving of this miracle.  I noted that this takes place in the early part of Jesus’ ministry.  It was in chapter 6 that Jesus called his twelve disciples.  Yet, his fame was already spreading.  The Jews who came to Jesus evidently believed Jesus could heal the servant also. 

Verse five explained why the Jewish elders believed the centurion was deserving of the miracle.  They explained to Jesus that the centurion was worthy “because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”. 

In verse six Jesus went with the Jewish elders.  When Jesus was not far from the centurion’s house the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to trouble himself, because he didn’t deserve to have Jesus under his roof.  I noted that the centurion’s humility could not be diminished.  He was a man of authority.  Yet he recognized that despite his own great authority, the authority of Jesus was far superior.   

In verse seven the centurion explained that he didn’t come personally to Jesus because he didn’t see himself as worthy.  It was the next statement that I thought really set the centurion apart.  He said “but say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Not only was the centurion demonstrating humility, he was also demonstrating faith.  The centurion really believed in the power of Jesus.  He believed that faith could heal. 

In verse eight the centurion explained that he was a man under authority with soldiers and servants that he could tell to go and come and to do and they would do what he told them to do.  The centurion wanted Jesus to know that despite his own authority, he respected the authority of Jesus.  I noted that having faith is having confidence or trust in a person.  I often pray that I’ve placed my faith, my trust, and my confidence in Jesus and Jesus alone.  While this centurion might have been kind to the Jewish people his kindness was not what moved Jesus.  Even though he may have been generous by having their synagogue built it wasn’t his generosity that moved Jesus.  What moved Jesus was the centurion’s faith.  This wasn’t wishful thinking.  It was a deep conviction that Jesus was the man who could and would make his slave well.  The centurion had an expectation that all Jesus needed to do was say the word.   

In verse nine, after hearing the centurion’s faith, Jesus was amazed.  I noted that Townsend explains that “this is one of two places in the gospels where Jesus is said to be amazed – here in Capernaum by faith and in Nazareth by unbelief (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6). 

Verse ten concluded the lesson helping us to know that Jesus did, in fact, heal the slave.  When the men returned to the house they found the servant well.  Jesus spoke the word and the slave was healed. 

Last week the Roman centurion, a Gentile, a man who wasn’t even in the Jewish faith demonstrated humility and great faith.  He was an outsider.  His faith was so great that it amazed Jesus.  Unlike the woman in this week’s lesson He was a man of great authority.  Yet we see in this week’s lesson both of them – a man of great authority and a woman of ill repute show great humility.  Regardless of their reasons, both of them were humble.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Faith Saves” Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Grateful Faith”.  The scripture text comes from Luke 7:37-48. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at verse thirty-seven describing a woman in the city as a sinner.  This verse specifies that it wasn’t until she knew that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house that she then brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  There are a couple things I want to highlight in this verse.  First of which is the fact that Jesus is eating with a Pharisee.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms define Pharisee as a “Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31).  I highlight this because I often hear people use the term Pharisee as a pejorative.  In other words they look down on Pharisees in a negative way based on the Pharisee’s interactions with Jesus leading up to his crucifixion on the cross.  But I want to caution us about using Pharisee in a negative way.  There are a number of Jewish and Christian scholars who identify Jesus as a Pharisee.  Even though Pharisee’s are portrayed in a negative way in several scriptures we should be careful about using the term in a negative way.  In other words if Jesus was a Pharisee, maybe we shouldn’t call people a Pharisee or look down on Pharisee’s in a completely negative way.  Secondly, I want to highlight that this jar of perfume was expensive.  This woman who was identified as a sinner entered the Pharisee’s house without an invitation and brought an expensive jar of perfume because she was intent on blessing Jesus.  She wasn’t invited, but she was going in anyway. 

Verse thirty-eight tells us how she wept at Jesus’ feet.  She wept enough to wash his feet with her tears.  And then she dried his feet with her hair.  And then she kissed his feet with her lips.  And then she anointed his feet with this expensive perfume.  If she cried enough to wash his feet, I’m going to say she cried her heart out.  She cried!  She cried because she knew who Jesus was.  And I believe she cried because Jesus knew who she was.  Jesus knew her heart.  Jesus knew that she was a sinner.  But you don’t see Jesus condemning her.  Psalm 51:17 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  That’s how this woman came to Jesus. 

Verse thirty-nine gives us an example of why Pharisee’s have a bad reputation.  This Pharisee questioned whether Jesus was a prophet based on the fact that Jesus let this weeping, broken hearted, contrite, woman touch him.  Notice also that the Pharisee “said to himself”.  He didn’t confront Jesus directly with his doubts.  Instead, he thinks these thoughts but Jesus knows what he is thinking.  Jesus didn’t judge the woman, but clearly this Pharisee did. 

In verse forty, Jesus knowing the Pharisee’s thoughts says “Simon, I have something to say to you”.  Simon calls Jesus “Teacher” and tells him to say on.  At this point you know the “Teacher” is about to take the Pharisee to school.  

In verses forty-one and forty-two Jesus begins a parable explaining how a creditor had two debtors, one owing 500 denarii and the other owing 50.  When neither could repay the debt the creditor forgave them both.  Jesus then asked Simon the Pharisee “which of them will love him the most”.

In verse forty three Simon the judgmental Pharisee said I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.  Jesus responded with you have judged rightly.  If Simon didn’t get the point before, it should be crystal clear by now.  This woman was a known sinner.  She knew her sins.  She knew what she had done and she knew what she had not done.  She owned it.  She didn’t place the blame on anybody else.  It was hers and she was sorry for her sins. 

In verses forty-four, forty-five, and forty-six class is in full session.  Jesus, this Rabbi, this Teacher is driving the point home.  He turns to the woman and tells Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came to YOUR house and you didn’t give me water to wash my feet but she bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  I came to YOUR house but you didn’t give me a kiss and yet here she is kissing my feet since I’ve been here.  I came to YOUR house and you didn’t anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  If Simon wasn’t embarrassed, he should have been.  Hospitality was important to the Jewish people and a Pharisee should have and would have known this.  This sinner woman showed more hospitality in the Pharisee’s house than the Pharisee did in his own house.

In verses forty-seven and forty-eight Jesus tells Simon that even though her sins are many she has been forgiven because she has shown great love.  He then turns to the woman and plainly tells her “your sins are forgiven”.  I can only imagine the great joy this broken hearted and contrite woman must have felt to hear the words of Jesus’ forgiveness.  After all she had been through, after all she had done and failed to do, Jesus sees her and forgives her.  What does not get mentioned in the text is whether the Pharisee sought his own forgiveness. 

Context:

Forgiveness is pardoning or remitting an offense.  It restores a good relationship with God, others, or the self after sin or alienation.  Individuals can forgive other individuals, creditors can forgive debts, and institutions can seek forgiveness for any harm they have caused.  I’m specifically thinking of  the harm of institutional and systemic racism and white supremacy.  I think it’s important to note that forgiveness should not be offered to those who aren’t seeking forgiveness.  Forgiveness restores a good relationship.  We have recently seen efforts to encourage communities to offer forgiveness when police officers kill unarmed citizens – especially in the case of Atatiana Jefferson.  Those efforts were flatly rejected by the community and rightly so.  Forgiveness restores relationship.  Good relationship cannot exist in an environment of fear and no trust.  This sinful woman was repentant.  She was sorry for her sins and she demonstrated her love for Jesus with a contrite and broken heart.  She sought forgiveness in a way that made her repentance clear.  When true forgiveness is sought in a way that makes repentance clear forgiveness relationships is restored.  When there is true forgiveness there will be true relationship. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus – 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.  His followers worship him and seek to obey his will.    

Unnamed Sinner woman – encompasses one of the instances when Jesus has contact with women.  In Luke 7, the name of the woman is never given.  She is not Mary Magdalene, who introduces him in the next event (Townsend).

Simon the Pharisee – A Pharisee (separated one) was of the Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31). 

Key Words: 

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” (2 Cor. 9:15) of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme expression of God’s grace.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  A sinner’s love for Jesus.      

2.  No forgiveness sought and none given (the Pharisee).         

Questions: 

1.  Hospitality was an important practice in the Jewish faith.  Does Simon the Pharisee show appropriate hospitality to Jesus?            

2.  In what ways can you show your love for Jesus? 

Concluding Thought:

This woman knew Jesus was the Messiah.  She was an unlikely person to come in contact with the Messiah yet she did.  She wasn’t deterred dissuaded or discouraged.  She had a gift for Jesus and even though she wasn’t invited she went to the Pharisee’s house to meet her Savior.  She persisted.  We too need to persist. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson is the first lesson of unit three and remains in the New Testament.  Next week 2 Corinthians thirteenth chapter invites us to explore self-examination as Paul admonishes the Corinthians to test themselves to see if they are in the faith.  The lesson is titled “Self-Examination”. 

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Uncategorized

Sunday School Lesson Overview for October 21, 2018 – The Birth of the Promised Son / Abraham and Sarah Birth God’s People

Review of Last Week and how it connects to this week:

Last week’s lesson covered Genesis chapters 10, 11, and 12.  We discussed how Genesis helps explain who the people were and from whom they came.  It was important to “draw a line” from Adam to Noah, to Abraham, all the way to their current position in history.

Chapter 11 concluded with the descendants of Shem – one of Noah’s three sons.  Abraham is descended from Shem.  And then chapter 12 begins with the call of Abraham.  God selects, Abraham one of the sons of Terah and gives Abraham some life changing instructions.

All of these lessons have taken us from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham and now to Isaac.  The writer in Genesis is telling Gods people where they came from and how they got to where they are.

This week’s lesson comes from Genesis 18:9-15 and 21:1-7.  Standard Commentary Titles the lesson “The Birth of the Promised Son,” Boyd’s and Townsend title it “Abraham and Sarah Birth God’s People”.

Background:  The lesson begins with three men, one of whom seems to be The Lord God.  In verses 16 and 22 these men appear to be ordinary humans.  But in verses 1 and 13 one of them appears to be The Lord God.

At this point, Abram is 99 years old.  Sarah is well beyond child-bearing age.  This is not the first time Abram has heard that he would have an heir and many descendants.  He has been promised this before.  He’s already 99 so don’t tease him!  Abram knows what God has promised him in the past.  He heard it in chapter 12:2, 13:16, 15:4-6, 17:15-19, and here in chapter 18:9.  So they’ve heard this before.  And they believed it when they heard it the first time.  That’s why they left everything they knew and most of what they loved back in Ur.  In fact, they believed God so much, they tried to “help God” give them an heir through Sarah’s handmaid Hagar the Egyptian.

At this point, it is 24 years since Abraham left his father’s house.  And 24 years later these three visitors show up and tell him next year Sarah will give birth.  How many people know that sometimes, you have to wait?  And sometimes, you have to wait a long time.  Abram and Sarah show us that waiting can be hard to do.  Waiting for your blessing, waiting for your healing, waiting for your wife or husband, waiting for your ministry, waiting for your graduation.  Waiting can be HARD.  It was 25 years before Sarah and Abram received the heir they had been waiting for.

So Isaac is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram and Sarah.  What we need to understand is the only way this promise is fulfilled is by Devine intervention (that’s important).  Abraham can’t say “I did that by myself”.  Sarah can’t say “I did that by myself”.  God is the one who fulfills the promise to the people of Israel.  So when the people of Israel look back to where they came from, they can only say that IT WAS GOD that brought us here.

Context:  Abraham and Sarah are 100 and 90 years old respectively.  They cannot produce children without the miraculous intervention of God.  This helps the Hebrew people understand that God can do the impossible.  Under ordinary circumstances this birth would be impossible.  Notice also, under ordinary circumstances, the birth of Jesus would be impossible.  So the point is, nothing is impossible with God.

Here the characters of the text are still dealing with situations that lead up to events that fulfill the covenant promise made to Abram.  Abram has been promised an heir and many descendants.  He has been told that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan.  A land already occupied by Canaanite farmers.  In this text, Ishmael is not named.  Isaac would be born and his half-brother Ishmael would eventually be banished.

Note also the New Interpreters Study Bible tells us “While circumcision was taken as a distinctive mark of membership in the community of Israel, made up of the descendants of Abraham, it was in fact a widely practiced rite in the ancient Near East”.  So for the descendants of Abraham circumcision is a sign of the covenant with God.  But circumcision is not unique to the Hebrew people.  Others practiced it also.

What takes place in these passages:

In this text we see 3 visitors appear to Abram.  Abram demonstrates genuine hospitality by preparing a feast and you get the idea that he treats them with the very best he has to offer.  And then one of them tells him “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  In Chapter 17, it is Abram that laughs.  Here in chapter 18 it is Sarai that laughs.  And if you put yourself in their shoes, you might laugh too.  People don’t have babies when they are 90 years old.  In chapter 21, Sarah indeed laughs, but it is laughter of joy.  God has blessed her with Isaac.  And finally after 8 days, Abraham circumcised Isaac.

Key Characters in the text:

God – It is not entirely clear if The Lord is one of the three visitors in verses 16 and 22.

Abraham – His name means father of a multitude.

Sarah – Gives birth to Isaac at 90 years old.

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

  1. Patience: the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
  2. Skepticism: having an attitude of doubt.  Doubtful about a particular thing.

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Is anything too hard for God
  2. Hospitality – Hebrew 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
  3. I’ll believe it when I see it. (Of course, Abraham believed it when he first heard it).
  4. Who’s laughing now?  (Sarah gets the last laugh)

Thoughts:  Waiting

Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Question:

  1. What is the significance of circumcision today? See Gal 6:15 (15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature) and Deuteronomy 10:16

Concluding thought:  God’s promise is not limited to our human probabilities or possibilities.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson deals with Isaac and Rebekah.  Abraham arranges the marriage of Isaac.  Isaac’s wife is to be taken from Abraham’s family that he left many years ago.  Rebekah accepts the arrangement and God’s promises continue through the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.

Religion, Genesis, Sunday School, Uncategorized

Sunday School Lesson Overview for October 14, 2018 – The Call of Abraham and God is Always Working

Review from Last Week and how  it connects to this week

Last week Noah was the central character of the text.  Genesis Chapter 5 listed the genealogy from Adam all the way up to Noah and chapter 5 ended by telling us that Noah was five hundred years old when he had Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Chapter 6 described the situation before the flood after men and women had multiplied greatly upon the earth.  We talked about the Nephilim or the giants who were the product of the sons of God and the daughters of men.  And also, how the wickedness of humans was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually.  This grieved God’s heart and the text indicates THAT’S WHY THE EARTH WAS DESTROYED.

We also discussed how one man in particular could make a difference.    The REASON Noah could restore what was right and the reason God did not completely wipe all of humanity off the face of the earth is because Noah was righteous.

All of that ties into this week’s lesson as we now consider the genealogies of the people of Israel leading up to another man that God chose to make a difference for the world.  God gave Abram a promise.  Perhaps there are ways, we can make a difference and perhaps there are promises for us also.

This lesson is taken from Genesis 10:1, 11:10, 27, 31, 32; 12:1-4.  Standard Commentary Titles the lesson “The Call of Abram” Boyd’s and Townsend title it God is Always Working”.

Background:

These books of Genesis help explain the relationships between the nations that came to exist after the descendants of Noah repopulated the earth.  The genealogies in chapter 10 and 11 describe who the people were and from whom they came.  But the point is – at this time in history, all of the various nations – the Canaanites, the Moabites, the Ishmaelite’s, the Philistines; (If the great flood happened like it says it did) they all descended from Noah and Noah’s children.  So the question is – HOW DO THEY END UP FIGHTING!  The simple answer is because they are human – just like you and me.  Sometimes, even brothers and sisters have a hard enough time getting along.  And the farther we grow apart the easier it is for disagreements, misunderstandings, mistakes, and problems to occur.  The New Interpreters Study Bible tells us “the Ishmaelites, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, and Aramaeans were all descendants of Abraham or his father, Terah.  Through chapters ten and eleven, seventy nations are listed.  Townsend commentary tells us “this is typological, that is, it can be used for rhetorical effect to evoke the idea of totality”.  In other words the number seven represents completion and 70 nations represents God’s completion of restoring the population.

Chapter 11 begins with the Tower of Babel.  “The whole earth had one language and the same words”.  Then chapter 11 concludes with the descendants of Shem – one of Noah’s three sons.  Abram is descended from Shem.  And then chapter 12 begins with the call of Abram.  God selects, chooses, picks, Abram one of the sons of Terah and gives Abram some life changing instructions.

Context: 

Now, let’s put these three chapters in context.  One of the central points of today’s lesson is who these people are, and from whom they came.  These genealogies are drawing a line all the way down to Abraham.  The New Interpreters Study Bible (NISB) says “the ancestral stories in Genesis, together with the theme of promise that unites them, were actually put into the form in which they now exist during the later monarchic period”.  In other words, what we are reading today was formed during the time of Saul, David and Solomon – that’s the Monarchic period.  They were formed this way and told this way to help the people who were living right then, to understand how they got to where they were.  So the writer is telling the nation of Israel – The REASON we are so blessed is BECAUSE God promised this to Abraham, God promised this to Isaac, and God promised this to Jacob.  So in other words, this text “must be read as being directed to a particular HISTORICAL context.

Now listen, The NISB says, “We have to be cautious about removing these promises from the historical setting for which they were intended and relating them to the contemporary (or modern day) political context in the Middle East”.  So let me say this as plainly as I can.  I have a problem with Christians who worship Israel.  Genesis 12:3 says And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.  This is what is quoted so often in Christian circles.  People who believe that anything modern day Israel does is blessed by God.  Now listen, I read the Bible from a Christological perspective.  Everything I read, I’m trying to see Christ in it.  But this verse wasn’t written with Jesus Christ in mind.  It is compiled for the Hebrew people to help them understand where they came from, and how they got to where they are.  So I have a problem with people who bow down and worship Israel.  People who accept anything and everything this current Israeli government does without question.  And since this quarter is focused on God creating and re-creating – let me just say, I’ll be glad when God re-creates peace and justice in the Holy Land.

What takes place in the passages:

After listing the genealogies of Noah and his sons down to Terah who is the father of Abram, the text tells us how Terah took Abram and Lot his grandson and Sari his daughter-in-law to Haran and dwelt there.  When Terah was two hundred five years old, he died in Haran.  Then Genesis 12 shows us how God spoke to Abram.  God gave Abram specific instructions to leave his country, leave his kindred and to go to a land that God would show him.

God promises Abram – if you do what I tell you to do, if you leave everybody I tell you to leave, all of your culture, everything that you’re familiar with, all of your kinfolk, friends and neighbors, all of your cookouts, all of your family reunions, all of your favorite places to hang out and favorite people to hang out with.  Everything that’s familiar to you and go where I tell you to go – I’ll make you a great nation and I’ll bless you and make your name great in the earth.  In fact Abram, if you do what I tell you to do – I’ll bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you and in YOU all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

So at 75 years old, Abram packs his bags, and he does what God tells him to do.

Key Characters in the text:

God –

Abram – He is the first great patriarch.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews regard him as the epitome of human faith in the will of God.  His name means father of a multitude.

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

  1. Call: When God summons someone to salvation or to a particular work of service, implying Devine selection.
  2. Legacy: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.

Themes in this Lesson:

  1. Just as God called Abram with a specific task, God can call each of us with specific tasks.
  2. Noah left a legacy of righteousness, Abram left a legacy of faith, what will your legacy be. Keep in mind, only what you do for Christ, will last.

Thoughts: 

Promise – Some Biblical promises are for those to whom they were written.  Others are for all of us.

Questions:

  1. Genesis 10 and 11 tell the Hebrew people from whom they came. If it is important for the Hebrew people, is it also important for African Americans.  (In the last few months, I’ve noticed a movement to classify African Americans as “American – Descendants of Slaves”).
  2. Abraham’s blessing was conditional. What has God promised us that is conditional / unconditional?

 Concluding thought:

God called Abram and Abram responded with complete trust and faith in God.  Pray that we may do the same when God calls us.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

In next week’s lesson we see 3 visitors who appear to Abram.  Abram demonstrates genuine hospitality by preparing a feast and you get the idea that he treats them with the very best he has to offer.  And then one of them tells him “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  90 year old Sarah gives birth to Isaac and eight days later Abraham circumcises him.