Q&A: Multiple Questions

Original Questions:

1. Compared to topical study in small group discussions where we can discuss from various passage from bible, if we stick to one passage don’t we miss other key principles from scripture about same topic? 

2. When we ask questions of what can we obey from the passage, should it be group obedience or as per what each person discovers? If it is based on what a person discovers then won’t we miss on key principles that they miss?

3. What shall we do if some members in the group are not obedient to their commitments made in last week?

Responses:

  1. The primary reason for sticking with one passage for each gathering is to insure that people who are less familiar with the Bible are not overwhelmed by jumping around from passage to passage. Coupled with this is the desire to truly hear from one section of God’s Word. If a group, exclusively comprised of Christians, wants to study multiple passages on a topic, they certainly can (most I have been in say something like, “I know we are not supposed to hyperlink, but…”) and probably will. But what will they do when there is a new believer or a lost person present? Will they notice? Will they care enough to make this commitment to their welfare? Scheduling a session every 4-6 weeks where you trace out the themes from multiple passages everyone has been studying together is one way to ensure that participants start noticing undergirding themes.
  2. For years I have always focused on individual responses of obedience because I believe the Holy Spirit can and does impress upon each individual what the Father wants to be done. But as I have become more understanding of collectivistic cultures (rather than the highly individualistic one I have lived in), I recognize the value of helping such people groups arrive at a “We will…” obedience statement. The use of “I will…” Statements was designed to overcome the common tendency of believers saying, “Someone ought to obey this passage by doing…” as a way of avoiding the call to becoming personally obedient. Rather than this approach resulting in missing a call to obedience, you and other participants can make sure that other “I will…” Statements are made, which may be stronger. The key is making sure the group is listening to God with an intention of responding to what he is calling us to do.
  3. Developing a proper response to disobedience is a significant issue in disciple making. There have been times when some coaches will not let the group move on to another passage until the last one has been obeyed. Others will choose to have a private conversation with the disobedient and stress the importance of obeying Jesus and giving the person another chance. When a group of new people persistently refuses to obey, then it is obvious there are no Persons of Peace among them. In every case it is critical that you personally model stating specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound “I will…” Statements and then follow through with your own obedience. Your example may call them to a new response to hearing from God. Fervent, persistent prayer for each participant should also precede the determination to discontinue a group, but there are cases where that is the proper response to persistent disobedience.

Hearing God

I am facilitating an adult Bible study class that is exploring the biblical material on “Hearing God.” We started by making a list of some of the ways God has spoken to his people. As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…” One of those ways is dreams and visions. We have spent the last two weeks exploring the role of dreams in the life of Joseph, the son of Israel (Genesis 37, 40 & 41).

We found that others may become jealous of dreamers. Joseph’s ten brothers heard the dreams about bowing before him from the context of Israel’s favoritism toward Rachel’s son. The idea that this brother with the brightly colored cloak would rule over them riled them and they plotted to kill him. Some people naively assume that knowledge of the future will be such a great blessing.

In chapter 40 Joseph is not the dreamer, but gets to be the interpreter. As we discovered God through the narrative of Joseph, the chief cupbearer and baker we arrived at a question raised by a counselor in the class, “Do you see God as setting up and arranging these events to get Joseph to accomplish his purposes, or do you see God as becoming involved in the free choices of the people involved, when needed to channel them to accomplish his purpose?”

Sounds like a great place to get lost in the Calvin/Arminius debate.

Not trying to be a smart-aleck, I left the class with a different question—“So what?” No, I did not raise this as a way of implying this is an irrelevant question. Thinking about God’s sovereignty and exploring the ways he accomplishes his purpose in the affairs of individuals, people groups and even nations is a very appropriate aspect of the Joseph, Israel and Egypt narrative. The way I want the class (and you) to grapple with the “So what?” question is much more personal. I am not too concerned with whether you come out nearer either of the aforementioned theologians. The point I want you to ponder is how does your understanding of God’s nature affect your daily walk?

“What do you learn about God from this passage?” is the most important question we can ask of a text, in my studied opinion. If we approach Scriptures like a new yearbook (“Where is my picture in here?”), rather than as the record of God’s self-revelation, we are misusing them. Is God the puppeteer who only creates the appearance that his puppets have a life of their own, or does he really call them to join him in what he is seeking to accomplish and grant them some level of freedom to accept/reject that call, and then adapt based on those choices to make sure his purpose comes to pass?

For some, their answer to “So what?” is they arrive at some level of fatalism. God controls everything so it is futile to will to do anything, including responding in obedience to any calling he has placed on our lives (intentionally overstated)! At the opposite extreme there is the potential that one assumes, “I must grab the wheel and steer this vehicle!—it is all up to me.”

Does my understanding of God lead to either extreme? Is there a better understanding? Where I come out on this matters. It impacts how I hear God. It does not alter his intended meaning, but it greatly shapes my hearing. Remember that Jesus calls those with ears to hear. Grasping God’s nature greatly impacts how we hear, thus how we respond.

What are you hearing from God? How are you responding?