This study guide contains questions from Ephesians 4:1-16 (morning sermon) and Nehemiah 8:1-10 (evening sermon). Because the passage from Ephesians includes teaching about the purpose of grace-gifts to the church, I also included questions from 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.
As a supplement to my post yesterday, examining whether 1 Corinthians 16:2 is a command for us, I'm posting the text of a Bible study that I taught on giving, using 2 Corinthians 8-9 and 1 Corinthians 16:2. There is a downloadable link below if you'd like to download it.
What are your thoughts?
Benevolence has to do with acts of service, both monetary and non-monetary (see Acts 4:32-37 and 6:1-6). But the word itself rarely, if at all, appears in modern translations. Thus, it is probably better to talk about a theology of giving, what the church does with the money given, and how to give.
2. Theology of Giving (2 Cor 8-9)
This is a principle, not a command. Since Paul commanded this for a one-time collection, we can only draw a principle from it. It is most helpful for the church to continue this principle on a weekly basis, to take care of ongoing needs. That’s why we take up a collection each week. Paul teaches us to set some money relative to our income. Paul’s point is to take care of your needs first and then consider what you can give beyond your needs. The principle is this: You decide how much to give, within your means, and then give cheerfully.
4. What does the church do with the money that is given?
We use the money to meet the needs of people in the church and of people who call the church with needs, to support missions and ministry, to pay a minister, and to maintain a building.
5. Biblical teaching on how the church uses money.
In my tradition (Churches of Christ--Restoration Movement), 1 Corinthians 16:2 is often used as a command for weekly congregational giving: "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made" (TNIV). More typically, the one presiding over the collection says something like, "We have a command to give back to the Lord each week," or, more traditionally, "We have a command to lay by in store" (see 1 Cor. 16:2 in the KJV).
But is it a command for us? My answer is "No," for several reasons.
1. This section in 1 Corinthians (16:1-4) is clearly about a specific situation in the first century. A collection was being taken up by the churches for believers in Jerusalem who were suffering from a famine.
2. Therefore, the collection was not to benefit that local church, which is what we take up a weekly collection for today.
3. The "weekly" stipulation was commanded by Paul so that all the money would be present and accounted for when he stopped by to pick it up to be sent on.
4. The collection was what we would call today a "special collection," something we do from time-to-time to help in special circumstances.
For these reasons, the "command" is not normative or binding for us today. Of course, for some, this will immediately raise a red flag: Are we to give at all?
What are your thoughts?
In my last post, I wrote about how opinions can be divisive and disrupt Christian love. Paul explains this in the context of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11), but he also explains it in the context of their worship (chapter 14). They were dividing themselves by arguing about which spiritual gifts were superior and how those gifts were to be used. They were arguing about their opinions.
To teach them otherwise, Paul teaches them to “stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults” (1 Cor. 14:20). We are childish when we care so much about our opinions that we cause dissension and division among others. In fact, when we press our opinions on someone else who doesn't see it the same way, we are like a child who forcibly takes back a toy from another child, even though the taker has plenty of toys to play with. (“But I want that one!”) We do damage and harm when we inflict our own conscience on another's conscience.
Of course, it takes wisdom to discern what is an opinion and what is part of the gospel core. This is why Paul advocates for love (chapter 13). We act like adults in faith when we love others, because we have fully developed and matured. No opinion should be more important than the spiritual health and well-being of a brother or sister. Building up those in the faith through love should always be our primary goal; opinions must be secondary and must be seen as unnecessary in the life of someone seeking to be mature.
I was reading today in 1 Corinthians and was really moved by Paul's teaching in chapters 11-14. For me, one of the most difficult challenges in my own life, and that I see in my church experience, is letting my opinion go for the sake of unity with and love for others. Opinions are dangerous. They have a way of taking on a life of their own (often encouraged by us, of course). But opinions need to be left aside for the sake of Christian love.
Beware of making your opinion a stumbling block for others. As Paul begins teaching the Corinthian believers about the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-19) he points out the divisiveness of their meals together. They are not waiting for each other and they do not even appear to be sharing a community meal but rather are eating their “own private suppers” (11:21). He links this behavior with divisiveness. He can't believe that when they come together there are divisions among them, and the divisions exist as a way of showing which of them have God's approval. The danger here is in making God side with you in your opinion. To do so triangulates God with you and against others. It is not right.
We should read this section of scripture (chapter 11) in light of the teachings in chapters 12-14 about the preeminence of love in the lives of believers. Only when we love others can we truly see how divisive our opinions are. Only when we love others are we willing to lay our divisive opinions aside for the sake of another.
When someone begins lining God up behind their opinion, there is generally a lack of love. Paul says we are nothing without love. We can reach so-called spiritual heights, teach with the best of them, have a faith that stands above the rest, give away everything we have to the poor, and even turn our bodies over to hardship. But all of these things, without love, are useless. Maturity and completeness are found only where there is love. Knowledge and experience can take us only so far. The rest comes when we learn to lay aside our opinions—and divisiveness—for the sake of our love for others.
1. What problem existed in the Corinthian church, according to chapters 1-4? What is wrong with division? What causes division? How does division creep into the church today?
2. How are God's ways different than human's ways (1:18-31)?
3. What was the message Paul had (1:18-31)?
4. What are some signs that a church is too worldly (3:2-4)?
5. How do workers in the kingdom build, and how is their work evaluated (3:10-15)?
6. What is the point of Paul's hierarchy in 3:21-23?
7. What can you learn about ministry from chapters 1-4?
8. Why does Paul use fatherhood language in 4:14-21? On what basis does he challenge them to imitate him?
9. Why does Paul require the removal of specific sinners from the church in chapter 5?
10. What is the point of Paul's "you are the temple" teaching in 6:19? How is this different from 3:16-17?
11. What principles does Paul teach in chapters 7-8 about the topics of marriage and food sacrificed to idols?
12. In chapter 9, what rights does Paul have? What ministry philosophies does he teach?
13. In chapter 11, what does Paul teach about men and women and prayer, and what does he teach about the Lord's Supper?
14. In chapter 12, how is the Spirit instrumental in the unity and ministry of the church? What is the Spirit's purpose (12:7)?
15. What is the point of chapter 13? How do chapters 12-14 work together?
16. What is the purpose of worship, and how should worship be done (14:26-40)?
17. In chapter, what is the purpose of Jesus' resurrection? What does it mean for us?
Don't let anyone steal your motivation to work for the Lord. Nothing you do for the Lord is in vain.
My recent book review of Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save got me thinking about a past bible study on giving. Below is a bible study I wrote on giving that includes discussion on the theology of giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9, how to give (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and what the church does with the money it is given (various scriptures).
What are your thoughts?
This is a long post. I recommend downloading the PDF of this post, reading it, then coming back to leave your comments.
Introduction: Nutrition and Exercise for Body and Soul
Every spring, after the long Michigan winter, I begin a walking program. I walk up Ridgeway Road until it dead ends, then come back to a cross-street, where I turn left and walk through the subdivision until it comes back out onto Ridgeway Road. Then I return home. It's about a two-mile walk, which I try to complete at least four times a week. I walk this route through spring, during summer, and into the fall, stopping it only when the temperatures fall to uncomfortable levels.
But that hits the point--when late fall or early winter hits, I quit the discipline. And I don't restart until spring. You can imagine the rest. In Michigan, we get colder temps beginning in November. Which means I typically go through the gigantic meals of Thanksgiving and Christmas and a long winter where I eat all the candy well-meaning people gave me for Christmas without exercising. Which means, I pretty much undo the good I did by walking for three seasons. Which means, starting a walking program in the spring is easier said than done!
I can't be the only one this happens to. If you've ever begun an exercise program, or a nutrition program, or a self-improvement program, you've probably experienced the initial rush of excitement as you began the program and experienced positive results. But unless you've been extremely committed to this program, you've also probably experienced the dullness of it around the two- or three-week mark. You may also have quit the program, giving up on the positive results you achieved.
How to Be Immature
We can see this process as a metaphor for our spiritual growth as well. We often begin well in our spiritual lives, but if we don't pay attention, we may find ourselves quitting the program we began. There are too many times I began a new year with the intention to read through the bible only to fizzle out mid-January when the reading called for me to slog through Leviticus and Numbers!
But just like a good exercise or nutrition program will help us maintain optimal health, so a good spiritual nutrition plan will help us keep our attention on God and his mission for us in Jesus. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 when he tells the Christians in Corinth, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it" (3:1-2, TNIV). He's referring to their early lives as Christians--they were not yet experienced in faith and had a lot to learn. That is why he gave them milk. They weren't ready for solid food. They were like infants.
Paul means this statement non-critically. This is the way it was; it's the same way with us. When we were first baptized, none of us had the depth of faith or spiritual maturity that we have now. At least, hopefully not. Therein lies the problem. Paul continues, "You are still worldly" (1 Cor. 3:3, TNIV). They haven't grown, they haven't advanced in faith, and they haven't matured. They are still acting like infants. They haven't engaged in spiritual growth.
Why? Because they are too busy fighting and arguing among themselves. They are too busy manufacturing divisions among them. Paul says as much when he states, "For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?" (3:3, TNIV). [Paul also points out several other reasons throughout 1 Corinthians why they are immature--they are putting up with worldly behavior in the congregation (ch. 5); they are suing each other (ch. 6); some of them are engaging in gross sexual immorality (ch. 6); some are using their freedom in Christ to lead others down a slippery slope (chs. 8-10); they are arguing about worship (chs. 11-14); and they are unclear about the resurrection of Jesus (ch. 15).]
A similar problem exists in Hebrews 5:11-14. Throughout this letter, Christians are reminded that it is relatively easy to walk away from your Christian faith if you do not remain anchored to that faith (see 2:1). The writer thus warns Christians to be careful not to wander away (6:4-6). But in 5:11-14 the writer makes clear that if people are not serious about their own faith they will likely fall short. In fact, he rebukes them on this point! "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make clear to you because you no longer try to understand" (5:11, TNIV).
He rebukes them for being too immature. He states that they should be teachers but can't, because they still need to be taught themselves (5:12)! They live on milk and are not mature (5:13-14).
How to Begin a Spiritual Nutrition Program
How do we avoid this fate? How do we become mature instead of wallowing in immaturity? We need to put ourselves on a spiritual nutrition program. We need to put away the milk and begin eating meat.
The meat of spiritual growth is prayer and the word of God. Just like we need to eat good food in a physical nutrition program and exercise daily, so in our spiritual nutrition program we need a daily workout and regiment of prayer and the word of God. Jesus declared as much in response to a temptation when he said, "People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4, TNIV). Jesus knew that without the word of God, and without prayer, we wouldn't be able to sustain our spiritual growth. The word of God and prayer are the meat of maturity.
We process the word best through meditation. The psalms attest to this over and over. In meditation, we digest the word of God and seek application, rather than simply accumulate knowledge about God.
But a nutrition program also requires action. It's not enough just to eat right. We also need to exercise. In our spiritual nutrition program, we also need action. We need strength training. We do this through serving others. Going back to 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds them that, instead of fighting among themselves, they should learn from his example and be a servant (3:5). Later, he teaches about love and instructs them to love each other--which means not fighting and actively seeking the good of others.
In Hebrews, serving takes on more of an encouraging aspect. The writer teaches Christians to be together, to encourage each other, to not avoid others. In this way their faith would be strengthened and they would grow together (10:25).
Begin Your Spiritual Nutrition Program
A spiritual nutrition program combines food with action. Our food is prayer and the word of God. Our strength-training is serving and encouraging others. It's important to include all these aspects. If we eat right, we're only going partway. We're missing out on the fullness of what we can do as God fuels us. If we only serve and encourage others, we're missing the deep intimacy that comes from time with God.
We build our spiritual nutrition program through discipline. We start day-by-day, bit-by-bit, adding to it and refining it until we get where we need to be (and as God leads us). For some, this will require daily bible reading. Others may find more nourishment in praying the daily office. Some may read a big chunk of the bible once a week. However we receive the word, let us focus on the action that comes from it. This action is our strength training exercises. We build our strength through serving and encouraging others.
Today: Begin your spiritual nutrition program.
As I've been studying biblical church leadership over the past year, I keep coming back to the New Testament books of 1 Timothy and Titus and these passages: 1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12:3-8; and Ephesians 4:7-16. It's rare for a book on church leadership to give proper attention to these passages, so I find myself reading and thinking about these texts (and commentaries on them).
Recently, I found a book called The Equipping Ministry of the Pastor (EMP), by Jerry File. EMP is a short book, only 93 pages long. But it's well-written, and it covers the pastor's work by specific study of the problems in the Corinthian church (mainly due to the arguments over spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14), the work of the pastor detailed by Paul in 1 Timothy, and the five-fold ministry of leadership presented in Ephesians 4.
Dr. File states that the goal of church leadership, and the ultimate purpose of the pastor (referred throughout as the teaching-shepherd, via Ephesians 4:12), is to equip the saints for perfection. The pastor does this mainly through teaching the word to the congregation. (It's the congregation's responsibility to learn and to allow the pastor time for study and teaching.) Teaching the congregation is done both corporately and privately, either in small groups or in individual meetings.
File also places emphasis on the role of the evangelist. He points out that, biblically, evangelists would proclaim the gospel, call the converted together to form a church, and appoint elders before moving on to a different area. These appointed elders could become the teaching-shepherds of the congregation, or the congregation could employ a teaching-shepherd from outside the congregation.
As File is presumably Baptist, based on the seminaries he attended, it's no surprise that he does not cover the role of the apostle and prophet in the contemporary church. In fact, he states that these roles were foundational (Eph. 2:20) and have since passed away since the foundation has been laid. He locates this foundation in the completion and formation of the New Testament. While I see this logic, I also have some reservations about it and see no problem acknowledging that God may gift, through his Spirit, different individuals to function apostolically or prophetically. The difference for me is that these are not given titles of "apostle" or "prophet." Instead, they function this way because of their gifts.
Much attention is paid to the equipping of the church. The pastor is to teach the word because it's through the word that the church becomes equipped for ministry, and it's through equipping that the church is perfected. This incorporates insights from 1 Corinthians 12-14, as File points out that the church is not to expect the pastor to do all the ministry. In fact, the church, through their various gifts, is expected to minister to each other. They learn about this, and become equipped for it, through the teaching ministry of the teaching-shepherd/pastor.
This book is a little light in places and I would have liked more depth. Overall, it presents a nice study, almost in outline form, of the work of the pastor and the expectations of the church. For me, the attention paid to biblical texts lets me offer a strong recommendation for this book. If you are looking for a book that details biblical leadership, you will be happy with this one.
This blog is for articles and book reviews. I post my sermons at my Sermons page, where you can listen to sermons online or download them in MP3 format.
Although I work for the Otisville Church of Christ in Otisville, Michigan, this blog represents my own thoughts and does not necessarily correspond to the views and workings of the Otisville Church of Christ.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.