Small Groups

You shall not bear false witness

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Which of these pairs of crime do you think has the greater sentence?

  • Speeding or burgling a house?
  • Plotting to kidnap the Queen or littering? 
  • Telling a lie in Court or murdering someone? 

As you may have guessed, in the first two pairs it’s burglary and plotting to kidnap the Queen which would carry the greater sentences. But when it comes to the third pair, while you probably would get a longer sentence for murdering someone than telling a lie in Court, it’s not that simple. Depending on the circumstances you can get sent to prison for life for lying in Court. 

God in his law also takes truth telling very seriously and therefore he takes lying very seriously too. That is why it’s included in his top ten. After the commands against stealing and lying we get ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’ 

God himself is a truth-telling God, in fact the bible says he never lies - our eternal salvation depends on it (Titus 1v2).  He wants his people to share his concern for truthful speech. 

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You shall not steal

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In 2015, the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company was burgled. Six men abseiled down a lift shaft and using heavy drilling equipment, tunnelled through the 50cm thick vault wall. The burglary was the largest in British legal history, with over £200 million worth of valuables stolen. 

Interestingly, the verb ‘to steal’ means: i) to take something without permission and not return it, and ii) to claim someone else’s work or idea as your own.

Most people have not stolen £200 million but there will be times when all of us have taken something without permission and kept it or dishonestly claimed an idea or someone else’s work as our own.

God does not only say that stealing is a sin against him, here in the ten commandments, but it also demonstrates that we do not love our neighbour as ourselves.

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You shall not commit adultery

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Generally, adultery is still considered wrong in our culture – most people wouldn’t actively encourage someone to go and commit adultery. There is a recognition that the breaking of the significant promises made during marriage is neither loving or good. Most people will know someone who has been deeply affected by adultery and we can all see the wider impact on the communities we’re part of. 

However, in the Bible, adultery isn’t a terrible wrong because of the pain it causes others but also because it’s an offence against God. In the Old Testament after King David has committed adultery he says, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” (Psalm 51:4). I don’t think that David is saying he hasn’t wronged Bathsheba (with whom he committed adultery), nor Uriah (her husband) or anyone else involved. What he is acknowledging is that at its heart, adultery is despising God and His word (2 Samuel 12:9). There is a God-ward dimension to adultery which adds to the human pain and suffering it causes.

Secondly, adultery undermines the Gospel and misrepresents God. The unity that is found in marriage is supposed to be a very visual, lived out picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:25-33). The indissoluble union, the love, affection, faithfulness and submission that exists between Christ and the church should in some small way be reflected by marriage. A marriage marred by adultery paints a very different picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. It paints a picture which calls into question everything that is good, comforting, joyful and secure between Jesus and the church.

The commandment to not commit adultery is, at root, a commandment to love other people and to love God, including representing God and the Gospel faithfully. Marriage lived in faithfulness to one another and to God is a wonderful testimony and picture of God’s faithfulness and love to his church. 

For those who know their guilt in this area all too well, Psalm 51 continues with David calling God his salvation, deliverer and the one who can clean him. Adultery is serious, but not unforgivable. In his Psalm, David is crying out to God knowing that God will wash clean those who turn to Him in repentance and faith. David knows that even for those who have committed adultery, God will not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) and we know there is always forgiveness at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

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You shall not murder

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It is perhaps the most familiar of the 10 Commandments, yet rarely meditated upon deeply. We find the sixth commandment in Exodus 20v13.

You shall not murder.

 

I think that there are two common attitudes towards this verse:

1) We look to it as evidence that we’re one of life’s ‘good guys’. We may not be perfect but we’re in the right on the important issues. This commandment, coupled with my own lack of murdering, shows that God and I are on essentially the same moral wavelength. (Hopefully he will reward me for this down the line.)

Or

2) We gloss over it entirely. It’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? I guess ‘No murder’ had to be in the commandments somewhere (for completion sake).  But it’s so easy I think I can skip safely on to the next one.

Whichever of these attitudes rings most true for us, I don’t think many of us spend much time contemplating the sixth commandment. But the Bible finds much more depth in this command than we are disposed to. Where we nowadays minimise the application strictly to the taking of life, the Bible teaches an expanded understanding, with both Old and New Testaments making it clear that God had much more in mind. 

For example, Leviticus 19 v 17-18 elaborates

You shall not hate your brother in your heart… you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge… but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus teaching on this subject adds:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5v21-22

Murdering in deed was of course forbidden, but God’s people were expected to put away murderous words too, and even thoughts of ill-will. Moreover, merely refraining from causing/willing harm still falls short of God’s call for active love, mercy and peace-making towards our neighbour.

Thus moods of anger, the bearing of grudges and scorning others with words are all filed under the category of ‘murder’. Suddenly this is not feeling so comfortable. A commandment which appeared to affirm my purity instead shockingly reveals my heart to be murderous. 

We began by suggesting two common attitudes to the sixth commandment. To conclude, here are two possible directions for further reflection:

  1. In directing us to prefer others’ welfare to our own, this commandment is revealing God’s own heart and character. It is perfectly fulfilled by Jesus laying down his life for us.
  2. The commandment challenges us to reconsider habits of deed, word and thought where we are naturally most satisfied with our behaviours. Even here we are very much in need of grace, forgiveness and help to change. 
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Honour your father and mother

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The fifth commandment is in Exodus 20v12 and it says

Honour your father and your mother…

Which means we must respect, love and (if we’re a child living in their house) obey our Mum and Dad. But why does God want us to do this? 

It’s not just because if we don’t we’ll get in trouble.

It’s not because parents always get things right (they don’t).

It’s because God has given Mums and Dads the job of bringing us up, and especially bringing us up to know him. That’s why the command is accompanied with a promise:

…that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

The message of God’s love and promises for his people was to be passed down to the next generation through the teaching, example, discipline of your father and mother. So that if children were to ignore them, they would be ignoring Him. 

This has some big implications for parents - for what they teach, how they discipline, what they want for their children, and how they organise life in their household. This is something the bible goes into in more detail elsewhere (Deuteronomy 6v4-9 for example). But this commandment emphasises the responsibility children have in all of this. 

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Remember the Sabbath day

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Which of these have you heard, or said, in the last week?

‘I mustn’t waste time’

‘If only I had more time I could…’

‘The time has flown by!’

How God’s people spend their time is at the heart of the 4th commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
— Exodus 20v8-10

Sabbath means ‘to rest’ or ‘cease.’ This pattern of working 6 days and having 1 day off was unheard of in the ancient world, and reflected the goodness of Israel’s God. All they had known was slavery in Egypt, now God commanded them to have one day off a week, as well as festivals!

What does the Sabbath mean for Christians today?                                                              

The New Testament suggests some Christians continued to observe the Sabbath as a special day, while others regarded every day as the same (Romans 14v5). It seems for some Christians the Sabbath was a cause of tension and division. Colossians 2.16-17 states:

Therefore let no one pass judgment… with regard to the Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
— Colossians 2v16-17

If we want to know what Sabbath rest from work is all about, we have to look away from the shadow and to the substance, or reality. Christians are to look to Jesus. He has finished our work of salvation, and is sat down at the right hand of God our Father. From there he invites us to ‘come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11v28).

Christ is the end of working for salvation. Christ is the end of justifying our existence by what we do. Christ is the end of slavishly living for the approval of our peers or bosses. It is easy to overwork and idolise our jobs, trying to find in them our identity, worth, and satisfaction. It is easy to live for the weekend, the next holiday, or ‘me time’ without the pressures of work and family. But Christ offers us the life we were always made for. Our Creator and Redeemer invites us to come to him and find ‘rest for our souls.’

In our work and rest, may we discover more of what St. Augustine discovered so long ago: ‘You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until it rests in you.’

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The Name

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

So says Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name she asks? It doesn’t matter what you’re called, what your name is, it’s just a label that we use for convenience. 

It’s the same way we use names today, they’re a helpful way of referring to people. When I shout up the stairs for one of the children to come down (in principle!) the right child comes.  Their actual name doesn’t matter that much, we don’t pick baby names with the serious expectation that it will influence the character and identity of the child as they grow up.

But in the Bible, names are much more than simply tags so we know who we’re talking about. In the Bible, names tell you about the character of the person, it tells you what they’re like. Their name is intimately wrapped up in who they are as a person, in their identity. Treating someone’s name in a certain way was the equivalent of treating the person themselves that way. 

So how we treat and speak God’s name is how we are thinking of and treating God himself – the two can’t really be separated. Hence, the third commandment is so important even though in the midst of the other nine it’s often overlooked.

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who take his name in vain.
— Exodus 20v7

As we’ve seen in previous weeks the context of this commandment is important. A few chapters earlier God has revealed his name to Moses, “I am who I am.”  He is the God of Israel’s Fathers, the God who has made and kept in covenants with them, the God who is powerful, the God who can save and rescue them. 

When we speak God’s name it’s the good and powerful God of underserved rescue who we are speaking of. And so, our use of His name should have the right sense of gravity and weight behind it. We should treat God’s name in the same way we treat God.

To take God’s name in vain has the sense of making it worthless or emptying it. It’s to use God’s name in a way that is false to who He really is. That might be by using God’s name inappropriately, swearing an oath on God’s name or wrongly claiming to speak words from God as we see elsewhere in the Bible.

But, and perhaps close to home, it’s also when we use God’s name in a way that empties it of its meaning – that makes God into someone much smaller than he is. 

When we pray we take God’s name and often in our speech we use God’s name. But are we doing it in an empty or meaningless way? Does the way we use God’s name reflect who he really is, or does it distort or empty him?

It’s worth a thought over the coming week.

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No Idols!

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There is so much in this world that can drive us away from God, and we are gluttons for it! And God knows this, that's why the second commandment is to not create any idols. Make nothing, put nothing in place of God. Whilst the second commandment focuses on not creating graven images, things that we think might offer some resemblance to God, a real issue for Israel, our problem is often that we create idols of things that aren't inherently in and of themselves. 

We do it with our favourite toy, with our spouse, with children, with our work, our hobbies or our houses. Things that can so easily become all consuming and dominate our lives to the extent that they become our entire focus. Our lives become orientated to them, rather than to God.

It's no coincidence that this second commandment comes when it does - after the reminder of who God is and what he has done for Israel. "I am the LORD your God, who bought you out of Egypt." God says, "You shall have no other God's before me." God has revealed himself in such amazing ways to his people that to make something to represent God, or to worship something else is daft. More to the point, something that we could make - even the greatest of artist or sculptors - would not even come close to being a true representation of God. In fact, to look at an idol as our God, actually takes away from his glory because we would miss the mark by such a long way.

To avoid this completely God commands, for our own good, that we do not make idols of anything.

When Jesus comes we get even greater revelation:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me
— John 14v8-11b

You see Jesus is revealed as the image of God, the first born of all creation. The author of the letter to the Hebrews starts with these words about Jesus:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
— Hebrews 1v3-4

The Bible points us to Jesus. Jesus shows us the Father. Jesus is the image of God we need to look to and to worship. 

No idols, because God has revealed himself to us, ultimately in Christ. 

No idols, because Jesus is the one who rightly sits on the throne at the Father's side. 

No idols, because the LORD is far greater than we can ever imagine.

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Why the 10 commandments?

Our pastor, Pete Jackson, tells us why we've started looking at the 10 Commandments together - 

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We’ve recently started a series in the 10 Commandments on Sundays across all ages. It’s helpful to ask why we think this is worth doing.

In this post I just want to highlight one aspect of the answer, and it’s because Jesus links ‘law’ with mission

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
— Matthew 5:14-16

In Matthew 5v14-16 Jesus tells his disciples that they are the Light of the world, like Israel of old. They are to the let the light of their good deeds shine before others and the result will be glory to God the Father - presumably as people trace the light to its source and become his worshippers. So far so good.

But what does Jesus mean by good works? Where do we find out what that sort of thing is? It's no accident that from v17 onwards Jesus starts talking about his relationship with the old testament law, how he has come to fulfil it not abolish it. That means lots of things, but part of that is seen in Jesus’ teaching, where he gives (like he does from v21 onwards) the true meaning and application of the commandments. 

We should note that this is the case, even when our ‘good works’ are aspects of the Christian lifestyle that raise the curiosity, misunderstanding or even criticism of the world around us. The 10 commandments inform how we live in relation to money, truth-telling, sex, parents, human life - all areas of opportunity for our gracious witness to the difference that following Jesus makes.

Finally, at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the great commission. They are to go and make disciples of all nations. But how do you do that? Jesus says it's by 'baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ This is broader than the 10 commandments of course, but it certainly includes Christ’s fulfilment of them in his teaching. 

Growing firm convictions about God’s commandments (and how these flow from and are a witness to his gospel) is part of being equipped for mission in today’s world.

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What other God would you want?

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We are made to worship, whether or not we’d always describe it like that. We worship other people, money, things, God, even hopes and dreams. We all have a god, or many gods, in our lives. It seems an unescapable part of our humanity – we were created to be those who worship. So, as we come to the first of the 10 commandments the question isn’t whether you will have a god but what kind of god you will have? 

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. 
— Exodus 20v1-3

  Exodus 20 very briefly describes to us the God of the bible. He’s the God of rescue, power, love and grace. He is the God who rescued his people out of slavery to one of the most powerful empires of the day and He did it out of a love for his people even though they had done nothing to deserve it. 

The rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt gives us a very visual picture of our rescue from slavery to sin. A rescue that flowed out of God’s great love for his world and was of pure grace, it cost him his only son and we’d done nothing to deserve it.

It shows us what kind of God it is who calls us to worship him alone and have no other gods alongside him. There will be many other gods that call us to follow after them, things we desire, that drive us, that captivate us. But none of them offer us the freedom, life and deep-seated joy that the God of the bible can give. Often other gods seem to offer so much, security, happiness, longevity, the easy life, but in the end they all fail. The God of the bible has shown that he’s a good God who has the power to deliver on His promises. 

It is a command that we should have no other gods, but it’s a command that’s for our good because it leads to freedom and life. What other god can offer that? What other god would you want?

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The 10 Commandments

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Last week we began a series in the 10 Commandments. We’re going to be looking at them in brief in every service, the children are going to be learning about them in their groups, and the adults will also be studying them in their mid-week small groups

It’s very important to see, right at the beginning, before he gave any commands or rules, God said this:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
— Exodus 20v2

This tells us that the 10 commandments are

Not a ladder...

God did not give these commandments so his people could climb up to him. He’d already come down to them. He was already their God and they were already his people. What’s more, he had already rescued them, even though they didn’t deserve it

Not a chain…

Some people think these rules are God’s way of spoiling our fun by controlling our lives. As if trying to obey God’s commandments is like being chained up as a slave. But they are given by the God who had rescued his people ‘…out of the house of slavery.’ The bile tell us consistently, it’s when we don’t live by God’s ways that we end up as slaves, not to Pharaoh, but to sin. 

Train tracks 

Everyone knows it is good for a train to be on its tracks. And (to stretch things for a minute) if a train decides ‘these tracks are a bit of a pain, they stop me going where I want to go’ - we know that would not be a good idea. 

When a train is on the tracks, whizzing along, it is doing what it was made to do. It’s the same when we follow what God says about how we should live. He gives us his commands because they are like the train tracks for a train. We might think we are restricted by them, told not to do certain things, and so on. But the reality is that living life God’s way is the life we were made for.

(Look out for more blogposts on The 10 Commandments over the next few weeks...)

Is it just 'trust God and it'll be okay?'

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It was a question raised during our first evening of our Growing Together course. Is this what discipleship boils down to? Whatever suffering we’re facing, trials we’re going through, sins we’re wrestling with, we simply need to trust God and it’ll be okay?

There’s a wonderful element of truth implicit within the questions. It recognises God’s power, as well as His inherent love, compassion and goodness that means He can, and will, work in every circumstance. It also recognises our limitations, there is both tragedy and evil in the world and our ability to change that is often limited. There are things that happen to us that we have no control over and consequences to our actions that we could never foresee.

However, the best discipleship is more than simply stating the truth of who God is.

Firstly, the best discipleship speaks truth out of an abundance of love and compassion for somebody. I’m reminded of the raising of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus tells Martha the truth, that her brother will rise again (“It’ll be okay” – vs. 23) and that she must believe in Him (“Trust God” – vs. 27). But the whole episode is wrapped in Jesus’ love and compassion for her and the wider family and friends. He is deeply moved and troubled when He sees the distress of those who have lost a loved one (vs. 33,38) and He weeps with them (vs. 35). Jesus’ words of truth to Martha are said to someone He knew and loved. They’re not abstract, cold, and heartless platitudes.

Secondly, Jesus tells Martha the truth of who He is as the redeemer and how that was relevant to her struggle. In our discipleship we need both parts of the equation. We need to speak the truth and apply it to the particular sin or suffering someone is facing. Why does what Jesus has done and who he is, matter? How does it bring hope and comfort in this moment? Lazarus had died, so Jesus spoke of the hope of the resurrection He brought (vs. 25-26). He showed Martha why trusting in Him would ultimately mean it was okay. He spoke truths that were relevant and gave her genuine hope and comfort in the midst of her pain.

In our discipleship, we must be reminding one another of who God is. Yet we need to be doing it in a way that is relevant to the struggles someone is facing and out of a Christlike love and compassion for them.

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Growing Together

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And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:9-11

Sometimes when we talk about discipleship, maturity, or counselling it’s not clear where we’re heading. What are we seeking to mature into? What’s the target? Where are we heading and what are we hoping to achieve?

There are dozens of voices telling us who we should be seeking to become and what kind of person we ought to be. Some of those voices are external, the voices of our culture that lure us with the promises of acceptance and success if we follow them and threaten us with ridicule and isolation if we demur. Or the voices of parents, friends and family, who have their own particular vision of what and who we should be. Other voices are internal, the voices in our own minds that tell us what we deserve, can achieve, or have failed to become. Like a plant growing towards the sun all these voices give us a direction to grow in and a target to aim towards. 

In the passage above the Bible speaks another voice, it gives us a different direction to seek to grow in, a God-ward direction. Paul is writing to a church with his prayer and hope for who they will become and who they will mature into. It’s a maturity that’s rooted in love, lived out in wisdom, achieved through Jesus, and that brings God glory and praise. It’s a direction that we need to regularly turn back to. Our discipleship is a means of doing that, it’s a means of re-orientating ourselves towards a life that brings God glory and praise. 

For the next three weeks at Christ Church Walkley we’ll be looking together at how we help one another to grow into the kind of people Paul describes. We’ll make Paul’s prayer for the Philippian church our prayer. Each week I’ll try and share some of my reflections on what we’ve been discussing and learning here on this blog.

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Small Groups - Reaching out

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This is the fourth post in a mini-series looking at the purpose of our Small Groups here at Christ Church Walkley. See the first post here, second here and third here.

I’ve often found that evangelism gets tagged on to small group life rather than being a focus of what we’re doing together. When time is short, and life is hard, evangelism tends to drop off most small groups radars. I wonder whether this sometimes reflects our lives individually, where our focus is more easily directed to growing as a Christian and being in the safety of church family. When we read 1 Peter though we get a different perspective on evangelism in our life together:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
— 1 Peter 2:9–12, ESV

In this passage we’re described in two ways, the first is obviously positive, that we are now God’s chosen people. But see the reason Peter gives for why God has made us into his people, that we would proclaim God’s goodness. We are made to be God’s people for the purpose of proclaiming God’s excellencies – glorifying him. This view moves evangelism from an additional component of our lives to the very centre. Notice that it’s also something we say, we proclaim it, our evangelism has to involve an element of speaking about God to others.  As small groups proclaiming the gospel is fundamental to who we now are. Whether that happens together or by supporting one another in prayer as we do it individually, proclaiming the gospel is part of who we’ve been made to be.

The second way we’re described is as sojourners and exiles. We’re sojourners and exiles in this world because we’re now a new people with a new home – we belong somewhere else. But that brings its own challenges, we live as Christians in a world with different values and morals and we’re constantly being called to conform. Obedience to God, living as his people, can be immensely challenging in this world, but Peter sees it as a means by which people will come to glorify God when Christ returns. Our evangelism involves the way we live in our workplaces, families and community. Proclamation of the gospel and living a godly life amongst unbelievers are inseparable and fundamental to what it is to be one of God’s people. If our small groups are going to places where we reach out from we’ve got to be supporting and encouraging one another to be living as exiles and reminding each other that we are a people who have received mercy so that we can tell others about our God.

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Small Groups - Growing together

This is the third post in a mini-series looking at the purpose of our Small Groups here at Christ Church Walkley. See the first post here, and second here.

Last week’s post saw how one way of avoiding Small Groups becoming inward-focussed and self-seeking was for them to be continually looking outward to God, seeking to bring him glory. In practice, part of that involves growing together in Christian maturity, so our lives and speech are increasingly glorifying to God. Take a look at Ephesians 4:25-32:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:25-32, ESV

This follows on from Paul telling those he was writing to that by knowing Jesus they have been fundamentally changed, and they should be growing in their Christlikeness. And here Paul gets very specific about what that growth looks like. I want to highlight just two aspects of what hes says in the passage quoted above.

Firstly, notice the emphasis on what we say. We are to speak the truth, to build one another up with our words, to avoid slander and falsehood. The reference to not grieving the Holy Spirit probably fits here too, most likely referring to Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness (See Exodus 15 and Isaiah 63).  Our words matter more than we might think. It’s not just that dishonesty, corrupting and untimely words are wrong and sinful, but they damage our Christian brothers and sisters and grieve the Holy Spirit. The call is to have both the right content to our speech and the right manner of saying it. Rebuking someone harshly may be honest, but is unlikely to give grace to them or to build them up. Simply being ‘nice’ and being unwilling to address areas of sin with one another rapidly becomes dishonest. Neither help us to grow together in Christlikeness.

Secondly, notice that it all stems from God’s forgiveness of us. We treat one another in the same way that God has treated us. If we are to speak openly and honestly with one another we will inevitably touch nerves and sensitive areas. We will all make mistakes. We will likely waver between speaking falsely and speaking insensitively. So we must be willing to forgive one another when we get it wrong, to not respond with bitterness, anger and slander, but with honesty, kindness and humility. If we are to grow together in Christlikeness then our attitude towards each other must, at root, reflect God’s attitude to us. He has treated us on the basis of forgiveness and mercy, so we must treat one another in the same way – even when that means absorbing the cost and pain of someone else’s sin towards us.

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Small Groups - Curved in or curved out?

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This is the second in a mini-series of posts looking at the purpose of our small groups at Christ Church Walkley. See the first post here.

Sometimes the fear with small groups is that they become curved in on themselves, self-centred, self-seeking and exclusive. The concern is legitimate, any small group of people meeting regularly in any context can become this way. But it doesn’t have to be what happens with small groups, and if they’re fulfilling their bigger purpose of helping us grow in Christian maturity, they won’t.

Often the answer to groups becoming curved in on themselves is to encourage them to look outside of themselves, and focus on those they’re trying to reach. There’s good wisdom in this, and the final post in the series will look at that. However, I want to suggest a more fundamental place we need to look outside of ourselves, to God, and his glory. 

Our growth in maturity isn’t primarily to serve ourselves, but to bring God glory. Ephesians 3:14-21 talks this way, some excerpts are below:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and an earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being … that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen
— Ephesians 3:14-21, ESV

How do we grow in maturity, how are we strengthened? Out of the riches of God’s glory, by God working in us. Our growth in maturity is rooted in God’s work, not ours, therefore he deserves the recognition and praise for it. And that’s where Paul goes at the end, his prayer is ultimately that through our growth God would be glorified. 

I wonder if that’s our desire as we sit together reading the bible, as we pray, as we counsel one another? Is it our hope that God’s glory would be seen through us and in us? That our transformation would be a testament to the Spirit's work in our lives?

Small groups are places where the Spirit should be at work through God’s word and through his people. They should be places where we see God’s glory. 

One way small groups avoid becoming curved in on themselves is when they are looking outward to God; when they are seeking and praying for God to be glorified through them. It’s worth asking ourselves why we want to grow in knowledge, why we want to overcome our temptations, why we want to work through our sin and suffering? Is it for our glory, so we look better, fit in more, are more esteemed, more glorified, or is it so that God is glorified? If it’s for us, then we’ll likely tend towards being curved in on ourselves. If it’s for God’s glory then we’ll tend to increasingly be looking away from ourselves – to God, and in the end to others too. 

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Small Groups - the BIG picture

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New Year, New Small Groups

Since we started Christ Church Walkley, Small Groups have been a significant part of our life together. They’ve been vehicles for serving on a Sunday, evangelism, pastoral care and discipleship amongst other things. There’s something to be said for keeping groups running for an extended period; the trust, openness and depth of prayer that comes from reading the Bible and praying together can’t easily be shortcut. That said, after five years we felt it was time to refresh and relaunch the groups, to give them a new lease of life. Inevitably that begs the question of what are our small groups meeting for, what’s the purpose of them, what are they trying to achieve? Small groups have become the ‘done thing’ in many churches, but often there is a lack of clarity of what their purpose is. Are they bible study groups? Prayer groups? Friendship/support groups? Small churches? A bit of everything?

Over a small series of four posts I want to explore some of the key things that I think should make up the purpose of our Small Groups, and might be helpful to others elsewhere.

The Big Picture

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV

Whilst not about small groups directly, there isn’t really a biblical conception of small groups in the way we have them, I think these verses help us see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to 'grow up’ and make ‘the body grow.’ In one sense it’s that straightforward, small groups are there to make us grow up together into Christ, to be more like him. Here I just want to point out three things from this passage that show us a little bit about how that happens. 

Firstly, it’s something we do together, the passage talks about us all growing up together as one body. Christian maturity and Christian growth happens together. It requires the interactions with one another, to work together, to serve one another, to build one another up. It’s not a solo enterprise. Trying to grow up into Christ on our own, by choice, is a sign of Christian immaturity.

Secondly, notice that a significant mechanism for growth is speaking, and a particular kind of speech. We are to speak ‘the truth’ to one another - the gospel truth. Growth doesn’t come from simply speaking honestly to one another, although we should be. But by speaking the gospel into one another’s lives day by day, week by week. Small groups should be refuge from the pressures of the world, to conform to other ways of thinking, to have a different Lord. Small Groups are where we remind one another of the truth of the gospel and our Lord Jesus.

Thirdly, we do all of this in the context of love. Notice how the passage starts telling us to 'speak the truth in love’ and finishes describing the body of Christ building itself up in love. Love for Jesus and for one another is the basis for our growth and the criterion for assessing our growth. small groups should be a context where our love for Jesus and one another can be shown in our speech and actions. And, if our small groups are working properly, we should be seeing an increase in our love for Jesus and one another over time.

Small groups are more than bible study groups, more than prayer groups, more than support groups. They should probably include elements of those, but they are all means by which we can speak the truth to one another in love so that we grow up!

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