Lesson for August 16-22
Much of society today is disenchanted with the concept of church and any kind of organized religion, but our desire is to know just how Jesus felt and taught about the subject.
Satan would have us believe that church is nothing more than an elite group of hypocrites and that each of us are capable of forging our own belief system without the aid of any other human being. Did God intend for us to go about our lives and keep our religion to ourselves? He did say to pray in a closet, didn’t He?
I think we’ll be amazed to realize this week that God has always had a distinct purpose for calling His people together and we are much better off, individually and collectively, when we work, not just in a group, but as a team.
Key Text: ” ‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ “ John 17:20, 22 NKJV
Many have drawn comfort from this prayer in John 17. It’s the longest recorded intercessory prayer of Jesus that we have, and it’s obvious that He doesn’t just pray for those disciples who were present with Him at the time. He includes all who would come to believe in Him through their testimony. But let’s not stop even there. He goes on to mention the world. It was Jesus’ desire to reach the world through His chosen people, the church.
Satan has aroused confusion about who His chosen ones are. So often Christians point to present-day Israel as God’s chosen people, but they fail to recognize that the prayer is for “those who will believe in Me”.
There are two main thrusts this week in our study of the church. First we look at its foundation; then at unity of the church. As you might guess from the world’s multitude of Christian denominations today, most of our focus will be on unity. And this seemed to be an area of concern for Jesus, as He worked day to day with a group of just twelve disciples who definitely showed signs of disunity already.
Sunday: The Foundation of the Church
One of the few times Jesus mentioned “church” was in Matthew 16:18 when He said, ” ‘I will build My church’ “ NKJV Even though our first impulse is to declare Jesus Christ as the foundation of the church (there’s even a hymn about it), there are some interpreters who think this refers to Peter. Read carefully the following passage, where this doctrine originates:
“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’…Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ “ Matthew 16:13-19 NKJV
When taken in isolation we do appear to have evidence that Peter was the first pope as some claim. But consider the imagery that this “rock” had for the Jews. The Old Testament is rich in identifying the symbolic meaning of “rock”. It always referred to God, the Lord, our refuge, salvation, and defense. See Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalms 28:1, 31:2, 3, 42:9, 62:2, and Isaiah 17:10.
One of the miracles that God used for the Israelites during their wilderness experience, was making water come from a rock. I Corinthians 10:4 tells us “…For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” NKJV (Another hymn comes to mind: “Rock of Ages”.)
Jesus spoke of our foundation of faith, His words, as the rock that the wise man built on. See Matthew 7:24, 25.
As for the phrase about what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven, Jesus later used the same expression to refer to what the disciples as a whole would accomplish. ” ‘Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…’ “ Matthew 18:18 NKJV
We can see from these verses that Jesus is the Foundation, especially as it refers to His words. Every claim to church authenticity must measure up to the truth of the God’s spoken and written word. I Corinthians 3:11 says, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” NKJV
Discussion Question: After reading in I Corinthians 3:11 that Jesus is our only foundation, how do you explain the verse in Ephesians 2:20 that says, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone”? In what sense are the apostles and prophets part of the foundation of God’s church? What is the function of the cornerstone?
Monday: Christ’s Prayer for Unity
John 17, as we’ve mentioned, was Jesus’ longest recorded intercessory prayer. He repeated four times His desire for His followers to be one (John 17:11, 21-23). Not just with each other, but one with God.
Jesus recognized that the spirit of competitiveness and rivalry would become the greatest danger to the Christian church moving forward. Indeed, He was already seeing evidence of it in the daily squabbles of His disciples. (Remember James and John coming to Jesus one day, asking if they could both sit next to Him in His glory. Mark 10:35-37)
Only as we become immersed in the Holy Spirit and God’s Word will we survive Satan’s attacks and our selfish hearts will be renewed. This should be the main prayer of God’s people today…that we experience unity with each other and with God.
Discussion Questions: What is the difference between unity and uniformity? Which does God desire and why?
How does disunity affect the church’s ability to fulfill its mission?
Tuesday: Christ’s Provision for Unity
If Jesus was so intent on the church’s unity, did He mention anything in His prayer that would aid us in reaching this needed state? We can find it in John 17:23:
” ‘I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.’ ” NKJV
The principle of “I in them” was explained earlier in John 15:1-5, when He described Himself as the vine and they were the branches. We must stay connected to the vine in order to bear fruit. He wraps up this analogy by saying, ” ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.’ “ v. 5 NKJV
Jesus brings two things into our lives that can bring about this unity:
- the divine Word
- divine love
We must be united in our beliefs, but also in our love, in order to qualify for the level of unity God expects for His church. But these beliefs must be based on Jesus’ Word, namely the Bible. And we must lose our selfish pride and exhibit true love to the world. Acts 2:42 states, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine [truth] and fellowship [love]…” NKJV
So, Christ was truly the catalyst for making unity possible in His church. Without the Word and His example of love, including the power to exhibit it as we should, we would not be acting out His mission for the church.
Discussion Questions: We must worship Him “in spirit and truth”, as it says in John 4:24. Many churches claim to worship Christ, but where do they stand when it comes to Bible truth? Can we ever safely put away our “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”, Ephesians 6:17?
Read John 4:24. What do you say to someone who says it doesn’t matter what a church believes in so long as the members are loving and kind to others? What do you say to someone who says it doesn’t matter how unloving a church is so long as they have Bible truth? Why is it important to have both love AND truth? [bring out that love without truth is blind, and truth without love is fruitless–the heart and mind must work together]
Wednesday: A Great Obstacle for Unity
We know that it takes both truthful doctrine and loving members to make a unified congregation, but are there any barriers that we can still be aware of as we strive toward unity?
As a matter of fact, Jesus clearly identified a major stumblingblock for unity in His Sermon on the Mount. See Matthew 7:1-5. He talked about not judging others. Our own sins disqualify us for this task. Jesus knew that it is much easier to see the faults of others than to see our own shortcomings. And He repeatedly advises us not to compare ourselves with others.
Jesus is the one we should be dwell on, not others. But one of the most common human frailties is to look at and talk about other people, and often in an unkind way.
- Moses warned people, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people..” Leviticus 19:16 NKJV
- Solomon also admonishes us, “…And a whisperer separates the best of friends.”Proverbs 16:28 NKJV
- James compared the tongue to a fire. (James 3:5, 6)
Gossip sounds like such an innocuous pastime. We smile and joke about it, and compared to other sins, it certainly seems rather harmless. But when we look at all the emotional damage it can do to the object of our gossip, we become aware of the danger of allowing the practice to take hold in any group of people, much less the church. It’s ranking among sin is raised when we remember one of the ten commandments: “You shall not bear false witness…” Exodus 20:16 NKJV
They say there are three tests we must apply when we have something to say about someone:
- Is it true? What is the source of your information?
- Is it edifying? Will it enhance or destroy someone’s reputation?
- Is it loving? Can it be said in a loving way?
Someone has said, “We should endeavor to think well of all men, especially our brethren, until compelled to think otherwise.” Not only must we guard our speaking, but it starts with our thinking!
Discussion Questions: Why is gossip considered so dangerous? What kinds of behaviors and attitudes does it encourage? [judging and criticism]
Read Matthew 7:1-5. How is judging others related to correcting others and what does this have to do with gossip?
Thursday: The Restoration of Unity
When the unity of a church becomes threatened, did Jesus teach us a way to deal with the situation? He gave us some recommended steps to act as guiding principles when problems arise.
Matthew 18:15-17 reveals the process that many have found useful in restoring peace to the church:
- Speak to the individual, one-on-one, sharing gently what the offense is and inviting repentance.
- Take one or two others with you to persuade the individual.
- The church may have to deal with the problem collectively.
This reconciliation process requires a humble recognition of our own faults and an attitude of meekness and tender love. Galatians 6:1 tells us, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also are tempted.” NKJV The goal is clearly restoration of the person involved, as well as guaranteeing restoration of church unity.
Discussion Questions: What does the previous verse mean when it says, “considering yourself lest you also are tempted”?
Why is it wise to choose two or three witnesses who are not directly involved in the conflict?
What’s the relationship between love and discipline? Can they exist together, even in the context of a church organization?
Jesus taught some very important concepts relating to church. There has always been a group of God-followers, ever since the days of Adam. God uses consecrated, devout men to carry out His purposes on earth. He needs a unified church especially in these end times to share the gospel with the world. We are able to accomplish so much more when we join forces with a Spirit-led church, that teaches Bible truth and shows love toward each other and the world. This is God’s chosen means for His message of salvation to reach the world and for individuals to grow spiritually.
So many churches are divided and broken. What can you do this week to make you and your fellow believers experience more unity?
Think of a bicycle wheel as an illustration of unity. As the spokes come closer together toward the hub, the spokes themselves come closer together. How can you and others you worship with get closer to the Hub, resulting in more unity and closeness to each other?
Next week: Our Mission
To read the Sabbath School lesson, or to find more resources, go to www.ssnet.org