Sabbath School Lesson for December 1-7, 2018
How Paul dealt with broken relationships…
- Paul’s final acceptance of John Mark after his disagreement with Barnabas, after Mark’s desertion on their first missionary endeavor (Sunday)
- Paul’s attempt to restore a relationship between two friends–one a slave, Onesimus, and the other, his owner, Philemon (Monday)
- Paul’s counsel to the Corinthian church over their use of spiritual gifts, which was causing relationships to suffer within the church, reducing the effectiveness of its witness (Tuesday)
- its beneficial consequences for both separated parties (Wednesday)
- how it is to be achieved among church members (Thursday)
Our human relationships are obviously impacted by our relationship with God. We tend to naturally treat others differently after we’ve been touched by God’s grace and forgiveness for things we have done.
Satan has a goal, however, of upsetting our human relationships to the extent that our relationship with God is in jeopardy. The more he can create havoc in our personal relationships, the more he can threaten our spiritual journey with God.
This week, we are shown that there is a way to mend relationships, to work harmoniously with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with those outside the church. Only by God’s grace can peace be restored to our personal lives. But we must choose to make God our partner, to become more and more like Him in our daily interactions.
Memory Text: “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Romans 5:10 NKJV
Just as Jesus chose to forgive us while He was hanging on the cross, we can chose to forgive those who offend and try to harm us. It isn’t easy, but with God’s help, it’s always possible. The biggest mountain our faith can move may very well be the mountain of broken relationships.
Our forgiveness may not change the other person, but it will definitely change us, in ways that will also benefit the unity and strength of the church in carrying out its mission.
Sunday: Restored Friendships
No one seemed to have a more favorable work and personal relationship than Paul and Barnabas, as they broke ground and planted churches together throughout Asia Minor.
It therefore seemed inconsequential to their efforts when at first they disagreed about the reason John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, left their missionary work prematurely. It was only later on, when John Mark desired to join the team again, that their differences became apparent. Their disagreement caused them to separate and continue their missionary work without each other.
We aren’t given the specifics about how and why Paul later changed his mind about John Mark. But we saw that God must have intervened and finally the rift was mended and peace restored among His gospel workers.
Read Acts 13:13 and 15:36-38. Why isn’t more told here about the exact reason John Mark left the missionary tour so early? Why was it likely that both Paul and Barnabas came to different conclusions about it?
Read Acts 15:39-41 and 16:5. Why does it seem that Paul and Barnabas made the right decision to go their separate ways? Why is separation sometimes a useful tool, when relationships are threatened?
Read Colossians 4:10, 11 and 2 Timothy 4:11. How had both Paul and John Mark likely changed over the years that made the healing of their relationship possible?
Monday: From Slave to Son
We don’t always think of Paul as having a delightful personality. He could easily win a debate or preach a rousing sermon, but we might find ourselves wondering what kind of friend would he have been on a personal level.
We know he had a tight bond with Aquilla and Priscilla, his fellow tentmakers and evangelists. But did his strongly intellectual side make it difficult for him to have close relationships with people from diverse backgrounds? With even a runaway slave, for instance.
The letter Paul wrote to Philemon gives us a glimpse into Paul’s ability to interact and form friendships with diverse persons. Onesimus had run away from his master Philemon in Collose, making his way to Rome, where Paul was himself a prisoner.
Knowing that there must have been unfortunate, difficult circumstances of some kind in this delicate situation, Paul attempted to reunite his two friends and make them true Christian brothers, as they were meant to be. His love for both of them even prompted his offer to repay anything that Onesimus may have taken from Philemon, in the course of his hasty flight to Rome.
Paul knew that the rift this separation had caused in Colosse would be felt by more than the two individuals involved. The bitterness that grew from Onesimus’ departure not only affected the slave and master, but would color the witness of the church there.
This is all the more reason that church members should do all they can to retain their love and affection for each other, and not let resentments and anger take root in their relationships. Forgiveness and humility, with God’s grace, can go a long way in repairing the bonds that connect us.
Read Philemon 1, 4-6, 10, 11. Of what benefit is expressing appreciation and goodwill when appealing to someone for help? What might have changed in Onesimus’ life, after befriending Paul in Rome? How would the slave’s return have been “profitable” to both Paul and Philemon?
Read Philemon 17-21. How fully would Onesimus have been received, if Philemon heeded Paul’s advice? What did Philemon “owe” to Paul?
Read Colossians 3:10, 11 and Galatians 3:28. Although slaves still had their work to do, how should Christian masters treat their slaves (in times and societies where slavery was the norm, but never ordained by God)?
Tuesday: Spiritual Gifts for Unity
Paul cautioned the Corinthians church about the use of their spiritual gifts. His warnings fall into two categories. We must not use our gifts…
- to compete–instead our gifts are meant to complement each other (this impacts the effectiveness of our gifts)
- to compare–comparing our gifts either makes us discouraged or arrogant (this impacts the effectiveness of the church member)
Paul saw clearly that the Corinthians, especially, were in danger of losing their ability to witness effectively because of these tendencies in their church. They were competing for what they thought were greater or lesser spiritual gifts. Instead of using them all for the spreading of the gospel, they had used them to display their God-given talents in a prideful manner.
Competition and comparison should never take the place of cooperation in God’s church. Our loving fellowship with each other in the church, or lack of it, definitely tells the world a lot about the God we serve. We must guard it, at all costs. There is no place for selfish attitudes when it comes to our interactions with one another, in the church or in the world.
Read 1 Corinthians 3:6, 9-11. Why is the foundation of a building so important?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11. What seems to determine how spiritual gifts are distributed? Is it always based on our natural abilities and talents?
Read 2 Corinthians 10:12-18. What are the dangers of boasting? Why isn’t it easily recognized in ourselves, but clearly seen when done by others? What should we be boasting about (see v. 17), and what are acceptable ways to “glory in the Lord”?
Forgiveness, such a simple concept, but definitely not one that comes easy for the human heart. There are repeated examples of forgiveness throughout the Bible, forgiveness by God and by man. It can probably be found somewhere in almost every story presented in the Good Book.
Forgiveness does not come naturally for us. David knew what he was talking about when he said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity,” (Psalm 51:5). No wonder forgiveness is one trait that we must practice time and again, relying on God’s forgiveness to us for our motivation and power to accomplish it. We weren’t born with it.
Paul appealed to the forgiveness factor when he observed and lamented how petty differences had separated many of the church members in various churches he had planted. Often, our differences have nothing to do with our salvation. Such as when, in Paul’s day, the issues were…
- whether to eat food that had been offered to idols (if idols represented nothing to you, go ahead and eat the food, Paul advised–if idols reminded you of your pagan background, then you might want to steer clear of them)
- whether to continue celebrating some of the Jewish feast days (if you were a Jew, these holy days might be appropriate to continue observing privately as reminders of your Jewish heritage–on the other hand, if you were Gentile and the feast days meant nothing to you, then feel free to ignore them)
In order to forgive, it helps to see things from the other person’s perspective. But, at times, this approach is just not feasible. There are situations where relationships will never be mended. Where the hurt is so deep, the offense so wrong and penetrating, that no amount of forgiveness will make the consequences go away, and the relationship strong again, if it ever was.
Even when this happens though, forgiveness, even one-sided forgiveness, can have healing effects on the person doing the forgiving. It can help take away much of the bitterness, hurt, and feelings of revengeful anger that reside in our heart, by allowing us to focus on God’s forgiveness of us instead.
We can forgive, because we are forgiven. It’s always a choice, and it represents the true spirit of Christ, which releases us from our own condemnation.
Read Romans 5:8 and John 15:13. What motivates God, and us, to forgive even our enemies?
Read 1 Corinthians 4:12, 13 and Luke 23:33, 34. What example makes it easier for us to forgive our enemies?
Read 2 Corinthians 5:20, 21 and Ephesians 4:26. Why is reconciliation necessary for being ambassadors for Christ? How long should we be angry with someone? What is dangerous about holding a grudge?
Thursday: Restoration and Unity
Jesus provided His disciples with specific directions in how to apply forgiveness and restoration within the church. In order for church unity to be a reality, especially as the church grew, there needed to be guidelines for resolving issues among members.
The goal is twofold…
- keep the conflict in as small a group as possible
- make the purpose for resolution attempts be to restore relationships and not try to sort out who is to blame for the behavior
In order for this to happen, Jesus recommended these steps…
- a one-on-one meeting with the persons involved
- to meet again with one or two others, who can serve as witnesses, or negotiators, in trying to restore the relationship
- when these attempts at reconciliation have failed, then the church can become involved–hopefully, at first through the church board, or other small group of church leaders, as appropriate
Jesus told His disciples, ” ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.’ “ (Matthew 18:15 NKJV)
Ellen White also recommended this: “Go to your brother, and in humility and sincerity talk with him about the matter.” (Gospel Workers, p. 499)
A loving, humble heart can often avert a crisis within the church. It’s up to us to ensure that unity is encouraged by practicing these simple guidelines within our own church.
Read Matthew 18:15 and James 5:19, 20. How is someone gained, and someone’s sins covered by this first step in reconciliation? Why is it important for us to remember that the outcome is never something we did on our own?
Read Matthew 18:16 and Deuteronomy 19:15. What is helpful when one or two witnesses are called on to help solve a conflict?
Read Matthew 18:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15. How are we to regard and treat someone who has failed all our attempts at restoration?
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 NKJV
Comforting and encouraging each other in positive ways, before episodes of disagreement emerge, will prove helpful in softening hearts, making resolution and restoration easier to achieve when conflicts arise.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NKJV
Keep in mind that people will know we are Christians, not by whether we don’t have disagreements or conflicts, but by how we love each other despite them. By this, we are given the opportunity to showcase the love, humility, and merciful forgiveness of God in a way that can’t otherwise happen.
Conflicts will impact the church; but they can impact it positively, if we act appropriately, letting God’s word and Spirit guide us through the process of restoration. Broken relationships don’t have to break the church.
Next Week’s Lesson: Unity in Worship
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
Other Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/