Home Bible Study Introduction
Any endeavor will have pitfalls that must be guarded against, and it is wise to consider the history of small groups, identify common pitfalls that have complicated them, and ensure that we militate against these shoals by doing all that is in our power to navigate around them.
I have five specific hazards in mind, but before I present them to you, I’d like to challenge you to identify a few yourselves. Consider what you know of small groups, neighborhood bible studies, etc. and let’s pull together a quick list.
The five that I have in mind are as follows:
Elitism – The belief that due to membership in a certain small group, or bible study, the participants deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, spiritual status, or piety.
Exclusivism – Excluding some, or most, of our brothers and sisters in Christ from participating in our pursuit of God’s glory.
Estrangement – To disrupt the bond of grace, love, friendship, and loyalty that Christians are called to with the visible church.
Complaining – To express dissatisfaction, uneasiness, resentment or to find fault with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Assuage – To participate with the sole purpose of relieving or mitigating our conscience, a pharisaical approach to sanctification.
Having reviewed what this gathering is not, it is now beneficial to look at what we are. To paraphrase John Piper, we are:
A group of people learning how to love each other in the power of the Gospel and in the power of the Spirit – glorifying God more than we possible can as single individuals relating to Christ in isolation. We labor to achieve this by:
· Carrying Each Other Burdens in Prayer
· Studying God’s Word to Better Conform Ourselves to the Image of Christ
· Ministering to Each Other with our Gifts
· Strategizing with Each Other to Reach the Lost
This could quite appropriately be applied to the visible church, and there are many who would take a view of the Normal Christian Life that comes to the conclusion that they have all that they need of this through regular attendance at their local church. We would argue against that view.
We would state that the biblical basis for developing small groups within, and under the headship of, the church is that God intends for us, the saints, to do the work of the ministry as we are equipped and encouraged by our pastors and teachers. Again, the use John Pipers words:
The aim of this ministry is to build up each other’s faith and love. God’s design is to use human support and exhortation to sustain the faith of his children and to lighten the burdens which they bear in the service of love. That kind of mutually caring ministry does not happen in big groups between casual acquaintances. Therefore, to fulfill our calling we must see the emergence of many smaller support groups among our numbers.
Ephesians 4: 11-16
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.
1. Christ gave people with gifts to equip the saints.
2. The saints (Christians) are equipped for the Work of Ministry
3. We all (Christians) strive to attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God
4. We (Christians) do not want to be immature (like children) but strive to be mature (like grown men).
5. Maturity will protect us from False Doctrine, Human Cunning, and Crafty or Deceitful Schemes.
6. We are taught to pursue this by the example of the human body, in which all parts are in relation to each other.
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
1. Take care, brothers! This covers the whole body of Christ – not simply the pastor or teacher.
2. We are commanded to exhort (to urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal) one another every day.
3. The point of our exhortations is to prevent the hardening that comes from the deceitfulness of sin.
4. It does not simply say “hardened by sin” – notice the deceitfulness, how sin lies, lures, and convinces us to be hardened.
5. Perseverance of the Saints! God would use us in each other’s lives that we may persevere!
6. Yet another Piper Quote:
Christ gives pastors to the church, pastors equip the saints for ministry, and you, the saints, minister to each other; that is, you exhort one another every day and thus become God’s instruments for the preservation of each other’s faith. Eternal security is a community project. Youare responsible (and this is a weighty statement) for the perseverance of your brothers and sisters.
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
1. It does not say “Meet together so the pastor can stir you up to love and good works, and encourage you.
2. We (Christians) are to stir up each other
3. We (Christians) are to encourage one another.
4. We (Christians) are the meet together in order to do this.
Summary From John Piper
Throughout history, Christians have asked “what forms of togetherness will allow the saints to fulfill this ministry – the repeated answer has been: the emergence of many small support groups. History has shown that God’s way of stirring up his people to great acts of love and mission has often been to draw together a small praying band who lay themselves open to him and get a vision for service. Where will the new works of mission and charity come from in our church, if not from holy brain-storming in small groups of zealous people?
Love & Strength
Not only does vision for love get stirred up by such fellowship, but also strength to see it through to reality. Love and good works are not easy to sustain over the long haul. There has to be much lifting up of the downcast.
As Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” The Christian life is to be a life of love and good works flowing from a joyful faith in God’s promises.
But there are innumerable obstacles to love and threats to faith. We sink down, or fall down, or get knocked down again and again, and it is not God’s revealed pattern for us to have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in isolation. On the contrary, God’s command, and gracious provision, is: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). It is a sweet law in the Savior’s kingdom that no one, married or single, male or female, young or old, carries a crushing burden alone.
Sin & Prayer
One of the burdens of life that we should not try to bear alone, which often makes us physically ill, and which hinders love and good works, is hidden sin. Therefore, Jesus commands us: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
In what sort of setting can we be free to confess our sins to each other?
The answer is surely in a small group of believers who have won our trust, who know us and love us, and have committed themselves to care for us.
And what about praying for each other?
The bigger the group, the more impersonal the prayers will be. Yet the greatest needs are often the most personal. Shall we then pray for each other alone at home? If we only do that, something very precious and very powerful will be missing. For Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19, 20).
Do we need any further incentive to gather in a small group for the up building of our faith, the stirring up of love to the glory of our Lord’s name, than this? He will be there! And I assume that would be a pointless observation if it did not mean that he would be there more obviously and more powerfully than if we were to remain alone. Is it any wonder that Jesus sent out his disciples two by two (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1), and that Paul always traveled with his Barnabas or Silas or Timothy or Luke, and that even within the twelve Jesus built that deep core of affection with Peter, James, and John?
NOTE: It should be obvious that much of this material was influenced by John Pipers teaching on Small Groups at his church (Bethlehem Baptist) in Minnesota. You can find a topical index of Pastor John’s teaching regarding Small Groups on thewww.desiringGod.org website – specifically at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/58/
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