To the Cheese...
It’s interesting how, in this Scripture, the unsuspecting man followed the prostitute to his demise. O how her beauty, flattery, and persistence wore him down. Yet he was an active participant in his own deception. Thus, he blindly, yet willingly, followed her to her home, supposing he was about to have the time of his life. Unbeknownst to him, he was marching toward his undoing. Observe the language…
Out of willful ignorance or naiveté, these three creatures fell prey to the traps set for them – a decision, so to speak, that would cost them their lives.
We are the same. We may see great big obvious temptations for what they are. But the serpent’s craftiness is found in his subtleties. It is the consistent smallness of our daily surrenders to those subtleties that lead us into the slaughterhouse, the noose, the snare. A compromise here and there will have a powerful snowball effect in our lives. We often have no idea when we say “yes” to that first, small, seemingly insignificant trifle of a temptation, that it is the first step on a path that will lead to our destruction. We unwittingly pay a price that will cost us dearly – our very lives… our families… our ministries… and so on.
I can’t help but think of the children’s song, “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little ears what you hear.” For ultimately, we cannot plead ignorance. We cannot say we didn’t know the gun was loaded. God has given us his Word and Spirit to lead and guide us through our lives. Ponder the Walking Points questions below with some Christian brothers and ask the Lord for his grace to live faithfully as godly men.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Our True Rule
The United Methodist Church, by way of its denominational standard, addresses the sufficiency of Scripture. The 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us, Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
The "practice" referenced is the practice of our faith, the exercise of living this life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and preparing for the next. We believe God expects us to live such a life in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, and all the rest. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ and the outward expression of that relationship with our neighbors. Our Doctrinal Statements, General Rules, and Social Principles cover an enormous variety of topics, such as God, the Church, the Bible, discipleship, economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
The 2008 Discipline says this about scriptural holiness,
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
In other words, Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. This is what our Discipline means when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided. And caring for my car in such a manner shows my love for my closest neighbors - my family.
The Apostle Paul teaches us,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture is profitable for every area of your life. He doesn’t use the same language here, but Paul is saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
Understanding that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice is not the same as saying the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to care for your car. But the Bible clearly does have something (and something important) to say about those areas of life and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not a United Methodist), shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture, which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
God commands us to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and he guides us in that quest in and through his Word. It is sufficient for such a grand pursuit.
In Psalm 2, the nations are depicted as raging against God's rule. Such rebellion still exists in our day. On the personal level, the constitutional nature of each person has not changed since Psalm 2 was written. Individuals are still, in their fallen condition, at enmity with and rebellion against God and his reign in their lives. This human condition presents itself in different ways, perhaps as many as there are people. But it all stems from their sinful, fallen, and broken condition.
It shows up corporately as well. Such "raging" against God's rule and reign is revealed in groups, systems, and even the culture at large, much of which appears as desiring and pursuing the opposite of what God wills and commands.
Wag the Dog
Yet none of this is done in ignorance. The nations (and individuals) know what they are doing. This is where Romans 1:18-21 comes in. God has made himself plain (evident) to all so that no one has an excuse. Yet people in their fallen human condition suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness.
They neither glorify nor thank God, but instead, their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They do not want a belief system that stifles their desires and pursuits. They don't want a worldview and faith that leads to repentance and new life. They don’t want to be ruled by Another. Thus, their desires and lifestyles wag the dog. In other words, they adjust their worldview to fit their desires and the ways in which they want to live.
They mistakenly view the freedom God permits to be autonomy with impunity. We know this to be true because God’s Word teaches it. We know this is true because we once walked in their shoes. Thus, our hearts ought to ache for those walking in such rebellion and brokenness.
Salt and Light
As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be his ambassadors, his witnesses, to precisely these individuals, these systems, this culture. Christ tells us we are salt and light in this dark and decaying world. He commands us to go to and be for these people who were created in his image. Ours is a message of reconciliation and reclamation. It's the good news that even in our rebellion against the King of the universe, he has made a way to re-create that fallen and broken image through our redemption in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our task is to learn how to faithfully bear witness to those in our spheres of influence. Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to our witness, we need to really listen to, learn about, and get to know our neighbors so we can discover how their sin, rebellion, and brokenness are manifested in their lives. We know what their ultimate need is. We know what (Who) the ultimate answer to their need is. Yet, we want to be able to communicate that answer to them in a way they will understand and even appreciate, while trusting God for the results.
You Will Leave A Legacy
What legacy are we leaving to our children and to our children’s children? 2 Kings 17:40-41 gives us a frightening glimpse of what it could be if we are not faithful and vigilant. Take in these sobering words,
2 Kings 17:40-41 – They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices.  Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.
We have the ability to commit idolatry, even while professing the Lord. How shocking is that? Our legacy can be for good or evil, righteousness or wickedness. But make no mistake, we will leave a legacy. What will the nature of your legacy be? How are you influencing your children?
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Our children tend to believe what we believe, behave the way we behave, and have the same attitudes we have. We will either draw them closer to God or drive them farther away by the way we live our lives.
Israel believed what they did and behaved how they did because the world was too much a part of them. They were called to be a set-apart (holy) people. They were to think, speak, act, and worship differently than the surrounding culture.
And yet, 2 Kings 17 is a horrific tale of the worst forms of human depravity. God’s very own people practiced everything from idolatry to child-sacrifice to everything in-between. The depths to which the children of Israel fell and became like their ambient culture is staggering.
Perhaps, however, the last two verses of Chapter 17 are the most somber of all. Even after the Lord called his children to repentance and emphasized that his love was still available to them, we read these words in verse 40,
They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices.
The Consequences of a Legacy
Then, in verse 41, we learn of the consequences that can destroy a family, a church, or a nation.
Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and
grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.
The example of the parents and grandparents had been firmly set in place. Their legacy was playing out. It’s no wonder James reminds us that befriending the world is to become an enemy of God (James 4:4).
To be a holy, set apart people means we have an allegiance first and foremost to God. It means we must declare our loyalty to him even while dwelling in a foreign land. When we do, we pass along a godly heritage – a godly legacy – that can last for many generations yet to come. Yet, when infidelity to our King is our memorial, the consequences can be perilous.
How do we let the world into our hearts and allow its fallen, sinful patterns to influence us? There seems to be no end to the number of books written to answer that very question. Yet, for my part, I want each Christian parent to ask at least this question: What is your goal in raising your children? Success? Happiness? Wealth? Status? Education? The right social connections?
If “godliness” is not your automatic, reflexive answer to that question, then perhaps the world is too much with you. Perhaps it is the world, and not our Lord, who is setting your agenda. So too, and more importantly, it’s not merely what we’re trying to pass on to our children, but who we, as parents and grandparents, essentially are. For if we talk like the world, walk like the world, and look like the world, then it may not be much of a stretch for our children and grandchildren to assume that such worldliness is how “good Christian children” should talk, walk, and look.
Is that the legacy you want to leave to those you care most about in this world? May God turn (and keep) our hearts toward him.
Psalm 22:4-5, 30-31 - In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. …Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it.
It has been said the problem with living is that it’s so daily. The same could be said of parenting. Whether it’s getting your children to eat their vegetables, clean their rooms, do their schoolwork, or have good manners, parenting is daily. Consistency and intentionality are absolutely required. And in no area of parenting is this truer than in the passing on of our faith – our beliefs, worldview, values, character, conduct, etc., to our children.
What we’re talking about is spiritual reproduction.
A primary truism about spiritual reproduction is this: We can’t reproduce what we aren’t ourselves. Cats aren’t going to reproduce dogs, no matter what. We reproduce what we are. Therefore, it’s absolutely imperative that moms and dads are daily, consistently, intentionally, and faithfully practicing the faith they profess, the faith they are seeking to instill in the hearts, minds, and souls of their children.
More Than Your Good Example, Though Not Less
In a real sense, this is more than mere example. Faith really needs to be in the “DNA” of the parents. Having said that, example is vital because children will copy what is being modeled for them at home. It wasn’t dumb luck that my kids all turned out to be Georgia Bulldog fans.
But passing on our faith requires more than example. We are called to actively lead them, instruct them, tell them, pray with them, pray for them, admonish them, counsel them, and nurture them. In a word, love them. The call to pass on our faith to our children in this manner runs throughout Scripture. For example…
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
O my people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
 I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, things from of old–
 what we have heard and known,
what our fathers have told us.
 We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers
to teach their children,
 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
A Multigenerational Vision
These are just three clear examples of Scripture’s overwhelming multigenerational vision for the extension of God’s kingdom. Many more could be cited. In truth, we’re talking about more than quoting a few texts. This multigenerational vision is a key thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation.
Early in Psalm 22, the psalmist declared that those who came before his generation put their trust in the Lord and were not disappointed. Later in the same Psalm he stated that future generations would also serve the Lord because they would be told about the Lord. If you think about it, how else will Christianity be passed on? If the love, holiness, grace, works, and words of God are going to be known two hundred years from now, then we must pass them on here and now.
But to whom? Many Christians talk about the need to evangelize and disciple the lost but seem to forget about God’s covenant children under their very own roofs. If we think in terms of concentric circles, our next priority (or circle) after our own relationship with God (because, again, we can’t reproduce what we’re not ourselves) should be our own family. Our goal, of course, is for our children to come to know, love and follow God and then pass on that faith to their children and their children’s children for a thousand generations (Deut. 5:10, 7:9).
In a real sense, our children are not our own. They are God’s. We are stewards of God’s children. That means we have been given the vital and joyful responsibility and blessing of raising these children to know, love and follow their heavenly Father. And while such an upbringing is so daily, we need to realize we only get one chance. It’s my prayer that God will honor the prayers, blood, sweat, tears, effort, and love we pour into our children (his children). To see them come to know him and become the godly adults we’ve been striving for will make it all worth it in the end.
Matthew 9:35-38 - Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
I used to read this passage exclusively through the lens of evangelism. And to be sure, there are important implications for evangelism in these verses. However, it occurred to me that what led our Lord to make a plea for “workers” was the noticeable need for faithful shepherds over the harassed and helpless flock of God. The text says the flock was in such poor condition, that it was as though it didn’t have a shepherd at all.
Therefore, Jesus made the point that the need is great, and the workers – those who would be faithful shepherds – are few. He then declared to his hearers that they (we) should ask the Lord to send such workers into these very fields that are in such desperate condition.
In Search of Shepherds
God’s flock needs faithful shepherds today as well. There are many families without a faithful shepherd in the home. Churches have greater needs than the one “professional shepherd” on staff can respond to. The wayward, helpless flock of God is in dire need of faithful shepherds who will lead and guide her, nurture and feed her, defend and guard her, admonish and instruct her – love her to the point of pouring his life into her – even to the point of losing his.
Here’s the question: If the need is so clear, why aren’t there shepherds standing in line to care for God’s flock?
Reason One for Missing Shepherds
One reason can be found in these words of Gideon,
“How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
Whether false humility (cowardice) or real, many flee responsibility before God because they do not feel they are “up to it.” But since when has God been counting on unaided men and women to do his bidding? His answer to us is the same as it was to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).
This reminds us of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth regarding God’s use of the weak and foolish things of this world to confound and humble the “strong and wise.” God uses us, but he isn’t dependent upon us. That’s an important distinction. And misunderstanding it is one reason the shepherds are few.
Reason Two for Missing Shepherds
Another reason is the sacrificial nature that is required to be a shepherd. It’s not a romantic or glamorous post in God’s Kingdom. For those seeking their own end, however, it has often been used as a vehicle for their own name’s sake.
To such a view of shepherding, Peter says,
1 Peter 5:2-3 – Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
For those who would use their position of shepherd as a stepping-stone to their own power, fame, and wealth, Peter’s words must come as quite a shock. He reminds us that shepherds have been entrusted, by God, to care for his tender lambs. And their watch over them must come from the heart – from a genuine willingness to serve them. It shouldn’t be a means to personal fortune. It ought not be drudgery. It certainly must not be a means by which power and control are sought after. It is sacrificial – my life for yours – your life for theirs.
To be an example to the flock is to be always “on duty.” It is to be intentional in your thoughts, words and deeds. It is thinking, speaking, and doing rightly – Christianly – and then caring for the flock accordingly. This isn’t easy. It is a dying to self. But unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce many seeds (John 12:24-26).
For the Sake of Others
And that’s what we’re shooting for – many seeds – fruit that is good, lasting, and abundant (John 15). Our Lord told us the need is great. We needn’t look any further than our own family, church, friends – all our spheres of influence. The harvest is plentiful, but the shepherds are few.
Brothers, the reality is this: whether or not you pastor a church or teach a Bible study, you are a shepherd – to those in your personal mission field. The question is: What kind of shepherd are you?
About the Walking Points Bible Study Series
Walking Points Bible Study Series
In the Bible, the word “walk” or “walking” is often a metaphor for one’s faith and relationship with God, as well as a right pattern of living.
The purpose of the Walking Points Series is to help followers of Christ draw from Scripture, those key truths and ideas that will help them walk faithfully with him – that is, know him better, love him more, become more like him, and follow him more faithfully.
Each lesson moves chapter by chapter, verse by verse, drawing from the text that which God has revealed. After a “bird’s eye view” question is asked, to get the big picture of the text, the questions that follow hone in on particular verses, in order to draw out key truths and ideas related to those verses.
Walking Points Questions
While application runs through most questions in each lesson, the Walking Points questions are designed to give the group members an opportunity to reflect on some practical “next steps,” so the application of God’s Word will continue to make a significant impact in their lives after the lesson is over. At the beginning of each lesson the members are asked to “review and report” on what Walking Point from the previous lesson they followed through with, victories and/or struggles they experienced, and what they learned that week.
Prayer requests in group settings frequently get stuck on appeals for physical needs. And often the requests are for people far removed from the members in the group. Christians absolutely ought to intercede for the physical needs of others. However, the “prayer request” space in this study guide will remind the group members that requests should primarily focus on the spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, vocational, and other needs of those who are part of the group.
Covenantal Reflection and Accountability Questions
These are questions from the Wesleyan tradition, designed for covenantal relationships. It’s doubtful a large Bible study would or should use these questions. Instead, these questions are included for smaller group use, such as a covenant/accountability group or a one-to-one discipling relationship. These questions assume a deep level of trust and confidentiality among those in the group, a serious commitment to one another’s spiritual growth, and Christlike love for one another.
A Personal Word about the Word
Having taught Bible studies and directed small groups for over 25 years, I have used many kinds of curricula. Some are more academic and do a marvelous job of imparting information. Other resources skate along the surface of biblical content but do better at drawing out application. Still other material creatively connects group members, but doesn’t necessarily help them grow spiritually.
In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul told the Romans not to be conformed to the world around them, but to be transformed by renewing their minds. A vital form of such mind-renewal occurs as we study God’s Word together. But such study should not be merely the imparting of information for its own sake. Instead, the purpose of studying God’s Word is mind-renewal and life-transformation.
Consider what God says about his Word throughout Scripture. It penetrates our deepest being (Heb. 4:12), judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12), makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), was breathed out by God himself (2 Tim. 3:16), is truth (John 17:17), is the means by which we are sanctified (John 17:17), is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), thoroughly equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), works as a mirror to show us our truest selves (James 1:23-25), endures forever (1 Peter 1:23-25), cannot be broken (John 10:35), counsels us in every sphere of our lives (Ps. 119:24), will not return to God empty but will achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). As the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it is our offensive weapon in our war with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We are, therefore, to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). Our Lord commanded us to abide in him and let him and his word abide in us, if we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit (John 15:1-8). It is as God’s Spirit renews our minds in and through God’s Word, in the fellowship of God’s people, that our lives will become increasingly transformed so that we will be better able to know, love, and follow the Lord and help others do the same.
There is no perfect study guide. However, I have tried to put together a resource that will help those who use it better appreciate and understand God’s Word and more faithfully apply it in their lives. I pray it will draw group members closer together as the Spirit of God moves through his Word and the discussion. And, of course, I hope prayer requests and the accountability questions will foster a deep and abiding relationship for those who make use of that part of the lesson.
Above all, I pray God will be glorified in each lesson.
There are presently two study guides ready for purchase. One is, Costly Discipleship, which is a six lesson study on Jesus' words about what it means to truly follow him. The other is a study of Philippians, entitled, Joy in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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