Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Gifts of Leadership

Yes, at last, we are on to the second section – gifts of leadership. Here is the material for this section. I will add some posts with comments from the groups as we work our way through this section.

A recap

As Christians we are to develop all the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23.)

The gifts of the Spirit are a bit different. They are many and various. None is more important than the others. Every Christian who is willing and open, who desires to receive the gifts, will receive them, but they are not usually only for personal edification, they are for the good of the community. No one has all the gifts because they are gifts, given by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes gifts relate to people’s natural skills, sometimes they do not. Sometimes people receive a gift for a long period, for example when it relates to a role they are being called upon to undertake for God. In other situations the gift is given for a particular moment or situation. In every situation, spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit of God because they are needed to build up the body of Christ in some way.

Types of spiritual gifts

You will remember that we discussed in the introductory section how to categorise gifts. There are many gifts listed in the Bible but the ones listed almost certainly are not all the gifts that the Spirit gives – the way they are listed often looks as if they are examples rather than complete lists. But the Biblical lists allow us to study the types of gifts that the Spirit might give and so help us to recognise them in our lives and in the lives of others. By recognising the movement of the Spirit in our and our friends’ lives we can encourage one another to be open to allowing the gifts to work through us.

This is the categorisation I have chosen to help us look at the various types of gifts. There are plenty of other ways. This is simply to make things manageable for us.

  • Gifts of leadership
  • Gifts of discernment
  • Gifts of healing and wholeness
  • Gifts of support

Gifts of leadership

Read through some of the lists of gifts given in the Bible, e.g. read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-30, Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10-11

Which of these would you describe as gifts of leadership?

I have picked out these gifts as gifts of leadership, but you may have others. That is fine.

Apostle, leader, pastor, teacher, speaking, prophecy, evangelist

Can you describe what each of these is about?

Which lists do they appear in?

Why have I suggested that they are gifts of leadership?

Read 1 Corinthians 12:27-30

Why does Paul give an order to gifts in this passage?

Do you think it helpful or unhelpful? Why?

Read Ephesians 4:11-12 again.

What is the purpose of the leadership gifts?

Can you think of any people in the Bible (especially the New Testament) where the Spirit has given one of the gifts of leadership?

Discuss these examples and look them up in the Bible.

Have you experienced any of the gifts of leadership at work in people’s lives, either your own or others? (Remember, the gift may be given long-term for undertaking a role, or short-term for a one-off situation.)

 How do you know whether it is a gift of the Spirit at work?

 Having discussed the leadership gifts do you feel more able to discern when the Spirit is working through someone? Why is this important?

 

A final question to ponder but not discuss: how do you feel about the gifts of leadership? How have you responded to thinking about them? Might the Holy Spirit be telling you something about your spiritual gifting?

Leadership gifts are not in any way superior to other gifts. It is simply that leaders are leaders. Also, it is clear from Ephesians that these gifts are gifts of serving which are supposed to enable all God’s people to discover and develop their ways of serving so that the body of Christ may be built up. Leadership gifts are nothing to do with pompous people with an over-inflated opinion of themselves! On the contrary, as with all gifts, leadership gifts are best displayed in those who have truly given themselves over to serve Christ and his body, the people of God.

Conclude each session with prayer and private pondering of the final question. Pray for everyone to have the discernment to see the gifts of the Spirit at work in others Christians’ lives and to acknowledge that the Spirit has given them gifts too. Pray for everyone to be open to the movement of the Spirit in their lives and the life of their church.

 

Notes

  • The word apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos which means “a messenger, one sent forth with orders.” It refers to one with delegated authority in a foreign land. Apostles were the first leaders of the Church, commissioned by Jesus. There are differences of opinion about whether this role still exists, e.g. the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches hold that properly ordained bishops are the successors to the apostles. The Pentecostal Church uses the term apostle for those it sends out, e.g. on pioneering ministries.
  • In the New Testament the office of prophet is to equip the church for the work of service through exhortation, edification and consolation. Prophecy is reporting something that God has brought to your mind. It is not fortune-telling! Often, it is forth-telling, i.e. “telling it like it is” about the present and pointing out the inevitable consequences in the future.
  • An evangelist is devoted to preaching the gospel for the purpose of leading people to Christ.
  • Pastor derives from the Greek word for shepherd. Pastors lead, guide and set an example for other Christians.

 

Examples

Some examples of the gift of leadership in the New Testament:

evangelist/teacher Philip in Acts 8:26-35?

prophecy Acts 9:10-16 Ananias and Acts 11:27-28 Agabus

leadership Acts 15 passage re Council of Jerusalem discussion & decision-making; Acts 27:27-38 Paul takes charge of the ship!

teaching Acts 18:24 Apollos

Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Intro Part 3

Yes, I know, part 3 of the intro. And some of us still haven’t finished it. However, one group has now got on to the leadership gifts so I will add that section shortly.

Re the introduction section, I have made a few minor modifications to the material as we have gone through it – mainly to widen out the bible readings.

Last time we got as far as the end of the Old Testament and were ready and waiting for the age of the Spirit to begin with the coming of Jesus. But before plunging in to New Testament, I showed the group a video from The Bible Project, which outlines beautifully the story of the Holy Spirit. You can find it here:

https://thebibleproject.com/?gclid=CO7zgtzL-dMCFeq17QodrgEKlw

Go down the page and find “Biblical Themes”. The Holy Spirit video can be found there (you may need to scroll to the side) and can be viewed online or downloaded.

Now, back to the start of the New Testament’s account of the Holy Spirit…

Here is the section we are looking at:

The pouring out of the Spirit

The days foretold by these prophets is now upon us. We are living in the age of the Spirit, an age heralded by the coming of Jesus.

Read Luke 3:16 and 3:22.

Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism, and John tells us that Jesus would be the one to baptise with the Spirit. The Greek word for baptism mean “to overwhelm”, “to immerse”, “to be plunged into.”

Jesus offers a complete immersion in the Spirit to all who turn to him, John 7:38. But, during Jesus’ ministry, the age of the Spirit had not yet begun, John 7:39, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:8. The age of the Spirit began on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit rained down in an overwhelming, immersing, plunging manner, Acts 2:1-13. Peter explains to the amazed crowd what has happened and invites them to join in, Acts 2:14-41.

What do the images of water and fire tell you about the Spirit?

Who is the Spirit now promised to? Does that include us?

How do we receive the Spirit?

Reflecting on the readings and questions, it was clear to us that the Spirit is given to every believer. As Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said in his sermon,

“Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all who the Lord our God will call.”

EVERY believer receives the gift of the Spirit.

There was some discussion about whether baptism was a necessary precursor to receiving the Spirit. Certainly, the passage above could be interpreted that way. But we preferred to emphasise not so much the mechanics of baptism as the intent, i.e. the desire of the believer to be forgiven for their sins and to make a public statement of their faith, a witness to the fact of their conversion.

The next subsection is:

The work of the Spirit

Read John 14:15-27 and John 16:5-16.

What do Jesus’ words tell us about the Spirit’s work and role?

Again, the group spent a lot of time on this. We identified these characteristics of the Spirit: counsellor, Spirit of truth, he lives in us and is in us, holy, teacher, convicter with regard to sin, righteousness and judgement, guide into truth, makes Jesus and the Father known to us.

The Spirit of God lives in us? We accept this almost without thought but aren’t amazed at it! How can that be? God is living in us! It is amazing stuff. That’s how close and intimate a relationship God wants with us.

The fruit of the Spirit

Now read Galatians 5:22-23.

This is a list of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit reflect the character of Jesus. When we become Christians we are not suddenly perfect! The Holy Spirit works within us, transforming us so that we reflect the character of Jesus more and more.

Who “gets” the fruit of the Spirit – are they for everyone or only special people?

What are they for?

How do we grow the fruit in our lives?

We agreed that the fruit is for everyone but they are not gifts, they are fruit, which means they take time to grow and develop to come to ripeness/maturity in us. The idea is that we gradually develop the increasing likeness of Jesus Christ in our character as the Holy Spirit works in us and through us and helps us grow as Christians.

Spiritual gifts

The gifts of the Spirit are not the same as the fruit.

There are lots of lists in the New Testament, e.g. read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28-30, Ephesians 4:7 and 11-13, Romans 12:4-8, 1 Peter 4:10-11

Do these lists list all the gifts?

Is there a difference between natural and spiritual gifts?

Who receives spiritual gifts?

Every Christian who desires them will receive spiritual gifts but no one has them all or all the time. They are gifts, given when needed.

The Bible does not categorise the gifts but many people have done so in order to make it easier to study them.

How might you try to categorise the gifts?

We are going to study the gifts in groups according to this categorisation:

  • Gifts of leadership
  • Gifts of discernment
  • Gifts of healing and wholeness
  • Gifts of support

This is simply to make things manageable for us.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 and 11

What are the spiritual gifts for?

Are any gifts more important than others?

We decided that the lists given in the Bible were not exclusive. God can give any gift he wants for the purpose he wants to achieve. But the lists in the Bible are helpful in showing us the range of gifts that he wants to share with his people. We loved it how gifts such as prophesying were listed alongside gifts such as helping and encouraging.

We pondered the difference between natural and spiritual gifts and concluded that God’s Spirit may well use a natural skill and enhance it for God’s purposes. but a spiritual gift may also come suddenly without any natural skill involved at all. (It is interesting that non-believers will often refer to a “natural” skill as a “gift”, but surely a gift has to be given by someone, and we know who that someone is!)

We also noted that sometimes the Spirit will give a gift for the long-term when someone needs to fulfill a role, e.g. a leader. But sometimes a gift is needed only for the moment, e.g. in a crisis the Spirit may give the gift of leadership to a particular person for that particular situation.

Looking at the Bible passages, we were very clear that gifts are NOT given for personal aggrandisement. Rather they are for the common good, the building up of the body of Christ.

1 Cor 12:7 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

Eph 4:12 “…to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

To finish, pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to us through these sessions and that we will be open to receive whatever God wants to give to us.

Related to this last suggestion of prayer for the end of each session, we discussed how we can tell which gifts we have, either as long-term roles or as given at any moment by God. I explained how we will keep coming back to this, as a key part of the study series is to know that every believer has spiritual gifts and then discern which gifts we see in others and in ourselves.

Certainly, discernment is a key skill here. If people you trust  and respect keep saying to you that you are good at something, what is God telling you through this? If you are suddenly excited by something someone says about a particular spiritual gift, what is that telling you? Or think about what sort of things you enjoy doing for God – what is that telling you?

By way of example, one of the group members said she could think of a gift not listed and she said “inspiring others in the faith.” As she said that, I got very excited. I love doing that sort of thing – from the pulpit, in baptisms with families who do not know the Lord, at the Extravaganza, in discipleship groups, anywhere I’m given the chance really… What she said touched me and it was the Spirit lifting my heart about one of the gifts he wants to use in me.

How exciting this all is! The Holy Spirit wants to give us all gifts!

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Intro part 2

Well, the two groups I am involved with kicked off again this week, and it was great. So good in fact that neither group got beyond the first section on the promise of the Spirit. We’ll not be finished by summer!

Here’s what happened.

There was lots of discussion about what things were like before the Holy Spirit got going at creation. The earth was formless, dark, disordered, chaotic and the waters were deep and turbulent and uncontrolled.

The Spirit hovered over the waters ready for action…

…and then came order.

We discussed how the Holy Spirit does a similar role today, bringing order out of the chaos of our lives, calming us and counselling us, but challenging us and directing us if necessary to prevent us becoming complacent and too cosy.

The Holy Spirit brings life (Genesis 2:7.) Science can spot life when it’s there but finds it hard to define what life is. But we know – it is when God’s Spirit has “breathed” life into the dust. Thus the Spirit is present in all life. As Paul said in Acts, “In him we live and move and have our being.”

In Old Testament times the Spirit of God came upon particular people for particular tasks (not on everyone.) The Spirit was given when a role or task was needed for the common good of the faith community. We particularly enjoyed Bezalel who received skills in creative work from the Spirit. The Spirit did not always come on people who felt strong – Gideon was a wuss but the Spirit made him strong for God’s purposes. Though the Spirit’s coming was for particular purposes for the common good, sometimes something was given to the individual to encourage them for the difficult task ahead. See for example Isaiah’s vision of his calling to be a prophet.

Reading about the time to come from Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Joel, it is clear that a new age was coming where God was going to build a new and closer relationship with his people, a more intimate relationship where his Spirit would be poured out on all believers. “Poured out”, not a bit here or there to special people, but poured out generously to everyone.

And then the Bible goes quiet for 400 years until…

But we had to stop there!

What a cliff-hanger!

 

 

 

 

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Introduction

Holy Spirit

Hello. Having completed our very successful Lent series (with over 50 people attending each week over the two sessions) we are now starting to look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I hope you find these sessions helpful. Although I will be posting individual sections as I create them, it may well be that the groups meeting take more than one session on each section of the material. That is fine. There is no need to rush important stuff like this!

Here is the first section. Please let me know if you are following this blog and have any comments to make.

Read Joel 2:28-29

No church or Christian individual can be renewed and empowered for works of faith without the Holy Spirit. So what or who is he?

The promise of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit was right there at the beginning. Read Genesis 1:1-2.

What role did the Holy Spirit play in creation?

Does this give an insight into the role of the Holy Spirit today?

 When God created humanity, he created us from dust by breathing the breath of life into us (Genesis 2:7.) The Hebrew word for breath here is ruach, which is also the word for the Spirit.

What insight does this give us into the role of the Holy Spirit?

In Old Testament times, God’s Spirit came on particular people for particular tasks. See for example Exodus 31:3-5, Judges 6:15, 34, Isaiah 6:1-8.

What people and tasks did the Holy Spirit inspire here?

Now read these readings: Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Joel 2:28-29

What does this tell us about God’s plans? How would the new covenant differ from the old?

What would be the role of the Spirit?

Who would receive the Spirit?

The days foretold by these prophets is now upon us. We are living in the age of the Spirit, an age heralded by the coming of Jesus.

Read Luke 3:16 and 3:22.

Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism, and John tells us that Jesus would be the one to baptise with the Spirit. The Greek word for baptism mean “to overwhelm”, “to immerse”, “to be plunged into.”

Jesus offers a complete immersion in the Spirit to all who turn to him, John 7:38. But, during Jesus’ ministry, the age of the Spirit had not yet begun, John 7:39, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:8. The age of the Spirit began on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit rained down in an overwhelming, immersing, plunging manner, Acts 2:2-4. Peter explains to the amazed crowd what has happened and invites them to join in, Acts 2:33, 2:39.

What does the image of water tell you about the Spirit?

Who is the Spirit now promised to? Does that include us?

How do we receive the Spirit?

The work of the Spirit

Read John 14:15-27 and John 16:5-16.

What do Jesus’ words tell us about the Spirit’s work and role?

Now read Galatians 5:22-23.

This is a list of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit reflect the character of Jesus. When we become Christians we are not suddenly perfect! The Holy Spirit works within us, transforming us so that we reflect the character of Jesus more and more.

Who “gets” the fruit of the Spirit – are they for everyone or only special people?

What are they for?

How do we grow the fruit in our lives?

Spiritual gifts

The gifts of the Spirit are not the same as the fruit.

There are lots of lists in the New Testament, e.g. read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-30, Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10-11

Do these lists list all the gifts?

Is there a difference between natural and spiritual gifts?

Who receives spiritual gifts?

Every Christian who desires them will receive spiritual gifts but no one has them all or all the time. They are gifts, given when needed.

The Bible does not categorise the gifts but many people have done so in order to make it easier to study them.

How might you try to categorise the gifts?

We are going to study the gifts in groups according to this categorisation:

  • Gifts of leadership
  • Gifts of discernment
  • Gifts of healing and wholeness
  • Gifts of support

This is simply to make things manageable for us.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 and 11

What are the spiritual gifts for?

Are any gifts more important than others?

To finish, pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to us through these sessions and that we will be open to receive whatever God wants to give to us.

 

There is a Green Hill

We are now studying the verses of the hymn, “There is a green hill”, for five sessions during Lent. This material is copyrighted and can be reproduced for personal and church use but it is not appropriate to copy it on to the web, so if you want a hardcopy of pdf version of the material please let me know and I will send it to you.

We had an excellent first session yesterday, with 39(!) people at the morning session at st David’s and 20 at the evening session at St John’s. The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating, so if you want a copy of the material do please let me know.

If you want to join us next Wednesday then it is 11am at St David’s, Craig y Don or 7.30pm at St John’s, Llandudno.

 

 

Ecclesiastes 5:8 – 6:12 What does it take to be content?

This is the last of our Ecclesiastes studies, at least for a while. We’ve actually got another six sections to go but we need to pause now while we do our Lent study series, “There is a green hill”, based on the familiar Easter hymn. These studies are taking place during Lent starting next Wed 8th March, 11am at St David’s Craig y Don or 7.30pm at St John’s Llandudno. There are five sessions, one per verse of the hymn. I may put these up as posts on this blog so keep an eye out from next Thursday 9th if you are interested or, better still, come along to the live sessions!

Anyway, back to this week’s study from Ecclesiastes. Here it is:

If the advertisers are right, we have a lot to feel discontent about. We don’t have enough possessions, and we don’t have them soon enough or up to date enough. Fulfilment is equated with wearing the right kind of clothes, driving the right kind of car, drinking the right kind of beverage. This lifestyle of discontent held similar sway for many of the Teacher’s contemporaries. In this section he challenges his reader to stop seeking satisfaction from accumulating things. Instead he offers an alternative, one that leads to a lifestyle of contentment.

Warming Up to God

In what areas of life do you find yourself least content? Consider Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” For what do you have reason to rejoice today? Praise your God, the Lover of your soul, today before you look into his Word.

Read Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

 Discovering the Word

  • How does the Teacher describe the nature of wealth?
  • What negative effects does the desire for wealth have in public life (5:8-9) and in personal life (5:10-17)?
  • Note the contrast between 5:18-20 and 6:1-2. What role does God have in the satisfaction which wealth, possessions and honour can bring?
  • Many children and a long life were considered the greatest of blessings in the Old Testament (6:3-6). What does our society define as “the good life”?
  • In 6:7-12 the Teacher uses questions to challenge his readers. How would the questions challenge an unbeliever (see especially v. 12)?

Applying the Word

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being very little, 10 being very much), how would you rate your attachment to the things you own?
  • Give an example of how viewing possessions as a gift from God would help to change your attachment to them.
  • How could you exercise trust in God for an area in which you lack contentment?

Responding in Prayer

Confess any discontent to God and ask him to help you value his goodness and sufficiency.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As usual, we got stuck into the material. There was some discussion about adverts and how they manipulate us into being discontent with what we have so that they can sell us something else, and how aware we need to be to avoid being pulled in to this sort of thinking. Ads for loans and gambling got us particularly wound up. No wonder discontent pervades our society when our economy works by making people discontent and turning us into consumers wanting more and more… But it seems that even this is nothing new:

“As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?” 5:11

We, as always, were amazed at the up to date relevance of much of the Teacher’s words, and marvelled once again at how God’s Word, written thousands of years ago can still speak right into our situation.

We did question whether discontentment was always inappropriate. Certainly discontent in the sense of distress is not “wrong” because such a person is desperate to be content and at peace. And what we might call “holy discontent” is not inappropriate – if there is an injustice or an abuse of power or suffering then we ought to feel discontent until the issue is resolved. There is no motivation for positive change unless there is discontent with the way things are.

Looking at the early verses of the section reminded us of the dangers and injustice of a situation of “haves” and “have nots”and, in particular, how societies tend to work in a way that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. An increasing gap between rich and poor leads to discontent for everyone.

We agreed that perspective is everything when it comes to wealth and possessions. Someone who knows themselves to be accountable to God and that everything they have comes from him realises that they need firstly to be thankful and secondly to be a good steward of the resources they have been given by God. There is no grasping after more because they are secure in their relationship with the Lord.

But how does someone who has no faith in God think? What are they working for? What is the point or their grasping after wealth “except to feast his eyes” on what they have?

We found 5:19 and 20 particularly helpful when compared with 6:1-2: a person who has wealth and possessions and everything his heart desires is never satisfied because his heart always desires more, and in the end it all goes to someone else anyway. But a person who is grateful for what God has given him will be happy with what he has and not grasp after more. Furthermore he will find his life occupied in serving God through his work and so be satisfied. This is true contentment.

“There is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in their work – that is the gift of God.” 3:12-13

 

 

Ecclesiastes 4:4 – 5:7 What attitudes should we embrace?

I was more sensible this time. I didn’t try to push the group to complete two sections and that was the right thing to do. We needed to spend time pondering the issues raised by this one section. Here it is.

“The church is full of hypocrites!” Christians often hear this from those outside the church. We like to respond by saying, “Yes, but if you think they’re bad now, you should have seen them before God got hold of them!” One way or another, when it comes to how faith should change a person’s life, expectations are high. And rightly so. We become like those we live around, and if that includes the Lord, then we will see our lives begin to reflect his. In this passage the Teacher explores some everyday values and attitudes that a relationship with God should influence.

Warming Up to God

Consider your usual approach to life. If you could remove one negative attitude that you struggle with, which one would it be? What difference would it make in your life if you turned this negative into a positive?

Read Ecclesiastes 4:4-5:7

 Discovering the Word

  • What are negative consequences of the two extreme attitudes described in 4:4-5?
  • What irony concerning the workaholic’s efforts is spoken about in 4:7-8?
  • What are the benefits of partnership (4:9-12)?
  • Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 outlines a “rags to riches” story. What, however, is the ironic twist to its ending?
  • Contrast the two approaches to God described in 5:1-7.

Applying the Word

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being lazy and 10 being a workaholic), how would you rate yourself? Explain.
  • In terms of your need for other people, are you primarily a dependent or an independent person? Explain.
  • How does the Teacher’s wisdom challenge you toward growth in interdependence with others?

Responding in Prayer

This passage ends with the words “Therefore stand in awe of God.” Pray quietly to the Lord for a few moments, allowing yourself to stand in awe of him. Humbly be silent before him who made you and is making you into his child.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We spent quite a while considering various negative attitudes and approaches to life, raising things like judging people before we know them, taking things at face value, leaping in to speak before listening or engaging our brains. We considered the importance of self-awareness as a means to spot these negative attitudes and discern the effects they are having on our lives and the lives of those around us, and so learn how to counter them with more positive approaches.

The Teacher clearly considers that all labour and achievement spring from a person’s envy of his neighbour but perhaps there may be other, related, negative reasons such as fear of failure or the judgement of others (positive or negative.) At the other end of the scale is the fool who folds his arms and does nothing. The implication of v6 is that a middle way of being satisfied with enough is the way of contentment. As chapter 3 verse 13 told us, “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.” The workaholic is in a bad place – he works harder and harder to get what he wants but when he gets it he is still not satisfied. He has no concept of being content with what he has. He can never be a peace.

We loved verses 9-12 – at last the Teacher is being positive about something – living and working together has benefits for all – not only is there likely to be a more constructive outcome by working with someone else, but there is also companionship and support along the way.

The next bit was quite puzzling – it sounded as if it had some personal testimony in its “rags to riches” story. Perhaps this is so if the Teacher is Solomon himself. But again, there is scepticism about the meaning of anything. Even if you get followers because you have a good story to tell or because you are better than the one before, that does not mean that you will ultimately be lauded for your leadership in later times. No one can please everyone and no one knows how they will be remembered by history if at all. “It’s all meaningless” once again!

We found the final section very heartening too – two positive sections from the Teacher in one study! He must have been in a good mood that day when he wrote that section (hmmm…does that mean that our attitudes to life are so directly affected by our mood and our outward situation – if so, that really does mean that a lot of our thoughts about life are pretty meaningless or at least extremely subjective and changing with the wind… I think I am turning into the Teacher…)

In this last section the Teacher refers to God at least six times – most unusual when considering the whole book. Why does the Teacher do this? Because he is telling us to compare ourselves God.

“God is in heaven and you are on earth so let your words be few.”

What do we know anyway? God is the only one who truly knows.

As the final sentence says, “Shut up and stand in awe of God” (my paraphrase.) Or, as it says elsewhere in the Bible,

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

 

 

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 4:3 Who is really in control?

Well, I expected us to get through another two sections at today’s meeting but we didn’t. We had far too much to discuss about this one section. Here is the study:

“Why do the innocent suffer?” is a question that has plagued the conscience of humankind. And we wonder, “Why do the unrighteous prosper?” Both of these questions can lead to despair, suggesting that life is indeed meaningless. But this famous chapter of Ecclesiastes poses a solution for life’s apparent dilemma. The solution hinges on how one answers a third question, “Who is in control?” If humanity is in charge, then life is a game of chance whose rules are controlled by the most powerful among us. But if a just and loving God is in charge, then life becomes a set of ordained appointments which open the windows of eternity to us.

Warming Up to God

What was a situation in which you felt as though your life was out of control? Write down a few words to describe your feelings at that time. Now speak to the Lord about them, and leave your fears and frustrations in his hands.

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-4:3

 Discovering the Word

  • Describe the Teacher’s view of time in 3:1-8.
  • What negative and positive things does the Teacher say about time in 3:9-15?
  • What observations does the Teacher make in 3:16 and 4:1-3 about human wickedness?
  • In the future God will bring judgment (3:17). For the present, however, God brings us a test (3:18-22). What is the test and its desired results?
  • What kind of perspective results from seeing wickedness from a temporal viewpoint (4:1-3)?
  • What kind of perspective results from looking at wickedness from an eternal viewpoint (3:17)?

Applying the Word

  • How would you live your life differently if you believed God had no control?
  • How do you struggle with the tension of knowing God is in control and yet seeing wickedness in control?

Responding in Prayer

Praise God for setting eternity in our hearts, and thank him for being unchangingly faithful in the midst of life in a paradoxical world.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Well, there it is. Why did we spend so long on it?

We spent some time thinking about situations where we have felt out of control, how occurrences such as illness or sudden events can knock us off balance for considerable lengths of time, how we so long for the feeling of having control of our lives when in fact no one has control at all, not really. After all, who knows what will happen tomorrow?

We discussed whether the Teacher believed in an afterlife. He says he does not know (v21) and yet elsewhere he clearly states that there will be judgement (v17) and that God has set eternity in the hearts of humanity (v11.) In general, Old Testament writers say very little about the afterlife. Not until Jesus’coming do we find any level of detail about this. And even the New Testament has different ways of describing it. (Compare the gospels comments about heaven, hell, paradise and judgement with comments elsewhere in Paul’s letters and in the book of Revelation.)

We also pondered the age old question of why the wicked are allowed to prosper and why God allows suffering. But again we came to no solid statement we were fully content with.

But perhaps that’s the point. The Teacher is goading us to realise that not everything can be sewn up neatly and that we cannot expect to understand everything or hope to control everything about our lives. We cannot even control our behaviour day by day! The good we want to do we do not do – we mess up again and again. That’s why we need a forgiving God to be in charge rather than us.

It is not us who is in control, it is God, and that is where our faith lies. Our satisfaction and security come from knowing we are safe in God’s hands whatever happens and that our lives are part of his overall purpose for creation.

In the same way, though we cannot say much about what the afterlife is like nor when is the last moment available for anyone to choose for God, what we can say for certain is this: God is in control of our ultimate destiny and the destiny of the whole of creation, and in Jesus he has assured forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life for all who accept his gift and put their trust in him. Also, whatever heaven is like, we know there is going to a really big party when the faithful arrive there!

See you there I hope…

 

 

 

 

 

Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 What is the value of work?

This is the second section we managed to do in our group this week. You can tell from the introductory illustration that the original material is American (hurrah for the NHS despite all its problems!) Anyway, here it is:

Gary hates his job. The tasks are repetitive, his boss is a grouch, the other employees bicker. The job, however, pays better than anything else he could find, and his son has a medical condition that would make him uninsurable if he changes companies. Gary feels trapped. Nothing can be quite as frustrating as work. And while most of us can’t fully identify with Gary, many of us can readily understand something about his predicament. In this section of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher will look back at his own life’s work. If anyone had a great job, he did. Even so, he asks, “Does it really amount to anything significant?”

Warming Up to God

Do you feel more like God’s dutiful employee or his valued friend? Explore your perspective and tell him your heart. Remember that he is your most patient listener and he’s eager to hear how you’re doing.

Read Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

 Discovering the Word

  • How would you describe the Teacher’s emotional state as a result of his quest for meaning so far?
  • The phrase “under the sun” appears often throughout Ecclesiastes—five times in this passage (vv. 17, 18, 19, 20, 22). Describe the “under the sun” mentality.
  • What does the Teacher say about work (vv. 21-23)?
  • What shift do you see in the way the Teacher views work (vv. 24-26)?
  • Describe the contrast between seeking pleasure (vv. 10-11) and finding enjoyment (vv. 24-26).

Applying the Word

  • When have you experienced the kind of satisfying enjoyment described here?
  • If you were to view your work as a gift from God to be enjoyed, how could that change your attitude about it?

Responding in Prayer

Commit your work to the Lord and ask him to give you a heart that desires to glorify him in that context.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

As I said at the end of the last post, the Teacher does seem to get a bit depressed sometimes.

The Teacher at first suggests that work is meaningless because it achieves no lasting reward for the worker (v21-22) nor does he/she know whether the one taking on from him/her will build on the work done or trash it (v19). For some reason(!) we thought immediately of the actions of the new President of the US here…

We also recognised the Teacher’s anguish caused by worrying about things even at night when he would be sleeping if he could (v23). Which of us does not recognise this situation?

But is it all meaningless as the Teacher keeps goading us to ponder? He has a sudden change of thought in v24, and God at last gets a positive mention.

This is how Ecclesiastes works – we mustn’t expect clear statements of faith line after line after line. We have to work for them, be goaded into considering them and find them in among the pondering and heart-searching. There are no platitudes here. Every positive statement comes after the effort of working it through to its conclusion.

So the Teacher comes to a conclusion about work and the pleasures of food and drink. Work as drudgery may indeed by meaningless but if we see it as being part of our life for God the whole thing is changed. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too is the hand of God, for without him who can eat or find enjoyment?” Our satisfaction and enjoyment in life come from knowing we are part of God’s plan for the world and that what we do we do for him however menial or difficult it may be.

“To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (v26)

I am reminded of two helpful hymns:

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

sweep

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.

Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart,
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part:

Praise in the common things of life,
Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed,
However small and mean.

Fill every part of me with praise;
Let all my being speak
Of Thee and of Thy love, O Lord,
Poor though I be and weak.

So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step,
Be fellowship with Thee.

 

Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:16 Where can we find fulfilment?

Yesterday we held our second session on Ecclesiastes. Again, there were nearly 20 people there, though not all the same people as last time. If they all came together it would be a big crowd! It is wonderful to know that everyone is there because they have a hunger and thirst for God’s word and want to apply it to their daily living.

We managed to do two sections of our study this week. I will post the second as a separate post later on. Here is the first. :

Imagine a total plunge into hedonism, following every possible avenue of self-seeking pleasure and satisfaction. Now let your imagination grow further, having the political and financial means to indulge yourself to the fullest possible extent. Imagination turns to reality in this section of Ecclesiastes, surely one of the most colourful passages in the Bible. Here is one person’s attempt at something many only dream about.

Warming Up to God

If by some sudden shift in perspective worldly pleasure suddenly became your overriding goal, what would you likely do? With what results? Talk to God about your deeper desires to forsake short-term self-indulgence for the long-term gain of knowing him.

Read Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:16

Discovering the Word

  • How does the Teacher describe himself and his quest?
  • Why does the author call his search for wisdom “a heavy burden” (1:13)?
  • Describe the various avenues the Teacher tested in his quest for fulfilment (2:1-16).
  • In 2:12-16 he outlines two approaches to discovering meaning in life. What are the advantages and limitations of these two approaches?
  • What prompts his change of perspective (2:14-16)?
  • In the first six chapters the Teacher repeats his thesis that “everything is meaningless” 21 times. How does he show that life is meaningless in 1:12—2:16?

Applying the Word

  • How have you been convinced of the meaninglessness of living outside of Christ’s lordship?
  • What would help you turn your desire for meaning in life into a wholehearted pursuit of God?

Responding in Prayer

Matthew 7:8 promises that all who seek shall find. Knock on Jesus’ door right now and ask him to give you a hunger to find meaning in life through knowing him better each day.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Once again, the words of the Teacher got us going, goading us into responding to his argument for or against.

What fascinated me is how the Teacher, in some senses, speaks like a scientist or certainly an academic – he puts forward a hypothesis, “Everything is meaningless” (1:2-3) then debates the arguments for and against. He also makes clear his methodology for examining his hypothesis, which is wisdom. “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven” (1:13).

In this study we see him exploring (using wisdom) whether there is meaning in pleasure, but he discovers that it is all “a chasing after the wind.”

He realises that pondering the meaning of life using wisdom is a double edged sword. The Teacher points out that wisdom is better than folly because the wise man can see and understand what is happening in the world rather than blunder around in darkness as the fool does (2:13). However, if we are willing to allow ourselves to reflect on the state of the world and consider its meaning then we are likely to be exposed to things that will bring great sorrow and grief (1:18). To put this another way, if the news comes on the TV I can choose to switch off or just treat it as entertainment, or I can choose to engage with what is happening in the world and so open myself up to hurt and anguish.

The Teacher also hits a problem with his methodology, finding that not only folly but also wisdom is meaningless, as even the wise must die and they and their wisdom be forgotten (2:14-16). However, as the group pointed out, he is too pessimistic here – after all, his words are being studied by us thousands of years later and found to be of value, so wisdom does stand the test of time.

The Teacher does get a bit depressed at times!