“He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”
From the beginning of Creation God’s heart for humankind has been relationship. Even after the Fall of mankind into sin, God’s first question was “Where are you?” not “What have you done?” (see Genesis 3:8-13)
Human religions all over the world often emphasize moral codes, rules and “right” behaviors which can be helpful, in some cases, to promote order and peace in society. However, a few questions to ask ourselves are:
“Does right behavior (keeping the rules) lead to right relationship with God or does right relationship with God (through Jesus and by the empowering of the Holy Spirit) lead to a lifestyle of ever increasing Godly character?
In Jesus’ famous declaration of the “Two Great Commandments” (see verse above) is the emphasis on rules or relationship? What would human society be like if a large part of humanity lived by this teaching?
(Discuss your views/thoughts)
And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In this chapter the authors assert some of the negative effects of The Enlightenment on Western culture including God’s relationship (or lack thereof) to His creation. God has designed the universe and world to be governed by natural laws and principles that can often be understood through Math and Science. Moreover, the Bible seems to reveal that God is “…not confined by these laws and His intimate relationship with His creation enables Him to bend his natural laws when it suits His purposes.” (p.158) However, modern Western culture has embraced an increasing Deistic or Naturalistic worldview in which God (if one believes in God) created a “closed system” universe/world that operates by natural laws and in which He no longer plays an active role.
1. What do you think…Is God actively involved in the world and human affairs?
2. Do “miracles” (events in which the laws of nature are overcome/suspended) occur in the modern world? How does your view affect your Bible reading, faith, and belief (practice) in prayer?
(Discuss your views/thoughts)
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”1 Thessalonians 2:8
In the non-Western ancient world, often relationships (not rules) defined reality. However, in the Western world we tend to “…understand relationships in terms of rules and laws…” This can lead to a misreading of some Scriptural passages. “…When we assume that the rules, which we can see, are the total extent of the relationship, failing to see the part of the iceberg under the water…” (the cultural complexity of the relationship), our understanding of a passage can be flawed. (p. 160-161) For example, the patronage-client relationship in commerce in the 1st century Roman world, was much more familial (like family loyalty) than contractual (money given for goods or services rendered with no “strings attached”). (p.162-166)
Paul the missionary Apostle, formerly Saul of Tarsus the zealous and “rule following” Pharisee, underwent an amazing transformation through His relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. He used terms, such as grace and faith, often used (and clearly understood) in 1st century Roman patron-client relationships in his teachings explaining the Gospel. Moreover, he emphasized (and modeled) love of Christ and others in his missions and discipleship work with people in the pagan Greco Roman world with amazing results.
3. What can we learn about the Gospel and our relationship with God by better understanding key N.T. words such as grace and faith?
4. What was Paul’s emphasis in the verse above written to the believers in Thessalonica?
5. What can we learn and apply to our ministry to students from it?