Category Archives: Faith

Study 14 – 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Living the work of the gospel

Discussion Question

What does it take to be great at something? For example, becoming a specialist doctor, or a concert musician. Do you have a story of becoming great at something?

Background

Early in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated that he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ crucified. He was distressed by the wavering ways that the Christians in Corinth were behaving and thinking and his antidote was to remind them of the gospel and how central and important it is to us all. In Chapter 8 and the beginning of Chapter 9, we were challenged to put aside the things that we feel we have a right to for the sake of the gospel. No-thing is more important than loving others with the love flowing from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once we are established in the faith because of our knowledge of the gospel, we must pursue life with others in mind before ourselves. Paul says, for example, that if eating meat will cause a fellow Christian to sin, then he would choose never to eat meat again.

Martin Luther, German reformer, in his treatise titled, “The Freedom of a Christian” , wrote, ““A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” This is something of what Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.

Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

What did you see?

Structure

  • All things to all people – Submit your life to the gospel (19-23)
  • Like a serious athlete – Submit your body to the gospel (24-27)

All things to all people – Submit your life to the gospel (19-23)

“Though I am free and belong to no one…” A great starting point for Paul’s discussion is to note that nobody owns him. He is not working for a sales company, not bound to some higher order except of course to God himself. He is not bound to the Jewish legal system nor the Pharisees nor his own mother. But this allows him freedom to work out who to serve and how. We’ll see now how he lives out his freedom and what drives him.

“…I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” He will expand on what this means by example in the following verses. His attitude is to submit to people around him with rules and regulations that they feel are important. These regulations mean nothing to Paul in his Christian freedom but for the sake of winning people over he will not become a stumbling block for them. His practice is to see what he ought to abstain from or adhere to in order to bridge relationships and therefore preach the gospel. The maturity in this is that he is willingly submitting to the rules of others without demanding his rights. He is free to do this.

“To the Jew…to those under the law” If you’ve read your bible, it is not difficult to imagine what he means by this. If he is reaching a Jewish community or even attending their synagogue, he will pray like a Jew, dress like a Jew, eat like a Jew. Evangelism 1: make peaceful contact with others. Evangelism 2: win them through words and action.

“To those not having the law…” Just like the previous example, he is referring to the Law of Moses, or the Old Testament and everything flowing from that to do with the old Covenant. He does not mean to the lawless criminals. He is not telling us to break the law and infiltrate the underground to save some through criminal activity. But his freedom in Christ means that he is also not under the law (Verse 20). So he is not disqualified in any way here. But he may cross boundaries that he is not familiar with and crossing boundaries that mean something to some is perhaps his point in all this. We use the phrase ‘cross-cultural mission.’ Anytime we thoughtfully move from our familiar ways in order to walk beside another group for the gospel is cross-cultural mission. Other religions, other ethnic groups, different classes, different ages.

“…though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law…” So, when he says he is free in Verse 19, there is a clause here and that he does not live life in rebellion against God. But there is a distinction made here between the Law of Verse 20 and the law of God in Verse 21. So what is the difference? He defines it as Christ’s law which is helpful but still incomplete. The rule is to love God and love others. God’s kingdom is an ‘other-person-centred’ Kingdom and it is a Jesus above all else Kingdom. This is the law. Galatians 6:2 says that if you carry one another’s burdens then you fulfill law of Christ, and James 2:8 refers to the command to ‘love your neighbour’ as the royal law. We are no longer under the law but we remain in the order that God had created for us all and that is to love.

“To the weak…” If you are not under the law because of the freedom of Christ and yet you are still compelled to this or that, the New Testament describes this category as weak. It also says that the weak ought not be put down but looked after. 1 Cor 8:9-13 and Romans 14 describe this category and how to love one another as weaker and ‘stronger’ Christians. Paul is modelling in Chapter 9 what it looks like to be the stronger Christian and withhold your Christian rights for the sake of others.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Followed correctly, this sentence helps us to push boundaries for the sake of the gospel. We do not need to conform in one way or another but are free to ask, “what if we did this differently” or “do we really need to continue such and such”? Reaching people for the gospel is the goal. It is important not to make the systems and church operating procedure or the church culture that we know and love the goal. This Verse does not mean, however, that we become like everybody else in the world so that nobody would ever even know that we were Christian! There is intentionality in Paul’s words, rather than passive assimilation.

“I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Paul is already a saved man, sins paid for, guilt removed, chosen, loved, adopted and sealed with the Holy Spirit. But to not participate in the work of the kingdom would be a sign of disqualification. We never earn our way to heaven, but we are all called to be disciple-making disciples. The reward we receive for honouring the King is eternal life. This is the gift given to us sinners who have turned to Christ – eternal life (Romans 6:23). In this life, and perhaps in the next (perhaps), we each have different capacity for service in the kingdom. We all ought to consider our opportunities for the gospel and pursue them – not comparing others with ourselves but knowing God and who God has made us. Paul demonstrates his passion to doing everything in his power to serve the King.

This passage, including what comes next (Verses 24-27) may raise the question of rewards in heaven. There is enough language in the New Testament to infer that their might be different responsibilities given but that the reward (singular) that we receive is eternal life. That is a free gift unearned and undeserved. But what we do with this new hope that we have is to tell the world. Be part of the mission. To refuse to get on board is a sign of disinterest in the King. This just makes no sense. (For a brief comment about rewards in heaven, I found this article to be simple and direct: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-what-are-the-rewards-in-heaven-jesus-talks-about/ )

Like a serious athlete – Submit your body to the gospel (24-27)

“…in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” Paul is not inferring that the Christian life is a competition with only one winner. But the example of an athlete who is not interested in second place – that’s a good metaphor for how to dedicate ourselves to the work of the gospel.

“…strict training.” Athletes think carefully about what they will eat, when they will sleep, when and how they will exercise and test their ability. They will get a coach to help them refine their technique. They will abstain from things that distract them from their goal of winning. They want their bodies to be the best they can possibly be in order to win. Paul is an intentional preacher and missionary. He will not let leisure and self-indulgence rule over him. He is for Christ and for winning others to Christ.

“…crown that will last forever.” This refers to eternal life and not a special reward above and beyond that. See the final paragraph of the last section. The principle that Paul is covering here is the principle of active faith. We are running a race here, so get in the race. This world is full of distractions which last momentarily. But the kingdom of God is forever! A day will come when this world is behind us. We will not simply visit heaven – it will be our eternal home. Why do we keep settling for this world as our own? It is a difficult thing to lay aside sin and the things of this world that entangle us, but by faith, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can be disciplined and put the things of this world in its rightful place. They are distractions and temporary joys.

“…someone running aimlessly….a boxer beating the air.” Intentionality, focus, thoughtful about all things. We need to be Christians with the lights turned on! We cannot mature as followers of the crowds. We must grow to know Christ, and know how he has gifted us to serve in his kingdom. How can you be more effective for the gospel? I am not trying to burden anyone with anything they are unable to carry – but we do share a tendency for slothfulness that we need to beat out of ourselves.

“No, I strike a blow to my body and make it a slave…” Paul’s own body that he lives in is not his master but he will rule over it. Churches used to talk about Christian discipline. The disciplines of prayer, bible reading, going to church, being watchful of the pleasures of this life, even exercise and diet and sleep. These are all good things that drive us to have the mind of Christ. The easy path is to watch TV all night and eat take-away food until we fall asleep on the lounge. But how Christian is that? I would argue that it is giving in to the sinful passions of the flesh. We must not allow ourselves to be slaves to our bodies but we have the Spirit who teaches us to say no to sin and yet to righteousness. We, therefore, can make our bodies slave to us.

Titus 2:11-14 (esp 12) is a good passage on this:

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

“…so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” When taken out of context to the whole bible, this can look awfully like our salvation is hanging from a thin thread and we can miss out if we have not been keen enough or good enough. Can we be disqualified? Paul illustrates the Christian life like it is being in a race. The illustration does not mean that if you lose the race then you do not receive eternal life. The purpose of the illustration is to say that if you are in God’s kingdom, qualified by God himself (Colossians 1:12), then run the race like a champion. We are free in Christ but do not take this freedom for granted. Be Christian. Be a missionary Christian. Paul will not take pride in his ministry as if he somehow is good enough for God – he will live a disciplined life, living for the kingdom.

What did we learn?

Christianity is about choice. We can choose to get in the game, running the course until Jesus returns or takes us home, giving everything to God and serving him with our time and bodies. Or we can do the fun-run of life like everybody else – going with the flow, keeping to ourselves, holding fast to our own likes and culture and basically not participating in the kingdom work of evangelism. We have all been blessed with the gospel and also our bodies, our time, our wisdom, our knowledge, our personalities and each of these can be used for winning people for Christ.

Now what?

Topic A: Being self-aware of your gospel gifts. We are not all Billy Graham or St Paul but God has equipped each of us with gifts that we can use for the spreading of the kingdom. What is your personality type, and current freedoms and skills enabling you to do for the work of the gospel?

Topic B: Being the master of your own self. Time management, health and Christian growth are three things that require discipline to see improvement in. Are there areas in life that you could take more control over? Are there areas of life that you can see you are weak in? We cannot stop death and there are many things out of our control. But what could you take more control over for the sake of the gospel?

Topic C: What cultures do you see need crossing for the gospel. Every culture that is not your own is one that you need to build a bridge between in order to get the gospel across. We don’t want people to first have to be anglo and white before they become Christian. What cultural gaps do you see you can and need to step into in order to speak about Jesus?

Study 8 – 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Judgments and Justification

Discussion Question

A child runs to you and cries, “Johnny won’t let me play with his lego!” What would you, as a responsible grown up, say to this child?

Background

The Corinthian church has been described as the church of God in Corinth because they have been called by God to be holy. However, Paul has addressed the first issue among them namely: they are boasting about human wisdom and not simply growing as a church in the knowledge of the gospel. Secondly, Paul rebukes the church for putting up with, and even celebrating evil in their midst. They have welcomed worldly wisdom and they have welcomed worldly activity – or even worse than the world. It seems that the church in Corinth have not grasped the unique and special gift that they have received by God through grace. Their thinking needs to change.

Read 1 Corinthians 6:1-11

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. 9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with menr 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Taking your disagreements to the world (1-6)
  • As it is, you are not looking like saved people (7-11)

Taking your disagreements to the world (1-6)

“…do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” It is difficult to apply this passage universally since we live in a unified culture which promotes the legal system for everyone. What Paul wants to get across, however, is that Christians have the mind of Christ and know what is right and wrong and so we ought not to default to going to the law to settle disputes. I shouldn’t think that Paul nor we should teach that we live outside the law. That is not the point of Paul’s words. He is reacting to the disputes and quarrels among the church and asking them if they don’t see the silliness of running to lawyers over matters that brothers or sisters in Christ could not settle on their own. They are acting like a small club that exists in the more superior realm of society. Paul wants them to think more soberly about who they are in the world and in the context of eternal judgement.

“…or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30; John 5:22. The exact understanding of this will not be clear until the end of times I’m afraid. But we, as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), are not to think too lowly of what we have inherited in Christ! When we have followed him, we have judged him to be king over all and especially over us! This is heavenly wisdom and we will participate somehow in the future. Again, the mechanics and details of what this means is a mystery. Paul, however, is tapping into a privilege that we should own and adopt and think twice before taking matters to the officials of this world to decide for us!

“…are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” Again, put things into perspective and see that we have the mind of Christ (2:16), the Spirit of God is in us (2:12) and we are apparently going to judge with Jesus one day. We ought to be sober-minded about this statement since the details of what that means is yet to be disclosed but we must embrace the logic of what Paul is saying – don’t regard yourselves as incapable of sorting out your own disputes. We need to pursue the same mind (1:10) – being in fellowship together with God’s Son (1:9). We’ve got this!

“…we will judge angels…” Just to repeat: this is interesting stuff that we need to accept in order to understand Paul’s argument but how this will come about is a mystery. We should remember, however, that angels are not guiltless by definition. The fallen angels are still angels! The basis of judgment will be determined by who is for the kingdom of God and who is against. John 9:39 expresses that judgement is about those who see and those who do not see. Paul has already given us a little demonstration of judgement in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (esp. Verse 3). Any privilege given to us can be abused and misused because it is misunderstood and misapplied. Paul is giving us a high responsibility and wants the church in Corinth to grow up. Give an idiot a gun and they will shoot themselves. Give a wise person a gun and they will use it respectfully. We are being told that our place in the kingdom of God is not as strangers and intruders but as sharing in the glory of God on judgment day. It’s time now for us to meditate on this and grow up.

“…do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?” If life outside the church follows rules that do not accord with holiness and truth then why would we go there for rulings? We live in a very Christianised society and many laws fit squarely with Christian views. But what cases would people in fellowship together in the church would need to go to court over? Surely disputes and differences can be resolved way before courts are needed. I should just note here that there are areas that should be settled by our courts which include divorces and rulings over property and such – BUT – the principal Paul is giving us is that there are plenty of matters that we can talk about and resolve before things go pear-shaped. If everybody in the church were putting the kingdom of God first and one another’s interests before themselves then we could do amazing things together!

“I say this to shame you.” In 4:14, Paul soothed the readers by saying that he is not trying to shame them with regard to being divisive over who is the best leader! But now, he wants them to be ashamed of running to the authority of unbelievers to resolve matters that could have been handled amongst themselves. The former incident is folly that needed gentle guidance but this matter must be stopped.

“…and this in front of unbelievers!” The church of God consists of people who have declared Jesus as Lord and desire to grow in their understanding of him and of fellowship toward one another. What kind of message would we tell if we take one another to court? Paul is not telling us to hide our disputes or cover up illegal activity, but that brothers and sisters in Christ ought to be better than that! Things that have been covered up in any church organisation in the past should never have been covered up or looked past or whatever has happened. Paul is talking about trivial matters (Verse 2) and not about serious things that definitely need to be dealt with according to both wise church policy and civil law. I hope that is clear enough.

As we close this first half of the text, let’s understand that the people of God need to grow themselves up and understand what an enormous privilege it is to be part of God’s kingdom. Paul wants us to stop being like little children who immediately run to the teacher when someone won’t share their toy. A child is taught to use their words to talk to the other child and come to an agreement on the matter without involving some outside authority over trivial matters. Know what privilege we have in Christ and develop wise approaches to relationships.

As it is, you are not looking like saved people (7-11)

“…means you have been completely defeated already.” Paul says that they have crossed a line. This is not a grey area but a clear indication that they are not living like the church of God that they have been called to be. Their hearts and minds are not operating on a gospel level. They do not behave like kids of the kingdom! Paul goes on…

“Why not rather be wronged…cheated?” How alien does that suggestion sound to you? Is it so far removed from what you could ever imaging happening? Could you just let something go and allow someone else to get more than you did? Or overlook someone else’s exaggeration when they describe their ministry and forget to mention what you contributed? Or that you always seem to bring more than others bring? Has the gospel made an impact on you? The gospel that speaks of you getting all the riches of God at the cost of God’s Son. The gospel that speaks of how little you really deserve but you get it all anyway.

“Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong…wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Rather than displaying grace and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, Paul accuses some of retaliation, fighting, quarreling and returning evil with evil. This is not right. God has saved us by his blood and called us to be holy as he is holy. We are not saved by being good people but we are not saved in order to continue as people of this world – as mere humans (3:3)!

“Do not be deceived… sexually immoral… idolaters… adulterers… men who have sex with men… thieves… greedy… drunkards… slanderers… swindlers… will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” We must keep reading on to Verse 11 (which we will) to keep the gospel in view but let’s just stop at this list for a second. Some of these items are stereotypically wrong. But some of these items have moved in our culture from evil to beautiful. I’m not going to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to this list because I think the passage has said it. But think about adultery. This is clearly a sin and is given its own place in the ten commandments. And yet, our movies and songs and comedies are able to paint adultery as acceptable as long as it is true love! What!!!? Now, what about greed?! We live in a consume and throw away society. Seeking joy in more stuff is not Christ living. Stealing is not acceptable – unless you can do it without getting caught or in a way that everybody else does. Alcohol comes with many dangers and addiction is the worst. I would like people suffering from alcohol addiction to meditate on Verse 11 and keep getting help. The point, though, is that these things are not our life anymore. We can stumble and struggle with every one of the things in this list – the struggle does not disqualify us – but if we are at home in them then we are not at home in the kingdom of God.

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Memory verse that! What do they say? God wants you to come to him as you are – but don’t expect to stay as you are. Or it’s ok to not be ok – it’s not ok to stay that way. We are the washed ones. Without blemish or stain (Colossians 1:22). We are the sanctified ones. Made holy by God because of Christ’s holiness and by the renewing of our minds through the word of God (John 17:19; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2). We are the justified ones. Righteous because Jesus has made us so (Romans 3:24; 5:1; Romans 8:1, 30). Don’t overlook the fact that it is through Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God that we are justified and not through works or through any other pathway to God. Jesus is the way! This is what we believe or else we will all be condemned.

What did we learn?

Praise God that he will judge us according to what Christ has done and not on our failure to be holy. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Let us then live as redeemed people who will inherit the kingdom of God. If we will inherit the kingdom of God then why would we bother fighting for what we feel are our rights in this world!

Now what?

Topic A: Seeing the people we go to church and Growth Group with as saved people we will share eternity with. Look at one another in your Growth Group. Potentially, everyone you see will be in heaven for eternity sharing in the kingdom of God! Do we talk and pray about what to be doing in this life with that eternal view? How can we pursue kingdom living together? This group have (hopefully) come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and they have truly understood the grace of God. They are a very unique bunch of people. People whom God loves dearly and cherishes. Do you have that same view of the people in your group? The person sitting next to you will judge angels one day!

Topic B: How do you take serious matters of dispute or hurt and deal with them in the Christian church? Remember that we are not talking about illegal activity that should be dealt with in civil court but about disputes of wrongdoing or being cheated at a trivial level. Discuss some wise strategies for dealing with things that cause a break in fellowship.

Topic C: We are the washed, sanctified and justified ones. Be sure about your salvation. It is by grace that you have been saved through faith. Truly understanding the grace of God is the most important lesson you will ever learn in your life! No exception. Do you understand what it means to be saved by grace? Does everybody in your group understand this? Looking at the list of wrongs in Verses 9 and 10 will cause all of us to be shamed but some, perhaps, more than others. We all need to be taught about the cross of Christ and be lead to a repentance that leads to forgiveness. Once forgiven, we need to hear the gospel again and again and again. Be sure that you and your group understand the gospel and have accepted it by faith.

Study 11 – Luke 18:31-19:27 (19:11-27)

The Time is Coming

Context

It was Peter, back in Chapter 9 who declared that Jesus is God’s Messiah. In that same chapter, Jesus forewarned his disciples on what to expect when they go to Jerusalem (9:22, 44). Jesus and his twelve disciples have been travelling toward Jerusalem for these past 9 chapters. A common theme in this travelling narrative has been about what kind of a person will choose to follow Jesus. Now, in Chapter 18 Verse 28, Peter declared that he and the disciples had left everything to follow him. He made this announcement because Jesus watched a rich man choose wealth ahead of the kingdom of God. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” said Jesus, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

As Jesus and the twelve come close to Jerusalem, is there an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus when he calls?

Read

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Observation

I suggest reading the whole passage as a Growth Group to get the big picture and then focus in on either 18:31-43; 19:1-10; or 19:11-27.

Growth Group Leader Tip: think about how much context and info is needed to deliver to your group in order to let the group discuss your selected text for themselves. As leaders, we are trying to encourage group discussions and, when the discussions have landed well, praise the group and let them know that they have done a good job. What 20% material do you need to provide in the form of context, recapping and orientation and discussion guiding SO THAT your group speaks for 80% of the time?

Structure

 

  • 18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

 

      • 31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying
      • 35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

 

  • 19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

 

    • 1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus
    • 5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner
    • 8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God
  • 19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards
    • 11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages
    • 15b-19 – The faithful servants
    • 20-23 – The bad servant
    • 24-27 – Rewards and punishments

 

18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying

“…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” That there is a remarkable statement! The disciples are given notice that they are about to witness the fulfillment of generations of prophecies where God promises to come to Zion and redeem it! What parts of the bible is he referencing? Well, that’s like looking at a cup of tea and asking which part has the tea flavour in it!!! The most interesting and jaw dropping lesson that a Christian can do is to sit under a teacher of Biblical Theology (God’s Big Picture is an example of this teaching) and get a handle on how the entire bible speaks of Jesus. Sometimes, the prophecies are clear and obvious (2 Samuel 7) but often the lessons are part of a greater theme that travels across the whole bible. Three key features emerge when reading all of the prophets:

  1. The ultimate solution to the problem of sin and judgment in Israel and all the world is for God himself to come and do something about it! (Malachi 3:1)
  2. When God saves, it will be through the line of David. (2 Samuel 7)
  3. This king who is promised will be a suffering servant. (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53)

One thing is certain, when the prophets spoke the word of the LORD in the Old Testament, they were not simply telling Jews how to be Jewish! They were proclaiming the works of the LORD, the sinfulness of man, the coming judgment and need to repent, and the promise of a saviour greater than Moses, David and Elijah.

“He will be delivered over to the Gentiles…” Gentiles is synonymous with Nations. In the story of God’s salvation plan (the Old Testament), the nations represent the rest of the world that lives outside the boundaries of the promised land of Israel. They were not living in direct blessing as Israel was. When God was angry with Israel, the ultimate judgment was being exiled from Israel into all the nations. When Jesus gets handed over to the Gentiles (Pilate and the Romans), this is yet another strike of shame and judgment illustrated in the person of Jesus. When he dies on the cross, he is undergoing the shame and judgment that God would deal out on Israel.

“They will…kill him…he will rise again.” We’ve been saying that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and knew that this would mean his death. The accounts of Jesus present us with a man who knew the future and knew why he was walking directly into it. He also knew that what he was accomplashing was not just an example to others of laying down your life for love but that it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. We put our trust in Jesus as LORD for such a deep and well founded bunch of reasons. The more we know about this man, the more convinced we become of who he really is.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden…” Peculiar that although they were told bluntly with their own native language what was about to happen, with no obscure riddle or parable to veil it, and yet the meaning was hidden from them. Are we being told that they didn’t understand because of their own blindness or are we being told that even direct communication can be made muddy by the work of the Spirit? If the latter, then God may very well be protecting them and the mission of God while also laying out the plans for later revelation. Mark 9:32 gives the impression that they were confused by Jesus’ words and that they were too frightened to ask him about it. They later understood all too well what he meant (Acts 2:23).

As we leave this paragraph, notice that we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and he knows that he must go to Jerusalem to conquer the grave but his disciples are blind to see all that he is talking about. The next story Luke gives us is of a blind man who saw more than all the crowds did.

35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

“As Jesus approached Jericho…” In the next story we will see that he arrives in Jericho where we meet Zacchaeus. Jericho was the famous location where the people of Israel first entered the promised land and defeated the city by marching around it and blowing their trumpets. I see no importance to the mention of this city other than to locate us about 27km outside of Jerusalem and on our way to see Zacchaeus.

“…a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” Incredibly, the moments that Jesus heals blind people, are often paralleled with stories of the disciples or the Pharisees being blind even though they see.

“They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”” Well, it may not seem like much but this is a pointed moment in the story. See, the crowd refer to Jesus as the Jesus of Nazareth. This is no big deal at all. Of course, everyone knew that this Jesus was a teacher and healer but he is given only an earthly name. Jesus was a common name and so the Nazareth is added to be specific. We’ve just left the last paragraph telling us that Jesus is this ‘Son of Man’ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament! Notice how the blind man refers to him!

“Son of David, have mercy on me!” This blind man must have heard all the reports about Jesus and believed in his heart that this man is the promised descendant of David. This is a Messianic title (Luke 20:41). David was the king of Israel – God’s anointed king. His throne was promised to endure forever (2 Sam 7). The man does not name him Jesus of Nazareth as he was told, but Son of David. He cries out for the Messiah to stop and show him mercy and healing. The legend of Jesus as a healer was well known.

“Lord, I want to see.” When asked by Jesus what he wanted, he declared that he wanted to see. He did not doubt that Jesus was a healer. If Jesus willed, then he could be healed.

“…your faith has healed you.” Not the amount of faith but the object of his faith. This man believed who Jesus was and that Jesus could heal. We are told that if we believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he was raised from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). This man believed that Jesus was the son of David – the Christ – and that he could heal with his will.

“When all the people saw it…” Notice this theme of the crowd beginning to see who Jesus is rather than just the blind man receiving sight. As readers of Luke’s account, we can see who Jesus is, who sent him, what he has come to do, what he is about to do in the story, how people ought to respond and what Jesus has to offer: the Kingdom of God.

19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.” Luke mentions this town for a second time and yet tells us that Jesus is passing through. Obviously he is heading to Jerusalem – we get that! But his encounter with the blind man and now with a tax collector seem almost too wonderful to be acts of ‘passing through.’ We have learned that those who have eyes to see (and ears to hear) will see that Jesus is the Christ who has come to show mercy and conquer the grave. Now, we will see the story of how the kingdom of God is open to all sinners and what a sinner will do once they have ‘seen’ Jesus.

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus…” The blind man was not named but we know this little man’s name. He has gone down in history as a brilliant example of the response of a saved sinner. He will show us that God is not looking for good people but that once you are saved you will no longer regard the things of this world the same again.

“…he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” Jesus has spoken against rich as a hindrance to the kingdom of God (Luke 6:24; 8:1412:16ff; 16:19ff; 18:24-25). Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector, presumably having a network working below him. Tradition tells us that his position leant to dishonest gain but he is referred to as a sinner because of his workings with the Roman empire to collect taxes for them. When he is converted, he says IF I have cheated anybody. Not an argument for him being an innocent man but only as corrupt as he was expected to be in his occupation. We need to be able to see ourselves in this character without turning him into some Mafia thug.

“…he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see [Jesus]…” I’ve often wondered why the height of this man is important or even why climbing a tree was significant. It makes for a cute story and good children’s illustrations but what is Luke telling us this for? Although wealthy and powerful (money brings power), he was noticeably short. Not an impressive man. He was not a fast rolling Tom Selleck kind of guy or impressively awesome like King Saul was described. He was a nobody who had money. A sycamore tree was very common (1 Kings 10:27). Finally, and probably most importantly, Zacchaeus was keen to meet Jesus and went out of his way to get a look. He was beyond curious. When Jesus came near, Zacchaeus went to meet him.

5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner

“…[Jesus] looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’” It seems like Jesus knew that this sinner was ready to become a Christian. Zacchaeus was curious and made a move but Jesus already knew him, calling him by name, and said, it’s time that we spoke. What an amazing picture of a Christian’s conversion moment. It’s not that we come to Jesus but that he comes to us. He sees us from afar. He knew Zac before he was even born. Ephesians 1:4.

“…the guest of a sinner.” Jesus did not come to save the righteous but sinners. How often we fall into the headspace of the people in this story though! We may get that God saves sinners and we are all sinners, but what about THAT guy?!! No, God shows no favouritism.

8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord…” The ‘But’ in Verse 8 ties Zac’s response to the remarks of the people in Verse 7. Although they were poo-pooing what they were seeing, Zach says No way man! I’m changed and I’m for the Kingdom of God now!

“…half of my possessions to the poor…” Remember the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-15)? Zach has put money in its place! He is not selling everything but he has taken his account and shown generosity – radical generosity. Like, maybe instead of sitting on $1M, he will now live of $500K, or whatever. If he was a very wealthy man, then 50% of his wealth is probably still a good amount to live off – practical and still able to continue to do good in his position.

“…I will pay back four times the amount.” His repentance is certainly not half-hearted. What a turn-around for this guy! What a difference Jesus makes to people! We cannot serve both God and money.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…’” It is not his generosity that has saved him but this is the outworking of his faith. All of his hope is in Jesus now. His hopes and desires are for God and his Messiah. He is no longer to be called a sinner but a son of Abraham. His title and reputation in the sight of God has been changed.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He is like the shepherd who travels to find his sheep. Our God is compassionate and abundant in mercy. We remember that Jesus also said that this Son of Man will arrive in Jerusalem to be handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked and killed and three days later rise again. Salvation will be via the cross but salvation will be personal too, like this intimate story of Jesus and a lost sinner. Zac was lost, but now he is found.

19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards

11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages

“While they were listening…” I think it’s kinda cool to picture the teaching of Jesus happening in the presence of Zacchaeus, in his house, knowing that he is approved by Jesus because of his faith. This story is not a Zacc attack.

“…because…people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Jesus is about to reach Jerusalem and many thought that, if Jesus is the Son of David, then this is the time for God to fulfill all prophecy and usher in the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the whole world will be in awe and come from the ends of the earth to see the Messiah ruling. Jesus is going to show them that the fulfillment will not happen so neatly.

“…A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” As the parable continues, it seems clear that Jesus is the appointed king. But, to map the details too neatly onto Jesus becomes tricky. Parables are like an artist’s impression of something and is given to make a point. In history, Herod the Great travelled to Mark Antony to receive his kingship over the Jewish region. So, the hearers would understand this principles of this parable. Jesus, however, left which place to be appointed King? Which servants in the place that he left, did he leave a task to be good stewards? This parable is dealing with the time between Jesus first and second coming. Before His kingship is totally realised, he will leave his stewards to manage in his absence.

“But his subjects hate him…we don’t want this man to be our king.” Historically, Archelaus was appointed ethnarch, rather than king, of Judea, Samaria and Idumea because the Jews sent a delegation to Augustus protest his rule. This is true of Jesus’ kingship and will be a reality when he arrives in Jerusalem. Although he is destined to be the King, he will be rejected and mocked and sent to the cross to be killed – eliminated from kingship.

“He was made king, however, and returned home.” Jesus will not be stopped as king and his kingship is a reality now (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; Rev 3:21). His crowning moment was at the resurrection (Romans 4:1). His return is the second coming. Recall the parable of the shrewd manager who had to give an account of his management. This parable shares a similar tone. The emphasis, in this parable, however, is on the servant who failed to be faithful.

15b-19 – The faithful servants

“…he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money…” The ten minas that ten of his servants had received was about 4 months worth of wage. Not an amazing amount. On Jesus’ return, he first deals with the servants that he had given responsibility to manage while he was gone.

“Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” The first servant has doubled the kings property. His reward is to be given the command of ten cities. Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…”

“Sire, your mina has earned five more.” The second servant increases the kings wealth by 50% of what he received and is rewarded with a proportion worthy of his stewardship. He is still congratulated. This reward is not a punishment but a proportional reward. Do we get different rewards in heaven (I hear people asking in Growth Groups)? What the rewards in heaven equate to is unclear and not important. We know that all Christians are promised to be co-heirs with Christ to share in His glory. What else could we want on top of that?! The language of rewards and great rewards is an earthly way of motivating us to persevere in the faith. In this life, Christians will seem to not gain much or any credit for their works. But they do not go unnoticed by God. We are not saved by grace in order to be slothful for the kingdom. God has saved us in order to mature fully in Christ. Be for the kingdom and be active for the kingdom. Whether we double what God has given or if we are small workers in the kingdom, we are sure that the God who graced us with salvation will continue to bless us in the age to come.

20-23 – The bad servant

“…here is your mina…I was afraid of you.” This poor servant has done nothing with the King’s riches. He will also be judged for his slothfulness due to his disengagement with the king’s work. He gives a pathetic excuse for doing nothing for the king.

“…you wicked servant!” It is true that a person is either for Jesus or they are against Him. Many who believe they are safe because they believe in God will be judged as wicked by Christ because they did not pursue Him, serve Him, love Him, or know Him.

“Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit…” Remember that a parable is a story in it’s own right – obeying it’s own storyline rules – that we don’t need to pair everything up with everything else – that is not a parable but allegory. Having said that, I wonder if a disciple of Christ who loves Jesus but doesn’t know how to grow the kingdom, is shy to speak with people, feels inadequate to evangelise, but invests in their church and in others who are gifted to expand the gospel – would that fit the scenario of the servant who at least put the mina in the bank?

24-27 – Rewards and punishments

“Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas…even what they have will be taken away.” He is no longer treated as a trusted servant at all but is treated like the wicked. Can Christians lose their salvation? A true Christian reveals their conversion by their response to serve. The false Christian – one who mimics the saved without actually having a renewed heart – will reveal their true colours too by what they do. Their fruit will prove their faith. The Holy Spirit encourages us to persevere through the word of God as we are encouraged with rewards and warned of consequences. Some may read this parable and declare that the last servant has not lost their salvation but is simply shamed in the kingdom. Well, I suspect that this is not the case but that this parable is given as a warning to us to invest in the kingdom of God and not to be lazy or wicked.

“But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king….kill them in front of me.” The kingdom of God will not be established when Jesus enters Jerusalem. At that point he will inaugurate his kingship and return to his throne to intercede for us. But when he returns, he will reward his faithful servants and remove all of his enemy. We live now in that time between the first and second coming – where Jesus Christ is King, and we are left to be faithful while we await his return.

Meaning

Jesus of Nazareth, born and lived 2000 years ago, is the appointed King of God’s kingdom as foretold by the prophets. He is the Son of David who has come in the first place to invite people into the kingdom of God. The first stage is to go to the cross. The true servants of God – his disciples – you and me – are given responsibility to manage what is his. The faithful will be rewarded while the wicked will be rebuked and excluded from the kingdom. We are to be like the blind man who, although he did not see Jesus, he knew who he was. We are to be like Zacchaeus who, although had worldly wealth, surrendered it all to Christ in joy because he was lost but now is found.

 

Application

Topic A: Calling Jesus LORD. The crowds were referring to Jesus as the man from Nazareth. But the blind man referred to him as the Messiah (Son of David) and Lord. Where are you with Jesus. He is still a strange figure of history, is he a character in the bible stories, or is he, in your mind, the Son of God, King of kings and LORD of Lords? When did you come to see that? In what ways do you acknowledge this in your life?

Topic B: The faith of Zacchaeus. This little man expressed his joy in becoming friends with Jesus by making radical reductions to his worldly wealth. He didn’t get rid of everything, which is a helpful bit of detail, but he was radically generous. I wonder how far we can stretch our generosity as a direct response to belonging to the kingdom of God?

Topic C: The work of a king’s servant. What is it that Jesus left his disciples to do while he was gone? Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:47-48 give the leaving commands of Jesus to his disciples. The teaching of the kingdom of God which is about Jesus being king, calling people to repent and enter the kingdom today and to testify across the globe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Well, where do you find yourself in that order? What is your plans for serving Christ with this call?