(Matthew 5, 7 & 16, John 17)
Introduction: A significant part of my job over the years is handling religious liberty cases. I only represent "the little guy," meaning employees, in a narrow area of workplace religious freedom. However, a very important question in this kind of case is whether the employee has a sincere religious belief. I have learned to avoid representing employees who do not have a solid connection to a local church. Those who regularly worship with a group of believers are much more likely to hold sincere religious beliefs. Why is that? Let's explore what the Bible teaches about the believer and the Church!
- The Rock
- Read Matthew 16:13. Why do you think Jesus asked His disciples this question?
- Read Matthew 16:14. What do you think about these answers? (This is an impressive list of possibilities. Of course, these are not the correct answer.)
- Read Matthew 16:15-17. Peter has the right answer! Who inspired him with it? (God.)
- Read Matthew 16:18. Was there some confusion about Peter's name? Why would Jesus say to Peter, "I tell you that you are Peter?" (The Greek is important here. The Greek for Peter means a small rock, or piece of rock. Jesus is making a play on words, "I tell you piece of rock that I will build my church on a big rock.")
- What do you think is the meaning of that? (Read what Peter says about this in 1 Peter 2:4-6. Peter says that Christians are "living stones" that are built into a "spiritual house." Jesus is the cornerstone of that house.)
- Let's go back to the big rock in Matthew 16:18. As you consider the dialog with Jesus, what do you think the "rock" (the big rock) represents? (I think the rock on which the Church is built is Peter's statement that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus is the cornerstone and His divinity is the cornerstone belief.)
- Let's step back a minute. What do you think is the total meaning of Matthew 16:18? (That the Church is built on the "rock" of knowing that Jesus is God, and the Church consists of little rocks who understand this, like Peter and you and me, and hell will not defeat us.)
- Read Matthew 16:19. Who is getting the "keys" here? (It sounds like the Church - or at least the members of the Church. It can hardly mean Jesus for Jesus would not be giving the keys to Himself.)
- This is a very serious sounding statement. What do you think Jesus means when He says that the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" are given to the Church, or at least Church members working together as the Church? (I'm sure I don't understand the full extent of this statement, but at least it says that the Church reveals the way to heaven. Being in a company of believers helps us to understand grace and the Christian walk.)
- Read Matthew 16:20. If the fact that Jesus is God is the rock on which the Church is built, why would it ever be kept a secret? (God has His timing for everything. This is a truth that we need to keep in mind when we are frustrated by the inactions of others.)
- The Attitude
- Read John 17:20-23. We have a lot of concepts packed into these verses. What is the reason for having an attitude of unity among believers? ("To let the world know that You sent Me." Unity within the church gives a positive message to the world of unbelievers.)
- What is at the heart of that message? (The unity arises from love. God loves us and we love each other.)
- How is the Church doing on this score? (You may have noticed that when we were discussing Matthew 16:19 I skipped over the language about the Church binding and releasing things in heaven and earth. It is hard for me to understand how this applies now when we have so many churches with different standards.)
- Another interesting statement in John 17:22 is that Jesus has "given [us] the glory that [God the Father gave Jesus]." What is this Godly glory that you and I have? (I think it is the glory of being associated with God. Do you have certain associations in life that make you look good? Right now I have a new car that people will stop me to talk about. If you have a successful spouse, successful children, a successful company, these associations all bring you "glory." Being a close associate of the Creator of the Universe brings us glory.)
- When Unity Has a Flat Tire
- Read Matthew 7:1-2. This sounds like a practical lesson. What is the problem with judging others? (You get judged by the same measure you use.)
- Are we talking about the final judgment? Does it have a sliding scale? Those who don't care about anything get the lowest standard applied? (Again, this sounds like a practical lesson for life, rather than a statement about the final judgment.)
- Read Matthew 7:3-4. Why do you think that both of the examples, sawdust and plank, are made of wood? (I think we tend to notice our own sins in others. It is the same sin, except the other person has it. Of course, the text suggests that the one judging has the bigger problem.)
- Read Matthew 7:5. Are we supposed to be in the business of removing sawdust? The issue is simply whether we are properly prepared?
- How do you like having sawdust in your eye? (Sin problems in our life irritate us. They make us uncomfortable. When someone with that same problem starts criticizing us, it makes us angry - even though we really would be better without the sin problem.)
- I've always thought that someone who has experience with a certain sin is better able to counsel others about that sin. Is that true? (I think this is what "you will see clearly to remove the speck" means. If, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have overcome a big sin problem, you can "see clearly" the solution.)
- What does all of this have to do with unity? (Criticizing others about the very sins in your life creates strife and division. Helping someone overcome a sin that you have overcome brings a blessing.)
- Should that be a rule in the church - only those previously struggling with a sin can comment on that sin in others?
- Read Matthew 7:6. Has Jesus changed topics?
- If we are on the same topic, what would be the sacred pearls? (Your advice based on your own experience. Your discussion of your addiction in that area. Dogs and pigs will not benefit from your sincere revelation of past problems, they will "turn and tear you to pieces.")
- Fixing the Flat
- Read Matthew 5:23-24. What are these people doing at the time they remember a conflict? (They are at the altar - meaning that they are getting right with God. Often, getting right with God involves a sin that impacted others. You would naturally think of this person when you were confessing your sin to God.)
- Are we talking about someone who has offended you? (No. "Your brother has something against you.")
- Are we talking about a situation in which you are not at fault? (The text says nothing about who is at fault. It simply says that someone else is unhappy with you.)
- What are we required to do for those brothers who hold a grudge against us? (Go and be reconciled.)
- I notice that Jesus uses the word "brother." Is that significant? (Read Luke 6:22-23. These people have something against you, and this time it is a blessing. I think this goes back to the dog and pig discussion in Matthew 7:6. When the problem is between church members you need to pursue working it out. When the problem arises with pagans because you are faithful to God, then trying to reconcile is impossible. Pagan pigs will turn on you and trample you.)
- Friend, are you in a church and is your church unified? The Church is God's special vehicle for advancing the gospel. If you or your church are experiencing a flat tire when it comes to unity, will you commit today to try to restore unity?
- Next week: Our Mission.