Lesson 11

Waging Love

(Isaiah 58)
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Introduction: What does God expect of you when dealing with others? Is it possible to attend church each week, know the Bible, and yet utterly fail to follow God as a practical matter? How do we "wage love" in our everyday life? Is "tough love" a way to wage love? Let's jump into our lesson and find out what Isaiah has to say!

  1. Hollow Eagerness


    1. Read Isaiah 58:1. God has a message for the people. Is it a good or bad message? (Bad. The message is that the people are rebels and sinners.)


    2. Read Isaiah 58:2. How would you seek out God? What would you do if you were eager to know about God? (This seems to say that these people were Bible readers. They wanted to learn more about God.)


      1. Did these people want to follow God? (Verse 2 tells us that they wanted God to make decisions in their lives.)


      2. How can those who are eager to learn about God, those who are anxious to have God be the decision maker in their lives, also be rebels?


      3. What do you think is the reason why these people are failing to properly follow God? (Verse 2 repeats the phrase, "seem eager.")


  2. Works that Matter


    1. Read Isaiah 58:3. What do you think of people who do good works to be seen?


      1. What if they do good works for God to see?


      2. What problem do we begin to see with these people? (It is obvious that they are not following God, for they "do as [they] please." Their "eagerness" to follow God turns out to be twisted into an eagerness to do what they want.)


        1. What is wrong with exploiting your employees?


        2. Compare the idea in verse 2 (that the people seek just decisions from God) with the verse 3 information (that they are unjust with their workers).


    2. Read Isaiah 58:4. Now that you know these people exploit those within their control, and quarrel and fight, look again at the statements in verse 2 that they were eager to know God and they did what was right. How can all of these statements be true? (Notice that verse 2 says they "seem eager ... as if they were a nation that does what is right." This is only the appearance of being eager. Although these people are seeking God out, the lessons they learn are not applied to the important matters of life.)


      1. How would you describe these people? (Insincere. What they know about God is not making any difference in their lives.)


      2. How about you - has your knowledge of the Bible changed how you live?


    3. Read Isaiah 58:5. What kind of fast are these people giving to God?


    4. Read Isaiah 58:6. What kind of fast does God want from us?


      1. Let's be practical a minute here. After all, it seems that these verses are asking us to be more practical and less theological. What can you personally do to stop injustice and oppression?


    5. Read Isaiah 58:7. Are these practical ways to fight injustice and oppression?


      1. Notice the link between fasting and helping the hungry. Fasting is denying yourself food. God says that fasting (not consuming food) should have a practical application: giving food to those who are hungry. Is your church involved in practical Christianity?


      2. Just because a person is hungry and homeless, is it justice to help them?


        1. Would it be justice sometimes not to help them?


        2. What about this idea of "tough love?" Is it love to withhold help at times?


    6. Let's skip down and read Isaiah 58:10, a parallel text. If you read Isaiah 58:7 and 10, what is our obligation to the less fortunate?


      1. Are there any limitations on this? Do these verses make any provision for "tough love?" (Recall that verse 6 links our help to the needy with "justice" and breaking the yoke of oppression.)


    7. Read 1 Timothy 5:3-13. The Bible consistently mentions widows for our special attention and help. Yet Paul writes that only worthy widows should be helped by the church. How can you reconcile Paul's "tough love" advice to Timothy with Isaiah's statements about fighting injustice and oppression by helping the hungry? (I have not been able to completely reconcile these two in my mind. Isaiah says "help the hungry," and Paul says, "Wait a minute, spend your resources on those who merit help." The common link between the two is the goal of being just. A recent report by Rector and Johnson entitled "Understanding Poverty in America," published in Insider (Heritage Foundation), disclosed that for 25 years there was no net change in the poverty rate of children of single-mother families. In 1996, welfare reform required these mothers to either prepare for work or get a job as a condition of receiving state aid. The results were dramatic. The poverty rate for these children fell from 53.1% in 1995 to 39.8% in 2001. Instead of being idle (1 Tim. 5:13), these mothers went to work and brought their children out of poverty. Isaiah wrote of hunger, and hunger is generally not a problem for the poor in the United States. This same report revealed that 47.3% of poor adult women in the U.S. were overweight while only 32% of non-poor women were overweight. Obesity for U.S. women is positively linked to poverty. We need to put our Christian beliefs into practical action and we need to be "just" in doing it.)


    8. Let's continue with Isaiah. Read Isaiah 58:8-9a. After telling us to help the hungry and the poor, Isaiah tells us what to expect. What should we expect? (That God will help us when we have needs.)


      1. Do you want God to help you only when you are "worthy?"


      2. If you believe in "tough love" and that only the "worthy poor" should be helped, are you willing to have that same standard applied to you?


        1. What if you are suffering from heart problems because you were not careful about diet and exercise? Should you refrain from asking God for help to heal your heart?


    9. Read Isaiah 58:9b-10. We already read verse 10. What other practical problem of every day life does God ask us to avoid? ("The pointing finger and malicious talk.")


      1. How are "pointing fingers" and malicious talk a "yoke of oppression?" (People can easily be oppressed by words and gossip.)


      2. What does it mean that our "night will become like the noonday?" (It means that good and glorious things will happen as a result of our practical Christianity.)


    10. Read Isaiah 58:11. What will happen to us if we avoid malicious talk, help the oppressed, fight injustice and help the poor and hungry?


      1. By helping others do we help ourselves? (That seems to be Isaiah's precise point.)


  3. Sabbath Matters


    1. Read Isaiah 58:13. This is a real relief. The only parts of my body that I need to be careful about on the Sabbath are my feet! Is that what this text means? ("Your feet" relates to the later phrase "going your own way." It is not speaking literally about your feet, but rather the course of your actions on Sabbath.)


      1. How is it possible to call the Sabbath "a delight" and at the same time refrain from doing what pleases you? (Isaiah is not saying we should not do anything that brings pleasure to us. He means "doing anything you please." Our behavior on Sabbath should please God. The goal is to delight in doing what pleases God.)


      2. Are our "Sabbath words" important? (Verse 13 tells us to avoid "speaking idle words.")


    2. Read Isaiah 58:14. We tend to say, "I'm justified by faith, and therefore I no longer need to be especially careful about the Sabbath." Is salvation the goal of proper Sabbath-keeping? (Proper Sabbath-keeping brings joy and blessings. We look too narrowly when we say, "Well, this is not necessary for salvation.")


    3. Recall that this chapter has been about practical Christianity. How is proper Sabbath keeping part of practical Christianity?


    4. Friend, how would you evaluate your Christian life? Are you all theory with no practical application? Is your Christian walk only superficial? Does your eagerness to follow God somehow morph into an eagerness to do only what you please? If so, you are missing real blessings!


  4. Next week: Desire of Nations.

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Lessons on Isaiah

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