Bible Study Note | November 18, 2020
Text: 1 Peter 4:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; John 4:9-14; Philippians 2:25-30
Life Question: How can I help build a caring community?
INTRODUCTION: Robert’s Story
Robert Henry went to a large discount store one evening to buy a pair of binoculars. As he walked up to the counter he noticed he was the only customer in the area. Behind the counter were two salespersons. One was talking on the phone and refused to acknowledge him. The other was at the end of the counter, unloading merchandise.
Robert became very impatient and walked to the end of the counter where the salesperson was and asked for help. She said, “You got a number?” “I got a what?” asked Robert. “You got a number? You gotta have a number.”
Robert replied, “Lady, I’m the only customer in the store! I don’t need a number. Can’t you see how ridiculous this is?” But the lady insisted Robert take a number before agreeing to wait on him. It was obvious she was more interested in following certain procedures or rules than helping a customer.
So Robert took a number from the machine. It was number 37. He walked back to the lady. The saleslady looked at her number counter, which revealed the last customer who had been waited on was number 34. She called out, “Number 35…number 36…number 37.” Robert said, “I’m number 37.” “May I help you?” asked the lady without cracking a smile. “No,” said Robert as he turned and walked away.
I wish I could say that kind of senseless insensitivity and lack of concern for the customer was only limited to the business community. It is not. It did make me wonder how many times we had been guilty of neglecting others
I want to speak to you about the building blocks of community. Community is one of our core values. What do we mean by community? When we hear the word community, we think of a neighborhood or even a town. However, the word also can refer to a group of people bound together by common interests, values, or goals. That sounds like our church.
One of the biggest contributors to our happiness or sadness, our growth or decline is related to the people we are around. We will focus on four necessary elements for developing true community. To build healthy community in our church and home we will need to take the risk to care for others, trust others, invest some of ourselves in others, and be open and honest in communication. Whatever builds community, builds us. This lesson we will talk about caring for one another.
How can we help build a caring community?
- PRACTICE HOSPITALITY (1 PETER 4:9-10)
1 Peter 4 speaks about Christian conduct when suffering unjustly. God’s will, according to verse 19, is to trust God and to continue to do good. In verses 9-10 Peter encourages Christians to continue to do two things essential to community: show hospitality and use spiritual gifts for others. He writes:
“(9) Be hospitable to one another without complaining. (10) Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.”
Hospitality translates a word that means to “love strangers.” For many new converts when they broke away from the old crowd, they often lost family, friends, and even jobs. They needed someone to warmly receive them at their time of loss. Traveling missionaries were dependent on Christians opening their home to them to stay. The lodges and inns of that day were often dangerous or dens of sin. Jesus taught in Matthew 25:35 and 38 that those who welcomed fellow Christians who were strangers welcomed Him.
This was just as risky and costly in that day as today. There were people who learned of this practice by Christians and took advantage of it in sinful ways. Some lazy Christians overstayed their welcome. Obviously people voiced negative reactions to this abuse. This is why Peter added “…without complaining.” Hospitality was one of the key building blocks in the first century which tied the churches together through this mutual service and provided a means of communication among them; it is still crucial today for building community. Hospitality is the single greatest action a church can take to make new converts and newcomers welcome.
In light of this very practical love, we build community by using our spiritual gifts. Peter states that every Christian has a spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is an enablement which helps God’s people when it is used. The gift is for the benefit of others not you. This gift is a stewardship; it is not yours, it is God’s. One day God will audit your use of that gift. He placed it in your care to help the church. When members use their spiritual gift as God intends, the church becomes and does what God wants for the church.
Hospitality and using one’s gift for others are ways Christians can build a caring community.
We do some things right in practicing hospitality. I am often told by newcomers how friendly you are to them. You greet people when they come. I think we could improve our “customer service” mindset. I am referring to an attitude which thinks of the needs of others.
Like every church, we are a work in progress. We will never get to the point where everyone is cared for perfectly and no one falls through the cracks. I can accept the fact that every once in a while I will get an angry call which accuses us of not caring for someone. But we must take seriously the matter of caring for our members; that is how we build community.
How can we help build a caring community?
- SHOW KINDNESS (1 THESS. 5:15)
In the last half of chapter five, Paul portrays the church as the family of God. He uses the words brother, sister, and brotherhood several times. The fact that we belong to the same family profoundly affects our behavior toward one another. Paul writes:
“(15) See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.”
In verse 14 we see a list of the church’s problem children: the lazy, the fearful, and those finding it difficult to live moral, disciplined lives. He tells the church to hold on to them. Put your arm around them, and do not let them go. They are frustrating, but be patient with them.
He moves on in verse 15 to general behavior by the entire church family. Make sure every church member knows that retaliation and revenge are forbidden by followers of Jesus. Instead of these negative reactions we must aim to be kind and do what is best. This action applies to Christians and non-Christians. We call ourselves Christians. We carry the name of the One Who taught us to turn the other cheek. We renounce revenge and retaliation. We follow the One Who refused to hit back when He was whipped and crucified. If we are going to call ourselves Christians then we must forsake revenge and retaliation.
From time to time, in any group of people, someone is going to say or do something which hurts someone else. The temptation is to hurt them back. I have told you I can only make you one promise if I am your pastor: I will do or say something that irritates you or hurts your feelings. Many times I have stopped one grandchild from hitting another grandchild because they were hurt or angry. Restraining them I have said, “Don’t hit your little brother.” When I do something which hurts or angers you, “Don’t hit your brother!” Paul says we must cultivate patience, restrain retaliation, and pursue kindness in order to build community.
Stinking Truth Story:
In a heavily wooded area, on the side of a mountain, a young preacher pitched a tent and prepared for a few days of solitude and spiritual renewal with God and his Bible. He needed this time of prayer and reflection. In the early morning hours of the second night he was suddenly awakened by the sound of scratching on the floor of the tent. By the light of the moon he was able to distinguish the cause: a skunk had entered the tent and was rummaging through his belongings.
Within arm’s reach was a sturdy club he had used the previous day for hiking. The skunk was distracted, so he at least had a chance of clubbing it in the head before it saw the blow coming. However, on further reflection, he chose to do nothing. He lay there very quietly, not moving or making a sound. Suppose I do strike it on the head, killing it instantly, he speculated. It could still, in its dying act, ruin my tent and everything in it—not to mention make me feel bad and smell bad for days!
So the preacher determined he had nothing to lose, and perhaps everything to gain, by just remaining still. After a few minutes the skunk realized there was nothing for him in the strange location and he walked away—having done absolutely no harm at all. The preacher, breathing a sigh of relief that he had been spared a most unpleasant incident, returned to his peaceful slumber—happy he had not “created a stink” by foolishly defending himself, or initiating an attack against this foul critter who had invaded his space.
When some foul creature invades your space intent on rummaging through your life, actions, or motives, human nature says, “Clobber them!” The wiser course, however, may be to be patient, refuse to retaliate, and instead do them good. Otherwise that skunk may wind up stinking up the place.
To build a caring community in our church and homes, practice hospitality and show kindness.
III. SHARE THE GOSPEL (JOHN 4:9-14)
God’s love is for all people. When we embrace the gospel it not only involves our relationship with God but with others too. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well serves as an example:
(9) “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. (10) Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.” (11) “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’? (12) You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” (13) Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. (14) But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
Jesus, a rabbi, talking to a woman is shocking. The fact that she is a despised Samaritan woman puts it almost beyond belief. Her low station in life does not hinder Jesus from sharing with her the gospel. She does not know Who is talking to her and she does not know the tremendous gift He offers. She learns He is far greater than the patriarch Jacob who dug the well, and He offers her the gift of eternal life through the Holy Spirit.
She has never known permanent satisfaction. We learn later that she has had multiple marriages and is currently living in adultery. Coming to the well alone at noon may mean she is an outcast among the women in the community. The water she drinks does not satisfy permanently, and the men she has given herself over to do not last. Now this Jewish man speaks to her of a water supply which will never run dry. When she understands Who He is and what He offers, she runs back to her rejecting community and shares with them the good news of salvation found in Christ.
Over and over when the gospel is shared people are gathered into a new community. Peter preaches at Pentecost in Acts 2 and 3,000 people are saved. Next we are told they gathered every day in the temple to be taught and in houses where they fellowshipped and broke bread together. In every city where Paul shared the gospel and people were saved, he formed them into a church to care for one another and continue sharing the gospel.
What you see happening in sharing the gospel is people are restored in their relationship with the living God, and a restored relationship with others. When they “get right with God”, they now have the possibility to “get right” with one another. The vertical relationship is glorified by the way the horizontal relationship treats one another. Sharing the gospel forms a new people.
A church which shares the gospel conveys to its community that it cares about what God cares about. God loves people. A church which shares the gospel gives hope to a community that a new life is possible.
- GIVE OF YOURSELF (PHIL. 2:25-30)
One example of Christian care Paul holds before the church of humble service is Epaphroditus. The passage overflows with the description of a person who places himself at the disposal of the church because of his concern for others:
(25) But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need— (26) since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. (27) Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. (28) For this reason, I am very eager to send him so that you may rejoice when you see him again and I may be less anxious. (29) Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, (30) because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me.
Like a worker he gave energy to serving the needs of Paul, and like a soldier he put the church’s needs before his own. He was trustworthy. Epaphroditus discharged his task of being the church’s messenger and minister to Paul. When Epaphroditus was ill what distressed him was not his sickness, which almost took his life, but that it caused the church to worry over him. Paul used a gambling term to describe the wholehearted effort Epaphroditus gave to carry out his ministry. Like a gambler who bets every dime, holding nothing back, this man gave everything to carry out his assignment by the church to care for Paul. No wonder Paul admonishes the church to honor such men.
Have you seen the Disney movie Frozen? Four months after its release it earned close to one billion dollars at the box office, surpassing the studio’s all-time best moneymaker, The Lion King (in inflated dollars). It is not your typical Disney theme of a princess being true to herself and finding salvation through romantic love.
The story line actually goes in the opposite direction. The princess who is true to herself wreaks havoc on the world and leaves shattered relationships in her wake. Her devoted sister pursues her, even at great personal cost. When all seems to be lost and you hope a prince will save the day with romantic love, there is instead a stunning portrait of self-sacrifice, described as the only kind of love which can melt a frozen heart.
As a Christian you cannot help but see the redemptive self-sacrifice of Christ. Surprisingly the Disney movie teaches that true love is more than just a feeling. True love is expressed in self-sacrifice. True change occurs through redemption, not self-discovery. A very different Disney movie!
But here is the kicker: the huge hit song “Let It Go” has just the opposite message. This song could be the theme song for Disney. Be true to yourself. Follow your feelings no matter the consequences.
The movie illustrates what I am saying about how to build community in our church or home: practice hospitality, show kindness, share the gospel of redemption, and give of yourself. You can learn a lot from the movie. The song is the epitome of advice leading to self-destruction. All across the country little girls are singing about self-discovery. Let us make sure they see the message of the film, and the message of our faith, as well as God’s people building community as they show their care for others.