January 22 lesson
Questions of character are so easy to answer when youíre sitting in a Sunday School classroom. Surrounded by like-minded people discussing spiritual applications in hypothetical situations is safe, encouraging and pleasurable. Driving to work Monday morning and putting those discussions into practice is a different experience altogether. Experimenting with otherwise purely theological, clinical conversations by trying out the truths in real-life situations turns an ordinary Monday into an invigorating, challenging, worthwhile step in your spiritual journey.
How do you transform the workweek into a meaningful experience with God? Start by communicating with Him throughout the day about every situation youíre involved in. If you approach life from Jesusí point of view, youíll respond to people like He wants you to. Youíll look at people differently. Youíll look at your schedule differently. One of the many amazing things about Jesus is that He knows every detail of your busy day before it even takes place. What Heís looking for is someone who reacts differently than the norm. Heís looking for people who have character.
The Teacherís Definition (Matt. 15: 16-20)
The issue of character is worth a closer look. Knowing exactly how to apply the truths of Scripture to your particular work, family, relational or personal dilemma is challenging. It helps to first understand the nature of character as Jesus sees it.
Jews for many years had relied on physical and outward sacrifices to make them clean. Church leaders believed, for example, that failing to wash your hands before eating resulted in defilement of your hands, your food, and consequently your body. Being defiled meant you were not acceptable to God. In this passage Jesus refers to a new covenant, an internal cleansing that had been alluded to by many prophets of old, namely Samuel, who had said that God desired obedience rather than sacrifice. Developing a true relationship with God is an expression and extension of a pure heart.
Discussion Question: What kinds of ceremonies and traditions do we sometimes rely on to make us acceptable to God? Why is it so easy to rely on man-made systems to bring us closer to God, and why is Jesus pointedly opposed to such attempts?
No system mankind could ever invent, no matter how elaborate or detailed, could clean humans up enough to allow them into Godís presence. What seems to be an even stronger reason for Jesus to reject our religious efforts is His interest in becoming the Lord of everything we do and are involved in. If being a Christian was limited to religious formalities, little room would be left for the development of a genuine, loving relationship with Christ.
Whatís the Big Deal?
One of the reasons for forming a relationship with Christ is achieving purity. Relying solely on our own efforts, this would be an impossible task, but when our righteousness comes from faith in Jesus, godliness is achievable. Why is godliness so important? Because itís the only way to the fruits of the Spirit, the qualities everyone is chasing after Ė love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Everywhere you look, companies are advertising products that promise to deliver these things, and people in every country all over the world are seeking them. There is only one way to get them, though, and thatís through Jesus.
He expresses a desire for His people to have good character, and He defines it for us clearly in Matthew 15. He is interested chiefly in what is in our hearts. Itís more important to Him than anything else about us.
How much time do we spend looking in the mirror every day and thinking about the image we portray to others through how we dress? The majority of us are susceptible to advertising campaigns that emphasize the power our appearance has on our identity. Marketers arenít far off the mark. I Samuel 16:7b points out, ďMan does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart." People do form opinions about us based on how we dress, whether or not we spend lots of money on our hair and our skin. People automatically form opinions of us when they see the kind of house we live in. It isnít right, but itís what people do.
Jesus is different. Jesus would rather listen to us than look at us. When He hears the things we say, it gives Him insight into what is in our heart. The true identity of a person lies within their heart, not in their job, their status, their prestige, their wardrobe or their image. Now you have to make a decision. Do you care more about the opinion of other people or about the opinion of Jesus Christ? Instead of going on a diet, revamping your budget, going on a shopping spree or remodeling your home, it may be time to pay attention to the condition of your heart. Thatís something you donít hear much about. Plenty of smart businesspeople make their livings helping unorganized people get their stuff together, helping messy people clean up after themselves and helping ugly people transform into beauties. Itís rare to find someone prospering in a career of heart-makeovers.
One reason for this may be because hardly anyone would be considered qualified for helping someone clean up his heart. Where would one even begin? There is only one who qualifies Ė Jesus says, ďI will give you a new heart.Ē Oh, what a relief! There is hope! Only when you realize how severe the problem is and how inept every person and method other than Jesus is to correct it, will you appreciate this miraculous declaration. Even if you realize early on that Jesusí ways are better than manís ways and that following His commands is better than following the ways of the world, you may still be at a loss for how to do it, just like the Pharisees and scribes Jesus was addressing in todayís lesson.
The Power of Tradition (Prov. 6:16-19)
The Pharisees and scribes Jesus was rebuking had the right idea. They originally set their hopes on obeying Godís laws. These laws had come directly from God, and the Jews didnít have the benefit of Paulís letter to the Romans explaining the real purpose of the law, which was to lead them to His Son, Jesus. It could be that the Jews went wrong when they focused so intently on fulfilling the Law that they lost sight of the Giver of the Law. Consequently, they added tradition and ceremony to the already daunting list of to-doís and not-to-doís, and they ended up with an impossible, dead-end system. The Law itself was perfect, but their traditions were going against the Law instead of adding to it.
Jesus explains what defilement means by listing offenses harbored in the heart.
Discussion Question: Why do you think He starts the list with ďevil thoughts?Ē
Godís intention for His followers is that we would be ďconformed to the image of His SonĒ (Rom. 8:29). The first step in doing so is expressing faith in Jesus. In order to understand who it is weíre expressing faith in, it helps to look at Scripture. God shows us in Proverbs 6 the character traits He hates. We can examine our lives to see if these are qualities we live in bondage to and pray for His deliverance. The fact that the writer says there are ďsix things, in fact, seven,Ē is evidence that heís trying to capture the attention of his readers. He wants us to pay special attention to what heís going to tell us.
Discussion Question: What do the first five offenses have in common?
They all refer to body parts. Our faith is lived out through our physical body, and as we have already discussed, all our physical actions spring from our heart. One way to determine if our hearts are infested with evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, or blasphemies is to look at our actions.
What do you think of when you read, ďarrogant eyes?Ē Look up the following verses and copy them in the blank.
Matt. 11:29 _____________________________________________________________ Matt. 23:12______________________________________________________________
What do you learn about how we should view ourselves when compared to others after reading these verses?
Our Words Tell All
What comes out of our mouth reveals what is hidden in our hearts, which is evidence of the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit in us. Lies are motivated by fear and self-preservation. Even if it seems like a little, white lie, it isnít in accordance with the intent and nature of the Holy Spirit. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where our Christianity is put to the test. Is the Holy Spirit in us?
You can tell by the way you act when confronted with a situation in which it would simply be easier to lie. The awkwardness that would result from telling the truth doesnít seem worth it to you just to appease God or the Holy Spirit. If you believe in Him and His Spirit is within you, lying will make you sick. You wonít be able to do it without going against something that is imbedded in your very being, namely Godís Spirit in your heart.
Instead of bringing harm to others, our hands should be involved in the physical act of obedience Jesus points out again and again in Scripture. We should feed the hungry and take care of widows. When our hands are involved in these activities, weíll be too busy to shed innocent blood.
People who plot wicked schemes and whose feet are eager to run to evil are everywhere. The definition of God is goodness, and people who live in direct opposition to this character trait cannot be tolerated by His perfect nature. That is why itís so important that we pray for and minister to all people so that they can learn about the difference faith in Jesus can make for them. Instead of plotting ways to hurt, God wants us to plot ways to help. Plotting something takes a lot of time and effort.
Healthy, Happy Hearts (Prov. 4:23-27)
God is so good to give us explicit instructions about how to behave. We are precious to Him. If we werenít, He wouldnít take us seriously and write out instructions for us to follow. In this passage, He tells us to guard our hearts above all else.
Discussion Question: What have you learned so far about the function of your heart in establishing good character?
The heart is described as the ďsource of life.Ē In case we donít understand exactly what God means, He spells it out for us. First, weíre to keep our mouths under control. We arenít to get carried away in conversation and say things we shouldnít. We arenít to speak dishonestly. Itís hard not to do that, especially if the expectations others have of us are that weíre always sociable, talkative and pleasant. God says to be careful not to say anything that isnít honest. He also doesnít want us to speak deviously. If you have to cover your moth, lean in closely and look around as you whisper some juicy information into a friendís ear, youíre probably in danger of speaking deviously.†
Next he says our eyes should look forward. How many of us are running in twenty different directions on any given day? Itís hard to stay focused when we have access to so many forms of entertainment, so many engagements with friends, so many pressures at work, so many personal aspirations.
List some of the most distracting elements of your life.___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ What steps can you take to narrow your focus to things that really matter?_________________________________________________________________When God tells you to look straight ahead, why do you think He says that? What do you think He wants you to look at or focus on?_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Challenge of the Week:
Living by the seat of your pants is one thing, but failing to consider your path is quite another and a serious hazard to your spiritual health. Not only are we supposed to make plans, weíre supposed to carefully consider what weíre doing. Just making it through the day or the week or the month isnít enough. God wants us to live with purpose. If you havenít done so already, take a look at Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. He offers helpful, practical guidelines for establishing all your ways like Scripture instructs. †