The Grace of Being Tender-Hearted (Matthew 25:31-46)

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In this week’s sermon, Pastor Rich talked about caring for and being tender-hearted towards immigrants, and those who are poor and needy. When we experience God’s grace, it changes who we are and how we view others. Our care for others is evidence of our salvation. True faith is accompanied by action.

How can we have heart inclinations that are like Jesus’ so we respond to life the way that Jesus did? Jesus called the needy and those who are strangers his brothers and sisters. How we speak about these individuals can change our hearts to be more like the heart of Jesus. Jesus personally identified with the stranger and those in need. We should also be saying, “as you’ve done to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you’re doing it to me.” And we can have heart inclinations that are like Jesus’ when we actively welcome immigrants and those who are in need.

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

1. Have you ever said something that you wish you could have taken back? What affect did those words have on the person you spoke them to? What did those words tell you about what was in your heart? Briefly share.
2. Have you ever been the outcast or “labeled” person in a given situation? How did people respond to you? What response would you have preferred?
3. Have you ever had the opportunity to really get to know someone after you had “labeled” them an outcast or similar? How where they different from your first impression / stereotype of them? What lessons can we learn from this?
4. How can you know if someone has a good heart? Do you consider having a good heart yourself? Why or why not? Briefly share.

1. In 5 minutes or less. Briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Explain.

2. Read Ezekiel 34:1-16:

1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

• Context: Ezekiel, along with the Jews, had been taken into captivity to Babylon. In the midst of this captivity, Ezekiel is called out as a prophet for God speaking of Israel’s judgment, yet at the same time, of Israel’s future blessings.
• In verse 2, who were the “shepherds” Ezekiel was referring to? Who were the ”flock”?
• According to Ezekiel, what was the shepherds´ responsibility (v. 2)? What were they doing instead (vv. 3-4)?
• What happened to the flock due to the shepherds´ actions, or lack of actions (vv. 5-6)? What danger do scattered “flock” face? How would you feel if you were the owner of the flock? How do you think this makes God feel? If this is a personal issue for Jesus (“whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Mat 25:40), should it be a personal issue for you as well? Briefly share.
• Can you identify the “flock” of verses 5 and 6 in the 21st century? Who are the “shepherds” and “flock” in your life? As someone who knows God and knows His heart for people, do you share any of the “shepherds´” responsibilities in caring for His flock? What are some of the things you could do in this regard? Briefly share.
• In the time of Ezekiel, he and his countrymen where exiled into captivity, yet, even though they were in the midst of difficult times themselves, God demands that they be good shepherds to His flock. In light of this, do we ever have a “valid” excuse to not do what God is asking of us? Due to our own life situations, can we justify delaying what we’re supposed to be doing? Briefly share.
• What judgment did God have for the shepherds who weren’t doing what God had asked of them (vv.7-10)? What does this tell you about what you should be doing in regards to caring for God’s flock? Explain.
• What do we read in verses 11 through 16 is God’s goal for His flock? What is the Church’s role in this? What is your small group’s role in this? What is your personal role in this?

3. In his message, Rich talked about our language, our identity, and our welcome as three ways that we can have heart inclinations to respond like Jesus would to those around us.

• Ask the Holy Spirit to show you ways that you might change how you speak about immigrants and those who are needy. Pray that He would help you to identify with these individuals as brothers and sisters.
• As a small group, consider several concrete ways that you can give evidence to the grace of your salvation. How can you be more welcoming and compassionate to immigrants in our church and community?