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INTERACTING WITH THE SERMON
SYNOPSIS OF THE SERMON
This week’s sermon is from the story of Jephthah, found in Judges 11. The main point drawn out of this story is the importance of keeping our word. In today’s world, truth-telling and commitment keeping is extremely rare and people are surprised when you do actually tell the truth or keep a promise. The context for the story of Jephthah is Israel’s ongoing sin and unfaithfulness to the Lord, which brings hardship upon them. In their distress, they turn to Jephthah for help. This illustrates for us that God often chooses unlikely, unexpected people to do His work (like a Jephthah). Consider the disciples or even Jesus Himself, a man despised and rejected. Also, we should never conclude that our past disqualifies us from service to the Lord. Like the Israelites, who cried out for help, everyone cries out to God when the suffering gets too great—even the most hardened skeptic. Jephthah agreed to help on the condition that he be made the ruler and head over the people. We need to realize that underneath all of our “pressing” needs is our ultimate need for Jesus to be Lord of our lives! The main focus of this story is Jephthah’s vow (vv.30-31). Why did he do it? Because, like us, he was bargaining with God. He didn’t understand unconditional grace in the same way we don’t often understand the difference between the gospel and religion. We believe we must strike a bargain with God in order to get Him to help us. In the end, Jephthah is caught between his integrity through keeping his vow and his love for his only daughter. Jephthah keeps his vow and sacrifices his daughter. What is the good that we can learn from this? Why keep our word? 1) It shows value to the person we have made a promise to. 2) It shows value for our own words. 3) It shows that we understand what it means to worship God. Worship is more than just singing praises—it is keeping our word, even to our own hurt! 4) Telling the truth is THE mark of the Christian. 5) It bears witness to God, who is truth and who always tells the truth. But the bad thing about Jephthah keeping his vow is that in doing so, he violated God’s law to not kill and to never offer children as sacrifices! There are some vows we should NOT keep, such as vows that do violate God’s laws. We should also not keep inner vows (e.g. “I will never be like my mother/my father.). These are vows we make to ourselves that hold us in bondage. Jesus is like Jephthah in that He always keeps His promises. Jesus is unlike Jephthah in that in order to keep His promise, He sacrificed Himself (not someone else) for us!
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.
GETTING THE CONVERSATION STARTED
These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.
•Share something from this week’s sermon that particularly stood out to you.
•What is your experience of the loss of truth telling and commitment keeping in our culture today (e.g. at your job, in your family, with friends)?
•Have you ever been surprised by someone actually keeping a promise? Have you ever surprised someone by doing that? Describe the situation and what happened.
Ephesus was a large, metropolitan city in what is now Turkey. It was an important commercial center and the location for the temple to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There was in that city a strong cult following. Paul spent 2-3 years in Ephesus, evangelizing with powerful signs and wonders (see Acts 18-19) and a major church was established there. He later sent his young associate, Timothy, to Ephesus to help care for this church. 1 and 2 Timothy was written to help Timothy pastor the Ephesian church. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was probably intended to be circulated and read in multiple churches, not just the one in Ephesus. In it, Paul lays out God’s grand purposes in this world: to unite all things under one head, Jesus Christ. He accomplished this first through the cross and then continues through the church. The two major themes in this letter are unity and maturity. In chapter 4, Paul begins to describe how we to live, in light of God’s grand purposes.
Read Ephesians 4:17-32 (***consider deleting the scripture text to reduce printing pages)
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Discussion: Paul begins this section by describing how we ought to relate to our pasts. The point was made in the sermon that the Lord chooses unlikely people and that our past never disqualifies us from service to God. Yet we do need to make some breaks with our past.
•Vv. 17-24 describe the Ephesian Christians’ past—where they were coming from. How would you describe their past, in your own words? How would you describe your past—where you were coming from when you encountered Christ?
•Describe the difference between the “old self” and “new self.”
•What do you think it means to “put off the old self?” (e.g. Try to forget about it or pretend it never happened?) What have you done this since coming to Christ to put off your “old self?”
•How do you think we “put on the new self?” (e.g. Does this happen automatically or are there things we must do to allow this to happen?) What are some of the ways you “put on the new self” in your own life?
Telling the truth is very important to the apostle Paul (see 4:15; 4:21,25; 6:14). As we heard in the sermon, it is the mark of the Christian.
•What are some reasons why truth is so central to the Christian life. (e.g. see John 1:14; 8:42-47; 1 John 1:5-10)
•According to v.25, why is truth telling so important? What does it mean that we are “members of one body?”
•How do you think telling the truth is related to anger (v.26)? How do you think it is related to stealing (v. 28)?
•Paul warns us about letting the devil get a “foothold” in our lives (v.27). How do you think this happens?
•In Eph.4:15, Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love.” How are truth and love related? What do you think he means (and what doesn’t he mean)?
•What are some situations in your life in which you really struggle to be honest—where you are still tempted to not tell the truth? Where have you seen real growth and change in your life in the area of truth-telling and promise keeping?
Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.
Break the habit of lying
We live in a culture of lying and deception. We are surrounded by liars at work, at school, in our neighborhoods and even in our church. We ourselves lie and deceive for a multitude of reasons (to cover-up who we are, hide what we’ve done and to gain approval and acceptance). Lying can become a habit in our lives that is hard to break—what is often referred to as a “besetting sin”—a sin we are in bondage to. Freedom from any sin begins with confession. Confession is agreeing with God that something we do is wrong. It involves coming out from darkness and hiding and into the light.
Read 1 John 1:5-10 out loud.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Divide into small groupings and take time to confess to one another, particularly this habit of lying.
Break the bondage of inner vows
While we are as Christians are to tell the truth and keep our promises (vows), there are some vows we are called to break. These are often referred to as “inner vows.” They are promises we make to ourselves, usually in a reaction to some painful experience. They are a way for us to protect ourselves from further pain.
For example, a woman who was raped as a teenager may have made an inner vow to never let that happen again. Now she may find herself in bondage to anger against all men, or she may have an inappropriate aversion to sex. A boy who experienced abuse from his father’s angry outbursts may have vowed never to get angry. Now he cannot form healthy relationships because he can’t deal with conflict.
Inner vows create bondage in our lives because they are a substitute for God, who is our true protector and the determiner of our future.
To break the bondage of an inner vow we must first become aware that an inner vow was made. It may require a time of self-examination and prayer to make the connection between an inner vow and an area of bondage in our lives.
The second step is to renounce the vow—verbally reject it in the name of the Lord, by saying it is a false substitute for God and we want nothing more to do with it.
The third step is to bring truth into that area of our life. We must accept and believe for ourselves the truth that God alone is our protector, that He alone determines our future and that because He loves us, we can trust in Him.