Trust in the LORD | Proverbs 3:1-12

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Being a piece of the Bible’s wisdom literature, the book of Proverbs is all about wisdom. Of course, we first need to know what wisdom is before we can study a book of wisdom. Biblically, wisdom is applied knowledge that gives you the skill to navigate through life’s twists and turns well. Just as a craftsman must develop the skill of his work, so wisdom is a skill that enables us to live life well.

The single most important lesson that Proverbs teaches us about wisdom is that begins with the fear of the LORD. This type of reverential fear comes from understanding that God is God and we are not God. And while that sounds elementary, our hearts tend to believe the exact opposite. Until we realize that God knows far better than we do, we can never have true wisdom.

As we enter the third chapter of Proverbs, we are presented with six sets of commands and blessings. These commands urge us to seek wisdom and apply it to how we live our lives. The blessings that follow are abundant. They promise favor, longevity, and prosperity. Of course, we must understand that these promises are generally true in this life, but they will be fulfilled completely for all eternity.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Proverbs 3:1-12 and discuss the following.

  • Which verses stood out most to you as you read Proverbs 3:1-12 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  • Verses 5-8 call us not to be wise in our own eyes but to trust the LORD with all our heart. Would you say that you trust the LORD with all your heart? In what areas of life do you lean on your own understanding instead? Why?
  • Solomon makes many bold claims of how we will be blessed by wisdom within these verses. Are these blessings guaranteed? Do these verses teach a prosperity gospel?
  • The author ends this section by discussing the importance of the LORD’s discipline. Why is the discipline of the LORD good for us? What might His discipline look like? What are examples of God’s discipline from your own life, and what did it teach you?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

What Jacob Taught Me

About a month ago, I finished preaching through the third of four planned sermon series through the book of Genesis. The series covered Genesis 25-36, which is primarily the life of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Last summer, as I finished preaching through Abraham’s life, I wrote a post about what Abraham’s life taught me. I planned to do the same sort of the post with Jacob, but four weeks passed by without writing even a word of it.

Before I explain why I was so sluggish to write this post, allow me to first explain why I wanted to write it in the first place. Whenever we read about the lives of people in the Bible, we must understand that their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, triumphs and sins, are all written down for our benefit. Their lives have been recorded as examples for us: either what to do or not to do. For instance, Paul calls Abraham the man of faith for good reason. The faith he placed in God throughout his life is astounding! Abraham’s faith is worthy of our imitation. We should strive to be like him.

And the same point can be made for David’s love of God. Or Moses’ obedience. The lives of former saints are recorded as both encouragements and warnings.

For me, Jacob’s life blends the encouragement and warning so much that it’s scary.

You see, I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write about what Jacob’s life taught me because in many ways, Jacob connected to me more deeply than Abraham did. And I think it’s because Abraham was such an example of faith. I certainly know that Abraham sinned. He was willing to sell his wife away to save his owe skin twice, and he committed adultery with his wife’s servant (even though it was his wife’s idea). But even with these sins of Abraham on display, he still feels larger-than-life. He feels like a superhero when it comes to following God. I simply don’t know if I could ever pass a test like Abraham’s having to sacrifice his own son.

In a lot of ways, Abraham’s life seems to point toward Christ’s absolute perfection more than it resembles my life.

But Jacob wasn’t like his grandfather.

Jacob’s life was essentially one massive struggle against sin and against God. Jacob was a coward and a deceiver by nature. Especially for the first few chapters of his life, it seems that Jacob lets himself be pushed around by everyone. His mom coerces him into deceiving his father. His father-in-law tricks him into marrying the sister of the woman he actually loved. His two wives toss him back and forth while they fight about who is loved most and who has more children. Often it feels like life simply happens around Jacob, like he’s a pawn in his own story.

Of course, when Jacob does take action, it’s rarely godly. Jacob’s cowardliness constantly shows as he tends to flee from conflict, instead of facing it directly. Jacob’s fear was merely the symptom of his little faith. He repeatedly took matters into his own hands rather than trusting God.

Unfortunately, this is the aspect of Jacob’s character that I relate to most. Like Jacob, I tend to be cowardly instead of bold. I’m often full of fear instead of faith. I consider too much what others might think of me instead of being concerned with doing the will of the Father.

I’m not Abraham.

I’m Jacob.

I’m not a man of faith.

I’m a man of struggle, wrestling against both God and sin.

By providence, I think that’s why God chose Jacob. I mean, even though Abraham was awesome, God named the nation of Israel after Jacob, not Abraham. And I think it’s because Israel was more like Jacob than the man of faith. The people of Israel continuously wrestled against God, following the pattern of Jacob.

But the great lesson of Jacob’s life, of Israel’s history, and of us today is that God is faithful even when we aren’t. God’s biggest grace to Jacob was not giving up on him. In many ways, God beat Jacob into maturity through struggle after struggle. But those struggles were grace.

It’s interesting that the brief descriptions we have of Esau (Jacob’s brother) seem to be the exact opposite of Jacob. Esau appeared to have great wealth (much greater, it seems, than Jacob), and there is no account of any great struggle in his long, prosperous life. Chapter 36, instead, simply lists the great men that came from Esau’s lineage.

Esau seemed to have it all.

Given the choice between Esau and Jacob, most people would rather be Esau. We’d rather have the easy life of prosperity. After all, material blessings are a sign of God’s favor, right?

Through the prophet Malachi, God declared His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau. God’s relentless pursuit of Jacob was Jacob’s greatest blessing. Esau’s prosperity and ease, which led to self-reliance and self-sufficiency, were God’s curse upon him.

It’s a difficult truth, but it’s also full of hope. Jacob was a deeply flawed and sinful man of God, but he was still just that: a man of God. Jacob grew to follow God only because God never stopped wrestling him into maturity.

Like I said, I’m Jacob, not Abraham.

I’m often a man of struggle, not faith.

Thankfully, a wrestling match is often God’s means of grace.

Jacob & Esau Reunite | Genesis 33

Week 9 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. (Genesis 33:11)

And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Genesis 33:19-20)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

OPENING THOUGHT 

Jacob’s life is a continuous war being waged between fear and faith. Even after God prophesied that Jacob would usurp his older brother’s firstborn right, he still took matters into his own hands by deceiving his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Afterwards, Jacob fled from Esau to his mother’s homeland, where he found his wife, Rachel. Unfortunately, his father-in-law, Laban, deceived the Jacob into also marrying Rachel’s older sister. Chaos ensued in Jacob’s family, but eventually God commanded Jacob to return to his home. Jacob chose to flee in fear of Laban, rather than trusting God to care for him. Then upon arriving at his father’s land, Jacob prepared to meet his brother by giving him 550 animals in a series of waves, hoping to appease Esau’s wrath.

Though Genesis 32 built up the tension of the reunion between Jacob and Esau, the chapter ended with the twist of Jacob wrestling God throughout the night. Having now been given both a limp and a new name, Jacob goes forth to greet his brother. Twenty years had passed, and Jacob assumed that Esau still intended to kill him, which Esau’s four hundred men only helped to imply. Providentially, Esau is not angry with Jacob; instead, Esau warmly greets Jacob, embracing and kissing him. Jacob clearly understood this to be the work of God upon Esau’s heart.

But even though God had changed Esau’s heart, one of the biggest questions of this chapter is whether Jacob’s heart has changed as a result of his wrestling match with God. Some commentators are quick to jump to Jacob’s defense, believing that Jacob is an entirely new man now. Others present the opposite opinion, claiming that Jacob acts here in virtually the same manner as before. I will throw my lot in with others still who believe that Jacob is more complex than the other two opinions give him credit for. Jacob’s life has been a battle of fear and faith, and that fight continues here. Sometimes it appears that Jacob’s faith is winning, but at other moments, fear gets the upper hand. We know this to be true of ourselves as well. After encountering God in salvation, we do not miraculously cease sinning and act only in faith; rather, we still face temptations and doubt. But like Jacob, God’s grace keeps growing us in maturity, even if it is inch by inch.

Read verses 1-11 and discuss the following. 

  • The time has now come for Jacob to reunite with his brother, Esau, and Jacob goes through an elaborate display of submission before having Esau embrace and kiss him. Did Jacob act in fear or faith here? Why?
  • With his 400 men and his calm decline of Jacob’s sizable gifts, Esau seems to be quite wealthy himself. It does not, therefore, seem unreasonable that God may have softened Esau’s heart toward Jacob by giving him material blessings. How can material blessings distract us from worshipping God?

Read verses 12-20 and discuss the following.  

  • Now that Jacob has made peace with his brother, he builds booths for his livestock and settles down. Have you experienced a similar peace that comes from reconciliation?
  • Having settled matters with his brother, Jacob buys land and builds an altar to worship God. What was the twofold purpose of an altar? How do we worship God today?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Having been rescued from Esau’s wrath, Jacob builds an altar to worship God. Similar to Jacob, we have been saved from the wrath of God by the sacrifice of Christ, and worship should be our response to that good news. Take time this week to evaluate your worship of God.
  • Pray. Jacob was far from perfect before he wrestled with God, and he was still sinful after that encounter. But by God’s grace, Jacob continued to grow in maturity and godliness little by little. Pray that the same would be true of you.

Isaac & Abimelech | Genesis 26

Week 2 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And the LORD appeared to him and said, Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:2-5)

And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake. So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:24-25)

OPENING THOUGHT

Our study of the book of Genesis has led us from the creation and fall of the world to the life and faith of Abraham and now to the life of his offspring. Over the course of these chapters, we will read about Isaac, Abraham’s son, but the story will primarily focus upon Jacob, the son of Isaac. In the previous chapter, we read about Abraham’s death, his provision for Isaac beyond his death, and the birth of Isaac’s two sons. The chapter then ended with Jacob tricking his older brother into selling away his birthright.

Though Jacob is the primary figure of the chapters of our study, this is the only chapter of the Bible that gives its main focus to Isaac. In many ways, Isaac’s life is a less eventful mirror of his father’s life. Like Abraham, Isaac is faced with a famine, during which he must decide how to best provide for his family. Like Abraham, Isaac sojourns in a foreign land, and also like his father, Isaac forsakes his wife in order to protect himself. But most importantly, like Abraham, Isaac received the same covenantal blessings promised: a multitude of offspring, a land for them to dwell within, and a blessing for all nations through his offspring.

Within this chapter, we have a snapshot of Isaac’s life. Overall, he was obedient in much the same ways as his father, but he also sinned after the pattern of Abraham. Isaac’s life foreshadows Jacob’s as well because Isaac engages in deception to save himself. But like Jacob, simply being himself exposed Isaac’s masquerade. Though it is a short section, we are able to view God’s grace, faithfulness, and blessing through Isaac’s sin and his obedience.

Read verses 1-5 and discuss the following.

  1. When God appeared to Abraham, He commanded him to journey into a foreign land, and now in appearing to Isaac, God commands him to remain in Gerar through a famine, even though traveling to Egypt would have been more logical. What is faith? How is obedience related to faith?
  2. God gives to Isaac the same promises that He gave to Abraham. How would Isaac’s offspring become a blessing to all nations?

Read verses 6-22 and discuss the following.

  1. In Gerar, Isaac lied to the people by saying that Rebekah was his sister, hoping to save himself from being killed by them. How does lying display a lack of faith?

Read verses 23-35 and discuss the following.

  1. Isaac’s blessings caught the attention of Abimelech once more, leading him to seek a treaty with Isaac to avoid any major conflict. In what ways in this chapter did Isaac’s life provide a good witness as God’s servant? In what ways was he a poor witness?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the relationship between faith and obedience. Evaluate your daily obedience to the Scriptures.
  • Thank God for His promise to provide for us, and pray for faith to trust God in every circumstance and for the obedience to act in faith.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016

The Hope of Eternal Life | Titus 1:2-4

Week 2 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:2-3)

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (Titus 1:4)

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:23-25)

OPENING THOUGHT

Last week, in the opening of our study on Titus, we saw Paul’s twin self-identifications and purposes. He readily called himself both a slave and an apostle of Christ. As a slave, he placed his life entirely into the hands of his Savior, and as an apostle, he considered himself sent into the world to proclaim the good news that Jesus saves. The sent-servant then expressed that he slaved to increase the faith and knowledge of the truth in God’s chosen people, growing them toward godliness.

We conclude Paul’s greeting this week as he continues to provide his motivation for writing to his disciple. If strengthening the faith and knowledge of God’s elect was Paul’s purpose, then the hope of eternal life is his goal. Hope is the future expectation of faith. While faith is the daily assurance of things hoped for, hope is faith in the things to come. We are saved through faith, and our hope is in the completion of our salvation.

Paul goes on to explain that our hope of eternal life is secured by a promise from God, who never lies, and is manifested in God’s word through preaching. This emphasis upon God’s trustworthiness was likely especially poignant in comparison to the unreliability of the Greek and Roman gods. Finally, Paul closes his greeting by reminding Titus of the grace and peace that we have in God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Read verses 2-3 and discuss the following.

  1. We last saw that Paul sought to develop the faith and knowledge of Christians, and now we learn that both faith and knowledge are toward the goal of having hope of eternal life. What is hope and its significance to Christianity?
  2. Paul claims that we can truly have hope in eternal life because God promised it, and God never lies. How then is the word of God transmitted to us? How does verse three relate to Romans 10:13-17?

Read verse 4 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul calls Titus his “true child in a common faith.” How would you describe our common faith?
  2. The apostle closes the greeting with a blessing of grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. How does this last sentence of verse four present the gospel to us?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Take a few minutes consider the priorities in your life. Do these reflect your hope is in eternal life or in this present life?
  • Pray for a deeper hope in Jesus Christ.

The LORD Is My Shepherd (Psalm 23)

Psalms Study Guide (Week 3)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 19:6)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11)

OPENING THOUGHT

Thus far, we have discussed worship as a way of life and two reasons for worshiping God. The natural revelation of God (as displayed in creation) and the special revelation (as declared in Scripture) both guide our hearts toward worshiping the LORD. In viewing the glory and the goodness of God through nature and the Bible, we see the weight of our sin more fully, allowing us to pray alongside David for God to make our words and our thoughts acceptable to Him.

We now dive into, what is often considered, the most popular psalm throughout the history of the church. This song of David boldly declares the LORD to be our shepherd, which means that God will be faithful to care and provide for him. As much as this is a psalm of faith, it is also a psalm against fear. David is essentially proclaiming here that he should not fear enemies, death, or lacking what he needs because the LORD is faithful to guide, provide, and protect him.

Throughout history, many have turned to these words for comfort in times of difficulty. When the shadow of death looms over, they recall this psalm for solace. However, this psalm is not full of blanket promises for humanity in general; rather, only the people of God are able to truly call Him their shepherd. If God is our shepherd, we are then His sheep. We are helpless, defenseless, and not very intelligent, just like sheep. Fortunately, we have a very good Shepherd, who is faithful to care for us.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. For being one of the most well known verses in the Bible, it is quite odd for two reasons. David calls God his shepherd, which was a less than ideal profession, and he calls himself a sheep, even though he is a king. What does this tell us about David’s relationship with God (and our relationship with Him)?

Read verses 2-3 and discuss the following.

  1. Twice David states that God leads him and once that God makes him lie down. Like a sheep to a shepherd, the king is acknowledging his utter dependence upon the LORD to lead and instruct him. Do you likewise understand your need for God’s leading? In what ways has God led you or caused you to depend upon Him recently?

Read verse 4 and discuss the following.

  1. David declares that he will not fear whenever death’s shadow falls upon him because God is with Him. The very presence of God is all the comfort that David needed. In what ways do you take comfort in God’s promise to be with us to the end of the age?

Read verse 5 and discuss the following.

  1. Banquets were the epitome of ancient provision and hospitality; however, they were not often prepared for the guest in the midst of his enemies. Still David claims that his head is anointed and his cup is full (two signs of a well made banquet). What does this verse tell us about David’s faith in the LORD?

Read verse 6 and discuss the following.

  1. David claims that goodness and mercy (or steadfast love) will follow him all the days of his life. He does not mean that they will casually follow him but that God’s goodness and love will relentless pursue him all of his life. How are we able to believe that God’s goodness and love follow us, even though we know that suffering and troubles still occur?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Read John 10 alongside Psalm 23. Make a list of connections between the two chapters, and how Jesus applies David’s statements about the LORD to Himself.
  • Consider David’s confidence in God as his shepherd. In what areas of life are you fearful? Bring them before God in prayer, acknowledging His sovereignty, protection, and provision.

Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24)

Abraham Study Guide (Week 15)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my masters kinsmen. (Genesis 24:26-27)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

OPENING THOUGHT

Abraham’s life was full of difficulty and blessing. Repeatedly, God placed him in situations where Abraham was able to exercise his faith in God. Though he also failed by sinning numerous times, the patriarch ultimately was willing to trust and obey God, no matter how difficult God’s command might be. Truly Paul is correct in calling Abraham the man of faith.

We now come the closing chapter of Abraham’s story arc within Genesis. We have already seen that Abraham passed his largest test of faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, which was the climax of Abraham’s life. Last week marked how Abraham was now faithfully approaching the end of his life by making sure that a piece of Canaan was secured as a sign of how God would bless his descendants. This chapter continues that idea of Abraham passing his blessings and promises from God down to his son Isaac, and this time, Abraham does so through finding Isaac a wife.

Given that this is the longest chapter of Genesis and that it is full of repetition, we can be tempted to skim over these verses; however, it is important to note that this chapter is full of significance. One of the primary promises that God gave Abraham was regarding Abraham’s multitude of descendants. Obviously, that promise could not be fulfilled through Isaac if he did not have a wife with whom to have a child. Thus, by sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham is again faithfully establishing the means for God’s promises to continue after his own death.

Read verses 1-9 and discuss the following.

  • Within these verses, we read of Abraham’s desire to find a wife for Isaac, as well as his insistence that Isaac remain living in the land of Canaan. How do both of these actions display Abraham’s faith in God and His promises?

Read verses 10-27 and discuss the following.

  • Abraham’s servant creates a plan for finding Isaac’s wife. He does this by looking for a woman that was freely willing to water his master’s ten camels. Since camels can easily drink up to 20 gallons of water at a time, this would have been a significant task. What does this tell us about how the servant was looking for Isaac’s wife-to-be? What characteristics was he looking for?
  • The servant responds to Rebekah’s willingness to water the camels by publicly worshiping God, giving thanks for His steadfast love and faithfulness. Why is it important that the Old Testament reveals that God shows steadfast love to His people?

Read verses 28-60 and discuss the following. 

  • Through these verses, Abraham’s servant recounts to Rebekah’s family how God guided him to Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. What are some of the ways (through action or speech) that display the servant’s faith in God and his duty to Abraham?

Read verses 61-67 and discuss the following. 

  • Upon meeting Rebekah, Isaac takes her into Sarah’s tent. This symbolically shows that Isaac and Rebekah are now the bearers of God’s blessings and promises that He gave to Abraham and Sarah. Furthermore, it states that Isaac loved Rebekah. How is this both similar and different from our current ideas of love and marriage?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the servant’s model of worshipful and faithful service and whether you live similarly.
  • Notice Isaac’s intentional loving of Rebekah (a woman that he has just met). Do you love with similar intentionality? Particularly in terms of romantic love, are you dependent upon feeling in love or are you determined to love? Resolve how you might better and more purposefully love others.