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Lesson 8: The Least of These *

Introduction: We have a saying in the United States about "Bumper Sticker" responses, referring to slogans a person might put on the bumper of a car. You ask someone a question, and they give you a "bumper sticker" answer. "The least of these" is like a bumper sticker. What does it mean? God loves every person, so how can we label someone a "least?" Jesus tells us that the "least" of us "is the greatest" ( Luke 9:48). At the same time, Jesus twice refers to the importance of helping "the least of these" ( Matthew 25:40 & 45). We need to drill down and understand God's will, so let's dive into our study of the Bible!

  1. Understanding Jesus' Sermon


    1. Read Matthew 5:3. What does it mean to be "poor" when it comes to our spirit? Is that a "least?"


    2. Read Romans 8:13-14. Shouldn't we have a "strong" Spirit? (The comparison is between our own "spirit" and the "Holy Spirit." If we are proud and satisfied with our own inclinations, then we are in trouble. But, if we submit our "poor" spirit to the Holy Spirit, then we are inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven.)


    3. Read Matthew 5:4. Is it a goal to mourn? (Read Romans 15:13. No, the goal is joy.)


      1. If our goal is joy, what does Jesus mean? (Jesus teaches that if we mourn, He will provide comfort. I don't think mourning is a goal.)


    4. Read Matthew 5:5. What is your definition of "meek?" Is a meek person a "least?"


      1. Read John 18:22-23. Does this fit your definition of meek?


      2. Read Acts 16:36-37. Does this fit your definition of meek? (Accepting an unjust result is not what Jesus meant, if Jesus and Paul are acting consistently with Jesus' teaching. I think kindness is the best understanding of this, and not a selfish, superior attitude.)


    5. Read Matthew 5:6. When you think of being hungry and thirsty, how anxious are you to fix those problems?


      1. Do you have the same level of hunger for knowing God's will?


      2. What will happen if we have a strong desire to know God? (Our desires will be "filled.")


    6. We are not going to go over all of Jesus' sermon, but we started it because some argue that Jesus is talking about "poverty in ourselves and in our world?" Is Jesus promoting or recommending "poverty?" (No. Plenty of poor people are strong-willed and convinced that they are morally superior to those that are rich. This is one reason why some argue that government should take money from the rich and give it to the poor. At the same time, there are plenty of rich people who think that they are better than others because they are rich. Jesus commends those who rely on Him, those who trust Him, and those whose self-worth comes from Him.)


    7. Read Matthew 5:38-42. Re-read John 18:22-23. I'm going to assume that Matthew 5:39 and John 18:23 are not in conflict. How would you resolve the apparent conflict?


      1. To further complicate matters, read Luke 22:36-38 and Acts 23:1-4. Why would Jesus suggest the purchase of a sword to those who are supposed to turn the other cheek?


    8. Re-read Matthew 5:38. When Jesus says, "you have heard that it was said," that sounds like some sort of fable. Is this just an unsubstantiated saying? (Read Exodus 21:24, Deuteronomy 19:21 and Leviticus 24:20. This is the Old Testament law given by God.)


    9. Now let's read the context in Deuteronomy. Read Deuteronomy 19:18-21. What is the motive for this kind of punishment? (This is God's way to eliminate evil. People will fear to do evil.)


    10. Once again, how would you understand what JesusWould our God of the Old Testament contradict our God of the New Testament? (I think Jesus is teaching that we need not insist on our rights. We may insist - just as Jesus and Paul insisted on their rights. We need to show wisdom and humility to decide when to assert our rights.)


      1. Is there a distinction between the government confronting evil and personal revenge? (The judicial goal in Deuteronomy was government confronting evil. However, when Jesus and Paul stood up for their rights they did it against government agents.)


      2. Is there a difference between calling the police and having them enforce the law, and you shooting an intruder in your house who is trying to harm you? (I don't think that is the appropriate distinction. Matthew 5:39 says "do not resist an evil person." But, the "evil" sounds minor - a slap, your shirt and coat, or walking an additional mile. This is one way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. When we are talking about important principles, then we can resist. When we are talking about minor inconveniences, we are better off not trying to enforce our rights.)


  2. Paul's Sermon


    1. Read Romans 12:9. What does Paul say our attitude towards evil should be? (We should hate it.)


    2. Read Romans 12:13. How does Paul limit helping the needy? (He refers to the "Lord's people.")


      1. Compare Matthew 25:35. Is a "stranger" part of the "Lord's people?"


    3. Read Romans 12:14-16. What light does this shed on Jesus' teaching about not resisting an evil person?


    4. Read Romans 12:17. We spoke about personal revenge. What does this teach us? (We are not to be doing evil to anyone. If we repay evil for evil, the world may only see the evil we are doing!)


      1. Let's skip ahead and read Romans 12:19. What will give us comfort when we are harmed by evil people? (God promises that He will repay.)


    5. Read Romans 12:18. What are the two most important points in this text? (First, God wants us to l in peace. That is the goal. If it takes suffering a bit to do it, that is what God desires. Second, this acknowledges that peace may not be possible.)


    6. Read Romans 12:20-21. This whole area requires wisdom inspired by the Holy Spirit. I know I don't always display this wisdom, but you decide. My job is to sue "bad guys" to make them respect the religious and political conscience of my clients. I use the courts to resist evil done to others. But, in this litigation, I am friendly and attempt to be kind to my opposing counsel. Is this consistent or inconsistent with the words of Jesus and Paul?


  3. Life Application


    1. Let's read part of two stories. Luke 16:19-23 and Matthew 25:33-36 and Matthew 25:41-43. What is the obvious conclusion to be reached from these two stories? (The rich are bad and the poor are good. If you help those in need you go to heaven.)


      1. Is the Bible otherwise consistent with this conclusion? Your status in life or your works determine your salvation?


      2. Read Romans 8:1-4. How does this say we are saved?


      3. Read Job 1:1-3. What does this say about Job's standing with God, even though he was extremely rich?


    2. Let's examine the rest of our original stories. Read Luke 16:24 and Luke 16:27-29. This teaches us that the lost are in constant torment from fire, and they see and speak to people in heaven. Plus, the dead can visit us. Are these all Bible-based truths? (Those are disputed, just like the status of being rich means you are lost.)


    3. Read Luke 16:30-31. Who is the person who will rise from the dead? (Jesus! These "facts" are fabricated to fit the conclusion that the extraordinary rise of Jesus from the grave will not convince those who refuse to follow the existing instructions from God.)


      1. Are the facts intended to teach us Biblical principles? (No, especially when they contradict other Bible texts. The facts simply set up the conclusion that some will resist the most persuasive proof about Jesus.)


    4. Read Matthew 25:37-40. How do you understand Jesus' statements if we are not saved by our works? (The reasonable conclusion is that a faith relationship with Jesus causes us to help those in need. It changes our heart.)


      1. There are many who want to keep religion out of government, but inconsistently think the government has a moral obligation to take money from some citizens and give it to others so they will be more equal. What do these verses teach us about that? (Jesus commends us for what we personally do, not what we force others to do.)


    5. Friend, we are saved by grace alone, not by our works. But, a converted heart is a heart that loves and cares for others. Will you ask the Holy Spirit to continue to soften your heart and sharpen your mind?


  4. Next week: Ministry in the New Testament Church.
* Copr. 2019, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2019 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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