online Bible Study
Hello, my name is Marilyn
Thank you for joining us in our online Bible Study!
I have always been interested in the Bible, even as a kid. I would read Bible stories to my brother and sister with a view toward making them better people (they did not always appreciate that). While I have little formal training as a Bible student, I have always enjoyed reading it and learning about its context and many interpretations. Whether a person takes each word as literal truth or decides that a metaphysical meaning is more appropriate, the Bible has many layers of meaning for us in the 21st Century. We are all parents, family members, friends, citizens, and workers in many professions and the Bible has practical advice and inspiration for all of it. I feel privileged to be able to write about it.
I hope this Bible Study will help you grow and give you an opportunity to think critically about the many lessons in the Bible. This Bible Study will be updated twice a month.
Love & Blessings, Marilyn
MARCH 20, 2017
Bible Blog: Seek First the Kingdom of God
READ - Matthew 6:33
Jesus has just finished telling everyone about how God cares for the sparrows and the flowers. We are much more important than plants and birds and He knows our needs. Our first concern, however, is gaining the Kingdom of God. Then everything else will fall into place. Often it is not the material things we need so much but just reassurance that we will not have to go without. We worry about it a lot. When our minds are on the things of God, then that reassurance goes without saying. When I find myself short of money and wonder where the next bag of cat food is coming from, somehow a provision for cat food comes forth. The “somehow” varies each time, but it always comes. Perhaps a refund comes in the mail. Sometimes a friend reimburses me for gas. Maybe one of my sons consents to give me a “loan.” Whatever it is, I know that if I need something, it will be provided. Jesus lets us know that though society values riches, power, and influence, we have a much more important place in God. That is not to say that God cannot use riches, power, and influence to accomplish His plan, just that these things are not needful for our basic lives.
Bible Blog, Treasure in Heaven
Read - Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:32-34
Most of us believe in saving for the future. Jesus does not seem to be advising us not to do this, but He does tell us to keep a perspective consistent with spirituality. Our savings opportunities today are much different and much safer than in Jesus’ day. We can place money in banks or goods in safe deposit boxes where they are insured and kept under lock and key. In jesus’ day money was often buried in the ground, goods were hidden in vaults or caches in the walls of houses. Moths, rust, and thieves were great destroyers of wealth and savings. Anyone digging any such treasure out of the ground could keep it. A person with wealth hidden away normally would worry all the time about it, fearing its theft or destruction. A person consumed with worry would have little thought to “waste” on God. Always showing a better way, Jesus says that our real treasure should be laid in Heaven. Love of God and our fellow man, creating harmony, and generosity are examples of such treasure. Heaven is the state of mind where love resides along with peace, justice, and mercy. If we are concerned with those things, rather than worry about material goods, our lives will be filled with meaning and we will create a better world.
Bible Blog, Secret Discipline
Read - Matthew 6:-1-18
Jesus is telling us to give, pray, and fast in secret. Naturally, our good works will be noticed by others. We can’t help that. The secrecy is for our own sakes, making our acts for God and not for recognition for ourselves. We need to guard against hypocrisy. Our purpose is to be right with God, and to understand God’s purpose for us, not to just impress other people. In prayer we open our minds to ask for and to receive the gifts of God. If we do not open up our communication with Him, He cannot channel His gifts to us. Giving, also, is a way of keeping the way open for receiving. Fasting is not a common religious ritual for modern Methodists, but was very important to ancient Jews. Self-denial was and still can be a way of disciplining ourselves, maintaining a focus on what is holy in our lives. The Lord’s Prayer is part of this reading, but so much commentary has been written on it that I will not try to improve upon it.
Go the Second Mile
READ - Matthew 5:38-42
In this passage Jesus repudiates the Old Testament law requiring a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. That requirement was a harsh retaliation for a wrong done. Yet on the surface it seems a just recompense for wronging another person. If someone hurts another, then that person gets hurt in exactly the same measure. It means getting even, and that is a concept fueling many vendettas. The Hatfields and McCoys’ feud comes to mind. It is the “poetic justice” behind The Count of Monte Cristo. However, the concepts of turning the other cheek, giving your enemy your cloak as well as your tunic, or even going the second mile for your oppressor are not always easy to swallow, either. These ideas erroneously give the impression to many that to be a Christian a person has to become a doormat, a weak namby-pamby, who lets anyone push him around. No one pushed Jesus around. Even as He went to the Cross, it was He calling the shots. However, it was the custom in His day for military leaders and others in authority to force poor, lower class people to carry burdens for them. Judges required an article of clothing as a bond, and the poor suffered frequent beatings. Their only defense was to offer no resistance, and provide service as cheerfully as possible. Otherwise they would only suffer worse pain and hardship. That did not mean that people should not defend themselves against thieves, bullies, and murderers. It just meant making life easier in the face of an uncontrollable situation. Jesus was not exactly passive when confronted with the desecration of the Temple.
Keep Your Word
Read - Matthew 5:33-37
Jesus always condemns hypocrisy, and any outward show made for the sake of emphasizing one’s holiness. When we make promises of special importance, we often end with “By God, I will do (whatever),” or “I promise you…” Jesus wants us to know that our simple, truthful word is all that’s necessary. Anything else is just empty words. We cannot affect the number of hairs on our heads, much less make God accountable for our intentions, so swearing by such things is useless. According to biblical expert George Lamsa, Jesus’ injunction comes out of the Eastern practice of bargaining. Either the buyer or seller would emphasize their arguments by swearing on God, their sons, or father, or whatever was holy to them. The custom made the bargaining process highly emotional and exhausting. In modern times it has been the custom for someone to swear on the Bible in a court of law as to the truthfulness of his/her testimony. Yet we have no power over the Bible, and it was meaningless to those who did not accept its authority. That practice has been discontinued, as we all know. As Christians, we can accept and respect each other’s word by itself.
Love Your Enemies
READ - Matthew 5:43-47
Here is one of Jesus’ most famous commandments: Love your enemies. It follows closely after the injunction to turn the other cheek. Again, it is not a demand for weakness, but for additional strength to create a better world. We are not expected to bow down for anyone attacking us, but we do have an obligation to increase love and harmony. When we pray for and bless our enemies, our sense of enmity diminishes, leaving us more harmonious within ourselves. Once more, it is what is within that is important. We also open ourselves to understand the other person’s point of view, possibly even to make that person a friend. Enemies are not just other human beings, either. The “Seven Deadly Sins” are inimical to our sense of peace and love, as well. I can think of more than seven that attack my self-esteem. (I won’t mention them here!) We often look back on our lives and realize that the “bad” times were our times of greatest growth of character or spirit, of greater compassion. Then, what about those inner struggles to overcome bad habits? Or irritating behavior in people we see every day? They, too, are enemies, plaguing us perpetually. Pray for those, too. Don’t we grow stronger and more empathetic while trying to win over ourselves? Perhaps this is why St. Paul insisted that we rejoice and pray at all times.
READ - Matthew 5:27-32
These verses about adultery and divorce seem to be related. Jesus expands the definition of adultery, to include the mere thought of it. He narrows the reasons for divorce to just the practice of adultery. Gouging of eyes and cutting off of hands are idioms of the time, meaning to cast off bad habits that lead to sin. Once again, Jesus emphasizes the importance of the inner person. Had King David not looked at Bathsheba bathing and lusted for her, his sins against Uriah would not have occurred. According to Bible scholar George Lamsa, men and women kept themselves separate from one another. Bathing was done on rooftops, and a lustful man had to deliberately climb up to view a woman bathing. He was not likely to even see her clothed otherwise. This was no walking down the street and enjoying the sight of a pretty young thing. A man’s lustful obsession could easily lead to more serious hurtful behavior. We call it voyeurism today. Women committing adultery, whether or not they were willing participants, were believed to be violating important social mores, proving themselves untrustworthy. Did Jesus mean his injunction against divorce except for adultery to be taken literally? It’s hard to say. However, divorce was an easy act for men at that time, but not for women, whose rights were pretty vague. A man could divorce his wife for any reason that suited him, often leaving the woman destitute. A woman did not have the privilege of divorcing her husband. Jesus’ words indicate a sense of concern for women as people. In modern times women have more rights and often more education to help support themselves, as well as rights to their children. Our family roles are not as circumscribed as they were then. A great deal of harm can be done to spouses of both sexes, and to children, during a divorce. A great deal of harm may also come from remaining in an unsuitable marriage.
Read - Matthew 5:24-25
Jesus tells us to reconcile our differences with each other as quickly as possible. He is using the example of going to court over a debt or similar serious matter. However, even small quarrels are disturbing to our peace of mind, interfering in our relationship with God. For the ancient Jews, reconciliation might be made through a peacemaker (see the Beatitudes) who would decide for them what was right. Some of these peacemakers were corrupt, demanding exorbitant bribes and throwing both disputants into prison. We do not have quite this kind of difficulty in this country and in this time. However, it is still greatly to our advantage to settle our differences quickly and amicably. Often our disputes rise out of misunderstanding, and clarification helps the issue to dissolve miraculously. It is through our forgiveness of each other that we can be assured of forgiveness from God.
Honor God’s Law
Read - Matthew 5:17-19
God’s Law is not just what we find in the Old Testament books on right conduct, decisions, and worship. When Jesus speaks of fulfilling the Law, he seems to mean the spirit of the Law, rather than the letter. Jesus tells us the greatest law is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is the heart, not in the outward observance. Jesus apparently had no intention of weakening or doing away with the Law, but of strengthening it by returning to its original purpose in bringing people closer to a loving God. Metaphysically, the Law has to do with how we use our minds to understand and live our lives for Christ. None of this relates to whether or not we eat pork or wash our feet before going into a place of worship.
Let Your Light Shine
Read - Matthew 5:16, 6:3-4
If we let our light shine, what about giving in secret? The question may arise whether these commands are contradictions. Not really. Giving charitably and shining our light are two different concepts. Light is symbolic of wisdom. As Christians we have a special wisdom that cannot be hidden. It shines through us and other people notice it. Have you ever passed a stranger in a public place and recognized that person as a spiritual entity? No words need be spoken, only a look in the eyes. How often have we been that stranger shining light to others?
Read - Matthew 5:12, II Corinthians 6:10, 12:10, James 1:2-4
Each of these readings discusses hardship, extreme hardship. Yet each one also recommends rejoicing or joy as the appropriate response. A difficult commandment, indeed. In Matthew Jesus has just finished delivering the Beatitudes, ending with the command for a person to rejoice when being persecuted. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians describes beatings and imprisonment, and says to be happy about it. James, too, finds hardship a reason for joy. Whatever for? To begin with, hardship strengthens us. It also makes us wise because each difficulty has something to teach us, or a blessing to bestow later on. What about that promotion you want and need so badly, but is denied you? Later you find out that new position has been surplussed. You still have your job. Perhaps your child has been taken ill with a deadly disease. Through the pain you gain the strength needed to comfort and advise other parents. The possibilities are myriad. The joy comes from maintaining the faith and hope offered by Christ himself. Rejoice in the knowledge that you are being led, strengthened, and taught in Spirit. Look for the blessings and learn, then pass it on. The “joy of the Lord is our strength.”
Read - Matthew 4:19, John 1:43
Andrew and Simon were not just some strangers that Jesus called to himself. They had already met Jesus and had been told by John the Baptist who he was. When Nathaniel/Bartholomew was called, Jesus was a stranger who revealed his nature to him. The call resounds through the centuries: “Follow Me.” Jesus is no stranger to us, he is our friend, our counselor, one who knows us thoroughly and still loves us. The enthusiastic Andrew ran to get his brother Simon, a strong man, to go along with him. Simon called Peter grew from a wavering follower to the rock of faith against which nothing could prevail. Nathaniel was innocent of guile, a true Israelite (blunt and forthright), as Jesus called him. So we become when we follow the call of Jesus: enthusiastic, strong and faithful, and honest.
Let not your heart be troubled.
Read - John 14:27, John 16:33, Matthew 6:25-26, Philippians 4:6-7
Jesus’ injunction not to worry is often used to indicate that we are not to think about the future for ourselves and families. However, in the context of these quotes, Jesus is actually telling us that the peace of God fills us with a cosmic presence of assurance. The references in John are spoken when Jesus was preparing the disciples for his death. He told them that his peace and love would never desert them. The reference in Matthew is about material needs. God knows what we need, and our needs are provided for. Worry is unnecessary. Paul tells the Philippians that life’s challenges and strife are opportunities for prayer. Paul’s own material troubles were quite severe. Meanwhile, rejoice. We can be confident of the love and presence of God in all circumstances. We are loved and understood absolutely. That will never change, no matter what we do.