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Groups Guide

Week of June 11, 2018

(The following message is based on the Sunday message at Grace Church Bethlehem and is intended for use in small groups or for personal reflection)



On May 29th the New York Times ran an article by Roni Caryn Rabin titled, “Put a Ring on It? Millennials In No Hurry to the Altar.” No doubt about it, cultural attitudes and practices regarding marriage are rapidly changing. Still, the most recent survey of single adults in America reports that 70% of those surveyed want a “serious relationship.” This kind of language raises more questions as to what a “serious relationship” is and whether it is expected that something else will follow. Navigating the journey from adolescence to single adulthood to marriage has probably never been more complex. The rules of the game seem to be constantly changing. Further, in the midst of this cultural context the church has a very specific story to tell about what God intends for the relationship between man and woman. This story is not as widely accepted as it used to be, and while we can’t do much to make it popular, we can make it plain.      


Scripture text(s): Matthew 19:1-6  

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

For discussion / personal reflection:


1.     The Pharisees were seeking to ‘test’ Jesus with a question about divorce. Today, what other issues might they have asked about to test or trap Jesus in the way he answered?


2.     A trend is widely observed that marriage is no longer a “launch” into a full adult life. Rather, adulthood is being defined more by an established career, financial stability and the completion of advanced education. Marriage, if it happens at all, is a ‘capstone’ or culmination of adult identity. What positive and negative aspects can you see in this trend? 


3.     See the parallel version of this story in Mark 10:1-9. Some scholars suggest that the questions of the Pharisees were significant because of the background of Mark 6:14-29. Why would this story of John the Baptist be connected to the Pharisees questioning of Jesus?


4.     The question asked by the Pharisees, and the answer given by Jesus reflect two very different approached to the subject of marriage. How would you describe these different approaches?


5.     Pastor / author John Piper has stated that Marriage is “God’s design, God’s doing, and God’s display.” Discuss these three phrases and what they mean.


6.     Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was shocking even to his own followers. See Matthew 19:10. It seems that the church has made the mistake of (a) remaining silent regarding God’s plan for marriage, or (b) shouting in angry rebuttal to the changing culture. If Jesus’ words are the church’s message regarding marriage, how do we communicate it in a way that is compelling?     

Closing Prayer:

Merciful God, you have told us that you will never leave us or forsake us. You are the same yesterday, today, and forever and you keep your promises to your people. Even in our wandering and rejection of you, you pursue us with a relentless and steadfast love. Grant us grace to model your faithfulness in our own relationships. Help us as we seek to live out what God intends for marriage, and help to tell this story with boldness and gentleness, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.        




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Groups Guide
Week of June 4, 2018

(This material is based on the Sunday message at Grace Church Bethlehem and is intended for use with a small group or for personal reflection and study) 


Fair Warning: the study guide this week will demand some patience and determination from you. The scripture text below from Romans 16 is easily skimmed or skipped entirely - just one odd name after another. We don't know who those people were, and the New Testament doesn't make mention of most of them other than this one passage. Surely we were never meant to actually study Romans 16:1-16, right? Not so fast. There is something for us in these 16 verses. If nothing else, you are invited this week to ponder this remarkable fact: Paul concludes his most tightly reasoned and thoroughly thought-out theological masterpiece with a list of names. Paul spends fifteen chapters unpacking the doctrines of the faith, and then he ends by naming his friends. This week we're giving our attention to the connection between the beliefs we hold and the community to which we belong. Living the faith, remaining faithful, requires friends.

Scripture texts: Romans 1:11-12; Romans 16:1-16

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. (Romans 1:11-12 NIV)

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon[a][b] of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 3 Greet Priscilla[c] and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.  Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among[d] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord's people who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. (Romans 16:1-16 NIV)

For group discussion / personal reflection:

1. As you read Romans 16, note the phrases Paul uses to comment upon or identify the persons he names. What are some of the specific things that endeared these people to Paul? How had their lives impacted his?

2. In Romans 1 Paul speaks of desire to visit the church at Rome so that they might be "mutually encouraged by each other's faith."

  • What do you think this phrase means?
  • Have you ever experienced this? 
  • And if so, how? 

3.  Our culture offers opportunities for people to gather in various kinds of communities, everything from Rotary Club to Supper Clubs. What is it about a gathering of Christians that is distinctive?

4. We were never meant to live the faith in solitude - but often we find that belonging to a community can be both a blessing and a challenge. How have you experienced the "upside" of Christian community? How have you experienced the "downside" of the same?     

5. Pastor Andy Stanley speaks often of the difference between gathering with other Christians in rows (Sunday worship) and gathering in circles (a home group). We need both. Gathering in rows is important but gathering in circles is where life change usually happens. How do you most often gather with other believers? What has kept you from finding your way from a row to a circle?

Closing Prayer:

Gracious God, we give you thanks today for the friends you bring into our lives to walk with us and encourage us in the way of Jesus. Forgive our tendency to try and live our faith as a solo act. We give you thanks for the ways we encounter you in the presence of a faithful friend. Help us to befriend others who need community and make us open and willing to embrace community for ourselves, we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Mark H. Crumpler
Pastor for Worship and Formation