Workman StudySmall group bible study in light of kjv@2Timothy:2:15-16 by Layman RandyP
The topic today is small group home bible study, how best to construct it, how best to operate in it, how to have it be fruitful and benefit those whom it is intended best for the glory of God. Our passage today does not directly mention home study groups, in fact it concerns the pastorate instead. My feeling though is that these verses have much to say in this regard as the ideal of the home study group should be as an extension of the pastorate; not a replacement for it.
The majority of groups that I am aware of are not lead by the pastor as they are comprised, which means that the requisite workman discipline and ethic of the pastor stated in these two verses must be assumed by the elder or teacher or person leading the group. The pastor must be diligently concerned to oversee this workmanship. The rest of the home group needs to be aware and assist in maintaining this ideal as well. We all have a part in this ideal because if we don't uphold this ideal the group runs the risk of either not glorifying our God to the fullest or falling into this category of profane/vain babblings thus increasing ungodliness. Certainly not what is intend by a home group but, as we'll see certainly easy enough for us all to fall into.
1. The Leader
- Let's begin with the scriptural ideals set fort here:
- "Approved unto God"
- "A Workman"
- "Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth"
The word translated study might be better thought of as "endeavor" at second glance. The word study for most people connotes a purely intellectual pursuit which I believe compartmentalizes it from the larger effort being better described here. Yes, the intellectual pursuit of scholarly study of the group texts being examined has much to do with this but, unfortunately too often leaders leave it just at that. I would venture to guess that most small group leaders are study addicts and that might be why they were chosen by the pastor and group to head the "endeavor". We will discuss what the leader's truer endeavor should rather be in a little by little as we go along. (hint: it has to do with the "to shew thyself approved unto God" closely clause attached to it.)
Thyself in the immediate context is Timothy. Timothy is a young pastor. He is being told to "endeavor" by the Apostle because of the enormous task at hand in Gentile Ephesus and because of the way some of Timothy's flock are reacting to his youth. This too is a common issue among small group studies, there seems always to be those members seeking to exert their own bible prowess and intellectualism within the group. You will notice that Paul does not tell Timothy "tell them that I told them to sit down and shut up", instead he counsels Timothy to "endeavor", he tells him to "hold fast" to the sound words he had heard from Paul, to commit these same words to faithful men who are able to teach. Neither is Paul telling Timothy to go to the library and pour through every scripture and every commentary and every biography ever written until you can come back and shew yourself more intellectual than all these other pseudo-intellectuals. The "endeavor" surely must also have something to do with showing one's self approved unto God which is something much broader and truer to the heart.
Let me ask the question this way: "Is God more approving of the intellect of a man shown or the relationship of the same man to God Himself"? Relationship involves honesty and sincerity, openness and familiarity, sanctity, submission, true unabashed love and yes proving. Note that it is not said "approved unto these trouble makers"; no it is "approved unto God". The Pharisees insisted on showing themselves as "approved unto God" through much ritualism and tradition; they memorized the Pentateuch forward and back. Did that make them "approved unto God"? Men do not earn God's approval surely, rather God places HIS approval over them when they are in right relationship with HIM. To shew ourselves ultimately is not really in our own power; it is not so much a show as it is a heavenly test and confirmation. The Greek word translated as approved carries with it the notion of the value of something after it has been put through an inspection (as in the value determined of a precious ore after it is assayed).
So the "endeavor" is actually to be in right relationship with God to the point where God's approval/assay is observable to others. Even if the young pastor is not self aware of it, it is there none the less. This is what an Apostle like Paul would be looking for in a young pastor. This is what a Timothy should be looking for in a young elder or teacher who he assigns to lead a small study group. The work of the pastorate and therefore the pastorate's assigned group leaders is essentially given:
That amounts to a whole lot of endless and often difficult work. It begins a work upon one's self. It blossoms out as a work upon the group. It begins and ends as God's work; the workman works God's work. But notice the work now, it's not just an intellectual pursuit to have the bible completely figured out and tucked into nice convenient organized doctrines, though that is also an essential part of it, it is just as much about managing and leading and resourcing people to the edification the whole body of Christ which is most glorifying unto God. The work of a pastor is steering us clear of our own lesser human tendencies obstructing this spiritual progression. The work of the small group leader is to assist the pastor in precisely that same disciplined work as well.
Here is where the shoe leather meets the street. The Word has not yet been rightly divided until it can be applied into the daily life of the believer and the church. While a deep intellect can impress, only a deep application transforms. Transformation then it is at the heart of God's approval. One who has been and is being transformed by God, who in right relationship to God allows himself/herself to be a conduit of God's transformation towards others, is one rightly dividing the "Word of Truth". The object of group study should be for all participants experience this same level of transformation and ability for themselves. Intellectuals see themselves as proud storehouses of truth rightly divided, workman see themselves as open flood gates.
So we see now a top down view of Paul's counsel to a young but gifted pastor and by extension here we see a top down view of what would also be good counsel to a person enlisted to be a small home group leader. Here is a good summary:
Let's now develop it further into what the study should be and how it should be operated.
2. The Study
- Following our present text, instead of developing what should be studied in a small home group, I think it better to discuss what should be structured into a study to be avoided:
- "Vain Babblings"
Other translations have put it as worldly. The word picture here is a door threshold meant to keep the outdoors from coming in; the inside is tidy and kept, the profane is invasive/unkept and constantly seeking to push it's way in. In literal terms the profane is other times translated heathenish or wicked. There are many forms of this "outside working in" that we need to be aware of. In the case of a group of believers we need most to be mindful of the more hidden more subtle forms spread from believer to believer. Timothy was instructed to shun or keep away these various forms from his flock. It is almost a picture of Timothy defensively circling about the group within.
Twice in writing to Timothy his elder Paul uses the same word in nearly identical counsels. It means empty sounding or fruitless discussion; avoid it. The first time he writes:
"Which some professing have erred concerning the faith" 6:21 concludes. Now look at our verse 2:16 "for they will increase unto more ungodliness". The group leader should be on the lookout and take preemptive precautions; these should be built in to the framework of the study as much as possible. It is hard to imagine that these are professing believers that he is talking about indulging in this invasive fruitlessness but, experience shows that in familiar groups of people it happens all the time. Once it starts crossing over the threshold it becomes more and more pervasive within the group without anyone actually intending for it.
Note that Paul speaks of a similar thing to avoid here in verse 23:
Let me say that this is a difficult line to hold. Part of what makes a group study so enjoyable is the fellowship and open communication. Somehow the open familial fellowship needs to be segregated from the actual study. It should come first. The leader should purposely use this time greeting and conversing with each attendee with an eye on pushing their biggest worldly cares back outside the threshold for the time being through scriptural counsel and uplifting intercessory prayer. One has to be able to look upward before they can clearly see inward and outwardly. It would be wise to enlist a few select others to assist in this preparatory time as well.
Now when the time comes for the actual study to begin the group needs to be called to prayer. A partition needs to be unquestionably established that the LORD keep back the worldly and vain discussion and ungodliness (note: please don't publicly call it that) outside for the next hour while we bathe in the extreme radiance of HIS mighty Word and commit ourselves as a group to be transformed by what is revealed by HIS Spirit from HIS Word. In other words, that there was our one on one time fellowship together/this here is now HIS time with each of us as a group/We'll again fellowship together afterwards to praise and worship together in appreciation for what He has just done.
Now the study can begin!
Now I'd like to warn you of a worldly form of group session that is likely to creep in. This is the form of session where the the group goes around the circle talking about what ails them, how they feel about certain things, what their opinion or interpretation of it is, what they might do to make things better. People want to talk about themselves. Listeners want to analyze and solve other people's problems by their own resource. Intellectuals want to exhibit how deep they've been able to think things out. None of this has much to do about God though; does it? What, you invite God into the group only to have HIM silently sit and watch your group complain and rumor and murmur and exalt themselves and their problems over HIM? What, you open the Book of Truth in order to tell it what it should say? You know that I am exaggerating slightly in order to make the point; this is a valid observation to make however.
And if the point being made is not clear enough, Paul in his previous letter to Timothy wrote:
The point is that these outside corruptions might be very subtle. Part of the "study to shew thyself approved" workman mentality is to have studied these subtleties in self and others enough to know how to diplomatically deal with them before they take a hold of the group, how to steer the group through the maze of the sunken jagged rocks out into the open living waters. As the Apostle writes to Timothy:
For the young pastor, for the new group leader it doesn't come all that easy but, the elder Apostle doesn't step in seizing control from the younger vessel to steer the ship aright, he exhorts the younger to "endeavor", to show himself approved by God by God's testing.
EDIT: CONTINUE DIRECT STUDY APPLICATIONS
EDIT: CONTINUE GROUP RESPONSIBILITIES
3. The Group
The small home study group format is both it's strength and it's weakness. The potential benefits to a church and it's congregants are tremendous and well worth the extra hard "endeavor"; well worth a pastor's investment in his younger "faithful men who are able to teach others" as well. A healthy church is a church that from within is being equipped and built up. It's weakness at least at first however is that it is not equipped and built up yet enough. Like a parent to a child, the pastor must allow the fledgling group to go through some of the hardship and worldliness. He must take his hands off the steering wheel so to speak and let his adolescent drive the smaller group training vehicle and learn to guide them just by his previous example and near by encouragement.
The group members themselves must be equally invested in this "workman" like endeavor as well
EDIT: CONCLUDE NOT ASHAMED
The reason that this I decided to tackle this broad of a topic today is actually somewhat embarrassing personally. In two separate attempts to lead a home group my group has eventually dissolved and the experience left me with the unpleasant after taste of near success but utter failure. This is my attempt of better understanding where my "approved unto God" testing has fallen short. I am not discouraged by any means but, rather eager to be transformed and strengthened by these experiences to be all the more prepared for the next "endeavor". Certainly it is a continual endeavor, that with bigger blocks of endeavor to be sharpened by.