The questions in this small group guide relate to the sermon from May 23, 2021. If your group has not had a chance to listen to the full sermon related to this discussion guide, they can find it in our sermon library. Rev. Adam Hamilton preached this week’s sermon.
Lord Jesus, your earthly life was much shorter than we’d consider ideal. You lived in conditions —poor, in obscure places far from the center of power, opposed by many influential leaders—we’d think were terribly limiting. Yet no life ever lived was more meaningful than yours. Teach us how to live lives that you fill full of truly great meaning, we ask. Amen.
- Pastor Adam said, “I was struck by how the final verses of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians were the kind of pithy and practical life lessons that someone might share in a commencement address. By the time we’re done, we’ll have learned three…actually four…keys to a meaningful, successful and joyful life.” As we start this final group meeting on 1 Thessalonians, share with one another one or two of the most significant lessons you’ve learned from 1 Thessalonians so far.
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15. Paul urged the Thessalonians to respect those who are “working…leading…instructing.” There weren’t yet, of course, formal “appointment” or training processes for leaders, but there were already people who used their gifts in faithful service to others. How does Paul’s guidance speak to you in our more formally organized times? Paul listed the “disorderly” (or “idle”), “discouraged” and “weak” as needing special care, along with “everyone” needing patience. How do you think that applies to the ways you, your group and your congregation minister to each other and to other people in 2021? To what contemporary issues do you and your congregation most need to apply Paul’s wisdom in your ministry life?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22. Visual artists know that often how we frame a picture alters what we focus on in it. Paul urged a kind of framing in 1 Thessalonians 5 (and also in Philippians 4:4-7—read if you have time). “When we bring the things that cause us stress into prayer, we put ourselves and our troubles inside a much bigger picture: the story of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ….And that leads to thanksgiving.” * What helps you look at God’s perspective on life’s big picture more than any unpleasant little details?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. Paul had told his converts in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 that God’s will was that their lives should be dedicated (or holy, sanctified) to him. He repeated it in today’s reading. Living for God is not a part-time, one-day-a-week choice, but a whole life commitment. Greek verbs based on the adverb hagios (traditionally translated “sanctify”) carried the root sense of “setting apart for a holy purpose.” Even wood or metal objects could, in that sense, be “sanctified” (e.g. Exodus 40:9-11). But people, of course, must decide to accept God setting us apart for holy purposes. How can being set apart for a holy purpose shape your ways of living? In the end keeping us “intact and blameless” when we meet Jesus is not mainly our doing but God’s. “The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this” (verse 24). How do you sense God’s Spirit transforming you into a person who can meet Jesus “intact and blameless”?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28. At the start, he assured the Thessalonians that he prayed for them (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2). At the end he showed it was not a one-way street, and asked them to please pray for him. His closing reflected what he believed about the church. “If the gospel meant what it said then the Christians should still regard themselves—as, indeed, Paul implies by the word he regularly uses to address them—as a single family. Paul’s word adelphoi, literally ‘brothers’, calls up in his world the shared working and family life of a close kinship group.” ** How much of a family bond do you have in your group, and with the members of your church? How can you make those bonds invitational, drawing others into the family rather than shutting them out?
- Pastor Adam said, “Here are the words we learned from Paul to live by, that bring us a meaning-full life:
1. Examine everything carefully, hold onto the good, turn away from the bad
2. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances
3. Encourage, help and return goodness when you’ve been wronged.”
Brainstorm ways in which you can help one another to live more fully into those three keys to a meaningful life. How can you become accountable to one another in ways that carry out the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already”?
Lord Jesus, help us to discern the good from the bad, and to hold to the things your Spirit is leading us and others to. Keep us ever rejoicing, even with tears in our eyes, because we are learning how to pray continually and give thanks for all that glorifies you. And make us great encouragers, to one another and to all the other people with whom our group comes in contact. Amen.
* Cynthia M. Campbell, sidebar article “Stress” in The CEB Women’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016, p. 1492.
** Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 122. Kindle Edition.