Monday, July 24, 2006

When to End a Bible Study

by Larry Rouse

Several years ago I brought a brother with me to meet a man who was convinced that all churches were “filled with hypocrites” and because of that he no longer attended anywhere. In my optimism I thought than an open Bible would, in time, convince this man to change his attitudes and practices. After three hours of patiently struggling with a man who displayed open dishonesty, irrational anger and had plainly stated that he would never change his mind, my brother pulled me aside and made a comment that I never forgot. “Larry, my abilities and efforts are not highly valuable, but they are more valuable than to be used like this! Brother, it is time to go home.”

It was not until I carefully studied how my Lord Jesus Christ worked with people did I come to understand what I could and what I could not do in my teaching of His word. What was the goal of Jesus when He taught men? Surely He wanted to convert everyone He taught since He came to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). But as I looked into His ministry I found that a large majority rejected His teachings (John 6:66). Rather than viewing Jesus’ ministry as a failure, I needed to learn what the primary purpose of Jesus’ teachings really was. When I learned that truth, I discovered how successful Jesus was and, as a result, I was then able to properly gauge and evaluate my efforts in teaching.

To Expose Hearts

When Mary brought Jesus to the Temple a few weeks after His birth, a prophet, Simeon, foretold what the primary work of Jesus’ ministry would be. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against …that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)” This is precisely what Jesus accomplished as He taught others in His ministry. More than just trying to have someone agree on a point of doctrine, Jesus looked to open the hearts of those that engaged Him in discussion. Once opened, a man could see his own heart and then make an important choice. This one could then either be grieved at what he saw and thus would allow Jesus, as the Great Physician, to operate on his heart bringing the needed change or he could reject Him by slamming the door of his heart in the face of our Lord.

Some Cases in Point

From this perspective let us look anew at some well-known exchanges in the ministry of Jesus. The rich young ruler appeared to be the perfect prospect to become a disciple of the Lord. He seemed to agree on the “essential” doctrinal components, claiming to have kept God’s written word (Mark 10:17-20). Jesus not only heard the words of this man, He also heard his thoughts. He wanted this man to see them too. “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:21-22). Jesus opened this man’s heart and then this man chose to walk away. Jesus accomplished what he wanted to in this exchange!

Look at how Jesus turned the discussion from the place of worship to the condition of the heart of the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). Seeing her own heart she came to know that Jesus was the Messiah and, in turn, she left her water pot and quickly spread that news to others (John 4:28-30). She rejoiced at the work of the Great Physician and, in turn, sought as many as possible to have their hearts opened by Him too.

Whether it was a question, a direct comment, or a simple parable, Jesus confronted his opponents time and again with the contents of their own hearts! The parable of the Good Samaritan helped a very reluctant lawyer admit who his neighbor was, and in that, he came to see the racial prejudice that dominated his heart (Luke 10:28-37).

We Must Learn to Open Hearts

While we cannot instantly see the contents of the hearts of others as Jesus did (Luke 5:22), we can, however, through wisdom, learn how to open hearts. Why do people believe and act as they do? Even Pilate, through his experience, looked beyond the empty lies of the Jewish Rulers to know that they were motivated by envy when they attacked the Lord (Mark 15:10). From personal observation and insight you may come, over time, to know the motivations of the ones you teach.

Several years ago I learned that the best approach in studying with “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was to challenge their personal loyalty to their headquarters, the Watchtower Society. At the beginning of the study they claimed that the Bible alone was the guide of their beliefs, but by the end of our studies I was able to show to them that this was not the case. When their hearts were opened to this truth, one man cried like a baby while another man, while screaming, threw me out of his house. In both of these studies, hearts were opened and decisions made. I believe that the Lord was pleased with both results (2 Cor 2:14-17).

When to End a Bible Study

A lesson that took me years to learn was when to end a Bible study. In the earlier example of the man that was dishonest and plainly proclaimed that he would not change, I should have accepted that he, in fact, had exposed his heart to me. His resounding answer was “No, I will not follow the Lord.” Indeed, it was time for me to move on.

The Heart of the Matter

The Pharisees would never accept any proof that Jesus was the Son of God. Any approach to them at that level would bring endless disagreements and arguments. Jesus knew why this was so, for these men in their hearts had put relationships and position above everything else. Jesus said: “But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you … How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? (John 5:42-44)”

I have known of men and women who destroyed their marriages through their own immorality or had become bitter with another only to then make a jump into denominationalism, liberalism or even agnosticism. They then tried to put a spotlight on the inconsistencies of brethren and would tenaciously hold on to arguments that are easily answered. Why can’t they see through these empty beliefs? It is because these beliefs are a cover or mask for the real reason for their newfound stand.

Speak to the Heart

Look again at your approach to teaching and make sure your focus is the heart and not just the head. Peter, having made effective and essential arguments, turned his message to the heart. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:36-37)”
May the Lord bless you in this dangerous but rewarding work in the opening of men’s hearts.

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Blogger Cary said...

"When to end a Bible study" should be preceded by "When to not start a Bible study." Why insert a Bible lesson when anger and dishonesty are present? Christians need to learn when to shut the book and let the gospel come alive through friendship and careful listening. Those who are full of "irrational anger" and "dishonesty" may have good points to make that need to be heard and heeded. It's hard to call someone a hypocrite who is genuinely interested in what you have to say and will accept your criticism.

8:50 PM  

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