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Acting Like Heaven’s Citizens

DSC_3703_2Dear Comfort Cafe Friends,

In this short Bible Study series we are looking at what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. The lessons are running monthly through July 2014 and focus on “Looking Inward,” (relating to and loving God), and “Looking Outward,” (relating to and loving our neighbor). In this series, the entire lesson each month is presented here on the front page. We hope you will join us in applying knowledge of God’s character to deeper levels of life. Previous lessons from 2014 remain available under the Table of Contents and Archive page.

©2013 Kay Smith and Ruth Wood. All rights reserved. Used by permission. User Permission Notice: This study may not be sold or used for profit. However, copies may be made for personal use. Questions? Contact: ruthywood@gmail.com.

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Looking Outward

By Ruth Wood

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:7).

As Christians we belong to a non-earthly kingdom. As citizens:

  • Our first and complete allegiance belongs to God as our King. …seek first his kingdom and his righteousness . . . (Matthew 6:33)
  • We obtained our citizenship in His kingdom by being born again. In much the same way children automatically receive U.S. citizenship when born, Christians receive citizenship by being born in God’s kingdom.
  • We share a strong kingdom identity with other citizens. When meeting strangers, we rejoice to come across a fellow citizen, sharing an automatic kinship in identity and purpose.
  • We belong to a kingdom culture which is divided into many subcultures regionally and all over the world. (Culture is defined by Wikipedia as “an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society . . .”  Cultural aspects can include language, values, social conventions, norms, taboos, and etiquette.) Regardless of our subcultures, we share a kingdom worldview.
  • We are obligated to obey the laws of God’s kingdom when they conflict with the laws of our earthly country. Therefore, we live as aliens in the world.
  • We live in a kingdom of love. Our highest command is to love one another (John 13:34).
  • We belong to an eternal kingdom, and one day we will move to our permanent residence. The Holy Spirit has sealed us for that day (Ephesians 4:30); in other words, He is our passport to our heavenly country!
Notes above inspired by Living Life, Taking Steps of Faith blog at http://sariekay.blogspot.com/http://sariekay.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-does-it-mean-to-be-citizens-of.html

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Diving In

Now that we’ve looked at our citizenship, here are some questions to keep in mind as you study. What is kingdom living all about? What are our obligations to one another? How do we relate to non-citizens?

1. Jesus gave the Great Commission to do His kingdom work:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

What appears to be our responsibility towards non-believers? Towards believers? What is the source of our strength and power in fulfilling this commission?

2. I Peter 2:12 says, of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

How much are you in contact with “pagans” in your daily life? What challenges have you found in living out this verse? Have you ever been accused of doing wrong? When?

3. Making disciples obviously includes talking, not just living a “good life.” With whom or in what settings have you had the opportunity to share your faith? What obstacles or barriers do you encounter when you’d like to witness.

4. We live under God’s rule, but He has also given us dominions, areas where we are responsible and exercise authority. Identify your areas of domain (your home, over children, work, property, ministry, etc.)

5. We want to be good kingdom citizens. Note the kind of attitude Paul recommends here: Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16). What is an area of your life where you could make better use of “opportunities”?

6. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we’ve been given guidelines on our responsibility to earthly governments.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (I Peter 2:13-14)

What are your challenges in submitting to the government, especially at times when you don’t agree with its policies? In what areas is it most difficult for you to submit to the government? (e.g. paying taxes, compliance with speed limits, etc.)

7. Though we are commanded to submit to government authorities, scripture points to a hierarchy of allegiance.

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:27-29)

Important consideration: In witnessing, why is it particularly important to obey God rather than men? Can you think of other situations where you would be compelled to disobey the government because of your loyalty to God?

8. In bringing the issue of submission and authority closer to home, let’s look at more areas. First, we have an obligation to our local fellowship:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Hebrews 13:17).

Considering our very individualistic culture, why might this command be difficult to relate to? How might you apply it to your life?

9. In the context of marriage, Ephesians 5:21 says to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This command really can be taken as the golden standard in relating to all people. But what is submission exactly? We tend to think of the word negatively in terms of subjugation. Look at Webster’s definition of the word “submit”: to yield in surrender, compliance, or obedience.

(a)    Which of these descriptions do you find easiest to relate to—yield, surrender, comply, or obey?

(b)   According to Ephesians 5:21, why should we submit to others?

(c)    When we’re in a power struggle with someone, how might the motivation Paul gives to submit help us “let go of the rope”? When we yield in a godly way, who are we ultimately submitting to?

10.  I Peter 5:5 says, In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” What character quality is required in order to submit/yield?

11.  What role might forgiveness play in the ability to submit?

12.  The concept of submission has often been abused in the church. When might it not be appropriate to submit to someone?

13.  Can you think of a scenario when a wife might need to say to her husband (like the apostles to the Sanhedrin), “I need to obey God rather than man”? When might a husband need to say to his wife, “I can’t go along with what you want”?

14.  Note: The following includes material and quotes on Karen Horney’s theory taken from “Coping (psychology)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coping_strategies

The idea of submitting/yielding/obeying threatens our need to be in control. We use control to get our needs met. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney describes three unhealthy “coping strategies” we use to protect ourselves—moving toward, moving against, or moving away from people. All of us tend to utilize less-healthy strategies of control at times. What styles or aspects do you identify with most?

Moving towards—needing to please others and be liked. Being nice so others will be nice back. Or thinking, “If I give in, I won’t get hurt.” “Making any sacrifices, no matter how detrimental.” May restrict life “to narrow borders, to be undemanding, satisfied with little, inconspicuous; to simplify one’s life.”

Moving away—distancing from others to avoid getting hurt, “the security of unobtrusiveness.” “If I do not let anyone close to me, I won’t get hurt.” Prizes self-sufficiency and independence. May “desire to be perfect and [have] a fear of being flawed.” May come across as cold or shallow. Also may restrict “life to narrow borders.”

Moving against—using aggression to protect against “those perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt.” “Power, for control over others, for a façade of omnipotence, caused by a desperate desire for strength and dominance.” Prizes personal achievement, admiration, social recognition or prestige, popularity. Tends to be concerned about appearances.

Okay, now you may be wondering what’s healthy! Horney describes the healthy strategy as “moving with.” Such interactions involve “communication, agreement, disagreement, compromise, and decisions.” It’s actually using all the styles in a balanced, appropriate way, without excess.

In light of the above, what might relinquishing control mean as you interact with others? For example, if I’m a people pleaser, and I start saying “no” more, I will have to deal with my fear of not being liked. Talk to God about those vulnerable areas where you need to trust Him for emotional protection.

15.  Learning about how people emotionally protect themselves helps identify barriers that make it difficult to “submit to one another.” This is important because the ability to yield is one of the qualities of a servant. And as citizens of the kingdom of heaven Jesus calls us to serve.

. . . Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28)

Review your answers throughout this lesson. How will some of the things you’ve learned help you become a more effective servant?

Summary Reflection:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . [and] love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).

In light of our scripture theme, prayerfully review the last three lessons. Then record the highlights of what you learned about loving and relating to God, yourself, and others. What beliefs have changed? What behaviors have changed or might you plan to change?

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