Home groups: intending to study the Bible intently
In a recent article I offered three tips as small groups started up for the year; three things it would be good to intentionally do.
Last night we had our second small group meeting for 2021, looking at James 1:19-27. As a direct result of studying that text, I want to now offer two more tips that you might determine to follow with your small group in the year ahead.
Tip 4: Intend to look intently
James puts it like this:
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:25 NIV)
The word ‘intently’ in the original language conveys a sense of posture. The idea is of someone stooped over to investigate something carefully and with curiosity—in this case God’s word.
As you look around your group, are people sitting back, with their Bibles beside them or at arms length, or are people hunched over their Scriptures reading the text carefully to take in all its truths?
Now you may call your group a ‘home group’, or a ‘growth group’, or some other name, but there’s still something helpful about the old-school term ‘Bible study group’. This is because the core activity is Bible study—not Bible reading or Bible skimming or bounce-off-the-Bible-to-talk-about-our-hobby-horses. Actual study. Engaging our brains to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest God’s word (as Archbishop Cranmer would put it).
So intend as a group to look intently.
Tip 5: Intend to humbly accept
But when you look intently, you can do it in one of two ways.
You can do it like the lawyer, intently looking at the words to try and find the loophole that lets you off the hook; sitting in judgement on God’s word and deciding what you will or won’t take seriously. Or you can do it as the devoted disciple who wants to follow and do what his or her master desires, no matter how challenging and confronting it is.
I think the latter is what James means in verse 21: “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you”. When we come to engage with what God is saying, we should be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry (v. 19)—as we should be when we engage with people generally. Because getting angry, especially getting angry with God for how he is correcting you, doesn’t help us to listen and understand, and it certainly “does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (v. 20).
No, our default response as we look at God’s word intently needs to be humble acceptance and obedience (“not forgetting what [we] have heard but doing it”, v. 25)—acknowledging that God is the one in authority, not me. Indeed, talking back to God and pridefully telling him he is getting it wrong is essentially the same egregious sin Adam and Eve committed back in the Garden and that we’ve all tended towards ever since.
So as small group leaders, is there any more important goal than to encourage, help and exhort our group members to read God’s word intently, with an attitude of willing, active and ongoing submission?
If that sounds like it could be a challenge (and because of our sinful natures it most definitely will), you might pray about it. See Tip 1!