*September 4 - 10

Brothers and Sisters
in the Faith
Lesson graphic

Read for This Week's Study:

  Matt. 26:21-25; John 10:16; 17:11; Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:3, 13; Phil. 2:2.

Memory Text: 

       "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10, NIV).

As Seventh-day Adventists, we often refer to one another as "brother" and "sister." When overused, however, such terminology can, of course, easily become an empty phrase; and if used without care, it can, at times, create an awkwardness when nonmembers are around. Nonetheless, the idea that we are "brothers" and "sisters" in faith is something we should not lose, even if, at times, like all families, our relationship with our "brothers" and "sisters" faces hard challenges. Some of our spiritual siblings have traits we do not admire, and not every "brother" and "sister" always acts brotherly and sisterly toward each other. This is a fact of church life; we might as well get used to it.

Thus, as most of us who are church members could understand, there is ample reason to devote a week on the topic of our relationships with fellow believers, especially those who can try our patience and mercy to their limits.  

The Week at a Glance:

            How did Paul describe the diversity amid the unity of the church? Around what should our core unity rest? What things may cause disunity among us? How was Christ's treatment of Judas an example in how we should respond to those among us who treat us badly?

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 11.


September 5

One in Christ (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27).

One of the greatest challenges facing our church is the question of unity. The church started as a movement among North Americans with a predominantly Protestant background. It then moved into Europe and gradually also into other parts of the world, encountering more and more different belief systems and cultures. Today the church has a presence in more than two hundred countries and is growing fast, particularly in the non-Western world. It is not hard to see how there is a continuous danger of growing apart or even fragmenting, unless we are determined to stay together. A sustained focus on unity is, therefore, needed more than ever as we face the challenges ahead. After all, how can we light the world with the glory of the three angels' messages if we are busy fighting among ourselves?

What is one of the favorite images of the apostle Paul to describe the nature of Christ's church? How does this image underline the essential aspect of unity? Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27.  

"Paul . . . makes a very effective parallel with the church collectively being compared to the parts of the human body. The comparison was not original with Paul. Many ancient writers had made a similar point. . . . The Corinthians would therefore readily understand Paul's words, 'If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body' (1 Cor. 12:15, NIV). . . .

"The very weakest members . . . are indispensable; and, furthermore, the parts that we think are less honorable, we treat with special honor. For example, the vital organs (such as the heart, the kidneys, the lungs, the liver, and the stomach) are not visible, but life cannot exist without them."—W Larry Richards, The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier1 Corinthians (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1997), pp. 216, 217.

How did the early church at its very beginning display the kind of unity God had intended? Acts 1:14, 2:1, 4:32.  

How's your local church doing in terms of the kind of unity depicted by Paul or as in those verses in Acts?  If you are divided in certain areas, what can you yourself do to help bring about a change?  


September 6

The Beauty of Diversity

The McDonald's restaurant chain has tens of thousands of restaurants worldwide. Whether in Pakistan or in the U.S.A., in Hungary or in South Africa, you will find the golden arches. And you can be sure the product is always the same. The burgers will always have the same size and weight, and the milk shakes always come in three tastes and in the same size cups. Some might call this unity. But this kind of similarity has nothing to do with real unity; instead, this is uniformity, and there's an important distinction between the two. In our thinking about the unity of the church, we must be careful not to confuse uniformity with unity.

What are some of the characteristics of the unity that the church ought to display? What is emphasized, and what is not mentioned? John 10:16; 17:11, 21; Eph. 4:3, 13; Phil. 2:2.  

"The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties-though there will be much of this to do-but union with Christ."—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 179.

Ellen White's words, in the context of the texts listed above, are so crucial to an understanding of unity. We can come from different ethnic, national, religious, and economic backgrounds, but at the foot of the cross, we are all the same: sinners in need of God's grace.

And yet, the hand is not the foot, the foot is not the eye, and the eye is not the heart; all are different—all have different compositions, different functions, different roles. If the eyes demanded that the heart be like them, the body would soon be dead; if the heart demanded that the eyes be like them, the body would be blind.

Thus, because our church is so different—composed of various national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, many of which have clashed over these differences—our unity must be found in something that, while not denying these differences, transcends them. And for us as Adventists, that must be Jesus Christ and the common mission He has given to us. This side of heaven national, ethic, and political differences will remain; but as Adventist Christians, with a common Savior, a common mission, a common message, we should seek, through God's grace, never to allow these things to disrupt the unity that God seeks for His church. Admittedly, this isn't always easy. But if we are called to love our enemies, we certainly should be able to love fellow church members, should we not?

If any ethnic, national, or political issues are dividing your church, what can you do to pull people to the Cross, the only true solution to the problem?  


September 7

The Ugliness of Division (Num. 16:1, 1 Cor 1:11, 12).

During the 2000 General Conference Session, Andrews University professor George R. Knight gave a thought-provoking speech about issues he sees as threatening the church. Among many other things, he said: "[If I were the devil,] I would get as many Adventists as possible to think tribally, nationally, and racially. I would make the church one big power struggle, without regard to mission or efficiency. Having made that statement, I hasten to add that there are injustices that need to be rectified and complex situations that can never be made completely straight. My plea is that even in the most difficult and unjust situations we need to behave as born-again sisters and brothers, able to discuss these things without losing sight of the mission of the church, which makes the issues meaningful in the first place."—George R. Knight, "If I Were the Devil," Adventist Review (January 2001), pp. 14, 15.

There are numerous causes for disunity in the church. State, in a few words, what the core issues were in the conflicts mentioned in the following Bible passages: Numbers 16:1-3; Acts 6:1, 2; 15:1, 2; 1 Cor. 1:11-17.  

Who is in charge? Who will benefit more than others? And whose theology is correct? These are the most common causes (often in some combination) of division in a local church or in a denomination. The issues themselves can be quite legitimate. Social groups—and this includes spiritual organizations—need to determine how matters of leadership and authority must be dealt with. When an organization consists of various subgroups, there must be a mechanism to ensure that the interests of these groups are safeguarded. Real problems are not to be swept under the carpet. But those who profess to follow Christ and want to imitate His nature will choose a strategy in which prayerful dialogue, a desire to understand one another, patience, tolerance, and love are the key concepts.

Look at some of the problems listed in the above texts. There were power struggles, doctrinal differences, and ethnic tensions, even cliques. How little has changed over the centuries. Again, why must we all come to the Cross and be broken if these problems are ever to be resolved?  


September 8

Servanthood Versus Power Play

To be a servant is not our idea of success. We see success in terms of influence, of power, of the ability to direct and control others. It seems to be part of human nature to make comparisons between ourselves and selected others, with the desire to come out on top.

What fundamental principle did Jesus state in response to the request from the mother of James and John for a place of special prestige for her sons? Matt. 20:20-27.  

If you study the above verses carefully, you will see clearly the contrast between sinful humanity and a perfect God. Here is first a mother, zealous for the success of her children; then there are the other disciples, indignant at what they must deem a power play. And remember, these are all followers of Christ (the mother came worshiping Jesus); yet, greed, jealousy, and selfishness are unveiled.

All this is contrasted to Jesus, who not only spoke the principle of servanthood but, in a way that our finite minds can barely grasp, lived it.

Read Matthew 20:28. What is Jesus talking about? How did He express this principle in the most amazing manner?  

No question, many of the things that divide or threaten to divide the church would vanish were we to take seriously Christ's words about being a servant to others. Being great, or chief, doesn't necessarily have anything to do with office or prestige. Yet, it can have a lot to do with power, not power as the world sees it but power to change lives, to bring healing, to reveal to others the love and character of God. And this comes through influence—of being a good example and of revealing to others the spirit of Christ. That's true power and greatness.

It's one thing to talk about being a servant; it's another to act in that role. What are some practical things that you could do that would express the principle of servanthood in your own church body? How, for instance, does the foot-washing service represent this principle?  


September 9

Dealing With Difficult People

Have you heard of the 20-80 principle? It suggests that 20 percent of the people you have to deal with produce 80 percent of the problems. Ask personnel directors or customer-service directors what their experience is, and you will find them in agreement. Virtually all pastors will confess that a relatively small percentage of their parishioners give them most of their headaches. Yes, unfortunately, not all people are as lovable and likable as we would prefer them to be (of course, others might and with some justification say the same about us, as well). Some people provide a serious challenge to our Christian experience.

Read Mark 14:43, 44; Luke 22:3-6, 47, 48; John 18:3-7. What did Judas do to Jesus? Why was his act such an act of treachery?  

Few people in history have gone to their grave with such infamy as Judas Iscariot, who, with his betrayal of Jesus, brought upon himself eternal ruin. And yet, even knowing what Judas would do, Jesus still sought to save him.

Read Matthew 26:21-25. What happened here that showed that Jesus was still trying to work with Judas?  

"But Judas was not yet wholly hardened. Even after he had twice pledged himself to betray the Saviour, there was opportunity for repentance. At the Passover supper Jesus proved His divinity by revealing the traitor's purpose. He tenderly included Judas in the ministry to the disciples. But the last appeal of love was unheeded. Then the case of Judas was decided, and the feet that Jesus had washed went forth to the betrayer's work."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 720.

What a powerful testimony to us of how we should treat those who are, for better or for worse, among us. Indeed, who hasn't experienced personally how, sometimes, the most painful struggles we have are not with those whom we would deem our enemies but those whom we would deem otherwise our "brothers" and "sisters"? We have here an example from Jesus how we should respond.

Have you been betrayed by a Judas? If so, how can you, through the grace of Christ, respond as Christ did? 


September 10

Further Study:  

  Read the chapter "Who Is the Greatest" in Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 432-442.

"In these first disciples was presented marked diversity. They were to be the world's teachers, and they represented widely varied types of character. In order successfully to carry forward the work to which they had been called, these men, differing in natural characteristics and in habits of life, needed to come into unity of feeling, thought, and action. This unity it was Christ's object to secure. To this end He sought to bring them into unity with Himself. The burden of His labor for them is expressed in His prayer to His Father, 'That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us;' 'that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me.' John 17:21, 23. His constant prayer for them was that they might be sanctified through the truth; and He prayed with assurance, knowing that an Almighty decree had been given before the world was made. He knew that the gospel of the kingdom would be preached to all nations for a witness; He knew that truth armed with the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit would conquer in the battle with evil, and that the bloodstained banner would one day wave triumphantly over His followers."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 20, 21.  

Discussion Questions:

     How does one determine what belongs to the unchangeable core of our beliefs in contrast to what are mere cultural expressions and can, therefore, be changed to fit the context of various groups? Why, for the sake of unity, must we be able to distinguish between the two concepts?  

   Imagine that your local church has a membership of around one hundred. Most members are pleasant and easy to get along with. But a few are capable of destroying the atmosphere. They are very opinionated and have very strong convictions about what should and should not be done during a divine service. This situation clearly hampers the growth of the church. What would you advise?  


  The church must be characterized by unity rather than uniformity. There is beauty and richness in diversity as long as there is unity in Christ. Only as we all learn to surrender at the Cross can we have the kind of unity that Christ seeks for His people.  

I N S I D E Story    
The Reverend Father Finds

His Home   by J. H. ZACHARY

Jeofelo was determined to have a better life than his parents, who had to work hard to provide for their five children. He joined a Catholic youth group in high school and eventually began assisting the priest at Mass. The priest noticed his faithful work and urged Jeofelo to consider studying to become a priest. Jeofelo took a test to qualify to study for the priesthood, and he passed. He enrolled in a program to prepare him to study theology at a university.

Jeofelo's parents were as proud as he was when at last he was ordained as a priest. Jeofelo liked his new title, Reverend Father. He served as priest in several congregations.

One day he went to the optometrist for new glasses. An attractive young woman waited on him. Jeofelo was impressed with her professionalism and kindness and decided to get to know her better. He learned that she was a Seventh-day Adventist.

Joefelo resigned his position and joined a denomination in which he could marry and still serve as a Reverend Father.

Jeofelo dated the young optometrist and soon proposed marriage. He promised her that there would be no arguments over religion in their home, that she could raise their children as Adventists. She agreed.

One day while riding his motorcycle, Jeofelo was seriously injured in an accident. He spent weeks in the hospital and two months at home in a wheelchair. With nothing else to do, he picked up a book that a friend had given him and began reading it. It was called From Sabbath to Sunday. Jeofelo was amazed to learn that Saturday was indeed the Sabbath of the Lord. But he refused to follow what he now knew to be the truth. He had worked too hard to earn the "Reverend Father" title to give it up over a theological point.

Within a year Jeofelo was involved in another accident, and soon after, another. Jeofelo felt that God was trying to get his attention. He opened his Bible and read Matthew 16:26, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (NKJV).

Jeofelo could put off his decision no longer. He asked his wife to call her pastor and arrange for Bible studies. Within a few weeks the family was united in the Adventist faith.

Jeofelo gladly laid aside his treasured title and is studying at the Adventist seminary in the Philippines to become a Bible teacher.

J. H. ZACHARY is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour.
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