IFC - Week 1
‘Gates and Walls’
What does the Bible say?
Asking the question ‘what’ allows us to look deeper into the Scripture and understand the passage properly in its intended context. Before we can understand what Scripture means for us today, we must understand the meaning the author intended for his original audience. Think deeply about the text and what the author is trying to communicate to his audience. This requires deeper study into the background and context of the text, as well as, understanding the genre of writing and where it fits in the biblical narrative.
Preparing for Small Group
Read the book of Nehemiah in its entirety in one passing. We must remember that the book was not divided into chapters and verses when it was written, so in order for us to understand this passage of Scripture, we must understand how it fits in with the rest of the book of Nehemiah.
Identify the context.
a) Who wrote the book of Nehemiah? When was it written?
b) What is going on at this point in the history of Israel? When does this story take place?
c) What type of writing is Nehemiah? How does that impact how you read and understand the passage
d) How does this story fit into the overall biblical narrative?
e) Why is the author including this passage in his writing?
f) Why is this passage important at the time in which the author is writing?
2. Identify important people, places, and ideas.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are closely related and studied together. In fact, they were actually written and treated historically as one single book. It wasn’t until the mid fifteenth century that the books were divided into two books. The books are included in a set of the Old Testament known as ‘the writings’ which taught people how to live out the established law and covenant of the Torah. For a more robust understanding of the context of Nehemiah, read and study the book of Ezra as well.
The primary purpose of Ezra and Nehemiah is to show how God was to restore the people of Israel to their land and build his kingdom among them. The key theme of Nehemiah is restoration: restoration of the temple (Ezra 1-6) , the community (Ezra 7-10), Jerusalem (Neh. 1-7), and the covenant (Neh. 8-13).
A key word “and them” in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is the word bayit, meaning ‘house’, ‘palace’, or ‘temple.’ The translation of this word depends on who or what is inhabiting the bayit. The word can also mean ‘household’ or ‘family’ as residents or inhabitants of the bayit. In these books the word bayit refers not just to the temple as a building but to the people of Israel who have returned to the city to worship and live.
In Ezra 3, we see that the people rebuilt the temple soon after returning to Israel. The temple was completed in 515 BC, 70 years after the exile, but the work of rebuilding continues well into the late 400s. The bayit being rebuilt in Ezra and Nehemiah is not just the temple, but the city and the people as well, including the wall described in Nehemiah 3. The vision for Ezra and Nehemiah is to see the bayit of God as one holy people of God living and worshipping in the holy city of God, in the holy temple of God. However, Nehemiah concludes with uncertainty of the complete success of rebuilding the bayit of Jerusalem (the temple, the city, the wall, the people). Thus, as we read Nehemiah, we must understand the foreshadowing to the New Testament church as the people of God becoming the new temple of God, the new bayit, and the future return and reign of Christ with the building of his eternal bayit.
Small Group Discussion
Discuss the context in which Nehemiah 3 takes place.
Define the concept of bayit and explain why is it important to this text?
How does Nehemiah leave us waiting for fulfillment in the New Testament church?
How is the New Testament church the bayit of God? How is it still needing fulfillment?
What should I believe?
What important doctrines do we see conveyed in the text? What are the implications of this text on the gospel? When we understand the Bible as a continuous, progressive revelation of God’s plan of salvation, we must try to discover how this passage fits in with the theology of the Bible. Ask questions like, ‘how does this text impact or shape what I believe?’ ‘How does this text fit in with the rest of Scripture?’ ‘What other portions of Scripture support the key truths presented in this text?’
Preparing for Small Group
Study the following theological foundations from this text to prepare for discussion in the small group.
The study of the doctrines of the church is known as Ecclesiology, from the Greek word for church, ekklesia. The main point that Pastor Brent highlighted in his sermon on the passage was the unity of the Church as the body of Christ. The New Testament church is the bayit of God where he dwells within his people. The word ‘church’ in Greek is, ekklesia, meaning ‘called out.’ For the Greeks, the ekklesia was the gathering of free citizens to make decisions about matters of the state and were called together by a herald. The church is the gathering of believers who have been ‘called out’ and gathered together as true believers and subjects of Christ.
In the New Testament, the church is related to the Kingdom of God as an invisible, spiritual entity linked to Christ through the covenant of His blood. We cannot see the eternal spiritual condition of people’s hearts, only God can do that. There are those who attend church externally as an outward expression and there are those whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel with fruit of true spiritual change. Though we may be able to recognize the difference, it is only God who truly knows the heart of man. According to Wayne Grudem, “The visible church throughout the world will always include some unbelievers, and individual congregations will usually include some unbelievers, because we cannot see hearts as God sees them.” The Kingdom of God extends beyond the church, however, there is no part of the church that is not the Kingdom of God.
Ekklesia is also used numerous times in the New Testament to refer to a specific gathering of believers in a physical location. Just as the true church is invisible, there is also a component of the church that exists in the world visibly. Louis Berkhof describes the church, “in a more general sense the word serves to denote the whole body, throughout the world, of those who outwardly profess Christ and organize for purposes of worship, under the guidance of appointed officers.”
The church is made up of those who have been ‘called out’ of sin and surrendered to Christ through repentance under submission to the sovereign rule and authority of Christ and joined together in a body with many members. Wayne Grudem states, “the term ‘the church’ is used to apply to all those whom Christ died to redeem, all those who are saved by the death of Christ.” The church is made up of those who have been called by Christ. When we understand the sovereignty of God demonstrated through his effectual calling, as a result, we must also see his sovereignty to not only predestine the elect saints to salvation but to serve a particular role within the church.
The relationship between believers within the body of Christ is often referred to as ‘the communion of the saints’. The communion of the saints reflects the koinonia, ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’, of the early church. Though it has no overtly Christian meaning, this was used by the early church to describe a “close-knit fellowship of its Spirit-filled membership.” The word koinonia also comes with a sense of commitment, duty, sacrifice, and support, as was demonstrated by the early church. J.R. McRay states, “It was more than simple sharing of material possessions by those taught with their teachers. For Paul it was a theological expression of the validity of his work among Gentiles, a sure sign that they had been completely accepted into God’s work among the Jews. Friendship is a supreme expression of fellowship. The early church maintained this fellowship daily.”
“God commands each one of us to consider his calling in every act of life. For he knows how easily our minds are inflamed by worry, how readily they shift this way and that, and how greatly greed and ambition drive them to grasp at many different things at once. Thus, to stop us upsetting everything by our folly and temerity, God distinguishes between our various situations and our modes of living, and lays down the tasks each of us is to fulfil. And so that no one should lightly go beyond his limits, he has termed such modes of living ‘callings’. Thus we should all regard our particular situation as a post assigned to us by God, lest in the course of our lives we flit to and fro and drift aimlessly about.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Communion of the Saints is “the union of all believers, living or dead, in Christ, stressing their common life in Christ and their sharing of all the blessings of God.” “To the traditional view, that the phrase refers to the existing unity of all believers in Christ and their common sharing of his grace, must be added a more modern emphasis on the need for this unity to be actualized in the church. Believing in the communion of saints is more than affirming an existing unity, since it calls the church to fellowship, to maturity, and to the sharing of “all good gifts” received from God.” F.Q. Gouvea, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
Essential Doctrinal Affirmations
These are the essential doctrinal truths evidenced in this text that we must affirm.
The church is both invisible and visible. The invisible church is made up of the spiritual community of the elect people of God who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. The visible church is the gathering of the elect in corporate bodies both locally and universally.
The church represents the chosen people of God fulfilling the Old Testament typology of Jerusalem, the temple, and the nation of Israel. The church is the new Israel, the elect people of God. The church is the new temple, the place where God’s Spirit dwells among his people. The church is the new Jerusalem, the gathering place of the people of God. All of these will perfectly be fulfilled with the return of Christ.
Small Group Discussion
What does it mean that the church is ‘invisible’? How does that differ from how we might think of the word church today?
Going back a few weeks in small group, how did we define the Kingdom of God?
Why is it important to define the church, the body of Christ, as only those who have been redeemed by Christ and living in submission to Him as Lord?
What does it mean that believers in the church are submitted to the sovereign rule and authority of Christ? What does it mean that believers in the church are joined together in one body with many members? How are the two related?
What difference does it make in how I live?
Only after we understand the original context and meaning of the text and the doctrinal implications derived from the text are we able to understand and apply the text to our present context. Ask yourself, ‘what heart change should be produced from this text?’ Our first priority in reading and studying the Bible is not to determine what it means for us today; however, we must discover what the implications of the Bible are on our lives today as part of our study. What parts of this passage and the contextual or doctrinal implications found within it cause you to struggle? Why?
Discuss the doctrinal affirmations. How do these doctrinal affirmations affect the way that you live your life?
WHO YOU HAVE BESIDE YOU WILL DETERMINE A LOT ABOUT YOU
Who is beside you? How does your life reflect the relationships you have within the body?
Who are you beside? Does your life reflect the character of a redeemed, Spirit-filled believer? How are you strengthening those around you to better follow Christ?
THE KINGDOM IS MARKED BY COOPERATION
Are you currently engaged in the mission of the church to advance the kingdom of God? How?
Honestly ask, are you working to build up the body or are you causing division and strife toward the body? In what ways might you be working against the mission of the church?
NOT EVERY JOB HAS NOTORIETY BUT EVERY JOB IS NECESSARY
What role do you play in the church? How is God using your gifts to build his Kingdom?
What role do you believe that God may be calling you to play that you are not currently playing?
Do you find yourself coveting the position or role that others play in the church? Why do you think that is? How can you be content to play the role in the church that God has called you to play?
Be the Best of Whatever You Are
If you can't be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a shrub in the valley--but be
The best little shrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.
If you can't be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway some happier make;
If you can't be a muskie then just be a bass--
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can't all be captains, we've got to be crew,
There's something for all of us here.
There's big work to do and there's lesser to do,
And the task we must do is the near.
If you can't be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can't be the sun be a star;
It isn't by size that you win or you fail--
Be the best of whatever you are!