Why Care Groups? Devotion to Biblical Truth
In the first post, we looked briefly at God’s new family and what characterizes the relationships within that family. Unity in Christ, cross-centered love, commitment to one another, and witness to the world, all characterize God’s new family, the church. However, these characteristics thrive when living them out more intentionally in smaller, more accessible contexts such as the house meetings exemplified in the early church.
But how exactly did the early church pursue this sort of community? What were some components that served the community’s love, health, joy, mission, and eternal well-being? The following chapters will lay out four components that, when given proper emphasis, contribute to gospel community that regularly makes Jesus supreme in every area of life:
- Devotion to biblical truth,
- Motivating each other with gospel-centered counsel,
- Living together in authentic community, and
- Missional living.
In this post, I begin by looking at devotion to biblical truth.
Devotion to Biblical Truth
From the start, the church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42; 4:33). Fellowship wasn’t centered on just anything, but on the living word of God, which revealed Christ to them, brought them joy, and shaped their devotion to God, their love for one another, and their witness to the world (Acts 2:41; 6:7; 11:1; 12:24; 1 Cor 15:2; Col 3:16; Jas 1:22).
The church learned that God comes near to sinners in his word. By his word, God came near to Israel in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, which Paul shows us ultimately points toward God’s nearness in the person of Christ himself, the Word made flesh (Rom 10:6-8; John 1:1, 14). Also, the gospel message itself is the word the Holy Spirit uses to bring the new birth (Ezek 37:4; Jas 1:18, 21). When that inner-transformation occurs, God creates a person whose appetites are not satiated by the world’s word but only by one that is “living and abiding” (1 Pet 1:23-27).
This same word also enlivens, sanctifies, and equips the church. God rules his church through the word and gifts individuals to keep that word before his people (Col 1:23; 1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:9; Jude 3). God even joins us to the church to make us vehicles of transformation as we carry his word to one another, admonishing, rebuking, exhorting, and encouraging (Col 3:16; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 3:16-17). In Hebrews 4:11-13, the word penetrates and stands as what we use to help each other persevere in obtaining the eternal rest. As no surprise, then, it is also the word God uses to conquer the spiritual strongholds of the evil one (Eph 6:15-21).
Therefore, one way we pursue community that regularly makes Christ supreme is by pouring over God’s word together and often. The world has other false stories it wants us living by, as does our flesh and the devil. But only God’s story is true. He sees things about ourselves and the world that we cannot see but desperately need to see. And he has written it down for the sake of our eternal joy in him.
What Might This Look Like in Care Group?
Like the early church, we devote ourselves to God’s word as a care group. That need not take only one form or be limited to a specific occasion. It simply means that when we’re together, the word remains a key part of our fellowship, whether in many or in few, in a group or one-on-one, in formal times of discussion or in spontaneous chats.
Formal Times in the Word
For formal times of discussion, some care groups review the sermon text each week, seeking to square their own lives with the truths therein. Others take up a particular book of the Bible and do the same, asking what the text means, what it reveals about God’s work in Christ, and how we are to follow. One care group even walked through each person’s favorite Bible verse, which was often accompanied by how God used it to transform or encourage them.
A few others have even made use of books written by contemporary Christian authors, who develop a biblical theme and apply it specific ways. Books like Radical and Follow Me by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper, and War of Words by Paul Tripp have been in the mix. Of course, the challenge with using books by contemporary authors will always be to ensure what they teach aligns with Scripture.
Spontaneous Times in the Word
Yet even when not gathering for formal times of discussion, but just going to the park or grilling out in the backyard or playing some board games together—even then, the word will inform our conversations, rule our speech, shape how we speak of the world, and train us to counsel each other in wisdom and grace. A few examples may help.
A Brother’s Rebuke
One time, I had a brother ask if he could speak to me once about the way I handled—or rather, had not handled—a discipline situation with my own son at care group. We met together for lunch later that week. He brought God’s word to bear on my parental neglect and helpfully used it to call my attention to what idols I needed to set down in order to give better attention to my son. I wanted to be part of the discussion; I wanted people to hear my answers; I wanted my time with the group to go “uninterrupted.” And what I wanted left me blind to serving and caring for my son’s soul and behavior. But my brother used the word to open my eyes. To this day, I am grateful.
A Sister’s Encouragement
I’ve also witnessed other sisters encourage each other with words of grace when one or the other were feeling down. No Bible was open before them at the time; the word was spoken to their face from memory. No formal meeting had been called; it was a word that “fit the occasion” and “gave grace to the hearer” (Eph 4:29). No prepackaged discussion questions were in place; the Spirit moved one sister to speak and the other to receive. In that moment, God had written his word on their hearts, and used it from one to set the other free from the darkness of Doubting Castle.
A Difficult Bible Question
At another time at care group, I walked up on a group of brothers discussing a difficult passage from the Old Testament. They were wrestling with its meaning and how it applied to a Christian living on this side of the cross and resurrection. In this particular meeting, the older Christian brother was giving wise counsel to the younger brothers listening. And this was on the same evening we celebrated a baby shower with one of the families. Again, no formal plan in place, only hearts that looked forward to pouring over God’s word together.
So whether formal or informal times, planned or spontaneous occasions, the word is part of our life together in care group. Whenever it’s not, we should find it necessary to ask each other why? For the truth is that God delivered us from slavery to false gods and mute idols (1 Cor 12:2) to serve the living and true God who always speaks for our eternal good (1 Thess 1:5-9; 2:13). Why settle for the bland wisdom of the world, when our spiritual taste buds were made to savor what is truly sweet (Ps 119:103).
What Might This Look Like as Individuals?
Perhaps one place to begin is evaluating your own disposition to God’s word, and asking the Lord to help you treasure it more (Ps 119:25). If he caused us to be born again with the word, then he can certainly help us cherish the word more deeply.
Then, after prayer, take steps to grow in treasuring the word by making Bible intake a priority, setting aside time to read and meditate on it (Ps 119:14, 20, 148). If you are married, husbands you must take the lead in serving your wife in this way (Eph 5:21-33). That includes taking the kids regularly so mom can sit with the word alone. It also includes leading the her and the family in the word through the more disciplined times of family worship and through the God-given moments throughout the day (for more on Family Worship, see Appendix 1). If you are single and desire more accountability in your Bible intake, find a partner to read the Scriptures with. The partner doesn’t have to be single either, only someone willing to come alongside to help. Begin with somebody in your care group if you can, since you will also see them more often.
Talk about what you’re reading (Acts 2:42). Call each other and ask what you read when you can’t see each other in person. Ask what the passage you’re reading means and how it helps you follow Jesus. Be honest with each other when you’re finding the Bible boring, and then pray for God to give light and joy. Perhaps serving others, enduring a rushed morning, or just a poor use of time prevented you from getting in the word one day. Don’t shy away from admitting it—Jesus is our justification, not Bible reading plans—and then ask your brother or sister to feed you with what they read.
Don’t shy away from seeking wisdom from older sisters or brothers, who’ve been walking with the Lord a long time (2 Tim 2:2; Tit 2:1-5; cf. Matt 28:18-20). Ask them to help you understand a passage you didn’t understand. Likewise, older brothers and sisters should pursue their calling in discipling those in the church who are younger, who may need help finding Habakkuk and wonder what in the world to do with the lists in Numbers. Bible studies are available too at Redeemer. A group of men meet at the church on Tuesday mornings (currently in Joshua) and a group of women meet at the church on Thursday evenings (currently in 1 Peter).
If a Bible reading plan helps you stay the course, there are several very good ones available. The ESV Study Bible has several options to review. For myself, I just use four book marks and read a chapter from each part of the Bible per day. I read very slowly, and so this works for me. One bookmark keeps me walking through the Law and Prophets, another through the Psalms and Proverbs, another through the New Testament, and another through whatever book I’m in with Rachel.
The church also follows the Fighter Verse Scripture memory plan, and there are creative ways to memorize Scripture (Ps 119:11, 16). We have a chalkboard in our kitchen for the kids. I know others of you carry index cards—although I may discourage the whole taping them over your speedometer thing. :-) Others of you have partnered with each other before roosters crow to memorize entire books of the Bible—while I’m still staring at the back of my eyelids. Awesome. Memorizing Scripture is a very helpful way to make Scripture your meditation throughout the day, even when you may not be in a context where it’s easy to crack open a Bible and journal (driving…breastfeeding…welding…prison).
There’s one more practical step you might take in Bible intake, and I may write on this more at a later date, and that is preparing to hear the sermon. Use Saturday evening to read through the passage from which the sermon will be. Maybe even discuss it with the family, your wife, or another in your care group. Make it your meditation as you fall asleep and your thoughts on Sunday morning. Note key themes and ask questions that you hope may be answered; and when they’re not, tell the preacher, who may be able to answer it in another sermon. You may see something beneficial to the church that he did not. In any case, reading it beforehand will make listening to the sermon more fruitful and the text a part of you before hearing it preached.
You’re not expected to do all of these at once or any of them exactly the same way. These are simply some ways to step forward in your personal Bible intake. The likelihood is that the more Bible that’s in you as an individual, the more Bible will be in your care group and our church as a whole. And the more Bible that’s in us, the more we will be seeing Jesus, our everlasting joy! And that subject I will take up in chapter three.
- What does your Bible intake look like on a daily and weekly basis? Would you say it is regular or sporadic? Disciplined or lacking discipline? Rich or dry? Discuss with one other person and pray for God to make you hunger for his word even more.
- Do you find yourself able to use the word of God in counseling others? If you do not know how to counsel others, are you quick to return to the word to search for answers or quick to offer your own advice quite apart from the word? If the latter, why?
- Where would you say that you need the most help in understanding the word of God? Are there others in your care group or others in the church who can help you? If so, ask them for further discipleship. Are their ways you can help others to understand the word? How are you pursuing to serve others in this area?
- Would you say that your care group meetings and the relationships therein are saturated with the word? If not, how come? What steps can you or your care group members take to become more word-saturated?
- Do you find it easier to fellowship over shared interests (e.g., football, hobbies, good books, parenting) than to fellowship over the word of God? If so, why?
Resources on Studying God’s Word
- Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
- Nielson, Jon. Bible Study: A Student’s Guide. Philipsburg: P&R, 2013.
- Nielson, Kathleen. Following the Ways of the Word. Philipsburg: P&R, 2011.
- Roberts, Vaughn. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible. Downers Grove, IVP, 2003.
- Wilkin, Jen. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.
- Wright, Christopher. Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.