Bible Study notes

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Bible study notes for  September 21st to 25th

 © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2020. Reproduced with permission.

The links between the lectionary readings for this week’s service

Work links our three readings: Jonah isn’t keen on his job as a prophet, and some of the workers in the vineyard complain about theirs; meanwhile, Paul tries to encourage the Philippians even though they face struggles. The life to which we are called doesn’t always work out as we thought it would.

Ask yourselves these questions as you read

  1. What is this passage about?
  2. What do I hear God’s Spirit saying to me as I read?
  3. What change do I need to make in my life from what I have heard God say?

Take some time in prayer to prepare yourself to read and time in prayer and reflection after reading.

Prayer of approach

God, you know our every thought,

every feeling in our hearts,

every passion in our souls,

every burden that we carry;

thank you for loving us just as we are. 

Speak to us now as we read your word,

And change our hearts, Amen.

Closing prayer

Show me your way; 

help me to know your truth, 

and to live your life. Amen

MondayMatthew 20.1-16

Matthew’s is the only Gospel to include this well-known story of Jesus’ about social and economic issues in first-century Palestine. The vineyard is a common symbol for Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures and in some of Jesus’ other parables, and the landowner is sometimes to be understood as God. But we do not need to make such direct links here. It is not an allegory, depicting life in heaven or on earth (Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ where others say ‘kingdom (or reign) of God’). Rather, it is a story (a parable) using imagery familiar to the audience.

The landowner hires workers according to the ‘steadfast love’ principle and generosity of Psalm 145, rather than the usual worldly/human way of treating workers at the time (or now). This undifferentiated pay policy makes some of the workers angry, and their reaction is just as understandable today. But this is not teaching on how to run a business, it is a parable to illustrate what true compassion means: that no worker’s family should be deprived of their food for the day. It is a message and a challenge as relevant to contemporary economics and ‘zero hours’ contracts as it was 2,000 years ago.

For further reading check out Working preacher.

Tuesday – Jonah 3.10  – 4.11

The ancient city of Nineveh was in modern-day Iraq (then Assyria), on the outskirts of Mosul.

Jonah is not keen on his job as prophet and quite angry with God. At first, he didn’t believe the Gentile Ninevites were worth saving. But he was also pretty sure that God would forgive the people of Nineveh anyway (see Psalm 145.8) – so he thought his role was a bit of a waste of time, and he would be made to look a fool. Even so, God continued to interact with Jonah. A plant grew and Jonah became attached to it. Then the plant died. Jonah was sad, and angry with God again. But God still persisted with Jonah, and reproved him for being more upset about the fate of a plant than the 120,000 inhabitants of Nineveh. As the verse from Psalm 145 says, God is ever merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love.

For further reading check out Working preacher.

Wednesday – Philippians 1.21-30

Philippians was written by Paul from prison, though we don’t know whether from Caesarea in the late AD 50s or Rome in the early 60s. As we have it now, it is a composite of at least two letters that he wrote – 3.1a is clearly the end of one of them.

We pick up the letter after Paul’s greetings to the ‘saints’ in Philippi (v.1), and an assurance of his prayers for them. In the rest of the first chapter, Paul explains his personal struggles to the Philippians, and says that their struggles are like his (v.30). He wants to appear encouraging and commends them for their approach to life in the faith, even when he’s not sure himself if he should stick at it or not (v.22). Paul knows what these struggles are like and how intimidating opposition can be (v.28). He needs the support of the Philippians just as they need his.

Paul makes a good contrast with Jonah. Jonah was afraid to look foolish; Paul presses on with complete fearlessness. Jonah is so miserable he wishes he could die; Paul is so happy in Christ he wishes he could die, in order to be with Christ. Jonah cared nothing for the people of Nineveh; Paul cares so much for the people of Philippi that he would prefer to put off his own final glory if only he can stand by them.

There is also a similarity, for in both books God seeks to address those who have become enemies with a sign. In Jonah, it was Jonah himself, preaching in sackcloth. In Philippians it is the faithful church, confounding its enemies. Paul sees the church’s enemies as lost, but also believes that God is not abandoning them but addressing them through the unity of the church.

For further reading check out Working preacher.

Thursday – Psalm 145.1-8

The verses set for today are a list of praises leading up to what is sometimes called a ‘little creed’ – the description of God in verse 8: The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. This compassion and kindness to all, sometimes translated as ‘mercy’, is central to God’s relationship with us, and is shown in all today’s readings.

For further reading check out Working preacher

Friday – Read the passage that is the focus for this Sunday’s sermon Matthew 21.23-32