Two words can transform the ho-hum atmosphere of a sleepy classroom:
I have seen it happen many times. The conversation is rocking along. The teacher is talking. People are nodding. Someone discreetly looks at their watch. It is not bad; it is just not the kind of thing anyone is going to talk about once they leave. Then, suddenly someone says the magic two words:
“Respectfully, I disagree, teacher, I think. . .”
Heads turn. People set down the bulletin that they had been looking through, skimming over announcements to see if they could find anything interesting. Attention is galvanized.
What are they going to say? Disagree with what? I hadn’t noticed anything I disagreed with. Is a fight going to break out? How do I feel about this?
Effective teachers not only allow members to say, “I disagree.” They encourage it. They elicit disagreement. They design the discussion in such a way that people are almost certain to disagree.
Too many times we are guilty of giving Sunday School answers in Sunday School. Sunday School answers are oversimplification of complex truth. The real truth is nearly always a careful balance between two extremes. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Is Christian living active or passive?
Is Christian living, as some have said it, “Letting go and letting God”? or is it working hard, striving, pushing, straining, running?
Well, it is all according to what verse you read. If you assign these verses to be read, you might come up with the answer that is passive, it is letting go and letting God. It is getting out of the way and letting God in the driver’s seat and letting Him do the driving.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (NIV)
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Ephes. 3:20 [NIV]
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philip. 1:6 [NIV]
You could preach on this for a while. “Christian living is not about us working hard, it is about God working through us. It is about us getting out of the way. It is about us reckoning ourselves to be crucified each day. Crucified people don’t work hard. God lives His life through us.”
Then, if you want to get someone to say, “I disagree” push it a little harder. Say, “Christian living is completely passive, don’t you agree?” Hopefully somebody won’t. Hopefully a healthy debate will ensue. If you do it really well, people will come up to you at church the next Wednesday night and say, “I have been thinking about what we talked about Sunday, and I think. . .”
Alternatively, you could start on the other side. Start with these verses:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (13) Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. 1 Thessalonians 5:13a (TLB)
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Philip. 2:12 [NIV]
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, Col. 3:23 [NIV]
It is a little more difficult to get people to disagree on this side because people naturally think that Christian living is about striving and working hard. Sometimes it is useful to put both sets of verses out there and let people feel the tension. Alternatively, you can assign sides of a debate and assign people to take one side or the other.
Here is a nice verse to wrap up. It brings both sides together.
To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:29 (NIV)
I labor and God labors through me. Unless I understand both sides, I don’t understand the truth.
Let your little light shine
Let’s start with the question: Are we to do our acts of righteousness in a public way so people can see them? In my experience, people will normally answer “No” to this question. To which I respond, “Why then does the Bible say:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 [NIV]
We are instructed by Jesus to let our light shine, to do our good works in such a way that people will see them and give praise to God. If they don’t see them, they won’t give praise to God. We must do our works publically, right? Now, everyone agrees. Somewhat hesitatingly, they all agree. Then I read this verse (in this case, I am disagreeing with myself):
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1 [NIV]
Now, which is it? Are we to do our acts of righteousness before men, so they can see them, or not?
We are about to have a conversation. No one is going to look at their watches. No one is going to thumb through the bulletin. No one is bored. If you do it well, someone will say next week, “Hey, I have been thinking about what we talked about last week and I think. . .”
Need some help?
If you would like some help in putting together lessons that create this kind of tension, consider subscribing to the Lesson Vault. Each lesson has this kind of tension built in. It is only $3.99 for an individual and only $200 a year for your whole church. Three new lessons are added each week that correspond with Lifeway’s Explore the Bible Series, Family Bible Series, and Masterworks Series (my personal favorite) A back log of close to 2000 lessons are available on every topic and text imaginable. You can sign up with or without PayPal. (It is quicker with PayPal and renewals are automated.) No long term commitments; you can cancel any time.
See www.joshhunt.com/vault.htm for details.