1.In what ways have you noticed God “pruning” your life? What have you learned from this experience?
God seems to have various methods for pruning those who seek Him, doesn’t He? We see some of those ways in the pages of Scripture (examples: Luke 18:28; 19:1-10). Some refused to be pruned, with sobering consequences (examples: Luke 18:18-23; 2 Timothy 4:10a).
Rather than wait for God’s (possibly) severe pruning, perhaps some self-pruning is in order.”Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment” is an old cliché, but it has a ring of truth. Some folks take on too many jobs at church, and their flurry of activity leaves them physically, men-tally, and spiritually exhausted. A good start maybe to consult with someone who knows you well and will give you frank answers. Ask, “What areas of my life do you think I need to prune back?” Then brace yourself—don’t get defensive at an honest reply!
2.Bearing fruit (not just foliage) is vital. What kinds, qualities, and quantities of fruit do you think Jesus expects you to bear? How do you avoid the trap of perfectionism in this regard?
The first question should naturally bring to mind Paul’s discussion of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26. How those descriptions “play out” in everyday life can make for good discussion. Jesus said that ungodly people can be recognized by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:15-20).Certainly a Christian’s fruit should include bringing others to Christ.
The second question recognizes a real danger. One possible answer will include the idea of having an accountability partner or fellow members of a small group to help us see our motives properly.
3. Jesus’ teaching on remaining faithful would become critical during the persecution that the first-century disciples were to face. What are some specific challenges that your church and her individual members face that cannot be overcome without complete faithfulness?
We sometimes hear that we live in the darkest days (spiritually) of history. But hasn’t every generation of Christians said that? Zoning commissions may try to block construction of a church building because such a structure won’t con-tribute to the local tax base; this is an issue that the first-century church didn’t face. At the level of the individual, sin has always posed a challenge to holiness. Sin may be more apparent today, however, because we live in the Information Age. Pornography is all over the Internet, lurking and waiting to bring the believer to the gutter.
The media often ridicules churches or individual Christians who want to remain consistent to their Christian testimony. Our stories of trials, challenges, and temptations may not always be the same as those of our first-century brethren. But Jesus knows how to help each generation work through its unique issues.
4.How has obedience to Jesus brought joy to your life?
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). God never intended for obedience to be burdensome. Jesus is the one who took away our sin-stigma. Since Jesus manifested His love for us in this way, it should be easier to love one another and to know the joy that comes from being part of His family.
Two extremes regarding obedience must be avoided. Legalism brings back the law in a way that destroys the joy of salvation by grace (com-pare Galatians 3:10-14). License, or “do whatever you want,” may seem fun for a time but will takes out of fellowship with Jesus (compare Jude 4).
5.Here Jesus refers to His disciples as friends. But in John 13:13-16, He affirms His role as Lord. How do you harmonize these? How do you fulfill your roles as both a servant and a friend of Jesus on a daily basis?
Analogies are defined and limited by their contexts. Jesus is God and we are not: in that sense He can be nothing other than Lord and Master. He, however, is not like an ordinary master; He grants us all we need to have, and He even dies for us! Ordinary, earthly masters simply don’t do such things for their servants. We fulfill our roles as both servant and friend ingratitude of this fact.