This is The Living Word Bible Study for January 31, 2021 (Year B) TLW04B.
The readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary which is shared by many denominations worldwide. Our approach is non-denominational and non-liturgical and we take the readings in their Bible order of progressive revelation from OT through NT gospel (pre-resurrection) to NT letter (post-resurrection) and let the story emerge. Read the passages as they stand first, let the Holy Spirit begin to speak to you about them and then dig deeper with the verse-by-verse commentary and reflection notes. There’s a print edition available to download in a couple of places, and permission to copy for yourself or for a church bulletin or church small groups.
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 — A prophet is foretold who will speak God’s words to the people
Mark 1:21-28 — Unlike the official scribes Jesus taught with divine authority
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 — Slogans bandied about in Corinth were arrogant opinions, not inspired teaching.
And also read: Psalm 111
Theme: Teaching with authority is distinct from holding opinions
• See this linked article God’s word comes through God’s words
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 — Another prophet like Moses foretold
The Israelites at Sinai had appealed for someone to speak to them for God
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.
“God will raise up” — a true prophet was called and equipped by God alone.
“A prophet like me” — In the context (and v.16) this points to a line of prophets who, like Moses, bring divine revelation to the people. But its second meaning is an expectation for a Messianic ‘new Moses’ which Jesus uniquely fulfilled.
• For further study, see Deut. 34:10-11; John 1:21, 25, 45, John 5:46, John 6:14, John 7:40; Acts 3:22-26, Acts 7:37.
16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.”
“You asked… at Horeb” — or Sinai, where “the people… trembled… and said…”Do not have God speak to us or we will die”, when the law was given, Exodus 20:18-21; Hebrews 12:18-21.
17-18 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put My words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
“Like you from among their fellow Israelites” — Moses will be succeeded by prophets who will continue to reveal God’s purpose.
“I will put My words in His mouth” — prophets speak what God gives them to say, His will. It may include a future bearing because God is outside our idea of a timeline. Peter counts this as fulfilled in Jesus Christ in his Pentecost sermon, Acts 3:22-23.
19-20 “I Myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in My name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
“Anyone who does not listen” — not to heed the the person sent by God is not to listen to the sender.
SUMMARY Moses reflects on the terrifying experience of the law being given at Sinai, and the people’s plea that they should have a prophet to be an intermediary to speak God’s words to them.They are fearful of another encounter like Sinai. Moses assures them that a prophet will be raised up to speak for God to the next generation — and so on. Over time, there was a growing Jewish belief that this word foretold a particular Messianic leader, which it did — Jesus, whose role was that of prophet, priest and king.
APPLICATION A prophet seems to have been raised up by God in every generation, but there were gaps. When Samuel heard God’s voice in the tabernacle, this was an unfamiliar experience to people of that time, when national faith in God had sunk to a low ebb, and the tabernacle itself was mired in sin. Much later, following Malachi but before Jesus, faith in God was conflicted. Some of the apocrypha writings reflect this, which is why they are not part of the canon of Scripture. There had been a gap of about 400 years when John the Baptist started to minister. The word that comes with God’s anointing, authority and clarity, as contrasted with the opinions of the scribes, was badly needed.
QUESTION Who can you think in our time that God has raised up to speak for His justice and change?
NEW TESTAMENT GOSPEL READING
Mark 1:21-28 — Jesus delivers a demonised man in Capernaum synagogue
People were amazed how Jesus taught with authority, unlike the official scribes
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
“Capernaum” — a prosperous fishing town on the north-west corner of the Sea of Galilee, it was home to some of the disciples and Jesus’ base during the time of His Galilean ministry. By contrast, Nazareth is only mentioned once in the gospels.
“Went into the synagogue and began to teach” — visiting teachers were often invited to take part of the worship service. During the exile, synagogues arose as village centres where Jews could worship and study the Scriptures.
22 The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
“Teachers of the law” — professional scholars who copied the Scriptures, teaching and interpreting them for the people. Many, like Nicodemus, John 3:1-21, were associated with the Pharisee group.
“One who had authority” — His own forceful and personal teaching. The scribes relied on quoting other teachers.
23-24 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!”
“Possessed by an impure spirit” — the demon was speaking through the man. Demonic influence and deception is a common battle in our thoughts, but possession is where the stronghold has taken over the person’s life. Like all demons, it is terrified by Jesus.
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”
“Be quiet” — Jesus could rebuke the demon directly. If we are sure of our new identity in Him, we may command in His name.
26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey Him.”
“Orders to impure spirits” — or demons, a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry, also showing His authority to teach.
28 News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
“News about Him spread” — Mark contrasts people who responded gladly to the good news with the religious establishment who worked against Jesus.
• For further study, see Mark 1:32,34,39; Mark 3:11,22; Mark 5:1-20; Mark 7:24-30; Mark 9:14-27.
SUMMARY Jews received teaching in their synagogues week by week, mainly from from scribes. These were professional scholars of the law, what we call the OT, qualified by serving a formal apprenticeship under an established rabbi. Most belonged to the Pharisee group, and their teaching would have been a legalistic and moralistic kind of homily. Jesus, did not put people under law, but released them into the reality of knowing God. He said that the truth would set them free and He wanted to see them released from the demands of Scripture treated as a rulebook.
APPLICATION Do we teach like Jesus or reduce the Bible to rules and rituals? The key, surely, is having the authority that Jesus had through close relationship with Him and the Father and being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading. The people of Jesus time were amazed at the kind of teaching that healed, delivered and changed lives. People of our time are similarly wary of a religion that is acted out, but hungry for what is life-giving and hope-imparting.
QUESTION Some churches struggle for members and money, while others start building projects to accommodate more people. What does this passage tell us about the difference?
NEW TESTAMENT LETTER READING
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 — A question of conscience about pagan feasts
The slogans bandied about by some in Corinth betrayed a spiritual arrogance
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
“Now about” — this was an answer to a question the Corinthian Christians had written in a letter to him (now lost).
“Food sacrificed to idols” — temples sacrificed parts of animals and doubled as meat markets, and public meeting places where people gathered for feasts. Christians in Corinth were inclined to compromise their Christian values by continuing to socialise in this way.
“We all possess knowledge” — an arrogant disregard of those who were more conscientious.
2-3 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.
“Do not yet know as they ought” — or “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much” (NLT). On one level pagan idolatry was just custom, but on another it invited demonic interference.
“Whoever loves God” — probing whether they really had a relationship with God and the witness of the Spirit about what was right and wrong. Their dogmatic statements called this into question.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”
“An idol is nothing” — Paul agrees that the slogan is true but takes issue with the spirit in which it is repeated.
5-6 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
“Many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ — there may be so-called gods (NLT, TPT); some were outright fakes and some were manifestations of demons (MacArthur).
“One God, the Father… one Lord, Jesus Christ” — clear affirmation of the essential equality of the Father and the Son.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
“Still… accustomed to idols” — former pagans used to appeasing deities still carried a fear of the consequences of rejecting them. Placing their trust in Christ and His grace alone, was a struggle.
8-10 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?
“No worse… no better” — food is spiritually neutral. Those who supposed that they possessed the superior “knowledge” of v.1 and v.4 that gave them leave to participate in pagan temple dinners, did not have the special standing with God they assumed.
“If someone… sees you… eating in an idol’s temple” — it was the wrong example and encouragement to give to others in the fellowship.
11-13 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
“When you sin against them in this way” — a strong warning to keep away from questionable things that could cause others to stumble.
SUMMARY Paul is replying to a letter which we do not have, but we have the answers and so we can work out the questions it contained. This section deals with whether or not a Christian should participate in the festival meals at pagan temples, or buy their meat there. Some Christians in Corinth saw themselves as being spiritually a bit superior, and thought staying away from pagan practices, and modelling good Christian living to others, didn’t apply to them. Paul debunks this arrogant attitude and points out that we all have responsibility to set an example and to build up the faith of the fellowship as a whole.
APPLICATION This young church in Corinth had grown, but its success seems to have produced a breed of know-alls who weren’t encouragers to the others in the body. We can tell from Paul’s letters how the church was hampered by the lack of mature leadership, in a culture where strong opinions ruled. This attitude brought into the church was crowding out godly wisdom and anointed biblical teaching. It happens today. We can all think of church buildings, once full of saints and their singing, now repurposed as pubs, bookshops or furniture warehouses.
QUESTION How do we accommodate folk religion and traditions with pagan roots, without compromising our values or alienating the very people we want to reach?
PRAYER Father God, thank You for Jesus. Build us up in Him and set us more and more free by the message that comes with the authority of the Holy Spirit and the simplicity His lakeside teaching. Give us each, in our own way, the ability to speak for You and be part of a revival of new life in Jesus. To His glory we pray, Amen.
And also read: Psalm 111
Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.
2 Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.
3 Glorious and majestic are His deeds, and His righteousness endures for ever.
4 He has caused His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
5 He provides food for those who fear Him; He remembers His covenant for ever.
6 He has shown His people the power of His works, giving them the lands of other nations.
7 The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He provided redemption for His people; He ordained His covenant for ever — holy and awesome is His name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To Him belongs eternal praise.
TLW04B Jan 31 PRINT EDITION Download the PDF here to print on A4 paper and produce a four-page Bible-size handout. Permission given to copy for your own use, your home group or for giving out with a church bulletin (week in advance).