Summary: Levels of Content in Paul’s Teaching

Levels of Content in Paul’s Teaching



I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.

Calvin Coolidge.

1. Theme Level - At this level the case study discussion concentrates on explaining the central subject ideas. Emphasis is placed on locating the topics within the case study that can be focused on. Questions should be asked on a whole range of dimensions of the subject for proper analysis. Help your group ask informational, analytical, and applicational questions about the main themes. Learn to ask questions that explore the whole range of the "what, why, when, where, who, what if, and how tos of the matter. Seek to move the group through astute observations, interpretations, applications, correlations, evaluations, and illustrations of the theme in their contexts. Notice that Paul, the apostle stayed on the theme level throughout most of the book of Romans. He surveys the spiritual condition of all mankind. He finds the similarities of Jews, Greeks, and all Gentiles in that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. He shows how Christ provides redemption through his substitutionary payment for the past, present, and future sins. Discussion on doctrines are effective on this thematic level, but unless a leader takes the interaction to the lower levels, the members will not have a chance to remove their masks of unbelief, misunderstanding, or lack of completion obedience. The topical level is fine for starters, but is insufficient when a discussion leader wants to bring the teaching to the personal applicational levels.

2. Group Level - At this second level, the case study discussion moves its attention to identifying the common points of interests within the group. For example, a case study may be talking about urban church planting, but the group may point out the religious and social hindrances that they all can identify with from their knowledge of urban church planting. Often it is difficult to help a group make the transition from a thematic to a group level unless someone is able to link the members of the group together around shared interests. This requires a selfless leader who is willing to defer his own interests for the sake of unity in the group. Since many Africans are eager to find a sense of community in groups, this is far easier than in western groups where remaining objective often leads people to be too individualized to share their intimate interests with a group. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians on this level seeking to emphasize the great goal of the church. The letter opens with a discussion on how the blessings of God form a basis for our unity in Christ. Through the wisdom, purposes, and forethought of God, all men are able to break down the barriers between them. The climax of God’s purposes are then to be found when the times will have reached their fulfillment bring all thing in the universe under Christ. (Eph. 1:11) Then Paul says, "until we all reach UNITY in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4:13) As Paul seeks to bring the Ephesians together in complete humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing one another in love, then they can make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:2,3) Paul knew that doctrines that are not expressed in the unity of the body become merely platitudes that the world considers only on a Platonic level. A good discussion leader helps take the principles of the case studies and finds how these are unifying factors for believers. Without a commitment to unification of the group, very few individuals are able to accomplish the full will of God. Just as their is strength in unity so there is also support, power, and the fulfillment of the His intentions for us to live as synergizing members of His body - the church.

3. Individual Level - This is a level of discussion that many struggle to reach because it involves risking exposure and criticism from other members in the group.

However, when the case studies move to the level of personal applications they are starting to bridge ideals with reality.

Help the groups to make personal statement about the case studies that show how you as the leader struggle with issues. Do not be afraid of revealing your own feelings of inadequacy about points in the case study. The more the leader reveals, the more the group members will feel that it is safe to share their own problems. Proper diagnosis can only occur when root causes of problems are clarified. Our levels of spiritual commitment are brought to the light when we are willing to share our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Paul shared how he endured much persecutions as Phillippi before coming to the Thessalonians. He wrote, "For our appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us." (I Thes. 2:4-8) Paul uses personal language to communicate the depth of his love, understanding, and relations with the Thessalonians. Case study leaders should learn to reveal his own concern for the people as more than just group participants. Allow the case study to guide you into revealing your own needs, struggles, and goals. Let the case study expose areas of inadequacy in your own life so that others will also feel open to share areas of weakness. Help people to not only relate the case study to their past feelings, but their present and future expectations as well.

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