Small group Bible study: paradox

small groupMany Religions speak of paradoxes. For example, Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching contains this passage:

"When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good, other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever."
(Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 5)

Christianity, especially in the words of Jesus Christ, contains similar paradoxes:

"And Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.'” (Mark 9:35)

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:1-4)

"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."(Matthew 10:39)

This series will look at different paradoxes in our lives and in theology. What paradoxes are present in your life? What paradoxes have you faced on your faith path? Explore this experience with your small group during this six-week series (also great for individual study, or with a partner).

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for weekly study.

Week one: humility vs. confidence


“David said to the Philistine, 'You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.'" (1 Samuel 45-47)

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?' Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.' 'No,' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.' 'Then, Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!' (John 13: 3-9)

“The temptations in which a person overcomes are attended with a belief that all others are more worthy than himself, and that he is infernal rather than heavenly; for while in temptations such ideas are presented to him; and therefore when after temptations he comes into thoughts contrary to these, it is an indication that he has not overcome; for the thoughts which the person has had in temptations are those to which can be bent the thoughts which he has after the temptations; and if the latter cannot be bent to the former, the person has either yielded in the temptation, or he again comes into similar ones, and sometimes into more grievous ones, until he has been reduced to such sanity that he believes he has merited nothing.' (Secrets of Heaven 2273)

Discussion questions

  • Consider the relationship between humility and self-pity, and confidence and arrogance. Describe the interplay between these different states in your life.
  • How would you react if you were Peter in the story above? Would you let Jesus wash your feet?
  • Where is an area of your life you might be alienating others with your arrogance?


This week when you notice moments of self-pity, pray for true humility. When you notice behaviors or feelings of arrogance, put your focus and confidence in the Lord.

Week two: self-care vs. caring for others



“Jesus entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.' And Jesus answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:38-42)

“When Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, 'Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.'
But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, 'Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.'” (Matthew 26:6-13)

“Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: 'Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.' So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, 'Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?' As she was going to get it, he called, 'And bring me, please, a piece of bread.'
'As surely as the LORD your God lives,' she replied, 'I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.'
Elijah said to her, 'Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: "The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land."'
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.” (1 Kings 17: 7-16)

“The end in view proclaims how each person should be his own neighbor and look after himself first. If his end is to grow richer than others merely for the sake of riches, or for the sake of pleasure, or of eminence and similar reasons, his end is evil, and he does not love the neighbour but himself. But if his end is to acquire wealth so that he may be in a position to look after his fellow citizens, society at large, his country and the church; or likewise so that he may acquire high office to the same end - then he loves his neighbor. The end which motivates his actions makes the man, for his end is his love; everyone has as his first and last end what he loves above all.” (New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 99)

Discussion questions

  • What is your experience of balancing self-care with serving others?
  • Which one is ‘easier’ for you to remember and do?
  • What happens when these two areas of your life are unbalanced?
  • Describe any hesitancy you have around self-care or serving others?


This week, set aside a little time each day to nurture yourself. Take half an hour to read a book, go for a walk around your neighborhood, or do a meditative activity such as yoga. Notice how keeping your own spirit refreshed allows you to care for others.

Week three: acting on your own (as of self) vs. believing in God


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."(John 15:1-8)

“It was also shown that without this freedom, that is, spontaneity or willingness, a person cannot possibly be reformed and receive any heavenly Own; and further that there is more of freedom in temptations than out of them, although the contrary appears to be the case, for the freedom is then stronger in proportion to the assaults of evils and falsities, and is strengthened by the Lord in order that a heavenly Own may be conferred upon a person; and for this reason the Lord is more present with us while we are in temptations.” (Secrets of Heaven 1947)

“Worship of the Lord does not consist in mere belief nor in mere love. Rather it consists in leading a life I accord with His commandments.” (Secrets of Heaven 10645.2)

“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, 'If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.' Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, 'Who touched my clothes?' 'You see the people crowding against you,' his disciples answered, 'and yet you can ask, "Who touched me?"' But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.'” (Mark 5:25-34)

“The more closely we are united to the Lord, the more clearly we seem to have our own identity, and yet the more obvious it is to us that we belong to the Lord. It seems as though the more closely we are united to the Lord the less sense of identity we have.
…Now since anything we do freely seems to be our own because it comes from our love (acting from our love is acting freely, as already noted), it follows that union with the Lord makes us feel that we have freedom and therefore identity; and the closer our union with the Lord, the greater our freedom and our identity. The reason our identity seems clearer is that divine love by its very nature wants to give what it has to others, which means to us on earth and to angels. All spiritual love is like this; divine love most of all. Further, the Lord never forces anyone, because anything we are forced to do does not seem to be ours and anything that does not seem to be ours cannot become part of our love and so be accepted as our own. This is why the Lord is always leading us in freedom, and reforming and regenerating us in freedom.” (Divine Providence 42.5)

Discussion questions

  • In the story from Mark in the readings, describe a time in which you identify with, the confident woman with the issue of blood, or the questioning disciples.
  • Think of moments when you felt close to the Lord. Did you feel like more of your own individual during these times? How about times when you felt distant from God?


Write on a small note card the verse from Psalm 115:1 "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness." This week when you celebrate a little success or a job well done during your day, take time to recite or read and reflect on this psalm.

Week four: providence vs. free will


“I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”(Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)

“God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other.” (True Christianity 457)

“The premise is that for our salvation, divine providence begins at our birth and continues to the end of our life. To understand this, we need to realize that the Lord knows the kind of person we are and the kind of person we want to be and therefore the kind of person we will be.” (Divine Providence 333)

“We must do these (good) things as if we ourselves were doing the, but we must believe that they come from the Lord working with us and through us.” (True Christianity 3)

Discussion questions

  • How do you see the Lord at work around you and in your life?
  • Do you see the Lord in charge? Control? Do you feel you are in control?
  • How do you react when things do not go as your plan?
  • What are your questions about providence and free will?


This week meditate on the scripture “Before you were born, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Consider what it would mean if this were true; if the Lord really were guiding each moment of your life. Even in suffering, hold this idea in your heart, and meditate on the possibility.

Week five: angry God vs. merciful God


“Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” (Joshua 23:16)

“Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” (Isaiah 13:9)

“While the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel.” (Psalm 78:30-31)

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103: 11-12)

“The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”(Psalm 145: 8-9)

“He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’” (John 2: 13-17)

“In reality, God cannot turn away from us or even look at us with a frown.” (True Christianity 56)

“The Lord never curses anyone. He is never angry with anyone, never leads anyone into temptation, never punishes anyone…for such things can never proceed from the Fountain of mercy, peace and goodness.” (Secrets of Heaven 245)

“The Lord is love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure love, thus of pure mercy toward the whole human race, which (love) is such that it wills to save all and make them happy to eternity, and to bestow on them all that it has, thus out of pure mercy to draw to heaven all who are willing to follow…by the strong force of love.” (Secrets of Heaven 1735)

Discussion questions

  • How do you reconcile images of an angry God and a merciful one?
  • Have you experienced what you felt was the wrath of an angry God? The mercy of a loving God?
  • What image of God were you raised with? How has it evolved?


Meditate on the quote from True Christianity 56. As you navigate life, and joys and challenges come up, consider how your life would be transformed if you knew, deep in your heart, the truth of this quote: “God cannot turn away from us or even look at us with a frown.”

Wee six: one way to Heaven vs. many ways to Heaven


“He who is not against us in on our side.” (Luke 9:50)

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. -For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. -But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”(John 3:16-21)

“And the other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

“ In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (John 4:7-8)

“Of how great importance it is to have a just (or proper) idea of God may appear from the consideration that the idea of God forms the inmost of thought with all who have any religion.” (Divine Love and Wisdom 13)

“When a religion has been implanted in a nation, the Lord leads that nation according to the precepts and dogmas of its own religion. He has provided that there shall be in every religion precepts like those in the Ten Commandments….The nation that regards these precepts as Divine and lives according to them from a religious motive is saved.” (Divine Providence 254)

“The Lord provides that everyone who acknowledges God and refrains from doing evil should have a place in heaven.” (Divine Providence 326)

“People who are not Christian but accept one God and live by some type of kindness toward other people according to their religion share a common bond with Christians. No one who believes in God and lives a good life is condemned. So you can see that the Lord’s religion is everywhere in the whole world.” (New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 244)

Discussion questions

  • What is your response to these readings? Is your perspective that there is one way to God? Many?
  • What were you taught as a child on this topic? What are your current beliefs? What questions do you have?


This week, spend time in prayer acknowledging your humility and your unknowing, letting go of control of having all the answers, invite the Lord to guide you on this path filled with uncertainty.

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Daily Inspiration

"The Lord's kingdom consists of mutual love, which is the only thing that affords peace."

Secrets of Heaven 1038:2