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Displaying items by tag: Small Groups
Friday, 14 September 2012 13:36

Books of the Bible for Small Groups

A Small Group Leader’s Look at Books of the Bible Themes and Purposes and how they can be studied in the context of Small Groups


This is a list of all the books of the Bible and their potential use within Small Groups. Each book is given a brief theme and then an overview. Please keep in mind, all the Word of God is profitable and any study of scripture is bound to have lasting value—this list is just a tool for Small Group leaders to be able to quickly consider all the books of the Bible when prayerfully considering what should constitute their next group study.


OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis
Themes: Beginnings
Overview: Genesis explores grand themes such as God’s design, God’s plan, God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness, man’s sin, man’s folly. This is a great study for a wide range of Small Groups. Groups consisting of newer Christians will benefit from exploring foundational Bible stories. Groups with more seasoned members will benefit from a closer, theological examination of the themes that begin in Genesis and weave throughout the rest of Scripture.

Exodus
Themes: Redemption and Deliverance of Israel
Overview: Exodus explores God’s faithfulness and provision to a barely obedient person (Moses) along with a barely obedient nation (Israel). Much of the first 20 chapters will be classic, familiar accounts of God working through Moses. Chapters 21ff focus much more on the laying down of God’s Law for His people. Small Groups studying Exodus would find it most profitable to study chapters 1-20 separately from 21-40. Chapters 21-30 might be better suited to a guided examination of God’s holiness and character reflected in His law.

Leviticus
Themes: Holiness
Overview: Leviticus was the worship manual for the Jewish priests. Often readers get bogged down and bewildered by its bloody details. But if they can get past the unfamiliar nature of sacrificial worship, they will find some great instruction on God’s holiness, atonement, redemption, civil and moral ethics, etc. Just as with Exodus, Small Groups studying Leviticus might benefit most from a guided study of how the law reflects God’s holy character.

Numbers
Themes: Wanderings in the Wilderness
Overview: Certain chapters of the book of Numbers, such as Chapter 13, make for extraordinary rich spiritual material. But as a whole, Numbers is a challenging book for Small Groups. Much of it contained detailed census records interspersed with troubling historical accounts. It does highlight man’s fickle walk with God and thus Small Groups will likely benefit most from examining a few of the historical accounts separately from the law/census sections.

Deuteronomy
Themes: Second Law/Renewed Covenant
Overview: Deuteronomy covers the social, moral and priestly law for the Jews just before they entered the Promised Land. It has some excellent nuggets that speak to every dimension of life. Like pearls of a necklace, it is best to examine the many jewels of Deuteronomy individually.

Joshua
Themes: Conquer and Divide
Overview: Joshua recounts the Jewish conquest of the Promised Land. For the most part, it contains narrative history. The cracks of Israel’s obedience already begin to show and it underscores the need for total obedience to the Lord in all our dealings.

Judges
Themes: Seven Cycles of Defeat
Overview: Judges is a sad reminder of the cycle of sin in our lives. It shows that without the clear Word of God, and without a commitment to obey it, individuals and society rationalize horrendous decisions.

Ruth
Themes: Kinsman Redeemer 
Overview: Ruth is a quick, touching story of God’s provision for Ruth, her mom, and a lonely guy. It has wonderful themes of God’s love, relational love, obedience, truth, faithfulness, loyalty, etc. This is a charming story for Small Groups consisting of couples looking to remind themselves of commitment to God’s ways, to one another, and to family.

1 Samuel
Themes: Transition from Judges to Kings, Theocracy to Monarchy
Overview: 1 Samuel is filled with life-on-life principles that cover the gamut of living for the Lord. It chronicles Samuel’s start, Saul’s rise and fall, and even David’s hopeful life. A through-the-book study through 1 and 2 Samuel would take considerable amount of time, yet the stories and principles uncovered would speak to many dimensions of life for years to come.

2 Samuel 
Themes: David's Reign as King
Overview: 2 Samuel gives us the most detail of any one person outside of the Gospels for Christ. We learn about what makes David “a man after God’s own heart.” We also learn how even the most spiritual saints can fall. 2 Samuel can be studied alone or with 1 Samuel—both methods would be spiritually valuable to a Small Group looking to examine living for the Lord in a variety of circumstances.

1 Kings
Themes: United and Divided Kingdom, Solomon
Overview: 1 Kings picks up with the death of David. It has some powerful lessons in the early chapters. Soon, however, it’s clear that the Jewish heart is not fully sold out for the Lord. The division of the Kingdom and their decent is tragic. Many Christians do not understand Jewish history and even the profound meaning behind terms like “Judah” and “Israel” used throughout the Old Testament are lost when readers are not aware of the nature of the United/Divided Kingdom. 1 and 2 Kings would be most beneficial in Small Groups whose purpose is to convey biblical truth to the members.

2 Kings
Themes: Israel and Judah Fall, Exile
Overview: 2 Kings continues with Israel’s and Judah’s full speed decent toward outright rebellion. While there are a few bright spots, for the most part the spiral marches downward until the end of both kingdoms.

1 Chronicles
Themes: God's view of David
Overview: 1 Chronicles feels very similar to 2 Samuel and 1 Kings however it has a more sympathetic view of God’s people. Just as with 1 and 2 Kings, a study of 1 and 2 Chronicles helps readers understand the rest of the later portion of the Old Testament. Many Christians do not understand Jewish history and even the profound meaning behind terms like “Judah” and “Israel” used throughout the Old Testament are lost when readers are not aware of the nature of the United/Divided Kingdom. 1 and 2 Chronicles could be studied in conjunction with 1 and 2 Kings and would be most beneficial in Small Groups whose purpose is to convey biblical truth to the members.

2 Chronicles
Themes: God's view of the Kings of Judah
Overview: 2 Chronicles is similar to 1 and 2 Kings however it is more sympathetic to God’s people. See comments on 1 Chronicles for the benefits to Small Groups.

Ezra
Themes: Rebuilding the Temple and People
Overview: Ezra begins with the ending of the Jewish exile. The people begin to return to rebuild the temple of God. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that God must work and the people must purify themselves. Like many of the Old Testament historical books, there will be value in learning the accounts contained in Ezra, however, a close study of it would most likely benefit groups that focus on information rather than personal interaction and discussion—though the mixed marriage episode of Ezra 9 will doubtlessly yield much spirited questions! The leader will need to have some answers to the questions that are bound to come up.

Nehemiah
Theme: Rebuilding the Walls
Overview: Nehemiah is often studied by men’s groups for its organizational value. Nehemiah himself was a man who properly mixed reliance upon God with personal diligence. It’s an excellent study on these matters. Certain kinds of Small Groups (e.g. consisting of businesspeople or those looking for leadership principles) will be tempted to study Nehemiah for its principles of organizational management—and while there may be some valid points along the way, we must keep in mind that the purpose of the book is to record God’s amazing work during Israel’s troubled days.

Esther
Theme: Preserving God’s People
Overview: Esther is a simmering story of love, intrigue, betrayal and conquest. The Lord uses Esther and her uncle to save the Jewish people from genocide. Keep in mind that Esther never specifically refers to the Lord, though His hand is implied and evident behind the backdrop.

Job
Themes: Suffering and Sovereignty
Overview: Job is about a righteous man being tested. The first few chapters give a glimpse of the heavenly backdrop to a series of profoundly tragic events in Job’s life. Much of the book, however, centers on the poor counsel of Job’s friends. Only towards the end does the Lord step in and clarify what’s going on. Even then, God’s point is primarily that He is beyond our understanding and that we should trust Him. While there are gems throughout the book of Job (e.g. Job 19:25-26 is an astounding reference to Christ from this early Old Testament book) yet Small Groups studying the book of Job might want to consider focusing primarily on Job 1-3, browsing through chapters 4-37, and then zeroing back on chapters 38-42.

Psalms
Themes: Worship, A Personal Response to the Person and Work of God
Overview: Psalms is often viewed as a worship manual or poetry book. However, it is often classed with “Wisdom Literature” and provides numerous answers to the question: “How should a righteous person live in a sinful world.” While there is much devotional material for worship, there is just as much practical material for living life. The book of Psalms makes for a great Old Testament study into worship, living for the Lord, right thinking, faithful living, etc.

Proverbs
Themes: Wisdom / Fear of the Lord 
Overview: Proverbs is all about wisdom. Wisdom is defined as “fearing the Lord.” This book is replete with practical advice for how to live life successfully (the literal meaning of the word ‘wisdom’). Proverbs is best studied verse by verse, slowly in small bites and through discussion and meditation. Reading too much in one sitting (even a ½ chapter at a time) causes one to lose the weight and impact of what’s been taught. It makes for an ideal study during family devotions where 2-3 verses are read, discussed for 10-15 minutes, and then prayed about. Using a child-friend version allows for even the youngest readers to fully participate.

Ecclesiastes
Themes: Lived Apart from God is Empty 
Overview: Ecclesiastes is similar to Proverbs in practical advice for living a successful life. It has the added theme of also trying to help the reader assemble a rudder for life’s major decisions and how we should view each day of life we receive. Ecclesiastes is easier to study in a Small Group setting, than Proverbs, because of its shorter length and tighter arrangement of verses around thematic elements.

Song of Solomon
Themes: Romance: God's View of Love and Marriage
Overview: Despite the challenges of Song of Solomon (it can be tricky to follow because it jumps from different perspectives without warning) it’s a great study for married couples looking to turn up the dial on “all dimensions” of marital life. Keep the a/c on because an honest and candid discussion over the various passages will make for some very steamy conversation!

Isaiah
Themes: Salvation
Overview: Isaiah is a monument to God’s grace and plan for salvation. It is filled with amazing prophecy, chilling warnings, inspiration and comfort. It makes for a great study with a Small Group—as long as the guide is able to focus on the numerous nuggets and not get bogged down in the numerous details. A thorough understand of Isaiah is foundational to a thorough understanding of the New Testament.

Jeremiah
Themes: Warning of the Last Hour
Overview: Jeremiah faced a nation hostile to the Lord. It is filled with warnings to everyone—from spiritual leaders, to government, to the average person in the community. It is filled with many wonderful portions of scripture, some known to nearly all believers. At the same time, the numerous warnings are so dire and so protracted that a group study would necessitate a guided approach to finding the most relevant content.

Lamentations
Themes: Weeping & Mourning, The funeral of a City
Overview: Lamentations is written from the perspective that God’s holy city of Jerusalem has been sacked. It fully recognizes the validity of God’s judgment upon His people. There are some very beautiful passages but they are set in the midst of some very dark verses.

Ezekiel
Themes: Condemnation, Consolation, and Restoration
Overview: Ezekiel is another challenging book that is best studied by a group with a guide that moves over the more inscrutable sections. While there are some extremely important chapters (such as Ezekiel 36), there are several interpretative challenges that would confuse many Small Groups.

Daniel
Themes: God's Sovereign Plan for Israel 
Overview: Daniel has two very distinct components. On the one hand it recounts the history of Daniel and his friends in Babylon. One the other hand, it foretells God’s redemptive plan with the Messiah. The historical accounts are going to be extremely familiar (e.g. Daniel and the Lion’s Den) whereas the prophetic accounts are going to be both fascinating and confusing and will likely produce much spirited debate; yet lead to a vastly richer appreciation for the precision of God’s prophetic plan.

Hosea
Themes: Loyal Love
Overview: Hosea is a shocking and almost disturbing account of a prophet’s love for his very unfaithful wife. Ultimately, however, it is a picture of God’ loyal love for His people despite their waywardness. With the right guidance, this book can help groups to wrestle with God’s unconditional love as well as the depth of our own sin. It’s a picture of Romans 5:8 in all of our lives. Also note, that there is a Christian movie called “Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea” that provides a faithful rendition of the book. Adding that movie to the study would make for a warm evening of fellowship and edification.

Joel
Themes: The Day of the Lord (In Retrospect and Prospect), Locusts
Overview: Joel is a short book foretelling the coming judgment of God through an army of locusts. It focuses on the Day of the Lord and provides helpful material in learning Eschatology. It would be best studied in conjunction with other prophetic books such as Zechariah, Daniel and Revelation.

Amos
Themes: Social Injustice of Israel
Overview: Amos centers on the social justice of Israel and provides many principles that correspond to life today. A study focused here and there on various sections of this book would provide a helpful look into ethics and our social responsibility.

Obadiah
Themes: Edom's Judgment, Brother's Keeper
Overview: Obadiah contains the prophetic account of the coming judgment on Edom. It’s very short and ultimately very specific in content. It would be best studied in the midst of a larger study on the Minor Prophets.

Jonah
Themes: God's mercy upon Repentant Gentiles
Overview: Jonah is a familiar story about this prophet’s disobedience, punishment, obedience and disappointment with God. All through the book runs the underlying theme that God is faithful to all people even when we’d rather He not be. It has great principles that would be excellent to draw out in the context of a children’s ministry or youth group—adults would benefit too, of course, though the overall study would be limited to a couple of weeks. This book would make a nice introductory study for a group launching into an examination of global missions.

Micah
Themes: Justice of God Versus the Social Injustice of Judah
Overview: Similar to Amos, Micah centers on the social injustices of Israel. It has some themes/principles that clearly cross into life today.

Nahum
Themes: Nineveh's Judgment & Destruction, Flood
Overview: Nahum predicts God’s coming judgment upon Nineveh. Apparently the city soon forgot Jonah’s warnings and they will finally face destruction. This book would be best studied in the midst of a larger examination of the Minor Prophets.

Habakkuk
Themes: Faith & Doubt & Answers
Overview: Habakkuk is about a prophet’s sincere questions towards God and God’s answers. It’s about a man’s faith being tested but ultimately triumphing because of the character and faithfulness of God. Habakkuk could be studied in 5-7 lessons and serve as the framework to a larger examination of apologetics.

Zephaniah
Themes: Future Global Judgment/Day of the Lord
Overview: Zephaniah is a short book covering prophecies of future global judgment as well as future restoration. Like some of the other minor prophet books, it contains helpful material for eschatology but should also be studied in conjunction with the other apocalyptic literature.

Haggai
Themes: A Call to Construct the Temple, Misplaced Priorities
Overview: Haggai is an excellent book often overlooked because it’s placed between two heavily prophetic books. It’s about how the people of God have discounted God, and yet God is calling them to be renewed in their faithfulness to Him. There is much good material for a Small Group study.

Zechariah
Themes: Israel's Comfort and Glory, Preparation for the Messiah
Overview: Zechariah contains numerous important prophecies for both the first and second coming of the Messiah. It’s a great book for the study of Eschatology but needs to be also read along with Daniel and Revelation.

Malachi
Themes: Disintegration of a Nation, Hearts of Stone
Overview: Malachi is another very practical book that is often overlooked. It’s filled with excellent principles for living life well. It’s brief enough that a group won’t get bogged down in it. Malachi makes a great book to go through between other longer portions of scripture.


NEW TESTAMENT


Matthew
Themes: Jesus as King
Overview: Matthew is the account of the life of Christ from a Jewish perspective. A thorough study of Matthew will help the reader develop a greater understanding of Jewish thinking/culture and prophecy.

Mark
Themes: Jesus as Servant
Overview: Mark is often considered to be Peter’s account of the life of Christ. It’s a fast-paced, highly dramatic exciting narrative. At some points, it zeroes in with great detail, at other points it moves swiftly. It’s a great introductory study into the life of Christ.

Luke
Themes: Jesus as the Son of Man, Jesus as the Perfect Man
Overview: Luke is the researched account of the life of Christ. It’s filled with details and precision. It’s meant for the person who has little understanding of Jewish culture and shows that although Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, He is the Savior of all nations.

John
Themes: Jesus as the Son of God
Overview: John is written from a somewhat different perspective than the other three Gospels and covers much more theology. The person studying John will develop a rich understanding of the details of Jesus’ life, but even more, they gain a deep and profound understanding of the person of Jesus. This is one of the best books for a Small Group to work through.

Acts
Themes: Birth and Growth of the Church
Overview: Acts gives the historical account of the birth and growth of the church. It’s filled with exciting and amazing drama. On the one hand, it’s a great study for a group because it renews our passion to serve in this ever-expanding kingdom of God. On the other hand, if the group is made of disparate believers, it might create tension as the group works through questions about God’s miracles for then and now. 

Romans
Themes: The Righteousness of God
Overview: Romans is Paul’s theological treatise on salvation. It’s about how sinful people (us) can be reconciled to God. Many groups study Romans only to find out that some of its doctrines and themes can become quite daunting. It’s really a terrific study, but the group needs to know that they will be challenged at every level as they work through the material. Leaders should be certain that the group is ready for this kind of commitment before launching into Romans—more than one group has shrunk as the less-than-committed members are not ready or willing to take on the challenges of Romans.

1st Corinthians
Themes: Correction/Condemnation
Overview: 1 Corinthians is Paul’s letter to a church that’s gotten off the right path. Paul’s tone is highly corrective. There is much wonderful, practical, vital material throughout this book and covers everything from pride, to personal purity, to lawsuits, to relationships with others, to marriage, to order in worship, spiritual gifts, to tithing, to Christ’s return, etc.

2nd Corinthians
Themes: Defense of Paul’s Apostleship
Overview: 2 Corinthians is Paul’s sequel to the first letter. Apparently the first letter caused some stir and this is Paul’s answer. It is filled with comforting, consoling words. It reflects Paul’s heart. Like 1 Corinthians, this second letter is filled with practical life-on-life principles and would make a great second study for a Small Group.

Galatians
Themes: Justification by Faith
Overview: Galatians is all about getting the doctrine of justification right. It’s a sharp, fast study into the purity of the Gospel. Likewise, towards the end, Paul gives those familiar verses on walking by the fruit of the Spirit. This book makes an excellent study for groups consisting of members who have come out of a ritual-based understanding of having a relationship with God.

Ephesians
Themes: New Life in Christ 
Overview: Ephesians is an excellent study for a Small Group that is just beginning. It has two divisions, Chapters 1-3 covers our position in Christ. Chapters 4-6 explain how to live that out. It’s a wonderful balance of solid and profound theology intermixed with practical application for life.

Philippians
Themes: Joy and Unity in Christ
Overview: Philippians is often called “God’s Guide to Joy.” Indeed it is, but it’s also much more. It could just as easily be called, “God Guide to Relationships” as Paul helps put in place right thinking so that the Philippian church would have right relationships with the world, their enemies, false teachers, close friends, and less-than-close “friends.” It makes for a great study for a newer Small Group or one that is looking to deepen the fellowship between believers.

Colossians
Theme: All-Sufficiency of Christ
Overview: Colossians is very similar to Ephesians in theme and content, just shorter. It’s a great study for a new group because it focuses on Christ, on our relationship with Him and how that relationship should impact every area of our life. It’s one of the best studies for a Small Group that is just starting out.

1st Thessalonians
Themes: The Model Church
Overview: 1 Thessalonians contains Paul’s happy letter to a church that enjoyed his commendations. They were already living faithfully and just needed some more encouragement for life. This book would make a great, practical study by any group. It also contains some eschatological doctrines too spice-up the group’s discussions.

2nd Thessalonians
Themes:– Work While You Wait, Comfort and Correction
Overview: 2 Thessalonians contains more exhortation than its predecessor. It contains a higher percentage of eschatology and should be studied by a group after they’ve worked through 1 Thessalonians.

1st Timothy
Themes: Shepherd’s Manual, Directions to a Young Pastor
Overview: 1 Timothy is an extremely important book for the setup of the church leadership. It contains numerous exhortations to the pastor about doctrine, teaching, example, false teachers, etc. Likewise, it lays out in detail the qualifications for those in leadership. Although 1 Timothy is essentially a manual for pastors, it should be read and studied by every believer. The principles it contains are not just for leadership, but for everyone.

2nd Timothy
Themes: Soldier’s Manual- Ministry is a battle to be fought
Overview: 2 Timothy is similar in usefulness to 1 Timothy. It goes over similar ground for teaching, conduct, etc. It is somewhat shorter and is best studied by a Small Group that is going through the Pastoral Epistles together (e.g. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus).

Titus
Themes: Adorning the Doctrine of God
Overview: Titus is similar to 1 and 2 Timothy in content and purpose. It was written to Titus to guide him in establishing churches. It is more practical and life-on-life than the Timothy epistles. There is so much personal content in Titus that it even makes a great group study independent of the other Pastoral Epistles.

Philemon
Themes: From Bondage to Brotherhood, Slave to Saint
Overview: Philemon is a short letter from Paul to Philemon about an escaped slave. It’s a quick read and most certainly will be bundled together with other of Paul’s letters. It does highlight principles about the transformation of a person, forgiveness, faithfulness, etc.

Hebrews
Themes: The Superiority of Christ 
Overview: Hebrews is a deep and profound study into the supremacy of Christ. This book works through many important Old Testament teachings and shows how they pointed to Christ, were fulfilled in Christ and how they are surpassed in Christ. The group that studies Hebrews together sets out on a course towards a deeper understanding of Christ, greater understanding of our calling as His kingdom people and even a greater understating of our mutual role towards one another.

James
Themes: True Faith Works 
Overview: James is a series of intensely stated but extremely practical points for practical living. It’s a favorite for Small Groups because every week has something for everyone. It’s a great study and just the right overall length.

1st Peter
Themes: The Christian Response to Suffering
Overview: 1 Peter is an important and helpful book for many dimensions of Christian living. It speaks to attitudes of the heart—our approach to the Word, to instruction, to our identity, to the church, to Christ, to family, to trials. It’s an excellent study for a Small Group.

2nd Peter
Themes: Character and Counterfeit Christianity
Overview: 2 Peter primarily warns of false teachers. It covers some very important groundwork for understanding how we got God’s truth and what it means to have counterfeit truth. If studied along with Jude, this would be a great book to work though for a group hoping to have a better understanding of the times in which we live relative to the warnings of the Lord.

1st John
Themes: The Tests of Eternal Life
Overview: 1 John is all about examining ourselves in light of who we are in Christ. Over and over, John lays out principles that true believers will follow. The implied warning is that if these principles are not true in our lives, then we should examine our faith to be sure it’s real. The book of 1 John covers great themes of fellowship, holiness, love, relationships, Christ, God, etc. It makes an excellent study for Small Groups.

2nd John
Themes: Lookout for False Teachers
Overview: 2 John is much shorter than 1 John and basically a warning from the apostle that we must be on the lookout for false teachers. It’s so short that it will most likely be studied with other books. Ideally, it would be examined along with 2 Peter and Jude.

3rd John
Themes: Care for the Saints 
Overview: 3 John resets ground covered by 2 John reinforcing the principles that while we need to watch false teachers (2 John) we need to also lovingly take care of the saints.

Jude
Themes: False Teacher X-Ray
Overview: Jude is very similar to 2 Peter. It’s an X-Ray study on the inner workings and claims of false teachers. It contains much useful material for analyzing today’s religious hucksters. Groups looking to firm up their commitment to sound instruction should study Jude along with 2 Peter.

Revelation
Themes: The Return of Jesus Christ
Overview: Revelation is the final prophecy of God’s Word for the end times. It’s written in apocalyptic language that is difficult to understand and open to interpretation. There is much practical material as well, but usually that material is buried within prophecy. Revelation ends up being a very challenging study for Small Groups because a solid understanding requires real work, especially by the leader. Without a strong, clear commitment to verifiable truth, a group study of Revelation can quickly break down into heated debates about personal opinions.
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