"As Was His Custom"
Following the habits of Jesus
For unto us a Child is born,” Isaiah prophetically penned more than 700 years before the birth of Christ (Isa. 9:6). More than 1,700 years after Christ’s birth, the great composer, George F. Handel, set those prophetic words to music in the mighty oratorio Messiah. During the month of December this masterful work is performed in countless concert halls, auditoriums, and churches as people around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As we remember the wonderful event of Christ’s birth, and that He is indeed “Emmanuel . . . God with us” (Matt. 1:23, KJV), let’s take the opportunity not only to remember His birth, but also to consider the ways that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
The Habits of Jesus
Studying the life of Christ during His public ministry, we notice certain customs, or habits, that He no doubt developed during His childhood.
In Mark 1:35 we see Jesus in the morning, “having risen a long while before daylight, He went out . . . to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Later, in Mark 10:1, we see multitudes gathering around Him, “and as He was accustomed, He taught them again.” Luke 4:16 shows Jesus returning to Nazareth, “where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”
These habits were so much a part His life that we see them recorded several times in the Gospel writings.
Habits Are Powerful
Habits—the things that we do over and over again almost automatically—are so powerful that in many ways they make us who we are.
The end of another year offers us an opportunity to take inventory of our customs, of the habits that guide our lives—especially our spiritual habits. Are we in the habit of talking with God every day through the lifeline of prayer? Is it our habit to spend thoughtful time in God’s Word every day? Do we habitually fellowship with other believers, studying and worshipping together, and reaching out to a world in need?
One way that I have found to encourage these habits in my own life is by attending Sabbath school each week. Sabbath school, I believe, is the most interesting and exciting part of Sabbath worship and interaction. This is not to discount the church service, but those who miss out on Sabbath school are missing out on the most practical aspect of Sabbath church involvement—a dynamic opportunity to have your personal spiritual life grow and mature through small group fellowship, mission opportunities, interactive Bible study, and prayer.
Connecting With Our World Family
A strong Sabbath school program devotes time for emphasis on the mission of the church, and provides opportunities to actively participate in that mission, both locally and globally. It provides an important link with the world family. If we focus only on our own congregation and miss Sabbath school with its mission-oriented setting, we lose the connection between the local church and our 18 million brothers and sisters around the world. But when the local churches are involved with world mission—giving time, attention, and offerings to support that mission—they will find that God will abundantly bless their local work as well.
“Our brethren have not discerned that in helping to advance the work in foreign fields they would be helping the work at home,” wrote Ellen White, “for the prosperity of the home work depends largely, under God, upon the reflex influence of the evangelical work done in countries afar off. It is in working actively to supply the necessities of the cause of God that we bring our souls in touch with the Source of all power.”1
I have seen this happen many times in our local church—as we give generously in mission offerings, offerings for local church budget and local outreach activities also increase.
A number of helpful resources are available to promote mission in your Sabbath school at every age level, provided free by Adventist Mission at www.adventistmission.org.
Fellowship and Bible Study
The small group setting of Sabbath school classes is ideal for fellowship and prayer. Often members grow closer as they share concerns and praise and pray together at the beginning of class. This is also a good time to notice who might be missing and make a point of giving the person an encouraging call or visit during the upcoming week.
The Sabbath school class is a place for significant Bible study and discussion, where sharing together from our personal study during the week deepens our own understanding of Bible texts.
Following the example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), we will be better prepared in these last days to avoid Satan’s numerous deceptions.
As we approach the Bible, it is so important that we understand it as the authentic Word of God, written by “holy men of God [who] spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The Bible transcends time and culture, speaking truth throughout the ages, but unfortunately, that truth is being severely tested today.
“In our day, as of old, the vital truths of God’s word are set aside for human theories and speculations,” wrote Ellen White.“Many professed ministers of the gospel do not accept the whole Bible as the inspired word. One wise man rejects one portion; another questions another part. They set up their judgment as superior to the word; and the Scripture which they do teach rests upon their own authority. Its divine authenticity is destroyed. Thus the seeds of infidelity are sown broadcast; for the people become confused and know not what to believe.”2
As Seventh-day Adventists we are strong believers in the historical-biblical approach of biblical interpretation, rather than the historical-critical method, which places human beings in the position of deciding which portions of the Bible (if any) are inspired, and which are not.
The Rule of Faith
The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (ABSG), prepared quarterly by the General Conference for use worldwide, provides a wonderful way to study the Bible every day in preparation for sharing together during the Sabbath school class. Two quarters of study are on books of the Bible, while the other two present various topical studies. In addition to printed standard and teachers’ guides, the ABSG is offered free online atwww.absg.adventist.org/Standard.htm.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to sit in a variety of Sabbath school classes, and have seen teachers who take the time to encourage each person to share how that week’s lesson has related to what was going on in their lives. After class members have shared from their personal experiences, the teacher leads the class in a Bible-oriented discussion, in which members read from the Bible and discuss the lesson in the context of the Bible. Once in a while, when the discussion wandered into unrelated topics or opinions, the teacher redirected the class back into examining the biblical passages.
On the other hand, I’ve attended some classes in which the teacher provides more of a sermon rather than a vibrant, interactive study, and in these cases perhaps the counsel of Ellen White would be especially helpful: “Do not make the Sabbath school lessons dry and spiritless. Leave the impression upon the mind that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is our rule of faith, and that the sayings and doings of men are not to be a criterion for our doctrines or actions.”3
A Great Light
Of the many beautiful scriptural passages Handel chose to use in his work Messiah, a very poignant emphasis and theme comes from Isaiah 9:2: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. And they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
As we seek to grow in our own Christian experience in the coming year, let’s take every opportunity to walk in the light provided by God’s Word (see Ps. 119:105), and by studying and sharing together with brothers and sisters in Christ as we make it our “custom” to make Sabbath school a nonnegotiable part of our Sabbath experience!
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, p. 27.
2 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 39.
3 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Sabbath School Work (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1938), p. 84.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.