Introduction: What does God expect of you when dealing with others?
Is it possible to attend church each week, know the Bible, and yet
utterly fail to follow God as a practical matter? How do we “wage
love” in our everyday life? Is “tough love” a way to wage love? Let’s
jump into our lesson and find out what Isaiah has to say!

  1. Hollow Eagerness

    1. Read Isaiah 58:1. God has a message for the people. Is it
      a good or bad message? (Bad. The message is that the
      people are rebels and sinners.)

    2. Read Isaiah 58:2. How would you seek out God? What would
      you do if you were eager to know about God? (This seems to
      say that these people were Bible readers. They wanted to
      learn more about God.)

      1. Did these people want to follow God? (Verse 2 tells
        us that they wanted God to make decisions in their

      2. How can those who are eager to learn about God, those
        who are anxious to have God be the decision maker in
        their lives, also be rebels?

      3. What do you think is the reason why these people are
        failing to properly follow God? (Verse 2 repeats the
        phrase, “seem eager.”)

  2. Works that Matter

    1. Read Isaiah 58:3. What do you think of people who do good
      works to be seen?

      1. What if they do good works for God to see?

      2. What problem do we begin to see with these people?
        (It is obvious that they are not following God, for
        they “do as [they] please.” Their “eagerness” to
        follow God turns out to be twisted into an eagerness
        to do what they want.)

        1. What is wrong with exploiting your employees?

        2. Compare the idea in verse 2 (that the people
          seek just decisions from God) with the verse 3
          information (that they are unjust with their

    2. Read Isaiah 58:4. Now that you know these people exploit
      those within their control, and quarrel and fight, look
      again at the statements in verse 2 that they were eager to
      know God and they did what was right. How can all of these
      statements be true? (Notice that verse 2 says they “seem
      eager … as if they were a nation that does what is
      right.” This is only the appearance of being eager.
      Although these people are seeking God out, the lessons
      they learn are not applied to the important matters of

      1. How would you describe these people? (Insincere. What
        they know about God is not making any difference in
        their lives.)

      2. How about you – has your knowledge of the Bible
        changed how you live?

    3. Read Isaiah 58:5. What kind of fast are these people
      giving to God?

    4. Read Isaiah 58:6. What kind of fast does God want from us?

      1. Let’s be practical a minute here. After all, it seems
        that these verses are asking us to be more practical
        and less theological. What can you personally do to
        stop injustice and oppression?

    5. Read Isaiah 58:7. Are these practical ways to fight
      injustice and oppression?

      1. Notice the link between fasting and helping the
        hungry. Fasting is denying yourself food. God says
        that fasting (not consuming food) should have a
        practical application: giving food to those who are
        hungry. Is your church involved in practical

      2. Just because a person is hungry and homeless, is it
        justice to help them?

        1. Would it be justice sometimes not to help them?

        2. What about this idea of “tough love?” Is it love
          to withhold help at times?

    6. Let’s skip down and read Isaiah 58:10, a parallel text. If
      you read Isaiah 58:7 and 10, what is our obligation to the
      less fortunate?

      1. Are there any limitations on this? Do these verses
        make any provision for “tough love?” (Recall that
        verse 6 links our help to the needy with “justice”
        and breaking the yoke of oppression.)

    7. Read 1 Timothy 5:3-13. The Bible consistently mentions
      widows for our special attention and help. Yet Paul writes
      that only worthy widows should be helped by the church.
      How can you reconcile Paul’s “tough love” advice to
      Timothy with Isaiah’s statements about fighting injustice
      and oppression by helping the hungry? (I have not been
      able to completely reconcile these two in my mind. Isaiah
      says “help the hungry,” and Paul says, “Wait a minute,
      spend your resources on those who merit help.” The common
      link between the two is the goal of being just. A recent
      report by Rector and Johnson entitled “Understanding
      Poverty in America,” published in Insider (Heritage
      Foundation), disclosed that for 25 years there was no net
      change in the poverty rate of children of single-mother
      families. In 1996, welfare reform required these mothers
      to either prepare for work or get a job as a condition of
      receiving state aid. The results were dramatic. The
      poverty rate for these children fell from 53.1% in 1995 to
      39.8% in 2001. Instead of being idle (1 Tim. 5:13), these
      mothers went to work and brought their children out of
      poverty. Isaiah wrote of hunger, and hunger is generally
      not a problem for the poor in the United States. This same
      report revealed that 47.3% of poor adult women in the U.S.
      were overweight while only 32% of non-poor women were
      overweight. Obesity for U.S. women is positively linked to
      poverty. We need to put our Christian beliefs into
      practical action and we need to be “just” in doing it.)

    8. Let’s continue with Isaiah. Read Isaiah 58:8-9a. After
      telling us to help the hungry and the poor, Isaiah tells
      us what to expect. What should we expect? (That God will
      help us when we have needs.)

      1. Do you want God to help you only when you are

      2. If you believe in “tough love” and that only the
        “worthy poor” should be helped, are you willing to
        have that same standard applied to you?

        1. What if you are suffering from heart problems
          because you were not careful about diet and
          exercise? Should you refrain from asking God for
          help to heal your heart?

    9. Read Isaiah 58:9b-10. We already read verse 10. What other
      practical problem of every day life does God ask us to
      avoid? (“The pointing finger and malicious talk.”)

      1. How are “pointing fingers” and malicious talk a “yoke
        of oppression?” (People can easily be oppressed by
        words and gossip.)

      2. What does it mean that our “night will become like
        the noonday?” (It means that good and glorious things
        will happen as a result of our practical

    10. Read Isaiah 58:11. What will happen to us if we avoid
      malicious talk, help the oppressed, fight injustice and
      help the poor and hungry?

      1. By helping others do we help ourselves? (That seems
        to be Isaiah’s precise point.)

  3. Sabbath Matters

    1. Read Isaiah 58:13. This is a real relief. The only parts
      of my body that I need to be careful about on the Sabbath
      are my feet! Is that what this text means? (“Your feet”
      relates to the later phrase “going your own way.” It is
      not speaking literally about your feet, but rather the
      course of your actions on Sabbath.)

      1. How is it possible to call the Sabbath “a delight”
        and at the same time refrain from doing what pleases
        you? (Isaiah is not saying we should not do anything
        that brings pleasure to us. He means “doing anything
        you please.” Our behavior on Sabbath should please
        God. The goal is to delight in doing what pleases

      2. Are our “Sabbath words” important? (Verse 13 tells us
        to avoid “speaking idle words.”)

    2. Read Isaiah 58:14. We tend to say, “I’m justified by
      faith, and therefore I no longer need to be especially
      careful about the Sabbath.” Is salvation the goal of
      proper Sabbath-keeping? (Proper Sabbath-keeping brings joy
      and blessings. We look too narrowly when we say, “Well,
      this is not necessary for salvation.”)

    3. Recall that this chapter has been about practical
      Christianity. How is proper Sabbath keeping part of
      practical Christianity?

    4. Friend, how would you evaluate your Christian life? Are
      you all theory with no practical application? Is your
      Christian walk only superficial? Does your eagerness to
      follow God somehow morph into an eagerness to do only what
      you please? If so, you are missing real blessings!

  4. Next week: Desire of Nations.