Introduction: What does God expect of you when dealing with others? Is it possible to attend church each week, know the Bible, and yet as a practical matter utterly fail to follow God? 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.)

  1. Read Isaiah 58:2. How is this consistent with rebellion? This seems to say that these people are Bible readers. They want to learn more about God.

  1. Did the people want to follow God? (Verse 2 tells us that they wanted God to make decisions that impact their lives.)

  1. 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?

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

  1. 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? Is that a problem?

  1. 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. The Hebrew word translated “exploit” reflects harassing workers, being harsh with them, and taking too much from them. Is this consistent with the statement that they seek just decisions from God?

  1. Read Isaiah 58:4. Now that you know these people are harsh to those within their control, and quarrel and fight, look again at the statements in Isaiah 58:2 that they are eager to know God and do what is right. How can all of these statements be true? (Notice again that verse two 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 life.)

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

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

  1. I’m often critical in these studies of those who focus on works when discussing salvation. What do these verses teach us about works? (Works will not merit salvation, but they do reflect whether you have a sincere faith.)

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

  1. The charge is that they do what they please when they fast. Does what is described here look like fun to you?

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

  1. It seems these verses are asking us to be more practical and less theoretical. What can you do to stop injustice and oppression?

  1. Read Isaiah 58:7. Are these practical ways to fight injustice and oppression? Why is marching not on this list?

  1. Many people favor having the government force others to pay for food and shelter. What does this text say? (This refers to personal responsibility.)

  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 Christianity? How about you?

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

  1. Read Luke 15:14-16. (If you don’t know this story, read Luke 15:11-32.) What if someone who had read Isaiah 58:7 arrived just after Luke 15:16 and just before Luke 15:17 – would God’s will be advanced?

  1. What about “tough love?” Is it love to withhold help at times?

  1. Re-read Isaiah 58:6. If you knew the full background of the prodigal son, what would you do to set him free and break the yoke of sin?

  1. Read 1 Timothy 5:7-13. 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?

  1. Let’s revisit Isaiah 58:5. What new problem do you now see in this text? (What the people are doing is useless. A 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.)

  1. Let’s revisit Isaiah 58:7. What should we do about the fact that in the United States adults in the lowest income and education groups have consistently higher BMI (body mass index) than adults in the highest income and education groups? Do we just say, “problem solved?” No need to pay any attention to Isaiah 58:7 in the United States?

  1. Read Isaiah 58:8-9. 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 “worthy?”

  1. 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?

  1. Read Isaiah 58:9-10. We already read verse 9, but I want us to look at this from a different perspective. Are the people who Isaiah is addressing part of the problem? Are they affirmatively oppressing the poor? (It seems that way. “The pointing finger and malicious talk” sounds like they are making the problem worse.)

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

  1. 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 Christianity.)

  1. 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? (By helping others we help ourselves.)

  1. Sabbath Matters

  1. Read Isaiah 58:13. 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 to refrain from pleasure. He means “doing anything you please.” Our behavior on Sabbath should please God. The goal is to delight in doing what pleases God.)

  1. Read Isaiah 58:14. Recall that this chapter has been about practical Christianity. How is proper Sabbath keeping part of practical Christianity?

  1. 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!

  1. Desire of Nations.