Introduction: Welcome to a new series of lessons about our Christian
obligation of mercy to those around us. The Bible calls for more than
a simple-minded approach. Deuteronomy 28 teaches that faithfulness to
God brings material blessings. That suggests that those needing help
might have been unfaithful to God. At the same time, the Mosaic law
contains several commands about aiding those who find themselves in
difficult economic circumstances. That tells us that merit might not
be the test for helping. The Job story and Hebrews 11 reveal that the
general rules do not always apply. This past Sabbath I listened to a
sermon about Jesus’ story of the prodigal son ( Luke 15:11-32). I
thought about this series of lessons when I heard Luke 15:16 – “no
one gave [the prodigal] anything” when he was hungry. The result, in
Luke 15:17, is that the prodigal “came to his senses.” Would the
prodigal have come home if some well-meaning person enabled his
rebellion by giving him food? Let’s begin our exploration about what
the Bible teaches about our obligation of mercy!

    1. Creation


      1. Read Genesis 1:26. Why does this text say that God created
        humans? (He created them to be lesser rulers. They were
        patterned after God, and ruled under His authority.)


        1. What was their responsibility? (To rule over the


      1. Read Genesis 1:27-28. What other power did God give to
        humans? (The power of creation. The command was to create
        other humans, fill and subdue the earth, and (God
        repeats)rule over the animals.)


        1. Imagine you were just hired for a new job and that
          was your job description. What would it mean to
          “subdue” the earth and “rule” over the animals? (That
          is tremendous authority, and an incredible


          1. Why would a perfect world need to be “subdued?”
            (Since a perfect world would not be in
            rebellion, I think it means that humans were to
            be preferred over animals. If in conflict, they
            were to give way to humans.)


        1. Consider this problem to test your approach to this.
          If humans needed a garment for privacy and warmth,
          would you kill an animal and use its skin? Or, would
          you announce a rule that no animal could be harmed
          for the benefit of a human? (Consider Genesis 3:21.)


      1. Read Genesis 2:15. Did humans have an obligation to be a
        blessing to the earth?


        1. Would you feel an obligation, as ruler, to do what is


        1. What do you think humans were doing to “work” the


          1. How is that different, if at all, from “taking
            care of” the garden in which they lived?


      1. Read Genesis 2:16-17. Let’s start with the proposition
        that God has an obligation of care for humans just as
        humans have an obligation of care for the animals and the
        earth. Why would God permit such a dangerous tree – one
        that had poison fruit – to exist in the garden?


        1. Imagine the simple-minded approach: let’s take a vote
          on whether we should permit a tree in the garden that
          has poison fruit? (The right thing is not always the
          superficially obvious thing. The issue is


    1. The Sin Complication


      1. Read Genesis 3:1-5. What is the serpent suggesting about
        God? (He is not telling the truth, because he wants humans
        to lack important information.)


        1. Notice the serpent offers the opportunity to “be like
          God.” What should Eve had said about that? (She was
          already like God. She was a ruler.)


      1. Read Genesis 3:6. They had so much other fruit available
        to them, why would she need more “good” fruit that looked
        nice? (I think this comment has to do with her false
        statement ( Genesis 3:3) that they could not touch the
        fruit. The real motivation was about “gaining wisdom.”)


        1. When Eve touched the fruit, but did not die, what
          affect did that have on her decision to eat? (It
          encouraged her to eat it. I believe this is why
          Deuteronomy 4:2 tells us not to tell people that
          something is sin when it is not. It is like telling
          people something is not sin when it is. When I was
          young, I was taught that I should not enter a movie
          theater because my angel could not enter. What I
          should have been taught was to be careful what I
          allowed to influence me.)


      1. Read Genesis 3:14. On what basis did our Ruler God curse
        the serpent?


        1. Is this within the scope of caring for animals?


      1. Read Genesis 3:16. Recall that one of the mini-creator
        responsibilities was to create other humans. What point is
        God making in this change in the circumstances of children
        being born?


        1. Both Adam and Eve sinned. Why is Adam given the lead
          role in decision-making? (If you review the “after
          action report” to God in Genesis 3:12-13, you see
          that Eve said the serpent deceived her and Adam said
          Eve gave the fruit to him. This account puts the
          least blame on Adam.)


      1. Read Genesis 3:17-19. How has human dominion over the
        earth changed? (Food is no longer a gift and a pleasure.
        It is now painful to raise food.)


        1. Consider this from a “human responsibility for the
          earth” point of view. Previously, plants were
          completely within the control of humans. Humans seem
          to have had a supervisory role based on the texts we
          previously studied. Now, plants are not cooperative.
          They resist. Obtaining food is both sweaty and
          painful. Now that plants are rebellious subjects,
          does this change the nature of our supervisory


          1. Who is at fault in this change?


        1. Consider this from a rulership point of view.
          Everything has become difficult. Why do you think God
          did this? Was it something that was “automatic” with
          the entrance of sin? Was it punishment for us? Was
          it simply a sharing of the trouble we created,
          because now God faced considerably more problems with
          the earth?


    1. In This Together


      1. Read Proverbs 22:2 and Proverbs 14:31. What principle
        would you find based on these two texts? (God is our
        Creator, regardless of whether we are rich or poor. That
        means we have an obligation to other humans.)


      1. Let’s look more closely at Proverbs 14:31. First, we are
        commanded not to “oppress” the poor. Let’s go back to our
        introduction. If the prodigal son was in your
        neighborhood, and was hungry while feeding pigs, would you
        “oppress” him by leaving him alone? (His oppression came
        from his own decisions. As long as I’m not making his
        situation worse, it is hard to see how I’m oppressing


        1. Let’s look at the second half of Proverbs 14:31. We
          are also told that if we are kind to the needy, we
          “honor” God. Is it optional to honor God?


        1. Does being kind require some judgment on our part?
          For example, if we feed the hungry prodigal so that
          he is never convicted to go back to his father, are
          we being “kind” to him?


          1. What does your answer suggest about the need to
            get to know the people you are considering


      1. Friend, I think we can begin to see that our obligation to
        the earth and to others is not a matter of simple slogans
        or simplistic thinking. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to
        help us understand God’s will when it comes to showing
        mercy. Will you do that right now?


    1. Next week: Blueprint for a Better World.