Category Archives: group dynamics

Question: Do we have guardian angels?

Cortona Guardian Angel 01

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_angel#/media/File:Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01.jpg

When you lead a small group Bible study, various questions related to the text you are studying will come up. For instance, if your passage for the night has an angel saying or doing something, you might get asked if we have guardian angels?

During the time of the group discussion, you may want to let the conversation go briefly on the topic but do NOT let it consume the whole time. At some point, if necessary, firmly intervene by saying, this is an interesting topic that we could discuss more AFTER the study; let’s return to the specific passage before us.

Some group members will probably let the topic go after the Bible study is concluded for the evening but some may continue to be curious so you should be ready to address their  interest.

One can go to the “all-knowing” Google search engine and you will get a lot of web pages! Some are quite reputable while others are perhaps less trustworthy. However, for this blogpost, let’s take a quick look at what French Reformation theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) had to say about it. If you haven’t heard by now, the Reformation is marking its 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther wrote the 95 Theses while a professor at the University of Wittenberg. In addition to Luther, John Calvin was one of several other leading theologians of the Reformation.

Interestingly, in his magnum opus (first published in 1536; expanded and revised until 1559) theological work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he has a section on angels in book 1, chapter XIV, sections 3-12 and within those reflections he touched on the topic of guardian angels.

For the very quick survey of pertinent Bible passages see Dan. 12:1, Matt. 18:10, and Acts 12:15.

For a brief survey of Calvin’s comments in Book 1, Chapter XIV, sections 3-12 read on …

Calvin was very committed to Scripture as the basis of theological understanding whether or not one fully agrees with his interpretations. Thus, he identified the handful of Bible passages regarding angels and built his reflections around those verses. Some are highlighted below.

Calvin summarized, “Scripture strongly insists upon teaching us what could most effectively make for our consolation and the strengthening of our faith: namely, that angels are dispensers and administrators of God’s beneficence toward us.”

However, on the specific subject of “guardian angels,” he said, “whether individual angels have been assigned to individual believers for their protection, I dare not affirm with confidence.”

Calvin noted there are passages of the Bible that clearly teach the “protective” role of angels. He cited that the angel Michael “stands guard over the sons of your people” (Dan. 12:1). In the Gospels, Jesus taught “do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Calvin observed that the strongest hint of personal guardian angels can be seen in Acts 12:15, “They kept saying, ‘It is his angel’” referring to a possible guardian angel for Peter. He observed that angels when given physical description are winged suggesting “they are ever ready to bring help to us with incredible swiftness should circumstances require it.”

He cautioned about excess speculation about the details of angels beyond the limited specifics provided in Scripture. He urged that we shouldn’t be too curious or speak too confidently about these matters.

Nonetheless, from the Bible, Calvin points out that angels are utilized by God for our benefit: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14)?” Acts 7:53 and Gal.3:19 stated that angels participate in the giving of the Law to humanity. Additionally, angels are also deeply invested in the restoration of humanity and celebrate at the repentance of any one of us (Luke 15:10).

He concluded his reflections on angels by writing, “these helps have been prepared for us by the Lord that we may not be frightened by the multitude of the enemy.” Calvin reminded that the vision of Jacob’s (Gen. 28:10-17) ladder with angels ascending and descending was cited by Jesus and applied to Himself (John 1:51) indicating that only through Christ’s intercession does the ministry of angels come upon us.

What to do with a tough passage: Acts 5:1-11

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image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ananias_and_Sapphira#/media/File:V%26A_-_Raphael,_The_Death_of_Ananias_(1515).jpg

One of the challenges in leading a small group Bible study is what to do about “tough passages.”

An example is Acts 5:1-11. In brief, this is the episode in the early church when Ananias and Sapphira lie about how much money they give to the church after selling some property. God’s judgement fell on them and they died.

If your small group is typical, they are likely to find this story shocking.

What to do?

Let the group wrestle with what happens here. This needs to be aired out: emotional reactions can and should be shared.

After giving a few people in the group the opportunity to address the difficulties, then move onto the point of the lesson.

First, make sure the group clearly understands the nature of the sin. God did not judge Ananias and Sapphira for being “cheap.” Their sin was claiming to have given all the proceeds when they actually did not: they lied. Their money would indeed help meet the needs of the poor in the community. However, by their lie, they placed a higher value on been seen as generous then being truthful to God and the community.

Next address the context.

One context to bring up is the episode before this passage in Acts 4:32-37. Thus, what Ananias and Sapphira did was completely counter to what the people of the church had been doing and experiencing. The dishonesty would be very disruptive of the unity of the church.

The other context worth bringing up is that God has in the past brought swift justice to those within the community of faith. Three prime examples can be seen from the Old Testament: Joshua 7, Leviticus 10, and 2 Samuel 6. Quickly discuss them with perhaps a more detailed look at one of these three passages. In each case, God’s explicit instructions have been violated.

The third context is the impact this episode had on the early churchAnd great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things (Acts 5:11). The church had been seeing so many amazing things happening: (1) the resurrection of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed with boldness, (2) the Holy Spirit’s power was revealed in healings and signs and wonders, (3) the community was transformed toward unity and generosity, and (4) the people have a healthy fear of God’s holiness. Instinctively, we prefer to dwell on the first three items. Nonetheless, item number four is important.

When you lead the group to the closing thoughts, give the group time to consider areas in their lives that needs re-examination. Allow time for quiet reflection. Depending on the personalities in the group, there could also be some sharing and prayer.