We’re getting close to the end of Going Deeper into Encourage. This week of spurring on and dealing with painful discipline may have been hard, but we hope you found some surprising encouragement along the way.
Gather your sisters (or brothers), your Bible, and journal. Let’s talk…
Father God, Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit what a glorious work You do encouraging us toward Your love. Open our hearts to every aspect of Your character. Remind us… You are Love.
Read Reflection Scripture:
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
–Romans 11:22-23 NIV
As you considered God’s kindness and goodness, what insights did you gain about spurring on as a form of encouragement?
The Word tells us to consider both God’s kindness and sternness.
The Greek translated as “consider” means: to see, i.e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything; to know, i.e. to get knowledge of, understand the force and meaning of something which has definite meaning (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).
Based on the Greek tense, which loses its power in English, we are commanded to continually consider both the kindness and sternness of God. Therefore, we are to continually:
- Turn our eyes and minds toward both His kindness and sternness.
- To pay attention to both aspects of His character.
- To gain knowledge and understanding of the force and meaning of His mercy and severity.
The Reflection Scripture points out some specifics to consider. Based on these verses, what do we learn about both His kindness and sternness?
Regarding His sternness, it is for those who fall. Not those who physically fall or trip, but those who fall morally and spiritually. Those who come under the judgment of condemnation because of unfaithfulness or unbelief.
His kindness is for Believers. We discern this based on the recipients of the letter: the church in Rome. His kindness, chrestotes in Greek, denotes God’s gracious attitude and acts toward sinners (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament).
As we consider the verse, we see there are stipulations attached to being subject to His sternness and kindness.
God’s sternness will be removed if the person does not continue in unbelief. Unbelief being unfaithfulness or weakness of faith (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). If they repent, come back to faith, God has the power and willingness to graft them back into the family of Believers.
Yet, there is also a condition for those who receive His mercy. Only if they continue in kind, offering mercy to others as they have received, will they remain a recipient of His kindness. Otherwise, they risk crossing the line of unbelief, unfaithfulness.
We need to understand, to continue in His kindness is not about following the letter of the law, but about grace. Without mercy and grace toward others, the kind He showed us, we risk being cut off. Unbelief constitutes not only refusing to receive His grace, but refusing to give it to others too.
Belief is centered on Jesus as Messiah, the One who fulfills the law and delivers God’s grace. It is demonstrated when we love others as He loves us. This is what it means to be faith-full.
Both God’s sternness and kindness are about moving us toward faith in Him.
CS Lewis’s faith was greatly influenced by George MacDonald (1824-1905), a writer and Christian theologian. In the preface of an anthology of MacDonald’s works, CS Lewis writes:
MacDonald shows God threatening, but (as Jeremy Taylor says) “He threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.”
– CS Lewis, George MacDonald
The purpose of both God’s sternness and kindness is to move us and then keep us in the place of faith where we were meant to reside all along. The only place we will be happy and fully satisfied: In His presence.
Considering, honestly examining and seeking a right understanding of God’s kindness and sternness is essential to our faith.
One of the loudest reasons for denying the existence of God in today’s western culture is: If a loving all-powerful God exists why does He let bad things happen? Meaning really horrific things like the Holocaust, child molestation, human trafficking, famines, devastating storms, earthquakes, and ensuing tsunamis…
If the surface appearance is only considered and emotions are the justifying factor, then Yes, His goodness is inconceivable. But time must be taken to consider who He is by faith. Seek to know and understand all facets of His character, His purpose, from the very beginning of creation.
He created out of a heart of love – because love desires to share love. But we rejected His love, rebelled, and broke the world making ourselves miserable in the process! Ever since the Fall, He has been working to reconcile, redeem, and restore what was lost. Our happiness and our perfect love for Him.
Read Lamentations 3:31-33
What keeps God from casting off people forever? Why does He let bad things happen?
It is not the inclination of His heart to afflict but to rescue His beloved creatures from deadly danger, misery, and eternal suffering. The NIV translates verse 33: For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
God is far too great and infinite to just cast a cursory glance in His direction. The eternal consequences far too important to trust our own judgments about what we see. We must turn our eyes and thoughts to truly know and seek to understand, even if at first, we find it all offensive.
For love loves unto purity. … Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.
– George MacDonald, from the CS Lewis anthology of his works
How has God been stern with you? What was its effect in your life? How did you process the season? spiritually? emotionally?
Yes. If you consider allowing affliction being stern, God has been stern with me.
He permitted a long season of fear and anxiety to enter my life. Or rather allowed me to choose a path leading to a life of fear, which by His grace, fell just short of debilitating. Anxiety and fear ruled my life for about a decade and began shortly after I started walking with Him.
Life was supposed to be peace-full with God on my side. Comforting. Not filled with fear over what I ate, drank, where I went, or what I did. To some degree it was confusing and made me feel I must be doing something wrong. Yet, I refused to reject Him and dug my heels deeper into faith.
In the middle of near paralyzing anxiety attacks, I would tell myself: What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll die and go to heaven. This thought spurred me on past the fear.
Looking back on the far side of this painful season, I definitely see His kindness. My Jealous God wanted to burn away the unbelief keeping me from receiving His perfect love and kept me from loving Him more perfectly in return.
He used the emotional furnace of fear to reveal much unbelief rooted deep in my heart. I’d say He forced me to face it, but that’s not how He works. He doesn’t force us to do anything. He allowed me to go deep into a dark pit of fear where I finally chose to look up and work through the truth of what was happening rather than hunker down and hold out until it was all over.
The process brought about the beginning of an ever-increasing season of freedom and joy.
His stern spurring on encouragement is all about His perfect love for us and perfecting our love for Him.
When the sister sent the rough draft for the Spur On homework, I was troubled. After living years caught up in fear of God and His sternness the Reflection Scripture she chose left me wondering what message those similar to me might experience. Would it stir up unhealthy fear? Cause them to question God’s work in them? If it were my younger self reading these words, I would say yes and yes.
Amidst my hesitancy, I surrendered to the verse and God surprised me in the lesson I learned through the last words in the Reflection Scripture: God is able to graft them in.
Graft is defined as to cause to be united with stock, to join or unite, to grow together (Merriam-Webster). After some research on the grafting of plants I was struck by the intimacy of this process.
Both the stock plant and the plant to be grafted endure cutting. The damage to each has purpose. It becomes the place where the two plants join and become one. Both plants experience beautiful results when they become one.
What a wonderful picture of God’s sternness. Jesus, our stock, endured the sternness of God as He hung on the cross. His literal cutting became the place we find connection. God’s tender hand bound the two together in grace, and we became one.
What may feel bad and hurt like never before is the very place Grace’s intimate work grafts us in.
Yes, yes… God is able to graft us in.
Faith and grace are at the heart of His love.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…
Ephesians 2:8 NIV
Prayer of Praise:
Did praising God’s discipline encourage you? How?
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.
Deuteronomy 8:5 ESV
A father disciplines his child from a heart of love infused with a desire to protect. Getting the child’s attention to teach them what’s necessary to live the life he envisions for them is the purpose behind stern correction.
The Lord’s discipline is given with a heart to purify His people, so they may fully receive His love and enable them to love Him more perfectly in return. This is the vision He has for His people: perfect love which casts out fear (1John 4:18).
Read Romans 1:18-20
God’s wrath revealed from heaven is against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress or deny the truth of His reality. The magnificence of creation clearly displays His divinity and sovereignty, yet mankind contrives alternative theories to avoid coming under His authority. Perhaps if we ignore Him, He will just go away. If we don’t believe He is, then He certainly can’t exist.
How might God’s anger with the rebellion of man be revealed through creation?
There is biblical evidence found in 2Samuel 24 for the wrath of God being revealed in such a way. King David took a sinful census of the people to be assured of his nation’s military force. The census revealed his prideful trust in people rather than the power of God.
Once his sin was revealed, the Lord sent a prophet to give David three forms of punishment to choose from:
- three years of famine
- three months of enemy attack
- three days of plague
The Sovereign Lord uses what we broke to express His anger and bring about discipline, all in the name of love.
God’s anger is stirred when unbelief separates us from Him. Instead of cutting us off He chose to do something no other God has done.
Read Romans 8:1-4
Where do you see God’s kindness in the midst of His severe approach to our sin?
He did what we could not. He sent Jesus in the flesh to be our stand in when it came to the punishment for our sin. He endured all we deserve: accusation, flogging, crucifixion. Death.
In all this unjust cruelty toward the only innocent man whoever lived, we find the heart of God’s love. He is that man. He came as Judge to pour out all His eternal wrath toward the sin of the world on Himself as the guilty one.
He established the law of the Spirit of life by taking what we deserve. For anyone who believes, puts their faith in what He did to fulfill the law, the result is glorious. Freedom from sin, death, and condemnation.
In His resurrection, we find life eternal.
How does this reality move you toward appreciating God’s sternness and discipline? What do you find encouraging?
The incredible proof of His awesome love and justice should encourage all Believers to pursue Him with abandon.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 NLT
His willingness to humble Himself for the sake of those unworthy to enter His presence is a wonder. He descended from heaven to enter the hell on earth we created in order to rescue us.
How can we respond to such love, except by being willing to suffer for others, to offer the same mercy and grace He gave us?
Read Ephesians 4:11-16
God raises up leaders in His church to equip Believers for the work of faith to mature us into the likeness of Christ: The One who spent His life for others. Speaking the truth in love is essential to the maturation process.
What happens to the church when we refuse or neglect to share truth in love?
Without truth, we are tossed about by false doctrine, taken advantage of by manipulative people, and fall prey to the lies of the world. Without the spurring on of truth, the church finds itself in a dangerous and precarious place.
What are the risks of speaking the truth in love?
- Push back.
- The unknown of how someone will react.
- Causing offense.
- Breaking of relationship
Speaking the truth in love is weighty business. But its importance to the church far outweighs any risk. Truth brings light into the darkness. This is one reason it’s so painful for people.
Like a bright light shining in your face when you’ve been asleep or in the dark, the first response is to close your eyes and shrink back. Maybe even fight back, demanding the light be turned off. It just hurts.
But the one in the dark needs to wakened from their slumber. Needs to see the truth of the state of their lives and where a lie may be leading them into dangerous waters. It’s one of those painful kindnesses.
What experiences have you had when it comes to lovingly sharing a truth?
Speaking the truth in love is never easy for me. OK, except with my children, because that is my role and responsibility as a parent. But when it comes to friends or people I serve with, it’s just hard.
There are those who have graciously received truth spoken in love and been grateful. Then there have been those who quickly swept me out the door and one (or more) who, in one form or other, broke fellowship.
In my experience, speaking stern truth alone never works. Without love it only serves to instill fear and damage relationships. Much damage has been inflicted within the Body of Christ when it comes to this style of sternness because it divides God and His people.
When I consider the spurring on of others, I look to Jesus. Jesus used this kind of encouragement perfectly based on the condition of the heart. It was always grounded in relationship. He often spoke sternly to the church leaders of His day. The law they were teaching only served to separate God from His people. Yet He never spoke this way to those who came to Him with their need. He knew the heart of the woman at the well and the one caught in adultery. Jesus’ encouragement spurred them on in God’s direction.
Those closest to Jesus, the disciples, experienced God’s sternness too. He questioned the size of their faith, and commanded Peter to get behind him. He knew the maturity of His disciples better than they knew it themselves. His rebuke drew them closer and helped them mature.
We must always look to Jesus as our example and trust the Holy Spirit to reveal another’s heart to us when we spur others on in love.
Speaking the truth in love is a form of spurring others on toward maturity in Christ. Yet, we also need to spur ourselves on too.
Read Colossians 2:6-8
We are to walk in Christ firmly rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, and abounding in thanksgiving. Yet, we must be on the lookout too.
What are we to watch out for in our walk with Christ?
We are to make sure we are not taken captive by worldly philosophies based on lies or human traditions which can lead us astray.
The word captive in Greek means to become subject to one’s sway (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). No one is to sway the way we live except Jesus.
The definition of philosophy is all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts, a search for general understanding of values and reality chiefly speculative rather than observational (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).
Philosophy and tradition must be measured against God’s Word and Jesus’s example. Can it be observed in the life of Christ? Does it remain rooted in love of God and others? If the answer is No, it only works to lead us astray, and damage our relationship with God and others.
Read 1Timothy 6:20-21
Paul gives Timothy similar advice to what he gave the Colossians: Guard what has been entrusted to you! Timothy was a young preacher Paul was training and mentoring, the deposit entrusted to him was the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What happens to those who get caught up in debates or discussions about “what is falsely called ‘knowledge’”? What is the basis of the deliberations Paul refers to?
Those who are caught up in irreverent debates become at risk of swerving from the faith and maybe even unknowingly swayed into the realm of unbelief.
These dangerous conversations may include:
- arguments over semantics
- interpreting Scripture from the world’s perspective rather than the Spirit’s
- un-essentials which have no bearing to salvation
- arguments over predictions of how prophecies will be fulfilled
How can we spur ourselves on when it comes to being wary of the lies and philosophies and traditions of the world?
- Be discerning. Test everything you hear or read by the Spirit (1John 4:1-6).
- Be in the truth. Make sure we have the truth of the gospel fully in our hearts. Dig deep roots of faith through obedience.
- Don’t argue. Walk away from irreverent conversations and talk of contradictions. Press on to build on the truths you know and trust God to reveal the truth to others at the right time (Philippians 3:12-16).
We can speak truth in love but only God can open the eyes of faith to receive the truth. Our role is to plant seeds as He calls us to and trust Him to make them grow. All the while, spurring ourselves away from pointless arguments. Dissension and quarreling never won anyone to Christ.
Read Jude 17-25
Jude reminds us of the apostles’ predictions regarding the presence of scoffers and mockers during the last days. These people are driven by their own passions, devoid of the Holy Spirit, and subsequently become the cause of divisions. We don’t have to look far to see the fulfilling of their predictions today, even in the church.
Jude leaves us with some spurring on advice for ourselves and others, when it comes to encouraging in these last days.
What advice does Jude give? to spur on self? others? What does it look like to put his advice into practice?
He encourages individuals to:
- Build themselves up in their most holy faith. This may include prayer, study of the Word, faithful obedience to what you know, worship both corporate and private.
- Pray in the Spirit. Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on how to pray for yourself and others.
- Wait for the mercy of Jesus. Patience in the waiting for His return. Patience for His blessing the lost with faith. Trust Him and don’t try to take His place as savior.
He encourages us to spur on others by:
- Having mercy on those who doubt. This could involve speaking the truth in love. Encouraging them through the graces of: respect, share, and give.
- Save others, snatching them from the fire. Pray for them. Give them a reality check with truth-full love.
- Cautiously show mercy to some, while hating the garments stained by flesh. Some we must approach with great care so as not to become pulled into their sin. When we do offer mercy, we are to love them but absolutely hate what their sin is doing to them.
Reading these verses and seeing the last days played out before us should fill us with an urgency. There is no time for procrastination, putting off, or keeping the truth of the gospel to ourselves.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Luke 10:2). Don’t expect someone else to do what you alone are called to do.
Remember, each one of us holds a unique place in the universe, our communities, our churches, and our families. No one else can do what God has created you to do. We must spur ourselves and others on to encourage them toward faith in Jesus. The time is drawing short… the world and the church are thirsty… some don’t know what they are thirsty for…
The image our preacher depicted is still vivid in my mind even after twenty years. His words meant to spur the congregation to action, to recognize our mission in the world.
He described the gates of Hell and the surrounding area with a darkness I would rather run from. He filled the scene with the broken and lost making their way through the ominous gates. He pointed his finger at us and said, “It is your job. Your call to stand along the path and snatch the broken and lost before they go any farther. This is Love’s call. Love’s work. The time is now, this moment. Don’t let another pass you by.”
We are warriors in a dark battle. When we rely on Jesus to lead us, and bring the Spirit’s light into dark places lives are changed. Encouragement is the weapon we use for the saving of many lives.
But in all this spurring on, we are called to fully rely on Jesus. The only One who keeps us from stumbling into the fire with others as we reach out to love them with mercy and snatching!
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…
Next we consider God Our Encourager in the last week of Going Deeper into Encourage.
Oh, Lord, bless us with Your encouragement and the faith to encourage others in Your name.
Click here for PDF of the homework: Encourage Week 5 – God Our Encourager – Homework