Last week, we gave gifts in our group. Seven young women and two older thought of each and wrote words—descriptive words of the way we see each woman as being gifted by God.
Two words jumped out from the cards given to me. One I welcomed. The other? I winced.
Both are true of me. But do I view both as gifts? I haven’t in the past and I struggle with that second one from time to time. Why?
Many prefer when I give the first gift. Some cringe when I give the second. Actually, I prefer the first gift. But I am compelled by the Gift Giver to give the second as well. And when I’m called to give exhortations, I tremble. One time I ran. I ran away from doing what I knew I had to do—from saying what I had to say—and I found myself in a dark place much like the belly of a whale. I know the possible consequences of speaking truth others don’t want to hear and I know the absoluteconsequences of not speaking. So I brace myself every time I am called to give the hard-to-say-and-hear gift and I pray, pray, pray. Why?
Because we like NICE, don’t we? We like NICE words. We like NICE people who make us FEEL good about ourselves and our lives. But what about things we might NEED to hear but don’t really WANT to hear? Words that make us say “ouch” on the inside. Words that ring a little too true. And what about the delivery people? Often, when messages aren’t liked, the messenger isn’t either. True, human message bearers can be rough around the edges at times. But what if the message is true even though the messenger is flawed?
I get it. I would much rather be encouraged than exhorted. But my TRUEST friends are those who do BOTH. They see my strengths. They see my weaknesses. They encourage when I’m in need. They exhort when I’m off-track—they urge me in love to take an honest look at what I’m thinking or doing and re-align with God’s plan for life, true life.
Those who want to follow Christ all the way home are far more able to deal with exhortation regardless of messenger imperfection. They are not like those who only want a goody bag from Jesus—the love, the peace, the joy. Some just want to come to the party, grab the stuff they want, and go. But is this TRUE Christianity? Do we follow God only so we’ll FEEL good or do we really want to GROW, even when growing requires listening to truth that might hurt our egos? Do we really want to SACRIFICE what WE want, what feels good to US, in order to OBEY God who sometimes has different ideas of how we ought to live?
Uh oh. That last question has some words we don’t like, and I’m not talking WE and US.
OBEY. How have we come to hate this word? It incenses the independent, self-sufficient, rebel heart. It even riles the righteous heart because we know—oh how we know—the horrors produced when people obey authorities steeped sick in sin.
But what does OBEYreally mean? This little four-letter word comes from the Latin “ob” meaning “to” and “audire” meaning “hear”. Put together, we get “oboedire” which means “to listen to”, “to pay attention to”. Not so scary-sounding now? When God calls us to OBEY Him, he is strongly urging (exhorting) us to LISTENto Him—to PAY ATTENTION to Him. Why would He want us to listen to Him? Because He made us and loves us and He knows how we work best. He knows how we LIVE best. And He only wants the BEST for us.
And He calls us to sacrifice. Another ouch?
SACRIFICE. To give up something we really, really want or think we really, really need? Not really. This word comes from the combination of two Latin words “sacer” meaning “holy” and “facere” meaning “to make”. Put them together and we get the word that literally means “to make holy.” Isn’t this why Christ came? Isn’t this why He allowed himself—the holy one—to be sacrificed? To make us holy? To reverse the curse on all creation and return it to its once holy state? Do we really want to participate in the holy-making experience called life? We are encouraged to do so, over and over in Scripture.
ENCOURAGE. “Encourage” comes from the Old French “encoragier” meaning “to make strong, to hearten”. “en” means “make” or “put in”. “corage” means “heart”, originally from the Latin “cor”. So, “encourage” literally means “to put in heart”. And “heart” is a common metaphor for inner strength. When we encourage one another, we are actually helping the other build inner strength—putting in heart—putting in courage.
And sometimes, when things are difficult or just plain unpleasant, encouragement needs an upgrade. That’s when exhortation takes its place.
EXHORT. “Exhort” comes from the Latin “exhortari” which means to encourage GREATLY, to URGE, to IMPLORE. So when someone is exhorting, they are imploring, urging us to obey (to LISTEN—to PAY ATTENTION TO) in order that we may be encouraged (BUILD INNER STRENGTH).
Exhortation, though it might point out weakness in need of strengthening or fault in need of correction, is meant to build up, not tear down. The wise heed. (Proverbs 15:5)
Exhorters urge us to obey God’s command to become living sacrifices.
Oh no. Another scary word.
COMMAND. We think about some authority figure dictating from on high with little to no concern for the underlings. But this is not the original meaning of the word. “Command” comes from the Latin “commandare” which means to recommend, to entrust to. How differently we might view God’s commandments if we knew our God is not a dictator but a lover. Because He loves us so, He recommends that we heed His directives on how to live life. Because He is all about free will, He allows us to make choices to follow or not. Because His universe is established on the principle of cause and effect, when we choose to follow His recommendations, life works. When we choose to disregard His recommendations, life might LOOK like it’s working for the time being, but sooner or later, life breaks down—true life is lost.
I need a review of the list and a summary of the meanings!
Obey. Sacrifice. Encourage. Exhort. Command.
Pulling all the words and meanings together, this is what we get . . .
Listen to God. Pay attention to Him. Participate with Him in the holy-making experience of life—not only for ourselves but for all creation. We are strongly urged to listen to God for our own good and the good of all His creation. Listening to God builds inner strength and courage. And God has entrusted to us all His recommendations for living life well. He wants us to follow and urge others to follow for our own good.
His kingdom is coming. It has already begun.
Will we obey (listen), sacrifice (be made holy), encourage (build inner strength and courage), exhort (urge ourselves and others to pay attention), and work to follow His recommendations (commands) for living life?
By His grace and in His strength, we will.
For our good, for the good of all, and for His glory.
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given to us. Romans 12:4-6