RECEIVING AND GIVING GOD'S LOVE & TRUTH BY HIS GRACE
The author of Hebrews continues his exhortation to these suffering (10:32-34) and weary believers whom God is training in holiness through trials and hardship (12:3-11) so they and we can finish our faith-race well. "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." This exhortation has both an 1) individual and 2) corporate application. 1) "Make the path for your feet level, so that all your ways may be established." (Proverbs 4:26). 2) As we strengthen ourselves (by God's grace) we can then help others. "Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not." (Isa. 35:3-4) We are also called to strengthen those with "lame limbs" as seen in 1 Corinthians 12 on how each part of the body is needed to strengthen the other. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you." If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (See 1 Cor. 12:1-27)
Our desire and ability to comfort and strengthen others is because we have experienced God's amazing comfort in the very midst of great trials. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (See 2 Cor. 1:3-6)
And the corporate application is also seen in the verses that follow: "Pursue (seek after earnestly) peace with all men (believers and unbelievers), and the sanctification (or holiness) without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." This exhortation is much like Jesus' summation of the law and the prophets: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) We see in Scripture a reciprocal relationship between loving God and loving people; i.e., our love for God affects our relationship with people and our love for people affects our relationship (fellowship) with God. "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:20-21)
But the love we share with others must be a love based on truth or it will not help them grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 4:15); thus the exhortation to pursue holiness as well as peace. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, not just peace lovers. Peacemaking involves sharing love and truth. Listen to His strong words against a "false peace" in Matthew 10:34-37: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace (a false peace) but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
["In modern times we often confuse love with sentimentality, and do not always see as clearly as the prophets did that there is a stern side to real love. An easy sentimentality will refuse to take stern action when the beloved does what is wrong. But this leaves the beloved secure in his wrongdoing, unfairly confirming the very action that makes him less of a person. Because sentimentality refuses to do what is distasteful, it ignores the long-term benefits of reproving the beloved because it sees that he will dislike the immediate unpleasantness. Sentimentality thus takes the easy way out. True love will lead the beloved to the best possible path." D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Wheaton IL. Crossway Books, 2000]
"Pursue peace with all men and the sanctification (or holiness) without which no one will see the Lord." How do we pursue peace and holiness? "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God." (This does not refer to loss of salvation.) We receive God's holiness by grace through faith which empowers us to forgive, love and serve others. It is impossible to be holy in our own strength and when man attempts to do so he becomes proud and self-righteous like the Pharisees. God's grace gives us both unmerited favor (salvation) and supernatural power (sanctification/holiness) to live out His will (peace. Love, and truth with others) in our relationships. (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 12:7-10) We must always look to God first to receive His love for ourselves and for others. Listen to the words of Henri Nouwen: "But you have to pray (spend time alone with God).You have to listen to His voice who calls you His beloved (1 John 3:1-2; Eph. 1:6; 3:16-19), because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. And then you're not free." Nouwen means we will not be free or able to love others until we know we are loved unconditionally and continually by our Lord. When we fail to do this we will pull on others to give us the unconditional love that only God can give us. Thus the next verse:
"In order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it. That no one may become guilty of sexual vice, or become a profane (godless and sacrilegious) person as Esau did, who sold his own birthright for a single meal." Hurt people – hurt people. Living in a fallen world with fallen people we all get hurt and wounded. But we are called by God (often through our hurts) to "come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt: 11:28) Otherwise we will become bitter and instead of loving and serving others we will expect others to love and serve us and when (not if), they fail to do so we will react in angry withdrawal or angry attacks and thus defile them (and ourselves) rather than bless and strengthen them.
Esau is our example of a man who defiled many because he looked to the world versus God to meet his needs and desires. ["The author accurately focuses upon the one area that revealed Esau as profane-the selling of his birthright. To profane is to regard something as unhallowed, to make something sacred to be common. Esau took that which God considered sacred and made it common. Being so totally concerned with his temporary and material needs, he gave them priority over his rights as the first-born son and his responsibilities as heir to the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 25:29-34). Every Christian must beware lest he count as unimportant what God considers sacred."  KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1994, S. 2574]
God's discipline is meant to mature us, but trials do not always make a person stronger or better. It is how we respond to them that make us better or bitter. God provides grace to comfort us and mature us in times of trials, but refusing that grace can lead to bitterness, resentment and immorality. When we look to this temporal world and material things and to hurt and angry people to meet our needs and desires we will be "looking for love in all the wrong places" and go from bad to worse as Esau did. God wants His discipline to wean us from this passing world. "And the world passes away and disappears, and with it the forbidden cravings (the passionate desires, the lust) of it." (1 John 2:17)
"Pursue the sanctification (or holiness) without which no one will see the Lord." This means either 1) that as we grow in holiness by God's grace that we will have a growing revelation of the Lord. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matt. 5:8) "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." (John 14:21); or 2) that our growth in holiness will bring an increasing revelation of God to others. "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor. 3:18) "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (See 2 Cor. 4:7-11)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2. Share a time when God comforted you in a trial and how you comforted someone else in a similar trial and strengthened them?
3. "But you have to pray (spend time alone with God).You have to listen to His voice who calls you His beloved (1 John 3:1-2; Eph. 1:6; 3:16-19), because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success." Nouwen means we will not be free or able to love others until we know we are loved unconditionally and continually by our Lord. When we fail to do this we will pull on others to give us the unconditional love that only God can give us. Do you take the time to regularly "hear" God call you His beloved?
4. ["In modern times we often confuse love with sentimentality, and do not always see as clearly as the prophets did that there is a stern side to real love. An easy sentimentality will refuse to take stern action when the beloved does what is wrong and leaves the beloved secure in his wrongdoing, unfairly confirming the very action that makes him less of a person. Sentimentality thus takes the easy way out. True love will leave the beloved to the best possible path." Where may God be calling you to love others like He does – with a stern love?
5. How could you identify a bitter root in your life that may defile other people?
6. Has your growth in the Lord brought you an increasing revelation of Him and His love for you as seen in Eph. 3:16-19? Or are others able to see Him in you – your jar of clay – because you have let His discipline break you open (your pride) so they can see Jesus in your "jar"?