A FEW PRELIMINARY NOTES FOR THIS MONTH’S STUDY:
- This is the answer guide for February’s Encourager’s Devotional Bible Study.
- Many of the questions allow for various, personal responses. For those, I’ll not list answers but feel free to leave your answers to any question in the comments section.
- If you would like a leader’s guide to this study, email me (email@example.com).
- All prior posts for The Encourager’s Devotional Series can be accessed by clicking here.
- There were two meditation sections in the study guide this month – one up front to prepare our hearts for the study, and the other in its usual place the study.
Choose a few of the following accounts from the Gospels to read (or any others that may be favorites of yours which demonstrate the love of God). Remember, these stories are found in the other Gospels too, so you might want to do some cross-referencing and read several accounts. When you are finished, take some time to meditate on the extent of God’s love and express your thankfulness to Him.
- The prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32)
- Thomas’ doubt (Jn 20:24-30)
- The crucifixion (Jn 19)
- The adulterous woman forgiven (Jn 8:3-11)
- “Father forgive them” (Lk 23:33-34)
- Peter’s denials and restoration (Lk 22:54-62; 24:34; Mk 16:6-7; 1 Cor 15:4-5)
- Do you have another favorite passage which demonstrates the love of God? Feel free to share it in the comments.
For the following question, I do not request you list the answers in the comments (though you may). If, however, you are doing this study with a small group, you may want to discuss it.
Can you identify with any of these sinners?
- the rebellious/wasteful son
- the doubter
- the mockers and unbelievers,
- the one afraid to speak for Christ
- the one led to sin by fleshly desires
From Romans 5:8, answer the following questions:
How did God demonstrate His love for us? Christ died for us
When did God demonstrate His love for us? while we were still sinners
Read 1 John 1:9 and reflect on the extent of God’s mercy and love.
What did Jesus say were the two greatest commandments? Mt 22:36-40
Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
List the five types of leaders Jesus gave as gifts to the church. (Eph 4:11)
apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers
What are these leaders supposed to do for the saints? (Eph 4:12)
to equip his people for works of service – That is, to empower the saints to DO ministry themselves.
What is the purpose of our works of service to one another? (Eph 4:12)
so that the body of Christ may be built up
This building up of the body of Christ results in us all reaching unity, becoming mature, and attaining to the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:13)
Ephesians 4:16 says this building up of the body is done in love. So, let’s explore the attributes and importance of love. Look up 1 Corinthians 13 (use NIV if possible so the blanks in the questions match). After reading the whole chapter answer the following:
Verses 1 and 2 say we can have spiritual gifts, faith enough to move mountains, great amounts of knowledge and seem to be very spiritual, but if we don’t have love we are nothing.
As you develop a ministry of encouragement, it may be a temptation to become prideful because you will be doing many good things for others. But verse 3 says even if you give all that you have to the poor, if you don’t do it out of love, you gain nothing.
Another temptation in a ministry of encouragement may be to develop an attitude of martyrdom (“after all I do for people” – “no one notices” – “no one does anything for me”, etc.). But verse 3 also points out that even if you were a “true” martyr who “sacrifices your body to the flames,” if you do not do it out of love, you gain nothing.
Ephesians 2:10 says we were created to do good works. James 2:17 says faith without action/works is dead. And 1 Peter 2:12 says our good deeds make even pagans, or unbelievers, glorify God. So, these works you will be doing to encourage others are important. But we must remember that these things do not earn us salvation, and we must guard against pride which may come from doing them.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 says love is greater than faith and hope.
From 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, list the attributes of love:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Colossians 1:19 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ].” What do you think this means? Colossians 2:9 and John 14:6-10 may help you to answer this question.
My answer to the question above and all the following discussion questions about “fullness” are presented (I hope) by leading you through a process of thinking. After you’ve read through the study guide, though, if you have any questions about this concept, feel free to ask.
Jesus came to earth to be a living example of what God is like. When we look at His life, we understand God because Christ is the fullness of God. Ephesians makes several references to the church, or body of Christ, being the fullness of Christ (see 1:23; 3:19; 4:13). Reflect on what this means.
Ephesians 3:19 says we must know the love of God so that we may “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Read and contemplate 1 John 4:7-12.
Read Ephesians 5:1-2 in several translations if possible. Most translations and the original Greek say here that we are to be imitators of God. This is so others can see Him in us just as we see Him in Christ (in other words, so we can demonstrate “His fullness.” In order to do this, we must walk in love.
Romans 15:5-7 says that one way we can imitate the God of encouragement is to accept one another.
Ephesians 4:32 also shows us another way to imitate God. We must “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
How does John 13:34-35 say people will know we are Christ’s disciples? if we love one another
So often when we think of showing the love of God for the sake of evangelism, we connect it with showing love to those who have not accepted the Gospel (which of course we must do). But it is also critical for the sake of evangelism that we show love to one another. Read Philippians 2:14-15 and John 17:20-26 and think on this idea.
My thoughts: How often have we failed to reach people for Christ because the accusation is labeled against us that we are “a bunch of hypocrites”? I believe this complaint comes at us because we fail to see how important it is that we foster a church environment that is accepting, forgiving and loving. Nothing hurts more than a sense of rejection from those who claim to love us the most. If people do not see us truly loving, accepting and forgiving one another, why would they believe we would extend love, acceptance and forgiveness to them?
John 17 recounts Jesus’ final prayer over His disciples before going to the cross (I often refer to this as His “last will and testament”). His last request (verses 21-23) is that we would love each other and be in unity. This, He says, is how the world will believe our message.
From 1 Corinthians 13, which attributes of love come easiest for you?
Which attributes of love do not come quite as easily to you?
A helpful exercise (even if it stings a bit):
A friend once suggested that we go through the characteristics of love from 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute our name for the word love – Lisa is patient, Lisa is kind, Lisa does not boast … and so on. Approaching the text in this way helps us to pinpoint the areas we may need to work on in our love walk. Do this exercise – Which parts make you cringe a little when you fill in your name? Those may be areas to work on in upcoming months.
Ephesians 4:16 says the body grows and is built up “as each part does its work.” Are you doing your part to see that this is true? How is the body healthier or weaker because you are a member? Are you a part of the body edifying itself in love?
Have you thought about yourself as being a vital part of God’s big plan for the church? Where can you be a “supporting ligament” to the body of Christ? If this is a difficult question for you to answer, I encourage you to read Eph 4:12,16 and 2:10 again. Think about the fact that you were created and gifted to do specific acts of service for God. Are you fulfilling that calling? Consider your talents. Are you using them to build up the body of Christ? Here are some suggestions as you ponder this:
- Are you a creative type? Sew or paint something for a church program, help decorate the church, or plan a craft to use in the children’s ministry.
- Do you have construction or handyman skills? See if the church needs any repairs or has any building projects.
- Love to cook? Bake some goodies for a shut-in or a church activity.
- Do you work on cars? See if there’s a single parent or a family in the church who needs help with car repairs.
- Good at singing? Join the choir.
- Like to entertain? Invite a few people over who don’t yet appear to have connected with anyone in the church, or someone who is lonely.
These are just a few examples. Think through the things you love to do and where your abilities lie. Realizing that God gave you your talents for a reason will help you become a more encouraging person.
This section is the one I hope you will be most likely to share your answers (either here in the comments, with your study group, or with a friend). It is important for accountability and encouragement to complete your commitments that you have someone who will follow-up with you to see how you’re doing.
Which attributes of love are you going to focus on developing more fully in your life? Only pick one or two – 1 Corinthians provides a pretty long list … and we can’t change everything overnight.
Which of the suggestions from the Application section or the bonus list below will you try to do? Or what other ideas did you come up with that you want to do? The bottom line is, what will you do to make sure you are doing your part to build up the body and be a “supporting ligament” as the church works to fulfill its mission to present the fullness of God’s love to the world?
A BONUS LIST OF SUGGESTIONS FOR WAYS TO ENCOURAGE SOMEONE THIS MONTH:
- Give a Valentine card to someone, and be sure to write a personal message in it telling them what you love about them.
- Get a box of children’s Valentines and give them out to the kids at church. Or, have some fun and give them to an adult class.
- Think of someone at church or work who is a good example of a team player and tell them you enjoy working with them.
- Tell someone how “wide and long and high and deep” the love of Christ is (3:17-19). Or, have a discussion with a Christian friend about this.
- Thank someone who’s been loving towards you or has helped you grow as a Christian.
- Do you know anyone who shows the characteristics listed in Eph 4:2? Tell them you’ve noticed this and let them know you appreciate it.
Check back again next Wednesday for the next installment of The Encourager’s Devotional Series.