Encourager’s Devotional Series – July Bible Study

This Bible study corresponds with the July devotional in the Encourager’s Devotional Series. Answers to the study will be posted next Wednesday.


Read 1 Corinthians 12 and answer the following questions:

According to verses 4-6, what three differences should be allowed in the church?

From verses 7-10 and 28-30, list some of the different gifts and functions which might be distributed throughout the church. (Note: There are other lists elsewhere with additional gifts. We will look at those later in the study.)

What other kinds of differences are mentioned in verse 13?

Who decides which members are bestowed various gifts and where each member “fits” among us? (vv. 11, 18)

What familiar image of the church is used in this chapter? The ________ of __________

Romans 12:4, which also speaks of the body of Christ, says the members of the body do not all have the same ______________________.

What different gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-8?

Notice that verse 8 lists encouraging as a special gift that is given only to some people. Does this mean that only those with the gift of encouragement should strive to be encouragers? To think on this question, consider that serving, giving of finances or material things, and showing mercy are also listed as special gifts. Yet, when Paul is taking up a special offering to help one particular group of Christians (2 Corinthians 8–9), he speaks to the need for all church members to give generously. In 2 Corinthians 9:5-7 he even addresses the fact that some of us might have to overcome our reluctance in this area and not give grudgingly. (In other words, we may not have that gift, so it might not come as easily to us.) We could find similar passages to show that we are all expected to be merciful, to serve, and to encourage one another. So, if we are all supposed to encourage one another, how do you think it might be different for someone who has the gift of encouragement?

1 Corinthians 8 and 10:23-33 present an issue which some Christians thought was a sin while others did not. What is the disputable issue?

What was Paul’s conclusion on the matter in 8:8 and 10:31? Continue reading

Freedom and Harmony – July Encourager’s Devotion

Norman Rockwell's "America"

Norman Rockwell’s America

Image Source

Many people see Christianity as legalistic and perceive the church as a place where conformity is required and individuality is stifled. And, unfortunately, many Christians help perpetuate those notions by being judgmental and intolerant towards those who think or do things differently. But Paul’s letters paint quite a contrasting picture of church life. They are full of the idea that Christ brings us liberty.

In Christ, we are free to “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12), to set our own standards in many things and not be bound by rules and traditions of men (1 Corinthians 8, 10:29; Galatians 1-6). And we are not only free to be different in personality and life-focus, but also encouraged to find our own unique part in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12).

Whenever we allow this kind of freedom within a group of people, the challenge will be to make sure there is still unity. We see this in our nation. We declare “freedom for all,” but then realize that means we have to find a way to coexist with people who have very different opinions and lifestyles from our own. How do we promote diversity without ending up in civil war? How do we make sure people can exercise their own rights without trampling on the rights of others? And how do we ensure people understand that rights and freedoms come with responsibility?

As I was considering this same problem for the Church, I thought of the word “harmony.” The word is often used interchangeably with “unity” in Scripture. What this word illustrates to me is that we can sing different parts, but still be in the same choir, singing the same song. The song we sing is what unites Christians of different backgrounds, different gifts, different opinions. We sing the song of the redeemed, the song of a people loved by God and learning to love others through God. When we sing this song together, suddenly our differences don’t matter so much; we’re not as concerned about imposing rules on each other as we are encouraging each other (Colossians 2:1-3:17).

All this is not to say we have a casual attitude about these things. Since Christ died to set us free from sin, we must be careful not to let our liberty be an excuse to go back into sin (Galatians 5:13). That’s why Paul, after saying we are free to “work out our own salvation,” also reminds us that we must do that “with fear and trembling.” When we are deciding what is “lawful” for us in our own personal walk of faith, we must be careful that it does not hinder our own spiritual growth, or that of others (1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:23-33; Romans 14). But if our key concerns are love for Christ and love for others (remember, those two greatest commanments?) we can experience both freedom and harmony in the church.

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 15:5,6, RSV)

As part of the ongoing Encourager’s Devotional Series, I offer these challenges and suggestions for this month:

  • I challenge you to think about how often you discourage others by voicing disapproval over their being different or doing something different than you would. Even if you are not saying it directly to that person, you could be helping to create an atmosphere where “difference” or “change” is unacceptable. Besides, you never know if/when something might actually get back to someone (a very discouraging thing). If it’s not a serious doctrinal or sin issue, can you be content to let others be different and guard your words? And even if it is an issue you deem to be contrary to Scripture, will you consider being silent on it for one week until we look at this issue further in the Bible study that will be posted next Wednesday? It seems to be a real challenge in this age of social media to restrain from posting our every thought as soon as it comes to us. But for the sake of harmony, I think we would all be wise to push away from the keyboard every now and then and let the Holy Spirit guide us in how to better handle the issues we are bombarded with daily.
  • Can you think of someone very different from yourself that you could encourage? What about someone who ministers in a way you never could (and maybe wouldn’t even want to). Can you show appreciation for their work? Or perhaps there is someone you seem to always be at odds with. Surely, there is something praiseworthy in them you could highlight (Philippians 4:8).
  • The featured image for this post is Norman Rockwell’s painting entitled America. Rockwell’s parents encouraged him to develop his talent for drawing. I have read that he actually tried very hard in his younger years to be like all the other children and develop himself in the area of sports. But he just wasn’t athletic. His parents encouraged his uniqueness and empowered him to pursue what God had gifted him to do. They even supported him in quitting high school early to pursue training in the arts – now, that’s different! Can you think of someone you could encourage to branch out into an area of giftedness or calling?                       

Dancing for Peace

As I was trying to gain focus for a Facebook prayer group I’ve started to unite people in prayer for Ferguson today, I kept thinking of dancing. Yeah, it sounded strange to me, too, so I moved on to try to think of more spiritual things. I decided I’d like to find a quote by Nelson Mandela. When I found this quote, I realized the earlier prompt regarding dancing just might have been Spirit led after all.

“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”
— Nelson Mandela

I’ve been using the phrase a lot lately, “putting feet to our prayers.” Today, I’m saying, “Let’s put dancing feet to our prayers.” Dance alone to be at peace with yourself so you can then bring that peaceful spirit to others. Dance with someone in solidarity. Dance with someone you have not yet found a way to engage with relationally. Dance with someone as a first step to dialogue.

As for me, I’m declaring tonight at The Merge Coffeehouse a night for dancing together. If you’re in the area, come dance with me. If you don’t live nearby, create a dance party of your own. Let’s dance to set our hearts free. Let’s dance for peace.

And for a more philosophical look at the effects of Mandela’s dancing, and the power of dance in general …

FREEDOM – Day 14 of The One Word Devotional

NOTE: Today is the final day in this two-week go around with The One Word Devotional Series. I’ll do another round sometime in the fall. Glad for all who have joined us for this two week series. Now, for today’s focus …

Today’s word is FREEDOM.

There are many things you can do to “process” this word today:

Think on it.

Look it up in Scripture if you choose. An easy way to look up biblical texts on the topic is to go to biblegateway.com and do a search on the word.

Discuss it with others.

Google it.

I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you choose to do to process this word today, please check back in at the end of the day and let’s have a discussion about your thoughts, experiences, etc.

To see the introduction and table of contents for The One Word Devotional Series, click here. Remember, for this series, the actual devotional thoughts are found in the comments.

Relief or Freedom?


Contemplating our addictions, temptations, and other common “issues” – self-pity, co-dependency, whatever it might be – and I keep coming to this thought:

When we are struggling with these things, giving in to “the thing” actually makes us feel like we have relief and some sense of control. We feel better because we no longer have the internal struggle that is present while we are trying to resist. It is interesting that when we give in and are experiencing this momentary state of relief and “peace,” it is that very moment that the thing/issue/addiction/temptation has its greatest hold on us. So, I guess we have to choose whether to feel relieved or to be free. It’s a tough choice.