Spurring Toward Faith
Do you ever catch yourself reading on autopilot? Your eyes scan each line, but your mind is too busy contemplating something else to comprehend the words? Instead of envisioning the scene, that awkward confrontation at work replays on a loop in your head. Or the ever-lengthening to-do list you’ve hardly crossed anything off of scrolls across your mind’s eye? With so many distractions, undivided focus seems impossible. Keeping my brain trained while reading familiar passages of scripture is a particular struggle. Lines I think I’ve teased every nuance out of in past study get breezed by. Nothing left to learn, right? Like most of my many flaws, it boils down to pride. But once in a while God pumps the brakes on my reckless reading habits.
Recently the Spirit placed the speedbump of Hebrews 10:24 in my path. It’s hardly a full sentence – the kind of line you skim over, nodding in agreement as you pursue deeper revelation. But it gave me pause. It reads:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
That’s it. Not much to it, is there? No lengthy theological explanations, no words of burning conviction or inspiring imagery. But once an English major, always an English major, so I couldn’t leave it unexamined, now could I?
In context, Paul writes verse 24 as a description of how believers should live in light of Christ’s sacrifice making us clean and presentable before God.
It’s a lifestyle of celebratory gratitude he invites us into.
Because of Jesus’ obedience to the Father, the way to adoption as God’s children remains open. Amazing! Our entire lives should reflect this lavish, redemptive gift. But living so in a vacuum is impossible.
Let us consider how we may spur one another. Even the joy of salvation can fade in isolation. When we celebrate God, worshipping him in community, we minister to one another and renew each other’s hope along the path to eternity. We need the gospel mirrored in our spiritual brothers’ and sisters’ faces to help keep us Christ-focused.
But that ministry doesn’t always come naturally, does it? Sometimes we don’t know how to best represent God in the struggles of those around us, that is, when we actually pay attention to anyone apart from ourselves. Cue the next key word:
Paul uses the Greek word “katanoeo” here, which literally means to think from up to down. Essentially, consideration means carefully discerning before acting. As James 2:26 says, “. . . faith without works is dead.” Paul writes along similar lines here. When we concentrate on opportunities to meet people’s needs, discerning how we may maximize blessing in their lives, we become more kingdom-focused. When we seize those opportunities with active obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading, it shapes us into Jesus’ likeness. Our lifestyles change from small-minded self-appeasement to abundant generosity and eternal legacy.
In this age of instant gratification and learned helplessness, how much do we truly consider anything? How often do we carve time out just to ponder? How about thinking exclusively of others’ good? My answer is an embarrassing next-to-never.
Even when planning acts of service, my own satisfaction determines my course forward. Maybe that’s just human nature. But Paul’s use of the word “spur” indicates a critical element to living full, Spirit-filled lives. Other translations of Hebrews 10:24 favor the word “provoke.” The original Greek means to jab or cut someone so they must respond. That’s not casual phraseology.
Like its definition, it’s full of intent. Spurring involves making someone or something uncomfortable in order to stimulate action. Prioritizing others’ good ahead of my own grates against my selfishness; it makes me less comfortable. Have you noticed that when presented with an opportunity to support a charity, most people prefer writing a check to volunteering time? Sending a few dollars to the recovery center for human trafficking victims is a lot easier than sitting down for a meal with them and listening to their stories. But which makes a more lasting impact on both parties?
Let’s face it. When the Spirit urges us to love others, it’s usually people we’d otherwise avoid or in places we consider unsafe.
The choice then is either responding obediently in the Spirit, or selfishly for my own comfort by removing myself from the situation.
I’ll admit I more often than not choose the hands-off approach. I fail at living as obediently or charitably as I should. I opt for a limited life within the confines of my comfort zone over stepping out in faith. Again, pride gets in the way. I don’t like people telling me what to do, and I especially don’t appreciate being guilt-ridden into doing anything.
Unless changed by the power that raised Christ from the dead, none of us are wont to live sacrificially.
Even if we have changed, we’re still human and need accountability throughout the lifelong process of sanctification. So God fits us with spiritual spurs. We’re to incite one another on toward love and good deeds. Not only does the Holy Spirit spur us from within, we as fellow believers are responsible for continually urging one another toward enacting love and kindness in the lives of all people we meet – especially when we’d rather not.
If we nudge one another to perform good in the lives of those who don’t know God’s generosity, aren’t we nudging each other into position to receive blessings as well? When we give of ourselves in good faith, we’re rewarded with increased faith and all benefits accessory to it. If in the Church we aren’t regularly witnessing people actively seeking opportunities to bless fellow believers, then how can we believe we’re living as Jesus-activists in the outside world?
Sometimes it’s not just personal pride, but communal pride impeding our effectiveness as gospel witnesses.
As with most scripture, there’s pragmatic treasure under the surface of Hebrews 10:24’s semantics. Context makes clear Paul speaks about spreading the gospel amongst nonbelievers, but as I set my own concerns aside and pay attention for a change, I discern a bigger mission–one in which I play a small part, but one that takes me out of my fragile little bunker of comfort and into a fulfilling life of love and service. It takes a hardy jab, though, to get me moving in Jesus’ direction. It takes a village of fellow believers nudging me and holding me accountable along the way.
And if we keep spurring each other forward one step into goodness and love at a time, eventually the path will crowd with people who look a lot like Christ.
I’ll push you toward Heaven if you’ll push me. Deal?