Relationships: God’s Love is Tough

This entry is part [part not set] of 10 in the series Relationships - Buck McCallum

Relationships: God’s Love is Tough

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What is “tough love”?

It’s a big deal these days.  People talk about “tough love,” they talk about confrontations and interventions and so on.  But I think there is a lot of confusion on what we’re really talking about here.

Example: When I step on my dog’s paw or tail, she growls at me.

So, when someone does you wrong, and you let them have it, then you’re right up there with doggies and kitties.  That’s not what we’re talking about at all.  Although I agree that it can be important to let someone know when you’ve been hurt, that is not the tough love that the Bible portrays.


The Bible uses one term which means “training.”  It is seen as part of love.  In other words, we can talk about how God’s love is forgiving, like last week.  We can talk about how God’s love is positive and encouraging.  But his love is also directive.  He loves us, so he “guides” us or “trains” us.  The idea is that he sees what will be good for us and kind of steers us in that direction.

You may know that many of the translations of the Bible translate this word as “discipline.”  I didn’t use that word at first because of all the negative connotations.  There are many.  Most folks can’t tell the difference between discipline and punishment.  There is a huge difference.

Punishment is negative reinforcement.  In the course of training someone, you will use some of that.  But it is only a part.

Example: If I get into sports, then I will endure training under a coach.  What do coaches do?  Let you run around and then when you screw up, “Hey!  McCallum!  20 laps!”  Not at all.  The training a coach uses us totally positive.  He puts you through things.  He tests you.  He teaches you.  And, yes, he will also punish you.  A coach can punish for all kinds of reasons.  He may see a habbit that needs broken.  He may see defiance.  But hopefully, at the bottom of it, it’s not just because you somehow irritated him or he’s a grouchy guy.  Hopefully it’s to make you a better athelete.

I think this is a good illustration.  It is biblical for one thing.

Hebrews 12:9-11

We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?

For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His character.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

I want to focus on two aspects of this passage.  The first is that we are accustomed to some form of discipline, from authorities here on earth.  The author makes the assumption that we respected them, which is not a safe assumption anymore.  But he makes this point: They disciplined us as seemed good to them.

You have never seen or experienced the kind of directive love that God has.  It is a love that is for our good.  He doesn’t ask, “Is this guy making me happy or not?  Is this guy making me look good?  Is this guy embarassing me?  Is he getting on my nerves”  All the things that self-centered authorities ask.

And it is true that even when a parent disciplines their child for what we might consider a right reason, there are often self-serving motives mixed in.  Motives like their own image or their own vision for you . . .

Example: I remember watching some parents punish their kids for grades–we’re not talking D’s and F’s here.  We’re talking B’s, maybe even A-‘s.  And you have to think to yourself, “I’m not so sure that they’re looking out for the kid’s best interest at that point.

But it says here God is different.  God alone looks out completely for our interests.  This is where the study of God is so important before we can understand something as completely different as God’s love.

He doesn’t have a fragile self-image.

He doesn’t need anything from us.

He doesn’t have a temper problem.

He’s not afraid that if he loves, we won’t love him back.

He’s not afraid of being hurt.  He can take that.

God is completely different.  That’s why his love is completely different.  And he tells us here that whatever he does for us, it is completely for our good.

But the second thing I want you to see about this notion of discipline is that the author equates it with training.  He says, “Those who have been trained by it . . .”  That’s the idea we have been talking about.  God’s love is aimed at training us, shaping us, trying to refine us.

So the idea of tough love from God’s point of view is very different.  We see it as reacting to a problem.

Example: I will confront you if your alcoholism is destroying our family!

Good!  But God’s is much more than that.

Example: I will confront you if I feel you are taking advantage of me.

OK, even that might be OK.  But God’s love is more than that.  More often than not, God lets us take advantage of him.  There is no one in the universe who gets taken for granted, taken advantage of, and just taken from than God.  But he doesn’t thrash on us for that.  He carefully picks issues to bring up with us that will be for our good.  To make us better.

So, God’s love is different.  It is long term.  He looks at our character and says, “How can I shape that person?  For their good?”  There is absolutley no self-seeking.

We should seek it out

So, in that light, the Bible tells us that correction and training is something we should actually seek out.  As Proverbs 12:1 says,

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.  But he who hates reproof is stupid.

We’re supposed to grow to love correction and training.  In fact, Proverbs 15 says that the one who tries to avoid discipline hates himself,

He who neglects discipline despises himself.  But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.

Really a different point of view isn’t it?  We’ll talk about that in a second.

But I want to point out that the Bible tells us not only to seek out God’s correction, but to also seek out correction from others, and to seek to give it to others.  In other words, we should be doing with each other what God does with us.  That is a point of application I want to draw out in this teaching here.  We should be involved in this kind of correction and “tough love” with each other.

Just to look at a couple of Bible passages which teach that:

Proverbs 19:20

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.

Romans 15:14

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to admonish one another.

The term “admonish” is a term that gets at what we’re talking about here . . .

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Here again, the idea is that if you see a weakness, then you can help someone.  See how the goal here is not to just point out his error.  It’s not to make make him sad.  It is to win your brother over.

So, with these passages and many others, the Bible is encouraging us to get into this idea of correction and training.  We are to seek it out from God.  We are supposed to seek it out from others.  We are supposed to give it to others.

Why should we get into this anyway?

But it’s painful.  No matter what you call it, it’s painful.  There are moments of “negative reinforcement.”  Coach says, “Take a bench.”  But there are also times of purely positive training, “Let’s run 100’s.”  Nobody jumps for joy.

And our point of view is that pain is bad.  Painful things should be avoided if at all possible.  So, I ask, why should we get into this?

There are a couple good reasons:

It shapes our character

Obviously the big reason is that loving discipline improves our character, in just about every way.  And here’s where the Proverb’s point is so strong.  “The person who is not into this, hates himself.”

You have no vision for being different.  If everything were OK, if you were fine just the way you are right now, then you wouldn’t need any shaping.  You wouldn’t need any discipline.

On the other hand, nobody is fine just as they are.  And to avoid discipline is to say, “I don’t see much more in me.  I don’t have much more that could be drawn out.  I don’t think it’s worth it to go through trouble because there’s nothing there!  I don’t think I can get over this problem or this weakness.”

The fact is, loving discipline says you can get over that problem.  You can achieve more.  You have much more that hasn’t even been seen yet.

God has had to work with me extensively by way of discipline, especially negative reinforcement.  Because my way is to cope.  I find a nice little rut and occupy it.  If I have a problem, then I learn to deal with it.  But God says, “No way!  You can get over it!”  And he starts to bring pressure to bear in my life to make me deal with it.

Example: I had a problem with women, where I would either be blatantly on the take–trying to selfishly use a woman somehow–or I would avoid them altogether.  So here’s a whole half of the human race that represented either people to use, or if you weren’t going to do that, then they were useless.  And God made me miserable.  God brought pressures to bear on me that made me miserable.  He brought people into my life who confronted me on the issue.  I believe he brought pressure to bear on my emotions, alerting me to the fact that I had a real problem (I think God can use our emotions as a tool of discipline in our lives.  He can use our emotions to bring pressure to bear, to give us a sense of urgency and rouse us out of our rut.)  He can use circumstances to make things rough.  As he did with me, he brough women into my life who said basically, “I won’t be treated this way.”  And I tried to avoid the issue.  I tried to pretend it wasn’t there.  But God kept bringing it up until I was willing to deal with it.

That’s what I mean when I say that loving confrontation sees your potential.

It makes us feel loved

And that brings me to our last point about loving correction and training: It is one of the main ways we feel loved.  Why should I get into it?  Why should I seek it out?  Why should I give it to others?  Because it’s one of the main ways we feel loved.

We have talked about this a lot.  We’ve talked about how people don’t feel loved.  We’ve talked about how people feel lonely.  You may have people in your life who try to love you quite a bit, but somehow we still may not feel loved.

Example: This will happen with kids quite a bit.  They may have parents who do things for them, say, “I love you,” show affection, and do a lot of things right.  But that kid may still feel unloved by his parents.

Example: Likewise, in a relationship, I may be as pleasant as a spring day to you.  I may smile and greet you warmly whenever I see you.  I may pat you on the back and tell you how great you’re doing.  But I will guarentee that you will still not feel very loved by me.

How do I know?  Because I know the people who make me feel loved.  I know about people who take the time to think about me and bring things up with me.  I know the people who see my potential and aren’t content to just leave me be.

And I know how God has been with me.  It was God’s discipline in my life that convinced me that he loved me.  I remember being stricken with the fact, “He is trying to discipline me!  Why me?!  Why does he even bother?  Why does he take the time?”  And it struck me just how much God loves me.

Revelations 3:19,

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.

When you see yourself or someone going through God’s discipline, mark that person as priviledged.  God is loving that person.

And it is one of the main ways we show love for each other.  I know some of you out there may consider yourselves to be a loving person because you’re positive with people.  And that may be true to a certain extent.  Others of us may consider ourselves OK with people because we never offend anyone.  And that may be true to a certain extent.  But do you realize this: That by the same token, you never make anyone feel loved.

When we don’t take the time to confront, then we’re not taking the time to think about that person–thinking about how they could be better.

When we don’t take the time to confront, then we’re not seeing the potential in that person.

When we don’t take the risk of confrontation, then we’re saying that my personal feelings and fears are more important to me than you are.

Think about it.  That’s a painful realization.  “I don’t make anyone feel loved.”

But this is one of the main reasons that we should get into correction and training with one another.  It makes others feel our love for them.  It helps us to see their love, and God’s love, for us.

On the issue of how to do this, there is a paper . . .

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