Encourage One Another
July 11, 2004 | Randy Smith
Encourage One Another1 Thessalonians 5:11
Sunday, July 11, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly called it the "Play of the Year." A local newspaper called it "the touchdown heard around the world." Sports shows everywhere told the story.
Jake Porter, 17, a member of the Northwest High football team in McDermott, Ohio, was born with chromosomal fragile X syndrome, a common cause of mental retardation. He couldn't read. He could barely write his name. But he loved football, and he faithfully attended every practice.
Northwest coach Dave Frantz wanted to do something special for Jake. So before game against Waverly High in the fall of 2002, Frantz called his friend Derek Dewitt, the head coach at Waverly. Frantz suggested that both teams allow Jake to run one play at the end of the game, assuming the game wasn't on the line. Jake would get the ball and take a knee, and the game would end.
So, with Waverly (Jake's opposing team) leading 42-0 and five seconds left in the game, Frantz called a timeout. Jake trotted out to the huddle, and the two coaches met at midfield. Sports Illustrated's Reilly picks up the story:
"Fans could see there was a disagreement. Dewitt was shaking his head and waving his arms. After a ref stepped in, play resumed and Jake got the ball. He started to genuflect, as he'd practiced all week. Teammates stopped him and told him to run, but Jake started going in the wrong direction. The back judge rerouted him toward the line of scrimmage. Suddenly, the Waverly defense parted like peasants for the king and urged him to go on his grinning sprint to the end zone. Imagine having 21 teammates on the field. In the stands mothers cried and fathers roared. Players on both sidelines held their helmets to the sky and cheered."
Apparently when the coaches met before the big play, Frantz had reminded Dewitt of the plan, that Jake would simply take a knee. But Dewitt (the opposing coach) wasn't satisfied. He said, "No, I want him to score." Frantz objected, but Dewitt insisted. Dewitt called his defense over and said, "They're going to give the ball to number 45. Do not touch him! Open up a hole and let him score! Understand?"
This story touches our hearts because it elevates the sacrificial love and concern for another over the superficiality of a sporting event. We are moved because others with pure motives sought to encourage a fellow athlete who wanted to participate and give his very best.
As fellow-Christians, we too are called to participate on God's playing field. God wants His team off the bench and involved in the action of the game. But like football; the activity is intense, the standard is high, the discipline is rigorous and the casualties are frequent. And like Jake, we meet the challenges with severe handicaps. Despite clear direction from the Word and grand empowerment from the Holy Spirit we often feel in the Christian arena, inadequate, incompetent, frustrated and wounded.
Unfortunately too many believers fail to realize that Christianity is a team sport. We are never called to "go it alone." On the contrary we are to work together as a team. Just as 21 players helped Jake score that memorable touchdown, each of us have the responsibility to help others in the church to be successful whereby they can utilize their God-given potential (Isa. 41:6-7). Simply put, we are to encourage one another to fulfill the multi-faceted expectations that God has entrusted to each of us through His Word.
The command is listed frequently throughout the Scriptures, but in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 the Apostle Paul unmistakably said, "Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."
This morning, as we begin another short series, entitled "Church and Home Unity," I wish to present the first subject that will promote a unified environment - Encouragement. This message will be topical in its approach as we explore the basic components of biblical encouragement.
1. WHY DO WE NEED ENCOURAGEMENT?
For the first point I ask the question, "Why do we need encouragement?" Though the question seems superfluous, I wish to really drive home the point for any who may feel this subject is of minimal importance.
Allow me to be as frank as possible; the Christian life is difficult! Anybody who says the Christian life is for the lazy and weak has never experienced for a second what it means to faithfully walk hand in hand with Christ. Because for those who are truly His, He have given us a deep desire to be found pleasing in His sight. And to be found pleasing in His sight requires great effort and discipline and is at times met with great frustration and persecution. Often we are called to do that which is contrary to our fleshly interests, natural desires and personal comfort levels.
Though we really do want to please God and often know the right thing to do, often we continue in behavior that we know to be wrong. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this conflict.
"For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom. 7:18-23).
I can't speak for you, but I am well aware of this personal struggle in my own Christian life. It's hard for me to: Faithfully attend every Wednesday prayer meeting, overcome life-dominating sins, love my enemies, stay committed to a meaningful and consistent prayer life, wrestle with difficult passages in the Scriptures, love my wife as Christ loved the church, consider other people more important than myself, serve when there appears to be no fruit or recognition from others, faithfully evangelize to the lost, receive reproof and correction, give thanks for my trials, forgive others when they sin against me, rejoice in the Lord always, live a life above reproach, boldly speak on the Lord's behalf and love God with all of my heart.
Let's be honest with ourselves. If you're seeking to live a God-honoring life, these disciplines are hard for you as well. After all, the expectation in 1 John 2:5 is simple, right? "The one who says he abides in (Christ) ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."
But now imagine some encouragement. An e-mail that identifies some noticeable spiritual growth. A comment that thanks you for faithful ministry. A phone call to say you were missed at our weekly "family-reunion" each Sunday. A card that shares some encouraging Bible verses. Would these make a difference in your life? They would (and often have) mine!
You see, encouragement enables us to: Approach the difficult with joy, overcome despair and frustration, feel that we are making a difference in the lives of others, better receive instruction and correction, grow in faith and hope, approach Christianity with vigor and motivation and realize the compassion and concern of others.
There can be no doubt that we need encouragement and such encouragement will better enable us to run the race and fight the good fight to which we have been called.
2. WHERE DO WE RECEIVE ENCOURAGEMENT?
Now that we see the need for encouragement, we must ask the next logical question, from where do we receive encouragement?
If encouragement is to be distinctively Christian, it is to come ultimately from God. After all, He is the author and source of all comfort (Isa. 49:13). We need to make every effort to spend time with God. We need to ask Him to encourage us in our efforts to be found pleasing in His sight. We must seek our affirmation from Him and not from humans.
Paul composed Second Corinthians during one of his most difficult times in ministry. The great Apostle was depressed and burdened beyond his strength. In his passion to serve Christ he found himself attacked, misunderstood and neglected. Yet in his suffering we find Paul turning to God and receiving from God great encouragement.
In the opening verses of the letter we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ" (2 Cor. 1:2-5).
But as we read this epistle, we find that God did not use some mystical and mysterious uplifting. Yes, God can encourage our hearts directly through the work of His Spirit as we read the Word, but often He uses secondary means to accomplish His comforting purposes. The encouragement is still coming from God, but it is dispensed through intermediate sources.
Here's where you come in. God uses His people to provide encouragement where needed to His people. Unfortunately, many in the church have neglected this opportunity and others, well intending, have gone about the process incorrectly.
3. WHAT IS BIBLICAL ENCOURAGEMENT?
That brings us to the third point. Let's contrast the counterfeit methods of encouragement often passed for biblical encouragement in evangelicalism with the encouragement that's according to God's Word.
Biblical encouragement is not sentimentalism. Though we are called to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15), mere emotionalism will never carry with it the push to "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24). Sentimentalism is often without content and direction. Never do we read the biblical writers exhorting one another to simply "cheer up" or "feel better." Biblical encouragement is always much deeper. As a matter of fact, our feelings are often contrary to biblical truth.
Richard Roberts once said, "Spiritual encouragement, therefore, is applying biblical principles to every situation with a view toward bringing each person into right relationship with God. At times spiritual encouragement may 'feel' harsh. It may not be what one 'desires' to hear. That may be true regardless of how gently the words are spoken. As people fallen from grace, we often don't want to hear the truth. We often just want to hear what will make us feel better. In the end, however, only true spiritual encouragement can be used by God to touch the soul" (Roberts, What is Spiritual Encouragement?).
As Christians, we are not called to share our feelings; rather we are called to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15). If we really want to be a mouthpiece for God, we must be faithful to speak His Words. Through the inspired Word of God, we can articulate His promises, His challenges, His commands and His warnings. Then and only then will we really encourage someone because then and only then will the Holy Spirit ("the Comforter"-Parakletos, "to encourage"-parakaleo) be able to use what we say (His inspired Word) to perform His work in the individual's soul. In Romans 15, Paul said, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). Our source of encouragement is always the Scriptures.
In addition, biblical encouragement is not flattery. Flattery is often shallow, insincere comments given with false motives to achieve our own benefits. Flattery will never promote the will of God nor will it provide the dignity to humans created in the image of God.
Why resort to flattery when we can encourage people with the riches of the unconditional love of Christ (Phil. 2:1), the sovereignty of God (Rom. 8:31) and the blessedness of heaven (Phil. 3:20), our eternal comfort! Quite often we see the biblical writers encourage with theological truths (1 Thes. 4:18), especially theology that relates to the character and attributes if God.
Furthermore, biblical encouragement is not false hope. Often well intended, we try to promise someone better circumstances tomorrow. However, these promises place us in the shoes of God. We can give no guarantee that things will get better they may even get worse!
What we should do is forsake our opinions and point people back to God. We should help them to realize that God gives comfort in the midst of the trial. Psalm 34:19 says, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them." We need to encourage them to cling to verses like Romans 8:28. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." These wonderful promises in the Scriptures enable people to look away from themselves and look to a God who is faithful to His promises and alone provides grace sufficient for our trials (2 Cor. 12:9). When people look to God they are given true comfort and God is given true glory.
4. WHAT SHOULD RECEIVE ENCOURAGEMENT?
As we move to the fourth point, I hope you are beginning to realize that much of what we pass for encouragement in the church imitates the world and fails to meet the biblical expectations. Though nice comments have a place, if all we do is compliment one another on our spiffy haircut or our new car or our kid's athletic achievements, we have failed miserably
Allow me to provide some of the key biblical verses where encouragement is dispensed. See if you can identify the content.
Titus 2:4-5, "(Older women are to) encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored."
Hebrews 3:13, "But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
2 Chronicles 35:2, "He set the priests in their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of the LORD."
Acts 14:22, "(They) strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'"
Philippians 2:19, "But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your (spiritual) condition."
1 Thessalonians 2:11, "Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God."
Acts 15:32, "Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message (from the Word)."
1 Cor. 16:12, "But concerning Apollos our brother, I encouraged him greatly to come to you with the brethren (for ministry)."
Romans 1:11-12, "For I long to see you…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine."
1 Samuel 23:16, "And Jonathan, Saul's son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God."
For what can you encourage someone? Areas where one is spiritually striving, whether it be ministry, personal growth, church attendance, etc. Areas where one is experiencing difficulty or affliction. Or areas where one needs to improve, mature or repent.
5. HOW DO WE GIVE ENCOURAGEMENT?
Finally, how do we give encouragement? We must always begin by looking to God. We must ask Him for a heart that cares for others, an eye that is able to identify needs and a mouth that is accurate with the Scriptures.
First, apart from God working in our heart, our concerns will be self-centered and carnal. If we are to really care for one's betterment, their relationship with the living God, we must ask the Holy Spirit to give us this good desire.
Second, we need help to identify specific needs. It's easy to pinpoint another's faults. Sadly many in the church hear more negative gossip behind their back than they do positive encouragement to their face. God must grant us the ability to look for the best in others rather than their faults.
We must also spend time around other believers to identify specific areas in others that need improvement. The writer to the Hebrews stated, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25). Note the context. The command to encourage one another is joined to the command for regular church fellowship. If we are lax in our commitment to spend time together in regular and extended fellowship or are quick to run out the back door as soon as the service concludes, we will be unable to participate in this mutual ministry and responsibility of encouragement.
Third, we must know the Word of God. We must be fluent with the Scriptures, carrying our Bibles at all times and able to discern the right passage for the right occasion to be delivered in the right spirit (Pr. 12:25; 16:24).
Beloved, may I encourage you to be thoughtful and creative in your encouragement. Be disciplined and deliberate in your encouragement. Use the Scriptures, but always remember that one of the greatest forms of encouragement is the living Bible, the example of a godly life. If you really want to encourage someone, tell someone you have been praying for them or inform them that their actions are really helping to advance the Kingdom of God. I personally am not aware of any greater encouragement for a true believer.
Yes, some are gifted encouragers (Rom. 12:8) like Barnabas (Ac. 4:36; 11:23), but yet all of us are expected by God to be engaged in the ministry of encouraging one another. It's a command, but it's also a blessed opportunity to make an eternal impact on another's life often with minimal effort on our part. Imagine a church where everybody sought to encourage one other. Imagine the growth. Imagine the blessedness. Imagine the unity!