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Tuesday
Jul062010

Any Word of Encouragement

On one occasion, Paul and Barnabas visited a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia and were asked if they wanted to speak to the assembly. Specifically, the ruler of the synagogue said, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it” (Acts 13:15). Paul responded with “the message of this salvation,” an announcement that the Messiah had come and that his hearers could obey the gospel and find forgiveness of their sins. Those are encouraging words for the one who has not yet come to Christ, but those who have are also looking for exhortation and the confidence that rains down from God upon his children. Do we have any word of encouragement today?

I. Discouragement

    A. Society and Culture

        1. there is enough going on in the secular world around us that cause discouragement to spill over into our hearts and minds and spiritual lives

        2. war, crime, disease, death, unemployment, accidents – all the world’s daily negativity can conspire to make us feel disheartened

        3. but it gets a little worse if you stop to consider how disinterested the world is in the church’s effort at putting negativity in perspective; so often, preaching the pure, demanding gospel falls upon deaf ears or worse – those of the persecutor or the church member who prefers to accommodate sin with false doctrine or silence

        4. our culture is also coarsening as evil waxes worse and worse and it seems there is nowhere to escape smut and filth and unbridled profanity

            a. the world is careening toward moral destruction and no one seems to care very much; that makes discouragement likely for the disciple of Christ unless he finds solace and refuge outside of the world (Habakkuk 1:1-4)

            b. but understand that Habakkuk got an answer, but not the one he wanted!

 

    B. Personal Struggles

        1. and yet our personal struggles can add to the cacophony of disheartenment; sometimes we feel discouraged because we are struggling to get ahead of the devil, to break loose of some addictive temptation, to feel like we belong in the church

        2. if characters as great as Moses and Jeremiah could struggle with a little self-doubt, it should not be surprising that we all stumble at times, wondering if we’re going to make it (Psalm 6:1-7)

        3. certainly, we should feel guilty if we are not trying very hard and failing as a result, but we have to wonder if we are trying our hardest and making even small progress if we should be as discouraged as we sometimes are

            a. discouragement like that can become self-defeating; the disheartenment alone ensures declining effort because it seems to be futile

            b. once pessimism sets in, it is a difficult vine to eradicate

 

    C. Nattering Nabobs

        1. adding societal discouragement to internal doubt is lethal, but mix in a little ecclesiastical pessimism and criticism and the disciple of Christ might begin wondering if anything is worth it

        2. using speech writer William Safire’s words, Vice-President Spiro Agnew called his opponents “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”

        3. Agnew had his own problems, but the words resonate when we feel like the people of like, precious faith around us are hopelessly pessimistic and overly critical of our best efforts, seldom finding anything praiseworthy or even acceptable

        4. reading Paul’s letters to the young evangelist, Timothy, it seems that he might have had some nattering nabobs around him, harshly critical because they did not respect a young man in such a position of moral authority 

            a. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (First Timothy 4:12).

            b. he has the same message for Titus over on Crete: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).

 

    D. Why Go On?

        1. brotherhood, leadership and instruction demand a certain amount of encouragement, lest the people around us lose heart and confidence because nothing ever seems to be good enough

        2. please understand that this does not mean we should adopt a positive mental attitude approach to things, accentuating the positive and ignoring the negative

        3. we must be aware, however, that excessive negativism and pessimism are just as gangrenous as false doctrine and that the church’s interest in evangelism and the disciple’s interest in growth can be irreversibly stunted by overwhelming discouragement

        4. and sometimes the mere lack of encouragement is discouraging enough!

            a. churches subtly adopt a policy that rejects the neighborhood and any visitors that happen in; disciples plateau in their faith and just hope they don’t regress, but they rarely progress any further

            b. it is the kind of condition that plagued so many congregations and Christians in Asia Minor (Revelation 3:1-4, 14-16)

 

II. Words of Encouragement

    A. Correction Is Necessary 

        1. it is somewhat discouraging to know that some will hear a lesson about encouragement and reject it, because they fear the opposite extreme or because they think preaching should be nothing but hellfire and brimstone all the time

        2. indeed, correction and rebuke are necessary, and when issued properly can be encouraging as well

            a. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (First Thessalonians 5:14).

            b. Paul mixed encouragement with rebuke (Second Thessalonians 3:10-13)

            c. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (First Timothy 5:1).

        3. nevertheless, there will be times when necessary correction will cause the hard-hearted simply to walk away and we cannot let that deter us from making necessary reproofs (Mark 10:17-22)

 

    B. So Is Encouragement

        1. brotherhood, leadership and friendship require the ability to give encouragement to the people we love or lead; we want to have the kind of reputation that earned Joseph the Cypriot the apostolic nickname, “Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)” (Acts 4:36)

        2. the apostles and early preachers faced a tremendous challenge in evangelizing the world while bringing people together in one church who came from disparate backgrounds; they offered encouragement and confidence along with disciplinary instruction

            a. the elders and apostles in Jerusalem corresponded with their brethren in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia and when they read the letter, “they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (Acts 15:31-32).

            b. the apostles carried encouragement with them wherever they went (see Acts 16:40, 20:2)

            c. encouragement was the objective of prophesying, as “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. … so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (First Corinthians 14:3, 31).

        3. people need to be encouraged, to believe that their leaders and peers have confidence in them, and that “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18).

        4. it is sad and destructive that some of us are much better at criticism and fault-finding than we are at edification and encouragement (First Thessalonians 2:11-12)

 

    C. Exhort Daily 

        1. part of our fellowship then is the practice of encouraging one another to persist through the hard times and to see a light at the end, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12).

        2. ideally, this goes on even after the lights are turned out on Sunday night, but certainly it should be a hallmark of the time that we spend together in this refuge (Hebrews 3:12-14, 10:24-25)

        3. it is hard to be encouraged when the church is divided or when Christians are not acting like Jesus, but when we come here with helping others on our mind, we can exhort them (Romans 15:4-5)

        4. Paul sent other preachers along to certain churches to encourage them in their growth and unity, and I believe that to be important among my goals as well (see Ephesians 6:22, Colossians 4:8)

        5. “Therefore encourage one another with these words,” Paul wrote (First Thessalonians 4:18).

            a. a friendly greeting, a smile, the right hand of fellowship (see Galatians 2)

            b. optimism, personal and congregational

            c. an interest in being involved, helping out, doing one’s share

            d. praising the efforts of others and overlooking slight imperfections, just as you would a child’s artwork or a beginner’s pottery

            e. comforting those who express feelings of guilt or self-doubt

            f. encouraging people to go further and try harder

 

    D. Lift Up Leaders’ Hands

        1. although leaders are responsible for encouraging the people they shepherd or teach, sometimes the leaders need encouraging as well

        2. we hear about thankless jobs out in the world, but it should not be so in the church

        3. think about when Joshua was about to take the lead in Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land: Moses told the people to, “Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Deuteronomy 1:38; see also 3:28).

            a. there is even the earlier image of Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses while Israel battled that reminds us of the need of holding up the hands of the people who are fighting for us (see Exodus 17:12).

            b. much later, King Josiah learned the importance of encouraging the people who did the work, when, “He appointed the priests to their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of the Lord” (Second Chronicles 35:2).

        4. in the early years of the church, even the eloquent, learned preacher needed words of encouragement; “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:27).

            a. there is still wisdom in spreading around encouragement rather than discouragement, even among our leaders and teachers and ministers (First Thessalonians 5:12-13)

            b. words of appreciation and praise for specific efforts as well as general service help make it a pleasure to serve rather than an emotional burden

 

Conclusion

I suppose this lesson sounds like a plea for appreciation, but that is not entirely true. Preachers, as much as anyone can get discouraged and feel unappreciated. Our goal is to make this fellowship a relationship defined by mutual edification, which includes correction, instruction and exhortation. Too much of anything at the expense of the others will cause just the opposite.

 

Questions For Review

  1. What discourages you about our culture and society today?
  2. What are some personal struggles that discourage people?
  3. What is the difference between necessary reproof and discouragement in church?
  4. What causes people to feel a lack of encouragement?
  5. What caused the rich, young ruler to walk away from Jesus?
  6. How can we exhort someone daily?
  7. Why should we encourage our leaders?

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