And when he had passed through those areas and offered them many words of encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:2
You’ve no doubt seen the list at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 with faith, hope, and love. And I’m sure you’re familiar with the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in Galatians 5:22-23. Over the next few weeks, let’s take a moment or two to consider some underrated traits that are no less necessary in the body of Christ than some of these other fruits.
First up is energy-infusing encouragement. Not too long ago, we discussed Barnabas. Encouragement (also called exhortation or edification) was his specialty. A quick word search shows it popping up regularly in the book of Acts which means it was key to the growth of the early church. It’s safe to say it will help our churches grow today.
We all need encouragement. Even guys like the Apostle Paul need it. Think about that for a moment. The Apostle Paul needed encouragement from other believers. Romans 1:12 and Philippians 2:19 both mention how Paul looks forward to the encouragement he will receive from his fellow believers. (When you consider he was in prison when he wrote Philippians, that encouragement must have been extremely precious.)
Sometimes we focus on other things at the expense of encouragement. Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to live worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). He also instructed Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul listed three things. Rebuke – tell where we need to straighten up. Correct – show us where we can do better. Encourage – tell us what we need to keep doing.
We need a balance. If we only ever hear things that give us warm fuzzies, we’ll get soft. If we’re only yelled at, we’ll get discouraged and maybe give up. Think of the very best coaches you or your kids played for or the best boss you worked for. What made the difference? I’m going to guess it was the encouragement received.
How do we encourage others?
I wish there was a verse with three or four easy ways to encourage others. But a thoughtful reading, especially of Paul’s instructions to the churches, can give us some ideas.
1. Watch our words – Ephesians 4:29 is very straightforward. “No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” It’s easy to read that verse and think because we don’t use R-rated vocabulary, it doesn’t apply. Let’s stretch it out to the spirit of the instruction, not just the strict letter. No gossip. No mean-spirited criticism. No disparaging, Spirit-quenching remarks. What if we expand it to body-language? No eye-rolls or frowns. Let’s replace those with kindness, with smiles, with compliments, with appreciation.
2. Do our part – In Ephesians 4:16, Paul says, “From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” See that? The body, that is, believers encourage each there when we all take part in ministry. We know this is true. One of the most DIS-couraging, burnout-inducing things is when we have to carry a heavy ministry load alone. How encouraging would it be if someone recognized that we could use a hand and offered it? How would it encourage your pastor to see the whole church involved in carrying out the Commission? Think about your church. Who is doing double or triple duty? How and where could you step up? If you’re unsure, make it a matter of prayer.
3. Love each other – That is the root and foundation of encouragement. 1 Corinthians 8:1 states exactly that. Love builds up. Our family of fellow believers is a refuge for us. They are a haven for us to escape to when life is challenging. OR at least they should be. Let’s deliberately decide that our church is not going to add another level of drama and frustration to our lives but that we come alongside one another with genuine love. Notice I said “decide.” Christlike love is not based on merit, nor is it reciprocation. It is an active choice to give of yourself for someone else.
There are other ways to encourage, but I think if we focus on these until we are really good at them, things will change. By the way, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to get started.
Next week: Maturity