Who does not like to receive an encouraging word? Who does not appreciate a kind, timely word spoken into your life when you needed it most? Who does not love to have the knowledge that someone will stand by your side and help you, even in your darkest hour? Encouragement is so valuable. The Proverbs speak to the value of these words to our souls.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25 ESV)
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24 ESV)
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 ESV)
In the early days of the fledgling church in Jerusalem, there was a man who was such an encouragement to the body of Christ that they did not call him by the name given by his parents. They simply called him, “son of encouragement.” We know that name as Barnabas. The name “Barnabas” means son of encouragement. We see in this man many instances of encouragement. In Acts 4 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money to the apostles so that they could take care of the needy Christians in Jerusalem. In Acts 9 we see Barnabas again when Paul becomes a Christian. Paul comes to Christ and tries to join the church in Jerusalem. The church refuses Paul because he was a persecutor of Christians because they did not believe he was a disciple. Who was the person who came to the side of this persecutor of Christians? Barnabas did. Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles and told them about how Paul had been boldly preaching the name of Jesus. Then in Acts 15, after Mark had left Paul and Barnabas during their first preaching journey, who wants to have Mark come with them on the second journey? Barnabas does.
We need this kind of encouragement. This is exactly what God has called for us to have toward one another. Our theme this year is to look at the passage that instruct us regarding how we are to behave toward one another as the body of Christ. God calls for us to encourage one another. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV) Again, we need this kind of encouragement.
Think about how many people have the gift of discouragement. How easy it is to be the discourager! When that person talks, it is always something negative to say. Hope and joy is dashed when they open their mouths. Everything is a complaint. Everything is a discouragement and frustration. This kind of “Eeyore” attitude can easily be developed in the church. But this is not what we are supposed to be toward one another. God says that we need to encourage one another and build one another up.
Not only should we consider the example of Barnabas, but let us also take a moment to reflect on the example of Jesus. When do you see Jesus being a discouragement? When do you see Jesus offering a discouraging word? The Samaritan woman that Jesus encounters at the well has a sinful mess of life. Does Jesus speak encouraging words or discouraging words? We recognize that he encouraged her spirituality and faith. Consider the woman who was caught in adultery that the leaders are ready to stone. Does Jesus encourage her or discourage her? What wonderful words he says, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). Consider the sinful woman who enters the Pharisees’ house and is weeping over the feet of Jesus. The Pharisee wants this notoriously sinful woman out of his house. What did Jesus say? “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). Jesus does not say, “What is the matter with you?” He does not say, “What is your problem?” He received people to him and healed them.
What I want us to think about is how we need a lot more encouragement in our lives and less of a stick. How often we can start with a verbal stick with each other rather than verbal encouragement! This does not mean that there is not a place or a need for rebuke. There is a need for rebuke. But this is not the only thing we need. It is not the only tool given to us by God. We need to start with encouragement. In fact, listen to what Paul taught Timothy in his first letter to him.
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. (1 Timothy 5:1–2 ESV)
Do you see what Paul said? Encourage older men like you would your father. Encourage younger men as your brother. Encourage older women like you would your mother. Encourage younger women like you would your sister. We need encouragement. In fact, please consider what you respond well to. We need to be the people who come alongside a person and not whip on them but encourage them. I cannot find a passage in the New Testament that tells us to come together and rebuke one another regularly. But we do have passages that tell us to come together and encourage each other regularly. So how can we encourage each other and what should we encourage each other in? Turn to Hebrews 10:22-24.
Encouraging One Another (Hebrews 10:22-24)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV)
We have unfortunately read this text with one main lens: the need to not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. What is ironic about this is that this is a text that is supposed to be an encouragement, not a rebuke! Look at it in verse 24, “But encouraging one another….” There is nothing more encouraging than yelling at people to go to church, right? Thank you for yelling me about attendance. I am very encouraged to come. No, this is not encouraging and many well meaning people use these verses this way. Can we look at this text again and try to forget all the sermons you heard in your life that told you that you are sinning for not going to church? Let’s look at this glorious text with fresh eyes.
Notice the things that we need to be encouraged to do when we come together. First, since we have this great priest over the house of God in the person of Jesus, we need to be encouraged to draw near to God in full assurance of faith (10:22). We need to be encouraged in the faith. You will see this is a consistent message in the New Testament.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21–22 ESV)
Paul and Barnabas went around to the churches they had just established to strengthen the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith. Have you thought about that? We need to encourage each other in the faith. We should not assume that we are all strong in the faith and doing well in the faith. We need to encourage each other, especially because we will go through difficulties and tribulations on this journey with God. Paul wrote to the Romans and told them that he longed to be with them so that they could mutually encourage each other in the faith (Romans 1:12).
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11–12 ESV)
Paul wanted encouragement in the faith from the Christians in Rome and Paul wanted to encourage the faith of the Christians who were in Rome. Friends, Paul desired encouragement. Paul desired to be an encourager. We should see ourselves filling that role for each other, to encourage each other to continue in the faith. This life is hard and living faithfully before God requires hard choices and sacrifices. So we need to encourage each other to make those decisions.
Second, the writer of Hebrews says we need to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering (10:23). We need to grow in hope. We need to encourage each other in the hope we have. In fact, it is my desire to do that for us as a church in our next sermon series which will be from 1 Thessalonians, a book that encourages our hope of eternity. We can encourage each other by reminding each other of the hope we have in Christ. God is faithful to his promises.
Third, we need to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (10:24). “Consider” is an important word because it means that we take thoughtful effort and intention. We are thinking about how we can stir each other up to love and good works. How can I help you grow in love and doing good? How can you help me grow in love and doing good works? What can I do to promote love in the other person? What can I say that will encourage you to do good works, to not grow weary in doing good?
Now the point is not to yell at people for not coming. The point is that we need to be together so that we can do these things for each other. The church is to have an atmosphere that when we come in the doors we are ready to give encouragement in faith, hope, and love to others and are ready to receive the same toward us. We are coming to every meeting considering how we are going to do this for each other. We not here to tear each other down. We are going to be Barnabas in this church, coming alongside every person to give them spiritual strength.
If we look at coming to church as a requirement, a duty, or something that has to be done, we are missing out on the joy what we are doing together. We are together to encourage each other. At the beginning of the lesson I asked if you needed encouragement. All of us need encouragement. How is that encouragement going to happen? We can only come alongside each other by getting together and putting this word of God into each other’s hearts in our Bible studies and worship times. This does not happen through mere social events. We might feel good but our faith is not built, encouraged, or grown in social gatherings. We give each other faith, hope, and love by speaking the scriptures into each other. Stir one another up to love and good works. Encourage each other all the more as we see the day approaching. It is a simple message Paul gives the Thessalonians. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We need each other. We need to think about encouraging each other. This is one of our important goals as we come together as the family in Christ.