The secret ingredient for a healthy church is never spoken of in the gospel accounts, but shows up predominantly in the letters to churches and the individuals that follow. It is an integral part of life together as God’s people, one of the “one-another” commands of Scripture (1 Thess 5:11), and is just plain old important for the church to endure through difficult times.
What am I talking about? The practice of encouragement.
A Major Theme
The word, “encourage” or variations of it, shows up 28 times in the New Testament -- ten times in the book of Acts, alone. This is important because church planting, pastoring, mission, and living faithfully in a world that is opposed to the Gospel is really hard and often leads to despair and discouragement.
I know that those with an over-realized view of God’s victory, or a skewed perspective of the effect of Christ’s work in this current age will disagree, but here’s the reality: life as a faithful Christian can be a grind. The constant criticisms, the confronting reality of sin and disease, death and brokenness, the unceasing spiritual opposition, the fallen state of our world, and our own sinfulness and fragility make for a difficult walk as a faithful follower of Jesus.
We all agree that through Christ’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, sin was paid for and will ultimately be defeated. The war is won, but skirmishes still rage. The serpent had his head crushed, but he still thrashes around trying to do as much damage as possible to God’s elect.
In all of the discouragement, God cares for his Church through the gift of encouragement -- encouragement, that if found in Christ, will lead to healthy unity within the church.
if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. -- Philippians 2:1–2
This encouragement from the life and example of Jesus leads us not to consider ourselves greater than another Christian, but to regard them more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3-11). When we are able to do this through the work of God in our lives, we become a people that encourages in not just word, but deed also.
A Magnified Gift
Have you ever received an encouragement from a member of your church? Maybe it was a word to endure, a simple affirmation, a reminder of God’s love for you, a small gift, or an act of service done just for you? The power to encourage one another to stay the course, and remain committed to Christ in these seemingly small things is magnified by the Holy Spirit as they work out in our lives.
Sadly, despite the power that encouragement has to empower and support the church, we find ourselves often forgetting to speak an encouraging word or do an encouraging deed. We must fight this. To be disciplined in building up our church, we must be disciplined in providing encouragement to her members.
Let this short piece of reading be exactly that: an exhortation towards growing in the discipline of encouraging. As you encourage one another, you’ll be amazed at how those you encourage will, in turn, become encouragers to you and others within the body of Christ.