|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2004|
|Are you tired of negative feedback? Why not be an encourager! Dr. Riser tells us how, according to the Bible.|
by Dr. Steven C. Riser
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5: 11
One of the most common complaints we hear from many people today is that they never receive any feedback except negative feedback. Their complaint is that they hear only complaints. It’s easy to see how some relationships can bring more pain than pleasure. Obviously, this is not what God intended. He wants us to have healthy and harmonious relationships and He knows what it takes. God meant for our relationships to be a source of joy and inspiration—not tension and frustration. He meant for relationships to be dynamic, rewarding and meaningful. The good news is that they can be as we learn to cultivate the ministry of encouragement. But first...
The word is a compound of the prefix “en”—meaning to put in or into and the word “courage”—meaning confident, brave, strong. To “encourage” then literally means to put courage into someone. Courage to do what? In short, courage to trust and obey God.
The prefix “dis” negates or reverses the word it is attached to. “Dissatisfied” means “not satisfied.” So, to “discourage” a person is to take courage away from him. An encouraging person is pleasant to be around because he builds you up and strengthens you by his example: his words, actions and attitudes. A discouraging person weakens, deprives of hope and tears down rather than strengthens and builds up.
The most common word for encouragement in the Bible is “parakaleo”—“para” meaning “beside, near, with, along side,” and “kaleo” meaning “to call or summon.” A “paraclete” is someone called along side of another to counsel, encourage, help and bring comfort. This word is used to refer to the role of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said to his disciples “I will not leave you comfortless” in John 14:18 he was saying, in effect, “I will not leave you encourage-less.” Paul referred to God as the God of encouragement (2 Cor. 1:4). The basic word is always used for one primary purpose—to describe functions that will help Christians be built up in Christ, or to help them build up one another in Christ.
A “paraclete”—encourager—helps us when we are in trouble, when we are in a situation with which we cannot cope. This word also means “to urge on or exhort.” A person needing help may not require comfort so much as challenge. The word is used to exhort troops to go into battle. It not only empathizes; it motivates or inspires. It not only gives comfort; it also gives courage. It impels hesitant soldiers into battle and fearful sailors into the storm. This word is used frequently by Paul in his epistles. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, he tells the Thessalonians to, “...encourage one another and build each other up.” Three verses later he says, we exhort you...admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak (v. 14). The writer to the Hebrews commands, “Exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). That means more than comfort. We are to challenge one another, and “stir up one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
A positive example of encouragement from the Bible is Nehemiah who possessed the gift of exhortation. He saw a need, laid out a plan, then he assembled the people of Jerusalem. He shared his God-given vision and he exhorted and encouraged this discouraged lot by saying, “Let us arise and build.” He exhorted the people to new courage and they completed the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in record time (Neh. 2:17-20; cf., 1 Sam. 23:15-18).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s opening paragraphs to his epistles are full of encouragement and exhortation. At the close of his letters he frequently affirms his fellow laborers for their faithfulness. The name “Barnabas,” Paul’s ministry companion in the New Testament, means “son of encouragement.”
A negative example of encouragement from the Bible was brought back by 10 of the 12 spies sent out to survey the Promised Land and bring back a report. They brought back a discouraging report and the people responded to the discouraging news with fear rather than faith. This response prevented them from entering the promised land and they ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. We don’t need any more people with the gift of discouragement (Num. 13:25-33; 1 Kgs. 12:20ff).
Throughout his entire ministry, Paul had one important concern on his mind and heart—to do all the good he could, whenever he could to build up the body of Christ for the glory of God. Paul’s life purpose is captured in the Phillips paraphrase of Colossians 1:28-29, “So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ Jesus. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me.” Knowing that he could only do so much himself, he developed a strategy to transfer this concern to others—to encourage every other Christian to develop the same concern for all other Christians (Col. 2:2; 4:8; 2 Tim. 2:2).
Paul provided believers with biblical and practical guidelines for developing a functioning church where Christians build up and edify one another. Christ’s plan is that as each of us does our part, the church grows as it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). Paul’s directive to the first century church is the same for us, “...encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing.” The Thessalonians had learned the importance of mutual encouragement, exhortation and comfort. Paul commended them and encouraged them to continue.
The primary means that God has provided us for mutual encouragement is the truth of His Word.
This is why Paul said in Ephesians 4:15 that we were to speak the truth in love so that we will grow spiritually. There are many biblical examples that demonstrate that the primary means of encouraging other believers focuses in God’s truth. In Titus 1:9 Paul talks about holding firmly to the “trustworthy message” so he can “encourage others by sound doctrine....” In 2 Timothy 4:2,
Timothy was exhorted to “preach the Word” so that he could correct, rebuke and encourage....” In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 the Thessalonians were encouraged, comforted and urged to live lives worthy of God. The next verse explains the means of encouraging...Paul said when you received the Word of God from us you accepted it as the Word of God which is at work in you who believe (v. 13).
What are some ways that the Thessalonian Church demonstrated this ministry of encouragement?
Regarding the coming of Christ, Paul told the Thessalonians to “encourage one another with these words”(1 Thess. 4:18). In other words, build up each other with these marvelous truths— remind each other of God’s promises—comfort one another with these assurances and provide for believer’s stability and security. False teaching leads to insecurity and instability. God’s Word leads to maturity (Eph. 4:14-15). In 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, Paul says that God by His grace has given us “eternal encouragement.”
This truth is clear, God expects every member to contribute to the success [maturity and growth] of the body. The ministry of encouragement is one that God has promised to bless.
Psalm 143:3; Matthew 3:17; John 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 5:14; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24
It’s important to tell the people in your life how important they are to you. It’s also important for you to tell others how important they are. If you know something good about someone, spread it around. Don’t keep it a secret. Paul took the opportunity in his writings to brag on his fellow workers. He understood that it was part of the process of building strong relationships. Here are some things to keep in mind when you spread good gossip:
Every time you interact with another person two things can happen: you can build that person up, or tear them down. Every time you interact with another person, you have a chance to practice holiness. We’re called to encourage. Encouraging others strengthens them. It helps them draw closer to Christ. That is the role we have to opportunity to play every time we interact with another person. Jesus said... “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). What a wonderful opportunity, yet what an awesome responsibility! May God give us grace as we strive to play the role of encourager in the lives of those we meet.
The gift of encouragement involves the special ability of stimulating the faith of others (Rom.
12:8a). We all have the responsibility to be encouraging but some have a special gift or ability. Bill Gothard has identified some common characteristics of this gift:
I believe that Dr. John Maxwell hit the nail on the head when he referred to “encouragement” as “oxygen for the soul.” If you deprive a soul of oxygen, it shrivels and it will not develop as God intended. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will withdrawal into a shell. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will live out a fearful existence. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will be unable or incapable of encouraging others; it will be apathetic and cynical, pessimistic and lethargic. In the extreme, it may even wish that it were dead.
Sometimes we disappoint others or get blamed by others, rightly or wrongly, and we may find it difficult to find others to encourage us when we need it most. David had such an experience in 1 Samuel 30:6, “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters...” It is very instructive how David responded to this difficult situation. The text says, “but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” We can and we must learn to encourage ourselves when there is no one around to encourage us. The key is, “in the Lord.” When Paul was writing to the Philippians from jail he exhorted them to “Rejoice in the Lord always...” (Phil. 4:4). There is always a realistic reason to be encouraged “in the Lord” and to rejoice “in the Lord.”
The Psalms help to answer this question. David encouraged himself through spiritual journaling and heartfelt, honest prayer. The Psalms are a window to David’s souls. They record man’s word to God and God’s Word to man—usually in that order. The Psalms often begin on a low note and an honest sharing of emotion, but as the writer reflects God’s truth through the eyes of faith he breaks out in praise and foresees better days. The Psalms encourage a dialogical relationship between God and his children. The Psalms are filled with praise for who God is, with thanks for what God does and with hope for what God has promised. They provide evidence of a strong faith by a man who was after God’s heart. Worship enables us to focus our faith on God and our hope in God and it is always uplifting and encouraging.
For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
In summary: Biblical encouragement is the responsibility of all, and a spiritual gift for some, given by the Holy Spirit to be used for mutual edification in the body of Christ. It provides help and hope in our hearts through the Word and prayer, through praise, preaching, personal affirmation and our union with Christ to the end that we might grow in faith, love, wisdom and good deeds.
Romans 12:10—Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Romans 12:16—Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 13:8—Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Romans 14:13—Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Romans 15:7—Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:14—I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Romans 16:16—Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
1 Corinthians 1:10—I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Galatians 5:13—You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2—Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:32—Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 5:19—Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Ephesians 5:21—Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:13—Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11—Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
In short we are exhorted to: honor, live in harmony with, stop passing judgment on, love, accept, greet, instruct, speak to, submit, forebear, forgive, teach, admonish and encourage one another.