For one thing we are in a spiritual war, we, as Christians, are being assaulted by the powers of darkness who seek to bring us down in any way that they can. Division, depression, and discouragement are three of the tactics that they employ in their efforts to neutralize or immobilize the people of God.
(John Lathrop)

A number of years ago I was in a meeting with a ministry team that I was a part of at that time. A pastor friend of mine, who was not a part of the group, joined us for this meeting. During the course of the gathering someone asked the members of the team to point out a strength of one of the other team members, or to encourage them in some way.

Later in the day my pastor friend asked me if we always did this. That is, did we always take time to encourage one another in our team meetings? I told him that we did not do it at every meeting, but that it was done from time to time. He thought that this was a good idea.

Encouraging fellow believers is very important. This was true in the days of the New Testament and it remains true today. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one thing we are in a spiritual war, we, as Christians, are being assaulted by the powers of darkness who seek to bring us down in any way that they can. Division, depression, and discouragement are three of the tactics that they employ in their efforts to neutralize or immobilize the people of God.

I dare say we have all, at one time or another, experienced at least one of these. All of us are also at times physically exhausted or dealing with challenges or problems that weight heavily on our hearts and minds.

In addition, we sometimes question if we are doing anything valuable in ministry, or contributing anything positive to the ministry that we are working with. It is thus clear that there is a need for encouragement in the Body of Christ.

The New Testament contains a number of texts about encouraging fellow believers. In some texts we see leaders in the early church encouraged others. Here are a few examples. In Acts 11:23 Barnabas, who was sent by the church in Jerusalem to see what God had done in Antioch, encouraged the new believers there to remain true to the Lord. In Acts 14:21-22 the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, encouraged the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.

A little bit later in Acts 15:32 we find two prophets, Judas and Silas, encouraging the believers. One chapter later, after their release from prison, we find Paul and Silas encouraging the believers at Lydia’s house (Acts 16:40).

In Acts 20:1 the apostle Paul encouraged the saints in Ephesus after the riot in that city. In the very next verse, Acts 20:2, we learn that as Paul traveled in Macedonia he encouraged the Christians there. These texts demonstrate that encouragement was a regular part of New Testament ministry.

But, in addition to Paul, Barnabas, and the two prophets mentioned above there were others in the early church who also participated in the ministry of encouragement. In Ephesians 6:21-22 Paul told the believers in Ephesus that he was sending Tychicus to them.

One of his purposes in sending this brother to them was so that he would encourage them (Eph. 6:22). Paul also sent Tychicus to encourage the believers in Colosse (Col. 4:7-8). Paul’s coworker, Timothy, was also an encourager (1 Thess. 3:2). The apostle Peter, with the help of Silas, encouraged the recipients of his first epistle (1 Pet. 5:12).

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:8 that some people have the gift of encouraging others. However, as I have previously written in my book The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry, it is clear from the New Testament that one does not have to be a church leader (apostle, prophet, etc.) or one with the gift of encouragement in order to encourage others (page 112).

There are verses directed to all believers to encourage other believers. One of the classic texts for this is Hebrews 10:25. In this verse the writer urges the readers not to neglect meeting together, so that they will come together and encourage each other. There are no restrictions on this directive, it is given to all of the believer who would read or hear this letter read.

This is not the only text that instructs all believers to encourage their fellow Christians. The apostle Paul twice encourages the believers in Thessalonica to encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). In both of these texts he urges them to encourage one another with the truth regarding the Lord’s return.

This is only a brief look at the subject of encouragement. However, it demonstrates that encouragement played an important part in the growth and development of the early church. The same should be true today.

Sometimes this encouragement can come forth quite spontaneously. At other times it may require a little effort on our part, that is, we need to make a decision to encourage. We need to engage in intentional encouragement. Encouraging when we do not feel like it is not being hypocritical, it is being obedient to the scriptural examples and injunctions that we find in the New Testament.

 


John P. Lathrop - United States

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.

 

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