************ Sermon on Acts 4:36 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 2, 1999
Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:22-25; 15:36-40
"Encourage One Another"
Topic: EncouragementThe older man, do you know what he was doing? He was encouraging the younger man.
The Boston Marathon is among the world's best-known races. One of the most infamous portions of the 26-mile, 385-yard course is "Heartbreak Hill." It's there, along that hill, that thousands of spectators gather. They stand and cheer as they see weary runners about to collapse. During one race a young man was near total exhaustion as he approached the foot of Heartbreak Hill. It was doubtful he could go a step farther. About halfway up the hill an older man, who was obviously in better shape, came alongside the younger man, put his arm around him, and spoke quietly to him. Together, step by step, they painstakingly made their way up Heartbreak Hill.
This morning we look again at the "one another" passages of Scripture. What are our responsibilities towards one another in Christ? Today, we are told to "encourage one another" (1 Thess 5:11; cf I Thess 4:18 & Heb 10:24-25).
I What is Encouragement?
The Greek word for "encourage" may be translated as comfort, console, entreat, beg, implore, counsel, urge, challenge. We see from this that encouragement has a two-fold emphasis: to comfort or reassure, to challenge or admonish.
To encourage someone is to comfort or challenge them with the Word of God in such a way that the person is motivated to lead the Christian life and continue in the Lord's service.
To encourage is to be an instrument of grace. It works out of compassion and love and care for the other person, not judgment and condemnation and accusation.
II Who Gives Encouragement?
A In the Greek we find the word encouragement or its noun form encourager used for all three persons of the triune Godhead.
More than once we see the Greek word for "encourage" used for God the Father:
(2Cor 1:3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort ...
(2Th 2:16-17) May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, (17) encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
The Greek word for "encourage" is also used as a title for Jesus:
(1 Jn 2:1) My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Jesus is called "our defense" or, as other translations put it, Jesus is the Advocate, the Intercessor. The word used is "encourager" and it literally means one called alongside to help. The Lord Jesus has been called to our side to represent us before the Father.
Not surprisingly, the Greek word for "encourage" is also applied to the Holy Spirit:
(Jn 14:16) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever ...The Holy Spirit is called the Counselor; or as other translations put it, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Paraclete. The word used is "encourager" and it also means one called alongside to help. The Holy Spirit has been called to our side to assist us.
When applied to the Trinity, what does the word "encourage" tell us? It tells us that God is the great encourager, the One from Whom we receive support and love.
B As God's children we are called to reflect or image God. This means we are all called to encourage one another. I think of what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians: "encourage one another and build one another up" (1 Thess 5:11).
Topic: EncouragementThis is not a bad model for the church: we all should be honking encouragement to each other.
Bruce Larson, in his book, Wind and Fire, points out some interesting facts about sand-hill cranes: "These large birds, who fly great distances across continents in a "V" formation like geese, have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle turbulence. And third, all during the time one bird is leading, the rest are honking their affirmation."
I also think of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1. Nine times in five verses Paul uses the word "comfort." Paul tells us God comforts us, not simply to relieve our distress but also so that we may be able to comfort others.
The writer of Hebrews links mutual encouragement to worship attendance:
(Heb 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Who is not here this morning? We all have a duty to admonish or encourage them to attend. Who is here this morning that rarely comes a second time? Encourage him or her to come this evening as well.
In Romans 12:8 we see that "encouragement" is one of the gifts of the Spirit to the church. Some believers among us have this gift. But God gifting some as encouragers does not exempt the rest of the church from this ministry. Encouragement, in other words, is something we all must do.
III Biblical Examples of Encouragement
A The Bible gives us example after example of people who encouraged their fellow believers. One of the first encouragers we meet is Jonathan, the son of Saul and the friend of David.
David, if you remember, was fleeing from King Saul. The king had been pursuing David ever since the young man's victory over Goliath and the resulting surge in his popularity with the people. Saul was intent on killing David, who was forced to journey with his men from place to place to prevent Saul's soldiers from discovering his whereabouts. His family and friends were far away. We can only imagine his fatigue, his fear, his bouts of depression.
One day David received a surprise visit from his close friend Jonathan. The king's son had made a special trip to be at David's side in his time of need. The Bible tells us,
(1Sam 23:16) Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.What an encouragement Jonathan's presence and words must have been to David!
B There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul was an encourager as well. After starting several new churches on his first missionary journey, Paul retraced his steps and returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch "strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith" (Acts 14:21-22). These new believers, left alone like orphans for several weeks or months, needed this encouragement lest they falter in the faith.
Paul often was encouraging as he said good-bye to the churches. As he left Philippi, he comforted the new Christians there. Don't forget, Philippi is where Paul was whipped and imprisoned. You would think the believers there should have been consoling him. But the Bible records that it was Paul who did the comforting before he left (Acts 16:40).
The same thing happened in Ephesus. A riot broke out when the servants of Artemis or Diana felt their business threatened by the Christian faith. Paul's life was in danger. Yet, when the uproar ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, "after encouraging them," said good-bye and set out for Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
C There were many encouragers in the New Testament Church: not just Jesus and Paul, but also Judas & Silas (Acts 15:31-32), Peter (Luke 22:32), and others too. There is, however, one character that stands out. That person is Joseph. Every time he appears in the Bible he is encouraging someone. He helped and encouraged people so much he was given a new name by the apostles. He was given the name Barnabas which means "Son of Encouragement."
A survey of his life and ministry illustrates how he was an encourager.
First, Barnabas helped needy saints. The early Jerusalem church had many poor people. Some were widows. Some were working men who could not secure or hold employment after confessing Christ. Others were pilgrims from other nations who were converted on Pentecost and stayed there for fellowship and teaching. Local believers had to help these poor. Barnabas responded by selling property, probably on his native island of Cyprus, and bringing the proceeds to the apostles to be used for the poor (Acts 4:37). His act went beyond encouragement to showing mercy. Barnabas, in other words, practiced what he preached. He not only talked encouragement but he also did concrete encouraging acts.
Second, Barnabas endorsed an unwelcome convert. Picture, if you will, the reaction to Paul's conversion. Paul's former friends in the Sanhedrin thought of him as a renegade and rejected him. The Christians were suspicious of his motives because Paul had recently persecuted them. Even the disciples were leery.
The situation was touchy. Paul was rejected by all and accepted by none. What could he do? How could he gain the confidence of the church and carry out the Lord's mission to the Gentiles?
It was Barnabas who cleared the way. Barnabas took Paul and brought him to the apostles and explained that Paul had seen the Lord, that the Lord had spoken to Paul, and that in Damascus Paul had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). Barnabas was so successful in promoting Paul that Paul "stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem" (Acts 9:28).
Third, Barnabas accepted Gentile believers. Some believers, scattered by persecution, witnessed to Gentiles in Antioch. The Lord blessed this witness, and a large number of Gentiles believed. The Jerusalem Church sent Barnabas to investigate.
(Acts 11:23-24) When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (24) He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas threw all his energies into the work, staying over a year. It was here that believers were first called Christians. It was also the Antioch Church which first sent missionaries to Europe.
Fourth, Barnabas enlisted Paul in his work. The growing work at Antioch needed teachers and preachers. Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch (Acts 11:25). It was because of Barnabas that Paul finally began the great missionary work the Lord had called him to do.
Fifth, Barnabas restored a youthful deserter. When Barnabas and Paul set out on their first missionary journey they took John Mark with them as their helper (Acts 12:25; 13:5). For whatever reason, Mark defected before the journey was half over (Acts 13:13). Perhaps he was homesick, afraid, or ill.
When the time came to start the next missionary tour, strong disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas over taking John Mark with them. Paul didn't want to take John Mark because he had deserted them once before; Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance because he wanted to encourage the young man. The disagreement became so sharp that Paul and Barnabas parted ways.
Paul later recognized the error of his ways when he wrote to Timothy:
(2 Tim 4:11) Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
Think, for a moment, of how much the church owes to Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. Because Barnabas was an encourager, Paul was able to go out and preach to the Gentiles and write 13 letters. Also, through Barnabas' encouragement of Mark we gained the second Gospel. Here is something remarkable. Barnabas never wrote a book that found its way into the Bible, but he encouraged two men who wrote over half of the New Testament.
IV Who Needs Encouragement?
A If we are honest, we have to admit there are times we all need encouragement. More than once someone here has encouraged me in my work when I am tired and wonder why I am putting in so many hours or when I question the value or benefit of what I am doing. A timely word at the right moment leads me to continue striving to do my best. This past week, for instance, I received a letter of encouragement from a member, expressing appreciation for my work and for my family.
B All Christians at one time or another need encouragement. But the Scriptures identify at least four different groups of people within the church who especially need our encouragement and support.
First, and most obvious, are those in distress of any sort. There are many kinds of distress we can respond to with encouragement: sickness, death, family problems or conflict, financial hardship, the blues that come after giving birth to a child.
A second group of people in need of encouragement are those who contribute of their time and ability to the ministries of the church. I think of elders and deacons, Church School teachers, youth leaders, organists and pianists, Cadet & GEMS counselors, choir members, nursery attendants, library workers, committee members – they all need encouragement at one time or another. This helps to renew their dedication and spurs them on to greater endeavors for the Lord. Many factors can contribute to burnout in these people. One key factor, however, is a lack of encouragement from other members of the body.
A third group of people who need encouragement is new believers. That's why Paul often returned to the new churches he had established (Acts 14:22). Without our encouragement, believers who enter the church through the front door may quietly slip away through the back door.
A fourth group of people who need our encouragement are the nominal, the non-involved, the wayward.
Each of these groups need encouragement. The distressed need comfort, workers need compliments, new believers need support, and nominal wayward Christians require prodding.
As I already said, we are all called to give encouragement. And, there are times when we all need encouragement.
In Christ let us all encourage one another to lead the Christian life and continue in the Lord's service.
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