Be an Encouragement
A writer tells of an evening when she and her husband were attracted to a lot of noise in their backyard. When they went to investigate, they saw a whole flock of purple martins flying all around the yard, most of them crying out excitedly.
After watching for a while, they discovered the cause of all the ruckus. Surrounded by a whole bunch of adult martins, there, in the middle of the flock, was a baby martin.
What the couple saw was amazing. Some of the adult birds were above and in front of the baby, urging him on. Leading him on. Others flew behind and below the baby, also encouraging, but also ready to catch him if he faltered. All the while there was a sense of excitement. Excitement that a bird had emerged from the darkness of a nest into a bright, beautiful, new world.
The writer likens that scene to what should be the case among Christians. That when any person emerges from the darkness of unbelief and enters into a bright, beautiful, new world of faith, there should be a whole lot of things going on. Namely celebration, leadership, a willingness to catch the new Christian if he or she falters a bit.
And encouragement. Which is what the title of this message suggests. A topic that led me to search for a list of Bible verses related to encouragement. A list that ended up to be quite long. A list from which four Bible passages have been selected, with which I hope to weave kind of a tapestry of today’s topic. A tapestry that includes the challenge to encourage, how to be able to encourage, and who to include as encouragement is given.
And by the way, especially talking about a very young martin reminds me we just about to start this year’s Vacation Bible School. The hope - the prayer - is that all the young ones who attend will learn a lot about Jesus. The hope - the prayer - is that those who have not already accepted Jesus as Savior will do so.
For any and all who make that commitment - and for any and all who already have done so - it will be our privilege to celebrate. It will be our responsibility - the responsibility of those of us who are adult and/or longer-term Christians - to do what the adult purple martins did, which is to encourage, lead, and be willing to catch if one of the young ones falters.
Let’s be thinking in this message specifically of the young ones - those 4 to 12 years of age who will be the students here for Vacation Bible School.
Of course, let’s also be thinking what those of us who are adult Christians are to do for new Christians of any age. But as mentioned, there are four Bible passages for this message, each one related to the topic of encouragement. The first is in I Thessalonians 5, verses 11 and 14.
This is verse 11. It is very straightforward. “Therefore…” That word always relates to what comes right before it. In this case, what comes before it is the call to be sober, as in spiritually serious. And yes, it is OK to laugh and joke and all that, but we are never to make light of spiritual things.
Right after that is the challenge to have faith and love, which should lead to salvation. Those things are to be had personally. They are also to be shared with others.
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up.”
Encourage to do what? To be sober. To have faith. To have love and accept love. To be saved.
Build up? Build up into having stronger, more sober, more loving faith in Jesus.
In the context of the purple martin story - and in the context of the upcoming Vacation Bible School - those of us who have been Christians are to fly ahead and above younger ones, leading them - guiding them - as we encourage them. Some of us are to fly below and behind them, also encouraging them, but also being ready to catch them if they falter.
And consider a compliment Paul, the writer of I Thessalonians, gives. “Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Are we already encouraging one another? Including those new to the faith? Including our children? I hope so. If so, we, too, are worthy of being complimented. But the challenge is to keep doing that and keep doing that and keep doing that so that together we can all grow in our Christian lives.
Encourage one another. That is what we are to do spiritually. But let’s add to that the words of verse 14, which, it seems to me, teach that encouragement may not always be happy. Sometimes correction is called for.
Verse 14. “And we [that is Paul, the author, and Silas, a fellow missionary, and Timothy, a convert Paul himself led to the Lord and spent a lot of time encouraging] exhort you.” Exhort means more than suggest. This is a plea - basically a demand - of some things that must be done.
“We exhort you, brethren,” to do a number of things, some of which are not happy or pleasant.
“Admonish the idlers.”
Idlers can also be translated “those who are lazy.” As in those who at one time accepted Jesus, probably with great joy, but who have become lazy in things like prayer and Bible reading and joining together for worship. Admonish them. Admonish. That means to warn. Even more than that, it means to reprimand. To do so firmly, making sure the one admonished has no doubt he or she has been corrected.
No, that does not sound like encouragement to me either. At least not the kind of encouragement I like to give. But if someone does something that is wrong or if someone is not doing what is supposed to be done spiritually, what better encouragement is there than to correct that person? It may be the only way he or she will realize the need to change - to grow spiritually.
The adult purple martins might have said to the baby, “Do not get lazy. Remember to flap your wings every now and then. And watch where you are going.” So it is we are to admonish the idlers. That is one way we are to encourage them.
Speaking of encouragement, “encourage the fainthearted.”
Do you suppose the adult martins had to do that? Do you suppose the baby martin was fearful? Hey, leaving the nest has to be scary for a baby bird.
The life of a Christian can be scary, too. The Christian life does have a lot of joy in it, but the Christian life can also be difficult as we are called upon to overcome our own human natures, doing that, in some cases, in the face of ridicule or rejection.
That reminds me of a comment I heard from a fairly new Christian a few years ago. He was telling of his conversion to the Christian faith. He said that with his decision, he lost all his friends.
Someone responded that they apparently, then, were not really friends. The new Christian answered, “That is probably true, but it still hurt.”
New Christians - old Christians, too - can become fainthearted. Whenever we see that, we are to encourage them.
“Help the weak.” Here, weak refers to those who might be ready to leave the Christian faith - to leave the body of believers. Help. The translation can be “cling to.”
Here is an explanation I read. Do not let a weak brother or sister drift away and eventually vanish altogether, but make a deliberate attempt to grapple him or her to the church. That may require fellowship. It may require other kinds of persuasion. And of course, our attempts may not succeed. But help those who are weak.
Do you know someone weak spiritually? Do I? Am I helping? Are you?
And do all that with patience.
In happy ways and in strict ways, encourage one another and build one another up. That is the teaching of Paul in I Thessalonians 5.
How often are we to do that? Listen to Hebrews 3:13, which answers that question. “Exhort one another every day.”
Remember what it means to exhort? It means to plead. Even more than that, it means to demand. In the context of verse 13 in Hebrews 3, the demanding is to be for fellow Christians avoid evil and to fight against unbelief. That is important because either of those things can cause a person to fall away from God. We are to exhort one another to stay true to the Christian faith. We are to do that, not just sometimes, but all the time. We are to encourage in that way, doing so every day.
The purpose? This completes verse 13. “So that none of you [so that no Christians - new Christians and old Christians alike] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
As mentioned, we have our human natures to battle against. We have a whole lot of outside influences that tempt us to leave righteousness behind. If we choose to stay true to God, ridicule and rejection might be faced. Any or all of those things might make sin seem the easy way. That is why it is so important to have encouragement. Even the type of encouragement that is found in exhortation and admonishing. And one more time, that is to be done not just sometimes. It is to be done every day.
How can we be up to that task of encouraging? Let’s move over to something else Paul wrote, this time in Philippians 4:8.
Of course, what Paul wrote in the few verses before verse 8 is also important. In those verses, there are some other ways mentioned that we can be willing and able to encourage others. Ways for us to be so in tune with God that we can encourage others. Those other ways include rejoicing in the Lord always and having no anxiety about anything, which can be accomplished - at least more easily accomplished - by praying, which will give us peace. The kind of peace that will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
But how to do that? How to translate all that into the ability to encourage others, doing so every day? Verse 8. “Finally, brethren, think about” things that are positive. Specifically, Paul wrote, “whatever is true and honorable.”
True and honorable. As some translations have it, true and honest.
The first of those words refers to centering our thoughts on Bible truths. On teachings that will not let us down.
By the way, that is the opposite of much of what the world offers. I am thinking of all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood-type stuff.
Honorable? Or honest? We are to think of things that are decent. Things worthy of our thoughts.
Again, that is the opposite of much of what the world offers. So much that we have around us tempts us away from God. We are to rise above those things in our thinking.
Think about whatever is true and honorable. That is how we can stay in the mindset of
wanting to and being able to encourage others. And think about “whatever is just and pure.”
The first of those words means we will treat others - other people and even God - the way they should be treated. Concerning God, that we will worship Him, learn His teachings, and live by them. Concerning others, that we will be willing to lead and help and encourage them.
Pure. That we will be so in tune with being just that no sin will be able to dissuade us away from obeying the Lord.
“Whatever is lovely, gracious, excellent.”
Attractive. That is what it means to be lovely. Being attractive by being kind and patient. Things that should draw people, in this case, to the Lord.
Gracious. That means to say and to think only what it is fit for God to hear.
Excellent? Virtuous. As in being fit for whatever God has for you to do, including encouraging others. Be good at that. Concentrate on - think about - ways to be excellent in all you do.
“Worthy of praise.” The call is to live in ways that will attract the attention of others, the purpose being to use the attention to draw others to the Lord.
We are to encourage and build one another up. We are to do that for new Christians, young Christians, old Christians alike. We are to do that every day. To be able to do that, we are to think about things that are good and positive and wholesome.
And may we always remember that none of that is possible unless we have with us the presence and the help of God. Which leads us to today’s fourth passage. An Old Testament passage that is Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.
In the first part of this fourth passage, encouragement - the closeness encouragement requires - is at least hinted at.
“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.”
For instance, “for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” That applies to encouragement, does it not? I mean, if there is not an encourager, one who falls spiritually has no one to help him up, either through happy words or words of admonishing.
“And if two lie together, they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?” It can be cold being alone. Including spiritually. Encouragement - the closeness it brings - can be warm.
“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone [the temptations the world has to offer can be hard for a person alone to fend off], two will withstand him.” It will at least be easier to stay strong as we are together.
Two are better than one. Applying that to today’s theme, encouragement is very helpful. But here is the rest of the verse. “A threefold cord…” The first two folds represent the two people, the third fold God. The teaching is you are never to try to encourage on your own. Do not fly above or in front of someone on your own. Do not fly below or behind, ready to catch someone. Never do that on your own. Instead, include God in what you do. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Encourage one another. Build one another up. Do that with happy words when they are appropriate. Admonish when that is needed.
Prepare yourself to encourage and to build others up by thinking about positive things. Things that are true and honorable, just and pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent, worthy of praise.
Do all that every day. Which brings to my mind another bird story. A story that tells of something we saw in our backyard a couple weeks ago.
In the yard were several families of some kind of black bird. Starlings maybe.
Some of the birds were dark black. Those were the adults. Others were kind of a dark gray. They were the babies. Babies the same size as their parents, but who still expected to be fed.
The one family I especially remember had the big baby near the parent. Mama probably. The son, like his mama, was poking around the yard, in search of whatever their food is. Seeds or worms or whatever. In other words, he was trying to learn. But he was always ready to take whatever mama brought him.
Obviously, I did not hear mama say anything. Nor was I close enough to catch her facial expression. So maybe she was tired of having to feed sonny boy all the time. Maybe she was thinking, “Will you just get your own food for a change? How long do I have to feed you?” Maybe that is what I would have heard if I was able to understand the language of starlings. Maybe that is what she said or thought.
But you know what? I think she was fine with her role. I think God made her to keep feeding her little ones. I think she at least instinctively knew that was her role, and she was going to fill it.
We who are Christians have a role as well concerning young ones - young in age and/or young in the Christian life. It is to feed them. To feed them through encouragement. May we instinctively do that every day, for as long as it takes, never forgetting the role we have and always being willing to fill it.
Whether it is flying ahead and above or behind and below - whether it is leading or
catching or feeding the new or young ones - may we be just like the purple martins and just like the mama starling. Let’s do all we can to encourage one another and build one another up, the purpose being joy and peace as together all of us who are Christians can know and benefit from the truth of faith in Jesus.
Encouragement. Let’s sing about that as we close this service with a hymn that will allow us to ask for the faith and love needed to want to encourage, and for the courage to actually do so. It is Faith For Thy Service.
Faith for Thy service, my Father, I ask -
Faith for the facing and faith for the task,
Faith for the moment and faith for the day,
Faith that my God will throw open the way.
Hope for new courage and hope for new sight,
Hope in my Heavenly Father’s great might,
Hope that He’ll help me His message to bear,
Hope that His truth with the lost I may share.
Love for my neighbor and love for my God,
Love that will cause me to carry His word -
Carry it onward and outward to win
All who should know of salvation from sin.
One more illustration. It was suggested to me last Tuesday when Bob Lewis drove the mower up to the building and showed me a softball he had found out by the ball field. Bob shared that back in 1997, I think it was, a softball was lost. He and some others had searched and searched for it. They never found it. Until Bob was mowing last Tuesday. Suddenly, there was the ball.
For Bob, that had a spiritual application. The application that what is lost can be found.
Will we pray for those who are lost spiritually? Even if they have been lost for a very long time? Will we pray they will be found ?
And when they are found, will we encourage them to grow? Will that be part of our celebration?
Encourage one another and build one another up, doing so every day. That is the challenge. Amen.