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Worship Message - Encouragement

Encouragement

There is a story told by a woman who one day went mountain hiking. Part way along the path she was hiking - part way up the mountain - she met a group of people who were also hiking.

I think the woman was at least a bit older than those in the group she met. At least those in the group were, as she described it, more energetic than her. Perhaps they were more experienced at rock hiking than was she.

By the time the woman reached the group, maybe halfway to the top of the mountain, which is where she wanted to be and where those in the group were also headed, she was tired, thinking there was no way she could go on, which she expressed to the group after they all exchanged greetings.

How did those in the group respond to the woman?

They could have said, “Yeah, that’s probably right. You sure look tired.” Or, “Yeah, this activity really is for those who are younger and in better shape.” Or they could have ignored her altogether.

Instead, these were their words. “You can do it.” “Hey, you have made it this far. You are one strong lady. Why not keep going?” “Can we help you?”

Those words persuaded the woman to take a few more steps. Then a few more. And a few more.

At times, the group broke into song to boost the woman’s morale. I wonder if them boosting her morale also boosted theirs. But they broke into song to encourage her.

Together, they all made it all the way to their destination. They made it all the way to the top of the mountain they were hiking.

The woman was helped by the encouragement. Encouragement that came in word and in offers to help. The woman was helped by others with a similar interest. Which leads to the spiritual challenge we are going to talk about in this message. The challenge for those of us who are Christians to encourage others also traveling up the mountain of faith.

The goal while on the mountain of faith is to reach the top, that representing living in ways that are pleasing to God for as long as we live this life, and then having the pure joy of being in Heaven when our earthly existence comes to an end.

Is it easy being on the mountain of Christian faith? Hiking up that mountain? Not really because of all the things we have going on all around us.

Just a few of the difficulties are - you can no doubt think of others - but just a few of the difficulties are circumstances of life like financial issues and relationship issues and health issues. And threats all around us. Threats by those who do not join us in being Christians. Sometimes we are not threatened, but rather ridiculed. It is not pleasant being made fun of. Our human natures can make it seem so easy to not worship and not study and not fellowship and not serve, each of which takes some level of commitment. Sometimes it at least seems easier to sit back than to make the efforts a strong faith requires.

Like the woman halfway up the mountain wanted to end her journey, thinking it was too difficult to keep going, so can any of us on the path of faith feel like we have gone about as far as we can spiritually. We, too, can wish to just turn around and go back to where we were before we started.

That may be a temptation at any time. Turning back might be a temptation for you right now. Which is why encouragement - the kind of encouragement the woman received from others on the path - is so important spiritually. In fact, it is critical for us to encourage one another as we all continue climbing up the mountain of our Christian faith.

Putting it into the context of the opening story, is there someone who needs to hear from you, “You can do it”? Or “Hey, you have made it this far. You have already shown spiritual strength. Why not keep going?” Or, “Can I help you?”

And remember the comment about the group breaking into song? The question of whether, when they sang to boost the morale of the woman, did they also boost their own morale? Spiritually, the encouragement we give to others should encourage us as well so yes, we can, together, continue to walk up the path to get to where we want to be, which is living righteously now and eventually knowing the joy of Heaven.

Encourage one another. That is what we are to do. Which is the point of a passage in the New Testament Book of Philippians, which is at the center of today’s message.

The passage is in Philippians 1, specifically verses 9 through 11, in which Paul did not write, “You can do it,” “Why not keep going?” or, “Can I help you?” but rather…

Actually, we will get to what Paul wrote on today’s topic in just a bit. Before that, here is some background, which comes from the verses before today’s passage.

The one who wrote the passage was Paul. With him at the time was Timothy. Paul describes himself and Timothy, who he himself had led to faith in Jesus, as “servants of Christ Jesus.”

Servants. Some translations have the word “slaves.” But here is the meaning of the root word. The three meanings of the word.

First, the Greek word Paul used to describe himself and Timothy denotes they were the absolute possessions of their master, that being Christ Jesus.

Second, because they were the possession of Christ Jesus, Paul and Timothy owed absolute obedience to the Lord. It was Jesus’ will, not their own, they were committed to doing.

Third, prophets in the Old Testament often were known as servants of God. By calling himself and Timothy servants - or slaves - Paul expressed a willingness to follow in the footsteps of the prophets of old. Footsteps pointed in the direction of living righteously. Footsteps pointed toward Heaven.

Paul and Timothy belonged to Jesus, that coming from the fact Jesus had died for their sins. Paul and Timothy were committed to obeying all Jesus taught. They were committed to serving the Lord.

So it was Paul did a lot of things in his ministry. Things that were designed to encourage others also on the Christian path up the mountain of faith. People identified by Paul as “saints.”

The word “saints” is an interesting one. It means, simply, those who believe in Jesus as Savior.

I remember being asked a while back about the definition of “saint.” It seems the woman who asked the question had heard some of her fellow residents at a retirement center referred to as “saints.” She and they were in a Bible study together. The leader of the study often referred to all of them as saints .

The woman was a bit miffed. She said to me, “I know these people. A whole lot of them are way below being saints.”

The woman asked me to define “saint,” which I looked up to make sure I had it right. What I reported to her my next visit to the retirement center was that a saint is someone who accepts Jesus as Savior.

Notice the definition of saints is not those who are perfect in every way. Rather, a saint is someone who accepts Jesus as Savior. Someone who is therefore somewhere on the mountain of faith.

Hopefully every saint is still climbing. That is to be the goal in every Christian life. But there may be days or times when there is at least the temptation for any saint to think he or she has gone as far as he or she can go. The temptation to go back down the mountain may come. Which is why encouragement is so important.

We will get to Paul’s description of spiritual encouragement - some of what he did to encourage other Christians - in a bit. But saints are those who accept Jesus as the Savior He is. Those who may need encouragement to keep going. Those who should be encouraging other saints to also keep going. That is to whom Paul wrote today’s passage. He wrote to the saints in the city of Philippi.

Some of the saints were bishops and deacons - leaders of the church there. But Paul wrote to the saints. To those who had accepted and were accepting Jesus as Savior.

“Grace to you,” Paul wrote, “and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In my study for this message, I learned there is special significance to the words “grace” and “peace,” which, as combined in verse 2, present a wonderful thought. You see, the word “grace” was very often used when Greeks wrote letters. “Peace” was a word of greeting among Jews.

Remember Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for all. For all who will accept Him as the Savior He is. “All” refers to both Jews and non-Jews. Paul using both “grace” and “peace” together was a reminder that Jesus loved and had died for all.

And there is this. Grace brings with it joy and beauty. Peace is not just the absence of trouble. It extends to total well-being. To having only the highest good accomplished.

By wishing grace and peace, Paul himself was already encouraging the saints in Philippi. He did that further in verses 3 through 7 with the news that he thanked both God and the saints. He wrote, “I thank God every time I remember you.” He added, “Thank you [he thanked the saints] for your partnership in the Gospel.”

It was a partnership that, according to verse 7, had included helping him in prison. Maybe some of them had, like Paul, also accepted prison rather than turning away from Christ, in that way helping Paul by letting him know they were following his example. Others perhaps preached the Gospel while Paul was in prison. It would have helped Paul to know the Christian message was still being preached.

Paul was thankful the partnership had lasted a long time. He further encouraged the saints by expressing hope for the future. He wrote, “I am sure that He [God], who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Paul felt very close to the saints in Philippi. He felt their support of him. Because of that, he wrote - verse 8 - that he “yearned” for those saints. He yearned that they keep growing. That they keep on the Christian path up the mountain of faith.

Toward that end, he encouraged those saints, which now gets us to verses 9 through 11, in which Paul gave some specific things about which he prayed. These are presented in this message as a list of things about which we can pray for each other. Things we can work to accomplish in the lives of fellow saints. Things we can hope for as we help others with us on the path of faith.

“It is my prayer,” Paul wrote, “that your love may abound more and more.”

Love, in this context, refers to wanting only the best - the highest good - for someone else.

One way we can encourage others is to join Paul in praying that all of us on the Christian path will have more and more love - love for God, love for one another, love even for those who are not fellow Christians, the hope being that Christian love, when it is shown to non-Christians, might persuade them to also believe in Jesus.

We can also encourage others by showing love to them. By being good examples of what love looks like. What it does.

How can we do that? Maybe by being patient with one another. Maybe by being willing to spend time with one another. Including Christian time, as in worshiping together and praying together and fellowshiping together.

Maybe by giving positive feedback when it is called for. Positive feedback when we see spiritual growth in someone.

Of course, maybe that someone still has a ways to go, as was the claim of the woman who said her fellow Bible study participants sure didn’t seem very saintly to her. But none of us is yet to the peak of the spiritual mountain. We all have more climbing to do. But can we say, like the group on the mountain in the opening story, “You’ve made it this far, so why not keep going?”

We can encourage others by praying for them to abound in love. We can encourage them by showing them how love looks. What it does. We can also encourage them by being lovable.

Thinking back to the group on the mountain, they could, as mentioned, have insulted the woman. Or they could have ignored her, leaving her by herself. Either of which probably would have caused her to give up. But they did not insult her or ignore her. Instead, they encouraged the woman.

Like those in the group, let’s be lovable. And this thought. May we also allow ourselves to be encouraged by others. What a wonderful expression of love it is - what a wonderful way to be lovable it is - to let others help us.

Paul wrote, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.” He added the prayer that the saints would also “abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment.”

Knowledge. That is knowing what God teaches in the Bible. What Jesus taught during His earthly ministry. Including what spiritual gifts are given to each saint by the Holy Spirit. Knowledge is knowing in the head the spiritual things we need to know.

Discernment is having the head knowledge affect the heart. As in knowing how to apply what is known so living can be done righteously as we are on our way to Heaven.

How can that be promoted? How can we encourage others to grow in both knowing and applying the Bible? Well, we can join Paul in praying for such growth. We can also encourage others to join us. Either new people and families in our own congregation, or those who are part of us but maybe are in a time of absence. Can we call - do we call - one another to encourage our meeting together? We can also talk about spiritual things among ourselves in between Sundays and/or Wednesdays.

We can do that last one even with our own personal families. You know, maybe they will need encouragement from time to time. Which brings my mind to Deuteronomy 6, where this is found.

God’s words shall be upon your heart. That is a responsibility of parents. God’s words shall be on your heart. But they are not to stay there alone. You shall teach God’s words to your children, doing so diligently. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way. Talk about them when you lie down and when you rise. Write them down so they can be seen and read when you do not talk about them.

Make God’s words the focus of your conversations. In that way, encourage others - including your own family - to keep going on the path up the mountain of faith.

Doing that will, Paul continued, help others to “approve what is excellent.”

What is excellent? Well, the words of God. The teachings of Jesus. Living in ways that are right and good. Living in ways that make a saint worthy of the calling of the Lord. Living in ways that will prepare a saint for Heaven.

Living in ways that will help us to be described with the next words in today’s passage. That we may all “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

“Pure and blameless.” Sincere. Single-minded. Inoffensive to the Lord. As much as it depends upon us, inoffensive to others.

“For the day of Christ.” That means that we are to be sincere, single-minded, inoffensive, and approving of what is excellent - that we are to be growing in knowledge and discernment - and more and more loving - until we reach the top of the mountain. That we are to keep at all that and encourage each other to do the same so we can together keep going and keep going and keep going.

As we do that, let’s remember how Paul continued. He wrote that he also prayed we [the Philippian saints are the ones he wrote to directly, but this applies to us even now] will be filled with “the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Fruits. That indicates there should be some evidence of our faith. Of our continuation on the spiritual path.

May I suggest the list found in Galatians 5? The list of the fruit of the Spirit? May it be our prayer that not only we ourselves, but others, too, will have each of these. May we help each other to have them and show them. That is the point of the spiritual encouragement we are talking about. May we and others have love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Other fruits? How about what else we have talked about today? Love. Knowledge and discernment. Approving what is spiritually right. Purity. Being blameless. Maybe not perfect yet, but interested in being blameless.

That is the point. To reach the top - maybe in perfect living, but definitely the top that is Heaven - to reach the top is the goal for us and for our fellow Christians. Do you know someone on the mountain with you who is tired? Discouraged? Maybe ready to give up and go back down?

Encourage him or her. Do that by praying for that person, by loving that person, by talking about the Lord with that person so he or she can gain knowledge and discernment - by doing all you can to help that person keep climbing.

Allow yourself to be encouraged as well so that together - as we climb together - the fruits of our continued spiritual growth will be seen, which should in itself be an encouragement.

“You can do it.” “You have made it this far. Why not keep going?” “Can we help you?” Let’s encourage one another as we continue climbing up the mountain of faith.

Today’s closing song is two verses of the hymn O Church of God, United. The two verses that best summarize today’s passage.

O church of God, united
To serve one common Lord,
Proclaim to all one message
With hearts in glad accord.
Christ ever goes before us;
We follow day by day
With strong and eager footsteps
Along the upward way.

May Thy great prayer be answered
That we may all be one,
Close-bound, by love united
In Thee, God’s blessed Son.
To bring a single witness,
To make the pathway bright,
That souls who grope in darkness
May find the one true Light.

Lord, help us to be encouragers of other saints. Help us to accept encouragement from others. Help in both those ways so we, Your people, can continue up the spiritual mountain of faith.

When others see us helping each other, may some of them be attracted to the path we are on. May the result be more and more people on the path to perfection, which will be achieved in Heaven for Your people.

Thank You. Amen.

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