Richard and Kevin, who were friends, were rock climbing. For quite a distance, they were both doing quite well. However, eventually, Richard grew weary. He was ready to quit before reaching the destination at the top of what they were climbing. He expressed to Kevin his desire to quit.
Kevin, who was above Richard, was securing the rope used to climb. Richard fervently asked Kevin to lower him to the ground, but Kevin refused. Instead, he urged Richard to continue with the climb, telling him, “You have come too far to quit. Keep going.”
At the time, Richard was dangling in mid-air, but the words of encouragement helped him. He decided to keep going. He somehow was able to reconnect with the rock. I am sure there is a way to do that that is known to rock climbers, which I can pretty confidently predict I will never find out. Soon Richard was at the peak of what was being climbed. He was successful because of the encouragement of his friend.
It is of course not just rock climbers who can need encouragement to keep going through weariness or discouragement. So, too, can Christians need encouragement as our faith journey continues day by day.
It is that we are going to concentrate on in this message as we consider a handful of verses that tell of three specific kinds of encouragement we might need from time to time - encouragement to live pure lives, encouragement to intercede for others in prayer, encouragement to stay connected to the church. Encouragement we can receive when we need it and share with others when they need it. The hope - the prayer - is that by the end of this message, we will all be encouraged in our Christian walk.
The first verses for this message are the first two verses of Romans 12.
To set the stage, let’s spend a moment or two thinking about the moral conditions in the Roman Empire at the time the apostle Paul wrote these verses. I do this to point out that while we think things are bad now morally - which they are - morals were also bad at the time of Paul.
For instance, there was an extreme amount of slavery in the Roman Empire. One historical source reports that throughout the Empire, there were 6,000,000 slaves.
Among the Jews, there had been and were slaves. However, they were generally treated well. That was not the case throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. Slaves were often treated with great cruelty, including being abandoned to die if they became sick, injured, or too old to work anymore.
Marriage in many parts of the Roman Empire was optional at best. By the time of Paul, matrimony had become the exception, as was the idea of having just one man and one woman being committed to each other. There were many prostitutes in the Empire, some religious prostitutes, others normal ladies or gentlemen of the evening.
If the result of prostitution or of marriage was a child, the child was looked upon with disfavor or a nuisance. Many, many infants were abandoned to either die or be taken into slavery.
Other religions in Rome seemed unable to turn the tide of degeneracy, and the leaders of the Empire were certainly not interested in turning the tide. They were too caught up in the immorality themselves. They often committed crimes for their own benefit.
Eventually, economic conditions in the Roman Empire began to decline. In an attempt to keep the people satisfied - at the least to get the people’s minds off their problems - the leaders of the Empire instituted games in various arenas.
Some games consisted of gladiators fighting each other to the death. Other times people, including Christians, were put in arenas, after which lions were set loose. Lions that had often been given no food for a while, the intent being to make them even more vicious. The results were gruesome killings, much to the delight of the common people of Rome.
It is with the backdrop of such corrupt and vile behaviors that Paul wrote Romans 12:1-2. Here is what he wrote. Verse 1. “I appeal to you, brethren.”
Appeal can also be translated “beseech,” which denotes a serious, emphatic request. This was not an idle request by Paul. He knew about the immorality all around the Empire. He knew the people to whom he wrote, referred to as brethren - as his fellow Christians - that at least most of them had roots in the society where immorality was the norm. He knew there would always be the temptation for his fellow Christians to be attracted to the immorality which was rampant and which was advertised as being so much fun.
Paul fervently begged his fellow Christians to be different. “I appeal to you, brethren, by the mercies of God [with God’s help] to present your bodies as living sacrifices [to step away and stay away from the immorality all around them and do only what is holy and acceptable to God].”
To act, as it is worded in verse 2, not as “conformed to this world.” To not do what others around them did, which can be easy to do when what is wrong is so prevalent. When what is wrong is so much a part of the human nature we all have.
It can be very uncomfortable to be different, but that is what Paul encouraged those to whom he wrote to be. Be not conformed to this world, “but be transformed.” Be changed. Act differently. Which is possible by “the renewal of your mind.” A mind set on the things of God.
Why is that important? It is because being transformed will help a Christian “to prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect in the eyes of God.”
By the way, the challenge is to present our bodies to God. The word “body” here refers to all we are. Our whole being, including our spirit. All we are is to be presented to God, which, Paul wrote, was and is to be done as “worship to God,” which refers to honoring Him.
And think of this. Though it is uncomfortable, being transformed should be easier than conforming because the standards of the world change all the time. We have certainly seen that in our own society the past few years. The feeling now seems to be that whatever anyone wants to do, whatever anyone thinks feels good to do, especially immoral things, is acceptable, and I have few if any rights to speak against what anyone else does.
If we try to keep up with what the world says is right or wrong, we will be changing a lot. I read this description. To keep up with the world’s standards, we will need to be like a chameleon that changes its color to match its surroundings.
While easy for a chameleon to do that since it is what chameleons were created to do, it is not so easy - it should not be easy - for us to change on moral issues. Trying to keep up with the world can be confusing. How much easier to be transformed to the standards of God. Standards that do not change. Standards that are and always will be stable.
Of course, we might be ridiculed or worse when we choose to be transformed. When we choose to follow God’s standards. But that is what we are to do.
What does that have to do with today’s theme of encouragement. Simply this. We need to encourage one another to live pure lives. If I need that encouragement, you are to provide it for me. If you need to be encouraged to live in purity, I and others need to provide it for you. In that way, we can help each other to keep going, to overcome weariness or discouragement, to keep each other from quitting the spiritual journey.
“I appeal to you, brethren,” to be pure. As Paul encouraged those to whom he wrote to be pure, so we are to encourage each other to be pure. One way we can accomplish that is by interceding for one another in our prayers, which takes us to Romans 15:30-32, in which Paul had another appeal to those to whom he wrote. Verse 30. “I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit [with the help of Jesus and the love of the Holy Spirit] to strive [to put forth energy to accomplish this] together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.”
Paul asked for the prayers of his fellow Christians.
Think of that. Paul, before he became a Christian was a very active Jewish leader, known for his knowledge and his fervency in the Jewish faith.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul’s reputation increased, including in coverage, as he asked for and was given authority to travel to places beyond Jerusalem for the purpose of finding followers of Christ. To have them arrested and sent to Jerusalem for imprisonment or death.
Then, after meeting the resurrected Jesus on a road and responding to the Lord’s invitation to convert to also being a follower of Jesus, Paul continued to be energetic, then as a minister, to preach about the goodness of Jesus. A ministry during which he started many, many churches.
Paul, so well-known and so energetic - think of it - Paul asked for prayers from others. Apparently there was little ego in Paul. He knew he needed the prayers of others to keep going on his spiritual journey.
Why? Verse 31. That he may be “delivered from the unbelievers in Judea and that his service for Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints.”
A bit of background about that. Paul’s hope, according to the passage before the one we are now considering, was to travel to Spain to preach the Gospel of Jesus there. By doing that, Paul would be reaching the western border of the Roman Empire. Plus, at that time, Spain had some of the greatest minds in the Empire. Paul hoped to be able to tap those minds, convincing them to join him in accepting Jesus.
But first, Paul planned to travel to Jerusalem to give the Christians there an offering he had been collecting from congregations other places.
The offering was needed. In Jerusalem, Jewish leaders were still in charge. They were as opposed to Jesus then as they had been before His crucifixion. That means followers of Jesus were ostracized from the Temple and from being able to find work.
Christians in Jerusalem were in need. Paul had collected money. He intended to go to Jerusalem to deliver the offering.
He did that, knowing the danger. Danger that did catch up to him. In Jerusalem, he was arrested. But listen. The prayers he asked for may not have been answered as Paul wanted. He was not totally delivered from the unbelievers. They did arrest him. But they were not able to kill him.
And he eventually was confined in Rome, which is, according to verse 32, where he also wanted to go. Verse 32. Paul asked for prayers so that, “by God's will, [he] could travel to Rome with joy and be refreshed in the company of the Christians there.”
What does that have to do with today’s theme of encouragement? Simply this. We need to intercede for one another, that we, too, can be protected and able to keep representing Jesus. I need to be prayed for. You are to do that for me. You need to be prayed for. I need to do that for you, as does everyone else in this congregation. In that way, we can encourage each other.
Which can be accomplished more easily as we stay connected to the church, which takes us to Hebrews 10:23-25, which features three instructions.
The first instruction is in verse 23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.”
Hold fast to the confession of our hope. That means we are to never lose our grip on what we believe as Christians.
That, by the way, is closely related to the first point of today’s message because holding fast to what we believe includes living lives that are pure. It relates to the second point for today because we are to pray for one another so we can all stand firm in our faith. But consider for a moment how difficult to can be to hold fast to our faith.
For instance, there are many cynical voices in society today. Voices that mock faith in Jesus. Materialism can be a danger in remembering God. Events of life can shake our faith.
We are to overcome all those difficulties. We are to hold fast to what we believe. That is the first instruction in today’s third passage, which we can obey as we remember Jesus, identified in verse 23, as “faithful.” If Jesus - since Jesus - stayed true to God, so can we stay true as we use Him as our example, as we rely on His strength to help us.
The second instruction is this. Verse 24. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
That especially relates to the second point of this message. The point of praying for one another. We are to stir up one another. We are to encourage others - we are to allow others to encourage us - to live lives of love and good works. Love - wanting only the best for others, even if what is best might give them some advantage over us. Good works - things done that bring glory to God. We should pray for each other to do good works so God can be seen.
And stir. That does not indicate just letting others go their own way trying to love and do good works on their own. The call is not for us to stand idly by. To stir means to urge, promote, encourage good works.
The third instruction is in verse 25. “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Meet together, which means to worship together, study together, pray together, fellowship together for the purpose of encouraging one another.
Why do some people choose to not meet with other Christians? Maybe fear of being laughed at or criticized. Maybe shrinking from people not like the one not involved with a church - some may not want to associate with the poor, others may not want to associate with the rich.
There may be other reasons, but according to Hebrews 10:25, there is no good reason to not meet together. We are to meet together. Again, that involves worship and study and prayer and fellowship, but we are to meet together, for that makes it easier to encourage one another and pray for one another to live lives that are pure.
Why is that especially important? The verse closes with the teaching that meeting together is very important “as we see the Day [the time of Jesus’ second coming] drawing near.”
Of course, that phrase was written almost 2000 years ago. Jesus has not yet returned. But if His coming was close almost 2000 years ago, think how much closer it is now. Even now, we need to meet together to encourage one another to live in purity, including praying for that to happen, each of us praying for all the rest of us.
What does that have to do with today’s theme of encouragement? Simply this. I am probably never going to go rock climbing, so you will not need to encourage me to keep climbing in that way. Nor will I be there to encourage you if you are dangling from some rock formation.
But I am on a Christian journey. So are you. In that realm, we can - we are supposed to - encourage one another to keep going. Let’s do that in our Christian quest to live pure lives, to pray for one another for the strength needed to keep going, and to stay connected to the church, not only for our own benefit, but also the benefit of others as together we keep climbing toward Heaven.
Today’s closing song is a few verses of the hymn Come, All Christians, Be Committed.
Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the Lord.
Make your lives for Him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.
God’s command to love each other
Is required of everyone.
Showing mercy to another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
For His grace give Him the glory,
For the Spirit and the Word,
And repeat the Gospel story
Until all His name have heard.
Encouragement. It is needed in many ways, many times, including in our Christian journey. Lord, help me to be an encourager. Help all of us to encourage each other. Help all of us to accept the encouragement of one another. May the goal be that together, we will live pure, prayerful lives. Amen.