Acts 20:2-3 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to bGreece and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
Last Monday, we started looking at five important elements of Christian Growth that we find in Acts 20. Those are Accountability, Encouragement, Companionship, Hope, and Comfort. Over the next few months, we’ll continue to take a look at these five things. Today, we look at the second of these, which is Encouragement.
Early in Acts 20, we find Paul headed from Ephesus to Macedonia and into Greece. He went back through Philippi, Berea, Thessalonica, among others and there was persecution going on in all these cities, and so Paul was going along encouraging them. In each place that he went, he encouraged the believers in the churches … it says, “with many words.”
The Greek word for “encourage” has a greater meaning … he didn’t just go there, shoot the breeze, tell a few jokes, give a couple of hi-fives and then leave. He (1) warned and (2) consoled and (3) urged and (4) encouraged them. Encouragement is not just hugs and fist bumps. Encouragement IS that, but it’s also exhortation and admonishment, it’s to champion and advocate for, it’s to comfort and bless, and to restore and refresh. It’s all those things, but let me tell you, if it’s easy to do, then it’s probably not encouragement. It might be nice and it might be polite and pleasant, but rarely does a pat on the head encourage a person to grow.
Encouragement is spiritual jazz. It’s unexpected, off-beat, uncomfortable and sometimes it hurts to listen to, but you’re better for having listened to it. It stimulates growth. What it doesn’t do is leave you the same as you were. It’s not always affirmation nor is it always consolation. In the time I spent playing in bands and recording albums, I learned that those who truly care about your success are the ones who said you were out of tune, your lyrics stink, or you’re writing is in a rut. It’s the same thing at church. “We really enjoyed your sermon, we can’t wait to be back next Sunday …” a church planter soon learns that when he hears that it often means, “We won’t be back and we don’t care enough to tell you why.” Boy does that stink! Please, be honest … I’d love to learn! On the other hand, when someone says, “That was a good word, but have you thought about it this way,” or, “Instead of doing things that way, what if WE did things this other way” or even “My family won’t be back, and here’s why,” … as much as that last one hurts, it’s only THEN that I as a Pastor and WE as a church have a chance to learn and grow. To be honest, the people that use WE are the people that I know I can depend on, and that I can learn the most from, because I know that they care. Yeah, when someone says, “You really should consider doing this instead” … that’s good stuff.
Encouragement is iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It’s sparks flying and pieces falling to the ground. It’s at times painful, at times frustrating, many times heart rending and may even be heart breaking. But we come out of it better able to magnify and serve the Lord. It’s the revival of an edge that has grown dull from use. Without honest and blunt (but loving!) encouragement, Christian growth is stunted and our faith lifeless.
Paul had planted these churches that he was visiting and in many ways, he was a spiritual father to all who made up those churches, so at his return they would have been packed out like a Baptist church with only back rows. They wanted to learn from him. But I’ll let you in on a secret … He needed them, too. You see, more often than not, Paul’s life was in danger and as we saw before, he was well known among those who opposed Christ. In fact, even demons knew his name (Acts 19:15) and no doubt wanted to take him out. Paul needed encouragement, too.
Encouragement is spiritual jazz, but sometimes straight forward three chord punk rock is good, too. What I mean is that simple encouragement is also needed and very valid and so we shouldn’t overlook the hug, the fist bump, the handshake, the hug, the participation and sharing of responsibilities … and the quick words of encouragement. Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. Look up! There’s Hope. Encouragement is so important, yet so often overlooked when the simple hug is needed or shunned when the difficult word needs to be said. Leaving out encouragement hurts the individual Christian, and it hurts the church. When we build each other up, we build the church up.