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About this series
The Awesome Power of Encouragement
Do you know someone who needs a spiritual "shot in the arm?" Do you long to receive encouragement from others and be the kind of person who brings out others' highest potential? First Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's game plan for encouraging believers. This book teaches practical ways to bring hope and love into the lives of those you care about most, and also presents the New Testament's clearest teaching about the future of the Church - the rapture.More from this series
When you really talk about how to get over life’s humps there’s a number of things that you need. But one of the most powerful, powerful things that God has ever given us is speech.
The power of an affirming word given lovingly, authentically, as God leads, is absolutely beyond what you can imagine.
In fact, the Bible is replete with multiple examples of the difference just a word can make. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” What a picture.
Or in Proverbs 15:4, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life but a deceitful tongue crushes the Spirit.” One simple word really makes a difference.
How can we learn to speak into the lives of people that we love in such a way that it really encourages them? That it changes them.
And so we want to look tonight at four ways to speak life to those that we love. And our model is going to be the apostle Paul and how he did it to the Church of Thessalonica. We’re going to look at chapter 1, the first ten verses. I want you to get a picture before we read this, in one reading, of the people that he wrote to and how they felt and what they were going through. What were the humps that they needed to get over because then when you understand that, as we walk through the passage, you’ll get an idea that God really understands the humps you’re going through.
The apostle Paul, he’s on his second missionary journey and he’s heading where he thinks God wants him to. There are open doors, and open doors, and open doors and he keeps preaching and sharing, he goes to every synagogue.
And late one night he gets this vision, this dream, the Macedonian Call. And he hears from God to go toward Greece. And so he gets up the next morning and tells the guys, “Hey, there’s a change in orders.”
And so he travels over to Philippi, that’s in Macedonia, and there’s not even a synagogue there and so the practice in the day when there’s not a synagogue is the faithful Jewish people would go to a riverbank and have a prayer meeting.
You can pick up the story in Acts 16, if you want to read it later, and he shows up and there’s a lady named Lydia and, boy, she comes to Christ in a group of women. Paul lands in jail later. There’s an earthquake and he and Silas are singing at night and the jailer and his whole household, they come to Christ, the Philippian Church is born. And for about two months he’s there, or more, and things really take off.
He’s politely asked to leave that city, which happens to him a lot. He travels by the great Egnatian Highway that connected the Roman Empire, and he goes by two big cities but they weren’t the right ones, and he travels at least five or six days to Thessalonica.
It’s a harbor city, it’s got about two hundred thousand people; it’s one of the major ports; it is a political, strategic, economic, cultural crossroads of that portion of the Roman Empire.
Acts 16 and 17 we find he does what he always does, “To the Jew first and also to the Greek,” week number one he shares the gospel and they say, “Hm, interesting, we’re not sure. Come back next week.”
So he comes the next week and he teaches, and preaches in the synagogue that all the hopes, all the dreams, all the prophecies about the Messiah… He came! He died! He’s been resurrected and He’s alive!
And they didn’t go for that too much. A few people trusted Christ and he began to share with the Gentiles. By the third week, so many Gentiles were coming to the faith that the Jews got jealous and they said, “Get out of here.”
We know from this book that he stayed in Thessalonica for at least a few months because he received two financial gifts from the Church at Philippi, he was there long enough to develop his trade because he says, “I worked with my own hands,” but there was a lot of persecution.
You walk downtown Thessalonica, there are idols everywhere. These people came to Christ in the midst of a great persecution and when they came to faith, if they were Jewish, they were separated from their homes. So you had people whose moms and dads said, “Don’t bother coming home.” You had wives who came to Christ whose husbands said, “Hey, you know what? Don’t bother coming home. You’re disinherited.”
For Gentiles, they had friends and they would go to all these temples and were involved in all kind of immorality and worshipping all these idols, and when they came to Christ they turned from those idols to serve the living God, and all of a sudden they’re not getting invited to parties anymore. Not only are they not getting invited to parties but they’re messing up the economy. Now people are mad at them.
So they’re isolated and they’re alienated. In fact, Paul really gets beat up on this one. So he gets run out of town, Silas is sent back to Philippi to figure out how they’re doing and to encourage them. Paul gets run out of town and he ends up in Athens by himself, and we hear, in 2 Corinthians, he’s as discouraged and despondent as ever, finally he gets refreshed by one of the fellows he’s close to, Titus, and he ends up finally in Corinth.
He came through here about sometime in about 49 A.D. It’s about eighteen, twenty-four months max, when he writes 1 Thessalonians. By this time, Silas has made the circuit, Timothy has made the circuit to check on the Church, and they’ve met him back in Corinth, and he’s gotten a report.
And he’s writing this letter to a group of people that there’s a high price tag for being a Christian. That it’s tough. That life, economics, family relationships, social acceptability – it is all very, very difficult. And so he writes them a letter to encourage them.
Now just follow along, we’re going to read, not study it yet, just listen and imagine you being one of those people. Imagine what it was like, if this had happened to your life, and that little apostle guy – and of course you’ve got all this joy, and God has changed your life, and you’re forgiven, and you have peace – but day to day it’s tough.
And you haven’t seen him in about eighteen months, and there are probably a few days that you get so discouraged you start doubting. “You know, could this be true?” Other days you just think, “I can’t take it anymore.” Other days you say, “You know, what’s the use? You know? We’re sharing our faith, we’re doing what He said, but it’s not making any difference.”
Listen to what your mentor, Paul, would say to you. “To the Church of Thessalonica, from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for you, mentioning you in our prayers we continually remember before our God and Father your works produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you,” how? “because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.
“You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators,” or mimics, “of us and of the Lord, in spite of the severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia,” that’s Greece.
“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we don’t need to say anything about it for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell us how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
Would that be an encouraging word? Wouldn’t it be good to hear that when things get really, really tough? Now as I have looked at that and studied it and examined it, I think there are four clear things that the apostle Paul does to encourage people whose lives have lots of humps.
They all have to do with speech. And what I’d like to do now is go through and study it with you, and briefly look at each of these four things out of these ten verses. And we’ll use them as our example about how we’re going to talk to one another, how we’re going to talk to our mates, how we’re going to talk to our friends, how we’re going to talk to our bosses and employees.
We’re going to learn how to communicate, with our mouth in such a way, that every person that you and me get around, we’re going to encourage. So let’s look at verse 1.
First of all, I think we need to learn to bestow a blessing. Did you notice how he started it? “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now notice what he says, that’s the introduction. “Grace to you and peace.”
The root word for “grace” is the word “joy.” It’s God’s blessing and goodness that comes apart from our merit. And we think of peace as the absence of conflict but this word for “peace” means the wholeness of God, the shalom of God.
And so the very first thing he does, the first words out of his mouth are, “Hey, how are you doing? Are you hanging in there? You know, are you getting with the program?” Huh-uh. What is it? He bestows a blessing.
Grace – God’s unmerited, unlimited love for you – “Grace to you and peace,” His wholeness, His blessing. All of who you are in Christ, that’s what I want. Now, for us culturally, that fit well with Paul but I don’t know about you but don’t try this one.
Don’t go to work and say, “Grace and peace to you.” They’ll think you drank something, or ate something funny over the weekend. In fact, probably not even a good one to go home tonight and say, “My children, my wife, my friends: Grace and peace…” That’s probably not going to work.
So how do you bestow a blessing? I’d like to encourage you to think about blessing people whenever you leave them. When you leave your home, when you leave work, when you leave a friend.
Some specifics might be just a look in the eye that’s, and you say, “I’m praying for you. I’m praying for you.” Or you might express, “God’s going to use you today.” You know, they’re taking off or they’re leaving, and you’re leaving, “Hey, I want you to know, God’s going to use you today.”
Or even, “May God’s peace really reign in your heart. I’m going to pray that for you today.”
Another possible example that I’ve used in my house, just the blessing of – tell someone, “It’s a privilege, I want you to know, it’s a privilege to be your friend. It’s a privilege to be your mate. It’s a privilege to be your dad or to be your mom.”
See, it’s a blessing. What you’re saying is, “You matter. You matter to me and you matter to God.”
The second time I encourage you to give a blessing is not only when you leave someone but at bedtime. I say this primarily for those of you that are married and have children.
You know that old thing of tucking your kids in? If you’re not doing it, start doing it. Don’t send your kids to bed with TVs on and…sit on their bed, look them in the eye, pray with them, touch them with your hands, and ask God’s blessing upon their life. Do it every night. Bless your children, evoke God’s blessing, and favor, and grace on them. The security will be incredible.
The third is, you can bless people through notes, email. You know, it’s a blessing to say, “I’m thinking about you today. I’m praying for you.” It’s a blessing to say, “Hey, hey, as I was praying this morning Psalm 37:4, just want you to know, I’m asking God to give you the desires of your heart.” Do you get the idea? Have you got it?
I want to encourage you, this week, if you want to speak life into those that you love, bestow a blessing. But it doesn’t stop there.
Notice verse 2 and 3 – Paul’s appreciation. He says, “We give thanks to God always for all of you making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind,” notice this, “your work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ and the presence of God our Father.”
Notice the structure here: First of all he gives thanks. He lets them know, “I’m praying and when I pray you pop up on the screen.” It’s what he says! “When I’m praying, Thessalonians, you pop up on the screen. And it’s none of this vague, ‘God bless you. Aren’t you kind of nice people?’ I think of the specific things that I’ve seen in your life.”
He says, “I thank God specifically for three things: Number one,” he says, “your work produced by faith.” The word “work” here we get our word “energy” or “activity” from.
He says, “I thank God specifically for the activity and the love,” referring probably to evangelism, because we hear later how it’s gone out, and also of their good deeds and kind acts toward one another.
But that’s not enough. He says, “I thank God for your work, that is produced by your faith in Christ, but I also thank Him for your labor of love.” The word “labor” here, prompted by love, denotes extraordinary effort. It literally meant, “To cut, to toil,” it’s a picture of someone taking bread and hitting it and trying to get it in a certain form to be usable.
Ryrie says, “It’s toiling, to the point of exhaustion, out of affection for another person.” How would you like someone to pray and thank God that when they look at your life they see activity that is others centered, because of your faith in Christ, and they see you with a self-sacrificial toil because you “agape,” love God and love other people. That’d be pretty encouraging, wouldn’t it?
The third thing he says is he also thanks God for their steadfastness of hope, or really, it’s a patience or I like, the best translation is, endurance. The word is a compound word: Hupomeno. It literally has the idea of a man with weight on his back. It means, “holding up or remaining under pressure.”
It has the idea of when things get hard, when things get difficult, when everyone else cops-out you hang in there. It means to be aggressive, to be courageous, to not give up, to not fall into self-pity. You hang in there and keep on doing, when you don’t feel like keeping on doing, why? Because you’re inspired by the certainty of hope, Christ is returning, God is good, God is sovereign. And then notice the last phrase: “In the presence,” it literally means “before the face of our God and Father.”
He expresses his appreciation for who they are and for what they’ve done. Do you do that? Boy, I think about this as a father. I hope you have a different personality than mine, I really do. My personality is fairly analytical and when I see something, the thing that pops out immediately is what’s wrong, or how it can be improved.
You know, if you’re a kid, you know what you hear a lot of? “Oh, yeah, that’s real good except for…” Or, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but…” You know? Do you know how demotivating that is?
You see, people who are constantly expressing appreciation, thanksgiving, boy, those are people that motivate, and lift up, and build up.
You know what Paul basically did? He said, “This is what you’re doing right! And I thank God for it and I’m not being vague and I’m not blowing smoke. I’m talking about these three specific things.” And, by the way, it’s happening, you want some encouragement? It’s happening before the very face of God and He sees what’s going on too. Boy, wouldn’t that be encouraging?
Let me give you a practical application.
Ken Blanchard, he’s the author of The One Minute Manager and a number of other books. In fact, Raving Fans is one that would really flow right out of this passage.
And he says in that, “Tell people what they’re doing right. Wander around and catch people doing stuff right and then praise them.” And then he says, “Make it progressive. Don’t wait until they have it perfect. When you see people making little inclinations toward doing better, praise them and appreciate them for the progress they’re making.”
Some of us are waiting until people get it completely right. They’re never going to get it completely right because they’re a lot like us. Right? How are you doing at expressing your appreciation?
Have you told a friend that lately? Have you told your parents that lately? Have you told fellow workers, people that you do ministry with, lately, how much you really appreciate? And, by the way, jot down under that, “Be specific, not vague.”
Second, be objective. Not just feelings. Specific and objective things they’ve done. Not just, “Oh, I feel so good I get to be your dad,” or, “I feel so good we get to work together.” That’s nice. But be specific, be objective.
And then, include some biblical truth. Notice how the apostle Paul did that. “I thank God for these three things. You want some truth to go along with that? All these things are happening right before God. He sees it too.”
You can speak life into people’s lives if you get in the habit of bestowing a blessing, number one. And number two, expressing your appreciation for who they are, and for what they do, and what they’ve done.
Third though, Paul has confidence in their faith. Look at verse 4, “Knowing, brethren, beloved by God, His choice of you,” by the way, before we go on, this word “knowing” is very interesting. You know, he’s thanked God for them and then he says, “knowing.”
There are two words in the New Testament for “knowing.” One, a knowledge that comes by way of experience. The other, an objective knowledge, it’s just fact, kind of like gravity. You can believe in it, not believe in it, jump off a five story building. Same effect. That’s this word.
He says, “I know for a fact,” what’s he know for a fact? “Brethren,” notice that word of love, “beloved by God,” special word only used of kings in the Old Testament, “His choice of you.”
You know, I bet these guys were doubting. I bet there were days they got up and it just kept coming at them, and coming at them, and coming at them, and they’re thinking, “You know, maybe I’m not really in the family.”
The apostle Paul says, “I’ll tell you something, I know for a fact that you are a part of God’s family, that your sins are forgiven, that the Spirit of God dwells in you, that your eternal resting place will be with Jesus in heaven. And all the power in heaven and earth is available for you, day by day, now. I’m certain of His choice of you.”
And you say, “Well how can Paul say that?” Well, he tells us how he can say that. Look at verse 5, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only,” it just wasn’t words, “but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction. Just as you know what kind of men we proved, for your sake, to be.”
The fact that the Thessalonians were a part of God’s family, is shown by the character of the message given, and by the sincere acceptance that it received, and the transformed lives that followed. Look at the next line. “You also became imitators,” we get our word “mimic” from this.
You became mimics, exact reproduction of the originals. “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.” How did they imitate the Lord? “Having received the word in much tribulation with joy by the Holy Spirit .”
Boy, I’ll tell you what, you talk about a shot in the arm. You talk about something that quiets doubts in your heart. He says, “I know for certain because when I was preaching there was not just word, there was power, and not only was there power but God authenticated in your hearts and in your lives and then it’s been evidenced by how you’ve lived. You’re in. It’s clear.”
Can I encourage you to verbalize your confidence in other people’s faith? You know, down deep, everyone thinks someone else is way more spiritual than them. If you’re married, you’re sure your wife is. And most of us are right. But no matter who you rub up against.
But the fact of the matter, day in and day out, we honestly believe in our heart that all the people around us, they must know God more than we do, they pray more or better, or God listens to them more than we do.
And we have a real confidence problem when it really comes to walking with God. One of the reasons is, we don’t verbalize to one another what we see in one another’s lives.
Somehow, it makes us feel uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Because that’s more than just sort of casual conversation. You don’t do stuff like, “Hey, you want to go out to lunch?” “Yeah.” “Hey, boy, these tacos are good.” “Yeah, the tacos are great. Want a little hot sauce?” “Hey, I love the hot sauce! It’s really good here.” “By the way, it’s really evident that the power of Jesus Christ is at work in your life and I just wanted to share that. Would you like another taco?”
It's really, it’s really kind of a bit, you kind of go to that next level with people to say to them, “You know, the evidence of the working of the Spirit of God in your life is a deep encouragement to me.”
When was the last time you told someone how real, and how evident, the working of God in them is to you, because you know what we are? We’re little mirrors to one another and we need that.
There was a fellow named Don Geiger and he was the pastor of the church in Dallas. We moved to Dallas, and Theresa and I had moved there with two kids and a year or so later had our third. And we went to seminary there and we went to this church of about eighteen hundred or two thousand people and we were just overwhelmed.
Except, really, we thought, “Oh, well, it’s a big church and we’ll visit but we can’t go here because big churches are big and impersonal.” And the first week someone introduced themselves and took us home for lunch, and the next week they met us and took us home for Sunday night, and what we realized is that it’s not the size of the group, it’s how connected you are. And they had things for our kids that were just phenomenal.
And Don Geiger became one of my mentors and heroes and, boy, he didn’t have a lot of time, and had a lot of demands and I’d make a lunch appointment and wait two months to get to see him. And a very humble guy, great guy, I did an internship there at that church, a little bit later. But he, more than any other person, as I was praying this through, has verbalized his confidence in my faith, in the areas where I struggled.
I was out at the little church in Texas and, boy, my first everything happened there. My first problem in this area, my first problem in that area, my first problem in, and I never went to… call Don! I’d call Don and he’d take the call and, “Hey, Don, you know, what do I do? What do I do?” You know?
And he would ask some questions, force me to think it through on my own, and I always remember this phrase, “You’re a good man, Chip. You’re a good man, Chip.” And then he’d follow it by, “Chip, you got faith. God will show you what to do.”
And then somewhere in that conversation he’d always say something like, “Trust your instincts, God’s Spirit will show you. He put you there for a reason, and He’ll show you whatever you need.”
And every time I would talk to that man he always was a mirror that reflected God was at work when I couldn’t see it myself. I didn’t think I had what it took to make the decision. I didn’t think I had what it took to go to the next level spiritually.
What Jesus is saying to you tonight, “Will you please communicate what you see in brothers and sisters in Christ, and confirm and verbalize your confidence in their faith, so they can grasp that they really have it?” And you will do them a service that is incredible.
The fourth thing the apostle Paul does is he affirms, not only their faith, but the impact of their life. Look at verse 7. He said, “They received the word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit ,” verse 6, “so that you became an example,” or a model, “to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”
Why? “For the Word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth so that we have no need to say anything. For they,” remember it’s a cultural center, remember there’s all these ships coming in. There are people traveling, two hundred thousand people, it’s a place and they come in and they hear about the faith. And these people’s lives are dynamically changed and everyone is going out and the Word of God is sounded. It’s in the perfect tense.
It’s the picture of a trumpet blow, or an echo, and the idea is the echo’s range is going farther, and farther, and farther. He says, “You received the God of eternity in your heart in the midst of a culture where it was tough, and you’ve lived faithfully and you don’t even have to tell us what’s happened. The impact of your life is so phenomenal, people are coming to us and telling us how our visit went and what’s happening in your life.”
Verse 9, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you,” and notice their testimony. Not some ooey-gooey, “Well, they had a religious experience.” Here’s their testimony, “How you turned to God from idols,” why? “to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come,” speaking of judgment.
He affirms your life has impact. We always tend to focus on what we’re not doing. Or we need to do more of this or more of that. The apostle Paul bestows a blessing. The apostle Paul expresses appreciation. The apostle Paul verbalizes his confidence and now he affirms the impact of their life.
The single most encouraging thing is those Thessalonians would know that God had actually used them. You know why? Because those of you involved in ministry, there’s a great price tag and you’re paying a great price tag, and you get opposition, and you’re putting in tons of hours, and you’re loving kids, and college students, and junior highers, and you’re running tech equipment, and you’re here early, and you’re here late, and you’re doing evangelism out here, and you’re doing home groups, and community groups, and Bible study groups, and you’re giving your life away, and the big question, that nags you in the back of your mind is, “Is it for anything? Does it really matter?”
And we need, oh, we need to communicate to one another the impact of one another’s lives.
You can’t imagine that gift. And you probably are unaware I get lots of great encouragement and feedback. Give it to other people. Give it to the people who aren’t visible.
They need to know that their life is making a difference. By way of conclusion, I think we grossly underestimate the awesome power of an affirming word. We just grossly underestimate it.
Secondly, we grossly underestimate how deeply those around us are hurting. Quote: “Loneliness - it seems like it’s the hardest issue of human existence.”
Well, let’s not hear the Word without responding. What I would like to ask you now, “Who needs an affirming word from you today?” Who do you know that has some humps to go over, that needs you to write them a note and tell them what they’re doing right?
Be specific, be objective, and add an element of God’s truth and we will pray that God will show us what to do and whom to write. Father, thank You for the power of Your Word. We believe that You will bring to our mind a name of a person that needs a word of encouragement. Help us to write just a brief, encouraging, specific word of appreciation or affirmation that would let someone know we see You working in them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.