Jesus said a lot and we know that the number one thing He said, the very last night on the earth, was, “Love one another.” How? “The way I loved you, so love one another.”
And He said when we love one another, when we sacrificially, unconditionally love each other, the way He loved us, He said, the whole world, the whole world will know that we are His followers.
And I’d like to begin with a reality that you already know about but I’ll remind you. Simply this is that life is hard. It’s real hard. Now, there are seasons where it just seems good but there are other seasons where it’s just hard.
Oh, God is good. I mean, God is good. He’s doing great things and He’s answering prayer and He is awesome and He’s powerful and He blesses but in the midst of His goodness, life is really hard.
And after a while it gets harder and harder and harder and harder. And if it’s not going that way for you, just thank Him and then set your calendar because it’s a fallen world and bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. And God is for you and He loves you but that is not any protective veil over deep, deep pain.
And what I have realized in the midst of those two things, I am weak. I can just take so much, I don’t know about you.
I get to where I just can’t take it. I’m weak. I can’t take it. You get to where you just want to throw it in. And I know if I am, and the people that I’m close to are, what I know from Scripture is, we all are.
The dynamic is always happening in ebb and flow. Life is hard, God is good, we are weak.
Sometimes, sometimes the only difference between success and failure is a simple word of encouragement. Sometimes you’re right on the edge and you’re ready to give up on a marriage or give up on a child or just give up on your faith. You’re right on the edge and you think you can’t take it anymore. And the difference between success, moving on, staying in God’s will, enduring, getting perspective, hanging in there, getting up and doing it one more time, the difference is simply a simple word of encouragement.
Thursday morning, by an act of the will, I decided to go ahead and open my Bible anyway. Encouragement can come from a friend, it can come by putting their hand on your shoulder and praying for you, it can come from a note, it can come from a phone call, it could come over a cup of coffee, it can come over a meal, or God can give it directly to you right through His Word.
I opened my Bible and I read Psalm 9, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” And I just feel like, along with all the circumstances, I think we’re getting more spiritual opposition than I can remember here. The next line, “Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.”
And I read that and I thought, “He is a refuge, He’s a stronghold. Ingram, you just think you can’t take any more.” “I’ll never give you more than you can handle.” And the difference between just feeling like I didn’t want to go on with the day and saying, “Okay, Lord, I’m going to trust in Your word, even though my emotions aren’t on the map today,” was the difference between a day that ended up where the testimony of this couple, watching what God did in the funeral, it encouraged me. It was hard. But it encouraged me.
And what I want you to know is that the people next to you and the people in your network and the people in this church – they are going to come to days like I just had this week. And the difference between you and the difference between them being successful, walking with God, staying in a relationship, loving someone unlovable, making a difference, deciding, “Yes, I’m losing money by being honest, but I’d rather be honest with God than…” The difference can be a simple word of encouragement.
And what I’d like to do this morning is, from the Scripture, teach you, Lord willing, what is encouragement, why are we to encourage one another, and then how, how do you do it? What’s it actually look like in relationship?
So, let’s first define it. What is encouragement? Webster says, “It’s to inspire with courage.” It’s to help someone continue on when they are afraid or when they are discouraged, when they want to give up.
The meaning of the word in the New Testament is “parakaleo.” I only give it to you because you can see “para” we get the idea of “alongside,” “kaleo,” “to call.” It’s the idea, to encourage is someone called alongside us to give aid, help, or support.
In fact, I gave it to you because those of you who study the Bible quite a bit, you know, what’s the Holy Spirit called in the book of John? The “paraclete,” same word.
On the very last night, when Jesus was with His disciples He wanted to encourage them and they were afraid and He said, “Don’t worry. I am going to send another counselor, like I have been your counselor, I’m going to send another counselor and He will be with you. He will be the paraclete.
See, the Holy Spirit is referred to as your helper, your counselor, your encourager. That’s what this word is and that’s what God wants us to do for one another.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word literally means “to strengthen, sustain, harden, to fortify, or to hold up.” In I Samuel 23:16 it says, “Jonathan,” in a very vulnerable time in David’s life, “strengthened him in God.”
To get the picture of how it works, in a literal way, this word is used in Isaiah 54:4 and it’s used for the strengthening of the pegs, pounding the pegs deeper in, for your tent. So you get the idea?
When would you strengthen your pegs? Well, if the wind starts blowing and you’re afraid the tent is going to blow over, what do you do? You get out there and you strengthen the pegs! You get them down deeper.
When your life starts falling apart, when you start to feel weak, when you feel like you can’t go on, you know what God wants? He wants someone to come into your life and strengthen your pegs, help you make it through where you couldn’t on your own. That’s what encouragement is.
In the New Testament, the word, there’s one primary word and then a couple closely related words but they all surround the basic meaning of “inspiring to hope.” It’s a picture of someone, their life is just ready to stagnate and they need some wind in their sails and you give them some wind. You give them perspective. You give them some truth.
Two sides of this in the New Testament, it’s encouragement with a view to comfort, as in II Corinthians 1:3 and 4. God promises that He will comfort us so that we can comfort others with the same comfort He gave us.
So, part of encouraging people is when they are down, they are afflicted, they are going through it and you step in and you comfort. But the word is also used to “encourage with a view to exhort or to motivate to righteousness or holy living.”
See, sometimes people get complacent. They lose perspective. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Encourage one another,” how? “day after day, as long as it’s still called today,” which is how often? Every day. “[L]est any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I need you to spur me on, I need you to get my perspective back up, I need you to help me look up and go after it.
And we need that from one another. That’s what it means to encourage. In fact, encouragement, get this, encouragement is not sympathy. Sympathy is great but that’s not encouragement. Sympathy means I feel bad for you. Encouragement has two major characteristics.
I took every word in the New Testament where encouragement showed up and I studied and I put it in categories. The source of encouragement, about ninety percent of the time, you know what it is in the New Testament? The source? Truth. It’s not emotional, it’s not some ooey-gooey feeling someone gives you. It’s truth. It’s the Word of God.
It’s when you come into a person’s life and they are discouraged and they are afflicted and they are ready to give up and you say, “Wait a second, truth, isn’t there a heaven?” “Oh yeah.” “Truth, sowing and reaping. Doesn’t it happen at different times?” “Oh yeah.” “Truth, aren’t we living in a hostile environment? Why did you expect everything to be easy, to go well?”
See, the source of encouragement is in the context of meaningful relationships, we restore people’s perspective by giving them truth. Guess who the agent of encouragement is in the New Testament. Now and then it’s an angel. But ninety-five percent of the time, guess who the agents are. It’s us! Regular people.
In fact, if you wanted to sum it all up, we could say this, “We are to aid, help, support, and intercede for each other by means of comforting in affliction, strengthening in faith, and motivating toward righteousness.” In short, encouragement or this idea of building up others is taking the truth of Scripture by life and word in the context of meaningful, caring relationships to restore perspective and thereby provide hope, which carries us through affliction and above complacency. That’s what encouragement means.
Now, let me give you four quick reasons why we need to encourage one another and then I want to do today a little bit differently. I want to give you an example. I think we’ll learn more by just having an example than learning, “This is what it means here and this is what it means there.”
But let me give you four reasons why encouragement is absolutely critical. The first one is it’s commanded. And really, that’s enough. I Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage one another and build each other up.”
However God has designed this life that we’re to go through in Christ, He never designed it for you to make it alone. We’re to encourage one another.
The second reason is because sin is deceitful. I already quoted Hebrews 3:13, “Lest your hearts be hardened.” The fact is, left to yourself, left to myself, I will start to go into denial, I will start to compromise, I will start to move south.
Remember that old hymn, “prone to wander, Lord I…” It’s true. It’s old and it’s true. And left to yourself and me left to me, I get out of the context of meaningful relationships, I’ll give you Bible verses to support why I sin. I have seen it happen. See, we need one another to keep us focused.
Third, because spiritual growth requires it. I Thessalonians 3:2, the apostle Paul sends Timothy to this brand new group of believers in Thessalonica, what, to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. You can’t grow to be all God wants you to be without the ministry of other people to comfort and to inspire, to motivate, literally, to ignite you to go on with the Lord.
The fourth reason is because we lose perspective so easily. The whole book of II Corinthians is a study in this. Paul talks about his ministry but in II Corinthians 7 verses 3 to 7, you’ve got the apostle Paul.
Now, the apostle Paul is a man of awesome gift, powerful intellect, amazing spiritual giftedness, right? And II Corinthians, he is ready to throw in the towel, he is ready to quit. When you read the passage carefully, he is clinically depressed.
But then he says, but God refreshed me through the coming of Titus - even the apostle. See, it’s not, if you have enough gift, or if you’re spiritual enough. There will be a time in your life and it has probably already come, that you desperately need someone to come and strengthen you or you will fall flat on your face. So, that’s why encouragement.
But how do we do it? What’s it look like? How does it actually function in real life relationships? I think the best picture that I know of, there may be better, the best picture for me is in Hebrews chapter 10 verses 19 to 26 and I’ve put it in the notes, I put the text there.
Now, what I’d like to do is, you need to understand, the background of this book is here’s a group of people that are falling away from the living God. They are early Jewish Christians and when you came to Christ as a Jew, not only in that day but in this day, but especially in that day, you were totally ostracized.
If you had a job and you became a Christian, your job was likely gone. If you were a part of an extended family and you became a Christian, you said, “Jesus is the Messiah,” they had a funeral for you. Not only that, the Roman Empire was having its struggles and they found there was a good scapegoat, “Let’s blame the Christians.”
And so, to be a believer in the first century was like, not only a salmon swimming upstream but where the stream is really uphill. It was tough. And after a while, some of these early Jewish Christians were getting such flak, they were looking at each other and saying, “You know, we know what we know, but why don’t we just go back to the synagogue and let’s just cut it with this Jesus stuff. The price tag is too high.”
And they needed to be encouraged! They needed to remember what was really true. And so the writer of Hebrews, throughout the book, but especially in chapter 10, is going to encourage them and he does it just like we’ve talked about.
In verses 19 to 21 he gives them two major facts. He says, “This is true.” And then in verses 22 to 26, he is going to say, “Therefore here are three actions.” And as we do this together I think you’ll see some practical ways to encourage the people in your life and your network. Follow along as I read.
He says, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy places,” literally it’s the holy of holies. Remember? He’s speaking to Jews, he’s using all Jewish terminology. “[B]y the blood of Jesus, by a new and a living way, which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.”
Now, I’m a Jew and I’m thinking, “Let’s see, holy of holies, the only way to get in the holy of holies, well how? High priest, once a year. But we have a new way, not the old way, not the old covenant, a new and a living way.”
And the veil, what happened? When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple was what? Ripped in two. And so there was now access, immediate, personal access for every believer, not through the blood of animal but through the blood of the Son of God. Every believer, he’s wanting to remind them, this is a fact, this is a truth, don’t give up what you have! You have one hundred percent available access to the living, holy God in the holy of holies, one hundred percent of the time because of what Jesus did on the cross, fact number one.
Fact number two, “And since we have a great high priest over the house of God,” then he’s going to make an application. Now, they know all about high priests. They know all about the need to have a priest to be an intercessor to represent you before God and represent God before you.
And he says, “Now you have a high priest but it’s not like the old way. Your High Priest is sitting at the right hand of the Father. You have a High Priest who is praying for you as Jesus is praying for us. When you go into the presence of God directly, not through anyone, not through the Law, but directly on the basis of faith through the blood of Christ and His resurrection, you have a High Priest and no matter where you’re at in your life, you have one hundred percent access to God, one hundred percent of the time. And when you get there you’ll never be alone.”
“When you come before God, as a believer,” he’s saying to these Jewish Christians, “there will be a High Priest at the right hand of God and He is called an advocate, a counselor,” I John, “our attorney, and He will plead your case.” Access to the very presence of God is available one hundred percent of the time, for a believer in Christ. Regardless of where you’re at, in your life, in your experience, when you go into His presence in prayer, you will never go alone. You will always meet a friend.. an advocate… an attorney… who’s there to plead your case. Therefore, do what? draw near to Him – how? Sincerely. Why? Because He’s already forgiven you. Hold fast. Don’t let go of – what? What you’ve professed. Live out how you believe. Why? Because God’s faithful, even if it’s hard, He’s faithful.