Sunday, December 12, 2004

Encouragement and Discouragement

Was reminded by the end of Boon Yong's sermon this weekend of the real import of those two terms that are so often bandied around in Christian circles as to almost lose their meaning altogether: "encourage" and conversely, "discourage" (and their various forms).

Encouragement
In weekend church conversation or weekly DG sharing, we say we were "encouraged" by something when that thing made us feel good, especially good about ourselves. Perhaps someone affirmed our self-worth by complimenting our physical appearance or dress sense or our skill in bible reading or discipline in quiet time.

But God is not on about self-worth. He does not see this selfish joy as "encouragement". What, then, does he want us to be encouraged by? What are we to encourage each other to do and why should we give each other such encouragement?

Biblically, encouragement is God-centred not me-centred. Encouragement is to:
  • continue to have faith in God and act out this faith by obedience to his revealed word (Joshua in Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28)
  • remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23)
  • persevere in the Lord and live a life pleasing to him (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
  • live the Christian life courageously (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • grow in knowledge and understanding of Christ (Colossians 2:2)
  • be assured of our future and our salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
We are encouraged to do this by:
  • God (Romans 15:5)
  • God's grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
  • the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31)
  • the Scriptures (Romans 15:4)
  • each other's faith (Romans 1:12)
  • being united in Christ (Philippians 2:1)
  • the faithful lives of fellow Christians and how God is working out their salvation in their lives (Ephesians 6:22, Colossians 4:8) - either by meeting with each other (Romans 1:11-12) or by letters (Paul's letters)
  • reminding each other of the coming judgment (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
  • mutual interpretation and learning of God's word (1 Corinthians 14:31)
And the reason for encouraging each other is because of:
  • the dreadful reality of the coming judgment, when we all have to account to God for all we have done in this life (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
  • we are not in darkness. We are in the light because we have knowledge of God. And because we know we will be saved on the last day, we should live our lives as saved people not as people who are ignorant of God and who will perish on that day (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
Discouragement
And so discouragement would conversely be:
  • doubt that God is there or that his words are accurate reflections of reality (Deuteronomy 1:21, 31:8; Joshua 1:9, 8:1, 10:25; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 20:15,17),
  • and so be turned away from persevering in God,
  • to be put off from living a life pleasing to him,
  • to forget the reality of judgment and
  • to continue to live life one's own way.
Many things could discourage us:
  • feeling spiritually-dry or as Ravi Zacharias would say, "not feeling my faith"
  • a tough personal situation: losing a job, being diagnosed with a terminal disease, the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, unrequited love, being stumbled by another Christian; or
  • the lives of our fellow Christians: a Christian leader in a homosexual relationship, a close Christian friend who starts going out with a non-Christian boyfriend/girlfriend, church politics, people leaving the DG or church.
What is important if we are discouraged is not to fall away from the faith and seek out worldly comfort that will not satisfy. (Eg, if you are discouraged in your faith because the person you love does not return you feelings, and you feel that God can’t be there or blame God for doing this to you, don’t do all sorts of desperate things (changing your fashion sense, your hairstyle, your personality, your values) to win that person. In the scheme of things, that person can mean nothing to you compared to your relationship with God, who loved you so much that he sent his Son to die for you and Jesus Christ who chose to die for your sins and the Holy Spirit who, with the Father and the Son, is in close fellowship with you every day of your life, till your last breath on earth. Look to God who is eternal, who is constant, who loves perfectly and gives you every good gift in Christ and all troubles do pale in comparison. And read his love letter, the Bible.)

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