Background Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4-5
Quotes of the Week:
"Fight on, brave knights! Man dies, but glory lives! Fight on; death is better than defeat! Fight on brave knights! for bright eyes behold your deeds!"
The next lesson in the series of practices for a believer is encouragement. When is it that we need to be encouraged? The fact is that there are many areas in our lives where encouragement is vital and without it, hope may be lost. When we think of encouragement, we realize that there is the one who is encouraged and the one who encourages. To truly be encouraged, both must know at least a little about each other's situation. The one doing the encouraging needs to understand what is going on, and for encouragement to really be successful, the one being encouraged needs to 'feel' encouraged and for each of us that may come in different ways. One look at the five love languages and we realize that encouragement is not just in saying kind or comforting things - it is also about doing kind and comforting things for others. Encouragement implies some sense of community. Have you heard about people who say that they are believers, yet they are not interested in meeting together with other believers? If you are a loner, you not only miss out on being encouraged by others, but you miss a potential blessing that comes from encouraging others. On the other hand, there are some people that will regularly attend church, sitting as close to the exit as possible. Although they may be around many people, encouragement is lost. They may be encouraged from the pulpit, but encouragement is best when personalized.
Have you ever thought about what it is that encourages people? For some, they just need to know that others know and care about their situation and pray for them. Most of us will pray for others, when we know that they have needs, but how often do we let them know we are praying for them? Some people are encouraged by the time someone else may spend with them. Some are encouraged by loving, uplifting words and others are encouraged by a gift sent to them or by someone doing something for them. Sometimes people are encouraged to do better by being disciplined. In the last week, with the unrest in Baltimore, you likely saw the video of the mom that ended up pulling her son out of the crowd that was throwing rocks at the police. You may not like to be encouraged the way she encouraged him, but it was certainly an encouragement that was going to be remembered, with a potentially very positive impact on the young man's life. If by chance you missed it, you can see a story on that situation here - Click Here
I once saw a sports documentary that showed how different basketball players handled stress from their coaches. In the documentary, players were monitored for physical signs of stress as they were shooting free throws while coaches were offering 'encouragement'. There was a positive reinforcement coach (nice shot, you'll hit the next one) and one who was much more negative (how could you miss that?, you don't even know how to shoot!). Understandably, some of the players were much more at ease with the coach who was positive in encouragement, but when the other coach yelled at them, the players got more upset and missed more. There were other coaches that seemed to be more motivated by the coach who would yell at them. Some seemed to do better with positive encouragement, others who seemed to be motivated by negative encouragement and others who were slightly impacted by either. Isn't that much the case for all of us? There is no one size fits all style of encouragement and if you have a large family, you probably have seen some who are encouraged by a short positive word and others who seem to have to get yelled at before they are motivated. This tells us that we need to be considerate of others when we offer encouragement to them.
When you think back in your life, who is it that has encouraged you? Many people will think back to a teacher or a coach who had an impact on their lives. Some are blessed with the encouragement offered by parents and other family members. I can think of many people who have encouraged me personally - in school, in athletics, in work and in life. Sometimes, encouragement comes from people who have had similar problems in a particular area and by hearing of their stories we can become encouraged to make changes in our own lives. On the other hand, do you believe that there are others who can say that you have been an encouragement to them? Sometimes, we tend to live our lives in such a way that we avoid others, or that we hide where we have had problems. When we do this, we lose a potential area where we can offer encouragement to someone else in need of being encouraged.
In their day, the pressures from society were counter to the way in which they were called to live as believers. We live in a similar culture today, where there are people who want to say that living anyway is okay. Paul told the believers to avoid sexual immorality. Today, we hear people say that their body is their own and they should be able to do whatever they want to do with it. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul wrote "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" Paul reminded the believers that they had given of themselves to the Lord. In the lives of believers and unbelievers today, we see differences in almost area. We are reminded that we should not act as those who do not know God. Paul encouraged the believers to live a holy life. This calling was not merely Paul's words, but they were from God, who had given His Holy Spirit to all believers.
The believers were encouraged to live a quiet life, minding their own business. There are times when we need to take a stand in society. There are times when people need to be corrected. However, there are many people that seem to want to go out of their way to find a stand to take or to find someone to correct. In living a quiet life, we are encouraged to give up "the right" to be angry and fight back against others as our default position. Of course there are times when we absolutely SHOULD stand up to someone or on behalf of another person, but if we are always looking for those instances, we are missing the mark. We should strive to be at peace with one another. We should not be guilty of meddling into other's concerns. Some people seem to want to offer 'an opinion' about everything. This should not be what we, as believers, do.
Living a quiet life does not imply that we step back and become passive in all areas of our lives. We are called to do our best in our jobs and there is no problem with seeking advancement in our careers. However, if you find that everything always has to be about 'you', what are others seeing? We need to be reminded, at times, that people are watching us and through our actions, they begin to develop their own ideas of what 'being a believer' looks like. We are a reflection of our faith. Sometimes we need to stop and ask ourselves what it is that others are seeing when they watch us.
As believers, we have hope based in Christ, who was raised from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 6:14, Paul wrote "God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power". The resurrection of Jesus Christ is truly the cornerstone of our faith and of eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul wrote that if the dead were not raised, we should eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Paul offered encouragement to those who had lost loved ones, based on the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. We certainly grieve the passing of loved ones, but we can take solace in knowing that believers are welcomed into eternity. We are encouraged to remind one another of the hope that we have in Christ. But we should tread carefully in this area as we may end up making the pain of a grieving believer even worse. Christians can be the worst at offering platitudes in place of comfort. We will see our believing loved ones again in heaven, but that does little to take away the hurt and sorrow we feel at their loss.
There are several ways that we can encourage our ministers and teachers. One key way is to let them know how much they are appreciated. An occasional note to your pastor or teacher can be a great encouragement to them. As members of a church, another key way is to live in peace with one another. We certainly will have differences of opinions on multiple issues in life, but when discord is prevalent in a church, it has a negative impact on the church as a whole, as well as for the leaders. Have you ever wondered why there is so much conflict in some churches? Often, people in churches treat each other worse than they treat others elsewhere. This was certainly not what the early church leaders intended. When we can live calm and quiet lives, we do show appreciation for our leaders and by doing so, encourage them.
We are called to encourage the disheartened. Do you realize how many people are disheartened in churches? I remember being at a service that was specifically speaking to people that were dealing with really difficult issues in life. The pastor asked people who were going through something that they considered to be very stressful, to stand up. More than half of the people stood. We often think that because people are at church, everything is fine. In fact, we belive the fact that it could be otherwise when we give the stock answer to how we are - saying that things are always well.
We are called to help those who are weak. There are many who are unable to help themselves. When a catastrophe strikes, generally the church is seen at its best by coming together to help those in distress. What role might we be called to play to help those who are afraid or are weak, but not in a catastrophic way? When we are able to come beside others and help them in their time of need, we are able to encourage them in many ways.
Paul writes that we are to be patient with everyone. This is one of the things that most people have problems with. It can be very easy to become impatient with others, for a variety of reasons. When you are a parent and you are helping your child with homework, it is easy to become frustrated because what seems easy to you can seem so difficult to them. As believers within a church, there are many different maturity levels. Realize that God desires a personal relationship with each of us. If you've been a believer for any length of time, you surely realize how you learn more over time. When God has clearly spoken to us and others don't understand, it can be frustrating. Therefore, there is the need for us to encourage others by being patient with them.
Paul writes that we should not seek to pay back wrong for wrong. Face it, we all have been wronged (and we all have wronged others). In our society, there is the expectation that we should get even. It is as if when we have been wronged, we should pay that person or people back. You can see that this type of behavior will lead to further division among people. How many feuds were continued by families, only to pay someone back for what was done to them? It can become a never ending cycle. Instead of getting even, we should strive to do what is good for all. What might change in relationships if we sought the good of others, instead of holding something over their heads for their past mistakes? Isn't this great encouragement for each of us?
Verses 16 through 18 could be the passage for hundreds of lessons. "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." We are called to rejoice always. We all understand that this is very difficult, if not impossible, to do. There will comes times in our lives where the very last thing that we think about is joy. Yet, we are encouraged to always rejoice. Pray continually. Some believers have set times to pray each day, or at least at times during the week. What would change if you and I simply prayed for the needs we encountered throughout the day? How many needs do you pass by - neighbors, co-workers, fellow shoppers, family and friends? How many times have we said that we would pray for somebody and never did? We are encouraged to pray continually. This would impact our attitude and by having a prayerful attitude and thanking God throughout the day will help to increase your joy. The last verse tells us to give thanks for all things. How many more times have we been tempted to complain about something, which results in a bad attitude? What would change if we focused on the things that we are thankful for? When we can focus on what God is doing in our lives and not take it for granted, it will help us to have more things to pray for and will help us to rejoice.
Paul encouraged the church to understand what they believed so that they would not be easy prey for false teachers. They were encouraged to test the words that were spoken to them. Modern day cults have capitalized on drawing people from churches - people that didn't know what they really believed. Rather than understanding what they believe, some end up thinking that anything that is said from a pulpit is of God. It is good for us to learn from wise teachers, but we need to realize that no human is without fault. It is possible, if not probable, that the bias of man gets interspersed with the teaching of Scripture. Even in writing lessons and teaching Bible Studies for many years, I realize that there is the distinct possibility that, even in my best effort, I don't always share what God wanted to say (in the way that should have been shared). It is very easy for a honest teacher to give their own bias, and in other cases, false teachers may expect that their words will be taken as truth and will intentionally misguide others.
In the same line, we should hold onto good and reject evil. We should understand what is good, so that we do not mistake evil for good. If we are not careful, it can become very difficult to see what is and is not of God. If you define good by the media and the shows that you watch, do you realize how slanted they have exchanged 'evil' for 'good'?