We all need a little encouragement

Here is the text of my message from last week and some discussion questions pertaining to the message. Over the last month and a half we have been doing a series entitled the Scattered and Gathered Church, looking at the two natures of the church. We spent most of May looking at the Scattered nature of the church, scattering into mission in our neighborhoods, work, etc… Then we spent the other week together seeking to apply what we have explored by having a booth at Rock the Block.

Last week we started to unpack the Gathered nature of the church in relation to Community. What does it look like to be in relationship and community with the “church”? What does it look like to be gathered? Is it more than just gathering once a week or is it more than that? And what kinds of things should a gathered church be all about?

Last week, Ryan walked us through the New Testament book of Hebrews 10:24-25 and encouraged us that community was more than just meeting together once a week at a certain place and time. That is what doing life together is really all about. It means being involved in each other’s weeks, meeting together for dinner, to hang out together, to pray together, to serve together, and to be there for each other.

In fact the words each other is what we are going to be talking a lot about the next few weeks. We will be seeking to apply what is known as the biblical one anothers to our life together as a gathered community and a scattered community. Today we’ll be looking at another one another, and also looking at someone in the Scriptures who lived this one another out in profound ways.

Let’s look at 2 different Scriptures that reference this biblical one another. Let’s first look at 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and then follow that up with Hebrews 3:13.

1 Thessalonians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica (which is in modern day Greece) and was written to encourage new believers in the midst of trials. In Chapter 5 verse 11 we read, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Paul is using the language of building houses and flipping it to talk about building the body of Christ. He was telling them to encourage each other, to not give in in the midst of trials, persecution, and struggle. To stand together, support each other, and be there for each other. In fact the word encourage means to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. And the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica could certainly use the encouragement. In fact the idea of encouragement runs throughout the entire book of 1 and 2 Thesslonians. There are 7 references to encouraging, encouragement, or to be encouraged in both books. But why? Why is Paul encouraging them, telling them to encourage each other, and focusing on that? I think our answer is in 2 places earlier in 1 Thessalonians. In 2:2 we see these words, “We had previously suffered in Philippi as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.” And in 2:14 these words, “You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews…”

So you see, much of the New Testament was written to this very same fact, that the church of Jesus Christ, in the midst of the imperial empire was persecuted heavily because they were living out an alternate reality, another kingdom besides the Holy Roman Empire. They weren’t calling out the name of Caesar but the name of Jesus. And doing that in the midst of a powerful empire will definitely bring the wrath of that empire down on your head. In the midst of all that persecution it would be easy to go along with the flow, without others standing side by side, walking along the same journey with you, encouraging you to keep following Jesus and not give in to the powers that be. And that was what Paul was writing to them for, to encourage them, to put steel in their spine so to speak, and not give up following after Jesus.

The writer of the New Testament book Hebrews also was helping the followers of Jesus stay true to their calling as followers of Jesus and not revert back to their old lives, as Ryan unpacked for us last week. The author knew that encouragement was needed to continue to fight the good fight, to finish the race. He puts the call to encouragement this way, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” The author not only calls the recipients to encourage each other, but he encourages them to do it daily. To encourage each other daily, in that day and age, meant you needed to be in each other’s lives, face to face, life on life, truly understanding and knowing what the other is going through. Honestly, how much easier should it be for us, with all the technology at our fingertips. How much easier can it be to encourage someone just by picking up a phone and calling them, texting them, e-mailing them or putting something on their facebook wall?

One of my favorite authors talks about one of the missional rhythms that their congregation lives out. They center their lives corporately around the idea of BELLS which each letter stands for something and the B stands for Bless. They are supposed to bless 3 people a week, one being a follower of Jesus, one being someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus, and the third is free one. I believe that when you get right down to it, that to bless someone means encouraging them. Who doesn’t want someone to bless and encourage them? What would it be like if we took this idea seriously and determined that we would take on the challenge this week of blessing 3 people and see what God does? I think it would change us, change the people we bless, and probably also change our Veritas community.

Encouragement has a powerful influence in the direction and purpose of people’s lives. Encouragement, I believe changed the New Testament church, the New Testament, and by definition our Christian heritage. Without encouragement I am not sure where our Christian History would be right now. Let me tell you of someone in the NT who didn’t have the Bible, didn’t have the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 or Hebrews 3:13 (in fact the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 might have never appeared without the encouragement of this one man).

This man is found in the New Testament book of Acts, lived out this call to encourage, and in fact his name literally meant “Son of Encouragement”. I am talking about Barnabas.

Here is what we know about Barnabas according to Scripture. In Acts 4:36 we find these words, “Joseph, a levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet.” We don’t see or hear of Barnabas again until he shows up in Acts 9:26-27 and this I believe is his biggest contribution to the church, his gift of encouragement and coming alongside someone. “When he (the apostle Paul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” Because of Barnabas we have the next line, “So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem.”

Barnabas came alongside Paul/Saul in a time when he needed someone by his side, someone to believe in him, his story and that he was in fact now a disciple of Jesus and not a persecutor of disciples of Jesus. The best measure of his work and his encouragment may be seen in the lives of individuals he had a personal impact upon. He took Saul, who was completely disconnected with the other apostles, and persuaded them to recognize him. He later found Saul in Tarsus and personally recruited him for the work in Antioch, where he could develop his teaching and leadership skills. Lastly, while on the missionary journey from Antioch, Barnabas had the wisdom to know when Paul's gifts and abilities had exceeded his own in certain areas, and he allowed Paul to shine to the glory of God instead of keeping him down to maintain his own prominence. While we easily recall what Paul has meant to the church, we rarely recognize that Barnabas was instrumental in three major circumstances in his rise to prominence.

Barnabas came alongside people, encouraged them, and then stepped back and let them lead, grow, and encourage others. He definitely lived out the meaning of his name, and I am sure as Paul was writing the letter to the church at Thessalonica and got to the part that we call 5:11, that he wrote it to the believers there, but all the while thinking about his encourager and where he might have been without him.

So we looked at the Scriptures, we looked at someone who lived out the meaning of the Scriptures, and what effect he had on not only leaders in the church in the NT but I would say the effect that he has on us. But let’s spend some time talking about encouragement where the rubber hits the road, and what it might look like in our lives, as individuals and as a community.

Discussion Questions: 1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, pushback, etc.. do you have regarding the Scriptures and message?

2. Where do you personally need encouragement and how can we as a community come alongside of you and give it to you?

3. How can our community better bless and encourage each other?

4. Who can you encourage this week? And how can you do it? What are your thoughts about committing to blessing/encouraging 3 people each week?