Reading Acts 4 is exhilarating. Re-reading it today was breathtaking.
The Apostles declare the supremacy of Christ in salvation (Acts 4:12). They are threatened to stop preaching (Acts 4:18). Peter by the way, knows in the back of his head that one of these days he’s going to die on a cross (John 21:18-19). They boldly declare that they will never stop preaching the Gospel! (Acts 4:19-20)
They go home from the threats and pray for increased boldness rather than pray the trial away. (Acts 4:29)
And then at the end of the chapter we see that they give a nickname to a guy named Joseph. They call him son of encouragement (Acts 4:36). They literally change his name since he’s so well known for his encouragement.
I was struck by thinking about just how much encouragement Peter and the other apostles needed during those days. Barnabas was truly a gift from God.
Life was hard. Yes, there was excitement. Yes, there was so much motivation to take the Gospel and share with people about what they had “seen and heard”, but it was not easy. There was much opposition, there were threats and persecution, and there was so much uncertainty regarding the future. Encouragement was much needed.
Encouragement to be bold. (Eph. 6:19)
Encouragement to persevere. (1 John 2:28)
Encouragement to fight against sin. (2 Tim. 2:22)
Encouragement to stay faithful. (Heb. 4:14)
Encouragement to not fight amongst themselves. (Phil. 4:2-3)
Encouragement to preach the Gospel (and only the Gospel). (Gal. 1:6-9)
Encouragement to stay faithful to sound doctrine. (Titus 1:9)
Encouragement not to go back to works righteousness. (Gal. 2:11-14)
And so much more.
Encouragement was essential to the life of the church.
And it is fascinating what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 10 verse 25. He is convinced that the need for encouragement will increase in time. In fact, he claims that as “the day” draws near that our encouragement must increase.
…but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:25b)
Jesus is returning. It is going to happen soon. The stakes are high. The Devil is on the prowl (1 Pet. 5:8). We desperately need each other.
Here we are two thousand years closer to “the day” of Christ’s return and I would think that that the call to be encouraging to one another has been multiplied significantly.
And yet, the temptation to be critical, to backbite to bring people down is higher than ever. It was when Paul was beaten, down, in prison, that he experienced his most vicious attacks.
This has been one of the hardest years the church has faced globally since I’ve been alive.
Political idolatry, a mysterious pandemic, race-based issues and a whole host of other matters have plagued the church and the need for encouragement has skyrocketed as well as the temptation for fighting.
What are you going to do?
Who are you going to be?
Are you going to be the envious and strifeful opportunists motivated by selfish ambition who try to rise the ranks of the church while Paul is down (Phil. 1:17), or are you the loving, truth tellers motivated by good will (Phil. 1:16) who encourage Paul while he needs it most?
Life is stinking hard. The world hates Christians (John 15:19). We are at war against the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:11). We are desperate for encouragement!
We could all use Barnabas as our example.
In a time when encouragement was as needed as oxygen the Lord raised him up to lead the charge. In a time when Paul was just converted after demonizing the church, It was Barnabas who came to his defense by encouraging Paul, and the church to embrace him (Acts 9:27). Later on, when the church in Antioch was exploding with conversions it was Barnabas who came to encourage and help (Acts 11:22-24), and later on when John Mark was struggling it was Barnabas who took him under his wing (Acts 15:36-41) to disciple him into a man whom Paul would later refer to as useful (2 Tim. 4:11).
You have great power in your tongue and in your typing to be an instrument of encouragement or discouragement.
I pray that as the day of the Lord’s return draws near that we who call ourselves Christians would increase in our encouragement. That we will be more mindful over what we say and type. That we will ask ourselves if what we are about to do is actually helpful or needed. That we will look at our hearts and our motives for why we say and type what we do and consider if there is a better way.
There are few things as uplifting as receiving words of encouragement. As I spent three days with my son in the hospital last week, I was yet again reminded about how essential this truth is. We were flooded with prayers and encouragement and it made all the difference.
Your church during this time is in need of your encouragement not your criticism. Of course, if you see something sinful you must under biblical obligation, confront and perhaps change churches, but most of the time, instead of criticism what your pastor needs, or what your struggling friend needs, is a hand over the shoulder, an encouraging biblically saturated word and an offer to help carry their burdens (Gal. 6:2).
Jesus is returning, there is not time to lose, so…let us all grow in our encouragement.