Encouragement and the Church (1)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1.3, 4
A church transformed
Some time late in the first century, Clement, pastor of the churches in Rome, and a former ministry companion of the apostle Paul, wrote a lengthy letter to the churches in Corinth. In his opening paragraphs, he described the church in Corinth as it had come to be known in his day: “For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established? Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge? For ye did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you. Ye enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; ye instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and ye taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly, and be in every respect marked by discretion.”
Wait. The church in Corinth? That church Paul wrote so harshly to in 1 Corinthians? The church to which Paul wrote was wracked with schism, turned a blind eye to scandalous sin, dragged its feet on Christian growth, abused the worship of God and the Lord’s Supper, and walked in stride with worldly ways rather than the indwelling Spirit of God. Was Clement writing to this church?
He continued, “Moreover, ye were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive. Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and ye had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all. Full of holy designs, ye did, with true earnestness of mind and a godly confidence, stretch forth your hands to God Almighty, beseeching Him to be merciful unto you, if ye had been guilty of any involuntary transgression. Day and night ye were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience. Ye were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another. Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. Ye mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours: their deficiencies you deemed your own. Ye never grudged any act of kindness, being ‘ready to every good work.’ Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, ye did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.”
Yes, indeed, Clement was writing to the same church Paul had scolded and threatened so pointedly in his first epistle. It was the same church; but then again, it wasn’t.
What happened here?
What happened in Corinth to bring about this change? To put it succinctly, Paul and the Encourager from God.
Let’s look again at 2 Corinthians 1.3, 4, this time changing the word “comfort” to “encouragement”, and “comforts” to “encourages” – changes which the Greek text will certainly allow: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any trouble, with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
Paul says that he and the Corinthians (“we”) were “encouraged by God.” God, Whose work it is to encourage His people, had accomplished a great work of encouragement in Corinth. He had infused the hearts of the Corinthians with the courage they needed to break the chains of schism, moral compromise, and self-interest, and to be renewed in love for God and one another with transforming power.
Paul was the human agent God used to strike the bolt of encouragement in the souls of the Corinthians, so that they were able to overcome their sinful choices and return to the path of growth and mission God intends for all His churches. And Paul, as we see in 2 Corinthians, was greatly encouraged to see the way the Corinthians responded to the encouragement he wrote to them in his first epistle. He was so encouraged, in fact, that he was making plans to return to them with the expectation that they would rejoice together upon being reunited.
God had encouraged the Corinthians through Paul’s writing; and now they must continue to encourage one another with the encouragement they themselves received from God. These verses remind us of Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica: “Therefore comfort [encourage] each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
Case studies of encouragement
The New Testament churches at Corinth and Thessalonica offer compelling examples of the power of encouragement at work within the Body of Christ. The church in Corinth was recovered from its lapsed and languishing condition and renewed in vision, love for God and one another, and the mission of being the Body of Christ to its community.
The church in Thessalonica was a model congregation. Paul had only good things to say to them, when he wrote to follow-up his ministry with them in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. But he did not want the Thessalonians to rest on their laurels, and so through various works of encouragement he urged them to “excel still more” in all the good works and shining examples they had put before the watching world.
As we look more closely at Paul’s ministry to these churches, we’ll see just how powerful and transforming the work of encouragement can be. We’ll note various tools that we can use for encouraging one another, and we’ll see that encouragement isn’t always fun and games. Sometimes encouragement can be brutal, tearing down whatever is wicked so that new edifices of grace, truth, and glory can be constructed.
God has given us His Encourager to dwell in us and our churches. When we engage His work – in our own lives and on behalf of one another – holy spiritual power is unleased, hot with the Son of God, to make all things new, all things glad and glorious, and all things reflective of the living Christ, both in our souls and in all aspects of congregational life. Thus it may well be said of us and our churches, “a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and ye had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all.”
Amen. Let it be so.
1. What’s the difference between “comfort” and “encouragement”? Why do you think the various forms of “encouragement” might be better in our text?
2. Why do people who are languishing in sin need courage? Courage to do what?
3. How did Clement acknowledge that the transforming work done in Corinth was accomplished by the Encourager of God?
Next steps – Preparation: Begin to pray daily for your church – leaders, members, programs. Ask God to use you to encourage your church in any way He can.
T. M. Moore
We can encourage people in even small and seemingly insignificant ways. Our book Small Stuff helps you be more aware of the opportunities for encouraging others that God brings to you each day. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Quotations from 1 Clement from The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers, Collection: 3 Series, (Kindle Locations 2904-2910). Kindle Edition.