Encouragement and the Church (3)
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love. 1 Corinthians 16.13
A congregation encouraged
That Paul was able to encourage the Corinthians seems clear enough, both from 2 Corinthians as well as from the opening paragraphs of Clement’s first epistle. Already, when Paul was writing 2 Corinthians, the mess the Corinthians had made was being cleaned up; and Paul was persuaded that they were ready for the kind of “solid food” they were not able to receive when he wrote 1 Corinthians 3.1-4.
He treated the believers in 1 Corinthians as babes in Christ; in 2 Corinthians, he treated them as recovered, restored, and ready for greater things in the Lord.
The differences between 1 and 2 Corinthians could not be more stark. The first deals with problems, irregularities, and neglected things; it is written in a tone of admonition. The second is laudatory and hortatory in tone, and includes instruction designed to keep the Corinthians moving forward in Christ and the work of the Church. 2 Corinthians is much more pastoral, visionary, and affirming, while 1 Corinthians – while equally pastoral, but with the rod rather than the staff – is more chiding, chastening, and even a little threatening. 1 Corinthians dwells on the first things of faith; 2 Corinthians looks to the deeper mysteries and broader horizons of following Christ.
Paul could not have written 2 Corinthians to the people of 1 Corinthians. By receiving Paul’s encouragement and acting on it, they elicited from him the dramatically different message of his second epistle. They took the steps of wisdom and courage he insisted upon in his first epistle, and thus they were restored to the Lord and one another. Paul’s encouragement made the difference.
How was he able to do that?
Prerequisites for encouragement
The apostle Paul was a first-rate encourager. He started many churches, built effective missionary teams, trained men for pastoral ministry, nurtured a mutually-supportive network of missionaries and churches, and communicated effectively with all those God brought into his Personal Mission Field.
I can identify at least five skills that made Paul such an effective encourager. I think we can see these as prerequisites for effective encouragement. Let me summarize briefly.
First, Paul was attentive to the stirring of God’s Spirit in the churches of Corinth. He knew they’d sent that delegation and letter because of the work of God’s Spirit, helping them to recognize their need, long for something better, and seek help. Remember, Paul was always busy, especially (as in 1 Corinthians) when he was charging through open doors, against much opposition, to advance the Gospel (1 Cor. 16.8, 9). He could have put off the delegation and promised to get to the letter when he could find the time. But he recognized in those emissaries and that epistle a sincere stirring of God’s Spirit within the soul of the Corinthian church, and he determined to strike while the iron was hot.
Second, and as I mentioned earlier, Paul loved these people, and they knew it. He’d spent eighteen months with them, during which he selflessly gave of his time and energy to nurture their souls and build up the body of believers, even in the face of much opposition, and even as he continued to support himself making tents. When the Corinthians decided they needed some help, there was no doubt in their minds where to turn. People are more likely to be encouraged by those who love them, and who they know love them.
Third, Paul knew that what was happening in Corinth was not the way things were supposed to be. He understood what following Christ involves for individual believers. He knew how God intended His churches to mature and grow. What he was hearing about in Corinth was not in line with God’s plan at either level, individual believers or the church as a whole. Paul was never one to let believers or churches rest in some status quo, whether that condition was far removed from what God had promised and the Spirit is able to achieve, or advanced and excelling according to the promises of the Lord. Paul knew that there is more, always more, to know, experience, realize, and share of the life of faith than we’ll ever attain to in this life; he was determined that he and the people he served would always keep striving for that (Phil. 3.12-15).
Fourth, and related to this, Paul nurtured a clear and compelling vision of what the Christian life should be, of what it means to grow in the Lord, to serve in His Name, and to participate in His body as contributing members. He also understood God’s plan for His churches, how they should grow in unity and maturity to become more visibly the Body of Christ in their communities (Eph. 4.11-16), and how they must never lose sight of their oneness with other churches (Eph. 4.3). He was not content for the Corinthians to miss out on the blessings God had in store for them, or for the world and the larger Church through them. Like all believers, they had been called to the Kingdom and glory of God, and Paul was determined they should realize as much of that as possible (1 Thess. 2.12).
Finally, Paul spoke the truth in love. He didn’t mince words, when hard words were needed. He was clear about instructions and expectations. He used his words to diagnose, denounce, direct, develop, and dispose the Corinthians to take holy actions to redress their situation and get back in step with the Lord. His closing exhortation to them, in 1 Corinthians 16.13, provides an effective summary and reminder of all he charged them with throughout his first epistle, especially his challenge to them to be brave.
The Spirit in, over, and throughout all
Over and above and through all these prerequisites, Paul knew what the Holy Spirit could do in individual believers (2 Cor. 3.12-18) and in the churches of the Lord (Eph. 4.11-16). He wanted his ministry and any encouragement he might give to line up with and aim for the exceedingly abundantly more of the power at work within us that only the Holy Spirit can provide (Eph. 3.20; Phil. 2.13). Power for fruitfulness (Gal. 5.22, 23). Power for gifted service (1 Cor. 12.7-11). Power for witness (Acts 1.8). Power for building Christ’s Church (Eph. 2.19-22). And power for Kingdom growth and progress (1 Cor. 4.20).
Paul brought to the work of encouragement the inward stirring, leading, and empowering of the Holy Spirit in his own life. And when the Spirit at work within him lined up with the Spirit at work within those he sought to encourage, holy spiritual lightning struck, courage and conviction ensued, and good works of love and Kingdom progress broke out all around.
This is the kind of encouragement we need, and that we need to give others.
1. Why do we say that these criteria are prerequisites for being able to encourage others?
2. How do you see the Holy Spirit at work in yourself in power? In which aspects of His power do you need to see more evidence of His work in you?
3. When we are encouraged, to what should encouragement lead?
Next steps – Transformation: Review the prerequisites for being an effective encourager. How can you begin to improve in each of these?
T. M. Moore
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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.