Encouragement and the Church (4)
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1.4-9
The face of encouragement
To some of us, I suppose a good bit of Paul’s encouragement to the churches in Corinth might look more like scolding and threatening.
Well, there is that.
Isn’t encouragement supposed to be upbeat, cheerful, and brimming with hope? It can be; but it can also be brutally honest and uncompromising, when necessary. Even when Paul was denouncing the Corinthians’ schismatic tendencies, infantile spirituality, and misguided ethics and affections, he was only affirming the work the Holy Spirit had already begun in them already. Why had they written to him and sent a delegation in the first place? They knew things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. They were in a mess; but they had neither the wisdom nor courage to do anything about their condition. By Paul’s pronouncing negatively on the issues about which they inquired – and some they didn’t – he was confirming their sense of need, coming to them on their ground, and putting an arm around them to help them move forward.
Paul was not content to leave them in their mess. One by one, he addressed the issues before them, called on them to repent of their sinful practices, and outlined steps they should take to get back on the path of God’s blessing. Encouragement is a very positive discipline; but like all positive disciplines, it can sometimes sting before it starts to heal.
The healing or transformation or progress that encouragement can spark begins in grace, proceeds through action, and focuses squarely on Jesus and becoming more like Him.
The foundation of encouragement
First, then, let’s notice from our text where Paul’s work of encouragement began: He reminded the Corinthians of who they really were, what they actually possessed, and where they were bound as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
They must remember that they were a people of grace (1 Cor. 1.4). Grace is a divine disposition; God looks on us with favor. It's also divine communication, by which He advises us of His love. And grace is divine power to move us from where we are to where God wants us to be. Because they were a people of grace, the Corinthians could expect to find renewal and progress beyond anything they’d dared to hope for thus far. They were “enriched in everything” in Jesus, so that they “came short in no gift” (vv. 5, 7). They had everything they needed to move through and beyond their present condition, and Paul would unpack that for them more clearly in subsequent chapters.
Second, he pointed beyond their situation to God Himself. God is faithful, Paul wrote (v. 9). He had called the Corinthians into His fellowship, and had given His own Son to secure it forever. He was not going to let them down. They must not look only upon their own resources to get beyond where they were. They must look to God in faith, knowing that He gives whatever increase is to come as we faithfully do the work He appoints to us (1 Cor. 3.5-9).
Finally, he reminded them of their root and goal: Jesus Christ. They had made convincing testimony of faith in Him, so that they were together rooted and grounded in the Lord Jesus (v. 6). And they were on a journey – individually and together – to becoming more like Jesus, Whom they would one day see face to face (v. 8). Jesus was their starting-point and goal in getting from the mess they were in to the mature body of believers we meet in the opening paragraphs of 1 Clement.
Now that Paul had framed their situation more accurately, he could get on with the work of encouragement they required.
Paul’s work of encouragement involved acknowledging their situation, advising them of God’s will, and directing them in taking brave and strong (1 Cor. 16.13) actions. The Corinthians must confess and repent of all sin (chaps. 1, 3, 5, 6, 10, 14); look to Jesus and His plan for each believer and every church (chaps. 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 15); believe that they had everything they needed to move beyond their present condition (chaps. 2, 3, 12, 15); and take the appropriate next steps to resume their proper journey with the Lord (chaps. 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14). In addition, Paul promised to come alongside them personally, to review their progress and help them along their way in becoming more like Jesus (16.5-7).
Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth – some harsh and admonitory, most loving and forthright and hortatory in nature – met the stirring in their souls, filled them with confidence in the Lord, and gave them the courage to do those things that needed to be done.
The focus of encouragement
Paul focused the Corinthians off their problems – their failings, weaknesses, shortcomings, lapses, and want of ability – to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. By setting Him before them as Savior (chap. 1) and Lord (chap. 15); reminding the Corinthians that they had His mind, (1 Cor. 2.16), belonged to God through Him (1 Cor. 6.19, 20), and participated in Him (1 Cor. 10.16, 17); and calling them to assume their proper place as members in His Body (1 Cor. 12), Paul paved the way for love for Jesus to renew them in love for one another unto the glory of God and benefit of all.
We need encouragement when we need a change of heart that has power to move us beyond our present circumstances into faith-filled actions, leading us to become more like Jesus. This can be like stepping out of a boat onto the water, boldly calling others to consider Jesus, setting aside mere self-interest to seek the benefit of others, or helping someone move into new possibilities for knowing and serving the Lord.
Who of us would not welcome such encouragement! And if we would have others encourage us in this way, we must also learn so to encourage others, for this is the Law and the Prophets, and the way of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 7.12).
1. Why must we focus on Jesus to provide real encouragement to someone?
2. Encouragement sometimes begins by helping someone see their shortcomings, failings, or sins. Why?
3. Encouragement leads to action; people are encouraged when they act differently. How can you see that such encouragement must involve the Holy Spirit of God?
Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some Christian friends about encouragement. When were they encouraged by someone? What was that like?
Our new book What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth? can help you in setting your mind on Christ. 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.