Encouragement and the Church (5)
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
Paul called the Corinthians to bless God and praise Him for the work of comforting – encouragement, as we are treating this Greek word – that He does in us. Encouragement is the work of God, of His Spirit, Who dwells within us, as He stretches out to move and transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. God’s ability to encourage us, to infuse courage into our souls so that we move ahead into unfamiliar, uncertain, and even risky places, to seek and advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, is not impeded by any amount of tribulation or trouble. God can encourage us no matter how badly we’ve messed up, how deeply discouraged we have become, how hopeless things seem, or how unlikely the prospects of change may appear to be.
God is in the business of encouraging His people. You and I are at all times susceptible to discovering God at work within us, infusing us with hope and courage, suggesting new paths or directions, and assuring us that we can walk on water, if that’s what it takes to get closer to Jesus and be more like Him.
God the Holy Spirit is the great Encourager. When we bless and praise God for His work of encouragement, we acknowledge that great work; and we put ourselves in a posture of faith, believing God for encouragement and looking to Him for it. In doing so, we open up space in our soul for the Spirit to stir within us in new ways, with new ideas and aspirations, bringing new expressions of His power, to lead us into new areas of loving service.
When the Spirit begins working in us, God will often send someone to encourage us. Other believers encourage us by confirming the Spirit’s work, offering a listening ear, suggesting new insights or directions, or offering to help. From such encouragement, the Lord can strike the lightning bolt of courage in our soul, releasing surprising spiritual energy to move us in new directions for the greater realization of God’s Kingdom and glory.
This is what Paul did for the Corinthians. Their response to his encouragement in 1 Corinthians was to take positive steps toward renewal and recovery in the Lord. And by the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the process of restoration was well under way. Building on the platform established by their obedience, Paul moved on in 2 Corinthians to hold out even larger horizons and brighter prospects of encouragement for the church in Corinth.
Seek the Lord’s encouragement
Each of us is daily presented with opportunities for offering the fruit of God’s Spirit to others; taking new steps of faith and obedience that extend Christ’s rule in our life sphere; speaking a word of witness about Jesus; taking up some new effort at bringing more beauty, goodness, and truth into our world; or furthering Christ’s work of making disciples, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
But we need to be encouraged if we’re ever going to step out of our secure seat onto the uncertain waves where Christ bids us walk to Him. Pray that the Holy Spirit will begin that work of encouragement in you. Listen in silence for Him to convict you of any unconfessed sins. Ask Him for new vision concerning how you might fulfill your calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12; Matt. 6.33). Pray for specific people and opportunities each day where you can show Jesus to whomever God puts in your path. Seek the Spirit’s work of encouragement; and as He begins to stir within you toward new undertakings and more consistent stepping out on the waves, ask God to send you other believers to encourage you. Let their encouragement confirm the Spirit’s stretching out in you, and look to them for counsel, assistance, prayer, and guidance in following Jesus courageously.
Be ready to encourage
Paul was greatly encouraged by the way the churches in Corinth responded to his encouragement. He took the opportunity of their encouraging him to encourage them boldly with words of higher aspiration and hope: that they might become a true fragrance of Jesus in the world (2.15, 16); that others would “read” in them a true epistle of Jesus (3.1-3); that the glory of God would transform them increasingly into the image of the Lord Jesus (3.12-18); that others might give thanks to God because of their faithfulness (4.7-12); that they might focus more consistently on the glory of the Lord Jesus at the Father’s right hand (4.6; 5.1-10), and might take their place as ambassadors for Jesus Christ, restoring the reconciled world to God (5.12-21); that they might press on to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (7.1); and that they might have courage to share generously with the suffering church in Judea (9.1-15).
These were bold words, and Paul might have held back from venturing them, for fear of frightening the Corinthians back into some condition of withdrawn infancy. But the encouragement he received from them gave him the courage to urge them to press on to even greater heights of obedience, service, love, and glory than they had thus far realized.
And the opening paragraphs of Clement’s first epistle to the Corinthians is the evidence that Paul’s second round of encouragement gave them even greater courage for growth and ministry than the first.
As God encourages us, we must make ourselves available to encourage others. The lack of mutual encouragement in the Church today is one of the greatest reasons why Christianity has become a marginal faith in our society, and why unbelief, paganism, and other false religions have occupied so much of the social and cultural ground of our society.
God’s people are languishing in forms of spiritual infancy that are leaving us turned inward, anxious over our increasingly secular age, and powerless to assert the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit that are the signs of the Kingdom of God (Rom. 14.17, 18)
We need to recover the art of encouragement, so that having the courage to do what is right and good and true and Kingdom-advancing becomes more the way we live as Christians in the world. And we need to make the most of every opportunity to encourage our fellow Christians as well.
1. How did Paul’s encouragement affect the church in Corinth?
2. How did their response to his encouragement encourage him?
3. What can you do to begin realizing more the Spirit’s work of encouragement in your walk with and work for the Lord?
Next steps – Preparation: Pray for the Spirit to begin stirring with encouragement in you. Ask Him to show you new ways of bringing Christ’s Kingdom to light in your life and your Personal Mission Field.
T. M. Moore
Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click 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.