Summary: Imagine a church where everyone is your greatest cheerleader. They believe you can do it. They help you do it. They help when you stumble, and they're thrilled when you succeed. Barnabas in Acts is the perfect example of how to encourage one another.
The devil, according to an old story, once advertised his tools for sale. On the date of the sale, the tools were placed for public inspection; each marked with a price. It was a treacherous lot of implements…hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lying, pride, and so on.
Laid apart from the rest was a harmless looking tool, well worn and rusted, yet it was priced very high. One curious customer asked, “What is this tool?” “That is discouragement,” replied the devil. “Why have you priced it so high?”
“Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with that when I cannot get near them with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make them do what I choose. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone.”
Though legendary, this story does emphasize the damage that discouragement can do to the heart of a person. Discouragement can make the greatest person ineffective. It can choke all growth. It brings progress to a standstill. It can render a Christian, a leadership, a congregation useless more easily than any thing. When we are discouraged we don’t pray like we should, we let our Bibles lie on the shelf. When we are discouraged we don’t step out in faith; we don’t trust God. In discouragement we stumble back into old sins and destructive habits.
This is why we are told so many times in the New Testament to encourage one another. In 1 Thes. 4:18 the Thessalonians were told to encourage each other with the words of Paul’s letter. I think the echoes of that command reach us with this idea, we are to encourage each other with the words of Scripture. In Titus 1:9 Paul reminds the young minister Titus that the church’s elders are to encourage others by sound doctrine. Heb. 3:13 calls us to make encouragement a consistent and constant part of our lives as Christians, “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” It’s not just on Sundays we need encouragement. It could be any day, and every day we need to be prepared to encourage one another. Heb. 10:25 reminds us that one of the core purposes of the church, especially the church meeting together is mutual encouragement, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
So let me issue the challenge in the same way that Paul does in 1 Thess. 5:11, “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I like how J.B. Phillips puts it in his paraphrase, “So go on cheering and strengthening one another…as I have no doubt you have been doing.”
Imagine a church were everyone there is your greatest cheerleader. They all believe you can do it. They’re all ready to help you make it happen. They’re all there to help you back up when you stumble. And they’re all thrilled when you do succeed. That’s the kind of church we are called to be. I think that’s the kind of church we are becoming. We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re going. You heard the testimonies last week. Many of you have experienced the encouragement of this body. I’m just here to cheer you on, to encourage you, to keep going.
Now when the Bible calls us to encourage one another, what exactly does that mean? The New Testament word for encourage is such a beautiful picture in itself. The Greek word the Bible uses means to “come alongside of, to stand with.” You encourage someone when you come alongside someone and help carry the load, you help them keep going. You guide them in which way to go.
ESPN calls it one of the 100 greatest moments in sports history. I call it the perfect picture of encouragement. IT was Derek Redmond’s dream to win an Olympic medal in the 400 meter race. In the semifinals of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the stadium was filled 65,000 fans including Derek’s father, Jim Redmond. During the race, Derek broke out to an early lead and pulled away. 175 meters from the finish line, the race looked to be all his.
Suddenly, Derek hears a pop. It’s his right hamstring. Derek pulls up as if he had been shot. After hopping on one leg a few steps, he collapsed to the ground. At the top of the stadium, Derek’s dad, Jim, feels as though he’s just been sucker punched in the gut. Seeing his son writhing on the ground, Jim scrambles down the stands as fast as he could. Jim had no credentials to be on the field, but pushing by people as fast as he could, he yelled, “That’s my son out there, and I’m going to help him.”