This is my search section here


← back to Sermons

    Mar 17, 2016

    Class 10: Encouragement

    Series: Living as a Church

    Category: Core Seminars, Church Life, Church Membership, Church Unity, Discipling / Mentoring, The Nature of the Church, Encouragement, Fellowship & Hospitality, Capitol Hill Baptist Church


    I. Introduction (Welcome, Prayer)

    Encouragement. It’s a good thing. As Christians, we know it’s something we’re called to do. But it’s also something that can be vague. Is encouragement just another word for “being nice?” As we open, I want to ask you all: What are some of the goals of encouragement, according to scripture? Why should we encourage one another?

    Listen to what Paul’s goal for encouragement was, from Col 1: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28-29). Did you catch that? Paul’s objective is to present everyone perfect in Christ - and he needs the power of the risen Jesus to do it.

    We are called to the same goal. We read in Hebrews, “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 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.” (Heb 10:23-25) That same sentiment is echoed in our church covenant. “We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.” Here’s a definition of encouragement: Speaking God’s truth to someone with the goal of that person’s growth in godliness.

    What a massive responsibility: encouragement for the purpose of holiness. Together, we are in a life and death struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. And our calling is to help each other cross the finish line together by the grace of God—presenting everyone perfect in Christ. God is the one who ultimately preserves us, and yet, he uses means to do that. One of those means is the body of Christ.

    Part of fulfilling that calling includes being faithful in confronting explicit sin, as we talked about last week. But the Christian life involves much more than that. There are thousands of choices we make each week that affect our usefulness as Christ’s servants. Even if a choice isn’t explicitly sinful, it can be foolish. We make choices about how much or how little to work; how much or how little to save; how to parent, where to live, what to say. As these decisions add up over time, they form the storyline of our lives—lives that as Christians will one day be revealed for what lasting value they accomplished. And so we are in desperate need of wise counsel and Christian input for all these areas of life. That’s what we want to think about this morning: how we spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

    Let me lay out a brief outline for our time together. We’ll start by examining what makes encouragement challenging to do well. Then we’ll look at the type of relationships that are required to make this happen. And finally, some practical guidance for how we can speak gospel-drenched encouragement into the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.





    II. The Challenge of Encouragement

    So first, what makes this difficult? Two things we must be aware of when we try to encourage others:

    First and foremost,
    A) Our Struggle is One of the Heart —the core desires that motivate our decisions and actions every day. And, as we read in the prophet Jeremiah, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9) The evil desires of the heart are what James points to both as the cause of temptation (1:14) and external conflict (4:1). So when we find that our brothers and sisters in this church are making decisions that don’t align with their calling in Christ, we know that the source isn’t primarily external but the working out of sinful desires in their hearts.

    This is important because so often, when we’re in relationships with other Christians and we see things in their lives that are dishonoring to Christ, our goal is often to get them to behave in a different way. “If only he wouldn’t spend so much time around those people.” “If only she would spend more time volunteering at church.” “If only he would switch into a job that gave him more time with his family.” But as we know all too well, behavior isn’t the root of the problem. A few implications of this:

    • First, only God can change the heart. We are his instruments. And so as we involve ourselves in the lives of others, we must remember that prayer is our best weapon, that guilt and coercion can’t correct deep heart issues, and that our desperation for God to act merely increases the glory due him. There may be good, appropriate times to help others work for behavior change—holding someone accountable for habitual sin, for example. But better behavior isn’t our ultimate goal. Ultimately, we care about matters of the heart.
    • Another implication: when we encourage others, we must remember that our hearts are prone to wander too. It’s no accident that immediately after Paul exhorts us to restore those caught in sin in Galatians 6:1, he warns us against our own pride and self-reliance. Our hearts are darker and capable of more evil than we will ever realize.
    • And, last: the importance of the heart reminds us that our goal isn’t to help others feel happy and fulfilled. There are many ways to achieve this that, tragically, never get to our heart issues. Our goal for encouraging others is that they would be transformed in their desires to seek Christ above all else – which is, in the end, what leads to true and lasting joy.

    So the first enemy we face as we struggle to encourage our brothers and sisters is the deceitfulness of the heart – their heart and our own.

    Hollow and Deceptive Philosophies
    A second enemy is worldly thinking. What I have in mind are Paul’s words in Colossians 2:8. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” To use this terminology, we are all philosophers. We all, all the time, are creating philosophies of meaning in our lives. What matters? Why do things happen? What’s worth living for? And though we usually know what the right answers are to those questions, we’re easily deceived and easily taken captive by philosophies that are human and worldly rather than based on truth.

    Those that we’re trying to encourage in one ear have the world shouting through a megaphone into their other ear. And we’re the same way. Our guiding philosophy should rest on the truth of the gospel—but even as Christians, our lives are often inconsistent with its truth. In their book “How People Change,” Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp call this the “gospel gap.” A gap between what we know is true in the gospel and how we live.

    And they observe that such gaps don’t stay empty. We—and the others in our church—are often operating with a mix of gospel truth and philosophies that, though they sound biblical, have at their core the values of this world. Lane and Tripp identify seven of these substitute philosophies. I’m going to walk through them—and as I do, I want us to think of where we might recognize these as being true in our own hearts—or how others you know might adopt some of these false philosophies.

    1. The first is “Formalism.” I participate in regular meetings and ministries of the church—and so I feel that my life is under control. I may always be in church, but it has little impact on my heart and on how I live my life. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who don’t go through the same motions I do. Christianity is being in the right place, going through the right motions.
    2. The second is Formalism’s close cousin “Legalism.” I live by rules—rules I create for myself, rules I create for others. I feel OK if I can keep my own rules. And I become arrogant and full of bitterness when others can’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.
    3. Next is mysticism—the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him. But if I have no emotional high, I assume God doesn’t love me or he’s not real.
    4. Activism is when I get excited about Christianity mainly as a way to fix this broken world. I base my relationship with God on how much I’ve done to alleviate poverty, but my own heart is far from him.
    5. Then there is Biblicism—reducing the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology. I know my bible inside and out, but I don’t let it master me. And so I am impatient with those with lesser knowledge.
    6. Sixth is the Therapeutic gospel. I may talk a lot about how Christ is the only way that healing and help can come to those who are hurting. Yet without realizing it, I have made Christ more therapist than Savior. I view the sin of people against each as a greater problem than my own sin against God—and I treat Christianity simply as a way to get problem free.
    7. Finally, what you might call “social-ism.” The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church can become their own idol—the body of Christ replacing Christ himself. And the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.

    Seven anti-gospel philosophies, all of them based half-truths, that we’re prone to believe - which is exactly why we need encouragement. I remember taking piano lessons as a kid and my teacher often stopping me when my hand posture would revert back to the wrong way. When we give Biblical encouragement, we act sort of like a piano teacher who gently and regularly helps her student recognize and eliminate bad habits that have crept in. She not only corrects poor posture, but models the true way to play. Like that teacher, we must expose false ways of thinking, and help one another delight in the truth. As Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

    So that’s the challenge: to battle the desires of the hearts, recognizing that we swim in a sea of worldly philosophies that challenge fundamental Christian truths about who we are. What we’ll talk about next is the context for change: the kinds of relationships that promote this kind of encouragement toward holiness.

    III. The Context for Change

    James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” There are two things that we need in a church to have a healthy culture of encouragement: a willingness to reveal struggles, and a willingness to help when others reveal their struggles. Nothing I say in this class will be of any use if you’re not willing to reveal your struggles to others and if you’re not close enough to others to know when and how they need help.

    So two good questions to ask ourselves— Do you make it a regular habit to share your struggles with others – perhaps on one level of honesty with those you know casually, and more in full detail with those you know deeply? And, second, are we making this a church that is welcoming toward struggling people? Or is this the type of place where only people who have it all together are welcome?

    A few thoughts on what we can do to cultivate this type of a church context. On sharing our struggles: let me encourage us to take the opportunity when appropriate to embrace the “ministry of dependency.” There is nothing Godly about stumbling on alone in your struggles because you are too proud to let others help you. Give others the opportunity to minister to you. One of the kindest things we can do for those who are struggling, and considering joining our church, is making it clear that the church is full of people just like them because it’s full of all of us.

    And, on serving those who share their struggles with you: When someone bears their soul to us, we are called to act in humility. One thing helps is to refrain from offering trite solutions that make it sound like only a complete fool would have that problem. “Struggling with depression? Just read your Bible more. And spend more time outside. Then you’ll feel OK.” When someone opens up to you about a struggle, they’ve just offered you a jewel. It may be rough and disfigured - but you now get the stewardship to help polish that jewel so that it becomes a reflection of God’s sanctifying work.

    So those are just a few thoughts on the context of relationships that we need to build. Relationships that are honest—and relationships that welcome struggling people.


    All of that leads us to: IV. How to Encourage Struggling People

    The Christians around us are fighting the flesh and they’re fighting the hollow and deceptive philosophies around them. We are exhorted to encourage them, to instruct them. How do we do that?

    The answer is that it depends on the person. But Scripture has given us immense wisdom in thinking through this issue. Listen to 1 Thes 5:13-14:

    “Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (5:13-14)

    How are we to care for those around us? Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. When we encounter the struggle of a brother or sister in Christ, it’s useful to run through those three categories in my mind. Are they idle, or “unruly” as the New American Standard puts it? Are they timid and in need of motivation? Are they simply weak and in need of someone to help shoulder their burden? And how can I do this with patience?

    Whatever category they’re in, we want to do three things. First, speak Scripture to them. That doesn’t simply mean throwing a verse at them. Paul Tripp, in his model of counseling, says that usually to speak the truth to someone in a way they can hear, we first need to show that we love them, and we need to get to know who they are and what it is they’re facing. Once we do, we want to convey the truth of God’s word to them - maybe by
    reminding them of a pattern in salvation history—perhaps of God always proving himself faithful. Or simply studying a passage of Scripture with them. But speak Scripture.

    Second—help them meditate on the gospel. Speak to them about aspects of the gospel. Wonder with them at the depth of Christ’s love and the certainty of our forgiveness. Whether you are idle, timid, or weak—your functional understanding of the gospel is in need of repair. “At the root of the problem is a gospel gap.” So use Scripture to help them understand how their understanding of the gospel might deficient, and share with them afresh the joyous good news that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    Third – identify evidences of God’s grace in their lives. Recognize whatever fruit the Holy Spirit is growing in them and tell them about it. If someone is tempted to doubt if they’re really a Christian, this can help them in their assurance that God truly is transforming them. This is what Paul did in so many letters. When he wrote to the Corinthians, even though he had a lot of rebuke coming, he opened his letter by saying, “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.”

    What we’ll do now is walk through 3 case studies -- examples of what this might look like for each of the three categories Paul lays out in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. With each, I’ll give some background on the hypothetical person, and then we’ll discuss a couple of questions together.

    Warn those who are idle
    We’ll start out with that first category: Letter A, “warn those who are idle.”

    Let’s say, to begin with, you’re talking with Sue—who will not remove herself from the path of temptation. She has found that she is very tempted to be in love with the things of this world—and watching a particular show on TV seems to always leave her discontent with the life that God has given her. But she really, really likes it—and has fun talking with friends at work the next morning after the show airs. You’ve talked about how this show may be playing a more destructive role in her life than she might realize—but while she confesses that the show regularly leads her to be sinfully discontent, she hasn’t stopped watching it. She is idle, and seems apathetic about her soul.

    Two questions: First, Where is the gap in Sue’s understanding of the gospel? *Teacher: get the class to actually discuss these questions. Possible talking points are in brackets, but don’t feel the need to use them. [[It is around the issue of what it means to truly repent. As Paul said, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom 6:2). Does she understand what repentance should look like for a Christian? What it means to take Jesus’ words seriously: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off ” (Mark 5:30).]]

    Second, What would you say to Sue? [[Talk with her about the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorry in 2 Corinthians 7. She may regret watching the show, but she is not repentant. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (v. 10) Warn her of the consequences of sin in her life. Positively, encourage her in the joy and contentment that comes from pursuing the things of the Lord (Ps 119:1-3), and from knowing herself to be someone who has not deserved God’s love but has received it because of his grace (Rom 5:8).]]

    Encourage the timid
    So, that’s an example of warning those who are idle. Let’s think about Letter B, what it means to “encourage the timid.”

    For this example, think of Joe. He’s in his late twenties and is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. He works in a dead-end job, doesn’t find himself particularly useful at Church, would like to get married (sort of) but isn’t anywhere close . . . and he’s been struggling for several years with what God’s purposes are for his life. He feels like he’s close to giving up—though he doesn’t know what “giving up” would really mean. But it sounds dramatic. He rarely serves others, but he says he would like to - he just doesn’t think he has anything to contribute. When he looks at all the elders, he feels like they’re all “Super-Christians” and he’s just a nobody.

    Let’s discuss the same questions. Where is the gap in Joe’s understanding of the gospel? [[[It could be in several places. In a strange way, he could have fallen into legalism—having begun with the Spirit, he now thinks of his goal in terms of human effort. He considers his worth as directly related to his productivity—or his lack of productivity—and that has resulted in despondency. So remind him that his worth before God is grounded in Christ’s finished work, not his own. ]]]

    What would you say to Joe to encourage him? [[Help him to understand his responsibility as rooted in the opportunities God has given him. His value doesn’t come from the approval of others. Share with him the glorious hope God has given all those who are his children: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Share about how all Chrsitians in the church are gifted to care for each other (1 Cor 12:25).]]]

    Help the weak
    Let’s move to the last of the three pieces of this verse: “help the weak.” Who is weak? In a sense, we all are. But there are some in our midst who weak in ways that make them spiritually vulnerable. This might especially come through circumstances in life that make it difficult each day to keep trusting in God.

    For our example, let’s take Max. Max has been diagnosed with clinical depression. He is unable to do the amount of good that he once could. He struggles mightily with his relationship with God now that many of the emotions of faith he once counted on—without ever realizing it—are few and far between. Through work with his pastor, he has come to recognize some of the spiritual roots of his problem—perhaps similar to some of the examples we’ve already talked about. But his mind is more susceptible to that downward spiral of depression, and there is a physical side of his disease that is hard to escape. In this situation—though not always necessary, his doctor is helping him on the physical side of things—yet Max is discouraged and downhearted in so many ways. Max is weak.

    First question: What might be some possible gaps in Max’s understanding of the gospel? [[Consider how he is weak. He may be weak in faith. His present emotions feel like they will last forever, and so God’s promises seem so distant as to appear non-existent. Help him learn to trust God more than himself. That is, after all, one essence of the gospel. Or perhaps the help he needs is the constant reminder that there are Christians in his life who love him, and whose love is rooted in something much more secure than his own “lovability.”]]

    Second question: What are some things you could do or say to encourage Max? [[Share with him the gospel of hope. Help him to see how his sufferings are producing perseverance, character, and ultimately, hope (Rom 5:3-5). Remind him of the reasons he has to trust the goodness of God even as he questions why he is struggling in this way. (2 Cor 12:8-10). Especially in this category of those who are weak, we can’t be content to simply dispense truth at people and feel like our job is done. Sometimes we need to be quiet and listen or simply be present with them while they suffer. Other times we need to pray for them, to meet physical needs and provide fellowship. We shouldn’t only speak the truth, but do these things and so create opportunities to speak the truth.

    Be patient with everyone
    Finally, Paul says “be patient with everyone.” Whether it’s someone who is physically weak, someone who is frustratingly obstinate, someone who thinks they’re doing great and doesn’t need your encouragement - our posture is patience. Your job is never to condemn, never to shame someone by how slow their growth is going. True patience comes from knowing how patient our heavenly Father has been with us. Patience delights to serve your brothers and sisters because they are reflections of God’s character, and because gratitude for God’s patience runs deep in your soul.

    We love because he first loved us. Our love comes from his love and ought to reflect his love. Because of that, may we labor to present each other perfect in Christ.