Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

December 06, 2003

On Encouragement

I've been thinking a lot lately about encouragement as a spiritual gift. That's what Paul called it. A gift from the Holy Spirit for the building up of the children of God. It seems that God understands that since the Fall we have had to live out our lives in the threatening shadow of hopelessness, and that this problem persists well into our salvation walk.

Therefore, He tells us, encourage one another. You're going to need it. Build each other up. Think the best of one another. Because discouragement is going to be a problem for you. That sense of hopelessness and helplessness under which you labored so fruitlessly before you came to know Me is going to continue to bedevil you.

There are at least two reason for this, I think. One, of course, is indwelling sin. We are, at some level, keenly aware of this. This awareness bursts out even in Paul at times, as the sheer helplessness of his situation vis a vis sin come clear to him. "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." That's Romans 7:21. A few verses later (v. 24) he cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" There are times when this simple ineradicable (in human terms) fact just overwhelms us. And suddenly we lose sight of the rest of God's truth for us. We take our eyes off his love and mercy and our attention is focused on our own sinfulness. And we cry with Paul, I'm such a fool. So helpless inadequate to resist temptation. So stupid. So lost. This would be a sad state indeed if there were no way out, no adequate answer from the Father. Paul's question is the right one: Who will save me from myself? And the answer: I will. I have, yes, and I will. My grace and mercy is longer and wider even than your sin, child of mine. I've got it covered.

The second reason that we continue to need encouragement is the fact that the world is fallen, surrendered into the hands of the evil one, and set sternly against the pilgrim church. Perhaps it can be stated this way: the greater the good that we might do, the greater the opposition the world will bring against you. Many actual passages of encouragement in the epistles are offered in the context of persecution. Not only in Paul's letters, but Peter's too, and in those of the Lord Jesus to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. This combat has a tendency to wear us out. To weaken our faith. To make us vulnerable by taking advantage of our weakness. And this is why we will need to encourage one another. This is why the strong must support the weak and bear with them and nurture them. That's encouragement.

Now, I want to take a closer look at the word itself. The Greek word is paraklesis, and it means, among other things, to strengthen through consolation. I want to take a closer look at that, but first I want to look at the dictionary meaning of the English word. It literally means to give heart. The word courage was once synonymous with heart (that is, the seat of feeling, the spirit, disposition, nature). Later it came to mean "that quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking." That's why, I suppose the song You Gotta Have Heart from Damn Yankees is truly a song of encouragement. Now, the prefix en- essentially turns the noun into a verb. Now it means, to give heart or inspire with courage. To animate. To inspirit. The OED says, "to inspire with courage sufficient for any undertaking; to embolden, make confidant." And: "To allow or promote the continual development of (a natural growth, an industry, a sentiment, etc.)."

That enough for now. I have to get going. Will return in a few days, I hope, with more on this. In the mean time, COURAGE!


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