First Mennonite Church
October 5, 2014
A Word of Encouragement
Texts: 2Corinthians 1:3-5; 1Thessalonians 5:9
In the New Testament and particularly in the writings of the apostle Paul, we find a call to comfort and encouragement each other. In the Letter to the Hebrews the call to give daily encouragement to one another is to prevent us from getting disheartened to the point of abandoning the faith (Hebrews 3:12, 13).
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Two Fridays ago, my sister had surgery for breast cancer in Guatemala City and last week a dear friend of ours Wadi Torres from Atmore, AL called to tell me that his wife Maria, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs surgery very urgently. This couple has young children the exact same ages as our children.
This week I was listening to a story of a breast cancer survivor. She said that after everything she went through from diagnosis to recovery made her see the world differently. “I have come to have a real appreciation for everyone around me and everything life has given me,” she said. “It is too bad that most of us who can honestly say this can only do so after a terrible thing has happened to us,” she continued. “I can honestly say that the many acts of kindness, words of affirmation and encouragement I received have been the strength that sustained me through my trials. It is so amazing how a word of encouragement, a warm hug, or a prayer can make the difference between feeling way down and afraid to being hopeful and grateful for overcoming each day during this long journey,” said this mother of young children.
The path of life very often includes potholes and even some sinking sand in the sense that there are certain moments in which we feel the ground under our feet is vanishing. The path of life, whether personal, family or church, although exciting and joyous for the most part, is not always pleasant or smooth. And this is the reason we all need to hear a comforting word, a word of encouragement from time to time.
William Arthur Ward wrote:
Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.
And speaking of falling into pits, the legendary basketball coach, John Wooden wrote of having learned from his dad the importance of encouraging others with a kind spirit. Wooden grew up in Centerton, Indiana. Gravel pits were scattered around the area and farmers would often take their mules to the pits to haul out loads of gravel to use in building roads. Some pits were deeper than others, and it was sometimes tough for a team to pull out a wagon filled with gravel. One steamy summer day, wrote Wooden, a young farmer about 20 years old or so, was trying to get his team of horses to pull a fully loaded wagon out of the pit. He was whipping and cursing those two beautiful plow horses that were frothing at the mouth, stomping and pulling back from him. Dad watched for a while and then went over and said to the young farmer, “Let me take ‘em for you.” The farmer seemed relieved to hand over the reins. John watched as his dad started talking to the horses and stroking their noses with a soft touch. He slipped between the two horses and started walking alongside them, holding their bridles and bits while talking calmly and gently to them. As the horses settled down, he stepped in front of them and gave a little whistle to start them moving forward as he held the reins. Within a few minutes those two massive horses had pulled the wagon out of the gravel pit as easy as the sun coming up. John Wooden, the most winning coach in college basketball history, said, he never forgot that lesson. There are times in which we find ourselves in need to be pulled out of a pit of some kind: illness in the family, uncertainty about our future or the future of a loved one, needs that stretch beyond the means of our weekly or monthly check, or simply the daily draining of our spirit due to our busy lives. Sometimes it is hard to come out a pit on our own. And it is during these times that we need someone to hold our hand, to speak to us a word of encouragement. A word of encouragement in times as those or at the end of the day usually feel like a cool breeze in hot day or a cup of refreshing water after a long walk. Again, we all need to hear an encouraging word from time to time. But who can give what he or she does not have? How can we offer encouragement if we are down? First we need to always be close to the unfailing source of comfort and encouragement—God.
God Is Our Source of Comfort
When Paul wrote the second letter to the Corinthians he had just been reviled and insulted by someone in the church. The church was embarrassed and confused over what had happened and what was happening among them as a result the abuse Paul had been put under. It should not surprise us, therefore, that from beginning to end Paul wanted to encourage this community. And he, therefore, showed them where the source of consolation and encouragement they needed is.
2 Corinthians 1: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
Paul calls God the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. The NT Greek word paraklesis is translated “comfort,” “consolation,” or “encouragement.” God is the Father of all encouragement. And Paul depicts this character of God in light of the afflictions, distress, and hardship the believer experiences. God’s encouragement seems to be super-abundantly offered to those who are under hardship and afflictions. What is even more surprising here is that Paul does not give the slightest inference that hardship and affliction are the result of sin in those who are suffering. To the contrary, Paul seems to say that suffering and hardship are the places in which God’s encouraging and comforting grace are experienced the most. The God of all comfort is the One who comforts us in our troubles.
My dear friends, let me say it clearly: God has his arms open for you and me if we are suffering from any distress, affliction, or hardship. He wants to hold us and comfort us. He walks by our side sharing the burden we are carrying. He knows the thoughts that wear us down or keeps us awake at night and He wants to give us his peace. He knows of the tears we have cried; His heart breaks when ours aches. But more importantly He compassionately silently stands next to us even when we are not aware of his presence. The root for the NT Greek word “paraklesis” literally means “the one who stands or walks beside.” And this comfort or encouragement from God is abundantly available to us in Christ Jesus.
Let us allow ourselves rest in God’s comfort. Let us receive God’s encouragement in Christ. We need to realize that Paul does not say that God will remove the hardship, afflictions, or troubles from us. Paul says that in the midst of these God encourages and comforts us.
God Comforts Us So that we may Comfort Others
The God of all comfort comforts us so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
As I mentioned earlier Paul’s main reasons to write 2nd Corinthians was to encourage this struggling Christian community. From the very beginning of this letter he portrays God as the comforter from whom every suffering and afflicted believer receives comfort and encouragement. In Paul’s closing words and benediction to the Corinthian church he writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2Corinthians 13:11). God’s comfort and encouragement are not given to us as personal possessions. We who are recipients of God’s merciful grace of encouragement are asked to become channels of that grace also. This truth applies to everything we receive from God. God blesses us so we can bless others. God gives to us material things so we can bless others also. God pours his love in our heart so that we can love others as well. And God comforts us so that we can comfort and encourage others.
I admire the work Lilian (my wife) does besides making more beautiful the women who go to her to get their hair done. Several of them have told Lilian of having lost a loved recently. While Lilian does their work she listens and prays for them. And before they leave she reminds them that she will remember them in prayer and gives them a hug. As these ladies leave they profusely thank Lilian for her gracefulness and words of comfort and encouragement.
In the context of church encouraging others can be a little tricky to do. At times, playful comradery can become a hindrance to heart to heart connection. Sometimes superficial friendship does not allow for a deep spiritual connection with one another. Heart to heart talk is most likely to come in the context of discipleship, such as praying together, Bible study, or one to one discipleship. It could be this the same reason of causal church relationship that urged Paul to say to Corinthians, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another.” In order for us to encourage each other we must strive—that is—make deliberate effort to be fully restored. Our friendships should operate beyond the superficial striving to connect with one another and be healed if our relationship is not well. Real encouragement, encouragement that goes beyond the “take care” cliché we give or receive from each other, is only possible when we are fully restored with God and with each other.
If we want to be an encourager as God wants us to be, we must seek God’s encouragement first. If we want to be healers and comforter, we must seek God to heal our hurts and comfort our sadness. And when we begin to encourage one another and to comfort one another then we will experience in our midst what Paul prayed for the Corinthians “the God of love and peace will be with you.” God will make his dwelling among us and we will become manifestations of God’s love and God’s peace to everyone.
I want to encourage each of you to seek God’s comfort and grace. He will heal you and inspire you to become his agent of comfort and encouragement. Amen!
 William Arthur Ward. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2014. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williamart125727.html, accessed October 3, 2014.