My Dear Friends,
The Church of Christ is full of unsung heroes. They do not, on the whole, possess the kind of spiritual gifts that get them noticed and give them a “name”. They are, at least in my experience, rarely the most intellectually able or theologically articulate Christians in a congregation. And yet, they give their congregations a spiritual lustre that is nothing less than a divine benediction. Perhaps you are already wondering just who these people are; let me tell you - they are the spiritual seed of “Barnabas”, the proto-typical “Son of Encouragement” (see Acts 4:36).
The grace of encouragement is a precious and much to be prized grace. It is a grace that owes its origin, as all graces do, to the indwelling presence of the divine Encourager, the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is called the “Paraclete,” the One who comes alongside to minister the grace of Christ to his needy, wounded, limping servants. To be an encourager, is to be the Holy Spirit’s chosen instrument to minister God’s grace to his often beleaguered saints. This is surely a grace that all Christians should aspire to. It may not, and probably will not, get you “a name;” it will, however, make you a precious instrument for good to your fellow believers.
Why are “sons (and daughters) of encouragement” so rare in our churches (granted that your church may be an exception)? A number of reasons spring to mind. The first is, too many of us are taken up with ourselves, our needs, our concerns, our problems, our struggles. Encouragers, by definition, think more about the needs of others than their own needs. Encouragers are not free of personal struggles and trials; but they put the needs of others before their own needs. They heed the apostolic command to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” In doing this, they display the selflessness of the Saviour. A second reason is that too many of us are primed to search out weaknesses and flaws in other Christians, than primed to minister the consolation of Christ. Encouragers have Christ-like sight and a Christ-like heart. They are not blind to the sins and weaknesses in fellow Christians, but they recognise that “love builds up.” This, no doubt, can become an excuse to neglect the grace of rebuke. But the rebukes that make their God-ordained mark on our lives, are those rebukes administered by the church’s encouragers - it is the wounds of friends that are most taken to heart. Too often in the church, those who are most eagle-eyed at pointing out what is wrong, are usually the very people who should never do the pointing out. Our Lord Jesus memorably impressed this on us with his teaching on “specks” and “planks” (see Matthew 7:3-5). Thirdly, encouragers appear to be few in the church because we do not take as seriously as we should the present High-Priestly ministry of our Saviour. As he exercises his heavenly ministry from the throne of grace, our Lord Jesus “sympathises with our weaknesses.” He never forgets that we are dust. He knows perfectly our flaws and failures, but he deals with us compassionately and mercifully. There is a tender humanity about our majestic Saviour. Encouragers are often our great High Priest’s means of ministering his divine sympathy to our bruised and lacerated souls.
You do not need a degree in theology to be an encourager. You do, however, need a Christ-like spirit. You do not need to be a gifted speaker or an extrovert personality to be an encourager. You do, however, need a humble spirit, that doesn’t wait for others to do good to you before you do good to them. Indeed, the grace of encouragement only grows in the fertile soil of humility. A kind and thoughtful word, a few lines on a note (not an email!), an assurance of prayer, an unexpected visit, a smile, a thoughtful enquiry after some major event. None of these require you to have read Calvin, Owen, Edwards, or Lloyd Jones. They do require you to have drunk deeply of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. May it please the Lord to adorn our churches with encouragers. Our fellowships will be the sweeter and more wholesome.
Yours in the fellowship of our great High Priest,