Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22 CSB).
The book of Acts records what the Lord Jesus continued to do to build his church through the ministry of the apostles by the Holy Spirit. As we read this record, we discover a pattern of ministry that can guide us in the work that the Lord of the church has called us to do. Previously, we have seen these aspects of this pattern:
- Real life ministry
- The gospel (good news)
- Make disciples
- Strengthen disciples
This brings us to the next part of this pattern of ministry. We are to encourage disciples (learners of Jesus Christ). This is an important but often overlooked part of the gatherings of believers. I think this is because the emphasis in most Bible believing churches has been “don’t do these naughty things” and “do your duty by serving the Lord”, which is often reduced to such matters as hand out bulletins, work in the nursery, and help out at the building on work days. On the other hand, a contemporary alternative is “you can feel happy or be successful or prosperous (in your marriage, parenting, job, or finances) by doing these steps”. All this stuff has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity! The average person leaves a meeting rather frustrated or depressed or ready to drop the whole church routine.
Encouragement is a goal of Christian ministry. After the so-called “council of Jerusalem”, the church at Jerusalem sent out men to encourage the church at Antioch, after some had caused a disturbance in Antioch (Acts 15:30-32). When a church has been upset, its members need encouragement! After the apostle Paul had to set right some matters in Corinth, he made certain that he directed them to be encouraged. 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 (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). Paul sent Tychicus to the Ephesian believers to encourage them (Ephesians 6:22). He sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on the same mission (1 Thessalonians 3:11). To encourage is an essential part of preaching God’s word. Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV; cf. also 1 Corinthians 14:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The world and the forces of evil press hard against the people of God, and so we need encouragement to remain faithful. When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts (Acts 11:23 CSB). Barnabas himself was a model of encouragement (Acts 4:36). Like him, some have encouragement as a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8), but we all are to encourage one another, especially with the truth of our Lord’s second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Encouragement is a need of those who are suffering. This is what God our Father does for us: who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:4 ESV). As the children of such a loving and comforting Father, we ought to be known for our concern and skill in encouraging each other.
Encouragement is necessary to prevent spiritual decline. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7 NIV). But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:13 CSB). Clearly, this is our mutual responsibility in our gatherings: not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).
So then, I plead with everyone to make our local churches gatherings for encouragement. This is my prayer for Christ’s followers in every place. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 CSB).
Grace and peace, David