The Ministry of Encouragement – Oxygen for the Soul
One of the most common complaints we hear from many people today is that they never receive any feedback except negative feedback. Their complaint is that they hear only complaints. It’s easy to see how some relationships can bring more pain than pleasure. Obviously, this is not what God intended. He wants us to have healthy and harmonious relationships and He knows what it takes. God meant for our relationships to be a source of joy and inspiration—not tension and frustration. He meant for relationships to be dynamic, rewarding and meaningful. The good news is that they can be as we learn to cultivate the ministry of encouragement. But first…
What is Encouragement?
The word is a compound of the prefix “en”—meaning to put in or into and the word “courage”—meaning confident, brave, strong. To “encourage” then literally means to put courage into someone. Courage to do what? In short, courage to trust and obey God.
The prefix “dis” negates or reverses the word it is attached to. “Dissatisfied” means “not satisfied.” So, to “discourage” a person is to take courage away from him. An encouraging person is pleasant to be around because he builds you up and strengthens you by his example: his words, actions and attitudes. A discouraging person weakens, deprives of hope and tears down rather than strengthens and builds up.
How is the word “encouragement” used in the New Testament?
The most common word for encouragement in the Bible is “parakaleo”—“para” meaning “beside, near, with, along side,” and “kaleo” meaning “to call or summon.” A “paraclete” is someone called along side of another to counsel, encourage, help and bring comfort. This word is used to refer to the role of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said to his disciples “I will not leave you comfortless” in John 14:18 he was saying, in effect, “I will not leave you encourage-less.” Paul referred to God as the God of encouragement (2 Cor. 1:4). The basic word is always used for one primary purpose—to describe functions that will help Christians be built up in Christ, or to help them build up one another in Christ.
A “paraclete”—encourager—helps us when we are in trouble, when we are in a situation with which we cannot cope. This word also means “to urge on or exhort.” A person needing help may not require comfort so much as challenge. The word is used to exhort troops to go into battle. It not only empathizes; it motivates or inspires. It not only gives comfort; it also gives courage. It impels hesitant soldiers into battle and fearful sailors into the storm. This word is used frequently by Paul in his epistles. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, he tells the Thessalonians to, “…encourage one another and build each other up.” Three verses later he says, we exhort you…admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak (v. 14). The writer to the Hebrews commands, “Exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). That means more than comfort. We are to challenge one another, and “stir up one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
A positive example of encouragement from the Bible is Nehemiah who possessed the gift of exhortation. He saw a need, laid out a plan, then he assembled the people of Jerusalem. He shared his God-given vision and he exhorted and encouraged this discouraged lot by saying, “Let us arise and build.” He exhorted the people to new courage and they completed the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in record time (Neh. 2:17-20; cf., 1 Sam. 23:15-18).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s opening paragraphs to his epistles are full of encouragement and exhortation. At the close of his letters he frequently affirms his fellow laborers for their faithfulness. The name “Barnabas,” Paul’s ministry companion in the New Testament, means “son of encouragement.”
A negative example of encouragement from the Bible was brought back by 10 of the 12 spies sent out to survey the Promised Land and bring back a report. They brought back a discouraging report and the people responded to the discouraging news with fear rather than faith. This response prevented them from entering the promised land and they ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. We don’t need any more people with the gift of discouragement (Num. 13:25-33; 1 Kgs. 12:20ff).
What does the New Testament teach concerning the ministry of encouragement?
Throughout his entire ministry, Paul had one important concern on his mind and heart—to do all the good he could, whenever he could to build up the body of Christ for the glory of God. Paul’s life purpose is captured in the Phillips paraphrase of Colossians 1:28-29, “So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ Jesus. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me.” Knowing that he could only do so much himself, he developed a strategy to transfer this concern to others—to encourage every other Christian to develop the same concern for all other Christians (Col. 2:2; 4:8; 2 Tim. 2:2).
Paul provided believers with biblical and practical guidelines for developing a functioning church where Christians build up and edify one another. Christ’s plan is that as each of us does our part, the church grows as it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). Paul’s directive to the first century church is the same for us, “…encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing.” The Thessalonians had learned the importance of mutual encouragement, exhortation and comfort. Paul commended them and encouraged them to continue.
What is the primary means for encouraging one another?
The primary means that God has provided us for mutual encouragement is the truth of His Word.
This is why Paul said in Ephesians 4:15 that we were to speak the truth in love so that we will grow spiritually. There are many biblical examples that demonstrate that the primary means of encouraging other believers focuses in God’s truth. In Titus 1:9 Paul talks about holding firmly to the “trustworthy message” so he can “encourage others by sound doctrine….” In 2 Timothy 4:2,
Timothy was exhorted to “preach the Word” so that he could correct, rebuke and encourage….” In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 the Thessalonians were encouraged, comforted and urged to live lives worthy of God. The next verse explains the means of encouraging…Paul said when you received the Word of God from us you accepted it as the Word of God which is at work in you who believe (v. 13).
What are some ways that the Thessalonian Church demonstrated this ministry of encouragement?
Regarding the coming of Christ, Paul told the Thessalonians to “encourage one another with these words”(1 Thess. 4:18). In other words, build up each other with these marvelous truths— remind each other of God’s promises—comfort one another with these assurances and provide for believer’s stability and security. False teaching leads to insecurity and instability. God’s Word leads to maturity (Eph. 4:14-15). In 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, Paul says that God by His grace has given us “eternal encouragement.”
What are some practical steps in helping Christians encourage one another?
- Since God’s Word is the primary means of encouragement, it is essential that we know God’s Word. We must be willing, ready and able to share the Word with those in need of encouragement. We can’t mutually encourage each other if we are not familiar with the Scripture.
- The church structure must provide opportunities for every one to be involved in this ministry. This is a body [not just a preacher] function. In Colossians 3:16, Paul says that we are to teach and counsel one another. Does the structure of your church provide for every one to be involved in this ministry?
This truth is clear, God expects every member to contribute to the success [maturity and growth] of the body. The ministry of encouragement is one that God has promised to bless.
What are some helpful verses to memorize to build encouragement into our lives?
Psalm 143:3; Matthew 3:17; John 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 5:14; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24
Self-evaluation: questions regarding the motivation and ministry of encouragement:
- Do my words of encouragement outweigh words of correction or criticism?
- Do people become more cheerful when they are around me?
- Would my family consider me to be an encouraging person?
- Is it easy for me to praise, thank and affirm others?
- Do I apologize when I give a negative or discouraging report?
- Have I been diligent in affirming those in my immediate sphere of influence?
- Have I been diligent in encouraging the authorities God has placed over me?
- Do I pass along good news and swallow gossip or do I do the reverse?
- Does my conversation with friends generally build up or tear down people?
- Do I think more about giving praise than receiving it?
- Do I desire to counsel, comfort, encourage and exhort other people?
- Am I able to encourage those who hurt or persecute me?
- Have I recognized how encouraging God is to others as well as to me?
- Does my impatience or anger get in the way of encouraging relationships?
- Am I patient in listening to God so He can encourage my heart?
What are some benefits and blessing of being encouraged by others?
- Encouragement helps others discover more about how God made them.
- It helps them to better appreciate who they are and how they are gifted.
- It increases their self-esteem and improves their self-concept.
- It helps them to better love others as they love themselves (Mt. 19:19).
- It helps them to be built up in the faith and increases their courage.
- It helps them develop more healthy relationships with others.
- It comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable
- It gives them what they need, not just what they want.
- It provides them with a much-needed inspiring role model.
- It challenges them to provide a similar ministry to others.
- It provides a positive mental outlook essential for healthy living.
- It meets one of their most basic needs.
- It contributes to the health of the church and enables it to function effectively.
How can we learn to spread “good” gossip?
It’s important to tell the people in your life how important they are to you. It’s also important for you to tell others how important they are. If you know something good about someone, spread it around. Don’t keep it a secret. Paul took the opportunity in his writings to brag on his fellow workers. He understood that it was part of the process of building strong relationships. Here are some things to keep in mind when you spread good gossip:
- Be sincere! Cultivate the art of sincere praise (not flattery or lying).
- Don’t use it like a cattle prod. The idea is not to brag on one person so that another feels shamed into doing better. This is not the best way to motivate someone. This leads only to resentment, or jealousy, or both.
- Be consistent. Make sure that what you say publicly is consistent with what you say privately. If you compliment some one in public, but are critical in private, you’ll lose credibility and your relationship will suffer as a result.
Every time you interact with another person two things can happen: you can build that person up, or tear them down. Every time you interact with another person, you have a chance to practice holiness. We’re called to encourage. Encouraging others strengthens them. It helps them draw closer to Christ. That is the role we have to opportunity to play every time we interact with another person. Jesus said… “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). What a wonderful opportunity, yet what an awesome responsibility! May God give us grace as we strive to play the role of encourager in the lives of those we meet.
What does the New Testament teach about the spiritual gift of encouragement?
The gift of encouragement involves the special ability of stimulating the faith of others (Rom.
12:8a). We all have the responsibility to be encouraging but some have a special gift or ability. Bill Gothard has identified some common characteristics of this gift:
Characteristics Emphasized by the Gift of Encouragement/Exhortation:
- A desire to visualize specific achievement and prescribe precise steps of action (Phil. 3:17).
- A tendency to avoid systems of information which lack practical application.
- The ability to see how tribulation can produce new levels of maturity.
- A dependence on visible acceptance when speaking to individuals or groups.
- Discovery of insights that can be validated and illustrated from Scripture.
- An enjoyment with those eager to follow specific steps of action.
- A grief when teaching is not accompanied by practical steps of action.
- A delight in personal conferences that result in new, helpful insights.
- A motivation to urge people to their full spiritual maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28-29)
- An ability to discern where a person is in their spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:1).
- A strong desire to urge Christians on towards spiritual maturity (2 John 1:4).
- Explaining truth with logical reasoning in order to make it acceptable (1 Cor. 15).
- A desire for face to face interaction to insure a positive response (1 Thess. 2:17; 3:10).
- A desire for harmony which is essential for spiritual maturity (Phil. 2:2).
- The ability to see how tribulation can contribute to spiritual growth (2 Cor. 1:5; 4:17).
How can the gift of exhortation be misused or abused?
- Raising the expectations of others prematurely.
- Taking “family time” to counsel others.
- Treating family and friends as “projects” rather than as persons.
- Sharing private illustrations without permission.
- Jumping into new projects without finishing existing ones.
- Encouraging others to depend on them rather than God and their authorities.
- Trusting visible results rather than a true change of heart.
- Neglecting proper emphasis on basic Bible doctrines.
- Giving counsel before discerning the type of person or problem.
- The emphasis on specific steps may appear to simply the problem.
- The urgency to give advice may come across as over-confidence.
- The desire to provide a positive example may look like lack of interest in evangelism.
- The use of Scripture for application may appear to take it out of context.
- The emphasis on actions may appear insensitive to the feelings of others.
How important is the ministry of encouragement?
I believe that Dr. John Maxwell hit the nail on the head when he referred to “encouragement” as “oxygen for the soul.” If you deprive a soul of oxygen, it shrivels and it will not develop as God intended. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will withdrawal into a shell. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will live out a fearful existence. Deprive a soul of encouragement and it will be unable or incapable of encouraging others; it will be apathetic and cynical, pessimistic and lethargic. In the extreme, it may even wish that it were dead.
What Are Some Practical Ways We Can Encourage One Another?
- Kind Words—affirmation, compliments, sincere praise, apology
- Empathetic active listening and constructive feedback
- Body language—cheerful look, smile, laughter
- Godly example—the most powerful source
- Physical touch—when appropriate
- Providing hope—seeing a brighter future
- Providing personal help and practical assistance
- Assuring others of your prayers for them
- Personal Challenge to grow
- Spur one another to love and good deeds
- Inspiring stories/examples
- Remembering events
- Giving to others—adding values to their lives
- Sharing appropriate Scripture with others
- Expressing appreciation
- Rewarding accomplishments
- Spreading good gossip
- Caring, thoughtful, considerate actions
- God’s Word—especially His promises
- Our position in Christ
- Unselfishly meeting needs
- Empathizing with the hurting
- Rejoicing with those who rejoice
- Persuading others to trust/follow Christ
- Exhort to persevere—to continue in the faith
- Cheer up the faint hearted
- Invitation to respond to the Gospel
- Providing solace and consolation
- Comfort and relieve those in distress
- Urge on toward holiness
Is there anything we can do to encourage ourselves?
Sometimes we disappoint others or get blamed by others, rightly or wrongly, and we may find it difficult to find others to encourage us when we need it most. David had such an experience in 1 Samuel 30:6, “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters…” It is very instructive how David responded to this difficult situation. The text says, “but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” We can and we must learn to encourage ourselves when there is no one around to encourage us. The key is, “in the Lord.” When Paul was writing to the Philippians from jail he exhorted them to “Rejoice in the Lord always…” (Phil. 4:4). There is always a realistic reason to be encouraged “in the Lord” and to rejoice “in the Lord.”
How specifically did David learn to encourage his heart in the Lord?
The Psalms help to answer this question. David encouraged himself through spiritual journaling and heartfelt, honest prayer. The Psalms are a window to David’s souls. They record man’s word to God and God’s Word to man—usually in that order. The Psalms often begin on a low note and an honest sharing of emotion, but as the writer reflects God’s truth through the eyes of faith he breaks out in praise and foresees better days. The Psalms encourage a dialogical relationship between God and his children. The Psalms are filled with praise for who God is, with thanks for what God does and with hope for what God has promised. They provide evidence of a strong faith by a man who was after God’s heart. Worship enables us to focus our faith on God and our hope in God and it is always uplifting and encouraging.
How is the word “encouragement” used in the Scripture?
- Hope encourages—Psalm 31:24—Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
- Encouraged to find our joy in the Lord—Psalm 100:1—Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
- Encourage the oppressed—Isaiah 1:17—Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
- The Spirit encourages—Acts 9:31—Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
- Encouragement through words—Acts 15:32—Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.
- Encourage new Christians in the faith—Acts 16:40—After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left; Acts 20:1—When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.
- Encouragement through affirmation—Romans 1:8—First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world
- Encouragement can be a spiritual gift—Romans 12:8a—if it is encouraging, let him encourage…
- Encourage your neighbor—Romans 15:2—Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
- The Scriptures encourage—Romans 15:4—For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
- Encourage through the spiritual gift of preaching—1 Cor. 14:3—But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort; 1 Cor. 14:31—
For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
- Encouragement through prayer—Phil. 1:3-5—I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
- Our union with Christ encourages—Phil. 2:1—If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
- Encouragement through sincere praise—Col. 1:3-4—We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints
- Encourage with all wisdom—Col. 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
- Encouragement takes place in the heart—Col. 4:8—I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts.
- Encouragement is to be mutual—1 Thess. 4:18—Therefore encourage each other with these words; 1 Thess. 5:11—Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
- Encourage the elderly—1 Tim. 5:1—Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.
- Encourage one another daily—Hebrews 3:13—But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
- Encourage to love and do good—Hebrews 10:24-25—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.
- Words can encourage—Hebrews 12:5—And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,…”
- Encourage yourself in the faith—Jude 1:20a—But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith.
In summary: Biblical encouragement is the responsibility of all, and a spiritual gift for some, given by the Holy Spirit to be used for mutual edification in the body of Christ. It provides help and hope in our hearts through the Word and prayer, through praise, preaching, personal affirmation and our union with Christ to the end that we might grow in faith, love, wisdom and good deeds.
How does God want us to relate to one another in the Body of Christ?
Romans 12:10—Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Romans 12:16—Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 13:8—Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Romans 14:13—Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Romans 15:7—Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:14—I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Romans 16:16—Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
1 Corinthians 1:10—I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Galatians 5:13—You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2—Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:32—Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 5:19—Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Ephesians 5:21—Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:13—Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:16—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11—Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
In short we are exhorted to: honor, live in harmony with, stop passing judgment on, love, accept, greet, instruct, speak to, submit, forebear, forgive, teach, admonish and encourage one another.