Here is a BLB definition for Encouragement. Here is a webster’s defintion:
1. to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. 2. to stimulate by guidance, approval, etc. 3. to promote; foster
Both of these definitions are very similar. In other words to encourage simply means to strengthen or comfort or to call to ones side, a helper. It is the same Greek word used as the name of the Holy Spirit “paraklētos”.
I believe encouragement to be one of the most underated leadership qualitites in all of Christandom. I think the gift goes seemingly ignored. I also believed it is a trait that leaders in the local assembly must pray for and cultivate if they are to lead God’s people God’s way.
One thing that I realized quite early in my Christian walk is that people can become discouraged quite easily. Christianity really is warfare. It is a race to be run and the crown of glory is our prize. We have a real adversary and demonic warfare is not some antiquated biblical truth. It is real, it is fierce and it can be devastating. Satan doesn’t play the game to knock you off the horse, he comes to destroy. Jesus tells Peter that “Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat”. Other writers describe Him as a lion, so the devastation that he desires to bring is real and we are in imminent danger. So discouragement is lurking on the horizon for each of us.
Because of that we need to be encouraging the people of God daily and this takes vital relationships. Encouragement is investing in the life of others for their good, while simultaneously realizing that this may not be reciprocated. It is an emptying of ones self interest. The leadership today says “what have you done for me lately”. What you have done drives the relationship. Think about it. A Coach encourages, CEO’s encourage, Cheerleaders encourage, even close relatives and loved ones encourage. However, most of this encouragement can be for the benefit of themselves and not you. I believe biblical encouragement to be a total divestiture of self interest and a using of ones resources to invest in the betterment of others. There are three examples I want to pull from the life of Barnabas.
1. In Acts 4 we see Barnabas selling a parcel of land and laying it at the feet of the apostles. The apostles immediately (through some knowledge of the work of the Spirit) that Barnabas has the gift of encouragement and they even name him by this gift. Barnabas gets nothing in return and if you were to contrast Ananias and Sapphira with Barnabas you will see immediately a motive for fame and popularity for their donation.
2. The next time we see Barnabas he is bringing Paul into the “Church”. We know the story of Paul’s conversion, and we see him immediately wanting to be accepted by the disciples and wanting to share this story. However, the disciples think this dude is being slick. They figure that “he wants us to come out (don’t forget they go underground after Stephen’s death) so he can kill us”. So they say “no way”. This must have been the most discouraging thing ever for Paul. Just think about it. He has the miraculous encounter with the risen Savior, he goes blind and receives a prophecy, he is eager to share this (don’t forget what happens when those who endorsed his martyring ways found out that he has converted over to this false religion) with those whom he formerly persecuted and they say no.
Who comes along and risks his life to be an encouragement? Barnabas (Acts 9). Barnabas could have been wrong about this, however he risked his own life in order to not only encourage Paul but the whole church as we see that in verse 31
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
3. My third example shook me as I was preparing to teach this. It is found in Chapter 11 of Acts. This actually begins a shift of the Spirit to Paul and a decreasing of sorts for Barnabas. The persecuted Jewish Christians are going throughout the Roman empire and begin to take the Gospel throughout. The problem is that they are only proclaiming to Jews (vs 19) some of these brothers get a wild hair and begin to preach to the Gentile converts and “many turned to the Lord” (vs 21). Word gets back to Jerusalem and who do they send? Barnabas and the bible says “he exhorted (encouraged) them”. Barnabas could have stayed their and got his shine on; however he remembers this bold brother named Paul (who was a Jew by birth but a Roman Citizen and as we find out versed in Roman philosophy and rhetoric). He goes to search for Paul until he finds him, brings him back and then the bible says “THEY met with the church and taught a great many of people” (vs 26b).
From that point forward we begin to see a shift. Paul becomes the leader, to the gentiles and even says “I am the Apostle to the Gentiles”. Paul goes on to write 13-14 books of the New Testament, and it all started from one brother “encouraging” him, namely Barnabas. We later see them in a disagreement over John Mark, where Barnabas stays to encourage Mark and he goes on to write the first Gospel.
Barnabas is a mark of a biblical leader. We never see Barnabas write a book of the bible, we don’t see people arguing over him much in Academic circles, but the fruit of His encouragement is how the Gospel went westward and ultimately into the whole world and it started with a gift that is not mentioned enough in the local assembly. Encouragement takes a divestiture of self interest. It is coming along side of people and bringing them along side of you. It is a getting underneath and individual and propping him up and it a gift that we see consistently through the book of Acts “strengthening the church” (each time Barnabas is mentioned the church is strengthened or grows).
As leaders we are to covet such a trait. Paul says “don’t look out for you own interest” he also says “think of others more highly than yourself”. This is the mind of Christ. Christ displayed this gift without the limitation of sin. We see him encouraging the disciples for 3 years and then after His resurrection encouraging them some more. We see the Holy Spirit being called the “Comforter” or the “Encourager”. One of His functions in our lives is to encourage us. So to lead His sheep we are to encourage them and this takes, time, sacrifice, relationship and a commitment not to give up on others.