I continue my series of posts based on material from my courses. I do this to give you an idea what we are covering, but it does a poor job of giving you the experience itself, because the theory is actually a small part of the process. Oh well, I hope the theory gives you something fresh to think about!
Encouragement, Support, and Accountability (S.E A.), are among the three core skills emphasized in this course. In contrast with the inappropriate relational patterns of manipulation and malice that we covered in Real Talk, S.E.A. should be the norm for relating. Christian encouragement is built on the two pillars of Belonging and Honor.
Of the thirty-six New Testament “One-Another’s” (see the Appendix – 36 One-Another’s), the one-another verses related to belonging are:
- We are members of one another” (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25).
- We have fellowship with one another if we walk in the light – 1 John 1:7
One-another’s related to honoring are:
- Honor one another, competitively! – Romans 12:10
- Regard one another as more important than yourselves – Philippians 2:3
- Be humble towards one another – 1 Peter 5:5
- Submit to one another – Ephesians 5:21
- Seek after that which is good for one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:15
- Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
- Greet one another – Romans 16:16; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14
The logic is as follows:
Because we belong to Christ, we belong to each other (“members of each other”). Thus, we recognize that at a fundamental level, you and I are in this together and working towards the same goals. Because we belong to each other, we have a deep sense of honor for each other – a respect, deference, and positive disposition for each other. In this context, we have a desire to stimulate each other to “love and good works” since we are in this mission together and since we see God doing the same thing.
Of course, we should also encourage people outside the Body of Christ. In fact, our encouragement of others should always be towards the realization of their calling to respond to the love of God in Christ for them. Encouragement finds its true depth and meaning when we realize that we encourage, not for our personal benefit or gratification, but for the strengthening and building up of the other person, that the name of Christ is lifted up. In its larger context, we are fanning the flames of a movement towards the total rule of Christ’s Kingdom.
But what exactly is (and is not) Encouragement? The emphasis for our purposes is on what I call our “emotional investment” in others. Of all the 36 New Testament “One-Another’s,” the following most closely relate to this concept:
- Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25
- Stimulate one another – Hebrews 10:24
- Build up one another – Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Comfort one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
- Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:32
- Speak to, teach, and admonish one another with song – Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16
Encouragement is the feeling of strength and/or desire
for action that God gives through another person.
Said another way, encouragement is that which I do that results in your feeling motivated to deepen your response to the Holy Spirit. God is working in us to desire and fulfill some good intention of His. But there are always barriers, trials, and fears to moving towards God’s treasure. Strength and desire are aspects of the “courage” we need to press through that resistance.
So there are lots of things I could theoretically do that might encourage you. The problem is that if you don’t feel encouraged, I didn’t actually encourage you. We sometimes use the word in a way that is counterproductive to this end. For example, “I encourage you to start praying at least 15 minutes a day.” This statement, while it might have appropriate uses depending on the context of the relationship, does not qualify as real encouragement for three reasons:
- This statement is not actually encouragement. We may as well use the word “advise” instead.
- If you don’t feel encouraged to do it after I say it, then I didn’t encourage you. You, in fact, may feel judged or belittled if you don’t, or at least pressured to do it, which certainly is not encouraging.
- We are learning how to listen to the Lord and His word to us. While advice and hearing on behalf of others has its place in the Body, we are developing the capacities to hear the Lord for ourselves, to learn to respond in obedience, and to encourage others to do the same. If I tell you what I think you should do, then I have denied you the opportunity to hear and respond for yourself. Some people never learn to respond to the Lord’s initiative themselves, always looking to others for direction. This is a tragedy.
Moreover, all six “One-Another’s” that the New Testament tells us to avoid are very much dis-couraging:
- Judging one another (Rom. 14:13)
- Challenging/Provoking one another (Gal. 5:26)
- Envying one another (Gal. 5:26)
- Lying to each other (Col. 3:9) – including the false encouragement called flattery (Ps. 12:2)
- Slandering one another (Jas. 4:11)
- Complaining about one another (Jas. 5:9)
The Blessings of Jacob
We saw in the last lesson that blessings Jacob heard from his father and from God became the basis of a powerful rhema for his life. Let’s talk more about his blessings and how they relate to encouragement. To trace their roots, however, we need to look to the distant past.
Multiplication. The very first blessing of the Bible is where God blesses the sea creatures and the fowl of the air, “saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’” (Gen. 1:22). How interesting that the very first blessing of the Bible is for animals! The land animals God does not bless for some reason. God gives the same blessing to humans but expands its scope and their authority. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28). The theme repeats and expands for humans after the Flood: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.” (Gen. 9:1-2).
Blessing of others. Notice now a new element (which I will underline) that enters with the blessing God gives to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).
Land. A third thread is the blessing of land (hereafter bolded and underlined) that God gives first to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:7; 15:7). God promised Abraham to “multiply [him] exceedingly” (17:2) – more than the stars in the heavens (15:5). Strangely, the blessing does not get repeated for Abraham’s son Isaac, through whom the blessing was to flow, but is repeated for Ishmael, saying,”I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly” (Gen. 17:20).
Yet it is Isaac who passes on his father’s blessing to Jacob (intended for Esau), saying, among other things, “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.” That was only part of it. Isaac repeats the rest when he actually means to bless Jacob upon sending him to find a wife: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham” (28:3-4).
In Jacob’s dream God then expands this blessing, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (28:14-16).
I give you all this detail in order to make three points:
- Blessings originate with God but may be passed on through human agency.
- Blessings, properly stewarded, are intended to grow and expand, much as the Kingdom is intended to expand and overtake the entire earth. In fact, these very blessings are the seed of our Kingdom mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).
- Blessings are the chief means of passing on Kingdom inheritance.
Blessing is a word that belongs alongside at least four other words in a sort of constellation:
How do they relate?
- Blessings are the “good words” that we sow into others. As can be seen from the examples above, they are not prepared in advance. They are given spontaneously, because they originate with the Spirit who gives the utterance.
- Prophecy and blessings are very closely related. Because they are always about the future, blessings often look like a form of prophetic utterances. The difference is not that we are necessarily declaring a thing to be so, but that we are sowing the grace from our own lives into others to make it so.
- Grace, as we have defined it in this course, is the strength and desire to do something. Blessings are spoken out of divine grace and carry grace to empower their realization. Blessings are spoken grace.
- Inheritance is the blessing of God that we carry and multiply in others through grace. The result of blessing others is the growth and manifestation of greater inheritance.
- Encouragement comes in many forms, as you will learn during your group meeting, but the basic form is the spoken word. Of course, as James pointed out, if you “bless” someone saying, “‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jas. 2:16). As our definition of encouragement shows, its goal is the gift of grace (strength and desire) that manifests God’s will in another’s life.
Jacob learned that night at Bethel the power of blessings. The next time he met the Lord in the night (32:24-3), he literally jumped on the opportunity to seize a blessing. From that first encounter forward, blessings followed him through life:
- Both he and Laban recognized that God blessed Laban because of Jacob (Gen. 30:27, 30).
- Jacob continued to seek the blessing of God (32:26), and God blessed him on at least two more occasions (32:29; 35:9).
- Jacob even had the honor of blessing the Pharaoh, or perhaps we should say that the Pharaoh had the honor of Jacob’s blessing (47:7-10).
- Jacob at the end of his life blessed Joseph’s sons very intentionally and thoroughly (48:8-20). Then he blessed each of his own sons (ch. 49).
You began a new practice of pronouncing a group blessing on each other last time you met. This next meeting you will add to it learning how to bless each other one-on-one spontaneously. Don’t be nervous about what you will say or whether you might mess it up. You can’t mess up when you are giving someone a good word!