The gift of Encouragement
3 Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, 3 and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. 4 Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. 5 That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. 6 But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. 7 So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters because you have remained strong in your faith. 8 It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.
From February 4th to February 20th, there was actually something worth watching on the television! No it was not the coverage of the trucker convoy in Ottawa. It was the Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing China. It was entertaining because of the great accomplishments that these athletes achieved, and the incredible abilities they possess to perform feats most of us could only dream of. From the amazing skiing and snowboarding races and jumps, to the remarkable figure skating and sledding, the athletes wowed us with their skills. Now, if you watched any of the Olympics, you will have noticed a huge difference this year compared to previous years – there were no fans allowed in the stands due to the so called “pandemic”. The small number of cheers came from fellow countrymen who were also athletes and coaches, which were part of the games. It seemed really weird not to have the cheers of the crowd, nor the fan support for the athletes. I don’t know how they did it not hearing the encouragement of spectators. But, something remarkable happened to compensate for the lack of cheer leading that is usually present – something I had never seen before at the Olympic Games. Competitors became each other’s cheer leaders. I kept witnessing competing athletes wait for each other at the bottom of the skill hill, embracing, encouraging, consoling, and receiving each other into their arms. It was a remarkable sight! Many of these athletes competed against each other in different venues around the world, and they had formed a community. So, without their respective cheering sections present, they became each other’s encouragers, not arch rivals, but cheer leaders!
Have you got a cheer leader in your life? I hope you do! Surely there is someone who encourages you to keep going when the going gets tough! God thought encouragement was such an important part of a church community that He actually created a special gift/anointing from Holy Spirit to ensure that there were encouragers in the church (Romans 12:7-8). Actually, the name Jesus uses to identify Holy Spirit in John 14-16 is the same as the word “encourager”. God is an encourager! Encourage means to exhort, admonish, give joy, comfort, urge – to literally “come along side” someone in time when someone's presence is needed. Encouragement is used in conjunction with counselling, teaching, mentoring, and preaching.
In this week’s passage (1Thessalonians 3:1-8), we discover that Timothy has the ability to bring encouragement to the church. Timothy is an interesting character. We find out through the scriptures that he might be the last person to be able to encourage anyone. Why? Because from all accounts, he was a fatherless boy, whose dad had abandoned the family or been killed. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, who taught him the scriptures (2Timothy 1:5). Timothy and his maternal care givers were brought to Christ through the preaching of Paul, when he visited their home town of Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:6; Acts 16:1-2). Timothy became a very dear spiritual son to Paul, and assisted him in the work of the gospel, culminating with leading the large church in Ephesus, which caused him stomach issues; I’m sure because of stress and anxiety. (Read 1st and 2nd Timothy if you want a clear picture of this great man of God).
Paul was concerned about the believers at Thessalonica, so he sent Timothy to do two things with his spiritual gift of encouragement:
- Strengthen (Establish): This word literally means to make stable, and able to stand firm. It has the idea of staking a plant so it doesn’t’ break in the winds and the storm. This would also include teaching truth to solidify what one believes in their heart and mind. Timothy strengthened them in their faith!
- Encourage: This word meansto console, to comfort, which includes to refresh and cheer up. In The Message, verse 2 reads like this, “we stayed in Athens and sent Timothy to get you up and about, cheering you on so you wouldn’t be discouraged by these hard times. He’s a brother and companion in the faith, God’s man in spreading the Message, preaching Christ.”
Friends, being a Christian in this world is hard. Jesus said it would be hard, and so did the writers of the New Testament. In 1Thessalonians 3:3-5, it is very clear that there will be lots of trials, demonic temptations, even opposition and persecution (See 1Thess. 2:14-16). It is just part of being a Christian in the world. That’s why God gave us people to encourage us when our faith is weak, when the trials become too difficult, and when Satan is harassing with no end in sight. Timothy brought teaching to strengthen their faith, and comfort to their weary hearts. He did his job for which he was sent – to encourage the church. Then, upon returning to Paul with a good report that the Church in Thessalonica was doing really well, he encouraged Paul in the midst of his hardships (1Thess. 3:6-9). It must be great joy; indeed it is great joy, to know that your spiritual children are “strong” in their faith, firmly rooted, secure in Christ and the Gospel. Timothy was an encouragement, both to the church and to Paul.
We are living in crazy times. The world is unstable and ready to blow up at any moment. If one looks at the world instead of Jesus, one could get really discouraged, and get dislodged in the storms that are brewing around us. If ever there was a time for the encouragers to rise up, it is now! I don’t think we have to wait for someone with the gift of encouragement to come along; we can all be encouragers to one another, each other’s cheer leaders, like the Olympians in Beijing. We can all choose to be those who brace up the weaker ones around us who are in the middle of the storms of life. We can do this through prayer, but also with a word of encouragement like “keep going” or “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43 – spoken by Paul and Barnabas(whose name means “son of encouragement”). I would not be where I am today without the encouragers God has put in my life. They have pulled me through some difficult waters. The scripture verses and notes given me; the exhortations to pull up my boots and keep running the race; the prayer support through difficult times; even the laughs and fun times to balance out the challenging times. Praise God for His gift of encouragers in the church! I want to be someone else’s cheerleader… How about you?
Have a great week.