God Wants Us to Be Encouragers

I want us to begin our thoughts this evening with a reading from Hebrews 12:11-17.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

The objective of discipline is to teach someone you care about 'how to live'. The person does not know 'how to live'. The person is unlikely to understand 'how to live' from personal experience. By the time he or she realizes what he or she thought was a 'good idea' was a 'horrible idea', it is too late. Inescapable, irreversible consequences have occurred. The purpose of discipline is to make those inescapable, irreversible consequences unnecessary.

The difference between discipline and abuse is concern for the person. Discipline comes from the caring of love. Abuse comes from the selfishness of the abuser. God does not abuse His children, but he does discipline his children.

  1. The context of the situation:
    1. My understanding is that the writer is writing Jewish Christians or proselytes [or both] because they were distressed and discouraged by the things going on.
      1. The declaration that Jesus was the resurrected Jewish Messiah or Christ began in Jerusalem on one of the holiest festival occasions in the Jewish nation.
      2. All the first converts were either Jews or proselytes.
      3. Christianity grew among the Jewish people in Palestine at an incredible rate.
      4. Though there was a lot of debate about Jesus' identity as the Christ among the Jewish people, believers basically looked at Jesus and his teaching as we would look at the restoration movement.
      5. Jewish Christians commonly focused their expectations on the restoration of Israel as a nation.
        1. But that did not happen.
        2. The longer the movement continued, the more Israel ostracized Jews and proselytes who believed Jesus was the Christ.
        3. Constantly the pressure was placed on Jewish believers to make a decision--'you can be a member of the nation of Israel, or you can be a Christian, but you cannot be both.'
        4. The Jewish Christians or proselytes to whom this letter was first written seemed to be giving serious consideration to returning to the good graces of Israel by renouncing any relationship with Jesus Christ.
    2. The basic message of the letter is this: 'you cannot do that for two reasons: (1) Jesus is superior to the leadership and rites of Judaism; (2) the purpose of Israel is to allow God to make the resurrected Jesus the mediator between God and the people of the world.
      1. The letter systematically declares the resurrected Jesus' superiority over the leading figures and rites of Israel.
      2. It gives Jewish Christians and proselytes a call to faith in Jesus as the Christ.
    3. That was a hard, challenging message to receive.
      1. It was hard for these people to understand that the nation of Israel was a vehicle to lead to and achieve God's purposes rather than the goal of God's purposes.
      2. People who were not Jews were becoming Christians in many places.
        1. These people had never offered sacrifices at the Jewish temple, had never been circumcised, had never lived by Jewish law or tradition or rites, and had never even understood the difference between clean and unclean.
        2. Now they who did and understood these things were being classified with the people who had never done these things.
        3. It is tough to be rejected by your own people!

  2. The immediate context of the reading:
    1. God is disciplining you, not to destroy you, but to teach you how to live in Jesus Christ even if it means you do not have the approval of the nation of Israel.
      1. Discipline is not fun!
      2. Discipline focuses on a destruction, but the destruction does not have the objective of destroying the person.
      3. Discipline focuses on destroying something that threatens to destroy 'me'.
      4. Often the person enduring the destruction has a lot of trouble distinguishing between 'me' and 'that which wants to destroy me'.
    2. I don't remember my father being mad at me many times.
      1. One time Dad was disking up our front yard to plant some grass.
      2. The disk he was using was a mule drawn disc with a seat on it.
      3. I thought it would be fun to ride on the disc, so as he came by me I decided to jump on.
      4. I missed the disc and fell through an opening on the disc.
        1. Dad just happened to see me jump out of the corner of his eye.
        2. He instantly said, "Whoa!" to the mule," and the mule stopped.
      5. I had no idea of the danger I was in--the disc blades would have cut me to pieces.
      6. Knowing what could have happened if the mule had not stopped instantly really shook my Dad up.
      7. He made it very clear to me that I was never, never, never to try that again.
      8. Dad was not trying to destroy me; Dad was trying to keep me from destroying myself.
    3. Some of the Christians who received this letter were very discouraged.
      1. The writer was not trying to increase their discouragement.
      2. He was trying to get them to see the superiority of Jesus Christ.
      3. In fact, the writer said, "Help those who are discouraged!"

  3. One of God's priorities in the world is challenging His people to pursue peace.
    1. "Do not 'write off' believers who struggle and are weak!"
      1. That is a hard, challenging expectation!
      2. A Christian must not say to another Christian who does not understand, "Forget you!"
      3. A Christian must not say to another struggling Christian, "You are more trouble than you are worth!"
      4. A Christian must not say to a Christian who is confused by his or her expectations, "We would be better off without you!"
    2. Quite the opposite!
      1. Take special care of weak or struggling Christians.
      2. Make special provisions to care for the spiritually weak and feeble.
      3. It is by ministering to them that you help yourself.
      4. The objective is healing, not ostracizing.
    3. Pursue peace!
      1. Understand the importance of sanctification [holiness] which is found only in Jesus Christ.
      2. Value God's grace and make it your aim for no Christian to leave that grace.
      3. Learn how to live in a manner that values the important.
      4. Do not be like Esau, and learn too late.

  4. It is impossible to live for God in this culture or any culture on earth and not experience discouragement.
    1. The closer you come to God, the more clearly you will see the things that oppose God's rule in the lives of people.
      1. We will be powerfully tempted to condemn and oppose people who are living in ways that openly oppose God.
      2. Much to often, we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about other people.
      3. It is easy to condemn; it is hard to help.
    2. We all need each other's encouragement.
      1. I probably could swap experiences with any of you about Christians who have hurt and discouraged me.
      2. Not a single Christian here has not had many, many opportunities to give up following Jesus Christ because another Christian troubled or discouraged us.
      3. With ungodly forces in this world trying to destroy our faith in God's accomplishments in Jesus' death and resurrection, we never need to fight each other.
      4. I need to make it easier for you to follow Jesus Christ, not harder.
    3. This evening we began by listening to Mark Anders tell us how encouraging the prayer pager was to his family in a moment of crisis.
      1. Never doubt the power of prayer.
      2. Never doubt the power of encouragement.
      3. Use both to help others constantly.
      4. By helping others, you will help yourself.

Make a difference for the better by encouraging a Christian this week. Always look for opportunities to share your hope with people who do not know Jesus Christ. May someone give glory to God this week because of the impact of your life on them.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 February 2005

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