We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (NLT)
Words and concepts often have surface meanings that belie vast depths and rich significance. As a student of Scripture without training in Greek and Hebrew, I may, at times, overlook great treasures. For example, the word “encouraged.” At E4 Ministry Network, it is one of our core values. If asked to define what encouraged means, I quote from the dictionary definition of encouraged: “to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope” It sounds like a good core value to have, but there is so much more as we dive deeper.
I desire to be encouraging to others. I know that I am not alone in this ambition.
Words spoken at the right time are like gold apples in a silver setting. Proverbs 25:11 (CEB)
Encouragement begins with our words. Do not underestimate the power of the tongue. “The tongue has the power of life and death.” (Proverbs 18:21). The words we use can either build up or tear down. Jesus told us that we would be held accountable for every “empty word” (Matthew 12:36). William Barclay put it this way:
One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement.… It is easy to laugh at men’s ideals; it is easy to pour cold water on their enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.
We must not forget that the gospel is good news. We must remember that this world system tears people down and destroys hopes and dreams. Words of encouragement can open hearts and ears to receive the gospel message. The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Isaiah 50:4 (NLT)
Encouragement goes beyond words. Encouragement may start with what we say, but remember the expression: “Actions speak louder than words.” James admonished his readers:
Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? James 2:15–16 (NLT).
Supplying food and clothing is a good start, but encouragement goes even further. “Paraklēsis” is a Greek word often translated in the New Testament as encourage or comfort. It means “a calling to one’s side.” It is closely related to “paráklētos,” which Jesus used when speaking of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, advocate, and the one who is called alongside us to help. Encouragement means getting involved.
It is not a stretch to say that a primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to encourage us. But it is not encouragement from a distance. The Holy Spirit dwells with us and in us. The Holy Spirit is our example of how we should be engaged and comforting one another.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Philippians 2:1–2 (NLT).
A Culture of Encouragement
Life can be difficult. Ministry can be challenging. I have never met anyone who doesn’t need some encouragement from time to time. What can be done to ensure that encouragement will be available when we need it?
We are familiar with the concept of “sowing and reaping.” It is well known by farmers, television evangelists, pastors, and others who want to raise crops or money. Even when it is abused, the principle of sowing and reaping works. I am convinced that it also works with encouragement.
If we prioritize bringing encouragement in word and deed to those in our circle of influence, we will reap encouragement when we need it the most. If we know that we will need encouragement ourselves eventually, we should plant encouragement now to reap later.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:25 (NLT).
I conclude with one final thought. The pandemic caused many people to withdraw from meeting together in person. It was regrettable but understandable. However, if possible and permissible, there is no substitute for coming together as the church.
It is amazing how easily new habits are formed. We were created for community. I know that pastors are frustrated at how slowly some people are returning to church. Perhaps we need to try a different form of encouragement. So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. Luke 14:23 (NLT).
We must not confuse the church with The Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” The operative word for the gospel is “Go.” They will come with patience and encouragement because, as Peter observed: Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. John 6:68 (NLT)
 Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book: Over 4,500 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997), 129.