“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:21-22
Christians were not designed to live for Christ in isolation. God built us for community. He has given us the community of faith to keep us going in the Christian life. Because we were not made to live out our Christian life alone, this means that we were are not able to be an effective witness for Christ on our own.
Consider the Redwood trees in California. The Redwoods are these massive trees, with enormous trunks. They can grow upwards of 350 feet high. You would think that trees that tall would have deep roots. However, the roots of the Redwoods only go down about 6 feet into the soil. But, they extend out horizontally about 100 feet. In doing so, their roots will intertwine with the other Redwoods in the forest and even fuse together. This fusion of roots allows each Redwood tree to be strengthened by all the other Redwoods around it. This root system allows it withstand high-speed winds and massive floods without toppling. One Redwood would not be able to stand such conditions without the strength provided by the other trees.
What an amazing parable for how the community of believers is designed to work.
The Christian life is hard. In Acts 14, we read that Paul was stoned for preaching about Christ. Everyone thought he was dead, but he wasn’t! He scares everyone when he suddenly wakes up, and the very next day he hikes to a city called Derbe to keep sharing the gospel. Derbe is 58 miles away…he was just stoned the day before! He would have certainly still had open, bloody wounds, bulging bruises from head-to-toe, and possibly a concussion. Paul knows that being a Christian is hard. Just read 2 Corinthians 11:16-29.
After this, he returns to a few towns he had visited recently to encourage new believers to keep living for Christ even though it was hard. This encouragement is what would give them the strength to keep fighting the good fight of faith. It would give them the energy to continue to be a faithful witness for Jesus amidst great hardship.
After all, it’s hard for us to be a witness for Christ. We know how difficult the conversations can be when we bring up the gospel. We can easily face rejection or slander. Being cussed at. Laughed at. Mocked at. Falsely accused. Excluded from a group. And while many of us are not facing physical persecution for our faith in America, we certainly cannot rule that out.
Yet, this is what we sign up for when we come to Christ. Jesus promised us that it will be hard when he said, “In this world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Because being a witness for Christ is a difficult task, it is designed to be a community task. This why we are called to encourage one another, so that we are strengthened to press on living and speaking the gospel! It takes a village to be a witness. Literally.
Encouragement produces at least three things in us:
- It stirs us up to love and good works.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Heb. 10:24-25
- It keeps us from wandering into sin and, at worst, walking away from Christ.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” – Heb. 3:12-13
- It keeps us from the fear of witnessing to someone.
“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” – Acts 18:9-10
These three things show us the power of encouragement. Being encouraged by a brother or sister in Christ is the fuel that God gives us to help us run our race with endurance. It is the God-given power enabling us to go on speaking.
Because this is true, when the thought comes into your brain to encourage someone, don’t shrug it off. Don’t ignore it. Write them a note. Drop them a post on Facebook. Send them a text. God intends to use it to strengthen them to keep living boldly for Christ. Encouragement is the serious business of the church.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11