After the uproar ceased Paul sent for the disciples—and, after encouraging them he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece.
(To the elders from Ephesus) “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers—to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood…Therefore be alert remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his Grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified….And there was much weeping on the part of all…. (Excerpts from Acts 20 verses 1-2; 28; 31-32; and 36).
There are underlying key words or phrases throughout every book/chapter in the Bible. In Acts 20 I see encouragement, exhortation, admonishment, and more encouragement being given by Paul. What is different between me and Paul?
In Acts 20 a lot of travel is being talked about, compressed into a few sentences. Paul went here and then there, etc. etc., ending up lacing up the old sandals on his way to Jerusalem.
There is something extraordinary in Luke’s account to pay attention to: Paul encouraged the disciples on his way out of Ephesus; in Macedonia he encouraged the disciples on his way to Greece; he encouraged the elders on his way to Jerusalem.
Encouragement: Really a big thing from the scriptures—and something I don’t do very well. Heb 3:13 says “Encourage (or exhort—same word in the Greek) one another every day as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I can name it as “Looking for evidences of Grace” in others. What it can be is “Looking for evidences of the Fall” in others if my head isn’t screwed on correctly.
Why is that? Indwelling sin is the overarching definition but drilling it down it is the “I am better than you” attitude—pride in action, pride in attitude, pride in emotion, pride in execution. Oops, I can’t forget the most important: Pride in separating myself from the Presence—because with all this pride stirring around I am definitely not going to be in the presence of God.
Ok, encouragement is downright important if not critical in my Christian walk. But what about the other words: “exhortation” and “admonishment”? Encouragement can be “feel good” stuff, but Exhortation and Admonishment aren’t exactly in the “feel good” category—in fact, they can seem almost judgmental and (gasp) condemning.
Hooray for the Word of God for the Spirit gives the clue/hint on what must accompany all these descriptions of “encouragement”: Tears—or more precisely my expressed emotion for the well-being of my fellow Way-Walker. I may have hard things to say and remind someone of, but if I am doing those things out of an attitude of a drill sergeant (like I have encountered in some Accountability relationships) then I am quite out of the sweet spot from where the Holy Spirit wants me to operate in.
So what is my action plan, then? Take it simple: Look for and identify evidences of Grace in others and then tell them about what I see. Take care to be specific to action, time and day if possible, and relate it to a description of Grace found in the Word of God. Here’s one: Use the Fruit of the Spirit list found in Gal 5. Make it a task game in finding one person for each Fruit before starting over again—and time limit the game to a week or so. Remember: Steady plodding (repetition) reaps results.
Father, You have shown me over and over again that leadership expressed in bossmanship isn’t the way of the Kingdom—in fact, You have pounded over and over again on that subject in me; of which I am so so grateful. Please stir me up to care for others; not to see faults, failures, or inconsistencies, but to see evidences of Your Grace abounding in them—even if I have to really squint to find it. Your word says by doing so it contributes to avoiding a hardened heart by the deceitfulness of sin. That’s where I want to be; that’s what I can do to contribute to the health of the local Church. AMEN.