By: Charles Itseghosimhe
Acts 13:15 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
The Greek word used for exhoration is parakaleo, variously translated as exhortation, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. To put it another way, the rulers of the synagogue said “men and brethren, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”
The rulers of the synagogue were those persons who had the general charge of the synagogue and its service, to keep everything in order, and to direct the affairs of public worship. They can call on those whom they pleased to address the people, and had the power also of inflicting punishment, and of excommunicating. They oversee the reading of appointed sections of the Law and the Prophets.
The reading of the law and the prophets was done every Sabbath day. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Pisidia on their first missionary tour. They knew that Paul and Barnabas were Jews, though strangers, they sent to them, supposing it probable that they would wish to address their brethren. Their only request was that Paul and Barnabas speak a word of exhortation. They wished for consolation. Paul and Barnabas, surely declared to them glad tidings (verse 32), and many felt the power and comfort of God’s words, that the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath (verse 42). The leaders of that ancient synagogue seemed to know that the people stand continually in need of exhortation and sensed that these travelers brought a good word.
In this age, every one of us needs a word of exhortation! There is trouble with a capital T and poverty with a capital P. We live in a country where the political system siphons so much from the pockets of the people that most of the people can no longer adequately provide for themselves. Currently, there is fearful apprehension, everywhere. The Covid-19 pandemic, racism, the cult clashes, revenges, the rape, the violent protests and the economic breakdown have heightened the fearful apprehension. With the slow recovery of the less-than-stable-economy, there is this pressing call for us to lessen our demands and lower our expectations and this too is a fearful apprehension to many. The future seems to be dark indeed.
More persons are dying from fear and other issues than Covid-19 and other diseases that are spreading. Someone put it like this – Diseases kill its thousands and fear its ten thousands! There are deaths resulting from fear, frustration, hardship, starvation, debts, and depression. One of the outcomes of sin in the garden was fear, as Adam and Eve hid among the trees. Let us pray that courage, common sense and hope may prevail because words of encouragement are everywhere to be spoken.
WORDS OF EXHORTATION FROM THE THRONE OF GOD
The two words more often attributed to God than any other are these: Fear not! They were spoken to Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Zacharias, Mary, Jairus, Paul, John, and others.
Jesus came to earth and became fully man. He died as a man. When He was born in Bethlehem, He was literally born to die. He made His way through this world, with the sentence of death over His life. Others may not know what we are going through today; but one thought is sure, Jesus does. As we weep, Jesus weeps with us. As surely as He wept at the tomb of Lazarus because of the grief of His friends, He weeps today because of our crushing sorrows and hardship. Jesus can help us in our hour of grief, pain and fear. He can give us divine sympathy, physical deliverance, spiritual comfort, eternal hope. But we must take hold of His help!
God knows how difficult it is to remain enthusiastic about His work and how easy it is to become discouraged. God knows about these difficult times. He knows about our failing economy. He knows about the injustice we receive. He knows about the losses, deaths, grief and frustration. He sees all things. He cares. He is working out ways for us to overcome and be more than conquerors.
Remember that reality is more than what we see. Faith sees the unseen. If we focus upon only what we see today, we will only see hardship, doubts, separation, pain, sorrow, and tears. But, if by faith, we focus upon the unseen as we do the needful in line with God’s will, we will see hope, breakthrough, an entrance into a greater life and fellowship, and a victory. Jesus would ask us to look beyond physical struggles and death and see the climax of eternal life!
God wants us to look beyond all these and focus more into the eternal future. God wants that eternal future to be our riding hope that all these trying times will soon pass away. It was in an hour of hate and seeming hopelessness, that John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem – Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband – Revelation 21:2.
God wants us to lives in the knowledge that our future life with Christ will be far better – For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better – Philippians 1:23.
God wants us to accept the reality that all we see now and labour for (earthly wise) is temporal and will pass away. Whatever trust we place in material things is always misplaced. Heaven awaits us beyond the touch of time and circumstance – For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ – Philippians 3:20.
WORDS OF EXHORTATION FROM THE CHURCH
Taking references from Matthew 24:12, we know that immorality, immodesty, malice, hatred, betrayals, oppression, and wickedness will keep increasing in different proportions and forms (the cruelty of human to human and the collaboration among different crimes). These vices have the power to dull our senses as Christians; to bring coldness to our love to Christ and give way to fear, frustration, depression, hardship, doubts and faithlessness.
The church must rise up and say words of encouragement to members and the unbelieving world. Words of encouragement must be built on recognizing and trusting the ultimate power of God; ability to adapt with real life situations using godly principles; fervency in prayers and re-introduction of morality into our lives.
People the world over are seeking, searching, wanting to hear these words of encouragement. Husbands and wives, parents and children, youths and elderly ones, church leaders, brothers and sisters, neighbours – we all need these words of encouragement. We can digitalize the spread of these words of encouragement.
WORDS OF EXHORTATION FROM THE BRETHREN
As brethren, in our individual capacities, we can give words of encouragement in many ways, one of which is by setting proper example for others to follow. An example which requires no or less verbal instruction; an example that does not reflect itself because of the presence and status of persons; an example that is not set because of the identity of the person on whom the example is expected to have impact on; an example that is not made because of the location.
Thomas Stonewall Jackson received his nickname because of his stance during a bloody battle in 1861. In the middle of the first major battle of the American civil war which resulted in a Confederate victory, the Southerners began to break ranks and run. General Jackson sat on his horse and faced the enemy with his sword drawn, awaiting to do combat when they arrived. Someone shouted, there is Jackson like a stone wall! The southern troops rallied and joined him, and the battle was won. He did not have to chide or plead with those men to stand firm. He just set an example for them to follow. He acted himself because that is who he was – real, genuine and proper.
In Acts 4:36-37, we first meet Barnabas in the Scriptures when he is at his work of encouragement – And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Brethren in Jerusalem were selling land and houses in order to care for the needy saints among them. We wonder why Barnabas was singled out and named, while the others remain nameless benefactors. Perhaps his influence was felt by more people. Possibly his gift of property in a distant land gave encouragement to those who had property readily at hand. Barnabas does good work because he believed in it as one of God’s nature and he derives pleasure in doing it – no eye services, no self-righteousness – like Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Barnabas set an example for others to follow.
No matter how much a preacher preaches on prayer, his hearers will not pray until he sets an example of fervent prayer. Until elders have submitted themselves to the Lord, they will never have a congregation in submission to their leadership. Until leaders are giving sacrificially themselves, the members will not embrace sacrificial giving. Until youths set a proper example to believers and outsiders, the present church and future church is in serious trouble and chaos.
Another way, we can give encouragement to others is by creating a fellowship of acceptance. Some of us are discouraged at being isolated from other people.
There was a crucial time in the life and faith of Paul. After his conversion, some Jews tried to kill him (Acts 9:23-25). The church, which is now his newly-found family of Christians, was rejecting him. Those in Jerusalem wanted to deny him fellowship because of fear. It looked as if he might be pushed out of the church. Where was he to turn? And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus – Acts 9:26-27.
Barnabas set an example of encouragement. Barnabas stepped in and encouraged the brethren to accept Paul as a disciple, and he encouraged Paul to remain faithful and to become one of God’s greatest servants. Barnabas has this gift of being able to sense when a brother has problems.
Sometimes, the way we treat visiting brethren, new converts, restored brethren, weak brethren or brethren going through difficulties, goes a long way to show if we are saying a word of encouragement or not. It would be nice to have someone in the congregation to step up and encourage you and me when we are down and out; that someone is standing up for us, even when we are not present.
Brothers and sisters are needed who can sense when we have problems. Paul calls this ability a gift – he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness – Romans 12:8.
Some of us, because what we have suffered in time past from actions of people, even in the church, we become insensitive to others situations, we become cold, we become hardened and anti-builders. We like good situations to be reversed to bad. We want to tear down any edifying project. We want to fault any good and godly plan.
Pain, hurt, disappointment, and problems have come the way of brethren like Paul and Barnabas. But they used such to prepare themselves for a greater service to their fellowman. They have walked in the shoes of the troubled and can recognize when others are in need and possibly what others need. What a gift of encouragement!
We know of Barnabas, Paul, John Mark and Silas – these are one set of missionary workers. At one point in time, John Mark left them. Paul was not happy with his action or attitude. In their second journey, Paul insisted that John Mark should not follow them. …And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed… Acts 15:39-40.
Paul was focused on discipline for John Mark and there is nothing wrong with that. To Paul, we do not need a runaway. We need someone who will follow through in every stage of the work.
Imagine the conversation between Paul and Barnabas when they discussed Mark. The Bible says…the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. I cannot picture Barnabas throwing it up to Paul that he had once stood for him when everyone else had thought he was of no value to the Lord. We did not hear of such. Barnabas has a strong character. He loves doing his good deed not because of the presence or status of anyone. He is willing to make sacrifices to encourage and render the kind of service he must render.
To Barnabas, he saw John Mark as one who was broken apart and needed someone to pick up his pieces. Barnabas stepped in to orientate John Mark so that he will not miscontrue Paul’s action. Barnabas saw a talent to be built up which will be of high value for any mission work.
In Paul’s last days, he said, Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry – 2 Timothy 4:11.
John Mark was blessed to know Barnabas, and the Lord was blessed with another great servant because Barnabas was there when Mark needed him.
How many people called failures even in the church, have gone on to destruction because there was no Barnabas to help them pick up the pieces? How many discouraged souls have given up trying to work for the Lord because they were criticized, and there was no Barnabas to pat them on the back and tell them that they were appreciated? How many broken hearts have gone unmended because there was no Barnabas to smile and say, I understand, I care? How many would have stood, ready to respond to the Lord’s invitation, if only there had been a Barnabas to give them a nudge and a warm hand?
An act of encouragement saved a young woman’s soul. She came for counseling one day and revealed that she had lived with so much sin in her life that she decided to quit going to worship services. But she went one more time on a Sunday evening. Arriving late to avoid people, she walked into the entrance and an elder saw her. He said, Mary, I am so glad you are here. Seeing her looking for a seat, he said, Come, sit with my wife and me. She did. In the counseling session she revealed that during that service she decided to try again because somebody really did care about her. Today she is faithful and active along with her husband. For Mary the sermon that Sunday night was delivered not by the minister, but by a man and woman who cared enough to spot her need and minister to it.
Barnabas was willing to stand up for Paul, even against the influential members in Jerusalem congregation. Barnabas was willing to withstand the eloquent Paul when a penitent young brother needed a second chance. He was not an encourager for profit or fame. He was just an encourager! He had word of encouragement to say and he said it.
Not all of us may have access to a friend like Barnabas, but we do have the Word. It is so important that we study the Word because in it we have the encouragement we may be unable to find anywhere else. It is certainly in order to encourage you to become a child of God if you have never availed yourself of His grace. If we are drifting and are discouraged, we encourage ourselves to return to the fold of God. Let’s build up courage and take heart in the fact that these times will soon pass away.
A woman discovered that the new house she was building had burned the night before.
She said friends who came over early that morning, sat with her the family and cried with them (Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep – Romans 12:15). She added that they felt better because just having the friends there to share the loss with them made a difference. We all have special needs at times that call for special attention. Paul wrote to the troubled Thessalonians saying, Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing – 1 Thessalonians 5:11.