Here is better advice from Edward Hale: "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."
Former president Jimmy Carter wrote a book about his Christian faith. After he was president he spent countless hours working with Habitat For Humanity to build low-cost housing. Often he is asked how he started doing this kind of work. In his book he tells of hearing a sermon at a small Southern Baptist church in Georgia many years ago. The preacher summed up the whole Christian message in this one sentence: “Love God and the person in front of you.” Isn’t that a great definition of encouragement! When our efforts seem insignificant, love the person in front of you. That’s what Paul did for Onesimus when he wrote Philemon. That’s what all of us are called to do.
Today we talk about the Spiritual Gift of encouragement. In our world today, people need to be encouraged. Perhaps nothing more important ~ at least for some people. “Courage” is found in the word, we need to help each other overcome the fears people face, the uncertainty, the hesitation to step out in faith. Encouragement is to make others strong. Encouragement is to help people find courage.
All Spiritual gifts are meant for the body of Christ. Encouragement is listed as one of the Spiritual gifts in Rom. 12:6-8: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Everyone has something, and when you use your gift, it is like being on the front row seat. I like this definition of Encouragement: “Christians with this gift have an unusual sensitivity for and are attracted to those who are discouraged or struggling. As a result, people tend to pursue them for healing words, gracious truth, and compassionate counsel. These people also tend to have a high degree of patience and optimism. They may have a knack for one-on-one relationships and prefer working with an individual or small group.” (Mark Driscoll)
We are all called to encourage each other: I Thes. 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” The reason some are given this gift, is to keep the rest of us reminded it is important to encourage each other. To love the person in front of you…The natural encouragers are examples for all…
Some of you have an incredible gift of encouragement that comes out in the form of sending cards of encouragement for special days or just for the fun of it. I receive a kind note and it does two things for me. #1, I am blessed by the note. #2 I am reminded how important it is to encourage others. If you have the gift of encouragement you never need to be reminded to encourage other people, it just comes out. And it’s exciting. Like sitting in the front row seat of God’s Kingdom work! If you don’t have the gift, then you need people who do have it to remind you how important it is.
Paul seems to be such a man. Acts 14:21-22: “[Paul and Barnabus] preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples… strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
Hardships are part of the deal of life. We need encouragers to help us through them, to strengthen us, to overcome fears. Sally thinks I am joking, but if it was not for Sally encouraging me, I could easily have chosen the life of a hermit, staying to myself, living in a cave, interacting with as few people as possible. We need encouragers to help us take steps of faith into the unknown. Life is full of hardships… we need people to surround us to take risks to live, to explore, to enjoy…. I am a pastor because I had people in my life who encouraged me ~ so you can blame Sally, you can blame my brother Jim, you can blame my mother. I would NEVER have taken such a risk by myself.
I want to take a closer look at a wonderful example of Encouragement in the one chapter book of Philemon. Paul writes this letter, while he is in prison, to his friend Philemon who lives in Colossi…. Philemon has a slave, Onesimus, who runs away to Rome, meets Paul, and becomes a Christian. The reason Paul writes this letter is to encourage Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a mere slave but as a Christian brother. Through this example of this wonderful letter, several principles can be found of what it means to encourage one another, to love the person in front of you.
Encouragement is not just imparting a good feeling into others, it’s to speak a positive word in order to change a person’s behavior for the better. I encourage people every week to get out of their pessimistic world that keeps them entangled in bad decisions, and get involved in a healthy world so they can flourish. Fear keeps people back. Look at what Paul does for Philemon…. Phil 4 the thanks he has for Philemon, complimenting what he knows about him and hears about him, but then he goes on in Phil 8… “I appeal…” i.e. encourage you to think differently towards Onesimus, to “welcome him as you would welcome me.” (Phil 17). Paul encourages Philemon to trust Onesimus and welcome him as a Christian brother who is now a changed man.
Think of encouragement not just to try and make people feel good about themselves, although that may be part of it, but to actually persuade them to change… that means you have to know them, listen to them, watch them…
You have to be realistic. Back when I was in early high school Mr. Brevard new basketball. One night he saw me play in a JV basketball game. He told my father I was a natural at basketball, I had natural instincts, a feel for the game. He thought he was encouraging me when he told my father as they sat on the top row of the bleachers, “If Carl can learn to jump and to run faster he’ll be a much more complete player.” When my father told me what Mr. Brevard said, that was the beginning of the end, because I knew he was right, but I also knew those were the two things I would never be able to overcome. Mr. Brevard meant well, but he did not really know me. When you encourage others, you need to know them, to be realistic, not ask them to do the impossible, but encourage them to follow through with a realistic goal.
Encouragement is rooted in love. READ 8-9. Love the Person in front of you.
We encourage people by speaking well of them to OTHERS. This is so important. Philemon is encouraged by this letter, but how much more Onesimus! Paul speaks well of Onesimus, calling him “my son,” (READ Phil 10-13) Paul is saying that not only is Onesimus a hard worker, a responsible person, a changed man, but the highest compliment of all, “I Like Him.” ~ “A dear brother” (Phil 16).
People with the amazing gift of encouragement speak well of others even when they are not around. Every now and then my mother will say to me, “so and so sure thinks the world of you…” Do you know what that does for me? Try this: start spreading good and wonderful rumors about people. Speak well of them to others for the next week. Vow to not be critical to others… you will be amazed… You love the person in front of you by speaking well of them to others. It’s a great way to encourage one another.
I think of one person in this room who I believe has the gift of encouragement. She is always speaking well of everyone! In fact, she is no fun, at least not if you like to hear juicy gossip, not if you want to run somebody down and get even with them. The person with the gift of encouragement does not tolerate rumors and negative talk, choosing to focus on everything that is right and true.
We encourage people by respecting them: “I did not want to do anything without your consent…” (14). I want this to be your decision, you have to believe in what I am asking…. “I could order you” Paul says, but that is not respectful…to encourage means they have to find courage within themselves to make the bold decision.
Encouraging people is not the same as forcing them. It is not the same as berating them if they decline your ideas for them. Even if they say no, you still keep loving them and respecting them. I find it instructive that we do not know how the story of Onesimus and Philemon ends. We don’t know if Philemon decides to welcome Onesimus back.
We encourage people by BELIEVING in them. What Paul is doing is asking Philemon to something unheard of in those days… to welcome a runaway slave back as a brother. When you encourage people to become Christians, it may mean they have to give up a lot… you may be encouraging them to do that which is risky, to step out by faith into the unknown. You can do it… you can do it… one of the really fun things is to watch people share their testimony the first time, the risk they take of opening their mouth in public….In the story of the Little Engine, the Little Engine chugs slowly up the mountain saying, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Confidence is important. But often just as important is an encourager walking beside the person facing a steep climb, “You can do it, you can do it, you can do it….”
Encouragement means I’ll walk beside you to help you make your bold decision a little easer. Paul says in Phil. 17-18 READ. Loving the person in front of you means they are not alone. I encourage youth to go on Mission trips to gain valuable experience and open up their eyes to different places ~ and if needed I’ll help find ways to pay for at least part of it. Go with people, help them get organized, whatever it takes to walk beside them to help them in the transition you are encouraging them to make…
Encouragement is a spiritual gift. Some people have a special knack for encouragement, and they are a wonderful example for the rest of us to encourage one another. Loving the person in front of us is the place to begin when you feel overwhelmed in how to make a difference. "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."
When you encourage another person, it is like sitting on the front row seat of God’s Kingdom work, as the Lord uses you to change another person’s world. Amen.