I’ve told you about my friend, Lisa, who was such a strong encouragement to me. How can we learn to help each other continue to follow Christ in obedience? How do we help each other in areas in which there are struggles? How can we hold fast to Christ in our temptations to sin? In Anchor of Hope, I mentioned that the New Testament letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who had been faithful in their suffering in the past, but had become stunted and were faltering in their Christian life. The author keeps telling them to hold fast. These are more of my thoughts as I have reflected on the words of Hebrews.
First, recognize where the battle is—to believe God:
Hebrews 3:12-13 states:
“Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
We don’t usually think of an unbelieving heart as evil, but have you ever thought about the connection between an unbelieving heart and sin? Go back to Genesis 3:1-7 and look at the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve. As Satan spoke with Eve, he cast doubt on God’s Word and God’s character. He called God a liar in verse 4 and in verse 5 he said God was holding back from Eve because God knew if she ate the fruit she was going to be like Him. Adam and Eve stopped trusting God—believing in the truth of His Word and in the goodness of His nature—and instead believed lies. They no longer honored God as God, nor did they give thanks to Him. They rebelled and sinned against Him.
As believers desiring to live in integrity and purity before God, we need to understand the connection between belief and sin. The writer of Hebrews goes on in chapter 3 to equate the disobedience of the Israelites with unbelief:
“And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.”
Obeying God demonstrates our belief in the truth of who He is and in the truth of His Word. When we heed His Word, we show our belief that He is Lord God over us as our Creator and Sovereign, our belief that He is good and He loves us, and our belief that His Word is true.
Second, recognize how we can help each other in the battle against sin—one way is through encouragement:
Look back again at Hebrews 3:13:
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
God wants us to encourage one another so that our hearts won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. When, as Adam and Eve did, we set ourselves up against God, doubting Him and believing that going our own way is the way to handle life’s storms, we are falling into the deceitfulness of sin and our hearts are hardened against God. One prevention of hard hearts is found in our mutual encouragement. In a sermon in 2005 on Barnabus, Bob Evans talked about encouragement:
“Biblical encouragement draws alongside (parakaleo) and always points to Christ.
“Encouragement takes the risk of coming alongside and entering the imperfections of another’s life, saying, “Let’s walk together toward Jesus.” Encouragers build up the courage of people so they will keep going in the right direction.
“What are the thoughts, temptations, fears, disappointments, and challenges in your life that have the potential to knock you off course, to give up on God, to turn away from the faith in disillusionment and bitterness? What would it take for me not to want to love God any more? What kind of thing would have to happen in life that I would be so disillusioned I would be tempted to walk away and never come back? That’s where you need encouragement—someone to come alongside and say there’s another way to process this before God. A true encourager will help you keep your eyes on Jesus in the midst of these great life challenges.”
Third, recognize the battle we each are waging against sin—consider one another:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
Notice the phrase at the end of verse 25:
“…but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”
To help with considering others, these are some times of testing of which to be aware. Think over and pray about how you can provide encouragement.
Is someone going through change—good or bad? Has there been a recent move, a recent baby, a recent death, a recent loss of job? What about some other change in the life of a husband or children? Transition and change are hard. A woman may need your encouragement to know that the Lord will be the stability of her times.
Look for someone who seems wound up and continually on edge. There may be anxieties that are difficult to handle. Someone may need your prayer and support and friendship.
Does someone seem to weep easily? Not only when she is speaking of her own life, but in other circumstances as well. Look for indications of pain—this woman may be fighting a battle to trust God and needs someone alongside her. Don’t let pride or fear that you may not have words of wisdom stop you from offering words of empathy and care
Is someone late? Don’t jump to conclusions as to why they. A woman may be having difficulties just gathering courage to come to church, and wondering if it will be a safe place to come. She may need your encouragement.
Be aware of the trap of addiction. Someone under long-term pressure or deep emotional pain may try to numb the pain rather than turn to God for hope and help. This may take a variety of forms and include things that are very destructive and immoral. This woman needs to know that God is for her (Romans 8:31-39). God may want you to be a visible and tangible reminder of His love and grace.
Just because I’ve listed all of these things to watch for, don’t panic and start thinking that means God is going to plunge you into all of these situations. He knows who He wants each of us to encourage and what He wants each of us to do. None of us are adequate—only God is. Some do have a very specific gift of encouragement, but that does not mean there are not people whom God wants you to encourage. There may be something in your personality, background or experience that will touch another woman’s heart and be of special help to her.
Remember, the purpose of encouragement is not to be able to give all the answers—the purpose of encouragement is to help the other person have courage to persevere and follow Christ. She may be caught in the beginning of Asaph’s Psalm, and she needs your help to walk through to the end of Asaph’s words, until she can say as he did:
“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.”
Fourth, if someone sins—restore her in meekness:
“Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness [meekness]; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
We may warn, we may exhort, we may urge, and if we act in a spirit of meekness we will act with love and humility and without pride, condemnation or self-righteousness, realizing that we too, are saved and sustained by grace, and that we also have to guard against temptation.
This can be hard to do, and it takes time, love and knowing the person to discern what is needed for restoration. At times I have found myself praying as I talk and listen because I have so clearly seen that I need help from God to help another. Someone who is weeping over her sin does not need to be rebuked; she needs assurance of forgiveness and help in learning to resist sin. Others may need warning—and, I will tell you, do this after prayer and with love, and even then, be prepared to have words thrown back at you—it doesn’t mean you didn’t do the right thing; sometimes you will be hurt as you try to help.
Finally, in all of our struggles against sin, remember that the Lord Jesus Himself is the great encourager, the One who draws alongside each of us—help each other look to Him:
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
“My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;…”
1 John 2:1-2
Original content: Copyright ©2010 Iwana Carpenter