Vlada Stojanovic – Serbia
It has become so easy for customers to leave feedback or give reviews. There are so many possibilities – literally at our fingertips – for praising and encouraging sellers or restaurants and hotels that have served us well and have given us good experiences. But our human nature is more wired up for leaving negative feedback and reviews than positive. Unfortunately, the same human nature is present in churches and probably a good number of believers are more inclined to complain if something is amiss than to give recognition and express appreciation when something is up to par. Much of this is born out of a consumer mentality and so it is difficult for us to shed. But this mentality is fundamentally incompatible with the mind of Christ, that the Spirit is seeking to nurture in and among us.
Nurturing a culture of encouragement within Christian communities, both locally and globally, is a subject that is of great importance to the early Christian leaders and it should alerts us to the necessity of approaching encouragement almost as a spiritual discipline. In our modern individualistic societies, we can easily lose sight of the importance of social reinforcement that every person needs. No one is an isolated island in their environment, and whether they like it or not, positive or negative feedback affects their wellbeing, progress and direction in life. And because social influence (whether positive or negative) is always being applied by those who do not have the mind of Christ, in regard to values, choices, convictions and pursuits, we who are in Christ need to give more attention to applying social encouragement among ourselves in ways that will promote faithfulness and zeal with regard to pursuing God’s call and God’s righteousness. Church is not in the business of competition but of cooperation. Working together we can genuinely be watchful for each other as well as openly celebrating how each of our sisters and brothers are contributing to the cause of God: in their lives, in the community of faith and in the world. The energy of our encouragement can refresh a brother or sister’s forward-moving momentum in faithful discipleship.
Throughout Paul’s letters, we can see the apostle holding the value of encouragement very high as he gives recognition and lavish praise upon certain believers. And he even calls local Christian assemblies to be sure that they honour particular Christians who have distinguished themselves in service to Christ and to Christ’s people. For example, he gives public recognition to Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus from the Corinthian assembly, as the words of his letters will be read out loud in the midst of the congregations to whom he’s writing. For Paul, those brothers are devoted to service to our Lord, worthy for everyone to be submitted to their leadership, as they exhibit a positive spirit of caring and encouragement and so they deserve every recognition. Not for one moment does Paul hesitate to let everybody know about these individuals (1. Cor.16.15-18). He understands the importance of leaving positive feedback and reviews for brothers and sisters (by name and by surname) who live in an antagonistic world, ruled by a prince who hates our guts. He does the same with Epaphroditus from the Philippian assembly, with Phoebe (“the benefactor of many people”) from the assembly in Cenchreae, with his co-worker Timothy, whom he praises for his sincere commitment to look after the interests of others. He is not shy about them and takes great pleasure to honour them publicly. And he urges Christians to do so locally in their assemblies: “For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition” (1 Cor 16.18) or “honour one another above yourselves” (Rom 12.10). In the New Testament time, encouragement from brothers and sisters was a powerful force, enabling individual believers to persevere in their new faith against the currents of their neighbours and their society. These dynamics have not changed until today.
Many of our sisters and brothers throughout the world face discouragement – to give up and to just make life a bit easier instead of overcoming social pressure and rejection. And to these challenges, Paul has left us two powerful weapons to build persevering faith in one another: encouragement and honour. We need to encourage one another concerning the reliability of the gospel, the reliability of the hope that we have in Christ, the reliability of the spiritual insight afforded us in the scriptures and the reliability in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our encouragement should never be with easy platitudes but with the presence, prayer, love and assurance informed by our own deep study of God’s word, proven in the times where we ourselves have faced deep pain and difficulty. The honour that we show one another can give great perseverance to stay on a path with God. Honour has many expressions and it is down to us to take the initiative and to learn about the contests of our brothers and sister in their troubles; it is in letting them know how much we respect and esteem them for their courage and perseverance and how much their own faith inspires us to exercise greater fortitude in the midst of our often far less dramatic and costly challenges.
The honouring and encouragement of our sisters and brothers locally and globally will often need to move us beyond words, to supportive actions and the sharing of resources. Our faithfulness in this regard is an important means through which God answers the prayers of our sisters and brothers facing desperate needs and in turn, it is our means of demonstrating God’s faithfulness to them.
Discovering that the family into which God has adopted you is in fact a real family because it has your back when you most need support, can be a great encouragement and incentive to persevere in the faith.