Strength Imparted Through Encouragement
“We . . . have strong encouragement to lay hold on the hope set before us.”—Heb. 6:18.
1. What effect does encouragement have on the one who receives it, and how did the apostle Paul indicate his appreciation of its importance?
HOW important encouragement is in time of stress! When our own weaknesses make us despondent, how much we appreciate a word of appreciation or an expression that gives hope! It is refreshing. It eases the burden of work and enables us to meet our problems with greater confidence. It imparts to us the strength we need to face the future. It imbues us with courage to hold firm under severe pressure. The Word of God particularly emphasizes the benefit of encouragement. Thus when the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he said: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1:11, 12) He knew that his Christian brothers in Rome, troubled by their own weaknesses and surrounded as they were by a world filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, needed encouragement, and he was anxious to give it to them personally. He also appreciated that the benefits would not be one-sided, for the giving of encouragement results in mutual upbuilding; yes, there is an “interchange of encouragement.”
2. What is the difference between encouragement and flattery, and what is the best source of encouragement?
2 The kind of upbuilding that Paul wished for the believers in Rome does not result from flattery, which the unprincipled old world often confuses with encouragement. Flattery is false, insincere or excessive praise. Falsehood and insincerity do not impart strength; they do not build up. More often they simply result in contempt for the one who flatters. As Paul had earlier written to the Thessalonians: “At no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, (just as you know) or with a false front for covetousness.” (1 Thess. 2:5) Confidence that is built on falsehood is a delusion, and hope that is not founded in truth leads only to disappointment. So when the leaders of nations lie to their people to hold their support in times of national crisis, there is no real upbuilding or imparting of strength. Likewise, when the religious clergy lie about the condition of the dead to those who have been bereaved, the comfort given is shallow and ineffectual. There is no real encouragement there. To give encouragement that imparts strength you must speak the truth. (Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 9:5; John 5:28, 29) Speaking the Word of God to those grieved over the failures of this corrupt world as well as their own shortcomings is by far the best way to inspire others with courage and to give them a sustaining hope.
GOD PROVIDES THE PATTERN
3. In what way has God taken the lead in giving encouragement, and how does this affect us?
3 Jehovah God himself has taken the lead in giving encouragement. Immediately after Adam had plunged humankind into sin, God announced that he would raise up a deliverer, and in so doing he provided a basis for hope for Adam’s then unborn offspring. He did not forget that promise, but emphasized and amplified it in pronouncements to his servants in the generations that followed. Concerning his promise made to Abraham it is stated: “In this manner God, when he purposed to demonstrate more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his counsel, stepped in with an oath, in order that, through two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to the refuge may have strong encouragement to lay hold on the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm.” (Heb. 6:17-19) Yes, by providing a sound basis for hope God encourages his servants, he builds their confidence, he makes it possible for them to face the future without fear. His unfailing promises recorded in the Bible are an unlimited source of strength for those of us living right now in this twentieth century. “For all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
4. What responsibility rests on those who accept the hope that God gives, but why is this not burdensome?
4 With this God-given hope goes responsibility. Those who bear the name of God must be his witnesses, making known to others his name and purposes. They must order their lives in harmony with his will. But God does not make their service a burden, driving them beyond their capacity. He lovingly cares for them, as a shepherd would his sheep. “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.” (Isa. 40:11) God does not rob us of joy by requiring too much. Nor does he reject us simply because we may stumble. “As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:13, 14) He is merciful, loving and compassionate, and his forgiveness gives us courage to press on.
5. When we consider the accounts of men of faith recorded in the Scriptures, how does it make us react?
5 It calls for strong faith to persevere in the service of God, but Jehovah has made every provision to strengthen our faith. In addition to his matchless promises, he has surrounded us with men of faith whose example infuses us with courage and renewed vigor for the race that is set before us. There were Abel and Samson, who laid down their lives in Jehovah’s service; Noah, who maintained integrity though surrounded by an ungodly world; Moses, who forsook all the riches of Egypt for the service of the true God; the Israelites who trusted that Jehovah would deliver them from the military pursuit forces of Pharaoh; and David, who fearlessly faced the Philistine giant Goliath in the name of Jehovah. “So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:1, 2.
6. How does the example of the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith affect us?
6 When we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, what do we see? Again, cause to take courage! For in Jesus we have a God-given model. In him we have a living example of the course that we should follow. Every step that we take in the footsteps of that One is a source of satisfaction and joy; it is refreshing! As Jesus himself said: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciples, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matt. 11:28-30.
7. (a) Why must true Christians face persecution, but why is there reason to take courage? (b) How did Peter carry out Jesus’ counsel to ‘strengthen his brothers’?
7 It is true that following in the footsteps of Jesus brings persecution from the old world. “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) Jesus himself warned of this, saying: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” But even this does not cause the Christian witnesses of Jehovah to lose heart. They call to mind the words of Jesus on the night before his own death when he said: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 15:20; 16:33) The apostles did take courage. They did not quit. True, Peter faltered, denying the Lord, but he repented. As Jesus had told him: “I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Peter did just that. His faithful ministry was a source of strength to his Christian brothers; the things that he told them were upbuilding; and he wrote words of encouragement. “I have written you in few words,” said Peter, “to give encouragement and an earnest witness that this is the true undeserved kindness of God; in which stand firm.” (1 Pet. 5:12) He did not want any to forsake God’s organization and to turn aside to false teachings, but he knew that they were constantly under pressure from the world. So he wrote in his first canonical letter to encourage them, to strengthen their conviction that they had the true faith.
A LETTER OF ENCOURAGEMENT
8. In writing his first canonical letter, what did Peter discuss that is a source of great encouragement, and how can we benefit from it?
8 Just what did Peter say by way of encouragement to his fellow Christians, so setting an example for us in encouraging one another? He was well aware of the fact that the source of greatest strength to him was his God-given hope, so he wrote about that hope, knowing that it would do the most good for his Christian brothers if he could stir up greater appreciation for it on their part. He emphasized that theirs was a “living hope,” something dependable, an expectation that would not lead to disappointment. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to his great mercy he gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance. It is reserved in the heavens for you, who are being safeguarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last period of time.” This hope was a cause for great rejoicing and unspeakable joy among them. It was something of which the prophets had been moved by God’s spirit to speak; it was a matter into which even the angels desired to peer. But God had given it to Christian men and women. How grateful they should be! How this should strengthen and uphold them! (1 Pet. 1:3-5, 8-12) Even to this day it is true that, whether one has been called to heavenly life as one of the 144,000 members of Christ’s “little flock” or hopes to be among the ‘upright ones who will reside in the earth,’ he finds the greatest encouragement in fixing his mind on the promises of God, studying them in the Bible, meditating on them, discussing them with his Christian brothers and advocating them to others.—Luke 12:32; Prov. 2:21.
9. How does the Christian hope affect one’s ability to face persecution?
9 So great is the strength imparted by this dependable hope that the Christian is able to rejoice and stand firm in the face of severe trials that test his faith. Thus Peter went on to say: “In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:6, 7) Paul, too, coupled the hope ahead with the matter of endurance when he said: “Rejoice in the hope ahead. Endure under tribulation.” And in Jesus’ case we find exemplified the remarkable strength that God-given hope imparts, as we read: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Those who closely consider the example of Christ do not get tired and give out; they do not quit.—Rom. 12:12; Heb. 12:2, 3; 1 Pet. 4:13, 14.
10. For what activity did Peter admonish Christians to brace up their minds, and in this connection what should we do for one another?
10 There is vital work for every Christian to do. So through Peter’s first letter we are encouraged, yes, we are urged to ‘brace up our minds for activity,’ and we are under obligation to offer like encouragement to one another. The work of Christ’s anointed body members is likened to that of the priests who served in Jerusalem’s temple, for they themselves “are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” They do not offer up animal sacrifices, but spiritual sacrifices, a “sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (1 Pet. 1:13; 2:4-9; Heb. 13:15) They proclaim the loving purposes of Jehovah God, who has called them out of the spiritual darkness of the world into the marvelous light of his truth. For such service spiritual strength is vital.
11. With God’s Word to guide us, how do we view the world’s causes for fear, so what are we called on to do?
11 Having the truth of God’s Word to light their path and to strengthen them, they do not share the world’s fears; they do not suffer agitation over its crises. They heed the command: “The object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated. But sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:14, 15) Because of the position they take, they are constantly called on to explain why they do not share the world’s concern and why they do not devote themselves to the perpetuation of the institutions of the world, as others do. They have to explain why it is that they are no part of the world. In the eyes of worldly men their position may seem to be morally wrong, so they must make a defense, not in irritation, but with a mild temper and deep respect. They make clear that they rest their hope in God and his Son, and that they must obey God as ruler rather than men. As persons dedicated to God, they point out, it would be wrong for them to seek friendship with the world, because this would make them enemies of God. It takes courage to maintain such a stand amid a hostile world.—1 Pet. 1:20, 21; John 15:19; Jas. 4:4.
12. (a) Who have joined with the anointed remnant in their preaching and teaching work, and with what effect? (b) How does Peter show that Christians can strengthen one another as they share in the ministry?
12 Now these anointed witnesses have joined with them a great crowd of others, dedicated persons who serve in association with the temple class, who are a source of great encouragement to them and who share with them in fulfilling Jesus’ command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20; Rev. 7:9, 10) This is a big task, an urgent one, and it calls for united effort. To this end Peter urges Christians to have “intense love for one another” and to build one another up by “ministering to one another.” They must work together. Even Jesus says: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” What wonderful encouragement!—1 Pet. 4:8-11.
13. What other kind of encouragement did the apostle Peter include in his letter, what did he say, and how does it strengthen us?
13 In view of the corrupt condition of the world, Peter also found it necessary to give encouragement along other lines. It was not encouragement that took the form of commendation; nor was he speaking of matters that were designed to fill them with hope. Rather, this encouragement took the form of exhortation to avoid wrong conduct. “Beloved, I exhort you as aliens and temporary residents to keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul.” “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries.” Counsel such as that is good for all of us. In view of the fact that we constantly rub elbows with a degraded world, it helps us to keep clearly in mind what is right and what is wrong. It protects us from adopting the world’s twisted thinking and strengthens our righteous hatred of ungodly practices. It helps us to keep clearly in mind what these “fleshly desires” are—not things to be sought after, but enemies that carry on a conflict against the soul, and which, if we let them, will insinuate themselves into our lives and result in the destruction of our life, our soul. We need encouragement such as that, and Jehovah provides it for his modern-day worshipers even as he did for the early Christians through the apostles.—1 Pet. 2:11, 12, 16; 4:3-5.
14. What strengthening comments were offered for the benefit of those serving in the employ of oppressive masters, and how does this counsel benefit many even in this day?
14 In his letter of encouragement Peter also gave consideration to some of the discouraging domestic and employment problems confronting the brothers and affecting their worship. For example, some of them were suffering because of harsh masters, and much of the abuse was apparently because certain ones who were slaves owned by masters desired to do the will of God. They were suffering because of their “conscience toward God,” even as many today are discriminated against by their secular employers because of their Christian faith. How should they view their situation? “If, when you are doing good and you suffer, you endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God,” Peter wrote. And he went on to compare their situation with that of Christ himself, saying: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” How encouraging to have a pattern like that to follow!—1 Pet. 2:18-23.
15. (a) To what was the attention of Christian wives directed as a source of encouragement? (b) What advice was given to husbands to encourage them? (c) On what must both husband and wife fix their minds if they are to strengthen and help each other?
15 This same fine example of subjection was recommended for Christian wives, even for those who were married to unbelieving husbands, because in starting out his counsel to wives, Peter uses the expression “in like manner,” so directing their attention to the preceding statements regarding subjection. They too have a model in Christ, and he is just as much a model to them now as he was in the first century. Encouraging them as to the outcome of their patient endurance, Peter counsels: “Be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” Husbands, too, have their problems and find themselves in need of encouragement. So Peter, himself a married man and moved by Jehovah’s spirit, discussed what confronted them and urged the men to try to be understanding in dealing with their wives, to recognize that the wife is “a weaker vessel, the feminine one,” and so they should not expect her to react emotionally as a man or to do her work in the same way that a man would. The really important thing on which both husband and wife need to keep their minds fixed is their relationship with God, and never should they allow domestic problems to becloud their earnest desire to help each other to lay hold of the prize of eternal life. What practical encouragement! How helpful it was for all to have their difficult problems discussed, to have pointed out to them the Christian principles that should guide them, and to see highlighted the good that was being accomplished by their faithfulness under difficult circumstances! This same inspired letter is a source of strength to us in these trialsome days.—1 Pet. 3:1-9.
16. In first Peter chapter 5 what matters were discussed with overseers, and why?
16 Overseers were not overlooked in Peter’s letter, as if they needed no encouragement. To the contrary, he discussed with them matters that they would particularly appreciate: proper view of their ministry, their relationship to God and to the brothers, handling of difficult problems, and persecution. “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, . . . those who are God’s inheritance,” he said. What overseer, even now, is not deeply moved when he stops to remind himself that those in the congregation of which he has oversight are persons who belong to God? Viewing the matter in this way, the overseer does not ‘lord it over the flock’ or become proud, but he heeds the advice: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; while you throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.” It is, indeed, a source of encouragement to a humble overseer to realize that he does not have to carry the whole load by himself. He is urged to look to God for guidance in handling problems, throwing all his anxieties on God, checking His Word for guidance and seeking Him in prayer. Nor does he stand alone when confronted with persecution from Satan’s world; as Peter said: “The same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world. But, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.” (1 Pet. 5:1-10) Overseers have good reason to take courage.
17. So who really is the great Giver of strength, and why so?
17 Without question, Jehovah himself is the Giver of strength to his people. He is the One who inspired the writing of these words of encouragement that we have considered. The promises contained in his own Word, the Bible, are what fill us with hope. He has instructed us so that we can meet the problems of life with success. With him to back us up, we can stand firm even in the face of world opposition. So with David we say: “Jehovah is my strength and my shield. In him my heart has trusted, and I have been helped, so that my heart exults, and with my song I shall laud him. Jehovah is a strength to his people.”—Ps. 28:7, 8.
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‘Through Sylvanus I have written you to give encouragement.’