Encouragement—What Is It?

Often we think of encouragement as saying something kind. And it is.
But what if your words are not uplifting? A little stern. Or even correcting.
What if the person you are addressing needs to be rebuked or admonished? Are those words still encouraging?

Ever been encouraged by a teacher to do better?
He knew you hadn’t done your best. His words admonished you to work harder. Did he not encourage you to reach your potential?

What is encouragement?

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary definition: 1a: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope : HEARTEN she was encouraged to continue by her early success b: to attempt to persuade : URGE they encouraged him to go back to school 2: to spur on : STIMULATE warm weather encourages plant growth

Not fluffy words that allow you to settle for mediocre, ho-hum living. 
“You are great.” 
“You are worthy.” 
“You deserve this.”
That’s what the world gives you. 
That’s not encouragement!
Those are lies from the Liar himself.
But that’s how the world expects encouragement.
Our churches are filled with busy people saying nice things that don’t do anything for God.

That definition— inspire, urge, stimulate — mean something must change.
Change means work. hard work.
That’s encouragement.

How are we as Christians to encourage?
Paul commands us, 
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. I Thessalonians 5:11.

That does not mean, you tell what the person wants to hear.
Ever ask your sister if she likes your outfit?
If she hesitated, or said, “not really,” you weren’t offended. 
You asked. 
You wanted to know what she honestly thought, not what you wanted to hear.
Same with encouragement.

Part of building each other up means removing what is harmful.
Proverbs says it like this,
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6.

Wounds means pain. Sometimes deep pain.
Sometimes words you must speak to be encouraging are not easy to accept. But because you love the person, you are willing to accept rejection in order to say them. For example: 

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  Luke 17:3.
He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue. Proverbs 28:23.
A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible. Proverbs 15:5.

Often, people will accuse an encourager of not loving, because of their harsh words.
But the opposite is true.

Think of a son who accuses his mom of not loving him because he isn’t allowed to do what he wants. That doesn’t negate mom’s love, only the son’s ability to be encouraged. It’s not what she has done, it’s how he has accepted her correction. 
Just because the child did not accept the words and change his behavior does not mean the mom wasn’t encouraging or loving. 
Often, instead of accepting rebuke, the person becomes defensive. 
Encouragement must be applied to make it effective.

Proverbs is full of responses to that reasoning. 
For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. Hebrews 12:6.
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him. Proverbs 13:24.
If you are not disciplined, and everyone undergoes discipline, then you…if God doesn’t discipline you as He does all His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children. Hebrews 12:8.

Abraham Lincoln accepted correction from his enemies. In fact, he placed one enemy as one of his leaders. When asked why, he answered. He would tell him the truth and he was the best man for that position. 
That’s humility—a willingness to be rebuked. And thus, encouraged.

The Scriptures, though encouraging, do much more.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousnessII Timothy 3:16.

By reproving, correcting, and training, the Scriptures encourage us to know God better.

Reproof and correction implies something is wrong that needs to be changed. 
Since no one is righteous, when we encourage in righteousness, we expose unrighteousness.

Before any healing, a surgeon must cut out the cancer.
That’s painful. But necessary.
Child training is instructing what not to do, as well as what to do. 

Matthew 18:15 says, 
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

No one enjoys correction. In fact, we’d rather hide so no one knows how awful we truly are.
But Jesus illuminates our needs.
He shines His light in our darkest corners and says, “I want that spot.”
The more we allow Him to expose our darkness, the more He works to conform us to His Son.
We need the body of believers to encourage us, prod us, stimulate us to allow God’s light to change us.
We don’t do the changing.
We just remind Who does.

Encouragement — inspiring  each other to be like Jesus.
That’s what we are called to do.

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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