“Word for Today” – Acts 13 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 7, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Horse Race 1“Therefore, encourage each other and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  So says the apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica.  The fourth century church father, Gregory of Nyssa, paints a beautiful picture of what Paul’s admonition to “encourage each other” might look like:

At horse races, the spectators intent on victory shout to their favorites in the contest, even though the horses are eager to run. From the stands, they participate in the race with their eye, thinking to incite the charioteer to keener effort, at the same time urging the horses on while leaning forward and flailing the air with their outstretched hands instead of with a whip.  They do this not because their actions themselves contribute anything to the victory; but in this way, by their good will, they eagerly show in voice and deed their concern for the contestants.  I seem to be doing the same thing myself, most valued friend and brother.  While you are competing admirably in the divine race along the course of virtue, lightfootedly leaping and straining constantly for the prize of the heavenly calling, I exhort, urge and encourage you vigorously. (Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, Prologue)

This is one of my favorite illustrations of what it means to “encourage each other.”  While each of us are treading on life’s track, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are in the stands, cheering us, supporting us, and calling us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:2).

In our reading for today from Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are deployed from Antioch on a joint missionary jaunt.  Upon arriving Pisidian Antioch, they receive this request from the rulers of the local synagogue:  “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak” (verse 15).

This is not an especially strange request of Paul and Barnabas, especially since Barnabas’ very name means “Son of Encouragement” (cf. Acts 4:36).  Thus, it is only natural that the “Son of Encouragement” would deliver a message of encouragement.  Interestingly, the Greek word for “encouragement” is paraklesis, a cognate of a word used by Jesus in John 14:26 when he promises his disciples, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  The word for “Counselor” is parakletos. Apparently, God is in the business of encouraging his people and has even sent his Holy Spirit to do so.

So how do Paul and Barnabas encourage those at the synagogue that day?  With the gospel, of course!  Paul tells those gathered, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (verses 38-39). The message of unmerited, undeserved, unearned salvation is Paul and Barnabas’ encouragement to the congregation.

Though some two thousand years have passed since Paul and Barnabas preached their encouraging sermon, we, as Christ’s followers, are called to share this same message of encouragement time and time again with each other.

I once had a lady come into my office who questioned my preaching.  “Why is it,” she asked, “That you always talk about Jesus in every sermon?  I already know what he did for me.  I don’t need to hear about every Sunday.”  The reason I share Jesus in every sermon and in every Bible study is simple:  I can think of no other more encouraging message.  I can think of no other message which comforts us in our sins, soothes us in our souls, and keeps us unto salvation.  And that’s a message I want to share.  Indeed, that’s a message I can’t help but to share.  I’ll share it from the pulpit.  I’ll teach it from the lectern.  I’ll shout it from the stands at a horse race.  Occasionally, as those who have watched me preach and teach already know, I’ll even “flail the air with my outstretched arms,” just like Gregory of Nyssa.  For I want to continue to encourage and be encouraged with Christ’s cross.  I hope you do too.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 12 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Acts 14 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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