For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things. (1 John 3:19, 20)
I was raised in an era when “stepping on toes” was a main point in preaching. If people were not squirming in their seats (or hiding under them) good preaching hadn’t taken place. The harder the preaching and the more guilt in the congregation, the better the sermon. Or so many believed.
For many years in my own preaching I routinely chose condemnation over encouragement. I preached as hard and directly as I could. “Afflicting the comfortable” was far more important than “comforting the afflicted.” Comfort was for mothers. Affliction was for preachers.
It is certainly necessary to “call sin sin” as the old saying goes. The scripture never shies away from doing so. But, the scripture never lacks for encouragement, either. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I don’t read my Bible anymore because I got tired of being beaten up.” I have heard people say, “I am tired of being beaten up every time I go to church.”
Preachers, we have a mostly captive audience each week for 30-45 minutes. Nearly all of them will hang around until the bitter end. Sheep need to be fed. Their wounds need to be bound up. Their coats need to be managed. They need to hear from the Great Shepherd.
Isaiah prophesied about the messiah thusly:
He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick; he will faithfully bring justice. (42:3)
Too much preaching takes a sling-blade to the bruised reeds, then runs them over with a mower, then hacks at them with a machete, then tells them, “I have good news.” Or, it smothers the flame, then pours on water, then cuts down the wick all the while shouting, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
As Scrooge begged, so might our listeners: “Show me some tenderness! Show me some depth of feeling!”
In God’s word, we are encouraged to encourage. Sermons should not be all law and no love, all judgment and no grace, all condemnation and no encouragement. People need to know sin is poison, to be sure, but they also need plenty of opportunities to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Here are a few thoughts about encouragement that are true in both life and preaching.
There is encouragement in Christ.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, in any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1)
Paul encourages them by appealing to love, fellowship, affection, mercy and joy. That is a different approach than a lengthy string of criticisms without an appeal to the Holy Spirit’s work.
There is encouragement in the Scriptures.
For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. (Romans 15:4)
One purpose of the Scripture is to bring us encouragement. If you preach or teach, yet your people never feel encouraged, you are missing one of the main helps the Bible provides to you as a preacher.
We can encourage one another.
Following a passage on the coming of the Lord, Paul writes:
Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18
The encouragement believers are to show to each other must be modeled by the pastor and other church leaders. Encourage people in conversation, in the hallways, in groups, and after the services. And, may we not neglect the weekly, nearly uninterrupted preaching time we have each Sunday to encourage our people in the faith.
Heal the reeds, fan the flames, chase the straying, tend the hurting, and encourage them all.
Featured image background credit, edited.