In Acts 13 some men said to Paul and Barnabas, “If you have a word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.” Paul recounts the path of God’s people from Egypt all the way to God sending Jesus. And Paul’s word of encouragement was not what some would consider encouragement. Paul’s encouragement was that God is willing to forgive your sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s the ultimate encouragement that we call “The Good News”. It’s encouraging that once you accept and believe the Good News, God is always with you, never leaving you alone, even as you you walk through your darkest days in this life. The Holy Spirit comes to reside in you, guiding you, and helping you overcome even your own will and desires. The Spirit helps you turn from and resist going back to your sins. That’s the kind of encouragement Paul offered. That’s the kind of encouragement that is real.
There is also a false encouragement that’s commonly peddled, even in some churches.
- If you have enough faith, God will heal you.
- You will eventually be materially blessed. Following Jesus leads to a life of ease and comfort.
- Everyone will like you if you love like Jesus.
- God loves you just how you are and you don’t need to change.
Those things would be a great encouragement if they were true. But it’s neither encouraging or loving to give false hope and teach against the overarching themes of the Bible:
- If you always got healed, you would never die. Everyone has a day of death. You may be healed multiple times, but your body will one day fail for any of a number of reasons. But you will continue to live after you die – either in heaven or in hell.
- God’s goal for you is for your life to look more like Jesus’ life. He was not wealthy and did not have a life of ease and comfort. (Do the words, “Pick up your cross and follow Me” sound familiar?) But He will meet your needs.
- Jesus did not lie and twist the truth to get people to like Him. He said many hated him and promised that many will hate you. It’s OK if they hate you for following Jesus.
- It is true that you don’t need to change for Him to love you, but He loves you too much to allow you to stay in your sin. He loves people, but He despises sin. The Bible is clear about sin, and we are to turn from it. While He understands and overlooks when we fall short (which we all do), we are warned about false teachers that will pervert the definitions of sin. It’s the enemy who tells you that your sins are not sin and you do not need to change.
God loves you, Jesus died for you, the Spirit is willing to reside in you. That is the encouraging story of Christianity and that is enough. There is nothing more encouraging than that truth.