Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Strengthening and Exhorting One Another

  In our study through the book of Acts we have come to Chapter 14. Paul and Barnabas have stepped out into the calling the Lord has placed on their lives, and they are preaching and teaching the Gentiles through various cities. Through their ministry, many have believed and many have turned from idols to the living God. Paul and Barnabas, even though they are facing much persecution and opposition, have not deterred from what God has called them to do. In spite of all the troubles and trials they are staying strong in the Lord.
                On one of our days we focused in on Acts 14:22. Paul and Barnabas have started to make their rounds. They have preached the gospel in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, and now are on their way back to these cities to check in on the disciples there. (vs. 1 and 21) They went with a purpose, a purpose that I think, as brothers and sisters in the Lord must take on as well.
                “…strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith,…” Acts 14:22
                Paul and Barnabas were about making disciples. They preached the gospel and many believed, but they didn’t leave them there. They strengthened them; they encouraged and exhorted them to continue on in the faith alongside them. They made disciples. We, as Christians are called to make disciples as well. We are called by Jesus in the Great Commission to go and teach others about who He is and show them the way to be saved. (Matthew 28:19-20) Paul and Barnabas wanted to see people saved, but they also desired to see them rooted and grounded in Jesus. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
                To strengthen means to establish, it means to make something firm. Exhorting means to urge
forward. It means to set on a course of conduct and encourage and urge someone to follow it. Exhortation always looks forward, never backwards. It always looks to the future, and never at the past. Paul and Barnabas went back to the cities that they first preached to the Gentiles and strengthened them and encouraged them to continue on the path of salvation with Jesus Christ. They did not look at their past mistakes and try to fix them, they pointed them to the future, the hope that they now have in Jesus Christ.  They strengthened and encouraged them to be built up in the faith. (Jude 1:20)
                We are to be doing the same with those of the household of faith. We are to be strengthening one another through our weaknesses. We need to give our brothers and sisters something to lean on during those moments of weakness. Sometimes what we say is not as important as what we don’t say. I read this post on Pinterest that explains this point I am trying to make. The post read, “Some people are hurting so bad you
have to do more than preach a message to them, sometimes you have to be the message.” This is exactly what Paul and Barnabas were doing. They were strengthening the disciples in the cities to continue on with the Lord. They were being the message rather than just preaching a message. This life as a Christian is not an easy one. We are faced with trials, struggles, sins and temptations every day. But we are not alone, we are one body and one family- and families need to strengthen one another to stand firm in the faith.  (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
             Paul and Barnabas also exhorted the disciples in these cities. They understood that the people getting saved was good, and that was the purpose of their ministry, but it didn’t stop there. They knew and understood the principle of discipleship. I once knew a girl who had given her life to Jesus Christ at the Harvest Crusades that came to town. I did not know she was a Christian at first, because nothing in her life at the time would have said she was. But, after a few minutes of getting to know her, I heard her heart and she told me about how she had given her life to the Lord. I was shocked because, like I said, there was nothing about her that screamed “Christian”! She then told me that after the Crusade she was approached by one of the volunteers there, she was given a new believers bible, they prayed with her, but then that was it. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do next. No one took her under their wing and discipled her, they just kind of left her hanging. This is why it is important for us to be willing to practice discipleship. This is why it is imperative for us, as Christians, to not only preach the gospel but to disciple as well. If no one shows them where to walk, how will they know how to walk?
                When it comes down to it, we, as His children, need to be doing more than just saying a few Christianese verses to people. We need to meet people where they are and be willing to strengthen and exhort them to keep moving forward. We are called to strengthen and exhort one another. We are called to encourage one another to stay the course, to keep growing in the Lord and moving forward. Are we doing that?
                One of the questions the Lord laid on my heart for our study was asking who we can strengthen and encourage. We all know of someone in our lives that needs a brother or sister to come alongside them and encourage them in the faith. We all have been that someone before. We have needed strengthened and encouraged and the Lord has sent a Paul or a Barnabas to our side. Who can you be a Paul or Barnabas to today? I want to encourage you to go and spend some time with the Lord today and ask Him who He would like for you to come alongside. Perhaps there is a young sister in the Lord who needs someone to take her hand and show her the path of discipleship. Perhaps there is a co-worker that is going through a battle and needs some encouragement to keep pressing forward.

                There is someone in your life right now that needs a Paul or a Barnabas. I pray today that we would open our eyes and look for them, that we would see their needs and come alongside one another, strengthening and encouraging each other along the way. Let us become Paul and Barnabas and strengthen and exhort one another in the faith. Amen? Amen!