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The Heart of Encouragement

Weekly Devotional for Preachers
The Heart of Encouragement
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty

My Dear Shepherds,

My favorite question of fellow pastors is, “What are you preaching or teaching on these days?” Their answers stir sweet sermon memories for me, like hearing the names of precious friends or of favorite places. If they mention a text I never preached on I feel a pang of envy.

Recently I’ve heard about sermon series from John, Acts, Hebrews, Nehemiah, and the life of Abraham. One just preached on Romans 5:1-2 (“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith ….”), and another is beginning a series on God’s attributes in Exodus 34:6-7, (“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God …”), and yet another is on the spiritual gifts.

When Barnabas summoned Saul to help him with the burgeoning church in Antioch their essential method was the same as ours today:

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. (Acts 11:26)

Barnabas arrived first and promptly “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23), the essence of pastoring. The principal way Barnabas did that and lived up to his nickname, “son of encouragement,” was teaching. To this day, teaching God’s Word is how pastors accomplish our multifaceted calling to encourage—parakaleo, exhort, help, comfort, advocate.

Most of the references to Barnabas and Paul highlight their Wordwork. I wonder what it was like to hear them? Both men were well trained in Scripture. Barnabas was a Levite and Saul was a Pharisee “educated at the feet of Gamaliel.” Then they’d been filled and schooled by the Holy Spirit and informed by the witness of the other Apostles.

Imagine taking Greeks, raised among the pantheon of gods, to Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth,” and then walking them up the Old Testament path to Jesus. Imagine Jews seeing how the sacrifices, Sabbath, priesthood, and kingly line of David all prepared them for the Messiah Jesus! Imagine them understanding Isaiah 53 for the first time.

What was it like for those fledgling believers to hear the stories about Jesus, his Sermon on the Mount, or to ponder his parables with ears to hear? They learned the details and meaning of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and of the Day of Pentecost! Imagine hearing Paul explain the riches of justification by faith long before he wrote Romans.

Teaching the Word was, and still is, the ministry of encouragement at its highest and best. And it’s what we get to do for the saints entrusted to us! The Lord Jesus himself appoints and applauds pastors who lovingly, skillfully, and diligently open the scriptures week after week to teach, rebuke, correct, and train God’s people in righteousness, all breathed to life through prayer.

Whatever text God put your finger on these days, preach it so that your people are “encouraged to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Saturate your preaching with the love and grace of Jesus. Help them to remain strong and faithful.

You remember, I’m sure, the particular outcome of the work of Barnabas and Paul: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Why was that? Within the church, the believers called one another brother and sister but the citizens of Antioch needed a word for their neighbors whose lives were changed, who loved each other as family, who sacrificed for the poor, and who hung on every word of God. They needed a term, so they made one up: Christian. You and I are privileged beyond measure to encourage believers to live worthy of that name.

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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