We have all encountered discouragers. These are people who seem to blacken the brightest sun or cloud the clearest skies with their words. Like the ten spies in Numbers 13, their words make other people’s hearts droop. They induce faintness, not faith. They only deflate and never elevate. Whether in their criticism, scrutiny, suspicion or pessimism, they always drop a fly in the ointment. However, the Bible points us to a better use of our words—the ministry of encouragement.

Literally, to encourage is to put courage into someone.

Encouragement is listed among the “one another” commands of scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13). Literally, to encourage is to put courage into someone. It is to build another person up or to strengthen them with our words the way Jonathan did for David (1 Samuel 23:16). This rises beyond complimenting or affirming, but it is certainly not less. So, encouragers are faith helpers, and not faith hinderers. We are most like God when we encourage, because he is the God of encouragement (Romans 15:5). Encouragement is also an ‘all of us’ ministry. Below are four things we should all aim to be as we seek to grow in this God honouring calling.

Use Scripture

Encouragement happens when we communicate biblical truth to one another. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says to encourage one another with “these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). The phrase “these words” reaches back to the truths Paul had just taught them. As an apostle, his words were scripture. Commenting on Hebrews 3, John Owen rightly observes that “exhortation is nothing but encouragement given unto others to walk with and after us in the ways of God and the gospel.” The ‘ways of God and the gospel’ as Owen posits, are contained in the Bible.

The word of God has enormous power to encourage.

When the word of God is spoken relevantly, compassionately, and in a timely manner, it has enormous power to encourage. Pep talks and platitudes such as “don’t worry” or “it’s going to be okay” may be heartfelt, but they are deeply deficient. Thus, whether our aim is to console the broken, exhort the idle, or fortify the fainthearted, we have no better resource than God breathed words (2 Timothy 3:16).

Be Full of the Holy Spirit

Spirit-filled men and women make the best encouragers. A compelling picture of this is a man named Joseph. He is popularly known by his nickname: Barnabas or the son of encouragement (Acts 4:36). What made him a noteworthy encourager is the fact that he was a man “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24). Genuine encouragement does not happen apart from the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

Genuine encouragement does not happen apart from the Holy Spirit.

In fact, when Paul could not speak encouragement to the Ephesian church, he prayed that the Holy Spirit would carry on the same work within them (Ephesians 3:16-17). Interestingly, to be Spirit-filled is concomitant with being Scripture led (Ephesians 5:18-19 cf. Colossians 3:16). They are inseparable.

Encouragement Must be Sincere

Encouragers are people who say something when they see something. We should not allow shyness, fear, or pride to get in the way. Encouragers use their words well because words matter and “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). They are not hypocritical.

Love must be sincere, so our encouragement must be too.

Also, the goal of encouragement is not people pleasing. Our aim is not to indulge people’s egos but to rightly inspire them. It is neither flattery nor manipulation. Hence, whether our words are spoken or written to those we are encouraging, they should be unpretentious. Love must be sincere (Romans 12:9), so our encouragement must be too!

Commit to Encourage Steadily

Most of us would agree that the ministry of encouragement is thin on the ground in most Christian communities today. However, the Bible says that we are to “encourage one another every day as long as it is called ‘today’” (Hebrews 3:13). Consequently, encouragement is something we should practise steadily, not sporadically. It is hard to overdo encouragement.

Encouragement is something we should practise steadily, not sporadically.

Imagine the kind of places our communities would be if they were teeming with encouragement! Consider how glorious it would be if we dispensed encouragement with fire hydrants as opposed to eye droppers! Then envisage the results if we did this unceasingly! Surely, churches and homes in Africa could use a multitude of Scripture led, Spirit-filled, sincere, and steady encouragers.

We All Know Someone in Need of Encouragement

Join the Holy Spirit in his glorious mission of encouraging other believers.

I close by asking: Do you know someone suffering from sorrow or grief? Someone lacking hope in the storms of life? Do you know a brother who has grown idle or complacent, conveniently avoiding what God has called them to do? Do you know a sister who is suffocating under the burdens she is bearing; barely staying afloat? Are you aware of a pastor who preaches the word faithfully against all the allures of the prosperity gospel? If so, how might you strengthen them in Christ today?

How about if we all specialised in inducing courage, encouraging faith, and stirring other people’s confidence in God? May we all not lose sight of the tremendous privilege it is to join the Holy Spirit, the ultimate encourager (or paraclete) in his glorious mission of encouraging saints (John 14:16).