[forthright] Encourage the Brethren

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2006 15:11:04 -0500
Forthright Magazine
http://www.forthright.net
Straight to the Cross


COLUMN: Heavenly Connections

Encourage the Brethren
by Tim Hall

Christianity is distinctive from any other
religion or lifestyle in numerous ways. One
distinguishing mark is found in Philippians 2:4:
"Let each of you look out not only for his own
interests, but also for the interests of others"
(NKJV). Outside of the Christian faith, where can
you find people who practice such selfless love?

Paul was the author of those challenging words
above, and his life showed how committed he was to
the principle. The book of Acts often shows him
working hard to encourage his brethren. Such
statements are not surprising -- until we consider
the conditions in which Paul exhorted others.

Consider, for example, Acts 14:21,22: "And when
they had preached the gospel to that city and made
many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium,
and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the
disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith
..." We are impressed that Paul was concerned
about the spiritual strength of others. But we are
astonished when we consider what happened to him
just before this meeting.

Verse 19 records that in Lystra Paul was stoned to
the point that his enemies considered him dead.
Imagine Paul's appearance as he exhorted the
brethren: His body likely still bore evidence of
the rocks that bruised and tore his flesh. Perhaps
his speech was affected because of swelling in his
jaw or broken teeth. He might have limped as he
walked to the front of the room. Seeing Paul might
have argued against continuing in the faith. Thus
his words had to be especially compassionate and
clear.

Later in Acts, Paul is found in Philippi in a
familiar mode: "... and when they had seen the
brethren, they encouraged them and departed" (Acts
16:40). But note again Paul's condition as he
attempted to boost their spirits. Earlier in the
chapter we are told how Paul and Silas were beaten
with many stripes and placed in the inner prison
in stocks (Acts 16:23,24). The wounds must have
been considerable, for the jailer tended to them
before submitting to the command to be baptized
(verse 33). Again Paul's appearance must have been
unnerving. How powerful his words had to have been
to encourage the brethren! How strong his love for
them to make the effort!

It wasn't just Paul who believed in Christian
encouragement. Peter gave this strong command:
"And above all things have fervent love for one
another, for 'love will cover a multitude of
sins'" (1 Peter 4:8). It's a theme found in
virtually every book of the New Testament,
originating in the example and commands of Jesus
Christ himself.

This is the Christianity of the New Testament. But
is it my Christianity? As I reflect on my
interests and on how I spend my time, can I begin
to compare myself with the saints of the first
century?

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