You’ve Been Chosen to Clap and Cheer
June 19, 2019
How’s your E.Q.? We’re going to find out in just a few moments.
My text—Hebrews 10:24-25—comes from one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. There is so much we don’t know about it. For instance, we don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. We don’t even know where the recipients were living or precisely what circumstances called forth this epistle. Consequently, there is an air of mystery that hangs over the book of Hebrews.
An air of mystery that hangs over the book of Hebrews
But there is one fact we are sure about. That fact is revealed in the very title itself—The Epistle to the Hebrews. This book was written to Jews who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were Hebrews by birth and Christians by faith. And in that sentence is the story of this book.
Hebrews By Birth and Christians By Faith
To be Hebrews by birth meant they had entered the world of Old Testament ritual. They knew the Torah, kept the dietary laws, sang the psalms, observed the feast days, and tithed their income. They read the prophets and kept the Sabbath day holy. They were Jews from first to last.
To be Christians by faith meant they had heard and believed the Gospel message. They knew Jesus was the promised Messiah. They now believed all the Old Testament pointed toward the coming of Christ. Having made that step of faith, they identified themselves with the fledgling congregation of Christians.
It was not an easy step to make. Their Jewish friends accused them of treason against Moses. Their families urged them to come back to the synagogue. Their faith was on the firing line every day. Compromise was easy, convictions hard to hold.
Spiritual warfare is a daily reality!
They were tempted to give up their open identification as Christians and lapse back into Judaism. Some of them had already done it. Others were thinking about it. For these Jewish believers in Jesus, spiritual warfare was a daily reality. Many of them had become casualties.
Against that backdrop, let’s read Hebrews 10:24-25:
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Notice that the writer uses the phrase “Let us” three times. First, he says in verse 24, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on.” The word “consider” means “to fix the mind on.” It’s the idea of radar locking onto an object. It’s the idea of focusing on something in order to produce a strategy for obtaining it. We are to “strategize” concerning how we may “spur” each other on to love and good deeds. The word “spur” means to deliberately provoke. It is almost always used in the New Testament in a negative sense, such as deliberately picking a fight with someone. But here the sense is positive. We are to find a strategy which will enable us to deliberately provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Second, the writer says in verse 25, “Let us not give up meeting together.” Clearly, this was a great temptation for those first-century Jewish believers who felt the pressure from their friends at the synagogue.
Third, he also says, “Let us encourage one another.” To encourage means “to inspire to continue on a chosen course, to impart courage or boldness.” You encourage someone when you take courage and put it into them. The Greek word translated “encourage” has the idea of coming to the aid or assistance of someone else.
Put courage into someone else
Imagine a weary traveler stumbling down the highway with a heavy load on his shoulders. His head is low, his shoulders stooped, his knees wobbly, his feet barely moving. Each step is agony. As you watch him, he staggers and begins to fall. You can see he will never make it. So you rush from your place, come alongside, and you lift the load from his shoulders and place it on your own. Then you put your arm around him and say, “It’s all right, my brother. I’ll help you make it.” Together you walk on down the road. That’s encouragement. It’s coming alongside another person to help him in his moment of need.
Wanted: A Few Good Encouragers
Encouragement is fundamental to the Christian faith. We need this because everyone is having a hard time. There is so much despair in the world. Some people are so negative that they are never happy about anything. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the man who entered a very strict monastery. It was a spartan place—concrete floors, cold biscuits, the works. One of the rules was that the monks had to keep absolute silence. They could speak only two words every five years.
Well, this fellow entered and kept silent for five years. When the time for his review came up, his superior asked for his two words. He said, “Food Bad!” His superior blessed him and sent him back to his work. Five years later his review came up again, and his superior asked him for his two words. He said, “Bed Hard!” His superior blessed him and sent him away. Five more years passed and his superior once again asked him for his two words. “I Quit!” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me,” said his superior, “You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.”
We all know people like that, don’t we? They may be fine folks most of the time, but you know if you talk to them long enough, they’re going to start complaining. I know a few people like that, and when I see them coming, it’s all I can do to keep from running the other way.
Don’t Tweet at Me!
We need this message because we live in angry times. Nowhere is the anger more evident than on social media. If you follow Facebook or Twitter, you already know what I’m talking about. People say terrible things to one another on social media, often for no reason at all. Something about those 280 characters (on Twitter) brings out the worst in us. We write things in anger we would never have the courage to say in person. We lose our temper, question motives, slander others, spread rumors, and sometimes we use vile language that comes from the sewer. Sometimes we do it in order to defend some Christian teaching we think has been threatened. But good motives do not excuse sinful behavior. We may say, “I’m fighting fire with fire,” which is true, except that firefighters usually fight fire with water. Oh, how quickly we descend into evil speech on the internet.
Good motives do not excuse sinful behavior
To make myself clear, sometimes we must confront error with the truth. When that time comes, we must speak the truth even when we know we will get an angry response. But in those moments, we need the Holy Spirit to guide our words lest we go too far. Often we’ll do better to walk away from social media so we won’t stay riled up all the time.
Mark Twain and A Few Other Luminaries
How important it is to be an encourager. Mark Twain said, “I can live for a week off one good compliment.” William James, the father of modern psychology, said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” And George Adams said, “Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.” Finally, there is a Japanese proverb that says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.”
Perhaps you’ve read these words: “If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to become and could be, he will become that bigger and better man.” That strikes me as an entirely true statement. People tend to become what we think them to be. They either live up to or down to our expectations.
People tend to become what we think them to be
If you treat a man as trustworthy, he will strive to prove himself worthy of trust. If you tell a child, “You can do it,” pretty soon he’ll start to believe it. If you treat a friend as an enemy, before long that’s what he will be. If you treat a man as a criminal, he will prove it by robbing you blind.
Always Watching for Jesus
That brings me to the last part of Hebrews 10:25: “Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Note that the translators capitalized the word Day. Why did they do that? What Day will the readers see approaching? It is undoubtedly the Day of the Lord’s return. How will they “see” it approaching? After Jesus described the signs of the last days in Luke 21, he gave this exhortation:
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near! (Luke 21:28 HCSB).
What are “these things?” They are the great movements of men and nations that Jesus talked about. In the days leading up to our Lord’s return, the world will be plunged into unprecedented turmoil. Take the unrest in the Middle East and multiply it by a factor of 100, and you have the situation Jesus is talking about. In Luke 21:28 Jesus encourages his followers to examine the world for the signs of his return. Let me make that stronger. Jesus expects his followers to watch for his return.
We already know these readers were sorely tempted to turn back to their old way of life. As the battle rages around them, they can take courage because they know the coming of Christ is not far off. As spiritual opposition rises, mutual encouragement is absolutely essential.
Don’t get angry!
Don’t give up!
The writer mentions two areas for encouragement in verse 24—love and good deeds. Love moves in the area of attitude, while good deeds move in the area of action. We must encourage people into a positive way of thinking and a positive way of living.
During a battle, when the heat and smoke fill the air, when we are under tremendous pressure, we are faced with two great temptations: The first is to get angry and the second is to give up. Love will help us not to become angry, and good deeds will help us not to give up. So, we are to find ways to encourage each other in the very areas where we need help in the time of crisis—love and good deeds. We are to find ways to say, “Don’t get angry,” and “Don’t give up.”
That’s what encouragement is all about.
That’s a ministry for every Christian.
That’s something you can do this week.
The E.Q. Test
I promised I would take your E.Q.—your Encouragement Quotient. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself:
1. Do my words of encouragement outweigh my words of criticism?|
2. Am I uplifting to be around?
3. Do words of praise come easily to me?
4. Would those who know me best consider me an encouraging person?
5. Do I pass along good news and swallow the gossip?
6. Would I rather give praise or receive praise?
7. Do I focus on the positive qualities of other people?
8. Can you think of someone who needs encouragement right now?
9. Do I pray for the difficult people in my life?
10. Have I been diligent to encourage those closest to me—my children, my spouse, my students, my co-workers, my close friends?
Grade yourself this way. If you answered “yes” to eight or more, you are probably an encouraging person. If you answered “yes” to seven or less, you’ve been drinking too much vinegar, and you need to switch to Gatorade.
Lord, help me to know when to keep my mouth shut
Recently I shared the following as part of my Good Words for Today:
That ugly thing you’re about to say–Don’t.
That critical comment you’re about to make–Don’t.
That foolish joke you’re about to tell–Don’t.
You’ll be glad you didn’t when this day is done.
I noticed that it received 233 “likes” on Facebook. One person shared this prayer: “Dear Lord, help me to know when to keep my mouth shut.” That’s a prayer we should all pray from time to time.
Where Never Is Heard a Discouraging Word
We are often better at encouraging those we hardly know, and we are slow to speak kindly to those who are closest to us. That especially applies to our children. We’re so good at putting them down:
“Don’t interrupt me. I’m talking.”
“Don’t ask me why. Just do it.”
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Why don’t you grow up?”
We yell, we intimidate them, we criticize them in front of others. And we wonder why our kids struggle so much with their self-image. Consider these words of Cecil Osborne:
The child’s self-image is being formed in his early years. He either learns that he is loved, and that he is a great kid, doing his best, and going to succeed in life, or (he learns) that he is not loved, but impatiently endured, that he is bad or stupid, and will probably come to a bad end. (The Art of Learning to Love Yourself, p. 22)
So what are you building into your children? How do they feel about themselves? Your words of encouragement make all the difference.
Helping People Feel Important
For many years Henrietta Mears served as Director of Christian Education at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church. God gave her powerful insight into human nature. These are her words: “Whenever I meet a new person, I imagine them wearing a sign across their chest which reads, “My name is _________. Please help me feel important.”
That sums up my whole sermon. But where should we begin? I have three simple suggestions:
It’s a jungle out there
First, make sure you start each day by saying an encouraging word to each member of your family. Have you ever had one of those “uh-huh” breakfasts? That’s what happens when you are too frazzled to talk intelligently to each other. So you grunt. “Would you like some coffee, sweetheart?” “Uh-huh.” “Don’t forget your lunch.” “Uh-huh.” “Where’s my geometry book?” “Uh-huh.” “Can I borrow a hundred dollars, Dad?” “Uh-huh.” “Would you like a dead rat with your scrambled eggs?” “Uh-huh.” We’ve all had mornings like that. Just make sure it doesn’t become a habit. Take time to encourage each other before you go out the door. Remember, it’s a jungle out there.
Second, before you say a word of criticism, say a prayer for the person you are criticizing. If we criticize without praying, we run the risk of speaking in anger and saying things we regret later. But if we pray first, the venom is drained out of our words. Our anger may vanish, and we may decide the criticism is unwarranted. What a difference it would make if we followed this simple rule.
Third, when you feel the slightest urge to encourage someone, go ahead and do it. The reason is obvious. By doing it on the spur of the moment, we do it with joy and enthusiasm. That’s the place to begin applying this message. Make a simple resolution that every time you feel like encouraging someone this week, you will go ahead and do it. Put aside your work, get up from your desk, pick up the phone, write a note, send a text, pat someone on the back, say a kind word to lift someone’s spirits. Try doing it for just one week. Who knows? It might become a permanent habit.
By helping others, you help yourself
I close by mentioning the most encouraging fact I know about the ministry of encouragement: The more you encourage others, the more you are encouraged. Encouragement is not something that perishes in the using. The way to get more is to use what you’ve got. It increases by giving it away. The more you give, the more you receive.
By helping others, you help yourself.
By strengthening others, you are strengthened.
By lifting someone else’s load, your load becomes lighter.
Like the miracle of the loaves and fish, the more you give, the more you have. By giving encouragement to a fellow traveler, the spigot of God’s blessings is opened to you. So far from running out, before long you are running over with God’s blessings.
Christians must become great encouragers
We will need this truth more and more as our world hurtles headlong into the abyss of God’s judgment. Dark days are coming, and as the darkness descends, Christians must become great encouragers. We can do it because we know that after the darkness comes the dawn of a new age when Jesus himself returns to the earth. If you believe that, then you can encourage those around you no matter what happens to you.
The story is told of a second-grade boy who was trying out for a part in the school play. When the day came for the auditions, his mother took him to school and waited for him to come out. She was nervous because she knew he couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, couldn’t dance, and couldn’t memorize very well. She was surprised when he came out after 45 minutes with a big smile on his face. “How did it go, honey?” “It was great, Mom. Guess what? I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”
In truth, that could be said about all of us. We have all been chosen by God to clap and cheer for our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. They need to hear it, and we need to do it. Let the applause begin.