In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists some marvelous gifts that help us be living sacrifices that overcome this world (1-2) who don’t think too highly of self (3). These gifts include such beautiful attributes and actions as proclaiming the gospel (6), service (7), teaching (7), exhortation (8), giving (8), leading (8), and mercifulness (8). Who could fail to see the value of these gifts, on full display and at work in the body of Christ?
That being said, let’s be reminded that the following are not gifts:
Outbursts of anger
Pride and boasting
Too often, these drain the life of a congregation and are a drag on its attempted works. God is not glorified and the body is not edified. In Paul’s discussion about some specific gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the word edification repeatedly comes up as rationale for the exercise of those gifts (14:3-5,12,17, 26). Gifts build up by design.
It’s proper and necessary for us to gauge our actions, to see if we are living as Paul urges the churches of Galatia: ” Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:24-26).
God desires us to find our gifts and place in the body and pursue using them for His glory. The “non-gifts,” He wants us to crucify! They take no talent, but they rob us of peace and joy.
Quite possibly one of the most important actions we can do as Christians is encouraging others. With these words we have the ability to build up and unify the church. Encouragement is a very prevalent concept in scripture, but let’s focus on just one passage.
Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
Paul commands us to refrain from unwholesome words. This word, “unwholesome,” would literally be translated as “rotten.” A sane person doesn’t eat rotten fruit or spoiled meat. Why? Because it isn’t safe. It tastes bad. It smells bad. And it’s lost its appeal. Our speech shouldn’t be rotten; that is, our speech should never be filled with words that are bad or unwholesome to the extent of being harmful–words that tear people down. In our new walk in Christ, we should be thoroughly devoted to encouragement, not tearing others down.
So we must ask, what is good speech and what does it sound like? Simply put, this would be words that build people up, words that help us reach eternity, words that brings unity and peace, and words that help to encourage and exhort.
For example, you would say “Georgia is a great team” instead of “they are the worst team ever.” You would say, Carl you’re looking extra handsome today.” On a serious note, we should be saying words that aren’t negative, that are free from gossip and sin.
When Scripture talks about our words, it’s talking about positive versus negative. It is not necessarily a word that is bad, but it is focused on how our words are used. So, how are we using our speech? Are people around me encouraged by what I say? Or are they torn down and destroyed?
The Christian walk is to be filled with encouraging words. Specifically, Paul says use words that bring about edification (that which builds up) and that fits the need of the one who hears it. He says in verse 29 that our words can bring grace to those who hear. The word grace here is “the showing of human favor.” When we use edifying words we are showing others that we favor them. We care about them and want what is best.
Our new life in Christ is defined by our speech. Speech that stands out from the world. Speech that is clearly seen as different and appealing. May we also look for ways to encourage and build up our church family.
Pick out a local church leader and pray for him and his family for several minutes, being very specific in your petitions on their behalf.
Email a missionary to encourage them and get an update on how their work is going.
Buy a gift card and try to give it anonymously to a young or struggling family you know.
Thoughtfully select several people to compliment and encourage by writing on their Facebook wall or other social media platform.
Briefly visit a brother or sister in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Ask a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor what you can be praying for them about.
Listen to a book of the Bible in its entirety on your commute.
Let go of a grudge or deep-seated resentment.
Do an unexpected deed of kindness for a random stranger.
Speak to someone you see regularly about your faith–what God is doing in your life, what’s going on at church, etc.
Spend some one-on-one time with one of your children (playing a game they enjoy, going for a walk, taking them out to eat, etc.).
Show love to your mate in some tangible way you know he/she enjoys (speak their “love language”).
Practice pleasantness with everyone you meet today, being mindful of your facial expressions and body language.
Carve out some time for meaningful, personal devotion (including Bible reading, singing, and prayer)–make worship more than a Sunday matter!
None of these are overly time-consuming. Pick as many as you can. If you cannot get to them all today, then pick up where you left off tomorrow. Grow your list. Use your imagination and creativity. Find yourself looking and acting more like Jesus! See yourself in Matthew 5:13-16.
The early church grew (Acts 2:41; 5:14; 6:1,7; 9:31; 11:24). As we read of this growth explosion, we see the key role member involvement played. Christians were spreading the word (8:4), involved in each other’s lives and in the lives of the lost around them. This is such a simple concept, but churches not practicing it are not growing. What is involved in involvement?
I–“I” am the heart of involvement. I must resolve to be involved. I must do my part, for I will give an account for my level or lack of involvement (1 Cor. 3:8).
N–“Negativity” is the enemy of involvement. “I can’t help.” “It won’t do any good.” “I don’t like working with that person.” Listen closely. Involved Christians rather say “I can do” (Phil. 4:13) and “we are well able” (Num. 13:30).
V– “Visitation” is a part of involvement. Matthew 25:34-46 confirms it. Non-Christian visitors, sick, imprisoned, and needy folks need it. Those who do it are richly rewarded, and those who are recipients of it profoundly appreciate it.
O– “Obedience” is the cause of involvement. Faithful Christians believe the commands to make disciples (Mat. 28:19), build up brethren (Rom. 14:19), and meet needs (Js. 1:27).
L– “Love” is the motive of involvement. Paul says good deeds, without love, are profitless (1 Cor. 13:1-3). The counsel of Scripture is “by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
V– “Victory” is the goal of involvement. By being involved, we help others win the victory (Js. 5:19-20), we help the cause of Christ advance, and we aid our own walk in the light that leads to eternal reward (1 Jn. 1:7).
E– “Everybody” is the scope of involvement. What able-bodied Christian is excluded from the work God has given the church? Once, a man did nothing and gave every excuse imaginable. We remember how that turned out (Mat. 25:28-30).
M– “More” is the adjective of involvement. That is, “more involved” and “more people involved.” Has there ever been a church with too many involved? God is able to do more than we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20), and He wants to see us always trying to do more for Him!
E– “Evangelism” is the fruit of involvement. Active churches attract the curiosity of the community. Those involved in the church’s work naturally grow more spiritual-minded, and by this grow more bold in sharing the gospel.
N– “Now” is the time for involvement. What in our lives do we definitely know will change between now and the never-seen tomorrow (Prov. 27:1)? Let’s kill the excuses! Resurrect the enthusiasm! Start today!
T–“Teamwork” is the mindset of involvement. We’re to work together. No one man, no staff, no eldership, no group of deacons or others can or should do the work of an entire congregation. The local church is a team.
To become adequately involved, let’s ask three questions.
“What needs doing in this church?”
“Who needs help in doing it?”
“What can I do?”
Be an Isaiah, a child of God who enthusiastically says, “Here am I, send me” (Isa. 6:8)!
Steven Covey has said, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” There is great wisdom and truth in that. Encouragement requires unselfishness and thoughtfulness. It requires our looking at the other person and empathizing with their circumstances. It requires a genuine love, care, and concern. The interesting thing is that it does not have to cost anything, take much time, or demand a lot of energy. But, oh the benefit it gives to one who greatly needs it!
Such vital people as Joshua (1:38), David (1 Sam. 23:16), Hezekiah (2 Kings 19), the priests during Josiah’s reign (2 Chron. 35:2), the sons of Israel who returned from exile (Ezra 6:22), Darius the Mede (Dan. 11:1), the Christians in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:23; 15:32), the brethren at Philippi (Acts 16:40), and Paul (Acts 18:27) are recorded in the Bible as having received it. Judges, kings, priests, children of God, Christians, apostles, and even those who were not in a covenant relationship with God all needed and benefited from receiving encouragement. That tells me that everyone I meet could use whatever encouragement I can give.
So, what can I do to encourage the people I encounter today?
Express genuine gratitude to someone for something he or she specifically does or demonstrates.
Pay someone an unexpected compliment.
Tell someone’s superior how much you appreciate their work, service, etc.
Do a task or favor for someone who seems stressed or depressed.
Look someone in the eye and sincerely ask them how they are doing.
Pay attention to one who may ordinarily labor anonymously (parking attendant, security officer, door greeter, janitor, etc.).
Show interest in a co-worker or employee who seems lonely, discouraged, or is new.
Write a kind note to someone else at church (for extra credit, let it be someone you do not know well), to a preacher you may or may not know who you appreciate, or to an acquaintance from your town or neighborhood.
Smile and wave at a little child or an elderly person you come across.
Challenge yourself to find additional ways and people you can encourage. Make it more than a daily dare. Make it an every day effort. You cannot know the full, positive impact you will have and the social, emotional, and even spiritual revolution you can begin in your home, your congregation, and your community. Maybe you, too, can earn a nickname like Barnabas had, and be known as a Son or Daughter of Encouragement (cf. Acts 4:36)! Have you given someone a shot of Vitamin E today? What are you waiting for?
Last month, Von Miller gathered some of the NFL’s elite sack specialists at Stanford University for what he called a “pass rush summit.” The participates were star defensive players from around the league, with several different teams represented. Addressing concerns that each man was sharing his trade secrets, Miller replied that it was more like sharing the wealth. He said, ““A sack is a sack. I’m going to get sacks, they’re going to get sacks. You really can’t stop that. You really benefit more from really just sharing that knowledge and just trying to be the best players that you can possibly be” (Denver Post, Nicki Jhabvala, 6/29/17). Do you find that surprisingly magnanimous and unselfish? Yet, don’t you find it refreshingly classy and helpful?
When I think about the spiritual battle God calls us to, I often think about the outposts God has in towns and cities throughout our state, country, and world. These individual congregations of the Lord’s church are facing struggles with a formidable foe (cf. 2 Cor. 10:2-4; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:10-17). God has endowed us with a mission and purpose, reaching those outside of Christ, showing charity and compassion to the world, and helping to strengthen those already in Christ. We seek to achieve this through various ideas, ministries, programs, efforts, and events. We bring in speakers, host activities, organize, and create. When we find ways to be productive and get results, we should be ready to help. When he hear of such things, we should be eager to hear. At times, we may inadvertently develop a sense of competition rather than a spirit of cooperation. But this ought not to be so.
What is our goal with every benevolent outreach, every evangelistic attempt, and every edifying work? Isn’t it to get more people to heaven, to shine the light of Christ into a world of ever-deepening darkness? Why do we host camps, have lectureships, train preachers, hold fellowship activities in homes and at the building, reach out to our homeless community, stock pantries, build a robust youth program, minister to young professionals, young families, and seniors, do evangelism training, have marriage seminars, worship leadership training, and the like?
What about works our brothers and sisters are doing all over the country? Polishing the Pulpit, Focal Point, Fishers of Men, Gospel Broadcasting Network (GBN), Truth.fm, Mission Printing, World Video Bible School, Bear Valley Bible Institute’s Extension Program, World English Institute, House to House, Heart to Heart, and many, many others are what our larger church family are doing to grow the church and build its strength. Yet, there’s much more that could be done by so many more of us, working together to accomplish the mission. But we must see ourselves as cooperators rather than competitors. Obviously, there can be impediments making this impossible in specific situations, but as we acknowledge that are we missing opportunities. Meanwhile, countless souls are rushing toward eternity. Let’s band together to find out how to more effectively reach more of them. That will mean more saved souls and more glory to God!
Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”
Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).
We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.
Have you ever paid close attention to the ends of especially the epistles? There are a variety of otherwise obscure Bible characters who make their cameos as if in passing. Tychicus is one such early Christian. You find him referenced five times in Holy Writ. He is numbered among the missionaries in Asia (Acts 20:4). Whether or not he preached or taught, he was acting on Kingdom business. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul sends him to Ephesus to make Paul’s conditions and circumstances known to them. He did the same thing for the Colossians (4:7). Paul tells Timothy, very simply, that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul contemplated sending Tychicus to Titus on Crete (Tit. 3:12). Paul obviously considered Tychicus a reliable resource for help.
Have you considered the fact that all of us are carriers of something? What are you carrying?
Bitterness and resentment?
Gossip and talebearing?
Negativity and pessimism?
Filthy, foul, and offensive speech?
Dishonest, deceptive words?
A different gospel?
Harsh, railing verbiage?
Gentle, kind words?
Positive, joyful speech?
Thoughtful, considerate messages?
Meek efforts to restore a fallen soul?
Courageous, lovingly spoken truth?
What would others entrust you with? Would they trust you? That should convict us, shouldn’t it? What traits are we developing? Let’s be concerned about that, recognizing that God needs trustworthy transporters today!
“Social” is an interesting word. It can be a noun, as in “church social,” referring to a gathering of people to socialize. Usually, it is an adjective–“social studies,” “social club,” “social butterfly,” or “social grace.” “Social” modifies another word to form a phrase normally found only in the restraints of religious discussion. The phrase is “social drinking.” Social drinking implies situations such as guests in the home, friends at a meal or bar, or business dinner or party where a typically smaller amount of alcohol is consumed than occasions where drunkenness is typical. Certainly, this is an emotional issue for some either adamantly for or against its practice. In the spirit of fools going where angels fear to tread, please allow me to consider with you a few questions about “social drinking.”
What constitutes the limit on social drinking? In other words, when does one cross the social line in social drinking? If one of the drinkers has two rather than one, is it still social drinking? Three rather than two? Four rather than three? When is it excessive? Who, of the other drinkers, is to be the judge of that? Often, there are those in the “social drinking” crowd who try not to miss a shot, glass, or refill. For all the sippers, there are guzzlers, too. What makes four wrong and one right?
What positive social messages does it send? Sophistication? Success? With social drinking, what is the Christian hoping to achieve? A soul-winning opportunity? A Christlike influence? A demonstration of the transformed life (cf. Rom. 12:1-2)? Or, is it simply a way of conforming, bowing to the social pressures of a worldly-minded culture? Is it ever simply a way to seek the acceptance, approval, and advancement of secular friends, co-workers, employees, and employers (Jas. 4:4)?
Are there negative social implications? What message does it send to non-Christians or new-Christians, to whom we would share scripture’s condemnation of drunkenness (Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Th. 5:7-8). Furthermore, the landscape is continually changing. Social drinking, to teenage and college party-goers, stretches all the way to bald-faced drunkenness. It is not uncommon to hear stories of “social drinkers” dead of alcohol poisoning on frat-house floors. Can we envision a preacher gesturing carefully during his sermon with his shot of whiskey? Or an elder pleading with a wayward Christian to come home, laying down his beer long enough to pray with them? Or the church fellowship, with a deacon in charge of bartending?
Let us be careful endorsing something so fraught with potentially negative side-effects, socially as well as physically. Certainly, you will ultimately decide which side of the ledger social drinking falls on. But, consider this a loving plea. Be careful with the precious commodities you possess as God’s child–your influence, your example, your holiness, and your righteousness. “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2).
Offer “medical missions” benevolent campaign in the neighborhood, utilizing the talents of members with medical expertise.
Have a worship leadership training class.
Incorporate periodic explanations about the purpose and biblical foundation for the acts of worship and the invitation during the worship services.
Have an elder/deacon intensive training class.
Host community Bible studies in various homes on a regular basis, inviting friends, co-workers, neighbors, unchurched family, etc.
Have a benevolent financial planning and strategies seminar, utilizing the talents of members with accounting and other finance-related skills and backgrounds.
Have a “special events Sunday,” where a special contribution is taken to fund evangelistic events for the year.
Host a website, which you advertise to the community, soliciting religious questions they have on their minds (for an example of this, see 12questions.net—hosted by the Mount Juliet church of Christ).
Utilize deacons to identify the talents of new members and new Christians, and then look for ways to leverage them.
Start a “come back home” campaign to retrieve erring and fallen away members.
Create a bumper sticker that identifies the congregation concisely and in a way that would draw community interest. The Palm Beach Lakes congregation has seen several baptisms from such an effort (pblcoc.org).
Make the church website current, interactive, and informative, not just about churches of Christ as a whole but what makes the local church relevant to people’s needs.
Give the teens an evangelistic project (teen gospel meeting, teen visitation program, feeding the homeless, etc.).
Incorporate as many members as possible in grading Bible correspondence courses (for students both foreign and domestic).
Plan, publicize, and promote a Sunday for every member in the directory to be present for worship, then use that day to present the plan and work of the church.
Train and use members to “carry” visitors from the parking lot to the dinner table, adopting visitors and helping them find classes and seats in the auditorium as well as connecting them to other members.
Keep your eyes peeled for new faces, stepping out of your comfort zone to meet and greet them. Be prepared to follow up and help them meet others, too.
Pray about ways you can be more involved in the work of the church and ask the leadership for ways you can be put to work.
Make a list of members and visitors that you can influence and encourage, then utilize it.