But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrew 3:13 (NIV)
When I think of encouragement, George Nance comes to mind. George “adopted me” as a new manager with Southwestern Bell (SWB). George “came along side me” and coached me on how to navigate this new and foreign job of managing one of SWB’s million dollar account. It was hard and I often thought of returning to teaching but I held on because George was there to encourage me.
Throughout my life, there has always been someone who stood with me to encourage me to be all that I could be. Little did I know then that it was God at work (through my friends and family) keeping me moving forward to the purpose He had established for my life (Ep. 2:10).
Such is the role of one called to the side of one in order to teach, comfort, strengthen or “push them” to act in a certain way (as George did for me). There are other words in the Bible that have similar meaning such as exhort, warn, and admonish. The context of the Scripture will dictate what best describes the meaning for that situation.
Encouragement is defined as the action of giving someone support or confidence. I would like to expand that definition by saying that encouragement is also “inspiration to hope and service.”
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words translate encourage to mean “strengthen” (Deut. 31:6; Joshua 1:7, 9). The basic New Testament word for encourage is paraklesis which interpreted means a calling to one’s aid. In John 14:16, Jesus promised to send the Disciples another just like Himself (The Holy Spirit) who would walk with them; in this case “comfort” is the intended meaning of encourage. “Exhort” is also used to mean encourage. Its purpose is to build endurance and “spiritual doggedness” during times of trial and testing. Such was the case in our text today.
The Need for Encouragement
The recipients of this letter were believers who had come to faith through the testimony of eyewitnesses of Christ. They were not novices and they had successfully endured hardships because of their stand for the gospel (Heb. 10:32-34). Unfortunately, they had become “dull of hearing” and were in danger of drifting away. This made them particularly susceptible to the renewed persecutions that were coming upon them and the author of Hebrews found it necessary to check the downward spiral with “the word of exhortation” (Heb. 13:22).
“Today” referred to social and political pressures that potentially threatened their faith walk and Christian witness. “Sin’s deceitfulness” speaks to satanic attacks to simply “give in” to the external pressures versus standing firm in the faith. In this case, it meant returning to Judaism.
Fast forward to the 21st Century
Our “Today” mirrors that of the writer of Hebrews. Our faith is being challenged and with each day we are persecuted for our Christian beliefs and practices. And what is the Church’s response? What is our individual response?
In many case we have become dull of hearing and drifting away. “Sin’s deceitfulness” has lured believers (and non-believers) into a false sense of “rightness” resulting in willful disobedience and depraved immorality. Ruin is the outcome for those who continue on this path.
Destruction is certain for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark; that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (NLT)
The prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. And worse yet, my people like it that way! But what will you do when the end comes? Jeremiah 5:31
People think they are wise following the ways of the world, but in reality, they have become fools (Rom. 1:21-22).
Encouragement in its basic form is a call to move people to hope and service for the Lord. It is meant to incent believers to pursue God’s divine purpose for their life (Jer. 29:11). Whether we strengthen, comfort, or exhort, every believer has a part to play in the spiritual success of those individuals God places in our path. It’s time for a “word of encouragement.”