The key verses for these devotional readings about the church describe it as a household built on a foundation with Christ as the cornerstone. This structure is joined together in Christ and grows into a holy temple. (Ephesians 2:19–21) One way this happens is through encouragement.
A few years ago, I read a book on this topic. Of hundreds of books I’ve read, this is the only one that when I got to the end, I turned to the front and read it again. What struck me is that people are so afraid of rejection that they build layers around themselves to prevent others from seeing what they are really like. True encouragement gets through those layers by accepting people in unconditional love.
This kind of love is tied to the Gospel. We are sinners and fall short of the glory of God, yet He loves us and wants our eternal good. Therefore, He sent Jesus to die for our sin. Putting that sin on Christ is one thing, but He also put Christ’s righteousness on all who believe. We are greater sinners than we thought, but more loved than we ever imagined possible.
That kind of love allows me to take off the layers. It doesn’t matter if people accept or reject me because God loves me. He loved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8) and loves me so much that He refuses to leave me in that condition. So He gently peels off the layers and surprisingly, that makes possible this unconditional love to flow through His people.
This was shown at every level in the early church. When Saul/Paul was saved and immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God” those who heard him were amazed because he had severely persecuted Christians. Then, as this man increased in strength and confounded the Jews with the Gospel, they plotted to kill him. He escaped, went to Jerusalem and attempted to join the disciples. But they were afraid of him. However, Barnabas took him under wing and defended him. After that, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:19–31)
Barnabas means “son of encouragement” and he lived up to his name. I wonder what the church would have been like had he not encouraged Paul. Would he become fearful and self-protective? Would he fail to become the mighty servant that God used to change the world?
Paul later wrote to those with fears. He said, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) He knew the power of looking beyond the surface impressions and encouraging the potential in people. He knew that this takes unconditional love, for sometimes those layers can be thick and even ugly barricades that hide the real person.
My own layers are sinful in that they are a subtle form of hypocrisy. If I am a weak and emotional person who pretends to be strong and stoic, then integrity is gone because the inside and outside do not match. However, God encourages me by accepting my weaknesses, even my quirks and foibles. I don’t need layers and am set free to love others.
Yet I still need encouragement, and so do others. The Bible says we need to “Take care . . . lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12–13)
It also tells me to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25)
Lord, today give me many opportunities and a strong dose of Your grace that I might be a Barnabas to others.