The new year has become a time of reflection and resolutions. Proposed here is a bit of encouragement to see new life and continued sanctification in the context of the church. To remain faithful must not be viewed as what one resolves to do “in the strength of his own might”. Rather, it is by God’s supply and with His appointed means in the church community.
As those outside the church are busy turning over new leaves and pulling themselves up with boot straps, Christians ought to be using God’s means and the gifts and resources of the church to continue toward greater Christ likeness. One such powerful tool, though often overlooked, is the praise of the good. It is the work of encouragement.
Behind the absence of praise lurks many troubles such as frustration, depression, fatigue and all the named and unnamed that make up ‘Legion’ who delights in saints growing weary in well doing. Praise and encouragement toward one another are great tools in the fight to remain faithful.Paul stops to praise the church at Corinth between words of rebuke and correction. He offers praise where it can be offered not as vain entrapment but as a tool of encouragement to those struggling. Praise for that which is right in the lives of our bothers and sisters in Christ is both necessary and required. Notice how our Lord in His letters to the seven churches takes time to offer praise and encouragement.
Follow Paul as he travels the mission field with his letters and hear him continue to offer praise and encouragement to saints. He gives thanks to the Romans for their faith which is spoken of through the whole world. The Corinthians are also objects of God’s grace coming behind in no spiritual gifts. The Philippians were praised for their fellowship in the gospel and the Thessalonians were remembered for their work and faithfulness. It was not enough for Paul to notice their faithfulness. His love for them compelled him to communicate praise for their encouragement.
Is this then a call to the ministry of flattery and the work of encouraging pride? Not at all! Flattery is the use of lies to get something from a vain person; it is the praise of men that Scripture warns the righteous to avoid. As to the ‘praise of the good’ encouraging pride, God has not called anyone to the ministry of keeping others humble. Waiting for perfection before we offer praise is a rejection of the Biblical pattern and the withholding of help from those who seek to press forward in faithfulness. Withholding encouragement and praise is inexcusable. Any who has sought to live godly in an ungodly world has faced enough discouragements, rejections, personal attacks, sorrows and hardships to be assured of the need of encouragement for all who likewise travel through such difficulties— young and old.
The children in our homes ought to hear praise for their works and faithfulness and the praise ought to follow their good works. We do not expect a mature and perfect faithfulness, but, like the apostle, we praise what is good and growing. This goal is not to develop a Christian version of the world’s ‘good self-esteem’, but to encourage fellow heirs of the kingdom. That which is good and right is to be rewarded and praised while that which is sinful is to be rebuked, corrected and punished – this is the pattern of covenant life.
The Christian wife is also to be the recipient of praise. The fruits of her hands are to be praised in the gates (see Proverbs 31). Those who labor with less visibility are, Paul says, worthy of more honor. It is not enough that a husband be thankful in his heart or even in the home. The city gates should know of the faithfulness of the faithful.
The world around us makes little of the labor of a wife and mother. Our anti-God culture sings the praise of she who gives little regard to husband and home. Husbands must counter these assaults and not wait until they think encouragement is needed nor ought the wife be required to “hint” him into a bit of praise and encouragement. It is his calling to encourage and praise that which is good and right. However, if the occasions to praise seem to be too many, be assured that your withholding of proper and needed praise will bring the occasions down to a number that you can manage with little effort. You can not over encourage one another.
Shall we then praise those who ought to be humble? Again, someone else’s humility is not anyone’s ministry. Those whom God has called to service as officers in the church are too often ignored and by all appearance appreciated little. It is no wonder that Elders and Deacons long for a break. Too often they have grown weary in doing right and have had little help from those they serve. It is not flowers and cards that Ministers, Elders and Deacons long to have, but rather, knowledge that their labors are not in vain and that their ministry is appreciated by those that love God’s Word.
All churches have their grumblers and complainers and though their numbers are often few, their impact on Minister, Officers and ministry is great when the righteous will not stand in praise of the right. Insults that would not be tolerated of a favorite hockey team are tolerated of those who serve in office and ministers who handle the Word of God. It is far from uncommon for a church to loose a good minister because some have worked too hard to keep an unrepentant gossip and grumbler. How we treat God’s servants is how we treat Him. The church is not a gathering of consumers and her officers are not merchants selling the solutions to all the felt needs of the day. The church is a body; one lending help and ministry to another and all finding encouragement to continue.
And to all others as well… Having touched on a few occasions for praise it ought to be remarked that such help is not limited to just a few relationships. The Saint’s pattern is to look for that which is good and praiseworthy and then give praise and encouragement. To withhold praise, shun openness and retreat to self is to live anti-church. To praise others requires that we turn from pride, selfishness, willful ignorance and take the risk of encouraging one another. To be quiet is to perpetuate a lean, cold and selfish association and that is a poor substitute for Christian fellowship.
The Church is the setting in which sanctification normally happens. Resolving to do better in a new year can not solve all our problems. We need the gifts, helps, encouragements and praise of the body. Resolve does not reach down into the secret sorrows and struggles that we all face. God has made life in such a way that we are in need of that which is outside of ourselves: the encouragement and help of others. Life in Christ’s body is a life of helping, encouraging, and serving one another. Part of what must happen if fellowship is to grow sweeter and closer is the encouragement that comes from the praise of the good and right. With our new resolutions let us then repent of our closed mouths and hearts and extend ourselves to the help and encouragement of others. May God give us grace that we may, more and more, praise the praiseworthy, that together we may all the more bring Praise to His Name.
Rev. Steve Simmons is the pastor of the Immanuel Fellowship Church, an independent, reformed church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.