This past week I was privileged to preach at First Baptist Rogers' weekly prayer meeting from Hebrews 3:12-4:2 on the discipline of encouragement. We talk about a great many disciplines of the Christian faith. Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, fellowship, and the list could go on and on. One that we don't talk about too frequently as a discipline is encouragement. The sermon above goes into much greater detail, but here are a few things you need to know about encouragement and accountability.
1. The discipline of encouragement highlights an evil, unbelieving heart.
The author of Hebrews told his audience to take care that there not be any evil, unbelieving heart among the church. Instead of having this kind of heart, the author of Hebrews insists that we encourage one another daily. This becomes practically difficult in a large group setting like the corporate worship service. It is even difficult among small groups like Sunday School classes. This kind of care works best in small groups of three to five people, usually of the same gender. The highlight of an evil, unbelieving heart shows that part of encouragement is accountability.
2. The purpose of the discipline of encouragement is to avoid a sin hardened heart.
Sin is deceptive. It tricks us into thinking that we will benefit from sinful thoughts, beliefs, or actions, when in fact the more we think, believe, or act in a sinful way, the more enslaved to that way we become. We need to encourage one another so that we don't develop a heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
3. We practice the discipline of encouragement because we are partakers of Christ.
The Greek word translated "partakers" in Hebrews 3:14 is also used to describe the relationship between Peter, James, and John. They were partners in Peter's fishing business. We too are partners in the business of discipleship. Following Christ means we deny ourselves, take up our crosses day after day (as long as it is called today), and follow Him. That's hard work, and the book of Ecclesiastes promises that "two are better than one...a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." (Eccl. 4:9, 12)
4. We practice the discipline of encouragement to avoid discouragement.
While this sounds obvious, it isn't as easy as it sounds. The people of Israel were about to enter the promised land when ten people came back from Canaan and told the people they couldn't possibly conquer the land because the people were like giants and the cities were well fortified. What did the people of Israel do? They became discouraged, and that discouragement was tied to disbelief.
5. We practice the discipline of encouragement to steadfastly avoid disbelief.
This is why time and time again the author of Hebrews tells us to hold fast to our confession - that which we believe. The people of Israel didn't enter the Promised Land not because they were discouraged, but because they did not believe (see Hebrews 3:19). Had they believed and acted on the promise of God in faith, nothing could have discouraged them.
6. We practice the discipline of encouragement in love.
As with most things in the Christian life, accountability isn't just about us. We may want others to hold us accountable (although from experience I doubt that). Ultimately, we should want to hold others accountable. This isn't a matter of pride or power, but a matter of love. The author of Hebrews tells us to be afraid if it appears anyone of us may miss heaven (4:1).
7. We practice the discipline of encouragement to unite the gospel with our faith.
Faith is belief in action (see Hebrews 11). The threshold issue is whether we believe the gospel. If so, we'll act on it. There are things we do that displease God that we won't want to do anymore. There are things we don't do that God wants us to do, so we'll want to do them. In the discipline of encouragement, we work to put our belief into action, uniting the truth of the gospel with the faith that is in us.
8. The discipline of encouragement will require diligent effort on everyone's part.
It is easy to hide behind the defense mechanism of privacy and the American pseudo-values of independence and autonomy. We commonly object that our personal lives, struggles, hardships, sinfulness, and relationship with God are no one else's business. That couldn't be further from the truth! Ultimately, we'll simply rest on the belief that we don't know others well enough to disclose this information to them. Let's be honest. You wouldn't share a lot of your sinfulness with your best friend if you weren't diligent and intentional about doing it.
9. The discipline of encouragement must center on the Word of God.
If the Bible isn't the standard we are holding one another to, then this is nothing but a goal's based accountability club and not a Christ honoring, Bible based longing to become like Him. Iron does sharpen iron, and one man does sharpen another, but the idea that men need sharpening suggests they're dull. But "the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12).
10. The discipline of encouragement must include Jesus.
There is some really great news in the fact that Jesus was tempted as we are in everything and lived without sin. That means He understands. He can sympathize with me. If Jesus can sympathize with my weakness, I promise He can sympathize with your weakness. For that matter, if Jesus sympathizes with us, there is no reason we can't sympathize with each other. We should be like the woman at the well who could shamelessly say, "come see a man who told me everything I ever did." (John 4:29)
11. The discipline of encouragement must involve prayer.
Because we have a great high priest - Jesus, who was tempted, sinless, and the atonement for our sins, we can approach the throne of God confidently to receive mercy and find grace in our times of need. Accountability isn't as simple as telling someone to pray more about their weaknesses. The author of Hebrews commands, "let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace..." (Hebrews 4:16). Encouragement is going to the throne together to find forgiveness, mercy, and help achieving what the Spirit convicts us to achieve in putting sin to death and becoming more like Christ.
I follow Christ. I have a beautiful wife Megan and three wonderful children, Harrisen, Rebekah, and Carter. I am a candidate for a Ph.D. in ethics from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have an M.Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a JD from the University of Arkansas, am licensed to practice law in several state and federal courts, and live in Rogers, Arkansas. I write a blog and produce a podcast. And I do it all that others may know Christ.