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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hindering Encouragement

I have been snowed in for the past few days. Kristian has been working a lot of evenings and weekends and we only have one working car at the moment. But thanks to our very dear friends, Wilson and Nora, I was able to go to church this morning and hear an awesome sermon on counting the cost of following Christ. Pastor Matt Bayley read this passage:

Matthew 16:13-28 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Something that really struck me today in hearing this passage were the strong and harsh words Jesus used with Peter when Peter tried to tell Jesus that he should not have to suffer the cross. Jesus actually called Peter “Satan”! That is about as harsh as it gets. Why would Jesus do that? Peter seems to have only been objecting to seeing his beloved Lord suffer. What kind of person would want to see their friend or loved one suffer?

We know more of the story than Peter did. We see that Jesus’ painful rejection, unfathomable suffering, and unjust murder constituted the ultimate act of loving obedience to the Father and loving rescue for us. While perhaps he meant well, Peter’s words were nothing less than satanic. Peter’s words were used of Satan to tempt Jesus into forgoing the act of denying Himself and paying the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile His people to our Righteous Heavenly Father. Peter’s words were death, and Jesus rebuked them fiercely.

Now before we start to look down on Peter for what he said to Jesus, we ought to consider how we give and receive encouraging and comforting words. Can our comforting and encouraging words to others or the comforting and encouraging words we receive from others actually be satanic? Can we give or receive comfort and encouragement that leads us away from the will of God and tempts or enables sin? Absolutely! That is a sobering thought. From Jesus’ response to Peter, we see how detrimental this can be. Let me be very clear here, this is not to say that all encouraging and comforting words are satanic. I hope this point is obvious. The Bible urges us to encourage and comfort one another. (for example see, 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Cor 14; 2 Cor 1:3-4; Romans 1:12; 2 Cor 13:11) Encouragement is even a precious spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-8). Obviously, there is an encouragement and comfort that is good and from the Lord. However, we must recognize that encouragement and comfort is not necessarily always from the Lord and we must be discerning in how we give and receive it.

How can we do this?

1) Pray in faith. We ought to pray for wisdom and discernment to know whether what we want to say and what we hear from others is actually from God or from Satan, recognizing that as Peter’s example suggests, even Christians can be taken captive to do the will of Satan (see also 2 Timothy 2:22-26). We ought to pray for God to guide the content of our words and counsel and also the timing of them. James 1:5-6 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray, one of the things He tells them to pray is “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In Matthew 26, when the disciples fall asleep while Jesus is praying in Gethsemane, Jesus tells them: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17-21 says, “Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

2) Compare what we want to say or what we hear to the Word of God. No advice, encouragement, or comfort should contradict what we know to be true from the Word of God. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5 says, “Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

3) Examine motives. What are our motives in saying or receiving comforting words and encouragement? Do our motives have anything to do with avoiding pain or discomfort or inconvenience for ourselves? Do we just want to be liked? Do our motives have anything to do with wanting to be praised by men rather than by God? Are we seeking to gain something for ourselves by our smooth words at the expense of truth and love? Are we trying to avoid conflict because it is uncomfortable for us? Are we afraid that the other person will lash out at us or reject us? Are we just being careless with our words, blurting out whatever comes to mind without even thinking about their implications? This is not honoring to God or loving to others. This is selfish. Let us not forget Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24 & 25: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Earlier this year, I was talking to a dear friend about some very difficult things I was going through. Instead of urging me to take the easy way out of the situation or giving me false hope (i.e. hope in unpredictable circumstances), this friend actually led me to Matthew 16:24-25. It was the best thing she could have done for me. Even today, I was talking with another dear friend about a challenging conflict that I am facing. Rather than telling me that my motives were all right and that the person with whom I am in conflict was all wrong, my friend lovingly challenged me today to consider my own motives. This was the best thing she could have done for me. When I have talked to friends about the pain of infertility, the most helpful encouragement I have received is not that God will give me a child—no one knows if this is God’s will for my life! Rather, my friends who have been the most helpful are the ones who have encouraged me with Scripture (i.e. I don’t know if God will give me a child, but I do know that He works all things for my good—Romans 8:28). Instead of giving me false hope, they hugged me when I have needed comfort, loved me with thoughtful acts of service, and even lovingly rebuked me when I have needed it. Rather than helping me figure out how to avoid this trial that God has brought into my life for my good, they have lovingly walked with me through it.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you that you do not leave us to ourselves. Thank you that you give us guidance and direction. Thank you that you show us truth in your word. Thank you that we can approach your throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus, and that you delight to guide us in your ways. Father, please guard our hearts against satanic encouragement. Protect us from being used by Satan and from listening to the lies Satan tries to get us to believe from encouragement that is not from you. Teach us to deny ourselves daily for your name sake. Help us to be unselfish in the words we speak to others, seeking to honor and glorify you and to love them in accordance with your truth. Help us to honor you in what advice and encouragement we receive from others, seeking your wisdom and discernment to know what is good and what is evil. We love you. In Jesus Name, Amen.


Brent and Darlene said...

Dear Blina,
Your words are so beautifully written with such depth and wisdom. I look forward to spending more time reading your entries.

Blessings to you,

jadeejf said...

Bina- you are such an encouragement! :) I'm so thankful that you have good friends who can point you to Scripture and ask the hard questions; I appreciate that you often do the same for others, and point some of us back to Christ, even when things are hard! Love,