1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the partnership of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is something powerful in a kind word from someone you know. It does not matter if it is a friend, the barista at the coffee shop you are a regular of, or someone at work. When someone gives us encouragement, it warms something deep inside us. There is never a time a kind word sits fallow, because when we speak kindness into the world, it breathes life in a way no other kind of speech can. Think of the times you have had something to say to someone, simple or heartfelt, that just caused their eyes to light up, their posture to change, their voice to lift just so.
This is the power of encouragement, a gift from God that we pass on to those who are around us. There is a vulnerability in encouragement, it is as dangerous as any other kind of frank speech. There is a fragility to it, lest it be rejected somehow. There is something transcendently powerful about the simple act of saying what we mean, how we mean it, when it enters into our heart. The power of encouragement is stronger than we give it credit, and it is something severely lacking in this life.
Think of it, how often do you really get encouragement from people? Thanks for this or that, sure, but when does someone put a hand on your shoulder and go, “You did so good with this.” That’s a rarer thing. I know that among clergy, our encouragement is often pragmatic more often than it is personal. “That was a good service,” is good, but “You really have a skill for making people feel the Spirit in your prayer.” Is something else entirely. Both are encouragement, but “Good job,” and “here is what about you, personally, that sets you apart,” are quite different. Is the latter always necessary, no, but we all know how good it can feel.
Those who work outside of more person-to-person professions might have this manifest differently. There’s only so many ways to properly hook up electrical outlets, and the ability to do that creatively often leads to fire code violations. The important thing which that shows, however, is that encouragement is not just something we should give for what people do professionally. Encouragement is something we offer to people for anything that we think that the world should have.
Our scripture for today is written to a congregation, and so we cannot get the full details of what Paul encourages about them. He speaks fairly broadly, “You are not lacking in any gift.” This is not saying that every person has every possible gift, but that the congregation together has them. Thinking about this congregation I see many different gifts. Some of them being fully utilized and some of them not yet fully embraced and developed. There are gifts of service that transcend a desire to do and become a calling to, in every way possible, make sure that goodness is done wherever it is needed. There are gifts of organization that allow for miracles to happen out of mundane things. There is gift upon gift here in North View, but as important as something general like that is, there needs to be a constant flow of personal encouragement beneath it all.
I try my best to give encouragement where I can, but I am just one person and am not always at the top of my game. We should be looking at the people in our life and find reasons to lift them up. Especially those closest to us. That can be hard – see someone every day and the cracks in their virtues can shine pretty brightly. Yet, imagine how much we might grow if we had those near us lifting us up regularly. I think half of the virtues in my life are based on what Grace has built up in me since we got married. A lot of stuff came before that, how else would I have married someone so wonderful? Still, she has made what was good about me excellent.
We should be willing to encourage one another, even if we are not presently very good at it. Until we can practice, we never will be good at it. In a world that is so critical, in a culture that is based on criticism and not on promotion, it is necessary for us to flip the script and build one another up differently.
Now, some may hear this and say, “But not everything about the people I know is good! Am I just supposed to praise the good and ignore the bad?” Firstly, more often than you might think the answer is yes. There’s a lot of things that might irritate us that are not actually any great failure on the part of those around us. In the event something is a problem that needs addressed, that is not something alien to being an encouraging person. Paul writes this beautiful letter to some of his most problematic children. He opens with such beautiful praise, but then he quickly explains how the people who have been given every good gift of God are squandering it.
Part of this contrast is to do with how ancient letters were written. You were always expected to state the things you liked about someone before you explained the things you were angry about. However, I think that if we diminish Paul’s opening words to just a formality, we miss the point. Paul shows in Galatians that he is willing to skip his greeting if he thinks it is necessary. Paul includes these greetings out of courtesy, sure, but he is not only keeping to tradition. Paul wants people to know that God is with them, that the kingdom of God is being realized in them, and then and only then is he willing to tell them to get their act together.
I’m going to wrap up here for today. I think that the message here largely speaks for itself. We are people who should be living into God’s gifts. Those gifts require us to be encouraging of the gifts we see in one another. The only way we begin to encourage other people, is by practicing it. I encourage you all this week, beginning even here in this sanctuary today, to take time to encourage the people around you. Water the gift of life and grace planted in our hearts, and see what blooms as a result. Speak life into this world, children of God. – Amen.