Once upon a time, while studying to lead a discussion on encouragement at a men’s group, I came across what initially seemed to be an odd example of encouragement. Fresh off the heels of a public stoning, Paul encouraged fellow believers by letting them know that they would experience many persecutions.
But Jewish people came from Antioch and Iconium; and after they won the crowd over and stoned Paul, they were dragging him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After proclaiming the Good News to that city and making many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They were strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in faith, and saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”Acts 14:19-22 (TLV)
Wait, what?? How is a promise of persecution encouraging? This merited a deeper dive.
Paul wasn’t alone
Going back to John 15, Jesus, himself, encourages us in similar fashion.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.John 15:18-19
I recognize that from that snippet alone, it isn’t clear whether Jesus was encouraging his disciples or just telling them the facts as they were. To see the encouragement clearly, it is helpful to take it in the full context.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.John 15:1 – 16:1 [Emphasis mine]
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
“These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.
With whom are you aligned?
So here, we have what we would think of as bad news laid out amidst all that good. I think the key to understanding all of this is in that last statement — I have spoken these things to you so that you may be kept from stumbling.
I think most of us deep down want to be liked. It’s natural. When we’re not, we try to figure out what we’re doing wrong and what we need to change so that we can be liked. How kind it was of Jesus (and subsequently Paul) to alert us to the fact that there will be times when people not liking us means that we’re doing something right and rather than changing, we must stay the course. It was also kind to let us know that it may not have anything to do with us at all other than a single choice we have made. With whom do we choose to align?
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.1 John 2:15-17
Why is that encouraging?
The word most frequently translated as ‘encouragement’ is παρακαλέω (parakaleo) and it does not mean “make somebody feel good”. It is a compound word para (beside) + kaleo (call) and means to call near or to call one beside. It is the ultimate, “I’m in this with you and you’re in it with me.” For the Lord to call us to his side, we must be enemies of the world because He is. Aligning ourselves with Him brings persecution because he brought persecution. We will be hated.
As foreign as it feels to regard people hating and persecuting us as encouraging, that’s what the bible tells us so we must believe it. I think it is encouraging because it places our current circumstances in the context of the eternal. It enables us to take the long view when someone treats us poorly, here, today. Best, it places us in the company of Jesus.
17 Then we who are alive, who are left behind, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air—and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 (TLV)
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