Several week ago, Pastor Rick mentioned how important it is to encourage people within the church. In the Awoke series, message #19, he spoke about how critical it is for us to know each other in the body, and be able to pray for and encourage each other, and to genuinely care about the wellbeing of others. In fact, at Discovery, one of our three pillars is to “Build People”. When we think of something as a pillar of our church, one of the primary missions we want to accomplish, it must be something pretty important. And while our first two, Worship God and Love His Word are pretty straightforward, it can be very easy to miss this third statement. In fact, it can be the most easily neglected pillar that we have! When Pastor Rick mentioned how meaningful it was that people were asking him how he was doing and what he needed, it made me stop and ask myself, how often to I go out of my way to encourage and build people up? Not just in the church, but in my life?
Why is this so important? Do we just need to people to feel good about themselves? And if I tell someone they did a good job, am I just feeding their ego? Shouldn’t we try and make sure people, especially leaders, stay humble? An a study titled “Withholding Compliments In Everyday Life And The Covert Management Of Disaffiliation“, Professors Rodriguez, Ryave and Tracewell researched the specific reasons that people often withhold compliments or encouragement. The authors looked into a series of instances in which people intentionally withheld praise, and found this reasoning was common. One response was “I withheld a compliment from a fellow musician with whom I was performing. He was playing very well, but I said nothing to him. I have complimented him many times in the past, but I think that I held back on this occasion because he’s a bit conceited and brags about himself sometimes. I guess I didn’t feel like feeding his ego that night.”.
Before we talk about why we personally withhold compliments, encouragement or praise, it is important that we understand what the Bible says about this. As our second pillar is “Love His Word”, we will go first to that, beyond our personal opinions on the topic. Look first at Hebrews 10:45-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”. We often look at this verse when talking about the importance of gathering as a church body, but notice how the author tells us in the same thought to ‘stir up one another to love and good works’ and to ‘encourage one another’. Whether it is gathering for our weekly church service, a small group or Bible study during the week, or just spending time with other believers, we are called to encourage and build each other up. In Acts 4:36, we see that one of the Apostles (Joseph) was also called ‘Barnabas’, which the text explains to us means ‘son of encouragement’. Later, in chapter 9, Barnabas is the first one to defend Paul when the other Disciples are unsure of Paul’s motives. Can you imagine being known by a nickname that means “encourager” and as someone who is quick to give grace and defend someone?
We often talk about the power of words. Proverbs 18:21 says ”Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”. James 3:1-12 talks in depth about the important of controlling what we say. I would encourage you to read the whole passage, but pay attention to what he says in verse 9: “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”. The dichotomy presented is intended to leave us with a clear choice; we can use what we say to build people up, or to tear them down. When we frame it in our minds as cursing people who are made in God’s image, just as we are, it adds a sobering reality. And while it is easy to focus on the negative (don’t tear people down), it is just as easy to forget the positive side of it (build people up). In a world where we are more connected than ever, and yet real relationship is increasingly missing, people are dying for a lack of encouragement.
Ultimately, we are called to build and encourage people. They are responsible for how they take it, and so we can remove concerns about feeding their ego, or if they have improper motivation for what they do. In the end, the motive of their heart is between them and God, and we are not called to be arbiters of others motivations. When we compliment someone for something well done, we can make a startling difference in their day. And when we intentionally withhold praise, we can tear down the body that is building the Kingdom of God. So, if I can encourage you, find someone each day that you can surprise with an encouragement or compliment. You never know whose life it will change.