By Nathan Washburn
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Greenbrier
We are often easily discouraged. This might be because the basis for our courage is usually a fragile mix of life circumstances and perceived control. With just the right amount of wind blowing from the wrong direction our foundation can be weakened or even crumble. Any courage we did have collapses in and discouragement besets us.
This begs the question: As believers in Christ whose sole confidence is the gospel, what should the correct foundation of our courage be as we seek to spread that gospel? Taking cues from the early church in Acts 11, here are some key things that can form a solid foundation for our own courage and that we can use to encourage others as well.
Persecution serves to spread the gospel. As the early church found its footing, it did so in the midst of persecution. This persecution, however, did not hinder the gospel as we might expect, but instead served to further the gospel. Because of the scattering effect of persecution (Acts 11:19), believers were sent throughout many towns proclaiming the gospel to both Jews and non-Jews. Even today, persecution often serves as missionary mobilization. What seems discouraging is often actually accomplishing the purposes of God.
The hand of the Lord is with us. We love and cling to the biblical promises like “I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5), “I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2), and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). We know we are fragile on our own, and we long to know He is always with us — guiding us and keeping us — especially when enduring persecution as we spread the gospel. The phrase “the hand of the Lord” (Acts 11:21) is used to ensure that we know that in certain situations — which almost always seem hopeless, including the very crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 4:27-28). The Lord is actively working things out toward good ends and never without His gentle hand upon His people. We can be encouraged that we are not in this alone.
Many will believe and turn to the Lord (by the grace of God and to the gladness of the people). A great number believed. And that great number turned (Acts 11:21). This is the display of being a Christian — trusting and turning, repentance and faith. When this happened in Acts 11, and Barnabas came and saw it, it made him happy because he recognized it as the grace of God. Even today, it is only by the grace of God that we repent and believe. We will be greatly encouraged if we know that no matter how unresponsive many may seem to the gospel, God will continue to pour out His grace in such a way that some will repent and trust in Him.
Solid teaching and steady discipleship serve to strengthen the church. After many were added to the Lord (Acts 11:24), Barnabas and Saul (Paul) discipled the new believers for a year (Acts 11:25-26). They met with the church constantly, doubtlessly setting them up to understand how to conduct worship together, select church leadership, pray, receive and teach the Scriptures, and make disciples. This is what it means to encourage one another — every member of the body mutually encouraging and be- ing encouraged by others with the truth that God is using all means for the furtherance of the gospel, that He is being faithful to His people, and that He is bearing fruit among all peoples.