Encouragement draft: pt 2

In the last instalment, I talked about definitions of encouragement, especially of Christian encouragement. The underlying foundations, however, I found to be weak, though pointing in the right direction. In this post, I attempt to create a stronger foundation by going to the gospel and arguing that Christian encouragement is gospel encouragement.

The Gospel of Consolation

There is a thread of comfort within what they call Deutero-Isaiah (nb. I’m with Barry Webb on this). Isaiah 40 opens with the cry of comfort (paraklesis in the LXX) for Jerusalem because of the forgiveness of sins. Atonement and forgiveness are comfort because it means the aversion of the wrath and judgment of God. In Isaiah 49, God declares that he himself comforts Zion, revealing his righteousness and taking away his wrath. Then in Isaiah 61, the Servant proclaims, amongst other things, comfort for all who mourn.

Some of these are alluded to in the NT. Isaiah 40 is alluded to in Acts 13 when Paul rocks up at Pisidian Antioch. The synagogue elders ask for a word of encouragement (paraklesis again) from the visitors. Paul obliges, and concludes the main part of his speech with:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39)

Paul was asked for a word of paraklesis, and he gives them the word of forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. The gospel – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – is consolation because it brings God’s forgiveness of sin.
In Luke 2:25-35, Simeon awaits the consolation (paraklesis) of Israel, and then finds it in the presentation of the child Jesus, speaking of him as God’s salvation. Jesus himself is the consolation of Israel because he brings the salvation of God with him. He is also identifies himself as the Servant when he reads Isaiah 61 and says that “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he says that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It seems that Jesus is himself committed to the task of consolation that his fulfilment of the role of the Servant brings.
We thus see that the gospel as the very event, person and work of Jesus Christ is consolation, primarily in the form of forgiveness of sin.

The Gospel as Exhortation

It should be fairly obvious from the number of gospel imperatives that the gospel urges, nay, demands a response. I will focus on one – repentance.

The call to repent is one of the clearest responses that is asked for in connection with the gospel in the Bible. Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) When Jesus appears to the disciples at the end of Luke, he explains to the disciples how the OT points to him and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” In Acts 2:37-38, the crowd, on hearing that they have crucified God’s Messiah, ask “What shall we do?” Peter replies, “Repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins.” In Acts 3:19, Peter again calls on the crowd to repent. Even to the Greeks of Athens, Paul speaks of repentance as the response to the gospel, however elliptically proclaimed – Acts 17:30.
The advent of God’s Messiah demands from us a fundamental change in one’s attitude to God.

We thus see that the Gospel – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, his person and work, and not simply its proclaimed words – are encouragement, because it gives consolation and exhortation.
There are a few theological implications of this, which I will only briefly touch upon. Firstly, God encourages. God gives us consolation from our state of misery, and urges us to humble ourselves before him. A more detailed study might look at how this might work Trinitarianly, but there are hints already that the Father, the Son and the Spirit all have a role to play – the Father comforts us through the work of the Son and it is applied through the Spirit, or something like that. As I said, a more detailed study for someone else.
Secondly, all are in need of encouragement. Gospel encouragement is not just for Christians. The Gospel tells us that all are in need of the consolation of forgiveness of sin, and the the Gospel calls on all people everywhere to repent. An extension of this is that everyone this side of glory could do with a dose of Gospel encouragement, simply because of what it means to be on this side of glory. The Gospel doesn’t stop being relevant to you after your 10th, 50th, 90th year of being a Christian, since we know that anyone who says they have no sin is liar (1 John 1:8-10). Rather, as 1 John 1:9 indicates, there is always the forgiveness of sins – ie. the gospel and its encouragment – to come back to thanks to our advocate with the Father.

In the next part, I want to elaborate on how this might further our practices of encouragement.

Comments are closed.