Encouraged by the Holy Spirit

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Acts 9:31 – “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

INTRODUCTION: Have you ever had a bad day? Let me share with you an example of someone who had a really bad day. This comes from a letter of explanation to an insurance company in response to a request for more information concerning an accident form. (Read letter.) Now that’s an example of a really bad day!

But many times we are struggling with more than just a bad day. Life is difficult, and whether you are dealing with an extended trial, or facing financial difficulties, or you are just overwhelmed by the problems in this world, it is easy to get discouraged. And in the face of so many difficulties, we need some encouragement. And in light of that, I was really struck by this verse in Acts which speaks about being encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 9 where we find this verse, the church had been going through a difficult time. After Stephen was martyred for his faith in Acts 7, we read that “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1) This persecution went on for some time, but now the church was enjoying a time of peace during which it was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

I would like to spend some time this morning just reflecting on that phrase: “encouraged by the Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit encourage us? What are the results?

I. The Holy Spirit is a Person

But first I would like to clarify something about the Holy Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is a person. I have enjoyed teaching our young people at youth group this summer, and we have spent some time learning about the Holy Spirit. And one of the first things we learned is that the Holy Spirit is a person. He is not some type of force or influence in the world sent by God, but he is part of who God is.

God is one God but three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We would never think of God the Father or God the Son as some type of impersonal force, but we sometimes make that mistake with the Holy Spirit. And yet the Holy Spirit is just as much a person as God the Father and God the Son.

We tend to relate the word “person” with a body, probably because most of the persons we know just happen to have a body. The Holy Spirit of course does not have a body, and so we sometimes have trouble thinking of him as a person. But God the Father does not have a body. The Bible tells us that God is Spirit, not flesh. Jesus did not have a body until he was born into this world as a human being. God is Spirit, but he is still a person. In fact he is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And this becomes important when we think about the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. There is a huge difference between being encouraged by a person and being encouraged by something that is impersonal. For example, we can be encouraged by circumstances; we can be encouraged by something we read or see; we can even be encouraged by good weather! But that is completely different from being encouraged by another person.

When a person reaches out and encourages us, there is something more, well, personal! Personal encouragement touches us deeply because there is intention and there is relationship. I think of Jonathan in the Old Testament. Jonathan went to David in the desert when David was on the run and “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) I think of Barnabas in the New Testament. Barnabas’ name actually means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Barnabas encouraged the church at Antioch and then went looking for Saul in Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch and encouraged him as well. (Acts 11:22-26)

When the Holy Spirit encourages you, it is personal. There is intention, and there is relationship. The person of the Holy Spirit reaches out to you as a person and encourages you as a person. And that is pretty awesome.

II. What does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? (John 14:16-17)

What does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? The word translated “encouraged” in verse 31 is the Greek word “paraklesis.” It can be translated as “exhortation, comfort or encouragement.” It literally means “to be called to one’s side,” and so it is the picture of someone coming alongside you to give you help, comfort, encouragement and strength.

A lot of you are probably watching the Olympics this week. And there is a wonderful illustration of what this word “encouragement” means from an earlier Olympics. Derek Redmond was running in the 400-meter race in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He already held the British record in this event. In the previous Olympics he had been forced to withdraw 10 minutes before the race because of an Achilles tendon injury. Now four years later he was here, ready to compete, determined to win a medal in the 400. His father was in the stands watching.

During the semi-final heat, Redmond was leading the pack and only 175 meters away from the finish line, when his right hamstring suddenly popped and he fell to the ground as all the other runners raced past him towards the finish line. Once again his Olympics dream had been snatched away from him. But Redmond was determined to finish the race, so he got back on his feet and started hobbling towards the finish line. He was in visible pain with each step, and it was unclear whether he could even make it.

Suddenly, his father gets out of his seat and jumps onto the track, running around the security guards, and comes alongside his son on the track. He puts his arm around his son’s waist and encourages him to keep going. And as 65,000 people in the stadium rise to their feet in applause, father and son make their way down the track to the finish line together. Derek Redmond did not win his Olympic medal. But with the help of his father, he finished the race. (Source: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/espn25/story?page=moments/94; ESPN.com – ESPN 25 – 94: Derek and dad finish Olympic 400 together)

    A. The Holy Spirit comes alongside you to help. (John 14:16)

That’s a beautiful picture of what this word “encouragement” means in the Greek. So what does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? First of all, it means that the Holy Spirit comes alongside you to help. He draws close to you and gives you personal encouragement when you are down. In the gospel of John, Jesus used a related form of this word as a name for the Holy Spirit. He says in John 14: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16) The word translated “Counselor” in John 14 is the word “parakletos,” which means a helper, comforter, encourager or advocate. That is one of the names of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit helps and encourages us because that is who he is. It is his nature to encourage and help. He is the Counselor, the Comforter; he is the one who gives us encouragement and hope.

    B. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. (John 14:17)

What does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? First of all, it means that the Holy Spirit comes alongside you to help. Secondly, it means that the Holy Spirit dwells within you. Look at John 14:17: “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) The Holy Spirit not only comes alongside you to help, but if you know Christ, he dwells within you. This is one of the most amazing things Jesus ever taught. When you come to know Christ, God actually lives within you through the Holy Spirit.

Your friends and family cannot always be there for you to encourage you when you need it. I know they would like to be, but as humans we are limited. Sometimes we are separated by distance, sometimes by emotions, sometimes by sin. But if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is always there to help and encourage you. There is no place you can go that the Holy Spirit cannot help you because he lives within you. But notice that this encouragement by the Holy Spirit is only for those who know and accept God. Jesus says, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17)

    C. The Holy Spirit will never leave you. (John 14:16)

What does it mean to be encouraged by the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit comes alongside you to help. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. And thirdly, the Holy Spirit will never leave you. Did you catch that back in verse 16? “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) God has given you his Holy Spirit to be with you forever. No matter where you go the Holy Spirit is there with you. No matter the time he will never leave you. And he will always come alongside you to help you because that is who he is. That is his name. He is the Counselor, the Comforter, the Encouraging One.

III. How does the Holy Spirit encourage you?

How does the Holy Spirit encourage you? Let’s look at five ways from the Bible that the Holy Spirit encourages those who have placed their faith in Christ.

    A. He teaches you God’s truth (John 14:26)

First of all, he teaches you God’s truth. Look at John 14:26. Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26) Now this verse had a special application for the apostles who would write down Jesus’ teachings for us in the New Testament Scriptures. But it also has a secondary application for us as the Holy Spirit teaches us from God’s Word. Every time you open your Bible, you should pray, “Holy Spirit, teach me from your word today.” The Holy Spirit encourages you by teaching you God’s truth.

    B. He gives you God’s peace (John 14:27)

Secondly, he gives you God’s peace. Look at John 14:27. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) What a beautiful promise! There is no peace so beautiful, so restful, so comforting as the peace of Christ. And how did Jesus leave his peace with us? He left us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit encourages you by giving you God’s peace.

    C. He fills you with God’s love (Romans 5:5)

Thirdly, he fills you with God’s love. Romans 5:5 says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5) The word translated “poured out” doesn’t means just to sprinkle a little here and there. It means to pour out liberally, generously, to gush forth, to spill it all over the place. God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit encourages you by filling your heart with God’s wonderful love.

    D. He assures you that God is your Father (Romans 8:15-17)

A fourth way the Holy Spirit encourages you is by assuring you that God is your Father. Look at Romans 8:15-17 – “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:15-17)

When you put your faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit testifies with your spirit that you have been adopted into God’s own family. It is through the Holy Spirit that you can have the confidence to address God as “Abba, Father.” Not only that, if you are one of God’s children, then you are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. That means that you will inherit God’s promise of eternal life, and you will share in Christ’s glory. That is all part of belonging to God’s family. The Holy Spirit assures you that God is your Father. What a wonderful encouragement!

    E. He gives gifts of encouragement (Romans 12:8)

And then fifthly, the Holy Spirit gives gifts of encouragement. Romans 12 lists a number of the spiritual gifts that are given through the Holy Spirit, and one of those is the spiritual gift of exhortation or encouragement. “If it is encouraging, let him encourage.” (Romans 12:8) This is one of the gifts that God has given to me along with gifts of teaching and leadership. Now I love teaching, and I love leading, but this is probably my favorite gift of all. I love encouraging others. I love coming alongside to help and encourage others to love God and to follow Christ and to grow in their faith.

But whether you have the spiritual gift of encouragement or not, God uses the whole body to encourage and strengthen each other in the church. He uses all the gifts in the body. As believers we all have the Holy Spirit, and so we can all come alongside each other to help and encourage. The Holy Spirit uses each of us, all of us, the whole body of Christ to encourage each other in our faith.

IV. What are the results?

What are the results when we are encouraged by the Holy Spirit in this way? We are strengthened in the Lord. We draw closer to God. We reach out to others. That’s what we see in Acts 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” (Acts 9:31) As the church was encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the body was strengthened and built up. They drew closer to God, walking in the fear of the Lord. And they grew in numbers as they reached out to others with God’s comfort and love.

CONCLUSION: So, don’t let the world get you down this morning. Don’t be discouraged by circumstances or failures. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Exalted to the right hand of God the Father, he has sent the Holy Spirit to be with you forever. So be encouraged! And pray that the words of Acts 9:31 may be true of our church body here in Agawam: that we will enjoy peace; that we will be strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, we will grow in numbers as we reach out to others, living in the fear of the Lord.

© Ray Fowler

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