GOD IS A GOD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
By Rev. Ernest O'Neill
A lot of us get discouraged these days and I think there is a lot of discouragement. A lot of people are falling into anxiety about different things and even despair and that’s what we've been talking about. Some of us get worried about our families. Some of us get very anxious about our finances. Some of us are discouraged about our careers and the directions that our lives are taking. And we've been sharing over these past weeks that the God who created us, is utterly different from that. He is not discouraged at all. He is the very opposite of discouragement. And I just point you to that verse again,in Romans 15:5, where that is stated so plainly.
Romans 15:5, "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another." This dear book (Bible) says that God, the Creator, is a God of steadfastness and encouragement. He is a God of encouragement and the Greek word is "paraclaesis". It means comfort or consolation or exhortation. It doesn't mean verbal encouragement. It doesn't mean God comes alongside you and says, "Keep going, keep going, I am right with you. You're going to make it. It'll all come out in the end." It's not that. That's not the meaning of it.
I think a lot of us feel that that's what this word means. God is the God of encouragement, "Oh yes, he's kind of a cheerleader. He's cheering me on. He is saying, you're going to make it, you're going to make it, keep going." We think that because that's all we mean by encouragement. That's all we can do for each other usually. We spur each other on and give each other verbal encouragement. Indeed, wouldn’t you say that that's often what we get into with this church thing?
We often get into a habit of coming here on Sunday to "get a little encouragement" as we say. We think, "Well, we'll get stirred up a little or encouraged a little so that we can go back in there and really knock it to them." And we feel, "Well, maybe on Sunday, I can get some words that will give me a lift. But then I'll go back, and the stuff will just be sitting there the same as usual. But maybe I'll go back with a little more strength."
Loved ones, that isn't what this word means. That's not what it means when it says, "God is the God of encouragement". It's nothing as weak as that. It's not as weak as verbal encouragement. It's something far stronger. You remember that Jesus called the Holy Spirit, the "paraclyte". Now I know you can't spell the Greek word "paraclaesis" but you can see at least "para" and parallel lines, you can see it's the same stem. "Paraclyte" comes from "paraclaesis" and Jesus called the Holy Spirit the "paraclyte". Now the Holy Spirit wasn't just someone who did a little “ra-ra” job on the apostles. He wasn't somebody who said, "Oh keep going, you'll make it if you just keep going. Just one more hill to go and I am right with you." No, he didn't do that.
When God talks about himself being the God of encouragement, the God of paraclaesis, he means something far more real than that. I want to show it to you. By 1200 BC, the Israelites were trying to move into the land of Canaan where there were already all kinds of people. Malachites, Jebusites and all those "-ites" that we read about in Sunday school, they were all there. They just swooped down on the Israelites to wipe them out. That was the situation.
In this particular event where God chose himself for the God of encouragement, there were 135,000 of the others. There were 135,000 of the other people and under Gideon there was 32,000. Now there were 135,000 of the enemy and 32,000 of the Israelites; that was one to four. It was a one to four ratio. It was too close for God's comfort and I want you to connect this up with your own situations. One to four -- that is one Israelite against four of the enemy. That was too close for God's comfort. That means it was too close for God to make his comfort real.
In other words, God saw that as something, "Well, you might be able to handle that with your own ability. You might be able to handle that with your own strength." In other words, it was too close to man being able to do it on his own. And of course, what God does in that situation is lengthen the odds. So let's look at it in Judges 7:2. Now there were 135,000 of the enemy and 32,000 Israelites -- so one Israelite to four of the enemy.
Judges, 7:2, "The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people with you are too many for me to give Midianites into their hand," -- too many? -- "lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me.'" I mean there were four enemies against one Israelite, yet God said, "No, no, it's too close. You might be able to do that by your own strength and your own power."
Now, I want you to keep remembering your own situations --- the financial situations, the family situations that you're in, the job problems that you have, the things that you think you're never going to win on. Do you see God's approach to it? He has to make the odds so long that only his encouragement will be able to do anything about it. He specializes in impossible situations. That's what he is at here.
"The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me.' Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, 'Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.'" And Gideon tested them; 22,000 returned, and 10,000 remained." The odds were lengthened considerably. He had now 10,000 people left to fight against the 135,000. It was now 1 to 12.
Would you stop being worried because it doesn't look to you as if you'll be able to get through this situation? Would you stop that? Would you begin to see that God operates that way? God doesn't come in with his comfort in some situation that you can handle yourself with a little bit of luck. He comes in and he specializes in situations where the odds are so long that it's impossible.
It was now 1 to 12 and yet that was still too close for God's comfort. God knew that they still might think that they won by their own strength. And so he lengthens the odds even more. Verse 4, "And the Lord said to Gideon, 'The people are still too many'. And you can imagine all Gideon thought, "Twelve Lord, and too many?" "Take them down to the water and I will test them for you there; and he, of whom I say to you, 'This man shall go with you,' shall go with you; and any of whom I say to you, 'This man shall not go with you,' shall not go.
So he brought the people down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, 'Every one that laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself; likewise every one that kneels down to drink.' And the number of those that lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, 'With the 300 men that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand; and let all the others go every man to his home.'"
I mean it's ridiculous; 300 against 135,000. I worked it out on the adding machine and the ratio is 1 to 437. That means one Israelite has to kill 437 of the others. And that's the way they go to battle. Then in Judges 7:20, "And the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, 'A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!' They stood every man in his place round about the camp, and all the army ran; they cried out and fled." And that's it loved ones. That's God's encouragement.
God is the God of encouragement because he acts on behalf of any man or woman that acts in the light of his nature being the God of encouragement. God is the God of encouragement because he acts on behalf of any man or woman who themselves act in the light of the fact that God's nature is the God of encouragement. In other words, Gideon acted in the absolute assurance that God's word is of encouragement and directives would be backed up by God's action.
That's what it means in the Bible when it says God is the God of encouragement. It does not mean God stands back and says to Gideon, "Well, it doesn't really matter if they beat you here; I mean maybe you'll win the next time." That's not encouragement. Nor is it Gideon whomping himself up into a power of positive thinking, holding on just by finger tips and no more, so that God can do something. It isn't that.
It isn't Gideon looking at the thing with his binoculars and saying, "Yes, yes, I think I can make it. They look a bit weak on that side and the wind's blowing the right way, yes I think….". It's not Gideon looking at the natural circumstances and thinking, "Well, it may come about anyway." That isn't God's encouragement. God's encouragement is something deep. It is a deep assurance of a man that God is going to act to backup His own directives and promises that He has given to you. It is a deep assurance that God will act.
Full Sermon: Is There a God by Rev.Ernest O’Neill