Encourage is a word that is misunderstood by many. Maybe I should say that the word encourage is under-understood. We often fail to appreciate the full range of what the Bible means when it says, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

The biblical vocabulary for encourage carries the idea of support. To encourage is to come alongside of another in order to help. We encourage a brother or sister in Christ when we give them sympathy. Encouragement is present, kind and compassionate; like an arm around the shoulder. At times we all need that kind of support.

Jeff Ray at Southwestern Seminary used to end his seminary classes on Fridays with the same admonition week after week. As he sent those young preacher boys out into the churches, he would say, “Be nice boys. Everybody is having a hard time.”

Life is hard. Often our efforts to serve the Lord meet opposition and obstacles. We are misunderstood and maybe even mistreated. We need to support one another with presence, kindness and sympathy. Yes, encouragement is support, but it is more—encouragement has a stronger side.

To encourage is to challenge. That encouraging arm around the shoulder must also be a firm hand in the back.

To encourage is to strengthen, to push forward and to exhort. It is easy to grow discouraged in the Lord’s work.

The troubles of our hearts are enlarged, and we give into self-pity. We will grow weary and lose heart unless some brother or sister comes to our side.

“Stand firm, be strong, don’t quit. You are not the only one being misunderstood and mistreated. Your brethren all around the world are running the race. Let’s finish our course together!”

Encouragement is both support and challenge.

One of the primary reasons we work together as Oklahoma Baptists is to encourage one another.