Preached at Bethany Convent of the Order of St. Anne, Arlington, MA
“Though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God…”
Philippi was the city in which Paul and Silas were for many days followed by a slave girl who possessed a spirit of divination, and who kept shouting after them, “These men are slaves of the most high God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!” (Acts 16:17). Paul’s patience eventually wore thin, and he cast the spirit out of the girl, causing her owner – who had been making a great deal of money through her – to stir up the citizens against Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas were attacked by a mob, brought before the town magistrates, stripped and then beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. An earthquake that night released them from prison, at which point they converted the jailer and his family, and were then asked by the authorities to leave town.
Even though Paul and Silas had “suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi,” yet they “had courage…to declare… the gospel of God.” How were they encouraged? I’d like to know, because I – and I suspect man of us – would like to be encouraged, too.
Maybe Paul was encouraged by his prayer. As we heard in last Sunday’s lesson, Paul always gave thanks to God for all of them and mentioned them in his prayers. Or maybe Paul was encouraged by his ministering to others. Paul spent much time travelling and writing letters to the communities he had founded, and he frequently says – as he did in last Sunday’s lesson – how his converts received the Gospel with joy and conviction; maybe he found courage in his ministering and in his converts’ joy and conviction. Or maybe Paul found courage simply in being with fellow believers. After Paul had been booted out of Philippi, for example, he yet lingered long enough to visit Lydia, a woman dealer of purple cloth who had listened eagerly to Paul’s message. Acts reports that after Paul “had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there,” he finally departed.
However Paul found courage – in prayer, in ministering, in visiting with fellow believers – I wonder how we might be encouraged and encourage others. We need encouragement because being a Christian is not always easy. We may not be beaten and imprisoned as were Paul & Silas; but being a Christian, to faithfully live a Christian life, will demand much of us. Being a Christian may put us at odds with the world around us; it may call for patience or endurance or forbearance (or all three!). It’s not always easy being a Christian, and I wonder how we might be encouraged and encourage each other.
Maybe we are encouraged or encourage others through our prayer. Or maybe through our ministering, or maybe in fellowship with one another. There probably are at least as many ways of encouraging and being encouraged as there are people here this morning. I invite us this morning to consider how we are encouraged and can encourage others, because being a Christian isn’t something we can do alone – it requires encouragement.
I wonder, how do you find encouragement for the living of your faith? And how might you encourage others?