What We Believe
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When I was attending the Bible Institute of New England in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1972, I was asked to preach at the annual meeting of the board of directors. I was scared blue since I had almost no experience in preaching and had always feared public speaking before becoming a Christian. So, I prayerfully decided to help myself by preaching on encouragement from 1 Samuel 30:1–31.[1]

Discouragement is one of the great plagues of Christians and especially church officers. Life is full of discouragements, but officers in the church are acquainted with trouble, grief, and care more than most. Often in our congregation, perhaps in yours, officers feel a bit of “battle fatigue.”

During his exile David was rejected by the Philistine army as they marched on Israel. David had been given charge of the Philistine city of Ziklag where he lived (near the western border of the tribe of Simeon). Originally, he had left to fight with the Philistine army but had to turn back, only to find his home, Ziklag, destroyed, and the women and children kidnapped by the arch enemies of Israel, the Amalekites. “David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. … David was greatly distressed …” (vv. 4, 6). There was certainly reason to be very discouraged. But how did David respond?

I. Our Heavenly Father Orders Our Lives to Teach Us to Seek Encouragement in Him

First, notice how the Lord kept David from great folly. Loyalty to the Philistine chief Achish, who gave David temporary refuge from King Saul, made him willing to attack his own people. He also left his home in Ziklag unguarded. Then the Lord allowed the plunder of Ziklag in order to draw David to trust him in the worst of circumstances. The lesson was learned: “David strengthened [KJV encouraged] himself in the LORD his God” (v. 6). He did not first seek a human solution. That came second, because the Lord uses secondary means (“second causes” WCF 3.1, 5.2) to achieve his sovereign purposes.

As a type of Jesus Christ, the Messianic King, David is in royal training. Here he seeks direct guidance from the Lord through the high priest Abiathar as to what to do. This lies at the heart of Messianic obedience. “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7–8). “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

In the midst of trial and discouragement we grow in Christ-likeness: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28–29).

This same Son, the Lord and king of his church, wants his officers to find strength in him. Paul is a great example of this regarding his thorn in the flesh, which is unidentified so that we may identify our own thorn. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

II. Our Loving Covenant Lord Is Himself the Ground, Source, and Reason for All Our Encouragement

David went to the source of encouragement by exercising faith. The first thing he did was to seek the Lord in prayer. In our frenzied lives we take too little time for this. While not all depression and discouragement are due to a lack of faith, we should wonder how much is? Look at Nehemiah under attack for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. “For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands” (Neh. 6:9). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6–7). He did not seek from men what he could only receive from God. Sometimes we unwisely seek wisdom first from human counselors.

Here is a lesson for officers in dealing with criticism. In verse 6 the people blamed David for what had happened and wanted to stone him. Since he had left Ziklag unprotected, there was some truth to their criticism. But in their great “distress” the people looked in the wrong place for a solution. David did not. Faith is only as good as its object. So, David trusted in the “LORD his God” (v. 6). Note well this name of God. The unique covenantal name Yahweh (“LORD”) coupled with the general name for the sovereign-creator God is the exclusive source of encouragement and strength in trouble. Why is it exclusive? Because the Lord of the covenant of grace has established a unique relationship with his chosen people through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, the God-man. So, because the Lord has favored us, we may be utterly confident as we trust him amid trouble. David’s God and ours is not a distant sovereign, but an intimate friend. David was as confident as Job that this God was his God. “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). The Lord wants us to love him above all as David says elsewhere, “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words” (Ps. 119:57). And Jeremiah in the midst of his heart-rending lament over Israel’s idolatry, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lam. 3:24).

Look at the ultimate goal of our trials: the New Jerusalem:

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. … its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:3–4; 22–23)

This reality, known only by faith, alone can penetrate the sadness and darkness of a fallen world.

III. Our Lord Encourages Us to Make Us Fruitful

David’s example is a call for us to encourage others in the Lord as they face various trials and troubles. We must be an example to others of how we face discouragement. This is Christ’s work through us by the power of his Spirit. Paul understood that his afflictions were part of a learning process to teach him to encourage others.

Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:3–4)

Facing trials in this way also helps us in waging spiritual warfare as Paul knew. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3–4). The Puritan Thomas Brooks counsels us to “answer all temptations with this short saying ‘the Lord is my portion.’” The enemy in 1 Samuel 30 is the Amalekites. Amalek was the sworn enemy of the Lord: “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16). This reminds us of the Lord’s declaration of war on the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3:15). The Satanic forces of history may only be defeated by the warrior Lord.

 How central to encouragement is Scripture, the Word of God. Judas and Silas, “who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words” (Acts 15:32). “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:31). David, of course, lived in a period of redemptive history different from ours. He sought direct guidance from the Lord through the high priest (v. 8) and was an author of Scripture. Now Scripture is complete. The Ziklag story is now part of Scripture and thus useful for encouragement as Paul told the Roman church, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The preached Word is central to the church’s encouragement.

The Word refers to Jesus as “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). “Consolation” is the same Greek word for the Holy Spirt as the Paraclete, the Encourager (paraklēsis παράκλησις). We must give people Jesus and the hope of his Gospel, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Col. 2:2). The Gospel and the Christ of Scripture are our greatest encouragement.

Obedience must accompany encouragement. As pointed out above, David coupled the encouragement of the Lord with his commitment to sanctification: “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words” (Ps. 119:57). “[W]e exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12).

This passage also calls us to encourage our fellow officers, ministers, elders, and deacons in the Lord. One of the beauties of biblical Presbyterianism is the plurality of leadership. Ministers of the Word do not minister alone but with a session of ruling elders. Deacons meet as a diaconate and regularly with the session. As those who bear the burdens of the congregation as well as the frustration and quandaries of their own ministries, officers are especially subject to discouragement.

Shoulder to shoulder in ministry it is easy to forget that we need mutual encouragement. To the Roman church Paul said, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12).

David encouraged the exhausted two hundred men (vv. 10, 21–23), like the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:1–16, a parable of the kingdom of heaven, reminding us of Christ’s unmerited favor. Barnabas (lit. “son of encouragement”) was an encourager (uios paraklēseōs Υἱὸς Παρακλήσεως, Acts 4:36; 9:27) who encouraged Paul. No one can encourage everyone, but everyone can encourage someone. Resolve to “therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).

Endnotes

[1] This article is based not only on the original sermon preached to the board of directors of the Bible Institute of New England but also on a revised sermon preached at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, New Hampshire on May 14, 2010.

Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, May 2022.

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