In Acts 20, we see Paul engaged on further travels, and wherever he went, it seems that one of his goals was to encourage believers. He encouraged the believers in Ephesus before leaving them (Acts 20:1) and then travelled through Macedonia, ‘speaking many words of encouragement to the people.’ (Acts 20:2) We have already seen that encouragement was one of the most important ministries mentioned in Acts (see Acts 11:23, Acts 15:32, Acts 16:40) and have already commented on Barnabas’s role as a ‘son of encouragement’ (see Acts 4:36).

Encouragement is defined as the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Synonyms include support, help, uplifting, refreshing and consolation. The word used in Greek is ‘parakaleo’ and has a range of meaning from appeal and entreaty through exhortation and encouragement to comfort and consolation, and the related noun is the name of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Helper, Comforter and Supporter, the One who ‘comes alongside us’ to lead and guide us.

John Stott comments that ‘encouragement is a vital ministry in establishing Christian disciples and is done primarily through the word of God. Nothing encourages and strengthens the people of God like the Word of God.’ (John Stott, ‘Acts’, P 316) Paul defines encouragement as a ministry gift (see Rom 12:8) and frequently talks of the need for us to encourage each other (see 1 Thess 4:18; 1 Thess 5:11, 14; 2 Thess 2:16-17). It is interesting that he tells the Romans: ‘through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope’ (Rom 15:4), indicating that God’s word is ultimately the reliable fuel of our encouragement. God gives endurance and encouragement (Rom 15:5) and the writer to the Hebrews urges us to remember God’s words of encouragement (Heb 12:5), reminding us of the need to encourage each other daily so that we are not hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb 3:13)

Encouragement can come in different forms – a phone-call, text, email or visit, perhaps, or a gift or offer of practical help – but it is inevitably personal and needs to be rooted in God’s word if it is to have a lasting impact. The effects of encouragement are many. Disconsolate and disheartened people can be refreshed and uplifted; those who are feeling weary and on the point of giving up can be given fresh courage and strength. We need God’s encouragement and should remember that this is one of the chief ways we can help others. May our ‘many words of encouragement’ be the source of hope and strength for others as Paul’s were to the churches he had founded.