“"Those Who Discourage"”
I once read a story of a Union soldier during the Civil War who received a court-martial for "discouraging the troops." It wasn’t that he refused to fight, or committed mutiny against his superior officers—He simply continued to criticize and complain about anything and everything to the point that everyone around him became discouraged.
I’m sure we all understand how important unity is to a group that seeks to work together to accomplish a common goal. The same is certainly true regarding the church. Jesus’ prayer for His disciples is "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." (John 17:21) Anything that destroys this unity violates God’s will and serves only to expedite Satan’s efforts to destroy the church.
In Proverbs 6, the writer makes an astonishing statement. We certainly realize that God hates all sin—but Solomon states that among all sins that men commit, there are "six things the Lords hates, yes seven are an abomination to Him." (Proverbs 6:16) Included on that list is the "one who sows discord among brethren." Jesus stated that "He who is not with Me, is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad." (Matthew 12:30) There is no way to misunderstand! Those who create dissention, division, and disrupt the unity of the church are working against Jesus himself.
There are attitudes and practices, often found in the church, that serve to discourage other Christians. Gossip is discouraging. You know this if you have ever realized that your life, or problems, or private matters, had become the source of conversation and amusement to others. There are some who are determined to tell others anything they believe will cause them to think less of someone. Many times even those who have repented of past mistakes and try to get on with their lives, find that "concerned" brothers or sisters make sure that everyone knows and no one forgets. When God forgives, the sin is removed from His memory. He expects the same of us.
Criticism is discouraging. So many people expect perfection of everyone but themselves. Anyone can find fault. It takes no talent. It contributes nothing that is positive or good. Anyone who "looks at others for the purpose of finding fault" is a hypocrite—because he is overlooking his own faults in the process. Jesus said, "judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." (Matthew 7:1-2) He also tells us to "first remove the plank from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:5)
Ignoring others and showing favoritism is discouraging. Some people treat the church as if it is their own personal "social club." Jesus regards the church as His family. I cannot imagine a family experiencing the birth of a child and that child not being immediately accepted. Certainly the same should be true in God’s family. I have heard sad tales, on many occasions, of people who were not made to feel welcome in the church. James refers to such partiality as sin. (James 2:9)
Rather than being a source of discouragement to one another, God expects us to edify, to build up one another. This includes not only what we say, but also what we think. Paul writes "if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things." (Philippians 4:8) "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearer...Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-30)