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Mutual Encouragement Society

Numbers 21:4-5 reports a deadly incident in the life of Old Testament Israel as they marched through the wilderness from Egypt on the way to the Promised Land. The inspired record tells us that as they journeyed, "the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.' " There was food and water, of course, divinely delivered by God Himself. But the people wanted more than manna, and discouragement had set in. God was displeased with the faithless complaints of Israel, and "sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died" (vs 6). Verses 7-9 record the people's repentance and the Lord's gracious provision of a remedy — a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole, so that all who looked up to it lived. The incident sends a chilling reminder that discouragement can be deadly to a child of God. A wilderness of pain and problems and pressures, tests and trials and tears, sin and struggle and suffering lies between us and eternal home in Heaven. If we lose our focus on God's goodness, greatness, guidance, and grace, the deadly snakes of doubt and discontentment and discouragement begin to bite us, threatening to kill faith and hope. The loss of these vital sources of spiritual strength and stamina can lead to sulking, souring, complaining, and criticizing, making us even more discouraged.

The deadly threat of discouragement makes it imperative that Christians encourage one another! Take a concordance and search out the word "exhort/exhorted, encourage/encouraged," etc. We can't trace it out here. But God's desire and directive that the church be a society of mutual encouragers is summed up by the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:12 — "that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." Encouragement is a mutual need and responsibility. We need it like we need air to breathe. We die without it. Surely that's why the devil works so hard to discourage us.

It was advertised the devil was putting his tools up for sale. On the date of the sale the tools were all laid out for public inspection, each marked with its sale price. There was a treacherous collection of implements — Hated, Envy, Jealousy, Doubt, Lying, Lust, Pride, and so on. Laid apart from the rest of the pile was a harmless looking tool, well-worn but priced very high. "What do you call that tool?" asked a potential buyer. "Oh," said the arch-enemy of the soul, "that's Discouragement." The buyer inquired again, "Why is it so high?" Said the devil, "Because it has proven more useful to me than all the others. can pry open and get inside a person's heart/soul with that one when nothing else works. Once inside, I can make him/her do whatever I choose. I use it on almost everyone since very few people realize it belongs to me." The devil's price for Discouragement, so the story goes, was so high he never sold it. It's still his chief tool, and he continuously and effectively uses it on the church today. The devil is determined to discourage all of us — but we can discourage and defeat him if we encourage one another.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ