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Summary: Two weeks ago I preached on sweet and sour fellowship. Today I want to talk about sweet and sour encouragement. It sounds strange but there are ways in which we can be negatively encouraging. Let’s take a look at how encouragement can be sweet or sour.

SWEET AND SOUR ENCOURAGEMENT

A couple of weeks ago I preached on sweet and sour fellowship. Today I want to talk about sweet and sour encouragement. I know it may sound like an oxy-moron but there are ways in which we can be negatively encouraging. Let’s take a look at that so we won’t fall into those traps and instead be people whose encouragement is sweet.

1) Sour encouragement.

• Wrong encouragement.

Psalm 64:1-6, “Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from that noisy crowd of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly, without fear. They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, “Who will see them?” They plot injustice and say, “We have devised a perfect plan!” Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning.”

Indeed they are. Usually when people have the notion to do something wrong they try to incorporate someone else to go along with them. You remember being a teenager when peer pressure was at its worst. You had that one person in the group you hung around with that was the main instigator and troublemaker who always managed to coerce you into going along with his devious schemes. He made it sound like harmless fun but in reality it was anything but.

Sometimes I was encouraged to be involved in wrong behavior and sometimes I was the encourager. Cow pies in south Colton, John and I on Halloween. Beth and I when we were teenagers. To encourage someone to do wrong is sour encouragement.

• No encouragement.

Psalm 69:19-20, “You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all my enemies are before you. Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.”

Sometimes we humans can be wrapped up in ourselves and fail to look around and see the pain and discouragement in others. At other times, someone does something wrong and we are unwilling to encourage them. We have the “serves you right” attitude. And in reality, the consequences of people’s actions may be warranted but that doesn’t mean we can’t encourage them to overcome and do better next time. If we care we need to take the time to encourage people to repent.

Sometimes we are in a position of needing encouragement but it just isn’t there. If we find ourselves in that position we can have confidence knowing that God will encourage us if others haven’t. Psalm 10:17, “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” Regardless if anyone else encourages us we know God will. He will help us when we’re discouraged when others aren’t.

However, we have to be open to how God is encouraging us; and perhaps others for that matter. Sometimes we think we’re not being encouraged but we are-we just don’t like how we’re being encouraged. We might be looking for validation for our wrong thinking or behavior and we’re not getting it so we think we’re not being encouraged. That’s where we’re looking for the wrong encouragement. We may be getting sweet encouragement but we’re closed to it so we feel we’re not being encouraged at all.

• Discouraging encouragement.

Sometimes we think we’re helping but we’re not; like in the case of Job’s friends. I believe they meant well but they weren’t helpful. Job 16:1-5, “Then Job replied: “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”

Job’s friends made an assumption that Job was suffering because of sin and spoke on that false premise. They weren’t really listening to Job’s responses where he was indicating that he didn’t need to repent. Sometimes we have good intentions but we end up making matters worse instead of better. We need to make sure we are choosing our words, even words of encouragement, carefully. Job’s friends would’ve been right in their words had job been guilty of sin. But they didn’t take the time to consider that perhaps he hadn’t.

When we are set to deliver some tough love encouragement we need to be sure the situation is as we see it. We need to ask questions and get the facts. And even if we do know the situation we need to choose our words of encouragement carefully. Sometimes just throwing scripture at someone isn’t very helpful. Not that God’s word isn’t encouraging but there are times when what a person needs first are words and expressions of love and caring.

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