Beg Encourage Urge
BEG, ENCOURAGE, URGE
by Prof. Tim Phillips
Micah 3.5-12, 1 Thess 2:9-13, Matthew 23.1-12
Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford has been in the news in the last few weeks.
He has seized the agenda around feeding children and is relentlessly keeping the issue in the
national press. Rashford has used his position to keep the focus on food poverty and child
welfare. His position has made it easier for him to get heard by the press and indeed the
government. Motivated by his example others have begged, encouraged and urged the
government to address the issue of child hunger.
The prophet Micah does not mince his words. He is contemptuous of those who pipe the
tunes of their paymasters. Rulers. Priests and prophets are all on the make. They go through
the motions, they say the right things but it is all a sham. The signs are plain to see – injustice
flourishes unchecked, corruption eats away at the heart of society and those who are
supposed to be speaking out are reaching out their hands for the next bribe. If Micah were to
show up today in the Western world or in church, I have no doubt he would be branded as a
fanatic or an extremist.
In contrast to the leaders of Micah’s time, the apostles worked to support themselves in
Thessalonica and linked this with the believers’ response to the word they proclaimed as not a human word’ but ‘God’s Word’. Paul nurtured the Thessalonians and he used a variety of
means to look after them. In presenting the ways in which Paul and his colleagues have
treated the Thessalonians, the writers are also presenting a model for us to follow – a model
that worked then, and may work now.
Urging, encouraging and begging might suggest a process of evangelism. Urging certainly
suggests urgency, and bringing people to faith is of vital importance and needs to be done
with immediacy. After the initial expression of interest, as it were, comes the encouragement
– gently encouraging people to take the next step of faith. Begging or pleading also indicates
urgency and importance. What do we need to plead about? Not giving up? Not straying from
the path? Not being half-hearted? Bringing people to faith matters and it is a task for all to
share – with urgency. The verb ‘to plead’ can mean to offer arguments for or against
something. It is often said that you cannot argue someone into the kingdom, but that does not
mean that it is wrong to offer a logical approach to belief. Commitment takes a leap of faith,
but that can be from firm ground. The idea of Paul begging may seem strange, but it might indicate the level of humility he showed in his relationship with the Thessalonians.
The importance of humility and mutual support is emphasised by Jesus in the Gospel reading.
There is a contrast between the way in which Jesus depicts the scribes and Pharisees and the
way in which Paul, Silvanus and Timothy describe themselves. The song by Mac Davis says,
‘Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way’. Most of us will have
aspects of our character of which we are proud. For example, in the Father Brown TV series, the housekeeper Mrs McCarthy considers her strawberry scones incomparable. It is only a
case of extent. Only with humility will we have the authenticity to urge, encourage or
persuade people in their journey of faith today.