Build one another up
1Thess.5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up..."
Jesus promised his disciples that he would build his church:
Mt.16:18 "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
He made this promise immediately after Peter had declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This declaration would be the foundation upon the church would be constructed – the church is nothing apart from the Saviour and a true understanding of who he is.
The Jews in their failure to recognise Jesus for who he was succeeded in rejecting the Messiah of God and consequently they failed to build upon him as the promised cornerstone, the solid foundation of all that God was doing. The church of Jesus Christ was however founded firmly by him and on him:
Eph 2:19-20+22 "you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone... In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
This church is described elsewhere in the NT as being:
A spiritual house:
1Pet.2:5 "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
1Cor.3:9 "You are God’s field, God’s building."
The Book of Acts in tracing the growth and spread of the gospel message in the first century shows us that Jesus kept his promise:
Acts 9:31 "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied."
How is the church built up?
When he drew his famous Sermon on the Mount to a close Jesus challenged his hearers by pointing them towards two different types of builder. When you’re about to build a house the foundations are the first thing that must be sorted out. Every house must be built upon foundations and what matters is what kind of foundation is laid. You can built quickly on sand but sand isn’t very satisfactory and is likely to prove unstable and dangerous when the weather changes. To dig down to the rock will delay the start of construction but the rock will provide the solid base necessary if the house is to stand for any length of time. You’ll remember how Jesus described these two types of builder, one was wise and the other foolish.
The solid foundation upon which the church of Jesus Christ is raised is Jesus Christ himself as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
1Cor.3:11 "For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
Jesus has fulfilled his mission. He came to live a perfect life that conformed to the demands of divine righteousness in every way and then he laid that life down as a substitutionary sacrifice that fully satisfied the demands of divine justice. He was openly approved by God the Father who raised him from the dead guaranteeing eternal security to all those who would put their trust in him. In this way he "laid the foundation" upon which all may safely built; in this way he "laid the foundation" upon which his church will be built.
It is Jesus’ promise that he will build his church. In making that promise Jesus did not intend to suggest that he would wave a magic wand and suddenly the church would somehow explode into life. Jesus’ method is to work by means and he has determined that men and women have their role to play as he keeps his promise. The establishing and building up of the church is brought about as word is spread concerning who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing. The church’s existence is intimately linked to the preaching/proclamation of the Word of God.
When Paul finished his farewell address to the elders of the church in Ephesus he said this to them:
Acts 20:32 "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
Jesus’ determination to build his church is great. Not only has he secured salvation for us and secured a gospel message which is proclaimed to us in the Word of God that he has given us he has also given gifts to the church and to individual Christians within the church that enable the establishment and the building up of those churches and Christian individuals!
Eph.4:11-14 "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."
And we must not for a moment imagine that this means that everything is to be left in the hands of just a few! Listen to how Paul described how gifts were dispersed within the local church:
1Cor.12:4-7 "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
Then a couple of chapters later Paul speaks about how such gifts distributed amongst church members are designed with the express intention of building up the church (1Cor.14:4+5). Indeed he urges Christians to set their sights on being useful in building up the church (1Cor.14:12) wanting them to ensure that whatever they do really does serve to build up the church (1Cor.14:26). To the church in Rome Paul wrote about how Christians were to behave to one another in the church context and this is how he put it:
Rom.15:2 "Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up."
Founded upon an all-sufficient Christ the church is made up of gifted individuals who have each received abilities from the Lord which we are expected to use for the common good, for building one another up.
In seeking to do this the Scriptures make it clear that our words and our speaking to one another has an important role to play. Used well our speech can encourage others as we create a warm and positive environment. But used badly our speech can harsh and unkind – I guess we’ve all been in situations where something said has led to an awkward and uncomfortable silence, an atmosphere you can cut with a knife.
Building the type of good and wholesome relationships that ought to characterize brothers and sisters in Christ in God’s family can take a long time but these same relationships can be destroyed in a matter of seconds with an insensitive, inappropriate or cruel word. It is not surprising then to find the apostle Paul instructing us about our language and our choice of words when we speak to each other.
Eph.4:29-30 "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building (others) up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."
Although the exact words "one another" are not to be found in this text the sentiment most certainly is! Paul is writing to the members of the entire church about their responsibilities towards others in the same church. His instructions fall into two categories: one negative and one positive before he goes on to explain just why what he has to say is so important.
Gossip that might take place behind another person’s back is certainly not to be defended - but It seems that what Paul has in mind here is rather the direct communication of one believer speaking face to face with another. Sadly, we Christians can be cruel and heartless at times with the things we say. It is easy to speak without love. We would do well to learn from the inspired wisdom of James when he wrote:
Jas.1:19 "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,"
John Benton in his short booklet on the One Another texts shares a little acronym we could usefully employ before speaking to someone else. We need to stop and THINK about what we’re about to say – it could save us much heartache and prevent us causing much damage. THINK and ask yourself five quick questions:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Intelligible – will the other person understood what I mean?
Is it Necessary? "I have to tell you this..."
Is it Kind?
I have regretted something that I’ve said the moment it has been said but it is difficult to undo the damage once it’s done.
Negatively, Paul wants to stop us saying things that are unhelpful. The "corrupting" talk is talk that will have a negative influence. A rotten apple will infect every other apple it touches and soon the whole lot will be bad. Bad language, swearing, blasphemy are obviously out of place in a Christian’s conversation but so is misplaced humour, the making light of holy things. Paul urges the believer to get rid of every kind of malice from his speech and that includes the sneering whispered comment as well as words of flagrant bitterness.
On a more positive note Paul wants us to choose our words carefully. He calls upon us to speak with the definite intention of encouraging and strengthening our Christian brother or sister. The better we know each other the better we will be able to do this, choosing words and topics of conversation that will be helpful and beneficial to them.
As is so often the case in Scripture we are not simply told what to do but an explanation as to why we are being told to do something is given to us. Here Paul says that for Christians to be careless about their speechless and indifferent to the hurt they cause other believers is to grieve the Holy Spirit and surely no believer would want to be guilty of that! John Benton suggests that the careless corrupting speech of Christians in the church is so offensive to the Spirit that he compares its sound to the sound of the footsteps of the Spirit making his way to the door in order to leave! We surely do not want a church life where the Spirit is anbsent and where we experience none of the blessings of his presence and ministry.
This concern that Christians act consistently to build one another up is repeated in Scripture. A few weeks ago we read in 1 Thess.5:11
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
Jude too urged the Christians to whom he wrote to be spiritually minded in their relations with other believers:
Jude 20 "But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit"
One writer commenting on this verse had this to say:
"Because we are prone to forget what God has done for us, we must constantly expose ourselves to God’s Word. Regularly reading it, hearing it preached and taught, memorizing it, and discussing it with others are just some of the ways we can immerse ourselves in Scripture. By building ourselves up in this way and praying in the Holy Spirit, we keep ourselves in God’s love as we await his mercy on the last day. Because our hope is set on Christ’s mercy toward us, we are able to show mercy to those caught in sin and deception while keeping ourselves from the sin that ensnared them. All of this requires intentional effort and active participation in the body of Christ."
May God help us to be active participants with Jesus as he continues to fulfil his promise of building his church. And may God give us the grace to do so.