Encourage One Another
Text: 1Thess.5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up..."
For a few Sunday evenings we’re looking at some of the many "one another" texts to be found in the NT. We have seen that the NT expects Christian believers to be personally and socially involved with each other and their relationships are to be characterised by love and forgiveness. This evening we are going to consider the matter of mutual encouragement.
Encouragement is an important theme in the NT. In my Bible the words encourage and related words appear getting on for thirty times. In other Bibles you may find different words have been used such as consolation, exhortation, or comfort.
The words to encourage and encouragement have a very positive ring to them don’t they? But if we are to make progress in this area we must be sure that we know what the Bible means when it talks about encouragement. After all other ideas are circulating and we don’t want to end up heading in the wrong direction.
So we need to begin with some definitions before proceeding to see how the whole matter of encouragement is unpacked and developed in the NT. We need to do this because there are some modern ideas circulating about encouragement that have very little to do with what the Bible has to say. These modern views tell us that encouragement means supporting our friends in whatever decision they might decide to take. It is all about making our friend feel good about himself and the choices he has made. From this viewpoint encouragement is expected to be completely non-directive. Its task is to offer a blanket approval for whatever our friend chooses to do.
The Bible, on the other hand, means something very different when encouragement is view. Biblical encouragement is most definitely directive. The focus of Biblical encouragement is not primarily set upon making people feel good about themselves and their choices but upon stimulating each other to do God’s will. Such encouragement must of necessity be directive. Its aim is either to help a fellow Christian begin to obey God or to help him/her continue to do so. And God’s will is revealed in the Bible.
As we search through the references to encouragement in the NT we will find a mixture of explanations, prescriptions, descriptions and examples as well as some of the fruits of successful encouragement.
So let’s begin.
I suppose we should begin with those verses that simply pass on the instruction that Christians are to encourage one another.
First, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica concerning the Coming of the Lord, he concluded with a practical application:
1Thess.4:18 "Therefore encourage one another with these words."
The truth was to strengthen the resolve of the believer to keep on trusting. They weren’t to abandon themselves to grief as those in the world might because they must realise that even when other believers were dying they were not lost – the future was assured and certain.
Paul then went a bit further to explain the kind of lives Christians were to live knowing that the Lord was going to return. He again concluded with the selfsame application:
1Thess. 5:11 "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
A few verses later in a list of practical advice Paul returns to the idea of helping others to keep going and not to give up through either laziness or weakness:
1Thess.5:14 "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all."
But, we might ask, why is such encouragement necessary? Why do we need it? And the writer to the Hebrews gives us a clear answer:
Heb.3:13 "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
The first thing to note is that the word "exhort" here is a translation of the word that is elsewhere translated by the word "encourage". So the writer is telling his readers that they must regularly urge one another to keep on keeping on or else they will, on account of the deceitfulness of sin, come to a grinding halt. And how we need to be reminded of just how deceitful sin can be! How it sparkles and appears to be so desirable and how easily we can be duped. Jesus himself warned his followers of the dangers sin would pose them:
Mt.6:24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
This is something that Christians have long known and also sung about. You have all sung the hymn "Tell me the old, old story" so you’ll have sung the words contained in its fourth verse:
Tell me the same old story
when you have cause to fear
that this world’s empty glory
is costing me too dear.
What you are asking as you sing those words is for someone to "encourage" you. They will help you on your way on the right path by pointing out to you how you are beginning to waver and drift.
Such encouragement must be done in a thoughtful, kind way as the writer to the Hebrews put it when he wrote:
Heb 10:24-25 "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Of course there is a right way and a wrong to engage in such encouragement/exhortation. We must be careful not to be hypocritical and offering help when we ourselves are failing desperately in exactly the same manner!
Mt 7:3-4 "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?"
But we learn the importance of encouragement not simply from the direct commands but also by the frequent references to encouragement actually being given by Christian to Christian that are to be found particularly in the history book of the early church: the Acts of the Apostles. Sometimes encouragement is mentioned with no further detail being given. For example when Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi we read:
Acts 16:40 "So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed."
But on other occasions we are given a fuller picture of just what was involved. One such case took place during a serious storm at sea. Paul not only spoke words of encouragement but he also set a positive which gave confidence to those with him:
Acts 27:36 "Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves."
Both kinds serve to show us that encouragement was an important and regular feature in the life of the early church.
There are also some very significant examples of Christians who seem to have been particularly gifted in encouraging others. We have already referred to the apostle Paul but he was far from being the only one. In Acts 15 which we read earlier we learnt about two others who were sent along with him and Barnabas to the largely Gentile church in Antioch: Judas and Silas. These two men were among the leadership of the church in Jerusalem and were sent to verbally confirm the message of the letter that the senior church in Jerusalem was sending. When that letter was read it caused joy to those in Antioch and then we learn:
Acts 15:32 "Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words."
It was contentful encouragement – nb. how by the use of many words they effectively strengthened the Christians in Antioch in their discipleship as they continued to put their trust in Jesus alone for salvation!
But when we think about encouragers in the NT we must not forget the man who was so gifted in this domain that he was even nicknamed "the Son of Encouragement". And that man was Barnabas. How often we find him involved in encouraging the churches – sometimes on his own sometimes with the apostle Paul but always encouraging!
Acts 14:22 he was "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
Barnabas truly fitted the pattern of a spiritually gifted man:
1Cor.14:3 "the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation."
Once more for true encouragement and building up content is necessary. How we need to hear the truth, to see how the truth applies to us and to receive the truth!
Mutual encouragement or encourage one another
If such encouragement is to play its part in the life of a local church a numbers of prerequisites exist:
I must not be interested only in myself, I must not subtly adopt the attitude that I alone need to be encouraged and that everyone else’s role within the church is to meet my needs.
No, I must be interested in others as well and that will mean that I must be willing to go out on a limb for their well-being too. I say this because there is always the danger that of our efforts to encourage others will be rejected and that is painful. We will minimise those dangers if we take steps to ensure that our manner is as warm and loving as can be.
There is another state of mind that we will also have to avoid taking control of us and that is to imagine that we neither need nor value the encouragement of others. Or perhaps of imagining that only certain people within the church can help us. Such an attitude is very foolish. God has saved us and put us in his family with our brothers and sisters because he knows that is good for us and for all concerned. He has told others in the church to be encouragers and if you resist or refuse their encouragements you are actually pitting yourself in pride against the Lord himself!
Who can help us?
If we are to encourage one another in church life then we are going to need help in doing so. We certainly daren’t trust our own experience and our own skills – we have no magic wand to wave that will prove effective however confident we might feel at times. What we need is a great dose of grace and that is just what Paul prayed that the Christians in Rome would find:
Rom.15:5 "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,"
How foolish we would be to try to do without his gracious help and guidance when we have his promise that those who labour in the Lord will not labour in vain (1Co 15:58)!
And what can we expect?
Surely if we take God at his word and seek to do what he tells us to do then we can expect to see fruit in a variety of areas:
Joy (Acts 15:31)
Hope (Rom.15:4, Heb.6:18)
Love and good works multiplied (Heb 10:24, Phil.2:1, Col.2:2)
To go on meeting together (Heb.2:25)
May God so strengthen us that his name might be glorified amongst us!