Encourage one another

Posted by Scott Lowther on

Dear CBC Family,

Encourage one another. (1 Thess 5:11). Does encouragement seem to you a small thing? We all agree that it’s good but we usually don’t spend much effort trying to be good at it.

Encouragement is one of the most important ministries in the body of Christ. It is something any believer can do if we would simply learn the basics of it. For that to happen we have to think rightly about it. What is it? Why is it important? How does it work?

Roy Ortland has said it well: “Encouragement is what the gospel feels like as it moves from one believer to another. The ministry of encouragement, therefore, isn’t optional or just for certain “caring people” who are good at it. Real encouragement has authority over us all. It deserves nothing less than to set the predominant tone of our churches, our homes, our ministries. So, let’s think it through. And then, let’s get after it.

The New Testament verb translated encourage can also mean “to comfort, cheer up, console, speak in a friendly manner.” Encouragement is about the life-giving power of our shared beliefs and our shared life in the Lord.

Jesus used the noun form of this verb when, in John 14:26, he called the Holy Spirit our “Helper” — that is, our encourager as an “empowering presence” among us. J.B. Phillips paraphrased this title of the Holy Spirit as “someone to stand by you.”

So, we’re already seeing what our ministry of encouragement can look like: standing with one another, bringing a life-giving presence to one another. That’s a lot more than saying hi as we walk from the parking lot into the church building on a Sunday morning. Real encouragement is one way we experience the Holy Spirit together. It’s how we experience real community together. And this kind of community is not life-depleting but life-enriching, not guarded and aloof but all-in and involved, not scrutinizing and criticizing but affirming and strengthening.

The “one another” commands of the New Testament paint a picture of the beauty of human relationships. These one anothers include not only “encourage one another” but also “love one another” (John 13:34–35), “welcome one another” (Romans 15:7), “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), and more. It’s a total way of enjoying Christ together. Who wouldn’t love to jump in? At the same time, have we noticed the “one anothers” that do not appear in Scripture but sometimes appear among us? For example, “scold one another,” “humble one another,” “pressure one another,” for starters.

This year let’s all back up a bit and relearn how to live together in Christ. And is there a better starting place than “encourage one another”? The New Testament puts encouragement at the very foundation of real Christianity: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ . . .” (Philippians 2:1).

However, stepping out into new relational patterns is risky — with risks worth taking! The ministry of encouragement frees us from safe neutrality, from keeping our cards close to our chest, from evaluating one another with cost-benefit calculations. Real encouragement sweeps us away into a glad-hearted, up-close engaging with one another. And when the encouragement we’re sharing back and forth gets so strong that it starts feeling awkward, then good! We’re finally getting somewhere.

I’ve never met anyone who is overly encouraged in Christ. But sometimes I do see people — I’ve done this too! — hyped up with odd emphases and misguided priorities, even in “Christian” ways. The Bible warns us all, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23). But the ministry of encouragement comes with no warning label. We have not taken it too far. The Bible does not say, “Encourage one another — but be careful!”

When we aren’t actively cultivating a social environment of encouragement, what happens then? We start living on a relational starvation diet. We struggle on, but weakened. Maybe a less-than-energizing kind of Christianity feels normal to many of us. Maybe we can hardly imagine how wonderful it is to be frequently, strongly encouraged and encouraging.

Gospel doctrine must never be allowed to hang in midair as a naked abstraction. Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture. Relationships of encouragement, among other precious spiritual realities, are what the doctrines are for. If we preach the doctrine while neglecting the culture, we end up — well, the way some of us are now: orthodox and exhausted. Whatever swept over the Roman Empire in those early centuries, it wasn’t that. What captivated the ancient world was a new kind of community. Those disadvantaged but confident Christians knew what they believed, and they knew the beauty their beliefs created, and the Roman world looked on with astonishment. Tertullian (ca. 160–220) reported what people were saying about Christians: “How they love one another! How they are ready to die for one another!” Is anyone saying that about us today?

Have we modern Christians settled for strong doctrine with an overlay of vague, blah niceness? Nobody wants, or needs, that! So, how can we grow in biblically encouraging one another?

First, let’s continually marinate together in the truths of the Bible, “that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The Bible is the most encouraging book in all the world. We’d be crazy not to capitalize on that! In our church and small groups and homes, let’s memorize the Bible, sing the Bible, pray the Bible, enjoy the Bible, and be encouraged together by all that Christ is for us, according to Scripture.

Two, let’s pool together our personal faith, sharing our stories of how Jesus is getting us through real life in this world, “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). Every believer has a story to tell — not only how Jesus converted us in the past, but how Jesus is real to us right now. And the apostle Paul considered your faith as encouraging as his own: “both yours and mine.” This is NOT the typical “testaphonies” of the day but an open, glory to God sharing of His goodness and reality. The focus is Him, not us.

So, church family, “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” (Hebrews 10:24–25).

This weekend we will be in Romans 8 with a very encouraging message which I pray you will receive. Come and be encouraged. Sunday at 10:00 is when the Saints gather…….no, I don’t mean the New Orleans football fans!

Blessings,

Pastor Scott

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