Encouraging One Another
Topic: Christian Living Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:1–5:11
Turn with me to 1 Thess 5. We’re going to take a brief break in our series in the gospel of Mark in order to look at the biblical command to encourage one another. Last week Warren mentioned that the NT is full of “one anothers” – that is, the biblical commands regarding how we are to treat one another as the community of faith, commands such as “love one another”, “honor one another”, “forgive one another”, “comfort one another”, “serve one another”, “bear with one another” and “encourage one another”.
Encouragement is a theme that runs through the first letter to the Thessalonians. The word encouragement is used four times in these five chapters, and throughout this letter Paul is encouraging the Thessalonian church. Which is interesting because the church in Thessalonica wasn’t a perfect church. We see from chapter 4 that there were those in the church who struggled with sexual impurity, and we see from both 1 and 2 Thessalonians that there were those in the church who struggled with laziness – believers who were so busy waiting for Jesus to return they didn’t want to work, they just wanted to bum a living off of other people. So the fact that the church wasn’t perfect and that it had issues makes it all the more instructive (and encouraging) to imperfect churches like ours and imperfect believers like us. Paul encourages the believers in Thessalonica, and he encourages them to encourage one another. Biblical encouragement isn’t just a “nice thing” that believers do, it should be woven into the fabric how we as believers motivate each other to love and serve Jesus. So let’s begin by reading …
1 Thess. 5:1-11
So let’s consider two simple questions in the light of 1 Thess: what does the Bible mean when it says we are to encourage one another? And how do we do it?
I. What does the Bible mean when it says encourage one another?
a. It doesn’t mean that we are to flatter one another
Flattery is defined as excessive or insincere praise. Flattery is saying nice things to people in order to get something from them. Thomas Fuller said, “as a wolf is like a dog, so is a flatterer like a friend.” To a casual observer, flattery might look like encouragement but they are not the same thing at all. We need to learn to encourage without falling into the trap of praising people excessively in order to win their approval, make them like us, or manipulate them to do things we want them to do. Flattery is a wolf, not a friend. So encouraging one another doesn’t mean flattering one another.
b. It doesn’t mean quoting motivational platitudes to one another
I visited a small company years ago and noticed they had a number of motivational posters hanging in their conference room with sayings like, what the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve or the difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination. There is a billion dollar market for motivational products so a lot of people are literally buying into the idea that those motivational platitudes encourage success.
In response to all these motivational products a company called Despair started making demotivating products with the promise that, while motivational products don’t work, their demotivator products don’t work even better! One of their posters has a beautiful picture of the sun setting over water and a rocky beach, and in bold letters it says: Motivation: if a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.
Biblical encouragement isn’t spouting off motivational platitudes to one another, it’s much deeper and much stronger (and much more honest) than that. So what does the Bible mean when it says to encourage one another?
There are two Greek words used in 1 Thess for encouragement. The first is the word parakaleo which means to call from alongside of. The second is paramutheomai, which means to counsel from alongside of. Notice that encouragement has this sense of coming along side of – it means coming close to someone’s life, their struggles, their story. Encouragement isn’t distant, it’s close: it’s the voice that says, I relate, I understand, I’ve been there too.
One biblical metaphor for the Christian life pictures it as a race we are to run to the finish. As we run the race that God has set before us, run it together, alongside of one another, and we are to call to one another to encourage us to run the race to the finish line. Break the tape. So encouragement has different voices because what people will need to hear is different in different seasons.
• Those growing weary, call to them to keep going, don’t grow weary, finish strong.
• To the one who stumbles, we gently seek to restore them
• To the one who is going off in an unbiblical teaching – call them to truth of God’s Word
• To one who is hurting, we come alongside with warm counsel and loving comfort.
Biblical encouragement ultimately always points us to God. Where motivational posters point us to look within, to dig deep, find inner qualities of perseverance, determination, courage from within, biblical encouragement has a different focus: it comes alongside to call us to look to God, look to His promises, trust in His faithfulness. Because ultimately, both our strength to keep going, and our greatest encouragement, comes from God. Listen to the amazing declaration of Romans 15: 5-6:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)
When we think of God’s perfection and sinlessness and holiness, we can find it hard to believe that God would have anything to offer us but criticism and discouragement. Not so. God is the paraklesis – the God of encouragement. When Jesus promised that He would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, the word he used was paraclete (one who calls from alongside –encourager). The Holy Spirit comes alongside to encourage and comfort. But word Jesus used for another, allos, another of the same kind. In other words, the Holy Spirit would be another Comforter of the same kind that Jesus is. Jesus is the comforter, the encourager, and the Holy Spirit is the comforter, the encourager, and God the Father is the God of encouragement.
How often in Bible do you see God, after calling one of His servants to action, saying “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Parakaleo – calling from alongside of.
Maybe someone needs to hear that from the Lord this morning. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Course He has called you to run has taken a turn into unfamiliar territory, or into a hard season, or maybe just weary of race. Believe Lord wants you to listen for His voice saying, “Do not be afraid. Discouraged. Give up. I am with you.” He may not give you any other assurance – that’s enough. Greatest encouragement we can have is to know that whatever He has called us to walk through, He walks through it with us.
The God of encouragement wants to use each of us as vessels of encouragement to one another. To call to one another, to help strengthen one another to keep running, keep going, keep believing, keep depending on Christ, to finish the course God has given us.
II. How do we encourage one another?
ILL: Years ago there was a Royal Bank of Scotland commercial where a team of bankers is hiking in the mountains when one of them steps in quicksand. The hikers then stand around discussing what should be done, and how they should do it. Meanwhile the hiker is sinking deeper and deeper in quicksand and they continue to discuss what they should do. Just as he is about to go under, one banker breaks from the crowd and throws out a line to save him. Then they leave us with this message: Less talk. Make it happen.
So how do we make encouragement happen? What line do we throw? What do we say? How can we make it happen? Let’s consider four lessons about encouraging we can learn from Paul:
a. All our encouragement is built on this one great truth: Christ died for us
Look with me at chapter 5 verses 9-11:
For God has not destined us for wrath (that alone is encouragement enough to face anything else in life!), but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep (alive or dead) we might live with Him. Therefore encourage one another…Vs 9-11
All our encouragement is built on the gospel, on the truth that through faith in Christ, because he died for our sins, our destiny isn’t God’s wrath, our destiny is salvation. So all things – whether we live or die – flow to eternal life.
Our encouragement can never be severed from the gospel of Jesus Christ – because if it weren’t for the gospel, our lives would be nothing but a big Despair poster. If eternal wrath was what awaited us, any encouragement would be meaningless. Paul says, therefore…why? Because God has not destined us for wrath but salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we might live with him. Forever. There is no greater encouragement possible. Encouragement is built on the gospel. Christ died for us.
b. Identify the work of God in one another’s lives
Listen to how Paul takes time to identify the activity of God in Thessalonica church (1 Thess 1:4-7):
4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
Remember, this is not the perfect church. They’ve got issues. But again and again Paul identifies God’s work in their lives. Brothers loved by God, he has chosen you, gospel came in word and power. You received the word in suffering and trial – but also much joy from Spirit – became an example. Others are looking at you and learning and being provoked.
Genuine. Not flattering. Encouragement must always be genuine, but we need to excel in looking for and pointing out to others where God is at work in their lives. If you are a Christian, God is always at work in your life! Henry Blackabee writes that wrong for Christian to ask, “Why isn’t God at work in my life?” Always at work! So question should be, “why don’t I see where God is at work in my life?”
When I am discouraged, I have a very hard time seeing the activity of God in my life. Discouragement covers the eyes of the heart like a thick blanket, and even if God just did something wonderful the day before, feel like, “God at work, not in my life. Don’t see Him at work.” Now that blindness is often a form of sinful unbelief, so I’m not excusing it, but how strengthening when someone else can help me regain my awareness and faith in what God is doing. Need one another! Throw a line! Make it happen!
c. Encourage one another to walk in a manner worthy of God
Deserves a whole message – but I don’t want us to miss fact that one of the things we must come alongside and call to one another is: obey God. Walk in a manner worthy.
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (2:11-12)
Have been saved, have been called, are children of God, therefore walk in a manner worthy. One of the voices we need to have with one another is to encourage one another to obey God. God calls us to make progress in our sanctification, to live in increasing holiness, to grow in obedience.
One step forward in obedience is worth years of study about it. ~ Oswald Chambers
One step of obedience might also add more joy than years of excuses! Not saved by obedience, saved by faith in Christ, but true faith will lead us to a growing obedience, and if that is not
happening, our Christian walk will weak and joyless.
But what does that voice sound like? How do we encourage one another to walk in a manner worthy? Paul says like a father he encouraged them.
ILL: When I was a Bible student I heard that someone I knew was going through a deep depression. So bad that he wasn’t caring for his wife or children. One night he came to a service at the Bible school I attended and before the service began I knelt next to him and began to tell him he needed to get it together, that his wife and kids were the casualty of his not trusting God and getting over his depression. I meant well, but my voice wasn’t encouraging, it was condemning. It was basically, how could you do that? Stop it! I was calling him to obey God, but I wasn’t pointing him to Christ or coming alongside. I think I meant well, but I am afraid the effect wasn’t coming alongside, but condemning. I may have knelt beside him, but my tone communicated that I don’t struggle like he struggles and he needs to stop.
Paul is not shy about calling Christians to obey God. Those idle, warns get busy. When he writes 2nd letter, still some who haven’t obeyed, so he tells church, if they don’t work, they don’t eat. Because they weren’t working, they had no income, and so they were living off of faith – which simply meant the working believers were feeding the freeloaders. And Paul tells church, don’t feed them. Let them get hungry enough to obey and work!
God calls us to obey His commands, and our happiness and peace in this life is hinged to our obedience. Our encouragement needs to include a call to obey God! But look at how Paul encourages to obey: it isn’t harsh, it’s encouraging, and it magnifies the grace of God already at work in their lives.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thes. 4:1 (ESV)
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 1 Thes. 4:9-10 (ESV)
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thes. 5:11
He calls them to grow in obedience, but he also is encouraging them with the grace of God that is already at work in them.
d. Encourage one another with the imminent return of Christ! 4:18
There is one other lesson of encouraging one another we can learn (not exhaustive), and again this deserves a whole message – another day.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thes. 4:15-18 (ESV)
I think we should be encouraging each other with the return of Christ more than we do. Believer’s in Paul’s day thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime and I think we should believe that too. Thinking about that every day, talking about that a lot, and encouraging one another with these words – He’s coming back and so we’ll always be with the Lord. It encourages us to keep going, to hope in times of tribulation, to run the race. It also encourages us to be ready – to watch our lives, to not give ourselves to the world and to sin, which will be destroyed, but to Christ who is coming back. We will be caught up to be with him, or, if we die before he comes, we will be raised up from the dead to meet him in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.
This is an encouraging church. In so many ways you live this, and that is the grace of God at work in you. So this message isn’t, “start doing this”, it’s “just as you are encouraging one another, do so more and more.” Let biblical encouragement be the atmosphere of Grace Community Church as we emulate the God of encouragement. Let’s pray.