Love One Another

Encourage One Another

Teaching t22034

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Christian Community
Encourage One Another

Introduction

We are doing a series on Christian community, which Jesus gave as a central mandate for his followers (Jn. 13:34,35).  How will lost people know that Jesus is alive and life-changing?  They must see Christians relating to one another in the way that Jesus related to his followers!  What does it look like to love one another as Jesus loves us?  That’s what this series is about.  One antithetical way to answer this question is by viewing this tongue-in-cheek video (“Shallow Small Group”).  Another way is by seeing how the New Testament letters unpack this through different “one another” passages.  So far, we have looked at: welcome, admonish, confess, and forgive. 

This morning we come to what I believe is the foundational way we are to love one another—“encourage one another” (read 1 Thess. 5:11).  I want to answer three questions about this command . . .

What does it mean?

Parakaleo means to “come alongside” someone who needs aid.  It means to strengthen, help, affirm/advocate, comfort.  Ancient Greek authors sometimes used it to describe military reinforcement during battles.   Biblical encouragement presumes that Jesus’ followers are in a battle that they cannot fight by their own resources.  It presumes the pain and difficulty of living for Jesus in a broken and hostile world.  It communicates God’s truth and love in ways designed to strengthen (“en-courage”) one another to go on in this battle until Jesus returns.  We’ll look more closely at this soon, but notice . . .

“Encourage one another” means that all Christians (audience is the whole church vs. leaders or mature Christians only) are to regularly (tense is present-continuous vs. sporadically or only in crises) both give and receive (“one another”) biblical encouragement.

Why is it foundational?

I said earlier that encouraging one another is foundational—it is the spiritual bedrock upon which Christian community is built.  Why do I say this?

First (linguistically), because parakaleo is by far the most common “one another” command.   This verbal frequency emphasizes its foundational importance. 

Second (practically), because all of the other “one another’s” work best within encouraging relationships.  For example:

It is much easier (not easy) to confess your sins to a brother/sister who is an encouraging presence in your life.  Conversely, confession is very rare between Christians who are distant or superficial or judging.

It is much easier (not easy) to give and receive admonition to/from brothers/sisters who relate to one another in a fundamentally encouraging way.

Both marriage and parenting require the full spectrum of “one another’s”—but the heart of these relationships is a commitment to be an encourager of your spouse and children.

Third (theologically), because experiencing Jesus’ encouragement is central to biblical Christianity.   When Jesus was about depart from his disciples, he said Jn. 14:16,17a (read).  “Helper” is parakletos—“Encourager.”  Jesus could sum up his role in their lives as their Helper/Advocate/Counselor/Encourager, and he promised that when he departed he would send them “another Encourager,” the Holy Spirit, to be with them in this capacity always and everywhere.   The very heart of Christianity, then, is to experience the encouragement of Jesus through his Spirit.

GOSPEL: Do you know Jesus as the Source of profound encouragement in your life?  Have you experienced his Spirit personally encouraging and strengthening you when you face painful and difficult situations?  Or does this sound abstract and foreign to you?  If so, you are not a Christian.  A Christian is not someone who simply believes certain things about Jesus, or who performs certain religious rituals, or who embraces Christian morality.  At its heart, a Christian is someone who experiences the relational encouragement of Jesus through his Spirit.  Jesus gave his perfect life as a payment for your sins so that he could give his Spirit to you, so that you could experience his personal encouragement in day-to-day life.  But you must ask Jesus to forgive you through his death and to give you his Spirit.  Some of you are enjoying Jesus’ encouragement through his people, but not experiencing him directly.  You are eating from the crumbs that fall from the table when you could have the full meal.  What is holding you back from receiving Jesus’ full forgiveness and his Spirit?  Why not do this today?

Since Jesus’ foundational relationship with each Christian is as the Encourager, Jn. 13:34,35 implies that our foundational relationship with one another is to be conduits of his encouragement.  He could have made us as independent monads, each separately receiving his encouragement.  But he has made us his Body, interdependently receiving his encouragement from other Christians, and giving his encouragement to other Christians.  This is the heart of what it means to be in Christian community—to have a network of reciprocal relationships that share Jesus’ encouragement.  Are your Christian friendships rich in reciprocal encouragement?  Or are your Christian relationships characterized by bland, superficial niceness, as in the video?  If we want to avoid this, each of us needs to ask ourselves a third question.

“How can I become an effective encourager?”

If you want to be in encouraging Christian community, the main way is to become an effective encourager.  Heb. 10:24,25 supplies us with a practical framework for doing this. 

Notice three things—a context, a means, and a result.

The primary context of learning how to encourage others is regularly “gathering together” face-to-face with other Christians.  10:25a specifically commands us not to abandon this way of life for other priorities, and laments that some Christians have done this to avoid persecution.  If persecution does not exempt us from doing this, how much less career, hobbies, etc.?  I notice that often the Christians who thank God that they are allowed to meet freely in this country do this far less than Christians in persecuted countries!  It is only as we intentionally and consistently meet with one another—sometimes in larger gatherings like this meeting, or home group meetings, sometimes in smaller groups, sometimes one-on-on-one (see Acts 2:42,46)—that we can learn about one another’s lives and identify ways in which they need encouragement.

This means that making a commitment to a group of Christians for this purpose is “Christianity 101.”  This is a big reason why we urge every believer in this church to commit yourself to a home group.  If you remain on the fringes instead of making this commitment, you are missing out on this foundational element of Christian spirituality!

This means that no amount of “connecting” through email, text, phone calls, etc. is relationally adequate.  Because we are embodied creatures, love and encouragement must also be embodied through face-to-face presence.  Disembodied communication is an excellent supplement, but a poor replacement!

A key means of learning this is by “considering.”  This word means to observe attentively and to think carefully.  Here, it means thinking about other individuals’ needs and how God meets those needs, and praying for God to give us insight on how to communicate this to them.  To get you started, here are four practical ways to communicate God’s encouragement to others.   As I explain them briefly, think about how God has encouraged you in these ways.

First, we can affirm others’ value and potential in Christ.  Although it was 40 years ago, I still remember where I was standing when an older Christian whom I respected told me that Jesus had designed me to lead and teach others about him.  I could only see my sins and weaknesses, but they saw Jesus vision for my life—and they communicated it by the power of his Spirit.  Have you ever been encouraged in this way?  As you “consider” others, God can give you a word of this kind of vision for them!

Second, we can recognize and praise others’ steps of faith to follow Christ.  New Christians (especially) are just learning how to pray, study the Bible, share their faith, and serve their brothers and sisters.  They compare themselves to more mature Christians and tend to feel “behind.”  How powerful it is when someone sees these steps for what they are—heroic steps of faith—and expresses God’s delight in them!  Have you ever been encouraged in this way?  As you “consider” others, God can give you a word of this kind of recognition for them!

Third, we can remind of God’s comfort and faithfulness to those who are suffering.  Just a couple of days ago, I was with a brother who was deeply discouraged about his marriage, his sin-problems, his future, etc.  I realized that he had lost sight of God’s faithfulness to him.  So I asked him questions to get these things off his chest, I prayed silently while he talked, and I reminded him of a couple of God’s promises and how God had proven these promises to him in the past.  I wasn’t spectacular or profound—but God used me to break the spell of discouragement and breathe hope back into his soul.  Have you ever been encouraged in this way?  As you “consider” others, God can give you a word of comfort for them!

Fourth, we can exhort others to take a scary step of faith to follow Christ.  Several years ago, I was being asked to take a role of leadership that I did not feel adequate to take.  I was paralyzed by this situation—not wanting to be disobedient to God, but feeling woefully inadequate.  Then out of the blue, a brother whom I had mentored sometime earlier asked me to come to his house.  He spent an hour telling me what God had shown him about how he had equipped me to play this role, and then urged me strongly to step forward.  This powerfully strengthened me to embrace this new role!  Have you ever been encouraged in this way?  As you “consider” others, God can give you a word of exhortation for them!

When a group of Christians begins to relate to one another in this way, the result is a spiritual explosion.  “Stimulate” is a very strong word; paroxusmos is the word from which we get “paroxysm”—an explosion of anger (Acts 15:39) or (in this case) of serving love toward others.  God’s Spirit can work through our encouragement to ignite others with his love and hope so that they pass this on in a redemptive explosion of love and good deeds to one another and to people beyond the group!

This is exactly what happens.  Why is it that some gatherings of Christians are spiritually electric, while others are stale and boring?  It is not the teacher, or the aesthetics of the room, or the quality of the food, etc.—although these things have a part.  It is the number of people who have come considering how to encourage others!  When only one or two come with this mind-set, they cannot off-set the spiritual weight of the environment.  But when several or most come with this mind-set, Christ’s power is unleashed to build everyone up (1 Cor. 14:26)! 

What is your normal mind-set as you gather together with other Christians?  Yes, sometimes we are so beaten down that we must come to be encouraged.  But normally we can come ready to encourage others.  Do you do this?   There is a connection between your answer and how spiritually explosive your group is!

Conclusion

I urge you to pray: “Lord, what one step do you want me to take this week to become a more effective encourager?”

See for example Xenophon, Anab. 3, 1, 32: "They called in the general."  Cited in Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1980), p. 569.

Paraklesis, the noun, is used 23 times in the New Testament epistles.  Parakaleo, the verb, is used 54 times.  Its synonym, oikodomeo (build up; see Acts 9:31 and 1 Thess. 5:11 for this synonymous usage), is used 8 times in this sense in Acts and the New Testament epistles.  Its noun form, oikodome (edification), is used 12 times in this sense in the New Testament epistles.  Also, the basic structure of the New Testament epistles embodies encouragement—reminders and explanations of God’s promises and provisions in Christ, and exhortations to trust God’s provisions by loving him and others.

For biblical examples of each of these, see my book Loving God’s Way, “Encourage One Another.”