Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Encouragement

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Teaching t08688

Introduction

Brief review of the setting. Tonight, rather than focus on one specific passage in this letter, I want to focus on a theme that runs through it—encouragement.

You can see that Paul felt encouragement was a crucial aspect of his work with them (2:11-12), and he wants it to be the most foundational way that they express Christian love to one another (4:18; 5:11, 14).

When we look beyond this letter to the other New Testament letters, we find this same emphasis. The main word translated “encouragement” is used in this sense almost 80 times.
1

What is encouragement?

The Greek word is parakaleo, which literally means “to call alongside.” It presumes that its object is under pressure (fearful, weak, overwhelmed), and it means to strengthen by giving appropriate aid. Ancient Greek authors sometimes used it to describe military reinforcement during battles.2

Biblical encouragement presumes that Christians live under intense pressure—not just the normal pressures of everyday life in a broken world, but also the pressures of serving Christ in a spiritually hostile environment—and therefore need to be spiritually strengthened on a regular basis.

Biblical encouragement communicates God's truth and hope in ways that personally strengthen others to follow God's will for their lives.

It may come as a surprise to you to know that God is the ultimate Encourager. Many view the God of the Bible as the ultimate Discourager—always making impossible demands, never satisfied, etc. But the New Testament actually teaches that all three Persons of the Trinity delight in encouraging us (read 2 Corinthians 1:3; John 14:16-17).

The cool thing is that he wants to communicate his encouragement through his people. As members of his Body, we have the privilege of both receiving his encouragement from other Christians and of giving it to others. This is one of the most powerful features of Christian community! Let's take a closer look . . . 

What does biblical encouragement look like?

Because we face a variety of pressures, biblical encouragement takes different forms. We can differentiate biblical encouragement into four sub-categories: affirmation, praise, consolation, and exhortation.

It affirms those who do not see their value and potential.

My favorite biblical example of this form of encouragement is Jesus' initial encounter with Peter in John 1:41-42. Andrew, Peter's brother, tells him he has found the Messiah and brings him to Jesus. John doesn't use the normal verb for “look” here. He uses a word that means “gaze intently into.” Jesus peered into Peter's soul, sized him up—and then said: “You are Simon son of John; you shall be called Peter.” In those days, names meant more than they do today. They summarized a key feature of the person—like nicknames often do today. “Simon” was associated with one who vacillates—and if you know anything about Peter, you know how accurate this was (EXAMPLES). Jesus knew that Peter was like his name—but he viewed him in terms of what he would become as one of his followers: “You will be called 'the Rock.'” This was how Jesus won Peter's heart, and this is how he won my heart, too. We all want a relationship with someone who knows our worst flaws and weaknesses—but who still loves us and relates to us in terms of our potential. No one else does this like Jesus Christ (GOSPEL).

God sent two or three older Christians to communicate this to me when I was a new Christian. I had no vision for myself as a valuable Christian worker—let alone as a teacher and leader. Over a six-month period, each of these three Christians whom I respected told me that God had a plan to transform my life and raise me up as a spokesman for him (Ephesians 2:10). That was almost 30 years ago, but I still remember where I was and what they said almost word for word. Such is the impact of this form of encouragement.

It praises those who are taking scary steps of faith.

Parents do this instinctively with their young children. As they take their first, halting, awkward steps, the parents are there with praise, ovation, hugs, etc. Why? Because they know how difficult (yet important) it is for children to learn to walk. Their praise fortifies their children to keep trying until they master the skill.

When you come to Christ, he calls you to take scary steps of faith—to share your faith with a work associate, to pray out loud with a Christian friend, to speak up at a Bible study, to confide a problem and ask for help, etc. Especially if you are a new Christians, you probably compare yourself in these areas with older Christians and conclude that you're not really making any progress. How wonderful it is when God sends one of his people to express how important your steps are and how excited God is that you are taking them! When this happens, we are fortified to keep moving forward.

Paul was a master at this form of encouragement; this is one of the open secrets of his great leadership. Notice how he does this with the new Christians in Thessalonica (read 1 Thess. 1:2-8). Catch someone doing something right, and tell him about it! Better yet, tell him about it in front of others!

It consoles those who have had their spiritual wind knocked out.

Paul tells these same Christians to “encourage the faint-hearted” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). The “faint-hearted” is literally the “small-souled”—those who have had their spiritual wind knocked out through adversity. Some of them had recently lost Christian family or friends. Paul encouraged them (read 4:14, 17) and urged them to encourage one another with these words (4:18).

Contrary to what the “health and wealth” people say, God never promises to spare his children from the pain and suffering of living in a broken, spiritually hostile world. We will suffer broken hearts, loss of loved ones, economic reversals, poor health, agonizing family problems, ministry opposition and failure, etc. Especially when many of these pile up on you at once, hope vanishes under a cloud of pain and despair. What we need most during these times is the consolation of God—the touch of his empathy and the reminder of his promises that he will stand by us, that he has his hand on our lives, that he will work through this for good, and that he has a glorious future for us. Having had my wind knocked out of me a lot this past year, I know how powerful this form of encouragement is.

It exhorts those who are tempted to give less than their best.

I saw Ohio State Men's basketball Coach Jim O'Brien do this with a player, Michael Redd, in a game one season. Redd was lethargic during most of the second half, as OSU fell farther and farther behind. With only a few minutes to go and OSU down by 10 points, O'Brien called a time-out. When Redd came to the sideline, O'Brien was all over him—not raging like Bobby Knight, Indian's famous basketball coach—but getting Redd's attention, calling on him to wake up and play like he was capable of playing. Redd came out and took over the game as OSU scored 11 unanswered points to win the game.

That's what I mean by exhortation—challenging someone who is flagging to suck it up and lay it on the line to their full potential. That's what Paul does with Timothy in 2 Timothy. Timothy was intimidated by the many problems he faced in Ephesus, and it is clear that he was tempted to take his foot off the pedal. Listen to how Paul exhorts him (read 4:1, 2, 5). The author of Hebrews does with a group of Christians who are taking their feet off the pedal, fainting under God's discipline (read Hebrews 12:11-13). He reminds them of the benefits of persevering (peaceful fruit of righteousness; healing), he gently warns them of the perils of quitting (limb put out of joint)—and he challenges them to get back in the race. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have people in my life who do this for me, because I am a lazy, self-protective person.

Are you involved enough with other Christian friends that they know when you need encouragement? Can you think back over the last year and remember specific instances in which you received each of these different kinds of encouragement? If not, you are not involved enough! Get involved in a home group, and be open about your life with your Christian friends!

Tips for becoming an effective encourager

As great as receiving encouragement is, there is something even greater—becoming an effective encourager. This is a powerful ministry that all of us can and should have! Here are some tips . . . 

If you want to be effective in this area, you need to know and use God's Word.

It is God's Word, not our personality, cleverness, intelligence, etc. that has the power to lift people up and give them hope (Romans 15:4). Isaiah describes the Messiah's effect on his followers, and the reason while he had that effect read Isaiah 50:4). He could sustain the weary with a word because he has been instructed by God through his Word. It's great to learn a passage that lifts you up. It's even more fulfilling to use that same passage to life someone else up.

This is the most basic (yet one of the most powerful) ways to use scripture in ministry. Sometimes this means showing or sharing a passage. Sometimes it means phrasing it in your own words. Sometimes it means sharing how this truth has encouraged you in a similar situation.

Make this a goal when you meet with other Christians.

Read Hebrews 10:25. If you're into following Christ, you're into getting together with other Christians. Some meetings I go to seem dead, stifling—like a mortuary. Others are electric and refreshing—alive with the presence of God. What is the reason for this disparity? Most people would say it is the quality of the teaching, but I disagree. The key factor is how many people have come with the commitment to encourage others. This produces an intangible atmosphere that builds people up and attracts non-Christians to Christ.

This is a key maturity step—to go over from attending merely to receive to coming with the commitment to give. It also is key in continuing to enjoy meetings after you are grounded in the Word.

This requires prayerfully considering beforehand how you can encourage your friends (Hebrews 10:24).

As you think about them and pray for them, God will often draw your attention to the kind of encouragement they need and give you a word for them. When this happens, follow through! You'll be amazed to see how often this was exactly what they needed!

In this regard, realize that emails, notes, phone calls can be very powerful media for encouragement (unlike admonition).

If you are a good listener, you will usually find plenty of opportunity for encouragement.

Why is this? For one thing, listening communicates love and respect—which is encouragement in itself (see Job 21:1). It also helps you to discover what kind of encouragement may be needed. And it increases the likelihood that they will be receptive to your encouragement because you have genuinely listened to them.

As with any skill or art, you need to practice!

Don't wait until it feels “natural”—you'll wait forever! Our fallen nature will always be aversive to encouragement, so you will need to step out by faith. As you experience the rewards of being used by God in this way, it will become more natural and desirable.

Make it a goal to encourage someone every single day! Open your eyes to see the many arenas in which you can do this: family; work; neighbors; friends; etc.

Conclusion

Let's hear from Tim Gleason how encouragement has changed his life (VIDEO).

Become someone who is known as an encouraging person (like Barnabas). Your life will become increasingly enriched as you see the impact God has on others through you!

Footnotes

1Paraklesis, the noun, is used 23 times in the New Testament epistles. Parakaleo, the verb, is used 54 times.

2See 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 House, 1980), p. 569.