Encourage One Another
Listen here: [audio:http://www.shepherdproject.com/downloads/audio/Encourage_One_Another_-_Craig_Smith.mp3]
The following text is a partial transcript of a recent message by Craig Smith. You can listen to the full message here:
Because authentic Christian living depends on authentic Christian encouragement, God commands us to encourage one another.
A. To Get To Chesterton
My sister-in-law and her kids are in town visiting us this week, which has reminded me of something. Last year we were in San Diego visiting them and I made the mistake of showing my niece, Greer, a magic trick. As tricks go, it wasn’t all that impressive. All I did was scrunch up a piece of a paper towel into a ball, wave it around in front of her face quickly and toss it behind her head. Anyone watching could tell exactly where it went, but from her perspective, it looked like the little ball of paper towel had disappeared. Wow! It’s magic! Uncle Craig is one impressive dude! It was a win-win situation. She had witnessed wonder and I could bask in the warm glow of having fooled a three-year-old. But of course the triumph was short lived, because Greer had a request. Any of you with any familiarity with small children can probably guess the nature of the request. I’ll give you a clue: it only involved three words. Do it again. So I did it again, and again and again…I ran out of pieces of paper towel and progressed to Kleenexes. When those ran out, I moved on to small stuffed animals and pillows off the couch. Pretty soon, if she had turned around, she would have seen that most of the living room was piled behind her. But she didn’t turn around, because she was too busy asking me to do it again!
Have you ever wondered how small children can be so content to see the same trick, watch the same show, hear the same book over and over again until the adults in their lives wish that Dr. Seuss had never been born or that Ursula would just go ahead and eat the little Mermaid and put us out of our misery?
G.K. Chesterton, a very famous British theologian explained it this way: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
I have a confession to make: the sermon this morning has nothing to do with children or monotony or God’s exultation in repetitive tasks. I just wanted to read you that quote. Wasn’t it beautiful…eloquent…brilliant…thought-provoking?
Chesterton tends to be that way. He’s one of the best writers and thinkers I’ve ever encountered. And yet, G.K. Chesterton could not read until he was eight. In fact, one of his teachers told him, “If we could open your head we should not find any brain there but only a lump of white fat.”
How do you figure he got from there to being one of the greatest Christian writers of all time? That’s the real question this morning. How does one overcome obstacles in order to accomplish something truly worth-while? The thing that I’m thinking about this morning isn’t necessarily becoming a great Christian writer…it’s just becoming a great Christian, someone who follows Jesus consistently and authentically in spite of the temptations and the challenges we face.
And let’s face it: consistent and authentic Christian living isn’t easy. In fact, Chesterton had something to say about that very thing. He said: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
Like Chesterton’s teacher, we all face a world that says, “You can’t do it. You can’t live the Christian life consistently. You can’t overcome the temptations, you can’t really be like Jesus. Not here, not now…so give it up.”
But that’s not what God says. The Bible is filled with statements that reverberate with God’s expectation that we can follow Jesus in spite of the obstacles, that we can live as authentic Christians in spite of the challenges. But how? Would you turn with me to the second chapter of the book of 1 Thessalonians?
II. Main Body
A. Text – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
What we’re going to look at this morning is one key ingredient for authentic, consistent Christian living. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s the only necessary ingredient. It’s not. But it’s an important one and without it, it’s very difficult to be a disciple who makes a difference. Let’s look at what God has to say through Paul here:
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed– God is witness– 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
1. Paul’s Motivation, Means and Goal
If we break down this passage, what we see are essentially three things:
a. Motivation – Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his motivation. He says, “You know, preaching the Gospel got me in trouble in Philippi and Thessalonica was no different. If I was out to make a fast buck or get popular, would I have continued preaching? Of course not! But I kept preaching because my motives were pure. I wasn’t trying to please men but God.” But there’s a second motivation as well: Paul loved the Thessalonians. “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul was motivated by concern for God and for God’s people.
b. Means – Paul also reminds the Thessalonians of his means. He says, “I didn’t come with flattering speech, buttering you up like the guys who are out to make money off you.” In fact, Paul says, he took another job while he was in Thessalonica so that he wouldn’t have to take donations from the people there. Why? Well, Thessalonica was a Greek city and it was common for Greek cities to get visited by travelling philosophers who would use their speaking skills to win favor with audiences and then live off their gifts. It was very common for these men to teach things that they knew would be well-received by their audiences. In other words, they didn’t believe these things, they just taught them because it kept them in the people’s favor and kept the gifts coming. Now you might wonder why people would put up with this sort of thing and the answer is: they didn’t have cable. These travelling philosophers were the entertainment of the day. But it’s very important for Paul that he not be mistaken for one of these guys, and to avoid that, he made sure that he lived differently while he was there. Paul isn’t opposed to receiving offerings to help him continue his ministry, but when there’s a risk that by taking offerings Paul will be confused with these slick, conviction-less philosophers he takes step to avoid the association. When he was in Thessalonica, he worked another job, probably making tents, to support himself.
c. Goal – Finally, Paul tells the Thessalonians of his goal: “you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Paul wasn’t seeking to make a buck or a name for himself. He was seeking to help the Christians in Thessalonica live authentic Christian lives.
2. Authentic Christianity
Now, I’ve used that phrase a couple of times and I realize it might be helpful to explain what I mean by it. When I talk about authentic Christianity, I mean three things:
a. Personal Conviction – First, I mean living as a Christian because you’re convinced in your own heart that it’s the way to live; that following Jesus is right because he is who he claims he is: the way and the truth and the life. See, sometimes people live as Christians because it’s convenient. Maybe they were raised in a Christian home or married a Christian and it’s just easier to go through the motions of Christianity without actually believing it. In other words, it’s a show. That’s not authentic Christianity. Authentic Christianity is a personal conviction that it’s true.
b. Consistency – Second, authentic Christianity seeks to be consistent Christianity. An authentic Christian doesn’t act one way in church or around other Christians and another way at work or in school or with non-Christians. Authentic Christians seek to live as the followers of Jesus at all times and in every area of life.
c. Honesty – Third, authentic Christianity is honest Christianity. Authentic Christians don’t pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers. They admit that they’re still in process and that some days they’re more like Jesus than others. Authentic Christianity doesn’t pretend that following Jesus is easy. It admits that it can be hard but it maintains that it’s right.
This is the kind of Christianity that Paul models and it’s the kind of Christianity that he wants for the Thessalonians. But of course the question is: how do you help someone have that kind of faith and live that kind of life, especially when the going gets rough? Well, Paul mentions at least three things here that he has done for them. I wonder if you noticed them.
3. Paul’s Techniques
Paul says that he’s done three things. Now, depending on the translation you’re using, you may find quite a bit of variety here. The NIV says “encouraging, comforting and urging.” The NAS says “exhorting, encouraging and imploring.” The ESV says “exhorted, encouraged and charged.” What’s going on here? Why all the variety? Well, Paul uses three different Greek verbs that aren’t real easy to translate.
a. The first word is parakaleo, literally to “call alongside.” Para means “alongside” and kaleo means “to call.” On the one hand this is a no-nonsense word. It’s kind of like “do it.” That’s why some translations use strong English terms like “exhort”. On the other hand, it’s a word that implies that the one saying “do it” is already doing it himself. In other words, this isn’t a command to go and do something…it’s a command to join those who are already doing it. That’s why some translations use a softer word like “encourage.” On the whole, though, I think exhort is probably a better word. What Paul means here is “I told you to get with the program and do what needed to be done.”
b. The third word here is marturomai which means something like “to affirm on the basis of personal knowledge.” The idea here is that Paul urged them to live as authentic Christians because he had personal knowledge of how important it was. There’s a sense of pleading here: “I know how important this is guys, so come one, please do this.”
c. So we basically have “do it” and “please do it”, but in between those there’s another word. That word is paramutheomai. Again, para means “alongside” but mutheomai means something like “to comfort or console or strengthen.” Many versions translate this word as encourage because the English word fits the idea very well. To en-courage someone is literally to put courage in them. And this is where this get’s hard.
See, exhortation is easy: do it! Urging or imploring is easy: please do it! But encouraging…that’s much harder. To exhort or implore is to tell someone to do what needs to be done. But to encourage someone is to literally give them what they need in order to do what needs to be done.
C. Biblical Encouragement
We don’t always use the word that way. In fact, culturally, we have a pretty pathetic understanding of encouragement. For most of us, encouragement means nothing more than saying “You can do it!” But Biblical encouragement isn’t a pep talk, it’s a pit crew. It’s not someone standing on the sidelines saying “Go get ‘em!” It’s someone waiting on deck to fuel you up, change your tires and get you back out on the track. Biblical encouragement strengthens others to live out God’s will for their lives.
That’s what Biblical encouragement is…and it’s crucial. Everyone stumbles. Everyone struggles. Sooner or later, everyone gets the spiritual wind knocked out of their sails. And when that happens, our ability to go on…our ability to live authentic Christian lives depends, in part, on other people pouring into us what we need to go on. In other words, authentic Christian living depends on encouragement.
This is why the Bible is full of commands to encourage others and full of affirmations for those who have done so:
Deuteronomy 3:28 28 ‘But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him,
1 Samuel 23:16 16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David at Horesh, and encouraged him in God.
Isaiah 35:3 Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Acts 15:32 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren
1 Thessalonians 3:2 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith,
1 Thessalonians 5:14 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Hebrews 3:13 13 But encourage one another day after day,
You get the point. God commands us to be actively encouraging our brothers and sisters, because it’s crucial for authentic Christian living. But what does it look like? What does it mean to really offer someone biblical encouragement? Let me suggest three things this morning, and you might want to jot these down somewhere and pray through them later, asking God to show you how to implement these in your relationships;
1. Biblical encouragement is steeped in God’s Word
Biblical encouragement is steeped in God’s Word. See, encouragement begins with the end in mind. It seeks to give someone what they need to move from where they are to where they need to be. But if we’re trying to move them to where we want them to be, then our “encouragement” is really nothing more than selfishness. When a husband “encourages” his wife to go out and have some girl-time with her friends so that he can watch the game without being interrupted, that’s not biblical encouragement. Biblical encouragement seeks to move someone from where they are to where God says they need to be, and to do that we need to understand from His word where they need to be.
Biblical encouragement has to be steeped in God’s Word because biblical encouragement depends on truth, not platitudes. Biblical encouragement doesn’t sing “the sun will come out, tomorrow!” No, it says, “God has not given up on you. God will never give up on you and He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”
2. Biblical encouragement is discerning.
Biblical encouragement is discerning. It recognizes that different people are encouraged by different things and that different circumstances call for different kinds of encouragement. By the way, I think there are basically four kinds of encouragement: affirmation, consolation, exhortation and edification.
a. Affirmation – helps people see their value and potential, especially when they’ve lost sight of it. Affirmation can take the form of words or of actions. You know that game “strength bombardment”? It’s where someone sits in the center of a circle and everyone else talks about their good qualities. Some people are really encouraged by that kind of affirmation. Personally, I hate that game. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails than sit through that. But trust me with a significant task because you believe I can do it well, and I’m affirmed.
b. Consolation – recognizes the pain that people feel and acknowledges the legitimacy of their wounds while at the same time helping them see past the horizon of their suffering.
c. Exhortation – calls people to live in light of what they know rather than what they may feel at a given moment. This can be a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, if we tell someone to get it together and move on without allowing them time to heal from genuine wounds, we may just be creating an army of walking wounded. On the other hand, sometimes sorrow and self-pity can cloud people’s vision and sap their strength, creating a well of despair that it can be very hard to climb up out of. Illustration: Crying Children.
d. Edification – gives people practical steps to enable them to move from where they are to where they need to be. Sometimes this means helping them see something about themselves or their situation that they haven’t understood. In that sense, this kind of encouragement could be called education, but remember that biblical encouragement is about pouring strength into someone so that they can live out God’s will for their lives. Sometimes we can show people what they need to know, but sometimes it means coming alongside them, putting their arm over your shoulder and loaning them your strength as you take the next few steps together.
Biblical encouragement is discerning in that it offers the kind of encouragement that is most fitting for the situation or for the person who needs to be encouraged.
3. Biblical encouragement is personal.
The only way to know how a person will be most encouraged or what kind of encouragement is required in a particular situation is to know the person you’re trying to encourage. That’s why the greatest encouragement almost always comes from those who know us best. Now, this means two things. First, if you want to be an encouragement to someone, you need to take the time to get to know them, or at the very least, to know the situation they’re facing. This usually means learning how to listen. Second, if you want someone to encourage you, then you have to be willing to let yourself be known.
I think Paul models all three of these aspects of biblical encouragement in this passage. First, he has a vision for the Thessalonians that is based on God’s Word. Remember what he said that he was encouraging them towards: that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. Second, Paul is discerning. You see this throughout his letters. At some points he tells people how valuable they are and how great are God’s plans for them. At some points he sympathizes with their pains and struggles, acknowledging their legitimacy while at the same time helping them to see that it’s not always going to be like this. At other points he’s blunt, telling people that they’ve got to get serious about doing what they know they need to do. And at other points he instructs or comes alongside and helps them to take the next steps. Finally, Paul’s encouragement is knowledgeable, based on the fact that he loves them and has gotten involved in their lives, getting to know them and allowing them to get to know him.
It’s ironic that Paul is sometimes seen as a bit harsh when the reality is that apart from Jesus I’m not sure there’s any better example of a godly encourager anywhere in the Bible. We would do very well to follow Paul’s model of encouragement.
Unfortunately, encouragement takes work, and it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. In fact, most of us are more natural discouragers than encouragers. I think of the man who told Chesterton that he had a lump of white fat for a brain and I think, “okay, that’s over the top”…not many of us would say anything quite that discouraging. But the reality is that, confronted with a frustrating student who just isn’t getting it, most of us would have an easier time coming up with something like that to say than with figuring out what it would look like to encourage that young boy in a way that would help him take the next steps down a road that would turn him into one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time. Fortunately for the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of Christians who have been encouraged by G.K. Chesterton, there were those people in his life who took the time and made the effort to encourage him in exactly the way that he needed.
At the end of the day, for most of us, encouragement is a learned skill, but one God commands us to develop. Because authentic Christian living depends on authentic encouragement, God commands us to encourage one another.