Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)
Life as a Christian is not easy. Along with all the normal challenges people face, believers also have the world, the flesh, and the devil all working against you to keep you from walking in faith and obedience to Christ. With weaknesses and temptations, fears and failures, darkness and affliction often at the door, encouragement is necessary if any of us are to walk faithfully with Christ until the end. So God calls Christians to be encouragers to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Encouragement is giving support, confidence, or hope to someone. This is necessary everyday, but especially when there are trials and hardships. Every Sunday you sit in a worship center with a group of believers that have hearts filled with all manner of doubts and worries, struggles and pain. Some of it is hidden; some is on display. You have your own struggles as well. We are all walking with Christ, but sometimes it is little more than a crawl. God in his grace has given us his Holy Spirit as a helper and comforter (see John 14 & 16). He has also given us one another, so that we might give words of encouragement and “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).
Some of you are naturally gifted at saying just the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. You have deep compassion, a good sense for reading people, and a wise and mature manner that exudes confidence and comfort. When you say, ‘it’s going to be just fine,’ people believe you. Part of that might be your spiritual gift, such as mercy, healing, and exhortation. If that is you, recognize that you have a great opportunity to lead the way in this kind of ministry. But it is something for all of us to do. We are all called to build one another up and encourage one another.
So how do you do that? What words do you say? Encouragement is about helping people focus on God and gain strength and peace by trusting in him. It’s not about memorizing catchy sayings or uttering empty platitudes. Christian encouragement points toward Christ. That is the Holy Spirit’s ministry in believers, reminding God’s people of the great truths and promises of God. We would do well to imitate the great Encourager. However helpful these qualities may be, you don’t have to have a degree in counseling or an exhaustive knowledge of Scripture to be an effective encourager. You can be an effective encouragement to others if you learn the great gospel truths and understand how to apply them.
There are three I’d like to focus on. Learn these well:
1. The Cross of Christ. Our sinless Savior died to ransom and forgive ungodly sinners like you and me. In Christ, our old life is dead and forgotten so that we have peace with God (Rom. 5:6, 6:6,11, 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:15-16; Gal. 2:20, 5:24; Col. 1:20, 2:13-15; 1 Jn. 1:7).
2. The Resurrection of Christ. Jesus rose again so that we can have newness of life. In his life we too have eternal life with God forever, starting now (John 17:3; Rom. 4:25, 6:4; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:4-7; Col. 3:1; 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pt. 1:3-5).
3. The Return of Christ. Christ will come again to bring justice to this world, to save and unite his people, to give us our resurrection bodies, and to be with us always (Matt. 24:29-31; John 6:39-49, 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11; 2 Pt. 3; Rev. 1:7-8, 22:7, 20).
Christians who struggle with doubt, shame, guilt, feelings of disconnection from God, unworthiness, self-righteousness, temptation, and much more, need to be reminded of the cross of Christ. ‘Jesus died for you’ should never lose its power. Those who are tempted, weak, idle, unfocused, lonely, undisciplined, depressed, floundering, persecuted, and more, need to be reminded of the new life we have with God, being raised with Christ. They need to see the sweetness of eternal life here and now. For those who are fearful or angry at the state of the world, experiencing hardship or persecution because of their faith, or are dissatisfied with life or are facing death, the promise of Christ’s second coming is powerful encouragement. Christ will bring salvation, judgment, healing, and fulfill his every promise. Knowing the ‘happy ending’ we have in Christ gives us the ability to see past our current struggles: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Rom 8:18).
These gospel truths, when we believe them, are rescue and comfort.They are good medicine for the soul, light in times of darkness, hope when life seems bleak. They are sufficient to strengthen our faith while in afflictions, trials, fears, and failures of any kind. I’m not suggesting that no further counseling or encouragement is needed. Additional help is often necessary. Those in a financial crisis may need benevolence, and those with marriage or parenting struggles often require counseling. However, I do believe that if you can master these truths and their implications, you will always have something true, beautiful, and timely to fit the need.
Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up in the faith.