This month’s meditation is a continuation of the series I began in September, dealing with lessons we, as believers in Jesus, should learn as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Each installment deals with what the Bible says about our responsibilities to one another as believers in Jesus. Although the occasion that started my thinking about these issues was the isolating effect that Covid 19 had on all of us at Grace, the reality is that these lessons deal with the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that should always characterize us as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is important that we review them from time to time because we can so easily slip into the mode of thinking that the value of attending church is only about what we get out of it. The “one another” passages remind us that an ongoing value that is at least as important as that one is our responsibility to minister to others (not to mention the concern for what God receives from our time together).
The responsibilities I would like to address this month are that we are to encourage one another and build each other up. One dictionary defines the Greek verb translated “encourage” as: “To exhort in the way of consolation, encouragement, to console, comfort.”1 Paul refers to this task twice in 1 Thessalonians. The first time is 1 Thessalonians 4:18. It comes at the end of a small paragraph in which Paul teaches his readers about the future for believers who have died. Apparently they were unaware of what lay ahead for their loved ones who had passed and they were mourning their loss not realizing they would see them again. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, ESV) After briefly describing the resurrection of believers at the coming of the Lord and their being united with saints living at that time, Paul concludes chapter 4 with the exhortation of verse 18: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18, ESV) Undoubtedly, the knowledge that they would see their departed loved ones again and that in the very presence of Jesus would have been a great source of encouragement to them.
In the immediately following verses, which constitute the first section of chapter 5, we find the second time Paul calls his readers to encourage one another, this time pairing it with the responsibility to build each other up. The verb translated “build up” means: “to build up, establish, confirm.”2 The thrust of the paragraph is that Paul exhorts his readers to live godly lives with the expectancy that the Day of the Lord may begin at any moment. What were the Thessalonians supposed to do in light of this information? The very next verse answers that question. They were to use it to continue to encourage and build up one other. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV) The knowledge that we will spend eternity with the One who died to save us should motivate us to live to please Him in this life. All of us go through times of discouragement when we need our brothers and sisters to encourage, console, or comfort us by reminding us of who we are and what the future will be like for us as children of God and joint heirs of Jesus Christ. We also experience times when we are weak or in doubt when we need a brother or sister to build us up, establish, or confirm us in the faith.
I realize that we can encourage or build one another up through phone calls, notes and texts, and we ought to take advantage of these means to do so, but they cannot replace the effectiveness of being physically present with someone. That is why, in the last recorded epistle Paul wrote, he strongly urged Timothy twice to come to him and once to bring someone else with him. “Do your best to come to me soon. … Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:9 & 11, ESV) “Do your best to come before winter.” (2 Timothy 4:21, ESV) I also realize that physical proximity does not guarantee that we will encourage one another or build each other up. It is something we need to be intentional about. A fringe benefit for concentrating on encouraging others or building them up is that as we do so our attention is taken off of ourselves so we have less time to be depressed or focused on our own needs. When was the last time you looked for an opportunity to encourage or build up someone during Grace Café?
1 Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.
2 Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.