By The Saints
“The Christians! They get me down! I know they are my brothers and sisters, but how discouraging they can be! The things they do and say — and their attitudes! They make me sick!”
Have you ever felt like this? Alas, it does happen — occassionally —that Christians can be a source of discouragement to one another. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be!” (James 3:10). On the contrary, we should be channels of encouragement to fellow-believers, our brothers and sisters in the same family, the means God uses to bring comfort and cheer to His people. But how?
The writers of the New Testament exhort us to “encourage one another” — four times in the NIV translation:
Hebrews 10:24, 25
One of the key phrases of Hebrews is: “Let us” — occurring thirteen times in thirteen chapters — but sometimes in “bunches.” For example, this is seen in each of the successive verses of Hebrews 10:22-24. The NIV adds two more in v. 25: “Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another…” The word translated “exhorting” in the KJV and “encourage” in the NIV is, again, the word, ‘parakaleo,’ meaning to call alongside — to help.
When should we encourage one another? Always, of course —whenever we have opportunity. But the writer adds: “So much the more as ye see the day approaching.” What day? Possibly — for the initial readers of the epistle — the day of intense persecution which Hebrew Christians were soon to face when Jerusalem was destroyed. We, too, need to encourage one another especially when days of trial and tribulation loom ahead. For them and for us, however, there is another day approaching — nearer now than it was for them — which should inspire us to encourage one another: the day of the Lord’s return; this may be any day, even today! So let us be encouragers of each other as that glorious day approaches! But how? These two verses suggest two ways:
1. By meeting together. “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (v. 25); “Let us not give up meeting together” (NIV). In times of trial and persecution, such as these Hebrew Christians had experienced (see vv. 32-34), the gatherings of believers have special value for encouragement. But, at all times, we may be an encouragement to one another by meeting together with those of “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1). Too many stay at home and criticize, instead of coming together to encourage. Our very presence can be an encouragement. A preacher was visiting a backsliding Christian who had been absenting himself from the assembly prayer meeting. Sitting down with him in front of a coal fire, he silently took the tongs, lifted a glowing coal from the fire, placed it on the hearth, sat back and watched. Soon, of course, the glowing ember ceased to glow and the fire itself burned less brightly. The backslider broke the silence: “I’ve got the message; I’ll be out next Wednesday evening!” Our absence from the gatherings of the church not only discourages others, it affects our own spiritual warmth, health and growth.
2. By considering one another: “to provoke unto love and good works” (v. 24). How we need ‘provocative’ saints! — provoking one another — but in the right way! “Provoke” is a medical word which could be transliterated ‘paroxysm.’ Paroxysms — sudden outbursts of pain, coughing, rapid heart action, etc. —are often induced or ‘provoked’ by certain stimuli, which the patient comes to recognize and tries to avoid. So the writer here encourages the readers to “consider one another” — observe and study closely, and take note of the special needs, problems and circumstances of each other, and of the particular stimuli which will touch the nerve endings to induce a paroxysm of love and good works.
B. Hebrews 3:13
“Exhort (NIV: “encourage”; Greek: “parakaleo”) one another daily lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” “Lest” is another keyword of Hebrews and found eleven times in the KJV. Each time it occurs, it sounds a note of warning — and there are several warning lessons throughout the book. In this particular instance, the danger is stated in verse 13, a hard heart, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Who has an “evil heart of unbelief” (“a sinful, unbelieving heart” — NIV)? A sinner, and unbeliever, of course! Compare some unbelievers at Ephesus, who “were hardened, and believed not but spoke evil of that way” (Acts 19:9). The writer was concerned that, among those to whom he wrote, there may have been some who were not true believers and who were turning back from their profession of faith to their former “religion” Judaism. So he encourages them to encourage one another. His message, however, has a valid application to all of us to encourage one another not to pursue a course of unbelief and disobedience to God’s Word.
Why should we “encourage one another”? “Lest any be hardened” that is, to prevent or arrest sin —whether in false doctrine or impure lives. An unbelieving heart can easily become a hardened heart. We should encourage one another not to depart — to go away from — “the living God,” but to “go on” for Him (Heb. 6:1).
When should we “encourage one another”? “Daily,” — all the time, continually; “while it is called today.” There is an urgency about it; let us seize the opportunities!
C. 1 Thessalonians 4:18
“Wherefore comfort (parakaleo) one another with these words”: “encourage each other” (NIV). Verse 15 indicates the source of the words with which saints can encourage one another: “the word of the Lord.” We can and should give encouragement by applying the “comfort (encouragement) of the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4), not only from the pulpit but in our mutual conversation. How much more edifying and encouraging would our conversations be if the Word of God figured more prominently in them! To be able to encourage by the Word of the Lord, however, we need more than a passing acquaintance with it! We need a personal knowledge of its teachings, experience of its truths, and application of its principles to our lives. This does not result from simply “attending church” once a week, listening to an occasional taped message or TV programme (helpful as all of these may be), but from the absorption of our minds, hearts and lives in the Word — reading, memorization, meditation, study and application.
In this instance, there was a specific “Word of the Lord” that was and is an encouragement: it concerned the return of the Lord, the Rapture, and the resurrection of the “dead in Christ,” a message that is specifically encouraging in circumstances of bereavement and sorrow. But many other teachings of the Scriptures are for our encouragement. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul uses the word “parakaleo” eight times. Chapter 4 has it at its beginning and end and in its centre. At the beginning, verse 1, he encourages (“exhort” — parakaleo) the believers to “abound” in a walk that pleases God, and refers to the “commandments” he had given “by the Lord Jesus” as the source of that encouragement. In verse 10, he “beseeches” (parakaleo) the Thessalonians to “increase more and more” in love for one another, as they had been “taught of God” (verse 9). Thus, three times in this chapter, the apostle gives an example of encouraging the saints by the application of the great truths and principles of the Word of God. We can encourage one another not only by the comfort of the Scriptures, but also by their commands.
D. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Wherefore comfort (parakaleo) yourselves together” (NIV: “encourage one another”). The encouragement of this verse is obviously based on the message of the previous verses, which can be summed up in verse 9: “God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” — not only the past salvation from the penalty of sin by His death for us; and more than His present salvation from the power of sin by His life for us in the glory and His presence in us by His Spirit; but, especially, in this passage, the salvation in the future, when He comes for us and takes us to glory. This salvation will not only be from the presence of sin, but from the “wrath” (verse 9), which will come upon the earth during the Great Tribulation after the rapture.
“ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER:” How? By meeting together regularly, by considering one another, by warning each other of spiritual dangers, by applying the Word of God — its precepts, principles and promises — in our teaching and conversation, and by reminding each other of our great salvation and glorious prospect, we can all be an encouragement to the saints!