Encourage One Another
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
I am pretty sure that the folks who write movies don’t spend a whole lot of time reading the scriptures trying to find inspiration. That’s why I’m always amazed when we are watching a movie and you can see the fingerprints of God all over what is playing in the screen.
The scene we just watched comes from the movie As Good As It Get’s and while I am pretty sure the screenwriters didn't mean to do it, it gives us our best introduction and definition for our One Another topic. When Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin says, “You make me want to be a better man.”, his words are at the heart of our topic this morning. Let’s move from Hollywood to the Bible and look at a few passages together because encouragement is so important to the church, God doesn’t merely recommend it; He explicitly commands it.
Not only in the text that was read for us this morning, but we read in Hebrews 3:13 Encourage each other every day—for as long as we can still say “today”—so none of you let the deceitfulness of sin harden your hearts.
Hebrews 10:25 not forgetting to gather as a community, as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other, especially as the day of His return approaches.
Time and time again in the New Testament letters we are reminded to encourage each other because the Spirit knew how desperately we need encouragement. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us the truth when He said in this world you will have trouble, that’s why He also encouraged us by saying: But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans fall apart, and our resolves weaken. The Bible is honest with the fact that we will endure suffering, persecution, and all kinds of trials. That’s why our ability to encourage one another is so vital to the body of Christ. When encouragement is absent from the life of a church, people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows His people are in need of grace-filled reminders, so He calls us to encourage each other every day.
I understand that we already speak kind words to one another: You look beautiful today, I really like how you have fixed your hair, did you make that corn dish, it’s delicious. But the type of encouragement we are talking about today goes so much deeper than complementing a child’s outfit or telling someone how good their homemade salsa tastes.
We are called to encourage one another with the hopes that it will turn someone’s heart towards God. Biblical encouragement points out how God is using them to make the world a better place. It’s what we see the early church doing, and an essential way of extending grace to each other.
When we encourage one another we make other people want to be better men and women. Every encounter you have with people either builds them up or tears them down. The children of God are called to be people-builders, but think for a moment if that is reputation the Church has in our community? Are we known by our ability to build people up, or are we known as people-wreckers? Our words to one another, about one another not only describe reality. They also create reality. Specifically, our words are either death-bringing or life-giving, draining or filling.
In the text that was read for us this morning, Paul says, Therefore encourage one another, Now one thing I remember from my bible classes is that you always need to see what the therefore referring to. Why should we be about the business of encouraging each other? It’s because of what he had just finished saying, which is one of the most beautiful descriptions of hope found in the New Testament. For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. (9-10)
We are called to use our words to bring joy filled abundant life into the lives of others. And while that sounds easy, the truth is that it is very difficult because we use so many words on any given day; all day long, words are flowing out of us. Saying hello in the hallway at work, chatting over lunch, greeting our spouse at the end of the day, tucking a child in with a good night story, speaking with a salesperson at Best Buy, talking on the phone while driving. And that doesn’t even count the words that we speak through emails, tweets, Facebook comments, handwritten notes stuck on the fridge. Do our words bring life?
As you can tell it's pretty hard to overstate how important it is to be an encourager. All through the Bible, the role of the encourager is celebrated in people like Phoebe, Elizabeth, Barnabas, and Tychicus. The Hebrew writer even goes so far as to say that one of the ways we avoid being hardened by sin is through the encouragement of others. Encouragement inspires us to be better people. It softens our hearts, lifts our spirits, and draws us closer to God.
So, how do we make sure our words inject sanity, calm, and life rather than destruction? While this is not an all inclusive list, let me share three ways that I am working on, trying to be an encourager. And I’ll start with the one I have the most difficulty with.
Be easy to please
The truth is that most of you only see me at my best. On Sundays I'm doing the right things, saying the right words, I'm being kind to older ladies, tender with little children, and generally just a very patient, loving guy unless your phone goes off in the middle of my sermon.
But my close friends and my family know how I really am. I am not always humble and gentle. I'm not always patient. I tend to walk around with a hand full of tools.
A tape measure to make sure everyone measures up.
I sometimes use the hammer of criticism to pound you into shape.
The sand paper of negative words to smooth out what I consider to be the rough edges.
The level of unrealistic expectations.
Too much of that and people don't feel very lifted. They don't feel very blessed. They don't feel encouraged. I have made it a priority in my life to try to be easier to live with because I believe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 Love does not insist on its own way
In the middle of his discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul makes a point to encourage us to be easy to please and to model love. Insisting on our own way is at the heart of most of our conflict, and the reason why we abuse each other. Our lack of love is the source of heartache and suffering. It’s the very reason that the Apostles constantly fought over who was the greatest in the Kingdom.
There is no promise that other people will have the same desire, or want to be easy to please, and truthfully no where in the Bible does it say treat people the way that you were treated. Actually Jesus said that we are supposed to treat people the way that we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). So we are supposed to lead with love and strive to be easy to get along with.
Which means it all boils down to our priorities. Do we ultimately care more about having unity in the body of Christ or getting our own way? Paul understood how difficult it would be, but Paul followed the example of Christ, who had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status … He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:6-8)
When we are easy to please, we have the freedom to encourage people to live a life that pleases God and release them from trying to please me. Because I can admit that what pleases me, is not always what pleases God. We please God when we love Him and love the people created in His image. Which means I have to quit trying to be the greatest in the Kingdom and start trying to be the servant God desires for me to be, I need to be second, or third, or fifty-fourth.
The second is like the first. Don't constantly criticize.
You know in reality we are not the brightest people. You would think after you criticize someone the third time for the same thing, it would be pretty clear that they aren't going to respond to that approach. But we keep on doing what we've always done, and in the process both you and they wind up frustrated.
Why don’t we try a different approach? Rather than trying to discourage negative behavior why don’t we try encouraging positive behavior? People blossom under affirmation. They wilt under discouragement. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
I know that when someone disappoints me or makes me angry, the first thing I want to do is to criticize their behavior. I end up reacting to their words or actions in an emotional way. I want to show them where they were wrong. To point out how they aren't measuring up.
Have you ever stopped to think how effective that approach really is? Usually, not very. But we do it anyway. We criticize. Then, when they don't respond, we criticize some more. We say to ourselves, You’re not as smart as I gave you credit for. I just criticized you, and you didn’t even have enough brains to respond. So I guess I'll have to do it again, louder this time, with more intensity and more emotionally loaded words.
It's like trying to fix a hole in a wall by hitting it with a hammer. The hole just keeps getting bigger, but we just keep swinging that hammer. There is a place for criticism. But nine times out of ten, people know they were wrong. So instead of pointing out the obvious, instead of hammering away at what's already broken, why not try building them up.
Once while I was at Faulkner I was feeling pretty invincible and I had been up to some sort of mischief. It wasn’t that bad because I don't even remember what it was now. Wendell Winkler was the chair of the Bible department and you knew pretty soon after you stepped foot on the campus the types of expectations that Brother Winkler had for anyone who was a Christian. He was revered and feared by everyone. He just had this presence, Kind of like when Moses came off the Mountain.
A little bird told him what I was up to and he asked me to stay after class for a few minutes one day. I just knew that he was going pronounce my death sentence and I would die from the lightening bolts from heaven. But that’s not what happened, instead he put his arm around me and said, Jeremy, I've been hearing some things about you. I find them hard to believe. That's just not who you are. You can do better, and I expect you too. And you know what? I did.
Two weeks ago I told you about a greeting I received in 1991. Today, I'm telling you about a word of encouragement I received in 1993. Words, offered in love, inspired by the Spirit, aimed at the heart which would make a lasting impact and change my life for the better.
Encourage by your example.
Words are indispensable and they are powerful. But a living, breathing example of encouragement is hard to ignore. Paul told the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed Christ. Behavior is contagious.
You either spread the spiritual virus of discouragement or you share the spiritual fragrance of encouragement. You either make people spiritually sick, or you bless them. I know you cherish your relationships, your friends, and your family. But honestly how you are affecting them? Do you make them want to be better people? Or do they care less about God when they are with you?
As Edsel Burleson used to say, I want to go to heaven, but I can’t go alone. He was right, no one ever goes to their eternal destiny alone. You always take someone with you. You'll either take them to heaven or you'll take them to hell. The next time you are with the people you love I want you to remember that. Where are you taking them?
The flip side of this, do the people you associate with make you want to be a better person? Do they encourage you? Or do they discourage your walk with Christ? I'm asking you to take an honest look at your relationships. If the people you count as friends make you want to be more like Jesus, by all means, nurture those friendships. But if the people you call friends constantly put you into compromising situations, if they are source of temptation, if they contradict your faith, then you need some new friends.
We are called to be encouragers but we are also called to surround ourselves with encouraging people. One of the things you may need to do in response to this message is jettison some friendships. You may actually need to say to someone today, Look, I really like you. I love you. But you aren't good for me. You are wrecking my faith. And I can't live with that. I'm sorry. But until you change, we can't be friends any more.
Church it is not enough to merely talk about encouraging one another, any more than we can merely talk about baptism, or forgiveness. We must put it into practice. We have been pointing this church to becoming a warmer, friendlier church, a place that Models Love in the Model City. I really believe that means that we must become a more encouraging church.
As we close this morning I want you to think about someone who needs your encouragement. Someone whom you can inspire to be a better person. Then I want you to pray that God will give you the opportunity to speak words of life into them. Maybe this week give them a call, invite them out for coffee, send them a note telling them what you appreciate about them. I have a box at our house where I have kept every letter and note of encouragement I have ever received. I still go back and read them when times get difficult.
Or maybe today you just need a little encouragement yourself. Maybe you are understanding Jesus’ promise that there will be trouble in this life more vividly than ever before. Let us take some time to encourage you, to speak life into you as well. Whatever your need this morning will you come.