Written by Stephen Cox
The writer to the Hebrews says that one of the most basic reasons for why God’s people meet together is to encourage one another:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:24 – 25
Paul says much the same in Ephesians 4, where his vision of the church working together as it should is one where everyone speaks the truth in love. However, our words to other Christians in many instances don’t seem to progress much beyond the weather, TV, weekend trivia. Sometimes when we do get beyond trivialities, we struggle to know what to say that will genuinely encourage others in their lives and their Christian walk.
What does the Bible mean when it says encourage one another?
It doesn’t mean that we are to flatter one another. Flattery is defined as excessive or insincere praise. Flattery is saying nice things to people in order to get something from them. Biblical encouragement isn’t spouting off motivational platitudes to one another either, it’s much deeper and much stronger (and much more honest) than that.
In 1 Thessalonians the Apostle Paul uses two Greek words for encouragement. The first is the word parakaleo (4:18, 5:11) which means to call from alongside of. The second is paramutheomai (2:12), which means to counsel from alongside of. Notice that encouragement has this sense of coming along side of – it means coming close to someone’s life, their struggles, their story. Encouragement isn’t distant, it’s close: it’s the voice that says, I relate, I understand, I’ve been there too.
Even though encouragement is supported and adorned by loving actions, and bathed in prayer, it mainly consists of what we say. It shouldn’t surprise us when we are known by a God who speaks. This word that God speaks is powerful and effective, and moves us from death to life through the word of the cross – the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the very same word that brought creation into being, and through the word of promise guaranteed the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The amazing privilege we have is first of all to hear the word, then being allowed, encouraged and commanded to speak God’s word to others. It is literally a life-transforming word. It may mean giving a talk, but equally it may mean something as meeting with one another to read the Bible and pray. It can happen across a fence, after church, next to a hospital bed, during a lunch break, in a kids’ talk or to a workmate. It may be a long conversation or a quick email.
So encouragement has different voices because what people will need to hear is different in different seasons:
Those growing weary, call to them to keep going, don’t grow weary, finish strong.
• To the one who stumbles, we gently seek to restore them
• To the one who is going off in an unbiblical teaching – call them to truth of God’s Word
• To one who is hurting, we come alongside with warm counsel and loving comfort.
Encouragement doesn’t have to be awkward, though. Like any other skill, we get better at it with practice. Here are just a few suggestions to help you grow in your ability to encourage others.
1. Turn to the Word
Not everyone is naturally comfortable crafting the perfect words for a given situation. In practicing encouragement, I have found that the fewer words I use of my own, the better. Let the Scriptures be your starting point for encouraging others. Share with fellow believers where you see the Spirit working in and through them.
2. Be Specific
Our encouragement is most meaningful when we take enough interest in others, allowing us to be specific. Based on what you observe, offer concrete examples of how you have seen this person live out their faith. It’s deeply encouraging to hear, “I saw God’s grace at work when you did this or said that.”
3. Be Courageous
Don’t just encourage for godly things already done, but encourage the pursuit of godly things not being done, as well. If a friend is engaging in gossip, find words to encourage them toward Christ-honouring speech. Be gracious rather than legalistic. The more you can identify with your friend’s battle, the more loving your encouragement will be.
The God of encouragement (Romans 15:5-6) wants to use each of us as vessels of encouragement to one another. To call to one another, to help strengthen one another to keep running, keep going, keep believing, keep depending on Christ, to finish the course God has given us.
This is an encouraging church. In so many ways you live this, and that is the grace of God at work in you. So this message isn’t, “start doing this”, it’s “just as you are encouraging one another, do so more and more.” (1 Thess 5:11)
This is an extraordinary privilege that God gives to every member of Christ’s body, the church. Let biblical encouragement be the atmosphere of WWEC as we emulate the God of encouragement.