Encouraging in a distinctively Christian way

Encouraging in a distinctively Christian way

What do you think it means to encourage someone? My immediate thought was that it meant to say something nice to someone. Perhaps that would be compliment their clothes or thank them for something. Perhaps it would be cheering on a child in a sporting match. While those are indeed good things to do, Christian encouragement is different to and deeper than this. If we know Jesus and what He has done for us, we have so much more content with which to encourage others.

Near the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes this:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

                                                                                                                (1 Thess. 5:11 ESV)

Our immediate reaction is to think he only means to be nice to one another, but Paul is saying far more than this. V11 starts with the word “therefore” which means he is continuing on from what he was writing about earlier. Paul had just been writing about the certain hope for the future that Christians have because of the work of Jesus. This means that v11 is telling the Thessalonian Christians that their certain future is a source of encouragement; when things are difficult, they can encourage one another by reminding themselves of the truth of the gospel.

Christian encouragement has gospel content rather than simply nice platitudes. For example, if someone is grieving a loss, the best many people can offer is to say that they are “sorry for your loss”. Some well-meaning people saying things like “they are looking down on you” or something like that. Yet if we are a Christian trying to comfort and encourage a grieving brother or sister in Christ, we can say so much more than this. We can speak of the comfort we have in Jesus. We can speak of our future hope with no more crying or mourning or pain. In other words, we can point people to Jesus, not just express empathy to them.

1 Thessalonians 5:12 onwards goes on to give other examples of what encouragement might look like. It might mean showing respect for leaders in the church, actively talking to them about how their work is building people up instead of the complaints they often hear. It might mean to work hard at patience and peace in the church instead of being quick to gossip and criticise. It might mean encouraging the idle towards service, reminding them who they are because of Jesus.

Who can you encourage this week? It could be a simple text message to someone who is sick, reminding them that God loves them. It might be a phone call to someone whose workplace is difficult, reminding them that they really serve Jesus in that difficult place. The possibilities are endless. Let’s be people who are quick to build others up and slow to tear them down.