“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you may have noticed it’s been quiet for a while. My heart has been a little distracted and at times discouraged. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I decided, why not write out some of my thoughts that might help someone else.
Those paying attention will have noticed that our culture is rapidly growing in animosity toward God and therefore, growing in contempt for God’s people. If you’ve been a part of a local church, you may have experienced the heartache of leaders and friends abandoning the faith, becoming casualties of the world. These things have laid on me a weight of concern for the Church, specifically Faith Community. Though these thoughts can be overwhelming, what it has done in me is stirred up deliberate study about the Church - universal and local. The last few months have been spent digging into Scripture and other helpful resources (books listed below).
I am convinced, more than ever, that one of the sole ways God pulls His children through the dangers of life and safely into Glory is through believers committed to one another within the visible gathering. In a country where biblically faithful churches seem to be declining, I want to take the health of this church seriously. The Way is hard and the local church is not trivial. Back in 2017, Paul Washer said in a conference message to pastors, “to neglect the local assembly and its spiritual prosperity is to neglect God’s greatest plan on earth to reveal His glory.”
“to neglect the local assembly and its spiritual prosperity is to neglect God’s greatest plan on earth to reveal His glory.”
The apostle Paul’s letters to the churches in the New Testament have been nourishment to my soul. He understood the urgency of meeting with the redeemed. Whether on the mission field or in prison, he yearned to be physically back among these local meetings. He wanted to edify his brothers and sisters in Christ and to be built up by them. You can hear it in his words to the Roman Christians, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11-12)
Having been a member of FCC for over a decade, it is amazing to me that God used this one man to help establish multiple churches. I can’t imagine the burden that comes from loving and shepherding many. Of course these churches had their need for correction, like we all do - division, pride, legalism, worldliness, false theology, complaining etc were some of their faults; but one tiny church Paul planted was the exception. This was the church in Thessalonica.
The Thessalonian church was founded after Paul “on three Sabbath days” reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17). It was set in the middle of a city ripe with crime, prostitution, pornography and a low value of life. This small group of new Christians was certainly in the middle of an idolatrous society, causing them trouble. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says, they “received the word in much affliction”.
What then, made Paul say, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thess 4:1) He was telling this faithful church, “you're doing well, keep going.” They endured the same persecutions as the rest of the churches. They too were sinners saved by grace alone. What produced such obedience?
One powerful word that Paul uses several times in 1 Thessalonians is “encourage”. It’s such a common word that I’m afraid we tend to pass it over without much thought, but it is powerful. He uses other forms of the word as well - “exhort” and “comfort”. In fact, Paul says again, “keep going”, at the end of this letter when he tells them to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11).
“Encourage” in the Bible isn’t self-serving flattery. No, it is higher than that. It breathes life into another (Prov 18:21). It deepens one’s confidence and courage in God. It animates us with trust and joy and assurance in order to endure. Kevin DeYoung explains, “encouragement means highlighting the evidences of God’s grace in the gospel or in a gospel-centered person to the glory of God''.
“encouragement means highlighting the evidences of God’s grace in the gospel or in a gospel-centered person to the glory of God''
Paul created a whole environment of encouragement within these local bodies. He himself publicly praised the grace he saw in others, he called people out by name to the entire church. Personally. Specifically. Affectionately.
“He [Tychius] is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant” (Col 4:7).
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant…welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well” (Romans 16:1-2).
The goal of our mutual encouragement is lasting faith. In Acts 14, after Paul was stoned and left for dead, he and Barnabas later returned to the same cities “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” We too should long to see our church “body established in the faith” (Col 2:7), settled in their sure salvation and resting in Christ’s righteousness.
The goal of our mutual encouragement is lasting faith.
Have you noticed that your church is hurting or discouraged? Have you encountered exhausted leaders? Do you see some who are complacent? Could it be that we are neglecting to point others to Christ in order that they behold the glory of the Lord? When we mentor, are we stopping to praise the Lord for big and small victories, celebrating progress made because God is working? Are we calling out others' gifts and contributions to the body? Are we showing appreciation and thankfulness? Are we tender and refreshing?
I really want to challenge you (as I challenge myself) to earnestly commit to “encourage one another and build one another up”. This isn’t something that only pastors do, this is a command for every member of the body - for our good (Deut 10:13). Read the epistles, taking note of all the ways we are told to encourage, exhort, and comfort. Pray daily, asking God to make you an encouragement. Be alert to the people around you and be intentional. Pray that God would make FCC a culture of encouragement.
“encourage one another and build one another up”
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24-25)
“Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Devoted to God’s Church: Core Values for Christian Fellowship” by Sinclair Ferguson
“The Essential Means of Grace” by Paul Washer
“The Loveliest Place” by Dustin Benge