I sometimes use words that are unfamiliar or hazy for certain circles of brethren; words that I believe are very important to the function of the Body of Christ (the Church) and the holy life of God’s Children.
For example, I often bring “exhortations” and “admonishments” to the brethren. An “exhortation” is earnest, often urgent, spiritual instruction, whereas an “admonishment” is counsel, caution, and mild reproof made with goodwill (this is in contrast to a “rebuke”, which is a stern reproof and forthright correction).
But there are also sometimes words that are commonly used in our world but incorrectly understood in their spiritual use; one such word is “encouragement”.
“Encouragement” today is often perceived as praising an individual; when we think of encouraging someone we often think of “patting them on the back” and telling them how awesome they are. I would consider this “worldly encouragement” because it appeals to a person’s sense-of-self, pride, and ego for its effectiveness. However, in contrast, there is also “spiritual encouragement”, which inspires our Christian brethren to courage and strengthen of spirit, and appeals to our love for Jesus, righteousness, and faith in God. This is what I would like to taks some time to look at closer.
The scripture says,
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” ~Hebrews 3:13
“Therefore encourage each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:11
The scripture exhorts us by appealing to salvation in Christ, saying that “while it is still called ‘Today’” (a reference to the Day of Salvation; cf. 2nd Corinthians 6:2) we should encourage one another daily, so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Spiritual counsel is offered in this exhortation: we are being instructed in righteousness so that we will not be destroyed by a very real threat (the deceitfulness of sin).
Therefore, our exhortation, or, earnest instruction, is to encourage and edify one another daily.
But in what way and how should we encourage one another?
Spiritual Encouragement: Unto Christ
What is most often exercised today in worldly encouragement does more to puff up the ego, enlarge our pride, and create a self-centric view of life than it does to promote godliness and build up people’s hearts with gospel courage and boldness. It is temporary, and, just like a drug addiction, requires stronger and stronger doses for the same effect the more your are exposed to it.
Spiritual encouragement is of an altogether different composition; consider the following passage,
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” ~Philippians 2:1-8
This loving exhortation speaks volumes of the kind of encouragement we are to show daily to one another: it begins with Christ, “if there is any encouragement in Christ”, who was in the very form of God but made Himself a lowly and obedient servant of no reputation, in so much that we who are born of His Seed as new creations should also, all together, receive with likemindedness this same mind.
The exhortation being given here consists first and foremost of Christ: that is to say, the encouragement we receive in Christ is in Him and is for the inspiration and courage of Christ-likeness, so that, “as He is, so ought we to be on this earth” (1st John 4:17).
Spiritual encouragement will always further the brethren towards Christ-likeness.
Furthermore, spiritual encouragement is with the comfort of love (cf. John 14:15), the fellowship of the Spirit (cf. 1st John 1:5-7), in affection and mercy (cf. Matthew 25:34-40, Colossians 3:12-13). It is not done in either “selfish ambition” or “conceit”, which is quite the opposite of worldly encouragement, which appeals to an individuals conceit through excessive flattery and praise, and is quite often motivated by “selfishness” as we seek to encourage someone to any particular behavior that we personally desire or want to see. Instead, spiritual encouragement is for the benefit of the one receiving the encouragement and considers his or her personal (we could use the word “intimate” in its purest sense) needs.
Spiritual Encouragement: Testimony
But spiritual encouragement is also through testimony, as Paul wrote,
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. ~Philippians 3:17
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. ~1st Timothy 4:12-13
Testimony is as much the witness of our example as it is also the witness of our words.
By conduct Paul became an example of Christ for the encouragement and edification (building up) of the Church as a whole. He exhorted the Church to look to such examples and join in as examples of Christ to be followed by other brethren. Paul gave earnest instruction to the beloved Timothy by telling him to become an example to the brethren in “word”, in “conduct”, and in “love”.
Consider the following spiritual encouragement that Paul gave the entire Thessalonian Church:
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia, but we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more! ~1st Thessalonians 1:6-8, 4:9-10
Seeing the greatness of their example and encouragement in the body of Christ, Paul did not stroke their ego, feed their pride, or appeal to self-conceit, but, rather, named the good and encouraged them to “abound more and more”.
CLOSING EXHORTATIONS & ADMONISHMENTS
God’s word is replete with examples of how we can encourage one another in Christ so that we will all excel and “abound more and more”; we may speak to one another in psalm, hymn, and spiritual song (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), or use the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to us for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4, 4:7-16), but in all things, whether by preaching and teaching, or by conduct and love, let all things be done for the edification of the Body that we may grow up to the measure and stature of Christ Jesus our Lord.
If your hand is slack, as many hands have been, nourish yourself in the word of God and prayer, and be strong so that you can tend to your house and strengthen your brethren.
May the grace, peace, and mercy of God abound in you all, that your faith may be steadfast and your love for Christ immovable. Amen.