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Encourage One Another

1 Thessalonians 5: 11 - “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

    Over the thirteen years since I joined this church family, I’ve come to appreciate more and more how well the people of Southside put this verse into action. Still, if everyone took a moment to list a few fellow members they consider to be especially encouraging, I imagine a handful of names would appear more frequently than the rest.

    What is it that makes some people particularly gifted at encouraging others? Paul expressed it this way in 1 Corinthians 16: 18 when he described Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus - “for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.” I can't think of a better way to put it than that: people who are encouraging have a way of leaving us feeling refreshed.

    They greet you with a warm smile and pat you on the back. They make it a point to tell you how much they appreciate something positive that you are doing. Instead of inching away while you speak, they give you their full attention because they genuinely care about you. Instead of speaking evil of others, they praise the good in them. They let their speech be “gracious” and “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4: 6).

    Notice how these are things that anyone can choose to do. It's true that some personalities are more naturally inclined to be encouraging than others, but “encourage one another” is a command, and like all of God's commands, He expects each of us to put it into practice.

    All of these behaviors flow out of hearts that are filled with love, gratitude, faith, and hope. This brings us back to the verse we started with: 1 Thessalonians 5: 11. The Christians in Thessalonica were suffering extreme persecution - so severe that Paul and his companions were forced to flee not only the city but the next one as well (Acts 17). No wonder the idea of encouragement was a recurring theme in both of the inspired letters that Paul wrote to them.
1 Thessalonians 4: 18 - “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” What were “these words” that Paul wrote to invigorate them and that they were to repeat to one another? The promise of the Lord’s coming return! 

    When they were feeling weighed down, Paul wanted them to remind each other that on that Day everyone in Christ, both dead and alive, will be “caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4: 17).

    There were some Christians in Thessalonica who needed to repent and make corrections. Paul stirred them up to walk “soberly” and “in the light” so that they would be ready for the Lord's return and not taken by surprise (5: 1-10). 

    Paul continued this fixation on Christ's return in his second letter to them. He uplifted them with the hope that on the day Jesus is revealed from Heaven, He will be “glorified in His saints” and “marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1).

    If you're anything like me, maybe it occurs to you that this is not your first instinct when trying to encourage someone, even when that someone is a brother or sister in Christ. You might listen with empathy. You might find something you can do to help them. You might assure them of how much you care about them and that you are there for them and praying for them. These are all things that we absolutely should do to encourage one another, but if we take a page out of Paul's playbook, then we'll also help each other look forward to the day when Jesus will make everything right.

    Perhaps one way we can all help to encourage one another even better this year is by talking more often with each other about what excites us the most - Jesus's return. Wouldn't that be refreshing?