“Consider for a moment which comes easier for you: a critical thought towards someone who has failed to meet your expectations, or a word of encouragement to a fellow sinner also in need of grace? Now consider God’s will for His Church: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). While it is a crucial Gospel-driven response (Eph. 4:1) of God’s people to build up or encourage one another with our words, do we not need encouragement even in encouraging one another? As we consider encouragement in Scripture, ultimately the only encouragement that we truly need comes from God, as the Spirit of God through the Word of God points us to the Son of God in whom we have all things (Eph. 1:3; Phil. 4:19). That said, God means for His people to bring encouragement to one another as we point each other to Christ.
So, what is encouragement?
1. The MEANING of Encouragement
The word encouragement in the Bible comes from “para,” which means alongside, and “kalew,” which means call. So to “encourage” is to “call alongside.” This is the same term used for the Holy Spirit, who is called alongside to help us live to the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the Word of God, assures us of our salvation, and empowers us to grow in Christ-likeness. The Scriptures also teach us that God is a God of encouragement. Romans 15:5-6 says, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God brings encouragement to us so that together we may glorify Him. So how might we define encouragement as it pertains to our horizontal relationships?
Encouragement is the act of influencing another with renewed courage, resolve, or hope.
Encouragement is one component of discipleship, and “discipleship… means to love one another by speaking and living according to God’s Word together.”
With this working definition of encouragement, let’s consider next…
2. The MANDATE of Encouragement
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”
The verb “encourage” here is in the plural present active imperative, which simply means it is a command for all of God’s people to continually practice. What might be some reasons why God would call His people to continually encourage each other? Consider…
A. The Problem of the World
Do you want a sobering verse? Job 14:1 says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Why is the world full of trouble? 1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
What is the evil one continually up to? Ephesians 6:10 says he is continually scheming. The evil one’s schemes tempt us to doubt and distrust the goodness of God (as did Adam) which then leads to disobedience and discouragement. Concerning this present age, Wayne Mack writes: “It is hardly possible to live in this sin-cursed world without experiencing situations in which we are tempted to be discouraged. It may be poor health (our own or a loved one’s), ridicule or abuse by co-workers or family members, personal failure, realization of repeated sin, events in the world around us, problems in the church, or countless other problems. Whether we are experiencing events in our lives right now that could lead to discouragement or not, we may be sure that we will at some point. Jesus warned us, ‘In the world you will have tribulation’ (John 16:33).”
Not only are we plagued by the problems of this world, but of greater concern is…
B. The Problem of the Heart
Where does discouragement come from? Is it not primarily from our own hearts? In Luke 6:45, Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Ultimately, we encourage or discourage out of the overflow of what we are worshiping at any given point in our hearts. When we speak to ourselves, we are prone to think discouraging thoughts fueled by a discouraging world filled with discouraging relationships, bad news, health issues, financial issues, and difficult circumstances. We are prone to think primarily about ourselves instead of others, and in thinking about ourselves we are prone to neglect or discourage others because we are self-absorbed in our own discouragements. Yet what did Jesus do upon the cross as He was being crucified? He was thinking of others, providing the forgiveness of sins and even saying to His beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother!” The heart of Jesus was set on the glory of the Father and the good of His people in the worst of all circumstances. There was no pity party upon the Cross, rather Christ gave Himself fully for the benefit of others in humbling himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 4:8).” Likewise, when our hearts are set on God’s glory, others will be encouraged as we do nothing from selfish ambition but in humility count others more significant than ourselves in looking to their interests (Phil. 2:3-4). Yet why should we go to such great lengths to encourage others? Here are two primary reasons to encourage others: God commands it (as we already saw in Eph. 4:29; 1 Thes. 5:11) and the Gospel compels us to it! The Gospel is…
3. The MOTIVE of Encouragement
Note the first word in 1 Thes. 5:11, “Therefore…” The command to encourage flows from the reason we are greatly encouraged! 1 Thes. 5:9-10 says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
As God’s children, God has not destined us for wrath. There are indeed many who will know God’s eternal wrath, but not those of us who are in Christ. And why are we not among those who are destined for wrath? It has nothing to do with what we have done, but by what Christ has done for us! 1 Thes. 5:10 says Christ “died for us.” Upon the Cross, Christ took the wrath of God that we deserved for our sins. There should be nothing more encouraging than knowing that the righteous wrath of God due upon us for our sins was freely taken by Christ upon Himself. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” What then should our response be? To live for Him who is alive today at the right of the Father as the propitiation for our sin and as our advocate and high priest, even interceding for us now. Encouragement is rooted in the Gospel, and is the fruit of our union with Christ. So Christ is not only the motive of our encouragement, He is also…
4. The MODEL of Encouragement
Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus encouraged His disciples with who He was, what what He did, and what He spoke to them. From the Psalms, to Hebrews, to Paul’s letter to the early church, the scriptures encourage God’s people over and over again to not only look to Christ, but to follow His example in encouraging others to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33)” in a world riddled by anxiety and discouragement.
As the Bible is full of examples of encouragement, we can draw from these examples…
5. The METHOD of Encouragement
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” In response to the Gospel, we can encourage one another and build one another up with the following considerations:
A. The PROMISES of God
Whether we come alongside someone who is suffering as a result of living in a fallen world or suffering from the consequences of personal sin, we always want to hold out to them the hope found in the promises of God’s Word. Lamentations 3:19-23 says, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Is this not the heartbeat of counseling or discipleship, that we get to point one another to God’s steadfast love, his never ending mercies, his great faithfulness, and the hope found within these marvelous truths! Likewise, Romans 8 is a treasure chest concerning the wonderful promises of God. Romans 8:1, 18, 28-29, 38-39 are but a few of the promises that should bring great encouragement to God’s children.
B. The PRESENCE of God
Hebrews 13:5-6 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” Jesus will never leave nor forsake His children, yet we must hold to this truth by faith – especially when we feel differently (1 Cor. 10:13). From Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to David, to the prophets, to the apostles, and even to the widow, we see that God was with His people. Before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Mt. 28:20)” Knowing the sovereign presence of God with His people, Paul encouraged the early church with this in Philippians 4:5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” As we consider that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, and infinitely good creator of the universe is present with us and that that nothing can separate us from His love, we should indeed be encouraged.
C. The POWER of God
Nothing can thwart the purposes of God (Job 42:2), therefore we know that the good work God has begun in us will be brought to completion by His ongoing work within us. By faith, we cling to Christ and His strength to accomplish all His holy purposes in our lives (Phil. 1:6, 2:12-13, 4:13).
D. The PROVIDENCE of God
Paul Tripp once said, “God will not protect us from what He will perfect us through.” In times of testing and trials, we need to encourage one another with God’s sovereignty (Gen. 50:20; Ps. 119:91). Jay Adams affirms that “Nothing could be more encouraging than to know that God is in control, and that He is sovereignly pursuing the honor of His Name and the good of His people – these two pursuits never contradict one another.”
E. The PROVISION of God
We have been united with Christ, given the Holy Spirit, and granted all things that pertain to life and godliness through God’s sufficient grace (2 Pt. 1:3-4; 2 Cor. 9:8). As Paul wraps up his letter to those at Philippi, he encourages them with these words: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
F. The PIETY Observed
A pithy statement concerning Christ-likeness in others is this: “If you see something, say something.” Whether in formal counseling or parenting, we ought to seek to encourage far more than we rebuke. Here are some simple suggestions:
- Say “Thank You” to others who faithfully do you spiritual good.
- Encourage others where you see the kingdom of God advanced (Gal. 5:22-23).
- Encourage the single mom, the sick, the one under affliction, the child who responds well, the one who serves faithfully and joyfully, etc…
- Encourage with verbal compliments and written notes.
- For a pastor, the greatest encouragement is not from one who says “Great sermon,” but by the one who actually makes application of it!
G. The PRACTICE of Repentance
Encourage those going in the wrong direction to turn around. Proverbs 27:6 tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Encourage them to set their minds on things above even as they put to death what is earthly within themselves (Col. 3:1-10).
H. The PROVISION of Meeting Needs
Romans 12:13 calls us to “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” When some one has lost a job and can not put food on the table or when some one is sick and unable to take care of the family, delivering some meals or helping with basic expenses can be a great form of encouragement. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
I. The PRIORITIES Practiced
When you observe others loving God (Mt. 22:37), loving others (Mt. 22:39), pursuing godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8), making the best use of time (Eph. 5:15-16), and seeking to glorify God in the mundane moments of life (1 Cor. 10:31), encourage them to press on!
J. The PRAYERS of the Bible
Pray with and for one another on a regular basis. There is nothing more loving that you can do than pray God’s Word for others, and the more you pray for them the more you will love them (Psalms, Eph. 1, Phil. 1, Col. 1).
K. The PERSPECTIVE of Eternity
We are in a world that lives for the temporal to the neglect of the eternal. Rather than being conformed to the pattern of this world, “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). Are you struggling to put off that sin which clings so closely (Heb. 12:1) or overwhelmed by suffering? In eternity, both sin and suffering will be no more, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:18)” Be encouraged in that this life is not all there is, but only a stepping stone into pleasures forevermore in the presence of Jesus (Ps. 16:11).
To sum it all up, Mark Dever says of encouragement, “… you can often accomplish more by encouraging. There are times to scold. But 80-90 percent of what you hope to correct can be accomplished through encouragement.” If you are discouraged, what encouragement does God’s Word give to you? (Romans 15:4, 13) What are specific ways you can encourage those in your life who have been an encouragement to you or who need to be encouraged in their struggle with sin or suffering? In response to the Gospel, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing (1 Thes. 5:11).”
 Pierre & Reju, The Pastor and Counseling, 107.
 Wayne Mack, Down, But Not Out: How to Get Up When Life Knocks You Down, 207.
 FamilyLife, The Art of Marriage DVD, quoting Paul Tripp.
 Jay Adams, The Practical Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling, 64.
 Mark Dever, Discipling, 101.
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).