Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1–17
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
This passage, in context, is most likely an admonition to some of the Thessalonians who have donned their sunglasses and deck shoes to go wait on the roof for the Lord to return. It is likely a precursor to Paul’s more stern words in 2 Thessalonians that if they won’t work, then they don’t get to eat (3:10). And of course, this passage references the whole armor of God motif found in Ephesians 6. All of this is great stuff … the fodder for some of the greatest sermons ever preached.
But this week I want to call your attention to a verse that’s rarely referenced … but one that has the potential to change your whole congregation.
verse 11: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Except in fact, few members, and fewer churches, are doing much encouraging.
I’m not talking about slapping someone on the back and giving them an atta-boy or an atta-girl. I’m talking about practicing what Paul means by encouragement. Note that his words “encourage on another” is followed by “build each other up.” The results of encouragement is building up … and it takes more than a Thank You mention in the newsletter or even a more public “round of applause” to do that.
But first let’s be clear about who the “one-anothers” are. In Sunday school I was taught that when we were called to “love one another” that this meant we were to love “everyone.” There was no delineation between one-anothers and our neighbors. But Jesus gave us five objects for our love: (1) Love God; (2) Love our neighbors; (3) Love ourselves (the second half of that love your neighbor command); (4) Love our enemies; and (5) Love one another. Although I noticed that Jesus said, “A new command I give to you, to love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), I didn’t really pay much attention to it. That is, until I found myself reflecting on 1 Thessalonians 5:15 “Be kind to one another and everyone else.” Suddenly that seemed redundant … I thought one another WAS everyone else. But alas, no.
It turns out that a simple word search for “one another” and “each other” in the New Testament reveals a clearly differentiated understanding of one another and everyone else. The one-anothers are fellow Christ followers, our “brothers and sisters” in the Lord to use old-time-religion parlance.
Okay, with that said, let’s get back to that encouraging thing. If we’re to encourage one another so that we are building one another up, then we have a different task than just saying, “Good job!” Add that passage in Hebrews that says we’re to encourage one another daily (3:13) and we really have our work cut out for one another.
How can we encourage one another … and how can we do that daily?
Let me ask you something. What would your personal faith life be like if every day or so someone from your church called you or emailed your or stopped by your office and said, “How’s your walk with Jesus this week?” and followed up by asking, “So, how can I pray for you?”
How would it change the life of your church leaders if once or twice a week someone did the same thing for them?
How would it change the life of the congregation if your church leaders were making those kinds of calls during the week?
You can probably see where I’m going. When the church is busy encouraging one another, faith grows. And when faith grows, faith sharing gets easier.
But it’s not going to start just because you preach a good … or even a great … sermon on this. As you finish reading this pick up the phone and call someone in your congregation who needs a word of encouragement and ask ‘em how their walk with Jesus is this week … and how you can pray for them.
Then go preach a great sermon …