Faith, Hope, Love and Encouragement

 

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians declares that every bit as much as faith, hope and love are to be observable characteristics of a Christian community, so is mutual encouragement. In times of anxiety and strife Christians cannot go it alone, nor should they try. We are responsible to one another for encouragement and bolstering each other’s faith, love, and hope. Others need our support in living Christ centered lives. And we need theirs.


 

 

 

1st Thessalonians 5:1ff

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

 

Last Sunday we looked at how Jesus responded to questions raised by his disciples about the coming end of the world as they knew it. He sought to put an end to the speculations about when it would all occur with a three fold negative by saying “no one, not angels, not the Son.” Despite Jesus saying that the coming of the Day of the Lord would occur within the life times of those who were hearing him at that time the question has been persistent and perennial.. It’s not new with us, Paul addresses it in his letter to his friends in Thessalonica. Two thousand years later and the question still has a grip on the community of faith. The book store at Northtown dedicates two large display cases to what I’d have to call prurient interests in it. Not long ago Harold Camping predicted that on May 21st three million people would be whisked away to glory and all the rest of would perish. At the end of the day the End of the World was recalculated for October 21, 2011. Somehow we’ve gotten well into November and though we’ve experienced earthquakes and tornados, the sky has yet to fall. We are now told that it’s time to reset our apocalyptic calendar for December 21, 2012 to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar?                                                                      The Thessalonians, like many today, had what they believed to be a genuine concern, apocalyptic anxiety for those of their number who died before Jesus returned in the fashion they expected. Paul’s response actually begins in the fourth chapter. He tells them they need not grieve like those who have no hope. For some the expected end of the world is seen as an opportunity to escape a world that is thought to be dark, sinful and toxic. And there are people for whom escape from this life could look rather attractive. Our musical folks were singing ‘sprituals’ this morning. This music has a major theme escaping a life of slavery for a much better place. I can see how this could be the case for an oppressed people, people who see that their own severe physical limitations are of great expense to those they love, some suffering a chronic mental distress or a slow degenerative or extremely painful disease. Dr. Kevorkian who died this year fought for the right to assist those people. Few of the rest of us can even get close to understanding. We do know that as the 1929 economic depression took its toll many people who believed that they had lost everything took their own lives to escape the embarrassment. We’ve become all to aware of the high number of people trying to return to civilian life from serving in the military who take their own lives. The urge to escape the reality of human existence has forever been a distraction to getting on with the work of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. About this the Apostle Paul simply says: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.” And his reason: the Thessalonians were children of the light, children of the day – because they live their lives in relationship with Christ the surprise coming of the Lord would change nothing at all.

            Were I living in the Light, wearing the best spiritual armor available – a spiritual helmet to protect my head—a spiritual breastplate – to protect my heart and were I living a sober life, and fully alert to the voice of Christ – I would have no need to fear the coming of the Day of the Lord.   And if that is so we to neither escape life nor do we need the “peace and security” offered by the world. We are living within the Shalom of God- God’s peace and security. And in that sense of being at one with our creator and savior what should mark us now isn’t anxiety over when or how the Day of the Lord comes but, according to the Apostle Paul what should mark us is how we encourage one another, build up each other – and I really like this – Paul says of the Thessalonians that that is what in fact and indeed, they were doing.

            Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians declares that every bit as much as faith, hope and love are to be observable characteristics of a Christian community, so is mutual encouragement. In times of anxiety and strife Christians cannot go it alone, nor should they try. We are responsible to one another for encouragement and bolstering each other’s faith, love, and hope. Others need our support in living Christ centered lives. And we need theirs.                   

            When he was confronted by Thessalonian despair, believers who grieved by the death of sisters and brothers in Christ who died before his return fearing that they were lost forever Paul tells them, and us, that Christ will never forsake any of those who belong to him (4:14-18). That’s a promise. Paul knew that Christians then as much as now need help in thinking straight about eschatology and that their apocalyptic anxiety would be best addressed were they enabled to become a mutually supportive and encouraging community of faith.

You can’t miss it. It’s all the way through the New Testament. Every follower of Christ is called to be an active encourager. Just listen to this partial list of verses starting with our text for today: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thes. 5:11).  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb 3:13) I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (Rom 1:11-12) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:2) When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (Acts 11:23) Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. (Acts 15:32) After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.(Acts 16:40) …Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece…
(Acts 20:1-2) …everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort…For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.(1 Cor 14:3, 31) Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. (Eph 6:22)

And these are not all the verses about encouragement in the New Testament—by any means.

            We live in a world that can be cruel and unforgiving, a world in which sincere Christians suffer. The Bible warned us this would be the case. It helps when interacting with others in our faith community we are “built up” and encouraged.                                                            When we encourage our brothers and sisters, it builds them up. It increases their faith—just as it does ours when we are the recipients. It also increases their love and ability to pass on encouragement to others. Not to mention that it solidifies our relationship with that person as a true, spiritual “brother or sister” in Christ. Just one sincerely spoken, kind moment of encouragement can make a huge difference. It can lift an otherwise discouraging day to the level of “tolerable” or even better.                                                       And as Meetings are peopled with joyous, encouraging followers of Christ what advantage do you think they have to attract others to the faith? Jesus said: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples—if you love one another.
(John 13:34-35)                                                                         In the Book of James we are called “brothers and sisters” in Christ. At least to that extent we are a family. God is our parent, we, together are adopted children. So, since we are a spiritual family, we must function as one. And just as any functional, earthly family is a support group that encourages and supports the other members—so should the church be. We should be there for others to offer spiritual support, encouragement, and comfort. Obviously, a congregation that is encouraging is one that is demonstrating the love of Christ. And that love and encouragement fosters the “spiritual family environment” God wants us to always have. Such nurturing family environments are fully capable of welcoming additional adoptees into our spiritual family.                                                                           One church’s reader board read: “Don’t let worry kill you off—let the Church help.” It could have as easily read: “Don’t let discouragement kill you off—let the Church help.” Of course, the double meaning is obvious: When a church actively encourages, in performing this vital responsibility it builds us up in the faith. The corollary is true as well. When a church fails to encourage people they can easily become discouraged and wander away.                            About fifty years ago London Yearly Meeting shared this advice: Responsibility for this ministry of love and service cannot be left to others. It rests upon each one of us, by action and prayer, to make human need our own wherever we may find it, being quick to see, and moved to respond, as God gives us the vision and the opportunity. As we worship together, opening our hearts and minds to the source of all grace and power, we shall experience that living unity with God and with our fellows from which true caring springs.” In an Epistle written in 1653 Fox wrote: “… all Friends, mind that which is eternal, which gathers your hearts together up to the Lord and lets you see that you are written in one another’s heart…”

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