One Another Texts: Comfort One Another
“Sticks and stones make break my bones, but words can never hurt me”.
Living in a hyper-critical age, we all know this truism to be false. Words do hurt. In our fallenness, criticism comes all too naturally. It feels so good, so right. (“I know better than that person!” “I need to say this in order to ‘protect’ the church!”) Criticism validates us (so we think), we feel “important”, yet Paul warns us that if we “bite and devour” we will consume one another.[i] This warning instructs us what we need to “put off”.[ii] Thankfully, Paul also instructs us what behavior to “put on”:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”[iii]
Warning can be necessary, “criticism” is not. Criticism does not stem from a desire to help, rather from a need to build yourself up. Life is a struggle, we need to be strengthened, not torn down. Recognizing this, Paul commands us to: “encourage one another”. Parakaleo the Greek word translated “encourage” (or com-fort), is related to the noun paraklatos, the description of the Holy Spirit by Jesus.[iv] paraklatos, is translated “helper”[v], “comforter”[vi], or “advocate”[vii] each having a distinct nuance. The verb parakaleo has a basic meaning of: “calling someone to oneself”, “speaking with persistence, or summoning to one’s aid.”[viii] Conversely it means: “to come alongside, to exhort, comfort, strengthen, or bring aid to another.” As fallen men and women, we are selfish and inward focused. To encourage (instill courage) or comfort (with-strength) does not come “naturally”. Obeying God’s command to encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ, will require you to consistently use the tools God has given you in a considered manner.
Most likely we have all experienced the death of a friend, co-worker, or family member. Death is an enemy. Death is real loss. It confronts us with our frailty and future demise. Into this context, Paul writes:
Therefore encourage one another with these words[ix].
“With these words”… encouragement is brought by words. Paul has in mind his preceding description of the truths of the gospel. Here is what we know regarding death and those who have died:
- Jesus died and rose again,[x]
- Jesus will return and the dead will be raised,[xi]
- We will all be with Him in glory![xii]
These words bring strength and hope. Death is not final. Paul doesn’t say:
“What is the matter with you? Your faith is weak!
If you are so depressed, you must not really believe the gospel!”
He recognizes suffering hurts, challenging our faith. He commands you to “come alongside” or “bring hope/strength”, by reminding each other of the sure truth of the gospel.
The world, our own flesh, and the devil are also sources of struggle, each constantly working to bring us down.[xiii] Demanding maturity of others, not allowing for a brother/sister to be weak, fearful, or struggling demonstrates either breathtaking arrogance, an amazing lack of life-experience, or a heart that is totally unaware of its own weakness. Perhaps these things are synonymous. Life is a spiritual battle and believers are to withstand the enemy.[xiv] Recognizing this, the writer of Hebrews commands us:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today,"
that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.[xv]
Here, parakaleo is translated “exhort”. This command is modified. Parakaleo is not a “one off”, it is to be “every day”, repeated, consistent effort is required. If we are concerned for Christ’s bride, we will recognize our own propensity to weakness, understand when we see it in our brother, and consequently seek to offer encouragement on a regular basis.
How are you doing?
Encouragement requires effort:
Encouragement is not “one size fits all”. It uses the word of God, points to Christ, and is tailored to the situation and to the person. The writer of Hebrews gives guidance:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
25not 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.[xvi]
The goal is “love and good works”. We are to “consider” how to “stir” each other to this end. This is done by meeting together and encouraging (parakaleo) each other. Encouragement requires “considering” (or studying) each other.[xvii] Will your brother be encouraged by listening, directive counsel, or concrete help? Is this an emergency or a life-long habit that you seek to minister to? What is the context? Think before you speak!
Encouragement arises out of a life spent walking with Christ:
Where does encouragement come from? It comes from God the Father, the source of “all comfort”. He extends this comfort to us in the midst of our own personal suffering and struggle. Thus, in order to comfort, you must know what it is to be comforted by God. When you know His comfort you have true comfort to extend. You will not offer human wisdom or your personal “life lessons”, you will offer an understanding of the word of God as it was applied to your suffering, so it can be applied to your brothers. Paul says it far better:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.[xviii]
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.
[i] Galatians 5:15
[ii] See Ephesians 4:20-31. See also chapter 8 of The Christian Counselor’s Manual by May E. Adams
[iii] 1 Thessalonians 5:11
[iv] John 14:16
[viii] Bibleworks 8.0 Friberg Lexicon
[ix] 1 Thessalonians 4:18
[x] 1 Thessalonians 4:14
[xi] 1 Thessalonians 4:16
[xii] 1 Thessalonians 4:17
[xiii] Ephesians 2:2-3
[xiv] Ephesians 6:10-20
[xv] Hebrews 3:13
[xvi] Hebrews 10:24
[xvii] The third and final exhortation calls for serious thinking about other Christians with a purpose to stir up their love and good works. ESV Study Bible. Copyright 2008. Crossway.
[xviii] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4