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.
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.