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Encouraging Relationships

Encouraging Relationships

In a recent message, we thought about a boy named Caleb, who was recovering from a disease that greatly hampered his mobility. Caleb would have struggled, not only physically, but also emotionally, except for another boy, that one named Tyler. As other kids ran and romped and played during recess times, Tyler walked with Caleb on the playground.

The story of Caleb and Tyler was the basis of a challenge in that message that we who are Christians be willing to walk with other believers. To be friends with other Christians, including those who, for whatever reasons, might be slow in their Christian walk.

Such a challenge is found in the Bible in places. One is in Ephesians, where we are told to avoid doing things that will hurt other Christians. Things like evil talk, anger, and malice. Instead being kind, tenderhearted, and willing to forgive. And Ecclesiastes, where we are taught that being a friend of a Christian who is struggling will benefit, not only the one we are helping, but ourselves as well. So that whoever falls, there will be someone to help pick them or us up. So that our friendship can keep, not only the one we are helping, but ourselves warm spiritually. So that we can defend each other against attacks sent our way because we are different from others, including spiritually.

That recent message encouraged us, when we are doing well spiritually, to pray for, seek out, and help those who are struggling.

It encouraged us, in times when we struggle spiritually, to pray for, seek out, and accept the help of those who are willing to be good Christian friends. 

Today’s message continues the challenge that we encourage one another, this time with some verses found in I Thessalonians 5. Before that, another illustration.

The author of this illustration tells of a time her cousin invited her to join him in fishing for crawdads. The author was thrilled to be asked, and had a big smile on her face as her cousin handed her a plastic pail.

“No lid?” she asked. “You will not need one,” answered the cousin. Which was correct. As the author discovered, when one of the caught crawdads climbed to the rim of the pail - when it was about to be free - the others reached up and pulled it back down.

The author continues that what happens with crawdads reminds her of how destructive it is for those of us who are Christians to be selfishly concerned about our own individual gain instead of the spiritual benefit of a whole Christian community.

Which leads us to I Thessalonians 5, where the apostle Paul teaches the need for encouraging relationships among Christians.

In verse 14 of I Thessalonians 5, there are some specific examples of when encouragement is especially needed.

“Admonish the idlers.”

There is other wording in other translations, such as warn the lazy and warn those who are unruly. In any case, it refers to those who are, for whatever reasons, not taking their Christian walk seriously.

A military example is a soldier who has left the ranks. Using that comparison, an idling Christian can be a danger to others of the faith. With this, yet another translation uses quitters. Concerning being unruly, it refers to being disorderly. That, too, can adversely affect other Christians as it bringsabout dissension.

Admonish such Christians. Warn them. Which means confronting them about their sins, reminding them of the spiritual danger to themselves and letting them know the danger they can be to other believers.

What does that have to do with encouragement? It would seem that confrontation and such reminding and letting them know - such admonishing and warning - is a negative thing. But doing those things is encouragement. As in encouraging them to change their ways so they can return to full, active faith in Jesus, thereby helping their own spiritual standing and helping others stay true to the Lord.

Admonish and warn the idlers, the lazy, the quitters, the disorderly. And “encourage the fainthearted.”

Other translations word it to comfort the fearful or feeble-minded. Not feeble as in not being smart, but allowing fear to make us question our trust in Jesus.

As we know, there is a lot all around us - all around the world - that can threaten to make any of us fearful. All the way from the Islamic threat, not here, but so many places around the world. The Islamic faith is fighting Christianity, and the news at least makes it sound as if their forces are very strong. All the way from that to the societal things we face, even in this nation, including fights against Biblical teachings on all sorts of topics, including the teaching that marriage should be and is between one man and one woman only.

And of course we know that being a Christian does not take away the normal problems of life. There can still be illnesses and relationship issues and financial difficulties. The fear of those things can interfere with our faith.

Do you know someone who is fainthearted? Encourage that someone.

Are you fearful about now or what might happen in the future? Allow others to encourage you.

Together let’s build our faith to be able to withstand whatever happens, knowing the Lord will sustain us, at least spiritually, no matter what.

Admonish the idlers. Encourage the fainthearted. “Help the weak.” That is next in the verse. Support the weak. Cling to the weak.

The weak refers to those who are liable to drift away from the Christian faith. Those who slowly lose interest in the faith, perhaps beginning with a diminished interest in taking part in church activities, the end result being time and interest rechanneled to worldly things.

Listen. We all have worldly interests. That is normal, and it gives us opportunities to display our faith beyond the walls of this building. What is referred to in this part of verse 14 is worldly interests being the main part of life, with no interest in spiritual things.

I like the wording to cling to the weak, which is described this way in one of the commentaries. Instead of letting a Christian brother or sister drift away and finally vanish altogether, the Christian community should make a deliberate attempt to grapple him or her to the church in such a way that he or she cannot escape. It should forge bonds of fellowship and persuasion to hold on to the person who is likely to stray away.

Some of us are involved in Kiwanis. The Lincoln Northeast Kiwanis club has just gained a new member. He is a young man who works behind the scenes at KOLN-KGIN TV. At a recent Kiwanis Board meeting, there was discussion about how to keep the new member, along with others who are younger, involved and feeling part of the group.

Such a desire is important in Kiwanis. It is critical for a congregation - for the body of believers in general - to do the same. In this case, the call is to help, support, cling to the weak so their faith will remain and grow. That is part of the encouragement we are to share with others.

In verse 14, being idlers, fainthearted, and/or weak indicate those we are to encourage because of some problems. Paul adds, “Be patient with them all.” I think that can be expanded to include others who have no particular spiritual problems. The call is to do what we can to encourage one another all the time.

The word patient seems to indicate this might include Christians who might at times be difficult to get along with, so yes, this does refer to everyone in a Christian congregation encouraging one another.

Here is another illustration I found on today’s sermon topic. The author writes that living in a house without an automatic sprinkle system, which she was used to, was an eye-opening experience for her. It reminded her how often grass needs to be watered. She learned the hard way that grass will die without a continual water supply.

The author adds that as her oscillating sprinkler was watched one day, it occurred to her that, much like grass, we who are Christians continually need water.

Of course, the water we need in a spiritual sense is Living Water from the Lord. That is what will keep us strong in the heat and winds of life. However, we can be what sprinkles that water on our congregation. Sprinkling through encouragement.

A point was made in the earlier message about Caleb and Tyler that it seems, on the surface, that Caleb, the physically-disadvantaged boy, was the one who was helped, but that Tyler also benefitted by having the privilege of helping someone else. The point was also made that if Tyler ever struggled, he would likely have Caleb helping him. That is the benefit of encouraging, helpful friendships.

That same point applies here. When we see an idler, or someone fainthearted or weak, it is our privilege to help that person, but when we happen to find ourselves in any of those categories, how good it is or will be to have others helping us so our faith can recover.

And even if we are never in any of those categories, how good it is to be encouraged by other believers to stay faithful to the Lord in any and all circumstances.

The challenge to encourage other Christians is found a couple other places in I Thessalonians 5.

Actually, the challenge is found many other places in the New Testament. Examples of encouragement are found throughout both the New and Old Testaments. 

But in I Thessalonians 5, in addition to verse 14, there are these challenges.

Verse 11. “Encourage one another and build one another up.” There is the added phrase, “just as you are doing.” That can be applied to this congregation, but keep it up. That was  and is the  message for the Thessalonian church and for us.

Verse 15. “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” Encouragement is an important part of doing good.

Remember the crawdads. Whenever one crawdad tried to better itself, the others in the pail grabbed it and pulled it back down. Let’s not do that as Christians. Instead, let’s help one another - let’s encourage each other - to grow spiritually, which leads to three closing thoughts.

First, how about some ideas about how to encourage others? Concerning idlers, the fainthearted, and the weak, we have already covered such ways. Admonish and help are examples. Here are some general ones. a list I found has 19 examples. I will share a few that seem most relevant.

  • If an encouraging thought comes to your mind, share it. It might take a moment or two to call or text someone, but an encouragement might be needed at the time you have the thought.
  • When someone you know is discouraged or hurting, offer specific, practical help. If we ask how we can help, the person might be at a loss to answer. It is better to  ask, “Would it help if I did [whatever]”, or say, “I would like to do [whatever].”
  • Write someone  a note  to tell him or her you are praying for him or her. If you can, be specific.
  • Make celebration a regular part of your relationships. Celebrate victories, large and small, with a note, coffee together, a special meal, a congratulatory phone call, or a high-five.
  • Encourage other believers with a reminder of Christ's coming. That helps redirect thinking to an eternal perspective and ultimate deliverance from sin and death.
  • Realize the power of presence. Just being with someone can be encouraging.
  • When you see someone making positive changes in his or her life, affirm that person, which should encourage him or her to continue to grow.
  • Use encouragement as an outreach. If anyone should be known for being an encourager, it should be a Christian. Write a letter or make a call of appreciation to people at work, your apartment manager, your child's teacher.

Those are some ideas about how to encourage others. For the second closing thought, here are some specific examples of encouragement happening.

A few years ago, a woman started to fast, giving her time to pray for the salvation of her marriage. Her husband was preparing to file for divorce. The woman became overwhelmed with grief and sickness, but she wanted to be committed to her fast. Another woman in the church said, “I will fast for you.” That way the fast continued. Miraculously, the marriage was saved.

In another case, a woman worked for another woman in her church, doing so for several months while the other one was off work because of sickness. And she gave the sick woman the paycheck.

A man in a church kept up the yard of his neighbor when his neighbor fell off the roof and was bedridden for several months.

There is a woman who watches over a child with a severe handicap so the parents can go out every Thursday night for alone time.

There are many ways to encourage. There are many examples of encouragement being given Rather than being like a crawdad and dragging down others, let’s encourage each other, just as we are doing. Let’s keep working together to encourage each other, which brings up this final closing thought.

An author writes that when he was in elementary school, his class won the tug of war game. They soundly defeated all their opponents.

He reports their secret was their teacher, who yelled, “Pull! Pull! Pull!” They would pull and release on her command, unified. They defeated people older and stronger than them because they pulled and rested together. The other teams simply pulled individually at different times. The author’s team strategy of pulling - and resting - together worked.

That is the point with the call to encourage, which brings to mind working together for the common good in a Christian body. As the devotional continues, if someone we know is in trouble, whether it be from his or her own sin or a trial or a difficult season in life, we need to do something. We need to encourage that one. Do not stand back and watch. Do not allow that person to go down a path of destruction. Go. Go to that person’s aid! 

It is very easy to think that what someone else suffers is really none of my business. And God certainly does not ask us to meddle. Or judge or punish. But He does ask His people to love and encourage each other.

Pull. Pull. Pull. Let’s be aware of those around us, including those in special need of encouragement. Then let’s do better than crawdads. Let’s encourage those who need it, which is all of us.

This service will ended is with me reciting some of the lyrics of a song by singer Toby Mac. The song is played quite often on Christian radio. It is called Speak Life.

Some days life feels perfect.

Other days, it just isn’t working.

The good, the bad, the right, the wrong,

And everything in between.

It's crazy amazing

How we can turn hearts 

Through the words we say.

Mountains crumble with every syllable.

So speak life, speak life,

To the deadest darkest night.

Speak life, speak life,

When the sun won't shine 

And you don't know why.

Look into the eyes of the broken hearted.

Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope.

Speak life.

Speak life.

Some days the tongue gets twisted.

Other days my thoughts just fall apart.

I do, I don't, I will, I won’t.

It's like I'm drowning in the deep.

It's crazy to imagine

How words from my lips 

Are the arms of compassion

Mountains crumble with every syllable.

So speak life, speak life,

To the deadest darkest night.

Speak life, speak life,

When the sun won't shine 

And you don't know why.

Look into the eyes of the broken hearted.

Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope.

Speak life.

Speak life.

Lift your head a little higher.

Spread the love like fire.

Hope will fall like rain

When you speak life with the words you say.

Raise your thoughts a little higher.

Use your words to inspire.

Joy will fall like rain when you speak life 

With the things you say.

So speak life, speak life,

To the deadest darkest night.

Speak life, speak life,

When the sun won't shine 

And you don't know why.

Look into the eyes of the broken hearted.

Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope.

Speak life.

Speak life.

Lord, help us to be careful to not be crawdads, dragging down others. Inspire us to instead be encouragers of one another so that together we will speak life - and hope and love and faith and joy. In fact, may we continue to be known as helpers of one another in this, our Christian journey. Amen.

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