6But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Everyone is a combination of strengths and weaknesses, good points and bad points. There’s a sense in which we’re all walking contradictions, because we often believe one thing and do another.
In my case, I’m a preacher who believes what the Bible says about the peace of God that passes understanding.
Part of my task and calling is to reassure people who are struggling that God’s love and His compassion is far greater than we can possibly understand, but I also have times when I need to put that theory and that belief into practice.
I can stand here week after week and tell you about God’s love and grace, but I’m also just a sinner who needs to be reassured of His love and grace shown to me too.
Paul, who wrote about the peace of God which passes all understanding in Philippians 4, also wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 7:5, “When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn--conflicts on the outside, fears within.”
Paul was an amazing man. His faith is the stuff of legend, but he also faced his own struggles.
One of our greatest needs in this world is to be encouraged.
From when we’re little we need to be encouraged and affirmed, and it’s a need we take into adulthood.
In 2 Corinthians 2:12-14, Paul wrote: “When I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and went on to Macedonia.”
Corinth was Paul’s premier church in Europe, but there were divisions and conflicts there, and false teachers and heretical doctrines. Titus had gone to manage the situation, but Paul was so worried he couldn’t even preach in Troas when the opportunity presented itself.
Winston Churchill defined worry as “an emotional spasm that occurs when the mind catches hold of something and will not let it go.”
Not even Paul was immune from this; and here in Troas, he was so upset and worried that he couldn’t even preach, so he went to Macedonia.
Paul needed encouragement just like we do. We live in a world in which encouragement is one of our greatest needs.
We can know all the theories. We can memorise verses and sing songs about the assurance of God’s grace and comfort, but when we find ourselves in situations where we need those things to be real to us, we need encouragement too.
Theory needs to be put into practice.
There are times when we need to be ministered to, just as there are times when we need to make ourselves available to minister to someone who needs to be reassured and encouraged. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”
Four times Psalms 42 and 43 ask these questions: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”
If you are downcast or disturbed today, then congratulations.
You qualify for encouragement and comfort.
The question though, is this: How does God encourage and comfort us?
Of course, there is comfort to be found in His promises in the Bible. He comforts us through worship and answered prayer, but He also brings comfort through fellow believers.
Paul puts it like this in his opening greeting in 2 Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Someone once said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticise me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”
God uses Christians to bring words of peace and encouragement to each other. It’s one of the most basic principles of the Church as the Body of Christ.
Think of yourself as a fully commissioned dispenser of encouragement to others. How often have we stopped to consider the fact that God sometimes uses us as channels or providers of His encouragement to another person?
There is however, another side to the coin.
One of the biggest frustrations in ministry is seeing people who are clearly battling, but they won’t reach out for help.
I can’t tell you how often I have found out that members of the congregation have been in hospital, but no-one has told us.
As human beings we seem to have bought into this lie that we need to keep a stiff upper lip and sort out our own problems, especially if they are caused by our own negligence or bad choices.
I don’t know if its pride, shame, ignorance, foolishness or a combination of all of these things, but trying to go it alone, especially during the hard times, goes against the very nature that God intended for us.
We were created for community and fellowship. We are by our very nature, social creatures. And we simply cannot face life on our own – especially when it is hard.
Let’s look at the example of Paul again.
In our first reading from Thessalonians he wrote, “Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
He understood the need to both encourage, and to be encouraged.
Paul ends most of his letters with a request to his readers to pray for him.
He ends 1 Thessalonians by simply saying, “Brothers, pray for us.”
Paul faced tremendous opposition and persecution during his life of ministry, and his honesty is refreshing, and it is something we can learn from.
Rather than deny or spiritualise his pain, he acknowledged it and took action.
He needed the warm affection of his fellow Christians.
Rather than live as a Lone Ranger Christian, Paul stayed connected to other believers. He relied on the Body of Christ for insight, encouragement, and support.
And in this way he honoured a basic principle of Christian community: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of the minister who visited someone who said that he didn’t need the fellowship of other Christians. The minister sat in his host’s lounge and picking up a pair of tongs, he took a glowing coal out of the fireplace and moved it to one side on its own, and within minutes it had cooled. Then he put it back into the fire, and almost immediately it started glowing red hot again. Legend has it that as the minister left, his host said to him, “Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in Church next Sunday.” As human beings we cannot survive on our own, and as members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we cannot survive spiritually on our own.
If you’ve done the Alpha Course, you will be familiar with this quote: “The freelance Christian, who would be a Christian but is too superior to belong to the visible Church on Earth in one of its forms, is simply a contradiction in terms.”
We need Jesus Christ first and foremost, but we also need each other – to spur each other on and to encourage one another.
You all know who Vincent van Gogh was, but there was an earlier part of his life which you may not be aware of. Both his father and grandfather were ministers. As a teenager he wrote, “I feel instinctively that I am good for something, that there is some point to my existence. What could I be? What service could I perform? It is my fervent prayer and desire that the spirit of my father and grandfather may rest upon me, that it may be given me to become a Christian and a Christian labourer and that my life may resemble more and more the lives of those named above. Oh, that I may be shown the way to devote my life more fully to the service of God and the Gospel. I keep praying for it and, in all humility, I think I shall be heard.”
As he grew up, he pursued this purpose in life. As a young man, he moved to Paris and became friends with a young Englishman with whom he studied the Bible. He began working in a little Church and occasionally he taught the Bible and preached. At last he had found his purpose. He wrote many letters to his family.
He wrote in one letter to his brother, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel. If I do not aim at that and possess faith and hope in Christ, it would be bad for me indeed. It is a delightful thought that in the future, wherever I go, I shall preach the Gospel.”
Vincent though, failed to get into theological college. In 1879, he started preaching the Gospel among poverty-stricken miners in Belgium.
But he had no one to encourage him.
The Church authorities wrote a report saying that while he helped the sick and wounded, his ability to preach was lacking, and as a result he was dismissed. So he left.
He gave up his dream of full time Christian ministry, eventually turning away from the Lord, and he decided to become an artist.
Even there, he had no one to encourage him except his brother. During his entire lifetime, he sold only one painting. He became increasingly unstable and unhappy. During the final seventy days of his life he painted seventy paintings. He was in a frenzy, losing touch with reality, until finally he borrowed a revolver and he shot himself.
You might remember Don McLean’s song from 1972, called simply, ‘Vincent.’
“Now I understand what you tried to say to me and how you suffered for your sanity and how you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they'll listen now. For they could not love you, but still your love was true. And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do. But I could have told you Vincent - this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
There is some questionable theology in those words, but in McLean’s defence, he was writing a pop song, not a theological essay, but still – what a tragedy.
Vincent van Gogh was only 37 years old when he ended it all.
Now this is an extreme case, but one can’t help wondering what would have happened in those early days of his ministry had just been given some encouragement.
Instead of being rejected and criticised by his peers and his supervisors, how different would his life have been, and how much could have been achieved for the Kingdom of God if he’d received encouragement instead of rejection?
Who in your life needs encouragement, affirmation, or help in keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ?
The one great advantage we have as believers is the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is one thing to say, “Come on, don’t give up. You can do it.” We’ve all heard those words as children, and we’ve all said them to our children.
But it is an entirely different thing to encourage one another in the Lord, because we know that the failures, the heartaches and the disappointments of this life will pass, but the promises of God will stand forever.
There are three “let us” statements in our reading from Hebrews 10, in verses 22, 23 and 24. “Let usdraw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let ushold unswervingly to the hopewe profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let usconsider how we may spur one another on toward loveand good deeds.” Each of those “let us” statements have to do with faith, hope and love, three of the qualities which sets Christians apart from those who do not know Christ. We have faith in God, hope in His eternal promises, and we have love for Him and each other.
I wrote in the bulletin this morning that we need to be reminded of the promise that God is always with us, even (and especially) when He seems so far off.
The reality is that many of our struggles in this life don’t just disappear through the power of positive thinking, or by gritting our teeth and pushing on through to the other side.
I was sitting with a Christian lady whose husband died suddenly a few years ago. We were both in tears and I said to her, “I just wish I could make all of this go away.” She smiled and said, “I know. So do I, but I know that you can’t.”
At times like that, it doesn’t help to hear things like, “Come on, don’t give up. You can do it.”
But what we can do is encourage and comfort one another in the Lord.
There are many passages of Scripture which are of tremendous encouragement to us.
Just two of them are Hebrews 6:17-20, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.”
And Isaiah 43:1-3, “But now, this is what the LORD says, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.’”
He has redeemed you. He has saved you by sending His Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty of your sin. If you have repented, turned from your sin, and put your faith in the saving power of the blood of Christ, then know this: That is the great hope you have.
Do you feel like you’re just hanging on by your fingernails today?
Then be encouraged. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Or maybe life is just wonderful for you today. If so, we praise God for His goodness to you and long may His blessings to you continue. But you won’t have to look far to find a fellow believer who is struggling.
Be an encourager to them. Remind them of God’s promises to them. They might need to be reminded that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.
Encourage one another in the Gospel. In this fallen broken world, the one thing we can be sure of is the Gospel of Christ.
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10
How do you feel about the Biblical principle of Christians encouraging each other?
Share with your group a time during your life when you felt the comfort and support of fellow Christians when you needed it most.
Were there times when you were alone and had no support? How did that make you feel?
Read Hebrews 10:24-25
Here we are called to a) spur one another on, and b) to not give up meeting together.
How do these principles apply to the Church?
How effectively (or not) are they being applied in our congregation?
Who do you know that is in need of encouragement and comfort?
What steps can you make as an individual and as a group to make a difference in this situation?