The words “encourage” and “encouragement” occur more times in 1 Thessalonians than in any other of Paul’s letters. In this short 5 chapter letter it comes up six times. Because this letter has this theme of encouragement woven throughout it, it provides an excellent outline for unpacking what it means to encourage one another.
The manner encouraging one another is to be done is given in 2:11-12.
For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
We are to encourage one another as a father encourages his children, with parental-like affection. Notice that Paul says we dealt with each of you, meaning that this encouragement was given individually as each person needed it. It was personal, intentional, and affectionate.
The motive for doing it is given in 3:2-3. When Paul heard that the Thessalonians were being persecuted, he says,
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.
Paul sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. There are two motives Paul had in doing so. The first was to help them stand up and be faithful in the face of persecution. The second was to reassure himself that they were going to be ok. 1 Thessalonians 3:5 says, For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.
These two motives I think can be resolved into one: love. Love naturally produces a concern for the wellbeing of our loved ones. When we know people we love and care for are in trouble or are having a rough time, we want to do everything we can to encourage them and make sure they are ok, because in a real sense we are not ok until we know they are ok.
The reason why we are to encourage one another is given in 3:6-9.
But 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 and sisters, 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?
Encouragement is contagious. Timothy’s report that he had been successful in encouraging the Thessalonians and that they were remaining faithful despite their difficulties in turn encouraged Paul. When you encourage others, you end up being encouraged yourself, and that leads to praise, thankfulness, and joy.
There are two ways that we are to encourage one another. The first is in 4:13-18 where Paul answers questions that Timothy brought back concerning what happens to Christians who have died. Brothers and sisters, he says, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. And he goes on to explain that when Christ comes those who have died will rise and those who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so…will be with the Lord forever. Then in verse 18 he says, Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We encourage one another with the hope of the Gospel and urge one another to trust God to keep His promises and believe He is in control even when, especially when, it seems like the opposite is true.
This is certainly timely counsel now isn’t it? There is so much angst about the direction our country is headed, persecution of Christians around the world seems to be on the rise, especially in Islamic countries. Like the Thessalonians we can encourage one another by remembering Christ will ultimately reconcile all things to Himself. Jesus said in Matthew 24:6-7,
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
We don’t know how our current circumstances are going to end, but we know how it all ends in The End. We need to stay focused on where we are going to, not what on we are going through.
The second way can encourage on another is in 5:8-11.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
The second way we encourage one another is by living the life we have been called to and helping others to do the same. We encourage one another through our example, by sharing our experiences and wisdom with one another, and by consistently living out our faithfulness to God and one another by living a life of love, certain of the hope we have in Christ.
Who we encourage is given in 5:14.
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
We need to be mindful to especially encourage those who are down, troubled, or disheartened. This is where Paul uses paramutheomai, where the meaning is to bring these people close and speak soothingly to them, encouraging them, comforting them.
So the manner in which we are to encourage one another is personally and affectionately. The motive for encouraging one another is love. The reason for it is that it is contagious and produces praise, thankfulness, and joy. We encourage one another by reminding one another of Christ’s promises and that we can trust Him to keep them even when things look like they are going all wrong; and we encourage one another by our example, by sharing our experiences and wisdom, and by consistently living (and helping others to live) a life of love, certain of the hope we have in Christ. And we are to encourage everyone, especially those who are disheartened.