It is never difficult to find reasons to be discouraged within us and around us. And we can be particularly adept at dwelling on them and sharing them with others, whether in a spirit of murmuring or otherwise. Uncertainty, criticism, division and a growing tide of ungodliness seem to surround. And if you feel that way, it is more than likely your fellow Christians do too and (perhaps even more so) your pastor. Whether it is for these reasons or a general weariness, fatigue or dissatisfaction, heavy-hearted discouragement is real. No doubt it is not helped by reduced contact with other believers. Many of the “one another” duties to which the New Testament exhorts us have been greatly curtailed. If we seek out reasons and opportunities to encourage others it is bound to help encourage ourselves.
Paul emphasises the importance of encouraging one another frequently in 1 Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 4:18; 5:11 and 5:14). Paul uses a word that means to comfort and strengthen, to draw alongside. It means to be called to come alongside and often means exhort (as in Hebrews 10:25). Often, we are to do this with the words of Scripture. This builds up and edifies and that is the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Believers should comfort themselves together in response to God’s dealings with anyone in particular that calls for comfort. It is not just a general warm positivity, they are to exhort one another to make progress in the life of grace. Exhortation stirs us up to our duty and sometimes that may even mean loving instruction and rebuke, it does not always what we think of as comfort. Indulging our failings would not be edifying. James Fergusson explains the fuller application of this verse in the following updated extract.
1. All Believers Need Encouragement
All Christians of all ranks stand in need of exhortation, consolation and to be edified and furthered in the way of grace by all lawful means. Thus, both pastors and people ought to make conscience of discharging all those duties. Pastors should do this not only privately but also publicly in the congregation (1 Timothy 5:20). It is an important part of their particular calling, office and authority to do this (Titus 2:15). Believers should do this privately in their families (Ephesians 6:4) as well as among their friends and neighbours (Acts 18:26). They do this because of the bonds of Christian love they should have towards all the members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:25). Paul shows us that everyone stands in need of being exhorted, comforted etc. It is clearly the duty of all to do so, because he says to comfort, or exhort and edify one another.
2. All Believers Need Encouragement to Be Watchful
Making conscience of these duties among Christians is a unique means of keeping people in a lively and watchful spirit. Negligence in them, however, necessarily brings great deadness along with it. It leads to complacency and the decay of life and vigour in the exercise of any saving grace and obeying any commanded duties. This duty is connected with being sober and watchful as well as being a help in exercising faith, love and hope (see connection with verses 6-8)
3. All Believers Need to Resist Discouragement
There are many discouragements which people must encounter in the path of duty. These include the small progress they have made in the way of duty, the unwillingness of their own spirit to engage in it (Romans 7:18); the great opposition from outward and inward trials in relation to it (1 John 2:16). They often, therefore, need as much consolation and encouragement, as they do exhortation and admonition to make them advance in it. Paul therefore urges them to do this.
4. All Believers Need Encouragement to Grow
No believer is so far advanced or so diligent in the exercise of any grace, that they do not need the spur of exhortation, at least to make them persevere. The best are ready to faint (Jonah 2:7; Galatians 6:9). They need this to make them do better, seeing even the best come far short of what they ought (Philippians 3:13). He exhorts them to this duty, even though he commends their present diligence in it since they are already doing it.
5. All Believers Need Encouragement to Keep Encouraging
A prudent minister should stir up the Lord’s people to do their duties in such a way that does not ignore the good beginning or progress they have already made. He should let them know that he takes notice of that and this may prove to be a strong encouragement to some to make faster progress and guard others against discouragement. Nothing is a greater enemy to diligence in duty than discouragement. Paul takes notice of how they already edify one another in exhorting them to continue.
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