Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The basis for encouragement (Ministry in Thessalonians, #20)

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, 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.

- 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11

A principle of interpretation is to always look to see what the "therefore" is there for. Here, Paul urges the believers to encourage and edify (build up) each other as a result of specific truths. Just as chapter 4's teaching on Christ's return ends with the exhortation to encourage each other with the words that promise reunification with our loved ones who are in Christ, the section on the "day of the Lord" ends with the exhortation to encourage each other. What is our source of encouragement in the context of a certain coming judgment? 
  • We belong to the day. As the previous section noted, we are children of light and of the day. We are not asleep; we've been awakened by the beauty of Christ.
  • We are spiritually protected. Faith and love become our breastplate, shielding our hearts from attacks of unbelief and hatred. The hope of salvation becomes our helmet, protecting us from mortal wounds of the enemy.
  • We are not appointed to suffer wrath. Salvation is the end result of our faith, because Jesus bore the wrath of God on our behalf. 
  • Jesus died so I can live with Him. Whether dead or alive when He returns, I am assured of life forever with Him. 
The  ministry lesson tucked in to this passage is that Biblical encouragement is always built on truth. Understanding this one principle can help us greatly in discerning true encouragement from well-meaning, but empty, words. It marks the difference between encouragement and mere affirmation. Biblical encouragement can be challenging ("let us be self-controlled"). It can remind us of basic truths ("He died for us") and take us deeper into the cross ("God did not appoint us to suffer wrath"). As we seek to be encouragers and teach others to do the same, let's always ground that encouragement in Scriptural truths. 

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