Since my family and I have come to FBC, we have received various forms of encouragement, for which we are extremely grateful. As I’ve been pastoring in different settings for over 20 years, I have noticed that most people lack and crave encouragement. People in our world are naturally deficient in encouragement. This is primarily because our world rushes around, typically only thinking about ourselves.
Ultimately, God, the gospel, and God’s word provide sustaining encouragement; however, God also uses his people to encourage one another. The Apostle Paul claims this different way of life for the church. In Ephesians 4 (which we’ll study on Sunday mornings after Easter), Paul links the unity of the church with encouragement by saying:
“There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
This unity of which Paul speaks is not because of our own efforts but because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s a unity that is given to us by Christ, as we trust him to save us and follow him as Lord. Yet now, for those who are in Christ, we must–as the Apostle Paul says: “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Although our unity is a gift from Christ, it is maintained by the Spirit in us, who leads us and exhibits his likeness taking shape in our lives. Paul shares this with the 1st century believers in Ephesus, and also with us. Paul wants us to cling to gospel-rooted unity as the foundation of a lifestyle of encouraging one another.
Paul further illustrates this as he talks later in the chapter about how “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15). Paul says: “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22,24).
Then, Paul gives examples. He tells us that gifts of service are given to be shared in the body of Christ–the church. Therefore, an important aspect of our efforts to encourage one another is to serve one another through ministry together. And then, Paul exhorts us about how to speak: “…let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another…only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25-26,29).
Paul is saying, because you were bought by Christ and now live in him, may your life look like Jesus’ life. Imitate him as servant leaders. He is saying, talk in such a way that builds up one another; by doing so, we extend the grace of our Lord to one another.
So, what does it mean to build up one another with our talk? As I consider how some of you have built me up in Christ, I have been most encouraged when you have shared some of the ways in which God has been working in your life and in our ministry together.
It is through our celebration of God’s steady faithfulness, gracious provision, and merciful care in our lives that we encounter the greatest encouragements, which maintain the unity of the body in faith.
So, church, look for someone to encourage in Christ this week!