1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (NIV).
I worked four years for a general contracting company. Our focus was primarily residential, building all types of housing from single family homes to apartments. One of my favorite memories of that time is standing on the second floor of a newly framed house and looking out at the blue summer sky through the newly framed white 2×6 walls. Day by day, the construction would continue till it was time to clean up the house for the owners-to-be. Taking the construction trash to the town landfill was not as fun, especially if it was ninety-five degrees on a summer day, but it also was a necessary part of the task of building a home.
Every follower of Christ is to participate in building up other disciples. This is something we all are do, whether we are young in the Lord, have been a believer for a few years, or have walked with Christ for decades. We all have something to contribute; that is, we will have something to contribute as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:18 NIV). This should stimulate us to action. We are able to make significant contributions to the spiritual health and prosperity of others. Here are some observations.
- The Holy Spirit is not simply giving us good advice in this exhortation. He wants our way of life to include this spiritual activity. One of the tragedies of contemporary Christianity is the lack of the practice of the “one another” passages in the New Testament Scriptures. Too many people assume that godliness is not doing a short list of prohibitions. (You know, the stuff that the elders of your local church might decide to make you the subject of “church discipline”, if you do them.) Certainly, we ought to avoid the practice of what the Lord tells us to avoid. But we must understand that true godliness involves the ongoing practice of what the Lord wants us to do. A major part of true godliness is acting for the benefit of others, as the Spirit directs us in this text.
- To build others up, you need to know them. This is one of the glaring weaknesses of what I have called the “edifice church” concept (the idea that “church” equals “building”). People assume that sitting in a building on Sunday morning means that they “have gone to church”, and so have pleased the Lord. However, the church is not a building but a gathering of followers of Jesus Christ. When you gather with people that love the Lord, your primary topic of conversation is not about your families, your jobs, your hobbies, and your sports teams. It is about the new life that you share in Christ. Your joint focus is on him. You care about the spiritual struggles and battles of each other. Going to church is not about seeking an hour of personal, spiritual solitude while the worship team sings and the lead pastor delivers a clever talk. Instead, going to church is about being with the Lord and his people and knowing one another. See 2 Peter 3:18 quoted above. It is impossible to build up another person made in God’s image apart from a real sense of who they are and where they need help. You cannot gain this knowledge simply by sitting in a big room for an hour with others. I have learned this through sixty some years of being in big rooms with others.
- To build others up you need to know what a mature follower of the Lord Jesus is supposed to be. This requires investment of time in the reading and study of the Bible. My advice, besides general reading of the whole Bible, is to read much and to think deeply on a couple selected books of the Bible. Start with Matthew. Besides telling the story of God’s glory in Jesus, it also presents many ideas about following Christ. If you’ve been a Christian for a couple years, Matthew should be one of your “old, dear friends”. Yet I find many in edifice churches resist the plan of reading the Gospel of Matthew again and again. “It’s too hard to do it.” What? It’s too hard to read daily about your Lord and Savior? Perhaps you can conclude 2016 by reading it three times: once each in October, November, and December. You will reap huge benefits for your own soul and for being able to build others up in the Lord. I also recommend that you read deeply, to start, one of the following books: Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, or 1 John. Perhaps I’ll write another article someday about my reasons for this selection. Plan on reading one of these letters every day for a month. Yes, that means you’d be reading them thirty or thirty-one times. You will learn much about how to build others up, as you listen to what the apostles did.
- In order to build people up, you need to develop your spiritual friendships. This will require you to be either in a house church or a small group that is part of a larger church. I will not direct you in either direction. But if you are in a larger church, you will have to be a catalyst for change. You must devote yourself to seeing your church develop true friendship and brotherhood. Sadly, many larger churches are not interested in this. But you and I must be! It is very exciting to see the Lord change you and others in your group. Everyone knows the others really care and pray for each other and help one another. The group itself and the members of the group get built up together. It is a taste of heaven on earth.
My dear friends, I plead with you that building others up will become a vital part of your journey of faith. You will experience the joy of helping others, and the joy of others strengthening you! Take that first step this weekend into a deeper experience of your new life in Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace, David