Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).
One of the great responsibilities Christians are given by God to exercise toward one another is encouragement. Encouragement, in English, is the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary). The Greek term translated “encouraging” in Hebrews 10:25 is parakaleo, deriving from the idea of calling a person to one’s side or to summon, and thus to speak to, beg, encourage, or comfort (cf. Thayer’s Lexicon). The Greek term therefore has a more expansive meaning than in English; for our purposes we focus on how as Christians we do well to give each other support, confidence, and hope, and receive support, confidence, in hope in turn.
Inherent in the term “encouragement” is “courage”; to give courage, that is, to strengthen. When we seek to give each other support, confidence, and hope, we are seeking to strengthen each other in our faith and life (Jude 1:3). Above all things we must look to God for strength and pray for strength (Ephesians 3:14-21, 1 Peter 5:10). Nevertheless God expects Christians to also look to each other for strength (Hebrews 10:25).
We must first come to grips with our need for strength, and thus for encouragement. As humans we tend to project strength and sufficiency; yet, in Christ, we do best to admit our weakness and our dependence on God and each other (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). While we individually strive to walk even as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6), we are reckoned collectively as the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28): different parts of that body have strengths where other parts have weaknesses, and thus each part is dependent on the functioning of each other part and the whole. The body of Christ, the church, works best when it builds itself up in love and works to strengthen all of its constituent parts (Ephesians 4:11-16). No Christian is too mature or already too strong so as to never need strengthening; no individual Christian has the right to say that he or she has no need of the church, the Body of Christ, and can go it alone. Anyone who would claim as much is easy prey for the Evil One (1 Peter 5:8)! God’s purpose in Christ is to reconcile all men to Himself to share in relational unity (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 2:11-18): therefore, we glorify God and accomplish His purposes when we work together in the church to build up and encourage and be built up and encouraged in turn (Ephesians 3:10-11).
A primary and consistent means by which we encourage is in the assembling ourselves together as Hebrews 10:25 expects. The church, in Greek, is the ekklesia, which means “the assembly”; what kind of assembly is there which does not assemble? To be part of the church, the ekklesia, is to therefore recognize the importance and value in assembling. When we assemble we participate in spiritual behaviors designed by God to provide support, confidence, and hope. On the first day of the week we assemble to partake of the Lord’s Supper, to commemorate Jesus’ death on the day of His resurrection, constantly reinforcing how Jesus’ death and resurrection provide standing for the believer before God and confidence in the resurrection to come (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-33). Christians also assemble on the first day of the week to give to help jointly accomplish the work God has given the church to do in benevolence, evangelism, and edification (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). On the first day of the week, and perhaps also on other occasions, Christians do well to pray and sing together, to make their requests known before God and to speak to and teach one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). Christians also do well to devote time to the Word of God, both in teaching and preaching, so as to be strengthened in understanding and purpose and exhorted to live as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus in the twenty-first century (1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 4:1-2). All such things are to be done to build up in the faith (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Encouragement, however, is not limited to the assembly. Christians do well to be hospitable toward one another, inviting one another into our homes, getting to know each other better so we can better bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 4:9). Christians ought to develop robust and healthy relationships with fellow Christians which will give them opportunities to confess sin to others, to provide rebuke when necessary, and all in ways which can be taken positively on account of the relational capital in place (Galatians 6:1-3, James 5:16, 19-20). Functionally these relationships occur and are often developed through joint participation in accomplishing the work of God in discipleship and evangelism. At many other times and in many other ways Christians can find opportunities to speak a word, to come and be present, to jump in and help, and in many other ways give support, confidence, and hope to each other.
Nevertheless not all things which people might call “encouragement” prove truly encouraging. We have spoken of times in which it may prove necessary to rebuke a fellow Christian for sin and unrighteousness; at other times we might have to expose the error or wrong in the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of fellow Christians. There are times for rebuke (cf. 2 Timothy 4:1-2); sometimes tearing down must take place so that what would be built up may rest on a suitable foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). Rebukes may be accepted well and changes might be made; we might have opportunity to build up after having torn down. But rebukes and tear-downs do not give support, confidence, or hope; they therefore do not truly encourage, but ideally prepare a person so that they can, after repentance, receive appropriate support, confidence, and hope yet again (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
None of us are islands unto ourselves; none of us have sufficient internal strength to sustain us through the trials and travails of life. God, in Christ, stands ready to strengthen us if we seek Him and ask for strength in prayer. God has also established the church to provide both a venue for consistent encouragement in the assemblies as well as the people who are to build relationships so that they can provide encouragement for the need of the moment. We do well to honor and glorify God’s intentions for His people; may we seek to encourage each other as we are encouraged by God in Christ and in His church!
Ethan R. Longhenry