Building Up One Another by Gene Getz
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thes. 5 :11) .
The Apostle Paul had one important concern that was constantly on his mind and heart to do all he could when he could to build up the body of Christ. And knowing he could only do so much as an individual, his strategy was to transfer this concern to others to encourage every other Christian to develop the same concern for all other Christians (Col. 2:2; 4:8).
Paul’s concern, of course, forms the basic purpose of this book: to provide believers with biblical and practical guidelines for developing a functioning church. In short, to help Christians build up and edify one another.
As with Paul in the first century, no one Christian in the 20th century can build up all other believers in a local church. God’s design and plan is that every Christian be a functioning part of the body of Christ; that every Christian contribute to the process. “The whole body,” wrote Paul, must be “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” And as the body draws strength and direction from its Head, Jesus Christ, it then “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:15 16).
Paul’s directive to the Thessalonian Christians, near the end of his first letter to this dynamic New Testament church, is an appropriate exhortation with which to conclude our study. “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.” And then he added, “just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thes. 5 :11) .
Here was a “functioning” church. Though they were facing severe trials and persecutions (1 Thes. 1:6), and though they were yet to face the trauma of doctrinal disturbance (2 Thes. 2:1 4), Paul commended them for their concern and love for one another. They had learned the importance of mutual encouragement, exhortation, and comfort. Thus Paul commended them, but encouraged them to continue.
The basic Greek word, parakaleo, used in 1 Thes. 5:11, appears in several forms in the New Testament. At times the word is translated “to exhort, to admonish, or to teach”, at other times, “to beg, entreat, or beseech.” It is also translated “to console; to encourage; to comfort.”
But the basic word is always used for one primary purpose to describe functions that will help Christians to be built up in Christ, or to help them to build up one another in Christ. It is the latter meaning that is in mind in this final chapter. And it is this meaning that Paul had in mind when he exhorted the Thessalonian Christians to “encourage one another and build each other up.”
The Primary Means for Encouraging One Another
Paul particularly made it apparent what constituted the primary means for mutual encouragement God’s truth! This is why he wrote to the Ephesian Christians, encouraging them to continue “speaking the truth in love.” Then he said, “we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4 :15) .
Many biblical examples demonstrate that the primary means for encouraging other believers focuses in God’s truth. For example, Paul, giving the qualities for eldership in his letter to Titus, emphasized that a pastoral leader “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).
When he wrote to Timothy, he charged this young minister: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). Furthermore, when Paul, Silas, and Timothy discipled the new Christians at Thessalonica, they dealt with each one of them, just as a “father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging [them] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thes. 2:11 12).
Paul went on to make clear what the means was for encouraging them to live lives worthy of God: “We also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thes. 2:13) .
The Thessalonian Example
The Christians in Thessalonica illustrate the process of mutual encouragement by means of God’s Word probably more significantly than any other New Testament church. Let’s look at the specific ways in which this encouragement is demonstrated.
1. The truths regarding the “dead in Christ”
Even though Paul had instructed the Thessalonian Christians specifically regarding the second coming of Christ (2 Thes. 2:5), they were still confused about those who had died. Somehow they got the impression that those who had passed away may not go to be with the Lord when He comes again. Thus Paul wrote to clarify the issue: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who sleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who sleep in Him” (1 Thes. 4:13 14).
Paul went on to explain thoroughly how this would happen: “The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thes. 4 :16 17) .
And then Paul added this very important exhortation “Therefore, encourage each other with these wards” (4:18). In other words, build one another up with this marvelous truth. Remind each other of God’s promises. Comfort one another with the fact that all believers will spend eternity with Jesus Christ, even though they may die before He comes again. Use God’s truth to provide one another with assurance and security.
This, of course, was important to these believers. Some of them along with New Testament believers elsewhere actually faced the threat of death because of their faith. How frustrating it must have been to be waiting for Christ’s return, not knowing that if they were killed or died naturally before He returned, that they would go to be with Christ just as those who were still alive.
2. The truth regarding the Rapture of the church
The Thessalonians had yet another problem. They knew that the day of the Lord the day of judgment and wrath was coming upon the earth. And they knew it would “come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:2). But they evidently did not know what would happen to them before this great and terrible time would come. Thus Paul proceeded to clarify God’s truth about the matter. With great assurance in his own heart he wrote: “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” (1 Thes. 5:9 10). And then he added another significant exhortation: “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up” (5 :11) .
Here again Paul encouraged them with God’s divine perspective with God’s truth. Then he directed them to “encourage one another” with this same truth.
It was this truth that would help build up the body of Christ at Thessalonica. It was this truth that would provide them with stability and assurance as they faced their present trials and the uncertainty of their immediate future. And it was this kind of truth that would enable them to “become mature, attaining the full measure of perfection found in Christ” (Eph. 4:13) . And it was no doubt this kind of truth that Paul was referring to when he wrote to the Ephesians: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). In other words, false teaching creates instability and insecurity. God’s Word leads to maturity.
3. The truth regarding the day of the Lord
The Thessalonian Christians were very vulnerable in the area of eschatology. Satan made this doctrine a key point of attack in their lives. After Paul wrote his first letter, reassuring them regarding the dead in Christ and the rapture of the church that would deliver them from the wrath of God, a false teacher unsettled them, teaching them that “the day of the Lord” had already come (2 Thes. 2 : 2) . Paul immediately wrote a second letter, reassuring them that the day of the Lord had not come. He reminded them of their conversion experience that God had chosen them “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” God had called them to “share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” that is, in His coming (2:13 14) .
Paul ended his exposition of God’s perspective on the matter with a rather familiar ring in his Thessalonian epistle: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2:15 17).
Here again we see Paul using God’s truth to encourage the Thessalonians. Interestingly, he refers to “eternal encouragement.” This, of course, is what makes God’s Word so powerful, so significant, so reassuring. We are not sharing human philosophy or temporal concepts and ideas that are limited to space and time. Rather, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35) . This is why God’s Word is to be the primary means Christians are to use to “encourage one another” and “to build one another up.”
Practical Steps for Helping Christians Encourage One Another Step 1
All Christians must realize how important the Word of God is in building up others within the body of Christ. And all Christians must be challenged to learn what God’s Word says. They must be ready to share the Word with others who are in special need of encouragement. In other words, Christians cannot mutually encourage one another with Scripture if they are not familiar with Scripture. Therefore, encourage each believer in your church to study the Word of God not only for personal growth, but to be able to assist others in their growth.
Evaluate your church structure in view of this New Testament exhortation. Many traditional churches are designed not for “body function” but for “preacher function.” Only the pastor or minister or some other teacher is delegated to share the Word of God with others in the church. Some pastors insist on being the only interpreter of Scripture in the church. The Bible teaches that every Christian must be involved in this process. All Christians are to “speak the truth in love.”
Don’t misunderstand! It is not wrong for a pastor or teacher to open the Word of God through an extended exposition and message. In fact, this is good, right, and necessary. It was one means in the New Testament for teaching and preaching. But it was not the only means. In fact, more emphasis is placed in Scripture on mutual and informal teaching than on individual and formal communication. This probably is what the author of the Hebrew letter had in mind when he wrote “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24 25) .
Christians in New Testament days met together for the body of Christ to function to mutually encourage each other. Though there was certainly formal teaching, there was also informal teaching. This is why Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and counsel one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
In many of our 20th century churches, we need to reevaluate our church structures in the light of New Testament principles and exhortations. Many patterns and approaches are so tightly structured that only what is planned can happen. This stifles the creative ministry of the Holy Spirit. It also causes many Christians to become very dependent on a pastor or, at the most, on leaders to take the responsibility for encouragement and exhortation.
What about your church? What are the patterns like? Is there freedom for every member of the body of Christ to function “to encourage one another” and “to build one another up”?
Moving from Principles to Patterns
As I conclude this chapter and this book I’d like to share a personal experience. Several years ago, after being a professor for nearly 20 years, first at the Moody Bible Institute and later at Dallas Theological Seminary, I helped start a new church in Dallas, Texas. rd been studying the New Testament church for several years prior to that time. In fact, I had written a book entitled Sharpening the Focus of the Church a study of New Testament church principles. Several Christians in Dallas heard that I had written the book and that it was in the process of being published. They asked me to share these principles in a small home meeting. I did. Among the principles I shared was the importance of “body function” as embodied in the “one another” concepts which I have developed at length in this present volume.’
What happened as a result of that meeting somewhat surprised me. That very evening they wanted to start a church a church that would build structures and patterns upon what we believed were New Testament principles. One of those principles was that there is no such thing as an absolute form
1 In Sharpening the Focus of the Church I merely outlined the “one another” concepts on two pages in the chapter entitled “Body Function.” In this book, Building Up One Another, I have presented these concepts in depth with suggestions for practicing the “one another” principles in a local church.
or pattern for the church. Rather, God gives us principles to guide us. He then sets us free to develop structures that are relevant to a particular culture at any given moment in history.
To make a rather long story short, let me quickly bring you up to date on what has happened. We did start a church. We did develop creative forms. My plan at that time was to just help start it and then to continue my full time teaching ministry at the seminary. But God had other plans for me particularly. We immediately experienced a minor explosion in interest and growth. And today four years after the publication of Sharpening the Focus of the Church, we now have four separate congregations that meet in one building. We have also started three branch churches in the Dallas area. We are planning for several more. Our full time staff for the four churches which meet in one building now totals eight. We purchased an existing building which seats 300 people. We have built two additional buildings for cash one which houses our Learning Center for children and another to serve as an office complex for our staff. Because we are now making multiple use of the buildings and investing our money primarily in people, rather than in additional buildings, we are now able as of this writing to give 25 % of our gross receipts to missions. Hopefully we’ll be able to reach 50% in the next couple of years.
In a sense, all that I have described is form. You cannot find it in the New Testament. It is cultural. But we believe it’s built upon biblical functions and principles. What we have done represents freedom to be what God wants us to be in the light of New Testament principles. At the heart of these principles stand the “one another” concepts the concepts developed in this book. Yes, we have formal teaching, but we also have time scheduled for the body of Christ to function to build itself up.
Let me conclude by illustrating how this can work. In our situation each congregation meets once a week for two and a half hours. (We now have a Friday night congregation, a Sunday morning congregation, a Sunday afternoon congregation, and a Sunday evening congregation. And we are planning a Saturday night congregation.) Our first hour usually is a formal teaching period formal in the sense that someone opens the Word of God for an extensive period of time. The second hour, following a coffee break in which we fellowship together, is what we call a fellowship and sharing service. Led by one of our elders or pastors, anyone in the church is permitted to participate by sharing personal prayer needs, by sharing answers to prayer, by sharing Scripture, by requesting songs, by sharing special music (which is usually planned ahead of time), etc. The results have been exciting. And the ministry to one another is very edifying. In fact, as a full time pastor (I still teach part time at Dallas Theological Seminary) I usually sit through four different sharing services each weekend, but never grow tired of the experience. My life is constantly edified by other members of the body of Christ.
Let me explain with this final illustration: In one of the churches I noticed a man walk in who had not been present for many months. I knew he was having a moral problem. I was probably the only one present who paid particular attention to his being there and one of the very few who knew he had a problem. As a body, we “happened” to be sharing Scripture with one another. To my amazement, one after another, people stood up and shared Scripture that had a direct bearing on this man’s problem. Those who shared, of course, knew nothing of this man’s situation. But the Holy Spirit did and on one of those rare occasions, I was allowed to see God at work in a dramatic way through various members of Christ’s body.
I firmly believe that this kind of experience should not be a rare one. Rather, our 20th century churches should be structured so that it can happen regularly. And if we will only study the principles of Scripture and develop patterns that are biblically and culturally related, I believe God will do great things through His people.
If you were to ask me why this work has grown and expanded so rapidly, I would not be able to give you a simple answer. One thing I’m sure of, however: It’s been a result of many factors both human and divine. A study of history has taught me that no one man can take credit for God’s doing.
One thing stands out as being very important in this ministry the “body of Christ.” Every member contributes to its success. It has been a corporate effort by a group of people who believe the Bible, who believe in the God of the Bible, who love and care for “one another,” and who want all men to be saved and to experience fellowship with God and with other believers. This is a dynamic that God has promised to bless. This dynamic is what Jesus prayed for when He was yet on earth. And with that prayer I conclude: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved me” (John 17:20 23) .