This week we will continue our This Is Us Lenten worship series with a focus on our common value of community. In the context of our scripture reading for this week, I think it’s important to ask, “What does it really mean to “encourage one another?”
“Is it merely saying, ‘Go get em, Tiger! You can do it! I believe in you!”?
Well, maybe that’s part of it, but I really think what we’re talking about here is taking one another seriously. This means considering who they really are — their gifts and graces. It also means urging them toward really using the gifts and graces God has given them to do all the good they can.
This concept calls to mind Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens a friend.”
Community in this sense, I think, becomes more about challenging one another to be our best. It’s being a friend in the fullest sense — not just gathering together, but also challenging one another to do better, to be better, and to accomplish what God wants us to do.
This kind of encouragement, we might want to note, is best and most effectively done one-on-one, in small groups, and in other relationships of trust. Sometimes, this may not feel particularly good — or encouraging. Sometimes it feels more like provoking; in fact, the NRSV translates the Greek word, paroxysmon, (the root of our word, paroxysm ) as “provoke.”
We often use the word, provoke in a negative way: to provoke into anger. However, the word provoke actually means “to give rise to action or emotion; call forth, elicit, induce.” So, when Paul says that a part of community is to provoke one another to love and good works, he is saying that what we do in community is to call forth from one another, elicit from one another, to induce in one another, love and good works.
Where do we find this kind of encouragement in our own faith community? We “spur one another on to good works” in our studies, our Sunday school classes, and our other small groups. These are the places in which we genuinely support one another to grow in our faith. And, when we are at our best in these scenarios, we also challenge one another to live into this growth with love and good works. We challenge one another to step up, to rise to our challenges, to reach for our highest sense of who we are and what is most important to us a people of faith.
You know, it’s just human nature to want to keep our status quo most of the time. It’s just easier. It’s far more comfortable not do anything new or step out in faith. And then, here comes someone to nudge us forward, challenging us toward something more we can do or be.
As people study together in a class, serve together, or get together regularly in some other small group setting, someone will generally say, “you know, what we ought to be doing is . . .” and this launches a conversation that challenges the group. Somewhere in this process, someone in that group — or maybe even the whole group — will change something they do, the way they think, or maybe their ideas of things.
There have been many people through the years who have challenged me in this way. We all have those people around us who encourage us, challenge, or even “provoke” us to be better. The spur us toward a bigger, better expression of who we are at our core. That’s how we encourage one another as Jesus instructs us to do.
Part of encouraging one another is cultivating that deep interest in others that invites you to challenge them. And no, this isn’t always easy, nor does it always feel very good at first. The the second part of this kind of support — the receiving end — is to listen to that challenge, reflect on it deeply — and then if it resonates within you, to take earnest action on it. Although this doesn’t always go perfectly, the blessing is in the act of encouraging one another, and it always makes a positive difference in who we are.
When in your life has someone you trust nudged, provoked, or prodded you to do something you knew deep down you needed to do? How did that “encouragement” feel at first? How did it feel when you did what they were nudging you to do or try? How did this experience change you, then and now?
I look forward to exploring these questions with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,