How often do we see things that need to change in the lives of people we know or in the churches we attend? Judging by what is written on most blogs and spoken about in common conversation, pretty often, I would say. It is so easy to criticize others and tear them down. As Christians, we point out the flaws of others easily because we are aware of the standard that God has for us and we notice when others fall short. We also do it to make us feel better about ourselves. We rarely judge others in areas that we are also struggling. If we point out the struggles of others, we invariably feel superior to them. I even see this in people who claim to be tolerant and full of grace. They criticize others mercilessly for being intolerant and legalistic. Our hypocrisy knows no bounds.
I am often guilty of this. I have a prophetic edge to my thinking so it is very easy for me to go from prophetic to critical. If I am not careful, I quickly move to cynicism and bitterness over the things that I see that are not right. Then, the devil gets a foothold in my life and I push God out. It is a pattern that I have seen repeated in my life and it is something that I try to be aware of. But, still, I struggle. So, I say all of what I am about to say as someone who knows the pitfalls of having a critical spirit and as someone who conversely knows the power of encouragement because people have encouraged me.
Hebrews 3:13 and 10:25 tells us to encourage one another. The King James uses the word "exhort." This word is parakleo in the Greek and it means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, desire, and entreat. The context for these verses is that when we encourage one another, we will keep our hearts from being hardened by sin (3:13) and that we will spur one another on to love and good deeds (10:25). When we encourage one another, we are not just slapping each other on the back and saying that everything we do is good. This is not self-esteem therapy that I am talking about. We are exhorting one another to be what God has created us to be. We are calling out of one another what God has placed within us. We are calling each other up into God's purpose for our lives. We are building up instead of tearing down.
Ephesians 4:29-30 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Unwholesome talk would be talk laced with bitterness and anger. It would be speech that tore others down in criticism. There might even be truth to what is being said, but the truth is being used in a way to tear down and destroy. This grieves the Holy Spirit. How many of us do this in our relationships? How many marriages are being destroyed because husbands and wives cannot stop pointing out what is wrong with the other? How many ministries are being destroyed because people cannot stop criticizing one another? How many dreams have been dashed because people exalt themselves by pushing other people down and trampling on what God is doing in their lives? We do all of this because we are insecure and we do not know the power of God.
When we encourage one another, we are engaging in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A name for the Holy Spirit in the Greek is Parakletos, which means Comforter. This is similar to parakleo, the word for encourage or exhort. In the same way that the Holy Spirit takes from what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us (John 16:14), so also when we encourage one another, we are calling out what God has placed within us in Christ. Even if we do not see great things in one another, when we encourage one another in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are believing in "the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Romans 4:17). We see things through God's eyes and not our own.
This is the way that Paul ministered. 1 Thessalonians 1:10-12 says, "You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His Kingdom and Glory." Paul did not deal with the Thessalonians on the basis of their problems, but he encouraged them on the basis of God's call on their lives. With the Philippians he was confident that God, who began a good work in them, would be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Paul saw them through the lense of who Christ was, not through the lense of who the world said that they were. He consistently called them up into what God had for them. We should do the same.
When we encourage/exhort, we engage in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When we accuse and tear down through our constant criticisms and judgments, we engage in the ministry of Satan, for he is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). Satan often accuses us with the truth of the things that we have done wrong, but he leaves out the truth about what Christ has done for us. We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11). I think that a lot of Satan's work is being done today by Christians who are trying to speak "truth" to others. The truth should always be present, but it should involve love so that people are built up.
Sacrificial love is what makes the difference. Jesus showed us how we are to love one another when He laid down His life for us. We are to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-2). When you truly love one another, you will seek the good of the other person. You see them as God sees them in Christ and you will call out the good that Christ has placed within them. You will call them up into what God has for them as they look to Christ. You will encourage them to walk with Jesus and you will believe that God has good things in store for them. You will build up instead of tear down. May we love more radically than ever before and build one another up.
God knows we need this kind of encouragement.