When Christ Jesus came to the earth He preached the gospel of the good news of the kingdom of God and established the means by which man could be reconciled to God and enter His kingdom.he selected disciples and taught them all they would need to know to make more disciples and to deal with the issues of this life as they walked with Him.
And then Jesus left. He left because He had no choice but to leave. He had to die otherwise we would not be able to enter the kingdom of God because the new covenant, through which we enter this new life of the spirit, could not come into being without the offering of a perfect sacrifice. Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice.
But before Jesus left, he established the brotherhood of Christians that is the church. And one of the key purposes of the church, both as individuals within it and collectively as a body, is to support and encourage one another.
None Is Perfect
The aim of the new covenant and the teachings of Jesus Christ is to bring us to maturity so that we are not spiritually, psychologically and emotionally battered and thrown about by what is going on around us. As the scripture says,
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. – (Ephesians 4:11-14)
The key to this growth and maturity in this verse is to prepare us so that we are not “tossed to and fro” by the storms of life and the wiles of men.
But even the most stable of Christians sometimes takes a hit and they become shaken by something. And if it happens to the most stable among us, how much more with those who are less stable? How much more are young Christians beaten and bashed by the passions, lusts and desires of this world as well as the designs for destruction that the devil himself has upon all who choose to follow Christ?
None of us can say we have reached the place of perfection where we stand calmly in the face of all opposition, even death in some cases, and so from time to time we are all in need of support and encouragement.
That is one of the major reasons why Jesus established the church and sent out the apostles and disciples to build and grow the church. Yes it was for the purpose of making disciples, but the purpose of coming together as a church was to share and encourage each other.
Encourage and Support
The scripture we are considering today from Romans 15:1-3 helps to remind us to encourage and support one another. It tells us that those of us who are strong should bear with the weaknesses of our brethren. Note the words.
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” – (Romans 15:1-3)
Now at different times we are all weak in some way. We may have suffered some kind of a setback due to a financial problem, family dispute, work related issue or been caught in a situation not of our making. And then there are the internal turmoils of wrong thinking, jealousy, anger, worry, despair, envy and so on.
All of these things affect us in some way and cause us to feel down, depressed, low or flat to a greater or lesser degree. And it is in those time when we are the weak ones and we are the ones in need of support and encouragement.
At other times we feel the exact opposite. We are full of good humor, joy, happiness, peace, spiritual strength and so on. When we are in that state we can then think and act with greater clarity because we are not being driven by negative emotions or feeling that would lead us the wrong way.
And more importantly when we are in a positive state of mind, we can and should help to lift up and encourage those who are not. We need to support those who are weak and build them up as the scripture above exhorts us.
It is important that we note also what this verse is saying as it applies to empathy.
Consider this. If you are really feeling low, depressed, flat or whatever and someone comes along literally bouncing off the ceiling with exuberance and enthusiasm, does it make you feel good?
Well sometimes it might, but most often in my experience you sometimes feel worse. In fact there is a proverb that points to all of us who are not a “morning person” that really sums this up well. It says,
Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing. – (Proverbs 27:14)
If you don't wake up with a song in your heart and your neighbor or wife or husband or roommate does wake up on a high, you may get crankier and even pull them down off their good mood.
And this is where empathy must come into play…on both sides.
The one who is on a high needs to temper their enthusiasm and direct themself towards building up the person who is feeling low. They need to understand that not everyone wakes up in a positive frame of mind. But they also are Ina great place to help those who need to be encouraged because they ar able to see the positives of the day and express those to others in an encouraging way.
Similarly the person who is on the downer needs to show empathy towards the one who is high. They have a harder job, but as Christians it is part of the walk that we need to learn how to walk in the spirit and to walk in love. And by doing this we are able to lift up from lows as the Holy Spirit lifts us up when we come to God and place our issues and problems before Him.
They also can share their issues and worries with their brethren who are there to help, encourage and support. Many of us don't or won't do this because in the world we learned that it might show up as weakness. The world condemns the low, the depressed and the despised, often covertly but sometimes overtly. They just don't want to know about you or your problems. They have enough of their own.
But Christ said,
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus offers peace and rest. He offers encouragement and strengthening to lift you up, not tear you down if and when we come to Him seeking His rest. And we do this by following the words of the apsotle Peter who wrote,
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Cast your anxieties and worries and concerns and everything else before God so that He can provide you with encouragement, strength, answers and the help you need at the right time. This is where our part of the process kicks in. We have to step up and put our concerns into the hands of God through prayer. We need to turn to God seeking His help and He tells us He will give it.
Why? Because He CARES about you. Not just when you are up and feeling good, but ALL the time, especially when you need to be built up.
But it doesn't end there, and this is where the role of the church and your brothers and sisters in Christ come into their own. Paul wrote these words to the Galatians,
1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – (Galatians 6:1-2)
It is not just when someone has been caught in a transgression that this helps either. We are all tempted and we all suffer from negative emotions that would tear us down and that is the time when we need to speak to someone and share our burdens so we can likewise bear each other's burdens.
In the end it comes down to love. The love of God is filled with support and encouragement and as we are built up in love through encouragement, we need to show that same encouragement through the love of God towards those around us who are weak in some way and in need of support.
Most important is just to be there for the person when they need you. Be there in THEIR time of need, not just when you can fit them in. You are supporting them and it is they who have to work through the process and be lifted up and it cannot be rushed. Just be there as the Lord is always there for us and help them through encouragement of prayer, scripture, conversation and your own knowledge and experience as the Holy Spirit leads you.
(Photo sourced from freeimages.com provided by Michal Zacharzewski)
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