Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another….
— 1 Thessalonians 5:11
We all experience hardships from time to time. These hardships may be financial stress, strained relationships, poor health, a job that seems overwhelming, or another personal disappointment of some type. The list of things that cause difficult moments is endless. But at some point, everyone comes face-to-face with a moment when he or she wonders if they will “make it” through the event they are experiencing in life.
To be honest, I’ve felt those emotions many times. Over the course of our ministry, God has called my family to live in difficult environments and to do things that were far outside of our comfort zone. In fact, sometimes the task at hand was so difficult and challenging that it seemed utterly impossible in the natural realm. Although the Holy Spirit lives within me and I am very aware of this marvelous truth, the fact is that there were times when I needed a tender touch of encouragement to bolster my confidence and to reassure me that I was capable of fulfilling my divine assignment. Personally, no one in my life is more effective at this than my precious wife Denise.
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Although others may not see it at the time, Denise knows when I am struggling inwardly to overcome a monumental task even as I keep doing all I can to press forward in faith. I couldn’t begin to count the times Denise has tenderly placed her arm around me, touched my hand, or peered deep into my eyes and offered encouragement when I have felt challenged. Often the greatest comfort she gives is simply her silent, supportive presence. Words are wonderful, but words do not always bring comfort — especially if we already know all the answers but still feel frail and weak. How I thank God for Denise’s love and accepting presence and the comfort she brings to my heart. In those moments when I have felt overwhelmed and so very alone, she was at my side, and simply knowing she was “there” brought strength to my soul.
All of this comes to my mind when I read Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica. Paul wrote them at a time when the congregation needed comfort in order to overcome the adversities that were buffeting them from every side. If anyone had ever faced trouble and trials, it was this church, and they really needed to be comforted and strengthened. Paul wasn’t personally there to do it, so he urged them to do it for one another. He said, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Because of their newfound faith in Christ, they were going through many different types of hardships. Many were experiencing financial stress because they lost their jobs when they came to Christ. Many others were being physically beaten or imprisoned and lived with the understanding that they might eventually lose their lives. Paul knew they were undergoing great hardship, so in this verse, he wrote and told them to “comfort” one another.
What does Paul mean when he says they were to “comfort” one another? The Greek word for “comfort” is parakaleo. Its primary meaning is to comfort, to encourage, or to speak consoling words, especially in times of difficulty or bereavement. It could also be used in a militaristic sense to describe a commanding officer exhorting his troops before going into battle. Knowing that a serious conflict lies ahead of them, the commanding officer speaks words that stir and strengthen the troops before they march off into the fray. In the Old Testament Septuagint, the word parakaleo was used similarly to mean to comfort, to show compassion, to encourage, to support, or to strengthen. In total, this particular Greek word is used 109 times in the New Testament, mostly by Paul, and it encompasses all of the above meanings.
So when Paul told the Thessalonians to “comfort” one another — and thereby instructs us to do the same — he was telling them (and us) that we need to give encouragement to those around us who need it. Those who are in the middle of a battle especially need our strengthening words or supportive presence. Paul urges us to hearten them, to cheer them up, or to give some kind of boost that will help them make it further along the way. Sometimes that “comfort” may be speaking words that stir or impart strength, as a military officer does to strengthen the resolve of his troops. Or it could simply mean a silent, strengthening presence like my wife Denise gives me in my most difficult moments. We must never forget that often the mere presence of a friend or companion can bring great comfort to our hearts.
But that’s not all that Paul told us to do. In First Thessalonians 5:11, he went on to say, “Wherefore comfort yourselves, and edify one another….” What does the word “edify” mean? This word is not common in today’s vernacular, so what specifically was Paul telling us to do?
The word “edify” is a translation of the Greek word oikodomeo — which is a compound of oikos and demoo. The word oikos is the word for a house, and demoo is the word for construction. When they are compounded, the new word describes the enlarging of a house, as well as all that is entailed in the building process. To add to a house or building, one must plan ahead, implement ideas, use instruments, and make a sizable investment. Basically, this word describes a deliberate decision, as enlarging a house doesn’t normally occur accidentally. Have you ever seen a house that was added to without a plan? It usually looks like a house that was built with no foresight!
Therefore, when Paul exhorted us to “edify one another” in First Thessalonians 5:1, he was telling us to be very deliberate about how we encourage others. Our actions and words should encourage and build people up — that is, add to them, advance them, augment them, enhance them, or improve them in some way. We should put great effort into making other people’s lives richer, fuller, and better. Accidental edification is appreciated when it occurs. But Paul was not asking for occasional, accidental, haphazard edification; he was requesting a well thought-out plan that occurs with great deliberation.
You should view this task of edifying people who are feeling overwhelmed and challenged as a personal construction project. What plan do you have to personally help enhance the lives of those around you? Are you sticking with a plan that the Holy Spirit gave you, or are you just hoping for accidental encouragement and growth?
At the beginning of today’s Sparkling Gem, I spoke of Denise’s strengthening and encouraging presence in my life. I can testify that she has been very deliberate in her encouragement of me and very intentional in her efforts to be an instrument God can use to enhance my life. I have learned so much about this subject by watching Denise. Today I want to ask you:
- Has anyone ever comforted you during a difficult time?
- What was it like to experience that comfort? What did that comfort do for you personally?
- Can you describe a time when someone comforted you with spoken words or by putting an arm around your shoulder or by tenderly touching your hand?
- Can you recall when someone gave you strength to make it through another day simply being “there” for you?
The Thessalonians were facing great trials and tribulations, so Paul told them, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another….” He was asking them to be intentional in the way they helped each other.
So keep alert today, because the Lord may very well want to use you to bring your intentional encouragement and support to someone who needs it. It’s a great day to bolster others’ strength for the battle and make their lives richer, fuller, and eternally better through the strategic help of the Comforter Himself who lives within!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I thank You for the way You have often comforted me through encouragement from people you placed in my life at just the right time. Lord, You are the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. I ask You to speak words of life and strength through me to the weary who come across my path. Holy Spirit, You are the Comforter. I yield to Your power and presence within me to bring deliberate and specific support to those who are in the middle of a battle or great trial. You know what they need — whether comforting words or silent support. I make myself available to You, Holy Spirit. Let my words be Your words — so full of wisdom and grace that they minister grace to people in their times of need. Make me an instrument of Your peace and comfort, that I may comfort others the way You faithfully comforted me when I needed it the most.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare that my actions and words encourage and build people up. What I say and the way I live will advance, enhance, and improve the lives of others in some way. I put deliberate, well-thought-out effort into making other people’s lives richer, fuller, and better. I look for ways to cheer them up or give them some kind of boost. I appreciate when I can accidentally be a blessing, but I purpose to deliberately and consistently be a blessing to every life I have the privilege to reach to the glory of God.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- As you review your life, can you name a person who has been a special strength to you? If yes, have you ever taken time to express your gratitude to that person for the role he or she has played in your life?
- Can you think of someone who needs your intentional help right now? What steps can you take to be encouraging to that person, perhaps even today? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the steps you can take or the words you can speak that will enlarge that person’s confidence and strengthen his or her hope.
- If you are troubled by events happening in your life, have you asked anyone to pray with you or have you opened your heart so they will know that they need to be especially encouraging to you? To whom could you speak about the things you are facing right now?