Encourage One Another

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We're in the middle of a teaching series called 'Church Life: How to Love One Another'. Each week we've looked at a different aspect of our life together and learned from the many 'one another' phrases in the Bible what Christian community looks like. Tonight we come to 'Encourage one another'. According to the dictionary, to encourage someone means something like "persuading someone to do or continue to do something by what you say and do." We use it in loads of different ways and often to mean something you might say that makes another person feel good about themselves.

My son Josh loves encouragement! Last year he was taking part in the Mini Great North Run, a short run that takes place on the Saturday before the Great North Run. What he loved most was the crowds who had lined the route cheering and encouraging him on - in fact he totally forgot about the race and just kept running back and forwards between the two sides high fiving everyone! But when it appears in the Bible it has a more specific, Christian, use. Encouragement in the Bible isn't focused on complementing someone's haircut or telling them how good their homemade lasagne tastes. One place the phrase 'encourage one another' is used is Hebrews 10.25, so please turn with me to Hebrews 10.24-25 and we'll see what Christian encouragement looks like.

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

The writer of the letter wants us to encourage each other and he tells us to do that. So we have a command to obey. But the whole reason the letter was written in the first place was to encourage believers to keep going, so we're also given a wonderful model of exactly what that looks like, and we can learn how to do what we're commanded to do. Earlier, in Hebrews 4.14 we read:

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession."

That's a great summary verse for the book. The writer is encouraging his readers (who are already believers) to hold fast to the gospel they had come to believe in and to continue living by faith in Jesus. How does he do that? By reminding them of the wonderful message of the Gospel – who Jesus is (the son of God) and what he has done for us (as our great high Priest). That's basically what encouraging one another is about - to help each other to keep going as Christians by speaking God's word to each other. That leaves us with the obvious question: what would stop us keeping going as Christians? Our passage tonight suggests three main dangers. They're not the only ones, but they are significant issues that we'll all face sooner or later:

  1. When we do something wrong (e.g. we go against what we know God has said)
  2. When something goes wrong (Suffering – personal or those around us)
  3. When we are on our own and feeling weak (It's really tough!)

So have a think. Who do you know right now who's facing one of those dangers right now? Someone in your small group? Or a Christian friend working or studying away? Make sure you have at least one person in mind! And now, we'll look at what Hebrews 10.19-25 has to teach us. This is where we are heading: We will see that Jesus has done everything needed for us to have a relationship with God (v19-21), so...

  1. When you sin... Draw Near to God (v22)
  2. When you suffer... Hold On to the Hope of Heaven (v23)
  3. When you feel weak... Help Each Other to Keep Believing (vv24-25)

So firstly, Jesus has done everything needed for us to have a relationship with God (v19-21)

Look at verse 19:

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places..."

In our relationship with God we can have confidence to enter the most holy place. What does that mean? The most holy place was a part of the Jewish temple and it represented God's presence. One High Priest could enter that space just once a year – but they were so uncertain that he would survive the meeting with a holy God that they tied a rope around him so they could pull him out if he died in there. The most holy place represented access to God himself. There is a way by which we can have confidence to enter the very presence of the God who created the whole universe. We can come to him without worrying about whether or not he will accept us when we approach. That includes when we pray to him now as well as when we meet him after we die. We can enter with confidence.

When I first asked the lady who became my wife to go out with me, you could say I was pretty confident. But that was basically because it never occurred to me that she might say no (which she did by the way – the first time at least!). I was also pretty confident when I asked her to marry me – so much so that I booked a table in a nice restaurant to celebrate our engagement weeks before the evening I was going to ask her to marry me. I should have learned by then. She said no again. And the next time. And the time after that. In those situations, I approached her with confidence – but it was actually confidence in myself. You might think a better name for that is arrogance, which it was. The writer of Hebrews doesn't mean that kind of confidence. He doesn't mean arrogance. We can approach God not because of who we are, or what we have done but rather, look again at verse 19:

"by the blood of Jesus"

We can stand before God because Jesus, by his wonderful death on the cross for us, has made us clean from sin, as we remember tonight in this communion service. There is no way on earth that we should have any confidence whatsoever to even peek at God from a distance – let alone walk boldly up to him and call him our Father! The Bible is so clear – we have all turned away from him and rejected him as our Lord and we deserve nothing but his anger and judgement. But, as it says in Hebrews 7.27, Jesus sacrificed for our sins once for all when he offered himself in our place. Let's read on. Verse 20:

"by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh"

Again this picks up the imagery of the Old Testament temple. In front of the most holy place was a curtain that divided it from the 'holy place'. That curtain was like a massive 'NO ENTRY' sign between us and God. We could not see or enter his presence. But that curtain was eventually ripped in half. When Jesus died for us on the cross Mark records (Mark 15.38) that:

"the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."

A new way has been opened for us to come before God. Verse 21:

"and since we have a great priest over the house of God"

Not only has Jesus achieved all that for us – he continues to be our priest. Not only are we accepted in him, we are also helped by him. And if we are Christians we are now part of the 'house of God'. We also belong to him. That is who we are; that is our identity. So verses 19-21 say loud and clear: Jesus' death has done everything needed for you to have a relationship with God.

The way we become a Christian is the way we grow as a Christian, so this is the truth that will help us to keep going as Christians. Encouraging each other simply means speaking these truths into each other's situation, lovingly and gently. Encouraging each other means helping each to remember who Jesus is and what he has done for us so that we keep going as Christians. So what does this mean when we sin? When we suffer? When we feel week? Let's look at each of those in turn...

1. When you sin... draw near to God (v22)

All Christians will sin. That's a fact of life. But it doesn't make it any less serious. Sin is serious and it affects not just us, but also those around us. It is very easy to let that cause us to give up. We begin to doubt that we can be forgiven; to feel that the curtain has been hung back up; that the 'NO ENTRY' sign to God's presence is back again. That is not true. We have been forgiven if we trust in the blood of Jesus. It is incredible, but when we do that, God does not just tolerate us: we are welcomed in by him and forgiven by him. We are accepted by him and now we belong to him. So what should we do? Look at verse 22:

"let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

To draw near to God includes prayer, but it is more than that. It means to draw towards him relationally, even though we may have a guilty conscience because of the wrong we have said, thought and done. We can still – even when we have sinned – approach him in confidence that we have been cleansed and washed by what Jesus has done. But that is not automatic. We need to ask for forgiveness, accepting that we have done wrong, and trust in Jesus for that forgiveness.

Satan, who is real by the way, loves it when we sin because he has an opportunity to try and convince us that we're too bad for God. That we've blown it just once too many. That there's no point trying to ask for forgiveness again. He's happy if we recognise our sin, as long we do nothing about it. So what do we do? We need to remember that Jesus's death has done everything needed for us to have a relationship with God and draw near to God.

And we need to help those we know who have sinned to do that too. Sin is serious. But we need to deal with it by asking for God's forgiveness, rather than allowing it to cause us to drift away from him. It is so true that growth in maturity as a believer is measured not by feeling that you're sinning less, but by how fast you turn to God after you sin and ask him for forgiveness. Sin can cause us to give up and it can cause us to turn away from Jesus. Don't let it. When you sin... draw near to God, and encourage other believers to do that too.

2. When you suffer... hold on to the hope of heaven (v23)

All Christians will face suffering. Many wrongly teach that God promises that if we are Christians we will only receive material blessings. The Bible makes no such promises. Actually, we are promised that if we believe in him we will face suffering – both in general because of living in a world messed up by sin and specific suffering for being a Christian. In a group this size some of you will be going through a tough time even now. Even if you are not, for sure you will suffer at some point in your life. Maybe that will be something like an illness, broken relationships, unemployment, tragedy. Life is unbelievably tough at times.

I've seen God use us as a church to help people from all over the world come to know the Lord Jesus. It's so amazing seeing them put their faith in Jesus and all the ways that has impacted their lives. But often trusting in Jesus has brought them suffering. For example, I remember a young man from Pakistan who came to faith in Jesus and was baptised. Then his parents cut him off completely. He's a lucky one: other families might have killed him.

The danger is that we allow suffering to cause us give up. We begin to doubt that God is good. Or we doubt that God is really in control. I know how it is to feel both those things in the face of suffering. So what should we do? Look at verse 23:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

So what do we do? Remember that Jesus's death has done everything needed for us to have a relationship with God and hold on to the hope of heaven. We know that we are heading to heaven – we can be 100% sure. Not because we are good enough – it does not depend on us. Jesus has done all that is needed. We belong to him and after we die we will receive what he has promised. There may be pain or difficulties now. Don't give up on him. We have a certain hope in heaven for eternity. That should put it into perspective. Our life here is just like an airport lounge - we're in transit. This is not our home or our destination.

Suffering is real. But we need to deal with it by remembering that he is faithful – and we know that because of what he has done for us in Christ. We also need to encourage one another to hold onto the truth that the God who loves us so much he sent his son to die for is a good God. Suffering can cause us to drift away from him. Don't let it. When you suffer... hold on to the hope of heaven, and encourage other believers to do that too. Finally,

3. When you feel weak... help each other to keep believing (vv24-25)

The final thing that can cause us to stop us keeping going as Christians is simply isolation. We are not designed to be on our own. There is a real danger that we feel isolated or lonely. Maybe we're the only Christian in our flat or house, the only Christian in our family or in our workplace. And that can be tough. No matter how strong you feel now – being on your own will make you feel weak and the danger is you are tempted to throw away your confidence in Jesus Christ. So what should we do? Look at verses 24-25:

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

It's pretty obvious that we need to keep meeting together. So make meetings like this priority. Put them in the diary and plan around them. If you're not in a small group - then join up! Make meeting up to read and apply Gods' word a priority. But it's not just meeting that we need; it's meeting in such a way that we help each other to keep coming back to the gospel so that we keep going as Christians, which is why God's word needs to be at the heart of our time together. And it's in that context that the command to 'encourage one another' appears. This is not written to the ministers or those with official badges and roles. This is something we all need to do.

So often we approach meeting with other Christians in a totally 'me-centred' way. We see church as basically an individual activity – and a bit like a petrol station. I'll pop along and have a refill. We say to ourselves: I could do with some good teaching. Or I could do with a good time of worship. We get what we need and then we head back to our life and world. But we need each other and so we need to change our perspective. When we meet together - in large or small groups - we need to think of everyone else. What do they need? How can I encourage those who are struggling with sin? Facing suffering? Help those feeling isolated? We also need to make a habit of looking around and noticing who's not here, so we can get in touch and see if they're ok.

And then we need to remember what matters most. He reminds us that the Day is drawing near. That Jesus is coming soon to judge the living and the dead. We need to keep going as Christians and help as many others as possible to be ready for his return.

Isolation can cause us to drift away from Jesus. Don't let it. When you feel weak... look for help to keep believing, and look for opportunties to help believers to keep believing too. So that's Hebrews 10.19-25. We will see that Jesus has done everything needed for us to have a relationship with God (v19-21), so...

  1. When you sin... Draw Near to God (v22)
  2. When you suffer... Hold On to the Hope of Heaven (v23)
  3. When you feel weak... Help Each Other to Keep Believing (vv24-25)

We need to be "encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near". That is something we can all do. Will you pray that God will show you an opportunity to encourage someone each day? Who you can send an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call to? Perhaps that person who came to mind earlier on? I find that when I'm praying regularly for members of my small group, for example, or our mission partners that helps remind me to get in touch and encourage them.

Remember that encouragement can take many forms - some formal, others informal. It can happen in the car as we talk with our children, after a service as we chat with someone about the content of the sermon, over the back fence as we talk with a neighbour about the gospel, in a one-to-one Bible reading meeting with a friend over coffee and so on. As I've prepared, I've been praying that God would create a culture of encouragement in our church. And I've prayed that he'd begin with me.

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