From time to time, I’ll be mining the archives around here. I’m digging up Bob’s best posts from the past. I’m hoping these reruns will still serve my readers.
Today’s post was originally published January 13, 2006.
Clergy over the laity mindset, excessive pastoral authority, a cultural lack of community, an emphasis on individualism, market-driven church ministry philosophies, a modern consumer mindset to Christianity–all of these and more contribute to what I believe is the greatest need in churches today: the “one another” ministry.
What is the “one another” ministry? It is the mutual encouraging and exhorting, indeed even admonishing, which is to be woven throughout the life of a church. It is the pattern we see over and over in the NT (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32; 18:27; Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 1:12; 12:10, 16; 13:8; 15:1-7, 14; 1 Cor. 12:25; 14:26, 31; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:13; 6:1-2, 6; Eph. 4:2-3, 32; 5:19; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; Col. 3:13, 16; 2 Thess. 1:3; Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25; James 5:16; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:8-11; 1 Jn. 1:7; 3:11). The above list is not exhaustive, either!
I believe this is a great need in most churches. Our church has small groups in part to fulfill the instruction to daily exhort one another in Heb. 3:12-14. Yet even in small groups, intentional encouraging and exhortation can be neglected. It is one thing to believe and another to practice that belief. Our small group is in the process of trying to become more intentional in this regard. (By the way, this still must happen in church-wide contexts too. But small groups definitely can help us fulfill this important feature of church life.) In preparing for a small group meeting, I looked at 1 Thessalonians a little further concerning this “one another” ministry, and want to share my findings with you, briefly.
1) This “one another” ministry is a way God’s word is intended to work in us.
1 Thess. 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
I believe that God’s Word presently working in the believers, in part, was their living it out through love, encouragement, and exhortation as we will see.
2) This “one another” ministry is needed lest our faith die.
1 Thess. 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
Heb. 3:12-14 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Paul in 3:5 clearly indicates that he feels their faith could have died. This would have made his labor vain. What made him confident this was not the case was their faith and love and mutual love for Paul, which Timothy testified to. Heb. 3:12-14 also indicates that without mutual love, expressed through loving exhortation, our faith might die. This means that this “one another” ministry is vital in helping us persevere.
[Note: I am not claiming that we must produce works to save ourselves. Rather all truly saved people will work good works (Eph. 2:8-10, Titus 2:14), and it is by these works that their faith’s genuineness will be known (Matt. 7:16, James 2:20-26, Rom. 8:13, and especially 1 Jn. 2:19). Since we are admonished that our faith might be in vain (1 Cor. 15:2) and directed to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), and further instructed to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10), we must not take our faith for granted. Rather we must with Paul recognize that some have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19), realize that we ourselves could potentially make shipwreck of our faith (1 Cor. 9:27, Phil. 3:8-14), and so resolve to hold on to faith, and fight that good fight of faith, and thereby take hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 1:19; 3:8; 6:11-12).]
3) We must depend upon God to energize this “one another” ministry in our personal lives.
1 Thess. 3:11-13 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
As I said before, we can believe in this, but when the rubber meets the road it is difficult to practice. Thus we must depend on God to “make” us increase in this “one another” ministry. (See also 1 Thess. 5:23-24, set at the end of a series of what I believe are coorporate exhortations .)
4) We need to always abound in this regard and grow, doing “one another” ministry “more and more”.
1 Thess. 4:9-10 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, [See also 3:12; 4:1; and Heb. 10:25b]
We have never “arrived” when it comes to this or any other ministry. We need to be growing and abounding more and more.
5) This “one another” ministry has many facets.
We are to…
a) love each other [1 Thess. 3:12 and 4:9-10]
b) encourage one another [1 Thess. 4:18 and 5:11]
c) “be at peace” with one another [1 Thess. 5:13b]
d) “admonish the idle” [1 Thess. 5:14a]
e) “encourage the fainthearted” [1 Thess. 5:14b]
f) “help the weak” [1 Thess. 5:14c]
g) “be patient with them all” [1 Thess. 5:14d]
h) not seek vengeance (not repay wrong for wrong) [1 Thess. 5:15a]
i) “seek to do good to one another and to everyone” [1 Thess. 5:15b]
j) “rejoice always” (In context, this is a coorporate command) [1 Thess. 5:16]
k) “pray without ceasing” (again, while this certainly applies personally, it is a coorporate command) [1 Thess. 5:17]
l) “give thanks in all circumstances” [1 Thess. 5:18]
m) let the Spirit move (do not quench the Spirit)[1 Thess. 5:19]
n) do not despise the preaching and teaching of the word [1 Thess. 5:20]
o) test everything (including sermons and teaching from the context), holding only to what is good [1 Thess. 5:21]
p) abstain from all forms of evil (church discipline could be in view with the coorporate context, too) [1 Thess. 5:22]
6) This “one another” ministry is clearly a duty of every believer, not merely the church leaders, elders, deacons, or pastors.
1 Thess. 5:12-14 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[c] encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all….
From the above verses it is clear that each brother (and the word can refer to men or women) in the church is responsible to follow the commands of vs. 13b (be at peace) and following. Notice that 1 Thess. was addressed to the whole church. If the pastoral staff, elders, and deacons are the only ones needed to minister to us in this encouraging, exhorting, admonishing sense, why is it that most of the NT epistles are addressed to churches (ie the people) rather than just the elders? Phil. 1:1 mentions the saints in Philippi as the primary audience, with the elders and deacons also–not the other way around.
7) This “one another” ministry is indispensable.
1 Thess. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. [See also 1 Thess. 5:11]
Notice, Paul’s having written the words to each person in the church was not enough. They were to pick up the book/letter and use its teaching to encourage each other. Just reading the Bible and studying it alone does not cut it. We need the mutual ministry of the Word to be working in us through the mutual encouraging and exhorting, even admonishing, of our fellow believers (along with a weekly sermon from our preacher).