I am sure that somewhere and at some time Tabletalk readers have heard the lyrics of the "anthem of the West" titled "Home on the Range." The idyllic American cowboy was "at home on the range" for multiple reasons. One reason was because it was a home "where seldom was heard a discouraging word"—a home environment where discouraging words were rare and encouraging words were plentiful.
Our Lord expects His people to create such environments not in the fantasy of a song but in the reality of life—in our family homes and in the home for His family, the church, which is "the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). God's home and our homes should be intentionally emptied of self-centered words of discouragement and filled with selfless words designed to "encourage one another" (1 Thess. 5:11). But how does this happen in a sin-cursed world full of discouraging words? How does this happen in the church, which is full of grace-saved sinners?
Good homes have "house rules." Mine did, but more pointedly, so does God's. This issue of Tabletalk is exploring some of those "house rules"—the "one another" admonitions in God's Word for God's family. These admonitions are not suggestions from a family therapist. They are divine commands, including the command to "encourage one another." Clearly, we need to pray for the Spirit of God to give us both the ability and desire to establish churches and relationships where "seldom is heard a discouraging word" and often is heard an encouraging word. But encouraging words aren't enough. They must be united with encouraging deeds. Here are two texts to equip us to "encourage one another" in word and deed.
Encourage One Another with Words
In Ephesians 4–6, Paul calls all who are "in Christ" to "put off the old man" and "put on the new man." In 4:29, he reveals four takeaways on how to fill our homes and churches with encouraging words:
(1) Right words. Vocabulary is crucial. Instead of "unwholesome words" that pollute hearers, use "edifying" words that build them up.
(2) Right way. Grace-giving words require a gracious tone, as they "proceed out of our mouths."
(3) Right time. "According to the need of the moment." Often, there are things that need to be said and ultimately must be said, but it is not the right time to say them.
(4) Right reason. "To give grace to those who hear." God's grace both motivates and instructs us to speak for the hearer's edification, not personal gratification.
Encourage One Another with Deeds
How can we perform deeds of encouragement that amplify our words of encouragement? Effective deeds of love originate from and are patterned after the sinner-saving love of God in Christ. A classic text to instruct and encourage us is Romans 5:6, 8. Here, too, we find four takeaways:
(1) Love is active and visible. "God demonstrated His own love toward us." God's love was visible and demonstrated when He gave His Son to give us life. And God's Son gave us life through His self-sacrifice. To encourage one another is to love one another with visible deeds.
(2) Love is intentional and specific. The love of God made a way when there was no way to save sinners, and that way is Jesus: "Christ died for us." God's people do not perform "random acts of kindness." They do intentional deeds of life-changing love.
(3) Love is sacrificial and unmerited. Visible and intentional deeds of love are also costly and undeserved. God gave His Son. God's Son gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for all the sins of all of His people. He "died for us." We needed Him but did not want Him; He did not need us but wanted us. The unmerited love of God sent the Son of God who gave Himself for us to save us. As a result, when we love we are to think of the needs of others above our own.
(4) Love is timely and thoughtful. "At the right time Christ died for the ungodly." Encouraging deeds of love are timely because those who take the time to love also take the time to love thoughtfully. Even when addressing sin in each other's lives, we thoughtfully seek to win each other to the Lord and for the Lord.
When God's people lovingly "encourage one another" with Christ-exalting words and deeds, the gospel message is not only clarified but amplified. Even more profoundly, God is glorified as His family enjoys a home "where seldom is heard a discouraging word."