Edification, Encouragement, and Education: Part 1

Scriptures: Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:5b-22

As we continue the series “On being the church”, it is appropriate to touch on where we were, so that we can see the link with where we are. Last week we discussed in a general way both what exactly is the church, and what God calls us to do as a church body.

We stressed the importance of being together, of understanding that we are a family, as well as the people of God, and a building that is being built up by the Holy Spirit, in which all of us have a part to play.

The next couple of weeks, we are going to look at a couple of questions dealing with why and how we do this. Even if God calls us to be this body – this family – why do we need to gather together, for instance?

Salvation is singular to each one of us. Our relationship with Christ is personal. I have mentioned one “why” when I said “we need each other.” But again, we can ask, “Why?” and “How?”

At the simplest level, it comes down to human nature. I always like to say that the Bible is as relevant today as it was when it was written two thousand years ago or longer, because human nature really hasn’t changed. And it won’t, until Christ comes again, or you experience going to meet Christ yourself.

If you look at the passage in Ephesians 4, it speaks of some of the pitfalls we can run afoul of as, we try to practice our faith and live it out. We can be tossed by waves and storms in life, and anyone who has been on a choppy sea knows it is almost impossible to deal with on your own. Even if you can keep the rudder straight, you get weary, and you are in danger of seizing up and being unable to correct direction once the storm lets up, even if you weathered it yourself.

As we can see from the passage in Thessalonians, we can be fainthearted, weak, unruly, and in general irritating and hard to live in peace with. (Not that any of you would ever by that way!) Our desire for control and for self-gratification are constantly at war with our new nature in Christ, and when we wreck, we need help putting the pieces back together again.

Of course, one way of avoiding that situation – that wrecking – is to learn how to drive safely, and avoid the wrecks altogether. But how can we learn what to do without a course? And how can we have a course, without a teacher or instructor?

We need help from other people to coach us through those parts of our walk where we are weak or ignorant. As our passages today show us, we can both help and be helped as we encourage, edify, and educate.

The word that is used for encourage in both passages, Thessalonians and Ephesians, is parakleite. It can mean encourage, or comfort, or guide. It has its roots in the legal sense of an advocate, literally meaning “come alongside”. Hence all our names for the Holy Spirit when Jesus speaks of “The Paraklete” in the gospel of John.

In our context today, it doesn’t really mean comfort – though I suppose it could, or even guide – though guidance may be offered. Most of the time in the Bible, the word “encourage” means something that we have really lost a sense of in our modern language.

When we say “I want to encourage someone”, we usually mean it in the sense like “tell them it will be OK,” when they are struggling or sad. An encourager is seen as someone who is basically an optimist, and speaking positively all the time.

There is nothing wrong with these things, by the way. But here and elsewhere in the Bible, encouragement deals with exhortation. Encouragement requires a response. It is a call to action. Vine’s expository dictionary says it can be that “personal exhortation that delivers the ‘evidence that stands up in God’s court’”, or “an intimate call that someone personally gives to deliver God’s verdict.” It serves to incite, promote, support, or advance.

Think of it in terms of coaching. How many of you played sports? Well, that’s just about everybody. How many of you have had one of those “half-time talks” as a team, or a “one on one” even? How about time with a personal trainer in a gym?

In my experience, those talks are rarely “comforting.” Our coach reminds us of our strengths, points out (usually) some weak points or screw-ups, reiterates our goals, and then challenges us to act and carry out the effort to achieve those goals! Am I right? Don’t we get psyched up? Aren’t we supposed to leave the meeting going “Yeah!” or “Hoohah!”, etc.?

Look at what happened with the Super Bowl, whether you liked one team or the other. Let’s face it, it looked like two different teams came out, between the first half and the second half. Somebody got a coaching during halftime.

Encouragement requires action! We are to inspire one another to doing good, witnessing for Christ, living a faithful life, overcoming whatever obstacle happens to be there at the moment, and to win the race that we run as disciples.

Does our worship challenge you to do this? Does Bible study, or youth group, or whatever group you happen to be a part of that is a ministry of this church, challenge you to do this? We will get back to that a little more later; but having spoken of encouragement briefly, I now want to speak on the second term – which in my translation was “edify.”

“Edify” or “Edification” sounds fancy, which is probably why they changed it in your translation, but it has a simple meaning. It means literally “to build up” or “to build.” We get our word “edifice” (which is usually used to describe some fancy and very large building!) from this word. Sometimes it is used to describe a home, though a more frequent word when we want to sound cultured (or obnoxious, take your pick) is “domicile”.

Edification often speaks of “constructive criticism” that helps us be better at what we are doing. It involves both encouragement, and education (which comes next week). To think of what edifying looks like, think of what contributes to your growth in faith. To start with, it requires learning about God, God’s ways, and God’s will, and learning to relate that to life situations. We’ll talk more about the education half next Sunday.

But as we lay the groundwork here for edification, growth in faith also comes from the example of other people, as they deal with difficult situations and uncertain futures, choosing to be trust in God and follow His ways rather than either worrying or choosing ways to deal with things that do not honor God.

To learn from people’s examples – and to allow other people to learn from ours – there has to be open sharing of what’s going on in our lives, both the parts we like to talk about and the parts we’d often just as soon keep to ourselves. The level of trust and intimacy is one that requires that understanding of the family.

Sometimes just seeing other people’s examples helps, but as we don’t read minds … none of you read minds, right? … what we say to each other is also important. Our culture teaches us to keep our thoughts and feelings about God to ourselves and to feel awkward about sharing something so personal. But knowing the role faith plays in someone’s life often requires talking about it. Like many things, it feels more awkward the first time, and later comes to seem more natural. In other words, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the better you are at it.

Examples sometimes aren’t enough, either, when it comes to blind spots in our lives. Maybe I notice that someone else is particularly kind, but I don’t really notice when I act in a way that hurts someone else, or when I take someone for granted. I need someone to point out what I haven’t noticed, and perhaps to help me as I work at changing my patterns of behavior, even though it feel somewhat uncomfortable for both of us, as we share.

Maybe you have a gift God has given you to use in building up the church, but you don’t realize it, or think you’re not good enough at something to use your gift, or that other people can do it better. So many times I’ve had an argument about choirs, in my history. I’ve always said that a church choir is there to make a joyful noise, not to put on a performance. Though we want to do well, as well as we can.

I remember when I went to the church that ordained me to ministry, there was a woman who joined the choir at one point. Her name was Carolyn. Whether due to an accident or a congenital condition, I can’t remember which, her body was twisted. But her mind was totally sharp.

She has problems with speech and was hard to understand. But she loved music and singing. I swear, she knew the words of every hymn in the Presbyterian Hymnal. Every hymn! And she wanted to join the choir.

So the choir director said yes. She couldn’t really say the words well, and apparently she also couldn’t hardly carry a tune in a bucket. Within a couple of months after her joining, there were several people who came to the choir director and said, “You have to get rid of Carolyn. She’s throwing us off, and hurting our singing as a whole.”

And God bless the directory, Holly, she said exactly what I promote, and that is that we’re there to make a joyful noise. Singing in the choir gave Carolyn great joy, and you could see it on her face. It was a witness and testimony to what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

We sang an Easter cantata, and we recorded it – I happened to have some solos in it. I was still working at Johnson & Johnson during that time, and I took it in and I played it for a number of my friends that were there at Johnson & Johnson. Separate individuals, five different ones. (It was just a short thing, so it didn’t take very long to watch.)

Every single one of them, to a person, noticed Carolyn. Every single one of them, to a person, pointed her out and said, “You let her sing in the choir?” And I said, “Absolutely. That’s one of her great joys in life.” And they all said, to a person, “What a great church you must have, to minister to someone in that way.”

Seeing the joy that was on Carolyn’s face, seeing the presence of somebody who was very obviously unable to “perform” up to our standards today, but allowed to participate, was a witness and testimony to the church.

So sometimes we may not think we’re good enough, or that other people can do it better, but if we’ve been given the gift by God, then we should use it. You need me and other people to recognize that gift in you, to encourage you to use it, and to let you know how God is using you by it.

It wasn’t enough to just say “thank you, thank you, thank you” to my friends, but I went back and told Holly, the choir director, and Carolyn, what it had meant to other people to see her singing there.

Most of all, building one another up means spending time together, not just in worship and in chatting over meals or snacks – though those also are an important part of building one another up in the faith. It means working together on projects, keeping in touch about what’s going on in our lives during the week, planning activities and ministries – all the circumstances where faith is lived out and where the opportunities come up to learn from one another how to live out our faith.

I know we’re a small town, though not the smallest I’ve seen. But even in this church, we get people who come from a number of different communities. In order to build one another up, we need to have planned times that we spend together, as a church, outside worship, so that we can minister to one another and edify one another, building one another up in the faith.

After all, for the church to thrive and grow as a body, we need to understand how to relate to one another in the church. Just because we are a family doesn’t mean that we can read each other like a book. We need to place a priority on serving and being in the lives of one another, to place a priority on the church and its life, so that we can better understand what God is asking of us and preparing us to do.

My prayer is that you grow in grace and love, as you encourage one another to greater participation in the mission and ministry of this church and of your mutual witness to Jesus Christ. Edify one another, lifting one another up in prayer, supporting one another in your efforts, and watching over one another, that we might not stumble and fall. In this way, we build that temple that God is creating with us, that we spoke of last week.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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