Encouraging One Another

“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”

–1 Thessalonians 5:11

Maybe you are more familiar with a different translation of this Bible verse, as Steve Green sang it: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

This Bible verse is a gem that can be lost in the shadow of the grand and noble Colossians 3:23–24: “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” 

Both texts are equally important for the Christian. Knowing that we work unto the Lord keeps our work in proper perspective. Working for the praise of men will always leave us empty and disappointed. Only working for the Lord will bring true joy and fulfillment in life, walking in the good works that He has prepared for us to do. 

Yet, “We work unto the Lord” has often been the justification for refusing to give fellow Christians any kind of recognition, thanks, or encouragement for their service. Giving and receiving encouragement and speaking well of and to each other is vital for Christians, preserving our resolve and joy as we journey together on the difficult, narrow path to heaven. As Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” And that is why we need to remember Colossians 3:23 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11. We work unto the Lord, but we still need each others for encouragement. 

We live in a time when the sin of gossip has exploded into a devastating forest fire, ravaging anything it encounters. The sins of the tongue – gossip, slander, and backbiting – used to be twisted retellings of happenings that we or another witnessed firsthand. Now with the press of a button, we can see intimate details of others’ lives. We are peering in not only on family and friends but also on complete strangers. How much of our social media use is a cycle of gazing and judging and sharing and slandering? People can so easily become fixated on negativity and depravity, craving more and more until eventually they are consumed by this idolatry. Too often we never hear the good about a person or a situation or a church. We only hear the bad. Can you imagine how Satan must love to hear God’s people verbally rip each other apart? 

Listen to the strong language used in the Heidelberg Catechism, which gives both the negative and positive aspects of the ninth commandment:

Lord’s Day 43 

Q. 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?

A. That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly, and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbor.

We need to live 1 Thessalonians 5:11! Let’s make it a point to be kind and to build each other up, starting today. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Stop destructive stories from spreading. Protect the reputation and welfare of your neighbor. Do not give a slanderer an audience!

Could one of your primary Spirit-given gifts be loving others by encouraging them? Give encouragement a try, along with other spiritual gifts and disciplines (for example: intercession and witnessing). What comes naturally to you, and what are you comfortable doing? Start there; exercise those gifts in Christ’s church for the benefit of her members as you mature and fully learn your place and function among God’s people. 

Do not wait until you are older. Young people are not simply “the future church” or “the future of the church.” Young people and young adults are part of Christ’s church now and have an important place as her living members (Lord’s Day 21), whether they be baptized or communicant members. Scripture makes this very clear. “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). God uses young believers – even children – to accomplish His purposes. Remember Miriam and Moses and Samuel and David and Joash and Naaman’s wife’s maid and Daniel and his three friends. Remember Mary and John and Titus and Timothy. Remember Jesus in the temple at 12 years old.

Encouragement does not need to be elaborate. Often a simple “thank you” is all that it takes to encourage someone to continue in their good works unto the Lord.

“Pastor, thank you for that challenging sermon.”

“Teacher, thank you for not moving on until I understood the lesson.”

“Parents, thank you for not allowing me to go to that party.”

“Friend, thanks for standing up for me when I was being ridiculed.”

“Sibling, thanks for always being there for me.”

The people whom God has placed in our lives might be secretly struggling. Church committee members might be running themselves into the ground in service for others and for God’s kingdom and wondering if their labor even matters. Volunteers might only receive criticism and question why they bother to put forth such effort. Mothers might be wrestling with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and burnout. The elderly might feel entirely useless. A simple word or note of encouragement might make all the difference to keep them living and working faithfully, joyfully, and selflessly unto the Lord.

We can take this a step further. Let’s remember to thank God for the people in our lives (1 Thess. 1:2). In your prayers, speak specific details about a person and his needs, and then tell him that you are doing this. It’s easy to say, “I’ll be praying for you,” and to pray, “Father, be with this person.” But our relationships will grow so much closer if we take the time to carefully observe our brothers’ and sisters’ particular needs, bring them before the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, and praise and thank God for them.

“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.”

–Proverbs 12:25

Encourage one another, and build each other up!

by Erika Kiel

Sarah’s Laughter and Our Reflection

 “And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah were visited by the Lord and told that they would be blessed with a son, and at such an old age one could only hope for a miracle in order for this to happen. Because of this, Sarah in her disbelief laughed in her heart at what she heard. At first, we may look down on her for such a reaction but we must not be so quick to judge. We all have doubts in our minds about what the will of God is for us and the timing in which He works.

Sarah questioned so much. She wondered why God was choosing to give her a child now of all times, for she wished as most young women did to have a child. Women hold an important role in Christ’s kingdom. They act as help meets for their husbands, they arise early to take care of their families by cooking, cleaning. They also aid in instructing the children in their schoolwork and catechism lessons, because they are the future of the church, such instruction is vital as told by Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

 However, this truth applies to every single one of us. While mothers are important, we all have a place in the kingdom of Christ. Have you laughed as Sarah did because you questioned what the Lord has planned for you? Is there a reason for the tears and sorrows we face in this life? So much doubt, yet we have faith knowing that Christ’s plan is so much greater than our own. Trust God and He will bless you at the appointed time as He did for Sarah. Heed Psalm 27:14. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait I say, on the Lord.” 

Lisa Oomkes

Appreciating Heritage Blessings

In my last young people’s society meeting with Reverend Huizinga before his departure for the seminary, he urged us all to know and appreciate our heritage. Recognizing the wisdom in this, and wanting to be able to understand this passionate urging, I decided to look more into the beginnings of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA). I have now begun to read God’s Covenant Faithfulness. I often lack an interest in studying the history of the church, but as Reverend Huizinga suggested, it made me to greatly appreciate the heritage and many other things I have been blessed with in the PRCA. So I extend Reverend Huizinga’s urge to you as well; know your blessed heritage! I now want to take a moment to remind us of days long ago so that we might see how easily at times we take God’s blessings to us for granted.

  1. We take for granted the practical technologies that God blesses us. I start with this point with the mindset of saving the best for last. Remember the beginning of the PRCA at First Church. Most of the congregation walked downtown to meet for worship. People were so excited about hearing the truth that despite snow they would still make it to church. Heating was also an issue at times. Some churches, such as Hudsonville, lacked heating and struggled through the cold in a barn so that they might hear God’s gospel. In South Holland, someone would trek up to seven or eight miles on cold winter mornings at five o’clock so that the church might be warm for the congregation at nine o’clock. However, we have it so easy today. We do not have to meet in barns, bakeries, or store buildings, but God has blessed us with many beautiful church buildings. These buildings are equipped with heating, air conditioning, libraries, bathrooms, nurseries, and they are well furnished. Not only do we have nice buildings, but with cars our journey to church is much easier. It is not uncommon to live twenty plus miles from church and yet we still can travel more quickly and comfortably than those in the early days of our church.

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” and God has surely supplied us with beyond that with our beautiful churches and our convenient transportation (Phil. 4:19).

  1. We have been blessed with many ministers in almost all of our churches. As synod has pointed out, we will start to face many vacancies in years to come; however, we still can appreciate how richly God has provided us with ministers currently and in years past. This blessing of many pastors stands out to me because so many churches that started out did not have ministers. A common trend I noticed was that new churches in the 1920s-1930s sat vacant for four years before receiving their first pastor. Many churches shared pastors with nearby churches. Reverend Hoeksema and Reverend Ophoff had much work during this time. They not only preached in their own congregations, but helped organize new churches, taught  in the seminary, and preached in vacant congregations. Then and now, God has been faithful to provide young men capable and ready to sacrifice their lives for His word.

God is faithful to His promises: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).

  1. I speak from experience that we take for granted the abundant resources we now have. God has granted such great abundance of knowledge to us about His truth. We know so much about His word and we have so many books, recorded sermons/lectures, pamphlets, and so forth to learn of His word. So often we take these resources for granted and do not read. Read! To take Reverend Huizinga’s picture, when we are not in the Word and studying/reading we are like the person who has laid in the hospital bed for months. His body has no strength so that he cannot even start to bench press half of his weight. We must never find ourselves so weak. The early members of the PRCA set a great example to us of a vigor for God’s word. In the beginning, families were eagerly inviting pastors (especially Hoeksema) to come and lecture on God’s word. There was a resilient excitement to hear the truth.

May we never neglect God’s great liturgical blessings to us, but rather may we be as the Bereans and our forefathers who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11).

  1. God has blessed us with great peace. Peace that we feel and experience. There have been many protests at synod and many letters in the Standard Bearer discussing the place of works in the life of a believer. Despite that there is peace that we share in the truth. The denomination has not strayed from God’s great truth. We have a fellowship in the good doctrines, we have good catechism classes which teach the youth the truth of God’s word, and we have Bible studies to come together and in “one faith and one hope” discuss God’s word together (Eph. 4:4-5). In the 1920s-1930s, the PRCA experienced much opposition from the Christian Reformed Church. Hear the troubles faced to meet together for the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland in 1926, “influential men in Christian reformed circles, who were not enthusiastic about Hoeksema’s overflow crowds, stymied all attempts to rent adequate meeting places. Bock’s hall, in Lansing, Illinois, above a hardware store and sandwiched between apartments, was the last resort of the persistent group who were pressing to hear the reformed truth.” Today, we rest comfortably as a denomination united by the truth of God’s Word. We stand fast in the same truths confessed by men in the 1920s when our denomination first was born, and the same doctrines confessed by God’s people through all ages.

What great blessings we experience today! How easy it is for us to become lethargic in our blessings. It is easy to lose the enthusiasm and the persistency of old which brought many through raging snow to church to be able to hear the truth in fellowship and instead for us to get used to coming to church only out of habit or tradition. May we be filled with excitement during the week and on the sabbath for God’s preaching. God has blessed the PRCA very richly and we see how much He has blessed us with growth, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17).

Luke Christian Potjer