A Commentary by John Stott

1 Thessalonians 5:11. d). Conclusion: a community of mutual support.

*Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.*

Paul uses the same verb *parakaleo* here as he has done in 4:18. It was a true instinct, however, which led some English translations (e.g. RSV) to render it ‘comfort’ in 4:18, where the context is consolation for the bereaved, and ‘encourage’ in 5:11, where the context is faint-heartedness in anticipation of the Parousia.

The world can be a tough and unfriendly place, as we all know to our cost. It is easy to get hurt by it. In addition, bereavement can be a very painful experience. We are also prone to fear when we think of Christ’s coming to judge. These emotions can tear us apart. We can become dispirited and depressed. But God means his church to be a community of mutual support. ‘Comfort one another’, Paul writes (4:18, RSV); *encourage one another*, and *build each other up* (5:11). All three are, of course, expressions of that yet more basic command to *love each other* (4:9). Moreover, the word ‘one another’ or ‘each other’ (*alleloi*) emphasizes the reciprocity of Christian care. We are not to leave it to an elite of professional comforters or councillors. These have an important role to fulfil, of course, but supporting, caring, encouraging and comforting are ministries which belong to all members of the Body of Christ. They were already being exercised in Thessalonica. Paul was able to add to his call for mutual love the acknowledgement that ‘in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia’ (4:10), and similarly to his call for mutual encouragement and upbuilding he added the clause *just as in fact you are doing* (5:11). No community could call itself Christian if it is not characterized by reciprocal love. Yet equally no community is such a paradise of love that its members do not need to hear Paul urging them ‘to do so more and more’ (4:10).

How, then, is this fundamental ministry of comfort, encouragement and upbuilding to be exercised? Doubtless in many ways, ranging from the simplicities of a smile, a hug or a squeeze of the hand to the costliness of patient listening, sympathy and friendship. Yet here in 1 Thessalonians we need to come back to Paul’s emphasis on ‘these words’ (4:18). True the Thessalonians’ problem of anxiety in the face of bereavement and judgment was a personal and pastoral one. But the solution Paul gave them was theological. The true pastor is always a good theologian, and what makes a pastoral counsellor ‘Christian’ is his or her skilled application of the Word of God.

Looking back over this chapter, which doctrine is it which Paul applies to the Thessalonians’ need? He refers to many, but one stands out. It is not just that Christ is coming. That fact can cause anxiety rather than reassurance. No, it is the further truth that the Christ who is coming to us is the very same Christ who died for us and rose again. In both sections of our text Paul emphasizes that Christ’s cross, resurrection and Parousia must be held together, and that their ultimate objective is that we may live *with him*. ‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again…and that God will bring *with Jesus* those who have fallen asleep in him’ (4:14). Again, ‘He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep [i.e. when he comes], we may live together *with him*’ (5:10). The foundation of Christian faith and hope, indeed the essence of the good news, is that Jesus died and rose in order to bring us into union with him, and that when he comes he will take us to be with him for ever. Our coming King in none other than our crucified and risen Saviour. We therefore have absolutely nothing to fear. On the contrary, we may be certain that nothing (neither death, nor bereavement, nor judgment) can separate us from him who died to bring us to himself. Therefore comfort, encourage and upbuild one another with these words!
Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. 5). Christian Community or How to be a gospel church.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.