For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:11-12)
It’s Sunday morning and you’re getting ready to head out the door for church. What do you bring? Think about it, what’s on your “mental checklist” of stuff you need? Probably your phone and car keys. Hopefully your Bible. Maybe you need a quick, on-the-go breakfast so you reach for that trusty protein bar. Oh, and don’t forget your kids.
No matter what the specifics of your checklist are, there is one thing none of us can afford to come to church without, and that is the intent to look beyond ourselves in order that we might encourage others in the Gospel. This is one of the most crucial things we will bring with us to church this Sunday.
The Nature Of The Church
You see, the church’s worship is communal in nature. It is as author William Nicholls once put it, “Worship is offered to God not simply by individuals, but by a people, and by individuals as members of that people.” In other words, when we belong to a local church, our worship of God–whether we’re worshiping at a church gathering, at home, in our car, or atop the Swiss Alps—is always Spiritually integrated into the worship of that congregation as a whole. For at all times and in all places, we are members of Christ’s Body (1 Co. 12:12-13), living stones in God’s Spiritual House (1 Pet. 2:4-5). And the practices we observe when we gather on Sundays are designed to express this reality.
Worship gatherings, when centered on the Gospel, ought to compel us to look past ourselves and see the bigger picture of God’s mission to advance His Kingdom and the part we play in that mission as His people. Thus when we sing, we sing together as a people. When we give, we give together as a people. When we greet those around us, serve others, receive God’s Word read and preached, and agree together in prayer, it is all for the purpose of helping us to see the true nature of the church—that it is God’s ordained context of true worship.
As such, the church should always be striving to enlist the full participation of its members in all aspects of its gatherings for the purpose of nurturing Gospel unity among them—a unity that has implications for all of life.
Mutual Encouragement: How We Grow Together
This understanding of the church’s nature provides the basis for the original point I made—that we ought come to church with the intent to look beyond ourselves that we might encourage one another in the Gospel. This is the pattern that is both prescribed and described wherever the New Testament speaks of the life and experience of the earliest churches. And there is perhaps no one who modeled this more faithfully than the apostle Paul.
Paul was a pacesetter when it came to encouragement. This comes to light especially in Romans 1:11-12 (quoted above). These two verses reveal something significant about Paul—that because of the Lord’s grace in his life, he believed he could be a blessing to others. He knew that through his ministry the Holy Spirit would impart true Gospel encouragement to the church at Rome. Likewise, he understood that those in the Roman church would be a blessing to him as well, and that just by being with them again he would be greatly encouraged.
Therefore encouragement in the church ought to be, as Paul put it, mutual. This means that the encouragement of the saints is not only the responsibility of church leaders like Paul. Our consumeristic culture teaches us to think of the church as a provider of spiritual goods and its leaders as savvy communicators and gurus. Therefore people often come to church as spectators to enjoy an inspiring presentation put on by a handful of gifted leaders—a presentation from which we are to passively receive encouragement.
However, this view of church is completely foreign to the New Testament, which teaches that encouragement, by virtue of the fact that it ought to be mutual, is the responsibility of every Spirit-indwelled believer in the congregation—leaders and members alike. Therefore, each person’s contribution of Gospel encouragement matters. We are all participants, not spectators. Just consider what Paul says to the Ephesians, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Because of this, we can be certain that God has entrusted each and every one of us with the important responsibility of encouraging the saints. And He is also calling upon each of us to joyfully receive encouragement from others. Indeed, mutual encouragement in the Gospel is an important way God grows us up into the fullness of Christ together. Such an understanding must come to bear upon our practices of worship each Lord’s Day. As we worship the Lord together through song, giving, greeting, prayer and the ministry of the Word, let’s do all we can build others up in the Gospel.
As you read these words, I pray that God is laying something specific on your heart—a person you can bless, a servant role you can fill, or an action you can take which will lead to greater edification among the church. When it comes down to it, it is those seemingly small acts of obedience that will make the Lord’s Day profoundly encouraging for the people of LifePoint. So as you’re heading out the door for church on Sunday morning and you reach for your phone or your keys, be sure to ask, “What am I bringing to church today?”