In the hardest, darkest moments of life, when circumstances are far beyond our control and a peaceful future seems decades away, words have the power to calm us, to hearten us, and to help us refocus on what is important, what our duty is, and what is ultimately real. The apostle John understood this very well. In 1 John 2:13b-14, he says,
“I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
In the midst of encouragement to hold fast to the truth and explanation of the truth—what we might call doctrinal teaching—John takes a moment to lift up his readers by complimenting their character. He’s not the only person in the Bible who does this. Paul’s letters are filled with personal, edifying comments. Even Jesus took time to point out when people were doing well (Matthew 8:10, Mark 14:9). While it is never a bad idea to encourage each other with Scripture about what we should do or what God has promised, sometimes it can be beneficial to point out what we’re already doing for God’s sake and by His grace. In stressful times, it’s very easy to feel like we’re not doing anything right, nothing we’re doing is working, and we might as well give up. John points out 4 ways we can encourage our brethren to keep the faith by complimenting their faith:
- Remind them of their standing with God.
Sometimes God can seem very far away. Life can be confusing and we can struggle to see the good in the midst of trial. But John reminds his readers, “You know God!” The word “know” indicates an absolute, intimate knowledge or an understanding. John means the Christian has a relationship with Him—and that relationship makes every other part of life make sense! Sometimes we need reminded of the closeness we have to God through Christ, because when we forget who we belong to, who we believe in, and who we love, we’re more apt to give in to fear. So remind each other, as the song goes, “whose side you’re living on!”
- Remind them of their ability.
John boldly tells his readers, “You are strong!” Today, we might say something like, “You got this, and God’s got you!” In times of stress and fear, so many of us forget that God has made us capable of amazing things. So take the time to point out other’s gifts: “You’re so welcoming!” “You’re really good at explaining the Gospel!” “I love how quickly you forgive!” The talents and proclivities we’ve been given by God could be some of our greatest assets in trial, but only if we remember to use them.
- Tell them when they look like Jesus.
Just like Ramen wrappers and piles of textbooks strewn about an apartment indicate that the occupant is a college kid, it’s very easy to tell when the word of God abides in someone’s life because they act and talk like Christ acted and talked. When you see an indication of love for God and cheerful submission to His word, point it out: “Wow, you were so kind to that cranky person, like I think Jesus would have been!” “I know you probably didn’t want to stay and help, but the fact that you served anyway reminded me of how Jesus always served, too!” You’ll be amazed at how many people are truly wanting to serve the Lord once you start looking. And you’ll be giving the doer the best compliment possible, because what Christian doesn’t want to know when she looks like Christ?
- Don’t downplay the hardships—emphasize the successes.
Life can be really hard sometimes, because there is an evil one at work against us. But although Satan is active, he’s also a loser. In Jesus, we have overcome the evil one! When we remember both of these things—that the struggle is real, but the victory is, too—we get a balanced perspective of life that can help us endure. Even when it doesn’t feel like this trial could possibly have an end, we need to remind each other of the truth: “I know this is really difficult right now, I know it hurts, but I also know that it will end and that God will make good come of it.”
Something I have noticed recently is that we are all reaching out more to our brothers and sisters, and it is beautiful to see the church building herself up! Keep doing that! Write a card, send a text, or make a call, to remind each other of God’s promises, and God’s faithfulness, and God’s word and will. But also, if you see something commendable in another—something recent, or something you’ve admired about that person for years and have never mentioned—add an extra line to your message or a minute to your call and remind them of that thing, too. Remind them of their identity in Christ; point out their abilities; praise them for their faithfulness; rejoice with them about the victory that’s already been gained. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 that we’re supposed to think about the things that are lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise. Talk about those things, too, and encourage your siblings in Christ to keep up the great work!
by Abigail Buchanan