We are glad you’re here. Do you have a someone alongside you today? We hope so.
Father God, may we be an encouragement to one another as we come alongside You in our study today.
Read Reflection Scripture:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4 ESV
What insights did you gain from the Reflection Scripture about coming alongside others as a form of encouragement?
In my usual bent for word study, I went searching for the exact meaning of “interests” in the original language. Much like the lawyer who wanted clarity on who his neighbor was in order to justify the way he was living (Luke 10:29).
What I found was an inference – no actual Hebrew word translated as “interests” – but the word translated as “look” implying the paying attention to the lives of others. The original language includes contemplation. Therefore, we are not only to contemplate our own lives and needs, but those of every other person in our sphere of influence.
In this verse there are no nicely delineated particulars for what those “interests” are, like food, shelter, clothing. It simply tells us to look at others, consider them, as you do yourself.
There’s no room in the heart of the verse to allow us to get away with just giving a handout. The Word tells us to look at their lives, take time to find out how they got to their place of need. This implied “interests” means considering the lives of others as you do your own. It involves getting to know their stories, their emotional needs, their hearts.
This means time, energy, investment, just like you spend on yourself.
How does this change your perspective on looking to the interests of others? What emotions stir? How should we come alongside others in light of this call to encourage?
In my spiritual director training we’ve been studying the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a theory based on nine personality styles of people. Each type represents the way people think in relation to the world, themselves, God and others. What I’ve learned impacts the way I encourage others and causes me to consider their words and actions as a revelation to something deeper.
I question what’s below the surface. What need or desire causes the outward appearance of their thoughts and words. How is their personality type shaping their approach to God and to the world.
Carol’s word study confirms this way of considering others interests above my own. It helps me lay aside my own personal response. I find myself diving deep into their stories and contemplating their needs apart from my own opinions, standards, and desires.
This coming alongside takes more than a kind word or blessing. It requires the hard work of looking at my own heart and the heart of others.
In thinking about the Reflection Scripture, we asked you to consider your own journey. Where have people come alongside you to look to your interests for a season or more? What encouragement did they provide?
So many friends have come and gone, in and out of my life for a season. High school. College. Several different cities I lived in for short periods of time.
Their presence helped me fit in, find a place, and feel loved.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but clearly each one was a blessing provided by God as an encouragement right where I was.
Has God called you to come alongside someone outside your comfort zone? How? What made it difficult?
The week’s Reflection Scripture echoes the first week’s: doing good to everyone as we have opportunity (Galatians 6:10). A call to be open and other-centered, not just self-centered.
Please note, we are told to look out for ourselves, as well as others. We are not to neglect our own needs or be solely other-centered. Complete focus on others can pull us into relational idolatry or co-dependence. Not a place we want to go.
Looking to our self-interest is best done looking to God. Like we talked about last week, looking up and establishing a right relationship to God first is what’s best for our self and for those around us. When we are rightly related to God, we can’t help but begin to look out for the interests of others too.
Prayer of Praise:
Did praising God as our Strength encourage you in coming alongside others? How?
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.
Psalm 59:17 ESV
His steadfast, unfailing love for us becomes our strength. Because He loves us and paid an infinitely high price for our freedom in the name of love, we can endure whatever comes and resist any attack the enemy can muster. The love which held Him to the cross, is the love which fortifies us like an impenetrable fortress.
Lately I’ve been gently nudged to deal with a past hurt. My natural bent is to leave it in the past, and let it be. Why dredge up what is long gone and should be forgotten? Others in my life who experienced the same circumstance have moved on, and on the surface, so have I.
Still, the Spirit calls me to return and my flesh recoils at the very thought. My greatest fear is I might become entangled in a depression I can’t make my way out of like a dark valley with no end.
In this process praising God as my strength assures me He will not leave me alone in this valley. He will comfort, console, and move me through it because God is strong. Much stronger than I can imagine. He is a mighty warrior fierce in His protection of me. He will not abandon me in my sadness.
Where God leads, I will follow. Trusting His strength to guide me through this valley.
He came alongside us in our greatest need and blessed us with the Spirit to come alongside others too. This week we looked at the power of encouragement through connecting with others.
What truth is found at the heart of these two passages?
We were not created to be alone. We were created to do life with others. We need people alongside us.
What benefits of coming alongside do we see in these two passages? How are two better than one?
The Ecclesiastes passage tells us:
- There is greater reward in our work.
- If one falls, the other is there to lift them up. Whether the fall is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we can lift each other up.
- Greater physical comfort is felt with another at our side.
- Two have greater strength to resist the enemy.
The Genesis passage flat out tells us it is not good for a person to do life alone. A helper is needed. But not just any helper, it must be a fit helper.
The original Hebrew describing the helper man needs is ezer kenegdo. According to John and Staci Eldridge in their book Captivating, the only other times ezer is used in Scripture is in reference to God as Savior. Calling on Him for help in desperate life or death circumstances. The Eldridges say ezer is best translated “lifesaver” and kenegdo means alongside. A fit helper is a lifesaver at our side.
You see, the life God calls us to is not a safe life. Ask Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Esther – any of the friends of God from the Old Testament. Ask Mary and Lazarus; ask Peter, James, and John; ask Priscilla and Aquila – any of the friends of God in the New Testament. God calls us to a life involving frequent risks and many dangers.
– John and Stacy Eldridge, Captivating
We need others alongside us on this journey through hostile territory. To encourage one another in our work, our battles, our temptations. People ready to step out and step in to help when circumstances threaten our life of faith.
God prompted me this week to not only give encouragement but ask for encouragement as well. It wasn’t easy. Because asking revealed my weakness, and I felt vulnerable.
When was the last time you needed someone to come alongside you? Did you ask for encouragement? Or refuse to go there? What were the results?
There are times we enter hostile territory, and no one knows we are in the midst of a battle. It takes faith to ask a trusted friend to encourage you. When we become vulnerable and invite both a friend and God to join us in the battle, a threefold cord is formed. Solomon said it himself: a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Jesus is the perfect third strand in a friendship of two. With Him we have access to infinite strength to stand together against attack, to resist evil, and to sustain one another in work and care.
Where have you heard the Spirit calling you alongside someone this week?
It’s been an interesting week in coming alongside. In two instances, I received the blessing of encouraging another without realizing encouragement was needed. I didn’t recognize the need, but He did.
By giving a hug at His prompting and willingly entering into a conversation with a stranger, I came alongside. In both cases, the need for encouragement quickly became evident. The hug came back two-fold and the conversation turned into a connection with a sister in Christ in need of fellowship.
I found myself humbled by both experiences. Neither cost me much. But it cost Him His life, to get me to this place where I am willing to encourage others by stepping into their lives as He directs.
“…Whoever believes in Me, as the Scriptures has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 7:38 ESV
Understanding we were not created to do life alone, brings us back to our Reflection Scripture: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. We need other people in our lives and they need someone too. When we begin to look out for others, others begin to look out for us.
The Holy Spirit blesses us with the means to be united with Christ and in turn to be united as one, which is what Jesus prays for His people to be.
Read John 17:9-23
Who is glorified in the unity of Believers? What is seen?
Jesus is glorified in His people when they come together as one in the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus and the Father are one. When the church lives as one the world believes God sent His Son and sees the great love with which He loves.
The Greek for “world” is kosmos and means: the universe, as an ordered structure; the earth and the surface of the earth where mankind dwells; the world system being godless world standards; and people estranged from God (Dictionary of Biblical Languages).
Based on this definition of world, who sees Jesus’s glory and love when His people live in unity?
The unified love of God’s people through the glory of the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus:
- On a universal level, in the unseen realm and in all creation.
- On the earth.
- In contrast to the godless system of the world.
- To people far from God.
How does this coming alongside in unity and sacrificial love encourage the church? How does it encourage unbelievers?
When Believers allow the glory of the Holy Spirit to shine through them in love toward one another they experience His power in overcoming our own sinful bents which naturally separate us. Yielding to each other in love by the power of the Spirit strengthens our faith and our love for God and His people.
The type of unity Jesus calls us to is unseen anywhere else in the world. It is unique and desirable when done right and can draw unbelievers in.
Philip Yancey in his book Vanishing Grace tells the story of a very biased writer and atheist who infiltrated the late Jerry Falwell’s church to do an exposé on evangelicals. What she found was something she desired, yet she could not let go of her own belief system.
As she writes, “what I envied most about Christians was not the God thing – it was having a community gathering together each week, a touchstone for people who share values, a safe place to be frank about your life struggles, a place to be reminded of your moral compass. Having a place to guard against loneliness, to feel there are others like you.”
The church, especially in small groups and mission teams, offers a place where we can talk openly about what matters most, something that doesn’t easily happen at the workplace or at cocktail parties.
– Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace
It’s a huge responsibility to come alongside one another within the church in love and encouragement. It’s the only way the world will see the glory of Jesus’s love before He returns to set all things right.
Finding common ground with unbelievers lays the foundation for coming alongside with grace.
Read John 4:1-15
What was the common ground Jesus used to reach across racial and cultural barriers?
The common ground Jesus used was thirst. Tired and thirsty, He humbled Himself to ask a woman no other Jew would give the time of day to for a drink of water. She immediately questioned His motive, probably hearing the words: Unclean! Unclean! echo in her heart.
But Jesus was not dissuaded. He continued to step out, turning His need toward hers. Because He came alongside with His need, she began to desire and ask for the living water He was offering.
Jesus shows us the way to find common ground. It begins with not only looking to our own interests, but also the interests of others. In our needs there is universal cross-over on many levels.
What are some of our universal needs as inhabitants of earth?
- clean water
- nutritious food
In the homework, you were asked to consider someone you believe you have nothing in common with and look for common ground. Did you find some common ground? a place to start in coming alongside? Is it something you could see yourself doing? What did your thought process reveal about you?
Who comes to mind is a young woman I meet on the streets from time to time. Outside the shop or a restaurant or walking along the street to her next destination. She says she’s homeless, but she generally smells clean and has different clothes on each time I see her.
I wonder what we could possibly have in common.
I’ve reached out to her when she’s asked. Provided as I could. I’ve been the Samaritan woman seeing to my own needs – drawing from the well. But never contemplating her life beyond what she asks for.
Could she be the face of Jesus asking me for a drink? An opportunity to encourage by coming alongside her in a deeper more meaningful way?
I’ve never asked her story. But is Jesus giving me an opportunity to look at her life? contemplate what’s at the heart of her needs?
Socially, it’s a very deep gap for me to cross. One I can’t cross without Him.
Lord, how do I look to her interests? How do I connect with her life?
Jesus, in His desire to share what He had to offer, took a step most of us don’t want to take. He became vulnerable. He sought mercy from a woman outside His culture’s boundaries before He offered His mercy to her: Would you give me a drink of water?
Seeing our dependence on others, our need for others alongside us on this journey, is the place to start when it comes to reaching across the various gaps we create to separate ourselves from others.
It is not good that man should be alone…
Read 1Peter 2:4-6
When we come to Jesus He makes us like living stones being built into a home for the Holy Spirit to dwell. It takes all His people relating to Him rightly to house the fullness of His Spirit. A single stone does not make a suitable dwelling place.
The Greek word translated as “house,” oikos, means not only house, but household, those who physically occupy the house (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). So, we are not only the house but the ones living in it by the power of the Spirit. We are built to live with the Spirit as a home for Him.
In this household being built, we are becoming servants: a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in Jesus.
The role of the priesthood may be seen most clearly in the context of Israelite religion as a whole. At the heart of religion was a relationship with God; to be an Israelite or a Jew was to know and maintain a continuous relationship with the living God. This relationship found its outward expression in a variety of contexts: the covenant, the temple, worship, and every facet of daily life. Thus religion, understood as a relationship, had two perspectives: the relationship with God and that with fellow human beings. It had both a personal and a communal dimension to it. The priests were the guardians and servants of this life of relationship, which was at the heart of OT religion; all their functions can best be understood within the context of a relationship between God and Israel.
– Tyndale Bible Dictionary
What does it mean for us to be a holy priesthood offering right sacrifices in Jesus? What is the coming alongside?
We are to be living stones being built up into a priesthood like Jesus, the Living Stone, the Cornerstone or foundation of what we are. Jesus was both Priest and Sacrifice. He literally offered up His body before God the Father as a sacrifice for those who would believe.
In our priesthood, we too are to be both priest and sacrifice. Only the sacrifices we make are spiritual sacrifices. Those of dying to our fleshly desires so we might be filled with the Spirit. For desires of the flesh cannot live alongside the Holy Spirit, they are in direct opposition to one another (Galatians 5:17).
We are called to live our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), daily taking up our cross just like Jesus, laying down our lives in love for Him and His people.
How do the stones of a house interact and affect one another? How does this translate to the spiritual dwelling of the church?
The stones form the walls, give the home structure and stability. They hold up the roof and define the boundaries of the house. They do this by leaning on one another for strength and support. Each stone dependent on those around them to keep them in place.
As the living stones of the church, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, we encourage one another spiritually by seeing to one another’s physical and emotional needs. We lean on one another for support and define the heart of the church.
We bring one another into relationship with God through our spiritual sacrifices. Laying down our lives for one another in love. We serve God the Father on an individual basis by dying to self and making more room for the Spirit to work in our hearts and lives.
As the house is built, we provide space for those who do not know Him to enter God’s presence. Through this space they too experience the beautiful reality of becoming a living stone.
How have you experienced being a living stone as a part of the Spirit’s dwelling place?
In so many ways, I have been leaned on and leaned I have leaned against the precious living stones around me. I’ve seen Jesus’s love and grace in the faces of others as I’ve walked through seasons confession and healing. And I’ve seen Him use me in the lives of others to bring encouragement and growth.
I’ve been blessed as He’s taught me to be open to others and their invitations to come alongside. From the invitation the sister gave to walk with me in writing a Bible study to being willing to enter into a conversation with a stranger that turned into an opportunity for me to offer an invitation to church.
In one case, my thirst was quenched and stirred even more, drawing nearer to God and the call He has on my life. In the other, I was able to offer a spiritual drink of water and much needed fellowship to a fellow traveler who is currently in a lonely season.
What I’ve seen is the deep need we each have for encouragement to live faithfully in the spiritual wilderness we now wander.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:10 ESV
We are being built up into a holy priesthood as a dwelling place for the fullness of His Spirit for the purpose of offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father through Jesus the Son.
Read John 14:1-4
Jesus just told His disciples He was leaving, and they couldn’t come with Him. He comforts them by telling them about His Father’s house, oikos, household, where there are many rooms. And He is going ahead of His disciples to make a place for them to stay within God’s household, because He will return to take them back to live with Him.
Do you find the thought of living with all Believers in one household a comforting thought? Why or why not?
My first reaction to the thought of living eternity with others left me squirming. I’ve spent my whole life struggling to live with others, and I’ve failed more times than I would like to admit.
A recent vacation with family friends gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in God’s house alongside others. What stood out to me was the heart of encouragement we shared. Through it I was able to be my authentic self. It caused me to embrace who God calls me to be and love those around me in the same way. I found myself embracing new challenges and encouraging others to do the same.
This vacation gave me a small taste of what Jesus is building for us. A place where each room is uniquely designed for each of God’s children. A gathering of those who intimately understand who they are in God, and are fully aware of each other’s place in God’s kingdom.
I am overwhelmed with the thought of a mansion completely filled with perfect love for God and each other.
Oh what a place it will be!
Read John 13:33-35
In light of His coming departure, what new commandment does Jesus give His disciples? What will people know if they obey this commandment?
Loving one another as Jesus loves us – sacrificially and graciously – is the sign of true disciples. His love by the power of the Spirit is the mortar which holds His people together as living stones and glorifies Him. This is how the world knows who He is, and His love for all people.
However, we are not perfect… yet. We still need to be sanctified by His Word and His truth. (John 17:17) Part of the role of our encouraging one another in love comes in the form confrontation or correction.
Next we will consider what it means to Spur On others as we go deeper into Encourage.
Lord, thank You for Your encouragement in our lives, may we be an encouragement to those You place in our paths.
Click here for PDF of Homework: Encourage Week 4 – Spur On – Homework