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 ESV)
Encouragement. It is vital to our growth as Christians. We are, after all, one body [1 Corinthians 12:12] and a body takes care of itself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We all need adequate self-care to be healthy, functioning human beings. So it is with the body of Christ. As Christians, we must build one another up and encourage each other in the faith.
When I sit in my college’s campus center with my friends, I hear conversations about types of worship and the meaning of communion and baptism, but I also here humor that gets its laughs from tearing others down, racist jokes, and sexist jokes. I hear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ brought down for the sake of others’ amusement. And everyone seems to be okay with it.
If everyone is okay with it, then what’s the problem? It’s not hurting anyone, right? Wrong, very, very wrong. Paul passionately longed to see his Roman brothers and sisters. He prayed for them constantly. He cared deeply for them. He wanted to encourage them and to be encouraged by them. He wanted to help them grow in their faith and wanted to be cultivated in his own by them as well. That doesn’t sound like degrading humor and disrespect to me.
Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians:
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
Colossians 3:2-11 ESV; emphasis mine
God doesn’t desire for us to bring our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ down. Instead, we should “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymn and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). If we have our minds set on things above, if we are focused on Jesus and revealing him to the world, we shouldn’t let words of hate, intolerance, and cruelty fall from our lips. Instead, our mouths will be singing praise and thanks unto Him! We should be showing and telling who Christ is not just by directly proclaiming the Gospel, but also in how we interact with others every day.
This is very difficult to do. We live in a society built on institutionalized racism and sexism, where sarcasm and derogatory humor is a norm, and where we are expected to “lighten up” when we have an issue with something instead of working together to fix it. But I think this is an important issue. I think it’s vital to our relationships with each other that we really take captive every thought in our heads, every word from our tongues, and every deed of our body. We must examine each word we say closely and cast away what does not mutually encourage all people present.
Too long has the Church been apathetic in everyday interactions. Too long have we let slide the hateful words disguised with laughter. Too long have we sat by and refused to take a stand. “I long to see you… that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” May we all have that longing for one another, and may we be a light unto the world through the words we speak.
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.”
James 3:3-5 ESV