The preaching of God’s Word is massively significant in the life of the local church. You cannot have a healthy church without effective biblical preaching. But a healthy church requires more than just a good diet from the pulpit. A healthy local church will be characterized by believers “one anothering one another” as some like to say – that mutual ministry that occurs not sat in rows hearing the sermon, but face to face and shoulder to shoulder throughout the week.
Here are two well known verses from Hebrews 10 –
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Perhaps you’ve heard these verses quoted as a nudge to attend services at church? While services are the typical format in which believers meet together, this is not really saying that attendance at services is key. It is what happens in the church fellowship that is being addressed here. It is possible to attend every service in a church, but never actually engage with the life of that church fellowship. It is sad that some will have attended services for their whole life, but never actually participated in what these verses are describing.
In the original context, the members of the church community were feeling the pressure of their circumstances and were starting to retreat and pull back from the life of the body of Christ. The preacher/writer to the Hebrews is urging them not to pull back from Christ, or the body of Christ!
Notice that there are two “one another’s” here. The first involves stirring up one another to love and good works. The word translated “stir up” is typically a negative word. It can refer to a sharp disagreement between people, or a strong response to something that is sour. And yet here it is used positively. Like a cattle prod, or a sheep dog, or a whip on a horse – a negative thing used to achieve a good goal. So believers are to agitate one another toward spiritual health.
I think it is really important to notice that we are not simply commanded to do this, but rather to consider how to do it. That extra layer of preparation is important. There are some in the church who feel it is their God-given role to freely administer rebuke and discomfort in the body of Christ. These people often have too high a view of their own ability to discern and tend to do more damage than good. No, rather, we are to prayerfully ponder how we can carefully provoke spiritual health in those closest to us in the church.
Then there is the other side of the coin – the more obviously positive side, if you like. We are to “encourage one another” as we see Christ’s return getting closer. This seems easier – less planning needed, just go for it. Be an encourager. Say thank you. Write a note. Affirm people. Express appreciation. Cheer people on in their church service, or their family life, or their spiritual growth.
It seems to me that some people get these two “one anothers” reversed in a certain sense. Some find it too easy to offer criticism widely, but withhold encouragement and only offer it to those closest to them. We should reverse that. Offer encouragement to everyone as freely as you can, the church needs lots of that. And then prayerfully ponder those in your closer circle of friends – those where the relationship exists for you to carefully provoke them to growth and greater spiritual health.
This kind of “one anothering” does not happen as we sit side by side listening to the sermon. But in a healthy church, it will happen as a result of God’s Word stirring our hearts with love for God and those around us.