Encourage the deflated soul
Paul Tournier once commented, “There are two things we cannot do alone, one is to be married and the other is be a Christian.” The reality of the Christian life is that we need one another. So when Paul begins to conclude his first letter to the Thessalonians with a string of practical instructions, most of them have to do with how we ought to interact with one another. Two of these practical, relational instructions are recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “Encourage the fainthearted; cling to the weak.”
The literal translation from the Greek for the first instruction (paramutheisthe tous oligopsuxous) is: “Speak alongside the small-souled, or speak beside those who souls are small.”
Whenever our souls are deflated, we need someone to come alongside of us and to speak the right words to our deflated soul. That’s what Paul calls us to do for one another.
Tim Madigan tells about how Fred Rogers did that for him. At a very difficult time in his life, when he thought his marriage was going to break up, he wrote to Fred Rogers about his struggles. In his book, I’m Proud of You: Life Lessons from my Friend Fred Rogers, he records what happened: “I finally summoned my nerve, went inside to our computer, and typed out a letter to my friend, tears of remorse streaming down my cheeks. After years of counseling and struggle, my marriage was probably ending and I was the one ending it, I told Mister Rogers in my letter that day. Could he forgive such a person? Could he continue to love such a man?
“His reply arrived within the week, dated December 20, 1997, two full pages on the stationery of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood…. I did not make it through the first paragraph before I again began to cry: ‘My dear Tim, Bless your heart. I feel so for you—for you all—but, Tim, please know that I would never forsake you, that I will never be disappointed with you, that I would never stop loving you. How I wish we could be closer geographically! I’d get in my car, drive to your house, knock on your door, and when you answered I’d hug you tight.
“‘You are a beautiful man, inside and out, and those who care about you are privileged to share your pain…. As for suffering: I believe that there are fewer people than ever who escape major suffering in this life. In fact, I’m fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. You write of “powerlessness.” Join the club; we are not in control: God is.
“‘Our trust and affection run very deep. You know you are in my prayers—now and always. If you ever need me you have only to call and I would do my best to get to you, or you to me….
“‘You are my beloved brother, Tim. You are God’s beloved son.’”
That’s the kind of encouragement 1 Thessalonians 5:14 calls us to. That’s coming alongside of a friend when their soul is deflated.
The second instruction (antexesthe ton asthenon) is translated literally, “Hold firmly to or cling to the weak.” This instruction recognizes how easy it is for a person to stumble when he or she is weak, and how important it is for us to hold onto such a person so as to keep them from hurting themselves.
On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay became the first people in history to climb to the top of Mount Everest. On their descent from the mountain peak, Sir Edmund lost his footing, but Tenzing dug his ax into the ice and held the line taut, keeping them both from falling to their deaths. When reporters asked about this later, Tenzing refused any special credit for saving Sir Edmund’s life. He considered it a routine part of the job. He said simply, “Mountain climbers always help each other.”
That’s what should be said about Christians as well: We always help each other; we always hold firmly to the one who is in danger of falling.