Encouraged & united in love
Before meeting Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul was a rigid theologian. He was leading the way in prosecuting those whom he deemed to be heretics. Following his conversion, Paul continued to focus more intently on arguing the merits of our faith than on loving people toward God. So in Damascus he “baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). But it didn’t take long for the people in Damascus to conspire to kill him. Upon fleeing to Jerusalem, he went back to his custom of debating people (Acts 9:29), but when he was sent away, Luke reports that “the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace” (Acts 9:31). Eventually, Paul’s rigidity resulted in a division from his missionary partner who had been nicknamed Son-of-encouragement (Barnabas) by the Christian community (Acts 15:36-40).
Somewhere along the line, though, Paul matured in his faith, and as Christ’s character rubbed off on him, Paul learned the truth of what Madeleine L’Engle would write many centuries later, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Paul learned that the most important thing we can do is to love one another. In Colossians 2:1-2 he stressed, “For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have never seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love….”
I appreciate Paul’s choice of words here. Love (both that which is given and that which is received) encourages our souls and unites us (or binds us together).
Encouragement: In his book Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Album records an encounter he had with Morrie Schwartz while Morrie was dying of ALS. The encounter begins with advice from Morrie to Mitch: “‘Invest in the human family. Invest in people. Build a little community of those you love and who love you.’ He squeezed my hand gently. I squeezed back harder. And like that carnival contest where you bang a hammer and watch the disk rise up the pole, I could almost see my body heat rise up Morrie’s chest and neck into his cheeks and eyes. He smiled.” The love they shared together brought not only encouragement to their souls but even warmth to Morrie’s body.
Continuing on, “‘In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.’” (p. 157)
Pearl Buck remarks, “The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” For the health of our souls, we need to love and to be loved by one another.
Unity: An unknown writer shares, “My mother used to ask me, ‘What is the most important part of the body?’ When I was younger, I thought sound was very important, so I said, ‘My ears, Mommy.’
“She said, ‘No. Many people are deaf. But you keep thinking about it, and I will ask you another time.’ Several years passed before she asked me again. Since making my first attempt, I had contemplated the question. This time I told her, ‘Mommy, sight is very important to everybody, so it must be our eyes.’
“She looked at me and told me, ‘You are learning fast, but the answer is not correct because there are many people who are blind.’ Stumped again, I continued my quest for knowledge. Over the years, Mother asked me a couple more times and always her answer was, ‘No, but you are getting smarter every year, my child.’
“Last year, my grandpa died. Everybody was crying. Even my father cried. My mom looked at me when it was our turn to say our final good-bye to Grandpa. She asked me, ‘Do you know the most important body part yet, my dear?’ I was shocked when she asked me this now. I always thought this was a game between her and me. She saw the confusion on my face and told me, ‘This question is very important. It shows that you have really lived in your life. Every body part you guessed in the past, I have told you was wrong, and I have given you an example each time, but today you need to learn this important lesson.’ She looked at me as only a mother can. I saw her eyes well up with tears. She said, ‘My dear, the most important body part is your shoulder.’ I asked, ‘Is it because it holds up my head?’
“She replied, ‘No, it is because it can hold the head of a friend or a loved one when they cry. Everybody needs a shoulder to cry on sometime in life, my dear. I only hope that you have enough love and friends so that you will always have a shoulder to cry on when you need it.’ Then and there I knew the most important body part is not a selfish one but is one that is sympathetic to the pain of others.”