“Runners Abbey D’Agostino, Nikki Hamblin are the real winners in Rio,” (LA Times) was one of the major headlines from Rio’s summer Olympics 2016. They were competing against each other in the 5,000 meter race, when they, along with their olympic dreams, crashed down together on that track. But it was what happened after their collision that caught the attention of the masses. Check out this video to see what happened:
After a devastating fall, in the midst of pain and devastation, they showed extreme sisterhood and camaraderie. In one of the most heart-warming stories from the olympics, these ladies have definitely given us a powerful lesson - a lesson I believe is not only critical to learn early in our faith. If we don’t apply this lesson early, then we may be in serious spiritual danger of crashing like those runners.
1 Thessalonians was a letter written by Paul to a church located in Thessalonica, a large city that had a population of about 200,000 people at the time (think: St. Louis or Pittsburgh sized). It had a prime location for both military and trade. Because it was a military and commercial hub the city was wealthy, diverse and cultured, which led to it’s evil and wicked reputation. Naturally, because of that reputation, a church located there would experience serious persecution - as did the church Paul wrote to.
In verses 4-8 of chapter 5, you will read Paul’s comparison of light and dark - comparing the differences between Christians and non-Christians respectively. Paul encourages Christians to not be like those who are in the dark, because they do things that dishonor God. We’ve all heard the phrase “nothing good happens after midnight,” which speaks to the fact that sketchy things tend to happen the later in the evening. Towards night time, sinful temptations seem to be amplified, staying up late kills productivity for the next day, and it’s easier to get into things we shouldn’t. So instead of living like the dark and sin that comes with it, Christians belong to the day and need to live like it.
As you continue reading, in verses 9-11, Paul encourages Christians that God does not have His wrath/punishment waiting for us, but that we have salvation to hope in. Because of the death and resurrection of His Son, a gift that is offered to all but only accepted by some, we are made for having a relationship with Him. Then, we reach the word “therefore,” - an important word we find in the Bible that basically means - because of the words leading up to “therefore,” do what is after the word “therefore."
So, in light of the context of the persecution these Christians experienced and in light of Paul encouraging Christians to act as if they’re in the light because of the hope of salvation they have, he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11:
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”
As Christians, when it comes to our faith and relationship with God, we must be in this together! Christianity cannot be a solo sport - we must be a team. Why? Because when we experience persecution like the Thessalonians experienced, we'll have each other to lean on. If we truly live our faith out, we will experience hard times (insults, rejection, anger towards us, etc.). When we do experience those though times, we have a family to lean on to encourage. Just like how those runners D’Agostino and Hamblin helped each other get up and encouraged each other to finish strong, we must be there for our Christian brothers and sisters.
Also, Paul said we must live as if we are of the day, not of the night… You know what that takes? Accountability. We need to lovingly keep each other in check. When we notice each other living like people in the dark, we have to call each other out. We need prayer support of close Christians, to encourage each other to stay close to our Heavenly Father. Without accountability, we can easily drift to the dark side with no one watching. We will get comfortable doing dark things, and that’ll lead to a very spiritually dangerous place.
We must be in this together as Christians - to build each other up when we go through tough times and to provide accountability for each other to live in the light. If we try and do Christianity as a solo mission, chances are we’ll get worn out by the world and will slide to the night. But if we work together as a team and build each other up, we will remain encouraged to stay close to Jesus.