The Christian life can be compared to a journey with obstacles and trials. The goal is to finish the journey in faith. The danger is always present that we will stop along the way and maybe even choose a different direction for life – a direction that leads away from God. That means the Christian needs encouragement to persevere and live a life worthy of his calling. It is in the context of our need to persevere that Hebrews gives its command to encourage one another.
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. Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV
Translators attempting to give us a smooth English sentence can on occasion loose an important idea. The above translation of verse 24 is all too common.
…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,…Hebrews 10:24, NASB
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24, NIV
The problem with the above translations is that the actual object of “let us consider” in Greek is “one another” as in the NKJV.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works… Hebrews 10:24, NKJV
The command to encourage then has one another as its focus. It is first of all selfless, and it is at this point also countercultural. We live in an age of the consumer mentality: what do I get out of it? We never get the worship assembly right if we begin with ourselves. We must always begin with God and the need of others.
A Korean parable about a visit to heaven and hell gives insight to this difference of perspective.
The visitor peeped in at the door of hell and saw an enormous banquet hall. In it were a number of long tables with bowls of rice and delicacies on them, well-flavored, smelling delicious, and inviting. The guests were sitting hungrily, opposite one another, each with a plate of food.
The guests all had chopsticks to use, but these were so long that, however hard they tried, not a grain of rice could they get into their mouths. This was their torment; this was their hell. “I’ve seen it, that’s more than enough for me,” said the visitor. Departing hell, he entered into heaven.
Inside, he saw the same banquet hall, the same tables, the same food, and the same long chopsticks. But the guests were joyful. All were smiling and laughing. Each one, having put the food onto his chopsticks, held it out to the mouth of his companion opposite, and so they managed to eat their fill. Joy, love, and fulfillment were found in heaven.
Following Jesus often involves paradoxes: losing our life to save it, the last shall be first, and greatness comes by humility. This is but one more. To be encouraged, we must encourage one another.