In that Watchtower Study about encouragement, it turns out that everyone can use it and everyone can give it. When it came to the paragraph on elders as recipients, the congregation we visited showered them with quite a few nice remarks. ‘I think we’re going to stay on this paragraph for the rest of the meeting,’ the conductor quipped.
Yeah. If they are shelter from the wind, the rainstorm, or the roasting sun, then they need a coat of varnish now and then - maintenance, the same as you would maintain any barrier. It turns out that they don’t need much; they are mostly self-maintaining. A little bit of encouragement will do, especially coupled with cooperation and acquiescing to the lead they take, not unlike how Hebrews 13:17 puts it:
“Be obedient to those taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account, so that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for that would be damaging to you.”
When it came to encouragement that anyone might give anyone, a verse cited was Philippians 2:3; do it “with humility, consider the other superior to you.” This led someone to observe ‘How can that be? How can two persons each regard the other as superior?’ The trick is to look for the one or more things in the other person at which they are better than you …there will always be something…and then hone in on that quality. Failing that, the trap will be that someone gives encouragement in a looking-down way, or a patronizing way, undermining its intended effect.
How many people really give encouragement, anyway? It certainly is not the pattern outside of the congregation. Look at social media and it would appear to be a scarce commodity indeed. It is good to surround oneself with people with whom encouragement replaces ‘cutting’ as a M.O.
Then there was that part about Paul needing encouragement, and even rescue “from the unbelievers in Judea,” as though they actually came after him, and were not just the apathetic persons Christians typically encounter. One begins to wonder if he is not speaking of unbelievers in the congregation making trouble, for battling apostasy is a steady theme in the Greek Scriptures; there is not an NT writer who does not deal with it.