Build up or tear down
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. (1 Thess. 5:11-15)
This passage from 1 Thessalonians gives us the answer to the question of building up or tearing down. Paul tells these brethren in Thessalonica to encourage one another in the faith. Yes, those who are unruly are to be admonished. But notice that verse 15 tells us how to do that: never giving back evil for evil and always doing what is best for everyone.
Why does Paul need to tell them this? Doesn’t it seem obvious that they need to be supportive of their brothers and sisters in Christ? Well, the Holy Spirit felt it necessary that these words be spoken to them and subsequently to us. Too often we find ourselves criticizing, besmirching, possibly even gossiping about our brethren. Why? Maybe its because tearing down is easy. Have you ever done a home renovation project? Tearing out the old part takes about half a day. Building the new part takes much longer. It takes planning, hard work, diligence, and a commitment to finish the work at hand.
Building up our brethren takes commitment. We are here to help each other get to heaven. That means steadying others when they stumble, picking them up when they’ve fallen, and restoring them to the faith if they’ve slipped over the edge (Gal. 6:1ff). This is the hard work. This is the work of dedicated, loving individuals who put others’ needs ahead of their own.
Tearing down is easy. It takes no so such commitment. It is accomplished by simply serving self at the expense of others. Paul describes these perfectly in 2 Tim. 3:1-5, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”
Our lives can be difficult at times. We are faced with many challenges in this life. When we face those challenges, to whom can we turn? First and foremost is our Lord. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phi. 4:6). Our second line of defense is our Christian family, for the reasons mentioned previously. It is sad when we can’t count on our brethren to build us up. It’s even sadder when they seek to tear us down.
Perhaps being reminded of how we were made to be brothers and sisters will help: “Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:5b).