How You Can Strengthen Others
“When once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”—Luke 22:32.
1, 2. (a) Why is there a special need today to be of help to others? (b) Do servants of God ever get depressed and need strengthening?
THERE is surely a need to be of help to others. At no other time in history have so many people been disheartened by the wretched conditions in the world—the prejudices, the injustices, the poor housing, overcrowding, and so forth. Others feel dejected because of bitter disappointment, ill health, a sense of personal failure, or the suspicion that they are unwanted.
2 Servants of God, too, may unexpectedly find themselves very depressed, and may be surprised and confused when they are subject to such feelings. At times Christians have been known to ask in despair: “Why is this happening to me? What have I done? I should be strengthening others, but I cannot strengthen myself. Have I committed the unforgivable sin? Has God abandoned me?”
3, 4. (a) What examples are there of pre-Christian servants of God who were in need of strengthening aid? (b) What evidence is there that first-century Christians were also in need of strengthening?
3 However, such a Christian should not be altogether surprised, as if his feelings were unique. Other servants of God have felt similarly, and were thus in need of strengthening. For example, the Bible psalmist, feeling sad and abandoned, wrote: “I will say to God my crag: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I walk sad because of the oppression of the enemy?’” (Ps. 42:9) Elkanah’s beloved wife Hannah was so disappointed over barrenness and so vexed by a rival wife that “she would weep and not eat.”—1 Sam. 1:5-7.
4 There were also first-century Christians who were in need of strengthening, causing the apostle Paul to exhort the Thessalonian congregation: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak.” (1 Thess. 5:14) Following the death of Jesus Christ, Cleopas and his companion became very depressed. On the road to Emmaus, they “stood still with sad faces” and poured out their disappointment, for they had hoped that Jesus was destined to deliver Israel. And who does not remember how, after denying Christ the third time, Peter “went outside and wept bitterly”? He felt so terrible for having allowed fear of men to cause him to deny his Master.—Luke 24:13-21; 22:62.
5. What command did Jesus give to Peter, and why was it appropriately given to him?
5 However, Jesus knew beforehand, due to his divine foreknowledge, that Peter was going to deny him. In fact, just a few hours before, Jesus had spoken to Peter about this, saying: “I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) As a result of his terrible experience, Peter fully appreciated how it felt to be depressed, and in need of strengthening. How appropriate, therefore, that it was to Peter that Jesus had given the command: “STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS”!
CAN YOU STRENGTHEN OTHERS?
6. Why can it be said that this command was also appropriate for all true Christians?
6 Under the circumstances Jesus’ command was meant for Peter. However, it is appropriate for all true Christians. Jesus frequently spoke to one person or just a few, using them as a sounding board, as it were, to convey his instructions to others. On another occasion he told Peter directly, “Shepherd my little sheep.” Similar instruction became applicable to the other apostles present, and was repeated for all Christian shepherds. (1 Pet. 5:1, 2; Acts 20:28) And while it was only to his initial followers that Jesus gave the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations,” this command applies to all true Christians.—John 21:15-17; Matt. 28:19.
7. What questions are here raised?
7 So if it is your desire to do so and you yourself are strong, you can strengthen others. Jesus never asks of his followers anything that they cannot accomplish. But what did Jesus mean by the command, “Strengthen your brothers”? What kind of strengthening did he have in mind that we should provide our Christian brothers?
8, 9. (a) What did Jesus mean by his command to “strengthen your brothers”? (b) How do the original Greek words translated “strengthen” and “strengthening” verify this?
8 Jesus did not mean, in particular, to provide physical aid which, in the form of food, can strengthen the body. (Acts 9:19) No, but he had in mind that we should provide our brothers with what they need to strengthen them mentally and spiritually. He meant for us to speak or act so as to increase the confidence and hope of fellow Christians, to comfort them, to fix or establish them in the Christian way. The original Greek words that are translated “strengthen” or “strengthening” in the Bible carry this idea.
9 For example, when Jesus told Peter to “strengthen your brothers,” he used the Greek word stērizō, which carries the meaning “to firmly set, to fix firmly, make fast, prop, support.” Thus this Greek word is also translated in the New World Translation ‘make firm.’ (Rom. 1:11; 16:25; 2 Thess. 2:17; 1 Pet. 5:10) Other Greek words translated “strengthen” and “strengthening” in the Scriptures convey the meaning “to invigorate, to support or confirm, and to give consolation,” as we will see. But first, let us note why Peter came to be in need of spiritual strengthening. Such an examination may help us to avoid making similar mistakes.
10. How did Peter reveal that he was overconfident regarding his spiritual strength, but what did Jesus foretell?
10 Turn your attention to the events just prior to Peter’s denying of Christ. When Jesus told his apostles during their last evening together prior to his execution, “All of you will be stumbled in connection with me on this night,” Peter boasted: “Although all the others are stumbled in connection with you, never will I be stumbled!” (Matt. 26:31-35) According to Luke’s record of the proceedings, Jesus warned Peter in the hearing of the other apostles: “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has demanded to have you men to sift you as wheat.” But Peter asserted: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both into prison and into death.” However, Jesus answered: “I tell you, Peter, A cock will not crow today until you have three times denied knowing me.” (Luke 22:31-34) It is interesting to note how Jesus’ words were fulfilled that very night.
11, 12. How did Peter and the other apostles repeatedly fail to obey Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane?
11 After a lengthy prayer, Jesus and his apostles left the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover, and went out to the garden of Gethsemane. (John 16:33–18:1) There, before leaving them in order that he might pray privately, Jesus told Peter and two others of his apostles: “Stay here and keep on the watch.” But did they? The Bible record says: “He came and found them sleeping.” Jesus then turned to Peter and said: “Simon, are you sleeping? Did you not have strength to keep on the watch one hour? Men, keep on the watch and praying, in order that you do not come into temptation.”—Mark 14:32-38.
12 Did Peter and the other apostles obey? The Bible record continues: “He went away again and prayed, saying the same word. And again he came and found them sleeping.” They did not listen! Before departing to pray again, Jesus no doubt was even more urgent in his encouragement for them to keep awake and to pray. However, Jesus “came the third time and said to them: ‘At such a time as this you are sleeping and taking your rest! It is enough! The hour has come! Look! The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.’”—Mark 14:39-41.
13. (a) When Jesus was arrested and taken away, what did Peter do? (b) Under what circumstances was it that Peter denied Christ, and what were Peter’s feelings afterward about what he had done?
13 Shortly afterward, Peter showed himself to be very much awake. He pulled a sword, and chopped off the ear of Malchus, a slave of the high priest, who was with those coming to arrest Jesus. (John 18:10, 11) Jesus was seized and taken away, and the apostles fled. However, Peter followed at a distance, apparently torn between fear for his own life and his deep concern as to what would happen to Jesus. They came to the high priest’s residence, and it was while in the courtyard that Peter, on three different occasions, denied even knowing Jesus, even wishing that he himself might be cursed or damned if he knew Jesus. At that moment a cock crowed, and Jesus turned and looked upon Peter, and he went outside and wept bitterly.—Luke 22:47-62; Mark 14:71, 72, The Jerusalem Bible.
LESSONS WE SHOULD LEARN
14. (a) What Bible warning is underscored by Peter’s failure, emphasizing what lesson? (b) What evidence do we have that Peter learned this lesson?
14 Peter had been so sure of his spiritual strength, yet he stumbled, failing to maintain a faithful Christian course. How his experience underscores the importance of the warning: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall”! (1 Cor. 10:12) Yes, a lesson that we should all learn from this is that none of us should ever become overconfident regarding our spiritual strength, believing that there is no possibility that we could fall. We can fall. Peter learned this, and so he later wrote to fellow Christians: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
15. (a) What other lesson should we all learn from this? (b) What is the principal source of strengthening aid?
15 Another lesson we should learn from what occurred that night is that we all need strengthening aid. While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus endeavored to provide that needed aid by urging his disciples to pray. They especially needed the help that God can provide. As the apostle Paul said, God “can make you firm,” that is, he can strengthen or firmly set us to withstand any pressures. (Rom. 16:25) Even Jesus Christ needed this strengthening, as shown by what happened out there in the garden while his apostles were sleeping.
16, 17. (a) What happened while Jesus was praying to God in the garden? (b) How did the angel evidently strengthen Jesus?
16 Jesus himself, as we have noted, was praying. The Bible account says that he “bent his knees and began to pray, saying: ‘Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and STRENGTHENED [eniskhúō] HIM.” (Luke 22:41-43) Yes, Jehovah God provided angelic help out there in the garden at that most critical moment in Jesus’ life!
17 The angel evidently spoke to Jesus, providing information that invigorated him, infusing in him new strength. This is indicated by the Greek word eniskhúō here translated “strengthened.” In its only other occurrence in the Bible, at Acts 9:19, the apostle Paul is said to have “gained strength” from eating food. But Jesus, on the other hand, was strengthened, not by physical food, but by the angel’s presence, and no doubt by the angel’s encouraging words. The apostles, however, were sleeping, and thus were in no position to receive such strengthening.
18. (a) What do we need in order to have spiritual strength, and where can we receive it? (b) What are some good questions to ask ourselves?
18 What about you? Are you awake to receive spiritual provisions to strengthen you? Remember, the Bible says: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4) These strengthening utterances of God are not usually provided by means of an angel, as they were to Jesus. Rather, they are found in God’s Word the Bible, which is regularly reviewed and discussed at Christian meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Are you alert and attentive when present at these meetings? On such occasions are you receiving the spiritual strength you need from what is said? Our very life depends on the strength we derive from this spiritual food.
HOW PETER REGAINED STRENGTH
19, 20. (a) By his denials, in what position had Peter placed himself? (b) What action did Jesus take in connection with Peter’s return?
19 By his repeated denials, Peter, in effect, abandoned, not only Jesus, but Jehovah God as well. But Jesus was confident that Peter would return. He knew that Peter basically had a good heart, but had simply been overcome by fear of men. So what did Jesus do? Did he expect Peter to return by himself, without any aid or encouragement?
20 No, Jesus did what he could to help Peter. First, he made supplication in Peter’s behalf, praying that his faith might not give out completely. (Luke 22:32) But more than that, some time after his resurrection Jesus made a special appearance to Peter, the disciples excitedly reporting: “For a fact the Lord was raised up and he appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34) From what the apostle Paul also said, this was evidently one of Jesus’ earlier post-resurrection appearances. (1 Cor. 15:4-8) Why did Jesus give such special attention to Peter, the one who had denied him so vehemently?
21. (a) What was the purpose of Jesus’ paying special attention to Peter? (b) How should this affect us?
21 It was to strengthen him, to assure Peter that he still loved him and wanted him as his disciple. Are we not moved by this merciful consideration for Peter? Jesus’ action reminds us of the father of the prodigal, who welcomed back with open arms his repentant son. (Luke 15:11-32) What effect do you think Jesus’ action had on Peter? How would you have been affected? Peter was strengthened; he became spiritually stronger than ever. He returned. And do you remember what Jesus wanted the returned Peter, as well as all of us, to do? “STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS,” Jesus said. In other words, help firmly to fix or establish them in the faith. How can we do this?
EXAMPLES TO IMITATE
22. How can we best strengthen our brothers?
22 The best way is by following the example of Jesus, imitating the way he treated Peter and others who needed strengthening. And as we can see, Jesus was merciful and forgiving. We can strengthen our brothers, firmly fixing them in the faith, by dealing with them in a similar way. We need to heed the Bible counsel: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”—Eph. 4:32.
23. (a) What should elders in particular note in connection with Jesus’ example? (b) How can elders show that they are imitating Jesus example?
23 Elders in the Christian congregation are particularly responsible to give strengthening aid to their brothers, and so need carefully to examine Jesus’ example. He was altogether different from the religious Pharisees who bound “heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men.” Jesus said, “My yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matt. 23:4; 11:28, 30) So, elders, imitate him by not hemming in your brothers with rules that reflect personal views regarding matters, and which could be like “heavy loads” to weaken them. Rather, cultivate in your brothers a genuine appreciation for Jehovah so that they are motivated from the heart to want to please Him. This is what will fix them firmly in the faith.
24. (a) How was Peter strengthening to his brother? (b) How did other Christians strengthen their brothers?
24 Peter was successful in strengthening his brothers. For instance, his fine example of boldness and fearlessness in preaching in the face of ridicule and opposition was a source of encouragement to them. (Acts 2:14–5:42) How strengthening, too, were his upbuilding letters, the first of which was written “to give encouragement”! (1 Pet. 5:12) Other first-century elders also strengthened their brothers by giving encouragement, the Bible saying of Paul and Barnabas: “They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith.” Also, Judas and Silas “encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them.” Later Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.”—Acts 14:21, 22; 15:32, 41.
25. (a) What thought is carried by these words “strengthened” and “strengthening”? (b) So how can modern-day elders strengthen their brothers?
25 The Greek word epistērizō (an enlarged form of stērizō) translated “strengthened” and “strengthening” here in Acts carries the thought of confirming or giving support to. Steven Byington’s The Bible in Living English renders Acts 14:22: “Fortifying the converts’ souls.” The Jerusalem Bible reads: “They put fresh heart into the disciples.” You elders will want to imitate this example. By your zealous example in field service, by your fearlessness in the face of opposition, by the encouragement you give and by your stirring discourses, you will fortify your brothers, putting fresh heart into them and making them firm in the faith.
26. How can every member of the Christian congregation strengthen his brothers?
26 But not only elders should strengthen their brothers. Every Christian should endeavor to do the same. How can you? Principally by setting a fine example in your obedience to Jehovah’s requirements; for instance, by regularly attending Christian meetings. While there, a mere friendly smile or a cheery greeting can strengthen a depressed brother. Especially upbuilding to others can be your answers given during congregational meetings. If these are spoken from your heart, regardless of how insignificant you may feel they are, they can touch the hearts of your brothers, strengthening them. (Heb. 10:23-25) Also, by being active in preaching the good news of God’s kingdom in spite of such obstacles as bad weather or physical infirmities, you may well encourage others to imitate your good example.
27. How were the apostle Paul’s three companions a strengthening aid to him, as indicated by the Greek word here used?
27 Even those firmly fixed in the faith may need strengthening, as was true of Jesus himself. (Luke 22:43) We can follow the example of Aristarchus, Justus and Mark in providing such aid. The apostle Paul, imprisoned in Rome, wrote of them: “These very ones have become a strengthening aid to me.” (Col. 4:10, 11) Yes, they were of real assistance to Paul. How? Well, the Greek word parēgoria, here translated “strengthening aid,” denotes a soothing or solace. “A verbal form of the word signifies medicines which allay irritation,” notes An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine. So by sticking with Paul, by comforting and encouraging him, these men were a strengthening aid to him.
28. In keeping with this Bible example, what are some ways in which we can strengthen our brothers?
28 Similarly today, by consoling and comforting those depressed or those undergoing trial, you will prove to be a strengthening aid to them. Just letting them know that you care, that you love them, will build them up. Often a person feels the need of someone to talk to, a friend to whom he can unburden himself. Thus by simply being a sympathetic listener you may be able to strengthen your brothers. Since everyone can benefit from encouragement, would it not be good for us frequently to ask ourselves: “Can I remember to extend at least one loving act to someone today—perhaps a kind word, sympathetic thought to someone who is upset, depressed or needing encouragement?” Yes, how vital it is that we do as the Bible says, “Keep comforting one another and building one another up.”—1 Thess. 5:11.
STRENGTHEN YOUR BROTHERS NOW!
29. Why is it especially vital now that we strengthen our brothers?
29 It is especially vital now that we be conscious of strengthening one another. Why so? Because, even as in the first century Peter and the other apostles suddenly were subjected to severe trials, so we today may well face even greater tests of our faith as we draw ever closer to the end of this system of things. Thus it has never been more important that we give strengthening aid to our brothers and receive the same from them. Be conscious, then, of those in the congregation who do well in building up and strengthening others, and copy their example. But particularly, consider the example of Jehovah God and his Son.
30, 31. (a) How do Jehovah God and his Son set such fine examples for us in strengthening others? (b) What should it be your determination to do, and what result can you expect for yourself?
30 What stands out when we consider their examples is how unselfish love can have such a strengthening effect on others. And notice how God takes the initiative in showing his love. In fact, the Bible says: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Yes, while we were still doing hateful things against God, perhaps even denying his existence and breaking his laws in a most flagrant way, God loved us and made provision for us to enjoy everlasting life. (John 3:16) And his Son acts the same way toward humankind. For example, even while Peter was denying him, Jesus did not cease loving Peter. Later, as we have noted, he made a special post-resurrection appearance to him, which would reassure him of his love.
31 So then, be like Jehovah God and his Son. Strengthen your brothers. Love them intensely from the heart. Take the initiative in doing so. As a result, you will, in turn, be loved and strengthened by them. How fine that will be!
[Pictures on page 369]
Jesus’ command to “strengthen your brothers” was meant for all Christians. Do you strengthen others?