In one of our Lutheran Confessions, The Smalcald Articles, Martin Luther talks about the different ways in which the Gospel gives us counsel and help.
Predictably he says, “Through the spoken Word…Secondly, through Baptism, Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar, Fourthly through the power of the keys.” And then Luther adds this neat little phrase: “And also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.”
“The mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” is what happens when Christians take the gospel out the church door each week and talk about it around the dinner table, shine its light on a lost soul, share its comfort with a sad friend, explain its teachings to a confused mind, sound its warning to a loved one going down a dangerous path.
“The mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” happens at pastor and teacher conferences, at church fellowship hours, out in the garage while working on your car. It is quite often unscheduled, unpredictable and unscripted.
Consolation and good counsel do not happen in a vacuum or spring from an empty well. Endurance through the dark valleys of life – encouragement on the long march toward home – these things come from the Scriptures.
Paul writes to the Christians at Rome: “Indeed, whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that, through patient endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we would have hope (Romans 15:4 EHV).
These Scriptures were written beforehand to teach us. Long before any of us were born, in fact, thousands of years ago, God saw each one of our faces, set His affection on each one of us – and caused the Holy Scriptures to be written down for us – to give us endurance, to give us encouragement.
The Bible stories we teach our children – the daily Scripture reading we do ourselves – we do, don’t we? – these all are a golden chain of endurance and encouragement. “How precious is the Book divine!”
For a grandfather to point his grandchildren back to God, for a father to ask his son what he has learned in confirmation class, for this father to attend a Bible class, for a mother to have a heart-to-heart about “the one thing needful” with her daughter, for young people to encourage each other amid their mutually awkward years, for members of the congregation to love each other enough to sound a warning when the bridge is out up ahead, this is “the consolation of brethren,” or as Paul puts it in this morning’s text, “to bear one another’s burdens.”