Sermon for Sunday, February 26th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 63:1-11 ESV] 1 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. 9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. 11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
New Testament reading:
[1Th 2:17 – 3:10 ESV] 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you– 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
[Jhn 13:31-35 ESV] 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The title and topic of this morning’s sermon is “Christians Need One Another.”
I have a streak in me of that American individualism, that do-it-yourself-ism and keep-off-my-lawn attitude that contributes to the greatness that is America. But even so, I would be a fool to think I can do all things on my own.
Christians Need One Another. And I know that I need others.
And, I pray, that today, from this sermon, you’ll also see and come more strongly to realize how great your need is for one another and how greatly others need you! And, even more, I pray that you see that your greatest need is the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. Paul, Silas, and Timothy Desire to See the Thessalonians Again. (2:17-20)
Paul had a deep concern for the congregation of Thessalonica. He and his companions had been forced away from them in persecution. But he said he says they had been “torn away” from the brothers at Thessalonica only “in person and not in heart.” Separation of distance did not separate them in spirit.
But Paul had no way of hearing from them or about them, and was dying to know if their infant church was still fighting the good fight.
They had wanted to come visit the Thessalonians, but “Satan had hindered them.” The text doesn’t tell us specifically what that means, though certainly Satan was active in stirring up persecution against Paul wherever he went. So it may have been that some persecution keep them away from Thessalonica. Or it could have been illness or any number of factors.
So what does Paul and his companions do?
A. They send Timothy (3:1-5)
They send Timothy. When they could bear it no longer, they sent Timothy to Thessalonica to check up on the church in that place. And not only to check up on them but to “exhort them in the faith.”
Paul wanted to check up on them to erase his fear that the tempter had temped them away from the faith and that the labor of the evangelists would have been in vain.
But now, as Paul is writing back to them, Timothy has returned to Paul with good news. The Church at Thessalonica is ALIVE!
Hearing from them must have been like a son coming back from war alive. A mother (or a father) waits and waits when their son is off to war. And there are a couple options. They will one day have a knock at the door. Will it be a representative from the Army, along with a pastor, to break the tragic news to the parents that their son has died? Or will it be a knock on the door from the son himself?
To Paul’s great joy, the church in Thessalonica is alive. And Paul says in Chapter 3 verse 2: “For now WE LIVE, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” WE LIVE. Paul, Silas, and Timothy are ALIVE in joy in the Lord because the church at Thessalonica is alive. Not only are they alive in the since that they still live on this earth, but they are alive in Christ! Timothy brings back the good news of their faith and love. IN CHRIST they are alive.
Though Paul’s desire to see the Thessalonians again is not here satisfied, he can at least know that things are going well there. The report of Timothy has encouraged him.
We see here how great Paul needs other Christians. His work is not a hit-and-run. He doesn’t merely the preach the Gospel and then go about his business. Or set up a church and leave it without care. He has a strong desire to nurture the churches he has helped to establish in the Lord.
Even Paul, the great Apostle, needs other Christians.
And we must consider joy is not something that is alone. Joy shines outward for others to see. And Joy demands relationships with others to experience it. When you see a great sunset, or a rainbow as my family saw early last week, you immediately speak up and want to show it to others. It is more joyful to share joy.
And so the Lord has made the Christian life both a personal one and a communal one. On the personal side, we each (and alone) have faith in Jesus Christ. But in many aspects we are together. Worship is together. And encouragement requires more than 1 person. It requires an encouragER and an encouragEE.
Christians need one another.
A man may remain a Christian while stuck on a deserted island. But what Christian would want to remain alone when he has the option of fellowship? Indeed, we are commanded, not to put a burden on us but to benefit us, we are commanded “do not forsake the assembly of the brethren.”
Christians are not meant to go it alone. Christians need one another.
Likewise, churches do well to connect together into fellowship. Bible-believing churches are to fellowship with one another for mutual benefit. Sometimes you’ll see the term out their “Independent Church.” There are even “Independent Presbyterian Churches.” This is both a horrible idea and a horrible use of language. First, churches should not be alone but should find much in common with other churches and therefore strengthen bonds with them., And second it is a type of contradiction to say “independent church.” The church is the body of believers, meant to be together. It is not a badge of honor to sever yourself from the church, or to sever your church from other churches. Some elements, like the budget of a church, no doubt are “independent.” But the faith that we have, the evangelical faith in the Gospel of Grace is to bring together all such churches. Perhaps not close enough to bring many denominations together into one, but close enough that we recognize one another as believers.
II. The Thessalonians Long to See Paul, Silas, and Timothy
Not only does Paul need the Thessalonians, the Thessalonians need Paul. Or at least they need other Christians.
In the report of Timothy it comes to Paul that the Thessalonians “long to see” them! The feeling is mutual.
Isn’t that great? When the feeling is mutual. One-sided relationships aren’t much of a relationship are they? Love is to be reciprocal.
We saw in a previous sermon that virtuous cycle of faith, how the faith of Paul positively affected the faith of the Thessalonians, and how the faith of the Thessalonians positively affect the faith of Paul.
Now, it is love that is forming a virtuous cycle.
No wonder both sides long to see one another. It is to their benefit and encouragement.
So we Christians are to be benefitted in the fellowship of others.
Both the mature Christian (Paul) and the new Christians (the Thessalonians) benefit from their connection.
This means that there is no Christian who cannot be of benefit to you, and there is no Christian for whom you cannot be a benefit. The young are a benefit to the old. The old are a benefit to the young. The greatest preacher is a benefit to you, and you are a benefit even to the greatest preacher.
Christians need one another.
Isn’t that fascinating? The benefit we have to one another. You may come here broken, hurting, feeling down low. But all the while your presence here may be (and usually is) of benefit to others.
There is among Christians, mutual comfort even in affliction.
III. Mutual Comfort in Affliction
For Paul, Silas, Timothy and the Thessalonians, there is mutual comfort in affliction.
Paul writes, “in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.”
Their very faith is an encouragement, a comfort. They are standing fast in the Lord, and for that there is much thanksgiving and joy.
The comfort is through affliction. And the comfort is in seeing their faith.
The term comfort comes from the Latin “cum forte” meaning “with strength.” Perhaps musicians can verify that this phrase is used in musical notation for giving it some gusto – cum forte, with strength.
With the strength of the Gospel we give strength, we comfort, other Christians. It is not within our own power, but we proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, so that in whatever circumstances Christians may be cheered by the good news of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
This comfort in the Gospel is indeed through affliction. Christians point to that Gospel, and thank the Lord for the faith they have in Christ and the faith they see in other Christians. We don’t lift up Christians or praise them for wealth, prosperity, popularity, or any of the like. We benefit one another through trials, we comfort through afflictions. Or, as the song says, “our mutual burdens bear.”
We have in our text a good picture of how much 1st century Christians needed one another and loved one another. And how they comforted one another with the Gospel.
And that is critical, we don’t just have empathy, we have the Gospel.
A minister who is called to a persons bedside when their live is nearing its end, and only says “I feel for you” but doesn’t preach the Gospel to the dying sinner, is not a loving minister.
We don’t just feel for others, or express our concern for them, we encourage them in the Gospel. We have a message that does more than console, it converts, it convinces, it convicts us to live with joy and to love one another.
So Christ says in John’s Gospel: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Even in fulfilling this commandment it is obvious that “Christians need one another” for without others, how would we love?
Let us strive then to obey this commandment, recognizing that other Christians needs us, and that we need other Christians.
We need reminders about the Gospel.
We need encouragement, even the strongest among us.
We need to see the example of one another’s faith.
We need assistance at times, practical help.
We need the Biblical wisdom of those mature in the faith.
Let me tell you, when I come to a difficult theological question, and not just a theoretical one, but one that is affecting the church, I don’t rely on my own understanding. I seek the counsel of the elders and of a half dozen or so experienced ministers I trust. And I’ve found much help in that. And great clarity. Through the direction of Scripture, most of the time I find that these Christians men come to the same conclusions as one another. And this gives me confidence to go forward with the Biblical answer to whatever issue is afoot.
IV. To Live for Christ Who Lives in Us
In verse 8 of our text Paul says “For now we live.”
He is encouraged by the good report of Timothy regarding the Thessalonians.
Mutual affection for each other is expressed.
Christians, it is shown, need one another.
But even more, Christians need Christ who lives in us.
Christians are indeed to live for Christ who lives in us through his Holy Spirit.
Paul encourages, comforts, the Thessalonians in mutual affliction. As they suffer, so does he. And he encourages them with the Gospel.
Pointing then to the Lord, we find true comfort and true encouragement in Jesus Christ.
If we need other Christians (and we do) then even more we need Christ.
Don’t go it alone, my brothers and sisters.
Don’t go it alone without other Christians.
And certainly don’t go it alone with Christ.
At those pearly gates (and I don’t think such is likely to literally be the case), at those pearly gates, at the time of judgment those who are alone are in deep trouble. They are condemned for their sins.
But those who are with Christ are seen as holy in him. They are united to Christ, and given his righteousness, that God will forgive them and bring them into his eternal Kingdom.
Christians need Christ.
Even in this life, we are without hope but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our sins are too big of a burden for us to handle. And so we are beckoned to cast them upon the Lord. Bring your sins to Christ. Ask for forgiveness. Know the Love of Christ who forgives all sins and cleanses from all unrighteousness.
You need Christ.
And you need Christians who will point you to Christ, to encourage you in the Gospel.
Paul certainly recognizes that we are dependent on God. It is God alone who brings us joy and makes our love abound to others.
And it God who, when we are in our deepest point of need, He sends brothers and sister in Christ to comfort us with the Gospel.
I pray that He uses us for such comfort.
I pray that this week you will write down one or two or three or more people to reach out to in person or by some other means to encourage in Christ. Kenny and Lorraine in the nursing home. A dear brother and a dear sister in Christ. You don’t need to be a deacon or a pastor to comfort a fellow Christian. Write something of encouragement to one of our missionaries. Adam and Karla Gordon who were here a few weeks ago. Gary Stellingwerf with the Gideons. The McKeevers who we supported for some years.
I’m sure you have someone coming to your mind. A church member. A family member.
Tell them, We Christians Need One Another. Even the Apostle Paul needed other Christians. Tell them that you care for them, that your share in their burden. And tell them of the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. And tell them that their faith in Christ benefits you, encourages you in turn.
And I hope you will, like Paul from Timothy, get an encouraging report from them, whomever you speak with.
The end of the chapter, chapter, of 1 Thessalonians makes for a great benediction, which I intend to say at the end of today’s morning service.
It is this: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
And note there that it is the Lord who brings the increase. We abound in love for others because he works that Love in us. Praise be to God that our need for another is met through God’s design of the church and that our need for salvation is met in Jesus Christ. Let us pray.