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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Fifth One Another Commandment: Encourage One Another
Text:1 Thessalonians 5:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Added:2022-01-07
Updated:2022-01-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

THE ONE ANOTHER COMMANDMENTS: ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER

  1. The Encouragement We Want

  2. The Encouragement We Need

 

  1. Psalm 142: 1, 2, 5, 6

  2. Psalm 1: 1-3

  3. Hymn 64: 1, 2

  4. Hymn 74: 2-4

  5. Psalm 4: 2, 3

  6. Hymn 67: 1, 2, 6, 7

 

Words to Listen For: serious, Pastor, opinion, Antarctica, flail

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How is the Christian life like a sports game?  How is it not like a sports game?

  2. What was going on in Thessalonica?

  3. When is Christ returning?  Why is this the wrong question?

  4. What does the return of Christ look like?

  5. What are the three steps of encouragement?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

If you know me, you know that I’m not much of a sports guy.  I’m more interested in reading than football, I’m more into hiking than basketball.  And yet, there are a few things I know about sports, one of which is something called home field advantage.  This is something across all professional team sports: football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.

The team that is playing in THEIR arena, on THEIR home turf, with THEIR fans filling the stands...the likelihood is that they will win the game.  Of course, there are other factors at play...the abilities of the players, the gameplans of the coaches.  But home field advantage isn’t NOTHING.  It’s an important factor in who wins.

And why do I bring all of this up?

I bring this up because, right now, as Christians, as the church, we do not have the home field advantage.  As we live in this world, we have the “away field disadvantage” if I can call it that.  This world, though created by our God to be good, though there are remnants of that goodness left...this world is an evil place.  Death, disease, murder, abuse, war, religious persecution...and the list could go on.

It should be obvious to us all that we do not have the home field advantage.  Satan is the prince of the world, even though our God is King of the Universe.  God will ultimately have the victory...but right now...right now we are playing, we are LIVING as the away team.

And so we should not be surprised at the scorn and the abuse, the chants and the jeers that we hear from the fans of the home team up in the stands.  We should not be surprised that the world wants to dishearten us and discourage us.

So what do we do as the away team?  What strategies should we employ?

Well, the away team try to block out the jeers and focus on the game.  They focus on the fundamentals, be they dribbling, tackling, footwork, or stick-handling.  They focus on the fundamentals, they have their goal in mind...and one other thing.  One other very important thing.  Because, as much as you try to block out the discouragement and focus on something else...it’s still going to come in.

So one more thing is absolutely necessary.  The huddle.  They might have the field and the fans, but in that huddle, when the players all gather up, put their arms around each other and get a pep talk from their coach...for 30 seconds, that is all that exists.  In that moment, It isn’t THEM vs ME...it’s THEM vs US.  We are together, and we need to encourage each other.  We need to do more than ignore their discouragement...we have to replace it with something.  We have to replace it with confidence, inspiration, strength, encouragement.

As the church, as believers in a hostile world, this is our huddle.  We will win the victory, but the game isn’t over yet.  And so, we must 

[THE ONE ANOTHER COMMANDMENTS:] ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER.  We will look at

  1. The Encouragement We Want and

  2. The Encouragement We Need

The Encouragement We Want

Now, I must make two things clear, right off the bat here…

Firstly, despite the introduction with the sports analogy, the Christian life isn’t a game.  The Christian life isn’t something FUN...we don’t just PLAY at being a Christian.  It is serious business, and that is why, in our reading, the Apostle Paul, along with other metaphors, picks the metaphor of WAR.  It’s not a playing field, it’s a battlefield, and we must fight.  That’s the first thing.

And secondly, it is very tempting to deal with verse 11 in isolation.  To look at it simply as another “One Another commandment”

Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

That would be so nice.  That would be so easy.  We could talk about encouragement and how it is so important for us.  That we use nice words instead of mean words, that we learn to differentiate between encouragement and flattery.

And these things ARE IMPORTANT, but it’s so much more than that.  Everything must be examined in its context.  Sometimes that context adds a little, and other times the context is everything.  And this is one of those times.  One of those EVERYTHING times.

Abd we know this because of the first word in verse 11.  Verse 11 doesn’t start with the word encourage but with the word therefore.  This word ties the commandment to what came before.  It was given to a particular congregation at a particular time, in particular circumstances.

However, we can be sure that it is also meant for us, because this letter to the Thessalonians was not simply Paul writing as Paul, but he was writing as the inspired Apostle Paul and he was writing this letter as a fundamental piece of Holy Scripture that has been preserved for our benefit and edification.  Simply put: It was written TO the Thessalonians, but it was written FOR us.

So, if it was written to the Thessalonians, what exactly was their need?  What exactly was their concern?

Well, the need of the Thessalonians was threefold.

Firstly, they were undergoing persecution.  Throughout the letter there are clues and hints to this persecution: Paul preached the gospel in the midst of much conflict (2:2), the church suffered from the Jews (2:14), and elsewhere.  Now, the exact nature of the persecution isn’t clear, whether it was verbal abuse, financial persecution, or even imprisonment, torture, and execution.  But they were a persecuted church.

Secondly, there had been deaths in the church.  The church had members who had died and it caused no small amount of grief in the church.

Thirdly, they had been overrun with false teachers who taught many wrong things about the resurrection and the return of Christ especially.

This is what was going on in Thessalonica, and it wasn’t pretty.  And so Paul turns their eyes upwards with true and real hope.  Our hope in life and in death - the return of Christ.  In every chapter, this is referenced at least once:

  • In chapter 1, Paul encourages the church to wait for Jesus, who delivers us from wrath.
  • In chapter 2, Paul reminds them of his love for them, and that he will boast in them before Jesus Christ at His second coming.
  • In chapter 3, Paul encourages them that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying them to present them blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus.
  • In chapter 4, we learn a few more details - Christ will come, with the trumpet blast, and we will be united with Him and with all the saints in the air.

And then our reading, in chapter 5, about the Day of the Lord.

The Thessalonians were a church undergoing a lot of stress.  They were opposed and mocked, they had lost members due to sickness and disease...and they kept wondering...WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE OVER?

Sound familiar?  In many ways, Cloverdale is just like Thessalonica.

We have been opposed and mocked, we have lost members due to sickness and disease...we want all of this to be over.

And ESPECIALLY that last one...if we could just have a date.  If we were told when things will be back to normal...that would really help, we think.  That would encourage me.

Or if we could be given the date when Christ would return.  Not just that this present crisis be put in the past, but every challenge, every sorrow, every argument, every tear.  When will all this be behind me?  If I just knew the day...that would strengthen me.

And so we can understand the Thessalonian church.  We can understand why they were so obsessed with finding this out.  We can understand why they would listen to these false teachers who told them all about the return of Christ.

And for us, even recently, I’ve had conversations with people who say - What do you think, Pastor?  It HAS to happen soon...look at everything that’s happening in the world!  When do YOU think He’s coming back?

The frustration is there.

The longing is there.

But if we knew the day and the hour, it would not provide the comfort we think that it would.  That’s just not how it works.  Let me explain.

Of all the things about our future hope, the timing is the LEAST important of them.  The timing of Christ’s return isn’t the MOST important, but the LEAST important.

If I were to tell you that I received a vision last night that Christ was returning tomorrow...

Or next week...

Or 5 years from now…

What would it change?  

We think it would change everything, but really...if I told you the day was tomorrow...what would you do?  I’ve asked my catechism students this question too, putting them on the spot.  They WANT TO KNOW, but when we go through it...they realize.

If it was tomorrow, what would you do with your time today?

  • I would read my Bible, I would show more love, I would pray harder, I would evangelize more

If it was next week, what would you do with your time today?

  • I would read my Bible, I would show more love, I would pray harder, I would evangelize more

And what should you be doing as Christians who DON’T KNOW the day?

  • Reading our Bible, showing love, praying harder, evangelizing more

And this is all just hypothetical.  We THINK we would do these things...we think that knowledge of the Day would spur us on to greater holiness...but in reality, I don’t think we would.  And this isn’t just my pessimistic view...this is recorded for us in Scripture.

When the Thessalonian church listened to these false teachers who told them that Christ’s return was ANY DAY NOW, what did they do?  They stopped working, they laid down their tools and sat around, looking up at the sky.  They stopped working, because who cares about physical needs when Christ is returning!  They stopped resisting their sin, because, Christ is returning and making all things new, why would I try if I’ll just fail?  They slowed down on their brotherly love, and it may have stopped altogether if Paul hadn’t written this letter.

You see...knowing the day produces laziness, not holiness.  Knowing the day produces selfishness, not encouragement.

This is why our God steadfastly refuses to tell us the day or the time.  Nobody knows the day or the moment.  Not the Son, not the angels, but only the Father (Matthew 24).  We are told in both Daniel and Revelation that the end will happen after a time, times, and half a time.  It is specifically not clear.

It’s not clear, because in our human weakness, we would turn this good news into bad living.  God wants us to live holy lives, not sinful lives.  God wants us to live loving lives, not selfish lives.  God wants us to live simple and productive lives...and this would undermine EACH AND EVERY PART OF THAT!

But here’s the wonderful thing beloved...even though we do not have THIS encouragement, we do have something else.  We have something better.  God has given us the encouragement we NEED.  Our second point.

We don’t have the encouragement we WANT.  We don’t know the WHEN.  And that’s hard.  It is. It’s hard for you, it’s hard for me.  I’ll have you know that I got stuck this week writing the first point...because I was writing something that I KNOW to be true, but something that goes against MY PERSONAL OPINION.  MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

Because I want to know too.  I desperately want to know, and despite what God says, I (sinfully) think that I’ll be different, and that it will encourage and strengthen me to know the actual date.

"Even if all the others fall away, even if all the others are made lazy and ineffective and selfish, not me Lord!"

But I’m no better, and I know, deep down, that what I think I know is wrong.  What I THINK is wrong, and what GOD SAYS is right.

And what does He say?  How does HE encourage US?

Because, even though the commandment is for us to encourage one another, we know that this, like every other commandment, comes because God did it first.

  • God loved, and we too must love.
  • God bore with us, and we must bear with each other
  • God showed hospitality to us, and we must show hospitality to each other
  • God forgave us, and we must forgive

And here too...God encourages us, and we must encourage.

So, how does He do this?

Well, even though we don’t know the WHEN, we DO know the WHAT.  And the WHAT trumps the WHEN everyday, and twice on Sundays.

So what exactly is the what?

Well, it is proclaimed for us beautifully in 1 Thessalonians 4.  Allow me to read a few verses with you from the end of the chapter.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those 

who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and

with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together

with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with

these words.

It is important, it is VITAL that we know the WHAT.

And it’s easy to go too far one way or the other.  Some people are obsessed with knowing the TIMING, and others say...well, I’m not pre-millennial, post-millennial, or a-millennial.  I’m PAN-MILLENIAL.  I don’t know anything other than that it will all pan out in the end.

Very clever wordplay, but this is either intentionally or unintentionally denying yourself much needed comfort and encouragement.  God HAS revealed a lot to us about the end, and He has done so for a reason!  Let us not ignore His revelation.

As surely as Christ died on the cross and rose again, He will come back.

The very end of the Bible reads this way:

“Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

This is the end of the Bible.  The last words of God’s revelation.

The very last promise of Scripture is about Christ’s return.  Let us not ignore what He says about it!

Christ will come...and it will be Christ HIMSELF...not Michael the archangel, not a messenger, but the Man Himself, our Lord Himself will descend.

He will descend with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, with a trumpet blast.  Everyone on earth will hear this trumpet blast.  Those in their graves will hear it and rise up.  Those on all corners of the earth will hear it.  Those in Antarctica and Australia, those in Europe and Africa.  Those who are awake will hear it, and those who are sleeping will be woken up.

And for the unbelievers, this will be confusing.  This will be terrifying.  But for us?  For those of us who know what it means, for those of us who have been listening for and living for that trumpet...our joy will abound!

The dead in Christ will rise first - those who died in the Lord will not miss out on this amazing day.  Their souls, having been rejoicing in heaven before the face of the Lord, will return to their bodies, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, these bodies will be raised, new and incorruptible.  And they will join us, and together, all the elect in Christ will join Him in the air, and we will be with the Lord forever.  We will be with the Lord forever.

We don’t know WHEN...but WHO CARES ABOUT WHEN?

If we have to wait one day or 20 years...but THIS is what is waiting for us...could you wait?  Could you press on?  This is what’s waiting at the finishline.

It’s hard...but can we?

And that last word is important.  Can WE?

Not just - can I?

Not just - can YOU?

Because here we are...finally getting around to how WE encourage ONE ANOTHER.

We are to encourage one another with these words.  And we should take this both literally and figuratively.

We should literally use these words.  When we are feeling hopeless, when we don’t know if we can keep on going, because of grief, because of guilt, because of sin, because of shame...read these words.

Have these words read to you, and bask in them.  Mark 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 in your Bibles, and read these words everyday this week.  Read these words.

THE LORD HIMSELF WILL DESCEND FROM HEAVEN

It’s true!  He’s not sending someone else to do it, He is coming down Himself, in His power and His glory to look you in the eyes and say - Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Ascend with me into my glory.

THE DEAD IN CHRIST WILL RISE...AND WE WILL BE CAUGHT UP TOGETHER WITH THEM.

It’s true!  Those who have died in the Lord are not lost.  They are not lost to HIM and they are not lost to US.  We will be reunited with them.  Death has temporarily separated us from them, but it is not permanent.  What is permanent, what is forever, is our togetherness with them.

AND SO WE WILL ALWAYS BE WITH THE LORD

It’s true!  There will never be a moment when we are separated from Him.  And though this is true already now...we are weak and we doubt.  We don’t feel Him beside us, and we cry out in fear.  But the fears and the doubts will be taken away, and we will always know that we are always with Him.

Encourage one another with these words.  Literally say these words to each other.  Because these words provide real comfort, real encouragement, real strength.

The way the world encourages - it’ll get better, or I know what you’re going through...these encouragements can only go so far.

When things are easy, when our discomforts and discouragements are small...we don’t need a lot of comfort.  We don’t need a lot of encouragement, and so these cliches can work for us.  But when we are surrounded by death, when we feel as though we are being persecuted, when it becomes more and more obvious to us that we are the visiting team, the away team, and have that disadvantage with jeering fans...it is then that we need real and true encouragement.

 

This week, I was reminded of the story of the 4 blind men encountering an elephant.  You’ve probably heard it before.

There are 4 blind men and they encounter an elephant for the first time.  One man put his hand on the side of the elephant and declared that the elephant must be like a wall.  Another grabbed the trunk and said the elephant is like a snake.  A third took hold of the tusk and said that it was like a spear, while the fourth took hold of the tail and said it must be like a rope.

And in this life, though Christ has revealed the truth to us, in our weakness, in our sin, in our grief, we can be blinded sometimes.  We can be blinded to the whole picture, and so we must come together like these blind men. When all I can see is the wall, you must come alongside me and remind me of the trunk.  Remind me of the tail.  Remind me of the tusk.  And remind me of Christ, who can remind me of the whole elephant.

We are not meant to be alone.  We have been put together for a reason.  Bound up together as the people of God.

Remember the quotation I started this series with - the primary activity of the church is one-anothering one another.

On our own, we tend to flail around, wading through the depths of our inadequacies, confused and frightened by the challenges that surround us.

But to ENCOURAGE is literally to give courage.  Encouragement does not simply meet a need, encouragement does not simply make up for what we lack, but it does more than that.  It fills us to overflowing.  When we encourage, we do so to strengthen the heart, not just because it is weak right now, but because it will be weak later.

And you may ask...what’s the point in being strong now if you’re just going to be weak later?  What’s the point in strengthening someone who will be frightened later?  Or sad later?

Well, for precisely that reason - BECAUSE they will be sad later.  BECAUSE they will be frightened later.  We must gather around the strong and the weak, those who are going through good times and bad times and strengthen each other, encourage each other, make each other brave and strong for what is to come.

Because, beloved, it isn’t easy right now, and it won’t be easy later either.

So how practically do we do this?  3 steps.  3 steps for practically encouraging each other.  And note with me that none of these steps have anything to do with this world.  Instead, they have EVERYTHING to do with CHRIST and HIS KINGDOM.

 

Step 1 - Remind each other of our JUSTIFICATION

When we are overwhelmed by our sins, when everyday we think “I’ve failed again, how could God actually love me?”  when all of this seems so hopeless...first of all, draw the attention of your brother, draw the eyes of your sister to the cross of Christ.  Your sins, your debt, your rebellion has been PAID IN FULL.  These are the words that have been stamped across your bill.  These are the words written next to your name in the book of life.  Your sins have been blotted out and these three words written in their place - PAID IN FULL.

Step 2 - Encourage each other in our SANCTIFICATION

We have been declared righteous because of the cross, but the battle isn’t over.  We still struggle, we still fail.  And we are forgiven, but there’s more to it than that.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit, and He strengthens us in our Christian walk.  We learn to say NO to sin, and YES to righteousness.

  • Sin can suggest, and we can resist or we can give in.
  • Sin can fill us with desire, and we can resist, or we can give in
  • Sin can encourage us to give in, and we can say yes or we can say no.
  • Sin can make us act, and then we have lost the battle.

It’s easy to lose on our own, but, say it with me, think it with me...WE AREN’T ON OUR OWN.

Find an accountability partner.  Find a prayer partner.  We have those in our church, you know.  Accountability partners aren’t just for sexual sin, but for gossip, for anger, for bitterness, for any sin that you can think of. Find someone and have them encourage you in your walk of holiness.  And you don’t have to go too far -  remember that you are surrounded by your spouse, your friends, your children.  Encourage them, and be encouraged by them.

And Step 3 - Long for GLORIFICATION together.

Encourage each other with these words.  Go to sleep dreaming of the new world.  Wake up with ears alert for the sound of the trumpet.  Talk passionately and often with each other about Christ’s return.  Don’t be found sleeping to this amazing reality that is about to invade our own.  But wake up!  Wake up to the overwhelming powerful weight of glory that is coming.

Beloved, do not be deceived.  We are in a wicked world.  We are in a world where those who are not for us are against us.  There is no middle ground.  In promoting sin and wickedness for decades, our government has set itself against the church.

In glamorizing rebellion against God and His created order, society has become an enemy of the Kingdom.

We are not playing, and we are not on the homefield, but we are fighting, deep behind enemy lines.

So join the huddle.  Don’t be embarrassed that you are discouraged at times.  We all are!  And God knows this!  This is why He has placed us together in the church!  Don’t separate yourself because you’re not sure what you can give.  Don’t think you don’t belong because you’re weak and sinful.  Join the club.  Literally...join us.  We all struggle, we are all discouraged and disheartened at times.  And we all need each other.  We all need you.

We are children of the light, children of the day.  We were not destined for wrath, but for glory.  And our Lord IS COMING.  So encourage one another with these words.

AMEN.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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