An audio recording of this sermon is available.
(Slide 1) As we say goodbye to Amy Stephenson, Dan and Amy Caton, and James, Carolyn, Timmy and Grace Belham (& bump) today, it is a really good time to thank God for the encouragement they have been to Riverside church and to charge them to carry on the same work of encouragement amongst the family of God in CC Orchard Park. Encouragement is vital for Christians. This world has been broken by sin and so it is often a very difficult place to live in for anyone. More than that, Jesus warned his followers that they would have extra troubles in this world because of their close connection with him. So as we seek to live as Christians in a broken world, it is going to be very tough and we are going to need help. There are going to be times when we are downhearted because of the trials we are going through, times when we will lack courage for the battles that we face, times when praising God and seeking to live for His glory will seem almost impossible. What are we to do when we are in times like these?
(SLIDE 2 Supers and their alter-egos: Imagine Clark and Bruce trying to take on the baddies without using their powers). The Bible gives us clear instruction for difficult times and my prayer for all of us today from young to old is that we will understand more about the incredible power of encouragement, and that we will be equipped to obediently use this awesome super-strength that is at the disposal of God’s people because Christ’s Spirit lives within them (SLIDE 3).
In 2 Cor 7 the apostle Paul writes about a really difficult period of his life, look at verse 5; “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.” You aren’t failing as a Christian when you are at a low point in life. Paul, the relentless gospel servant, the hardest worker amongst many hard workers, looks back on a time when he was feeling weary, facing opposition and dealing with fear and anxiety. Paul was downcast rather than bubbling over with happiness and delight. The paths that God leads his people on have always led through deep dark valleys as well as beside refreshing streams of water. Paul was experiencing a deep dark valley.
But Paul was not alone. (SLIDE 4) I wonder if there is anyone here who found it hard to go to sleep when they were young because of the dark? What does a child most want when their light is off? They want to know that their Mum or Dad is there (our Isaac likes the living room door left open so he can hear us as he goes to sleep). In verse 6 of our passage Paul goes on to say (SLIDE 5); “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us.” Paul, in his tough circumstances, had something so much better than an open living room door. The almighty God was with him, comforting him and his companions in their struggle. There are so many ways a sentence starting “But God who…” could end. But God who … made the universe, But God who … reigns forever, But God who … raises up and casts down Kings and kingdoms.
How wonderful that Paul can write that this almighty sovereign eternal God is the God who comforts the downcast. “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us.” Should that truth not put us on our knees in worship and thanksgiving? Should it not help us to take our eyes away from our worries and instead fix them on Him? God cares about me. God cares about you. He would comfort us in our sorrows. Through Jesus Christ, people who deserve God’s anger are instead given His comfort. Praise His name.
What a fantastic truth that is but we must keep going in this passage if we as a church family are to understand how God’s comfort works. His comfort is something so much better than a temporary change in our feelings, which could also be achieved using breathing exercises or medication. God comforts the downcast through the encouragement of the church, v6&7 (SLIDE 6) “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” In these few verses, Paul, feeling harassed and fearful testifies to a joy that was greater than ever. Paul, lacking courage for the fight, is given courage to continue, he is encouraged by God through the people of God.
This is the super-power of encouragement and though it is spiritual and super-natural it is very practical indeed. Far too many Christians are trying to fight the baddies still dressed as Clark Kent, still in Bruce Banner’s lab coat. No good. Instead, we must be a church who take God’s word seriously and live obediently to its commands. If we take 2 Corinthians 7 seriously then there are 3 very practical applications that will continue to transform us as a church family.
Firstly then, God’s people encourage one another with their presence (slide 7). “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” Paul was struggling but then Titus came to visit and this alone was part of comforting and encouraging him. Someone shared this illustration with me last week and I really liked it (SLIDE 8) – imagine a child performing in a school production and as they are waiting for it to start they are at the front nervously bouncing around staring out into the audience glancing this way and that. And then at the back the child’s parents walk in, their eyes meet and a big smile appears on the child’s face. Now they are calmer and more confident and ready to start.
That is the sort of impact Titus seems to have had on Paul – his presence alone brought comfort and encouragement (SLIDE 9). And that is one of the reasons why it is so important that we commit to meeting together as a church family on a Sunday, and gathering together with members of the church family during the week. Because God’s Spirit lives in us and works amongst us, our presence with each other matters.
You have a far greater impact than you imagine on your brothers and sisters when you choose to meet with them or choose not to meet with them. That is why sending members of this family to be part of CC Orchard park is painful for us – we will miss them and the encouragement their presence has brought us. But we will pray that they will show the same commitment to their new church family and by God’s grace I pray that all of us here will commit once again to regular, determined, deliberate attendance at church and the ministries run by our church. By this you will encourage greatly and be encouraged greatly. We encourage with our presence.
Secondly, God’s people encourage one another with their actions (SLIDE 10). “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him.” Part of Paul’s great worries and concerns that had left him feeling harassed was the current spiritual state of the Corinthian Christians. As a church they had been getting things wrong and there seemed a real risk that they might abandon the gospel – so Paul had written them an earlier letter which had pointed out these problems and warned them to stick to the truth that saves. (SLIDE 11) Kids, isn’t it a horrible feeling when you realise that not only have you made your Mum or Dad cross, but that actually you have really disappointed them? Did you know that when your parents have to be cross and disappointed with you they hate it?
In this chapter, Paul was feeling like this – he had written this stern letter because he loved them, and it was definitely the right thing to do, but he wanted very much to hear that the Corinthians had responded well to it and to him. (SLIDE 12) And so when Titus comes and is able to tell Paul of how the Corinthians repented from their sin (turned away from it), and how they cared for Titus and expressed care and concern for Paul, joy is the result. When Christians live obediently to God’s word, when they live with Jesus Christ in charge of their life, it encourages their brothers and sisters. Let us pray that in the years to come CC Riverside will be of huge encouragement to CC Orchard Park and vice versa as we see and hear of lives being lived for the glory of God. And is there another Christian you really want to encourage at the moment? Show them you care in practical ways but even more importantly let them see you getting on with giving King Jesus your full allegiance. We encourage one another with our actions.
Thirdly, and actually most importantly, God’s people encourage one another with their words (SLIDE 13). Paul’s whole ministry was a word ministry and that is the pattern we have committed to follow in this church. We have the most powerful, most enriching, most satisfying, true words to speak to one another because we have God’s words given to us. People who don’t yet know Jesus need urgently to hear the gospel, and people who do know Jesus as Lord and saviour continue to need urgently to hear the gospel for the rest of their lives. And you as an individual are vital in this work.
I can study and pray hard and by God’s grace preach faithfully Sunday by Sunday, I can call and meet some of you each week, but the task of encouraging a church this size is too much for anyone. You matter and your words matter to each other way more than many of you think. Feel free to underestimate yourself and to think that you aren’t very wise and that you have nothing to share with others to encourage them. But don’t underestimate the Spirit that lives in you if you belong to Jesus. Start this week to deliberately seek to encourage others in this church with your words – why not learn one of the memory verses on our Youtube channel and simply share that with someone else from church during the week. If you only ever talk with other Christians on a Sunday then you are going to struggle to be encouraged or be an encourager in life. We encourage one another with our words.
(SLIDE 14) Presence, actions, words. I reckon even the youngest primary school kids here today can remember those 3 this week, I will remember to test you on them next week. Some of us go out of here permanently today and we are so thankful for the encouragement and comfort you have been to us, but let all of us who belong to Jesus go out today determined to encourage those around us with our presence, our actions and our words, to the glory of God.
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