Stories from the underground church in Russia never fail to jolt us awake. I came across another one just this past week. A house church in a city of the Soviet Union received one copy of the Gospel by Luke, the only Scripture most of these Christians had ever seen. They tore it into small sections and distributed them among the body of believers. Their plan was to memorize the portion they had been given, then on the next Lord’s Day they would meet and redistribute the scriptural sections.
On Sunday these believers arrived inconspicuously in small groups throughout the day so as not to arouse the suspicion of KGB informers. By dusk they were all safely inside, windows closed and doors locked. They began by singing a hymn quietly but with deep emotion. Suddenly, the door was pushed open and in walked two soldiers with loaded automatic weapons at the ready. One shouted, “All right — everybody line up against the wall. If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!”
Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more.
“This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ,” he ordered, “stay and suffer the consequences.”
Another left. Finally, two more in embarrassed silence with their faces covered slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with small children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly. They fully expected to be gunned down or at best, to be imprisoned.
After a few minutes of complete silence, the other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, “Keep your hands up — but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. We, too, are Christians. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers–” The other soldier interrupted, “But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted.”
What possible connection with Delightful Duties? Let me ask another question, this time from catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Main purpose, duty is to glorify God and delight in him. If not willing to die for him, can you truly delight in him to greatest extent possible? Between 1922 and 1991, estimated > 12 million killed for their faith in USSR alone.
Now, God may not require that of you. Then again, he may. Can count on this – God does expect you to die to self. Matt. 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Third of delightful duties – “consider one another” – cannot take delight in serving others when self is front and center, demanding attention.
3 duties: draw near, hold fast, consider one another – faith, hope and love.
A. Draw near – the duty of divine worship (faith)
Heb 4:16; 7:25; 10:1; 11:6προσέρχομαι – approach, draw near, come right up close
those who need mercy – “draw near with confidence to throne of grace”
those who need deliverance – “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God”;
those who would worship God in spirit and truth – “since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary …and since we have a great priest, …let us draw near with a sincere heart”
two people supposed to love one another – sit opposite corners, never get close – think something is wrong, maybe need counseling
if true, whole lot of Christians who need counseling – claim to love God, barely talk to him except when need something; spend hardly any time reading his book; if show up Sun. am, more interested in hearing worship team than hearing from God
one who delights in God, who is enjoying him now and forever, wants more than anything else to be close – hear his voice, have his peace, rest in his strength
B. Hold fast – the duty of public confession (hope)
hang on, keep on doing it – persevere, hold fast without wavering – if we need to be exhorted to hang on, must be reason
not hard to hang on to something when no one tries to take it away; not hard to stay the course when road is straight and level
must mean there are forces at work to oppose us – challenge our assurance, cause us to doubt promises, require high price for faithfulness
challenges to hope / confidence can be internal or external – can come from within us or from outside source
own weakness can encourage doubt – am I doing good enough, boy I really blew that one, don’t think I can hang on, can I really approach God confidently, will he accept me
God here tells us – hang on to his promises; must be hope in God, not own ability; need to re-focus, remind self of source of confidence, review what God has done, re-read what he has said
think about Lord Jesus, what he experienced / endured that he might be our perfect High Priest – “is there any other way?”
“not my will but yours” – uncertainty (maybe?) that he could hang on; if it’s God’s will, he will supply all needed to obey
what if challenge is external? comes in many different forms, all the way from subtle to in-your-face potentially harmful
if a lie is repeated enough times with confident certainty, will eventually believe it – is true whether lie comes from Satan or through one of his agents (human or not)
other challenges to hope: 2 Pet. 3:3-4 “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
what if challenge comes with at least threatened cost? that, too, comes in many forms, not all stated outright
easy to think about kind of cost like opening illustration; the barbaric behavior of different groups around world: ISIS and Boko Haram, Iranian and North Korean and Pakistani governments
those threats are real, have cost countless faithful Christians their lives and continue to do so; should not think we are immune
also many lesser but just as real threats and costs that can challenge our faith and faithfulness to God’s promises
workplace discrimination: missed opportunities for advancement, lack of pay increases, even loss of employment if –
refuse to compromise principles regarding marriage; literal 7-day creation by God; abortion pill; unethical business practice
speak truth publicly on matters of faith; wear obviously Christian jewelry; keep Bible verses posted in public place
how about family: rolled eyes about a comment; cut off contact if you challenge sinful behavior; treat Lord’s Day like it’s theirs and expect you to do the same, respond badly when you don’t
how to persevere? “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”
what is our hope, our confidence? God has made promises, God is faithful, God will keep his promises
“For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”
God’s promises far outweigh anything promised in this world, and… as he is faithful to us, he expects us to be faithful to him… especially when it is tough
“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” Augustine
C. Consider one another – the duty of Christian fellowship (love)
contemplate – the Cross and each other – the Cross must come first, it’s what unites us, gives common ground and purpose
contemplating the Cross naturally leads to contemplating others: since Jesus did that for me, I need to respond by doing for him
we do for Jesus by doing for others – Matt. 25:37, 40 “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
principle applies to all we do for brothers and sisters, not just the basics of food / shelter / clothing
who comes first? get “surprised” by request, means change of plans for you, roll your eyes? big sigh? Eeyore, Oh all right?
Christian should get excited when opportunity to do for others comes up; rest of time, should be actively looking for them
instigate – arouse, to excite, to call into action – when think about others, part of what we think about should be “what can I do
to help them be more involved in life and relationships of church; help them show love to brothers and sisters
to help them do the work of the church, doing good to others other days of week as well as Sunday
when think about others – family, friends, church members – how often do you think about their spiritual growth and how you can help it?
congregate – Love cannot be exercised alone, in isolation. worldly love can – love of self; biblical love, no
can’t keep the exhortation if you don’t congregate – considering one another, encouraging one another, gotta be together for that
reverse of that is true – being absent when brothers and sisters are gathered for corporate function is discouraging: empty seats cause concern, are distracting, over time drag a church family down
don’t forget Paul’s description of the church: 1 Cor. 12:12ff “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
describes various parts, all in their wonderful diversity are essential; then, v.26, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
assimilate – to take in and incorporate as one’s own; remember the church is cross-cultural Col 3:11
every one of us was once an unbeliever; after converted, took time to learn language / behaviors and look like family
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
50 years ago barely didn’t both hands to count non-white families in SP schools, FBC Portland; no longer true… in Gorham
must assimilate all who come with desire to know God – regardless of social or economic or cultural or ethnic or linguistic details
the CHURCH, not just WRFBC, must come to terms with that concept, put aside those things that would divide brother from brother, sister from sister
Final statement in our text one of great urgency: “exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The “Day” he’s talking about – the last day, the one we all looking for with great anticipation, when Jesus comes back. If saints were to encourage one another even more in the 1st century, what about 21st century? If really believe we’re that much closer to the end, should encourage one another even more!
Albert Barnes – “there is no danger that Christians will ever be excited to love each other too much, or to perform too many good works.” Should be our heart’s desire that God would make us a blessing to one another, to all those out there who should be in here.