Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
We will come back to these two passages of Scripture at the end of the message to give the final thrust to other passages we look at. But first let me give a moment of historical background for this message and bring those of you who are newer up to date on the overarching vision of Bethlehem. Treasuring Christ Together is the overarching vision of this church to implement our vision. It is the broad, strategic application of our Mission Statement. So we put it like this: Treasuring Christ Together aims to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by multiplying campuses, planting churches, and by the global diaconate—that is, the ministry of mercy to the poorest of the poor and those who are suffering.
Everything you give to Treasuring Christ Together (see the second line of the envelopes) funds those three things (campus multiplication, church planting, and the global diaconate) not the regular missions and ministry of the church. The vision is about two years old, and amazing things have already happened by God’s grace. The North Campus is purchased, built out, and fully functioning. A South Campus is scheduled to open next fall. Planning for location and staffing are underway. The first TCT church planting resident, whom you met last week, is here for the year, and at least one other church plant is planned for next spring. The Global Diaconate has responded short term to crises, and longer term engagement with the poor and suffering around the world is in the planning.
Since the North Campus is new and will have its first Wednesday night connection series this fall, we thought it would be good to make the teaching component of the Connection on each campus (at 6:30 pm) a biblical study of the Ten Dimensions of Church Life that we pray will mark all the churches we will plant. You can read these and the entire vision booklet of Treasuring Christ Together at the Bethlehem website.
I was assigned to do Dimension #4 called “Mutual Care” last Wednesday North and this Wednesday Downtown. Then I noticed some weeks ago that this weekend between those two Wednesday Connections is our annual focus on pastoral care through small groups. So it seemed to me that the best way to deal with Treasuring Christ Together, Dimension #4 (“Mutual Care”) and with the small-group vision of our church was to do them both together not on a Wednesday night but in this weekend’s message.
This has the happy effect of making last Wednesday North and this Wednesday Downtown free for more teaching and discussion of the elder recommendations concerning baptism and church membership. If you miss those, then you can get the recordings. We are recording all these elder discussions so that you can listen online or order the CDs.
So this message today grows out of the flowing together of two important steams in the life of our church. One is the stream of pastoral care through small groups. The other is the stream of the Ten Dimensions of Church Life that we pray will mark all Treasuring Christ Together Churches. So we focus in this message on the biblical foundations of TCT Dimension #4 and the crucial role of small groups at Bethlehem. I hope that every covenant member of Bethlehem will be a part of a ministry of mutual care.
So let me read Dimension #4 as it appears in the TCT vision booklet: “Mutual Care: Corporate commitment to pursue a life together in sacrificial faith-sustaining care for each other in loving relationships at every level of youth and age, joy and sorrow, comfort and crisis, health and brokenness.”
This summary statement addresses the aim, means, context, and extent of mutual care. The aim is “faith-sustaining”—we aim to help each other persevere and grow in faith. The means is “sacrificial . . . care for each other” not just preaching and worship and classes and private devotions, but involvement in each other’s lives. The context is “in loving relationships.” And the extent of the care is “at every level of youth and age, joy and sorrow, comfort and crisis, health and brokenness.” That’s Dimension #4 of TCT church life.
The primary means that the elders have developed at Bethlehem to help that happen is a system of small groups with trained leaders overseen by the elders of the church. So what I would like to do is give a biblical foundation for both these things: Dimension #4, “Mutual Care,” and the small group vision of our church.
The Biblical Foundation of Faith-Sustaining Care for Each Other
The foundation of faith-sustaining care for each other is the biblical truth that God cares for us and has put in place human means for care to be given and received.
First, God cares for us. 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” The church of Jesus Christ is the blood-bought bride of his Son, and he loves us with a minute-by-minute omnipotent care: Don’t be anxious about food and clothes; your heavenly Father knows that you need them all (Matthew 6:32). Trust him. He cares for you.
Second, God sent his Son to be our Savior and our divine-human Care-giver. That’s what shepherd means in John 10. Verse 11, 13: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . [The hireling] flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” Jesus cares for his sheep. He promised before he went back to heaven, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus, by his present Spirit in our lives, cares for us very personally. Trust him.
Third, God has put elders in place to care for his church. 1 Timothy 3:5 describes one of the qualifications of elders as care for his own household because that’s his church job: “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” Elders are the under-shepherds of God’s family and give their care to the sheep.
Fourth, God has put families in place to provide care for his people. 1 Timothy 5:16 shows how church and family work together. It’s speaking about the care of widows: “If
any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows” (see also 5:4). Family members and the church partner to give care to the needy in the body.
Fifth, God ordains that all Christians be in a church fellowship where they give care for each other. In other words, God means that the care that flows from him through his Son should come to the church not only through elders and families, but also through the members of the church to each other. This is where I want to spend most of our time.
Ways That the New Testament Tells Us to Care for Each Other
Instead of one or two texts to demonstrate this, I want you to get a feel for the biblical sweep of this truth. So listen to about twenty ways that the New Testament tells us to care for each other. As I read and comment on these passages, be praying that God would speak to you about the place of mutual care in your life. Are you giving it as you should? Are you receiving it as you should? Is the focus on small-group ministry this weekend a call from God for you to take fresh steps in this ministry of care-giving and care-receiving?
1 John 4 :11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This is the great overarching, all inclusive command to care for each other with love.
Romans 15:7, “Welcome one another (or accept one another) as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Our lives and our groups should be welcoming places.
1 Corinthians 12:25, “. . . that the members may have the same care for one another.”
1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” He who would be great becomes the servant of all.
Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:15, “Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.”
Hebrews 10:25, “. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Being in each other’s lives with encouragement is going to be especially needed in the last days. Form the habit now lest you be taken off guard.
Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Who of us cannot trace much of our own passions for radical Christian living to other Christians who have stirred us up?
Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” God has ordained that his word not just come to us directly from the Bible but indirectly from the Bible through people. This is why the Bible says that the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” “Admonish” has a bit of an edge to it, and that is sometimes necessary among people who love each other.
Ephesians 5:19, “Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” Many hymns and worship songs are sung directly to the Lord. But even when they are, we are doing it together and we hear each other and that is God’s will for us—that we minister to each other in song. This happens in large gatherings and in small groups and families.
Romans 15:5, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in . . . harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.”
2 Corinthians 13:11, “Comfort one another.” Oh, the preciousness of a small group in times of loss and grief. How many personal and practical ways we have seen them comfort each other.
Romans 15:14, “You yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” As you are filled with more and more knowledge about God and his ways, you begin to instruct one another. Who of us is ever beyond the need for others to instruct us? God does not mean for us to merely be alone without Bibles, but to share what we learn.
Romans 12:10, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Colossians 3:13, “Bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” Love involves being patient with each others flaws. It covers a multitude of sins.
Colossians 3:13, “Forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Not just bear with flaws, but actually let real offenses go, and don’t store them up and brood over them.
James 5:16, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Few things are more humbling and more healing than when you confess your sin to others. That is the level of trust we want in our small groups.
1 Peter 4:9, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
I put that last in the list because it points to one important part of small groups. Most of them happen in homes. What a good thing it is to be in each other’s homes. Barriers come down and bonds are created when we go to each other’s homes. Let none be ashamed of a simple apartment. And let none be proud of a nice house. But may they be filled with love. That’s what matters.
The Aim of One-Another Ministry
I draw to a close by simply underling, from the texts in Hebrews the aim of being together and loving each other in these ways. Under the overarching goal of glorifying God, the aim of one-another ministry in the church is sustaining and strengthening faith in Christ. And through that faith the aim is negatively to avoid sin, and positively to love people. Hebrews 3:12-13 puts the emphasis on the negative, and Hebrews 10:24-25 puts the emphasis on the
Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin threatens to blind and harden us all. God has appointed you to help a few others persevere in faith and fight the hardness and blindness of sin.
Hebrews 10:24, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” We all tend to drift into selfishness. God has appointed you to help a few others persevere in love and good works.
So I appeal to you as one of your under-shepherds, don’t be a loner in the Christian life. God did not make you to be that way. Join a small group or create one. I mean this for the teenagers and older people, for singles and married, for men and women, for babes in Christ and the most mature. In the words of Hebrews 10:25, “Do not neglect to meet together . . . but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.