Strengthen Each Other's Hands in God
And David was afraid because Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the Wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose, and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, "Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; Saul my father also knows this." And the two of them made a covenant before the LORD; David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.
Today's message is an interruption in the series begun last Sunday from Ephesians. The reason for the interruption is the deep conviction we feel about the need to encourage all the members of Bethlehem to be a part of some kind of smaller group where you help each other fight the fight of faith. And so our focus today is on strengthening each other's hands in God.
Eternal Security Is a Community Project
We believe that eternal security is a community project. We believe that the perseverance of the saints is a corporate responsibility. The same loving Lord who said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27–28), also said, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).
In other words those who are born of God are eternally secure in the hand of Jesus. And those who are born of God must endure to the end in order to be finally saved. And so the question rises: How has God ordained to keep his people persevering in faith to the end so that he can infallibly fulfill the promise that they are secure and that none shall be lost?
This morning we are focusing on one crucial part of the answer to that question: namely, God has ordained that we be related to other believers in such a way that we can help each other fight the fight of faith successfully day in and day out until the end. The biblical basis for this answer is Hebrews 3:12–14,
Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, 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 be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have shared in Christ, if we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
God has appointed a means by which he will enable us to hold our confidence firm to the end. It is this: Develop the kind of Christian relationships in which you help each other hold fast to the promises of God and escape the deceitfulness of sin. Exhort one another day in and day out to stand fast and put on the whole armor of God.
Be a Part of a Cluster of Christians
Children, junior highers, senior highers, college students, single people, married couples, widows, widowers! Are you a part of a cluster of Christian friends who have pledged themselves to help each other fight the fight of faith and protect each other from the subtle encroachments of sin?
I do not say that you can't be saved without belonging to an organized small group. But I do say, and I believe it is the word of God, that if you have no such cluster of comrades in the faith, then you are neglecting one of the means appointed by God for your preservation and endurance in faith. And to neglect the means of grace is very dangerous for your soul.
So my goal this morning is very simple: to motivate you to belong to some smaller cluster of Christians where you can exhort and be exhorted to fight the fight of faith day in and day out. At the end of the message Peter Nelson will briefly present one network of small groups available for your prayerful consideration.
Four Lessons from Jonathan's Meeting with David
The text is 1 Samuel 23:15–18. It is a simple and profound illustration of what needs to happen in the ongoing fight of faith.
David is going from one place to the other in the Wilderness of Ziph about 30 miles south of Jerusalem, trying to stay out of Saul's way. Saul, the king of Israel, wants to kill David because he thinks he is a dangerous rival for the throne. Jonathan, Saul's son, loves David and hears that he is in the Wilderness of Ziph, and goes down to strengthen his hand in God.
This encounter between Jonathan and David illustrates at least four lessons about helping each other fight the fight of faith.
1. Everyone's Need for Christian Camaraderie
The deepest saints and the strongest leaders need Christian comrades to strengthen their hands in God. David was deep, David was strong, and David needed Jonathan.
Christian camaraderie is not just for the new recruits. It is for every believer. We never grow out of our need for the ministry of other Christians. If you think you are beyond the need for daily exhortation in the fight of faith, then probably your heart has already fallen prey to the deceitfulness of sin.
David was a man after God's own heart. He was a great warrior. He was no doubt superior to Jonathan in strength and intelligence and depth of theological understanding. But verse 16 says that Jonathan went and strengthened his hand in God.
Don't ever think that a man is so strong that he does not need to be strengthened in God. And don't ever think that someone is so far above you that you can't be God's instrument to give strength.
Charles Spurgeon spoke for many Christian leaders when he wrote,
Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Various troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was over whelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again. (Autobiography, vol. 2, p. 415)
I mention this to drive home that the greatest saints, the most valiant warriors, are not above the need to have their hands strengthened in God. In fact the devil's attacks on them may make their need even greater. So the first lesson from our text is that you never outgrow your need for daily exhortation. The deepest saints and the strongest leaders need comrades to strengthen their hands in God.
2. A Conscious Effort
The second lesson is that strengthening a person's hand in God involves conscious effort.
It is intentional. You don't just do it on the fly; you rise and go down to Horesh. Verse 16: "And Jonathan, Saul's son, rose, and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God."
What a difference it would make in our church if, when all of us woke in the morning, we would PLAN to strengthen someone's hand in God! Jonathan did not accidentally meet David in Horesh (though that happens at times!). He PLANNED to go and strengthen him. The mark of Christian maturity is that you build into your life the intention and the occasions to strengthen someone's hand in God. Whose hand are you going to strengthen in God today? This week? Do you have a cluster of comrades committed (intentionally!) to helping each other fight the fight of faith in this way?
I've been reading the Memoirs of Samuel Pearce, one of the small group of pastors that founded the first Baptist Missionary Society in 1792. Among others there were John Ryland and John Sutcliff and Andrew Fuller and Samuel Pearce and William Carey. One thing has stood out above all the others recently: these men loved each other and then met together and were profoundly committed to strengthening each other's hands in God. They did this even when they were far apart from each other.
Samuel Pearce waited over a year for his first letter from Carey after he had left for India. But when it came, here is what he wrote to Carey,
The account you gave us inspired us with new vigor, and greatly strengthened our hands in the Lord. We read, and wept, and praised, and prayed. O, who but the Christian feels such pleasures as are connected with friendship for our dear Lord Jesus Christ? (p. 58)
Isn't that a great phrase: "Friendship FOR our dear Lord Jesus Christ."
What I am really pleading for this morning is that you all form friendships FOR Jesus Christ—that you have a cluster of comrades in the faith with the mutual agreement that you will continually point each other to Jesus Christ for hope and strength.
3. Strengthening Each Other in God
That is the third lesson. The strength we are to give each other is strength in God, not in ourselves. Verse 16 does not say that Jonathan came all that way to Horesh to strengthen David's self-confidence. He didn't. It says he rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.
This is the difference between Christian camaraderie and all other support groups and therapy groups and self-help groups. The whole point of Christian camaraderie is to point each other to Christ, not man, for help and strength.
There is a kind of paradox here: On the one hand I say, I need you. God has appointed you as a means of grace to help me endure to the end. But on the other hand, I must say that the only way you can really help me is by saying something or doing something that will cause me to depend on God and not you.
Here we are again with our most common theme it seems: a radical God-centeredness in all we do, even in our human togetherness, our camaraderie, our friendship. It must be a friendship FOR Jesus. Every Christian group that exists ought to exist to strengthen each other's hands in God and not in man. That is the third lesson in our text: "Jonathan rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God."
4. Reminding Each Other of the Promises of God
Finally, how did he do this? How do we do it? Jonathan said (verse 17): "Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; Saul my father also knows this."
How did Jonathan know that David would be king over Israel? They were deep friends and so it is hard to imagine that David had not told Jonathan about the event in chapter 16 when the prophet Samuel had anointed David as a boy to be king over Israel. So the way Jonathan strengthened David's hand in God was to remind him of a promise that God had made (1 Samuel 16:12). Saul could not succeed against David because God was for him. So Jonathan strengthened David's hand in God by reminding him of his destiny in the purposes of God.
And so it is with us. We strengthen each other's hands in God by reminding each other about the promises of God that are especially suited for each other's needs.
What would you need to hear from your friends if you were William Carey 15,000 miles from home fighting the fight of faith with one comrade surrounded by millions of unbelievers? You would need something like this, the words of Samuel Pearce, a precious friend who knew how to strengthen Carey's hand in God. Listen to how the promises of God saturate this letter from October 4, 1794.
Brother, I long to stand by your side, and participate in all the vicissitudes of the attack—an attack which nothing but cowardice can make unsuccessful. Yes, the Captain of our salvation marches at our head. Sometimes he may withdraw his presence (but not his power) to try our prowess with our spiritual arms and celestial armor. O, what cannot a lively faith do for the Christian soldier! It will bring the Deliverer from the skies; it will array him as with a vesture dipped in blood; it will place him in the front of the battle, and put a new song into our mouths—"These made war with the Lamb; but the Lamb shall overcome them." Yes, he shall—the victory is sure before we enter the field; the crown is already prepared to adorn our brows, even that crown of glory which fadeth not away, and already we have resolved what to do with it—we will lay it at the conqueror's feet, and say, "Not to us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give glory," while all heaven unites in the chorus, "Worthy is the Lamb." (Memoir, p. 66)
Well, not all us have the gift to strengthen our comrades with words like that. But if you steep your mind in the Word of God and meditate on it day and night as Psalm 1 says, then you will be a fountain of living water and will strengthen the hands of many in God. The call of God to you this morning is: Come, let us strengthen each other's hands in God! Amen.
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