But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)
So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is the east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:5-6)
Sunday morning worship particularly glorifies God because it is a local community of faith gathering to corporately worship God. I have heard many people proclaim that they don’t need to come to church to worship God. They are right in their cry against the local church in what they proclaim. Most of us are fully capable to worship God wherever we are. We are capable to worship God from any room in our house or wherever we find ourselves, but this is not complete, and fails to grasp the reality of heaven. Christian community is the foundation of what God desires from us, and over the last few weeks we can sense this is true. Community is the foundation of God’s intention for his people and the Lord does not desire any of us to be outside of this essential structure.
Let us think briefly about the necessity of the community of faith. In the Old Testament, God called one man to follow him, Abram, individually by himself. If it was God’s intention to have Abram as an individual follower then he would have left it there, but then his first promise to Abram was to create a community of faith. This is evident by the name God gave to him. Abram means father, and at the point he began to follow God he was not yet a father, but then our Lord named him Abraham which means father of many. God made him a promise called the Abrahamic Covenant in which the Lord said, “And I shall make you a great nation. . .” God’s intention was for a nation to worship him. If we fast forward to the moment after this promised nation flees from Egypt and stands before the Lord at Sinai in preparation to receiving the Law and becoming the people of God we hear the Lord’s words, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In other words, the single man Abram became a nation of God followers as they corporately followed the Lord.
Heaven is not rural area but an urban one in which people from every nation, tribe, people group, and language will gather to worship the Lord. It is not a place of individual worship but corporate as all the people of God worship him in splendor. Even our beloved mansions in heaven is not a promise for each of us to have a mansion, but that he will provide us room in those massive dwellings, once again pointing to the fact that others will be there in this urban setting. So, why do people suggest they don’t need the people of God in worship?
This is not an easy exclamation, but for us to worship God as we ought, we truly need each other! The local church is a shadow of the reality in heaven. Perhaps, the result of us being separated because of the Coronavirus pandemic is so painful for us. I have heard several people over the last few days explain how they miss church and feel isolated from the body of Christ. It is my hope to encourage you by looking at two important passages.
Paul and 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
Paul states the painful situation of being torn away from the church at Thessalonica. This painful tearing was not the fault of Paul or the church. The word for torn means to be orphaned which obviously is emotionally powerful for both parties. Paul is the parent whose children have been ripped away from his hands, and the church is the young child who is painfully separated from his parent. Our current situation feels this way for many of us. We feel we are torn from one another as we are in our homes obeying our President and Governor. This pain is intensified for us especially on Sunday mornings when we are at our homes rather than in worship. At this point, I want to share my opinion about something, and it may not be popular. I know many pastors are preaching on Facebook Live and other social media forums as they continue their preaching ministries. There are many popular and faithful preachers on television and the internet who glorify God and edify the church by their faithful teaching ministries. During this time, I truly would encourage you to listen to them, but this is not the power of the local church. The power of the local church is not that you have a good preacher who preaches good biblical sermons, but it is that the body of Christ worships the Lord together regularly seeking to glorify the God of our salvation.
The text also says, “for a short time,” which served as an encouragement for the church because they knew they would see Paul again. This should also serve as an encouragement for us because everything in this world is temporary and we should not act as though they are eternal. This virus is temporary and there will be a day when we shall gather together again to worship the Lord. Times of difficulty seem to last a long time as a day seems like a week and a week seems to be a month. There are two truths here. First, our separation is temporary, so I want to encourage you to hold on until we are able to meet again. Draw near to the Lord as he draws near to you and attempt to connect with other members of our church whether it is by phone call, email, or social media. Two, this life is temporary and there is a day arriving when all of us will leave this physical world and enter into our eternal abode with those who have gone before us and we will worship the Lord with great delight.
We should also remember the value of other Christians. Paul states the church’s value when he says, “you are our glory and joy.” Separation should cause the Christian to gather again with other believers especially those beloved ones whom they have worshiped with for many years. We have heard of our intrinsic worth to God but how often do we think of others value to us? Who do you wish to see again? I would suggest that every worshiper should be precious to us as we are separated. How often do we focus on the meaningless things and neglect the greater thing? In the end, it is about worship! When we gather, we are to worship the Lord together. If we have not worshiped the Lord, then what have we done?
Elijah and 1 Kings 17:5-6
Elijah ministered during a time of spiritual apathy where the people attempted to serve idols and God at the same time. Elijah had a difficult ministry because the people did not want to hear what God was saying. The life of a prophet or any person who speaks for God is isolated and lonely, but it is even worse when they do not want to hear what God has said. We may look down on Elijah when he thought he was the only follower of God left even though the Lord still had a remnant.
Elijah’s isolation is described in 1 Kings 17:5-6 as the Lord hid him temporarily during the days of drought when Ahab was looking for him. These days must have been difficult for the prophet as he was by himself. He did not have Facebook, cable television, radio, or even mail service. He was isolated at the brook of Cherith and was fed by ravens and drank from the water at the brook. The loneliness must have been overwhelming for him, but he endured. His isolation is more likely more difficult than ours which is evident if you are able to read these words. God cares for you regardless how lonely you are.
Another point is the provision of the Lord in the midst of hardship. God did not forget about Elijah but provided him with everything he needed for life. He was being cared for by God in a way that only God could. Who has ever been fed by the daily provision of birds? These birds were used by the Lord to care for his prophet, and he must have been reminded of this twice every day as they delivered his meal. God will care for us as well. God will get us through this situation and our task is to simply trust in him.
Do you feel isolated? Yes, I feel it too, but I am not alone, and neither are you. God cares for you and will meet all your needs. I would encourage you to draw nearer to the Lord during these days. Read your Bible with urgency, pray with devotion, and may your love for the Lord continue to grow. Although, we cannot worship the Lord together in our sanctuary, we are able to call one another, pray for one another, or even send a physical letter or email. In other words, continue loving the Lord and one another as this is obviously what the Lord told us to do. May the Lord grant you patience and peace until we meet again.
Pastor Steven Lookabaugh has been our pastor since 2016 and is passionate about proclaiming the gospel of God through the weekly exposition of God’s Word; believing application is possible when one understands the historical/cultural meaning of the text. He leads our church in fulfilling our purpose toward the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, and to the Great Commandment as we seek to love one another. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in Expository Preaching from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on parabolic exposition. He is married to Jennifer and they have three children, Andrew, Kate and Olivia.