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By Rev Charles Seet

Text: John 12:20-26

This passage is not so much a parable as a parabolic saying. Parabolic sayings are much shorter than parables – usually only one or two sentences long. Besides the 40 parables Jesus told, there are about 22 parabolic sayings. The one in our text goes like this: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (v.24)

I. The Lord Died Alone (v.27,32,33)

Why did Jesus say this? Whose death was He referring to? It was actually His own death that He was talking about. This is clear in what He said three verses later : “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” Three days from the time He said these words, Christ was going to sacrifice His own life. Thus the seed refers to Himself. As the seed falls to the ground and dies, so Jesus was shortly going to fall into the hands of those who would crucify Him. But out of his death, would come forth the glorious and bountiful atonement for sins that will bring many into eternal life. Thousands will be saved and have life through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is stated by Him in vv.32,33 – “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” 

But the process of saving the world was not to be an easy one for our Saviour. He was going to tread an awful lonely path of suffering and anguish. On the night before His death on the cross, the Lord Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. And there He went to pray alone, apart from His disciples. None of them could understand what He was going through. And while they fell asleep, He agonized alone in prayer saying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” His suffering was so terrible and intense that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). Shortly after that, He was arrested and tried. All His disciples forsook Him and fled (Matthew 26:56). Peter denied Him three times (John 18:25).

He was humilated, unjustly sentenced to death, and nailed to the cross, to die a most horrible death between two thieves. And as he hung from the cross, He cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It was at this point that our Lord’s suffering became most intense. Not only forsaken by people He came to save, and forsaken by His own disciples, He was now also forsaken by God the Father. At this point, our Lord was truly alone!

II. The Lord Cares for the Lonely

Dearly beloved, if you ever feel lonely, you can take comfort that the Lord understands what you feel. He has gone through it before. And our message from God’s Word this morning is especially for those in our midst who have to cope with loneliness, and hence it is entitled “The Cure to Loneliness.”

Many of us may not fully understand how difficult it is to be lonely, because we are surrounded with families and close friends all the time. And because we are too busy with our own lives, we may not take notice of people who are lonely, people who live alone, people who would keep themselves busy with work each day but at the end of it return to an empty home, people who need a listening ear and sympathetic heart. A dear sister in Christ shared with me about how she dreaded going home at the end of the day, afraid to be alone again, and oftentimes would just cry. Feelings of loneliness are real and can be very hard to bear. There are some who live alone because they choose to do so. But there are others who live alone because they have no choice. Their parents have died and their siblings are all married and have their own families to take care of.

III. The Needs of the Lonely

According to population statistics in 1998, 32 % of residents in Singapore are 15 years old and older are not married, nearly 6 % are widowed and about 1.6 % are separated or divorced. We do not know how many of them are living alone, but it may be many. Widows and orphans have special needs. In Bible times, they were often in difficult straits, because of the social customs of that time. Hence the Lord is especially caring toward these two groups. According to Psalm 68:5, God is a “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows,” According to James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Now, although widowers are not mentioned here, they too need help. In fact men who lose their wives to death often find it harder to cope with life than women who lose their husbands. Let us be mindful of their needs and do our best to help them.

Beside widows and orphans there are other lonely people today that also have special needs. In one survey taken of single persons, in which they were asked about their frustrations, the majority chose their greatest frustration to be “being left out” or “not being included, especially in couples or family events.” The second greatest frustation was finances, and the third was the finding of meaningful and rewarding friendships. This is perhaps one reason why we hear that many lonely people today spend much time in internet chat rooms and phone lines to meet new people. But sometimes this unfortunately has disastrous results because there are some evil people who use this to victimize single persons.

Dearly beloved, since the scriptures teach us to ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ (Galatians 6:2), let us not forget the needs of lonely people, and especially of our relatives and church brethren who are lonely. Include them in your prayers, and once in a while invite them to share a meal with you. Notice them. Pay attention to them, talk to them. Call them up to inquire after their welfare. As you do these things, you may be used by the Lord to bring much encouragement to someone just by expressing loving concern to him or her.

The best people for the lonely Christian to develop quality friendships with are likeminded believers who will show genuine concern for them. If you belong to a fellowship group, take the initiative to invite them to join in. The various fellowship groups and NBCs in our church provide excellent opportunities for good social interaction and fellowship for single persons, in the weekly or monthly meetings, the home Bible studies and the occasional retreats or outings they organize. Our church also organises church camps once a year, and seminars (like the one this week) where there are opportunities to fellowship with like-minded brethren.

IV. Guidelines to Cope with Loneliness

The best help for those who are lonely however comes from God Himself. As was mentioned earlier, He cares for orphans and widows and those who have no one to turn to for help.

He knows what it is like to be alone, since he went through it here on earth. The Lord provides some valuable guidelines for coping with loneliness for us today in His Word. And this is what we want to focus our attention on for the rest of this morning’s message. The first guideline is:

1. Cultivate meaningful friendships with other Christians.

The Bible has some examples of good friendships between believers of the same mind: E.g. Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Barnabas. Study them carefully and learn how to cultivate meaningful friendships. The apostle Paul’s life in particular, is very useful for you to study – because he is an excellent example of one who was single, and yet never lonely. And the account of his life in the book of Acts shows that from the time he was saved he developed good relationships with other believers.

He was particularly blessed through a good Christian friend named Barnabas who introduced him to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, and who served together with him at the church of Antioch, and later on their first missionary trip. It was through the encouragement of Barnabas that Paul’s leadership abilities developed, and by the end of that missionary journey, Paul was clearly the recognized leader, even better than Barnabas. This demonstrates one valuable thing that a good friendship provides: Accountability. Each of us is of course, accountable to God. But the scriptures tell us that we are to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:” (Hebrews 10:24) and this means that we are mutually accountable to one another. Ask yourself this question: Who are you personally accountable to now?

If you are not accountable to anyone yet, then please make yourself accountable to someone, e.g. have a mentor or a prayer partner. Share your life goals and objectives with him, and ask him to pray that you will attain to them. I used to have a prayer partner on campus when I was a student in the university. Without fail we would meet every morning before lectures began, in order to pray for one another and for missions. We would also share our joys and our sorrows with each other.

Besides cultivating meaningful friendships, another useful guideline for coping with loneliness is to:

2. Learn the secret of living alone: Not self-sufficiency, but sufficiency in Christ.

Self-sufficiency is not the answer to loneliness. There are some popular self-improvement books on the market today (e.g. those by writers like Anthony Robbins and Stephen Covey) that teach that every person should have a good sense of his own worth or what they call, self-esteem. They claim that successful living comes from building your self-confidence and self-sufficiency, and then going on to fulfill your own life ambitions and dreams. They tell you that you really do not need anyone’s help. You can cope with life alone without others, and must live up to your fullest potential. Some would even teach breathing and meditation techniques that help you to get in touch with your ‘inner self’ in order to tap the powerful resources that are supposedly found there. Is this what you need for successful living? Will this solve the problems of loneliness?

Many single people today are prone to believe these things, and so they spend a lot of time and effort on cultivating their self-esteem and self-reliance, attending courses on transcendental meditation, or yoga or some self-improvement therapy. By the way, you must be very careful of these teachings of self-worth and of realizing one’s full potential, because much of this is coming now from the New Age movement, which is an end-time Satanic deception.

In contrast to this, the Scriptures do not teach self-confidence or self-sufficiency, but confidence and sufficiency in Christ alone. Once again, we look at the apostle Paul as example of this: Listen to what he wrote in Philippians 4:11 - “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Paul had learnt to be content with whatever he had. He found that he could be contented with much, and that he could also be contented with little. Nothing in life frustrated him, since he was able to cope with any situation.

But Paul would also never be able to be content on his own strength or his own willpower. Actually he needed help in order to be content. The contentment that he mentioned here came through Jesus Christ, as he says in v.13 - “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It was through Jesus Christ alone that he coped very well with any situation he faced - whether it was poverty or prosperity.

 

And since Paul was a single person he becomes an excellent example for all single people to follow. So learn how to find your sufficiency in Christ, in whatever state you find yourself in so that you will know how to abound and how to be abased. Keep on telling yourself: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Let us go on to the third guideline for living alone:

3. Turn your loneliness into an opportunity to discover and become all that God wants you to be.

Singlehood actually affords the best season for unhindered personal growth and development. And as a Christian single person, your mission in life should be to do all that God wants you to do and be everything that God wants you to be. This was evidently something that the apostle Paul did, as he stated in Philippians 3:10-12 – “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”

Now, if you want to discover what God wants you to be, learn to discern or prove what is God’s will for you, at each step of His plan for your life. Spend time with the Lord in prayer and His word. Seek counsel and advice from mature Christians, and consider your own circumstances, read books by good Christian writers. Ask the Lord to show you what particular gifts and skills He wants you to develop and how He wants you to develop them. Attend workshops and seminars that help you to develop the skills you need. Then find opportunities to utilize your God-given abilities. For example, if your strength is in teaching, you can learn how to teach in Sunday school or lead a Bible study group.

One dear sister in our church has found the answer to her problems as a single person by using her skill in teaching. And the Lord has now opened many doors of opportunity for her to teach English twice a month to poor children and to prospective Bible students in a needy mission field. To upgrade her skills, she went through some training in child evangelism and also helped out as a teacher in our VBS last June.

Besides developing skills for God’s use, you can also make full use of your present situation to get rid of things in your life that are sinful or unedifying. Perhaps there are some bad habits, or traits in your life. If you look at yourself and find that you have some faults and unpleasant personality problems, don’t be discouraged. Remember that the Lord is still working in your life and has not yet finished transforming you yet. The apostle Paul expressed this principle in Philippians 2:12,13 tells us that God will work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure, as you yourself work out your salvation with fear and trembling. This leads us to the next guideline for coping with life alone:

4. Cultivate self-discipline with your use of time, talents and treasures.

Do not become what people call a ‘swinging single’ – a person who lives without any real direction in life, and just trying out whatever comes along. I have known some single adults who do not like to commit themselves permanently to anything. They just want to be a free spirit, flitting from one thing to another, changing jobs, traveling around the world, going on wild adventures. You know, this kind of life may look quite attractive for single adults but it accomplishes nothing, and only leads to regrets later on.

Please remember that as a Christian single person, you are still accountable to God for your use of time and talents. Maximise all of these things for God's Kingdom. In order to exercise good stewardship, you need to set specific goals for yourself. Then aim for it and cultivate self-discipline to work towards it. In Philippians 3:13 the apostle Paul said, “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

I used to know a friend who would get very excited about something, start on it, but after that, did not have staying power to continue on with it. Learn how to be dependable, to be someone that others can rely on. Once again we look at Paul’s example, as he said, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection”(1 Corinthians 9:27). Ask the Lord to make you a disciplined and dependable channel of blessing to others, someone who will not be easily discouraged when problems and difficulties arise. We now come to the final guideline for coping with life alone:

5. Make as significant a contribution as you can, to the Lord's work, whenever there is opportunity.

E.g. If you are good at using a computer to do presentations, you can help others to make good presentations for teaching a Bible lesson effectively.

If you are a good writer, help others learn how to write good articles for reporting on the Lord’s work. If you are a doctor or nurse, you can go on short medical mission trips overseas to facilitate gospel outreach. I think of one dear sister from our church, who is now in Laos working there alone under a international organisation, because she is willing to let God use her life there to reach out to people with the gospel. I think of some young adults in our church who occasionally conduct lessons for the students in our three Before and After School Care centers in Yishun.

The possibilities available are endless, if you will only look for them and be sensitive to the Lord’s guidance, wherever He places you. Make it a point to pray, “Lord, here I am, You have placed me here in this situation. Please use me to the full. Show me how I can use the gifts You have given me to bless the lives of those around me. Lord, as a result your putting me in this place, I want it to become different from the time when I first came into it.”

There is really much that you can contribute to the Lord’s work because of your unique situation. Many single persons are able to travel more easily and widely than others, and for that reason, can easily root and uproot themselves than those who have families. Two of our Life Church missionaries (Sister Ho Heng Sau and Brother Surish) are single, and they are doing a fine work in their mission fields. A good number of people who go on mission trips are single persons. And they are able to do a lot to encourage missionaries. Single women have been among the finest missionaries in the world. Despite the handicaps in which they live, they serve the Lord well. They are well-integrated personalities and adjust readily to new circumstances and situations. They are often cheerful, conscientious, hard-working and co-operative.

God has used single people for some of His greatest works in history. Beside the apostle Paul who brought the gospel to the Gentile world of his day, there have been many others: Mighty prophets like Daniel and Jeremiah, church fathers like Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, and Augustine who wrote great theological works, and in our present century there have been many missionaries and also J. Gresham Machen, the man who stood alone against modernism in the Presbyterian church in the 1930s. So be like them, burn yourself out for the Lord’s work, and you will bear much fruit.

As Jesus said in our parable: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Dearly beloved, the cure to loneliness is simply to die to self and to live completely for the Lord. Do not live for yourself anymore, but live for Christ. For Christ has said in vv.25,26 – “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

November 19 & 26 - The End of the World

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 2 Peter 3:10