Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Jesus Christ only – no if’s no buts’ (2)

Bible readings

  • Romans 6:1-11
  • Colossians 2:8-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Some 24 years ago we migrated from South Africa. Heila and I had to meet the requirements of the Government at the time. All along, our children, then under the age of sixteen, had nothing to do to meet any regulation. We can say they walked off the plane in-parent.  We were their legal requirements to live in Australia.

They qualified for Child Allowance and Medicare, they could attend school, and like us, they could rely on police protection. They did not need to prove anything other than to say they belong to us, because they were still in-parent.

Some years later Heila and I became citizens.  When we became citizens, them still being still in-parent, became citizens too as if they themselves met all the requirements, although they contributed and did nothing above what we as parents had done on their behalf.

In-Christ

In some sense those who are in-Christ receive all the rights and privileges as children of our heavenly Father purely based on what Christ has done on their behalf, because He satisfied God’s righteousness; what He has done is all we need to receive the same righteousness as the passport to enter the Kingdom of the Father.

The Bible records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).  Nowhere else in the Scripture do we find this term.  It seems that the world who looked down on the followers of Christ gave them the derogatory nickname of “Christians” to mock them in the same way as they mocked Christ.  But followers of Jesus Christ were known among themselves as “in-Christ’s”.  The expression “in Christ” appears 87 times in the New Testament, depending on the translation one uses.  This was most probably because it more correctly describes the Biblical position of those who are children of God.  

We are called children of God purely because of our relationship with Him through of Christ.

The message of today, “Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s” rests on this understanding from the Bible.  Two verses from Colossians 2 underscores this truth:

…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… (Colossians 2:10–11, NKJV)

Add to this the related expression with Him.  Let’s read verses 12-13 

[you were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:12–13, NKJV)

Gnostics, Jews and ceremonies

Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with a Jewish and Gnostic background.  They did not hold to the principle of Jesus “Christ only, no if’s, no but’s”. Both of these groups wanted to bring something along of what they believed prior to becoming members of the congregation in Colossae as ceremonies which they demanded to make their salvation complete.

The Gnostics had some initiation rituals which they demanded.  Judaism still dictated the theological thinking of Jews who became Christians.  To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.

For these people, the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified.  Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart.  Moses warned the people:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Outwardly (ceremonially and sacramentally) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God.  Paul writes about this:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)

This is what Paul refers to in verse 8:  “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.

Why was this wrong?  And, so by the way, some Christians argue that baptism and other sacraments save.  When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

When we look at sacraments, not as signs, but as instruments, we add something to the work of Christ and his perfect work of salvation.  Further, we think we need to do or show something in addition to faith before our salvation will be complete. This is not what the Bible teaches.

Paul refutes the argument of both the Christian Jews and the Gnostics that something more than faith in Jesus Christ is needed.

Open the Bible with me at Colossians 2:9-10

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)

The in-Christ principle.  

1. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness

If Christ is the fulness of the Godhead, when we are in-Christ, in the eyes of God we are declared righteous because Christ is righteous.   This is the first truth we need to grasp. Now let’s move on.

2.  In Christ, we were initiated into the family of God

2.a  He is our circumcision 

God demanded that Abraham and his descendants must be circumcised.  Circumcision did not make them the people of God, but it was a sign that God received them by grace into his family.  Romans 4 states very clearly:

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, (Romans 4:11, NKJV)

For God’s people of the New Testament, the same principle stands.  They too need to be grafted into the family of God.  Just as God gave his Old Testament the righteousness they needed, He now gives the New Testament people the righteousness they needed.  How?  In-Christ!

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, (Colossians 2:11, NKJV)

In Him you were circumcised; this is passive tense.  We do not perform the circumcision; we did not do it with our hands.  It was done for us and on our behalf.  Who did the work?  Christ!  What did Christ do?   He gave us now clothes—this is what “putting off the body of sins” refers to. He died on our behalf in his flesh, on the cross, for our sins, and as such, He is our circumcision.  In Him and through Him we may be counted as part of the family of God.

2.b We died in-Christ, we were buried in-Christ and we rose in-Christ

We hang on to the in-Christ principle.  In-Christ we receive the full redemption. So, we don’t need to die for our sin and we, therefore, can’t be buried or raised from the dead as if we contributed anything to our righteousness.  But Jesus died, He was buried, and He rose again.  By faith we are in-Christ, which means—like my children who became citizens because I met the requirements on their behalf—so in-Christ we spiritually died and were buried; in-Christ we were raised to become new creations.  Verse 13 spells it out in no uncertain terms: 

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)

Paul argues that what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains:  the act of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. 

However, the sign and seal which visibly initiated sinners into the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else.  How did that happen?  God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:

… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Been buried.  Passive tense.  We are not doing the burying; by faith, God in Christ buried us and made us alive again.  

Listen carefully to this text.  What does it say?  Let’s take it apart, step by step.

  • We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
  • The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ.  He circumcises us spiritually.
  • The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection.  He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
  • Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us by faith.
  • What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
  • Baptism, therefore, does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive.  This is to add to what the verse says.
  • Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection in our place.
  • By faith what He has done, is now mine.  Baptism means, therefore, nothing more and nothing less than the sign and seal of circumcision in the Old Testament.
  • Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign and seal.

That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… (Colossians 2:13, NIV)

When were we buried with Him?  When He died.  When were we raised to life?  When He was raised to life.  Did it happen when we were baptised?  No.  Baptism is the sign and seal that Christ surely accomplished full salvation, but it is grace which united us with Him.

Those who demand that all babies should be baptised as soon as possible after their birth lest they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant.  The Roman Church teaches that the sacraments act as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul.  It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved. It is plainly not true.  We’re saved by Christ’s full demotion, nothing else.

It is equally unbiblical to teach that if a person is not immersed into water through baptism he/she will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it;  what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a sign and seal of grace, and receiving it is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God, being-in-Christ.

Conclusion

Do we need to do something to show that we received Christ?  Some argue that baptism is the public declaration that we have died and they we raise from the water to a new life in Him. I strongly argue this is not what the Bible teaches. Sacraments are not what we must do, it’s a sign of what God has done.   So what do we need to do?  

Chapter 3:1-2 helps us: 

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1–2, NKJV)

Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.

Amen

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Jesus Christ only, no if’s or but’s (1)

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • Colossians 2:6-15

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord,

Our series from Colossians goes under the heading “United with  Christ.”  In the very first chapter we found terms like fulness, wisdom, understanding, every way, all power, all things, everything, glorious riches, all wisdom, perfect in Christ, all energy, full riches, complete understanding, all treasures, etc. are terms driving the message of this letter.  And these things point to Jesus Christ, the One perfect Saviour between God and us, and our walk in Him.  

To know Christ as Lord is life-changing—eternity depends on it, but to grow in our knowledge of Him impacts on the way we live for his glory till eternity breaks trough. 

Let’s spend some time in verses 6-8.

Progression in Christ is necessary

Read with me through verses 6-7.  

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7, NKJV)

Becoming a Christian begins with hearing what the Bible teaches about God, about Jesus Christ and about the Holy Sprit.  The Greek word “receive” in verse 6 in the time of Paul meant to receive instructions as part of some philosophy.   The Gospel of Christ is not philosophy, but it does about facts concerning the Triune God of the universe—hoe He relates to us, and how we live in relationship to Him. 

Epaphras went to the Philippians and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them (1:7).  The truth of this gospel (1:5) stirred them to faith in Jesus Christ (1:4).  This also happened in Thessalonica.  Paul writes:  

… we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NKJV)

There is a pattern.  

1.  Hearing and receiving

Salvation in Christ comes by the preaching of the Word of God.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

The Colossians heard the message, and they believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. Hearing, believing and receiving Christ as Lord is the first step on the way of a Christian.

My dear friend, may I just for a little moment pause here.  We may now continue to talk about necessary things for any Christian to grow, but the truth of the matter is this: if you have not been at the point of receiving and believing the teaching about Jesus Christ—and consequently receiving Him Lord, we might never agree on what follows in the Chapters which follows.  I might be talking right over your head purely because you do not yet comprehend the fundamental truths of the Gospel and Jesus Christ.  If this is the case, please make it your earnest desire to come to know the Bible message, and to understand what it teaches about Jesus Christ.  Then, receive and worship Him as your Lord.

2.  Live in union with Christ

Our translation says walk in Him.  How do we walk in Christ?  The best way is to translate the “in” as “in union”.  

This aspect is the most important part of discipleship.  When Jesus called his disciples when they were still full-time fishermen, He called them to leave behind what they were doing and follow Him.  They walked with Him wherever He went.  Christ did not go back to them to sit down and teach them whenever He thought it was time for another lecture on becoming fishers of men; no, He called them to follow Him.  He calls his disciples not to contemplate his teachings and remember some of the things He did; He called them to walk with Him.

We can’t do the same today in a physical sense, and this surely not what Paul had in mind when he said: “walk in union with Christ”.  But being a Christian is, in essence, living in union with Christ.  In an objective way it means when a Christian receives Him as Lord, all that Christ has done to make it possible to be a child of God—his  perfect life of righteousness, his sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection, his being at the right hand of the Father—all these things He did so marvellously perfectly on our behalf, that when we believe in Him, God looks at us as if we did it—only, we couldn’t, but Jesus did!  The benefits of Christ’s work as Mediator become ours by faith. That we must believe with all our heart.  But we cannot add to complement his work; we cannot add to what Christ has done. We must believe in what He did on our behalf, and worship Him as Lord.  That’s the objective truth of the message of Christ. 

Now,  his conduct must become our conduct. This is the subjective side of our union with Christ.  Having received the Gospel and worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord has an enormous effect on the way Christians must live.  Paul has already said something about it in Colossians 1:10:

that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)

This is what the Bible refers to as sanctification.  We are called to become what we are in Christ.  In Him, we are already declared holy in God’s sight, but we must live holy lives.  This is not to complement Christ’s righteousness with our good works; no, our good works flow from his righteousness and adorn it.  Through works of holiness, we bring glory to the Name of Him who by grace made us co-heirs of Jesus Christ. 

3.  Becoming like trees and a building

The Gospel describes the procession from being born as a baby in faith to grow to maturity in union with Christ as being like a tree and like a building.

rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:7, NKJV)

A healthy tree has a healthy root system.  Roots not only anchor a tree to stand against strong winds, but it also seeks and carries nutrition for the growth of the tree.  It is absolutely amazing how deep the roots of a tree go down to draw water.  For those of us who know something about the outback will know how long a tree sometimes can survive without rain, purely because the roots go deep.

Further, trees are heavy, and the leaves add to resistance in winds.  A fully grown blue gum can weigh up to 9 metric tons, leaves excluded.  Include the weight of 200,000 leaves, as well as their wind resistance, and you know why it needs strong roots.

Psalm 1 describes the Christian as a tree.  

He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3, NKJV)

Why?  

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in God’s law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NKJV)

My friend, grow like this tree.  Grow strong, Your roots must be deep to extract the nutrients, your roots must be strong to withstand the storms of life.  Grow in the knowledge of the Lord!  

TV programs about building some of the highest buildings in the world teach us that one of the main concerns for the architects and engineers lies in the planning and construction of the foundation.  From that foundation grows the building, in some cases up to hundred stories high.  The rest of the structure needs something to stand upon to withstand strong winds, earthquakes or other natural disasters.  

Our foundation is Christ. In Him and from Him we are built up; He is the cornerstone.

Dear family in the Lord, feed on the Word of God as much as you can and don’t be a spiritual anorexic, or a bonsai Christian.  Don’t be satisfied with the sound bites of lose verses here and there, or with memes with a few Bible verses printed over it.  Read good Christian books, but never, ever neglect reading the Word of God earnestly and diligently.  Get a full diet of the Word on a daily basis.  Keep delving as deep as you can.  Why?  The Bible tells us in our text:  we need to be strengthened in our faith.  Like the deep roots of the tree and the strong foundations of the building are good for further growth, so Christians need to become strong in faith, and it only happens when we find our delight in the reading and study of the Word of God, and doing the bidding of Christ our Lord.  

What happens if we don’t grow in our knowledge of Christ 

Verse 8 spells out the devastation of a poor understanding of the Gospel.  It pictures the result of a church where people are in no position to defend the Gospel.  Let’s read:

 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

The language of this verse is very openly that of a struggle or battle.  This side is the truth, the other side is a false gospel.  One is about Christ, the other is about the devil.  One is about light, the other is about darkness.  On one side the forces of the Gospel are gathered; on the other side the forces of darkness.  The fight is between two kingdoms:  the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love, the Crown Prince of the living God, against the kingdom of darkness, rules by the destroyer of souls.

Those gathered under the banner of Jesus Christ look at the cross where He defeated the powers of darkness.  His victory is their victory.  Under his banner, they march forth.  He is the head of every power and authority.  When they were baptised, they were baptised in Him; through faith, they received all that belongs to Him sealed and signified in the sacrament.  Spiritually they rose with Christ from the dead by the power of God. They believe in God who raised Christ from the dead.

We should always be aware of the battle for our mind.  We are constantly bombarded with all sorts of teachings, and in most cases, they don’t come with big banners to announce their origins.  In the normal scheme of things our enemy is subtle and patience.  Little by little the paradigm shifts, and over some time we might find ourselves contending for the opposites of what we believed in originally.  

You have heard the cries to be progressive, and that we cannot be stuck in the past.  Be careful, progress might be a good thing, but progressives constantly move the goalposts.  There is also a big difference between being traditional and being conservative.  Traditionalists don’t want to change things, purely because they like what they do without asking questions.  Progressives want to change without asking why, as long as it is some new.  Conservatives are happy to chance if they know it is for the right reasons and following the right principles.

As Christians, we need to tackle our new world bravely, but we need to know our roots and our foundations in Jesus Christ.  Without knowing Him, and growing in our knowledge of Him, we will be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies which depends on human teaching and principles of this world, and not Christ.

Conclusion

My dear friend, it all starts with hearing the Gospel, believing it, and receiving and serving Jesus Christ as Lord.  But we cannot remain children in the faith.  We need to grow in our unity with Christ, grow in sanctification, grow deep roots like those big trees, and being built up to a strong building standing firm on the foundation of Christ.  

It surely is time for Christianity to rise from its ignorance and spiritual illiteracy.  I trust you are growing in your knowledge of Christ.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 September 2018

 

The Gospel we defend is our only defence

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Colossians 1:24-2:5

Introduction

When I grew up in South Africa we had a sort of war-game.  We called it kleilat. I’ll explain.  

We would go down to the creek and dig up some black clay.  We would also cut some green flexible sticks from a willow tree. The hard ones did not work.  We were looking for something almost like a light fishing rod.  We then divided into two groups—every war has enemies—and there was a line drawn on the ground.  The first team who had the guts to move forward and cross the line was declared the winner.

The clay was rolled in small balls and loaded onto the tip of the willow stick.  At first, it called for a bit of practice, but soon one developed the skill of launching your clay ammo with the swishing of the willow stick across to the enemy’s side, and actually aim to hit human targets.  I don’t think they would allow this game today!

One way to defend oneself was to go hide from the torpedoed clay balls.  But the more effective way was to use your clay, which in effect was the same as what your enemy used, to shoot back.  And with courage, keep your eye on the enemy, and keep moving towards the line.

The best defence was to attack.  The best weapon was the clay.  You just had to know how to use it.

As Christians, we defend ourselves with the pure Gospel of Christ, but our attack is with nothing else. We just need to know how to use it.  

The battle

Wherever the Word of God is preached, the enemy of the Word will try to destroy the work.  There is a constant battle for our minds and hearts.  The enemy is at work to try to dishearten those who preach the Gospel; he is also at work in the heart of those who hear the Gospel.  This struggle starts out as a struggle for ideas in the minds of those who both preach and hear the Gospel.

The apostle in Colossians twice says that he is struggling (battling) for the church. He was physically and spiritually engaged in this battle.  Did he not write the letter to the Colossians when he was under house arrest in Rome?  Up to that point in time he had suffered all sorts of assaults, of which he writes, 

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

He knew what God called him for.  Remember the words of our Lord to Ananias when Paul was struck with blindness on the road to Damascus. 

This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15–16, NIV)

Paul understood that Christ who called him would give him the strength to sustain and overcome the battles.  Focussed on his calling for the sake of the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:24), he has one thing in mind: to present the Word of God in its fulness (Colossians 1:25).

The word battle in some ways reflect the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:29 and 2:1 where he says,

To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 1:29-2:1)

This struggle is from the word which means to be engaged in a conflict and is reflected in our word agony.  Under the sign of the cross, the fight of faithful Christians acquires a new seriousness.  Paul knew very well that he could only reach the goal of his ministry if he fully spent all his energies.  Therefore he says, 

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:29, NIV)

The struggle for the reward does not demand only full exertion but also a rigid denial of personal luxuries: 

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV)

This battle is beset of obstacles, dangers and catastrophes through which the Christian must fight his way, even martyrdom if it is what God planned. 

Why is this struggle important?

One might ask, why this struggle?  What is so important for Paul to defend with his life?  

The supreme goal for which Christians fight and work and suffer is not their own salvation only; it is for the salvation of many.  Paul writes, 

[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

The struggle of the Gospel is important because it tells of Jesus Christ and his salvation.  

I trust you remember something about the Gnostics and their ideas of knowledge, wisdom and salvation. To them, salvation was a lifelong struggle to attain knowledge which would (perhaps) secure eternal life. The problem is just that they could not point to something definite, or even someone who would reveal that knowledge.  This knowledge was an ever-moving shadow, the forever chasing of the end of the rainbow.  When you die you just hoped that you have done enough.

But the Gospel of Paul is not about us trying our hardest.  Paul cleverly taps into the terminology of Gnosticism but turned it on its head.  He presented “the word of God in its fulness” which a mystery “disclosed to the saints.”  It is about “Jesus Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).  He says, 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

Have you listened carefully?  To get to know God is not to embark on a road of uncertain mysteries; to know God is to know that He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel about Christ is God’s full revelation; it does not come incrementally, with certain parts still hidden in a mist of uncertainty.  All of what was prophesied in the Old Testament was God’s “hidden mystery” because it waited for the revelation of Jesus Christ in the fulness of time.  But now it is undisclosed.  To know Christ is to know God, to have wisdom, and to have a glorious hope.  When we understand and receive this Gospel and believe in Christ who is the full revelation of God’s redemption, we—listen!—are perfect in Christ.  He is all we need to be saved. Anything less than knowing Him falls short, and everything more than knowing Him is blasphemy.  Knowing Him is to have it all.  The Gospel teaches us, that “all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).

Paul had one drive in life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Paul put his life on the line to defend this Gospel because the Christ of the Gospel saved his life and completely changed him.  It is all about Christ; anything added to it is no Gospel at all.

After Epaphras went to Colossae to preach the Gospel and people came to faith in the Lord, Paul understood the struggle in which they found themselves because of their faith in the Gospel.  They needed encouragement, and that’s why he wrote them this letter.  

He assured them of his prayers for them.  They were not alone in this battle.  This encouragement in the Lord would knit them together to love one another more and more as believers of Jesus Christ; the encouragement has the purpose that they would care for one another as members of the same body of believers.  He also wanted to instruct them to resist the onslaught of philosophies that could easily rob them of their faith in the Lord.  He writes, 

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

Ongoing battle

The battle is still on; the Devil is still prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  The tactics are still the same; it comes with good sounding arguments and so-called accepted theories to take our minds captive to not think God’s thoughts after Him, but man’s thought after man. This is why Paul defends the Gospel—knowing the Gospel is our only defence.

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4, NIV)

Paul’s ministry and struggle for the people living in Colossae and Laodicea were to prepare them and to equip them for this battle. Christ’s desire for his church is to be battle-prepared and ready to destroy the enemy.  A church doing nothing is a losing church; it is a church who is risking its lampstand in the place around the throne of God.  I am afraid, we need to be very concerned as a church!

The necessity for the full understanding of the Gospel

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

To know Christ and his fullness and to have an understanding of who He is, is to be armed and equipped to the battle of the mind.  To know Christ is not only to have a date of your conversion, how important that may be (it is lamenting how the message of Christ is watered down and limited to the personal experience of Him as the personal Saviour of individuals.)  Knowledge of Christ is to really understand all the Bible declares about Him.  Let’s repeat a few things from the last two sermons.

The Gospel is about Jesus Christ – full stop!  Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is our hope (1:5); He warrants the truth of the Gospel (1:6); He qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (1:12); He rescued us from the dominion of darkness by conveying us into the kingdom of light (1:13); He redeemed us, and He forgave us our sins (1:14).  

That’s not all this chapter says about Christ:  He is the image of the invisible God (1:15); by Him all things were created and all things belong to Him (1:16); He is supreme over all rulers and powers (1:16); all things hold together in Him (1:17); He is the Head of his Church (1:18); all the fullness of God dwell in Him (1:19); we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (1:21-22).

When we understand who Jesus Christ, the Son of God, really is, we begin to be ready for the battle.  Only then can we defeat the fine-sounding arguments of the enemy.  We can’t rely on ideas or feelings or airy-fairy experiences, but we can stand in the battle with the teachings of the Scripture about Person of Christ.  It calls for a pure doctrinal understanding of the Bible.

Conclusion

So, what is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?  It is God’s way of disclosing his Son to us as the only One through whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins, and hope.  He is the image of the invisible God, through who all things were created, and in whom all things hold together.  He presents us to the Father as holy, without blemish and free of accusation (1:22).  Defend this Gospel with your life, because it is your only defence in the battle of your soul and others still lost in darkness.

Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 September 2018

 

The Christ of the Gospel

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 2
  • Colossians 1:12-23

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, 

When we began our series from the letter to the Colossians, we first looked at the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We moved on to the next, Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel.  I preach the Word of God to you under the heading “The Christ of the Gospel.”

I suppose something of the Gnostics we learned about last week, might still be in your minds. Gnosticism was, and is, an almost undefined idea, something one might search for without really knowing what knowledge is and where to find it.  Gnosticism is esoteric, mystic, hidden in the mist of something untouchable.  It distinguishes between soul, spirit and body, the body is merely the tomb of the spirit and is of no use.  If man finds knowledge he/she becomes godlike and can look forward to eternity because knowledge set him/her free.

Are we today in a much different situation?

I don’t want to wander too widely, but it will help us when we understand that some of the so-called New Age ideas indeed find its origin in Gnosticism.  

Let’s see how we got to where we are today.

First, there was the age of faith.  Man had a Biblical understanding of knowledge, but knowledge had nothing to do with salvation.  Faith in Christ saves.  The Reformation reawakened this faith. It led to the age of Enlightenment.  

The Age of Reason came after the Enlightenment.  Man’s mind was the ultimate yardstick for knowledge.  Everything had to be scientifically proven before it was worthwhile talking about. 

The period of Modernism followed.  Modernism questioned science as man moved into the centre of his world. Individualism and consumerism appeared on the scene.  Man took from science what he preferred.

We are going a bit quickly here.  We now arrive at the age of post-modernism, which is just the logical next step:  because everything is questioned, and man is his yardstick of what he wants to believe, we now live in a world without any objective truth or standards.  We can believe nothing, but it is just possible that we can believe something.  The logical way out is so-called tolerance.  I tolerate your view, which might be right or wrong, but you have to tolerate mine because I might be right or wrong.  The rule is that there are no rules.

In this whole mess we ended up with esotericism, presupposing that, although we might try to explain things rationally and scientifically, there are hidden forces that transcend ordinary sensory experience and analytic thinking.  Although scientific research proves otherwise, we live by widespread consensus, which in itself has no basis. 

Now we live by rules that no-one wrote down, it cannot be tested, but it should not be disobeyed.  Political correctness is one branch of this.  We need to strive by way of unknown principles to overcome traditional institutional structures to set up an invisible fellowship of global village citizens. Everything of with a whiff of conventional religion is suspicious and rejected, but the end-goal is nothing less than a new religion where Mother Earth is worshipped according to old age gnostic principles.  The rigidity of traditional faith must be vanquished, to make way for the fantasy of manmade eternal salvation.  

These ideas more or less formed the philosophical background of the time in which Paul wrote to the Colossians.  Some wise guys took what they already believed regarding Gnosticism and mixed it with elements of Bible teaching, but reinterpreted essential concepts with Gnostic ideas. The main two ideas were that man cannot know God, and that man can only be saved if he strives hard to be elevated from the mundane world to the godly. 

Do we live in a much different world?  Moreover, Christians are looked down upon because we still believe in an outdated book which teaches about absolute truth and infallible teachings.

Christian knowledge

Can we know God?  Yes!  We know him through his creation, we know Him through the Gospel, the Bible.  We know Him through Jesus Christ.  Where does it leave us? We go back to Colossians 1:12-14

… [we] give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12–14, NKJV)

This Gospel is the Gospel we know; about this gospel, we need to know more and more as we immerse ourselves in the study of the Bible, at every opportunity, as often s possible.  This Gospel is the sword with which we go into the battle of our souls.  We need to know how to handle it, or we will not survive!

Who is the Christ of the Gospel?

For most of the world, Jesus is the baby in a crib.  For most the story of Christmas does not go any further and the nativity scene of the family of Christ in Bethlehem.  There is infinitely more to know about Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind Paul writes to the Colossians to help them stand up against the error of Gnosticism.  What is the essence of the Gospel? 

Before the creation of time and space, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed supremely, without the aid of anything, the need of anything, ever glorious and omnipotent, never in lack of praise and honour.  However, then, if we think about it in human terms, God determined to create the universe. God the Father spoke to Jesus Christ, his Son.  We read about it in Psalm 2 this morning. 

“You are my Son, today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations Your possession, the ends of the earth your inheritance.  You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

To his Son, God gave a title, the Christ.  He is the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Blessed One of the Father.  Here we ended the sermon last week.  Colossians 1:13-14 reads: 

For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

God’s Crown Prince

Why can we believe in Christ? 

He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  The word for “image” here is our word for “icon”, a living manifestation of God, as a visible display of the invisible Person of God.  The invisible God becomes visible to men in the “Son of his love”.  Jesus declared, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”. (John 14:9)  John sings about the glory of Christ:  We have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father.” (John 1:14)  

He is the first-born of the Father and therefore He shares the same substance and nature of God. Man was created, not born of the Father.  We are from dust; Christ is from the eternity God.  He is before all things.  He was there before all things were created, He is also superior over all things created.  Of God’s creation, He is the beginning, the centre, and the end.  That’s why the Bible then says, “In Him all things hold together.”

It is not possible to think about creation without thinking about Christ.  Without Christ, no creation would be possible.  Darwinian Evolution, as well as the Kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation,  is an impossibility.  No Christ, no creation; no creation, no Christ!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)

This teaching has profound implications for the way we think about Jesus Christ.  In general, the Gospel is narrowed down to the salvation in Christ, which becomes even narrower if this salvation is purely the personal salvation of the individual Christian.  This Gospel is not the Christian and Biblical worldview.  The message of the Church is then confined to the walls of the Church, which becomes a trap with unbelieving politicians demand of the Church to keep Christianity out of politics.  Educators and scientists require of us to stay in our corner and mind the souls of the unhappy pursuers of eternal bliss.

However, this is not what the Bible teaches about Christ.  To the unbelieving scientist it might come as a surprise:  what he or she is researching is the work of God through Jesus Christ.  It belongs to Him, it exists because of Him and holds together because of Him.  Without Christ, no scientific research is possible, because without Him there would be nothing to research.

To the humanistic sociologist and psychologist, and even the historicist this might also come as a surprise.  The study of their field is possible because of Christ, even if they don’t believe it.  Also, like me when I try to fix my lawn mover without the technical knowledge and the instruction manual issued by the manufacturers, without the knowledge of Him through whom God created the universe, fixing and fully understanding it will remain a pipe dream.

God’s agent of Creation: the ruler of all creation

The Father wanted to give to his Son everything He created.  In this sense, Jesus Christ became the agent of God through whom He created the world.  So, everything in heaven and on earth, all things visible and invisible, thrones and powers or rulers or authorities were created by Him and for Him.  There is no kingdom, no king, no ruler, nothing visible or invisible which is not under the feet of our Saviour.

The political leaders of our day will do well to heed the advice of the Word of God.  

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge I Him.” (Psalm 2:12)

Jesus Christ is God’s Crown Prince.  All areas of life, all spheres of thinking, must be under the Headship of Christ.  Even if people don’t believe in Him – He still is the first-born of the universe, the image of God, the agent of God’s creation, the One in whom all things hold together.

He said:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This truth drives our missionary work; it drives our efforts in the Lord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it helps us to not cringe before the pressures of kings and rulers.

Do you perhaps only of Jesus Christ as the One whose only mission is to fix your problems and you may live well?  Is He merely a remedy for your depression or unhappiness?  Alternatively, is He the One before whom you bow in adoration and worship?

For some people, Christ is nothing short of an idea.  He becomes a mystical concept.  People go away for weekends to connect with God and experience Him.  They come back with great feelings about Him, but the only thing they do better now is meditating, perhaps sitting in a specific posture.  This form of worship of Christ does not differ much from so-called the New Age worship of concepts and ideas.

No, Jesus Christ is King of the universe, known by the works of his hands and to Him, all thoughts must be made captive.  The apostle Paul writes:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Christ is Head of the Church

There was a price attached when God decided to give an inheritance to his Son.  God ordained to send his Son into this sinful world to redeem it through his blood.  Jesus Christ had to buy back for God what sin destroyed and stole from God.  Jesus was the One through whom God would reconcile the world to Himself.  The word is in need of this reconciliation because it is the only peace possible.  Without Jesus Christ, there is no peace possible between God and the sinful world.

Verse 21 describes our hostility towards God.  We were alienated from God and enemies of God.  Born in darkness, we were at war with Him.  When our first parents were driven from the presence of God out of Paradise, He gave them a promise of hope:  One day they would be reconciled to Him through the eternal sacrifice of the Son of his Love. 

Christ’s physical body was nailed to the tree of Calvary.  His blood was shed. Moreover, He died on that cross to present us holy to the Father. He reconciled us with the Father (Colossians 1:22). His sinless life now becomes our sinless life by faith.  We are united to him by faith!

Such is the Headship of Christ over his Church. He qualified us to be counted amongst the saints washed in his blood, dressed in white robes, which are the righteous deeds in Christ.  He conveyed us from darkness into light, carrying us over the chasm between the holy God and sinners, and He brought us into the kingdom of light belonging to his Son, now possible because we are washed clean in his blood.  We have received the forgiveness of sins.

But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— (Colossians 1:22, NIV)

Conclusion

There is a warning in this chapter if we do not stand firm if we are not determined to engage in the battle and run the race to the end.  This can easily happen if I regard Christ as nothing more than the Saviour of my personal world, and not the King of the word and the King of the church.  Listen to the verse:

… if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard… (Colossians 1:23)

For this reason, then does the apostle makes this statement in verse 28:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

Don’t give up.  Always remember:  Christ is supreme over all creation, He is our Head and Master, the One who reconciled us to God, the One who is conquering over all enemies.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz in Sunday 2 September 2018

 

Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • Psalm 119:129-136
  • Colossians 1:9-14

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,

Last week we commenced a series of sermons from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  This series goes under the title, United with Jesus Christ. 

Last week the message was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We looked at what the Gospel is about, how we hear the word through God’s messengers, and we heard about the effect of the Gospel on those who believe it.  The Gospel is about Christ and the salvation He gives to those who hear and accept it.  Faith comes by hearing the message, and we hear the message through the Word of Christ. The effect is that people are saved and changed to live for the glory of Christ by loving one another as He loved is.

We would be delighted if we know only this is happening in our congregation, and of course all over the world.  

However, it seems as if Paul knows these things are the foundation and not the building.  Faith in Christ, adhering to the Gospel, loving and caring for one another, and providing for God’s messengers to keep proclaiming the Gospel is essential, but it is not comprehensive.  These things are the first steps for every Christian and church, but that’s only where the mission starts.

The basis of Paul’s prayer

Paul was repeatedly and steadfastly praying, for growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he had heard from Epaphras that the Colossians heard, received and understood the Gospel and that they grasped the basics of it by loving one another, Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for what is essential to advance in their faith as a congregation of Christ. This prayer we desperately need to pray for ourselves, for our fellow Christians, and for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.

Too quickly do we stop interceding for others when we hear that they received Christ and the message of the Gospel.  Seldomly do we make it our prayer for the church to grow in its knowledge of the Gospel. If this is not happening, if we stay immature Christian babies, we will be ineffective in our mission into the world.  

A church might be teeming of new converts and might seem to be growing because of special programs for specialist groups, but if there is little emphasis on growth in the knowledge of the Gospel, it will remain a church with adolescent Christians.  We know about adolescence, don’t we!  It’s the time in life where there is no-one more important in the universe than yourself.  It’s the phase when mood swings can be explosive; it’s time when everything is questioned, and nothing is believed.  A church where there is not growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like that.

Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the people of God for works of service, Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, 

…to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing to the full measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about by the waves, carried one way and then another by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. (Ephesians 4:12–14)

The content of Paul’s prayer

Paul writes, 

… we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; … that you may increase in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NKJV)

Just a bit of the cultural background of the prevailing philosophy at the time in Colossae.  One of the most devastating philosophies floating around was that of Gnosticism.  It is challenging to grasp the teachings of this philosophy because there is no single or sharply defined definition.

Gnosticism, the word comes from the Greek word knowledge was, and still is, about the search for true knowledge, how to find it, and how to be liberated by it. The agnostic on the other hand, says the only thing man can know is that he can’t know.

Bear with me; I’ll try to make sensible remarks out of the most chaotic system of thought known to mankind.

Gnosticism says there is only one ultimate being or group of divinities. The difference between the ultimate and the lower class exists as a result of an error in what is good. One has to point the finger to Sophia, the Greek term for wisdom.  

Wisdom, Sophia, lusts for the Ultimate Depth. This ultimate god cannot tolerate distortion in the godhead, and exiles wisdom, or Sophia, to a lower heaven.  

Sophia with the help of her lesser gods -often called fates – became the creator of the physical world where they parade as ultimate gods.

The upper godhead deviously manoeuvres the Lower Wisdom into creating human beings,  which happens through the process of, not only passing on the breath of life but also divine light particles. But not all humans got these particles! 

The upper god provided the tree of knowledge to awake humans to the state from which they have come.  However, the lower god, the one who created the world and humans, opposed the upper god by providing a tree of life, only to trap humanity into bondage instead. The lower god, still at war with the upper god, forbids access to the tree of knowledge, gnosis.

Human beings, deprived of knowledge, only have wisdom, which holds their spirits captive in a human body.  The upper godhead then sent a saviour, an alien messenger with gnosis, knowledge, to save humanity.  This gnosis, knowledge, enabled the spirits of human beings to know even more than their lower god creator.  With gnosis (knowledge) humanity can conquer the spiritual senselessness that had come upon him when the creator imprisoned its spirit in a physical body. However, only those human beings who have the light particles are capable of being received the gnosis.

The process of salvation in most gnostic myths is therefore very deterministic. Redemption indeed occurs at the end of the Gnostic’s life when he seeks to escape from the created world. Only then, the gnostic strips off the created elements of the body from his spirit, and climbs through the fates to the heavenly realm.

What is the most frustrating part is that gnosis—knowledge—can never be defined.  It remains an esoteric, cryptic, and mysterious something.  It remains something which is only understood by those with the particles of light in them.

In the verses, Colossians 2:9-10, Paul uses three words to cut through the possible influence of agnosticism upon the new believers in Colossae:  knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  More than that, he prayed that the believers in Colossae might grow in their knowledge and understanding.

The questions we now need to answer are:

  • Is it possible to know God and where can we find wisdom and understanding?
  • Why do we need this knowledge?
  • Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Is it possible to know God?

When Paul prays that the church would grow in their knowledge about the will of God, he does not speak about God granting wisdom about the choice of cars or holiday destinations.  Knowing God is not to know more about my future or my needs.  Paul did not have this in mind.  

Unequivocally, yes!  

There are at least three ways in which God reveals Himself.  Firstly, by what He created.  Psalm 19 proclaims, 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2, NKJV)

Paul writes, 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20, NKJV)

We need to understand that even nature is sin-stained, and cannot bring us into a personal relationship with God.  Our hearts may be prompted to get to know Him better, but ultimately, nature is not the only revelation of God.

Secondly, God reveals Himself by his Word, the Bible.  The Bible is God’s self-revelation; in it, He speaks and communicates with us, far more focussed and precisely than in his creation. We read Psalm 119 this morning, 

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129–130).

It is in the Bible where we find this principle, 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NKJV)

Thirdly, God revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.  

All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:3-4; 14, NKJV)

Jesus declared,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:6–7, NKJV)

In the previous verses of Colossians 1, Paul made it very clear:  they heard the truth, which is the Gospel; in the Gospel God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed; the Gospel is the truth, and God’s messengers minister the Gospel. How much different is this to the teachings of Gnosticism, which spurs one on to seek knowledge, but it does not give knowledge.  It teaches something about God, but it keeps mauling in mystical uncertainty.  It teaches about a messenger of a so-called god, but it does not tell anything about the message.

Let’s add another element to the certainty about the truth.  Paul talks about spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9);  this is not esoteric wisdom. Instead, it is wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit.  

Our Lord said about the Holy Spirit, 

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)

Paul makes it clear, God’s wisdom is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:10). He says, 

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV)

Peter writes, 

…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NKJV)

Is it possible to know God?  Yes, we only need to open our eyes to see Him in creation, we need to study the Bible, and we need to know Jesus Christ.

Why do we need this knowledge?

Without dwelling too long on this question, the plain answer is, without knowing God, we would not know Jesus Christ.  Without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us, we will live in misery, we will try to save ourselves and continually fail to do so, we will have no hope, and the devil will continue to accuse us, till he receives us in hell.  

The grace of the Gospel is this, 

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14, NKJV)

Moreover, the truth to remember is this; we will never know any of this if we do not hear the Gospel, believe it, and worship the One who made it all possible.

Do we need this knowledge?  Without a shadow of a doubt!

Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?

Paul prays: 

… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)

When we hear God’s call through the Gospel, when we understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and understand that it is by justification through Him alone that God declares us righteous in Him, we don’t need more to be saved. However, we have just given our first steps in the faith.  We are babies and need to be nurtured to maturity.  

When we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel we understand more and more of the will of God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit to gain wisdom and understanding of who God is, as well as his declared will which is recorded in the Bible.  It is necessary to know because only through it will we know how to please God in our very conduct; it is by reading and studying the Bible that God trains us in his spiritual gymnasium: we become fit, become stronger in our faith, and we the stamina to endure the race joyfully.  Unfit people struggle in a race, and they don’t do it joyfully.  All along we run for the prize for which God qualified us: we have an inheritance in the kingdom of light.

Conclusion

Can we know God? Yes!  From where do we get wisdom and knowledge? From the Bible. Do we need this knowledge?  Without it, we live in the darkness of sin. Do we need to grow in this knowledge? Surely! However, Paul prays for more.  Listen, 

… we ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and endurance with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11, NKJV)

My friend, do not be satisfied with the minimum.  Go for the full thing, and don’t miss out on any little part of it.  Then you will be fruitful in the Lord.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 August 2018

 

 

Prayer to enter Worship

(This prayer is an adopted prayer of Charles Spurgeon.)

Heavenly Father, grant rest to your children as we come into your presence. Take the helmet from our brow. Take from us the weight of our heavy armour for a while, may we know your peace, and be at rest in you. Come to our aid and help us we plead. 

As You have already washed your people in that fountain filled with blood so that we are cleansed from every guilty stain, so now today wash us with water through the Word to make us holy. Come to us as You came to the disciples and wash our feet again. Refresh our hearts in your presence; prepare us for sweet fellowship with yourself. As the high priests washed before entering the Holy of Holies, so wash us as we now approach your throne, that nothing may hinder our prayers, and we may be free to worship you acceptably, with reverence and awe, in spirit and in truth.

Lord Jesus, take from us now everything that would hinder the closest communion with the Father. Any wish or desire that may hamper us in prayer, remove it, we pray. Any memory of either sorrow or care that would preoccupy us and so hinder us from setting our affection wholly on you, take it away now. 

You know where the difficulty, the blockage, the bondage lies. Help us against it, deliver us from it, so may we come boldly into the Holy of Holies, into your immediate presence, and into that place where we would not dare to come if the temple curtain was not torn in two, and if did not Christ sprinkle the mercy seat with his own blood, and called us to enter in.

Our God, we are yours. You are ours. We are now united together with you in our concern for the business of Heaven. We are enlisted together in the same army for the fighting of one battle, not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers. And the battle belongs to you. Fight for us and we will win. Uphold us and we shall not fall.

Come, Holy Spirit, more fully take possession of us, fill us continually, hover over our disordered lives, and bring order out of our chaos and confusion. Bring perfection in holiness, make us completely dead to sin, alive to righteousness, and fully devoted to Christ. Take us body, soul, and spirit, take all that we have and are, make us your own, and use us for your glory, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

Prayer of Dedication

Our God and Father,

There is a wonderful verse in the Bible which speaks about You who make us worthy of your calling, even fulfilling every resolve for good work and every work of faith by your power.  For this to happen sin must be defeated and a perfect righteousness must be available.  In Christ, You have provided these things for us, and we thank You.  Teach us, by faith, the necessity to be satisfied with only those things which Your promise us in Christ.

Teach us to renounce the pleasures of this world to live holy before You, and to trust You to fulfil your promise, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). You said, “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Teach us to serve You sacrificially and generously, and trust You for the promise that You will supply our every need according to your riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  You promised that “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”.  You can promise these things because the Word assures us that You are able to make all grace abound to us, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, we may abound in every good work.

Lord, teach us to speak out for Christ when the opportunity comes, knowing this promise, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).

So, Father, we confess our unwillingness and stubbornness of heart to trust your promises.  Forgive us when we look aside for worldly assurances and carnal desires to satisfy our emotional and spiritual needs.  Increase our faith to believe your precious promises which are true in your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help us to desire the mercy of his inexhaustible, blood-bought, and everlasting grace.

In His Name we pray.  Amen.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Bible Readings

  • 1Corinthians 10:5-17
  • Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction

There are 7.6 billion people on earth.  Of this 7.6 billion a great deal are not Christians.  About 2.3 billion profess to be Christians, which, in theory, makes Christianity the largest religion by numbers.  Between 2010 and 2015, an estimated 223 million babies were born to Christian mothers and roughly 107 million Christians died – a natural increase of 116 million. But among Christians in Europe the reverse is true: Deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million for the same period. In Germany alone, there were an estimated 1.4 million more Christian deaths than births from 2010 to 2015.  Most interesting, or maybe, mostly interesting.

There is a big problem with these statistics, in America, of the people who identify as Christians about only 10% believe that the Bible is the only Word of God. So, obviously, there are Christians who think it is possible to believe in God without reading, studying, or even knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we read it in the Bible.

So, here’s a challenge:  If we have to begin the church all over again, how would we do it, and what mechanism/s would we use? Are we going to follow a different strategy than the early apostles and even the evangelical church over the last few centuries?  People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Huss, Hudson Taylor, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon and others used only one tool: the Bible.  

It is the same tool the apostles had at their disposal.  Is it still the most effective tool, or should we add development programs, leadership seminars, growth strategies, and other leadership strategies of which the bookstores are so full these days?

According to our statistics, we’ve established the not all Christians are Christians.  And this begs the question, “What is a Christian?

The Shorter Catechism asks this question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?  In other worlds, “What is a Christian?

 The answer:  Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, through which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation as He offered to us in the Gospel.

Three things stand out:  

  1. The proclamation of the Gospel 
  2. Jesus Christ alone 
  3. Salvation by grace 

With this in mind, let’s turn to our reading from Colossians 1:1-8.  Keep in mind the topic of this sermon, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The proclamation of the Gospel

We take two verses together:

…you heard … the word of the truth of the gospel which has come to you… you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras…(Colossians 1:6–7, NKJV)

First thing, “the Gospel has come to you.”

In the normal scheme of things, God uses the proclamation of the Gospel through servants He calls and appoints.  This is what Paul stresses in Romans 10:

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13, NKJV)

Paul asks the next logical question,

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14, NKJV)

This then begs the next question,  

And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV)

Is this “Gospel of peace” the only tool in the hands of the Church to reach out into the darkest and deepest corners of the world?  Will people really give an ear to just the Gospel?  

Now we may ask if not everyone is impressed by the preaching of the Gospel, should we not try other methods?  We might even try entertainment—we can have dramas based on the Bible or plays to bring across the central messages in the Bible. Some Christian groups have gone this way.  Instead of reading and preaching the plain text of the Bible, which they think is just too boring, they act it out in dramas—all along to make it more attractive.

We need to have loud and up-beat music, or programs for the children and youth or they would not come.  We might think to preach to the seekers in a way they would find interesting.  Listening to the preaching of the gospel is boring, especially certain parts of the Bible should be avoided to not put people off. 

Paul answers this question in the next verse,  

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Romans 10:16, NKJV)

In another text, Paul puts it this way, 

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ, we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)

Some people, purely because of the nature of the Gospel, receive it as an aroma the brings death; there’s not much we can do about it; they will even find the drama and the concert boring as soon as they find out it’s about Christ, sin, grace and their commitment to flow Him.  

But thank God, to other the aroma of the Gospel brings life.  This life does not spring from the eloquence of the preacher or the beauty of the music; it is forever the work of the Holy Spirit who through the Gospel calls people to Christ and gives them the new life. Preachers are just sowers; the growing of the seed is God’s business.

Paul was not peddling with the Gospel, because he preached Christ in the presence of God, of whom he was only the messenger.  It is to God he would give account.

This is exactly what he means with the introductory words of his epistle to the Colossians, 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, … (Colossians 1:1, NIV)

Paul understood very well that he had only one mission:  to speak the words of God who called him.  

So did Epaphras.  He too was a “faithful servant, a faithful minister of Christ”.  The only words in their mouth were the words of Christ—no additions, nothing omissions.

May God forgive us when we assume the Gospel is not the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, sa righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last … (Romans 1:17) 

Jesus Christ alone

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less.  The Bible tells us that the message the Colossians heard was the truth of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).

The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had an everlasting effect on them.  What happened?  Verse 4, they believed the Gospel.  What happened in the process?  Paul spells it out further down this chapter.  The Gospel of Christ qualified them to share in the inheritance of the holy people of God. At first, they were enslaved under the dominion of darkness—which is just another way to say they were in the clutches of the prince of this world, the devil—but after they heard the Gospel of Christ and believed it, they were brought into the dominion of the son of God.  They received salvation in his Name because of the perfect redemption He procured through his death and resurrection, and they received forgiveness of their sins.

What our Lord said is so true:  the truth will set you free.  The Gospel is the word of truth!

The marvellous thing about this Gospel is that it seeks out the lost.  Paul writes, “the Gospel has come to you.”  God calls and equips his preachers—as we learned it from Romans 10—and sends them out. They herald the Gospel, and through their message, the Gospel goes out to sinners and set them free.  Why? The Gospel is the gospel of Christ, the Son God loves.  Can you see the connection between this verse and John 3:16, 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

Or we can just move on to Colossians 1:21 to hear the same message in other words:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— (Colossians 1:21–22, NKJV)

What a message!  By grace sinners are reconciled and made holy, spotless, and free of accusation.

If we trade this Gospel for another means of getting through to sinners, we have no hope to have any effect.  People may enjoy the music, the lights, the clapping, the fellowship, the meals, the conversation, the activities—but if they have not heard this Gospel, they will never be changed; they will forever be searching, or just walk away in disappointment.

The outworking of the Gospel 

What does the Gospel do?  It brings faith in Jesus Christ—and because of this, is brings salvation and the forgiveness of sins—but it also has very visible consequences.  Paul writes, 

… we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints… Epaphras also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:4-5, 8, NKJV)

Something they never experienced, they then experienced—true love and true hope in Christ which stands firm in heaven.  That spurred them on to love one another as only God’s people can do.  They way they loved one another was contagious; it was remarkable to the point the Epaphras returned to Paul and told him, “Those people really love one another.  They love one another the same way as the Holy Spirit loves Christ and the children of God.”

When lost sinners are called to become the people of God, something of heaven must be evident.  If God is a God of love, then surely, his church must be people who know love and live out love.  

The church is different from all groups of people.  You may join a tennis club but love for the other members is not a prerequisite; you may become a member of a political party, but you not sing up just because you love them and they love you.  With the church it’s different; members in Christ share their love of Christ with others who also love Christ.  More than that, they love all people they come in contact with. This is what sets the church of Christ apart from all other institutions. This is the attractive part of the Gospel.

How different would the church be if Christians understood this principle!  How attractive will the church be if we really love one another because we understand that Christ loves us and has taken us out of the clutches of Satan to call us his children of one family?

We would then not need all special programs and activities to attract people.  By our love for Christ and for one another, they will know.  And does this world not need true, meaningful relationships purified in and by the blood of Jesus Christ!

Conclusion

What is Christian?  It is someone who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believed it.

How does someone become a Christian?  He hears the Gospel, and by the work of the Holy Spirit he receives it and believes it.

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ about?  It is the true message of salvation and forgiveness based on the grace of His Name who on our behalf has made it possible to know God as our gracious Father.

What is the outworking of the Gospel?  A new community of Christian believers, with one faith, love and hope—a community of people who knows and practices true love as exemplified in Christ Jesus.

May we be such a community.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 August 2018

Temporary suffering and eternal glory

Bible Readings 

  • Isaiah 40:6-11
  • 1Peter 5:6-14

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Plastic changed our world. The toys we used to get as gifts were cars made of thin pressed metal.  The doors and the windows were painted on with real paint.  The wheels were from a sort of a cast iron and the axels were from real steel pins. Inside was an engine with a real metal flywheel.  Sometimes they had a winding spanner with which one could wind a real metal strap.  This made the car go like crazy.  

I saw one valued at hundreds of dollars the other day.  But after all, there were just toys.

But then plastic came in.  Things became cheap.  So cheap, that  they are not precious anymore.  You can replace them easily with another one.  These days you get it for free if you buy a hamburger and a cool drink.

In some way we have become plasticky, and plastic has now enemy number one, even plastic cool drink straws. Our generation became addicted to temporary things.  We became addicted to instant gratification, and in the process we lost our sense for value.  The display cases in the corner of the lounge room with the valuable items created by skilful craftsmen is replaced by the television which constantly feeds us with instant and cheap entertainment. As someone remarked, we amuse ourselves to death.

Our day is rotten if the power goes out and we can’t watch TV!  We lost a view on what really matters; we lost our view on eternity!

Be sober and alert

Let’s go back to where we left it last week.  The verse is:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The Christian who has his mind controlled by the principles of this world cant’ be sober of vigilant.  Such a Christian is easily trapped and devoured by the devil who like a lion seeks to devour.

So what’s the antidote?  The next verse gives the answer: 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Would it be too brash to put it this way, “Get real! When you resist the devil you’re in for suffering.  But get this, your suffering is not unique; it’s is a common thing for Christians.  But stand your ground!

To resist him is to treat the devil as your enemy.  To stand firm is to dig in your heals on the truth of the Scriptures.  If we need encouragement if we want to give up, there is encouragement galore from other Christians who have gone and are going through the same sort of suffering.  

I have a precious book by author Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant.  It tells of Scottish Christians in the time of the Reformation.   Amongst many recounts of men who trusted God it tells of a certain Donald Cargill, an 80 years old preacher.  It was said of him that his praying and preaching were at its best when his was in great danger and distress. Cargill said the more adversaries thrust at him that he might fall, the more sensibly and discernibly his Lord had helped him.  His favourite Bible verse was, “The Lord is my strength and song, and has become my salvation. Whom shall I fear? 

On the day he died on the scaffold he proclaimed, 

“God knows, I go up this ladder with less fear, confusion or anxiety of mind than I ever entered a pulpit to preach.  Farewell, all relations and friends in Christ; farewell all acquaintances and all earthly enjoyments; farewell reading and preaching, praying and believing, wanderings, reproaches and sufferings. Welcome, joy unspeakable and full of glory. Welcome Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” 

We need to indulge in the testimonies of brave Christians of yesteryear, as well as those going through persecution in modern times, to be encouraged to resist cheap Christianity and discipleship.

How do we resist and overcome?

Verse 10 gives us the answer.  This verse is so stacked up with the riches of gospel truths that it actually deserves days of meditation. 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10, NKJV)

Before we look at this verse in depth, let’s briefly reflect on our reading from Isaiah this morning.

God’s people had been in Babylonian captivity for seventy years—the time God had appointed.  But the time of punishment for its unfaithfulness has passed.  Israel’s suffering was for a short while, but it was time to hear the good news of God’s mercy to restore them to their land.  Now the prophet proclaimed the good news that, although man is like grass, “the Word [promise] of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  Sovereign God, who rules forever, would care for them as a shepherd, and tend them like they were his lambs (verse 11).

Why would they believe the prophet?  Their God is the Creator of heaven an earth who made everything without the help of anyone (verses 12-14).  His wisdom and power are infinite.  More than that, He holds nations and their rulers in the palm of his hand (verse 17).  No god can be compared to God who sits enthroned above all he has made.  He controls kings and princes (verse 23).  He is the everlasting God (verse 28).  But although He is above all He has made, in mercy He bows down to give strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (verse 29).

God never changes.  He is the sovereign God Peter knew and worshipped too.  He is the One who speaks to us today—and his word is encouragement all the way.

He is the God of all grace

This phrase is rich in meaning ’God who loves us completely’, or ‘the God who shows his love for us without holding back,’ or ‘the God whose gifts are sufficient for every need and for every situation’. Because He is the God of all mercy, mercy is only limited to Him.

God called us

This call is far more that just talking to us and calling towards us. When God calls, He calls us into a relationship with Him.  In this relationship He provides what is necessary to make the relationship possible.   God calls His own by grace and to grace. He does this finally and only through Jesus Christ, who is the fulness of grace.

The fact that God is the One who calls and that Christians are the ones who are called, makes it clear that call is a another word for salvation.  God calls men in Christ through His own means and for His own purpose.  This is how we understand Romans 8:28-31

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28–31, NKJV)

This call is through the work of the Holy Spirit, it comes by the Word of God, and it is possible because of the work of Christ.  This is what we heard about in chapter 1.

… you were … redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He … was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God… having been born again … through the word of God … which is the gospel … preached to you. (1 Peter 1:18–21, 23, 25 NKJV)

God’s eternal glory

God’s call to salvation is a call through which we share in his eternal glory.  It is a call ‘into his greatness which will last forever’, or, ‘it’s a call into his greatness which will never cease.’ 

In other words, when God calls, included into that call is all He provides to make it possible for sinners to be lifted out of the slimy pit of sin and to become holy because He is holy.  In the process God grace us a new identity in Christ, a new heavenly address, and an incorruptible inheritance.  The result is—we will see his eternal glory! 

When will we see his eternal glory?

We will see his eternal glory, now bound up and secured in Jesus Christ, after a short time of suffering.  The suffering we might experience now is only a short time compared to the eternal glory which awaits us when we receive the final call into glory.  

Israel had been in captivity which them probably felt like an eternity, but in God’s scheme of things, it was just for a little while.  The gospel through the prophet was good news summed up in these words, “This is your God”, or, “Your God is here!” (Isaiah 40:9). The wait is over, salvation has come!

But between suffering and glory God provides for us.  God Himself will restore us.

He will not forget our suffering.  There is a limit to suffering, and God will end it in his own time.  Till that time, we need to trust Him. The ‘himself’ in verse 10 is important.  It means He is constantly aware of our suffering, He is with us in our suffering, and He will call an end to it when He reached his purpose with it. All along, the suffering Christian is not in the hands of those who cause the suffering; those who cause  it are instruments in the hands of God. 

God will make us strong, firm and steadfast

The emphasis is on spiritual and inner strength, and it means  the God will ‘cause your heart to be strong’, or ‘cause your thoughts to be strong.’

God will see to that we will be firmly rooted in a strong foundation of trust and confidence in Him. Further, He also provide what we need to always endure.  He holds us by the hand so that we will not be moved in our trust in Christ.

Peter knows what he is talking about.  There was an episode before the cross of Christ when Christ gave him this assurance.  And the Lord said, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31–32, NKJV)

Yes, there was the terrible failure to own Christ, and if Satan had his way, it would haven the end of Peter.  But Christ prayed for him, and his faith did not fail.  Almost all what Christ said to Peter then is now encapsulated in what is written verse 10.  What Peter wrote in our verse was to show that God’s word never fails.

Conclusion  

So, Peter ends his letter:

I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12, NKJV)

My dear friend, stand in the grace of God.  Hang on to the Bible; it’s the true Gospel.  When the temporary plastic toy of no value leaves you disappointed and empty, seek God for permanent glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 August 2018

 

Heavenly shaped defence (3): Submission, Humility, Trust

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 133
  • 1Peter 5:1-9

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lords Jesus Christ,

Let’s for one moment think of our congregation as an army.

We are called to battle because we have an enemy seeking to devour and destroy.  The Bible calls him our adversary, or the devil.  

…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The army into which we are called is spread right across the world.  In one sense then this is a world war. 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

In this army there are officers, the Bible call them elders.  Their calling is to care for the army like a shepherd cares for the flock.  

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2, NKJV)

Over us all we have our Officer-in-Command, Jesus Christ.  The Bible calls him the Chief Shepherd.  In another place the Bible describes him as the general.

He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11–16, NKJV)

For this army to be effective, it needs to follow closely the commands of the officers, because the officers—or the elders—received their orders from the Commander-in-Chief.  This then takes us to this verse: 

…you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Submission and humility

I spent a few years in the army.  There are a few golden rules for any army to survive in battle.  

Number one: every soldier has to follow commands; and there is a line of command. 

Discipline is drilled into every soldier with the purpose that every soldier will follow commands even sometimes without thinking.  The sergeant calls out the commands which in the beginning seem silly.  They tell you when to sit, when to stand, when and what to eat, and when to sleep.  If your boots are not shiny enough to their liking you have to it all over again.  Why? There is no place for the wise guy with his own ideas about what it good and what not.

Number two:  No soldier has the luxury of questioning the authority of those above him.  Disaster strikes if the men on the ground starts to question the authority of their officers.  Soldiers then can follow their own heads, run in different directions, become divided—and as such become target of the enemy. Moreover, the commanding post would not know where to go looking for them when they get lost of are wounded.

One of the most clever tactics of the enemy is to divide and conquer.  A divided army is an army in defeat.  There should be no wise guys in an army.  Officers follow commands they themselves receive from those over them, and they are equipped with leadership qualities which make them leaders. Wise guys have to bury their wisdom and follow commands.  Their lives depend on it.

There are times when the officers might bark out commands over the radio which the infantry do not understand, purely because they don’t have a view on the whole offensive.  Officers do.  As reports come in  from the battlefield they can work out where the attack should be and when soldiers should open fire, or even retreat.

Let’s apply this then on the church. One can take the equation too far, of course.  Elders are not like army officers who bark out commands which everyone else must obey.  But in a certain sense they, as under-shepherds, received from God not only the task to shepherd the follow, but also see that discipline within the church is exercised.  No elder can demand unquestioned submission of any member of the congregation.  The authority of the elders do not make them lords over God’s people.  Elders themselves are and discharge of their duties under the Lordship of Christ.  The manual for discipline is the Word of God, under which the elders bow themselves.  But their is the injunction that elders must be respected, not for their person, but for Him who called them to represent Him.  Therefor this two pronged verse: 

… you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility… (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Both younger people and elders must be submissive to the Headship of Christ.  Actually, the “all” in this verse refers to all in the congregation.  “All” must bow under the Headship of Christ, and “all”must be servants one of the other.

There are two things the devil exceeds well in, and he has been using this tactic since day one:  He undermines the authority of God, “Is it true that God said…?” Adam and Eve fell for it.  Once they fell in sin the unity between them was affected and they started to accuse one another.

A congregation where their is disunity will not stand against the onslaught of the prowling lion.  A congregation where there is no humility, and a sense of serving one another as fellow-soldiers in the battle, is weak and there is no advancement of the Gospel.  Infighting and selfish divergent views in strategy lead to a sick congregation which forgot about the real battle as the focus of energy is aimed at keeping people apart, with members of smaller sub-groups try to oust other groups. 

Let us beware:

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Trust

It’s one thing to have the prowling lion as an formidable enemy, but it is a completely different thing to have Him, the mighty God before whom even the lion has no chance, as one’s enemy.  No one has disregards God’s good discipline for his church will survive if he faces God who gave his Son to redeem a people for Himself.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6, NKJV)

There is another thing which can severely hamstring an army; it is something which effects them to the point that they become paralysed at the sight of the battle.  What is it?  Anxiety and fear.

I remember this young soldier who was almost useless as he was beset with fear.  In a commanders meeting it was agreed that he would be send home.  His fear not only put him in danger, but also his fellow soldiers.  He was in control of a automatic machine gun, but his hands were shivering.  Then, one Sunday night, the enemy attacked our base.  27 mortar bombs rained down on us.  Plagued by fear that soldier had not left his post, which means he was the first one to open fire.  And he did not stop.  One belt of rounds after the other were emptied into the darkness of night—and all along he lost his fear.  The next morning revealed that his braveness diverted the enemy as they thought there was a full army aimed at them.  He was awarded for bravery.

Fear and anxiety might overcome a Christian in the battle against the prowling lion.  Even more, the cares of the things of this world and the fear that one might lose it, draws one’s attention away from both the ballet and the Commander-in-Chief. Sober-mindedness go out the backdoor.  So Peter writes:

cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV)

We can get so busy with our cares, and with the things we see as valuable, that we take our eyes off God.  The moment we lose sight of how great and powerful God is we are not alert to the enemy.  Did not our Lord teach us, 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33, NKJV)

We need to heed the warning of Christ in the parable of the seed.  One part of the seed initially sprouted, but then disaster struck: 

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

How much of the things we see as important are standing in they way of us being devoted soldiers of the Lord?  When the time of choice come we act like the rich young man: uselessly and lost we walk away because our love is divided, and we just can’t pay the price of discipleship.

Conclusion

My dear friends, we are engaged in the battle between the evil forces of Satan who seeks to destroy the church, and the Kingdom of heaven.  There is only one way to survive: we need to be church as God designed it to be:

  • We need to bow under our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ
  • The elders need to really understand their role as sherds under the Chief Shepherd and care for, and protect, the flock to the best of their ability.
  • We need to look up and respect godly leaders as people put there by God to be our guides in this battle
  • There is no room for divided loyalty and personal preferences; all should submit to the will of God.
  • We need to get our priorities in order, so that we are not distracted.  Focussing on the real thing will conquer our fear and help us to be self-controlled and alert.

May God help us.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 August 2018