Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Undivided loyalty to Christ, the King (1)

Scripture Readings

  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 17-22
  • Revelation 13:1-10


Dear friends in the Lord,

They tell of the event when an umpire made a questionable judgment during a footy match. It sent the crowd into an uproar. The line judge was asked for his opinion.  Then just for a brief moment, there was total silence.  In that little window of quietness someone yelled out, “He wants to know how the rules work because he doesn’t know it himself!” 

Can you imagine the confusion on any sports field between the players if there were no rules!  More than that, can you picture the situation on the stands if there were no rules!  We have vivid pictures in our minds of soccer fans being stampeded and even killed in support rage.

God and his law

We don’t read the Ten Commandments every Sunday as we did this morning, be we surely should pay more attention to it.  In God’s Kingdom, there is just no room for people to follow their own minds and make their own laws.  We heard in the children’s address about the need to walk by the Law and to think according to the law.  

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, ESV)

Because God is the one and only God, there is only one law to live by. “For the Lord, your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)  He poured out his love on his people, holding back nothing to save them.  

…it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… (Deuteronomy 7:8–9, ESV)

Moses repeatedly called the people to obey God with an undivided heart.  He used the phrase “Hear now…” in 4:1, 6:4, and 9:1, and in between he repeats phrases like “remember” and “keep”.

The book of Deuteronomy is a section of sermons of Moses which he preached to the people after their forty years of wanderings through the wilderness, but before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  He reflects on lessons of the past and prepares them to occupy their God-given inheritance.  

He stressed the importance of undivided loyalty to God by observing his laws.  One major point of his sermons was his warning not to mix with the heathens and so become like them.  

It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— (Deuteronomy 6:13–14, ESV)

The gift of an inheritance 

You know how one can read the same pages of Scripture for years and still miss things.  In my study last week my mind caught specific threads running through the Scriptures, but previously I just couldn’t make the connections.  To be honest, it is not so obvious, and one needs to cross-referenced through the pages to get it.

In Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says:  

The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. (Deuteronomy 7:22, ESV)

Just a few verses further he mentions the silver and gold of the idols and calls them “a testable thing”.

On the surface, the “wild beasts” and the “detestable thing” may just mean what it actually says, but John in Revelation draws from these pictures of the Old Testament.  He leans very heavily on the visions of the “wild beasts” in Daniel who also makes mention of the “detestable thing” of which we read about in Revelation 13.  One commentator thinks that the “wild beasts” can indeed serve as a figure of the demonic which perverts the divine image of man into something sub-human.  

John, as one of the apostles of Christ, wrote the Apocalypse to prepare Christians for an era of unprecedented persecution.  Christ sends his church into the world to spread the good news about his victory over sin and death, and he also prepared them for the abuse they would face. The apostle John received the word of the Apocalypse from Christ Himself (Revelation 1:10), all the while being persecuted himself (Revelation 1:9), to encourage the Christians during the persecution, but also the warn them to serve the Lord with undivided loyalty.   

John uses known elements of the Old Testament in his book.  To all seven of the congregations he wrote to he uses the phrase very similar to the one Moses used to warn the people against the mixing of pure obedience to the Lord.  Moses repeated “Hear Israel”, and John uses “he who has an ear, let him hear” to the six churches in Asia Minor.  He also uses the phrase “he who overcomes” repeatedly, meaning “he who resists” the evil and not give in.  When it comes to Chapter 13 as we read it this morning, he repeats “he who has an ear” in verse 9.  In verse 18 he uses a phrase which connects back to both hearing and overcoming:  This calls for wisdom and insight.

A fierce battle

The connection between Moses in Deuteronomy is more than just accidental.  Moses prepared God’s people to cross the Jordan with the Word of God in their hands and minds, facing fierce resistance in a land filled with idols, false gods, and demons —  wild beasts”.  For them to overcome and settle the land as God promised they had to serve God with undivided loyalty; compromise with any god other than their Covenant God would lead to disaster.  

When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it but will be utterly destroyed. (Deuteronomy 4:25–26, ESV)

But they had God’s promise of his absolute love and compassion, his unfailing love to go ahead of them, to destroy the wild beasts before them, and live with them.  Their inheritance was free, a gift of grace, they just needed to take hold of it by faith and obedience to their God.  

…you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV)

The same applies to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We will receive a Promised Land one day, but in the meantime, we need to “occupy” the mission field of the world with undivided loyalty to Christ and his Word.  From this Word we shall not take away anything, to it we cannot add; we need to pay absolute obedience to it — it is the only warranty for success.  We are engaged in a fierce battle with the “wild beasts” — not only symbols of resistance but the real deal:  the devil!

I apologise for not really getting into chapter 13 of Revelation today as announced.  But know this: the church of Christ is the target of Satan who seeks to destroy her.  We know that he employs all he can, both political structures and false prophets to try to seduce God’s people away from the truth by all possible means.

Satan hates Christ and his church

Let’s just get the framework which Chapter 12 gives us.  It tells the story of God’s people of the Old Testament from whom the Messiah would be born.  The picture is of a pregnant woman, about to give birth.  But as she was about to give birth an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns appeared.  It was a mighty beast who had much power.  The dragon (verse 9 identifies him as the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan who leads the whole world astray) wanted to kill the child, Jesus Christ, as soon as he was born.  We learn for this scene that the actual war was aimed at Christ, who brought salvation and had authority over him.   

However, as soon as the child was born, he was taken into a place of safety under the guard of God, and Satan was hurled down.  Satan has no authority against the blood of Christ, and Christians loved Him more than their lives.  This is undivided loyalty.  

But Satan is more than ever determined to undermine the work of Christ.  He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short. He knows he has no authority over Christ and focusses his destruction on the church.  What he just cannot understand is that God’s people, those whose names are written in the Book of Life (13:8) live under the protection of Christ.  What he is aware of, is that not everyone in the church is indeed a faithful follower of Christ.  Satan is enraged and makes war against the offspring of the woman, which is the church, those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17).


My friend, do you get the picture?  If you belong to Christ, if your name is written in the Book of Life, if you are under that protection of the blood of Christ, you are the target of Satan who will try whatever he can, he will employ all the forces he can to drag you away.

Therefore the warning of the Word of God:  serve Christ with undivided loyalty, have his Word in your heart, in your mind, let it reign your thoughts and your decisions.  The battle is fierce and if you don’t stand firm, you will not endure.  But don’t be afraid.  Your Saviour gave you this command:  

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

Lord-willing, next week we will concentrate on the beast out of the sea, and then, the beast out of the earth.



Biblical Eldership (1) – “Why?”

Bible Readings

  • Deuteronomy 1:9-18
  • Numbers 11:10-30


Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

We will have eldership election in the near future. We have already announced this to you.  But before we get to the actual meeting to elect elders, we will listen to what the Scriptures teach about eldership. There will be three sermons, following three questions about Biblical eldership.

  • The “why?” about eldership
  • The “what?” about eldership
  • The “who?” about eldership

Principles of Church government

Let’s begin at the beginning, where all Christian denominations should start. 

The supreme rule for practice and doctrine

We need to hold the Scriptures as our supreme standard for life and worship.  What we believe about church government, should be in agreement with the Scriptures. So, all men in church government must, first of all, believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it is infallible, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant.  If anyone has a different view on the Scriptures, such a person should not be trusted to become an elder of the church of Christ.

Christ, the Head of the Church

The Scriptures teach that Christ is the Head of the Church.  The Bible says in a few places:

And He [God] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23, NKJV)

… may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, NKJV)

and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10, NKJV)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

… holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Colossians 2:19, NKJV)

Presbyterians hold these principles as precious and authoritative:  Christ is our only Mediator, He is our High Priest, and like a father, He cares for his church.  We have therefore an aversion to any earthly office other than what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures.  We, therefore, have no human as head of the church. Not even as a representative.  We also have no priest, and we call no one our priest because in Christ the priesthood has come to an end.  The Bible also warns against calling anyone “father”: 

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9, NKJV)

What we have is the Holy Spirit who guides us by his Word to understand the Scriptures and order all temporal things of church government.  We seek our rule from the Bible, and we submit to its authority.  The Bible teaches us that Christ is our Head, and that is enough for us.

General forms of church government


Papists believe that the pope is Christ’s representative on earth and that he is the head of all churches and Christians on earth.  Under him there are all manner of offices, including priests, bishops, deacons, canons, arch-deacons, and what not! The pope can declare what is sinful, forgive sin and make infallible proclamations, and even add doctrines not found in the Scriptures.  We reject this notion as fundamentally in contrast and opposition to the teachings of the Scripture.


Episcopal churches understand the Scriptures to teach that every congregation should only have one bishop, in which the oversight of that church rests.  They do believe that there should be a hierarchy from top to bottom, with an archbishop having leadership over a group of churches.  He appoints bishops, who appoints others under him.  The system gets fairly tricky for Presbyterians because we find it difficult to see where canons, archdeacons, vicars, and other office holders come from.  The Anglican Church and some branches of the Methodist Church are episcopal denominations.


Congregational denominations do not have any hierarchy.  Their church government is mostly a free arrangement of leadership chosen “demographically”, which means the majority of members decide who will be leaders, and congregational meetings have the authority to hire and sack leaders, and even determine the general teachings of a denomination.  A congregation in a congregational system usually opt to join a broader group of churches (like the COC movement) but can walk away when the majority decides so.  Most charismatic churches follow this form of church government.


Some other independent churches is a sort of a mix between episcopal and congregational.  These congregation usually starts with leaders in a strong conviction of certain aspects of Bible teaching or a clash of leadership personalities.  These leaders then, in the end, become the de facto bishops, and in many cases, everyone who disagrees with the leadership has to leave.  These leaders are their own authority, and they are not accountable to any structure.  Many of these leaders claim direct revelation from God in the form of visions or something similar in addition to the already declared will of God in the Scriptures.  

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches

Presbyterians and reformed denominations fall in a different category.  Christ is our Head, the Bible is our rule, leaders/elders are chosen by communicant members of the congregation, and perform their duties under the authority of the Scriptures.   What their decisions must be in agreement with is the Scriptures, the agreed confessional creeds and the general rules of the denomination. 

Our system has checks and balances.  Elders are accountable to a wider group of elders, the presbytery.  Members have the right to approach this court if they think that elders have contravened the Scriptures, the Confession or the general rules of the denomination.  There is other courts too:  the General Assembly, and the General Assembly of Australia, and these are also bound by the Word of God and the rules accepted by the denomination as a whole.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means elder, or overseer.  Presbyterian” in our name refers therefore to the form of church government we adhere to.

The “Why” of eldership?

Our understanding of eldership finds its roots in the Old Testament.  Our Scripture readings this morning takes to those beginnings.

God appointed Moses to be the leader to take his people out of slavery of Egypt to the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As assistant Moses had his brother Aaron, who later became the first High Priest.

The people were numerous, they were divided into their clans and had their clan leaders.

People are sinful 

Rebellion against Moses and Aaron was common practice.  They always wanted to go back to slavery, because the journey through the desert just seemed too hard.  They doubted God and rebelled against his law.  And then, there was this constant towing away from the declared command of the Lord to not mix with the people the came in contact with along the way.  And, of course, there were the constant disagreements and sometimes heated disputes between people, with one party always believing they were done in.

There is a need for discipline and good order 

This, of course, spells general church life in the 21st century too.  Our sinful nature drags us away from God’s declared will for our lives.  We begin to love the world more than we love God.  The world easily dictates to us how we should live, and we can readily start to doubt the faithfulness of God.  Our relationships one with the other can sometimes be volatile, and we need mediation and godly outcomes.  In short, discipline and good order need to be maintained for the glory of God.  We need elders!

One leader is not enough!

Moses was a human being with his own strengths and weaknesses.  It all got too much for Moses.  His father-in-law gave him good advice:  

“The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. (Exodus 18:17–18, NKJV)

Moses found himself face-down in the presence of the Lord.  What he understood very well was that the people he had to lead did not belong to him, but were God’s people. He could not deal with the people other than what God wanted him to do. In fairly harsh words he prayed to God,  This is too much for me. 

If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favour in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” (Numbers 11:15, NKJV)

He has come to the end of his line. How does he provide for the people?  How can he care for the people?  Should not God care for his own people?  

Although God did provide the water, the manna and the quail, other aspects of care God provided through elders whom He enabled for the task.  Although God could directly care for them, He appointed leaders. 

Shared but Divided responsibility and accountability

To maintain discipline and order within the camp, God appointed 70 elders to work closely with Moses.  Moses remained the intercessor between God, between the leaders and the people, but from that day on, the men upon whom God poured out his Spirit to set and enable them for their task them apart for service would be a help for Moses.  

I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone. (Numbers 11:17, NKJV)

What seemed impossible for Moses becomes possible through the provision and enablement of God.  Where would the meat come from?  Where would the men come from? 

“The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ (Numbers 11:21, NKJV)

How did God answer? 

“Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.” (Numbers 11:23, NKJV)

God first sent his Spirit to rest upon the seventy men, and He gave them the ability to prophesy—which through the Scriptures was always a sign to the rest of people of God’s authentic appointment—and then He provided the quail.  

This is how elders do their work.  They are appointed by God; they need to care for the people because they are God’s own people; they need to continually keep their eyes focused on God for whom nothing is too hard.  Elders share in the responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the people, they are called to maintain spiritual discipline and good order. When the people of God slide back to the slavery of sin, the elders encourage, teach and admonish.  And in all, it is their task to lead God’s people to live to the glory of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Why do we need elders?  

We are sinful and rebellious, and we need spiritual direction and care.

Elders share in the burden of this care.  It is not good for one person to take the full load.  It is not the plan of God for his church.

May our Lord give us clear guidance as we pray for men to fill the vacancies of elders in our congregation.  We need to make sure that the men we elect are indeed spiritually mature, displaying a sure conviction that they called to the office.  Let us pray.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 February 2019

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

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 133
  • 1Peter 5:1-9


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)


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.


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


Living by faith (10)

Discipline: training in faith

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 94:12-19
  • Hebrews 12:1-13


There is no doubt about it: because discipline in the house has gone out the backdoor, our society now stands on loose legs.  Those involved in law enforcement will tell you that their workload would probably cut in half (or even more) if discipline in the home can be restored.

The flow-on effect of chaos in homes has devastated public education, or in fact, all education.  Little wonder that lawlessness and anarchy in many cities and suburbs has become one of the biggest challenges of our time.  The enemy of the family unit laughs, while churches are not immune against this onslaught.  There is hardly any respect for parents, and in our society, by and large, there is no room for the honour of God and his law.  It spells disaster – and our enemy knows it.

Let’s say it loudly and clearly: discipline is good and beneficial; one does not need to be a Christian to understand it.

The writer of Hebrews knows this too well:

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9, NIV)

The interesting thing is that Christians, while understanding the advantage of discipline in everyday life, we sometimes find it difficult to come to terms with it when God applies discipline for our spiritual good.

The Psalm we read together this morning declares:

Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law (Psalm 94:12, NIV)

He understood the connection between discipline and love as he continues:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. (Psalm 94:18, NIV)

He also understood that discipline protects against evil, because, God “will never forsake his inheritance (Psalm 94:14).”   It was God’s loving discipline that made him strong to face his enemy, and it was God’s loving discipline that stood between him and the evildoers.

We are involved in a struggle

Without elaborating about this at this point, all Christians need to know that they are, because they are on God’s side, involved in a struggle.  Last week the same truth came to us as we heard that we are in a race.

Our struggle is fierce, because our enemy hates Christ and his church.  Peter says:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

Paul writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

For this struggle we need to be fit.  Like the soldier during basic military training in preparation for combat, discipline is lifesaving. What you learn during this time will come automatically during the crisis; discipline teaches you to be alert, fit and discerning – with only one thing in mind: the battle, survival and victory.

The same principle applies to Christian life. That’s why the Bible this morning teaches us:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

We are God’s children

When the Bible says that we are God’s children, we once again need a fresh understanding of who God is.  Let’s read verse 10 again:

God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10, NIV)

God is holy.  With Him there is no sin, no blemish; He is most holy, most righteous, most glorious, most living, most gracious, merciful and altogether good.  He hates sin because He is just; He is terrible in all his judgments and will by no means clear those who reject his mercy in Jesus Christ.

God therefore wants us to be holy, because He is holy (1Pet 1:16).  He wants us, as his children, to display something of our Father to the world.  And in doing so, we can surely expect God’s enemy to become our enemy.  For this battle God wants us to be ready, fit, effective and victorious in Jesus Christ his Son.

In a mission report of Frontline Fellowship about missionary work and the Christian Church in the southern part of Sudan in the Nuba Mountains where hundreds of Christians face starvation in the face because the Government in Khartoum cut supplies to those people I read this only yesterday:

The Khartoum government has blocked humanitarian aid reaching the Nuba Mountains while escalating aerial bombardment of refugees and displaced people in the Nuba. Almost a million Nubans are facing starvation conditions.
Arab aerial bombardments of Christian villages in the Nuba Mountains has escalated dramatically: 108 aerial bombardments were recorded in October alone.
Why is the International community so indifferent to this genocide?  Is it because the victims are predominately Christians? Is it because the victims are Black and the perpetrators are Arab Muslims?

This battle is against Christ and his church.  That’s why the world is not interested to hear about it to do something about it.  For our brothers and sisters in those mountains we pray and encourage – and we do not do it lightly, but with tears before the throne of our Father:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

This means then that if the world does not see any reason to hate us there must be something wrong with our sonship.  Quite right:

If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. (Hebrews 12:8, NIV)

What is endurance?

Endure means to be steadfast, to persevere and to wait patiently. What should we patiently wait for?

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:5, NIV)

O, may we see the love of God and how Christ persevered the pain of the cross where He, the sinless, died for sinners to give them righteousness!

To the church in Philadelphia our Lord says:

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. (Revelation 3:10, NIV)

Stand your ground in Christ.  Why?

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us (2 Timothy 2:11–12, NIV)

Endurance for the readers of Hebrews was not something new.  Turn with me to Hebrews 10:32 and following verses.  When they became Christians we read “they stood their ground” in very difficult circumstances.

They all of a sudden became aware of this contest or race (the original word here reminds us of being an athlete) which presented them with suffering.  What sort of suffering?

  • They were publicly exposed to insult – probably the hardest for of suffering – and persecution.  Insult is aimed at your person and who you are, and has psychological trauma in mind; persecution is aimed at physical pain and trauma.
  • If it did not happen to them personally, they sided with those who experienced this sort of treatment.  That’s Christians do, because we are members of the same family, we love one another; the pain of one Christian is the pain of another.  That’s why what is happening in the Nuba Mountains concerns us.
  • Some of their fellowship ended up in prison – this is where physical and psychological suffering meets.  What did the other Christians of their fellowship do?  They sympathised with them – and probably visited them their and took food and water with them.  You can hardly remain an anonymous Christian when you do this. What happened then?
  • The authorities, and maybe other who opposed them, confiscated their property – we are not sure what the extent of this confiscation was, but their “hanging in there” was driven by the fact that they understood that what they had in Christ was not only better, but also lasting.

Their eyes were fixed on Christ. Look at Hebrew 12:2

  • He too endured, waited upon his Father, He never gave up.
  • He endured the cross of shame where He not only sympathised with sinners, but took their place.  He was scorned, insulted, ridiculed – and eventually even forsaken by the Father – all because He loved sinners like you and me.
  • He endured opposition.  The word translated “opposition” here is probably not strong enough to express what is says in the Greek text.  Remeber: Christ is God from all eternity; what is said about the Father’s Person, is said about Him.  Through Him God created the universe; He is God’s King on earth, representing the Father – and yet: sinners, in their opposition to Him, took the holy sinless Son of God, rebelled against his authority, insulted Him, and nailed Him to a cross.
  • Why would He do such thing?  He saw the joy of his Father’s approval:  He is the true Son of God, and although He did not need it, He subjected to the will of the Father to become sin in order for us to become righteous, and now He reigns with his Father as it was before He came to rescue us.

What is discipline?

To discipline according to the Bible is to bring up and to handle a child which is growing up to maturity, because it needs direction, teaching, instruction.  It might call for a certain measure of compulsion in the form of discipline or even chastisement. To discipline is both a way of education and training with the goal of becoming mature in Christ.

As we have seen, God interfered in the lives of the Hebrews with discipline: it seemed harsh at the time, but the end product was sweet:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)

  • It taught them that God is holy.
  • It taught them that sin leads to destruction.
  • It taught them that nothing is of any value in the face of God’s eternal blessing.
  • It taught them to love one another and look after one another.
  • It taught them that others, with Christ, will look after them should the time of their personal endurance come.
  • It taught them what the price was their Saviour had to pay to set them free. Peter writes:

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)

Peter writes elsewhere:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1–2, NIV)

What does God’s “treatment” mean

Hebrews 12:7 states:

God is treating you as his children.  (Hebrews 12:7, NIV)

My understanding of Greek is surely not much to go by, yet this word “treat” in the NIV, or “deal” in the New American Standard Bible, in the Greek can in some cases have the meaning of “carry”, “sustain”, “bring” and “present”, depending on the context.  It seems to me, also in the light of other uses within the letter to the  Hebrews, it seems acceptable to understand it in our verse that God’s dealing with us has an element of sustaining or carrying.  So, endure hardship as discipline, because God is sustaining and carrying you as son.  That’s what earthly fathers do for their children in difficult times.  Abundantly more so, our heavenly Father.

He knows our hardship; He knows our circumstances, but more than that, He knows what is crippling us in our Christian walk to become mature Christians.  His discipline is aimed at withholding those things from us so that we can one day become grown-up Christians.  That’s his aim.

And that brings us to another possible understanding of the word “deal”:  in our preparation for service here on earth we need discipline so that our Saviour, through the work of the Holy Spirit, at the return of Christ when we all need to appear at the judgment throne of God, can present us to our Father as true sons.

This is what happened to Christ, our Lord.  He endured hardship for our sake, and all along He could pray to his Father to sustain Him, be with Him, knowing that after all He had to accomplish, his Father would welcome him home as Victor over all evil – that’s why our text says He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That’s why we must consider Him who endured.  We must look at Him, fix our eyes on Him, fill our thoughts with what He did for us, then we will understand that we must “endure hardship as discipline, [because] God is treating us as sons.”

Don’t lose heart

If we focus on Christ, if we understand that God is disciplining as us as true sons to make us fit for the battle and to ultimately be fit for heaven, and we understand that in the process He is carrying and sustaining us, then we

will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3, NIV)

It’s easy to become exhausted, its easy to opt out or to just go and sit on the side and give up.  One of the major themes of the book of Hebrews is exactly to encourage not to give up.  In Hebrews 4:11 he writes:

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11, NIV)

In Chapter 6:11-12 he warns:

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:11–12, NIV)

In our verse he spurs on that no one would grow weary or exhausted, or even lose heart and faint.  He ends this pericope with these words; let us listen to it and take heart this morning as we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith:

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13, NIV)

May God give us grace.