Sunday, December 4, 2016

Let the Word of Christ Dwell in You Richly

Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing a tradition that we started several years ago of preaching through the psalms. So I want to take some time to meditate on why this is a fitting tradition and why we as the people of God need to devote considerable time and attention to the psalms. One would think that this would be obvious - singing of God’s word back to Him sounds like a good idea. However, various theologies have divorced Christians from the OT and Psalm singing has fallen on hard times – especially among Protestants. In our text today Paul lays one of the foundation stones for the Christian use of the psalms. So let’s make a few observations from Paul’s text.

First, Paul identifies the content of our worship. We are to let the word of Christ, Christ’s own words, dwell in us richly. Jesus speaks to us today; He is calling today. But where? Not in a still small voice. So where do we hear His voice? We hear Him in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the OT, these labels correspond to the various names of the different songs in the psalter. In other words, Paul’s categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are not equivalent to our modern day psalms, hymns, and choruses but are different ways of directing us to the same book – the Psalter. The book of Psalms contains psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which we are to sing. Why? Because they are the Word of Christ – Christ’s own words to us. When we sing the Psalms to one another, we are hearing the voice of Christ.

Second, Paul identifies the function of our worship. We are to teach one another and admonish one another. When we sing the psalms we find that they expand and stretch our knowledge of God and our awareness of His work in the world. We teach one another of His righteousness, His mercy, His wrath, His love, His patience, His judgments, etc. The psalms force us to reckon with ways in which our own thinking differs from God’s thinking. When we sing a psalm and find ourselves disagreeing with its words, the problem is not with the psalm but with us. Consequently, we not only teach one another as we sing, we admonish one another. We correct erroneous thoughts, summon one another to trust the Lord more fully, as well as rebuking our complacency, immorality, greed, idolatry, and deceitfulness.

Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a grateful heart; it is an expression of thankfulness for God’s work in our lives. The hypocrite says one thing with his lips and another with his heart; the loyal worshiper joins heart and lips together in song. We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.

Finally, Paul identifies the object of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor. He has created us and not we ourselves; He has redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus. So we are to give Him thanks and praise, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him.

So as we enter into the presence of the Lord this day, as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, let us remember that in so doing we offer the fruit of our lips as a sacrifice to the Lord of all and that we do this together so that we might teach and admonish one another. Unfortunately, much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not challenge or rebuke us. So we speak to one another not the words of Christ but our own words. But even we who speak the words of Christ to one another often fail to learn from the songs our brethren are singing to us, we often fail to correct ourselves. So reminded of our failures in this regard, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Living Stone

1 Peter 2:4–5 (NKJV)
4 Coming to [Jesus] as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of year when we recall both God’s promise to our fathers that one day He would send a Son of Adam to rescue us from sin and death and God’s promise to us that one day that Son shall return in glory to vindicate all who trust Him. It is this Son who is the subject of Peter’s epistle – for it is to Him that we come in faith. He is the One who was born of Mary; He who was conceived by the Spirit; He who is the object of our faith.

Peter describes Him as a living stone, the foundation stone of God’s Holy City Jerusalem, the cornerstone of the Temple of God. This stone, Peter tells us, was rejected indeed by men – rather than bowing before Him in worship and praise, we crucified Him. So deep is our ailment as human beings that we rejected the One who would deliver us, killed the physician who would heal us, stoned the king who would rule over us.

Yet it is this stone, Peter tells us, that was chosen by God and precious. The One we crucified rose again from the dead. He is the Living Stone chosen by God to build up a Temple, a spiritual house, to the glory of God’s Name and to establish a universal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to the Lord. So how does He build this Temple? Establish this priesthood? As the Living Stone, Jesus builds God’s Temple out of living stones; He sends forth His Spirit and imparts His resurrection life to men and women and children who are, by nature, spiritually dead. He causes their hearts of stone to live, to beat again, that they might become living stones, members of a spiritual house, and priests of God Most High.

So why has God enlivened our stony hearts? Why is He constructing a spiritual Temple from us naturally lifeless stones? Why is He establishing a holy priesthood from us sinful men and women? Peter gives us the answer – to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In other words, God has delivered us that we might worship Him. Listen to the 9th verse of this same chapter:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

God has chosen us that we might sing His praises, declare the wonder of His grace, and extol the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is seeking people to worship Him.”

This Advent our sermons focus once again on Jesus in the Psalms. As we consider the psalms, I would remind you why God has given them to us in the first place – they are meant to be sung. God saved you that you might proclaim His praises, that you might offer up spiritual sacrifices, that you might offer up the fruit of your lips to God. Singing praise to God is not optional – it is the reason God delivered you from your sin. So sing – don’t be self-conscious. Sing; don’t make excuses. Sing; don’t deprive the assembly of your voice. Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth!

As we gather in the Lord’s presence to praise Him, therefore, let us lift up our voices with joy remembering that God has saved us so that we might praise Him. Let us not mumble; let us not be silent in coldness of heart; let us not complain or grumble at God’s ordering our affiars. He saved us that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So reminded that we were saved to sing His praises, let us confess that we have failed to praise the Lord as we ought – and let us kneel as we confess our sin together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

If there is any virtue...

Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Today we bring our series of exhortations on Philippians 4:8 to a close. Paul has catalogued numerous “excellent things” for us that we might meditate upon them and so be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s working in us. We have considered Paul’s call to meditate on whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report or praiseworthy. Today we close by meditating on that quality which unites all these others together, virtue.

In his 1828 dictionary Webster defines virtue in this way:
Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion.

Virtue, therefore, is the pursuit of moral excellence and the avoidance of vice. It is the love and practice of whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Furthermore, in the Scriptures, virtue is the pursuit of moral excellence out of a sincere love for God and for neighbor. God’s mandate is not merely that we do “virtuous things” but that we become “virtuous people.” He crafted us to be men and women who long to do what is right in any given situation – to love truth, honor, integrity, purity, justice, chastity, temperance, mercy, etc. and to practice the same willingly and joyfully no matter the cost.

The English word “virtue” derives from the Latin virtus, virtutis which means “manliness or courage.” You may think it strange that a word which originally referrred to courage came to be used to describe moral excellence. However, the pathway from its use to refer to strength or courage and only later to moral excellence is helpfully explained by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. He writes,
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

So what of you? Does your virtue have conditions? Or are you truly virtuous, willing to stand out, willing to ruffle feathers, willing to suffer ridicule, willing to be ostracized, willing to be scorned out of love for God and love for others? We must become courageous men and women precisely because God wants us to be virtuous men and women. “I, even I, am He who comforts you,” [says the Lord,] “Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?” (Is 51:12) Solomon warns us, “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” (Prov 29:25)

Reminded of our calling to be virtuous, to choose to do and say the right thing regardless the consequences out of love for God and our neighbor, let us confess that our virtue often has conditions and that we are often ensnared by the fear of man. And, as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.