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The gospel of the Lord - its claims and demands

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The Gospel of the Lord

Its claim and demand

Morning Worship, Lord’s Day 7th September 2008, 9.30 am (Communion)

© Rev D Rudi Schwartz[1]

Bible Readings

Old Testament:                     Psalm 25

New Testament:                   Colossians 1:9-14

Hymns/Songs

                1.  Approach:                        “The heavens declare your glory”

                2.  Forgiveness of sins:        “Father, Lead me day by day”

3.   Thanksgiving:                  “Jesus, keep me near the cross”

                4.  The Table of the Lord:   “According to your gracious Word”

                5.  Response:                        “Onward Christian soldiers”

Main Points

1.       Introduction
2.       The demand of the Gospel
3.       Growing in the knowledge of the Gospel
4.       Living a life worthy of the Gospel
5.       Endurance for the sake of the Gospel

6.       Determination because of the Gospel

7.       Joyful gratitude as result of the Gospel

8.       Conclusion

 

Introduction

Brothers and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,

The Olympic Games are still fresh in our minds.  We saw how the athletes competed, contended, won their medals, got on the rostrums, and listened to their National Anthems.  They hung their medals around their necks and showed them off at every opportunity.  The smiles no-one could wipe off their faces.  And rightly so:  the winners are the best in the world in their respective fields.  Out of the billions of people on the face of the earth, there is only one as good as the winner.  That is an achievement indeed.

But how does one won in the Olympic Games?  A few things are necessary, and it begins with commitment.  We heard about the years of preparation: special diets, special exercise regimes, hard work, denying themselves of the things that may impede on their performance.  They have this dream to be the best and to compete against the best.  They set their minds on it and nothing else counts.

But there are other things too.  They do well to follow the instructions of their coaches, and they must understand the rules of their sport.  They must compete according to those rules.  Imagine being fit, healthy, and committed, but being disqualified because one does not know the rules of the sport.  But there is something else:  all the hard work of preparation would be lost if the stamina and the energy would not take them to the last step of the race.  It’s no good to do everything right in the lead-up to the Games, only to give up a few yards from the winning post.

All these things put together make a good and successful athlete.

Last week we heard about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how He, by grace, qualifies us to be children of God: He conveys us out of darkness to light.  This we know because we have heard the Gospel of hope, which calls us effectually, and giving us hope and planting in us the love of God.  In short the Gospel of Jesus Christ turns our world upside down and makes new creatures of us.  But it puts us on a road of service:  we are called to not only be like the wannabe athlete who only dreams of the medal, but like the real one who puts everything on the line to attain the winning post and win the prize.

The demand of the Gospel

That’s why verse 9 of Colossians 1 begins with “For this reason”.  In other words, because of the grace shown to us in the Gospel of Christ calling us out of darkness to light, because we have a sure hope stored up in heaven, and because we love the Lord and fellow Christians, we must take the next step. 

Just be careful not to understand the commitment to the race as a set of good works in order to be saved.  That’s not how it works.  The paragraph begins with “For this reason”.  In other words, since we are already saved by grace; since we are already conveyed into the dominion of light, and since we already received the hope in heaven, and since we already tasted the love of Christ and fellow-believers the Gospel of the Lord has a claim on the way we live as Christians. 

What now?  “For this reason”.  I think what the Bible wants us to understand about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is exactly what we just said:  to hear it and accept is not enough; it is the sure starting point, but it can never be the point of arrival. 

Paul continues his letter to the Colossians in verse 9 with “For this reason I pray for you”.  What did he pray for?

Growing in the Knowledge of the Gospel

Firstly, that God would fill them with knowledge of his will by giving them spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

They were already saved in the Lord.  They had already accepted the message of truth; they already had faith in Christ and they had already begun to love one another as family in the Lord.  But that’s not enough:  they had to be filled.  It is almost as if he said, “You have become a church of God.  Now that’s great! But there is so much more you need to learn and become.  I pray that God will continue to fill you up with the necessary things so that you can become a real body of believers.”

It is as if Paul prays that God who began the filling up process when He called them will continue to do more and more in them so that they will know Him better.  Knowledge of God will not only serve them well as they worship and serve Him in obedience; it will serve as their guide and guard against attacks from those who would want to destroy the work of God in them.

How true is it for our day!  How many Christians are too satisfied to hear the message of Jesus Christ!  They are too easily satisfied.  They get the running shoes of salvation and admire it; they receive their athlete’s uniforms of being a Christian, but they never put it on.  They know they are elected on the team, but they never show up for practice.  There is no growth in the knowledge of the Lord.  They cannot stand against the onslaught of the devil and they cannot defend their faith.  There is no knowledge of the content of what they believe. 

Too many churches have much to say about the psychological needs of people, while they hardly attempt to nurture the people of God with knowledge of the Gospel.  The result is an illiterate Church who only knows the words of sentimental choruses and songs without theological content.

The Gospel demands that we grow in our knowledge of the Gospel by careful and dedicated study of the Word and gaining wisdom and understanding of what really is important in the life of the church and our spiritual lives.

 A life worthy of the Gospel

The Greek word in verse 10 describes Christian conduct as a way of life. It describes a Christian mindset which gives birth to Christian conduct.  The live a worthy of the Lord is to live a life which displays the Person of Christ.  We are of Him, saved by Him, called by Him, qualified by Him.  He is our Head, we are the members of his body, which is the church.  Once we lived in darkness, but by His grace, we are now called, we are qualified by Him to share in the inheritance of God.  We are led by the Spirit of Holiness. So, somehow we need to reflect this life in Him.

This is what Paul now prays for the people:  become what you are in Christ.  Live holy lives worthy of Christ.  It does not mean that we must do certain things so that our works are worthy for Christ to accept; it doesn’t mean that we need to attain a certain standard of living as if we can become like Christ, living like He did.  It’s the other way round:  Christ’s life is worthy before God and those who love Christ and believe in Him are in Him, and therefore they must conduct their lives so that it displays His holiness and righteousness.

The way in which this life in Christ is worthy before God is spelled out in the rest of the verse:  Bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God.  This is like a spiritual exercise regime for the soul:  it strengthens us to become spiritually fit, healthy and able to do God’s will.

Endurance for the sake of the Gospel

Verse 11 continues to talk about the Christian life as a race of endurance.  A worthy Christian life, bearing fruit to the glory of God can stand the difficulties of the race; it does not run out of breath because it is spiritually unfit. 

Too many Christians just can’t stand the strains and intensity of the race.  They give up and never complete the race.  This sort of Christian living is not worthy of the Lord who was obedient to the cross in order to save us.  As a matter of fact, a fruitless life as Christian is a disgrace to the Name of the Lord.  Jesus Himself said that the Father cuts off the branch that bears no fruit in Him.  In another place in Scripture the Lord declares that lukewarm Christians to Him is like something one would rather spit out of your mouth.  We have to repeat:  a fruitless life as Christian is a disgrace to the Name of the Lord.

Determination and endurance because of the Gospel

Too many Christians lack the patience, which is a state of emotional quietness in the face of unfavourable circumstances. There is no resoluteness and determination to complete the battle to the point of victory.  The smallest hindrance leads to giving up; when someone says something about them, they hang up their boots and resign from the battle. 

There are many side-line Christians; those who feel hurt, those who are disappointed; those who have run out of puff.  Some have reason to feel hurt, but it does not take away the necessity to continue with the race.  No-one on the sideline will ever win the prize.  we need to stop blaming others for our disappointments; we need to grow up and become mature Christians!  We need to work out if our excuses will stand before God if we are called to account of how we competed in the race.

I remember those days in the army when the corporal kept driving us to teach us there is more in us; when you think you can’t do more, he was there to show you a lot more is possible, even if it meant more blisters on your feet, cuts on your elbows and a burning chest and panting lounges. O, do we need more Christians who have endurance and determination not to be thrown off course by unfavourable circumstances!

John Piper in his biography of Charles Simeon, titled “Brothers we must not mind a little suffering”, writes:

In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.”

He preached his first sermon in Trinity November 10, 1782.

Piper:

But the parishioners did not want Simeon. They wanted the assistant curate Mr. Hammond. Simeon was willing to step out, but then the Bishop told him that even if he did decline the appointment he would not appoint Hammond. So Simeon stayed - for fifty-four years! And gradually - very gradually - overcame the opposition.

The first thing the congregation did in rebellion against Simeon was to refuse to let him be the Sunday afternoon lecturer. This was in their charge. It was like a second Sunday service. For five years they assigned the lecture to Mr. Hammond. Then when he left, instead of turning it over to their pastor of five years they gave it to another independent man for seven more years! Finally, in 1794, Simeon was chosen lecturer. Imagine serving for 12 years a church who were so resistant to your leadership they would not let you preach Sunday evenings, but hired as assistant to keep you out.

Simeon tried to start a later Sunday evening service and many townspeople came. But the churchwardens locked the doors while the people stood waiting in the street. Once Simeon had the doors opened by a locksmith, but when it happened again he pulled back and dropped the service.

The second thing the church did was to lock the pew doors on Sunday mornings. The pewholders refused to come and refused to let others sit in their personal pews. Simeon set up seats in the aisles and nooks and corners at his own expense. But the churchwardens took them out and threw them in the churchyard. When he tried to visit from house to house, hardly a door would open to him. This situation lasted at least ten years.[2]

And after all these things Simeon said, “Brothers we must not mind a little suffering.”

 Joyful gratitude as result of the Gospel

Our calling is to love God and to enjoy Him forever.  This is and must be true even in the face of adversary.  Let’s face it, Christian life is not easy. 

We often hear the Gospel presented as if all our life problems will be solved the moment we accept Christ.  This is a very cheap way of presenting the Gospel. Of course the problems tormenting our souls are solved.  We find peace with God and by grace live in harmony with one another.  Bit reality is that following Christ puts us on the way of confrontation:  we confront those who hate Jesus.  And for this our Lord prepared his disciples: 

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:18-21)

Look at examples in the Scripture itself:  Abraham faced problems with the people of the land. So did David, the prophets of the Lord, Job, the disciples, the prophets, the apostle Paul.  All of them knew the reality of hardship. As a matter of fact, those who want to live a fruitful life in the Lord will be persecuted.  And remember, the Lord chastens those whom He loves.  If we are not disciplined we are illegitimate children. 

Does this mean that we should fall in a heap when persecution comes?  No!  Rather, there should be joy in our hearts.  Why?  God has qualified us to share in the inheritance of Jesus Christ.  Peter writes:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Conclusion

My friends in the Lord, we will soon sit at the Table of the Lord.  The signs of bread and wine are our assurance that the race against evil is already won.  He is defeated and in Christ we are more than conquerors. 

But we need to understand that we are now in the army of the Lord.  We are in his team of winners.  The battle has only begun, the race has only started.  The outcome is sure, but we are called to be spiritually fit for this battle. 

Where do you stand?  How are you engaged in the battle?  My prayer for you is the prayer of Paul for the Colossians:  that you will grow in knowledge of his will, that your life may be worthy of the Lord, that you will bear fruit, that you will have endurance and patience and your life will reflect joyful gratitude to Him who qualified you. 

AMEN.


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[1]  Feel free to duplicate this file or quote from it.  The Name of the Lord be glorified!

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1460_Brothers_We_Must_Not_Mind_a_Little_Suffering/

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