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The gospel of the Lord - the exhortation of the Gospel

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The Gospel of the Lord

The exhortation of the Gospel

Lord’s Day 28 September 2008, Morning Worship, 9.30am

© Rev D Rudi Schwartz[1]

Bible Readings

Old Testament:                     2Samuel 12:1-13

New Testament:                   Colossians 1:28-2:5

Hymns/Songs

                1.  Approach:                        “Rejoice, the Lord is King”

                2.  Forgiveness of sins:        “As sons of the day and daughters of light”

                3.  Thanksgiving:                   “Now thank we all our God”

                4.  Response:                        “God has spoken by his prophets”

Main Points

1. Introduction
2. Exhortation in Jesus Christ
3. Exhortation to know Jesus Christ
4. Exhortation to service in Jesus Christ
5. Conclusion

 

1.     Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, 

One should astounded by the insight of the Westminster Divines in the framing of the questions of the Larger Catechism about the Bible as the Word of God.  In a series of questions and answers about the Word and Sacraments, beginning with question 154, we learn more about God’s intention with the Word and Sacraments.  We also learn how the Reformed theologians through the ages regarded these teachings.  This was the case until very recently when some thought it necessary to change things and brought in a complete new understanding of how we should worship and what should be taught.

Question 154 asks:  What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?  The answer: 

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation. (Matt. 28:19–20, Acts 2:42,46–47)

The point which the Confession wants to make here is this:  Christ died, He rose again, He intercedes for his elect and He has given the Holy Spirit for his Church; but how would all that Christ has done be known to us so that we will have a saving knowledge of it.

In contemporary worship the Word plays second fiddle.  Today the first thing people choose to communicate the Gospel with is to bombard people with music – contemporary music, that is! 

I read an article this week, written by Dr Peter Masters, minister of Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church where Charles Spurgeon used to be the minister.  The title of the article is “Worship in the melting pot” and Dr Masters writes:

Words and thoughts are everything in worship. Music may only assist at a practical level; it cannot be used to express worship. To believe that it can, is to fall into the tragic error of aesthetic worship. The singing of God’s people should certainly be grand and glorious in terms of fervour and effort, but it is the words and the hearts of the worshippers that God desires. All unnecessary embellishment is an offence to Him. 

Frequently, tremendous musical expertise goes into the ‘production’ of a service, but it must be realised that any attempt to make a direct impression on the soul by the use of music or any other earthly tool is ecstatic worship as opposed to spiritual and rational worship. 

Emotions fanned into flames by sentimental or stirring music may be enjoyable feelings at a purely human level, but they are not worship.  Music cannot really move the soul. It only moves the emotions.  We are spiritually moved, not by melody, beauty or spectacle, but by what we understand.”

Back to the Larger Catechism.  Question 155 then follows with:  How is the Word made effectual to salvation?  In other words:  how can what Christ did for the sinner become salvation to the sinner?  The answer here is: 

The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

We have to understand then that the Bible, as the living Word of God, is the tool God chose to proclaim the benefits of Jesus Christ with the goal that people will be saved and rescued from eternal death; through and by this Word they are equipped for service in Christ.  All other methods applied as a means to achieve this, are sinful, wrong and of no use.  One can have a thousand hymns, thousands more performers, ten thousands of choruses and contemporary songs in worship, but if the Word of God is not preached and believed, nothing happens.  Back to Dr Masters:

We believe that the Lord trusts us with music and also with instruments to accompany the singing of praise, but these cannot actually convey worship. They are secondary. They are not in the image of God, nor do they have souls, nor are they redeemed.

From what we have said up to now we have to conclude that there is more to the Bible than the written letter and page.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The Word is authoritative and it has an appeal to the soul.  When preached by those called by God and addressed to those whom God will call through his Word, it surely is the tool unto salvation, how old-fashioned this statement may sound!

Ministers of the Word then should, according to the Catechism:

… to preach sound doctrine, diligently, in season and out of season; plainly, not in the enticing words of man’ s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; faithfully, making known the whole counsel of God; wisely, applying themselves to the necessities and capacities of the hearers; zealously, and fervent love to God and the souls of his people; sincerely, aiming at his glory, and their conversion, (1 Cor. 9:19–22) edification, and salvation.

This then takes us to the admonition of the Gospel.

2.     Exhortation in Jesus Christ

Paul writes in Colossians 1:28:  “We preach Him (Christ), admonishing and teaching with all wisdom.

The word for admonish is to instruct by impressing an instruction on the mind of someone else. The desired effect is that those who hear would then change their behaviour.  It is in many places in the Bible plainly called repentance.  Repentance is nothing less that a change in mindset which effect all of life that follows.

The word used by the apostle Paul to exhort or to admonish carries with it the meaning of “to direct one’s mind to a subject”, with the idea to develop understanding of that subject.  The activity of exhortation or admonishment is directed at the mind, which then overflow into action as a result of the change of mind, because it has religious and moral significance:  what the mind is thinking, effects the way we act and respond to our interaction with our environment.

The work and life of almost all the prophets of God consisted of this ministry.  God called his people to repentance, which is a change of mind by turning away from what is wrong and follow God.  The people in reaction could turn around, and in many cases they did, and challenge the authority of the prophets, but the prophets had a divine right and duty. They kept saying, “Thus saying the Lord!”

It is still the same today.  Paul writes about the Bible as the inspired Word of God and says:

“… the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

It is probably not the easiest task of any minister to rebuke and admonish the wayward in the Lord.   But it is necessary, and it needs to be done in love for the sake of Christ.  It is a form of discipline. 

We read about David, his grievous sin by committing adultery with Bathsheba, telling one lie after the other, doing whatever he could to cover up his sins, trying to bribe Uriah, involving Joab in the whole affair, and eventually have Uriah killed.  It was a dreadful time in the life of David, Bathsheba and probably the whole nation.

Then God called the prophet Nathan to go to David.  Nathan told him the parable of the poor man who only had one little lamb, which he treated like his own daughter.  A rich man, who had everything, then stole that little lamb, killed it and had his guest eat it in celebration.  David was very angry and demanded that this man be put to death.

Then Nathan, the man of God, leaned forward and in the power of God who commanded and appointed him, said to the powerful king of Israel:  “You are that man.”

David writes of this time in his life:

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. (Ps 32:3-4)

Then, convicted by the Spirit of God through the prophet, David in heartfelt agony over his sin wrote Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. (Psalm 51)

I did not quote the whole of Psalm 51.

When the minsters and elders exercise discipline, they do so because God demands it; the purity of doctrine is preserved, the church is purified from disobedience, and the bride of Christ is prepared for her union with the Groom, Jesus Christ on the day of his return.

3.     Admonition to know Christ

Paul says he admonishes and teaches with all wisdom.  To teach is to tutor, to teach or give pastoral direction from the Word of God.  This takes us back to that verse in 2Timothy:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.  

The underlying meaning of the word teaching here is to aim at the highest possible development of those who are being taught. It has in mind not informal teaching, like a sort of a “follow-my-leader” situation, or an imitational relationship, but a formal and intentional instruction with the purpose to equip with a sure knowledge.

In this process Paul says he uses all wisdom.  What he has in mind is growth in Christian knowledge, which includes knowledge of God’s will and worthy conduct.  This was exactly what he prayed for:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:9-10)

This is a process.  It cannot be done by applying the minimum of standards in the minimum amount of time.  Those who are instructed should be willing to give as much time and effort possible to be instructed so that a Biblical mindset can be developed.  

Thus, preaching and proclaiming the Gospel is immensely more than just “sharing a talk” with the people of God.  It is intentional instruction, it’s equipping with knowledge, and it’s leading people to, after a change of heart and mind, living like people of the light.

Last night, as we drove back from Melbourne we were tuned in to the local Christian radio station.  I was delighted at the announcement that a sermon by Dr Billy Graham would be broadcast.  This was a sermon preached at a rally in New York City about three years ago.

Before the sermon commenced we were introduced to a “worship” group who sang a song which made me cringe; I almost turned the radio off, but settled with turning down the volume.  The crowd loudly applauded the group.

I was very disappointed that Dr Graham did tell a few stories of his younger years, but he never read the Scriptures.  He referred to John 3, and the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.  His reference to the text was not correct and his exegesis was very superficial, to say the least. The doctrines of a new birth in the Spirit and repentance as a result of this work were presented as one and the same thing.  To be born again was therefore were presented not as a statement of fact, but as a command, which is not the case.  Never does the Bible give us the command to be born again.  It is not something we can do, being dead in our sin and trespasses; it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

 And then – a call to make a decision for Christ and a sinner’s prayer! 

Well, to be give all possible credit to Dr Graham, maybe the station edited the sermon to be only about 5-7 minutes long. The announcer then said that with certainty, on account of the Bible, those who prayed the prayer with him, are now born again, because they repented from their sin! 

I was disappointed and saddened without limit and amazed beyond words that the Gospel came without exhortation, without teaching and without equipping!

Remember what the Apostle said in the previous verses: 

“We ask that God would fill you with the knowledge of his will through spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Next week we will see why it is so important to be armed with knowledge in order to stand in the battle against the truth of the Gospel.  

It is a sad thing that the majority of Christians today can be classified as illiterate concerning the Word of God. Jesus commissioned his disciples to not only disciple the nations and to baptise them, but also to teach them.  Most of the energy of the apostles went into this task.  It is a sad state of affairs today that church people shy away from teaching.  We lament the notion that doctrine is dead, but Gospel is alive.  He who teaches the Gospel as Christ commanded is doing nothing less but to instil doctrine.

4.     Admonition to equipment for service in Christ

The last aspect concerning the preaching of the Gospel is the equipment.  It goes hand in hand with what is already said.  But the implication is that those who hear the proclaimed Word concerning Jesus Christ, those who are admonished and taught will be equipped for service.  The expression in Colossians 1:28 “to present everyone perfect in Christ” is to say that those under the pastoral care of the ministers of God should grow to spiritual maturity.  Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 4:

“…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)

5.     Conclusion

My dear brother and sister in the Lord, God’s plan for his church is to see it grow in its knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, to grow in its obedience be built up for service.  God wants his Church united in Jesus Christ.  The question is, where do we stand?

Today, once again, I stand before you as Christ’s ambassador, imploring you to be reconciled to Christ.  But I also implore you to grow in your knowledge and to grow in your service of Christ.  In other words: grow up in Christ; take your place in the battle for the truth.  And don’t shoot your ministers if they admonish with the Word of God; they are only doing what God commissioned them to do.

Amen.


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

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