November 24, 2013

Sermon, Sunday next before Advent

Christians and Ministry
Psalm 90, Ecclesiastes 12, Hebrews 13:1-21
Sunday next before Advent
November 24, 2013

“I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).  “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28:19).  “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13).  “[T]he church, which is His body (Eph. 1:23).  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers… for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12).

The Church was God’s idea.  Not just the spiritual church, not just an intangible feeling of unity, not just believing the same things other Christians believe; but the visible tangible organisation with hymns and liturgy and clergy and creed.  That Church was God’s idea, established to be His unique people, to edify and bless His people, to continue in The Faith given by Christ to the Apostles and through the Apostles to the Church, and to proclaim that Faith to all people for as long as this earth shall last.  We can easily discern several major ideas in the verses I just read.  First, the Church belongs to Jesus.  Second, He is its builder.  Third it has an organised, identifiable membership. Fourth, it has an organized, identifiable ministry, clergy.  Fifth, it has an organized and identifiable creed, a body of belief. Sixth, baptism, though it has many other meanings, is baptism into this organized visible Church.

I want to take make two of these ideas the subject of the sermon today.  The ideas are, the Church’s ministers, and the Church’s members.

Let’s talk about the ministers first.  In one sense, every member is a minister.  It is also true that God has ordained an official clergy for His Church.  In times past the clergy included Apostles and prophets.  The office of Apostle passed when the last Apostle, probably John, died in the early second century A.D.  The office of prophet, a much different office from that imagined by most people today, passed when the New Testament was written.  Apostles and prophets were extraordinary offices because they were temporary and limited to a very few men. The ordinary offices, those that remain in the Church until the Lord returns, are Deacons, Presbyters, and Bishops.   Deacons assist in the worship and care of souls in the local congregation.  The presbyter, sometimes called a priest, is the pastor of a local church. The Bishop ordains ministers and ensures that the clergy and churches in the diocese proclaim and live the Biblical Faith.

All of that is an introduction, because what I really want to talk about today is what every true minister wants for his congregation.  If we look back to Hebrews 13:7,8, we see three important phrases.  First, “who have spoken unto you the word of God.”  A true minister preaches the word.  He preaches the Bible.  He does not preach his own ideas.  He does not preach sentimental stories.  He does not preach idle chatter.  He does preach the Bible.  His sermons will be true to the Bible.  They will explain the Bible’s meaning, and will show how it applies to life.  His explanation of the Bible will be in conformity to the faith once delivered to the saints.  If we look back through the history of the Church we will see that it has always followed a carefully preserved body of belief.  It has a creed. Yes, there have been disagreements over some issues, but the true church has always clung to the faith.  Likewise the true minister believes and teaches that faith.

The second phrase is, “whose faith follow.”  The true minister wants everyone in the congregation to follow the true faith.  Please look at Hebrews 13:9. “Be not carried about with diverse and strange doctrines.”  Now picture a river, a swift, wild river.  The river has strong currents, which can carry you away.  They can harm you, they can even kill you.  So anyone who goes onto the river has to be careful of the currents.  Diverse and strange doctrines are teachings that are alien to The Faith, and they are like those river currents.  People get caught in them and get carried away from the true faith.  Watch out for the currents.  Be not carried away by them.  I say again there is a body of belief, a body of doctrine that has been preserved and handed down through the Church from the beginning.  It was given to the Apostles by Christ.  It consists of all He taught and did and commands.  The Apostles preached it to the world and preserved it in the New Testament Scriptures.  The Church has believed and preserved it for us today. Follow that faith.

The third phrase is, “considering the end of their conversation.”  The end and goal of a true minister’s conversation is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  He wants you to know Jesus Christ.  He wants you to know the forgiveness of sins.  He wants you to know the peace that passes all understanding.  He wants you to have a home in that House of many Mansions.  He wants you to have peace with God.
                
You noticed that Hebrew 13:7 opens with, “Remember them which have the rule over you.”  Who are “them which have the rule over you”?  They are those who have “spoken unto you the word of God.”  Hebrews 13:17 elaborates on this saying, “Obey them that have the rule over you” and identifies them as those who “watch for your souls” No true minister wants to be your lord and master, and that is not what the Bible is teaching here.  The Bible is teaching us to develop a cooperative and respectful spirit toward His ministers.  We should always address them in respectful tones, just as we should always address one another in respectful tones.  Our respect for each other should be evident in our voices and actions.  God has charged His ministers with preaching the Gospel and caring for our souls, and we should honour them and follow them, unless we have good evidence they are teaching and asking us to go against Scripture.  I think the meaning of all that I have been trying to say here is well summarized in Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”  He says something similar in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, “Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord.”  A true minister directs you to Christ and says, “I am going with Him, come with me.”

Let us now turn to the members of the Church.  It is clear that true Christians will attempt to follow a true minister, attend a true Church, and believe the true faith.  That’s not all.  If you look at Hebrews 13:21 you read Paul’s prayer for his fellow Jewish believers, asking God to make them “perfect in every good work to do His will.  The word, “perfect” means to have a sanctified mind, a mind turned toward God.  The result of having such a mind is to do the will of God.  That’s the point I want to make.  The true Christian wants to do the will of God.  He does not live in resentment against God.  He does not live in rebellion against God.  He does not consider the commandments of God as intrusions on his fun.  He knows the will of God is good, and he seeks to do it.

Second, the true Christian wants to be “well-pleasing” to God.  In one sense the only way to be well pleasing is to have our displeasingness covered by Christ’s atoning sacrifice and transformed by the Holy Spirit.  But Paul is talking about our will, our goal, our desire, and the actions that come out of them.  He is talking about what happens in our lives when we have that sanctified mind I just spoke about.  Our actions and our attitudes and our values and our words and the way we treat others are changed. They go from being displeasing, to being well pleasing to God.  True Christians want to be well pleasing to God.

Finally, true Christians “suffer the word of exhortation.”  I know some of you think you have suffered this word of exhortation long enough, but be patient for a few more minutes, please.  Paul is talking about receiving the faith.  He is talking about being patient to receive Biblical preaching without needing to have your ears tickled with fluff.  The Bible tells us to eat spiritual meat, but most people want sugar.  Eat the meat.  Listen to Biblical preaching.  Tune your mind to hear it.  Train your mind to listen to it.  “Suffer the word of exhortation.”

Obviously, not all who call themselves ministers are true ministers.  Likewise, not all who call themselves Christians are true Christians.  Let that not be so of us.  I resolve this day to be a true minister.  And, if I go the way of the Lord, come with me.

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