Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

May Sermons

D.V., in May I will preach:

5/4/08 Communion/Ascension Acts 1:1-11 "Why Are Your Looking?"
5/11/08 Pentecost Acts 2:1-21 "We Are Not Drunk"
5/18/08 Trinity II Corinthians 13:11-13 "Finally"
5/25/08 Guest preacher: Bill Galloway

The Flea Market is Almost Here!

D.V., we will have our Flea Market this Saturday (May 3rd) from 10 AM to 2 PM. Make plans to stop in and shop! We're grateful for all those who have been helping with the set-up and all those who will sell on Saturday. See you then!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Deacons" Sermon: I Timothy 3:8-13

"Deacons"
[I Timothy 3:8-13]
April 20, 2008 Second Reformed Church

We conclude our look at the offices of the Church this morning. Let us remember that every Christian has been given a gift from the Holy Spirit and is to use that gift, or gifts, for the good of the Church, but some have been called to serve in one or more of the offices of the Church.

The first office we looked at was that of the ordained minister. We saw that the call on those God elects to the office of ordained minister is to study, pray, preach, and teach. Then, we looked at the office of the elder and saw that it is a similar office to that of the ordained minister, but the call on the elder is more specific to the oversight of the spiritual health of the congregation, including the minister, as well as being the teachers of the Church.

The third office is that of the deacon, and let us remember that the offices have parity -- they are equal in authority, but different in call, in the work that they are to accomplish. The deacons, as the meaning of the word tells us, are servants. The deacons are charged with managing the physical needs of the Church and especially the needs of the poor in the Church.

We remember that when we looked at the office of ordained minister, (in Acts 6), we saw the creation of the office of the deacons. The Greek widows in the Church were not having their needs met, but the Jewish widows in the Church were having their needs met, so the disciples went to the apostles, the ordained ministers, and asked them to do something. The ministers told them that they could not neglect their study, prayer, preaching, and teaching, to make sure the physical needs of the widows were met, so they formed the office of the deacons.

In this morning's Scripture, we have Paul, writing to the young minister, Timothy, instructing him on the qualifications of the deacon. What Paul says about the deacons is very similar to what he says about the elders. We can divide these qualifications into five:

First, a deacon must have good character. As we saw last week, the character of the person in office matters. Unlike American office holders who so often end their careers in front of a human judge for sentencing, God expects those who hold office to be of a higher standard.

The deacon must be dignified, not double-tongued. The deacon is to be someone who is straightforward, speaking the truth. He does not "fudge" the facts; he does not speak in double-entendres; He does not tell one person "yes" and another person "no." The deacon is not to be addicted to wine; he is to enjoy wine in moderation or abstain. He is not to be greedy for dishonest gain; he is to be greedy that God would be glorified by the deacon's serving in the house of God. He is not to claim the office for the purpose of lining his own pockets. He is to be honest with all of his dealings, and especially those of the Church.

Second, a deacon "must hold the mystery of the faith," have a clear conscious, and come through the fire blamelessly. What is the mystery of the faith? Paul states it, in one form, just a few verses later, "[Jesus] was manifest in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory" (I Timothy 3:16b). This is a summary of the faith -- that God incarnate in the Person of Jesus, that God the Holy Spirit testified -- witnessed -- to Jesus not being a mere mortal, but God Himself, that the heavenly beings rejoiced and testified to God's Incarnation, that the Good News that God has taken upon Himself the wrath that was due us for our sins and given us the merit Jesus earned through His Perfect Life on earth has been proclaim to all the nations and people have believed on Him throughout the world -- and He ascended back to the Throne of the Son, where the God-Man reigns as King of Kings and Lord of lords, and will soon return. And any deacon ought to believe and confess that mystery -- these truths.

Third, their wives must have good character as well. They are to be dignified and not slanderers. The deacons may come home and tell about the people that were helped -- ministered to -- and their wives are not to spread that information around -- they are not to slander or gossip about others and their needs. Instead, they are to be sober-minded and faithful in all things. They are to be examples of clear-headedness and faithfulness in the Church.

Fourth, and this is why the text is in your bulletin again, a deacon is to be the "husband of one wife." Our pew Bible again has, "married only once." As we said last week, what God is saying is that deacons are not to be bigamists or polygamists. The translators of the NRSV, in attempting to make the Bible less "patriarchal," as they say, have placed the additional burdens of not being allowed to serve if one is a re-married divorcee or a re-married widower. God does not add those prohibitions, so neither should we.

And fifth, the deacons are to manage their households and children well. For if the deacons can't manage the material needs of their family, how can they be expected to manage the material needs of the Church? The word that Paul uses for house is oikos from which we get our word, "economy." Deacons must be economists for the Church and her people.

So we see that deacons are called to be the managers, economists, those who are gifted and called to see that the physical needs of the congregation are met. Our Book of Church Order describes the call to the office of deacon like this:

"The office of the deacon is one of servanthood and service representing Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. In the local church deacons are chosen members of spiritual commitment, exemplary life, compassionate spirit, and sound judgment, who are set apart for a ministry of mercy, service, and outreach. They are to receive the contributions of the congregation and to distribute them under the direction of the consistory. The deacons give particular attention and care to the whole benevolence program of the church. They have charge of all gifts contributed for the benefit of the poor and distribute them with discretion. They visit and comfort those in material need and perform such other duties as the consistory may assign them" (Book of Church Order, 2007, 1.I.1.10).

Paul ends his description of the qualifications for deacons with the encouragement that "those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." In other words, those who fulfill the call of deacon will be well thought of by others. Those who seek to serve others and make sure their needs are met will be well thought of by others. And, as one serves, one’s faith increases. Through service one gains a greater faith.

Hopefully, we have understood that all of use are to be servants, not just the deacons. We are all to serve with the gift(s) that the Holy Spirit has given us, and some have been given the added service in the offices of ordained minister, elder, and deacon.

It should come as no surprise to us that the high call of Christ upon all of our lives is to serve, for Jesus said, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42b-45 ESV).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for calling some to be deacons, to serve and oversee the material goods You have given to Your Church. We thank You that You consider all of us worthy of the high calling of service in You. Keep us from being distracted by the goals of the world, and let us find our joy in service, in the likeness of You, our Master. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"It is hard, as Bernard says, to distinguish inter morsum serpentis et mobun nentis [between the bite of the serpent and the disease of mind], between those suggestions which come from Satan, and which breed out of our own hearts" -- Thomas Waston, 261.

Help Our Troops

Do you have an old cell phone? You can help our troops phone home. Cell Phone Recycling Center (2555 Bishop Cir W, Dexter, MI 48130-9828, attn: Cell Phones for Soldiers) or www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com. Drop your cell phones (and batteries) off at the church or mail them in yourself, and they will power them up, load them with minutes, and get them to our soldiers so they can call home!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Nemo habet de proprio, nisi peccatum [No one has anything of his own, except his sin]. Augustine." -- Thomas Watson, 223.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Flea Market Set-Up

We are continuing to set-up for the Flea Market! If you're able to help, we have scheduled (D.V.) today, Tuesday, from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM and Thursday from 9 AM to 12 PM as set up times. Thank you for your help!

Puritan Wisdom

"Ministers cannot remit sin authoritatively and effectually, but only declaratively. They have a special office and authority to apply the promises of pardon to broken hearts. When a minister sees one humbled for sin, but afraid God has not pardoned him, and is ready to be swallowed up of sorrow; for the easing of this man's conscience, he may, in the name of Christ, declare to him, that he is pardoned. He does not forgive of his own authority, but as a herald in Christ's name, pronounces a man’s pardon." -- Thomas Watson, 216.

"Elders" Sermon: Titus 1:5-9

"Elders"
[Titus 1:5-9]
April 13, 2008 Second Reformed Church

We are in the midst of looking at the offices of the Church. We have said that every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, and every Christian is to use their gift or gifts for the good of the Church. We have also said that some are called to one of the three offices of the Church: ordained minister, elder, and/or deacon.

Last week we began by looking at the office of the ordained minister, and we saw that the primary call on the ordained minister is to pray, study, preach, and teach. We also saw that the word that is generally used for minister in the New Testament, presbuteros, is the same word that is sometimes translated, "elder." We concluded from that that there is parity among the offices -- they are different, but equal in authority or rank, and there are similarities between the office of the minister and elder.

We remember last week we saw that there was a problem in the church in Jerusalem -- that the physical needs of the congregation were not being met -- specifically that the widows were not all being fed, and the people came to the ministers and asked them to do something about it. The ministers said that providing for them would compromise their call, so they instructed the formation of the office of deacon.

Today, we have heard a passage from the letter of Paul to the young minister, Titus. And in it Paul told Titus that he left him on the island of Crete because the churches were in disorder spiritually, so Paul instructed Titus, not to do the work himself, but to appoint elders in every town -- in every church. In verse seven, they are called episkopos, a term that is only used five times, and means "bishop" or "overseer." So, we can draw the conclusion from this that the main call of the elder is to be an overseer of the spiritual condition of the congregation and the minister. It is the call of the elder to make sure that the spiritual needs of the congregation are addressed. That includes answering questions, as well as correcting false teaching, and making sure that what the minister is teaching and preaching is true and in conformity with the clear teaching of the Scripture.

Then Paul set out three areas of qualification for the office of elder:

First, the elder must have faithful oversight of his family. He must be "above reproach, the husband of one wife." And this phrase is why we didn't read our text from our pew Bible. The editors of the NRSV were very concerned to removed male pronouns in order to make to Bible "less offensive," and in some cases, it doesn't make a difference. But here it make a significant difference. Our pew Bible inserts the line "married only once." Do you see the problem? What the text actually says is that an elder may not be a bigamist or a polygamist. What our pew Bible has done is put the additional restriction -- that God does not give -- that an elder may not be a remarried divorcee or a remarried widower. We must be careful with translations, especially with translations that are not word for word translations.

So, an elder is to not to be a bigamist or a polygamist. The elder's family is to be one husband and one wife. And the children of an elders are to be believers, for, if an elder is unable to oversee the spiritual health of his family, especially to belief, how can he do so for the congregation? And his children must not be debauchers or insubordinate to their parents. This just makes sense: if an elder has children who confess to be Christians, yet they unrepentantly break the commandment to honor their parents and claim Christian liberty for living lives of excess and sin, how can he be trusted to oversee the spiritual health of the congregation?

Second, the character of the elder matters. We live in an age when we say that the character of our leaders is irrelevant to their serving well in their office. We say that a person may commit adultery and perjury and still fulfill the office to which he is called without impediment. God says otherwise: the character of the elders matters to his fulfilling his call to office.

The elder, since he is a steward of the teachings of God, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant; an elder is humble. He must not be quick-tempered; an elder must bear attacks against him for Christ's Sake. He must not be a drunkard; and elder drinks in moderation. He is not violent; and elder seeks peace, especially the Peace of Christ. He is not greedy for gain; an elder is satisfied with the provision God has made for him. He is hospitable; an elder must enjoy being with people. He loves good; an elder will not let the chance pass him by to show the good, especially the Good of the Gospel. He is self-controlled; an elder does not live for his base instincts and desires. He is upright; an elder abides by the law of God and man. He is holy -- and in this case, the word means that an elder will be devout, dedicated to the Word of God. He is disciplined; an elder has the ability to control his desires. He is an example of faithful character -- living according to God's Word.

Third, elders have been given a specific gift by the Holy Spirit -- they have the ability to teach doctrine. "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught"; an elder will believe everything that God has said. "So that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it"; an elder has the gift of teaching, so, in his oversight of the congregation, he is found teaching the truths of Christianity in Sunday School, and he is also gently but firmly correcting any false teaching, schism, and heresies that enter into the church.

Although it doesn't emphasize the teaching aspect as much as the Scripture does, listen to what our Book of Church Order says about the office of elder: "The office of the elder is one of servanthood and service representing Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. In the local church elders are chosen members of spiritual discernment, exemplary life, charitable spirit, and wisdom grounded in God’s Word. Elders, together withe installed minister/s serving under a call, are to have supervision of the church entrusted to them. They are set apart for a ministry of watchful and responsible care for all matters relating to the welfare and good order of the church. They are to study God’s Word, to oversee the household of faith, to encourage spiritual growth, to maintain loving discipline, and to provide for the proclamation of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments. They have oversight over the conduct of the members of the congregation and seek to bring that conduct into conformity with the Word of God, thereby empowering all members to live out their Christian vocation in the world. Elders exercise oversight over the conduct of one another, and of the deacons, and of the minister/s. They make certain that what is preached and taught by the minister/s is in accord with the Holy Scripture. They assist the minister/s with good counsel and in the task of visitation. They seek to guard the sacraments of the church from being profaned. An elder may administer the sacraments, if authorized by the board of elders" (Book of Church Order, 2007, 1.I.1.8, 12-13).

The call to the office of elder, then, is a call to faithful oversight of one's family, one's character, and the spiritual condition of the congregation. And the elder has been gifted to teach and should do so in many different ways amidst the congregation.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the call to the office of elder and for all those elders You have blessed this church with throughout the years. We ask that You would continue to raise up faithful elders in this congregation. That we may respond to their oversight and find ourselves safe and closer to You for their efforts. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"The schoolmen say 'omne peccatum contra conscientiuam est quasi deicidium,' i.e., every known sin strikes at the Godhead. The sinner would not only unthrone God, but ungod him, which makes the debt infinite." -- Thomas Watson, 211.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"That in this prayer there is but one petition for the body, 'Give us our daily bread,' but two petitions for the soul, 'Forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.' Observe hence, that we are to be more careful for our souls than our bodies; more careful for grace than daily bread; and more desirous to have our souls saved than our bodies fed. In the law, the weight of the sanctuary was twice as big as the common weight, to typify that spiritual things must be of far greater weight with us than earthly. The excellency of the soul may challenge our chief care about it." -- Thomas Watson, 209.

Consistory Meeting

The Consistory will meet (D.V.) after worship this Sunday. Please plan to stay, Consistory members!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"God, who gives us our allowance, knows what quantity of outward things is fittest for us. A smaller provision may be fitter for some; bread may be better than dainties. Everyone cannot bear a high condition, any more than a weak brain can bear heavy wine." -- Thomas Watson, 205.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Ministers" Sermon: Acts 6:1-7

"Ministers"
[Acts 6:1-7]
April 6, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Last week we began a series on the offices of the Church: that is, minister, elder, and deacon. We began by looking at the Scripture's teaching that we, Christians, are the Body of Christ and He is our Head. We, to keep the metaphor, are every other part of the Body. We have been gifted for whatever part we have in the Body. Every Christian has been given a gift from God and we are to use those gifts for the good of the Church. Every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, and we are to use those gifts to the Glory of God and for the good of the Church. And some have been called to the office of minister, elder, and/or deacon.

When we say we are "called," we are not merely saying that this is something we like to do or want to do, but that you have become assured that God Himself has called you -- elected you -- commissioned you -- to serve in such and such an office.

Determining whether or not God has called you to service as an ordained minister, elder, or deacon is serious business and should not be entered into quickly or lightly. As James wrote about ministers and elders, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1 ESV). Anyone who takes on the call to speak for God and explain His Word also takes on the responsibility and the added judgment that comes in teaching what God says. Those who claim to be interpreters of God's Word, able to explain it to others, will be judged more strictly on the last day.

How, then, do we determine if we have a call to office? The prudent person will read and study all the Scriptures about the office. He will pray for wisdom and discernment and pray not to enter an office to which he has not been called. He will seek out the counsel of other, more mature Christians. And he will seek the approval of the whole local church. These will help him determine if he actually has the call of God upon him.

Although much more could be said about call, let us now turn our attention to the offices, and first, the office of the ordained minister. What is a minister called to do? What ought he do? What is the rest of the congregation's role?

If we look at the New Testament, we find three terms used to describe this office, presbuteros, leitourgos, and episkopos. Leitourgos is only used twice, both times referring to the young minister, Timothy, and the word means "servant." Episcopos in only used five times, and in reference to the young ministers, Timothy and Titus, and the word means, "bishop." Every other time the office is referred to, the word that is used is presbuteros, from which we get Presbyterian and presbyter in English. This word means, "member of the presiding counsel," "honorable officer," "elder," "ambassador," "presbyter," "minister," "one having seniority," not necessarily in age, but in wisdom.

We ought to notice that the same word, presbuteros, is translated in our Bibles, sometimes as minister and sometimes as elder. The Presbyterian denominations recognize this and call their ministers "preaching elders" and the other elders "teaching elders." There is a fluidity between ministers and elders or between the two types of elders -- one who deals largely with preaching the Bible and the other who deals largely with teaching the Bible. This fluidity or slipperiness adds to what we said last week about the offices having parity -- that is, they are different in function, but equal in status and authority.

So, let us turn to this morning’s Scripture:

After Pentecost, the twelve were meeting together in Jerusalem. (By this point, Matthais had replaced Judas.) And the disciples, those who followed Jesus, were increasing in number. And a complaint arose among the Greeks, that the Church was meeting the needs of the Jewish believing widows, but not those of the Greek believing widows. There was racism in the Church. (Notice, it was the duty of the Church to make sure the needs of believing widows were met, not the government. That would be something to look at another time.)

The twelve apostles -- the ministers -- the preaching elders -- said it was not right that they should neglect their preaching to meet the needs of the widows -- the congregation. Instead, they said to choose from among themselves seven deacons -- seven men who had good reputations, who were full of the Spirit and wisdom. The deacons were formed and appointed to see that the needs of the congregation were met. The apostles said that they had to devote their time "to prayer and the ministry of the word" -- preaching and teaching.

We see that the response of the people was to be pleased with the words of the apostles, and they appointed seven who were the first deacons, and they saw to it that the needs of all the believing widows were met. The apostles, meanwhile, preached the Word of God, "and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith."

We see, then, those called to the work of minister ought to spend the majority of their time in prayer and study and in preaching and teaching. The largest percentage of the work of the minister is found in him coming before God, praying to God, and studying -- preparing to preach and teach -- the Word of God. The work of the minister is to bring God's Word to the congregation and bring the congregation before God.

Hear these calls of Paul to young ministers:

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, and intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people" (I Timothy 2:1 ESV).

"If you put these things [prayer and the word of God] before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed" (I Timothy 4:6 ESV).

"Teach and urge these things" (I Timothy 6:2b ESV).

"But as for you, O man of God, flee these things [sin]. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time -- he who is blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen" (I Timothy 6:11-16 ESV).

"And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness" (II Timothy 2:24-25a ESV).

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:14-15 ESV).

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, enduring suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5 ESV).

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 ESV).

Prayer. Study. Preaching. Teaching.

Like the priests of the Old Testament, the minister must spend the larger part of his time before God, with God's Word, preparing, so he can lead the people of God in worship and preach the Word of God correctly. Like a shepherd of the sheep, the minister has to know sheep and know how to lead sheep from the Creator of the sheep in order to keep them safe.

And surely some will object, "So all a minister is supposed to do is lounge around and read?"

First, prayer, study, teaching, and preaching are the major work of the minister; the minister is not sequestered off in some high ivory tower where he never interacts with the people. It only seems wise that the minister would be involved in every aspect of the Church, for, if he doesn't know his church, his flock, how could he rightly prepare and pray and teach and lead them? A minister ought to know something about everything that goes on in his church and with his congregation.

And second, the study and prayer that is involved in the work of a minister is not lounging around. If the minister is serious, truly doing his work and coming before God to learn and care for his people, it is a very hard and draining work, even if we see the minister sitting reading a book or with his eyes closed.

"But what about minister so and so who says he prepares the sermon in five hours and uses preprinted Sunday School materials, that's not even a full day's work."

The call to the ordained ministry is different from the other calls, because only the minister is always functioning as the minister, from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep. Being a minister is what we might call today, a lifestyle, not a job. That does not mean that a minister can or ought to try to do as little as possible, and the fact of the matter is that ministers who are truly called to the ministry spend far more than a forty hour work week in their calling. The minister's work is not measured by hours producing "widgets" in the office; the minister's work is measured by his faithfulness to the call that God has put upon him. Someone who is called to the ministry can no sooner "turn off" being a minister than he can "turn off" being human.

So, what ought the congregation be doing?

The congregation, every one of us, ought to be praying for our ministers. We ought to be praying that our ministers will be faithful to the call that God has put upon them. We ought to pray that God will give them wisdom and skill to preach and teach, that God would keep them from false teaching and heresy. We ought to pray that they would have discernment to know what the congregation needs and the ways in which they ought to respond. We ought to pray for their health and families. We ought to pray that they would not be discouraged, but would trust God. We ought to pray that they would keep themselves from sin.

We ought to obey Jesus' Command, "The laborer deserves his wages" (I Timothy 18b).

We ought to join together in worship, in Bible study and other small groups.

The minister is given to the Church to help the Church understand what God has said and to walk in faithfulness before God. And the example of the Scripture is that this is done, primarily, through prayer, study, teaching, and preaching.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, we thank You for giving us ministers. We ask that You would continue to raise up and call ministers unto Yourself. We ask that our ministers would be faithful to their call and keep from sin. We ask that we would better understand the call and the work of the minister. And as we come to receive the Lord's Supper, we ask that the liturgy would help us to understand what is truly happening, and as You commune with us, we ask that Your Grace would be given to us that we all would grow up into the Image of Your Son. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Vir bonus aliis prodest aeque ac sibi [A good man benefits others as much as himself]." -- Thomas Watson, 201.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"Gold is but shining dust: God’s glory must weigh heavier." -- Thomas Watson, 195.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

"A worm cannot fly and sing as a lark; so a natural man, whose heart creeps upon the earth, cannot admire God, or advance his glory, as a man elevated by grace does." -- Thomas Watson, 194.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

4/6/08 Communion "Ministers" Acts 6:1-7
4/13/08 "Elders" Titus 1:5-9
4/20/08 "Deacons" I Timothy 3:8-13
4/27/08 Guest preacher: Will Lampe

Consistory Change

Consistory members, please note that we will be meeting (D.V.) on Sunday, April 13th, rather than the 20th as originally scheduled. Please change your calendars.

Puritan Wisdom

"Thus God candies our wormwood with sugar, and makes us gather grapes off thorns. Some of the saints have such ravishing joys in affliction, that they had rather endure their sufferings than want their comforts. Oh, how much kindness there is in the cross In the belly of this lion is a honeycomb. Should it not make us cheerfully submit to God's will, when he lines the yoke with comfort, and gives us honey at the end of the road?" -- Thomas Watson, 178.

"The Body" Sermon: Ephesians 4:11-16

"The Body"
[Ephesians 4:11-16]
March 30, 2008 Second Reformed Church

What are the offices of the Church? I'm not referring to the rooms in Freeman Hall. What are the offices of the Church? What are the biblical positions that some people are called to function in in the Church? If we talk just about the local church -- Second Reformed Church, we have people who hold the office of minister, elder, and deacon. These are the three biblical offices of the Church. In discussions in the past few months, it seems that there is some confusion about these offices, what they are, what their responsibilities are, how someone is called to an office, and so forth. So, if the Lord is willing, we will spend the next four weeks looking at the offices. Today, we begin, more generally, with the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ.

Paul begins his letter to the Church at Ephesus by explaining the Gospel, so they will be able to defend themselves against heretics and false teachers that were seeking to prey on them. Then, in chapter four, he argues that since the Gospel is true, since salvation is wholly the Work of God, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called into the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV).

Paul argues that since the Gospel is true, since our salvation is wholly the Work of God, we ought to live in such a way that the value of God's Work is seen and understood. We have been called to salvation in Jesus Christ so we ought to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing one another in love, working hard to maintain our unity in the Spirit and in peace. Does that sound like you?

Would someone say of you, "That person is great to work with and be friends with, she is always doing good for other people, she doesn't put herself up on a pedestal, she doesn't get offended if she isn't the center of attention. In fact, she is so dedicated to the essentials of her faith that she bends over backwards to help other people -- in love, so that the unity of the essential teachings/doctrines are maintained, and there is peace among her fellow Christians with her, even as she maintains herself"?

Paul says we ought to be working on being that way with the help of the Holy Spirit, because there is only one Body -- the Church, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all of us. And Christ gives us grace. If there is one Body, one Salvation, One Spirit, One Savior, One Father, then we cannot be divided and together. We, through the grace that Jesus gives us, are either one together -- or we actually have nothing to do with Jesus. We cannot claim Christ and be in disunity with our fellow Christians. That doesn't mean we'll all be best friends; it doesn't mean that we will never disagree, but on the non-compromiseable issues, we will be one, and united in them in Christ's Love through His Grace.

We're told in this morning's Scripture that every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, and some have been called to serve in the offices of the Church.

Every Christian has received a gift or gifts from the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says, 'Jesus is accused!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (I Corinthians 12:1-11 ESV). And "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:3-8 ESV).

Every Christian has been given a gift for the good of the Body of Christ -- the Church. Each one of you here this morning has been gifted in some way for the sake of the Church -- all of us. Some of you love to teach, so you should be teaching in the Church. Some of you love to give financially, so you should give generously. Some of you love to listen to others and comfort them, so you should be about that ministry. Some of you love to bake, so you should be baking. Some of you love to visit people, so you should be out visiting the members of the Church. And so forth. There is one thing, or maybe several things, that God has gifted you in and you love to do, so you should be doing that in the Church. The gifts are given to make the Church whole, and using those gifts that we have been given give us joy.

If you don't know what your gift is, if you doubt you have a gift -- ask me, and I will get the tools we need to determine your gift, so you can have greater joy in the Church. One place to start would be to ask yourself what you do that you always want to do. What gives you joy? When people ask me about whether they have the gift and call to the ministry, I tell them that one of the key questions in my understanding is this: would you be alright with never preaching again? Would you be able to live a joyful and satisfying life in Christ, in the Church, and never ascend to the holy pulpit to speak for God? You see, God's Gifts to us are not a punishment: God gives us gifts, for His Glory, for the good of the Church, and for our joy. Using the gift we have in the Church will bring us joy -- so that is another tell.

God also calls some to offices in the Church: God calls some to be ministers, some to be elders, and some to be deacons. God gives everyone gifts, but not everyone is called to an office. And some will be called to one office, and some to two, and some to three in their lifetimes, depending on how God uses them. It is not biblical to say that someone is called to be a deacon and then when he proves himself he becomes an elder, and then finally, he becomes a minister. They are separate but equal offices -- we say they have parity. They are equal and one does not necessarily follow from another. Some people serve in several offices, some do not, depending on the gifts they have and the call God places upon them.

Paul makes the point in this morning's Scripture (and if the Lord wills, we will look at this in greater detail next week), that God calls some to be ministers or teachers, or minsters and teachers, and the primary work of the office of the minister/teacher is this: to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ. The office of minister/teacher is to be primarily concerned with teaching everyone else in the Church and making sure that everyone else has the tools necessary to do ministry inside and outside of the Church, because they are the ones that are call to do the work of ministry. The minister/teacher is to teach and equip the congregation so the congregation can do the work of the ministry.

If the minister/teacher does what he is called to do, the result will be that "we all attain the unity of the faith," "the knowledge of the Son of God," and we will "mature [into] Christ[likeness]." First, we will be united in the essentials of the faith -- all those things which are non-compromiseable, all those things which Christians must agree on, if they are to be Christians. Second, we will know Jesus savingly and we will continue to know Him better and more fully. And third, we will mature, change, into people who are like Jesus.

It is urgent that minister/teachers do the work they are gifted and called to do, and, sadly, most are not. And there are a variety of reasons for that, but we won't get into that this morning. But our Scripture explains the necessity, as Paul says we are no longer to be children "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." The devil, his demons, and some people don't want you to mature in Christ. As Larry Norman sang, "you've got to love everybody, but don't be blind, 'cuz some kinds of people try to mess up your mind."

Why shouldn't we remain like children in these things? What is it about children? Children are over-credulous -- they tend to believe what they are told. Children tend to think that everything "new and improved" is better. And children tend to be void of discerning.

I am the oldest of six children, and I now have a niece and nephew. I have teased all of them, telling them incredible and disgusting things, to get a reaction out of them -- because I knew they would believe. On the spur of the moment, in the car, when the oldest of my sisters was young, I pointed out a water tower to her and told her that it was a lamb's egg. That a lamb would lay an egg on the ground, and it would grow up into this tower, and then when the sheep we ready to hatch, they slide down the middle tube and walked out the bottom. And, briefly, she believed me.

We cannot believe people just because they are ministers or friends or relatives or scholars. There must be reason, argument, and proof behind what we say is true. One of my favorite examples from seminary is that we were taught that the world-wide flood of Noah is a myth, a fable, a parable. And the way they knew it wasn't true history was because every civilization has a world-wide flood story. I disagreed with that argument -- if everyone agrees that something happened, and the archeological evidence supports it -- and it does -- then it is probably true, right?

My little brother is a tech hound. He loves gadgets, and he has to get the newest and "most improved." "New and improved" -- what did we have before, "old and substandard"? I had a professor in seminary who said new commentaries are always better than old commentaries. Well, what if the new one is wrong? Do you have to be in style, not matter what the cost? The new style of worship is called the "emergent church," and in its most excessive, it minimizes the Scripture, emphasizes rock music and praise choruses, mysticism, and doing whatever makes you feel good in worship. How far are they from the bacchanalian orgies? If General Synod recommended church prostitutes, how long would it take to catch on? We must stand by the clear teachings of the Scripture and not give in to everything new and shiny.

And what of discernment? If I put a hundred dollar bill and a matchbox car in front of my nephew and said, "Ty, you can have one of these," he would choose the car. It would be a poor choice, poor discernment of the value of the two, but it would satisfy him for the moment. We must learn and discern that eternal satisfaction and joy are worth more than momentary pleasure. The future of the Church and the Kingdom, Jesus promised, will mean we will need to be uncomfortable at times, even suffer for His Sake.

We must put away childish things, and our minister/teachers are to speak the truth to us in love -- to teach us, not because they are smart and we are dumb, but in the love of Christ and for His Sake. And "we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (NRSV). Our pew Bible makes the appropriate emphasis, maturing, becoming like Christ, using the gifts we have been given, serving in the offices we are called to, is not a choice, it is a command -- we must grow up. If we are Christians, our Lord, our God, our Savior commands us, not as a tyrant, but as a loving Father, to grow up!

We are to become like Christ, functioning properly as members of His Body. And Christ is our Head. He is the Brain, the Mind, the Reason. We have been gifted as hands, feet, stomachs, ears, eyes, noses, mouths, toes, fingers, lungs, kidneys, livers, intestines, and so forth. Christ gives us our gifts through the Holy Spirit and some are called to particular offices in the Church -- not because they are better than others, but because it pleased God to use us in the way He uses us.

Some of us are mouths -- we speak on behalf of the Body. Some of us are feet -- we walk, provide locomotion for the Body. We have different gifts, but we are all important in what we have been gifted. And it would be disaster to mix up our parts, especially if we try to be the head of the Body. The intestines are necessary and do a good work and are gifted for what they do, but what a disaster it would be for our skull to be full of intestines, rather than the brain!

Christ is the Head, the Brain, the Mind, the Reason. We follow Him. He unites us all together. We can only function rightly and fully when He is controlling us and we are responding to the impulses He sends to us. Paul wrote, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of the one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor can the head say to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greatest honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, administering, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all poses gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a more excellent way" (I Corinthians 12:12-31 ESV).

Paul wrote, in verse sixteen of this morning's Scripture, that when each part of the Body is working properly, when we are being fed by God's Grace, using the gifts we have been given, and serving in the offices, as we are called, the Body will work properly. We will be the Church, no longer being immature and foolish, but being a people actively maturing into the image of Christ.

And we will build up the Body -- each other -- in love. Not just out of duty. It is not enough to hear the Scripture this morning and say, "OK, God said I have to do what I have been gifted at in the Church, so I'll do it." Duty is not enough, there must also be love. Rev. Dr. John Piper gave the example of giving roses to his wife on their anniversary: he said it would be wrong of him to come to the door, ring the bell, hand his wife roses, and, when she asked, "Why did you bring me these, Johnny?" -- it would be wrong, and she would have a poor reaction if he said, "It was my duty; it's our anniversary, it's something I have to do." No, what he should do, the right thing to do would be to bring her the roses and answer the question, "I bought them for you because I love you; you bring out the best in me, and it is my honor and joy to be your husband."

Coming to worship, being a part of the Body, using your gifts in the Church, serving in the offices as God calls you, putting away childishness and working hard to mature into Christ-likeness are all good things, and they are things we ought to do, but if we don't love each other, if we don't love the Body, if we don't love Christ and His Church, it's not enough.

Brothers and sisters, do you love Christ? Do you love His Church? Do you desire to be satisfied and filled with His Joy? Then we are told to be the part of the Body we have been called to be. Understand what your gift is, and use it for the good of us all. If you have been called by God to serve in one of the offices, serve. Learn from ministers and teachers who desire you to learn the pure Word of God. And let us grow up, in all ways, into the image of Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, the Head of the Church, unite us, equip us, and cause us to joyfully know and use our gifts for the good of the Body and to Your Glory. And as we work together in love, may we understand the offices and rightly discern Your Call to serve. In Jesus' Name, Amen.