Churches we recommend in Boston

After much prayer and counsel, we have made the difficult decision to close New Covenant Church in South Boston. We are saddened by this necessity, but we are confident that God knows what He’s doing and that His work continues in the Boston area through many local churches that proclaim the gospel.

Still, if you’ve found our website, you may be looking for a particular kind of church, a church committed to biblical preaching and teaching, baptist in principle, and confessional in nature. To that end, we’d like to make a few recommendations to help you find a solid church in the area.

Austin Square Baptist Church (Lynn, MA) – Only 22 minutes from South Boston (on Sunday morning anyway!), this is our first recommendation. This is the nearest church that aligns with our confession and we are happy to recommend them. In fact, this is where we are going now, so please join us!

South Shore Baptist Church (Hingham, MA) – We have participated in many events and retreats with this church in the past and have enjoyed their support and encouragement over the years. If you live closer to the South shore, this is a solid church that would be a good choice.

These are our best recommendations for the time. If we come to know of any other solid, reformed, baptistic churches in the area, we will update this page.

To the pilgrims of the Dispersion…elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. [1 Peter 1:2]

Glorify God in all things

Glorify God in all things

Introduction:

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]

You may have heard this verse before. It is both an exciting prospect and a troubling one. All true Christians should feel a surge of excitement at the idea of glorifying God in all things. But at the same time, we get a little confused and concerned about exactly HOW we are supposed to glorify God in all things.

We feel pretty confident about glorifying God while we’re singing at church, but we don’t have that same confidence about drinking a glass of water.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

What I want us to see today is two things.

First, this command to glorify God in all things is a binding command on all Christians. There are no exceptions. Every Christian is bound by this command at all times.

…do all to the glory of God.

More than that, every person is bound by this command. The essence of sin is to glorify self rather than God.

But today we’re talking about Christians glorifying God through all they do.

The second thing I want us to see is that this command encompasses all of life. We are to do all things, not just some things, not just “church” things, ALL THINGS to the glory of God. This means that everything we do, from going to church to taking a sip of water, we are to do to the glory of God.

With that said, let’s turn to the first 5 verses of John 17 and learn from Jesus how we can glorify God in all things.

Text:

John 17:1-5

Summary of the Text:

Last week we looked at these same verses and I pointed out two important ideas, everlasting life and the glory of God. We dealt with the idea of everlasting life last week, and this week we are dealing with this idea of the glory of God.

We see that the glory of God is the most important idea in this paragraph because Jesus keeps coming back to it. In fact, we learned last week that our salvation serves the glory of God. The primary reason we have eternal life is because it glorifies God to give it to us!

1. glory defined

Before we go any further, though, I think we need a working definition of glory. What is the glory of God? What does it mean to glorify God?

When the bible speaks of the glory of God it means the weightiness and splendor of his presence, the honor and esteem that is due him, the dignity and majesty of his position as King and Ruler over all things.

The first time scripture uses the term glory is in Genesis 45. Here Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers and tells them to return and bring his father Jacob to him in Egypt.

So you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here. [Genesis 45:13]

Joseph has risen from the slave pit to become the most powerful official in Egypt other than Pharaoh himself. The glory he has in Egypt is his exalted position, his power and authority, the honor in which he is held by all.

That’s what we mean when we speak of the glory of the Lord.

So when Jesus says,

Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.

He is asking God to exalt and honor Him.

Or consider this from Matthew 6,

Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. [Matthew 6:2]

Doing good deeds to be seen and have the recognition and accolades of other people is seeking glory from men. Honor, esteem, exalted in their eyes.

So this is our working definition of glory,

honor, esteem, praise, and renown for great goodness, beauty, splendor, and/or magnificence.

So if something, or someone, is of great goodness, beauty, splendor, or magnificence, it is honored, esteemed, and praised to great renown among men.

So we can speak of the glory of ancient Rome, or the glory won on the battlefield, or the glory of the cross.

Therefore, to glorify someone, is to hold them in a position of honor and high esteem, to praise them and make their name known to others for their great goodness, beauty, splendor, and magnificence. It is to value them above all else.

So one thing should be noted here. When we glorify God by valuing Him, honoring Him, esteeming Him above all else. We are not adding to God’s value or worth or glory. He is worthy of all praise and glory as He is in Himself.

When we glorify God, we are simply doing our duty as His creatures, and making His worth and beauty known, to ourselves and others. We are not adding to God.

2. glory demonstrated

The question is, how do we glorify God practically? Fortunately, Jesus tells us how in our text today.

In verse 1, Jesus asks the Father to glory the Son, so that the Son may glorify the Father.

In verse 5, He again asks to be glorified with the Father,

…with the glory which I had with You before the world was. [John 17:5]

So the three persons of God mutually hold one another in high honor and esteem, and have for eternity.

Now look at verse 4.

I have glorified You on the earth.

How?

I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.

What was that work? His active obedience to the law of the Old Covenant. Jesus glorified the Father by his obedience.

Now the reason obedience is glorifying is because His perfect obedience demonstrated the great value he placed on honoring God. He held the Father in the place of supreme preeminence in His life, above the desires of His flesh.

In other words, He had loved the Lord with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He loved God more than He loved his flesh. He loved God more than He loved food, or family, or comfort, or life itself.

3. glory applied

But now we come to the difficult part. Jesus glorified God with His life and His death, and we are commanded to do the same. So how do we eat, drink, and do all to the honor, esteem, praise, and renown of the great goodness, beauty, splendor, and magnificence of God?

How do you go to church to the glory of God?

How will you go to work tomorrow to the glory of God?

How will you drink water to the glory of God?

Church to the glory of God

Let’s start with going to church, since we’re here already. How do we do church stuff to the glory of God? It sounds easy enough, after all, we’re singing about/to God, praying to God, reading God’s word, the bible. It seems everything we’re doing here is about God and should easily be to His glory. But maybe not. We could do all these things for our own glory instead.

When you come to church, do you come for what you’ll get out of it? Or do you come because it is God’s revealed will for his people to gather as a church to worship Him (Hebrews 10:25)? One way, you glorify yourself. The other way, you glorify God.

You glorify God by obeying Him, because he is worth obeying. He is God, and you are not.

This applies to all of God’s commands, not just the command to go to church. If you know God has commanded a thing, or forbidden a thing. Obeying Him is glorifying Him. Your obedience demonstrates that you hold God is a position of honor and esteem above your own desires.

So we come to church in obedience. And while you’re here…

When you sing, do you think about how YOU feel? Or do you think about the One about whom, and to whom, you are singing? Do you consider His great goodness, beauty, splendor, and magnificence. And then sing in such a way as to honor, esteem, praise, and make His name great, both in your own heart and in the ears of those who hear?

When you listen to the sermon, do you listen to hear something about yourself, or about God?

Jesus taught us to pray with the opening line of the prayer being concerned with the glory and honor of His name.

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed by Your name. [Matthew 6:9]

And the prayer ends with the glory of God.

For Yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory
forever. Amen. [Matthew 6:13]

Is that the focus of our prayers? Or are we more concerned with ourselves? Whose glory are we seeking?

You see, it is possible to do all the church things with the focus in the wrong place, the desire of the heart fixed on the wrong goal, and our worship becomes offensive to our God.

But there is a way to do these things to His glory and not our own. We just need to be reminded of that, often.

Work to the glory of God

Tomorrow morning, we’ll all be faced with another week. A week of work, housework, and school. So how can we go to work, inside or outside the home, or go to school, inside our outside the home, to the glory of God?

When you work, at a job or school, you have two options. You can do your best, or you can be lazy. Being lazy doesn’t glorify God, no matter how you look at it.

If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. [2 Thessalonians 3:10-12]

There’s a command for you. Work! And if we look at the example of God in creation, we’ll notice that the work He does is above reproach. It is of the highest quality. He didn’t cut corners, He didn’t waste time, He didn’t do sloppy work.

When we work, we should pursue excellence.

But again, it is possible to work hard, and do great work, to our own glory rather than God’s. Much of that has to do with the motivations of your heart. But some of it has to do with how you do your work to be noticed. Would you do the same quality work if you knew no one would ever see it, other than God? If so, then you may be doing it to His glory.

Even so, it is possible to think too highly of yourself. The trick here is to do the work to the best of your ability because God gave you that ability and you want to honor Him with it. Can you take as much joy in a job well done by someone else, as you can when it’s done by yourself?

And of course, doing your work to the glory of God means obeying Him in all things. That means not lying, stealing, or breaking any other of God’s moral law.

Drinking water to the glory of God

But now we come to the difficult part of this. How do you take a drink of water before bed tonight to the glory of God?

Jesus lived His life to the glory of God. He did nothing for the glory of His human nature. Which means, that He ate and drank and slept and all the other little things that are part of being human, to the glory of God.

And the command we started with was explicit about this.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]

So I’ve picked one part of the daily routine and I’m asking: how do you take a drink of water to the glory of God?

I would guess that all of us will take a drink of water at some point today. So how do we glorify God in that?

First, you take the drink. Be a good steward of the body God gave you and drink the water.

Second, and this is key, you drink with a thankful heart. God made water. It’s a good thing. He designed your body to feel thirst when you need water to sustain life. That’s a very good thing. And water quenches that thirst. So you are thankful for that. And remember that we live in a part of the world where clean drinking water is pretty easy to come by. Others are not so fortunate. So be thankful.

Third, you let the thirst remind you of your frailty. You need to drink water, or you’ll die. God designed it that way for a reason. We need constant reminders, and he gave them to us in the forms of hunger and thirst, constant reminders that we are not autonomous beings. We are not self-sufficient. We need something from outside ourselves to sustain us. That’s intentional. That’s glorious, because it points us to God as the source of all life.

So you drink. You drink thankfully. You drink humbly. And finally you drink from faith. The bible says that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” [Romans 14:23]

So you drink from faith. Faith that God’s created order works and the water will quench your thirst and will sustain your life. But more than that, you drink from faith in the One who made you and the water. You drink from faith that the One who turns water into wine [John 2:7] has turned your heart of stone into a spring of living water [John 7:38].

That’s how you drink water to the glory of God.

Now, I’m not saying you have to stop and run through all that in your mind every time you grab a glass of water, but it wouldn’t hurt! I am saying that you do make this way of thinking a way of life, so that your life becomes a display of the glory of God in the world.

Conclusion

I want to make two points and wrap up. If you remember nothing else from today, remember these two things.

First, there is no such thing as a sacred/secular divide. The material world isn’t bad. It is God’s good creation. And we are to live all of life in it to the glory of God. All of life, even something as mundane as taking a sip of water before bed.

Second, though we don’t do this perfectly, Jesus did. Jesus lived His entire life to the glory of God, and He gave that life for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [2 Corinthians 5:21].

Jesus prayed,

I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. [John 17:4]

What glorious good news! Jesus, lived a life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father, glorifying God in all things. And He gave that life to save sinners like you and me.

Now we can live to the glory of God, because Jesus already did.

What is eternal life? (John 17:1-5)

What is eternal life? (John 17:1-5)

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the gospel of John for some time now. In recent chapters, we’ve seen Jesus preparing his disciples for his coming death, resurrection, and ascension.

The end of chapter 13 marked the beginning of this long section which is mostly Jesus speaking. He has taught the disciples about himself, about the nature of God as a Trinity, and about the work of the Holy Spirit. He has prepared them to face persecution, to welcome the discipline of the Lord in sanctification, and to trust him in the midst of a turbulent world.

Now in chapter 17, Jesus is no longer speaking to the disciples. He is speaking to the Father in prayer. Continue reading

Life in the Vine

Life in the Vine

This sermon was preached at New Covenant Church South Boston on 04 October, 2015.

 

Introduction:

We are starting a new chapter in John today, chapter 15. We are still in the midst of Jesus speaking to his disciples. This monologue will go on through the end of chapter 17.

In chapter 14 Jesus spoke of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

At first, chapter 15 may feel like a change in topic, but as we go along, you’ll see the connection between chapter 15 and the topics, particularly the minor themes of chapter 14, which get expanded on here.

Text:

John 15:1-11

Summary of the Text:

The first thing we must recognize about this text is that Jesus is speaking in metaphor. He does this often. When speaking about the Kingdom of God Jesus uses metaphors, similes, and analogies to convey meaning.

Here, we have a combination of metaphor and simile. Of course, a simile is a particular type of metaphor, and the main metaphor that carries the rest of the pericope is a direct metaphor and not a simile.

So I want to begin with a brief discussion of metaphors and how they are used in teaching, then we’ll look at the purpose of this particular metaphor, and finally we’ll unpack this metaphor and what it means.

The metaphor

So let’s begin with the metaphor itself. What is it, and how does it work?

Simply put, a metaphor is figurative language where you use one thing in place of another to suggest a likeness and convey meaning.

By contrast, a simile compares two different things in order to create a new meaning.

So when Jesus says, in Mark 4,

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed… [Mark 4:30, 31]

That is a simile. He even tells us he is making a comparison.

A metaphor is more direct, without the comparison, simply stating that one thing is the other thing.

So when Jesus says,

I am the true vine… [John 15:1]

That is a metaphor.

An analogy is similar, but less direct. With an analogy, you have to figure out the comparison.

So when Jesus said,

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground… [Mark 4:3-5]

He never tells the crowd the meaning of the analogy, or parable. He leaves them to figure it out for themselves. That’s what he means when he ends,

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. [Mark 4:9]

So that’s an analogy.

But a metaphor is less complex, easier to understand, because we’re told what the comparison is between.

A metaphor is figurative language using one thing in place of another to suggest a likeness and convey meaning.

This means, that a metaphor has meaning. It is meant to teach us something, to help us understand something, or to explain something. It’s not just flowery language for the sake of sounding poetic. It is didactic in nature.

One last thing about metaphors. We must understand the limits of a metaphor. Metaphors are only meant to be taken so far. We mustn’t take a metaphor further than the author intended it, or we’ll derive meaning they never intended.

If I say,

After his wife died, he became a shell of a man.

You understand the metaphor correctly if you take it to mean that he is empty on the inside. But if you start playing with the minutia of the comparison and arrive at the conclusion that this man is hard and brittle, that his skin is ribbed, and that he spends a lot of time in the sea, then you have taken the metaphor beyond its intended meaning.

The purpose: that our joy may be full

Not only does a metaphor have a meaning, but this particular one has a purpose, a goal. What is being communicated is intended to accomplish something in our lives.

Jesus tells us the purpose of the metaphor in verse 11.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, an that your joy may be full.

The intended goal of the metaphor is joy. But not your run of the mill human joy. This is fulness of divine joy.

Jesus wants us to experience his joy. And to experience it fully.

Why his joy? If he wants his joy in us, there must be some reason, some difference between his joy and the joy we could have on our own as humans.

I would suggest to you that this is a qualitative difference. His joy is a better kind of joy than ours is. His joy is better because he is better. God is unchanging, steadfast, and immovable. His joy is necessarily better, because it springs from his nature which is better than ours.

Human joy is fleeting, tenuous, shallow, fickle, and weak.

How difficult we find it to “rejoice in the Lord always”, as Paul encourages us to do in Philippians [4:4]. When faced with the difficulties of life, we tend toward sorrow, despair, anxiety, anger, anything but joy.

But when Jesus went to the cross to face not only pain and death, but also the wrath of God for our sins, the bible says that,

Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:2]

That is the kind of joy Jesus would have us experience. Joy so deep, so strong, that even pain, suffering, shame, and death, cannot take it from us.

Furthermore, Jesus wants us to experience his joy to the full.

Here’s what I think he means by that.

Remember Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist? Remember how the crowds were coming out to John and then Jesus showed up and the crowds left him and went to follow Jesus. And John’s disciples mentioned to him that everyone was following Jesus now. How did he respond?

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease. [John 3:29, 30]

First notice that John has the kind of joy, that is there in the midst of hardship and humility. And his joy is complete, or full.

He has the quality and quantity of joy that Jesus wants for all his disciples.

And John says that his joy is complete because Jesus is being glorified, and that is the source of his joy. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Fullness of joy comes in the absence of self concern. When you are more concerned about Jesus’ glory and mission, than you are about your own glory, then you can experience fullness of joy.

But notice also the proximity. John doesn’t just know of Jesus’ glory, he can see it. He says the friend rejoices when he hears the voice of the bridegroom.

In his second letter, the Apostle John wrote to a small group of people, perhaps a family or small church, and he closed the letter like this,

Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. [2 John 12]

There is a completeness, or fullness, to joy that comes from being with someone you love.

Lauren and the girls recently went on a trip to visit her sister in North Carolina. I still loved them when they were gone, and to some extent had joy in my love for them. And technology even allows us to not only hear each other voices, but to actually see each other. We did several FaceTime video chats while they were gone.

But when they got home. When I met them at the airport and held them in my arms. When we were actually together, there was fullness of joy.

There is something about being present with the ones you love that increases joy.

And Jesus wants that for us. As we go through this metaphor, Jesus intends for it to increase both the quality and the quantity of our joy, and a big part of that is being with him.

Remember what started this dialog, the disciples were troubled that he would be leaving them. So he told them he would send the Holy Spirit to be in them. In this metaphor, notice how often he uses the words “abide in”. Either telling us to abide in him, or assuring us that he will abide in us.

10 times in 10 verses.

There is something about being with the person you love that increases joy. And Jesus is telling us something about being with him in this metaphor.

The meaning of the metaphor

So let’s unpack this metaphor and see if we can figure out the meaning Jesus has for us.

Now remember that a metaphor is figurative language using one thing in place of another to suggest a likeness and convey meaning.

So first, let’s outline the metaphor. What thing is Jesus using in place of another?

He is using the grape vine.

He says in verse one.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.

Then in verse 5 he says,

I am the vine, you are the branches.

So the metaphor is this. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, individuals are branches. And in the metaphor, there are two types of branches. But before we go there, let’s talk about the function of the vine and the vinedresser in the metaphor.

Jesus is the vine. More than that, he is the true vine. Why add that qualifier? What does it even mean?

It means he is the real vine, which implies there is a false vine.

In the Old Testament, the vineyard or grape vine was often used as a metaphor for the nation of Israel.

Psalm 80 that we began with, spoke of the nation as a vine that God planted in the land.

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it. [Psalm 80:8]

But the vineyard was broken down and the vine was in bad shape. The Psalmist asked God to,

Psalm 80:14-19

Similar language is used in the prophets. In Isaiah, the nation is again pictured as a vineyard, but it is not pleasing to the vinedresser.

Isaiah 5:1,2,7

Jeremiah picks up this same imagery.

Jeremiah 2:21,22

The nation has not yielded fruit pleasing to the vinedresser, and so they are punished.

But as Isaiah’s prophecy continues, you reach chapter 27 where the restoration of the vineyard is pictured.

Isaiah 27:2,3,6

In chapter 11 Isaiah tells us how this comes about, and it a passage we recognize as being about Jesus, the salvation of the nations, and the peace of the coming kingdom of God.

Isaiah 11:1-9

When Jesus uses this metaphor of the vine, and says that he is the true vine, what he is saying is that he is the true Israel. He is the fulfillment of Psalm 80, Isaiah 11 and 27. The Old Testament nation of Israel proved unfaithful, but he is true. He yields the fruit of righteousness. He is the true vine, the true Israel.

Just like the Old Testament metaphors, the Father continues to serve as the vinedresser, the owner of the vineyard who cares for the vine, cultivates it, and harvests its fruit.

But then Jesus speaks of individuals being branches, and there are two types.

There are fruitless branches, and fruitful branches.

V2,6

Fruitless branches are dead wood that is taken away, withered, gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned.

And here is where we need to be careful with the metaphor, and the Old Testament background becomes important.

Without the background verse 2 could be a real problem.

V2

Do you see the difficulty?

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away,

If we aren’t careful, we’ll take that to mean there are Christians (branches in Christ) who lose their salvation (are taken away) because they don’t do the right works (does not bear fruit). That is indeed how some people read this verse.

But to read it this way is to ignore the Old Testament background and context.

Remember who Jesus is speaking to, Jewish disciples. They would have understood the metaphor of the vine to be about the ethnic nation of Israel. So when Jesus says he is the true vine, he is telling Israel that he is the true Israel. And he is telling Jews that their birth as Israelites doesn’t guarantee them a place in the restored kingdom. If they continue in the unfaithfulness of the nation, they will be taken away, cast into the fire, and burned.

If they would continue to be part of the true Israel, they must do so by faith, not by ethnicity.

Paul says the same thing in Romans 9.

Romans 9:3-8

What Jesus, and Paul, are saying is that Old Testament Israel was the type, and Jesus is the antitype. He is the true Israel. He always was. The ethnic nation of Israel served as a type of Christ, to point the way to him, and as Paul tells us in Galatians, the nation constituted under the Old Covenant served the purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, the true Israel of God, Jesus.

So he is the true vine.

His Father is the vinedresser. The owner of the vineyard who cultivates the vine and harvests its fruit.

And individuals are the branches. To be a branch that is savingly connected to the vine that is Jesus, you must do so by faith. That is what he means by abiding in him.

10 times in 10 verses Jesus uses the phrase abide in. We are told to abide in him and in his love. And we are told to let his words abide in us. What words? The message of the gospel.

In John 6 Jesus already used this language of abiding in him. There he said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to abide in him. That is, we must partake of him by faith.

But what does life in the vine look like for one who abides?

It involves three things:

  1. keeping the commandments
  2. bearing fruit
  3. and being pruned

In verse 10 he equates abiding in his love with keeping his commandments. This is a restatement of the theme from chapter 14 that love motivates us to obey, and obedience proves our love.

In his first letter, John puts it this way,

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. [1 John 2:4-6]

So abiding in the vine, means obeying the commandments. You can not abide and habitually and willfully disobey. John says the person who tries to do that is a liar.

The second things abiding involves is bearing fruit.

V2,4,8

So what does the fruit represent in this metaphor?

It is what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; [Galatians 5:22,23]

So the question is, how do we bear this kind of fruit?

Well first, we must head the words of Jesus in John 15 when he says we can’t, apart from him.

V4,5

Apart from abiding in him by faith, there is no fruit, just dead branches to be cast into the fire.

So that is the first thing about bearing fruit.

The second is this. Jesus tells us that we start by bearing a little fruit, and then the Father, as the vinedresser, will prune and cultivate us so that we bear more fruit.

Bearing fruit is a process that takes place over time. We call this progressive sanctification. Last week we talked about the Holy Spirit as a teacher, starting by teaching us the basics and then building on that.

Here the metaphor is a vine. We bear some fruit. We get pruned, the bad, unhealthy, and unnecessary parts get cut off, so that we can bear more fruit. But when you prune a grape vine, it doesn’t bear more fruit immediately. The increase doesn’t come until the next harvest season. Pruning takes time.

Peter, in his second letter, gives us a sort of outline.

2 Peter 1:5-8

You start with faith, then you work on virtue, that is moral uprightness or excellence, then you increase in knowledge, then self-control, then the next, etc. One at a time, pruning away sin and bad fruit, and cultivating good fruit. It is God’s work that we are to make “every effort” in.

And let me say this. Pruning is painful. It means having part of yourself cut off and thrown away. It is the unwanted part, the fruitless part, the sinful part, but it still hurts.

Listen to this pruning advice from the Tree Care Industry Association.

Describing the dangers of over pruning, they state:

Any cut made on a tree is a wound that must be healed. The fewer cuts made the better. Smaller cuts throughout the tree’s life are better than large cuts that should have been made many years ago when the tree was small. One large poorly made cut or too many cuts in the wrong places can ruin a tree for life.

They go on to say that over pruning also

  • reduces fruit production rather than increasing it
  • causes the wrong kind of growth and leaves the tree exposed to sun damage
  • weakens the tree and leaves is open to damage from external forces
  • and results in an ugly tree

The same is true for us as Christians. The Father is a wise vinedresser and will not over prune. Let him do his work at his pace. And trust his wisdom in your sanctification.

But be aware that there is no option in this text for a branch to abide in the vine and not be pruned.

There is no option for just comfortably doing your own thing and being saved.

There are two options.

You bear no fruit and are cast into the fire.

Or you bear fruit and are pruned to bear more fruit.

But rest assured that even though pruning might be uncomfortable at times, it is for the glory of God and the increase of your joy.

Conclusion

Jesus is the true vine, the true Israel, and those who are in him are those who believe. If you believe, you will be pruned by the Father to bear more fruit and to increase in joy.

The Supper

Just as a vine must be pruned, it must also be nourished. Fertilizer is added to the soil to aid the vine in producing new growth after a pruning. One form of spiritual nourishment we have is the communion supper.

This meal is an ordinance Christ gave to his church. Which means, among other things, that it is not for unbelievers. This is meant only for those who have been made alive by the Spirit.

The true meaning of this meal is to be apprehended spiritually.

The bread and juice remain bread and juice, but still they represent the body and blood of Christ, sacrificed in death so that we may live.

In this meal we partake of Christ spiritually, and we do so together, as one body, being nourished by him and knit together in love, growing up into him who is the head, into Christ. [1 Cor 10:16-17; Col 2:19; Eph 4:15]

If then, you are in Christ, having been united to him by faith, this Supper is for you. A spiritual meal, to nourish your faith, by making known the glory of his grace.

The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

This sermon was preached at New Covenant Church South Boston on 27 September, 2015.

Introduction:

We’ve spent a number of weeks here in John 14. Last time we looked at the theme of obedience to Christ.

Jesus said, multiple times, that if you love him, you will obey his commandments. We said three things about this.

  1. Our love for Christ is properly directed toward obedience to Christ.
  2. Our love for Christ is proved by our obedience to Christ
  3. Our love for Christ is not the grounds of God’s love toward us, but is the means of the increase in our relationship with God

But if we stop there, we have a problem. The problem is, obeying Christ is difficult, even after He’s saved us.

Now, I would argue, based on the relationship between loving Christ and obeying Christ, that the issue isn’t really obedience, so much as it is love. The reason obeying Christ is difficult is that we don’t love him as we should.

You might argue and say, “But I do love Jesus. It’s just that obeying him is so hard.” I would say in response, that there is a big difference between saying you love Jesus, and actually loving him. If we truly love him, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then obeying him would be easy. If you loved perfectly, you would have no desire to disobey.

Disobedience, sin, is essentially loving something else more than you love Christ. Otherwise known as idolatry.

So the question before us is this: How can we possibly love Christ as we ought?

The answer is right here in John 14.

Text:

John 14

Summary of the Text:

Jesus is going away. He is returning to heaven to be with the Father. The disciples are troubled by this. They are afraid.

Jesus tells them not to be.

He tells them He is the way to the Father.

He tells them that He and the Father are one.

He tells them they, and by extension we, have the amazing privilege of talking to God in prayer, through the mediation of Christ. He is our mediator. We pray to God in His name, not our own. We pray directly to the Father, in Christ’s name. We have no need of priests or “saints” or Mary to stand between us and God, for we come before the throne in the mighty name of Jesus.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. [1 Timothy 2:5]

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:14-16]

And what is our need?

I don’t think we should put too much distance between verses 14 and 15 of John 14. I think the prayer Jesus has in mind here is prayer for help. Help to obey.

He says in verse 14,

If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Then he says in verse 15,

If you love Me, keep My commandments.

Which he then follows up with verse 16,

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with your forever–

The clear logic of this is that we need help, and Jesus will ask the Father to send us a Helper. What we need help with is obeying the commandments. Which we will want to do if we truly love Jesus. And the Helper that Jesus petitions the Father to send is a response to our prayers for help.

The big idea here is that obedience to Christ is only possible via the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

So let’s talk about the person and work of the Holy Spirit from John 14.

1. The PERSON of the Holy Spirit

First we need to briefly address the person of the Holy Spirit. The reason we need to do so was made clear to us a few weeks ago when a man walked in the back of this room and began yelling at me because I confessed the Holy Spirit to be the third person of the Trinity.

The doctrine of God, specifically the Trinity, is always under attack by the cults.

False religions always get the doctrine of God wrong. God is the foundation of all theology and true understanding. When your understanding of God is wrong, you will inevitably be wrong about salvation and everything else.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot. Hindus do not even claim to worship the God of the bible. So it’s easy to see that they get God wrong. Muslim’s, Buddhists, etc. They all claim to worship other gods, so we don’t have much difficulty seeing their errors.

But there are those who use the name Christian, but deny our God. Mormon’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. these are more difficult to discern, because they use biblical language, they’ll even talk about the Trinity but they don’t mean the same thing we do. Oneness Pentecostal’s like TD Jakes are even more slippery.

This guy who came in a few weeks ago seemed to believe that the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ ghost come back to haunt us. He did not believe the Spirit to be a person. But Jesus is quite explicit here in John 14.

1. Listen to the personal pronouns he uses in reference to the Spirit.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17 NKJV)

Just to let you know, so that you may have confidence, these pronouns are in the original Greek. The pronoun used here is autos, from which we get our word, autonomous. It means “of one’s own self”.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV)

Here the pronoun simply means “that one”. It is used elsewhere in the NT to specify “that day”, “that hour”, “that man”, “them” (as in that group of people), “that servant”, etc.

But John uses it almost exclusively as a personal pronoun. A good example of this is in chapter 13.

When John asks Jesus who the betrayer is, Jesus answers in verse 26,

“Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.”” (John 13:26–27 NKJV)

We could read it in both places as “that one”, but it is obvious John is using it the way we use personal pronouns.

And John 14, all the way through John 16, he uses the same word to refer to the Holy Spirit.

So the use of these pronouns is first evidence we should consider in favor of the Holy Spirit being a distinct person.

2. The second evidence is how Jesus speaks of the Spirit.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—“ [John 14:16]

The Spirit is a Helper. This is the job of a person. We don’t think of an impersonal force, like gravity, as a Helper.

And in verse 26,

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV)

Here the Spirit serves as a teacher. Again, the job of a person, not an impersonal force or power.

3. The next evidence is how Jesus speaks of the Spirit as being distinct from both himself and the Father.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—“ [John 14:16]

The Spirit is another Helper, which makes Him distinct from Jesus. He is not Jesus repackaged. He is another.

And He is given by the Father. And in John 16:7 Jesus says of the Spirit,

if I depart, I will send Him to you.

So the confession is correct when it states,

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him. [LBC 1689, ch.2, par.3]

And in verse 26,

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV)

Here again, the Father sends the Spirit, in Jesus name, which is the very same language used for how we are to pray. This doesn’t mean the Spirit is the same person as Jesus, but rather that He comes as an ambassador for Christ, a representative.

An ambassador represents another, but they are not the other. Which makes them a distinct person.

4. And yet…there is the mystery of the Trinity, in which three distinct persons are fully united as one God.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three parts of God, that when taken together form a whole. Rather, each is fully and completely God. They are,

…of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided… [LBC 1689, ch.2, par.3]

We see this in John 14.

In verse 16,

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—“ [John 14:16]

We’ve already said that being “another Helper” makes the Spirit distinct from Christ. But at the same time, it makes him the same. Who could possibly be “another” Christ? Other than one who is of the same essence with him?

In Roman Catholicism, the council of Vatican II states that,

“The priest receives a special Sacrament by which, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, he is conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that he can act, in Persona Christi, that is, in the very Person of Jesus Christ.

Being “conformed to Christ” means that the priest must identify with Jesus Christ and not with the pagan world. He must be an alter Christus —– another Christ.”

Despite what Rome says here, that job is already taken, by the Holy Spirit! Jesus didn’t say he would appoint Peter and his successors to be another helper. No! He said that he and the Father would send the Spirit to be another Helper.

Furthermore, Jesus continues in verses 17, 18.

“the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:17–18 NKJV)

The Spirit, who comes as another Helper, dwells with and in us, and then Jesus says, he won’t leave us alone, but will come to us. He will come to us, by sending the Spirit.

So we see a oneness between Christ and the Spirit, exactly like that between Christ and the Father.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus told the disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father. Here he says that if you have the Spirit, you have him. It’s the same kind of unity or oneness.

Not a oneness of person, but a oneness of “substance, power, and eternity” of “essence…nature and being”.

So the Holy Spirit is a person, distinct from the Father and the Son, and fully united to them in essence, nature, and being. In other words, He is the third person of the Tri-une God.

2. The WORK of the Holy Spirit

Now remember, our big idea is that obedience to Christ is only possible via the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

So let’s talk about the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

We’ve already noted two roles, or jobs, that the Holy Spirit fills. He is a helper and a teacher.

1. another Helper

What does it mean for the Spirit to be a Helper?

It means that he assists us with something. Which in turn implies that we need help.

Just as an aside. Helper is a good translation of this word. The Greek is paraclete, which you may have heard. There is a non-profit here in Southie called The Paraclete. It’s a program for students offering “homework and tutoring assistance”. They serve as a helper for students who need help with their school work. That’s why they chose the word paraclete.

So what does the Holy Spirit help us with?

Two things.

First, he helps us to love Christ.

The bible teaches that apart from the work of the Spirit in regenerating our hearts, we cannot love God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Romans 8:7 ESV)

Remember that obedience to the commandments, or the law, is proof of our love for Christ. So if you cannot submit to his law, then logically, you cannot love him.

And so Paul writes,

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 12:3]

He doesn’t mean that a Christian can’t say the words “Jesus is accursed” or he would not have been able to write them. And he doesn’t mean that a non-Christian can’t physically say “Jesus is Lord”. What he means is that they can’t mean it in their heart and soul, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

This is what Jesus conversation with Nicodemus is about in John 3, and why Jesus says, “You must be born again” or “born of the Spirit”.

The Spirit is the one who regenerates our heart of stone, so that we are capable of loving and obeying Christ.

Secondly, the Spirit indwells true believers and empowers them to obey Christ.

There is a logical connection here. The Spirit enables us to love Christ, and love for Christ is our motivation for obedience to Christ. So obviously the Spirit plays a major role in our obedience.

But it goes beyond that. It is the Spirit dwelling in us, which strengthens our faith and empowers us to live a life of obedience.

Paul writes to the church in Colossae and explains the goal of his ministry.

Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. [Colossians 1:28]

That is his goal, and here is how he goes about it.

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. [Colossians 1:29]

And Jesus tells us in John 14 that it is the Holy Spirit who is “within” us. So the Spirit is at work in Paul to see that he accomplishes the work given to him.

And the same is true for us.

If we try to obey Christ in our own strength, we will fail every time.

It is the strength of the Holy Spirit that we need.

But don’t miss the fact that Paul says he toiled and struggled in his obedience. Just because the Spirit’s power is key to our obedience, doesn’t mean we don’t try. It just means we toil with his strength, not our own.

How do we do that?

I think the answer is found in the second job description Christ gives for the Spirit in John 14.

2. Teacher

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26 NKJV)

The Holy Spirit is our teacher. Which implies that we don’t know it all, we need help understanding, learning, the things and ways of God.

What does the Spirit teach us?

In verse 17, Jesus calls him “the Spirit of truth” and in verse 26 he teaches us Christ’s words.

This is not the only place he is called the Spirit of truth. That title is repeated in John 15:26 and John 16:13. And in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 we are told that the only one who “comprehends the thoughts of God” and is capable of “interpreting spiritual truths” is the Spirit.

It is the Spirit who teaches us the Word of God.

Please get this!

The Spirit and the Word go together and cannot be properly separated in our experience of them.

I cannot overstate the importance of that thought.

There are two ways this truth works itself out.

1. We cannot understand scripture apart from the Holy Spirit.

This means that prayer should be a big part of our reading and studying of scripture. Prayer for help in understanding. The Spirit is given for this purpose, to be our helper, and to interpret spiritual truth to us.

This also means that someone who is not a true, born again, believer cannot be a good bible teacher, because they don’t have the Spirit.

So anyone who is not born again by the Spirit, a Jewish rabbi for instance might have some cultural insight into the Jewish culture, but is not a reliable teacher, even of the Old Testament, because he does not have the Holy Spirit.

The other way this truth,

The Spirit and the Word go together and cannot be properly separated in our experience of them.

works itself out is that,

2. The Spirit works by means of the scripture.

It is very common in christian circles to want an experience of the Holy Spirit that is divorced from scripture. I have had people tell me plainly that they are not interested in studying the bible, but just want to experience the Spirit. This is an oxymoron.

You simply cannot experience the Spirit apart from scripture!

He is the Spirit of truth, who teaches us the words of Christ, who interprets to us spiritual truth.

In John 17:17 Jesus says that scripture is truth.

So how could the Spirit of truth be experienced apart from truth?! He can’t!

And vitally important to our concern, which is obedience to Christ, is this. The Spirit teaches us truth, which is contained in scripture. By doing so, the Spirit is being our Helper, helping us to love and obey Christ.

Disobedience is sin. So obedience would logically be an absence of sin.

In Romans 8:13 Paul says,

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

I have shared this before, but the great English puritan theologian John Owen said,

Being killing sin, or sin will be killing you.

That statement is based on this verse.

So how do we kill sin? By the Spirit, Paul says.

How does that work?

Owen says that the Spirit possesses an implement of killing. A tool suited to the job of killing sin. What is it?

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 when he is describing our spiritual armor. He says,

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God [Ephesians 6:17]

The tool the Spirit uses to put sin to death in our lives, is a sword. That sword is the word of God.

If sin is put to death and eradicated, and if sin is disobedience to the law and commands of Christ, then what would be left is obedience.

And the means by which that is accomplished is the Spirit working through the scriptures!

He works through the scriptures as our minds are transformed and renewed [Romans 12:2] by the scriptures. He works through the scriptures as our hearts are convicted, turned, encouraged.

Remember,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16, 17]

Some practical suggestions

  1. Regularly and faithfully gather with the church for bible study and the preaching of the Word
  2. Prayerfully read and study scripture as often as you can, preferably daily
  3. Memorize scripture so you can meditate on it at other times

Conclusion

If you truly love Christ, you will obey his commandments.

The Holy Spirit is your Helper in this by first enabling you to love Christ, and second by Teaching you the scriptures, so that your heart and mind are transformed.

You are not a passive bystander in this process. You are to toil and struggle, with his strength powerfully worked in you.

And finally, I would encourage you to remember that a good teacher, which the Holy Spirit most certainly is, doesn’t begin a student with higher mathematics, but with the basics. First you must learn to count, then to do simply addition and subtraction, and then you move on from there.

In the same way, the Spirit teaches us to understand scripture, and helps us to obey, not by throwing us into a trigonometry class, but by first teaching us to count. In other words, it’s a process. It takes time, and you have to start with the basics, learn, grow, and increase in the knowledge of God [Colossians 1:10]

Do your best [NKJV = Be diligent; KJV = Study] to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. [2 Timothy 2:15]

 

The Supper

As we partake of the Supper of our Lord, we acknowledge the role of the Holy Spirit in this simple ordinance.

We eat bread and juice, but spiritually we are receiving Christ.

Our physical senses perceive only bread and juice. But by the Spirit we perceive Christ. By the Spirit we remember Christ.

Jesus said that the Spirit would help us remember, and he said to do this in remembrance of him. So the Spirit plays a central role in what we do here.

And further, we call this an ordinance, because Christ ordained the practice of this to his church. So when we do this, we do this in obedience to our Lord.

So this afternoon as we partake of this meal and remember Christ, we do so in reliance on the Holy Spirit, as our Helper and Teacher.

If then, you are in Christ, having been united to him by faith, this Supper is for you. A spiritual meal to nourish your faith, by making known the glory of his grace.

So come, and welcome to Jesus Christ.

The glory of the Son

The glory of the Son

This sermon was preached at New Covenant Church South Boston on 02 August, 2015.

 

Call to Worship:

John 1:9-14

Introduction:

The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said,

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. [Isaiah 42:5, 8]

God does not share his glory with anyone! He alone is God. He alone is worthy of our praise.

God does not share his glory with false gods, idols. He does not share his glory with the false god of Islam. He does not share his glory with the false god of Hinduism. He does not share his glory with the false god of secular humanism.

He does not share his glory with doctors and medicine. If you have been healed of a sickness or disease. Doctors and medicine played a role, no doubt, but the glory does not belong to them. They are but instruments in the hands of God. Glory belongs to him alone!

He does not share his glory with you and your effort. If you succeed at your job, and enjoy the profit of your labor. If you get sober and stay that way. If you keep a relationship or family together for the long haul. Whatever you do. Who gave you the breath in your nostrils? Who gave you the strength in your body? Who gave you the mind you think with? God, and God alone deserves the glory for any good thing you experience.

If you claim glory for yourself, you are attempting to steal from God.

I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them. [Isaiah 42:8-9]

Text:

John 13:21-38

Summary of the Text:

Jesus had just washed the feet of the disciples, and given them an object lesson is humility and service. He then resumed his role as the Head of the table. And then told them that a close companion would become his enemy.

It says that after he said these things he was troubled in his spirit, and then he gave them more specifics. It would be one of the twelve who would betray him.

They want to know who. Peter motions to John to ask Jesus who it is. A couple quick notes about this.

First, you’ll notice that Peter is not seated close enough to Jesus to ask himself. If Peter was the to be the first “pope” a sort of super-Apostle with  more authority than the rest, attended with all the pomp and glamour that accompanies the pope as we know the office, then why is he seated so far from Jesus? Why is he not in a position of honor at the table? This is just one more example that the imaginations of the Roman Catholic church have no basis in scripture.

Secondly, a comment is in order concerning John’s reference to himself as “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved”. He will continue to refer to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.

This should not be taken as presumption or arrogance on John’s part. He does not mean by this that Jesus loved him more than the other disciples, or that he was above them in any way.

He calls himself this for two reasons.

1. It was normal for authors at that time to not name themselves. Mark does the same thing in his gospel account.

2. What John means by this is simply that he was unlovable, and so he is overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for him. He’s not saying it with a haughty tone, “I’m the one he loved!” Rather he is saying it with astonishment, “He loved me!”

So John asks Jesus who the betrayer is. Jesus tells him it will be the one He hands a bit of bread to. So Jesus dips the bread in a bowl of something and hands it to Judas. Again, notice that Judas seems to be closer than Peter!

John is probably stunned by this.

Judas was one of them, and he was considered very trust worthy. Jesus let him be the treasurer. He handles the money for the whole group. He’s the one!?!

Jesus dismissed Judas to his betrayal and no one else seems to make the connection.

Next Jesus issues his command to love one another, which we talked about a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, get on the church website and listen to the sermon on verses 34 and 35.

Then Peter speaks up and says he’ll follow Jesus anywhere, even if it means laying down his life. He means well. He really does. But Jesus tells him that he will not have the courage to lay down his life, but will in fact deny Jesus three times.

So that is the text. But what is it all about? What’s the main point here?

I want to suggest that the main point is the triumph of the glory of Christ.

The glory of the Son

I’m going to show you three ways the glory of Christ triumphs from this text, but let’s start by talking about the nature of the glory of Christ.

Recall the words of God from Isaiah, that we read a few moments ago,

new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them [Isaiah 42:9]

Then consider what Christ said in verse 19,

I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. [John 13:19]

There is an obvious connection here, with Christ echoing the words of God in Isaiah 42.

Now consider Isaiah 42:8,

I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.

And what does Jesus say in verses 31-32

Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him at once.

If God does not share his glory with another, and Christ is making a clear reference to that passage from Isaiah, calling our attention to it, then what he is saying in verses 31-32, is that he is God.

The glory of Christ is the glory of God.

And what he means by glory is visibly displayed dignity, honor, and the place of supreme significance.

So the natural question is, why is the Son glorified now? What is it about this moment in history that visibly displays Christ as worthy of all dignity, honor, praise, and the place of supreme significance in all creation?

The answer, of course, is the cross. That is what this moment is coming to, and with Judas’ betrayal it begins. The hour is now. Jesus is going to the cross to die, and in that gruesome death, he is glorified.

How?

In the cross of Christ, as in a magnificent theater, the inestimable goodness of God is displayed before the whole world. [John Calvin]

God’s glory in Christ is made visible at the Cross in many ways. His glory is made know as his divine justice is satisfied in the perfect sacrifice of Christ for sin. His divine mercy is made known as wretched sinners are forgiven and justified in God’s sight by means of that sacrifice.

We could go on all day about the glory of God in Christ’s death. But our text, I think, points to three specific ways in which Christ’s glory is made visible at the cross.

1. Jesus’ glory triumphs over false professors

In the first paragraph of our text, verses 21-30, the issue at hand is Judas’ betrayal. At the end of the paragraph, Judas leaves the table, and fades into the night on the errand of betraying Christ to the authorities.

I want you to notice a couple things about Judas and his betrayal.

1. Judas was one of the twelve. We’re told in Acts 1 that he had a share in the ministry. He wasn’t just a hanger on, he was a trusted insider. Verse 29 tells us that Judas was in charge of the finances for the ministry. He was trusted with the money.

When he left to go out and betray Jesus, nobody was on to him, because they thought Jesus was sending him on an errand because he had the money. Jesus had just told them that one of them would betray him. He whispered to John that it would be the one he gave a piece of bread to. Then gives the bread to Judas and tells him to get on with it. And no one at the table suspects a thing! No one connects the dots and realizes Judas is the betrayer!

Are the disciples just slow? Are they mentally challenged? I don’t think so. I think it was inconceivable to them that Judas would be the betrayer. He was a trusted and integral part of the ministry.

2. Secondly, his falseness is hidden behind a smoke screen of good works. He had a share in the ministry. They thought Jesus might be sending him out to give money to the poor. Which means that must have been customary and not out of the ordinary. Judas was the one visibly seen to be handing money to poor people as a representative of Jesus!

3. Third, Judas’ betrayal was a work of Satan. Verse 2 of this chapter tells us that Satan put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. And he was so open to Satan’s leading, that now we’re told Satan entered into him! Betraying Jesus is satanic.

Now listen, let me be clear. These features of Judas are not unique to him. There are those today who profess to be followers of Jesus, they are actively involved in the life of the church, they even participate in good works, but their hearts are not given to Christ, but to Satan.

It is not only possible, but it is fact, that you can go to church every Sunday, you can be involved, you can do good things, and all the while, your heart belongs to Satan, not to Christ!

If you come to church regularly and think you’re a good person, rather than thinking Christ is a good savior, that’s Satanic!

If you do good deeds, giving to the poor, and while you do it, you think about how good you are, rather than doing it out of thankfulness for all Christ has done for you and giving him the glory for it, that’s Satanic.

If you say you love Christ, but you betray him because your heart is given over to anything else, that is satanic. If you say you love Christ, but you don’t obey him, or you don’t love his church, then the bible says you’re a lier. And the bible says Satan is the father of lies, and you’re of your father the devil. Just like the pharisees.

And here is the bad news, for the betrayers, Jesus is glorified in their defeat and their judgment.

Judas’ betrayal began the hour of Christ’s glory.

He went to the cross as a result of that betrayal, and Colossians tells us that on the cross Jesus disarmed, put to open shame, and triumphed over his enemies. [Colossians 2:15]

Remember in John 12 when God spoke from heaven and said he would glorify his name in Christ at this moment. Jesus then said,

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [John 12:31]

His death on the cross meant defeat for Satan, and all those who side with him.

Satan’s plans unravelled at the cross, when the perfect, sinless, absolutely holy Son of God was held up as a sacrifice, the sins of the elect were laid on him, God’s just wrath was poured out on him beyond measure, and redemption was accomplished. God’s people were freed from the bonds of sin and death. Satan thought he had accomplished his greatest coup against God, only to discover he had played for a fool.

The death of Christ on the cross accomplished and completed redemption for God’s elect, and there is nothing Satan can do about that!

Ephesians 1 tells us that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone, through his blood which purchased forgiveness according the purposes of God’s will, to the praise of his glory!

And now, the question is put to all people. Will you repent of your rebellion against a holy God, and trust the death of Jesus as the only and all sufficient means of your salvation? Or will you continue in rebellion, trusting in your own righteousness, which is like filthy rags, and suffering eternal punishment under the wrath of Almighty God?

In the end, you will either praise his glory, or be defeated by it. There is no middle ground.

2. Jesus’ glory triumphs over our selfishness

But let’s turn back to the text of John 13 and see Christ’s glory again. The second paragraph, which we largely dealt with last week, addresses the subject of our love for one another.

Jesus told us to love the way that he loved, and we’ve seen repeatedly that his love is sacrificial, humble, and steadfast. And we saw last week that when we love each other with humility, in sacrificial ways, for the long haul, Christ is made known to the world.

The result is not that the world praises us, but that they recognize Christ in us!

Why?

Because apart from Christ, we are selfish, narcissistic, egotistical, arrogant, self-lovers, just like the rest of the world.

But with Christ in us, our selfishness, our self-love, is defeated, and we begin to love others the way Jesus has loved us.

How do we do that? How do we get there? By focusing on the glory of Christ, rather than on ourselves.

The default position of the human heart is to focus on self. Even when we do “good” things, we do them for selfish reasons. You can help other people, because it makes you feel like a good person, and that is ultimately self-serving, self-glorifying.

But when you help others in the way that we discussed last week, thoughtfully considering what you can do to serve someone else, so that they will focus on Christ, then you are loving others to the glory of Christ, rather than self.

The way to do that is to keep your focus relentlessly on Christ. John told us back in chapter 1,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:14]

If you want to see the glory of Christ, so that his glory triumphs over your sinful tendency toward self-glory, then look to his grace and truth.

Grace is unmerited favor from God. When God grants you another day of life, that’s grace. When God renews your heart, so that it is no longer hard as stone, but soft and repentant toward Him, that’s grace. When God forgives your sins in Christ, that’s grace. When God adopts you and gives you an inheritance in the Kingdom, that’s grace.

It’s grace because you don’t deserve it!

Another grace is our sanctification itself. If you are justified (given legal right standing before God) by his grace, then you are a new creature. The old man has passed away. As you begin to live in this new reality, by rejecting sin and turning to Christ, you become more like who you really are in Him. This is sanctification.

Sanctification is accomplished by God’s grace, just as justification is. The things God uses to accomplish this sanctification, this total makeover of our person, are what we call the “ordinary means of grace”. These are called ordinary in that they are regularly occurring and comprised of otherwise normal elements. The ordinary means of grace are these: the Word of God read and preached (which Jesus says is the truth of God which sanctifies [John 17:17]), the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper rightly administered, prayers both corporate and private offered to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirt, and the fellowship of the local church. The Word, the ordinances, prayer, and fellowship.

These are ordinary because they are made up of human language, water, bread, and wine. Nothing special or out of the ordinary.

These are ordinary because they are regularly occurring. We engage in these things every week, more than once per week for many of them, and some of them even daily in our private lives.

These are the ordinary means by which the Spirit of Christ works in our hearts to bring us to faith, and to strengthen our faith for our sanctification.

And I would venture, that a heart which belongs to Christ will yearn for and earnestly desire these things, from which it’s new life springs.

If you do not desire and hunger for the Word of God, to read it for yourself, and to hear it preached in the church, you may not be saved.

If you do not look forward with anticipation to participating in the Supper, which is a proclamation of Christ’s death, with your brothers and sisters, you either do not rightly understand the ordinance, or your heart may still be cold and hard toward God.

If you do not long to speak with your heavenly Father in prayer, then what kind of a relationship can you really have with Him?

If you do not love the church, the body of Christ our Savior, then you are a liar when you profess to love God. [1 John 4:20]

And, against all odds, against the natural inclination of your wicked heart, when you do love the church, Christ is glorified, in you, before the world.

His love, which is supremely displayed at the cross, shines forth in our love for each other, and He is glorified in His church!

3. Jesus’ glory triumphs over our faithlessness

And in the last paragraph of our text, we see one more instance of the triumph of Christ’s glory.

John 13:36-38

Peter seems to have missed verses 34-35 because he hung up on verse 33 and stopped listening to anything after that.

Let’s not be too hard on him, we have a tendency to do the same thing. At least I know I do. Somebody is speaking, they say something, I start thinking about that statement and how I’m going to respond, and completely miss everything else they say, until they stop talking and give me a chance to open my big mouth. That’s what Peter did here.

He heard Jesus say that he was going somewhere and they wouldn’t be able to come along, and he starts to protest.

He wants to know where Jesus is going that he can’t go.

Jesus says,

Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.

But that’s not good enough for Peter. He insists, wanting to know why he can’t follow NOW? Even going so far as to say he will lay down his life for Jesus. You’ve got to love this guy. His enthusiasm is great.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm is not matched by his courage. And Jesus breaks it to him that he will actually deny Jesus three times.

So where is the glory of Christ in this? How is Christ glorified in Peter’s failure? And by extension, in our failure?

Christ’s glory is found in this.

Peter declared that he would lay down his life for Jesus, yet it was Jesus who laid down his life for Peter. Peter couldn’t even admit that he knew Jesus, and Jesus went to the cross to save him!

Just like Peter, we sometimes have good intentions, enthusiasm even, but our follow through is a failure. Our faith is weak. But Christ died to redeem our weakness.

Like Peter we must learn to distrust our own strength and to rely fully on Christ. Our strength is fleeting and cannot endure. We do not have the strength of body, mind, will, or morals to stand against sin and Satan.

But we are justified by faith in Christ.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [Romans 5:6]

And even as we seek to live out our sanctification, we are weak. We are beset with weakness. And when the apostle Paul plead with God for relief from his weakness, God answered,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [2 Corinthians 12:9]

Christ’s glory is made known when we do not boast in ourselves, but rather, admit and own our own weakness, and boast only in Christ and his power at work in us.

God saves those who are weak, like Peter, like Brance, like any of us. And God’s power is glorified in our weakness.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:28-31]

Peter, in his own strength denies Christ three times. But in the strength of the Holy Spirit he stands up in Jerusalem and boldly proclaims Christ and 3,000 people get saved. He is arrested for preaching Christ and he becomes yet more bold. He is arrested a second time and beaten, and he rejoices to be counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. This is a different Peter than the one who denied he even knew Jesus! This is a Peter in whom Christ’s strength is at work. And Christ is glorified in Peter’s weakness.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to make you bold, for Christ’s strength to be perfected in you, so that He might be glorified in your weakness. For he opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Conclusion

Christ is glorified at the cross. He is exalted as the only Savior of the world. God become man. The only completely innocent man who ever lived is offered as a sacrifice for those who are weak and flawed.

His glory triumphs over his enemies, as their plans serve His purpose of redemption.

His glory triumphs over our self-love, as we humbly serve one another displaying hearts changed by His love.

His glory triumphs over our weakness, as we trust Him for our strength.

Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

The Supper

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. [1 Corinthians 10:31]

As we approach this table to eat and drink in remembrance of Christ, we are to do so to his glory.

One of the ways we do that is to recognize that his sacrifice is complete. What we do here is not a sacrifice. This is not an alter. It is a table. You don’t sacrifice at a table, you eat at a table.

And why do you eat? We eat for two reasons.

First we eat for sustenance. We are dependent on food for the strength of our bodies. Likewise, we are dependent on Christ for the strength of our souls.

The second reason we eat is for joy, because food is a wonderful gift from God that delights the senses. Likewise, we partake of Christ for joy. He is a wonderful gift of God that delights the soul.

You eat and drink this meal to the glory of God when you eat and drink in dependence on Christ for the strength of your soul.

You eat and drink this meal to the glory of God when you eat and drink for joy, delighting in what Christ has done for you.

If then, you are in Christ, having been united to him by faith, this Supper is for you. A spiritual meal, to nourish your faith, by making known the glory of his grace.

So come, and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Benediction

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21)

You also are to love

You also are to love

Introduction:

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, and created a right to homosexual marriage.

In the hours and days immediately following that decision, the news media and social platforms, such as Facebook, were flooded with commentary and status updates concerning that decision, from both non-Christians and self professed Christians.

Much of the comment offered on both sides involves the use of the word “love”. Here is a small sampling from my Facebook feed.

Stop hating and start loving.

 

Our job is not to judge, but to love.

 

When our collective Humanity trumps our made- up religions we will progress in what is true love and peace.

 

Love wins. Great job SCOTUS.

 

The church should be known for what it is for, not what it’s against. We’re for love.

 

The problem with the church today is it does not represent love and acceptance and therefore cannot teach grace and atonement.

 

Doctrine divides, love unites.

Which is itself a doctrinal statement. And it begs several others. What is love? Unites who? How? And we need to determine doctrinally that that is the most important thing for us to do. You’ve got to answer all sorts of doctrinal questions before you throw doctrine out.

And when it comes to this doctrine of love, I think our culture is very confused.

As I read the news stories and the Facebook updates, one thing became clear. Everyone was using the word love, but in the infamous words of Inigo Montoya:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

It just so happens that we are in John 13 and Jesus addresses the subject of love, and loving others. So I thought it would be good to talk about love today.

One note before we start. We’re only going to look at two verses from the last part of John 13. Normally we cover about 15-20 verses. And I make it my goal to discern the main point of the passage, and make that the main point of the sermon.

Today, I’m just looking at these 2 verses and addressing the subject of love. I’m doing so because it is a much talked about subject in our culture today, and I thought it timely and beneficial for us to do so. Next week, we’ll look at the whole passage from verse 21 to the end of the chapter and talk about the glory of Christ, which is the main point of the passage.

Text:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34-35]

Summary of the Text:

The larger context here is Jesus impending death, and what it means to be his disciples. So Jesus gives this command to his followers, that they love one another. He says this will be the identifying mark of what it means to be his disciples. The whole world will identify us by observing our love for one another.

I want to look at this command, make a couple observations, and ask three questions.

Just as I have loved you, you also are to love…

My first observation is that love is not easy or natural for sinful humans.

Jesus commands us to love. This command is repeated many times in scripture. If love were something that came naturally and easily to us, we would not need a command repeated so often to do it.

My second observation is that love is not a feeling. One would think from the way we talk about love sometimes that it is a feeling. But feelings are difficult to control. And even more difficult to gin up.

Jesus commands us to love. Can you imagine Jesus commanding you to “feel” a certain way? Do you think you could “feel” love?

C.S. Lewis, in his work The Screwtape Letters, talks of how easy it is to miss real love, when we are distracted with trying to feel loving.

What we can take from Jesus’ command to love is that love is not a feeling, but rather an act of the will resulting in real actions.

Given these two observations about love, 1) that it is not easy or natural, and 2) that it is an act of the will resulting in actions, lets answer three questions based on verse 34.

  1. How has Christ loved?
  2. Who are we to love?
  3. How are we to love them?

1. How has Christ loved?

Jesus tells us that we are to love,

just as I have loved you

So it seems necessary then to begin with Christ and his love. If our love is to be like his, we must first understand his love to . We need to know what he means by “love”. In other words, we need a doctrine of love.

If love is not native to our sinful nature, then we might first seek the origins of Christ’s love. Where did His love come from?

Christ himself has told us numerous times in John’s gospel that he is one with the Father, and the Father is the source of his words and actions.

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me. [John 12:49-50]

 

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [John 5:19]

 

I can do nothing on my own. [John 5: 30]

Christ’s love originates in the Father’s love.

The love of the Son is rooted in the love of the Father.

We could spend the rest of our time together talking of the Father’s love, but I’ll make only two points before moving on.

1. The Father’s love is premeditated

Often we think that love must be spontaneous and unplanned, but the Father’s love is planned and premeditated.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [Ephesians 1:3–6]

The Father’s love was not spontaneous. Nor is it a reaction to anything in us. The Father’s love for us was planned and premeditated before he even created.

This has huge implications for our love of others. It means our love for others should be planned and carefully prepared in advance. This is actually very freeing. It is easy to beat one’s self up for not responding in love as we think we should. And while responding in love might be a good thing, the nature of the love with which we have been loved, is that it was thought out and planned before hand.

This frees us from the tyranny of our circumstances, to take the time to thoughtfully plan how we will love others.

Hebrews 10:24 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

This means sitting down and thinking about it. “Consider” how to love others and how to stir each other up to love.

Love is thoughtful and planned.

2. The Father acted on his plan

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16]

God not only planned to love us, he took action. He sent his Son.

The love of the Father was not just thoughts and feelings, but action, and it involved the Son. Our love likewise, must not only be planned, but acted on.

It is not enough to simply feel loving. We must consider how to love, and then having considered, we must love.

This takes us back to our second observation, love is not a feeling, but an act of the will resulting in action.

The love of Christ is rooted in the planned and acted love of the Father.

Consider also that Christ does not love on his own, but loves with the love of the Father. Likewise, we need not love on our own, but can, and should, love with the love of Christ.

Our doctrinal definition of love now has three points:

  1. Love is of the divine nature, not the human nature
  2. Love is carefully planned and thoughtfully considered
  3. Love is an act of the will resulting in action

Another characteristic of Christ’s love is its humility.

As we’ve seen previously, the Lord of the universe humbled himself. He became a man. He washed the feet of the disciples. He served.

Christ’s love is humble, not condescending. He expresses no arrogance or superiority in his love, but only humble service.

What does this mean for us?

It means that our actions of love, must not be done with an attitude of superiority. We must not think that we are better than others because of the actions we are undertaking. That is not love. It is pride. And as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13,

[love] is not arrogant

If we believe our actions prove our superiority to others, we have fallen from acts of love into acts of arrogance.

Christ’s love endures to the end

We saw only last week that the love of Christ is an enduring love. It does not faint at difficulties, hardship, or pain.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [John 13:1]

Jesus loved us to the point of death. His love took him to the cross, and into the grave. He loved us to the end of himself, humanly speaking.

In the same way, our love for others must go beyond what is easy, or comfortable, and take us to the point of sacrifice.

If we would love like Christ loved, we must be prepared to make sacrifices. Perhaps not the sacrifice of our physical life, though at times it might come to that, but the sacrifice of our comfort, our ease, our personal desires. We must be prepared to love for the long haul.

[Love] does not insist on its own way; [1 Corinthians 13:5]

and

Love never ends. [1 Corinthians 13:8]

Christ loved his own

The final observation I would make about the love of Christ is that it was generally, and genuinely, offered to all, but particularly acted for his elect.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16]

Though not all would come to him, his act of coming to the world was an act of loving grace to all men. Even those who are not his own, benefit from the love of Christ for the world. The world is a better place for all because of Christ’s love in the incarnation.

This idea is called common grace. Sinners, which is all of us, who awake to another day, experience the grace and mercy and love of God. He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, on the just and the unjust [Matthew 5:45].

Yet there is a particular love he has for his own.

having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [John 13:1]

He loved his own who were in the world. He loved them to the end.

I lay down my life for the sheep. [John 10:15]

He laid down his life for his sheep.

Christ’s love generally benefits all men, but is particularly applied to his sheep.

Think of it like this. There are multiple women in this room. I love all of you. But I love my wife with a special love, different from the love I have for the rest of you. I had better not love all of you the same way I love her!

Jesus is the same. He loves all the world, but he loves his church particularly, with a love that is distinct from the love he has for all people.

This serves as an example for our love as well. We’ll talk more about this shortly, but our love for others should be obviously apparent in our love for other Christians.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another [John 13:35]

So then, what does this mean for who we are to love?

2. Who are we to love?

Just as Christ loves the world generally and loves his sheep specially, we also are called to love all people, but not all in the same way and to same degree.

Scripture commands us to love three groups of people, our neighbors, our enemies, our church family.

Love your neighbor

Both the Old and the New Testaments call us to love our neighbors. When Jesus offered this as the second command summarizing the law, he didn’t invent it de novo. He was quoting the Old Testament.

“you shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Leviticus 19:18]

But Jesus goes on to explain who your neighbor is. He doesn’t limit it to those who are deserving, or those who are “good” people, or even to ethnic Israel. Jesus says your neighbor is any other human in need.

That is a very general, broad category.

What does Jesus say about loving your neighbor? He says to seek their welfare, to love them as you would want them to love you, if the situation were reversed. You know, the old golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This is a general kind of love for all people. But it must be an act of the will resulting in actions of love for real people. Simply feeling loving toward the idea of humanity, is not really loving your neighbors. It is actually avoiding loving them.

Love your enemies

Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He gets specific. Even when told to love our neighbors, because loving isn’t instinctive for us we tend to start sorting out those who could not possibly be our neighbors. Jesus doesn’t let us.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. [Matthew 5:43-44]

These are the truly unloveable people. People who have set themselves against you. They oppose you and what you believe, and maybe persecute you for it.

Now, let’s be clear. As Christians in America, we don’t know what persecution is. Believers in other parts of the world have their fingernails pulled out, and their heads chopped off for being followers of Jesus. We think we’re being persecuted if someone says something with a mean tone of voice.

Real persecution may come in the future, but it’s not here yet.

Nonetheless, we do have those who oppose us, and what we believe. They have set themselves against Christ and his people. They have made themselves our enemies. We have seen this clearly in the last few weeks.

Jesus tells us to love them and pray for them.

Love one another

Finally, as we see in our text today, we are told time and again to love one another. The scripture is clear that our greatest love for other human beings, is to be directed toward those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” [Galatians 6:10]

Just as Christ himself loves his own with a special love, we also are to love the members of his body with a special love that is greater than the love we have for those who are only our brothers according to the flesh.

So according to Jesus, we are to love our neighbors, our enemies, and our brothers.

Our final question is: How are we to love each of these people?

3. How are we to love?

The short answer, of course, is that we are to love them as Christ loved.

just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another [John 13:34]

But more specifically, I want to briefly reference a few biblical instructions, and then give you some practical ways to love each of these groups.

How we love our neighbors

We’ve already said that loving our neighbors involves seeking their welfare and doing unto them as we would want them to do to us.

Leviticus 19:18 where this command is first stated, contrasts this love for neighbor with hate, vengeance, and holding a grudge.

Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan teaches us to love our neighbor by seeing to his immediate needs and welfare.

The prophet Jeremiah instructs the people of Israel in exile,

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. [Jeremiah 29:7]

Our neighbor is any human whose welfare we can seek. So this means that as Christians, we should be about the welfare of all people. And as Americans, we should be about the welfare of our neighbors in America. And as residents of Massachusetts, we should seek the welfare of those in our state. As residents of Boston, we should seek the welfare of this city. And as neighbors in Southie we should seek the welfare of our literal neighbors in this neighborhood.

So what does that look like?

For loving our fellow man worldwide, our options are limited. But for sure it means praying for the world.

Pray for peace throughout the world.

Pray for disaster relief when we know about something like the earthquakes in Nepal [Acts 28:8].

Pray for salvation and spiritual awakening throughout the world [Romans 10:1].

Pray for specific people groups who don’t know Christ, as we did at the beginning of the service.

Pray that God would exalt his name in the world [Matthew 6:9].

And if love is premeditated action, then think, consider, how you might actionably love your fellow man. Perhaps that means setting money aside periodically to give to disaster relief when it is needed.

It might mean supporting a missionary through prayer and giving [Romans 15:30-31]. If that is something you’re interested in, talk to me later and I can give you some more information about recommended options for that.

Remember this is supposed to be thoughtful. There are many good causes in the world, and you can’t support, or even pray, for them all. So you’ll need to be thoughtful about what you can do, consider and then take action.

Nationally, loving our neighbors means some of the same things, but with greater responsibility.

We should pray for our nation, and for our leaders.

Pray for God honoring laws [Ephesians 6:17-18]

You could think about giving financially to disaster relief right here in the US when needed.

But being citizens of a democratic republic brings the responsibility to participate intelligently in our government, particularly by voting. Most of us will not become elected officials, but we can certainly vote for good ones to the best of our knowledge and opportunity, and then pray for them when they are elected.

Part of loving our neighbors involves seeing their intrinsic value as image bearers of God, and working toward laws that protect that. A huge stain on our country in this regard is abortion.

21% of all pregnancies in America end in abortion.

Well over 1 million abortions are performed each year in the US.

Since 1973 there have been over 57 million abortions in the US.

This should stagger us. 57 million lives ended in brutal dismemberment. 57 million babies killed in extermination camps we call abortion clinics. It’s a holocaust! And just this week, we saw that not only are they killed, and brutally so, but their body parts are being sold off after the fact.

As Christians we should work to defend the lives of the defenseless, the least of these, and unborn babies are at the top of that list!

How we love our neighbors is a point of contention in our culture. I have seen numerous articles with headlines like this. This is one I saw only this morning.

Christians Shouldn’t Be Culture’s Morality Police

And the point of the article, in a Christian magazine, is that Christians should try to get laws passed that enforce Christian morals on society as a whole, since the society isn’t Christian. And furthermore, we shouldn’t be telling non-Christians that they are acting in ways unpleasing to God, because they will only feel judged and not loved.

The problems with this idea are many.

  • If Christians aren’t the morality police, who will be?
  • And what moral standard will they be policing?
  • Where does the bible say it’s wrong for non-Christians to feel judged?
  • Where does the bible say it’s not our job to call the culture to repentance, by first pointing our their need for it?

Quite to the contrary of this article, if we truly believe that biblical morality is right and good for human flourishing, then we should be looking to enforce it, within the bounds of our legal system.

No, Paul and the apostles didn’t try to get laws passed, but they didn’t live in a democratic republic that operated by citizen involvement, they lived in a dictatorship. The only way to change those laws, is to win the dictator to Christ.

We do live in a republic that functions by the people, and being people, it is our responsibility to participate, and to seek the welfare of our fellow Americans by seeking laws that will enforce morals we know are good for them, even if they don’t know it.

This is what it looks like to love as Christ loved. Christ enforces his morals. John already told us in chapter one that truth comes through Jesus Christ. And we are told to speak the truth in love [Eph 4:15]. This means speaking the truth about Jesus, which means telling people they need to repent and have faith in Jesus, which means telling people why they need to repent to begin with, which means telling them about a Holy God, sin, and wrath. Just because they don’t like, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them. To remain silent on these matters, is not loving, it’s damning.

The same applies at the state and city levels.

Pray for our state and city. Pray for our elected leaders. Seek the welfare of our commonwealth by seeking to participate as an informed citizen, all the while recognizing that you have a citizenship in the Kingdom of light that transcends and overrides your citizenship anywhere here on earth. But be a good citizen, a good neighbor.

Locally, this means even more. It means caring for those around you, particularly those in need.

Specific needs in our community? The obvious, big one is addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction are ruining, and in many cases, claiming, the lives of our neighbors on a daily basis.

We are looking into ways we, as a church, can be involved in helping people deal with these issues. When we come to you in the next few weeks and ask you to be involved in these efforts, please join together with us to love our neighbors by serving their needs and helping to rescue them from this bondage.

Loving our neighbors can also mean picking up trash in the parks, playgrounds, and streets of our neighborhood. You can that do that any time you see trash to be picked up, or you can talk to me after the service as I am planning a time this week to get out and do some trash clean up.

How we love our enemies

Loving our neighbors, can seem like a daunting task, but not really an unsavory one.

However, loving our enemies is more difficult.

So what does the bible say?

We quoted Jesus earlier saying,

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. [Matthew 5:44]

This can mean those who personally oppose us. But it can also mean those who oppose our religious beliefs and oppose what is right and good. Those who seek to codify in law things that we, as bible believing Christians, know to be wrong. And not just wrong, but detrimental to human flourishing.

Again, our first action is prayer. Jesus tells us to pray for them.

Pray for their salvation.

Pray that God would “grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” [2 Timothy 2:25]

In Luke 6, Jesus tells us to “do good” to our enemies.

Proverbs 24:17 tells us,

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

And Proverbs 25:21-22 says,

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.

Clearly, our love for our enemies is shown by kind, generous action taken to meet real needs. And the purpose of such action is for his awareness of his own sin. That’s what that part about burning coals is about.

The contrast between his hatred and your love will be plainly visible. He will see his own sin and feel the heat of hell beginning to come down in judgment on his head. This conviction is meant to lead the person to repentance and life.

Again, remember, loving your enemy has nothing to do with feeling loving toward them. It has to do with humbly, gently, and for their own ultimate good, considering, premeditating, how you might serve them in such a way as to bring them under conviction and to repentance.

You can’t do this with arrogance, for you are no better than they are. You were once God’s enemy, and he loved you when you deserved hate.

while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son [Romans 5:10]

Your love and service to your enemy should be done with humility, acknowledging your sin. It should be done with gratefulness for God’s undeserved mercy and grace to you. It should be done with compassion and empathy, for you were once such as they are now, an enemy of God deserving his wrath, but receiving his love instead.

But loving our enemies also means speaking the truth to them. Telling them the truth about sin and judgment, calling them to repentance, and holding out the hope of the gospel, the promise of forgiveness found in Christ alone.

We have seen this in Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees in John’s gospel. Jesus has spoken some hard truths to his enemies!

He told them their judgment was inferior to his [John 8:15].

He told them they were slaves of sin [John 8:34].

He told them they were sons of Satan [John 8:44].

Loving someone means telling them the truth! This should always be done with an eye toward their salvation, not condemnation, but speak the truth we must!

In our current cultural discussion/debate, loving our enemies means telling the truth about God’s moral standards for sex and marriage. But it means doing so with the intention of bringing them to repentance, salvation, and joy in Christ.

This must not be done in a hasty, reactionary way on Facebook. It is best done through thoughtful, prayerful, reflective interaction one on one.

Truly loving them means seeking their ultimate good, which means leading them to Christ!

Jesus is the good news!

How we love one another

Finally, what Jesus was specifically speaking to in our text this morning, was how we love one another.

Talking to his disciples Jesus said,

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:35]

Our love for each other, as the body of Christ, the church, should be so obvious, so grace filled, so uniquely Christ-like, that all people, even non-Christians, would see it and know that we truly are his disciples.

This means our love for one another should be humble, servant-like, self-sacrificing, premeditated, action.

This means there are some things we don’t do. And some things we must do.

It means being intentional about avoiding gossip, both with each other, and about each other. There are not many thing more destructive to our mutual love for one another, than gossip. It’s difficult to love a person you are gossiping about. And it is not loving to drag another person into gossip with you. Gossip does not build up and edify, it only tears down and causes division. Gossip usually involves slander, grumbling, complaining, or mocking. These are not characteristics of Christ’s love for us!

Love means not holding grudges against one another. Holding a grudge will not result in peace between brothers, or sisters. It will bring only strife and division and rivalries. There are all works of the flesh, not fruit of the Spirit.

Love means not lying to one another, but intentionally walking in the truth, cultivating a practice and culture of radical honesty. But it also means speaking the truth in love, not harshly, but with gentleness.

Love means not judging one another over matters of conscience and opinion. But instead looking for opportunity to humbly help our brother or sister grow in maturity and understanding.

Love means not envying one another. When one of us is blessed with something good that we lack, or response should be joy. Rejoice with those who rejoice! Take joy in your brother’s blessing.

Love means carefully considering how my actions might bring joy both to myself and to you.

How can I build up your faith?

How can I increase your joy in Christ?

How can I give of myself to benefit you?

Ask yourself questions like this. Carefully consider how to love one another like Christ has loved us. Pray, and ask God to help you love his body.

Love means working for peace between us.

Love means being patient with one another’s faults, overlooking offenses, forgiving one another with joy. And make no mistake, we all still sin, and we will offend one another. What makes it obvious we are Christ’s disciples is when we overlook offense and forgive one another, when we put up with each other when no one else would.

Love means being generous and giving, of our time and treasures, in ways that truly benefit each other. Giving another person your left overs doesn’t demonstrate the love of Christ in the same way that giving them your best does.

Love means carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully considering what we might say or do that would build up another’s faith, or their assurance of salvation. It means encouraging them for growth that we see in their life. It might mean sending them a little note of encouragement during the week.

Love means reproving one another for sin. It means correcting each other’s wrong thinking or wrong understanding. It means training each other for righteousness by instruction and example.

Love means doing all these things, and more, with humility and gentleness.

In other words, the fruit of the Spirit that we talked about recently in Galatians, thought out, and acted out, toward one another, proactively.

Imagine with me what could happen if we lived and loved this way? What would our neighbors think? They’d think we’d lost our minds! And they’d want to be part of it.

The greatest witness and testimony to the world of the truthfulness of our belief is when we actually live it out by loving one another.

Loving one another isn’t just some empty platitude or rhetoric. It’s not something we can just give lip service to. Saying we love each other, and not living like it, just makes us hypocrites. Our neighbors will see the truth of that and want nothing to do with it.

But if we thoughtfully and prayerfully live it out, not perfectly, but intentionally making an effort to love one another as Christ has loved us, I guarantee it will make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

You also are to love

In the cultural conversation of our day, everyone is using the word love, but few know what it really means. It has become an almost empty word, devoid of any real meaning in the world.

We reject God’s design for sex and proclaim that love wins, and then we go out for pizza afterward, because everyone loves pizza. And love loses. It loses all meaning.

John tells us in his first letter that “God is love”. Our culture, and sadly even many of those who call themselves Christians, have flipped that, reversed the word order, and proclaim that love is God. But love is an empty concept because it means nothing to them, and therefore what they are really proclaiming is that there is no God.

Yet what John says in that letter is this.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. [1 John 2:15–16]

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. [1 John 3:14]

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [1 John 4:8–11]

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. [1 John 4:20–21]

The Supper

The love of God is made visible to us by the sacrifice of Christ whom God sent to be the propitiation for our sins. That means Christ’s death was the ultimate act of love. He gave himself to satisfy the perfect, holy, just wrath of God, wrath that was our due, because of our rebellion. God took his own wrath on himself, in love.

He planned it before the foundations of the earth. He acted it out when the time was right. So that he might bring us to himself, that we might behold his glory and know his love.

When we take this Supper together, we remind ourselves of his love. This Supper is a means of grace to our souls to encourage us and build up our faith.

If then, you are in Christ, having been united to him by faith, this Supper is for you. A spiritual meal, to nourish your faith, by making known the glory of his grace.

So come, and welcome to Jesus Christ.

When is a church not a church?

When is a church not a church?

We began this series by defining the universal church and then we got more specific and defined a local church. We’ve also discussed the reasons for division that results in multiple local churches in a given neighborhood. And in the last article we looked at how a local church should be organized according to scripture.

Now I want to address the question of,

When is a church not a church?

It seems we must ask this question. As we have discussed the previous issues of what makes a church a church, and what divides churches from one another, the obvious follow up is to ask how much of this stuff must be present for it to be considered a church. We are divided from Roman Catholics, Albanian Orthodox, PCUSA, and the Bible Baptist folks. So how are we supposed to think about these other groups? Are they all heretics?

There were varying degrees of disagreement on a variety of subjects. And I think it is completely valid to ask how much disagreement we can have and still consider another group our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The London Baptist Confession of 1689 contains a paragraph in its chapter on the church (ch. 26) that I find helpful.

Paragraph 3. The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error;4 and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan;5 nevertheless Christ always has had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.6
4 1 Cor. 5; Rev. 2,3
5 Rev. 18:2; 2 Thess. 2:11,12
6 Matt. 16:18; Ps. 72:17, 102:28; Rev. 12:17

No church is perfect

The first thing to notice is that the confession lets no one off the hook. No church is perfect. This is because they are inhabited by imperfect people. As my dad used to tell me, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll just ruin it if you do!”

The church in heaven, gathered around the throne, is a different story, but if a church is here on earth, then it is “subject to mixture and error”.

This means that as we attempt to discern who our brothers and sisters truly are, we should do so with generosity, knowing that our church is far from perfect. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks their opinion is true, and we are included in “everyone”. That is to say, we believe what we believe because we think it is the most accurate understanding of scripture. But, we must be humble enough to admit that we are sinners and our church is not without error.

That having been said, some things just are not church, no matter what people may call them. So how do we determine when something is a valid church, when a church is so far into error that it should be avoided, and when something has ceased to be a valid church at all?

Judging by the errors obviously present in the New Testament churches, a gathering would have to be pretty far gone to no longer be considered a church!

In our article on the nature of the local church, we looked at several marks of a church as found in Acts 2:42.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Here are the marks we found essential to a church.

  1. biblical authority and structure
  2. biblical theology
  3. physically gathered
  4. the ordinances rightly administered
  5. biblical prayer

1.  Biblical authority and structure

The church organized itself under the leadership and authority of the apostles. We are not looking for apostles today, but we are looking for a biblical model of authority and structure.

In our previous article we talked about how a local church is organized according to the bible. We found that the church consists of members, deacons, and elders.

A church could be disorganized by not having a biblical form of membership, or having only one elder (usually called the pastor) instead of a plurality of elders. Moving further into error, a church may have female elders. This usually leads to compromises on other doctrinal issues and while not necessarily disqualifying a body as a church, is cause for grave concern.

But there are two errors, as it concerns leadership, that move a church from error to non-church status.

First, having no leadership at all.

A group of friends meeting at a coffee shop to talk about the bible or the christian life, is good, but it isn’t a church. We’ll get into this a bit more in an upcoming article, when we discuss what it means to “be the church”. This is not an uncommon thing. I recently saw on Facebook where a guy had taken a walk on the beach with a few friends and called that going to church. But that’s not church. It might be fun, edifying even, but it’s a sad and weak substitute for a biblical church!

The second error is the opposite error. That is, establishing authority structures that are unbiblical and even anti-biblical. A good example of this is the Roman Catholic religion. With priests, bishops (This is a biblical term, but in the scripture it is used interchangeably with the term elder. In RC, a bishop is a sort of super pastor with authority over multiple congregations.), cardinals, and a pope, the Roman “church” has placed men in authority over scripture itself, established an authority structure that does not come from the bible, and is, in fact and practice, openly opposed to the bible.

The Roman Catholic religion is quite certainly who the framers of the confession had in mind when they used the term “synagogue of Satan”.

2. Biblical theology

The second mark that is necessary to a true church is that biblical theology must be held and taught. This is what is meant by “the apostles’ teaching”. There are three directions this error can take.

First, to ignore the bible altogether. Many informal gatherings who imagine themselves to “be the church” fail to teach or even open the bible. They discuss “faith” or the stories of the scripture, but don’t actually turn to the text of God’s Word at all. At best, they pay lip service to scripture by using some terms that sound biblical, but when you are not opening the bible and centering your fellowship around it, you cannot in any meaningful way be devoting yourself to the apostles’ teaching.

Sadly, even organized churches fall into this error. I have heard more than one sermon that contained no bible at all. I have heard sermons in organized “churches” that were based on movies, stories, Native American legends, the impastor’s personal experience, etc. [Note: “impastor” is a word I’ve settled on to describe those who call themselves pastor but are 1) biblically unqualified for the role and/or 2) are not leading the congregation under the authority of scripture. They are an impostor calling themselves a pastor, hence the term, impastor.]

The second direction this error is likely to take, is to give the impression of holding to scripture, while actually doing the opposite. I’ve heard sermons in organized “churches” where the bible was read, but then a sermon was preached that seemed to have little or nothing to do with the scripture just read. In this case, the scripture was used as a springboard for the impastor to talk about what he wanted to talk about, rather than what God wanted his people to talk about.

The third way this error manifests itself is when the scriptures are tortured and twisted to teach false doctrine. The apostles Paul and Peter both have some harsh things to say about false teachers who twist scripture, lead people astray, and teach as doctrines the traditions of men.

There are certain doctrines considered essential to the faith, which when denied or corrupted move a church beyond error to the status of a synagogue of Satan. The Trinity, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, monotheism, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. A denial or twisting of any of these renders a church non-christian. This means Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, and others who deny any of these teachings, “have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan”. Despite their claims to Christianity, these groups are decidedly not Christian.

3. Physically gathered

Another mark of a true church is that it gathers together physically. A church that does not gather, is not a church.

This means internet churches are not true churches. A few large churches I know of, have what they call an “internet campus”, but it is biblically impossible for a church to exist that never gathers together!

Similarly, multisite churches are actually multiple churches, and depending on their organizational structure, may or may not (probably not) have a form of biblical authority/leadership.

Even a group of friends calling themselves a church, but never gathering for more than dinner and drinks, is not actually a church. A church must gather for worship.

4. The ordinances rightly administered

And they devoted themselves to . . . the breaking of bread

This is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, and in the preceding verse baptism is directly tied to church membership. A church that does not observe these two ordinances is in direct disobedience to Christ, and therefore cannot be considered part of His body.

Again, it is possible to practice these ordinances with error and still be a church. For instance, we believe presbyterians to be in error when they baptize infants, and also in the mode by which they baptize, i.e. sprinkling. However, they do baptize adult converts, and they do so with a proper understanding of what baptism is.

Roman Catholics however, not only baptize by sprinkling and baptize infants, but they do so with a false understanding of what baptism is, believing and teaching that it is essential to salvation. This moves them from error in a secondary thing, baptism, into error in a primary doctrine, salvation, and is further cause for considering them a non-church.

Rome’s errors concerning the Lord’s Supper are equally egregious, possibly more so, and very offensive to the truth of scripture. A thorough discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article.

5. Biblical Prayer

And they devoted themselves to . . .  the prayers.

Again, we do not believe or imagine that our prayers are perfect. We sometimes pray with wrong motives, or ask for things that are not good for us. These are errors, but there are wrong ways to pray that move a church from error into non-church status.

First, a church that does not pray, is no church at all. I have rarely encountered this error, though occasionally you will find someone who thinks that since God hears all we say, if we just talk amongst ourselves, we need not pray, because God has already heard us. But that is a compete misunderstanding of what prayer is.

The second error is when prayer, by design and intention,  becomes regularly and completely, unbiblical. This happens when we pray to someone other than God, who has revealed himself in Scripture. Prayers to Allah, or Yoga meditation, are not biblical prayers. Prayers to Mary or other “saints” are not biblical prayers. Groups who practice such forms of prayer have ceased to be churches of Christ.

Conclusion

I hope this review of the essential marks of the church will help better answer the question: when is a church not a church? But remember that while we must be Valiant for Truth, we must also humbly recognize that we are not perfect.

Who runs the church?

Who runs the church?

This is the fourth article in a series on the nature of the church. So far we’ve covered:

  1. What is the church?
  2. What is a church?
  3. Why are there so many churches?

This time around we are seeking to answer the question: Who runs the church?

Or to put it another way: How should the church be organized?

Having first defined the universal church, we then worked outward to local churches. Now let’s back up and consider for a moment the visible church worldwide.

Is there a human government, or organizational structure, for the management of all God’s people presently alive on planet earth? The Roman Catholic church would have us believe there is, and that they are it, with a pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests. The Reformers disagreed, and so formulated the confessions.

A word about confessions

We do not consider any confession to be infallible, or above scripture in any way. Quite to the contrary, the confessions themselves acknowledge the supremacy and authority of scripture. The confessions serve as a summary of what scripture teaches.

In the sense that a confession seeks to gather and summarize what scripture teaches on given subjects, a confession serves as a sort of condensed systematic (or topical) theology.

Since we are addressing the topic of church organization in this article, it will be helpful to work through a confession on the subject, rather than attempt to gather and summarize the teaching of all the scripture ourselves.

In doing so, one wants to make sure you are using a biblically solid confession, this means comparing the chosen confession to scripture to ascertain if it is a faithful summary of what scripture teaches.

The confession which we believe best summarizes the important teachings (doctrines) of scripture is the confession formulated by the 17th century English Baptists. This confession was written to show both agreement and areas of disagreement with the Presbyterian confession (the Westminster Confession of Faith) which was published in the same century.

The baptist confession was probably written in the late 1670’s, but due to the persecution of baptists by the Church of England, it was not openly published until 1689 and has come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

This is the confession I commonly reference in articles and sermons. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. In this article, we’ll be looking particularly at chapter 26, “Of the Church”.

Who runs the church?

Paragraph 4. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner;7 neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.8

7: Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11,12
8: 2 Thess. 2:2-9

We see from this paragraph that the authors recognized no authority over the entirety of Christ’s body, apart from Christ himself. Christ is the head of his church and has not delegated that authority to another.

The confession goes on to describe Christ’s work as head of his church, in gathering his own into “particular societies, or churches”. Christ is the head, and he does the gathering.

Once gathered into churches, what authority is vested in these individual churches?

Paragraph 7. To each of these churches therefore gathered, according to his mind declared in his word, he has given all that power and authority, which is in any way needful for their carrying on that order in worship and discipline, which he has instituted for them to observe; with commands and rules for the due and right exerting, and executing of that power.14

14: Matt. 18:17, 18; 1 Cor. 5:4, 5, 5:13, 2 Cor. 2:6-8

This idea is commonly called congregationalism. Basically, this means each local congregation is directly under the authority of Christ himself, with no outside organization imposing itself or holding authority over the local congregation.

This is not the only understanding of church government, but it is the one we believe to be most closely aligned with scripture.

With each local church autonomous, and accountable to Christ alone, how should a church be structured?

Who runs the church: officers and members

Paragraph 8. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons.15

15 Acts 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1

So the church is comprised of officers and members. The officers being of two sorts, elders and deacons.

Members

In a future article, I’ll deal with the idea of membership more specifically. For now, let’s just agree that members are those in the local church who are professing Christians, recognized as such by the assembled church, baptized by immersion, and covenanted together as a body.

This means that not everyone who attends is a member.

We have not yet formalized membership, but God willing we will do so sometime in the near future. So at this point, we have no formal membership, but those who are recognizably participating in the gathered life of our church are considered informal members at this point, and will be encouraged to pursue formal membership when we are ready for that.

Officers

There are two sorts of officers in the church, and the first thing to note about officers is that they are members. You cannot be an officer of the church unless you are first a member of the church.

The second thing to note about officers is that while members must be credible believers who have been baptized. Officers must be that and more. Officers must meet the requirements articulated in scripture for their office. We’ll deal more with this in a future article, but in short, the officers must be godly men who are examples to the congregation, gifted to serve in their particular office, and hold to a stricter doctrinal confession than that required of members.

Elders

In the scriptures, the words pastor, elder, bishop, and overseer are all used interchangeably for this one office. Those who develop church structures that differentiate between these words, as establishing different offices, are doing something the bible itself does not do.

The confession summarizes the work of elders as follows.

Paragraph 10. The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him;19

19 Acts 6:4; Heb. 13:17

The work of elders is to serve the congregation by ministering among them the word and prayer. There are many requirements listed in scripture for elders. All but one of them are character qualities. The only skill required for the office is to be “able to teach” [1 Timothy 3:2] or “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” [Titus 1:9].

The elders watch over the congregation’s spiritual health and maturity, serving them by praying for them and ministering the Word (scriptures) to them. This ministry of the Word can take the shape of preaching, teaching, music, and personal discipleship. The elders should be involved in all these things, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who do them. Certainly others in the body can disciple one another, lead music, even teach or preach, but the elders are to oversee these ministries in the local congregation, to be certain what is being taught is these various contexts conforms to sound doctrine.

Another important thing to note is the plurality of the use of the word, elders. The bible clearly teaches that the local church should have multiple elders who are responsible for leading and instructing the church spiritually. The idea that one man is the pastor who may, or may not, have a board of advisers, perhaps even called elders, is an unbiblical one. Churches have elders. Elders are pastors. And the elders are all equal in authority and responsibility.

This isn’t to say that the elders can’t lead in different areas of the church’s life. They can and should. One elder may do the majority of the preaching while another specializes in teaching through music, and another in counseling, etc. That’s fine. But there are no ‘super elders’ who are above the other elders. Terms like ‘Senior Pastor’ or ‘Lead Pastor’ are antithetical to biblical eldership.

Deacons

Of course, there are many other needs within a local church, some of them quite pressing. When physical needs arose in the early church, it became obvious that if the elders attended to these pressing physical needs, they would have no time left for prayer and teaching. This gave rise to the office of deacon.

The office of deacon was therefore created to serve the physical needs of the congregation, leaving the elders free to serve the spiritual needs of the church.

It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. [Acts 6:2-4]

Servant leaders

One thing you might notice about both offices is that they are servants. This doesn’t mean the elders and deacons work for the congregation. Yes, their service is to the congregation, but they serve Christ. Elders and deacons are Christ’s servants appointed to care for his church. In this way, they remain humble and demonstrate to the congregation what it looks like to be a servant of God.

The conclusion of the matter

What we’ve discussed above is the biblical model for how a local church is to be organized. Any other structural organization in a local church must necessarily fall under the oversight of the elders and the organizational leadership of the deacons. Small group leaders, for example, need not all be elders or deacons, but they should be overseen by the elders and deacons.

Elders have a responsibility to safeguard the congregation from false teaching, or even poor teaching.

Deacons have a responsibility to safeguard the congregation from organizational structures that may leave people out, or simply uncared for.

Any organization in the church must, therefore, be subject to the leadership of the church officers.

Any organization outside the church, such as denominations or associations, must be voluntary and retain the local church’s autonomy and authority with Christ as its only head.

Christ – Congregation (members) – Elders – Deacons. This is the biblical structure for the church, and the structure we aspire to. Please pray with us that God will bless his church and cause it to grow so that it is healthy and flourishes.

Wash one another’s feet: a challenge to humbly serve

Wash one another’s feet: a challenge to humbly serve

Introduction:

Sheep and wolves.

True belief and false belief.

Throughout John’s gospel his cry to his readers has been, “Believe and have life!”

Yet, he has been careful to show us that not all who believe, truly believe. Many make false professions, some out of ignorance, some out of idolatry.

In chapter 12 John began to describe the life of a true disciple. He told us that true disciples follow their Master by dying to sin and becoming like Him in faith.

Then he went on to tell us that true disciples embrace both doctrine and delight. They know who Jesus is, and they love him above all else.

It is with this in mind that we come to chapter 13 of John’s gospel, and continue to learn what it means to truly believe and have life in Christ.

Text:

John 13:1-20

Summary of the Text:

Our text relates an event that happened during supper, probably Thursday evening before the Passover. Jesus is with the disciples. Satan has already done his work in the heart of Judas Iscariot and Judas is planning to betray Jesus.

Jesus lays aside his outer garment, his tunic, gets down on his knees and begins to wash the disciples feet.

Peter interrupts the proceedings with one of his signature outbursts, attempting to explain to the Maker of heaven and earth why He should do things differently.

Jesus straightens him out, and continues with the task.

When He’s done, Jesus puts his tunic back on, takes his place as the Master again, and tells them to follow his example and wash one another’s feet.

During the course of the evening he also drops hints about Judas’ coming betrayal.

Now this passage raises a number of questions for us, not the least of which is: Are we supposed to be washing each other’s feet today?

That’s the obvious question at the heart of this passage, but there are a couple other things I’d like to note here as well, before we deal with that.

There are three personalities on display here in this text. Jesus, Judas, and Peter.

1. First, make note of Judas.

In the last part of chapter 12 we talked about true belief being a matter of both the head and the heart, doctrine and delight. The occasion that brought that out, was a number of Jewish leaders who came to believe Jesus was the Messiah, but who wouldn’t confess it because they loved the praise of men more than they loved God.

Here, we have Judas, who does confess, but his confession is false because his heart is elsewhere. His heart has been filled, by Satan, with betrayal. So that theme from last week echoes into this chapter with major reverberations!

2. Second, notice Peter.

Unlike Judas, Peter is a true disciple. He genuinely loves Christ, but he slides off the path into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. His error is ignorance. HIs profession is true, but he’s ignorant. He doesn’t understand why Christ is doing what he’s doing.

This text can be read to cast Peter in a favorable light, humbly thinking the Lord of glory shouldn’t be washing his feet. But on the other hand, true humility would yield in obedience to the Lord, even where understanding is lacking.

Peter doesn’t yield, he questions, and then even when told to accept it, and that understanding will come later, he obstinately refuses. It is only when he’s told that if he doesn’t yield he’s loose his eternal inheritance, that he finally submits to the will of Christ.

As John Calvin put it, “ignorance is closely followed by obstinacy”.

Again, this goes back to our discussion last week about doctrine and delight. You must have both. Delighting in Christ when you don’t know him, will ultimately lead to disobedience to Christ.

3. But contrasted with these two flawed men, is the son of man, Jesus.

Notice his character.

I. He loves, to the end, which is the cross, his own death.

The bible tells us that God is unchanging, or immutable, in his character and nature. And since Jesus is God, this means that his character and nature are immutable.

If Jesus “loved his own who were in the world” at that time. And if Jesus’ character and nature are unchanging, then it follows that Jesus still loves his own who are in the world now.

This should be an encouragement to believers today. Jesus loved them to the cross, and he loves us to the cross, where our sins are atoned for by the shedding of his righteous blood.

II. Notice also Jesus’ humility. He is the Lord, and yet he washed the disciples’ feet. Washing feet is an incredibly dirty job, especially in a culture where everyone wears sandals and walks everywhere, without the benefit of paved roads. I imagine their feet looked something like the feet of Frodo and Sam by the time they reached Mordor, dirty and disgusting.

Washing guests feet at a supper, is the work of servants and slaves, not heads of households. Yet Jesus humbles himself and performs this service to his disciples. We’ll see why in a few minutes, but his humility is remarkable.

III. And lastly, notice the contrast between Peter’s ignorance and Christ’s confident understanding. Several times we are told that Christ knows something. And he knew these things with complete confidence, and acted on what he knew. His understanding is beyond our human comprehension.

So with those three personalities fixed in our minds, let’s look at the story and see what we can learn.

Serve one another

The main issue here is that of serving. Jesus served the disciples. He served them by washing their feet. And he told them to “do just as I have done to you”, which has lead some to think we should be washing each other’s feet.

Roman Catholics, and following in their footsteps, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and even some Presbyterians observe some sort of foot washing ceremony once a year on Thursday during Holy Week.

Meanwhile, some groups, including Adventists, Anabaptists, and some Pentecostals, view foot washing as an ordinance or sacrament that is practice regularly, usually just prior to the observance of communion.

I want to show you from this text, why I think both these groups have gotten this wrong. Quite frankly, only a very shallow, surface reading of the text could lead to such a misunderstanding of it.

John Calvin says that those who observe an annual foot washing ceremony are not imitating Christ, but aping him. He calls it buffoonery playing on a stage.

I agree, an annual ceremony of foot washing completely misses the point of what Jesus was trying to teach.

And those who view it as an element of communion, or a third ordinance in its own right, have likewise failed to see the true meaning of Jesus’ actions.

1. We serve because Jesus served

One thing, however, is clear. Jesus did mean for us to do something by way of following his example. After all, he did say in verse 15,

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

We are to do something, and that something is the thing Jesus did. But before we get to the specific thing, I want to ponder for a moment the nature of the thing. That is, what kind of thing was it, and how was it done, with what attitude.

In verse 3 John tells us

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.

So Jesus rose from his place at the head of the table to do this thing, with full knowledge that all things are in his hands. All things.

Jesus already told us a few chapters back that his own life was in his hands and no one else had the power to take it from him. But here it says “all things” are in his hands. That means, not only his own life, but the lives of those who will nail him to the tree are in his hands. Their ability to breath air, lift and swing the hammer that drove the nails, was in his hands! They could not have done it, had he not willed it.

The sun and the moon are in his hands.

Distant galaxies that we haven’t yet discovered, are in his hands.

As the children’s song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

So this Lord of glory, who

“…created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” [Hebrews 1:3]

That

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…

got down on his knees and took the dirty feet of 12 Galilean peasants into his hands, and washed away the dirt and grime of walking in dusty streets.

What sort of thing was it? It was a humble thing.

The highest authority in the Universe, did the lowliest job in the house.

Jesus took on the role of a servant.

John 13:3-4

Just as he laid aside his heavenly glory and wrapped himself in lowly flesh.

John 13:5

Skip to verse 12

John 13:12-16

Where all this is leading is verse 20.

John 13:20

If you’ll remember from the end of chapter 12, Jesus told those who believed in him, but would confess him, that to reject him on earth was to reject God in heaven.

Now Christ extends the statement to include those he has sent, namely the disciples, and by extension the church built on their teaching.

To receive Christ’s followers is to receive Christ himself. And to receive Christ is to receive the Father.

That’s heady stuff!

Christ tells his disciples that they represent God to the world. To receive them is to receive God, and to reject them is to reject God.

“But…” Jesus says, “don’t get uppity. You’re not greater than I am, and I acted the part of a servant.”

The question: Are we suppose to wash one another’s feet?

So now our question is, do we understand Jesus to mean that we are to serve each other particularly by washing feet?

Or did he mean it more generally, that we are to serve each other in humility, doing whatever is needful?

If we read it literally, that we are to wash one another’s feet, then we encounter a few problems.

One difficulty we always have in coming to scripture is determining what stays in the first century, and what is binding across time.

For instance, and I’ll use a somewhat controversial one, women as pastors. There is a very clear injunction in 1 Timothy against it.

Some people though, read that prohibition against women as pastors, as something cultural that needs to be left in the first century. Paul was working within the confines of his culture, but our culture is different so women pastors are OK now. That is the reasoning. The problem is that Paul rooted it not in culture, but in creation. God made it this way, is his reasoning. Nothing cultural about it.

When scripture commands something, the burden of proof lies with those who would argue for leaving it in the first century.

So with women pastors, those who would embrace that, must prove from scripture that it is OK to do so. They must provide a textual reason for reading it that way, an example that proves their trajectory, etc.

Since Jesus explicitly commands the disciples to wash each other’s feet, verse 14, and I’m arguing that we are not bound to do THAT act itself, the burden of proof lies with me. I must prove it.

So let me show you why I think scripture warrants leaving that practice in the first century, and therefore what it means to us, since it doesn’t mean THAT.

2. We serve by humbly doing the thankless jobs

Let’s start with what it does mean.

We, as the church, are sent by Christ, into the world, as his representatives. But our master, who is our example of being sent into the world, humbled himself and served in a demeaning way, therefore we are to do likewise.

1. Serve real needs

And so my first point is this, Jesus really served them.

In that culture you did a lot of walking. You wore sandals. Your feet got dirty and needed cleaning.

In our culture, not so much. If you leave your house and walk to my house for dinner, your feet shouldn’t get dirty. If they do, it’s because you didn’t wear shoes, not because you didn’t HAVE shoes.

So if you acted like you lived in our culture, and wore shoes, and came to my house for dinner, and I broke out a basin and a towel to wash your feet, it would be odd.

I wouldn’t be serving you in any real way. In fact, I’d probably be make you feel a bit awkward. It wouldn’t be good hospitality.

In their culture it was good hospitality.

Today it would be an action without a purpose. I’d be meeting a need that didn’t exist. It would be an empty ritual. That is not to say it would be without meaning. If we all agreed it meant something then it would, but only to those who knew and agreed on what it meant, to everyone else it would just be weird.

To serve real needs today, is not to wash feet, but to do the thankless jobs no one wants to do.

  • watch small children so adults can worship without distraction
  • clean up the communion trays after the service
  • clean up the dishes after a meal together
  • take time to put slides together for worship each week
  • clean the bathrooms at the church

So that’s my first argument, serve real needs.

2. They knew he was washing their feet, but didn’t understand what it meant

Verses 7 & 12 are my second argument.

John 13:7, 12

They knew he had washed their feet. What they didn’t understand was what it meant.

If Jesus had merely meant for them to wash one another’s feet, he could have simply sat down and said, “Do this for one another.” without all the explanation about him humbling himself, in verse 13, and servants not being greater than masters, in verse 16.

I think it is quite clear Jesus meant something more than what they had seen.

What had he given them an example of in verse 15? Not foot washing. He could have just pointed to a servant for that. No, his example was humility and service. That’s the whole point of verses 3-5. The Lord of heaven and earth humbled himself and served.

3. The silence of the rest of the New Testament

My third argument is what is known as an argument from silence. Normally that’s not a good thing, but in this case it actually is.

The rest of the New Testament is silent on this matter of foot washing. There is no other mention of it in the gospels. There is no example of the churches practicing this in Acts. And in all of Paul’s letters to the churches, instructing them on how to conduct themselves, he only mentions foot washing one time.

In 1 Timothy 5:10 he says that a widow can be enrolled to be supported by the church, if she meets certain requirements. She can’t have any living relatives who could care for her. She must be at least 60 years old. She must have been faithful to her husband while he lived. And she must have shown hospitality and generosity to those in need, which includes caring for the sick and washing the feet of the saints.

If this was an ordinance Christ gave to his church to be practiced throughout the ages, surely there would have been mention of it elsewhere, instructions about how to do it, reminders to do it. We have all those things for preaching, singing, praying, baptizing, and the Lord’s Supper, but none for foot washing.

So my argument is that this is not a specific action that Christ ordains his church to observe, but rather an attitude of humility toward one another.

But there is another textual reason for saying this particular action is to be left in the first century, and that is, it represents something else. The washing of the disciple’s feet is a visual picture of something else, something deeper.

3. We serve by sanctifying

You may have noticed that I largely ignored verses 6-11. I skipped from verse 5 to verse 12. You can read it like that and it reads like an uninterrupted narrative. This episode with Peter feels like an interruption. But it’s here for a reason. John included it because it’s necessary to understanding the deeper meaning of this text.

As Jesus is washing their feet, we get this interruption.

John 13:6-11

Jesus goes to wash Peter’s feet. Peter doesn’t think the Lord should be washing his feet, so he rejects the idea. Jesus tells him to be quiet and wait and he’ll find out what it’s all about. Peter still won’t submit to the will of Christ, so Jesus tells him that if he doesn’t wash Peter’s feet, then Peter has no share with him.

What does Jesus mean by this? Whatever it meant, Peter did not want to miss out on it. If washing meant having a share with Christ, then Peter wanted his head and hands washed in addition to his feet.

To have a share with Christ means to have communion with him in this life, and to share in his inheritance in the Kingdom. It short, it means to be saved.

In effect, Jesus told Peter,

If I do not wash you, you are not truly saved.

And that freaked Peter out. He didn’t want Jesus to stop with his feet. Peter wanted to be over saved.

So then Jesus responds,

John 13:10-11

What Jesus is saying here is this.

You have already been washed in the main, for

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior [Titus 3:5-6]

You were washed. You were unclean, but now you have been washed clean. Listen to Paul’s description of the church in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

You were washed. And if you were washed by Christ, baptized in the Spirit, regenerated, then you are truly clean. But…

As we’ve said before, though the stain of our sins has been washed away, and we are clean in God’s sight, we still live on in this fallen world. We still have sin living in our members, the old nature, which we must put to death.

This is a lifetime project of becoming more like Jesus, and sinning less. But what does John say? Can we ever be completely free of sin in this life?

1 John 1:7-9

In one sense, in the sense of our legal standing before God, our justification, we have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus and there is no sin in us, we are free from the penalty of sin. Yet in another sense, we still experience the presence of sin.

As we live the Christian life, walking in the light as John said, our feet still get dirty. Bathing, which is a picture of justification, is a one time thing, but foot washing serves as a picture of our ongoing sanctification, and that is a daily necessity.

This is why I think the physical act of foot washing is not something we are to practice today, because the physical act of foot washing was an example Jesus used to picture our ongoing sanctification.

So a final question.

How is this sanctification to be accomplished? What is the means?

I think there are two parts to the answer. The first is quite simply the scriptures.

Ephesians 5:25-27

Jesus cleanses the church by washing it in the Word.

Jesus says this several times in John.

John 15:3

And again in

John 17:17

So that is the first part of the answer, Jesus sanctifies us with the scriptures. And since we need this daily foot washing, this daily sanctification, the scriptures should play a part in our daily lives. This is why we are constantly encouraging you to read the bible for yourself, daily. If you don’t, you’re fee will get nasty and crusted with sin.

But now the second part of the answer has to do with how the scripture is applied to us.

To use the metaphor of foot washing, scripture is the water that cleanses us, but how does it get applied to our feet? Do we do it ourselves, as individuals? Well, certainly the scriptures should play a role in your individual lives, as I just said, but I want to make the case that the application of scripture for our sanctification is primarily done in the context of the church.

Hebrews speaks of being sprinkled clean and washed with pure water, and then says,

Hebrews 10:23-25

Togetherness as the church is tied to washing and to stirring up for good.

Paul tells us in,

Colossians 3:16

So the Word of Christ is to dwell in us, as a church, and we are to teach and admonish one another.

Hebrews tells us to,

Hebrews 3:13-14

We are to exhort one another every day to prevent sin from hardening our hearts. And notice the language of sharing in Christ, which reminds us of Jesus statement to Peter in our text.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told,

2 Timothy 3:16

Scripture playing the key role, but teaching, reproving, correcting, and training involve more than just self, they involve the church.

But remember Christ’s example was one of humility.

And so Peter himself tells us,

1 Peter 5:5

With humility.

In Galatians Paul says,

Galatians 6:1

With gentleness

Many times in the New Testament we are told to love one another with brotherly affection.

Conclusion

Foot washing was meant to picture for us two things,

  1. humble service to one another that meets real needs
  2. humble, gentle, loving sanctification in the Word

We said several weeks ago that Jesus’ disciples must die to self or they are not his disciples. Jesus said the same thing to Peter, you must experience ongoing sanctification or you are not truly his disciple. This doesn’t mean perfection, but it does mean humble service to others in the church, and it does mean humbly receiving correction from others in the church, so that you may continually have the dirt of this world washed from your spiritual feet.

The frightening thing is, Jesus said these things to Peter, while Judas remained silent and had his feet washed as well. That is why Jesus said they were not all clean,

John 13:11

There are those who sit in church, who even appear to bear fruit, whose hearts are “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” like Judas. They are false brothers as Paul calls them in Galatians.

The Supper

So as we come to the Supper, let us consider Paul’s caution in,

1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Remember, if you are his disciple then you are already and truly clean, having been washed in his blood, regenerated by his Spirit, and joined to his body through baptism.

As we examine ourselves, we are not looking for perfection, but rather we are looking for a heart that is humble before the Lord, willing to submit to his washing by his Word, even if the hands he uses look like the sinful person in the pew next to us.

Let’s take a moment now, in silent prayer, to examine ourselves before the Lord.

If then, you are in Christ, having been united to him by faith, this Supper is for you. A spiritual meal, to nourish your faith, by making known the glory of his grace.

So come, and welcome to Jesus Christ.