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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Forever to remain a living member of Christ's church!
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Parenting
 
Preached:2013-09-29
Added:2013-10-07
Updated:2013-10-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from the 2010 APV Book of Praise
Scripture quotations from the NKJV
(Note:  This sermon was the fifth in a series of sermons on Christian parenting.  Can be used on its own.)

Psalm 84:1,2

Psalm 27:2

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Psalm 122:1,2,3

Psalm 84:5,6

 

Read:  Matthew 16:13-27; Hebrews 10:11-39

Text:  Lord’s Day 21, Q&A 54,55.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do your children think of this church?  Or more importantly, what are you teaching your children to think about this church?

 

Have you ever considered the need to instill in the hearts of your children not just a love for God but also a love for His church?  And by His church I don’t mean the church “out there” somewhere, nor the church as it will be on that great and final day, but this church, here, of which you are a member?

 

Do you think that there even is a need to instill a love for this church in the hearts of your children? 

 

Do you have a love for Christ’s Church yourself?  And, if you are a member here, do you have a love for this church? 

 

Perhaps you have not thought about this question before.  Or perhaps you have, but dismissed it as not-so-very important.  Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “I want my children to have a love for God, but a love for His church – or at least a love for this church is optional.  Really, whatever is best for them, wherever it is that they will feel accepted and be happy is what counts. 

 

But it is an important question, and one that needs an answer, a right answer.  In days past a Church Father such as Cyprian could insist that “You can not have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother”.  And in the confessions of our church you will find it written in article 28 of the Belgic Confession that “there is no salvation outside of [the church] and that

“. . . no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be.  But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the church.”

But today our commitment to the church, particularly our commitment to the local church of which we are a member is perhaps not what it once was.  In Matthew 16:24 our Lord Jesus Christ said,

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

But if the cross we are expected to take up feels a little too heavy, a little too cumbersome, there are times when we will try to set it aside for an easier one.  We want things – including church – to be simple and easy, pain-free.  We do not want the church to interfere with the life we want to lead.  We do not want to get stained by the people around us, we do not want to get hurt by them, nor do we want to get entangled in the lives of others. 

  But in the Apostles’ Creed we confess that

“I believe a holy catholic church, the communion of saints”!

We confess that as members of Christ, we are and forever shall remain living members of His church!  And as members of Christ we belong to a community of saints, a community that lives and works together, a community chosen to everlasting life.  And so today I preach to you from the Word of God concerning the holy catholic church under the following theme:

 

Forever to remain a living member of Christ’s Church!

1.    A Cherished Community.

2.    A Committed Community.

 

1. A Cherished Community.

When our children are born, they are not only born into our families but also into the family of God.  That is why we confess in Lord’s Day 27 of the Catechism that infants as well as adults belong to Christ’s covenant and congregation.  And so, being baptized as members of this church, they are brought up in the family of this church.  If you have are married and if you were married in this church, we prayed for you and the children you might receive with this prayer,

“If it should please you to give them children, confirm your covenant to them and to their seed; and grant that they may nurture these children in the fear of the Lord, to the glory of your name, and to the edification of the church.”

And so as our children grow up, we should want them to understand what it means to be a part of God’s covenant and congregation and we should want them to love the Church as Christ loves His church and to come to the point when, at the profession of their faith, they are ready to firmly resolve to commit their whole life to the Lord’s service as a living member of his church.

 

But does that have to include a love for this church of which they are a member?  In line with answer 54 of the Catechism, isn’t it just the catholic church, that church of all times and all places, that we and our children should be a part of?  This church has got its problems, you know!  This church has got some less-than perfect members and some less-than perfect leaders and it functions in a less-than perfect way.  If we look at this church with human eyes, there are many times when we would despair, and perhaps many time even when we wonder if we want to be a part of it!  If we think of this church as no more than a group of people together, there would be much to be negative about, much to criticize, many faults to point out. 

 

And that sometimes leaves us with the conclusion that while a love for God is absolutely necessary, a love for our brothers and sisters is negotiable – or at least a love for these brothers and sisters and a love for this community, this church of which we are a member is negotiable.  Of course we would agree that we must love one another, but how we love them and even who we love does not really have much to do with our salvation.  Love for the community, for the church, is a good thing perhaps, but not of such a high priority, not of such great significance.  A personal relationship with God is what matters; a relationship with our brothers and sisters in the church is a distant second.

 

But what is the church that Christ loved?  What is the church that He died for?  What is the connection between this local community of which we are a part and the community of the Redeemed as we will be on the last day, standing before the throne of God?  Can we be a part of the one and not a part of the other?

 

In Matthew 16 our Lord Jesus asked His disciples who they believed He was to which Simon Peter answered and said in verse 16

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And then Jesus answered and said to him,

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church!”

 

“On this rock I will build my church.”  In other words our Lord Jesus Christ was saying, “On you, Peter, I will build my church.  Through your ministry and the ministry of the other apostles, I will gather, defend and preserve for Myself a church chosen to everlasting life.”  And then it was to Peter and to the church that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, keys that we understand to be the right preaching of the gospel and the right use of Church Discipline, so that through their ministry the kingdom might be opened and it might be closed.  And so when the apostles went out, they not only went out to make individual disciples, but they went out to gather these disciples into local churches.  And it was to the elders of one of those churches, the church at Ephesus, that the apostle Paul could say in Acts 20:28,

“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

The apostle Paul could say concerning the church at Ephesus, “This is the community which Christ has purchased with His own blood!”  And that was how he wanted the elders there to view the church over which they were overseers! 

 

And what a message to give to the elders of the church!  The office bearers of the church, probably more than anyone else, get to see not just the blessings and spiritual growth that is going on in the church but also the concerns, the sin and the weakness.  And so elders as well as deacons and ministers can get tired, can feel disappointed with the church over which they are called to oversee.  But Christ says, “Don’t just look at the church in that way.  Remember that this is the church that I love, this is the church that I willingly went to the cross to die for.  I, your Lord and Saviour, went to the cross to die for a group of disciples who would all deny Me and leave Me to die alone.  I went to the cross to die for my disciples who at that time were bickering and fighting over who would be the greatest in My kingdom.  I went to the cross to die for a church like Ephesus, a Church that I would later have to say in Revelation 2 had lost its first love.  I went to the cross for the church of Corinth, the church of the Galatians, the Ephesians.  And I went to the cross so that I might gather, defend and preserve for Myself a church in Baldivis, a church of which you may be a member.”

 

You see, that is the value of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ!  That is the value of this church of our Lord Jesus Christ!  For all its faults and weaknesses, since this church is a church of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us embrace this church of which we are blessed to be a part and cherish it and love it as Christ embraces this church, as He cherishes it, as He loved it enough to die for.

 

And let us teach our children to do the same.  Let us teach our children not just to love the Lord, not just to love the church as it will be on the last day, but also to love the church of which they are a part right now.  And let us do the same, realizing the need to cherish and to love this local community of Christ, this local church community of which we may be a part. 

 

The Bible never tells us that your active membership in the local church is not the thing that really matters but your membership in the “heavenly Jerusalem”, your being a part of the vast multitude that will one day be standing before the throne of God.  The Bible never tells you that it is OK to drift through life like a rolling stone, spending a bit of time here or attending a function over there, reading a blog on the internet or listening to a sermon from it, but not being engaged, not being a part of the local body of believers, not being a living member of your local church.  You see, when the Apostles’ Creed says “I believe a holy catholic church, the communion of saints” we need to see these two things as one!  The holy catholic church is the communion of saints, and to be a part of the “church of all times and places” is to be a part of the church in this place, in your place!

 

A love for God and a love for His Church goes hand in hand.  The Bible teaches us, in fact, that it is impossible to have a love for God and not, at the same time, to have a love for the community of God, for His Church, even for this church of which you are a member.

John 13:35,

“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Romans 13:8,

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

1 John 3:14,

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love his brother abides in death.”

 

So love for God and love for the brotherhood goes hand in hand.  As we draw near to God in Jesus Christ, we not only live in love with Him but we also live in love with one another.  Because when we become one in Christ, we also, at the same time, become one with the body of Christ. 

 

Now don’t get me wrong!  This does not mean that there is never a time to be critical of the church of which you are a member.  Since the church belongs to Christ and since He purchased it at such a high price, we must value the church to such an extent that we want it reflect Christ and the beauty of Christ more and more!  We should, therefore, be jealous for the holiness of Christ’s Church.  We should, therefore, be eager to see the church grow in love and in truth and in godliness and in evangelism and in mission and in everything else that the church is called to be.  But we love the church in the way that we love Christ Himself and we pray for the good and the growth and holiness and the witness of Christ’s church, that we might live out of who we are in Christ.

 

2. A committed community.

When Christ told His disciples in Matthew 16:24,

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”

he knew that the commitment He was expecting of His followers was great. In these words our Lord was calling us to stop living for ourselves and to live for Him, to follow Him in the way that He went.  And when it comes to us belonging to His Church, this must mean that we love the Church as Christ loves His Church, that we, to use the words of article 28 of the Belgic Confession, submit ourselves to its instruction and discipline, bend our necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and serve the edification of the brothers and sisters, according to the talents God has given us as members of the same body.   The Lord has joined us to one another in His Church so that our commitment to Him might be displayed in our commitment to one another.

  And so to “forever remain a living member of Christ’s Church” means that our love for Christ’s Church flows over into seeking its good.  You see, growing in Christ is not just something between you and God:  the Lord wants you to grow into Him in the context of His church – both for your good and also for the good and the wellbeing of the other members.  Hebrews 10:24,25 instructs us,

“Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

So as we come together as Christ’s Church, we must stir one another up to love and good works, to call one another to holy living, and encourage one another to meet together.  Coming to church then has everything to do with coming to be with one another and to encourage one another.  Church, then, is not simply a place to go once or twice a week in order to listen to a sermon so that you can then get out and do your own thing.  Rather, to come together as the church is to come together as the body of Christ and to be engaged in and with the body of Christ.  If you love Jesus, you must also learn to love His people, you must also learn to love His church!  And therefore, as we confess in answer 55 of the Catechism,

“everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members.”

 

So what does this “committed community” look like in practice? 

 

In the first place, if you are not a member of this church or of any true church of our Lord Jesus Christ, I encourage you to prayerfully consider what the Bible  has to say about this and to recognize the need to be member of the church for the glory of God and in obedience to Him as well as for your spiritual benefit and the spiritual benefit of the other members. 

 

But formal church membership, important though this is, is not all there is to say.  To be a committed community is not just to belong together but also to come together.  So be in town as much as you can and be here as much as you can.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.  Let us come together, let us come to church, and let us do so regularly.

 

And to be more specific, “regularly” is weekly, every Sunday where possible, even twice a Sunday, in the morning and again in the afternoon.  The Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the day in which we are called to come together, to sing together, to pray, to give our offerings to the Lord, to have fellowship together and to  be joined to one another in our common salvation in Christ.  Let us remember that the price that was paid for us to be able to come together and enter the Lord’s presence as His church was the great sacrifice, the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the One who, through His Spirit, brings us into community, calls us to come together for worship.  And should we then not want to make the greatest possible use of the privilege to come together as the people of God?  And would we not want to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to share in those same blessings?  If you truly loved God, then you would also love your brothers and sisters in the faith, in the same church, and you would do all you could to meet with God and meet with your brothers and sisters in God’s house.  And yes, I know that there are a lot of other Christians out there in the world.  There are also a lot of good books out there, and a lot of great sermons you can download off the internet. But if God has joined you to this family of Christians in this local church, should you not be here with these Christians and in this church as much as you are able? 

 

I know that this is hard for some of you.  I know that some of you do not feel as much a part of this church community as you would like.  I know that some of your children fit in very well here but that others struggle.  But what does God expect you to do about that?  When this happens, our natural tendency is to drift off, to disconnect, to reduce our ongoing commitment to the church community of which we are supposed to be a part.  But if you reduce your involvement, if you do not come to this church as regularly as you should, if you do not stay behind to get that cup of tea or coffee, if you do not invite others into your home, if you do not attend congregation meetings, if you do not join in with group Bible study meetings, if you are always too busy or not interested in the various social activities that take place in this church, if you are not really engaged in community, and most importantly, if you are not praying for this church, then do not be surprised if you find that you are drifting away from this church of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you don’t feel a part, that you don’t fit in as well as you would like. 

 

So here is a suggestion for you:  when the church service is over, not just today but also next week and the week after, don’t just rush off to your car and don’t just drift right away to the same little group that you usually meet up with and talk to.  Rather, hang around a bit, even if it makes you feel awkward.  Find someone that you have not spoken to either ever or for a long time.  Ask them how they are doing, see if there are ways that you can encourage them.  And then if there is time, greet someone else and do the same. 

 

And if your children are struggling in church, first of all start with yourselves.  What is your attitude towards the body of Christ and what are you doing to teach your children what it means to be a part of the family of God?  Get involved in the church of which the Lord has placed you and get your children involved.  Send them to their youth camps and congress events and Bible study groups and Ten Pin Bowling or ice skating nights or whatever wholesome activities it is that they are doing together.  Encourage them to reach out to others and comfort them when their reaching out is rebuffed or even rejected in an ungodly way.

 

And pray.  Pray for this church and pray for its members.  Do not just sit there in judgment or disdain but seek the well being of others and work for the good of Christ’s church.

 

It is not easy and it never was easy to be engaged in the community of Christ’s church and exhort one another to love and good deeds.  To be a committed community, to love the communion of saints, the church, and to encourage others to do the same, will be challenging.  Conflict and discouragement and a host of other challenges can be expected and sometimes we will become weary in doing good.  Sometimes it will be hard to drag ourselves away from the things of this world and from the things that we want to do. And if you are not in the habit of looking out for others and talking to them and encouraging them and studying the Bible with them, you will find it hard at first.  You might feel awkward not rushing to your car but standing there after church – not simply waiting for others to come to you, but also looking out for someone for you to encourage, to talk to.  If you are not used to inviting people into your homes, you will be nervous at first.  If you have not been to Bible study regularly for some time, it will take effort to get into the habit.  If you have not involved yourself in the church but stood too much on the sidelines, you will fear that you don’t have much in common with the other members.  But be committed to this church community, and encourage others in their commitment also.  Let us all seek to be engaged as a part of the communion of saints, using our gifts readily and cheerfully for the other members, all the while encouraging others to do the same.

 

And let us do this, Hebrews 10:25 tells us,

“. . . and so much more as you see the day approaching.”

For the day is coming when our Lord Jesus will return.  And then it will be too late to spur one another on too good works.  So let us live together as God’s Church today in the anticipation of being a part of the body of Christ, the church, forever.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, believing that He who promised is faithful.  And so let us look forward to the day when the Church, the Bride of Christ, is presented to Christ, purified and perfected.  And then we will enjoy the full and complete presence of God in the presence of His people.  And then we will be fully one in love with Him, and we will be joined forever to Him and to His church.  How good that day will be!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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