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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:In Worship, Hear the Pure Word of God!
Text:LD 35 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-06-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 92:1,6,7                                                                                        

Hy 1

Reading – Proverbs 9; Proverbs 30:1-6

Ps 18:1,9,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 35

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

Hy 37:1,2

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, from Sunday to Sunday, year after year, we gather together for worship. Fifty-two Lord’s days per year (morning and afternoon), plus a few special services, means that we meet more than one hundred times in a calendar year. Because it’s such a regular occurrence, we may not think about what goes into each worship service. But there’s a host of details that need to be taken care of, every time again—call it “behind the scenes.”

We need the caretaker to unlock the doors, to set things up, and hand out liturgy sheets. We need an organist or a piano-player to prepare, and then to lead the singing. We need someone on the sound board. Away from the worship service, we need people to look after the little kids, and sometimes in the kitchen preparing coffee.

And besides all that detail, there’s something else that must never be forgotten. Without it, everything else is a waste of time and effort. Without it, we might as well stay home. Beloved, we need the Word of the LORD. For proper worship, that’s the one vital ingredient! And next to this, everything else has only a supporting role. Whenever God’s people gather for worship, God wants his Word opened. He wants it explained faithfully, and listened to diligently.

It’s God’s Word that gives the reason to be here. Because it’s the Word that teaches us about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and what He’s done. It’s the Word that teaches us who we are as God’s children, what we must believe, and where we’re headed. The Word is like the glue that holds our worship together.

That’s the focus of the second commandment of God’s law: true worship. And we can see how the book of Proverbs again teaches this way of wisdom, which is the way of following God’s law. “Every word of God is pure,” the Spirit says in Proverbs 30:5, “He is a shield to those who put their trust in him.” I preach to you the gospel as summarized in Lord’s Day 35, under this theme,

“Every word of God is pure.” So in worship we should:

  1. listen to this Word
  2. cherish this Word
  3. practice this Word

 

1) listen to the Word: Remember how the book of Proverbs begins. This is how Solomon introduces it: “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (1:2-4). That’s what Solomon is trying to do. He wants his son, future king that he is, to be taught—and not only about the interesting things like economics and infrastructure, ships of trade and chariots of war. He wants his son to learn the most important thing there is: the fear of the LORD. For that, indeed, is the beginning of true knowledge (1:7).

And so it is for us, centuries later. There’s a lot you can study nowadays at college or university: you can study electrical engineering or medieval history, human anatomy or animal science, carpentry or chemistry. Even if you’re not in school, there’s a lot you can fill your mind with by cultivating different interests and hobbies; you can know all about fabrics and spices, footy players and motorcycles. But we must not neglect the most important to know: the fear of LORD. Gaining that kind of wisdom, becoming well-versed in that holy subject—is essential for us. We need to sit with Solomon and his son, and every child of God, and listen to the Word.

That jumps out at us when we read Lord’s Day 35. This lesson is about how we worship, and about what must characterize our worship. There’s no mistaking the emphasis, which is seen in Q&A 98, “[God] wants his people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of his Word.” That must be central. More than the glue, that’s the whole substance and structure of our worship!

Think of it, when we gather together on a Sunday morning or afternoon, we get to hear the Word of our God almost continually. We hear it in the votum, that confession of faith we make right at the beginning of the service: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth”—beautiful words taken from Psalm 124. And then the greeting of God, quoted from places like 1 Corinthians 1, or 1 Timothy 1, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the Word of God that we’re hearing!

Then we sing the Word in song, and we listen to the Word in the law. We open his Word together in Scripture readings, and then we listen to the preaching, as that same Word is explained and applied. There’s the singing of Psalms and Scriptural hymns, the offering up of prayers, and the profession of faith as a summary of the Bible. It all ends with the receiving of God’s Word of blessing, directly from Numbers 6 or 2 Corinthians 13, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” From beginning to end, for more than an hour, it is the Word. It’s the Word that fills this room with the sweet-smelling aroma of the gospel.

Yet how easily we take that blessing for granted. It’s kind of like the music that’s playing in your office or in the shopping centre—it’s background music that we just ignore, or tune out. The gospel is better than the most beautiful symphony, more powerful than any love song, but we might stop listening. Solomon knew this. This is what he said in chapter 3, “My son, do not forget my law…” (v 1). Don’t be distracted. Don’t be forgetful. When you come to church, don’t neglect the one thing that’s more precious than purest gold.

To drive his lesson home, Solomon paints a picture for his son. He started this portrait in chapter 8, and continues in chapter 9. It’s the picture of a beautiful woman—like a noble queen, or a princess, who is arrayed in glory and splendour. “This is Wisdom,” says Solomon. “This is the holy knowledge you need to listen to, the wisdom you need to embrace with both arms.” He depicts God’s wisdom like a woman because he wants to make more vivid her blessings, to make more urgent her call.

“Wisdom has built her house,” he says in 9:1, “She has hewn out her seven pillars.” If you see a house with seven pillars across the front, it’s impressive. You also know that it’s strong. And Solomon’s point is that the true knowledge of God is firm, and it is well-founded. So many ways of thinking in this world go out of style. For a while, everyone’s talking about going green. Right now everyone is discussing gender identity. Soon it will be something else… Social trends come and go. Fads fade. But through every age and every crisis, God’s wisdom stands fast, like a house supported by seven pillars.

This is what Paul says about the church: it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). The church isn’t a building that’s going to sway and topple. Not when we’re founded on God’s enduring Word!

And when we enter Wisdom’s house and we stay a while, we won’t go hungry. Solomon pictures the kind of hospitality that’s offered by Wisdom, “She has slaughtered her meat, she has mixed her wine, she has also furnished her table” (v 2). He’s saying that when you really dig into the Word of God, when you get into the meat of it, and chew on it, you’re going to be satisfied.

But we first need to open it. We first need to listen to it. Solomon explains that Wisdom is sending out her invitations: “She has sent out her maidens, she cries out from the highest places of the city, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ (vv 3-4). She invites us, and she wants an RSVP, where we confirm our attendance. That’s true whenever we hear it: the Word calls us to give our response. If today you hear the Word, you must repent from your sin. And put your faith in the living God!

The invitation goes on: “As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed’” (vv 4-5). Picture a beggar stumbling along a street in downtown Perth. It’s cold out, and he’s dirty and sore, walking along in misery, digging into rubbish cans for any snatch of food: an old apple core, a crust of bread. But then he sees an elegant waiter on the street corner, outside a well-lit restaurant. And the waiter is offering this amazing invitation to any passerby, “Whoever is hungry, let him turn in here. Eat and drink, at no cost.” Coming closer, the beggar catches a glimpse through the window of the most lavish buffet one could imagine: foods of all kinds, endless drinks, desserts and delicacies. The smells are already wafting out onto the street. Who would decline this offer?

Beloved, that’s our invitation to hear the Word of God. That’s our opportunity to hear the Word of God—every Sunday again. Here is a feast for us to enjoy up close. We can taste and see that the Lord is good. Every Sunday, we can eat the food of salvation, and drink the wine of the gospel! You can dine with Wisdom, and eat the life-giving words of Christ.

This commandment is about worship that is directed by God. And it’s a commandment that we must keep returning to, because we’re still inclined to bring worship that is self-willed. When we come to church we want to ask: Does this agree with my own views? Does this require less of me? What is most comfortable for us?

In some circles there’s a continual urge to enhance everything that has to do with coming to the worship service, to try to get more people in the door: you have to offer better coffee beforehand, have more programs for the kids, dress the preacher in trendier clothing, improve the lighting, turn up the music. In particular, there’ve always been some who want to shift away from a Word-centred worship service. Sermons are old-fashioned; in the age of YouTube, a half-hour speech just isn’t a form of communication that people respond to. We need shorter sound-bites and more video clips!

Now, it’s healthy to examine our practices for what we can improve. How can our worship be more God-honouring? What can we do to be more faithful to Scripture? These are always good things to think about. But before rushing off to things that might be more agreeable to us or the time we live in, the warning of Proverbs 30 is good to keep in mind, “Do not add to [God’s] words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (v 6).

We don’t need studies and surveys to establish this point, for it’s true on its own. Yet in the literature it’s often been confirmed: for all the superficial improvements that churches make, for all the energy that is invested in being more accessible and more seeker-friendly, what people come to church for is the living Word of God. That is where the power is, and that’s where the true change comes from. God doesn’t need us to add to it. His Word stands central.

And then let’s beware, Solomon says, that there’s a lot of other invitations too, sent by people who want to “instruct” us. This is why he contrasts the woman of Wisdom with the woman of Folly, a bit later in chapter 9: “A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing” (v 13). She has nothing to offer. But she too, signals to those walking by: “For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their way: ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here’” (vv 14-16). If you let her, she’ll fill you with nonsense and corruption.

So if Wisdom is really the voice of the Lord, who is Folly? It’s the voice of our own sinful desires, that pushing and pulling inside us, urging us to do whatever we want. That’s Folly. It’s also the voice of the devil’s temptations, as he tries to persuade you to forget God. Folly is heard in the voice of the unbelieving world, when it floods us with so much falsehood that we’re not sure anymore what is true.

All of which means there’s an important question: Who are we listening to? Not just on Sunday, but every day of the week? Who are we plugging into our ears? To what voices do we give our attention? Are we connected to the live-streaming of God’s Word? Or do we subscribe so many other channels of content? Be assured that only one Word leads to life and blessing. So we must cherish the pure Word.

 

2) cherish the Word: The students know they can listen to a teacher talking, hour after hour. You can even take notes, and look like you’re paying attention. But when the class is over, and you’re biking home, it’s so much harder to remember what you heard, and to work with it.

The same is true for our experience in Sunday worship. We can sit in church, and listen to the Word—we even take notes!—but what happens next is just as important. For what do we do with it? How do we work with it? In a few minutes we’ll talk about applying the Word, but first we need to speak of our attitude towards that Word. Because it’s only when we’ve taken the right attitude, that our proper response is possible.

Solomon understood this well. He knew that listening to Wisdom takes persistence and effort, and this is why he exhorts his son. We hear it in chapter 3, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (v 3). We need to cherish the Word of God. Don’t just look at that Bible on your shelf. Don’t download the Bible onto your phone, but never open it. But embrace the Word, and call it your treasure.

And why? Because it’s so precious. We can read that in chapter 30, “Every word of God is pure” (v 5). It’s been tested and tried by millions of believers, century after century, and it’s always been found reliable. Whatever the Word tells us is right and true and good.

In this world, we said, there is so much confusion, so much deception, so much despair. There is bad news everywhere. There is even fake news—when you can’t trust the source, and you’re being distracted from the real issue. Bad news, fake news… But every word of God is pure! God won’t lie to us; God won’t offer us false comfort; He won’t get swept up in movements. Solomon extols God’s wisdom in chapter 3, “Her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain [better] than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all things that you may desire cannot compare with her” (vv 14-15).

“So sit down, and stay awhile,” says Wisdom, “Cherish what I have to say.” If you’ll be blessed by Wisdom, take off your shoes and coat, find a seat beside her, and pay close attention. The Word of God is something to linger over, to talk about amongst each other, to commit to our minds. This goes for our personal study of the Bible, but certainly also for the public preaching of the Word on Sunday. It’s to be received with thanksgiving. It’s to be tested and examined, and then also treasured.

Have you ever heard of the Bereans? These were people in Macedonia where Paul and Silas preached during a missionary journey. And the believers in Berea were commended for this one thing, that they cherished the preaching that was brought by the apostles. Says Luke in Acts, “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (17:11). They compared whatever they heard from these human messengers with God’s written Word. And don’t miss the blessed result of their diligence, “Therefore many of them believed” (v 12).

The preached Word is always brought in weakness. Human shortcoming gets in the way. A sermon can be badly put together, or it can be badly delivered, and sometimes even both. But God has chosen this means for the care and strengthening of his people. Remember Q&A 98, “[God] wants his people to be taught… by the living preaching of his Word.” Paul puts it simply in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing… the Word of God” (v 17).

And this means we must be a people who keep loving that Word. Who crave it, and yearn to grow in it, those who “receive the word with all readiness.” Says Proverbs 18:15, “The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” The wise want to grow wiser!

There are people in this church who have listened to many thousands of sermons: more than a hundred per year, we said, year after year—maybe 5000 sermons in a lifetime, 6000, 7000. Does it ever get old? Does it ever become stale? No, for those who believe, the good news is always new. The gospel of Christ never loses its shine; the truth of his commands never lose their relevance. “For the Word of God is pure.”

Therefore, says Solomon, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (9:9). We often forget what is important, so we need reminders. We get confused by what we hear in this world, so we need correction. We’re so often prone to anxiety and worry, so we need encouragement. Again and again and again! Only a constant attention to the Word will equip and sustain us as God’s people.

And this has a consequence for our attendance in the Sunday worship services. It’s easy to begin accepting excuses about why we can’t come to church. It is easy to tell ourselves that once per Sunday is enough. But it’s much harder to see how that agrees with the importance of hearing the Word, of continuing to seek knowledge. When we have opportunity to hear the pure Word of God, let’s take that opportunity: to be in church, to be with his people, to sit under his good instruction. Cherish the Word, and then put it into practice!

           

3) practice the Word: Solomon is teaching his son. But he’s not out to make him a “know-it-all,” someone with all the answers and the best opinions. That’s always a danger for those who come to church, that it’s just “religious knowledge,” that we dump it all in the “faith basket” and then back on the top shelf for another week. Everything in our Lord’s day worship can be done properly and in good order, yet once it’s over we might give his Word hardly a second thought.

No, we have to put this wisdom into practice! That’s what the woman Wisdom says too. She speaks of the great benefit she offers, “Forsake foolishness and… go in the way of understanding” (9:6). Go in the way—walk down this avenue. Because godly wisdom gives us a road to take. And when you’re busy with God’s Word, you do see how it touches on everything in our lives: our words, our money, our plans, our desires, our relationships in the home and world and church—even things we never thought of!

So also on the Lord’s day, when our worship is being directed to the Triune God and his greatness, we’re receiving guidance for life. Worship is about God in the first place; it’s about glorifying and honouring his Name. We don’t ever want to put ourselves at the centre of the service, or our duties at the core of the sermon. Yet whenever there’s a focus on God, there’s automatically a rich benefit for us, his people. As Wisdom says, “The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). It’s when we know the LORD that we gain insight into life.

Once more this calls us to a right response. We need to RSVP to that invitation from Wisdom, and confirm that we will stay at her house—not just visit, but stay in the Word permanently. Because for a follower of Jesus Christ, all of life needs to be different. Take that Word you heard and apply it to everything you do, everything you are, everything you think. As James writes in his letter, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22).

Sunday must connect to Monday, and to every day following! The sermon might be finished, our notebook put away, but that doesn’t mean we’re done with it. Now we must put the Word into practice, to the glory of God our Saviour, and the benefit of the people around us.

Beloved, there’s more than one hundred times per year when we’re allowed to worship the Lord as congregation, and to hear his Word proclaimed. Cherish this great privilege, and use this wonderful opportunity. “For every word of God is pure; He is a shield to all those who put their trust in Him!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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