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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:God's grace and peace to the saints
Text:Philippians 1:1,2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2012-08-05
Added:2013-03-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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


Grace and Peace to the Saints                    

Ps. 144: 1

Ps. 112: 1 – 4

Ps. 122: 1 – 3

Ps. 147: 4, 6

Ps. 138: 4

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 1 – 30

Text:                              Phil. 1: 1, 2

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

In the very first verse of this epistle the apostle first identifies himself and Timothy, and then also identifies the church to which he writes.

He identifies himself as a slave of Christ.

And he identifies the church as saints in Christ.

 

These two titles – “slaves of Christ” and “saints in Christ” – are important descriptions both of the servants of Christ and the members in Christ.

If anyone wants to serve in the church he first needs to know what it means to be a slave of Christ.

And if anyone wants to live as a member of the church, he needs to know what it means to be a saint in Christ.

 

Our text also contains the proclamation of God’s grace and peace.  

At the beginning of each church service the Lord, by the mouth of His servant, addresses us with the words:

 

            “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

These words are not a prayer or a wish, but the official proclamation of God’s grace and peace to all the saints in Christ Jesus.

 

From this text I therefore proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

God’s grace and peace to the saints

 

We will note…


1.      The title: slaves of Christ

2.      The title: saints in Christ

3.      The proclamation of grace and peace


In the first place we note…

The title: slaves of Christ

 

“Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ…”

 

That is the way in which the apostle Paul describes himself and the pastor and preacher Timothy.   He calls himself and Timothy “bondservants of Jesus Christ.”

 

The Greek word which is here translated “bondservant” simply means: slave.

 

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ…”

 

The Greek does have a word for servant.   If the apostle wanted to call himself a servant, he could have done so, but he deliberately chose the word slave.  

 

The word slave may sound harsh to us.   That is maybe the reason why the translators chose another word.   The word servant sounds much softer on our ears.  

 

However, the word slave has a specific meaning.   In the first place a slave does not belong to himself.   A slave was literally the property of his master, bought with money.  

A slave also had no freedom to do his own thing, but simply had to obey whatever his master tells him.  

And now the apostle purposefully uses this description – slave of Jesus Christ – to describe the way in which he executes his office; and the way in which also Timothy, and all the other servants of Christ, execute their office.

 

Bought by the blood of Christ, the apostle no longer belongs to himself, but to Christ.

And called to be an apostle he performs his service in bondage to Christ, in obedience to His command.

 

In another place he gives the same description of his apostleship, saying:

 

“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God…” – Rom. 1: 1

 

It was Paul’s custom to draw first of all attention to the authority with which he writes.   Not his own authority, but the authority of Jesus Christ.   He does not write on his own behalf, but as apostle of Jesus Christ speaks only what Christ commands.

It is now in this context that he calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ.

He is very conscious of the fact that he may not speak his own mind, but as slave, sent by Christ, has to speak only what his Master commands.

 

By this title, slave of Jesus Christ, the apostle also strips himself – and pastor Timothy – of all own importance, pointing our eyes to Jesus Christ to heed the word of our Master.      

 

Now, this humble approach to his official task in the church is very different from what often happens in the church, and very different from what often happened in church history. 

We are not only thinking of the Roman Catholics with their hierarchy of men competing in power and ambition, but also how true churches that were once Reformed became false churches, and how it has been characteristic of such a process of deformation that men started to compete in importance.

 

Yes, when man starts to be important in the church, and when the servants no longer seek their honour in this title – slave of Jesus Christ, seeking to do His will only – but start to do the bidding of man, or start to follow their own desire, or to speak their own mind in the church, then such a church with such servants becomes a false church where Christ is no longer honoured as the only Head and Master of the church.

 

We also confess this in the Belgic Confession art. 29.   The false church “…bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ.” 

 

Brothers and sisters, while the apostle applies this title to his official task as apostle, and to the official task of Timothy, who was an ordained preacher, this title applies also to each of us.   Christ bought us with His blood and therefore we are not our own, but slaves of Christ, bound to do only what He commands.

 

But there is also more to this title.  

It is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament title: “servant of Jahve”.  

In the Old Testament Moses and all the prophets were known by the title: “servant of the LORD”.   That is: “servant of Jahve”;

When the apostle then translates that in the New Testament to: “slave of Jesus Christ”, the implication is that Jesus is Jahve.  He is the LORD.  

The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament served the same LORD.   That is: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who now is seated at the right hand of God, clothed with all power and authority in heaven and on earth.  

Each one who wants to serve in His church has to bow before His authority, and seek nothing beyond being His slave.  

 

Brothers and sisters, if not even the apostle Paul dared to count himself more than a slave of Christ – who are we?!

 

Whoever counts himself a servant of Christ, and whoever wants to serve in the church of Christ, let him first know himself to be a slave of Jesus Christ, and delight himself in this title.

Let us be humble servants, slaves of one Master: Jesus Christ, who is the only Head and Lord of the church.

 

Now, after the apostle Paul has described his position and office in this way, he also describes the church to which he writes: the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.  

We note that in the second place…

The title: saints in Christ

 

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons…”

 

Bishops – that means: overseers.   It is a word used for the elders.

Deacons – that is the office of mercy, helping those in need.

The elders and deacons are here separately mentioned in order to acknowledge them and to honour their important offices.

 

But the whole congregation are all called: saints in Christ Jesus.  

Saints – that means: people who are sanctified in Christ.   That is: holy people in Christ. 

 

Dear congregation, in the first place this title, saints in Christ, refers to our legal status in Christ: in Him we are holy and perfect and without blame, clothed with His perfect righteousness.  

What a wonder of God’s grace!

 

In Christ we stand before God innocent as if we have never committed any sin, and as if we have accomplished all righteousness.

Through faith in Christ our sins are washed away by His blood, and His righteousness is put on our account; imputed to us.

And thus we stand before God holy and righteous in Christ – saints in Christ.

 

This title, with which we are called, also refers to the fact that we, being engrafted into Christ and having communion with Him through faith, are living a new life of holiness.

We should not try to separate our new status in Christ from a new life through Christ.

Otherwise you will get a gathering of holy sinners – which is impossible!

 

In Christ we are saints, not sinners.

And thus we are called to live as saints, and not as sinners.

 

Of course it does not mean that church members are perfect.   Instead, each of us has a daily struggle against our sin.   And each of us has much reason to be ashamed of ourselves.   But God no longer calls us sinners.   He calls us saints, and thus also calls us to be saints.

 

Yes, all the members of Christ’s church are holy.  

If anyone is not holy, he does not belong to Christ.  

Everyone who belongs to Christ is washed and sanctified by His blood and Spirit.

As the apostle also writes to the Corinthians, saying:

 

“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints” – 1 Cor. 1: 2

 

We are slaves of Christ and saints in Christ.   This second title is just as important as the first one.   It is important that the servants of Christ know themselves to be slaves of Christ; it is just as important that all the members of the church know themselves to be saints in Christ.

 

With this title the apostle identifies the church.   To be a saint in Christ is not just another title, not just one of the many descriptions of a Christian, but a description which the apostle uses in almost all his epistles, in the very introduction of his epistles, to describe and identify the church of Christ.

There is not one epistle in the New Testament that is addressed “to the congregation of sinners”.

If there is a congregation of sinners, they are without an epistle.

Christ has not sent a letter to the sinners in any place; only to the saints in Rome, the saints in Corinth, the saints in Ephesus, the saints in Philippi, the saints in Colosse – that is how He addresses all these churches.

 

Yes, if it is not a gathering of holy people, people sanctified in and through Christ, if it is not a gathering of saints, it is not a church.  

 

Now, when a servant of Christ knows himself to be a “slave of Jesus Christ”, then he also serves accordingly.   And the same applies to this title: when a member of Christ’s body knows himself to be a saint in Christ, he also lives accordingly.

 

However, this title, saint, often seems forgotten in the church.   We know from church history how the Romanists called only some members “saints”, and those who received this title, saint, usually receive it after they died!    At least a dead man cannot sin anymore, and thus they counted it safe to give this title to the holiest among the dead: Saint Mary, Saint Augustine, Saint Christopher…

 

However, God gives this title to each believer in Christ.  

But we often hear how people, also church members, use this word negatively.   When you admonish someone, saying for example that we should not be doing this or that, you may get the reply: “Ah, don’t you try to be so holy!   Don’t pretend to be a saint!   Remember, we are all sinners!”

In such cases it seems as if church members prefer the title “sinner” above the title “saint”.    Especially when church members start to socialise with worldly people they even become ashamed of being called a saint, a holy one in Christ.

 

Dear brothers and sisters, do you still think about the church – also about the church here in Kelmscott – as the saints in Christ Jesus?  

And when you speak about members of the church, do you still refer to them as saints, holy ones in Christ?    Or is it true that we rather avoid the word “saints” or even the word “holy” when we describe church members?

 

Have we maybe become ashamed to be called holy; to be called saints in Christ?

 

Next time when someone tells you: “Don’t pretend that you are holy; don’t play the saint!”, you should answer him:

“No, I am not pretending to be a saint, I am a saint in Christ Jesus.”

And if the person to whom you are speaking is of the world, you will have to close your ears for the blasphemy that will follow such an answer – the same blasphemy that the film stars utter when they use the world holy as a dirty word.

When they want to say that something stinks they call it holy this and holy that.

 

Yes, that is the society in which we live!   People pull a face when they hear the word holy.  But you?  Do you, with holy joy, thank the Lord for this grace that He made you a saint in Christ?   And is it your fixed aim to live as saint in this world?

 

Brother, sister, Christ suffered and died for your sins with this very purpose that He may cleanse you from your sins, that we should be holy and without blame before Him.   For this very reason our Saviour, Jesus Christ, gave Himself for us to “redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works”

(Titus 2: 14).

 

That is the grace in which we stand; the grace which the apostle also proclaims in this epistle.   And we note that in the last place…

The proclamation of grace and peace

 

            “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

When the minister with outstretched hand pronounces these words at the beginning of the service, it is not a prayer or petition or a wish, but the proclamation of God’s grace and peace to the saints.

 

It has its roots back in the Old Testament where the LORD commanded Moses:

 

“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel.   Say to them:

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD makes His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” – Num. 6: 22 – 27.

 

It was an official blessing pronounced by the priests, accompanied by the LORD’s promise that He Himself will bless those who are blessed with this blessing.  

And thus, commanded by the LORD and with His authority, the priests had to lay the LORD’s name as a blessing on the people, blessing them in the LORD’s name.

 

Now, while this blessing was pronounced on the whole congregation of Israel, the blessing only became active on those who received it with a believing heart.  

It is the same with the gospel.   The preaching of the gospel is only a power unto salvation for those who believe, while the rest of the hearers remain under God’s condemnation.  

 

Only those who receive this blessing with a believing heart will partake in the blessing.

 

Christ, when He sent out His disciples to preach the gospel, said to them:

 

“…whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house’.   And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you.” – Luke 10: 5, 6.

 

When the proclamation of the gospel is not received in faith, this blessing will not rest on the unbelievers, but return to God who pronounced it.

Therefore the apostle Paul also qualifies the proclamation of peace and mercy when he says to the Galatians:

 

“…as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” – Gal. 6: 16.

 

And to the Ephesians he also qualifies the proclamation of God’s grace, saying:

 

            “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” – Eph. 6: 24

 

All those who receive this proclamation of grace and peace with a believing heart will also receive the fulfilment of the pronounced blessing.

 

So then, this blessing which is pronounced at the beginning of each church service, is the official proclamation of God’s grace and peace; and we, on our part, have to receive it in faith.

 

Dear congregation, it is not the minister who blesses you.   God Himself is speaking from His throne, pronouncing His grace and peace on all the saints in Christ Jesus.

In pronouncing this greeting and blessing the minister is simply a mouthpiece of God, who speaks from heaven.

 

It is therefore so shocking when it happens that while this grace and peace is being pronounced, some members stand with their hands in their pockets, chewing chewing-gum, or looking out of the windows as if they are bored with this ritual.  

 

Brothers and sisters, the blessing will only be fulfilled in those who receive it in faith and in the fear of the Lord.

 

What then does this blessing contain?

What is the grace, and what is the peace, which the Lord pronounces on us?

 

It is the grace and the peace which we receive in Christ.

It is every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Apart from Christ we can expect no grace and no peace.

But in Christ we receive the fullness of God grace – all His heavenly blessings in Christ: the forgiveness of our sins, the adoption as children and heirs of God, and everlasting life in communion with God.

 

Also the peace of God is described to us in many passages of Scripture.   Think for example of Rom. 5 where the apostle says:

 

“…having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

It is the peace of reconciliation.  

As the apostle also says to the Colossians that the Father reconciled us to Himself through Christ, “having made peace through the blood of His cross.” – Col. 1: 20

Peace through the blood of Christ.  

 

Our sins and guilt are washed away so that we may appear before God’s face… and live!

So that He may lift up His countenance upon us, and give us peace.

 

Yes, it is through Christ.   He bore our punishment to procure our peace, and by His stripes we were healed (Isaiah 53).

 

It is the grace and the peace of the gospel; the grace and the peace of being reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.   It is the sum total of all blessings.

 

This grace and peace is officially proclaimed to us, even laid upon us by the Lord Himself, at the beginning and end of each service, and throughout by the preaching of the gospel.

 

Let us then lift up our hearts to God and receive His blessing.

 

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Kelmscott:

 

            “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Mendel Retief

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