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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Kingdom Keys with Purpose
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 97:1,5                                                                                

Ps 95:1,3  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2

Ps 100:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 31

Hy 55:1,2,3

Hy 37:1,2

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

Beloved in Christ, children go through different phases. One really interesting phase is when they love to ask a favourite question, the question “Why?” “Why does that man have only one arm? Why do we have to put gas in the car? Why can’t we go to the store on Sunday? Why?” The answers can take thought, but these are good questions for teaching.

As a church, it’s good to ask this too. For instance, it’s good to know the reason behind the different events of the worship service. Why is there that handshake between the elder and minister at the beginning and end? Why do we read the law? Or why do we meet twice every Sunday? So that we value these things rightly, these can be good questions to ask.

But today we want to look at things that are perhaps even more basic for our life as church of Christ. About a couple of our familiar practices, we want to ask: Why? We ask this about two things: about preaching, and about church discipline.

First, why is preaching always “the main event,” every Sunday again? For an hour or more (altogether), we listen to God’s Word being explained—why? What makes it so important? We can ask the same about church discipline. Here we think not just about when a member is excommunicated, but we think more broadly about the work of the elders. Why are there men who are busy with the spiritual health of this congregation? Why do they make home visits, and ask hard questions about your walk with Christ? And indeed, why do they sometimes remove people from the church?

Today we focus on these two things: preaching and church discipline, what are called the “keys of the kingdom.” These are keys that open and close, keys to the very kingdom of God! So why has Christ given these keys to his church and to his office bearers? Let’s consider this teaching of Scripture summarized in Lord’s Day 31,

Christ gives the keys of the kingdom with purpose:

  1. for the sinner’s redemption
  2. for the church’s sanctification
  3. for the Lord’s glorification


1) for the redemption of the sinner: We said that preaching is the main event on Sundays. But it’s easy to forget what it’s really for. After listening to more than one hundred sermons per year, we could take for granted this good gift. And when that happens, there’s a possibility that the preaching will turn into something God never intended it to be.

We’ve probably all heard stories about the kind of poor sermons delivered in one church or the other—maybe we’ve even had to sit through such a sermon once or twice. When it’s time for the preaching, the congregation is treated to inspiring stories about real people and their struggles. Or sermon-time means the minister takes on the role of a moralizing prophet, talking about ecology and social justice. Or the sermon is more like a life-coaching session, with its theme on “The Guaranteed Way to an Improved Self-Esteem.” Preaching can go down any number of wrong tracks.

But we shouldn’t only look at other churches—we should look at ourselves. It can happen that as listeners we forget what a sermon is really for. Say you’ve spent several hours this past week consuming television and computer games and YouTube videos. It’s hard to leave all of that at the door of the church on Sunday—so you might come here expecting entertainment, or at least something that excites you, and keeps your attention without much effort. We might have little patience for a detailed explanation of Scripture, and we want to “fast-forward” or “scroll down” to the personal application. That’s more interesting, after all, and that’s what engages us.

And I realize it’s easier to simply tell you what you have to do. It wouldn’t be hard to come every Sunday with a sermon is essentially a list of morals for a good life: “Work hard at school. Don’t look at porn. Be nice to people. Donate more money.” Besides giving rules, there’s also some appeal in telling an inspirational story, sharing a personal example. This is the kind of thing that gets positive feedback. The fact is, this is what people latch onto.

There’s a place for rules and commandments, even for stories, yet if we let them, these things will crowd out gospel-preaching. When a sermon always sounds like story-time, or when we go home every Sunday feeling burdened by all the things we have to do better, then the preaching is probably not being done right. It’s not fulfilling its God-given purpose.

And what is the purpose? Preaching must open wide the door of salvation! It needs to testify about Christ to all who hear! This should be the focus of the true preaching, the proper aim of a sermon; in the words of the Catechism, “It [must be] proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits” (Q&A 84). If we’re not hearing that, then we’re not hearing a sermon that honours God.

I point you to how Paul describes his work in his first letter to the Corinthians. There he emphasizes the heart of the message he brings: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). Then a bit later he says of his ministry among the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).

And again in his second letter, Paul says about his work of ministry, “We are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved” (2 Cor 2:15). That’s a vivid picture! When a preacher preaches like God wants him to, there’s a certain smell that wafts through the auditorium: “the aroma of life leading to life” (v 16). It’s something that you can breathe in, it’s a smell you can savour.

“The Fragrance of Christ”—try to put that in a fancy glass bottle and sell it in the perfume section. You can’t. But it’s a beautiful scent. It’s like when you come in the house, and you smell something delicious cooking on the stove or in the oven: fried onions, or peanut butter cookies—an aroma that brings you a smile to your face.

The gospel is the fragrance of Christ, because its core message is the good news that God has reconciled sinners to himself through Christ. It’s the message that there is grace for those who are contrite, there is hope for the hopeless, there is strength for the weak. And how much we all need to hear this! It’s the aroma of life, for it means that you’re forgiven, and you’re being restored. So the preaching of the gospel does nothing less than open the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ. There’s a place for you there, if you repent and believe!

So what if there’s no Christ in a sermon? The preacher’s words will ultimately fall to the ground, powerless and wasted. For how can a preacher give hope during illness and trouble and anxiety? Only if he has proclaimed God’s love and faithfulness. How can a preacher relieve the guilt and godly sorrow of his listeners? Only if he has declared the endless mercy of the Father in Christ. How can a minister call his audience to reject the trap of sin? Only if he has shown that Jesus gives the one true motive for a holy life.

And when the elders do their work in the congregation, they have the same theme and points. They seek the salvation of sinners, ministering to you so that you will grow in the Lord. The elders come and urge us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to walk with Christ and to love his people.

What about those who won’t listen to this message, and who ignore Jesus’ call to repent and believe? Even then, the work of the elders keeps its purpose: namely, they want this sinner to be saved! The elders’ purpose is to ask that question, to ask it of each and every straying member: “What profit is it to you if you gain the whole world, and lose your own soul?” Where will you be then? What will come of this life you’re leading? And the elders are privileged to bring Christ’s Word: “You will be freely forgiven, when you ‘by true faith accept the promise of the gospel’ (Q&A 84), when you ‘promise and show real amendment’” (Q&A 85).

In Corinth, there was a need for this kind of church discipline. Someone there had committed a blatant act of sexual immorality: “a man has his father’s wife” (1 Cor 5:1), probably his step-mother. Satan has been tempting believers with sexual sin for a long, long time. But in this case, the sin was immeasurably worse by the person’s lack of repentance.

So Paul might sound very harsh: “Deliver such a one to Satan” (v 5). And again he says; “Put away from yourselves the evil person” (v 13). These verses can sound severe. But even so, notice how Paul keeps the loving purpose of church discipline front and centre. He writes, “[Do this so] that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v 5). Discipline is intended to produce something good!

Christ commands us to remove an unrepentant sinner from our fellowship. He is removed, not because he’s been written off as a hopeless cause, and not because the elders don’t want to be bothered. A sinner is removed in the hope that this wake-up call will do something, that this spiritual shock will jolt him back to life. A sinner needs to realize what he’s missing: “If I lose this, I have nothing. If I’m cut off from Christ, I forfeit salvation itself!” And then we pray that he’ll seek to return. Do this, so that his spirit may be saved.


2) for the sanctification of the church: Earlier we said that sermons shouldn’t consist mainly of rules and regulations and good advice. Because it’s not about us, and the Christian life is not about what we do. Even so, there’s a second purpose for both preaching and church discipline, that the church be sanctified, or that it grow in holiness.

Being holy means being set apart for God. It’s a statusGod already made us holy in Christ. He’s made us his special possession. But being holy is more than a status; it’s also a way of lifewe are to be holy in all that we do. Live a life that is worthy of the gospel!

If it’s put in those terms, a sermon must also be a call to action. Preaching can exhort believers to righteous living, as a pastor urges his flock: “My dear sheep, follow the Good Shepherd! Hear his voice in the Word and obey his voice! Beware the wolves that are prowling, the lions that seek whom they may devour! Don’t wander among the thistles and thorns where you’re going to be harmed. Find your way in the green pastures and drink the cool waters of Christ!” A diligent shepherd—whether an elder or minister—needs to say these things to the flock! We call the sheep to keep in step with the Good Shepherd.

For knowing how the Shepherd lay down his life, we need to ask: How can I show him my gratefulness and love? We breathe deeply the aroma of the gospel in Sunday worship, and with that fragrance still in our lungs, all of us should go home asking, “How then shall I live? This week, how can I show my thankfulness to God? Will I breathe out this gospel, by my words and my choices?”

At the same time, the preaching gives a warning to those who are not leading a holy life, those who are enslaved by sin or living in defiance of God. It cautions you that apart from Christ, you will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (Q&A 87).

Think here of the parable of the wedding banquet, and that man found by the king to be without wedding clothes. He didn’t belong in the presence of the king, for he hadn’t made himself ready. And so he was tied hand and foot and thrown outside (Matt 22:1-14). For him the doors of the kingdom were shut forever! In the words of the Catechism, the kingdom is closed “when it is proclaimed… to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent” (Q&A 84).

Remember, gospel preaching always gives off a scent. Even for those who reject it, the gospel has an odour! But it’s not the fragrance of life and health. For them, the gospel is the “the aroma of death leading to death” (2 Cor 2:16). For them, the gospel has the smell of a dead and decomposing body. You might say it has the smell of propane: it’s an disagreeable stench, and that’s not the worst of it—if you don’t act, there’s potential for personal injury, even disaster.

Whenever it’s not received in faith, the preaching gives off the smell of condemnation. It reeks of a person’s failure to be reconciled to God their Creator. If you keep hearing the gospel but don’t believe it—you take a pass on it, leave it on the shelf, and keep loving your sin more than you love Christ—the gospel convicts you. It warns you about your coming death.

Even so, God keeps calling. He calls us to the holiness that is freely available in Christ, desiring that all come to repentance. And just as the preaching aims to instill this kind of real and active holiness, church discipline does the same, for by it a sinner is called to amend his life.

This kind of discipline needs to start close to home. It’s what we should do for each other in the body of Christ, that we speak words that admonish and build up, and we try to help, and we join in prayer for each other. Discipline can move a person to repentance, and repentance opens the door of Christ’s kingdom.

It’s a wonderful thing when a member of the body does repent—we thank God for this. It’s a work of his Spirit, changing someone, opening eyes, softening hearts. We rejoice in repentance, especially because we know about the destructive power of sin.

For as a congregation, it is right that sin upsets us. It affects us deeply, and it causes deep hurt. With sin, Satan can do much damage not just to the soul of an individual person, but to the body of Christ. The fall-out can spread so far, turning people against each other, inviting gossip, and being an occasion for pride.

But the power of the gospel is always greater. Through repentance, there is forgiveness. And through the Holy Spirit, there is strength to move forward and to heal. For a repentant sinner remains part of Christ’s body; he’s in the very place where he can be encouraged and helped. This gives us a serious calling to minister one another in the humility of Christ.

And then when a sinner doesn’t turn from his way, we have to act for the good and protection of the whole body. When Paul urged the Corinthians to expel the unrepentant brother, that was his purpose, too. He asks them, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor 5:6). Put some yeast in unbaked dough, and it’ll spread—and spreading, it’ll affect everything it touches, leavening the whole lump. Now, yeast has a good purpose when you’re baking bread and making pizza dough. But Paul’s comparison is a negative one, about how sin in a congregation can escalate.

If a sin is ignored, if a sinner isn’t disciplined, then his sin will likely have a wider effect. That “yeast” will grow, and make that wickedness swell and spill over. Other members might see it and presume that sin has no consequence—that it doesn’t matter. If the parents keep sinning, why should their children do any differently? If older members don’t take their faith seriously, what are the young people going to think?

So that’s another reason to remove an unrepentant sinner—we want to preserve the holiness of the church. We see that purpose in “the sequel” to 1 Corinthians 5. I call it the sequel, because it seems like the Corinthians listened to Paul’s words about removing the sinner. By the time Paul wrote his second letter, this particular person had repented. Now Paul says, “You ought to… forgive and comfort him… to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor 2:7-8). The sinner should be welcomed again with open arms, brought in with rejoicing.

As we said before, when a sinner returns, a church should rejoice in the gracious works of God. For it’s a reminder to us about who we all once were, apart from God. We were all lost and hopeless. In a certain sense, we’ve all been there, even like the most hardened sinner and the ugly story of his sin. Without God’s grace, there’s not a single person who can be part of his kingdom. But we rejoice together, for we’ve been made holy in Christ! And together we can live to his praise!


3) for the glorification of the Lord: What’s the purpose of life? How would you answer that question? I’ll tell you how the Bible answers the question of life’s purpose: it is to bring glory to God. And if that purpose is true for our school work, for our marriage, our Friday night entertainment and our use of social media, then it’s certainly also the goal for the church’s preaching, and the church’s discipline: it’s for the glory of the Lord!

For what is the Bible, after all? It is the unveiling of the God of glory. On the pages of Scripture, the Lord reveals to us who He is, and what He has done. God has given us 66 books, all about himself: about his majesty and power, his mercy and grace, faithfulness and truth.

It’s true that when we read Scripture, we might not see this right away. There seem to be a lot of stories about ordinary people and everyday places—and in the Bible there are also a lot of things that seem foreign to us. There are many times when God seems far away, like He’s off the stage completely.

But if you look carefully, and you’ll find him. God is always there, and He’s shepherding his people—in their sin, in their trouble, in their prosperity. Without him, each story, each Psalm, each prophecy, would end the same way: in sin and disaster. Without God, there are no happy endings. But in the Word, there’s always redemption and grace—and its source is always our God!

What does mean for the preaching? Because God is the main character of Scripture, God should be lifted up whenever his Word is preached. Sermons should be primarily about what God is doing, and what He has planned for us. It’s not about us, it’s about him. Let God’s great character be exalted, his deeds recounted, his promises brought to light, time and again.

This is why the Bible says that preachers are ambassadors. An ambassador is someone who is sent to another country as the representative of their government or king. They bring a message from the one who sent them. So Paul says of his work as a minister of the Word, “[We speak God’s Word sincerely] as from God; we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Cor 2:17). Preachers as ambassadors always need to be “on-message” then; we must preach as God would want it done: with God in the centre, God speaking and being adored.

Preachers are only human, so we’ve all managed to make a boring sermon out of a beautiful text. Yet by God’s grace, a sermon that is focused on God will pulsate with life and radiate with light. For us, talking about God the Father, and learning about his Son and Spirit, should never be boring. Rather, a sermon with the Triune God at its core should bring the listeners to their knees in prayer, and to their feet with songs of thanksgiving. A God-honouring sermon should lead to a God-honouring life!

When it comes to the second key, the work of shepherding a congregation, the same holds true: God and his glory are first. The elders can be tempted to give up on certain cases, just like we all can feel like ignoring the sin we see. Yet in the church, the honour of the Lord is always most important. It’s for that purpose that we should encourage, rebuke, and discipline—as elders, and as members. Persevere in brotherly admonition, even if you don’t see immediate good results, even if leads to pain. Because you do it for God and his glory.

In all this, we’re confident in the Good Shepherd. We’re confident that He will bless the church where his glory is our highest joy. We’re confident that God will show his favour to the church who hallows his name, who glorifies him in worship, in preaching, in discipline, in all things! We’re confident that when we listen to the Shepherd’s voice, He’ll teach us. When we honour his commands, He’ll show us the ways that lead to life.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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