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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Pray for Christ's church
Text:LD 48 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 123
Psalm 122
Hymn 63:3
Hymn 1
Hymn 29

Readings:  Psalm 96, Matthew 16:13-20

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

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Do you love our Lord Jesus?  I hope and pray you do.  But then do you also love all the things that he loves?  For instance, do you love his bride, the church?  This is where many Christians have trouble.  They say they dearly love Christ, but they don’t dearly love his church.  Many Christians make a disconnect between being a Christian and being a member of the church.  Yet Paul tells us in Galatians 4:26 that the church is our mother.  And if we must love and honour our earthly mothers, are we not more obligated to love our spiritual mother? 

This lack of love for the church isn’t right.  It’s also not right because our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for the Church.  He does this in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Our Catechism explains the second petition as requiring us to pray for the church.  It says, “Preserve and increase your church.”  This is not just concerned with the church in a general sense, but with the local church, also with this Free Reformed Church.  Christ wants us to love this church and pray for her. 

This teaching comes to us through the second petition, “Your kingdom come.”  Some people have struggled with the fact that the church and God’s kingdom are placed so close together here.   Some people want to keep a sharp distinction between the kingdom of God and the church.  But our Catechism keeps them close together.  To pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we must pray for the church – again, this includes the local congregation of Christ.  This is a biblical perspective.  The church is the assembly of those people who live under God’s reign – and the church is placed by God at the center of his kingdom.  Church and kingdom aren’t to be rigidly identified with one another, but there is definitely a close connection between the two.  In fact, we can say that the church is the means by which God’s kingdom, his reign, is increasingly realized in this world.  The church is the means by which the kingdom comes.  Therefore, to pray for the church is to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God.  And that’s what Christ teaches us to pray for.

So I preach to you God’s Word as summarized in the Catechism with this theme:

Pray for Christ’s church

We’ll learn how our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray for the:

  1. Preservation of his church.
  2. Increase of his church.

First, we have to understand what we’re praying for when we ask our Father in heaven to preserve the church.  What does “preservation” involve?   Preservation means that God keeps the church pure not only outwardly, but also inwardly.  Back in Canada, I remember this old oak tree.  It was very old, and I’m not sure if I ever saw any leaves on it.  It was there every Sunday as we drove to church.  But one Saturday night, a ferocious storm with high winds came through the area.  As we drove to church on Sunday morning, the old oak tree was laying on the ground, snapped at the base.  Now we could see clearly that this old oak tree looked solid on the outside, but on the inside it had been all rotten and eaten away by termites or other bugs.  The wind blew fiercely for one night and the tree was gone. 

When we pray for the preservation of the church, we ask God to make the church strong inside and out.  Because of our pride, we often specialize on outward appearances.  It’s relatively easy to make a church look good on the outside.  But inwardly a church can be rotten to its core – its members having only the superficial trappings of faith and obedience.  And then when the spiritual winds of persecution blow, the church falls over, never to be seen again.  The church needs to appear as a salt and light in the world.  But the church also needs strength at its core and at its roots.  There needs to be true spiritual life at the heart of the church.  When we pray for God to preserve the church, we’re praying for her overall spiritual health.  That’s what preservation is about. 

God uses certain tools or means to make this preservation happen.  These means are described for us in Lord’s Day 48 as being God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.  God’s uses the Word, the Bible, to preserve the church, also this church here.  There are several ways he does that.  He does that with our own personal reading of Scripture.  He does that as we read Scripture in our family worship.  God preserves the Church when brothers or sisters admonish us or warn us with the Bible.  And, of course, he also preserves the church here with the preaching and reading of the Bible every Sunday.  You see, the Bible is an important part of how God keeps the church strong.  That means we need to pray that his Word remains among us.  We can’t take the gift of the Bible for granted!  Have you thanked God lately that you have your own Bible? 

I once read about a young man in a country where being a Christian was illegal.  He was in university and somehow he came into contact with a student who was a Christian.  From this Christian, he received a Bible.  But there was a condition:  he could only have the Bible for two days and then he had to pass it on to somebody else.  It was just too dangerous to have a Bible for longer than that.  In those two days, God used that Bible to convert him to faith in Christ.  But he had to pass that Bible on.  We’re so blessed that we can have so many Bibles!  And we have the gift of literacy too – we can read these Bibles.  And yet, how often don’t our Bibles get neglected?   Pray to God that he’d use the Bible to preserve his Church!  But then also read your Bible and come to church and listen to the reading and preaching from God’s Word.  Pray that God would teach us to delight in it more and more.    

There’s a second way God preserves his church and that’s by his Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works together with the Word to keep us in our holy, catholic faith.  In John 16:13, the Lord Jesus promised this:  “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  The Holy Spirit lives in all of us who believe and he guides us to the truth of God’s Word.  He helps us to know the truth so that as a congregation of Christ, we can also be called a pillar and bulwark of the truth – which is how Paul describes the church in 1 Timothy 3:15.  So when we pray for the preservation of the Church, we ought also to pray for the Holy Spirit to keep doing his work among us.  We ought to pray that we may also stay in step with the Holy Spirit.   Galatians 5:25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”   The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, as we confess in the Nicene Creed.  We always need him to give life here in our congregation as well.  We need him so there would be a true and living faith among us.  Praying for the Church means we must pray for the presence and mighty power of the Spirit. 

As we pray about the church, we must do so with faith in God’s promises.  After all, why are we praying?  We pray because he commands us to pray as the most important part of our thankfulness.  Our Father wants us to realize that everything is dependent on him and on his blessing.  He wants us to hold on to his promises and hold him to those promises.

One of those promises is found in our reading from Matthew 16.  This afternoon, I’d like to pay special attention to verse 18, especially to the second part.  The first part of that verse is important too, but let’s focus in on these words:  “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  “It” here, of course, is the church.  Our Lord Jesus promises to build a church and he promises that the church he builds won’t be overcome by the gates of hell.  Literally in the Greek, it says “the gates of Hades.”  The “gates of Hades” is a special expression used in other places, both in the Bible and other literature.  It refers to death.  Our Lord Jesus is promising here that death will not overcome his church.  Satan is working for the death of the church – both in the general and local sense.  Even right now, he’s trying to destroy our church.  He’d love to see us devour each other until there isn’t one member left here.  But so long as we have faith in Christ Jesus and strive to follow him in obedience, Satan won’t win.  Satan is failing and he’ll continue to fail.  According to the promise of Christ, death won’t come to the church.  There will always be a church of our Lord Jesus.  That means there will always be a faithful gathering of believers in this world.  This doesn’t mean that there’ll always be a church here in this place.  Though you may think it inconceivable, our city could go the way of any number of cities mentioned in the New Testament – there might not even be a city here in 100 years, let alone a church.  But we know that our Lord Jesus will always preserve a people for himself in our world, whether it be here or anywhere else.     

God will preserve his church – we can be sure of that.  And we can also be sure that this will be for our benefit and comfort.  Where there is the church, there is fellowship and brotherly love – at least that’s what we should aim for.  The church should be a place where we have sanctuary from the battle, a place where we’re refreshed with the gospel and invigorated and motivated for life in the service of our Savior.  God’s preservation of the church is good news for us, brothers and sisters.  But it’s ultimately for his glory.  He keeps the church so that his name can be lifted up in ever greater measures.  The church is preserved by God so that it can also increase in its praise for him.  That leads us to consider our prayer for the increase of Christ’s church.

Sometimes people say that Reformed churches care little about evangelism and outreach.  I’ve heard people mockingly refer to us as the “frozen chosen.”  Of course, this is nothing new.  People have been saying these things for many years.  If we’re honest, sometimes we’ve deserved to be called that.  Yet our Catechism shows that the increase of Christ’s church is something we must pray for.  And the fact that this was included in the Catechism shows that it’s historically been a concern for Reformed believers.  It’s part of our confessional consciousness, what we believe the Scriptures to be saying.  We believe we must pray and work for the increase of Christ’s church. 

What do we mean when we speak about “increase”?   This is speaking about numerical increase.  Of course, we have to be careful:  we can go too far in thinking about numbers.  We should never compromise for the sake of numbers.  Still, we should look for the numerical increase of God’s church, also the church in this place.    This numerical increase occurs when more babies are born in the congregation.  It occurs when people move in our area and join this church.  But increase especially happens when the church reaches out into the community with the gospel.  People hear the good news of Christ and they believe it.  They’re instructed in the doctrines of Scripture and they want to become members of the church.   We should rejoice when we see our numbers growing and the church building becomes too small -- what an awesome “problem” to have!  We should be asking God to bring more and more people into our church so we can glorify him together.  Our desire should be to see the church grow.  And to see it grow not for the sake of growth, but for the sake of the salvation of sinners and the magnification of God’s glory.     

Just as with the preservation of the church, God uses means to increase the church.  And the means are the same:  his Word and Spirit.  We pray for God to use His Word to increase the Church, just like Paul taught us in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message [or Word] of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.”  We could directly apply this to praying for missionaries (which we should definitely do), but the main point is that we pray for the Word of the Lord to do its work.  That applies in our daily lives as well.  So, as we live in the community, as we do our jobs, as we go to university or college, we come into contact with many unbelievers.   In all of this, we should be praying for natural opportunities to speak about God’s Word.  Ask God to make you a light where he has placed you so that you can shine for him.  You can and should invite your friends and acquaintances to come to church with you.  As you do that, pray that God will use his preached Word to reach into their hearts and grip them.  Pray that God will convict them of sin, bring them to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.  This is part of what it means to pray for God to increase his church here in our city. 

God will increase his church with the Word, but the Word always goes with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit must be living in each of us.  We must have a living faith in Christ our Lord as we try to witness to others.  Then we also pray for the Holy Spirit to not only give us strength and courage in speaking, but also to work faith in the hearts of those with whom we speak.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill all our efforts to see an increase in the church. 

By now, I think you can see that our prayer is for God to increase his church, but at the same time we’re also called to be instruments in God’s hands to bring this about.  We can see that especially coming out in Psalm 96.  Like so many other psalms, this one calls God’s people to speak of him to the nations.  In Psalm 96, verse 3 says it clearly enough:  “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.”  Listen, the verb “declare” there means nothing less than speaking vocally about who God is.  The word is never used to describe a sort of passive being, as if just being a believer, just living a quiet godly life would be enough.  No, loved ones, the Old Testament people of God were called to use their mouths and speak about Yahweh and how weighty and glorious he is.  Maybe you’ve heard that saying often attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”  But biblically speaking, preaching the gospel always involves words.  So it is also in Psalm 96.  The Old Testament people of God were commanded to speak with their words, not just with their actions, about God’s works of salvation.  And if that was expected of the Old Testament people of God, why should we think that things have changed with the New Testament people?   God doesn’t want us to remain silent.  Psalm 96 tells us to proclaim God’s salvation, to declare God’s glory, to speak of his marvelous deeds, to say among the nations, “Yahweh reigns.”  The nations here are all those other than the covenant people of God.  For us, this includes our fellow Australians.  We may and must support the increase of God’s church in PNG, Indonesia, and elsewhere, but we need to also pray and work for the increase of his church here in our own immediate area.  God commands us to do this, brothers and sisters.  He commands us and as we obey, we should also be praying for his blessing upon our obedience.  We should pray for his kingdom to come more and more through the increase of this Free Reformed Church! 

As we pray and work for the increase of Christ’s church, we will reap great benefits.  Christians who are actively praying and working for outreach and missions will find that their own faith is bolstered and strengthened.  You begin to realize that we’re richly blessed.  God has been merciful and gracious to us beyond measure.  And when you see believers being added to the church, this is an immensely humbling experience.  If you know yourself as you ought, you know that you are a weak, sinful human being.  You’ve made many mistakes and fumbled the ball countless times.  So, when a believer comes to faith, you know this is God’s work!   God used you, a weak and wicked sinner, to bring this about.  It helps you to take your attention off yourself and focus it on God, where it belongs.  And then you see that praying and working for the increase of the Church is also for his glory.  In fact, the church is about God’s glory – nothing less.   “Your kingdom come” means that we must love the church.  “Your kingdom come” means that we pray for the church until the day that God’s glory will be acknowledged and recognized by all, on the day when he shall be all in all.   AMEN. 

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

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