Our Appeal

By / Jun 10

Let me invite the congregation please to take a Bible in hand and turn with me to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, page 986 in the church Bibles if you’re using one of them. This is one of the great New Testament passages on the nature of the Christian ministry, especially the work of preaching. If you scan over the text before us you’ll see the different synonyms that Paul uses for preaching. Verse 2, look at the passage with me; 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 2. “We had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God.” Verse 3, “our appeal that does not spring from error.” Verse 4, “so we speak not to please men but to please God.” Verse 5, “we never came with words of flattery.” Verse 9, ‘we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Verse 12, “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you.” So this is a pretty clear passage about the primary task of the Christian minister; it’s a text about preaching.

 

But we’re going to see that Paul’s emphasis as he describes the preacher’s task doesn’t actually fall on the work of Biblical exposition, in this passage at least. It doesn’t fall on the hard work of wrestling with the original languages and studying the text and producing a sermon that can be delivered to the congregation. Rather, it falls almost entirely on the character of the man who rises to preach. As our presbytery sets our brother, Cory, apart for the work of ministry among us here at First Presbyterian Church, we are being reminded in the passage before us that what we need most in our pastors, much more than great gifts, is great likeness to Jesus.

 

Notice that Paul is making that case, he makes that case in a series of three couplets in our passage. If you look at it with me, let me point them out to you; that will be our outline for this evening. Three couplets. The first part of each couplet makes a negative point; the second part makes a positive point. So the first couplet, in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2 – “Our coming,” Paul says, “was not in vain.” There’s the negative point. But he says, “We had boldness to declare to you the gospel of God.” There’s the positive point. The second couplet in verses 3 and 4 – “Our appeal does not spring from error,” the negative. And then, “Just as we’ve been approved by God, so we speak,” the positive. Then the third couplet, verses 5 through 7 – “We never came with words of flattery,” and so on, the negative, “but we were gentle among you,” the positive.

 

So you see the pattern. Three pairs with a negative and a positive part to each pair. The first pair in verses 1 and 2 emphasizes fruitfulness. The second pair emphasizes faithfulness. And the third pair, verses 5 through 7 emphasizes family. It uses the metaphor of the Christian family; a metaphor that is extended all the way through verse 12. So there’s the outline. Fruitfulness, faithfulness, and family. Now before we read the passage together, let’s bow our heads once again as we pray.

O Lord, Your Word is spread before us and our hearts are open in Your sight. As we listen to Your voice speaking to us from Your holy Word, we pray that You would instruct and correct and rebuke and exhort and train us in righteousness that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Wield Your Word in the power of Your Spirit in all our hearts for Your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

1 Thessalonians chapter 2 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

 

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

 

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

 

Christopher Ash has been involved in preparing men for the Gospel ministry through the Cornhill Training Course in London, England. Cornhill is a product of the evangelical, the conservative evangelical, Anglican movement in the United Kingdom. But sometimes they receive applications from prospective students from unusual quarters. One candidate coming from Nigeria said he’d first learned of the Cornhill Course “at Pastor Benny Hinn’s crusade in Nigeria.” Now if you know anything about just how conservative these guys at Cornhill are, and you know anything about Benny Hinn, you will know immediately how unlikely that story really is. In answer to the question on the application form, “What do you most want to do with the rest of your life?” the applicant wrote, in all caps mind you, “TO BE A WORLD-RENOWNED PREACHER AND TEACHER OF THE WORD OF GOD.” Look, we all love to be made much of, don’t we? We all want to be somebody, but as our passage makes clear, that is not a dream that the apostle Paul shared. He has no ambition to be a world-renowned preacher. Rather, his ambition is to be fruitful and faithful as he serves the family of God. That was our outline, if you will remember – fruitfulness, faithfulness, and the family of God.

 

Fruitfulness

You can see his commitment to modest fruitfulness in the first couplet that we mentioned in verses 1 and 2. Would you look there with me, please? Verses 1 and 2, "For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” So Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how things were when he was serving among them. The coming of Paul and his missionary team, he says, “was not in vain.” That is the negative statement in the first couplet. The word “vain” there just means empty, fruitless. His ministry was not fruitless, he’s saying. But on the contrary, in the middle of verse 2 – now the positive statement – “we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God.” Now if you think about that, that is an odd, an interesting contrast. Isn't it? Our ministry was not in vain. It wasn't empty, it wasn't fruitless, but we expect him to say, "It was in fact full of fruit. It made a huge impact. It changed lives. It was effective." And no doubt all of that would be true, but instead, you notice how he focuses not on the effects of his preaching ministry but on the attitude with which he conducted that ministry. Do you see that in the text? "Our preaching was not in vain. We had boldness." 

 

Confidence

Now I think there’s an important lesson here for both preachers and church members alike. We tend to want measurable results. Don’t we? When we talk about fruit, we want to see growth in the three “Bs.” You remember the three “Bs”? Bodies, buildings, and budgets. A measurable metric. That’s how you know you’re bearing fruit. Growth in the three “Bs.” But that is not Paul’s metric; not at all. For Paul, fruit is not always so easy to discern. But he has confidence in the Word itself; boldness in the Word. And he knows that whether it can be seen or not, measured or not, the Gospel he preaches is always, it’s always productive. God is always at work by His Word. As His Word is proclaimed, His Spirit wields His Word. His Word never returns to Him void. And so instead of empty, vain, fruitless ministry he has every confidence, that’s what the word means, he has every confidence in the Word of God. He spoke the Word, he says, “with boldness.” He’s not talking about effects, but he’s talking about confidence in the Word and he leaves the effects to God.

 

So let’s not judge the fruitfulness of a ministry by the marketing tools the world proposes. Instead, let’s pray, shall we, let’s pray as Cory takes up his ministry among us that the Lord would give him every confidence in the Gospel itself, give him boldness to make the Word of God fully known so that whether we see measurable growth or not, according to the three “Bs,” we can be sure that the real fruit of the work of God in our hearts by His Word will ripen in the lives of the people of God nevertheless.

 

Through Suffering

And before we move on from this, do notice the context within which Paul exercises his preaching ministry. He was fruitful, he says, bold to preach the gospel of God, verse 2, “though he had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi.” So he came from suffering to Thessalonica to preach and he came, he says, “to suffering.” Suffering was waiting for him when he arrived. Look at the other half of verse 2. “We had boldness in our God to preach to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” So he left suffering, came to Thessalonica, and low and behold there’s more suffering, conflict, as he ministers the Word.

 

I grew up eating rhubarb in Scotland. You don’t get rhubarb here very often. Every now and again I’ll find it in Kroger, but it doesn’t really like hot climates. It grows really well in Scotland, however, and so as a kid I grew up eating rhubarb; we grew it in our garden. Do you know how they produce rhubarb commercially? In order to ensure a good harvest of rhubarb for the market, they plunge the plants into darkness and so they shoot up as they quest for light. That’s how you ensure there’s a good harvest of rhubarb; you plunge them into darkness. Sometimes, especially with Gospel ministers, when He wants to make us fruitful He brings us into a season of darkness and suffering and trial and conflict and pain. Cory and Heather, do not be surprised as the Lord leads you into ministry here, do not be surprised as you take up this work if you are plunged into darkness – the darkness of unexpected suffering from time to time. That’s often God’s instrument to make you fruitful. He has a design in your trials that He might make great use of you for the good of others, not least so that “with the comfort with which you are comforted” in your trials, as you proclaim the Gospel, “you might be enabled to comfort others also.” So fruitfulness.

 

Faithfulness

Then look at the next couplet; verses 3 and 4, focusing now on faithfulness. Fruitfulness, now faithfulness. "Our appeal," he says, "does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive" – that's the negative statement. "But just as we've been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not to please men but to please God who tests our hearts." First, the negative statement – "Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive." His emphasis here is on character, isn't it, on godliness. Notice that he says his preaching, his message, his appeal is not sourced in error. It's not a theological oddity. There’s no doctrinal innovation. It is orthodox, faithful truth. And neither does it come from impurity.

 

Sincerity

Sometimes the worst errors taught from pulpits have arisen because the man preaching them has fallen into secret immorality and impurity in his life. I’ve seen in quite often; too often now to really be surprised by it any more. Once sound and orthodox Bible teachers begin to waver in their commitment to the old paths. And when you begin to probe – “What’s going on?” – you soon discover that their lives have already shifted to accommodate sin. And having made the faithful accommodation in their lives, it’s not long before their teaching follows suit. But not so with the apostle Paul. His teaching and his life are constrained by the Word of God. Neither, he says, is there any attempt to deceive. He’s not faking it. There’s no insincerity. This is a picture, isn’t it a picture of a life and a message that fit together perfectly.

 

You remember the exhortation of the apostle Paul to "watch your life and doctrine closely." We need to guard our hearts, those of us entrusted with the work of preaching the Word. It's easy to become a professional, to become a public person, and your private life drifts far from a path of faithfulness. We are to ensure and work to ensure, and we are to seek the prayers of the people of God that the Lord would enable us to ensure that our message and our characters are consistent. So instead of error and impurity or deception, verse 4, Paul says he's "been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel."

 

Stewardship

That’s the language of stewardship – approved to be entrusted with the Gospel. God is the master in the great house of His church and Paul is His household slave, to whom a particular stewardship has been entrusted in service of His master. The stewardship is to faithfully proclaim the Word. You’re not being faithful as a steward if you’re not speaking out the Gospel of God. “Just as we’ve been approved by God, so we speak not to please men but to please God who tests our hearts.” Cory has been given the Gospel to steward. He’s to speak it to us. We are meekly to receive it from him. And his agenda in doing so is not to please you, but to please God, the master of the house who tests his heart.

 

That introduces a certain solemnity to what Paul is saying. God tests his heart as he fulfills his calling. Gospel ministers have an accountability to God to be faithful stewards of the message entrusted to us. He tests our hearts. It’s James 3:1, isn’t it? “Not many of you, my brothers, should presume to be teachers, for those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Brothers and sisters, we need to pray for Cory that the Lord would keep him and keep all your pastors mindful that God is our master and we work for Him. Not for the praise of men, not for the flattery of our hearers, but for the glory of the name of our God before whom we will all one day give an account.

 

Family

Fruitfulness then faithfulness then finally, family. Look at verses 5 through 7. Notice the negative part of the couplet first. Verse 5 and 6, “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed. God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” The avoidance of all flattery, all pretext for greed, the attempt to garner glory from people we might sum up as the determination on Paul’s part in all his preaching never to manipulate his hearers or to speak for personal gain. He doesn’t want to be made much of. He’s not like the young man from Nigeria who wanted to become a world-famous preacher and teacher of the Word of God. He knows that ministry isn’t about him at all. He doesn’t want the spotlight. He isn’t looking to be the center of attention. He’s not in ministry for what he can get out of it. Instead, verse 7, positively, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” Verse 8 amplifies the point. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves because you had become very dear to us.” He loves them. He gives them both the Gospel and himself.

 

Be Like Family

That’s what mothers do with their children. In verse 9, he calls them “brothers,” among whom he works hard. In verse 11, he speaks of himself as a “father, exhorting, encouraging and challenging them.” You see the family metaphor? These are the bonds of affection and love, of intimacy and trust, of familiarity and care. As a mother, he is tender and self-giving toward them. As a brother, he is diligent to work hard in a way they can clearly see. As a father, he challenges them and calls them to press on toward maturity and godliness. Gospel ministry is a family ministry. The church is the family of God, the household of faith. And your pastors are mothers and fathers and brothers to you. Cory, like a mother you are to care for these dear ones and give yourself for them and to them. Like a brother among brothers, you are to work transparently and diligently so that they can see your laboring hard for their good. And like a father, you are to lead and challenge and exhort and encourage them.

 

Be Like Christ

And in all of this, you are to be like Christ Himself. It's not hard to hear in verses 7 and 8 an echo of the life and ministry of Jesus. Is it? He loved us and gave Himself for us. You remember, He wept over Jerusalem longing to gather her like a mother hen does her chicks under her wings. Paul loves the Thessalonians. Cory, fellow pastors and elders, we are to love the people of First Presbyterian Church and share not only the good news but ourselves with them because they have become very dear to us. And in that way, we will put people in mind of Christ because that's what He does in a way surpassing all of us and all our self-giving, of course. And yet, we are to be dim but real reflections of Him, giving our very lives for the good of those entrusted to us. We are to point people even in the way we serve away from ourselves toward Jesus. Because, after all, it's Jesus they really need. They don't need us. You don't need us; not really. You need Him, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so Cory, may the Lord make you a constant reminder of Christ to us all in your faithfulness, in your fruitfulness, and as you serve as a mother and a father and a brother in the family of God.

 

And people of God at First Presbyterian Church, let’s resolve to pray. Let’s resolve to hear the Word with gladness. Let’s resolve as we watch Cory pour himself out for us and put us in mind of Christ to join him in striving to be like Christ ourselves so that the Word of God might bear much fruit under His ministry in our lives, to His glory. Let’s pray.

 

God our Father, we praise You for Your holy Word and we pray for one another as a congregation as we hear and see and watch our brother take vows and take up a role among us as a pastor. We pray that Your Word would bear fruit in His life and in ours that Christ might be made much of. For we ask it in His name, amen.



The Stewardship of Sacred Ministry: Proclaiming the Riches of the Glory of Christ

By / May 22

Beloved, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Colossians chapter 1. Colossians chapter 1 verses 24 through 29. And, as you’re turning there, I do want to give you a word of greeting from your sister church in Charleston, South Carolina. This morning, Pastor David preached on the partnership that the apostle Paul had with the Philippians and the partnership in ministry which ran deep which was a gospel partnership. And, this is the case between this church and our church in Charleston. We did not exist a year ago and the Lord has raised up a church—a growing church in Charleston, South Carolina, that’s committed to the same gospel and ministry that you are. And, so we give thanks to you for that. 

 

Also, if I can give a personal word. It’s a blessing to be with you on this joyous and momentous occasion in the life of your church. David and I met back in 2001. He was a student at the Free Church College in Edinburgh. I was a student at the University of Edinburgh New College. And, we quickly became friends there and have been friends ever since. And, David and I have walked in close friendship for over thirteen years. And, this was through student days, through two pastorates, through many conversations and times of fellowship. And, I can say without hesitation, that your new senior minister is a man of deep integrity. He is a man with a profound piety. He is a man who loves God and loves the church and it’s infectious. You couldn’t have called a more qualified or more faithful man to be your next pastor, nor a more family to serve alongside of him. And, so we rejoice with you this evening. And, what a blessing to know that the faithful ministry that’s been carried out here under Ligon Duncan for the past seventeen years will continue and also grow under the leadership of Pastor David Strain. 

 

So with those words, let us turn our attention to God’s Word. Please stand with me for the reading of God’s Word. Colossians chapter 1 verses 24 through 29:

 

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

 

Here ends the reading of God’s Word. Let us pray:

 

Our loving and merciful heavenly Father, we humbly ask this evening that we would not receive the Gospel preached tonight in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. So may the wisdom and truth of your Word fill our hearts and minds and lead us once again to put all of our faith and all of our trust in your beloved Son, who is the light of the world, who is our crucified and risen Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s in his masterless name we pray these things. And all of God’s people said, Amen. 

 

You may be seated.

 

A Desperate Need for the Recovery of Biblical Ministry

 

Beloved, if there was ever a time that the Christian ministry needed to be defined and recovered, it is now. It is now. For there is much confusion in our day over the nature and the task of Christian ministry and of the Christian minister. In many places, the American evangelical church has wandered off the old paths of Christian discipleship and courageous preaching and are now more concerned with felt needs, cultural accommodation and numerical success. Scores of books are being published that actually undermine God’s ordained tools, his appointed means of ministry, making them a mere footnote in this pragmatic narrative that they are erecting. Amusement, not sober, God-centered discipleship is shaping our churches. David Wells in his landmark book No Place For Truth writes this: “That the stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now damned by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself. The older orthodoxy was driven by a passion for truth. And, that is why it could express itself only in theological terms. The new evangelicalism is not driven by the same passion for truth and that is why it is often empty of theological interests.”

 

He goes on to write, “We now have less biblical fidelity, less interest in truth, less seriousness, less depth and less capacity to speak the word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks.”

 

Beloved, the only sure way to recover biblical ministry—or in the case of First Presbyterian, to continue biblical, faithful, gospel ministry—is to look to God’s Word for wisdom, to look to God’s Word for instruction. For apart from God’s Word, we are only left with ourselves. We are only left with ourselves, with our wisdom, with our thoughts, with our words, with our own imaginations. And, to be left with that is to be left in a dangerous place, in a place where there surely will be drift from our biblical and confessional moorings. 

 

So, let’s consider for a few moments this evening God’s words at the end of Colossians 1 and this sacred blueprint for Christian ministry. There are five points that emerge from the text. They are these: the gospel minister’s calling, the gospel minister’s suffering, the gospel minister’s message, the gospel minister’s aim and the gospel minister’s labor. His calling, suffering, message, aim and labor. And, may this message not only be to encourage David’s soul, but to encourage you to understand what it is David is going to be doing in the coming weeks, months and years, God willing, of Christian ministry.

 

  1. The Gospel Minister’s Calling

 

First of all, verse 25. Look there with me again. Paul writes that he became “a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you to make the word of God fully known.” In this section, the apostle Paul expounds on the statements that he made in chapter 1 and verse 1 and also in verse 23. That is that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God and a minister of the gospel. In defense of his calling as an apostle against the false teachers, Paul makes clear that his calling and stewardship were not from men but was from God. Paul became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to him for the sake of the church. Well, there is so much that could be considered in these words. Let’s think for a few moments about this idea of gospel stewardship. Paul often described himself, did he not, as a gospel steward. For example in 1 Corinthians 4:1 he describes himself and the apostles as “stewards of the mysteries of God.” In Ephesians 3:2, he refers to the “stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me.” What does Paul mean by this? Why is he describing himself in these terms? 

 

A Stewardship of the Word of God

First century readers would have been more familiar with this language than we are today. You see, every noble household in antiquity would’ve had a household steward. That is someone who was hired to manage the household, to manage the children, to manage the land, to manage servants, to manage the food, to manage finances. The head of the family would literally entrust the stewardship and care of his entire household to this person. It was a tremendous responsibility. Now, Paul is saying that he and all gospel ministers, all gospel ministers are stewards of God’s household. That is, called, set apart and equipped by God to exercise spiritual oversight in his church and dispense the riches of God’s grace primarily—now hear this, primarily—through the proclamation of the word of God and the administration of the sacraments, God’s appointed means of grace. That is through the gospel ministry that has been entrusted to the minister. One commentator describes the minister’s office as “administrator of spiritual riches.” I was thinking this morning as I was sitting and feasting on the Word of God as David was preaching that he was administering the spiritual riches of God’s grace in Christ. 

 

Again, Paul writes in verse 25 that he became a minister “according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you,” now look there, “to make the word of God fully known.” The stewardship from God is not for the minister’s selfish gain. It’s not for elevated status. No, it’s given to the minister for the sake of the church. This, tonight, is for the sake of the church. Pastor David’s ministry is for the sake of the church, to make the Word of God fully known. And, here, we have this clear and indisputable mandate for every Christian minister, namely to preach the whole counsel of God, to courageously preach all of Scripture, every book, every chapter, every verse, every glorious theme that is set forth in the Word of God. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for the people of God unto every good work.” As Paul was saying his tearful farewells to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he declared, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Beloved, he held nothing back. Paul ignored no doctrine, even the less culturally palatable ones like sin and judgment and hell. The divine stewardship that was given to Paul and the divine stewardship that is given to every gospel minister is first and foremost to make the Word of God fully known. That is David’s primary responsibility. That is what you ought to pray for. that is what you ought to come expecting to hear every Lord’s Day morning and evening: the Word of God. 

 

This Word is to be preached with historical context. It is to be preached to give its true meaning, its specific application, not muddying the waters with endless personal anecdotes and cultural commentary. That is not preaching. The gospel minister is called to preach the Word of God. By doing so, he feeds and nourishes Christ’s flock and, by way of extension, carefully shepherds the flock that Christ purchased with his very own blood. My dear brother, David, if I can encourage you: You have been given stewardship from God for the sake of this dear church. This stewardship focuses on the care of this congregation, the care of this congregation. And as a humble steward of this congregation, remember who it is that has called you. Remember, you are his humble servant. Remember, that this is His household. One commentator I read said that we as ministers are merely “holy underlings in the household of God.” That’s what we are, mere servants serving God in his church.

 

  1. The Gospel Minister’s Suffering

 

Secondly, remember that this was given to you not for yourself but for the sake of the church as Paul mentions here. To lead them to the verdant pastures and to the living waters of God’s grace in Christ. And also, remember to dispense that which God himself has given you, namely his Word adding nothing to it, taking nothing from it for it is efficacious to save his elect and it is all-sufficient to justify and to sanctify and to glorify his people. Let us do this. May you do this even at great personal sacrifice. And that leads to our second point this evening: the gospel minister’s suffering. Look at verse 24 with me. Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. And in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” As was mentioned this morning, Paul is writing from prison. His opening word “now” is referring to his present circumstances. But, it’s not his circumstances or his present suffering that’s controlling his attitude. No. Look what it says. It says Paul rejoices. How, how can he rejoice in these circumstances? How can he possibly rejoice as a persecuted prisoner uncertain of his future, facing the possibility of execution? Paul can rejoice because he rejoices in the Lord. He rejoices in the Lord, the One who has not moved, that Rock. Circumstances may change. Suffering will enter our lives, but the Lord is unmoved and his promises are always sure. And he’s trusting in those promises knowing that his sufferings are being used by God in the advancement of the kingdom and the encouragement of his own soul. Beloved, God’s purposes aren’t hindered by our sufferings. On the contrary, his purposes are often accomplished through our sufferings. 

 

The first week of January I was asked, “How is the church plant going?” My response, “I think I have to pinch myself because everything is going so well. We have unity. There’s very little suffering in the church. God is blessing. We’re growing rapidly. It’s wonderful.” Then, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and a week later a daughter of the church, 22 years old, was killed in a car accident and then there were others things (I won’t mention here) that took place. All of a sudden, it was a world of suffering that entered our church. What do we do with that? Where do we turn? Where do you turn when this kind of affliction comes into your life? Well, here we have precious promises. Paul to the Philippians as you’re going to soon here preached—he speaks about his imprisonment, that the Philippian church was worried about him. And, he wanted to quell their concerns and he said “No, don’t worry about me.” “No,” chapter 1 verse 12, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that it has been made known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all of the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” And furthermore, he says, “Most of the brothers have become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment and are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Therefore as a result of Paul’s suffering this elite Roman guard is hearing the gospel preached, people are being converted and also preachers in Rome are being emboldened to preach with greater courage. That’s why Paul could write in Philippians 4:4 “rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice. Do not be anxious about anything.” Paul models for us here, as a minister, faith, the promises of God and he knew thorny trials. He knew thorny trials: stoned by his own countrymen, persecuted by Gentile Pagans, beaten and left for dead, flogged, shipwrecked, imprisoned, continually slandered and, not to mention, the care of all of the churches. But, Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for the sake of the church confident that God would ultimately use it for his own glory and for the blessing of the church. 

 

Suffering and Union with Christ

Charles Simeon, who was a great 18th/19th century Cambridge preacher, who for decades was persecuted by a large portion of his own congregation. In the old days, there were family pews and they had keys and they would lock them and unlock them and church was in and out. The congregation didn’t want Charles Simeon to be called but the bishop appointed him to this flock and a large portion of the congregation locked their pews and would not come to church. And people couldn’t sit in the pews. And so literally, for ten years, pews were locked and people sat in the aisles of the church. A friend wrote him in the latter years and said, “How did you make it through all of those difficult years receiving so much persecution even within your own congregation?” He said this, quote, “My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge and my head and shoulders are safely through I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy head has surmounted all his suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow him patiently. We shall soon be partakers of his victory.” 

 

Paul trusted in the promises of God in the midst of his suffering. Suffering as a minister would also help Paul to identify with his suffering people, enabling him to show greater compassion and empathy to his people as he ministers to them. And this is true as it relates to every gospel minister. John Newton once commented that “God appoints his ministers to be sorely exercised both from without and within that they may sympathize with their flock and know in their own hearts the deceitfulness of sin, the infirmities of the flesh and the way in which the Lord supports and bears all who trust in him.” But, Paul’s suffering has an even deeper meaning—doesn’t it?—as it does for us all. Notice in verse 24 where Paul writes that through his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body his church.” Now, this in no way means that Christ’s atoning work is some way deficient, that his blood only partially redeemed us and that our suffering and the suffering of other Christians somehow helps pay for our redemption like some treasury of merits. I sat next to a Roman Catholic on the plane ride here and I asked him about this verse and said, “What do you make of this?” And I tried to preach the gospel to him even as I was trying to explain that there is nothing deficient in the work of Christ. And, he scratched his head said, “I don’t know. I’ve never really looked at that verse before.” I said, “Good, go look at it,” I encouraged, “think of the Gospel here.” 

 

Identifying with Christ in Suffering

Hebrews 10:12 says, “Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins and he sat down at the right hand of God.” So if it doesn’t mean that Christ’s suffering is somehow deficient, what does it mean? Well, Paul is referring here to a close and profound identification that Christ has with his people, a fruit of mystical union with Christ so that when they suffer somehow and in some way they participate in the sufferings of Christ. It is not meritorious, but it is real. It’s a consequence of the believer’s union with Christ. Do you remember the Lord’s words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Our union with Christ grants us the privilege of participating in the sufferings of Christ and thus humbling us, making us more dependent on him, making us more like him, and putting us on that glorious pathway that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ walked, namely the pathway from suffering to glory, from humiliation to exaltation. And, this is the way that we should think of our suffering, our sharing in the sufferings of Christ in this life is the prelude of sharing in his glory in the next. For Paul writes in Romans 8:17 that “we suffer with him in order that we may be glorified with him.” And any suffering that we do in this life is but a light and momentary affliction of the glory that awaits us. So be encouraged, suffering saint, whatever it is you’re going through. Be encouraged, Pastor David, whatever suffering you may face in the future, and there will be suffering. May you take heart. And, may you look to Christ for suffering certainly deepens our love for Christ and weans us off of this passing age, this world. 

 

Imprisoned in Aberdeen in 1637 for his gospel witness, Samuel Rutherford wrote the following words to his friend John Stewart. Describing his persecution, he writes this: “Oh, sweet, sweet is his yoke. Christ’s chains are of pure gold. Sufferings from him are perfumed. I would not give my weeping for the laughing of all fourteen prelates. I would not exchange my sadness with the world’s joy. Oh, lovely, lovely Jesus. Oh if all the three kingdoms had part of my love feast and of the comfort of a caressed prisoner. My heart is taken up with this that my silence and suffering may preach.” Dear brother, may your suffering as a gospel minister preach Christ so that it will preach Christ in the lives of your own congregation. 

 

  1. The Gospel Minister’s Message

 

Thirdly, the gospel minister’s message. The gospel minister’s message. What should be the main message of the minister? What should be at the very core of his preaching ministry? Well, according to Paul, according to the apostles, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ and it has definition. It has content. This is the good news that Christ accomplished redemption for sinners by fulfilling all of the requirements of God’s law, also by satisfying God’s justice on the cross by bearing the very wrath of God in our stead, and by rising victoriously from the dead and one day returning to gather his people. The gospel is truth. It is a proposition. It is a declaration. It is an announcement. You are not the gospel, no offense; you are not the good news. I am not the gospel; I am not the good news. The good news is that Christ came and died for sinners. Look with me again in verse 25. Paul’s preaching this gospel. Paul writes that a stewardship was given to him from God in order to make the word of God fully known “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery which is Christ in you the hope of glory. Him we proclaim.” 

 

Proclaiming Christ

The apostles preaching is characterized by the proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Notice what he says: “Him we proclaim.” Not moralism we proclaim. Not politics we proclaim. Not therapy we proclaim. Not cultural transformation we proclaim. Not ourselves we proclaim. But him! Him we proclaim! Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh who lived a perfect life for thirty-three years under the law and who died on the cross. Him we proclaim. The one that bled and died for our sins and who rose victoriously from the dead. Him we proclaim. Summing up his preaching ministry to the Corinthians, Paul wrote this, “And when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It’s the offense of the cross that he preached, that the apostles preached. Paul preached the mystery hidden for ages now realized in Jesus Christ, the mystery that Gentiles too would be partakers of this glory, the riches of the glory of Christ and by engrafted into the covenant people of God that they, too, would be filled with the Holy Spirit, that holy deposit, that guarantee of future glory that they too would have the hope of glory at the return of Christ.

 

My dear brother, may the beginning and the middle and the end of your ministry be characterized by the proclamation of the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Let not one sermon go by, not one Lord’s Day go by without the clear proclamation of Christ because that is what we need. Those who are unconverted need it. Those who are converted need it. May this church continue to hear it. Charles Spurgeon once told his students that “we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings in our preaching.” Pretty nothings. He says, “This is the sum. My brethren, preach Christ always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices and word must be our one great all comprehending theme. We are not called to preach philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement and salvation as a result of faith. These are our battle ax and weapons of war. 

 

  1. The Gospel Minister’s Aim

 

And, this brings us, fourthly, to the minister’s aim. Did you notice that the minister’s aim in verse 28 is not simply to make converts or to gain church members. No, it is to make mature disciples. In fact, we see this in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples. Make disciples of all nations.” Once again, Paul states, “Him we proclaim warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” That’s the goal, beloved. That’s the goal: to make everyone mature in Christ from youngest to oldest. Paul’s aim in ministry is not simply to point people back to their justification without any real concern for their growth and godliness. No, his aim is to point people to Christ alone for their redemption and to teach them to walk according to his commands. He does not say that you must do these things in order to be a Christian. He says do these things because you are a Christian saved by grace through faith in him. You see, he calls Christians to holiness. And, holiness when understood properly in no way, shape or form negotiates the gospel. In fact, Paul calls the Colossian believers in chapter 1 verse 10 to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” And, again, in 2:6 he says, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him.” And all throughout the book of Colossians there are scores of imperatives in no way undermining the gospel, but saying this is how we live in light of the gospel. These imperatives do not in any way compromise the gospel, but as our confession says when understood properly they “sweetly comply” with it. 

 

Presenting Everyone Mature in Christ

The gospel minister must aim for the spiritual maturity of everyone. Everyone. Did you notice this word that’s repeated in verse 28? Three times he repeats the word “everyone.” It’s emphatic here in this verse. Spiritual growth and maturity, beloved, are not for some elite portion of the congregation. Pastor David prays that every one of you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. First and foremost, that you will believe the gospel and be saved. But, then, to grow in Him. And the whole counsel of God faithfully preached sets forth both indicatives and imperatives. So let us beware preaching a Christ that justifies sinners but does not progressively sanctify them. 

 

John Girardeau—I couldn’t help myself but quote a Charleston theologian—John Girardeau, the great 19th-century Southern pastor from the South Carolina Low-Country once penned a poem on this very theme. “Nothing to do? No, not to procure a heaven by infinite blood may secure but all things with labor and sweat of the face to honor my Savior and magnify grace. What of the law, its thunders were stilled against my poor soul by the blood that was spilled. But the hands which were nailed to the wood of the tree now wield its commands to be honored by me. What am I writing for? Spare me a while to tell of thy love to a sinner so vile. Then take me to heaven which is not my due and give me the crown of fidelity too.” The gospel minister therefore aims for the spiritual maturity of every soul within her ranks. He is called to courageously warn his flock of the dangers of the trinity of evil: the world, the flesh and the devil. Notice that the gospel has both warnings and instruction and this what will come from this pulpit to you. It is gospel ministry at its very core. It is for this that the gospel minister toils and struggles.

 

  1. The Gospel Minister’s Labor

 

And, here, we come to our final point: the gospel minister’s labor. Look with me, finally, at verse 29. “For this I toil,” he says, “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Here is how Paul carries out his gospel stewardship. Here is how he able to rejoice in his sufferings. Here is how he is able to boldly and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ from all of Scripture. Here is how he makes disciples and seeks everyone’s maturity and perfection in Christ. He toils and struggles for it in the strength of Christ. How can any minister do these things? Who is sufficient for these things? It’s the strength of Christ that fuels the ministry. You see that Paul says elsewhere that he can “do all things through Christ who strengthens him.” Let us notice here also that Paul is a hard worker. He’s a hard worker for the sake of the church. No one can accuse him of being a lazy country parson or a worldling in minister’s dress. The Greek verb that Paul employs here is agonidzomai. It’s where we get the English word “agonize.” Paul is agonizing in the ministry. He is toiling. He’s laboring and agonizing to the point of exhaustion over the spiritual condition of God’s people, preaching the Word, shepherding God’s people, praying for them, loving them at times to sheer exhaustion. 

 

Faithful, God-Glorifying Toil

Spurgeon was asked or told, “You need to get some rest, sir.” And he said, “I will rest in heaven.” This should be the heart of every minister to labor and toil over the flock. This laboring over the flock flowed from a vigorous personal piety, a sincere love for God and his people. It was not blind to the dangers of pride and lust and worldliness and ministerialism. Ministers are not beyond these things. And so one must have a true, vigorous personal piety. See, Paul ran from these things, from these sins and so must we as ministers. And he never lost sight of the fact that he was a Christian first, a child of God first and then a minister. And David I exhort you to remember the same. You are first and foremost a child of God, a Christian saved by grace. And I encourage you to remember your chains. Remember where you were in Glasgow off sinning and rebelling against God with no thought of him in your mind except to curse him and he saved you. Remember your chains. Remember the chains that once held you and the grace that redeemed you. 

 

Paul’s toilsome labor and suffering for the sake of the church was motivated and fueled by his love for Christ and so he could write “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul would’ve agreed with the young 17th-century preacher from your hometown of Glasgow, Andrew Gray who expressed that, quote, “One moment of the enjoyment of Christ is worth ten-thousand eternities of the enjoyments of the choicest things of this world. What comfort shall the choicest I’ll afford you in the day when you shall be standing before the tribunal and judgment seat of Christ.” Dearest church, I encourage you in this new season, in this new chapter of ministry, to encourage your minister, to grow in the grace and knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ under his ministry. That will be the greatest blessing to Pastor David knowing and hearing that you are growing in the Lord. And, David, know that our prayers will be with you and that we’re so delighted that the Lord has called you to this new place of ministry. 

 

Let us pray for that. 

 

Our Father and our God, we thank you. We thank you for this clear word in the Scriptures concerning the gospel ministry, teaching us of the gospel minister’s calling and stewardship, of his suffering, of his message and his aim in ministry for the maturity of his saints, and of his labor in your strength. Would you bless this word and bless this pulpit ministry to the glory of your name here in Jackson and throughout the world. We pray all of these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.



The Charge to the Pastor for the Installation of David Thomas Andrew Strain

By / May 22

This is a great, historic moment in the life of this congregation.  Now, David, you’ll be installed as the eighth pastor of this church since 1857.  And to my knowledge, never at any worship service, or any other time, have three living pastors of this church ever been together in a service.  This is a historic moment.  And David, you will become the human leader of this church.  You will be the senior pastor of this church.  And as the senior pastor you will lead this church, and influence this church greatly.  And you’ll do it in a simple way—two different ways—with your lips and with your life.  I’ve heard you preach and I’ve heard you teach.  There’s no question. And especially as Dr. Payne has said, you’re gonna preach the gospel of Christ.  You are going to set forth the Scriptures as infallible.  You are going to teach and preach the full counsel of God—the Reformed faith.  I want to challenge you in your life, in your life in three different areas I suggest to you—this is how you will lead this church.  I offer this as a suggestion.  You’re gonna make up your own mind about leadership style.  But these three things…

 

I. Lead By Example

 

And the first is you’re gonna lead this church by example.  The Lord Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee.  He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and his brother, called Andrew.  They were casting a net into the sea for they were a fisher of men, and Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  A while back, Jane and I were travelling to go preach somewhere, and we were going through Columbus, Georgia, and I told Jane, “Honey, it’s been almost sixty years, and I want to see something here in Columbus.  I want to go out to the Harmony Church area where sixty years ago I went to the Officer’s Candidate School for the United States Army Infantry.”  And as I drove on—by the way, I was not a Christian at that time—as I drove on I noticed this huge sign.  It was their motto.  You know what the motto of the Infantry School is?  “United States Infantry: Follow Me.”  The world has its leaders who say to their people, “Follow me.”  That’s what you do to this congregation, only you do it spiritually.  Jesus said, “Follow me.”  And David, you’re gonna lead with your life, with your wife, and your children.  The people are gonna look at you just as they watched Jesus Christ.  And the way you deal with the elders and the deacons, and the way you deal with the people, and the way that you live your life—that’s why they’ll listen to you, because of the way you live your life.  You’re gonna lead by example.

 

II. Lead by Love

 

Number two, you are going to lead—Jesus put it this way—I had this pastor at this church one time.  He sent about twenty singles up to New York City that they may be a team to minister up there.  The first thing that the pastor of that church did was take them down to the Bowery (SP), and he made them wash the feet of people who hadn’t had their feet washed in years.  When they came back, and I talked with them, I said, “What impressed you?”  They said, “The washing of feet.”  Jesus, Jesus put it like this in the upper room, “A new commandment I give you: love one another as I have loved you.  You must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” He had just washed their dirty feet.  And they had refused—I had a pastor, and the man came, an exciting man, everybody knew him, and he had a group of people around him, and when it was asked, “Well, who are these people?” He said, “They’re gophers.”  And they said, “Gophers?”  He said, “Yes.  When I need something, I say, ‘Go get me this.’ And they go for it, and they come back and give it to me because they love me.” That’s the world.  But you’re different in Christ.  You’re gonna love these people, and serve these people, and do for these people.  And He washed the feet of Judas.  I know some of these people.  You gotta wash their feet.  And they’re gonna watch you.  And that’s how you will be moved to lead them. You lead by example.  You lead by love, God’s kind of love, not the world’s. 

 

III. Lead by Vision

 

And finally, you’re gonna lead by what the world calls, or Christians call in our day—vision.  At the end of three and a half years they were not much, but He said to them as He was leaving them—these are His last words—He said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  What a charge…to guys who had never done anything, never been anywhere, never accomplished anything, and yet He says that to them.  And He leaves them.  You’ve got tools in this church.  You’ve got a TV that goes to the largest TV station in Mississippi.  You preach.  You have a beautiful sanctuary.  You have a day-school of seven hundred kids, in this building, week after week.  You’ve got the tool of Twin Lakes.  I don’t know of another church in the United States that has a conference ground solely directed, and paid for, by one congregation.  I don’t know of any other church in the United States.  But your biggest tool is sitting right out there.  Use it.  Think big.  What a vision Jesus gave to His disciples. 

 

IV. Lead by the Power of the Holy Spirit

 

The last thing.  And the last thing I say to you: there was a man.  And that man, he made this church.  This church wouldn’t be here without him—not like it is.  He made this church and molded this church.  And men knew it.  I didn’t read everything in that last statement of Jesus.  This is what I left out, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And you will be my witness…all over” the world.  This man—when other grey Christian leaders surrounded him—he was known as the Holy Spirit man.  The rest of the great leaders honored him as that.  His name was John Calvin.  You must lead by the power of the Holy Spirit, as an example.  That’s the only way.  When the Spirit gets a hold of you, you will be a man of love far greater than any love that you’ve ever dreamed of, and you will set forth what this church could do and be.  What an example.  By the power of the Holy Spirit.  God bless you, my friend.



The Charge to the Congregation for the Installation of David Thomas Andrew Strain

By / May 22


The Mandate for Ministry

By / Jan 9

Please be seated.  David’s welcomed visitors; I also extend a warm welcome to Belhaven students I see several of out here tonight.  We’re glad you’re here. It’s a big night for all of us.  It’s a big night for RUF Belhaven.  We appreciate you being here this evening. Seth’s installation tonight as RUF campus minister at Belhaven University gives us an opportunity to think together about what the Scripture says about Gospel ministry.  What is it?  Maybe as some of our skeptical friends might ask, “What good is it?”  I want us to consider from the book of Isaiah, if you begin to turn to Isaiah chapter 61 I think it’s a great chapter for us to see what Isaiah says, inspired as he was by God’s Spirit, to look at, “What is Gospel ministry?” 

Really I want you to look at three things as we read through this passage together.  It’s a rich passage and we have only a few moments this evening.  Maybe it will pique your hunger and your interest to go and do some study of this great chapter on your own.  But pay attention to these three things as I read through Isaiah 61.  Pay attention to the commission or the mandate that God gives for the proclamation of the good news.  Pay attention to what Isaiah says the good news does in the lives of those who hear it and respond.  And then finally pay attention to what Gospel people do in their world.  The commission or the mandate, what the good news does in the lives of those who hear it and respond, what Gospel people do in their world.  You’ll remember as I begin to read this passage and you begin to follow along you’ll recognize it as the passage that Jesus read from in the synagogue at Nazareth as He was describing His ministry to the folks that knew Him, that watched Him grow up.  He uses that passage to describe His public ministry.  Before we read, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, attend Your Word with blessing, with the power of Your Spirit.  Attend Your Word with resurrection life. As we hear it, as we think about it together, as it’s applied to us, open our minds and open our hearts for Your honor and Your glory among us and the furthering of Your work in us and through us.  We make our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake.  Amen.  

Isaiah 61 beginning in verse 1:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.  Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.

For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong, I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of their peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”

All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.  

I. The Commission that God gives for the Proclamation of the Good News  

What is the commission or the mandate that God gives for the proclamation of His Word?  It’s right there; the first part of verse 1.  “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  Let’s recognize that it is the Lord who sends His Spirit for the preaching of the Gospel.  It is the Lord who has anointed the preacher to bring good news to the poor.  New American Standard translates “poor” as “afflicted.”  That’s the language of being set apart.  That’s the language of calling.  That’s the language of public office.  All of us are called in one way or another and as we move about the highways and byways of life to spread the Gospel, to spread the good news, to talk to folks that we live around and work around and have business with about what the Lord has done for us.  That’s not what Isaiah has in mind here.  Isaiah has in mind the public office, the public office of the proclamation of the good news.  The one who is sent, the one who is called and sent for that very purpose, the one whose business it is, as it were, whose calling it is, whose life it is to be about the business of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel to the afflicted.  What Isaiah is telling us is that God calls and He sets apart and He empowers with His Spirit men who are called to that purpose.  The initiative is God’s, the calling is God’s, the equipping and the empowering are God’s.

A Call to Ministry

Seth had the recognition at some point in his life, a sense of internal call, a sense of desire to give himself to Gospel ministry. And so he looked for opportunities for ministry that allowed him to test his gifts, that allowed him to see if that desire had any root in ability and in temperament.  At some point he began to prepare himself with a theological education under the supervision of elders, under the supervision of a church family, under the supervision of a presbytery.  What we do tonight is not to create a calling but to recognize a calling.  What we do tonight is recognize and in a sense to ratify–that, yes, what God has done in Seth Starkey’s life seems real to us.  We recognize a call there.  We recognize an equipping and empowering for ministry there.  We recognize that God has made this man ready for ministry among us, ministry among the students at Belhaven University.  So we confirm his internal sense of call with an external call.  We’re ratifying, we’re recognizing that God has, we believe, given this man an anointing for service, for preaching the good news, for proclaiming the good news to the afflicted.  

A Ministry of the Word

And it really is a ministry of the Word.  Seth, nor any minister is left to wonder what to do.  We’re not left to wonder what our job description is.  Here is it – to proclaim the Gospel to those who are ruined by sin.  Did you hear those descriptive clauses in verses 2 and 3?  Those who are broken, those who are brokenhearted, those who are captives, those who are in mourning – those are people whose lives are ruined by sin.  They’re the afflicted ones.  They’re the ones that need to hear the good news.  They’re the ones that God is searching for and seeking and sends the preacher out to find with the good news of the Gospel.  “There’s hope for you!  There’s life for you!  Your brokenness is not the end of the story.  God has more.  Hear what Jesus has done!”  It is a ministry of the Word.  

A Ministry of Deeds

But did you watch as I read?  It’s not only the ministry of the Word but there are times for appropriate action, appropriate ministry of deed that accompanies a ministry of the Word.  Did you see that in verse 3, that the one who is anointed, the one who is called, the one who is empowered also grants something to those who mourn in Zion, he gives something to those who are mourning, he gives them the oil of gladness?  There’s a doing capacity as well as a preaching capacity.  But don’t let the tail wag the dog.  It is the proclamation of the Word; it is the proclamation of the Gospel that is front and center.  We thank the Lord for James’ balance, the balance that James gives us – “faith without works is dead.”  There are works that accompany faith.  There is deed ministry that accompanies Word ministry, but it is Word ministry, it is proclamation that comes first and foremost.  We see its emphasis right here in Isaiah 61.  

II. What the Good News does in the Lives of those who Hear it and Respond

Well what does the good news do?  Well we look at these verses here.  We look at the latter part of verse 1 all the way through the beginning of verse 3.  We find people who are broken and hurting, they’re mourning, they’re captives, their lives are in tatters.  Jesus said, as He looked at the crowds He was teaching in Matthew chapter 9 He says, “These people are harassed and helpless; they are like sheep without a shepherd.  They’re broken, they’re confused, and their life is chaotic and unstable.”  But look at the latter part of verse 3.  What does the good news do?  Look what happens as the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed by the preacher anointed, called, empowered.  “They may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.”  It’s the preaching of the Gospel!  It’s the preaching of the good news to the broken, to the afflicted, to the captives, to the mourning that changes them, that restores them, that changes them from one condition to another – from brokenness to this marvelous image of oaks of righteousness.  

Think about that oak forest, that strong, indomitable, enduring, unyielding image – the oaks of righteousness; the planting of the Lord.  This is what God does as the Gospel is preached.  Paul talked about preaching the whole counsel of God as God’s Word is laid open for His people. He makes us different.  He makes us new.  He makes us who we would not be.  That’s what happens as the good news is let loose.  That’s what happens as the good news is preached.  The broken become oaks of righteousness.  The mourning becomes the planting of the Lord for the glory of God.  

III. What Gospel People Do in their World

I must move on.  What do Gospel People do?  Well I don’t have time to go through the rest of the chapter.  We read it and the purpose of that was to pique your appetite somewhat.  Let me just read verse 4.  What do Gospel People do?  “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations, they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastation of many generations.”  Gospel People restore the world, broken and shattered by sin, one person at a time.  A story’s told of a pair of medical doctors commissioned as missionaries by the Moravian Church.  If you’ve not heard of the Moravian Church, they pioneered much of what we understand and know and do in modern missions.  Well these two missionaries, these two doctors, medical missionaries, were sent to the Philippines where they settled in an isolated community with no other Christian witness.  They had three goals – to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to all who would listen, to ease the suffering of the sick and the injured with their medical skill, and to offer what help they could to any in need.  Soon after their arrival a delegation from the town council came to see them.  “We don’t want you here.  This is a bad town.  Too much crime, too much badness.  Do you know what the name of our town means?  It means corruption and it is very corrupt town!”  

The missionaries continued their work and a few years later another delegation came from the town council.  “We don’t want you here.  It is very dangerous for you.  Our people are too bad.  It is not safe for you.  We don’t want to change.  Our town is corruption and so are we.”  And so the missionaries continued their work.  In a few years more, another delegation came from the town council.  “We are here to tell you today that we have changed the name of our town.  It will now be called Easter Town because of what Christ has done for us and how He has changed us.  He has given us new life.”  The oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for His glory.  Gospel People change a broken world one person at a time – how?  By proclaiming the good news to the afflicted and the broken.

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, thank You for the power of the good news.  Thank You for the power of Your Spirit.  Thank You that it’s not up to Seth or up to me or up to any preacher or any of the rest of us to accomplish things but it’s Your church to build, that You are the One through Your Son who seeks and saves sinners, that You call us to be Your fellow workers in that great enterprise. The power is Yours.  The calling is Yours.  The equipping is Yours.  So now bless us and bless Seth as he prepares to take that step to do that ministry among us.  And open wide doors of service at Belhaven and throughout our presbytery for Your glory so that we may see those oaks of righteousness and rejoice in the planting of the Lord.  Hear us, our Father, as we make our prayer in Jesus’ name.  Amen.



Pastors and People

By / Aug 12

The Lord’s Day Evening


August 12, 2012



“Pastors and People”


1 Thessalonians 5:12-13


The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

I’d invite the rest of you to turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians
chapter 5. As we were looking at
this passage a couple of weeks ago, I knew that this is exactly where I wanted
to come again for this service and so I skipped over my first point in that
sermon pretty quickly because there were some things that I wanted to save and
say tonight. It’s the perfect
passage for an ordination service and this is a very happy occasion at First
Presbyterian Church. Whenever you
see ministers and elders ordained, you are seeing a visible demonstration that
Jesus Christ is reigning at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and ruling
the world by His Word and Spirit and in gifting His church.
Why do I say that? Because in
Ephesians 4, Paul says that He led captivity, He ascended on high, leaving
captivity captive and giving gifts to men, among those gifts — apostles,
prophets, pastor/teachers, shepherds, elders, ministers of the Gospel.
So when you see ministers of the Gospel ordained and installed in local
churches, you are seeing proof that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God
the Father Almighty, giving His church just what she needs to thrive and grow
and carry out the mission that He has uniquely given to her.
So I love ordination services and it’s an enormous privilege to be able
to preach to you, my brothers, and to you, my dear friends.
So let me ask you to look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verses 12 and 13
and before we read it we’ll pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.
Grant that by the Spirit we would believe it, that we would be encouraged
by it, that we would be instructed by it, changed by it, challenged by it, and
moved by it to give You the glory due Your name and to enjoy You forever.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it in
1 Thessalonians chapter 5 beginning in verse 12:

“We ask you,
brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and
admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

There are two things that I want to say from this passage tonight – one
especially to Ralph and to David, one especially to you, my brothers and sisters
in Christ, my fellow members and elders and deacons of First Presbyterian Church
in Jackson.


LABOR

First, this word. Dear friends, my
brother pastors, lead with your labor and teaching — lead with your labor and
teaching. Where do I get that from?
I get it from Paul’s words.
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and who are over
you…and admonish you.” Labor, lead —
you are over, you are guiding, you are giving leadership, you are shepherding,
you are watching over — labor among you and over you and admonish you.
Those are the three parts of the work of the eldership or the pastorate
that Paul describes here. He goes on
to say to us as a congregation, “esteem them highly because of their work.”
Well what is their work? Well
John Calvin summarizes it in these beautiful words:
“Their work is the edification of the church, the eternal salvation of
souls, the restoration of the world, and in sum, the
kingdom
of God in Christ.”
That’s all; that’s all. Your
work is the edification of the church, the eternal salvation of souls, the
restoration of the world, and in short, the
kingdom of God in Christ.
That’s all. If that won’t
drive a man to his knees I don’t know what will, but what a glorious thing it is
that you’ve been called to that work.
Think of it, God could have done this by Himself without our aid, but in
His kindness, He uses weak, sinful, fallible men like us to do a work that is
far more glorious than we are.
Praise God.

How do we do it? Three things —
labor, lead, and admonish. Labor,
lead, and admonish. The word that
Paul uses here, labor, “respect those that labor among you,” is a strong word.
It’s typical of Paul to talk about ministers working hard.
He uses even words for the toil that farmers go through in planting and
plowing and harvesting. It’s
sweat-inducing labor that Paul is talking about.
He uses illustrations like farmers and soldiers and athletes to describe
the kind of work that he has in mind.
And so here’s the first thing I want to say.
Brothers, let us labor together, let us sweat together, let us toil
together, let us work to exhaustion.
I love what C. H. Spurgeon once said about his own ministry.
He said, “I work myself to death and pray myself alive again.”
Let’s work hard. I love what
Calvin says about this passage. He’s
commenting on this passage that Paul uses the word labor and he says, “From this
it follows, that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors.”
Now that’s important because the pastorate can be a place for lazy men to
hide. I understand that; that can
happen. The pastorate can be a place
for lazy men to hide, but brothers, here’s my endeavor, here’s my aspiration for
you and for me and for the band of brothers here at First Presbyterian Church —
let us establish that it is a hallmark of the ministers of First Presbyterian
Church that they have a work ethic.
Let no one in this congregation ever think that we are not sweating and toiling
and working hard with joy in our hearts in this pastoral ministry.
So labor, toil.


LEAD

Second, lead. Paul speaks of the
congregation respecting those who are over them.
He’s using the language of Acts 20:28 — watching over, guiding,
shepherding. He’s talking about what
used to be called the cure of souls, which literally means caring for people’s
eternal wellbeing – the cure of soils.
And he’s calling on us to especially care about the eternal wellbeing of
this congregation. And so here’s the
second thing I want to say. As you
lead, as you care in this flock, constantly think about eternal things and the
eternal destinies and the eternal wellbeing of these dear people.
They are surrounded on every side by a thousand cares and details of
life, so much sometimes that they can forget the things that will last forever.
And we as a class of men, elders and ministers, are called to constantly
hold before those eyes things that will last forever and so be concerned with
their eternal wellbeing. So
constantly think about things that are eternal and eternal destiny and the
eternal wellbeing of these dear people.
There will be a day when we will stand with the elders of this
congregation and give an account to the Lord Jesus of our ministry in their
midst. Let us stand that day knowing
that we have spent all that we can spend of ourselves in watching over their
souls.


ADMONISH

Third, admonish or instruct. Paul
uses that language again; you see it in verse 12.
“Respect those who admonish you.”
Admonition, here, is a strong word; it’s not a harsh word.
It involves confrontation when necessary, to be sure.
There’s a brotherly tone around it, but as Leon Morris says, “It’s a big
brotherly tone.” It means that we’re
to put the people of God in mind of God’s Word.
We’re to hold the Word of God before them, we’re to teach with authority
and confront when necessary. And so
I want to encourage you, brothers, especially to hold the Gospel up before their
eyes and hearts. Let us make
together, my friends, the word of the cross our constant theme.
The Gospel is all we have.
Jesus is all we have, but it is more than enough.
It is the power of God unto salvation.
Let us hold the Gospel and the Lord Jesus and the cross up before their
eyes and let us show this congregation that we believe every word of the Word of
God.

Just today I was talking with one of our deacons.
His son has been in another state and has visited around in various
churches and he was debriefing with his father about those experiences and he
was talking about one particular congregation and he said, “There was something
missing there, I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
And his father said to him, “You know, son, sometimes it’s not what they
say it’s what they don’t say that lets you know where they stand.”
And in the course of the conversation he said to his son, “At any point
in the service did they say, ‘This is the Word of God’ or ‘We’re going to hear
the Word of God’ or ‘We believe in the authority or the infallibility of the
Word of God’?” And his son said,
“No, they never said that.” And his
father said, “Ah-ha! Ah-ha!”
Brothers, let our friends and fellow Christians, our flock, know that we
believe every word of this Book, every word of it, and we’re ready to live and
die by it. So there’s my exhortation, brother pastors — lead with labor and
teaching.


RESPECT, ESTEEM, AND LOVE YOUR
PASTORS

Now an exhortation to you and to me.
Dear friends, fellow Christians, respect, esteem, and love these your fellow
pastors. Respect, esteem, and love
these your fellow pastors. Listen to
Paul speak here. “Brothers, respect
those who labor among you…esteem them highly in love because of their work.”
That means to acknowledge and honor and think highly of their persons and
labor. It means to prize, to value,
to regard them because of their work, to respect them and to esteem them and to
love them, to let your hearts be knit with them and to care about them and to be
concerned for them and their families.
I want to say, brothers, I respect and esteem you and I love you. I love
that you love Jesus. I love that you
love your family. I love that you
love the Word of God. I love your
heart for ministry. It’s an honor to work
with you. I consider it a privilege.
And I also want to say this congregation knows how to love ministers and
how to encourage them and it’s my prayer that they will love you well and
encourage you always and respect and esteem you so that it makes even the hard
things that we have to do in ministry well worth it and well rewarding.

Well those are my words. Lead with
your labor and your teaching.
Respect, esteem, and love these your pastors.
Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word, a timely Word, a needed Word, an
important Word. Work it deep into
our hearts. We pray this in Jesus’
name, amen.



Called to Serving and Shepherding

By / Dec 4

The Lord’s Day Evening

December 4, 2011

“Called to Serving and Shepherding”

Acts 6:1-6; 1 Peter 5:1-4

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

As the children make their way to their classes, let me invite you to take your
Bibles in hand and I’d like you to keep your bulletin close by as well and have
it open to the section which is marked, “Guide to the Evening Service,” because
during our mediation tonight I want to direct your attention to two things in
that evening guide, one that you’ll find under the ordination of elders and one
under the ordination of deacons. As
you turn in your Bibles, let me ask you to turn first to John chapter 13 and
just a couple of verses that I want to draw your attention to there in John 13
and then we’re going to turn to 1 Peter chapter 5, a passage which we will also
read out loud next Lord’s Day Morning.
And I will mention and read from Acts 6:1-6 as was noted in the bulletin
tonight, but there’s something in particular that I want to draw your attention
to from John chapter 13.

Tonight is a very important and special occasion in the life of the church.
We are ordaining and installing elders and deacons to serve and to
shepherd this congregation. And
every time we do that, every time we see a minister ordained, every time we see
an elder ordained, every time we see a deacon ordained we are seeing a visible
proof that the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning from the right hand of God the
Father almighty in heaven because the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter
4 that when the Lord Jesus ascended on high, He led captivity captive and He
gave gifts to men, among them apostles, prophets, and pastor teachers.
Now there are a lot of other things that Paul says in that passage, but
what should catch all of our attention is that in the first group of lists that
are given by Paul as to what Jesus has given the church are people.
And those people are officers or servants or workers or shepherds or
leaders for the church. So every
time we see elders and deacons and ministers ordained we are literally seeing
Jesus pour our His gifts on the church.
Now that’s a humbling thing for those of us who are being set apart for
service but it is an encouraging thing for all of us as we see those gifts being
given to the church. So this is a
very significant thing in the life of the church tonight.

But I want to draw your attention to these two passages, first in John chapter
13 and before we read God’s Word, let’s pray.

Lord, we thank You for this time together in Your Word tonight.
Encourage us in what we are about to learn about the work of deacons and
elders. Encourage us to know better
how to pray for them. Encourage us
to know better how we ought to be thankful to You for them.
Encourage us as to how we ought to encourage them and emulate their
example. Teach us, O Lord, from Your
Word. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

In John chapter 13 you will remember one of the things that Jesus does is He
washes His disciples’ feet and after washing His disciples’ feet He asks them a
question and basically says, “Do you know what I’ve just done?”
Look with me at John chapter 13 verse 12:

“When He had washed
their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them,
‘Do you understand what I have done to you?
You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought
to wash one another’s feet. For I
have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor
is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

And then if you’d turn forward with me to 1 Peter chapter 5, Peter says:

“So I exhort the
elders,” verse 1, “so I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a
witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is
going to be revealed: shepherd the
flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but
willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not
domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown
of glory.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Tonight, I want to give a two-point exhortation based on those two
passages about what deacons are called to do and be and what elders are called
to do and be because that passage in John 13 outlines perfectly what deacons are
to model to our congregation and the passage in 1 Peter chapter 5 outlines
perfectly what elders are to do and be in the congregation.

CALLED TO SHEPHERD

But before we get there, I want to go to other Scripture passages and some
beautiful summations that we find in our Book of Church Order to remind
us again what elders and deacons are to do and be.
As you know, in the Presbyterian Church in America, we believe that the
Bible teaches that there are two kinds of church officers — elders and deacons.
The elders are jointly responsible for the government and the spiritual
oversight of the church, including the teaching of the church.
The Bible requires elders to watch over the flock. They are to shepherd.
You heard that language in 1 Peter chapter 5, verses 1 to 4.
They’re called to shepherd.
Now what are the qualifications for elder?
Well, they’re found in a couple of places, important places in your
Bible; you may want to follow along.
Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 3.
In verses 2 to 7, this is the qualification for the office of eldership that
Paul records in his letter to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3 beginning in verse 2:

“Elders are to be
above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable,
hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle,
peaceable, free from the love of money.
He must be one that manages his own household well, keeping his children
under control with all dignity, but if a man does not know how to manage his own
household, how will he take care of the church of God?
And not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into
the condemnation incurred by the devil.
And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that
he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

And then if you’d turn forward with me to Titus chapter 1, in verses 6 through 9
Paul adds this:

“An elder must be
above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not
accused of dissipation or rebellion.
For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not
quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sorted gain,
but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled;
holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that
he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who
contradict.”

So to summarize, the Bible specifies godly Christian character as one of the
qualifications for an elder, family spiritual leadership as one of the
qualifications for an elder, and an ability to teach the truth of God’s Word.
These are all part of the qualifications for those who are called to the
eldership of the church.

Now what do elders do? Well, if you
will look in your bulletins, the Book of Church Order gives a little
synopsis of Bible teaching and it does it in large measure by looking at the
words that are used to describe elders in the New Testament.
Elders are called pastors, they’re called bishops, and they’re called
elders, and each of those phrases are meant to describe activities or functions
of the elders. And here’s what our
Book of Church Order says about that:

“Elders, this title
is an office of dignity and usefulness.
The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his
various duties. As he has oversight
of the flock of Christ he is termed a bishop or pastor.
As it is his duty to be grave and prudent, an example to the flock, and
to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed a presbyter.
As he expounds the Word and by sound doctrine exhorts and convinces the
gainsayer, he is termed teacher…It belongs to the office of elder, both
severally and jointly to watch diligently over the flock committed to their
charge, that no corruption of doctrine or morals enters therein.
They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only
of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the church
generally when calls thereunto. They
should visit the people in their homes, especially the sick.
They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard
the children of the church. They
should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal
to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples.”

And then listen. I love this phrase
because this involves all of us here, no matter what our station is in the
church:

“All those duties
which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are
especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation.”

In other words, all of us, as believers, are called to pursue holiness, live a
godly life, be a good example to one another, serve in the church, minister as
God enables us, but elders have a special burden and charge and responsibility
to do that, not just as all of us as private Christians may have, but under a
divine called from God they are to exercise these things.

“And they are to be
discharged as official duties. They
should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the
fruit of the preached Word among the flock.”

And so the qualifications for elder are laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and in
Titus 1 and then the Book of Church Order there has beautifully
summarized the meaning of those different terms that are applied to elders to
describe what they are to do. And we
could summarize that by saying that they are called to shepherd the church.
They’re called to shepherd the flock of God.
To use the language of Acts chapter 20, they’re to shepherd the flock of
God “which He has purchased by His own blood.”
And of course that’s the language that Peter picks up in 1 Peter chapter
5 and we’ll say something about that in a moment.

CALLED TO SERVE

But let me say a few words about the deacons as well.
In addition to the office of the eldership the Lord has given us the
office of the deacon and it too is an office to be held by godly men and those
who hold this office are jointly responsible for leading in the mercy ministry
of the church. The Book of Church
Order
puts it this way:

“The office of deacon
is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church.
The office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord
Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping
one another in a time of need.”

And what are the Biblical qualifications for the deacon?
Well, turn with me again to 1 Timothy chapter 3 and look at verses 8 to
10 and 12 and 13:

“Deacons likewise
must be men of dignity, not double-tongued or addicted to much wine or fond of
sorted gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if
they are beyond reproach. Deacons
must be husbands of only one wife and good managers of their children and their
own household. For those who have
served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great
confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Now deacons were first appointed in the church in the book of Acts, so turn with
me now to Acts 6. I told you I would
finally get to that passage. In Acts
chapter 6, a problem had arisen in the church and the problem had to do with the
aid that was being given to some of the widows in the congregation in Jerusalem.
And the apostles determined that it would be wrong for them to neglect
their job as elders, but that the ministry of mercy to those women was so
important that that job could not be neglected.
And so they appointed a different class of officers to deal with those
matters of ministry of mercy to those widows in need in the congregation.
And so here’s what we read in Acts chapter 6:

“The twelve summoned
the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to
neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.
Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation,
full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.’
The statement found approval with the whole congregation and they chose
Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus,
and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch.
And these they brought before the apostles, and after praying they laid
their hands on them.”

So we see here the elders devoting themselves especially to shepherding through
the ministry of prayer and the Word.
And it’s interesting there that it’s said in that order, isn’t it — the ministry
of prayer and the Word. By the way,
one of the things that you probably miss is that your officers regularly spend
as much time praying with one another as they spend transacting the business of
the respective courts of the church.
They take that very seriously. One
of my favorite prayer meetings in the life of the church is the prayer meetings
that I get to attend with your officers.
They’re very important. But
the elders here are devoting themselves to the ministry of prayer and the Word
and the deacons are devoting themselves to the ministry of service.
And so, if you’ll look at the description of the work of the deacon in
that middle section on your guide, our Book of Church Order says this:

“The office of deacon
is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church.”
And it goes on to add this:
“It is the duty of deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick,
and to the friendless, and any who may be in distress.
It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members
of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the
people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are
contributed. They shall have the
care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep
in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the
congregation.”

And so the Book of Church Order summarizes the obligations of the office
of the deacon. Now what do those
things have to do with John chapter 13 and with 1 Peter chapter 5?
Two things, very quickly.
When Jesus said to His disciples after washing their feet, “Do you realize what
I have done to you?” He tells us explicitly that He was showing them, by His
example, how He wanted them to serve and love one another.
You remember later in that chapter what is He going to say?
“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have
loved you.” Now of course the next
day He was going to excel even the example that He had given of washing their
feet by doing what? By dying for
them. They’re to be so committed to
serving one another they’re to serve one another to the death.
Deacons are the office of the church that is to perpetually display
before our congregation the service of Christ.
They are to be the servants par excellence in the congregation moving all
of us to serve. They’re to be
generous in order to example and to move us to generosity.
They’re to serve to move us to service in the congregation.
They’re to be ministers of mercy so that as a congregation we’ll be a
congregation characterized by acts of service and mercy.
And when they’re doing that, whose example are they following?
Jesus’. And whose example is
being displayed again in the congregation?
The example of Jesus. That’s
what John 13 is about.

The elders, on the other hand, are called to shepherd.
You remember Peter’s words? I
exhort you to shepherd the flock of God.
The deacons are called to serve; the elders are called to shepherd.
The deacons are called to a ministry of serving; the elders are called to
a ministry of shepherding.
Shepherding to what end? So that we
will know the Gospel, walk with God, and promote the Gospel in this world. So
that we’ll know the Gospel, so that we’ll walk with God by grace according to
the Gospel, and so that we will spread the Gospel in this world.
The elders are constantly wanting to shepherd our souls in these things.
And John and Acts remind us what deacons are called to do and Acts 20 and
1 Peter chapter 5 verses 1 to 4 remind us what elders are called to be and do.
And here’s the important thing.
It is important, it is as important what these elders and deacons are as
is what they do. What they are is as
important as what they do. Deacons
are to be servants. They’re not just
to do specific tasks but in their character, their character is to be that of
servants. Elders are to be shepherds
and to be an example to the flock.
Those words ought to, in both the case of deacons and elders, ought to really
drive us to our knees, that we’re to be examples before the flock.
That’s what the Scriptures say.
That’s what our Book of Church Order summarizes about the work of
deacons and elders and that’s what these men before you tonight are called to be
and do.

May the Lord bless His word.

Now in just a few moments, I’m going to ask the elders of the church to come
forward and we’re going to ordain the elders and the deacons separately,
recognizing the uniqueness to these office.
Let me explain to you that in the Presbyterian Church in America the
presbytery ordains ministers but the session of a local congregation ordains the
elders and the deacons in that local congregation.
And so the session tonight is going to be the body doing the ordination.
When the elders come forward, I’m going
to invite our ministers to join in with them, but really it’s the elders who are
doing the ordaining. And of course
when we have presbytery doing ordination services the presbytery often has
special guests of the commission and I’m going to invite our special guests of
the commission to come forward with us when we ordain tonight.
But I do want you to understand that it’s your elders, just like you saw
in Acts chapter 6, it’s your elders that are actually setting apart both these
new elders and these new deacons to serve in the congregation.



The Mission of the Church: Discipleship

By / Sep 11

The Lord’s Day Evening

September 11, 2011

“The Mission of the Church:
Discipleship”

Matthew 28:19-20

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Matthew 28.
I know that most of you can say these verses by heart, but I want you to
keep your Bibles in hand because we’re going to look at a number of passages
together tonight as we focus like a laser beam on one of the great themes in
Jesus’ Great Commission. We’re used
to going to this passage at Missions Conference time, and appropriately so.
We’re used to going to this passage when we are thinking about the work
of evangelism, and appropriately so, but I want you to see that as Jesus gives
the Great Commission to His disciples as He describes to them the mission of the
church, what it is that He wants them to do, what it is that He expects the
church to continue to do, the mission that He gives to them fundamentally is
discipleship. The elders, for many
years here at First Presbyterian Church, have described the ministry of our
congregation in three words — worship, discipleship, outreach.
Three very Biblical ideas, clearly rooted in the Scriptures, for the
ministry of the church. But each of
those three things relates to discipleship.
Worship relates to discipleship, outreach relates to discipleship, and
you’ll see why in this passage and in the logic that underlies it. So I want to
look with you at Matthew chapter 28.
We’re going to focus especially on verses 19 and 20 and especially on the first
sentence or the first phrase of verse 19 and then the first phrase of verse 20
to see where Jesus is going.

Before we read God’s Word, let’s pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Father, thank You for the privilege of hearing Your Word. Grant that we would
hear not only with ears but with hearts.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the privilege of having a minister join
the work of this congregation to promote precisely what Jesus told the disciples
that He wanted them to do. We pray,
heavenly Father, that You would bless Billy Dempsey richly as he does this, and
that You would bless us with an understand of what he has come to do and an
understanding of what You call us to do and be.
We pray that as we do so we would understand the Gospel clearly and that
we would understand the purposes of the Gospel for us and in us.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“’Go therefore and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you. And behold, I am with
you always, to the end of the age.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

DEFINING DSCIPLESHIP

These are the last words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew.
We speak of them as the Great Commission and they are a great commission.
In this passage, Jesus stakes out for us what the mission of the church
is, and not especially He says here for His disciples, first phrase of verse 19,
to “make disciples.” He tells them
to make disciples of all nations, thus necessitating the work of missions.
He tells us to make disciples, thus necessitating the work of evangelism.
He tells them to make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father
and Son and the Holy Spirit, thus necessitating the ministry of the local church
which is the nursery where disciples are made.
We could look at all three of those things and spend time profitably, but
I want to focus specifically on what it is that Jesus is asking His disciples to
make when He tells them to make disciples.
Notice the answer to it in verse 20 — “teaching them to observe all that
I have commanded you.” Now that is a
description of a disciple, that’s what a disciple is — someone who does all that
I have commanded.

Oswald Chambers once said, “Our Lord Jesus had only one desire and that desire
was to do the will of His Father and to have that desire is the characteristic
of a disciple.” Do you understand
what he’s saying there? He’s saying
that a disciple wants to do what his master wants him to do.
That’s what a disciple wants to do.
A disciple longs to do the will of his master.
And listen to Jesus talk about that over the course of His life and
ministry. He’s said things like this
— “It is My meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.”
“It is food to do the will of My heavenly Father.”
Or as we’ve just seen on Sunday mornings in the Garden of Gethsemane,
He’s on His knees sweating His drops of blood praying, “Not My will but Your
will be done.” Jesus loved to do the
will of His heavenly Father. He
wanted to do the will of Him who sent Him, even when it was going to cost Him
torture and life, He wanted to do the will of His heavenly Father, and that is
the characteristic of a disciple. A
disciple wants to be like his master.

And just as the Son was like the Father — do you remember the famous exchange in
the Upper Room when one on of the disciples says, “Well Lord, show us the Father
and it will be enough.” And Jesus’
response is, “You mean you’ve been with Me for this long and you still don’t
know what the Father is like, because if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the
Father.” The point being that Jesus,
if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus because He loves to do His
Father’s will. He loves what His
Father loves; He hates what His Father hates.
He wants to be like the Father.
He reveals; He shows the Father to us, and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen
the Father. That’s why one
theologian at the beginning of the 20th century said that “In God
there is no un-Christ-likeness at all.”
Because when you get to glory and you see God in all His beauty you will
say, “I saw this in Jesus. I saw it
dimly. I saw it dimly through my
sinful human eyes and my weak understanding, but this is just like Jesus because
the Son is like His Father. And what
the Son is saying to His disciples is, “I want you to make disciples who are
like Me — they love to do the will of My Father and they love to do My
commands.” So again, look at that
phrase in verse 20 — “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Notice it’s not just “teaching them,” it’s not just “teaching them all
that I have commanded you,” but “teaching them to observe all that I commanded
you.” This language, my friends,
reflects all of the teaching that you find in the Gospel that Jesus gives about
our being hearers and doers of God’s Word.

Remember — turn with me all the way back to Matthew chapter 7 as Jesus is
concluding the Sermon on the Mount and look at what He says.
Verse 24 — “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be
like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
So there is this stress on hearing His Word and doing it.
Why? Because a disciple wants
to do the will of his master, and Jesus’ language about our being hearers and
doers, and James’ language in James chapter 1 about our being hearers and doers
is drawn from this point. A disciple
wants to do the will of his master.
A disciple wants to obey the commands of his master.
And Jesus tells His disciples, “Go make disciples and teach them to do
all that I have commanded you. Teach
them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Now you understand that this goes all the way back to the garden. In the Garden
of Eden, Adam and Eve’s joy and their continued experience of blessing was tied
up with what? Their doing the
command of their Father. And when
Satan convinced them that the way for them to experience joy and satisfaction
and fulfillment and Godlikeness was to disobey what God had said, to not obey
what God had commanded, they plunged themselves and this entire human race down
to us into sin and misery because joy and blessing is tied up with doing the
will of our heavenly Father. And
Satan convinced them that joy was not related to doing the will of their
heavenly Father. And when they
sought joy by disobeying the will of their heavenly Father, they lost all joy
and satisfaction and were plunged into sin and misery.
But Satan has been saying to people ever since, “It’s drudgery to obey
God’s commands. If you want to live
it up, you’ve got to break some rules.
If you want to have life, you’ve got to do it your way.
If you want to experience joy and pleasure, you can’t do the will of God,
it’s got to be my way.” And along
comes Jesus and He says to His disciples, “I have come here so that your joy may
be made complete, and it is My meat to do the will of Him who sent Me.”
And you see what Jesus is doing?
He’s putting those two things back together again and He’s saying that
it’s in doing the will of our Father that we find joy.

Now, how do you become a disciple?
If a disciple is one who “loves to do the will of Him who sent Me,” how do you
become a disciple? Here you have to
understand what a disciple does and is and how one becomes a disciple and you
have to be very careful not to mix those up because if one becomes a disciple by
doing the Father’s will, guess what?
We’re all in trouble because none of us do the Father’s will and no one has ever
been able to do enough to have the privilege of being one who was a bearer of
the image of God. It can’t be done.
You can’t do enough to have the privilege of being a bearer of the image
of God. That is something that God
gifts you.

And so the apostle Paul, if you’d turn with me to Ephesians chapter 2, he
explains this very, very carefully and clearly.
In Ephesians chapter 2 he says, “For by grace you have been saved through
faith. And that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one should boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which
God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Now in this passage, Paul explains the relationship between God’s grace
and our works, between God’s grace and our obedience to God’s Word, between
God’s grace and our obedience to God’s command, between God’s grace and our
wanting “to do the will of Him who sent Me,” wanting to be like Jesus.

And the relationship is like this — it is not, “If you will want to be like
Jesus, if you will do the will of God, if you will do that long enough, hard
enough, consistent enough, then God will give you grace and you will be saved.”
That is not what Paul says.
Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of
itself; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should
boast.” But then he goes on and
says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
So notice we weren’t saved by our good works; we were saved for
good works. We didn’t become
disciples by our good works; we became disciples for good works.
By God’s grace, we were saved and by that grace we were saved into
discipleship. We were saved into a
life where we, like Jesus, we can say, finally, again, because we’ve been
brought out of our rebellion, out of darkness and into His marvelous light, “It
is my meat to do the will of Him who sent me,” or to borrow the language of the
psalmist, “How I love Your Law, O Lord.”

JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION IN THE LIFE OF A DISCIPLE

Now that means if we are going to understand discipleship we have to understand
at least two things — justification and sanctification — how a person is
declared right before God, how a person is transformed in their life by God.
And that means we have to understand what the Gospel does for us and what
the Gospel does in us. And let me
say, Billy Dempsey is going to be on that over and over and over and over again.
Now look, RUF campus ministers are talking about that all the time
anyway. Bebo, you ever give a
lecture on that subject before? I
think probably ten million of them!
They’re on that all the time. Billy
Joseph is on that all the time. All
your ministers are on that all the time, but Billy Dempsey is going to be
zeroed-in on that in our lives. Men,
he’s going to want us to understand what the Gospel does for us and what the
Gospel does in us. He’s going to
befriend you, he’s going to come alongside of you, he’s going to want to see
that working out in your marriages, in your parenting, in your friendships, in
your vocations, in every aspect of your life.
He’ll want to bear your burdens, he’ll want to hold you accountable,
he’ll want you to open up your heart to one another and develop deep Gospel
friendships, and he’ll want you to begin to have a heart for seeing other people
become disciples as well. And he’s
going to be doing that over and over and over in the congregation, person after
person, family after family, group after group in the church.
And in doing so, he will be fulfilling this commission that God gave to
His disciples, that Jesus said, “Make disciples teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you.”

Jesus delighted to “do the will of Him who sent Me.”
A person who has been saved by grace and who understands the Gospel and
who understands not only the forgiveness that the Gospel gains for us but the
transformation that the Gospel intends in us, can say with the psalmist, “How I
love Your Law, O Lord,” and with Jesus, “It is my meat to do the will of Him who
sent Me.” And we want to be a
congregation of men and women characterized by that kind of discipleship.
We want to be a congregation of disciples, and not only disciples, but
disciple-making disciples, Gospel people who are at all times thinking about the
mission that Jesus gave His church to make disciples, not just converts, not
just numbers, not just church members, but disciples, people who want to do what
Jesus has commanded. They not only know it, they want to do it.

And isn’t that the great battle of life?
Because what happens is you find yourselves in places where in your head
you know you’re supposed to do God’s will, but there is a temptation before you
and the temptation says, “You will be happy if you don’t do God’s will.”
And the great challenge of life in that moment is to say, “Oh no, the
only joy and lasting treasure are the ones that Zion’s children know.
The only joy and lasting treasure are for those who say, ‘It is my meat
to do the will of Him who sent me.’”
That’s the rub, that’s the rub of discipleship. And Satan still, just like he
did in the garden, throws out these promises to us that if we’ll just abandon
the way of the Lord, if we’ll just abandon God’s command, there’s satisfaction
to be had, and he pulls the rug out from under us every time we fall for that.
And discipleship is about equipping us so we can say, “It is our meat to
do the will of Him who sent me” and to do what Jesus has commanded.

May God bless His Word. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of sitting under Your Word.
And we know that we sit under Your Word not just so that we know more
stuff but so that we understand the Gospel more clearly, we understand that we
contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation.
Our salvation is based upon Jesus’ work; it’s based upon Your grace to
us; it’s received by faith. We do
not add an iota do it, but our salvation is unto good works, unto a life of
loving to do Your Word where our life is increasingly transformed and conformed
into the image of our Savior. And so
we want to be able to say with the psalmist, “It is my delight and we love Your
Law, O Lord,” and we want to say with Jesus, “It is my meat to do the will of
Him who sent me,” but it will take the work of Your Holy Spirit in us for us to
experience that and to live that.
Bless the means of grace in this church to those ends, that people will be saved
by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone into a discipleship in which
we are transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the will of God to
Your praise and glory. And bless
Billy Dempsey’s ministry to that end.
We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.



Called to Serve: Not so much a promotion; rather, an opportunity to be humble

By / Dec 7

The Lord’s Day
Evening

December 7, 2008

Ordination and
Installation of Elders and Deacons

John 13:15-16

“Called to Serve: Not so much a promotion;

Rather, an opportunity to be humble”

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Please open your Bibles to John’s Gospel, chapter 13, and
we’re going to read verses 15 and 16. [And, yes…the children were to be
dismissed during the singing of that [laughter], so, children, you may
now leave if you wish.] While they’re leaving, let’s pray for God’s blessing on
the reading of Scripture.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures: that You
breathed them out; that every jot and tittle is given by inspiration of God and
profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in the way of
righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every
good work. Help us now as we focus upon these particular words — Your words — to
read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This is God’s word:

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to
you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor
is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

Well, the context of these words of course is very
familiar and well known. This is the last night of Jesus’ earthly life. He and
the disciples have gathered together in the upper room. On this night, He will
be betrayed. He will be handed over to be tried by Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate,
and will be crucified in the morning. And they’ve gathered together in this
upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and as you remember this is
the occasion on which during the course of the supper He divests himself of His
outer garments and drapes a towel around Him, and takes a basin of water and
begins to wash the disciples’ feet. “I have given you an example, that you also
should do just as I have done to you.”

No one does ordinations and installations quite like
First Presbyterian Church, and as I was thinking about this occasion, this
immensely significant and important occasion in your lives and particularly the
lives of some of these men in the front few pews here tonight. I imagine that
you’ve received congratulation from wives and children and parents…and Uncle
Tom, probably, and all. But in a sense this is not an occasion where we
congratulate in the same sense as the world congratulates on the occasion of a
promotion. I’m tempted to think of those words tonight, “What do we have that we
haven’t received?”

And Jesus is speaking here to His disciples — in many
respects, His office bearers — and it’s an occasion on which He wants to teach
them perhaps the most significant lesson that they can ever learn about
ministry, ministry without His physical presence. And it’s a lesson about
humility.

History isn’t kind to the proud and the boastful. I
remember at one time learning Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. You remember it,
of course, some of you:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of
kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and
despair.”

And Shelley goes on in the poem to say,

“Nothing beside remains. Round
the decay

of that colossal wreck,
boundless and bare

the lone and level sands stretch
far away.”

Now let me explain what he’s talking about. It’s a one-time
monument to Ozymandias on which there was a plaque saying these words, “My name
is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”, but now
all that remains is the plaque, and it’s miles and miles of sand. And one witty
commentator on that poem, I remember, said perhaps on that plaque there was “Mr.
and Mrs. Dukes” — tourists who had passed by and added their names to that
proud, boastful statement.

Well, I’d offer my congratulations to you, too, but
again I’m tempted to say, “What do you have that you haven’t received?” A
servant, Jesus says here, is not greater than his master.

I want us to think along three lines of thought
briefly tonight about ministry and about service.

I. Service in the Kingdom of
God is not about me: it’s about others.

The first thing I want us to see and think
about is that service in the kingdom of God is not about me; it’s about others.
John 13 begins like this:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to
depart out of this world to the Father….”

Knowing that His hour had come…that’s a very
significant statement. It’s a statement that has already been made toward the
close of the previous chapter. There are similar statements which suggest that
His hour had not yet come, you remember. And then there seems to be a
definitive moment of transition in the ministry of Jesus when He seemingly
becomes self-aware and self-conscious that His hour had come: the hour for which
He had come into the world; the hour that He had covenanted with His Father in
eternity on behalf of sinners like you and me; the hour which in another
metaphor is spoken of as a cup — “Let this cup pass from Me” — a cup from which
He must drink, just as now He drinks from a Passover cup. It was a cup that He
too would have to drink, a cup that the prophets of the Old Testament had spoken
of: a cup of bitterness, a cup of God’s wrath and anger against sinners. And He
will drink it. His hour has come. But not just come, but He knows that it’s
come. He’s self-aware that it has come. He is now almost preoccupied with the
thought of His mission, of His purpose. This is why He had come into the world.

We’re surrounded by the reminders of His birth, of
Christmas. But He had come into the world born in a stable in Bethlehem, Judea;
He had come into the world in order to be a servant. He had come into the world
in order to give himself on behalf of others. He had come into the world in
order to die, in order to go to the cross and bear the sins of His people and
drink of that cup. His hour had come, and He knew it. It’s almost as though now
a dark cloud has come and moved from the horizon and now seems to be enveloping
everything. Soon…this night…in a few hours He will go to Gethsemane. He will say
those words, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.
Nevertheless, not My will, but Thy will be done”–his sweat, as it were, like
great drops of blood falling to the ground.

You would understand. You would perfectly understand
if Jesus would now be so preoccupied as not even to consider the needs of His
disciples. You would perfectly understand if this was personal time for Jesus.
You would perfectly understand if He were to say ‘I’m too busy now to be
preoccupied with your small, tiny, peripheral concerns. This must now be My
time.’ We’d understand that. If we read that in the Gospels, we’d say, “Yes, I
perfectly understand that.”

But foot-washing? I’m not sure I understand folk who
go and study to become podiatrists. It’s not something that appeals to me very
much. I’m grateful I have feet, but it’s not something I give much attention to,
to be honest. You’d understand if you read in the Gospels, ‘No foot-washing
tonight. Let’s skip this ritual.’ I could explain to you something about ancient
Near Eastern customs. I could lay it on you tonight about how this was part of
their custom, this was part of their culture in a sandy environment. At a social
occasion there would be this ritual. It sounds a little weird and strange to us,
but it evidently wasn’t in the ancient Near East, to bathe one another’s feet.
But you’d perfectly understand, wouldn’t you, if Jesus were to say ‘Let’s skip
the ritual. Let’s forget convention tonight. No foot-washing tonight. I’m too
preoccupied with myself.’ We’d understand that. The amazing thing — and it is
amazing — it’s jaw-dropping that Jesus would not just be concerned about others,
not just concerned about His disciples, but concerned about something that —
let’s face it — you and I would think is peripheral and trivial, and, well, a
luxury item.

It puts others first. I think that’s the lesson.
What is ministry about? It’s putting others first.
We remember Isaac Newton.
We remember him perhaps because of a book that he wrote, Mathematical
Principles of Natural Philosophy
…(much more interesting than The Book of
Church Order
!) We remember Isaac Newton because of the laws of gravity, but
actually it was Haley of Haley’s Comet who forced Newton to reconsider his views
and cajoled him not a little to rethink and redo his experiments, and to
meticulously proofread his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.
We only remember Haley once in every — what is it? — 76 years. But actually in
many ways he was the hero, and not Newton. He was prepared to put himself second
for the sake of Newton.

Well, in a similar kind of way Jesus is saying here
that ministry is not about “me”; it’s about others. You’ve been elected to
office tonight. Elder, Deacon…it’s all about ministry, and it’s about ministry
to others, and it will involve a fair degree of thinking about the needs of
others. “I’ve given you an example,” Jesus says, “that you also should do just
as I have done for you.” What does it mean to be Jesus-like? It means putting
others first.

II. Service in the Kingdom of
God is about enduring love.

Well, secondly I want us to see that service in
the kingdom of God is about enduring love — a love that endures, that is to say.
You notice again in the first verse,

“Before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to
depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the
world, He loved them to the end
.”

Now. It’s interesting how John describes what now takes
place, because he tells us very specifically about Judas, and that Judas was
also there. He knows (verse 2).

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas
Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…”

It’s knowing the devil’s work, it’s knowing that one
of the twelve is His betrayer that He divests himself of His outer garment and
goes through this ritual of foot-washing. He loved them, and He loved them even
to the end. They were slow to believe. They were unteachable. They argued, you
remember, about places and positions of priority and authority: Who would be
head of the table? One of them would betray Him. One of them would deny Him. And
all of them would flee from Him. And He loved them. And He loved them to the
end. He loved them to the point of death. He loved them to the point of Calvary.
He loved them to the point of giving His life for them. He will become sin for
them. He will bear their sins. They will be reckoned to His account. He will
stand in their place. He will meet the unmitigated wrath of His heavenly Father
against sin — the reflex of God’s holiness towards sin — and He will meet it,
and He will meet it to the full, without equivocation, without pulling back.
He’ll drink of that cup to the last bitter dregs until He experiences
forsakenness by God. He will cry, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” He
loved them…all of them. The undeserving among them, the unlovely among them, the
ones who wouldn’t necessarily love Him back in the way that they should. He
loves them to the end.

That’s what ministry is about. That’s what
Jesus-likeness is about. It’s about loving the
unlovely.
You want a church where everyone is lovely. This one isn’t
it…nor is any church on the face of this earth a church where there aren’t
unlovely people, and difficult people, recalcitrant people, obstinate people,
stubborn people.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form
of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no
reputation….”

What did He do? “He humbled himself. He became obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross.”

You remember, perhaps, a story of a Native American
woman in Arizona. They discovered her in the course of a brush fire. She had
apparently been surrounded by this fire. She was carrying a little child, a
little baby, in a shawl upon her back. What they discovered was just her bones.
She had been burnt to a crisp. She had curled herself into a little ball, and
beneath her she had dug a hole with her bare hands, and inside she had placed
the baby. The baby was alive. Ministry is about others, and it’s about enduring
love.

III. Ministry in the Kingdom of
God is about self-denial.

But thirdly, ministry in the kingdom of God is
about self-denial. It’s about others, and it’s about enduring love, but it’s
about self-denial.
John tells us in verse 3,

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He
had come from God and was going back to God….”

John is reminding you of something that he’s already
written, right in the very prologue of John’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.”

Jesus had come from God, but He was now going back to
God; and John is saying to us here in the upper room, in the company of His
disciples, He is not only aware that His hour has come, but He’s also aware of
His identity. He’s aware of who He is: that He is not only Jesus of Nazareth,
but that He is also the divine Son of God. He’s the Son of His heavenly Father.
He had sat at table with the Creator of the world, because He himself is the
Creator of the world. He knows and is self-aware of His identity, and yet He’s
prepared to wash their feet.

Do you know the story of Booker T. Washington, the
one-time president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama? He was passing through a
certain neighborhood, and a lady of some means says to him (he’s an
African-American, you understand)…and she says to him, “Would you be prepared to
chop some wood?” And she would pay him. And he says, “Yes, ma’am. I’d be honored
to chop wood for you.” And apparently that’s what he did. He went and chopped
wood until a neighbor recognized who he was and said to her, “Do you realize
that the person chopping your wood is the president of this famous institute
here in the city?” Service is about self-denial.

I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like.
(We don’t celebrate, you understand, foot-washing, nor am I advocating that we
should.) Now, the French do it, and I gather the Spaniards do it. I gather
Eastern Orthodoxy is big on foot-washing. On occasion the Pope and even the
Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church are known to engage in foot-washing. It
must be a pretty humbling thing to do, don’t you think? I’ve been trying to
imagine what it would be like for 35 men to suddenly be let loose on this city —
humble men; men of self-denial; men of enduring love; men who think first of
others and not themselves. Not one, you understand. Not ten, not twelve, but 35.
I’m trying to imagine the effect of that. Twelve men — actually eleven — changed
the world. They turned the world upside down, the New Testament says. Aren’t you
excited when you read through The Acts of the Apostles what eleven men were
capable of doing? How the church grew and multiplied? I’m trying to imagine what
35 humble men would do.

You know, it had a profound effect on Peter. Later in
his life he would write his First Epistle (this is the Peter who denied Him) and
he would say, “Clothe yourselves with humility.”

That’s the secret of ministry. Clothe yourselves
with humility to take care of the flock of God…to engage in mercy ministry.

I’m trying to think how 35 men let loose on this city, how that might change the
city economically, racially, socially; men who think of others first; men whose
hearts beat with the love of Christ for sinners first; men who are humble and
self-denying. This is ministry. This is not so much a promotion tonight. It’s an
opportunity for you to be humble. It’s an opportunity for you to be like Jesus.
Thirty-five Jesus-like men are being let loose on this city. What a thought!
What an exciting thought that is! What an exciting prospect and opportunity that
is, if we humble ourselves, if we put Jesus first and last. May God help us to
do so.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask
that by Your Spirit You’d write it deep into the hearts of each one of us
tonight, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

+++++

Dr. Duncan: Amen. The Elders of our church have
examined these men in their Christian experience, especially their personal
character and their family management; they’ve examined them as to their
knowledge of Bible truth and Bible doctrine and government and discipline as
contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church; they’ve examined them
in their understanding of the duties of the office to which they have been
nominated and now elected, and in their willingness to give assent to the
questions which are required for ordination. And these men have been sustained,
and these men have been duly elected by the congregation.

Let me tell you [if you’ll look at your bulletin]
what’s going to happen in the next few moments.
I’m going to ask the
officers-elect to stand in just a few moments, and I’m going to put those six
questions to them. And then, our beloved Minister of Pastoral Care, Brister
Ware, is going to ask questions to you, the congregation. [Brister, you can come
on up front right now and be ready to do that.] And then Mr. Smith is going to
lead us in a prayer for these officers. These officers-elect will come forward
and kneel, except for the three brothers [and I’ll identify those brothers to
you who are only going to be installed tonight, having previously been
ordained], and the Ruling Elders of our church will lay hands on those men. Then
the Ruling Elders will give all of our officers the right hand of fellowship,
and the Ruling Elders (the new Ruling Elders and our present Ruling Elders) will
go back and sit down, and then the Deacons of the church will come forward and
give the right hand of fellowship to all of the new Deacons of our congregation.
And then the Deacons, the newly-elected Deacons and our present Deacons, will go
back and be seated, and then I will give a brief charge. So that’s what’s going
to happen in the next few moments.

Men, I’m going to call your names out, and as I call
your name, if you would stand and face the congregation at first, and then when
I ask you the questions I’m going to ask you to turn back around and face me. As
I call your name, if you would stand and face the congregation.

These are your Ruling Elders, newly elected:
Jimmy Armstrong, Bob Cunningham, David Elkin, Ken Fairly, Harper Keeler, Richard
Russ, Mark Sorgenfrei, Tian Teh, and Ward Toler.

And your newly elected Deacons: Ken Ball, Charles
Barbour, Sharkey Burke, Reed Cotton, Jack Crawford, Holt Cruse, Ned Curry, T.
Dale, Dave Fulcher, Paul Hurst, Terry Levy, Mike Manning, Hugh M???,
Lee Owen III, Philip Parker, Ben Roberson, Clark Robinson, Craig Robinson,
Victor Smith, Ford Terry, Rob Thomas, Will Vice, Jay Wadsworth, Coles Wilkins,
and Neil Witherow. (Have I called all the names?)

Okay, brothers, if you’ll turn around, I want to put
these questions to you. Let me say as I do that it is an honor to have the
privilege of asking you these questions:

·
Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as
originally given to be the inerrant word of God, the only infallible rule of
faith and practice? Do you?

[I do.]

·
Do you sincerely receive and adopt The Confession of Faith
and Catechisms of this church as containing the system of doctrine taught
in the Holy Scriptures, and do you further promise that if at any time you find
yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine,
you will on your own initiative make known to your Session the change which has
taken place in your views since the assumption of your ordination vow? Do you?
[I do.]

·
Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the
Presbyterian Church in America as being in conformity with the general
principles of biblical polity? Do you? [I do.]

·
Do you accept the office of Ruling Elder [I’ll ask this to our
newly elected Ruling Elders first]…Do you accept the office of Ruling Elder in
this church and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof and to
endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the gospel in your life,
and to set a worthy example before the church of which God has made you a Ruling
Elder? Do you? [I do.]

·
Do you accept the office of Deacon in this church and promise
faithfully to perform all the duties thereof and to endeavor by the grace of God
to adorn the profession of the gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example
before the church of which God has made you a Deacon? Do you? [I do.]

·
[To all of you again] — Do you promise subjection to your brethren
in the Lord? Do you? [I do.]

·
And do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and
progress of the church? Do you? [I do.]

Now Pastor Ware has a question for you, the
congregation.

Mr. Ware: Do you, the members of this church,
acknowledge and receive these brethren as Ruling Elders and Deacons, and do you
promise to yield to them all that honor, encouragement, and obedience in the
Lord to which their office, according to the word of God and the constitution of
this church, entitles them? [If you would raise your right hand…and say a firm
‘I do’ too!] [I do.]

Dr. Duncan: At this time I would like to call all
the newly elected Deacons and Elders forward; and all of those who are going to
be ordained tonight, if you would come forward, face the congregation, and
kneel. Those not being ordained tonight, but installed, are Craig Robinson,
Coles Wilkins, and Terry Levy, all of whom have been previously ordained as
Deacons either in the PCA or in sister Bible-believing denominations. If
everyone will kneel, please.

At this time I would like to call forward the Ruling
Elders of First Presbyterian Church, and as a show of our support and readiness
to serve, I would also like to call the ministers of this church forward that we
might show our support and readiness to serve these officers. So if the Ruling
Elders will come and lay hands on these brothers….

Dr. Duncan: At this time the Ruling Elders will
give the right hand of fellowship to these newly elected officers……. Let me say
while the Elders are giving the right hand of fellowship to our new officers two
things —one about ordination and one about the right hand of fellowship.

The ordination, the act of ordination, we do not
believe is a sacrament.
Some churches believe that ordination is a
sacrament, but we believe that the only sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s
Supper. But we do believe that ordination is something that is commanded by God
in Scripture; in Acts 6 and in I Timothy we are told that the officers of the
church are to be ordained, set apart by the laying on of hands. That laying on
of hands indicates that God the Holy Spirit himself has equipped and called a
brother to serve his brothers and sisters in Christ in a local congregation, and
that we recognize that.

The giving of the right hand of fellowship is not
only a friendly show of support, it’s an indication that the Elders of the
church recognize that these men whom you have elected to be fellow servants in
this local congregation
, and so it is a fitting part of all ordination and
installation services in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In just a few moments, the Deacons will come and
welcome the new Deacons in their work, and The Book of Church Order gives
this language for them. These Deacons will say to them, these newly elected,
ordained and installed Deacons, they will say, “We give to you the right hand of
fellowship to take part in this office with us.” And so in all of this there are
brotherly expressions of our readiness to serve this congregation along with one
another, and it is truly a joy……

[Tape ends.]

============================================================================================

A
Guide to the Evening Service

The Ordination
of Elders

Tonight is very special in the life of our congregation. We have the solemn
and joyful privilege of ordaining and installing new elders: shepherds of the
flock, pastors, guides, disciplers, teachers of the word. We first meet elders
in the Bible, some 3500 years ago. The first Christian elders are already hard
at work when we come to Acts 15. Our Book of Church Order says: “This
office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture
different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of
the
flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be grave
and
prudent, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and
Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he expounds the Word,
and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is
termed teacher. . . . It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and
jointly,
to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption
of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government
and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of
the particular church, but also the church generally when called thereunto.
They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should
instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children
of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to
their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples.
All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law
of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to
be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people,
being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among
the flock.”

The Ordination of Deacons
Tonight we also have the solemn and joyful privilege of ordaining and
installing new deacons, ministers of mercy, to the work of service. The very
first deacons were ordained almost 2000 years ago in the same manner in
which we will proceed tonight – through the laying on of hands (see Acts
6:6). Our Book of Church Order says: “The office of deacon is set forth in the
Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of
sympathy
and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the
communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of
need.” It goes on to add: “It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those
who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in
distress.
It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of
the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people,
and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed.
They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and
personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings
belonging to the congregation.”


The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

O Come, All Ye Faithful
One hymnologist says this of Wade’s carol, “Its popularity in all
Englishspeaking
countries is universal: hardly a congregation fails to sing it at every
Christmas time. Such popularity is testimony to its genuine worth. In the
first place, the method of presentation is dramatic. The poet takes us by the
hand and leads us with triumphant song to the cave of the Nativity in
Bethlehem, shows us the Babe, and bids us adore. Next, in a stanza that
many hymnals omit or modify, we are given an explanation of what we see:
it is not a human infant, but God. Here the language is taken literally from
the ancient Greek creeds of the fourth century. The choirs of angels now
burst upon us, urged on to further song by our own exuberance. The shepherds
enter the cave; they join us as we kneel in adoration. We speak to the
child directly and make our offering of love and praise. This is all so simple,
so vivid in imagery, so sincere in emotion, that barring a few theological
phrases a child can understand it and enter sympathetically into the experience
of worship and joy.”

See, amid the Winter’s Snow
Edward Caswall allowed his sanctified imagination a little room on this one
as you can see from the title alone. It’s unlikely that Jesus’ birth was
accompanied
by snowfall, though that does not prevent us from singing this one
with gusto.



Fulfill Your Ministry

By / Sep 16

The Lord’s Day
Evening

September 16, 2007

II Timothy 4:1-5

“Fulfill Your Ministry”

The
Ordination Sermon of Chad Davis

Dr. W. Duncan
Rankin

Let us pray.

Our most gracious and merciful heavenly Father,
Triune God of heaven, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we
know that Your word is true and sure. It is without error or mixture. Indeed,
You use it as a blessing in the lives of Your people in the great covenant of
grace. We know also that Your Holy Spirit, who inspired that word, can also
illuminate, and so we do ask now that You might come and work in our hearts and
in our lives. We do pray that Your word might be a living word applied to how we
live and think and feel, and that You might bless us and conform us more and
more to the image of Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to II
Timothy 4, the first five verses, and as you’re turning let me confess that I’m
a little bit old fashioned. On this occasion that means that I’m still clinging
to my New American Standard Version from the early 1970’s, which will come up
again in a moment. II Timothy 4.

Hear the word of the Lord.

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Jesus Christ,
who is the judge of the living and the dead, and by His appearing and by His
kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke,
exhort with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they
will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they
will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires,
and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But
you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,
fulfill your ministry.”

Amen.

Just three years ago, when Chad and Jennifer Smith
left the Knoxville, Tennessee, area for Reformed Seminary, our congregation in
Oak Ridge suffered a great loss. Chad had been a UT college student and come to
the church in Oak Ridge. Then the congregation watched him become a father and a
husband–well, a husband and then a father! Chad became a deacon in the church,
serving the Lord with faithfulness and distinction. He was our church’s first
intern, and he set his face toward the gospel ministry as the Lord called.

Why Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi? Well,
there really was no choice on two levels. You might understand his new pastor’s
prejudice, and that influenced his entire Session to give him no choice in the
matter. But there was also something called the Twin Lakes Fellowship, and I
drove him down personally. And before we went to the beautiful Twin Lakes
facility, we stopped at Two Sisters. And by the time we got to bread pudding
with bourbon sauce, that was it! Jackson was to be his new home.

And now we come to this day, to a day of great joy, a
day of great thankfulness to the Lord. It is a day of fulfillment of both a hope
and a dream, and much hard labor done to the glory of God.

Chad, I know the congregation will forgive me as the
canon of the word is pointed in your direction. There is so much I could say to
you this evening from the holy word of God, but
there’s really time tonight for only one main point. Chad, you must now preach
the word.

You see, preaching is a solemn duty. The
Apostle Paul makes that clear to his understudy, Timothy, as he’s addressing him
in this epistle. As you learned during your internship, there are times when the
mentor cannot always explain in infinite detail, and you have to listen and
follow instruction as one who is teachable. You passed that test, and Timothy
passed that test as well. The solemn charge of his mentor, Paul — his mentor’s
name penned at the end of this epistle and beginning would be enough — and if
that was not sufficient, to the solemn charge given by Paul was added the
injunction of the presence of God, the Triune God, and the presence of Christ
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. What greater
thing could be said in order to rivet his attention to the great imperative to
come?

But Paul goes on and he adds to the name of God and
Jesus Christ the work of God that is yet to come, the One who shall judge the
living and the dead. That implies for us blessing and threat both. “And by His
appearing and by His kingdom,” Paul says to Timothy, I charge you.

This is not an abstract theological idea hanging up
on a shelf. It’s a tangible, imminent call of the apostle to his understudy to
hear what he thinks is really so important and absolutely non-negotiable in the
ministry in which he is to engage. Paul really thinks that preaching is
important, and that is something you must remember all the days of your life.
It’s the duty of Presbytery to both expect and protect the preaching of the word
of God. And it’s the duty of the ministry, so ordained and set aside to such
public work, to prepare and to declare the word of God written to His people.
And this evening it becomes the duty of Chad Smith to preach the word–to preach
the word of God written. Not what you like, not what you think is clever, not
what will bring you large crowds and great adoration, but rather to preach the
word of God written, all of it, from beginning to end. Every word, every book,
chapter, paragraph, sentence, word, syllable…every jot and tittle is important,
and you have studied and prepared to open it and to preach the word to God’s
people.

Preaching is a solemn duty, and it’s a solemn duty
even when you won’t feel like it.
Verse 2 says it is to be done in season
and out of season. Biblical preaching is, even on the college campus as in the
more general culture, not always popular today. And so you have signed up by the
call of God for what many would consider to be a very hard slog in an uphill
climb. But God is faithful; Christ is faithful — your Lord — and He has gifted
you. The gifts that you have been given by Christ our Lord have been seen by the
Presbytery, recognized by them. They have given, and are even now giving thanks
to God for those gifts, and they expect their usefulness and fruitfulness among
the students and faculty and administration of Belhaven College. This is the
task for which Christ your Lord has both called you and equipped you.

But why? Why is preaching such a solemn duty?
The apostle leaves us in no doubt. He tells us in verse 2 that preaching is much
needed. He tells us that preaching will include reproving and rebuking those to
whom it is addressed; that is, preaching tells us what not to do and what not to
think, and it’s important for you to remember. Sometimes after church you will
hear people comment on the sermon that they have heard that the preacher’s gone
from preaching to meddling. And that’s usually a fairly good sign.

You see, we should all hope and pray that the word of
God as it is preached will impact our lives and touch our souls. We all need the
word of God to poke us, to prod us, to cajole us in the right direction. And
when the word is applied to conscience, when it bears down upon the hearts and
minds, the conscience of men, then the preacher is doing his job and doing it
well.

The job of preaching is not for us to tell God what
to think about us. He already knows everything. But it’s the occasion on which
God tells men about himself, His holy Law, their need of salvation. It’s when
God tells us about the hope of the gospel held out to every creature on earth,
and daily Christian living — the rise and fall of the Christian life, that
needful obedience that brings glory to God and only occurs by His grace and
strength. All of these things are important in the lives not just of your
family, but of the students at Belhaven College. Those who do not know the Lord
among that larger flock, they will need preaching so that they might feel the
need of a Savior, and that they might come to trust in Christ alone for their
salvation. And those that do know the Lord, Chad, they will need the preaching
of God, too, to see their need to die to sin and live to righteousness, and the
importance of using every means of grace that God has set at their disposal,
that they might be so blessed. Preaching is important, Paul is telling us here,
even when it hurts.

But he also says preaching involves exhortation.
Preaching tells us what to do, and what to think.

I can remember as a younger father the day that it
dawned on me that one of my parental responsibilities was to tell my children
what to think and how to live. Reed and Arthur and Susan are all individuals,
and they all have unique personalities and they need to be cultivated and
encouraged. But their mother and father must tell them what to think about
everything in the world. Their mother and father must tell them how to feel
about everything in God’s creation. It’s important that we don’t leave such
important matters up to the world, up to popular opinion or culture, but rather
that we raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

God raises us that way using His word, and especially
the preaching of His word. He exhorts us, and on occasion He rebukes us as well,
through the preaching of His word. So, Chad, as you become a campus minister at
Belhaven College, you must do the same thing. You must be like your Savior and
like your heavenly Father, applying the word of God to that flock and field that
the Presbytery set your hand to. You must care for their needs, and one of their
greatest needs at this moment is to hear what the word of God says for their
lives.

It’s not just information, but also application.
Together the two, hand in hand, not one replacing the other, but in coordinate
fashion, all based and drawn from the word of God written. Yours will be a voice
raised, fervent for their good and for the glory of God. But you must raise your
voice. Don’t be timid. Don’t hold back from preaching and applying the word of
God to their hearts and lives. You must speak, and you must urge upon them the
truths of the gospel on their souls. So I charge you to exhort, exhort, exhort,
according to the word of God here written.

It won’t be easy. It will be a joy sometimes, and
you’ll pinch yourself and think, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to open the
word of God!” But there will be other times in which it will not be so fun, it
will be hard. It will be difficult slogging. But it’s an important part of your
calling to exhort, and you must do so, lest you fail in your calling.

How is the preacher to go about reproving and
exhorting?
Paul says with great patience and with instruction. Line upon
line, verse upon verse; studying one passage after another, you must open and
read and preach, and read and preach, and pray the word of God to and with your
people, to and with those students. This must become your daily and weekly
routine in the labor in God’s field to which He has assigned you in Belhaven
College. That means you must preach in the large group meetings. You must open
the word and declare it. But to do that you must also add the patient and tiring
work of individual and of small group instruction.

And don’t give up on the Bible, Chad. Don’t give up
on the word of God written. That’s the underlying principle that the Apostle
Paul is here declaring. You know there are many today that are giving up on the
word of God, and they’ve given up on preaching, too. Small Group Bible studies
are being replaced by fellowship clubs in a lot of places and on a lot of
campuses, and spiritual steak is taken off the table, and in its place is set a
dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Now I want to let you know that I like Krispy
Kreme doughnuts. We just had a birthday party for a deacon in the church, and
his wife exhorted us to “bring 30 of something.” Thirty toenails, she
suggested…thirty nails or paperclips…my family brought thirty Krispy Kreme
doughnuts. We were the most popular folks at the party!

But you get my point. To replace the word of God with
going to a movie, hanging out at a concert or coffee bar…to replace the steak
with merely the dessert, to cut back on the word of God in the name even of
world and life view application, to let application replace declaration to the
point where you can’t hear the word anymore…that will be the undoing of our
Reformed faith and of our blessed denomination unless young men like you stand
up and hold the line, and are careful to not give up in the preaching of the
word of God.

It is a difficult thing. I was recently dressed down
by one of our campus ministers for being in favor of Small Group Bible studies.
“You’re just a child of the 70’s,” he told me. Well, I like John Denver when I’m
riding down the highway at 70 miles an hour! And yes, there is a Monkees album
that I will listen to on the way home. “You guys are all so 1970’s…” he said [he
was mocking me] “…that you have exegeted the campus all wrong. Nobody cares
about Small Group Bible studies anymore!” I could not believe my ears.

Brother, you must be faithful to Jesus Christ, your
Lord, and to the Apostle Paul and to his exhortation to preach the word. You
must open it in season and out of season. You must be faithful to love Jesus
Christ and, therefore, to love His word. It’s not some abstract system that you
study to puff up your mind and to write some ivory tower tome that will do no
one any good. Rather, you must open the Bible and read it, and preach it with
patience, praying for and with your students that God would bless their lives.
Do not be so foolish as to digress and capitulate to the spirit of the age. It’s
a feminist spirit in our country, so much today. It’s a therapeutic spirit, and
a mere therapeutic model that is rising across the land. That is not what the
Presbytery is calling you to.

You cannot…you will never be able to nurture your
students out of all their problems. There are going to be problems and
situations where you must declare the word of God with all your heart and with
all your strength, with all the love of Christ and of each and every one of the
flock that He has given you. You must also preach the word, reproving, rebuking,
exhorting as required, with a heart on fire for Jesus, and I know you will.

Finally, preaching is inclusive, or
all-encompassing.
That means it involves sound doctrine on the one hand
and evangelism on the other.
There’s a great dichotomy, a wedge that people
try to drive between these two things, as if evangelism is practical and
doctrine is not, and that sort of mentality shows a total misunderstanding of
both. Sound doctrine — the teaching in truth of the word of God — you must state
it and urge it upon your students. And you must contrast the truth with error,
so that as they go about their daily lives they can see where the devil is
tempting them, and where the Lord holds out a blessing.

But remember, false doctrine comes in many forms.
Sometimes it’s too hard. Sometimes our fallen hearts are attracted to that which
is too hard and too mean, as if it’s inevitably a means of grace — anything to
our right. And then on other occasions, false doctrine is too soft. It’s
squishy, it squeaks like a rubber duck. You just step on it and it shapes and
molds itself to any whim of the culture. Be careful never to presume that false
teaching only comes with two horns on its head and a forked tail. The devil
doesn’t always take that disguise. More often that not in our day, false
teaching is attractive and lovely, and in some of its outlines even beautiful
and winsome. But you remember: remember the archenemies of Jesus our Lord, the
Pharisees and the Sadducees. Those who opposed Him, those who put Him to death,
they were the attractive, the admired, the wonderful ones of their day.
Respectable lot that they were, they were lost in their sin and misery. Do not
give up sound doctrine to the false imitation, no matter what form in which it
is found; for, you see, true doctrine, biblical doctrine is so important to
lives and to hearts and to families and to communities; bad doctrine corrupts
morals. It makes a mess of people’s lives. It brings darkness rather than light,
and you must shine the light of the word of God.

Sound preaching conveys sound doctrine of the
word, and it never forgets to do the work of the evangelist.
You see, you
have a great privilege. The Presbytery is going to see to it that you get to
share the good news with lots of people. Many people that perhaps don’t even
darken the door of a church, you are going to have interaction and coffee with
them, and you’re going to be able to speak to them the word of God, and there
you’re going to be able to preach, and to exhort and to reprove. You’re going to
be able to share with them the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord, who came into
this world to save sinners, even like us.

The great privilege that God has blessed you with,
good preaching, should never leave any doubt about how to be saved. If you have
students that go away from your Large Group and they go away from the coffee cup
with you, and they know that Chad Smith is a nice guy, but they don’t know how
to be saved, you will have failed. But if you share with them through good
preaching as a primary evangelistic tool the hope of the gospel and the truth of
the gospel, then you will be blessed in your ministry richly.

But be careful! The gospel is not just a slogan.
The gospel is not just a phrase.

Not so long ago I heard a sermon from a young man
soon to be ordained, and he used “the gospel” in his sermon 25 times. I was
counting! And I listened, and I listened, and I listened to see if anyone would
learn how to be saved. First it sounded like the gospel was being preached, but
then I realized the gospel had never been spoken at all. It was just a title. It
was just a slogan that had degraded into a mantra…an empty set of words that had
never really ever been heard in their content. No one, no one heard the real
gospel that day. Chad, you must share the true gospel. Not just a theory; not
just a grid. You must share the truth of Christ and Him crucified. You must
seize the day and the opportunity, and open the word and press it upon their
heart. You must hold out the Savior as their only hope of life. And, Chad Smith,
if you are faithful in these things, then you will please the Savior and be a
blessing to His church for years to come. And on that great Day, which will
swiftly come, you will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So, my brother, Paul, here tells you — the apostle
of Jesus Christ — “Preach the word.”

Let us pray.

Our most gracious and merciful heavenly Father, we
thank You that You sent Your Son into the world to die for sinners like us; to
gather us together into His body, and to give gifts to men that Your word might
be preached and held up as a light and a healing balm for all. We pray, O God,
that Your hand of blessing would be upon Chad Smith’s ministry, and that indeed
many might rise up and call him blessed because of the work that You do through
him. May all the glory be to Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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