If you believed that in Christ, to die is *gain*, (and it is), then what would be worth staying around for on earth? What would you do? I have an answer. I will show you a verse for it. It dominates my thinking every week, and for many years now it has changed what I think my purpose is to promote as we assemble for worship on the Lord's Day.
If you were thinking Colossians 1:28, you’d be close, though I actually got the aim in Colossians 1:28 wrong for a bunch of years (I was too dualistic and too dour). The verse I'm thinking about right now changes the tone of the work in Colossians 1:28, a tone that is reflected in our liturgy, our order of service, what the service does and drives toward and how it ends.
TEC held its first service of worship on the second Sunday of January, 2011. We are about to turn 13, and start our 14th year as a Trinitarian community of worshipping, maturing disciples, who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all the world. Somehow, the changes that have happened to the outer man as we've grown older hardly compare to the renewal in the church body that God has worked among us. One of His graces that keeps feeding and forming us every week is our gathered worship.
At the beginning of each new calendar year (and today counts, though technically the last day of 2023) we've examined the subject of worship and been reminded/refreshed about our liturgy. Liturgy is inescapable; there is always a liturgy. Liturgy means the order or pattern followed, the things we do and what comes before or after, and all of it should be identified with a why. Maybe an assembly desires maximum freedom for the Spirit to lead, so there is minimal preparation or planning, but that is, ironically, still a plan. Perhaps the most common liturgy for churches that emphasize Bible teaching is: singing to prepare hearts for the sermon, the preaching of the sermon, and maybe singing another song or two during the offering and/or altar call in response to the sermon.
There is no inspired bulletin dropped from the heavens. God gave the nation of Israel explicit requirements for a multitude of settings, many with strict times, places, and elements. But the hour has now come when true worshippers worship the Father in Spirit and truth, independent of one defined place. While we have some freedom in liturgy, we also have opportunity, in all wisdom, for how the liturgy works to make us more complete in Christ.
We've followed a five-part sequence every Sunday but the very first, in which we only had four. They are the Call to worship, Confession of sin, Consecration, Communion, and ending with a Commission. This liturgy itself is a mini gospel presentation, as evangelism begins with a call, leading to repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, unto a life of following Christ toward greater holiness, as we share fellowship with God, and are sent by Him as representatives.
This time around we won't be working through all five again; there are messages about that in the church app. But there are a few things I want to remind us about, *and* next Lord's Day the elders have asked Philip to pick a part of liturgy to preach about. As an elder in testing, and with one of the requirements being apt to teach, we want him to have that opportunity in front of the whole flock. He's chosen to speak about the Commissioning, and that will be good.
After that, while I've come to realize that the assembly's worship is more than (though not less than) the preaching of the Word, I've been treasuring up some thoughts about the preaching task and my purpose in it. That will be a future message or two.
Today I want to talk about what makes staying on earth worth it. When it comes to enduring everything for the sake of the faith of God's elect, when it comes to warning and teaching in order to present everyone complete in Christ, what I've come to realize that what makes it worth it is your *progress and joy* in the faith. The pastors labor that you would be growing in Christ and glad in Christ. This is not limited to Sundays, but at the end of the Lord's Day, I pray for your progress and joy in the faith — to the glory of God. This is *what we are worshiping for*.
This is the aim that came to Paul's mind when he desired to be done with his earthly mission. Remember that he wrote to the Philippians from prison, and that some other men were preaching the gospel to make it harder for Paul. He rejoiced that Christ was being preached at all, and had courage that Christ would be honored in his body, "by life or death" (verse 20). Then:
> “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, **for your progress and joy in the faith**….” (Philippians 1:21-25)
This is a great construction, great content, great purpose.
Here is the final phrase in its awkward original order: “unto the your progress and joy of the faith." It's a large object of the preposition, all part of one purpose. There’s one article that governs everything after "unto/for.” That article also connects "progress" and "joy" in a way that shows they are related--progress that is joyful and progress in joy, and in a way that allows for "of the faith" to be modifying both verbal nouns: "progress of faith" and "joy of faith."
# Progress in Faith
**Progress** means “a movement forward to an improved state,” traction toward new territory. It could be translated as “furtherance” or “advancement.” It’s the same word used in Philippians 1:12 for the spread of the gospel, and the only other time it’s used in the NT is 1 Timothy 4:15 where Paul told Timothy to let his “progress be evident to all.”
It was worth it for Paul to wait for the gain of being with Christ to see the progress of his people’s faith in Christ.
He would have expected progress to include more knowledge of Christ and having the mind of Christ (2:2), more striving side by side without fear (1:27-28), more obedience of faith in manner of life worthy of the gospel (1:27).
There was no doubt in Paul’s expectation that God Himself would bring about such progress.
> “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
And yet it also required no holding back on their part, following Paul’s own pursuit of progress.
> Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14 ESV)
So Paul considered progress as belonging both with God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.
> Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13 ESV)
His life was aimed toward their progress in faith, that they would live from faith to faith.
Our liturgy aims toward this same thing. From call to commission, it’s for the advancement of faith. Confess in faith, get faith stronger, including fed in union with Christ and His body.
# Joy in Faith
It is possible to be strong in faith and yet have weak joy in faith. As Paul maintained to the Corinthians, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24 ESV). Joyless faith is unguarded faith, susceptible to offers of joy elsewhere.
**Joy** is the “experience of gladness.” It is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. The distinction between circumstantial happiness and abiding joy is more helpful in the adjectives; circumstances or the sovereignty of God regardless of circumstances.
The verb form is *rejoice*. So later in Philippians Paul exhorted those with faith:
> Finally, by brothers, rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 3:1 ESV)
> Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4 ESV)
Don’t be content with gutting it out. We are able to rejoice in heaviness as faith is purified until it won't be necessary, “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (see 1 Peter 1:6-9).
Jesus purposes to share His own joy with His people. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV).
There is no more joyful place than in God's presence, abiding in His love. It shouldn’t be limited to a couple hours on Sunday morning “at church,” but it should include those hours. In the love of Christ we are forgiven and cleansed in conscience, for holiness, in fellowship, and blessed for work. The liturgy we follow is intended for our advance in joy. We are worshiping in joy and learning to live in obedience to the command: “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
We are not worshiping for ease and niceness of faith. We are not worshiping to increase troubled-consciences or to increase theological arrogance. Our liturgy is not intended to drive God’s assembly to despair or some sort of “godly” doubt.
We are making liturgical advances. We are worshiping for the progress and joy of your faith.
Are *you* making progress in the faith? Are *you* making progress in being more joyful in the faith?
After thirteen years of our worship, we are not the same. May the Lord continue to show us His steadfast love as He completes His work, working and willing our worship for progress and joy in faith. As faith advances, and as we are not frightened, it is a sign of destruction to God’s enemies and a sign of our salvation from God (Philippians 1:28).
You can make progress toward the wrong things, but you cannot make too much progress in faith. You can find joy in the wrong things, but you cannot have too much joy in faith. So press on, beloved. Press on toward the prize. You are His, press on toward Christ for your joy.
> [May] your love abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11 ESV)