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1. Liturgical Advances

Or, What Are We Worshiping For?

December 31, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Philippians 1:25

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).



# Conclusion


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).


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## Charge


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.


## Benediction:


> [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)

2. The Confidence of Faith

January 7, 2024 • Philip Kulishov • Hebrews 10:35–39

As we've heard on multiple occasions, Sunday is like the fat kid spinning the merry-go-round roundabout on the playground for all the other kids. In this analogy, the other kids are the other days of the week. The kids aren't very interested in how he's going to spin them, as long as it gets accomplished. But, this Considerable Kid has his techniques. I was talking to Calvin Higgins about baseball pitching techniques. I am as much a sports guy as most of you are Russian. I appreciate the identity, and at times wish that I could identify as such, but the reality is that the identity isn't mine. A pitcher gets the power for the throw not from his arm or shoulder, or even his back. The kinetic energy build up starts in the legs. The pitcher generates mechanical energy in one leg, passes it back and forth, before transferring it through his body, whipping his arm, and into the ball. In the same way, the Considerable Kid stepping up to the merry-go-round is ready with his technique. He builds his mechanical energy, winds the swing back, transfers to a forward movement, and launches the play-set into a spin. If we were to zoom in on that final moment of him launching the set, to see what happens when he lets go, that moment is what I'll scratch at today. # Equipped To Go Just like the baseball pitch, and the Considerable spin, our Lord's Day Liturgy is structured a specific way, to accomplish a specific result. Last Sunday, Sean talked about our aim in our worship liturgy, as our "progress and joy in the faith." I'd like to build on that foundation. We are aiming to make progress in our faith, and to increase the joy of our faith, but what does that look like when it happens? What does a community of people who have made and are making progress in the faith look like? The point of all the energy being put into the spin is for the merry-go-round to spin. Being equipped with what we receive in worshipping the Lord, we are then sent out. We have a considerable blessing here at Trinity Evangel Church. The fundamental, decisive factor in why we love what we have here is God's blessing. Every Sunday His blessing equips us. But it doesn't equip us in order for us to then sit still on the play-set. That would be like the Considerable Fatty Kid cranking his body back, twisting forward, and right before the launch, he has a sudden jerk and stops the expected spin because everybody was so happy and comfortable on the play-set. "Why would we ruin it? We're having such a good time. It's going to get messy. Let's not risk it." That would be ridiculous. We're on this thing in order to be spun. We come to church in order to be sent out. The TEC Bubble is a thing. It's comfortable here. Yes, that is one of God's blessings on us. But, we are to be sent out. There are those in our body who's role it is to cultivate and maintain the condition of our community. And then there are those who's role it is to go and build something. We are meant to subdue the earth - to subdue Marysville - under the Lordship of Christ. A people who are making progress and increasing in the joy of their faith are a people who are not sitting still. They're taking ground. Our Lord's Day battering ram efforts are setting the tone for the rest of our week. The Bible warns against a lack of enthusiasm. Once Spurgeon was preaching to a sleepy congregation who had eaten too much before the service. When he couldn't get their attention he shouted, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" When they jumped from their seats and asked where it was, he said, "In hell!" Young people are too often lethargic in their progress because they think they have time. "I have all my life before me. What's the rush?" While the more advanced in age can be lethargic in their progress because they think they don't have much time. "My life is behind me. What's the use?" And so, with a lack of expediency, Christians continue in their lukewarmness. We are under God's provisional hand here at Trinity Evangel. Livy's analysis about Hannibal's army is something for us to look out for. After multiple victories on the part of the Carthaginians, the solders got confident in the wrong things and grew comfortable and complacent. > The habit of idleness which each day made more seductive, so weakened the fibres of both body and mind that from that time forward it was their past victories that protected them rather than their present strength. We don't want to be a people that only looks back, grows comfortable and complacent. We want to trust God for his blessings on us as we go and advance. # Equipped With Confidence The Lord's Day equips us for the advancement of our faith. So what does it equip us with? What is the kinetic energy transfer from the Call-to-Worship, through the Cs, and out the Commissioning? Hebrews Chapter 11 defines and demonstrates a life of faith in different circumstances in response to the call for a life of faith that Chapter 10 gives. If we're going to talk about progress and joy in faith, the second half of Hebrews 10 is not a bad place to get our feet wet. Hebrews 10:19-25 > Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - We are called to draw near to God with ***confidence to enter*** in verses 19-20. - We have full ***assurance of faith*** with clean hearts and washed bodies because of our Great Priest in verses 21-22 - We are ***steadfast in the confession*** of our hope in verse 23. - And we are ***encouraged through fellowship*** and communion in verses 24-25. This is our Call-to-Worship, Confession, Consecration, and Communion. And what we are receiving for each of those things is: - Confidence to enter - Full assurance of faith - Unwavering steadfastness, and - Encouragement in our assembling Apart from other things, the blessing that we're receiving from worshipping the Lord is a **Confidence of Faith**. This is the kinetic energy transfer through our worship service that launches us out. Our worship creates in us a **Confidence of Faith**. We then see a pattern of Commissioning in verses 26-39. Verses 26-31 say that in our assurance of faith, we do not go on sinning. And Verses 32-34 say that being enlightened, we endure suffering well. As we go out, we are to be confident when we are under temptations to sin, and trails of suffering. There is this pattern of Call-to-Commission that we see in Hebrews 10:19-34. And it culminates with the "therefore" in verse 35. Hebrews 10:35-39 > Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, > “Yet a little while, > and the coming one will come and will not delay; > but my righteous one shall live by faith, > and if he shrinks back, > my soul has no pleasure in him.” > But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. # Anxiety Brings Destruction When people shrink back, they do so because they're in an unpleasant place. They're under some kind of pressure where it is easier to give way than hold their ground. They're in a tight, constricted, painful place. ***"angh"***: tight, constricted, painful, strangled, and compressed - Angst - Anger - Anguish - Anxiety We feel squeezed and pressured - with fear or pain - and so we shrink back. We live in an anxious world. Edwin Friedman, in ***A Failure of Nerve***, presents this sort of culture of chronic anxiety as the thing that destroys institutions - from families, to churches, to nations. He says that "America has become so chronically anxious that our society has gone into an emotional regression." A downward spiral towards ultimate destruction. He says, > The anxiety is so deep within the emotional processes of our nation that it is almost as though a neurosis has become nationalized. Friedman was not a believer. But he did point out the truth that the author of Hebrews asserts in this verse. The phrase "who shrink back and are destroyed" could be better translated as "those of timidity unto destruction." There's a clear connection between the shrinking back - being of timidity - and the destruction that is more direct than just an "and" communicates. One leads to the other. When we shrink back in timidity, when we are anxious, we are anxious unto destruction. Anxiety brings destruction. Anxiety manifests itself in our demonstrations of faithlessness. We yield to the pressure of temptations or trials and don't do what we ought, focusing on the frustrations of our circumstance instead of the confidence of our faith. The author of Hebrews contrasts shrinking back with having faith. Which means, the reason we shrink back in anxiety is due to a lack of faith. We doubt God's promises. (10:36) Doubt is the petri dish in which the culture of anxiety grows. We shrink back from being steadfast and head into destruction when we throw away our confidence. (10:35) We have received confidence to enter, assurance of faith, unwavering steadfastness, encouragement in communion. Therefore, do not throw it away. Doubt brings anxiety. Anxiety brings destruction. # Faith Brings Life Hebrews 10.39 Our worship and liturgy is meant to equip the progress of our faith so that we may hold fast in confidence without any doubt. Our worship brings about an assurance of faith. - In our Call to Worship we are equipped with the confidence of God's presence. - In our Confession we are equipped with the assurance of forgiveness. - In our Consecration we are equipped with steadfastness in our confession of hope. - In our Communion we are equipped with encouragement in fellowship. So that in our Commissioning, we may be equipped with the sort of faith that brings life everywhere it goes. The phrase "who have faith and preserve their souls" could also be better translated as "those of faith *unto the preservation* of their souls." The faith leads to the preservation of the soul. We are not to be timid and cowardly moving backwards. We are to be confident and assured, advancing forward. There is a wrong way to be confident. In 2017, Sean gave me one of the best rebukes I've ever received, "Your level of confidence doesn't match your level of competence." That could be written on my gravestone. "He had more confidence than competence." Being confident in ourselves is not the Confidence of Faith that we're after. "Believe in yourself," although is usually said with good intentions, is arguably the worst advice you can receive. G.K. Chesterton has the famous section in Orthodoxy when he's criticizing "believing in yourself." He said a publisher once commended a person for believing in himself. To which Chesterton replied: > Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in the lunatic asylums. In our day, the lunatic asylums have been let loose. We have men fully confident that they’re women. Women confident that their men. Identity crises everywhere. He goes on. > Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. It's not self-confidence that we have. I've never liked the phrase “Work like an Arminian, sleep like a Calvinist.” Its awfully misguided. Having to rely on yourself and working like God doesn’t control the outcome is extremely discouraging, frightening, and angst-producing. No. Work *and* sleep like a Calvinist. Having an assurance of faith in the sovereignty of God is like strapping jet-packs to whatever it is you're doing Monday-Saturday. If God wills it, then what you’re endeavoring to do will work. And if He doesn’t, you’ll be the better for it, and you don't need to be anxious. Your confidence is to be in Him, not in yourself. Self-confidence is usually a demonstration of a masked lack of confidence. There's a type of assertive brashness that pours out from a pitcher of insecure restlessness. Having to prove your worth or flex your size, in front of others or for your own reassurance, is not confidence. The goal is not to act confident. It’s to be so. David demonstrates this kind of confidence in Psalm 27, which Jonathan read for us. Psalm 27:1 > The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:3 > Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. And notice why David has this confidence of faith. Psalm 27:4 > One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. David wants to be in God's presence. He wants to look upon the Lord. Psalm 27:8 > You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” David seeks the Lord, and believes that he will look upon Him. Psalm 27:13 > I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! He encourages us to do likewise. Psalm 27:14 > Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! The confidence that we receive from the Lord comes out of our faith in the Lord and His word, as we stand in His presence, giving Him our worship and our praise, Sunday to Sunday. We spin on the merry-go-round, and every cycle the Considerable Day grabs the handle and launches us again. Our worship creates a Confidence of Faith that brings about considerable life everywhere we take it, not a timid anxiety that carries with it a shriveled destruction. We go out into the anxious world, with an unwavering presence. # We Have The Confidence of Faith Verse 39 doesn't just tell us that faith brings life. The entire structure of the verse, and the half-chapter leading up to it is to demonstrate to us the assurance that we do have the confidence of faith. Faith, not fear. Advancement, not anxiety. Trust, not timidity. Preservation, not perdition. Confidence, not cowardice. We don't wait for confidence in order to then obey in faith. We are already of those who have faith. Do not throw away your confidence. # Conclusion What do people with the faith that we're equipped with every Sunday and make progress in look like? They look like a confidently joyful people with an unwavering presence bringing life into an anxious world. When we look at the world's anxiety, it is tempting to join them in it, in a sort of hysterical reaction. It gets personal out there. The enmity is not between two abstract energy sources. The antithesis plays out through flesh and blood, voices and votes, diapers and spanking sticks. We're tired of the repetitive lessons with our kids, and the ongoing rebellion. Their disobedience feels personal, and we're tempted to shrink back and respond with a lack of faith, with frustration and anger, a lack of endurance and steadfastness. Or perhaps your kids are grown and not walking with the Lord. There is contempt and brokenness in your relationship. You are tempted to misplace your faith, shrink back into anxiety leading into further destruction, instead of demonstrating a calm confidence and assurance of faith, leading to the preservation of your soul. Perhaps its with your work that you are tempted to shrink back and throw away your confidence. Your plans are not aligning like you wanted them to. Things are not working out as you had hoped. So, you’re tempted to be anxious and timid, leading unto destruction, instead of holding fast to the confession of your hope with cheerful boldness. Perhaps you're in much pain, day in and day in, acute and encompassing. Not shrinking back is a daily, raging battle for you. You're tempted to doubt the goodness of the Lord, and let go of your endurance. Remember, that "you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised." "Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." We run into anxiety nearly everywhere we go. In the midst of all of that, do not throw away your confidence. Hold fast to the confession of your hope - that Jesus Christ is Lord, and it will all be okay. We make progress in faith and in joy my getting deeper and deeper rooted in our assurance of faith. We are not to be an anxious people in an anxious world. If our liturgy was focused on ourselves, or held us in our guilt, or gave us merely information about the truth, or was a memorial instead of a celebration, we would be well-equipped to join the world in their anxiety. But our worship every Lord's Day brings us into God's presence with confidence, gives us the full assurance of faith with clean hearts, makes us steadfast in our confession of hope, and encourages us in our communion with God and one another. All to make us a confident people with an unwavering presence in an anxious world. We want to be the kind of people that run into the battle without hysteria and panic. We want to be a people that are confident, competent, and calm. We receive this blessing of the confidence of faith when we enter into God's presence in worship, and then we take it with us as we go out to live a life of faith through embodied joy under the Lordship of Christ. ---------- ## Charge You know that without faith it is impossible to please God. Do you know, though, that God *rewards* those who draw near in faith? It’s the same verse (Hebrews 11:6)! You believe, keep seeking His blessing. You believe, keep doing good by faith. You believe, go in the confidence of His blessing. ## Benediction: > To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 ESV)

3. A Word of Reminder

January 14, 2024 • Sean Higgins • Romans 15:14–15

This will be a sermon reminding us about how God's Word works in us and about how sermons from God's Word stimulate learning for our progress and joy of faith. Paul didn't get tired of his reminding work. He told the Romans that he'd been bold in reminding them because of God’s grace so that they (especially the Gentiles) would be a people of living sacrifices consecrated by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:14-18). Paul told the Philippians that it was “safe” for them that he kept reminding them; reminders were in their best interests (Philippians 3:1). Peter thought the right sort of reminders would *disturb* his readers, as in stir them up, wake them from sleep, especially that they would have instant recall of the truth even when he was gone (2 Peter 1:12-15). Words do work. Of course it's possible to love in word and not deed, but some deeds of love require words. Words express love and exalt love and urge embodied love. The Word of God is living and active. God's words created heaven and earth and continually uphold the universe. God's words create and continually sustain our salvation. His Word guides and grows, like light and food. The words of truth transform us as they renew our minds. Of course it is possible to be little more than truth collectors, gathering doctrine like we gather data, organizing our theological spreadsheets rather than presenting ourselves as living sacrifices. But the eleven chapters of teaching wrapped up in "therefore" in Romans 12:1 gets unwrapped in the obedience of faith, in righteousness and joy and harmony. As the Word teaches and transforms, there are lines drawn, not only right and wrong, but contours of beauty to behold, lines of reasoning to follow, and patterns to build upon. Sometimes building requires some demolition first. Sometimes we need more than a wet-cloth wipe down, we need walls hammered down. A preacher is not an ear-tickler, nor is the Word a feather-duster (more like fire, or like a hammer, Jeremiah 23:29). Sometimes loving words work against a previously held, even previously *loved* mental model. Of course this is true for pulling down idols, but also true for reshaping false worldviews. These are all things the Word does, but you can have your own copies these days (*unlike ANYONE in the Bible*). And praise God! So what's the deal with scheduling a sermon for every Sunday? There is a liturgy to the sermon. We don't believe that the best liturgy is *only* a sermon, nor that the sermon is the final aim of the liturgy. But there's benefit beyond what's *in* the package of any given sermon. When you listen to enough sermons you learn more than just what words are used; there is learning in the liturgy of the sermon. Here are three things learned through the liturgy of the sermon. # 1. We learn how to worship together through the living Word. This is part of what the sermon is good for *now*. The minister of the Word (see Acts 6:4 for this sort of work and title) exults in the truth and the people exult with him. We’re not always learning how everything works, but how it feels, like flying in a plane. It is not best to think of this as a classroom, though there are some overlapping activities. This is a place of worship, not a place to think about how to worship after class. At some point we might ask, "When am I going to use this?" The answer is in part: right now. This isn't just preparation for praising God, this is part of our praise. The words read and explained exalt Him. “May those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’” (Psalm 40:16). No matter how long the sermon, it can't fulfill, but it can further, our meditating on the Lord day and night. So the sermon from that living Word is a key part of letting the Word dwell in us richly, that is, dwelling in the Body/assembly (Colossians 3:16). Our corporate mediation on the Word starts to define us. The living Word is a communal document, the living Word forms communities. We *are* worshiping as we receive the Word (James 1:21), as we believe the Word, as we let the Word go to work on us. # 2. We learn how to say what we were (close to) thinking about the living Word. For this benefit the sermon works both now and later. The minister of the Word expresses the truth and the people can better express their knowledge of it. Not everyone is a mouth (1 Corinthians 12:19-20). Not everyone speaks the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), has a speaking gift. Not everyone should be a teacher (James 3:1). But every member of the body who is richly indwelt by the Word has a sort of teaching work (Colossians 3:16). Not all are pastors or teachers, but pastors and teachers are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), which includes ministering the word to others, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Speak comfort, peace, perspective, admonition. Hear how the minister does it and do likewise. Sometimes we know something but we don't know what it's called. Or we've been working on something in our minds and we're 90% of the way there, but need help with the last part. It's not just possible, but likely that lots of time you don't need a new engine, but you do need someone to show you where to bang underneath the engine to jolt the electrical contacts, then the car is purring again. Helpful teaching provides helpful categories, names, hooks for your thoughts. For example, the comparative and integrated shelves were not hard to see in Scripture or to believe, but they are extremely useful by being named. A thing I don't get tired of reminding us about is whether we are stimulating faith or stimulating doubt. We are all learning one way or the other through the liturgy, including the sermon part. This belongs with what we say, and a lot with our tone. Even the 2 Corinthians passage *assumes* the answer is YES to faith. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV) But by caricature, and it is funny in a way, the [Babylon Bee had a resolution for Paul Washer](https://babylonbee.com/news/we-asked-13-evangelical-leaders-what-their-new-years-resolutions-were-and-heres-what-they-said) of “An increase of 15% in the number of Christians questioning their salvation.” That’s *not* actually what we’re aiming at, and not what we want the flock to learn. # 3. We learn how to read and understand for ourselves the living Word. This has lasting value, beyond the sermon itself. The minister of the Word shows the people by example how to go directly to God in His Word for themselves. Beloved, I do not say these words all the time, but my life and my sermons are aimed at this. I want you to **go to the Word**. I want you to read it, meditate on it, and be careful to do it for your blessing. > Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:12–15 ESV) What a privilege, and what an opportunity, to have our own copies. A sermon from the Word is a feast for faith, and it’s also an example where you can get your own ideas for how to have good food at home. You might not have gone to culinary school for cooking sermons, but you can get a solid, tasty meal. That’s a feature. # Conclusion I’m devoted to “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13) so that you will be saved (1 Timothy 4:16), that you will taste that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2-3), and that the whole body will grow up in every way into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). I don't expect this to be the "final" word, and for a few reasons. No human preacher is inerrant, and we all have truth to speak to one another in love. Examine. Sharpen. Edify. Be noble as you examine and test (Acts 17:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:21), to hold fast what is good. ---------- ## Charge You are blessed by the Lord when you delight in worshipping the Lord. You are blessed by the Lord when you delight in mediating on His Word, as one like a well-watered tree, fruitful and alive. Get you to God’s Word. ## Benediction: > And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32 ESV)

4. Watch the Teaching

January 21, 2024 • Sean Higgins • 1 Timothy 4:13–16

Your blessing depends on the sermon-delivering-servant’s zeal to please God in order to serve you. It must be in that order. The minister is only as good for the flock as he is doing right by God and a being a faithful steward of God’s Word. When it comes to preaching, the preacher must not hold back any effort from knowing the Word and preaching the Word in order that the church will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Of course I’m usually just preaching the sermon, not talking about sermons as a sermon subject. But we’re finishing some reminders about our Lord’s Day liturgy, and, though the sermon is not the only important part, it *is* a part of how God shapes and strengthens His church. The power for getting the parts to work properly so that the whole body grows up into the unity of faith doesn’t come from the furniture/pulpit, it comes from God’s Word spoken by God’s representative and applied by God’s Spirit. When exercised rightly, preaching is *salvation* for the speaker and the hearers. This isn’t an adversarial relationship, but it’s not allowed to be a tickle party or affirmation therapy session either. Here are a couple key passages that you need to know, passages that are always under the water of the sermonic iceberg. > Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13–16 ESV) Progress is big. So is persistence in paying attention to life and teaching. The KJV opens verse 16 with “take heed,” which is probably just the right amount of not how we usually talk to get us to “pay close attention” (NASB). **Keep a close watch** (ESV), “Be conscientious” (NET). There must be a maintained, mindful grasp on two things: 1) watch one’s *self*, as in one’s speech and conduct for setting the believers an example (see verse 12), and 2) watch one’s *teaching*, that it not be doctrines of demons (see 4:1) and not irreverent, silly myths (4:7), but in the fulness of God’s good things given (4:5-6) and the faith and doctrines that cause all our hope to be in the living God (verse 10); “for to this end we toil and strive.” Watch the teaching. So “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them” (verse 15, NASB). The whole process matters as God’s means to the *saving* of the assembly. We know it’s *God’s* means, since God is the Savior (verse 10), and He uses in season and out of season reproofs, rebukes, exhortations, and truth-teaching to complete His saving work. Another key passage relates to this work of watching. > Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Timothy 2:14–17 ESV) It’s verse 15 in the middle there that’s fairly well known among Bible-loving people. Do you know what’s behind the command: **Do your best**? It’s the imperative form of the Greek word σπουδάζω, a cognate with the noun σπουδή, meaning *zeal*, which I’ve been touting like a Styrofoam #1 pointy-finger since we saw it in Romans 12:11 - “In zeal, don’t hold back.” So the verb form of it is “be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous, take pains, make every effort” (BAGD). What’s required is σπουδή/zeal for Scripture, taking pains over the pages of the Bible, making every effort to not get God’s Word wrong. Not only is God the judge, but the fruit is in the people. Certain teaching **ruins the hearers**, it **will lead people into more and more ungodliness**. That puts the teacher in a position of *shame* before God. This calling—to be an agent of saving grace or of disgrace—is a beautiful and blessed but weighty and wearisome burden. Sometimes you’ll hear pastors tell people that if a young man can do anything else than be a pastor/preacher, he should. That’s not just because of James 3:1, it’s because there is a glorious and grave (though not grim) grind to beat on the Word so that its living waters will flow, and to be beaten on by that Word so that his own affections will abound, to watch his life and teaching, and to then carry that treasure in his jar of clay and pour it out for the work of life among the people. God continues to be extremely kind to me in that He continues to give me desire/craving for His Word. I have σπουδή for Scripture. That said, I am often tempted to hold back in the preaching. It requires Spirit-strength (as do any and all types of good works) to not be reluctant, but to be ready and sober-minded and enduring suffering (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Not only is the preacher’s schedule out of sync with most of the flock and to a degree even with his own family, his zeal in study and preparation is hardly ever met with similar zeal in eagerness to attend and receive. There are those who are asleep, spiritually and sometimes in the flesh. There are those who aren’t just resistant, they are recalcitrant. And yet “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). But blessing and salvation are brought through the preaching of the Word. It’s the charge given to the minister in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. I mentioned three things last week that are being learned through sermons even when they are not the direct content of the sermon. The third point was that sermon hearers learn how to be Scripture readers by the example of the sermon preacher. *He must watch the teaching, and so should you.* For my part, when I’m preaching through a book of the Bible, I do think that I could synthesize my zeal for being intentional example under two headings. I am zealous that you would read and interpret every passage in its context, and I am zealous that you would read and receive all of it under Christ’s lordship. Two parts of my Sermon Spoude. # Everything you really need to know is in the passage you’re reading. There are a couple other ways to describe this, but it starts with a recognition of our privilege. We have Word Privilege. We should not give it up, we should give thanks to God for it, we should realize that to whom much is given much is required. Our Word Privilege comes in the fact that we have our own copies of the *complete* inspired Scriptures. We have what *no one in the Bible had…a complete Bible*. One implication of that is that any given author—Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Paul, Peter, John—did not expect that his readers *needed* other books/writings to make his point. Each author had a point, and he made it his point with his own composition. For sure, some of the prophets wrote things that they weren’t fully sure how it would look when it came about, but that’s not the same as saying they expected their readers to need a concordance. *Analogia Scriptura*/Scripture-interprets-Scripture is great *second*, after the context of Scripture has proven incapable of understanding. There are a bunch of quotes and allusions that NT writers make from OT passages. But the Romans, for example, did not have all the Jewish books, and did not need them. For that matter, the Jews in captivity in Babylon hearing Lamentations didn’t need Romans to understand what they needed to believe or obey. You may, or may not, have noticed that I usually don’t have us going all over the Bible during our line—upon-line series. Stay here. See what’s here. You don’t *need* cross-references 98% of the time (even if that percentage is not scientifically determined). Like real estate rules (Location. Location. Location), there are three most important rules for Bible reading: 1) Context, 2) Context, 3) Context. The most important thing you can figure out is: *What did the author intend his readers to understand?* As soon as you bring meaning with you into the passage (no matter how “true” the meaning), you are doing *eisegesis*, you are “interpreting *into*” rather than out of the passage. The most helpful “hack” is to read in paragraphs. The invention of the chapter and verse notation systems are great for navigation, but they can make the *point* harder to notice. Use whatever tools you have access to and skill with, but most of what you need is to stay on the page you’re reading, think about the author’s intent, and ask the Lord for understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). Watch the teaching for ideas. # All Scripture is the word of Christ, but not every word is about Christ explicitly. Every once in a while I hear the criticism that I do not preach Christ. I am honestly baffled by that. But, there are some virtuous sounding Bible reading strategies that always expect to see Jesus, and I don’t, so why don’t I? There’s a passage that’s often used to argue for Christocentric reading, which has become a way of reading where Christ at the center of the meaning of every Bible text. Jesus taught the two disciples on their road to Emmaus. > beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 ESV) They immediately returned to Jerusalem, and were with the eleven disciples, when Jesus stood among them. > He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45 ESV) The phrase in verse 44, (πάντα τὰ γεγραμμένα) is a substantival participle with a modifier: All the Having-Been-Written-Things (AtHBWT). And “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” and **everything written about me** are not the same as saying “*each thing was written about me*.” Rather than the explicit subject of every Scripture, I prefer the description Christo*telic*, Christ is the endpoint. There’s a Spurgeon quote that gets trotted out in these discussions: “I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.” First, it’s not yet been sourced as a thing he actually said; it has [not been verified in searching his published works](https://http://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/blog-entries/6-quotes-spurgeon-didnt-say). Second, that’s *not* cutting a straight line with Scripture. That said, all things are His things, and yet His things aren't His self. Nothing isn’t part of His property or part of His purposes, but we still maintain a distinction between those things and His Person. It is *all* the “word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), so we can talk about *any* of His things and still be preaching Christ. When the paragraph (pericope, proverb, prophecy) doesn’t explicitly mention Christ, I don’t think we should try to act like it is (we’re not looking for a “deeper meaning,” it’s usually a sort of Christocentric eiesgesis). Nor should we try to forget that it all relates to Him. But getting grief because you don’t see Jesus as the spiritual meaning of a verse is a burden I’m trying to show you isn’t yours to carry. Watch the teaching. # Conclusion Why should you care about any of this? This is *not* just “Insider Bible” talk. You should care because your salvation and blessing depend on it. You should also be zealous to pay attention to the Word, here and on your own. Be zealous to understand the context, be zealous to understand how all of it helps you live a more jealousable life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let the Bible get into your bones. Let the Bible give you backbone. That CAN'T happen if you waffle on definitions. Don’t bend over backward on definitions, with pressure from the culture or even certain theological confessions. Christians have waffled on words such as: inspired, inerrant, elect, resurrection, day, Israel, land, man, woman. Heed the words. Let the Bible define its terms, and hold on to them.. Heed the Word. Heed All-the-Having-Been-Written-Things, for the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures (Romans 15:4). ---------- ## Charge All the Having-Been-Written-Things (AtHBWT) point us to Christ in whom is our endurance and encouragement and hope. All the Word is from Him and through Him and to Him. Let the Word of Christ abide in You, and you will bear MUCH FRUIT and prove to be His disciples. ## Benediction: > Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 ESV)