Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hold on to What You Have

This Monday was the Trinec SCEAV church staff Christmas party. Our theme verse was Revelation 3:11, and I was asked to be the main speaker on the verse. So, below is my lengthy talk on the verse. I thought that you might enjoy it (and I've been feeling like I've been neglecting my blog, so it takes care of that, too).

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Revelation 3:11

Christ is coming soon! Alleluia, Amen.

I was asked to talk about this verse, about what else the Bible has to say about the ideas touched on here, and to talk about how we in Trinec can improve things as a Church of Christ. So, I’d like to start talking about our verse by reading the letter in which it’s contained to get some context, to see what our verse is really talking about. In order to know what any verse says, we’ve got to know the surrounding context…

READ Rev. 3: 7-13

So, we see a bit of the character of the church to whom Christ was speaking through the pen of the Apostle John. They were known by Christ. They had little strength. In spite of their weakness they had kept his word and not denied him. They had been enduring patiently.

Christ has also made promises to them. He had placed before them an open door which could not be shut. It was the door of faith in Christ. This door indicated that no one could take from them the promise of salvation in Christ. He promised that those Jews who denied that the Philadelphians were God’s people would one day confess that Christ did love this church. He promised to keep them in the hour of trial to come on the world. He promised to establish them, in their faithfulness, in the temple of God: heaven. He would claim them as His own by putting His name on them.

The only command Christ gives to this faithful church is to hold on to what they have, so that no one could take their crown. He says: Hold on to what you have, for I am coming soon. If you hold to what you have, no one can take your crown, but if you let go of what you have, your crown will be taken away.

So, what is it the Philadephians have? What are they commanded by their Lord to hold on to and not lose or let go? We can get a glimpse of our answer if we look back to verse 8. “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” This shows us that what the church in Philadelphia has is Christ’s word and His name. They are keeping, guarding, obeying, living according to His word and are proudly wearing His name, confessing before men that they know Him and are His.

Christ’s command to them to hold on to what they have is not an additional, burdensome command they must keep, but an encouragement to keep up the good work. It’s an admonition to do what they’re already doing.

How have the Philadelphians been keeping Christ’s word and name? According to verse 8, it’s in spite of their small strength. They are not able to keep Christ’s word and name because they are a mighty church, nor because they are personally very faithful people. It’s not because of anything else of worldly impressiveness about them. They are weak. They are sinners! They have held Christ’s word and name because He himself gave them faith, gave them His word and entrusted His name to them. He gave them His own strength to enable them to hold on.

Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown!

If the Philadelphians continue to keep Christ’s word and His name, they will keep the crown of eternal life that they have in Christ. Their endurance in faith in Christ is winning for them this eternal crown of victory. If they don’t hold on to what they have, if they let go of Christ’s word and His name, they will lose their promised crown. It will be taken from them and they will be disqualified from eternal life in Christ. If they abandon Christ’s word and His name, and then don’t repent of their rejection, they forfeit their crown.

We in Trinec aren’t the church in Philadelphia. This short letter is not addressed to us. However, Christ’s promises, commands and warnings do not depend on the recipient or anything in them, but on Christ alone. Therefore, this letter can and does speak to us and to all the church throughout the world.

Christ is indeed coming soon. This is the promise that we have been eagerly anticipating throughout the last 22 days of Advent, a promise that the church has been hoping in for two millenia. Though it feels like a long time to wait, it is nearer now than at first, and indeed is much sooner than we can know. We in Trinec, just like the church in Philadelphia have been given faith in Christ’s word and we have His name on us, applied to our foreheads in our baptism. We have the same priceless treasure they did. We have the word of Christ and we have His name. Just as Philadelphia did, as the true church always has, we hold on to these treasures not in our own strength, as though we had any strength to boast of, but we hold on to them only in His strength and by His grace.

READ Ps. 118:14

It is in Christ’s word and in His name that we have our hope of eternal life. If we hold to them, and do not succumb to the temptations of other ‘gospels’, we too will have the crown of eternal life after which we strive.

However, if we do not hold firmly to all the teaching of Christ’s word and to His name, our crown, too, will be taken from us. If we, Christ’s sheep, listen to any voices but the voice of our Good Shepherd, we will go astray. If we put up with any teaching which is not of Christ’s word and which does not clearly proclaim the center of our faith: Christ Jesus crucified for sinners, we are in danger. Any other ‘gospel’ is no gospel at all, it can bring us no good news of Christ’s forgiveness. The Apostle Paul condemned all teachers of such other gospels (Galatians 1:8-9). If we were to abandon the true gospel for any ‘gospel’ that says we must do something to earn our salvation, which doesn’t point us to belief in Christ, we are losing our crown of salvation.

So, how can we in Trinec improve? What can we do to be doing the works that God requires? The answer is not new, but old. It’s not innovative and different, but ought to be very familiar to all of the Lord’s people. When Jesus was asked by some people what they must do to be doing God’s work, our Lord replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28). So, we hold on with fervor, and in Christ’s strength, to that which we have, the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). According to 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5, we hold to the Gospel which Paul preached, which we received, in which we stand and by which we are being saved: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses before ascending to heaven. To grow stronger as a church, to be pleasing the Lord, we must simply, faithfully hold on to what He’s given us, what He gave the earliest church.

We in the Church often think that large numbers, obvious physical growth in the church, is the goal of our existence. It’s not. Right now many congregations across the US are growing very rapidly, but sadly, many of them are doing so by abandoning Christ and His gospel in favor of talking about anything but Him, anything that it takes to attract non-Christians to their pews. Just as Paul prophesied in 2 Timothy 4:3, they preach to itching ears instead of putting up with sound doctrine.

The church here, and everywhere throughout the world, in order to improve things, must set itself to simply be the church. The best example of this in Scripture is of the church right after Pentecost. They dedicated themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). We hold on to what Christ has given us: all of scripture and it’s authority as God’s word, the proclamation of the Law for repentance from sins, the teaching of the Gospel for the forgiveness of those sins, fellowship with one another, wherein we encourage one another in the faith: we encourage one another through mutual conversation about the Lord and things of the faith, proclaiming to each other the wonders of what He has done for us in Christ’s cross, we encourage one another through our very presence in worship and other church meetings. The breaking of the bread in Holy Communion is vital for the life of the church, because that is where Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation are delivered to us personally. There we are reassured that Christ died not just for the world out there, but for the individual receiving the sacrament. We pray fervently and continually because prayer is our means of communicating our praise, repentance, thanks, and needs to our loving heavenly Father.

As the church, these are the things we do in holding on to what we have. As God’s forgiven and redeemed people, we desire to listen to God’s word and we ought to require of our pastor to weekly declare to us the depth of our sins as well as the great mercies of God in His forgiveness of our sins through Christ.

Just as the church has something it should hold on to, so does our pastor. His job, as found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, is to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” His job is to deliver to us, Christ’s people, the condemning words about our sin to drive us to repent from our wickedness that we can receive Christ’s forgiveness weekly, because we sin daily and much. When our pastor drives us away from our sin and back to Christ, he protects us from losing our crown. The life—temporal and eternal—of our church depends on this, holding on to what we have.

Furthermore, because of the great forgiveness and freedom Christ has given us, we want to bring others along that they too might have salvation in Christ, that they might join us in the victory he’s given us over death. Christ has commanded this of us, that we go and make disciples of all nations—including this one—baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything he has commanded us. In order to increase the Church, we must simply proclaim the same thing outside our walls as inside: repentance and the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus. From there, we trust Christ to give the growth, because he has promised that His word is effective, that it’s His word which creates faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, we are spurred on to this proclamation of repentance and forgiveness by Christ’s promise to the Philadelphian church.

He said, “I am coming soon.”

Let us trust Him, let us hold on to everything that He has given us. We have been entrusted with the very words of our God. We have forgiveness of our sins in His name.
Let us hold on to these things so that no one can take from us our crown of eternal salvation!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Compared to Christ

On Monday morning, I read the following section from Philippians, and I've been cogitating on it all week:

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (3:7-11)

Paul was comparing all of his own merits (circumcised on the 8th day, an Israelite, Benjamite, Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, zealous defender of Judaism against Christian teaching, blameless under the law), the laurels he had which recommended him among his people, to the merit of Christ and the righteousness we have in Him by grace through faith. He called them utter garbage. All of the outward signs that he had which would indicate to other people that he was on the right track, that he was pleasing to God, that he would gain heaven: all worthless. Less than worthless compared to Christ.

It's really incredible that, even though Paul did have all of these wonderful things in his life to commend him to men, he said they were nothing. They had no real worth in his eyes, since only Christ and His righteousness had any lasting value. Paul says that he counts all of his merit as waste that he might: know Christ, share in his sufferings, become like Him in His death, and to attain to the resurrection of the dead. If Paul, oh-so-impressive Paul, considered that he had to lay aside all his own merit and trust in Christ alone for salvation, for the resurrection, then so do I. I must consider all my own merit as worthless and hope rather in Christ alone. Okay, fine. I know that I have no hope for salvation apart from Christ, that there is nothing for me to do, nothing I can do to be forgiven and be saved.

There is a difference in trusting in my "merit", however, and liking the way it looks/feels/sounds on me. I know that I can do nothing for salvation, but I also know there are things I can do solicit praise from men. I value these little trinkets, the laud of men, and even self-glorification. This is the point at which this passage has been working on my heart this week. I trust in Christ alone, but I still place a high value on other things, things which I might formerly have put my trust in. What would life look like if I, like Paul, truly thought and believed that all of my own supposed righteousness was nothing-- NOTHING? What would it be like to truly count everything which could commend me before men as rubbish? What would life be like for me to truly realize the vast gulf between Christ and these little, foul nothings?

Christ is so much more than these things. From here to the moon, to the sun, to Pluto-- so vast is the gulf, the gaping abyss between them and Him. Christ is infinitely more to be adored, honored, thought of, treasured, glorified. And should not the heart leap within me to think on Him; His beauty; and His suffering, dying, and rising love?

Lord, forgive me for loving and treasuring little bits of trash more than you. So order my values that You outshine all other things like the sun outshines a single, pitiful twinkle light. Let all my satisfaction be met in You.