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Lord's Day Liturgy

Can’t Help It

As often as you watch the Tube, as often as you check the news or seek entertainment, as often as you drive past stores, you are being invited to consider how discontent you probably should be. Propaganda tells you how everything around you is bad, advertisements tell you about everything you don’t have. Those who suppress the truth about God can’t help but be agitated.

There is a place of peace, in but not of this world. It’s the Table before us.

In 1 Corinthians 11:24, Jesus took bread and “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω), then “in the same way also He took the cup,” which we know from Matthew 26:27 included “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω). This is why communion is called the eucharist, the meal of thanks.

It is the Supper of God’s glory. It is not a table focused on our guilt but for our gratitude. Giving God glory and thanks is what the world will not do (Romans 1:21). Those who believe the gospel of God can’t help but praise Him.

Let Him be glorified for His righteousness, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. Let Him be thanked for gifts of repentance, faith, and fellowship. Let Him be glorified for His eternal nature and divine power, let Him be thanked for giving us eternal life by the power of the gospel. Let the Son of God be glorified for His obedience, let us give thanks for the Son of God who spent His body and shed His blood for us. Let us glorify the Spirit who points to the Son, let us give thanks for the Spirit who dwells in us as the guarantee of our inheritance. Let us glorify God who created grain and grapes, let us give thanks for the bread and the wine that remind us of our Savior.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Great Pneuma

We continue with a short series of exhortations around the theme of the fruit of the Spirit. It started with Paul’s contrast between the Spirit and the flesh. These are the two want-producing sources, and they are opposed to each other in Christians (unbelievers don’t have the Spirit so they don’t have the conflict described in Galatians 5:17).

Another point of contrast is between “works” and “fruit”; works are what the flesh does and fruit is what the Spirit produces. The terminology is interesting, but so is the number. Works are plural, fruit is not.

Perhaps we could riff off the “great shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” We could call this the “great pneuma” (since pneuma transliterates the Greek word for Spirit): “the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit is one.”

There are nine attributes of the fruit, but life in the Spirit is unified. This is different from the gifts of the Spirit. A spiritual gift may have a unique mix, or be one not the other; think Peter’s distinction between serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11). Spiritual fruit, though, doesn’t come separately.

The Spirit doesn’t produce love without self-control, there isn’t joy without goodness, there isn’t peace without faithfulness. Patience is not a spur of the moment fruit, separate from the rest. Kindness and gentleness may often apply together, but never in a way that indulges the flesh.

Spiritual fruit is integrated and thorough, just as godliness.

“Godliness is an extensive thing. It is a sacred leaven that spreads itself into the whole soul.”

Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture, 13

Don’t excuse a lack of joy because you’re patient about it. Don’t say you have peace about your lack of self-control. Don’t say that your gift is goodness, but you couldn’t possibly be expected to love.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Fleshly Esse

When people ask me what it’s like living with my in-laws, I’ve given the same answer for the almost twenty years we’ve shared a roof. When we are all walking in the Spirit it’s great, when one of us isn’t, there are other, more applicable words than “great.” My point today isn’t to argue for generational living, my point is to remind myself, and all of us, to be walking in the Spirit.

The parts of our Lord’s Day liturgy are regularly woven together with some thread, and the color of the thread typically comes from the passage to be preached. Occasionally, though, I’ve done a short series of confession exhortations or communion meditations on another theme, and I’m starting another series again right now. I want to work through some important ideas in Galatians 5, mostly on the fruit of the Spirit, but it begins with the contrast: the works of the flesh.

The flesh has its wants. Paul refers to “the desires of the flesh” a few times, the flesh as contrasted with the desires of the Holy Spirit, and the flesh with its own set of characteristics. Those who are driven by natural desires give evidence of their fleshly esse in sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and “things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21).

The opposite is walking by the Spirit, letting the Spirit control our hearts and hands and voices. But even for Christians, where does the flesh go? It must be put to death. In Christ, we are dead to sin (Romans 6:11), and in Christ, we must kill sin.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (verse 24)

As he told the Colossians, “put to death what is earthly in you…on account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6). Because Jesus has died for your sin, spare not your sin. Be ruthless with the desires, the affections, the wants of your flesh.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Threat Is on the Table

If you’re like me, as you’ve read the Old Testament, you’ve probably wondered why the Israelites blew it so often. How did they miss the point that obedience brought God’s gracious blessing and that disobedience brought God’s gracious, usually painful discipline? What kept them from trusting God? Take just one instance: their deliverance from Egypt by miraculous plagues and the Passover and crossing the Red Sea. Within months they were complaining like Americans after the third stimulus check was spent at Best Buy. What was their problem?

It’s an easy answer. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them like we do. Certainly, even in the wilderness, spiritual people wouldn’t have acted entitled to better provisions and conditions. We would never act like them, we would never harden our hearts like them, right?

Yet the author of Hebrews states that we “who share in the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), we who recognize Jesus as our High Priest, should look to the Israelites as an object lesson. Their problem may become our problem, not that we can’t have their problem. It’s on the table.

So, “as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” (verse 7, quoted again in 3:15 and 4:7) “Take care, brothers, lest their be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (verses 12-13).

There are a number of issues at work in Hebrews three and four, but if the goal is the promised rest of God, the threat is unbelieving, hardness of heart among us. The threat is disobeying God and doing what we desire like Israel did. The blessing of God’s Word is that it confronts us, it cuts up our hearts and exposes them, and makes them tender. We also have a sympathetic High Priest who was without sin and who invites us to draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need, even against the threat of entitlement and hardheartedness.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Needing to Google It

Peter was explicit about his ministry of remembrance. In his second letter he said “I intend always to remind you…I think it is right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13). We forget.

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome (1:15), the same ones who were loved by God and called to be saints (1:7). You can know, and still need to re-know. Near the end of Romans Paul wrote,

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:14-16).

Paul was set apart for the gospel of God (1:1), his was priestly service of the gospel of God (15:16), and he says they knew enough about it that they could talk to about it to one another without needing to Google it. But they needed reminders.

Every week we get the reminder of the gospel, the fact of what Jesus Christ has done and the desire that God has for us in Jesus Christ: communion with Him. This is a reminder for our comfort, it is also a reminder of our calling. Jesus died and rose again as a sacrifice so that we might live for God (Romans 7:4), so that we might be sanctified and acceptable to Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Wherever You Go

I’ve mentioned that I’m plod-reading through a book titled, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. The author isn’t a Christian, but he believes that Christianity is the only explanation for much of the good in the world today; Christianity has built category-shelves and filled them. Though Holland’s view of history has errors, including how he reads some Scriptures, he also offers some edifying (and emboldening) insights.

One such encouragement regarded the Jews, the Temple, and the Torah. The Temple was the place of centralized worship in Israel. All the men of the country were required a minimum of three times per year to travel to the capital city for a trifecta of feasts, reuniting the nation in the worship of Yahweh. But at various points in Israel’s disobedience, her people were taken captive and the Temple either overtaken or destroyed. What happened to their worship when that happened?

They took God’s law with them. “Wherever Jews might choose (or be forced) to live, there the body of their scriptures would be present as well.” (Loc. 920)

Culture comes from words, covenants, constitutions. Christian culture comes from God’s Word, His promises, His instructions. Obedience is according to His Word, and strength for that obedience comes from it.

Remember what the Lord said to Joshua (prior to the existence of the Temple):

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)

Wherever we go, with God’s Word, God is present. When His law is in our hearts, our steps do not slip (Psalm 37:31).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Long Hugs and Pirate-Sounding-Song-Singing

There is a description in Titus 2 that is a regular picture in my mind. Paul tells Titus to remind the slaves that they are to be submissive to their masters, that they are to be well-pleasing and faithful, “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10).

The “doctrine” or the teaching heading is God’s saving character, He is Savior; saving is His business. Salvation is His work exclusively, as in, there is no other savior. And salvation is His work exhaustively, as in, there is nothing we add to it. The truth of this is emphasized even in how Paul writes it: “in order that the doctrine – the of the savior of us of God (doctrine) – you may adorn in everything.”

The teaching is already glorious. God, our Savior, is glorious, essentially and beyond dispute. And yet, even these slaves could live by faith in such a way as to give the doctrine an attractive appearance. They could show its beauty by their work.

While this has application for every believer, not just bondservants, I think it also has application for the entire body of believers, so individual and corporate.

And, beloved, you continue to adorn the gospel. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees it. At the memorial service on Saturday, a young person was overheard expressing great thankfulness that his parent never takes him to church and makes him sing songs like that. But without question, to those with eyes to see, your heavy-joy and long hugs and tasty food and loud pirate-sounding-song-singing showed the goodness and beauty of our Savior.

Even as we come to the communion table together, as we share with one another, this is part of our proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, and how we do it adorns the doctrine of God our Savior.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Shortage of Little Popes

I came across a snarky joke made by a psychologist and, since it wasn’t aimed at me, I could laugh rather than be defensive. Someone wrote to Carl Jung, who created a whole approach to counseling others, asking Jung for life advice. Jung replied, “Your questions are unanswerable, because you want to know how to live. One lives as one can. There is no single, definite way….If that’s what you want, you had best join the Catholic Church, where they tell you what’s what.”

Before the Pope, there were the Pharisees. They invented elaborate extras to make sure a man had a rule for every decision. “This is how you make God happy, we’re just sure of it. Of course, it’s not exactly what the Lord said.”

In some ways, this is better than what the legit pagans had. As Tom Holland points out in his book Dominion, even the Greeks knew that if a law wasn’t transcendent, men would make laws to the hurt of others. The problem was, there wasn’t agreement on what the gods required. And “unlike those of mortal origin, were not written down: it was precisely their lack of an author which distinguished them as divine.” This would be perpetual confusion.

Man-made and human-determined standards of virtue and righteousness become weapons of manipulation and condemnation. The followers of such standards become mobs, and those who dislike the standards can mob-back. There is no shortage of little popes.

As Christians we know that God has given His Word, and He’s put His law on the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). Paul depended on this transcendent truth with immanent application, and then looked forward to the day when, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).

The standard is found in the gospel; there we learn about the living God and about His requirements for living. The gospel calls out our actual sins, and it calls us to only Savior. Submit to no substitutes, no matter how white and pointy the hat (or lab coat).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Without Remaining Charge

The gospel is the power of God to get us to stop looking at ourselves. In ourselves, we see not a thing worth celebrating, and that’s if God helps us (without His help we might see something good, but it would be because we’re deceiving ourselves). We see the desire to do what’s right, but lack of ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Other times we do what some other part of us didn’t want to do (Romans 7:19). God’s Word cuts down to the covetousness in our hearts that others might not even see (Romans 7:8), and what seems worse, our sin even misuses God’s Word to stoke our desire for what we aren’t supposed to want (Romans 7:9).

So, then, can you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table in a “worthy” manner? You can’t if you’re looking at you. You can, and you must, if you are looking at Christ.

One of the great crescendos is in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The judgment coming down on us as sinners, the true sentence and just punishment we deserved, have been taken by Christ for all those who are in Him. We have been weighed and measured, and we have been found without remaining charge in Jesus.

By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3b-4)

The ordinance of communion is not when we look at what we’ve done in our flesh, but when we look at what Jesus accomplished in His flesh. Only one is gospel.

The bread and wine are gift. Receive them as symbols of your freedom from condemnation in Christ.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No More Nuh-uh

The word “repent” doesn’t appear once in Romans. The word “repentance” occurs just once (Romans 2:4). In a similar and surprisingly empty vein, the word “confess” (or “confesses”) only occurs three times, but none of the three are about confessing sin but rather refer to confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9, 10; 14:11).

Repent and confess are vital words in biblical soteriology; both are revealed in other Scripture as conditions of forgiveness (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9). It could be argued that the idea of both are found in Paul’s longest letter, but there is as much explanation of it as there is exhortation to it. If the Spirit gives understanding of the Word, the Spirit will also help us know what to do.

The fact is, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, which is actually a quotation of Psalm 14:1-3). Those are the revealed facts. What are we supposed to do with them?

We are supposed to stop arguing otherwise; no more “Nuh-uh!” The law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). But God is after more than our silence. He calls us to turn to the One the Law and the Prophets bear witness to: Jesus Christ. We are to receive Jesus by faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:23-24).

Let us not be ashamed to keep confessing that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), and presenting ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13).