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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Mathematical Baby Step

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote many books, including The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, or, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It has also been published recently under the title, All Loves Excelling. The entire book is a forrest fire of goodness sparked by Ephesians 3:18-19.

[May he grant you] strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

In Greek, one article (precedes and) welds all four dimensions together in verse 18. Paul wasn’t thinking about four things, but the immensity, the vastness, the incalculability of one thing. But what is that something? I believe the one thing is Christ’s love, explicitly named in verse 19..

Breadth refers to area. Christ’s love covers the widest span. Length refers to distance, how far things are apart. Christ’s love reaches the farthest intervals. Depth refers to the bottom. Christ’s love descends to the lowest levels. It is unfathomable. Height refers to the top. Christ’s love soars at the summit.

His love is too large to frame, and even if it were, there isn’t a wall large enough to hold the frame. Imagine the most oversized, mega-gargantuan container you have at home; now double-it; now multiply by the next number higher than you can conceive. You’ve just taken a mathematical baby step toward comprehending Christ’s incalculable love.

I love Bunyan’s question:

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

—Bunyan, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, 37

In other words, if someone asked you to describe the kind of love you hoped for, could you have imagined it this good? His love fills us, and the bread and cup remind us of His body spent in loving sacrifice for us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

More Than Pejoratives

One of the most consequential new-normals of liturgy for us is the weekly celebration of communion. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together every Lord’s Day has done more to wreck our identity as truth-tubes than any verbal pejoratives I can use, including the moniker “truth-tubes” itself. Coming to the Lord’s Table with thanksgiving has developed feasting muscles we didn’t know Christians were supposed to have.

It wasn’t about the ordinance of communion, but here’s what Jesus said about the organic nature of communion.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).

Abiding is trusting, abiding is relying, abiding is being connected. There is no such thing as too much abiding. There is no such thing as taking abiding for granted; that is not abiding.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine as an assembly is more than another learning opportunity, it is more than obedience to the Lord’s command, it is our spiritual union with Him and with each other.

Still an organic image, but switching from branches to flowers, here is John Bunyan.

Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other. (John Bunyan, Christian Behavior, quoted in Brown, 173)

We are alive in Christ; His life flows through us. We are not isolated from Him, and that means we are more than individuals. We are His tree, His garden, His body. Communion is not a reminder of our communion; the ordinance is not merely a time for truth-telling about communion. It is a reminder of Christ’s death which enables us to have communion, that His joy may be in us and that we may love one another.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Greater Harbor

If a harbor would be home to many ships, its shore must be broad. If a man would be host to many for a meal, he must not only have a large table, he must also have a large heart. As one of your shepherds, I love you, but the head of this communion table is Jesus Christ, the one who love us and freed us from our sins. His heart is great.

God has the greatest love. His love is constant; He is love according to the apostle John, and that is always true among the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, from before the world began. His love is potent; He does not just love those who love Him, He loves His enemies who hated Him out of rebellion and adopts them as His own. His love is costly, nowhere shown in its worth more than at the cross where Jesus took our sin on Himself, the just for the unjust.

The apostle Paul knew that it takes God’s own Spirit to teach us about God’s love, and it will still be more than we can fathom. Paul prays that God would strengthen us in power that we would have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19a).

When preaching on this passage, John Bunyan asked,

Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better?

All Loves Excelling, 37

In other words, if you could ask to be loved, could you have asked for more? The heart of Christ is great and great with love, and He invites us to commune with Him.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Small Snail Named Apollyon

In an initial draft of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote about Christian’s encounter with a small snail named Apollyon. It was an epic battle, and Christian won, but some of Bunyan’s friends thought it didn’t really work. One of them named Mr. Plot-be-bold said, “The battle part fits in the story of struggle, but fighting a snail doesn’t seem like anything special.” So Bunyan changed Apollyon into the large dragon-bear-human-fish monster we know about.

The previous paragraph was typed with my tongue in my cheek; there’s no edition where Christian fights a snail. My point is to say, you are not a better Christian because your battles are small. Of course, you are not a better Christian when you lose to a bigger enemy either.

We are in a spiritual battle, with actual enemies, within and without. If it’s not an ad on a web page, or your neighbor, it’s your own heart that tempts you so disobey. The more spiritually mature you are, the more sensitive you become to the danger of the temptations, and the more spiritually mature you are, the bigger the temptations are likely to be. Resist the devil and he will flee, but he’s going to come at you hard before that.

What is tempting you? How severely are you being tempted? Is it not just irritation but a seething anger? Is it not just wishful thinking but consuming envy? Is it not just a passing glance, but slavery to lustful thoughts?

The point is not to beat yourself up when the temptation is big, the point is to beat big temptations when they come at you. You can really lose, but you also have a high priest who Himself “suffered when tempted” so that “He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). He did more than defeat a dust bunny.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Truth-Tubes

Ignorance of God makes idolators or weak worshippers. Knowledge of God, like knowledge of one’s spouse, increases and intensifies love and praise for God.

But it is easy to seek knowledge as an end, or maybe more accurately to seek knowledge for the praise of our knowledge. This is a subject that I’ve spoken about repeatedly, a subject that I believe is relevant for our flock, and a subject that regularly requires repentance.

I’ve referred to seeking Bible knowledge as an end as trying to fill one’s “truth-tube” and those who do so as “truth-tubers.” This is not a criticism of truth, but rather an image intended to provoke our thoughts about what truth is for.

Imagine organized rows of clear and clean glass test tubes, all filled to various heights with fantastic colored liquid. What good are those tubes doing for each other, including the ones that are filled to capacity? They are close, but they are not connected.

The illustration of truth-tube came as I attempted to come up with the opposite of a great illustration used by John Bunyan in his book, Christian Behavior.

“Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other.”

The “dew of heaven” is grace and truth. We are “nourished” in order to “become nourishers of each other.” This is why we speak truth in love for sake of being joined as a body and growing as a body built up in love.