Friday, October 10, 2008

The Gathered Church

The Gathered Church
Colossians 3:12-17 Part Two

Scripture Introduction:

Are you struggling in your walk with Christ? Perhaps you are lacking passion. You find it hard to read Scripture. Prayer seems dry. Evangelism is not even an option with your spiritual dryness. If you were to describe your spiritual walk it would be like a man stumbling through the desert trying to find a drop of water. Over your head you see buzzards swarming ready for your final fall so that they can have a little lunch. You feel spiritually barren; a wasteland. Numb to spiritual things. The world is looking more appealing every day. You do not want to live this way but you cannot seem to help it. What are you going to do to get back on track? I think I can help you give some advice—we give better advice to others than ourselves. Rather than this being you in a spiritual wasteland, let us pretend it’s your friend. What would advice would you give for this person to get back on track? Think about it for a moment.

Now, let’s change our story a bit. Here you have a man. A few feet apart from him in a mason jar you have his ex-hand. You get an exclusive interview with the hand. (Did I fail to mention that as we are imagining this—that body parts can talk?). The hand tells you about how he used to feel blood flowing through his veins. He felt so alive, so connected. It was rough sometimes. Occasionally the head would get mad because the hand did not quite cooperate. Occasionally the hand would get hurt because the other hand could not effectively use a hammer. But life was good. You felt alive. Now the hand begins to describe his life like a man stumbling through the desert, desperate for a drop of water. But he says that his case may be even worse—rather than stumbling through the desert he’s just laying there getting picked apart by buzzards without much hope.

So, what caused the wasteland experience of the hand? It was disconnected from the body its life source. Might I submit to you that the very same thing is true of you? In your list of advice for your spiritually dry friend did you mention that they ought to be vitally connected to the body of Christ. They ought to do more than just attend church—they ought to be active within the church. Did you mention that the only way for believers to grow is through being connected with other believers? I believe I have said it before and I will say it again: you will not effectively grow in your walk with Christ apart from the body of Christ. A hand severed from the body does not grow.

Tonight we will be looking at Colossians 3:12-17 and focusing on verse 15-17. As you are turning there remember the context. Paul has been encouraging the church at Colossae and reminding them that fullness if found in Jesus Christ alone. He warns them against the teaching of those in Colossae that are discouraging them and attempting to lead them away from the gospel towards legalism. In Chapter 2 Paul drops the gauntlet and reminds the Colossians of what Christ has done in the life of the believer. In Chapter 3 Paul says, “now that you have been raised with Christ” and “now that your life is hidden with Christ in God” live like it. Essentially what he is saying is you have been placed into a new community and transferred from the old one. Now change your clothes. Throw off the dead, dying, and dung covered clothes from the old world and put on the new. That is where we are tonight—putting on the new:


Sermon Introduction:

If it is very important for us to be an active part of this new community—the church, then we probably ought to define for a moment what the church actually is. Church is not a building. Church is an assembly or gathering of the “called out ones”. “Church” can happen whenever a group of girls that are believers meet with my wife at our house. “Church” can happen whenever a group of believing teenagers gathers in the youth chapel. “Church” however finds a more full expression in the local gathered assembly of believers. In Hebrews when it says not to forsake the assembly it is speaking of the gathering of the local assembly of believers. This is why you need to be in attendance in more than just youth group. You need to not only be actively in fellowship with your peers but biblically you need to be actively involved within the local body of believers—adults, children, etc. Finally, “Church” will find its most full expression in heaven when the universal church, “people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language, will come to worship before the Lord”.

Tonight, when we talk about church I do not want you to primarily think of church as a small group of believers gathering for a worship service or Bible Study. I also do not want you to primarily think of church as our gathering of teenagers on Wednesday evenings. I want you to think about the local assembly of believers within the local body of Christ. Not necessarily Sunday mornings or Sunday night but the gathered congregation as a whole. This is the Church that we are talking about. Hopefully through the introduction to this sermon and sermons in the past your have gathered the importance of gathering with a group of believers. But, this begs a question—what should happen whenever the local congregation gathers? What should the church “do” at these gathered assemblies? Before I launch into the answers I know that you have your own. You have your own preferences about church. There are probably some things about attending these gathered assemblies that you do not like.

What type of messages would you prefer the preacher to preach? Topical—where he picks a topic and tells you about it. Would you prefer “How to” messages? Do you want the pastor to go through one book at a time? Do you want him to slowly unfold the message of the Bible and make it relevant for your life? Should the preacher be energetic? Do you want visual aids like power point? Do you even want a preacher to preach—would you prefer an open discussion?
What should the church building look like? What type of carpet? What color should the walls be? Should we have a Cross somewhere? If so, where? Should the baptistery be elevated so everybody can see the baptisms? Should we use such modern technology as power point? What about the sound—should we have state of the art sound equipment or get by with what is necessary? Should we build on to accommodate more people?
At the beginning of the service should the pastor acknowledge the visitors some how? What about at the end? Should we give an altar call at the end of the service? Should we put the number of baptisms on a board? Should we display our tithes and offerings and attendance? How should we do tithes and offerings? Should we pass the plate or do it later? How often should we partake of the Lord’s Supper? When we do how should it be done?
And let us not forget the music. Should it be traditional? Should it be high-churchy with all the organs and candles and all that stuff? Should it be only hymns? Only contemporary? Should we use drama? What type of music should be sang? How should it be sung? Should we use musical instruments? How many? Should we try to blend all of these together so that we have a little bit of traditional and a little bit of contemporary? Some hymns and some praise and worship choruses. Should the choir sing? Should we have a choir? When should they sing? Where should they sing?

Now, these are only a few of the questions that a church has to face when they gather. There have been others throughout the centuries. Should we use icons—like statues of the Apostle Paul? Some of those have been resolved. Others, like the music and preaching questions, are forever being changed and rethought. These, and many others, are what have split churches. Many of these questions may not have one right biblical answer—like the carpet question. But in this text in Colossians 3 I think Paul gives us three principles for answering such questions. What should we do in Church? Or you can even ask it like this, when I go to choose a church what three things should I look for?

One last thing before we discuss these three things. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you are saying, “I don’t really care” to these questions—even though that may seem really holy let me submit to you that it is not. These questions are essential, and you are answering them even by your refusal to seek an answer. What I mean is this. The church is inundated (overflowing) with pew potatoes; people who sit on their rear within the gathering of the local body and throughout the overall life and ministry of the church. “I do not really care what the church does so long as I get fed”. That is the attitude and it is wrong. We must be very much concerned about the life of the Church and whether we as part of the Church are biblical. So, now lets look at three things a church ought to do in their gatherings.

I. A gathered church ought to be a peaceful church

In verse 15, Paul says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful”. The idea of thankfulness is one that you will find in every verse—we will come back to thankfulness in the end. For now we will focus on the peace of Christ.

Peace is something that we all long for, is it not? Peace is something that we would love to see in our world. Peace is something that we would love to have in our own hearts. You know what peace means but it is kind of hard to define. It’s one of those emotions like love that you just know what it is but words escape you when you try to express it. The word here for peace is a word that means joining together two things that are separate. When two parties are at war (separate) then they sign a peace treaty, they are joined together. Whenever there are contrary feelings in our souls and they are brought together we experience peace. Whenever we are separated and alienated from God and draws us to Himself and brings us into fellowship with Him we have peace. That is the peace that is being spoken of in this text; the peace of Christ--the peace that Christ provides and the peace of soul that Christ imparts to believers.

Essentially peace is reconciliation. This is what God has done through transferring us into this new community. He has reconciled us to Himself, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Or as Paul said in Colossians, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind…he has now reconciled…” But it is not only reconciliation to God that has happened. He has also reconciled us to one another and brought us into unity in one body. We have been reconciled racially, culturally, and socially. This is the essential point of Ephesians 2:11-22 that the elemental dividing wall of the people of Israel and the Gentiles has been torn down. As Ephesians 2:14 says of Christ, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”. This is the same thing that Paul is saying in Colossians 2:11, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

This is the peace of Christ, but what are we to do with it? What is the implication of this peace? This text says that we are to let it rule in our hearts. I want to bring a couple of things out from this phrase. First, notice that hearts is plural. So, you have all of these hearts with our opinions, our passions, and our drives, put together into this one assembly. Here at FBC New London we have some 200 hearts (depending on how you figure the numbers it could even be said to be 600) that are joined together into one body but we all are made differently. One person likes green carpet another likes hardwood floors. One person likes traditional music with a piano and an organ, another thinks the organ should be burnt and we should set up some drums and play contemporary music.

The picture is that all of these hearts are coming together into one setting. Now, what should take place with all of these hearts? How do we decide on green carpet or hardwood floors? We are to let the “peace of Christ” rule our hearts. The word for “rule” is the only time it is used in the New Testament. What it refers to is an Olympic judge; the guy that would award a medal or disqualify an athlete from his prize. This guy was the umpire. You can argue all you want but the umpire is the one that gets to make the call.

What this verse is saying is that when the church gathers it ought to gather in peace. Jim should not be ticked off with Jan. The young folk should not harbor bitterness to the old and the older folk should not harbor resentment of the young. There should be unity of peace. This verse is not saying that you should make individual decisions based upon whether or not you have “peace in your heart”. Perhaps you could find verses to support that theology but this is not one of them. This is speaking corporately. It is saying that we have been called into one body not 200, so with every decision, relationship, and gathering the peace of Christ ought to rule. As Sam Storms says, “A decisive factor in how you should conduct yourselves in relation one to another is whether or not the peace that Christ died to achieve and impart is preserved and promoted. When you are faced with tensions and potentially divisive decisions in the community of faith, give strong consideration to what will most effectively sustain the ‘peace of Christ’.”

This means that if you are not at peace with somebody in the body then you need to be reconciled with that person. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”. If you are not reconciled with one another then our worship as a body will be hindered. We are to function as one body not 200.

II. A gathered church ought to be centered on Christ and His Word

In verse 16 Paul gives the second thing that should define the gathered church: we should be centered on Christ and His Word. If anyone has a KJV verse 16 probably reads the “Word of God”. This is really interesting the way that we come up with our Bible translations. Why does the King James say Word of God and the ESV and other modern translations say, “Word of Christ”? The modern translations use something other than the Greek manuscripts that the KJV editors used. The King James uses what is called the Textus Receptus. To make a long story short they use a manuscript that compiles Greek and Latin manuscripts from a somewhat later date than what the modern translators use. In other words the ESV uses manuscripts that have been found since 1611 to translate their text, while the KJV uses only the manuscripts that were available at that time. In translating if you have what is called a textual variant the one that is older usually gets the props. In our particular case the older manuscripts read that which is translated as “word of Christ”. The newer manuscripts used by the KJV read “word of God”. How do we know what is right?

One of the principles for translating is that the one that makes the least sense is probably the original. At first that does not seem like it makes sense, but when you understand why we have these textual variants it makes sense. Textual variants sometimes happened whenever the copyists would make notes out to the side and then whoever copied the copy would put the note in as part of the original. So, the logic goes, why would somebody replace something that made sense with something that does not make as much sense? All of that to say more than likely this should be translated word of Christ.
What does that even mean? It means simply the word about Christ—in other words the Gospel. That which Paul said in 1:5, “of this you heard in the word of the truth, the gospel”. So, then what Paul is saying in verse 16 is that the gospel (and really all of Scripture relates to the gospel because it is all about Christ) ought to dwell in them richly. Again, this is not individual but corporate. This is speaking of the gathering of believers—the word of God ought to dwell—make its home in—the believers in abundance.

Now, we can take the second part of this verse in two ways. Is Paul saying that teaching and admonishing is something separate from the singing psalms? Or is Paul saying that the way teaching and admonishing happens by the means of singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Certainly it would be biblical to say the first one. We know that preaching was essential to the gathering of believers in the first century. We know from such places as 1 Timothy that the elder or pastor was supposed to “preach the word”. However, in this particular context I think Paul is actually saying the second—that the teaching and admonishing happens through the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

This is crucial for us to understand in all of our discussion about what music ought to be played in the church. According to this passage if it is not centered upon God in Christ and if it is not used for teaching and admonishing then it probably should not be played. I turn again to what Sam Storms says about this passage:

“At the core of our individual and corporate experience as God’s people must be the person and work of Jesus. The importance of this for today is easily seen with a quick glance at the predominant themes in our pulpits and on our platforms. Christ is largely absent! That’s not an overstatement. Obsessive preoccupation with self has usurped the place of Jesus in the life and ministry of countless churches. “

This is reiterated when we understand what Paul means by psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The psalms are more than likely the Psalms of the OT—but could also be referring to that which uses musical instruments. The hymns are songs meant to honor God. As Augustine said that if it is a hymn then: It must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. The spiritual songs could perhaps have been impromptu songs that are motivated by the Spirit of God that testify of His Greatness. Remember in the early church they would not have had a hymnal, or power point or anything like that. More than likely these spiritual songs are spur of the moment songs that are motivated by the Spirit and exalting to Christ. And they were done for the edification of the body and would have been done in an orderly and united fashion. Perhaps we could even say that this is where some of our modern worship songs would come into play.

One thing that ties all these three together is that they are to be centered upon the word of Christ. No matter how nice and precious the song makes you feel if it’s more about you and less about God then it’s probably not to be part of our gathering. Furthermore, if they are not done in a spirit of thanksgiving then it’s not true worship either. Notice that for it to be true worship then it must be sung, “to God”, “with thanksgiving”, “in our hearts”. Mindless and heartless singing is detestable to God and is not worship no matter what style of music you choose.

So, how is your worship? Is it passionate? Is it to God? Is it biblical? Is it centered on the word of Christ? Is your worship Christ-centered?

III. The gathered church is to be for the glory of God

I think I am going to preach on this text next week, so let me say this in passing before next time. The church is not about man. It is not about what you want, what you desire, what your opinions are. It is about you being fed. It is about you growing. It is about you enjoying God. But this happens not by focusing on you and making church about you…this happens by being swallowed up in a vision that is so much greater than yourself—the glory of God. Church is about reaching people. Church is about teaching people. Church is about ministering to our needs. Church is about you. But more than anything Church is about God and for His glory. That is the way to answer all of your questions.

So what are three things that define a biblical church—1) It is united. 2) It is Christ-Centered 3) It is glory of God focused.

In closing I want to return to the thread that runs through each of these verses—thankfulness to God. Why is it that God says be thankful, in one way or another, all throughout this text? I think that it is because we ought to be thankful because each of these blessings is a blood-bought purchase of Jesus Christ. How do we have unity in the church? How are we reconciled to God? How are we reconciled to one another? Because of the Gospel! What makes us Christ-centered? How do we even have an understanding of the word of Christ? How is it to dwell in us richly? Because of the Gospel! What will make us glory of God focused? The Gospel! We are to be thankful in all of these areas because they are purchased by Christ.

This is why if you are here tonight and separated from Christ you might attend the gathering of believers but you cannot rightly worship. You cannot rightly worship first of all because you have not been reconciled yet to God. You are not Christ-centered because you are focused on your self and not Christ. You are not glory of God focused. Until you come to know Jesus Christ you cannot right be a part of the gathering of believers. Church will be strange and boring to you. You need Jesus.

You need to be an active part of a biblical gathering of believers.

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