Tag Archives: biblical instruction

God’s Means of Grace: His Word

Bible Open

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him  of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear  without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

The central concern of the Bible is God’s reconciliation of man to himself. When sin polluted all of mankind through Adam’s transgression, God immediately promised a reversal of the fall through the work of the Seed of the Woman (Cf. Gen. 3:15). Since that time God, in his grace, has been sharing that message of reconciliation with his people through his word. To that end, the early New Testament church devoted itself to the apostolic teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Cf. Acts 2:42). Each of these four elements participate in God’s continuing work of communicating the benefits of redemption to his people. This post will specifically consider the continuation of the apostolic teaching within the church.

The apostolic teaching continues today through reading and preaching of God’s word. This post assumes the apostolic office ceased. To make the case for this assumption which would require a different post, which may be written another time. In this post we will simply assume it and in doing so recognize the centrality of Scripture to the church.

The reason the reading and preaching of the word is so central in the life of the church is because it is a continuation of that commitment to the apostles’ teaching. As the elders of a congregation read and/or preach this means of grace, God’s benefits of redemption are set before his people. The effect of preaching is guaranteed. In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that just as rain water the earth to grow crops, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but  it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” In other words, God’s word cannot be thwarted, either in awakening a soul, or hardening it. Acts 2:37-41 demonstrates this truth by showing the reaction of the crowd to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. There is an instant turning and crying out from the crowd, and a conversion of 3,000 souls.

Therefore, when we read God’s word we should approach it with the appropriate level of respect and reverence. It is God’s instrument to bring about conversion in the unregenerate, and work spiritual maturity in those he has already called to himself. Therefore, Christian, do not read it flippantly, but prayerfully. Seek to understand it, do not manipulate it. Apply it to your life, and do not disregard it.

The apostolic teaching is God’s gift to his people. It is an essential part of the conversion of sinners and spiritual growth of God’s people.

Questions to consider:

  1. In what way is the apostolic teaching continuing today?
  2. How does Isaiah 55:11 show the certainty of the effect of God’s word? What is it based on?
  3. Are you giving God’s word the attention it deserves as one of God’s ordinary means of grace?

God’s Ordinary Means of Grace

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation. (Westminster Larger Catechism #154)

The quote above is well worth considering. It seeks to address how the grace of God is conveyed to his people. In other words, how does God usually make his gifts in Christ stick for his people. In the first place, notice the emphasis on two things: outward and ordinary. The former indicates that, whatever is about to be described, the discussion is focused on the external workings. Faith and repentance are worked in the heart of a man, but those cannot be observed. These outward means are the tools God’s Spirit uses externally to effect the inward change only he can. The latter qualifies our observations to the vast majority of cases. God can, and at times has, used unusual ways to show his people the benefits of being in Christ, but the discussion in WLC #154 centers around the most common outward methods, or means.

In the second place, these external ways that God uses in the majority of cases to convey the benefits of Christ’s mediation to his people are his ordinances. The word “ordinances” is not commonly used in conversation today, but it simply means religious rites, ceremonies, or practices. So all the religious practices assigned by God are used by him to accomplish his purposes of making plain the benefits of our salvation. However, there are three particular ones that are singled out for emphasis. The reason this is done is based on Acts 2:42 which describes the religious practice of the apostolic church in its earliest formation: the apostolic teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. In other words, the apostles focussed on the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

In the third place, that early practice should not lead anyone to suppose there is some superstitious benefit given by simply listening to sermons, participating in the sacraments, and saying rote prayers. These are only the outward means God uses to impart the benefits of Christ’s work. The emphasis must be on God and his internal work. He is the One who makes these external practices effectual, or causes them to have an effect in the heart of man. God regenerates his elect, chosen people giving them a new heart. He converts them giving faith in Christ and repentance over sin. And these changes and gifts make the proper receipt of these ordinances possible. God uses Word, sacrament and prayer with real effect…for those in whom he works faith.

To think preaching, the discipline of prayer, or the administration of the sacraments will effect change on their own is superstitious. However, to fail to recognize God’s work through these external means is to minimize the significance Scripture assigns to them.

Questions to consider:

  1. In your own words define the following terms: outward means, ordinary means, and ordinances.
  2. How is God’s internal work necessary for the effectualness of the outward means?
  3. Do you hold the ordinary means of grace (the Word, sacraments and prayer) in high esteem?

The Worship of God’s People

bell tower

Having considered worship through our work and family worship, I want to conclude with some brief thoughts about corporate worship. In our worship at work we, as individual members of Christ’s body, live out our faith before a watching world. In our worship at home we, as parents, are responsible to lead our families in worshiping God. Yet when we worship corporately, in church, we are called to gather by God as his body to express our joyful praise and be fed spiritually.

Now some may expect a presbyterian pastor to begin a discussion about the Regulative Principle of Worship at this time. This doctrine teaches that God’s specific commands regarding worship forms our understanding of what should be included in corporate worship. I certainly agree with that theological statement, but I should prefer to take another angle in discussing corporate worship today. I want to consider several reasons corporate worship is significant.

  1. God commands it. In a day where individualistic worship on a deer stand is seen as a viable alternative to church, it is important to reiterate that God’s people gather for worship. Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some”. The book of Acts is replete with examples of believers coming together for worship (Cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). This pattern serves as a stark contrast to today’s view where church attendance is one of the optional activities of our week, rather than that around which we build our week.
  2. It is the delight of God’s people. The believer’s relationship with God flows from God’s pre-existing relationship with them. The Christian knows of God’s love for him and is therefore glad to come together with his new family, filled with adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, in order to praise and thank him for his precious gift to them. That is why David sings, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1). But what do our children see in us? Is corporate worship a joyful event for you, or is it something we simply do, or even worse, endure? The gathered worship of God’s people should be a joyful time when we come to delight ourselves in drawing near to God with the rest of the body of Christ.
  3. It is for our good. In corporate worship the ways that God shares his gracious gifts with his people are all present. Romans 10:14 stresses the importance of preaching, the central element of the worship service of any church worth its salt. Hebrews 10:24 describes links corporate assembly as one of the ways we stir each other up “to love and good works”.

With the Bible’s emphasis on corporate worship grounded in God’s command and the joy and upbuilding of his people, I would like to humbly suggest a change in our view of church. First, recognize corporate worship as the gift it is. God has given you a time to express your thanks to him and will feed your soul in the process. Second, if your church has morning and evening worship services, attend both. Do not satisfy yourself with worshiping God in his church 50% of the time. If you knew there was an ATM that dispensed $10,000 two times per day I am guessing you would make sure you were there on time each time.

To neglect the attendance of corporate worship makes a statement about how much you value it. So as God’s people, let us join with David’s joyful procession to the Lord’s house and take our families with us.

Worship at Home

father-son-1

This mini-series began by taking exception with the prevalent understanding of worship as that part of the church service in which we sing, or hear, moving and inspiring songs. But worship is the humbling of the creature before his Maker and Redeemer through faithful service to him as the only One deserving of such adoration. Because our worship is about the glory of God rather than our emotional experiences, worship is central in all of life. Last installment we looked at worship as it relates to the workplace. Today we will consider worship in our homes.

Family worship, is more complicated than workplace worship. We are usually not charged with the spiritual oversight of our co-workers or employees. Our worship in the workplace deals primarily with our expression of thanks to God in our daily employment. However, in our homes we are responsible for others. Parents are to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4, ESV). Husbands are to sacrificially lead their wives toward purity “by the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26, ESV). Family worship is not an individual matter, but includes a corporate element.

This corporate aspect can create additional challenges, because man cannot change the heart of another person. Putting our confidence in a methodology shows a trusting of men to do the work he cannot do. Instead fathers must cultivate in themselves a trust and faithfulness toward God’s plan for family worship. He has not called you to profundity, and yet this is usually the cause of stumbling. Men often want to make spiritual leadership profound, and when they fail to do so, abandon the project in disappointment. But God does not call you to be profound. He simply calls you to be faithful.

That means that, in your role as father and husband, your most important task is to read and teach God’s word. Some rarely gifted individuals can make these lessons profound every time. However, what is more important is that your children hear the instruction of the Lord, which is found in the Bible. You are the prophet of your home, declaring: “Thus says the Lord…” and trusting that as the rain comes down from heaven, so shall God’s word not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11) but accomplish all that God purposes either for judgement or for mercy. The more you practice this discipline, the more familiar you will become with God’s promises and requirements, and the easier it will be to make applications to your own family. However, priority number one is to establish a habit of reading God’s word in your home.

Outside the home, attendance at the corporate worship services of your local congregation will also lead the souls in your family. Leading your family in sitting under the faithful preaching of the word will make a strong statement to your children. It says to your children, “The worship on God and the preaching of his word is the one thing our family will never neglect, no matter what everyone else may be doing.”

The reading of the word at home and the preaching of the word at church are not innovations given to us by man. They are instructions given by God to his people. To lead our families in worship, we must always be grounded not in our own profundity, but on the omniscient and good instructions that come to us from God himself in the Bible.

Worship at Work

wrench

The contemporary use of the word “worship” often refers exclusively to the time of singing during the corporate gathering of the church. The emotions that the words and music provoke cause the person participating to feel like they have worshiped. However, the question is whether that is really worship as defined in Scripture. Worship is properly considered not primarily from man’s perspective but from God’s. Our opinions about what we have done are far less significant than God’s. The question for the validity of worship should be approached around whether God would recognize what we are doing as worship.

Worship, rather than a feeling we get through music, is a humble serving of God in all of life. In worship, a person defers to the Lord and ascribes glory to him. This deference is seen in Abraham going to Mt. Mariah with Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice at the Lord’s command. Worship is an external expression by the creature of the glory, majesty, and rightful dominion of the Creator. It is a joyful rehearsal of his covenant promise of redemption. It is a recognition of the insignificance of our desires and a training ground in which we are conformed by the Spirit to the image of Christ. And it is not only reserved for the hour of corporate worship at your church. Worship is for all of life: work, home and church.

So how is worship expressed at work? In Romans 12:1-2 the apostle Paul commands the brothers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, which is their spiritual act of worship. This act of worship involves a lack of conformity to the world, and a transformation of the mind to know the will of God.

In its simplest paraphrase, Romans 12:1-2 commands the surrender of all we do to God by discerning and implementing his will through Spirit renewed minds. In other words, to worship at work is to live according to the first commandment. There are to be no other gods before the Lord in the Christian’s workplace. What the Christian does at work is what God, in his providence, called him to do. Behavior at work should be determined by the extent to which it honors God. According to God’s Moral Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, workplace behavior should include:

  • Honoring authorities and treating subordinates with respect and fairness.
  • Refraining from sinful anger and hostility toward anyone at work.
  • Promoting proper propriety between those of the opposite sex.
  • Dealing with complete honesty with clients, employees, bosses, or suppliers.
  • Speaking the truth about our products, services and actions we have taken.
  • Being content with what God has provided and rejoice at the blessings given to others.

God says these things honor him. So if they are carried out in a spirit of love toward God and gratitude over the salvation he has purchased, then these will truly show the love of the Christ and be seen by God as a spiritual act of worship.

The Creator and His Creatures

the Creator seen in creation

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Psalm 24:1-2 (ESV).

There is a reason the Bible begins with creation. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is the creator of our world. Everything we see in nature has been created by God. More than that, from Colossians 1:16 we know God’s creative work extends beyond the visible into the realms of the invisible too. In short, God made all things and continues to hold them together. Because God is the creator and sustainer of all things, all things belong to him and are obligated to him. Understanding this to be true about God, there are several observations we can make about how we should then relate to our Creator with our time, treasure and talents:

  1. Time. So often we treat time as a commodity to be distributed as we please. However, in our work environments we do not behave this way. We do not check into work and decide to have some “me-time” in the middle of the board meeting or construction project. Our bosses ensure we accomplish our tasks for the good of the company. However, the doctrine of vocation stemming from the protestant reformation teaches that all our work should be done with God in view. Our time should not be spent with a horizontal orientation, thinking primarily about men. Rather, our time should be spent with a vertical orientation, thinking primarily about God. He made us and our work. So we ought to honor God with our time.
  2. Treasure. Since God made all things he is the owner of all things. Whatever we have we received from God’s hand. We live in a materialistic culture and our tendency can be to treat the blessings of this life as ours and to enjoy them exclusively for our own benefits. Yet Proverbs 3:9 charges us to honor God with our wealth. The question is not what we would want to do with our treasure, but what God would have us do with his treasure. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus charges us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That should be our orientation in the use of our money as well.
  3. Talent. Talents do not only describe the people who are gifted singers and musicians. Talents of all stripes are needed to strengthen the church. All church members have a talent which can be used to strengthen her. Some will be talented in ways completely conspicuous to others. Some have been given gifts to be used in very public ways. The talent given is less significant than the way it is used. We should use our talents wisely, to the glory of the One who gave them: our Creator.

God as creator is a significant theological truth. Our Creator is not our peer, but he is Lord of the universe. Since we also are part of his creation, we must recognize our obligation to him. He has given us time, treasure and talents to be used joyfully as we serve him. Yet our joy is not the primary objective in our living. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That statement, my dear friends, is not a suggestion. As his creatures, it is our obligation.

When to Say “I’m Sorry”

offended

The arrival of our first child often makes us doubt the theological accuracy of the sinfulness of man…for a couple of months. It does not take long before the addition of another sinner into our family to, in fact, clearly reveals the sin that is bound up in every person’s heart. Our little ones never have to be taught to rebel against mom and dad. As soon as they are mobile they begin asserting their own wills and when it runs counter to ours, the mentality is often: “Too bad for you, dad!” If the Lord blesses us with more than one child, these transgressions begin accumulate and pile up, and we must learn to deal with them. To navigate these waters it is important to understand the difference between saying “I’m sorry,” and asking forgiveness.

To say “I’m sorry,” is to make a statement of regret. It is an acknowledgment that we have caused something to happen and we wish we had not. In this statement of regret something is missing: acknowledgement of guilt. That which is lacking forms a proper gauge for when this expression should be used. Not all actions effecting others are sinful. For example, when we are holding a cup and it slips out of our hand and shatters on the ground, we were not being careless neither was breaking the cup our intention. It was an accident. A simple “I’m sorry honey. I’ll clean it up,” is a sufficient response. In other words, we say we are sorry when we accidentally do something do another person. However, there are times when saying “I’m sorry,” is not adequate. In fact, to say “I’m sorry,” in response to sin actually tries to minimize the sinful intent of our behavior.

One of the things that must be present in dealing with sinful behavior is an acknowledgment of guilt. In Psalm 32, David is dealing with the right process of confessing sin to God. He does not tell us to tell God of our regret, but says the following: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” David acknowledges his specific sins to the Lord and waits for his forgiveness. The same process is set before us in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is  faithful and just to forgive us our sins and  to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What is true in our relationship with God is also true in human relationships. When we have willfully sinned against our wife, or children, we should acknowledge our sinful ways to them and wait for them to grant forgiveness. We have to admit that we did exactly as we intended at that moment, and ask that they would graciously set our sin against them to the side.

In the conflicts in our homes this distinction is important. Too often our children will be content to express regret in saying “I’m sorry,” without any acknowledgment of guilt in asking forgiveness. We must teach our children to follow the right biblical pattern when it comes to addressing sin between them and God and them and people. Have them acknowledge their guilt before the one they offended, and wait for them to forgive. This process impresses what true repentance is on our children instead of minimizing their sin by allowing them only to express regret.

Family Worship Suggestions

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And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7, ESV)

The obligation of Christian parents to pass on the truth of God’s word is clear in God’s word. The problem is, we do not have an exact “game plan” of what that may look like. Beyond bringing our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV), how do we find the passage that gives us the checklist? Of course, no such list exists. Our task as parents is simply to set God’s promises and commands before our children so they might know who to love and how to love him (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #3). Below are some different ways we can teach our children diligently and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord:

  1. Catechisms. Catechisms, of course, do not replace the Bible, but summarize the teachings of the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism help your children understand the basic categories of theology, keeping them from error in what they believe and how they live. G. I. Williamson has written very beneficial study guides for each which can help you lead your families through a study of the catechisms.
  2. Bible reading. You may choose to read one chapter per day from the Bible with our children. Read a chapter a day until you finish a book and then start another one. Make sure you choose both New Testament and Old Testament books. If you do this daily, you will have 365 chances each year to teach your children what you are learning as you study God’s word for yourself.
  3. Sermon review. Each day you can talk with your children about part of what you have learned together during corporate worship. This method gives you a handy outline to start with and will help reinforce what was taught from the pulpit. All you need is a little note taking during Sunday worship and choosing several main themes on which to concentrate (see an example here).
  4. Topical study. The catechism is topical, but here I mean something else. Sometimes we may come across a certain theological concept we want to teach our children. Other times there is a certain behavior that crops up in our home. This kind of family worship takes time to address these issues over a span of a week or two.

I’m sure you can come up with more ways to lead your family in worship, but these four can help you get started with family worship. Don’t neglect your responsibility. Adjust what you are saying to the age of your children. Without your leadership in family worship, your children will only think of God’s word on Sunday, and that is simply not enough.

What Should I Do in Family Worship?

Amazing Grace

Last post we talked about personal and family worship as essential to the health of the family. Though we recognize the significance of family worship, sometimes the “how” of implementing this joyful duty is less clear. Below are some thoughts on what to include as we lead our families in worship.

Pray Together. Children learn how to pray from their parents. If they never hear us pray for anything other than the meal, how will they develop in prayer? For our children who are just learning to pray, we can supply some basic guidelines for their prayers. In our home, a staple for our youngest prayers is asking God to forgive their sin and thanking him for taking care of them. As children grow in maturity, they quickly learn to verbalize their own thoughts. Since these thoughts have various degrees of purity and faithfulness to God’s will, we should take time to instruct our children in prayer. Fortunately the Bible supplies the model in the Lord’s Prayer. Not only should we teach them to memorize the prayer, but also instruct them as to what the six petitions mean. Westminster Shorter Catechism numbers 100-107 provide great help to us.

Study Together. As basic as this truth may seem in a post on Family Worship it still must be said. Parents are to set the words and commands of God before our children (Cf. Deut. 6:6-7). We cannot fulfill this parental responsibility when the book in which the words are found is never opened. The next question in your mind might be: “But what should I study from God’s word?” I have some thoughts on that question, but it will wait until the next post. For now let us recognize that we must study the Bible with our children if we expect them to know it.

Sing Together. Even though there is a healthy range in musical ability across families, psalms and hymns should be sung in our homes. For some this task is easy due of the musical gifts the Lord has given. For others, this part of family worship is more difficult. In extreme cases, mp3s and CDs can provide the necessary scaffolding to be able to sing together. However, for the most part, we should pick up our favorite psalter and hymnal and worship God in song together, even if it is only a joyful noise. Even 3 year-olds can easily learn psalms and hymns. Once known, they will have the opportunity to participate in the church’s worship when those songs are selected by the pastor. As our children mature we can teach them to sing parts and have them accompany our singing with different instruments, all to the praise and glory of God.

Family worship can be a tremendous spiritual catalyst. As the Holy Spirit gives fruit, our children will learn how to pray, participate in congregational worship, and hear the very promises and commands of God. Do not deprive your children of that opportunity.

Don’t Worry. I Picked Your New Year’s Resolution.

Bible Open

Within the family context, God’s word provides us with the stability we need live for his glory. Therefore it is important that we are students of the Bible. Our personal worship is of most significance. From our private practice of Bible study we will build our leadership in family worship. Our teaching to our children will only be as meaningful as our personal worship is strong. So a couple of thoughts about these activities:

Personal Worship. Our personal study of God’s promises and commandments prepares us for our public practice of them. Now I know we should not read the Bible to pull up our Bible reading app and fool our phones into thinking we are good Christians. If we read for the praise of man or our smart phone app, we have received our reward. Instead, our reading should flow from a deep love for our Savior and a desire to know how we should express our love for him. Psalm 119 is a perfect example of how we should feel about the study of God’s word. The psalmist uses words such as “praise”, “delight”, and “wondrous”, to describe his study of God’s commands. As we give our attention to our Savior’s words, we can ask him to open our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law (Ps. 119:18).

Family Worship. We fathers must make sure to lead our families in Bible study each day. In doing so, we model how to study God’s word to our children. This task can be intimidating which tempts us toward dangerous and harmful extremes. On the one hand we may do too much. If we find ourselves coming to family worship with a 20 page, single spaced, heavily foot-noted treatise on the meaning of the wheel covered in eyes in Ezekiel 1, we are trying too hard. If that is our practice, we are teaching our children God’s word is too complicated and boring. On the other hand we can do way too little. If we find ourselves not doing family worship because we have to be at the next extra-curricular commitment for our children we are doing too little. The failure to practice anything teaches our children that hobbies are more important than God’s word.

So how do we make personal and family worship healthy, balanced and meaningful? Of course, we must practice it in the first place. But then, the Westminster Shorter Catechism #3 gives two simple questions we can ask of any biblical passage we read: 1. What does this passage teach us about what we should believe about God? and 2. What does this passage teach us about our duty toward God? Every passage will address either one, or both of these questions. Then take the time to explain what you are learning to your children. Teach them God’s word and pray that he would use your feeble efforts to open their eyes and see the truth of God’s promises in all their beauty.