I want to share, just as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, some things that are on my heart, just briefly. We heard a line in a song earlier tonight, “Dear Lord, I give myself away. Tis all that I can do.” The last line of the hymn, “At the Cross.” “Dear Lord, I give myself away. Tis all that I can do.” I’ve sung that for years, but for some reason it hit me very hard tonight to hear that beautiful statement.
When I think about the cross of Jesus Christ it’s easy for me to get emotional. It’s easy for me to have certain feelings of gratitude and worship and praise. But what God is after is the reality of that statement, “Dear Lord, I give myself away. Tis all that I can do.” When we come to a time of worship like this, a time at the Lord’s Table, a time when the music has sensitized our hearts to think about the Lord, it isn’t just that emotion, it isn’t just that thought, that praise, that worship that the Lord wants, He wants us. He wants all that we are to be given away in abandonment to Him. And I guess that’s really the burden that a pastor carries in a church, that the people would so live to give themselves away to God.
I was reading earlier today the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, his second letter, the 11th chapter, and Paul lists there all of the difficulties of his ministry, and then he adds in verse 28 that the most difficult of all was the care of the church or in his case the churches, the care of the churches. Now what do you think it was that he was carrying in his heart? What was it about the care of the church that in many ways was worse than being beaten with rods, worse than being whipped, worse than being shipwrecked, worse than being in peril of robbers, worse than all of these things? I believe he articulates it most beautifully in Colossians chapter 1 when he says that he longs to see every Christian made complete in Christ or when he said he was in travail till Christ be formed in his people.
It is the heart’s desire of the Shepherd of the sheep that they totally come to the place of commitment, of abandoning themselves to Christ and His purposes and His cause. And no one knows better than a pastor that people can be busy, they can be good people, they can be active to some extent in the church, they can be living religious lives, they can be coming to church and worshiping the Lord, and yet still miss what is essential because they don’t really abandon themselves totally to Christ.
And so I thought just with that as sort of an introduction, I wanted to share the five things that are for me the care of the church. This is what I care to see in you, and these are the things that no matter what else you see, if you don’t see these, there’s anxiety in your heart.
I suppose there are many people who come to church, and I guess for them it’s being there that is enough; and they’ll come at their own pace and maybe even in addition to their normal pace when something special happens. And maybe there’s a certain token involvement or activity, but there's not that abandonment, and consequently we have those birth pangs, that travail of soul until Christ be fully formed in an individual. And after all, since in Hebrews it says we have to give an account for every one of you, we have a great responsibility. Let me give you five things. You know them; they’re just reminders.
The first thing for which I care is that there be purity in your life, purity in your life. Over and over again in the New Testament we are called to purity. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 it says, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” – cleansing ourselves, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. The great desire that I have for you is that you be pure in your life, that you be holy in your life, that you manifest godliness in your life; and that means obedience. And that means when you sin and when I sin there must come confession and repentance turning from that sin.
I believe that it is critical if we are to live holy lives, that we spend time communing with a holy God. And it’s very basic and yet it seems that we need reminder. There must be a faithful, daily consistent prayer life, when you draw yourself into the presence of a thrice holy God, sensing in a time of awe and wonder His infinite majesty and purity. That’s one important reason why 1 Thessalonians 5 says, “Pray without ceasing.” It isn’t a string of unceasing demands; It is a life of unceasing communion with the living God.
And secondly, and basically as well, we’re all very much aware of the fact that in order for us to have a pure life, David said that he must hide the Word in his heart that he might not sin. There must be faithful study of the Word of God, and I trust you’re, at this point in your Christian life, daily in the Word of God, every day. Personal study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. It isn’t activity that you long to see, it isn’t just attendance that you care to see, it’s purity that comes by constantly being in the Word and constantly communing with a holy God.
Secondly, another thing for which I care is worship, that your life be a worshiping life. Psalm 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the beauty holiness.” And I guess as I think about worship, and you’ll remember the series I did some time ago, there were two aspects of worship that are important. First and foremost is worship from the heart. I care that you worship God from your heart; that when you’re not here you worship God; that when the service isn’t everything you thought it ought to be, you worship God; that when you come here, you come not to get but to give to Him adoring praise; that when you hear the wonderful music like you heard tonight, you are able to follow in the words and in the beauty of the melodies a train of thought that lifts you into the very presence of God; worship from the heart.
And secondly that you worship in the fellowship. Worship from the heart is one element of it. The other element is that you worship in the corporate fellowship of God’s people. For He inhabits the praises of His people, and as we come together collectively, in a very special way we become the habitation of the Spirit, and there is a uniqueness to the corporate worship of God’s people. And frankly it burdens me that for some people faithfulness at worship time on the Lord’s Day seems to be a difficulty. Here whenever it’s convenient, not here if it’s not convenient; here if they decide not to go somewhere else and do something else. And they lose that great sense of faithful presence with God’s people that is so strengthening.
When I traveled across this country over that last two weeks, I met people – I can’t even number them all – who said to me basically the same thing people say to me all over this nation. We listen to the radio or we get the tapes or we listen to other Bible teachers on the radio or we read books by men of God, but we have no place where we can go and really feel we are worshipping God. Our church is not committed to that.
One young man came up to me this morning and said that he, with about seven or eight other men, has begun to meet once a week to pray for their church, and the leaders of the church are threatened by such activity. You need to realize the tremendous heritage you have here to come together with God’s people faithfully on the Lord’s Day as we have been commanded, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together and to worship God. And you need to learn the faithfulness and the discipline of that expression of corporate worship. Even when I’m not here I’ll find my way on the Lord’s Day into an assembly of God’s people and find myself, in any assembly where He is loved and exalted, completely at home with those people, though it may not be all that worship here is. And so my desire for you is that you worship from the heart and that you worship in the fellowship faithfully.
Now I know we are a part of a transient society, and I know we’re a part of a lot of very mobile lifestyle, where people come and go and move rather whimsically about, especially in California where the roots aren’t very deep and we have no loyalties to God’s people. And I guess it’s also true that many people who’ve been Christians for a long time feel it’s time for them to take a vacation now and then from the worship. And there are times when we can enjoy being in other places, but my desire for you is that you worship from the heart and in the fellowship. I believe that this church ought to be filled every week by all God’s people who come with a hunger for His people, His presence, and His Word.
Thirdly, another thing which expresses care in the church is the care that I have, and I know the other elders have, that you fellowship, not only worship but fellowship. I remember so visibly in my mind the picture drawn in a book I read years ago on fellowship, in which a man had not been coming to church. He hadn’t been attending a class. They just didn’t have the time to always be faithful, and the pastor went to call on them. They were sitting behind a hot fire, keeping warm in the winter and talking about the need for the man to be in church, to be fellowshipping with God’s people, to be as Hebrews 10 says, “Stimulating one another to love and good works.” That’s why we don’t forsake our assembly.
And the man apparently wasn’t get the message, so the pastor took the tongs that were hanging beside the fireplace, pulled the screen open, reached in with the tongs, pulled out a live coal, and set it on the hearth and closed the screen, and in a matter of minutes the coal had grown cold. And he said the absent parishioner, “You see what happens when you isolate yourself. This occurs in your spiritual life.” You need the stimulation. You need the fire that is passed from one believer to the next. You need the accountability; you need the exercise of mutual ministry. We provide for you flocks; we provide for you fellowship groups on Sunday morning. And for some reason or other, there are many people who just don’t feel the need for this, and I guess maybe it’s because, again, they may come expecting to get instead of inspecting to give.
Some years ago in one of our staff meetings, one of the staff wanted to give us a demonstration. And so he had a whole lot of pieces of paper cut up in odd shapes, and the idea was that we were to be able to get all of the pieces and put together a whole from the various pieces, and the key to doing it was to give away your pieces. And it was all prearranged except with a couple of staff people who came in, and all they did was grab pieces in order to try to win, and they couldn’t accomplish anything. The whole thing was built around everybody giving away their pieces until the whole thing was put together. And I think that illustrated to us that day how important it is that we come to give ourselves away, in a flock, fellowship group, a Bible study, a class, a prayer time, whatever it is. You need that fellowship; you need accountability. That’s right, you need somebody poking their nose in your life making sure it’s the way it ought to be. I need that.
Whenever I take a trip, I always take someone with me so that we can mutually stimulate one another to love and good works, so that we can hold one another accountable, so that we can be together to pray together, to talk together, to minister together, to share together, because that is an enriching time. We need that fellowship. When I sometimes look into those adult classes and I see the absentees and people who aren’t there, I wonder if people really understand how important that it is that they fellowship and how much there are people there who need them.
A young couple came to me this morning in the visitor’s line and said, “We’re brand new here and we’re so excited about that new young married class next week. Oh, we want to go.” And I thought, “Now there’s some people looking for a ministry.” A young man came up to me, just a handsome young man, and he was introduced to me as a first-time guest this morning. Last Sunday night he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. His wife had just left him and he slit his wrists. Thank God he lived. He attended the fundamentals of the faith class this morning and he’s probably here tonight, because he said he was going to come, and he needs you and he needs me to help hold him up. And the world is full of people like that, and a lot of them are right here, and we need each other in fellowship.
Fourth, there is the care also that you be engaged in ministry, ministry. Early on in the life of Grace Church we talked a lot about spiritual gifts. We talked a lot about ministry, using your gifts, working for the Lord, giving to the Lord of your substance, and I don’t want that to change. I want you to be involved. Another lady came through the first-time visitor’s line, and she wasn’t a first-time visitor, they’ve been coming to the church, a young lady. She and her husband had brought a couple that was here for the first time, and she had in her arm a whole pack full of children’s material. And I said, “You must be working with the children.” She said, “Oh, yes.” She said, “Last week I started with the four-year-olds.” I had never met her, but I thank God for her, and I told her that; and all of you who have four-year-olds can be thankful, and the rest of us, for those who work with our children too.
But all of us are called to a ministry, and we need to be aggressively abandoning ourselves to that which God has gifted us to do. And I think about that in terms of our giving too. This has been a very difficult year in our giving. It’s been difficult economically for everybody. God has sustained us in many ways. In fact our giving now, I understand, is about ten percent over what it was last year, but that’s the lowest percent increase we’ve ever had, but it’s still an increase, and we believe that when God provides the money, we get inside the amount He provides. We don’t beg for more. And so whenever I mention the idea of giving to anyone, it isn’t so that we can have more money to do what we want, it’s so that you can understand the stewardship that God is asking of you that you might enter into His blessing. It is difficult. We have many needs, and we’ve cut back many, many things; because while the giving has increased, it hasn’t increased in proportion to the costs. And so we want you to prayerfully look to that as you desire to fulfill God’s will in the area of your giving.
And then lastly, I care also that you be involved in evangelism. First Corinthians 15:58 says we’re to be, “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Always. “For we know our labor is not in vain in the Lord.” And part of that is to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Lord Jesus and making disciples out of them, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. I really believe we need to be about the business of evangelism.
I’m beginning, and I hope you are too as we study Matthew, to get a vision of the lost and damned people of the world on their way to Hell. When I went to the pastor’s conference last week in Chicago, I preached on Hell to those pastors, and I said in the very beginning, I said, “How long has it been since you preached a sermon on Hell?” And there was a dead silence, just a hush. I think it bore a certain amount of guilt in it, that men had not proclaimed that needed truth.
And I’m concerned also about our baptismal services. You know, they are such a marvelous time, marvelous. People come into the baptismal water and they give their testimony, and you’re not here to hear it. There’s a group of people always here; many of them are unsaved, because they’ve been brought by the people being baptized. It’s so important that we support these people, that we encourage them, that we show how excited and thrilled we are that God is adding to His kingdom. If you can’t get excited about that, something wrong with you.
And when these people come in our night of baptism and they declare their faith in Jesus Christ, we ought to be here to celebrate. That is the coronation. That is the glory day. That is the victory day of all victory days. And if you’re not a part of that, I wonder if your heart hasn’t grown somewhat indifferent. Now there may be reasons that you can’t control, but if you can, I care that you be here; because I think nothing will stimulate your commitment to evangelism any more than seeing God transform other people’s lives. It’s a powerful thing.
And we don’t ever have a baptismal service when somebody doesn’t get saved there. It’s a great opportunity for you to bring unsaved people. Next time we have a baptism, just covenant with the Lord you’re going to bring an unsaved friend. It actually is a dynamite experience for someone who doesn’t know Christ, to hear testimony after testimony after testimony how God has transformed people’s lives.
And I think you ought to bring unsaved people all the time too; Sunday morning, Sunday night, any time, you ought to be dragging around a whole string of them, just in general, so that you can bring them to the hearing of the gospel of Christ. The care of the church – we care for purity; we care that you worship; we care that you fellowship; we care that you serve; we care that you evangelize the lost. And I believe you care too; I really believe you do.
And we all fight the same battle. Sometimes I don’t do what I know I ought to do; sometimes you don’t either. But we can’t make a habit out of that, can we? And somewhere down the path you say, “That’s enough. I’m going to change the habit pattern. I’m going to do what I ought to do. I’m going to make the kind of commitment God knows I need to make.” And maybe it could begin at the Lord’s Table tonight. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Our Father, as we come now to this Your Table, we’re reminded again of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to die for us. Lord, we do want to see Him tonight, the crucified Christ. We want to remember what He’s done in our behalf. And Lord we pray too that you’ll cleanse our hearts. Maybe there is impurity, maybe we haven’t worshiped as we ought, maybe we haven’t been faithful to fellowship and to serve and to proclaim the gospel. Forgive us. Wash our feet. As You’ve already cleansed us when we were redeemed, wash our feet, and use this time at Your Table to prepare our hearts. We know through the apostle Paul, You said we can’t come unworthily to this Table or we’ll bring judgement on ourselves. And so Lord we will be pure; we will be cleansed.
Help us to be honest enough to names the sins that we’ve committed and seek forgiveness; sins of omission and commission; sins of temper, of hard heartedness, unbelief, presumption, pride, unfaithfulness, lack of zeal for the glory of Christ, bringing dishonor on His great name. Sins of deception; injustice; untruthfulness; impurity in thought, word, and deed; covetousness. Sins of hording our substance, squandering our substance. Sins in private; sins in the family; sins in the quiet place; sins in the busy place. Sins in the study of the Word and the neglect of it, in prayer irreverently offered and often coldly withheld.
Sins in time wasted, yielding to Satan, opening the heart to his temptation. Sins that quench the Spirit; sins that grieve the Spirit; sins against light and knowledge, against conscious and the restraining Holy One, against the law of love; sins unknown and known, felt and unfelt, confessed and unconfessed. Wash us from them all.