Yesterday we saw that the apostle Paul admonished the Ephesian believers to “walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Eph. 5:15-16). Time is precious. We have a wonderful illustration of this in antiquity. Kairos was the Greek god “of the fleeting moment”. There was a well-known bronze statue of Kairos by a Greek sculptor named Lysippos. It depicted Kairos with wings on his feet, a bushy lock of hair on his forehead and a bald spot on the back of his head. The epigram on this famous statue explained its meaning: “Who are you? Time and opportunity… why do you have a pair of wings on your feet? I fly with the wind… why does your hair hang over your face? For him who meets me to take me by the forelock… why is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now… take hold of me from behind.” Some opportunities come by only once in a lifetime; we should, in the words of the apostle Paul, make “the best use of the time”.
This brings us back to Ephesians 5:15-20. How should we redeem the time that we have been given? We have already seen that wisdom will “understand what the will of the Lord is” (v. 17). This calls for time in God’s Word. We have also seen that wisdom will “not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (v. 18-19). This calls for worship. The final component that Paul points out, is gratitude.
Verse 20 explains that a Spirit-filled life will not only worship, but also give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Dr. Paul Hartwig highlights three essential elements of Christian gratitude found in this passage: it is perpetual, universal, and evangelical. Let us look at each of these in turn.
Verse 20 says that we should be “giving thanks always”. Gratitude should be our constant, consistent, and continuous response to the providence of God. Giving thanks to God should not be an event, but a lifestyle. 1 Thess. 5:18 puts it beautifully: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Verse 20 continues by explaining that such perpetual gratitude is only possible if we understand that God should be thanked “for everything”. Some might object and say that God should be thanked in everything, but not for everything. The text, however, is clear: God should be thanked for everything. Nothing is excluded, good or bad, desirable or undesirable. How can we thank God for everything? Consider this: if God is in control, and if God is good, whatever God ordains will be for our blessing and his glory. Romans 8:28 says: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This does not mean that I understand all of God’s purposes, nor does it mean that I immediately experience the blessing. Giving thanks for everything means that I trust my sovereign heavenly Father, even when I don’t understand his ways.
This is what makes our gratitude uniquely Christian: “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20). The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the gospel, gives us the perspective and the basis for such gratitude. It is because we know that God used the tragedy of the cross to bring hope to sinful men, that we can be grateful for everything. God took Jesus to Calvary and he, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Moreover, we bring our gratitude to God the Father in the “name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. We cannot do this on our own. Our thoughts need to be shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our prayers need to rest on the grace of Jesus Christ. Our gratitude needs to be empowered by the glory of Jesus Christ.
This is how Christians respond in adversity. The apostle Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to do this while he was imprisoned in Rome. He wasn’t a fair-weather Christian, but a believer who knew how to walk in wisdom, making the best use of the time, worshiping and thanking God in the power of the Spirit and in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What will you do with this opportunity?
Because of Christ,
When the president announced a 21 day national lockdown starting on the 26th of March 2020, many people panicked. Stores were swarmed with anxious buyers and travellers hurried to get home as the country prepared to effectively shut down. Immediately people began counting the days, myself included. The initial lockdown would have ended on Friday, the 17th of April 2020, but on the eve of Good Friday the president announced that the lockdown would be extended to the end of April.
How should Christians respond? I’d like to take you to Ephesians 5:15-20. For the next two days we’ll look at this passage together. It won’t answer all our questions, but it will help us make wise decisions and to respond in a God-honouring way.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
The apostle Paul began Ephesians 5 with a simple, but profound call: “be imitators of God” (v. 1). How could we possibly imitate God? In most respects we can’t, but Paul does mention three things in this chapter that we can imitate. The first is love – God’s love being made visible in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1-7). The second is holiness – God’s holiness being made visible in a life of light (v. 8-14). The third is wisdom. Verse 15 says: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise”.
Wisdom, God’s wisdom, is not something that comes naturally to man, because we are born separated from God and our hearts are naturally inclined against him (Eph. 2:3). We are born fools. In chapter 4:17-18 Paul describes the unconverted as walking in “the futility of their minds” and says that they are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God”. Outside of God’s redeeming grace in Jesus Christ humanity is foolish.
So where do we get the wisdom we so desperately need? Wisdom is found in the Lord, who is himself the Author of wisdom. To gain such wisdom, and to grow in it, we must fear the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), study his Word (Psalm 119:99) and pray (James 1:5). And we now have the time to do it.
Note what Paul says in verse 16: “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Wisdom understands that time is precious and that we only have a finite amount of it. In Psalm 90:12 Moses prays: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Let’s do that. We have 168 hours in our seven-day week. Roughly a third of those 168 hours should be devoted to rest and sleep – around 8 hours a day. That leaves us with 112 hours. With many of us either working from home or not working at all, balancing those 112 hours becomes very difficult. By now many of us may have run out of projects that needed to be done around the house. You can only Spring clean your house so many times. What should we do with the remaining hours?
If we are to be imitators of God (v. 1) and if we should “walk… as wise” (v. 15), our priorities will be shaped by the Lord and his Word. Verse 17 says: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” To know what the will of the Lord is, we need to spend time in the Word. One of the complaints I hear often is that people don’t have the time to really study God’s Word. They squeeze it in here and there, but they don’t have time to really read and meditate through God’s Word. But we do now.
Another priority that you’ll pick up is worship. Verse 18-19 contrasts the drunken revelry of the world with the Spirit-filled worship of the church: “addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. When we spend time in God’s Word, where God speaks to us, it moves us to respond. When the Word convicts us of sin, we respond with prayerful contrition and repentance. When the Word reveals the glories of God, we respond with praise and adoration. The Psalms are a wonderful refuge in this time, as are those songs and hymns that have stood the test of time. Let them be the “background music” of your lockdown.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the last part of this passage. For now, remember to “walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time”.
Because of Christ,
On the 19th of February 1948 Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand was arrested on his way to church. His only crime was shepherding his flock and witnessing to others about his faith. He would spend 14 years in jail. His sole comfort, when all contact with family and friends was cut off, was the Word. Night after night he would console himself with verses stored away in his memory – something his communist captors could not take from him.
Stories like these illustrate the importance of memorizing Scripture. Here are five reasons every believer should memorize Scripture:
You may not live under the threat of persecution, but that does not diminish your need for God’s Word. Dallas Willard wrote: “As a pastor, teacher, and counsellor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture.” So, which passage will you memorize first?
Because of Christ,
Hear me out. What makes you get up early on a Sunday morning, get dressed, and drive to church? You may enjoy the music, the atmosphere or the coffee. Maybe you come for the youth program. Your friends may be at this church. You might even enjoy the preaching. These aren’t bad motivations, but on their own they aren’t enough.
What happens when you don’t have friends at church, the youth program isn’t running, and the coffee is bad? Do you stay in bed? There should be more to our church commitment than preferences and personalities. What should bring us to church?
Love for Christ: Jesus said that if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). His Word commands us not to neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25). His Word also reminds us that if we love him, we will love his people (see 1 John 4:20). You can’t love Christ by avoiding his people.
Love for his Word: When the church gathers it does so in obedience to the Word and to be instructed in the Word. The early church devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Paul sought to instruct the church in the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He also commanded Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). If you believe that the Bible is the sword that the Spirit uses to cut away sin and cultivate godliness (Heb. 4:12), you will want to be where it is preached.
Love for the glory of God: There is a reason why we call our it a worship service. The focus of our gathering is the glory of God. We praise God for his character and works (Ps. 103:1-5). We pray for God’s Name to be “hallowed”, his kingdom to come and his will to be done (Matt. 6:9-10). We preach so that his church can grow in their understanding of his glories (1 Cor. 1:23). We proclaim that the world may see his glory (2 Cor. 4:5-6). Sundays help us refocus on what really matters: God’s glory.
Love for the body: Because of Christ’s love for us, we love his people (Eph. 4:32). This love is more than mere sentiment; it reveals itself in service. It is not enough to live in passive tolerance of God’s people; Christ calls us to serve them. Gal. 5:23 commands: “through love serve one another.” You’ve received gifts to “serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10). The members should all “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). Care given and care received – it starts on Sunday.
These are just a few biblical motivations; there are others. The question you must answer, is: what brings you to church?
Because of Christ,
There are things that are simply too great for me. They are too great for me to comprehend or control. The plans and purposes of God are mysterious – I simply cannot wrap my head around them. Things happen in the providence of God – I cannot change them. I may wish to understand or strive to control, but ultimately I have to confess that I am just too small. Thankfully, I am not alone.
David had a similar struggle. There were many things that David did not understand and could not control. So what did David do? He relaxed, or more accurately: he rested in the Lord. Note what he says in Psalm 131: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.”
The Psalm starts with David humbling himself before the Lord. Lifting up your heart or raising your eyes signified pride (v. 1). Instead of overestimating his own abilities, David did “not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” This does not mean that David did not wrestle with the Lord or that he was indifferent. David thought great thoughts about God and he did great things for God. But David knew his limits. He understood that some things were just beyond him: beyond his understanding and abilities.
In those moments David did not become restless, anxious or frustrated. He “calmed and quieted” his soul (v. 2). How do we do that? He tells us in the final verse: “hope in the LORD” (v. 3). In those moments he rested in God, “like a weaned child with its mother” (v. 2). You don’t understand it all, but God does. You can’t do it all, but God can.
What will you do when you are faced with “things too great for me”? Take David’s advice: “hope in the Lord”.
Because of Christ,
Worship is a vital part of our Christian walk. Properly understood, it is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives. For the Christian, worship isn't an isolated event that happens on a Sunday morning - it is a lifestyle.
Worship does happen on a Sunday morning. Sometimes, however, even though we attend the service, sing the songs and listen to the sermon we don't experience it as worship. We experience it as drudgery or duty. Why?
One possibility is unconfessed sin. We know that God extends forgiveness to those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ. That is how any relationship with the Lord starts, but it is also how it grows. God calls on us to confess our sins as part of our growing relationship with God (see 1 John 1:9). Jesus also taught us to make confession a part of our prayers (Matt. 6:12).
Why would we have to confess if we've already been adopted into God's family? Take marriage as an example. When I sin against my wife it does not change the fact that we are married, but it does affect our relationship. Our marital status has not changed, but our experience of the joy, intimacy and trust that should accompany marriage has taken a blow. Confession and forgiveness restores the relationship.
Unconfessed sin hardens the heart and hinders worship. David experienced the cold prison of unconfessed sin, but he also experienced restoration: "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." (Ps. 32:1-5).
Jesus Christ became a man, lived a perfect life, died the death that we deserved to die and rose from the dead, thereby securing the forgiveness of sin and eternal life for all who trust in Him. Don't hesitate: confess your sins and rejoice in his forgiveness.
Because of Christ,
What stands in the way of experiencing worship? Worship, properly understood, is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives. We've been focussing on one special expression of worship: our Sunday worship service. However, this weekly expression of worship should not, in fact cannot, be divorced from the rest of our lives.
Our Sunday morning worship is just one part of our Christian lives. The rest of our lives should be as committed to acknowledging Christ as our Sunday service is. If that is not the case, the problem is not the service - the problem is us.
In James 2:17-20 we are warned that a faith that is not accompanied with works is "dead." True worship calls for a living, vibrant faith and such a faith can only grow in the atmosphere of obedience. A dead faith cannot feel and cannot experience true worship.
Peter also alluded to this when he admonished husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honour to them because they are fellow heirs with them of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). Then he adds this warning: "so that your prayers may not be hindered." Clearly, when husbands do not honour Christ in how they treat their wives, their prayers will be hindered. Again, true worship is hindered by disobedience.
Sunday worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ. If we aren't conforming to the image of Christ, if we aren't acknowledging the Word of Christ in our lives, crucial elements of true worship are missing.
In short, don't just worship on a Sunday - worship Christ by following him every day of the week.
Because of Christ,
In our last article we started a new series on worship - specifically experiencing worship. Worship, properly understood, is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives, but in this series our focus will be on one special expression of worship: our Sunday worship service.
On a Sunday worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ. Christ is at the heart of worship. Which brings us to an important point regarding worship: if we want to experience genuine worship we have to be Christ-centred.
In Heb. 13:15 we are told: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." Worship acknowledges Christ's name. How do we acknowledge Christ's name?
The word translated "acknowledge" above is sometimes translated "confess" or "declare". In 1 John 4:2 it is written: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God". And in Rom. 10:9 we read: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Acknowledging Christ has two aspects. Firstly, it means that we know who Christ is (Jesus Christ has come in the flesh). Secondly, it means that we respond appropriately to him (confess him as Lord).
If you really want to experience worship, get to know Jesus better. This is why we strive for Christ-centred preaching and why you should pray for the ministry of the Word here at SBC. Also, as you grow in your knowledge of Christ, ask the Lord how you can properly respond to that knowledge. How does Christ's humanity give you hope? How does Christ's exaltation order your life? What does it mean to confess Christ as Lord?
These thoughts are the fuel of true worship.
Because of Christ,
A couple of years ago I was at the Passion conference where 6000 young adults were gathered together, praising God. The stated aim of the conference was to encourage people to worship Christ. It was almost overwhelming: 6000 students sang: “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God, forever”.
God judges the heart, so we’ll leave it to God to judge their sincerity. But it made me wonder: why can’t Sunday services be like that? Most people would blame the service, but that would be dishonest. If we can only experience worship with great music and big crowds the problem might lie elsewhere. The problem might be us.
What exactly is worship? Worship in the proper sense is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in all of our lives. But I want to focus on what happens on a Sunday. Worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ.
Col. 3:16 states that singing is part of it, but not just singing. Everything in the service should be an act of worship, even the sermon. Worship is the earthly expression of our heavenly vocation: glorifying God and enjoying Him for ever.
What needs to happen for us to experience worship in that way? First, we must have a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Deut. 6:4-5 made it clear that only those who love God can truly worship him (see also Ps. 95:6-7). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), or truly worship Him.
Do you know the God you claim to worship? Have you put your faith in Him and Him alone? That is where true worship starts.
Because of Christ,
Dear Strand Baptist and friends
I want to write a few words to you today about congregational singing; and the godly idea I want to highlight is 'singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God' (Colossians 3: 16). The reason I would like to briefly ponder this verse is because of the fact that in our contemporary Christian culture today the voices of God's people are being drowned out by electronic technical instruments. This biblical injunction needs to be heard afresh today in the light of trends in the church. When Heather and I visit other churches when away from SBC, one of the most startling things is the level of church music. On the Sunday prior to my return to SBC I visited a nearby church, arriving 15 minutes before the service (making sure I practice what I preach!). Though there was not a band, there was some 'foreground' music playing. It was so loud I struggled to hear the people welcoming me and had to nearly shout to be heard! Time and again I have been noticing that a shift has taken place in many churches, where the band is taking the centre stage and the congregation a back stage, the instruments dominating the voices of God's people. Naturally I was glad to be back at SBC!
Now, let me say that this is not a sign that I am loosing touch with 'where things are at' today or am just making a personal judgment where there should be liberty and tolerance. No, the fact is that the way of doing church in too many churches is determined more by the culture of the world than the culture of the Word. Congregations are turning into passive audiences instead of active singers. For this reason, I am becoming more and more convicted that congregational singing needs to become the dominant method of music in the church today. Of course that does not mean that instruments are out (or that I am rationalising our present situation at SBC) it just means that music must subordinate itself to the voices of the people of God rather than supplant them. Too often the 'band' has been the tail that wags the dog in congregational singing. I think there needs to be a singing reformation in today's church when God's people will not be happy with the method of music in the church unless the voices of the congregation can be heard above the music. This will reverse the present trend where the style of music becomes the key criteria either for keeping people in a particular church or else for sending them away. It will also facilitate the important biblical (and baptist) conviction that the gathering of God's people is an act of Christ-like active service to all, and not a passive observation by the many of the few.
In the open-heaven visions of the book of Revelation, we have many glimpses of angels in heaven singing the praises of God and the Lamb, but no instruments. So, let's begin to prepare for going there and come this Sunday to sing from our heart the high praises of the Lord.
Love in Christ,