Christ’s Church… Loves God’s Word
The foundation of who we are as a church, and the guide for all that we do, is God’s Word.
If someone asked you what the key characteristics of Christ Church were, I wonder what your answer would be? If you had to boil down what it means to be the church into a few words, what would you say? What are the essential things it means to be God’s people gathered in this place? This week, we’re getting into a series that looks to answer those questions. We’ve selected six traits of the church, of Christ’s Church in general, and of Christ Church Anglican, Echuca. It’s entirely likely that you might think of things other than celebrating, loving God’s Word, praying, caring, reaching out and giving. If so, let me know. If we can’t fit in into any of these six, the series might go a bit longer!
We did start this series last week with Christ’s Church Celebrates. Normally it’s the one I’d put at the end, but it fit in well with our 150th. Today we come to what’s really first and foremost; Christ’s Church loves God’s word. Let’s pray as we look at what that means together.
The Word of God is so foundational and fundamental to the church that Martin Luther once wrote that:
Wherever you hear or see the Word preached, believed, professed and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica (Christian holy people, that is the church) must be there. And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word.
What Luther is saying, is that if you found a church that didn’t preach, believe, profess (that is proclaim to others) and live out the Bible, then it wouldn’t really be a church.
Why is it that the Bible is so foundational? Firstly, because it tells us who God is. Secondly it tells us what God has done, and thirdly it tells us what we should do.
The first half of the Psalm 19 declares that creation reveals something about its Creator.
1The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
But that knowledge only gets us so far. As the second half of the Psalm, which we’ve read together, makes clear we also need God’s Word. If all you had to go on was what you could see of me, and the bits and pieces I’ve left behind, you’d only barely get to know me. You might be able to make some assumptions about what I was like, but to really know me you’d have to talk with me. You’d have to listen to my words, what I said and how I said them. The same is true with God, there’s only so much we can learn or infer from his creation. If we really want to know him, we need to know and love his word. It’s only through listening to God’s word that we discover how loving, gracious and holy he is.
What’s more, as Paul writes to Timothy the Bible, the sacred writings:
15… are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
It’s only in the Bible that we learn of what God has done for us. The foundation for our existence as God’s people is knowledge that God has saved us. The only path to salvation, to forgiveness of sins, to eternal life with God comes through faith in Christ Jesus. And it’s only God’s Word that tells us what that looks like!
The Bible doesn’t just tell us the way to salvation, Paul goes on to reminds us that:
16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Let’s just think about some of the implications of what’s Paul’s saying here for a moment. All Scripture, every text of the Bible, is inspired by God. Both the Old and the New Testaments. Note that he’s not saying every word is dictated, that it has come direct in it’s form from God, but that it’s inspired, literally ‘God-breathed’ through the mouths and hands of his servants! There are lots of things that I’ve read that felt inspired, words that were moving or motivating. But to tell the truth I’ve forgotten most of them. But given it’s divine source, why wouldn’t you hang onto every word God has had written?
And Paul says that every text is also useful! Paul’s saying we can’t, we shouldn’t neglect parts of the Bible. It’s one of the reasons I’ll always seek to keep our preaching program balanced, not neglecting any part of God’s Word. While we do that publically, we also need to watch our personal study of the Bible. In your reading do you favour one book, or part of the Bible over another? It’s easier to read the gospels, some bits of the New Testament, the Psalms and Proverbs, but Paul says every text is inspired and useful. When was the last time you read Amos? Or Numbers? Or Revelation? I’ve always found a reading plan like this useful. It’s got a box for every chapter of the Bible, which you can tick off as you read them. Rather than telling me what bits of the Bible I should read next, it helps me to see what I haven’t yet read! It helps me make sure I’m not neglecting any part of God’s word. If reading isn’t your thing, why not try an audio bible? I’ve put a website on the back of the readings sheet where you can download one for free. If you want I can put them on a CD for you!
Paul goes on to tell us what God’s word is useful for. Because all scripture is inspired by God, it’s useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. God’s word teaches us the truth. It warns us when we’re veering away and corrects us when we have strayed. It shows us how we should live. That involves submitting to it, doesn’t it? When we read God’s word we can’t sit in judgment over it, picking just the bits we like or agree with. We have to sit under it, letting it dictate to us how we should live.
To most people in our post-modern world, this is inconceivable. Being told what to do by anyone, let alone by God, sounds oppressive and offensive. But the writer of Psalm 19 says that the law of God revives us, the precepts of God make our hearts rejoice. The words of God are more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold. They are sweeter than honey that drips from the comb. God’s words tell us how we can have life, and how we can live it to the full and so they’re more precious to us than anything!
And it’s God’s word that makes us proficient, that fully equips us for every good work. Matt was here on Friday doing fixing up one of the spotlights in the hall. If you looked in his van, you’d find quite a spread of tools. I’m sure there’d be a drill and a multimeter, but there’s a whole bunch of other things I couldn’t name. Now I’m sure that Matt might be able to get many of his jobs done with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, but probably not. As Christians we need the right tools if we’re to be ready for every good work that God calls us to. We need to be equipped with God’s word if we’re going to carry out his will in the world.
Joshua had a big task to do, leading God’s people into the promised land. Which is probably why God told him so many times, ‘be strong and courageous.’ But did you notice in our first reading, how Joshua was to be strong and courageous? It was by basing his life around God’s word. That’s the only way he could do what God called him to do. God’s word was to be his constant companion and guide:
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. – Joshua 1:7
Do you see that reading and knowing God’s word is not enough? It’s no accident I didn’t call this sermon, Christ’s Church Reads God’s Word. We need to apply what we read to our lives. That’s the point of the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 7 isn’t it. The wise man is the one who hears his words and acts on them. Jesus says we’re foolish if we hear God’s words and don’t act upon them!
As Christ Church how do we learn from God’s word? In part it comes from the pulpit. We have a history of those who’ve faithfully proclaimed the message, convincing rebuking, encouraging with utmost patience in teaching from up here, including many of my predecessors who were here last weekend. Although I have discovered that the second ever incumbent here faced a rough time due to his preaching. I was a bit nervous when I first read this! I’m not sure if it’s that his preaching was bad or non-biblical, or if the fault lay with those in the pews, but thank you for your positive response so far! I also have to say I think one of the great things about Anglican worship is that not just the sermon but the whole service is structured around God’s Word.
Another way we keep growing in our knowledge and love of God’s word is by studying it with others. In small groups we learn from others, we teach others, we can be inspired, encouraged and challenged by others. That’s why I was going to encourage everyone who could make it to come along to KYB on a Tuesday. Except I discovered a few weeks ago that it’s just for women! So I encourage all the women here who can get along to join them. But I’m also really excited to announce today that Sarah and Kate are starting another women’s small group, which will meet in the evening particularly for those who work and can’t make KYB. Men, I’m not sure what the best way for us is. I’m going to camp out here after the service, if you’ve got any ideas I’m all ears.
More than Bible studies, we have a history of studying the Bible here in other ways. I’ve found evidence of people doing the Bethel Course, and boxes full of David Pawson lectures on tape. In years gone by we hosted the CMS Autumn weekend and Alpha. Last week I dropped a few hints to Barry Rainsford that perhaps it was time for the CMS Autumn weekend to come home! Don’t know how successful that campaign will be, but next year I’m planning on leading people through units on the Ridley Certificate, so that if you want we can study God’s Word together in more detail.
The foundation for all we do in our individual lives, and all we do as a church, is God’s Word. It’s the only sure foundation. It’s only by building on this foundation that the church has survived for 150 years. It’s only by continually coming back to this foundation, by measuring all we do, by being guided in all we do, that we can ensure it remains for another 150 years.
I’m going to invite you know to take some time to think and pray about how God might be challenging or inspiring you to grow in this area, and how we might grow in this area. While you do, we’re going to listen to a rendition of the second half of Psalm 19 by a group called Sons of Korah. When it’s done I’ll close in prayer.