22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
— Hebrews 12:22–25 —
Yesterday, I argued in my sermon that the local church is an earthly display of a heavenly reality. From Hebrews 12, we learn that when we gather in the name of Jesus, we are (imperfectly) revealing the glories of heaven—a myriad of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. Or better, we are foreshadowing the final assembly of the nations who will worship around the throne of God.
In making that argument, I assumed a certain amount of background information about how heaven and earth relate. I want to fill in some of the gaps here. (This brief temple story may help too). Continue reading
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24–25 —
This morning I preached a message called “The Blessing of Assembling Together” on Hebrews 10:24–25. Here are further reflections on the discipline and privilege of gathering together with God’s people.
Stressing the spiritual importance of gathering together, early church father Ignatius observes:
“When ye frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” (Ignatius)
Speaking about the value of “gathering together,” Chrysostom writes:
For as “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 17:17), so also association increases love. For if a stone rubbed against a stone sends forth fire, how much more soul mingled with soul! But not unto emulation (he says) but “unto the sharpening of love.” (John Chrysostom).
We can’t produce love in others, but Chrysostom reminds us that we can lead others to love such that they walk in its course:
For as on the highway, if any man find the beginning, he is guided by it, and has no need of one to take him by the hand; so is it also in regard to Love: only lay hold on the beginning, and at once thou art guided and directed by it. (John Chrysostom) Continue reading
[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation].
In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.
Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.
For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
– 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –
In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another. First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.
In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading
Brotherly affection protects one another’s purity and provides for those in need. But for it to make lasting impact, it must also endure.
In the same context where Paul speaks of doing good to everyone (Gal 6:10), especially to those in the church, Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).
To exercise brotherly affection is exhausting, and the authors of Scripture know it. To crucify the flesh and resist the pull towards impurity is hard. To give one self for the spiritual and physical needs of another is even more grueling.
For that reason Scripture commands us to “let brotherly love continue” (Heb 13:1). Continue reading
Philadelphia is well-known as the city of “brotherly love.” But before early Colonialists planted that city, the apostles Paul, Peter, and the author of Hebrews used the word philadelphia to speak of the way fellow Christians should love one another.
What does brotherly love mean? Romans 12:10 speaks plainly, “Love one another with brotherly affection” (philadelphias). But how do we do that? By looking at the six uses of the word in the New Testament, we learn that brotherly love protects one anothers purity, provides for one another’s needs, and endures in both of these ennobling graces.
Today we’ll consider the purity of brotherly affection. Tomorrow we’ll turn to protection. Continue reading
The local church was always at the center of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s heart and theology. In his studies he wrote his first dissertation on life in the church (“The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church”). As a theological professor he labored to train pastors for the church. And in his later writings, he often returned to muse on life together in the local church.
It’s this subject that entitles one of his most famous works, Life Together, posthumously subtitled, “The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.” Coming in at 122 pages, Life Together is not a long book. But it is one that invites you to think deeply about God’s design for his people. Overflowing with wisdom, you will run your highlighter dry if you are given to marking up books.
As we consider the One Anothers in our weekly sermons, I would encourage you to pick up a copy. A small investment in reading Life Together will pay big dividends on doing life together. Continue reading
So we, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
– Romans 12:5 –
There are in the New Testament roughly 100 places where the word ἀλλήλων, usually translated “one another,” is used. Beginning with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35, the apostles develop a vision of church life that presses people of different backgrounds to follow Christ with one another. Using dozens of metaphors, they describe the church as as a body, a bride, a priesthood, a temple, a household, and a family.
In these word pictures, the One Another’s function as the imperatives that call brothers and sisters to get along in the Lord. Elbows and earlobes are called to honor one another in the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are taught they who were once divided are now united in the one new man, Jesus Christ.
Still before giving attention to the manifold imperative of loving one another, we must first realize that we are one of another. As Paul puts it in Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Before we can love one another, forgive one another, or bear up one another, we must realize the One Another’s are set in the context of the local church. Continue reading
Writing from Germany on the precipice of war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic on Christian community. In Life Together he called attention the grace of Christian community, calling it “the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life” (21).
In our country, where freedom to worship remains unchecked, his words provide a needed corrective to any laissez-faire attitude we may have towards biblical community. While church membership and attendance are generally affirmed by Christians, I don’t think we see how much grace there is in our ability to gather. By contrast, Bonhoeffer watched the Third Reich run over the church and the Church in turn to compromise with the state.
In such a context, he came to see just how much grace there is when brothers dwell together in unity—true spiritual unity. Consider his words and give thanks for the community of believers he has given you. May his words spur us on to press deeper into the life of our church, or to start such a community of spiritually-minded believers, if one is not present. Continue reading
[Yesterday, I preached my first sermon as pastor of preaching at Occoquan Bible Church. Leading up to that day, here’s what I wrote to our church].
Not that we lord it over your faith,
but we work with you for your joy,
for you stand firm in your faith.
– 2 Corinthians 1:24 –
Joy in the Lord
Joy is what pulsated in the Godhead when the world was still an idea (cf. John 17:24–26). And joy is what moved God to create the world. While under no compulsion to create, it was God’s good pleasure to create a world whereby his glory could be displayed and enjoyed.
For the sheer pleasure of it, God created the Manatee and the Milky Way, earthworms and electricity. And in the middle of it all, he made man and woman—the pinnacle of creation (Psalm 8), the acme of his affection. Continue reading