Banner of Truth Minister’s Conference 2003: Opening and Closing Sermons
Mark Johnson of Grove Chapel, Camberwell, and the Opening Sermon of the Conference:
"To the Praise of His Glorious Grace." Ephesians 1:12
Out of the many contentious issues the church wrestles with is the question of what is the church and why does she exists? She is in an identity crisis. There are mission statements and many books suggesting various answers. This verse provides us with God’s purpose for his people and his work. This is the great goal God has set before us, and so it casts light on such issues as worship and evangelism, and when we grasp it, all else slots into place.
1. IT IS A MATTER OF BEING.
‘In order that we might be . . . to the praise of his glory.’ We are God’s redeemed people and our basic needs are to be what God’s purpose is for us. It is patently obvious that God cannot be glorified by the dead, the darkened and the damned. That is our natural state according to this epistle. There is something deeply flawed in our make-up as human beings. It is not the problem of the ‘id’ but of original sin. There needs to be radical change in the depth of our being by the God whose name is I AM. It is that God who stamps his image on us creatures and many of them are to find that image restored. Our fundamental need is that that image be restored in us. God is primarily glorified not in what you do but what you are.
2. IT IS A MATTER OF BELONGING.
That we . . . together . . . should be to the praise of his glory. All who belong to God should be to his glory. There is no place for rampant individualism. A doctrine of salvation has so dominated things that the doctrine of the church has been diminished. We are more than a group of Christians who meet in a congregation. A church is not ‘me and my Saviour’ meeting with other similar individuals. Consider 2 Corinthians 5:17 – we are new creations, and we function together as one new man. We belong together in Christ. The church mirrors the character of God in heaven in its life on earth. There is diversity in God and heaven and so there should be diversity in the congregation, and there should be a unity in the gospel we serve.
3. IT IS A MATTER OF BECOMING.
The ‘affairs of the church are at the best of times a sanctified mess,’ a friend once said to me. Paul says of the church at Corinth with all its problems was being changed from glory to glory. We are being transformed to a different plane. So often Paul turns to this theme, and the key to this progress is to go on being filled with the Spirit. There never will be a day when the Ephesians can think they have achieved everything. Go on being filled with the Spirit. What hope it gives us, and how we expend our energies. Our eyes are fixed on the glory of the world to come. As a body together we press on to the final goal. This conference is not sanctified escapism but one in which we are mutually encouraged by the Word of God. That we might be to the praise of his glory. At the end of his letter to the Galatians he tells them that he is labouring in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in them. It is not that we should rest in this endeavour but that God will not rest until his work is done, and we are to the praise of his glory. 6.10.
JOHN MARSHALL. Closing Sermon of Conference.
I Samuel 17 contains the narrative of David and Goliath. There will be nothing original in what I have to say, but whatever I say, the message will not be to go out and slay your enemies.
Goliath was as a dog, and dogs are at enmity to the Lord; ‘Beware of dogs!" says Paul. In Revelation 22 we read that those who are outside the kingdom of God are dogs. We are dealing with a dog here, slain in all his boasting. These were evil times. There was immorality at the very heart of worship in the wickedness of the sons of Eli. The ark had been taken and then the sons of Eli were taken, and Eli dropped dead at the news. The sons of Samuel took bribes. Saul was anointed as king, and was used by God and victories were given him. But he was a man of misplaced zeal. He slew the Gibeonites and would have killed his own son for taking a bit of honey in the midst of the battle. He was strong on other men’s sins and yet weak and soft on himself. Quick to see what was wrong in others but slow to see what was wrong in himself.
The man Goliath came defying the people of Israel and the people of God were greatly afraid. Even Jonathan was afraid to do anything. Our day is characterised by the mockery of God and his laws, and we seem to be powerless to do anything. Then David appeared, a man after God’s own heart who did all God’s will. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. He was full of zeal for the honour of God – ready to die for his glory. He had zeal for Jehovah’s great name. He had destroyed a lion and a bear. Think of it! In an English Game Park John Marshall had failed to stare out a lioness on the other side of the windscreen – two feet away. Who would go into lion’s cage at feeding time and try to take a joint of meat away? Would Jesse have given up his son David to fight a lion, or a giant? But David was a shepherd who would die for his sheep. He did not, but Jesus did, utterly voluntarily. He did not resign from being a shepherd because there were lions and bears about. He was not pusillanimous. He risked his life for the sheep so that his father had no loss.
Somewhere along the line David saw Goliath’s weakness. Also he had learned to sling stones. David had better get it right with the first stone or he is dead meat. It was a risky business. How do you oppose your enemies? Are we willing to suffer? Then we had better suffer. Often we are delivered, but sometimes we are delivered to death, to the sentence of death in ourselves. Do we look to kill our enemies? Of course God sometimes removes them, but don’t we also have to make war on our enemies. Think of Saul of Tarsus declaring war on the church, and stoning Stephen. Yet the Lord Jesus met with this dog, not with sling and stone but with divine gracious salvation. Christ had mercy on him. Or think again of another dog – a woman of Canaan whose daughter was grievously possessed with a devil. She could have been alienated from God because of what he had done to her daughter, but no, she went to the Lord and though she were a Gentile dog she found such sympathy, though at first he said nothing. She kept on asking him for mercy, but he seemed to dismiss her because she was a Gentile. He could not take the children’s food and give it to dogs! He called her a dog. She conceded she was a dog but pleaded for a crumb that inadvertently might fall from the table. Jesus responded, "O woman, great is they faith." All Christ’s sheep were all once dogs.
God ordains the situation in which we find ourselves. With many of us it is all very small-scale, and we get restless and wonder whether we should go somewhere else and find another ministry. We get restless, but we must accept God’s chosen place for us.
God supplies our need. Whatever you are called to do God will enable you to do. I need to listen to the word of God as it should be listened to. The Lord delivered him when no one knew anything about him, a shepherd in the deepest obscurity. Beware of ensnaring ambitions. God enables us to do what he requires us to do. Go back to your churches and serve God. On the day of judgment we must give account of our ministries – our small congregations will be enough to answer for.
God is a God of mercy. Things may turn. Where the power of God is concerned he can change the situation in a moment. At Pentecost thousands are converted in an hour. If he does not change the situation we will continue to serve him. God is able, and we are submissive to his will. Do you believe in the mercy of God? Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation. The Lord keep you faithful in doing his will. David was afraid but God strengthened him. "Have I not commanded thee? . . . Be strong and of a good courage . . . . I will be with thee whithersoever thou goest."
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