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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 64th Anniv Thanksgiving Svc, 2014-10-19

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24

On this occasion of our Church’s 64th anniversary we want to give thanks to God for His faithfulness. God has truly blessed Life Church since it was inaugurated on 20 October 1950. He enabled her to grow from a small congregation of 30 members at Prinsep Street to more than a thousand members here at Gilstead Road. He has opened so many doors of service that Life Church became a mother of more than 50 Bible-Presbyterian churches. In the past 64 years, God has preserved Life Church and provided for all her needs. It is only by God’s grace that we are still“Holding forth the Word of Life.”

And thus we must testify of God’s faithfulness. This wonderful attribute of God is especially relevant to our church today. It is a tremendous source of encouragement to us whenever we experience difficult trials and tribulation, because it is God’s faithfulness to His people that keeps us and sustains us through time and right into eternity.

This unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God was also the subject of Paul’s writing as he was about to complete his first epistle to the Thessalonians. As we studied this epistle over the last 3 months, we have seen how much Paul cared for this fledgling church. We had seen how concerned he was for their spiritual growth because he was only able to spend three weeks with them. We had seen how he sent Timothy back to find out how they were, and Paul was overjoyed when Timothy returned with good news about their spiritual progress. And so he wrote this epistle to encourage the Thessalonians to press on, and also to deal with questions about the Lord’s return and some problems within the church.

He then ends the epistle with a heartfelt prayer recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24 – “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” This prayer throbs with Paul’s confidence in God, and in particular with his confidence in God’s faithfulness to His church.

As we study this prayer, we will see how God’s faithfulness helps us in at least three ways. Firstly, it Engages His Covenant Promises; Secondly, it Ensures Our Comprehensive Perseverance, and thirdly, it Encourages Our Constant Pursuit.

1.  It Engages His Covenant Promises.

The first part of v.24 tells us – “Faithful is He that calleth you…” This is a testimony that God has faithfully kept all His promises. Israel’s history demonstrates this very well. Around 2000 BC God initiated a covenant with Abraham in which He promised to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan and to bless them.Six hundred years later, when Israel had settled down in the Promised Land, Joshua was able to testify – “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:45) About 450 years later, the same testimony was given by King Solomon when he dedicated the Temple: “Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto His people Israel, according to all that He promised: there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised by the hand of Moses His servant.” (1 Kings 8:56)

I am sure all of us have experienced disappointment from promises that were not kept by people we trusted. But no one will ever be disappointed with God because He has an impeccable record of keeping every promise He makes. One great promise which the Lord has made is found in Matthew 16:18 – “…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The history of the Christian church shows how faithfully He has kept this covenant promise. There have been many critical moments in history when the Church of Jesus Christ could easily have been totally destroyed by persecution, or totally subverted by false teachings.

The number of heresies that have threatened to destroy it are innumerable. First, it was troubled by Legalism. A century later, it was threatened with Gnosticism and Docetism. Shortly after that, the Church was troubled by a host of false doctrines that denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ. When Islam became a militant religion, all churches in the Middle East and North Africa were destroyed by it. If God had not stopped the Muslims from advancing into Europe, the Church might have been totally wiped out!

Then, as the Church went through the Dark Ages its light was almost snuffed out by the many man-made traditions and idolatrous practices that flooded into it. And even after the 16th century Protestant Reformation cleared these things away, there were even greater challenges for the Church to face such as Liberalism, Modernism and Ecumenism, not to mention the profusion of cults in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Church has also been assailed by human ideologies and philosophies that are opposed to Christ, such as Atheism, Marxism and Evolutionism. Christians in countries dominated by communist regimes are still suffering intense persecution. Humanly speaking, the Church could never have survived such an awesome array of foes and destructive influences.

It has survived only because the Lord has faithfully kept all His promises to the Church and in particular, that His Church would be built and the gates of hell would not prevail against it! His faithfulness guarantees that it will continue to endure all the ravages of time and trouble. And one day He will “present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:27) This brings us now to consider the second way that God’s faithfulness helps us. Not only does it engage all His covenant promises. It also…

2.  It Ensures Our Comprehensive Perseverance.

In the latter part of verse 23 we read, “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The purpose of this statement is reveal how comprehensive God’s work in us is. Because our whole being has been affected by sin, God’s work of sanctifying and preserving us is designed to cover not only our spirit and soul. It will eventually cover our body as well when the resurrection takes place.

Bible scholars have had endless debates on how to distinguish between the soul and the spirit as if they are two separate things. But this is not the intended purpose of this verse. The three parts – spirit, soul and body – represent our whole being. They are mentioned to show that every aspect of our being has been included in God’s purpose, and nothing is left out. Besides preserving our spirit, soul and body, there are other Bible verses that speak of God changing our hearts, renewing our minds, cleansing our conscience, and influencing our wills. All these are understood under the term, ‘spirit and soul and body.’ Our lives are therefore under a divine coverage plan which is fully comprehensive.

Insurance companies often try to attract more people to purchase their products by advertising how comprehensive their coverage is. But no matter what claims they make, there are always certain things that are not covered by their policies. It is only when we read the fine print that we realize that they are not as comprehensive as we thought. And sometimes we try to claim insurance for damages only to discover that they happen to fall under one of the exclusion clauses in the fine print.

For instance, most insurance policies do not cover any damage to property that is caused by natural floods, tsunamis, lightning and earthquakes. These are all designated by insurance companies as “Acts of God.” If you want to be covered against damage by all acts of God, then your insurance premium will be astronomical!

While this shows us why our insurance coverage can never be comprehensive, it also reveals how God’s coverage of our life can be so comprehensive: It is an Act of God from beginning to end! And since He is a faithful God who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, no exclusion clauses or fine print are necessary. This means that when our Lord Jesus Christ returns from heaven, we who are covered by His faithfulness will be entirely perfect.

But how do we know that we are really covered by God’s faithfulness? It is only through receiving the inward call from God at the moment of our salvation. You will notice that verse 24 says, “Faithful is He that calleth you…”Earlier on in this service we witnessed some of our brethren here confessing their faith in Christ publicly. In the testimonies published in today’s church weekly, you can read how they turned to Christ and began to trust in Him alone for their salvation. But what was it that had caused each of them to do this? It was actually the inward call that they received from God. God called them through the Holy Spirit when they heard the Gospel, and that calling from God enabled them to respond with faith in Christ.

Perhaps God may call someone here today to salvation. If you are still outside Christ, you are still in your sins and you will face the awful eternal punishment for them in hell. Your greatest need is to have your sins forgiven by God Himself, and that forgiveness only comes through trusting in the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. God promises that if you turn to Christ with all your heart, He will save you from your sins and from eternal death. It is only when you are truly saved, that God will give you the assurance from His Word that you are called by Him.

Now all of us who have been truly saved through Christ would have the assurance that we are called by God. That is what our church is meant to be – a people who are called by God. The Greek word for ‘church’ in our Bibles is ekklesiawhich literally means ‘the called out ones.’ God has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). And it is this call that makes us objects of His faithfulness.

Please listen now to what Romans 8:30 says about God’s faithfulness to those who are called: “…whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Although this verse says that God has glorified us, this will only take place in the future, when Jesus Christ returns. But God’s faithfulness makes this outcome so certain and so confirmed that it is as good as done! In fact the permanent union of the Church with Christ has already been foretold as an accomplished fact in the last book of the Bible. Revelation 19:9 says, “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.” As the Church Triumphant, we will then be presented as a chaste virgin bride to Christ.

Thus we can now look forward eagerly to our final glorious end. And so today, while we rejoice in God’s faithfulness to Life Church in the past, let us also rejoice in anticipation of God’s faithfulness to Life Church in the future. Knowing that it ensures our comprehensive perseverance, let us all be “…looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13). This will give us all the encouragement that we need to press onward to the end. And this brings us to the third and final way that God’s faithfulness helps us…

3.  It Encourages Our Constant Pursuit.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this was Paul’s main purpose for writing this epistle to the Thessalonians – He basically wanted to encourage them to keep pressing on. This is also the purpose of the closing prayer that he wrote in v.23 and 24 – “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

In the last two chapters they had received plenty of good instructions and exhortations: To live in order to please God more and more (4:1), avoid sexual sin (4:3), love one another more and more (4:9,10), comfort one another (4:18), watch and be sober (5:6), edify one another (5:11), know and esteem their leaders well (5:12,13), be patient toward all men (5:14), rejoice, pray and give thanks (5:16-18), stop quenching the Spirit (5:19) prove all things (5:21) and abstain from all appearance of evil (5:22). That’s a lot of things to do! In fact it might have been quite overwhelming for the Thessalonians. Perhaps the question on their minds would then be, “How can we keep doing all these things?”

The answer they received from Paul’s prayer is that God Himself will see to it. He will sanctify them wholly, no matter how difficult this was going to be. They will experience some setbacks and failures in carrying out all these instructions, but God will ensure that they will finally become all that they should be. And all this He will do because He is faithful. Since He has called them, He will surely make His grace sufficient for them to reach the goal He has set for them. And so we see that God’s faithfulness is the greatest encouragement we can ever have to keep up our constant pursuit.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “The certainty of victory gives strength to the arm that wields the sword. To say to the Christian, “You shall persevere till you get to your journey’s end” – will that make him sit down on the next milestone? No. He will climb the mountain, wiping the sweat from his brow, and as he looks upon the plain, he will descend with surer and more cautious footsteps, because he knows he shall reach his journey’s end.”

Let this also be our encouragement now, as we move forward together as a church into our 65th year. Let us share the same vision and mission. Look at the world today with all its ongoing issues – the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, the protests in Hong Kong. All these are symptoms of man’s disease called SIN. While Ebola is now known to have a mortality rate of 70%, sin has a mortality rate of 100%. The lasting peace that the world dreams of can never be achieved as long that this underlying disease is not eradicated.

Thankfully, God has provided a guaranteed remedy for this disease – Salvation through Jesus Christ. Wherever the Lord Jesus is trusted to be Saviour and Lord, there is effective deliverance from both the penalty and power of sin. And so, people everywhere need Christ. Our task as a Church is to bring them to Christ and make them His disciples. This is summarized in our church’s vision and mission statement which is printed at the top of our weekly – “To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service to the glory of God.”

This cannot possibly be achieved only by those who are presently serving in our Church alone. There is so much to be done, and it will require everyone’s involvement to get the work done. We all need to align our efforts with our Church vision and mission. Then we need to participate fully by being trained and equipped with the Word through the various discipleship ministries of the church. And when we are equipped we can each serve in an area of ministry with our spiritual gifts and talents.

There will certainly be challenges to face together if Life Church is to continue fulfilling its mission and vision. One challenge that is coming up soon is the reallocation of space for our ministries when the scheme of arrangement for sharing the premises with the College is implemented. This will cause some inconvenience to us (e.g. having less space, and merging some SS classes), but we must take it with the right thankful spirit and move on.

Other upcoming challenges for Life Church include: the redevelopment of the balcony upstairs to increase our seating capacity, redevelopment of the red porch outside, starting a Bible college to train workers for the Lord’s service, starting new mission outreaches, meeting the needs of an ageing congregation and providing for church leadership succession (Within the next 10 years more than half of our session members will be grandfathers).

So let each of us be committed to do our part. Please do not think that you cannot do very much, or that God cannot use you. You must be encouraged by God’s faithfulness. As v.24 of our text says, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” Look forward to the day when you will be able to look back at all that the Lord has done in and through your life and say, “Great Is God’s Faithfulness.”

One man who did that was Thomas Obadiah Chisholm. Born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1866, Chisholm became a school teacher when he was 16. When he was 27, he was led to Christ for salvation during a revival meeting. Nine years later, he became a minister in a Methodist church, but poor health forced him to retire after just one year. And for the rest of his life, he earned a meagre living as an insurance agent, while struggling with his poor health.

But God had given Chisholm a gift of writing and he used it well. Until he was promoted to glory in 1960, God enabled him to write over 1,200 hymns and poems which appeared in many Christian publications and edified many believers. The most well-known of these was Great is Thy faithfulness which he wrote in 1923. It was his testament to God’s faithfulness throughout his life.

When he was 75, Chisholm explained why he wrote this hymn: “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

Through the words of this hymn which Chisholm wrote, many believers have found encouragement and strength to press on in living for God and serving Him: “Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided – Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

I trust that through this we too will be greatly encouraged to press on with the work of building up the Church, knowing that it is bound to increase and succeed only through God’s faithfulness. May the Lord help us to love His Church and to keep on labouring for Him, knowing that our labour is not in vain!

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25