“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Being joyous is not walking around with a big grin permanently fixed on our face. Neither does it mean possessing an upbeat positive temperament, nor exhibiting a bubbly and excited appearance before others. Rather, I am referring to real joy, which is an inner experience. Do you have that heartfelt joy in your life?
If we are Christians, then we should know that joy is our inheritance promised by our Saviour and Lord. It is God’s desire that we should be joyful people. He didn’t create us to be wretched and miserable, but holy and happy. In fact, joy was one of the things that characterised the original creation. In Job 38:7, God challenged Job as to whether he had any memory of the “morning stars” that sang together and all the “sons of God” that shouted for joy at His creation. We can assuredly say that Adam and Eve were full of joy as they lived in the sinless garden of Eden, which was very good prior to their fall.
Of course, sin had smashed the experience of man’s joy and brought in disappointment, fear, sorrow, guilt, condemnation and death, but God’s work of redemption through Jesus Christ has reinstated that joy and taken it to even greater heights. This joy doesn’t belong merely to the in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:11).
Writing from the seclusion and afflictions of his imprisonment in Rome, Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Paul did not teach that we would only “catch” tantalizing tastes of joy when we are singing our favourite hymns on a Sunday morning. Rather, Christian joy is to be always present in our lives, regardless of our circumstances.
Joy is to be a Christian’s normal experience. It is not meant for our occasional pleasure. Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to “Rejoice evermore.” The New Testament writers, James and Peter, also join Paul in assuring us that we can be joyous even when trials come our way — “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2); “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).
The Bible instructs us to find joy in the Lord and in all that He has done for us. There are, of course, many legitimate sources of joy in our lives. God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). Undeniably, there are immense joys associated with families and friends, with good health and personal freedom, with holidays and hobbies, with successes and victories; these joys are, to be sure, real and precious. However, if the joy of our life is resting on these, then
it is on fragile foundations. That joy can be shaken by crises in life like illness, bereavement, redundancy and accidents!
That is why the Bible fixes our joy on the unchanging God. Isn’t this what the prophet Habakkuk emphatically pointed out to us in the Old Testament? “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I future; we should be shouting for joy now! Paul reminded the Roman Christians that “we also joy will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
In John 15:11, Jesus said concerning the purpose of His words that “your joy might be full.” Peter says that Christians can have “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
God holds out full joy to us always! Perhaps some of us are falling somewhat short of the joy that God has offered to us. Each of us needs to examine himself as to whether his joy is complete.
Our church’s ACM will be held today at 2.00pm. Please remember to attend.
Come with a heart of thanksgiving to God for all His wonderful grace that has guided, provided and preserved us throughout the past financial year. In a business meeting such as this, we, being a church, must always maintain a God-honouring, thankful spirit for all that He has done among and through us. All that we have contributed, and all that we have rendered in service, are entirely the outworking of divine grace. Each of us should say before the Lord, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
May the Lord grant us an orderly, cordial and profitable meeting, wherein every communicant member of the church conducts himself or herself according to the operations of the Holy Spirit. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). By God’s grace, all these years when we held our ACMs, reverence, decency and orderliness had been the order of the day! May it be so even today.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2).
These are the first two verses of a psalm of praise which glorifies the LORD for all His gracious blessings. The object of praise in this psalm is the LORD; that is clearly set forth right at the beginning of the verse, where it says: “Bless the LORD”. The LORD is worthy of our praise at all times. As Psalm 145:3 tells us, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised” (cf. Psalms 48:1; 96:4; 147:5).
Our blessing the LORD is a grateful acknowledgment that He is the source of all our blessings. When we joyfully recognise and exclaim that the LORD has done great things for us, and praise Him for His blessings, we “bless the LORD”. Each of His children must say, “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1; cf. Deuteronomy 8:10; 1 Chronicles 29:20; Nehemiah 9:5; Psalms 16:7; 26:12; 34:1; 103:1-2, 20, 22; 104:1; 115:18; 134:2; 135:19-20).
Like the psalmist, we must exhort ourselves, saying, “Bless the LORD, O my soul”. The psalmist has summoned all his powers and passions to praise the LORD – “and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Every genuine worshipper would employ his heart, his mind, his emotions and all his strength to render praises to the LORD.
Not just once, but twice did the psalmist urge himself to bless the LORD. He added another reason for the worship of the LORD, namely, the fact that the LORD is holy. So he says, “bless his holy name”. It is most reasonable that we bless the LORD, for He is holy. Before the LORD who is holy, we must bow in humble and solemn prostration. Like the seraphims, the angelic hosts that surround the heavenly throne, we must worship the Lord, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whose earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Psalm 99:5 also teaches us: “Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.”
Another major reason for our thanksgiving arises from the divine favours that we have received. Thankfulness leads the beneficiary to worship the Giver, who is the LORD. Thus, for a third time, the psalmist says, “Bless the LORD”. Such repetition denotes the earnestness of his desire to express his gratitude.
Besides, he stirs up his soul to employ itself in grateful worship of the LORD – “O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” The worship of the LORD must arise from the inner man. It is a soulwork. Jesus reprimanded those who engaged in “lipworship”. Citing Isaiah, He said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8; cf. Isaiah 29:13; Ezekiel 33:31). No worship exists when the heart is not sincerely and earnestly employed in praising the LORD.
In Deuteronomy 8:10-14, the LORD warned Israel against forgetting His benefits – “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God …”
Recollecting and recognising the LORD’s help, guidance, rebuke, promises, spiritual blessings, physical provisions, strength, hope, etc. will provide genuine impetus for the worship of His name. Grateful emotions make the soul yearn to bless the LORD. Recognition of the LORD’s blessings in his life caused the psalmist to cry out: “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people” (Psalm 116:12-14).
In order to mould oneself to be a better worshipper of the LORD, one should awaken one’s memory to the benefits one has received from the LORD. Our memory is like a large storehouse. Recollection will bring to our present awareness those things stored up in the memory, producing powerful emotions of gratitude and worship in our hearts.
“Let all your things be done with charity” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
What will it be like if someone around you always deals with you without love? Undoubtedly, you will be traumatised by his rude, harsh and hurtful attitude towards you. It will be an unbearable situation for you. This is exactly what the apostle Paul wants us to avoid in our dealings with others. The remedy for all unpleasant and intolerable situations in the church is this: that all things be done with charity.
If there is no love, we will be irritable, aggressive and quarrelsome. But love keeps us humble in our success and compels us to serve the needy ones with kindness. Love renders us gentle and considerate towards those who are immature and ignorant. It keeps our strong conviction of truth from becoming obstinate dogmatism, and our commitment to righteousness from becoming smug self-righteousness. It further keeps our firmness from becoming hardness, and our moral strength from degenerating into a domineering spirit. It keeps our maturity gentle and considerate.
Moreover, love keeps us calm in tough and provocative situations. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Love restrains those who have been wronged and have the power to take revenge on their offenders from working out their vengeance. Love never retaliates, for it is patient. Love is a powerful regulator of all ill feelings!
The love of God that worketh in Christians will not teach us to be self-loving. Its greatest concern is the welfare of others, as demonstrated by Christ, our Saviour – “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So we are admonished to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2; cf. 1 John 4:7-11).
Love also teaches us to be kind towards others. It makes us gracious, useful and willing to serve others. It motivates us to give anything that would help others in their needs. It equips us to be generous (cf. Matthew 5:40-41). In this evil and tumultuous world, genuine love readies us to exercise kindness and generosity.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”(1 John 4:7). We are able to love one another, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Dear Pastor Koshy,
I thank the Lord for keeping all the brethren safe when the super typhoon hit northern Philippines last week. The typhoon was at its strongest last Friday night till Saturday morning. The wind was very strong and sounded like a loud whistle. Thank God that the government had warned the people a few days before; therefore we were able to prepare for it. The brethren in Pugaro tied their houses and roofs to trees and concrete structures because their houses are mostly made of light materials. I was worried for our people in Pugaro because they live near the seaside and are in the “danger zone”. On Friday morning, I contacted the person-in-charge of PIMSAT College as to whether we could rent two of their classrooms for a few days. I was planning for the brethren to use these rooms as an evacuation centre, just in case. Unfortunately the PIMSAT authorities declined our request.
Because of the pressing need, I called Bro Roger and offered them to stay at the Mission station. To avoid conflict with PIMSAT College, the access gate to the college would be locked. But Bro Roger told me that the evacuation centre nearby was already at full capacity and they would rather just stay at their houses. I tried to convince him to evacuate, but he replied that he was too embarrassed to come because they had no food to sustain them while staying with us here. I replied to him that it was not a problem; if ever our provisions dwindle, the Lord would provide for us. Anyway, he told me that they would consider to move if ever the wind became unbearable.
That same afternoon at 4.00pm (when the wind was really strong), my family and I went out to buy additional food to anticipate the brethren’s coming. (These provisions were later distributed to the brethren last Sunday night since they couldn’t join us in the mission station during the storm). On Friday night, we experienced the howling wind starting at 1.00 am, which lasted until 5.00 am. During the storm I was keeping in touch with the brethren in Pugaro. Thank God for keeping them safe.
I assumed that the Pugaro brethren were most vulnerable because of their location, but I was wrong. At the height of the typhoon, Sis Cecile from Singapore updated me about the brethren’s situation through social media. She told me that the brethren were experiencing landslide in their area because of the strong water current in the river nearby. They tried calling “911” for rescue, but the rescuers were not able to reach their place. The roads and bridges leading to them had already been declared “not passable” because the flood had reached 6 feet deep! Deep in the night, Sis Cecile asked me if I could call the town’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management to request for the rescue of the brethren. I called the office and talked to the person in-charge, but they were sorry that they couldn’t send any personnel because of the severity of the flood. They could only advise them to stay away from the landslide area. So, all the brethren took refuge at their relatives’ homes, farther away from the landslide area.
Thank God for preserving all the brethren. The wind and rain got weaker on Saturday morning, but there were fallen trees everywhere. Many roads were blocked by debris and flood waters. After the strong typhoon, the Pugaro brethren started to fix their houses, but the brethren in Binday were still worried about their livelihood and safety. A big chunk of land had been carried away by the water, together with their houses! Their irrigation canal was also destroyed, affecting their livelihood. To get a clearer picture of the grim situation, the cliff which was previously about 300-400 metres from the house of Bro Mario Naranjo, is now just 50 metres away!
Because of the typhoon and flooded roads, I decided to cancel the worship service. All the brethren also were tired and needed time to clean up their homes and transfer their things back to their homes from the evacuation centre. My family and I worshipped the Lord through the live broadcast. I thank the Lord for giving us a concrete place on a higher ground. The damage (only to the roof in the porch area) in the mission station is just minimal.
(Damage to the roof of the Mission Station’s porch area)
In the past week, there were several disconcerting news that our church leadership had to deal with, notwithstanding the heavy schedules of work and ministry each of them had to attend to. Much of those demanding challenges have to do with our interactions with the authorities with regard to the Building Project, and our preparations (especially pertaining to the audited accounts) for the ACM. Personally, it was a very stressful period and I felt very constrained and of little strength to wade through all the challenges. But I praise God that He has strengthened me with His good Word during my “quiet times” with Him. The two portions of the Scripture that the Lord gave me were Revelation 3:7-8 and Psalm 31:24.
I have expounded the first passage, Revelation 3:7-8, during last Tuesday night prayer meeting – “… These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
Now I would like to exhort you from Psalm 31:24 – “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.”
The Lord provides us with an antidote to the sad hearts of believers who are undergoing trials and temptations. They are exhorted to “be of good courage”. It is not at all uncommon that God’s people become weary and disheartened in this world. Spiritual and moral courage is much needed to inspire our hearts to do right, especially in adverse circumstances. In most scriptural instances of the exhortation to be courageous, it is coupled with the exhortation to be strong. When courage is gone, the heart would melt in the fear and heat of adversity. So the exhortation is given: “Be strong and of good courage.”
In Deuteronomy 31:6, the Lord through Moses told the people of Israel, who had to battle against the giants who dwelt in their promised land, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Their new leader, Joshua,who had to lead Israel to conquer the promised land, was also told in Deuteronomy 31:7 to “Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.” This exhortation to be strong and of good courage had been repeatedly given to Joshua and Israel (Joshua 1:6, 9, 18; 2:11; 10:25).
Christians have very many duties to tend to, which can be often arduous. We have heard troubled Christians crying out: “How could I overcome these problems and fulfil all my tasks?” or “I am already exhausted. Where shall I get the strength to do these things?” Be that as it may, every Christian must remember the exhortation, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
In our verse, we are given the divine promise that “he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.” God would give us His supernatural aid, strengthening our hearts with His gracious favour. We must not let our hearts become pessimistic. Let not doubt and gloom fill our hearts. We must hope in the Lord. Distrusting hearts will grow weary and fearful. Trusting in God’s promise, let us behave valiantly for the Lord. Expect trials. Remember the promises. Maintain faith. Serve the Lord.
Greetings in our Lord’s most blessed Name!
Pastor, once again I want to thank you for the privilege extended to me in joining the Bible Witness Retreat. I thank the Lord for the manifold blessings received in listening to all the messages you have preached (from establishing the concept of God / Jesus as King, expounding on the Gospel of the Kingdom to the very clear presentation of the Biblical covenants being a unity under the umbrella of the Covenant of Grace, as against the Dispensationalist view, with all appropriate applications to us), and for the opportunity to see firsthand the progress of the work our brother, Pr Sujith, is doing for the Gospel in Vizag, India.
Likewise, I thank the Lord for the opportunity to minister to our brethren in Singapore in the main service (English), in the Filipino Fellowship, and even at TGCM morning devotions. By the way, two Sundays ago, there were 6 newcomers (first-timers) who came to the Filipino service. They came to know of our church through one Filipino brother whom they had met at the food-court; since then, they have been visiting our church website to listen to the messages and finally thought of coming for the service last Sunday. I was with Bros Norefel and Arnold when I talked to these newcomers, and I encouraged them to follow up on these 6 souls. They, who by their own admission used to attend a Charismatic church, had expressed their desire to learn more of God’s Word. I have also informed Pr Dennis about it.
With all these blessings received, I give all the glory and honour unto God!
All praise and glory to the Almighty King and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has granted us great spiritual blessings and safety in our visit to see the Gospel work in Vizag, India, during the Bible Witness Retreat. Thank God also for the privilege to be able to feast upon the Word of truth pertaining to the “The Gospel of The Kingdom”, as exhorted by our pastor. God had declared war against Satan and proclaimed the first good news for the salvation of His people right at the beginning in Genesis 3:15. God, our eternal, sovereign King, has prevailed over the kingdom of Satan (cf. John 16:11), with the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. We have the full assurance of faith, together with all the redeemed of the Lord eternally secured into God’s Kingdom. All glory and honour unto our King eternal!
May we continue to pray for our brother, Pr Sujith Samuel, in his teaching of the Word of God in Gethsemane Bible Institute (GBI India) in Vizag, in particular to the students, Bros Henjit, Joyson and Devakumar. The first two have come with their families to stay, while the third brother comes daily to learn God’s Word in GBI India. Pray also for another brother, Praveen, that he may be able to return to learn God’s Word at GBI India again.
Due to time constraints, we were not able to see the work in Odisha. Nevertheless, we pray that GBI India will bring the Gospel to the people there. Thank God for the opportunity to meet with Pastor Stephenson and his wife Anupama who serve among the hill tribes of Majivalasa, as well as Bro Abraham, his wife and his son who serve in the remote village of the Asha Kiran Hospital. We rejoice because our Almighty God is able to bring His Word through His servants wherever He pleases. Nowhere is too remote that God cannot reach. Let His glorious name be praised!
Report co-written by Bro Cornelius Koshy and Bro Titus Ho
WWe thank God for the 15th Bible Witness Retreat held in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India from 3rd-5th September 2018. Altogether, 42 participants from Singapore, joined by approximately 25 local Christians and missionaries, attended a series of eight messages preached by Pastor Koshy on “The Gospel of the Kingdom”.
It was indeed a joy to once again meet up with our missionary, Pr Sujith Samuel, as well as his many Christian contacts whom he has come to know over the past year of ministry in Vizag (like Bro Deepanker and his family, who also participated in Gethsemane’s church camp in Penang earlier this year). We thank God also for the opportunity to meet with our three new GBI students, Henjit, Joyson and Devakumar, as well as a familiar brother to Gethsemaneans – Philip Cherian. Moreover, a few other pastors and missionary workers from Andhra Pradesh and the neighbouring state of Odisha travelled long distances to be part of this retreat – praise the Lord!
On the first afternoon of the retreat, our team excitedly visited the newly rented two-storey house for future church worship and fellowship meetings. It is a beautifully designed and well-maintained house surrounded by lush greenery, and is a short 15-minute journey from the city centre. At present, Henjit’s and Joyson’s families reside in this house. This is because they, being from Odisha and having come to Vizag for full-time studies at GBI, are in need of a place to stay. Our team then visited Gethsemane Media and Bookroom, a commercial space on the third floor of a building located in the heart of Vizag city. It is a well-renovated space which suits well the classroom needs for GBI lectures. Pr Sujith lives in a room within this space, and coordinates the administrative matters of GBI and Gethsemane Media from this place.
On the second day of our retreat, we visited three village churches and a school in the rural village areas of Visakhapatnam, which are about 1½-ride from the hotel. The first church that we visited is pastored by Pastor Devakumar. It is a simple hut, which is surrounded by the other villagers’ houses. From there, we proceeded to visit another church, which is located in the house of Pastor Premkumar and his son, Leonard. The church is still undergoing construction to build a second floor for worship purposes. Pastor Premkumar has been holding the fort faithfully for 40 years, and now his son, Leonard, is a youth leader in the church. The last church that we visited is pastored by Pastor Stephenson, who is a relative of Pastor Premkumar.
The third and final day was a treat to the retreat participants, for we were brought on a visit to the beautiful beach front of Vizag, at Tenneti Beach. From there, we subsequently made our way up to a vantage point on a hill for a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city, before ending the trip at a restaurant for some local biryani.
Overall, we thank God for such a wonderous opportunity to see the Lord’s work being done in the Lord’s field in Vizag. Although the beginnings are small and humble, we rejoice in the knowledge that the kingdom of God is likened to a mustard seed which, in the Lord’s timing, will grow into a huge tree where birds of the air will flock to make their nests (cf. Matthew 13:31-32). May the work that has begun in Vizag blossom and flourish into an effective Christ-centred Gospel work of God’s kingdom!
Gethsemane Media Office and Bookroom (on the 3rd Level of the Building)
I am really thankful to the Lord for the 15th Bible Witness Retreat on the topic of “The Gospel of The Kingdom” conducted in Vizag. From the very beginning, God’s guidance was evident in the organising of this retreat. By God’s providence, we managed to get a good hotel, where they offered their best service. In this regard, I am particularly thankful to God for Dn Kwok Wah, Bro Benny Skarih and Bro Lijoy for the help rendered to organise this retreat.
Truly, thank God for helping you to teach God’s Word on all three days. Those who participated really enjoyed the systematic teaching from God’s Word. The retreat was specially blessed by the participation of around 25 guests from outside. They really appreciated the teachings and fellowship extended to them. The visits to mission stations and local churches were further encouragement to local pastors and missionaries serving in the villages.
I am particularly thankful to all those who came down to learn God’s Word. I was really happy to meet and fellowship with many of our church members again. Thank you so much for the support, prayers and encouragement given for the work here. May Lord bless our efforts to spread the Gospel here.
God regenerates us by His Spirit by granting us repentance and faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, that we might be His children (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; 4:6). From the time we are led by the Spirit to be His children, He leads us forward – “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
Being stirred in the heart by the Holy Spirit, every child of God desires and pray for divine leading in his daily life. They pray like David, “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4-5; cf. Psalms 5:8; 27:11; 86:11; 119:27; 143:8).
The assurance and counsel of God to every one of His children is: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It is certain that divine direction will be given to all those who humbly trust in the LORD for His direction. “The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Psalm 25:9; cf. Psalm 23:3).
But those who follow their own ideas without acknowledging God’s promise to direct them by His truth will face the outcomes of their folly. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26a). Refusal to cease from self-driven, self-pleasing ways to trust and obey God’s truth and guidance for direction in life, is depicted as being spiritually dead – “For to be carnally minded is death” – while the wonderful promise to those who are “spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6; cf. Ephesians 4:17-21).
God seeks His children’s willing obedience, which is the obvious expression of their profound faith in Him. When He teaches and instructs us by His Word and His Spirit, He expects that we fully trust and apply His instructions in our lives so that we may be led forward in His blessed ways. In Psalm 32:8-9, the Lord says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” He tells us not to be like certain stubborn beasts which have to be always put under restraint, but as obedient children who joyfully follow His ways.
The prophet Isaiah describes the Lord as standing by our side, as it were, ready to tell us which direction we should go – “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). He speaks to us through His Spirit’s leading of our heart. Again, the Lord assures us through Isaiah, “Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me. Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (Isaiah 48:16-17).
Our finite minds do not possess the necessary abilities to know, discern and perform all of God’s will concerning our lives. Jeremiah acknowledges, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). We need to pray, trust and submit to Him humbly. Then the Lord will lead us each step of the way by His Spirit and by His gracious providence.
Most of the time, the Spirit will guide us through the Word by rebuking, correcting, encouraging, comforting, illumining, instructing and convicting us. But when we are faced with situations which are beyond our powers, He will guide us forward by His sovereign, supernatural works. To everyone who is genuinely submissive to God, He will provide His sure help and guidance. He will supernaturally direct us through His path.
God’s leading of His people, whether it be individually or collectively, is not only promised and taught in the Bible but also demonstrated through the experience of His people. Please rejoice and be strengthened as you read the following biblical records of God’s leading of His people:
Much of humanity is under “the god of this world” who “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus expressly said to the unbelieving Jews, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Being misguided by Satan, people walk not after the truth of God.
In the Garden of Eden, when the first parents at the behest of Satan rejected the truth of God, sin began. Sin continues to abound whenever people rejected God’s revealed truth in the Bible. Concerning two defiant challengers of God’s servant Moses, Paul said, “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8). In Romans 1, the apostle Paul points out that wherever people “changed the truth of God into a lie” (verse 25), there will be a proliferation of vile sins, such as idolatry and homosexuality.
In our times, many think that there is no such thing as absolute truth, especially about religious truth. Some think about religion as simply a matter of personal preference like food, sport or art. Even among those who call themselves Christians, there exists a cynical aversion to accepting Biblical doctrines and instructions as absolute truths to live by.
But the Bible declares concerning “the church of the living God” that it is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is responsible to proclaim and preserve the truth, which God has given His people in His Word. The church is expected to hold forth the truth, to immovably, unshakably live, uphold, guard, and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. The people of the church must know they are called not only to believe in God’s perfect, authoritative truth as revealed in the Scriptures, but also to conduct their lives according to God’s truth. Christianity is a life in the truth!
Christians must know the importance of truth in their lives. The truth of God must govern their thinking, speech, conduct and teachings. The integrity of Christian life lies in its conformity to the truth of God’s Word!
The apostle John has written about his special joy concerning those who lived according to the truth. “I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father” (2 John 4). Again, he wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).
God has given us His perfect truth through the Bible in order that we may not only know it and believe it, but also live by it. In the New Testament, the word “walk” is often used as a metaphor for the manner and activity of one’s life. Hence, the phrase “walking in truth” denotes how a Christian’s life ought to be controlled and guided by the truth.
In fact, John emphatically mentioned that their “walking in truth” was just “as we have received a commandment from the Father” (2 John 4). It is our heavenly Father’s will that we walk in the truth. So, living according to God’s truth is not optional for Christians. God has revealed His truth in the Bible, that we may be freed from ignorance, unbelief and disobedience to His will.
Christians who have received the truth of God in the Bible have a great responsibility to live according to the truth. The more clearly and bountifully He provides us with the truth of His Word, the greater is our responsibility to believe and obey it.
As a faithful minister of God’s Word, John commented, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” The ultimate goal of every true pastor or preacher is to see that his congregation walk in the truth of God. A pastor’s job is not to charm his congregation with an excellent exposition of the Word, but to diligently encourage, guide and help his people to believe, love, and obey the truth. He himself must be an example to the congregation as to how a Christian ought to walk in the truth. While a pastor’s great grief is that his people walk ignorantly or indifferently or rebelliously concerning the truth that God has revealed to them, his greatest joy is that they walk in the truth.
My beloved Gethsemaneans, are you walking in the truth? Are you moving along in life according to the biblical truths, or according to the fleshly and worldly ideas and goals?
Every one of us must be firmly planted on the solid foundation of the truth so that none will be led astray by the temptations of sin, false doctrines, trials or persecutions or any other device that is implemented against us by the enemy.
Let us live the truth! Let our habits and practices be all governed by His truth. Like the “elect lady and her children” who manifested abundant evidence of being consistent followers of Christ and His truth, as commended by the apostle John (cf. 2 John 1), may you also abound with evidence of a life in truth.
Biblical Christianity is all about the absolute truth. It possesses the truth which is revealed by the God of truth. It declares the perfect truth. It promotes a life lived according to the truth. It guarantees the blessings of the truth. Hence, it is not a search or expedition for the truth. Neither is it an evaluation of what might be the truth. It seeks no verification of its declarations by experts.
We worship the “God of truth”. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). He is “abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6; cf. Psalm 86:15). Indeed, as the psalmist said, “O Lord, … thy truth reacheth unto the clouds”
(Psalm 108:3-4 cf. Psalm 57:10).
God, the Triune – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – is indeed Truth. God, the Father, is the “LORD God of truth” (Psalm 31:5; cf. Isaiah 65:16). He speaks only truth – “… O Lord GOD, thou art that God, and thy words be true” (2 Samuel 7:28). Numbers 23:19 instructs us that “God is not a man, that he should lie”. How wonderful it is that we can trust all His words, for He is the “God, that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). God always speaks the truth.
God, the Son – our Lord Jesus Christ – is the Truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul also said that “the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). Moreover, Jesus insisted that He always told His hearers the truth (cf. John 8:45-46). In John 8:14, Jesus claimed, “Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true”. Jesus was also a witness to the truth. He said, “for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). He is also called “the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14).
The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 5:6). In particular, the Holy Spirit was to reveal to the apostles the inspired truth of the New Testament (John 14:26; 16:13). Peter, the apostle, wrote concerning the inspiration of the Old Testament that “… the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21; cf. 2 Samuel 23:2; Nehemiah 9:30; Ezekiel 11:5; Zechariah. 7:12; Mark 12:36; Acts 28:25; Hebrews 1:1; 3:7; 9:8; 10:15; 1 Peter 1:10-11). The Spirit is also the revealer of spiritual truth to believers – “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).
The Bible (of 66 books) in our hands is God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant and preserved truth. We have perfect confidence in the Bible – confident that all that it teaches us is true. Jesus affirmed this as He prayed to the Father that “thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Likewise, God’s servants, whom the Holy Spirit has used to write the Bible, testify repeatedly of the fact that the Bible is true and trustworthy. Consider the following verses:
The Bible, being God’s perfect truth, is precious and more valuable than any earthly riches. The psalmist spoke of it thus: “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:72). Again he said, “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold” (Psalm 119:127).
We who have the Bible must cherish it. Hold on to it at all costs! Proverbs 23:23 exhorts, “Buy the truth, and sell it not.” Do you esteem God’s Word, the Bible, to be greater riches than all the wealth in the world? The truth of God’s Word is an exceptionally desirable possession. The truth of God’s Word alone provides us with divine wisdom and counsels. Do not stand to chaffer about it; promptly make it your own!
God’s truth is eternal, for “the truth of the LORD endureth for ever” (Psalm 117:2). It grants salvation (Psalm 69:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25); sanctification (John 17:17), spiritual freedom (John 8:32), genuine worship (John 4:23-24) and rejoicing (1 Corinthians 13:6).
Dear Gethsemaneans and missions partners (in Singapore, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Malaysia, India, and more),
I greet you all in wonderful name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Since Gethsemane Bible Institute commenced in Ethiopia in 2012, I have given much of my time to teach God’s Word. Normally I teach 4-6 courses per term (2 courses in regular day classes, 1 or 2 courses in the evening classes, and also 1 or 2 in the weekend distance-learning classes).
Teaching in GBI caused me to realise my need for further learning. I had not taken some of the important courses for biblical interpretation, such as Hebrew and Greek languages in my undergraduate studies. I had also to learn to defend the truth of His Word in this age of biblical and theological criticism and confusion. By the guidance of the Lord, I joined the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) in May 2015. I registered for the Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies (MABTS) programme, and concentrated on Old Testament studies. By the grace of God, through your prayers and support, I have completed the programme and graduated in July 2018. The topic of my MA thesis is: Cain’s Failure to Maintain Vertical Relationship as the Cause for His Failure in Horizontal Relationship: A Narrative Analysis of Genesis 4:1-16. (You may read a summary of learning points gleaned from my thesis, as attached.)
I am much thankful to God for His grace, provision, and protection as I have been travelling from Alemgena to Sarbet (in the middle of Addis Ababa, where EGST is located). The Lord has preserved my health these three years so that I am able to complete my studies. May the Lord bless you all for standing by me and sharing in this success with me.
Since I began my part-time class at the EGST, I was not able to teach in the evening class because most of my EGST classes were in the evenings. Now I turned to teach the evening class this summer. Currently, I am teaching 5 courses (3 evening courses: on Discipleship, Servant Leadership, and Comparative Religion; and 2 distance-learning courses: on Ten Commandments, and a study of 1 & 2 Kings).
Side by side with teaching in GBI, I am serving in the following areas as well: preaching during the Lord’s Day service (at least once per month respectively in Alemgena and Addis Ababa, as assigned by Rev. Ephrem), teaching children’s Sunday school class in Alemgena, singing in the choir, and evangelism.
It is my pleasure and honour to serve the Lord in His vineyard with you, and share God’s doings in my life with you.
Sincerely in Christ,
Cain’s failure to maintain “brother-to-brother” horizontal relationship was the consequence of his broken vertical relationship with God through his unacceptable offering. Thus, he killed Abel in anger against God and out of jealousy of his brother’s success, denying his responsibility. Sadly, modern scholars’ explanation of shifting the blame on God for rejecting Cain’s unacceptable gift is a gross misrepresentation of God’s just character. God was not the cause for Cain’s crisis; the problem lies in the behaviour of the man himself and in his unacceptable offering.
As worshippers of the sovereign and just God of Cain and Abel, we should be aware that God regards or disregards offerings that are presented before His altar. We should also be aware that failure to maintain our vertical relationship with God has a direct bearing on our failure to maintain right relationships with others, thereby leading us into tragedy. So, we must obey God in all that He commands us and demands of us. When He does not respond to us the way we expect, we shouldn’t be wrathful against God because He is not unjust in His doings. Rather, we should examine ourselves, admit our failure, and repent. We should also take God’s word of advice or warning seriously because all that He commands us is intended for our good.
When we read about God’s dealings with individuals or groups of people in the Bible, which are difficult to explain, we shouldn’t doubt His just and righteous character. We should humble ourselves and pray to God to help us understand those things.
Every human being is responsible for his “brother” – the other fellow human being – because we are our brothers’ keepers. Though we are not able to take responsibility for all the whereabouts of other people, we should do what we can for those who are next to us. At the same time, we should know that human life is sacred, for man is created in the image of God. The LORD prohibits murder, so we must never take a human life. We must not use the power that we have in our hand (whether it be authority or physical strength) to hurt others. We should be aware of the fact that the powerless innocent may physically die, but we are the ones who would ultimately suffer because of God’s just judgment! In the New Testament, hatred for a brother is equated with murder (1 John 3:15). A murderer will not inherit eternal life. So we should avoid envy, anger and verbal abuses against a brother because such emotions and actions are fruits of hatred. These attitudes can lead us into the actual physical attack and taking away of life. Positively, we should love our neighbours as ourselves, in fulfilment of our Lord’s commandment (cf. Matthew 22:39).
God’s omniscience is both a warning and an encouragement to us in our relationship with others. Even though we may hide or deny what we did or planned against our brother’s life, God sees every attitude and action of every human being, and thus we cannot escape His judgment. We should always examine our attitudes and actions towards our fellow brother. If we discover that we are doing or planning to do evil, or if our actions are accompanied with arrogance, greed, envy, anger, and hatred against others and their success, we should know that we are going the way of Cain. Therefore, we must quickly turn away in repentance. On the other hand, God’s omniscience is an encouragement to us because He sees what others think or plan against us, and He will protect us from all their secret snares, in accordance with His sovereign will.
Satan is a determined and vicious creature who targets his enemies relentlessly. His first and foremost enemy and the target of his hostility is our Triune God. He is waging a cosmic war against God and all that are His.
The prophet Ezekiel, while indicting the king of Tyre, goes beyond him to speak about his supernatural evil enabler, even Satan. In the descriptions in Ezekiel 28:11–19, the prophet spoke of things that do not befit the king of Tyre, or any human being. The prophet speaks of that creature as “perfect in beauty” (v. 12), as one that “hast been in Eden the garden of God” (v. 13), etc. Furthermore, he was also referred to as “the anointed cherub that covereth” (v. 14); besides, of no man except Adam could it be said, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” (v. 15). Other descriptions, which Ezekiel gave about this being, also do not match any human being.
Though this being was said to be perfect in his ways, Ezekiel describes his corruption and condemnation in verses 15-18: “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee… thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.”
When Satan took his antagonism into the Garden of Eden and caused man to rebel against his Creator, God declared war against this wicked enemy. In His declaration of war (which is also the first preaching of the Gospel – protoevangelion) in Genesis 3:15, God clearly alluded to Satan’s murderous hostility against Christ (“her seed”) – “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Satan’s defeat and Christ’s victory were also envisioned in that divine declaration of war against Satan.
Throughout history, Satan had attempted to derail God’s plan for man’s redemption. We will mention just a few of Satan’s attempts to thwart God’s prediction of Christ’s birth as the promised Seed of Abraham to be our Saviour. He tried to accomplish the genocide of the Jews (for Christ was to be born as a Jew) through the Egyptian Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-20), through Haman who attempted to kill Mordecai and all the Jews (see Book of Esther), etc. He also tried to kill Jesus through the wicked king Herod (Matthew 2:13, 16), and by having Him thrown off a cliff at Nazareth (Luke 4:29). Satan also tried to get Jesus to fall to his temptations. Finally, he had Him crucified, only to have his own head crushed and his power forever shattered by Christ’s resurrection.
Satan and his evil angels, in battling God and His purposes, also engage in conflicts with God’s elect angels, led by Michael. That warfare has a past (Jude 9; Daniel 9), present and future (Revelation 12:7) aspect. Although hidden from our view, their battle is no less real (cf. Daniel 10:12-13).
Satan’s hatred for God’s people in this world is a fullblown reality. His antagonism and aggression towards God’s people is not a trivial, inconsequential matter.
God’s chosen nation of Israel has always been Satan’s target. His anti-Israel stance is well-captured in 1 Chronicles 21:1, where it is recorded: “And Satan stood up against Israel.” Satan’s hostility towards Israel is sometimes expressed through malevolent actions against her leaders. Such an instance is recorded in Zechariah 3:1 – “And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.” Here, Satan resisted Joshua the high priest, who represented the nation of Israel before God by railing accusation against Joshua. It was intended to interrupt or thwart Joshua in his intercessory role for Israel.
In Revelation 12, we read of Satan’s future attack on Israel during the period of Great Tribulation. In the figurative language of this prophetic portion, his vicious resentment against Israel that “spills over” to Christ is depicted. In verse 13, it is mentioned that “And when the dragon (Satan) saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman (Israel) which brought forth the man child (Christ).” In verse 17, it is written, “And the dragon (Satan) was wroth with the woman (Israel), and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
His malicious anger towards the church is in no wise small. The apostle Paul sought to strengthen the Corinthian church against Satan’s ploys with the words: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Through fallen angels and evil men (cf. Ephesians 6:12), Satan will attack the church, by introducing heresies and immoral living. According to 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul warns the church that many churchgoers will be led away by satanic attack on the church – “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; 2 Timothy 3:13; 2 Peter 2:1).
Consider how Satan sought to destroy the children of Job in order to compel him to curse God (Job 1). Think of his strategy of using the extreme trials to coerce Job’s wife to ask Job to curse God and die (Job 2:9)! Paul warned the married Christians not to deprive each other of sexual relations so that Satan would have no opportunity to tempt them – “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together
again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Contemporary crisis in Christian families and the upsurge in divorce indicate Satan’s success in attacking families of our time.
Satan attempts to devastate those who devoutly follow the Lord. Whether it be the ancient saint Job, or the apostles like Peter and Paul, or the present-day Christians, Satan is set to target them in order to cripple and destroy the credibility of their witness. Jesus warned Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). Satan wanted to shake Peter and make him blow away his faith. If he had succeeded, Peter would have been useless to God.
Later Peter reminded Christians of Satan’s perilous hatred in 1 Peter 5:8 – “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”. Here, Peter points to Satan and tells Christians that he is “your adversary”. The pronoun “your” emphasises the fact that Satan is a very personal enemy to all of God’s people. He not only opposes God and His holy angels, but also God’s people. Furthermore, the Greek term which Peter used for “adversary” (antidikos) conveys the idea of an enemy who is seriously and aggressively hostile, and the Greek term for “devil” (diabolos) depicts Satan as “a malicious enemy who slanders or attacks”.
Let us not underestimate the determination of Satan to attack us. The apostle Peter described him as prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour its victim. Peter communicates to us the picture of a vicious and ferocious beast pursuing his prey. His goal is to “devour” or gulp down, not just hurt or wound! Total annihilation of Christians is Satan’s strategy and aim.
So, Christians, let us be on our guard. “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Lord is our Refuge and Defender against this evil enemy. As Martin Luther’s hymn teaches us,
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
As a Presbyterian church, we baptise our infants. However, some Christians reject infant baptism. You might have been questioned about our practice of infant baptism. I would like to provide you with the following biblical reasons for baptising infants of believers in our church:
1. Baptism is the initiation into the covenant community, and the children of believers have always been included in the covenant community by giving them the sign of the covenant.
At Pentecost, when Peter invited the Jews who repented and believed to baptism, he also declared that the covenantal promise of the New Testament which he had just announced was “unto you, and to your children”. Acts 2:38-39 records, “Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Peter did not say the promise is to all children, but to “your children”. Neither was the apostle addressing children who were present among his hearers. Clearly, Peter was specifically referring to the children of the new believers among his hearers as heirs of the promise. Peter was proclaiming, expanding and applying the central promise of the covenant of grace in Christ to his Jewish hearers.
The Jews of all ages have always understood God’s gracious covenant promises in the Scriptures as having been offered to believers in terms of “you and your children”. Whether it be the Adamic (Genesis 3:15), Noahic (Genesis 9:8-9), Abrahamic (Genesis 17:7, 10-14), Mosaic (Exodus 3:14-15; Deuteronomy 4:9, 13, 23, 31), Davidic (2 Samuel 23:5) or the New covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:39), every one of those gracious covenants that God had made, was made with Israel’s fathers and their descendants or children. It is significant to note that the new covenant that God promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is the New Testament / Covenant (cf.Hebrews 8:8-13; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25), clearly indicates that the promise is to them and to their house, or descendants, or children (cf. Jeremiah 33:14; 32:39; 50:4, 5).
On the day of Pentecost, through Peter, God affirmed once again the pattern which He has always expressed in the Scriptures to Jewish believers – “unto you, and to your children”. Then He expands it even to “all who are far off”, which is a reference to believing Gentiles.
Let us also recall that God’s covenants, both in the old and new dispensations, were all gracious covenants that affirmed and reaffirmed His salvation through repentance and faith in Christ. In the Old Testament, people anticipated by faith the salvation God promised through Christ, while in the New, people affirm by faith
the salvation which God has accomplished through Christ. Therefore, in the Old and New Testament periods, salvation (or justification) has always been by faith in
Christ (cf. John 8:56; Genesis 22:18; Luke 2:28-30; 10:24; Romans 4:9-13, 16; Galatians 3:7-14, 29; 1 Peter 1:10-12).
While in the old dispensation, circumcision was the sign of faith and that of membership in the covenant community which God has instituted, in the new, the sign is baptism, as Peter has declared in Acts 2:38-39 at the beginning of the New Testament. In the Old Testament, circumcision – which was a sign of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:11-12) – was given to his descendants at the age of 8 days old, even before the child was able to exercise faith, as a sign of the child’s initiation into the covenant community of God’s people (Genesis 17:10-14). Likewise in the New Testament, as Peter’s words show, baptism – which is the new sign of faith and initiation into the church given to those who repent and believe on Christ – is granted to the children of the believers.
Baptism is offered as a sacrament of initiation into the local church, firstly to those who trust in Christ, and then to their children (Acts 2:38-39, 42, 47). God has always included children of the believers into the body of His believing people by granting them the sign of the covenant. While circumcision – the sign of the gracious covenant in the old dispensation – was given only to boys, baptism – the sign of the covenant in the new dispensation – is given to both male and female children.
2. Circumcision in the old dispensation and baptism in the new depict the same truth.
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).
Paul clearly makes a connection between circumcision and baptism to point to the spiritual reality to which these covenant signs point. Both circumcision and baptism are covenant signs that point to the regenerating and cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Scriptures record that the whole households of new believers were baptised.
The cases of household baptism were mentioned in connection with Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11:14; Lydia (Acts 16:15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34), and Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16).
These records of household baptism provide yet another proof that God has received children of the believers into the church through the sign of initiation into the covenant community of His people, just as it was all through the ages.
4. The apostle Paul taught the Corinthian church that the children born to Christians (even though the Christian was married to a non-Christian) are “holy” (sanctified or set apart for God).
In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul wrote: “… else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” The apostle Paul here instructed the Corinthian Christians concerning the proper understanding of God’s regard of believers’ children. The children of believers are to be regarded as “holy”. The basic meaning of the term “holy” conveys the idea of “setting apart for God’s use”. Now, God can set apart anything for a specific purpose as He desires. Even garments (Exodus 28:2), flesh and bread (Exodus 29:34), place (Leviticus 6:27), fruit (Leviticus 19:24) were called “holy”, for God wanted them for His use. Even though these things were incapable of consciously doing anything morally upright, God wanted them to be regarded as “holy”. Likewise, the children of believers should also be marked by the covenant community as separated unto Himself.
Paul was not coming up with a new spiritual concept. Instead, he was relating to the Corinthians what has been revealed throughout the history of redemption. The Lord has always called His people to bring up their children as a set-apart people for God. It was to be done, in the Old Testament times with the sign of circumcision. John Calvin commented that “the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.” Understanding how God regards the children of believers adds further doctrinal clarity to administering the covenant sign of baptism.
5. Children (like Timothy), who grew up in the church learning God’s Word from their childhood (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5-6; 3:14-15), were regarded as part of the church.
Nothing is said about such young men as Timothy, who had been in the church with their parents since young, being baptised when they grew older. This gives a firm reason for the deduction that they were baptised as infants, with their parents upon their conversion.
Furthermore, the apostles, like John and Paul, included instructions for children in the early churches (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20; 1 John 2:12-13). They did not treat the children of the believers as outsiders, but as an integral part of the church. Even parents were instructed to love their children and bring them up as faithful children (Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 3:4, 12; 5:10, 14; Titus 1:6; 2:4).
6. Finally, Jesus instructed His disciples that the little children (infants) should be welcomed to come with their parents to Him, and that the kingdom of heaven belonged to them (Matthew 19:14).
If Jesus welcomed little children (babies and toddlers) of believers as part of His kingdom, certainly there is good biblical basis for putting upon them the mark of the covenant in baptism, so as to receive them as part of the church, which is the visible realm of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
In the last two Sunday weeklies, I have written about the order of worship, covering such topics as preparation for worship and the elements that constitute the first part of the worship, namely (i) Call to Worship, (ii) Praise Hymn, (iii) Scripture Reading (Responsive/In Unison), (iv) Invocation & Gloria Patri, and (v) Various Hymns. In today’s article, I would continue to endeavour to explain the Scriptural reasons and relevance of the rest of the elements in the order of our worship.
The Scriptural records show clearly that collection of offerings were part of the public worship of God. Consider the following examples, which are just a few among the many biblical exhortations to bring offering unto the Lord:
In the early church, the worshippers brought their tithes and offerings to express their thanksgiving to God (Psalm 96:8; Proverbs 3:9; 2 Corinthians 9:12), and to support the Gospel work and the poor brethren (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; Hebrews 13:16).
The Bible teaches us to give to the Lord’s work cheerfully and generously – “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). How else can we reverentially and appropriately give for the honour and praise of our gracious and generous Lord?
Upon the collection of offering, the congregation sings the doxology and bow before the Lord for the offertory prayer. The intent of the doxology (or a thanksgiving chorus) is to both acknowledge the Lord as the Giver of all material blessings and to express our gratitude to Him. In this prayer, we thank Him for blessing us and enabling us to offer our tithes and offerings, and dedicate them humbly to His glory. “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the LORD’S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 116:17-19).
As mentioned earlier, the reading of Scripture has been an integral part of the public worship of God’s people (Joshua 8:33–35; 2 Kings 23:2; Nehemiah 9:3; 1 Timothy 4:13). The Scripture portion that will be the text for the sermon will also be read ahead of the delivery of the sermon.
We are also highly encouraged to memorise the Scriptures – “Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live” (Proverbs 4:4b; cf. Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 3:1; 7:3; Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18). This habit of memorising the Scriptures is to be inculcated in our children. Hence, to specifically encourage our children to memorise God’s Word, that they may also know the great value of retaining the Scriptures in their minds, we have included Scripture memorising as part of our worship.
The pastoral prayer has been a common element in the worship services of the Protestant churches. During this time, the pastor would arise and pray to the Lord on behalf of the congregation. During this time, he would take about 15 minutes to pray for the spiritual growth and protection, comfort and strengthening, faithfulness and fruitfulness of the people.
Unfortunately, in many churches of our time, such a prayer by the pastor for the flock is shortened to 5 minutes or less. Some have even done away with it. The long pastoral prayer provides the pastor with a weekly opportunity to not only bring the congregation before the throne of God in worship, but also to teach them to pray by example.
The apostle Paul reminded the young pastor Timothy, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). James advised his readers in chapter 5, verse 14 to call on elders to pray for the sick. It is the duty of men whom God has appointed to lead the church (pastors/elders/preachers) to pray for the blessing of the church.
This element of worship is of supreme importance because as the Word of God is preached by a faithful pastor or a faithful preacher, God Himself addresses the congregation with His truth and wisdom. The man whom God has placed in a congregation to feed the flock as their pastor must declare “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27b). Hence, Timothy the young pastor was exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
In the sermon, the minister of the Word must read and explain the words of the Scriptures and faithfully declare their truths and wisdom, for the glory of God and for the salvation and edification of the people who hear him. He must be mindful to rebuke, correct and instruct his hearers according to the truth of the Word, that repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ may be wrought. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
As Jesus has said, “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 160) instructs us on how to hear the preaching of God’s Word with the answer to the question: “What is required of those who hear the Word preached?” — “It is required of those who hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” (See Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Philippians 4:9; James 1:22; Luke 9:44; 1 Peter 2:1-2).
At the end of worship, the pastor of the congregation pronounces the benediction. The word “benediction” comes from the Latin bene (which means “good”) and dicere (which means “say”). In the Scriptural context, a benediction is a pronouncement of blessing (“good words”) from God by His representative upon His people. It is the LORD’s blessing upon His people who have gathered to magnify Him in worship.
When worship ends, we go out of God’s presence into the world where we live and work by receiving the promise of God’s gracious blessings. It is spoken by the “undershepherd” whom the great Shepherd of the sheep, even the Lord Jesus Christ, has called and ordained to shepherd His flock.
In the Old Testament, the priests were commanded by God to give such a blessing to the people: “Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:23-27). Likewise, Jesus at the conclusion of His earthly ministry, “lifted up his hands, and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). Towards the end of the epistles, the apostles also pronounced blessing upon those who had gathered to hear them being read in their congregations (cf. Romans 16:24-27; 1 Corinthians 16:23). Their benedictions became a pattern for the pastors to pronounce God’s blessings for His glory and for His obedient people’s spiritual welfare.