God’s Family Gathers
Series: God's Family
This week, pastor Matt Cohen kicks off week two of our August sermon series on “God’s Family” by showing from the Scriptures that “God’s family gathers.” The text is Colossians 3:15-17. He answers the question: Why does God’s family gather?
Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman
In the late spring, the rest of the Citylight pastors and I went away for a few days to pray, plan, and seek the Lord for His particular focus for Citylight Church for the coming ministry year, which runs from July to June. As we prayed, the Lord put the word “family” in our hearts. After a season of unprecedented isolation, we believe that the Lord is leading Citylight into a season of unprecedented family because the church is God’s family. Unprecedented family means a year of enjoying richer relationships with one another than perhaps ever before. Unprecedented family means setting down deeper roots than ever before into God’s word and into this geographic area so that we can be Christ’s people in this area for the long haul. Unprecedented family also means reaching out to our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates because anyone can get in on God’s family through the grace that is in Christ alone. Toward the end of unprecedented family, each Sunday this month we are exploring the theme of the church as God’s family from a different angle and unpacking what it will look like practically to enjoy a year of unprecedented family. And the Big idea that we are going to explore today is: God’s family gathers.
Our weekly gatherings flow from our identity as God’s family in Jesus and reinforce our identity as God’s family in Jesus. When I became a Christian late in high school, I gained a new best friend, Sean Cox. Sean invited me into his life: his youth group at church, his friend group at school, but perhaps most significantly, into Sunday night dinner with his family. I had never seen anything like dinner at the Cox’s home. Because they were family, Sunday night dinner was sacred for the Cox’s. Almost nothing could be prioritized over it. Because they were Christians, they began the meal with prayer. Not perfunctory let’s “get through it” prayer, Sean’s dad really prayed. The meal was full of laughter, genuine questions about one another’s weeks, encouragement for those around the table that were hurting, and a keen awareness that God was among us. Along with Sean’s family, there was often a person or two like me present; non-family members seeing and learning the difference Jesus can really make in a family and loving the privilege of getting in on it. Of course, the Cox’s didn’t gather for dinner to become family. They gathered for dinner because they are family and to reinforce their joyful and privileged family identity. Friends, this weekly, corporate worship gathering is just like the Cox family Sunday night dinner. Our gatherings flow from our identity as God’s family in Jesus and joyfully reinforce our identity as God’s family. God’s family gathers. As someone who didn’t grow up attending church gatherings, I have to tell you, it still sort of amazes me that anyone goes to church. There are so many other options. There are sports, sleeping in, studying, house projects, really gifted preachers you can watch in your pajamas, and the general opportunity to relax. Why does God’s family gather? Why gather? We will explore three answers from Colossians 3:15-17: 1. To let the peace of Christ rule in us. 2. To let the word of Christ dwell in us. 3. For the glory of God in all things.
TO LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST RULE (3:15)
Colossians 3:15 begins this way, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” The peace of Christ is both a vertical peace and a horizontal peace. Though we were once dead in our sins, disobeying and ignoring God in the world He created, and were by nature his enemies and objects of his just and holy wrath, God has made peace with us and adopted us as his beloved children forever through the sinless life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins. We have peace with God through Christ, the Prince of Peace. The peace of Christ is a vertical peace first, but it’s also a horizontal peace. That’s what Paul is getting at with the word “rule.” As one scholar puts it, the peace of Christ should “be the umpire” among believers.” The peace of Christ is the vertical and horizontal peace that only the gospel can bring.
Below is a great place to talk about re-story and the three-fold purpose of gathering. Maybe a good spot for participating in Trinitarian worship.
Now, I want you to notice where this peace of Christ is enjoyed. Colossians 3:15: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Did you notice where the peace of Christ is both enjoyed and displayed? In one body. In the New Testament, “body” is a common synonym for Jesus’s church. The very place where Jesus’s peace is savored and seen is in the weekly gatherings of the church. Oh friends, there is nothing ordinary about going to church. The weekly gathering of each local church is a cosmic display that through Jesus enemies of God and one another are now God’s adopted children and family to one another. There is so much more going on in our church services than we think! Our family gatherings are a weekly reminder and display that through the blood of Jesus we are a people at peace with God and one another. When we gather together, young and old, wealthy and not so wealthy, empty nesters and young parents, singles and marrieds, black and white, immigrant yes even Republican and Democrat, we are reminded that the peace that we have with God through Christ vertically is being bent out horizontally as the umpire among us, and visitors to our family gathering get to see the difference Jesus really makes in a people. We gather to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, together. You simply cannot do that at home, in your pajamas, with your nuclear family and you certainly don’t want to miss out on it for the sake of studying or sports. Now, did you notice who gathers us? It’s none other than God himself. Colossians 3:15: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. We gather by God’s gracious initiative. God called us into one body the church by choosing us before the foundation of the world to be his adopted children through Jesus. We gather to worship God because God has graciously called us into his family through the gospel of peace and it’s in our gathering to worship the one who calls us that the peace of Jesus is refreshed to rule in our hearts and among our community again. And it’s a peace that anyone can get in on. We gather to let the peace of Christ rule!
So, what should we do? God tells us at the end of Colossians 3:15: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Be thankful! Friends, be thankful that the God of peace, through His Son the Prince of Peace, has called you to gather weekly with your family to enjoy the rule of his peace among us. Be thankful! Be exceedingly happy that God himself who should send you to Hell for your sins instead calls you to enjoy a weekly reminder that you’re a part of a family ruled by his peace. Before we get to anything practical, are you thankful for the wonder of going to church? Do you see the cosmic privilege that our weekly family gatherings are? Friends, if you can’t come to these gatherings with thankfulness, come for thankfulness. Ask God to fill you with thankful wonder that he calls you to his family dinner each week. It all starts with the wonder and thankfulness. We gather to let the peace of Christ rule among us. Wow. Be thankful.
TO LET THE WORD OF CHRIST DWELL (3:16)
Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… The word of Christ is the word about Christ, or what is called throughout the New Testament “the word of truth” or “the gospel.” The gospel is the very heart of Christianity. The gospel is the great news that God is forgiving and reconciling sinners as his sons and daughters by grace alone, through faith alone, in the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of the long-promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the news that Jesus died and rose for our sins! The gospel is to have its gracious and glorious way among us. How does that happen? How do we “let the word of Christ dwell richly among us?” Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom… The word of Christ dwells richly among us not primarily through personal quiet times, 1:1 discipling relationships, or even Citygroup gatherings, as important as all of those are. No, Paul says “let the word of Christ dwell in y’all richly by all of y’all teaching one another, that is giving one another positive instruction in the gospel, and all y’all admonishing one another, that is giving one another counsel about how to avoid false-teaching and false-living.” The word of Christ dwells richly in all of us as all of us gather together to teach and admonish one another. How in the world do we do that? Simple. We sing! Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. The way that we teach and admonish one another is through our songs of praise! When we worship there are always two audiences. Of course, God, yes, but also, one another. The parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19 makes this clear: “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Did you know that singing was such a big deal? Did you know that in our services the real action is in the pews, not on the platform? It makes sense, we are a family. Yes, the sermon is central. Yes, God has given elders to the church to be parents of the family. But the God-prescribed way that all of us cram the gospel down deep into our collective heart is by singing to one another and to God. We gather to let the word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts and we get the word into our hearts by singing to and hearing one another sing. You have to gather physically with the family for that! A few months ago, I was struggling to actually believe the gospel truth that my sins are forgiven. Despite confessing my sins to God and other people, I continued to feel an abiding sense of guilt and shame. But then I came into church and heard you all singing “His Mercy is More.” I heard your voices, saw your raised hands, and felt a sense of gospel peace that I couldn’t press into my own heart. You sang to me! That’s where the action is. That’s why we gather.
I have a few ideas for ways that all of us can help infuse a little more family not just into our singing, but into our entire gathering. First, pray for the whole church as the gathering begins. In addition to praying for your own heart, pray for our collective heart to be shaped into the likeness of Jesus. Second, when we read the word of Christ at various points in our service, engage, read aloud with us, follow along carefully. Join a Citygroup so that you can discuss the word that was preached to all of us. Third, when one of your pastors leads the church in prayer, listen, pray along, say amen. Fourth, when we eat the Lord’s Supper together, watch as others eat and remember that we are commemorating the death of Christ until he comes. Perhaps most importantly, sing! Engage your whole body, lift your voice, open your eyes to see others, listen to the voices of others. Sing and be sung to and the word of Christ will dwell richly among us. Honorable mention: believe that you’re gathering not for a personal spiritual recharge, but for a gathering of your family to worship your Father. Sit close to others, greet others, talk to others, stay long after the service is over talking and praying, and then go out to eat with family members and discuss how God moved among us. The word of Christ dwells richly among us as we embrace this as a gathering of us, rather than a gathering for me.
FOR THE GLORY OF GOD IN ALL THINGS (3:17)
Let’s return to the Cohen family dinner. We sing, eat, share high/low, and maybe have dessert, but what happens next varies. We might go for a walk, we might play a game, we might have Citygroup, Andrea or I may have to work or study, but most nights end with devotions, Bible reading and/or catechism, with each kid. One hope that Andrea and I have is that our family dinners and devotions will shape our kids into people who live out their identity as Christians and Cohens during the majority of their waking hours when we are scattered as a family, rather than gathered as one. It’s the same with God’s family gatherings. We gather as God’s family so that when we scatter during the week, we live out of our family identity in all things, for the glory of God. Colossians 3:17: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. We gather for worship for the glory of God, to build one another, and so that our friends and neighbors can join us and get a glimpse of the difference that Jesus really makes in a people. And we gather so that we can be refreshed in our family identity so that throughout the week, wherever we go and whatever we do, we do all, in word or deed, as God’s family for God’s glory! We gather to worship the king so that we can scatter to live as the king’s ambassadors wherever our week takes us. We gather so that we can scatter for the glory of God. As Paul Tripp says, “Corporate worship is a regular gracious reminder that it’s not about you. You’ve been born into a life that is a celebration of another. Corporate worship is designed to remind you that in the center of all things is a glorious and gracious King, and this king is not you.” We gather for these gracious reminders so that we can go and live our of our family identity, for the glory of God in all things.
Friends, all week long we are being discipled by the world around us. We are being discipled into the misery of thinking that life is about us, getting our way, about our glory. We gather for the gracious reminder that this universe exists for God’s glory so that we can go and live for God’s glory in all things. There is nothing in the world so sacred and significant as God’s family gathering. So, let’s gather. Let’s not give up meeting. Let’s take part in this grace every Lord’s Day. Let’s love it and let’s invite everyone to get in on it. Like the Cox family dinner, let’s fill these seats with friends and neighbors who need to see the difference Jesus really makes in a people.
God’s family gathers because God has made all who believe in Jesus his family by grace and gathers us for the joy of receiving his peace, his word, and being trained to live for his glory again and again. There is no ordinary church gathering. And this is what I want you to keep in mind this year because you’re going to hear quite a bit about our church seeking a place to set down our roots and gather for years to come. And the reason place matters is because gathering matters. On paper, we have one year left on our lease here at Mishkan Shalom Synagogue with every indication being that we will not receive another extension. And so, because of the cosmic significance of the church’s gathering, I am calling Citylight Church to a season of prayer. Prayer that the Lord will root us into a place where we can gather as a church and invite a weary world that needs to see Jesus on display. Powerful and miraculous things happen when God’s people pray. Here is what I’m calling all of us to do: commit to bi-monthly prayer. We will send a bi-monthly prayer updates about our search for a long-term place for Citylight Church to be rooted. I want you to indicate your interest in getting those and your commitment to pray about putting your connect card in the orange box. When you receive the email, fast from one meal and devote yourself to prayer.