Theme: Keeping Familiarity from Getting the Best of Us
1) With God
2) With Church
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:3-7).
We speak and study God’s Word today as found in Ephesians 3:14-21:
For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Everyone likes something new don’t they? New clothes, new cars, new electronics, new movies, and on and on. New restaurants provide a fresh dining experience. New hobbies turn into lifelong enjoyment. Things that are new are shinier, cleaner, cooler, and pretty much better in every way. Sometimes we get new things because old things wear out. We need to replace something. But, more often than not, we get new things because old things are just old.
The longer we have something, the more familiar it gets. The excitement we had when it was new fades away and in our eyes it becomes common. Things that are familiar generally lose their special status in our eyes. But not all familiar things are like that. Some things stand the test of time. Some possessions or activities survive the “new” craze and they become lasting treasures. When this happens, whatever it is that is familiar is forever galvanized in our minds as precious. It takes on sentimental value for us. It becomes greater than any “new” thing we could ever get.
That’s the way familiarity works; it’s a two sided coin. On one side is the contempt and dissatisfaction that comes along with something common and well known. On the other side is the joy and true gain from having something that is near and dear to your heart. The difference is substantial, but it’s also razor thin. Today we look at two important areas of our lives: God and Church; and how familiarity affects them both. May the Holy Spirit teach and guide us as we study His Word.
Part 1: With God
Though none of us want to admit it, we have all allowed God to become familiar and common in our lives. This is an especially pertinent danger in a church like ours, one that takes the time to instruct from early on about God’s Word. Teaching young people and raising them in the correct faith is something that the Lord Himself commands so we know how important it is. And we can see for ourselves what life becomes without God. There’s a reason that the Christian morals that kids learn from early on influence their thoughts and actions in the future. These things are all part of getting to know God and we can clearly recognize how important it is.
But important as it may be, it doesn’t keep us from letting our relationship with God become familiar. This familiarity can have a drastic effect on our soul care. The Bible stories about God that once fascinated us as children become common and boring after a while. As we grow older and hear them again and again we forget how special they really are. Time goes by, we learn more about other subjects, our knowledge and experience increase, but when it comes to religion we often feel stagnant; as if we’ve reached a point where we’ve exhausted everything we can learn from the Bible.
For many, this point hits after confirmation instruction. For years, as a young child, you have a regular and steady dose of the Bible from lessons in school, devotions at home, and consistent confirmation classes. After confirmation vows are made, you now take responsibility of your faith for the first time in your life. You are now in charge of when you read your Bible and how often you study. It shouldn’t surprise us that when this freedom arrives, we lack the proper discipline to stay focused on the truth.
We hit the same point in other areas of life, whenever we experience new freedom. I remember when I first moved out of my parent’s home into my own rental. I basked in the new freedom I had. I could come and go as I wanted. I could eat whatever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have any higher authority to answer to, I was my own boss. It didn’t take long for life to catch up with me. Soon, I missed having the company of my family. Soon I missed having good, nutritious meals to eat. Soon, I realized how my lack of discipline was destroying the joy of my new found freedom.
How is it that we allow the same thing to happen in our relationship with God? He becomes so familiar that we forget how special He really is. We are so used to hearing about everything that He’s done for us; how He provides for our daily needs, how He is always in control, how He has saved us from the eternal condemnation of our sins. We’re so used to it that it no longer feels new and fresh. And when this happens, we start to drift away from God. We start to look for something new, something better, something that feels more exciting.
It’s good to be reminded that God is anything but common. It’s helpful to be snapped out of our familiarity and recognize once again, how majestic and almighty God really is. That’s why Paul wrote in our opening verse that he had reason to “bow his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul knew a lot about God, but he had barely scratched the surface of his understanding. A few verses earlier he wrote: To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:8-9).
It’s good for us, like Paul, to recognize that in Christ Jesus we are faced with a great “mystery.” Through our Savior we have a limitless supply of “unsearchable riches.” Paul wrote elsewhere to the Romans: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? 35 Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:33-36). God is so far above our ability to reason and think that we should never categorize Him as common or boring.
Is God familiar to you? I sure hope so, but take a moment to think about what that means. We certainly want Him in our lives. We want to know Him well. We want Him to be personal for us. But we don’t want the familiarity that breeds contempt. We don’t want to turn God into something ordinary, because He most certainly is not ordinary.
There’s no better time to consider God’s power than on Trinity Sunday. If there’s one thing that speaks to God’s limitless power, it would have to be the fact that He reveals Himself in three persons, yet is only one God. How can we ever call our Triune God “familiar” in a condescending way? How dare we ever act as if we have Him figured out, as if we’ve exhausted our ability to learn more from Him? What a disrespectful attitude that is!
Paul brings the thought of God’s power home as He applies it to Christ. He says, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Even when God came in human form, just like you and me, He was still far above us. We search the Scriptures so that we may measure out the width, length, depth, and height of God. This is not to say that God can be measured. Rather we seek to bring Him into our limited understanding. We seek to know Him better so that we may have a greater assurance of what He has done for us. And in Christ, we have the full picture. As Paul said to the Colossians, “in Christ is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).” Everything that God is, that God stands for, that God has done, is seen in the greatest possible way through Christ Jesus our Savior. He is the connective link that helps us comprehend what little we can about the Triune God. But He is also the one who keeps God’s Word fresh in our hearts. He does this by daily taking our sins away through repentance and forgiveness. He equips us to run the race of life with confidence, so that we may serve and fear God in everything we do. And so Paul tells us that we comprehend (v.18) Christ by faith. Literally, we take hold of Him, we make Him our own, by believing what He has done for us. If this seems common and too familiar to you, you need to take a deep look at yourself.
Part 2: With Church
Here we see how important church is, for in church we have a great opportunity to grow closer to God. But church is often despised even more than God is. We barely need any time in church before we get tired of bored of it. There is obviously a blessing in being comfortable and familiar in church. We want to know what is going on and why. There’s great comfort in worshipping with those who believe and confess the same things I do. But how quickly those things fall to the wayside. If there’s one area of our spiritual lives in particular that we seek something better and newer, it would have to be church.
The structure of the service is usually the same; at least it contains the same parts. The hymns, Scripture readings, sermons, prayers, are all good and nice but they become so familiar. Do you ever get tired of the same format? Do you ever wish that things were more exciting or entertaining? It’s not wrong to think those ways, I have before. But in the course of your questions do you ever stop to think about why you feel those ways? There’s nothing wrong with changing up the way we worship. We should always be examining ways that we can better share the Word of God together. But have you ever stopped to think about why we do things the way we do? When you desire something different, what makes you desire it? Why do you need it?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit it, our worship is not very entertaining. Some would call it solemn. Some would call it unenthusiastic. Some would call it boring. But ask yourself this: Why do you worship God? Do you do it to be entertained? Do you come to worship because you a need a way to stay awake on Sundays? The next question is this – what do you need in order to worship God? A hymnal? A bulletin? An organ? A video screen? An Ipad? A potluck? A coffee shop? A full orchestra? A rock band? A more charismatic pastor? Sure, any of those things can help, depending on what you like. But you don’t need them. You need one thing only, the Word of God.
If you have a church that teaches God’s Word truthfully, and I hope you have one here, ask yourself; What’s holding you back? What more do you really need? Why is it that church becomes familiar in a bad way? Different things are nice. Paul talks about encouraging one another through hymns and spiritual songs. But if the Word is present, what makes church so cumbersome? It’s easy to blame other things, like entertainment value, ambiance, and the people around you. It’s easy to blame tradition and the way things have always beem. It’s not so easy to look into your own heart. Is it possible that you’ve allowed church to become too familiar? Is it possible that you resent it because of that familiarity? Is it possible that you need to change your attitude too? Of course it is, it happens to us all. But how do you get out of that rut?
Return to the limitless power, authority and love of you Triune God. If you feel too familiar with church, maybe it’s because you haven’t approached it as you should. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to learn and appreciate why church should be reverent and respectful instead of hip and entertaining. Church should be approached as God instructed Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place you stand is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).” You should think of church the same way in which God spoke to Peter when He said, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common (Acts 10:15).”
Church is just like the God would worship there. It’s not common. Something special takes place at church. When we’re here and God’s Word is present, God Himself is with us. We are standing on holy ground and should act accordingly. God isn’t my college buddy whom I treat however I want. Church isn’t playtime where I do whatever I want. Church shouldn’t have to entertain me in order to make it worth my time.
When we come before the Triune God, we come with respect and awe. We come understanding that He is a mystery to us. Without His powerful Word we wouldn’t know anything about Him. We come to learn more every Sunday, never thinking that we have it all figured out. And most importantly, we come for cleansing. We come to have our sins washed away in the blood of our Savior. We come to know that God the Father sustains us, that God the Son redeems us, and that God the Spirit equips us. Can we ever call something so significant and special “common?” Can we ever be too familiar with our God?
I pray that if you have such thoughts, you examine your heart in the light of God’s Word to find answers. I pray that if there are things we can do better to communicate the truth, we are bold enough to try them. I pray that we always hunger and thirst for righteousness, as if our very lives depended on it, because they do. To God alone be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.