Psalm 98; “Joy to the world”

Here is a study I did at Zion’s Midweek about the hymn “Joy to the World,” its background and the inspiration for the hymn, Psalm 98.

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The Perfect Revelation of the Lord (Psalm 19)

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament shows His handiwork.

2 Day unto day utters speech,

And night unto night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech nor language

Where their voice is not heard.

4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,

And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,

5 Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.

6 Its rising is from one end of heaven,

And its circuit to the other end;

And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold,

Yea, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,

And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?

Cleanse me from secret faults.

13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;

Let them not have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless,

And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight,

O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

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Abiding in Christ is essential to praying and receiving answers to prayer (John 15:7)

The “words” of Jesus here are all of his sayings, commands, and promises. Collectively they are the “word” mentioned in v. 3 that makes us clean before God. This is all the words not only of Jesus in the Gospels but also of the prophets and the apostles since they spoke and write at the movement of Christ’s Spirit and spoke and wrote words about Christ.

These words of Christ “must so lodge in the disciple’s mind and heart that conformity to Christ, obedience to Christ, is the most natural (supernatural?) thing in the world.” (D. A. Carson, John, 517). Now we see why this is much more than mere obedience, mere outward conformity to a set of rules.

Jesus and the Word of God are so closely connected that they are interchangeable. The Bible is the written Word of God which testifies to Christ who is the Living Word of God (John 5:39). That’s why the Bible itself is said to be “alive and powerful (Heb. 4:12).

So this verse is telling us that one vital and important way that Christ abides in us is through His Word. And as we grow in the knowledge of His Word it begins to permeate our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, our very souls, just like nourishment from the vine flows through to each branch. The vine gives life to the branch this way and this is how our vine, Christ, gives life and spiritual vitality to each of us, too.

When we live in that power of that spiritual vitality brought about by the Word and communicated to us through the Spirit, we begin to bear fruit, not the kind of fruit that we think or that the world thinks is necessary, but the kind of fruit that such a divine branch would produce, fruit that is pleasing to God.

This is the context in which we must understand the promise about prayer at the end of v. 7. How does this happen? Obviously you have to be coming into regular contact with the Word through reading it and hearing it preached but the way the Spirit of Christ connects that Word to us is through prayer.

When we have such a vital, life-giving connection to the Word through prayer, we develop new hearts that desire only what God desires so that we pray and God truly gives us the “desires of our hearts” (Psalm 37:4) but this only comes after we have learned to so delight ourselves in the Lord that we desire only what He desires.

It is only as we are drawing life and spiritual vitality from the vine that we become not merely outwardly obedient, but develop such an inward connection to the life-giving force of the vine that it is like we aren’t even having to think in terms of obedience because we are made to desire the very things that Christ desires.

When I do what I want to do I don’t think of it in terms of obeying myself, I just do what I want. When the life of Christ flows through you as a believer, you will live in obedience to His commands, but you don’t even think of it as being obedience so much as you simply have learned to desire what Christ desires for you.

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Abiding in Christ is essential because those who don’t abide are cast out (John 15:6)

There are two, and only two, alternatives: abide in or remain in the vine, and become a fruitful branch, or be cast out and burned.

These are the two options, there is no third option. You are either in Christ and thus striving to grow in your commitment to Him and dependance upon Him, or you can go it alone.

If you are seeking Christ in the power of the Spirit, that is, maintaining your connection to the vine, that walking with Christ and growing in dependance on Him is an indicator that you belong to Him.

Going it alone means being cut off from the vine and we all know what happens when a branch is cut off from a tree or bush or vine: it dies and is destroyed. Why would you seek to live the Christian life under your own power when you could live it under Christ’s power. Refusing to seek Christ daily for His power could be an indication that you are not really connected to the vine. But if you’re connected to the vine, through your faith in Him, the Spirit will lead you to seek Him and will communicate to you the life-giving power of the vine so that you may flourish and thrive.

The Christ who called us wants us not just to be connected to the vine, but to bear fruit, even to bear much fruit.

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Abiding in Christ is the only way to be fruitful in what matters (John 15:5)

There is a wide range of interpretations in the last two hundred years about the nature of this fruit. Some say it is “soul-winning,” though there’s nothing here that even remotely implies that. Others say this fruit is obedience or love or Christian character or something similar. But why reduce the fruit only to one of these? The rest of the passage indicates that this fruit is the result of praying in Jesus’ name (v. 7) and the purpose of this fruit is to bring glory to the Father. (vv. 8). So the fruit here is everything that comes as a result of praying effectively in Jesus’ name. Some of the things this might involve are given right here in this text: obedience to Jesus’ commands (v. 10), experiencing Jesus’ joy (v. 11), love for one another (v. 12), and effective witness to the world (vv. 16, 27).

So you will be fruitful in the things that matter for eternity. These are the fruits of a life united with Christ and centered on Christ. Just as the Lord doesn’t give us the same peace that the world gives (14:27), so he doesn’t give us fruit that is of this world but fruit that is of the age to come. This is fruit that matters not just in this life, but that matters eternally. It is not fruit that we could bear on our own, but fruit that we could only bear as a result of abiding in Him.

All of these things come from persevering and enduring in your dependence upon the vine, which is Jesus Christ. This dependence on the vine is driven by faith and affects every aspect of our life and witness. (D. A. Carson, John, 517)

Maximos the Confessor: “…our weakness, when moved to do good things, is unable to bring anything to completion without the giver of good things. The one who has come to understand the weakness of human nature has had experience of the divine power. And such a person who because of divine power has succeeded in some things and is eager to succeed in others never looks down on anyone. For he knows that in the same way that God has helped him and freed him from many passions and hardships, so can he help everyone when he wishes, especially those who are striving for his sake.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, IVb: John 11–21, 167).

Here’s one more thing to love about this passage: He doesn’t merely say that you will bear fruit, or maybe you will bear much fruit, he says that if you abide in Christ and Christ abides in you, then you will bear much fruit (v. 5).

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Abiding in Christ means learning dependence on Christ (John15:4)

To be fruitful (i.e., to grow and abound) spiritually, you must be dependent on the vine, which v. 1 identifies as Christ. This dependence is “continuous dependence on the vine, constant reliance upon him, persistent spiritual imbibing of his life” (D. A. Carson, John PNTC 516).

Augustine wrote, “They are not in him in the same kind of way that he is in them. And yet both ways tend to their advantage, not to his. For the relation of the branches to the vine is such that they contribute nothing to the vine but derive their own means of life from it, while that of the vine to the branches is such that it supplies their vital nourishment and receives nothing from them. And so their having Christ abiding in them and abiding themselves in Christ are in both respects advantageous not to Christ but to the disciples. For when the branch is cut off, another may spring up from the living root. But that which is cut off cannot live apart from the root.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, IVb:166)

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John 15:4 – “Abiding in Christ” is a Choice

To “abide” means to “remain” or to “dwell” to “continue” or to “endure.” When we talk about abiding in this sense of persevering or of remaining in Christ (John 15:4), we are not talking about whether or not you can lose your salvation. We are talking about perseverance from our perspective.

“Abiding in Christ” has to do with choosing communion with Christ over other things that we might pursue, even good things. Are you choosing to live your life in a sphere where Christ is what is important, where you are influenced by Christ and by the things of Christ? Are you choosing to live in close communion with Christ? Or are you choosing to live under the influence of someone or something else or seeking things other than Christ?

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James on True Faith vs Genuine Faith

2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.

2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man.

Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

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J. C. Ryle: “The saddest road to hell…”

“The saddest road to Hell is the one that runs under the pulpit, past the Bible, and through the middle of warnings and invitations.”   -J.C. Ryle

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Chesterton on not believing in God:

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing. They then become capable of believing in anything.”

This explains much of what is going on in our society at the beginning of the 21st century.

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