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People: Every Member a Vine Worker

Date: 22 January 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10



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TRANSCRIPT

If you are new to our church, we usually preach expository sermons, which means that teach the bible book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse. And this year, we’ll be going through the book of Acts.


But for the month of January, we are doing something different. We are doing a series, titled the Trellis and the Vine, which is a 4 part series, which articulates our approach to ministry, our mindset as a church as we work towards our mission, which is to “Glorify God by being and making disciples of Christ Jesus”.


Our shorthand way of expressing this mission statement is “to move people to the right”. The right being Christ. We transfer people into the kingdom of Christ, we transform people into the likeness of Christ. We keep moving them closer to the right; closer to Jesus.


And there are four elements, 4 Ps, to this approach: Proclamation, Prayer, People and Perseverance.


This morning’s sermon is on the 3rd P: People.


Let us pray before we begin.


Heavenly, give us ears to listen, eyes to see, and hearts to embrace the glorious purpose you have for us, the church.


In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.


Kian, my godson, likes gardening. So we went to NTUC recently, and he went to the gardening section, and we got him a tray, and compost, and seeds, and a watering spray. And he put them together in his balcony. He positioned the tray where there sunlight, he put the compost in the tray, he buried the seeds in the compost, and he watered the seeds. And that’s about it really. And then you wait.


As a gardener, that’s all you can do. You can’t actually make the plant grow. All you can do is put the elements together, and wait, for something to happen within the seed. You wait for germination to occur. The life of the plant does not reside in the hands of the farmer, its an internal process, it occurs within itself. Without the farmer looking, without the farmer working, the seed germinates, springs into life, and sprouts up as a plant.


Our mission to make disciples, to move people to the right, is known in this series as vine-work. And it bears similarities to gardening.


How do we bring people to faith in Christ, we proclaim the word of Christ? That much we can do, proclamation is up to us, but conversion is not. Bringing someone dead in sin to come alive in Christ is not within our power. God does that work.


So Paul would say, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the growth.” Conversion, as well as sanctification, is essentially a spiritual process. God saves and sanctifies, by his word, yes, but more precisely by the Spirit working through the word.


So Paul says,

1 CORINTHIANS 2:1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom… and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul says that faith is does not rest in his words, but in the power of God. Faith in the word is not a demonstration of how good a preacher he is, but a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.


Pastor Daniel pointed this out to us last week:

1 THESS 1:5 “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The Thessalonians came to faith, not only in word, but also in the power of the Holy Spirit.


Therefore, the other essential ingredient in vine-work, apart from proclamation, is prayer, because we need to depend on the Spirit to grow the vine.


So in our first two sermons, we have covered two ingredients of vine work.

What do we do? We Proclaim the word.


How does the vine grow? We prayerfully depend on the Spirit.


This morning, we turn the question who? Who is responsible for doing vine work?

The answer I put to us is “Us. Everyone, you and I. The people of God.”


There are just two points I want to make in the sermon on the 3rd P: People.

1. Everyone is required to do Vine Work.

2. Vine Work requires Everyone.


I wonder how many fresh-faced National Service recruits, teenagers just out of post-secondary schooling truly understand the reason they were given a uniform and a rifle and asked to march day and night.


If you asked them, why they serving NS, they might say, “What to do, every Singaporean son got to go NS”, or “no choice lah, don’t serve then what, go jail ah?”


Which is why, as recruit on a route march, we are taught a song, to tell us exactly why we are in NS. If you have the Ah Boys to Men movies, you would have heard it.


“Training to be soldiers, fight for our land.

Once in our lives, two years of our time.”


And then it goes, “Have you ever wondered, why must we serve?”

and the answer “Because we love our land and we want it to be free, to be free”.


And even then, some of the regulars in my platoon, when we sang, “Have you ever wondered, why must we serve?” They would go, “Because I sign contract, and I die die have to serve, have to serve.”


And so what we have is a bunch of teenagers, chosen to be soldiers, trained for war, but ambivalent towards that mission. For many, the goal is to keep their head down, go through the motions, and do the bare minimum to complete their NS obligations.


That’s why, in NS, you hear these slogans, “Act blur, take cover, never volunteer”, “Act blur: live longer”. And then we make fun of those who take it seriously, “Eh, don’t siao on leh”, “Run so fast for what, ORD same time what.”


And if you ask NS boys about their dreams and aspirations, what occupies their thoughts, it’s almost always unrelated to the army, it’s going to Uni, building a career, starting a family.


But part of this attitude no doubt, stems from the reality that we in Singapore are at peace. National Service will take on a completely different complexion if we were at war. In war time, every soldier will know, will truly know, what they’re there for, what they’re called to do, what they have to do, even at the cost of sweat and blood and tears. Soldiers at war cannot afford to be unclear about their purpose.


People of God, are you clear on why you have been chosen? Are you clear on why you have been saved, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit?


Because we are at war. What do you mean, who’s attacking us? Who’s threatening religious freedom in Singapore? Who’s trying to shut down our churches?


No, none of those.


EPHESIANS 6:11-12 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

We are in a constant battle for the kingdom of God and the glory of God in this world. They moment we step out of this hall and we disperse as a church, we are on the front lines. Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word. When we are out doing vine work, when we are undertaking the Great commission in this world, we are waging war.


Why else would God call us to put on battle armour? It’s not for cosplaying. It’s not because we’re at peace. It’s because we’re at war.


That’s why we teach our kids to sing:

I may never march in the infantry, Ride in the Calvary, Shoot the artillery. I may never fly o'er the enemy, But I'm in the Lord's army.

Are you crystal clear about why you been recruited, why you have been saved, why you have been called to be part of the church, and filled with Holy Spirit?


Let’s here what the bible has to say:


1 PETER 2:4-5 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Why are you chosen? We are chosen to be the temple and the priesthood of God. What is the significance of the temple and the priesthood. It’s the place where men meet with God, a place where sinful men is reconciled to a holy God, it’s the place where you hear and learn about God.


That’s us. We are the temple; we are the priests. When people meet us, they supposed to hear about God, to encounter him, to learn about him.


Verse 9 makes it more explicit.


1 PETER 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

We are chosen to proclaim. People, you were saved to save and sanctify, through the proclamation of Jesus in the power of the Spirit.


That’s why the Spirit was given to us.


ACTS 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We are indwelled by the Spirit to bear witness, to proclaim Jesus.


And its not just a select few who were tasked to proclaim the Word. It wasn’t just the apostles who were chosen to bear witness. Because the Holy Spirit fell on all, not just some, of the believers.


ACTS 2:4,9-11 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians— we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

Everyone proclaimed, everyone was filled with the Spirit to bear witness to the mighty works of God.


Why is the Spirit given to you? To grant you faith, yes. To convict you of sin, yes. To assure you that you are a child of God, yes. To sanctify you into Christ-likeness, yes.


But when you read the gospels and acts, the clearest reason why the Spirit was given was to empower believers to proclaim the gospel.


JOHN 20:21-22 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Do you see the connection? This is the gospel of John. The Father sent the Son, the Word of God, into the world to save the world. And the Son says, just as the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Here you go, “Receive the Spirit”. That’s why the Spirit was given, to empower our proclamation of the Word in the World.


Who here has received the Spirit of God? Ps Daniel and myself? The BOE? The Session members? Everyone, every Hermonite, every Christian has received the Holy Spirit. Everyone received the Spirit so everyone is required to proclaim the Word. Everyone is required to do vine work.


We all know the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20.


MATTHEW 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

When I was in seminary, I was surprised to learn that the Great Commission, for much of church history, wasn’t that great. By that I mean it wasn’t that significant for missions. It wasn’t the proof text for rallying the church to evangelise and make disciples.


Because if you knew your bible well, you didn’t need a verse to tell you to make disciples. It is implicit in every book, it cries out in every page, the call is everywhere.


William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once told a group of men, who said, they were “not called” to evangelise.


“Not called,” did you say?


“Not heard the call,” I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin.


Anyone here thinks that vine-work isn’t your work? That Luwin is called to proclaim the word, Daniel is called to proclaim the word, not me, I am not called.


Put your ear to the bible, and hear God call you to make disciples.


But so far, we have only discussed one aspect of vine work. The transferring of people into the kingdom. Engaging and evangelising.


How about transforming? How about within the church? Is it also everyone’s job to transform others into Christ-likeness? Yes.


HEBREWS 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are to meet, we have to congregate, this is an instruction to the congregation. We meet to stir up one another, to encourage one another, towards love and good works. In other words, we are to help move one another closer to the right.


One way to do that is by singing.


EPHESIANS 5:18-19 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.

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 songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

We are all called to the ministry of the word in church. We are called to teach and admonish one another. How? One practical way is by singing, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.


Singing is teaching, singing encouraging, singing is transforming. And singing is something the whole church does, not just the pastors and elders. Thank God.


Which is why in Mt Hermon, we filter the songs that we sing in our services. They must meet at least two criteria, their lyrics must contain sound theology, and their music must be suited for congregational singing. Everyone should be able to sing it. Because singing is proclaiming. And proclaiming is the job of everyone.


Hermon, let us be known for our proclaiming, and in our services let it be heard in our singing.


EPHESIANS 4:15-16 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Who speaks the truth in love so that the body grows up into Christ-likeness? Who does the proclaiming to transform? The whole body, every joint, every part, everyone when working properly, makes the body grow.


That’s point 1. Everyone is required to do vine work.


Point 2. Vine work requires everyone.


If vine work is so important, why not just live it to the experts? Why involve me? I have never been to seminary, I don’t know a lot about reformed theology, I haven’t even read the bible in its entirety. Why involve me?


Well, I don’t really know. All I know is what the bible says. Every joint, every part, everyone is needed to build up the body.


There is no one in membership roll of Hermon who is not needed.


1 CORINTHIANS 12:17-21 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Some of us know the bible well, some less so. Words come easily to some, while some struggle to string a single sentence together. Some are extroverts, some are introverts. Some are this, some are that. But all are needed. There is no redundant body part. Perhaps you go, well, how about the appendix? I can think of a appendices in Hermon off the top of my head. Well, research is showing that even the appendix has a function in the body. But the bottom line is, God says, everyone is needed.

Why?

Titus 2 gives us a clue:

TITUS 2:2,3-5 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children...

Paul is writing to Titus, a young pastor of a church in Crete. And Paul says, get the older women in the church to disciple the younger women. Why? Because they know the gospel better than Titus? No, because they older women are better placed to do vine work amongst the young women. They have been there, and they have done that. They know what it means to follow Christ at home, how the gospel trains them to submit to their flawed husbands, how the grace of God sustains them in raising their children, how the promises of God helps ease a mother’s anxiety.


When wives of pastors and elders find themselves lonely because their husbands are tied up in ministry and they sense a growing resentment towards God as a result, who is best placed to encourage them? The pastors and elders themselves? No, we need women who have journeyed that same path to show the way to those coming up behind them.


If you find yourself wrestling with depression because you are old, and your body is frail and constantly hurting and you’re sick and tired of visiting one doctor after another, who do you want to turn to for words of comfort and encouragement? Me? I can point you to 1 Cor 15 and sermonise about our hope in Christ of a resurrection body. Of course, I can.


But someone who is older, who have experienced that same fear, and have found comfort in the bible, may point you to the same passage that I have in 1 Corinthians 15. But they will say it differently. They will say it with a meaning I have yet to comprehend, they will say it with a gravity I do not yet know, because they would have lived the verse whereas I have not. The church needs more than its pastors to disciple everyone. The church needs everyone.


ACTS 2:4,9-11 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians— we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

And sometimes, its just a matter of language. My next door neighbour is an old lady who speaks dialect and mandarin. How I wish I could be her vine worker, but I am limited by the language.


Vine work is best done by someone who speaks the language. And if my experience at the youth and young adults camp last month is anything to go by, I need others to disciple the youth.


It’s bussin, it’s slaying, it’s lit, it slaps. My middle-aged friends, those words do not mean what you think they mean. It’s a tongue we do not speak. There are others better placed for discipling youths than Ps Daniel and myself, or any of the elders. There are others better placed for discipling children, and women, and seniors. Vine work is not best left to the experts. It’s best done for everyone by everyone. Vine work requires everyone.


When the Jews in Babylon were threatened with annihilation by royal decree, there was one Jew in the position to do something. Esther the Queen has access to the king. She did not get there because of her profound theology, she got there because of her great beauty.


And Mordecai told Esther, you have to help, you have to say something. “who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”


Friends, God made Esther pretty so that when the time came, the Jews could be saved. We are all made differently, gifted differently, located in different sectors in society, so as to be unique positioned to do vine work in places where Ps Daniel and I can never reach, and even if brought there, may not know how to speak. That job is yours. That person is yours to disciple. That vine is yours to grow.


Vine work requires everyone.


That’s our two points.


1. Everyone is required to do Vine Work.

2. Vine work requires everyone to get it done.


I have three applications.


I’ll just state them, and I’ll wrap up.


  1. Start doing Vine Work! Look around. Who has God brought into your life? An ex-classmate, an army buddy, a neighbour, taxi-driver. It could be anyone, anywhere, and we must start somewhere. Always be ready to do vine-work.

  2. See how you are uniquely equipped. Consider your gifts, your sphere of influence, your unique life experiences, the languages and skills you have acquired which that makes you uniquely equipped to do vine work for certain persons or a particular demographic.

  3. Seek to be sufficiently equipped The church is here to help. Tell the church what you need. We’re all in it together, the whole body pulls together to make it grow up into Christ.

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