“On the Frontline” (John MacDiarmid)

Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 6 May 2012

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Reference: Psalm 4

This song is a song that David penned reflecting on the challenges, the battles and the joys of life on the frontline.

We think of war as ugly and destructive, and so it is. No one in their right minds would choose to spend a lifetime on the frontline. Yet that is precisely where we are: we are on the frontline in the battle against the prince of darkness. The place where the frontline is fiercest is in the places where we touch the world – at home, in the workplace, in college. We all have our frontlines. It can be a challenging and an exhilarating place to be, and here David is reflecting on it.

1. Life on the Frontline

“How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods”

Our frontline is a place where people have no time for God, where they turn the very thing that believers glory in, into a joke, into something to mock at and ridicule. What a pressure to be constantly on such a frontline!

Our frontline is a place where people prefer delusions to the truth, a place where people live their lives living with the delusion that God is either not there, is not interested or is powerless. It is a place where people prefer the worship of false gods, of pleasure, money status and power, to the worship of the one true God. This is where we live our lives. No wonder the Christian life is tough!

There is help here for us all, but before we consider it, let’s consider some ways not to react to the pressure of being on the frontline:

A) Becoming “exclusive” – this means we stay in a holy huddle, don’t engage with the world, and keep it at as much of a distance as we can. Some very godly people have gone down that route, and you can certainly see why – but we are told to be “the salt of the earth” and to “live such good lives among the pagans…”. Clearly, biblically, being exclusive is not an option.

B) Becoming part of the problem. We can get so close to the world that our behaviour becomes indistinguishable from it. This is why James wrote “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” And John wrote “Do not love the world or anything in the world”. Connection with those who are not of God’s people can so easily cause us to lose our distinctiveness.

C) The third error we can make is to simply give up on the battle, as so many have done. Either to drop out of the Christian life, or to withdraw from the front line by becoming someone who is still around Christian circles but is not actively involved in the front line.

Is there help available for the believer who wants to serve God on the front line? Yes there is, and this Psalm points us in the right direction.

2. Help on the Frontline

David, in song, reflects on some of the ways that we can cope with the pressures of life on the frontline.

Pouring out our heart to God

Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

David is pouring out his heart to God. Our ability to handle the stresses of life on the frontline will depend on the extent to which we draw on the limitless resources of God in prayer.

Understanding our call

Know that the LORD has set apart his faithful servant for himself;

The call of the believer is to be set apart for God. This is the root meaning of the term “set apart” for God. So we are called not to be conformed to the world, but to the word of God and offer ourselves to Him as instruments of righteousness.

Searching our hearts

In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent

There is much to make us angry. Injustice, unrighteousness, sin in all its ugly forms. It is right to be angry about such things, but we are called to make sure that this is godly anger – not criticism. So we search our hearts to see if there is offence in us before we pass judgement on others. This is most true when we find ourselves outraged by bad behaviour amongst God’s own people – people who should know better.

Offering sacrifices

Offer right sacrifices
and trust in the Lord.

The Psalmist was writing in an era when there were daily offerings and sacrifices of all kinds to make worshippers acceptable to God. We now live in a day, thank God, where one offering has been offered for all time. But there are still ways to offer sacrifices to God. The New Testament identifies four:

a) “A living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) Here Paul talks about our sacrifice as being one in which we lay down our lives before God in surrender to Him.

b) “A fragrant offering” – (Philippians 4:18) – in this passage Paul is talking about the sacrifice of financial giving to god’s work and in support of the poor.

c) “A sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) the writer to the Hebrews talks about the act of offering praise to our God being a sacrifice – how often that is the case!

d) “Do good and share with others” – this all – embracing exhortation from Hebrews speaks of the sacrificial acts of love and care towards others.

So the need to offer sacrifices has not ended with the sacrificial system of the Old Testament!

3. Joy on the frontline

All the above can make the Christian life sound like anything but joyful. However David has no time for those who turn these exhortations into doom and gloom

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”

David shows that it fact the challenge of living on the frontline, though exacting and demanding is one that is full of joy and peace:

You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.
8 I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

There is always a tension between the challenges of living for God and the joys of knowing that God is in our life. What David is saying is that the challenges and difficulties, and sometimes the anguish of the battles on the frontline are more than outweighed by the joy of knowing Jesus as Lord of our lives. He is saying that the reality to be found in him is greater than anything that the world can give.

The song finishes on this note of triumph and optimism, greatly reminiscent of the assertion of Paul in the midst of the most severe trials that he considered everything a loss compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ as Lord.

That is the reality for us, that as we live as he wants us to on the frontline, he will give us a joy and peace that the world cannot even imagine.

JOHN MACDIARMID
MAY 2012

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