Dear Brethren, assembled for the Nineteenth Annual Convention of the Norwegian Synod, Grace and peace be unto you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We greet you with the words of the Apostle Paul in the epistle to the Colossians 3:1–2: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth. on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
We are all by nature inclined to seek our treasure in things on the earth, and are unable and unwilling to seek that which is above. The materialistic and earthly spirit of the unbelieving world is an ever-present temptation to the Christian Church; and if given a seat in the councils of the visible church, this evil spirit will gradually clog the machinery and hinder the true work of the church.
Our congregations need to be reminded of their divine origin. Every truly Christian congregation is established by God. He is the head of His church, and rules and governs it by His Word, preached and taught by His divinely called servants or ministers. If we lose sight of the sacredness of the church and the holy office of the ministry and begin to think of these institutions of God in the light of human philosophy and treat them as we do our man-made organizations, then we have lost our strength and have become lukewarm.
The Apostle Paul in his second epistle to Timothy speaks of the time to come when the people “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn a way their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (4,3.) When Israel of old became dissatisfied with God’s order and manner of leading them through His appointed ministers and demanded a king, God told Samuel to give them a king. Samuel mourned because of their lack of faith in the invisible rule of Jehovah, and deplored that they should desire an external and visible ruler such as the heathen had, but the Lord said to Samuel: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me that I should not reign over them.” I Sam. 8:7. “Now, therefore, hearken unto their voice; howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” (v. 9.) Samuel explained to them their sin against Jehovah and told them that they were taking upon themselves a yoke that would be hard to bear, and that when they cried unto the Lord in their distress because of their king, the Lord would not hear them. “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel” (v. 19).
In the midst of the Christian church, we find many who grow tired of the pure word of God and object to the easy yoke of Christ and demand that the honor and glory of the world shall be introduced into the church. However, the Christian congregation exists solely for the purpose of dispensing God’s grace and mercy in Christ through His word and Sacraments. The true pastor and minister has been called by God through the congregation for the purpose of preaching and teaching God’s word in its truth and purity and to administer the Sacraments as Christ has given them to us and commanded us to use them.
Cathedrals and temples, when built to glorify God and not man, are indeed useful for the upbuilding of God’s Kingdom of grace. But we note also that “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation: for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Therefore, the little church around the corner may often be of greater blessing than the larger and more popular church.
Many churches overemphasize the material things in the visible church and seek to impress the world with their numbers, organizations, buildings and. entertainments instead of with the heavenly and spiritual blessings of God’s church. This in turn becomes a temptation also to many within the church to glory in these earthly things, whether they possess them or not, and to judge the effectiveness of the church by its outward show and glamour instead of by the teaching and living according to God’s Word.
“If ye then be risen with Christ” — If you have accepted the gospel of Christ crucified and risen, then you are “a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” If you are risen with Christ, you are born again; God has given you the spiritual life of faith, with its new light, desire and strength for that which is good. If you are risen with Christ, you are a child of God, an heir of God, and you will and must seek those things which are above: the heavenly and eternal blessings, holiness, righteousness and fellowship with God.
The material and bodily blessings of God will engage our attention only to the extent that we are stewards of the manifold gifts of God. We will not, however, as children of God set our affections upon these nor seek our joy and honor in them., But we will use them as means to an end, to support our physical life and to enable us to do the work God has given us to do here in His church. Therefore we will dedicate and consecrate ourselves and all that we have to the service of the Lord for the spreading of His kingdom; in so. doing we will also be seeking the things that are above.
Now, God has promised His children for all time that, if they seek the things that are above and use the things of the earth that He has entrusted to them for the spreading of His kingdom instead of for their own honor and satisfaction, then He will always provide for them. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” What a glorious promise this is, and what an incentive it should be to each and every one of us to seek only: that which is above in all our church work.
May God help us to do this! Amen.