There are many things for which we can be thankful. For instance, I am thankful to God for my wife and our children. Many people are rightly thankful for family, work, bank accounts, and many other things. How many times, though, have you been thankful for the church? Not just that the church exists, mind you, but thankful that you can be part of it. There is this rather hideous idea out there that the church needs me, and the church needs my patronage, my money, my talents. That really is quite arrogant. It is much more true that we need the church. Of course, what we mean by that is that we need what God gives us through the church. But it is quite arrogant to think that the church is dispensable to us. Our Psalm here is a good antidote to such thinking.
The Psalm can be divided into three parts. Verses 1-2 talk about the joy of church; verses 3-5 talk about the esteem that we ought to have for the church; and verses 6-9 talk about prayer for the church.
But before we get into these three points, there is one preliminary point that we must consider. The Psalm doesn’t use the word “church.” Rather, it uses the word “Jerusalem.” Why is it legitimate to say that this speaks of the church? Well, I will point you to one passage in the NT that gives us this indication. That passage is Galatians 6:16, which reads (in my own translation): “And to as many as walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God.” Earlier in Galatians, Paul speaks of the church as being the true heirs of Abraham. We are the children of Abraham, who believe by faith. Therefore, the church is the NT Israel belonging to God. That is because there is a new way of being Israel, namely, by faith in Christ. Christ is the true Israel. That is proved in the early chapters of Matthew, where everything Christ does reenacts the people of Israel in the wilderness, in Egypt, in the Jordan river. Christ embodies Israel in His person. Except that Christ was righteous, whereas Israel was sinful. But now, the church consists of all those who are IN Christ. That means that we are IN Christ, who, in turn, is the true Israel. Therefore, we are the true Israel. Nowadays, it is not whether you are circumcised or not, it is whether you trust in Jesus. That marks you out now as the true Israel. Just as the people gathered from all Israel to be in Jerusalem to worship, so also do we now all gather together in church to worship together. In fact, that is what verse 3 says, “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” The church, by the way, is not a building, but rather the people who meet together. It is the city of people who are in Christ.
That being said, then, we can proceed. Everything in the chapter that talks about Jerusalem now applies to the Christian church. So, do we rejoice when someone says to us, “Let us go to church.” Do we rejoice? Or do we say, “Not again!” Children, I think, are especially susceptible to this kind of thinking. It can be difficult for children to pay attention for an hour at a time. And there are some things which perhaps the children do not understand. That is where we must train our children to understand what is going on in the worship service. Why are we called to worship? Why do we pray? Why do we listen to a preacher? Why do we give offerings? Why do we worship at all? These questions must be answered if our children are to have joy in worship. We must remember that many cannot worship, either by choice or by necessity. There are many people in this world who do not have this opportunity to do what we were made to do. Our very country was founded so that we could do what we are doing right now in worship. Do you rejoice?
Secondly, in verses 3-5, do we esteem the church? The church, as it says in verse 3, is closely compacted together. I don’t really think that this is hard for us to understand, since everyone in this church is related to everyone else. The old saying goes like this, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Have we let our familiarity with one another breed contempt? Of course, when people are living so close together in terms of family, it is very easy to have some people rub other people the wrong way. That is where we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the church. Pray for peace in our church. This is vitally important.
Thirdly, how do we pray for the church? Do we pray for the church? It is very easy to forget to pray for the church. Maybe we think that the church doesn’t need the prayer, really. Maybe we think that other people in the church don’t need our prayers, or don’t deserve our prayers. Scripture here plainly tells us in verse 6, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” Notice that verse 8, “For the sake of my brothers and friends.” You see, our brothers and friends do need our prayers. And since God has called them into the church, they deserve our prayers.
Well, if we see there for whom we ought to pray, then we can also easily see for what we are to pray. Notice just how often peace is mentioned in this Psalm. We are to pray for peace. Peace comes in two forms: peace between God and man, and peace between man and man. We must have peace with God. That is to say, we must have the Prince of Peace ruling over us for there to be any hope of reconciliation with God. That peace will, in turn, result in peace with our fellow believers.
But how is peace to be achieved? It is plain that we are to seek for it, as verse 9 tells us explicitly. How are to seek for the peace of the church? Firstly, we must cultivate our peace with God. That involves confessing our sin, repenting and turning away from it. And then we must cultivate our peace with one another.
I wish to talk briefly about some obstacles that get in the way of peace with one another. The first obstacle is idolatry. We all have idols, the things we want most in the world. Ask yourself some questions, “What do I think about the most?” “If only I had ___, then I would be happy.” Fill in the blank. “Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?” That is one way of finding out what your idols are. Be careful here. We are so good at masking those idols in the form of something good. We might say, “But it is my right to have this.” Or we might say, “But look at how much they hurt me.” We might say, “But all I want is for them to be godly.” All these can be used as excuses to cover over our own idolatry. But idols we still have. Idols get in the way of peace, since we will pursue our idols, and anyone who gets in the way will be crushed. Not exactly conducive to peace.
Another major obstacle that gets in the way of peace is our pride. We have two rules in our lives. 1. I am always right. 2. If I am wrong, see rule number 1. It is absolutely impossible to live at peace with people if every difference of opinion means that you are automatically right. It is the same pride that says, “I don’t need the church; the church needs me.” Jesus doesn’t need you, you desparately need Him. The same is true of the church. God will make sure that His church lives. He doesn’t need you to keep His church running. But you desperately need the church. That is why we should all seek the peace of the church.
A third major obstacle to peace between brothers and sisters in Christ is our words. We have practically a war of words going on much of the time. And we have a really hard time controlling our words. In fact, our words get the better of our brains a good deal of the time. We think that we are the fountain of all good thoughts, all righteous thoughts, all good advice. The fact is, we should be very slow to talk, and very quick to listen. And by listening, I don’t mean standing there while the other person talks, and you’re thinking, “When is this person going to shut up so that I can talk?” That is not listening. Listening means that you are always trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and you are always asking, “What does this person really mean?” It might very well be different from what you think they mean. One good way of listening is to try to repeat back to them, in a somewhat summarized form, what they said. That way, they will tell you whether you got it right or not. If someone says, “I’m just sick and tired of working. I hate the long hours, I hate the people with whom I work, and I hate the lousy pay,” you are not listening if you say, “You lazy bum.” You are listening if you say, “So you’re exhausted with life and work, and feel that the whole world is against you.” I think that we could have a great deal more peace in our churches if we were quick to listen, and slow to speak.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and rejoice in the church.