Dr Annang’s message at Pastor John Lavric’s retirement service; 29th January 2017
I am deeply humbled and profoundly honoured to be invited to share the Word of God with you at this momentous occasion for Celebration Church. Most of you know John and Hilary far better and longer than I have known them. But even I can testify based on my relatively shorter years, that they have served and continue to serve the Lord with unrestrained devotion, sacrificial love and single-hearted faithfulness. The amazing testimonies that we have heard this afternoon from some of you affirm this. God has been gracious to us here in this town, in gifting them to us and in blessing their work for the sake of His kingdom and we are all witnesses. We thank Him and give Him all the honour and glory for what He has accomplished through them.
When I received your invitation the passage which immediately came to mind was Phil 2:16-18: I like this passage because it speaks about the sacred nature of the bond between a Pastor and his congregation. And it is sacred because Paul uses the ritual of sacrifice to describe this bond. And he says because of this sacred bond between me your Pastor in abstentia and you Philippians, let’s celebrate!: “[hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith [or as the NIV puts it, the sacrifice and service coming from your faith], I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me”. That I think sums up the sentiments that we all share this afternoon, don’t you think?
He had just finished exhorting them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling as manifestation of God’s miraculous work within them. He tells them that he was looking forward to the day of Christ when he and the Philippians would stand blameless before the King, complete and completed. That day, he Paul would be filled with joy and pride for the fruit of his toil and his labour! That is why he was willing to pay every, and any price including losing his own life for being their pastor. And it was in anticipation of that proud moment that he says I rejoice, and likewise I want you to rejoice with me! This passage then speaks about Joy in Sacrifice in the Church!
The Job of Sacrifice
First it speaks about the Job of Sacrifice. The whole chapter, Philippians 2, indeed speaks about sacrifice. In the first five verses, he urges the Philippians to sacrifice their individual egos and individual interests and individual ambitions and esteem each other better than themselves. In the next six verses He speaks about the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus who self-sacrificed, emptied Himself to take the nature of a servant so as to die on the cross for our salvation. Then later, Paul speaks also of Timothy who placed his interests on hold in order to look after others. And then he finishes the chapter by speaking of Epaphroditus who “nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life” (2:30). So this chapter is full of the language of sacrifice.
And it is within this context that Paul describes his own sacrifice in that text: He says he runs and hopefully not in vain. He labours and hopefully not in vain. That word translated as “labour”, ἐκοπίασα, literally means to toil to the point of exhaustion. It is exhausting labour and Paul says I do that. But if that was not enough, he says, I am willing, if that were necessary, I am willing “to be poured out as a drink offering”. That to me describes the nature of Christian service to its ultimate conclusion – sacrifice. And Paul says he does all that so that he will be proud on that day when the fruit of his toil and labour are presented to God! For now he rejoices and he wants them to rejoice!
Today we also rejoice for the sacrifices that John and Hilary have made in the service of the Kingdom. We know they will continue to do so! I did a quick search to try and find out if the Bible has anything directly to say about retirement! I was not surprised that it yes does in Num 8:23-26. There, the Bible out the retirement rules for the Levites. And I find that passage interesting! It says that the Levites were to serve for twenty five years and at the age of fifty, they were to retire – “from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more” (Num 8:25). But not to my surprise, the next verse somewhat rolls back on that. It says in Num 8:26, “They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service”! So retirement of the Levites actually didn’t mean they went home and put their feet up and their gloves down! No! It was merely a change of job! I know John and Hilary and all the retirees will and do continue to do that.
But today, we recognize and give thanks to God for their toil and labour in the face of immense difficulties, opposition and hardships. The occasional disagreements, people coming in and going out and the difficult mission field we call Grimsby! They have seen fruit borne but they have also seen some seeds grow only to wither. And we know how much heartache that causes. This afternoon we give thanks to God for His grace for enabling them to sacrifice to His honour and His glory.
The Joint Sacrifice
The second point I wish to make, and this is really obvious, but it is still worth stressing, is that this Sacrifice is a Joint Sacrifice between the Pastor and his congregation. It is not just a sacrifice by the pastors and leaders. Paul says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith”! In this sacrificial ritual then both Paul and the Philippians, the pastor and the congregation are joint priests acting together in synergy, co-operating and working together in worship and praise of our God.
The Philippians, Paul says offer sacrificial offering of their faith. That describes their whole Christian existence. Their living faith was in of itself a sacrifice to God! They were living sacrifices! They were “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor 2:15). Paul on the other hand as joint priest is willing to contribute his whole life as the libation upon it! He was to be the final sizzling aroma, the final grace to the sacrifice! What a beautiful picture of the Church! The Pastor-congregation bond is beautiful and sacred in that sense. The outpouring of the pastor’s life, the many sacrifices that he makes, his love and devotion to the Lord – all that represent the libations upon the sacrificial service of his people. Together this joint sacrifice rises up to the glory of God. A W Tozer once wrote, The glory of God always comes at the Sacrifice of self! And that is exactly what it means for a congregation to be a means of glorifying God.
But this Joint Sacrifice is also a costly sacrifice. It is Sacred and it is Costly. It is a consuming sacrifice. For Paul no sacrifice was too great for the Saviour. He was willing to spend and be spent in the Lord’s service! His life was like that alabaster bottle which Mary broke to anoint the Lord. He told the Galatians, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17). He told the Elders of the Church in Ephesus, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). That is what being a pastor cost him. That is why he says here, if the Lord wishes that this was not enough, but would have me lose my life, pour out my life in libation and offering upon your sacrifice, if that is the Lord’s wish, I am more than willing to do so. Why would he do that, we may ask? Well because it was sacrifice to God! And what a joy that is! My brothers and sisters, it takes consuming sacrifices to make successful Church leaders and successful churches. I know you do this here. But may the Lord grant you grace to continue do it more!
The Joyful Sacrifice
Let me make my third point. This passage also teaches us that the sacrifice was also a joyful sacrifice! “[hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me”. The first part of the passage speaks of the costliness of the sacrifice but the second part speaks of the celebration that follows. What links both is the Day of Christ which inspires Him. No sacrifice can be worth its name and salt if it is done half-heartedly and with a sense of grudging acceptance.
And what more encouragement will it be if the congregation continued John and Hilary’s legacy by living as joyful sacrifice to God! I know you always do it but let me encourage you to do it more and more. Never ever allow rancour, self-interests and unseemly arguments over minutiae rob you of the peace and joy of your sacrificial living here. Instead, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Make sure the leaders among you really rejoice over you as they care for you. Let them be able to say, “You [are] our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming” (1 Thess 2:19).
But if may I speak also to you the leaders! Make sure also that you are really enjoying shouldering the burden of leadership and service and sacrifice. Find joy in your sacrifices. Be glad in your sacrifices because God loves a cheerful giver. I heard one Australian Pastor say the other day: Great Churches aren’t built on the gifts and talents of a few, but on the sacrifices of many! Peter told the leaders in 1 Pet 5:2-4, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”. There we have it! The Day of Christ always makes Sacrifices a Joy!
May the Lord enable all of us to Rejoice in Sacrificing to Him, just as John and Hilary have done!