2011-08-04 – “Intro 1 – I’ll be BACK!”
I got a number of suggestions for the next EmmDev theme and liked the idea of doing Ephesians. (Thanks Julie!)
So we’ll journey our way through the book picking up key thoughts.
But first, some background…
They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. (Acts18:19-21)
Ephesus was a leading commercial city of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), the capital of the province and the warden of the temple of Artemis (Diana).
Ephesus would become a missionary centre or base that Paul worked from. His letter to them contains no rebukes or reprimands and from church history we know that the Apostle John would have a fruitful ministry there.
It’s useful to see how this church was started:
Paul was “passing through” when he visited Ephesus for the first time.
Although his first visit was really “en-route”, it doesn’t stop him from sharing his faith and making a difference. He has a ship to catch, but he goes to the synagogue and makes an impression of the Jewish Community.
This is Paul’s nature: there’s always time to talk about Jesus even when he’s just passing through.
His words make an impression and people are hungry for more, but the ship is waiting and he has to say: “I’ll be BACK – Deo Volente” (If God wills)
We know that Paul did come back later on and wonderful things happened.
But here’s our lesson for today: what if Paul had been in too much of hurry? What if he hadn’t taken time to plant some seeds? What if he said to himself “I’m pretty tired, I’m just passing through, I’ll share my faith another time…?”
And after, doing a bit of a “hit and run,” he kept his promise and came back. (More tomorrow…)
2011-08-05 – “Intro 2 – Seeds Watered”
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Although Paul only had time to plant the seeds of the gospel before he caught his ship, God ensured that the church in Ephesus would grow. He sent Apollos to water the seeds that Paul planted.
We don’t know a huge amount about Apollos:
We know that
- he was Jewish
- he knew the Old Testament very very well
- he was a persuasive speaker
- he was passionate about Christ
- he still had some things to learn
- he became a leading figure in the churches in Asia Minor
- he probably wrote the letter we know as “Hebrews”
We don’t know how he came to faith and became passionate about Christ. We don’t know how he landed up in Ephesus. Did God prompt him, was he there on business, or was he also just passing through?
Whatever his background story and whatever the reasons were for being in Ephesus, God used Apollos to be a blessing to the church in Ephesus. With his passion and skill he galvanised the congregation and in return for his dedication and commitment, God also provided Priscilla and Aquila to mentor and guide him.
Sometimes we worry about God’s work and are tempted the think that people (or ourselves) are indispensable. This passage is a good reminder that this is not the case. When Paul could not be there to water the seeds he had planted, God provided Apollos, and when Apollos had some gaps, Priscilla and Aquila were on hand to guide him.
Thank You Lord that you are always providing for your church!
2011-08-10 – “Intro 3 – Getting Clarity”
1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts19:1-3)
(Quick Recap:) In the previous chapter, we saw how Paul was travelling through Ephesus and went to preach in the synagogue. He promised to come back because there had not been time to tell the whole story of the gospel.
Then we saw how a Jew named Apollos came to Ephesus after Paul. He spoke a lot about Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament, but his message was really the message preached by John the Baptist: “Repent and get ready for the coming of the Messiah.” (End of recap)
The people in Ephesus were baptised, not in the name of Christ, but with John the Baptist’s baptism which was a generic baptism of repentance. (Basically they were saying: “We’re sorry that we have sinned.” But they did not have a clear picture that Jesus was their saviour.) In a sense we could say that Apollos had brought them to a place where they were “proto-christians” (one step away from Christianity.)
We know that Priscilla and Acquila later explained things more fully to Apollos.
So when Paul returns, he brings them to that final step: Realising that only Jesus can save us and trusting Him as our Lord and Saviour.
These folk were not really Christians before this encounter. They had merely taken on some religious traditions and practices. With Paul’s help they came to recognise that it is only and all because of Jesus that we are saved. Their baptism symbolised their wholehearted trust in Him.
Today many people are the same. They think that “being good” or “being sorry for our sins” or “trying to obey the ten commandments” will be enough. We, like Paul, need to bring clarity. We need to introduce them to the full work of Christ.
2011-08-11 – “Intro 4: Spiritual Birth”
5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all. (Acts19:5-7)
The small group of Ephesian seekers, who had their curiosity piqued by Paul’s first “seed-sowing” visit, then had their “seeds watered” by Apollos’ excellent Old Testament preaching. Now, on Paul’s return, they have come to a full understanding of the gospel and are baptised. This is their moment of conversion.
With the conversion that has taken place, the Holy Spirit is poured out on them in a powerful way. This is one of a number of significant outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts:
- The first was in Jerusalem on the first disciples.
- The next was among the Samaritans
- Then on the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius
- Now on a group of folk who whose picture of Jesus had been incomplete
The wonderful truth is that the Holy Spirit is poured out on all who put their faith in Jesus. “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor12:3)
When we discover and understand God’s love for us, it is His Holy Spirit who is at work in us: “because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom5:5)
In all likelihood the “tongues” were known languages so that onlookers (who spoke in those languages) would hear the praises of God and recognise that a miracle was taking place. This is what happened in Acts 2
When we come to true faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit is the agent and midwife of our rebirth. In the case of the church is Ephesus, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was accompanied with signs and wonders. This does not mean that these signs and wonders are the norm – not everyone who gives their heart to Jesus bursts forth in prophecy and tongues – but it happens here to cement the start of the church.
It is wonderful to know that whether or not there are “bells and flashes,” all who give their lives to Christ receive the Holy Spirit.
2011-08-12 – “Intro 5: Persistence”
8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts19:8-10)
If you don’t look carefully you’ll miss it… Look at verse 10… Paul stuck it out for TWO YEARS. For 3 months in the synagogue and 21 months in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, Paul had daily discipleship sessions with the disciples in Ephesus.
Two years of patient teaching. Setting the example, answering questions, spreading the word. These sessions then spread by word of mouth from one person to another until Luke, the author of Acts, makes the bold claim that everyone in the province had heard about Christ.
This is persistence. In spite of persecution and resistance, Paul carried on day by day, doing the thing he did best: teaching. And day by day, the word spread from his listener’s mouths to the ears of others throughout the province.
“What did you do in Ephesus Paul?”
“I lectured every day for two years.”
“Oh… not very exciting..”
“It reached the whole province”
“But it did”
So don’t lose heart – do what God has called you to do – whether it is to teach, serve, love, parent, or pray. Persist and watch how God multiplies your efforts!
2011-08-17 – “Intro 6: Miracles”
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts19:11)
It’s really wonderful to read of the miracles that took place in Ephesus! It is important to notice that the miracles did not take place in isolation. They took place in an environment of regular teaching, worship, dedication and sacrifice.
Paul taught the folk in Ephesus for two whole years. They faced opposition and criticism but remained enthusiastic and faithful. There were sacrifices made – from his other letters we know that Paul worked as a self-supporting missionary in all his church planting endeavours. We will also see a little later in the chapter that the congregation were willing to leave behind their old lives and that there was great awe and respect for God.
From the above observations I think it is safe to say that the folk in Ephesus were on a solid foundation, well-grounded and not caught up in sensation-seeking, focussing only on the miracles (although there were some adherents to the Ephesian church that were doing this – we’ll look at them tomorrow…)
The other important thing about the miracles is that we encounter this idea of “praying by proxy” for the first time here – that people could bring an object belonging to the sick or possessed person to Paul for prayer and healing would take place. We also read elsewhere in Acts we read that people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them (Acts 5:15).
This fulfils a promise Jesus made to the disciples: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn.14:12)
Very often we are tempted to think that the age of miracles is past. But when God’s people come together in awe, dedication and commitment for teaching, fellowship and worship, great things happen.
2011-08-18 – “Intro 7: Faith by proxy”
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts19:13-16)
While God did healing by proxy through Paul’s prayers and the hankies and scarves that were brought to Paul, it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus by proxy.
The seven sons of Sceva thought that they could reduce Christianity to an incantation or spell – they thought they could go into a hairy situation with second-hand faith. They thought that name-dropping would be enough. They learned (big time!) that it wasn’t!
While the story seems comical – seven guys beaten up and deprived of their clothes by one guy – it is a very sobering reminder that we should not tackle the powers of darkness with second-hand faith.
The name of Jesus is not a lucky charm or the way to end a spell – using the name of Jesus requires that we know Him and love Him. We need to have Him as Saviour AND Lord in our lives…
2011-08-19 – “Intro 8: Radical 180″
(After the sevens sons of Sceva were beaten up…)
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts19:17-20)
It was a pretty expensive bonfire! A drachma was a silver coin equating to about a day’s wages. The scrolls burned in the wake of the “Sceva Incident” were valued at 50,000 times a day’s wage!
This gives us some idea of the stakes involved for those who Paul wrote his letter to.
Ephesus was the most important city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey). It had a harbor that at that time opened into the Aegean Sea. Because it was also at an intersection of major trade routes, Ephesus became a commercial center. It had a pagan temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek)
There were many temptations in Ephesus!
The Sceva Incident taught God’s people to be whole-hearted in their commitment to God. There was no room for divided loyalties.
The act of repentance is often described as a 180-degree turn.
The Christians in Ephesus were:
1. Filled with a sense of awe before God.
2. They really believed.
3. They confessed their sins
4. They broke with the past in a radical way (their temptations went up in smoke!)
When this happened, God’s Message spread even faster. This is counter-intuitive: One would think that the high cost would turn people away, but it seems that people were (and are) longing for the “pearl of great price.”
What are you willing to give up in your pursuit of Christ?
2011-08-23 – “Intro 9: Impact”
AC 19:23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. (Acts19:23-26)
Ephesus was the host city of the temple of Artemis. Paul’s preaching and teaching was starting to have an economic impact – at the start of the chapter there were 12 men who were filled with the Spirit. Now Demetrius is bemoaning the fact that “large numbers of people in Ephesus and practically the whole province of Asia” had heard Paul’s message.
Not only was this a message that spread, but it was a message that had an impact!
If you read the rest of the chapter, it’s very interesting to watch the events unfold. Demetrius leads a march of the “Silversmithing Union”. They claim loyalty to Artemis, but their real issue is economic. The mob gets unruly and grabs some of the Christian leaders, Paul wants to speak to the mob and it looks like the stage is being set for Paul to be stoned again (it happened in Iconium in Acts 14)
But there is an interesting turn of events as some high profile people intervene: They persuade Paul not to speak to the mob and then the city clerk uses his influence to settle the crowd.
This leads us to a few observations:
1. The spread of the gospel has been very effective
2. Paul wasn’t afraid to speak straight.
3. Lifestyles were being changed: People weren’t buying idols
4. The care and concern that people had for Paul.
5. The gospel had spread through all strata of society.
This brings us to the end of the Introduction to Ephesians – tomorrow we’ll start (finally!) the letter to the church in Ephesus.
2011-08-24 – “Salutation”
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians1:1)
Most scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while he was a prisoner in Rome in about 60AD. From the background introductions we have done over the last two weeks, we know that Paul was known, loved and respected by the congregation.
In fact, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem and knew that he was going to be arrested and dragged off to Rome, he summoned the Ephesian elders to Miletus – a journey of more than 60km. They came very willingly and Paul gave them this commission:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Paul reminds them of his calling as an apostle. This word literally means “sent-out” and carries the implication of missionary, pioneer, church-planter, new-work-starter and boundary-breaker. Paul was all of these things in all his missionary work.
He also affirms that his life and calling has been according to God’s will – this is a courageous statement because Paul is writing from prison! But Paul knew that God’s purposes are greater than our temporary troubles and that trouble could be transformed into victory.
He calls the Ephesian Christians “Saints.” This is a difficult word: Today “being a saint” is an _achievement_ but in Paul’s time it was a _calling._ It wasn’t that the Ephesians had “arrived” and were exceptionally pious, holy and respected it was that they were being called to live differently, to march to the beat of a different drum, to walk in obedience to God. They were being called to be holy and faithful and Paul saw them as “works in progress.”
His greeting (salutation) is brief, but powerfully indicates that it is Christ Jesus who has called Paul (through thick and thin) and it is Christ Jesus who is at the centre of the Ephesian congregation.
It is all about Christ!
2011-08-25 – “Grace and Peace”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians1:2)
In Ephesians Paul uses the word “Grace” 12 times and the word “Peace” 7 times.
We’ll delve into the theological meanings of these two words as we work our way through the letter.
For now, just the simple thought that Paul starts the letter with this wish: that his readers would experience grace and peace.
Paul is in prison!
Yet he can wish grace and peace to his readers.
It seems that having grace and peace is not dependent on circumstances, but it is something that transcends our circumstances. Grace and peace do not require the absence of trouble and hardship, but rather they can be our experience in spite of adversity.
But Paul goes further – grace and peace come from a _relationship_ with God. There is part of me that wishes that he had used a Trinitarian formula here: “from God our father, the Lord Jesus Christ AND the Holy Spirit.” But Paul takes the work and presence of the Spirit as a given – he understands that we only experience the Father and the Son through the mediation of the Spirit. The nature of our relationship with God is that we have a relationship _with_ the Father and Son _through_ the Spirit.
So here’s the basic definition:
Grace: I have received unmerited favour through God’s goodness.
Peace: My soul is at rest because I depend on God and not myself.
At the very outset Paul wishes this for his readers and this is the one of the most powerful features of Christianity: Christians experience and manifest grace and peace – and if we don’t, there is something wrong with our relationship to God.
2011-08-26 – “Seven Blessings – Overview”
Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek! It spells out our seven spiritual blessings in Christ.
Today there is no devotional thought from me… just Eugene Peterson’s translation of the passage. Read it through slowly once or twice or thrice. Next week we’ll unpack it.
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. (Ephesians1:3-14)
2011-08-31 – “Seven Blessings – Intro”
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians1:3)
As I mentioned last week, Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. In this long sentence Paul describes the past, the present and the future hope that we as Christians have in Jesus Christ. As we work our way through these seven blessings, we will see that they are Trinitarian: the blessings of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Paul describes these as our “Spiritual Blessings” in the “Heavenly Realms.” I believe Paul’s implications are that these blessings are significant and eternal. They are not simply the blessings of physical comfort and they are not only for this life.
Does this mean that they are “pie-in-sky-one-day-when-we-die?”
I don’t think so!
I think these blessings are vital for us to hold on to for our day to day inspiration as we “fight the good fight.”
Sometimes we get caught up in the gruntwork of life. The daily hustle and bustle wears down our excitement and joy. Paul wastes no time in this letter – he plunges straight into “counting our blessings!” He wants to wow his reader’s hearts with an awesome sense of God’s goodness and the “big-ness” of His purpose for our lives.
He invites us to have a sense of blessedness in our lives again!
Will you “count your blessings” with me over the next few days?
2011-09-01 – “Blessing 1: Chosen”
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians1:4)
Our universe is not here by accident. WE are not here by accident.
When God created the world it was with us in mind. He created us to be holy and blameless in His sight. Some people say that God made us because He was lonely – but this is not true. The Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit share a love so perfect that they are one.
God created us for His glory and pleasure so that we could see and understand His awesomeness and respond in worship. He gave us free will so that we could choose to be holy and blameless in His sight.
But free will means that we can also choose NOT to be holy and blameless. Did God consider this? What would He do if we made the wrong decision?? From the very outset, the Scriptures make it clear that it was God’s plan to send His Son to redeem fallen humankind.
A friend of ours, James Greaves, put it like this: “When God was creating the world and He used his pinkie to make the Grand Canyon and heaped up the rocks to make Everest, did He pause when He made Golgotha?”
Our first blessing is that we are twice-chosen by God: Before He created the world, He thought about us – He chose us to be made in His image to reflect His holiness and glory. But because we had the potential to reject Him, He chose us again in view of the redeeming work that Christ would do.
So there is a sense that Christ was already crucified in the mind of God when He created us. God knew what creating us might cost and yet He made us anyway!
Amazing love! We are twice chosen in Christ!
2011-09-02 – “Blessing 2: Adopted in spite of…”
In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will. (Ephesians1:5)
God created us in His image and gave us the freedom to choose…
… and we chose WRONG!
Why would God even want any more to do with us?
Christian Band, NewSong, put it very eloquently:
“Sometimes I wonder: how You could ever love us?
We’re never satisfied no matter what You do
You send the rain and we complain there’s no sunshine
Yet every breath we take is all because of You
Sometimes I wonder: will things get any better?
Looks like we haven’t changed since the dawn of time
You light the way – still we stay in darkness
And we try to tell ourselves that we will be just fine
Only heaven knows the pain we put You through
I don’t know what You’re thinking Lord
But I know what I would do
I’d start all over on Mars
Create a world that is far away from our ungratefulness
If I were the God that You are, I would be tempted to walk away
Wash my hands of this crazy mess
Make a world that would follow Your heart
I’d start all over on Mars!”
God did not “start all over on Mars” instead he decided to win us back. He decided to “adopt” us (after we had rejected Him as our Father.)
This adoption would cost a great deal…
Here’s the heavy irony: For you and I to be adopted as sons and daughters of God, His only Son would have to die.
This gives us a reason to worship Him on Sunday!
2011-09-06 – “Interlude 1 – Doxology. ”
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians1:6)
A doxology is a short hymn or phrase of praise repeated in services.
There are three very similar phrases that appear in this long sentence of our blessings in Christ. They appear after the first two blessings, after the next three and then after the final two.
The phrases (i call them doxologies) are “To the praise of His glorious grace” and “to the praise of His glory” (which appears twice). The first time the phrase appears it is in its fullest form, the other two repetitions are shorter, because they act as abbreviations of the first. They bring the full impact of the first doxology to mind.
What these phrases do is to divide the seven blessings into our past, our present and our future. The first doxology is a response to the blessings of our past.
According to Paul, our past looks like this:
1. Before the creation of the world, God knew that it would cost the blood of Christ to make us holy and blameless, but He made us and chose us anyway!
2. It was His pleasure and will to predestine us to be adopted as His children – in other words He loved us even though we have done nothing to deserve it.
What does this lead Paul to do?
He spontaneously praises God because there is one word that dominates our past: GRACE.
And grace is best defined as _G_od’s _R_iches _A_t _C_hrist’s _E_xpense.
2011-09-07 – “Blessing 3: Redeemed and Forgiven”
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians1:7-8)
We have moved from the two blessings of the past into the three blessings of the present…
To be redeemed is to be bought back or ransomed. We were lost and unable to save ourselves. But we have been rescued by Christ. He has forgiven our sin, paid the debt and cancelled the penalty.
A ransom is paid when an innocent party is kidnapped and those who love the victim pay a price to have them returned. But we were not innocent – we got ourselves into trouble. Jesus came to save (redeem) us with his life (His blood) even though we did not deserve it. This is grace.
Paul says that our first blessing of the present is that we are the objects of Christ’s lavish grace. (The Greek implies “poured out in huge bucketfuls!)
And this was not done on a whim. This grace has been lavished on us with all of God’s wisdom and understanding – this is a very deliberate act. God has a plan and a purpose and He is executing His plan with attention to detail and crystal clear focus.
So this blessing tells us that we are valuable to God, that He dotes on us and ponders over us, that He paid a massive price for us.
Thank you Lord for Your rich and lavish grace!
2011-09-08 – “Blessing 4: Fellow-workers”
9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians1:9-10)
This one is a mouthful!
It boils down to this: God is planning to bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus and it gives Him pleasure to include us in this plan!
But let’s look in a little more detail:
While God’s ways are very much beyond our grasp and ken, He chooses to make this mystery made known to us. And although we only scratch the surface of it, He wants us to begin to know and understand it all.
Paul says “No eye has seen,no ear has heard,no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” (1Cor2:9-10)
And in the Old Testament we read: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecc3:11)
Including us in His plan is God’s good pleasure. Elsewhere Paul notes that we are God’s fellow-workers(1Cor3:9).
And we are in a process, the world is not there yet, times have not yet reached fulfilment yet, but there will be a great and glorious day when every knee will bow and tongue confess that Christ is Lord, and all tears are wiped away!
But in the meantime, God has placed Eternity in our hearts!
Although we don’t fully understand, we have His message and the hope of His coming that burns in us. He has entrusted His message into our hands and we are His Fellow-Workers whose greatest reward and longing is to see Jesus crowned over all!
What a blessed privilege!
2011-09-09 – “Blessing 5: Chosen to Shine”
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (Ephesians1:11-12)
If you have been counting the blessings with me, then you might remember that the first blessing was that we were “chosen in Christ before the creation of the world to be Holy and Blameless in His sight.”
Now Paul uses the word chosen again (Although the original Greek word is not the same as in verse 4.) There is a different nuance in this second “chosen”…
Being “chosen” in Blessing 1 had to do with our purpose and the idea that God choosing us had implications for Jesus (He would be crucified in the mind of God even before God made us.) Blessing 1 has to do with our past: “Before the creation of the world…”
Blessing 5 is “chosen” in a more contemporary sense: Paul is talking to the Ephesians who were the “first to hope” in Christ. From our background studies of Ephesus in Acts, we know that the Gospel spread from Ephesus all over Asia Minor. We saw how God’s plan was that for Paul, a quick visit to a synagogue while he was passing through and a promise to return, worked out, in the economy of God, to spread the gospel throughout the province.
Blessing 5 is that God chooses people like you and me, like Esther and Paul and the Ephesians for “such a time as this.” (Esther4:14)
God chooses us to bring praise to His glory by being those who “hope in Christ” and live for Him..
Do you realise that you have been born and born again for such a time as this? Do you realise that your life and the the people you influence can be for the praise of His glory? Do you realise that God has called and chosen you as you are and where you are to be agents working out His plan?
2011-09-13 – “Blessing 6: INcluded”
…for the praise of His glory 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. (Ephesians1:13)
We have come to another “to the praise” phrase in the text (v.12) which takes us to the last two blessings and these have a present-future focus.
When we respond to the “gospel of our salvation” and give our lives to Christ (“hear the word truth”) we are “included” in Christ. This becomes one of Paul’s favourite concepts – that we are _IN_ Christ.
Being IN Christ means that when God looks at us, He sees what Christ has done for us. Our past, present and future is “in Christ”! This is wonderful good news. When we pray, when we work, when we do anything God sees us IN Christ.
Our future is already taken care of when we are “in Christ.”
To use the same language that Jesus used:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
But this came at great cost: Christ came INto our world and died OUTside the city (the book of Hebrews (13:11-12) sees this as a symbol of His being cut off from God in our place) so that we could be saved.
We are _included_ in Christ – our present and future are not bound up to who we are and how we might succeed or fail. We are IN Christ. When God sees us, we are clothed IN His righteousness.
Thank You Lord for INcluding me!
2011-09-14 – “Blessing 7: Sealed”
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians1:13-14)
The last of the seven blessings also has a present and future flavour: Not only did God give us His Son, but He has also given us His Spirit!
The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, Counsellor, Conscience (He convicts us of sin), and Guide. He empowers us with spiritual gifts and produces fruit in us. He reminds us of the words of Jesus and He is the power of the resurrection working in us.
The Holy Spirit is the One who enables us to be Renewed, Regenerated and Reborn – it is by His prompting that we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
But Paul tells us more! The Spirit’s presence in our lives marks us with a seal: we belong to God – we are His! We are His sons and daughters. We confidently pray “Our Father” because of the Spirit!
AND the Spirit is the “deposit” or “down payment.” He is our guarantee that there is more to this life – we are certain of the resurrection and the life hereafter.
What an awesome blessing! The Holy Spirit who aids us, equips us, marks us as God’s children and assures us of our long-term future with God.
Thank You Lord for your indescribable goodness!
2011-09-15 – “Best Prayers 1″
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Ephesians1:15-17)
What is the best thing we can possibly pray for others?
Paul really cared about and loved the Ephesian church elders – we saw this in Acts when Paul made a special stop to say goodbye to them when he was headed for Jerusalem.
Before we look at what he prayed for them, lets also note that he prayed for them often!
So what did he pray for them? For health, wealth and prosperity?
No! He prayed fervently and urgently that they may know God better. This was Paul’s hungry heart’s desire. (He will pray this prayer again in ch.3.)
And, once again, Paul is aware that the only way for us to know God better is if we have the help of the Holy Spirit. We need God’s Spirit working in us, through us, inspiring us and waking us up to the enormity and beauty of God’s everlasting love for us!
This is Paul’s greatest desire: That through heartache or joy, sorrow or blessing, bad times or good they would know and experience more of God’s great love!!!
This is a cage rattler for me. How often do I pray this simple prayer for the the people I love? “Dear Lord, please help Brenda and Caleb know you better!”
This is the very best and most important thing that could EVER happen to them!
2011-09-16 – “Best Prayers 2″
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead… (Ephesians1:18-20)
We saw yesterday that Paul’s heart’s desire is that the Ephesians may know God better. We realised that this is the best prayer that we can pray for anyone! But Paul helps us further by explaining that nature of the “knowing God” that he is praying for:
Paul is praying that the “eyes of the heart” are enlightened. In Hebrew culture (and the Greek culture to a certain extent) the heart was not the seat of emotions, but the control centre of the soul. The heart was the foundation of one’s values and principles.
Paul prays for three key values to be clearly seen and understood:
1. The hope to which we have been called. Hope is the fuel of life. It gives us the “chutzpah” to get us out of bed in the mornings. It keeps us going through adversity and provides purpose for life. Our hope is in Christ.
2. The riches of our glorious inheritance in the saints. Understanding what Christ has done for us and that we are inheritors of eternal life means that we serve God out of incredible gratitude. Because of His goodness to us it is easy for us to offer ourselves as an _oblation_ (a solemn offering of our lives to the glory of God.)
3. His incomparably great power for us who believe. His power is at work in us to guide us, teach us, empower and transform us. This power is resurrection power – it raised Christ from the dead and raises us from our deadness. We become resurrection agents – called and empowered to bring life wherever we go.
So Paul wants us to know God and to know that we have hope in Him, an inheritance that is _glorious_ and that there is phenomenal power lurking to be unleashed in our lives.
Wow! Imagine praying this for those you love!
2011-09-20 – “Best Prayers 3 – DOXOLOGY”
… and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians1:20-23)
Ephesians is a letter where we will see Paul’s “train of thought” being frequently “hijacked” by his sense of the greatness and glory of God.
In this prayer, Paul has been thinking of the power of the Spirit that is at work in believers and he identifies it as the “power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”
Today there are many who are sceptical about the resurrection. But for Paul, the resurrection is a non-negotiable and it is the trigger that sets off an explosion of praise in him. The moment Paul thinks of the resurrection he thinks of the glorious and exalted position of Christ! Here’s what he sees:
1. Jesus is above all powers, dominions and titles – past, present and future!
2. EVERYTHING has been placed beneath His feet. Even death and suffering because He has been to the cross and has triumphed.
3. Jesus is the head of the church. The church can never exist without Christ, just as the body cannot exist without a head.
4. The church is “His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” The best analogy I can think of is when my son Caleb started walking, he used to love putting his feet into my sheepskin slippers and “plopping” around the house. For Brenda and I there was an awareness that one day he would grow into those slippers (he’s more than halfway there!!!) As the church we growing into all that Christ has done for us!
Paul was easily brought back from the sidetracks of life to the “maintrack” of praise… shouldn’t we be the same?
2011-09-21 – “Vertical Beam 1: Dead”
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians2:1-3)
Ephesians 2 really boils down to being a summary of the gospel. The first ten verses describe what I call the “vertical beam” of the cross: the relationship between us and God. The next eight verses describe the “horizontal beam” of the cross: our relationships with one another. The remaining four verses describe the “building” on which the cross is mounted: the church.
Paul starts off the summary of the gospel by describing the basic state that every human being finds themselves in:
- Spiritually Dead,
- Following the ways of Satan (the ruler of the kingdom of the air)
- Slaves to satisfying the desires of our brokenness
- and Destined for Judgement.
The Matrix Movie Trilogy, illustrates this quite powerfully. The Matrix is a virtual world where humans and computer programs reside as entities in a system. One of the programs “Agent Smith” goes rogue and begins to infect all the entities in the matrix with his basic philosophy which is “me, me, me!” In the closing scene the hero character, Neo, returns to the matrix which was once a nicely functioning 1980’s American City with parks and sunrises but now is a ruined slum with pouring rain and dirty slosh in the streets and Agent Smith gloats “Do you like what I have done to the place?”
When we look at the world around us, we can see the effects of the rogue angel, Satan, and what his philosophy of “me, me, me” has done to us and to the world…
The only hope we have is to stop following Satan but we find it hard. We need a Saviour and Paul shows us that it is Christ alone who can save us!
2011-09-22 – “Vertical Beam 2: BUT”
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians2:4-6)
There are two pictures in this passage: Of God and what He has done for us.
Here’s what we learn about God.
“But because of His great love for us…”
This is the turning point in the story. The world was broken and infected by the “me, me, me” philosophy but is rescued for no other reason than that God is love.
We have no “right” to be saved – we’ve blown all our chances!
We have no “claim” on God – we’ve broken all our promises!
“But … God who is rich in mercy…”
Mercy is to be spared the consequences we deserve. Mercy means that the one offering it walks away from the justice or vengeance that is rightfully theirs.
This God has great love and rich mercy.
And here’s what He did:
“He made us alive with Christ _and_ raised us up in the heavenly realms.”
We were spiritually dead because of our guilt and failure.
- Jesus entered into our death on the cross.
- He defeated death by the resurrection.
- He ascended into heaven, opening up eternal life.
So Jesus represented us on the cross, He represented us when He rose from the dead and He represents us in heaven.
He did this all “because of His great love for us!”
“It is by GRACE you have been saved.”
2011-09-23 – “Vertical Beam 3: …where credit is due”
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians2:6-9)
Yesterday we defined GRACE as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
In today’s passage Paul gives us another way of seeing grace: It is UNMERITED FAVOUR. God has shown His incredible “kindness” and the “incomparable riches” of His grace. This grace is the “gift of God” – it cannot be earned and none of us can claim to have deserved it.
This idea that our salvation is unearned, undeserved and unmerited is vitally important:
1. It means that we are completely dependent on God.
2. It highlights His goodness!
3. It prepares the way for the next section that deals with the Horizontal Beam of the cross – our human relationships. Unmerited grace means that we are all equal before God, all of us are saved by His goodness alone and none of us deserved to be saved more than another.
Somebody described it like this: “Sharing our faith is one beggar telling another where he found bread!”
In 2Corinthians10:17 Paul says “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Let’s lift our hearts in praise to the God who saved us even though He didn’t have to! Let’s boast about a God who gave us everything even when we had nothing!
2011-09-27 – “Vertical Beam 4: A Future”
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not here by accident and our lives are not random or circumstantial: God has a plan for our lives – this is why He made us and this is why He saved us.
In the original Greek Paul uses an important word for “workmanship” (‘poiema’) It means we are the work of His hands. We are God’s “handiwork.” Some translations even translate “We are God’s masterpieces.”
Not only has God created us as His Masterpieces, but He has also prepared “good works” in advance for us to “do” (the Greek implies a pathway to walk along).
So, each of us is born a masterpiece and God has offered us a pathway to walk along – a destiny. Our choice to sin marred the masterpiece and caused us to lose the path. Jesus offers us GRACE (forgiveness and restoration at His expense) so that we can find the pathway again and become masterpieces again as we follow Christ.
I am not only saved from my past, but I have been saved for a future. There is a life of purpose and meaning that is part of my created DNA. Through Christ, I once again have access to the plans God has for me.
Ultimate joy is doing what I was created to do! When I am forgiven by Christ and draw near to Him, I can reconnect to the big picture purpose for my life. For me personally, I know that the work I do brings a smile to the face of God and contentment to my soul.
YOU are not only saved from your past – YOU are saved for your future! Drawing near to Jesus will allow you to “walk in the pathway” of that great plan. Will you do it?
2011-09-28 – “Horizontal Beam 1: Far, now near”
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians2:11-13)
According to traditional Jewish belief and practice, there was no way for a Gentile to be acceptable to God unless he became Jewish. By this I mean that he had to adopt Jewish faith, culture and lifestyle. A convert to Jewish faith would have to be “proselytised.” This would involve circumcision for the men and then proselyte baptism (symbolising that the person was being “born into” Judaism.) They would be given a new name, a new set of clothes and be considered a Jew one day old.
But even then they were still considered Proselytes. Not the real deal…
Paul describes the fate of Non-Jews as follows:
- Separate from Christ (He was not in their genealogy)
- Excluded from citizenship (It wasn’t in their genes!)
- Excluded from the covenants (They weren’t descendants of Abraham)
- Without hope and without God (They weren’t the “chosen” race)
The Jews misunderstood – they were not meant to be “chosen” while everyone else was “not chosen” – they were “chosen to be a light to the Gentiles,” (Isa42:6) but they failed.
It was an issue of blood – They believed that if you did not have Jewish blood, you were really a second-class citizen.
Jesus changed all of that.
In a sense we could say that by laying down His life for us, Jesus has made us all His blood brothers.
We who were far have been brought near. It is still a blood issue, but not our blood. We are all saved by the blood of Jesus and not our own, and so we are all equal in the eyes of Christ.
2011-09-29 – “Horizontal Beam 2: Peacemaker”
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians2:14-16)
Adam blamed Eve…
Cain killed Abel…
Jacob cheated Isaac out of what was rightfully his…
Rachael and Leah fought over their husband…
Joseph’s brothers plotted murder and sold him as a slave…
The disciples bickered about who was greatest…
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss…
Since sin entered our world we have been in conflict – brother against brother, sister against sister, war, violence, vendettas and bitterness.
Jesus came to bring us peace.
How did He do it?
He abolished the law in His flesh i.e. He lived a perfect life, satisfying the law and then died to pay for our breaking of the same law – thus reconciling us with God.
This means that we can have peace within.
The French Mathematician, Blaise Pascal, said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us.
When we try to fill the vacuum with anything else, we are filled with disharmony, greed and self-centeredness and we are in conflict with the world around us.
When Christ died on the cross, He made a way for us to be filled by God. The peace that results from our restored relationship with God has the power to enable us to love one another.
Jesus’ supreme act of love also overcomes all hatred and hostility and enables us to embrace one another. This is where the vertical beam of the cross (our relationship with God) and the horizontal beam (our relationship with others) come together.
2011-09-30 – “Horizontal Beam 3: Level Ground”
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians2:17-18)
When we stand at the foot of the cross, the ground is level.
Jesus preached peace to those “far away” and “near.”
(I like the way Paul starts with “far” and then comes to “near.”)
For Paul this meant “Gentile” and “Jew.”
For us this could mean “Out” and “In.”
Or “not like us” and “like us.”
Or “those-we-thought-were-unworthy” and “those-we-thought-were-worthy.”
Jesus brought us peace:
- Peace with God.
- Peace with ourselves.
- Peace with one-another.
Although Paul wrote in Greek, being a Jew I imagine he was thinking of the Hebrew word “Shalom” which was how Hebrews greeted and blessed one-another. “Shalom li cha” – “peace be with you.” Peace in Hebrew culture meant harmony, wholeness, reconciliation, restoration in the most holistic sense of the word.”
How does this peace work?
We have access to God.
We can become God’s children.
And this is made real to us by the amazing work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit re-assures us that we are God’s children.
He fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
I wanted to say that we were once “far” but now we are “near”, but actually it is better than that: We were “far” but now we have peace.
Shalom li cha!!!
2011-10-11 – “Horizontal Beam 4: Fellow citizens”
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household… (Ephesians2:19)
Today we look at the last facet of the horizontal beam:
We have been given citizenship!
There are some fascinating insights that pop out of the original Greek of this verse. (I don’t usually “geek out” on the Greek like this – but the insights are too good not to share!)
1. We were Foreigners (the Greek word is “Xenos” from which we get “xenophobia”) We did not belong, we were out of place and had the stigma of our sin and brokenness that marked us out as those who do not belong, but the cross makes us “fellow citizens” with God’s people. (Paul uses the word “hagioi” which means “saints”) Today we think a saint is someone who has achieved a state of goodness, but Paul means people who are forgiven by God.
2. For “fellow citizens” Paul uses the word “sumpolitai.”
The preposition “sum” implies “together with” and “politai” is where we get the word “politics.” But in Graeco-Roman culture “politics” wasn’t the party politics we know and dislike today, instead it meant the “art of living in community.” By granting us forgiveness, God makes us saints. It means that God’s Spirit gives us the ability to love each other as forgiven saints.
3. We were Aliens (the Greek implies living alongside, but not in the household*) but now we are “members-of-God’s-household.” We are not on the outside looking in, we are part of the household and family of God.
This is very good news!
* In Greek “oikos” means “Household” and so the similarities in Aliens (“paroikos” – para-oikos – alongside the household but not in it) and Members-of-God’s-Household (“oikeioi”) are too interesting to ignore.
2011-10-12 – “Building 1: Foundation”
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians2:19-20)
We’ve been looking at Ephesians 2 as a summary of the gospel and the visual analogy we have been using is a building with a cross on the roof. The cross has a vertical beam representing our relationship with God and a horizontal beam representing our relationship with one another.
We’ve dealt with the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross and now we come to the building – the Church.
There are many who argue that you don’t need the Church to be a Christian. It is very interesting to me that Paul pushes us very hard from an individualistic Christianity (“just me and Jesus” – only the vertical beam of the cross) to a faith that includes others and leads us toward the “household” of the church.
When I talk about the church, I don’t mean Denominations – the New Testament pretty much worked with the local neighbourhood church being the real focus of attention.
The building (household) Paul describes here is built solidly:
- The cornerstone is Christ. The placing of cornerstone would always be the first act of building and was done by the Master Craftsman. It defined the start and orientation of the building. The less-skilled builders would be orientated by the Cornerstone.
- The foundation is the prophets and apostles: This reminds us of our heritage both Scriptural (Old Testament and New Testament) and Historical.
So Paul is pushing us from individual faith to community and from community to the Church. The Church _must_ be based, centred and orientated by Christ otherwise it is not the Church. It must also value its heritage and history and learn from them.
2011-10-14 – “Building 2: A Holy Temple”
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians2:21)
When a group of people gather socially, it can be a club, a friendship circle, an interest group, a gang, a clique or a gathering. Today the sociologists are talking about “tribes.”
But there is something amazing that happens when we bring Christ into our gatherings. When the vertical and horizontal aspects of the cross are realised in our community we become a “Holy Temple” – the Church.
A temple is a place of reconciliation, worship and celebration.
In the Old Testament worshippers would come to the temple, make sacrifices so that they could be reconciled to God, then they would worship and celebrate God’s goodness and they would take that sense of celebration and gratitude into their day-to-day lives.
They would worship _together_. Confessing their sins as a people, praying prayers of lament as a community and offering joyful songs of worship as a nation.
Today, with the boundaries between God and us, and us and our neighbours removed, we are privileged to be part of God’s Holy Temple – now no longer a physical building but wherever God’s gather for fellowship and worship.
- reconciled (Holy) but by the sacrifices of Christ and not our own
- able to worship a risen Saviour with eternity in our hearts
- filled with God’s Spirit to be able to transform our day to day lives
God keeps giving and giving to us. He gave us creation, He gave us life, He gave us His Son, He gave us the Holy Spirit, He gave us new birth, He gave us the Holy Spirit and He gave us the church.
2011-10-18 – “Building 3: Bricks”
And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians2:22)
This temple building – the church – is built out of “people-bricks.” (Peter uses the phrase: “Living Stones”)
I like the idea of stones rather than bricks. Especially if it is NOT dressed-stone (i.e. stones that have been chipped and cut to be uniform) but individual stones of different shapes, colours and sizes.
The church is made up of unique individuals who are bound together with the “cement” of love and commitment. When we have this building we experience the presence of God through the power of His Spirit.
God is the builder, He identifies us and places us where we need to be. He has a purpose in mind for us. Some are placed low for our strength, some placed near the window because we complement the view, others are used in the corner because we fit right. Some will tuck in next to the roof trusses and others will be in the arch for the door. Take any of these stones away and there is a hole in the wall! The more holes, the less likely that we experience His Spirit.
I saw an amazing sign on a church signboard…
C H _ R C H .
What is missing?
(I think that says it all!)
2011-10-19 – “Conclusion – ch.2″
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians2:3-5)
This is the twelfth devotion on ch.2!
It is a powerful chapter that describes the gospel in all its aspects. I hope you have enjoyed working through it and coming back to the basics of our faith.
I also hope the analogy of:
a Building (Church)
- under a Cross (what Christ did)
- with Vertical (our relationship with God)
- and Horizontal beams (our relationship with others)
has been a helpful image to summarise message the chapter.
I tried to find the verses that formed the “crux” of the chapter and after quite a bit of thought, I settled on verses 3-5. Without the truths expressed in these verses, the rest cannot happen.
These verses describe:
- The extent of our “lostness”
- The mercy and love of God
- The centrality of Grace
- and the Life-that-was-not-ours that is given to us
When we are flagging in our devotion to Christ, others and the church, this chapter is a good “vision-renewer.”
Why not read it in full now? (I have pasted it below)
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
2011-10-20 – “Digressions 1 – mystery”
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — 2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
A professor we love very much had the habit of holding his index finger upright while he was digressing from the main (examinable) theme of his lecture. We loved this for two reasons: his digressions were always fascinating _and_ we could rest our hands from frantic note-taking.
In vs.1 Paul is about to pray for the Ephesians, but as he mentions the fact that he is in prison as he writes to them – he is caught up with the thought that there is a tension. The tension is that he has spoken to them about freedom in Christ and yet he is in prison. He is concerned that they may read “failure” into his circumstances, and so he digresses…
The digression has to do with “mystery”:
- The mystery of God’s grace given to us to give to others (v.2-3)
- The mystery of Christ (v.4-5)
- The mystery that Gentiles can be part of the body of Christ (v.6)
The best way to describe Paul’s use of the word “mystery” is to describe it as something that is “beyond our grasp” – something that leaves him “gobsmacked.”
* Paul is gobsmacked that the God’s grace would be “administered”* through him.
* He is gobsmacked at the Incarnation – that God’s son would take on our humanity and be revealed to us.
* He is gobsmacked that those who were far are now near to God.
All three of the above-mentioned scenarios are highly unlikely and yet they are true! Only God can do this!!!
* The word “administration” in Greek is the word from which we get “economy” – Paul is saying that he is gobsmacked that the economy (the orderly execution of a plan) of God includes little-old-him to reach the gentiles.
2011-10-21 – “Digressions 2 – privilege”
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. (Ephesians3:7-9)
Paul’s digression continues… Even though he is in prison, Paul does not focus on his circumstances but on his privilege. He feels privileged that he has become a servant of the gospel and that God has called him to serve.
Paul is painfully aware of his past as a persecutor of the faithful and a legalistic bigot… This makes him even more grateful for the grace and privilege he has been given to proclaim the gospel.
Paul is very excited to be able to share his faith! This passage reverberates and shakes with the passion Paul has for the message. Look how he describes it:
- Preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ
- Making plain the administration of the mystery
Paul is thrilled to speak of the glory and majesty of Christ. He loves to tell what Christ has done for a fallen world. He feels privileged to explain “administration (economy) of the mystery”: how the story unfolds through Moses and the Prophets and the whole of the Old Testament until the time was right for Christ to come.
Paul doesn’t see the bars of the prison he writes from – he sees a needy world that needs to hear the glorious salvation message and he counts it a huge privilege to tell others about Christ.
How do you feel about having a wonderful Saviour and message to share?
2011-10-26 – “Digressions 3 – purpose”
10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians3:10-12)
Paul is still digressing: He is trying to explain that his imprisonment is not a setback, but that that God is still at work. He has argued this in two ways already:
1. Mystery: The way God works in the world is greater than we can grasp – the wonder of the mystery is greater than our suffering.
2. Privilege: Paul sees it as a privilege to be part of God’s plan – even in suffering.
And now we come to his third argument: Purpose.
Paul sees the church as the agent of revelation and disclosure making the wisdom of God known to all including “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
Our purpose is to glorify God.
Our purpose is to lift up Jesus Christ as Lord.
Our purpose is to show others that we can approach God with “freedom and confidence.”
Some feel that the “God’s glory” being the purpose of the universe makes God a narcissist…
And, if God were not completely good, then this accusation would be true BUT because God _is_ completely good, His being glorified is the best thing that could possibly happen to the universe and us.
Paul’s imprisonment took the focus off Paul and placed it on Christ alone. Christ, whose grace, love and salvation are not frustrated by prison bars.
Have you thought about God’s glory and how it is portrayed in your life – even in your weakness?
2011-10-27 – “Digressions 4 – unthwarted”
13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Ephesians3:13)
Paul started the chapter wanting to pray for the Ephesians, but he digressed. The reason for his digression was the fact of his imprisonment which was paradoxical to the freedom and peace he wrote about in ch.2.
This is a paradox we struggle with. We know of the victory of the cross and the empty tomb. We find it hard to accept that the gospel – the “good news” – so often comes through broken people and in broken circumstances.
It is hard to accept that the same church that was responsible for the Crusades and the Inquisitions is still being used by God. It is difficult to accept that the people who lead us to Christ sometimes have feet of clay. It is confusing that coming to Christ can result in rejection by family or social circles. It’s hard to understand that trouble, hardship and even imprisonment can happen to the children of God.
The so-called “prosperity gospel” (in its worst form) tells us that we are “kings kids” and that our wallets should be loaded, our circumstances peachy and our victories sure. But the real truth is that our Saviour was tougher than the nails. The early Christians retained their faith in spite of hardship. The real gospel isn’t the absence of trouble – it is the hope and fortitude to overcome. Trouble doesn’t thwart the gospel.
You and I should not be dismayed or discouraged at trouble. Jesus, our champion and hero, overcame a “perfect storm” of trouble and He will help us.
Paul sees his imprisonment as an opportunity for the Ephesians: he’s stuck in prison and so baton goes to them! The gospel is unthwarted!!!
2011-11-01 – “Incredible Prayer”
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now, after a 13 verse digression about the mystery of God’s purposes in spite of suffering, Paul prays for the Ephesians. It is an incredible prayer.
It is incredible in two aspects:
1. The One being prayed to: He is praying to the Father who is at the heart of everything: The Son, the Spirit, the Angels and all of earth derive their name from Him. He is the centre, source and fountain of everything – Paul will return to this theme later (we’ll look at it tomorrow…)
2. What Paul prays for:
Firstly that we’d be strengthened so that Christ could live in us. Although we were created in the image of God and were able to receive Christ in our hearts, sin has damaged us – we are not ready to receive Jesus – BUT we receive help from the Holy Spirit.
Secondly that we need Divine Help to understand God’s love for us!! Our brains are too small to grasp that God loves us unconditionally. Our minds can barely understand that He gave His one and only Son for us. We can hardly conceive the love that took Jesus to the cross. So God helps us: He roots and establishes us in love and then He gives us power to grasp the length, breadth, depth and height of Divine Love.
Thirdly we must realise that He doesn’t just want us to grasp this love, He wants us to know it experientially, so that we understand the fullness of God.
There is no escaping the fact that knowing God means we have to come to terms with love. Not sloppy sentimental love, but the self-giving love that transforms you and me. The love that beats at the centre of God’s being and that He gives to each of us and even helps us to understand it.
2011-11-02 – “Incredible God”
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians3:20-21)
At the beginning of ch.3 Paul was going to pray, but he digressed into the wonder and mystery of the plan, economy and mystery of God’s call on His life.
Then he got to the prayer… He had a problem: God’s love for us is huge and we struggle to grasp it. So he prayed that the Ephesians would get the help they needed to understand the enormity of God’s love for them.
This leads inexorably to the a doxology: an outburst of unbridled praise and adoration. Go an read it again!
He is indisputably God!
Paul is deliberately overloading the superlatives:
He could have said “God is able to do more than we can ask.”
But he says “God is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than ALL we can ask OR IMAGINE!”
And this power is not far away and distant – He is with us and working in us and in the church!
And He is the God of Eternity (all generations!) and His glory is revealed in all that Jesus has done for us Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. So ALL the glory goes to Him!
All good theology and preaching leads us to this point:
SOLI DEO GLORIA – To God alone be the praise!
2011-11-03 – “Practical Community Life”
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians4:1-3)
In ch.4 Paul will concentrate on the church. It is a chapter that makes my pulse race and puts a gleam in my eye…
He starts off with the baseline requirements to make community work. These are the back-to-basic things needed for people to be and become the body of Christ. They are disarmingly simple to grasp, practical and yet challenging.
Here we go:
1. Live a life worthy of the calling: Good community needs a good value system and a great vision. The calling we have received is to follow Christ: To die to ourselves and to live for Him. For us to become less and Christ to become greater. This core-value-system underpins community. If we do not aim this high, community begins to centre on individuals and petty issues.
2. Be humble, gentle, patient and forbearing: These character traits are little decisions we must make every day as part of community.
We have to choose not to take ourselves too seriously.
We must decide not to use our power even though we could.
We must take the next step on the pathway of patience.
We must bear with one another because love causes us to see more holistically.
This is a huge challenge that our ego wrestles against, but bears great fruit when we get it right.
3. Keep the unity of the Spirit. As we learned in chapter two, Jesus, by His death, united us. We don’t have to create unity, we must simply continue in it or keep it. When human beings try to _create_ unity it often ends up being uniformity that we are trying to create. Unity starts with God and so it goes without saying that we can only experience it when we are closely co-operating with the Spirit who is the bond of peace.
Wow! Each of these is actually a devotion in itself, but for best impact it’s better that we take them together. If we take these seriously, our church community can become a vibrant and life-giving part of the body of Christ.
2011-11-04 – “The basis of unity”
4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians4:4-6)
The basis of our unity is not found in culture, race, language or even doctrine. The basis of our unity lies in God and in the Salvation He offers us. We are one because we are saved by Jesus. Paul made this clear in chapter two and here, in almost creedal form, he re-iterates it.
There are seven “one’s” in this passage.
Three of them refer to the Triune Godhead.
* One Spirit – the one who binds the body together
* One Lord (The Greek word is “Kurios”) which in the NT refers to Jesus
* One God and Father of all
Three of them refer to our salvation:
* Hope: This is the start of our faith journey – we discover we don’t have to save ourselves.
* Faith: We put our trust in Christ for there is no other way to be saved.
* Baptism: In New Testament times baptism was a public sign that indicated faith in Christ and allegiance to the Church.
And there is one
* Body: The church, which is the place where this unity is experienced and where we grow. Not the institutional church, but the Body where Jesus is the Head.
Paul uses a different sequence to what I have: The way he spells it out to us is the way most of us come to faith:
We come into contact with the BODY (Church) and the SPIRIT begins to draw us in and then we begin to have HOPE that Jesus Christ is the LORD who saves us and we put our FAITH in Him and BAPTISM signifies our allegiance to Him and we spend the rest our our lives giving glory to the FATHER.
This is the basis of our unity.
2011-11-08 – “Digressing again!!!”
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) (Ephesians4:7-10)
Paul is about to tell us about the gifts that Christ gave the church when He ascended into heaven. But the thought of the ascension makes him think of Psalm 68 which is about a king ascending the throne.
For Paul there is a sense of wonder and awe. Jesus isn’t simply walking up (ascending) a few steps up to an earthly throne in an earthly palace or temple. Jesus ascends to his _heavenly_ throne. And His victory isn’t merely over earthly enemies but over sin, death and Satan.
This leads him to a two verse digression where he wonders and marvels at the wonderful truth of the incarnation. For, how could Christ ascend to the heavens unless He had first descended?
Paul is digressing to remind us of the wonder that Jesus chose to obey the Father’s will – to become human and to be incarnate in Mary’s womb and incarnate in our lives and in His incarnation to suffer terribly in order to be made perfect (even more than He already was) through His obedience.
So, in Paul’s eyes, Jesus loses nothing by taking off all His glory and descending to earth. In fact, this act of descending makes His ascension even greater.
Paul is digressing, but he is allowing himself to pause, ponder and reflect on the great graciousness of the Saviour who “descended into greatness” and ascended to fill the universe with His sacrificial grace.
Paul was distracted with this incredible thought and the same should happen to us!
2011-11-09 – “Four gifts to the church”
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, (Ephesians4:11)
Having paused to reflect on Jesus descent in baby humanity and ascent to fill the universe, Paul now gives us a list of the gifts that the Descended and Ascended Lord Jesus gives to the church. These gifts are in the form of people who are particularly gifted in certain areas to grow and build the church.
There are four ministries given to the church:
1. Apostles: From the Greek (Apo (out) + stello (send)). These are the pioneers, the planters, the ground-breakers, the missionaries and the innovators. They are the ones who love starting things. They go where no-one has gone before. They go “out” beyond the realms of the familiar and the already organised.
2. Prophets: Most people think that a prophet fortells the future, but this is only a small part of what they do. The best definition of an Old Testament is “someone who gives God’s comment on current affairs and the impact this will have on the future.” They courageously stand for truth. They are not comfortable people to have around, but they speak out for God’s justice and righteousness. Whether it is Amos speaking about the oppression of the poor or Desmond Tutu taking on the NP and then the ANC about corruption and injustice, the prophets are much needed.
3. Evangelists: These are people who have the amazing ability to share the Good News (Evangel) in an amazingly attractive way. Some do it for the crowds (like Billy Graham and Angus Buchan) and others do it one on one like the folk who are always bringing another friend to church. They have an wonderful way of sharing their faith in an attractive and sincere way.
4. Pastors and Teachers: Some have tried to separate these two but a careful look at the sentence structure both in English and especially the Greek reveals this cannot be done. (Look at the four repetitions of “some to be”) Think of your favourite teachers at school – they were the ones who cared. Good teachers really care and if you really care about someone, you will teach them what they need to know. Pastoring and Teaching are inseparable.
This is what the church needs to be healthy…
Unfortunately we have many who want to be teachers but don’t want to be pastors. We are also resistant to the prophets who tell us things we might not want to hear. The apostles scare us because we want to stay in the safety of the known instead of heading into the unknown. We have lost sight of the need for evangelism and we don’t encourage those who are good at it.
A healthy church needs loving teaching, courageous truthfulness, a pioneering spirit and those who will bring the lost in. Jesus has given the church people with those gifts – now let’s encourage them!
2011-11-10 – “The reason for the gifts”
12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians4:12-13)
Paul has described four gifts given specifically to the church: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor-Teachers. These four ministries have a very specific purpose:
- To prepare God’s people for works of service,
- thereby building up the body of Christ
- and leading us into united Christ-like maturity.
Let’s look a little closer:
1. Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor-Teachers need to equip God’s people for works of Service (Grk is Diaconia – where we get the word “deacons” from). They are not to do the work, but equip and inspire God’s people to get stuck in.
2. This builds up the Body of Christ. There are many other Spiritual Gifts (See the lists in Romans 12 and 1Corinthians 12) and when the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor-Teachers equip the God’s People to use these gifts, then it builds up the church.
3. When the people of God put their faith into action, it increases faith, enhances their experience of Christ, promotes unity and leads to maturity. (There is less time to be petty when there is work to do!) When we are willing to serve and use our gifts and take faith-risks then we grow in the image of Christ and will eventually become more and more like Christ until His fullness can be seen in us!
This is why God has given four gifts to the church.
Let’s be excited about the goal He has for us:
Unified, faith-filled service that brings us closer and closer to Christ.
2011-11-11 – “Why we go to Church”
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians4:14-16)
Paul has been talking about the four ministries given to the church to equip, build and mature God’s people.
Today’s verses amplify the benefits of being “part of the body”…
1. We grow up in our faith. When we are Christians on our own we tend to become self-referencing and self-informing. Proverbs tells us that “as iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another” (Prov27:17)
2. We don’t get “blown and tossed back and forth.” While the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand, we will spend the rest of our lives (and eternity!) soaking up the grandeur and glory of God’s dealings with us. Being part of a faith community (that has the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers) safeguards us from being side-tracked.
3. We learn to speak the truth in love and discover that Jesus is the head of the Church. People can be hard to love and they can drive us crazy. Many people love God, but struggle to love people. But God gives us no alternative: loving Him means loving others. The church is a workshop where we learn to love others. In church we discover that Jesus died for those who are not like us. When we learn REALationship (speaking the truth in love) we discover the power of God’s love working in us and we see past people’s imperfections to Christ who is the Head.
4. We discover our purpose as part of the body. A finger by itself is useless, an ear by itself is useless, a nose by itself is useless – but when they are part of the body they have value and purpose. As we realise our part in the body we discover that teamwork is much more fun than going solo.
These are solid reasons to go to church and get stuck in!
2011-11-22 – “Losing the Plot”
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. (Ephesians4:17-19)
Paul has spent the first part of this chapter explaining the nature, purpose and importance of the church. Now in the second part, he explores some of the practical ramifications.
There is an interesting downward spiral that takes place when we try to leave God out of the picture. Paul considers this “futile thinking” and it is the hallmark of mainstream society.
This first step downwards is powerfully described in v.18…
It all stems from a hard heart.
A heart that is closed to God is a heart that is separated from the Life of God in the world. Think about sunsets, the miracle of breathing, the wonder of child-birth and so many other things that speak of the majesty and splendour of God – they are the “signposts” of the “Life of God.” When we harden our hearts to God, then we can’t read the “signposts” of God’s life and our understanding becomes darkened. If we don’t have God as our reference point, we become self-referencing, self-centred and self-defining.
This leads us to losing sensitivity (toward others) and giving ourselves over to sensuality (our own pleasure) and because this can never satisfy, we try harder and harder to find self-pleasure no matter what rules we break.
In the context of this chapter, it needs to be recognised that Paul is offering the church (where people are growing closer to God and each other) as an alternative to main-stream society that is locked in a downward spiral.
2011-11-23 – “Another alternative”
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians4:20-24)
After describing the downward spiral of “futility thinking,” Paul reminds the Ephesians that it is possible to “put off your old self” and be made “new.”
What is very striking to me is that Paul centres this life transformation on their knowledge and experience of Christ. New life is knowing Christ and learning from His Truth (the example He set during His Incarnation by being obedient to the Father even by going to the cross.) Being in tune with Christ’s life will help us put off the old self and develop a new mind attitude that will lead to a new self.
Trying to live good lives on our own does not work – new life is found in Christ. The more we look at Him, the more we know Him, the more we will become like Him.
It is the “attitude of your minds” that is all-important. If we fill our minds with God’s truth and the example of Christ then transformation can take place. It is very much a battle of the mind, not so much the power of positive thinking, but rather the power of the truth of Christ being at the heart of how we think and act.
There is a verse in Acts (4:13) that says it all:
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been WITH JESUS.” (Emphasis mine)
2011-11-24 – “Live for Christ, live for others”
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Living for Christ means we live for others.
There is no substance at all to the thought that we can be solo, hermit or lone-ranger Christians.
Being called to Christ means being called to community.
Yesterday we saw how Paul has called us to put on a “new self” which has its roots in being like Jesus. Now we are being called to live in community and over the next three days we’ll look at three paragraphs that have to do with this communal life.
There are three community concepts at stake today: Truth, Anger and Work.
TRUTH is foundational to communal life. We are part of one body. When I am not truthful it is very damaging to the body, because the truth will eventually come out and those I have misled suffer from my deceit.
ANGER is something many Christians deal with very badly. We think that being angry is wrong and so we bottle it up and it comes out in horrible unexpected ways. Paul is clear: Don’t sin in your anger and don’t bottle it up. Badly dealt with anger is Satan’s foothold: When we sin in our anger we hurt others and when we bottle it up we hurt ourselves. We must learn to deal with anger constructively.
While it looks like vs.28 is about theft, it is actually about WORK. Theft is what we resort to when we are too lazy to work. Theft is not only theft in the criminal sense, but theft in the sense of someone playing the victim and abusing the generosity of others. The outcome Paul seeks here is not the absence of theft, but a dignifying work ethic that not only supports the worker but assists the needy.
Paul calls us to community, but not superficial community, rather courageous community where the truth is told, anger is constructively resolved and a dignifying work ethic is the order of the day.
2011-11-25 – “Inside out”
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians4:29-32)
In this final part of chapter four Paul offers useful advice for the ongoing community of the Church.
Good church communities are inside-out phenomena. When God’s Grace is at work INSIDE people and they courageously live it OUT then the outcome is real Christ-honouring unity and not rigid uniformity or compromising conformity.
In each of the four verses here Paul tackles an INSIDE attitude:
The first has to do with the tongue. The Bible speaks a lot about the tongue and Jesus made it clearest when He said: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt.12:34) We need to learn to put a leash on our tongue:
- avoiding the unwholesome
- building up others
- adding benefit to those who hear.
The point here is the leash on the tongue – the tongue is the bridge between the inner and outer worlds, and when we get good security on the bridge we will be healthier people and the world around us will benefit.
Next up, Paul calls us to march in step with the Spirit. His word choice is striking here: Don’t “grieve” the Spirit. He is reminding us that that Spirit is not an impersonal force, but an equal part of the Trinity. We are in relationship with Him. The internal choices we make affect our relationship with Him. How do you feel when someone you love very much makes bad choices?
Thirdly Paul calls us to root out bitterness and all its companions. These are the negative emotions that fester in us and cause us to become dissatisfied, disgruntled and disappointed in life. We need to relentlessly eradicate these things in our lives. Are you angry, bitter, disgruntled? Get over it! If you can’t get over it, get help!
When we get rid of the negatives of bitterness, there is room for kindness and compassion and Paul urges us to make decisions to be kind and to forgive. His argument for this is a trump-card: because Christ forgave you! There’s no arguing against that.
So, this is the inside-out change process:
- Start by putting security on the bridge between inside and out
- Remember that you have a friendship with God through the Spirit
- Relentlessly root out bitterness
- Be gracious because Jesus was extra gracious to us!
2011-11-29 – “Godly Living #1: Imitate and Love”
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians5:1-2)
Our next section (5:1-20) deals with Godly Living. While the section will provide some specific ideas about what Godly Living entails, Paul starts us off with a very basic truth: Godly Living means living and loving like Christ.
Piety or Godliness, in Paul’s definition, is very simple – it is about becoming becoming imitators of God in Christ and living a life of love.
But Paul gives us a two good reasons to do this:
1. We are not trying to live Godly lives to satisfy the whims of some stern deity in heaven. We are living Godly lives because we are “dearly loved”! Paul is using the same Greek word here as is used in Matthew 3:17 where God speaks at the baptism of Jesus and says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…” Little boys imitate their fathers because they know their dads love them. We imitate God because we are “beloved.”
2. We live a life of love because Christ loved us and led by example. He loved us and gave Himself as a sacrifice. When we live lives of love, we are simply small reflections of what He has already done for us.
Godly living is imitation and love. Our motivation is that we are much loved and Christ has already set the ultimate example.
The rest of this section really just spells out what that might look like…
2011-11-30 – “Godly Living #2: Downward Spirals”
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. (Ephesians5:3-7)
In this section (5:1-20) the basic principle is to live in love and imitate Christ (see yesterday’s dev) but Paul continues by giving some practical guidelines as to how this might work…
The first guideline that he gives is to warn us about the temptations that cause downward moral spirals. He warns about sexual temptation, impurity and greed. These three have been present in the demise of societies throughout history. As Paul was writing to the Ephesians, he was watching the Roman “civilization” crumble at the hands of these three vices.
When it is cool to talk publicly about private sexual matters and deviancies, when society freely uses horrible language, endorses gore and obscenity and when the unbridled pursuit of more and more is encouraged then the inevitable result is that society crumbles. (Is this not happening again now?)
Today our talk shows have become more and more explicit and ribald and while the claim is “that we are adults,” it actually just cheapens the gifts that God has given us and drags society into the gutter. Paul stands firm: “Dirty jokes” etc have no place among God’s people.
Paul is crystal clear: Immorality, Impurity and Intemperance (Greed) (Do you like the alliteration?) have no place among God’s people. We must hold to a higher standard.
Christians are afraid of appearing prudish or “boy-scoutish” but Paul calls us to a higher standard. The three “I’s” (Immorality, Impurity and Intemperance) are the slippery slope into a downward spiral.
Paul relentlessly calls us to a higher standard.
2011-12-01 – “Godly Living #3: Live in light”
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians5:8-14)
When we become children of God we move from darkness to light (John 8:12)
Paul calls us to live out this truth.
Living as people of the light means that we try to live as people who cannot hide anything (you need darkness to hide things) If we live as people for whom everything is public, it helps us to avoid the doing things that need hiding…
Paul qualifies light-living in these three ways:
These are useful tests to apply to any action we are considering: “Is it good for all involved? Is it right? Is it honest and does it have integrity?”
Living in the light means we live knowing that God sees it all.
But we don’t have to do it all alone!
Paul reminds us that the power of the Risen Christ is the power that raises us from our dark, dead slumber into life in the light.
2011-12-02 – “Godly Living #4: Wisdom, the Spirit and Thanksgiving.”
Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians5:15-20)
In the final part of this section (5:1-20) on Godly Living, Paul gives three practical habits that will help us to live for God’s glory.
Firstly, we must learn to be wise. The world around us is overwhelming and helter-skelter. It bombards us with information, choices and peer-pressure. We must learn to be wise and make the most of every opportunity. We need to learn to cultivate a cool head in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. This means clarifying our priorities, considering our options and being brave enough to say “No.” It means we learn to ask “What does God want me to do?” at every opportunity.
Secondly, we must learn to be filled (the Greek is a present continuous tense – “keep on being filled”) with the Spirit. Paul uses drunkenness as an analogy. When one is full of alcohol, it controls our words, perceptions and actions. To stay drunk one must keep drinking. To be full of the Spirit is to be controlled by the Spirit. To remain that way, we must keep sipping and to sip is to say “not my will but Yours…”
Thirdly, we must cultivate an attitude of gratitude. When we are counting our blessings and choosing to praise, we stand a much better chance of staying focussed on God and making the right choices. When we brag about what God has done in our conversations and in our songs we open the doors to be filled with His Spirit and to receive wisdom. An attitude of gratitude softens our hearts and transforms our actions.
So, to sum up: Chapter 5:1-20 is a powerful section about Godly Living. It is summed up in imitating Christ and living in love, but warns us about downward spirals, calls us to live in the light and gives us three habits to master: Wisdom, Spirit-following and Gratitude.
Have a great weekend!
Pls pray for Emmanuel and Grace congregation as we host 130 HIV orphans at a Christmas Party tomorrow and record the Christmas Day Service for SAFM on Sunday Night.
2011-12-06 – “Relationships and Submission”
(Our dev is a bit longer today – but it covers a big section)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians5:21-6:9)
There is often controversy over the next section of Ephesians (5:21-6:9 (full text pasted in at the end)). It is the section about submission and most people who get stuck on it, get stuck on isolated parts of it like “Wives submit to your Husbands.”
Those who get stuck on this section accuse Paul of being sexist and promoting patriarchy and other evils. But v21 puts the whole thing in perspective. We _all_ submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In other words, we follow the example of Jesus and treat people the way He would.
Paul explores key roles in key relationships: Wife, Husband, Child, Father, Slave and Master. Submission in each of these relationships takes different forms.
- Wives need to respect and submit to their husbands.
- Husbands should love their wives and lay down their lives for them.
- Children should obey and honour their parents.
- Fathers (Parents) should not exasperate their children.
- Slaves should give of their best as though serving God.
- Masters should be fair and responsible.
It is interesting to me that the submission or respect demanded from wives, children and slaves has to be earned:
- The husband earns his wife’s respect by laying down his life for her
- The parent earns the child’s respect by providing good leadership
- The master earns the slave’s loyalty by being just and fair.
As controversial as “wives submit to your husbands” may seem, it comes into focus when we realise that the husband is called to be Christlike toward his wife. (To earn her respect)
Also, it is interesting to me that Paul calls each group out on their greatest temptation:
- Wives: to become independent
- Husbands: to take for granted and become unloving and unprotective
- Children: to be disrespectful and rebellious
- Parents: to become draconian
- Slaves: to do the bare minimum
- Masters: to be harsh and rule by fear
In 5:21 Paul calls us ALL (not only the wives) to submit.
Even Christ submitted to the will of the Father.
Submission isn’t weakness, it’s about knowing that it is not always about me!
EPH 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.
2011-12-07 – “Struggle #1: Stand Firm”
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians6:10-13)
We come to the final major section of Ephesians which has to do with the challenges of living for Christ in a hostile world. This is often called “Spiritual Warfare” but this is a term I have increasingly become uncomfortable with as it has become “Spiritual Cowboys and Crooks” where the earthly “cowboys” and “cowgirls” make the rules and have drifted away from the guidelines that Scripture provides.
Paul and the Ephesians were seasoned veterans in experiencing opposition. (Do you remember the story of the demon possessed man and the seven sons of Sceva in our introduction?) This experience translates into some common-sense principles for dealing with evil.
1. We must be strong in the Lord. Not in our supposed knowledge or our ideas of how the Spiritual Realm “works.” Many people who get involved in “Spiritual Warfare” spend too much time “looking for the devil” when they ought to be looking for Christ.
2. We need God’s armour – not our own ideas. God has already provided what we need. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. (More on this tomorrow…)
3. We have an enemy: Satan, his fallen angels and those who follow him. Many modern Christians feel that songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers” are not appropriate in our modern society, but the only reason that the darkness will leave us alone is if we are not shining the light of Christ! CS Lewis pointed out that the enemy has two winning strategies: Firstly that Christians ignore him – so that he can do what he likes. Secondly that we pay so much attention to him that we take our eyes of Christ.
4. Many people think that their job is to “defeat the devil.” This so often leads to obsession and pride. Jesus already defeated Satan on the cross and soon He will complete His victory. Our job is to stand! Our job is to carry out our Master’s call to make disciples of the nations by preaching and living a gospel of love. We are not called to “kill the crooks” but to stand firm. It means we shouldn’t go beyond our Master’s orders.
So, this is Paul’s balanced perspective: The battle is real, but we must stay focussed on God and stand firm by staying in His will.
2011-12-08 – “Struggle #2: Dressed for Success”
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians6:14-18)
In 2003 I did a full and detailed series on the Armour of God which can be found at http://emmanuel.org.za/emmdev-archive/the-armour-of-god/ .
I’d like to consider the armour in a different way today:
Firstly, lets look at the virtues that make up the armour:
Truth, Righteousness, Readiness (to proclaim the gospel), Faith, Salvation, the Word of God and Prayer.
These are facets of our relationship with God that need to be in use and well-practised. Just as a soldier knows how to wear and use his equipment, we should be practised at speaking and living TRUTHfully. The RIGHTEOUSNESS imputed to us by Christ should assuage our guilt and inspire us to live like Him. We must understand if we are not READY and willing to share our faith, we’re going to be as ineffective as a barefoot soldier, because Standing Firm is about sharing our faith. FAITH is trust and trust is like a muscle – it atrophies when not used – growing faith often means there are flaming arrows. SALVATION is the wonderful knowledge that I am saved and don’t need to save myself. God’s WORD and PRAYER are vital to our walk with Him.
Secondly, we must also look at the parts being protected:
The belt is the foundation of Roman Armour – all the other bits were attached to it. Integrity holds all the facets of our faith together. The heart and vital organs reflect our soul, emotions and character – these need to be immersed in the comfort of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. The feet represent action: they are what we Stand on! The shield is how we protect ourselves and trusting in God rather than ourselves makes a great deal of sense here. The head has to do with our thoughts and we need to think as people who are in the light (saved). An offensive weapon can injure its owner or be used against him, so it makes sense that Scripture is the most balanced weapon we can use. Prayer is like breathing.
Paul’s description of armour, whether we go into it in fine detail or overview it, reminds us that we should be serious in wearing the virtues or traits described because we are in a serious battle – but lets be clear: The battle is to “Stand Firm” to keep the faith and we will need all the traits and virtues described here.
2011-12-09 – “Struggle #3: Intercession”
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians6:19-20)
In the struggle to stand firm in God’s will and purposes, Paul is convinced about the power of prayer.
In his second letter to the Corinthians (v.10-11) he says this: “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”
It is a mystery that God includes our prayers as part of how He works in our world. It bends our minds to try and balance Sovereignty and the human decision to pray or not to pray. But from Scripture and History we know that our prayers for one another have an impact.
When I struggle to wrap my mind around it, I remind myself to simply knuckle down and do it. All I have to do is pray. The results, mercifully, are God’s problem.
David Meece wrote some powerful words about praying for others:
See him on the campus, as he studies with his friends,
They mean no harm, they laugh, and call him “preacher” now and then,
His words are few, he saves them ’til he’s home and on his knees,
That’s where he’s a warrior; and he fights to see them free.
He’s the unknown soldier, the unsung hero, the brother on the street,
He’s the unknown soldier, the holy warrior who will never sound retreat,
He’s your unseen comrade, and his triumph will be sweet,
He’s the unknown soldier
There’s been no bloody torture, no burning at the stake,
There’ll be no published memoirs, no memorial for his sake,
And no one calls him “martyr”; his blood has not been shed,
Still, in combat he’s been faithful in the little things instead.
He’s the unknown soldier, the unsung hero, the brother on the street,
He’s the unknown soldier, a holy warrior who will never sound retreat,
He’s your unseen comrade, and his triumph will be sweet,
He’s the unknown soldier
(how about being the “unknown soldier” for your pastor this weekend?)
2011-12-13 – “Conclusions”
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
23 Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Ephesians6:21-23)
Ephesians has been called the “Grand Canyon” of the shorter Epistles. It is a breath-taking tour of:
* our Spiritual Blessings in Christ,
* the reconciling work of the cross in vertical and horizontal dimensions,
* prayers that me might comprehend the incredible love of God,
* the wonder of the church
* the urgency of the times we live in
* the potential of relationships that can be transformed
* and the reality of the spiritual struggle we are in.
So, how does Paul hope to end a letter of such epic proportions?
With two thoughts:
1. Community is important: Tychicus and the news he carries is a symbol of our belonging-together in Christ. Paul’s assurance that he will connect the Ephesian Church with what Paul is going through is a vital aspect of our faith. We are not Christians alone.
2. Peace, Love and Grace are the most beautiful gifts we have as we understand the Gospel and understand the love of God. And as we experience Peace and Grace, we are able to love Jesus with an undying love.
What does your Christianity consist of? Do you know peace with God and do you understand that grace is free, undeserved and unencumbered by conditions? Do you have an unquenchable love for Christ?? If you do, then you have really SEEN Paul’s Grand Canyon!!!
This brings us to the end of Ephesians and the end of the devotions for the year. Thanks for reading my ramblings through the year and my only prayer is that they have helped, in some way, to clarify God’s Word and inspire you to love Him more.
Thanks to those who have sent me encouraging notes through the year!
Have a blessed Christmas and may 2012 lead you to a greater commitment to our awesome God!