Thursday, November 26, 2015


Hebrews 13:15. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 

I have not posted in a week, but am expecting to resume doing so by next Tuesday (December 1st).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (Ephesians 4:5)

“(4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NASB95)

Contrary to the belief of many, there are not many paths to God. There is not a multiplicity of faiths all leading to the same end. Scripture declares that there is only one Lord who is Jesus Christ and there is only one faith which is found in Him though His death, burial and resurrection.

The hope we have of verse 4 is because of the Lord of verse 5 who is Jesus Christ sent by God the Father. Throughout verses 4 through 6 we see loud and clear that not only is God one, but so is the salvation which He gives. There is no other way to be saved and once we are saved we are knit together by God into one body which He has called us to preserve in the unity that we have according to our hope in the power of His Spirit. With all of the stuff that rises up and with the pressures from within and without we are called to look to God, walk according to His power in us by His Spirit and submit to His Son as our one and only Lord. In this we are also going to have to be diligent in our dealings with others both for the building up of the body and the demonstration that this is to the world which is watching.

Paul said that there is one Lord who is Jesus Christ. There is also only one faith, which while it includes the message of salvation by faith it is also more comprehensive to include the teaching of God’s Word and even more specifically the body of doctrine that we find revealed in the New Testament. In Jude 3 we read of this teaching that had been handed down as “the faith.” “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 3, NASB95) This was not an evolving faith or one that was subject to addition or change, but one that was once for all handed down. Jude wrote this in the face of those who were coming along later seeking to distort the apostles teaching as we read in verse 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4, NASB95)

And there is one baptism. While there is some difference in how this verse is understood, there is unanimity that we are only identified in Christ through His death, burial and resurrection. It is reasonably held that this passage speaks specifically of water baptism since the presence of the Spirit is already mentioned a verse earlier and it is in accord with the observance of the early church where water baptism and the receipt of the Holy Spirit went hand in hand with salvation. As people were saved they were baptized and they received the Holy Spirit. All of these happened right then and there. Even on that first day when over three thousand souls were saved we read, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37–41, NASB95) Here Peter was obeying Christ’s command of Matthew 28:19 where we read, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20, NASB95) Even in this commission we see one Lord, one faith (teaching), and one baptism.

But not being specific it is also possible that Paul was referring back to the presence of the Spirit in verse 4 and the Lord’s teaching that while John baptized with water there was a time coming when believers would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). This of course happened just as Jesus said on Pentecost and it has been the perpetual state of all who have come to salvation since. At the time we trust Christ for salvation our entire identity changes. Paul wrote in Romans 6:3-4 of this new identification, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, NASB95) And more than that we are also baptized into one body with all other believers as we read in 1 Corinthians, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13, NASB95)

Whether this baptism be one, the other, or both each of these truths are taught in Scripture and they all point to the incredible work that God has done in us through His Son. Truly the oneness we have is because we have our one Lord Jesus Christ, we have the solitary and complete teaching of Scripture which was laid down unchangeably for us, and we share in the reality that we are all identified in one body with His death, burial, and resurrection.

Friday, November 20, 2015

One Body and One Spirit Called in One Hope (Ephesians 4:4)

“(4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NASB95)

In face of driving home the importance of how we are to be one with one another in the Spirit in the bond of peace, Paul immediately follows it with the oneness of our God. We do not serve a different God. There are not a multiplicity of Spirits, nor is the Spirit duplicitous in function. We are one body—the church. There may be a lot of church buildings and countless ways of operating within those buildings, but there is only one church which is the body of Christ. Even then there was not a separate body for Jewish believers and for Gentile ones. There was and is only one. This was a big issue for believers at that time as both groups were coming to Christ and not certain how to respond to each other. People from all kinds of backgrounds were being saved and being knit together into this one body, and Paul declared loud and clear that there is only one body.

We can learn a lot from that today as we deal with believers who not only have their own preferences for worship style and sermon length, but who also disagree on various peripheral doctrinal positions yet agree on the essentials of the gospel. There are some who disagree on whether or not the sign gifts are in continuance today, yet they fully agree that they are saved by faith in Christ alone and hold firmly with the rest in the majority of Scripture. There are some who vary in just how the end will end and what the order of things will be, yet again they agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God sent by the Father through whom alone man can be saved. There are even some who disagree as to whether we should view the times of Scripture as covenantal or dispensational and when those various dispensations might begin or end. Yet they agree that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.

All of these are things in which we are called to diligently study the word of God and seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of it so that we might both rightfully handle it ourselves and help others to do likewise. While we may vary in our understanding where God’s work may not be specifically clear we are never to allow these differences to minimize our view of the trustworthiness of any portion of Scripture. Rather, we are to respond by continuing to seek God’s proper understanding as we diligently study His word, realizing that we all have a lot of learning and growing to do. And in the face of this reality we are given continual cause to be even more humble, gentle, patient, and tolerant of one another giving room where there appears to be room in Scripture and striving for agreement where there does not.

There is one body and we are called to preserve the unity of that body. But we are not called to do so at the expense of God’s truth on one side or even to force conformity of His truth in our own strength on the other side. We are one body in Christ and there is one Spirit in us. What an incredible relationship this is that we share with one another. It doesn’t matter if we have ever met before or about our own cultural background, when we come together we share a oneness that is truly found in our being united in Christ. We can encourage each other, pray for each other, worship with each other, and serve side by side with each other. We can mourn with each other and we can hope with each other. We are truly all members of one body of which Jesus Christ is the head and the Spirit moves through each of us.

Christians truly have the same hope knowing that we were each called by God into the same salvation in Jesus Christ, indwelt by the same Spirit, and given the same assurance of eternal life. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Walking as One (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2–3, NASB95)

The human thing frequently is to get irritated when people rub us the wrong way. After all isn’t it our passion that ignites a flame in our hearts? But at the same time that passion may easily become friction for someone else, and we all know that with friction comes heat and that enough heat leads to combustion. James wrote a lot about this in his brief but packed letter. In James 3:5 he wrote, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (James 3:5, NASB95) But this is only the second half of the verse. The first half reads, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.” Earlier in chapter 1 he wrote, “… But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (James 1:19, NASB95) He sets up for us a contrast between the one who acts upon his own impulses and the one who waits, and he says to us that the one who waits also calms.

We all know friction and conflict. We all know how damaging it can be and how long it can linger. We know that friendships, marriages, and families and churches are torn apart over it. It is a destructive force, and frequently it is evidenced through the things that come out of our mouths. Continuing in James 3:8-10 we read, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (James 3:8–10, NASB95)

But the tongue is not the real source of the problem. It is merely an obvious path for the problem to surface. Reading on in James we find, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” (James 3:13–14, NASB95) … “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1, NASB95) James points to the root of the problem and that is our own desires. And when we hold our desires above those of others conflict will surely come.

We have been called into one body by God and by the power of the Spirit we are knit together. Paul urges us to consider this oneness and be diligent to preserve it. The way we are to do this is by humbly looking to others as we remember the example of Christ for us (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus, being fully God humbled Himself by taking on the form of a bond-servant in the likeness of man to give Himself as a sacrifice for us so that we might receive forgiveness of our sins and be granted eternal life all according to the will of God the Father. He endured setting aside the glory of God for a season to endure humanity, ridicule, rejection, beatings, and death for us. Why? Because God loves us that much (John 3:16).

And it is this love that we in turn show to one another which declares to the world that God is real (John 13:35) as we fulfill the this commandment given to us by Christ (John 13:34). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95)

So, how do we practically love one another? This is where the words of Ephesians 4:2 and 3 come into focus. First, we are to demonstrate humility in our lives. Humility is a compound word in this passage. It combines ‘tapeinos’, meaning lowly or of low estate or not rising far from the ground with ‘phren’, meaning understanding or perceiving or judging such that you reign it in. Putting these two Greek roots together we get the understanding of actively reigning in and holding to an attitude of low position. It was with this attitude that the Son of God did not regard equality with God something to be strongly held on to. It did not mean that He was any less, but that He did not allow His position to get in the way of what was important which was doing the will of the Father. He demonstrated humility for us and we are called to be humble ourselves always remembering that we were not saved based upon any merit of our own, but because of the Father’s great love for us as demonstrated through the humility of His Son.

We also read that we are not only to be gentle, but to have an attitude of gentleness. Our gentle actions are to flow from a gentle heart. This speaks of a person with a mild disposition or one who is not prone to quarrel or easily anger. Again I think of the example of our Lord who even in the face of being reviled and having abuse piled upon Him did not return the same in kind (1 Peter 2:23). But rather through His actions we were drawn unto Him. When the world hated Him, He loved us. “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24–25, NASB95) In Galatians 5:23 we read that gentleness is among the things listed as fruit of the work of God’s Spirit in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95) Just a couple of verses later in chapter 6 we go on to read, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, NASB95) Gentle actions flow from a gentle heart. We are to demonstrate the work of God’s Spirit in us by treating others with the gentleness which we have learned from God.

We go on to read in Ephesians 4:2 that we are to “with patience” show “tolerance” or be “longsuffering” toward. Each of these words grasps some element of the meaning and all point to the fact that things won’t always go smoothly. I know this is not a news flash for us. We’ve all figured it out by now. Even the most loving of people are going to have those moments when they have to make a choice about how they are going to respond to a wrong suffered or a desire squelched. Tolerance is a much misused word in our society where it has come to incorporate not only putting up with something not going or being as we desire, but also embracing it. The problem here is that it is used to include even those things which fly in the face of what God’s word declares to be right and true, and I think for that reason many people are steering away from the word. But the truth is that even within the framework of people who are seeking after God, hiding His word daily in their hearts, and trusting Him to direct their steps there are going to be missteps and stumbling. There are going to be times when we sin or hurt each other and need to deal with it. There are going to be areas of disagreement within the church about music and colors of carpet. There are varying views on how a ministry should be run, and there are even varying understandings of what God intends in portions of His Word. All of these things can be used as fuel for division, but Paul encourages us to patiently stand firm with each other as we walk right before God and one another in the power of the Spirit allowing Him to sort these things out. It is in this that patience shows itself to be powerful, knowing that not everything is resolved on the spot. It is in this that longsuffering proves unifying as we stand with each other as we endure that which is not right with the hope that it turns out right before God. And it is here that we tolerate one another knowing that what God began in each of us He will indeed complete as we build up and encourage one another in Him and entrust ourselves to the work of His Spirit.

We are told to love one another. All of the things above and so much more is tangible evidence of our love. People who love each other demonstrate that love in how they are toward one another. And our love is to be more than an outward act, but an outflowing of God’s working in us. When we sense ill feelings rising up or are tempted to respond harshly things it is a good sign that maybe it is time to stop and look to God first. Going back to James 1:19 where we read that everyone is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, I am reminded of the greater context of James chapter 1 which is really looking to God. When these things pop up and I am tempted to respond inappropriately according to whom I am in Christ the best thing to do is to first stop and look to God, listening to Him, and seeking His way of moving forward. Then in accord with the things He has shown me in His Word and spoken to my heart I can then respond in the Spirit led way knowing that first it reins in my own temper and secondly also leads to peace with others thus preserving the unity of the Spirit in which we are knit together in the bond of peace.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Therefore Walk Worthy (Ephesians 4:1)

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” (Ephesians 4:1, NASB95)

What a compelling term—“Prisoner.” Paul had just written about the incredible work that God had done and was prepared to do in them. With the beginning of chapter 4 he begins with the word “therefore.” This word has the meaning of response—because of what had just been explained the following is expected. Paul said that because of what God had done for him that he was now a “prisoner of the Lord.” This word “prisoner” (Greek: desmios) means to be in bonds or to be bound. It comes from a root meaning of being tied or chained, and it was used both to speak of being literally bound and also being under obligation. Paul reinforced this view of his position repeatedly in his letters, even pointing to Jesus as our ultimate example where we read in Philippians 2:5-8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, NASB95) It is this term (bond-servant) that Paul used to introduce himself in the beginning of his letter to the Romans. “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1, NASB95) And it is in response to this that he encourages all of us to give ourselves back to God in Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95)

Paul knew to whom he belonged. He knew that he had been bought with a price and that he no longer belonged to himself, but to Christ who purchased him with His blood. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NASB95) It was in light of this that Paul wrote words such as those that preceded 1 Corinthians 6:20 where we read, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NASB95)

Belonging to Christ, Paul was committed to walking such that He honored His Lord and master—walking worthy before Him. Here in verse 1 of chapter 4 Paul begins imploring the Ephesians believers to walk in the same manner—the manner in which they had been called. As I read these verses my mind was drawn to a difficult decision that my wife and I recently made for our family. We had heavily invested ourselves in the Boy Scouts of America program as a good thing for our boys and as a means of reaching outside our church in service. I had grown up in it as a boy earning Eagle Scout myself, and we brought our older boys through the program. It had a long history, while not being a Christ-centered organization, of being an organization that held values consistent with our instruction of how we are to live as revealed in God’s word. This organization had been a fairly consistent model of and tool for character development in this country since its founding here in 1910. But something happened. Over the past years the top leadership began to adopt different standards and to accept values in conflict with the truths of God’s word. They began to adopt a moral code which was inclined to accept that which God declared immoral, calling it good and acceptable. Beyond that, they put in place policies that made this their national position—a position which we could not embrace. But we were not done yet. We have one more boy. He was part-way through the program. Do we continue or what do we do?

We decided to remain with it for a season under the protection of the church which chartered the unit and which provided our cover. But the stirring continued and we were far from alone. Around the country Scouters and others began to gather, and through the vision of a group of them a new organization was formed which was soon to align itself with another one that had responded similarly to actions by the Girl Scouts years earlier. I followed their progress, and when the opportunity was right I was invited by another person in my community to help start a new unit under this new organization.

The motto of this new organization is “Walk Worthy,” and it comes from Colossians 1:10 where we read, “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” (Colossians 1:10, NASB95) What had begun was a faith-based organization for boys (Trail Life USA) which was working hand in hand with another faith-based organization for girls (American Heritage Girls) to provide a Christ-centered alternative to both the Boys Scouts and the Girl Scouts, who while beginning well eventually proved that good works without a firm foundation is faulty at best.

Paul never lost sight of who owned Him and who directed His steps. He didn’t get lost in doing good, but did good as a response to the One he served. He had already said in this letter that we were saved for good works which God had prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Beyond his own walk, Paul also knew that He was called by God as His instrument to declare this to others. He was given this by God, and he took the responsibility seriously. He even wrote to encourage those who he had discipled and those who had been called by God in positions of leadership to walk with the same sobering understanding.

I had just mentioned getting involved with Trail Life USA in a new unit chartered by a local church. We were given the privilege of selecting our own troop number. After considering several suggestions we selected 1910 (OR-1910). This is not only the year that Scouting began in the U.S. (1910), serving to me as a reminder of how easy it is to go wrong when Christ is not at the center, but it also incorporates the central verse for the program (Colossians 1:10) and the verse that precedes it (Colossians 1:9) Looking at them together we see that they really incorporate the same thing that Paul says here in Ephesians. “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;” (Colossians 1:9–10, NASB95)

Knowing who we are in Christ and what God has done for us we are called to respond by walking worthy (or rightly) before Him. Our walk does not save us, but it surely evidences that we have been saved. Our walk does not make us acceptable by God, but it surely demonstrates that we honor Him by doing what is good and acceptable and perfect. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95) Walking worthy is our reasonable response to our God who loved us, who drew us to Himself, and who is powerful to act far and above anything that we could ever ask or imagine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

To God be the Glory (Ephesians 3:20-21)

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21, NASB95)

It’s transition time. With the end of chapter 3 Paul starts to focus on how we respond to particular issues of life with each other. But before doing that he includes these last two verses which we today often use in our churches as one among many benedictions. In Latin ‘benedicere’ means to praise, commend or bless, and this is how Paul started this letter back in chapter 1, verse 3 where we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3, NASB95) As discussed when looking at that verse, the Greek word used for ‘blessed’ is the word ‘eulogÄ“tos’ or eulogize. This meant to speak well of someone or to commend them, which is exactly what Paul continues to do as he concludes chapter 3. All of the words in between 1:3vand here in at the end of chapter 3 speak of how incredible our God is and how He has blessed us in His Son, and Paul saw nothing more fitting that giving God all of the praise, honor, and glory for what He had done.

These in-between verses even include Paul sharing his prayer for the Ephesian believers; a prayer which concluded with, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Paul had seen God do an incredible work not only in Himself but also in countless others. He had seen God lovingly extend Himself and draw people unto Himself through His own Son who gave His life for us. He was personally introduced to Christ who had risen from the dead and who was the head of His Church, and Paul knew that all of this happened according to the will and the power of God. He indeed is able to do far more abundantly that we ask of think.

Personally, I know there are plenty of times that I struggle and even doubt, and in reflecting on my doubting it doesn’t have to do with my belief in the ability or the power of God to act or respond as much as it does with trusting Him to do so or to do so in the time period I expect. Paul reminds us that God does far and above anything that we could ever ask, reason, or imagine. God is unlimited in what good He can do and He is absolutely free to act according to His good pleasure and His perfect timing which is expressed even to and through us.

There is nothing too big for God or that He is not concerned with. There is nothing that misses His eye or escapes His hand. His ability is limitless and He inclines that ability toward us. While Paul may not have been there on the night that Jesus told His disciples, Paul indeed came to know without any doubt the words of Jesus, Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12–14, NASB95) Paul knew that God was more than powerful to work. He was also willing and intending to work, and Paul could pray with confidence giving thanks to God for His help and supply.

Paul also knew that the reason God worked through him and them was because they belonged to Christ. They had been chosen by the Father and saved by the Son according to His abundant grace, and now His abundant power was being displayed in them. Being in Christ meant that we belonged to God. We were bought with the price of the blood of the Son of God, and we are His. As His we are given the Spirit to seal us and to dwell in us to enable and empower us to do the works that He has for us to do. He gave us the Spirit to make us to understand His will and His ways. He gave us the Spirit to intercede in our prayers, to bring His word to life, and to knit us together as we are grown together as the body of Christ—His church of which we are all individually members.

Paul knew that we weren’t saved to muscle through on our own in an effort to prove to God that He made somehow a good choice. He knew that we were saved by faith, and it was by faith in our God who works that we also are made to live. Knowing that God has done this makes all of the difference, and experiencing His abundant power brings all of the change. There really is nothing too big for God, nor is there anything for which we cannot trust Him. He is exceedingly powerful and He will act. We are the proof.

In John 13:35 we read that the world will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. Think of it; when we evidence the powerful love of God in us shown to our brothers and sisters in Christ we are making a statement to the world around us that we—the church—are different. We are not a social club or a fraternal order of anything. We are the body of Christ through whom the power of God is working to prove Himself to an unbelieving world. We are the body of Christ that is used by God to be His hands in the building up of each other. We are the body of Christ used by God to encourage and strengthen those who are weak, weakened or broken-hearted. We are the body of Christ used by God to declare His truth and particularly His incredible salvation to others. We are the body of Christ which is made strong to stand against the onslaught of the world and which one day will be presented fully to Christ as His perfected bride. We are His handiwork through whom the church is made to shine and the Son is glorified. We are His body which has endured for generations and will continue until such time that He returns to personally claim even those who remain alive in Him at that time.

These are the things that Paul could come before God with in extreme confidence that God would indeed act far and above anything that we could ever ask or imagine. These are the things in which, as the saying goes, God will truly “bless our socks off” to His glory. And in knowing these things Paul wrote to the Ephesians believers to encourage them both in their firm foundation and also in considering how they walk with one another. It is with this assurance that they are then encouraged in 4:1 to walk worthy.

To God be the glory, great things he hath done! So loved he the world that he gave us his Son, who yielded his life an atonement for sin, and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son, and give him the glory, great things he hath done! -- Fanny Crosby (1875)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

For this Reason I Pray (Ephesians 3:14-19)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, NASB95)

Back in verse 1 of chapter 3 Paul said “For this reason” and then he proceeded to write some thoughts that were foundational to completing his reason. Here in verse 19 he continues saying, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father….” As we can see from the words that follow, Paul’s bowing was for the reason of worshipfully approaching the Father in prayer. He was not standing defiantly shaking his fist and demanding. He was not groveling with the expectation of receiving little. He worshipfully bowed his knee before the Father and confidently brought his request to Him on behalf of those he was called to reach, teach, encourage, and lead. Paul had hopes for these believers, and it was those hopes that he laid before God asking that He would indeed answer and do a work in them.

As I read through the prayer as it was shared I did not sense any aspect of them standing on their own to please God, but Paul requesting on their behalf that God would work in and through them such that they would be “filled with the fullness of God.” I like this phrase, “filled with the fullness.” It is one thing to be filled. In a very real sense we are all filled with something. It might be pride, or it might even be self-loathing. In all of us there are things that so fill us that our minds are continually occupied with them. This even includes conflicted or double-minded people. For them they are filled with doubt and confusion leading to vacillation or even inactivity or self-destruction. It might lead to taking things into their own hands—even evil and great harm. We are all filled with something.

Even well-meaning believers are filled with something—possibly being more like unstable double-minded man of James 1:5-8. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) Even the hard-working saint might be filled with his good intentions in what he sees that he is doing for God. But none of these are the things that Paul prayed the Ephesian believers would be filled with.

Paul asked God on their behalf that they would be strengthened in the inner man by the power of the Spirit. He told them that every single person who has been or ever will be saved is a part of the same family of faith. It is in the Son of God that we are united into one body before the Father. We bear His name, and specifically when it came to those living after the resurrection of Christ, we live with that name that was first given in Antioch. “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25–26, NASB95)

These early Christians were given that name not as a badge of honor but as a sign of disgust. Yet, they took it an ran with it as even today we identify with one another as people saved by His blood and following Him as our living Lord. Paul prayed that just as he found strength by the Spirit of God to endure hardship for the furtherance of the gospel that these believers likewise would be strengthened. And in being strengthened, he asked God that they might live constantly knowing in Him. Just as they were saved by faith in Christ, so were they to live with the certainty of Christ living in them. This was his desire for them that they would live continually knowing their living Lord present in them as the Spirt of God worked powerfully to accomplish this.

Knowing first and foremost that their salvation in Christ and the presence of the Spirit was a work of God toward them out of His great love in which they were firmly planted, Paul prayed that they would continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding of how vast and marvelous God is. Though the things of the world might loom large and the weights seem unbearable, Paul was praying on behalf of these believers that they might truly see how much greater God is and how strong He is to lift every burden and meet every need. When the world seems it’s darkest, he prayed that they might see the overwhelming light of having life in Jesus Christ and know His love to care for them as only an infinite God can do. And in praying this he asked that they might know joy without confusion or diffusion—that their cup would be filled with the fullness of God such that there is no room for anything else that might so cloud their minds or burden their hearts.

It was this prayer that Paul evidenced for them when he told them not to lose heart at his own tribulations which he surely knew even as he recounted them to others. But it was not the tribulations that owned Paul, but merely through the tribulations that Paul came to know how much greater was God’s love for him. We can probably assume, from some of the struggles Paul mentions, that this prayer he had for the Ephesian believers is one that he also had for himself knowing that it was necessary for all of us to continually turn everything back to God in prayer and to fully entrust to Him with all that touches our hearts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trials for Glory (Ephesians 3:11-13)

“This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” (Ephesians 3:11–13, NASB95)

Having suffered much for the work to which he was called, Paul was careful not to allow his suffering be cause for pity or special treatment. What he was given to do by God was seen by Paul as a great privilege. The fact that God would chose him as one who had so wholeheartedly persecuted Christians to then go out and be such a huge part of many others coming to faith in Christ and being instrumental in the revelation of God’s work among the Gentiles was really big in Paul’s heart and mind. He wrote of this privilege several times in his letters to the churches. Paul counted the suffering he endured for the cause of the gospel as light in the face of the great joy of knowing that God was drawing many unto Himself.

Not only did He do this because He was called to do so, but because in it God was glorified and so would be those who were saved as a result. Paul had been given the privilege of being a part of God’s plan which was established according to His eternal purpose and ultimately revealed and fulfilled in His Son—Christ Jesus our Lord. While it may seem that the enemy was winning as was evidenced by Paul’s treatment at the hands of the Jewish leadership and the Roman government, Paul encouraged these believer that even this ill-treatment was determined necessary by God. This was how God intended it, and Paul encouraged them not to lose heart because of what they saw and heard of him. God was fully in control and they were living proof of it.

Because of how God worked His plan many people were coming to salvation and in that being granted the ability to boldly and confidently come to God through faith. This is a two-part confidence where the first part is the assurance that we truly through salvation have overcome the judgment of sin and been set free from its grasp. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5, NASB95) And the second part where we are given confident access to God in Christ as a result. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NASB95)

In a world where an invitation needs to be extended to approach a king, we have been called to come confidently to the Father through His Son. Through Christ God has shown His great mercy and in Christ He extends His abundant grace. Where once the Jews as a people approached God through the High Priest, we now have Jesus as our heavenly High Priest who understands us all and gives us all access to the throne of God’s abundant grace. The writer of Hebrews added, “So that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” It is this truth that Paul reminds his readers of when he encourages them not to become disheartened by the suffering that he endured on their behalf. After all, look at what Jesus did for each of us out of His great love and His obedience to the will of the Father. Paul told them that he could do nothing less, and in that God would be glorified and they would know His glory especially as it would be revealed when they step into His presence.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, NASB95)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is the Mystery (Ephesians 3:9-10)

“[To me … this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,] and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:9–10, NASB95)

In the last post we focused on the grace of God given to Paul to preach Christ to the Gentiles. In these next verses we read that he also saw his call to include the unveiling of God’s wise through the church. We read here that Paul was graced by God with the privilege of bringing to light what had previously been unknown. God had spoken in the past that He would bless all nations through Abraham and his seed. He had spoken through the prophets of a coming Messiah, and looking back into the Old Testament we can see evidence of His intention from beginning to end. But for those living during those days before the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ they walked through life under the shroud of mystery. Though they knew God would work, how He was going to do work was yet to be revealed in such a way that they heard and understood. Even Jesus’ disciples walking with Him every day did not comprehend what God was doing. Even after Jesus’ resurrection and return to the Father the apostles did not grasp how salvation that they proclaimed would be extended to the Gentiles. It was not until Jesus had stopped Saul in his tracks, opened his eyes, and charged him to ministry that these pieces slowly began to come into place.

And, from the devil’s side of the picture, imagine seeing man separated from God and not seeing that God was doing anything to bring his rule to an end. This is what Jesus did. Through his death, burial, and resurrection man’s separation from God was restore. What was brought to pass through the deception of Eve in the garden was now remedied. Through faith those that God had called from before the foundation of the earth were coming to salvation and being made spiritually alive and eternally separated from the reign of Satan and his cohorts. The prince of the power of the air was defeated by the Prince of Peace—the Son of God who would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. What had appeared as an enduring hay day for the devil was shown really to be God moving all along toward the fulfillment of His perfect plan in His Son. And even now the evil continues as if the battle were still his, though we know otherwise. Where once he was free, now through the church he has again been made subject as the Spirit of God works mightily in those who are His—His church.

God had a plan, and in the church His plan was being revealed such that all the nations would hear of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, and those on heaven and earth are seeing His wisdom revealed in His unfolded plan. Sure, there are mysteries that remain, but the revelation of this mystery of God is sufficient to demonstrate to all created beings here or in the heavens that He is indeed the all wise God.
Through Paul, God proved His love for all mankind by calling even those who were once far away to be His own, and the church around the world testifies even today of how powerful He is. Even in the face of persecution and the loss of life people today are continuing to respond to His perfectly effective call.

““He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light.” (Job 12:22, NASB95)

“…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries….” (Daniel 2:28, NASB95)

Just as Jesus gave understanding to His disciples, God continues today to open the eyes and hearts of people so that they might know Him and the good news of salvation in His Son. “His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” (Luke 8:9–10, NASB95)

And the apostle Paul saw himself and even us as people entrusted by God to be faithful stewards of this great news. “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2, NASB95)

And even Israel who has experienced a partial hardening will one day be shown the mysteries of God. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in….” (Romans 11:25–26, NASB95)

But for us I love the words with which Paul closed his letter to the Romans: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:25–27, NASB95)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ministry is a Gift (Ephesians 3:7-8)

“[…through the gospel] of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:7-8, NASB95)

I frequently find myself asking, “Where is my focus?” Here Paul, who just spoke of himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…” (Ephesians 3:1), and he closes this same letter referring to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). This is an incredible picture that Paul paints as he refers to himself positioned here in the world as a prisoner bound by man but who never didn’t lose sight of the truth that he was sent by God such that even while in prison he might be an ambassador of the good news of salvation to the world. He knew who called him to ministry and he knew what he was sent to do. He knew that whether he was caged or freed by man, that he was constrained by God to do what he was sent to do. He knew that this was not going to be easy, but also that the fruit would last for eternity.

Paul, who had it all as a Jew among Jews, gave it all up. But in giving it all up he realized that he had gained so much more. “… If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:4–8, NASB95)

Jesus stopped him on that road to Damascus and called this man to Himself. He then set him aside for a very special ministry which also meant that he would have to suffer great rejection by his own people. Of all the records of imprisonment of Paul they were all initiated by the Jews of whom he was once a key person. Paul, like Christ, knew what it was to suffer rejection and ridicule. He knew what it was to be beaten and left for dead. He knew what it was to sit in prison for long periods of time. He knew all of these horrible things. But more than that, he knew what it was to be loved by God, to be saved by His amazing grace, and to be given the very special privilege of sharing this good news with the world.

Paul knew that this was not of his own doing. He knew that just as he was called to this ministry by Christ, he was also enabled to do this ministry by His as well. Having seen times at both ends of the scale, Paul knew that regardless of what was going on that it was in Christ that he found his strength as he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NASB95) And if you were to continue reading the next verses in Philippians you would read of the great joy he had in seeing them grow as the fruit of the ministry which God had given him to do, and you would see him rejoicing in their growth and their own returned ministry to him. It was from this that he added, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19–20, NASB95) It was all about God getting the glory.

For Paul, the suffering was difficult, but he also knew that God knew what He was doing and that through the suffering God would accomplish what He intended. This is a great encouragement to me. There are days when I wonder what and why, but then I am reminded that it is because of God’s great love that He saved me and gave me the privilege to be His servant reaching into a world that is hopelessly lost with the hope that comes by faith in Christ alone. It is also in looking to Paul and Christ that I am reminded that the things that seem so big to me really do pale in comparison to what they suffered for me. Jesus, being God, set aside His place at the right hand of the Father to be born as a man for the expressed purpose of paying for my sins and giving me salvation and life as His incredibly precious gift. Paul, who persecuted followers of Christ, was shown by Christ who He really was, and He called Paul to be a servant of His so that through the ministry given him many might hear and be saved. God so loved this great persecutor that He drew Him to Himself and gave Him a great ministry. Paul was faithful in not losing sight of this even when things got really tough and his physical life was on the line.

Perspective is an amazing thing, but our strength is not in our perspective. Thinking positive will not save us by any stretch of the imagination. But remembering who our God is and trusting Him to be faithful makes all the difference. He has said that He will complete in us what He began. He gives us what we need to serve Him and He will meet our every need. He encloses us before and behind and knows our every thought, and He is powerful to tend to our every concern. He has promised to direct our steps when things are dark or uncertain, and looking to our God and trusting Him helps us to frame up just how small the big stuff pressing in really is. It is here that we know that we are His and that He has ordained the days of our lives. It is here that we truly are reminded that the greatest privilege given to us and our greatest response of loving appreciation is to give ourselves back to Him as living sacrifices committed to doing His good works which He determined beforehand.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95) 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Sent into the World (Ephesians 3:1-6)

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” (Ephesians 3:1–6, NASB95)

“For this reason” is used to connect two things. It connects what Paul has already said with a response which we will see in verses 14 through 19 is his prayer for the Ephesian believers. But before getting to the prayer Paul first had some other things to say beginning with the particular and special ministry he had been given by God. Prior to him being sent Gentiles were coming to Christ, but they were largely the exception and not the rule. And even in this there was some confusion as to how they were to be treated. We see some of these tensions in how the Hellenist Jewish believers were treated in Acts chapter 6. Through the dispersion they had come to live outside of Palestine under Greek influence, even intermarrying and absorbing some of their Greek culture. And in Acts 6 there was some dissension in the church because the Hellenistic widows were not being treated the same and the Hebrew widows.

Timothy, who was personally chosen by Paul, was one of these Hellenistic believers. We read of his being chosen, “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” (Acts 16:1–4, NASB95) We see that though Timothy’s mother was a Jewish believer, Timothy was not raised in the same way as the Hebrew from the beginning—not being circumcised on the eighth day. But because of the ongoing ministry which included to the Jews, Paul had Timothy circumcised.

It was a difficult time. People were coming to Christ from vastly different ways of living and belief, and they were having to learn how to get along. Paul, as one who was foremost among the Jews and understanding fully his Jewish heritage, was given the ministry of bringing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In fact, he went to prison for this message. His concern for them was not a passing fad nor a far reaching effort of his own imagining. He had been specifically charged by Jesus to go out among the Gentiles to proclaim that salvation had come to them as well. Though they were far off, God was now drawing them near.

And here in these verses Paul affirms this call and their awareness of it. They were to be encouraged that they were an intentional part of God’s plan, that every single one of them who believes does so because God chose them from before the foundation of the earth. They were never an afterthought, and Paul was privileged to bring them this good news.

Though the Jews, and even some Jewish believers, might be inclined to treat them as outcasts or second class, they were first class to God. They were chosen by Him, and God had specifically charged Paul with unfolding this mystery to all who would hear. Sure, salvation came to the Jew first, but it also came to the Greek and this is exactly what God intended. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NASB95)

Of course, here Paul is speaking of Jews and Greeks, and in Acts we read of Hellenists (Greeks) and Hebrews, but this was not they did not incorporate the fullness of those God had chosen. They merely represent the order which was first followed. From there we know that the gospel spread and continues to be spread to the whole world—to all the nations as God intends. This is the fullness of the work God started in men like Peter to the Jews and Paul to the rest (Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:1-10). This is the great commission.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB95)