Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 13, Ephesians 2:11-21

11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of 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 were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.

The connecting word translated "So then" tells us that Paul is continuing his line of reasoning here, and as we will see, expanding it further. In understanding how glorious God is and how awful we once were, and in recognition of the reconciliation we have in Jesus, Paul turns his attention to what was likely a source of contention in many of the early churches: the relationship between new Gentile converts and the Jewish believers. Were they really one family in Jesus Christ now? What about the Law?

Paul first addresses what was likely a common attitude among Gentile believers: that the Jewish faith up to that point was of no value and pointless. The Gentiles had the grace of God, and they likely looked at the Law with disdain. Paul counters this attitude with a three-fold demonstration that prior to Jesus Christ, the Gentiles were completely "without hope and without God in the world." They were once:
  • Without the Messiah
  • Excluded from the citizenship of Israel
  • Foreigners to the covenants of the promise
The Gentiles had no notion of who God was before Jesus Christ, and they had no benefit from being under covenant with God. Even more, they were "without the Messiah." This is not saying that they did not have Jesus before they had Jesus. This is saying they had no hope of Jesus before they had Jesus. The Jewish converts understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of thousands of years of God's promises. They too were without the Messiah in the sense that He had not come yet, but they had the hope of Messiah in the promises of God. The Gentiles did not even have this, and as such were once "far away" from God.

14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.

Paul is stressing unity here, stating that Jesus is "our" peace, and that by His blood He made "both groups one." What is interesting here is that Paul identifies the very thing that brought the Jews near to God as the source of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles: the Law. The Jews saw the Law as Israel's avenue of attaining peace between themselves and God, and Paul tells us here and elsewhere (v. 17, Romans 7:1-12) that Law cannot produce peace with God, but only knowledge of sin. By the blood of Messiah, God united in peace a singular people for Himself from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles.

16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. 17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

God's plan was always to save both Jews and Gentiles into "one body". Messiah, then, was a message of peace both to the Gentiles who were "far away" and to the Jews who were "near" in the sense that they had previous knowledge of God through His commands and covenants. But Christ did what the Law could not do, granting us "both", Jew and Gentile, access to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Rather than being pointless, but certainly not still in effect, the Law, along with the teachings of the Apostles, is the part of the foundation of the household of God. Jesus is what aligns the two as the cornerstone of the building. Both Jew and Gentile are "being put together by" Jesus as a "holy sanctuary in the Lord." Unity is the goal, to the glory of God.

Coming into this section, Paul was stressing how believers were destined to be trophies of God's grace. In this section, Paul tells the churches in and around Ephesus that this grace is not meant to divide us but unite us as believers. It's a constant battle as followers of Jesus Christ, what Alistair Begg refers to as legalism vs. license. We must not impose restrictions where God grants freedom, and we cannot claim liberty where God sets limitations. We, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, are "being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit." Every day you have an opportunity to live in unity with one another. 

Colossians 3:12-14 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 7

7 [Love] bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.  1 Corinthians 13:7-8

There is a lot in these five statements, but I want to focus in on just a couple, so I'll address them a bit out of order.

Love believes all things. The word for "believes" is the same word that is used for faith in the New Testament over 200 times. True love for someone has faith in that person regardless of how many times they mess up. The world may tell you that someone is not worth it, that if you continue to believe in someone who always lets you down, you are a fool. But the love of Christ to that person through you says to always have faith in them. How many times have you sinned against God? How many times has He forgiven you?

Love hopes all things. Not only does Christ-like love always have faith in someone, it has a confident expectation that what that person says he or she will do will actually come to pass. This is easy to do with God, but what about fallible human beings, especially the ones who continue to let you down? Don't give up expecting great things from them and for them. Few things can encourage  downtrodden souls to greatness like the high expectations of those who love them.

Love bears all things and endures all things. These two were very interesting to me. The Greek words used here for 'bears' and 'endures' basically mean the same thing - to persevere in the face of hardships. But while the second one seems to be just a general word for enduring trials, the first conveys an interesting word picture of enduring trials on behalf of another. The HELPS word study says that this word literally means to cover over like a roof, or figuratively means to endure because of a shield. What I think Paul is getting at here is that love endures all things both for someone and from someone.

I heard a story recently of a married guy who was caught in some sexual sin outside of his marriage. The details are not important, but it was bad enough that even the unbelieving world still finds his actions unacceptable, though just barely. His wife chose to stand by him because of her love for him. God eventually healed him, and now he is able to share his story with other guys and encourage them that there is hope and redemption in Jesus. During the immediate fallout from his sin being discovered, his wife not only had to deal with the pain of what he did to her, she also had to endure many hateful words and attitudes from those around her because she chose to stay. Just like a shield protects the one who bears it from harm, she protected her husband from the additional pain of her leaving by enduring the attacks of those around her. That's the kind of love Paul is talking about here. That's the love of Christ.

Sometimes those you love hurt you directly, and you endure hardship from them. Sometimes those you love are under attack, maybe because of something they did or maybe for no reason at all, and you endure hardship for them in order to stand with them. Either way, this kind of love will cost you something. Will you persevere?

Love never ends. How many times do we hear the phrase "Well, I just don't love him/her any more" ? Our culture's idea of what love means is so messed up. Like many have said before, love is a choice of will, not a helpless response. Love is not something you fall in to or out of, and it is certainly not a feeling. The one thing you should know about what Paul has to say about love in these few verses is that this kind of love is only achievable by the power of the Holy Spirit. When you love someone like Paul describes here, you are loving that person with the love of Christ. The reason that real, true love never ends is that it does not find its source in finite, fallible human beings. Real love never ends because real love comes only from God.

I hope you have a little better understanding of what it really means to love someone with the same love that God gives to you. There is nothing in you worthy of the love of God. He chose to love you in spite of you. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, that is the standard of love He has called you to.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 6

Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6

I found this particular phrase set interesting. Paul is shifting back from the negative statements to the positive ones. These two characteristics are the only two that are directly compared via opposition to one another. If you were asked to finish the sentence "Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in ...", what word would you choose? Righteousness, or perhaps obedience? Maybe faithfulness? On the surface, "truth" doesn't seem to fit here, and that should make us take notice.

When I think of the word "truth" in relation to the Bible, pretty much the first verse that comes to mind is John 8:32: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." But this verse is even more compelling in the context, and it helps to explain Paul's interesting choice of truth as an opposition to unrighteousness. 

John 8 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus says in verse 32 that you will know the truth by abiding in His word (i.e. studying and obeying His commands) in verse 31. He then explains what that freedom is from in verse 34: freedom from being slaves to sin. The key to escaping slavery to unrighteousness is to know the Truth that is Jesus.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who consider telling someone the truth about what they are doing or how they are living as being unloving or not compassionate towards that person. There are certainly many factors to consider to deliver such a message with gentleness, but without truth, such "loving" words are just useless fluff with no substance. Don't just treat the chaffing of the shackles against their skin. Set them free from bondage with truth!

Love rejoices in the truth because it is truth that sets us free from unrighteousness. One of my other favorite verses about truth is Jesus's statement to Pilate in John 18:37: "I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth." Do you want to show love to your brothers and sisters? Do you want to be more Christ-like? You must rejoice in and testify to truth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 5

[Love] is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13:5

These three elements that love does not display are very closely related. First, love is not selfish, or as the ESV puts it, love does not insist on its own way. This is so hard for so many people. I have experienced it from time to time myself, though it is not something that I struggle with. I have been married for nearly 12 years now, and not insisting on my own way has been one of the many ways I have shown love to my wife. She likes things done a certain way in the house. For instance, cabinet doors must be closed when not in use. I had a habit of leaving them open, not because I wanted to per se, but that was just how I did it. When I found out she had a preference on that, I sought to change my behavior for her. Now,  the cabinet doors stay closed. Incidentally, my 17 month old has picked up on this habit, and whenever he sees a door or drawer open that is normally closed, he will close it. It's especially funny when I am in the pantry and he comes up and shuts the door behind me!

It is important to understand here that not insisting on your own way doesn't mean you never have an opinion. It also doesn't mean that you don't insist on the best way, if a "best" can be quantified in any given scenario. Think about this: God is love (1 John 4:8), and to love God is to obey Him (1 John 5:3), or do things the way He insists. So how do we reconcile those two ideas? Well, for one, things that apply to us do not always apply to God, and vice versa. God is quite literally in a class by Himself. Two, God's way is always the best way. This absolutely cannot be said of us. When it is just your own preference, it can be an act of love to surrender that desire to someone else's preference. But when it is the way that God has established, acting in love may very well mean insisting that it be done the best way, God's way.

If something doesn't go your way, how do you respond? Are you provoked to anger? This is a dangerous place to be. Anger and bitterness are so detrimental to every area of your life. They are a spiritual cancer that will eat away at you the longer you hold on to them. Consider the words of James:

James 1:19-21 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.

Anger often leads to bitterness, and the most dangerous thing about bitterness is how easily it hides itself. Its effects are subtle and yet pervasive, and it can ignite the fires of anger and rage at a moment's notice. Many years ago I had asked a friend and mentor to come to my wedding. He had moved about 9 hours away after some really difficult times in his life. He didn't give me much explanation, but he responded to my email to simply say that he wasn't going to come. I was angry and hurt, but because he was so far away, I put it out of my mind without dealing with it. Nearly a year later, he sent out an email to several people to let them know that he was on the road to recovery from his past difficulties. Rather than being able to rejoice with him, I responded in anger. I honestly don't remember what I said, but it was so terrible that it scared me straight. Within a couple of days, I confessed my sin to God, gave my hurt to Him, forgave my friend, and sought his forgiveness for how I responded.

When you are bitter, when you keep a record of the wrongs people have committed against you, that's all you can see when you look at them. No matter what they say or do, you see their actions through the darkened lens of your bitterness. Even words of encouragement from them can be twisted to be painful barbs. It is important to remember that while the initial offense is the responsibility of the offender, your response is all on you. Every time you respond in anger and bitterness, you multiply your sin against that person.

Are you selfish, always insisting on your own way? The answer is humility.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Are you easily provoked to anger? The answer is grace.
Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Do you keep a record book of all the wrongs someone commits against you? The answer is forgiveness.
Colossians 3:12-13 ESV Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Selfishness, anger, and bitterness, or humility, grace, and forgiveness. One is the path of spiritual poison, the other the path of spiritual peace. Which one do you want?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 4

 [Love] is not conceited, 5 does not act improperly (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

In the context of 1 Corinthians 12, love not being "conceited" reveals an interesting danger in being a disciple of Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:5-8, Peter shows us a logical progression of Christ-like maturity. It starts with faith, which begins to change your behavior and results in goodness. The end goal seen in verse 8 is love, but to get there, you need knowledge:

faith > goodness > knowledge > self-control > endurance > godliness > brotherly affection > love

It makes sense. Psalm 119:11 says you have to know God's Word to not sin against Him. To become like Christ, you must know what character qualities He exhibited and desires to see in us. But what do you do with that knowledge?

1 Corinthians 8:1b Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.

There was a time in my life when I had a very conceited attitude towards those who did not want to know the deeper things of God, to study what the Word says about Him just for the sake of having the knowledge. In my own intellectual superiority, I made people feel stupid for not knowing what I felt like they ought to know. In my knowledge, I was inflated with pride, because in my knowledge I had become stagnant in the journey to Christ-likeness. I needed to seek to add to my knowledge self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The word translated "act improperly" is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 7:36. Here it describes the hypothetical situation of a man who cannot control his desire for his bride to be. Paul tells them to get married so that they may fulfill that desire properly, as God intended. To say that love "does not act improperly" means that it does not take for itself physical pleasures to which it is not entitled. How many times do we see and hear, and sometimes even participate in, the attitude of "well, we love each other, so we're going to do what we want" ? To love God is to obey God (1 John 5:3), and God says to "run from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). It is the fruit of self-control, the next step after knowledge according to Peter.

At the end of chapter 13, Paul says that all the spiritual gifts he listed earlier will one day pass away. Even in the "remaining" or "abiding" of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because only love is eternal. God has no faith in Himself. Faith is assurance of things hoped for but not yet attained, evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). God does not hope for that which has been promised but not yet delivered. We ourselves will not need hope once we see "face to face", and we will not need faith once we "know fully" (1 Cor 13:12). But God is and will always be love, and we will know that love fully for all eternity.

Do not arrogantly elevate yourself in your partial knowledge of God, and do not seek to take for yourself pleasures that have not been given to you. Add to your knowledge self-control, and to your self-control endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and ultimately love. This is the path to which you have been called. It is the journey of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 3

... love does not envy or boast, ...  (1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV)

This is an interesting pair of words here. Paul starts down a path of eight qualities that love does not possess, emphasizing the positive by highlighting the absence of the negative. Envy and boasting are referring to the same thing from two different perspectives. Envy desires what others have that it does not. Boasting exalts what it has that others do not. This can easily be applied to many broad-sweeping areas of our lives, but I would like to focus on the specific context that Paul was addressing when he wrote this.

1 Corinthians 12:14-15,21 So the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. ... 21 So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Rather than using their gifts to build each other up (Eph 4:12, 1 Cor 14:4), the Corinthians were dividing and being divided over them. You can see that throughout most of chapter 12. Some with "lesser" gifts were debasing themselves to the point of saying they weren't worth being part of the body. Others with more "desirable" gifts were elevating themselves to the extreme, saying that they could be just as effective in ministry, if not more so, without the rest of the body weighing them down. 

God is the giver of spiritual gifts, and He gives them perfectly. One way that I look at spiritual gifts is God manifesting Himself in different ways through finite beings. No one finite person can fully express the character of an infinite God. All of the gifts He gives need to be present in a church body and being used for that church to reach its fullest potential. From the person putting rolls of toilet paper in the stalls to the one preaching the message on Sunday morning, no one should think that they are not needed, and no can claim that they don't need anyone. A body only functions at its fullest when all of its members are functioning at their fullest.

If you are a member of a church and are not serving in or through that church, that's a problem. Your church is not as healthy as it could be. Don't envy those who are in the spotlight or who have what you think are "better" gifts. Ask your church leadership to help you identify your spiritual gifts and then use them to their fullest potential. God wants to display His glory through you in a unique way. Go, use your gifts for His kingdom, and do so with love.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 2

Love is patient and kind ... (1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV)

Thursday night was the end of a couple of really trying days in my household. My wife was very ill, and I stayed home from work to take care of my son while she rested. He is extremely particular about many things, especially his daily routine. One of the things he insists on is that milk goes in a bottle, not a sippy. Sippy's are for water. He'll even drink the milk from a regular plastic straw as long as it is in a bottle. Crazy kid. :)

We've been trying to get him to drink his milk from a sippy off and on for a little while now. We even got a different color one so that he could understand that red is for water and yellow is for milk. I decided to try again Thursday with his normal bottle after nap. He didn't want it, so no big deal, I put it in the fridge for later. Come bed time, which is usually about quarter-past-cranky, I just grabbed the milk sippy from the fridge and tried to get him to take that again, not even really thinking about it. He refused again and got really upset. I knew that he was just being stubborn, so I thought I could patiently work through it with him. I was wrong.

At one point, my wife brought me a bottle and insisted that I use that instead. She told me, "He has a routine at bedtime, and you need to follow it. Right now you are just being mean." Even then, it was more than he could handle. He was in full volume, full tilt meltdown mode. I had to put him in his bed and let him calm down for a few minutes before he would even take his bottle. My wife and I talked it over a bit afterwards, and she was very gracious towards me.

The next morning, I was listening to Alistair Begg like I always do, and he was at his point in the series where he addressed 1 Corinthians 13:4. I felt awful. I knew in that moment that not only were my actions wrong, they were unloving towards my son because they were unkind.

There's a fine line between patience and stubbornness, and I believe the key to identifying where that line is in any given situation is kindness. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being patient with my son's bad behavior and started insisting on my own way. At that point, I was the one being stubborn who needed to relent, though I couldn't see it.

The next day, when I got home from work, my beautiful boy came sprinting down the hallway with the biggest grin on his face. Daddy was home! And though I knew at 17 months he had no way of really understanding what I was saying, I took him into his room, sat him on my knee, and apologized for being so unkind towards him. It is something my wife and I intend to model for him throughout his childhood. We want him to understand that there is only one perfectly loving Father, that his Mama and Daddy are just as imperfect and sinful as he is. By God's grace, he will see those mistakes and learn as much from them as we do, just from a different perspective.

Identifying a lack of patience is generally pretty easy for me, this example notwithstanding. But a lack of kindness? I didn't even see that until God showed it to me the next day through that teaching. Are you the source of grief and pain for another individual? Is that grief and pain necessary? Sometimes it may be, but I would bet that those times are fewer and further between than most of us realize. Do you see someone in troubled times who could use a helping hand? In both of these cases, kindness is the answer.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Love: The More Excellent Way, Part 1

I have been listening through Alistair Begg's Firm Foundations series for the last several weeks, and I am on Volume 6 right now, the beginning of which is on 1 Corinthians 13. The insights he has had throughout this series are spectacular examples of Spirit-given wisdom, and his thoughts on this chapter are no exception. At the beginning of it all, he makes a point to say that even though most of us "cozy up" to this chapter as a feel-good chapter of warm fuzziness, it is actually a minefield of vaulted standards to which most of us rarely measure up. Try inserting your own name starting in verse 4 (e.g. "Jason is patient, Jason is kind," etc.) and you will understand what he means. As I have had the subject of love come up from various sides many times here of late, I am going to spend some time sharing my own thoughts on the first eight verses of this chapter, focusing in on verses 4-8.

Before I do though, it is easy to forget that this is not an isolated chapter. Paul penned or dictated this in the middle of chapters 12 and 14, both of which focus on spiritual gifts, unity in the body, and orderly worship. Something else that is easy to forget is that the exhortations, admonitions, and rebukes Paul wrote to the various churches were to address actual issues in those churches. In the case of the Corinthian church, it seems that they were using their spiritual gifts as an opportunity to exalt themselves and divide the body. Paul addresses this directly in 12 and 14, but in chapter 13, he focuses on love, which he calls "a more excellent way" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 (ESV).

What I believe Paul was saying here is that, though what he gave the Corinthians in chapter 12 was practical direction to address real problems in the church, it really was not the root of the problem in this area. The root of the problem is that the Corinthians did not have love for one another. We see that in the first three verses of chapter 13.

Paul highlights several specific gifts in these first three verses, but I don't think the specific list itself is meant to be all inclusive of the gifts through which it is easy to not be loving. The point I believe he is making here is that regardless of your spiritual gift, if you use it in such a way that builds up yourself instead of building up the body (Eph 4:12-13, 1 Cor 14:4), you are not acting in love towards your brothers and sisters in Christ. And this can be said of all of our actions towards and interactions with one another. If we act out of a selfish motivation to seek our own good rather than  the good of our brothers and sisters, we are not acting out of love (1 Thess 5:11, 1 Cor 10:24).

Love may be the more excellent way, but it is also the more difficult way. The picture that we see in verses 4-8 is an incredibly high standard, one that is only achievable through the power of the Spirit. I will be looking at the individual characteristics Paul highlights later this week, but for now, if you are in the midst of conflict with anyone, I encourage you to look at these 5 verses and see if you can insert your own name into the list and end up with true statements. If you can, give glory to God. If you can't, earnestly pray that God will make you able by His Spirit.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Do not despair

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Has your God forsaken you?
Are you not a child of the living God,
A sheep of His pasture?

Too numerous to count are His blessings toward you.
Open your eyes and see the work of His mighty hand!
Say to God, "How awesome are Your deeds!"
Shout to God, "How great is Your faithfulness!"

Lift up your eyes, O my soul, to the hills,
To the Lord your God who sits enthroned on high.
Lift up your eyes and do not despair,
for the Lord your God is with you.

-July 10, 2009

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pop Theology: Love vs. Obedience

A friend of mine was asking me what I thought about the lyrics to a particular song here recently. It was one of the many songs I have heard over the years that pushes the metaphor of the Church as the bride of Christ to the extreme. While not as overt in the song he wanted me to look at, as I got in my car just a couple of minutes later and turned on the local Christian radio station, this is what started playing:

Give me rules
I will break them
Show me lines
I will cross them

I need more than
A truth to believe
I need a truth that lives
Moves and breathes

To sweep me off my feet, it's gotta be

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love

This is the first verse and chorus from "More Like Falling In Love" by Jason Gray, and it is a perfect example of the effect of the post-modern worldview on the Church. Western society has long since abandoned God and the Bible as the source of truth. Modernism tried to replace that with science and reason and a belief in mankind's ever-bettering of itself, and remnants of that still exist today (e.g. evolution taught as "fact" in our schools, etc.). 

But as science and reason failed to make mankind better in the eyes of popular culture, as we experienced horrific war after horrific war, the moral relativism of post-modernism became the norm. The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth. "God is not the truth, and science is not the truth. I can only trust what feels good and right to me in the moment." Do you see that in the lyrics above? The essence of this song is this: "Don't give me rules to obey. What I need is something that makes me feel good, like a giddy school girl with her first 'true love'." This song is theological garbage, the product of a worldly culture infecting the Church.

What does the Bible say? 

1 John 5:2-3a This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. 3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands.

John 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

To love God is to obey God, plain and simple. It is an act of your will, something that you do. If you have been married any length of time, raised a child to adulthood, or maintained a life-long friendship, you know that love is not about a feeling. It is a commitment to the other person no matter what happens. True love is not a helpless response to overwhelming emotion. Do we ever see that from God? Did God's emotions overtake Him to the point that He just had to send His Son because He had no other choice? Of course not. God chose to love us, and He continues to stay committed to that choice. 

Do you want to respond in kind? He has told you how. "For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands." You won't always feel like it, and it won't always be easy. But as I continue to reiterate because I see it everywhere, God has not called you to a life that is easy and feels good. He has called you to a life of sacrificial obedience to Him, just as Jesus demonstrated for you.

Romans 5:8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

Philippians 2:8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.

Popular culture wants to tell us that knowing God is about love vs. obedience, or relationship vs. religion. God tells us that knowing Him is about love through obedience. Who are you going to listen to?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 12, Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!

You can almost hear the passion in Paul's voice here. With the connecting word "but", he is returning to the positive highlighting of God bringing glory to Himself by His grace. He also reveals another motivating factor in God saving us: "His great love that He had for us." We must be careful not to swing too far to one side or the other. No, love for us was not the sole motivating factor or even the primary one, but it was certainly part of the reason why God saved us. We were completely and totally dead in our sins, but God made us alive by His grace through the blood of His Messiah. He did this to bring glory to Himself and because of His great love towards us.

6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

It is interesting here how Paul uses what we would call in English the past tense to describe our being seated in the heavens with Christ. Though not yet completed, it is something that has always been a part of the Father's plan. There is absolutely zero possibility that the Father's plan will not come about, and to emphasize this, Paul says that we have already been seated in the heavens. It's a done deal. You can see the same thing in Romans 8:30. "Those whom He justified He also glorified." (past tense as well, though we are not yet glorified).

Why did God seat us in the heavens with Christ? This is where my previous church's sermon series title for Ephesians, "Trophies of Grace", came from. We are seated in the heavens in order to "display the immeasurable riches of His grace." Our mere existence in the heavens serves as a testimony to and praise of the grace of God. How much more when we actively praise Him with our mouths?

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

There's a beautiful symmetry in these verses about our work vs. God's work. I chose the quote the ESV here instead of the HCSB because of the rendering "his workmanship" instead of "creation". 
  • We are not saved by our own works (v. 9)
  • Rather, as saved ones created in Christ Jesus, we are products of God's works (v. 10)
  • Though we are not saved by them, we were created to do good works (v. 10)
Our works do not save us, but they are also not unimportant. God has a mission for each of His saved ones to carry out. Yes, for all eternity, we will be testifying to the grace of God. But we don't have to wait until we get to eternity to start testifying. Eternal life began for you the moment Jesus saved you (John 17:3). Go be a trophy of His grace today.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Slight correction

Rather than going back and correcting all the related posts, I'm going to provide an asterisk to this one post here. If anyone has read those past posts already, they may miss me going back to update them.

The correction is this: the Holy Spirit is not the active agent in your being sealed as a believer. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ. We can see that plainly in John the Baptist's declaration concerning the work of Jesus in Matthew 3:11.

The first time through, I missed the tiny preposition with:

Ephesians 1:13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (emphasis mine)

For the most part, it doesn't change my overall teachings, but I am constantly evaluating what I teach to make sure it is in line with the true meaning of the Word.

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 11, Ephesians 2:1-3

So far, we see Paul's thought flow in chapter 1 as follows:
  1. The Father has a plan for praising His glory and grace. This plan was the salvation of those who believe in His Son. According to this plan, the Father chose, the Son redeemed, and the Spirit sealed*. In all of this, His Son, Jesus Christ, is central to His plan. (verses 3-14)
  2. In saving the Ephesians, God once again glorified Himself, for which Paul gives thanks. He also tells them that he continually prays that the Father will give the Ephesians wisdom and understanding regarding how their salvation and continued love for others brings glory to God. (verses 15-18)
  3. Paul continues to express that this wisdom and revelation will come by the power of the Father, which the Father demonstrated by raising Christ from the dead, seating Christ at His right hand, placing Christ over all things for all time, and appointing Christ as head over the Church. (verses 19-23)
In short, God has a plan to glorify Himself, He is powerful enough to accomplish it, and He wants us to understand how we are part of that plan. Up until this point, Paul's focus on highlighting the glory of God has been from the Father's point of view. We are to glorify God because He is worthy of His glory. But in verse 1 of chapter 2, Paul switches gears: Not only is God awesome, we were once awful. Paul turns his attention to highlighting what should already be apparent, namely that there is an infinite gulf between God's glory and our sinfulness.

Paul underscores three aspects of our sinfulness in these three verses:
  • We were once dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)
  • We once lived only to gratify our sinful desires, just as the world does (Eph 2:2-3a)
  • Because of this, we were once by nature subject to the wrath of God (Eph 2:3b)
This is leading in to Paul continuing to praise the gloriousness of God's grace and perhaps one of the most foundational statements in all of Scripture regarding the nature of our salvation (Eph 2:8-9). I will be discussing these verses next time, but for now I want to dwell here.

As I have preached and, I'm sure numerous others have said, understanding what we have been saved from is paramount to fully embracing what we have been called to. The life to which we have been called is not an easy one. It is not comfortable, and it is not safe. 

Philippians 1:29 For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him
John 15:20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.

Is that something any of us would just voluntarily sign up for, suffering and persecution? Without understanding what Paul asserts in these three verses, we will shy away from the fullness of the calling God has placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

You were once completely, utterly, totally dead in your sins and wholly unable to save yourself (Romans 8:7-8).  In that state of total death, you lived only to satisfy your own sinful desires (Ephesians 4:17-19). By very nature of who you were, you were subject to the eternal wrath of God, eternal  punishment in hell (Ephesians 2:3, Matthew 25:32,46)

Can anything this world throws at us compare to what once awaited us? Embrace what you are called to, and stand in awe of what you were saved from.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Pt. 10, Ephesians 1:20-23

Ephesians 1:20-23 He demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens— 21 far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way.

I believe Paul had two primary thoughts in mind when he wrote these few verses. One, he wanted to highlight the matchless power of the Father. As he told the church at Colossae, everything created was created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). The centrality of Christ in the plan of the Father is unquestioned, as he demonstrated in verses 3-14. In Christ, the fullness of the nature of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). And yet, we see Christ in a submissive role relative to the Father. As we see in these 4 verses, the Father:
  • Raised Christ from the dead
  • Seated Christ at His right hand
  • Placed Christ over all things, all rulers, and all powers for all time
  • Appointed Christ as head over everything for the church

Though Christ is completely equal in essence to the Father (Hebrews 1:3), as a function of role within the trinity, the Father has authority over the One Who has authority over all things. Paul is making that clear in these verses, as well as verse 17, when the Father is described as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ".

Two, this power described here is the "immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe" that Paul prays we will understand, and it is the power according to which the Father will grant to us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. There should be no doubt in the mind of any disciple who reads this letter that God is able to do absolutely anything He plans to do.

Are you facing a difficult circumstance that you see no way around or through? Have faith in God to do exactly what He plans to do. He is certainly able, and no one can thwart His plans. (Job 42:2) And regardless of what you face, if you are one of His children, bought by the blood of His Son, then nothing will ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:35-39, John 6:38-39).