Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-20

“Religion is the cause of most wars.” – Bill Maher
“Religion causes war by generating certainty.” – Richard Dawkins 

For decades, atheists have used the accusation that “religion has caused most wars.” And to the majority of their audiences, this statement seems like a well-thought-out historical summary. In their minds, glimpses of high school history text books flicker with popes on one page, and wars on the next, add to that the presence of radical militant Islam and soon the imagination fills in the details that history actually left out. 

First, from a historical standpoint, religion has not caused the most wars. 

The only way that this statement would be true is if we were to include atheism into the mix of other religions. (which the atheists who make these accusations would never want you to do) Then we could include the likes of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and point towards the nearly 100 million deaths caused by these three individuals alone. The Crusades (caused in part by religion) were truly ugly with a highest estimated casualty count of 3 million souls, but they were not even half of the devastation caused by the Holocaust with its nearly 8 million lives lost. All of the religious medieval kingdoms couldn’t accomplish in three centuries what atheist Adolph Hitler accomplished in less than five years. A simple glance at history shows the fallacy of the “religion has caused the most wars” view. 

Second, those who imagine that biblical Christianity has caused war have failed to actually read what the Bible says.

Jesus himself answers these maligning claims of historically inaccurate revisionism in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world, then would my servants fight.” 

Jesus made it explicit that Christianity is not about taking up arms and conquering enemies in the name of the cross (I’m looking at you, Emperor Constantine). 

Christianity is about the good news that man can be reconciled to God through the substitutionary death of Jesus. Christians who follow the teaching of Jesus Christ do not cause war, they seek to end it. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Christians are not war-hawks. They are gospel proclaimers.
But when Jesus told Pilate that His disciples would not take up swords and fight for His deliverance, He was not indicating that every aspect of the Christian life is pacifist. Rather, Jesus said, “my kingdom is not from hence.” There is a different kind of kingdom and a different kind of battle than the physical ones that requires the taking of human life. When we arrive at Ephesians 6:10-20, this is the type of warfare that Paul references. In verse 12, Paul says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but …against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The Christian life is a constant spiritual battle.
There is a battle that rages every day, and every Christian should be fighting in that battle. According to verse 11, the attacks of Satan come in every shape and form and in verse 10, we see that the only hope we have in the midst of this type of battle is to rest in the power of God. God can and will be victorious over all of the attacks of Satan, we must merely trust Him and seek to protect ourselves with the armor that God has given us.
Religion does not cause most wars. It does cause some, but not anywhere near a majority. However, this does not exclude Christians from war. There is a constant warfare that is raging in the life of every believer. It is not a war fought with jets, tanks, ships, and M4s; it is a spiritual battle that is waged against the ruler of darkness himself, Satan. The weapons of this warfare are a firm trust in God, a mind full of the truth of God, and a life filled with prayer to God in all things. This is how Christians fight.

Reflect: Does religion cause most wars? Why would someone (like an atheist) say that religion causes most wars?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ephesians 6:5-9

Christianity should pervade every aspect and every role of a believer’s life. In Ephesians 5 and 6, Paul described a number of ways that a believer living the spirit-filled life will act in their relationships. A believer that is filled with the spirit will be joyful, thankful, and humble. Christian husbands will lovingly sacrifice their own preferences and their own comfort for the sake of their own wives. Christian wives will surrender their desires and preferences to their loving husbands. Parents will guide and direct their own children, and children will joyfully submit to their parents. And while there is no doubt that Christianity should pervade every aspect of the family, Paul continued under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to explain that the spirit-filled life will affect work as well.
In the ancient world, slavery was ubiquitous. Nearly every major ancient culture, the Romans included, was founded on and expanded through the use of slavery. This slavery culture was part of the context of all of the New Testament books. In the first century church, there were people who fell on either side of slavery. Some members of local churches were slaves and other members were slave owners. However, nothing broke down the barrier between slave and master as did the truths of Christianity.
In our current context, over 150 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, we may find some of the statements made regarding slavery to be bothersome. But we would do well to remember the original context in which Paul was writing. He was not seeking to bring sweeping social reform to the entrenched practice of slavery, rather, he was seeking to give guidance to those who were believers and who were existing in that culture and those who would exist in other cultures to follow.
This is the beautiful thing about Christianity. You can tell true Christianity because it is applicable to all cultures. The truth of God and the message of the gospel transcend people groups and languages like nothing else can. This cultural transcendence is something that helps those interested in foreign missions work to see if they are truly carrying the gospel message or if they have attached a bit of baggage to the truth of Scripture. In every culture the plain teaching of Scripture is completely applicable. However, the application of each truth may find itself to be different as it is adapted to different cultures.
To illustrate this, we must see the diversity of worship styles that exist in the global church. In one culture, using drums in worship would seem strange and out of place, whereas in another culture, drums are the prime source of rhythm and help carry the worship. In some cultures, dancing and clapping are seen as strange and awkward, while in another culture to not dance and not clap would seem cold and indifferent towards God. All cultures can obey the command to worship God in joy and in song, but the diversity of humanity demonstrates that the application will vary from culture to culture.
When we read that Christian servants are to obey their masters, and believing masters are to be kind and forbear the insolent slaves under their command, we may feel a tug of disgust. But, what we must understand is that although the application in that culture dealt with slaves and masters, the principles transcend culture and we can find a biblical application for this truth in our culture. For us, in a slave free America, the spirit-filled believer still works 9-5. The same Christian expectation on slaves and their masters can be carried into our culture. In our culture, every Christian employee should strive to work hard and do well in their job that God might be honored and glorified, and every Christian employer must be gracious and kind, even forbearing in love those who at times disappoint them.

Reflect: Is the message of Scripture truly transcendent of culture? Can you think of things that some well-meaning Christians have tried to carry over to other cultures in the name of Christianity?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ephesians 6:4

From the Old Testament to the New, the principle has remained the same. It is the job of parents to teach their own children the truths of Scripture. In Ephesians 6:4, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul tells the believers at Ephesus that the job of spiritual leadership falls firmly on the shoulders of every Christian dad. This is not a duty to be neglected or delegated. It is God’s design that every father train his children in the truth of God.
So then, what does this training look like? In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses gave the same admonition, and included a few more details to consider. Before ever commanding the Hebrew fathers to train their children, Moses started with “and these words shall be in thine heart.” Before a father could ever instruct his children in the truth of God, he must study and know that truth himself. To be a good teacher of the Bible, the father must first be a good student of the Bible. And while it is absolutely necessary that every father strive to learn and grow in the faith, a lack of knowledge should never serve as a disabling excuse for the abdication of the fatherly role of spiritual instructor. Some of the best teachers are those who are constantly learning and are excited to teach the truths that are fresh and delightful to them. Parents (and especially Christian fathers) must exhaust themselves in the study of God’s word.
After learning and knowing the truth of God, Christian fathers must teach their children those truths. When? The answer to this reflex question is simple: always. “When you sit in your house, when you walk down the road (or drive your car), when you are getting ready for bed in the evening, when you get up in the morning.” After reading the words of Moses here, it almost seems as if there is no space left in a day where Christian fathers are not instructing their children in the truth of God. But there is…after their children go to sleep.
The two most natural responses to this great call of parenting are as follows: 1) I don’t think I could ever do this with my kids. I am exhausted when I get done with work. Or, 2) I spend a lot of time with my kids, we play ball and do a lot of work with our hands and spend quite a bit of time together.
To the first objection, I would argue that there is a grave misunderstanding as to a parental role. In this erroneous view, the “work” that is most important and requires the most energy is the work that is done outside of the house. This is the exact opposite of what God has taught us through the inspired writing of both Moses and Paul. There is no work as important in the life of a Christian parent as instructing and teaching their young people. Ford, and GE and every other corporation’s needs pale in comparison to the eternal needs of children.
To the second objection, being with your children is not the same as instructing them. This is why Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4 aren’t “Fathers spend a lot of time with your kids.” Rather, he writes specifically, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is the God commanded responsibility to teach the truths of God’s word before teaching how to shoot a free-throw. It is of higher priority to instruct a child in the character of God than for them to learn how to ride a bicycle. It is of much greater importance that a young person learn to read and understand God’s word for themselves than to ever learn the nuance of finance or the tricks to getting a bargain. Everyday life lessons must take back seat to eternal life lessons. This is the duty of a Christian father. And if we recall the purpose of this entire section of Paul’s epistle, this is the evidence of a Spirit-filled life. Whether parenting now, or by God’s grace parenting in the future, the call and duty for all parents will always remain the same – encourage and instruct young minds in the truths of the Lord.

Reflect: What does Godly parenting look like? What are some things that people assume is “good enough” parenting? How do these types fall short of God’s standard?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ephesians 6:1-3

Instructing the Ephesian believers on what it means to be filled with the Spirit, Paul explained that the Spirit-filled life is something that every believer should exhibit. In Ephesians 5 and 6 he lays out in plain language what it means for Christian families to be filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is not something that is relegated to adults or simply for those who have been Christians for years. Rather, Paul articulates clearly that each member of a Christian family must be filled with the Spirit.
For the Christian wife, being filled with the Spirit means submitting to the leadership of her husband. For the Christian husband, being filled with the Spirit means lovingly leading and caring selflessly for His wife. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul turns his instruction to the children in a Christian home.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord.”
For Christian young people and children, the Spirit-filled life would look very specific – obedience to their parents. In teaching the responsibility of Christian young people to their parents, God does not give too many qualifying statements as to the parents to be obeyed. Rather, He gives the instruction to the young people to obey their parents in the Lord. The phrase “in the Lord” could be taken a couple of different ways. First, it could mean that children are supposed to obey their parents in all things pertaining to the Christian life and godly instruction. Second, it could mean that they are to obey because they are “in the Lord,” and should do what He commands of them, namely obey their parents.
Either way, the principle remains the same. Those who live with their parents under the authority of dad or mom should strive to obey in all things. But what if what dad or mom says is something that we don’t like? The question that should be answered is, “does their command violate the law of God?” If not, then disobedience to their command would be a violation of the law of God. For children in their parent’s home, the Spirit-filled life is quite straight forward – obey dad and mom.
And it seems like the Spirit is at work accomplishing a very specific work in the homes of Christians. The evidence of a good Christian home is a good authority/leadership structure. The husband lovingly leads and guides his wife. The wife humbly and patiently submits to the guidance of her loving husband. And the children seek to do what they are instructed by their parents. So is this how every Christian home looks? Sadly, no.
The reason Paul is giving this admonition in Ephesians 5 and 6 is because many Christian homes do not look like this. Many husbands don’t love their wives as much as they love themselves. Many Christian wives despise and deride their own husbands. Many Christian children disobey their parents and scorn their instruction. This is why it is absolutely crucial to read and understand what Paul is saying here. Christians should strive to be different. The structure that a family will thrive in is laid out plainly, and God offers His Spirit to equip believers to accomplish this beautiful God-honoring, Spirit-filled lifestyle. It is now our duty to trust Him and rely on His help and strength for the task.

Reflect: What is the role of each family member in a Spirit-filled Christian home?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ephesians 5:25-33

Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
There is no greater measure of love than Christ-like love. Others might offer their lives for you, but only Christ offered all of Himself for you. As a substitute for your sins, He bore the wrath of God on your behalf because He loved you. 1 John 3 explains that it is in the death of Jesus that we finally can see clearly what love actually looks like.
After seeing the death of Christ, and hearing that Christ’s love was the greatest love, some still assume that they can achieve this measure of love. In their minds, dying for others is the same as Christ dying for others. This simply is not the case. Christ’s death is so much more than that. Christ’s death was a death of obedience that came at the end of a life of obedience. It was only after Christ had lived every day in full obedience to God that He could offer His life in such a way that he would accomplish so much spiritually.
Many macho men might speak of how they love others or even how they love their wives, but they fail to love as Christ did. They might argue that if it came down to it, they would perform the heroic act of sacrificing their lives for others, but this is not the same measure of love that Christ had. Christ loved us so much that he lived a perfect life too. In order for a man to love as Christ did, he must do much more than die for others, he must live for others.
In this regard, some might even say that dying for others is easy in comparison to living for others. With the Spirit of Christ, believers are called to this selfless lifestyle. In John 15, Christ says that a man demonstrates his love for others by giving his life for them. You can understand this phrase two ways: he dies for them, or he lives for them. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of Christ’s love for us was that although he faced temptation every day, and although he at times was tired and exhausted, and although he was surrounded at times by faithless disciples who failed to love Him perfectly, He still loved them perfectly and lived a life of perfect obedience to God so that He could offer that life as a sacrifice to God. This is the pinnacle of love – an entire life spent for others, not just His death.
It is with this total abandon of self-love and a hot pursuit of love for others that Paul admonishes Christian husbands in Ephesians 5. There is no greater example of true love than Christ giving His life for us. Now, in kind, husbands are called to the wild and extravagant love of their wives. It is not just a macho, “I’d die for her.” Rather, it is a call to lovingly make every decision based upon a wife’s needs and desires. For the love of her, he lives, even as Christ loved the church. This is the evidence of the spirit-filled life, and that selfless love should abound in the heart and life of every Christian, especially husbands.

Reflect: What is perhaps harder than dying for someone else?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ephesians 5:22-24

In Ephesians 5:18, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote that every believer should be “filled with the Spirit.” He then explained what that Spirit-filled life looks like. Spirit-filled believers worship God, express gratitude to God, and live in humility. Continuing the explanation of the Spirit-filled life, Paul transitions to a theological illustration.
Christ is the head of the church. At no point did Christ ever say that any man would be the head of the church, rather, here in Ephesians 5:23, Christ is emphatically declared to be the one and only head of the church. This distinction must be made, because others have come throughout history and claimed to be the head of the church in His place, but He is the only rightful head of the church. It was with His blood that He personally reconciled the church to God. It was through His death that he brought forgiveness of sin and a right standing with God. He is the rightful head of the church.
And very few would argue this point. Upon hearing this declaration, most in evangelicalism would rally to say, “Yes, and Amen!” No serious student of Scripture or lover of God’s truth would ever question the headship of Christ over His church. Perhaps this is why Paul chose this clear illustration to teach what the Spirit-filled life looks like in Christian wives.
In verse 22, Paul addresses wives. This is not a blanket statement for all women, rather, it is addressed to those women who have joined themselves to a husband. At this point the illustration has already been drawn, it is merely the application that is left. Those wives who are filled with the Spirit will seek to submit themselves to their own husbands as the church has been called to submit to Christ. There is no room for dereliction of duty. But then again, if each member of the relationship is seeking to fulfill their role in the illustration, the submission is not grievous.
It was Christ who said, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest.” A husband who treats his wife like Christ treats the church will find that he has a wife who joyfully submits. Christ has never berated or nagged or manipulated or abused. In the marriage relationship, the husband should strive to make decisions that are not self-serving, but loving and compassionate and for the betterment of his wife. And a well-loved wife will find that submitting to the direction that has her best interests at heart is not a laborious submission.
This is the mark of a Spirit-filled wife – her submission to her own husband. And just as none would dare call into question the headship of Christ over the church, may we learn to guard against those who seek to undermine Christ’s delegated authority and responsibility that He has given to husbands to lead their own wives in love and compassion. No wife should usurp the headship of her husband, and no husband should seek to lazily abdicate it. Rather, in Spirit-filled obedience, both should strive to dwell together in humility seeking the betterment of the other while fully accepting their God-ordained roles.

Reflect: Why do you think that husband-headship is unpopular in today’s culture?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ephesians 5:18b-21

The pagan practices of intoxication and out-of-control revelry are not the nature of Christian worship. God desires that Christians engage their minds in worshipping Him. He desires that Christians use reason and choose to obey His will and His commands. Unlike cultures or religions that say you must commune with the divine through mind-altering drugs or wild experiences, the God of Christianity beckons His followers to be self-controlled and temperate in all things.
In the beginning of verse 18, Paul had made this very point. Christians were to be distinct and different from those around them in the pagan culture. They were to abstain from being drunk, lest in their drunkenness they fall prey to the number of sins that abound. Paul tells the believers that instead of being known for their lascivious and unbridled lifestyles, they are to be filled with the Spirit.
The phrase “filled with the Spirit” must be understood though. It does not mean that believers must obtain some further indwelling of the Spirit. At the point of conversion we understand that the Holy Spirit of God comes to dwell inside of believers and begins the work of sanctification in them whereby they can be convicted of and fight against sin. Being filled with the Spirit also does not mean that they need some special further equipping with the spiritual gifts of teaching, or giving, or serving, or the other spiritual gifts, because like indwelling of the Spirit, that too took place at conversion.
Being filled with the Spirit means that believers are to be led by the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. Like the wind that fills the sails of a ship, the Spirit is to be the driving and guiding force for the believer. The person who is filled by the Spirit will have the Spirit produce fruit in their lives. When a believer is carried along by the Spirit, they will eventually become more like Christ. When a believer is filled with the Spirit they will grow in godliness and love for others.
Paul explains the filling of the Spirit with three simple evidences in the next three verses. In verse 19, those that are filled with the Spirit have songs of worship to God that are springing up in their hearts and end up being sung to those around them. The evidence of the Spirit-filled life is an overflowing joy that can’t be contained in the heart of the believer but must be shared.
Another thing that the Spirit-filled life will exude is given in verse 20 – thankfulness. When a Christian is led by the Spirit to understand the goodness of God as demonstrated in the Scriptures and seen plainly in our lives, the only natural response of the Spirit-filled believer is gratitude. Rejoicing at God’s goodness, the believer that is filled with the Spirit thanks God for every good and perfect gift that He has given.
Finally, in verse 21, Paul gives the last evidence of a Spirit-filled life – humility. Lovingly and humbly, believers should seek what is best for others. In stark contrast to the wisdom of the world, being filled with the Spirit results in believers not striving for selfish gain and prestige, but lovingly pursuing what is best for those around them. Instead of trying to dominate every conversation, and instead of trying to advance one’s own agenda, the Spirit-filled believer humbly labors for the betterment of others. May God help us to be Spirit-filled. May we be ever joyful, thankful, and humble as we see His goodness to us, and as His Spirit leads and guides us.
Reflect: What are the evidences of the Spirit-filled life that Paul gives in this text? How do they correlate with what Paul says in Colossians 3:16-24?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ephesians 5:18a

Through positive and negative commands Paul explains to the believers in Ephesus that there are a number of things that they should be doing and a number of things that they should not. While the Christian life is not exclusively a list of rules, it certainly should be influenced by the will of God and the desires of God as revealed through His lists of rules.

“Be followers of God.” “Walk in love.” “Be not partakers with evildoers.” “Walk as children of light.” “Reprove the works of darkness.” “Walk circumspectly.” “Be not unwise.” “Understand what the will of God is.” 

All of these things in Ephesians 5 were admonitions for believers. This list was not what made these believers Christians. That was only accomplished by God’s grace through their faith in the saving work of Jesus. But, if they were truly Christians, these things would be lifestyle habits. This is why so many of the positive commands use the word “walk.” These were to be things that were everyday tendencies of believers.
Arriving at verse 18, we must understand that it is to the idea of self-control which Paul speaks regarding wine. Paul’s admonition is not “do not drink wine.” Rather, Paul is continuing the thought of “be not unwise” in verse 17. In verses 15 and 16 Paul said, “walk circumspectly, redeeming the time.” In other words, be fully aware of your surroundings, exercise self-control. Instead of being fixated or distracted, pay attention. This will help you in your fight against temptation. This will help you in your pursuit of godliness. This will help you in your endeavors to build the kingdom of God. But if you are not walking circumspectly, and not exercising temperance and self-control, then you will fail at these other things.
Paul’s point then in verse 18 continues the thought with, “so don’t get drunk.” Intoxication and inebriation are the antithesis of self-control. You cannot pursue holiness when you can’t even spell your own name. You cannot fight temptation when you have given yourself double vision. Drunkenness conflicts with holiness. Other portions of Scripture will speak towards the nature of wine and strong drink, this text does not have this as its purpose. Instead, we must understand that anything that draws us away from our pursuit of godliness or makes that pursuit impossible should be removed from our lives. In this text, most plainly that which must be removed is drunkenness. For the Ephesians, clearly drunkenness was a problem, so Paul warned them against drunkenness. We then must see plainly that as a principle, Christians have no business becoming intoxicated and drunk. But then again, the overarching principle must remain from this entire context and that is that although drunkenness is specifically named in verse 18, any lack of self-control is in conflict with holiness. May God help us through His Spirit to war against the laziness and apathy of our own hearts towards our sinfulness.
Reflect: How is drunkenness in conflict with holiness?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ephesians 5:15-17

I would call a man a fool who threw away jewels. I would call a man a fool who threw away money. I would call a man a bigger fool who threw away an hour. There's a world to be won. There's a church to be built. There's a God to be glorified and there's no time for triteness and there's not time for meaningless activity.” – John MacArthur, teaching from Ephesians 5:16
After telling the Ephesian believers to be imitators of God in v. 1, Paul then told them to walk as children of light and not as children of disobedience. Their lives would be marked by a constant putting to death of their sin and a constant submission to the goodness and righteousness of God revealed in Scripture. Regarding those around them, they were to be bold and ready to lovingly reprove those who were blinded by darkness.
Now, Paul gave another warning regarding their lifestyle. Paul’s admonition to the believers this time was that they should “walk circumspectly.” This was a call to full awareness in every area of their lives. There was a constant danger of falling into sin, and especially when confronting others about their sins, temptation was increased. So after encouraging the believers to engage those around them with the truth, Paul advises believers to be on guard against inadvertent foolishness.
Continuing the warning, Paul wrote, “not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time.” According to Paul there is a direct connection between wisdom and the use of time. It is a uniform principle that none can escape. Time is the most expensive commodity, but many people foolishly spend it on the cheapest things. If there a way that billionaires could turn their profits into years, they would endeavor to live for thousands of years. But as it stands, the biological clock runs out for most around 70 years, and no amount of money can add any more time to that.
Knowing then that every second brings you closer to your moment of death, what will you do with the fleeting moments you have left? I was recently on a flight sitting next to a woman who was intently playing Candy Crush on her IPad. When another passenger commented to her that his own wife loved to play that game, she replied with a response that is revelatory of our current entertainment-gripped culture’s view of time versus money. She bragged that she has played this game for a few years now, and has made it to an incredibly high level without ever spending a dime of her own money to buy any upgrades to beat any of the levels.
She explained that if ever she gets to a difficult level, she is willing to spend the next couple of weeks trying to beat that level on her own rather than spend the money to beat it. I’m certainly not advocating spending money on frivolous apps like Candy Crush, but I am pointing out that she viewed the hours she spent on Candy Crush as a cheaper exchange than $.99 for the upgrade. What a misguided perspective. Time is fleeting. In its abundance we find ourselves lazily negligent in its use. However, Paul explains that to waste time is not the way of wisdom, rather it is the way of foolishness.
Finally, Paul just outright says, “be not unwise.” Don’t allow yourself to get duped by the mind-numbing wastes of our day. To modify the words of Jesus to our modern context, “What shall it profit a man if he shall defeat every level of Flappy Bird and lose his own soul?” There are things of eternal value that we must endeavor to pursue. May God help us to war against foolishness by becoming self-controlled, Spirit-disciplined, wise servants of God.

Reflect: Do you walk as the wise or as a fool? What is the app or device that causes you to most often commit the sin of foolish time neglect?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ephesians 5:8-14

Have you ever been in an utterly dark place? A few years ago, I visited my family in Papua New Guinea. Where they live in the middle of the jungle, the nights get extremely dark. It gets so dark, that on an overcast night, even the light from the flashlights seems to be swallowed by the darkness. It is equal parts eerie and horrifying walking through the thick darkness able to see nothing but the ground right in front of you.
When I picture darkness, I envision that light-smothering darkness of the deep jungle night. I imagine what it would be like to try to live an entire life in that environment without a flashlight. In the absolute darkness with no ambient light to even offer an outline or a shadowy clue as to the surroundings, I would be left helplessly groping around and stumbling over every object. It would be truly miserable.
Because of the frightfulness of the darkness, the early morning sunshine is both refreshing and reassuring. Rays of sunlight evaporate every drop of darkness, and with it the latent fears of the unseen and hidden. No one in their right mind having experienced that dreadful darkness would desire to spend their entire lives in it completely disoriented and endangered. Rather, having experienced the sunlight and having seen the beauty of the jungle, no one would dare desire to retreat again into the smothering darkness.
Seeing and feeling such darkness brings a vividness to the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:8-14. Those who were believers were formerly living lives that were disoriented in darkness. Groping and stumbling with no purpose or hope, they were dreadfully blinded to true joy and lasting peace. But God in His grace offered them His light and opened their eyes to see the truth and to see sin as the horrible thing that it is. Now, having seen the reassuring, hope-giving light, Paul warns the Ephesians to not become slaves to the darkness any more.
From this we learn a very valuable lesson regarding the Christian life. According to Paul’s admonition here in this text, it is not the nature of a Christian to walk in darkness. A Christian may at times commit works of darkness, but he will not walk constantly in darkness. Instead, a Christian will have fruit in his life. A Christian will be empowered by the Spirit of God through the truth of the Word of God to overcome darkness and produce good and righteous things.
Continuing the illustration of light and darkness, Paul explains how that those who can see will also warn those who cannot. Those who are in the light are called to reprove those who are walking in darkness. Hearing this, some Christians might say, “well, their sin is none of my business.” Paul argues here that if you are walking in the light, all darkness is your business to address and reprove. This must be done in meekness, gentleness, love, and truth, but it must be done.
If those who have seen the light do not show it to those in darkness, how will they ever escape the darkness? Some might answer, “but won’t the Holy Spirit show them?” To this, Paul says, “Yes, the Holy Spirit will show them as He produces fruit in you and through you. The Holy Spirit will use you, as a believer, to show those who walk in darkness that they are sinning and they need to depart from the works of darkness.”
So then we understand these basic truths – having seen the light we should no longer desire to be ensnared again by darkness; seeing others in darkness we should reprovingly share the light so that they might escape; Christ will help them escape their darkness if we are faithful to share the light with them.

Reflect: Having received “the light” is a privilege. What responsibilities do we have with that privilege?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Ephesians 5:6-7

I have always been frightened most by stories of trickery and deception. I remember the feelings I had when I first heard how Hansel and Gretel were helped by a sinister witch whose only motive for assisting the young vagrants was to eventually trap them and cook them. To compound her craftiness, she built a cabin that was made out of cookies and candies to lure small children into her grasp. As a child I was horrified at this story, and struggled with stranger-danger feelings until my adult years.
At the root level, perhaps the most frightening part of the story was that they were most endangered at the very moment when they felt most safe and most secure. The two children had been abandoned by their woodcutter father and their stepmother. Now, in their moment of desperation, someone was offering them a hand up. Who wouldn’t want to take the help when they were in need? But in the end the cost of the deception would leave them wishing they had merely been abandoned and left alone.
It is this level of duplicity that Paul warns the Ephesians of in Ephesians 5:6-7. He had just cautioned against a myriad of sins that people commit, and now, he was saying, “don’t be deceived by anyone who excuses these sins.” Christians may sin, but their response will always eventually be repentance. What Christians won’t do is be deceived into saying, “Well everybody sins, but that is just my problem.” Accepting sin is not the mark of a Christian, it is a sign that a person has been deceived into accepting their sin.
Paul’s admonition is that those who love their sin are not Christians. After warning against being deceived by those who say these sins are acceptable in the life of a Christian, Paul explains that these very sins bring the wrath of God.
But someone might answer, “But I’m a Christian, it’s just that I sin in this way.” Paul’s response to that would be, “If your life is so defined by sin that you could be grouped among the ‘children of disobedience,’ then you have no grounds upon which to say that you are a Christian.” Just because I own a gun doesn’t mean I’m a Navy Seal, and just because a person goes to church or claims to have prayed a prayer or says that they are a Christian doesn’t mean that they are the real thing. Their life will be the testament to their profession. Christians will war against sin, and not fall prey to the deception that any sin is ever acceptable.
Paul is so emphatic about this point that after saying in verse 3, “let it not be named once among you,” he again reiterates in verse 7, “don’t be partakers with them.” Don’t allow the lifestyle of the deceived to become your lifestyle. God has saved you from the penalty of your sin, eternal death. If you are a believer, he is now saving you from the power of sin in your life. Instead of living a life of sin, convincing yourself that “well, everybody sins,” a true Christian will repent and turn from the destructive deceit that brings damnation.

Reflect: What were the Ephesians in danger of being deceived into believing according to verse 6?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ephesians 5:3-5

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul speaks of the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a Christian. One of the things that has always stood out to me is what the King James translates as “temperance.” This word has the idea of self-control and the ability to withhold ones appetites. Too often, we sin or we see others around us fall prey to the temptations that they face because they are unable to guard their own hearts and they are unable to temper their own lustful appetites.
In Ephesians 5:3-5, Paul warns believers against living lifestyles that include this boundless fulfillment of fleshly appetites. The Christian who has been transformed and who has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a holy life of obedience to God does not have to slavishly return to the tugging and nagging desires of their flesh.
As Paul continues the explanation of “be imitators of God,” he explains that those who follow after God do not give in to the unbridled passions of their carnal minds. Rather, with vigor, they seek to eradicate these things from themselves.
In the pre-Christian context of Ephesus, the sins that these believers faced are the same ones that our culture now hotly pursues in our post-Christian context. In an “anything goes” world, the lines of moral absolute are blurred and many Christian adults and young people convince themselves that although Scripture seems to condemn sexual immorality, since culture condones it, then Scripture must be archaic and irrelevant.
Instead of warring to become more like Christ and imitators of God, these who are self-deceived pursue every curiosity and every possible deviance that their mind can contrive. As culture continues to establish norms in their lives, those Christians with little to no self-control roll along accepting every violation of God’s morality that they possibly can, all the while convincing themselves that they are “normal” because they are acting in ways that are consistent with the world around them.
Christians must realize that culture has lost its sanity. Instead of accepting the sweeping tide of immorality and placating their own fleshly desires, Christians should strive to find victory over the temptations that they face daily. Continuing his indictment against the corruption of culture, and his call for the distinction of the Christian, Paul includes a few more things that many Christians have convinced themselves are acceptable.
Covetousness, filthy speaking, evil joking, and idolatry are all listed in the things that Paul says should “not once be named among you.” It is not ok to admit that it is wrong and still occasionally do it. Paul says rather, that those who are imitators of God, who strive to be holy, who would be called “saints” (v.3, literally “holy ones”), these Christians must not allow any place for these wicked things. Rather, where they see these things in their lives, they must strive to mortify these unbridled sins of the flesh and seek the help of the Holy Spirit to become truly self-controlled in all areas of their lives.

Reflect: What is the difference between being self-controlled and being self-righteous?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ephesians 5:1-2

Leviticus 11:45
For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

1 Peter 1:15-16
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

One of the most spectacular truths in Scripture is that the Holy and Righteous God of the universe looks at sinful people and commands them to join Him in holiness. This is a spectacular truth because in our sinfulness, we only exist in direct opposition to God. So how then can we whose sinful minds are enmity with God ever dream of being holy like God?
First, we must understand that God is not a cosmic bully who mockingly asks the lame to walk and shamingly commands the blind to see. Rather, when God calls for obedience from His people, He does not leave us helpless. We see the source of this help in Ephesians 3, when Paul prayed for the believers in Asia Minor that they would be strengthened by the Spirit. Specifically, he asked God to help them to be “rooted and grounded” in the Spirit so that they could be “filled with all the fullness of God” (including His holiness).
When we arrive at Ephesians 5:1, and Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “be followers of God,” (literally, “be imitators/mimickers of God”), he is not calling them to something that his impossible. Rather, he is calling them to live in ways consistent with the transforming work of the Spirit of God that has taken place in their hearts. Just as God commanded His people to be holy, and then empowered them to live in ways that were pure and separated, God commands us to be imitators of Himself and then equips us to obey that command.
But what are we to imitate? When we read Ephesians 4:25-5:21, and remove the chapter break, it becomes increasingly clear what God is telling us to imitate. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul had just finished saying, “forgive one another even as God forgave you.” He then moves on to say, “Therefore, imitate God.” What did God just do in the previous verse? Forgave us. Paul continues to explain the nature of our imitation of God in Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ” selflessly walked in love and gave himself for you.
Our imitation of the nature of God, as the children of God is directly connected to Christ’s loving sacrifice and God’s forgiveness of us. Having been transformed by the gospel through the power of the Spirit, we can love and forgive others as we have been loved and forgiven. God does not leave us helpless in the call to love and forgive, rather, He equips and empowers us to do what He has commanded. We can love others, because he has loved us. We can forgive others, because he has forgiven all of our sins. We can be imitators of God because He has given us the power to overcome our own sinful hearts of enmity. He has replaced that heart of enmity with a heart that can respond in love and forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

Reflect: How can God ask sinful people to be holy and loving and forgiving, won’t we just fail at it?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ephesians 4:31-32

The body is most healthy when all of its members work together for each other. When the organs begin to become dysfunctional, the body ceases to operate as it should and the result is decay and ruin. This is true for the physical body, and as Paul has been arguing in Ephesians, this is true for the body of the church. No church can exist and thrive if members are dysfunctional and divisive.
As Paul continues the practical application of unity in the body of Christ, he brings out a few more instructive commands of how a transformed Christian will act. Christians will “put away” those things that will cause disunity in the church and in their relationships. To “put away” means to get rid of or throw out. It is the idea that these things will not be found in the life of a Christian.
When Christians are wronged, they will respond in new ways. In times past, if someone spoke in demeaning ways, or committed hurtful actions, without the transforming work of God’s grace in their hearts and minds, the natural response would be bitterness, wrath, evil actions and evil speaking. Now, having been transformed, the bent of the Christian heart should not be the same. There should be a new and better way.
Christians respond with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness to the ones that say the wrong things and do the wrong things. True Christians should not be vengeful and bitter. True Christians should not be caustic and attacking. True Christians seek to “live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18) This is why Paul admonishes the Ephesians to seek to live in ways of love and compassion.
The very nature of Christ in us will be to respond to wrongdoing as Christ did. In 1 Peter 2:23 we see that for Jesus, “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” How could we live any differently? How can anyone claim to be a Christian yet fail to put away the wickedness and vile responses of the sinful human heart.
Too many Christians and those who claim to be Christians act like a wounded dog when someone attacks them. Instead of trusting it to God, they seek to bite back and use every ounce of their bitter strength to even the score. May we truly become like Jesus and learn to love even those who count themselves our enemies. May we find ourselves ready to forgive, not hasty to speak evil, and may God help us as we seek to obey His desires for us. This “love instead of war” is the key to right relationships and is necessary for the health of the church body as well.

Reflect: What is the measure of forgiveness that Paul uses in Ephesians 4:32? What does that tell us about the extent of our love and forgiveness for others?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ephesians 4:30

Has anyone ever done something that bothered you? Have you ever had someone close to you do something that was just unexpected? There have been a few times in my life where the actions of a close friend have caused frustration and pain. In those moments, the pain even seems to be compounded because it was from someone whom I trusted. The sense of betrayal seemed to make things even more painful.
After explaining what the Christian life should look like, Paul gives another admonition to the believers in Ephesus - “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.” It is not that the Holy Spirit cries like we do. We know from Scripture that Jesus wept after Lazarus died, but that is because Jesus was flesh and blood like you and I. Understanding that the Holy Spirit is not like you or me, we understand that His being grieved does not mean that He is sitting somewhere crushed and crying his eyes out at the betrayal. Rather, Paul is using a human idea to help us understand the gravity of our disobedience to God.
When we are angry and vengeful instead of loving and forgiving, when we are stealing instead of giving, when we are saying horrible things instead of speaking helpful words, at these times, we are grieving the Holy Spirit. It is something that He is desirous that we shouldn’t do. He is ministering to us the word of God that we might not disobey, but then we ignore His ministry and go on sinning. This betrayal of the Spirit is inexcusable. He is God in us, and for us to deny His work is to deny God.
This is why Paul calls the Spirit the “Spirit of God.” This is a direct reference to the Deity of the Holy Spirit. He is not a creation of God. He is not separate from God. He is the very Spirit of God. He is divine just as Jesus and God are divine. Therefore, disobedience to the Spirit’s Word-based guidance is disobedience to God himself.
It is interesting that Paul uses “holy” in reference to the Spirit here. It is not Paul’s normal reference to the Spirit, whom he often just refers to as “the Spirit.” In Ephesians 1:13, it is the “Holy” Spirit that we are sealed with at conversion and that begins to work his holy and righteous work in us from that point forward. It is this same “Holy” Spirit here in Ephesians 4 that we are to obey and not grieve as He seeks to guide us daily into holy and right living.
When Paul mentions the Holy Spirit again, he reminds us of the last time he called him the Holy Spirit as he says, “whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Here Paul is speaking of the plural effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. One effect is that we will be given the power to obey God and strive for holiness. Another effect is that we will see that holy work being accomplished in our lives and we will be assured that we have been converted. The Spirit working His holiness in and through us gives us assurance that we will make it to the day of redemption. We cannot fall away once He has begun His good work in us.
Do you grieve the Holy Spirit? Do you live a life that says “I don’t care what God says, I want to do my own thing”? Does it bother you that you bother the Spirit of God Himself? Perhaps when we see Him as truly Holy and as fully God then we will respond more readily to His promptings from Scripture. And if you are indifferent to the holy work of the Holy Spirit, you can begin to question whether or not you are truly one who is “sealed unto the day of redemption.”

Reflect: Read Jeremiah 14:17. In this text, God is telling Israel that He is crying. Can God cry? Explain your answer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ephesians 4:28-29

The transformed life is a life of opposites. After conversion there are many things that a believer will do that are the opposite of the things that they did before. As Paul continues his descriptive imperatives of the Christian life, he highlights a couple of these opposites.
Instead of stealing, a transformed Christian will work hard so that he can give to those in need. The Christian life isn’t about accumulation; it is about alleviation. It isn’t opulence; it is about benevolence. It isn’t about increasing our own comfort, it is about laboring to comfort others. This is why stealing is so wrong. In stealing, we become self-servers who seek to use the things of others to gratify ourselves, instead of using our things to bless and help others.
Stealing is also a fruit sin. It is most often a manifestation of other sins in the life of the one who commits it. Greed and covetousness are perhaps the most common roots that manifest themselves in the act of stealing. At times, addictions lead to insatiable and expensive appetites that can only be filled through stealing. Even anger and revenge can end in stealing from someone else.
When those who call themselves “Christian” live in ways of greed, addiction, or vengeance, they are not living according to the path that God has clearly prescribed. Instead of their lifestyle revealing a new nature inside of them, they reveal that perhaps there has never been a change. Through stealing, they demonstrate that they more than likely have never been converted. Many non-Christians are appalled at the abuses of these self-proclaimed Christians. They will say things like, “I know a Christian who was the dirtiest crook that I have ever known.” The reality is that those who are living in ways that are inconsistent with the transformative power of the gospel have no reason to use the term “Christian.” They don’t act like Christ.
Here in Ephesians, Paul teaches that those who truly are Christian will labor to earn so that they can give and care for those around them. They seek to share the truth of God with all the love that they can muster. They are not greedy; they are not vengeful; rather, they are loving; and they are forgiving. The Christian life is a life of opposites. It is a life that is filled with attitudes and actions that are the opposite of the way they were before.
As Paul continues, he explains another contrasting truth of the Christian life. Those who used to speak in ways of filth and perversion have been changed into grace and truth speakers. A few years ago, I personally knew a man who called himself a Christian and was known by most of our coworkers as the biggest pervert in the office. It was a horrible thing as many non-Christians told me that if that was what a Christian was like, they certainly didn’t want to be around Christians.
The Christian’s mouth will be transformed. In the King James Version, the translators used the phrase, “that which is good to the use of edifying” to describe the type of speech that the converted use. This phrase has the idea of “building up, or encouraging.” Christians will not be marked by their quick wit, or their ability to turn a phrase (even comically) into a rude or degrading idea. Rather, in the love of Jesus himself, Christians seek to encourage and build up and love those around them with their lives and their very words. This is what the Christian life should look like self-less encouragement. So how do you compare?

Reflect: How does the Holy Spirit help the believer obey the commandments, “thou shalt not steal,” and “thou shalt not bear false witness”?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ephesians 4:26-27

The gospel will transform your life. It will transform every area of your life. It will transform your mind. In times past, your mind was “darkened”, but now it is “renewed” and given the light of truth. In times past, you were a slave to your own feelings and passions, but now, through the help of the Spirit, your affections can be brought under subjection to the will of God.
This emotional aspect of spiritual transformation is what Paul touches on next in his exhortation to the Ephesians. “You have been converted and saved, now, don’t be slaves to your own feelings.” Specifically, he addresses the feeling of anger in the human heart. Although Paul speaks in rather exclusive terms regarding anger, we understand that being converted affects all emotions – anger, love, fear, joy,
Paul’s warning is a little different than could be expected however. He does not say “don’t be angry.” Rather, he says “be angry.” There are things that can certainly be angering in culture. It is a matter of fact that if you love certain things, then you will be angry at certain other things.
For example, if you love life and children, then you will be angry at the senseless murder of millions of babies every year through corrupt and wicked abortion practices. If you love God and His name, then you will be angry when others seek to misrepresent and mischaracterize Him. With any amount of heart in your chest, you will certainly feel love and reciprocal anger. These kinds of anger are righteous, and it is this righteous anger that Paul commands you to have if you have been converted.
But there is a type of anger that should not be found in any Christian. It is the type of anger that springs from sin and causes sin. This is why Paul says, “Be angry, and sin not.” Many times, anger does not find its moorings in righteousness but in sinfulness. When someone says wrong things about us (or true bad things) and we respond in anger, it is typically not because we are such lovers of truth. Rather, it is because they have challenged our self-image and self-worth, and in pride we think we are so far above their lowly claims. In pride, we respond through sinful wrath.
This type of anger is rooted in the sin of pride and is wrong. It starts with sin, and typically ends in another kind of sin (violence, revenge…). If we have been converted, we do not respond in this way. If the sin of our hearts draws us towards disobedience, we must remember that Christ has changed us and we must fight with everything in us while relying on Christ’s strength to offer us help in our struggle.
And this cleansing and getting right should be a rapid thing. We must not hesitate and allow anger and sin to linger. Paul says it this way, “let not the sun go down” without getting it right. This means that it is never ok to be angry at another and not to seek reconciliation. Jesus made this point of the necessity of immediate reconciliation in both Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, telling his followers to go immediately to those with whom you have problems.
The Christian life is a transformed life. Every area, the actions, the mind, the emotions, all will fall into obedience to the commands of God. Having been converted, the life must change. The reality of this internal change should lead us to a lifestyle of obedience.

Reflect: What is the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger? What can we learn from the phrase, “let not the sun go down” in regards to our frustration and sin-conflicts with others?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ephesians 4:25

When you are converted, the whole of you is changed. In Ephesians 4, Paul starts with the general transformation that happens in someone who is converted, and then moves on to eventually explain what that transformation looks like in the specific.
In the general, those who loved sin are changed into those who love God. Those who lived for themselves and committed vile acts of self-gratification have become ones who love others and live in self-sacrifice. Finally, those whose minds before devised wickedness and darkness have had their minds renewed by the Spirit of God to think on things that are pleasing to God.
Continuing his explanation of this transformation, Paul moves on to the specifics of transformation in verse 25. However, as we read it, we must notice the types of words that Paul chooses. Describing the new nature of someone who has been converted, Paul chooses imperatives instead of declaratives. This means that Paul expresses the nature of those who have been transformed in terms of commands. Typically, when we describe others we don’t describe them in terms of commands. We would say, “Johnny is tall,” or “Sally is nice.” Here Paul in essence says, “Johnny, be tall,” and “Sally, be nice.”
“Speak every man truth with his neighbor.”So have we been converted or not? Has the transformation taken place or not? Throughout the rest of the Epistle to the Ephesians we must understand this, that since we have been transformed by the power of the gospel, we will now live lifestyles of obedience to God. We understand that although God has declared us righteous and has placed in us a new heart that can now understand and obey his laws, we still need to live in ways of obedience.
With the Holy Spirit of God empowering us to obey God and to love others as we ought, we still must strive to obey. The transformation of the Christian is something that occurs at conversion, but it is something that also occurs throughout the life of the Christian. At no point should we ever say, “Well, I’m done being transformed! I’ve basically got this Christian life nailed.”
Rather in desperation and dependence, we should constantly see the commands of Scripture and rejoice in the power that we have been given to obey them. Before, we loved sin and deception, but having been transformed we have been given the ability to love God and do what he commands. As Christians we can now read the commands of Scripture with a different perspective.
Now, when we hear the command, “putting away lying lips, speak every man truth with his neighbor,” we should be able to say, “Yes, with the help of the Holy Spirit who has transformed me, I can do this. I don’t have to be a constant liar anymore, rather, with his help, I have been given a converted nature and I can become a proclaimer of the truth!”
The commands are not just a list of “what to do’s” they are a list of “what you can do’s” through the power of the Holy Spirit that is in you working to grow you in godliness. So, now, be encouraged and pursue holy obedience. Seek to live a lifestyle that is markedly different from the one you lived before you were converted. Embrace the imperatives as your new identity and trust the Holy Spirit to give you strength and power as you strive to obey Him.

Reflect: What specific contrast does Paul make between the unconverted and the converted lifestyle in Ephesians 4:25?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ephesians 4:17-24

It is the nature of Christians to be righteous and truly holy. Conversely, holiness and righteousness is not the nature of non-Christians. This idea is clearly understood when you take a look at the words used to describe the process whereby a non-Christian becomes a Christian.
Perhaps the most common word used is saved. As the Apostle Paul describes being saved in Ephesians 2 (for by grace are you saved through faith–v.8), he explains that it is a salvation that is not just for eternal purposes but also of some present consequence. He explains in Ephesians 2 that those who are saved have been saved from “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” The word saved indicates that those who have received this salvation have been saved from a life of corruption to a life of good works.
Another word that helps illuminate this transformation from non-believer to believer is converted. The concept portrayed in the very term converted is that of transformation from one thing to another. This transformative conversion is described in Ephesians 4:17-24. Those who formerly had their understanding darkened, were alienated from God, lived in sinfulness, greediness, and uncleanness are now converted to live lives of righteousness and true holiness.
Another point worth making at this juncture is that those who claim to be Christians or believers but evidence no sign of being converted are certainly failing to understand the nature of being a Christian as revealed in Scripture, and are very likely not actual Christians.
This brings me back to the point which we began today’s devotional with, Christians are called to live holy in ways that non-Christians are not. There is no grounds on which a Christian should ever expect non-Christians to act in exclusively Christian ways.
In understanding the work of salvation theologically, those who come in faith trusting in the saving work of Jesus as their only hope for forgiveness of their sins with God and ultimate peace with God, these people are justified. Beyond that, those who have been justified continue to grow in their obedience to and reliance on God throughout their lifetimes, and these people are those being sanctified. We must always understand though, that the only ones who can ever be expected to obey God and rely on him are those who have first been justified. There is no sanctification apart from the first work of justification. Therefore, expecting non-Christians to live lives of obedience to God or reliance on Him is not just nonsensical, it is impossible. Non-Christians cannot obey God.
Recently, many Christians have been complaining against cultural waves of indifference and even at times malevolence towards the previously existent culture of Christianity. The claims are that those people and companies that do not openly say phrases like “Merry Christmas” are in some way failing to fulfill their obligation to society. Sadly, these Christians are expecting something from non-Christians and non-Christian businesses that they have no grounds for expecting.
It is the duty of the Christian, not Starbucks to share the truth about Christmas. It is the duty of believers, not non-Christian businesses to promote the person and nature of Jesus Christ. Perhaps bragging openly about unethically “tricking” others into doing Christian things (like writing “Merry Christmas” on your coffee cup) is not the best approach to conveying the sinless and blameless person of Christ that Christians claim they represent. So, I finish today with a strong admonition: Be Christian by reflecting Christ, and don’t expect others (especially non-Christians) to do your job for you.

Reflect: Compare the distinctions that Paul makes between Christians and non-Christians in Ephesians 4:17-24.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ephesians 4:7-16

The Christian experience is not that of an automaton or a robot. Unity amongst Christians does not negate diversity. Rather, diversity is what most vividly portrays the beauty of the gospel. Where cultural, social, or generational tensions once divided, now, because of the gospel, there can be unity. But this does not mean that every member loses the identity that once they were. Instead, that old identity is now filtered through the gospel to respond in love for others. Diversity is one of the greatest testaments to the unity of the gospel.
As Paul continues his explanation of what binds believers together, he highlights the reality that while we are drawn together in peace and unity, each member still is unique. Previously, Paul argued that the church is like a building perfectly fitted together by the wisdom of God. Even in this analogy we must understand that buildings are constructed with all manner of parts. If every part were a door, then there would be no place to sleep. If every part were stairs, then there would be no place to eat. Rather, a well-fitted house is made from a diversity of parts. Similarly, a well-fitted church is made from a diversity of members.
Continuing his argument about the uniqueness of the brethren, Paul explains that the uniqueness in the church is not brought about by background but instead is brought about primarily by the equipping work of the Spirit. At the point of conversion, every believer is equipped to serve the church. These spiritual gifts can be a number of things, and Paul gives lists of these gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. These lists include the gifts of giving, serving, preaching, teaching, and so many more. The main thing to understand about spiritual gifting is that everyone has been equipped to serve the church. Sadly, many turn from their duty and the clear call of Christ to serve others and instead sit idly by while others serve and labor in the church. Because there is confusion for many people as to what their spiritual gift is, instead of serving and working until they see a gifting in themselves or have it affirmed by the church around them, they sit by continuing their excuse of never being involved as simply the fault of their not knowing their spiritual gift.
So why should we care about our spiritual gift, and why should we seek to use it in the church? Can’t we just join the ranks of lazy Christians who serve themselves and don’t stress about “getting serious” in church? Paul answers this with an explanation of why every Christian should strive to live amongst every other Christian serving the body with their gifting. Paul’s explanation is simple and is found in verses 8-10. Jesus came to earth to liberate us from our sins. He came and died so that we could not only be freed from sin, but that we could have a Spirit-empowered life. When the Spirit comes and regenerates and converts sinners He empowers them with gifts. These gifts that we have are connected directly to the sacrifice of Jesus for us on the cross. Therefore, to neglect these spiritual gifts is to neglect the very sacrifice of Jesus.
Instead of neglecting, we should realize that we are a very purposeful part of the body. Finally, in verse 16 Paul brings us to the illustration of a body and how every part works within its specially designed purpose for the health and strength of the body as a whole. Similarly, we are specifically designed parts, some teachers, some givers, some servants, and most of us are a blend of several of the gifts. Now, let us strive to fulfill the calling we have been given in the death of Christ. Let us serve one another in love, striving for the unity of the body through the uniqueness of our gifting.

Reflect: Read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Write out a list of the spiritual gifts that Paul mentions there. Do you see any of these as natural inclinations in your life?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ephesians 4:4-6

Imagine arriving at a soccer match that was nothing but chaos. On one team the forwards have decided that they don’t trust the midfielders or the defense with the ball, so they spend the entire game passing it between themselves, even at times stealing it from the midfielders on their own team to maintain their overbearing control over their own teammates. As the game drags on, the chaos deepens when the defense from the same team disbands and decides to operate as their own independent, individual teams. From this point forward, the defenders steal the ball not only from the opposing team but also from each other. Finally, the game loses all sense of order when every player that touches the ball shoots at the nearest goal immediately, not caring that for the most part, the goal they are shooting on is their own. The end result, chaos, absolute chaos. A team infected with this much disunity would be certainly doomed to failure.
The reason that this would never work is because soccer is a team sport. It requires all parts to work together with the other parts as one unit, one team. There is a driving oneness, and when the strikers cannot rely on the halfbacks, and the halfbacks cannot rely on the fullbacks, then the greatest strength afforded the team, its unity, is done away with. The defense must think as one if they are to stop the attacks of their opponents. The offense must view themselves as an extension of their teammates if they are to ever see victory. When many parts are involved, unity is the only means of success.
When we come to Ephesians 4, Paul appeals to the believers in Ephesus that they would strive to live in unity and peace with one another. In loving forbearance, and in longsuffering, they were to meekly and humbly strive for unity and oneness in the body. The church cannot function well any other way. When members viciously attack and backbite, and when rudeness prevails, the church and its mission are gravely affected. For this reason, Paul warns the Roman believers to avoid those “who cause divisions” (Romans 16:17), because in their efforts to prove that they are right, they destroy other believers and undo the ties of unity in the body of Christ. Therefore, Paul admonishes, “avoid them.”
There is much at stake when disunity is allowed to fester in the church. In Ephesians 4, Paul indicates that the very nature of Christian theology and doctrine is directly related to the unity of believers. Conversely, we would then understand that those who cause disunity amongst Christians are practically denying the very doctrines of Scripture. We should be one as a body, because we have one head, Christ. We should dwell together as one in unity because we have all been indwelt by the same one, the Holy Spirit. We should dwell together in unity as one because we have been called and saved by the same one, God the Father. Ultimately, Paul teaches us that our unity as a body of believers is a reflection of our unity in the triune God, and any who would cause chaos where God has structured unity, defies the very nature of God.

Reflect: What is the connection between Ephesians 4:1-3 and the unity mentioned in Ephesians 4:4-6?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ephesians 4:1-3

In a culture rife with self-help manuals and professional advice to maintain a positive self-image, Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-3 come as a timely reminder that maintaining a proper self-image will always be better than simply seeking to maintain a positive self-image. This does not mean that we cannot have a positive self-image, it just means that losing a grasp of who we truly are in favor of mental self-relief is not innately good or healthy. In place of “you have to love you,” Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that their lives must be marked by meekness and lowliness. It was not about being able to speak with confidence or demanding respect from those around them, rather, they were to be longsuffering, and forbearing in love.
This self-sacrifice mirrors the language Paul uses in Philippians 2:3, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.” There Paul uses this language to call Christians to mirror the life of Christ. True Christianity is a life lived as a reflection of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. With an end goal of unity and peace with other believers, it should be the natural lifestyle of every Christian to seek those things that work for the betterment of others, especially other Christians. But why should this be? On what grounds can Paul here demand that Christians everywhere love and sacrificially give of their own desires and preferences for the unity and health of the church?
The answer to this question is found in Ephesians 4:1. “Therefore.” This word is of the greatest explanatory significance. The search for the reason why we should live in selfless ways is bound up in this one word, “therefore.” So then what does this “therefore” mean? Paul has spent the previous three chapters explaining the realities that we have been given by God through Christ. God has chosen us and called us. God came and made us alive and saved us when we were dead. God has built us up together in the body of the church, and given us a purpose in life. Paul even wrote his personal prayer for the empowerment of God’s spirit and the growth of the believers in the love of Christ and in their personal sanctification. Now, following all of these things, Paul says, “therefore.”
“Because of all of these realities” live lives of humility. When we get a proper perspective of God and His work in us, we can finally have a proper self-image. If we get a glimpse of the magnitude of His wisdom and power, we cannot help but respond with the Psalmist, “what is man that thou art mindful of him?” Seeing the goodness and grace of God, and understanding that we have been saved by grace and not our own works, we only have one response left, “lowliness and meekness.” Paul’s command can only be fully understood in light of the deep spiritual realities tucked away inside of the word “therefore.”
And this will be the mark of a Christian that is growing and becoming more Christ-like. They will love, and suffer long, and forbear wrongs, and humbly endeavor to maintain unity and peace. This is what Christ died to accomplish. Now, being followers of Christ, we must strive to continue what He began and what He desires to accomplish through us. May God help us to become ones who live like Paul describes in Acts 20:17 as “serving the Lord with all humility of mind.”

Reflect: In what ways have you exhibited lowliness and meekness that strives for spiritual unity in the past week? In what ways have you failed?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ephesians 3:20-21

Finishing his prayer for the Ephesians, Paul praises God and thanks Him for the work that He will accomplish in His church. It is clear in Paul’s mind that when God fulfills all of the things that Paul prayed for, then God would answer them and then God would be glorified. We first see that Paul believes that God would answer these prayer requests in verse 20. Here Paul refers to God as “him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
Paul’s prayer was very far-reaching in its appeal for God’s help. In verse 16, he asked God to bless the Ephesians with the “riches of his glory,” and strengthen them with His Spirit. It was not merely enough to ask God for a little bit of help and a little bit of wisdom, Paul wanted the believers to be equipped with the very best God had to offer. So he prayed for the “riches” of God’s glory. This speaks of God’s abundance and His ability to bless in overflowing grace in our lives. Paul further asked for God to empower the believers with the Holy Spirit. In his petition, Paul prayed that God will strengthen “with might” by His Spirit. It is not merely a dabbling of help or an inkling of strength that he has in mind, but that the omnipotence of the Almighty might flow through the Spirit of God into the life of the believer. Paul prayed big. But he only prayed big because he had a big God who could answer his prayers.
In Paul’s far-reaching appeal for God’s help, he additionally asked that God would grow the believers in the love of Christ. Again, using the extent of his vocabulary to describe the depth and breadth of God’s working in establishing the believers in love, Paul prays that they might be “rooted and grounded.” This is not “help them to love on the weekends while they are at church.” Rather, “let them live lives that are marked by an overwhelming empowering of the Holy Spirit to love those around them at all points.” This was a big prayer, asking God to accomplish something that was supernatural in the hearts of the believers.
As Paul finishes his prayer, we reminded of why Paul could pray such big things. Back to verse 20, because God is “him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Wow! If Paul had merely said, “Him who is able to do what we ask,” that would be impressive. In that estimation, the extent of our minds would be the furthest reach of God’s goodness and power. If we could ask it, He would have the power to answer it. But Paul reminds us that God is so much greater than us. Our minds are limited, and at times, even when we ask God for something, he has an answer that is so much bigger than anything we could have ever asked or even thought.
Seeing the limitless magnitude of God’s goodness and grace, demonstrated in His immense power to answer prayer, we should join in Paul by saying, “unto Him be glory in the church.” This empowering, and enriching, and rooting and grounding in love, should be so prevalent in the church that when people look at the church, God looks good. That when people meet Christians, they see this massive work of God in their lives and are blown away by the magnitude of accomplishment that God has caused in them. Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus to receive this mighty work of God, and we would be foolish to pray for anything less. We should also be encouraged that when we pray, we are praying to the one who answers our prayers in ways that are above what we could have ever asked or thought. Not only will he answer our prayers, but to the glory of His name, he will answer them in the best ways possible.

Reflect: What does the phrase “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” mean to you?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ephesians 3:16-19

Continuing his prayer for the believers in Asia Minor, Paul asked God to strengthen them with power from the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul’s prayer aligns with God’s desires. It was God who called the believers into faith, and converted them. It is God who has worked in them His will, and now, Paul prays and asks God to strengthen and empower them by His Spirit. This is clearly what God desires to accomplish. From the Old Testament, God foretold the day when His people would finally be able to obey His commands because His Spirit was in them empowering their obedience.
“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” - Ezekiel 36:27
This is why in 1 Peter 1:16, God can command that we should “Be holy; for I am holy.” It is not because we have the capability to obey in and of ourselves. We are called to obey, but we must understand that it is the Spirit at work in us to help us obey. A few verses later in 1 Peter 1:22, Peter continues this call for holiness by telling us that we will be “obeying the truth through the Spirit.” It will not be in our power that we obey what God commands. Rather, it will be through the help of His power in His Spirit in us that we will obey. And as Paul prays for the Ephesians, he asks God to grant that empowering grace in the lives of the believers, that they might obey through the help of the Spirit.
Understanding that the Spirit indwells the believer and that He empowers the believer to do good works, Paul’s next prayer request in Ephesians 3:17 should cause us to pause. At face value, it seems that Paul is praying that Christ will come and indwell the believers, but why would he need to pray that if the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) already was dwelling in believers and empowering them? There has been some mishandling of the language in this text where the misapplied take away of Paul’s prayer is that people need to have Jesus come into their heart for salvation. In verse 17, Paul is praying for believers. Therefore, the indwelling of Christ is not a sign of their getting converted, but rather a sign of their further growth in sanctification. He is not saying “Jesus come and dwell in people’s hearts so that they will be saved,” rather, he is saying, “Jesus please come and dwell in believer’s hearts so that they will live more like you.” Asking Jesus to dwell in your heart is not the same as placing your faith in Jesus.
Now, with Christ dwelling in us, we can live like Him. As Paul continues the prayer in verses 17 he says that the result of Christ controlling our hearts is that we will be “rooted and grounded” in love. This means that we become so passionate about His love for us, that we love others in the same ways that He loves us. In selfless, sacrificial ways, we allow Christ to rule over our lives with His love. Instead of seeing Christ’s indwelling as His work of justification, we must see that as believers we need to daily surrender our hearts to His desires. We truly must become Christ-like in our love for those around us.
It’s not that we don’t need to ask Jesus to come into our hearts; it is that we need to understand what that request means when we do pray for it. As believers, we are praying that God would radically transform our hearts to love those around us. That as Christ loved tirelessly, we too would be rooted and grounded in love. This was Paul’s prayer for the believers at Ephesus, and this should be our prayer and desire for ourselves and the other believers around us – that, in fact, Jesus would come into your heart.

Reflect: What does it mean to have Jesus dwell in your heart? What doesn’t it mean?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ephesians 3:13-16

Picture a small tea light candle. Once lit, its flame burns for a few hours before the wick has been fully consumed and its wax is gone out of it. Now, imagine with me that the main goal of that candle was to ignite other things. How far and wide could that candle travel and what all could be the magnitude of its flamed influence in its short lifespan? As I think about a little flame burning, in my mind, I connect this burning to our lives. Like the little candle, we have limited time here on earth. Because of that limited time, our influence and efforts are limited in their scope and reach. The igniting of other things on fire by the little candle is somewhat like the influence that we have on those around us. Much of the influence we exert will burn out after we are gone, but will there be anything that lasts?
In verses 8-9, Paul expressed his humble excitement to be a part of the proclamation of the gospel. He saw this opportunity as the most wonderful experience that he could ever be a part of, and spent his life and health accomplishing it. Paul saw his life as a flickering flame soon to go out and be exhausted, so he sought to spend his life igniting as many others as he could. If this meant walking hundreds of miles on foot, or sailing across seas, nothing got in the way of Paul making his life count. Like a flickering little candle, he sought to spread his life far and wide, influencing as many as he could.
Did it cost him his health? Certainly. Did it cost him his freedom? Absolutely. Did it mean that he had little to no earthly possessions? Yes. But, by spending his life affecting others, did his life matter after he was gone? Seeing that we are talking about him nearly 2,000 years after his death…clearly the answer is a resounding “YES!” Furthermore, seeing that the gospel spread around the world because of his efforts (and eventually to you and me), it doesn’t seem that he wasted his flickering candle, but rather made the greatest use of it. Paul bought into the message that Jesus himself taught and lived, “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul…seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
As we arrive in verse 13, we then understand his wording when he says, “I desire that you faint not at my tribulations for you.” In effect, he is saying, “God chose me for this life of service, and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” He had exhausted himself in the service of communicating to the world the great truth of God’s love and grace. He would light as many flames as he could while his wick shortened and his wax burned away.
Now, in verse 14-16, Paul turns to praying for those whom he had preached to. He does not merely pray for their physical needs, rather, he prayed with eternal vision. The same things that motivated him to live selflessly in the service of God and others, were the very things that he prayed for. How inconsistent would his life be if his prayer life didn’t match his living? Paul spent his life delivering the message of the gospel, and now, in his prayer he prayed that God would grant not just the receiving of the His grace, but the strengthening of his grace in those who had believed. Paul desired that God would comfort and empower those who had come in faith to Him. Paul’s life and Paul’s prayers were in line with one another. He desired to tell others of God’s goodness, and he prayed that God would extend that goodness to them.

Reflect: Do you see your life as a candle that will one day burn up and be gone? What is your driving life goal? What is the basis of the majority of your prayers? How do they line up with Paul’s?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ephesians 3:8-12

A few years ago, I was with a friend who is a firefighter. While at the fire station, another friend attempted to do something that before that moment was only a cliché to me. He actually tried to drink the water coming out of the firehose. It was hysterical, and we all got a good laugh. I have never forgotten that mental image of his mouth opened as wide as possible and the water slamming against his face. The stream was far greater than his mouth could have ever handled, yet with resolute effort, he spread his lips and got a good rinsing.
Coming to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 3:8-12, we approach a topic that would be aptly compared to drinking from a firehose. There is deeper theology than we could ever fully explore. There is truth so far reaching, and implications so grandiose that I do not believe our minds could ever fully wrap around them even if we endeavored to do so for the remainder of our lives. However, like my friend, I think we would do well to open the mouths of our minds as wide as possible, and seek to catch whatever amount, however limited, we possibly can.
Continuing his explanation of God’s work and God’s power in accomplishing what was little more than a mystery in the Old Testament, Paul rejoices at the opportunity that God has given him personally in the declaration of that message. The Old Testament contained countless allusions to the joining together of the Gentiles and the Jews in the ages to come, but no one could have fathomed that this far-reaching unity would be accomplished in Christ. Now, Paul explained that there was unity between those who were formerly enemies. The thing that brought people into peace with God could also bring them into peace with one another. Who could refuse the one that God had accepted? The gospel required a humble response and meaningful reconciliation.
God had invited the Gentiles into the family, and now Paul was the one who got to deliver the invitation. What a wonderful opportunity that left him feeling completely undeserving. Paul considered himself to be “less than the least of all the saints,” but God in his wisdom had chosen him to be the declarer of such terrific news. We finally arrive at the firehose moment when Paul delivers the theological foundation of the message that he was commissioned to declare in verse 9-12.
God held in himself, secretly, known only to Him, from the beginning of the world a truth that he had only recently revealed through Jesus. The God who never changes, did not learn anew of the ones He would show his grace to, or suddenly decide to execute his grace on them. Rather, as He committed the expansive creative acts of the universe, He began to unfold His master plan and the “eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus.” This was not a plan that had a starting point somewhere in time, rather from the very eternality of God, this amazing work of grace through Christ had already begun.
Finally, Paul says that he was given this message to “make all men see” the truth. Now, we must understand that when we read the word “all,” it is not that Paul actually caused every human being on the planet to see the message. Certainly there were those who did not, and those who still have not. Rather, it was Paul’s privilege as indicated in this text to take the message to people who had not yet heard. Both Jews and Gentiles (all people) had been invited into this. The “all” of this text has everything to do with God’s grace not reserved to one race of people, but again, the mystery of his extending it to Gentiles and Jews alike. What an incredibly gracious, loving, wise, and powerful God. He only deserves praise for this wonderful, eternal, unsearchable truth.

Reflect: What was Paul so excited to talk about in these verses? Why was he personally excited about it?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ephesians 3:1-7

The day before Christmas, the little pine glows with bright lights and glistens with spinning ornaments. Beneath it sits a stash of neatly stacked presents each wrapped with a ribbon and bow. The anticipation and excitement cause the mind of the most curious to swirl with misguided and misdirected possibilities. With irresistible curiosity, the boldest inquisitors resort to shaking and knocking the packages in an effort to understand the things that are hidden beneath the wrapping paper. Even the most indifferent must confess a measure of intrigue regarding those things not yet seen but soon to be revealed.
This is one way that we can understand the nature of Old Testament prophecy. God spoke through the prophets to the people, but the people did not always fully understand. At times, even the most curious had no way to understand what God was speaking through the prophets. Like a present wrapped up and hidden, the glistening future was nothing more than a cloaked mystery, a shape and a form packaged neatly beneath the tree. The only way to fully understand the mystery was to unwrap the package. But even the most holy saint of the Old Testament never had the opportunity to clearly see and understand the truths of prophecy. The very nature of prophecy was that it would be fulfilled in a future date, oftentimes a future date that would come after the lifetime of those who first heard it.
Prophecy was a hidden mystery that was not clearly seen. That is, it was not clearly seen until the day that it was fulfilled. And this further revelation was the purpose of the New Testament. The time came when the main character and hope of the Old Testament, the promised One, the Messiah, and the Christ, eventually showed up. Through the first couple of chapters of each of the gospels the ribbon was unlaced from the package and the bow was removed. The mystery was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all of the veiled prophecies. Now, we can see clearly that prophecies like Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53 are so plainly speaking directly of what Jesus accomplished in His life and ministry. Reading the Old Testament, we see promises of blessing and hope, and we can now clearly understand in light of the New Testament that there is little mystery left in regards to whom that is about.
With the present fully unwrapped, we see clearly now, what was little more than a hazy mystery to those who lived in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the promises included blessing for the Gentiles, but it was unclear how that would ever be possible. Now, in Christ, through the unity of faith, both Jews and Gentiles are joined together by God’s grace. This was such a mystery before, but now, in Jesus, the package has been unwrapped. No longer is there separation between the two, but because of God’s grace, it is clearly seen that the Gentiles can join in the blessings of God.
In Ephesians 1, Paul explained how we were chosen in God in time past. Then, in Ephesians 2, he continued by explaining that we join God’s family through faith, and that in doing so, we are drawn into unity and love one for another. There is no longer distinctions that divide, rather, in Christ, all are brought together. Now, in Ephesians 3, Paul explains that many of these things were mysteries to the saints of old, but now, we see them plainly an clearly, because God in His grace has revealed them. We get to come along after the presents have been unwrapped. The mystery has been revealed, and we get to enjoy the full fruits of that revelation.

Reflect: What is the mystery that Paul speaks of in these verses, and how was it fulfilled?