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?