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Study Notes on Ephesians 1:3

17 Jul

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

We now transition to the body of the letter. And we open with this magnificent sentence in Greek which runs from verses 3-14. You heard that right. Verses 3-14 is one long sentence in the Greek text. It is the second longest sentence in the New Testament, a sentence of 202 Greek words. So though our English translations sometimes break this sentence into parts for the sake of clarity in English, remember that this whole section is one sentence. The fact that it is one sentence means that Paul intended it to be read or heard in a very connected way. So we will be trying to understand throughout how this section fits together and how it fits into the big picture of the book of Ephesians as a whole.

In terms of the section itself, there is a basic structure here. There is a general statement of praise – “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” followed by the general reason for praise – “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” So verse 3 lays out the reason for the paragraph – praise to God, and the basic grounds for that praise – because we have been blessed in Christ. From there the sentence proceeds to show us specifically how we have been blessed. The three specific ways we have been blessed revolve around three aspects of God’s work and the three persons of the Trinity and three periods of time. The first ground of God’s blessing (1:4-6) is election and the focus there is the good plan of God the Father given before the foundation of the world. Election – Father – Past. The second reason we are blessed (1:7-12) is redemption and the focus there is on the good work of the Son which is presently ours. Redemption – Son – Present. The third reason we are blessed (1:13-14) is inheritance and the focus there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the focus is on the future blessing of the inheritance. Inheritance – Spirit – Future. Now within this sentence there are, of course, senses in which all the persons of the Trinity are at work. So the work of election is not exclusively the work of the Father, for example. Since we worship ONE God in three persons, it makes sense that there would be overlap and interplay. Yet there is at the same time a certain emphasis in the ministry of each person of the Trinity. Along with this Trinitarian focus there is a threefold repetition of a phrase . . . “to the praise of His glory.” We will get into the meaning of this phrase when we come to it in the text but let me just say for now that Paul’s insertion of this phrase seems to do two things: first, it gives the whole sentence a heightened sense of praise. Chapter 1 really can be divided into two parts: praise (1:3-14) and prayer (1:15-23). There’s not much better to do with our lives than praise and prayer. So this phrase reminds us of the blessing and joy of praise. But in addition to this flavor of praise, this phrase reminds us that while this sentence enumerates God’s blessings to His people and that this is a cause for praise, ultimately all these things have happened for the praise of God’s glory. In other words, election, redemption, inheritance and all the rest are about God, not merely about us.

So on the whole, this sentence opens the book on a note of praise. This is fitting based on the contents of the book and is a good pattern for us. We could probably all benefit from less time trying to solve the world’s problems and more time cultivating the grace of praise.

So let’s get into the text itself now. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Blessed. This Greek word, eulogntos, sounds like our English word “eulogy.” We think of a eulogy as a speech given at a funeral but at its core the word carries the idea of thanksgiving for the life being remembered. Here in Ephesians we have a statement of praise to God for His work of salvation in its many facets. You may notice that this word appears in three places in this verse. The major note of this verse is that of blessing, or praise. Yet the blessing is different in each of the three cases. The first is a statement of praise to God, the second and third describe the blessings we receive from Christ and the location of those blessings, which we will look at in more detail in a moment.

With all this said, let me say that I believe this verse is also significant for its Jewish flavor. This language of blessedness is common in Jewish literature and common in the Old Testament. The book of Psalms in particular uses this formulation several times. Jewish people were taught to pray this way. There were in the first century a series of prayers called the “Eighteen Benedictions” that Jews were taught to pray morning, noon and night. These prayers were all headed by the words “Blessed are you, Lord.” So it appears here that as Paul adopted a common Gentile greeting in verse 2 and reshaped it theologically, now he is doing the same with a common Jewish expression of praise. He uses this same phrasing in 2 Corinthians 1:3 but interestingly, Peter also uses this phrasing in 1 Peter 1:3, meaning that it is at least possible that by this time this phrase was a common one in Christian usage. Based on the Jewish background of the apostles, it is not surprising that they would adapt existing Jewish forms of prayer and language to bring the saving work of Christ to the forefront. In Ephesians 1:3 we are brought  right back to the point Paul is making in this first theological section of the book, namely that through Jesus the universe has been fundamentally reshaped: individual salvation gives us one blessing after another, there is one people of God from Jew and Gentile, the height, and depth and breadth of God’s love has been realized. Causes for praise abound in the New Covenant.

be Here the word “be” is supplied, it does not appear in the Greek text, it is just understood. For clarity in English most translations add it here.

the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ  this phrase tells us that the blessedness goes to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, praise to God. God the Father is the source of every spiritual blessing. The God and Father are not two separate beings. The definite article — “the” – applies to both the word God and the word Father. But notice we have handled the whole phrase here because the God and Father is inextricably linked to our Lord Jesus Christ. This linkage serves at least two purposes. First, Christ is exalted as God through this linkage (as well as through the descriptor “Lord”) and second Christ’s is exalted as instrumental in the praise that goes to God the Father. In some sense (which we will see going forward) the praise that belongs to God the Father comes through His work through Jesus Christ. Notice here it is not Christ Jesus as in verse 1, but Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is not on His saving work as the major note but on His Lordship, His rule. This ruling nature is another mark of divinity, of equality with God. Jesus is Lord. He is Lord in contrast to the ruling Caesars, he is Lord ruling and reigning with God the Father. Praise God. And He is our Lord. He is the Lord of all who believe. He is not simply ours in the sense of possession but He is ours in the sense of our submission. We yield allegiance to Him first and foremost. He is Lord. Somebody sent me an order of service the other day from another church and their July 1st service began with the National Anthem, included the Pledge of Allegiance, contained a patriotic sing-a-long and otherwise made America the center of the service. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with an appreciation of country but it should never compete with our allegiance to the Lord. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus is our Lord.

So we praise God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But why? Because He is the One who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

who has blessed us in Christ The Father and the Holy Spirit are essential to the work of God in our lives, but Christ is the center of this passage. In these first 14 verses, Christ is mentioned some 15 times. The phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ is used 11 times. This is so encouraging because all our lives apart before we were saved we were not ‘in Christ’ we were ‘in Adam.’ In Adam we were in sin, under the wrath of God, bound by futility, destined for hell. This reality will be further explained in chapter 2. But the contrast is being implied here at the outset. We are in Christ, we are all through faith in Christ. And that is the place not of curse but of blessing, because Christ has borne the curse. The ESV puts the words “in Christ” at the front of the sentence but they are actually at the back of the sentence in Greek and in many English translations. I think the ESV sounds better in English but just wanted to let you know that.

The focus now shifts to the what of the way God has blessed us through Christ? with every spiritual blessing There are two aspects to note here, seen in the word ‘every’ and in the word ‘spiritual.’ The word every points in the direction of what were are going to see in the next few verses and what we have already hinted at, namely that the blessings of Christ are varied and numerous, encompassing God and His work past, present and future. These varied blessings are spiritual blessings. This may be a contrast to the old covenant realities that many of the blessings of God were material. Land, cattle, a good harvest, etc. were among the blessings promised under the old covenant for those who were faithful to God. When the Old Testament prophets looked toward the new covenant they looked to a spiritual reality that would change everything, particularly realized through the Holy Spirit’s work in the human heart. So Ezekiel and Jeremiah both speak of the work of God in the heart and their words describe how God will put a new spirit within us. Material blessing and the provision of God are not entirely done away with, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus calls us to not worry about material things even as He promises their provision when we seek first the kingdom of God. It is clear to me that the blessings enumerated here in verses 3-14 are mostly spiritual blessings. And it is telling to me that many people looking at this reality would count the spiritual blessings inferior. If you would count land or a good harvest of more value than eternal redemption, there is a failure to understand the reality of existence. But because these spiritual realities are only now realized in part, we can have more trouble seeing their worth. There is another aspect of this as well. I believe these “spiritual” blessings not only have to do with the realm of spirit as opposed to the physical, it also has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament promises of the new covenant pointed to the Holy Spirit work, the book of Acts revealed His work and the epistles confirmed His work. The nature of these blessings is found in the fact that they are spiritual, of the Spirit, applied by the Spirit.

John Stott says, “The teaching of verse 3 is thus to seen to be extremely important. Christians are Trinitarians. We believe in one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We affirm with gratitude and joy that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. That is, every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing has been withheld from us. Of course we still have to grow into maturity in Christ, and be transformed into his image, and explore the riches of our inheritance in him. Of course, too, God may grant us many deeper and richer experiences of himself on the way. Nevertheless already, if we are in Christ, every spiritual blessing is ours. Or, as the apostle puts it in Colossians, we ‘have come to fullness of life in him.’

The verse concludes with addressing the issue of where these spiritual blessings are to be found. And the answer is in the heavenly places,

Now this phrase is interesting. When we think of heaven, we usually think of the eternal dominion of God. We think usually of the future. But notice here the spiritual blessings appear to be ours already. And they are in the heavenly places. Now this could be something different than what we normally think. It may be that Paul is contrasting the spiritual with the earthly. In other words, Paul may be saying that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ in the spiritual realm. So are these heavenly places referring to the future reality of glorification or is it referring to our present life? Well, it refers to all of it. In a sense, Paul is reminding us that our union with Christ is so real and so sure that we are already united with Him in the heavenly places. Our future is secure and even now the Lord Jesus intercedes for us. Yet, in this present life we experience union with Christ, we enjoy fellowship with Him, we are empowered by Him.

Bryan Chappell helps us understand what is going on here. “On our family vacations, we enjoy going to a cabin that adjoins a deep set of woods. At certain times of the year the woods are so dense that when we have been out hiking, it is difficult to find the path back to the cabin. As night closed in during one such hike, we knew that we would not be able to spot our regular landmarks. So we began to angle through the woods in the direction we thought the cabin was. It got darker and darker; no familiar landmarks came into view. The children assumed that we were lost. I kept a brave face, as if I knew where we were, but ultimately I turned around to tell them the real situation. But just as I turned, a light from the cabin caught my eye. In the dark and dense woods we had actually walked past the cabin, but seeing the light, I knew we were safe. We were not yet inside, but the light meant that we were already safe and secure. What was my reaction to being ‘home’? Relief, and peace.

It is a similar reaction that Paul intends for us. He does not promise that we will never have to walk through the dark and dense woods. Trials are still here, disease still comes, finances are still hard, jobs and relationships remain difficult, and next steps may remain uncertain, but in Christ we are already home. We do not have to worry that there will be no place for us or that our God will not receive us, because He has already united us to His household through His Son and included us in His purposes. This gives us the confidence to be courageous in the face of opposition whether inside or outside the church.”

 

 

 

Study Notes on Ephesians 1:1-2

17 Jul

As we begin to look at the text of the book of Ephesians tonight, we open with the greeting, a feature prominent in many letters from the ancient world. The greeting normally was composed of three parts: a statement of the identity of the author, a statement of the identity of the recipients and a wish of blessing or greeting from the author to the recipients. Paul follows this pattern in Ephesians but infuses his greeting with Christian meaning. Let’s read it together, see how it breaks down and then see how it ties into the rest of the letter . . .

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s look kind of phrase by phrase through these verses to get the lay of the land.

PAUL – Here we find the author of the letter, and like Galatians and Romans, Paul is named in the greeting as the sole author. This is a little bit surprising in Ephesians since we might expect Timothy to be named as a fellow worker in the greeting, as he is in other prison epistles (Philippians, Colossians and Philemon). We might especially expect Timothy to be named since he would have a ministry as an elder in the church in Ephesus. Yet he is not named here. We can’t know the reason why. There is just not enough information to even speculate. It will have to be sufficient to say that Paul is named as the sole author. Of this Paul I trust you already know much. A Hebrew of Hebrews from Tarsus, raised and trained under the Pharisaic strain of Judaism, a fastidious observer of the law. A man who, observing the nascent movement to Jesus among first century Jews, was alarmed and offended. A man who joined in the offense of the Jews at the preaching of Stephen, holding the cloaks of the men who went off to kill Stephen by stoning. A man who, in his offense at the followers of the way, made it his aim to pursue and prosecute and persecute Christians. A man who, while on his way to carry out persecutions in Damascus, was blinded by a great light and encountered by the risen Christ, who asked Paul, “why do you persecute me?” So identified in Christ with the sufferings of His Church that when Paul picked on the followers of Jesus he was picking on Jesus Himself. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul that day and Paul was led to a man named Ananias who reluctantly received this persecutor into his home even as God told Ananias of the special call and mission he had put on Paul’s life to be His messenger to the Gentiles. The epitome of Judaism, the epitome of one who can see, is blinded and sent to the Gentiles. And so much of Paul’s appeal to the Gentiles springs from this very truth. If one who persecuted Christians now praises Jesus, if one who was convinced of the sufficiency of Judaism now relies on the sufficiency of Christ, what of my gods, what of my idols? If one who had little to gain on this earth because he follows Jesus and much grief to receive instead, should I not consider this Christ? Paul’s own story was a powerful part of his ministry and should continue to be so for us today. We should never skip over just precisely who it is that is writing these letters, what his former life was like. There is not only the aspect of transformation, for which we praise God, there are also the theological underpinnings of Paul’s life, wherein we see that his statements about the insufficiency of the law to bring salvation and the insufficiency of Jewish ritual to bring peace come out of a background which had tried these things and found them wanting in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord.

 

An APOSTLE. Here we have an intentional title. At its core the word means “one sent, an emissary.” Here it is intended to enhance Paul’s authority in the eyes of his readers. Paul is not just a leader in the church, not just a missionary, he is an apostle. As such he is tied to those who established and founded not just the church in Ephesus but the Church worldwide. The apostles were those who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus who were then commissioned by Jesus to establish His Church, the gathered people of God. Paul was an unique apostle because his eyewitness account of the risen Jesus is from the Damascus Road. It was through that event that Jesus also commissioned him. This is in part probably why Paul calls himself elsewhere “the least of the apostles” and “an apostle untimely born.” His experience of Jesus was different that the other apostles. But it was no less legitimate. This reality that Paul was an apostle should cause the readers of the Ephesians to take special notice of his message. It is also important for us to remember that Paul calls himself an apostle when we reflect on three passages in Ephesians which highlight the importance of the apostles to the early church (2:19-21; 3:1-10; 4:11-12).

 

Of CHRIST JESUS. Paul is not an apostle unto himself. He is an apostle that belongs to Christ Jesus. Paul’s identity is not rooted in his knowledge or his past spectacular experiences. Paul’s identity is rooted in Jesus. This focus on identity is seen most clearly in his letter to the Philippians (1:21; 2:5-11; 3:7-14). Many people have written about the word order in Paul when it comes to Jesus, how sometimes he says “Jesus Christ” and sometimes “Christ Jesus” or sometimes just one name or the other. I think in this case the most likely significance with the word order is that Paul is pointing to the identity of Jesus, namely that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. In a letter that will center so richly on the blessings of salvation (1:3-14; 2:1-10 for example), Paul makes it clear from the outset that the one who secures the blessings of salvation is the Savior Jesus.

 

By the WILL OF GOD. This phrase is a re-affirmation of Paul’s authority. A fuller statement of the idea of this verse is found in Galatians 1:1 where Paul asserts that his authority comes not from man nor through any man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. So this phrase simply makes it clear that Paul’s ministry is from God and through the will of God and for the glory of God. Bryan Chappell says Paul’s statement that he ministers according to the will of God is his defense, his offense and his confidence. His defense in the sense that he can defend his authority to the church by rooting it in the will of God. His offense in the sense that he has been commissioned as an apostle by God to push against the darkness of this present evil age. His confidence in that Paul knows whom he has believed and is persuaded that He is able to keep that which Paul has committed. Paul is confident that He who began the good work will complete it. Paul is confident that God is faithful. The will of God gives us this sense of confidence. The will of God further gives us a sense of purpose. Therefore, where we see in the Word of God things that call us specifically in the will of God (our Sunday morning sermon from last week on 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is an example) we can move forward with confidence that God will honor that course. One of the places we see this confidence in Paul is in Ephesus in the book of Acts. We read in Acts 19:11-30 . . .

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him.

Did you notice that last line? Paul was ready to rush out into the crowd when they were on the verge of rioting. Why? Because he was confident in the will of God. Paul faced an overwhelming opposition with great confidence.

Chappell says of this, “We may face similar cause for despair, such as decades of abortion acceptance in our culture of promiscuity. Yet when we believe that the Word of God has spoken and that it is the will of God to use His people to overcome the greatest challenges, we will not only still dare to speak – we will also bother to speak. When we face the consequences and devastation of generations in poverty, we still fight for justice because we know the Savior we serve still delights in mercy and ministers His grace through it. When we face unbelief, ridicule, and long resistance to the gospel in our own families, we will not give up because of the faith that God’s Word can be on our lips. We will believe that God’s will in choosing us as His servants is our defense (even though others know our weakness), our offense (even though others may say we have no right to speak) and our confidence (even when there’s little likelihood of change from a human perspective).”

To the SAINTS – In calling the believers in Ephesus “saints” Paul is using a term that had often been used in the Old Testament to refer to the people of God (Psalm 16:3; 34:9; Daniel 7, etc.). The people of the old covenant were called “holy ones” because God had chosen them and set them apart. They were to reflect His holiness through their lives (Leviticus 11:45). In the new covenant, this language was adopted by Luke (Acts 9:3), Jude (Jude 3), John (Rev. 5:8) and the author of Hebrews (Hb. 3:1). But nobody uses the language of saints more than Paul. Most of his letters greet believers as “saints” including Ephesians. It is important to remember here that when Paul uses saints, he is not referring to a group of elite believers, as the word is often used today. Sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church is probably the most obvious expression of this kind of thinking. But when Paul used saints, he was thinking of all true believers. He even used the term to refer to churches that were less than stellar in their attitudes and actions (Corinth) but were still composed of those who had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. The significance of Paul’s use of this term for the Ephesians though should not be lost on us. Markus Barth says, “Paul bestows upon all his pagan-born hearers a privilege formerly reserved in Israel for special servants (especially priests) of God.” And we too, through the work of Christ, are saints, set apart to God’s person and purpose.

In EPHESUS – The fact that these saints were in Ephesus should not be passed over lightly. As we said last week, Ephesus was an important city in Asia Minor and the center of the cult of Artemis, a cult of pagan worship complete with sexual immorality and greed as notable elements. It was a place of pervasive sin. These believers were plopped down in the midst of a crooked and twisted world, yet their location was a part of their identity. Yes, they were saints. But they were in Ephesus, not a saintly place. Chappell wrestles with this in his commentary . . .
“For how could there be ‘holy ones’ in a placed where politics, philosophy, economics and religion all intertwined to capture an entire culture in pervasive sin? This is a question not only for Paul’s day. For once we face the pervasiveness of sin around us and in us today, we too may wonder if there can be any holy ones where we live. Can there really be saints, consecrated ones, in a culture of pervasive sin? At one level the answer must be no. For if materialism pervades a culture, how can even Christians not misplace priorities about work, money, time, and family? Can a mother of small children not on occasion feel victimized by them for denying her a better career path? If pornography surrounds u, how can even those whose marriages are healthy and whose morals are right not be tainted by impurity? In a religious culture that worships numbers, affluence and size, are there any who are not guilty of pragmatism for the sake of success or envy of those who apparently have more than we? In a political culture convinced that human power is a path to glory, have any escaped the lust for power? In a culture where sin is pervasive, there are none who are untouched, but that does not mean sin is overpowering. By some measures our challenges will always appear pervasive and overwhelming, but through the gospel we should also realize that they can be overcome.”

And are FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS – This word translated ‘faithful’ in the ESV is taken by most commentators and some translations as “believing” or “who are believers.” This is the way the Bauer Lexicon, the major Greek lexicon, takes it. They hold that it has an active force and is not looking so much at the track record of behavior among the Ephesians as at the trust they have placed in Christ. Faith is a major theme in Ephesians (1:13, 15, 19; 2:8; 3:12). Where I want to land in this phrase though is not in the discussion over the translation of the first words but in an emphasis on the last words. These believers are “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has set up a deliberate contrast here in the two phrases he has just laid before us. On the one hand these saints are “in Ephesus” on the other hand these believers are “in Christ.” They have a physical home but they also have a spiritual home through their union with Christ. They may be surrounded by sin but they are secure in Christ. This is the secret to living in a pagan world in holiness: our union with Christ. Yet we live in the world. Stott captures these ideas nicely, “Paul’s description of his readers is thus comprehensive. They are ‘saints’ because they belong to God; they are ‘believers’ because they have trusted in Christ; and they have two homes, for they reside equally ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Ephesus.’ Indeed all Christian people are saints and believers, and live both in Christ and in the secular world, or ‘in the heavenlies’ and on earth. Many of our spiritual troubles arise from our failure to remember that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We tend either to pursue Christ and withdraw from the world, or to become preoccupied with the world and forget that we are also in Christ.”

Let’s finish up tonight by taking a look at Paul’s classic greeting in verse 2 . . .

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul uses this greeting in many of his letters but it may be that he uses it with greatest significance to the rest of the book here in Ephesians, for both grace and peace are prominent themes of the letter.

GRACE to you – Paul replaces the common greeting of the day, charein, with a word with a deeper Christian meaning, charis, “grace.” Clinton Arnold says, “Paul could choose no better word than ‘grace’ to characterize the heart of his gospel message and, in fact, the heart of his theology. For Paul, God’s grace was the defining characteristic of the new covenant: “for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all (Titus 2:11). The term itself was well-known in the Graeco-Roman world and was often used to denote the favor of the gods or the emperor toward people.”  But Paul probably also had in mind the old covenant concept of grace seen in Exodus 34 in the description given of God as gracious and kind and slow to anger and abounding in faithful love for His people. Paul believed in grace. He used the word almost 100 times in his letters. Grace is God’s favor to sinners through no merit of their own, secured through the merits of Christ, whose perfect life and atoning death God accepted as a sacrifice in the place of sinners. And the grace that saves also sanctifies. As Titus 2 says, this grace has appeared that we might say no to ungodliness and live upright and godly lives in this present evil age. The reminder we need for our lives is the one the Lord gives us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.” We are not under law but under grace. Grace will be a major theme in Ephesians, most notably in 2:5, 7, and 8 along with 4:7.

and PEACE – Here is the Jewish greeting, the shalom wish. It is especially appropriate in Ephesians, where Paul spills much ink explaining how Jesus has abolished the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile to bring forth one people of God, that his greeting contain elements which would put both groups under the same umbrella. In the midst of a pagan world, the saints in Ephesus needed peace. In a mixed church of Jew and Gentile, the saints in Ephesus needed peace. But most of all, before a holy God, these former idol worshipers needed peace. Thankfully, that peace comes to them through the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the chief promises of the New Covenant is the promise of peace. Ezekiel calls it a covenant of peace. Isaiah says it will be inaugurated by the Messiah, who is called ‘the Prince of Peace.’ Zechariah says it will be established by a humble king who will ‘come and speak peace to the nations.’ The angels announce at the birth of Christ, ‘peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests.’ Jesus announced in the Upper Room, ‘peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’ And of course Paul has dealt with the issue of peace with God most powerfully in Romans 5:1, “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians, peace is seen supremely in the way the gospel brings peace among Jew and Gentile, making the two one and tearing down the wall of hostility. Altogether, grace and peace are referenced 20 times in Ephesians. So Paul’s greeting here may be more intentional than in his other letters. The very themes of Ephesians flow from this simple greeting in verses 1 and 2.

Finally, we see tonight the last phrase . . .

from GOD OUR FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST – Here the emphasis in on two of the three Persons of the Trinity. The Spirit will later receive great attention in Ephesians, making the book one of the most deeply Trinitarian books in the Bible. At this point, the emphasis is on the Father and Son as the source of grace and peace. The focus on the Father here is that He is God, in contrast to the false gods of Ephesus, and that He is OUR Father, we are part of His family. Those who were far off have been brought near. The focus on the Son here is that He is Lord, in contrast to the Emperor, and that He is our Savior, who opens the way to life with God.

Stott sums all of this up very well when he says, “Finally, before leaving the introduction to the letter, we must not miss the vital link between the author, the readers and the message. It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For Paul the author is ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus’, the readers are themselves in Christ Jesus, and the blessing comes to them both from God our Father and from . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who are bracketed as the single spring from which grace and peace flow forth. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ dominates Paul’s mind and fills his vision. It seems almost as if he feels compelled to bring Jesus Christ into every sentence as he writes, at least at the beginning of this letter. For it is through and in Jesus Christ that God’s new society has come into being.

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Jericho

17 Jul

In our day of high technology we might think that military battle has changed. In some ways it has. To be sure, in Joshua there were no drones or missiles. There were no battleships off the Mediterranean coast. It was just man-to-man combat. But even today, military leaders study the battles of history, because there are principles there that are unchanging. With the people of Israel, as the returned to the land God had promised them, they used two tried and true strategies. First, they divide and conquer. Jericho was in the heart of the land. By cutting through the middle of the land and establishing strength, the peoples of the land would be weakened and become more subject to defeat at Israel’s hand. Second, Israel’s strategy is to claim the high ground. They go into Jericho which is at the foot of the hill country. From Jericho as a base they can go up into Ai and from there they can go into all the hill country and have the military advantage. So the things Israel did were not unusual on one level. They were strategies that were tried and true even in that day. But when we actually read Joshua chapter 6, we find that the way they carried out this well-worn strategy was highly unusual, because it was all directed by God and involved God’s miraculous intervention.

As Christians, we don’t look particularly different from the rest of the world. We all do many of the same things the rest of the world does: we eat, sleep, get dressed, work, travel, manage money, have families, go to school and all the rest. But there is in the life of a Christian to be a pattern of life that is unique. This pattern is laid out in the account of the battle of Jericho but it appears all through the Bible and is still at work in our lives as well. The pattern works whether we are in the battle of Jericho or whether we are in the battle of school or whether we are in the battle of the office or whether we are in the battle of parenting toddlers or teenagers or whether we are in the battle of aging. There is a time-tested, Holy Spirit-inspired pattern for living which we would do well to remember: it is simply this . . . God Gives the Word, God Gives the Way, God Gives the Win.

GOD GIVES THE WORD     Look at Joshua 6:1-2 . . .

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.

In Jericho, God gave the word to Joshua. He gave it in the form of a command and a promise. The command had been the long-standing call of God for the people of Israel to go back from Egypt into their God-given land and conquer that land. The promise was that the Lord would be with them and that they would be successful. This theme of command and promise runs all throughout scripture. This is how God works. He calls us to His purposes and gives us His promises. Our calling first and foremost is to trust Him. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did at Jericho. This is what we are to do in our lives. When we see a command of God that is for us in the Bible, we should trust God enough to walk in that truth. It is true that we are not under law but under grace but it is also true that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Jesus’ chief commands to us are to believe on Him and to love God and one another. But the New Testament is filled with specific ways we can love God and one another and though we are not under the Old Testament law, it too is filled with God-inspired wisdom for living. So the question is not only will we believe the Bible is the Word of God, the question is will we really listen to what it says and walk in its truth? I know there are people today who take the Bible literally but they don’t take the Bible seriously. Jesus really did say what He said for our sakes. His sayings should not be quarantined for some other age. The apostles wrote letters to churches which were intended for the saints through all the ages. And the Old Testament, as Paul reminds us, was written for our instruction. So we are to hear and heed the commands of God by faith. But the other part of that well-worn biblical formula is true as well, with the command comes a promise. The reward of obedience is real. God rewards faithful obedience. When we walk in His ways we reap life and strength and blessing. When we wander from His ways we reap weakness and confusion and defeat. This is why Israel in obedience had victory over the larger city in Jericho but in disobedience was thrown into confusion and defeat in the tiny town of Ai. Remember this truth. Command and promise. God Gives the Word.

 GOD GIVES THE WAY        Look at verses 3 through 5 . . .

You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

God gives the way for His commands to be fulfilled and His promises to be unleashed. When we read of His way in Joshua 6 we should be struck by the oddness of His ways to our way of thinking. No weapons, no siege works and military posturing. Just a march around the city, the blowing of trumpets, the presence of the ark. But with it the promise of a miracle. Walls will fall.

The ways of God are foolishness to the unspiritual person. God’s seemingly strange ways are on display all through the Bible. Noah builds an ark before an incredulous audience. God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac and Abraham is willing until God intervenes. God elevates the slave Joseph to second in command in Egypt. God calls Moses at 80 years old to lead Israel out of Egypt. Gideon has this huge army to square off against the Midianites until God tells him to whittle it down to 300 and gives him a strategy that involves torches and breaking pitchers. Over and over all through the Bible God’s strange ways are on display. And nowhere is this more evident than in the coming of the Lord Jesus Himself. God comes to us as a baby, a baby. A baby born to a family of lowly means, a baby raised in an obscure place. A baby who is the Son of God yet who had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should be drawn to Him. A King who has nowhere to lay His head. One who controls nature and demons and disease and death and yet submitted Himself to death, even death on a cross. The God-Man, who cried out in agony “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”

Hallelujah, what a Savior! God Gives the Way. Jesus, who said, “I AM the WAY and the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.”

God Gives the Word, God Gives the Way and finally . . .

GOD GIVES THE WIN

Look at verse 20 . . .

20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.

God gave the win. This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. If you will believe God’s Word and follow God’s Way you will have God’s Win. This doesn’t mean of course that all in your life will be blessed according to your desires or definition but it does mean you will be blessed. You will be blessed with deeper and fuller intimacy with God. You will be blessed with a heart that can see and savor God as never before. You will be blessed with stability of heart that can take both the hardships and joys of life with a right perspective of humility and hope. God defines the win but it is indeed a win. God can define wins better than we. We sometimes think something is a win when God knows having that thing would destroy us. I don’t want my wins, I want God’s wins for me. And I know that if I trust in God’s Word and follow God’s Way I will experience God’s Win. In fact, even my losses will be wins because God will work in all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The dividing line between the miserable and the mighty in faith is this message. To hear a Word from God and to know the Way of God and not walk in it is of all things most miserable. Like going to a weight loss seminar when you have no intention of changing your diet. You see the success stories, you hear of the exciting changes but deep down you know you are just going to keep eating Twinkies. That is the life of many people in churches all over America today. I suggest to you that the perpetually discouraged person has faltered somewhere along the line to believe that God gives the Word, God gives the Way and God gives the Win.

If you are discouraged, defeated, burned out, broken down or otherwise just inwardly drained this morning, I encourage you to carefully consider the pattern we see in Joshua 6: God gives the Word, God gives the Way, God gives the Win. In thinking about your life, is your heart in alignment with these three truths? Or is your faith failing at one or more of these points? This is the issue that you need to settle in your heart and re-affirm in your mind day by day. Today I will take seriously what God has said, I will follow the steps He has given me for my life, and I will experience His victory on His terms for my eternal good, for His glory and for the blessing of others.

Nowhere is the truth of this passage clearer than at the cross. God gave the Word before the foundation of the world that He would redeem a people for Himself through the sacrifice of His Son. God gave the Way: in the fullness of time God sent His Son born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law. It looked foolish to many. Many said he had a demon. His own family said He was crazy. But Jesus set His face like a flint to obey the Father. This was His mission first and foremost: obedience to the Father. And God gave the Win. Through suffering, through death, through the empty tomb, God gave the Win. It was difficult a road of suffering that led to victory. And so it will be for us. Wins are costly. Our victory cost the life’s blood of God’s Son and our daily victories cost us death to self. But they are victories. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper today, remember this word from Joshua 6 and from all the Scriptures: God Gives the Word, God Gives the Way, God Gives the Win.  We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Amen.

Sermon: Joshua’s Seminary

17 Jul

          I hope you have been doing your daily Bible reading and that you were blessed in reading the first five chapters of Joshua this week. As we get Back to Basics in 2018, Bible reading, prayer and meditation should be an important part of your life as a follower of Jesus. So I hope you will read the scriptures each day, and think about what you read, and pray it back to God, along with your other requests. To be honest, reading the Bible is not very helpful without meditation. If you don’t spend some real time prayerfully thinking about what you read, most of the time Bible reading won’t strengthen you spiritually as it should. So just a word of encouragement.

          Now today’s message is going to be unusual because I am not actually going to talk this morning about the chapters you read this week. Instead, I am going to talk about the things Joshua experienced leading up to the time when he assumed leadership of Israel in Joshua 1. So I’ve called today’s message Joshua’s Seminary. We are going to look today at the training God gave this man for leadership. In so doing we will have a better grasp on the book of Joshua and, Lord willing, we will gain many insights into our lives as followers of Jesus. God’s training is not just for those who go to school formally. God wants to teach us all through the school of life to follow Him. His school unfolds over a period of years. God work in our lives isn’t time-restricted, He can work right now into your lives things that may not become apparent until many years from now. So this is a message about God’s ways and work in our lives.

          Joshua’s story starts long before the book that bears his name. He experienced the events of deliverance in the book of Exodus. He saw the plagues against Egypt, he took part in the Passover meal and saw the blood of a lamb protect him and his household. He saw the angel of death strike the firstborn of Egypt. He ventured out with the people of Israel as they left Egypt. He saw God’s deliverance at the Red Sea. He walked through on dry land. In the fearful wilderness, he saw God’s provision of manna . . . and he saw the challenges of leadership Moses faced. He saw sinful human nature on full display in the people of Israel. Joshua was there, seeing all these things. But we don’t meet Joshua formally until Exodus chapter 17. He is a military leader of Israel’s armies, going out to face the Amalekites, a people who had expressly opposed not only the nation of Israel, but the living God. A nation which God opposed because of their rebellion against Him. So our first introduction to Joshua comes in a battle that was both physical and spiritual.

And in that first battle in Exodus 17 God introduced Joshua to an important principle: the battle is the Lord’s. Yes, we are called to do things, yes, there are missions and callings God gives us, but without His empowering, it’s all in vain. You see that first battle in which Joshua was mentioned was the episode at Rephidim where the Amalekites attacked the Israelites as Moses sat on a nearby hill with the staff of God in his hand. When Moses raised the staff, Israel prevailed, but when his arms got tired and drooped, the tide of battle turned. In the end, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and held up his arms so that Israel won the battle. The truth of this victory was not to be lost on Joshua, and neither should it be for us. The battle is the Lord’s. We trust in His power to bring victory. This is supremely true of course in our salvation. We are helpless and hopeless without the Lord, lost in our sins, under God’s judgement, destined for hell. But God brings us victory through the sinless life and sacrificial death of His Son Jesus. Jesus died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice, bearing the penalty of our sins, bearing the wrath of God. When we turn from trusting in self and sin and trust in Jesus, God wins the battle, Satan is defeated and heaven rejoices. This lesson Joshua learned early on is an essential truth of life: Salvation is of the Lord! So we might call Joshua’s first Seminary class Principles of Spiritual Victory.

We encounter Joshua next in Exodus 24 at Mt. Sinai, after God gave the law to Moses. Here Joshua is with Moses among a group of leaders; Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel go partway up the mountain where they see a revelation of God’s presence and eat together in the presence of God. Then the Bible says Moses and Joshua were called up higher upon the mountain, to receive the tablets of stone, and there God’s glory was manifested. Exodus 24:17 says, “And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” So in this episode Joshua learned of the grace and glory of God. The God of the universe would condescend to be presence at a meal and share fellowship with these men, but in the next breath Joshua saw the blazing power of this God on the mountain. Theologians talk about God’s transcendence and immanence, that He is not like us but at the same time He is near us. Joshua learned this truth about God in a very personal way long before he led Israel. In this episode Joshua also learned another important lesson. Three of the men who went with him: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, saw the same things he saw. They ate the meal in God’s presence and saw God’s glory on the mountain. And yet, each one of them turned away from the Lord in a significant way; Aaron through his involvement in the golden calf incident and Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, through offering an offering according to their own designs in Leviticus 10, a sin for which the Lord put them to death. Joshua would see a very clear example of the fact that being in a position of leadership and even having great experiences of God’s power does not make you a godly leader. Aaron and Nadab and Abihu were priests of God, but their hearts were not right with God. It is a sobering fact that those who shared such intimate fellowship in God’s presence could rebel so deeply against Him. But is it not true that we have seen His glory? Is it not true that we are invited to fellowship with Jesus? So Joshua’s lesson should be ours: don’t presume a knowledge of God or experience of God guarantees a life-long pattern of spiritual maturity. And if you are a leader, don’t let your past real experiences of God blind you to your need to continue to walk closely and humbly with Him. Joshua’s Second Seminary class we might call: The God of Grace and Glory.

When we next meet Joshua it is in the aftermath of a national tragedy: the golden calf. Here Joshua, coming down the mountain with Moses after having received the tablets of commandments, heard the people in the valley after they had made the golden calf. As a general, Joshua’s mind turned to war. He told Moses, “I hear the sound of war in the camp.” But Moses said, “No, it is not the sound of war, it is the sound of singing.” Normally singing would be better than war, but not this time. God had told Moses what the people had done, and he knew this singing was the singing of an idolatrous people. These people had made a false god and attached the true God’s name to it. And, as always happens when we worship idols, they descended into immorality at the foot of the mountain, throwing a wild celebration of a false god, even as Moses was coming down the mountain with the stone tablets of commandments of the true God.

Joshua learned much through this event. He learned about the pull of idolatry and how we naturally turn toward worshiping false gods or trying to refashion the true God to suit our own desires. He learned about how easy it is for a leader to succumb to pressure, as Aaron was persuaded by the people to make the calf. But Joshua also saw the glory of true leadership in Moses. On the one hand, Moses threw down the stone tablets and had the calf ground to dust which he made the Israelites drink. There was in Moses the righteous anger of a good leader in response to the sins of the people. It is true that some preachers just preach with unrighteous anger, they are just letting off steam on those unfortunate enough to be hearing them. But a true leader will be grieved at sin in himself and in those he leads, and will express that grief at times in real ways. That was what I was feeling last week in the message from 1 Thessalonians 4 about sexual immorality. All last week I just felt the heaviness of the sexual sin that is all around us and how tragically it undercuts our intimacy with God. I grieve over so many lives here, including myself during some periods of my life, who could be so much more for the kingdom if they would align their sexual lives with God’s standards and turn away from worldly standards of sexual morality. So I urge you, if you haven’t read that sermon yet, to get it online and read it. But Joshua not only saw the intense desire for holiness that is evident in every good leader, he also saw Moses’ heart of love. Most people don’t associate the golden calf incident with love on Moses’ part but it is an episode of tender love, which would not have been lost on Joshua. You see, as I said a minute ago, before Moses ever got down the mountain, God told him what the Israelites had done. And God told Moses He would destroy the Israelites and begin again with Moses as a great nation. But Moses, with the love only a great leader could have, interceded for the people, begging God on the basis of His promises to Abraham to spare them. And God did spare them. Joshua saw here the tender compassion of a man who had every reason to just go along with God on this. Moses could have been the father of the nation instead of Abraham and rebellious people could have been rightly judged. Moses could have started fresh with a group of people who were not such troublemakers. But he does none of that. Instead, he lifts these very rebellious people up to the throne of God. My friends, would you pray for your pastors to be men like Moses? Would you pray that we would be committed to a life of holiness but also full of compassion for sinners? Would you pray that we would be men who do not first and foremost criticize church members, but intercede for them? Would you ask God to strengthen us to be men of prayer? What lessons Joshua was learning in these years of preparation. We might call Joshua’s third Seminary class: Spiritual Leadership.

          The fourth and final encounter we have with Joshua in the book of Exodus is found in chapter 33. We read there in verse 8, “Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. They would all watch Moses until he disappeared inside. As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. When the people saw the cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents. Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.” Now it is not clear cut as to why Joshua remained behind. Perhaps he was there to assist others who may have come by with a need to the Tent of Meeting. But regardless of why he lingered, think for a minute about the fact that Joshua was here with Moses at the Tent of Meeting. Consider the effect Moses’ intimate relationship with God must have had on Joshua. Consider how he must have been shaped by the prayers of Moses, by the wonder of the truth that God would speak with a man as a friend with a friend. Do you have anyone you can walk beside in this life, who could serve as a spiritual mentor to you? Maybe you could ask God to show you someone like that or bring someone like that into your life. Joshua’s fourth class we might call Spiritual Formation.

          Up to this point Joshua’s actions have been mostly positive, but in Numbers 11 he learns a hard lesson in leadership . . . 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Joshua’s fifth class might be called . . . Leadership for the Glory of God. Joshua made the mistake of trying to defend Moses rather than honoring God. He thought that Eldad and Medad were somehow disrespecting Moses or trying to take leadership from him. But Moses was not offended. Moses was happy about any display of God-glorifying ministry. Moses did not feel like he had to do all the ministry. He had once felt this need to do it all early on, but his father-in-law Jethro told him the work was too much for him and that he needed helpers. Now Moses, in the maturity of his years, welcomes ministry from all the people. Joshua had not yet gotten to this point of surrendering the territorial instinct. He had not yet progressed spiritually to the point of seeing that while leadership is important, the contributions of all the people are equally important. I have struggled with this through the years. On the one hand, I am looked to as a leaders, and I am one of the people who gets paid, so I should bear a certain responsibility. But the life of the church must never be about me getting my way. It must never be about me turning everyone to my agenda. This is a hard thing to carry out because there really is a biblical calling to leadership but at the same time there is not a biblical calling to lordship. We are leaders, not lords, and the responsibility of God’s kingdom work rests on all the people of God. My hope for you is that this church would become a place where your gifts are expressed and your service is valued and that we would never be a pastor-centered church but would always be a Jesus-centered church.

Perhaps the most famous appearance of Joshua before the book of Joshua itself is his part in Numbers 13, where he was one of the 12 spies of Israel who checked out the Promised Land as the Israelites prepared to enter it. Of course most of you know the story. All of the 12 entering the land said it was a great and bountiful land, but only Joshua and Caleb recommended going in to take the land. The others turned away in fear because of the people who lived in the land. The people were persuaded by the ten to not go in. Joshua and Caleb responded with great faith . . . And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” I call this class in Joshua’s Seminary: Profiles in Courage. What a life of courage Joshua and Caleb lived before the people. In the aftermath of the statement they made, they didn’t see a great agreement with them. Instead, the people wanted to stone them. Even when almost everybody was against him, Joshua took his stand with God. May we follow in his steps in a world that does not value God’s Word and God’s promises.

In the end, Joshua graduated God’s Seminary. In Numbers 26 the mantle of leadership was confirmed and in Deuteronomy 31 when Moses addressed the people he spoke words of encouragement and commission to Joshua . . . And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

If you read the first five chapters of Joshua, you will remember that the Lord’s word to Joshua was the same as Moses’ “be strong and courageous.” But notice Moses’ commission of Joshua was not based on Joshua’s goodness or ability. It was not based on Joshua’s importance. It was not based on anything in Joshua at all. Joshua was told to be strong and courageous based on two things: the presence of God (the Lord you God goes with you, He will not leave you or forsake you) and the promise of God (you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them). You can face your days with courage if you are mindful of Joshua’s Seminary. You may be facing difficult circumstances. Are you facing them in your own power or are you trusting in God for victory? Are you encouraged that you serve a God of infinite power and abounding grace? Do you as a Christian desire to walk in God’s ways through a life of holiness and love? Do you desire not only to walk in God’s ways but to walk with God? Will you walk humbly with Him, being willing to worthy to learn from your failures and mistakes in service? Will you live with courage, clinging to the presence of God and the promise of God? As God leads you through your life’s seminary, may you grow closer to Him through His Son Jesus and go in service to Him all your days.

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

 

This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.

 

 

 

 

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

25 Jun

If you are studying Ephesians with us this summer, you may find this brief introduction helpful . . .

Ephesians: A Brief Introduction

One of the best books in the Bible for grasping a sense of what it means to be a Christian, Ephesians is a beloved book filled with memorable passages.

Unlike many of the other New Testament letters, there is no clear situation or problem in the church that Paul cites as his reason for writing. This matches somewhat the assessment of the church in Ephesus in Revelation. The church is commended for its practices but challenged that it has lost its first love. Though removed some decades from Paul’s writings, Revelation may nevertheless give us some insight into Paul’s motivation for writing Ephesians. Perhaps even at this early stage, the Ephesian church needed to be reminded of the riches they had in Christ and how appreciation of such riches should shape our lifestyle and make us people of joyful praise.

Many people regard Ephesians as deeply doctrinal (and it is) but this doctrinal focus results in deep practical applications. This little book of six chapters speaks to dozens of issues of everyday life application. Some have called Ephesians a theological song. To be sure, the atmosphere of praise that fills the book is an attraction for most readers. Ephesians is not trying to prove something to skeptics and it is not especially heavy-handed toward believers. Instead, the focus is on proclaiming the earth-shaking gospel with all its implications for living.

Ephesians moves through six chapters in prayer and praise and proclamation. The book is just 2500 words but it is power-packed by the Holy Spirit.

AUTHOR

For the first 1800 years of church history, there was no dispute that Ephesians was written by Paul. But in the 19th century biblical scholarship took on a more critical and even skeptical tone. Authorship of many biblical books began to be challenged, Ephesians included. The chief reason for disputing Pauline authorship, apart from the fact that the vocabulary of the book is somewhat different from some of his other letters, is the difference between the account of Paul in Ephesus and his demeanor in the letter. In Acts, Paul had a deep, intimate, years’ long relationship with the Ephesians. They parted with tears in their eyes when Paul moved on in his ministry. But in Ephesians, there are no prolonged greetings, little in the way of personal reference and nothing much that denotes Paul’s personal involvement in the ministry of this church. This difference caused many authors to question Pauline authorship. But there could be many reasons for this difference other than non-Pauline authorship. The letter may have been distributed, as were some of Paul’s other letters, to multiple locales around Ephesus and so Paul kept it more general. It may also be that Paul wished to focus his attention in a special way in Ephesians on Christ and not on particular people. In addition, the intimacy in the letter may be said to exist in the heart of praise that overflows in Paul. He loves the Lord Jesus and he wants to share His glories with this beloved church. And as John Stott notes in his commentary, FF Bruce said, “The man who could write Ephesians must have been the apostle’s equal, if not his superior, in mental stature and spiritual insight . . . Of such a second Paul early Christian history has no knowledge.”

RECIPIENTS

The church in Ephesus was the primary audience for this book, though it may have been distributed to other locales and through the preservation of the Holy Spirit it has, of course, come down to us. Early church history affirms this, as Irenaeus in his Against Heresies says the letter was written to the Ephesians. This is a reference from the second century, so it is early. A hundred years later or so Cyprian bishop of Carthage says the letter was to the Ephesians as well. Ephesus is the only place name that has ever been associated with this letter, but interestingly, three early manuscripts that have been found of the book omit the reference to Ephesus in verse 1. This has led many scholars to believe that the letter may have been a circular letter distributed among a number of churches in the area.

WHAT SORT OF PLACE WAS EPHESUS?

Ephesus was a large and important city in the ancient world, located in modern day Turkey (Asia Minor). At the time Ephesians was written, Ephesus and its immediate environs likely had a population of around 250,000. Ephesus was called the “Mother City” of Asia because of its influential status as a metropolis. It was a major port city for western Asia. In its part of the world at the time of Paul, Ephesus was the most important city, outstripped only by Alexandria to the south in Egypt and Rome in Italy. Ephesus had a diverse population (including a significant Jewish population). Because of its diversity and the Roman Empire’s desire for peace, religious tolerance was promoted in Ephesus as in other places in the Empire. However, in Ephesus this was especially difficult because of the city’s attachment to the cult of Artemis (or Diana). The temple of Artemis, just outside of Ephesus, was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Artemis’ influence was found all over Ephesus. Her image was on the money, games were held in her honor, banking was done in the city on the temple premises. Artemis was seen as a god of fertility and blessing and was seen as having authority over the spirit world. In Acts, Luke tells us that the gospel impacted the Artemis cult because many were turning away from it to follow Jesus. This caused a great uprising that nearly led to Paul’s death. So this atmosphere of spirituality pervaded Ephesus.

But the spirituality of Ephesus was not a biblical spirituality. When the new believers in Ephesus saw the power of God at work, they burned their magical texts, texts worth 50,000 days of wages according to Luke. It is important to remember than many people in Ephesus who became part of the church had been deeply involved in the Artemis cult. This explains perhaps why Paul focused on the unseen spiritual world so much in Ephesians.

There was a strong Jewish element in Ephesus, with some estimates saying as much as 10% of the population was Jewish. There is some evidence that some Jews in Asia Minor during this time practiced what is called “folk Judaism,” a blending of pagan and Jewish practice that again believed in magical unseen spiritual forces. So the Jewish-background audience of Ephesians could benefit from Paul’s discussion of the unseen spiritual world in chapter 6 as well.

We also have to remember that in the first century the Jews were under a lot of pressure from Rome politically. Acts talks about Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in AD 49 and we know of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 clarifying expectations for Gentiles. Based on the things Paul talks about in chapter 2 there may have been Jew/Gentile tensions in the church in Ephesus.

But Paul is careful to emphasize in Ephesians that the big enemy is not other ethnicities nor is it the power of the Empire. The spiritual powers are the key focus of the book. We will be seeking to understand these and how they relate to physical powers as we look together at these things.

DATE

Paul mentions his imprisonment on two occasions (3:1 and 6:20) and this is likely Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome recorded in Acts 28. More than likely this imprisonment was in AD 60-62 and if it is the one referred to in Ephesians that would set the date for us. This would make it one of Paul’s later letters.

WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENT IS EPHESIANS?

Unlike Hebrews, which we said was a sermonic document, or Revelation, which is an Apocalyptic document, or Acts, which is a historic document, Ephesians has all the classic marks of an epistle. There is a brief introduction, a body and a conclusion. There are also items found in Paul’s other letters like extensive prayers, household codes and extended theological discourses. In short, Ephesians is a letter.

WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has a classic “Indicative/Imperative” structure. The first half of the book gives us the statements of truth about Christ which provide the theological undergirding for the second half of the book, the imperatives, which provide us with the implications of our theology. What we believe leads to what we do. Ephesians works according to this pattern.

WHAT ARE THE KEYWORDS AND THEMES OF EPHESIANS?

Ephesians has several keywords which give us insight into Paul’s meaning in the book. First, there is the word “walk,” which is repeated throughout the book. This is an important part of Paul’s approach to application. In a way you can understand the book of Ephesians around this word “walk.” We’ll look at that as we continue in the study.

Another key theme of the book is the “mystery.” Interestingly, the mystery in Ephesians is different than the mystery in Colossians. We’ll explore about this too later in the study.

Still another theme, and one of the reasons I am so excited about Ephesians, is the theme of the Church. Paul emphasizes the Church throughout the letter. There is great value here for us as we walk as a local church in today’s world.

Another key theme is the gospel’s power to save and to unify Jew and Gentile under Christ. This will be a big theme we will explore.

The biggest message of the book is the transforming power of the gospel. The good news of Jesus transforms us personally, transforms human relationships from racial groups to families to the church.

Other important themes include an emphasis on prayer (prayers and verses about prayer take up a significant part of the book). There is also an emphasis on praise, particularly in chapter 1.

Finally, Ephesians may be the most Trinitarian of all of Paul’s letters in the sense that Father, Son and Spirit receive somewhat equal attention and emphasis. Romans is somewhat like this too and perhaps it makes sense that Paul’s two most theologically rich works would be his two most Trinitarian work. I hope we’ll be able to explore the significance of the Trinity in our weeks together.

CONTROVERSIES

The chief controversial passages in Ephesians today are the ethical instructions of chapters 5 and 6, particularly the instructions regarding husbands and wives and slaves and masters. We will take our time and face these issues thoroughly and head-on.

So I want to encourage you to come join us each week as we study this great book.

 

Ephesians: A Verse-by-Verse Study

25 Jun

Last night we began a study of the book of Ephesians on Sunday nights. In this post, I want to explain how we can get the most out of this study and where we are going in terms of our schedule . . .

 

How to Get the Most Out of This Study

  1. Read the book of Ephesians often. The more you can read through the book of Ephesians the more connections and applications you will see when we study through it together. If you could read through the book at least once a week for the duration of this study, you would have read through the book dozens of times at a minimum.
  2. Come consistently to the Sunday Night Study. Your attendance on Sunday night is the key to getting the most out of this study.
  3. Participate on Sunday Nights. We have some knowledgeable people here. There are some who have been pastors and missionaries here with us every Sunday Night. I want to encourage you not to be intimidated. Ask your questions. Make comments. No one knows everything and we can all learn from each other. I expect to learn from you even though I am leading the study and giving significant time to it each week.
  4. Make notes. Use the sheets provided each week and insert them into a notebook. It is a good idea to journal about what you read each time you read through the book. Write down questions that arise and applications you see. Write down truths you can praise God for in your daily life.
  5. Pray through the book. Read Ephesians at times in a meditative way, looking to turn the truths you are seeing there into personal prayer. For example, when you come to chapter 6 and the armor of God, you can pray about each item of the armor, praising God and thanking Him for His provision. Praying through the book in this way can greatly enrich your experience in this study.
  6. Watch the Facebook stream on the weeks that you miss. You don’t have to miss a single week of the study because it is streamed every week on Facebook. Just look up West Hickory Baptist Church and you should find it there.
  7. Keep the conversation going. Talk to one another outside of the Study about things you are interested in studying further. Encourage each other about the great truths we are learning.
  8. Keep application in mind. This study is not about learning. It is about learning which leads to life transformation. Think often about how the truths of Ephesians are shaping you. Think often about how your life can more fully conform to the truths of this book.

A Word About Our Approach

We will be studying Ephesians verse-by-verse. Many Sundays we will only cover just one verse. Some weeks we will spend significant time on just one word. At the same time, we will always be trying to keep the big picture in mind. As we close each week, we will be trying to see how the particular verse or verses we’ve studied is connected to its immediate context and to the book as a whole. At times we will also trace how the themes of Ephesians connect to the rest of Scripture. So we will be concerned not only with understanding each verse but also with understanding the message of the book as a whole.

Our Anticipated Schedule

This schedule is subject to change but this is what I anticipate going forward for 2018 as we work through the book.

June 24 – Introduction to the Study

July 1 – NO EVENING SERVICE

July 8 – Ephesians 1:1-2

July 15 – Ephesians 1:3

July 22 – Ephesians 1:4

July 29 – Ephesians 1:5-6

August 5 – Ephesians 1:7-8

August 12 – Ephesians 1:9-10

August 19 – Ephesians 1:11-12

August 26 – Ephesians 1:13

September 2 – NO EVENING SERVICE

September 9 – Ephesians 1:14

September 16 – CHURCH PICNIC

September 23 – Ephesians 1:15-16

September 30 – Ephesians 1:17

October 7 – Ephesians 1:18

October 14 – Ephesians 1:19

October 21 – Ephesians 1:20-21

October 28 – Ephesians 1:22-23

November 4 – PRAYER DAY

November 11 – Ephesians 2:1

November 18 – Ephesians 2:2

November 25 – Ephesians 2:3

December 2 – Ephesians 2:4

December 9 – CHRISTMAS CANTATA

December 16 – Ephesians 2:5

December 23 – NO EVENING SERVICE

December 30 – NO EVENING SERVICE

 

Sermon: Philippians 4 — Principles of a Healthy Church

25 Jun

Philippians 4 – Principles of a Healthy Church

Introduction – I’d never really thought of Philippians 4 as being a chapter about church life. There are many great verses here that we celebrate as individuals (be anxious for nothing, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory) but these verses were written to the church body at Philippi. They are to be walked out in the context of a church community. And I believe that to the degree they are walked out here at West Hickory, we can be a healthy and flourishing local church. Of course that means that individuals must take up these things and walk in them, but we walk as individuals in the midst of a community of believers because as Paul says elsewhere, “we are members one of another,” “we are the body of Christ, made of many different parts,” and “we are God’s holy temple being built up brick by brick for His glory.” So what directives does Philippians 4 give us for Church Life?

The Practices of a Healthy Church . . .

  1. Gospel-Focus (4:1). What is it? All Paul had talked about to this point. 1:21; 2:4-8; 2:13; 3:10-14. How do we have it? Consistent hearing of gospel preaching and teaching (Preaching, Ephesians study tonite, Sunday School, summer studies, personal Bible reading, memorizing/meditating on Scripture, discussing things of God with members, family devotions, books)
  2. Relationally Unity (4:2-3). What is it? A spirit of mutual warmth and high regard for one another without any hint of animosity or bitterness. How do we have it? Flows from the gospel (those forgiven forgive). Release or Reconcile.
  3. Happy Humility (4:4-5). What is it? A spirit of joy and gentleness that characterizes those who are walking in the love of Jesus. How do we have it? The Gospel (Eternal life, forgiveness, adoption, new life, the Spirit, the Word, blessing upon blessing, yet all undeserved). How can we help but be happy and humble? Awareness of God’s Person and Presence (in the Lord, the Lord is near). Awareness of Others, Regard for them (Let your gentleness be known to all).
  4. Prayer-Saturation (4:6-7). What is it? A spirit of anxiety-killing, fear-destroying prayer without ceasing to the God who saved us and calls us to a life of holiness and usefulness in His kingdom. How do we have it? The Gospel (Jesus death has opened the way to access to God and Jesus intercedes for us, as does the Spirit). Really praying together. Relating to God. 9am Prayer Time. Prayer Days. Revamping Our Prayer List. Stop and Pray as we talk. Pray always in all ways (praise, intercession, confession).
  5. Thinking and Doing (4:8-9). What is it? An approach to life that values setting the mind on what is godly and good while also valuing walking in what is godly and good. How do we have it? The Gospel (Jesus, the greatest theologian was the greatest servant). Set your mind on things above. What do you think about when no one is around? Talk with one another about the things of God. Small group Bible study. But remember to know is not enough (James). Everyone is a theologian but true theology always overflows into service.
  6. Compassion (4:10). What is it? A heart that is concerned for others and for the work of God’s kingdom. How do we have it? The Gospel (God so loved the world). Do not center your life on your own agenda but yield to God’s agenda (Not my will but yours be done). Be interrupted for the glory of God. Care about more than what’s in it for you. Ask how you can glorify God in a situation.
  7. Contentment (4:11-13). What is it? A wholehearted trust in our Sovereign God that enables us to be satisfied in Him not our circumstances. How do we have it? The Gospel (We have all we need because our eternity is secure and our life here is abundantly blessed). We lean on our sovereign Savior and know that He is enough. We lean on each other through encouragement. Sometimes we need less advice and more listening and encouragement.
  8. A Mission-Mindset (4:14-15). What is it? A desire to be involved in God’s world-transforming work in the gospel. How do we have it? The gospel (God so loved that He sent His Son). Outward focus (get out of the bubble). Don’t focus on dollars or attendance but on what God is doing to change lives. See the world in need as an opportunity not an obstacle.
  9. Generosity (4:16-19). What is it? A heart that delights to give of money and time to the kingdom of God. How do we have it? The Gospel (For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son). As Jesus is your great treasure hoarding for yourself will become distasteful and investing in His kingdom will become a delight.

The Results of a Healthy Church  . . .

  1. Stability (4:1). Psalm 1 People.
  2. Peace (4:2,7) from God and with one another. What everybody wants but almost nobody seeks in the right way.
  3. Christ’s Protection (4:7). Jesus promises to guard those things which are most precious in life (my heart and mind).
  4. God’s Presence (4:8). If God is for us who can be against us. Also contentment and freedom from anxiety springs from God’s presence with us (Hb. 13:5-6).
  5. Bringing Blessing to Others (4:1, 10). It is more blessed to give than receive.
  6. Ability to Deal with Ups and Downs (4:11-12). Everyone has emotional ups and downs but wouldn’t it be nice to live free of debilitating days.
  7. The Strength of Christ for Every Need (4:13). Its more than a slogan on a t-shirt, it is a reality. Fear not I am with you be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will support you with my righteous right hand.
  8. Receiving the Blessing of God (4:17). Blessing on God’s terms is always better than what we could come up with.
  9. Pleasing God (4:18). Paul says elsewhere, “we make it our aim to please God.” It is not a denial of the gospel to please God. God delights in the praises of His people and God delights in healthy local churches.
  10. The Supply of God for Every Need (4:19). God knows the needs and He will meet them. We can trust Him.
  11. A Life for God’s Glory (4:20). The chief end of humanity will be fulfilled in us as we become the healthy church God intends us to be.

Conclusion – No local church is perfect but every local church body can become more faithful to living out the gospel in their life together. That’s what we want to do here at West Hickory. As I look over the practices of a healthy church in Philippians 4, I see seeds of all of those things at West Hickory. But I also see much room for progress and growth. I truly believe that if we as a people were largely marked by the 9 practices in Philippians 4, we would see the results that emerge from this chapter as well. So when there is weakness, instability, fearful anxiety, open rebellion, and relational conflict, we know that Christ still has a lot of change to bring among us. I want to submit to that change and pursue it. If you do too let’s ask God to do His good renewing work in our midst. Let it begin today as we become, by His grace and power, a healthier church, bearing good fruit for the glory of God and the blessing of the world.

 

 

Sermon — 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 “Warfare for the Mind”

3 Jun

          The old cliché is true: “Whatever gets your mind gets you.” Paul knew this and that is why he consistently urges us to set our minds on things above and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is also the reason that Paul in 2 Corinthians acknowledged that a big part of his ministry in the local church was to wage warfare for the minds of his hearers.

          Don’t be naïve, everyone else around us is battling for our minds. Advertisers are battling for your mind. Schools, whether public or private or home, are all waging warfare for the minds of children. Politicians want to sway our minds with persuasive words. Scholars attempt to shape culture by shaping thinking. Interestingly in our information age at the same time we have been bombarded by more and more people trying to shape our thinking, we have been counseled by our popular culture for the last 50 years to “turn off our minds, relax and float downstream.” We have been told, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We have been told to enjoy life and don’t waste time thinking. We have “amused ourselves to death.” So we live in a world where there is a double-edged sword of intense external efforts to shape our minds combined with an internal emphasis on feeling over thought which makes it easy to conform us to the latest thoughts and ideas. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 come like a clarion call to a Christianity that has become apathetic, ineffective and in many cases even immoral precisely because it has exchanged the principles of this passage for nostalgia, sentimentality and emotionalism. We have done precisely the opposite of what Paul urges in this passage. And the results have been devastating. Hear the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 10 and you will hear our marching orders as the people of God . . .

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Now as we said last week, in 2 Corinthians Paul’s ministry is under fire, in part probably because he called out the church in Corinth for their toleration of open immorality and in part because he criticized them for their practices as a church, which tended toward disorder and favoritism rather than the kind of order that brings the widespread use of the gifts of the whole body which builds up, or edifies, the church. Paul had brought his critique from a heart of love, but we all know that critique is not easy to take and our first response is often to become defensive. It seems the church in Corinth had some of this defensiveness so some among them began to criticize the apostle Paul. They criticize his methods and his person. One of the criticisms they bring against him is that he is really bold in writing but in person he is weak and unimpressive.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that he does not intend to be weak or apathetic when it comes to this minds of his hearers. Instead he tells us that he is engaged in a war. And so he wages war in verse 3, takes up weapons of warfare in verse 4, tears down strongholds in verse 5, and prepares to punish rebels in verse 6. Many of us read this kind of passage and the book of Acts and conclude that Paul was a loud, brash, combative person. But the Corinthians do not seem to think this way about Paul. Nor do we catch this idea among the Ephesians, with whom Paul spent two years. On a personal level, Paul seems to have not been outwardly impressive. His ministry was not sustained by the power of his personality or charisma but by the power of God.

Paul acknowledges here that he “lives in the flesh.” By this he does not mean what his accusers meant, that he was living by his own wits and power, living sinfully, or that he was using manipulation or his own abilities to sway people. Instead, when Paul says he lives in the flesh, he is just acknowledging what he has already said, that he lives in a physical clay vessel that is subject to weakness. Later he will talk about the thorn in the flesh, some kind of physical trial that troubled him. But though Paul lives in a body that is subject to the effects of a fallen world, he does not war according to the flesh. Here Paul is saying that though he lives in a fallen world, he does not use the tools of a fallen world to wage his battles. He has already spoken of these things in chapter 4, when he says we don’t live in the dark, we don’t manipulate or use craftiness, we just openly tell the truth about Jesus and thus we have a clear conscience. Paul wants the victory of God to touch everyone but he won’t use methods to get people in the door that compromise the truth of the gospel. He is not interested in gathering a crowd so much as he is interested in making disciples. Paul has told us that his adequacy comes from God. Since Paul’s power is from God, he will fight according to God’s rules of engagement. The good news of this passage is that Paul has an arsenal of weapons through his union with Christ which are far more powerful and effective than anything he could come up with on his own. In today’s church circles we are on the lookout for the latest method or plan and we seem to think our plans are more important than God’s power to the blessing of a ministry.

Through the rest of the passage, Paul illustrates his calling to battle for the minds of his hearers through the imagery of ancient warfare. He says his ministry is one of destroying defensive strongholds, taking captives and punishing rebels when the city is secured. Paul in himself is weak and unimpressive. I am not sure if we were with him in a crowd if we could pick him out as being in any way distinctive. But in Christ Paul is mighty. And so should it be for us too.

Paul’s warfare imagery is distasteful to many in our day, especially in church. We think church should be nice and things should be peaceful. But shouldn’t we remember, on this Memorial Day weekend above all, that peace is so often only secured through resistance to the enemies of peace? And as it is physically, so it is spiritually. Paul’s aim is to wage warfare for the sake of his hearers.

Because Paul’s weapons are not fleshly but spiritual, Paul is confident that he can tear down the strongholds in the lives of his readers. The strongholds here are “speculations and lofty things” and these things are “set against the knowledge of God.” So the strongholds are ways of thinking that stand as a kind of resistance to the truth of God. Since Paul has made it clear throughout his writings that the focus of his preaching is Christ and Him crucified we can safely assume that Paul is saying here that strongholds are those thoughts and ideas and ways of thinking that are set in opposition to the good news of salvation in Jesus by grace through faith. Now Paul is not specific about what these stronghold ways of thinking are because these ways of thinking can be quite varied. Some people have strongholds that are thoroughly religious. They think that their religious activity or devotion makes them right with God. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who resist the truth about Jesus through atheism, the insistence that there is no God. Others trust in science. Others have strongholds of materialism or pleasure. Still others trust in the stronghold of activism or politics. In Paul’s day, people trusted in credentials and influence and impressive speaking ability. But as Paul said in Philippians 3:4-8, all these kinds of things were like rubbish to Paul in comparison to knowing Christ. Still, these strongholds, though they have no ultimate value, do have a very strong pull on us in the present time. That’s why they are strongholds. A stronghold physically speaking is a defensive protection. It is a fortress or a bulwark intended to provide protection from an attack. In this way, this is such a powerful picture for the way we live. Our false ways of thinking are like strongholds to us, they give us a sense of security and protection against the truth of the gospel. Why would people want a sense of protection against the gospel? Well, people are worldly, people are drawn to love the world and self and that’s why the Scriptures so often call us to reject worldliness. Non-believers certainly try to erect strongholds against the truth of the gospel but so do professing believers. We can fall very easily into worldly thinking, making the measure of our lives our bank accounts or our homes or our achievements and compromising basic Christian truth in order to keep an outward peace with the world around us that is really nothing more than simple cowardice on our part.

Paul says, “No! We must attack these strongholds.” Why? So that we can conquer people and build a kingdom for ourselves? No! The warfare we wage is for the glory of God and the good of those who are locked into strongholds of unbiblical thinking. Since our adequacy is in God we don’t come from a position of superiority to tell people how wrong they are but we do fight the good fight of the faith and we do face down false ways of thinking. This is not just work for Paul or for pastors it is for all the people of God. And the first step is to remove our own planks of stinking thinking about God and life and truth and to align ourselves with the truth of the Word of God.

Paul had effective weapons in this battle and so do we. Paul mentioned these weapons specifically in Ephesians 6 when he talks about the armor of God. The Word of God and prayer are the weapons with divine power to tear down strongholds. The world will not be impressed by these things. But just as David’s sling when he faced Goliath didn’t look impressive but was effective, we will find that when we wield the Word and prayer in dependence on God that God will make His mark against the strongholds that grip the lives of those we love.

Perhaps Paul had in mind Proverbs 21:22 when he wrote this text . . .

A wise man scales the city of the mighty

And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

So spiritual warfare is a part of our calling as believers. We attack with the Word of God and prayer against all the ideological and philosophical and religious strongholds people hide in because in their hiding from the truth of God they only do harm to themselves. Any militancy on the part of a Christian must be grounded in love for Christ and love for people. The goal is not to get society to adopt a Christian perspective by force, it is to lovingly confront what is false and graciously proclaim what is true.

I think this passage, along with Ephesians 6, has a great deal to teach us about spiritual warfare. I think often we have been taught that spiritual warfare is our direct entry into power encounters with demons and through prayer we cast out this demon or oppose that demon and for most Christians it just sounds so strange and scary that we don’t approach such things. But notice in this passage that the strongholds are not demons. Spiritual warfare is not about chasing demons it is about opposing the doctrine of demons which trickles down into the ways of thinking of people all around us. John MacArthur says, “Our enemy has formed, from demon sources, ideologies and we assault those ideologies. Yes, ultimately they are doctrines of demons. Yes they come from seducing spirits through hypocritical liars who build these great edifices to human wisdom and demonic doctrine. But we assault the system, we don’t chase the spirits. Scripture indicates right here that our war is for the destruction of fortresses. They are not demons, they are human demonically inspired ideologies set up in defiance of God.”

“Listen, there’s only one way, there’s only one way to destroy error and that is with truth. Now you know what the weapons are. The only way you can take wrong thoughts and make them right is to replace error with truth. So when you look at Ephesians 6 and you see the soldier who is the Christian soldier, and you see him with all of his clothing and then it says he has one weapon, that weapon is a sword which is the Word of God…the Word of God. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with a bunch of anti-demon formulas whispered at them or shouted at them. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with some kind of magical incantations. The spiritual warfare that you fight is an ideological warfare that is fought at the level of the mind and when you find people ensconced and entrenched in the great fortresses of these ideologies, you assault them with the truth. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what we do.”

So taking up this pathway of spiritual warfare against the strongholds of people all around us inside and outside the church, we don’t just teardown the strongholds we take captives. The verb here where it says we are taking every thought captive means literally to take a prisoner with a spear. It means to take a prisoner with a spear. We smash the fortress to the ground, went in and put a spear in the back of the prisoners and marched them out. We see the miracle of God’s work here, the miracle all of us who are saved have experienced. We see God taking one who has all sorts of barriers set up against the knowledge of God brought to a place of obedience to Christ. We have here the picture of a person taken from a place of resistance to the knowledge of God to obedience to Christ. They didn’t even want to know God and now they are brought to a place where they desire to not just know but obey. That is a miracle of grace. Only God could do that. But let’s be clear. God has chosen in large part to carry out His work in the world through His redeemed people. Paul believes wholeheartedly in God’s sovereign power to save but he is also absolutely convinced that God has called him to proclaim the gospel and that a part of that proclamation is to speak in opposition to ways of thinking that are contrary to the gospel of grace.

There is an irony here. Paul speaks this language of conquest and capture but in doing so he is pointing the way to freedom. The only way to be free from the snares of the devil is to be conquered and captured by Christ. Everyone serves someone, either self or Satan or the Savior. I know which one of those three is the only One worth serving. I hope you do too and that you are ready to lay down and forsake any kind of foolish stronghold that has captured your imagination to walk with Jesus.

Now when we come to verse 6, after all this language of battle and victory, it just sounds mean. Why is Paul ready to punish disobedience and why is he waiting until their obedience is complete? Probably what Paul is doing here is an act of mercy. When the church in Corinth makes their stand on the Lordship of Christ rather than worldly wisdom then Paul will act to punish remaining disobedience, particularly from false teachers. In other words, Paul is trying to spare people from punishment if they will align their lives to the Lordship of Christ. But he will not spare from punishment those who will not turn away from the false fortresses set up against the knowledge of God.

What this passage makes clear to me is that there is a real battle for the mind and that we as Christians should be people of a renewed mind who are fighting for others to have a renewed mind. Christianity is not just another option for life among many. There are pieces of truth in all kinds of ways of living, but only one way is the embodiment of truth, rooted in a Savior who is the way, the truth and the life.

Paul was hated for the stand he took. And so it will be for us, even in the church. “Why be confrontational? Why draw lines in the sand over issues of biblical truth?” There is a way to be confrontational that is wrongheaded and arrogant and mean-spirited. We’re not interested in that. We’re not interested in proving ourselves right. We’re not against people. We are not trying to conquer people we are standing instead against the false and harmful ideas that people hold. We are interested instead in offering the gospel of Christ to a world that is hiding behind all sorts of false teaching. We are intent on showing in our actions and words that the way of obedience to Christ is the way of life and strength and peace.

All true Christian ministry involves a battle for the mind (which by the way is one of the reasons that teaching and preaching is so central in the life of a healthy church). It is necessary and essential to demolish false arguments so that the path to obedience to Christ might be opened to us. But these false arguments are not demolished by our ingenuity or our wisdom or our methods. Instead the Holy Spirit works through the Word and prayer to use us as God’s army of truth.

Warren Wiersbe says, “Simply because Paul did not use carnal methods and exert the power of a “strong personality,” the believers thought he was a weakling! His weapons were spiritual, not fleshly. Like all of us, Paul “walked in the flesh” (that is, had all the weaknesses of the body), but he did not war after the flesh by depending on fleshly wisdom, human abilities, or physical prowess.

There was disobedience in Corinth because Christians were believing lies instead of the truth of God’s Word. Paul warned them that he would smash their arguments and false doctrines and bring their hearts and minds to the place of obedience. Church problems are not solved simply by changing the constitution, revising the church program, or reorganizing a board, but by confronting people and problems with the Word of God.”

So in closing, what do we do with this passage, as individuals and as a church?  First, we must address our own hearts. Do I understand the gospel, what God has saved me from, what God has saved me for, how I am saved? Am I walking in light of the truth of the gospel? Are there any areas in which I am listening to false strongholds of human philosophy and worldly thinking? For example, am I good with following Scripture except when it comes to my sexual morality, in which case I listen to the world? Or am I good with God’s truth about honesty but not willing to submit to God’s truth about anger? So the first step this morning is to humble ourselves before God and evaluate whether there are strongholds of worldly thinking in our own hearts and to repent of any thinking that is out of step with God’s Word.

Second, what lies are we as a church listening to? Are we given to traditions or trends or to biblical truth? Are we willing to forsake ways that are false when their untruth is made clear? Are we willing to take a hard look at what is really biblical over what is just preference? What strongholds do we need to demolish within the walls of our church? Apathy, pride, worldliness, self-centeredness and lack of love?

Third, do we believe in the sufficiency of prayer and the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our life and ministry? It is not as if we have nothing to do but pray and read the Word. We make plans, we do things, but what is our compass? What is our guide?

Fourth, what is the place of demolishing strongholds in the work of evangelism? Are we willing to be bold and at the same time humble? Do we love people outside the walls enough to reach out to them with the truth of God and lovingly point out ways they may be building their lives on shaky foundations?

Finally, do we have the courage to live by the guidance of God’s Word in a world that more and more rejects the truth of God? Are we willing, like Jesus and the apostles, to bear the scorn of a world that despises God’s Word?

Each one of us must reckon with these questions in our hearts. And then we must come together to discuss these things. I would encourage you to talk about these questions with your spouse, with your friends, with your Sunday School class, with your pastors. Let’s not let any more time slip away where we are not giving serious attention to taking every thought captive. After all, “whatever gets your mind gets you.”

Sunday Morning Preview — April 29, 2018

28 Apr

Tomorrow morning’s worship service will begin with one of the highlights of any service: Baptism!

We baptize those who profess faith in Christ as a symbol of their new life in Christ and their desire to follow Him.

The Children’s Choir will follow the baptism with a Call to Worship. Some may wonder at whether it is wise to have the children sing in such a setting. What if they don’t understand what they are singing? What if they get a performance mindset? These are legitimate concerns. Parents should talk with their children about why they are singing and what they are singing about when they sing. At the same time, there can be great blessing through singing as children learn that they can share a message about Jesus with others. Children can learn by being in front of others to live with boldness rather than timidity. In addition, we as adults can often be humbled by the enthusiasm and energy of children for the things of God.

After a piano Offertory, we will say together our Church Verses for Meditation.

This week is the week we will try to say Romans 12:1-2 from memory. Just in case you need one more chance to review, here are the verses . . .

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Following the recitation of these verses, we will sing a Congregational Hymn.

This week we will be singing the old spiritual, #156 Were You There? Once again we visit the themes of the gospel: the cross and the empty tomb.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Were you there when he rose up from the dead?
Sometimes I feel like shouting ‘Glory, glory, glory!’*
Were you there when he rose up from the dead? 

*The Baptist Hymnal retains the line from the other verses, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

There are two unique things about this hymn. First, it is a spiritual which found wide usage among African-Americans in the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. So this was a song of an oppressed people identifying their suffering with the suffering of their Savior. As such, the original version of the hymn had no last verses about being laid in the tomb and about the resurrection. Instead there were two other verses. One was “Were you there when they pierced Him in the side.” The other was the final verse of the hymn originally, “Were you there when the sun refused to shine?” The original hymn left singers pondering the suffering of the Savior (even as they likely pondered their own suffering) but not His glory. This is not wrong. A song does not have to cover every aspect of Christ’s work to be a good song. Some can focus on the sufferings of Christ, others on the glory, some can tell the whole story. As churches sing widely through the hymnal and other sources a full theological picture emerges through congregational singing.

Following the Hymn, we move to a time of Prayer. We don’t want prayer to be a perfunctory part of the service at the beginning and end, we want prayer to be the lifeblood of our church’s worship. Thus we meet at 9am in the choir room to pray each week for the service. And we linger in prayer during the service, in the hopes that we will all learn to pray more deeply on a personal level and that we will be moved to join our hearts together that our hearts might be knit to the heart of God.

The Choral Offering will follow the Prayer. This week the choir is singing, Here I Am Lord. This is a pretty melody with meaningful words about drawing near to God loosely based on the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God in Isaiah 6.

Following the Choral Offering will be this morning’s Sermon. We will be looking at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 as a conclusion to our “Arise and Go” Evangelism Conference. Here is the text for tomorrow’s message . . .

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

After the sermon, we will sing the great Hymn #141 The Old Rugged Cross.

George Bennard, an American who lived in the Midwest in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, composed many hymns, but this is his most famous. That we would cherish and cling to the old rugged cross, this is our prayer as the service draws to a close.

Our Benediction tomorrow will be Galatians 6:14 “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. May we go out in that spirit into the coming week.

“Lord, bless our gathering tomorrow. Use it as an exclamation point to a week lived for you and for a launching pad into a new week of serving you. Let the service bring you glory in every way. We pray you would be central to every action and you would be at the center of every heart.  We can make plans but we ask you to direct our steps. Use your Word to bring change and comfort and strength to your people. Open the eyes of those who don’t know you and be honored in everything we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 

 

 

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