[Oct 31]—Wives, Submit!

            What a title, huh? OK, today we come to one of the most controversial passages of Scripture. In fact, aside from the parts about homosexuality, I can’t think of any more countercultural aspect of God’s word. People try to explain these verses away, saying that Paul didn’t mean what he obviously said. Or they just reject it entirely, taking a “cafeteria” approach to the Bible, picking out the parts that they like (e.g. “Love your neighbor”) and discarding the rest.
            But Paul—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit--said it. He told wives to submit to their husbands “as [they] do to the Lord.” There are no qualifications in these verses. Supposedly we can rule this out when the husband’s telling her to do something that violates a clear command from the Lord, just like with our relationship between us and government. But leaving aside obvious exceptions like that, we need to deal with this.
            Before we get to the really controversial part, I’d like to point out something very important, which I’m going to note again and again over the next few days. I purposefully included verse 21 in today’s passage, as per the NIV and several other translations. Of course, the chapter and verse divisions aren’t inspired by God—they’re just for our convenience. As such, some translations put verse 21 at the end of the vss. 1-20, linking it with the section on being filled with the Spirit. They’re not wrong. That’s a completely legitimate translation decision to make.
            But since the 5:20-6:9 deal with hierarchical relationships (parents/children, slaves/masters, etc.), it seems to make a little more sense to link vs. 21 with the section following, more than the section before. In other words, vs. 21 is the overarching principle in dealing with all our human relationships, especially in those in which a hierarchy of authority is involved. And as we’ll discuss further later on, I think this verse applies (in a sense) both ways in hierarchies. More details on that to follow.
            Now, let’s talk about vss. 22-24. I guess the best way to clarify how I interpret these verses is with a question and answer format:

·         What about extreme cases, such as abuse? Under extreme circumstances, if a wife is being abused by her husband, then that calls for intervention from the local church and legal authorities. And as a last resort, our Lord allows (not encourages, allows) divorce in the case of adultery, and several pastors have testified to me that in all their experiences—with no exceptions whatsoever—an abuser is also a cheater. But if not, I'd never interpret this to mean that a wife needs to stay home to be abused.

·         Does this mean unilateral submission? What if the wife vehemently disagrees with the husband’s decisions? What if he’s just not following the Lord at all? Like I noted before, there aren’t any qualifications listed in the verses. The only limitations I could make on this would be in the context of the rest of Scripture.
      When writing something like this, I feel a little weird. It’s similar to how I’d feel if I had to teach on passages like Mark 8:34-48 to Christians who live with a real threat of persecution. I can just imagine them saying something like “That's easy for you to say, isn’t it? You don’t have to worry about soldiers knocking on your door to haul you away, or about mobs coming to burn down your church with you inside it. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever experienced, the worst persecution you’ve ever faced? Someone making fun of you? Someone not inviting you to their parties?” To face someone like that and teach on a passage about how we need to be willing to suffer for Christ, see persecution as a blessing, etc., would be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My inclination would be to think “Who the heck am I to be talking to anyone about persecution, much less these folks?”
      In that case, I’d have to buck up and tell them “This is what Scripture says. I can’t change it. It says that you need to be willing to undergo anything, including death, rather than deny your Lord. It says that you should see persecution as a privilege of suffering for the Name. Whatever my circumstances, that’s what it says. If you have a problem with it, then I respectfully have to refer you to the One who wrote it.”
      I have to say this to all my sisters in Christ: I know that this seems awfully easy for me to say. Just a reminder: The Bible tells me to submit to governing authorities, whether I agree with them or not, as long as they don’t tell me to disobey my Savior. Scripture also commands me to submit to the leadership in my church--again, unless they’re telling me something that flatly contradicts Scripture.

·         So when my husband says something or makes a decision I disagree with, I’m supposed to just meekly sit down and say nothing but “Yes sir,” is that it? Um, no. That’s the world’s caricature of what we’re talking about, mirrored (unfortunately) in how a lot of traditional-minded Christians have interpreted it. We’ll get into the man’s responsibility tomorrow, but for now, let’s just say that’s the furthest thing from the true picture we see here. Of course you can speak your mind and attempt to persuade him to go in another direction. If he’s not a fool, he’ll A) Listen very carefully to what you have to say, and B) Look at his and your respective strengths and weaknesses and work together with you to “divvie” up the responsibilities of the home and family. If the husband is horrible with finances and the wife’s good at it, then it’s obvious who needs to be in charge of that.

·         So what do you really mean here? A pastor of mine interpreted this pretty well several years ago for me. Both the wife and the husband have around 50% of the vote, and if an issue absolutely cannot be resolved any other way, he’s the tie breaker. I mean, if the husband wants to go in X direction and the wife wants to go in Y direction, and 1) they’ve both prayed about it—separately and together—and 2) they’ve both made the best arguments they can make, and 3) they’ve tried their best to come to a mutually agreeable compromise and failed, then what are they supposed to do? As Amos put it in another context: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Any two people (in any type of relationship) have to agree with each other on the major issues, or eventually they have to part ways. So unless you’re trying to convince me the opposite--that the wife should (as a general rule) be the tie-breaker—then what exactly are you proposing? What's the alternative?

      Now that we’ve gone over the caveats and explanations, and I’ve probably ticked off a whole lot of women, let me a make a final appeal. If you think I’m putting a heavy burden on you, please hear what I have to say to the guys over the next few days. That’s right: In keeping with Paul’s pattern in Ephesians 5, I’m going to spend a lot more time pressuring the brothers than the sisters. But today’s passage is what God through Paul is saying to you. The Lord has plenty to say to your husband, and the standards placed on him make anything we’ve read today look like a day at the beach. But I’m going to tell you the same thing I’m going to say to your husband: God’s standards for you are not dependent on what your spouse does. Whether or not your spouse is doing what he/she is supposed to do, that in no way exempts you from doing what you’re supposed to do.
      I want to make one final point on this: From the rest of the Bible, you can easily see the perfect pattern. Your Savior, the Son of Most High God, the object of worship of countless angels, submitted to his Father’s plan. He joyfully and purposefully gave up his rights and submitted his own personal human desires to what the Father wanted. This was true even when very iota of his natural inclinations went against it (e.g., in the Garden). Like all of us, you’re called upon to imitate your Lord and put your own instincts and “rights” and natural desires aside in submission to another. You’re called to act in ways which are really counterintuitive. But as I’ve said so many times ad nauseum, “No one ever did things God’s way and ended up regretting it.” Please, take this to heart.

Lord Jesus, I pray right now for any women reading this. Please give them wisdom and guidance, and most importantly, help them to trust you enough to do things your way instead of what the world tells them to do. Help all of us, men and women alike, submit to you more than we do. Please. 

[Oct 30]—Living As Children Of Light

            I apologize for the slightly longer-than-normal reading, but it’s difficult to split up this section.
            Paul is continuing his practical instructions to believers. Since God has done all this for you through Christ, this is how you need to think, speak, and act. Before he gets to specific directions to different groups (men, women, slaves, children, etc.), he’s going to give one last bit of guidelines for believers of all types.
            Some quick points re: vss. 1-14:
·         Because we’re God’s dearly loved children, we need to imitate Christ and walk in the way of love. Love—true love, not the tepid fake “love” that goes by that name today—should be the hallmark of every follower of Jesus.
·         It’s not enough that we don’t indulge in a sexually immoral lifestyle. No, we must make sure that there isn’t even a hint of sexual immorality. The world should never even have reason to suspect that Christians are guilty of this. Any sexual immorality--both in our personal lives, and especially in the lives of church leaders—has to be shunned like the plague. There must be accountability and other preventative measures to avoid this.
·         Other things which are inappropriate for God’s holy people are any type of impurity or greed.
·         Our speech should reflect our Lord, and thus must scrupulously avoid “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
·         If you indulge in these types of things (as opposed to struggling with them), then you need to reexamine whether or not you really are a child of his, as vss. 5-7 make it clear
·         In a classic case of “Be who you are,” Paul tells us that since we are “light in the Lord,” we need to live like it, exhibiting “goodness, righteousness and truth.”

            Now we come to the verses I’d like to focus on for the rest of today. We need to be careful. We need to live wisely. How so? By “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Don’t waste your time, since you only have a limited amount of it. Every day I should be asking the Lord for opportunities to make an impact for eternity. Is there someone I can share the Good News with? Is there a fellow believer who needs a word of comfort and a hug? Are there any “good works” which my Father has prepared beforehand for me?
            Lots of people question “What’s God’s will for my life?” My friend, my biggest problem is not ignorance of his will; it’s obeying what parts of his will which are crystal clear. If I don’t understand what his will is, it’s not God’s fault, it’s mine; I’m the one acting foolishly. And being a fool isn't an ignorance problem: It's an obedience problem. 
            And what’s a huge part of his will which is clear for everybody? “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” As we’ve discussed and as Scripture makes clear, every believer at the moment of salvation is immersed by the Spirit into the Body. Nowhere are we commanded to be baptized in the Spirit or to get the Spirit somehow inside us. Salvation is a “package deal,” and part of the package is that at the moment of salvation you’re baptized by the Spirit into the Body and have him living inside you forever.
            However. . . not every Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit. That’s why he commands us to do this. Please forgive me as I quote from an earlier post on this topic:

            Paul here starts by commanding us not to be drunk with wine. Instead, we’re to be filled with the Spirit. The Greek indicates a continuous--not a once-and-for-all--filling. Think about being drunk for a moment. When you’re smashed, you’re under the control of alcohol. You do things you would never do while sober. It’s sort of the same thing with the Spirit. By allowing the Spirit to control you, you’ll do things you’d never do if he wasn’t in the driver's seat.
            How do you do this? Well, the rest of the passage tells us: 1) Speak to one another, 2) using psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (worship), and 3) giving thanks to God (a grateful attitude). If you look at the Colossians verses, you’ll see the same parallel phrases, which link being filled with the Spirit with letting Christ rule in our hearts (apparently different terms for the same thing). So to be filled with the Spirit, we also need to be 4) letting God’s word fill our thoughts and hearts, 5) teaching and admonish each other, and 6) doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

            I’d like to add one more thing to the list: A sign that you’re filled with his Spirit and letting Christ rule in your hearts is that you’re willing to submit to other believers “out of reverence for Christ,” willing to put others’ needs before your own, willing to give up your “rights” for the benefit of others.
            Which we’ll dive into starting tomorrow.

Lord Jesus, when I read passages like this, I feel so guilty sometimes. That’s not the purpose at all, I know. The purpose of this is to drive me to you, to the foot of the Cross. The closer I’m walking next to you, the better off I’ll be. “Just a closer walk with Thee, grant it Jesus is my plea, daily walking close to Thee, let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”  

[Oct 29]—Dressing Appropriately

            We’re called to mature in Christ. It’s not an option. If you’ve truly been redeemed, then you need to demonstrate this by how you act. Over time, you should think more like Christ, which will eventually lead to you 1) talking more like Christ and 2) acting more like Christ.
            Now we come to some more marks of maturity and some outright commands. The first command Paul gives is pretty simple: Don’t be like non-Christians! How does he describe nonbelievers? Their thinking is futile, their understanding is darkened, and they’re separated from the life of God. Why? Why are they in this sad state? Yes, they’re ignorant, but the cure for this is not an imparting of information (which is the usual remedy for ignorance); the problem is their hardness of hearts. They’ve decided they aren’t going to listen to their Maker. Instead of doing things his way, they’re dead-set on doing things their own way. And this leads to an increasingly dead conscience and a downward spiral of lust, both the lust for pleasure and the lust for money.
            Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. Their condition started with not listening to God. Unless God intervenes and pulls me off this path, I’m a dead man. So the question is: Am I like them? Do I make a conscious effort to do things his way instead of mine? Do I let my desires control me, or do I control them? Apparently it’s one or the other.
            In verse 20 Paul says “That, however, is not the way of life you learned.” That’s a nice way of saying You know better than this. You were taught better than this. You have no excuse for living like this. You certainly weren’t taught to live a sexually immoral lifestyle or a life centered around money from the teachings of our Savior or from any of the Apostles.
            You were taught to take off this lifestyle like a ratty, smelly set of clothes (more fit for a homeless guy than a child of the King) and to put on your “new you.” In Christ you’re a new creature, a brand new creation, and the way you live needs to reflect that.
            So what are we supposed to take off? Falsehood/deceit. Uncontrolled anger. Theft. Unwholesome talk. Bitterness. Rage. Brawling. Slander. Any type of malice. Sorry to be crude here, but a son of Bill Gates shouldn’t be wearing an outfit borrowed from a homeless guy that smells like pee and poop. That’s the image here. These are not appropriate for a child of God.          
            But nature abhors a vacuum, and so does our spiritual life. You have to take off some things, but you need to put on some things to replace them:
·         Instead of falsehood, you need to speak the truth to your neighbor. Deceiving your neighbor is hurting yourself.
·         Instead of letting anger simmer and fester (probably this is what Paul’s referring to when he says “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”), you need to be kind and compassionate with one another. Be as quick to forgive as you’ve been forgiven. The Lord you serve is the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,” and since you can testify that this is how he’s treated you, you need to treat others the same way.
·         Instead of stealing from others, you need to work for your living. Notice that it’s not enough just to quit stealing. It’s not even enough to work for a living. All of that’s supposed to be a given for even an honest person. Most pagans would understand this. But we’re supposed to work for a living so that we can help those in need.
·         Instead of unwholesome talk, the only words that should come out of your mouth should be “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It’s not enough just to avoid lying. It’s not enough just to be entirely honest in your speech, although that should be a given. No, your speech should be helpful and edifying. That certainly doesn’t mean you’re positive all the time (which any reading of the prophets would confirm), but is does mean that the purpose of your speaking should be positive, even when your “speaking the truth in love” sounds negative at first blush.

            Notice the touching admonition of verse 30: “[Do] not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  I love the tension here--Paul seems to be really love presenting truths in tension. From the second half of the verse, someone might be tempted to say “Well, I’m sealed! I’m redeemed! I’m forgiven, now and forever! Nothing I ever do will change that! Therefore I can sin all I want!”
            But note the first part of the verse. Paul doesn’t say here that we need to obey commands, although that would be true if he did. He doesn’t threaten us with punishment, although sin always has bad consequences, even for a believer. No, he admonishes us “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God. . .” I promise you, if you were convicted for murder and sent to jail, the arresting officer probably wouldn’t cry into his pillow over you. You broke the law and got punished. But this is much more than that. This is breaking his heart. When you, a redeemed child of God, do things your way instead of his way, you cause him to weep. Don’t.
            Let’s bring a smile to his face, shall we?
Holy Spirit of God, that’s what I so much want to do. I want to speak in ways that help others. I want to forgive like I’ve been forgiven. I want to be dressed appropriately. I want to cause you to smile. By your grace, I will. 

[Oct 28]—Speaking the (blank) in (blank)

            Jesus promised us that when he left us to return to the Father, he wouldn’t leave us as orphans. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to pour out strength, blessing, and what we need as individual Christians and as the collective Church to carry out his agenda. And a big part of the Spirit’s job is to send gifted people to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
            What do we mean by the body being “built up”? The Body of Christ, the universal Church, the number of true believers world-wide, must be built up in numbers and in maturity. People with the gift of evangelism reach out to the lost and share the Good News of Christ with them, but they also equip the other members to share Christ as well. In this game, there aren’t “professional” Christians and spectator Christians--who are big fans and who support the players and cheer them on from the stands. No, we're all meant to be out on the field, and we’re playing for the pleasure of an audience of One.
            The Church must grow in maturity as well. As we mentioned yesterday, it entails getting to know our Savior better, both in head-knowledge (knowing better the truth about him) and in personal knowledge, like me knowing my dad better on a personal level.
            Why am I rehashing all this? Because this is leading to something very important. Paul says that once we become (more) mature, something will change within us. To be more specific, we'll stop doing something, and we'll start doing something.
            First, “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” That’s a mark of a less mature Christian. Today there’s a lot of bad teaching out there; in fact, it’s a lot harder to find good teachers than to find bad ones. There are a lot of Pseudo-Christian teachers and teaching out there, and it’s hard to keep grounded in God’s truth, especially if you aren’t familiar with any of the names. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get carried away with a weird teaching from some slick teacher who sounds good.
            One of the reasons why less mature Christians are more vulnerable to this is A) They aren’t familiar with God’s word enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, and B) They haven’t trained themselves to be discerning, not “[having] trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Not to be insulting or anything, but my experience with physical infants is that they don’t have the most discriminating of tastes. If they’re crawling on the floor and see something and need to investigate it, what do they do? Naturally they put it in their mouth. I’m sure all the parents out there could share plenty of horror stories about how their little one found and stuck something in their mouth without a care in the world. That’s why we lock the poison cabinet.
            That, by the way, is a huge reason for a new believer—really any believer—to get plugged into a local church, a local body of believers who love God, love his word, and love people the way they’re supposed to. They desperately need a church to appoint more mature Christians to take the newcomer under their wing and help them learn discernment skills and how to handle the word of God effectively.
            Second, as we mature, we’ll speak the truth in love. I love that perfect tension, don’t you? Unfortunately, it’s mighty rare for a believer to actually have that balance. Most of us fall off on one side or the other. There are plenty of “love talkers” who are really good at encouragement, compliments, comforting, etc. We sorely need them. And there are also “truth talkers” who are great at “telling it like it is,” and who don’t normally gets huge points for tact. We desperately need them in the Church as well. We need Barnabases and John the Baptists.                              
            But ideally each of us should strive towards the balance cited here, and maybe working towards getting better in our weak areas. If you catch yourself condoning bad behavior and refusing to confront someone when they’re obviously wrong or acting badly, then that’s something to pray over. Or if you find yourself coming off as being uncaring or lacking compassion, then that’s something to work on as well; remember, Paul tells us that a mark of maturity is to speak the truth in love. Even in his harshest criticisms of the Galatian and Corinthian believers, the reason he was so harsh was because he loved them so much, and it showed. You can almost imagine the tear drops on the parchment as he wrote to them.
            To all the “love” speakers out there, who find it hard to say anything that might be construed as being “judgmental,” you need to hear this very carefully: If someone is screwing up and you avoid saying anything to them for fear of offending them, then you’re not being a friend to them. If you know a lost person, and you see an opportunity to share the Good News with them, and don’t, that’s a very bad thing.
            To all the “truth speakers” out there, who need to be reminded about the “in love” part of the equation, let me try to answer an objection I can already hear coming: “If you tell them anything they don’t want to hear, then they accuse you of not being loving. Try to mention anything about sin or judgment or God’s standards or their need for Christ to save them from hell, and you’re sure to be labeled a bigot, a homophobe, or a hater.” I hear you. I share your frustration. I know that no matter how much you couch your presentation with expressions of love, compassion, etc., they’re going to take it that way, particularly in this society/culture. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I don’t shy away from telling it like it is, as best as I can read it from Scripture. But. . . there is a way to make it clear that you’re not their judge, that you’re a sinner in dire need of grace just like they are, and that you’re only one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. As long as you make the sincere effort, asking the Lord to speak through you, coming towards them without a judgmental attitude, then that’s all anyone can ask. You’re in good company: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc., were all accused of not loving those they castigated, and the exact opposite was the case. Just try to be aware of how you’re coming across, and choose your words carefully. Do your best, by his grace, to speak the truth in a loving way.
            So which do you need to work on?

Lord Jesus, I know that my main problem most of the time is that I’m silent when I should speak. When someone needs to hear the truth spoken in love, that’s a time when silence is NOT golden. By your grace, help me to speak your words of hope, of life, of the need for Christ. Please. 

[Oct 27]—Let’s Grow Up Together!

            Yesterday we talked a bit about Jesus’ resounding and humiliating victory over the Enemy and some of how that victory affects us personally. Our Lord conquered sin, death, all the forces of Hell, and the Enemy of our souls. He ascended up to the highest heavens to the ultimate hero’s welcome, and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Then came the celebration, in which he handed out gifts to his loyal followers. Let’s see what today’s passage has to say about these gifts.
            It lists five (or four, but we’ll get to that in a moment) gifts which through his Spirit he’s distributed to the Church. They aren’t just gifts that Paul’s decided to list at random: The ones in today’s passage been called “edifying” gifts. These are gifts which are specifically designed to build up the Church. Of course, in a sense every gift (mercy, administration, etc.) is given in order to build up the Church and not to advance ourselves. But the Lord has used these in ways that he hasn’t with others, which we’ll address in a moment.
            Another thing we need to note is that the Lord didn’t just give gifts. He gave gifted people: “He gave some to be apostles. . .” In a very real sense, your spiritual gift is God’s way of giving you to the Church.
            The first listed here is that of apostle. Literally an apostle is a “sent one,” or “emissary.” There were twelve apostles whom Jesus specifically appointed to be his direct representatives (the original Twelve, minus Judas, plus Paul). They had authority which no other person possessed. Their writings were preserved and accorded equal authority with Scripture. All of the books of the New Testament were written either by an apostle or a direct protégé of one (like Mark and Luke). Granted, there were others listed as “apostles” besides these twelve men (like Barnabas and Timothy), but there’s a huge difference here. The Twelve were called “apostles of Christ,” while the other “apostles” were called “apostles of the church,” never apostles of Christ. The apostles of Christ had authority which was not passed on, and they had no successors.
            The second gift (or gifted person) is prophet. These are people whom God chose to speak direct words of revelation, like here. Near the beginning of the church, God gifted men and women to submit direct revelation to believers. Does this gift still exist today? Well, if by this gift you mean the Lord speaking through people with the same authority as Paul’s letters or the writings of Isaiah or Moses, then the answer to that question is no. God’s word--the canon of Scripture--is closed. But this is a gift which the Lord used in building up his church.
            The third gift is that of evangelism. These are people specially gifted in presenting the Good News of Jesus in a persuasive way to people who don’t know him. Obviously the most famous person with this gift in the latter half of the 20th century has been Billy Graham, but there’ve been countless others.
            Fourth is that of “pastor,” which could also be translated as “shepherd.”  However, the Greek links this with that of the (supposed) fifth, which is “teacher.” I’ve heard it said that actually you should translate the last part of vs. 11 as “pastors/teachers.” This might be overstating it a bit: Not every teacher is a pastor. The best explanation I’ve heard is that not all teachers are pastors, but a pastor is to be the head teacher of the flock that the Head Shepherd has placed in his care.
            But here’s where we get uncomfortable applications for all believers. Remember when I said these are “edifying” gifts? That’s because of Paul’s description in vs. 12. Why did Paul gives us these people? “. . . to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Let’s be clear here. Let’s apply this to the gift of evangelism. The picture of an evangelist going out to win souls for Christ is great, but that’s only part of his gift. His gift is meant to equip you to do the same. Or take a Bible teacher. He’s there to teach you God’s word, obviously. But his main job is to equip you to serve. You know the stereotypical manager, the one who says it’s his job to make sure you do your job? That’s what we’re talking about here.
            The point I’m trying to make here is that the common image of “professional” clergy doing the main work of the church is not biblical. The pastors, the teachers, the evangelists are there to help you to serve more effectively.
            And what’s the goal here, the end game? The goal here is to build up the Body of Christ. That means we add people by sharing the Good News with them and urging them to repent and believe. But it also means we grow spiritually. It means we grow in unity, working together towards a common goal. It means we grow closer to him, gaining both head knowledge and personal knowledge of our Savior. It means we strive towards “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” which means we’re full of him and that bleeds over into how we think, talk, and act.
            That’s what it’s all about, right?

Lord Jesus, I want to have a part in this. Fill me to the whole measure of your fullness, so that I can equip others for works of service, so that your Body might be built up. To your glory, by your grace, and in your name. 

[Oct 26]—To The Victor. . .

            As I’ve mentioned several times, I love what I call “tension” verses/passages in the Bible. Our faith is filled with truths held in tension, and I hold dearly those passages which balance them, such as Isaiah 57:15, which tells us about God’s transcendence and his immanence all within the same verse.
            We see that “truths in tension” motif here in vss. 1-13. Verses 3-6 are all about unity: One body, one Spirit, etc. We’re to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
            But as Paul mentioned in verse 4 and in several other places, we’re the Body of Christ. And every human body is a great example of “diversity in unity.” In 1 Cor. 12, he makes the point forcefully that the hand is not the foot is not the eye (so we've got diversity). And if the body were made up of an eye, where would the sense of hearing come from? But even though the body is made up many parts, it's still one body. We studied our gifts and how we fit into the Body before, but here are some points we didn’t discuss (at length) at that time:

·         This all started with his Incarnation. Despite what you might have heard from some well-meaning Bible teachers, vss. 9-10 is referring to him leaving the heights of Heaven, the pinnacle of praise and glory and worship and willingly diving into the depths of this sin-wrecked world. He went through all the frustrations—both big and small—this world had to offer, and he lived a life of sacrificial perfect obedience to the Father’s plan in preference to his own interests. Of course his emptying of himself culminated in the Passion. To use C.S. Lewis’s illustration, the skin diver dove below the surface, going deeper and deeper into the depths and darkness, until finally he touched the bottom and sprang back up to the top and beyond three days later.

·         This “beyond” was Christ’s ascension. Of all the “big” events in the life of Christ (Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, etc.), the Ascension is probably the most underrated aspect of his work. We talked about the importance of the Ascension before, with at least five major reasons why it’s crucial to the Christian faith. One of them is that when he ascended on high, he sent the Holy Spirit to live inside us. Today’s passage relates to that point as a subset. Christ ascended back to where he as before--to the ultimate hero’s welcome--and sat down at the right hand of the Father. This was the final stamp of victory on his work, and the point at which the Father officially declared his Son to be Lord over all and placed all things under his feet.

·         And what traditionally happens when a conqueror sits on the throne of a conquered city? He starts distributing the booty, the spoils of war, the property of the vanquished enemy. That’s the language of verse 7. Christ made all the so-called great conquering “heroes” of history (like Napoleon or Caesar) look like pansies. Now we need to think clearly here, since the analogy only goes so far, as all analogies do. The Lord Jesus wasn’t really distributing Satan’s property when referring to the spiritual gifts we’re talking about. But the gifts we’ve received are similar in that they’re the result of our Lord’s completely humiliating victory over the Enemy of our souls. It’s all of one piece, included in his Ascension. He’s giving these gifts to his friends as both a celebration of his victory and as a kind of “in your face” to our Adversary.

            Tomorrow we’re going to look a little more at the gifts themselves, and what they’re supposed to do. In the meantime, let’s revel for a little bit in the victory celebration.

Lord Jesus, I am blown away from the fact that you left the Throne of the highest heavens and dove into the depths. . . to pull me out. Then you conquered death, Hell, and the Enemy all in one swoop. And on top of this, you invite me to share in your victory. By your grace, I want to see that victory lived out in me. Please. 

[Oct 25]—Live Up To It

            Paul’s pattern in his letters is to move from glorious truth to practical application, and this is especially found in his letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians. Chapters 1-11 of Romans are filled with deep theology, then 12-16 start out with the words “Therefore. . .in view of God’s mercy. . .” X is true, and therefore in the light of this, this is how you should act. This is even more pronounced in Ephesians: Chapters 1-3 deal with glorious theology, some of the most beautiful prose ever penned by human hand, and how does chapter 4 start out? “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
            In a sense, of course, Paul was a literal prisoner of the Roman government as he wrote this. But in a much more profound sense, he was the prisoner of the Lord. The Lord had captured his heart and soul, and he was a willing prisoner who adored his “Jailer,” the One who'd bled and died to redeem him. As he made clear in Romans 6, once we were prisoners of sin and slaves of the Evil One, but now we’re “slaves” of the Lord (for more on this, see here).
            He was also a “prisoner for the Lord” in the sense that the sole reason he was in prison was because of his fidelity to the Good News. He wasn’t a murderer or a seditionist, nor even a thief. He was a “guest” of the Roman government because he'd preached the Message, and Satan used his pawns to try physically force Paul to shut up. Of course, as we’ll see in Philippians, this effort to shut Paul up not only failed but was used by the Lord to the exact opposite effect intended.
            Because of his sufferings for Jesus, Paul had extra credibility in what he was about to urge his listeners. It’s easy for me as an armchair theologian to tell you something, but quite another for this man to tell it to you, which is probably why he calls himself this at the beginning of verse 1.
            And what does he tell us? “To live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” If you’re a believer in Christ, you have quite a calling to live up to. He called you out of sin and the dominion of Satan into his family. You bear on your soul the ownership mark of the Lord Jesus. To all the spiritual realm, this seal proclaims to everyone who sees it that you belong to the Lord Jesus. Everything you do reflects to some degree on him.
            He called you to be some things, and the “being” will lead to certain ways of thinking and speaking and doing. To paraphrase Descartes, I am [in Christ], therefore I do.”
            That’s what the rest of Ephesians is about. God’s people are expected to think, speak, and act a certain way. And in chapters 4-6 the practical instructions are mainly regarding how we treat each other. Not that our relationship with the Lord isn’t important; on the contrary, the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But I tend to forget sometimes that a huge portion—if not the majority—of how I demonstrate that love for him is by loving other people in his name.
            So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Since he’s called us, how do we live up to that calling?
·         Be completely humble, keeping a sober eye on who you are.
·         Be completely gentle. Treat others the same way your Savior has treated you.
·         Be patient, bearing with others’ failings and shortcomings (once again, the same way he’s treated you).
·         Here’s where we come to something we need to think through carefully. We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” “Make every effort” insinuates of course that sometimes the peace cannot be kept. Like the virtues of love, gentleness, and kindness, the Church—under the influence of the world’s zeitgeist—sometimes overemphasizes peace where the Lord says there is no peace. There is no peace between those who proclaim the true Message of Christ and false teachers who’d pervert it. There is no peace between believers and those who teach antinomianism, whether the advocates of the latter call it by that name or not. There is no peace between the biblical view of Christ and the false ones presented by the Mormon Church or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, no matter how nice the followers of the latter are. 
Having said that, just because the world-influenced church overemphasizes something, that doesn’t lessen the importance of what Paul says here. When he says “make every effort,” he means it. When we’re united in Christ, when we stick to what the Bible clearly says about him, when we’re united in the truth of the Good News, then we see something truly glorious.
United under the banner of Christ, there is 1) One Body, 2) One Spirit, 3) one hope, 4) one Lord, 5) one faith, 6) one baptism; 7) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. On everything on this list, there’s only one of its kind. There aren’t two bodies of Christ, at least not in the same sense. There’s not two Holy Spirits, one for Pentecostals and one for Baptists. There isn’t more than one faith that saves you.
The point to the above paragraph is that I need to foster a sense of unity with my brothers who agree with me on the essentials of the faith. Once again, I think a great yardstick is that we need to be dogmatic on a subject in exact proportion to how clear the Bible is on that particular topic. In my time, I’ve fellowshipped and worshiped and prayed together with siblings in Christ who disagree with me on such topics as tongues, the End Times, and a host of other side-issues. What we agree on are the essentials.
And when the Body is unified in that way, angels use us as a springboard for worship, and demons tremble in their strongholds. May we see more of it.

Father God, help me to be unified with my brothers on essentials, grant liberty on doubtful things, and love at all times. Please, may I strive closer and closer to the goal of treating others as you’ve treated me. By your grace.  

[Oct 24]—Another Prayer

            “For this reason” repeats the first words from yesterday’s passage. Paul was about to say what he says in today’s passage, but he had to pause for vss. 1-13 to ponder a mystery, namely the unity of the Church and our reconciliation with God and with each other.
            Now he gets back to the point he started in verse 1. “For this reason,” remember, refers back to the jaw-dropping truth that in Christ, Jew and Gentile are now one, that Gentiles--who'd been “far”--are now brought together with Jews--who were relatively “near”--are now united with each other in the Body of Christ.
            In view of this wonderful mystery we call God’s plan of salvation, Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus, but what he prayed for is something we all could use. Everyone this side of Glory could use this.
            What did he want for the Ephesians?
·         That out of his glorious riches he would strengthen them with power through his Spirit.

·         Why? Power to do what? Lift a car over our heads? No, in order that Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith. Of course, Christ came to live inside us through his Spirit at the moment of salvation. There’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit inside them. The word "dwell" is translated from katoikeō in the Greek. It’s not a word for simply occupying a space. It’s a word that means living comfortably in a place you own or making a home for yourself. So the question is not “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” but “Does the Holy Spirit have you?” Or as someone pointed out to me long ago when I was a teenager, there’s all the difference in the world between the Spirit being resident and President. He lives inside every redeemed heart, but he’s only at “home” in a heart where he’s on the throne.

·         He also prayed that they, being rooted and established in love (the first among the Fruit of the Spirit and the “greatest” among the virtues), would together with all God’s holy people (that’s you and me), would be able to grasp something. Again, we need to change our perspective. Our view of the world is way too small. We need to get just a glimpse of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” How wide is it? Wide enough to throw our sins are far away from us as the east is from the west. How long? From everlasting to everlasting. How high? It reaches up to the heavens. How deep is it? Deep enough for him to leave the Throne of Heaven, to come down to this pit of sin and death, pull us out, clean us off, and turn what he found there into sons and daughters.

·         He also wants us to not just know about this love. He wants us to know this love personally. The Lord Almighty, the One before whom angels shield their faces, the high and exalted One who “[lives] in a high and holy place” also wants to live with “the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit.” Paul wants us to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Filled with his presence, filled with his love, and filled to the brim with his empowering grace.

·         Then he ends the theology-heavy section of Ephesians with praise, and in the midst of it he tells us something about our Lord. The One we serve “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Ponder that for a moment. It’s not just that he’s able to do more than we ask. It’s not that he’s able to do more than we can imagine, which, like our desires, is theoretically limitless. No, he is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. And this is the power that is at work in us. Right now. This moment. We just have to tap into it.

·         It all comes back to his honor, his glory, his praise. The reason why the Church is here—the main purpose—is to provide honor and praise to our Savior God. Not just now, and not just in the generations to come, as important as that is. Forever and ever and ever. That’s what we’re here for, and I look forward to the day when I can do that perfectly.

      How’s about you?

Father, when I compare what I can do versus what you can do, it’s no contest. May the same power that raised your Son from the dead now fully be displayed in me, to your honor and glory and praise. Starting this moment, forever and ever and ever. In your Son’s name, Amen. 

[Oct 23]—Mysterious Grace

            Grace—so much meaning packed into such a little word. We can offer a simple definition (God’s unmerited favor), but to actually plumb the depths of that mystery is way beyond human capability. Despite this, today we’re going to try to dive a little deeper than we normally do, simply because the effort can pay such rich dividends.
            Paul starts the passage with “For this reason. .  .” Conjunctions and connecting phrases can be really useful here. When we see something like this, in order to follow an author’s thought process, we need to ask questions like “For what reason? What was Paul talking about in the last few verses?” Keep in mind that the chapter and verse divisions are there for our convenience, but they’re not inspired like the actual words of Paul are; in the original manuscript, there would've been no chapter and verse divisions, nor even word divisions.
            This goes back to the topic of the last passage: The fact that in Christ’s body the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been torn down forever. Jews and Gentiles had been separated by culture, mores, religion, and mutual hatred. But in Christ, just as the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn down, so was the barrier between Jew and Gentile was removed permanently. 
            Keep in mind that in Paul’s letters the word “mystery” means something quite different from modern common usage. It’s not something really to be solved. It’s something which was hidden in the mind and plan of God in eternity past, and which has now been revealed at the correct time. Paul used it to describe 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ living within us, which is the hope of glory, and 3) the previously unknown revelation that  those believers who happen to be alive when Christ returns will changed in a moment and given resurrection bodies without experiencing death.
            The thing that all these mysteries had in common was that it was relatively unknown in the O.T. There were strong hints at times, but it wasn’t laid out as plainly for them as it has been for us.
            The other thing they had in common was that these mysteries are not meant to be solved like a murder mystery but something to be reveled in. You’re meant to contemplate it, meditate on it, and use it as a springboard for worship.
            Paul was chosen by God as a messenger of the Good News, in which this mystery was contained. And what was this mystery to which he’s referring? The glorious truth that in Christ Jew and Gentile are now one in the Father’s family. Within our Father's house there are absolutely no racial, social, or spiritual distinctions.
            Now, as with the other mysteries we mentioned, there were hints in the O.T. about this. Abraham was promised that through him all nations would be blessed. Moses told his people that they were to be a nation of priests—hinting that in God's plan they would be mediators between the Lord and the nations. One time as we read the Psalms, my wife and I took note of all the times that the Psalmist either predicted or called for all the nations to join them in worshipping the Lord (at least 20 times to my recollection). The prophets (Isaiah in particular) predicted that all the nations would come to the Lord and submit to him one way or another (for example here).
            But like the other mysteries, the fullness of what God had hinted at was fulfilled in Christ. And the fact that Gentiles would not only come to faith in the Lord but would be fully equal co-heirs with the Jews was something new, hence vs. 5: “[It was] not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
            And this was what Paul was called to: To take this glorious truth (the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church) and make it “become flesh” so to speak as both Jews and Gentiles came to belief together and worshipped together and were fully reconciled to each other.
            Here we get to my favorite part of the passage, the one that sends chills up my spine. Do you want to impress angels? Well, congratulations, you’re already doing it. Paul tells us that the whole reason why God is doing all this is so that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I want you to ponder that just for a moment. Angels and demons--and any other spiritual forces out there that I can’t even contemplate--look at the Church united. .  .and tremble. The angels see her, tremble, and worship their Master. The demons see her, and just tremble.
            We’re living trophies of his grace and mercy and love and power and sovereignty and wisdom. Here Paul mentions that the Church is his wisdom on display. It’s “manifold.” As you unfold it, there’s still more to uncover. You unfold it some more, and there’s more to discover. How long does this take? Eternity. We’ll have forever and ever to unfold all this, and we’ll never reach bottom. But we’re going to experience a lot of joy trying.
            Keep in mind, however, that all this theology has a purpose. That purpose is not to fill your head with knowledge, nor to satisfy your idle curiosity. No, he says in vs. 13 that because of these things which we’ve talked about, he asks us not to be discouraged and to see his sufferings as “glory,” not something to be mourned.
            Theology must change your perspective on your daily life, and how you think will bleed out into how you talk and how you act.

Lord Jesus, that’s the reason I was born, why I was born again, and why I was united with the Church. All glory and honor and worship and thanksgiving belong to you, and by your grace I’m going to do my best to see that you get what you deserve.