Worth the Effort

Raising the Cross (1)

Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.

          Enthralled with tales of the wonderful life in the country, a family from New York bought a ranch near Eagle Butte, intending to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would-be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we call it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”

“So where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.

“None of them survived the branding.”

https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-result-of-disagreement

This little joke proves that disagreements can be DEADLY.  It’s better to avoid them and better still to exercise “preventative maintenance” by coming together in the UNITY Paul describes in this passage.

CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:

THEN is a small word that marks a change in the direction of the letter.  Paul spent the first three chapters describing our new identity in Christ.  For the final three chapters he will concentrate on exhortations to live out that new identity.

Paul admonished the Ephesians to put some effort into their faith.  He did so AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD.  Is this his way of saying, “Look at all I’ve sacrificed to serve the LORD, how can you gripe about what He expects of YOU?”

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

  1. Christian living requires us to put forth some effort. (1-3)

We must put effort into being worthy of our CALLING (not our salvation, as that is a gift of God’s grace).  I URGE YOU = this word has a sense of comfort that is nonetheless challenging.  Paul appealed to the Ephesians on the basis of the love of Jesus in them.

“Worthiness” here means “appropriateness.”  Appropriateness is measured in degree of conformity to Jesus Christ.  A truly saved person will exhibit a character that is changing into the character of Christ (i.e., showing Fruits of the Spirit; see Galatians 5:22-23).  Paul mentions four virtues in v. 2, four examples, not an exhaustive list.

The first is humility.  There are few vices that are harder on relationships than pride.  Pride and selfishness are the launch pads of a great array of sins that distance us from God and people.  That’s why God despises pride so thoroughly (see Proverbs 11:2; Isaiah 2:11; Luke 1:52).  Prideful people make self an idol; they take glory that should be directed to God.

The second virtue is gentleness.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus described Himself as “GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART,” touching both of these first 2 virtues.  People following His example will develop these virtues. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “meek” but in our time that word means “weak-willed,” describing someone who’s too easily persuaded.  A GENTLE person does not lack courage, but does exercise self-control.  GENTLE people do not lack conviction, they are simply careful how they show it.  Their passions are tempered by love for others.  People who are legalistic, self-centered, impatient, or otherwise ungracious will find gentleness a challenge.  God is described as GENTLE as He leads and teaches His people (Psalm 25:9).

The third virtue is patience.  While anger itself is not a sin, it often leads to sin; sins that are especially hard on our relationships.  Patience is the preventative medicine to anger.  Paul repeatedly called on church folk to be PATIENT with one another (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2).  The Greek word translated as PATIENT is a combination of the words for “anger/rage” and “a long time.”  (James 1:19 commands us to be SLOW TO ANGER.)  This does not condone staying angry for a long time (that would be contrary to Ephesians 4:26-27); instead it means taking a long time to become angry.  Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a defining feature of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), and a virtue God empowers us to practice (Colossians 1:11).

A fourth virtue is forbearance: BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.  Jesus exhibited this virtue in relation to His disciples when their ignorance or unbelief tested His patience (Matthew 17:17).  True tolerance requires loving God and others: this motivates us to overlook the small offenses people give us.  Whether it is sin, immaturity, or a personality quirk, the more we let go without anger and without comment, the closer we are to experiencing the UNITY God wants us to have.  Proverbs 19:11 makes this plain: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

The lives of church folk are to demonstrate good works, are truthful, are motivated by love, and bring glory to God.  “Easy peasey,” right?  Not always.  It is sin that complicates matters and forces us to substitute political machinations and rules to achieve the same ends.

Paul based his appeal on worthiness to our CALLING.  We are called to two things.  First things first , God calls us to salvation.  None of this is possible apart from a real relationship with God.  We can’t be WORTHY until Jesus is our Savior and Lord.  Second, God calls us to sanctification.  Salvation is decided in a moment but we spend the remainder of our days working out its effects.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul exhorted, “WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.”  In v. 4 Paul stated we are called to share ONE HOPE.  Part of the answer to this question of calling is to put all our HOPE in Jesus Christ and nothing else.

UNITY is so important it is worthy EVERY EFFORT to keep it (3).  This UNITY comes from God; it is OF THE SPIRIT.  Here’s a “bumper sticker” truth: “Unity: you didn’t make it so don’t you break it.”

The Holy Spirit creates unity in the Church by recreating the MIND OF CHRIST in every believer.  In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul promised that we share THE MIND OF CHRIST.  That means that we ought to think like Jesus.  If we did that, it stands to reason that we would more often agree and more frequently behave agreeably.

God-given UNITY is kept through THE BOND OF PEACE.  The Greek word literally means “bind with chains.”  This is ironic because during his imprisonment, Paul was often chained to a Roman soldier who guarded him.  Similarly, PEACE should exist between all believers in Christ.  PEACE should keep them together and in relationship.

  1. God has given us a lot in common. (4-6)

An important piece of our unity is all that we share as God’s called-out ones.  Paul lists seven gifts of grace that define our shared identity.  Any one of these is more important than any of the trivia that usually divides churches.

The first gift is the Church; the ONE BODY of which we are all members.  The human body is a collection of diverse cells, organs, and systems all functioning together.  This is a symbol of the Church Paul used frequently (1: 22-23; 2:16; 4:15-16; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Colossians 3:15).  True unity occurs in situations of diversity; the most valuable UNITY in churches built on the greatest diversity.

The second gift is the Holy Spirit; the ONE SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the means by which all the diverse personalities of a church become ONE.  This was an especially important point to the believers in Ephesus.  Because the culture of that city was so superstitious and tended toward the occult, people would have come into the church believing there were many “spirits” in the world.  What Paul wrote here is exactly contrary to that belief.  There is only ONE SPIRIT.

The third gift is a future; we share ONE HOPE.  Paul taught in 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit functioned as a SEAL and DEPOSIT, guaranteeing our hope in God.  He saw these second and third points as being interrelated.  A reason we have HOPE is that God called us out of this world into the world to come.  So Paul’s mention of our CALLING in v. 1 is directly linked to this reference to HOPE.  The hopeful status of the Ephesian believers is directly opposite their hopeless status in 2:12.  Apart from Jesus, we have no reason to have hope.

The fourth gift is Jesus Christ, our ONE LORD.  The Lordship of Jesus Christ is an important theme of this letter (1:2-3, 15, 17; 3:11; 5:20; 6:23-24) and of the New Testament in general.  Jewish believers needed to be assured that Jesus was not a new god, but a fuller understanding of who God is.  The central belief of the Jewish faith is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4, affirming there is only ONE God.  The Gentiles recognized several gods and people back then tended to think and act like all religions were equally real.  (Sound familiar?)  They needed to unlearn that belief and recognize only ONE LORD, affirming there is only one true God. Accepting the belief there is only one God in three persons is central to our faith.  It was a distinguishing mark in Paul’s time and it must be in ours as well.  If we count the notion that all religions are equally true (or equally untrue) then we do not have a saving faith.

The fifth gift is definition to what we believe and how we act upon our belief; ONE FAITH.  Faith is a set of things we hold to be true, which determine our actions.  ONE FAITH means that most of these particulars are non-negotiable and are held in common among all true believers.  A big difference between the Church in Paul’s time and the Church in ours is the depth of agreement they had on matters of theology.  With the exception of false teachers (4:4) and splinter sects, the Church in the first three centuries shared a common faith.

The sixth gift is membership in a local church by means of ONE BAPTISM.  Believer’s baptism by immersion following a confession of faith was the normal practice of the early church (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36, 38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 19:5).  Believer’s baptism was the standard practice and one believer’s baptism was all a person needed.  Baptism is a public identifying with Jesus Christ and by Him having received salvation.  It is a ritual of initiation that provides for membership in a local church.  One’s baptism is a joyous occasion that unites a believer to a congregation of believers. In the history of the Church baptism is a practice that has been a reason for many schisms.  There have probably been more new denominations formed over the practice of baptism than any other aspect of Christian faith.  It’s fair to say that between our denominations BAPTISM is not a gift we all use the same way.

The seventh gift is God Himself: ONE GOD AND FATHER.  Our earlier comments on monotheism apply here.  In perfect continuity, the Bible asserts from beginning to end that there is only one true God.  However, as history wore on and God revealed more about Himself, we came to understand that our one God has three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We created a name for this truth; the “Trinity.”  The sub-points Paul affirmed here – FATHER OF ALL, OVER ALL, THROUGH ALL AND IN ALL – are reminders that God made everything and that He sustains everything.  All that exists continues to exist because of Him.  Therefore we owe Him constant praise and worship. (Romans 11:6)  In contrast to pagan religions of Paul’s day that believed in many gods, Jews and Christians held to ONE GOD.

Though we hold these most important things together, we are still individuals.  That’s where our next message comes in, as we look at the affirmations of individuality in verse 7-16.  To put it another way, 4:1-6 reveal the truth about UNITY, 4:7-16 reveal the complimentary truth about diversity.

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

God gives His Church unity.  We don’t have to create it, but we are responsible to maintain it.  This is not as hard as it may sound, because we have all these things common.  They are far greater than the trivia that threatens to divide us.  Also, love is supposed to characterize our relationships and we have God as our example.

What we need to do is work on our social skills, keep our priorities in order, be patient with one another, communicate in godly ways, be selfless.  Take a moment soon to read John 17:11-23.  This is Jesus’ final recorded prayer.  Count the number of times Jesus prayed we should be ONE.  Understand the depth of oneness He described.  That will give you good perspective on how important the maintenance of UNITY really is.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

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Paul Prayed for Us

Paul in Prayer

Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.

          If you want an education on prayer, google the words “prayer rules.”  It will take your computer a little over six-tenths of a second to populate a list of 125 billion hits.

That’s how I found Christian comedian John B. Crist’s video on the subject of table grace.  He provided a refreshingly honest and funny take on praying for your food.  The video has over a million views, so the guy may be on to something.  I’ll spare you the whole three minute video and give you just the highlights.

Do you pray to receive chips and salsa or any other appetizer?  Not if you’ve ordered an entrée – pray over that when it comes.

His rule on salads – “If it comes with dressing, it doesn’t need blessing.”

You should pray for soup only if it is served in a bowl; “If it comes in a cup, no need to lift up,” is what Crist advises.

The policy on French fries is that you can eat up to three of them before praying.  Before reaching for that fourth fry, you’d better be holding your hands in prayer first.

Crist’s views are harmless silliness, but historically there have been some serious differences of opinion on the subject of prayer.  That google page I mentioned has websites from the major world religions on the subject of prayer.

The best rule for prayer is to follow the Bible.  The second best rule is to model your prayers after prayers recorded in the Bible, the obvious example being the Lord’s Prayer.  Today we’re going to take a look at Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus.  There’s a lot we can learn from Paul’s example.

CONTEXT (vs. 14+15) = FOR THIS REASON refers back to 2:11-22 and to what we learned last week: the MYSTERY OF CHRIST had been revealed.  God had made the Gentiles part of His family.

There are a couple different outcomes listed here in v. 14; one is that we are all one FAMILY.  The former distinction between Jew and Gentile is meaningless as we Gentiles have been adopted into God’s FAMILY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH.  In fact, we share a family NAME; a mutual identity in Christ.

The second outcome is where we want to devote our attention this morning.  The powerful revelation that we are one FAMILY motivated Paul to pray.  He knelt before God the Father to express a prayer for all who believe (vs. 16-19) and pronounce a blessing as well (vs. 20-21).  The content of this second prayer is similar to that of the first prayer (1:15-23); knowing God better.

My hope is learning how Paul prayed for us will give us fuller knowledge of what God has done for us and motivate us to deeper fellowship with one another and with Christ.  Let not Paul have prayed in vain.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

  1. Paul’s prayers for us. (16-19)

Paul prayed for us to be strengthened by the supply (OUT OF) that is God’s GLORIOUS RICHES.  That might be a bit misleading; it is not God’s RICHES that are GLORIOUS, it is God Himself.  He is full or “rich” in glory.  GLORY is some earthly manifestation of the presence of God.  Whether it is light, or a miracle, or an overwhelming feeling of awe, God causes us to know His presence with our five senses.

He prayed we would be strengthened WITH God’s POWER.  In the Bible, the strength God gives us is most noticeable when we face opposition.  When we need it most, we feel God’s POWER more clearly. If this is NOT your experience, there is something wrong at the core of your faith, because all followers of Jesus are invited to receive God’s POWER.  Our resolve to remain faithful and to do right do not to come from our own will and strength but are God’s gifts to us.

God imparts strength IN our INNER BEING.  By way of contrast, Samson prayed for strength and received miraculous physical strength in the face of his enemies (Judges 16:28-29).  Because it is directed toward our INNER BEING, we know this empowering is NOT for physical but spiritual strength.

INNER BEING (16) and HEARTS (17) are two terms that refer to the same thing: our emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual life.  In Romans 7:22 and 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul wrote about his INNER BEING as being the means by which he received daily renewal by God.

The means of this strengthening is receiving the indwelling presence of Christ (17).  Paul prayed Jesus would dwell in our HEARTS.

As Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, our point of connection with Him is obviously not physical.  We are connected spiritually.  Everything we just said about a person’s INNER BEING applies to this statement about the HEART.  In 1:18 Paul prayed that their EYES of their hearts would, through the Holy Spirit, know Jesus better.  In 4:18-19 he wrote about hard-heartedness that makes people spiritually insensitive and leads to all kinds of sin.

The indwelling of Christ is possible THROUGH FAITH.  Faith is trust that the words of God are true and His promises reliable.  This trust allows everyone who will, to open their INNER BEING up to God, receiving Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.

The effects of the indwelling of Christ are three-fold.

Firstly, BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  This is a mixed metaphor, but both metaphors describe the same thing.  From agriculture we know that plants that are deeply ROOTED can withstand the wind and draw nutrients from the soil to ensure survival.  From architecture we know that buildings established on a good foundation are ready to withstand  all the trials of nature.

Secondly, to HAVE POWER, as a church, to GRASP the dimensions of t LOVE OF CHRIST (18-19).  Paul used the word GRASP to in the same way we use it to describe a firm understanding of something. Physically, to really GRASP something requires strength in one’s hands.  A weak grip allows things to slip thru one’s fingers.  Metaphorically, a weak GRASP of something implies the person doesn’t fully understand and/or truly appreciate the knowledge under discussion.

People with a GRASP of this passage will notice that Paul offers four dimensions to measure the love of Christ, when three dimensions are all that are normally required to measure objects.  He will say in the next verse that the love of Christ SURPASSES ALL KNOWLEDGE.  That fits with a four-dimensional measuring.

Remember we said the Ephesians were very involved in the occult before becoming Christians.  Two magic-using texts that survive from Paul’s era use exactly this set of four dimensions as means of “measuring” a god’s power.  We see Paul constantly using local words and things to make connections to the Gospel that local peoples would understand.

It also fits with what he wrote in 3:10; the MANIFOLD (“multifaceted”) WISDOM OF GOD.  Paul used a paradox to get us to GRASP the LOVE OF CHRIST.  To paraphrase, “You will never know the full extent of Christ’s love, but you are to spend your lives trying to know it.”  We have a limited capability and a limited lifespan but we aren’t to let that stop us from knowing in our heads and hearts the unlimited LOVE OF CHRIST.

Thirdly, to be FILLED with the FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  This prayer request is also a paradox.  Logically, we who are limited cannot be FILLED to the FULLNESS OF GOD who is UNlimited.  Paul knew this, as he wrote to the Corinthians; FOR WE KNOW IN PART AND WE PROPHESY IN PART (1 Corinthians 13:9).  His prayer, then, is that we would know all we can know of God and that our capacity to know Him would increase.  Our access to the FULLNESS OF GOD is in Jesus Christ.  In Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 Paul taught ALL THE FULLNESS of God dwells in Jesus Christ.  As Christ dwells in our hearts (17), we indirectly but entirely have God’s fullness.  This simply means that more and more of our conscious thought centers on God.

– When we ask “Why?” we ask in recognition that God is in charge.

– When we make a decision, we ask God to reveal His will to us.

  1. Paul’s blessing on us. (20-21)

God’s ability to bless us defies our capacity to define or appreciate it (20).  Just as he said earlier (18) in the four dimensions of God’s love, Paul states it again here with another paradox: “We must understand God wants to bless us more than we can possibly understand.”  Our limited language, brain power, and narrow experience can’t begin to IMAGINE, let alone know, all that God wants to do for us.  Each of the times Paul sets our limits alongside God’s limitlessness he is hoping to motivate us to humility. We have no business trying to force God into our theological systems or petty legalisms.  Instead, we should be awestruck by His power & open our mouths only to praise Him.

This fact does not diminish the need for prayer.  It makes prayer more valuable because it is only by prayer that God’s unimaginable will to bless becomes part of our understanding and experience.

God blesses us by means of HIS POWER THAT IS AT WORK WITHIN US (20).  Clearly, God does not limit His action to the scope of our prayers.  He exerts His will over all creation and does not wait for us to give Him permission.  But He has chosen to WORK WITHIN US.  He has offered to make us partners in this task of bringing His offer of salvation to the entire world.

We do God a disservice when we reduce the life of faith to the “Killer B’s;” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws.  When we mistake the tools for the trade we are guilty of trying to place limits on our limitless God.

God is worthy of our worship (21).  GLORY is the key word.  Paul located the glory of God in two sources.

First, IN THE CHURCH.  When the Bible speaks about giving glory to God, it means to make God known in the world.  We give the spiritual nature of God a human face when we act like His disciples.  It’s a big job, but we serve a limitless God, so get to it!

Second, IN CHRIST JESUS.  This is the third time Paul made this point.  As we observed in v. 19, in Jesus we find the fullness of all the members of the Trinity.  The unlimited entirety of God finds us to the degree that Jesus dwells in our hearts (17).

Glorifying God inserts eternity into our everyday lives.  Paul expressed this truth in two phrases.

First, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS.  We see just a few generations before us now, but we stand in a line that stretches through all of human history.

Second, FOR EVER AND EVER affirms our decisions and deeds outlive our days.  What we do for God survives into eternity.  It becomes proof of our claim to be a member of God’s family and determines our reward in heaven.

As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.

          We can see three essential things for which we can ask God, regarding both our church and ourselves.  There are three prayers that need to be a daily part of our prayer life.

“Father, strengthen us with Your power.” Far beyond the empty promises of the world, far beyond the unheeding false gods people promote, far beyond our understanding or imagination, God offers us His unlimited supply of strength, knowledge, and life.  Christianity is NOT just another self-help movement or form of groupthink.  It is a window God opened so we can see a portion of who He is.

“Father, renew us with a vision of Your love.”  Suffering tries to convince us that God is either weak or unloving or both.  It can be convincing and can drain the vitality from our spirit.  When that happens we often retreat into formalism or legalism or any of hundreds of ways that we show we don’t really care.  God really cares and His people do too.  We need to work at showing God’s caring.

“Father, rule over us.”  We show God’s love by the sacrifices we make to accommodate one another.  We show our love for God by obeying Him.  In both cases, selfishness needs to disappear.  All of us together – NOT THE BUILDING – are where God dwells.  We are to be lead by God.  Following any other lead makes it painfully obvious how little we have learned of grown or matured.  People need to be inspired, not made comfortable.  Inspiration comes along with responding to God’s leadership.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Paul: Mystery Man

Summertime Sermon Series: Return to Ephesus (Part 9)

The Apostle PaulPlease read Ephesians 3:1-13.

CONTEXT = FOR THIS REASON refers back to the previous section, which taught us that unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Unity is given to us as an act of grace through the Holy Spirit.  For our part, we are to maintain that unity by acting in accord with one another and avoiding sins of the tongue and all other sins that cause discord.

It’s a little surprising Paul used the word MYSTERY so frequently in this passage.  It was a term that was much-abused by “mystery religions” of his day, cults that prospered around the ancient world, and probably in Ephesus especially.  People involved in the mystery religions claimed to know something that nobody else knew.  To join the group, you had to be taught their secrets, their mysteries.

When we started this series last summer we learned there were a number of occult groups like this in Ephesus.  The people in Ephesus were infamous for their fascination with magic and the occult.  I believe Paul used this word deliberately, choosing to confront the false teachers by using a word they misused to deceive people.  We have already seen how Paul’s enemies reacted to his brave practice of telling the truth; they incited a riot!

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

  1. Paul’s qualifications to reveal the MYSTERY.

He was a PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS (verse one).  Politically and physically, it would be more technically correct to say Paul was a prisoner of Caesar.  He wrote this letter in AD 61 or 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting an audience with Caesar.

Spiritually speaking, Paul was a “prisoner” of Jesus in the sense that he was dedicated to doing the will of Christ.  This expression is meant to remind the reader that Caesar could do his worst, but Paul belonged to Jesus, who ultimately decided Paul’s actions and outcome.

Paul was a PRISONER for the sake of the GENTILES (v. 1).  This phrase gives us a “big picture” view of Paul’s incarceration.  Even though his imprisonment can be traced back to his situation in Jerusalem and his decision to appeal his case to the emperor, it was for the sake of the Gentile churches that God allowed it to happen.  Paul’s unwavering commitment to serve God in the Gentile churches was part of the reason he was imprisoned.

Paul’s qualification to be the “mystery man” was based on God’s grace, not on his own merit.  Paul explained this in verses seven and eight.  Paul was an apostle and an administrator of the MYSTERY THROUGH GOD’S GRACE GIVEN ME THROUGH THE WORKING OF HIS POWER (v. 7).  We are obviously operating under GRACE when we’re doing something we are not personally qualified to do.  God gets the glory when His power is most evident.  This is the way Paul understood his ministry – God’s strength substituting for his weakness.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he wrote from God’s perspective, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Think about it.  Why should we bumble along in our own strength when our Creator offers HIS?!!

This was Paul’ humbling experience; ALTHOUGH I AM LESS THAN THE LEAST OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN ME (v. 8).  Though he had achieved so much, Paul had the faith and the good sense to give all the glory to God.  An understanding of how GRACE operates precludes all pride.  People who have received grace don’t waste time reciting their religious “pedigree.”  They thank God instead.

This is NOT Paul trying to impress anyone with false humility.  It is a recollection of his past – how he used to persecute the Church – as otherwise making him unfit for service.  Apart from GRACE, Paul would not have been so successful in making disciples and planting churches.

All of this was for the Ephesians.  For their sake, on their behalf, he received an ADMINISTRATION OF GOD’S GRACE (v. 2).  This is how ministry works: God’s grace empowers some of His people to serve Him by serving God’s church.  GRACE is always God-centered; it is given, not earned.  In fact, the most obvious examples of GRACE are gifts the recipient could not otherwise possess. The ADMINISTRATION to which Paul refers is the work of making God’s offer of salvation by GRACE known to those outside the Church and the maturing of those inside.  When you read ADMINISTRATION, think “application:” God wants us to apply His truth to our daily living.

God’s purpose in showing GRACE to Paul was to equip him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul describes his message with two phrases: TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST (v. 8).  Though a Jew himself (in fact, a “Jew’s Jew,” see Philippians 3:3-8), Paul’s ministry was to non-Jews; TO THE GENTILES.

The word UNSEARCHABLE refers to the limitless generosity of God.  He makes rain fall on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), a symbol of how salvation is offered to all people, whether we think they deserve it or not

The aim of Paul’s teaching was TO MAKE PLAIN TO EVERYONE THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS MYSTERY (9).  When you think about it, making something UNSEARCHABLE become PLAIN TO EVERYONE is a tall order!  Attempting it without relying on God’s power would be ridiculous, illogical.

As he speaks about his preaching and his ministry in other letters, Paul consistently downplayed any strengths or gifts he brought to proclaiming the Gospel.  His ambition was to make the truth PLAIN.  Anyone who preaches while depending on technique, charisma, intelligence, or any other human power is preaching something other than Christ.

  1. What Paul revealed about the MYSTERY.

The content and true understanding of the MYSTERY had been MADE KNOWN to Paul by REVELATION, the personal witness of Jesus Christ (v. 3).  I believe Paul is referring here to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and what he learned subsequent to that.

It was a MYSTERY because had not been MADE KNOWN TO MEN IN OTHER [previous] GENERATIONS (v. 5).  Here Paul seems to divide human history into two epochs: “BC” (Before Christ) and “AD” (After His Death and Resurrection).  (Of course, these are not the abbreviations we use.)

In the BC time, God’s plan to save humanity from sin had been hinted at, revealed in part, but not fully explained.  All through that part of history, God had promised salvation and was working to bring it to pass, but had not revealed it fully to all people.

Repeating this truth in a slightly different way, Paul wrote in verse nine, IN AGES PAST WAS KEPT HIDDEN IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS.  KEPT HIDDEN = the Bible is a “Progressive Revelation;” as time passed, God revealed more about Himself and about His plan for humanity.  As we read from Genesis through to Revelation, we progress in our understanding of what God was saying.  We understand the Old Testament as we read it in light of what God revealed in the New Testament.  Both parts of the Bible are inextricably linked.  Because the fullness of God’s revelation did not enter into human history until the person of Jesus Christ, what appeared before was partial and predictive.  It was not the whole story but the foundation for what was to come.

Paul reminds us that God CREATED ALL THINGS to reinforce this point: God is in charge.  All of history is moving in the direction He wills.  God is working all circumstances to the end He has planned.

He was given insight into THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (v. 4).  Paul is not setting himself up as anything special, a holder of secrets.  He is not a priest in a “mystery religion.”  Instead, he set mystery religions on their head by doing the opposite; he shared the insights he’s been given with the widest possible audience, making God’s plan known to everyone.  For example, read 1:17, where Paul prayed for all people to know God better.

God’s MYSTERY had been REVEALED BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD’S HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS (v. 5).  Paul lived in the “AD” time of divine history.  In Jesus, the fullness of God’s plan for salvation had been revealed and accomplished.  The major revelation came in the person of Jesus, but God also announced it through the HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, the people tasked with leading the Church.

According to God’s plan, the Church is to be His means of revealing His MANIFOLD WISDOM TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS (v. 10).  Often we’re guilty of thinking too small.  We fuss over details and ignore the fact that our shared ministry is part of God’s plan to save the world.  Case in point: Paul’s mention of RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS means that our ministries have eternal consequences.  Spiritual forces beyond our control are affected by whether we are doing our jobs or not.  Think about that: no pressure!

If we weren’t living by GRACE, if we were instead asked to do this on our own strength, such a notion would be intimidating.  However, as we have repeatedly noted, God gives us GRACE to do these things.  This means there is no room for intimidation or distraction by petty, worldly things.

To further establish the centrality of Jesus in the revelation of the MYSTERY, Pal revealed in verse eleven that God completed His ETERNAL PURPOSE IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  The word ACCOMPLISHED means “realized, achieved.”  The passage makes it clear that God made His plan before creation, completed His plan in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and will one day bring it to a complete close when Jesus comes again.

Take a deep breath and let that sink in: you and I are partners with each other and with Jesus Christ.  All of creation is in its last days.  Everything we do has eternal significance.  The powers of heaven and hell are waiting with bated breath.  What we say and do MATTERS!

Here we come to it at last.  What we’ve all been waiting to find out.  What is the MYSTERY?  The MYSTERY is the formation of a single people of God.  Clinton E. Arnold wrote, “God’s people will now be identified by their togetherness in a multiethnic loving group endowed by the Spirit of God rather than circumcision, ritual purity, and bloody sacrifices.”  The distinction of Jew and Gentile is void.

This is what Paul meant by the phrase THROUGH THE GOSPEL THE GENTILES ARE…HEIRS, MEMBERS, and SHARERS with Israel, all in verse six.  When at one time God set apart a nation for Himself, now He has set apart a people, called out from all the nations of the Earth.

– HEIRS TOGETHER WITH ISRAEL = In 1:14 Paul stated the Gentiles were, along with the Jews, inheritors of the Holy Spirit.  He used this word picture again in 5:5.  It is a thread running through the letter.  Nationality no longer determines a person’s membership in God’s family.  Now it is faith in Christ that make one an heir.

– MEMBERS OF ONE BODY = Paul made up an entirely new Greek word (susoma) to say “with one body.”  Paul frequently described the Church as the Body of Christ in this letter (1:23; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).  In Corinthians, he used this figure of speech to emphasize how different parts (people of different nations) form one body (the Church).

– SHARERS TOGETHER IN THE PROMISE IN CHRIST JESUS = What Paul had in mind was the Holy Spirit, whom he referred to as “the Holy Spirit of promise” in 1:17.  In John 14 Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers as the chief sign of salvation and the most important means of following Jesus’ teachings.  In Galatians 3:7, 26-29, Paul wrote how believing Gentiles are part of the fulfillment o/t promises God made to Abraham.

An important benefit of this revelation is the confidence we can have in prayer and in trials.  (This is our KEY VERSE on this Religious Liberty Sunday.)  In verse twelve the inspired apostle wrote, THROUGH FAITH IN HIM WE MAY APPROACH GOD WITH FREEDOM AND CONFIDENCE.  The greatest expression of FREEDOM is the ability to pray to God.  Prayer is the practice that brings all this GRACE to bear on our daily lives.  Without prayer, none of these Kingdom of God things get accomplished.  With prayer, the resources of heaven are put at our disposal!

The word CONFIDENCE in the Greek pictures a citizen rising at a meeting to speak his mind to an issue.  Or think of a friendly relationship you have where you can speak candidly without fear of being rejected.  Having that FREEDOM means we treasure it and would never abuse it.  We have that feeling out of gratitude, not fear that it might be taken away.

Notice this verse says twice IN HIM, making clear the source of this FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE is Jesus Christ.  In the Progressive Revelation of the Bible, this is closeness to God that previous generations did NOT enjoy.  We are very privileged God put us in this time and place!

The Ephesians did not need to be DISCOURAGED BECAUSE OF Paul’s SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, WHICH were for their GLORY (13).  Paul presented all this theology in its grand scope and concluded by making it completely personal in verse.  This is to be our practice every time we sermonize and study the Bible.  Learning factoids is fruitless if we do not take it personally. We must apply (administrate, as above) the truth.

In this case, Paul does not want his Ephesian friends to feel badly about his imprisonment.  Instead, he wants them to be consoled, knowing that his SUFFERINGS serve two important purposes in the plan of God.

First, it serves the purpose of enabling Paul to write this letter.  If he had not been imprisoned, he would not have had the time to devote to it.  In this way, God used Paul’s SUFFERINGS to benefit the believers in Ephesus.  By the way, at the time of this writing, Paul had been imprisoned 3 or 4 years!  Discouragement would have been a real possibility for those who cared for Paul and looked on.

Second, his SUFFERINGS brought about GLORY.  Remember GLORY is the presence of God somehow manifest in human experience.  Sometimes His presence was manifest in brilliant light, sometimes in dark clouds.  But in every circumstance, the GLORY of God blessed His people, drawing them into deeper fellowship with Him.

Interestingly, Jews of Paul’s day believed that the plan of God required a certain amount of suffering be experienced before God’s plan would come into consummation.  He may have been thinking of this when he wrote that his SUFFERING was “for” the Ephesians.  This belief is implied in Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

          This passage gives us a perspective on Paul’s ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles.  It is his perspective.  His imprisonment provided opportunity to reflect on all God had done during His ministry, understanding the source and measuring its impact.

Because of GRACE, the MYSTERY has been solved.  Because we have FREEDOM and the CONFIDENCE that a loving relationship bestows, we can pray with authority.  Because God is in control, we do not have to be DISCOURAGED.  Just the opposite; we should be encouraged beyond doubt and fear to have an adventurous and joyous experience of faith in our daily living.  Who needs Sherlock Holmes?  We have Mystery Man Paul explaining the will and work of God in providing us with salvation.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

 

 

The Teacher Got Schooled

JC and Nick

Please read John 3:1-21.

          CONTEXT = As this is only the third chapter of John’s gospel, this encounter obviously happened early in Jesus’ ministry.  That is important, however, because Jesus’ teachings in John 3+4 set forth facts that are foundational to our faith.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

  1. The bell rings: school is in session. (1-2)

What we know about Nicodemus the “teacher/student.”

– He was a Pharisee. (1)

– The name “Nicodemus” meant “victory of the people.”

– He was on the JEWISH RULING COUNCIL; aka the Sanhedrin, aka the Seventy (it had 70 members).

– John 7:50 tells us he was ONE OF THEIR OWN NUMBER; a follower of Jesus.  This proves the teaching Jesus gave Nicodemus here in chapter three took root and bore fruit.

– John 19:39 informs us that, along with Joseph of Arimathea, he buried Jesus.  As Jesus’ burial is one of the chief proofs of His Resurrection, this means the conversion of Nicodemus has great historical significance.

This passage gives evidence of Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus at that moment. (2)  HE CAME TO JESUS AT NIGHT.  We suppose this is due to fear of being seen.  This may imply anything from a case of curiosity to a tentative faith (I do not believe John would include this detail in his narrative if there were not some significance to it), but it clearly shows Nicodemus’ initiative.

“YOU ARE A TEACHER,” Nicodemus said to Jesus.  Jesus was not part of the religious establishment.  His status as a rabbi was not recognized by the established authorities, so this statement implies anything from simple respect to a decision that Jesus held authority regardless of the recognition Nicodemus’ own party (Pharisees) extended or withheld.

“WHO HAS COME FROM GOD.”  Nicodemus is volunteering his opinion here.  As we unfurl his statement, he is making a greater and more accurate assessment of Jesus.

On the basis of the miracles Jesus had wrought, Nicodemus was convinced God had sent Jesus. “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  Nicodemus is not expressing a belief that Jesus is God, but is, with his words, confessing there was a great deal more to Jesus than any of his colleagues were willing to allow.

  1. Nicodemus’ first lesson: you must be born again. (3-8).

Jesus taught Nicodemus something brand new: “Be BORN AGAIN.” (3)  This teaching had no connection to Nicodemus’ opening statement; it is unrelated to the MIRACULOUS SIGNS he’d mentioned or Jesus’ role as a TEACHER.  This teaching had nothing to do with any previous Jewish teaching.  For these reasons, Nicodemus’ surprise (as Jesus recognized it in verse six) is understandable.

Nicodemus surprise is also implied in his first reaction: he took Jesus too literally (4).  Obviously, it is not physically possible to re-enter the womb and be born a second time.  People tend to say things like this in moments of surprise.  They are thinking out loud, checking their perceptions to see if they misheard or misinterpreted the speaker.

Jesus explained the teaching as a figure of speech in verses five to eight.  Being BORN AGAIN is figurative; not a physical repetition of childbirth, it is a spiritual event.  It is the formational spiritual event, required to enter the KINGDOM OF GOD (5).  Jesus developed the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth by making a distinction is between WATER birth and SPIRIT birth.  Being born of WATER refers to physical birth, what Nicodemus assumed Jesus was talking about.  Being born of the SPIRIT is the spiritual act of faith.

In nature, each species reproduces in kind.   Similarly, in matters of faith, FLESH reproduces FLESH and SPIRIT, SPIRIT (6).

Though Nicodemus was surprised, Jesus informed him this call to be saved is like the wind, coming unseen and unanticipated (7-8).  This is another description Jesus used to make a distinction between being born and being BORN AGAIN.  Like the WIND, the Holy Spirit comes to whomever He wills.  As the WIND is invisible to our eyes, the Holy Spirit is invisible to physical senses.  His coming and going, His actions, can only be perceived in the effects the Spirit has on people.

Jesus’ explanation of the second birth puts the initiative for salvation where it belongs; on God.  The Holy Spirit acts; we observe the effects of His ministrations and react by faith in order to be saved.

  1. Nicodemus’ second lesson: you must believe. (9-18)

Nicodemus questions this.  He doesn’t yet understand but deserves credit for hanging in there.  Because he’s asking questions, we see he’s trying to get it (9).  The idea of being born again boggled him (4) and Jesus’ explanation involving the Holy Spirit (5-8) didn’t clear it up as much as Jesus hoped.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus’ theology must have included belief in the Spirit, but the part about the Spirit’s role in spiritual rebirth was news to him.  So he asked, “HOW CAN THIS BE?”

Jesus’ response starts with a mild rebuke, “YOU ARE ISRAEL’S TEACHER AND DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS?” (10-12) Jesus is effectively saying, “You’re the authority on all matters of faith and you don’t get this?”

His remarks assess the reaction of the Seventy to His teaching.  Jesus’ teachings are THE TRUTH.  They are all things He has learned and have been confirmed by His experience.  Even though His teaching is with divine authority, Nicodemus’ party (the Pharisees) had rejected His teaching.  Since they had rejected His teaching on EARTHLY THINGS, they could not hope to understand His teaching on more advanced subjects: HEAVENLY THINGS.  To paraphrase Jesus, He said to

Nicodemus, “Your people have rejected my message so it’s plain you don’t understand it.”

Jesus concludes His second lesson by clarifying His authority and mission in verses thirteen to fifteen.  In verse eleven Jesus taught His teaching carried divine authority because it was testimony of the things He had seen.  His teaching was authoritative because His experience had been in HEAVEN.

He taught them the TRUTH because He had personally experienced the TRUTH; He’d seen it for Himself in HEAVEN.  Referring to Himself as the SON OF MAN, Jesus related that His life did not begin at birth, but He existed in heaven before then.  This is a proof of Jesus’ divine nature.  The SON OF MAN exercised divine authority and told the truth because He was in HEAVEN was sent to Earth to do that very thing.

There is another aspect to Jesus’ mission.  He didn’t come just to tell us the truth, but to save us from the penalty of sin (14-15).  Verse fourteen refers to an incident that happened as the Hebrews moved from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It is recorded in Numbers 21.  Some of God’s people complained and rebelled against God.  As a disciplinary measure, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp.  Only the bellyachers were bitten.  All of those bitten got sick.  In mercy, God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze snake.  It was held aloft on a pole and everyone who saw it was spared death.

Jesus used this historical account as a symbol of His own mission.  He came from heaven to earth to be lifted up on a cross to impart life.  One difference being, with Jesus being lifted up, belief – not sight – is what is required to be saved.

Another difference is that the Hebrews were only restored to earthly life; they still died later (hopefully older and wiser).  Jesus’ being lifted up achieved ETERNAL LIFE for all who believe in Him.

In verse sixteen to eighteen, Jesus explained the promise of ETERNAL LIFE.  Verse sixteen is the familiar one-sentence explanation of the Good News; ETERNAL LIFE is available to all people because God’s Son perished on the cross.  Those who believe in Him receive the life God the Father offers.

Verse seventeen explains that saving people is what God intended in sending His son from heaven to Earth.  As 2 Peter 3:9 states, God’s will is that all people be saved.  Unfortunately, most people will exercise their will negatively to reject Him, and are self-condemned to hell.

Verse eighteen promises that the invitation to be saved is universal: WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM IS NOT CONDEMNED.   Free will is not really “free” if there is no actual choice involved.  Refusal to believe must logically be an option, but that option has the most negative consequence possible: the unbeliever is CONDEMNED.  The consequence is eternal death instead of ETERNAL LIFE.

  1. Nicodemus’ third lesson: you must step into the light. (19-21)

THIS IS THE VERDICT (19) means, “This is the decision of God the Righteous Judge.”  God sent His Son to be the “Light of the World (John 1:1-9).  LIGHT is a biblical symbol of purity, knowledge, and understanding (“enlightenment”).

Because Jesus has revealed all this truth about God and His salvation (v. 11), people are without excuse.  Instead, when they have seen the LIGHT and been told the TRUTH and they still reject God, they are utterly self-condemned.

Why would anybody see the LIGHT and still make the choice to reject God?  Why would they do the foolish thing and turn down His offer of ETERNAL LIFE?  Jesus explains in vs. 19-20.  They reject the LIGHT because they love the DARKNESS; they mistakenly think it hides the fact that their DEEDS WERE EVIL.  The LIGHT exposes their true nature.  They FEAR being seen for who they truly are, their deeds being accurately seen as evil.

On the other hand, everyone who is truly a believer comes into the LIGHT (21).  They live by the truth and want others to do the same, so they will also be saved.  The LIGHT here is not a “spotlight.”  True believers don’t want to draw attention to themselves through their deeds.  Instead, they want to draw attention to Jesus.  Just as the LIGHT exposes evil, it also verifies the TRUTH.  The LIGHT helps people to become believers by showing them the truth.

Faith requires a willingness to learn.

True disciples are revealed in a humble attitude that acknowledges their need to mature and acts upon it.  Nicodemus is an example of that attitude and the way Jesus taught him is an example of how to work on it.

When Family Fails

Sons of Noah

CONTEXT = We generally have a high opinion of Noah.  This opinion is well-founded, as the Bible testifies to Noah’s standing in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some examples of biblical testimony about Noah.

Genesis 6:8-9 = BUT NOAH FOUND FAVOR IN THE EYES OF THE LORD.  THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF NOAH.  NOAH WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, BLAMELESS AMONG THE PEOPLE OF HIS TIME, AND HE WALKED WITH GOD.

Genesis 7:1 = THE LORD THEN SAID TO NOAH, “GO INTO THE ARK, YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, BECAUSE I HAVE FOUND YOU RIGHTEOUS IN THIS GENERATION.”

Genesis 9:1 = THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”

Noah is mentioned in the “Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:7, where it is written, BY FAITH NOAH, WHEN WARNED ABOUT THINGS NOT YET SEEN, IN HOLY FEAR BUILT AN ARK TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.  BY HIS FAITH HE CONDEMNED THE WORLD AND BECAME HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH.

And so we find today’s passage a little shocking and disconcerting.

Please read Genesis 9:18-29.

          Now be careful.  There’s good information here even if it comes from a cracked pot.

One proof that the Bible is true is that it is completely honest about its heroes.  They are not paragons of perfection, but are fallible human beings.  They sin and are forgiven again and again, just like we are.  This fact alone should make them more accessible to us, more relatable as people.

More good news – God forgave Noah and blessed Noah just as He’d promised He would. We all mess up.  We fall into sin, have errors of judgment, and often inflict our worst behavior on our family members.  God is not done with you, so get over yourself, get forgiven, and get moving forward!

When we fail at being family, there must be room for forgiveness and restoration that causes our relationships to improve.  Today we look at a negative example, people who failed as family.  May we learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in our own family!

Our family deserves our best behavior.

  1. Noah got “three sheets to the wind,” minus the sheets! (18-21)

In vs. 18-19 we are re-introduced to Noah’s three sons (first mention: 7:13).  The author takes pains to point out two important facts.  One, Ham was the father of Canaan.  (This fact may be a reason this account is included in the Bible.)  These three sons are the “fathers” of all the people who were – in ch. 11 – SCATTERED OVER THE EARTH.  There are elaborate theories about the dispersion of the peoples across the earth – suffice it to say everyone alive is a descendant of one of the three sons of Noah.

Noah is described as A MAN OF THE SOIL in v. 20.  This is new information.  Previously, we’ve only seen his carpentry skills.  This item is offered to explain why he planted a vineyard in the first place.

Apparently some time passed between verses 20 and 21.  According to an article on Inc.com, it takes two years for vines to bear fruit and four years before the first bottle of fermented wine is available.  This is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Noah, it was something into which he poured a lot of time and effort.  I mention this only because it puts the full weight of responsibility on Noah.  This was not a reaction to the stress of the whole ark incident.  It was a genuine, full-fledged mistake.  No excuses.

After four years of toil and waiting, Noah finally got to enjoy the fruit of his labors and enjoyed it too much (21).  First sin: HE BECAME DRUNK.  Drinking wine is not a sin.  For example, Psalm 104:14-15 says that God gave wine to gladden the hearts of men.  But drunkenness is a sin.  Ephesians 5:18 condemns drunkenness as it lead to all other kinds of sin.  Proverbs 20:1 calls wine a MOCKER.

Second sin: Noah passed out and LAY UNCOVERED INSIDE HIS TENT.  Recall that just six chapters earlier (2:25) Adam and Eve were both NAKED in the garden but they FELT NO SHAME.  Then they disobeyed God (3:7) and those days of innocence were replaced with shame over their nakedness. The two situations are parallel; Noah, as were our original parents, in a garden paradise.  They both sinned against God and were ashamed by their exposure.  Biblically, to get drunk and be exposed in this way was a disgrace (see Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21).  The grammar of the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself before passing out.  This was no accident; for whatever reason, Noah chose be naked.  That’s what makes this a sin, not an accident.

The three brothers reacted to the news in different ways.  We start with Ham, the troublemaker.   The Hebrew implies there was more to Ham’s reaction than mere amazement at seeing his father lying naked in his tent.  It implies Ham was somehow happy to see his father uncovered.  Medieval Jewish scholars theorized that Ham mutilated Noah or committed a homosexual act with him.  It could be Ham thought the whole episode was funny.

However you explain it, Ham went and told the “whole world” what Noah had done (22).  This is the only explanation the text supports: Ham was guilty of the sins of gossip and of disrespecting his father.  Had he simply not said a thing, this whole event would have passed peaceably.

Shem and Japheth had a more respectful attitude and devised a means to cover up their father without embarrassing him further (23).  That’s why they got the blessing and Ham got the bane.

  1. Noah got up angry and cursed Ham. (24-29).

In verses 24-25 Noah launched into a curse.  Given the usual state of a hangover, we can understand a certain amount of crankiness.  What’s not understandable is why he named Canaan, not Ham, as the object of the curse.  This is odd because the text does not name Canaan as having had anything at all to do with disrespecting Noah.

This discrepancy can be a clue into the purpose of including this account in the Bible.  The name “Canaan” should sound familiar to Bible readers.  Canaan was the set of people nations who settled on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  They would were a people of great wickedness.

Obviously, they are descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the person Noah cursed.  Canaan was the region God gave to the Hebrews as their Promised Land.  It was the Canaanite people whom God commanded be utterly destroyed.  Therefore, a purpose of this event is to explain why God made that choice; why he took the newly-founded nation of Israel to take the Canaanites land and their lives.  Not only were they a wicked people (their sexual deviance has been revealed many times over by the archaeologist’s shovel), but they were also descended from the son Noah had cursed.

We need to look at the context to see another explanation for this discrepancy.  In verse one of this chapter it is written, THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”  Noah was aware of this blessing and knew it was folly to curse Ham when God had already blessed him.  Canaan had not enjoyed God’s blessing and could be cursed.

Verses 26-29 deal Noah’s blessing of his other sons and the end of his days. He blessed Shem.  One of Shem’s descendants was Abram, the man whom God called into the territory of the Canaanites.  He would become known as Abraham.  The offspring of Shem have come to be known as “Semites,” a name we use as synonymous with Jews.

As later chapters in Genesis will testify, God promised Abraham all the territory occupied by the Canaanites.  In the books of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges, we read how, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites got that land.  Incredibly, the sons of Shem were to triumph over and enslave the sons of Canaan, bringing Noah’s curse into being.

Noah also blessed Japheth, but under the blessing of Shem: “MAY JAPHETH LIVE IN THE TENTS OF SHEM.”  In the curse and blessings Noah spoke predictively; foreshadowing world changing events that started with a disrespectful son.  It’s a shame that after having cleansed the world with a flood, humanity immediately returned to its sinful ways.

In spite of all the family drama, Noah lived a supernaturally long life (28-29).  This would be a good place to clarify; just because Noah’s curse and blessings came to pass throughout the course of history, it would be a mistake to say Noah “caused” all this.  Each person and each generation makes their own choices.  Neither God nor Noah’s offspring were in any way “fated” because of Noah’s words.  Noah’s blessing and curse were as much prophecy as they were disciplinary.

This passage may seem like a poor choice of texts for Father’s Day; a sad chapter of biblical history best forgotten.  However, this text has historically been misused to justify some horrible things by making them seem biblical.

This text was used to justify African slavery.  Without any biblical reason to do so, people said that Ham and his sons were dark-skinned; therefore the curse of slavery was applied to the Negro race by Noah and was therefore legitimate.

If that sounds superficial, unbiblical, and just plain stupid, it should.  Especially on Father’s Day, I’m ashamed to say it was someone who shared my family name that first popularized this so-called “Curse of Ham.”  In 1578 a sailing captain named George Best published an account of his travels in the southern hemisphere and attempted to justify his work as a slave trader.  In that book he set forth this false teaching.

I mention this so you understand why this goofy little passage everyone overlooks needs to be scrutinized and understood.  It’s also important for us to see that choices have consequences.  Sometimes the consequences are temporary and personal; sometimes they are inter-generational and universal.

Noah sinned by getting drunk and being uncovered.  Ham sinned by gossiping and disrespecting his father.  The immediate consequence was Canaan being cursed.  The long-term consequence was all of Canaan’s descendants being enslaved by the descendants of Shem.

We tend to trivialize things, especially when we are the guilty party.  We say things like, “It was a little white lie.  Why are you making a big deal over it?”  This passage should impress us with the seriousness of all sin and the deadly consequences it can have even generations after us.

Look at it another way.  Consider something a parent or some other adult you trusted did or said that hurt you.  Forgiveness may have been offered and received, but the words are not forgotten.  Whether you repeat them or not, they affect your behavior and your behavior is repeated or avoided in the next generations.  Families are serious business!

All of this to explain and motivate us to adhere to this simple truth: Our family deserves our best behavior.  I tell you this not on the authority of an expert practitioner.  I have failed my family too often.  Instead, I tell you this on the authority of the Word of God and my calling to tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant and unpopular it may be.

I have never preached on this passage and I would venture to say most preachers go their careers without bringing it up.  It’s like one of those “skeletons” in the family “closet,” the story we know but ignore because it’s embarrassing.  However, we ignore things like this at our peril.  We need to face it, confess it, be forgiven and do better.  That’s what we do when family fails.

 

RESOURCES:

https://www.inc.com/ss/8-steps-to-owning-your-own-vineyard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, John H. Sailhammer.

 

A Full Time Heritage

Timothy Family PicturePlease read 2 Timothy 1:1-7.

CONTEXT = 2 Timothy is Paul’s final letter.  It was written during his second imprisonment in Rome, a brutal ending to Paul’s life.  His cell had only one hole in the ceiling to admit light and air.  Worse, as 1:15-16 tells us, some of Paul’s associates had deserted him.

These circumstances would be enough to discourage anyone and you could understand if Paul struggled to accept the horrible things he was facing.  In his loneliness, God turned his thoughts to Timothy, a young man – a Greek – who had been his mentor in ministry.  Paul wanted to make certain Timothy received the full measure of instruction and support, everything Paul could put in a letter to this pastor whom he’d trained.

It is our blessing that these words have been preserved in Scripture for they provide a touching example of how essential it is that our faith be grounded in a heritage of sincere service.  Normally we speak of “heritage” as something from our past.  This passage obviously confirms that understanding of the word.  However, I want to challenge your thinking to recognize that a heritage starts as something we receive from previous generations; it is part of our past.  It is also something we are working on in each present moment.  It is of immediate importance because it guides how we live each day.  Finally, a heritage is something we’re creating for those who follow behind us.  A faithful heritage is something found in all three time periods; past, present, and future. We see all three of these eras of heritage in Paul’s greeting at the beginning of this letter.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

  1. The Apostle Paul’s heritage.

Paul held the status and ministry of an apostle (1).  He was AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS.  The word “apostle” means “one with a message.”  It is similar to “angel.”  A modern equivalent might be “missionary.”

It gets a little confusing because the first Apostles were the thirteen men whom Jesus chose to be His closest disciples.  Later, the title would be used for preachers going into new areas of the world and leaders of the Church.  I keep it straight by reserving capital “A” Apostles as designating the thirteen men whom Jesus chose directly.  Everyone else – persons with this gift – gets a small letter “a.”

BY THE WILL OF GOD: Paul’s apostleship was unique; in Acts 9:15 the Lord told Ananias about Paul: “HE IS MY CHOSEN INSTRUMENT TO CARRY MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES AND THEIR KINGS AND BEFORE THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL.”

Or, to put it another way, Paul’s apostleship came about ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE OF LIFE THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.  THE PROMISE OF LIFE is the Good News Paul would carry into the Gentile world.  It is an exclusive message: the PROMISE OF LIFE is only kept IN CHRIST JESUS.

Paul exemplified the blessing of Christ-like character (2).  This kind of character is not natural; it comes FROM GOD THE FATHER AND CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  He offered three aspects of that kind of character.

GRACE = supernatural help to cover sins and other shortcomings (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

MERCY = kindness above and beyond what might be considered “deserved.”

PEACE = inward tranquility that comes from trusting God will take care of you.

Paul referred to his family’s intergenerational service to God (3).  I THANK GOD, WHOM I SERVE, AS MY FOREFATHERS DID.  The word FOREFATHERS is quite general; it could refer to immediate generations or Paul’s ancestors all the way back to Abraham.  In Romans 11:1 Paul proudly referred to himself as an ISRAELITE, A DESCENDANT OF ABRAHAM, FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN.  (He wrote more details in Philippians 3:4-6, where the Apostle established himself as a faithful Jew: a “Jew’s Jew.”)

He executed his service WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE: CLEAR meaning “pure;” not compromised with sin.  This was important to Paul; he mentioned it two other times in 1 Timothy (1:5; 3:9) and once in a sermon in Acts (23:1).  On the other hand, he went into some detail to show he was the WORST of SINNERS in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  This may sound contradictory, but Paul in these passages, the Apostle Paul contrasted his sin with his salvation.  He wanted Timothy to understand how God had done so much to save him.

Service through prayer is indicated in the phrases I THANK GOD and I CONSTANTLY REMEMBER YOU IN MY PRAYERS.  Prayer is the means of service by which things happen.

  1. Pastor Timothy’s heritage.

An important part of Timothy’s heritage was his heart-felt relationship with Paul.  Verse two identifies Timothy as Paul’s SON in the faith.  MY DEAR SON (agape teknon) is obviously an affectionate way to speak about Timothy.  Relationships between believers are supposed to be characterized by love, but Timothy clearly had a special place in the Apostle Paul’s heart.  Paul may have first met Timothy in the city of Lystra, in Asia Minor, on his First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:8-21).  Paul took Timothy along on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:2-3).

Verse four speaks to a close relationship in two different phrases.  RECALLING YOUR TEARS probably refers to the time they parted company last.  Acts 20:37-38 reports the tears as Paul left the city of Ephesus (where Timothy pastored) for the last time.  I LONG TO SEE YOU SO I MAY BE FILLED WITH JOY.  How many relationships do you have where seeing that person fills you with JOY?  I pray you have many.  Indeed, the number of such relationships may be a mirror to your own character and the depth of Christ’s love in you.

Like Paul Timothy benefited from an inter-generational faith in God.  In his prayers, Paul had been reminded of Timothy’s SINCERE FAITH.  Timothy’s faith was received (his faith FIRST LIVED IN YOUR GRANDMOTHER LOIS AND IN [his] MOTHER EUNICE), but was also personal (I AM PERSUADED NOW LIVES IN YOU ALSO).  Postmodern culture assumes that reality is however you define it and faith is something you need to make up for yourself.  These are utterly false and harmful assumptions.

Instead, faith begins with a foundation on the past, on the teachings and traditions of the Church that have – ideally – been passed on by our own family members.  Like Timothy, faith starts familial and becomes personal as we grow in maturity and understanding.

Paul was a caretaker of Timothy’s faith (6).  The phrase FOR THIS REASON refers to Paul’s knowledge of Timothy’s faith as sincere and Paul’s encouraging Timothy to live in it fully.  I REMIND YOU TO FAN INTO FLAME (“continue rekindling”) THE GIFT OF GOD.  Paul does not explain this figure of speech, so we are allowed to speculate.  We might relate it to the word TIMIDITY in verse seven.  In which case, Paul is urging Timothy to use his gifts and exercise his office courageously.  Based on the fact Paul thought this admonition necessary we might guess that Timothy had not been developing his gifts or not using them for leadership.

WHICH IS IN YOU BY THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS = Paul may be accused of being a “proud spiritual papa” here, but I believe the emphasis is on Paul’s knowing for certain Timothy’s faith was SINCERE because Paul saw it for himself.  Paul laid his own hands on Timothy in acknowledgement of his faith.  The New Testament posits a number of different uses/meanings of the practice of laying on hands.

– In Acts 6:6, the Apostles laid hands on the first deacons, to commission them for service.

– In Acts 8:17, Peter and John placed their hands on believers in Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit.  (cf 19:6)

– In Acts 9:12-17, Ananias put his hands on Paul and his blindness was healed.

– In Acts 13:3 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to be missionaries to the Gentiles by the laying on of hands.

– In Acts 28:8, Paul placed his hands on a man to heal his illness.

Whether Paul is referring to Timothy being healed, ordained, or receiving the Holy Spirit, it was a personal connection.

The phrase SINCERE FAITH is almost redundant.  Anything called “faith” that isn’t sincere isn’t faith at all.  This phrasing indicates Paul recognizing Timothy’s faith as real.

  1. Every believer’s heritage.

In the final verse, Paul developed two aspects of the spiritual heritage every believer enjoys.  First, expressed negatively, GOD DID NOT GIVE US A SPIRIT OF TIMIDITY (7).  TIMIDITY = “fearfulness.”  “Timothy” and “timidity” have similar sounds.  There is evidence that confidence may have been something Timothy lacked.  In 1 Corinthians 16:10 Paul urged the Corinthians to do nothing to make Timothy fearful.  In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul urged Timothy to not allow anyone to look down on him on account of his youth.  The  choice of “timidity” as a translation is unfortunate, because the Greek word has stronger emotion than that.  “Cowardice” would be a better choice.  In Revelation 21:8, the COWARDLY are named among the kinds of persons excluded from the New Jerusalem.

Of more immediate consequence, TIMIDITY saps our strength.  It urges us to give up on God and each other, cutting off the source of true strength.  The result is that we quit thinking about our heritage and focus on our shortage.  This is a deception of the devil that isolates us and makes us easy pickings.

Expressed positively, we all have a heritage of power.  God has given us A SPIRIT OF POWER, OF LOVE, AND OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.  One might say these three qualities are essential for leadership in the church.

POWER = energy, the capacity for getting things DONE!  The Greek word is dunamis; the basis for our English words “dynamite, dynamo, and dynamic,” three powerful words!  Having POWER inspires confidence; timidity often occurs in the absence of POWER.

LOVE = agape; the kind of love that is supernatural in origin.  Of the six words for love in the Greek language, agape is the most unselfish one.  In 1 John 4:18 we are promised that agape love casts out all fear.

SELF-DISCIPLINE is the God-given ability to control our passions instead of being controlled by them. Four times in his three letters to young pastors Timothy and Titus, Paul urges them to possess SELF-DISCIPLINE.  Especially in leadership positions, rash words and thoughtless actions can cause big problems.  Self-discipline is a virtue that helps one avoid these problems.

Be mindful of the heritage you have received, the one in which you live, and the one you are creating.

Four times in verses three through six, Paul used words related to memory; REMEMBER, RECALLING, REMINDING, and REMIND.  We can picture him alone in his cell in a frame of mind and with nothing better to do than to relive memories of his past.  We can understand Paul being nostalgic, even grieving the fact that he will add nothing more to those memories.

I believe God used that understandable frame of mind to motivate Paul to record these final thoughts.  The entire letter demonstrates what we have noted in these first seven verses: the need to be mindful of our heritage.

We need to review and memorialize the heritage we have received.  The past is the time period over which we have no control – what is done cannot be done over.  Yet it is still important because it is the foundational part of our heritage.  It is the things we have received and created that define us in the present.

We need to be guided by our heritage, not by the fits of passion that enflame us in the present.  When we’re too much in the moment, we are prey to peer pressure, passion, and fashion, making poor decisions.  Choices create consequences and that is the stuff of life.

We need to be mindful of the future we’re creating; the heritage that is in the works; the life we will pass on to generations that follow us. We can’t just model it and hope they “catch on,” it must be taught to be caught.

 

RESOURCES:

Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle

NIV Study Bible

Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce

Message #256

Someone IS Watching and it DOES Matter

Sheep and Goat

Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

                The picture of the lamb and goat above were rendered to emphasize the “cute” anthropomorphic aspect of this parable.  Jesus chose to tell a parable that substituted animals for people.  Everyone hearing it understood this was a metaphor because Jesus made that clear in verse 32.

Having preached this passage three times previously in my 30+ years of preaching, I have always wondered why Jesus chose to substitute animals for people.  Part of the reason is that He often starts parables with a familiar scene and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But this one is blazing a new trail from the first verse.  Something else is going on, and that answer has never really satisfied my curiosity.

Another answer was revealed to me in a nightmare three days ago.  The details of the nightmare are gone from my memory, but I recall lying awake in bad silently crying as the Lord made it clear to me.  The use of animals and the tedious repetition of the good deeds is designed to set an emotional counterpoint to the fact that this is a nightmarish scene on the left hand of the Shepherd King.

Life is serious, folks.  To die and then face Judgment Day is most serious.  Jesus brilliantly told this parable the way He did because it emphasizes the horror of sin and its deadly consequences.  The parable packs a greater emotional punch because it was told the way Jesus told it.

The glorious light of the Son of Man on His throne is not a gentle glow, but the blazingly bright searchlight that reveals the insides of person.  Like an x-ray, it exposes human personalities, laying bare guilt and innocence.

The contrast of the sheep going to heaven and the goats going to hell reveals this scene is not just a throne room, it is more than a court room, it is also a slaughterhouse.  To make the contrast even more visceral, the condemned are sentenced to eternal conscious torment.

When you strip away the anthropomorphic metaphor and realize these are human beings – not “goats” – who are finally and eternally rejected, the scene becomes as frightening as it should be.

Let’s not confuse the Gentle Shepherd of John 10 with the Shepherd King of Matthew 25.  They occupy opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

One more thing to consider: both the sheep-people and the goat-people are surprised by the Shepherd King’s verdict.  This passage is meant to slap self-confidence right out of our heads.  This was Jesus’ last word to His disciples before His death.  It is a provocative one, meant to motivate us to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and prepare to meet our maker.

  1. The context and the one main point. (31-33)

All parables in chapter 25 deal with Judgment Day.  Understand that Judgment Day is not a trial; it is a sentencing.  God knows all and he knows all of us perfectly.  At this point the issue of heaven or hell is already decided; this is a sentencing hearing.

Of the three parables in chapter 25, this parable is the only one to describe Judgment Day.  It is written; THE SON OF MAN will be IN HIS GLORY, seated on HIS THRONE IN HEAVENLY GLORY.  In His glorified state ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM.  All people who have ever lived will be gathered, and then separated one final time.  God will bring to pass the end of all evil.

The separation of the people is described in verse 33, the purpose for it in verse 46.  In verse 33 we see the SHEEP will be gathered to His RIGHT hand.  The GOATS will be gathered on His LEFT hand.  Verse 46 reveals that the purpose is to pronounce judgment: to reward the sheep and condemn the goats.

These parables come between Jesus’ teaching about the last things in chapter 24 and His arrest and trial in chapter 26.  Jesus would experience His own “last days.”  There is an ironic similarity between these teachings and what comes next in Jesus’ life.

The main point of the parable is this: our works are important on Judgment Day.  If all you knew was this parable, you’d think works are the determining factor.  Note that the parable doesn’t actually say that, it simply does not mention any other factor.  Parables are, by their nature, narrow in their focus, designed to reinforce the one main point. Because we have the entire Bible, we know works are a secondary factor.  The primary factor of judgment is each person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The secondary factor of works is evidence of the primary decision about Jesus.  They are proof of what’s truly in a person.  The works are evidence of God’s justice: God is right to exclude the GOATS and include the SHEEP, as their deeds demonstrate.

  1. He will keep the sheep. (34-40, 46)

The Shepherd King pronounces a blessing on those at His right (34).  There are six facts to be noted about the blessing.

One, He invites them to come into God the Father’s presence.

Two, He urges them to take their INHERITANCE, a place in God’s KINGDOM.

Three, their blessing has been in the works SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  This highlights God’s sovereignty.

Four, their reward is ETERNAL LIFE (46).

Five, in biblical culture, the RIGHT side is the side of intimacy and influence.  After He ascended to heaven, it was the place of honor Jesus occupied when He ascended to heaven.

Six, Jesus used SHEEP as a symbol of God’s faithful people because that was a biblical image.  God is symbolized by a Shepherd.

The reason given for their blessing: they helped the needy (35-36).  Six different kinds of needs are listed.  Jesus offered these as a representative sample, not as a preferred or exhaustive list. These are everyday needs involving people in ordinary situations.

Who are THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS? In the Bible, God identifies Himself with disadvantaged people.  That usually meant the poor, widowed, orphaned, and foreigners.

The reaction of the sheep-people to the blessing is surprise (37-40).  The text identifies them as THE RIGHTEOUS.  Their benevolent actions are evidence of their righteousness.  Their surprise is a measure of their innocence.

They had done all these things out of the love in their hearts.  They had no expectation of reward because their motive was love; they acted without any hint of a mixed motive or desire for reward.  In other passages, heavenly rewards are promised for godly living.  Acting to earn such rewards is an approved motive.

  1. The goats have got to go. (41-46)

The King pronounces a CURSE on those to His left (41).  We note four features to the CURSE.

One, He orders them to DEPART.

Two, they have no place in God’s kingdom but are exiled to a place of ETERNAL FIRE.

Three, as was the case with the sheep-people, the place of the goat-people has also been prepared, but it was created for someone else; THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.

Four, their condemnation is described as ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The Shepherd Kings gives the reason for their cursing: they did not help the needy (42-43).  The same set of six needs is listed four times here and always in the same order. This attention to detail underlines God’s justice; He is comparing “apples to apples;” He is judging them fairly.

The reaction of the goat-people is also surprise, but for a reason entirely opposed to the sheep-people’s surprise (44-45).  The goat-people failed to do these things because neither the love of God nor the love of neighbor was in their hearts.

Their protest might be paraphrased as follows; “If we’d known it was You, we would have done these things.”  They are surprised to hear that Jesus identified Himself with people they dismissed as lowlifes, bums, and human trash.  They judged their fellow man as unworthy of charity; in response, Jesus will judge them as unworthy of a place in heaven.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

Anyone who reads this parable and does not come away with a healthy fear of the Lord has missed the point of this parable.  The stark contrast between the sheep and the goats ought to have every one of us rethinking how we are using the magnificent gift of life.

Proverbs repeatedly tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Job 31:23 puts into words the form wise fear should take: FOR I DREADED DESTRUCTION FROM GOD, AND FOR FEAR OF HIS SPLENDOR I COULD NOT DO SUCH THINGS.  This is Job explaining his personal motivation for being a good guy and doing the right thing.

Persons who hoard their gifts, legalize their definition of neighbor, or have a flip attitude about Judgment Day are in peril of being unpleasantly surprised on that Day.  Jesus warned of the peril of hypocrisy in Matthew 7:21-23.

Proverbs 11 delivers a similar warning about wasting God’s gifts on selfish pursuits.  Verse four states, WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH.  In verse 6, it is written; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES.

The refusal to do good is sin (James 4:17).  Sin has deadly and eternal consequences.  Only the intervention of Jesus Christ will save us from the fate of eternal separation from God.

Let us spend our days vigilant for opportunities to do good to others.  Be willing to speak up, offer help, and do right by those who need you.  The consequences of failure are too nightmarish to accept.

 

RESOURCES:

Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III