Lively Former Corpses

no-zombies

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Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit.  However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies.  What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.

Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity.  In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches.  I found some data that is seven years old – a eternity in pop culture – but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010.  By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.

When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil.  It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.

A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling.  Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple.  We all want life to be less complicated.  Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.

Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture.  Or modern Americans.

Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies.  Please read that correctly.  I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical.  I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.

“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life.  They are in bondage to forces beyond their control.  In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it.  In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.

  1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)

We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5)  Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13).  In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.

The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death.  In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit.  Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.

We were “under the influence” of three masters.

#1 – We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1).  We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing.  The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression.  Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come.  Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.

#2 – We were serving Satan. (2)  We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.  He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.

Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven.  This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”.  The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.

#3 – We were serving selfishness. (3)  We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans.  When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow.  But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.

Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong.  It is one way self-centredness manifests itself.  It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.

My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives.  This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead.  We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies.  Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions.  Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.

The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3)  WRATH means two things.

In the short term, it means alienation from God.  Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless.  God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.

In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day.  Their choices will land them in hell.

The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity.  All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam.  God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.

  1. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)

Grace is the answer to the problem of sin.  We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us.  The first is this, “What did God do for us?”

God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5)  This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection.  The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again.  On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus.  Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones.  On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.

GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6)  Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed.  This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.

GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6)  Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven.  We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible.  Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future.  We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).

In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.   Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven?  You are there already, dudes!”  Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10)  This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question.  God acted to save us because we are His.  But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us – He created us.  The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.”  However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”

Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant.  Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation.  In fact, they are the very reason God created us.  We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created.  This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS.  One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law.  Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave.  This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.

Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?”  When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!

God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4)  LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.

His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.

We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4)  The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family.   He forgives sin.

This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him.  GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings.  There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words.  As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).

God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7)  God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him.  When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means.  God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness.  His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.

God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10)  GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine.  When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure.  GOOD WORKS bless everyone!

The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.

First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8)  God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit.  Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth.  GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation.  Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.

In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH.  Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved.  By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves.  IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both.  Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!

Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9).  Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.

– Good WORKS won’t save us.

– Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.

– Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.

– Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.

Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action?  SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving.  That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible.  To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith.  FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self.  He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life.  We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life.  Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit.  Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.

Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus.  They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing.  As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways.  People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected.  Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.

Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation.  His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift.  Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.

God offers life.  Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good.  Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”

 

RESOURCES:

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

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Arguments and Miracles

Please read Acts 19:8-12 in your Bible of choice.  I chose the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

Even though a majority of Americans claim to believe God exists and claim to be “spiritual,” the numbers of those who believe in supernatural things like heaven, hell, and miracles have been in decline.  This is an illogical position to take, but accurately reflects the belief that religion is self-made.  It is illogical to believe in God and yet maintain the idea that His actions in this world are always along ordinary, natural lines.

Ask somebody if they believe in miracles and you will get an answer along these lines.

– An intellectual response: “No, I only believe in things I can perceive with my five senses.  As miracles claim to violate the laws of nature, I don’t believe in them.  I believe in science.”

– An emotional response: “I totally believe in miracles and they happen every day.  Just being alive is a miracle!”

Neither of those persons believes in miracles. I want to encourage a biblical response instead: “The Bible says that God did things outside the so-called ‘laws’ of nature.  These things happened to give glory to God and to give people more reason to believe.”

We will continue our study of the ancient church in the city of Ephesus by looking at how God used ordinary teaching and extraordinary miracles to get the Gospel of Jesus to Asia Minor.  What we can learn from this passage is that we must rely on God to use us and a variety of means to get the Word out to Sioux Falls.  The Word of God will change lives and renew our fellowship!  God has not limited this experience to ancient Ephesus: it can be true in our place and time as well.

  1. Paul argued with the obstinate.

Paul’s typical strategy was to begin in the local synagogue (8+9).  Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” but he still chose to reach out to the Jewish community in each city where he founded churches (see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).  We’re told several things about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue.

– He spoke BOLDLY, “freely” or “openly.”  Paul was there to give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

– He argued PERSUASIVELY.  Paul was not a people-pleaser: he worked toward convincing the listener to repent.

– Paul’s subject matter was THE KINGDOM OF GOD, announcing – as Jesus did – that the KOG was “at hand” (see Matthew 4:17).

– This lasted THREE MONTHS.  Lasting that long indicates some level of acceptance at the beginning, but not much patience.

The synagogue time came to an end when the “religious people” in the synagogue opposed Paul.  This was not a mild kind of opposition.  The text explains; SOME BECAME OBSTINATE.  That word literally meant “hardened.”  The fault for their refusal to believe did not lie with God or with Paul; it was all on them.

So THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE.  They would not accept the reality that the Kingdom of God had come; that Jesus was the Messiah.  And worse, they PUBLICLY MALIGNED THE WAY.  In Acts, those who opposed the Church invented slanderous lies and used them in an attempt to stir up public opinion against the disciples of Jesus.  This name for the Church – THE WAY – sounds unfamiliar to most of us.  It was a name once used to refer to the followers of Jesus, possibly based on John 14:6, where Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

Meeting opposition, Paul changed venues and continued bringing the word (9-10).  Instead of the synagogue, he used the LECTURE HALL of TYRANNUS.  The Greek word for LECTURE HALL meant “school,” a refuge of sorts for philosophers to address one another and crowds of interested listeners.  We’ve no other biblical info on TYRANNUS, but evidence has been found proving he lived in Ephesus at that time.

Verse ten mentions both Jews and Greeks heard the word, so we can assume the LECTURE HALL proved to be a more public forum than the SYNAGOGUE had been.  What the enemies of the Church intended to be a roadblock instead paved the way for greater exposure.

Luke is careful to assure the reader that Paul TOOK THE DISCIPLES WITH HIM.  It is reasonable to assume this group included both Jewish and Gentile converts; the people who had accepted Paul’s teaching as true.

He held DAILY DISCUSSIONS.  One of the things that marked first century churches was their DAILY meetings.  They also enjoyed unrivaled success in bringing people to Jesus.  A coincidence?

The Greek word for DISCUSSIONS is the basis for our word “dialogue.”  However, this Gk word included both lecture and conversation-based teaching methods.  The means of teaching isn’t nearly as important as the object of teaching: God Himself.

Paul used the LECTURE HALL for TWO YEARS (10).  One indication of “success” at that location was both Jews & Greeks HEARD THE WORD.  Nowhere is the number of converts mentioned.  This implies “Success” can be measured in faithfulness, leaving fruitfulness up to God (as in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Another indication of success in verse ten is that the ministry at Ephesus facilitated the spread of the WORD OF THE LORD all over Asia Minor, reaching both Jews and Greeks.  Having a two and a half-year stay and reaching an entire region was a great success!

  1. God used Paul to do miraculous healings.

The line of agency could not be clearer than Luke drew it in verse eleven: GOD DID EXTRAORDINARY MIRACLES THROUGH PAUL.  When these miracles were accomplished, they might’ve been misunderstood as having been powered by Paul or by special magical items.  These miracles consisted of healing from illness and deliverance from demons.  The people of Ephesus were superstitious and might have misunderstood Paul as being a magician.  Luke made it clear that God healed and delivered those people: Paul was merely the man through which the miracles happened.

To counter this, ordinary items were endowed with healing power.  The only thing different was that had come into contact with Paul.  They were not specially-made magic items; there was nothing special about the item itself.  The point here is that the real power came from God.

The word for HANDKERCHIEF is borrowed from Latin and refers to a cloth used to wipe perspiration from a laborer’s brow.  The word for APRONS is also Latin and refers to protective cloths worn by workers and also scraps of cloth used as rags.  The power was not resident in the cloth, nor did it come from Paul; all of it was means God used to display His power.

There are parallels elsewhere in the writings of Luke; in Luke 6:18-19, Jesus healed people without touching them at all.  In Acts 5:12, 15-16, people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them.  In the Bible, supernatural healings happened in just about every way you can imagine, with very few of the accounts agreeing in the details.  The emphasis is never on how the healing occurred, but on who did the healing; God was the One who did the healing.

One of God’s purposes in the Spiritual Gift of Miracles is to validate the ministry of someone claiming to speak in His name.  While Luke doesn’t use this account to prove that point, there’s no doubt that reports of miraculous healings created additional interest in a magic-obsessed community and gave Paul’s message added authenticity.

The result expressed in verses ten and twenty was that the WORD OF THE LORD – the history and teachings of Jesus – became more widely known, more widely accepted, and grew in the power of influence.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

One reason people might be reluctant to believe in miracles is they don’t want to be deceived.  Since the word was invented, claims of miracles and particularly miraculous healings have been used to trick people.  Take this story from Jokes4us.com, for example:

A Rabbi and a Priest get into a car accident and it’s a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest’s collar and says, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The Priest replies, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”

The Rabbi continues, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest.

The Priest asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

“No… I’ll wait for the police.”

http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/carcrashmiraclejoke.html

Paul made it his aim to declare the truth as persuasively as possible, but without manipulating either the Gospel or the people hearing it.  He did not want anyone’s response to the truth to be based on human salesmanship or anything less powerful than the Holy Spirit.

That should be our desire as well.  We need to adopt Paul’s motto in 1CT 9:22 = I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN SO THAT BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME.  May we have that heartfelt desire to tell others about Jesus and may we act upon it with the same integrity.

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J.

Bradley Chance.

O         Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New

            Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.

thanks

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/

Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

What’s God Done for You Lately?

Please take a moment to read Ephesians 1:1-14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God has done everything for us to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on Earth.

I’d like you to take the message title as a question to you personally.  Ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?”  How quickly can you come up with an answer?  When good things happen to you, do you tend to think of yourself as “lucky” or would you say you are “blessed?”  The difference between those two words is essential because “luck” is a concept associated with a God-less world view.  To be “blessed” is to have faith and acknowledge that God is in charge.  There is no such thing as luck.

Rev. Michael Cartwright posed this question and here’s how he answered it: “I will mention a few blessings from the last few days:

(May 11, 2007) One of the Managers for the Target stores in Southern California named Jeremy just gave me a free brand new Casio G Shock wrist watch. I did nothing but bring my old Casio watch in to get a new battery and the lady did not know how to put it back together. God blessed me with a new watch.

The same day I went to pick up a mechanic named Larry to work on a car that belonged to my employer named Bob, I explained to him about my Internet Ministry and how I am going to pick up a computer router over the weekend so that I can have high bandwidth. Larry reached over behind a table and under a pile of stuff he handed me a free router.

May 12, 2007, an air conditioner technician named Clarence came over to my home and he handed me a reasonable bill for $150.00 for parts and labor which I paid in cash. We were talking about our faith and what a blessing we are to each other and he gave me back $50.00.

(May 14, 2007) As I stepped out of my vehicle this evening, I was just outside of my home thanking my next door neighbor who lives on the left side of my home for helping me with his remote control to open the gate since my remote control needed batteries.

At the same time my other next door neighbor Walter who lives on the right side of my home who has a wonderful wife and family approached me and asked me to not go anywhere as he went back into his garage. He came right back out and handed me a $20.00 bill and told me that he found it in my front yard yesterday and wanted to give it to me.”

How would you like to have a week like that?  Here’s how Rev. Cartwright summed it up: “To some people these may not seem to be big blessings, but to me and God every blessing is a big deal because it shows how God keeps His promises to bless you in everything.”

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I once listened to a lengthy testimony from a guy who was convinced God helped him find morel mushrooms, leading him step by step through the woods.  The testimony was rather like following a treasure map!  These men are to be commended for the attitude of gratitude they are showing, but I wonder about one thing: do they see the big picture too?

I wonder if we have faith enough to see God at work in the more important matters of eternal life?  Do we have faith to see God is in charge when disease strikes, when we’re flat broke, when we feel lonely, when adversities pile up?  Do we sense God’s leading in all these circumstances of life?

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, a city where he’d made new disciples and founded churches.  He wrote to encourage them that God is in charge of all life’s events, ups and downs included.  He wanted them to have faith to see that God’s eye is on both the details and the big picture; that He is actively working to bring all of it into conformity with His master plan for humanity.

CONTEXT: Ephesians 1:1+2 sets the stage for what is to come in the letter.  We can note some themes in the first two verses:

One, Paul established his authority to write them not on his having founded the church, but on a higher level: the commission of CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD.

Two, Paul identified his target audience: TO THE SAINTS IN EPHESUS, THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS.  This looks like two ways of saying the same thing, but I take it to be a two-fold greeting.  It’s as if Paul wrote, “To the church in Ephesus and believers in the Ephesus metro area.”

The city of Ephesus was an important city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  It was a junction for land and sea trade routes for what we call Asia Minor, in modern Turkey.

God’s strategy in spreading the Church in Asia Minor was to start at Ephesus and fan out to other cities along the roads built by local governors to improve trade and impress their Roman rulers.

Three; using his typical greeting of GRACE and PEACE, Paul set forth two of the major themes of the letter.  He used the word GRACE 95 times in his letters, twelve of them in Ephesians.  PEACE is one of the great blessings of faith; Paul used the word eight times in Ephesians.

Paul wrote this letter six or seven years after he last visited the city.  In this letter he is doing everything he can to reassure the former pagans that their fate is not determined by the impersonal, unfeeling stars or any whimsy of false gods.  Instead, their hope is safe in the hands of the one true God.

  1. God has blessed you with every blessing (3).

In the Jewish culture of that time, the matter of blessing someone was very important.  A blessing directed to God was called a berakah.  Paul’s blessing of God is unusually long – it was written as one sentence 202 words long!  In it, He blesses the Lord for the way He’s blessed us with a plan of salvation.  He began with two general statements:

First, God has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  Rather than referring to a place you can find on a map, Paul’s reference to HEAVENLY REALMS is similar to Jesus’ use of the phrase, Kingdom of God.  It is more a state of being and a sphere of authority than a place.

Two, God has BLESSED us WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.  Some may prefer earthly kinds of blessings, but the best things in life are not discerned by the five senses.

  1. God chose you (4 + 11).

He CHOSE you early – BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  God chooses individuals to do particular parts of His plan.  People like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter are examples of God’s choosing.  This term is also used in a broader sense, that God chose the nation of Israel and the Church to be His covenant partners.  The fact that He made His choices BEFORE T CREATION OF THE WORLD indicates that God – in His wisdom and power – formed a plan of salvation long before it was needed!

He CHOSE you for a reason – TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.  To be chosen is an undeserved honor.  (As we will see, the word GRACE figures prominently in this passage and in the letter overall.)  God has His reasons for choosing some people, but none of them have to do with our worthiness or His need: neither of those things really exists.

Instead, God chooses us in order that we might become HOLY and BLAMELESS. (See also 5:27.)  God, by calling us into service, makes us HOLY.  The word HOLY means set apart from everyday, worldly, and especially from sinful purposes to be used by God.  God, by forgiving our sins, makes BLAMELESS.  This is a moral perfection made possible by the complete forgiveness.  God does these things because He is creating for Himself a people all His own.  He is qualifying us to be part of His Church.

The key phrase is IN HIS SIGHT.  No matter how you or I may feel about ourselves; no matter what lies the devil may feed us to discourage us into thinking we are unholy and full of blame, what’s true in the mind of God is absolutely true.  You can rely on that!

The word CHOSEN in v. 11 can also be translated as “made heirs,” referring to our adoption into the divine family.  More on that next.

  1. God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

Because He loves you, God PREDESTINED you to be adopted into His family.  The word PREDESTINED is used to explain how God CHOSE us even before the world was created.  He set our destiny before the events that brought us into being!  PREDESTINED is a popular word among theologians, but occurs only six times in the Bible (see Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 2:7).  For the benefit of theological readers, let me offer this statement: in thinking about how God saves us, we can emphasize free will and suffer the loss of eternal security or emphasize sovereignty and enjoy the security of eternal life based on grace, not works.

Adoption into God’s family is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for salvation, which is a little surprising.  Adoption was a common custom in Greek and Roman law, but there are no laws or teaching regarding it in the Old Testament, only a passing mention in Esther 2:15.  His use of this metaphor says something positive about Paul’s use of the Gentile culture to communicate the Gospel.

This is an image of affection and deep relationship that illustrates God’s choosing.  After all, adopted children are chosen, and then welcomed into the family.

This is also a forward-looking image because according to Roman & Greek law, adopted sons become legal HEIRS of the father (v. 11).  This is meant to reassure us that we have a future and it is a very good one.

Your predestination gives Him PLEASURE because it fulfills His WILL and because He loves you.  That’s a feeling we can all understand: how it pleases us when things go acc. to plan.  Although in God’s case, I suspect it is a PLEASURE that is less self-centered.  Because He loves us, God is pleased to think about us as spending eternity with Him.

As an aside, it bothers me when we downgrade the joy that the Bible says is supposed to accompany a genuine faith.  Paul teaches that the whole process is effused with joy: he wrote that God took PLEASURE in choosing us and we enjoy the blessings His choosing imparts to us.

He predestined you by means of HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, which He FREELY gave us by means of Jesus (the ONE HE LOVES).  What this implies about Jesus is that He was present with God the Father before creation and that He was a party to our being chosen.  Jesus is God the Son.

GRACE is undeserved favor.  It is God giving us what we don’t deserve, because death is the only outcome sinners deserve.  The word FREELY helps us under-stand the word GRACE.  There is no way we can earn God’s choosing us.  We don’t deserve to be part of the family, but we are.  God’s GRACE is GLORIOUS in the sense that it directs our attention to God.  As the highest good, God deserves our attention and has earned our PRAISE.  All this was according to God’s PLAN, the one that works all things to conform to His WILL.

  1. God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

God accomplished redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: His shed BLOOD.  In a culture where slavery was widely practiced, REDEMPTION is a commonly understood term.  In our culture, less so.

A person became a slave if they were captured during a war, or more commonly, as an item to be sold to pay off one’s debts.  (Instead of holding a rummage sale or going to a pawn shop, an indebted person avoided prison by selling one’s self or children into slavery.)  Death brought an end to one’s servitude, but it could be accomplished sooner by financial means.  If someone paid off the debt, the slave was set free.  That payment is the “redemption price.”

The Bible lists several “owners” to which we were in slavery:

The devil.

Our own sin nature and human nature hold us in bondage to sin.

The “darkness” of sin and willful ignorance of God.

God redeemed us from these three “masters” through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our lives by giving His own.  He is our saving substitute, sacrificing Himself that we might live.  Thanks to Him, we do not have to face God’s wrath onf Judgment Day.

This redemption was an act of GRACE.  It is so good, His salvation is “rich.”  There is nothing lacking in God’s GRACE.  He is completely able to save.  You can trust God’s power.  It is so generous, God LAVISHED it on us.  God is not stingy with His grace, He loves to a degree beyond our ability to understand.  You can trust God’s generous character.  God’s GRACE is evidence of His WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and/or part of GRACE is bestowing WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING on us.  In either case, GRACE is not at all like our overly-permissive, child-centered parenting; it produces change and growth.  You can trust God to challenge you to mature as He provides all you need to achieve it.

  1. God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

The MYSTERY is revealed; it was there all the time.  The phrase “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind.  From before creation on to our own time, God is graciously making His will known to His people.  One means of His self-revelation is the Bible.  We understand that the Bible is God’s “progressive revelation;” that means that God did not reveal all of His plan to save humanity in the first chapters of Genesis.  As time progressed and throughout the pages of the Bible, more of his plan was revealed.  Paul understood Jesus Christ as being the important piece to the puzzle, the key to understanding the Old Testament and preparing for the future.

Here’s that word PLEASURE again (vs. 5+9).  This word measures the joy God has in loving and saving people.

We are informed again, God the Father accomplished His will through God the Son. Paul clarified this in three verses.

In verse seven, the phrase THROUGH HIS BLOOD refers to the sacrifice, the physical means that makes salvation, the fulfillment of God’s plan, possible.  In verse nine, the phrase WHICH HE PURPOSED IN CHRIST identifies Jesus as the “linchpin” or “keystone” of God the Father’s redemptive plan. To emphasize this point, Paul used three different words which can be translated as PLAN.

In verse ten, the phrase TO BRING ALL THINGS…UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST looks ahead to the Second Coming, the event that will bring history to a close and complete the plan of God.  On that day, all rebellion and sin will come to an end, this current version of reality being replaced.  The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will be regained and established for all eternity.

That is such a big promise, a universe-sized vision, that it can be difficult to believe.  But this passage is about HOPE (12) and about describing all that God has done for us.  We are being informed that God’s plan looks forward to complete fulfillment; we live in a time when we are God’s partners in bringing it to pass.

Verse eleven seems to serve as a restatement of Paul’s points in this section; here he repeats vs. 4-6+10, emphasizing that all these promises are what God intended to do all along, even before creation (4).  Notice the word EVERYTHING.  Our hope is that all things will be made new in Jesus Christ.

  1. God sealed His promises with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

God’s plan fulfills the promises He made to His people Israel, to the Jews: WE WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST (12).  Here Paul simply notes the historical events coming to pass in his own lifetime: Jesus was a Jew and considered His mission to be to His own people.  When the Church was formed, it was primarily made up of Jewish people, centered in Jerusalem, and continued to support temple worship and other Jewish traditions.

However, God’s plan always included the non-Jews (Gentiles); He always intended to save all people: AND YOU ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST (13).  The means of the Gentiles’ inclusion: YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH and BELIEVED.

God the Father’s plan features the God the Holy Spirit (14).  The HOLY SPIRIT is a SEAL.  In Paul’s world, a SEAL was a mark of ownership.  Seals were often made of stone or precious metal that had some kind of image engraved in them.  When pressed in hot wax, the seal left an impression that identified the owner.  In our time, a brand on cattle, a trademark, copyright, signature, or fingerprint are ways we record identity and/or ownership.  When we truly believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us and His presence is indicated by Spiritual Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, along with a change of character.  This is God the Father’s SEAL on us.

The HOLY SPIRIT is a DEPOSIT, GUARANTEEING OUR INHERITANCE.  Think of a “downpayment” or “earnest money” in modern financial transactions.  These are ways of validating a commitment to keep a promise.

Think of it!  God has no need to make a DEPOSIT; by faith we should take Him at His word.  And yet, He offers part of Himself; God the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that all He has promised will come to pass.  This also means God has not left us alone to sweat out the time between promise and fulfillment; He is with us.

The ultimate end of all of this is THE PRAISE OF [God’s] GLORY (v. 14; also vs. 6+12).  God’s GLORY is another way of referring to His presence among His people.  When the Bible talks about giving GLORY TO GOD, it means making Him known, sensing His presence, and responding to Him appropriately.

In the Bible, God’s presence is referred to in various ways:

As THUNDER (Psalms 29:3; 33:22).

As bright radiance (Ezekiel 1:28).

As a bright cloud (Exodus 40:34-35).

As unapproachable and invisible LIGHT (1 Timothy 6:16).

To PRAISE God is to sense His presence, recognize Him for who He is, and to make Him known to others.  It is worship.

Let’s review the four truths we’ve learned:

One, God is in charge; His plan is unfolding as He directs and will one day result in the salvation of all creation.

Two, God is at work; His plan was set into motion even before the world was created.  He took full inititiative and chose us for salvation.

Three, God will succeed; His plan to restore the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will completely come to pass, with universal effect.

Four, Jesus Christ is God.  God the Son helped God the Father formulate the plan and is central in its success.  God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the worldly evidence that identifies those whom God has chosen and encourage them to trust that all promises will be kept.

“The story is told of Dr. Christianson, Professor of Religion at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required course in Christianity.

“He found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery.  Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

“One year, Dr. Christianson made a special arrangement with a popular student named Steve who was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry.  When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts: the extra fancy big kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it because was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get some delicious donuts.

“Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, ‘Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?’

“Cynthia said, “Yes.”

“Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?’

“’Sure.’ Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

“Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, ‘Joe, do you want a donut?’

“Joe said, ‘Yes.’ Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

“Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

“Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott, who wanted a donut, but asked, ‘Can I do my own pushups?’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘No, Steve has to do them.’

“Scott said, ‘Well, I don’t want one then.’

“Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?’

“With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

“Scott said, ‘Hey! I said I didn’t want one!’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘Look!, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.’ And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

“Steve had begun to slow down and the students were beginning to get a little angry.

“Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, ‘Jenny, do you want a donut?’

“Sternly, Jenny said, ‘No.’

“Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, ‘Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?’

Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

“A growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks.

“As Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, Steve’s arms were shaking with each push-up, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face.  There was no sound except his heavy breathing and there was not a dry eye in the room.

At last, the professor explained, “’When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.’

“’And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave His gift on the desk, uneaten.’

“’My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?’”

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RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (6 of 7)

Anger & Self-control

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you probably know this guy:

skipper2

the “Skipper” character from the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.  Do you remember the character’s real name?  Jonas Grumby.  Do you remember the actor’s name?  Alan Hale Jr.

Do you remember we identified the Skipper as a symbol of GLUTTONY in a previous message?  Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re picking on the Skipper twice.

We needed a symbol for WRATH or anger, and who was the guy that when he lost his temper hit Gilligan on the head with his hat?  That must have happened at least once an episode.   As often as it happened, you’d think I could find a picture of it on the internet, but I could only find this one.  Remembering what I can of the episode pictured on your notes, I recall the Skipper was only pretending that he was going to hit Gilligan.  His anger never broiled over into really harmful violence.

Of course, that doesn’t make anger right.  Physical abuse is only one kind of abuse, and anger can cause all kinds of harm without leaving any physical marks as evidence.

  1. The vicious vice of uncontrolled anger (Matthew 5:21-26).

Anger is a feeling of opposition and the emotions/actions it motivates.  (I was careful to use the word “motivates” in that sentence to counter the excuse that someone “makes” us angry.  We always have a choice whether to be angry or not and therefore always bear responsibility for our choices.  No excuses allowed; angry reactions can be avoided.)  The classic word for this sin is “wrath.”

Anger can be a deadly sin.  It says “can be” because we need to understand that the one word, ANGER, can refer to two situations.  One situation is a flash of anger and the second is a settled and lengthy decision to remain angry and act upon it.

Initial anger (the “flash” of anger”) is most typically a morally neutral experience.  Like temptation, it can come out of nowhere to surprise us.  We are not morally responsible if a sudden feeling of anger hits us that way.

That said, if we predispose ourselves to feel anger by being characteristically unhappy, negative, overly sensitive, grudge-holding, or a drama queen, then even flashes of anger can be immoral; they are our responsibility because we’ve made anger a greater part of our character.  Anger isn’t as likely to come as a surprise to a person who makes it a way of life.  Character is always a factor in determining moral guilt.

A decision to be angry or sustain anger is more common than a flash of sudden anger.  It’s what we do with our feelings of anger that makes us guilty.  Words and actions are other factors in determining moral guilt or innocence.  What we choose to say and/or do in response to anger is where our responsibility clearly lies.

Motive is a third aspect in judging moral guilt; of the three motives for anger, only one of them is good.

FRUSTRATION is a motive for anger where the person says, “I didn’t get my way.”  We typically get frustrated over little things.  Frustration is founded on self-centeredness and immaturity.

FEAR is a motive for anger that says, “I might not get my way.”  Fear and anger are the two most basic human emotions.  We respond more quickly to these stimuli because a quick response might be necessary to survive a life-ending threat.  However, at least 90% of the things we fear never happen and when they do, they rarely threaten our survival.  This is a survival mechanism that God hard-wired into our brains; it can make us overreact to fear, causing nervousness that is unhealthy and too often immoral.   If fear is ongoing, we call it “stress.”

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is a spiritual motive that declares, “It didn’t get done God’s way.”  There is only one instance in the Gospels were Jesus is said to be angry.  In Mark 3:5, Jesus is angry and distressed at the stubbornness of hypocritical hearts.  People commonly cite Jesus’ chasing the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple as a time He got angry, but none of the Gospel writers explain it that way.  Instead, zeal is the motive offered for that act (see John 2:17).  Following Jesus’ example, we can say several things about RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION to distinguish it as the only godly motive for anger

ANGER is a sin when it is based on self-centeredness; it begins as a perceived threat to self-interest.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION starts in love for God & addresses sin and/or disrespect of God.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is often a response to hypocrisy where ANGER is often a result of hypocrisy.  Here are several observations about the difference between the virtue of RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and the vice of ANGER.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION defends the truth while ANGER often tramples over it.

Like Jesus, persons expressing RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION are not characterized by aggressive words and deeds while people given to ANGER are often aggressive in what they say and do.

ANGER tends to be sudden, explosive, and frequently out of proportion to the actual offense suffered.  RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is measured because it is a considered response and never out of proportion.

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is never an act of revenge and would not consider “fighting fire with fire.”  Unlike ANGER, it seeks reconciliation, repentance, and restoration.

ANGER is characterized as flaring up over trivialities while RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION upholds fundamental moral issues, encouraging obedience to God’s will.

Unlike ANGER, RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is not about self-defense or even defending others or God’s reputation.  Instead, it is about doing what is right and calling others to do the same.

We’ve looked at Jesus’ example regarding anger, now we’ll look at what Jesus taught about anger in Matthew 5.  First, He proved the seriousness of anger; it can become a sin (vs. 21-22).

Were you to ask a stranger if they were a good person, what would be the most likely answer?  “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.”  Is that because we consider murder to be the most serious sin?  Would that person be surprised to hear that Jesus considers ANGER to be as serious a sin as murder?  That being angry is akin to murder?

“YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…BUT I TELL YOU” is the expression of contrast we read throughout the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus is introducing a newer, better, deeper, and more true understanding of spiritual and moral life.

Under the old way, anger that did not result in murder was more or less OK.  Certainly considered a “misdemeanor” if at all.  But under Jesus’ way, anger is a sin, without regard to whether violence occurs or not.

Second, to avoid being guilty of serious sin, Jesus commanded swift and righteous resolution of anger (vs. 23-26) by giving two examples, one set in a religious context and the other in a secular context.

In the context of temple, Jesus taught that resolution must precede worship.  Consider: ANGER is sin.  Sin disrupts our relationship with God.  Worship is impossible under that circumstance.  In this predicament, it is essential to pause BEFORE worship to reconcile with other person, (your BROTHER or sister).  By way of another example, 2 Peter 3:7 implies that a disrespectful husband risks having his prayers “hindered” by the way he treats his wife.  Here is an overlap of relational and spiritual that merits a deeper examination.  (I can personally vouch that Peter’s warning is true.)

In the context of the legal system of the day, Jesus appealed to a practical and wise side of the issue.  Jesus advised that it is easier to settle a lawsuit out of court than it is after the judge has arrived.  That is probably still true today!  Just as an issue should be settled before worship, so should an issue be solved before appearing before a judge.  The person who fails to resolve in a timely way risks losing everything.

In this teaching Jesus underscores the foolishness of giving into anger.  Whether it’s a quick fuse or a slow burn, anger has destructive consequences.   Wise people will consider the consequences and exert the self-control necessary to squelch anger, reconcile relationships, and honor God instead of disobeying His will.

  1. The vital virtue of self-control (James 1:19-27).

As James presents it, self-control is a matter of timing.  We write this because he makes three references to time as central to his teaching about self-control in communications.

The first reference to timing is QUICK TO LISTEN; which means to get all the facts before reacting.  Begin by checking your perceptions.

– Do you have all the facts straight or are you overreacting to a misunderstanding?

– Are you really angry at that person or are you angry because something going on in your mind or heart that does not involve them?  If there is not a cause and effect relationship, then your anger is more likely to be a sin.

– Ask yourself, “What is my motive?”  If it is to “get even” or anything other than giving God glory and reconciling people, there’s a good chance your anger is just selfishness, no matter how self-righteous or reasonable you can make it sound.  Cancel the “spin” in your head!

– Ask yourself, “Is this any of my business?”  Previously in this series we’ve learned that godly ambition includes living a quiet life, minding our own business.

Next, since you can’t read minds, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

– Try to think of extenuating circumstances or other meanings to their words and deeds.

– In conversation with that person, check your perceptions and their intention.  Tell them how you see things and ask them if they see them differently.  Try to forge a common understanding of what is causing anger in your relationship.

Finally, by faith, try to see the situation from God’s perspective.

– If there is not a command of God being violated or a good deed left undone, is there really any reason to take offense?

– Can you be certain you are in the right on the matter and how you intend to resolve it?

– We have been warned that on Judgment Day, all “careless words” will be judged by God (see Matthew 12:36).  How will you feel when petty and hurtful words are repeated before Jesus?

The second reference to timing is SLOW TO SPEAK, which means to prefer silence and to carefully guard your words.  As we’ve been learning on Wednesday Bible Studies, the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of words.  One piece of wisdom is that the best away we can avoid speaking rashly is to avoid speaking.  Silence may not always be the best choice, but taking time to think is always good.

The amount of time we need to take before giving a comment or answer depends on how long it takes you to do the aforementioned three steps of homework prior to answering.  Besides, if you take your time, you will find that a good deal of hurtful speech and miscommunication can be avoided.  Taking time may give you an opportunity to recognize bad speech and its effects.

The final reference to time is to be SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. This means to carefully and prayerfully guard your actions.

Obviously, words aren’t the only way we give in to anger.  But they are the most common way and I believe that’s part of the reason why the Bible has so much to say on this subject.

It takes time to be certain an offense is truly intended, who is at fault, and decide what, if anything, needs to be done to reconcile the parties involved.  If you practice this, you will find that simply because you waited to react, the situation resolves itself.  God will always do a better job than we can hope to do.

Modern scientific studies of emotional intelligence show that our brain structures are set up to respond most quickly to anger and fear.  There is literally another set of brain parts that are used for reason, love, and self-control.

This is evidence of what we have learned by experience: it is not in our natural self to be self-controlled.  Doing right requires that we take more time and use the parts of our brain that work more slowly than the mouthy, angry, and evil parts.  James’ double use of the word SLOW reflects the findings of modern science!

Our best motive for self-control is to achieve the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  Stated briefly, the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES is becoming more like Jesus.  James is also clear about the details of what a RIGHTEOUS LIFE looks like.  Verse 26 says that a RIGHTEOUS person has a TIGHT REIGN ON HIS TONGUE. Verse 27 says that a RIGHTEOUS person looks after the needy and keeps themselves from being morally POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.

Elsewhere in James we develop a broad view of a RIGHTEOUS LIFE:

2:10 = Keep the entirety of God’s commands, not just your favorite parts.

4:7 = Become submissive to God, resistant to the devil.

5:13-16 = Rely on prayer.

James instructs us that self-control is a mark of maturing faith.  Writing plainly, verse 26 warns that uncontrolled speech betrays a RELIGION that is WORTHLESS.  We need our faith to be true in order to be saved and to persevere in this life.  When trials and death come, a false faith will be WORTHLESS to us.

One way to cure self-deception about our status before God is to look at what we are doing.  James gave three examples:

A person who says what they think reveals they are self-deceived and they will find, on Judgment Day, that their RELIGION is WORTHLESS in regard to getting into heaven.

Anyone can claim faith, but God-approved religion is proven by two actions: keeping from following the WORLD so closely that your moral status becomes as dirty as theirs.  God approves service and protection for the neediest members of the community, not the wealthiest.

In James 3:2 we understand moral perfection is proved by control of what one says: WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS.  IF A MAN IS NEVER AT FAULT IN WHAT HE SAYS, HE IS A PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.

Ideally, self-control is achieved by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby being Spirit-controlled.  GLS 5:22-23 = self-control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit.

Anger can quickly lead to other sins.  If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about

twitter

Twitter as a place where angry exchanges can easily take place.  Twitter is an app and website that aims at providing news and social networking by allowing users to post and interact with messages called “tweets”.  Originally, tweets were restricted to 140 characters, but late last year, the limit was doubled to 280 for most languages.   On this basis, it may be argued that Twitter’s greatest virtue is brevity.

Twitter was launched in July, 2006. In ten years Twitter grew to more than 319 million active users.  Another gauge of the influence of Twitter occurred on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 p.m.

The gentleman who may have benefitted most from all that election day activity was President Trump, who has also become one of Twitter’s most famous/infamous users.  I have a Twitter account with a whopping THIRTY followers.  This means 30 people get notified when I tweet.  Nine out of ten times my tweet is simply an announcement that I have posted my sermon notes on the internet.

Because of the relative anonymity (you can use a net name – pseudonym) and the brevity of the messages, Twitter has become a place where social interactions take on the form of angry opposition.  The word “Tweets” sounds like a happy thing, but the fact is, these brief messages too often take on hateful, condemning, and argumentative tones.  Occasionally you will hear about a celebrity who has closed their Twitter account because the messages left were so hurtful.

In fact, in February of this year the company announced that they were responding to constant criticism of the wrathful aspect of tweets by providing help for those who tweeted about self-harm or suicide, and restricting the access of users who encourage others to harm themselves or commit suicide.  This ought to come as no surprise to anyone: human nature is such that if we make it easy to hurt others, more people will engage in that behavior.

One of the things that is supposed to distinguish followers of Jesus from the rest of the world is the presence of peace and the absence of anger.  We will show the world we are different if we don’t tweet or talk in anger.  We will demonstrate we truly belong to Jesus if we take the time needed to act in love, not anger.  That will take pursuit of self-control and avoidance of the deadly sin of wrath.

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.