Worth the Effort

Raising the Cross (1)

Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.

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

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

“None of them survived the branding.”

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

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

CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:

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

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

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

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

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

 

RESOURCE:

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

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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.