Cleaning House

temple cleaner

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

          Even a quick look around our house would cause you to observe that I have no business preaching a message entitled “Cleaning House!”  I’m afraid matters are worse after Wednesday night.

This sad story begins with God giving me a warning on Tuesday when Dawn stopped by the office to accuse me of working overtime.  Of course I denied it.  In the course of our conversation, she mentioned how they had to quick get the hose back on their sump pump discharge because it had started running with all the snow and ice melting outdoors.

That is something I had never thought of doing.  Take off your sump pump hose?  Who does that?  The Lord sent Dawn to warn me to check my own hose.  But I did not catch the warning, so when I got home after Bible study Wednesday night, it finally occurred to me to check.  The answer was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs: at least a half-inch of water all across the basement floor.  The sump pump couldn’t run because the hose outside was frozen shut.

So now we have some serious house cleaning to do, especially in the basement.  This experience confirms a pair of my sayings:

“Snow is rain on credit.  You’ll pay for it later.”

“A basement is a hole under your house for catching rainwater.”

Jesus never had to use a wet-dry vac, but today we’ll look at a time He set out to do some cleaning out of the house of God.  It was a dramatic, aggressive act on Jesus’ part but entirely necessary.  Let’s see what we can learn from His example.

CONTEXT: This passage follows Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine (vs. 1-12) and precedes His instruction of Nicodemus (3:1-21).  In John’s Gospel, these are all precedent-setting events; the first miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power, the cleansing of the temple His authority, and the encounter with Nicodemus the substance of His teaching.

  1. Jesus’ actions invited opposition. (vs. 13-17)

The PASSOVER was the ideal time to launch a new ministry and that’s how this incident is used in John’s gospel.  The PASSOVER was one of three annual festivals godly Jews were required to attend.  At that time the city swelled with pilgrims from around the ancient world. The event probably occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, the most public place in Jerusalem.  All lights “green” for launch!

The people doing business there were “authorized sellers” in one sense or another.  The sellers of sacrificial animals (CATTLE, SHEEP AND DOVES) were authorized by the Law: Deuteronomy 14:24-26 allowed those traveling a great distance to sell the animal they intended to offer, converting it to cash.  Upon arrival at the sacred place, the cash could be used to buy another animal to be offered to God.  This avoided the inconvenience and expense of transporting live animals.

The MONEY CHANGERS were not authorized in Scripture, but were deemed necessary under Roman occupation.  Roman coins depicted Caesar and described him as god.  They were considered blasphemous, unfit for use in the temple.  Every adult Jewish male was expected to pay the “temple tax” of a half shekel to support the temple and the priests (Exodus 30:13).  Specially minted coins called “temple tokens” were used.  The exchange rate always benefitted the exchangers.

No weapons were allowed in the temple or its courts.  When Jesus MADE A WHIP, he likely bundled together some of the ropes used to contain the cattle.

He DROVE ALL out.  This stampede was a severe disruption of “business as usual.”  Jesus threw the tables and coins of the MONEY CHANGERS into disarray.

Why did Jesus do it?  The gospels advance three explanations:

Jesus told the sellers of DOVES they’d turned His FATHER’S HOUSE INTO A MARKET.  Zechariah 14:21 promises an ideal future where NO MERCHANT would be found in the temple, so turning the temple courts into a marketplace was bad all on its own.

The disciples believed Jesus’ ZEAL for God’s house consumed him.  They saw Psalm 69:9 as a prediction, Jesus’ actions as the fulfillment.

In Matthew 21:13, Jesus condemned them for making the temple into A DEN OF THIEVES, quoting the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11).

  1. Jesus’ actions were opposed. (18-22)

Matthew’s reference to THE JEWS in verse eighteen is shorthand for the religious/civil leaders of the Jewish people.  They demanded Jesus give them a SIGN – a miracle – that would prove his authority to disrupt the ordinary business of the temple.

Jesus did offer them a SIGN, just not the kind of SIGN they were expecting.  Referring to His own body, He offered His resurrection as the ultimate proof of His authority.  When they killed Him, he would not remain dead, but be raised to life.

In Jesus’ reply John used the word RAISE, unlike the other Gospels, which used the word REBUILD.  RAISE is a more typical figure of speech for “resurrection.”  After Jesus was raised from the dead, the DISCIPLES understood Jesus’ intended meaning and believed all had taken place as God had predicted in the SCRIPTURES (22).

THE JEWS’ misunderstanding is in evident in verse twenty.  They thought Jesus was referring to the temple.  Jesus’ words were later turned against Him: during His trial, Jewish leaders cited them as a threat to the temple (Mark 15:58; Matthew 26:61) and people used them to mock Him at His crucifixion (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:40).  After Jesus returned to heaven, this charge was repeated when Deacon Stephen was on trial (Acts 6:14).

  1. Jesus backed up His claims with miracles. (23-25)

Ironically, Jesus would not give the Jewish leaders a SIGN when they demanded it (18), but He gave several to the people (23).  In reaction to Jesus’ MIRACULOUS SIGNS, MANY PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIS NAME.

In JHN 1:12 the phrase BELIEVED IN HIS NAME described those who faith was adequate for salvation.  But here, the same Gk words describe people who did not possess true faith.  This use of the same words to describe very different spiritual conditions illustrates the difficulty we have in knowing people’s hearts.  However, Jesus knew the difference; HE KNEW ALL MEN.  There’s no fooling Him.

Knowing their faith was merely superficial, Jesus did not consider them to be trustworthy followers.  Their excitement about the miracles would not carry them through the real work of following Him.

The Pharisee Nicodemus is offered as an example of these fair-weather disciples.  In fact, He began the conversation referencing the miracles, “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  The good news is that he did come to true faith.  In John 19:39 Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus’ body.

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

At this point we should all be asking ourselves, “What would Jesus if He walked into our church right now?”  Would He thank us for our faithfulness or chase us out of here with a broom?  I would expect most churches fall somewhere between obviously faithful and obviously false. And that is a big reason why churches can be so hard to sort out.

Dr. Thom S. Rainer is a church consultant.  He published an article on his website five years ago identifying nine traits of “mean churches.”  Based on his experience and training, he offered these insights as a means of prayerfully and carefully considering our own life together.  Take a moment to think about each one as I merely list them.

Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness. 

The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly.

Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power.

There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures.

Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit.

A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.”

Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled.

Many people in the community view these churches negatively. 

Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. 

(https://thomrainer.com/2015/03/nine-traits-mean-churches/)

How are we doing?  It’s not realistic to think that churches are only going to be places where nice people are nice to one another.  Real people in real places having real relationships will often be quite messy.

That said, the point is that we have chosen a direction aimed at Jesus: that we are characterized by love manifest in forgiveness and cooperation.  That kind of fellowship is the kind that will attract and retain new life.  The question is never “What kind of church do I want?” instead it is “What kind of church is Jesus working to make us?”  Like Jesus, we must not let the Pharisees have the final say.

 

Resources:

The Anchor Bible Commentary, Raymond E. Brown.

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Doing Our Jobs

church-work-day-clipart

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          Today is Church Vocations Sunday and Installation Sunday; we are celebrating and supporting those who give leadership to our church.  It’s wonderful to see the leaders of the church cooperating with one another to show a congregation the way Jesus wants them to go.

For example, I’m reminded of a church where the trustees took out the old paper towel dispensers and replaced them with modern hot-air hand dryers.  For their part, the deacons added signs above each dryer which read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

<http://javacasa.com/humor/pastor.htm&gt;

CONTEXT: Our passage this morning is the second of two threats to the unity of the First Church.  The first, in ch. 5, was hypocrisy.  Ananias and Sapphira pretended to sell their home and give all the proceeds to the church.  In a demonstration of how much God hates hypocrisy, this lie cost both the husband and wife their lives.  As we will see, the second problem was complaining.

We will also note the selection of deacons set up the next two sections of Acts as the spotlight falls on two of the newly-elected deacons, Stephen and Philip (chs. 6-8).

  1. The problem. (vs. 1-2)

Part of the problem was the rapid growth of the Church = THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING.  References to church growth bracket this narrative.  A great problem to have, right?  The Church added people faster than they added the leadership to take care of them.

How fast?  Note 3,000 converts were mentioned in 2:41 and the 5,000 members in 4:4, we know for certain that the Church numbered in the thousands in a city of 100,000 residents.  That’s a lot for twelve guys to administrate!

The other part of the problem was complaining = THE GRECIAN JEWS COMPLAINED AGAINST THE HEBRAIC JEWS.  At this point the Church existed only in Jerusalem and was made up only of Jews.  It was considered to be a sect of Judaism.

At that time, there were two kinds of Jews.  Luke referred to one group as GRECIAN JEWS; they were people who converted to Judaism or were born Jews, but came from other parts of the world.  HEBRAIC JEWS, on the other hand, were people who were born in the region.  The primary difference was the fact they spoke different languages.

The out-of-town Jews believed that their widows were not getting their fair share of the daily soup kitchen.  This is not a small thing: Ministry to widows, orphans, aliens, and other down-and-out types was a big focus of the early church.  It was where a lot of their money was spent.  It is no coincidence that the first complaint in church life involved widows – the Old Testament commanded care for widows (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18).  Jesus taught neglecting the care of widows was evidence of disobeying God (Luke 7:12-14).

The result was that the Apostles’ time was being spent waiting on tables when they should have been ministering the WORD.  The same Greek word translated here as DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD appears in 1:17+25 as the MINISTRY the Apostles received from Jesus.  This linguistic connection makes two things clear.  One, the TWELVE did the work of waiting on tables.  Two, waiting tables and proclaiming the Word were both considered ministry.  Both were important work.

Why were the Twelve doing all this themselves?  Sometimes it’s easier for leaders to do things themselves than it is to recruit people to do them.

What’s more important in this case, is that the Twelve demonstrated wisdom by recognizing taking care of this problem themselves was not a good idea.  When it came down to a choice between waiting tables or ministering the WORD, they knew which was part of their calling and which was not.

Again, both these were ministries were important to the church.  But the Twelve realized they were called to minister the word, not administrate a social program.  It was not RIGHT for them to WAIT ON TABLES because that would have required them neglecting their true ministry.  Somebody needed to do it, but it needed to be somebody else.  Here is an example of a situation where spirituality and practicality both need to be heard.

  1. The proposal. (vs. 2-6)

They proposed the congregation choose seven godly men to WAIT TABLES.  The Twelve created the proposal but they left it up to the members to decide who would administrate this program.

They proposed a group of SEVEN men because seven is seen as a symbol of completeness; that’s all that was needed.  Social scientists tell us seven is just about the ideal number for any working group.

The Twelve set forth the qualification the Seven were to be KNOWN to possess: FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM.  True wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

The DISCIPLES (the members, the congregation) chose seven men from among their own number.  The fact that they all have Greek names does not prove that all Seven were GRECIAN JEWS, but if they were, that was an extraordinary accommodation by the HEBRAIC JEWS to the GRECIAN JEWS.

Luke describes only two of the Seven in any detail.  His mention of Stephen as A MAN FULL OF FAITH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT set up the account of Stephen, the first martyr, starting in verse eight.  The other mention is Nicolas, a CONVERT TO JUDAISM.  This proves that not all of the church members were born Jews.

Delegating authority was not a new idea: in Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 11:1-25, and Deuteronomy 1:9-18, we read about 70 Israelite men who were selected to assist Moses in settling disputes among the people and to train them in faithfulness to God.

The phrase WAIT ON TABLES is the Greek word diakonein, from which we derive our word “deacon.”     Though Luke does not refer to the Seven as “deacons” in this passage, he will by chapter 21.  It’s ironic how the church has turned this word upside down.  The original deacons were table waiters; workers in a soup kitchen that delivered daily meals to the needy.  Their jobs were practical.  In the modern American church, deacons are responsible for spiritual ministry while the practical work is given to “trustees.”  Biblically, it ought to be the other way around.

If the proposal were accepted, the Apostles would have more time to pay ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.  PRAYER is a separate ministry.  It includes public worship and private visitation.  MINISTRY OF THE WORD includes preaching and teaching; discipleship that occurs in public and private situations.

As we stated earlier, this division of labor does not imply any kind of elitism.  The Twelve and the Seven had two different kind of work but BOTH were considered ministry.  The fact that the Seven were commissioned for ministry by the laying on of hands (v. 6) is further evidence of this variety of callings without a hierarchy of callings.

  1. The product. (vs. 5+7)

For possibly the last time in recorded history, all the church folk were happy at the same time.  The Greek word for PLEASED denotes a kind of satisfaction with the actions of another.  Our objective is to aim to please God, not any individual or group in the church.  So if everyone’s happy, that’s gravy, not our goal.

Luke listed two signs of God’s approval of the way the problem had been resolved.  He wrote, THE WORD OF GOD SPREAD.  On a practical level, the Twelve had their time freed up by turning the food ministry over to the Seven.  On a spiritual level, God registered His approval by giving them more opportunities to speak the word to those outside the church.

He also wrote THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES INCREASED.  This is the other bracket that frames this passage; the Church was growing in number before the complaint and it continued to grow after they faithfully resolved the complaint.

The text supplies two qualifiers of the growth the First Church experienced.  The word RAPIDLY implies the Church’s growth gained speed.  A LARGE NUMBER OF PRIESTS were added to the membership.  These were men who had a vested interest in the status quo and were trained in the Scriptures.  And they overcame all that to choose to follow Jesus!

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          That’s not important.  What is important is the example set for us by the early church. Every believer is given their individual set of spiritual Gifts and other resources they can contribute to the life of their local church.  When all the believers make their contributions, the church prospers.  We need a variety of contributions and a depth of contributors in order to be faithful to God and the mission He has given us.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Everyone’s contributions differ slightly, but everyone contributes.  With love, we assemble these offerings of various resources and expend them in ministry to our people and the people outside our walls.

Here’s their example for us to follow:

– When a problem is announced, the leaders are responsible to see if it is a problem and take reasonable steps to resolve it.

– The leadership formulates a proposal and presents it to the membership, requiring them to share responsibility for a solution.

– Working together, the leaders and followers enact the solution with prayer and good sense empowering a godly way forward.

– When we are faithful, God makes us fruitful.  It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1291

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel

The Significance of Singleness

A BOOK REPORT

on

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SINGLENESS

(Baker Academic, 2018)

by

CHRISTINA S. HITCHCOCK

marriage mandate

A review by Brett Best

January, 2019

THE BOTTOM LINE

            According to the subtitle, Hitchcock’s book promises to be “A Theological Vision for the Future of the Church.”  It does not deliver on that promise.  Instead, it is an overreaction to the “marriage mandate movement” in evangelical Christianity.  The author is not content to set singleness and marriage on a level playing field but seeks to tip the balance to the assumption that singleness is an inherently more spiritual situation.  (Full disclosure: she is married with children.)

IN THE AUTHOR’S OWN WORDS – STATEMENTS OF THESIS

            Characterizing the usual evangelical position she wrote, “Thus marriage presents both an appealing lifestyle and a powerful picture of who God is and what he is doing while singleness does neither.” (p. 7)

“Singleness is a sign not of loneliness but of perfected community.” (p. 33)

“Although Protestants do not consider marriage to be a sacrament, many still treat it as if it were one.” (p. 78)

“The true ground of authority in the church is always God and the gifting of the Holy Spirit.  This direct link to Christ through the Holy Spirit is made clearer in single people than in married people because single people have fewer natural relations to whom we might attribute their authority.  The church needs single people to remind us that our own commissioner is God.” (p. 124)

BY THE BOOK – MY REACTIONS TO CHAPTERS

“INTRODUCTION”

            The introduction oversells the purpose of the book, devoting too much attention to the author’s personal life.  It’s better skipped, unless the reader has an interest in the author’s situation or curiosity about why the author feels this book “had to be written.”  As will be characteristic throughout the book, the author resorts to assertions of opinion as fact, stereotyping Evangelicalism, and unsubstantiated assertions of how the Church has “punted” on the subject of singleness.

1 = “WHY SINGLENESS?”

            Attempting to cure what the author identifies as a widespread, deep and long-standing bias against singleness, Hitchcock wields an uncritically assumed generalization as fact: that the Church (especially the Evangelical branch) has adopted the culture’s view of sexuality as a means of achieving maturity, even personhood.  This charge will be levied often in the book.  It’s ironic that liberal Christians consume and even champion our culture’s permissive view of sexuality but in these pages conservative Christians are accused of doing the same thing.

Hitchcock asserts that an exaltation of singleness as inherently more spiritual will open all kinds of doors, helping the Church better deal with all sexuality issues.  To Hitchcock this is apparently self-evident as nothing resembling proof or explaining the points of such a process is offered.

What she calls the Marriage Mandate is the bogeyman.  It serves the author as a handy straw dog that she knocks over repeatedly instead of substantiating exactly how sanctifying singleness is going put the Church in a better state.

I wonder if the author is not guilty of over-correcting.  If she sought balance instead of making the same error on the side of singleness as she alleges the Church has made on the side of marriage, the whole would be more palatable.  As it is, the author offers hand-wringing and complaint in excess and little vision or practicable action.

2 = “MACRINA (SINGLENESS AND COMMUNITY)”

            The life of St. Macrina serves the author as an excellent example of the principles she wants to will in to existence, but I wonder at the historicity of the accounts she cites.  Macrina’s story may be exemplary, but are the sources reliable enough to cite as proofs?

Hitchcock’s thinking is binary; either singleness or marriage must be exalted as “the” spiritual condition?  The more logical assumption would be that neither state is inherently more spiritual, they are simply different.  Each status carries advantages and disadvantages.  Why rely on  “either…or” thinking to prop up pedagogy exalting singleness?

The idea of “updating” the Creation Mandate to reflect all of biblical revelation is good, but it is only explored as it supports Hitchcock’s thesis.  That notion should be treated with the same skepticism that is needed when the Left talks about the US Constitution as a “living document,” which serves as an excuse for putting modern words in the mouths of the Founders.

3 = “PERPETUA (SINGLENESS AND IDENTITY)”

            This chapter starts with the bare facts of Perpetua as a first century martyr who had an infant child at the time of her death.  To that the author adds speculation that suits her thesis.  It becomes a tangential discourse on the practice of baptism in the early church.  The relevance of the baptism study is Hitchcock’s assertion that baptism establishes a new Christian identity.  Because the father of Perpetua’s child is unnamed, Perpetua’s assumed baptism cements her identity as a single person.  This is an example of the forced, tortured “logic” that pervades the book.  Repeatedly asserting things as true does not make them true.

The chapter has so little to do with the topic of singleness I wonder why the author worked so hard to shoehorn it in.  It is the most obvious example of bending evidence and rhetoric to prop up her thesis.  In each of the three “historical” chapters I see the usual postmodern assumption that narrative trumps rhetoric.   In this case, the narrative has been tweaked to make it better suit the thesis.

4 = “LOTTIE MOON (SINGLENESS AND AUTHORITY)”

            Hitchcock offers Lottie Moon and the success of her Chinese mission as proof that singleness is the preferred qualification for ministry.  Had Hitchcock ever offered her assertions with some qualification such as “in some situations,” one might find more agreement.  As it is, anecdotes are not evidence, narrative does not trump rhetoric (it merely illustrates it), and one does not achieve correction by offering the opposite in exactly the same position/proportion as the problem.

In this chapter, the author’s point about Miss Moon’s career is held until the last page.  This is a suspect practice, deferring scrutiny.

Lottie Moon is the most verifiable of the three narratives and Hitchcock does a good job of demonstrating that she was an exceptional person.  However, that cuts both ways; her exceptionality logically argues against making her experience the basis of the generalities Hitchcock endorses in this book.  Clearly, not every single person is going to duplicate Lottie Moon’s influence and success.

5 = “HOW SINGLENESS CAN SHAPE US INTO BETTER THEOLOGIANS”

            The final chapter is the weakest.  Hitchcock’s hand-wringing over Evangelical “idolizing” of marriage is offered as reason enough to swap the two-person idol for the single person idol the author proposes.  The empty promise that singleness is inherently more spiritual is not logical or biblical.  Hitchcock has not provided us with a vision – theological or otherwise.

CONCLUSION:  AVOIDABLE

            Apart from the shoehorned section on first century baptism practices, there is little of value here.  The book is a journal article that has been inflated to fill 100+ pages.  While there is much to criticize about the American Church’s treatment of the subject of marriage, there is nothing practical and little theological value in Hitchcock’s treatment of the subject.  A more nuanced view seeing marriage and singleness as both having potential and pitfalls would be more logical and more biblical, and therefore, more helpful.  We ought to seek ways to honor and support persons who seek God within their marital status, whatever it may be.  For what it’s worth, my advice is to avoid spending any time on The Significance of Singleness.

One OR Done

Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

ichabod

One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school.  The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school.  I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor.  I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.

What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting.  Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river.  It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.

The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group.  We all wanted to help.  School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.

Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy.  It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting.  It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.

It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.

  1. Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.

The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered.  Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone.  Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.

Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12).  Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins.  To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.

  1. Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)

ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself.  God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16).  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins.  Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.

TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17).  Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed.  Jesus’ presence gives us peace.

These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”  God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers.  They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.

THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16).  On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.

On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps.  Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.

FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15)  This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands.  He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.

As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12.  Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).

FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21)  (We will talk about this later.)

  1. Descriptions of our unity.

The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together!  Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17)  No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists.  The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.

God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15)  This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one.  Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one.  So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified.  We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.

Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16)  Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation.  Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God.  That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.

A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers.  In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)

The word ACCESS refers to prayer.  It is having a means of communicating with a king.  As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer.  Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.

The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God.  As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS.  And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19)  CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law.  More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.

Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells.  GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE  APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20)  Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built.  In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.

The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE.  In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.

In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.  Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES.  Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together.  A stack of bricks is not a building.  It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.

Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.  God created the Church for many different reasons.  However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons.  He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place.  We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.

You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports.  When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”

I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective.  Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.”  This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church.  A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.

Unity is received, not achieved.  We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

 

RESOURCE USED:

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

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

Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Last Supper, Last Words (5 of 5)

upper-room

(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone.  When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church.  It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”

“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)

Why is that joke funny?  Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)

He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.”  We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer.  There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God).  There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God.  As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.

An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.”  An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves.  Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.

In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.”  Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)

The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.”  When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity!  We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.

I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own.  If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God?  God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.

This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed.  This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.

In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.”  The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence.  Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other.  This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.

In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways.  First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.”  The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift.  Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.”  The unity God gives is COMPLETE.  God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.

The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things.  One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father.  Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world.  One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity.  How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)

“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment.  Go back to John 14:1-4.  What did Jesus promise His disciples?  He promised a heavenly home with lots of room!   That should create confidence.

Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven.  Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.

We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory.  We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit.  (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.”  In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.

“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth.  Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.

“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.

“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)

The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must.  Why don’t worldly folk know the Father?  There are at least four reasons:

One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.

Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”

Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.

Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God.  They are not innocent or ignorant victims.  The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.

Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD.  In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.

“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.

“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.”  Jesus keeps this promise through you and me.  He makes God known through us!

LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world.  We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words.  The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.

Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.

The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer.  The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.

Those facts ought to be instructive to us.  Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.

Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed.  First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him.  He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us.  He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.

He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord.  While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.

Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?”  Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love.  These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith.  We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.