A Fond Farewell

Please read Acts 20:17-38 in your Bible.

A Tearful Farewell_vFinal(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

We must love one another deeply.

          The CONTEXT of this passage is provided by verses sixteen and seventeen.  Paul was making his way back to Jerusalem sailing along the coast of Asia Minor.  His haste was so great he chose not to put into the harbor at Ephesus, but sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at a place called Miletus.  There were other factors in this decision, but the text reports only Paul’s desire to reach Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost (29 May 57).

Based on the reaction of the ELDERS, I wonder if Paul anticipated that the church would want to keep him and he wanted to avoid a long goodbye.  In any case, Paul called the official leaders of the church to him and gave them a message to take back to the members.

  1. Paul’s departure provoked deep emotions. (vs. 36-38)

Their time together ended with prayer.  As a demonstration of reverence for God, all of them KNELT DOWN.  What Luke may be describing here in very few words, is a service of ordination.  Kneeling and prayer have been part of ordinations from the beginning, along with the laying on hands.  A group ordination fits with Paul’s purpose in meeting with the ELDERS, to prepare them for his absence.

In their culture embracing and kissing were typical greetings, so this doesn’t necessarily convey deep love.  However, weeping and grieving do imply a deep love between Paul and the ELDERS.  Verse 38 tells us they accompanied Paul to his ship.  I assume this detail means they were reluctant to be parted from Paul and wanted to keep an eye on him as long as they could.

  1. The deepest love is founded on shared service to Christ. (18-35)

Paul’s focus was on Jesus Christ.  Paul was a “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) follower of Christ; there was no pretense in his exercise of faith and ministry.  When he said “YOU KNOW HOW I LIVED…” (18) that was a completely accurate statement.  Modern politicians like to talk about transparency, but Paul practiced it.

His statement in verse nineteen would sound self-contradictory if it were spoken by anyone else: I SERVED THE  LORD WITH GREAT HUMILITY.  Note the object of the sentence is THE LORD.  Paul’s focus on Jesus did not allow room for selfish ambition, a vice he condemned four times in his letters (2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:16; 2:3).

If you take time to look at it, Paul’s selflessness is indicated twice in this phrase alone.  The word SERVED is used to indicate slavery.  Paul identified himself as a slave of Jesus Christ more than a dozen times.

GREAT HUMILITY summarizes the details that will follow; all the aspects of selfless devotion and self-sacrifice Paul demonstrated over the years.

Verse 24 passionately states Paul’s devotion to Jesus and his determination to do what Christ commanded.  He said, “I CONSIDER MY OWN LIFE WORTH NOTHING TO ME, IF ONLY I MAY FINISH THE RACE AND COMPLETE THE TASK THE LORD JESUS HAS GIVEN ME.”  It is pretty easy to claim GREAT HUMILITY; here Paul gives evidence of it in his attitude.  He does not consider his own life as valuable on its own, only as it gives him opportunity to work for Jesus.

The TASK Jesus assigned to him was to testify to the GOSPEL OF GOD’S GRACE.  Paul had ambition, but it was grounded in faith.  It was to FINISH THE RACE and COMPLETE THE TASK; Paul wanted no part of his calling left undone, no matter the cost.

What never motivated Paul was financial gain.  He goes into some detail in verses 33-35 to prove this point.

First, he pointed out his attitude: I HAVE NOT COVETED (33).  In contrast to false teachers whose major motive for church work was greed, Paul had no desire for material compensation of any kind.

Second, he pointed out his ambition: THESE HANDS OF MINE HAVE SUPPLIED MY OWN NEEDS AND THE NEEDS OF MY COMPANIONS (34).

Paul avoided all charges of greed by refusing all kinds of support.  He supported himself and his associates by working his trade as a tentmaker.  We know from 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-16 that Paul accepted gifts from churches after he’d left them, but observed a strict separation of finances.  This was a decision Paul made for his own ministry; we have no evidence he was commanded to operate this way, nor did he command other pastors to work outside the church.  Instead, he argued for a fair wage for full-time church workers (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18).

Third, he pointed out his altruism: I SHOWED YOU THAT BY…HARD WORK WE MUST HELP THE WEAK (35).  This was based on the teaching of Jesus whom Paul quoted as saying, “IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.”  In addition to teaching this truth, Paul set an example in his own service and in his leadership of the church’s service. Interestingly, these words of Jesus are not found in any of the Gospels.  This may have been something Jesus said to Paul alone or just not reported in the Gospels.

The Apostle Paul clearly had a tender heart for the Ephesian church.  He made two references to TEARS: “I SERVED THE LORD…WITH TEARS (19+31)”.  He gave THE PLOTS OF THE JEWS as one of the reason for his tears.  Their plotting did not prevent Paul from preaching to His native people as he made clear in v. 21.  A simple fact of ministry to people is that TEARS are an occupational hazard.  It is a sign of genuine love.

His tenderheartedness compelled Paul to tell the Ephesians the whole truth in his preaching and teaching. This is expressed in three statements.

“I WOULD NOT HAVE HESITATED TO PREACH ANYTHING THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO YOU (20).”  This verse speaks to boldness in preaching; Paul did not avoid subjects because they would invite opposition.   The content of his preaching was not limited to what was popular or easy.  He preached everything that was HELPFUL to the church’s health and growth.

“I…TAUGHT PUBLICLY AND FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE (20).”  Paul carried out both avenues of pastoral ministry; public and private.  In our study of Acts we saw that Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues, in a lecture hall owned by Tyrannus, and in the marketplace; all public venues.  The early church also met in homes, but these meetings were not limited to a single family, they were simply smaller venues into which the church gathered.

“I HAVE DECLARED TO BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS (21).”  Paul presented the Gospel to all the people of Ephesus, not excluding or favoring either of these groups.  His message to all of them was the same: THEY MUST TURN TO GOD IN REPENTANCE AND HAVE FAITH IN OUR LORD JESUS.

“FOR THREE YEARS I NEVER STOPPED WARNING YOU DAY AND NIGHT (v. 31).” Paul did not seek popularity in his messages, sticking to the truth even to the degree that his messages consisted of warnings.

The purpose of this meeting was for Paul to transfer his authority in leading the church to the ELDERS (25-32).  They would lead the church from now on.

“NONE OF YOU…WILL EVER SEE ME AGAIN (25).”  In v. 22 Paul declared his uncertainty about what would happen to him in Jerusalem but he was certain he would never return to Ephesus.  That’s why he went to all this trouble to prepare the ELDERS to take over for him.

On the basis of the integrity of his service (27), Paul announced the church was no longer his responsibility: “I AM INNOCENT OF THE BLOOD OF ALL MEN (26).” This comment reflects Ezekiel 3:17-21 where the prophet was told his responsibility by the figure of the watchman on the wall is responsible to give a warning of danger.  He is then not responsible for anyone who refuses to heed the warning and act appropriately.  Because Paul DID NOT HESITATE to give this warning, his responsibility is ended.  He can leave Ephesus and never return with a clear conscience.

Paul made the ELDERS responsible for the church in Ephesus (28). He called them OVERSEERS and SHEPHERDS, in charge and in care of the membership.  He stated that the HOLY SPIRIT had put them in these positions.  The value of the church (and thereby the seriousness of their responsibility) is not overstated when Paul reminded them that Christ bought the Church WITH HIS BLOOD.  He warned them that their service would be fraught with trials (29-31); they would have occasion for tears of their own.

In light of these truths, Paul commanded them twice to be wary.  In contrast to the SAVAGE WOLVES – the false teachers – the ELDERS are to carefully maintain their integrity.

The first warning is in verse 28: “KEEP WATCH OVER YOURSELVES.”  This command is not limited to keeping their integrity but includes practicing what we might call “adequate self-care,” maintaining physical health and spiritual growth.

The second warning is in verse 30: “BE ON YOUR GUARD!” Compromising one’s integrity can be a slow process, one small step at a time.  Only vigilance will keep any of these ELDERS from becoming one of the WOLVES that will arise from within the church (FROM YOUR OWN NUMBER).

He commissioned them in v. 32; urging them to rely on God’s GRACE.  It is God alone who can build us up and secure for us AN INHERITANCE AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.  Faithful service is our part; fruitful labor is God’s blessing.  God intends His Church to succeed in making disciples and extending His Kingdom in this world.

Paul endured opposition to his service.  In verse nineteen Paul noted he was SEVERELY TESTED BY THE JEWS in Ephesus.  He did not allow their opposition to silence his proclaiming the message.  He continued to use their synagogues and other public places to preach about salvation in Christ.  In fact, there was nothing that would make him hesitate (v. 19) from fulfilling that TASK Jesus had given him to do (v. 24).

The other thing Paul did not hesitate to do was go to Jerusalem (vs. 22-23).  Paul was COMPELLED BY THE SPIRIT to go there and he was determined to be obedient to God, though he had been warned he would face PRISON and HARDSHIPS.  Paul was not deterred by PRISON or HARDSHIPS in part because he considered his own life as being worth something only as it allowed him to FINISH and COMPLETE the TASK OF TESTIFYING that Jesus had given him.

We must love one another deeply.

          The Apostle Peter shared this perspective.  Under the Spirit’s direction he recorded these words in 1 Peter 4:8, ABOVE ALL, LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY, BECAUSE LOVE COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS.  This verse establishes both the priority of deep love (ABOVE ALL) and the effect of deep love (COVERS OVER A MULTITUDE OF SINS), that is, forgives offenses.  This is the kind of love evidenced in our passage in Acts, the kind of love Paul demonstrated.

Love is not optional; it is a command and is a necessity.  The church cannot be the church without the deep love that COVERS OVER offenses, allowing people to go forward in faith.

Love also feels better; it’s more fun to forgive and move forward than to nurse grudges.  We all make mistakes and we’re all guilty of giving offense; we can’t avoid it all the time, so it’s necessary that we exercise deep love and overcome the offenses with forgiveness.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel.

Authority Redeemed

Authority Redeemed_vfinal (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in your Bible of choice.

“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” She bent down and kissed her young son.
“In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Her encouragement did far more than a rebuke ever could have done.
“It’s easy to notice the wrong in a child, but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What a challenge to raise our children according to God’s standards, knowing when to say, ‘It’s a mess!’ and when to say, ‘Why, it’s Sally!’” -D. C. McCasland at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_6

CONTEXT = In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with God trumps family, church, and all human relationships.  In v. 21, Paul reminds us that mutual submission is to characterize all relationships in the Church.  Our other relationships flow from our relationships to God and the Church.

Notice a pattern in the three sections of our passage; Paul addresses the follower first, the leader second: the marriage section begins with the word WIVES, the parenting section begins with the word CHILDREN, and the slavery section begins with the word SLAVES.  The Greek adds the article before the noun, but is otherwise exactly the same.  Listing the subordinate member first may be Paul’s way to equalizing their status a bit.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

  1. In redeemed marriages, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed marriages, wives were to submit to the husband’s authority.  Verse 22 plainly states WIVES, SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS AS TO THE LORD.  No one would seriously claim equality with Christ.  (Although, Romans 8:17 tells us we are CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST.)  Paul considered submission a “given” and offered this example to illustrate the principle.  He didn’t argue against the cultural norm, but redeemed it.

An equally plain statement was made in verse 24: NOW AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS IN EVERYTHING.  Paul was always an advocate of order and here he calls for orderly marital relations by bringing an end to competition between husband and wife.  The standard he describes here is theological as it is based on the Church’s submission to Christ, and it is total, as the word EVERYTHING indicates.

In verse 33 Paul added respect to submission: THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND.  This does not mean that RESPECT only goes one way.  Paul’s inspired command challenged a culture where the wife’s only recourse was passive-aggressive forms of disrespect.  RESPECT is commanded for all relationships in the church: 1 Peter 2:17 said, SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO EVERYONE: LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS, FEAR GOD, HONOR THE KING.

In redeemed marriages husbands were to temper the exercise of their authority.  The command to love appears in verse 25; HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH.  Paul directly opposed a Grecian culture that had removed love from marriage and a Roman culture that had made marriage a revolving door.  He held husbands to the highest possible standard of love; the same love that Christ showed His Church, as described in detail in vs. 26-27.

As verse 25 is the maximum standard for love, verse 28 is the minimum: IN THIS SAME WAY, HUSBANDS OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR WIVES AS THEIR OWN BODIES.  HE WHO LOVES HIS WIFE LOVES HIMSELF.  Paul’s appeal was directed at men, who tend to be self-centered.  But they can be counted on to care for themselves.  In this sense, the husband is to love his wife no less than he loves himself.  Paul is not herein approving self-centeredness, he is effectively saying, “If loving your wife the way Christ love the Church seems too difficult at the moment, then at least show here as much care and you show self-care.

  1. In redeemed families, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed families, children (a term which included people of elementary age to early 20s) were to honor and obey their parents. (vs. 1-3)  A qualifier is given: IN THE LORD. Obedience is best realized in the context of our relationship with Christ, subject to Him.

A reason is given: FOR THIS IS RIGHT.  Obedience to one’s parents is simply the correct way to treat them.  SUBMIT is not as strong a word as OBEY.

Another reason is given: honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments, the only one with a promise attached; long and productive life.  Thus, a motive for honoring your parents is for your own blessing.

Obedience characterizes the childhood years and fades when our kids become adults.  However, the command to HONOR one’s parents is a life-long directive.

In redeemed families, fathers were to temper the exercise of their authority.  (The Greek word for FATHERS could also be translated as “parents.”)  Specifically, FATHERS were not to EXASPERATE their children.  Children can become exasperated when their will is thwarted; that is natural and is not the responsibility of the parent.  The child is morally responsible for their exasperation on that occasion.

However, exasperation also appears when authority is abused or unfairly applied; when parents are insensitive to the feelings of their children, being legalistic or harsh.  Instead of exasperation, fathers are to give TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION based on the Lord’s teachings.  Parents are to teach the biblical and moral reasons behind the rules so their children’s hearts are attuned to the Lord.

This affirms the teaching set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7, that the family is the primary means of instruction in the faith.  God puts families together (Psalm 68:6) for several reasons; it is the basic social unit of civilized life.

  1. In redeemed households, the practice of slavery was challenged and changed.

In redeemed households, slaves were to obey their masters.  It is estimated that 35% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves.  Slavery then was practiced in significantly different ways than it was practiced here, but it was no more humane.

Paul qualified obedience 5 ways.

– WITH RESPECT.

– WITH…FEAR.

– WITH SINCERITY OF HEART.

– AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST

– WHOLEHEARTEDLY or “with goodwill.”

Paul explained the depth of obedience.  It is not superficial, but supernatural.  First, obedience is given even when the master is NOT watching, when it will not guarantee a favorable outcome.  Second, obedience is to be given because doing so earns us an eternal REWARD, not the earthly reward of the master’s FAVOR.

In redeemed households, masters were to treat their slaves with respect out of fear of their MASTER IN HEAVEN.  For Paul to command slave owners to have this kind of attitude was directly contrary to the attitudes and actions of non-Christian slave owners; very radical of Paul.  Notice that even though there is a huge inequality between masters and slaves, masters were ordered to treat their slaves IN THE SAME WAY that the slaves were to treat the masters!  This implies an equality of RESPECT, FEAR, and SINCERITY.

There is a theological reason for this deferential treatment of slaves; SINCE YOU KNOW THAT HE WHO IS BOTH THEIR MASTER AND YOURS IS IN HEAVEN, AND THERE IS NO FAVORITISM WITH HIM.  You could understand if a slave or master felt that God showed FAVORITISM, but Paul assures us that is not the case.  This fits perfectly with Paul’s important statement about equality in God’s sight: THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS (Galatians 8:28).  In the Old Testament slavery was regulated in a comparatively more benevolent way, but Paul’s teaching here goes beyond that.  He’s saying that in Christ – in every way that really counts – slaves and masters are equals.  Mutual respect should characterize their relationship as well.  A master is not allowed to use threatening or abusive behavior toward his slaves.  His authority is tempered by the love of Christ in his heart.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

Throughout this section, Paul wrote candidly about the culture within which he lived.  He did not approve the culture’s practices, nor did he express disapproval.  This is true even in the section on slavery.

Instead, he challenged the Christians in that culture.  Those who follow Jesus Christ were to live to a higher standard, one that was divine in origin.  When the worldly culture left wives no other recourse but passive-aggressiveness, God called wives to win love with respectful submission.  When the worldly culture gave the husband unlimited authority, God’s word challenged husbands to temper their authority with love.

When the culture gave children no protections, God promised a long life to those who obeyed their parents.  When the culture gave fathers absolute authority, God commanded them to be sensitive to the feelings of their children, in keeping with the ultimate aim of bringing them to maturity in life and faith.

When the culture put slaves at the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, God commanded them to render service to their master by the measure of the service they owed Jesus Christ.  When masters were given the authority of life and death, God commanded them to treat their slaves just as their heavenly Father treated them.

I believe we trivialize this passage when we search for legalisms.  There’s something much more profound at work here than settling the question of who’s in charge.  In this passage, the existing culture is merely noted as inadequate.  God revealed to Paul that there is a higher standard to which God’s people are called.  The principle behind the teaching on all three kinds of relationships is made obvious in verse twenty-one: SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  That is the portion of the passage that applies to all relationships and is portable to all situations.  If we seek to know how to order our marital relationships, family relationships, and work relationships, we must start there and find ways to apply the general principle to our unique situations.

 

RESOURCES:

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

Wise Guys (and Gals)

Please read Ephesians 5:15-20 in your go-to version of the Bible.

Wise Guys and Gals (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

I came across this bit of wisdom that has undoubtedly made the rounds on the internet but also bears repeating:

The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
The THREE most important words: “After you, please.”
The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
The ONE most important word: “We”
The LEAST important word: “I”

This set of important words is the kind of attitude the Apostle Paul commanded the Ephesian church to have.  This is the last of the section where he urged them to behave in these ways and will next turn to three specific sets of typical relationships where these imperatives may be applied.

CONTEXT = Much of the book of Ephesians is about relationships and that may be another good reason for closely studying this book.  Having good relations does not come automatically; sometimes they don’t come easily.  Being wise, spiritual, and knowledgeable makes relationship-building better.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

  1. Wise people make best use of every opportunity to build relationships. (15-17)

As is often done in the book of Proverbs, Paul explained wisdom by comparing it to foolishness.  The first of two comparisons is between the wise and foolish person.  Paul didn’t directly describe the UNWISE/FOOLISH person because the point is the UNWISE person fails to do what the wise person does.

Paul does give details about “wise guys/gals” in these verses.

– They are CAREFUL how they LIVE.  Wise people are proactive, sensitive, and motivated by love to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

– They make the MOST OUT OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY.  In the Greek, this is a word picture of a savvy businessman who sees the condition of the market and acts in a way to make a profit.

– They recognize THE DAYS ARE EVIL.  To follow up on the meaning behind the phrase MAKE THE MOST, Paul implied sensitivity to our situation is necessary for appropriate action and thereby success.  In this case, the wise person sees THE DAYS ARE EVIL and makes the most of every opportunity to do GOOD to counter-act the evil.  These DAYS ARE EVIL because they are full of worldly enticements to sin and because the times as we know them will soon end.

– They UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS.  When God gives us unexpected insights into His will, that’s called prophecy.  That’s one way we understand His will.  Most of the time we come to an understanding of God’s will by putting in time and effort of our own, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Activities that increase our understanding are prayer, Bible study, conversation with brothers and sisters, and acts of service and witness.

  1. People Filled with the Holy Spirit share in building maturity and unity. (18-20)

Here is the second contrast: drunkenness versus the Filling of the Spirit.  There are at least two big problems with drunkenness.  One, the Bible identifies it as a sin.  (See Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:21; 1 Timothy 3:8.)

Two, as Paul observes here, it leads to other sins: it LEADS TO DEBAUCHERY.  DEBAUCHERY means “wild living;” it is indulging every fleshly appetite.  The relationship between drunkenness and sin is obvious and has been proven many times in human experience.  Alcohol is a depressant and it has the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions.  In a state of impaired judgment, people are more likely to do the wrong thing.  Drunkenness often makes a person more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Instead of being “under the influence of spirits,” wise people are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The “Filling of the Spirit” is a word picture of spiritual maturity.  If maturity could be measured as a volume, the maturing person is “filled” with the Spirit, where an immature person has little or none.

Paul listed three ways in which Spirit-filled people help each other mature in the faith.  To one degree or another, these three examples happen in the context of shared worship.  The first is to SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER in worshipful, musical ways.

– PSALMS are songs of praise that are preserved in the Old Testament book of Psalms.

– HYMNS refer to epic ballads sung by pagans in praise of their gods and heroes; in this case, offer praise to God instead.

– SPIRITUAL SONGS can be the opposite of secular songs or spontaneous, Spirit-inspired music.  Either way, it’s SPIRITUAL because it comes from God.

No matter which kind of music we make, the objective is to SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD.  Truly worshipful music is sincere (it comes from the inner person, the HEART) and is directed to the Lord.  As someone observed years ago, we tend to think of worship the wrong way.  We see God as the director, worship leaders as performers, and the people as the audience.  Biblically, the worship leaders are the directors, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!

The second way we can help each other mature is to encourage the attitude of gratitude in each other = ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER FOR EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.  Contra Unitarians, let’s note all three members of the Trinity in are mentioned in 18-20.  Let’s note the two words that make this command unconditional: ALWAYS and EVERYTHING.  Let’s notice that gratitude motivates our worship.  We gather because we are grateful for what we’ve done.

I’m saving v. 21 for next Sunday, so I’ll only briefly mention this third way believers help each other: mutual submission.  While it is good in some contexts, competition is inappropriate and can be toxic in the church.  Mutual submission requires humility, the death of pride, and putting others ahead of one’s self.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

Ironically, the last 25 years has seen a proliferation of communication technology and a decrease in communicating.  What we’ve also seen is an emphasis on emotional intelligence to facilitate better relationships while our culture isolates us from each other.

That said, the emotional intelligence industry is a good thing.  While it’s not biblical, it gives scientific insight into human nature that is consistent with what the Bible reveals about people.

For example, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutchendorf suggests six habits of relationship-builders.  Here’s an abridged version of his article.

  1. BECOME A GREAT LISTENER. Most people are too busy thinking of what they want to say next to really listen to what the other person is saying. We naturally bond with people who really listen, hear us, and that we’d want to relate to.
  2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. The best way to let people know that we hear them is to dig deeper and ask questions.
  3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHOLE PERSON. Focus not only on the words, also the tone of their words, but also facial expression and body language.
  4. REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO OTHERS. Remembering people’s names, what is important to them, keeping facts accurate.
  5. BE CONSISTENT AND MANAGE EMOTIONS. Regardless of how we are feeling, we need to be able to temporarily put those feelings aside to fully listen and engage others. If we are experiencing strong emotions, we are better off letting this individual know what is going on.
  6. BE OPEN AND SHARE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. To build strong relationships we need to be able to pace ourselves and share when it’s appropriate to the depth of the relationship.

 

RESOURCES:

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

Message #778

https://bible.org/illustration/most-important-words-getting-along-people

https://www.fastcompany.com/3041774/7-key-habits-for-building-better-relationships

A Torn-up Love Letter

A Torn up Love Letter (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

You may wonder why we’re devoting such attention to the church in Ephesus.  Part of the answer is that Ephesus is arguably the pre-eminent Gentile church in the New Testament.  More is written about the Ephesian church than any other church except Jerusalem.  It’s thought the Gospel of John was written there.  What we can learn about the church in Ephesus serves us as a guide to our own problems and their solution, describing the way our life together should be, with God’s help.

CONTEXT = Between the description of Jesus in ch. 1 and the visions that begin in ch. 4, John’s Revelation has two chapters of love letters written to churches located in Asia Minor.  The fact that Ephesus appears first in the set may be suggestive of the pre-eminent place of the church in the history of how the Gospel spread throughout Asia Minor.

This morning we get to see the mind and heart of Jesus reflecting on the church in Ephesus.  The heart-breaking image communicated in RVN 2:1-7 is that of a torn-up love letter.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

  1. The Author identified Himself. (1)

First identifier: HIM WHO HOLDS THE SEVEN STARS IN HIS RIGHT HAND.  This image is repeated from 1:16.  The SEVEN STARS are identified in 1:20 as the angelic messengers to the seven churches receiving these letters.  STARS are associated with angels in JOB 38:7 and Revelation 9:1.  In Daniel 12:3, faithful witnesses are said to shine like stars.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority.  To be at a ruler’s right hand was to be in a place of power and security.  Put it all together and this is an image of the authority of Jesus over His church; the angels are His messengers.

Second identifier: HIM WHO…WALKS AMONG THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS.  This image is repeated from 1:12-13 and has already thereby been attributed to Jesus Christ.  In 1:20 the SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS are identified as the seven churches in Asia Minor.  In Zechariah 4 the prophet was given a vision of a golden lampstand with seven lights, oil fed to it directly from 2 olive trees.  The message there was, ‘NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT,’ SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY. (Zechariah 4:6)  Placing Jesus AMONG the LAMP-STANDS implies His closeness to His people.   He is with His people, not apart.  In total, the Author of the letter has identified Himself as an authority figure who is in relationship with His Church.

  1. The Author commended the church in Ephesus.

First, He commended them for their DEEDS; for their HARD WORK. (2)  This Greek word can be translated as “wearisome toil,” yet it has NOT made them GROW WEARY.  Presumably, this work includes good deeds and witness to the Gospel.

On a related note, He commended their PERSEVERANCE. (2+3)  The Ephesian believers ENDURED HARDSHIPS FOR MY NAME – for His sake – because of association with Him.  They had NOT GROWN WEARY to the point of giving up, but stayed true to Christ.  PERSEVERANCE is commended by Paul in Galatians 6:9, LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.

Second, Jesus commended the Ephesus church for their discernment. (2)  They did not naively assume fast talkers were apostles.  They did not TOLERATE WICKED MEN.  Rather than suffer the effects of wickedness in their midst, the rightly expelled WICKED people for the fellowship.  They TESTED THOSE WHO claimed TO BE APOSTLES, exposing their falsehood.  In this, they followed the teaching of John: DEAR FRIENDS, DO NOT BELIEVE EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TEST THE SPIRITS TO SEE WHETHER THEY ARE FROM GOD, BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS HAVE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD. (1 John 4:1)

Third, Jesus commended their hatred of THE PRACTICES OF THE NICOLAITANS. (6)  Note they hated THE PRACTICES, not the people.  “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is the time-tested maxim.  One of the qualities of a love letter is that the text mentions things known to the lovers but unknown to another reader.  Similarly, we can only guess who these Nicolaitans were and why Jesus hated them.  Where they the WICKED MEN mentioned in verse two?  We don’t need to know the details; it is enough that the Ephesian believers didn’t put up with their false teaching and wickedness.

  1. The Author condemned the church.

The heart of the matter is expressed poignantly in verse four: YOU HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR FIRST LOVE.  This is our key verse.  This is a very emotional statement but we are not told its specific meaning.  Given the warning that follows in verse five, to REMOVE their LAMPSTAND, it is a sin, one so serious that threatened the church’s existence.  Also, the word FIRST indicates an earlier part of their Christian experience, something which they had more recently FORSAKEN. The phrase, REMEMBER THE HEIGHTS FROM WHICH YOU HAVE FALLEN (5) implies a way in which the church can regain their FIRST LOVE.

Though He commended their DEEDS, the Author called them to action. (5)  To call them to REPENT means that the church was guilty of a sin.  In addition to repenting, they were to DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST.  Here’s that word FIRST again.

Putting all of this together, we are not over-interpreting if we say that the church in Ephesus had somehow gone away from the spiritual status they enjoyed when the church was founded.  Going back to Acts 19:19 we’re reminded the new converts burned 50,000 drachmas worth of magic scrolls.  That showed a literal and figurative fire, a love for Jesus that cancelled all the appeals of superstition and the occult.  We can guess that the fire needed to be rekindled.  We have all experienced periods where our enthusiasm and the excitement of faith waned.  Whether on an individual or church scale, formalism, judgmentalism, legalism take the place of a living faith.  We quit learning and growing, and thereby start dying.

He warned them: IF YOU DO NOT REPENT, I WILL COME TO YOU AND REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND FROM ITS PLACE. (5)  Since the LAMPSTAND is the symbol of the spiritual existence of the church, this is a warning of death.  Church people tend to worry over the “Killer B’s,” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws; these are not the real life of the church.  The real life is our love for Jesus Christ and any time a church loses that, they’ve ceased to be a church.  At that point, the Killer B’s that are left merely mark the presence of a corpse.  To summarize, the most important church in the Greek-speaking world was in danger of not being a church at all.

  1. The Author made a promise to the “overcomers.” (7)

An overcomer is herein identified by two qualities.  First, an overcomer is one who listens to the Spirit = HE WHO HAS AN EAR, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is one of the signs of true faith.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is verified by actions in conformity with what the Spirit teaches; an overcomer follows the Spirit’s lead.

Secondly, an overcomer is one who does what the Author commends, not what He condemns.  He is faithful in word & deed.  All believers are to do the whole work of righteousness: avoid evil and do good.  We learn about overcomers in these letters and elsewhere in RVN (7:14; 12:11; 15:2).

Jesus promised that overcomers will receive an eternal home in heaven: they are given THE RIGHT TO EAT FROM THE TREE OF LIFE.   The TREE OF LIFE bookends the Bible; it is PARADISE lost and restored.  It appears first in Genesis 2:9 as one of the trees given to Adam and Eve as food.  It was lost to them when they sinned.  It appears again in Revelation 22, where it gives life to the people who live with God in the New Jerusalem.  The TREE OF LIFE is a symbol of the eternal life God gives to His people.

In both Genesis and Revelation, the TREE OF LIFE IS located IN THE PARADISE OF GOD.  The word PARADISE was borrowed from the Persian language and refers to a park or garden, exactly the place you’d expect to find a tree.  It is a symbol of life after death, the reward God graciously gives to the people who are His.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

Jesus warned against this abandonment of love: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12–13).  Notice that both the warning and the promise are the same ones delivered by angel to the church in Ephesus.

In an article entitled “Have You Left Your First Love?” Greg Morse wrote, “They had a zeal for orthodoxy, but they had lost their love for Jesus. They showed up for Bible studies and debated the heretics, but lost their pure love for their Lord. They stood against evil in their midst, but tolerated a sluggish love towards Jesus and each other.

“It is a scary reality that the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but good deeds and theological precision as well.”  He called it a “paralyzing lack of happiness in God.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revelation, Alan F. Johnson

Harper’s New Testament Commentary, St. John the Divine, G.B. Caird

And I Heard a Voice, Brett Best

Message #868

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/have-you-left-your-first-love

Unity, Maturity, and Vice-Versa

Communion Table (1)

Art by James Best, used with permission.  More are can be found at https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.

Please read Ephesians 4:7-16.

          A ladder is a common household item.  But – can you name the parts of a ladder?

The steps or “rungs” are the most familiar part as that’s where we put our feet.  But what are the side pieces called?

Rails.  The rails are the vertical pieces to which the steps are attached.

The spreaders are the hinges which connect the front and rear rails, allowing the ladder to open and close.

There are lots of NT images for the church, but I felt lead to offer a ladder as a metaphor.  Here’s the point; what part of a ladder can you do without?  Steps without rails are useless.  Rails without spreaders would make the ladder unstable.

So it is with the church.  All the parts are indispensable.  Whenever any of the parts fall away, a local church becomes something less useful than it was before.  There is nothing in the Bible that makes attendance and activity optional; just the opposite; we are to be on campus and in service as often as possible.

CONTEXT = V. 7 starts with the word BUT, indicating a contrasting idea is about to be introduced.  In verses one through six Paul examined the topic of UNITY from the perspective of all we have in common.  In verses seven through sixteen he will explore it from the perspective of what makes us diverse.

In this passage the important mark of diversity is a supernatural one: Spiritual Gifts.  As Paul made clear in Galatians 3:28; the superficial distinctions of nationality, gender, and economic status are irrelevant in Christ.  What matters in the Church instead is the diversity of Spiritual Gifts.  As we will see later, Spiritual Gifts are God-given abilities to do ministry. Paul refers to them here as GRACE.

All who believe in Jesus share the “ONE” items listed in vs. 4-6.  BUT, GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each believer individually, as Jesus wills.  GRACE (charis) is close to charismata in the Gk; the word translated as Spiritual Gifts, it literally means “a manifestation of grace.”  Paul will explain this statement after he digresses on a brief theological interlude.  For now, it’s enough to know that Jesus is in charge and He has a plan.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  1. A theological interlude. (8-10)

This is a long “rabbit trail.”  Only here and in 1 Peter 3:19-20 does the New Testament seem to teach that Jesus went to some kind of underworld to preach to dead folk.  That is a provocative statement and it may be new to you, but it’s been talked about for a long time: it’s in the Apostle’s Creed.

There is no productive way for us to touch this discussion in our time this morning.  Instead, we’ll just observe Paul’s line of reasoning and move on.

– In vs. 1-6, he described unity by noting all we share.

– In v. 7, he introduced the idea that we have diversity in our unity, a teaching he will complete in vs. 11-16.

– In vs. 8-10, he introduced a new idea, seeming to go off on a tangent.

This paragraph is here to show that Christ exercised authority, the kind of authority that allows Him to apportion GRACE.  Verse eight quotes Psalm 68:18 which refers to a king who gives gifts to his subjects.

Paul’s thought might be paraphrased in this way; “Considering all God has given all of us – all that we share – we must be unified.  On the other hand, we’ve also been given GRACE – gifts for ministry – that underline our diversity.  Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  After all, He’s the only one who’s come from heaven to earth, gone under the earth, and to back to heaven again!”

  1. We have a diversity of gifts in order to promote maturity in each other. (11-13)

Let’s don’t overlook the little words and phrases in verse eleven.  IT WAS HE: Jesus, who descended from heaven and ascended back, He is the one who APPORTIONED GRACE to every believer.  Don’t miss the word GAVE; these are Spiritual Gifts we’re talking about.  SOME refers to “some individual believers,” but not to all.  Here’s where diversity runs parallel to unity, both to the benefit of the Church.

What are these “Spiritual Gifts?”

The subject can be a little confusing.  Though these verses list five offices in the Church, the Gifts and the offices are not always the same.

The Gifts are, at the same time, individualized and universal.  The Gifts enable some to do things all believers should be doing.  For example, Paul lists “Teacher” as a Gift.  All of us have opportunity to teach and we must all be prepared to do so.  Not having the Gift of Teacher does not relieve us of that responsibility.  It does mean that persons with that Gift will be better suited to teaching and be more successful at it.

The Spiritual Gifts are particular endowments that God grants to individual believers.  Followers of Jesus will have individual combinations of Gifts.

These five are offered as examples; they are not an exhaustive list.  If we cull Gifts from other listings and eliminate the duplicates, then we have about 20 different Spiritual Gifts.

APOSTLES = In 2:20, APOSTLES were one of the two foundational roles in starting new churches.  The word apostle means “one who is sent.”  Their authority rested in being sent by Jesus.  In our time we might call them “church planters” and “missionaries.”

PROPHETS = Also mentioned in 2:20 as foundational in new churches.  Their function is not often telling the future.  Prophets give messages of strengthening, encouragement, and comfort to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-5).  We would call a prophet a “preacher.”

EVANGELISTS are gifted with messages directed primarily at non-believers, to help them accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Evangelists aid church members by calling them to take their eyes off themselves and their comfort to keep working to make Jesus known outside the church walls.

PASTORS is a role we mix with preacher, but the two were seen by Paul as separate offices and Gifts.  This is the only place in the New Testament to use this word for a church leader; in Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25 it was used as a title for Jesus Himself.  The work of a pastor tends to focus on people who are already Christians, helping them mature in their faith.  The role is a nurturing position not unlike shepherds to their sheep.

TEACHERS = All four of the other roles will require a person to teach Bible truths.  In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, he required the ability to teach as a qualification for all church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9).  Godly teachers do not just pass on intellectual content, but they also exhort and encourage the hearts of their students, and provide an example of their teaching lived out.  This is a big responsibility and is no doubt part of the reason James warned against aspiring to be a teacher (see James 3:1).

The diversity of Gifts serve a single purpose: maturity.  The Gifts are used to PREPARE GOD’S PEOPLE FOR WORKS OF SERVICE and build up the BODY OF CHRIST.  In contrast to our modern version of church (with its professional clergy versus laity distinction), the leaders are not to be the ones DOING the ministry for the members, they’re to be preparing the members to serve each other and people outside the faith.  Serving others has the effect of “building” the church by maturing the believers and converting the unbelievers.

Building each other up is a process of growth measured by experiencing UNITY achieving MATURITY.  UNITY is manifest in a church in two ways.  First, in UNITY IN THE FAITH.  This means that we share the same views and values.  Sure, there is room for different opinions about doctrines that are on the periphery.  (Verses eight through ten are a prime example.)  But on the central parts of our faith, the things that are only true or false, we must have perfect agreement.  (The doctrine of Jesus Christ (verse thirteen) is a prime example.)

Second, UNITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD. Our beliefs about Jesus are central and on these there can be no compromise.  Salvation is at stake.  Our experience of UNITY is one of the things that create MATURITY.  MATURITY is one of the things that enable UNITY.  Logically, the two virtues are two sides of the same coin.

  1. How we recognize maturity. (13-16)

Paul supplied five benchmarks of maturity.

The first is in verse thirteen: ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.  Paul never lowered his expectations for the Church; he always set forth perfection as the goal.  As perfection is a state only possible in God, this goal forces us to rely on God.  You don’t get a higher ambition than the WHOLE MEASURE of the FULLNESS of CHRIST.  Paul promised the eternal perfection of the Church will occur when Jesus comes again (5:27).  For now, it only occurs in part.  But having the ambition raises us higher than having a lower ambition.

The second is in verse fourteen: NO LONGER INFANTS.  INFANTS are believers who are immature, ignorant of what the Bible teaches and thereby easy targets for false teachers.  Maturity brings a stability of character because it is developed by learning the Bible and correctly understanding the experiences of life.  To put it another way, immature people are characteristically credulous and are also easily bored; they tend to shift to follow what is new and exciting whether it is true or not.  Paul is not warning against innocent misunderstandings, but against those who deliberately distort the truth by the CUNNING AND CRAFTINESS seen in the DECEITFUL SCHEMING men do.

Paul pictured immature instability with the image of a ship adrift at sea; it is not going in a direction chosen by anyone.  Instead, its heading is determined by the forces of WAVES and WIND.  (James 1:6)

The third is in verse fifteen: we will counter evil falsehood by SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE.  SPEAKING THE TRUTH without LOVE is legalism and shows none of the humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance Paul commanded in verse three.  On the other hand, showing LOVE without SPEAKING THE TRUTH excuses sin and removes our need for a savior.  To avoid these deadly and false extremes, followers of Jesus must be careful to uphold both TRUTH and LOVE in their relationships in and out of the church.

The fourth is also in verse fifteen: we will GROW UP (mature) into greater Christ-likeness.  Where TRUTH and LOVE are actively practiced, MATURITY will follow.  In 2:21 the verb “to grow” was used to encourage numerical growth.  Here it is used to encourage spiritual growth, greater maturity.

Paul did not leave the virtue of MATURITY undefined; he defined it in the person of Jesus Christ.  Mature people will bear more moral, emotional, and spiritual resemblance to Jesus Christ than immature persons.

The fifth mark of maturity is submission to the authority of Christ.  After all, Christ is the HEAD (source and ultimate authority) of the Church.  As we are the BODY below the HEAD, we do nothing apart from Christ.  The local church as a BODY of CHRIST functions well when all the parts build each other up in LOVE and as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.  It’s not a matter of love OR work; both of these virtues are necessary for the building up of the BODY.  It’s not a matter of waiting around passively for God to do something.  Our partnership with Christ is God’s will and it is the primary way things get done in this world.  Things that happen that don’t have some human agency are called “miracles” and they are rare.

Back to UNITY and DIVERSITY.  The WHOLE BODY benefits when all the parts are healthy and working together, as God designed them to do.  EACH PART refers back to the Spiritual Gifts, the diversity of the members being equivalent to the diversity of parts in the human body.

Maturing is a way of life that starts in LOVE.  It grows because we stay in the TRUTH and connected with Jesus our Head.  LOVE is a virtue that is best expressed in community; loving God together is God’s command and the very best way to live.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  RESOURCE:

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

Paul Prayed for Us

Paul in Prayer

Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Paul’s prayers for us. (16-19)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Paul’s blessing on us. (20-21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RESOURCE:

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

A Full Time Heritage

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The Apostle Paul’s heritage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Pastor Timothy’s heritage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Every believer’s heritage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RESOURCES:

Journey to a Faithful Finish, Tommy C. Higle

NIV Study Bible

Word Bible Commentary, William D. Mounce

Message #256