Worthy Worker (Part Two)

Please read 2 Timothy 2:14-26 in your Bible.

Pastor at the Construction Site_v03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      I want to start by asking you to put on your thinking caps.  I’m going to read a variation of the classic “Trolley Problem” and ask you to record your response on your bulletin.

You are part of a seven man crew working on a section of railroad track.  You happen to be standing at a switch and notice that a out of control train barreling down the track. Directly ahead on the tracks are five of your coworkers who do not see the train that is headed straight for them. On a side track is one of your crewmates who has his back to the oncoming train.  There is no time to warn them as they’re all wearing noise-cancelling headphones.  If you pull the lever right next to you, the trolley will switch to the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the train to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the train onto the side track where it will kill one person.

You have to decide in a split second what to do.  What is the right thing to do?  Write a one or two on a piece of paper.  We will come back to this situation later.

For now, we’ll complete our look at being a Worthy Worker by observing that discerning right from wrong and choosing to do right is very much at heart of our worthiness.  God finds people of true faith to be useful to Him in the work of expanding His Kingdom.  This passage tells us how.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

  1. Two examples of unworthy workers. (16-19)

Be alert: evil can grow in a church just as it can anywhere.  In v. 16, Paul warned THOSE WHO INDULGE IN [GODLESS CHATTER] GROW MORE AND MORE UNGODLY.  GODLESS CHATTER feeds negativity and encourages divisive sins of the tongue like gossip, complaining, and back-biting.  As we said in part one, CHATTER may sound harmless, but it is not.  It results in greater ungodliness.

In v. 17, Paul wrote that UNGODLY TEACHING WILL SPREAD LIKE GANGRENE.  GANGRENE is a flesh-rotting disease (one form of which is fatal in 48 hours), so Paul could hardly have chosen a more repulsive image to describe the effect of UNGODLY TEACHING.  He identified two people who were among the UNGODLY in Timothy’s church: HYMANAEUS and PHILETUS.  Who were these people?

In 1 Timothy 1:20 Hymaneus was one of two people whom Paul HANDED OVER TO SATAN TO BE TAUGHT NOT TO BLASPHEME (Alexander was the other).  This probably meant they were put out of the church in Ephesus for serious errors in their teaching.  PHILETUS is not named in 1 Timothy 1:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible.   He apparently joined Hymaneus and Alexander in their error and suffered the same penalty.  Putting them out of the church is somewhat similar to the treatment for GANGRENE; surgical removal of the bad tissue, usually in the form of amputation.  For the survival of the body, the bad parts have to be cut off.

Their sin was to HAVE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE TRUTH.  The word WANDERED is an unfortunate choice for translation of the Greek word that means “missed the mark, deviated, or went astray.”  “Wandered” allows for an accidental deviation when Hymaneus and Philetus chose to believe an error, and worse, talked others into believing the same error.

Specifically, their false teaching was stating THAT THE RESURRECTION HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE.  Paul does not explain their false teaching, merely noting that it attacked the most central teaching of the Christian faith: resurrection.  (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, where Paul vigorously defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our personal resurrection, and the importance of these doctrines.)  What they did with this false teaching and how many people were taken in by it are details we are not meant to know.  It is sufficient for us to know that it was false and that it had a negative effect on the church in Ephesus.

The effect of their falsehood was to DESTROY THE FAITH OF SOME.  The word DESTROY can also be translated as “overturn.”  It meant that the false teaching had so affected some people that they ceased to believe the truth.  The health of the entire church was threatened, even though only SOME of the members fell in with Hymaneus and Philetus.

The good news is, though evil people and other circumstances can challenge our faith, the FOUNDATION God has set remains SOLID.  This FOUNDATION is the undeniable facts of God’s existence and His reward of those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

There are two promises of God’s protection of His people.  These promises are etched in the foundation like a cornerstone.

The first promise: THE LORD KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS (Numbers 16:5).  God knows false teachers like Hymanaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  While they may fool SOME of the people some of the time, they never fool God. God also knows everyone whose faith is real and based on the truth.  Remain faithful, and He will help you overcome and reward you when you do.

EVERYONE WHO CONFESSES THE NAME OF THE LORD MUST TURN FROM ALL WICKEDNESS. Here Paul paraphrased Numbers 16:26.  Though we do not do good in order to be saved, we do good in order to demonstrate our salvation, the change Jesus has made in our lives. A commitment to discipleship is part of the faith that saves.  As we learned again last week, turning away from wickedness is half of being a worthy worker.  The other half is pursuing good. Sometimes TURNING FROM ALL WICKEDNESS involves separating ourselves from people and sometimes it requires us to avoid places or circumstances that tempt us to do wrong.

  1. An illustration with household items. (20-21)

Paul contrasted two kinds of household items.  In order to understand the illustration, we must first see the LARGE HOUSE is as a symbol of the world in which we live.  In this world, people are either living for the Lord or not.  God made all of them, but not all of the people in the world are useful for God’s purposes. In many of our homes, we have one set of dishes for special occasions and another set for everyday use.  All the dishes are useful for serving food, but some of them are reserved for special uses.  The contrast between noble and ignoble ARTICLES (pots, bottles, pans, etc.) is a contrast of spiritual status and resulting usefulness to God.

The ones used for NOBLE PURPOSES are made of GOLD AND SILVER.  They are less numerous but more valuable in the sight of the Lord.  In the world, some people are “gold and silver” because they have faith and are obedient to God’s will.  Timothy is an example of a “noble article.”

The ones used for IGNOBLE purposes are made of WOOD AND CLAY.  These are common, worldly, and less valuable pieces.  They are not useful to God because they refuse faith and practice disobedience.  Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are examples of “ignoble articles.”

Paul used similar imagery in Romans 9:21 = DOES NOT THE POTTER HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE OUT OF THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY SOME POTTERY FOR NOBLE PURPOSES AND SOME FOR COMMON USE?  The phrase THE SAME LUMP OF CLAY indicates that we share a common humanity.  Tragically, we do not share a common destiny.  As Jesus observed in Matthew 7:13-14, there will always be more people who do not refuse faith and service to the Lord.

Like a handy kitchen gadget, a follower of Jesus becomes a fit INSTRUMENT FOR NOBLE PURPOSES when he has, with God, cleansed himself from IGNOBLE PURPOSES.  NOBLE refers to doing what God has called you to do.  It is NOBLE to be obedient to God.  IGNOBLE refers to doing what you selfishly want to do, or what the world wants you to do; all kinds of disobedience.  Moreover, IGNOBLE refers to sinful acts because Paul wrote that the worthy worker must be CLEANSED of it before he is useful to the MASTER.

Having been cleansed, the worker is MADE HOLY and is thereby USEFUL TO THE MASTER AND PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  In this world household items never CLEANSE themselves (wouldn’t it be great to have dishes that washed themselves?!) and neither do people – not on their own, anyway.  God cleanses us from sin and its effects, but He waits for us to repent and ask His forgiveness.

This cleansing is part of what Paul means when he says we are to be MADE HOLY.  Moral purity is part of holiness and the other part is being set apart from worldly and ungodly things to spiritual maturity and godliness.

People who are MADE HOLY are then USEFUL to God, just as clean pots & pans are useful to a cook.  People who are MADE HOLY are PREPARED TO DO ANY GOOD WORK.  Truly good works begin with holiness.

Our aim is to be worthy workers.

      Let’s return to the train problem.  You may be interested to know that this is not merely an intellectual exercise, In 2003 Union Pacific dispatchers in Los Angeles, CA had to make a decision very much like this one.

Did you choose #1?  Five people are dead.

Did you choose #2?  Only one person is dead and you are among the 90% of people who made this choice when presented with this problem.

Did you make no choice or want to know more about the six people on the tracks before deciding?  Then five people are dead because you hesitated too long at the switch.  Not deciding is making a decision.

My point here is that everything you’ve done, every choice you’ve made, everything you believe goes into making that decision about the switch.  Life doesn’t always conveniently present us with choices that include a lot of time for research and weighing out values and deciding on priorities.

Spiritually maturing people will know God’s leading before the train starts barreling down the tracks.  They will have studied the word, been faithful in prayer, and experienced in good deeds.  In so doing, they will have replaced sinful instincts with godly ones and are better equipped to do, as Paul promised, every good work.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Alan G. Nute

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #11, Ralph Earle

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer.

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

 

Wide Receivers

Thanksgiving_finalPlease read 1 Timothy 4:1-5 in your Bible.

          For lots of people, football is part of their Thanksgiving Day traditions.  In my childhood years, turkey and football were a sedative that put the men to sleep while the women cleaned up the feast.  Ah, the good old days…

Of course, true football fans celebrate the sport all year round and in many different ways.  Here’s my top ten ways to tell who’s a true football fan.

#10 = They are so desperate, they watch draft day, the Hall of Fame game and the Pro Bowl.

#9 = Signs of their team are all around them: on their clothes, homes, cars.

#8 = They will have at least one player’s autograph on some bit of team merchandise.

#7 = Goes through cycles of tension during plays and relaxation between plays.

#6 = Knows team trivia and can argue statistics to prove his team is the greatest.

#5 = Plans vacations around attending games in person.

#4 = Believes the team has only three kinds of teams; his team, everybody else, and his team’s hated rival.

#3 = Has strong opinions on rules and officiating, even knowing several officials by name.

#2 = Does not use the bathroom until halftime.

#1 = Has at least one story of how he broke something in a moment of celebration or sharp disappointment.

In part, Thanksgiving Day is about being grateful for what we have received.  Today’s title, “Wide Receivers” is both a nod to football and an invitation to open your hearts to receive the wideness of God’s gifts and be appropriately grateful for all of them.

CONTEXT: This truth was revealed to Paul directly by the Holy Spirit, as he clearly said in verse one.  The phrase LATER TIMES refers to the time preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, including Paul’s time and our own; this is not a future event.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

  1. Forbidding folk follow false faith and foist it on their fellows (vs. 1-3).

Obvious opponents of our faith abandon it entirely.  They stand mostly outside the Church.  The Holy Spirit made it clear to Paul that their beliefs are from DECEIVING SPIRITS and DEMONS.  In John 8:44 Jesus referred to the Devil as THE FATHER OF ALL LIES: every falsehood finds its origin in spiritual evil.  This is in sharp contrast to the earlier reference to the Holy Spirit as the source of Paul’s true teaching.

Based on these beliefs, they abandon the faith: whether they abandon the Church or not, the truth does not find a home in what they teach. Much of the New Testament was written to expose and oppose false teachers.  It was a huge problem as our faith developed over the first four centuries after Christ.

Subtle opponents of our faith squelch it with legalism.  These false teachers are HYPOCRITICAL LIARS.  While the obvious opponents may not bother to have a pretense of faith, the subtle opponents wear church like a mask.  In fact, the Greek word “hypocrite” means “actor.”   Ancient Greek actors wore masks with built-in megaphones!

These false teachers knew enough of the truth to give a reasonable showing but only believed and practiced what they wanted.  Paul showed they could be identified by two things.

First, they had SEARED CONSCIENCES, which means hard-heartedness.  The word SEARED could be rendered as  “cauterized.”  If you’ve ever had a problem with scar tissue, you know how the dense flesh caused by a healed wound can interfere with healthy tissues and subsequent procedures in that area of your body.  Hard-heartedness is a spiritual condition where a person has made themself insensitive to God, to others, and the ethical obligations due to God and others.

Second, they were given to legalism.  In this case, they were legalistic about marriage and some foods.  Legalism is any belief that mimics godliness but is without God’s grace.  It replaces righteousness with rules.  Legalism is a religious-sounding attempt to manipulate others out of evil motives like pride, power, or money.

Marriage is something God instituted in the first days of creation.  He called it GOOD.  Contrary to that, these false teachers set up a rule that people who are holier-than-thou are celibate.  Making a choice not to marry in order to devote more time to God can be a good thing (Paul himself said so in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7) but it is not a choice others make for you.

These false teachers were also ordering people to ABSTAIN FROM CERTAIN FOODS.  Again, this is a rule they made up, it was not a command from God.  In the Old Testament Law, CERTAIN FOODS were forbidden.  But God revoked the dietary laws in Acts 10:9-15.  (See also Galatians 5:1-6.)  This was not a

  1. Faithful folk consecrate things by means of thanksgiving (vs. 3-5).

Faithful folk understand the truth and abide by it.  In this passage, the truth is two-fold.

The first truth is, EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD.  That is the clear message of the first chapter of Genesis.  God approved of everything He created.

Keep the context in mind: this truth was affirmed in the face of legalists who were saying the things they chose to be bad were God’s choices too.  False!  EVERYTHING is a key word.  EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD is a universal rebuttal of their legalistic scheme that condemned things that God approved.

The second truth is, the practice of thanksgiving has the power to make things holy.  This is our main point today.  WOW!  Thanksgiving is not just a sentiment; it is a powerful force that turns evil into good, unholy things into holy things.  Let’s see how:

The people who wield the power of THANKSGIVING are identified in verse three as THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND KNOW THE TRUTH.  In the same vein as EVERYTHING, verse four also says NOTHING; NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED.  The word REJECTED means to throw something in the trash; to treat it like garbage.  The false laws and the unnecessary self-denial the false teachers were selling was contrary to the will of God.  NOTHING was to be rejected in the way they were proposing. This is the same message as the voice from heaven that said to the Apostle Peter, “DO NOT CALL ANYTHING IMPURE THAT GOD MADE CLEAN.” (Acts 10:15).  We do not make the rules; God does.  We obey and help others to obey, but we are not free to make up stuff to suit our personalities or passions.

Note the word IF.  Here’s the condition under which NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED: IF IT IS RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING.  To receive something with THANKSGIVING is to recognize it as a gift from God and to be appropriately grateful.  Thanksgiving is entirely God-centered.  This means six things:

– It is an act of worship as we pray and tell God thank you for His generous grace.

– It is an act of fellowship as we join with other believers to express our praise.

– It is an act of stewardship to put His gifts to the most wise and righteous use.

– It is an act of service as we share God’s supply with those in need.

– It is a witness to persons outside our faith when they see our loving service.

– It is instruction to our children and to new believers when they see both God’s generosity and our joyous sharing of it.

Verse five explains how THANKSGIVING has such transformational power: BECAUSE IT IS CONSECRATED BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  To consecrate something is to make it holy, to set it apart from worldly uses for distinctly divine uses.  Consecration is done BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER.  When we rely on God’s revelation in all parts of life, we turn what is worldly and mundane into something heavenly and special.  The same is true of prayer.  When prayers for wisdom and guidance precede our everyday decisions and when prayers of thanksgiving follow everyday experiences, those things become something spiritual and special.

Thankfulness accompanies true faith.

          The point simply is this: Thanksgiving Day can be an exercise in sentimentality, a tradition that is available to people of all faiths.  That’s perfectly fine.

However, for followers of Jesus Christ, thanksgiving is to be a daily practice.  It is to be a God-centered approach to life that has the fantastic power to bring life to faith.  This is obviously not seasonal or limited to one day a week, but is something we choose to do as often as possible.

We began by poking fun at football fans.  We’ll conclude with the three things we’ve noted about Jesus followers and how they enact thankfulness.

1) They see all of life as being God-centered.

2) They see God’s blessings as empowerment for service and witness.

3) They receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

God bless your thanksgiving celebrations.  God bless you as you enact transformational thanksgiving every day.

 

Resources:

Message #1312

Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

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

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

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

Evil Spirits, Good Results

Please read Acts 19:13-20 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my own research.evil vs Jesus

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

In our house lately we’ve been enjoying TV specials titled “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” originally broadcast in the 90s.  (Yes, we’re behind in watching our TV programs.)  In each show, the “Masked Magician” performed magic tricks and then showed how the illusion was made.

This show was an example of “reality TV,” two words that don’t belong together in a sentence.  Part of the gag is that this magician was masked to protect his identity from vengeful fellow magicians.  In the last of the specials, he removed the mask to reveal himself to be Val Valentino, a man who’d been a stage magician all his adult life.

This is an example of magic being simply deception and illusion.  Whether for fun or profit, to entertain or deceive, there have always been people who used the hand to trick the eye and the person.

In our passage today, we read about some con artists who attempted to incorporate the name of Jesus into their act.  They were as surprised as anyone when a genuine evil spirit exposed them as false.

God used this extraordinary event to reach the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor in a very unique way.  It’s not only a great story, but an event that reveals several things we need to learn and practice.

  1. Sceva’s sons learned the hard way. (13-16)

We learn that they were just name-droppers (13-14).  Before we go there, let’s take a brief look at “Jewish Mysticism.”  As many cultures do, Jewish people have myths and superstitions.  These have varying degrees of relatedness to Scripture.

In Paul’s day, some Jews made a living going from town to town performing magical services based on these superstitions.  (I suspect you’d have to be ITINERANT just to stay ahead of being found out!)  The Ephesians were especially superstitious.  For example, they believed if you knew the name of a spirit you could control it.  To, as the text says, EVOKE THE NAME refers to an incantation or magic formula using “power names” to make spells effective.  Though this may sound strange or our ears, there is some NT mention of this activity:

-Jesus referred to Jewish exorcists sent out by the Pharisees in Luke 11:19 (Matthew 12:27).

– In Luke 10 He sent out 72 of His disciples to cast out demons & do other kinds of ministry.

– In Acts 16:18, Paul cast a demon out of a woman in Philippi while invoking the name of Jesus.

What’s happening in our passage is some of these people heard the name of Jesus had been powerfully used by Paul (the healings in vs. 11+12), so they gave it a try.  They didn’t possess the faith that made the miracles possible, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The text tells us all we need to know about Sceva and sons.  The name “Sceva” is neither Hebrew nor Greek; it is a misspelled Latin word that meant “left-handed” or “a good omen.”  If their father was a JEWISH CHIEF PRIEST they would be members of one of the families from whom the Romans chose to be the Jews’ chief priests.  (The Romans had politicized the office, making it no longer hereditary.  Their theory was that shuffling the high priest job would keep any one man from becoming too influential.)  The combination of a claimed Jewish nobility and a Latinate name is unlikely to have been genuine; it implies these were con men.  They probably weren’t really related!

The seven sons of Sceva failed spectacularly: ONE DAY, an evil spirit exposed their falsehood (15-16).  Evil beings that exist as spiritual beings are also called demons.  The Bible attests to the existence of these beings.  No one can deny the reality of demons and claim to believe everything else the Bible teaches.

THE EVIL SPIRIT spoke through its human host and verified the identities of Jesus and Paul but didn’t have any idea who these frauds were; “WHO ARE YOU?” it asked.  The power, then, was not in the names of Jesus and Paul.  The power to cast out demons came from Jesus’ identity as God the Son and His delegating authority to Paul as His servant.

It exposed them as frauds.  Adding injury to insult, the seven suffered public humiliation and a whuppin’.  Though outnumbered seven to one, the demon-possessed man OVERPOWERED the sons of Sceva and sent them running out of the house, embarrassed and injured.  This can hardly be accounted for by normal means, so a supernatural force is implied.  The demon gave the possessed man unusual physical strength and/or overwhelming savagery.

  1. As a result, the word grew in influence & power. (17-20)

As you would expect, news of an incident like this got around very quickly = THIS BECAME KNOWN TO THE JEWS AND GREEKS LIVING IN EPHESUS.  THEY WERE ALL SIEZED WITH FEAR = It was taken very seriously.  Our text list four effects.

The first effect is that this cured the “magic-using community” of name-dropping (17).  Instead, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.  People respected the name of Jesus, no longer attempting to use it merely as a “magic word.”  (Too bad that didn’t happen for Mr. Al Akazam!)  People realized that the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS held power, but it was neither the kind of power they could manipulate, nor the kind to be trifled with!  The phrase HELD IN HIGH HONOR means “glorified.”  This implies worship of Jesus by people who converted to the Christian faith; as befits verse eighteen.

The second effect: confession of EVIL DEEDS (18).  The new converts confessed to having committed EVIL DEEDS.  Our text describes conversions in general terms in verse eighteen while verse nineteen offers an example of a specific act of repentance that put a value on the depth of their repentance.

The third effect was their voluntary decision to burn “magic” scrolls  that had great material value but were spiritually worthless (19).  The Lord does not require a set procedure for repentance.  That’s a good thing, as we are saved by GRACE, not by GOOD WORKS.  We are not operating under a legal system that requires specific actions to qualify as “true repentance.”  It is also good because it shows the collection and burning of these SCROLLS was spontaneous and voluntary, which makes the act a more effective demonstration of repentance.

The actions of the converts in verse nineteen set a good example for us to follow when repenting.  Repentance is turning our back on our sin and turning our face to God.  We regret and reject our sins to seek God instead.  Getting rid of the things that tempt us to return to sin and/or things that represent affections for worldly things is a good idea, and it accomplishes three things:

– First, it removes a source of temptation.  Jesus spoke of removing one’s right eye or hand if they cause you to sin (Matthew 5:27-30).  This is a graphic way of describing a grave degree of sacrifice in order to gain separation from temptations.

– Second, when a person makes voluntary sacrifices like this, it says a lot about the depth of their commitment to Jesus.

– Third, making it public makes you accountable to everyone who sees what you are doing and will be watching in the future to see you don’t fall into that sin again.

Luke estimated the value of the destroyed texts to be 50,000 drachmas, or the wealth accumulated by a year’s work (no days off) of 137 men.  This was a sacrifice!

The long-term effect was that the word prospered (20).  People travelling out of Ephesus carried along the account of the demoniac beating the tar out of seven con artists and other testimonies to the POWER of the WORD OF THE LORD.  That’s how it SPREAD WIDELY.

As the number of new converts continued to grow and their faith deepened, the WORD also GREW IN POWER.  This also means there were more events of this type.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

It’s a fact that things aren’t always as they appear.  Consider what happened when two magicians went into a bakery.

One of the magicians palmed 3 donuts with one hand and put them in his pocket without anyone noticing. He whispered to his companion, “Do you see how masterful I am? I make donuts disappear at will!”

“Not bad,” the second magician said.  “I can do you one better.”  He went to the baker and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick.

The curious owner answered, “Of course!” The second magician asked him for a donut then ate it. He asked him for another one, and ate it as well. When asked for a third donut, the owner was reluctant to give it up.  “So what’s the magic trick?” he said with suspicion; “I gave you 2 donuts already!”

“Just one more,” he replied.  After eating the third donut, the magician pointed to his companion and said, “Now check his pockets.”

Our Bible passage this morning gives us a memorable example of how God turned what was intended for deception into a victory for His Church.  When we live as the people of faith we are supposed to be, God works in us and with us to turn all things into good.

While we may not do the miraculous things done in Ephesus, God will use our faith and service to draw people to salvation.  It starts with our decision to be entirely faithful, willing to trust Him in this promise.

 

RESOURCES:

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

Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

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

No Foolin’

Easter

Please read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 in your favorite Bible.  FYI: I use the NIV (1984).

As we observed weeks ago, the conjunction of Resurrection Sunday and April Fools Day is something that only comes along every 20 years, give or take.  It seemed to me that this is my only shot at preaching on this occasion and the Lord gave me a passage that has elements of both Jesus’ Resurrection and April Fools.

The history of April Fools’ Day is uncertain, but many believe it began in 1582 in France when King Charles IX required a switch to the Gregorian calendar; the one we currently use.  This makes today the 436th observance of April Fools’ Day.

The change was invoked on April first.  People who weren’t informed of the change were ridiculed as fools and that’s how the day was named.  As the new calendar took hold around the world, so did the custom of April Fools’ Day as a time of playing pranks and practical jokes to have a laugh at others’ expense.

This morning we’re going to take a look at the worst kind of foolishness; rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Don’t be fooled by lesser offers; find life in Christ.

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

  1. Folks who were fooled crucified Jesus.

The first comparison of the passage: two kinds of WISDOM are contrasted: worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom.  Heavenly WISDOM is only for the MATURE (6).  Who are MATURE people? They are people who have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation by faith.  And they go further, continuing to learn by study and practice in daily living.  MATURE people have received salvation and are undergoing sanctification.  This WISDOM is centered on the cross and the empty tomb; it is summed up in what we have gathered to celebrate: Easter!

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE and the RULERS OF THIS AGE are both futile; they inevitably come to NOTHING (6).  Why are they doomed to failure?  Because they refuse God’s gift of salvation by faith and stubbornly insist on works to earn it.  To these people the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS.  (Here is our first tie-in to April Fools Day.)  So it comes down to a distinction between believers and unbelievers.

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE fooled some folks into crucifying THE LORD OF GLORY (8).  The RULERS OF THIS AGE probably refers to the leaders of government and religion at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But based on how Paul used this phrase elsewhere, some scholars think he is referring to spiritual beings.  If the devil thought he could silence Jesus by killing him on the cross; boy was HE FOOLED!

Whether leaders or devils or both, the powers opposing Jesus fooled themselves when they guessed the cross would be the end of the story!  This is our second tie-in to April Fools’ Day.

Because they operate without the Spirit, God’s truth seems like FOOLISHNESS to unbelievers (14).  Here’s our third tie-in to April Fools’ Day and our second contrast.  The contrast here is between material things and spiritual things.

People who only believe anything their five senses can verify do NOT ACCEPT truths that come from spiritual sensitivities; such things seem foolish to them.  Spiritual discernment is a kind of “sixth sense” and is available only as the Spirit reveals it.

  1. Believe the truth and be saved.

God’s truth is quite different from the world.  It is for the spiritually MATURE (6).  It might help to think of the word as “maturing” instead.  That way, we realize the Christian life is a life-long process of growth in wisdom.

The truth is, salvation is the destiny of God’s chosen (7).  It is clear that the Bible writers want to say that God knew and chose those who would be saved, and that people have to choose to accept God to be saved.  It is appropriate to say that God knew from before the creation of the world who would receive His salvation.  I want you to take this promise personally: GOD DESTINED this wisdom FOR OUR GLORY BEFORE TIME BEGAN.  BEFORE TIME BEGAN God knew you and loved you and did all of this so you could be part of His big heavenly family.

The truth is a SECRET, HIDDEN thing (7, 9).  It is SECRET and HIDDEN in three senses.  One, God revealed the truth over the course of several centuries of human history.  What is promised and hinted at in the Old Testament is fulfilled and declared openly in the New Testament.  Two, it can only be perceived by faith.  The Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth, but unbelievers’ minds are clouded by their own choice to reject God.  Three, in verse nine, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 to show that God’s plans are too wonderful for the human mind to grasp on its own.  We just can’t “get it” on our own.

God’s truth is revealed only by the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote; GOD HAS REVEALED IT TO US BY HIS SPIRIT (10).  The Spirit replaces ignorance with knowledge.  God reveals Himself to us very plainly in the Bible, the word of God.  The Spirit helps us to be sensitive to the words in the Bible, to understand and apply them.

The SPIRIT knows this wisdom because it SEARCHES ALL THINGS, EVEN THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD (10).  God knows ALL THINGS, revealing to us even the DEEP THINGS OF GOD by means of the Spirit.  This will sound crazy to people still stuck in a worldly frame of reference, but it is true because God said so.

Paul offers an example in v. 11: it is true of human beings that we can’t read each other’s minds.  THANK GOD!  Am I right?!  If we can’t read each other’s minds then it is impossible for us to know the MIND OF GOD.  Only the Spirit KNOWS THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.  It’s obvious we need help: that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in to reveal truth to us.

God gives us His Spirit to know His truth.  In verse twelve we find a second comparison.  On the one hand, we have NOT been given THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. The WORLD is the system that opposes God.  It relies on human reasoning, senses, and even lies to dispute God’s word.

On the other hand, we HAVE received THE SPIRIT WHO IS FROM GOD.  Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to all persons of sincere faith.  True faith originates in, and is perpetuated by, the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of God the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD HAS FREELY GIVEN US.  The Spirit helps us UNDERSTAND the love of God expressed in Jesus. Don’t overlook the word FREELY.  It is Paul’s reminder salvation is by grace, not by works.

By the Spirit we express SPIRITUAL TRUTH IN SPIRITUAL WORDS [variant text: “men”] (13). SPIRITUAL TRUTHS must be expressed in SPIRITUAL WORDS by spiritual people.  How can we possibly do that?  We can do it only as the Holy Spirit teaches us how to do it.

By the Spirit we show good judgment (15).  In our culture the word “judgment” has been misidentified as a vice.  However, the fact is that we must show good judgment in the choices we make.  The Holy Spirit informs our morality as it does our spirituality.  People of faith are to be more loving in word & deed.

By the Spirit we share THE MIND OF THE LORD/CHRIST (16). This is a staggering claim: we who believe have the MIND OF CHRIST! On an individual level, this measures our kinship with Christ.  We can think as He thinks, share his attitudes, and do what Jesus would do in every situation.  On a church level, this measures our unity.  We talk about being “like-minded,” referring to agreement on a particular issue.  But this is a more significant depth of relationship.

Our life with Christ is not an overlay on our personality, but a shared personality, a level of accord and maturity that will be unmatched by anything on earth!

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

How do we take part in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  In what way is Easter our victory, shared with Christ?  What does God ask of us?

God asks us to believe.  He has already done the 99% necessary for us to be saved.  Our 1% is to believe.

We receive His salvation by faith, not by works.  It is an act of grace He prepared even before He formed the universe.

Salvation is free, but it will also be the first step in a lifetime of change, a continual pursuit of maturity.  Salvation is free, but we gladly exchange all the world offers in order to attain more and more to a life that follows Jesus’ example.

Receive this gift this morning.  Make it the best day of your life, one that has eternal benefits.  Receive the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, and one day, you will be raised with Him!

Unsaved and Showing It

Please read Titus 3:1-15 in your Bible.   This is the second of three messages on this chapter.

We are saved in order to do good works.

Being a father and being gifted with an exceptional sense of humor, I was naturally interested when I saw an internet article on funniest Dad Jokes.  Before we get to today’s message, I’d like to share a small part of this feast of funny.

Dad complained of tooth pain. When asked if he’d made an appointment to see the dentist, he replied, “Yes, at tooth-thirty!”

“You hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers? They say he made a mint.”

When the cashier at the grocery store asked if he would like the milk in a bag dad replied, “No, just leave it in the carton!”

While watching commercials, dad said aloud, “Why did the Clydesdale give the pony a glass of water?”  The family knew better than to answer, so dad continued, “Because he was a little horse!”

During a serious conversation of family history one dad said, “I used to have a job at a calendar factory but they fired me because I took a couple of days off.”

My kids can tell you I enjoy comparing dreams.  On a similar occasion one dad said, “I had a dream that I was a muffler last night. I woke up exhausted!”

Dad was trying to help Junior with his math homework and said, “You know, 5/4 of people admit that they’re bad with fractions.”

And finally, dads like to joke by conjuring up their own fake news.  For example, “Did you hear the news? FedEx and UPS are merging. They’re going to go by the name Fed-Up from now on.’”

I admit there were a few groaners there.  My plan is to offer a light-hearted example of how we can make life difficult for one another.  I wanted to start this way because the subject matter of today’s message is deadly serious.

Someone said at a recent Bible study, “You don’t hear preachers talk about sin much anymore.”  Today sin is going to be our exclusive subject.  As we begin, all I ask is that each of use this biblical truth first as a mirror to our own souls, and only after truthful introspection, turn our gaze to the lives of others.

REVIEW:

  1. How we get saved.

NEW:

  1. How unsaved folk act.

We’ve been saved from these behaviors.  AT ONE TIME WE TOO WERE…Paul contrasted the believer’s “BC” (“Before Christ”) personality with his “WC” (“With Christ”) personality after being saved.  Sometimes we need to restore our perspective by taking a look backward to see how far we’ve come.

The vice of foolishness (3).  In the Bible, a fool is someone who displays their ungodliness in antisocial, unwise, and self-destructive behavior.  Rejecting God, such people lack the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom we need to discern good and evil and the motive to choose the good.  In Ephesians 4:18 we see the cause of foolishness: They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them to the hardening of their hearts.

Disobedience (3) is a vice.  Being under the influence of their sin nature, such a person disobeys God’s will for them.  Disobedience is sin.  Sin is open rebellion against God; the penalty is death.

While the other eight vices listed here might be concealed for a time, disobedience is impossible to hide very long.  People can be overtly – even defiantly – disobedient, proud of themselves or covertly disobedient, covering it up by making excuses for their misbehavior.

Being thoroughly DECEIVED (3) about the truth of God is a vice.  Only believers have the Holy Spirit and the wisdom he provides. Without the Spirit, a person cannot truly understand the word of God or do His will.  This is the IGNORANCE of which we read in Ephesians  4:18.

It is a vice to be ENSLAVED BY ALL KINDS OF PASSIONS AND PLEASURES (3).  Without the Spirit to reform their thoughts and affections, a person is bound to be attracted to things that stimulate them, but are bad for them.  For example, worldly things are never satisfying; they merely increase our appetite for something new.  (See Romans 1.)  This is ironic, because we naturally think being able to do whatever you want is freedom.  The truth is, it is slavery to one’s own PASSIONS and PLEASURES and to those who sell them.  It’s like an addict enslaved to his addiction.

MALICE (3) is one of the more obvious vices.  This word centers on the emotions that motivate people to do evil.  It reveals a soul that has no empathy or sympathy; no consideration of the effect of their actions on others.

ENVY (3) can also be translated as “jealousy.”  It is the vice of valuing things more highly than people.

WARPED (11) can also translated as “perverted.”  This vice is being exercised when a person is a twister of words and misuses their influence to bend others to their will to do evil. Thus, the word WARPED is a condemnation of their character and thinking.

The word SINFUL (11) sounds like a combination of all vices wrapped together.  It describes the orientation of a disobedient and disrespectful life wasted SINFUL decisions, defying God.

Not content to be evil alone, SINFUL people seek to influence others to join them.  Evil naturally seeks to replicate itself (“misery loves company), but is more intentional in the DIVISIVE PERSON mentioned in verse ten.

Such purveyors of vice are SELF-CONDEMNED (11).  Attitudes are manifest in actions and eventually even the most carefully-crafted façade will fall.  Evil actions betray an evil heart.  However, a DIVISIVE PERSON may be so convincing they’ve fooled themselves.  Sincerity is a virtue until a person is sincerely wrong.  This is another reason for the occasional rebuke; the person may not see the error and danger of their ways.

This passage condemns stubbornness and close-mindedness that is unwilling to even consider that they may be wrong or need to change.  The ninth vice is important to our understanding of the justice of God.  In His judgment, God condemns people who are already SELF-CONDEMNED.  Given freedom to choose, they are responsible for their own condemnation by the choices they made.

The passage describes two effects of evil behaviors.  There are surely others, but these are given to aid our discernment.

The first is BEING HATED AND HATING ONE ANOTHER (3).  The phrase BEING HATED is translated from the Greek word stugetoi, which sounds a lot like our English word “stooge,” but there’s no known connection between the two.  This word refers to a person so degraded by evil that others can’t bear to be around them.

The phrase HATING ONE ANOTHER indicates an aspect of sin nature; while people still enslaved to it may congregate and even cooperate, that only happens when their self-interests happen to coincide.  Even then, they distrust and dislike one another.  True relationships are impossible for such people.

The second is more damning: THESE ARE UNPROFITABLE AND USELESS (9).   Contrary to the benefits of virtues described in verse eight, these vices are worthless and harmful.  It helps to remember that righteous behavior and true belief is good for us, body and soul.  God calls us to Him because He is the ultimate good.  It’s also good to recognize that biblically, enlightened self-interest (i.e., a desire to earn heavenly rewards) is a legitimate motive if other reasons to do good temporarily fail to move us.

We are saved in order to do good works.

In summing up the list of vices, the Zondervan Bible Commentary wrote, “But man’s depravity proves no obstacle to God.”  (P. 1524.)  That is the good news this morning.  While it is painful and bewildering that people WANT to act this way, we can be encouraged to know that the worst evil people can do is no challenge at all to God’s will to make good arise and triumph.  We must trust God and join Him in bringing about the most loving outcome in every situation.

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Whenever we read lists of sins in the Bible, it may be our natural inclination to think of “Old So-and-so” instead of self.  That is definitely not our first step.

Remember the example of Jesus’ disciples at the last supper.  When Jesus announced there was a betrayer among them, all of them asked, “Lord, is it I?”  Eleven of them knew they had no plans to betray Jesus and yet they asked the question.

That’s humility, folks.  It’s resisting our natural urge to resort to defensiveness and allowing God to shine the light of the word into the parts of our lives that we prefer to keep shrouded in darkness.

Let us ask, “Is it I, Lord?”

PREVIEW:

  1. How saved folk act.

Love Never Fails

Take up your preferred Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1.  Myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Now that the turkey is reduced to leftovers, we put Thanksgiving behind us and think more about Christmas.  I know we have Christmas overachievers in our church family; you already have your gifts bought, probably wrapped, and either hidden or placed carefully under your tree.  The underachievers who will wait until Dec. 24 OR LATER to shop and all the rest of us are going to be out and about the next three weeks.

One of the things we experience while out and about, especially this time of year, are strangers doing “random acts of kindness” to other strangers.  This week, Richard Hanson had a great idea to improve the custom.  His idea was to have a card prepared explaining that your act of kindness was not random at all, but was the product of a love-relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do the act, leave the card and have a “silent witness” of Jesus.

We have printed several of these cards for your use.  Let me recommend you take a few of these and when you buy lunch for the people in line behind you or pay for the purchases of the person in line ahead of you, give them one of these cards and put the face of Jesus on your kindness.

J.B. McPhail wrote, “Love is the fabric of a life well lived.” Acts of kindness are seasonally appropriate and give evidence of good character.  If you use these cards, you will add witness to service and improve both, with eternal consequences.

  1. Context: THE GREATER GIFTS, THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY,

THE WAY OF LOVE (12:31 + 14:1).

There are three expressions Paul used that provide context for this teaching, so it’s important to interpret these first.

The first is, EAGERLY DESIRE THE GREATER GIFTS.  Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts because his original teaching had been corrupted by false teachers for their purposes.  The Gift of Tongues had been exalted as being above all the others, so Paul countered by saying there are greater Gifts than Tongues. Paul didn’t identify which Gifts are GREATER, but in chapter fourteen, he made it clear that the Gift of Prophecy is a more useful Gift than Tongues.

The second phrase is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  This is Paul’s transitional statement, the way he introduces this chapter about love.  1 Corinthians 13 is a passage lifted out of its context possibly more often than any other in the Bible.

Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in the chapter before and after.  Ch. 13 is NOT a parenthesis, but part a chain of reasoning covering chapters 12-14.   In chapter 12 he introduced the reader to the Spiritual Gifts, listing and defining them as God’s way of growing churches.  In chapter 13 he puts them in proper perspective vis-à-vis LOVE; the Gifts are ways to express and enact love.  In chapter 14 he showed how misuse of the Gift of Tongues messed up worship in the Corinthian church.

Paul made it clear that LOVE is superior to t Gifts; it is THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY.  The Greek word for LOVE here is agape.  The word was used only once in all the secular Greek texts which survive into modern times.  This word was taken up by New Testament authors and the Church to convey the ultimate love given by God to humanity.  It is the deepest, most spiritual version of the three Greekk words for LOVE.  It is the ultimate kind of LOVE.  It is not superficial, sensual, or sentimental.

The third phrase is FOLLOW THE WAY OF LOVE is in 14:1; LOVE is a WAY of life.  We are to pursue this virtue in our daily living and ultimately, in our character.

  1. Without love, even the Spiritual Gifts are powerless (13:1-3, 8-10)

Without love, TONGUES fail to communicate (1) and will ultimately be STILLED (8).  LOVE is the difference between merely making noise and communicating in a godly way.  Without a translation, public use of the Gift of Tongues only succeeds in making noise and worse, may irritate the Body of Christ, like the clang and bang of a GONG and CYMBALS, say.  The GONG and CYMBALS were used in Old Testament worship (see 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalms 150:5) and also idol worship; not referred to in a derogatory way. Instead, there’s just not a lot you can communicate with a GONG or CYMBALS.  We need to make words, not just noise.  One aspect of love’s superiority over Tongues is that LOVE will continue to exist after the Second Coming, while the Gift of Tongues will cease (8).

Without love, the knowledge and faith bestowed by PROPHECY amounts to NOTHING (2) and will ultimately CEASE (8).  The Gift of Prophecy can involve FORE-telling the future but it is mostly FORTH-telling; interjecting the truth where people are misunderstanding or misbehaving.

MYSTERIES and KNOWLEDGE are variations of the same Gk word.  They refer to deep knowledge of hidden and significant things.  In Paul’s time as in ours, “moving mountains” is an expression for overcoming great challenges (see Mark 11:22-23).  BUT – done without love, even great achievements are NOTHING.  After Jesus’ Second Coming, there won’t be any need for the Gift of Prophecy because all survivors will know God’s will (see JMH 31:33-34).

Without love, GIVING has no benefit (3).  The kind of sacrifice Paul describes in verse three is total, even to the point of giving up one’s life.  In modern terms we might paraphrase Paul to say, “Even if I become such a workaholic that I suffer burnout”.  This may be a reference to the fiery trials of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abenego in Daniel 3.  Notice that Paul did NOT say in verse eight that giving will cease.  Heaven will be a place of ultimate and true giving (never false or for evil, only good).

Our knowledge is, at best, partial and immature (8-12).  It requires love to make it valuable.

Our knowledge is always partial.  People who ignore this fact fall into a vice that makes people hard to live with: the arrogant assumption they know it all.  Paul identified this vice in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP means that knowledge can lead to pride.  The Bible teaches that only God is all-knowing, so put your pride in park and get real!

Our knowledge is always immature.  Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.  Growing old happens automatically; the longer we survive, the more birthdays we accrue.  Maturing takes time, so it looks similar, but maturing is a process that happens by intention and application of hard work.  Spiritual maturing, the greatest of all kinds of maturity, happens only with hard work and the help of the Holy Spirit.

The more we learn, the more we have to admit there is more we CAN learn.  It takes a maturing person to admit there is still room for self-improvement and then to take up that challenge.  There is no reason to be “puffed up.”

In heaven (WHEN COMPLETENESS COMES, v. 10), our knowledge will be full and mature.  Now we see God only as He is reflected in human beings – sometimes a very poor likeness – but then we shall see Him FACE TO FACE.

(Corinthian mirrors of polished metal were famous in the ancient world – Paul refers to them here.)  In heaven we will KNOW FULLY, even as God now has perfect knowledge of each of us.

  1. The qualities of true love (13:4-8, 13).

Paul expressed the qualities of LOVE positively: LOVE IS…

– PATIENT (4) = it overlooks small offenses; resists becoming resentful; is active, not passive.

– KIND (4) = it thinks of ways to help others.

– Joyful in the TRUTH (6) = lovers are happy with honesty.

– Unfailing (8) = as God is love, love will always be needed, appropriate, and powerful.

– Maturing (11) = childish ways of thinking and speaking giving way to adult means are Paul’s way of symbolizing spiritual maturity.

– Protective (7) = it helps, doesn’t hurt unless pain is necessary for healing.

– Trusting (7) = by being trustworthy.  Loving people have discernment but start with positivity.

– Hopeful (7) = Negativity always hinders and hurts.  Hopeful people give others the benefit of the doubt.

– Persevering (7) = will not give up on people and is willing to endure adversity in order to love.

– The greatest of all virtues (13) = HOPE and FAITH are important, even essential virtues.  They will all remain for eternity, but LOVE is t GREATEST.

– You could summarize all ten of these virtues as being having a focus on someone other than self.  Those who truly love are focused on God first, others second, self last.

Paul also expressed the qualities of LOVE negatively: LOVE IS NOT…

– Envious (4) = it is not materialistic; it does not want what others have.

– Boastful (4) = it does not seek superiority over others, nor is it characterized by “one-upmanship” and an insistence on “winning” arguments.

– Proud (4) = it is not arrogantly centered on one’s achievements and qualifications to the point of feeling entitled.

– Dishonoring (5) = it is not so self-absorbed as to disregard the well-being of others, even to the violation of God’s standards.  It doesn’t withhold respect.

– Self-seeking (5) = this vice sums up this entire section.  The other eight vices explain how to recognize self-centered people.

– EASILY ANGERED (5) = it’s focus is not on one’s self manifest in a short temper and/or perceiving insults or injuries where none were intended.

– A recorder of WRONGS (5) = it does not withhold forgiveness.  When we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we may be asking for a world of hurt.  Selfish people hold grudges.

-Delighted with evil (6) = it does not derive a wicked happiness when seeing someone else “get what they deserve” or get away with wrong-doing.

Horror is not a genre I enjoy, so I rarely read or watch it.  One of the most horrifying movies I’ve ever seen has no monsters or killers or violence of any kind.  It is a film shown to us in elementary school, called “Cipher in the Snow.”  It is the short story of an ordinary school kid who walked off the school bus one morning and fell over dead.  His teacher undertook to understand what killed Cliff.

The film was based on a story by Jean Mizer, a lady who worked as a teacher and guidance counselor, published in the NEA Journal in 1964.  It was produced by Bringham Young University and has been used extensively for anti-bullying education and moral training.

Although the film does not come out and say so explicitly, it is clearly implied that Cliff died from a lack of love.  The teacher finds that Cliff’s parents divorced and he had no friends at school.  There was no one there to love him.

It scared the willies out of me, but I took the lesson to heart.  The film illustrates the disaster that is a loveless life.

Love is the virtue at the center of our identity.

Love is one of the easiest things to talk about and sing about.  Everyone wants to celebrate love and everyone wants to receive love.  It’s not so easy

to do.  It’s not always part of our nature or personality to be loving, especially not at the high standard God sets for love.

It’s much easier and more natural for us to love self first, or substitute legalism for love and then make excuses to conceal our lack of love.  Love is not optional for a follower of Jesus, it is essential, indeed, the defining aspect of our character.

Seek ways to love.  Act on opportunities that present themselves.  Love is too important to be kept waiting, so get to it.  And, there’s no better time than Christmas to go about proclaiming and enacting the love of Jesus Christ.