Worth the Effort

Raising the Cross (1)

Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.

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

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

“None of them survived the branding.”


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

CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:

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

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

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

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

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



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


When You’re Rubbed the Wrong Way

Please read Colossians 3:12-17 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for this post.

Successful conflict resolution (peace-making) is the work of all genuine disciples.

The ability to get along with others requires a great deal of effort.  Our natural tendency is to push for our own way, even at the expense of relationships, and that’s where unity dies.  Whether in good times or in bad, it takes intention and effort to get along.

How do we resolve conflicts and settle disagreements before unity is lost.  We learned Wednesday night that God’s word suggests casting lots to decide the winner (see PBS 18:18).

In other cultures, differences were sometimes settled by fatal duels.  As odd as this may sound, there was a time in history when two men attempted to settle their dispute by casting lots AND having a duel!

French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, best known for his novel, The Three Musketeers, once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician.  It was decided that the only way honor could be satisfied was by a duel.  However, the problem was that both men were excellent shots and they feared a duel might result in both of them being killed.  For this reason, they cast lots to determine which of them would be spared, the loser was to shoot himself.

Dumas lost the drawing.

Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him.  The rest of the group waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his brilliant career.  It rang out at last.

His friends ran to the door and flung it open.  They were shocked to see Dumas standing there unharmed, the smoking pistol in his hand.

“Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced.  “I missed.”

Fortunately, God has given us better ways to resolve our differences.  In Jesus Christ we have the ultimate means of getting along with one another, even with people who rub us the wrong way.  Let’s learn about Jesus’ way of peace as we look at Colossians 3:12-17.

  1. Take the high road (12-14).

God chose you to take the high road.  Paul’s teaching about God choosing His people (for example Romans 8:33; 16:13) is always for the purpose of emphasizing grace.  Verse twelve describes our God-given identity in three terms:

– CHOSEN = God chose us to faithfully represent Him in this world & be rewarded in heaven.

– HOLY = to be set apart from the usual, worldly uses to serve God in unusual, spiritual ways.

– DEARLY LOVED refers to the love God has for His children; unconditional love, full of grace.

Verses13-14 describe our God-directed activity

– BEAR WITH EACH OTHER is an important biblical command. See 1 Corinthians 13:5 = [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Proverbs 12:16 = Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.  Proverbs 19:11 = A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.


– OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE, WHICH BINDS THEM ALL TOGETHER IN PERFECT UNITY. LOVE “binds” all virtues together because it is the chief virtue.  It is what motivates us be virtuous.  PERFECT UNITY is the outcome.  It is the condition of the fellowship in which people love one another.  See 1 Corinthians 13:13 = AND NOW THESE THREE REMAIN: FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE.  BUT THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.

Peace cannot be forged if your mind is on “getting even.” Taking the high road sometimes requires letting go of our “rights.”

God has demonstrated the way he wants us to live.  God always acts in holiness and love in perfect balance.  He always does what is best for us.  The entire Bible is a record of the various ways God has demonstrated these attributes.  He calls us to follow His example because He knows then we will truly act in ways that are in our best interests.  When we choose self-interest instead, when we prefer our petty dramas to His high standards, then we’re walking the toxic road of sin.

  1. Actions are more important than feelings (12).

We act differently because we live in our NEW SELF.  In v. 10 Paul wrote about “putting on” our NEW SELF, as if this new life in Christ were a change of clothes.  He continues that image in v. 12.  However, unlike a change of clothes which we can easily see, this improvement of character may be a little more difficult to perceive.  Here’s how we know we’ve made the switch; we know it’s happened when the virtues listed in verse 12 become part of our character.  These virtues closely resemble the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and there we learn that these marks of godly character are a gift from God by means of the Holy Spirit.

– COMPASSION = is one word made by combining the Greek words for affection and sympathy.

– KINDNESS is a friendly willingness to help the needy.

– HUMILITY involves seeing yourself as God sees you, not falling into the extremes of narcissism or self-loathing.

– GENTLENESS is consideration for others that goes so deep one is willing to waive one’s “rights” to revenge.

– PATIENCE endures trials without exasperation.

It’s genuine because it comes from God.  It’s true that putting on a red hat does not make me a fireman.  Similarly, verse twelve is not about putting on these virtues in a hypocritical way, to make others think we are God’s children.  These are all virtues that come forth through action and we all know actions speak louder than mere words.

  1. Make Christ the center of every conversation (16).

Verse sixteen is not limited to worship though it sounds like it, with the mention of teaching, admonishing, & singing.  It’s really about consistency; if our conversations have a different moral character inside and outside church, what does that say about the genuineness of our faith?  It says, as James taught, that we all struggle with our tongues (see James 3:2).

In the very next chapter Paul wrote, LET YOUR CONVERSATION BE ALWAYS FULL OF GRACE, SEASONED WITH SALT, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE. (Colossians 4:6).  This is what Paul meant by LET THE WORD OF CHRIST DWELL IN YOU RICHLY.  THE WORD OF CHRIST doesn’t only mean the Bible, but also the person of Jesus Christ.  The word RICHLY means “having ample room,” or “having great treasure.”  Jesus should dominate our thinking and as He does, He will be expressed more abundantly in what we say and do.

We should ask “WWJD?” and “WWJS?”  S = SAY.  If we would ask ourselves, “What would Jesus say in this instance?”  The act of stopping to think about it would help us avoid sins of the tongue.

  1. Passionately pursue personal peace (15+17).

We’re promised peace the passes UNDERSTANDING.  This is obviously not the kind of peace the world can give, the kind that is more than avoiding conflict or calming fears.

Instead, it is a settled state of mind, a feeling of contentment, and an attitude of patience that is BEYOND UNDERSTANDING because it is from God, not our circumstances.  This kind of PEACE is so profound that it cannot be lost because troubles or trials appear.

Peace is to RULE over us and our relationships.  The word RULE originally meant “to act as an umpire.”  This means every situation that pits Christians against one another must be resolved in a way that leads to PEACE.  There is nothing fake about this; this is the highest-possible-standard PEACE described in verse fifteen.

We are called to PEACE.  We are called to PEACE as much as we are called to salvation: PEACE is the foundation of our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.  If we truly follow Christ we will value this peace much more highly than we will the little things that tend to divide us.  We will prize this PEACE and guard it against self-interest and factions.

This kind of PEACE always produces a grateful response as it directs our attention to God: this response is described in two phrases in verse seventeen.

– WHATEVER YOU DO, WHETHER IN WORD OR DEED, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. In these three different ways Paul expressed one thought; all that you do, do it as a disciple of Jesus should.  (This will logically exclude sinful activities.)  This includes all parts of our daily living but excludes all things that are not of Christ.

– GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER THROUGH HIM. When you think of this fantastic PEACE God gives, gratitude is the most appropriate response.  Plus, when we express our thankfulness, we direct the attention of others to God.


  1. YOU ARE LOVED = Loving God leads to loving others
  2. THERE IS HOPE = Home and Church are the training sites for love and the world is the place where we practice love. With God, we can DO THIS!
  3. HOW TO GET STARTED = take the steps of “UNITE.”

U = “U” as in You (in texting language). Unless you seek peace, it will not happen.

N = Note your feelings & own them by talking about them with “I” statements.

I = Inform the other person about your desire for peace.

T = Talk about how to avoid this situation repeating itself in the future.

E = Enjoy a healthier relationship as you put your solutions to work.

Radicalized By Love

Please read Matthew 5:43-48.

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) — Justin and Cynthia Wagner were just about to head to bed on Sunday night when they smelled something burning. Justin said he looked out his front porch and noticed the garage he converted into a makeshift apartment was engulfed in flames.

He ran outside and tried to start the car that was between the garage and the house to move it out of the way, but realized the flames were already coming up underneath it.

“I told my wife, I said the car is gone just get out of here, don’t worry about nothing else, just let the fire department take care of it,” Wagner said.  The fire destroyed the Wagner’s garage, left their Mazda unrecognizable, and did extensive damage to their two-story home.

But then a friend found an unexpected surprise while he was helping the couple clean up on Wednesday morning. In the middle of the ashes was a Bible, opened up to John 3:16. The verse reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Wagner took that as a clear sign.  “That tells you right there that God is still here with us, he’s still here for us,” he said.  The majority of the Bible was burned with the edges of the pages blackened and charred, but the words of the passage are nearly untouched and clearly visible. Wagner said he has no doubt in his mind that God saved he and his wife that night because there is still more work for them to do on this earth.

“Maybe God let this happen to us so we could get a new start in life,” he said. “After I had seen the word of God and I seen it on that, I felt like God was reassuring me, I saved your life through all this. I brought you guys through this for a reason.”

Personally, I think the reason must be love.

<Retrieved from http://www.local8now.com/news/headlines/Newport-loses-everything-in-house-fire-364468041.html on 1/8/16.>

Message – Godly love meets the highest possible standard.

  1. You’ve got to know what love is.

“YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” introduces the false command.

This is the sixth of six consecutive sections of teaching introduced by this phrase; it is not used again in the Sermon On The Mount.  In every case, it involves something that originated in the Scripture but had become corrupted, misused by the people of God.

The proverb Jesus quoted in verse 43 was only half right.

The right half can be found in Leviticus 19:18, where God commanded, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” as part of a prohibition of revenge-seeking and grudge-holding. There is no evidence in the Bible or in history that the Jews paid any particular attention to Leviticus 19:18.  Jesus, however, paired it with the Shema (see Dueteronomy 6:4-9) as the two most important commands, central to His teaching.

The incorrect half is the “HATE YOUR ENEMY” part.  That was added by someone else.  This is a fine example of the kind of excuse-making people do when they want to rationalize their limited love.  Scot McKnight wrote, “Loving those we like and hating those we don’t is as common as skin.” (The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, p. 142.)

Jesus had nothing good to say about this kind of self-centered, excuse-ridden, limited love.  It’s such a low standard even TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS can rise to achieve it. (TAX COLLECTORS and PAGANS were the Jews declared enemies!  For Jesus to throw that in their faces was like waving the red cape at the bull!)  No one who rises only to this superficial level of love should expect God to REWARD them for it. (Just the opposite!)

“BUT I SAY TO YOU” introduces the true command.  Real love is unconditional and universal; it makes no excuses for being anything less.

Loving only the lovable is NOT the kind of love God has in mind for His people.  He has shown us a more ambitious love.  As we have been love by God, so should we love one another.  We need to stop making excuses in a failing effort to conceal our lack of love.

– God has loved us unconditionally. He did not demand that we change first or in any way attempt to “earn” His love.  He loved us anyway.

– God has loved everyone; His love is universal. He could have said, “If you worship me, I will love you,” but He did not.  He loved all of us first and best.

As usual, Jesus radicalizes the standard, calling us to a deeper love; “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.”  Who’s your “enemy?” It doesn’t matter whether you’ve chosen to count someone as an enemy, opponent, or rival or they have chosen to treat you as one.  What matters is that you choose to love them.  The highest and best kind of love is spiritual in nature and that’s why Jesus specified prayer as a way to enact and demonstrate true love.

– I think this plays to human nature. It’s harder to be unloving to someone when you are earnestly praying for God to bless them.

– I also think this plays to our spiritual nature. If we are truly following God’s example, prayer is part of loving even the unlovable as God does.

True love is manifest in a thousand other ways in addition to prayer.  For example, being gracious to one another demonstrates godly love.  The Bible allows us to disagree, but it does not allow us to behave disagreeably.  One of the most common ways we fail to love is by speaking rudely to or about one another.

Remember: “Being right does not give you the right.” Jesus’ strategy is to turn enemies into neighbors by loving them.

Jesus promised that real love results in reward (v. 46).  What is real love?

McKnight wrote: “Love must be defined by how God loves. From God’s behaviors we learn that love is a ‘rugged commitment to be with someone as someone who is for that person’s good and to love them unto God’s formative purpose.'” (McKnight, p. 143, emphasis his.)  With that understanding, genuine, godly love is not mere toleration or kibbutzing with people just like us.  It is cooperating fully with those who differ from us for mutual spiritual benefit.  Surely this is what Jesus meant by His remarks about the SUN and the RAIN happening at the same time to people we consider deserving/undeserving.

What is the REWARD?  That’s spelled out in v. 45; “THAT YOU MAY BE SONS OF YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Being God’s children means receiving eternal life in the world to come and abundant life in this world.  It isn’t all duty and obligation; being God’s children is the greatest possible reward and therefore the greatest possible joy.

  1. God’s standard for life (and love) is PERFECTION.

When it’s up to us, perfection is impossible.  If this were the entire story, God would be perpetrating a great injustice on us.  If He set an impossibly high standard, one He knew we could not keep, and then condemned us for not keeping it, that would be unfair and unloving.

Thankfully, it’s not up to us alone.  God gives us forgiveness when we fail and the Holy Spirit to help us succeed.  (It’s all by grace, folks!)  He sets the standard so high we will always need His help to achieve it.  That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.  Here’s how the Holy Spirit helps us.

– The Holy Spirit perfects our character so that temptations will be less compelling.

– When we are tempted, the Spirit gives us the wisdom and the moral strength to resist.

– God has promised a DOOR OF ESCAPE in times of temptation to avoid them as they happen

– The Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible so that we needn’t have any question about what the will of God is in any situation. We won’t fail because we didn’t know better – we do.

We don’t have to fail, but having a human nature means we are prone to create problems for ourselves, so God has us covered with forgiveness.  Like His love, God’s forgiveness is unconditional: all sinners who repent are forgiven.  As with His love, God’s forgiveness is universal: all sins are forgiven.  God also completely forgives.  He forgets our sins and heals all our ills.  He graciously gives a clean slate and innumerable second chances.

What does it mean to be “radicalized?”

It’s a word used everywhere in the news to describe people who have become so committed to a version of Islam that they are willing to commit acts of terrorism.  In that way, the word has come to have negative connotations, a way for the secular media to further marginalize people of faith.

However, the word simply means to cause someone to adopt positions or beliefs more radical than they had previously held.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  To go further, the word “radical” describes a fundamental change.

Our passage is a great example of the radical nature of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  He commands that we fundamentally change the way we think about and practice love.  Let’s be “radicalized” to love.

We are to cease thinking about love in lazy, worldly, and selfish ways and are instead to love in the way God has loved us.  God sets the highest standard for love and then equips us to meet His standard in our daily lives.

Let me conclude with an example.  We find it easier to tolerate people when they agree with us.  When they disagree or make us angry, we tend to demonize and dehumanize them.  We magnify their faults and ignore their strengths.  We push them aside or tolerate them coldly.  We’re too “nice” to call them an “enemy,” but that’s practically what they have become.

Jesus commands us instead to cooperate with that person.  To never diminish their personhood or standing before God, to never assume we know how they’re going to turn out.  Partnering with that person to seek the best, most godly outcome is one way we achieve & exercise God’s love.

Let me ask you – if we are incapable of loving in this way in our home and church, what hope to do we have of loving God’s way in any other context?  What hope does the world have if we do not love as God loved us?

Putting on Heirs

Please read Galatians 3:23-29.  My remarks were prepared with the New Living Translation.


Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp are two men who have enjoyed success as professional athletes and as politicians on the national stage.  The two men played different sports, so they never faced one another in competition, but they were on opposite sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.  Bradley is a Democrat and Kemp was a Republican (he died in 2009).

It was through their time in professional athletics that these men learned life-long lessons on the subject of race.  They learned to do better than tolerate their black teammates, they came to respect them and ceased to see skin color as any kind of barrier to playing ball or living life.

When he was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp wrote, “I couldn’t face my friends Ernie Ladd, Cookie Gilchrist, or Tippy Day or all the black football players I know and lived with and lost and won with, if I weren’t their voice in the [president’s] cabinet.”

In his book More Than Equals, Chris Rice wrote the following, “Racial reconciliation shouldn’t begin with a debate over affirmative action and quotas – or theology.  It’s about getting to know names and faces.  Build relationships and share in your new friends’ concerns for their families and communities.  Go into the neighborhood.  Visit the church.  Let their experience speak to your life.”

<Both quotes are retrieved from the December 26, 2001 devotional in Men of Integrity magazine.>

Today is Flag Day.  Let’s note something about Old Glory.  Do you see more than one color here?  Each of these colors have an important symbolic meaning and each contributes to the whole flag.  Old Glory would be less glorious if any of these colors were deleted.  LET THE SAME THINGS BE SAID OF OUR CHURCH!  Let’s see what God said.

Context: This letter deals with the problems caused by false teachers who insisted that non-Jews had to become Jews before they could properly become Christians.

Message: What has always mattered most is God’s love.  One of the beneficial effects of His love is that it unites us, makes us one family under our Heavenly Father.


  1. We were formerly orphans under the guardianship of the Law (3:23-25).

Paul comments on life under the Law of Moses as a “B.C.” state = “Before Christ.”  V. 23 = BEFORE THE WAY OF FAITH IN CHRIST WAS AVAILABLE TO US.

– Comment #1 = Faith in Christ is a way of life, a worldview, an approach to daily living that is all-encompassing.

– Comment #2 = The Law of Moses (what made Israel the people of God, a part of what made Jews “Jewish”) was only a temporary measure.  v. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– Comment #3 = The purpose of the Law was to protect God’s people.

–  V. 23 = WE WERE PLACED UNDER GUARD…KEPT IN PROTECTIVE CUSTODY.  (Even the verb here is in the passive voice!)


– The word translated here as “guardian” is the Gk word from which we get “pedagogue.”  The word referred to people who had custody of children to train them.  Children born in wealthy houses went from mother to wet nurse to pedagogue, who later took them to a teacher for book learning.  They were completely responsible for their charges; if the child misbehaved, it was the pedagogue who was punished!

– This is obviously a temporary situation; sooner or later the child grows up and can govern herself.  The pedagogue works themselves out of a job, preparing the child to be responsible and mature and self-sufficient for the day when the family says they are old enough to be an adult.  Paul used this common cultural practice to illustrate the state of godly people under the Law.

– V. 25 = NOW THAT THE WAY OF FAITH HAS COME, WE NO LONGER NEED THE LAW AS OUR GUARDIAN.  Though we don’t all mature, we do all age, and there comes a time when children cease to be children and become adults, responsible for themselves.  It was at this time a male child became a citizen and his father’s heir.

The WAY OF FAITH is a system of greater freedom, more responsibility, and more power to decide for ourselves.  Paul uses this illustration to show that the false teachers were false because they failed to understand that in the new agreement instituted by Jesus Christ, we “graduated” from childhood to adulthood.  Just as it is ridiculous to sleep in the nursery when one has “grown up,” so it is for these false teachers to lie and say it was necessary for us to live in the spiritual nursery when we are adults & heirs with Christ.

From what did the Law protect us?

– From the sinful and human sides of our natures.

– From our ignorance of the will of God.

– From the influence of the Enemy who tempts us to sin & accuses of guilt when we give into temptation.

– Note that the Law did not SOLVE these problems, it offered protection as a temporary alleviation.

A couple of caveats:

– Being in custody, even PROTECTIVE CUSTODY, is still nothing like freedom.  It is in our human nature to chafe under restraint and to yearn for freedom.

– Being in the custody of the Law is more pleasant than being PRISONERS OF SIN (v. 22).  So the law was given to protect us from the death penalty to which PRISONERS OF SIN are subject.

Paul’s comment on life of faith in Jesus Christ, under God’s new covenant, as a part of God’s new people, the Church is revealed in his repeated use of t word UNTIL:



It’s clear a new situation exists.  He spends the next four verses explaining God’s final solution.

  1. We are now God’s children and part of one family (3:26-29).

God’s people have gone from being under a guardianship to being adopted into the family of God.  How did this happen?  Jesus Christ did it for all people and we who receive it by faith are privileged to be children of God.

Note Paul’s use of inclusive language.

–  V. 26 = YOU ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.  The Gk word ALL here is in emphatic voice and it is the first word in the sentence.

– V. 27 = ALL WHO HAVE BEEN UNITED WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM.  Some scholars believe vs. 27+28 are part of a liturgy that was used in the early Church when baptisms were performed, to explain the significance of baptism.  The imagery of PUTTING ON NEW CLOTHES is a way of describing taking on the characteristics of someone, like a child putting on daddy’s shirt and acting like him.

– V. 28 = YOU’RE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This teaching is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters: (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-28; 12:13; Colossians 3:11).

The effects of God’s gracious action to adopt us are profound and they set worldly ways of thinking on their ear. For example, according to verse 28, there are no longer any earthly divisions that matter.  We’re not saying that they cease to exist, but that they cease to matter.  What once divided us divides us no more. What matters is that we are one family.

– We are one family; not JEWS or GENTILES.  That distinction no longer determines membership in God’s family.  (This one is the most relevant to Paul’s argument.)

– We are one family; not SLAVES or FREEBORN.  That distinction no longer entitles one set of people to human rights and denies them to another set.

– We are one family; not MALE or FEMALE.  That distinction determined inheritance of property in the ancient world but it does not make us heirs with Christ.

Paul may have chosen these three comparisons because they are exactly counter to the prayer a pious Jew made every morning, thanking God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman!  Or he may have selected these three as representative of the three most basic human relationships – religious, civil, and familial.  Ungodly folk use these distinctives as excuses for division and injustice, but not in the Church!  In the Church we affirm that we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS!

As verse 29 teaches, it is by faith we accept God’s gracious offer of adoption and that place us in a very privileged position.  Here are the great things that are true NOW THAT YOU BELONG TO CHRIST:

– YOU ARE THE TRUE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM.  The Jews held a great deal of pride as being the legitimate sons of Abraham.  In fact, John the Baptist dealt with this arrogance; “PROVE BY THE WAY YOU LIVE THAT YOU HAVE REPENTED OF YOUR SINS AND TURNED TO GOD.  DON’T JUST SAY TO EACH OTHER, ‘WE’RE SAFE, FOR WE ARE DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM.’  THAT MEANS NOTHING, FOR I TELL YOU, GOD CAN CREATE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM FROM THESE VERY STONES.” (Luke 3:9)  This is what TRUE means in v. 29.  Apart from prideful claims & arrogant complacency, anyone can – by faith, not birth – become an heir & receive what God promised Abraham.

– YOU ARE HIS HEIRS, AND GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM BELONGS TO YOU.  This is Paul sticking it directly to the Judaizers in the Galatian church.  They were guilty of the same arrogance and pride John the Baptist confronted, as proven by their insistence that non-Jewish believers become Jews first.  The heart of their pride was their claim of Abraham as their true father, so Paul reveals pointedly that ALL who are IN CHRIST are Abraham’s true heirs.


What’s the difference between friction and traction?  After all, both of them involve two objects rubbing against one another.  The difference is that friction only generates heat, but traction generates movement.  To what kind of church family do you want to belong – the kind that is merely abrasive or the kind that gets somewhere?

Think about it a minute.  Who do you think is going to solve the problem of prejudice?  How about the problem of poverty?  Equal pay for equal work?  The government and the media claim to have been working on these issues for fifty years or more – have we seen any progress?  Are these problems going to be solved by any worldly means?

The obvious answer is no.  We will see real change come from the Church because only the Church – with all her problems – is connected to the real source of truth and power, God.  The Church will accomplish this by turning one soul at a time toward God.  Change the people and the laws will follow.  Change the culture by changing the attitude of one person at a time.  Heal the nation by healing yourself and your neighbor. What we need to do is all the things that contribute to traction.