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Studies in Ephesians [Series]

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"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

1. Tracing the Congregation's History!

Reading : Acts 20: 17 - 38

*  Introduction:   John A Mackay's familiar sentence needs to  be written  large  in  our  minds  and  hearts:"WE  COME  TO  CHRIST INDIVIDUALLY, BUT WE DO NOT LIVE IN CHRIST SOLITARILY". As people in  a strong evangelical tradition we have a very "high" view  of the Gospel,  of personal commitment,  and even of discipleship  - but an extremely "low" view of the Church. The personal dimension of  the  Christian faith is very important - don't get  me  wrong about that - but our belonging to the Body,  the fact that we are a  community is equally important.  It dare not  be  undervalued, taken  for granted,  or dismissed.  By such attitudes we "despise the church of God" [cf 1 Cor. 11:22].

   The  NT supplies a blueprint for the Church,  and Ephesians is about  spelling out what it means to be the people of God and how we  should live as the people of God.  It deals with the  general principles, which we in our turn need to appropriate to ourselves and apply specifically to our situation where we are.  The plans, blueprints,   plans,  models  and  metaphors  are  all  there  in compelling and colourful array.  They need to be interpreted  and followed up  on the ground of our situation today!

   Ephesus  was a major city in the Empire and a strategic centre of  Christian  mission  and  ministry  - similar  to   Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth - or later, Rome itself. As a preliminary to our exploring  Ephesians  together,  as  well  as the  need  for  its message,  let's  look at the sequence of the story of the  church there as we have it in the NT.

 

* 1. The Nature of Paul's Ministry in Ephesus

On the occasion of his farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus Paul reviews his ministry among them - cf Acts 19

*  It  was a ministry of the Word - publicly and  from  house  to house.  ie  large  group - small group  strategy;  preaching  and pastoral counsel. Notice how he describes his ministry:

preaching, teaching, declaring, testifying, proclaiming, warning

* It also included action - things happened.  In Acts 19 miracles and riots!

* Notice too the personal qualities of his ministry:   humility - v19, passion  - v19, urgency  - v31, integrity- v21,27,33

The outcome of this ministry was the evangelization of the region and the expansion of the Church: Acts  19:10, Acts  19:20

*2. Paul's Departure from Ephesus

During  the meeting and address at Miletus Paul  is  deliberately handing  over  responsibility / power / authority to  the  elders with  whom  it had previously been shared.  Notice there  is  the implicit recognition of giftedness in the body - cf Eph 4:11-3.

*    There  is the exhortation to fulfil  their  ministry:  "Keep watch  over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has  made  you  overseers" v28;  "Be shepherds of the  church  of God.....Remember [Paul the model]"

Notice: the sequence of the keeping watch!  how the Church is described - in terms of the Cross!

how Paul has modelled the ministry!

*   There  is  the  warning - to keep watch and to  be  on  guard against savage elements outside the fellowship as well as cunning elements within the fellowship [the power vacuum].

 

*3. The Situation in Timothy's Ministry

Next  is the situation as described in the letters to Timothy  as bishop/pastor in Ephesus.   Timothy is urged to make a firm stand in the face of steady decline. 

*  cf:  1 Tim. 1:3 - 7; 1:18 - 20; 4:15 - 16; 6:11 - 16

        2 Tim. 1:12;  1:13 - 14

*  Paul urges perseverence,  because it is not only decline it is corruption:

    -  corruption of devotion to Christ: cf Demas has forsaken me

    -  corruption  of Christian living and Christian standards by society's attitudes and code of conduct

    -  corruption of Christian belief/doctrine - doesn't matter!

 

*4. The Word about the Lampstand!

The  final  scene  is that set out in the letters  to  the  seven churches  [Rev 2-3],  set as they are between the figures of  the transcendent,  reigning  Lord on the one hand and  the  impending persecution and travail of the Church on the other.

*  Notice  the  particular word to Ephesus - including  words  of praise and commendation.  All the laudable attributes are  offset by the fact they have lost / left their first love.  They are now urged to "remember...repent and do".  The alternatives are stark: repentance  or removal of their lampstand of witness.  We have no independent  right  of continuance - only  through  faithfulness, obedience and service.

*  Notice the word:  "Listen to what the Spirit is saying to  the Churches!"  Are we doing that? How can we do that today?

*   Thus, now as then, there is great need for:

     *  RECOVERY - of vision, purpose, insight and understanding

     *  REDEDICATION - a true returning to the Lord with all our heart

     *  RENEWAL  - a mighty, sovereign, authentic work of the Holy Spirit in the church

 

 ** CONCLUSION: We always seem to be beset by seasons of decline, of lukewarmness, of half-heartedness. Frequently it is because we fail  to capture the significance if the people of God - our life in Christ TOGETHER.  If we are truly to be "the holy seed",  "the stump in the land",  as Isaiah saw it [Isaiah 6:13], then we need to  set our faces to the renewing of the Church in our  time,  as well  as opening up our lives to the ministry of the Holy  Spirit in these days.  


               

"EPHESIANS: Letter of the Church"

2. "God's Grand Design"

 

Reading : Ephesians 1: 1 -14

 

Introduction:   Think of the Church - any church / congregation / fellowship you have known or been a part of over the years.  What has  your experience been?  What memories do you have?  Even  the best of them is :

       * FINITE - got its particular limitations

       * FLAWED - got its particular blind spots, weaknesses

       * FALLIBLE - makes its particular mistakes

       * FRUSTRATING - has its own brand of tension between

                    vision/practice, ideal/reality, will/deed!

     We  can  share  these responses because  we  tend  to  think primarily of the church in terms of structures [even buildings at times] programmes and people.  And because people are involved NO church is perfect!

     To be true the the NT when we think of the Church, we should first of all think of GOD. That is precisely where Paul begins in Ephesians.  He  launches  into  a marvellous  doxology  [strictly speaking - eulogy:  blessing] in which he praises God for all  He has  done for believers in bringing them to himself and thus into the family of the Church.  "BLESSED be the God and Father of  our Lord  Jesus  Christ,  who  has blessed us  with  every  spiritual blessing  in  heavenly places in Christ Jesus......" Three  times over  the  idea of blessing appears in the one verse  - and  then Paul  takes  off  for the next 11 verses  in  one  long  involved sentence  with metaphor piled upon metaphor,  without seeming  to draw his breath!!

* 1. The Great Charter of the Church:

When  a  body/organisation  comes into being  - often  granted  a charter  - established  with  all its  rights/prerogatives  - its duties  and  responsibilities.   So  - a   college,   university, professional society or association, or a service club. So for us in  the  Church - the full majesty of the Godhead is involved  in granting such privileges to believing people;  all the  resources of  God  in  his  eternal council  [the  community/fellowship  of Father,  Son and Holy Spirit] have been brought to bear upon  our great  need,  and  released to help us.  Notice what  this  great founding charter of the Church declares and sets forth that:

* BY THE FATHER, we have been -

    CHOSEN  -  election;  his choice of us is prior to our choice of Him       

    ADOPTED -  brought into God's family with all the prestige, privileges and rights due to such status

    ACCEPTED - we are acknowledge / received by God

In  all  of  this,  let us be quite clear,  the  Father  acts  in sovereignty and love rather than cold indifference.

* BY THE SON, we have been :

    REDEEMED  - "through his blood" - the great cost of the Cross

in  the suffering of Jesus both physical and spiritual.  This  is the  picture  of being released from bondage  into  freedom  - of  membership in the family, of citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

    FORGIVEN  - forgiveness  of sins - all that offends God  and what  Christ  did  on the  Cross.  Incidentally,  the  Father  is directly  and personally involved in redemption and  forgiveness. It  was the Father's plan and purpose of redemption.  "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" [2Cor5:18 RSV]

* BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, we have been  -

      SEALED -  marked out clearly as belonging to God - a signal to the enemy not to tamper with us.  Is that all too spiritual  / theological for us? How can we tell if we have been marked/sealed in  this  way?   Do you find it easy to speak to God in prayer  - what do you say,  how do you begin?  - "FATHER..." That is is the work of the Spirit,  teaching us to cry "Abba - my Father"!  Also all  those little green shoots of the harvest of the  Spirit  are evidence of his presence and working - and our sealing!

 GUARRANTEED  - firmly  assured and divinely promised a future  -  no  matter  what  may be the difficulties or  privations  of  our pilgrimage.  "Nothing  can  separate us from the love of  God  in Christ Jesus our Lord!"-Rom 8. The arrabon is the betrothal token.

* 2. The Great Comprehension of the Church:

*  In  place  of  the  world's  brokenness,   fragmentation   and alienation,  there is reconciliation,  unification and belonging. In place of hurting, there is healing.

* Between sinful humanity and a holy God there is a new,  eternal Covenant relationship

*   Between Jew and Gentile - the supreme example of  all  human, earthly divisions. cf.Gal.3:28.- Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/

female. So for us of race, class, temperament, age, background - "ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS!"  "In Him WE .... In Him YOU"

*   Between  Creation and the Church.  The gathering up  of  "all things" [cf. Col. 1:15-20] under the Lordship of Christ.

* 3. The Great Compulsion of the Church:

*  3x  in  one verse [3] Paul emphasises the  note  of  blessing. Similarly,  3x  throughout  his great  doxology,  Paul  uses  the phrase: "to the praise of his glory" or "his glorious grace".

*  verses 5 and 6 - We have been destined and chosen to be  God's children. God's love, glory and grace have been manifested.

*   verse  12 - We have been made God's  heritage,  by  election, adoption,   redemption,  reconciliation  and  incorporation  into Christ, and appointed to live "to the praise of his glory".

*   verse  14  -  One day,  as God's special possession  we  will finally  be redeemed by God and brought into his eternal  Kingdom in triumph - to the praise of his glory.

 

*  CONCLUSION:  In  all  our inner insecurity we  can  know  the ASSURANCE he bestows.  In all our shortcomings, failures and sin, we are given in Jesus redemption,  forgiveness and acceptance. In the face of all our uncertainties we are confident of being  kept by the power of God,  having a future and a hope,  and of one day being  brought  home to glory!  Let's bless the Lord for  all  of that! That's what I would call a real Salvation package!


 

"EPHESIANS: Letter of the Church"

2. Christian  Basics

 

Reading : Ephesians 1: 15 - 23

Introduction:   Whatever  else  he was  -  apostle,  missionary, church-planter,  theologian, spiritual leader, preacher,  and  at the last, martyr -  Paul was also a mighty PRAYER-WARRIOR. He was deeply  involved  in and committed to praying on  behalf  of  his friends  and colleagues. This is clear not only from  this  verse and this passage, as well as the concluding section of chapter  3 in Ephesians. It is amply demonstrated from his letters:cf Romans 1:8-10  "I remember you in my prayers at all times...";  1Cor.1:4 "I always thank God for you"; Phil.1:3ff. "In all my prayers  for all of you..."; Col. 1:3 "We always thank God...when we pray  for you..."; 1Thess.1:2"....mentioning you in our prayers..", etc. 

     Notice  it embraces both praise and  petition,  thanksgiving and  intercession, Thank-you and Please praying. Can we use  that as  a  model  in our praying for one another?  Clearly,  Paul  is delighted  with the plain evidence of their consistent  Christian lives. What, then, are the basics as Paul views them?

*** 1. The Need for FAITH in Christ:

*  Faith as demonstrated in BELIEF- that is,  what is believed  / held  to be the truth about JESUS of Nazareth.  This includes the facts of his birth,  life,  teaching,  deeds, death on the Cross, his  resurrection,  exaltation and return in glory There is  also the  SIGNIFICANCE  or INTERPRETATION attached to  these  words  / events.  Notably  was  his  death  the inevitable  outcome  of  a political/religious  power  struggle in a minor province  of  the Roman empire?  The witness of the NT is that it was part of God's eternal  design of things for the salvation of human  beings  and the  redemption  of the world.  It was God's way of dealing  with human  sin!  Also  Jesus is not just a  good  man,  a  marvellous teacher, or an insightful spiritual leader - He is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. His death was an atonement for sin, and  his  resurrection  was  not  just   some  morally  uplifting legend/myth, but a fact of human history! Anything less fails  to measure up to NT Christianity!

* Faith as demonstrated in COMMITMENT - not just an  intellectual appreciation  of  a set of data, but a personal  involvement  and encounter with Jesus, together with commitment to him as  Saviour and Lord. The sequence is frequently one of:

          # CONVICTION by the Holy Spirit

          # REPENTANCE - turning from my sin

          # FAITH - the act of trusting/believing in Jesus personally

          # COMMITMENT - Doing something about it

 

* Faith as demonstrated in NEW LIFESTYLE - when Jesus comes  into our lives changes take place - often dramatic ones. Remember  the story of Zachaeus - his live was turned right around, and he  had new values and a different attitude and outlook!

 

 

*** 2. The Need for LOVE for the Saints:

This is another vital mark which should  distinguish/characterise us as Christians, those who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord.

Cf:  1 John and the emphasis on "love for the brothers -  fellow-believers". Here - "your love for all the saints".

*  These  believers  are called SAINTS -  not  because  they  are perfect,  or  all  of  their  personal  faults  and  foibles  are immediately   eradicated.   We  are  saints    because   of   our relationship  to  God in Jesus - we are accepted in  the  one  He loves! Not perfect, but we are forgiven. I like the slogan/poster which  bears  the  legend:  "Have patience  with  me,  God  isn't finished  with  me yet"! Thus no believer is "perfect" -  we  all have  blemishes, even the best, or most important or most  public of us. It means no congregation or fellowship is perfect either!

*  It means we take seriously the fact of Christian COMMUNITY  in the  body - the sense of mutual dependence and interdependence  - that's the whole thrust of the body passage in 1Cor.12. We are  a fellowship  -  a  participation in  partnership.  We  are  joined together in our sense of belongingness -

     # bonded by the Cross -  forgiveness/reconciliation

     # bonded by the Holy Spirit - brotherhood/fellowship

*  We see it in ACCEPTANCE/RECOGNITION rather than rejection;  in inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness! We can be so exclusive - race,  colour,  class, education, theology,  churchmanship,  age, sex. So do we "receive / accept one another" in love?  And affirm one another also?

*** 3. The Need for GROWTH in God:

As  we come to new birth in Jesus - that is only the beginning  - there is a whole growing and maturing process which goes on  from that  point. Thus we are always moving on - never fully  arriving until  Christ brings us home to glory. We've never fully "got  it all together" until we get home to heaven!

*   This  is  where the ministry of the  Holy  Spirit  comes  in. Notice, Paul keeps on "asking God to give them a Spirit of wisdom and revelation" - cf. understanding and discernment. In order  to see  INTO the truth of God's ways and workings, and to apply  his truth as well as how he is moving in our times and lives!

*  See the overall purpose in the request: "so that you may  know him  better"! See that particularly dynamic relationship  between the  Word of God and the Spirit of God in that idea. The Word  is not  just our spiritual textbook, it is a means of grace for  us, whereby God reveals himself, enables us to come to know him.  Too often we read our Bibles as an intellectual exercise - to grapple with  the doctrine, or appreciate the system of belief.  We  need much more - while not denigrating the Christian mind - to read it with  the  opened  /  enlightened  "eyes  of  the  heart".  Don't sterilize the truth of God - allow it to touch you.

*  Knowing God better is the dimension of our personal  relation-ship  with him. - cf courtship. The word for "know" here  is  the same as that for the intimacy of lovers. God wants US to know him better - through His Word, by His Spirit, in our Worship.


 

"EPHESIANS:Letter of the Church"

3. "From Death to Life!"

 

Reading : Ephesians 2: 1 - 10

* Introduction:  We don't like to be taken for granted!   Have we become so blase in the Church that we no longer have any sense of wonder at what God has done for us in Christ?  If taking them for granted  is  almost  the greatest sin against our  loved  ones  - parents,  wives, husbands, children, friends - then how much more is  it true of our attitude to God?  We need to recover our sense of appreciation for what we have been saved FROM and for what  we have been saved TO.!

    That's where this section of the letter comes in. The passage as  a single sentence summary of the new life in Christ - putting together the elementary facts of conversion,  perhaps to be  used in connection with baptism.  Be that as it may, we certainly have a vivid presentation of what we were prior to our conversion, the means  and  results  of salvation,  as well as the  intention  or purpose of the Christian life.

*** 1. The Deception which ruins us:  [1 - 3]

We  tend to see ourselves as essentially good - admittedly with a few minor quirks,  faults and failings;  - which we usually think of as traits to be admired!  This is a deception,  originated  by Satan who is the father of lies, "a deceiver from the beginning", and perpetuated by our self-delusion.  "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins..." [1] That is dead towards God. Notice  how  stark  is the  description  - dead:  not  sick,  not seriously ill, not dying - DEAD

  See how this condition is characterised: We are -

*   DISOBEDIENT:   This   is  demonstrated  by   ignoring   God's requirements,  by indifference to his purposes by repudiating his kingship in arrogant revolt.  Notice,  that whilke this situation is  decribed as "death" there is a way of life being pursued - we are "walking" as the KJV says. cf -

   #  this world  [the counterfeit community to the Kingdom       and its manifestation in the church]

   #  the ruler [the counterfeit King/Lord]

   #  the spirit [the counterfeit  spirit  working        disobedience rather than obedience]

*   DEPRAVED:  The "ways of this world" include pandering to  and indulging  all  "the  cravings of our sinful  nature"  [3a]  This includes  not only sexual sin and vice - but  that  "covetousness which  is  idolatry",  the  grasping attitude  which  cannot  see anything  but it must have it whatever the cost to oneself or  to others;  be  it position,  prestige or possessions.  We not  only gratify/yield to such desires and aspirations,  but we positively feed  and foster them so that they grow and strengthen until they control   and  dominate  our  personalities!   That's  what   the Reformers' "total depravity" means - not devoid of good.

*  DOOMED:   In this way,  says Paul,  we are "objects of  wrath" [NIV] or "children of wrath"[so KJV,RSV].  We are those upon whom the righteous judgement of a holy God justly falls.  [3b]

*** 2. The Deliverance which redeems us:

Still  reeling from the realities of our sinful condition  before God,  there  is  a strong adversive introduced by two  marvellous words: "BUT GOD..." [4] and outlines what God has done -

*  LOVE  - "Because  of  his great love for  us..."  God  is  not indifferent to our predicament.  God does not hate us.  He  loves us. It is not that God couldn't care less, it is that He couldn't care  more for us!  cf John:"God loved the world so much that  He gave..." and Paul:  "the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me"

*  MERCY - "God who is rich in mercy..." He has compassion on our weakness and need.  The prisoner convicted and condemned, requires not justice but mercy.  For us mercy leads to  justification, forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and restoration.

*  GRACE  - "for  it is by grace you have  been  saved..."  God's saving action on our behalf has nothing to do with our  deserving or desiring. He acts sovereignly in accordance with his nature.

*  WHAT has God done for us in salvation? HE HAS :

   # "made us alive with Christ" [5] ie in his and resurrection

   # "raised us up with Christ" [6] ie in his ascension

   #  "seated us with him in the heavenly realms" - ie  imparted  to us sonship and authority

*   It  is by grace through FAITH [8],  not of  WORKS  [9],  thus clearly salvation is entirely "the gift of God".  We have nothing to claim - for we stand condemned before God.  We have nothing to boast  of - except the cross of Christ.  We have nothing to do  - except receive the gracious gift of God. We have nothing to add - save  the "grace-notes" of our thankful praise and worship to the glory of his Name!

 

*** 3. The Destiny which rejoices us:

What has been God's intention in all of this?  What is the nature and purpose of our new life in Christ?

*  verse 7 - "IN ORDER THAT in the coming ages he might show  the incomparable  riches  of his grace..." Notice,  not just  in  the future glory but through the succeeding years and generations  of the church,  including our own,  he makes plain the lavishness of his grace working in us and flowing through us [cf 1:19f].

*  verse 10a "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus..." We  are  the new creation of our great Creator-God,  the  God  of intricate design and infinite variety,  the creator of snowflakes and atoms.  From the word for "workmanship" we derive our word  - "poem" - a thing of style, significance, beauty, a work of art!

*   verse  10b "created in Christ Jesus to do good  works"  - cf. "that we should walk in them.."[RSV] Truly,  "faith without works is dead".  We are to proclaim the message and demonstrate life of the Kingdom.  The good works, resulting from a right relationship with  God  in Christ,  include praise and  worship,  witness  and evangelism,   compassion  and  service,  fellowship  and  caring, striving  for truth and justice.  Thus rather than walking in the ways  of  this world,  we should be walking in the  ways  of  the Kingdom. God is working in us NOW by grace to enable us to do so.

Thus  we come "Out of the Graveyard" of a life-of-death and  into the  newness/fullness  of life in Christ and the freedom  of  the children of God. 


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

4. "Alienated And Reconciled"

 

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11 - 22

* Introduction:  RECONCILIATION is a rich word - a key word.  The GNB  usually translates it as "God making us into his friends" or its equivalent. The main thrust is that it is a word which speaks of  relationship - of parties being brought  together.  We  still have it today in industrial relations when we speak of parties to a  dispute  being  taken to conciliation.  It is  a  particularly significant  spiritual truth - used much by Paul  elsewhere.  For example  in the 2Cor.5:19 passage which includes  such  important statements  as:"God  was  in  Christ  reconciling  the  world  to himself",  that God has given us "the ministry of reconciliation" and "has committed to us the message of reconciliation".

The  20th  century theologian Paul Tillich has in a very  helpful way  described  sin as "estrangement" or  alienation.  Again  the picture  is  of  a broken  relationship.  Within  that  framework "reconciliation"  as  a description of the ministry and  work  of Jesus  is  particularly compelling and  meaningful,  bringing  in wholeness, healing and togetherness.

*** 1. Reconciliation Affirmed:

*  "He himself is our peace" - He not only makes  peace,  but  IS himself  our peace.  - He and no other,  he alone,  he in his own person;  thus  truly,  He is the prince of peace.  Such peace  of course  includes  all that is embraced by the Hebrew  concept  of "shalom"- total wellbeing, or even "the full spiritual blessing"!

* Notice verse 13 - "BUT NOW IN CHRIST JESUS" almost  paralleling the  adversive  of 2:4 - "BUT GOD!" Once far away,  excluded  and shut off from the promises, the covenants, the hope, we have been "brought near".  How so - specifically?  - "through the blood  of Christ" cf. Col. 1:20 "making peace through his blood shed on the cross".

*  In Christ we are reconciled to God - into a restored relationship  with  Him,  brought from the dominion of darkness into  the kingdom  of  light and love.  This isn't something  that  changed God's  mind  or  attitude  towards us - for  God  was  in  Christ reconciling. God loves us!

*  In Christ we are reconciled to one another,  to neighbour  and brother.  Because  part of the very fabric of things is that  not only are we estranged from God as the outcome of sin,  but we are estranged  from  one  another.  The world is a  divided  place  - confusion, confrontation and conflict. So primarily here - in Jew and Gentile.  What Jesus did on the Cross brings people together: reconciliation out of estrangement and alienation.

*  In Christ we are reconciled to ourselves. We hear a great deal today  about  poor  self-image.  Basically,  we are  in  turmoil, disquieted,   not  at  peace  with  ourselves:  confused  and  in conflict.  Jesus  ministers  the love of God  to  us.  He  brings healing for our hurting, and cohesion for our confusion.

*** 2. Reconciliation Applied:

*  In a particularly vivid metaphor Paul describes the  practical effect  of reconciliation as the breking down of a wall.  We  are all  familiar with the reference in the Gospel to the veil of the temple  which  was  torn  in  two as Jesus  died  on  the  Cross. Similarly,  says  Paul,  Christ's death on the  cross  demolished another "barrier",  between the court of Israel and the court  of the  Gentiles.  [By inference that could also be extended to  men and women - cf Gal.3:28!]

*  To  what walls of division might we see the reconciliation  in Christ applied in our experience,  our situation,  and our lives? By  that  I  mean within the church,  our  participating  in  the community of the Kingdom.  What walls/barriers might there be?:   

   #  Suspicion:  Perhaps  because of  their  slightly  different stance   from  ourselves.   We  stick  labels  on  one   another: conservative,  radical,  evangelical, charismatic. We are wary of the  motivation  of others.  We see them as  empire-building,  as making power bids,  or as taking over "our" church, or place. And it is within ourselves all the time, rather than in the other.

   #  Rivalry:  Sometimes  when we feel threatened  by  another's gifts,  abilities and ministry.  We are not in competition but in fellowship;  we  are  not  rivals but  partners  and  team-mates. Another's gifts do not diminish me,  my worth or my  gifts.  They enrich  the body and enable the King's mission to proceed in  the world.

   # Criticism: Very often our destructive criticism of others in the  body is because of our own fears and insecurities.  Thus our criticism is our defence mechanism.

   #  Hostility:  Here is the ultimate.  The thing has grown  and festered  within us until our reactions are red raw and a  spirit of antagonism towards a person or a group has taken us over.  The outcome  is either avoidance or confrontation/conflict. 

*** 3. Reconciliation Attested:

The  shift from estragement and alienation to reconciliation  and fellowship is emphasised in these verses by the use of "one"  4x. The summary is in 2:14 - where Christ our peace "has made the two one..." That is further expanded, illuminated and illustrated:

*  "one  new man" - verse 15 From this and similar pictures  came the later reference to the Christians being "the third race" - as distinct from Jews and Gentiles.  Notice the use of "kainos"= new in quality rather than recent.  Implication not just the two have merged,  but  that something entirely and uniquely  distinct  has been created - "new creation?" 

*   "this one body" - verse 16 Possibly referring to the body  of Jesus  on  the  cross redeeming  and  reconciling:  one  offering sufficient  for both Jew and Gentile.  More probably speaking  of the Church which is the outcome of his death.

*   "by  one  Spirit" - verse 17 Reconciliation  brings  with  it relationship  with  God and "freedom of speech" in His  presence. Both - or all of us within the one body of the church are enabled to  do so "by one Spirit" - Abba - Father.  Let's appreciate  our reconciliation  in  its  fulness!   We  are  received,  accepted, integrated into the Kingdom.  We belong - none of us is there  on sufferance, or as second class citizens or poor relations.


 

EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church

5. "Longing For Fulness"

 

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14 - 21

 

Introduction:  Fundamental to this Letter is the truth that there is  only  one  people of God manifesting  oneness,  equality  and fellowship  in a dynamic way.  In God's new society there  is  no superior   or  inferior  status,   no  first  and  second   class citizenship.  This is applied with deeply intense feeling as Paul resumes his pastoral prayer.  When Paul says, "I bow my knees" or "I  kneel  before the Father" he is indicating intensity  in  his praying  - such  is  his  passionate  concern  for  these  fellow believers.  Compare  the  words  of  Jesus  about  hungering  and thirsting  after righteousness,  or the the words of Jacob as  he wrestled  with the angel at Peniel:"I will not let you go  unless you  bless  me!" [Gen.32:26] Paul's prayer requests are not  just for "the lifestyles of the spiritually rich and famous"? They are for us - God does not mock us.

 

*** 1. The Spirit's Power

What is being spoken of here is the reality of the Holy  Spirit's effective working first WITHIN us then THROUGH us. Notice -

*  The  source  is  "the riches of his glory"  or  "his  glorious riches".  But  it  is  also  proportionate  to  them.  Your  rich millionaire uncle giving you the odd $20 would be doing so  "out" of his riches - $20,000 would be "according to" his riches!

*  The objective is to "strengthen" us - to reinforce us. ILL: my handyman  knowledge is negligible.  I remember seeing a  concrete slab  for  the floor of a sunday school room  being  poured,  and halfway through the pour, the steel mesh being put in.

*   The  place where we are to be strengthened is "in your  inner being" - "the inner man"[RSV].  Barclay gives a very  interesting insight into the fact that the Greeks regarded the inner being as comprising the reason, the conscience and the will. The fortified mind [cf "the renewing of your mind" Rom.12:1,2],  the sensitised conscience  [contra  the conscience "seared as with a  hot  iron" 1.Tim.4:2],  and  the motivated or enabled will [cf.  "God is  at work  within you both to will and to work for his good  pleasure" Phil.2:13]

*  That reinforcing of the divine work within is effected both by the  fruiting  and  the  gifting of  the  Holy  Spirit;  the  one transforming  us into the likeness of Jesus more and more day  by day, the other enabling and equipping us for Kingdom service

 

*** 2. Christ's Indwelling:

Surely  we  haven't got it wrong?   Every believer has  the  Lord Jesus  dwelling within him or her by faith right from the  start?

* We have prerogatives within the family and household of God. We belong.  That  means we are not visitors;  we have the run of the place  - all the "rooms" in our Father's house.  Rather  what  is being spoken of here is Jesus belonging in the house of our lives - and being free to use all the facilities as His own! That's the emphasis  and significance of "katoikein"= dwelling  permanently, belonging.  cf. Eph.2:22 same word used of the Spirit dwelling in the  temple of the church.  Here it is Christ - by the  Spirit  - dwelling  in our lives in freedom and comfort,  making himself at home, because it belongs to him!

*   What it is really speaking of is his Lordship over our lives. While  we don't  want to get into a division  between  confessing Jesus  as Saviour and owning him as our Lord for He cannot be one without  the other,  in fact so often we live as if He  were  our Saviour/Friend,  but  not our Lord.  It is not the truth which is  at fault,  but our perception,  our profession, and our practice. "Behold  I  stand  at the door and knock.."  is  not  really  the "gospel"  text  we  so  often take it for.  It  is  addressed  to professed believers/Christians who are keeping the Lord of  their lives and of the Church on the outside.  Let Him in. Enthrone him in your life!

*** 3. Love's Abundance:

*  Notice the mixed metaphors - both of which emphasise  strength and  stability  [17b] "rooted and grounded in  love"[RSV],  "deep roots  and firm foundations"[NEB],  "may your roots go deep  down into the soil of God's marvellous love" [Living Bible]  Roots are important  for  plants and trees.  Foundations are important  for buildings  - not  least in earthquake  territory;  stability  and flexibilitiy for staying power.

*  Again the metaphor is mixed.  We are to be firmly  rooted  and established  in  God's  love but growing up and reaching  out  to grasp  more  fully Christ's love.  At once we are rooted  in  and reaching for God's love.

* Seeking to comprehend it - take it mentally and appropriate  it personally and spiritually - in all its fulness. "the love of God shed  abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has  given" [Rom.5:5] cf. to "know" it unlike gnosis!

*** 4. God's Fulness:

*  Again  this was a slogan/catch-cry in the  early  church,  the boasting  of  or the desire for "pleroma".  Are  we  longing  and thirsting  for  fulness  - all the righteousness  Christ  offers, everything  God  wants  to give us as his  servants  and  beloved children?  Then  this  is  the way to it - to  realise  our  full potential for Christ, by the gracious filling of the Holy Spirit.

*   So often our experience is not of fulness but of shallowness, of superficiality,  of meagreness, indeed of emptiness. Yet Jesus promised  fulness - to the woman at the well [John 4:13f] and  to the crowd on the last great day of the feast [John 7:37f].

*** 5. The Lord's Glory:

* He is the One who is able to do.  He grants and works all these things  in  our lives and experience.  We are  not  excluded.  We should not exclude ourselves.  Our cry should be:"blessing others - O bless ME" and "While on others Thou art calling,  do not pass me by!" He does "immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine"!

*  "To Him be glory in the Church" - it is all for  our  blessing and for His glory!                      


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

6. "The Goal is Maturity"

 

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1 - 16

Introduction:  "Why don't you grow up!" - How often have we heard that kind of remark,  these very words, addressed to someone have some  particularly  inane  action or childish  attitude?  It  was J.M.Barrie   who  created the marvellous story  of  childhood  in Peter Pan,  the boy who never grew up.  But in real life there is something  very  sad about adults who haven't grown up,  who  are basically  immature,  and  seem to  be  developmentally  stunted. Childlikeness is a virtue, childishness is not.

***1. The Means of Maturity:  [11]

This brings us right into the whole area of spiritual gifts,  and thus  we  need to keep in mind other passages such as  1Cor.12-14 and Rom.12:3-8.  While the consideration - as well as the list  - of  the  gifts is limited here,  it is within the context of  the goal of Christian maturity.

* The NT view is that every Christian believer has been granted a gift of grace. See verse 7: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it". The idea almost of passing round the presents/gifts in a group!

* There is the factor of the Lordship of Christ. The distribution of the gifts is "as he wills" cf 1Cor12:11.

*   Ego-tripping has no place in our understanding  of  spiritual gifts or giftedness. See the 1Cor.12 passage on the body with its direct  references to wrong attitudes both of inferiority complex - "I don't belong"; and superiority complex - "I don't need you!" The  gifts are a stewardship - held in trust for and exercised on behalf  of the body for their upbuilding/maturing  - cf.  Eph.3:2 "the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you".

*  The  rich  variety of the gifts.  When you  put  together  the various  lists  of gifts you soon  appreciate  the  range.  Peter Wagner lists some 27 - including voluntary poverty and martyrdom! Here  in Eph.4 those mentioned seem to relate to the ministry  of the Word and the leadership or oversight of the church.

*** 2. The Ministry of Maturity:   [12]

 We need to keep the flow of the thought rather than be put of by or confined to verse divisions here.

* Notice the purpose of the gifts.  It is "to prepare/equip God's people  for  works of service".  The word here  is  "katartizmon" which  is  the word used of mending the broken,  torn nets  as  a preliminary  to returning to the task of fishing.

*   The  clear implication of these words is that just  as  every believer has a gift - so every member has a ministry.  As we  are personally  involved in and committed to some piece of ministry / work / service so we are making progress towards proper maturity. *  However  our  involvement  in ministry is  not  only  for  our personal maturity,  it has to do with the edification of the body of  Christ - "so that the body of Christ may be built up".  In  a word, corporate maturity.

*** 3. The Marks of Maturity:     [13]

The  completeness  towards which the building up of the  body  of Christ  is  proceeding  is summarised in verse 13 by the  use  of three  significant phrases introduced by the word "until" and  in the middle is the word "mature":  "Until we all reach....."

#  "unity  in  the  faith" - certainly our sense  of  oneness  is "given"  to us by Jesus,  but clearly that unity has to  be  both "maintained"  [see verse 3] and "attained" [so here RSV].  Are we growing together in unity - in love, acceptance, vision, purpose? #   "the  knowledge of the Son of God" - surely  refers  to  deep heart-knowing  rather than superficial,  top-of-the-head knowing? cf John 17:3;  Phil.3:10.  Christ is ministered to us through the Word and by the Holy Spirit where we are day by day.

#   "the whole measure of the fulness/pleroma of Christ"  - until we  enter  into the possession of all God has  for  us.  No  more shallowness  or  emptiness or longing.  God's fulness  dwells  in Christ.  Christ's fulness will dwell in us!  This is to drink  of Him and never thirst again.

*** 4. The Measure of Maturity:     [14-5]

Progress   is  measured  in  movement  from  immaturity   towards maturity. What are the signs and indicators? -

*  "no  longer children" - vulnerable and easily  led,  requiring constant  care and tending,  totally dependent,  unable  to  have responsibility for oneself

*  Not "tossed back and forth...blown here and there by every wind of doctrine" - lacking spiritual discernment and discrimination;  at the  mercy of every latest "fad" and "in" thing on the  Christian scene.  The  aim is stability in the faith [cf 3:17] rather  than rigidity  of  opinion;  openness  to what the Spirit  is  saying, rather  than spiritual gullibility!  Too many are dizzy/confused.

* Not duped by false teachers and leaders - "the  cunning  and craftiness  of  men"  - who  have their own  hidden  agendas  and schemes  and  are concerned with the manipulation of  the  saints rather  than the edification of the saints!  cf.  2 Tim.3:6,7. 

* "Speaking  the truth in love" - literally "truthing it in  love". Speaking  and  living in love - practising integrity in  all  our dealings   with   one   another,    whether   in   relationships, conversation, admonition, encouragement and affirmation.

*  We  are  "growing up in every way into Him who is our  Head  - Christ".  He  is at once our source and our sovereign  - lordship again. We are irrevocably being drawn towards Him more and more.

*** 5. The Model of Maturity:    [16]

# the "whole body" is in process of growth - again the  corporate rather than the individual emphasis

#   its cohesion - its wholeness is affirmed and aided when every joint,  part and ligament "is working properly" [RSV] - "as  each part does its work" [NIV]. 

#  The  whole structure is being built up "in love" - not  in  an unbiblical individualism,  not in hard unloving legalism, and not in  institutionalism.  This is so because "God is love" and  "the fruit of the Spirit is love..." Thus the Church is the  community characterised  by  the growing fellowship of love - that  is  the atmosphere of the people of God.


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

7. "The Way of Holiness"

 

Reading : Ephesians 4: 17 - 32

*Introduction:   Christians should want to live worthy of all God has done for them in Jesus.  This is brought into perspective  as we  realise  and  appreciate  more  fully  the  calling  we  have received.  We  have been called to unity and community - to life-in-relationship with one another as the people of God.   Equally, we  have  been called to purity,  to the way of  holiness,  to  a manner of life that reflects albeit imperfectly, something of the nature of God.  An earlier generation seemed to appreciate that a major result of repentance,  faith and personal commitment should be a radically altered lifestyle.

     Within  the  NT  itself  there is a real  awareness  of  the pressure on believers to conform to the world, to revert to their old  ways  of living.  We live in a time when we need to tread  a careful  line between identification with the world's  needs  and assimilation   into   the  world's   standards.   The   apostolic requirement of living differently is today derided and denigrated as  being smug superiority,  uncaring and judgmental.  Like first century believers we are a minority in a vast sea of paganism and the pressures to conform are both very great and very real!

*** 1. The Exhortation to Holiness:   [17 - 19]

*  See how Paul brings his full authority to bear on this matter [17] - "and insist on it in the Lord".  This is not just the pet hobby horse of some emotional preacher, or deviant sect, or group of killjoy fundamentalists. Its roots are in the words, attitudes and expectations of Jesus.

*  The pagan way of life is the result of "the futility of their thinking" [NIV] or "their minds"[RSV].  Futile minds need rebirth rather than repair.  They are set on pursuing selfish  goals, grasping  unlasting earthly possessions and seeking  satisfaction in things which will prove to be disappointing and deceptive.

*   Further, they are shut off/excluded from the life of God because   of their darkened  understanding  and  "ignorance"  - education  but  "no knowledge of God".  It all stems  from  their "hardness  of  heart".  Compare this with  Romans  1:18-32,  that particularly  telling  indictment on human  sinfulness  in  which three times we are told "God gave them up/over..."

*    The effects of such entrenched spiritual attitudes  is  that people lose "all sensitivity" - that is,  they become morally and spiritually  calloused  - devoid of proper feeling,  no sense  of what is due to others or to God, no sense of pain or guilt.

*    They  have  "given themselves over to sensuality  so  as  to indulge  in  every kind of impurity,  with a continual  lust  for more"  [NIV]  - "greedy to practice every  kind  of  uncleanness" [RSV]. Here is a society in which every moral restraint is thrown aside and there is the avid pursuit of sexual licentiousness. The reference  to  the  "continual  lust for more"  is  not  only  in connection  with sexual sin - but for "more" of everything  - cf. "covetousness which is idolatry".

*** 2. The Experience of Holiness:   [20 - 24]

*  The solid ground in this morass of selfishness,  self-seeking, and the fluctuating standards of situational ethics is the person of  Jesus.   It  was  not in this way we came to  know  Jesus  or learned  from him [20].  Believers are those who have "heard him" and  are  being "taught in him" [21] and who are  bringing  their lives  more and more into line with "the truth that is in  Jesus" [21].

*  In the light of all this WE are required to do certain things. Our  wills  are required to be brought to bear in this  matter  - altho' certainly we will discover what it is to be  "strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man" [Eph.  3:16 RSV]. It is again the happy  joining together of our responsibility for action  and attitude with God's gracious provision and  enabling. Thus  we are called upon to "put off" the old self and  its  ways [22].  We  have  to cast away the soiled,  stained  and  stinking garments  of  the old life;  after all why hold on to  them.  But people  are  rather like the man in the TV advert back  from  his fishing  trip.  His wife wants to throw out his smelly old  shirt which not even this special detergent can fix - and he won't hear of it.  He likes it! *  Moreover, we are called to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" [24].  We are to put on the fresh,  fair fragrant linen which belongs to the people of God.  Ours are not to be the rags of the vagrants' doss-house, but the garments appropriate to the king's audience chamber.  These 2 verbs are aorist/decisive

*   At the centre we have to "be made new in the attitude of your minds"  [23] - the renewed mind of Rom.12:2 and the mind  set  of the Spirit of Rom.8. The verb here denotes continuous action.

*** 3. The Expression of Holiness:  [25 - 32]

#  From  falsehood/lying to the truth:  What subtle forms it  can take - everything from the outright lie to the truth shaded,  the exaggerated  claim,  the  foolish promise.  Put it off  - lay  it aside.  Deal truthfully - and notice the reason [25].

*   From unrighteous anger to righteous anger:  "Be angry but  do not  sin!"[RSV]  What  might inspire  righteous  anger?  [Usually something affecting OTHERS!] Unrighteous anger is usually selfish - because  of  what  has happened to ME.  We tend  to  nurse  it, nourish it until it spills over in resentment and vindictiveness. Watch it - don't let it simmer or spill over!

*  From stealing to sharing: The motive is service.

*   From  unwholesome  words to  edifying  speech:  What  is  our conversation  really  like among ourselves?  Is it  true?  Is  it loving?  Is  it necessary?  Or is it Christian rumour-monging and spiritual gossip?  Does it "impart grace to those who hear"?[RSV] Notice it is directly in this connection that the word comes: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" [30].

*  From vices to virtues:  What a sorry catalogue of things to be checked off and thrown out of our lives - and what virtues are to be nourished instead!  See the basis of our relationships [32].

 


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church

8. "In Love and Light"

 

Reading : Ephesians 5: 1 - 14

 

*  Introduction:   In  Christ  God has  called  us   savingly  to himself.  Thus  we are called upon to "live a life worthy of  the calling you have received"[4:1] - in terms of unity/community and maturity.  We  are called to follow holiness/purity and  so  live differently from the society in which we are set.  Paul  asserts: "so I tell you this,  and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no  longer  live  as the Gentiles do,  in the futility  of  their thinking" [4:17].

    Building  on  this  thrust  of  living  worthily  and  living differently, Paul now proceeds to apply it in a double-edged way, by making it plain that believers are called to walk/live both in love  and in light.  It should be noted that these are  not  just neat slogans or jingoistic catch-cries,  but that they have  both significant  content  and  practical context.  How  can  we  live worthily  of  God  in today's world.  In what ways should  we  be living differently in today's society?

 *** 1. The Attributes Christians should follow:

* "Be imitators of God,  therefore,  as dearly loved children..." Again the emphasis is upon the family bond, and how children copy / imitate those whom they love - usually father or mother.  Every family  can  tell humorous stories of childhood  incidents  based precisely upon that fact. 

*  In  what specific regard have we to copy our heavenly  Father? "Live a life of love" - have love,  the agape-love of God as  the controlling, motivating, governing factor in our lives. But more

"just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering  and sacrifice to God".  See how Jesus becomes again our model in terms of incarnating the love of God :

     # Servanthood -  for us, now us for others

     # Self-giving -  "a fragrant offering"

     # Sacrifice   -  the principle and practice of the Cross

Moreover,  this love of God comes only from God,  by the Spirit's giving, for "the fruit of the Spirit is love..", the result of his gracious indwelling..

*  "Live as children of light!" [8] cf. Jesus statement in John's Gospel:  "I am the light of the world,  So if you follow me,  you won't  be stumbling through the darkness,  for living light  will flood your path" [8:12LB].  Also compare the message in 1 John  - "If  we  walk  in  the  light as He is  in  the  light,  we  have fellowship  with one another,  and the blood of Jesus,  His  son, purifies us from all sin". [1:7]

*  See verse 9 "the fruit of light consists in...: something of a mixed metaphor perhaps but very powerful.

   #     All goodness     -     towards others

   #     righteousness-     towards God

   #     truth        -     towards self [integrity]

 *** 2. The Abhorance Christians should feel:

*  Paul speaks of the counterfeit love with which the Greek/Roman world  is saturated - not least in such cults as that of  Artemis of  the Ephesians.  The counterfeit to agape-love is depicted  in three powerful words:# porneia-immorality; # akatharsia-impurity;

#  pleonexia  - greed/covetousness.   In  terms  of  light  - the contrast  is with the darkness,  from which they  have  come,  in which  they  once  walked,  and  by which  they  continue  to  be surrounded! cf "the fruitless deeds of darkness".

*   See how the injunction extends from actions or  participation to words,  talking and speaking [4].  The appriopriate manner  of speech  of  Christians  regarding sex and  sexuality  is  neither gutter-humour  nor  prudery,  but  rather prayer  and  praise  in thanksgiving!  Talking  can suck us in to wrong thinking and lead us in the wrong direction. Compare verse 12: "it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret".

*   Thus abhorrence is joined with avoidance in  the  Christian's reaction  to the world's concerns and way of life!  See verse  7: "Do not be partners with them" and verse 11:  "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness". In Gk text there it is the word  "koinonia"  which  is  used  -  fellowship,  participation, partnership - belongingness!

*   Notice too the note of judgement in the passage.  See how  in verse  5 it comes upon the very people who exhibit /  participate in such a way of life as is prohibited in verse 3. Also verses 13 and 14 the light comes to reveal in judgement. Look up the saying of Jesus in John 3:19f.

 *** 3. The Attitudes Christians should foster:

*   BE   ALERT!   - "Let   no  one   deceive   you   with   empty words" [6]. We need to be on guard against those who would seek to beguile us and dupe us with soft words,  high-sounding sentiments or  reasonable-seeming explanations as to why we should set aside the clear command of Scripture!

     Remember the words of the prophet concerning those who speak "Peace,  peace  when there is no peace" Jeremiah 8:11.  Here is a very   practical   connection  with   4:12-16,   concerning   the need to grow towards a practical maturity - stable in faith.

 

*   BE   DILIGENT!  - "Find  out  what   pleases   [is   pleasing to] the Lord" [10] "Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord"[RSV].

How do we do that?

     #  By  reading/studying the Scriptures to seek to  know  God better

     # By our openness to the prompting, leading, directing  of the Holy Spirit in our lives

     # By  maintaining warm fellowship and good relationships within the Body of Christ and seeking wise counsel from proven, trusted leadership.

We  need to take steps now to walk in the agape-love of  God,  as modelled  by  Jesus,  forsaking the spurious counterfeit  of  the world in immorality and covetousness.  Let us walk as children of light, walking in the light as He is in the light?


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

9. "Six Guiding Principles"

Reading : Ephesians 5: 15 - 21

* Introduction:  Rotary International has a little summary of its expectatations  of  the standard of conduct it looks for  in  its members  round the world - its guiding principles.  They call  it "The Four Way Test".  We have followed Paul in his exploration of what  it  means for Christians to live worthily of the  Lord  who called them.  In the space of a few verses,  in a few key phrases he brings together some guiding principles for Christian  living. We need to bear in mind the practical nature of these words.

 

 *** 1. Live Carefully - not Carelessly!: [15]

*  Need  to be wise in conduct,  rather than  foolish.  To  "walk circumspectly" [KJV], in a word to give care and attention to the manner  of  life we pursue,  because it is important rather  than unimportant.  Always be wary of glib, smooth talk which says; "It doesn't really matter", or "But it's only...."

*  Live carefully - because "do you not know that your body is  a temple  of the Holy Spirit who is in you,  whom you have received from God?" Also - "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God..."[4:30]

*   Live carefully - because the world is watching and the  enemy of   souls   seeks   to  lure  us  into  paths   of   temptation, faithlessness, compromise and disobedience.

 

 *** 2. Redeem the Time!:    [16]

*  "Make the most of every opportunity"  -  to grow in grace,  to grow in discipleship and maturity,  to extend the Kingdom through ministry,  witness and service to others. This is not the selfish opportunism  of  the  world,  but rather the kingdom  kairos  - a special time,  a unique moment,  a God-given opportunity.  It  is God's  time - which in passing might not come again.  Napoleon is reputed to have said that in any battle there is a ten to fifteen minutes  period  that is crucial.  Grasping that  time  leads  to victory. Letting it slip away from you leads to defeat.

*   We are to be living differently in that WE are not  concerned with  just passing time,  far less with wasting  time,  but  with using and utilising time! Redeeming time means to be buying it up - like a special offer on a market day - eagerly and thankfully.

* Making the most of the time surely also involves dedicating our days to the Lord for His service and glory.  "Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise!"

 

  *** 3.  Understand what the Will of the Lord is!:  [17]

*   Here  again  the thrust is for a  proper  Christian  maturity marked by true understanding,  spiritual perception and practical discernment or application to real-life situations.

*   The  foolishness  we  are asked to  avoid  is  the  spiritual confusion,   blindness   and   superficiality   which   are   the characteristics of immaturity in the Christian life of faith.

*    We  are not left to guess our way through the maze  of  this world  - the  Scriptures  have  been given to  us  as  chart  and compass,  to instruct us clearly in the ways of God.  There is no shortcut  to  spiritual maturity - and one of the disciplines  is that we must truly come to grips with the Scriptures,  not simply in stimulating our intellectual understanding or appreciation  of them  [to  get it all together in our heads!] but that  we  might come  to know God and nourish ourselves [soul and spirit] on Him. See again Ephesians 4:12-16.

 

 

 *** 4. Keep on Being Filled with the Holy Spirit!: [18]

*   Instead of the meagreness or emptiness of our  experience  we are  presented  with the scriptural principle of fulness. *  There is the sense of permission - of our allowing God to keep on  filling  us up with the Holy Spirit.  "Out  of  his  infinite riches in Jesus - He giveth and giveth and giveth again..."

*   Notice  there  is a similarity / contrast  with  drunkenness. Don't  be  intoxicated with the old wine of the flesh - but  with the  new  wine  of  the  Spirit.  Do  we  know  anything  of  the intoxication of the Spirit - the heady joy, the thrilling ecstasy of  worship,  the  wonder of new experience? *  Are   we like children with their faces  pressed  against  the window of the toyshop; full of longing but unwilling or unable to go  in  and  make what we long for our own?   Cf.  Jesus  to  the paralysed man by the pool: "Do you want to be healed?"

 

 *** 5. Always and For Everything Giving Thanks!: [19-20]

* Not only here the dimension of music and song so characteristic of Christian worship - however valid or worthy that might be, but of praise and thanksgiving as a way of life.

*  Clearly it should be a feature of our fellowship together, our life-in-relationship  with  one another for we have to "speak  to one  another  with....." Is our speaking  negative  or  positive, decrying or affirming, murmuring or encouraging?

*   Is your life a melody "to the Lord" - as the song says:  "Let me be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear"! Is our life a continuous anthem  of  praise to God for his bounty,  his goodness  and  his faithfulness towards us?  Are we giving thanks - ALWAYS ? and FOR EVERYTHING?  Objectively focussing on who HE is, considering HIM, rather  than subjectively looking into ourselves.  It is done "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".

 

 *** 6. Mutual Submission!:   [21]

*  Certainly  verse 21 stands at the head of the  next  important section  on relationships in key areas of the Christian life.  It is  also  a link between what has come before  and  what  follows after.  It  clearly is a summary statement of principle,  in that mutual  submission  should be a characteristic of  the  Christian fellowship and Christian lifestyle.  We are urged to "esteem each other  better than ourselves",  but the emphasis there is not  so much on poor self-image as on life together.

*   Mutual  submission  is the  key,  not  worldly  attitudes  of domination or manipulation. The figure of the towel and the basin in  the  upper room of John 13 has far reaching implications  for all  Christian  fellowship,   leadership  and  service.  "Do  you understand  what  I  have  done for you?"  [13:12]  not  only  in cleansing but in modelling!  "I have set you an example that  you should do as I have done for you" [13:15].  


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

10. Christian Relationships

 

Reading : Ephesians 5:21 -6:9

 

*  Introduction: Effective discipleship,  living worthily of  the Lord,   includes   the   quality  and  style  of   our   personal relationships.  In  the  world-view  of the  first  century,  the privileges were all on the one side and the obligations were  all on the other. Thus, for example Barclay makes very plain that the husband and father held absolute sway in the contemporary culture in  terms  of  "patria  potestas".  The  radical  distinction  of Christian  teaching  is that the obligations are mutual  and  the privileges  are  reciprocal.   Let's  look  at  these  particular relationships and seek to apply the PRINCIPLES to the PARTICULARS and PRACTICE of our contemporary situation.

*** 1. Husbands and Wives:

*  The  fundamental  truth is that marriage is a  partnership  of  equals.  "Headship"  means  team-leadership.  Nowhere  is  blind, unthinking  obedience  commanded  on the one  side  and  blatant, unfeeling dictatorship or domination commended on the other!

*    Biblically   the   concept  of   voluntary   submission   or subordination is not at variance with or in contradiction to  the principle of equality of persons. For example we have that within the  working relationships of the Godhead - Father,  Son and Holy Spirit.  God is One.  Each is revered and worshipped as God.  Yet Jesus subordinated himself to do the Father's will and work.  The Spirit bears witness to Jesus.

*   Christian husbands are presented with the model of  Jesus  as lover and bridegroom - especially in terms of self-giving and the Cross. Headship is presented not as lordship but as saviourhood - cf  5:23.  What about spiritual leadership or initiative  in  the home and family?  What has been your experience? * Notice how Paul quotes the Genesis mandate regarding marriage

with the threefold principle of "leaving,  cleaving,  one flesh". Leaving parents,  the "boys" or the "girls"! The new identity and the new priority. Need for real quality time even in midst of two careers, or growing family, or diverse social interests!

*** 2. Parents and Children:

*   What  do  the  words  "obey"  and  "honour"  signify  in  our contemporary  society within the family life?  NOT that  children should  have their spirits broken or be cowed whether by  violent actions  or violent words.  Childhood is a growing time,  leading through puberty to youth and adulthood.  It is a time of training and development from the stage when obedience should be  expected through  the years of lessening dependency and growing initiative and  independence  to adulthood and hopefully maturity  and  full independence.    [Grandparents   need   to   remember   different generations  have different ideas!] Are we honouring our  parents if  we  treat them as mere providers of everything and home as  a personal motel with all services laid on?

* What does the "promise" signify today? What relationship should independent,  mature  adult  children have  with  their  parents? Parents aren't perfect either! We all have failings and faults.

*  The attitude of fathers or mothers - parents - should be so to speak  and act that they do not "exasperate" their children.  The RSV speaks of provoking them to anger.  The LB speaks of  nagging them  into anger and resentment.  As parents are careful to offer and  provide  true  security  - not  in  things,   in  money   or possessions, but in love expressed, trust, encouragement, etc.

*   This  also  includes  role-modelling  the  Christian  life  - "bringing  them up in the training and instruction of the  Lord". Guiding  and encouraging them - not letting them see the fear  or panic  we get into at times!  It means constantly committing them to the Lord in everything. Grandparent role?

 

*** 3. Masters and Slaves [Employers/Employees]:

*   Remember  the slave in the Greek/Roman society of  the  first century  was  regarded as merely a living tool - at the  absolute disposal of the owner who could even put him/her to death at  his whim. We have come a long way since then.

*  How  might we describe the Christian expectation of  the  paid employee?  How  does  whole-hearted service,  honest dealing  and loyalty  sound to you?  Putting in our best endeavours - not  the least we can get away with. "As if you were serving the Lord, not men"!  If we really applied that day by day, what would happen to the "That's good enough!" attitude?

*  What  about executives or employers?  Right  attitudes  surely include integrity, loyalty, fairness, justice, proper concern for people.  We  are  not  just cogs in the machine  of  industry  or ciphers  on  the  books of big  business  or  faceless  creatures serving  the corporate giant.  Remember your fairy tales - giants destroyed or devoured people!

 

*** 4. Leaders and Members:

*  Throughout the New Testament it is clear churches should  have appropriate leadership.  Such leadership is not domination of the body  by an individual however gifted - ie servant-leadership.

*  Do we expect our leaders to be examples - that they model  the life of faith for us.  Paul can remind Timothy:"You know who your teachers  were..."  and  speak of their  personal  integrity  and fidelity to Christ and his way. In fact, however uncomfortable it may be, it is laid down as a requirement for leadership.

*  Do we expect our leaders to be people perceptive in  spiritual things,   seeking  a  vision  then  setting  the  direction,  and indicating  the waymarks by plotting the goals?  We want them  to share the vision, to motivate service and to encourage ministry.

* Paul uses two interesting figures for leadership.  Architect or "the wise master builder" in 1 Cor.3;  "steersman" in 1Cor.12:28. The  master  builder requires a gang of workmen to  complete  the task  of  erecting  the building,  many of them  with  their  own particular  skills;  while  the  steersman of  the  Roman  galley requires the crew to get the ship to its proper destination.

* Peter Wagner talks about the fine art of follower-ship  - which requires commitment, time, training, prayerfulness, co-operation, loyalty and appreciation of what it means to belong to the people of  God  in  contributing  to the life of the  Body  as  well  as receiving!


 

"EPHESIANS: Letter of the Church"

11 "Danger - Saints at War!"

 

Reading : Ephesians 6 : 10 - 20

 

* Introduction:   Some years ago an English Christian writer, the late  Jean  Rees,  published a book entitled:"Danger - Saints  at Work!"   It  was  humorous  though  devastating  look  at   well-intentioned  amateurism in Christian service.  This passage makes plain we have to be seriously prepared for battle!  The "finally" of  verse 10 indicates,  not "in conclusion",  but rather  "hence forward" or "from now on". Paul is telling us spiritual battle is to  be  expected.  It  is the norm.  If we are  experiencing  the blessings of God,  be prepared for the buffettings of the  enemy! If we are moving forward with God then be prepared for resistance and counter-attack from Satan.

*** 1. Disciplined for Battle!:

* It is all part of our attitude.  Remember the WW2 song "This is the Army Mr Jones"? Definitely no private rooms or telephones and certainly  no  breakfast  in  bed!   Athletes  talk  of  psyching themselves up for a major race or event - getting into the  right mental   attitude.   The   average  Christian  is  mentally   and spiritually unprepared for war.  We need to "gird up the loins of your mind"

*  The prophetic admonition was: "Woe to them that are at ease  in Zion!" Amos 6:1[KJV] or  as the NIV has it "complacent in  Zion". This  is  true both as regards our personal discipleship and  our corporate  fellowship and service in relation to the  world.  Our Christian experience and life has become :

    # comfortable - easy - no cross or sacrifice

    # cushioned - insulated from real world

    # complacent - indifference rather than conviction or passion    

    # conformable - let the world mold us  or  set our agenda         

    # compromising - taking the line of least resistance,

* We need to be reminded of Paul's words to the gentle,  somewhat timorous  Timothy,  "endure hardship as a good soldier  of  Jesus Christ" 2Tim.2:3[NIV].  Does "church" have any resemblance to the training  camp to prepare battle-ready troops,  an assault  corps which  can take on anything the enemy puts up against them?  Most believers  scarcely realise there's a war going on around them  - never  mind that they are part of it and caught up in it  whether they  like  it or not!  Discipline is called for.  It's  time  to toughen  up.  In war people sacrifice and make do with less  than they have been used to.  What hardship or privation are we  going through  or  enduring  / putting up with for the  sake  of  final victory  or  promoting the cause at the frontline?  What are  our priorities?

*** 2. Dressed for Battle!:           

*   We  need the resources of the Spirit.  Look again at  2  Cor. 10:4f.  Isn't that how we are supposed to cope - and conquer - in the whole realm of our thinking and imagination, not so much as a matter of will or holy resolve but of the warfare of the  Spirit, in the power and with the weapons of the Spirit!

*  Why should this be?   Our passage in Ephesians 6 spells it out for us. See verse 12 - "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,  but against the rulers,  against the authorities, against the  powers of this dark world,  against the spiritual forces  of evil in the heavenly realms". Now that's not ghouls and ghosties, but  spiritual reality.  That's why the world is enslaved by  the evil  one  - the seeming illogicality of people  loving  darkness rather  than  light,  of  why horrendous things can  be  done  or claimed in the name of freedom or "my rights"!

*  It means - day by day - we must put on God's splendid  armour. Literally, deliberately, consciously we must set it in place:

  # Belt of truth  - authentic commitment  

  # Breastplate of righteousness - what Christ has done.

  # Shoes of the Gospel - for hard, fast marching

  # the shield of faith - protects one another too

  # the helmet of salvation - our full salvation

  # the sword of the Spirit - cf "It is written"

*** 3. Determined in Battle!:

*   Notice  the repeated use of the military metaphor to  "stand" which  refers  to  standing up to and  holding  out  against  the determined  and repeated onslaughts of the foe.  We need to match the  resolution,  the  commitment and the  determination  of  the enemy.  Not in our own strength, but by being "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" [10]

#  "take your stand against the devil's schemes"[11]  Remember he uses  both  force  and fraud,  he seeks both  to  devour  and  to deceive/delude,  he  uses  both  crack  assault  troops  and  the insidious  fifth column [the enemy within the gates].  We need to remember he has an extensive "dirty tricks" department full of all manner of satanic stratagems.

#  "when  the day of evil comes,  you may be able to  stand  your ground"  [13] The purpose of "the full armour of God"  [cf.  "the full spiritual blessing"  of  1:3]  is  that  we   might   be comprehensively and thoroughly equipped to stand and to withstand - to  persevere when the particular time of personal,  family  or congregational  testing/difficulty/trial or affliction comes upon us! "When things are at their worst" - so NEB!

#   "and after you have done everything,  to stand"  or,  as  GNB says,  "after  fighting  to  the end,  you will still  hold  your ground".  The  struggle  is  unremitting - no "time out!"

*  The repeated use of the word "against" in verse 12  emphasizes not only how intense the struggle is,  but how personal it is. It speaks of strenuous, hand-to-hand combat We come in for our share of blood,  sweat and tears.  Because it is conflict, battle and warfare there are casualties:  hurts,  wounds, scars and pain not just coming to others, but to ourselves.

*  Are we taking our place in the overall battle-plan?  At  times where we are in the Kingdom's ventures is the frontline  position and  we  are in direct contact with the enemy.  Sometimes we  are servicing, supplying or assisting those more directly involved in  the battle.  Other times we are part of the medical units to bring healing and wholeness after the toll and ravages of warfare.


 

"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"

12. "Effective, Prevailing Prayer"

Reading : Ephesians 6: 10 - 20

*   Introduction:   John  MacArthur  in  his   commentary   says: "Ephesians begins by lifting us up to the heavenlies, and ends by pulling  us  down  to our knees".  Notice that  prayer  not  only relates  to  "spirituality"  or "the  devotional  life",  but  to warfare - cf 6:12! Verse 18 gives us a sharp, succinct summary of what our prayer strategy ought to be.  At the very least, it is a real  reminder that we ought to be taking  prayer  seriously.  It calls up the word of Jesus to the disciples regarding watchfulness   and prayerfulness - "Watch and pray,  lest ye enter into temptation". Notice  the impact of the repeated use of the little word "all".

 

*** 1. Pray all the time!:

* How do we actually put that into effect?  Look at 5:20. I think it is the same kind of principle.

*   It  has to do with a mind-set of the Spirit as  Romans  8:5-8 puts it, an inner homing signal that keeps us on the right track, or the compass needle that always swings to point north.

*    Pray constantly and continuously in all kinds of  situations and activities - approach them in a prayerful attitude  - whether it   is   work,    Christian    service,    recreation,    family responsibilities. Bring them all to the throne of grace.

 

*** 2. Pray all the time in the Spirit!:

* What does it mean to "pray in the Spirit"?  Is that the same as praying in tongues?  Some might lean to that interpretation,  but that  is  not what is intended here I  think.  The  reference  to "always" rules it out.

*   At the very least it includes "praying in line or in  harmony with the Spirit's wishes". Look up James 4:2,3. In order to be in line with the Spirit's wishes we need to be listening to God.  So often  we are too busy speaking to God,  telling Him what we want Him  to be doing in the world,  when we ought to be listening  to Him speaking to us!  At the close of all the letters to the seven churches in Rev.2 and 3 the same thing is stated: "Listen to what the  Spirit is saying .....!" That brings us to the dimension  of communion with God and that takes real time commitment.

*   I think praying in the Spirit identifies the need to pray  at the deepest level of our personalities and consciousness,  rather than  merely at the superficial.  For me,  that brings us back to Romans 8:26 again - Look it up! Cf. Psalm 42:7; 27:8.

*** 3. Pray with all Prayer and Supplication!:

*  We  need  to  use the full range and  variety  of  our  prayer resources appropriate to the circumstances or situation.

*    ADORATION prayers - centring in on who God is and on all  He has done:  his greatness, goodness, grace, holiness, love, truth, righteousness, justice. Use the psalms - or your hymnbook - speak them out or sing!

*    CONFESSION  prayers  - acknowledging  our  own   sinfulness, failure,  weakness, inability in ourselves to fulfil his work.

*   THANKSGIVING prayers - praising the Lord and giving him glory for what He is doing in us, among us, for us and through us.

*    SUPPLICATION prayers - specific petitions and  intercessions for  people,  situations,  programmes,  projects,  opportunities, needs;  for ourselves, our friends, our families, our colleagues, our church, our country or the world.

*    Remember prayers can be for a long time or a short time.  As well  as  laying the whole situation out before the  Lord  - like King  Hezekiah  with his letter,  there are  also  brief,  short, pointed  "arrow"  prayers.   Peter  cried  out:"Lord,  save  me!" Nehemiah  prayed:  "But now,  O God,  strengthen thou my  hands". That's  appropriate for emergencies or for difficult  situations.

*** 4. Pray with all Perseverance!:

 *   Notice  how the perseverance is linked directly  to  keeping alert / watchfulness. Not only is prayerfulness commended - it is commanded.  Do we stick with prayer? Do we hang in there? Whether in  terms of our own devotional life or in the corporate life  of prayer of the local church or group? Do we begin well - then fade out?

*  The Bible actually speaks a lot about  perseverance.  Remember Galatians 6:9?  I like the very apt LB version of Colossians 4:3: "Don't be weary in prayer;  keep at it;  watch for God's  answers and  remember to be thankful when they come".  Our persistence in prayer  is actually encouraged as we keep looking out  for  God's answers.  Others are encouraged to pray as as we testify to God's faithfulness in answering our prayers.

*    Perseverance   is  encouraged  precisely  because   of   the difficulty. It is part of our "enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ" in that discipline is involved. The enemy is not going to make it easy for us to pray.  We won't like to leave our warm bed.  There will be a good programme on TV or a good book to read,  or something REALLY important which must be done, or we'll get around to it later!

 

*** 5. Pray for all the Saints!:

*  Again,  realise this is not an option but a solemn obligation. Do you remember the words of Samuel the prophet:  "As for me, far be it from me to sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you" [1.Sam.12:23NIV].

*    Consider how frequently Paul assured the recipients  of  his letters that he was praying for them.  - Phil.1:3 "I thank my God every  time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you,  I always pray with joy..."

*   This means that we are seeking to bear up before God not only those whom we know need our prayers, but also those whom we might consider not to be in particular difficulty.  We need to pray for one another. We all need the shield and covering of one another's faith.

*    We  can  be organised - by having prayer lists  to  be  used daily,  or  worked  through weekly or monthly  according  to  our routine.  Admittedly  we cannot pray for everything or  everyone, but we have have causes and people we identify with. There can be spontaneity  by means of the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Never disregard it or ignore it. Follow it!

 

 

          

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