Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Gospel Motivates Us To Pour Ourselves Out For The Church

Paul’s call to the Philippian church to be unified, love one another and show humble preference to one another (Phil 1:27; 2:1-4) is a tall order. So Paul immediately pointed them to the ultimate example: Jesus Christ. Jesus existed in equality with God in heaven, yet did not exploit his privileges for his advantage, but emptied himself of the comforts of his position, and came to earth as a Man (Phil 2:6-8). As a Man, he humbled himself, veiled his glory and lived as a servant; and this humble love took him to the lowest point: the shameful death of the cross.   

It is this mindset Jesus demonstrated – this attitude of humble, self-emptying love – that Paul says the church is to share among ourselves (2:5). So the church is to be likeminded, and the mind we are to share is specifically shown to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He poured himself out in humble love for the church; therefore we respond to the gospel by pouring ourselves out in humble love for the church. This is worship.

All of these elements are crucial. If we try to pour ourselves out for the church without first ‘seeing’ the gospel – being affected in mind and heart by Christ’s death and resurrection – then our self-giving is in vain. Any motivation other than joyful gratitude and love for Jesus will rob our hard labor of value, and leave us in a joy-less, burned-out condition. But when we gaze at the glory of Jesus in his selfless humiliation at the cross; when we are affected by the power of the gospel and see Christ bleeding for us on the cross, we can now respond in God-glorifying worshipful obedience. This obedience will manifest itself by having the same mind of Christ that drove him to the cross, and we will begin to see ourselves serving the church in love.

What about the hypocrites in the church? What about those who hurt us? It doesn’t matter; I’m looking at the cross! I’m serving Jesus by serving his body. I’m loving the Lord by loving his bride.

This mindset is demonstrated throughout Scripture:

Ø  God the Father loved us and gave his Son (John 3:16).

Ø  Jesus loved us and gave himself (Gal 2:20b). Ephesians 5:25-27 specifically shows us that Jesus gave himself up ‘for the church’ for the purpose of cleansing and purifying – building us up.

Ø  Paul and the Apostles loved the church and poured out their lives for her upbuilding. Paul is willing to be gladly poured out as a drink offering for the church (Phil 2:17). He is willing to suffer all things for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10). He risks his life traveling around the countryside and the city’s strengthening the churches (Acts 15:40-41; 18:23).

Ø  The apostolic assistants loved the church and gave themselves for her edification. Timothy went wherever Paul sent him, loving the church and serving (Phil 2:19-24). Epaphroditus risked his life in the work (Phil 2:25-30). Titus also traveled at the direction of Paul, but served from his heart, loving the church and pouring himself out (2 Cor 816-17; Titus).

Ø  The elders of the local churches were called to care for the church and empty themselves in the feeding and leading of God’s flock (Acts 20:28).

Ø  All believers are called to love and build up the church in response to the gospel (Phil 2:5).

Because God has not destined us to wrath, but to salvation, and because Jesus died that we may be with him, therefore we are to love one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:9-11).

Because God forgave us in Christ, we are to forgive one another in the church (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13).

In response to the gospel, we can encourage one another and stir each other up in our regular assembling together (Heb 10:24-25); We can cover over each other’s shortcomings with love, showing hospitality and using our gifts to build each other up (1 Pet 4:8-10). With our spiritual gifts we can strive to build up the church (1 Cor 14:12). And in love, we can serve one another (Gal 5:13).

See the gospel!
Respond with love of Christ!
This love of Christ will result in the loving of the church!

Let us respond to the gospel by pouring out our lives for Christ’s church!

Friday, September 27, 2013

When God's People Fail

What do we do when we fail? Does God want us to wallow in our guilt? When we sin - when we mess up really big - we sometimes think that we should feel the filth of our shame for awhile. This is penance for our sin, right? So in our minds we have an angry God telling us that we've not felt guilty for long enough...we have at least ten more minutes of shame...and THEN we can be forgiven.

There is a very encouraging word for the people of God in 1 Samuel 12. God's covenant people, Israel, have sinned. They have rejected God as their King and have asked for a man-king so they could be like all the other nations (1 Sam 8:20). By the way, the whole point was that Israel NOT be like all the other nations! God gives them Saul as king, and Samuel the prophet stands up to address Israel. In Samuel's words we learn much about what to do when God's people fail.

Acknowledge Our Sin

First, we learn that we must own up to our sin. Don't try to sweep it under the rug. We must admit our guilt. Samuel told the gathered congregation of Israel, "...your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king" (1 Sam 12:17b). The people agreed (after God backed up Samuel's words with a sign - thunder and rain!): "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king" (12:19 ESV).

When God's people fail, the very first thing we must do is admit our sin, confess our sin to God and repent. We must not water down the truth of our failure by using words that make it sound a little better than it actually is. Call the thing what it is. Samuel said, "your wickedness is great." The people understood that they deserved to die by sinning against the holy God, and referred to their failure as 'evil.'

We acknowledge our sin. But we do not stay in this place!

From Failure Go Forward In Faith

Samuel told the people:
Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 1 Samuel 12:20 (ESV)
Once again Samuel acknowledged the people's sin. "You have done all this evil." Yet, this is not the final word! Samuel also said, "Do not be afraid." Admit your sin. But do not despair! With the Lord, their is grace and mercy for his people!

Samuel told Israel to go forward in faith from their failure. Don't wait until you've felt guilty for long enough (Dale Ralph Davis). Repent and then go forward in faith. Look back to the Lord and begin to walk in faithfulness to him "with all your heart."

Sometimes when we fall into sin we face the temptation to just give up. Samuel addressed this temptation. "Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD..." Yes, you have sinned. You've messed up BIG. But do not add to this by giving up, by turning from God. Repent and believe and move forward.

Embrace God's Grace

Samuel continues, warning Israel not to use their failure as a turning point to go after false gods:
And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 1 Samuel 12:22 (ESV)
No god can satisfy but the Lord! Do not let failure tempt you to run to something else for consolation. Other gods are 'empty.' They cannot 'profit or deliver.' Admit your guilt and then run to the Lord!

Remember God's Faithfulness

Finally, Samuel reminds Israel of great truth that will fill them with hope:
For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. I Samuel 1:23 (ESV)
The source of our hope is not in US but in GOD! God's love for his people does not rest in the performance of his people, but in his own choice! Samuel reminds Israel that God will not forsake his people, 'for his great name's sake'!! God has chosen to glorify his great name through his people that he is saving and bringing near to himself. He has purposed to do this, and he will not relent. 'It has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.' For himself! God has put his love and affection on his people, not for any reason in us. The reason is in him. This is what he has chosen; this is what has pleased him. He does not change or lie or fail.

Is This True For Us?

This encouragement was given to God's old covenant people, Israel. But through Israel's line God sent his Son, Jesus Christ. And in Christ God has made a new covenant, with people from every tribe, tongue and nation. All who come to him, by grace through faith in Christ, are part of his people, the church. Jesus has redeemed us with his blood, poured out on the cross. He has risen from the dead. And he has done this for his people, 'that he might present the church to himself in splendor...' (Eph 5:27). We who are in Christ are his precious people, and these promises apply to us in him!

When believers fail, we must not wallow in our guilt. Jesus has already borne our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24). So what do we do? We quickly confess our sin to God in repentance. And we put our eyes back on Jesus, going forward from our failure, in faith. We remember the great truth that God has loved us from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) and has chosen to glorify his great name by bringing his people to himself. We have hope, because the God who loves us is sovereign, and he cannot fail!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Jesus Worth The Self-Sacrifice? Delighting In Christ In Times Of Discouragement

Jesus' call is pretty hard-core. He calls us to leave our sin and self-rule, give up all our rights, place all we own in his hands, and come follow him:
  • No one can serve two masters…And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. …If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. …So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Matthew 6:24; Luke 9:23; 14:26, 33 (ESV)
 A life of following Jesus is a life of fighting sin, denying our own will (often our dreams and pursuits). Though this is a joyful walk, filled with unimaginable benefits in this life and the next, sometimes we lose sight of the eternal perspective and become discouraged. Sometimes we see unbelievers living it up, not denying themselves; not fighting sin but rather giving themselves fully to the pleasures of sin. In these seasons our vision can become cloudy and we can lose God’s perspective.

We can wonder, “Is it worth it? Is Jesus worth the self-sacrifice? Am I wasting my life with Jesus when I could be living it up like everyone else?

In our discouragement we can become tempted to give up.

People in the Bible felt this way too. They fought with the same doubts and temptations we face. One amazing psalm is entirely given to this theme. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73, records his words for our encouragement.

I.  The Dilemma (v1-3). Truth: God is good to his people. The problem is not with God, but with my perspective. BUT – although it is true that God is good – Asaph says he almost fell, slipped, gave up. Why? Because he saw that unbelievers were prospering…and his life was hard. He was envious of their prosperity, and their ease of life.

II.  Description of the Faithless (v4-12). This description seems exaggerated, but in the Psalmist’s discouraged frame of mind it seemed like unbelievers didn’t have a care in the world. No problems. They embrace and enjoy their sin, become puffed up with pride, and enjoy the common grace blessings of life while not caring about God. In fact, they think God doesn’t care how they live; that they will not have to answer to him. “God won’t judge me…” Asaph describes how they – without fear – use their tongue to speak against God and man.

III.  The Difficulties of Faith (v13-15). In a moment of discouragement and self-pity the Psalmist thinks that all his concern for living a life of faith/righteousness before God is in vain. He thinks his sorrow over sin and his repentance has been for nothing. No benefits! He still suffers! Yet, in his pity-party he knows better than to say this out loud. He knows it’s not really true; it’s just how he feels. He will not open his mouth and blame God. To say these things out loud, before I’ve worked though them, would be destructive to the faith of others. We should keep our mouths closed during our pity-party.

IV. Divine Perspective (v16-17). All of this was too much for Asaph. It almost pushed him over the edge of his faith. Until God graciously gave him a new perspective – his perspective! An ‘Aha!’ moment. This change of heart came when Asaph went to the ‘sanctuary of God’ – that is, to public worship at the Tabernacle. When Asaph joined the assembled people of God in worship and hearing the words of God read and proclaimed, the Lord ministered to him. What was the difference? He discerned their end. God showed Asaph that no matter how things looked now, the path of faith and the path of unbelief lead to two very different destinations.

V. Destruction of the Wicked (v18-20). The wicked may appear to be blessed now, but they are actually under God’s righteous judgment and condemnation. And this will be seen in due time. (I think of Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 where the one who looked blessed was actually cursed, and the one who looked cursed by God was actually blessed…eternally).

VI. Discouragement Confessed (v21-22). Asaph repents for his misguided attitude towards God. I was ignorant…like a beast toward you. In times of discouragement we must repent from our pity-parties. We are responsible for our feelings, even though we cannot fully control them (Rom 12:11 – where we are commanded to not be slothful in zeal but, rather, fervent in spirit). Though we cannot will our discouragement or depression away, we can lay our wrong attitudes and emotions down before the Lord with a heart of repentance, asking for his grace.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hesed: The Unstoppable, Unrelenting Loyal-Loving-Kindness Of God

Biblical linguistic scholar William Mounce calls the Hebrew word hesed ‘one of the richest, most theologically insightful terms in the Old Testament.' James Strong says it is ‘one of the most important words in the vocabulary of OT theology and ethics.'
What is this word??

Because hesed is such a specific and nuanced word, it is very difficult to define in English. In various Bible translations it is rendered ‘steadfast love’ (ESV), ‘loyal love,’ or ‘covenant love’ (NET), ‘unfailing love’ (NLT), and ‘loving-kindness’ (KJV). It ‘denotes kindness, love, loyalty, mercy’ (Mounce). 'Strength, steadfastness and love’ are three strains of its interacting meanings (Strong). Daniel Block describes it as ‘that quality that moves a person to act for the benefit of another without respect to the advantage it might bring to the one who expresses it.’ He goes on to say that hesed is described mainly through action rather than emotion.

Hesed is more than kindness and more than love; it speaks of a committed relationship between two parties – a covenant. One who shows hesed is being faithful to his part of the covenant. But this word also implies going above and beyond the legal terms of the covenant, into the realm of generosity, choosing to show kindness and goodness even when the other party is undeserving (i.e. grace). Because of this, Strong says that “’devotion’ may be the closest English word to capturing the nuance of the original.’”

Hesed describes the specific relationship God has with his covenant people…The defining characteristic of God in covenant relationships with his people is that he shows them hesed.” (Mounce). “The entire history of Yahweh’s covenant relationship with Israel can be summarized in” (these terms). The association…with ‘covenant’ keeps it from being misunderstood as mere providence or love for all creatures. It applies primarily to God’s particular love for his chosen and covenanted people” (Strong).

So we see that this one little word encapsulates and describes God’s gracious choice to be devoted and faithful without fail to his own chosen, beloved people, and to act on their behalf with loyalty, kindness, goodness, mercy and grace. It is a special, relational love that keeps on going, despite our sin, simply because of God’s own choice and character.

This is the way God treats his covenant people. The Old Testament narratives illustrate this profoundly. Israel strays from God again and again, yet he continues to act on their behalf.
But what about Gentiles? What about the church? Is this unstoppable, special love for us as well?

The Church is the New Covenant People of God

God’s ultimate act of loving-kindness toward Israel was his faithfulness to send Christ to them – his own Son (Acts 10:36; Galatians 4:4). God did just as he promised; he was faithful to his end of the covenant. Yet Israel’s official response was to reject Christ. Jesus said that his blood inaugurates the promised new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15; 12:24). Therefore, through faith in Christ and his death/resurrection, those who believe are among the new covenant people of God (John 1:11-13; Gal 3:26-29). It was always God’s plan to bless the Gentiles and show them his covenant love, and this through Israel and their Messiah (Gen 12:1-3; Psalm 117). We see God’s covenant kindness displayed in the entire story of the Old Testament in his dealings with Israel. And we see it demonstrated amazingly at the cross, where Jesus died for his special, new covenant people, the church (Acts 20:28; Eph 5:25).
We Must Treat Our Brothers/Sisters with the Loving-Kindness We have Received from God

Because we have received hesed, we must show hesed:
“God requires such faithfulness and kindness” (from us) “because he himself is kind and has shown kindness to his people” (Mounce). [see Micah 6:8, Hosea 6:6] We show this faithful, loving-kindness in “response to the covenant” we have with God and as an outflow of “sanctification within” (Strong).

We reflect God’s loyal, devoted love to us when we show faithful, sacrificial kindness to one another. This is demonstrated in the story of Ruth (Ruth to Naomi in 1:8, 15-16; 3:10; Boaz to Ruth in 2:20; Ruth to Boaz in 3:10) and in the friendship-covenant between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:8). It is a sacrificial, selfless giving of loving mercy and kindness to another…that will not quit! This is best seen in the New Testament in the fact that Christ gave himself for us in love, and now we are to give ourselves in love to one another in the church (1 John 3:16). These kindnesses can be expressed toward strangers, but the 'covenant relationship' aspect of hesed is best demonstrated between committed members of local congregations toward one another. Members of local churches should learn to walk in love and kindness toward each other without thought to self, and even feel a sense of loyalty and devotion (commitment) to one another.

God’s Covenant Love-Kindness in Scripture

A quick word search will provide much blessing as you study hesed in Scripture. Here are a few to get you started:
Genesis 19:19 – Lot was shown hesed as the angels dragged him out of Sodom!
Gen39:21 – towards Joseph in prison
Exodus 15:13; 20:26; 34:6-7
Num 14:19 -  in forgiving sin
Deut 7:9
Ruth 2:20
2 Sam 9:3 – David and Mephibosheth
22:51 – to David
1 Kings 8:23 – Solomon’s prayer at Temple
Ezra 3:11 – sang about it
Neh 13:22 – spare me according to it
Job 10:12

Hesed is celebrated in the Psalms:
Ps 5:7 – approach God b/c of it; 13:5 – trust in it; 25:10 – for those who obey; 26:3 – it is before my eyes; 31:7 – rejoice in it; 33:5 – earth is full of it; 33:18 – hope in it; 40:10 – speak about it; 42:8 – God commands it over me; 48:9 – thought of it in the temple; 51:1 – forgive me b/c of it; 52:8 – trust in it; 59:16-17 sing of it; 63:3 – better than life; 66:20 – has not removed it; 89:1 sing of it; 90:14 satisfy us with it; 92:2 declare it; 94:18 it held me up; 100:5 endures forever; 103:4 among the benefits (see v11); 106:1 give thanks for it; 119:76 comfort; 130:7 – hope, redemption; psalm 136!;

Prov 16:6 – in relation to atonement
Isaiah 16:5- Messiah’s throne established in it; 54:7-8, 10 – won’t be removed; 63:7 – remember it;
Jeremiah 9:24 – know God through it
Lamentations 3:22!
Hosea 4:1 – God confronts Israel for not having it (6:6)
Zech 7:9 – show it to each other
Jonah 4:2 – Jonah mad at God for showing it to Gentiles
Micah 7:18-20 – not anger but love

May we praise God for his unstoppable, unrelenting loyal-loving-kindness toward us, who enjoy these blessings because of the blood of Christ!
And may we show this loyal, covenant love to one another in our local congregations, for the glory of Christ in the church.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Conversion Brings A New Lifestyle: The 'Walk'

Is it possible to be a Christian and live in sin?

The short answer? No (Rom6:1-4; 1 John 3:6-10; Heb12:5-11). Christianity is not merely one's religion of choice. One is not a Christian because his parents are Christians. A Christian is someone who has eperienced an internal transformation by Christ - he has been born again (John 3). A miraculous and powerful act of God has begun at his core (heart) which will reveal itself increasingly through a new lifestyle that glorifies God and looks like Jesus. In Ephesians 4-6 Paul calls this new lifestyle the 'walk' of the Christian.
The Old Self With The Old Walk (Ephesians 4:17-19). Paul, with the authority of Christ(v17a), forbids the church to continue to ‘walk’ in the way of the Gentiles…meaning the lifestyle pattern of those who are not God’s people. He describes the walk of the unbeliever with bold and unapologizing truth:
  • Futility of mind – apart from God’s saving grace we do not think right. Our thoughts are bent towards sin and self until the light of Christ breaks in (now we have the mind of Christ – 1Cor 2:16)
  • Darkened understanding – There is no one who understands (Rom3:11) truth or spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14) until regenerated by God.
  • Alienated from the life of God – We are spiritually dead to God until he raises us to life (Eph 2:1)
  • Ignorance – unaware of God and the life of Christ; blindness
  • Hardness of Heart – A willful rejection of God
  • Callous – No sensitivity to the Lord
  • Given up to sensuality – Completely bent towards seeking sinful pleasure
  • Greedy to practice all impurity – indulging in sin and growing hungrier for more.
This is the everyday practice of all who are outside of Christ. This list is similar to Romans 1:18-32, where Paul describes a downward progression of sin including rejecting God and being given over to sin. This was our walk before God acted in glorious grace! These actions accompany the old ‘self.’

Conversion: Put Off And Put On (4:20-24).   Paul now speaks of the radical change that has occurred in the lives of believers; a change that starts within but reveals itself in our walk. This section is very important, and separates this teaching from merely a set of rules that we should try really hard to keep. Rather, something miraculous has happened to us in Christ! In Him the old is gone and we have power to walk increasingly in his ways.

Christ’s School (4:20-21). “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus“ (4:20-21). Paul emphatically declares that his description of the old walk is not consistent with the one who has learned Christ! Rather than learning rules, we have learned a Person! The phrase ‘heard about him’ is literally ‘heard him,’ as in, ‘you have heard him speak’ in the gospel and the apostle’s teaching written in Scripture (Boice). So Christ is the subject matter (we learned him); Christ is the Teacher (we heard him); and Christ is the classroom (we were taught in him) [Stott]. It’s all Christ! Christ said to come to him, yoke up with him and ‘learn’ from him (Matthew 11:29).

Teaching is part of Christ’s great commission to the church (Matt28:19-20). We are to make disciples as we go, baptizing them and teaching them all things that Jesus taught. Rather than ignorance and futility of mind, Christ shines light on us and teaches us from the inside out, that we might walk in his ways.

Put Off And Put On (4:22-24). “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (4:22-24). When we learned Christ, we learned conversion (repentance and faith); the putting off of the old man and putting on of the new. Paul refers here to the initial putting off and on that took place at our conversion; Because God poured his grace on us, enabling us to put off the old man and put on the new in Christ, we can now walk a lifestyle consistent with the new man. The ‘walk’ Paul is about to describe for us flows out of our conversion. Without conversion we do not have the power to walk the walk. But through the renewing of the spirit of our mind as we believe the gospel and continue in the school of Christ, we have grace to walk!

Corrupt vs. Created. Notice that the old self is ‘corrupt through deceitful desires,’ but the new self is ‘created after the likeness of God’ (Piper). We can’t somehow work up this new lifestyle; it is CREATED in us when we are born again, and our outward walk increasingly lines up with this truth. This is the process of sanctification. Paul has already said that we were dead in sin (2:1), God made us alive (2:4-5) and that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works (2:10).

Walking The New Walk (4:25-32). Paul now gives very practical instruction concerning what kind of ‘walk’ glorifies God. These five parts of our walk all deal with our relationships in the church, and all help build the unity Paul has already spoken of in length.

1. Speaking the Truth.Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (25). Because we have put away the old man at conversion, and are now ‘members one of another’ in the church, our walk should reflect a different kind of speech. How can we sin against our own body? We are members of each other in the church, and lying to each other destroys trust and unity. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we do not speak the truth to one another.

2. Dealing with Anger. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil” (26-27). The next part of our walk Paul addresses is our handling of anger. We are to instructed not to let anger continue between our brothers and sisters in the church. Don’t go to bed angry. There is a righteous anger, but we are taught not to sin in our anger. Anger is murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-22). Paul connects anger between members of the church with giving the devil an opportunity. This implies that Satan is at work in the church trying to disrupt unity and attack the displayed glory of God through the church by using our anger. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when there is anger, distance and unresolved issues festering between us.

3. Working to Give. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (28). How practical these instructions are! A walk that glorifies God includes what we do with our hands. Rather than taking what does not belong to us, we are to do honest work with our hands…so that we may provide for our families? That is good, but our aim should go much beyond that. Work…so that we may store up treasures for ourselves? No. God is not glorified as the great Treasure of the church when we merely use his blessings upon ourselves. Rather, Paul instructs us to work hard so that we may give to those in need! He is teaching us to be generous givers in the church, such as we see modeled in Acts 245.

John Piper points out that this turns your secular job into grace; a means to display God’s grace!

God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we have greedy hearts, thieving hands, and lack generosity.

4. Speaking with Grace. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (29-30). We’ve already seen that our walk includes our lips; we must speak the truth to one another. But now Paul takes it further. We are forbidden to let any ‘corrupting talk come out of’ our mouths. Rather, we are to glorify God by building each other up with our words. This word for corrupting talk means rotten. What kind of speech could this include? Filthy language and dirty jokes, sarcastic remarks that tear others down, venomous speech of all kinds.

Earlier Paul connected our anger with giving the devil an opportunity. Here he connects our rotten speech with grieving the Holy Spirit! Just as there is an unseen audience viewing God’s glory through the church (Eph 3:9-11), there are also unseen spiritual beings working behind and within our relationships in the church; good and bad. The unity of the church is called the unity of the Spirit (4:3). The Spirit is working to build unity between the brothers and sisters in the church. When we work against him with our speech he is grieved. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when our words are rotten and unedifying to the church.

5. Kind, Tenderhearted, Forgiving. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (31-32). Paul describes an escalation of sinful behavior we are to put away (O’Brien). It starts in the heart with bitterness, wrath and anger, but soon escalates to ‘clamor’ (shouting, outbursts of rage) and ‘slander’ (speaking against someone). We must put this foolishness out of the church, and with it ‘all malice’ (ill will, wishing or plotting evil). Instead, the walk that glorifies God in the church is kindness in our relationships; a heart that is tender towards one another; and finally, showing forgiveness when we are wronged by our brothers and sisters. And we will be wronged from time to time. This process of sanctification is not yet complete. But we are to treat our brothers and sisters with grace, in the same way God in Christ has treated us! Because God has showed tender mercy and grace to us, we are to extend that to others. God is not glorified to the universe through the church when we demonstrate hard-hearted, unkind behavior and refuse to show grace and forgiveness.

God intends to glorify himself through his church to the watching universe. He has created this new humanity through the death and resurrection of Christ and has poured out great grace upon us, rescuing us from our sins. Having given us new life, we are called to walk in a way that gives him glory, beginning with our relationships in the church: our hearts, our lips, our hands.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Unity, Diversity And Maturity In The Church

God calls for his church to be unified. Yet he has made us diverse!

Diversity In The Church (4:7-10). Paul has called for our eager maintenance of church unity. But unity does not mean we are carbon copies of each other. Verse 7 begins with ‘But…’
Unity, ‘but...’
Diversity is From God. Diversity is not an accident, or a problem to overcome. It is God’s will! However, it was in response to sin that God brought it about. At the tower of Babel, an effort of man’s pride and godlessness, God multiplied the languages, creating diversity of nations and peoples. And through this diversity he will be glorified by every language and nation! Jesus accomplished a unified diversity at the cross (Eph 2:11,ff). And now we learn that he continues to encourage diversity in his unified people by giving differing gifts of grace!

Diverse Grace-Gifts Given (4:7). “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift (4:7). Paul spoke of the grace of God in his ministry to the Gentiles (3:2, 7-8), and now he shows that he is not alone (O’Brien). Each believer has received a measure of Christ’s grace in the form of a gift to be used to build up the church. This grace differs according to the will of God (see also Romans 12:6 and context).

Diverse Gifts Are A Sharing of Christ’s Triumph (4:8-10). “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things)” (4:8-10).
Paul quotes Psalm 68, a celebration of God’s victory over his enemies, and implies that Christ is the fulfillment of this Psalm. Though the verse in the Hebrew speaks of Christ receiving gifts from men, Paul emphasizes Christ’s giving gifts to his people (Acts 2:33 shows that Christ received the promise of the Spirit and then gave him to his church). Christ triumphed over the rulers and principalities at the cross (Col 2:15), and has shared the spoils of his victory with his saints! Paul also speaks of Christ’s descending and ascending: he lowered himself to become a man and descended into the grave, and he rose in victory, ascending to the right hand of God, ‘that he might fill all things!’ The victorious Lord Jesus now pours out diverse gifts of grace on his saints that we may be a unified diversity, progressing in maturity, for the purpose of displaying the glory of God to the universe!

Maturity In The Church (4:11-16). James Boice asks a good question. If Christ gives diverse gifts to the believers, what is to ensure that we stay together? What is to keep us from going off in our own direction? The answer is the purpose of the gifts! Paul tells us that the gifts are given in diversity but are to be used in unity, in order to build maturity in the church.

Diverse Leadership Gifts (4:11). “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers… “ (4:11). Christ’s gifts to the church begin with leaders who declare God’s word.
  • Apostles and prophets. Paul seems to be speaking here of apostles and prophets in the ‘technical sense’ (Boice); the original recipients of the gospel revelation on which rests the church (2:20). There are apostolic and prophetic gifting today, but not those who write Scripture and serve as foundations of the church. Christ’s apostles gave us the New Testament, and appointed elders in the churches to teach it to the church.
  • Evangelists. While all believers in the church share the work of evangelism, some are gifted to lead the church in proclaiming the gospel.
  • Shepherds (pastors) and Teachers, or Pastor-Teacher. There is only one definite article in the Greek before these two giftings (O’Brien), leading many to see this as one office rather than two. The apostles who planted churches appointed elders (plural) in the local churches to lead the churches by (1) overseeing, or tending the flock, and by (2) teaching, or feeding the flock (John 21:15-17; Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim 3:1-13; 1 Thess 5:12; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:2). Shepherd, pastor, refer to the function and are interchangeable with the offices referred to elsewhere as elders, overseers, and bishops.
All of these church leadership gifting are based on proclaiming God’s word. This is Christ’s gift to his body, that by the word the church may corporately grow up into maturity. It is the duty of every believer to make sure they are receiving the teaching of the word, in godly submission to local church shepherd-teachers (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Diverse Ministry Gifts (4:12). “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (4:12). While leaders are to be seen as gifts from Christ and thus followed with respect (1 Thess 5:12-13) they are NOT special Christians who do all the ministry. Church leaders are given to the church for the purpose of equipping the believers to do the works of ministry. Elders equip the saints through prayer, serving the saints, providing an example to follow, encouraging the believers in their ministry gifting, etc, but first and foremost by the faithful teaching of the word of God. Thus each member of the church is to be growing in the proclaimed word and applying that word by doing “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Each member of the body has an important function in the church, and should be concerned about the maturing of the local church of which they are a member.

Stott comments that there are five lists of gifts in the New Testament, recording some 20 different gifts; of which some are ‘unsensational,’ such as ‘doing acts of mercy’ (Rom 12:8).

Maturity Through Unified Diversity (4:13-16). “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (4:13-16). All of the varying gifts in the church are for the purpose of building up the church towards maturity, for the glory of God.

A Few Observations From The Text:
  1. How long are the gifts necessary? “…until we all attain…the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The gifts will be in operation in the church until the day of glory when the church is perfect in the presence of God
  2. Maturity has to do with doctrinal stability (v14). Immaturity is compared with being tossed around by the storms of false doctrine.
  3. Maturity involves both truth and love (v15). This phrase is literally ‘truthing in love.’ It is easy to be all about truth while lacking in love, or all about love but soft on truth; Christ wants his church growing in both!
  4. Maturity happens as each part of the body does its job (v16). “when each part is working properly.”We are not merely a group of saved individuals, but a BODY that is dependent on one another. None of us alone is the body of Christ; each of us is a member of the body. Each part of the body must be fulfilling their function for the body to grow. Are you living in dependence on, or independence from the body of Christ?
  5. Maturity is a corporate, not just an individual, process. This text emphasizes the collective maturity that happens through unified diversity in the church. It’s not about ‘me’ maturing in Christ, sitting at home with my Bible (‘me and Jesus’ attitude), but rather it is about ‘us’ maturing together. This is how God has chosen to display his glory. This is why it is impossible to be a ‘solo’ Christian. You can worship God alone, but this is not God’s eternal purpose (3:9-11).
Our call now is to walk worthy and showcase the glory of God in the church by using our diversity in unity to build maturity.

Apply The Word
-Believe God’s word concerning the body of Christ. See this vision and receive it as God’s plan. Embrace it. Love it!
-Commit yourself to the ministry of the word from the leaders in your local church. Podcasts from SuperPreachers are good, but they are not the ones God has placed in your life to be your primary ‘shepherd.’ God has given you local elders who can know you and minister to you in a special way. Commit yourself to this!
-Are you doing your part? How can I help the church grow in unity and maturity? Are you a functioning part of the body? How has God gifted you, led you, equipped you to serve?
-Do your ministry in the context of the church! Many in our day despise the church and emphasize their ministry, apart from a church context. We can overemphasize ‘MY ministry’ or a parachurch organization and forget God’s plan of a local church ministering to one another and growing up together in love.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Our WALK Begins With Relationships In The Church

Paul has moved from teaching doctrine to instructing the church on our daily 'walk' in Ephesians. Beginning with chapter four he calls us to walk in a manner that is worthy of the calling we have received.The rest of Ephesians will describe the walk that is worthy of the calling we’ve received. In simple language we will be shown what God expects of his church in daily life. We will be taught how to display his manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

The Church: Walking in Unity (4:2-6). 
It is interesting to discover that the very first part of our walk Paul describes involves church unity (Eph 4:2-6). Paul begins with relationships within the church! Our walk starts with how we treat others. This is how the watching universe sees the glory of God displayed in his church.

We have learned in chapter two of the doctrine of unity: Christ accomplished it at the cross, tearing down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles, creating one new man in place of the two, reconciling us to God and to each other. NOW WE ARE CALLED TO WALK IN THE UNITY CHRIST ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED. What Jesus has done must be believed by the church, embraced by the church and lived out by the church, for the glory of God!

1. Unity Maintained (4:2-3). “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.“ (Eph 4:2-3, ESV). Paul teaches the church HOW to walk in the unity Christ accomplished. Since God has treated us with overflowing grace in Christ, we are now called to treat our brothers and sisters in the church the same way:
  • All Humility. The ‘humble recognition of the worth and value of other people’ (Stott). “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). This is how Paul treated the Ephesians when he was there (Acts 20:19) [O’Brien]! This describes Christ (Phil 2:3-8). Unity is destroyed when we lack humility; Pride thinks, “I do not deserve to be treated this way…I deserve better.”
  • Gentleness. Meekness. Controlled strength – not weakness. ‘consideration for others, willingness to waive one’s rights’ (O’Brien). Jesus describes himself as ‘gentle and lowly in heart’ (Matt 11:29).
  • Patience. Long-suffering. ‘Makes allowance for others’ short-comings – endures wrong rather than flying into a rage or desiring vengeance’ (O’Brien).
  • Bearing with one another in Love. We are called to maintain unity by putting up with one another...but in love. The love of God in us will empower us to treat others in this way.
By treating one another in the church in this manner we can maintain (not create) the unity ‘of the Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit has put us into Christ as one body. He is building this unity in our midst. This is his desire.
Be eager. But notice that we are not only to maintain unity through our Christ-like relationships in the church, but we are to be ‘eager to maintain’ this unity! ‘Eager’ carries the meaning, ‘be zealous or eager,’ ‘take pains,’ or ‘make every effort’ (O’Brien). Markus Barth adds that this excludes passivity, or a ‘wait and see’ attitude. We must earnestly desire to display this unity to the universe, because God desires it, and for the sake of his glory!
The Bond of Peace. This unity of the Spirit enjoyed by the church when we walk in love, is characterized by the ‘bond of peace;’ we are held together by peace. We believe in the doctrine of reconciliation (2:14-16), so we must walk/live as reconciled to one another. Peace! The war is over!
The exceeding Sinfulness of Disunity. To resist these instructions to eagerly work towards maintaining unity in the church and treat each other in this Christ-like way, is to fight against God (Acts 11:17b); to resist what the Spirit is working towards in the church. And since this is how God desires to display his glory to the universe, failure here is an affront to the very glory of God! When we harbor bitterness and unforgiveness, and fail to receive one another in love, we are saying with our actions that God’s glory is meaningless and despised, and that the cross has made no difference (O’Brien)!
 Finally, for this to be a practical part of our daily life in Christ, this must start at the local church level. It is not an insignificant thing even for a small local church to live in love and unity. Rather, it is eternally and universally significant, part of the realization of the eternal plan of God – displaying his glory to the universe!
2. Unity Described (4:4-6). “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:4-6, ESV).

Having called us to maintain the unity, and instructed us concerning how to maintain the unity, now Paul describes this unity. He gives us 7 statements of unity, arranged around the members of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). This is because our unity in the church flows out of God’s unity within his Godhead. Because God exists as a unity of Persons, the church must and can and will be unified.
One body, one Spirit, one hope. “There is one body because there is one Spirit” (Stott). There are many local churches, but one Church; one body of Christ; one unified, multi-ethnic people of God who are filled with one Holy Spirit! Unity already exists; Christ’s people are already filled with the same Spirit. One hope that belongs to our call: This one people of God filled with the one Spirit of God shares the one HOPE, the same future inheritance. There’s not two heavens. Not one heaven for Methodists, one for Baptists, etc; Not one heaven for Asians, one for Africans, etc. God’s one people will be with him…together.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Jesus is Lord, and there is none other. He is the one Head of the church, the one Savior to sinners, the One way to the Father! The one faith is the one set of truths about Jesus held by believers (“the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” Jude 3); “the doctrinal truths Christians commonly confess” (ESV Study Bible notes). The gospel! And the one baptism is the immersion into Christ accomplished by the Holy Spirit and pictured outwardly in water baptism. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor 12:13). One Lord, one set of truths about him, one immersion into him, pictured by one sign.
One God and Father of all… All of this flows from the one Father, who is described in his sovereignty and omnipresence. One ‘all,’ the church.
The unity of the church has been accomplished by Christ and is being produced by the Spirit. Just as God’s unity of 3 Persons is secure, so is the unity of the church secure. But we must eagerly join God in bringing this to light in our experience. He has done it, and he does it, but he does it through us as we obey and walk in it.