Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Ephesians

WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD

 

 

 

 

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

One of the most tragic comments ever written about a group of people is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.  There, writing to a church made up largely of Gentile converts, Paul reminded them “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12; NKJV).  It is a vivid description of the world without Christ.

It must be remembered that before the coming of the gospel this was the condition in which most of the human race found itself.  God’s dealings with the human race were largely confined to one small group of people – the nation of Israel.  Thus Israel was uniquely in a position to know something about God and about His purposes in history.  He had made a promise to their ancestor Abraham, and that promise gave them hope – hope for a better tomorrow.

But where did that leave the rest of the human race?  They were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  The “covenants of promise” refers to the various covenants that God had made to Abraham and his descendants the Israelites.  The covenants included promises from God, and the promises gave Israel hope – the confident expectation that God would make things better in the future.  But the Gentiles had none of this.  Theirs was a dark and unpromising world, filled with toil and hardship, strife and conflict, with no hope for a better future.  What you so was pretty much what you got.

Moreover, the Gentiles were “without God in the world.”  They worshipped gods, of course; they were polytheistic.  But their “gods” were very much like themselves – only they lived longer.  What the pagan Gentiles had no concept of was a single, all-powerful Supreme Being, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  And this affected them psychologically.  Without God it is nearly impossible to find meaning and purpose in life.  We simply exist as an accident of nature, left to struggle to survive on our own.  For a while we might convince ourselves that we are doing well – we have jobs and houses and cars and boats.  But does anyone else really care about us?  Does it really matter in the long run?  And what happens when things turn bad?  What do we have then?  We are left with nothing.

You can see it on people’s faces.  Some look sad and depressed; some look bitter and cynical; others are just plain angry.  Few smile and few look happy.  They have eaten the bitter herbs of life without God.

As human beings we can find meaning and purpose, happiness and fulfillment, only by returning to our Creator.  We were created by Him for His purposes, and life was meant to function a certain way – His way.

Our sins stand as a barrier between us and God, and we must find forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  We must go to God in repentance and faith, and then we can find a meaningful relationship with our Creator.  In his letter to the Ephesians could go on to refer to Isa. 57:19: “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near”; and went on to say, “For through Him [i.e., Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:17,18).

Does the Christian experience difficulties in life?  He most certainly does.  But he takes his burdens to God in prayer; he comes in complete submission to the Father’s will, and he trusts in God’s unfailing providence.  He finds fulfillment in life by serving God and helping others.  And in the end he dies in the hope of eternal life.  It is a hope worth living for.

Advertisements

THE CHRISTIAN’S PRAYER LIFE

 

091

David the Psalmist Giving Thanks

 

Having enumerated all the different pieces of armor, Paul then adds to that the exhortation, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints . . .” (Eph. 6:18; NKJV).  He began this section by saying, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (v. 10).  The “whole armor of God,” by itself, is insufficient.  Ultimately we are directly dependent upon God himself, and the way we appropriate His strength and power is through prayer.  Prayer is the life-blood of the Christian life.

We are to pray “always,” or “on every occasion,” or “at every time,” as it might be more literally translated.  The idea here is not that you are constantly engaged in the act of prayer, 24-7, but rather that every time you are conscious of a need, every time a situation arises that requires a conscious decision, you pray.  We seek the Lord’s guidance; we seek the Lord’s aid.  We bring everything to Him in prayer.

We are to pray “with all prayer and supplication.”  “Prayer” is the general word for just that – prayer.  “Supplication” carries with it the specific connotation of petition or entreaty.  Obviously part of what we do in prayer is to ask God for things.

We are to pray “in the Spirit.”  We are told in Romans 8:26 that “. . . the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Prayer is not just a simple matter of us talking directly to God the Father.  We do that, of course.  But because we cannot see the future, let alone see the spiritual forces arrayed against us, we often find ourselves in a position in which we really do not know what to pray for.  In this the Holy Spirit works actively on our behalf.

We are to be “watchful.”  The word here means being awake and alert, watchful and vigilant.  As Paul has gone on to great lengths to demonstrate, we “wrestle . . . against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12).  Satan will try to catch us off guard.  He will tempt us when we least expect it.  Therefore we must be in a prayer attitude at all times.

We are to pray “with all perseverance.”  In other words, we are to continue in prayer steadfastly.  This is to be a regular, continuous part of the believer’s life.  There will always be a need for prayer; the struggle is never ending and God wants us to feel our dependence upon Him.  Prayer is a necessary and vital part of the Christian’s life.  Without prayer there is no meaningful relationship with God.

We are to pray “for all the saints.”  We have been commanded to “love one another” (John 15:12,17; I Thess. 4:9,10; I Pet. 1:22; I John 3:11; 4:7,11).  One of the ways that we express that love is by praying for each other.  We are not always in a position individually to meet the physical and financial needs of others, but we can go to the One who can.  It is one of the most important ministries we can exercise for each other.

But most importantly of all, prayer is necessary for the effectiveness of the ministry.  And so Paul asks for prayer for himself “. . . praying always . . . and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel . . .” (v. 19).  Paul, at the time he wrote this, was a prisoner.  He refers to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (v. 21).  He had been arrested for causing a disturbance in Jerusalem.  At the time that he wrote the epistle he was living in his own quarters in Rome, and was free to receive visitors and speak to them, but he was under guard (Acts. 28:302,31).  What he asks is that “utterance” would be given to him so that he could speak boldly.  There is obviously something intimidating about being arrested for something that you said, and our natural instinct for self-preservation might lead us to temper the message a bit to make it less offensive to others.  But it takes both wisdom and courage to react to circumstances as we ought.  The real question is, what needs to be said and how ought we to say it?  What does God want us to say?  And what do people need to hear?  How can we say it so that it is unmistakably clear yet not unnecessarily offensive?  And then this, in turn, calls for an inward strength to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, and the Holy Spirit must provide that.

And why is this so necessary?  It is so that we might “make known the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19).  What is ultimately at stake is the eternal destiny of countless multitudes of lost sinners.  Without the gospel they are lost.  And today perhaps the greatest crime against humanity are churches that no longer preach the gospel.  They fail to discharge the solemn commission that has been given to them by God.

Revival comes from God; and if we would have it we must ask for it.  Why is our nation in the shape that it is in today?  One reason, at least, is that Christians do not pray!

THE SPIRITUAL WAR

 

107

We are living in a tumultuous time.  A controversial president is sitting in the White House, Russia is interfering in elections throughout the free world, and North Korea racing to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Congress is struggling to reform the healthcare system.  And the LGBTQ community is actively working to change long accepted standards of sexual morality.  What are Christians to make of all of this?

One response is to take political action – to organize, canvass and raise funds.  Yet the Bible makes it clear that there is more to the world’s problems than just special interests at work in Washington.  There is a spiritual dimension to the conflict, and it will take more than just political action to make things right.  We are, in fact, locked in a spiritual war.

“”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12: NKJV).  What we are up against is not just “flesh and blood,” the natural human and physical forces we encounter in everyday life, but rather “principalities” (“rulers” – NASV, ESV), “powers” (“authorities” – ESV), “rulers of the darkness of this age,” “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Paul had previously introduced these sinister forces in chapter 2, verse 2 when he said that the unsaved “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience . . .”  What is going on in the world is positively evil, and it plays into the hands of Satan himself in his rebellion against God.  He is the one who “works in the sons of disobedience,” and has blinded their eyes (II Cor. 4:4)  These spiritual forces are not bound by the laws of nature and human psychology, and hence social pressure and marketing techniques are of no avail against them.

What is needed is something greater, something more powerful.  And so Paul tells his readers, “be strong in the Lord and in power of His might” (Eph. 6:10).  We must look outside of ourselves, to God Himself, for the strength to prevail.

To illustrate the point Paul borrows some metaphors from the military realm.  “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (v. 11).  He then elaborates in verses 14-17 where he describes the individual pieces of armor.  Some of the imagery is drawn from passages in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, describing the Messiah armed for battle.

So what do we need in order to succeed in the Christian life and ministry?  The first thing that Paul mentions is “having girded your waist with truth” (v. 14).  The first thing we need is absolute sincerity of heart and mind.  “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts . . .” (Ps. 51:6).  We must sincerely believe and practice what we preach.  Hypocrisy will get us nowhere in the Christian life and ministry.

The next piece of armor that Paul mentions is “the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14), or “the breastplate of faith and love,” as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8.  The war in which we are engaged is primarily a conflict between good and evil. By living a righteous life we advance the cause of Christ and frustrate the plans of the devil.  Christ is glorified when His people are living examples of what the Christian life is supposed to be like.

Paul then says that we are to have “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 18).  Here the reference is undoubtedly to Isa. 52:7:

“How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news,

Who proclaims peace,

Who brings glad tidings of good things,

Who proclaims salvation,

Who says to Zion,

‘Your God reigns!’”

The church is to go forth and proclaim a message, the “good news” of salvation.  This is what the church has to offer to the world, the message to which men and women are invited to respond.  If we are to fulfill the Great Commission we must make sure that we get the message right.

Then we are to take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (v. 16).  The Roman shield was a large, oblong shield made of wood and covered with leather.  The “fiery darts” were darts or arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire.  Thus when the darts would hit the shield they would be blunted and extinguished.  The “fiery darts of the wicked one” would include temptations, accusations and outright persecution.  To counter Satan’s attacks what is needed is faith – faith in God’s goodness and power to deliver us.

Next Paul mentions “the helmet of salvation” (v. 17), or as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8, “the hope of salvation.”  We fight the battle in the confidence that no matter what befalls us in this life we have been saved and have been promised eternal life.

And then finally Paul comes to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17).  Interestingly this is the only offensive weapon mentioned in the passage.  Here “the sword of the Spirit” is identified as “the word of God,” and the word for “word” (rema) refers specifically to the spoken word.  It is Scripture, as originally inspired by God Himself, and it is Scripture as it is faithfully proclaimed today.  Moreover it is “the sword of the Spirit” – it was originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is used today but the Holy Spirit to convict sinners.  And is this not the major weakness of the church today?  We are liable to hear anything and everything from the pulpit today except a careful but forceful exposition of Scripture.  And man’s word cannot replace God’s.

All of these things constituted “the whole armor of God.”  They are the result of God’s grace at work in our lives, and are the practical means by which Christ advances His kingdom.  In this way we can be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”

And here we can see the necessary ingredients for an effective ministry.  It is not necessarily education or technology or financial resources.  It is a life lived close to God, it is personal holiness, and it is the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit on God’s Word as it is proclaimed to mankind.  May we consecrate our lives to Him, and seek the filling of His Spirit!

 

THE CHRISTIAN EMPLOYEE

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Men and Women Going to Work

 

Most of us have had the experience of working for employers, and we would have to admit that it has not always been a pleasant experience.  Most business executives today are focused on the corporate bottom line, and that often means that they work their employees as hard as they can and pay them as little as they can.  And in some cases our immediate boss may be either difficult to work with or just plain incompetent.  What is a Christian employee to do in such a situation?

Writing to the church at Ephesus the apostle Paul addresses the master / servant relationship.  The immediate reference is to the institution of slavery, and significantly Paul does not condemn it outright.  Every society has a social and economic structure that places some individuals in positions of authority over others, and that is unavoidable.  The question is, however, how are the individuals in these relationships supposed to treat each other?

Paul says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling. . .” (Eph. 6:5; NKJV).  And the masters are exhorted to do good to their servants, “giving up threatening” (v. 9).  And if outright slaves are morally obligated to obey their masters, and masters are required to treat their slaves humanely, how much more employees and employers, who have voluntarily agreed to work with each other?

Paul tells the bondservants to “be obedient to those who are you masters according to the flesh” (v. 5).  But he goes one step further and says that this is to be done “with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart . . . not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers . . . with goodwill doing service” (vv. 5-7).  In other words, it is not enough merely to “go through the motions” on the job, and to “goof off” when the boss is not looking.  If we are getting paid to work, we should work, and we should try honestly and faithfully to follow our boss’s instructions.

But we have all had the experience of working for bosses who are difficult and unreasonable, and the temptation is to respond in kind.  Yet God tells us in His word that we are to obey “with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart.”  Why?  How is that even possible when the boss is clearly being unreasonable?  Paul explains: we are to render obedience “as to Christ . . . as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart . . . as to the Lord, and not to men” (vv 5-7).  Yes, the boss is being difficult.  But ultimately we perform our work to please Christ, not the boss.  And Paul goes on to add: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is slave or free” (v. 8).  God sees what good we have done, and God Himself will reward us accordingly.

Paul concludes this section with a word o exhortation to masters: “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master in heaven also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (v. 9).  The parallel passage in Colossians reads: “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).  Disciplinary action, of course, is sometimes necessary.  Some employees malinger, some disobey orders, some may even be guilty of outright theft.  Some may have to be warned of the potential consequences of their unsatisfactory work performance.  And yet it is a rule of human relations that nothing will demoralize a workforce faster than constant harsh criticism from management.  When you make impossible demands and hurl insults at your employees, and never reward them for good work, morale sinks and the quality of the work suffers as a result.  If you treat your employees well you will have a more highly motivated workforce.

Businessmen all too easily forget that their customers, employees and vendors are all human beings, and if you want to be successful in business you have to treat the other people well.  Paul reminds the masters that “your own Master is also in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”  Owning a business does not give someone the right to be a petty tyrant.  We are all accountable to our Master in heaven.  It behooves us, then, to do unto others as we would have God do unto us!

PARENTING

 

4.2.7

Anthony van Dyck: Family Portrait, 1621

 

 

Being a parent is perhaps one of the greatest challenges any human being can face, and we have all probably fallen short in this area.  And here as in other areas of life God’s Word offers valuable guidance.  If there was ever a time when it was needed, it is now.

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; NKJV).  Significantly, this is addressed specifically to “fathers.”   Mothers obviously have an important role in parenting, but as the head of the household the responsibility for childrearing falls squarely on the shoulders of the father.  He bears ultimate responsibility for the upbringing of his children.

And like so many biblical exhortations this one contains both a negative and a positive.  The negative command is this: “fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath . . .”   Or, as it stated in the parallel passage in Colossians, “Fathers, so nor provoke your children, lest they become discourage” (Col. 3:21).  Tragically this is where many fathers fail today.  How many adults still bear the emotional scars that resulted from the abusive treatment they received as youngsters from their fathers?

But no child likes being disciplined; how is a father supposed to correct his children?  Obviously a spanking would cause short term pain, but what leads to lasting anger and resentment is the perception of injustice.  If the rules have not been made clear, if punishment is haphazard and inconsistent, if the children are treated differently from each other, this will naturally lead to anger and resentment.  This the father should never do.

On the positive side fathers are instructed to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”  It is not exactly clear how Paul intended to differentiate “training” and “admonition.”  The two words mean nearly the same thing.  The Greek word translated “training” (paideia) originally meant childrearing, and then by extension education in its broadest sense.  But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it is used to translate the Hebrew word musar, which carries with it the distinct meaning of chastisement, punishment, correction and discipline.  The difference is significant.  For the ancient Greeks the root of man’s difficulty was ignorance, and the aim of paideia was to impart knowledge, and its highest form was found in literature.  But the Bible presents a different view of things.  Man is partially ignorant because his will is stubborn.  He does not want to behave righteously, and therefore he more or less deliberately distorts his view of reality.  He uses a false worldview as a cover for his rebellion.  Child discipline, then, involves changing both the mind and will, and this in turn requires the skillful use of rewards and punishments.  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; / The rod of correction (musar) will drive it from him” (Prov. 22:15).

But there is more to child-rearing than just corrective discipline; there is also “admonition” or verbal instruction as well.  And that raises the question of what we should be teaching our children.  Significantly, in this passage says “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”  In other words, parents have a responsibility to provide their children with an education that is Christian.

The reason is simple.  First of all, the purpose of an education ought to be more than prepare one for a job.  It should equip one to live life.  Solomon outlines the purpose of education in the opening verses of the Book of Proverbs:

“To know wisdom and instruction,

To perceive the words of understanding . . .”

(Prov. 1:2)

Wisdom, in the Bible, is the ability to manage one’s affairs in every area of life, and it involves both technical skills and human relationships.  To that end the aim of education should be

“To give prudence to the simple,

To the young man knowledge and discretion . . .” (v. 4).

(The word “simple” here refers to a person who is gullible and naïve.)  Thus the aim of a sound education is not just simply to be able to earn a living, but to make wise decisions in every area of life.

This, in turn, requires a well-defined set of values based on a Christian worldview.  If we live in a world that was created by God, the only way we can make sense out of it is to understand it as God’s creation.  Everything has meaning and purpose because of the way that God created it.  Once God is removed from the picture all we are left with is a jumble of unrelated facts.  This is why Solomon could say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge . . .” (v. 7a).

Never have the stakes been higher.  American family life has crumbled.  We have raised a whole generation that does not know what a stable family life is, has no sense of morality, and has been fed a steady diet of consumerism.  As society around us goes to hell in a handbasket, it is up to Christian parents to preserve what is left of Western Civilization by bringing up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN AUTHORITY

 234

 

 

Thomas Jefferson famously stated in the Declaration of Independence that “to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”  And most Americans sincerely believe that – they routinely drive over the speed limit when the cops are not watching.  The law, in and of itself, means nothing to them.  But is Jefferson’s statement really true?

In the limited sense in which Jefferson probably intended it, it undoubtedly is true.  Human governments are, after all, institutions created by human beings for the purpose of establishing law and order in society.  Society could not function without government of some sort.  And so it logically follows that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.”

But that does not mean, however, that individuals are free to disobey the government any time they happen to feel like it.  A lawfully constituted government must be obeyed except in cases when it is acting immorally.  If everyone took the law into his own hands it would defeat the whole purpose of government and chaos would ensue.

Respect for authority begins in the home.  And so it is that when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus he had a special word of exhortation to the children of the congregation: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1; NKJV).  He then goes on to point out that this is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments: “Honor you father and mother” (v. 2; cf. Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16).

Paul says “for this is right” (v. 1).  When he says “right” he does not just mean that it is technically correct.  The Greek word that he uses (dikaion) is usually translated “righteous,” and means “morally right,” i.e., in accordance with God’s moral law.  The idea here is that there is a certain form of behavior expected from us as human beings.  We have a moral obligation to Someone outside of ourselves, and our actions must be brought into conformity with His moral law.  And part of our moral obligation is respect for duly constituted authority.

We are confronted with the issue at the age of two, when we throw our first temper tantrum.  We didn’t get what we wanted and we responded with an outburst of rage.  It is total depravity in its rawest form, and if left unchecked it will lead to a lifetime of ruinous, destructive behavior.  It is the very opposite of that love for neighbor that God requires from us as His creatures.

Paul points out that this is the first one of the Ten Commandments that has a promise attached to it: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” (v. 3).  In its original context in Deuteronomy, the promise refers specifically to the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, which God promised to bless if Israel remained faithful to Him (Dt. 11:8-17).  But there is also a broader sense in which human prosperity is tied to the soil, and is ultimately dependent upon God’s blessing on that soil.  We are the offspring of our parents, and a harvest is the produce of the land.  If we fail to honor our parents who brought us into the world, and upon whom we are dependent during our childhood years, we cannot expect the land to yield its fruit.  In this, as in other areas of life, we really do reap what we sow.

Respect for authority does not end at the parent – child relationship; it extends to other areas as well.  The apostle Peter could write: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (I Pet. 2:13,14).  Paul himself could refer to the civil magistrate as “God’s minister to you for good,” and exhorted his readers to “be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1-7).  Individual rulers, of course, are chosen by chosen by men, or at least come to power by human means.  But God is ultimately the Lord of history, and controls events through His providence; and thus the authorities can be said in some sense to be “appointed” by Him (NKJV) or “established” (NASV) or “instituted” (ESV) by Him.  Politicians may be dishonest, incompetent, or even corrupt, but society needs politicians nonetheless.  The alternative is rampant crime and chaos.  We are to respect and honor them for the office they hold; not necessarily their personal attributes.  When Barack Obama was in office, he was the President of all of us as Americans.  Now that Donald Trump holds the office he too is the President of all of us.  And both facts are true no matter what we may personally think of the views of either man.

What the Bible offers us, then, is a basically conservative social philosophy.  Yes, we are morally obligated to care for the disadvantaged in our society.  But we must respect and honor those who are in positions of authority.  Human society simply cannot function in the absence of authority structures needed to plan to organize tasks and maintain order.  We are ultimately accountable to our Creator for our actions, and He expects us to act responsibly in all our affairs.  “Rugged individualism is the essence of human arrogance, and is the opposite of Christian love.  It has no place among Christians.

 

THE DUTY OF HUSBANDS TO THEIR WIVES

 

4.2.7

Anthony van Dyck:Family Portrait

 

 

As we have seen, God has placed husbands in a position of authority over their wives.  But does that mean that they are free to do whatever they please to their wives?  Not at all.  In fact, in some ways the burden that God places on the husbands is greater than the one He placed o the wives.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church . . .” (Eph. 5:25; NKJV).  The word “love” is agapate, the word used most often in the New Testament to describe a distinctly Christian type of love.  And here Paul specifically points to the example of Christ as a model of how husbands should love their wives.

And how did Christ love the church?  First of all, He “gave Himself up for her” (v. 25).  The word translated “gave” means to “hand over.”  So great was the love that Christ had for the church that He willingly surrendered His very life on her behalf.  But why did He do this?  What did He hope to accomplish by it?  “. . . that He might sanctify and cleanse her . . . that He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26,27).

In other words, Christ’s aim was the church’s well-being.  But the church’s well-being consists in holiness.  Christ does not allow the church to indulge in every sinful passion or lust.  Rather He desires what is in her genuine best interest.  He wants her to reach her full potential.  And so He does what is best for her, which is not necessarily the same thing as what she wants.

So when Scripture says that husbands ought to love their wives, it is not necessarily talking about a specifically romantic attraction – it does not necessarily mean that the husband is enamored with his wife’s beauty or charm.  Rather it means that he has such a care and concern for his wife and her well-being that he is willing to make any sacrifice necessary on her behalf.  He puts her well-being ahead of his own.

But then Paul gives another reason why husbands should love their wives.  “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28).  Paul quotes Gen. 2:24: “and the two shall become one flesh.”  When a man and a woman get married, they are essentially becoming one person – “one flesh.”  This means that whatever happens to one of them affects the other as well.  This is why Paul could say “he who loves his wife loves himself.”

Paul then draws out the practical implication of this.  “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . .” (v. 29), or as we might more literally translate it, “feeds and warms it.”  We are sensitive to every bodily ache and pain.  We are quick to relieve the suffering by any means possible.  But that should be exactly our reaction whenever our wives are hurting.  We should feel their pain and seek to do something about it.  We should pamper our wives as ourselves!

And here again Paul points to the example of Christ and the church: “ . . .but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (vv. 29,30).  Christ, of course, did this for us on the cross to atone for our sins.  But His ministry on our behalf did not end there.  He cares for us still.  He promised His disciples that He would answer prayer (John 14:13,14) and that He would send us another “Helper” (parakletos = a person called to someone’s aid, and advocate, intercessor), the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17).  Christ gives the church spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-16).  Christ did not ascend to heaven and forget about us.  Rather, He continues to exercise a ministry on our behalf, guiding us, protecting us and strengthening us.  And He does all of this because He actively cares for us.  This, then, is the care that husbands should have for their wives.

As noted in our last blog post, Paul concludes by saying “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).  In marriage one gives up a lot – you give up your freedom and independence.  You assume a great responsibility, the responsibility of caring for a family.  God’s intention is that marriage would be a permanent, binding commitment between a man and a woman.  Most Americans today are not willing to make that sacrifice and that commitment.  That is why American family life is in shambles today.  We go into marriage for mainly selfish reasons, and then bail out when reality strikes home.

God knows what is best for human society.  We ignore His will at our own peril.  Marriage can be an enormously satisfying experience – if it is done God’s way!

TRUE WORSHIP

 

091

David the psalmist giving thanks

 

What does it mean to worship God?  Different churches have different ideas on the subject.  Some have very elaborate formal liturgical “services.”   Some are more informal and emotionally expressive, with raised hands, shouting and hand clapping.  And in some churches nowadays the “worship service” is virtually a rock concert.  But what does God think about all of this?

The apostle Paul gives us a clue in Ephesians 5:18-21 (and in a parallel passage in Col. 3:14-17).  He tells the believers in Ephesus not to be drunk with wine, “but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Eph. 5:18-20; NKJV).

To understand this passage it is necessary to know the context.  We today think we know what worship it, based on our own experience.  But the church experience of First Century Christians was very different from ours.  In fact, if we could go back in time to the First Century and sit in one of their meetings we would hardly recognize it.

For one thing, there were no church buildings per se.  There was no professional clergy, no choirs and organs, and no Sunday schools.  How did they manage to function, then?  “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  This suggests that First Century church life functioned on two levels.  First, there were large public gatherings where unbelievers might be present – this may be what is described in I Corinthians 14; and secondly there were smaller gatherings in private homes.  It is in these small home groups that the Lord’s Table was observed, perhaps on the model of the Jewish Passover meal (cf. I Cor. 11).  Thus church life tended to be less formal and more intimate that what we are accustomed to today.

What, then, does Paul say about worship?  First of all, it is fundamentally an act of praise directed towards God Himself.  The object is to be “giving thank always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . (Eph. 5:20).  A hymn should be a kind of prayer addressed to God, and when we gather for worship we should be consciously entering into the presence of God to praise Him and thank Him for all that He is and all that He has done.  Worship is not supposed to be a form of entertainment, in which the congregation sits passively in the pews and listens to someone else sing to them.  Rather, they are to be actively engaged in praising God.

But what should the congregation sing?  According to Paul it is “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (v. 19; cf. Col. 3:16).  Exactly how Paul meant to distinguish the three is not exactly clear.  However “psalms” certainly includes the psalms of the Old Testament.  But it is entirely possible that the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” include songs with a specifically Christian content, and suggestions have been made that there are fragments of such hymns scattered throughout the New Testament (e.g., Eph. 5:14; Col. 1:15-20; I Tim 3:16 and II Tim. 2:11-13).  And it is even possible that some of the songs used in early Christian worship were ecstatic utterances immediately inspired by the Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor. 14:26).

The important thing, however, is that worshippers  should be singing from the heart, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (v. 19).  Too often we dishonor God through our listless, half-hearted “worship.”

“. . . these people draw near with their mouths

And honor Me with their lips,

But have removed their hearts far from Me,

And their fear toward Me is taught by the

commandment of men . . .”

(Isa. 29:13).

Rather, God expects us to “make a joyful shout to the Lord . . .” (Ps. 100:1).  When we worship, we should act like we are genuinely grateful for what God has done for us.  Sometimes we insult God through faint praise.

But most importantly, our worship should be driven by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Eph. 5:18-21 forms a single sentence, and the main thought in the sentence is “be filled with the Spirit” – the main verb being “be filled” (v. 18); all the rest of the sentence elaborates on what it means to be “filled with the Spirit.”  In what way?  By “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Worship is supposed to a spiritual activity driven and motivated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, giving us a sense of God’s awesome majesty, His unapproachable holiness, and His condescending love.

But what about musical style?  How should the music be performed?  We must be careful here – historically the church has employed everything from Gregorian chant to shaped-note hymns to rock bands.  Perhaps the biggest failure in both traditional and contemporary styles of worship is the lack of artistic expression.  Too often every song sounds alike.  The musicians sometimes act as if they were not thinking about what they are singing.  Christian music should reflect the whole range of Christian experience, and that should be reflected in the way the music is performed.  The music should express the content of the words.

And what about Christian rock music?  I want to be cautious here, but Christian music, if it is genuinely Christian, should reflect Christian values.  In other words, it should be marked by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  If our music comes across to outsiders as “in-your-face” and “head-banging” it is conveying the wrong message.

To worship God, then, is to

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the Lord is good;

His mercy is everlasting,]

And His truth endures to all generations.”

(Ps. 100:4,5).

THE SACREDNESS OF SEX

 

4.2.7

Anthony Van Dyke: Family Portrait

 

In Ephesians 5:3 the apostle Paul addresses what is perhaps the most controversial issue facing the Christian church today: sex.  The United States Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right of same sex couples to marry each other (it is hard to imagine that the framers of the Constitution could have ever have conceived of such a thing); and now anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is accused of being a hate-monger.

What are Christians supposed to make of all of this?  What Paul tells us is this: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints . . .” (Eph. 5:3; NKJV).  Here Paul is using the words “fornication” (porneia) and “uncleanness” very broadly to cover a whole range of illicit sexual activity.  In the Old Testament the Canaanites were condemned for a variety of sexual sins including incest, homosexuality and bestiality (Lev. 18:6-23).  The sins are called “abominations” (Lev. 18:23,27,29,30), the Canaanites were “defiled” because of them (v. 24), and therefore the land “vomited” them out (vv. 25,28).

But are not conservative Christians clinging to an outdated morality?  What is so wrong about having sex outside of marriage?  Or being homosexual?  None other than Jesus himself  explained the rationale behind sex and marriage.

According to Matthew 19:3 ff Jesus was approached by some rabbis who asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”  The question was a controversial one.  It involved a perplexing phrase in the only passage in the Torah dealing with the subject of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  There it states that “when a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce . . .” (v. 1).  The question that agitated the rabbis of Jesus’ day was, what was meant by the phrase “some uncleanness”?  One school of thought put the emphasis on the word “uncleanness,” and argued that a man may divorce his wife only because of unchastity.  Another school of thought put the emphasis on the word “some” and argued that a man could divorce his wife for practically any reason – “even if she spoiled a dish for him” (Mishnah, Gittin 9:10).  And so the rabbis asked Jesus to weigh in on the question.

Jesus answered by going back to the account of creation in the Book of Genesis.  “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ . . .” (Matt. 19:4, quoting Gen. 1:27; 5:2).  Here two key points are made.  First of all, were “made” or “created” by God.  We did not come into existence by accident or through some blind, impersonal natural process, as atheists would have us to believe.  We were created by an intelligent Supreme Being for a specific reason and purpose.  His creative will defines our existence, and because of that life has meaning and purpose.  It also means that there are behavioral norms to which we must conform.

Secondly, gender differences are a part of the created order.  God “made them male and female.”  Granted, sometimes societies have engaged in needless stereotyping.  Women can be very strong, intelligent and capable.  But physical and psychological differences remain, and it is futile to ignore them.

But Jesus goes on and quotes another passage from Genesis.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5, quoting Gen. 2:24).  What is clearly in view here is a heterosexual marriage.

Jesus then goes on to draw His conclusion: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).  Marriage was meant to be a permanent, binding commitment between a man and a woman.  Divorce, save for the cause of sexual misconduct, is out of the question.  Jesus, in effect, sided with the stricter school of interpretation.

If that, then, is what God intended for marriage to work, if follows that any kind of sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage defeats the whole purpose of marriage itself.  We are complex physical and emotional creatures.  Sex is more than just the physical act of copulation; it is an intimate relationship between two human beings.  Our emotions follow our hormones.  If we have sex without being married, we are having an intimate relationship without having made a commitment.  It is basically sex without love.  We are simply using that other person  for our own selfish pleasure.

And if we are married and have a sexual relationship with someone who is not our spouse, we have violated a commitment that we have already made.  The spouse has been betrayed and the marriage undermined as a result.  And the end result of all this sexual license is social chaos – children growing up in unstable, dysfunctional families.

When sins like these become commonplace and accepted in society, it is easy not to take them seriously. But Paul warns of the dire consequences of such behavior.  “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:5-7).  Society may change its standards, but God does not change His.  “We ought to obey God rather than me” (Acts 5:29).

What God intended in marriage is love and affection in a committed relationship, not casual or commercial sex, not self-gratification masquerading as “love.”  Ironically the modern “anything goes” approach to sex only serves to cheapen and degrade it.  Christians do not think that sex is somehow “dirty.”  Far from it; it is precisely because sex is sacred that it must be protected from anything that cheapens, trivializes, or demeans it.  “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

The apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; NKJV) and to “walk in love” (5:2).  These are all noble ideals, of course, but sometimes hard to put into actual practice.  Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and to retaliate when wronged.  To us it seems like a simple matter of justice.  And why should I go out of my way to do good to others?  I have enough of my own problems.

And yet Paul enjoins us to be kind and to forgive, and he underpins the exhortation by pointing to the example of Christ: “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32), and “walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (5:2).  “God in Christ forgave you.”  The verb in the Greek (echarisato) suggests open-handed generosity – to forgive freely with no strings attached..  We were guilty sinners.  We fully deserved God’s wrath and condemnation.  Yet in Christ Jesus we have been forgiven – our guilt has been removed and we are accepted as perfectly righteous persons.

But how was that possible?  If we are guilty there is no denying the fact.  The answer is that “Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (5:2).  He “gave Himself.”  The verb here (paredoken) means to “hand over” or to “deliver up,” especially to a person or judgment.  Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified.  But He did it voluntarily; He could have prevented it if He had wanted to, and yet He did it anyway.  And in so doing He was basically making Himself “an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  The imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament temple ritual in which various things would be brought to the temple and offered up on the altar.  In this way the thing offered was surrendered to God.  And the reason Christ offered Himself for us  is that He “loved us” – He had enough care and concern for us, guilty sinners that we were, that He was willing to lay down His very life on our behalf.  And according to our text, this was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”  We are told in the Book of Genesis that after the Flood Noah built an altar, sacrificed some animals, and burnt their carcasses on an altar.  “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21).  And thus when Christ offered Himself up on the cross it was, figuratively speaking, “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God, something to which God took exquisite pleasure.

If, then, God has shown such grace and mercy towards us, what excuse do we have if we fail to show it towards those who have wronged us?  We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:2).  We should show that same care and compassion, that same willingness to forgive, as did Christ.  It is the attitude here that counts.  We should be “kind to one another,” ready and willing to do good to each other.  We should be “tenderhearted” – we should feel real sympathy and compassion in our hearts for others.  And that in turn means that we will be “forgiving one another.”  No one is perfect, but we are to love them anyway.  The hurt may be real, be we seek the other’s redemption, not his punishment.

In this way we can be a living example of Christ’s own love.  People should be able to look at us and get an idea of Christ must have been like in His earthly ministry.  And in this way by our example the world is confronted with Christ.