POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Seeing the Mystery of the Gospel...A Look Back Through Ephesians

Today’s Junk drawer is mainly scripture and summary.  It is a walk together back through some of the high peaks that we viewed during “Life on Doctrine.” I pray it may be of help to you this week in slowing down, meditating on truth and living your life “on it.”  Grace to you all.

Ephesians 1

That all of life is relational, we are not the result of blind matter + time + chance,  NOR are we all God and just have not realized it yet (pretty big thing to forget, no?).  The universe, animals, humans and all that exists are related to God who is renewing and redeeming all the time.  He is bringing people into his family from every corner of the earth, every tribe, tongue and people.

Ephesians 1:3-10 – 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 2

God’s purpose includes rescuing rebellious punks, human beings that are running from him and under his just wrath and condemnation for sin. God forgives us, places us into a new family called the church, bringing together a new people out of the many peoples of the world.  The church is therefore a family, sent on mission, living to reflect the goodness, kindness and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) 1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:13-22 (ESV) 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 3

God is sending his people into this world to reflect his wisdom in the world…doing through them wonderful works. We as his people pray for one another that we might first and foremost love God and then allow him to change us and use our lives for his purposes in our times.

Ephesians 3:7-20 (ESV)  - 7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. 14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

Ephesians 4

As a family living in unity of truth and mission we want to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.  We desire to be equipped to serve, not to be people coming to a religious WALMART we call a church in order to consume.  We desire to live in a new way together in — not in malice, drinking haterade, back biting and punking each other all the time.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV) 1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:9-12 (ESV) 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Ephesians 4:17-24 (ESV) 17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 5

We are a community which follows God together seeking wisdom about how we live. We seek his paths in the way we approach sex, our speech and money, in the way we live out marriage and the household and radically equality before God together as a Spirit-filled community.

Ephesians 5:1-10 (ESV) 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:15-21 (ESV) 15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 6

We realize that we are in this together as his people and that not everyone is cheering for us. Our lives are lived in the shadow of a spiritual war that Jesus has won completely. He now leads us in the final phases of God’s full triumph over the forces of darkness and evil.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV) 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…

It is our hope and prayer together that we would seek to live our lives on doctrine and to find joy in repentance when we fall short of walking in a manner worthy of our calling.  No perfect people, just people on the way with Jesus.  Hoping that we might find life, satisfaction and transformation in Him.

Walking  Together…

"You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody” Greco-Roman Slavery and the Early Church - Guest Article by Benjamin Hicks...

When studying the relationship of Christian slaves and their Christian masters in a first century Greco-Roman context I turned to my friend Ben Hicks to give us some background on the subject. Ben was a PhD candidate in classics at Rutgers University at the time.

——————————————————-

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ”

A standard trope of the New Testament epistles is for the author to open a letter by calling himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.” But here our English translations often deceive us, or at least soften the language with the euphemistic “servant.” The word used in the Greek, doulos, is the common word for any sort of slave or bondservant, whether for temporary debt servitude or those born or taken into the condition of slavery.2

We see the language of servitude throughout the Gospels, as well. Christ (Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13) speaks of how we can only serve one master, and at Philippians 2:5-9, the Savior’s coming is likened to Him taking the form of a slave. To our modern sensibilities, the emphatic use of the language of slavery to speak of our relationship to Christ might seem odd, but its meaning would have been clear to Paul’s readers in Christian communities throughout the cities of the Roman Empire in the mid-first century AD. Slavery was very much a fact of day-to-day life, and so it was inevitable that within a church congregation that slave and master might both find themselves new Christians.

Slavery in the Ancient World

As early as the Odyssey, the Homeric epic detailing the hero Odysseus’ return from the Trojan War (composed c. 725 BC), we find the assertion that “far-sounding Zeus takes away half a man’s virtue when the day of slavery comes upon him” (17.322f). Slavery was regarded as an intrinsic outcome to human conflict but also an ill to be avoided if at all possible. Greek city-states generally had populations of both privately held slaves and also public (demosioi) slaves. One of the best-known groups of slaves in antiquity, the Spartan helots, were an entire people (the Messenians) who had been subjected to slavery.

If I had to discuss the many variations of each Greek state on this topic, we would have a never-ending Junk Drawer for this week since each Greek community had its own laws. Paul, however, was writing to a community under the Roman legal regime for slaves, and this simplifies things immensely. Slavery also existed at Rome from the beginning of its recorded history. Indeed, the Romans of the late republic and early empire witnessed several slave revolts on the latifundia, large plantations worked primarily by slave labor. Slaves were also common in urban areas, acting as domestics, conducting business for their masters, or even serving as tutors if they were literate. To give some numbers, from 200 BC to AD 200, by one estimate slaves comprised around 5-10% of the population.3

Legal Status of Roman Slavery

Roman law regarding slaves was without doubt harsh. A master held his slaves as possessions and was therefore entitled to the fruits of all their labor and increase, including children from female slaves. He could also buy or sell slaves as possessions. Slaves were also generally regarded as being at the service of their master sexually, whether male or female. The Roman charge of sexual misconduct (stuprum) only attached if someone took liberties with another man’s slave, in effect causing harm to someone else’s property. The Latin term familia, which encompassed all members of a household under the legal authority (potestas) of the father, included the household slaves and in practical usage referred primarily to the slaves almost exclusively. Further, in legal proceedings, slaves were subject to torture to extract information.

The question of slave status, however, never turned on issues of race as it did in English and American law. Slavery was an imposed status, whether through capture by ransom, birth to a mother who was a slave, or subjection through debt bondage (in which case the slave was regarded as a pignus, or pledge of security) and the rare cases when one voluntarily entered slavery in hopes of future citizenship or securing basic provisions for life. Masters also possessed a right to free their slaves, either by bringing them before a competent magistrate or through a will, though legislation under the empire placed restrictions on both of these methods.4 Freedmen and women (liberti/ae) could eventually obtain citizenship after reforms under the emperor Augustus, and they often had a surprising amount of financial and civil success, though they could not be elected to high offices.5 The priesthoods of the imperial cults (i.e. the priesthoods dedicated to emperors who had been “deified” upon their deaths) were open to them and the freedmen of the familia Caesaris (the emperor’s household), exercised a great deal of influence in the administration of the state. In at least one instance the emperor Nero, while attending games in Greece during the year AD 67, left the city of Rome under the charge of his freedman Helios.6

This made the wealthiest and most successful freedmen as objects of envy and lampoon by the upper classes. The largest surviving chunk of the literary work of Petronius, a prominent member of Nero’s court, is a fictional account of a garish, tasteless dinner given by the freedman Trimalchio. In spite of this prejudice, freedmen and women recorded their achievements and familial successes through epitaphs and other inscriptions with nearly ubiquitous frequency. Their children were considered freeborn and had the full legal privileges obtaining to whatever citizenship rights their parents had possessed, though the social stigma of servile birth might persist for a few generations.

Under the Roman Empire, the law did eventually provide some legal protections to slaves. The lex Petronia forbade a master from putting his slave up to fight with wild beasts without first consulting a magistrate, and a constitution (that is, a legal formulation) of the emperor Antoninus (ruled AD 138 – 161) subjected a master to legal penalties if he put one of his slaves to death without proper cause. Also by the early second century AD, in cases of disputed manumission or servile birth, the general legal principal known as the favor libertatis (the “preference for freedom”) dictated that the presiding magistrate favor the interpretation of evidence most favorable to the claim for freedom.

Slavery and the Early Church7

The Christian church, with its emphasis on the equality of all believers before God, was popular among the slaves throughout the Greco-Roman world. Aside from evidence in the epistles (such as Eph. 6:5-9) and Paul’s letter to Philemon on behalf of the slave Onesimus, we have the case of two “deaconesses” (ministrae, the Latin equivalent of the Greek word from which deacon derives) whom Pliny the Younger tortured during his governorship of Bithynia (AD 111-113, part of modern-day Turkey). In his letter to the emperor Trajan asking for guidance on how to handle the problem of Christians in his province, Pliny also calls the deaconesses slaves. Thus we can see not only the presence of slaves in the early church, but their equal participation in worship. The passage in Ephesians which we are looking at today was written to address the relationship between slave and master within the context of Christian behavior. It maintains the earthly status of masters and slaves by enjoining the latter to obey their masters “with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ” (Eph. 6:5). However, it also enjoins masters to treat their slaves equally well, and instructs them to “stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (6:9). Paul, in his epistle to Philemon argues similarly, if not more forcefully. In it, he encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus (a runaway slave of Philemon’s who had been of service to Paul) not as a slave but “as a beloved brother” (1:16) and includes a not-too-veiled threat that he will be checking up on the matter personally (1:21-22).

This tension between the earthly existence of slavery and the ideal of equality before Christ as the ultimate sovereign (kurios) of all mankind posed a difficult problem for the early Church. The problem of appropriate conduct for a slave in service to a pagan master, who might ask his servant to carry out sacrifices or other practices a Christian would find objectionable, was also nettlesome. As a general rule, the church did not engage in actions that would have compromised a master’s legal rights to the slave’s service, but slaves who entered the church with their master’s consent could and did rise to positions of authority. A bishop of Rome in the early third century, Callistus, was himself an ex-slave.

Perhaps the most important “take-away” for believers in our own time and place, rather than the imperfect attempts to mold ancient practice into accord with Paul’s concern for the treatment of slaves, is the uniquely Christian notion of slavery, both earthly and spiritual, being the consequence of sin (among the church fathers, see Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians-40.6; Gregory of Nyssa, In Ecclesiasten 4; Augustine, City of God 19.15). The radical notion in the hymn at Philippians 2:5-9 that Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” shocked Roman sensibilities as blasphemous, inspired early believers who were themselves bound by earthly servitude, and challenges believers today to strive—like Paul—to find freedom by being servants to Christ Jesus.

Notes

1. With profuse apologies to Bob Dylan (“Gotta Serve Somebody,” http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/gotta-serve-somebody).

2. The opening of an epistle as a “slave of Christ/God” occurs in Romans, Titus, Philippians, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. Doulos most properly means someone born into slavery rather than taken, but by the time of Paul’s writing, it had simply become a generic term encompassing a wide variety of servitude.

3. Niall McKeown, The Invention of Ancient Slavery? (London: Duckworth, 2007).

4. Another method existed whereby the master could have a slave enroll during a census of the population, provided the slave either gained or was supplied sufficient property in order to do so.

5. Augustus extended a more limited set of rights to freedmen, but they could under some circumstances gain citizenship after being manumitted. Citizenship as a result of manumission became the norm as citizenship rights became more universal in the later Roman Empire.

6. We get this from the Roman biographer Suetonius’ life of Nero (23.1).

7. For a more thorough discussion that was very helpful to me in preparing this section, see I.A.H. Combes, The Metaphor of Slavery in the Writing of the Early Church (Sheffield: 1998).

8. All translations are from the ESV.

Mawidge...mawidge is what bwings us togewer today...

Most people who have seen the movie The Princess Bride simply cannot forget the scene where the impressive clergyman begins the rushed wedding between Buttercup and Prince Humperdink. If you have never experienced such delights you can grab the scene here. Marriage itself however, is not just a goofy matter in life. It is perhaps the source of humanities deepest delights and most profound relational struggles. It truly is a realm of both joy and pain, sunshine and rain.1

In this essay we will have some overly ambitious goals. First, we will endeavor to define marriage biblically. Second, we will look at the teaching about the roles and responses of men and women in marriage as seen in Ephesians 5. Finally, we discuss our struggle as men and women to follow God in his designs for marriage before making a hopeful conclusion. We have but a small space here for our discourse, so we must get right to work.

What is Marriage?

Marriage finds its beginnings with the first man and woman in the book of beginnings in the sacred Scriptures. After the creation of the human beings, male and female in his image and likeness, God gives a second detailed accounting of how he joins the first two people together. God brings the animals to Adam (which is simply Hebrew for “man”) and he is giving them all names. As much as dogs are a man’s best friend there was not a helper suitable for him. The man realized that none of these creatures were like him and certainly did not complete him. The Scriptures then teach that out of the man God fashions or forms a woman as a helper suitable to him. This creature is presented to Adam naked and he did not ask her to put on flannel pajamas. The man and woman were indeed made for one another in every way so at this point in the story we read the following description of marriage:

 24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 (ESV)

Marriage is described as a man leaving, then cleaving to his wife and then weaving their bodies together in intimacy. The symbolism is clear. A man must grow up and step away from Mommy and Daddy. He forms a new family with his wife and the union is consummated by the self-giving of one another’s bodies in the act of marriage. The formation of a new family through the union man and woman is also foundational in the bringing of new human beings in the world. It is also the best context to teach and raise them.

Interestingly Genesis 2:24 is repeated by Jesus in the gospels and stresses the permanence of this relationship on the earth (Matthew 19:4-6). Finally, it is cited once again by Paul the apostle in Ephesians 5:31.

Marriage is a Covenant

In our world there are many opinions about what marriage is and how it should function in society. The most prominent views in western culture is that marriage is either about a couple’s romance, their social contract for societies good or an institution that is all together outdated. Scripture however presents marriage as a covenant, something much deeper than mere love or social utility. Let’s look quickly at these differing views.

Marriage as Coupling

Many today have a fun, warm fuzzy view of marriage. It is about amore, true love taking place on a balcony covered with roses. Anyone who has been married more than a few months knows something else must enter the equation for marriage to have more meaning and staying power than mere “love.” What happens many times to couples marrying for emotions or youthful lust is that divorce quickly follows when we “fall out of love.” There are even new inventive marriage vows that reflect this sort of thing where couples promise on their wedding day to be married “as long as love lasts” or “as long as our marriage serves the greater good” Let’s just say that romantic love is a gift from God; it is a good thing. Yet it is not the only thing and it certainly is not the tie that binds us together. It is a wonderful product of a good relationship but not the sum total of marriage.

Marriage as Contract

Another view today is that marriage is simply a legal agreement between two people that affords certain mutual benefits upon couples. Health care rights, rights of survivor-ship, financial dealings, the ownership of goods and the custody and raising of children are defined by this thing called marriage. These things have been associated with marriage but they are certainly not what marriage is. Couples who have long lost that loving feeling may remain arranged in marriage for contractual reasons. It is better for the kids or it is better for the bottom line.

In a culture which tends to disparage marriage, people can look at this social arrangement as nothing more than a piece of paper. Movies such as “He’s Just Not That Into You” proclaim this view boldly. The romantic coupler says “our love is more than a piece of paper” and the “contractual negotiator” seeks to have sharing agreements without going through with marriage. Selfish men particularly like these sorts of arrangements because they get all they want from women without having any sort of real commitment. Women for some reason, maybe because they like men more than cats, play along with this “we have more than a piece of paper” shtick.

Marriage as Covenant

Though marriage certainly involves love, even romantic love, it is more than this. Though marriage certainly involves certain social and legal arrangements, it is more than this. Marriage at its essence is a covenant, a promise of two people to one another before God. New Testament scholar Andreas Köstenberger defines the covenantal view of marriage as follows:

Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publically entered into before God (whether or not this is acknowledge by the married couple), normally consummated by sexual intercourse. 2

Scripture presents a challenging yet beautiful view of marriage. Men and women are each equal in value and standing before God. No one sex is superior or inferior but equally made in the image of God. Further, men and women are not the same in how God made us. We are designed as compliments to one another, have different roles in marriage designed with potential harmony in mind and not a battle of the sexes. Marriage also is designed to shape and mold our lives, bring us to confess and repent of sin and become more like Jesus together.

Furthermore, marriage is actually more about God and his purposes than it is about us. God in his kindness has chosen to bless human beings with marriage for their good and as a reflection of his faithful covenant love for his people. This is seen most clearly in the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. In this teaching we find both a blueprint for living our marriage covenants and God’s ultimate mysterious purpose for creating human beings to bond in this way.

Ephesians 5:22-33

Instruction for Wives

Paul’s instruction to wives is that they submit to and order their lives under the leadership of their husbands. The verb submit in Ephesians five is actually in the middle voice, indicating the wife’s voluntary choice to be on her husband’s team. She is called to this by God, not commanded to do so by her husband. Submission should never be the demand of a man but rather a response of a wife to the design and plan of God for marriage. Furthermore, Scripture does not teach that all women submit to men. This is only for her husbands so let me encourage the young women like I am already teaching my own daughters. If a man is not the type of person you want to follow, don’t marry the fool. What sort of man then should the Christian woman seek—one that is committed to Jesus and walking in his way. Which leads to the exhortation for husbands.

Instruction for Husbands

Husbands are called to love their wives. Yet not just any sort of definition of “love.” Rather, husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loves the church. This means that a husband should lead his wife not as a lord of the manor but as a sacrificial servant. Leadership in marriage should be in the way of Jesus not in the way of the world. Jesus described this sort of leadership to his followers in this way:

25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

His own example was to put a towel around his waist and wash the feet of his disciples (see John 13). Husbands should follow his lead with their wives. Just for the guys, I wrote a little bit on how I seek to love my own wife here on the blog. Take it for what it is worth.

Our Struggles

The teaching of Scripture is clear but this does not mean that our hearts willfully submit to God and his designs for our marriages. In fact, our sinful nature struggles deeply to follow this teaching. Men and women both wrestle with submission and service. Both our struggles flow from our desire to be self-focused, self-guided, individuals rather than one flesh in covenant with God. The following charts illustrate for both wives and husbands the uniqueness of being a husband or a wife and the struggles with sin we face as we seek to be faithful to God’s designs and purposes for our marriages.

Wives

 

Calling by God

Out of reverence for Christ follow him by respecting your husbands (Ephesians 5:21, 33)

Role we live

Helper (Genesis 2:18)

Response to our Spouse 

Submission (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Temptation and Sin

Belittling your husband, disrespecting him, nagging, being overly critical and beating him down

Being passive and not being helpful by using your gifts, passions and leadership in the family

 

Husbands

 

Calling by God

Out of reverence for Christ follow him by loving your wives (Ephesians 5:21, 25-30)

Role we live

Servant Leader (Ephesians 5:23, 25)

Response to our Spouse 

Praise (Proverbs 31, particularly verse 28)

Temptation and Sin

Being a tyrant with your wife. Being heavy handed and an authoritarian who abuses his leadership role

Being passive and absent from your leadership role. Abdicating your responsibility.

Frustrating your wife with your lack of action, planning, prayer and leadership

 

God’s vision for marriage is designed to deeply bless us. If we trust him with our lives and follow his Word, marriage can be a resounding joy to our lives. Living life apart from his Word can make marriage a massive mess. Furthermore, God is mysteriously displaying his gracious love as is shown in Ephesians 5:31-33.

31Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

As we live in marriage, we may experience the love of a husband or the respect of a wife and by doing so LIFE will illustrate DOCTRINE. Faithful covenant love is seen in and through a relationship on the earth. It is a great and gracious vision for our lives.

Notes

  1. Cheesy use of the lyrics of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, “Joy and Pain”, It Takes Two, Profile Records, 1988.
  2. Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W. Jones, God, Marriage and Family—Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004) 85.   

Wise guys...

Wisdom, as related to human beings, may simply be defined as the life quality that enables one to make good choices in the complicated circumstances of life in order to walk a good path. For the follower of Jesus, wisdom is the art of godly living.

Every culture knows that there is a way to live that is rightly called foolishness. There really is a way to waste your life and fizzle your days away filled with folly. We are always seeking wisdom from others yet many times we go all over the place looking to figure out how life works.

Bookstores are jammed full with self-help books offering wisdom to the seeker. Movies and literature are filled with wise characters (Yoda and Gandalf the gray being some of my favorites). There is never a shortage of gurus being paraded out on the Oprah Winfrey show. Usually they are western dudes dabbling in eastern philosophy who write books and get paid.

Ironically, we are people who are surrounded by impressive knowledge but seem to be profoundly lacking in wisdom. Our culture seems to have a deficit of wisdom as we tend to float like empty ballasts upon a sea of nothingness. I offer Reality TV as proof. Seriously, how many times can a chic fall in love in the course of weeks with multiple dudes and make out with all of them in a hot tub?

We may know how to split the atom, make machines talks, decode the genome and scan the electrical activities of our brains but we remain unsure about how to make life work. In our search for meaning and happiness wisdom is offered to us yet not all wisdom is not created equal you know.

All Wisdoms Not Created Equal

Scripture speaks of several ways of being wise that will not offer us much help in life. Appearing at first to be good ways to live but in the end they are bankrupt in offering us the guidance we need. We’ll look here at two.

Wise in our own Eyes

The book of Proverbs, a great biblical book that contains true wisdom, teaches us that there is a way to be wise in our own eyes. The person wise in their own eyes is called a fool in Scripture because he measures the rightness of every path by his own opinion alone. Our own opinions must be weighed and at times followed, but if the source of our own wisdom is not given a broader point of view we can be self-deceived. The third Hebrew proverb offers us great instruction here:

1My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, 2for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. 3Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. 5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:1-8 (ESV)

Here we see wisdom coming from the teaching of a Father reflecting the wisdom of following God’s paths for life. I’m not wanting to meddle with the idea that we Americans hold dear—that we should trust our own heart above all things. I hope to completely blow it up. We are not isolated individuals, we need wisdom from God and other wise people rather than a crowd of fools encouraging us to just listen to whatever your heart tells you.

So wisdom cannot emerge from ourselves alone; the Bible warns of this extreme. Yet it is not always found among the horde and the throng and we are warned also of the wisdom of crowds.

Wisdom of the World

The book of James contains some of the most compelling discussion of wisdom in the New Testament. James 1 teaches us that when we lack wisdom we should ask God to give us some (more on this in a bit). James 3 gives us an interesting contrast between wisdom that is from above and the ways and wisdom of the world.

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (ESV)


Old pastor James is so blunt is he not? He teaches us that there is a wisdom from God that leads to a certain kind of life together which reflects peace, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, fruitful and sincere lives together. When we get to being jealous of one another, our more focused on ourselves and our Kingdom rather than the Kingdom of Jesus we are walking in different kind of wisdom. This James calls earthly, unspiritual and demonic.

Though America has been shaped by a rugged individualism it has also contained a collectivist view as well. In recent times this has been heightened and now we think there is wisdom in any crowd. We have written business books about crowd sourcing1, the internet lets us vote on everything and our politicians are always talking about this vague and amorphous thing called “the will of the American people.” Whereas being wise in our own eyes is one dangerous extreme, just following the worldly wisemen of our crowds is certainly another.

18Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (ESV)


The letter of 1 Corinthians makes it clear that the wisdom of the world is folly with God as it seeks to guide human life and affairs apart from him. As God is the author and creator of life, God is also the one who knows how he made humanity to function. To claim wisdom while living apart from Him is the Scriptures definition of folly and futility (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom from God

God is said in Scripture to be all wise. JI Packer describes this as meaning he chooses the best and noblest end at which to aim, along with the most appropriate and effective means to it.2 If we desire true wisdom it must be from above, grounded upon and dependent up the wisdom of God. Let’s take a little detour for a moment to illustrate this by talking about worldview.

Wisdom is indeed relative among human beings. Whether something is ultimately wise or foolish depends upon your point of view. One mans foolishness might be another’s deep wisdom. Yet there is a worldview that is quite different than a limited, temporal, finite view that we each have.

A worldview, or Weltanschauung, is a complete way of seeing life. Each of us has a set of beliefs regarding the origin, meaning, value and purpose of our lives. Wisdom would have her way with us when we live in a way consistently with such purposes. If the purpose of life is to stay drunk and naked, then one is wise to do so. If it is not the purpose for human life, then one is a fool to spend his days in like fashion.

I hope you see the reason we need wisdom that is from above. We need God to reveal to us the way in life that is truly good, right and true not simply what we want that to be. There is a reason why Jesus is called the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Colossians 2:1-10). Jesus is the path of wisdom for us revealed. His way of life, his teaching, his work and the good news of his death, burial and resurrection for us is the grid by which wisdom is known.

In light of this, followers of Jesus can avoid being wise in their own eyes by looking to Jesus for wisdom. In the same way, we can avoid being captivated by the crowd by standing firm in his truth as mockers call us fools. Wisdom is acting and following in concert with the truth that is in Jesus and his Word. If we are wise it is in him, if we are fools in this life for choosing him over all else, we revel in that privilege.

On Becoming Wise

Let me close by saying wisdom is something that grows in us progressively as we walk with God in his world. It is no coincidence that the ancients saw the elderly as a source of wisdom; they have lived more life with God and have learned from him through teaching and experience. Proverbs 20:29 teaches us that the glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. It is not always the case that old age = wisdom3 but there is a general principle here that we can learn and deepen in wisdom over time. The tragic story of King Rehoboam ignoring the wisdom of the elderly for the counsel of some punk young men is a classic example of this principle. You can read this in 1 Kings 12 in the Old Testament. In closing here are some simple ways we grow in wisdom if we are faithful to sit at her feet over time.

Study and listening to God’s Word

God has revealed himself through his Word that we can study, read, listen, meditate upon and obey. Over time we gain the ability to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14) by the constant practice of the teaching of God. Learning and following over time results in becoming wise.

Heeding the words of the Wise

Proverbs 11:14 reads, Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Further Proverbs 24:6 teaches us that in an abundance of counselors there victory. Of course, the counselors must actually be wise, but the point is that we can learn from others if we listen. In fact the book of Proverbs begins by with these words:Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. Our parents, our pastors and our community of faith has wise counsel for us…but we don’t always listen.

Learning the Hard Way

The final way we learn is the hard way. This is where we do foolish stuff and we reap the reality. We all have been here have we not? God is kind and will discipline us to help us walk in wisdom. Yet as I tell my kids, you can learn just by listening to me—but like Bill Cosby once said, some children simply cannot get by without a good beating.4

I do not claim to be a wise guy, but I have been around the block a few times. My counsel is that we listen and follow Jesus together—our only wise God and Savior…

Notes

  1. James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (New York: Random House, 2004)
  2. J. I. Packer, Concise Theology : A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995, c1993).
  3. A notable passage is Job 32:9—of course old people can be foolish too, the point is wisdom does come with experience.
  4. See Bill Cosby, “The Same Thing Happens Every Night” Available online at http://www.last.fm/music/Bill+Cosby/_/Same+Thing+Happens+Every+Night—worth a few minutes to laugh.

Watch your mouth...

In the book of Ephesians it is clear that followers of Jesus are called to walk in a manner congruent with their calling to God in the gospel. We are a forgiven people, a people who have been shown grace, a people who were once alienated from God and under his just wrath but now reconciled and adopted into his family. We have a new life to live and everything is now shaped by our relationship with God.

Some of the interesting exhortations we are given in the middle of this New Testament letter have to do with our mouths—what we say to people and what our speaking should really be about. In this essay our goals are too ambitious. First, we are going to look at what our speech is for; why we should be speaking creatures saying things to one another. Second, with that purpose in mind, we will look at ways we dishonor God with our mouths. Finally, and please don’t skip to this part, we will cover the use of strong language and the diverse subject of “bad words.” I told you not to skip down yet, keep reading right here.

On Talking

Ephesians 4 and 5 give us some strong counsel as to how our speech is to be exercised. Chapter 4 gives us the commands to put aside falsehood and speak the truth to our neighbors (Ephesians 4:25). It should not be shocking, but lying is a big deal. It goes against God’s very nature as truthful and runs over one of his central commandments (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20). Further, Ephesians 4:29 gives resounding clarity as to the purpose, or telos, of our talk. It is worth repeating:

 29Let 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.

Our mouths are to be used not to tear down and corrupt but rather to build others up, to give grace to them, as is fitting for the moment of speaking. With this in mind, it is easy to see why elsewhere Scripture encourages us to be “quick to listen, but slow to speak” (James 1:19). Though some more than others, each of us can tend to pipe off in ways that are not always helpful or uplifting. Anyone else guilty here? Thankfully God, uses his speech to say “I will forgive you through Jesus.”

We do not have the space here to get into all the ways God speaks and his purposes in doing so. It is clear from Scripture that God’s speaking brings life, brings joy, brings fear of judgment, leads to repentance, forgives and gives hope to those who come to him in need of grace. We are called to follow God in the way we speak to others bringing life and grace to our hearers rather than evil doing with our mouths. We need to repent of using our mouths for purposes that are just wicked. What follows is just a small look at how we use our mouths to talk schmack rather than build others up, worship God and bring peace to situations.

Talking Schmack

In several places the Scriptures teach us about the use and abuse of our mouths. The wisdom literature in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the teachings of Jesus in his sermons and the book of James come to mind. First, on more than one occasion Jesus taught that it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouths speaks (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45). What is in our hearts is the source of the outflow of our mouths. The heart is central in this matter and hear are a few ways the our hearts lead us to sin with our lips.

Lying Tongues (Psalm 5:9; Psalm 120:1,2; Proverbs 6:16-19, John 8:44)

God simply hates lying and we do it all the time. We lie to protect our image, to try to be nice to others, to increase our financial wealth, to cover up all manner of other sins. Jesus said the native language of the Devil was to lie and we do have this family resemblance (John 8:44). Repentance always involves us putting away falsehood and confessing what is true. It also involves stepping out of darkness into the light. Yet in this very act of confession, we find freedom again. No more lies…let us speak truthfully with one another and give grace to them when they fall short of God’s ideal.

Slander, Gossip and Tearing Up People (Psalm 50:19, 20; Romans 1:28-32; 1 Timothy 5:13)

Slander is lying on people in a way that directly hurts and damages them. It is maliciously aimed speech which is designed to tear down someone in the perceptions of others. Gossip is the revealing of personal information about someone to others when there is no authority or permission to do so. Even when gossip is the true, it is a betrayal, it hurts community and relationships and is sin. Gossip breaks trust and creates confusion and can cause deep divisions that can take years to heal.

Profanity and Obscenity (Proverbs 30:7-9; Ephesians 5:4)

The English word profane is derived from Latin terms meaning “before or outside the temple” (pro-before + fanum temple). It means to deal with that which is unholy. Profane speech is defiling or making something unholy. God has made certain aspects of life holy. His name, his people, our bodies and sexuality come to mind. To speak of such things in a way that degrades, mocks, tears down and dishonors that which is holy is what we call “profanity” - it should be avoided. Obscenity is a specific subset of profanity whereby we degrade human sexuality, sex organs and acts of a sexual nature. Ephesians 5:4 calls this foolish talk and crude joking—people do this sort of thing often, particularly young men. Remember, to understand whether something is being profaned or made obscene we must know the purpose for which something exists. Perversion and profanity flows from deviating from God’s designs for something. Be it our bodies, marriages, our sexuality or the worship of God.

Cursing Folk (James 3)

This one is actually pretty easy to understand—we call down curses, or ill desires upon others with our mouths. Many times, people will use the Lord’s name in doing so (see blasphemy below) as if they are invoking God to aid in the sins of their mouths. For followers of Jesus, the book of James gives striking clarity to us here:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Blaspheming God

Blasphemy is to speak against and profane God and his name. Using God’s name to curse others, using his name as an expletive is to speak about God in a blasphemous way. His name is not to be used as if it is some magic trick to accomplish our will nor is it to be used to back up the truthfulness of your words.

I hope this treatment of sins of the mouth will help give us pause in how we utilize speech. We also should not overestimate the urge to pop off at the mouth—James taught us “no human being can tame the tongue.” This ought to lead us humbly to God for his help in realigning our hearts towards the gospel and the reeling in of careless words.

Up until this point I have made no comment about “bad words” as I find such discussions far too simple and not always helpful. God is far more concerned with our hearts than with creating a list of “banned words in heaven.” We will close this discussion with a meandering around the use of strong words and language. It is my hope to help us avoid both a silly legalism and serious sin with our mouths.

On the Use of Strong Language

We live in a culture quite polarized about the way we speak. Dana White, president of the mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship has no pause in dropping F-bombs on camera and in his personal video blogs. James V. O’Conner is doing his part in publishing his book Cuss Control—The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. Connor’s book and his associated Cuss Control Academy are examples of how even the secular world is wrestling to curb the tide of base language. On the other hand I have met some Christians who seem to want to make every word into banned speech unable to be used by those who are truly holy. Which usually means people just like them. In the small bit of space we have remaining I want to do a few very ambitious things. First, to look at the nature of speech how a word is considered bad.  Second, I want to look at the shifting meaning of terms over time and the question of acceptable vernacular (everyday, common speech). Finally, I want to close by challenging some misunderstandings among Christians on all sides of the issue of cussin.

Let me begin by saying that there simply is no eternal list of bad words in heaven somewhere. Each language and culture has words that are unsavory and people typically know what they are. However, we must acknowledge the fluid nature of language in that it is spoken in a sociolinguistic context. Many of us would not recognize a curse word spoken in Farsi or Tagalog. Most of us would not even recognize a curse word spoken in Old English in 1000AD. Now don’t go searching the Internet for Tagalog cuss words to use with your friends. That would be immature. So how do we use wisdom in deeming words appropriate and inappropriate today? It is a question that is not always so simple. Some Christians love to say see Ephesians says “no corrupting talk…no filthy language” as if that solves the issue. It does not because we have to say that THIS SPEAKING fits the description of the Ephesians exhortation.

Moral philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas deemed all actions to be made of both an internal act including motive and intent and the external acting out of said intent (See his treatment in the Summa here) Speech acts are no exception to this. All speech has intent, motive, sociolinguistic context and meaning. It is spoken with a purpose and it has effect and meaning to the people who hear the speech. We must consider this when looking at how we speak and whether it is corrupting, filthy or crude. It is my contention that someone can do more evil without speaking a four letter word than by using one. Imagine for a moment of a young man, broken because of his sins, weeping and confessing to a Christian friend “I have really f-ed up my life…I’m so sorry.” Are we really going to focus on the fact that the guy used the f-word in this case? Imagine another case where a husband is sarcastically belittling his wife or mocking her physical appearance without a single four letter word. I think you see my point. In Scripture, God seems much more concerned with the heart and use of language than simply the terminology employed. I am not saying certain words should be used, I am just trying to keep us from massively missing the point that Scripture actually teaches about the use of our tongues.

We have to think hard about certain words today as the meaning of terms does shift over time in a particular culture. A word with a less than ideal origin may evolve into a harmless word that has a different meaning today. Sometimes words that have less than savory origins make their way into the vernacular. A friend this week asked me if I knew the origin of the word “snafu.” I did not but I knew it roughly meant a situation of confusion—it’s etymology is a little rougher. You may disagree with me but many words that some would consider bad simply are not any longer. If you told me this essay sucked I would know what you meant and would not be offended by the term. I would just need to try and do better next time.

One last note on speaking within cultural settings. Adults may use strong language at times in certain circumstances and settings. I remember pastor John Piper’s use of the term “God kicks your ass” with a group of college students in 2007. Some understood his use of the word, some…not so much. It was controversial and he sort of apologized; you can read that letter here. However, I think the students understood exactly what he meant in a clear and compelling way. We all realize that young children do not have the experience, wisdom or maturity to comprehend something an adult would easily grasp. There is language appropriate in adult conversation that is not for children. I do not find this controversial.

In closing, there is nothing quite as silly as a Christian cursing because he thinks it is cool or because he has escaped from a Christian College and is trying to make up for lost time. It is equally silly to obsess about words that nobody considers bad in our culture and try to avoid people who speak in a gritty fashion. Anyone in sports, the military, construction or just alive today will be hard pressed to keep ones ears virgin. More importanly, mission demands us be present with people.

God considers the heart, motive and context of our speech. We need to ask if it builds up, does it honor God, does it give grace to the hearer, does it accomplish what is needed in that moment. These issues should be our concern. We should all watch our mouths and this goes far beyond vocabulary. My hope is that we might love people around us, build them up, communicate effectively with people in culture and bring honor to God with our lips. If you disagree, I would love to hear some positive interactions…

Amen?

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Many are familiar with the proverbial saying of “Monkey see, Monkey do.” The fundamental insight here is that we all imitate something or someone in our lives. People by nature want to imitate or be like others that they see. Guitar players would love to rock it out like Clapton or Mayer, little boys used to want to be like Mike on the court while today Kobe or Lebron will do. Many desire to mimic the style of a celebrity or the success of a person in business. Though some are more leaders and some more followers, human beings, by nature, are made to imitate or emulate others. There is nobody who has taught themselves everything they know.

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, rightly observed something profound in human nature. Though his application of this observation went tragically wrong, Nietzsche spoke of human beings as having a sort of herd mentality. People tend to mindlessly mimic and follow one another. He erroneously applied this to morality and ethics, declaring all morality to be an illusion created by other humans then followed mindlessly by the herd. 1 What he did rightly observe is that human beings do indeed mimic one another and it seems very built into our nature.

However, we can be so consumed with the exploits of other people we can completely miss the one we were truly designed to imitate. In the middle of his exhortation of Christians to live a life that is congruent with their calling to God in the gospel, Paul makes it clear who we are to imitate in Ephesians chapter five. Without blushing, the apostle writes the following: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” This is a massively humbling idea and also one of the simplest articulations of the raison d’être of human beings.

In this essay we are going to discuss the imitation of God by human beings. We will first distinguish imitating God from trying to be a god. Second, we will look at our unique design as human beings to be reflections of God on the earth. This makes Paul’s call for us to imitate (or mimic) God quite appropriate due to what we are. We will then look at how we must “see God” and “know God” in order to imitate him. This requires God’s assistance to help us to understand who he is in order to follow him. Finally, we will close with a brief discussion of the relationship between adoration, imitation and worship.

Imitate God, Don’t Try to be One

The story of the world begins with the wonderful created acts of God. It then quickly moves to a tragic error made by the first human beings. People, created in the image and likeness of God, decide they would rather be as God. Tragically, this has been the course of human history. People are made wonderfully intelligent, moral, creative and willful creatures. We were made by God and for God yet we choose to exalt ourselves as little divinities rather than worship our creator.

When Scripture calls us to imitate God the word means to reflect or mimic the character of God in our own lives. It does not mean that we should aspire to follow that Satanic plea “you shall be as gods.” Scripture calls us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, to become like God in our lives, but we should never see ourselves as becoming divine beings. Though Scripture does teach that we will be transformed to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) it stops short of man climbing the metaphysical ladder up into godhood. Our Mormon friends notwithstanding, 2 human beings are only called to be reflections of God as we follow him, never ascending to god-status ourselves.

Uniquely Created to be a Reflection

Though not divine, human beings are completely unique in all creation. We are different than rocks, trees, lizards and even those monkeys that share 99% of our DNA. In fact, many non Christian thinkers making the case that modern science is revealing the profound uniqueness of human beings. David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion, Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions and James Le Fanu’s Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves come to mind. 3 In the face of recent understandings of the genome of various animals and the baffling ignorance of consciousness in light of modern neuroscientific brain studies, many are realizing anew just how exceptional nature of the human being being.

Theologically, this uniqueness of humanity is no surprise to those who never bought into the materialistic reductions of human nature. You see the Scriptures teach us very clearly that humans and humans alone are created in the imago dei, the image of God.

Uniquely Created to Image God

Throughout the history of the church, theologians have discussed the profound description given in Genesis chapter 1:

 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  

There are many ways in which this teaching has been understood. Some have articulated that image of God means that we are made like God in our make up in that we have emotions, intellect and will just as God does. Others have looked to the ancient context of Genesis to understand the phrase image of God. In the ancient world, someone was “image of God” when they represented God on the earth as his vice rulers. The passage above does indicate that rulership over the realm of creation is part of the mandate human beings posses. Finally, others have sought to say that image of God means that we are beings in relationship, much as God the Trinity is one God in three persons. The text tells us that image of God is male and female, designed in and for relationship with God and one another. I find it best to put all these together.

We are created with certain capacities in order to rule and reign this earth with God in relationship with him and one another. This is what it means to be image of God. As such we are designed to reflect God in our nature, in our service and in our relationships. So in one sense, there is a reflection of God in his human creation, so a call for human beings to imitate God is very appropriate. It is the part of the reason we exist; it is why we were made. One question quickly emerges, in order to imitate God we must truly know what God is like. If we cannot see God directly, how do we imitate him?

How can we imitate that which is not physically seen?

To imitate someone we must know what they are like and the way they flow. God has not left us with empty skulls relating to the question of who he is and what he desires. The truth is that God reveals himself to us in various ways so that we might follow after him.

We see God’s Works—God’s works of creation display to us the power and nature of God. Additionally, he places a moral law in our consciences so that we may know right and wrong at a basic level. We may deny this knowledge and act in contraction to it, but it is not because we do not know right from wrong.  

We receive God’s Words—In addition to showing us in creation and our consciences God tells us who he is and what he desires for human life in the Scriptures. The Bible contains written accounts of the words of his prophets and messengers through whom God reveals himself to people. By the Scriptures we are fully instructed in the character and ways of God so that we may follow him during our lives. The most important testimony of Scripture is about the person of Jesus. His followers wrote down his works and words so we could clearly imitate and follow him.  

We see Jesus and imitate him—God became a human being so we could see most clearly what he is like (John 1:1-3,14; Hebrews 1:1-3). In Jesus Christ we see a full revelation of God in human form so that in the imitation of Jesus, we find the imitation of God.  

We see the body of Christ and we imitate the faith of others—Finally, we see in the New Testament Christian leaders calling others to imitate them, as they imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 4:9, 11:1). We are to imitate their faith and trust in Jesus in the way that they followed him with their lives (Hebrews 13:17). In the church we can see Christ living in others as he works his character into them and we can imitate their faith as well.

Worship—Adoration and Imitation

It has been often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The late secular thinker Ayn Rand once said it this way, “admiration is the rarest and best of pleasures.” 4 If we imitate someone it means we respect and admire them. Through this simple insight we can peer into the heart of Christian worship. We were made to give honor, glory, love, adoration and praise to God; we were made to desire to be more like him and imitate him. In doing so, God enjoys our worship and delights in his people. In turn, we find our greatest joy in seeking to be more like the one who is fully good, right and true.

Imitation in human life is a reality which will never go away. We cannot help but see excellence in something and want to imitate this. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to human nature in that we imitate that which is self-exalting and sinful rather than imitating God. Imitation is a reality that cuts either in the direction of idolatry, worship that which is not God, or in true worship.

We live in a world of Monkey See, Monkey Do. When we see the lives of others we must ask whether they are resembling God or exhibiting the folly of men. We must wisely choose who we imitate because we become like the things we worship. So many times we follow one another like lemmings over the cliffs of life. Let us choose to follow Jesus who followed the beat of a different drummer. We too can imitate his love, sacrifice and service to others; laying down our lives so that many can break free to find joy in the forgiveness of God.

There will be a cacophony of voices calling to us as we travel the roads of our lives. Calls from the left and the right to take a path other than the one to which God calls.

Sometimes we need to realize that the herd is not always wise, but in following Jesus there is life and peace.

Yours in following him in our time,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

  1. See Nietzche’s two works, Beyond Good and Evil and Genealogy of Morals for his constructing of his view of the “herd mentality” – A concise summary of these two works is available here: http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/wphil/lectures/wphil_theme18.htm
  2. Mormon doctrine does indeed teach that human beings can actually become gods. The classic statement of this was from the fifth Latter Day Saints president Lorenzo Snow “As man is, God once was, as God is, man may become” This is a doctrine articulated by LDS founder Joseph Smith in his King Follet discourse as well.
  3. See David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion—Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Crown Forum 2008) 155-165 for an entertaining look at the differences between men and apes. Additionally, see James Le Fanu’s Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009) 254-256. Fanu’s work is a intriguing look into recent discoveries surrounding the human genome and neuroscience. His thesis is that humans are much more unique than the typical “evolution explains everything” idea.
  4. See John Piper, An Open Letter to Michael Prowse, online at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2003/1245_An_Open_Letter_to_Michael_Prowse/ accessed March 4, 2008.

Spiritual Gifts from the Trinity

It is a wonderfully clear teaching of the Bible that our God is a giver. He is generous and his nature is to lavish good gifts upon his kids. God is kind in giving us Jesus as our rescuer and king and he gives the gift of the Spirit to empower us for service and be an ever present help to us in the struggles of life. Furthermore, God gives spiritual gifts and callings to his people to help them fulfill his ministry on the earth to build them up individually and as a community.

In this essay we are going to look at how the triune God of Scripture gifts his church. We will do this by first looking at the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and learning together about Father, Son and Spirit. We will then look at three major biblical passages on spiritual gifts and how each person of the Trinity is involved in gifting his church. Finally, we will conclude with a focus on the reason or purpose for which God gives gifts to his people. One note is in order as we begin.

Depending upon what sort of spiritual situation you grew up in, the term “spiritual gifts” could mean absolutely nothing, absolutely everything!!! or simply be a strange term of confusion. This essay is not getting into the issues which separate charismatic and non charismatic Christians. If that doesn’t mean a thing to you, no worries, just read on. If you have a spiritual gifts fight to pick about “those spiritually dead churches” or “those crazy charismatic people” drop the gloves and read on; there is something bigger going on with spiritual gifts that we all need to hear and heed. Now to something much simpler, the Trinity—uh, yeah right.

On the Trinity

The creator God is completely unique; God is holy, there is simply no one and no thing like Him. The God revealed to us in our ancient writings is marvelously one, yet a loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The book of Ephesians is one of the most Trinitarian writings in the Bible. Father, Son and Spirit seem to pervade all Paul’s thoughts of God. We notice this profoundly in his prayer which closes chapter three.

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV)

The mystery of the triunity of God is one of the most precious, deep, holy and wondrous truths of our faith.1 Though this will be but a miniscule treatment of the wonder of the Trinity, please see the notes for two recent works on the subject for further reading.2 We will first briefly describe each person and role of the Triune God and then move towards how this God gifts his church.

The Glorious Father

The Bible often refers to God as “Father” and this was the preferred description used by Jesus to describe him. The Father is the initiator of creation, the sovereign sustainer of creation and the all wise ruler of all things. The Father is also the one who decreed to redeem the world through the Son. The Father is the blessed one, a spiritual being who is worshipped and praised in spirit and in truth (John 4:23,24). When the New Testament speaks of “God” in a general sense, it is usually the Father which is in view.

The Preeminent Son

The Son is second person of the Trinity and the one through whom creation came into being (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:1-3). The Son is also the one who was sent by the Father into our world to be its Savior. The Son fully reveals the character of the Father (John 14:1-11; Hebrews 1:1-3), is our redeemer who died for sins and was raised from the dead by Father and Spirit (Acts 13:26-33; Romans 8:11; Galatians 1:11). The Son is the head of the church which is his body (Ephesians 4:15,16; Colossians 1:15-24) and he is LORD, God’s appointed King who will rule and reign forever. The Son is the world’s appointed judge and only savior (John 5:22-30; Acts 17:31).

The Empowering Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who was the active agent in creation (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit is given to the church by the Father and sent by the Son (John 14:26, 15:26) to teach us, help us, comfort us and empower us for service (John 14:15-26; 1 Corinthians 12; 1 John 2:26,27). The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (John 16:8-11), makes believers alive to God (John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5) dwells in the believer and the church (2 Timothy 1:14) and represents a foretaste of the coming Kingdom. The Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing the promise of God and our coming inheritance with him (2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14).

This God Gifts His Church

There are four main passages in the New Testament which speak of God’s giving of spiritual gifts to his people. Interestingly enough, God the Father, Jesus the Son and The Holy Spirit are said to be the giver of these gifts to his people. We will look at these three passages in turn.

The Holy Spirit—1 Corinthians 12

In the ancient church in the city of Corinth there was a church that was a mess. People were getting drunk at communion, a dude was having sex with his Dad’s wife and the churches gatherings were a bit chaotic. People were showing off with certain spiritual gifts (Greek term—charismas) which caused Paul to address questions concerning these things . A few quick observations about Paul’s teaching are in order. First, he clearly says that the main point of the gifts is to honor Jesus as Lord. Second, the gifts should be exercised in a way that unifies and serves the common good of the church. The gifts are not to exalt the gifted person. Third, the gifts unify because they are given by one Spirit and are given out in diversity to his people. Finally, the giving of the gifts is by the will of the Spirit as he sees fit so we need not despise the gifts given to us nor covet the gifts of others. On the contrary, we should rejoice in the diversity of the body and use our gifts to build up the family of faith to serve in Jesus’ ministry and bring him glory. All of this should be done in love for God and one another otherwise we will be completely missing the point.

Gifted Leadership is the Gift of the Son—Ephesians 4:7-16

In Ephesians 4 we find that God gives grace in various forms to members of his church. In particular, he gives his church gifted leadership to help equip Christians to do the ministry of Jesus and to grow up the church towards maturity. Whereas the gifts of the spirit to individuals is the subject in 1 Corinthians 12, God’s gift of people to the church is in view in Ephesians 4. In our day where “organized religion” is the object of public and personal disdain, we should observe that leadership (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) is actually a gift of Jesus to his church. The grace of Christ is the source of leaders in the church. Furthermore, these people are gifted by God with various abilities (teaching, service, leadership etc.) to fulfill their ministry. So in a sense, gifted people, are great gifts to the church. We also want to be clear that every person God adds to his church are gifted gifts for the body and when anyone’s gifts are not exercised the church’s life and ministry will gradually become impoverished.

One note should be made at this point. Leadership in Christ’s church is an act of service and should be exercised in the way of Jesus. This means two things: proper exercise of authority in the manner of a servant. Many pastors and leaders today are passive and will not exercise humble, godly authority. They will not preach and teach the truth, confront sin or guide others because of a fear of people and a need to be liked. Furthermore, many church leaders today act as if they are little gods wearing CEO hats and do not see their roll as servants of the people. Peter’s exhortation to church leaders is so needed in our day; I’ll simply quote him here:

1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1-5 (ESV)

Gifts are Measured to us by God— Romans 12

In Romans 12, Paul is encouraging Christians to think of themselves in humility and to realize that the measure of faith they have is indeed a gift of God the Father. The metaphor of a body is once again employed to urge us towards unity in the diversity of people in the church. We should use and exercise our uniqueness and our giftedness in line with the faith we have been given. Once again, the context is in a loving community where we use our lives and gifts to serve others so that God would be honored and our community would reflect his goodness in the midst of a world darkened by evil and sin.

We will now close with an all to brief discussion of who and what God’s gifts are for. Why does he gift his church and individuals therein. I do pray that some clarity is beginning to emerge from the texts we have been discussing.

Who are Gifts are For?

As Americans we are simply soaked and saturated with individualism. Even the subject of spiritual gifts has been turned into a pursuit for individuals to “discover their gifts” through personal tests and assessments. I am not saying these sorts of tests are wrong; I have used them myself. What I am saying is that they can be reflective of an excessive individualism in relation to God’s gifting of the church. Spiritual gifts are simply never to be about “me” but always about “us” and how we can honor God and fulfill his ministry on the earth. I hope you have heard the language of the Bible throughout our discussion—gifts are given for the common good, to build up the body, to joyfully serve one another in Jesus name.

Furthermore, spiritual gifts are never for some supernatural magic show where spiritual super people can show off on television. The Role of the Spirit is to bring glory to Jesus. (John 16:14) Jesus was clear he came to do the will of the Father.(John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38) The Father created the world to display majesty, glory and wonder to creatures made to worship him (Revelation 4:11). So let me give you a short, hopefully memorable, raison d’être for spiritual gifts as a bottom line in our short journey here:

Spiritual gifts are given by the Trinity, for the good of his people, to build them up so that they might display the glory of God together.

The final passage in the New Testament referring to Spiritual gifts is found in the first letter written by Peter, an early apostle and central leader of the Christian movement. His words summarize well what God would have us know about his gifting of his church. We’ll give him the last word:

10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11 (ESV)

And amen.

Notes

  1. For an excellent treatment of the importance of the Bible’s teaching on the triunity of God see Chapter 1—”Beholding the Wonder of our Triune God: The Importance of this Doctrine” in Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son & Holy Spirit—Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005) 13-22.
  2. Two recent works we recommend for the importance of the Trinity are Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son & Holy Spirit—Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005) and Timothy George, editor God the Holy Trinity, Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). Of particular interest is JI Packer’s fine essay on the perspective of the puritan John Owen.
  3. I found Klyne Snodgrass’ discussion of gifts, talents and the church in Ephesians: The NIV Life Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 212-214.


Jesus' Prayer for Unity...

John 17 contains what has been called “The High Priestly Intercessory Prayer” of Jesus. This prayer, recorded in John’s gospel just before the arrest of Jesus, contains timeless insights to the mission of Jesus and his intimate desires for his followers. A few of the themes in this prayer include the glorification of God the Father by the Son and the culmination of the Son’s mission on the earth. Additional themes are the mission and the sanctification of the church, the desire of the Son for unity among his disciples, and the unity of “those who will believe in me through their message.” In examining Jesus’ desire for unity the following points will be discussed: (1) The high view Jesus has for unity by way of a Trinitarian analogy; (2) The task for the contemporary church to be called out and different than the culture; and finally (3) The opportunity and power of the unified worshipping community.

Jesus’ High View of Unity

The heart of Jesus for the unity of his followers is given two times in this prayer. In John 17:11 (ESV) He says “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. ” In John 17:21-23 (ESV) we see several more statements of Jesus about unity. He says that his prayer is that “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” He says that the purpose of unity is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and it is something that his church must be “brought to,” suggesting unity will be a sustaining process. The prayer of Jesus reveals the following three principles for unity amongst His followers:

  1. Unity requires God’s protection.
  2. Unity is not superficial but should be a reflection in the church of the unity of God himself.
  3. Unity has a purpose to glorify God and bear witness to the world.

Unity Requires God’s Protection

Perhaps an often-overlooked passage on unity in the New Testament is Jesus’ prayer for the protection of his people “so that they can be one as we are one.” Protection is obviously a necessity and precursor for Christian disciples to be brought together in unified love and community. It seems that Jesus reveals to us that though unity is given to us by God, we grow into it as a process. It must be worked towards in his body although it is his gift for the church (Ephesians 4:1-6). The sin of his followers, the lies and attacks of Satan against the church, and the unbelieving world will all threaten the unity of his people. Jesus knew his children would need protection from these strong enemies in order for unity to be actual and maintained. It is a comforting truth that Jesus promises in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hades will not overcome his church. This promise brings hope even in the midst of what appears to be a fragmented rather than a unified Christian church.

Unity is not superficial, but a reflection of the unity of God himself

The question of what it means to have unity in the body of Christ is an often-discussed topic in today’s world of denominations, Para-church groups, and unaffiliated or non-denominational churches. What kind of unity is Jesus describing here in John 17? Does he mean unity in purpose? Unity in doctrinal correspondence? In love for one another? Practical sharing of life and mission with other believers? It seems at times that the church can be too quickly satisfied with a conceptual version of unity; a simple statement that we believe that we are unified with our brothers and sisters in spirit and purpose. What makes such a position of conceptual unity without practical outworking difficult to defend is Jesus’ analogy to his own unity with the Father as the model or ideal for his church. The very triune nature of the mysterious God of the Bible is the parallel given for unity among Christians.

A brief survey of some of what we know of the unity of the Trinity makes this parallel all the more profound. The Trinity is an eternal loving community and enjoys an inseparable relational unity. The Trinity is mysteriously a complete unity in essence, while having distinction in persons; the Trinity is one what (unity) comprised of three whos (diversity). The human search for unity in the diversities of life is long and recorded in the history of philosophy. The Greek attempt to bring unity out of the four essences earth, wind, fire, and water gave birth to the word “quintessence.” This word was born out of the search for a “fifth essence” that would unite (unity) all the other essences (diversity). In our own country, America, we find the motto “E pluribus Unum,” out of the many - one. We find the concept of searching for the unity in the diversities of knowledge in the word “University” which gives name to the institution once dedicated to that search.1 It is not surprising then that an ideal so sought after since the dawn of philosophy, this unity in diversity, is present in the very nature of the first cause and Creator of the universe. Listen to how Dr. Ravi Zacharias explains the importance of understanding the Trinity:

A proper understanding of the Trinity not only gives us the key to understanding unity in diversity, but also brings us a unique answer to the great struggle we face between races, cultures, and—and for that matter—even genders. The Trinity provides us with a model for a community of love and essential dignity without mitigating personality, individuality, and diversity.2

Jesus’ allusion to the Trinity as our model for unity does not solve the problem or answer all our questions about what unity means, but it certainly challenges us not to come up with any patronizing or simplistic answers. Our unity must be modeled after the loving community of the Godhead and therefore will not come easily to sinful human beings. With God’s protection the church can and must work for a unity that is not only conceptual, but one that is visible to the lost world around it.

Unity has a purpose to glorify God and be a witness to the world

In Jesus’ teaching we see that unity is a beautiful concept spawned by the union of the Father and Son. However, Jesus shows this is not just theoretical but also practical. It is to be lived out in community with each other and has some powerful purposes in God’s plan for the evangelization of the world. First, God’s glory is given to the church in order that we may be one and reflect praise and honor to God. The glory of God brings unity and the unity that results reflects even more glory to God. Second, Jesus clearly says that the world will believe and know that Jesus was sent from the Father as a result of authentic and visible Christian unity. This powerful apologetic for the truth of the gospel will be examined in detail later in the paper.

The Task for the Contemporary Church

In light of Jesus’ heart and high vision for church unity we must ask ourselves what needs to be done. The local church, denominations, networks and Para-church organizations all must evaluate what it means to be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ and work towards this ideal. Jesus’ desire for us to be “brought to” complete unity must call Christian leaders to put practical steps in place to work towards unity in the church. Some areas and suggestions for the work in maintaining and restoring unity are as follows: doctrinal unity, unity in mission (evangelism) and unity in compassion.

Doctrinal Unity

Many Christians have pursued unity at all cost, many times at the sacrifice of the doctrines central to Christian belief. This does not necessarily have to be the case. The proverbial saying, “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things charity,” must be continually taken to a deep level of discussion and worked out incarnationally among believers. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them…” because he knew that many false teachers would come into the church to distort the essence of the revealed message of God. Doctrinal unity should be pursued among denominations, Christian organizations, and seminaries in a spirit of cooperation, but not at the expense of the clear meaning of Scripture. Theological debate on non-essentials is not only possible in the context of Christian love and leadership of the Holy Spirit, but the debate itself can continually draw us together.

Missional Unity

Another area in which Christians need to work together for unity is the area of mission. Jesus gave the job of evangelization and discipleship to his entire church and such a task must bring us together. Today I cannot help but think of the couple of hundred men in our Acts 29 church planting network. Kasey and I just spent time worshipping, resting, laughing and dreaming with this family about the task of gospel mission in our time. There are men and women from many Christian groups and affiliations uniting in gospel mission. Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Bible Churches and Non denominational churches working together. There are people of various races and backgrounds uniting together around gospel mission. There are urban, suburban, hip hoppers and hipsters uniting around taking the gospel to various people in culture. There are pastors uniting in India, Pakistan, Uganda, Congo, Czech Republic, Great Britain, South Africa, Guatemala and Thailand for the sake of bringing Gospel witness to our world.3 Unity in mission is more effective, more enjoyable and brings God glory. Our unity is in theological conviction, not simply in unity itself and this propels us in the same direction for the glory of God, the good of our cities by extending hope to others in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unity in Justice and Compassion

A final area that demands unity in effort is Jesus’ call for the church to take care of the poor, the outcast, and the downtrodden. This ministry of compassion has inspired numerous cooperative efforts among those in urban ministry and ministry among the poor. Christian ministries dedicated to urban renewal have shown the power of Christian unity in the cities of America.4 These areas of unity must continue to bring us together because the enemies of unity are numerous and strong. Doctrine, mission, and compassion can bring us together to help us overcome the barriers that develop in the church .

As little Jacob’s Well we are committed to unity in all of these areas. For us to fulfill the call which God has upon us in the Northeast, we must urgently work to maintain unity in each. Our enemy is real, spiritual darkness will persist and push to divide us. Yet in the word’s of Martin Luther’s great hymn we are reminded who must win our battles:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.5

Unified in Him,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

  1. For a more thorough look at the philosopher’s quest for unity in diversity please see Zacharias, Ravi Can Man Live Without God (Dallas: TX, Word Publishing, 1994) pp 147-150.
  2. Ibid, p148
  3. See Bob Thune’s summary of the current state of Acts 29 Network: http://www.cdomaha.com/blog/?p=1366
  4. We will be taking initiative to serve with others in central New Jersey in the upcoming year. Our views on gospel centered social ministry can be read online here: http://www.powerofchange.org/storage/docs/justice_web_jw.pdf
  5. Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God—For some reading on this hymn see the wiki at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Mighty_Fortress_Is_Our_God


What is the Church?

Church. A short word, a simple word. Yet it can conjure up all manner of ideas, emotions and imagery. There are book length treatments on the church so today I just want to focus on some simple basics—what the church is. It can be easy to think of church as a building, a religious service, a denomination or formalized institution but the biblical definition of church is a bit simpler and a bit more wonderful. The basic word for church in the New Testament is ekklesia, which simply means an assembly of people. So this gives our first little hint in our exploration. Namely, the church is a group of people gathering together for something…or someone.

In this essay we will only attempt to answer a few questions about church. First, we will look at the nature of the church as a community of people called by Jesus through the gospel. Second, we’ll track a little about this community living with Jesus as a people being transformed to be more like him. Third, we will look at how this community is a sent people into the world with message and mission. Finally, we close by seeing the church as a community that represents and reflects something about the goodness and glory of God.

The Church— A Community Called by Jesus

The first thing we learn in the book of Ephesians is that the church is made up of people who have been called by God through the gospel. God purposed before the world began to save his people and adopt them as his children. This would be accomplished by redeeming a people for himself by the work of Jesus on a cross. This would be a people called by Jesus, given a promise in the Holy Spirit and an inheritance with God forever. The church is reminded that prior to Jesus saving them they were dead in sin, separated from God and under his wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Furthermore, they were separated from the promises of God that came through Israel and described as without hope and without God. Yet, in his grace God saves them, Jew and Gentile and makes them into a new community of people. Steve Timmis and Tim Chester describe this well:

We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died. 1

The book of Hebrews also describes these people as those whom God has made a “new covenant” with through Jesus Christ. They become a community of faith comprised of worshippers that the Father has sought out and saved (see John 4). They will worship God together in gratitude because of his great mercy and love for them (Ephesians 2:4). Yet the church is more than just a forgiven people called together by the gospel to sit in seats on Sunday mornings. The church is called together to live life with Jesus and see our lives changed by Him and sent to be active players in his mission and purposes on the earth.

The Church— A Community Together with Jesus

One of the most amazing metaphors in Scripture for the church is that we are the body of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:12; 5:23, Colossians 3:15). We live in relational union with Jesus as he works in us to transform us throughout our lives. Ephesians 2:22 talks about us being joined together and growing as the people of God. We are being changed, we are being set apart by God (sanctified) to be made more like Jesus. The biblical doctrine of sanctification is that we are now being changed and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. This transformation happens as he works in us and as we obediently follow him. We repent of sin, love others, fight temptation, grow in humility, walk in friendship in the church and follow God’s word together.

Furthermore, our the church is shaped by spiritual practices that Jesus left for us as means of his grace and transformation. The church therefore hears the Bible and heeds it together. It reads, studies, preaches , meditates upon God’s holy Scriptures. New members of the family are united with Jesus and his church by the outward sign of baptism and the church continues in fellowship with God and one another at the Lord’s table. The church prays together, sings together, serves together and as she sins—the church repents together. Jesus has given us the Scriptures, spiritual practices and life together to shape us into different people. The church is a transformational community of grace due to its union together as the body of Christ.

Accordingly, the church is a people both saved by the gospel and changed by the gospel and it is also a people sent into the world on gospel mission. To this “sentness” of the church we now turn.

The Church— A Community Sent by Jesus

All too often the church can simply remain a group of huddle followers of Jesus who are AWOL from his mission in the world. The church is not a religious club or cloister but rather a sent people in the world so the world might hear and see the gospel through their lives together. Furthermore, many Christians see “the church” as a dispenser of religious goods and services that accessorize their lives and even shop for these services. Rather than asking “what does this church have to give me” we ought to ask how we might be sent together on Jesus’ mission in the world. We are called together to serve together and be a blessing to others ,not to simply ask “what’s in it for me.” Darrell L. Guder questions this view of the church in his book The Missional Church — A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. He writes the following:

Does this image of church correspond to the cluster of images found for the church in the New Testament? Does it correlate with the New Testament speech about the nature and purposes of the church? At the very least, this producer-consumer model separates its notion of church (a religious firm producing and marketing religious products and services) from its members (potential and hopefully committed customers consuming those products and services). Members are ultimately distanced in this model from their own communal calling to be a body of people sent on mission.2

A metaphor used in the New Testament to describe this “sentness” of our lives as God’s people is that of being Christ’s ambassadors. As ambassadors we have a two fold role as the church sent into the world. First, we proclaim the gospel and urge others to be reconciled to God through Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 describes this well:

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)

The church is not out to promote itself or proclaim its own majesty, but rather we “proclaim him” (Colossians 1:29). Second, we represent and announce the reality of the Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of Jesus, in the midst of a dark world. We’ll cover that a bit more in the next section. At the close of the apostle John’s writing about the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, he records the following words of the Lord:

19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:19-21 (ESV)

Jesus came into the world, sent as a servant from the Father. He gave his life for others and loved them so that they would be reconciled to God. He now sends us to people in the world to model his sacrificial life for others and to proclaim his gospel so that many more will be saved and added to the family. His final words, often called a great commission, gives us instructions as his people:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

To simply come together without the mission of Jesus is to ignore the teaching of Jesus. It is a self-absorbed enterprise that ironically leaves many Christians weary and bored with insular religion. God has called and sent his church—it is our joy to go on his behalf to those in our neighborhoods, in our dorms, in our building, at our work, at the gym, at the pub and wherever he calls us to be.

The Church— A Community that Represents

Ephesians makes it evident and clear that our individual salvation and forgiveness is in Christ is to display the glory of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7). Furthermore, his creation and calling together of the church is to display his wisdom is to demonic and spiritual powers (Ephesians 3:10). The church is also described in Ephesians as the bride of Jesus which he is making beautiful. In this we see the committed, faithful, covenant love of God (Ephesians 5:22-33) for us in Christ. The ultimate ends of both our salvation and the forming of the church is to represent and praise the glorious grace of God in the gospel.

The church community is itself an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God where we live under the rule and reign of Jesus. We have a different King, a different way, a different calling as we live as sojourners in this world. Jesus is the center and focus of the church, our baptism symbolizes our union with him in the gospel and our remembering at communion is a participation with him in his faithful new covenant . Our fellowship together is in light of his grace so we extend similar love and grace to one another. When we rep him in this way, he told us that people would know we are truly his followers and that others would know that God sent him (John 13 and 17). As such the church is a body of people together that bears witness to the gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus all to the glory of God.

Last word. We don’t just need to “go to church”, but rather we need to presently be the church. A people which gathers in various places for worship, is instructed in the teachings of the apostles and prophets and is then sent to love and preach good news in Jesus name.

Remember, you can’t shop for that—we live it together.

Notes

  1. Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Total Church—A radical reshaping around gospel and community (Nottingham England: Intervarsity Press, 2007) 37. Now available in the US under the same title, Crossway Books (Re:Lit), 2008.
  2. Darrell L. Guder, Misional Church—A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 85.

On Prayer...

Prayer is the great privilege and joy of the believer in Christ but it can also be a source of frustration and mystery as we seek God. In one sense prayer is quite simple in definition - it is coming before God to speak with him and interact in relationship with him. On the other hand, it is hard to carve out time to pray and to understand how prayer functions. In this essay we will look very briefly at the vast subject of prayer in Scripture and in our lives. For those who want to read more I highly suggest Paul E. Miller’s new work A Praying Life.1

For our brief purposes here we will take the following path together. First, we will look at some pagan understandings of prayer and how believers in Jesus can at times treat prayer in the same manner. Second, we will look at a few ways in which prayer is described in Scripture and then close with some guiding principles and practical suggestions relating to living a life of prayer.

Pagan Prayer

In many religions and philosophies of the world prayer is used to either please or appease some deity. Those who believe in multiple gods have always believed in prayer. If you prayed the right way, at the right times, with the right trinkets you could get a god on your side. Not a bad gig save one problem. There is one God who is sovereign ruler of the world and he does not exist to obey our commands or be manipulated by our “prayers” and rituals. There are several ways prayer becomes pagan even in the mouth of believers in Jesus. We’ll just look at three.

The first is something Mark Driscoll has humorously called piñata prayer. Prayer in this way treats God as if he is a big piñata in the sky. If we whack him with the stick of prayer, lots of candy and goodies fall out. Lets just say that prayer not just trying to get goodies out of God but many times we approach it this way. Second, is something I am calling dancing prayer. When I was a little kid we had a dog; a short haired miniature schnauzer named Gretchen to be more precise. My brother and I loved to make that dog dance in order to get a treat from us. We would make her jump on her hind legs, spin around and do back flips (well, maybe not). When she performed we would give her a treat. I think many times we can think if we do the right things, say the right prayers and dance a little that God will give us a reward for our performance. This is an odd way to see God, but we can get into that way of praying. If I pray “correctly” then God will give me treats.

The final way in which we can pray like pagans is what I’ll call Trading Places. In the early 1980s there was a movie where Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd “traded places” in life. Murphy was a homeless con man who became the rich tycoon and Aykroyd became the homeless guy. I think sometimes we think by praying we can “trade places” with God. We act as if we are God and can give orders to get what we want. We are his servants and we exist for his glory not the other way around. I know it is silly to think of prayer as telling God what to do, but that doesn’t keep us from doing it. There are even preachers on TV that encourage this sort of telling God what to do. If we do not want to pray in these ways, we must look at how Scripture presents a life of prayer. We’ll look at this issue by describing biblical prayer and then close with some practical stuff.

Biblical Prayer

In Scripture we find descriptions of people praying, recorded prayers, as well as commands and instruction about prayer. Although this will be far from complete there are several ways we see prayer described in the Bible. First, we see that prayer is approaching God and desiring to be relationally in his presence. In Psalm 42:1-2 we read the following:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

We see the same idea in the New Testament in we are encouraged to approach the throne of God with confidence to find mercy and help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). So prayer involves approaching God, through Jesus Christ, in the middle of the joys, pains, triumphs and sufferings of every day life. Secondly, prayer is seen as intercession and supplication, coming to God with petitions and requests. Philippians 4:6, 7 teaches us not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. We must remember, we do not come into the presence of God to command him, but rather to find mercy and help in our lives. Yet prayer does include making requests of our Father.

Third, prayer is a time to share our hearts cry with the Father. The Psalms are full of both thanksgiving and lament (sadness expressed). In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we are commanded to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances, whether good or bad. We can have confidence that nothing in our life is meaningless, even our suffering or the evil done to us by others can be redeemed by God. If we belong to Him, he will work it all out for his purposes in the end. Romans 8:28 teaches us that we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. We need to know this truth before our times of suffering as we are disoriented in our pain. When our friends are mourning we are instructed to “mourn with them” and not treat others’ suffering with frivolity. Yet Romans 8:28 is no trite phrase in the Bible; it is our greatest hope and his great promise in a world full of madness and sin.

Fourth, prayer is confession where we come before God to get honest about our sins and shortcomings. Confession is not telling God some secret that you are hiding from him. Believe me, God knows all things even the mistakes we make and the sin we commit against him and others. The word confession is actually a compound of the Greek prefix “homos” which means “same” and “logeo” which means “word.” It literally means, to say the same word. To confess means to agree with God about something, to say the same thing about our sin that he does and turn from our sin. It is to come clean and experience the grace and forgiveness of God purchased by Jesus. Confession restores closeness in relationship with God and keeps us from drifting away from him over time.

Finally, prayer is the fuel and language of relationship. Just as Paul begins Ephesians 1 in praise to God for his saving work, he follows it with praying for his friends that they would know God. Prayer is coming to God in hope as he is our Father. We come near to him he draws near to us. In the ups and downs of our lives what we need more than anything is a close relationship with God. He is the anchor in every story, the author of our journey and the one we trust to bring us safely home to his Kingdom in the end. Prayer is the expression of the human soul crying out for its creator. In Jesus Christ we have access to God as his kids and there is no other power who has greater control over our lives. As a brand new Christian I found myself wanting to pray, wanting to talk with God, wanting to learn his ways. Yet I didn’t have a clue. The following are just a few principles I have learned along the way that have helped me understand a life of prayer.

Prayer Principles

The first principle to keep in mind as we pray is that we are seeking the will of God for our lives, not just our own purposes. So many times we can hear “the will of God” and immediately jump to thinking about a detailed road map for our future. This is not what I mean by “seek the will of God.” What we ought to seek is how God desires our life to be lived in whatever circumstances as well as what sort of people he wants us to be. We find the will of God in his character and commands as revealed in Scripture. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6:9-13) and 1 John 5:14-15 promises that God hears and answers prayer that is according to his will. Here are some simple examples of prayers that would be according to the will of God:

God make me a good friend…God help me be more patient and kind…God help me to serve others…God help me leave my selfishness…God help me be a thankful person…God help me rejoice in you, even when my life seems to suck…God give me wisdom for the choices and decisions I face tomorrow…God provide for my basic needs…God open a door for your gospel with my friends…God help me be a better wife/husband, mother/father, sister/brother, daughter or son….God make me more like Jesus in my character and actions

Second, we need to come to God with the right motives. James 4:2,3 teaches us that we should not come to God with a selfish heart just asking God for stuff to fit our current passions. Oh God, if you don’t give me a boat, you must hate me! People do pray this way-DON’T. Third, when we pray, we must believe. We trust he is our good father who wants to hear from us and answer in the way the he deems best for us. Finally, we should not just come to God trying to get a spiritual buzz. Sometimes there are deep spiritual experiences, other times there are not. God’s presence is not your emotions. Paul E. Miller sums this up well in his excellent new book, A Praying Life:

You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.2

As we close, I want just drop a few practical ways to help us to pray amidst our hurried lives.

Prayer in Practice

Did you realize that Jesus’ friends actually asked him to teach them how to pray? His reply, found in Matthew 6:9-13, has been called “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”. Though many say this as a prayer from memory, his response is actually a pattern to follow. Looking at this pattern we find several things that we can include in our prayers:

  • Hallowed be your name. We want to praise God in our prayers for who he is. We want to love him, respect him and honor him. Tell God what you love about him as you get to know him better.
  • Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
  • Give us this day our daily bread. Thanking God for life and provision.
  • Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. We ask God to lead us in what is good, right and true.

The acrostic ACTS has helped many to remember some basics about prayer that are seen in Jesus’ pattern. The acrostic stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication and can be helpful in praying.

  • Adoration-praising God for who he is, that he is our treasure and joy
  • Confession-coming clean with our Father and receiving grace and forgiveness
  • Thanksgiving-thanking him for good time and hard times
  • Supplication-bringing your needs and the needs of others before the Father.

To close, I want to be honest with you. Prayer is hard. We are busy people who are surrounded by the hum of cars, trains, cell phones, IM, chats and social media. Furthermore, human beings are so intent on living apart from God that we don’t naturally want to pray. We pray when things go bad and ignore God when things are good. I am often amazed by my own self-centeredness and desire to do life on my own without the guidance and wisdom of God. Yet when I come to God in prayer I find life, relationship and hope for the day. I will leave you with an excellent quote about the effects of a prayerful life on the soul:

The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love…3

When Paul began his letter to Ephesians he reminded them of the great work that God had done in saving them. Then he prayed. He prayed that they would have the most important thing in life-depth in relationship with God and an understanding of every good thing we have in him. We ought to pray in the same way for one another-that all of us would deepen with God.

Praying for you to that end and hoping that you seek your Father in prayer,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

1.Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2009)

2.Ibid, 21.

3.Ibid, 25.

 

Ordo Salutis - Guest Post by Scott C. Jones

Today we have a guest posting by Scott Jones - a friend of mine from Jacob's Well.  Scott did his undergraduate studies at Cornell University and then a ThM from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

Enjoy - RSM

------------------------------------------------

Have you ever asked a doctor or dentist what they are about to do to you? I do this constantly. I don't like to be pricked, prodded, or generally be in pain without knowing why. Asking these sorts of questions allows me to anticipate and understand the pain I am currently experiencing. I imagine others feel the same way and like to generally know what is being done to their bodies before they lay prostrate on the surgeon's table or the dentist's chair. I wonder if you've ever had similar questions about the process of Christian conversion. What exactly happens when we are converted, saved, born again, come to faith, accept Christ, welcome Jesus into our hearts or whatever other term you'd use for becoming a Christian? You may be surprised to learn that Scripture actually suggests that there is a discernible and universal process to becoming a Christian. While the way in which we arrive at conversion varies widely in terms of circumstances and timing, the spiritual process of conversion - so Scripture suggests - is the same in each case. Read, for instance, Romans 8:29-30:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

These verses outline, in part, the process of salvation. However, the elements mentioned in these verses, so the rest of the New Testament suggests, are a partial list at best. As such, theologians have discussed for centuries about how exactly to order all the elements we'll discuss below. The largest disagreements concern the proper causal relationships between the various parts of salvation. The fancy Latin phrase that describes this classic teaching of the Church is ordo salutis (literally: order of salvation).

There are two prominent schools of thought on the ordo salutis, the Reformed view and the Arminian view. The classic Reformed order is (we'll outline each of these elements, in detail, below): election / predestination, followed by effectual call, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The Arminian view is as follows: evangelistic call, followed by conversion, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The crucial difference in these systems is primarily the ordering of conversion and regeneration. In the Reformed view, faith and repentance are solely possible if the unbeliever is first acted upon by God. God gives a person the spiritual ability to confess their sin and put their trust in Christ. In the Arminian view the initiative is taken by the individual, rather than by God. In this view, fallen humanity retains the ability to receive or reject the gospel within ourselves. In the Reformed view God, so to speak, flicks on the spiritual lights, while to the Arminian, we have the power to decide to flick the switch or not. Given that the New Testament seems to emphasize God's role in salvation and his initiative in calling us to himself (see below), I prefer the Reformed view. Let's look at each of the elements in the Reformed ordo salutis.1

Effectual Call

The term itself - and related terms like predestination, unconditional election, and foreknowledge - refers to God's sovereign choice of believers. Those whom God has elected, he calls and his calling is always effective in bringing about repentance (thus, effectual call). Paul emphasizes the calling of believers to repentance throughout his letters, for example in 1 Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." So also, Eph 1:4-5, "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will." Salvation is wholly the work of a sovereign God who chooses us solely out of grace and adopts us as his children not due to any merit we ourselves possess. God chooses and God calls.

Regeneration

Once God has called an individual to himself, God also provides the spiritual capacity to respond to that call. Here we are directed to such texts as John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" and Acts 16:14 in which God opens the heart of Lydia to hear the message of Paul. The concept of "new birth" or being "born again" is related to the doctrine of regeneration. As Murray puts it, "Faith is a whole-souled act of loving trust and self-commitment. Of that we are incapable until renewed by the Holy Spirit."2

Conversion

The call and new birth of the individual then leads to the act of conversion, normally spoken of in terms of faith and repentance. One scholar defines conversion as, "our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation."3 Acts 16:31 puts it simply, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Far from merely a mental assent to a set of facts, this belief is a complete reorientation of one's life. In James 2 we have the fullest explanation of what is meant by "faith" in the Scriptures. To summarize the argument of that chapter: saving faith is a faith that is evident in how one lives.

Justification

Because of our faith, the most radical of things happens: God proclaims that we are righteous before him. Exactly how and when this happens is a matter of heated debate in current Biblical scholarship. Some prefer to define justification as the reality that because of our faith, we are joined with Christ and given his righteousness as the basis of our acceptance before God. In short, when God looks at us, he sees Jesus and thus, we are acceptable before him.4 This view is most nearly expressed in 2 Cor 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Others prefer to see justification as something that follows our union with Christ. Acts of faith that result from our initial conversion provide evidence of our membership in the people of God.5 Such texts as James 2:21, in which Abraham is said to have been "justified" when he offered Isaac on the altar, are given to support this view. Whichever view is held, the reality that Christ's work on the cross provides the means for our being acceptable before God is an undeniable Biblical concept and a breathtaking reality. There are many other things that happen as a result of our union with Christ and Scripture uses myriad images to describe them including: adoption, redemption, propitiation, expiation, and reconciliation, among others.6

Sanctification

One of the great benefits of our salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit. At our conversion, the third person of the Trinity comes to dwell in us and empowers us to begin living out the implications of our reconciled relationship with God. As a result of the Holy Spirit's presence, the believer now increasingly experiences the reformation of both her outward behavior and inward desires. The believer is encouraged to increasingly take advantage of this new way of life (Eph 5:18). The old patterns of sin and the enslavement to past desires are progressively replaced by new patterns of righteous living and a renewed passion for God's way of life (Galatians 5). As one of my seminary professors liked to say, the Christian is not guaranteed perfection overnight but progression over a lifetime.

Glorification

This is the final stage of our salvation in which we once and for all eternity are resurrected to new life in the new heavens and the new earth (Rom 8:23; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Aspects of this final stage include full, uninhibited communion with the Triune God (1 John 3:2), the perfection of our bodies (1 Cor 15:35-49), ultimate, lasting and unmistakable vindication (Rom 5:9-10) and our spiritual, moral, and intellectual perfection (Col 1:22; 1 Cor 13:12).7 This glorious truth is once again best framed by Murray who says of glorification:

God is not the God of the dead but of the living and therefore nothing short of resurrection to the full enjoyment of God can constitute the glory to which the living God will lead his redeemed.8

Conclusion

This is what has happened, is happening, and will happen to those who put their trust in Christ for salvation. No matter what circumstance brings us into his family, the reality of God's initiative and the remarkable benefits of the salvation he accomplished for us deserve nothing short of our utmost worship. If you are a member of the people of God, these are his benefits to you and we should live joyously and with great hope in light of them. There is nothing better than being called, regenerated, converted, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified by God. This is what it means to be the Church, this is who we are because of what Christ has done, what the Holy Spirit is doing and what God will do on the last day. Praise God for his grace to me, to you, to Jacob's Well and to all the people of God!

Praying that you share in the riches of God's salvation,

Scott C. Jones

Notes

1 The classic reference on this system is John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1955)

2 Ibid., 86.

3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1994), 709.

4 For this view see John Piper, The Future of Justification (Crossway: Wheaton, 2007), in which Piper defends a more orthodox view of justification, largely against Wright's view (see below).

5 For this view see N.T. Wright, Justification (SPCK Publishing: London , 2009), which is a response to Piper's book above.

6 For a description of each of these (and several others) see Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love (Crossway: Wheaton, 2008)

7 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd Ed. (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 1998), 1010-1011.

Murray, Redemption, 175.

On Divine Election and Adoption

Divine election.  In our day some may think this is a reference to the political ascendancy of Barak Obama; Oprah Winfrey seemed to have such an opinion.1 Yet as much as we like (or maybe not like) our president, in Scripture there is a different sort of election that is spoken of that is much more mysterious and glorious than the rising and falling of political regimes.  In Ephesians 1:3, 4 we read the following passage:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

The word translated “chose us” is the Greek word eklegein.  It has a range of usage but its meaning is to choose out, select or elect for some purpose.2 The biblical teaching on election is that God chooses to save people from sin, death and hell completely by his grace and not because people are so fly. This is an issue that followers of Jesus have wrestled with, debated over the centuries and around which there have been various agreements and disagreements.  With the doctrine of divine election we would be wise to avoid two extremes.  First, we cannot claim to know too much about what God knows and how he does everything.  Second, we cannot be silent where God reveals to us in Scripture, the truth about his grace being poured out on people.

There have been several views over history as to what it means for God to choose and save people.  What we must not say is that God plays favorites or chooses people based on their merit or anything about them.  We will cover three views on election that Christians hold in a moment, but now I just want to reference both Old and New Testament passages which teach that God does indeed show grace and mercy to those who are undeserving.

The Old Testament

In the Old Testament we read the background for God’s work to save and redeem a people from sin and death from all nations on the earth.  He begins by making a covenant, a promise, to a guy named Abraham. His promise was to bless him and make him a great nation and that his descendants would be innumerable.  Furthermore, all the nations of the world would be blessed through his offspring (See Genesis 12 and 15). This of course foreshadowed the coming of Jesus, who descended from Abraham, to be the savior of the world. His saving work is applied in time and history to all those who believe in him, trust him and follow him. In the Old Testament we also read the following in Deuteronomy 7:7-8 regarding Israel:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Why did God choose Abraham? Why did God choose Israel? Because they were a great people, or were better than anyone else? No, God simply chose them to be his own because of his goodness, love and redemptive purposes.

The New Testament

In the New Testament there are three primary words that speak to God’s choosing of his people.  The first, as mentioned before is ekloge (and its associated word group) which carries the meaning of being chosen or elected, being chosen by God.  We find it here in Ephesians 1:4 and nineteen other times in the NT. Second, the word pro orizein, or predestined, is also used to speak of God’s people.  Predestination deals with God’s determining something before the fact or to ordain that something would come to pass in time. This word is used in Ephesians 1:5, 11; Romans 8:29, 30; Acts 4:28; 1 Cor 2:7. Finally, the word foreknow or pro ginoskein is used to speak of all who belong to God. He knows people will come to him before it happens in history and this word is used in Romans 8:29, 11:2; 1 Peter 1:1,2.

Three Views about How/Why God Elects

There have been several ways that Christians have attempted to understand God’s choosing of his people. The following are but three ways others have attempted to grasp this deep truth.  All of these have been held by people who deeply trust Jesus in the gospel so though I favor one of them, they are all respectable views. Yet as will be seen, all cannot be true.

Unconditional Election

In this view, God chooses to save people based only upon his grace and nothing else.  There is no merit or condition in us, that requires God to save and forgive us. This does not mean that God’s election is also the basis for people’s condemnation. Scripture is clear that we are guilty before God and are separated from him due to our sin and our own choices (see Isaiah 53, Psalm 51:1-5; Romans 1-6). We are saved by God’s grace, but we are quite lost on our own. Unconditional election teaches that God intervenes through the gospel to rescue us from our self deceived, self destructive, blind and selfish ways that alienate us from God and one another. We deserve his opposition/wrath, yet he lavishes upon us grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.  Finally, the motifs used to describe us apart from God are revealing. We are seen as lost, blind, spiritually dead, enemies of God, not wanting or able to submit to God. Something had to change in our condition and it was the purpose and action of God which found us, opened our eyes, gave new life, made us friends with God now wanting to worship and follow him.  The late theologian Anthony Hoekema sums up this view well:

God the Father chose us to be saved not because of any merit he foresaw in us but only on the basis of our predetermined oneness with Christ.3

The problem some have with this view is that it leaves unanswered the question as to why God chooses certain people and could appear arbitrary. Of course, this view gives no other reason but God’s grace and mercy for his forgiveness offered to the guilty.

Election based on Foreseen Faith

Others hold that God does indeed choose to save people but he makes this choice based upon the faith he foresees they will have.  God knows all events, choices and people in all times and knows which ones will choose to believe in him and follow him. In other words, God chooses people based on what they will choose in their lives.  This view is sometimes called election according to foreknowledge. This actually sounds great because our destiny is really up to us.  There is only one problem with this. The prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus himself and the writers of the New Testament simply never teach this.  There are three places in the New Testament where God speaks of his foreknowledge and the salvation of people: Romans 8:26-30, 1 Peter 1:1, 2 and Romans 11:2.  In each case what is foreknown is the people not simply whether or not they will have faith.  Romans 8:26-30 actually teaches that God foreknows, predestines, calls and saves his people. 1 Peter speaks of “the elect exiles” in various parts of the world who are being saved, changed and coming to obedience to Jesus “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”.  Finally, Ephesians 1 is very clear that God’s choosing took place in eternity past, before any of us even existed. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.  God was at work before we  even were. That blows up my head in a good way.

Corporate Election “in Him”

Finally, another very interesting view is that God chooses all people who are “in Him”. In other words, he elects or chooses to save people through Jesus, but not particular individuals.  This view is attractive for several reasons.  First, Scripture does speak of election in corporate terms.  God saves a people, God saves a church, not just isolated individuals.  Ephesians 1 teaches that God chose us, Romans 8 teaches that he saves those whom he foreknew. Secondly, this view teaches that we are saved “in Him” or by our union with Jesus Christ. This is a biblical truth that should be highlighted as we are not chosen or saved apart from Jesus.4 However, it seems that this view misses a very significant point. The church is comprised of individuals so if he knows the group of those who will be saved, he also knows the individuals who make up the group.  Second, there are many passages that deal with Gods calling of individuals. Furthermore, the Scriptures do show us that God chooses, calls and saves individuals thereby grafting them into the church. The apostle Paul did not choose Jesus when Jesus knocked him down, put a light in his eyes and told him that he would be God’s messenger to the non Jewish world (See Act 9 for the story).  Acts 13:48 describes a scene where many Gentiles (non Jewish people) heard the gospel and it records that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”. This was a group individuals. Finally, the gospel of John teaches us that “that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37) and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44). So while I find this view attractive5 in some ways, it seems to fall short regarding some important issues with election.

Some Strong Warnings

Christians in history, specifically in traditions that have followed the biblical doctrine of unconditional election, have acted as if they were God and knew who was and was not chosen. Only God knows his own mind on these matters. We have zero knowledge, let me said that again, we have zero knowledge as to who, how many, when, where or why God will save people from this moment forward.  To act like we know the mind of God and who he will ultimately save is arrogant, proud and smells of some sick religious elitism. Additionally, many followers of Jesus have taken pride in “being of the chosen folk” which is an attitude in direct contradiction to Ephesians 1.  We have no pride, no boasting, nothing special about us-we are only thankful to God for his love and grace. Furthermore, we know God has chosen and saved his people, so that we might worship God for his mercy. What we do know is that God is at work saving a multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth (Revelation 5:9,10).  For all we know, every soul on earth today could be chosen.  We do not have a black light which we use to scan people’s foreheads for some hidden fluorescent word “chosen”. Rather, we love and share the gospel with all people, trusting God that the gospel is the power of God for salvation of all who believe (Romans 1:16). One final warning on the other side of the coin.  To make ourselves the source of our own salvation belittles the grace and glory of God in the cross.  In Jesus, God is rescuing sinful people who then become worshippers knowing that they are not worthy of such lavish grace. So what shall be our path?  Another word in Ephesians one provides great insight for how we should see ourselves and the world around us.

On Adoption

God uses some wonderful language to describe his relationship to his people.  He presents himself as a loving Father who adopts children into his family by pardoning their sins and welcoming them home. This is the work of Jesus in the world today, he is adopting a big family which he loves.  All who hear the gospel and respond to him in faith he welcomes home with open arms. Rather than getting into worthless theological debates about who exactly is chosen and who is not, we should live on his mission of sharing life changing good news.  We then let the Father be the Father as his mercy is displayed in people’s lives.  We become his children by faith and worship together in the knowledge of his adopting love that rescues us out of sin and death.  

Humbled by the gracious gift of God in Jesus-in whom we are blessed with every spiritual blessing,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes

1. Oprah referred to President Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign with the rather odd title of “the one” - http://edition.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/08/oprah.obama/index.html

2. Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), 138.

3. Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 56,.

4. See Hoekema, 56, 57. His treatment rightly incorporates unconditional election with that of union with Christ. We recommend this book for any library for those wrestling with these issues.

5. I find Paul Copan’s short summaryof this view helpful. That’s Just Your Interpretation —Responding to Skeptics who Challenge Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) 84-89. Copan follows the work of William K. Klein, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1990).

Life on Doctrine - A Study in the Book of Ephesians

 

Introduction

People at times polarize from living too much from the head or too much from the heart.  Some like to think lofty thoughts while others like to do lofty things in the world.  Yet no life is lived without beliefs and assumptions which help to guide our actions.  We all make many assumptions about the world, about God, about who we are and about how we should live in the world.  At times our beliefs are not conscious and are held in an unexamined way, other times our beliefs are thoroughly examined and thought through.  Either way, it is simply impossible to live a life devoid of any beliefs. 

We want to avoid two extremes in our lives as followers of Jesus. First, we do not want to make our faith purely an intellectual theological game where we sum up following Jesus as reading thick books about him.  Second, we do not want to live a doctrine[1]-less, belief-less, truth-less Christianity where we make up God in our imaginations and get warm fuzzies thinking about "our God."  Scripture holds a different path whereby we need teaching (doctrine) about who God is and what he has done and then calls for a response by living for him, worshipping him and following him in day to day life.  In other words, God has married life and doctrine together and we should not seek to separate the two. 

The book of Ephesians reflects the marriage of life and doctrine in that it contains deep theological truth about God's nature and work in the first three chapters. Furthermore, in the final three chapters it unblushingly calls us to LIFE that is in accord with this teaching.  As a kid I remember this commercial on TV that ran as a public service announcement.  It showed a hot frying pan and then said something like this: "This is drugs" Next an egg was shown and we were told "this is your brain." Finally, the egg dropped into the frying pan and the audio said "this is your brain on drugs...any questions."[2]  The point of the deal was to freak you out that smoking weed will fry up your brain.  Yet it contains an interesting truth. Being "on something" is an expression that means that your life is being deeply influenced by something external to you.  In the case of drugs, being on them will do bad things man, baaad things to you.  However, being on something can also be a great thing as well if what you are on will better your life.  Ephesians calls us to live deeply; to be on something, to be influenced by God's truth.  It calls us to live a life on doctrine.

As we begin our study of this ancient book of Ephesians I want us to do several things.  Primarily I want us to get a good introduction to the book as a foundation for our journey through the book.  To do so we'll first give a brief overview of the letter as a high flyover.  Second, we will take a brief look at the question of authorship of Ephesians; who wrote the book and when.  Third, we will look at the historical and geographical setting of ancient Asian Minor to understand the world in which the letter would have been read. Fourth, we will look at some of the major theological themes of the book before closing with some thoughts for our journey at Jacob's Well.  So let's get our life on some doctrine.

 

The Book of Ephesians

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the book of Ephesians on this history of Christ's people.  Harold Hoehner begins his massive volume on Ephesians with a long account of the thoughts and comments about the importance of Ephesians to leaders throughout history.  Chrysostom of Constantinople (modern day Turkey), Calvin of the Protestant Reformation, Poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge[3] and New Testament scholar FF Bruce all comment on the influence of this book throughout history.[4] Raymond Brown sums up the influence of Ephesians well by saying that among the Pauline writings only Romans could match Ephesians as a 'candidate for exercising the most influence on Chirstian thought and spirituality.'[5]

The book is composed of two main parts; the first devoted to deep doctrinal truths about God and the second to paraenesis[6], the living out and apply these great truths.  The book begins with a strong exploration of our calling to God through Jesus Christ and ends with exhortation towards living a life worthy of that same calling. Klyne Snodgrass comments that "Ephesians provides some of the most direct and practical guidelines for living found in Scripture...Ephesians tells us how to be the church."[7]

The book was authored in history and inspired by God to accomplish a very important purpose. This purpose is indispensable for Christians in every time until the consummation of history.  Put very simply Ephesians tells us who we are, who God is and how we are to live together as his people in his world.   As a letter written from someone to a group of churches, we need to look at some of the issues surrounding the authorship of the book and the peoples to whom it was originally sent.  In doing so we may grasp how we are to understand and live out its teaching today.

Who Wrote It and When?

From the earliest records of Christianity, the church has understood the book of Ephesians to be authored by the apostle Paul.  The actual text of Ephesians claims Paul as its author in two places.  First, it is recorded in the customary greeting of the letter (Ephesians 1:1) and then again in chapter 3 when he describes his current circumstance as "a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of the Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1).  Furthermore, the earliest records we have from Christian pastors all accord with the testimony that Paul is the author of the book.  Ephesians, and allusions to Ephesians, were cited often in early Christian preaching showing up as early as AD 95 in the writings of Clement of Rome.  Additionally it is quoted by Ignatius (AD 35-107), Polycarp (69-135), Iranaeus (130-200), Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and it is listed as a work of Paul in the Muratorian Canon (AD 180) an early collection of New Testament writings. [8]  Finally, the authorship of Paul was universally agreed upon by most scholars up until 1792. 

Over the last two hundred years the Pauline authorship of Ephesians has come under attack from various New Testament scholars and has been strongly defended by others.  Today, there are plenty of scholars on both sides of the debate and so no case has been made.  There are several reasons given for doubting Paul as the author of Ephesians but none of them are compelling in the end.  Our opinion of on the matter concurs with that of Harold Hoehner in his excellent treatment of the authorship of Ephesians:

The Pauline authorship of Ephesians not only has the earliest attestation of any book of the NT but this attestation continued until the last two centuries. The early attestation is highly significant.  They early church was not only closer to the situation but also they were very astute in their judgment of genuine and fraudulent compositions. This overwhelming support for the Pauline authorship of Ephesians should not be easily dismissed

...

Although Ephesians differs from other Pauline literature, the differences do not sufficiently argue for the rejection of Pauline authorship of this letter. Variations can be accounted for due to differences in content and differences in the character and needs of the recipients of the letter.   Furthermore, it must be accepted that a genius such as Paul is not sterile in his own expressions; allowances must be made for development in his own thinking...Authors are not machines that duplicate vocabulary and style.[9]

The discussion of the authorship of Ephesians Hoehner's work is thorough, clear, scholarly and faithful to a high view of the Bible. We highly recommend his lengthy treatment of authorship for anyone interested in this issue at a deeper level.  It covers pages 2-61 in the fifth printing of his commentary.

The Original Audience(s)

Paul's interaction with the church in Asia Minor, the location of modern day Turkey, took place over the course of several years and is chronicled in the Acts 18, 19.  The following is a simple outline of his work in this area of the world[10]:

  • AD 52 - Paul, accompanied by the married couple Priscilla and Aquila, go to Ephesus. Paul ministers among the Jewish population and then departs for the city of Antioch, his home base of operations. A man named Apollos begins to teach the Scriptures in Ephesus and Priscilla and Aquila instruct him further in the gospel. Apollos' ministry flourishes.
  • AD 53 - Paul returns to Ephesus on his third missionary trip and continues a successful ministry there accompanied by signs and wonders. Many of the Ephesians give up their magic practices and sorcery when changed by the gospel. Great opposition comes against Paul led by a local tradesman named Demetrius. Apparently he made lots of little statues out of silver in honor Artemis, patron goddess of the Ephesians. He was pissed that people quit buying little gods and started an uproar in the city against the new movement. Paul departs for Macedonia.
  • AD 57 - Paul meets with the leaders of the Ephesian church on his way to his arrest in Jerusalem. He encourages them to continue to shepherd the church well and guard it from those who would seek to bring it down from within through false teaching. Paul would go on to Jerusalem, be arrested and taken to the imperial city of Rome as a prisoner.

Although it is impossible to be certain, the letter to the Ephesians was most likely written by Paul during his imprisonment in Rome around AD 60.[11]  The letter is categorized for this reason as one of the "prison epistles" along with Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.  The letter is very general in its theology and application so it is likely that Paul intended it to find use in many of the churches in Ephesus and throughout Asia Minor.[12]  While Ephesians is more general in content and less specific to situations in Ephesus[13], that ancient city was the cultural center of the region and knowing this setting can help us understand the book. 

The Ancient City of Ephesus

Ephesus was the political and financial center of this part of the Roman Empire.  It was located on the western coast of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea just south of the mouth of the Cayster River.  The city's ancient harbor and its location between two land trade routes made it a bustling place in the empire.[14]  Ephesus was in a unique city in that its culture had been formed by various groups of people over time.  The city was influenced by Greek, Persian as well as Roman culture.  One thing is certain, religious veneration of the goddess was present for many centuries in the city.  The goddess took several names over time but at the time of Paul's ministry Artemis of the Ephesians was the name in vogue.[15] Two great architectural features of the city are known from antiquity.  The great theater which held a seating capacity of some 24,000 people and the temple dedicated to Artemis which was some 420 feet in length and 240 feet wide.  The temple's grandeur had it named among the seven wonders of the ancient world and apparently a statue of Artemis was composed at least partially from a fallen meteorite.[16]The prominent temple made Ephesus a destination for pilgrimage increasing its prominence as a city in the ancient world.

Figure 1 - Excavated Site of the Theater at Ephesus

Evidence also seems to show that Ephesus was a center for those who practiced magic arts and sorcery in the ancient world.  This seems to accord well with the biblical record we read in Acts 19 and Paul's emphasis on Christ's superiority over spiritual powers and authorities in his letter to the Ephesians. 

Finally, though mostly consumed under the historical conquests of Islam, Ephesus had a venerated Christian history as well.  After Paul's ministry the church at Ephesus was guided and pastored by Timothy and even enjoyed the influence of the apostle John.  Though it is uncertain, tradition holds that John was buried in Ephesus after dying there of old age.   Much of Asia Minor's ancient churches were influential in the first century but many of them quickly fell away from Christ.  In fact, it was the church at Ephesus which received a strong rebuke for leaving the love they had at first and living a religious life that was quickly becoming empty. In this church we find a lesson from history. We must never leave our love for Jesus and that which is true about him. The doctrine we find in the first three chapters of Ephesians is indispensible for loving and living well for Christ. We need to build our lives on these truths - we need to keep our life on doctrine.  Now let us move to some of the major theological themes found in the book.

Major Theological Themes

God the Trinity and His saving Work

Ephesians has a unique focus in its first chapter on how all the persons of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active in the saving work of the Gospel.  The Father predestines, then calls and adopts his people throughout space, time and history.  The Father blesses his children with every spiritual blessing in our union with Jesus Christ. The Son redeems people through his sacrifice for us and will ultimately unite all things under the purposes of God.  The Spirit is the seal of our belonging to God and a down payment on our future inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Ephesians reveals the beauty, mystery and awe in the triune creator God lavishing grace upon his children to the praise of his own glory.

Christ's Exaltation over All Things

Ephesians does not present Jesus as a mere human teacher but as the unique divine Son of the Father.  The panorama in the book of the exalted Jesus is rather spectacular. He is said to exist before the foundation of the world (1:4-5, 11), seated at the right hand of God (1:20, 4:8), to be filled with the fullness of God (1:23), provides redemption and forgiveness for his people (1:7), he is the head of the church (1:22, 5:23) he will ultimately subject everything under his feet (1:22) and unite all things under his rule (1:10)[17].

Our Identity in Union with Jesus

Ephesians teaches us that we have every blessing "in Christ" and that our union with him is the way by which we live and walk with God in the world. Every human being wrestles with the question of identity, the question of who we are and Ephesians leads us to deeply find our identity in Jesus.  He is the fountain of our hope and love and in him we will understand ourselves and our role in the world as his church.

Our Life Together as the Church, the People of God

The doctrine of the church, the people of God, finds rich expression in the New Testament, specifically in Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus.  We stand at the end of perhaps the most individualistic era in the history of the world with our culture reeling from the selfish inventions it has brought down upon its own head.   This is an age where families are fragmented, communities compartmentalized and empty selves isolated from God wander the earth.  In such times the doctrine of the church, people called out of darkness as the people of God, is of utmost importance.  In Ephesians we see several rich metaphors for our life together.  We are called Christ's body, a spiritual building, the temple of God, a new humanity, a family and the bride of Jesus.[18] Furthermore, Ephesians gives great insight on how we are to get along with one another and love one another as the church.  If God's people would meditate regularly on Ephesians 4 in light of their relationships the world would be a very different place.  Finally, Ephesians gives a brief, but foundational instruction on how the church should operate in its mission. It should not be the leaders of the church who do all the work of the ministry, but rather all God's people should be equipped for ministry by those who serve as leaders.  

Unity of God's People in the Gospel

God's people have been brought into unity with Christ and one another through the gospel.  The body of Christ is not a people made up of a certain race, tribe, or ethnic group, nor is it of only one nation on the earth.  No, this body is a unique group of people, indeed a new people, made up of people from the diverse groups. This unity is ours in the gospel and we must work to maintain this bound of peace that has been given by God as we grow in maturity and how we love one another.

Family and Household Relationships

As the church is a family, Ephesians gives us clear instructions on how we live together as God's people.  It gives us instruction in interpersonal relationship, how we speak to one another and how we deal with our anger.  It gives husbands and wives great teaching about how we should live together and the significance of the marital union in displaying something of the committed love of Christ for the church.  Parents and children are exhorted about their roles in a family that follows Jesus and great insight is given for those in positions of servitude and authority.

Continuing Spiritual Battle as we Sojourn

Finally, the book of Ephesians exhibits a keen awareness of the spiritual forces of darkness at work in the world today.  We are reminded that spiritual powers are real and hold many people captive, dead in their trespasses and sins.  We are also encouraged and exhorted to fight spiritual battles by putting on the full armor of God described in detail at the close of this letter.  CS Lewis once remarked that we can make one of two mistakes regarding the demonic.[19]  One, we could make too much of the devil giving him too much power and attention in life looking for demons under every rock as it were.  Two, we could live as if he does do not exist, woefully deceived by the deceptions of the evil one.  Ephesians is much more balanced in its teaching.  It does not make the devil the central actor in history nor the one who holds the keys to our lives. We belong to the Father, purchased by the Son, sealed by the Spirit.  At the same time we resist the forces of darkness in the provision of God, fighting with the spiritual weaponry he so graciously gives.

Conclusion

As we stand in the midst of the birth of Jacob's Well, I can think of no better place to build our lives together than in the book of Ephesians.  God's teaching for us in this letter will give us the doctrine we need to build our lives upon.  Our community will be enriched, informed and blessed as we follow the teaching in the latter chapters about how to relate to one another.  When we look back on our journey years from now, it is my prayer that we will find worship provoked, love for Jesus deepened, friendships bonded, marriages established and homes blessed by our study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.  As a community on mission we need to be "on something" to go after what God has set before Jacob's Well.  As we put our hands to building lives, communities and planting churches, we could launch all of this on human will, effort and ingenuity.  There is a more excellent way; we can build life on doctrine.  We can build on the truth of the gospel that sets people free. This must be our path as we aim towards living for the glory of God and the good of our communities by extending hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Every Spiritual Blessing in Him,

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes


[1] The word doctrine simply refers to a body of teaching or instruction. Doctrine, "Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary,"   [accessed April 16, 2009].

[2] The video is online at YouTube for those who want to feel the nostalgia of the late 1980s  - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl5gBJGnaXs (accessed April 16, 2009)

[3] Coleridge is probably best known for his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Paul H. Fry, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner : Complete, Authoritative Texts of the 1798 and 1817 Versions with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999).

[4] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians : An Exegetical Commentary, Fifth printing ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002), 1,2.

[5] Quoted in Peter Thomas O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge Leicester: William B. Eerdmans ; Apollos, 1999), 1.

[6] Hoehner, 62.

[7] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 18, 19.

[8]See Hoehner, 2,3. and Snodgrass, 23.

[9] Hoehner, 60, 61.

[10] Ibid., 89-92.

[11] Paul recounts in Ephesians 3:1 that he was a prisoner.  Though other imprisonments are possible, we concur that this was most likely during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome. See O'Brien, 57.

[12] Hoehner, 23.

[13] O'Brien, 48.

[14] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002), 2:115.

[15] See Acts 19:28

[16] Bromiley, 2:117.

[17] For a more thorough survey of the teaching of Ephesians about Jesus see Hoehner, 108-109.

[18] O'Brien, 3.

[19] C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill, The Screwtape Letters (New York,: The Macmillan company, 1943).

Bibliography

Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988; 2002.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and Paul H. Fry. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner : Complete, Authoritative Texts of the 1798 and 1817 Versions with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

Hoehner, Harold W. Ephesians : An Exegetical Commentary. Fifth printing ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.

Lewis, C. S., and Evelyn Underhill. The Screwtape Letters. New York,: The Macmillan company, 1943.

Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary.  [accessed April 16, 2009].

O'Brien, Peter Thomas. The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge Leicester: William B. Eerdmans ; Apollos, 1999.

Snodgrass, Klyne. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.