Category Archives: Ephesians

Ephesians 1:3-2:10: God and Us

Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Creation of Adam, is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. It shows God reaching out to touch Adam, giving him life. It was painted between 1508 and 1512. It’s a METAPHOR that shows what God is like. (His character, and how his acts.) Not what he LOOKS like. But his nature and how he acts. It’s a much more intimate image of God than anything painted in the West before it. He’s simply-dressed. He’s the God of Genesis 2 – accessible and interested, actively reaching out to humanity. Rather than the God of Genesis 1 – the all-powerful and distant king, who interacts only with HIS WORD.

And compare God and Adam. Notice how Adam matches the shape of God. Perhaps showing that he’s made in God’s image. But there’s a relaxed, indifferent feel about his posture. While God is engaged and active, twisting and reaching out to bridge the gap. Even down to comparing the fingers. God’s finger is firm and pointed. While Adam’s is relaxed and floppy, like he doesn’t really care.

I think it’s a powerful picture, not just of CREATION, but of THE WHOLE of God’s relationship with humanity, down through history. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God ACTIVELY WORKS to undo the separation that sin caused. To bridge the gap between himself and us. To connect us back into an intimate relationship with himself.

It’s just a PICTURE, but I think it’s quite POWERFUL. And the Bible’s full of pictures, just like Michelangelo’s painting, that help us understand what God’s doing to JOIN US to himself. I’ve counted at least FIFTEEN DIFFERENT PICTURES. (Earthly metaphors that capture something of the spiritual reality). You’ll be relieved to know we’ll only look at TEN today. Each one adds a different emphasis. (Shows God’s work from a different perspective). And they’re given so we’ll UNDERSTAND his offer, and TRUST him, and CONNECT to him. And then LIVE THAT TRUST OUT in PRAISE and OBEDIENCE.

So that’s the goal for today’s sermon. That at the end of it, you’ll see and appreciate more of what God’s done. You’ll rejoice in it, and praise him. And you’ll trust, love and obey him better.  Or maybe, if you’re NOT YET a Christian. When you see ALL THE BENEFITS God gives his children, you’ll WANT THEM TO. And you’ll accept his invitation, and COME to him.

SEVEN of the pictures get mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 2, that we read earlier. We’ll get to those in a moment.

  1.  Covenant

But some of the BIG ones come up quite early in the Bible. The FIRST one is COVENANT. It’s A LEGAL CONTRACT. Often between a king and his subjects. Or between a more POWERFUL king, and a WEAKER king.

The picture of the covenant helps us to trust God’s promises. He’s not going to change his commitment to his people. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram when he’s tempted not to trust God’s promise. In a vision, God tells Abraham to cut some animals in half, and then, v17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land

It’s what happened in that culture with HUMAN covenants. Both parties would walk between animals cut in half. It symbolised an oath, “May THIS happen to me if I break this covenant.” Except here, God, represented by the smoking firepot and the blazing torch, is the only one who walks through the pieces. God will keep his word! And it WORKS. Because Abram BELIEVES God. We’re told, back up in v6, that Abram BELIEVED the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

  • Justification

And that’s ANOTHER picture of what God’s doing. Justification. Or declaring righteous. It’s a picture that comes from the law court. When a judge declares someone INNOCENT, or NOT GUILTY, or RIGHTEOUS. He JUSTIFIES them. In THIS case, not because Abram IS innocent. But he TRUSTS GOD, and so God credits that faith to his righteousness account.

And that’s what God, the just judge, does with EVERY PERSON who trusts him. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He declares them righteous, not because they ARE innocent, but because of their FAITH. No one EARNS their innocence. Because NO ONE is good enough. And God’s legal verdict of justification gives us FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE and JOY, rather than uncertainty and fear. We can REST in it.

  • Atonement

As we move through the history of Israel there’s one more picture that’s really important in explaining HOW God, the JUST JUDGE, can declare guilty people innocent. Because justification doesn’t seem FAIR. And so the picture he sets into the religious structure of Israel is that of ATONEMENT. It’s an image from the TEMPLE. To ATONE for sin means to SATISFY GOD’S WRATH. And, in the Old Testament, God sets up SACRIFICES to do that. He graciously allows the death of AN ANIMAL to satisfy his justice, rather than require the death of the SINNER. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. And then the animal would die in his place. And God would choose to count the death of the animal as satisfaction of justice.

The gory details of sacrifice and atonement emphasise how SERIOUS sin is. And how holy God is. And what a wonderful GIFT he’s given us is his Son. And our response is to offer OURSELVES as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. In humble thanks that we’re not treated as our sins deserve. But that another receives what WE’RE due.

There’s more pictures from the Old Testament we could talk about, but let’s jump over to our Ephesians passage.

After a brief greeting, it jumps straight into it. V3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Paul wants to PRAISE God because he’s blessed Christians in ALL SORTS of WAYS. And then, from v4, he spends the next chapter and a bit LISTING them all. It’s Father’s Day today. And many of you wrote a card for your Dad. Perhaps you THANKED him for the things he does. You may have even LISTED some of the things you appreciate. That’s what we’ve got HERE. It’s a Father’s Day card to our HEAVENLY Father, listing the things we appreciate. (Every spiritual blessing.)

  •  Adoption

And the FIRST of these is ADOPTION. (Which is fitting on Father’s Day). Whoever’s joined to the Son gets adopted into the family, and becomes a son or daughter TOO. Look at v5 In love 5he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

It’s a picture that helps us, as children, approach our Heavenly Father CONFIDENTLY. He’ll listen to us, provide for us, and protect us. We can be sure of his love. Sometimes adopted children doubt the love of their adoptive parents. But the OPPOSITE is really true. A couple who wants to adopt makes A CONSCIOUS DECISION – a COMMITMENT – to the child. You HAVE to love a natural child, but you CHOOSE to love an adopted child. Which is what God, our heavenly father, does. IN LOVE, he PREDESTINED us = chosen BEFOREHAND – to be adopted.

And because we’re part of God’s family, it means we have brothers and sisters all over the world. All children of their heavenly Father. A new family with new loyalties and ways of behaving.

  • Redemption

The NEXT picture of how God has blessed us in Jesus comes in v7. Redemption.

In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood,

Redemption is to do with buying slaves out of slavery. In that culture, a price had to be paid to the owner – normally a debt the slave was working off. After that, the slave WAS FREE.

The image is used of God rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 6:6 God promises

‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

In OUR case, we’re TRAPPED in slavery by SIN AND DEATH. And v7 says Jesus PAID for our freedom with his BLOOD. The chains of sin and death that bound us have been broken. And we’ve been RELEASED to serve him in FREEDOM. Romans 6:18 describes our life like THIS

You have been SET FREE from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

It’s a picture that emphasises we’re not trapped to sin, again and again. Jesus has FREED us, to DO GOOD. TO OBEY GOD.

  • Forgiveness of sins

The next spiritual blessing that’s ours in Christ is ALSO in v7. FORGIVENESS. (In him we have redemption through his blood), the FORGIVENESS OF SINS,

Forgiveness is a picture to do with the wiping out of debt. Or overlooking an offence. Wiping the slate clean. Returning the debtor’s ledger to zero. Re-formatting the hard drive. The picture of forgiveness helps us to APPRECIATE the clean slate we have before God. The fresh start. We’re new creatures, with no guilt holding us back. And knowing God’s forgiveness gives us the ability to genuinely forgive OTHERS. Because we know that we’ve been forgiven a far greater debt than anything anyone might commit against US.

  • Union with Christ

The next image is down in v13. We’ve been UNITED WITH CHRIST. V13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

God joins us to Jesus when we trust him. And then we receive all that belongs to Christ, because he stands in our place. He’s our representative. Like when one of our representative sporting teams plays. Like the Australian cricket team. Or the Diamonds Netball team. When they win, we say AUSTRALIA won. WE ALL won, because our REPRESENTATIVE won. Same with Jesus. He defeats sin and death, and is raised to life. And so are WE, because we’re JOINED to him. HE’S righteous before God because he lived the perfect life, and so are WE because we’re joined to HIM.

If we’re reading carefully, we’ve already seen it again and again in this passage. All the way through, blessings come IN CHRIST. In fact, if I had to choose ONE of the pictures that’s most important (that all the others DEPEND on). This would be it. UNION WITH CHRIST. All the rest flow from THIS. That’s what it says in v3. Every spiritual blessing is IN Christ. (We receive them because we’re in him.) V4 and 11 God CHOSE us in him. V6. He’s freely given us his grace IN THE ONE HE LOVES. V7 We have REDEMPTION in him. In v22 and 23 Jesus is described as the head over everything. And we, the church are his BODY. We’re connected to him, and he guides and gives us life. And, v23, he’s WITH us, filling us with the fullness of his presence in everything.

And if we jump down to Ch 2, we see in v5, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST JESUS. (Since JESUS is seated with God in heaven, we’re there TOO, because he’s our representative. Heaven is where our identity and our loyalty is found.)

And it all comes to us because we’re UNITED TO Christ.

  • Marked with a seal

The NEXT picture is there in v13 too. (Along with union with Christ). We were marked with a seal. Having believed, you were MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance

A seal is a mark of authenticity. Like on a University degree. Or on a land title. To show its REAL. Letters used to be sealed with a wax stamped with the official emblem to show who sent. And when God makes us his own, he puts his stamp of ownership on us, his own Holy Spirit. It says THIS ONE BELONGS TO ME.

We know SOMETHING of God’s presence now. But his Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing even MORE TO COME. Like someone might put a holding deposit on a house they want to be. A commitment that the house belongs to them. And the REST of the money’s coming SOON. God’s SEAL gives us confidence and courage, because we know we BELONG to him.

  • Made Alive

If we jump over Paul’s prayer in v15-23, we come to NEXT picture. Into chapter 2, v5. We were MADE ALIVE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-

The start of the chapter describe what it means to be dead in transgressions. Following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath. Physically alive, but spiritually dead. Separated from God, the source of life. Headed for judgment and eternal death. And dead people are HELPLESS. Have you ever seen a dead person jump up and perform CPR on themselves? When you’re dead, you need someone ELSE to give you LIFE. Which is what GOD does. He makes us alive WITH CHRIST.  Jesus is the AUTHOR of life. The SOURCE of life. And God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. Then joined US to him by faith. So WE are made alive. We enjoy the benefits of his victory! It’s a picture that emphasises the newness of life as a Christian. There’s joy and freshness and purpose and hope. Compared to the old DEAD way of life we USED to live.

  1. Salvation 2.5, 2.8

The LAST picture is right there in v5 too. SALVATION, or RESCUE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been SAVED.

God rescues from EARTHLY danger. From sickness, or enemies, or physical harm. But it’s his JUDGMENT we MOST need saving from. We were headed for DEATH because of our transgressions. It’s what we DESERVED. But God showed us MERCY – he didn’t give us what we deserved. He showed us GRACE – gave us something we DIDN’T deserve – RESCUE! The picture of SALVATION emphasises how HELPLESS we were. God’s holding out the life preserver to us. Without it, we’re DEAD. All we need to do is reach out in faith and GRAB it.

Down in v8 it says that even our FAITH comes from God For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and THIS NOT FROM YOURSELVES, IT is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. God’s rescue is ALL of him, and NOTHING of us. And that means we’re HUMBLED. And GRATEFUL. With no grounds for BOASTING.

I’m going to stop there. Although I’m tempted to keep going. Because there’s FOUR MORE pictures in the next section, before the end of chapter 2! Perhaps you can have a read over it after church, and see if you can find them.

Our response

  1. Hear and believe

But what I want to do before we finish is think about our RESPONSE to all this. Firstly, if God is reaching OUT to us, the OBVIOUS response is to grab hold of him. Verse 13 describes it well. And you also were included in Christ when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were marked in him with a seal

God himself is SPEAKING to you. The true word about Jesus. (Through the Bible, or perhaps someone telling you. Telling you about how God can SAVE you.) Your response is to HEAR the message, and BELIEVE it. And then LIVE OUT that trust in repentance and obedience. And, for those of us who ARE Christians, our response is to partner with God, SPEAK that word of truth, so OTHERS get to hear it TOO, and believe it. And be saved. Have you DONE that yet? (Heard and believed?) If not, then today’s a great day to DO that.

  • Praise

If you HAVE, the SECOND way to respond to these pictures of what God’s done/ is TO PRAISE him. That’s the way Paul BEGINS. Back in v3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

At the very least, that means giving God honour and glory and thanks with OUR WORDS. In songs and prayers. In our conversations with others. But if God’s done so much for us, words are hardly enough. God deserves MORE. In fact, God EXPECTS more. Look at v12 to see his plan (we were also chosen), 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s A WHOLE LIFE. God wants EVERYTHING. Not just your Sunday mornings, or your words, or your work, or your money. He wants you to BE for the praise of his glory. To EXIST for it. Head, heart, hands and mouth. Giving EVERYTHING back to God for his goodness, and pointing OTHERS to it.

  • Do good works

Lastly, our THIRD response is to DO GOOD WORKS. Down in Ch 2 v10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice three times WORK is mentioned? We’re the result of GOD’S work. (His gracious work of choosing and saving and forgiving.) And his PURPOSE in doing that/ is that WE would work. That we’d do the good works he’s prepared for us. Not things WE’D choose. But the ones he’s pre-worked for us.

And notice we’re not saved BY our good works –v9 says that. We’re saved FOR good works.

The good works that are FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. Works of grace and generosity and mercy that point to HIS grace and generosity and mercy. Works of love and forgiveness and rescue that point to HIS love and forgiveness and rescue. Works of truth and justice and life that point to HIS truth and justice and life.

PRAISE BE to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST!

Ephesians 4:1-16: Body-building (Diego’s commissioning service)

Most of you probably don’t know DIEGO USED TO RUN A GYM in Ecuador. And he’s continued to exercise, here in Australia. He works out on the weights at SMBC. And there’s the bike riding. Although my guess is/ that’s probably more out of NECESSITY than for EXERCISE. Since he doesn’t have a car!

But the funny thing is / in a sense/ Diego plans to KEEP BODY BUILDING back in Ecuador. Although it will be a DIFFERENT SORT of body he’s building.

Ephesians 4 is all about A HEALTHY BODY. It describes the Christian church as A BODY. FOUR times in chapter 4 alone. Verses 4, 12, 16 and 25.

And Christians are commanded to BUILD UP THE BODY. Like in v12. Pastors and teachers are to “prepare God’s people for works of service so that THE BODY OF CHRIST CAN BE BUILD UP.”

Or v16. The whole body GROWS AND BUILDS ITSELF UP as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

And that’s the goal Diego’s got for the church in Ecuador.

So we’re going to spend a few minutes looking at this PICTURE OF A HEALTHY BODY. So we’ll know HOW to build it up.

But also to encourage and inspire us. To lift our gaze. And raise our expectation. And fuel our passion for the church. And deepen our desire and love for JESUS. Who’s the head, and the power, and the source and the GOAL of all that body-building!

So let’s begin. Verse 1, Paul URGES the Ephesian church “to live a life worthy of the CALLING YOU HAVE RECEIVED.”

Which is, kind of, interesting. Because one of the traditional questions asked to missionary applicants is WHETHER THEY HAVE A CALLING. Whether God has specifically called them to mission work.

I’m not sure I can find that anywhere in the Bible. But what I CAN find is that God has CALLED/ EVERY Christian. Like chapter 1 v18, where Paul prays that his readers would know THE HOPE TO WHICH GOD CALLED THEM. Or Ch 4 v4. “There is one body, and one Spirit – JUST AS YOU WERE CALLED TO ONE HOPE WHEN YOU WERE CALLED.”

That’s EVERYONE. God’s called them ALL to the Christian life.

And the aspect of the Christian life Paul wants to emphasise, here in Ephesians, is THEIR UNITY. Both Jew and Gentile. They’re ONE BODY. That’s the CALLING we’re focussed on.

So what I want to do is skim through Chapters 2 and 3 and follow that theme of UNITY through.

Pick it up from v11 of Ch 2. He’s talking to THE GENTILES. They USED to be separate from Christ. Excluded from citizenship in Israel. V13.

But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been BROUGHT NEAR through the blood of Christ

V14 He is our peace. He’s made Jew and Gentile ONE.

v15-16 He’s created, in himself, ONE NEW HUMANITY, making peace. In his one body reconciling BOTH to God, putting hostility to death.

v17 He’s preached peace to those far away (Gentiles). and peace to those near (Jews).

v18 We BOTH have access to the Father by one Spirit

v19 So, Gentiles are fellow citizens, members of God’s family. There’s ONE FAMILY.

V21 The WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER to become a holy temple.

Jump down into chapter 3. Paul talks about himself. He’s been given the job of proclaiming the mystery, v6, that, through the gospel, THE GENTILES ARE HEIRS TOGETHER WITH ISRAEL, members TOGETHER of one body, sharers together in the promise.

And finally, down in v14 and 15. The Father gives his name TO THE WHOLE FAMILY in heaven and on earth.

Can you see the emphasis? You’re ONE. THAT’S your calling. ONE FAMILY in Jesus – all joined to his ONE BODY. ALL children of the Father. United together. Whatever your race or background.

And so we get back to v1 of Ch 4. Live a life WORTHY of that calling. Which, I think, means – You ARE united. So ACT united.

And then, in V2, he spells that out.

2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

All of those attitudes and actions are OUTWORKINGS of being UNITED. You ARE united – so ACT united!

When you’re UNITED to a group of people, you VALUE them and respect their opinion. So you’re not PROUD. You’re quick to listen, and slow to speak.

You’re GENTLE with people, rather than sharp and impatient. You’re quick to forgive, and quick to apologise, because you’re humble, and you’ve been forgiven TOO.

All those attitudes and actions are SUMMARISED in v3.

3 MAKE EVERY EFFORT to KEEP the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

You ARE united, so DO THE THINGS that KEEP that unity.

And the BASIS for that unity is described, again, from v4.

4 There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

That’s unity that worth making every effort for! Unity in the basis of our faith, and our hope. Unity in whom we serve, and who we belong to, and who lives in us.

But UNITY is not the same as UNIFORMITY. (We’re of equal VALUE and SIGNIFICANCE. And we have much in common that UNITES.)

But we’re not all the same. In fact, a healthy body makes use of its DIFFERENCES. Look at v7.

7 But to EACH ONE OF US grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Just like a healthy physical body with different parts doing different jobs. Jesus has distributed a range of different gifts to individual Christians so that, TOGETHER, they can make up a healthy CHURCH body. Jump down to v11.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

These aren’t the ONLY gifts. But they’re the ones to do with LEADERSHIP and WORD.

But Jesus didn’t give leaders gifts so they’re THE ONLY ONES DOING THE WORK. The job of the leaders is to equip EVERYONE ELSE to build up the body TOO. They’re to pass it on. To pay it forward. Look at v12.

12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

That’s the VISION and GOAL and PURPOSE for Christian leaders and teachers. And the STRATEGY for achieving it. It’s the verse Diego has chosen for his publicity support card. And what he’ll be WORKING towards. The goal of a healthy, built-up body of Christ. United in their faith and knowledge of Jesus. Where each individual is mature. Complete. Fully rounded in Christ-likeness.

And he’ll WORK TOWARDS that / by PREPARING people to do serving work. He’ll look to train them. And mentor. And model. And set vision. And provide opportunity, and encouragement and direction.

And when individual members of the body are mature and connected to Jesus in faith and knowledge, then here’s the RESULT. V14.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

The church will be marked by STABILITY and STEADFASTNESS. We take that for granted, here in Sydney. With so many great Bible colleges, and tradition of strong Bible-based preaching in many churches, and easy access to Christian resources.

But it’s not like that in many parts of the Christian church. Including Ecuador.

Pray that the church in Ecuador will be marked by UNITY. By a connection to Jesus in faith and knowledge. That they’ll be equipped and prepared for works of service. That they’ll steadfastly stick to the truth, rather than being deceived by error.

And pray for Diego. As v15 says, that he’ll speak THE TRUTH/ IN LOVE. That’s the method and the motivation to stop the church being deceived by what’s false. To speak AGAINST the lies with TRUTH. And to correct because you LOVE. Not out of pride or self-importance.

And one final image. A goal for us ALL. Whatever our denomination. In whatever country. This is a TEAM TASK. GROUP WORK. V15 and 16.

we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, AS EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.

Christ is the HEAD and the GOAL and the SOURCE of STRENGTH. Growth and healthy body-building is the task. Everyone working together is the method. And LOVE is the attitude.

May it be so in every church. In every denomination. In every country. For the honour of God. In Jesus. By the power of the Spirit. Amen.

 

Ephesians 2:11-22; 5:1-20: It’s a Team Sport!

Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? tennis

If being a Christian was a SPORT, would it be an INDIVIDUAL sport (like tennis or cycling), or would it be a TEAM SPORT (like netball or soccer)?

It’s the sort of question that seems to be asked more and more these days. By all sorts of people who say they’re CHRISTIANS, but who’ve been turned off the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH.

There’s a facebook group I noticed that I’m NOT encouraging any of you facebook fans to join. It’s called “So you don’t go to church anymore”. It’s got a couple of hundred members. And here’s how they describe themselves.

This group is primarily for those who are sincere followers of Christ, but who have become disillusioned with many of the trappings of modern, Western Christianity. Some of us call ourselves “Post-Congregational.” Some call ourselves “Outchurched.”… Often, we tend to think of ourselves as alone, having fled settings in which we no longer feel comfortable, in favour of a quest to find the line between truth and tradition. Many of us have discovered alternate contexts in which to engage in relationship with God, outside of an institutional church, and outside of the hours between 10:30 and 12 on a Sunday morning. This group is intended as a refuge for any who find themselves identifying with these things. For those of you on Facebook who seek to follow Christ outside of a “normal church,” this group is for you. Welcome.

All sorts of concerns I COULD talk about, but what’s REALLY depressing about it is that one of my friends from a previous church is a member. It’s how I found the group.

She grew up in the Presbyterian church. Her father was an elder. A really key family. I taught her, and she went through Youth Group. But something happened along the way, and she lost connection.

And it’s a story that has a familiar ring about it for hundreds, perhaps thousands of people around Sydney. For some, it’s a crisis of faith, for others it’s relationship breakdowns, or abusive church leadership, or disagreements about teaching, or direction, or priorities.

Others weakly offer all sorts of LIGHT WEIGHT reasons as well. Sunday sport, busy lives, boring music, working a second job, or family commitments.

And for others there’s just a growing nagging suspicion that church just isn’t RELEVANT anymore. Has nothing to SAY.

And then there’s people who COME to church, but they come as A CONSUMER. Who come to RECEIVE, rather than to GIVE. Who come so THEIR needs can be met. And as soon as THAT’S not happening, they’re OUT OF THERE. And they look for ANOTHER church that will scratch where they’re itching.

1. What’s God’s design?

But attitudes like that are completely foreign to what we see in the book of Ephesians.

The very question of whether you can be a Christian, and not be part of a church was one that would never have entered the mind of the Apostle Paul. Or of the Ephesians themselves. And it’s certainly not GOD’S DESIGN for the Christian life.

The Ephesians had spent a lifetime being UNCONNECTED to any group. Without ROOTS, without A HERITAGE, without a GROUP IDENTITY. For them, to be connected to a people was a PRIVILEGE.

The Situation BEFORE

Look at how Paul describes it in Ch 2 v12. The situation BEFORE.

{12} remember that at that time you were SEPARATE from Christ, EXCLUDED from CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without HOPE and without god in the world.

Before they heard the gospel from Paul, they were NOTHING SPECIAL. They had no PRIVILEGES, and NO FUTURE. They were INDIVIDUALS, and free to do as they pleased. No connections to anybody. Nothing tying them down.

Just the thing some Christians LOVE the sound of today.

But the Ephesians didn’t see that as a GOOD THING. It meant they didn’t BELONG. They were EXCLUDED. No identity. No rights, no future. No bridges joining them to people.

The situation AFTER

But that all changed when they became Christians. They moved from being INDIVIDUALS to being part of something bigger. They’d become the PEOPLE OF GOD. V13. The situation AFTER.

(Eph 2:13 NIV) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were FAR AWAY have been brought NEAR through the blood of Christ.

They used to be God’s ENEMIES – DISTANT from God – but now, through Jesus’ death, they’ve become HIS FRIENDS.

But that’s not THE ONLY distance that’s been covered. The barrier BETWEEN PEOPLE has been destroyed. In particular, the distance between JEW and GENTILE. V14.

(Eph 2:14-16 NIV) For he himself is our peace, who has MADE THE TWO ONE and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, {15} by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, {16} and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The image Paul has in mind is THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE. And the area OUTSIDE the temple was called the court of the GENTILES. And it was separated from the REST of the temple by A WALL. A DIVIDING wall. And archaeologists have discovered this inscription from Herod’s Temple, from around the time of Jesus;

“No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will only have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

That’s some dividing wall of hostility.

It separated UNCLEAN GENTILES from RITUALLY-CLEAN JEWS. They were clean because they’d been circumcised, they’d kept the food laws, and the laws of sacrifice, and cleanliness.

Laws which INCLUDED staying SEPARATE from Gentiles who DIDN’T keep the laws.

But when Christ spilled his blood, that all CHANGED. He SATISFIED the demands of the law. The law that separated Jews and Gentiles. He BORE THE CURSE of the law on lawbreakers when he hung on the cross.

He tore the curtain of the temple in two. The curtain that separated God from Man.

And when he did, he tore down the wall that separated Jew and Gentile. Because access to God was no longer through Jewish obedience. He’d provided access FOR ALL. BOTH Jew and Gentile: made clean, and righteous. No longer about meeting performance criteria. Just about FAITH.

He’s MADE THE TWO ONE.

And that’s who God’s people are. ONE NEW HUMANITY. There in v15. “He created in himself ONE NEW HUMANITY out of the two.”

ALL reconciled to God. Whatever our colour, or background, education, marital status, class, language, or accent.

The consequences

And that has consequences for our relationships NOW. That’s Paul’s next point. The CONSEQUENCES of this situation.

Do you see the logic? That’s who you were. That’s what Christ has done. That’s who you NOW ARE. Then v19.

(Eph 2:19 NIV) CONSEQUENTLY, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but FELLOW CITIZENS with God’s people and MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD,

What all of this means is that you’re no longer separated, isolated individuals. But part of A PEOPLE. Citizens of a new country. Members of a new family. Connected. With things in common. Things that bind you together.

 

With all the rights and privileges that go with CITIZENSHIP. And all the benefits that go with being part of a FAMILY.

 

So it SHOULD be hard to leave a church. Because it IS a family. It should be GUT-WRENCHING. Like A DIVORCE. But many people swap churches like they change their clothes.

 

Church is A FAMILY. Is that how YOU think about church?

 

Do you MISS not being at church?

 

If not, WHY NOT? Is it a problem with CHURCH that you don’t miss it? Or is it a problem WITH YOU?

 

If it’s a problem WITH CHURCH, let’s work together to make church such a good experience that you DO miss not being there. That’s what our BODY LIFE working group is about. Thinking through how we live together as a family.

 

But perhaps it’s a problem WITH YOU. Perhaps there’s some attitudes YOU need to be repenting of. Some bitterness or unforgiveness you need to clear up. Or maybe it’s just some selfishness or self-centredness where you can’t see the point in putting yourself out for others.

 

Why not get to work on that TODAY?

 

But not just a FAMILY. Next Paul throws in another image. They’ve become part of a BUILDING. In Jesus, the whole building is JOINED TOGETHER. A building that HOUSES GOD HIMSELF. Founded on the teaching of the apostles and prophets. And Jesus himself is the FOUNDATION. The one the apostles and prophets POINT TO in their teaching.

 

There’s STABILITY AND PRESENCE AND IDENTITY in that metaphor of A BUILDING. We’re not founded on music or money or race or language or the personality of a leader. We’re founded ON THE WORK OF JESUS, who made peace for us. He’s the cornerstone.

 

We’ve been DESIGNED and CONSTRUCTED for a purpose. We’re SOLID and we’re not moving anywhere. V21.

21 IN HIM the whole building is JOINED TOGETHER and RISES to become A HOLY TEMPLE in the Lord.

 

And it’s not just a building that’s unchanging. It’s a building that’s GROWING. And it’s the WHOLE BUILDING that grows TOGETHER. Primarily, Christian growth isn’t INDIVIDUAL. One brick can’t grow on its own. One EAR, or HAND or MUSCLE can’t grow on its own.

 

God grows THE BUILDING. Grows his people around Jesus. We saw how he DOES that in the Heidelberg Catechism question a few weeks ago.

Q & A 65 It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: where then does that faith come from?
  1. The Holy Spirit produces it in our heartsby the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

God grows our faith AS WE JOIN WITH HIS PEOPLE. As we hear the Bible PREACHED. As we join TOGETHER in the sacraments.

 

And he’s growing the building IN JESUS. There in v22. “IN HIM you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”

 

It’s Jesus who’s the UNIFYING factor. The GROWTH factor. The GOAL and the FOUNDATION for growth. Growth comes as, together, we connect ourselves more to Jesus. Imitate him, draw on his strength and guidance and direction. As we work for HIS glory.

 

And what that means practically, is that growth occurs IN COMMUNITY. v22, growing TOGETHER. In the context of RELATIONSHIPS. At its BEST, relationships where we encourage and spur one another on to maturity. (Which is what Ch 4 is about)

 

But it can also be growth that’s caused by FRICTION AND FRUSTRATION. As we work with difficult people, God uses those difficulties to GROW us.

 

One of my friends used to jokingly say his spiritual gift was provocation. He always managed to rub people the wrong way. He saw himself as a source of people’s sanctification! I think he was only half joking!

 

Let’s use those difficulties as opportunities for growth. Not as an excuse to run away.

 

Growing TOGETHER. Which means the GROUP MATTERS. FAMILY comes before individual members. It’s the COUNTRY, not the citizen. It’s the HOUSEHOLD, not the members. It’s the BUILDING, not the bricks.

 

And even MORE IMPORTANT. It’s the RULER of the kingdom, not the kingdom. It’s the HEAD of the house, not the household itself. It’s the CORNERSTONE of the building, not the building itself.

 

If you’re part of God’s people, then THESE should be your PRIORITIES.

 

That’s why it’s so unbiblical to ask the question Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? Because it’s getting the priorities all wrong.

 

So what does it look like to be serving the interests of the group? The country, or the household, or the building?

 

2. Live a life of love

Paul sums it up in Ch 5. LIVE A LIFE OF LOVE. A life of looking to the needs of OTHERS, rather than yourself. Flip over to Ch 5, and look at it there in v2. Live a life of love.

 

And that’s all about IMITATING GOD, and following CHRIST’S EXAMPLE. Look from v1

(Eph 5:1-2 NIV) Be IMITATORS OF GOD, therefore, as DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN {2} and live a life of love, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED US and gave himself UP for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

It’s not really surprising that citizens are to follow the example of their king. That householders are to imitate the HEAD of the house. And bricks in the building are to take their measure from the foundation stone.

 

Children COPY their parents. And that’s what GOD’S children are called to do. Imitate God, as dearly-loved children. He dearly loves US, so REFLECT that. PASS IT ON. It’s part of the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE. Part of the GROUP IDENTITY.

 

Paul goes on to put hands and feet on that command. What it looks like in practice. V3. Get rid of things that shouldn’t even be MENTIONED among God’s people. Sexual immorality. In fact, ANY kind of impurity. Or GREED.

 

Why, because they’re not PROPER – not acceptable – not CORRECTLY REPRESENTING God’s HOLY people. They’re loving YOURSELF, rather than OTHERS. They’re putting YOURSELF first.

 

Down in v5, things such as these are really IDOLATRY. Lusting, longing, wanting to have, THINGS instead of God. PLEASURES instead of God.

 

I can hardly bear to watch “Deal or No Deal”. The excitement at the possibility of winning $100,000! Not because there’s anything necessarily wrong with someone getting $100,000. But it’s the whole GREEDY AND COVETOUS ATTITUDE that you hear in people. “Just imagine if I won that. What would I do? All my problems would be over. Then I’d be happy”

 

But it’s nothing more than IDOLATRY. And it shouldn’t be even spoken about among God’s people. Love OTHERS first.

 

And when it COMES to conversation. V4. Make sure there’s no obscenity, no foolish talk, or coarse joking. No double meanings. Or dirty jokes.

 

But instead of THIS sort of talk. What should REPLACE it is THANKSGIVING. Recognising what you have and that it comes from God. And being THANKFUL for it.

 

It’s more than just words. It’s A WAY OF LIFE. AN ATTITUDE. An ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.

 

Because an attitude of thanksgiving will affect temptations to BE GREEDY. Or temptations to SEXUAL IMMORALITY. Because your eyes aren’t HUNGRY if your SOUL is SATISFIED.

 

A THANKFUL person is a SATISFIED person. A CONTENT and JOYFUL person. Overflowing with GRATITUDE for all God has done for them. For who they are as part of God’s people.

 

You’ve COME OUT from the Gentiles. So don’t be like THEM anymore. Like you USED TO. V7. Don’t be PARTNERS with them

 

You used to be NO-ONE, but now you’re SOMEONE. Part of a PEOPLE. Begin to bear the family resemblance.

 

It’s time to CHOOSE YOUR PARTNER. The old and the new – they’re as different AS DARK AND LIGHT. That’s from v8. Darkness is all about stumbling, and fruitlessness, and futility. It’s where you go TO HIDE – because of the SHAMEFUL things you do.

 

But when you came to God, you came INTO THE LIGHT. And so you’re CHILDREN of light. Children who bear FRUIT. While THE DARK is fruitless, the Light bears fruit of GOODNESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS AND TRUTH. That’s v9. UPRIGHT, HELPFUL, GENTLE, CONSISTENT, TRANSPARENT ACTIONS AND ATTITUDES.

 

We need to be a place with a CULTURE of these sorts of things. We need to encourage the sort of behaviour where we can BUILD these sorts of characteristics in each other.

 

It doesn’t come from SURFACE LEVEL interactions. From 2 hours once a week.

 

It comes by being ACCOUNTABLE and OPEN with each other. It comes from sharing STRUGGLES. It comes from ASKING FOR PRAYER.

 

It comes from people being BRAVE ENOUGH and LOVING ENOUGH to raise a sensitive issue. “I’m concerned about your attitude to that person. Or the way you speak about so-and-so”.

 

It comes when people ACCEPT that sort of comment. Without getting defensive, or going on the attack. Taking on board what the person says. Considering it before God. And GROWING because of it.

 

Speaking the truth in love. That’s what it means to be PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT.

 

Every time we meet there are COUNTLESS opportunities to SHOW LOVE. To live a life of love. An action, a comment, an attitude. Just as many when we’re NOT meeting.

 

So (v15), be CAREFUL about how you live. Be WISE. Make the MOST of every opportunity to do good.

 

Because THE REST of THE WORLD isn’t LIKE THAT. “The days are evil”. So make the most of the opportunities you have to do GOOD. The times are DARK, so make the most of your chances to BE LIGHT.

 

And be people who are CONTROLLED and DIRECTED by the Holy Spirit. Be receptive to HIS DIRECTION as you live a life of love. That’s v18. Be FILLED with the Spirit.

 

And how does THAT happen? How do we obey the COMMAND to BE FILLED WITH THE Spirit?

 

In Ch 6 Paul calls the WORD OF GOD the SWORD of the Spirit. So, to be filled with the Spirit is to surround yourself with the word of God. Sing it, pray it, read it, listen to it. Open yourself up to being cut by the Spirit’s sword. It’s why hearing God’s word explained is the focus of our meetings.

 

V19 goes on to talk about speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to each other. That’s wielding the Spirit sword around to each other.

 

And v20, always soak it all in thanksgiving to God whose given us everything in Christ.

 

(slow) That’s the behaviour that’s CHARACTERISTIC of God’s people. You’re part of a KINGDOM. A household. A building. So live a life of love.

 

(slow) And don’t fall for the trap that it’s normal or acceptable or God’s will that Christians can exist, and NOT be part of a church.

 

An old pastor went to visit a member of his church who hadn’t attended church for some months. The two of them sat by fire. The man spent several minutes trying to justify his lack of commitment to God’s people. How busy life was. How much time he’d been spending reading his Bible and praying. How he was using this time to grow in other areas. How church wasn’t meeting his needs.

 

The old pastor just listened. Then when the man had finished, he reached forward, picked up the fire tongs, and picked up a bright red coal out of the fire. Just one out of many glowing coals.

 

He placed it on the edge of the grate, separate from the rest. He didn’t say a word.

 

Together they watched the coal in silence. Gradually the coal changed. The flames above it died. It’s colour changed from bright red to a dull crimson, then finally to grey. It was dead.

 

The old pastor looked at it again for a moment. Then reached forward, picked it up again. And placed it back into the midst of the fire. Within moments, it had caught alight again. It’s colour had changed. It was back doing what it was designed for. In the midst of all the other coals.

 

The host thought for a few moments. Then nodded his head slowly. “I’ll see you in church on Sunday”

 

Ephesians 1:18-2:10: From the Graveyard to the Throne room

Christ Church StellartonIf you did a survey and asked people “What is the church?”, you’d probably get a dozen different answers. Church is A BUILDING, some would say – with pews and stained glass. Or it’s A DENOMINATION – like the PRESBYTERIAN church. Or it’s a social institution, like the Scouts or Rotary – an insignificant, irrelevant and outdated society. A historical relic.

But how does GOD define church? That’s what REALLY matters. Who are we? Who’s part of the church? How do you get in? Who’s the focus? What’s its purpose? And what’s its goal?

The book of Ephesians lifts our gaze. Enlarges our vision. God wants us to see the enormity of the change Jesus brings to the Universe. And the change he brings in US. And THE CHURCH is at the very CENTRE of his plans for the Universe.

It seems almost impossible to be true. Especially some Sunday mornings when there’s 40 or 50 bored, yawning people sitting uncomfortably in pews. Thinking about being somewhere else. Watching the clock until their duty is done, and they can move on to the REST of their week. And to something more relevant, and important and interesting. That’s what church can SEEM like. But the truth is God’s got a far bigger vision of the church than WE do. The reality is when God’s people gather, their focus is celebrating two incredible life-shattering, death-defeating events.

God’s incomparably great power raised JESUS from death and seated him in the heavenly realms. He crushed death. And then he raised US / WITH Christ. When we were dead and helpless. And he gave US that new life. The life Jesus won. New life with new power and victory and hope and joy.

What’s church? Church is a VICTORY CELEBRATION. It’s right at the centre of God’s purposes for the whole Universe. It’s THE PIONEER COLONY of a whole new humanity, at peace with God and with each other. A heavenly outpost on a doomed planet. It’s A TIME CAPSULE – a window into the future – beginning to reflect eternity, when God reigns over everything. And where Jesus is the head and centre of it all.

It’s hard to imagine. It seems so different from what we see and experience. And so we need to RE-imagine. To see with SPIRITUAL eyes. To see our true identity, and our true potential. So that’s what Paul PRAYS. Ch 1 v18

18 I pray also that the eyes of your HEART may be enlightened in order that you may know the HOPE to which he has CALLED you, the riches of his GLORIOUS INHERITANCE in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great POWER for us who believe.

There’s nothing wrong with our PHYSICAL sight. But we need to see something INVISIBLE. Something DEEPER. Something FOUNDATIONAL. So we need God to open the eyes of OUR HEART so we can see the way things REALLY are.

And there are three things he wants them to see. The HOPE God’s called them to. Their GLORIOUS INHERITANCE. And God’s incomparably great POWER. The FIRST two are to do with THE FUTURE. Eternity will be about the RICHES of perfect fellowship with Jesus, perfect peace and joy, rest, with no more pain or tears. All the things the Holy Spirit is a down payment of NOW. That’s OUR hope, OUR inheritance.

The THIRD possession we need to see is God’s INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER. And notice it’s not power we see in a storm, or an earthquake, or millions of stars. Or power that controls history. Although that’s certainly true. It’s power FOR US WHO BELIEVE. Which can be HARDER to see.

If we’re Christian, God’s power is at work for us. God’s power is at work forgiving our sins and washing us clean. His power enables us to persevere, to resist temptation, to stand up to persecution, and to pray and to love and to serve and to obey.

But his power’s at work in THE WORLD for us, too. His power is working all things for GOOD for those who love him. His power is at work in world events, sovereignly controlling all things for his glory. And you need the eyes of FAITH to SEE it.

And just in case we underestimate how MUCH power that is, v20 goes on to DESCRIBE it. To QUANTIFY it. Not in terms of kilowatts or megawatts, but that power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 WHICH HE EXERTED IN CHRIST WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD and SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS,

It’s the ULTIMATE in power. Never before seen. DEATH-defying power. EVIL-triumphing power. SUPREME-reigning power. All concentrated onto ONE PERSON. It brought back Jesus from the dead. Giving him a new body of a whole different KIND. A body that death no longer had any claim over. And then exalted him to the only place suitable – the right hand of the Father. That’s death-defeating event number ONE. And the POWER that did THAT is FOR US. For us as INDIVIDUALS. And for US, the CHURCH.

But not just POWER. The glorious, powerful King Jesus HIMSELF is for us. Look at v21. (Jesus is seated at God’s right hand) 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything FOR THE CHURCH, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

We worry about decaying buildings, and who’ll fix the organ and who’ll run Kids Club, dwindling numbers and tiring bodies. But the King over every authority and power, past, present and future, visible and invisible, on earth OR IN HEAVEN. He’s the head over governments and media and demons and cancer and natural disasters and political uprisings and army generals. He’s over EVERY authority. And he’s been appointed by God as Supreme Ruler FOR US, THE CHURCH. For our BENEFIT, for our growth, for our direction. And our strengthening, for our encouragement, for our protection.

And we’re CONNECTED to him. He’s our HEAD, we’re his BODY. Which means he CONTROLS us. He’s the SOURCE of our life and our strength. He’s our GUIDE and our INSPIRATION. He’s our OWNER and our LEADER. He’s the One we WORSHIP. The one we IMITATE. The One we LOVE. And the One we LIVE for.

That’s WHO we are. And WHOSE we are. Open the eyes of your heart to SEE it. And BELIEVE it. And LIVE it.

Death-defeating event #2

But that’s not the ONLY death-defeating event we celebrate as a church. The church consists of people who, THEMSELVES, have DEFEATED DEATH. Who’ve been brought by God from the graveyard to the throne room. From death to ultimate life. That’s how Ch 2 begins. And that event should change EVERYTHING. All life lived in RESPONSE to that gracious act. Living out forgiveness and love and restoration and unity and obedience.

  1. Sinful people (1-3)

Chapter 2 begins with a picture of sinful people. It’s really like the “before” photo on the Biggest Loser gym wall. This is what you USED TO look like.

Dead (1)

First, we were DEAD. Look at it there in v1. As for you, YOU WERE DEAD in your transgressions and sins,

That’s not physically dead. But SPIRITUALLY dead. Deaf and dumb and blind to the spiritual world. Unable to understand the things of God. Hardened to them. We were like cut flowers stuck in vase. We might LOOK like we were alive, but we were really DEAD. Cut off from our source of life – God, the One who GIVES life. Cut flowers START OFF life-like. But give them a few days, and the petals start to turn brown. A few days more, and they wilt. A few weeks, and they smell. That’s what people are like who aren’t JOINED to GOD. Walking DEAD. That’s what WE were. DEAD in our sin. We were helpless, hopeless, useless.

Disobedient  (2)

But not just DEAD. DISOBEDIENT. v2. in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are DISOBEDIENT. {3} All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

Not just INCAPABLE of pleasing God. Of helping ourselves. But deliberately choosing NOT to obey God. Following what WE wanted, rather than what God wants.

And there are three factors that INFLUENCE that disobedience. The world, Satan, and the sinful nature. THE WORLD. “Following the ways of the world” (there in v2). The number one rule for life “Look after number one”. It’s survival of the fittest. That’s the way of the world. But it doesn’t sound so bad when you call it self-confidence, self-reliance, a positive self-image. But it’s nothing more than disobedience. Selfishness. Idolatry – making YOURSELF an idol to be worshipped, rather than God.

The second influence on disobedience is THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR (v2). That’s Satan. He tempts, he lies, he tricks, he exaggerates. He undermines. He’s a SNAKE. And he LOVES disobedience. He’s the original expert in fake news and alternative truths, long before politicians.

The third factor is THE SINFUL NATURE. The way of the world, and of Satan, is so seductive and attractive and POWERFUL / because it’s about doing WHAT COMES NATURALLY. It’s natural human instinct to PUSH IN. To take from someone else because YOU WANT IT. To control those around you. To satisfy your own desires at the expense of others. You don’t have to TEACH a new baby to be selfish. It comes NATURALLY. Don’t have to teach them to throw a tantrum. It comes NATURALLY. And we get better and better at it the older we get.

Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts is DISOBEDIENCE. And it means we were DEAD.

Doomed (3)

And the third part of Paul’s BEFORE portrait is there in v3. It’s the result of it all. We were DOOMED.…Like the rest, we were by nature OBJECTS OF WRATH.

Bound for destruction. We were under the threat of God’s JUDGMENT. Having no place for God in THIS life has a logical consequence. God will give you your heart’s desire. Having no place for God for ETERNITY. We had big bullseyes painted on our chest. The red laser light of the sniper’s rifle was on our forehead. We were old car bodies on the conveyor belt headed for the compactor. That’s the THREAT. We were DEAD in sin. We were DISOBEDIENT. And so we were DOOMED. What a BLACK PORTRAIT.

  1. God’s grace (4-10)

But just like the Biggest Loser, this is a GOOD NEWS story. That’s only the BEFORE photo. Look at v4. There’s the AFTER photo. BUT because of his great LOVE for us, God, who is rich in MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by GRACE you have been saved.

LOVE, GRACE and MERCY. God expresses LOVE by showing MERCY and GRACE. Grace – GIVING us what we DON’T deserve. Mercy – WITHHOLDING what we DO deserve. We DON’T deserve saving, or forgiveness, or eternal life, or an eternal inheritance, but GRACE is GIVING us those things. We DO deserve judgment, and death, and separation, but MERCY WITHHOLDS those things. A positive and a negative.

And look at what SAVING means. Three things. There in v5 and v6. He made us alive WITH Christ. He RAISED US UP with Christ. And he SEATED US with Christ in the heavenly realms. The three historical facts of Christianity. Christ’s RESURRECTION, his ASCENSION, and his SEATING ON THE THRONE.

And when God saves us, he JOINS US TO Christ. He’s our REPRESENTATIVE. And so we receive everything CHRIST has. The ultimate membership package of benefits. Those who belong to Jesus are made alive WITH HIM. They are RAISED UP with HIM. And they are seated in the heavenly realms WITH HIM.

And it all comes, v8 says, to those who have FAITH. Who TRUST God’s promises, and the reliability of what Christ’s done. That’s how you sign up to be a member. And even the FAITH comes to you as God’s gift. Because, on your own, you’re DEAD.

We might look like everybody else walking around here on earth. But our true home is somewhere else. We’re seated with Christ in heaven.

But it’s more than just a FUTURE. V7, there’s a reason for living NOW. God’s got a PURPOSE behind his salvation plan. V7 begins with a wonderful little phrase “in order that”. God’s done something in v6 WHICH LEADS TO v7. FOR THE PURPOSE of v7. It’s one of the wonderful things about being a Christian – we have a REASON FOR LIVING. Follow the logic. God’s saved us by his grace. In order that (v7) in the coming ages he might SHOW the incomparable riches of his grace, EXPRESSED IN HIS KINDNESS TO US in Christ Jesus.

You are God’s EXHIBIT A. God values his own grace so highly that he wants to SHOW IT OFF. His grace is SO WONDERFUL, and brings him SO MUCH GLORY/ that he LOVES TO SHOW IT OFF.

That’s what WE are. Once he SAVES us, we’re God’s self-promoting visual-aid. God’s presentation of his own excellence. As we live, and thank him, and proclaim him, and obey him, and honour him. We bring GLORY to HIM. Look at how Paul describes it back in Ch 1 v11.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the PLAN of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, {12} IN ORDER THAT we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

What’s our purpose in life? To BE – to EXIST- FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. In particular, we highlight the INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE.

And we see how that idea works itself out in practice down in Ch 2 v10. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God’s workmanship. That’s us. His craftsmanship. He’s brought together the whole plan of choosing us, predestining us, adopting us, saving us. And here we are – the finished product. Like someone who makes a piece of fine furniture. A dining table, say. He designed it. He bought the timber. He cut it. Assembled it. Glued it. Clamped it. Sanded it. Varnished it. It’s his workmanship. And it’s been created for a purpose. And he gets JOY every night he eats off it.

And WE’VE been created for a purpose. To do the good works God’s prepared for us. It’s literally “we’ve been created for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we might WALK IN THEM. WALKING IN THE GOOD WORKS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE WAY WE SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE. All good works God’s prepared for us to do. And he’s PLANNED it that way to SHOW OFF how good his grace is.

So what?

Well, that’s what Paul wants our eyes opened to SEE. Have YOU seen it? Have you recognized your own dead, disobedient doom? Have you accepted, in faith, God’s offer of love, grace and mercy in Jesus? God’s plan to show off the incomparable riches of his grace IN YOU. You can do that TODAY.

For most of us, that’s something we’ve already done. So, how has it made A DIFFERENCE? Because it SHOULD. If you really HAVE come face to face with death. If you really have been saved by the riches of God’s grace, Then your life should be DIFFERENT. Different in attitude, in priorities, in joy, Different in purpose, in love, in patience. Different in hope, and in strength.

What difference does it make in YOUR life? Let me suggest two ways. First, showing the incomparable riches of God’s grace will mean DECLARING IT. Declaring it to EACH OTHER. CELEBRATING, rejoicing, reminding, singing God’s goodness and purpose and power and victory. And declaring TO OTHERS. A church that SEES God’s grace will make evangelism a priority. Or individually. How often are you standing up for Jesus? Saying a word for him? How is evangelism reflected in your prayer? What friendships do you have with non-Christians? Where are they headed? What bridges are you building?

Secondly, valuing God’s grace will mean NOT BOASTING, but bringing glory to God. Christians have a reputation for being judgmental. But if we live to show the riches of his grace, then we should be the LEAST judgmental of people. There’ll be a authentic, natural HUMILITY about us. A lack of pride, or competitiveness, or one-upmanship, or self-centredness.

If we HAVE been saved by grace. And if we CONTINUE only by grace. And it’s got nothing to do with our own efforts. Then there’s never any excuse for boasting. It’s there in v8 and 9,

…it is the gift of God– {9} not by works, SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST.

Your purpose is showing the riches of HIS grace. Not showing everyone how impressive YOU are. Not how KNOWLEDGEABLE you are, or HARD-WORKING, or SUCCESSFUL, or GENEROUS, or HOSPITABLE, or even HOW HUMBLE. But how rich and generous and gracious and wonderful GOD is. The incomparable riches of his grace.)

So let’s celebrate the death-defeating victory of King Jesus who RULES FOR US. Not just NOW, but ALL THE TIME. And let’s HELP EACH OTHER do it.  That’s a vision of church that’s worth getting excited about!

 

 Ephesians 4:17-31: 40 Days of Purpose 7: Futility

We’ve just spent the last 40 days looking at our PURPOSE. What God MADE us for. I wonder how well you can remember our five purposes.

God’s PLANNED us for his PLEASURE. That’s WORSHIP.

He’s FORMED us for his FAMILY. That’s FELLOWSHIP.

He’s CREATED us to become like CHRIST. That’s DISCIPLESHIP.

He’s SHAPED us for SERVING him. That’s MINISTRY.

And finally, He’s MADE us for a MISSION. That’s EVANGELISM.

 

Now that we know our PURPOSE, I want you to think about the OPPOSITE of purpose. It’s FUTILITY.

 

Futility.  Here’s a good definition (show cartoon).

Trying to achieve a goal. And not getting anywhere.

Trying to realize a certain objective. But not making any progress.

 

We love the cartoon because we probably all know people like that. People who are intelligent in ONE area of life, but completely hopeless in OTHERS. Brilliant academically, but with no common sense. Who can give a lecture on the plays of Shakespeare, but who can’t hold a conversation at a dinner party. Or who can understand the intricacies of nuclear physics, but who can’t navigate to the corner shop.

 

We laugh because WE can see the BIG PICTURE, the SIMPLE ANSWER – the sign which says “PULL”. All Nigel can see is a big solid door that won’t budge. A barrier stopping him from getting where he wants to go.

 

Futility.

 

And yet there’s also something PROFOUND and PERCEPTIVE about the cartoon. Because it represents so much of what life is about.

 

People all over Sydney – in fact all over the world – PURSUING something, but never CATCHING it. Working towards a goal, but never arriving. Futility and frustration.

 

Or perhaps even MORE depressing, people who arrive at their goal, only to realise that it can’t deliver what it promised. It’s not really what they wanted at all.

 

It starts as children – we want that new bike, or that new doll, or those new collector cards, or that new computer game. That’s what will really make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it DOESN’T. Or perhaps it does for A LITTLE WHILE. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

Then as teenagers we want that motorbike, or computer, or that peer group, or that sporting success, or that boyfriend or girlfriend, or that party, or that drug. That’s what will REALLY make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it doesn’t. Or perhaps it does for a little while. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

Then as adults, we want that career, or that investment, or that car, or that house, or that husband or wife. Then we want 2.4 kids, or the boat, or the holiday house, or the electronic goods, or the overseas holiday. THAT’S what will really make us happy.

 

Then we get it, and it doesn’t. Or perhaps it does for a little while. But then we get bored, and want something else.

 

And so we go through life, building up possessions, building up relationships, building up STUFF.

 

Searching for pleasure that doesn’t satisfy and leaves us thirsty. Building wealth that rusts or rots or breaks down. Chasing intimacy that’s betrayed or built on lies.

 

All because we think they’re the things that will make us happy.  And sometimes they do. For a while.

 

But stuff and people are only TEMPORARY. And so, as we get older, we get more interested in HEALTH, longevity, fitness, eating and living right. In an effort to fight off DEATH. Because when all’s said and done. When all the goods have been bought, and the fun’s been had – what then?

 

WHAT’S THE POINT? It’s all FUTILITY.

 

I was talking to the one of the soccer dads a few years ago– let’s call him Andrew. And this is a reality that he’s coming to realise.

 

Andrew’s led a pretty hard sort of life. He’s been an alcoholic, and drug addict. He’s been down and out. He was addicted to sex, ruining his marriage. He chased after everything life offered. Pushing every door he could find, trying to FIND something.

 

And for a while he thought he was happy. But all that “happiness” ruined him. He was so happy, he nearly DIED.

 

He gradually got his life together, attended AA and drug rehab programs, even Sexaholics Anonymous.

 

And now he lives for his three boys. He wants them to have what he never got. And so every moment and dollar he has goes into their future. They’re keen soccer players, so he spends all year driving them around, watching their games and training. Phoning coaches and scouts. Pleading their case.

 

Andrew thinks he’s enlightened. Learned his lessons. About what’s REALLY important in life.

 

But AS FAR as Andrew has come, he still hasn’t opened the door. Because ultimately THAT won’t satisfy either.

 

His kids probably WON’T get a career out of soccer, and THEN WHAT? And even if they do – THEN WHAT?

 

There’s got to be more to life than that! It’s FUTILITY.

 

Solomon

King Solomon was at the opposite end of the spectrum to Andrew. He lived in Israel about 3000 years ago. And he was the greatest king Israel ever saw. God gave him everything that life had to offer.

 

And he chased happiness and pleasure harder than Andrew. And he’s the conclusion he reached. It’s found in the book of Ecclesiastes.

(Eccl 2:1-11 NIV)  I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” … {2} “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” {3} I tried cheering myself with wine, …. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. {4} I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. … I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. {8} I amassed silver and gold for myself, …. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. {9} I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. …{10} I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. …. {11} Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

 

Utter and complete FUTILITY. How sad! Life that’s built on the foundation of earthly things is POINTLESS. Because they can never satisfy.

 

Which is why we need to look to God’s purposes for us. He made us, and the world, to work in a certain way.

 

Life is at its best when we operate under optimum working conditions. When we live according to the Manufacturer’s instructions.

 

It’s this perspective Paul had as he wrote Ephesians. They were people who USED to live as if God was irrelevant. As if he had no claim on their life. Life was nothing more than chasing the next high. The next fix of happiness. The futility of pushing against the PULL door.

 

The Ephesians BEFORE

But that had changed. And Paul writes to make sure they never go back there. Look at the start of the passage. Describing the Ephesians BEFORE. There in v17.

(Eph 4:17 NIV)  So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the FUTILITY OF THEIR THINKING.

 

There’s that word again. Futile. And it describes the life non-Christians live. Seeking, but never finding. Acquiring, but never satisfied. In particular, it’s futility of THEIR THINKING. Look at the next verse.

(Eph 4:18 NIV)  They are darkened in their UNDERSTANDING and separated from the life of God because of the IGNORANCE that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

 

When you refuse to recognise God, and the life he’s designed. When you choose to do things YOUR way, not God’s – that’s FUTILITY OF THINKING.

 

And the result of that kind of thinking? The consequence of refusing to look to God to fill the hole that he’s designed? You’ll try to fill it up with all sorts of OTHER things. God- SUBSTITUTES. Look at the next verse.

(Eph 4:19 NIV)  Having lost all SENSITIVITY, they have given themselves over to SENSUALITY so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

 

More drugs. More alcohol. More money. More luxury. More parties. More sex. All trying to REPLACE God. Substitute with STUFF what God designed to be satisfied ONLY in a friendship with him.

 

Paul’s warning them. Don’t live anymore in that FUTILITY.

 

Or that’s where you’ll end up. So desensitised to pleasure and happiness, that nothing will satisfy. You’ll have cupboards full of everything the world offers, but you’ll be EMPTY. Nothing will hit the spot.

 

The Ephesians NOW

It’s a pretty dark picture. But it’s not where Paul stays. Because that’s not where THE EPHESIANS are. In v20 he describes the Ephesians NOW. He says;

(Eph 4:20-21 NIV)  You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. {21} Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.

 

Paul ought to know – he taught them himself. And what he’s saying is “You’ve found the key. I’ve shown you the TRUTH. The big picture. The TRUTH that’s in Jesus.

 

The truth that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, so that whoever trusts in him, won’t die, but will have ETERNAL life. ABUNDANT life. Life the way it was DESIGNED.

 

So I tell you this, says Paul, and I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do.

 

Don’t go back. It’s time to start living like the people of God. It’s time to start living like people of the light. It’s time to take off your old life… and put on something new.

 

And that’s what you were taught, he says, when you came to Jesus. Weren’t you? That the gospel doesn’t just offer forgiveness from sins and an excuse for more sinning. But a whole new start.

 

Surely, he says, verse 22, you were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be life God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

It’s so easy TO SAY, but every Christian will tell you, the reality seems SO DIFFERENT. It’s SO HARD to get those dirty old clothes OFF. And it seems to take SO LONG to put the NEW ONES on.

 

You think you’ve left a particular sin behind, but then it sneaks up on you, and you get dragged in again. It might be lust, or gossip, or bitterness and unforgiveness, or covetousness, or jealousy, or rage. All sorts of grubby old dressing gowns we keep getting drawn back to.

 

And the sort of behaviour and attitudes we SHOULD have. They seem to take SO LONG to put on. Generosity, patience, encouraging speech, prayerfulness, service, acceptance, LOVE. Things we should have mastered long ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much progress.

 

And yet, Paul EXPECTS it. COMMANDS it. You (AND ME) – we’ve been created to BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS.

 

So PUT OFF, and PUT ON.

 

4. Being Different – It’s All In The Mind

And for Paul, the key seems to be in OUR THINKING. Attitudes and ways of thinking. For Paul, being different – it’s ALL IN THE MIND.

 

Without a BASIC REORIENTATION of our wills and desires, without a renewed MIND, a re-direction from serving SELF to serving Jesus, any change in BEHAVIOUR is just WINDOW DRESSING.

 

Nothing more than a temporary turning over a new leaf. A new Year’s resolution that will last a week, or maybe a month, or a year, if you’re really lucky. A “re-arranging of the deckchairs” while the Titanic plows its way towards the iceberg.

 

Look at how often Paul mentions things to do with thinking, attitudes, and the mind.

 

V17 Futility of THEIR THINKING.

V18 Darkened in THEIR UNDERSTANDING. And IGNORANCE.

V20. On the other hand, you did not come TO KNOW Christ that way

V21 You were TAUGHT

V22 TAUGHT again

V22 Your old self is being corrupted BY ITS SINFUL DESIRES.

V23. Be made new IN THE ATTITUDE OF YOUR MINDS.

 

Putting on the NEW nature only comes with a RENEWED MIND, which only GOD can do.

 

So ask him to GIVE you that. To renew your mind. Give you A DESIRE to do his will. A DESIRE to study his word, or meet with his people. Ask him to REMOVE your DESIRE for OTHER things – materialism, acceptance by others, lust, the need to be in control.

 

Pray, along with Paul in Ch 3, that God would SHOW you how high and wide a deep is the love that God has for you in Christ.

 

That your life would be so full of GOD that there would no longer be the desire to replace him with the EMPTY things that USED to tempt you.

 

Pray that you would be able to see the FUTILITY of the way the world works. Understand its short-sightedness, its poverty, its selfishness and emptiness.

 

Pray that God would give you THE FAITH to TRUST HIS PROMISES. Faith in God’s promises is the key to your obedience and godliness TODAY.

 

His promises to give you PEACE. Promises to work all things for your good. Promises to meet your needs. Promises that his Holy Spirit will equip you for standing up for him, and building holiness into your life.

 

Promises of your inheritance and hope. Promises that your future is secure because your past is forgotten.

 

Understanding THOSE things is renewing your mind. That’s where the UNDRESSING and the DRESSING begins.

 

4. Taking off the old and being clothed in the new – the Process in Practice (4:25-5:2)

Look at how the process works out in practice. In the next two paragraphs Paul lists some things TO TAKE OFF. Some undressing to do.

 

And then gives the corresponding things TO PUT ON- – to be CLOTHED IN. And often there’s AN ATTITUDE that goes with this process.

 

V25. Put off falsehood. Give up lies.

Then PUT ON TRUTH. Speak truthfully to his neighbour.

 

Then change your thinking. You’re MEMBERS OF ONE BODY. You’re CONNECTED. Don’t treat each other as ENEMIES, because you’re BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

 

Or v26. Put off the sort of sin that flows from anger. Deal with it before the day is over, because that’s just how RESENTMENT builds. And Satan loves that sort of lack of communication among God’s people, or between husband and wife.

Then Verse 28. Get rid of stealing. And do something useful instead. Put on productive work – don’t expect others to support you. The ATTITUDE needs to be SERVING each other, not BEING served. And when the ATTITUDE changes, then stealing will stop. Counting on the generosity of others, while you do nothing – that will stop too.

 

V29. Put off unwholesome talk. And put on instead HELPFUL words – what actually BUILDS PEOPLE UP. Words make a DIFFERENCE.

 

A few months ago I got a lovely present from someone here at church. They’d picked up I was a bit discouraged. People were leaving, church wasn’t growing. And – some of you know about this – they gave me a lovely card, with a jar full of minties. And each mintie had the name of someone here at church. The card said something like, “Here’s all the sheep God’s given you to look after. Give thanks for them, and look after them!”

 

For the next few weeks I was munching on different people from church!

 

And it came at just the right time. Recognise that words make a difference.

 

And v31. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger and brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

 

Put all of those things OFF. The colour and style doesn’t suit you at all.

 

And replace it with what? V32. Put on Kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

 

And the summary of the whole NEW CLOTHES. Ch 5 verse 1. Be imitators of God, therefore, as DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

That’s WHO YOU ARE. God’s KIDS. Shouldn’t you be able to see the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE?

 

Like Father, like SON. Like father, like DAUGHTER.

 

You’re to be DIFFERENT. NO LONGER LIVE LIKE THAT.

 

Pete Williamson was talking about his experience as a non-Christian walking into a church for the first time at 18. He said he didn’t understand a word that was said for about the first six weeks. But the reason he kept coming back was because he could see how much people LOVED each other. How DIFFERENT that was from anything he’d ever SEEN before.

 

Is that what people would say about US? “I’ve never met people LIKE them!”

 

You’re on display. So I wonder, at the level of AMBITIONS? On the level of MATERIALISM? On the level of what you do with your money? On the level of your language in the workplace? On the level of gossip? On the level of honesty? Are you different? Or not?

 

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to CONVICT you?

 

Or us as a church? Is that the case at Western Blacktown? Do we VALUE God’s people growing more like Jesus? How do we ENCOURAGE that? How are we living out God’s purposes. In a way that makes us STAND OUT from those around us?

 

Perhaps the Ephesian church WASN’T like that. I mean, it’s almost an odd thought. Paul’s writing this letter to a church full of people who need to be TOLD not to lie to each other. Seems he’s writing to a church where if you put your handbag down on the floor, the person in the row behind’s likely to nick it. A church where they actually need to be told to cut out swearing at each other. Where they haven’t figured out they need to be different to the world they’ve come out of.

 

And most important, does the difference start from the inside? Are you actually being made new in the attitude of your minds? Remembering you’ve been re-created to be like God in true righteousness. And holiness?

 

Time to put off the old self. And put on the new. Time to DRESS for the OCCASION.

 

Eph 3:14-21: Praying with Paul 1

How’s your prayer life?

If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you DREAD people asking. Because praying seems to be one of the HARDEST things you do in the Christian life. I’ve never met anyone who says they find it easy.

And for me, prayer is something I’ve struggled to do my entire life.

But it SHOULDN’T be so hard. Think about it. It doesn’t take SKILL. Or STRENGTH. You don’t need to be trained, or experienced, or , or coordinated. You don’t need equipment, or money. You can do it ANYWHERE. Any TIME. There’s no levels to attain. No goals to achieve, or targets to meet.

And perhaps that’s part of the problem. That when you pray/ there’s often no evidence that you’ve actually been doing ANYTHING AT ALL.

Prayer for A MINUTE. Or prayer for AN HOUR. And, from a human point of view. Things can look just the same.

On an EARTHLY level, prayer often seems like A WASTE OF TIME. Time you could better spend doing OTHER things. USEFUL things. Things that make a difference

Does your prayer ever sound like this?

“Heavenly Father. You’re awesome and holy and righteous and huge. You’re good and powerful and pure. You love me, and you’ve given me so many good things. Thanks. Thanks for my family. (Which reminds me, I need to talk to Alex about work. And Lachlan needs to clean up his room. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh yeah).

Thanks also for our church. For how you’re looking after it.  (Which reminds me, I need to phone Gordon about our meeting. And I need to arrange the new roster. OOPS. I’m supposed to be praying. Where was I? Oh Yeah!)

Praying. Thanks God for our friends. The ones who know you. And for those who don’t. (Which reminds me. I need to drop off that drill to Jim down the road. And I really need to invite Mike and Helen over for dinner. And, before I forget, I better go and do the shopping for dinner tonight.

Does YOUR prayer ever sound like THAT?

Prayer often seems to be something we have to get through. So we can get onto the IMPORTANT stuff. The stuff that MATTERS. That makes a difference. That achieves something.

But that’s not what THE BIBLE teaches about prayer. Prayer is something God WANTS us to do. Something that DELIGHTS him. Something that IS important. That DOES make a difference.

And so, at the start of a New Year, it’s a great time to stop for a moment. And spend some time letting God re-shape our priorities. Learning from Paul the sorts of things we should be MAJORING on. And the things, perhaps, we need to be LETTING GO of as we begin 2007.  That’s what we’ll be doing for the next few weeks.

Why pray?

The first prayer we’re looking at is in Eph 3. And the first question Paul answers for us is WHY PRAY? Have a look at it there in v14. The very first phrase.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father,

For WHAT reason? WHY does Paul pray for the Ephesians. The FIRST place to look/ is in the paragraph that comes BEFORE. That’s from the start of Ch 3. But if you go back up to v1 of Chapter 3, you see ANOTHER “For this reason”

3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-

And then he goes off on a tangent, talking about himself, and the ministry he’s been given. He finally gets back on track in v14 again. For this reason. So to find WHY Paul prays, we have to go back into Ch 2. So jump back there for a moment.

Just skim your eye down the words there in Ch 2. It’s all about God’s great purposes for mankind.

V1. The Ephesians were in their sin. Objects of God’s wrath. But then, v4,

.. because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

And then, from v11, he describes how this means the Gentile Ephesians have now become THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Which leads to the final truth. In the last paragraph of Ch 2. V19.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

Both Gentile and Jew – one people, one household – brother and sister. With Jesus, v20, as the chief cornerstone of the whole building. And then, v22,

22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Why pray? Because God has done a wonderful thing in making us his people. Just like the Ephesians, WE were objects of wrath, headed for destruction. But because God LOVED us, he made us alive in Jesus. We are part of his people. A people he LIVES IN by his Spirit.

We ask the question, WHY PRAY? A better question is why WOULDN’T you pray to a God like that? To a God who’s done SO MUCH. And has such an incredible purpose for you.

Pray what?

And so, because Paul knows these truths, he PRAYS. V14, “For this reason I kneel before the Father”.

And he prays for three things. Three good things to pray for. But three things Christians have misunderstood. He prays for POWER. That’s in v16. Then he prays for KNOWLEDGE. That’s v18 and 19. And finally, in v19, he prays for FULNESS.

Power, knowledge and fullness. Paul PRAYS for them. But perhaps not in the way SOME people might like to understand them. So let’s look at his prayer a little more closely.

  1. power

Firstly POWER. Look at v16.

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

The NIV translation is a little misleading here. It makes it sounds like one things leads to the other. “I pray that A, SO THAT B might happen”. But there’s no “so that” in the Gk.

So it really becomes two parts of the same prayer. Listen to it again, without the SO

16 I pray … that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 … that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

So Paul is talking about the same thing in two slightly different ways. He wants God the Father to strengthen the Ephesians with power THROUGH HIS SPIRIT IN THEIR INNER BEING. WHICH IS ANOTHER WAY of asking for CHRIST to dwell in their hearts through faith.

That’s how Jesus understood it. In Jn 14.16 he talks about the Holy Spirit coming. And then in the next sentence talks about it as being Jesus himself being with them.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- 17 the Spirit of truth. … you know him, for he lives with you and WILL BE IN YOU. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

JESUS HIMSELF promises to be with us THROUGH THE PRESENCE OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT LIVING IN US.

So, Paul is praying that God the Father will strengthen the Christians by means of His Spirit working in their inner being. WHICH IS THE SAME REALITY as Christ himself dwelling in their HEARTS.

The phrase for inner being is literally INNER MAN. It’s the same phrase Paul uses in 2 Cor 4:16-18.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though THE OUTER MAN is wasting away, yet THE INNER MAN is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Can you see the difference? Your INNER man is what God’s interested in strengthening. So often, it’s our OUTER MAN that WE’RE interested in. Our physical fitness, our looks, our health, our comfort, our fashion – our clothes or hairstyle. How we appear ON THE OUTSIDE. How other people see us. What people THINK of us.

But God is more interested in what we’re like on the inside. And God is even prepared for us to suffer PERSECUTIONS (that’s the light and momentary troubles he’s talking about) – for our OUTER man to suffer – for the sake of our inner man. Because that’s what will last for ETERNITY.

And so, Paul prays that God would strengthen us with power in our INNER MAN. That’s the area God’s interested in growing.

We’re concerned with growing old gracefully. But our hair goes grey, or fall out, or both, our joints start to creak and groan, our skin starts to wrinkle.

But for God, that’s not his priority. He doesn’t mind about your education, or your physical condition, your superannuation, or your suntan. He doesn’t care about your committees or your promotions, your achievements, or your connections.

He wants his Spirit to be building you up ON THE INSIDE, making you STRONGER, growing your faith and dependence and love for Jesus, your ability to stand firm, and building your hope for heaven.

Is that something YOU’RE working on? Are you LESS godly than you were ten years ago, or MORE? Are you MORE patient and tolerant and understanding and generous? Or are you becoming a y old man or woman?

When people look at you, are they seeing someone who’s outer man is fading away, but who’s INNER MAN IS BEING RENEWED – strengthened, improved?

That’s what God’s interested in for YOU. And that’s what he wants you to be praying for in OTHERS TOO.

b. dwell

But how can we CONTRIBUTE to that process? What can we do, other than PRAY? That’s what v17 helps answer. The prayer is that Christ would DWELL in our hearts.

Now, at first glance, that seems a funny thing to be praying for Christians. After all, isn’t Christ living in ALL Christians? If you don’t have Christ, you’re not a Christian!

But the word for DWELL means to ABIDE. TO MAKE A HOME. To be COMFORTABLE in. To be a good FIT in. Rather than just to VISIT. That’s a DIFFERENT word.

So what’s Paul’s prayer about? The picture’s of someone who buys a house. When he FIRST moves in, it doesn’t really suit. There’s so much he doesn’t like, so he sets about re-painting, fixing up . Then he extends, pulls down walls, and puts up new ones.

And, slowly, it becomes HOME. It used to just be a place where he lived. A HOUSE. But now it’s a HOME. That’s the sort of thing Paul is praying for the Ephesians. That Christ would be making his home in them LIKE THAT. Your heart, Christ’s home!

c. through faith

And he says that the process happens THROUGH FAITH. It’s as the Christian exercises TRUST in Jesus, submitting every corner of his life to Jesus, trusting his promises, giving him control, that Jesus is BETTER ABLE TO FEEL AT HOME THERE. Because he’s getting rid of the dark corners, the selfishness, the lusts, and the pride. The impatience and resentments, and bitterness.

It’s a gradual process. A LIFELONG process. But there should BE progress. Christ should be feeling more and more at home in YOU.

What areas of your life is Christ NOT feeling at home in? Open up the doors, and let him in! And be praying that exact same thing for OTHERS as well.

That’s Paul’s FIRST prayer. A prayer for POWER. As Don Carson puts it, Pray for “Power to be holy, power to think and act, and talk in ways utterly pleasing to Christ, power to strengthen moral resolve, power to walk in transparent gratitude to God, power to be humble, power to be discerning, power to be obedient and trusting, power to grow in conformity to Jesus Christ.” (p189)

  1. knowledge

Paul’s SECOND request begins in the second half of v17. It’s a prayer for KNOWLEDGE. (And we’ll work through this one more quickly). Follow along with me.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-

It’s a prayer that we might understand how much Christ loves us. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t know it already. If you’re a Christian then to SOME extent you understand how much Christ loves you. If you’re a Christian you’ve recognised that Christ has died in your place. But it’s something the Christian can HAVE a LITTLE of, but also know MORE AND MORE.

Paul actually says as much. Notice the condition he describes the Ephesians as being in? They’re ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE. That’s God’s love for them. They’ve been planted in the soil of love. They’ve had their foundations dug down deep into love. They only exist because of love. Like a plant exists because of soil, or a building because of its foundations.

It’s the sort of love that Paul’s already talked about. Back in Ch 1

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,

Or again in Ch 2 v4.

Eph 2:4-5 But BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved

So, Paul’s prayer is that they’ll APPRECIATE what they’ve GOT. They’re IMMERSED in love – and they need to understand the EXTENT of that love more and more.

Note, it’s not a prayer to LOVE CHRIST MORE – as good as that is. … Perhaps it’s because as we understand what Jesus has done for us, that becomes THE KEY to how we can respond to HIM. As we grow in our understanding of Christ’s love for us, then we’re able to more deeply show love TO HIM. As well as Gratitude, service, repentance, submission, commitment, and loyalty.

And as Paul tries to get HIS head around it, he uses a GEOGRAPHICAL description.

He could have used ECONOMICS. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than all the money in the world!

He could have used ASTRONOMY. “How much does Jesus love you?” More than from one side of the Milky Way to the other

But instead he uses GEOGRAPHY. “How much does Jesus love you?” His love is WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP.

I like Matthew Henry’s explanation. His love is so WIDE, it covers ALL mankind – Jew and Gentile, Aussie and Arab. It’s so LONG, it will last for all eternity. It’s so HIGH, it reaches even to heaven itself. And his life is so DEEP, it descends to the depths of the most degraded sinner.

And to understand Christ’s love more / isn’t something Paul imagines a Christian can do ON HIS OWN. It’s not just about going up onto a mountaintop and meditating there until you find the answer. That’s not how Paul understands the Christian life. His prayer is that the Ephesians will grow in that understanding TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS.

It’s something we all do TOGETHER. We can each play a part in others understanding Christ’s love more. By being here on Sunday, by being in a home group, by singing loudly, by sharing prayer points, writing cards, making phone calls, praying for each other. Sharing and explaining and being excited by the depths of the love of Christ.

And to pray that someone will understand more of Christ’s love is a prayer you’ll never stop praying. Because you can never understand it COMPLETELY. Notice that Paul wants them to understand MORE what can never be completely understood. “To KNOW the love that SURPASSES knowledge”.

That doesn’t make sense, unless we’re asking it of a God who can gradually reveal these truths to us as we trust him. Gradually draw open the curtains on the wonderful sunrise of the love of Jesus.

We often SING about these things better than we say them. For a century and a half the church has sung these words

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know;
Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so!
O this full and perfect peace! O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.

Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as I now know, I am His, and He is mine.

His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heav’n and earth may fade and flee, firstborn light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.

George Wade Robinson (1838-1877)

When was the last time it struck YOU? How unworthy you were? And how absolute and deep and weighty and costly Christ’s love for you is? Singing a song? A Bible reading? A poem? During prayer? Contemplating Christ’s during the Lord’s Supper, perhaps. Or during a sermon, or reading a book – something fresh strikes you, and you catch a glimpse?

They’re all great ways to be allowing God to give you the power to comprehend the love of Christ. So, if you’re going to be PRAYING THAT PRAYER, make sure you’re DOING those things as well.

SING it to each other. PRAY it for each other. Read and listen and sing and pray. Meditate on God’s character and actions.

  1. fulness

And when we DO that, and our UNDERSTANDING of Christ’s love grows, and as Christ dwells in our hearts more and more by faith through the strengthening of the Spirit in our inner man. Then we begin to get closer to Paul’s goal for us. There at the end of v19. Eph 3:19

that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

And if THAT sounds like an impossibility. Then spend a few moments dwelling on Paul’s doxology. God can EVEN answer your prayers to filled to the measure of all his fullness.

V20

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 5:22-33: What God says about leadership and submission

men and womenThe MYSTERY of marriage. That’s what we’re talking about today. Some people might think it’s about the mystery of men and women UNDERSTANDING each other. Like John Gray’s book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. It tries to unravel THAT mystery. The idea is that men and women are SO different, it’s like they’re from different planets.

And it’s TRUE. As a GENERAL rule, men and women think and act very differently. We’re WIRED differently. We think about each other differently. We TALK differently. We even SHOP differently. But I’m not talking about THAT sort of mystery.

Christ and the church

Instead I’m talking about the mystery of marriage we just read about in Ephesians 5. Did you notice it there in v32? Towards the end of the passage? 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32 This is A PROFOUND MYSTERY- but I am talking about CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

In some way that we’ll get to in a few minutes, husband and wife can be so close, so united, that they’re like ONE FLESH. Two become ONE. THAT’S a mystery. But even MORE importantly. The unity between husband and wife is simply A PICTURE of the relationship Jesus has with his people. The one-ness of marriage reflects the ONE-NESS, the connection, that’s now available between Christ and the church. THAT’S the REAL mystery.

Not MYSTERY in the sense of throwing your hands up in the air that it’s too hard. (A puzzle that’s tricky to solve). But mystery in the way THE BIBLE uses the word. In the sense of something that USED TO be hidden / but is NOW REVEALED and made obvious.

There’s a DEEPER meaning of a married couple becoming ONE FLESH. A meaning that’s only revealed in Jesus. It’s the relationship between Jesus and his saved people that’s the REALITY. The PATTERN. And marriage is a picture. A signpost. A copy of that fundamental connection.

So let’s think about THAT connection for a few minutes, before we turn to husbands and wives. Back up in v23 we read that Christ is the HEAD of the church, which is his BODY. We’re JOINED to Jesus. How does THAT happen? The same verse, says he’s the SAVIOUR of the church. And in v25 it says that Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER to make her HOLY. That’s when we’re JOINED to Christ. When he died in our place, taking God’s punishment for himself. We become ONE with him when we confess our sin, and trust his saving work on our behalf.

ONE with Christ. ANOTHER way of saying that is there in v23. That Jesus as our HEAD, and we’re his BODY. We’re CONNECTED. And headship has TWO ideas connected to it. The idea of SOURCE. Or ORIGIN. Like the head of a river. Where the river BEGINS. So, Jesus is our SOURCE. We have life because of him. He is the ORIGIN of his church.

And BECAUSE of that/ he has the right to be our HEAD, in the sense of THE LEADER. The source of direction and guidance. Like the head, and the brain, guides the body around. Or the head of a company or an army sets the rules and direction that everyone else follows.

So Jesus is our KING. Our CAPTAIN. As WELL as our Saviour. He hasn’t just saved us in the PAST. He’s our King IN THE PRESENT. For a purpose IN THE FUTURE. V27. (he makes the church holy and washes her) 27 to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

He KEEPS working on his church, through his Spirit and his Word, to make us more and more like him. Pure and blameless. Standing firm through trials. Having loved and served and trusted. So that on JUDGMENT DAY, we’ll be READY for him.

The picture is of A WEDDING DAY, and all the preparation that’s gone into making the bride so perfect. Except in this case, it’s JESUS who’s doing all the preparation. He’s the beautician and the hairdresser and the stylist. And he’s the One who’ll PRESENT the bride. And he ALSO the One who’ll have the enjoyment of RECEIVING her, as the GROOM.

Groom and bride – together as ONE. And while we experience SOMETHING of that one-ness and joy and closeness NOW. It will only be COMPLETE on that wedding day, a picture of when eternity begins.

And THAT’S the context in which we live NOW. ALL our relationships shaped by THAT REALITY. That future. We work and obey and follow and submit to bring THAT about. To be ready LIKE THAT. That’s what it says in v21. At the beginning of the whole section. “Submit to one another, OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.” In other words, live Christ-like, loving, humble and other person-centred lives because you’re JOINED TO CHRIST.

Submission and headship

And the FIRST relationship we look at is that of HUSBAND and WIFE. The one that reflects Jesus’ relationship with his bride, the church. V22. Wives, submit to your husbands AS TO THE LORD. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her

God’s DESIGNED the roles of husband and wife in marriage. (The roles of submission by the wife, and headship by the husband.) And they’re not REVERSIBLE. And they’re not OPTIONAL.  And the great mystery that’s being revealed is that they’re roles that are, somehow, MODELLED ON the roles of Christ and his church.

When we look at marriages, God wants it to say something about his Son and his church. He’s saying (v24), “Wives, find your distinctive role as a wife in COPYING the way the church relates to Christ”. Which is to choose to lovingly submit to him.

Then to husbands “Find your distinctive role as a husband in COPYING the way Christ relates to the church. First, v23: For the husband is the head of the wife AS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH, his body, of which he is the Savior. And again in verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH and gave himself up for her. Follow Jesus’ example. We need to be COMMANDED because it’s SO UNNATURAL.

God made the FIRST marriage like this. Eve the SUITABLE HELPER for Adam. Filling in the gaps, underneath the headship of Adam. Who was the SOURCE of his wife. And her LEADER.

But God’s perfect design didn’t last long. In Genesis 3, sin entered the world. When Eve listened to the animal instead of ruling over it. And Adam followed his wife, rather than following God. The whole original design for marriage, for CREATION, was turned on its head. And since that time the consequences of sin are seen in UPSIDE DOWN DISTORTIONS OF MARRIAGE.

Sin ruined marriage NOT because it brought headship and submission into existence, but because it TWISTED God’s design of headship and submission.

And the result? Genesis 3:16. God says to Eve, “Your desire will to be over your husband. And he will RULE over you.” Wives demanding to be BOSS. And husbands selfishly DOMINATING. Man’s humble, loving, serving headship became hostile dictatorship in some men / or NO LEADERSHIP AT ALL – lazy indifference (following) in others. Some husbands spend too much time focusing on DEMANDING THEIR RIGHTS. And too little time concerned with FULFILLING THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES. Too much time feeling sorry for themselves. And too little time looking to meet the needs of their family. Too much time selfishly boosting their ego at work, with the excuse they’re providing for their family. And too little time on the gentle nurturing and support of their kids. Too much time on the active pursuit of THEIR hobbies, sports, and escapes, and too little time on the active discipline and rearing of their kids, or in spiritual leadership of the family.

And sin twisted woman’s intelligent, willing submission into manipulative flattery in some women/ and brazen insubordination in others. Some wives spend too much time criticizing their husbands, even just in thought. And too little time looking for the positives, the commendable. Too much thought spent on how to get around her husband to achieve what she wants instead, and too little thought on how to change her attitude to be content where God’s put her.

Too much emotion wrapped up in nurturing the kids, in satisfying her emotional needs in raising the family, rather than doing the hard work of communicating needs, of listening, of submitting to her husband. Too little interest given to having those needs met in the way God’s designed: a godly husband leading a godly wife connected as one flesh.

Sin didn’t CREATE headship and submission; it ruined them and distorted them and made them ugly and destructive.

Recovering Christ-like headship and submission

And these are accurate descriptions of thousands of households around Sydney today. But, thank God, this is only HALF the story. The good news is that when Jesus comes he begins to REDEEM things. And he doesn’t do it by DISMANTLING the original, created order of loving headship and willing submission. Instead he gets to work RECOVERING it. RECONSTRUCTING it.

That’s what we find in Ephesians 5:21–33 – JESUS at work! He gave himself up for his church TO MAKE HER HOLY, RADIANT, BLAMELESS. WITHOUT STAIN, WRINKLE, or BLEMISH. HE’S doing it!

And so, for Christians, the command is to WIVES. Let your fallen submission be redeemed by MODELING it on the church’s submission to Jesus! Choose to OFFER your submission to your husband. Give him the gift of humble, gentle acceptance of his leadership. And do it because of your own REVERENCE for Jesus. That’s not disempowering, or dishonouring, or controlling. In fact, Christ chooses to offer his submission to God the Father, he’s obedient to DEATH (1 Corinthians 11:3). Submission like that HONOURS Jesus.

And husbands, let your fallen headship be redeemed by MODELING it on Christ, TOO. As he sacrificially serves the church! The shepherd leader who lays down his life for his sheep. As he gives up his LIFE for her, cleansing her, making her holy and blameless. HER good, not yours. HER protection, not yours.

What that means is that headship is not a RIGHT TO COMMAND AND CONTROL. That’s FALLEN headship. And submission is not slavish or coerced or cowering. That’s not the way Christ wants the church to respond to his leadership.

Christ has REDEEMED you from that. He’s redeemed your marriage. He’s given you the power to be putting it back together. To make progress in restoring it in the direction of his original intention. Husbands, he’s redeemed you to love your wives like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership. That’s your RESPONSIBILITY. And wives, Christ has redeemed you so that you can offer submission to your husband/ that’s free and willing and glad and refining and strengthening and honouring. That’s YOUR responsibility.

But…

But you might be thinking, hang on a minute, Dave. That might be easy for SOME marriages. But you don’t know my husband. He ALWAYS gets it wrong. He’s lazy, he doesn’t lead. He’s selfish. Surely God doesn’t expect me to submit to a man like that!

Or perhaps you think “You don’t know my wife” There’s no affection, it’s just orders. No complements, just criticism. Surely God doesn’t expect me to love her like Christ. That’s not possible!

And so it’s easy to add CONDITIONS to God’s COMMANDS. Sub-clauses. “If God just changed my SPOUSE, that would make it easier for me to do MY bit. If he could just lead a bit BETTER, or do things MY way, THEN I’ll submit. Or “If she could just be a bit more lovable, then it’ll be easier for me to LOVE her.” I’ll change, as long as she changes FIRST!

But that’s not the way marriage works. It’s not the way the Christian LIFE works. The Bible talks very little about RIGHTS. And a whole lot about RESPONSIBILITIES. And it’s no different here. It’s about RESPONSIBILITIES, NOT RIGHTS. It doesn’t say. “Wives, you have the right to be loved like Christ. If you don’t get it, stand up for it.” And it doesn’t say, “Husbands, you have the right to have your wife submit to you. If she doesn’t OFFER it, DEMAND it. Enforce it.” CHOOSE to do it. Independent of what your partner does. Choose it not necessarily because your husband or wife DESERVES it. But because CHRIST deserves it. Because you’re serving HIM. V21 Submit to one another OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.

Responsibilities, not rights. God’s speaking to husbands about husbands. And to wives about wives. That might seem obvious, but what it means is that you have a duty to CHANGE YOURSELF FIRST. That’s all you’re responsible for. You can’t MAKE anyone else do ANYTHING. That’s GOD’s job to change people. YOUR job is simply to change YOURSELF.

God has given you to your spouse for the purpose of making them more like Jesus. And he’s given your spouse to you for the same reason. To make YOU more like Jesus. Are you ALLOWING your spouse to help you grow? And are you working to do the same for THEM?

Let’s be honest. Non-Christians think the idea of submission is ridiculous. They reckon it makes us look out-of-date, chauvinistic, patriarchal, repressive. And there’s plenty of Christians who AGREE. But let me make three final points.

Who gets more instructions? It’s the HUSBANDS. And who has the more difficult example to follow? Husbands again. (Wives just follow the example of the church submitting to Jesus. But HUSBANDS have to follow the example of Jesus. Who GAVE UP HIS LIFE for his bride.)  So who’s called to a more difficult job? I reckon that HUSBANDS do.

And secondly. I honestly think it’s not that most Christian women have a problem submitting, but that most Christian men have a problem LEADING. Taking the spiritual lead.

Men, YOU set the example about what’s important. If getting your family to church on time MATTERS / then take the lead in that. Don’t sit back and read the paper, while your wife dresses the kids. That’s not leading.

Does it MATTER that your family prays together? Don’t wait until they ASK for you to pray. Set the example. Drag the Bible out even when they groan. Say grace in restaurants even when your kids say you’re embarrassing them.

Does it MATTER that your family supports the missionary, or gives a generous amount to Christian ministry, rather than buys the new TV, or goes on the holiday? SHOW SOME LEADERSHIP by working out how to fit it into the budget. Work out what YOU can do without.

Put yourself LAST. Serve your family as a leader. Do without so they can have the things that matter most. Give up what YOU want to do with your time because you can help your family to achieve THEIR potential. Be willing to be seen as weak,

That’s leading your family, like Christ leads his church. Leadership like that your wife will have NO TROUBLE submitting to.

One-ness in Christ is the key

And one final word about ONE-ness. Does this all seem too hard? Beyond your ability to change? Too many bridges burned? Too many words you regret? Will it take too much swallowed pride to fix? Does it just seem easier to sweep conflicts under the rug? Easier than rocking the boat, and making some tough decisions?

God’s design for husbands and wives is to become ONE FLESH. Two becoming ONE. A picture of the ONE-NESS Christ has with the church. It’s that ONE-NESS that’s the KEY. Christ LIVES IN YOU. His Spirit has made you a new person. He has the power to change you. Change your attitudes, and desires, and priorities. Change YOUR MARRIAGE. It’s that ONE-NESS between Christ and you that’s all the way through this letter of Ephesians. Back in ch 4. The church is CALLED THE BODY OF CHRIST.

And then, down in v15. The PURPOSE of church. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things GROW UP INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, THAT IS, CHRIST. Growing into Christ. That’s where strength to change our marriages comes from. Becoming ONE with Christ ENABLES US to become ONE with our partners, and to better REFLECT that one-ness between Christ and the church.

Or jump ahead to Ch 5 v18. Same idea of one-ness again. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

Allow the Spirit of Christ to live in you. To become ONE with you. As you listen and obey and follow his lead. Welcome and foster the Spirit of Christ in you. That’s the profound mystery that makes it possible for us to live as married couples who are ONE FLESH. Leading and submitting as God intended.

Core Value 1: We Value God’s Grace to Sinful People: Ephesians 2:1-10

Coming face to face with death should change your life and your priorities.

Glen McGrath is famous for TWO THINGS. As a cricketer, he’s taken more test wickets than any other fast bowler in the history of the game. He’s retired now, and his time is taken up with a much more important job – running the charity he set up, with his wife, to provide breast care nurses for sufferers of breast cancer.

The charity is called The McGrath Foundation, in honour of Glen’s wife, Jane, who died of breast cancer in 2008.

 

And I reckon if you asked Glenn which of those two things were most important, he’d have no hesitation. Because playing cricket for Australia might be exciting – with the attention and the travel and the money and the fun. But it just doesn’t match up with the reward and importance of saving lives and relieving suffering for breast cancer patients.

 

Because coming face to face with death should change your life and your priorities.

 

It certainly has for Robert and Rita. After Robert’s heart attack, after he died several times in Jacob’s backyard, they took a hard look at their life. And made the decision to make some changes.

 

Coming face to face with death should change your life and your priorities.

 

And if coming face to face with death changes your life and priorities FOR THIS LIFE, HOW MUCH MORE should being saved from ETERNAL death, and being given ETERNAL LIFE, change OUR life and priorities?

 

We’ve been given a MUCH greater gift than any remission from cancer. As wonderful as the work of the McGrath Foundation is. As fantastic as the news is of people in remission. It’s ALL TEMPORARY. It’s life that will only last DECADES. But God has saved us into ETERNITY.

 

Wrath and judgment and condemnation were waiting for us. But God RESCUED us. He showed his MERCY and LOVE and GRACE. And moved us from DEATH to LIFE. And he’s STILL showing us GRACE. Everyday, he keeps his promises. We CONTINUE in life only because of God’s grace.

 

That’s the riches of grace. And it’s something we VALUE. Above anything else. Nothing matters more. We value God’s grace to sinful people. That’s the number one core value of this church.

 

And if that’s true. If we really HAVE come face-to-face with death. If we really HAVE been given a second chance. Then it ought to change our life and our priorities. It should MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

 

What difference does God’s grace make to the way YOU live? How are you DIFFERENT from the guy across the fence, or across the hallway at work? Would anyone NOTICE the differences?

 

This passage is great  – my favourite one in the Bible (THIS week) because it reminds us of how wonderful God’s grace is. And gives us good reasons for VALUING it. So let’s look at it together.

 

1. Sinful people (1-3)

Our core value says we value God’s grace to SINFUL PEOPLE. And these first three verses paint a picture of sinful people. It’s really like the “before” photo on the Biggest Loser gym wall. This is what you USED TO look like.

 

Dead (1)

The first part of the BEFORE picture is that we were DEAD. Look at it there in v1.

(Eph 2:1 NIV)  As for you, YOU WERE DEAD in your transgressions and sins,

 

That’s not physically dead. But SPIRITUALLY dead. Deaf and dumb and blind to the spiritual world. Unable to understand the things of God. Hardened to them.

 

We were like cut flowers stuck in vase. We might LOOK like we were alive, but we were really DEAD. Cut off from our source of life. Give it a few days, and our petals start to turn brown. A few days more, and we wilt. A few weeks, and we smell.

 

(A good reason not to bother buying flowers I reckon!)

 

But that’s what we were – DEAD in our sin. And what can a dead person do to help themselves? NOTHING. ZIP, ZERO. We were helpless, hopeless, useless.

 

Disobedient  (2)

The second part of the portrait is there in v2. Disobedience.

(Eph 2:2-3 NIV)  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are DISOBEDIENT. {3} All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

 

Not just incapable of pleasing God. Of helping ourselves. But Deliberately choosing NOT to obey God. Following what WE wanted, rather than what God wants. Not just unable to lift our gaze to HEAVEN. But deliberately dropping to the ground AWAY from God.

 

And there are three factors identified there that INFLUENCE that disobedience. The world, Satan, and the sinful nature.

 

THE WORLD. “Following the ways of the world” (there in v2). The number one rule for life “Look after number one”. That’s the way of the world. And they wrap it in pretty paper, and call it self-confidence, self-reliance, a positive self-image.

 

But it’s nothing more than disobedience. Selfishness. Idolatry – making yourself an idol to be worshipped, rather than God.

 

It’s so ingrained that we don’t even think there’s anything wrong when we hear comments like;

“I’m just putting everything else on hold until I get my career on track.

I’m not ready for kids

I’m not fulfilled.

I just need a little Me-time.

I’m learning to stand up for myself”

 

They’re all just ways of saying “I’m looking after number one” They’re all just worshipping before the idol of SELF.

 

It’s the way of the world, and it’s NOT the way of God.

 

The second influence on disobedience is THE RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR (v2). That’s Satan. He tempts, he lies, he tricks, he exaggerates. He undermines. He’s a SNAKE. And he LOVES disobedience.

 

And the way of the world, is listening to HIM, rather than God. He says

“It’s not wrong, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else”

“It’s not wrong, it’s between two consenting adults”

“It makes sense to live together first. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test-drive, would you?”

“How dare you tell me I’m wrong or evil. It’s judgmental and discriminatory!

“God is LOVING, he won’t judge anyone!”

 

They’re SATAN’S lies. And it’s disobedience to listen to SATAN, rather than God.

 

The third factor in the disobedience of the world is THE SINFUL NATURE. See it there in v3?

gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

 

The way of the world, and of Satan, is so seductive and attractive, and such a powerful force, because it’s about doing WHAT COMES NATURALLY.

 

It’s natural human instinct to PUSH IN. To take from someone else because YOU WANT IT. To control those around you. The urge to seek your own pleasure is stronger than any other urge.

 

Our nature is sinful. Our desires. Thoughts, cravings, orientations, desires, goals. You don’t have to TEACH a new baby to be selfish. Comes naturally. Don’t have to teach them to throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. Comes naturally.

 

And we get better and better at it the older we get.

 

Homosexuals argue they were BORN that way. As if that gives them an excuse. God’s MADE me this way. I’m only expressing my natural self. He can’t judge me for THAT.

 

But they’re no different to anyone else. Whatever their orientation. We’re ALL born that way! I was BORN selfish, and lustful, and greedy, and rebellious. It’s no excuse to say, “I’m just expressing who I am, God can’t judge me for that!”.

 

Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts is DISOBEDIENCE. And it means we were DEAD.

 

Doomed (3)

And the third part of Paul’s BEFORE portrait is there in v3. It’s the result of it all. We were DOOMED.

…Like the rest, we were by nature OBJECTS OF WRATH.

 

Bound for destruction. We were under the threat of God’s judgment. We had big bullseyes painted on our chest. The red laser light was on our forehead. We were old car bodies on the conveyor belt headed for the compactor.

 

We were DEAD in sin. We were DISOBEDIENT. And so we were DOOMED.

 

What a BLACK PORTRAIT.

 

2. God’s grace (4-10)

But just like the Biggest Loser, this is a GOOD NEWS story. That’s only the BEFORE photo. Look at v4. There’s the AFTER photo. It’s THE BIG BUT – which has nothing to do with The Biggest Loser, by the way.

(Eph 2:4-5 NIV)  BUT because of his great LOVE for us, God, who is rich in MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by GRACE you have been saved.

 

LOVE, GRACE and MERCY. All things God displays towards US.

 

LOVE is a characteristic of God himself. And he EXPRESSES that love towards us by showing MERCY and GRACE. Love is the quality which REVEALS itself in the actions of grace and mercy.

 

One way of thinking about the two is that Grace is GIVING us what we DON’T deserve, and mercy is WITHHOLDING what we DO deserve.

 

Think about it for a moment. Grace is GIVING us what we DON’T deserve, and mercy is NOT giving us what we DO deserve.

 

We DON’T deserve saving, or forgiveness, or eternal life, or an eternal inheritance, but GRACE is GIVING us those things. We DO deserve judgment, and death, and separation, but MERCY WITHHOLDS those things.

(Eph 2:4-5 NIV)  But because of his great LOVE for us, God, who is rich in MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by GRACE you have been saved.

 

God SAVED us because he LOVED us.

 

And look at what SAVING means. Three things. There in v5 and v6. He made us alive WITH Christ. He RAISED US UP with Christ. And he SEATED US with Christ in the heavenly realms.

 

The three historical facts of Christianity. Christ’s RESURRECTION, his ASCENSION, and his SEATING ON THE THRONE.

 

And when God saves us, he JOINS US TO Christ. And so we receive everything CHRIST has. Those who belong to Jesus are made alive WITH HIM. They are RAISED UP with HIM. And they are seated in the heavenly realms WITH HIM.

 

We might look like everybody else walking around here on earth. But we’re bound for a different reality. We have a home beyond planet earth. It’s where we belong.

 

But it’s more than just a FUTURE. There’s a sense in which it’s begun NOW. Right now, we begin to experience that victory and new life. Life, and truth, and closeness to God have BEGUN, and they’re getting BETTER as each day goes by. And THAT’S all God’s grace too!

 

That’s what we have. It’s what we ARE – right now!

 

And when we get to v7, we see that God’s got a PURPOSE behind the whole plan. It’s part of our heavenly reality NOW. V7 begins with a wonderful little phrase “in order that”. In grammar it’s called A PURPOSE CLAUSE. God’s done something in v6 WHICH LEADS TO v7. FOR THE PURPOSE of v7.

 

It’s one of the wonderful things about being a Christian – we have a REASON FOR LIVING.

 

Follow the logic. God’s saved us by his grace. In order that (v7)

(Eph 2:7-8 NIV)  in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. {8} For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

 

You are God’s EXHIBIT A. God values his own grace so highly that he wants to SHOW IT OFF. His grace is incomparable riches. Nothing else measures up.

 

His plan to show us grace and mercy through Jesus is SO WONDERFUL, and brings him SO MUCH GLORY that he LOVES TO SHOW IT OFF.

 

That’s what WE are. God’s self-promoting visual-aid. God’s presentation of his own excellence. As we live, and thank him, and proclaim him, and obey him, and honour him. We bring GLORY to HIM. Look at how Paul describes it back in Ch 1 v11.

(Eph 1:11-12 NIV)  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the PLAN of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, {12} IN ORDER THAT we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

 

What is our purpose in life? To BE – to EXIST- for the praise of his glory. In particular, we highlight the INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE.

 

And we see how that idea works itself out in practice down in v10.

(Eph 2:10 NIV)  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

God’s workmanship. That’s us. His craftsmanship. He’s brought together the whole plan of choosing us, predestining us, adopting us, saving us. And here we are – the finished product.

 

Some of you have seen our dining room table. I made it. I’m pretty proud of it. I designed it. I bought the timber. I cut it. Assembled it. Glued it. Clamped it. Sanded it. Varnished it.

 

It’s my workmanship. And it’s been created for a purpose. And I get JOY out of seeing it being USED for its purpose.

 

And WE’VE been created for a purpose. To do the good works God’s prepared for us. It’s literally “we’ve been created for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we might WALK IN THEM.

 

WALKING IN THE GOOD WORKS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE WAY WE SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE.

 

THE GOOD WORKS ARE ALSO GOD’S GRACE FOR US. HIS GIFTS FOR US TO DO.

 

Good works like serving each other cheerfully. Putting others first CHARITABLY. Standing firm BRAVELY, putting up with difficulties SERENELY, bearing burdens EAGERLY, turning the other cheek GRACIOUSLY, giving GENEROUSLY, witnessing COURAGEOUSLY, accepting our lot PATIENTLY, standing up for injustice BOLDLY.

 

All good works that God’s prepared for us to do. And he’s PLANNED it that way to SHOW OFF how Good his grace is. He ENJOYS seeing how people show his grace in their lives.

 

I said at the start that being coming face to face with death should change your life and your priorities.

 

HAS IT? Have you accepted that offer of a rescue from death and judgment? That’s what you do with an incredible valuable, generous offer. You grab it with both hands.

 

God wants to show you GRACE – to give you forgiveness and purpose and eternity and life and his Spirit and his people and his inheritance.

 

He wants to show you his MERCY. To withhold his hand of judgement. To withhold his just punishment for your rebellion.

Accept his gift today. You won’t regret it.

 

For most of us, that’s something we’ve already done. So, how has it made A DIFFERENCE? Because it SHOULD.

 

If you really HAVE been come face to face with death. If you really have been saved by the riches of God’s grace, Then your life should be DIFFERENT. Different in attitude, in priorities, in joy, Different in purpose, in love, in patience. Different in hope, and in strength.

 

Valuing God’s grace should affect what your week looks like – in practical ways. What difference does it make in YOUR life?

 

Let me suggest three ways.

 

First, valuing God’s grace will mean declaring it to others. A church which VALUES God’s grace to sinful people will make evangelism a priority.

 

How well are WE doing at that? How can we do it BETTER?

 

Or individually. How often are you standing up for Jesus? Saying a word for him? Inviting friends to church? How is evangelism reflected in your prayer? What friendships do you have with non-Christians? Where are they headed?

 

Valuing God’s grace will mean that evangelism is a priority.

 

Secondly, valuing God’s grace will mean NOT BOASTING, but bringing glory to God.

 

If we HAVE been saved by grace. And if we CONTINUE only by grace. And it’s got nothing to do with our own efforts. Then there’s never any excuse for boasting. It’s there in v8 and 9,

(Eph 2:8-9 NIV)  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– {9} not by works, so that no one can boast.

 

Not boasting will mean recognising that your life is all about bringing glory to SOMEONE ELSE. Your purpose is showing the riches of his grace. Not showing everyone how impressive YOU are. Not how KNOWLEDGEABLE you are, or HARD-WORKING, or SUCCESSFUL, or GENEROUS, or HOSPITABLE, or even HOW HUMBLE.

 

And you’ll LOVE doing it, because you VALUE GRACE.

 

If all you have, and are, is by GRACE. Then you won’t BOAST. And you won’t compare yourself to OTHERS. You’ll keep turning the spotlight always back onto God. The incomparable riches of his grace.

 

Third, valuing God’s grace will mean TRUSTING GOD COMPLETELY. If the future’s in HIS HANDS. And it’s all about GRACE. Then let’s TRUST him with the future.

 

Modern culture encourages us to trust EVERYTHING ELSE to provide our needs. Our mortgage, or our strength, or our friends, or our financial plans, or our health. But valuing God’s grace will mean TRUSTING his PROMISES.

 

He WILL never leave us or forsake us. He WILL strengthen and uphold us. He WILL give us the material things we need as we seek first his kingdom. He WILL work all things for good. He WILL be with us even to the end of the age.

 

Valuing God’s grace will mean TRUSTING him. Every hour. Every day. Every week and month and year and decade.

 

Because our past, our present and our future are all because of his grace. And we show forth how the incomparable RICHES of his grace as we DECLARE it, as we bring glory to God by not BOASTING, and as we TRUST GOD COMPLETELY.

 

May our lives show that we’ve been given a second chance. That we VALUE GOD’S GRACE.

Core Values 2: We Value God’s Word Applied to Our Lives: Ephesians 6:10-18

The worldwide communion of the Church of England is in disarray. If you believe some people, it’s on the verge of splitting.

The press seems to think it’s about old-fashioned conservatives getting uptight about modern free-thinkers wanting to get up to date, and ordain women and practicing s as bishops.

But the issue is more about what different sections of the Church of England think about THE BIBLE.

Philip Jensen, the Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, was in England a few years ago addressing members of the Church of England. And he made some comments attacking the primate of the church – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who’s pushing an updating of ideas.

Philip Jensen was pretty full-on, as he NORMALLY is. But FAIR. After all, Dr Williams ALSO doesn’t believe in the virgin birth, or the physical resurrection of Jesus.

So you’ve got to wonder exactly what the Christianity he says he believes in LOOKS LIKE.

And there are similar debates going on in the Presbyterian Church in SCOTLAND at the moment. Over the same sorts of questions.

Two sides. Each one thinks they’re right. That THEIR version of Christianity is the right one. What it comes down to is YOUR ATTITUDE TO THE BIBLE.

On one side is Rowan Williams. To him, the Bible’s a useful tool. A guide. Helpful to enlighten us. A fascinating work to STUDY.

But it’s a HUMAN book, that’s fallible, open to error, able to be superseded, and corrected, and improved upon.

And so, when society, or common sense, or political correctness, or scientific research says that some behaviour is okay. Even though the Bible says it ISN’T. Then the obvious conclusion is that the church should go with the LATEST EVIDENCE, because the Bible can be updated. Just like a new computer – get rid of the old one, and bring in the new improved .

But to Phillip Jensen, and TO US, the Bible’s MUCH MORE than that. It’s MUCH MORE than a human document. It’s God’s Word, breathed-out. His personal communication to mankind. Which NEVER goes out of date.

The Creator of the Universe has condescended to speak to us in words we can understand. It’s the Manufacturer’s instruction manual for the Universe. For the human race. For salvation.

God thought it SO IMPORTANT, he caused it to be WRITTEN DOWN. So that it would be preserved and protected from misunderstanding, or loss, or dilution.

He didn’t just leave it to word of mouth. To tradition. To the memories of people, to make sure it made it through history. But he gave us A BOOK.

That’s Philip Jensen’s position. And so what GOD thinks about something, as described in the Bible, is much more important to Philip Jensen/ than what SOCIETY thinks, or public opinion, or science.

And it’s this emphasis on God’s Word that DEFINES / EVANGELICAL Christians. Technically, EVANGELICAL means those Christians who make the evangel – or the good news – or the gospel about Jesus and salvation – their priority.

But THAT really comes from a PRIOR commitment. A commitment to listening when God SPEAKS. He’s REVEALED HIS MIND in the Bible, and so evangelicals are committed to the Bible as God’s Word.

It’s THE MESSAGE of the BIBLE that COMMUNICATES the gospel. Without THE WORD, there IS no good news. There IS no salvation. So to be committed to God’s Word/ is to be committed to his gospel REVEALED in his Word.

And this commitment’s expressed this way in our second Core Value. “We value God’s Word applied to our lives”

C.f. Other branches of Christianity

It’s a commitment that separates evangelicals from OTHER branches of Christianity. From LIBERAL Christians, like Rohan Williams, who see the Bible as basically a HUMAN book.

It distinguishes us from CATHOLICS who see it as a HOLY book, but one which comes second in authority behind THE CHURCH. The official Catholic position is that if the church and the Bible contradict, then Catholics should listen to THE CHURCH.

And evangelicals would put that priority THE OTHER WAY ROUND. God’s words are ALWAYS more important than man’s words.

And it’s an attitude that would also separate evangelicals from some PENTECOSTALS. Their attitude is that Scripture is a useful backstop to God’s PERSONAL revelation.

Their view is that God speaks clearly and regularly and specifically to individuals today. We should EXPECT God to speak through dreams, or feelings, or special words of knowledge. Some think he can even make Scripture mean ONE thing to ONE person, and SOMETHING ELSE to another person.

Personal revelation is more important than his revelation through Scripture because they see it as MORE IMMEDIATE AND RELEVANT.

But evangelicals would say that God speaks MORE CLEARLY and MORE OFTEN through his WRITTEN WORD, than in other ways.

Life is a spiritual battle

And with that commitment, let’s turn to the Word. To see what it has to say about itself. In particular in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians is a book that OPENS OUR WORLD UP. That shows us the true reality – the spiritual reality – that’s going on behind, and above, and through, the everyday events of the physical. Life is SPIRITUAL. The battles we face – like those between Peter Jensen and Rowan Williams – are SPIRITUAL ONES.

And it’s God’s Word that equips us for the SPIRITUAL BATTLE of life. If life were only about HUMAN opinion, and human interactions, and human logic and wisdom and ideas, then a HUMAN BOOK would be FINE.

But, in Eph 6, Paul reminds us that life is MORE than just this earthly plane – what we can experience with our senses. God and Satan are REALITY.

It’s SPIRITUAL. And so we need SPIRITUAL EQUIPMENT. Tools that only GOD can provide. Look at v10.

(Eph 6:10-12 NIV)  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. {11} Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. {12} For our struggle is NOT against flesh and , but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The battles we fight are, ultimately, not against PEOPLE. When we stand up for TRUTH, we’re not JUST arguing with academics, or popular opinion. We’re struggling against POWERFUL, EVIL FORCES.

The devil has SCHEMES. POWERFUL schemes. Sneaky schemes. He works through the media, and legislation, and science. He works through well-meaning everyday people, who just want to be FAIR, AND TOLERANT, AND PERMISSIVE, AND PROGRESSIVE, AND INCLUSIVE.

Not just to do with ity, but in areas of and immigration, of poverty and education. Areas of inequality and injustice, of cutting edge science, of a woman’s right to choose.

Satan works his plans through a moral relativism that says there’s no such thing as WRONG. And through a religious apathy that wants nothing to do with God, with what he’s like, or what he wants of us. Satan’s plans are aimed at good, moral Aussies going about their lives doing the best they can, oblivious to the dangerous eternity they’re headed for.

His plans are sophisticated or simple. Pop culture or intellectual. Left wing or right wing. Inclusive or judgmental. New or old. Scientific or artistic. Technological or . In your face, or secretive. Satan’s got schemes for it all. And the common theme – they’re ALWAYS against God. Always encouraging people to choose THEIR way instead of GOD’S way.

And we’re to BE STRONG against them.

Put on God’s Armour

And against opposition like THAT/ what use is a HUMAN guidebook? What use are human strategies, or outlines, or programs?

And so Paul tells us to put on the full armour of God. The spiritual equipment God supplies for a spiritual battle. V13.

(Eph 6:13-17 NIV)  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. {14} Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, {15} and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. {16} In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. {17} Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Fully equipped. Standing firm. Not taking a backward step. A special forces paratrooper ready for battle. That’s the image.

And while our first instinct is to jump right in to the imagery. And to pull it apart. The main point is that it’s GOD’S equipment. Paul MIGHT have been chained to a ROMAN soldier as he wrote these words. But he was DESCRIBING a soldier of GOD.

It’s imagery that’s more from the Old Testament than from the Roman soldier he sees on the street corner. Like Isaiah 11. It prophesies about Jesus. The shoot of Jesse/ The one on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. And it says this in v4.

(Isa 11:4-5 NIV)  but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will STRIKE THE EARTH WITH THE ROD OF HIS MOUTH; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. {5} RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL BE HIS BELT AND FAITHFULNESS THE SASH AROUND HIS WAIST.

The Messiah – the servant and agent of God – will have a belt of righteousness, a sash of faithfulness, and his words will be like a sword.

And Isaiah 59.17 describes GOD HIMSELF in these words. He’s responding to the LACK of truth and justice and righteousness in the nation.

{14} So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. {15} Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. {16} He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked SALVATION for him, and his own RIGHTEOUSNESS sustained him. {17} HE PUT ON RIGHTEOUSNESS AS HIS BREASTPLATE, AND THE HELMET OF SALVATION ON HIS HEAD; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

It’s GOD HIMSELF who’s the warrior clothed in righteousness and salvation, vengeance and zeal. They’re the PERSONAL QUALITIES he brings to the battle. The techniques he uses to defeat an enemy who’s qualities are LIES, and DARKNESS, and EVIL, and INJUSTICE.

And Paul’s MAIN POINT in this section/ is that the Christian is to stand firm by putting on the very armour GOD uses in HIS battle.

Our own qualities and abilities and strengths aren’t enough. Because the battle is SPIRITUAL.

First, the belt of truth. Is the belt of TRUTH/ the truth of the message we declare – the trustworthiness and validity of living God’s way/ God’s truth? SPEAKING truth?

Or is it LIVING truthfully. Not lying. A personal quality of SINCERITY? Our truth.

Probably BOTH. But the point is/ it’s GOD’s truth.

And is the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS/ the righteousness which God gives to us in Jesus – God’s righteousness? Or is it a personal quality of INTEGRITY? Moral character and conduct. Our righteousness?

Probably both. But the point is/ it’s GOD’s truth.

Third. There’s shoes that are ready to travel anywhere to deliver the message of the gospel. Always be READY. ON YOUR BLOCKS. Paying attention. Looking for opportunities.

That’s OUR attitude. But it’s GOD’S MESSAGE where keen to deliver.

And the shield of FAITH. Faith is our response. But it’s trust in the GOD who provides the armour, and who WINS the VICTORY. It’s trusting HIS PROMISES. Trusting the VICTORY he’s won – even when it doesn’t look like it.

It’s faith like that which undermines, and castrates, the sly temptations of Satan. The doubts, and tests, and self-pity. The flaming arrows of the evil one.

And then there’s the helmet of salvation. The very helmet GOD HIMSELF put on in Is 59. And he calls us to PUT IT ON AS WELL. Salvation is the means by which God wins his victory. And it’s as we take HOLD of that salvation that WE can be PART of the battle. God’s saving power is our only defence against the power of the evil one.

And finally we come to the SWORD. Specifically, it’s the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT. Immediately identified as THE WORD OF GOD.

The word of God – especially seen as THE BIBLE – is our only ATTACKING WEAPON.

And even though we might SWING the sword. It’s the Spirit who USES it. Puts the POWER behind it.

The Word of God is THE MEANS BY WHICH the Holy Spirit does his work.

Nearly every JOB of the Holy Spirit, he ACHIEVES by using the WORD OF GOD.

  1. The Holy Spirit CONVICTS of sin. How? Through the WORD.
  2. The Holy Spirit COMFORTS. How? Through the WORD.
  3. The Holy Spirit GUIDES and COUNSELS. How? Through the WORD.
  4. The Holy Spirit REBUKES. How? Through the WORD.
  5. The Holy Spirit ILLUMINATES, and brings new birth. How? By means of the WORD.

What does it mean for us to SWING the sword of the word of God? If it’s the Spirit’s sword. How do we USE IT? Jesus gives us a good example during his temptation in the wilderness. Mt 4.

Satan would tempt him, and Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. It replaced the devil’s lies, with truth. It reaffirmed Jesus’ trust in his Father’s word, and faithfulness.

God’s Word has the ability to work in US. Strengthening and affirming OUR faith, building our hope.

And as we proclaim it to OTHERS, the Spirit uses those words to open their eyes, convict them of sin, lead them to repentance, and bring them from to life.

And the fact that it’s the SPIRIT’S sword means we can proclaim it’s truth CONFIDENTLY, because it’s HIS WEAPON that HE uses. HE’S the one who makes it effective.

Valuing God’s Word will mean we

So what’s all this mean for US as evangelicals. What will it mean for us to VALUE God’s Word?

Let me suggest a number of things;

  1. Valuing God’s Word will mean we work hard at understanding it. It’s precious, and powerful. So we need to have a good grasp of how to USE IT.

When you buy a new car, you read the instruction manual. To make sure you know how to USE IT PROPERLY. Valuing the CAR will mean you commit to using it properly.

Valuing God’s Word will mean working hard at understanding it.

In private, we’ll commit TIME to READING IT. We’ll contemplate it. Read slowly and carefully.

Other times we’ll read QUICKLY. Reading whole books in one sitting. To get the Big picture in our heads.

And even when we can’t read it, we’ll LISTEN to it. Listen to tapes or CDs of Bible talks. We’ll read books ABOUT the Bible – that help us understand it. That encourage us to read it more.

And it will mean we work hard at understanding it TOGETHER. We’ll commit a precious week night to a home group. We’ll make the effort to read it as a married .

And when it comes to the Bible talk in church, we’ll pay attention. We’ll have our Bibles open, take notes.

We won’t play with our mobile phones, or wander around out the back chatting.

It’s IMPORTANT. Because it’s how God FEEDS us. It’s LIFE. Without it, we DIE.

2. Second. Valuing God’s Word will mean SINGING it. To encourage each other and to remind each other. Col 3:16 says

(Col 3:16 NIV)  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

3. Third, it will mean we’ll train OTHERS TO READ IT. Learning about the Bible will be a PRIORITY. We’ll encourage people to STUDY AT Bible College. We’ll support them. Pray for them. Pray for lecturers. Pray for God to raise up faithful Bible TEACHERS.

We’ll help to train people ourselves. We’ll help teach Kid’s Church. Or Youth Group.

4. Fourth. Valuing God’s Word will mean DEFENDING it. Standing up for it in academia and public arena. There’s been stacks of letters to the editor in the SMH about Tony Abbott’s comments about his advice to his daughters to wait until they were married to have . Plenty of letters poking FUN at him.

But also quite a lot from Christians standing up for the Bible’s position. Articulately and coherently standing up for what they believe. Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to do something like that around the lunch table at work.

5. Finally, if we value God’s Word, we’ll be confident to LET IT LOOSE. It’s the powerful sword of the Spirit. All by itself it can change lives. Bring salvation.

That’s why we distribute Bibles to our Scripture kids. Why we give them away at Movie Nights and Christmas carols. It might be the only Christian input they get at home. And it might sit on the shelf for years until it’s picked up. But God can still use it – it’s the powerful sword of his Spirit.

That’s why the Gideons go to so much trouble to place Bibles in public places. Because they have confidence in God’s Word to save. It really can!

Let me leave you with the story of a young guy who’s discovered the power of God’s Word. He’s being mentored by Ken Lesta, the pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church at Glenwood.

This guy is Tongan. Huge. Muscles on muscles. He’s the son of a pastor. But he went off the rails. The truth of the gospel didn’t mean anything to him.

And he got in trouble with the law. But rather than jail, he was awarded Community service. At a nursing home. Which he wasn’t too pleased about.

One day as he was wheeling an old guy in his wheelchair, he stumbled. And he cursed. Blasphemed.

And the little old man in the chair slowly turned around to this huge, muscly Tongan. And he said “Would you mind not blaspheming. That’s my Lord you’re talking about.”

That would have taken some courage. But he didn’t stop there. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a Scripture tract. Bible verses, and a gospel outline. And he gave it to the young Tongan.

He took it home, read it. Was broken. Cut to the core. The sword pierced his heart. He understood grace, and sin, and forgiveness for the first time. Fell to his knees. And was converted.

The sword of the Spirit does it’s work.

And that’s why we value God’s Word applied to our lives.

Core Value 3: We value non-Christians hearing and responding to the gospel: Ephesians 1:1-14; 3:1-13

On the 29 January, 2003, the world woke to greet its newest BILLIONAIRE. Athina Onassis, the grand-daughter of Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis turned 18.

Turning 18 means she’s inherited an estimated 1 BILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS. And makes her probably the world’s richest ager. And there’s more. There’s gold. The family art masterpieces. There’s property in France, in England, in Switzerland and in Argentina. As well as the private Greek island of Skorpios.

How would you feel?

As we come to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this morning, there’s a similar thought. Welcome to the inheritance.

I wonder if Athina’s lawyer dropped round that morning to explain things a little. Here’s the bank account number. Here are the keys to your grandfather’s yacht. Here’s the title deed to the Island. Because here in Ephesians that’s exactly what’s happening. Explaining the inheritance. Have a quick glance down the page.

V3 We have EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING

V5 We’ve been adopted as sons

V6 Freely given

V7 riches of God’s grace LAVISHED on us

V14… the Holy Spirit, he says, is a guarantee of our inheritance.

And again in verse 18. I pray, says Paul, that you’ll know the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Welcome… to the inheritance.

And as we come to Ephesians 1 this morning, I’m hoping we can do it with something like the ANTICIPATION Athina Onassis must have been feeling as she woke up to the ultimate birthday that morning.

Us and You

Before we go any further though, I want to hit the pause button for a minute. And think about two little words, that you don’t notice too much, but that’ll make a huge difference in how you understand Ephesians. US and YOU. Or WE and YOU.

To make sense of Ephesians it helps to notice it’s a letter written to TWO DISTINCT GROUPS. Us… and you.

The sort of small words you normally don’t notice. Unless it’s “WE’RE going to the movies. And YOU’RE not invited.” Unless it’s “WE’RE in the IN group. And YOU… we’ll, you’re NOT.”

And you’ll see as you just run your eye through Ephesians chapter 1, it’s we we we we all the way home. Or us, which is the same thing.

So notice in verse 2. God our Father. Verse 3. Our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed us in the heavenly realms. For he chose us, verse 4; in him we have redemption verse 7, in accordance with the grace he lavished on us… It’s all over the place.

Verse 11. In him we have obtained an inheritance… In order that we who were the first to hope in Christ, verse 12, might be for the praise of his glory.

And then finally verse 13. In him YOU ALSO were included. You were marked in him with a seal.

And the pattern goes on in chapter 2. Verse 1. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions. Verse 5. We were in our transgressions too. And so it goes.

I want to suggest the two groups he’s talking about/ are two groups that were absolutely obvious in the Ephesian church. Because you read about them back in Acts 19. Paul’s in Ephesus. And he’s preaching to THE JEWS for three months in the synagogue. And then, v9, for two more years, he preaches to the GREEKS in the hall of Tyranus.

And so you’ve got a church there in Ephesus made up of BOTH those groups. former Jews like Paul. Who are the US he’s talking about in the letter. As well as non-Jews like you and me. Ex-idolaters. With no Jewish background at all. Who when Paul’s talking about, he calls YOU LOT. Or as Jeff Fenech would say YOUSE!

Us and you. we in the church who are Jews by birth. You who are Gentiles by birth.

And you can see that’s what Paul’s thinking when you get down to verse 11 in chapter 2. Where Paul says, “Therefore remember, that formerly YOU WHO ARE GENTILES BY BIRTH and on he goes to sum up the section.”

And then over in Ch 3 v1

(Eph 3:1 NIV)  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of YOU GENTILES–

And finally down in Ch 3 v6.

(Eph 3:6 NIV)  This mystery is that through the gospel the GENTILES (YOU) are HEIRS TOGETHER with Israel (US), members TOGETHER of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Why am I making such a big deal about it when we’re only looking at Ch 1? Because it’s a crucial part of the logic of this first section. The logic of the argument is all about SHARING THE INHERITANCE.

Here’s Paul writing to a group of people he knows well. After all, he’s spent the best part of three years there! And he pictures them listening to the letter being read. The two groups of Christians. The Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Learning how to get on with each other. Learning how to overcome difficulties. How to eat the same food. How to let go of things that DON’T matter. And work out what things DO matter. Disagreements. Misunderstandings. Differences in emphasis.

And Paul wants them to know first, and most importantly of all, that they’re SHARING AN INHERITANCE.

And for some of his readers, maybe the word sharing is quite a shock. Because if you want to stick with the picture we started with, imagine when Athina Onassis woke up on her birthday, she didn’t just wake up to the worlds biggest inheritance… but to the news her LONG-LOST SISTER had just turned up. Who’d been discovered in ANOTHER COUNTRY. But was her flesh and . And who’s going to SHARE it. 50-50.

There’s plenty to go round. But how would you feel? “Athina, congratulations you’re rich. But the sister you never knew… is going to share it with you.”

(And ly, you’d rejoice, wouldn’t you? At having a sister again.)

That’s the situation the JEWISH Christians are in. They’ve had the privilege of being God’s chosen people. All on their own. Out of ALL THE NATIONS. Their whole focus has been about staying SEPARATE from Gentiles. And now, they’re following God’s promised Messiah.

And this Jesus Messiah has called out people from THE NATIONS to share in his promises.

And as happy as they are for the Gentiles. It …. Just TAKES SOME GETTING USED TO. Perhaps like white Christians after apartheid ended in South Africa. Sitting next to their black brothers in church.

Knowing with their heads and hearts this was God’s choice. But it just seemed so FOREIGN, and STRANGE. WANTING to accept, and live with, and tolerate, and love, But not sure how to DO IT.

That was the situation for the Jewish Christians.

And there were similar doubts from the Gentile Christians. All this talk of being A CHOSEN PEOPLE was new to them. To be God’s adopted children. Forgiven, washed, set apart. It was all too good to be true. Did they BELONG? Were they a fish out of water? Had they hopped on the right train?

The Inheritance (3-12)

And it’s with this sort of background – of Jewish and Gentile Christian – sitting uncomfortably beside each other – that Paul launches into reading the will. The lawyer outlining THE EXTENT OF THE INHERITANCE. V3.

(Eph 1:3 NIV)  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING in Christ.

This is the SUMMARY STATEMENT. God deserves to be blessed because he’s blessed US – with every spiritual blessing. Every spiritual benefit we have comes from God. Because we’re IN Christ – belong to him.

(pause) But immediately, it’s not clear who Paul’s referring to. He says “blessed US” – but is that US JEWS, or ALL of US – Jews AND Gentiles. It’s not clear!

Paul SEEMS to be addressing the letter to everyone. V1. To the SAINTS IN EPHESUS – the faithful in Christ Jesus.

It’s certainly clear by the END of this section, and into Chapters 2 and 3. But here at the start, it’s not clear. Perhaps he MEANS to be unclear. Perhaps as he outlines all the wonderful blessings that God’s people have been blessed with, some of the Gentiles will assume he’s talking about THE JEWS. And so they squirm in their seat a bit more, fidget. Feel more and more out-of-place. As Paul piles blessings on top of blessings.

Until he gets to v13. The sucker punch. “And YOU GENTILES ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST”. Everything I’ve just been saying is describing YOU TOO, you silly old sausages! Lift your heads up! You’re IN Christ – so God has blessed YOU TOO with every spiritual blessing.

He’s PROBABLY talking to ALL the Christians – but it’s ALSO possible he’s just got the Jewish Christians in mind.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. So far, Paul’s summarised the inheritance TO US, as being EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

i) Chosen

But now he gets more specific. V4. What ARE the spiritual blessings for those who are IN CHRIST? First, we’ve been CHOSEN. But unlike being chosen for a sporting team, this selection had nothing at all to do with YOU. Because v4 tells us that God chose us BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.

You’re abilities, or qualities, or successes, were irrelevant.

There’s a sense in which if someone were to ask you WHEN you became a Christian, you’d be CORRECT if you said Before the creation of the world. That’s when God CHOSE you.

ii) Predestined

And you’ve been chosen FOR A PURPOSE. Chosen to be holy and blameless. Set apart. Different. Pure. Washed clean.

God had a goal in sight when he chose you. He had a destination picked out. That’s what PRE-DESTINED means there in v5. God not only CHOSE you, but had a GOAL for that election. It was God’s destiny for you that you be sitting right there this morning, hearing these words.

All planned, there in v4, because he LOVES us.

iii) Adopted

And what was the PURPOSE of the plan? To ADOPT us. To make us HIS CHILDREN. Members of HIS FAMILY.

It’s probably not an idea that means a lot to us. Unless you’re AN ORPHAN. Being a member of a family is something we mostly take for granted. Perhaps even don’t appreciate.

And yet, if you think about it, as much as you might bicker and argue, there’s a wonderful SECURITY about being a member of a family. Knowing that your family will LOVE you and ACCEPT you and BE THERE for you.

And if there’s security from an EARTHLY family, how much more is that feeling of acceptance and security and love from your HEAVENLY Father? Who’s ADOPTED you.

iv) Grace

And not just because he LOVES us. Here’s ANOTHER reason God chose us. It’s there in v6. To show off how good his GRACE is.

he predestined us to be adopted …{ (Eph 1:6 NIV)  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us (lit. graced us) in the One he loves.

In v8 it’s the RICHES of grace. That he’s LAVISHED on us. It’s WONDERFUL, it’s RICH, it’s COMPLETE.

In fact it’s SO great, God loves to show it off. He shows people GRACE, because he loves people to PRAISE his grace. It’s so fantastic, he loves to share it, and for others to recognise it.

You see, a pleasure SHARED is a pleasure DOUBLED. There’s a fantastic catch on the cricket on the TV, or someone smashes a six. And you want to SHARE the excitement with someone else. Or there’s a really funny youtube video. And you’ve just got to share it. Sharing the pleasure, DOUBLES it. Or a beautiful sunrise – much more enjoyable if there’s someone there to SHARE it with.

And sharing GRACE increases the JOY of grace, and the PRAISE for grace. God wants to share his grace, so that OTHERS can praise it too. That’s what he LOVES.

vi) Redemption,

And the essence of that gift – that grace. Is seen in v7.

(Eph 1:7 NIV)  In him we have REDEMPTION through his , the FORGIVENESS of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

Paul’s already used ONE picture of what God does. Adoption. Here’s ANOTHER one. Redemption. Redemption involves the buying back of something that’s in slavery, or in hock – like at a pawnbrokers.

In this case, it’s US. God buys us back, sets us free.

vii) Forgiveness.

And once the price is paid, He FORGIVES our sin. Wipes the slate clean. Removes the barrier. Makes us friends.

And the redemption price he pays/ is the of his Son. The acceptable punishment for our rebellion is the of his Son.

In fact, EVERYTHING we’ve seen so far comes only through Jesus. V3. Every spiritual blessing comes IN Christ.

We were chosen IN CHRIST. God predestined us to be adopted THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

God’s glorious grace is only freely given to us IN THE ONE HE LOVES – that’s Jesus too!

And then down to 9. The mystery of God’s will was PURPOSED IN CHRIST. Christ was the agent for achieving God’s plans.

But not only that. V10. He was the GOAL of the plan too. He’s the TRAIN that TAKES us there, AND the train station that’s the END DESTINATION. The fulfillment of the plan was that all things in heaven and on earth would be brought together under King Jesus.

Jew and Gentile TOGETHER bowing the knee before King Jesus. That’s the GOAL of the plan. V11

(Eph 1:11-12 NIV)  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined ACCORDING TO THE PLAN OF HIM WHO WORKS OUT EVERYTHING IN CONFORMITY WITH THE PURPOSE OF HIS WILL, {12} (what’s his will – his plan?) in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, MIGHT BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

A life of purpose. Bringing glory to God. That’s what you’re here for. That’s where you’re headed. That’s why things happen the way they do – so that YOU CAN CAUSE PEOPLE TO PRAISE GOD’S GLORY.

(pause)

  • That’s why God gives you SUCCESS – so you can direct people to praising God’s glory.The new movie Invictus is about the South African rugby team who won the world cup in SA in 1995. And my lasting memory of that time was at fulltime, And the captain of the victorious Sth African rugby team, Francois Pienaar, calling his team together and they knelt down on the pitch, in front of millions of people. And prayed.

Peter Fitzsimons, the Herald journalist and noted atheist, ridicules this. He says, :Why would God, if he existed, be more interested in Sth Africa winning than any other team? He says the same thing when the Christian golfer Aaron Baddely wins a tournament, and thanks his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Or soccer player Kaka who scores a goal and takes of his shirt to reveal a singlet with Jn 3:16 written on it.

It’s not that success is a reason to thank God. But success gives you the opportunity to shine the spotlight onto HIM, and not YOU. And, I think, sometimes God DOES enable people to win sporting events that don’t really matter, so that the much more IMPORTANT thing can happen. Of glory being given to Jesus.

All things for his Glory.

  • That’s why he brings you SUFFERING AND TRIALS – so that you trusting and patient response can cause people to wonder at the glory of God.
  • That’s why he gives you non-Christians who ask those tricky questions, so that you can be ready to give a reason for your hope, and give glory to God.
  • That’s why they persecute and ridicule you, so that in your gracious response, you can cause them to recognize God’s love and grace in you.

Everything working out in conformity with his will – that we might all be for the praise of his glory.

Sharing the Inheritance (13-14)

(pause) But did you notice the little qualifier there in v12? Up until now there’s been no hint of any distinction between Jew and Gentile. It’s all WE and US. Until NOW.

{12} in order that WE, WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST, might be for the praise of his glory.

Now it’s clear he’s talking about his fellow-Jews. The gospel always went to the JEWS first and then the Gentiles. Romans 1:16.

But does that mean that none of what Paul’s been talking about has related to the Gentiles? Is it all about the JEWS. You can imagine their faces falling. Slumping down in their chairs. “You mean WE/ DON’T have a purpose, or a future, or an inheritance?”

Perhaps the Jewish Christians sit up a bit straighter, with Cheshire Cat grins on their faces.

There’s a big pause at the end of v12.

(Eph 1:12-13 NIV)  we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory…. {13} And YOU ALSO were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

The drama of the argument is that everything that’s available to the Jews is available to the Gentiles. YOU TOO. It’s about SHARING THE INHERITANCE.

Everything Paul’s just mentioned is for the GENTILES TOO, because they’ve been included IN Christ.

Chosen, Predestined, Adopted, Grace, Redemption, Forgiveness. Every blessing is connected with Christ. So the Gentiles get it all TOO.

(pause) And how did the sharing of the inheritance happen? The Gentiles HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL OF SALVATION.

Telling others the gospel is about SHARING OUR INHERITANCE.

And what’s the proof? The same proof God gave in Acts. Peter just shared the gospel with Gentiles for the first time. And God’s Spirit had fallen on them, making them born again. Acts 10.47. Peter reaches the obvious conclusion.

(Acts 10:47-48 NIV)  “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

(Acts 11:17 NIV)  …if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

The Holy Spirit – God’s gift to ALL his people. The seal of his ownership. The affirmation of a deal completed. Nothing to be added. The deposit of full inheritance still coming. See it there halfway through v13 in Eph 1?

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.

The presence of God himself gives the Gentiles confidence that THEY TOO have a share in the inheritance.

An inheritance that only came as those FIRST Jewish Christians SHARED THEIR INHERITANCE by proclaiming the word of truth.

(pause) You’re sitting here today. Only because OTHER CHRISTIANS shared their inheritance with you. It might have been your parents, or a friend, or someone at Uni, or a Sunday School teacher.

You’re one of God’s people, because Jews shared their inheritance with US GENTILES.

And if the JEWS could cross the cultural boundaries with GENTILES. Then WE should be able to cross OUR boundaries TOO.

Cross the boundaries of EDUCATION. Cross the boundaries of UPBRINGING. Of SOCIAL CLASS. Cross the boundaries of AGE. Of Ethical standards.

Or outside Australia. We should be able to cross the boundaries of DISTANCE, and CULTURE, and LANGUAGE.

God has ELECTED people from EVERY TRIBE and NATION AND TONGUE. Their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the creation of the world.

And it’s our job to tell them the word of truth to them. So that having believed, God would give them his Holy Spirit – the seal, the deposit guaranteeing their inheritance.

We Value non-Christians hearing and responding to the gospel. Because we value our inheritance, and we value SHARING it with OTHERS.