Category Archives: Core Values Talks

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.

Core Value 4: We value God’s diverse gifts to his people: Ephesians 4:1-16

The wife of a friend of mine has survived fifty years with about half a working lung. She’s nearly died of infections and suffocation lots of times. For the last few years she’s hardly been able to do anything, and has had to wheel a bottle of oxygen and a face-mask around with her everywhere.

Her condition degenerated so much in the last year / she’s been pushed up the priority list for a heart lung transplant. Without it, her chances of living for long are slim.

It’s a funny thing – transplants. Someone else has to die, before she can live. If it happens, it will be someone else’s lungs inflating and sucking air. Someone else’s heart pumping around her body.

Organ donation. A foreign organism is surgically connected to the rest of the body. And begins to exchange nutrients and wastes. The body helps the organ, the organ helps the body.

And yet for all the GOOD news, there’s a downside. The recipient has to take powerful anti-rejection , which have all sorts of side-effects, for the rest of their life.

Because the reaction of the human body is to REJECT foreign tissue. What’s supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship turns toxic and destructive.

The body develops antibodies, which work to destroy the new organ. They attack it, treat it as an infection. They break it down, until eventually it stops working, and has to be removed.

And so the need for the anti-rejection .

Let me suggest that this situation is a bit like THE CHURCH. We’re a BODY. Made up of many different parts. Parts that are joined together by a number of things. In lots of ways, it’s quite an un connection.

There’s UNITY, but there’s also DIVERSITY.

ONE BODY, many different parts.

One FUTURE, but many different PASTS.

Unity, but not UNIFORMITY.

We’re really a whole group of transplanted organs connected together. A hand from here. A heart from there. A liver from somewhere else.

And we’re expected to grow together, interact, supply, support and protect each other.

But often there’s a toxic, destructive interaction. Organs that REJECT each other.

Rather than working to SUPPORT each other, we undermine, and criticise, and misunderstand, and work against each other.

Rather than BE INVOLVED with each other. We IGNORE, and ASSUME people don’t need our help. We don’t share ourselves.

On Sundays we sit next to STRANGERS. We build WALLS instead of building bridges.

We emphasise DIFFERENCES, instead of focussing on what we have IN COMMON.

But it shouldn’t be like that.

How can we get beyond the FRICTION? Or perhaps worse, beyond the INDIFFERENCE? Not CARING, not connecting? Beyond the DIFFERENCES, and the DIVERSITY?

How can we get the PARTS working TOGETHER? For the good of all? WHAT IS JESUS’ ANTI-REJECTION FOR HIS BODY, THE CHURCH?

It’s these VERY QUESTIONS our passage this morning is answering.

1. A worthy life (Ch 4-6)

As Paul often does in his letters, in Ephesians he spends the first part of his letter giving TEACHING, or THEOLOGY. “Here’s a description of WHO YOU ARE IN Christ. Here’s what God has Done for You.”

And then in the second part of his letters, he outlines HOW THEY SHOULD LIVE IN RESPONSE TO THAT. The practical section.

And he does the same thing here in Ephesians. He’s spent three chapters describing what the Ephesian’s CALLING is. What God has done. How he’s CHOSEN them, PREDESTINED them, forgiven them, adopted them. Joined them together as one people  – both Jew and Gentile.

And he finishes with an inspiring response to all that God’s done. See it there at the end of Ch 3?

20 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.

That’s Ch 1-3. Now, here in Ch 4, it’s the turning point. The hinge the book swings on. Because of all God’s done. Here’s how we respond. Since God wants all glory to go to him through the church, here’s how that’s going to happen in the church. He says

(Eph 4:1 NIV)  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE CALLING YOU HAVE RECEIVED.

This is your calling (ch 1-3). Now LIVE UP TO IT (ch 4-6).

And that’s what the next three chapters are about. How to live up to the calling.

And this section in particular, is about how to live with EACH OTHER in the church.

Living up to your calling. It’s something Mary Donaldson from Hobart is learning all about. Mary Donaldson, or OUR MARY, as the glossy magazines like to refer to her.

You know Mary? She married Danish Crown Prince Frederik on May 14, 2004.

And from the moment her engagement was announced – and probably even before – she’s been learning how to LIVE UP TO HER CALLING.

She’s had to learn Danish – an incredibly difficult language. She’s had to master Danish history and royal etiquette. There were the deportment lessons, and the diet to make sure she fitted her wedding dress.

There were rigorous background checks by the royal minders – to make sure she didn’t have any skeletons in her closet. The scrutiny’s been intense. And now she’s even produced heirs to the throne.

It seems like our Mary is passing with flying colours. Living up to her calling.

And if takes effort for MARY, how much more important is it FOR US? We’ve got a calling that’s much more important, and longer-lasting. We’ve been called by God. For an eternity with him. To be his children and his ambassadors. To give all glory to him in the church.

Live up to your calling. It’s an incredible privilege – make the most of it.

For Paul, a life worthy of his calling has meant JAIL. The consequence of obedience to his Lord. And so he says

(Eph 4:1 NIV)  As A PRISONER FOR THE LORD, then, I urge YOU to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

That’s PAUL’S calling. So what does a worthy life look like in practice for the REST of us? What are the nuts and bolts? For the Ephesians, and for US?

2. Keep the unity (1-6)

For Paul, it begins with the way you treat EACH OTHER. Keep the unity. V3.

(Eph 4:3 NIV)  Make every effort to KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT through the bond of peace.

All Christians are UNITED to each other because they all have God’s Spirit. Whatever our denomination, theology, language, age, upbringing, social status, culture. We are UNITED to each other because God lives in each one of us.

That seems like an obvious thing to say. But it often looks like the complete opposite of reality. Christians seem to CRITICISE, and DISAGREE with each other more than they do with non-Christians.

We disagree about WORSHIP, or GIFTS, or Christian EDUCATION, or BAPTISM, or women’s ministry.

And the media and the watching public, LOVE it when we do that.

Instead, Jesus says,

(John 13:34-35 NIV)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. {35} By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

That’s the message we SHOULD be sending the world.

We’re to keep the unity of the Spirit.

And down in v4, Paul outlines the other ways in which we’re united.

(Eph 4:4-6 NIV)  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.

All the things believers share in common. A shared hope – forgiveness, assurance, eternity with Christ, new bodies. We all long for the same FUTURE.

We serve one LORD. We are all saved through ONE FAITH – faith in the work of Jesus for us on the cross.

We share one BAPTISM – a sign of our washing from sin, and being born again.

And finally we worship ONE GOD. Who is our FATHER. Who’s OVER all – he MADE it, and RULES it.

And he’s THROUGH all and IN all – living by his Spirit.

They’re the ways in which we are UNITED.

And they’re ties that are much stronger than the things which might SEPARATE us. Perhaps we like different music. Or have been Christians for different lengths of time. Or have different politics. Or personalities. Or hair styles. Or fashion.

How insignificant is all of that/ compared to the BONDS which UNITE us.

Notice from v3. how it’s a unity which already EXISTS. Paul says we are to KEEP the unity of the Spirit. Our job is to work hard to MAINTAIN it.

Don’t let things get in the way of the unity. Don’t let walls be built up. Don’t let bridges be knocked down. KEEP the unity of the Spirit.

And how can we do that? Paul says through the BOND of peace. Working at being PEACEABLE with each other. Don’t pick fights. Don’t look for DIFFERENCES. Work to MINIMISE differences. To maximise AGREEMENTS.

V2 Gives us some MORE hints.

(Eph 4:2 NIV)  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Be HUMBLE. Assume the OTHER person is valuable, and important, and has something to offer. Don’t assume that YOU’RE always right. That’s humility.

And even if you ARE right. BE GENTLE about it. Don’t force your opinion, or plan, onto others. Be GENTLE. Be TOLERANT.

And be PATIENT. Some people take longer to come round to a position than you, so be patient with them. Give them time to get used to an idea.

And while you’re waiting, BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE. Forgive. Then forgive again. And again. Don’t hold a grudge.

And don’t assume the worst. Don’t demonise the other person. Assume that because they’ve done a certain thing, or said a certain thing, that they MEAN SOMETHING TERRIBLE by it. Assume the BEST of a person.

And down in v15 it says speak the truth IN LOVE. There’s a nice BALANCE in that, isn’t there? It doesn’t say JUST GIVE IN. You’re to speak TRUTH when someone’s wrong, but do it LOVINGLY. With consideration, and gentleness, respecting their right to hold their opinion, even if you don’t agree with it.

These are all PRACTICAL ways to KEEP the unity of the Spirit.

3. Diversity whose aim is unity (7-16)

But that’s not the only characteristic of God’s people. Not only is there to be UNITY. But DIVERSITY as well. And that’s what the next section emphasises. Look at v7.

(Eph 4:7 NIV)  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

The previous paragraph has been all about ONE. One Lord, one faith, one Spirit , One baptism, one God. And so on.

And in v7, it’s ONE again. Just EACH one. Individuals, rather than a group.

And it’s individuals who are DIFFERENT. Each one has been given grace as Christ apportioned it. Some have been given ONE thing, others ANOTHER. Different distributions.

The picture is of a victorious king returning from battle. And as he rides through the city streets in triumph, he distributes the spoils of war to his people. Throwing jewellery to the crowds by the handful. Rich ornaments. Wads of cash. His citizens BENEFIT from his victory.

And his spoils are mentioned down in v11.

(Eph 4:11 NIV)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

In other places Paul mentions a whole range of gifts, but here he just mentions WORD-based gifts. Those to do with TEACHING, or PROCLAIMING, or SHARING the truth about God with others.

Apostles are those sent out by Jesus, witnesses of his resurrection. The first to share the gospel, and then to teach new Christians.

Prophets receive WORDS from God, and share it with those around them. Evangelists share the gospel with people – WORDS AGAIN.

And then there’s PASTOR/ TEACHERS. Paul’s probably thinking of the same job description here. Leaders of a group of God’s people who pastor by teaching, and who teach by pastoring.

And what’s the POINT of all these WORDS? What’s the goal? V12.

(Eph 4:12-13 NIV)  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 , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s a two-step process. The teachers and pastors declare God’s Words – one, so that God’s people might be PREPARED for works of service. Equipping the saints. Providing the tools for Christians to serve other Christians. The reasons, the motives, the strategies, the goals, the attitudes, the training, the background, the worldview, the perspective. Every tool that Christians need to serve.

And the second step is the goal of THE WORKS OF SERVICE THEMSELVES. That’s a job for EVERY ONE OF US. It’s about BODY- BUILDING. “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 , attaining to the whole measure of the FULLNESS OF CHRIST.

The various works of service we all do for each other should all have the GOAL of BUILDING-UP. Which is more than just flattering, or making someone feel nice. Christian body-building is about MATURITY. Well-rounded, Christ-likeness. Knowing who you are and where you’re headed. Living like Jesus. Thinking like Jesus. Responding to situations like Jesus.

The whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

And so whatever work of service you’re involved in – make sure it’s goal is to make your fellow-Christians MATURE. Talking to people after church. Phoning people who’ve been missing for a while. Helping set-up the chairs. Helping pack them away. Meeting to PRAY with someone.

Modelling how a Christian lives to one of the young people. Take an interest in another ministry – like FUSION, or COBIS. Adopt a missionary to write to, or present their needs before us.

Help with Christmas carols, or movie nights. Set-up lights. Letterbox leaflets. Photocopy programs. Teach Scripture. Start up the homework club here at school I’ve been talking about for a few years.

All sorts of DIVERSE works of service. All for the purpose of BUILDING UP to MATURITY.

And when individuals are all doing that – each using their DIFFERENT gifts to build others up, moving them on in maturity. See what the result is? UNITY.

True Christian diversity doesn’t lead to ORGAN REJECTION – the different body part being attacked and cut off. It leads to the OPPOSITE. UNITY.

The PURPOSE of our diversity is that we become MORE UNITED. MORE TOGETHER in our likeness to Jesus. More unified in our service of him as our King.

The key to DIVERSITY WITHIN UNITY/ is that our DIFFERENCES should always be aiming to build-up others – to them.

And the result of that is that our UNITY will grow. As we ALL grow in Christ-likeness.

It’s beautifully put down in v16.

(Eph 4:16 NIV)  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.

The supporting ligaments of our one Spirit, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father.

The supporting ligaments of our humility and gentleness, our patience and love for each other.

As each part does its work – each work different and diverse. But each work done with the genuine desire to see others GROW MATURE.

That’s the picture of BODY BUILDING. Of a coordinated, united, self-supporting, body. Growing into Christ, growing in unity.

It’s a WONDERFUL picture. And it’s why, at Western Blacktown, we VALUE God’s diverse gifts to his people.

Core Value 5: We Value God’s People Growing More Like Jesus: Ephesians 4:17-31

The big news in some circles is that Mary Mackillop has been approved, and will become Australia’s first SAINT in a canonization ceremony in Rome in October this year. She’d already been beatified in 1995. But this is a SECOND step.

Beatification is, and I quote,

The public declaration that a person has lived a heroically holy life, is with God, has the power of intercession with God for us and is a for the faithful

But canonization ramps up the tests. It’s been an exhaustive process, with historians poring over every aspect of her life looking for evidence of sainthood. Double checking there were no scandals hidden, reading diaries, talking to those who knew about her work. Including evidence of two miracles brought about by the power of her prayer. Which apparently they’ve found.

How would YOU go if you life was placed under that sort of spotlight? People all over the world checking your life. Not just looking back over your diaries, and records, but following you around. Watching the hidden camera of your life.

Now maybe you’re sitting here this morning slightly relieved YOUR behaviour as a Christian over the last week hasn’t been watched by the world.

Maybe you’re thinking, boy, if the cameras had caught me on Thursday morning with what I said to the kids, or if they’d been in the back seat and saw how close I got to road rage on Tuesday when that guy cut me off, if the microphone had caught my words the other day on the soccer field… it wouldn’t be so pretty either.

(pause) But are you happy to leave it that way? To say, well, I know God’s got plenty of forgiveness. So I’ll just sin a little more. Shrug your shoulders, and not worry about it?

Sometimes as evangelicals, we emphasise God’s GRACE so much, we forget we’re called to be a HOLY PEOPLE.

God’s forgiveness is a wonderful thing. The greatest thing in the world. But BECAUSE it’s so good, it’s not something we treat LIGHTLY. CHEAPLY.

God’s forgiveness isn’t A LICENSE TO SIN, but an invitation to a wedding. A wedding we’re expected to DRESS UP FOR.

1. Dressing for the Occasion

If you sometimes catch yourself thinking like that – that sin doesn’t really matter, because Jesus has already dealt with it – Then Paul wants you to know you’ve made a TERRIBLY EMBARRASSING MISTAKE. Like that popular recurring nightmare people have – that you turn up to school and you find you’re still in your pyjamas.

You’ve been caught out, not DRESSING FOR THE OCCASION.

You’ve been invited to join God’s holy people. So how about dressing for the occasion?

Luke Tattersall tells the story of turning up to meet friends at THE RITZ in London. Dressed in jeans and running shoes. Looking forward to high tea with some good friends.

He was very politely escorted to the door. See, you’re going to the Ritz because you want to go somewhere with style. And well dressed people. So you’ve got to dress appropriately. Some things just aren’t proper. The doorman said, proper trousers, proper shoes. And a tie.

You’re joining THE PEOPLE OF GOD. So dress for the occasion. That’s what PAUL says. Take off all this stuff that’s so typical of the world. Forget the fact that everybody’s doing it. Because the stuff the world’s doing just isn’t proper for the saints of God.

There’s some UNLEARNING to do. Some attitudes to re-think. Some old habits that die hard. But that need to be challenged. Some bad dress sense that needs to be cleared up.

And maybe if YOU’VE become a Christian, it’s like that for you. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a while. You’ve slipped backwards. Taken on the world’s values and the world’s attitudes. Started thinking and talking and behaving in ways you USED TO. In ways your NEIGHBOURS do.

You’ve slipped that comfortable old dressing-gown back on. It doesn’t suit you, and it’s full of holes, but it’s so COMFORTABLE.

That’s what it’s like when we go back to doing the things we USED to do as non-Christians.

If that’s YOU, then you need to be confronted with the fact that being Christian is about being different.

And so Paul says in Ephesians 4:17, “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”. You need to change.

He says “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.

Their hearts are hard to God. They’re separate from the life God gives. And the lights are off. In the understanding department.

God’s got one plan for life. Lived with him as the centre – the goal, the direction, the partner, the king.

2. Futility

And for non-Christians, God’s not even on the horizon. Living without any thought to why you were made in the first palce. That’s FUTILITY.

And just take a closer look at where that sort of thinking LEADS. Verse 19. Having lost all sensitivity, they’ve given themselves over to so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

More . More alcohol. More money. More luxury. More parties. More . All trying to REPLACE God. Substitute with STUFF what God designed to be satisfied ONLY in a friendship with him. It’s FUTILITY.

And that’s the conclusion King Solomon came to. In Ecclesiastes 2 he describes the results of his life-long scientific experiment – to see whether life under the sun was worth living.

Here was his experiment. up the level of pleasure, and see what happens. Here’s what he says.

(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.

Meaningless. Futility.

One of my favourite Far Side cartoons shows a wonderful definition of FUTILITY. (show overhead)

Trying to push through the door to happiness and satisfaction and purpose and fullness. Which is what God’s designed life to BE. But pushing the door THE WRONG WAY. FUTILITY.

And Paul’s saying, “That’s what you USED to be doing. But NOW you’ve seen the big picture – the “pull” sign. And you’re entering into the door – the RIGHT WAY.

It’s the right DOOR. Happiness and fulfillment and purpose. Just, you USED TO be trying to get in the wrong way. USED to think it was about heading towards your OWN glory. But NOW you realise it’s all about heading towards GOD’S glory.

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 a quick temper. 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 re 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. Ask him to give you a LONGING for HIS things. For patience and humility and love and peace and kindness and purity. And longing for HIM.

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)

(pause) 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.

As men, working hard at building people up doesn’t come ly. At men’s convention, we were challenged about how hard we work at complimenting our WIVES. And how easily we take them for granted. The passage we were looking at was a chapter of Song of Solomon where the guy fills verse after verse with wonderful imaginative, descriptive compliments for his beloved. (Not that I’m suggesting we complement someone because they have a nose like the tower of Lebanon, or hair like sheep coming down Mt Gilead).

Be thoughtful and considerate in using words. A complement is no harder to say PHYSICALLY than a criticism. The WORDS are just as easy to PRONOUNCE. But you’d think it was like speaking SWAHILI the difficulty most of us had in offering compliments and encouragements!

(pause) 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. It’s SO last season.

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.

I mean, you’re not a contender for SAINTHOOD. Like Mary Mackillop. But 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 do we make it part of our culture? Is the character of this group SIGNIFICANTLY different from the Rotary Group, or the Soccer Club, or the Dog –trainers Club?

Do we STAND OUT?

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.

Church shouldn’t BE like that. Someone was telling me not so long ago about the day they first visited Western Blacktown. During the break, his 7 yr old son came up to him with eyes like saucers, holding a handful of $20 notes. “Dad I found a letter box over there FULL OF MONEY. I really LIKE this church.”

When Dad explained that the letter box was about GIVING money, not TAKING it, the boy was disappointed. But he eventually got over it.

That was just kids. But imagine if people were KNOWLINGLY doing that. Church SHOULDN’T be a place where you worry about your purse, or what happens with your collection money. We need to be DIFFERENT. Not futile in our thinking. Putting off the old. Putting on the new. Created to BE LIKE GOD.

It’s a difference that’s got to 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. That’s VALUING God’s forgiveness. And it’s why, At WBPC, we VALUE God’s people growing more like Jesus.

Core Value 6: We value God’s people encouraging and loving each other: Ephesians 2:11-22; 5:1-20

Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? Is it possible to be a “Robinson Crusoe-Christian”?

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

Today’s paper has an article about politicians. And a number of them, like treasurer Wayne Swan, call themselves something like “non-church attending Christians”.

There’s a facebook group I noticed that I’m NOT encouraging any of you facebook addicts to join. It’s called “So you don’t go to church anymore”. It’s got 425 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.” Some of us don’t call ourselves anything at all. Often, we tend to think of ourselves as alone, having fled settings in which we no longer feel comfortable, in favor 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, 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 get-togethers.

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

It’s an attitude that’s the OPPOSITE of Robert and Maureen. I was talking to them earlier in the week about their week away at Nowra with Robert’s sister. I asked if they’d ever thought about retiring in some holiday destination and leaving Rooty Hill. They said, “Why would we do that? It’d mean leaving CHURCH!”

That’s taking God’s people SERIOUSLY.

1. What’s God’s design?

And it’s the same when you come to Paul and the 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.

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.

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 of Christ.

They used to be God’s ENEMIES – DISTANT from God – but now, through Jesus’ , 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 their hostility.

The image Paul has in mind is THE JERUSALEM TEMPLE. And separating the court of the Gentiles from the REST of the temple/ is 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 .”

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 , he SATISFIED the demands of the law. 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 which separated Jew and Gentile. Because BOTH were made clean, and righteous.

He’s MADE THE TWO/ ONE.

That’s, historically, what Jesus has done. And that’s who God’s people are. ONE HUMANITY. 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.

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. 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?

Is there something you need to FIX, so church works the way it should. As a family. With you fitting into it like family.

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.

But more than just being JOINED together. It’s a building that’s GROWING together.

It’s the federally funded building program. But it’s Jesus who’s the HEAD – who’s funding it, and he’s responsible for building us as a GROWING BUILDING.

The idea of GROWING is right there in our MOTTO. Who can tell me our church motto? (growing followers of Jesus).

Who are we? We’re GROWING followers of Jesus. What are we DOING? We’re GROWING people to be followers of Jesus.

(PAUSE) What’s the priority? 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.

THESE ARE THE PRIORITIES OF SOMEONE WHOSE PART OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

Do you see why it’s such a foreign concept to even be THINKING about the question Can you be a Christian, and not be part of a church? Is it possible to be a “Robinson Crusoe-Christian”?

Because it’s getting the priorities all wrong. It’s the CITIZEN who serves the COUNTRY. Not the other way around.

It’s the member who serves the household, not the other way around.

And it’s the bricks in the building who serve the building. Not the other way around.

It’s the WHOLE BUILDING that grows TOGETHER.

And even when v22 talks about individuals growing. He says they’re growing TOGETHER. Growth occurs in community. In the context of RELATIONSHIPS. At its BEST relationships where we encourage and spur one another on to maturity.

But it can also be growth that’s caused by friction and frustration. As we work with difficult people, God uses it to GROW us.

One of my friends used to jokingly say that 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!

God designed growth to happen IN COMMUNITY. The Christian life is about serving the interests of the GROUP – the nation, the household, the building, the temple.

(PAUSE) 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 imitate the one through whom the whole structure GROWS.

Children COPY their parents. And that’s what GOD’S children are called to do. Imitate God, as dearly-loved children.

It’s Part of the FAMILY RESEMBLANCE. Part of their GROUP IDENTITY.

LIVING A LIFE OF LOVE is the way that the interests of THE PEOPLE OF GOD are served.

Paul goes on to put hands and feet on that command. What it looks like in practice.

V3. things that shouldn’t even be MENTIONED among God’s people. ual immorality. In fact, ANY kind of impurity. Or GREED.

Why, because they’re not PROPER – not acceptable – not CORRECTLY REPRESENTING God’s HOLY people.

Down in v5, it says that things such as this 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.

(pause) 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. Because it produces dirty MINDS. And dirty minds result in more filth coming out of your mouth.

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 UAL IMMORALITY.

Because 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. You used to be NO-ONE, but now you’re SOMEONE. Part of a PEOPLE. So don’t BE like them anymore. Like you USED TO. V7. Don’t be PARTNERS with them.

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.

That’s what it means to be PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT.

(pause) 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.

(pause) 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.

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 God’s people 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 .

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”

Core Value 7: We value prayer, because it’s effective, personal communication with our heavenly Father

Last week we talked about the question of whether you could be a Christian and not go to church. Whether you could be a “Robinson Crusoe” Christian.

Well, one Sunday morning, one of those Robinson Crusoe Christians was on holidays, swimming in a waterhole in Far North QLD.

He paddled out into the middle of the pool, and was floating on his back, just enjoying the sun on a beautiful Sunday morning. When he saw a huge crocodile slide down the bank, and slip into the water, heading straight towards him.

The man started swimming as fast as he could towards the far bank. But the crocodile was quickly gaining.

He got more and more desperate as he heard the splashing of the croc get closer and closer.

Finally, he was SO frantic, he cried out in prayer, “Lord, I’m sorry for what I have done.  Please forgive me and save me!  Lord, PLEASE MAKE THAT CROCODILE A CHRISTIAN.”

(pause) Suddenly the noise of the advancing croc stopped. The man turned around slowly. As he did, he saw the croc stop in the water, fall to its knees, clasp its front feet together and say, “God, bless this food which I’m about to eat.”

Two very different kinds of prayers. The passage we just read says that we’re to pray ON ALL OCCASIONS with ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS.

Sometimes we pray like the MAN – desperate, urgent, and rushed – WANTING something. And other times, it’s more like the crocodile – thankful, and grateful for God’s blessings.

(pause) Prayer. It’s something some of us do WELL. And others NOT so well. But however well we pray, I’ve never meet anyone for whom prayer came EASILY. It’s a STRUGGLE. A struggle I’m sure we’ll feel for our whole lives.

But whatever we’re like at praying. No-one would argue that prayer is something that’s VERY IMPORTANT. Crucial.

A matter of life and – at least it was for the guy being chased by the crocodile.

Prayer is SO important, it’s one of our seven Core Values. We VALUE prayer, because it’s EFFECTIVE/ PERSONAL COMMUNICATION / WITH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER.

And when we turn to Ephesians, there’s no doubt that prayer was VITALLY important for the Apostle Paul. It played a crucial part in his ministry. In Ch 1 v15, he says

(Eph 1:15-16 NIV)  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, {16} I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

He GAVE THANKS for the Ephesians. Like the crocodile. Well not REALLY like the crocodile – he wasn’t giving thanks before he ATE THEM.

And a bit further on in Ch 3 v14, we read

(Eph 3:14-18 NIV)  For this reason I kneel before the Father, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. {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. 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,

So, he’s PRAYING SPECIFIC THINGS for the Ephesians to develop. Attitudes to work on, experiences and understanding. A bit like the man praying for the crocodile.

All kinds of prayers. But not just from PAUL, he encouraged HIS READERS to so the same. Flip over to Ch 6 , and v18. He commands them

(Eph 6:18 NIV)  …pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at the specifics of what Paul had to say on prayer in these few verses.

In his “Just So Stories” Rudyard Kipling said “Six faithful men taught me everything I knew, WHAT, WHEN, AND WHERE; WHY, AND HOW AND WHO.”

And so we’ll look at PRAYER using those same six faithful men.

1. Who

Firstly. Who. Who is prayer addressed to? It might seem like an obvious question. But too often, we pray without thinking about WHO we’re praying to.

We begin with the same words we always use. Perhaps it’s “Dear God”. Or “Our heavenly Father”, and then it’s straight into our prayer. And for the next 2 or 3 or 10 or 30 minutes our minds are full, not of the God we’re addressing, but the list of things we need to get through.

Our focus is on EARTH, rather than HEAVEN.

God of our Lord Jesus Christ

But who does PAUL pray to? Look back in Ch 1 v17.

(Eph 1:17 NIV)  I keep asking that the GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

This isn’t just GOD. This is God WHO SENT OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. That makes a HUGE difference when it comes to prayer. God isn’t isolated and distant and uninterested. He’s INVOLVED in his creation. He wants to RESCUE his creatures. To REDEEM them.

Jesus is God’s declaration of IMMANENCE. Of being close and active and involved.

And if he went to lengths like SENDING HIS ONLY SON to RESCUE US. HOW MUCH MORE will he be listening when we pray?

THAT’S the God we pray to.

What difference does Jesus make to our attitude to prayer? He makes us CONFIDENT to pray. Because of the work of Jesus, we have great ASSURANCE that our prayers make it to God. He is our ADVOCATE- our REPRESENTATIVE before God the Father. Rom 8:34 says

(Rom 8:34 NIV)  Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also INTERCEDING FOR US.

And in Hebrews 10, it explains this attitude to prayer further.

(Heb 10:19-22 NIV)  Therefore, brothers, SINCE WE HAVE CONFIDENCE TO ENTER THE MOST HOLY PLACE BY THE OF JESUS, {20} by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, {21} and since we have a great priest over the house of God, {22} LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD WITH A SINCERE HEART IN FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

He’s the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, so let’s pray with CONFIDENCE.

Father

Over in Paul’s prayer in Ch 3, we see him refer to God by ANOTHER name. Look at it there in v14.

(Eph 3:14-15 NIV)  For this reason I kneel before THE FATHER, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We pray to our HEAVENLY FATHER. What’s the difference between asking your FATHER for something. And asking ANOTHER PERSON? Your father is COMMITTED to your well-being. To providing for you. And PROTECTING you.

Jesus described the confidence that comes when we ask our heavenly FATHER. Mt 7 v9.

(Mat 7:9-11 NIV)  “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? {11} If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, HOW MUCH MORE will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

And we ARE his children. Did you catch the second part of that verse in Ephesians 3?

the Father, {15} from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We BEAR THE NAME of God. But rather than Thompson, or Peterson, we’re GOD-SONS. The whole family, across the whole world. In every age.

GOD-SONS. And so we can pray with Confidence.

WHO do you pray to? The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Heavenly Father.

What’s in a Name?

You should have all received a handout with your news-sheet. It’s the Appendix from a book called, “Praying With Your Eyes Open”. It’s by an American Presbyterian, called Richard Pratt.

(I found it very helpful. I’m happy to loan it to anyone who asks.)

But the bit in particular that I thought you’d find useful is the list of NAMES the Bible uses for God. Have a quick scan over them. Did you know there were that many? I didn’t.

His point is that the NAMES we use to ADDRESS God will influence THE ATTITUDE we have to prayer. It will keep our mind focussed on WHO we’re talking to.

The second part of the handout describes the QUALITIES, or ATTRIBUTES of God. What he’s LIKE. And that’s another point the book makes.

As we REMIND ourselves of what God is like. As we praise him for his COMPASSION, or his JUSTICE, or his LOVE, or FORGIVENESS, or MERCY. We find that WE are changed. And our prayers become more REAL, have GREATER DEPTH, are more vibrant, and personal.

So, TAKE and USE. Stick it in the back of your Bible. Pull it out. Use it when you pray.

Where

Well, that’s the WHO of prayer. What about the WHERE?

The context of these verses in Ch 6 is a description of OUR SPIRITUAL ARMOUR. And why is it necessary to put on SPIRITUAL armour? Because the world is A SPIRITUAL PLACE. Look at what it says from v11.

(Eph 6:11-12 NIV)  Put on the full armour 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.

That’s the “WHERE” of prayer. Prayer occurs within THE REALM OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE.

If you think this world we see/ is all there is, then prayer is AN IRRELEVANCY. A WASTE OF TIME. Nothing more than wishful thinking, or thinking good thoughts. Meditation, or a source of positive energy.

But if there really IS a spiritual battle going on. And God REALLY IS in control. And Satan and his forces REALLY DO long to see the gospel silenced/ then PRAYER IS A VALUABLE TOOL.

We’re AT THE CENTRE of GOD’S PLANS when we’re praying. There is NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT.

(pause) Then why do we do so LITTLE of it? Why are prayer meetings so poorly attended? Why do we spend so little time in PERSONAL PRAYER? And give it such a low priority?

We need to see the world the way GOD sees it. As a place where SPIRITUAL BATTLES are going on. Every conversation is a skirmish. Every Scripture lesson, every Bible study, every family devotion / a training mission for a military offensive.

And when we think LIKE THAT/ it should transform the way we approach prayer.

(That’s the WHERE of prayer. Next, the “What”.)

What

WHAT are we to pray? Back to v18 of Ch 6.

(Eph 6:18 NIV)  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS.

There’s a wide variety of ways to pray. We can WORSHIP God – tell him how great he is – declare back to him the things we love about him.

We can THANK him for his blessings. For his MERCIES. For his GRACES. We can thank him for PERSONAL things, or things he’s done for our FAMILY, or CHURCH, or NATION, or WORLD.

We can CONFESS OUR SIN. It helps to be specific. To think back over the day, or week, and recall particular times when you’ve sinned. Attitudes, or words, or behaviours. Or even times when you’ve FAILED to do the RIGHT THING.

It’s good to be specific, not because GOD NEEDS IT to forgive you. There’s none of the rubbish that you have to NAME THE SIN before it can be forgiven. Just that it’s good for YOU to recognise sin. Otherwise you can’t start doing something about it.

That’s one reason I value those people who lead us in prayer who take the time to BE SPECIFIC when they pray for forgiveness. They help me to recognise things about myself which needs repentance.

And then there’s the things we ASK God for. We can ask for things FOR OURSELF. And we can ask for things FOR OTHERS.

To make sure we pray IN A BALANCED WAY, people have come up with various ACRONYMS.

One is A.C.T.S. Which stands for Adoration, or worship. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication – that’s ASKING for things.

Another one is J.O.Y. Which stands for Jesus, others, yourself.

Both are good ways to make sure out praying isn’t selfish and unbalanced.

But it’s not just THE WORDS we pray. There are all kinds of WAYS to pray too.

We can pray by ourselves, or in a group. We can pray in bed. We can pray kneeling, or standing, or sitting.

We can pray over breakfast. We can pray INSTEAD of breakfast.

We can pray on the train or bus, walking the streets, or even riding a bike. (Sounds like a Dr Seuss book!)

If you struggle praying the way you always pray. Why not try some of these DIFFERENT ways? It doesn’t matter to God. If you pray MORE, and with a BETTER ATTITUDE doing something else/ that’s what He cares about.

And use the PSALMS as your guide. PRAY the Psalms. There’s such a variety there/ it’s a great guide book to help you.

And one of the things the Psalms do/ is give us permission to express NEGATIVE emotions to God. Sadness and bitterness and frustration and hopelessness. God KNOWS our hearts ANYWAY. And he WANTS us to hand it all over to him.

So don’t think you have to be in the right frame of mind to pray.

And if you’re looking for some variety, try praying through AN OLD HYMN BOOK. You can often picks them up in second hand book shops.

And many of the old hymns are PRAYERS. And they often express spiritual truths BEAUTIFULLY. It can be very REFRESHING.

When

That’s the WHAT. And closely connected to that is the WHEN. If we’re to pray in a variety of WAYS. Then it makes sense that we aren’t restricted in WHEN we pray. Verse 18 says to pray ON ALL OCCASIONS.

Formal or Informal. Public or Private. By yourself, or in a group. Celebrations, or times of sorrow. Include God in them all. He’s there anyway. So acknowledge him. Give him the place he deserves. On ALL OCCASIONS.

Are you a “restaurant grace” person? Someone I know used to joke, “Who’s turn is it to scratch their nose, and mumble?”

God is Lord of restaurant food just as much as food you eat at home. So pray ON ALL OCCASIONS.

How

Fifthly, HOW are we to pray? Paul gives us a of hints. V18. Be ALERT, and KEEP ON praying. Be WATCHFUL, and STICK AT IT.

Look for things to pray ABOUT. KEEP those prayer guides. Take NOTES. ASK people what you can pray for them. And DO IT. Don’t just SAY you will.

And look for ANSWERS to prayer. Be WATCHFUL for THOSE TOO. What better way to be encouraged to pray than to look back over answered prayer. To see how faithful God HAS been, so that you can pray confidently that God WILL be faithful.

And STICK AT IT. Don’t grow tired. Persevere. To KEEP PRAYING FOR YEARS is a sign of trust in God’s providence and sovereignty. HE’s in control, and will bring about his purposes in his time. So stick at it. That’s HOW we should pray.

Why?

Finally we come to “Why”. Why pray?

The simple answer is because God TELLS US TO. But from this passage, we’re called to pray FOR THE BENEFIT OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

In v18, Paul says to pray for ALL THE SAINTS. Notice how it’s not just the LEADERS, or the MISSIONARIES, or the SICK. But ALL the Saints.

And you can see the sorts of things they need in the verses above. Pray that they might put on the armour of God. And what’s the PURPOSE of the armour? V13

(Eph 6:13-14 NIV)  Therefore put on the full armour 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,

There is nothing more important we can pray for each other/ than that we might STAND FIRM. Stick it out. PERSEVERE.

Ultimately, nothing else matters. Sickness, poverty, depression, unemployment, divorce, EVEN .

All sorts of things that we DO pray about for other people. But nothing is WORSE than them NOT STANDING FIRM. Than giving up following Jesus. That’s something with ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.

So pray, above all else, that the saints might STAND FIRM.

Do we really KNOW that? How is the importance of that/ seen in the way we KEEP WATCH for each other? ESPECIALLY people who are on the fringes of church. Who haven’t been here for a while.

I can think quite a few people who have been a part of us who haven’t been here for MONTHS. How many can YOU think of? Does it BOTHER you? What can you DO about it? Are you PRAYING for them?

(pause) But as well as praying FOR EACH OTHER. Paul wanted the Ephesians to pray FOR HIM. Look at what he says in v19.

(Eph 6:19 NIV)  Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,

For Paul that’s the urgent need. He’s writing from prison. Chained for proclaiming the gospel. Yet, he doesn’t ask that he’ll be DELIVERED. Which matters LITTLE.

But rather, he prays that IN SPITE of the chains, he might FEARLESSLY continue to proclaim the message he’d been given. His life is nothing – the gospel is everything.

What a wonderful vision of the spiritual re of the world we live in. The battle we’re part of. And the reason prayer is so important.

We value prayer, because it’s effective, personal communication with our heavenly Father.

Let me finish with the words of a great old hymn.

(513) What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

~Written by Joseph Medlicott Scriven, 1855~