DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: Ephesians

The Training and Instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4)

In September of 2006 George Barna released a sobering study. Following interviews with more than 22,000 adults and 2,000 teenagers from across America, he revealed that the majority of twentysomethings who are raised as Christians subsequently abandon the faith. He found that:

...most twentysomethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years—and often beyond that. In total, six out of ten twentysomethings were involved in a church during their teen years, but have failed to translate that into active spirituality during their early adulthood.

Another survey by LifeWay found that “Seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.” Still another study (from Church Communication Networks) said that up to 94 percent of Christian teens leave the church within a few years of leaving high school.

This is alarming! Writing on these studies, local pastor and blogger Tim Challies says, “Each of these studies appears to show that Christians are doing a very poor job of reaching the children in their midst.” The most important thing we can do for our kids is to introduce them to Jesus Christ, and to his transforming power. It’s vastly more important than anything else we can do as parents. But the statistics say we’re doing a bad job of this.

So this morning I want to look at a familiar passage of Scripture. My intent this morning is not to tell you anything you don’t already know. I want to remind you of some things. More important than that, I want to encourage you who are parents to make this a priority in our lives.

So let’s read the passage, and then let me make some applications. The passage is Ephesians 6:1-4. Paul has been applying the amazing truths of what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ to families. The gospel, he says, changes our marriages and our families. And in chapter 6 he turns our attention to parenting. He says:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Three things this morning. First, an assumption. Second, a transformation. Third, an obligation.

An Assumption

It’s important to begin with an understanding of what Paul is assuming in this passage. Paul does not begin with practical parenting advice. We’re jumping in at the end of the book. Paul is now applying what he has said earlier about the gospel. He’s spent most of the book explaining what God is up to in this world. He’s explained God’s eternal plan to choose and adopt us, to exalt Jesus Christ, to take spiritually dead people and make them alive, to reconcile Jews and Greeks to become one people. You cannot apply chapters 4-6 of Ephesians until you understand chapters 1-3 of Ephesians. All that Paul is doing in this passage is unpacking what he’s said earlier about the gospel.

So here’s the assumption: before you can apply what he’s about to say about parenting, the assumption is that you have been changed by the gospel. In other words, you can’t pass on what you don’t have. Tim Challies, again, touches on this in his comments about the sobering statistics I just read to you:

Looking at the evangelical landscape in the United States (where these studies were performed) and in Canada, I see that the majority of children, and probably the vast majority of children, are raised in churches where what they hear is a false gospel or a gospel that has been emptied of all that makes it the power of God for salvation. We should not be at all surprised that children abandon this kind of a counterfeit gospel as soon as they are able to. I would do the same.

Shortly after my son was born a friend gave me this little bit of wisdom: “Kids are amazing bull–- detectors.” A bit crude, but the point was well-taken. Through 11 years and 3 children I’ve seen that this is exactly the case, though I do not express it in quite the same way. Children are amazing at unmasking hypocrisy; they are not easily fooled. You may fool them for a moment, but not for a lifetime. They will believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy and Jesus when they are young. Sooner or later, though, they need evidence that these characters truly exist.

This is so true. One of the reasons, humanly speaking I became convinced of the truth of the gospel is because I saw it clearly displayed in my family. Our kids have a powerful ability to know whether we’re dragging them to church because it’s something we think we should do, or whether it’s real in our lives. They know how our faith is real even by how we talk. Think of this example. C. John Miller writes in his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church:

I once overheard a visitor to one of our services tell this story to a young father. He said, “This morning you brought your child to be given over to the Lord. I did that once too. But let me urge you from the bottom of my heart, don’t do to your child what I did to mine. As he grew up, he listened to me criticize the pastor year after year. As a consequence, I turned off my boy to the church and to ministers, and today he is far from God.”

It goes both ways too. The kids of pastors can tell by the way their parents talk if this is real or not.

So let me begin by saying that Paul is making an assumption here. The assumption is that parents must be transformed by the gospel themselves so that it’s real in their lives before they can pass it on to their children. I don’t want to make this assumption this morning. So let me ask you: is it real? Are you truly a Christian? Is your heart this morning warm towards God? Do you marvel that Jesus Christ has died for your sins? This is where it starts. Your kids will be able to tell whether it’s real in your life or not. The assumption is that you can only pass on to your kids what you yourself possess.

A Transformation

Secondly, in this passage we also see a transformation. In that day, the rights of fathers were staggering. Men in general had a lot of rights, but children could change all of that. They tied you down. They were considered a nuisance. They were expensive, inhibited sexual promiscuity, and made easy divorce a lot harder. As a result, many in that day did not want children. But even if you did have children, the father’s rights would be almost unlimited. A father could sell his children as slaves. He could make them work in the field, even in chains. He could punish them how he liked, and could even inflict the death penalty on them. And this power extended over the life of his children no matter how long they lived. A Roman son never came of age. His father had rights over him as long as the father lived.

When a child was born, the child would be placed before the father. If the father stooped and raised the child, the child was accepted and raised as his. But if he turned away, the child was rejected and literally discarded. Sometimes the baby would be picked up by those who trafficked in infants; and raised to be slaved or to work in brothels. Other times they were left to die. One Roman father wrote to his wife, “If - good luck to you! - you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.”

And then Paul comes along and, like Jesus, elevates the value of children in an extraordinary way, so that fathers have a sacred responsibility to their children. Paul says in this passage that fathers have responsibilities to their children. This is so important today because fathers do still sometimes go AWOL on their children. Fathers can tend to be passive. But Paul lays on us dads here the obligations we have to our kids. He refuses just to talk about rights; he reminds us that there’s a transformation in our relationship that leaves us with very clear obligations.

But he also transforms things from the children’s perspective. Why should a child obey the father? Not because of the father’s rights, but because it is pleasing to the Lord. Paul brings God into the relationship.

This means that our parenting is no longer a private issue between us and our kids. Paul teaches us there that parenting is a spiritual obligation. We are responsible before God as fathers. We don’t have a whole bunch of rights; we have a spiritual obligation before God to do our part.

There’s an assumption that the faith we’re trying to pass on is real in ourselves. And there is also a transformation in our relationship so that we see ourselves as fathers before God. We’re no longer passive or able to parent as we please. Our kids are on loan, as it were.

So my second question is this: Do you see parenting - particularly fathering - as a sacred duty before God? The way that you father is an issue with which God is concerned. There’s a transformation in our parenting relationship because God is very concerned.

Remember the stats I quoted at the start of this sermon. If these are true, and if we aren’t doing our job as parents, we need to step up. We need to be doing our job. We are failing our kids and failing God if we don’t.

An Obligation

Finally, there’s an obligation here. Verse 4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Parents usually go wrong in one or two ways. Some parents are too strict. Paul addresses this in the first phrase: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” It’s significant, but the way, that he mentions fathers here. Don’t let anyone tell you that parenting is a mother’s job! But then Paul corrects a mistake that is common in parenting: that parenting can be so strict that children are exasperated and crushed by the demands. Paul doesn’t want this. He wants an atmosphere of grace in which our kids are allowed to flourish.

The distinguished painter Benjamin West tells the story of one day when his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his younger sister. While she was out, he discovered some ink and decided to paint his sister’s portrait. When his mother came back there was an awful mess. She walked in, said nothing about the ink stains all over. She picked up the paper on which he had drawn the portrait and said, “Why, it’s Sally!” and then she stooped and kissed him. Benjamin West said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”

Paul says, in essence, “Don’t err by being too strict and exasperating your children.” Once again, this comes back to the gospel. If you get that you are loved by God because of his sheer grace, that grace will begin to affect your parenting. There’s a great new book out called Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. The author says that we sometimes give our kids the wrong impression that God is only pleased with us when we’re good. She writes:

Grace, or the free favor that has been lavished on us through Christ, ought to make our parenting radically different from what unbelievers do. That’s because the good news of God’s grace is meant to permeate and transform every relationship we have, including our relationship with our children. All the typical ways we construct to get things done and get others to do our bidding are simply obliterated by a gospel message that tells us that we are all (parents and children) both radically sinful and radically loved. At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms then into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message that your children hear from you, if the message you send them on a daily basis is about begin good so that you won’t be disappointed, then the gospel needs to transforming your parenting too.

But then he confronts the other way that parents go wrong: by being too lenient. “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Training is a word that refers to discipline. Some parents err by not being disciplined appropriately. Paul has already said not to be too harsh, but here he says not to go to the other extreme and let your children do whatever they want either.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He also mentions the instruction of the Lord. What does this mean? A lot of us want our kids to learn about the Lord. That’s why we bring our kids to church and to Sunday school. But Paul here says that the primary responsibility for this belongs in the home. It is ultimately the parent’s job - ultimately, according to Paul, the father’s job - to instruct children in the way of the Lord.

A pastor - formerly a youth pastor - complained that parents would often call him in frustration, wanting him to do something to fix their teenagers. He grew increasingly frustrated, because for years these parents had been teaching them that church and the Lord come somewhere on the list after sports and school and everything else. For years, these parents had been teaching their kids that God is not a high priority. These parents had been instructing their children, but not in the way of the Lord.

Paul says that it’s our job to instruct them in the Lord. This means making the Lord a priority in our schedules, and also in our home lives. This means that your kids will know whether your faith is genuine or not. They’re more likely to be excited about the Lord if you are excited about the Lord.

It also means that we will learn family worship. Most parents today don’t take the time to read the Bible, pray, and worship with their children. In 1647, Christians were so concerned about this that they raised the alarm and said, “If we don’t start worshiping at home, we’re going to lose our kids!” And they were right. So they instructed pastors and elders to begin inquiring about family devotions. If they found out that a father was not leading his children in family worship, they would talk to him privately. If he didn’t respond, they would actually begin church discipline against him.

Were they fanatics? Maybe - or maybe they were just on to something. Maybe they knew that parents are responsible for disciplining children, and instructing them in the Lord, and that failure to do so is catastrophic. We should care about our children’s relationship with the Lord just as much as we care about any other area of their life. It’s more important than almost anything. It’s got to be a priority.

Listen: I can’t tell you how important this is. And the statistics say we’re not doing a good job of it. The most important thing we can do is to be transformed by the gospel, and then to introduce our kids to the gospel that has changed us so radically.

Three questions:

  • have you been transformed? is the gospel real in your life?
  • will you see your fathering and parenting as something that is a sacred responsibility, something with which God is very concerned?
  • what will you do to fulfill your obligation to parent in a way that is both dripping with grace, and that is taking deliberate action to train and instruct your kids in the ways of the Lord?

Let's pray.

Father, may the gospel become real in our lives. I pray that we would be so transformed by your amazing grace that our kids can’t help but know that the gospel is real. I pray that we would take our responsibility seriously, as a sacred trust from you. I pray that our relationships would drip with grace because we’ve experienced your grace. And I pray that every parent here would take specific action to train and instruct our kids in the ways of the Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Why Church? (Ephesians 2:11-22)

This morning we're at the end of a long series on healthy relationships. We've covered a lot of topics over these past few months:

  • why the gospel is the key to peace
  • why unity is important
  • why it's important to get the log out of our own eyes before we focus on the speck in the eye of others
  • why confession is important
  • how to handle criticism
  • the importance of challenging and confronting others
  • what real community looks like
  • how to forgive, and more

We've covered a lot of ground. I've been pleased to see some of the changes that have taken place as we've worked on this. I know that I've had to make some course-corrections in my own life. I've heard from a lot of people - especially those who have been part of the small groups - that this focus on peacemaking has been challenging and stretching.

I was trying to figure out how to close this. I think this morning I want to end with an acknowledgement that what we're talking about is costly. When I was single, I could pretty much come and go as I pleased. Then I got married, and all of a sudden I had to communicate what I was doing. Not only that, but I discovered that my wife had ideas and plans that didn't always matched up. The truth is that it's costly to be in relationships. The deeper you get in, the more it costs, and often, the more pain you experience. So why are relationships so important?

In particular, why should we sign up for costly relationships in church? If we are to live out the peacemaking principles around here, it's going to cost us big time. It's a lot easier to show up and check out without really getting connected. Actually, it's a lot easier to drop out altogether. A recent issue of Christianity Today had an article called "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church." It says, "Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity..." I'm sure there are many reasons why. I'm sure that many people here have wrestled through this issue, especially when the relational cost gets high. I have some friends who are very serious about Jesus but who have given up on the church.

This morning I want to invite you to look at a challenging passage of Scripture. And this morning I want to ask you to commit to entering deeper into relationship within this church for two reasons. The first reason is this:

1. The church demonstrates the reconciling work of God

Throughout almost all of human history there have been divisions between people. When I was in high school we had the jocks and the preps, the geeks and the nerds. Today we have the Wal-Mart crowd and the Holt-Renfrew crowds. We divide by location, race, education, social status, and politics. In Toronto right now people are worried about the growing divide between downtown and the inner suburbs, between the have-communities and the have-not communities. We divide in endless ways.

When Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians, one of the greatest divisions was between Jews and Gentiles. None of today's distinctions are more exclusive or unrelenting than the separation between Jews and Gentiles that existed in that time.

The Jews believed the Gentiles were created to fuel the fires of Hell. It wasn't lawful to aid a Gentile woman in giving birth, for that would bring another heathen into the world. Jews regarded Gentiles as sick and perverted pagans who engaged in idol worship and gross sexual immorality, and who had no regard for the true God.

The Gentiles weren't so crazy about the Jewish people either. They conquered the Jewish nation, so it was easy to feel culturally and politically superior. The Roman Livy confirmed this in his day, saying, "The Greeks wage a truceless war against people of other races, against barbarians."

There were all kinds of divisions: political, cultural, food, religious, and more. And these divisions were not just theoretical. They caused huge problems in the church as Gentiles became Christians and came to embrace the same faith as the Jewish believers who had also become Christians as well.

It's in this context that Paul writes to the Ephesians. He's just described how God has taken people who were dead in trespasses and sins, and made them alive together with Christ by grace through faith. So far, so good. We usually focus on how faith in Christ changes our vertical relationship with God. But then Paul begins to describe the horizontal implications of faith in Christ. Writing specifically to Gentiles, he says:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)-- 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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-18)

Do you see what Paul is saying here? He's saying a couple of things.

First: Becoming a Christian doesn't just change our relationship with God. It also brings us into relationship with others. You don't become a Christian simply to get right with God; you also become a Christian to join a community. You become part of the new humanity that God is creating.

Second: When you become a Christian, you become part of that new humanity, and your identity as part of that new humanity supersedes any other identity that you may have had before. That's why Jews and Gentiles could become overcome all the barriers that divided them, because what they had in common in Christ was far more important than their nationality or anything else. In Christ, he has brought us together and made us one.

I love what D.A. Carson says: "Christians are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus' sake." That's exactly right.

And this is the first reason why the effort required to be part of a church is worth it. It's because the church is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. It is the horizontal evidence of the work of God. You can't be made right with God vertically without it also affecting you horizontally.

Remember that I said that this passage is challenging? This passage challenges us to remember why this is important. God has made us part of a new community. I love hearing how couples met; the bigger the story, the more I enjoy it. There's no greater story for how we came together to be the church. We are part of the biggest story that's ever happened. God has brought us together. When we come to Christ, he doesn't just make us right with God. He also makes us part of a new humanity. You could say he makes us part of a new race.

This changes the equation. If this is optional, then I can opt out when it gets inconvenient or when I just feel like it. But this isn't optional. This is a demonstration of the reconciling work of God. That's why these relationships are important.

But that's not all.

2. The church is actually the dwelling place of God

Paul uses three images of the church in verses 19-22:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Each of these images is packed full of meaning.

First he uses the image of citizenry. I had no idea how much I should value my citizenship until I saw others trying to become Canadian citizens. Having been born a citizen, I took it for granted. I don't anymore. And that's nothing compared to the way that the Ephesians would have seen citizenship. Citizenship was a huge source of human pride. Your city provided your identity. If you traveled and met someone else from your area, there would be instant connection.

Paul here says that we're fellow citizens with God's people. We possess a citizenship far superior to any local citizenship and even the coveted Roman citizenship. We're part of a supreme cosmopolitan community, a third city.

But it gets even more intimate. We're not just fellow citizens; we're actually family. We're "...also members of his household" (Ephesians 3:19). This is an even deeper level of intimacy. Tony Evans says:

You've been called into something staggering. If Bill Gates were to adopt a child, that would be staggering. If the president of the United States were to adopt a child, the implications of that are staggering.

Because we've been adopted into the family of God, the implications are beyond comprehension.

We're fellow citizens; we're family. But it gets even more mind-blowing than this. We're also God's temple:

...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

For a thousand years, the temple in Jerusalem had been the focus of God's presence in the world. But now, Paul says, God is doing a new thing. He's building a new temple, this time located among people - more particularly, in his church. This building isn't God's house; together you and I are parts of God's house, his holy temple. It's a temple with three parts:

  • the foundation of the apostles and prophets - those who brought the Word of God to us
  • the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ - He's at the center; everything else fits around him
  • building blocks - us! Gentiles used to be excluded from the temple; now we're part of what God is building

This means that God actually inhabits his church. This is the focus of God's presence in this world. If you wanted to go where God's presence dwelt, you used to have to go to the temple. Now, if you want to go to where God's presence dwells, you have to go among his people, his church. We are where God dwells.

You see how this gets more and more intimate. Fellow citizens is sort of close; family is a lot closer; blocks in the temple are connected millimeters apart. You're supported by others, and you also support others. You are part of something much bigger than yourself.

If you want to ask the question, "Why church" you have to come to grips with the fact that God has chosen to create a new people, a new humanity, out of those who were once enemies. He's chosen to dwell among his people.

Living in community in the church is a hassle. It's inconvenient. But I hope you'll see why it's worth it. I hope you'll also see that this is much more intense than you may have imagined. It's about more than attending services. It's becoming radically reoriented in your relationships; deeply committed to what God is doing in his church.

That sounds like a tall order. More than we might think we could possibly accomplish...a people at peace, a people reconciled to one another, a people who are a holy temple, a people who are a dwelling place for God? But Paul has a word for us there, too. Later in Ephesians, after his powerful portrait of the church and all that God calls it to be, he prays for the church, and then in 3:20-21 in the benediction to his prayer he says:

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...

It is a tall order. We can't do it, but He can. He can do immeasurably more abundantly than all that we ask or think - according to His power at work in us. "...to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

The Importance of Unity (Ephesians 4:1-3)

All this weekend Canadians are going to be gathering around tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. We're giving thanks to God for all of the blessings that we enjoy. For many, that's going to mean time with family and friends, which is something for which we should be thankful. But some of us also understand what Johnny Carson once said: "Thanksgiving is an emotional time of year. People travel thousands of miles to see people they only see once a year. And then they discover that once a year is way too often."

That's very cynical, isn't it? I want to go on the record that this is not at all how I feel about any member of my family. I've never felt that way. But I understand what's behind this statement. Relationships are hard. And sometimes the hardest relationships are the ones for which we have the highest hopes. And so we're going to be looking at what the Bible says about relationships. We began last week, and we're going to continue this morning and for another six weeks.

But before we go any further, let's pause and ask: Why is this so important? Why spend all this time talking about relationships? Of course, there are all kinds of answers. We could discuss the results of a Harvard University study that tracked a group of students over 72 years, and all of the factors that contributed to their health and happiness. At the end of the study the director of the research concluded, "The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people." We could talk about the importance of relationships to our happiness, and we'd be right.

But this morning I want to give a biblical answer to the question of why relationships are so important. The answer is found in verse 1 of the passage that we read this morning: "As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1). What we need to understand this morning are three things. First: our calling. Second: what this calling means when it comes to our relationships. Finally: some practical implications of what this means.

First: let's understand our calling.

If you'll notice, we're in chapter 4 this morning. I'm being a little unfair with you. We're jumping right in the middle of a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. Paul has been unpacking God's eternal purposes throughout all of history. It's like he's pulled back the curtains of heaven and has let us see what God is doing. The first three chapters are some of the richest teachings in all the Bible in understanding what God is up to, and how his purposes are being carried out, and all that it means for us.

And then we jump into chapter 4 and realize that Paul is drawing conclusions from everything that he's said up until that point. Paul has been giving us some of the deepest teaching on what God is up to, and here it's like he turns his attention from God and his eternal purposes to the difference it should make in our lives. In light of what God is up to, he says, this is how we should live.

And then he goes even further. "As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received." Paul's going further and saying that all that he's taught in chapters 1-3 amounts to a calling that every believer in Jesus Christ has received. What does that mean?

When Paul uses the word "calling" he is usually referring to God's action in drawing men and women into fellowship with his Son through the preaching of the gospel. Let me give you a couple of examples. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul said, "God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." In 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 he says:

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

So what does Paul mean when he talks about "the calling we have received." What he means is this: if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have already experienced all the blessings of salvation. You have been united with Christ in his resurrection and exultation. You have been reconciled to God. You've been chosen by God (1:4). You've been predestined to be his child and the heir of all that he owns (1:5). God sent Christ to atone for your trespasses (1:7). Together, we've been called to display God's wisdom to the heavenly places (3:10). Your calling is to receive all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ to the praise of his glory.

This is a very helpful. It gives us an idea of our calling. The offer is made to everyone: through Jesus Christ, those who are spiritually dead can live again. Paul reminds us again of what Jesus Christ has done, and he says that we have a calling as those who have enjoyed the blessings that come out of what Christ has accomplished.

This leads us to ask the question:

What does this have to do with our relationships?

Paul says, "As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received." In other words, because of what God has done, we have been called to live a certain way. Paul is calling us to bring our lives into conformity to God's saving work in Christ. In other words, what God has done ought to make a practical difference in your life.

When I pastored another church years ago, I joined a community board with all kinds of people on it. I was the only pastor. You could tell that people were nervous about me at first before they realized that I was just a guy.

Charlene became friends with some of the people on that board. And when we got together we would sometimes joke around. And this one particular friend would sometimes stop us and say, "Don't forget that you have a position in this community!" I think what she was saying was this: Don't forget that you're a pastor, and pastors aren't supposed to have too much fun! She knew that being a pastor matched up with a certain type of behavior that you could expect from a pastor. I have a friend who pastors a church, and someone said of him, "Did you know our pastor wears jeans?" "What, to the office? On Sundays?" "No, but he wears jeans!" Once we know who someone is, we have expectations of how they will act.

So that's what Paul is saying here. You expect certain people to act in a certain way. And if they don't, there's a problem. So a politician who acts unethically will be seen by some as unworthy of serving as your representative. A former colonel who pleads guilty to first-degree murder is unworthy of wearing the uniform. A judge who accepts bribes is unworthy to sit on the bench. There is so much honor attached to certain positions that you expect a certain standard of behavior. Anything less brings that position into disrepute.

So Paul says, "Live a life worthy of the calling you have received." It means that we have given a position in Christ that requires a certain pattern of life. Our calling should line up with a certain way of living. Now, ask yourself what you would expect Paul to say here. Paul has just pulled back the curtains of heaven and described God's eternal purposes. He's included us in what God is doing. What type of lifestyle is consistent with someone who has experienced God's saving call and all of its blessings?

Read verses 2 and 3: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Relationships are the first issue that Paul addresses as an essential element of our living consistently with our calling as Christians. To live a life consistent with the gospel, Paul says, pursue relational unity.

Let's go back to the question I asked at the start of the sermon. Why are we talking about relationships? There are all kinds of reasons. Relationships are important. Relationships are key to our wellbeing. There are all kinds of reasons. But here's a key biblical one: we're talking about relationships because relationships are key to living consistently with the calling we've received.

Read verse 3 again: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Notice that we don't have to create unity. We already have it. In chapter 2 Paul wrote:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Christ has made us one. We don't create unity; God does. It's a unity that is centered on Jesus Christ, and it's a unity that can't be destroyed. But, Paul says, we have to maintain the unity. It takes effort. But it's essential to what it means to walk in a manner that's worthy of the calling we've received. The way we relate to each other is an outgrowth of the gospel.

Well, let me get to the final question we need to ask:

What difference does all of this make?

Charles Colson's book The Body contains a chapter called "Extending the Right Fist of Fellowship." Listen to what he writes:

It was the right hook that got him. Pastor Waite might have stood in front of the Communion table trading punches with head deacon Ray Bryson all morning, had not Ray's fist caught him on the chin two minutes and fifteen seconds into the fight.

Waite went down for the count at the altar where most members of Emmanuel Baptist had first declared their commitment to Christ ... Within an instant the majority of the congregation converged on the Communion table, punching or shoving. . . .The melee soon spilled over to an open space beside the organ. ... Mary Dahl, the director of the Dorcas Society, threw a hymnal. ... The missile sailed high and wide and splashed down in the baptistry behind the choir... When Ray's right hook finally took the pastor down, someone grabbed the spring flower arrangement from the altar and threw it high in the air in Ray's direction. Water sprinkled everyone in the first two rows on the right side, and a visiting Presbyterian experienced complete immersion when the vase shattered against the wall next to his seat. ... The fight ended when the police arrived on the scene.

We're probably not quite that dramatic. But it's pretty easy to slip into unhealthy patterns of relating to each other. Paul gives us a list later in the chapter of really bad ways of relating to each other that are actually pretty common in verses 31 to 32. Whether it's fistfights at the communion table or just gossip and grumbling, we're often tempted to engage in behavior that is inconsistent with the gospel we proclaim.

Paul tells us in very specific terms how to live consistently with the gospel in our relationships in verse 2. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."

this is what it will take, according to Paul:

  • Humility - The Greeks in Paul's day saw humility as a quality for servants and wimps. If someone back then called you humble, it wouldn't have been a compliment. But Paul urges us here to pursue humility, literally lowliness of mind. It means that we see the inherent worth and value of others, refuse to insist on our own rights, and put their interests before our own.
  • Gentleness - Gentleness refers to a disposition towards others. Some used it to refer to domesticated animals. It means controlling one's strength to be courteous and considerate of others, being more concerned about the common good than getting our own way.
  • Patience - A different way of putting it is to be long-suffering towards aggravating people. It's closely related to the next and final quality:
  • Bearing with one another in love - There will be tensions and conflicts, and sometimes we'll have to just put up with each other. But Paul says not just to do this, but to do it with love.

This is what it will take if we are to apply our theology of relationships. Don't you love how real this is? There will be real tensions and real aggravations, and Paul says we're to maintain the unity that we have in the gospel through huge doses of humility, gentleness, patience, and just plain old putting up with each other in love.

Martin Luther, the Reformer of the 16th century, had a really bad temper. He once called fellow Reformer John Calvin "a pig" and "a devil." Mark my words, that and worse will happen sometimes even in the church! But John Calvin replied, "Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ."

So that's why relationships are so important. To live consistently with the gospel means to pursue relational harmony. And this doesn't just apply to some ideal church somewhere else. It applies to real people who can be really challenging. It's in this context that we're called to live consistently with the gospel we talk about every week.

And this can only happen through Jesus. "For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. 'He is our peace.' Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Let's pray.

Father, may we think the right things, biblical things, about relationships. And may we bring our actions in line with what is true and right, not through our own power but through Jesus Christ.

We come now to the table because we need him. May we live lives worth of the calling we've received, and may we do so in the way we love one other. In Jesus' name, Amen.

The Key to Peace (Colossians 1:15-20)

Today we're beginning an eight-week series on healthy relationships. No matter who you are, and no matter what your personality type, relationships are both rewarding and challenging. They're rewarding, because there's nothing like a close relationship. But they are challenging because relationships are complicated. The ways that they go wrong are legion. And so we have misunderstandings, hurt feelings, unresolved tensions, estranged relationships, and all kinds of other problems in all kinds of relationships.

As I said, we're going to spend eight weeks talking about this. The easiest thing in the world would be to begin with something very practical, because we all love practical how-to suggestions that we can take and implement. I visited the Psychology Today website this week and found just this type of advice:

  • Keeping the love alive
  • Starting the conversation
  • How to win friends
  • The most important thing about conflict
  • Five steps to a great marriage

Make no mistake: you can learn lots of good things from articles like this. We're going to get very practical in the coming weeks as we talk about some very important principles from God's Word about relationships.

But the place to start isn't with the how-to practical takeaways. I live in an old house. We have an old garage out back that has seen better days. It sags in the middle. The problem with that garage is that the foundation is shot. Now, I could install a new garage door. We can paint the garage all that we want. But until we deal with the foundation, that garage is going to sag. It's the same way with our relationships. Until we have a healthy foundation for our relationships, all the practical tips will be like paint on a sagging garage.

If we are to understand relationships, we need to begin with a solid foundation. We need something more than human efforts to resolve conflict and to get along well with others. We need something that is going to provide genuine and lasting results. The danger for us is that we won't really get to the root of the issue, and we'll end up offering a superficial cure. It reminds me of what the prophet Jeremiah once wrote:

They dress the wound of my people

as though it were not serious.

'Peace, peace,' they say,

when there is no peace.
(Jeremiah 6:14)

Now, let me pause before we look at the foundation for peace that the Bible gives us. The passage we're looking at this morning has been called one of the richest and most important passages in all the Bible about Jesus Christ. You may be thinking this morning, "I thought we were going to talk about relationships. Why are we here talking about Jesus? I don't need theology. I need something practical."

I think Paul would say, "Exactly. You need something practical. The most practical thing that I can give you is to understand who Jesus Christ is." Our greatest need is not to have more practical tips or even more knowledge, as important as those are. Our greatest need is to know Jesus Christ and how that relates to all of life, including our relationships.

To Understand This World, Look to Jesus

You may asking what Jesus has to do with peace. The problem is that we look everywhere but Jesus for solutions. But Jesus is exactly where we need to look if we are going to understand this world in general, and our relationships in particular.

Let me give you some background to the passage that we read this morning. It was written by the apostle Paul to the church in Colossae. In some ways, Colossae had a similar spiritual climate to what we have. They had a number of very different religious belief systems. Many people blended religious beliefs from different systems.

We're like that today. The Pew Forum conducted a survey last year and found that 65% of us hold contradictory religious beliefs. Alan Cooperman, a member of the Pew Forum research team, concluded: "Mixing and matching practices and beliefs is much more the norm than the exception." Scott Thumma, a professor of sociology of religion at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, said, "Today, the individual rarely finds all their spiritual needs in one congregation or one religion." People who lived in Colossae would have loved what singer Sheryl Crow has said: "I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and all those that were enlightened. I wouldn't say necessarily that I'm a strict Christian. I'm not sure I believe in heaven."

The problem is that when surrounded by this type of belief system, it's very easy for Christians to begin to blend different beliefs. Pretty soon we're looking everywhere for answers, but we're not looking to Jesus. When we do this, we begin to develop a wrong view of the world that affects how we live. An inaccurate way of seeing the world leads to an inaccurate way of living in the world.

It's in this context that Paul writes in verses 15 to 17:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

What's going on here? Paul is speaking to people who believe in Christ. But they also live in an environment that fears astral powers, territorial spirits, and underworld powers. They believe in Jesus, but maybe for some of them Jesus is functionally no more powerful than the angels they trust for protection. It's like today when we believe Jesus, read horoscopes, practice feng shui, and talk about karma.

Paul says: Listen. Jesus is not one among many other gods. He is the exalted Lord. He holds supreme priority and first rank over all creation. He is actually the key to creation, because he is the one through whom everything was created. If you wonder what the stars and spirits are doing to your life, know this: he is the one who created the stars and all powers. And he is the one who is holding everything together. Creation took place through Jesus, and all of creation exists to bring him glory.

In other words, to truly live well in this world we need to understand that Jesus is the key to everything. To understand this world, look to Jesus. He is the key to all of creation. He's not in charge of the religious part of life; he's Lord of everything. He's not a small part of this world; this world is just a small part of his reign over all things. Jesus is the key to all of creation.

To Understand Jesus, Look at the Cross

But then Paul goes on. Jesus is not just the key to all of creation. Paul tells us specifically what it is about Jesus that we need to understand if we are to live in this world. Take a look at verses 18 and 19 with me:

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him...

In this passage, it's like Paul is tripping over superlatives trying to describe how great Jesus is. Well, how do you beat Jesus being the key to all creation, the one for whom all things exist?

Easy, Paul says. Would you believe that he's actually present and active today? "He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead." Jesus didn't just create this world, Paul is saying. Jesus became a man. God in all of his fullness took on human flesh. The essence, power, and glory of God inhabited human flesh.

And as both God and man, Jesus died. But he also rose from the dead, conquering sin and death. Death is the one appointment that none of us can miss. Woody Allen put it this way:

The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. Death is absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders anyone's accomplishment meaningless.

But death doesn't have the final word. Jesus has triumphed over death, and has established his power over a fallen and rebellious world.

And he's head of a new community of people called the church. The church, Paul says, is vitalized by his presence and power. It's the instrument through which Christ is present and carries on his work in the church.

What Paul is saying is that Jesus did not just create everything we see. Jesus actually entered creation. He conquered death and sin, and he's established his continuing presence on earth through the church. The creator of the world and the one who holds everything together has entered human history, and he continues his presence in churches just like this one. He's the key to all of creation, and he's also the key to the new creation, including the church.

To understand this world, Paul is saying, look to Jesus. And if you are going to understand Jesus, look to the cross.

To Understand the Cross, Look to its Purpose: To Bring Genuine Peace

Read verses 19-20 with me:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Here's why we're beginning here. You can read and think about peace all day and night, but you will never get to genuine peace until you get to the cross. The cross brings peace between God and sinners, as we see in the next couple of verses:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)

But it also brings cosmic reconciliation. The cross is where God sets in motion the process of putting things back together all that is wrong with this world. The cross is the basis of genuine peace - peace between sinners and God, peace in our relationships, and ultimately cosmic peace.

Who is the key to true and lasting peace? Jesus. Peace was such a priority to God that he sent his Son to restore peace in a broken and conflicted world. He did not send an angel, mighty as they are. He did not raise up a mighty army to suppress conflict, enforce justice, and impose unity on the nations. Nor did he did send a delegation of gifted men to teach us how to find peace.

Peace is such a high priority to God that he did not send any secondary lieutenants to bring us this treasure. Instead, he sent his only Son, the most exalted and powerful ambassador who has ever walked the face of the earth.

And consider the cost. The Son of God had to leave the glory of heaven, descend into a fallen and corrupt world, take on the form of a helpless baby, walk countless miles over deserts and dusty roads, submit to mocking, beating and torture, and shed his own life's blood on the cross.

Consider the uniqueness of this peace. The world offers many formulas for peace. Americans spend millions of hours and billions of dollars every year in bookstores, at seminars, in counselors' offices, or in courtrooms, searching for ways to resolve conflict and regain some measure of peace. Most of this effort is utterly wasted, because real peace is found only at the cross. Verse 20 teaches that it was at the cross that Jesus shed his blood to pay for our sins, purchase our peace, and reconcile us to God. This gift can be found nowhere else in the world.

It is wise and helpful to learn and practice the peacemaking principles and skills that we're going to be studying. But those principles and skills will produce only superficial results if they are not inspired and guided by what Jesus did for us at Calvary. Genuine, lasting peace is found only at the cross!

As one commentator says:

The vision is vast. The claim is mind-blowing. It says much for the faith of these first Christians that they should see in Christ's death and resurrection quite literally the key to resolving the disharmonies of nature and the inhumanities of humankind, that the character of God's creation and God's concern for the universe in its fullest expression could be so caught and encapsulated for them in the cross of Christ. In some ways still more striking is the implied vision of the church as the focus and means toward this cosmic reconciliation -- the community in which that reconciliation has already taken place (or begun to take place) and whose responsibility it is to live out as well as to proclaim its secret. (James Dunn)

We're going to spend a lot of time looking at this in the coming weeks. But we need to start here. To understand the world, look to Jesus. And to understand Jesus, look to the cross. To understand the cross, look to its purpose: to bring genuine peace.

Thank you for drawing our attention to Jesus. I pray that every person here would understand that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation; creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the body, the church; the firstborn from among the dead; and the one through whom God is reconciling to himself all things.

So help us to know who Jesus is. And may it make all the difference in all of our lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Throughout the past months, we’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is one of the profoundest books in Scripture that applies the gospel to all of life. Although there are many themes and topics that Paul writes about, the big two are these:
  • God is redeeming all things and bringing them back to unity under Christ; and
  • The church is God’s new humanity, his pilot project in restoring all things
There are lots of things that you can say, but they really boil down to this: God’s eternal purpose in bringing everything under Christ is unfolding just as he planned, and the church is central to what God is doing.As we close Ephesians, I think that Paul is anticipating a danger that we all face. Sun Tzu wrote an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy called The Art of War in which he said:
All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far way; when you are far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
All warfare, he says, is based on deception.What does this have to do with us? According to Paul, everything. Paul writes in verses 10 and 11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”Paul is saying that we have an enemy who engages in deceit and who has all kinds of other schemes. The word schemes there actually has the idea of deceit.In essence, Paul is saying that God’s eternal plan in reconciling all things under Christ, beginning with the church, will not go unopposed. And at the end of Ephesians, he says that there are two things we need to do to respond. First, we have to recognize the nature of our battle. Second, we must use God’s resources in the battle.

The first thing we must do, according to Paul, is to recognize the nature of our battle.

Paul writes in verse 12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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.
What does Paul mean here? He’s already given us a hint in verse 11 when he mentioned the taking a stand against the devil’s schemes. What Paul is saying here is that we are in a spiritual battle with God against Satan. We have an enemy who has all kinds of cunning strategies, who will attack us in surprising ways. We will not be able to withstand his attacks on our own. We are in a battle, and we must be prepared.If you go to the average church, you will not hear a lot about this. We talk about our churches as families or hospitals. In most churches, there is more danger of getting bored than getting wounded. In churches where there is fighting, the fighting is infighting. It’s easy to forget that there really is a battle, and that we are participants in a battle. One of Satan’s schemes is to lull us into complacency so that we forget there is a battle.It’s scary enough to think about this battle, but it gets worse. The word that Paul uses is struggle. It’s actually a wrestling term. When I think of battles these days, I think of wars with guided missiles and all kinds of technologies. That’s not the type of war Paul talks about. The type of war we’re engaged in is hand-to-hand combat. We are hand to hand with evil, face to face.And who does Paul say we are struggling with? Not flesh and blood. It’s not that the church does not encounter human opposition, but Paul says that the struggle goes much deeper than that. Paul says that our struggle is with “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemies are not human, he says, but demonic.We don’t know as much as we’d like to about what Paul describes here, whether he is referring to different ranks of evil spirits. We John Stott notices that they have three characteristics.One: they are powerful. They are rulers and authorities, powers and forces of evil. They do have power. When Satan tempted Jesus, claiming that he could give him all the kingdoms of this world, Jesus didn’t argue. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). We know that Satan was defeated, but he is unwilling to concede defeat, and has not yet been destroyed. So Satan continues to wield power.Second, they are wicked. Paul says they are the powers of this dark world, forces of evil. Jesus said that Satan is a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). Peter writes that he is prowling like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Stott says:
If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs.
Third, they are devious. They rarely attack openly. They try to catch us when we are not expecting it. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Satan and the powers of evil do not always attack us openly. They also like to lull us into complacency or discouragement or error. In The Screwtape Letters, the fictional demon Screwtape writes, “Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.” These forces are powerful, wicked, and devious.This is our battle. Paul has outlined God’s purposes in chapters 1 to 5 of Ephesians, and in chapter 6 he reminds us of the existence of a devil who is opposed to those purposes. In a minute, he’s going to tell us how to respond, but first I need to pause here and ask if you’ve really grasped that we are part of this battle against the cunning and powerful forces of evil.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his ‘fiery darts’. And, of course, because we are not aware of this we attribute all temptation to ourselves. So the devil in his wiliness will have succeeded admirably. We become depressed and discouraged, we feel that we are failures, and we do not know what to do...
The first thing that Paul says in this passage is that we are in a spiritual battle, and this is our enemy.

But secondly, he reminds us of the resources that we must use in this battle.

Verses 10 and 11 say, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” And then verse 14: “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.”If you’re scared by the idea that we are in a spiritual battle, that we’re in hand-to-hand combat with spiritual powers that are powerful, wicked, and devious, then you’re smart. Left to ourselves, we’re both overpowered and outmaneuvered. We don’t stand a chance. But Paul reminds us that we haven’t been left to our own resources. He says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God.”What we see here is that Paul gives us an image for the whole Christian life as spiritual warfare. And the way to respond is to use the Lord’s resources: the Lord’s strength, the Lord’s power, and the Lord’s armor. God supplies all that we need in this battle, and it’s more than enough.We could spend weeks unpacking what’s in these few short verses. Martyn-Lloyd Jones took 26 chapters - 736 pages - to unpack the passage that we’re covering this morning. One day I hope to return and cover this passage in more depth, looking at the various pieces of armor that Paul lists for us.But I want to especially highlight one thing that we sometimes miss when we read this passage. Whose armor is this? Verse 13 tells us that it is the armor of God. I don’t think this simply means that it’s armor that God provides for us. It actually goes much further than that. The prophet Isaiah gives us a fascinating picture of God who is offended by sin. He looks around to see if anyone is able to do anything about it, but there is no one. So here is what God does:
He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. 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. (Isaiah 59:16-17)
This is amazing. God himself puts on armor and goes to battle against his enemies. What does this mean? It means that the Jewish people came to understand that God himself would intervene in this world and on behalf of his people. God himself would come and win victory over evil.And that’s exactly what happened. God himself came in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us images of his victory over Satan. For instance, he said that Satan is like a strong man who has been tied up, and his house is being plundered. He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words, Satan is being defeated. His authority and power has been broken.And at the cross, God struck a fatal blow against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of “this present darkness.” Paul tells us in Colossians that Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And Jesus now sits at God’s right hand, having struck a fatal blow against Satan and all evil powers.But - and this is important - Satan is fatally wounded, but he’s not dead yet. His defeat has been accomplished, but he’s in his dying throes. He still continues to send his flaming arrows our way. You may have seen a hockey game with a lopsided score with the clock running out. The losing team has no chance of winning, but there’s bad blood between the two teams. Fights break out in those dying minutes of that game. There’s no way the losing team can win, but they can make it miserable. Satan is like that. He’s been defeated, but he’s still fighting in the dying minutes of the game.So, Paul says, we must strap on the armor that belongs to God and take our stand based on what God has already done for us in the gospel. We’re to put on:
  • the belt of the truth revealed in the gospel;
  • the breastplate of God’s righteousness - putting on “the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24);
  • the shoes of readiness to tell others about what God has accomplished through the gospel;
  • the shield of faith, which means we latch onto God’s promises in the middle of the battle;
  • the helmet of the salvation we have received from God - to live in light of the fact that God has rescued us from death, wrath, and bondage through his salvation; and
  • the sword of Spirit, which is the word about the gospel that comes to us through the Spirit’s power.
Together, God has given us six pieces of his armor that all come back to the gospel. What he’s given us is enough, and yet we have to take up each piece of armor and stand confidently against all the powers of evil. God’s provided the armor; we just have to use it.So, Paul is saying, we face a spiritual battle against enemies who are powerful, wicked, and devious. And the only way we can stand against the enemy is to use the Lord’s resources. We can’t rely on ourselves. If we do, we’re dead. Jack Miller wrote:
What we fail to see is that reliance on people, their capabilities, their keeping their promises, is a demonic faith, a cooperation in heart with the powers of darkness. We join the enemy, Satan, when we fail to rely on the promises of God to move on our behalf.
Satan’s strategy is to get us to rely on ourselves or to lose confidence because of his evil power. But Paul says we must stand against Satan because we are relying on God’s power and the gospel. “Satan is no match for my Jesus. No match at all. One word from Jesus and the whole host of hell must flee” (Miller).Paul closes with an appeal for us to pray. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people” (Ephesians 6:18). Paul says this is how we are to pray: at all times, with all kinds of prayers, with all perseverance (“always keep on praying”), and for all of God’s people. This is compared to how we normally pray: sometimes, with some prayers, with a little perseverance, and for some of God’s people.Theologian John Frame writes:
Our only offensive weapons are the Word of God and prayer. This may seem a puny arsenal to the rulers of this world, but God tells us it has more power than any of those rulers. People sometimes say mockingly, “Well, we can always try prayer.” But God’s weapons are more powerful than anything in the mockers’ arsenal. A gun will subdue a man, but only the sword of God’s Word, wielded in prayer, will subdue Satan. (Salvation Belongs to the Lord)
Somebody else said, “The devil trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” When we are prayer-less, it shows that we are relying on our own power and have not put on the armor of God. But when we recognize the conflict we’re in, and when we respond by using God’s resources through prayer, then we will be be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Lloyd-Jones said, “There is nothing that is more urgently important for all who claim the name of Christian, than to grasp and to understand the teaching of this particular section of Scripture.” There is nothing more important than understanding the nature of the battle, and understanding the resources we have in the Lord to respond.This is why the two most important things we can do as a church are to continually dwell in what God’s Word tells us about the gospel, and then to rely on the Lord’s power through prayer. Everything else flows out of these two. Without them, nothing else matters.So friends, be strong in the Lord. Understand what we’re part of: we’re part of what God is doing in uniting all things in Christ. Realize that this will not go opposed. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Let’s pray.
Father, some of us have not realized the type of battle we’re in. We are in a battle that we cannot win if we rely on our own strength. Yet our battle is against a defeated foe, and we cannot lose the battle if we use the resources that you have provided for us.Forgive us for relying on our own power. I pray that we would not only grasp the resources that you have provided for us through the gospel, but that we would use them as we pray.May every person here understand what Jesus Christ has done to save us from sin and death, and to reconcile us to God and to each other. May every person here repent and put their hope in Jesus. And may we as a church massage the gospel into all of our lives, and rely on your power. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Gospel Applied to Work (Ephesians 6:5-9)

We’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians for months now. We’re now in the part of the book in which Paul is applying theology (what has been revealed about God) to how we live - including, as we’re going to see today, to our work lives. This is so important because preachers like me often talk about a lot of things, most of which have to do with how to be a Christian on weeknights and weekends. Today, though, we’re going to see that the gospel applies to our vocations as employees, employers, students, and so on as well.Now, if you’ve read this passage, you may be thinking, “What does this passage have to do with my work life?” It’s a fair question. It’s troubling, isn’t it, to read about slaves in this passage, especially since this passage doesn’t condemn slavery. But to really understand what’s going on here, we have to see what Paul is talking about, and how subversive this passage really is.So let’s try to figure out what Paul is talking about here. It’s very difficult to read a passage about slavery because our minds immediately go to the African slave trade from the 17th to 19th centuries. In fact, people have taken this passage and others to justify the slave trade. But the slavery that Paul talks about is very different.On one hand, this type of slavery was still a bad thing. The slaves Paul talks about here did have limited rights, and they were subject to exploitation and abuse. They were seen as property and weren’t viewed as legal persons. But despite this, it was much better than our more modern form of slavery - which shows how things degraded over the centuries.The slavery that Paul talks about was much better than American slavery for four reasons:
  • It was non-racial.
  • It was temporary. Slaves could expect to be emancipated by the age of 30. You could save and buy your own freedom. Very few reached old age as a slave. In fact, so many slaves were being freed that Caesar introduced restrictions. It was not the lifelong thing that it became later.
  • It involved different occupations. You could fill almost any role: civil services, medical care, teaching, accounting, business, domestic work, and agriculture.
  • It led to economic advancement. It was often a way of achieving Roman citizenship. It allowed you to obtain a position you couldn’t as a free person, and often enjoy a better standard of living.
If you walked down the street of Ephesus, you could not tell by looking at someone if they were a slave or not. When slaves became free, they often voluntarily chose to keep working for the same person. I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture here, but we do need to recognize that this was nothing like the slavery that developed later. What Paul writes here is much closer to employer-employee relationships than we often think.Before we look at what Paul says, we need to deal with why Paul didn’t attack or overturn slavery. And it’s here that we see the utter brilliance of what he writes. Paul was writing to a small group of Christians who really had no hope of overturning something like slavery if they wanted to. And he was much more focused on telling them how they were to live tomorrow than he was about the big issues of society in that day. There were up to 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. About 1 in 3 in Ephesus would have been slaves. Paul was writing to give them help in understanding how the gospel applies to their lives. He was more concerned with that in this letter than in solving the bigger issue, which wasn’t even a remote possibility at that point.Yet what he wrote was so subversive that it did eventually lead to the elimination of slavery. You see, what Paul did here was put slaves and masters on equal footing. He relativized their position and overturned the common way of thinking. Here and in other places he addresses them as equal before Christ, valued members of the people of God. He says they have a higher allegiance than their own masters, that they didn’t really have to please their masters, but they had to please God. He instructs masters to treat them in a completely countercultural way. He gave them a reciprocal duty to their slaves.Even though Paul doesn’t address the bigger societal issue of slavery here, what he writes is so subversive that it led to the elimination of slavery. This is why it was eventually Christians who led in overthrowing slavery. Slavery has been a fact of life throughout history in all cultures. It was as Christians absorbed the biblical teaching that they worked to end slavery, which contradicts biblical teaching.So although this passage isn’t about how to change society, following this passage did in fact change society. And it will continue to do so today as we apply it to a context that, in many ways, is very different.So how do we apply this to our lives today? We can apply this passage, I think, to our vocations, our work lives. We are not in exactly the same situation as the people Paul wrote to. Our situation is probably better. And we can learn three things from what Paul says. First, how the gospel changes our view of work. Second, how the gospel changes our standards. Finally, how the gospel makes this possible.

First, let’s see what Paul says about how the gospel changes our view of work.

There are actually two very common views toward work, and Paul challenges them both in this passage.The first view of work is that work is a necessary evil, that we have to work but we should do as little as possible, and if we ever get a chance to escape work and live a life of leisure that we should take it. You see this view in this passage in verse 6, in which Paul says, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” The picture you have here is of someone who only works when the boss is looking, and who otherwise does as little as possible.You may know the Greek myth of Pandora, the first woman, in the Greek myth, who ever lived. Zeus ordered that Pandora be created, and gave her a large jar that he told her not to open. But of course, her curiosity got the best of her, and she opened that jar, and out came evil and disease and work. The Greeks believed that work is part of what’s wrong with this world, especially manual labor, and that that we should aim to do as little as possible. This attitude lives on today when we say we live for the weekends, when we complain about having to work, and when we dream of winning the lottery so we can tell the boss - well, you know the rest. You may have thought or said it sometime.If anyone should have such a negative view of work, it should be the slaves that Paul writes to. If anyone should hold this Greek view of work as a necessary evil, it should be these people. And yet Paul tells them that their work is holy, that their work in some way is doing the will of God. He says that their work - as slaves! - is in some sense service to the Lord, and will be evaluated by him. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,” he says (Ephesians 6:7).Why does Paul say that work is holy? What Paul is saying here is that your profession, as a teacher, doctor, laborer, student, whatever - is part of your service to the Lord. You can serve God by cleaning or cooking or lawyering as much as any missionary or pastor, Paul says. Your vocation is holy. You can say that you are in the Lord’s service.And you see, the reason why is because Scripture teaches us something completely different about work. Work isn’t part of the curse. Our work has been affected by the curse, but it isn’t part of the curse itself. Before sin corrupted this world, God gave Adam the responsibility to subdue the earth, have dominion over it, and be fruitful within it. This is part of what it means to bear the image of God.That is why there is, within each of us, a desire to contribute and create, to order and to add value and meaning to what’s around us. This means our work is part of what it means to bear God’s image in this world. Every time we weed a garden, teach a child, sell a product that will benefit others, or bring order to a set of finances, we are doing our image-bearing work in this world. Your work isn’t a necessary evil. It’s holy and part of your service to the Lord. God has chosen us to care for and cultivate his creation. Martin Luther said, “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.” Our work is part of how God intends to care for and cultivate this world.But some people go to the opposite extreme and get their meaning and identity from their work. Paul corrects those who devalue work, but he also corrects those of us who get too much meaning from our work and who define ourselves by our careers. The masters that Paul wrote to would have been tempted with feelings of superiority from their status as masters, just like today we get meaning from our place on the totem pole. When you’re above others it’s tempting to see them as your inferiors and to treat them as means to an end.But Paul says in verse 9: “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” This would have been shocking. The reasons why is twofold, in the rest of verse 9: “Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” Paul tells us two things here, specifically to those of us who tend to overvalue our work:
  • First, no matter who we are or what our status is, we are all fellow-slaves of Jesus Christ. Our identity does not come from our vocation; it comes from the fact that we are servants of Jesus.
  • Second, God is completely impartial, and a higher social status or more prestigious position carries no weight with him. God is not as enamored with our resumes as we are.
This completely changes our view of work. You’ll sometimes hear pastors and missionaries say that they’re in full-time Christian service. That’s true, but if you ever hear a pastor or missionary say this, you need to say, “I am too.” When they ask what it is you do, then you can tell them your career. Whatever you do as a living is your full-time Christian service. Theologian Mike Wittmer says:
If we do our work as unto the Lord, then our work pleases God just as much as if we were preaching a sermon or evangelizing in a Third World nation. Whether we are a lawyer, engineer, entrepeneur, or janitor, we must recognize that our job, too, is a calling from God. (Heaven is a Place on Earth)
Do you see how the gospel changes our view of work? We won’t devalue our work, nor will we make work our idols. We’ll see it as important but not ultimate. We won’t hate work, but we won’t idolize work either. We’ll see our vocations as holy, as another way that we can serve God and others.It also completely changes the way that we see others. No matter who you are and what job you have, we all tend to look down at those who have lesser jobs. But if we really understand a biblical view of vocation, we won’t be able to do this anymore - nor will we be intimidated by those with better jobs. The gospel changes our view of work.But that’s not all.

The gospel also changes the standards for our work.

When you’re at school, you get report cards. When you get a job, you get performance reviews: 360 degree reviews and so on. But this passage tells us that our work is ultimately evaluated by God, because he is the one we are working for. Verses 7 and 8 say:
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do, whether you are slave or free.
Do you see what this does for a slave? He can look at his master and say, “I may work for you, but I’m not ultimately working for you. My real master is the Lord.” The ultimate performance review for our work will come to all regardless of what job we held, and we’ll all be judged by the same criteria.What difference does this make? Verse 6 gives us a hint: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.”When we work for people, then the quality of our work will depend on how much we think of those people. Has anyone here ever worked for a boss or company that wasn’t very good? I have. Our work for them won’t be very good either. When we work for people, we’ll work harder when they’re looking and not as hard when they’re away. But when we work for Christ, we will be working for one who is ultimately worthy of our best work, and who is always watching. That’s why Paul says that we’re to serve with respect and fear, with sincerity of heart, from the heart, wholeheartedly. It’s because we’re ultimately serving God in our work rather than people. You are not mowing lawns or building websites for clients; you are mowing lawns and building websites for God.If we really worked this way, this alone would cause a lot of people to ask what it is that causes us to live this way. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
The Christian should always be the best in every department. I am not suggesting that the Christian is always the most able man of his group. He may not be; there may be others, who are not Christians, who are much abler...[But] the Christian should be ‘all out’, always industrious, always honest, always truthful, always reliable, always helpful, always trustworthy. That is what should always stand out in the Christian. You cannot give him new ability, or new propensities; but a Christian, however unintelligent he may be, can be an honest man, an upright man, a reliable man, a man who keeps good time, a trustworthy man, a truthful man, a man whose word is his bond—always, a man upon whom you can rely. And all this, because he is a Christian.
Paul tells us that the one who will judge us is God. “The Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do, whether you are slave or free” (Ephesians 6:8). “The homeliest service that we do in an honest calling,” said one puritan, “though it be to plow, or dig, if done in obedience, and conscience of God’s Commandment, is crowned with an ample reward” (Joseph Hall).If you’ve been paying attention, I hope you’re a little overwhelmed. We’ve seen that the gospel changes our view of work: that it’s important but not ultimate. We’ve seen that the gospel gives us a new standard for work, and that from Monday to Friday we’re really working for God, and not others. But there’s one more thing that we need to see.

We need to see how the gospel makes this possible.

The only way we will ever be able to do what Paul says here is through the gospel. It’s easy to forget in chapter 6 that Paul is applying the gospel. The only way we will be able to keep the commands of Ephesians 4-6 is if we understand the gospel of Ephesians 1-3. This passage is part of how Paul says we apply the gospel to our lives as we are filled with the Spirit.In other words, the only way we will be able to work in a way that pleases God is if we see Christ’s perfect work. The only way we’ll be freed from idolizing either our leisure or our performance is if we’re worshiping God through Christ. The Spirit will apply the gospel to our lives so that we will not only be able to live out what Paul describes; we will also want to. We can only live out what Paul says as we apply the gospel through the power of the Spirit to our lives.What could take a group of slaves and help them see that their work was holy? Because they saw the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What would allow masters to treat slaves with unparalleled respect, humbling themselves to them and even calling them brother or sister? That they saw Jesus humble himself, to leave the riches of heaven and make himself of no reputation. Jesus is the ultimate servant and the ultimate example of love, and when we grasp what he has done, we will, with the Spirit’s help, see our work transformed through the power of the gospel.
Father, I pray that you would help us have a biblical view of work that sees our vocations as part of our Christian service, as what it means to serve you in this world. I pray that you would free us from devaluing work, and that you would also free us from idolizing our work. Help us to see our work as a way that we serve you.I pray that you would also change the standards for our work. May we work wholeheartedly and with sincerity of heart, knowing that the Lord will reward each one of us for whatever good we do, no matter what our job.Most of all, help us see Jesus, who knew what it was to work with his hands, who knew what it was to become a servant, who was willing to serve others even to the point of death. I pray that Jesus’ gospel would become so real to us through the power of the Spirit that it will change the way we see work. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Gospel Applied to Parenting (Ephesians 6:1-4)

This morning we're beginning the final chapter of the book of Ephesians, and we're covering a topic that is very appropriate for Mother's Day: parenting. As Paul writes his letter, he is applying the gospel to every part of life. We've been looking for two weeks at how Paul applies the gospel to marriage, and today we come to how Paul applies the gospel to children, and then to parents. This is a very practical and necessary lesson for all of us - as we're going to see, even for those of us who don't have young children anymore.

What in the world does the gospel have to do with parenting? According to Paul, everything. The gospel is what God has done through Jesus Christ at the cross, which is the culmination of history. Paul has explained in the first few chapters how God has reconciled all creation to himself and is creating a new people to himself in the church out of people who were formerly enemies. This is why Ephesians is so relational. In fact, somebody has said that Ephesians is essentially a book about relationships: our relationship with God, and then our relationship within the new humanity he is creating. God is not just reconciling people to himself; he is also creating a new people here and now. Paul says that the way that we relate to each other as the church is a demonstration of his wisdom to angelic beings. When angels want to see how smart God is, they look at the church, at the way that we care for and relate to each other as people who would otherwise have nothing in common with each other.

So the gospel changes our relationships. As we live under the influence of the Spirit, it changes our most intimate relationships - not only in the church, but also in our homes. The best way to transform your marriage, your relationships with your parents or children - any relationship - is to be transformed by the gospel. Understand what Christ has done in making dead people spiritually alive, and it changes everything.

So today isn't for anyone. You can't write a parenting book for everyone based on this passage, because it's really for people who have been transformed by the gospel and are living in the power of the Spirit. But if you have been changed by the gospel, then the gospel is going to change the way that you relate to both your parents and to your kids.

Now, I want to pause here and say that what I want to do is preach what Paul says, not what I think about parenting. A lot of pastors have been humbled in preaching this text. I never knew so much about parenting as before I was a parent. Now that I've been a parent for over 14 years, I'm starting to learn what I don't know. Today I really don't want to talk to you based on my own experience as a parent, because I am well aware of where I have failed as a parent. I hope that by God's grace I have also succeeded as a parent in many ways, but let's not hear me talk about parenting today. Let's hear from the Lord through the apostle Paul.

I also want to say that this passage is going to be challenging. This is an in-your-face passage. I hope that you will be challenged as we look at this passage, and also encouraged that with the Spirit's help, you can make the changes necessary in your own life to put this passage into practice.

Let's look first at how this passage uncovers our sins. Then we're going to look very briefly at how the gospel shapes the relationship of kids to parents, and parents to kids.

First, let's start by looking at how this passage uncovers our sins.

Sometimes when people study Ephesians, they think that Paul is reenforcing traditional family values of that day. They think that Paul is just echoing what was common in that day, and that now things have changed so we don't have to listen to him anymore. But if you look a bit more carefully, you begin to understand that Paul is actually uncovering the sins of parents in that day. And not only this, but he's uncovering the sins of parents today as well.

What specifically does Paul uncover? In that day, the rights of fathers were staggering. Men in general had a lot of rights, but children could change all of that. They tied you down. They were considered a nuisance. They were expensive, inhibited sexual promiscuity, and made easy divorce a lot harder. As a result, many in that day did not want children. But even if you did have children, the father's rights would be almost unlimited. A father could sell his children as slaves. He could make them work in the field, even in chains. He could punish them how he liked, and could even inflict the death penalty on them. And this power extended over the life of his children no matter how long they lived. A Roman son never came of age. His father had rights over him as long as the father lived.

When a child was born, the child would be placed before the father. If the father stooped and raised the child, the child was accepted and raised as his. But if he turned away, the child was rejected and literally discarded. Sometimes the baby would be picked up by those who trafficked in infants; and raised to be slaved or to work in brothels. Other times they were left to die. One Roman father wrote to his wife, "If - good luck to you! - you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out."

And then Paul comes along and, like Jesus, elevates the value of children in an extraordinary way, so that fathers have a sacred responsibility to their children. Paul revolutionizes the relationship between children and parents. You'll remember that Jesus did the same as well, welcoming them when the disciples tried to turn them away. He warned that it would be better to be drowned with a millstone tied to your neck rather than to cause a child to stumble. He said that we have to become like children ourselves. The gospel completely overturns the culture's views on children, completely turns them upside down.

I know that you are probably thinking that you're glad we are more progressive today, that we finally understand the value of children. If that is what you are thinking, you are both right and wrong. In fact, we not only face the danger that Paul corrected in this passage, we face a new one too. As much as we recoil against seeing children as impediments to the lifestyle we desire, and the barbaric treatment of children, this happens today as well. This is why we can't be smug. We still decide whether or not we're going to have children based on how well the children will fit into our lives. This is still an issue today, in which children are seen as something that will interfere with our lives. This is still very much an issue today.

But not only do we suffer from this, but we also suffer from the opposite as well. We also end up idolizing our children. It's strange: we don't want children until they will fit into our lives, but once we have children, we face the very real danger of centering our lives on them. An idol is a good thing that we make an ultimate thing. It's anything we look to apart from Jesus in order to be happy. And today we face the very real danger of turning our kids into idols, of looking to them for our ultimate happiness. Not only does this lead us away from loving God above all, but it ultimately crushes our kids. It places a weight on them that they simply can't bare.

The good news is that Paul not only uncovers these sins, but he gives us hope. Let's look at what he does.

So let's look at how the gospel transforms the relationship of children to parents.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:1-2:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

Here Paul gives us a general principle and an application of this principle. This principle, when we understand it, corrects both traditional and modern views of children and parenting. It's something that the Ephesians needed to hear at a time when they undervalued children, and it's something we need to hear today when we both undervalue and overvalue children.

What is the underlying principle? It comes from the fifth of what we call the ten commandments - "Honor your father and mother." What does honor mean? John Calvin said it really involves three things: reverence, obedience, and gratitude. Reverence means that we respect our parents with our hearts, honoring them appropriately. Honoring them means something even more practical: that we support them in practical ways, even financially. Paul says this in 1 Timothy 5:

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God...Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:4-8)

This is very strong language - not at all an optional thing. We have a responsibility to care for our parents, even our grandparents, in practical ways, including financially, as well as housing, health care, mental stimulation, and emotional support.

What about "obey"? Paul gives this as an application of the principle that we honor our parents, and it's going to look different depending on our age. The word Paul uses in verse 1 is usually for little children living at home. When you're a child, it really does mean obey. But as you grow, the Bible teaches that you do leave your parent's home and form a home of your own. In Genesis it says that you are to leave father and mother and cleave to your wife. There is a bit of a change in the way you relate to your parents. As an adult, obedience means more an attitude of general submission, faithfully listening to the wisdom that your parents have.

I hope you see how this is a challenge to both traditional and modern views of family. In Paul's day, the traditional view said that you obey your father because your father has all the rights and you have no choice. Paul says no to this. You obey and willingly submit to your parents because it is right, because it is pleasing to the Lord, and because things generally go well with you when you do. Obedience to God leads to blessing.

It also challenges modern views of family. Today we teach our children that submission to authority is a bad thing, and to challenge others and to think for themselves.

Paul says that both the traditional and modern views are wrong. Children are to honor their parents as part of their duty to the Lord. This means obeying when you're young, but even when you're older it means showing respect and appreciation for your parents, as well as looking after them, not only on Mother's Day but all year long. When we do this, things go well.

The difficult part comes when this is costly, and it can be costly in two specific ways. For some of us it's costly because our parents may not have been what we had hoped for. Some of our fathers, for instance, were not the fathers we would have liked. Paul says that we are still to find ways to show them respect and honor, not because we agree with them and not because we want to ignore all that they did wrong, but because this is right and pleasing to the Lord.

It's also costly because it takes time and money. I keep telling my mother not to get old. So far it's working. But there may come a day when honoring her costs in some very practical ways. I keep telling my kids to get ready for when I'm old. It's going to be a doozy!

What gives children the desire to honor imperfect parents, to care for them even at great cost? The gospel does. The gospel gives us the ability to forgive the sins of our imperfect parents, because we see how much we have been forgiven. It gives us the selflessness to care for our parents at great cost because we see how much Christ has sacrificed for us. It lifts us out of our selfishness, so that the way we treat our parents becomes a reflection of our love for the Lord.

But Paul's not done here in this passage.

Let's look at how the gospel transforms the relationship of parents to children.

Paul says in verse 4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Parents usually go wrong in one or two ways. Some parents are too strict. Paul addresses this in the first phrase: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." It's significant, but the way, that he mentions fathers here. Don't let anyone tell you that parenting is a mother's job! But then Paul corrects a mistake that is common in parenting: that parenting can be so strict that children are exasperated and crushed by the demands. Paul doesn't want this. He wants an atmosphere of grace in which our kids are allowed to flourish.

The distinguished painter Benjamin West tells the story of one day when his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his younger sister. While she was out, he discovered some ink and decided to paint his sister's portrait. When his mother came back there was an awful mess. She walked in, said nothing about the ink stains all over. She picked up the paper on which he had drawn the portrait and said, "Why, it's Sally!" and then she stooped and kissed him. Benjamin West said, "My mother's kiss made me a painter."

Paul says, in essence, "Don't err by being too strict and exasperating your children." But then he confronts the other way that parents go wrong: by being too lenient. "Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."

Training is a word that refers to discipline. Some parents err by not being disciplined appropriately. Paul has already said not to be too harsh, but here he says not to go to the other extreme and let your children do whatever they want either.

But Paul doesn't stop there. He also mentions the instruction of the Lord. What does this mean? A lot of us want our kids to learn about the Lord. That's why we bring our kids to church and to Sunday school. But Paul here says that the primary responsibility for this belongs in the home. It is ultimately the parent's job - ultimately, according to Paul, the father's job - to instruct children in the way of the Lord.

A pastor - formerly a youth pastor - complained that parents would often call him in frustration, wanting him to do something to fix their teenagers. He grew increasingly frustrated, because for years these parents had been teaching them that church and the Lord come somewhere on the list after sports and school and everything else. For years, these parents had been teaching their kids that God is not a high priority. These parents had been instructing their children, but not in the way of the Lord.

Paul says that it's our job to instruct them in the Lord. This means making the Lord a priority in our schedules, and also in our home lives. This means that your kids will know whether your faith is genuine or not. They're more likely to be excited about the Lord if you are excited about the Lord.

It also means that we will learn family worship. Most parents today don't take the time to read the Bible, pray, and worship with their children. In 1647, Christians were so concerned about this that they raised the alarm and said, "If we don't start worshiping at home, we're going to lose our kids!" And they were right. So they instructed pastors and elders to begin inquiring about family devotions. If they found out that a father was not leading his children in family worship, they would talk to him privately. If he didn't respond, they would actually begin church discipline against him.

Were they fanatics? Maybe - or maybe they were just on to something. Maybe they knew that parents are responsible for disciplining children, and instructing them in the Lord, and that failure to do so is catastrophic. We should care about our children's relationship with the Lord just as much as we care about any other area of their life. It's more important than almost anything. It's got to be a priority.

Paul says that the gospel changes families. Maybe today you've been challenged as a child - even a grown child - about honoring your parents. Perhaps you've been challenged as a parent. You may be too harsh. Or you may be too lenient. You may not be teaching your children about the Lord. You may be neglecting meeting as a family around his Word on a regular basis. Some of you may have to go out of here and repent and make some specific changes.

But this morning I would fail in preaching this text if I did not bring us back to the gospel. The gospel is not that we are worthy and therefore deserve blessing, but that we have sinned and failed and need forgiveness. And better yet: we have received it. The gospel is the good news that before the foundation of this world, God chose his people to be holy and blameless before him. The gospel is the good news that God takes people who are spiritually dead and saves them because of his great love. The gospel is the good news that although we all had imperfect fathers, and many of us are imperfect fathers, that we have a heavenly Father who has made provision for our greatest needs through what Christ has accomplished for us.

Today we move from our inadequacy to the perfection of Jesus, trusting in the power of the gospel to reverse the effects of sin and change us so that we can become who we were meant to be. In invite you to come to the Table this morning and find all that you really need.

The Gospel Applied to Marriage, Part Two (Ephesians 5:22-33)

We are looking at a somewhat controversial topic today. I don't normally enjoy talking about controversial topics. But that's one of the beauties of working through sections of God's Word: you don't get to pick the topics you cover. We're addressing this topic because, like Mount Everest, it's there.

But the truth is: we also need to hear what God's Word says on the topic of marriage. I am so glad that the Bible is so practical in how it applies to every area of life. We need to hear from God, because marriage is too important and too difficult without his help.

So we're going to get very practical today. My goal is to say all that this passage says, and to say as little as possible outside of what this passage says, and to be very practical in how we apply this to our marriages today. I think you're going to find that while we may struggle with what this passage says at first, it is written for our joy. This comes from the God who made us and who knows us, and it brings us in touch with who he made us to be. It will actually be something that frees us rather than something that binds us.

I want to look at three things today: that there is a difference between men and women, how this difference is to work itself out in our marriages, and finally, how we can get there.

But first we have to see that there is a difference.

Paul says in verse 22-24:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

We read this and say, "What in the world? That may have been fine back then, but why should wives submit today? And how are husbands the head?" It's very easy to dismiss this out of hand as being outdated and oppressive, and to think that we're more enlightened now.

But there is an underlying assumption that we need to examine. Paul is teaching here that men and women have overlapping but distinguishable ways of being human. In other words, men and women are equal, but not equivalent. We are both human, but vastly different. And our marriages are transformed as we rediscover the joy of being male and female together in our marriages in a way that completes us and that fulfills us.

Let me back up a little. When God created the world, he created Adam first. It's fascinating that God evaluated everything that he had made, he saw that it was good. But even before sin entered the world, even when the world was perfect, God looked at the single male he had created and said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Think about this for a minute. The world was perfect, but even in a perfect world, it was not good for male to be without female. And so we read in Genesis 2 that God said, "I will make a helper suitable for him."

A lot of people have misunderstood what this phrase "a helper suitable for him" means. What it means is that Eve has something that Adam lacks. She has a strength in an area that he lacks, and he needs her. Women were created because men lacked something that only females can provide. Eve is not a clone of Adam, but rather somebody like him but different. And when Adam saw this blend of "same as but different from" he was very happy and breaks into the first poem in the Bible, and therefore the first poem we know of in history:

The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh..."
(Genesis 2:23)

It's interesting to note that the Bible often talks about humans being made in the image of God. Whenever it does so, it is clear that it refers to both males and females. For instance, Genesis 1:27 says:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

What this means is that men and women are made equally in God's image. It takes men and women together. If we lived in a society with only men or only women, we would not have as full a picture of what God is like than when we see men and women together reflecting the beauty of God's character.

So we see this beautiful picture of the only perfect marriage that has ever existed before the Fall, and there were differences, and the differences were amazing. The differences were for their joy. We see the differences all over the first few chapters of Genesis, in the order of creation, the naming role of the man. God had Adam name all the creatures, and indeed he named Eve as well, not because God got tired and couldn't come up with any names, but because he wanted Adam to take some sort of authority in naming. Naming something, even today, implies some kind of authority over what is named. There were no tensions between Adam and Eve. There was no oppression. This was the only perfect marriage that ever existed. But there were differences between them, even somewhat of a leadership role for Adam. And these differences were for their joy.

We read that one of the consequences of sin entering the world is that these differences became sources of tension as well as sources of joy. God said to Eve in Genesis 3:16:

Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.

What this means is that as a result of sin, we no longer enjoy the differences as we were intended to. Men were supposed to exercise loving, humble, and considerate leadership, but are now prone to becoming harsh and emotionally distant. Eve was intended to intelligently and willingly complement Adam and his leadership, but now wants the leadership for herself. Both Adam and Eve fall into sinful patterns. Eve wants to reverse God's plan and lead Adam; Adam stops lovingly leading and caring for his wife. Their desires were distorted, and we live with the results today.

But I'm so glad we get a picture of what marriage was supposed to be. We were designed to be incomplete as males and females, but together there is completion. We were designed to be different, but complementary. We are equal, but not equivalent. There is an irreversible and wonderful difference between men and women that was supposed to be for our joy, not for our conflict. There really is a difference between us, and before sin distorted us, this difference was all good.

By the way, it's not just Christians who are noticing that men and women really are different. All kinds of research shows that men and women are both similar and vastly different in how they approach everything. Our brains and how we wire are very different. Whether as young children or in how we clean or as presidents of corporations, we approach everything differently. Even if we do the same thing, there is often a different thinking process that leads us there. Anthropologists have done studies and have found that the same patterns of male and female behaviors are found throughout all cultures and times that can't be explained merely by socialization. God really has made us as male and female, equal, incomplete without the other, and different.

So let's look at how Paul applies this.

Here is what I really want us to understand. Paul does not want to take us back to a traditional, patriarchal view of marriage. That's what so many people think that he's doing here in this passage, and that makes it easy to write it off as being outdated. But that's not at all what Paul was doing. What Paul wrote here, and elsewhere, is actually against both traditional and modern forms of marriage. It corrects both our tendencies toward male domination and toward obliterating the differences between us. You don't find what Paul wrote here anywhere else. It's because the gospel sets us free both from traditional distortions of marriage as well as modern ones.

No, what Paul wants to take us back to is the only perfect marriage that ever existed. You see this in verse 31, which speaks of that perfect marriage, which is a pattern for all of our marriages today. We now have the power to follow this pattern because of the gospel.

Paul is saying here that our marriages can, because of Christ, start to look like what marriage was meant to be before sin entered the world. Men can start to learn how to lovingly lead without domination; women can start to enjoy - key word, enjoy! - lovingly affirming her husband's leadership in a way that provides strength where he lacks it. There is no power struggle, no putting down of the other. There is a beautiful coming-together of two people who would be incomplete without the other, and an enjoyment of the differences.

So Paul doesn't want to take us back to traditional marriages. It's much better than that. He wants to take us back to who we were supposed to be in the first place. He wants us to enjoy something like the only perfect marriage in history. Not only that, but he wants our marriages to be parables of an even greater marriage that will take place one day: the marriage between Christ and his church.

So let's get very practical here. The two commands to women are to submit in verse 22 and to respect her husband in verse 33. We have to be clear about what this does not mean. This does not mean to become a doormat or to agree with everything your husband says, or that you stop thinking or do all the cooking and cleaning. All of those are distortions that have nothing to do with what this text says.

The principle that it gets to is this: the gospel allows you to become a wife who overcomes the distortions of sin and willingly rejoices in your husband's loving leadership in your marriage. You are still equal in every way to your husband. Your way of approaching the world is vastly different from your husband's, and he needs your ways of thinking. He needs your input. It would not be good for him to be alone! But you will become like Eve before the Fall: different, providing what your husband lacks at his very core; equal; without a power struggle; honoring and affirming your husband's loving leadership.

Notice that this doesn't say who will do the dishes. It leaves many of the implications of how this works out in everyday life up to you. But what it does say is that the gospel makes it possible to overcome the sinful effects of the Fall that caused women to start to hate their husband's loving leadership. It allows women to enjoy the differences.

But it doesn't end there. Paul spends most of his time talking to men, and this is what he says. Men, love your wives. Don't be emotionally distant or domineering. Love your wife and care for her so sacrificially that you start to remind people of how Jesus loves the church. Make your marriage a one-flesh partnership so that the two of you really become one, and so that you nourish and care for her as much as you care for yourself.

In other words, the gospel counteracts the effects of sin, which cause men to become domineering and emotionally distant, and women to not want their husbands to lovingly lead. We are different, and the gospel allows these differences to be sources of joy in our marriages rather than sources of tension.

I want to get very practical here about making decisions. Does this mean that the man always gets to make the decisions, and the woman has to follow whatever he says? Absolutely not. Almost every decision can be made together. But there are times when the two of you can't agree, and to not agree is in itself a decision. Somebody's got to break the logjam. It's rare, but it happens.

So here's how it could work. You want to buy a car, but you can't agree. You talk about it for ages, but you don't get anywhere. So eventually the husband says, "I'm sorry, dear, but someone's got to make the decision. I'm afraid I've got to make the call." He is exercising his loving leadership. And so he makes the decision, and they buy the car that his wife wanted. He leads, but in a radically selfless way that puts her well-being first.

Let me give you a real life example. Wayne Grudem is a theologian who is known for his beliefs that men and women are complementary but different. His views are sometimes controversial. They're afraid that his views will lead to male domination. Grudem had a prestigious post at a major school in Chicago for twenty years. He was chair of a department.

There was one problem. As a result of a car accident, his wife was in chronic pain. That pain was aggravated by cold and humidity, which mean that Chicago was not the best place to live.

After a couple of trips to Phoenix, he realized that the climate there would be much better for his wife. So he phoned the dean of a smaller seminary there and asked if there might be a job possibility there. It was a much smaller school, a much less prestigious post, but he took it. He says:

I came to Ephesians 5:28 in my regular schedule of daily Bible reading, and the Lord used this verse strongly in my own decision process: "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." After reading that, I thought it was important for me to move for the sake of Margaret's physical body, her physical health.

This highlights a little of what marriage is supposed to be: a coming together of two different and complementary people who need each other, in which both are equal and both contribute. The wife willingly and joyfully respects her husband's leadership, and the husband uses that leadership to love and sacrifice for his wife.

Paul doesn't want us to have a traditional marriage, or a modern one. He wants us to have one that resembles the only perfect marriage in history, and one that reflects the upcoming marriage of Christ to his church.

Let me close this morning by asking how we can get there.

I realize we are all in different places this morning. I may have sparked a lot of questions, not least of which is "how do we get there from here?"

I want to close by asking you to do three things.

First, it's tempting as we read this to wish that our spouse would listen to the part that applies to them. But the reality is that you can't change your spouse. This passage is written for your benefit. Don't focus on getting your spouse to obey this passage; focus on you applying this passage. Your spouse may never change, but you, with the help of God, can. I realize that this is incredibly difficult for some of you who are in difficult marriages, but please work on understanding what this passage means for you rather than worrying about how it applies to your spouse.

This doesn't mean that you won't have discussions about how this applies to both of you down the road. You may need to talk about this together, or even begin enlist the help of brothers and sisters. You may need marriage counseling. There is no shame in that. But don't begin by applying it to your spouse. Begin by applying it to yourself.

Secondly, begin to rejoice in the differences. The Bible tells us that some of the things that cause tension in marriage are differences that were originally meant to give us joy. As you begin to think biblically about your marriage, you may begin to see the differences between you as gifts from God. Begin to rejoice in what it means to be men and women, and instead of letting those differences frustrate you, see them as gifts from God. We are incomplete without the other.

In music, two notes that are different from one another can clash. But there are notes that are quite different that, when brought together, create an amazing sound. There are chords and harmonies that we can only enjoy when our differences are sounded together, and these can bring us great joy.

Finally, don't lose sight of where this comes in Ephesians. Chapters 1 to 3 of this book are about the gospel, what God has accomplished through Christ for us. Chapters 4 to 6 are about how this changes our lives. The type of marriage that Paul describes here is only possible because of the gospel, through the power of the Spirit.

I used to watch shows as a kid that would have this disclaimer: "Don't try this at home." This passage should come with a disclaimer: "Don't try this without the gospel." This passage is all about God restoring the male-female relationship to what it was supposed to be, which is only possible through the gospel. So experience this gospel. Learn what Christ has done for you. Turn to him and trust in him, and it will change every part of your lives.

My prayer for you is that you will begin to apply this to your lives and marriages; that you will learn to be fully male, fully female, and that you will enjoy the differences. My prayer is that your marriage will begin to overcome all the sinful distortions that entered the world as a result of sin, and that through the gospel it will start to look like the only perfect marriage in history - and even more importantly, like the upcoming marriage between Christ and his church.

The Gospel Applied to Marriage, Part One (Ephesians 5:22-33)

For the months leading up to Easter, we were looking at the unfolding mystery. Jesus, we read, is on every page of Scripture. It all leads to him. We began to see many of the signposts that point to Jesus all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. The problem is that we often read Scripture and focus on the individual scenes, while losing track of the main storyline, which means that we lose track of what it's all about.

We're back in Ephesians now, where we've been since September for the most part. You'd think that we're back in the New Testament now, so there's no danger of forgetting the storyline. Jesus is literally on almost every page, so you'd think we would be okay, that we'd apply Jesus to everything. But you'd be wrong. This is especially true when we get to practical topics, like the one we're looking at today. It's easy to start handing out practical tips that are helpful, but have nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel. What do those have to do with marriage anyway?

It's here that the Apostle Paul comes along and says: Jesus has everything to do with your marriage. Jesus is on every page of Scripture. And in today's passage, Paul says that Christian marriage is all about Jesus. This blows me away. Do you remember how we said that the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a picture of Christ, just like the Passover and the rock in the desert were pictures of Christ? Paul says here that your marriage is also a picture of Christ. It's a signpost. Just as all these stories and types point to Jesus, you are called to apply the gospel in such a way that your marriage points to Jesus.

Paul's not writing to ideal people who have perfect spouses and no stresses. He's writing to real people in the real world. He's applying the gospel to how we live our lives. And in the passage before us today, I'd like for us to see three things. First: what Paul says about Jesus. Second: how Paul applies this to marriage. Third: one way that we could miss Paul's message, and one way that we can get this really right.

So let's look at this. Let's begin with what Paul says about Jesus in this passage.

As we begin to look at what Paul says about Jesus, I want to tell you about something that's changed recently. The penny has dropped in my life so that I now understand something that I've never understood as clearly as I have before.

How in the world do we change? The surprising Biblical answer is that we change as we see Jesus and the gospel in new ways and apply that to our lives. Somebody has compared this to a Coke machine. You put the money in, and sometimes nothing comes out. You have to bang the machine a couple of times until the coins drop and the Coke comes out. It's that way with the gospel. We get it, but we don't always see the results. So what we have to do is to bang the gospel into ourselves until the coins drop, and we get the results. Our biggest challenge is to get the gospel to drop into our lives.

In other words, the best way for us to change isn't to focus on the changes; it's to focus on Jesus. It's to see and understand and appreciate who Jesus is and what he has done for us. When we have a vision of the loveliness and perfection of Christ, we'll long to be like him. When we understand that right now he is making intercession for us, and that the gospel changes us so that we have the power to obey, then we'll be ready to live changed lives.

So notice that when Paul begins to talk about marriage, he turns our focus to Jesus. The reason is that nothing will change our marriages like seeing Jesus and understanding what he's done for us. You could talk about the needs of men and women, and good communication skills, and all kinds of other good things. And they are good. But Paul knows what's going to change us. We're changed as the beauty and value of what Jesus did for us is grasped by our hearts and applied to our marriages.

So Paul gives us a vision in verse 23 of "Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." If you read that and yawn, you haven't really understood what Paul is saying here. If you looked at the recipients of Paul's letter in Ephesus, they wouldn't have looked like much. To be honest, churches seldom look like much. But Paul says that the church is much more than we normally think. It's a new humanity, he's explained. It's a key part of what God has been up to for all of history: creating a people for himself. The church is part of the new creation that God is creating, experienced in advance. Here, Paul says that the church is actually the body of Christ. We've heard that term so often that we miss the significance of it. He's saying that the church is somehow the physical presence of Jesus Christ himself in this world. And Jesus has authority over the church as its head. He himself is the Savior of the church.

Then you see exactly what Jesus Christ has done for the church in verses 25 to 27:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Paul here is describing the extent of Jesus' love for the church, and it's amazing. He loved the church, Paul says. How so? He gave himself up for her. Jesus, who is God and is eternally praised loved the church so much that he came to offer up his life and die out of love for the church. He loved the church so much that he died for it. Hebrews 12:2 puts it this way: "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." Jesus loved the church so much that he willingly suffered through not only the physical agony of the cross, but the agony of bearing our sins and the wrath of God, so that he could make us holy, setting us aside for himself.

You then get the beautiful picture of the results of this. What does it mean, this washing with water and the word? This may be, in part, a reference to baptism, and to hearing the and being changed by the word of the gospel. But it's probably also a reference to the Jewish custom of a bridal bath. Ezekiel 16 gives a beautiful picture of the Lord entering into a marriage relationship with Israel:

I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. (Ezekiel 16:8-9)

So you have this beautiful picture of Jesus loving the church so much that he dies for it, that he enters into a relationship so intimate and tender that it can only be compared to marriage. And the result is, according to verse 27, that we are going to be presented "to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." The church is blemished and wrinkled right now, but we will be presented to him at his return completely unstained, completely unwrinkled, completely unblemished. We will be dazzling because of what Christ has done for us. I love the way that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it:

The Beauty-Specialist will have put his final touch to the church, the massaging will have been so perfect that there will not be a single wrinkle left. She will look young, and in the bloom of youth, with color in her cheeks, with her skin perfect, without any spots or wrinkles. And she will remain like that for ever and for ever. The body of her humiliation will have gone, it will have been transformed and transfigured into the body of her glorification.

This is taking some work for the men, but that's okay. You can work at this picture of being the bride of Christ while the women work on the picture of being sons of God! What Paul is saying is that the church, which looks so blemished and imperfect here, will be completely transformed by what Jesus has done for it, that it will become and remain more stunning than the most beautiful bride you've ever seen.

Not only that, but verse 29 says that Christ feeds and nourishes the church in the present. Christ is providing everything needed for the nourishment and growth of his church. He wholeheartedly, tenderly, and completely cares for the church out of his love.

What Paul describes here has two implications for us. The first is that it really changes our view of the church. Don't ever make the mistake of devaluing the church. We're not much in ourselves. We sure don't look like much. But we are much because Christ loves us and is at work within us, transforming us so that we will one day be stunning. We need a much higher view of who the church is, not because of who we are in ourselves, but because of who we are becoming in Jesus Christ.

But this also means that we need to be amazed, stunned, by Jesus and what he has done for us. This is a picture of how much Jesus Christ loves us, and it leaves us amazed and speechless. When we see Jesus and what he has done for us, and when we really get it, then it leaves us speechless, amazed, and worshiping. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." When we get this - when we really get it - it will change everything about us.

So that is what this passage tells us about Jesus. Paul goes in an unusual direction with this, because he takes what is true about Jesus and applies it to marriage.

So let's look at how Paul applies who Jesus is, and what he has done, to marriage.

The big picture is this: that our marriages, if we are his followers, are to become reproductions, in miniature, of Christ and his church. We are called to make our marriages reflections, types, parallels of the kind of relationship and radical love that Christ and the church have for each other. When we apply the gospel to marriage, we become models of the ultimate relationship we could ever have.

Remember that Paul isn't writing to ideal people with ideal marriages. This is more than just idealism here. Paul is saying that the way to transform our marriages is for us to see Christ clearly, so that he becomes not only the motivation but also the model for how we live in our marriages.

This gives incredible value to women. When Paul wrote this, women were viewed very poorly, just as they are still today in far too many cases. Jewish men at this time used to pray every morning, giving thanks that they had not been born "a Gentile, a slave, or a woman." Jewish law didn't see women as persons, but as things. They had no legal rights whatsoever. And it was even worse in the Greek world. Men were not always expected to be even be friends with their wives.

Paul comes along and turns this upside down. He says that marriage is a model of the ultimate human relationship, and that women are to be loved just like Christ loves the church. In fact, Paul spends most of his time here talking to the men about the way they are to love their wives, selflessly, sacrificially. Husbands are to be committed to the total well-being of their wives, especially spiritually, so that she becomes exquisite in her splendor, unsurpassed in her beauty. This is how Christ loves the church.

We're going to talk about this in a minute, but notice that Paul tells the wives, "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). I know you have questions about this. We're going to get to those in a minute! In light of telling the wives to submit, what do you think Paul is going to say to the husbands? You would expect that Paul would say, "Husbands, exercise authority over your wives. Rule over your wives." But he doesn't! Not once. Not even close. Instead, he says, "Husbands, love your wives" (Ephesians 5:25). And then he gives the model: Jesus. Husbands are to love their wives just as much as Jesus loves the church. They are to give themselves to her, and the standard is Jesus. I hope you see how radical this is, how much it speaks to the value of our wives.

We usually choke on verse 22 that speaks of women submitting to their husbands. But notice carefully what it means. The word here does not speak anything of value, because Scripture clearly teaches that both men and women are equally valuable before God. It does not say that women should submit to every man, only their husbands. And it's given in the middle voice, which means that it is voluntary, not demanded. It's a free and voluntary choice, not a demand. And it's not a demeaning thing. It's so that the marriage relationship can reflect the relationships of Christ to the church, the ultimate relationship that any of us could ever have.

I realize that there's still all kinds of questions that you may have, and I hope we will get to some of them. But I hope you see what Paul is getting at here. He wants our marriages to be changed, not by trying harder or communicating better, although those are good. He wants us to be changed because we see how Jesus loves us, so that Jesus' love becomes the model and the motivation for our own marriages.

Let's look as we close at two ways we can miss what he's saying, and one way we can get it.

Our real challenge when we read the Bible, especially a passage like this, is to say all that it says without saying any less or more. I have to confess that I've fudged on this passage in the past, trying to soften what it says, especially because parts of it are hard to hear in our culture and our day. We miss out on what this passage says when we say less by softening it too much, or when we say more by saying things that aren't really here. I imagine I'm not alone this morning. There are some of us who want to take scissors and cut parts of this out. There are others of us who want to add parts that we think Paul missed that would give what's written here even more bite.

The real question for us this morning if we are going to have marriages that reflect this amazing relationship that Christ has with the church is this: will we listen to what God says through Scripture, even if it contradicts what we want him to say? Think of it this way: if God is God, wouldn't you expect him to contradict you at points? If God agrees with you on every point, then he's really not the true God. You've made him in your own image. Will you hear God speak, even when what he says is not what you'd like him to say?

There are parts of Scripture that don't say what we like them to say. They're out of step with the times. But here's what I know about the times: the things we're saying now are going to be embarrassing to your grandchildren one day. When we set up our times as the arbiter of truth, as the ultimate standard of truth, then we're setting something up that is going to be an embarrassment in fifty years. It's far better to allow God to speak, rather than to set ourselves up as the authority. What God says is above the currents and fashions that change. So please come prepared to hear what God says, even if it's challenging at times. If it's challenging, that's a sign that maybe it is God who is speaking.

We're going to return next week to the practical implications of this passage for our marriages. But let me close this morning with one way that we can really get this: think about Jesus. Begin to think of all that he has done to save us. Think about the extent of his love, that he willingly offered up his life for you. Think of what you are becoming, what the church is becoming. He is changing us. C.S. Lewis said that "the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship." Think and meditate on the gospel and the extraordinary love of Jesus Christ, and it will begin to change you. And the more we'll want our own marriages to be models of that relationship, the ultimate human relationship we could ever have. The best way to improve your marriage is to become gripped with the love of Jesus Christ for the church.

Father, I pray today that you would help us see Jesus. Help us to see the extent of his love. May we truly grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

And I pray that this love would begin to shape our marriages, as we become models of the relationship that Christ has with his church. May Christ's love begin to transform our marriages even as we think about it right now. And please help us as we come back next week and look at some practical applications of this in our lives. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

Grasping the Gospel (Ephesians 5:15-21)

One of the greatest mysteries to me has been how to change so that I become a holy person. Here's how it looks in my life. There are certain temptations that I face on a regular basis. My track record of success with these temptations is dismally low. I've tried everything. When I fail, again, I usually feel guilty and resolve to try even harder next time so that it doesn't happen again. The next time the temptation comes, I find myself falling again. Except this time I feel even worse because my resolution to try harder didn't work.

Can anybody relate? I want to change, but my efforts to change myself don't work. And the harder I try to change myself, the more discouraged I become, and the guiltier I feel before God.

I've discovered, actually, that a lot of us get the first half of the gospel more than we do the second half. One of my favorite hymns puts it this way: "Be of sin the double cure. Save me from its guilt and power." I get that Jesus has saved me from the guilt of sin. If you have repented of (turned away from) your sins and trusted in what Christ has done for you at the cross, then you've been forgiven. He has taken all of your sins and given you all of his righteousness. I'm not saying this is easy to understand. There are riches here, and we'll never get to the bottom of comprehending this great exchange. But it's relatively easy to understand this half. As another hymn says, our sins, not in part but the whole, are nailed to the cross, and we bear them no more.

But I'll tell you what really trips me up sometimes: the part that Jesus' death and resurrection has not only saved me from the guilt of sin, but the power of sin. The Bible tells us that we have been set free from sin, and that sin no longer has dominion or power over us. I believe this, but is there anyone else who doesn't always feel that way? When I'm tempted, it sometimes feels like sin has a ton of power over me. I feel powerless to resist, and it leads to this cycle of failure. I'm tempted; I fail; I feel guilty and resolve to do better; I'm tempted again and I fail again, and feel even worse than before.

So when Paul says in the second half of Ephesians, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1), I'm curious to hear what he's got to say. How is it possible for our lives to match our callings? Paul has given us the gospel in all its richness, and he's just told us to bring our lives into line with that gospel, so that there is no discrepancy between them. Our lives and the gospel match each other. How is that possible? I'm all over this, because sometimes it feels like I've tried everything, and no matter what I do, my life never matches the beauty of the gospel. The gospel is up here, and my life is down here. Sometimes it feels like my life can never be lived in a way that is worthy of the calling you have received.

In today's passage, Paul tells us how our lives can change. To the extent that we do what Paul says we should do in this passage, we will see our lives transformed. We'll see that our lives actually begin to resemble our calling. How can we change so that we are set free from the power of sin, and so that our lives actually match the gospel?

Paul actually gives three commands in this passage. They're hard to spot at first, because there are a lot of supporting clauses. We'll get to those too. Paul essentially gives us three sets of commands expressed as both positives and negatives. There are three things we need to do if we are going to stop the cycle of failure and live worthy of the calling we've received. Here's the first:

1. Pay close attention to living wisely

Verses 15 and 16 say, "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

The main command is "Be very careful, then how you live." The command is that you take care to live as a wise rather than unwise person. Be accurate, precise, and pay close attention to the way you live. Be deliberate. This should get rid of the notion that all we have to do is "let go and let God." We don't change by being passive. There's effort and intentionality involved. We have to pay attention.

And what are we supposed to pay attention to? Paul says we're to pay careful attention to how we live. He says that we are to pay attention to choosing wisdom rather than foolishness in our lives. And I love how he practical he gets: he applies this to our time, saying that we've got to buy up the opportunities that we encounter, rather than squandering the opportunities that God gives us.

A few years ago we went tubing in the Elora Gorge. I don't know if you've ever been tubing before. It sounds like a lot of fun, and it is, but I basically remember only two things from our tubing adventure: rocks, and relief when the tube ride was over. We got in these tubes, and from that point on we were at the mercy of the current. The current kept on taking us to where all kinds of rocks were. Sometimes I'd see them coming and I would desperately try to change direction, and sometimes I would miss them. But I hit enough rocks that I started to get afraid, and those were only the rocks I could see. Then there were all the rocks underwater. I was afraid of hitting a rock and knocking myself out, and then being dragged down the river unconscious. It was not a fun experience!

To make it worse, my daughter, who was quite a bit younger then, was also on a tube. I think she did better than I did, but the whole time I was thinking, "If I'm having problems, how in the world is she doing?"

I was surprised to get to the end and discover that some people loved the experience and wanted to go again. I swore I would never repeat the experience in my life!

But as I think about it, there are some parallels between my tubing experience and what Paul says. The days, like the river, are evil. There are rocks that are above the surface, and there are rocks underneath the surface that can hurt or kill you. And there are two ways to live, just like there are two ways to go down the river. One is to be swept by the currents with little control over where you're going. If you do this, you're going to hit every rock going and you're going to endanger your life. The other is to live wisely, deliberately choosing your course so that you don't hit all the rocks. Paul says to pay close attention so that you are deliberate in the course you take, so that you aren't just swept along wherever the current takes you.

Can I ask how deliberate you are in your life? I find that so many of us live on automatic pilot. We are not deliberate in what goes into our minds. We absorb culture's values because we read and watch all that our culture produces without much thought. We go with the flow and end up hitting all kinds of rocks that we could have missed if we had seen them coming, or if we hadn't just drifted with the current.

Paul is telling us that it's going to take careful, deliberate action on our part. I can't tell you how many times I've just drifted into temptation because I'm going with the flow. Paul says that we are going to have to be deliberate in choosing not to do certain things, because if we do them we will be setting ourselves up for trouble. We'll have to avoid some situations.

The best example I can think of is John Piper, a preacher from Minnesota. He doesn't watch TV, not because he thinks watching TV is wrong in itself, but because he doesn't want to go with the flow. He wants to be deliberate about what influences him. He says:

It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch--and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity.

Is this fanatical? Maybe if we make a rule that nobody can ever watch TV. That's fanatical. But it's not at all fanatical to suggest that we pay close attention to how we live and what influences us. That's not fanatical; that's biblical. We need to take care in how we live in practical matters like how we spend our time, what media we consume. As Paul said to Timothy, "Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16). Pay close attention to living wisely.

So that's the first command. The second one needs a bit of explanation:

2. Grasp the gospel and what it requires

You're going to ask where in the world I got that from. Verse 17 says, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is." Paul says that we are to avoid being foolish. The alternative is to understand what the Lord's will is.

The problem as we read this passage is that when we speak of God's will, we normally think it means trying to figure out what God wants us to do when we're making a decision. We think it's about personal guidance about God's immediate plans for our future: which person should I marry, which job I should take, which car I should buy, and so on. But that's not what Paul is talking about here when he talks about God's will.

What does Paul mean when he talks about God's will? In Ephesians 1:9-10 he said, "He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment--to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." What is God's will? To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Paul also says it was God's will to adopt us (1:5). So when Paul says that we need to understand what the Lord's will is, he is saying that we need to understand the basic storyline of the gospel: that God is fixing what's broken in this world, reconciling sinners to himself, and creating a new humanity out of people who previously had nothing in common. In other words, we need to understand the gospel, and where we fit in with what God is doing.

In this sense, God's will is still the same today. God is still at adopting people. He still purposes to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ. He is still forming a new community of people. Understanding the gospel is crucial, because it leads to understanding what's required of us and where we fit in.

This is the theme of the entire book of Ephesians. Ephesians is steeped in what Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and what it means for the world. Paul teaches that it's the centerpiece of history, and that it has implications for all of life. Paul commands us to understand it and to reorder our entire lives around what God has done through Christ.

Understanding, by the way, is about much more than knowing. You can know something without really getting it. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson talks about when he was a boy. He was sick and in the hospital. One day he woke up and his mother was crying beside him in the hospital room. He said, "You really do love me!" Of course, she burst into tears and ran from the room. Carson always understood that his mother loved him. He had no doubt. But when he woke up and saw his mother crying, he grasped it. He really got it. Paul is telling us here to not just understand what the gospel and what it requires from us. He's telling us to get it, to really grasp it in the depths of our being.

Notice that the positive command is to understand this, and the negative command is to not be foolish. So the choice is basically this: either you know what God's up to and where you fit in, or you're a fool.

Say you're watching a movie and you can't understand the plot at all. The movie is not making any sense. This has happened to me. Now imagine that it's not because the plot is ridiculous, but the problem is with you. If the plot is sound, then either you're a fool, or you understand the director's will.

But the stakes are even higher for us, because we are not just watching God's cosmic drama; we are participants. So Paul says we must really grasp the plot of the drama so we can play our part well. We must learn the shape of the drama so that we can perform our parts in line with that plot. That's why it's so important for us to really grasp the gospel. That's why Martin Luther said, "The truth of the gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine...Most necessary is that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually." If we're going to change, we need to grasp the gospel.

So how do we change? We change by being careful in how we live, and by grasping the gospel and what it requires.

There's one more command:

3. Continually rely on the Spirit

It's easy to miss the last command in verses 18-21. It's all one long sentence as Paul originally wrote it. If you look carefully, though, here's the command: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with [by] the Spirit." The rest of this sentence - about singing, giving thanks, and submitting - are the results, what happens if we obey the command. Notice, by the way, that they can't be faked. You can fake a lot of things, but you can't fake being someone who sings, give thanks for all things, and who submits to others. It's too hard. But Paul says we will become people who do these things if we obey the command he gives us.

Here's the command: to avoid getting drunk, which was common in that society. Instead, rely on the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to fill you so that you are controlled by him. Continually rely on the Spirit and his power. We will change, we will sing, we will even submit to others as the Holy Spirit changes us. There's no way we can do it alone.

I love the balance here. Some people say that we don't do anything to change. Just let go and let God. We're completely passive. Paul says this isn't true at all. We need to be very deliberate and careful in how we live, and we have to work hard at grasping the gospel and what it demands from us. But it's not just our work, because we can't do it alone. We must also rely continually on the Spirit. Salvation is God's work alone. He saves us, and we contribute nothing. But we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

Notice, by the way, four things about the command to be filled by the Spirit:

  • It's a command. We can choose to not be filled by the Spirit and instead rely on our own strength. It's like the guy who threw a chainsaw down because it just wouldn't work for him because he didn't realize he had to turn it on. We can choose to live without power, but it will be frustrating. Paul commands us instead to rely on the Spirit's power.
  • It's plural. Paul is not commanding selected individuals to be filled by the Spirit. It's not an elite level for really spiritual people. Paul commands all of us to rely on the Spirit's power. It's a command for all of us.
  • It's passive. In a sense, Paul's saying, "Let the Holy Spirit fill you."
  • It's continual. It's a present imperative, which means "go on being filled." It's not a one-time thing. It's supposed to be an ongoing experience.

So change, Paul tells us. And don't just change by resolving to do better in your own strength, because then you'll be caught in an endless cycle of frustration and failure. Instead;

  • Pay attention. Don't just go with the flow.
  • Understand the gospel and how you fit into what God is doing. Really grasp it.
  • And rely on the Spirit's power. Don't try to live on your own.

And we will become people who are changed.

So Father, we pray for those who have been caught in a cycle of failure and frustration. We confess to you that we often get frustrated with ourselves because we haven't changed. I pray that you would give us hope today that through the gospel, through what Christ has done, we can be changed.

May every person here pay close attention to the gospel. May every person here really grasp to the depths of their being what you're up to. May they grasp the riches of the gospel, and how their lives fit into what you are doing. And may they then rely on the Spirit's power, and experience change. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Now You Are Light (Ephesians 5:3-14)

I want to ask you a very important question, one I hope you've thought about. What sins are we tempted to commit within our society? In other words, if you were going to commit some sin, what particular sins would you be likely to commit just due to the fact that you live in Toronto in 2009?

The assumption is that we live in a certain context that makes some sins more acceptable or powerful than others. Our culture gives us some opportunities for trouble that other cultures don't offer. What temptations do we face in our culture that are especially strong?

Let me give you two temptations that I think are especially strong living in Toronto in 2009. It's not like they aren't temptations anyway, but our culture makes two of these temptations especially strong.

One is sexual sin. I was standing in a Wal-Mart in December, and on the front of a bridal magazine I read the title of a story: "Why sex gets even better once you're engaged." If you're not yet married, and would like to remain a virgin until you're married, it's now seen as kind of quaint. But even if you don't do anything, it's hard to avoid seeing things on the magazine rack, on TV, the Internet.

In every culture, people experience sexual temptation. But in Toronto in 2009, we face new kinds of temptations, temptations that aren't faced in other cultures in other parts of the world. And certain things that used to be off limits are now very much tolerated or even expected. There are real temptations, and a lot of us are struggling. It's a particular challenge for many in today's culture.

I think you'll agree that sexual sin is a strong temptation within our culture. You may be surprised by the second temptation that I think we face that is unique within our culture, although in today's economy it's coming up a lot more.

We also face a temptation to be greedy. This one is more subtle. I have had people tell me that they are struggling with sexual temptation. I have never yet had somebody come to me and say, "Pastor, you have to help me. I'm struggling with greed!" Yet it's a very real problem, and most of the time we don't even recognize it as a temptation.

I bought a cellphone just over a year ago. It's a good cellphone. I can check my email, surf the web, even make a phone call on this thing. There's only one problem with this cellphone: it's not in iPhone. I really want an iPhone. Every few months, I start scheming of ways to get out of my cell phone contract so I can get an iPhone. Every few months, Charlene helps me see that my current cell phone is just fine, and I don't need to spend money to get a better one.

There's nothing wrong with having an iPhone, and having one doesn't mean you're greedy. That's not my point. My point is: why am I not happy with what I already have? Why am I always wanting more? And why, if I bought a cellphone, would I be really, really happy - until they came out with a new and better iPhone?

And if it's not a cellphone for you, it's something. We are continually tempted to be ungrateful for what we already have, and to convince ourselves that we need more. We need a better TV for the SuperBowl. We need a bigger house. We need a better car. In Toronto in 2009, we are continually tempted by the sin of greed - and most of the time we're not even aware that it's a sin.

It's important to know what temptations we face within our culture, because we are especially vulnerable in these areas. And in today's passage, this is exactly what the apostle Paul wants to talk about. Paul knew the dangers that the residents of Ephesus faced within their society, and he wasn't afraid to address them. And surprisingly, they were the same temptations I just mentioned: sexual sin and greed. Not every culture faces these temptations, but the Ephesians did, and so do we.

The people Paul writes to in Ephesians were Gentiles (non-Jews), and many of them had led immoral lives in the past. When you become a Christian, you don't escape all the influences from the past, and you're not immune to the patterns of thought you pick up from others. We all tend to absorb the way of thinking of the surrounding culture, and we're not even aware of it.

In Ephesus, sexual temptation was a real problem. Adultery, incest, and prostitution were common. There were brothels and other temptations. When you live in a culture in which these things are available and acceptable, it's hard not to be influenced, even if you are a Christian.

Greed was also a problem. Ephesus was a wealthy city. When Paul was in Ephesus, he was caught in the middle of a riot. The problem was that Christianity was hurting the local economy. They were afraid people would stop buying shrines to the goddess, and that this would hurt business.

I don't think I have to convince you of the parallels. We too have lots of opportunity to get involved in all kinds of sexual temptation, and we too are preoccupied with the economy and our personal financial freedom. We are not immune to the culture around us and the temptations that come with our culture.

How do we respond?

The Principle

Let's start by looking at the principle that Paul gives us. Paul says in verses 3 and 4:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord's people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Paul tells us that extreme caution is needed, that there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality or greed among us. And Paul knows us well enough to know what might happen. We may avoid sexual immorality in our behavior, but still end up making off-color jokes. We aren't committing sexual sin, so we think we're okay, but can we ever tell a good off-color joke.

The principle is this: that we recognize the cultural temptations, and instead of asking how far we can go, we don't even start to go down the road of temptation. We set the tolerance level to zero.

This seems extreme, doesn't it? Last year we had a propane explosion in Downsview. One of the issues that came up was the amount of asbestos in the air. Officials were trying to reassure people that although asbestos was a problem, the levels were safe. Residents responded by saying: what level of asbestos would you consider to be safe? There's no such thing as a good level of asbestos! If you're breathing asbestos, it's not a good thing.

Paul is essentially saying here: how much sexual immorality and greed is safe for our souls? I mean, is there a certain level at which it becomes dangerous? Paul says that even a little bit of sexual immorality is like asbestos to the soul. Even a little bit of greed is out of place for a follower of Jesus Christ. So we need to turn down the dials of tolerance in our lives all the way down to zero. Even a little bit is too much.

Notice, by the way, that Paul anticipates some argument. Some are going to think Paul is a little extreme here. He says in verse 6, "Let no one deceive you with empty words..." Paul recognizes that some are going to say, "Come on, Paul. Get real." And that this is going to happen within the church. But Paul warns us in verses 6 and 7, "Because of such things [sexual immorality and greed] God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."

I know that most of us have drawn lines, and we've committed not to cross that line. We've said we'll do certain things but not others. We're okay with some levels. We'll read this type of magazine that shows this much but we won't read another type of magazine because that goes too far. We'll accept a certain level of greed, because everyone wants a bigger house, but we won't get too greedy. But Paul tells us to take that line and draw it right at the beginning. Don't even allow a little sexual immorality or greed into your life. And don't listen to anyone who tells you it's not a big deal.

The Explanation

If I stopped here this morning, you'd probably walk away unconvinced. Some of you may even think, "There we go. More commandments and impossible standards. Just what I expected." What I've said so far can lead you to believe that Christians are isolated, out-of-touch, prudish people who don't know how to have fun. "Christianity is a straight-jacket," you might be thinking. "No thanks."

Paul is actually a little more sophisticated than that in this passage. You see this in verse 5 where he says, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a person is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." We often skip over that middle phrase - "such person is an idolater" - but we shouldn't. Paul is telling us something important here.

What is an idol? An idol is actually one of the dominant images for sin in the Bible. It's the sin beneath all sins. What is idolatry, and why does Paul mention it here? Idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. It's taking something that is good, and is even a gift from God, and making it ultimate in your life. So sex is good: it's a gift from God, and is designed as a gift within marriage. But it becomes an idol when we take it outside of its intended place. The irony is that we think we're becoming sexually liberated, but it actually leads to enslavement. Instead of enjoying sex as a gift from God, our sexual appetites begin to control us. Many of you may know what this feels like. It starts out as a desire to enjoy sex more, but in the end, your sexual appetites start to control you. It promises more than it ever delivers, and it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Sex is a great gift from God when it's enjoyed as he intended, but when we turn it into an ultimate thing, an idol, it leads to our ruin. It's a terrible idol.

Or take the other issue, greed. There is nothing wrong with money. In fact, money is a blessing from the Lord. But when we begin to take money and make it an ultimate thing in our lives, it leads to idolatry and enslavement. Our whole lives begin to revolve around accumulating more and more stuff. We become driven to work. We end up in debt because we buy more than we can afford. And in the end, the stuff we accumulate lets us down. It doesn't satisfy us like we thought it would. We buy what we want, but it never delivers the happiness we hoped for, and soon it's out of date or in the way. Money is a wonderful gift from God, but it's a terrible idol. It leads to enslavement, not freedom, and not happiness.

So Paul is not writing in order to take away our fun. He's writing to bring us into line with the reality that God has created, and to save us from the horrible sin of idolatry. Paul also says that this isn't fitting for those who have been changed by Jesus Christ. He says it's "improper" in verse 3.

Not only that, but God's wrath is upon those who are disobedient, according to verse 6. Let me unpack this a little for you. If I looked over one day and saw a man hitting on my wife, how do you think I would feel? I would be less than happy. The reason is jealousy. We normally think of jealousy as a bad thing, but in this context it would be a good thing. A husband and wife are not supposed to be dispassionate about each other. I am jealous for my wife's affection, and will not share it with another.

The Bible frequently refers to God as a jealous God, who will not share his glory with another. Again, in God's case, this jealousy is a good thing. God will not sit idly by as his people worship sex or money instead of him. It not only leads to enslavement, but it also leads to God's judgment.

So that's why Paul gives us the principle: to have zero tolerance for sin. Don't even flirt with it; get rid of it from the get-go. And it's not because he wants us to be prudes. It's because this sin is idolatry, and idolatry leads to our enslavement and God's judgment in our lives. It's for God's glory and for our good that Paul tells us to stay away from these sins.

The Power

We've looked at what Paul says, and why he says it. We've seen that we must have zero tolerance for sin, even though our culture says it's fine. And we've seen why: because it's not just a matter of sinful acts; it's a matter of worship. Sinning in these areas means that we're taking a good thing and turning it into an ultimate thing, worshipping something other than God.

If you're like me, you're wondering how you're actually going to live this out. It's not really helpful to be told, "Don't sin anymore! Don't have sexually impure thoughts. Don't be greedy." You'd be right in saying, "Thanks a lot." It's like telling my dog to stop sniffing when we go out for a walk. He can't help himself. He's a sniffer. And I can't help myself. I'm a sinner.

But Paul doesn't just tell us to go and try not to sin. He reminds us of the gospel - that the power we need is not our own. We've been changed. He says in verse 8, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." Notice what he doesn't say. He doesn't say that we used to be in the darkness, but we're now in the light. He goes further than that. He says that we actually used to be darkness, but now God has changed us. We are now light. What this means is that when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God fundamentally changes us. We are new creatures. So we don't have to go out there and try to become light; that would be impossible. All we have to do is live in line with who God has now made us. "Live as children of light," he says. Live out the implications of the change that God has made within you.

Then he says in verse 14:

Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

There are lots of debates about what Paul is quoting here. Some think it's pieced together from various Old Testament passages, like Isaiah 60:1: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you." Some think it's an Easter or baptismal hymn from the early church. Wherever it came from, Paul is reminding us that we used to be asleep. We used to be dead. That's our natural condition: asleep, dead, and in the dark. But if we have come to Christ, everything has changed. "Conversion is nothing less than awakening out of sleep, rising from death and being brought out of darkness into the light of Christ" (John Stott). We don't have to change; we need to come to the cross, and remember the cross, and live out what Jesus did for us then.

We don't have to change. Jesus has changed us. What we need to do is to remember the change, and live in light of that change.

So what sins have you been tolerating? Do you see this morning the problem with idolatry - that making good things into ultimate things leads to our enslavement and God's judgment? When we remember what Jesus has done for us, and that he has changed us from the inside out, then we will have the power to live in the light, because he's set us free from the power of sin.

Father, a lot of us don't feel free from sin. So we need to come to the cross. Thank you for the fundamental change that you make in us; that we have been changed. We were asleep, dead, and in the dark, and at the cross you make us awake, alive, and you bring us into the light.

May we live out the implications of what Jesus did at the cross. And may this lead to our freedom and to your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Don’t Try Harder - Learn Christ (Ephesians 4:17-5:2)

We're twenty-five days into the New Year, which means that we're officially off the tracks in terms of New Years resolutions. Isn't that right? Even if you don't believe in New Years resolutions, most of us kind of thought we would change something on January 1. We would eat better. We would work out more. We would stop smoking. But studies show that by now, most of us have pretty much abandoned the resolutions we had made. We just can't change like we want to.

I know that most of you don't make resolutions, because you found out long ago that they don't work. But I wonder if you can relate to the words of a song I heard on CBC Radio 2 just a few weeks ago. It's a song by Mother Mother:

Try to change..
I try to change..
I make a list of all the ways to change my ways.
But I stay the same...

In a decadent age I try to change
all my decadent ways but I just can't help but
stay the same...

Carry a cane.
I carry a cane.
'cause I tried to change
and I tried too hard
so I hurt my leg and well, overall
I just stayed the same.
Now I carry a cane.

I heard that song and thought, "Now that's a song I can relate to!" We try to change, but the harder we try, the more we find that we just stay the same. We can even hurt ourselves in our efforts to change. The conclusion of the song is, "It's safe to say - don't change."

If you're frustrated with your efforts to change, and yet you still have some hopes buried somewhere that you can change, then this morning is for you. The apostle Paul is writing to a group of believers in Jesus Christ, and he is explaining how change can take place. But the way that it happens is completely different than what we think. It's not a matter of setting new goals or trying harder. It's far different from that. But change is possible. So let's look at who we can become, and how it can happen.

We Can Change

The first thing we need to do is to contradict the message of the song that I just told you about. The song concludes, "Don't change." The message is that change is impossible, so accept yourself the way that you are. That's the message of many in our society today, by the way: that we should accept ourselves the way we are. And it seems to make sense in one way: it's hard to see the alternative because our efforts to change fail more often than they succeed. But it's also a pretty depressing message. If you are in a difficult marriage, you don't want to be told, "Get used to it. It's not going to get better." If you have a bad temper, or you are a habitual liar, or you have a sarcastic streak that has destroyed relationships around you, it's not much help to be told, "Don't change."

You need to understand that change is possible. Paul is writing to people who are not exactly naive or inexperienced in terms of sin. In verse 22 he talks about their former manner of life, and as we're going to see, they didn't used to be Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. These were Gentiles - non-Jews - who lived in a city that had all kinds of opportunities for sins of every kind. But Paul says in verses 22 to 24 that these believers in Jesus Christ are able to take that old way of life off, and put a new way of life on, just like you'd change clothes. And in verses 25 and on he gives us a picture of what is now possible:

  • honesty (4:25) - being able to speak the truth without fudging out of fear or manipulation
  • a long fuse (4:26) - the ability to overcome the anger that some of us struggle with, that causes us to blow up and hurt people around us
  • industry (4:28-29) - complete honesty and integrity in how we conduct our work lives, so that nobody could ever call us greedy or lazy
  • generosity (4:28) - not only earning money for ourselves, but also sharing what we make with others
  • an ability to speak in a way that helps others (4:29) - being able to speak in a way that builds others up and that fits the occasion, and that gives grace to those who hear us
  • able to overcome hurts (4:31-32) - able to forgive those who have hurt us, rather than responding with bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice

How would you like this to be true in your life? Whatever your flaws and sins are now, how much would you like people to say about you that you are a person of honesty and self-control? That you are a hard worker who is unquestionably generous? That when you speak, your words are always appropriate and always helpful? That you never hold a grudge, but overcome the hurts that come your way?

Paul says that this is possible. In fact, it's more than possible: it's commanded. The Bible never commands something that it doesn't make possible. Paul says that it is possible for every single person present here this morning to become a person who is able to carry out the commands listed here in verses 25 and on. In fact, it's not only possible, but it's supposed to characterize us as a church. When people think of Richview, they should be thinking about the qualities that Paul has just listed. Talk about challenging!

Change is possible. But before we can people who are honest, long-tempered, hard-working, generous, gracious, and forgiving, we need to take an honest look at the human condition to see what's keeping us from being like this.

We Can Change - But Our Natures Are Corrupt

eBay is an online auction site that is founded on five values. The first value is, "We believe people are basically good." If you've been stiffed on eBay, you may disagree with this value. But this is a popular view. Many today think that people are basically good, and that the problem is poverty or lack of education. But at the core, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with human nature.

Beatrice Webb was one of the architects of the modern British welfare system. She and her husband founded the London School of Economics. She was a socialist, activist, and reformer. In 1925, she went back and read her old diaries. She wrote:

In my diary, 1890, I wrote, 'I have staked all on the essential goodness of human nature.' But now 35 years later I realize how permanent are the evil impulses and instincts in us, and how little they seem to change, like greed for wealth and power. And how mere social machinery will never change that. We must ask better things of human nature, but will we get a response? No amount of knowledge or science has been of any avail, and unless we curb the bad impulse, how will we get better social institutions?

She's saying she used to believe in the essential goodness of human nature. But she came to recognize that there's something so wrong with us that leads to corruption that is consistent across history that nothing seems to change. How do you explain this?

Well, Paul explains it for us. The problem with us is that we are not fundamentally good. As long as you think that it's a matter of trying harder or breaking bad habits, you'll never really deal with the problem. Paul tells us what the problem really is in verses 17-19:

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. 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. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

This is going to seem harsh. The Greeks of that day prided themselves on their wisdom. People still read their literature and their philosophy. But Paul sees things differently. What he writes of the Gentiles is true today. You could substitute "Canadians" for Gentiles. "You must no longer live as the Canadians do..." Paul describes this way of life in three ways:

  • One: People's thinking becomes distorted (4:17-18) - When you reject God, then you've disconnected your thinking from reality. Your thinking becomes distorted. Having lost touch with reality, you end up living for trivialities and side issues. When you lose track of the God who is ultimate, you end up in the dark, out of touch with reality. You become blind to the true purpose of life and incapable of apprehending truth.
  • Two: People become disconnected to God, who is the source of life, due to their willful rejection of him (4:18) - Paul says that people are alienated from the life of God, because they're ignorant and have hard hearts. At some level, he says, people know about God, but they have rejected what they know to be true. They have hardened their hearts. Because they have rejected God, they are disconnected from the life that is found in God.
  • Three: They become morally desensitized, which leads to immorality and and endless pursuit of more (4:19) - As a result of the distorted thinking and the rejection of God, they become spiritually calloused. They lack moral feeling and discernment, and have therefore given themselves over to sensuality, impurity, and always wanting more. They fit what Martin Luther defined as sin: a human being curved in upon itself.

This is harsh. You may be thinking, "Wow, Paul's talking about the really bad people here." Not really. Centuries ago in England, thousands flocked to hear George Whitefield preach. Lady Huntington, one of Whitefield's supporters, invited the Duchess of Buckingham to hear Whitefield preach. The Duchess refused, and this is what she wrote:

I thank your Ladyship for the information concerning these preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect toward their superiors in that they are perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common lechers that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any sentiment so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.

She was right. G.K. Chesterton said that the biblical doctrine of original sin is the only doctrine that can really be proven. Just look around you. It is also the great equalizer. Chesterton said, "Only with original sin can we at once pity the beggar and distrust the king." This is the natural human condition, not of bad people but of everyone.

Sheldon Vanauken tells of an experience he had with his wife in his book A Severe Mercy. One day he came home to find his wife's face streaked with tears. She hung onto him desperately and wept. It took some time for her to tell him what was wrong:

Her sins, she said, had come out and paraded before her, ghastly in appearance and mocking in demeanor. What sins/ What sins could this eager, loving creature have committed? Not sins as the world counts sins. Not one person had she murdered, nor one gold ingot stolen. No unfaithfulness, no secret drinking, no dishonesty, no sloth, no kicking dogs. But sometimes she had been grouchy or snappish. She had said cruel things to people, perhaps to her mother or brother...Now her words haunted her...Even worse, the sins of omission.

She had done nothing especially bad, and she certainly wasn't a Christian at that point, but her sins became real to her. She saw her heart and it scared her. The world fell away that night, and they never forgot.

Our problem is not the sin we commit. Our problem goes much deeper. The sin we commit is only a symptom of the real problem: our sinful natures. This also explains why it's so hard to change. Do you ever mow over weeds in the summer? For a day or two it looks fine. The mowed weeds blend in with the mowed grass. But in a couple of days the weeds sprout up and show themselves again. Trying to change without changing your heart is like mowing the weeds. It will look good for a couple of days, but it won't be long before the old nature starts showing up again. This is why trying harder is never enough.

So this is pretty depressing. If we're to become the people Paul describes, how can we change? He says we can change, but not by trying harder. The problem is our sinful natures. This confronts us at times. It's a serious problem. What do we do?

Paul doesn't tell us to try harder. He says:

Learn Christ

Paul says in verses 20-24:

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 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 like God in true righteousness and holiness.

In these four verses, we discover how it is we go from the hopeless situation in verses 17-19, to the people we want to be in verses 25 and on. Jesus is the great divide. We don't change by trying harder. We change as two things take place in our lives.

First: we change as we learn about Christ. That's where it starts, according to verses 20 and 21. We enter the school of Jesus Christ.

The language here is baffling. Paul literally says that we do three things. One: learn Jesus Christ. You don't usually learn a person, but that's what Paul says we do. Two: we hear him. Three: we are taught in him. In other words, Jesus is the subject of our teaching. He is the teacher. And he is the atmosphere in which the teaching takes place. It's all about Jesus.

Do you realize that change doesn't take place as we try to change ourselves? Change comes as we see what Jesus has done, as we learn more about him, as we get to know him. Paul earlier described the pagan life as ignorance of God. The opposite of this ignorance is knowledge, specifically knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. That is how we change.

So let me ask you how much of your life is centered on Jesus? How often do you remind yourself of what he has done for you? This is what we need to preach to ourselves daily. Martin Luther said this has to be beaten into our heads. Learn Christ.

Second: we change as we apply what Jesus has done to your life everyday. Have you ever put money in a machine, hit the button, and then nothing happened? You've paid for the Coke, but you don't have it in your hands or in your mouth. Sometimes you have to bang the machine, and then the bottle falls and it's yours.

Paul says that this can happen to us spiritually. Through Christ, God has made all who trust in him into new creatures. He as called us out of the grave, just like he did with Lazarus. But some of us are still wearing the graveclothes. For some of us, the money's been paid, but the bottle hasn't yet dropped. Paul is saying that if you have entered the school of Christ, you've already been made new. Now act like it. Get those graveclothes off and act out who you really are in Christ.

One question, and then one application. First, the question. Have you entered the school of Christ? There are only two conditions possible. There is no third option. Either you are in the condition Paul describes: your thinking distorted, your relationship with God broken, and your life desensitized. Have you realized the truth about human nature: that we aren't fundamentally good, and that apart from Christ we are human beings curved in on ourselves? Until we see the desperateness of our situation, and the hope that's found in Christ, we'll keep on trying to change, and we'll keep on failing.

Now the application: If you have put your trust in Christ, then stop trying to change on your own. Focus your energies in getting to know Christ, understanding the gospel. Keep discovering new aspects to what he accomplished for you at the cross. Get to know Jesus. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. And then live in the reality of who you already are because of what Jesus has already accomplished. That's how you change.

Father, thank you for Jesus. May every person here see the hopelessness of life apart from him. And may every person here learn Jesus, and live out the reality of what he's done. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Investing Our Time (Ephesians 5:15-16)

We're going to take a break today from our series in Ephesians. Actually, we're going to jump ahead a little bit a chapter to look at a verse from the section that we just read. It's because I think we particularly need the message of this verse. We really need to hear this, and the start of a new year is the perfect time to apply its message to our lives.

Last summer we drove through New York to Massachusetts, then up to the Maritimes, and then through Quebec and home. Have you ever noticed how differently people drive depending on where you are? When we were in New Brunswick, we were that car with Ontario plates riding the bumper of everyone we saw. It was like everyone drove like an elderly lady. Then we crossed the border into Quebec, and we were the ones that everyone was passing. Same speed, but different context. In one province, we were the speedsters. In the next province we could barely keep up.

Here's the thing: in both provinces, the drivers thought they were normal. Meanwhile, we all know that the normal ones were the ones with the Ontario license plates, right? Whatever we are used to becomes normal for us, even if those from the outside look in at us and think that we are completely nuts.

Here are some things I know about us.

First: our lifestyles have become normal to us. I don't care who you are, but however you are living has become your version of normal. Some of you get up at ridiculous hours of the morning, and for you getting up at 5 is normal. Everyone else is weird. Some of you sleep in until 9 in the morning, and for you that's normal.

The danger is that some of what has become normal to us is actually quite insane if you take a step back and look at things. Today I want us to drive to another province, as it were, so we can take a look at the way we're driving and recognize that it's not all that sane after all.

Here's something else that I know about you: You are way too busy. Busy has become normal for us. If someone asks you how you are doing, what is the appropriate response? Busy. It happens all the time. There's actually another response that's equally acceptable: crazy busy. "How are you doing?" "Oh fine, thanks. It's been busy. We haven't had a moment for ourselves." In some places and times that response would be viewed as insane, but for us it has become normal. We are used to being busy. It has become the new normal for us.

On your way home today, wait until the light turns green and there are three or four cars behind you. Then count to three after the light turns and see what happens. It's like what the Queen said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else you must run at least twice as fast as that." We don't know how not to be busy. When we're not busy we feel lost, like we should be doing something. We're just not sure what.

More than 4 in 10 Christians around the world say they "often" or "always" rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it's "often" or "always" true that "the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God." Do you want to know the worst profession? Pastors. "It's tragic and ironic: the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains," said the person who conducted the study.

Our kids are also busy. A study in Britain found that many children are living in dysfunctional families that refuse to eat together or talk to each other. It's a rich, developed country, and the children's lives are just as packed as the parents.

Closer to home, one anthropologist lived with some families to observe how they live and found that the busyness actually creates more busyness, because the busier you are, the more you have to plan and coordinate and communicate what's happening, which makes you even busier. After observing the families he said:

I think we need to pay attention to an important consequence of the busyness for our children. The master story of our family lives becomes focused on being productive and efficient, and children hear that language. The larger purposes or goals of our lives may become unclear to our children, but the message is clear: it is important to be productive and efficient. In fact, there may be a broader concern that our busyness fragments families' ability to create stories that will guide them in future. It is stories that help children to understand, "This is how we - as a family - live." When families lose track of those larger stories, it is difficult for children to grasp what we are about.

If you are a Christian parent hearing these words, you should be scared. He is saying that our busyness communicates to our children that our lives are about being productive and efficient, and this crowds out any sort of larger story about what life is all about - stories like the Biblical story of Jesus. Our busyness teaches something to our children, and it drowns out any other message, including the message of Jesus.

One more think I know about us before we look at the Scripture. It takes no effort to waste our time. That happens automatically. That means that unless you take purposeful, direct action, you will default toward wasting your time. Now when I talk about wasting time, you probably think of watching TV shows that you don't even like, playing endless video games, and so on, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about time that could have been meaningfully used.

I was surprised a few years ago to hear Eugene Peterson label busyness as a form of laziness, but I think he's right. The reason is that it will take absolutely no effort on your part to get busy and remain busy. That's the lazy option. You will have to work very hard to get un-busy and to switch to what you should be doing and no more. That will take incredible work. It's not the lazy way at all. Your busyness is actually a form of laziness, and chances are it's keeping you from investing your life meaningfully. It's also quite possibly damaging your children's lives. And yet it's become normal for us.

Living Wisely With our Time

Depressed yet? This is a problem we need to address, and Paul is going to give us some help. In Ephesians 4:15 he says: "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise." If you were around last summer, then you remember studying Proverbs. The Bible, especially Proverbs, says that there are two ways to live your life: skillfully or foolishly. I think Paul might say that a lot of us are living our lives unwisely or foolishly, and he says there is an option. We can choose to live wisely, but it's going to take some deliberate action on our part.

Where do I get that from? At the start of verse 15 he says, "Be very careful, then, how you live." The old King James Version says, "See then that you walk circumspectly." I'll never forget having this explained to me years ago. Have you ever seen one of those stone walls in Britain that have pieces of glass stuck on the top of them so that you can't climb over? So picture this stone wall, and little pieces of glass sticking out on top that will cut you open if you touch them. Now picture a cat walking on top of that wall, and you have a picture of what it means to walk circumspectly. Every step that cat takes will be purposeful and deliberate. This is a picture of how Paul is asking us to live. Every step we take is purposeful and carefully chosen, just like that cat walking on top of the wall.

How do we live carefully and walk circumspectly? One way is what Paul tells us in verse 16: "making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." There are a couple of things you need to understand about what Paul says here. The first is what he means by "every opportunity". Your version might talk about redeeming the time. Paul had a number of options he could have used. He could have said day, hour, season, or age. He could have just said time. You would recognize the word: chronos, from which we get English words like chronological. But he didn't use any of those. Instead he used the word kairos, which means opportunity. Not all time is equal. There are particular moments that are especially significant or favorable.

You know what this is like. Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which there was a pregnant moment, in which you could say something that made a real difference in their lives? That's a kairos moment, a moment of opportunity. At that moment, what you say can have a huge impact. But say you freeze and you can't think of what to say, but then on the way you come up with the perfect thing that you should have said. The problem is that by then, the kairos moment has passed and you're left with chronos, just ordinary time. Paul says to make the most of those kairos moments that come up so that you're really ready to use them when they come.

It's also interesting what Paul says: "making the most of every opportunity." The word picture he uses is that of buying back those kairos moments. It's an investment word. We'll put it this way. Everyone has kairos moments happen to them, and everyone has the choice to invest in those kairos moments when they come along. But it's possible that we are going to choose to invest in other things instead, which means that we won't have the resources to invest in kairos when they come.

Let me give an example from my own life. I have a lot of evening meetings. It's just part of the territory when you're a pastor. My schedule fills up pretty quickly in the evenings. When I go to all of these meetings, the kairos moments still happen at home. It's not like the opportune moments of time stop happening when I'm not there. But if I'm at meetings every night, then I have chosen to invest there, and I won't be able to invest in those kairos moments when they come up. There are kairos moments that come up all the time all over the place, and Paul says that we need to be ready to buy them up when they come, and if we're buying up over here, then we won't have enough to buy them up over here.

Imagine in ten years I realize that I've missed too much at home, so I stop going to so many meetings and start staying at home a lot more. In ten years, my kids are out of high school. The kairos moments at home will be gone, and I'll be left with chronos. See why this takes wisdom? Paul says that we need to recognize the kairos moments when we have them, and arrange our lives so that we can invest in them when they come up.

So I want to ask you two questions right now:

Where are the kairos moments in your life showing up right now? I don't think there are many more important questions for you to answer. Where are those moments of potential deep impact where you can make a tremendous difference in someone's life, but if that moment passes, you can't get it back?

I can tell you that if you have children at home, kairos moments are happening all the time there. The problem is that we don't see that these kairos moments are going to evaporate, and that one day they're going to turn into chronos moments, and it will be too late.

If you are younger - say a student - I'll tell you where some of those kairos moments are right now. They're at school. I remember being in school and taking in some of what I was getting. It was amazing stuff, and I often wish I could go back and absorb what I was being exposed to back then. But I didn't absorb as much as I should have, because I didn't recognize those as kairos moments back then.

If you are a senior, then you have all kinds of kairos moments as well. I don't think you know the impact of a well-chosen word in the life of a younger person from someone who has your wisdom and experience.

No matter what your age, I'll tell you one of those kairos moments for you. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." The opportunity to respond to God's grace is a kairos moment, and one that you will not have forever.

If you are already a disciple of Jesus Christ, then what are the kairos moments you could be having with him? One of my favorite pastors, Jack Miller, said, "I have asked three close friends to monitor me and tell me when I am allowing busyness to crowd out fellowship with God."

So the question you need to answer is: where are the kairos moments in your life? Because if you don't recognize and identify them, they will be gone and you will never get them back.

Question two: What are you investing in right now that is causing you to miss those kairos moments? Most of life is chronos, ordinary time. How are you spending your life right now that is causing you to to miss out on those kairos moments?

There is nothing wrong with working long hours at work, but you need to ask yourself if your long hours are causing you to miss out the strategic times that may be happening somewhere else.

There is nothing wrong with watching a movie or TV or playing a game, but you need to ask yourself if watching that show or playing that game will cause you to miss out on a kairos moment that you could have predicted, and that you'll never get back.

There is nothing wrong with having your kids enrolled in hockey, ballet, soccer, martial arts, dance, Brownies, and choir, but you need to ask yourself if your kids are so busy that they will never be at home with you for those kairos moments.

There is nothing wrong with discussing politics or sports at dinner with your family, but we need to ask ourselves if we are letting those kairos moments of deep impact go by, if we are talking about things that really don't matter, compared with talking about things that could have lasting impact.

I am going to ask you to go home today and spend half an hour answering these two questions that could have a profound impact on your life, and those around you. Where are the kairos moments showing up in your life right now? And what are you currently doing that is causing you to miss out on these moments of opportunity that you will never get back?

Paul concludes this verse, "because the days are evil." We do live in an evil age, in which it's hard to know the right thing to do. It's because of this that it's so important to live deliberately, to walk carefully, to be wise instead of unwise. You probably know the law of entropy, that left to themselves things will break down. Because there is pride and wickedness and evil in this world, things will break down over time if we don't take advantage of these kairos moments. It's because these days are evil that the stakes are so high.

But you and I have the good news that we don't have to be subject to evil days. If you live in evil days with an evil heart, you don't have any hope. But if you understand the grace of Jesus Christ, and what this means for us, we can live differently, even if the days are evil.

God gives you kairos moments every day that you can grab and use for deep impact. Where are those kairos moments in your life? And what's keeping you from redeeming them?

D.T. Niles said, "Hurry means that we gather impressions but have no experiences, that we collect acquaintances but make no friends, that we attend meetings but experience no encounter. We must recover eternity if we are to find time, and eternity is what Jesus came to restore. For without it, there can be no charity."

Father, as we start a new year, I pray that you would help us take stock of these two questions. I pray that you would give us the courage and the resolve to identify those opportunities in our lives that you are giving us. I also pray that you would help us identify what it is that is causing us to miss out on them. Help us this year to live wisely and for your glory.

I pray that we would resolve, as Jonathan Edwards did years ago: "Resolved: never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can. Resolved: to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved: that I will live so, as I shall wish I had when I come to die."

I thank you finally, Father, that this isn't some self-help project. I thank you that you are not calling us to save ourselves. I thank you for Jesus and the gospel: that he died to forgive us for valuing other things more than we value you; that he rose to give us new life; that you have given us your Spirit to guide us so we can live wisely. So in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit, would you help us to be careful how we live, making the most of every opportunity. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

When Each Part is Working Properly (Ephesians 4:7-16)

For the past few months, we've been looking at the book of Ephesians together. Ephesians is all about God's eternal plan in bringing all things together in Christ. Paul has been explaining how this plan works, including how God has brought us together within the church, which is his new humanity.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the topic of unity. But if you take a look around within any church, you realize that unity does not mean uniformity. There are huge differences between us. Take any issue - our logo for instance - and you'll have tons of different opinions. How in the world do we operate as a church as a unity, and yet as a unity of people who are different from one another?

Do you ever encounter someone in a church and wonder how in the world they think? Sometimes we come across people who make us scratch our heads. Other times we appreciate the differences. Our musician guests this morning do things I'll never be able to do.

And this, according to the apostle Paul in Ephesians, is for a purpose. Today we're going to look at this passage which says that our diversity as a church is for a purpose. Let's look at the goal that we're shooting for, and then let's look at how this passage says we're meant to progress toward that goal.

The Goal: Maturity

One of the hardest things to come to an agreement about as a church is our goal. Believe me, I've been in the meetings! If you ask around about what the church should look like at its best, you'll get a hundred different answers.

While there's some room for filling in the details in a particular context, we really don't have to wonder what our goal is as the church. Paul tells us in verses 12 to 16:

...so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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 goal, according to these verses, is one word: maturity. Paul gives us a number of images here, but the overarching theme is that we become a church that is mature, until we "grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ."

Take a look at the images he uses. Verses 12 and 13 use the image of a mature person, compared to verse 14 of an infant. Paul's a master at mixing metaphors, because in verse 14 he also offers a picture of a boat being tossed around at sea in the middle of a storm, before he switches back to the picture of a body that is growing up with every part of that body doing its work.

Understand that he's not writing about becoming mature individually. He's writing about the maturity that the church attains as a body. It's important to understand this as you think about the image we encounter in verse 15: growing "up into him who is the head, that is, Christ."

Some people have large heads and small bodies, and they don't look quite right. You see this little body and then this big head. Paul says that we are the body of Christ, and maturity means growing so that our church grows to take on the proportions that are befitting a body that has Christ as its head. Paul's hope is that the body - the church - grows and matures so that it takes on the proportions of Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church.

Practically speaking, Paul says that this will mean two things: truth and love. When we're mature, he says, we'll believe the right things, the true things. If you read verse 14, you realize this won't come easily. There are going to be winds of teaching blowing us off course, and cunning and crafting people who scheme to persuade us of lies. Believing the truth is crucially important if the church is going to grow to the proportions befitting the body of Christ. This is why the basic truths of the gospel are so important. If we don't hold on to them, we'll easily be blown off course and we'll never reach maturity.

Paul also says that we'll experience unity and love. If you find a church that holds to truth, and is unified in love, then you've found a church that's mature.

How We Reach Maturity

The question is: how do we get there? We don't have to guess, because Paul tells us. But that hasn't stopped us from guessing. For some reason we've come up with all kinds of theories about how the church should grow and mature. We try all kinds of things: business methods, programs, books, personalities. None of these are bad in themselves; they're just insufficient. The church won't become what Paul has described by reading the latest business best-seller, or by implementing a new program.

Instead, Paul tells us that there are three things we need if we are to mature as a church:

1. We need gifts from the ascended Christ

If we are going to grow into maturity, it begins with what Jesus has accomplished for us. This takes a bit of explaining. In verse 8, Paul quotes Psalm 68, except he adds a twist. He says:

When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.

What does this mean? When a king was victorious in battle, he would plunder the opposing army, and when he returned victorious, he would share the spoils with his people. The victorious king shares the spoils of victory with his subjects.

Paul applies this to Jesus, who came to earth and won victory at Calvary. At his death, he defeated the invisible and hostile forces, and he won victory. Now, Paul says, he has ascended to heaven to the place of victory. In fact, he's in a place of authority beyond what we could imagine. Verse 10 says, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."

And the victorious Christ give gifts to his people. Verse 7 says, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." As we're going to see in a minute, Paul's not talking about grace to become a Christian at this point. He's talking about grace to serve his church. Let's read this again: "to each of us" - to every single person within the church - "grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Every single person within the church has received the grace of serving his church. This is where it all begins: with the victory Jesus won at the cross, and the spoils of victory that he's given each of us. It all begins right here.

Before we move on, let's stop here and think about this for a minute. Most of the stuff I've read about the church has a problem. It begins with us. A couple of years ago I saw a pamphlet that said, "The future of our church is up to you!" The friend I was with is a bit quicker than I am. He said, "If the future of the church is up to us, we're doomed!" He's right.

But the future of the church really isn't us, and the solution to the church's problems is never us. It's Jesus. It's the victory that he won at Calvary. Paul says that it all begins here: with Jesus' triumph over evil at the cross. The victory he won at the cross paved the way to his triumph in heaven, where he reigns over the whole universe and is head of the church. It all begins with, and it all depends on Jesus. The future of the church is up to him.

But it still involves us. Do you ever wonder how anything we could do makes a difference? Paul says that it's because God gives us grace, so that when we serve the church, we're actually benefiting from the victory of Christ at the cross. That victory has translated into grace to serve. If it wasn't for this, we'd never expect much from what we do. But what we do matters, because "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."

This is where it all begins, Paul says. The church is going to grow into maturity. And the process begins with the grace that has been given to the church through the victory won at Calvary.

But Paul says we need something else:

2. We need Christian leaders

This is going to seem a little self-serving, because I am one. But I keep reading people who say that we need to get rid of Christian leaders because they just get in the way. I think I know where they're coming from, because a lot of Christian leaders do get in the way. But Paul says that Christian leaders are necessary. He writes: "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service" (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Here Paul lists four or five different roles within the church. There's some debate about whether pastors and teachers are one or two in this list. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it is a list of Christian leadership in his day. Apostles and prophets had a foundational role in receiving and proclaiming the mystery of Jesus Christ. Evangelists were kind of like church planters. Pastors and teachers lead and teach the church. Paul says that all of these are given by Christ for the church. This means that Christian leadership within the church is not only necessary, but it is actually a gift from Jesus Christ himself for the benefit of the church.

Notice something else here. Business leadership says that what people need is visionary leaders. I'm all for visionary leadership, but the leaders Paul lists are by and large all teachers. What we need more than visionary leaders are Christian leaders who can teach about what Jesus Christ has done. Tim Keller has said:

My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus' costly grace.

Our goal is maturity, so that the church grows to its proper proportions under Christ. To do this, Paul says, we need gifts from the ascended Christ, and Christian leaders. But then we need one more thing:

3. We need every part of the church working properly

If our church is going to grow to maturity, then we need one more thing. We have gifts from the ascended Christ. We have Christian leaders. Now we need every part of the body doing its work. Every person is needed.

Paul says, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers," why? Verse 12 continues, "to equip his people for works of service." Every single believer in Jesus Christ has been given a gift for ministry (that's point one). Every church should have Christian leaders (that's part two). But their job isn't to do the ministry. It's to equip all the people in the church to do the work of ministry. That's part three. Paul said it perfectly in verse 16: the church will grow and build itself up in love "as each part does its work."

The way that Paul says we will grow into maturity as a church is by tapping into the gospel, putting Christian leaders into place, and then allowing them to equip - to make sufficient and adequate - for ministry.

I need to pause here for a second and defuse an excuse for not serving. A lot of us don't serve because we don't know what our gift is. It's interesting that the Bible never tells us to figure out what our gift is. We don't need to take surveys or assessments. These can be okay, but they can also be a form of narcissism. They're too focused on us. The emphasis in the Bible is simply beginning to serve, and the gifts are merely the ways that the Spirit uses us for the good of the community. We don't need to discover our gifts; we just need to get serving somewhere, somehow.

The key to our becoming what we should be as a church isn't some new strategic plan, or some new book from a business guru. The key to our church becoming what it should be is actually quite simple.

One: Focus on Christ, who gives us all that we need. Two: Put leaders in place, who don't do all the work, but who make it possible for others to minister. Three: as each one of us have received grace that was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ, then serve. Because "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."

What's keeping us from this? Christ has been doing his part, so we really can't lay any blame there. There are only two other places to lay blame. One is with the leaders. It may be that we - and I include myself in this - have to do a much better job at equipping, so that we don't hog all of the ministry to ourselves.

But it may also be that in the busyness of life, with competing demands, career pressures, family, hockey, baseball, life - that not every part of the body has been doing its part. This passage teaches that everyone has a gift. Everyone is needed. It's going to take every single part doing its job for a body to work, and we can't afford for some of you to sit it out. You may need to pray, you may need to read Scripture, and you may not know at first how God can use you - but I guarantee that God has you here for a purpose, and we'll never grow to maturity as long as you sit it out.

I'm really glad that God didn't leave us to guess what our church should become. We should grow into maturity to become a church of truth and love, that fits the proportions of a body belonging to its head, Jesus Christ. And I'm also glad we don't have to guess how to get there.

What remains is for us to increasingly focus on what the ascended Christ has done for us, to make sure that our leaders do everything they can to get you ready to serve, and then for you to use your God-given grace to serve the church. If we do this, Paul says:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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.

Would you pray with me.

Father, thank you for Jesus, who has ascended and given gifts to the church, gifts that enable us to serve.

Father, thank you that Jesus has given leaders to the church. I pray that these leaders would know your grace. Lord, help us to do a better job in equipping others to do the work of the ministry.

Father, I thank you for all those who serve. Thank you for the reminder that it takes each part of the church. I pray today that you would deal with those parts of our church that aren't doing their part. I know for some of them it may be they don't know where to begin. For these, help them find a way to serve.

But for a lot of us, Lord, we need to repent that we've been content not to serve. I pray that today you would change us so that every part of this body is doing its part, so that we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Why Sing?

The question I want to ask today is: why sing?

The fact is that we do sing. If you go to any church you can think of, you're going to find some sort of singing.

Not only that, but the Bible is all about singing. The largest book in the Bible is a book of songs. We're commanded to sing some 50 times in the book of psalms. "The Bible is filled with references to music, from the dawn of creation to the final scenes in Revelation (Job 38:7; Revelation 15:3)" (Bob Kauflin).

Let me give you just one example of a command to sing:

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
(Psalm 47:6-7)

Let's take a few minutes and try to come up with some answers to the question: why do we sing? [write answers on flip chart]

Those are excellent.

For a few minutes, I want to suggest two of the biggest reasons from Scripture that we sing. Here's the first one:

1. We sing because it's fitting

When we were kids, we used to watch a show The Price is Right. One of the fun parts was when the host said, "Joe Schmo, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right. Come on down!" Even before they won something, the level of excitement for some of them was over the top.

We always had fun imagining how a proper British woman - I think we imagined someone almost like the Queen - would react. It just seemed that if you were chosen for a game show, or especially if you won a new set of pots for the kitchen or whatever, a bit of emotion was in order.

Psalm 33:1 talks about two things about God: his word and his work. And as it begins it says:

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

See that phrase: "it is fitting for the upright to praise him." It's the right thing to do. As we get a sense of God's saving activity - that he is present and active within creation- and as we think about the great theological truths, it should do more than just fill our heads with knowledge. It should also move our hearts to praise. And when our hearts our moved with praise, then it is fitting and upright to praise God. We praise God as a celebration for who he is and what he has done, because it's fitting that it move our hearts and come out in music.

You see this over and over. In Ephesians 5, which we just read, singing is a result of being filled or controlled by the Spirit. It lists four results of being filled with the Spirit; two of them are signing.

Over and over in Scripture you see that when we have a fresh experience of God's grace, and when it moves both our heads and our hearts, it overflows in singing praises to God.

Bob Kauflin writes:

The emotions that singing is meant to evoke are a response to who God is and what he's done. Vibrant singing enables us to combine truth about God seamlessly with passion for God. Doctrine and devotion. Mind and heart.

All of this reflects the reality of heaven, where Jesus Christ is being worshiped because he is worthy, and has triumphed, and has saved us.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. And they sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:8-10)

Worship is fitting. It's a response of worship from the heart for what God has done.

There's another reason why we sing though:

2. We sing because it's powerful

We don't just sing to express our hearts; we sing as well to change our hearts. Read Ephesians 5 again with me:

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

We actually learn a lot through singing. Colossians 3:16 says, "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

N.T. Wright says that hymns and songs "are not just entertainment; they are instruction, consolation, warning and hope." They're powerful. Verse 14 of Ephesians 5 is probably part of a song that Paul used to teach the Ephesians. You see this all over the place. Songs and music teach us about God.

Songs and music shape who we are. Igor Stravinsky, one of the most influential composers of the last century, gave some lectures at Harvard in the 1940s. Stravinsky, a Russian, said in those lectures that the Soviets had to get control of the music in order to get control of the culture and society, because nothing is more powerful than music.

In the music Cabaret, in prewar Germany, people are skeptical that Nazis will ever get power. But then a Nazi begins to sing, and everyone was captivated by it and stood. Music is powerful and changes us, for good or for evil.

When God was about to send Israel into the promised land, he knew they would forget how to live. So God didn't give them just a lecture; God gave them a song. In Deuteronomy 31:19, God says, "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it..." He wanted to implant his word in their hearts through music.

A church recorded some songs of Scripture from Galatians. A year later, a man in that church lost his memory due to a stroke. The wife emailed the pastor to say that although he could not remember a single sermon on Galatians that he had heard from his pastor, he could remember every single song. Songs teach us.

A few more stories. A pastor's daughter was murdered in Alberta a couple of months ago. It was a horrible and senseless tragedy. Just the month before, though, they had purchased a CD of Christian music. One of the songs really grabbed them, called It is Not Death to Die. The song begins:

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who've found their home with God

Looking back, they believe that God was preparing them. In the day following Emily's death, that song strengthened them.

Music teaches us and encourages us, but it can even evangelize us. Bono wrote in an introduction he wrote to a book on the Psalms:

Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do, they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, reason, the way into my spirit was a combination of words and music.

A man was on his way to take his own life in the Thames River one night. On the way he heard singing from a church, Westminster Chapel in London. The music was so lovely that it gave him hope. He went in, gave him hope, and he went inside and eventually became a Christian.

One last story. Anne Lamott is someone who used to be very opposed to Christianity. But she was longing for something. One day she went to church hungover. She couldn't stand for the songs. She usually left when the sermon started, but this time she stayed, and thought it was ridiculous. But then:

The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling - and it washed over me.

And that was the day that she became a Christian.

Why do we sing? Lots of reasons, but today we've said there are two big ones. One: it's fitting and it's right. It's absolutely necessary as a response to all that God has done. Two: because music teaches us and it changes us. That's why we sing week after week after week.

So:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

The Gospel and Relationships (Ephesians 4:1-6)

When you boil it right down, we only have two basic problems. One is that we believe the wrong things; the other is that we don't act consistently with our right beliefs.

That may sound confusing at first, so let me back up and explain. One of the big problems that we sometimes have is that we believe the wrong things. Let me give you an example. Someone I know, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, had an airline ticket for 18:00 hours. We all know that this translates to 6 PM. Except she somehow got it in her head that her flight was at 8 PM. So when she showed up to the airport, she of course missed her flight. And because she was flying charter, this mistake ended up costing her hundreds of dollars plus a lot of time. Her problem is that she had a wrong belief. She believed that her fight left at 8 when it really left at 6. The solution would have been to bring her beliefs in line with reality.

That's why, by the way, the Bible spends so much time teaching us what we should believe. In many ways it's more important than telling us how to behave. Someone's put it this way:

The Bible spends much more time on shaping the spiritual mind than commanding particular behavior. We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like than we do on how to communicate with our spouse. Understanding the glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine. (Lee Eclov)

It just may be that some of your biggest problems in life may be a result of wrong beliefs you have about God, about Jesus, about the gospel, and about yourself. This is why theology is so important. It's also why what we've been studying in Ephesians 1-3 is so important as well. Paul's told us about God's eternal plan, about us as sinners, and about what God is doing to reconcile all things under the reign of Christ. He's also told us how the church fits into this. This helps correct one of our two basic problems: the problem of wrong beliefs.

So that's one of our two basic problems, and here's the other one: not acting in a way that's consistent with our beliefs. A police officer pulled over a man for careless driving, but instead of giving him a ticket, the officer arrested the driver and threw him into jail. A few hours later the officer came to the jail cell, let him out, and apologized. "There's been a terrible mistake," he said. "When I saw the fish emblem and the WDCX sticker, and the 'honk if you love Jesus' sticker, and then saw the way you were driving, I concluded that the car must be stolen. Now I realize that you're just a hypocrite, and hypocrisy, unlike auto theft, is not a crime." There are a lot of times that we believe exactly the right thing, but our conduct doesn't line up with our beliefs.

These are our two basic problems: wrong beliefs and inconsistent conduct. Most everything that's wrong with us is some combination of these two problems.

So as we come to Ephesians 4:1 we read, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." This statement is the hinge of the book. It takes everything that Paul says we should believe in chapters 1 to 3 and applies it to how we should live in chapters 4-6. In chapters 1 to 3 he's told us of God's eternal plan, and how we, as individuals and the church, fit into it. Now Paul is saying, "Live a life worthy of what's true." And the rest of the book is going to apply what he's told us. It's going to answer the question, "If what Paul has told us up until now is true, how would our lives be different?"

In other words, Paul wants the whole deal with us. He wants us to believe the right things, but then he wants us to bring the rest of our life in line with these beliefs. And although he's going to cover a lot of topics as he applies what he's taught, he's going to begin with an interesting topic: relationships.

The Challenge of Relationships

Why would Paul begin by applying what he's been teaching us to relationships? One of the reasons is because there are few areas of life that are more challenging - and important - than relationships. This is true especially within the church.

Paul's been teaching us some pretty amazing things that we ought to believe about or relationships. For instance, in chapter 2 he taught that God has broken down the wall of hostility between groups that previously had nothing to do with each other. He's brought peace between the two groups, making them into a new humanity and the very dwelling place of God. Then in chapter 3 he's said that the church is proof to angels and demons that the gospel is true and that it works. This is pretty heady stuff. And the thing is, it's true. We don't have to make it true. It already is.

So that's what's true. But then we look around and see what actually exists around us. There's this person who always seems to be a bit cantankerous. And then there was this incident that happened a couple of years ago, and since then you've never really talked to that person. And you've never seen eye-to-eye on issues with this other person. And you just don't like the way that certain people look. It may be true that God has eliminated the hostility between us and made peace between us, but you wouldn't always know it by the way that we act.

My second year as a student pastor, I attended a board meeting. The pastor and a particular board member always seemed to clash. At one point the board member said something combative. The pastor smirked, and things exploded from there. Within minutes both had left the meeting in anger and the rest of us just sat there staring at each other. "His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace" (Ephesians 2:15). You wouldn't have known it that evening.

I wish I could tell you that this is the only time I've seen hurt and tension and conflict within the church. I've seen someone almost physically attack a pastor. I've seen people leave churches with unresolved issues. I've seen friendships break down.

I've seen people get hurt by others. I've seen tensions come up over all kinds of issues. I've seen high-grade and low-grade conflict and everything in between.

So the real question in each of these cases is what kind of problem we have. Is it a belief question or a problem with living consistently with those beliefs? Paul helps us figure out which problem we tend to have in this passage, so let's ask ourselves which problem we tend to have.

1. Is it a belief problem?

The problem with some of us is that, frankly, we don't believe the right things about each other. Our biggest problem is that our thinking hasn't adjusted so that we understand who we are. As a result, the way we see each other tends to be shaped by our likes and annoyances rather than what God says is true.

John Stott is a wise and older minister from London who's had a big influence on the evangelical church. He's honest enough to admit that he finds some people draining and even difficult to like. But when he deals with people like this, he responds by working on what he believes about them. As he stands face to face with this person he has difficulties appreciating, he says, "Oh, what a precious child of God you are. How much God loves you." That's exactly what we're called to do: to believe the right things about each other, to correct the mistaken beliefs that we have as we relate to each other.

So what are some of our mistaken beliefs? One of the most common is that we can remain independent. It's surprising how many of us think that we can come to church on Sundays without our lives becoming enmeshed with each other. I don't say this to make you feel guilty; I say this because it's a belief that needs to be corrected. For some of us it's an issue of inconsistency, but for others of you it's a belief issue. You don't even believe that church is meant to be more. But this belief has to change.

For others of us, it has more to do with the belief that we can choose whom we love. I've had people tell me that they are going to refuse to love some other person for all kinds of reasons: music, length of hair, age, or because they believe something different on some secondary issue of doctrine. One of the most subtle ways this happens is when we choose people who are like us and who share our tastes. When this happens in an entire church, pretty soon everybody is just like everybody else, and you don't have to wrestle with the differences because there are none.

But Paul writes to the Ephesians - to a church where people are genuinely different - and he tells them what they must believe about each other in verses 4 to 6:

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

Paul says that there are seven things that unify us:

  • One body - There is only one church, so if you are part of God's people, you are united with every other believer in Jesus Christ. There may be different congregations, but there is only one body, and you are united with every other member of that body.
  • One Spirit - There is only one Holy Spirit. Regardless of who we are or how we came to faith in Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit is at work within us and has made us one.
  • One hope - Hope doesn't mean something that we wish for but probably won't happen. Hope in the Bible means a confident expectation in what God has promised us. We've already heard Paul say that the Holy Spirit is proof of what's yet to come. Paul is speaking of the day in which we will stand shoulder to shoulder with people from every nation, denomination, and age. The things that divide us now will be gone
  • One Lord - A.W. Tozer gives the illustration of a hundred pianos. If you try to tune the pianos to each other, it's going to end up as a disaster. You'd never get an accurate pitch. But if you tune them to one tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to each other. Tozer says that we don't become unified by pursuing unity with each other; we become unified by pursuing Christ. The more we're in tune with our one Lord, the more we'll be in tune with each other.
  • One faith - I believe that Paul is talking about the gospel here, the body of our belief. It's that God has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a man, and to die for our salvation. It's by grace and through faith - not by anything we've done or could do - that we're saved. This gospel joins us together across all possible barriers because it's the gospel that unites us.
  • One baptism - It really doesn't look like we have one baptism when you look at how different denominations practice baptism. But when Paul wrote this, baptism was kind of the entry point to one's walk with Christ. Every new disciple was baptized, so that everyone in the church could look at each other and remember that they shared the same entry point of baptism. It's what we're trying to recover here at Richview, that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are baptized as one of the first things we do. It unites us with Christ, and therefore also with each other.
  • One God and Father of all - Finally, Paul says that the source of all that we have in common is our God and Father. God the Father is the one from whom all of this flows. Paul has mentioned the Spirit and Christ, but here he reminds this that all of this flows from the one true God who is over all, through all, and in all.

Paul is saying that our unity is based on what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ. We have the same Savior. We share the same Holy Spirit. We have a common hope, a common faith, a common baptism that unites us. Unity isn't something we create; it's something that already exists because of what God has done.

And so Paul asks us to examine our beliefs, because it's easy to lose this belief because we look and act so differently from each other. With some churches and with some people, the problem is that they don't have a strong enough theology of relationships. At Richview we need to really understand that in Christ we have become one. It's not enough to just attend church. We need an understanding that we are one as a result of what God has done.

But for some of us, the problem isn't our beliefs. The problem is that we don't act consistently with these beliefs. So Paul leads us to ask a second question:

2. Is it a behavior problem?

Let's face it. Some of us do have a correct theology of relationship within the church. Our problem isn't our theology; our problem is the guy two rows over who drives us crazy. Our problem is applying our theology to real people who really sin and who really let us down. It's why Paul applies his theology of relationships in verses 2 and 3:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Paul has just revealed some of the most profound theology in all of Scripture about the eternal purposes of God, and now he goes to apply it. And this is what we find? Advice on getting along? Yes. The reason is because God's purpose is to bring all things under unity under Christ. And since he's done this very thing in the church, we had better preserve the unity that God has given us. And if we're going to do so, it involves applying our theology in real churches with real people, not as an ideal but as a reality.

And this is what it will take, according to Paul:

  • Humility - The Greeks in Paul's day saw humility as a quality for servants and wimps. If someone back then called you humble, it wouldn't have been a compliment. But Paul urges us here to pursue humility, literally lowliness of mind. It means that we see the inherent worth and value of others, refuse to insist on our own rights, and put their interests before our own.
  • Gentleness - Gentleness refers to a disposition towards others. Some used it to refer to domesticated animals. It means controlling one's strength to be courteous and considerate of others, being more concerned about the common good than getting our own way.
  • Patience - A different way of putting it is to be long-suffering towards aggravating people. It's closely related to the next and final quality:
  • Bearing with one another in love - There will be tensions and conflicts, and sometimes we'll have to just put up with each other. But Paul says not just to do this, but to do it with love.

This is what it will take if we are to apply our theology of relationships. Don't you love how real this is? There will be real tensions and real aggravations, and Paul says we're to maintain the unity that we have in the gospel through huge doses of humility, gentleness, patience, and just plain old putting up with each other in love.

Martin Luther, the Reformer of the 16th century, had a really bad temper. He once called fellow Reformer John Calvin "a pig" and "a devil." Mark my words, that and worse will happen sometimes even in the church! But John Calvin replied, "Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ."

Maybe some of us need to change our beliefs about relationships within the church. I hope you've seen from Paul that the church is more than a collection of people who come and go while staying independent. The gospel - what God has done through Christ - has made us one. Some of us have to adjust our beliefs so that we really understand the church. "Christ wants to create a 'people,' not merely isolated individuals who believe in him," writes one preacher (Sinclair Ferguson). When we come to Christ we belong to him, and we therefore belong to each other.

But maybe some of have the right beliefs about relationships, and our challenge is to change so that our conduct matches our beliefs. And not just in some ideal church community in which people are nicer than they are here. Paul calls us to relationship not in some dream world, but in the real world of people who will require every ounce of patience Christ can give us.

And this can only happen through Jesus. "For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. 'He is our peace.' Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Let's pray.

Father, may we think the right things, biblical things, about relationships. And may we bring our actions in line with what is true and right, not through our own power but through Jesus Christ.

We come now to the table because we need him. May we live lives worth of the calling we've received, and may we do so in the way we love one other. In Jesus' name, Amen.

A Prayer for Experience (Ephesians 3:14-21)

When most of us pray, we tend to pray the way that we learned from others. When I was young I learned to pray by listening to older men at the church pray. I grew up in a church that used the King James Version, which meant that I had to learn a whole other type of English when I prayed aloud. "Our Father, we thank thee that thou art a great God, who bestoweth blessings on thy people." Nobody ever taught me that you had to use King James language in order to pray, but that was the way people prayed around me.

Most of us tend to learn how to pray from others. Another example is how we offer thanks at our meals. If you say grace a certain way, you'll soon discover that your kids do the same thing.

The problem is, though, that not all of us have had mentors who have been able to teach us how to pray. If the truth were told, a lot of us have fallen into ruts in our prayer lives, or even more truthfully, we hardly pray at all. We desperately need good role models who can teach us how to pray, including what we should pray for, how to pray, and how to keep a focus on God, rather than just ourselves, in our prayers.

This is why the prayer that we have before us today is so important. We have before us a prayer that can teach us how to pray. Even better, we can actually use this prayer, because I believe that the things Paul prays for have the power to change our lives.

At the end of this message, I'm going to suggest that we commit to using this prayer in our own lives, at least in the coming week, and, I hope, beyond.

This is an unusual prayer in a lot of ways. Paul doesn't pray for anything about the circumstances of the people that he's praying about. There's nothing wrong with praying about circumstances, of course, but Paul teaches us that there's something even bigger. Most of us think that if our circumstances changed, then we would change. But Paul knows that circumstances don't make us who we are. If Paul's prayer is answered for us, then we can truly change, even if the world around us stays completely the same.

This prayer is also unusual in that it's both theological and practical. Most of us have developed a healthy fear of theologians. It's not completely our fault. We've heard enough pastors and professors talk about theology to know that theological talk can be a good cure for insomnia. We can almost feel our eyes glazing over. But Paul knows that there's nothing more practical than good theology. So we're going to pray a prayer that's steeped in theology, and yet is all about real change, change that will affect us in the deepest parts of our lives.

One last thing that's unusual about this prayer before we jump in. This is also an emotional prayer. Paul says in verse 14: "For this reason I kneel before the Father..." It's not unusual to see someone bow to pray. Some churches even have kneelers right in their pews. But when Paul wrote this, people generally didn't kneel to pray. The normal posture for prayer in that day was standing. Why did Paul kneel, then? Probably because this prayer carried some emotion. This isn't just a cold, intellectual prayer. There's some emotion behind what Paul's going to pray.

So what does Paul teach us to pray? There are essentially two requests in this prayer, and there's the first:

Pray that God will give us power so that we're changed within.

Not just power in general, but power toward a specific purpose: power that we would be changed in the depths of our beings. Read verses 16 and 17: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

What's Paul praying for? Paul's praying that something will happen in what he calls "the depths of our beings" or "your hearts." This is the inner part of you that no-one can see, the part that makes you who you are. Paul's praying for the very essence of who we are, at the very center of our personalities.

And what does Paul pray for our inner beings? He prays that we'll be strengthened with power through the Spirit. The purpose of this prayer is that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." I used to have a suit that I wore. A friend of mine called it my power suit. The idea of the power suit is that when you wear it, you look good and you can create a good impression on others and win friends and influence people. But this isn't the type of power that Paul prays for. He doesn't pray that we'll have a power that will improve our standing with others or get us more of what we want. The power Paul prays for is that the inner parts of us will become places where Christ can make his home.

There are two words that Paul could have used when he said dwell in verse 17. One means to inhabit a place as a guest, kind of like you stay in a hotel room. You may not even unpack your suitcase. You certainly don't strip off the wallpaper if you don't like it and make plans to remodel the place. You're only there for a few days. But that's not the word that Paul used when he said dwell. It's a strong word that means taking up permanent residence, to really settle down. Paul's praying that our inner beings will be strengthened so that Christ may really settle down and live there. And if Christ lives at the very center of our beings, it's going to mean transformation. We'll never be the same.

We have to ask a question here. We know that Christ already dwells within believers. So why would Paul pray for something to happen that's already happened? D.A. Carson says that it's like a couple that scrimps enough money together to put a down-payment on a home. They buy the house, but they know that it needs a ton of work. The wallpaper needs to come off, the carpet is disgusting, the basement is full of junk from the previous owner, and the kitchen was designed by a man. The roof leaks and the insulation barely meets the minimum standards. The electrical service is 60 amps, the furnace is about to die, and a lot of the appliances are olive green. Other than that, it's a really nice house.

Before the couple moves in, they rip up carpet and clean up. Over the years they tackle the repairs. They remodel the kitchen, fix the leaks, and buy a new furnace and air conditioner. They redecorate and even add an extension at the back of the house. They landscape around the house.

After living there for twenty-five years, the husband turns to his wife one day and says, "You know, I really like it here. This place suits us. This house really feels like home to me."

That's exactly what Paul is talking about. When Christ takes us residence within us, he finds the equivalent of piles of junk, dated wallpaper, olive green appliances, and a leaking roof. He moves in, but it's not at all appropriate for him. But he moves in to our inner beings, and as he does he begins cleaning, repairing, and expanding. Over time, our inner being dwelling places that reflect who lives there. Our inner beings become dwelling places that reflect his character.

It's so important that we see how this happens. It's not the result of some self-improvement program. Paul prays in verse 16 that it's "out of his glorious riches" and "through his Spirit." It doesn't totally cut us out of the picture, because it also says "through faith." But make no mistake: this is something that God does. It's based on the glorious riches of Jesus Christ secured by him at Calvary. What Jesus did for us at the cross is more than enough not only to save us, but to change us in our innermost beings. The power comes not from us, but from the glorious riches of Jesus Christ that are applied to us through the Spirit.

So this is the first part of Paul's prayer. It's not just that we believe certain things. The devil himself believes. This prayer is about much more than believing certain truths about God. It's that we will be increasingly transformed in the very depths of our being by the one who's taken up residence there. If you want to learn to pray, this is a very good prayer, one that we can use in our daily lives. Pray that God will give us power so that we're changed within our inner beings, at the very core of who we are.

That's Paul's first request. There's a second request that's related and yet different. Here it is:

Pray that God will give us power to grasp the limitless love of Jesus.

Paul writes in verses 17 to 19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

It's strange. Again Paul prays for something, in a sense, that's already true. He prays that we'll grasp the love of Christ. I find that most people who are Christians get this at some level. Little kids can sing, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

But there's a level at which we really don't get it. A lot of us have this picture of God who's perpetually disappointed with us. We try to obey God, but for a lot of us the motivation is about duty or obligation than as a response to God's love.

I'll put it like this. In every marriage, there's a time where one spouse looks at the other and says, "Do you really love me?" At one level, I'm sure that they know their spouse loves them, but at that moment they don't want to just know it. They want to experience it at the very depths of their being. They want to grasp it.

A 10-year-old boy was in the hospital and was quite sick. One day he awoke to see his mother sitting beside his bed, quietly crying. As he saw his mother crying, it overwhelmed him and he blurted out, "Why Mum, you do love me!" Of course, that finished her off and she ran from the room. If you had asked him if he was loved by his parents the day before, he would have said yes. But at that moment he really grasped his mother's love for him. This is Paul's prayer for us: that we will not just know about Christ's love but really grasp it. You even see this in Paul's prayer: it's that we will know something that surpasses knowledge. It's that we'll really get it, and really grasp it.

The result of this is found in verse 19: "that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." This means essentially that we will become spiritually mature, so that we will become all that God wants us to be. In other words, if we're to grow spiritually into the people we're meant to be, it begins with grasping - really getting - the limitless dimensions of God's love. It won't come from theological education or from years of attending church. It will come from really grasping Christ's love so that it becomes real to us, as real as the person next to you.

So let me ask you: have you experienced this lately? Have you really grasped the limitless dimensions of Christ's love? It's a gift from God; it's something God has to give us, but we can ask him for it. We can pray that we'll really get the breadth and length and heights and depths of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Pray for it. Christianity is more than a head-job. It's about really grasping the love of Christ. It will change us like nothing else will.

Let me give you a few examples as so you can see how real this is, and how it can happen with different kinds of people from different backgrounds. Five examples very quickly:

  • Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and philosopher
  • Saint Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun from the 16h century
  • George Whitefield, a British Anglican priest and evangelist
  • Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest minds America has ever produced
  • Dwight Moody, an American evangelist

Teresa of Avila, who lived in the 16th century, talked about reaching a state of blissful peace, a conscious rapture in the love of God. She talked about these prayers as being a glorious foolishness. She begged God not to do this to her in public. She was overwhelmed by the loving presence of God.

When Blaise Pascal died, they found sewed into the lining of his coat a diary entry of an experience that happened for two hours in 1654 from 10:30 to 12:30 one night. He experienced the love of God as a fire, and he never forgot it. He sewed the record of that event in the lining of his coat so it would always be near his heart.

George Whitefield often found that when he prayed at night, he began to experience God's love so powerfully that he couldn't get to sleep. He had to ask God to stop because he had to get some rest.

Jonathan Edwards, a great thinker, wrote that as he meditated on a Scripture, he was overcome with "a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before." He was overcome with "a sweet sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express."

Dwight Moody was praying for more of God. He was walking along the streets of New York City in the late 1850s and he said, "Suddenly God came down in a way I've never forgotten, and I started to experience so much love poured out in my heart that I had to ask him to stop."

And these are just a few examples. another evangelist from the early 20th century (R.A. Torrey) became so overwhelmed by God's love for him that he began to weep and weep. He eventually asked God to show him no more because he couldn't bear it.

Paul prays that we will grasp, really grasp, the unlimited dimensions of Christ's love for us. It may not be as dramatic as the examples I've just given you, but Paul wants it to be real. And he doesn't just want it for one or two individuals within the church. He wants us to have the power "together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

And lest you think that this prayer is asking too much, Paul concludes:

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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

So will you join me in learning to pray this prayer with Paul? Take it home. Print it out. Hang it on the mirror. Pray that God will give strengthen us in our inner beings so that Christ makes takes up residence there. And pray that we will grasp to the depths of our being the limitless dimensions of Christ's love.

Father, we pray right now that you would strengthen us in our inner beings. May Christ make his home in our hearts through faith. And as he takes up residence there, we look forward to the transformation that will take place as changes us so that we're more fit for him to dwell.

And would you reveal to us how wide and how long and how high and how deep the love of Jesus Christ is, a love that surpasses knowledge. Allow us to experience it. Fill us with the fullness of God.

And we thank you that you can do immeasurably more than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us. To you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Part of Something Bigger (Ephesians 3:1-13)

In 1993, Bill Murray starred in a film called Groundhog Day. He plays a weatherman who's assigned to cover the annual Groundhog Day event. He hates this assignment and wants to get it over with as soon as possible. But he wakes up the next day and finds that he's in a time loop. Every day is now Groundhog Day for him. The basic plot of the movie is, "He's having the worst day of his life, over and over..."

Do you ever have the feeling that it's Groundhog Day, the same day of your life over and over? Years ago someone said, "The hardest thing about life is that it's so daily." Life can easily become a drudgery, when our hearts are really longing for more. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and do more than get up every day to repeat the same things over and over.

Some of you may say, "I'd like for my life to be a drudgery." Things may be so bad in your life right now that you actually miss when your biggest problem was boredom.

If you are struggling with either problem - drudgery or trials that are worse than drudgery - then today's passage is going to be a help to you. Today's passage is really a digression or a detour in the book. The apostle Paul is writing to a church and describing how God's great power is at work among them. he begins to pray for them, and as he begins he gets sidetracked. It's important to see what sidetracks him, so we understand why he writes what he's about to write. We'll then see how relevant this passage is to our own lives as well.

So what sidetracks Paul? Look at Ephesians 3:1 with me. Paul writes, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—" and then he breaks off and switches topics. You have to ask, what made him lose his train of thought and take this big digression? You get a hint to the answer if you look at how he concludes his digression in verse 13: "I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory." This is so important if we're going to understand this passage and why Paul wrote it.

The problem that prompted Paul to write this passage is that he is in jail and suffering. He's a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and he's suffering. Paul realizes that this could be very discouraging to his readers. Acts tells us that Paul was seized by an angry mob, beaten, and bound in chains. People plotted to kill him. Some swore an oath that they would not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. Within a few years of writing this, Paul would be martyred in Rome. This raises big questions and big doubts. The very reason Paul gets distracted is because he is in the middle of major trials, and these trials are likely to affect the churches that know and love Paul. They're likely to get discouraged too.

So what do you do when you're in the middle of trials that discourage you? What do you do when you are caught in the middle of trials that are not only yours, but that are dragging the people around you down? This is relevant to us because many of us are dealing with stuff that overwhelms us, or maybe we're just dealing with the discouragement of daily living which can cause us to lose hope.

Paul gives us insight into two truths that give him confidence and hope even in the middle of these trials:

One: That he is part of something bigger

Read verses 2 to 7 again with me:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

As Paul wrote this letter, he was probably under house arrest in Rome. If the average person had met Paul, they probably would have seen him as nothing more than a common prisoner waiting trial. But as you read this passage, you get a sense that Paul understands that he is part of something much bigger. In verse 2 he talks about being a steward of God's grace. Paul sees himself as having a God-given role in making the gospel known to others, specifically to the Gentiles who hadn't heard it yet.

This gospel never ceased to amaze Paul. He's already told us that what the gospel is in chapter two. First: God has taken spiritually dead people and has made us alive by grace through faith. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5). Second: God has already begun to unite all things together again in Christ, and he's begun in the church. He's done this by breaking through all the barriers that divide us to make us into a new humanity in Christ. He alludes to this again in this chapter, verses 5 and 6: God has revealed something now that nobody in previous generations understood. Sure, they understood that Gentiles would be included in God's plan. But nobody ever thought that Gentiles would one day be on completely equal footing before God. We are, Paul says in verse 6, "are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."

In other words, Paul realized that he was part of something much bigger: part of the plan of God who created all things. Notice the change that it made:

  • He calls himself a "prisoner of Jesus Christ" in verse 1. Not a prisoner of Caesar, but a prisoner of Jesus. He could see that God, not Nero, was in control, and had put him right where he wanted him.
  • He said "on behalf of you Gentiles." Paul had been arrested because of his association with Gentiles. He could see that his suffering had a purpose. It wasn't just random. He was giving his life to a purpose that transcended his imprisonment.
  • He spoke of becoming a "a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace" (verse 7). Most of the time, I think we tend to talk about what we do for God. Paul didn't. He saw ministry not as his gift to God, but God's gift to him.
  • Then notice his humility in verse 8. He calls himself "the least of all the Lord's people." This isn't false humility. Paul knew that he was in need of God's grace as much as any person who has ever followed the LORD.

Because Paul grasped the gospel and his part in it, he had confidence and hope even in the middle of trials. He knew he was part of something bigger, and it gave him hope even under house arrest. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.

We all need to live for something bigger than ourselves. Paul David Tripp writes, "There is woven inside each of us a desire for something more - a craving to be part of something bigger, greater, and more profound than our relatively meaningless day-to-day existence." That longing to be part of something more in your life - that's God given.

What is it? It's the gospel. Understanding the gospel allowed Paul to see his life completely differently. The same thing can happen for us. Instead of seeing ourselves as a teacher working for the board of education, we can see ourselves as a teacher working for Jesus Christ. When we suffer, we can see that even our suffering has a purpose. When we serve God, we can see the ministry as a gift from God rather than an obligation or something we're doing for God. And it will give us a humility, because we'll marvel that God has chosen us even though we are the least of all of God's people. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.

If you ever go to the south coast of England, I hope you get a chance to stare out over the English Channel and imagine what happened there in the spring of 1940. Hitler had the Allied Forces in a corner and was getting ready to invade Great Britain. His troops were closing in on the Allies in what was going to be an easy kill. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 allied troops faced capture or death, and the Royal Navy could only save a small fraction of this number.

But a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named Gracie Fields, and even the America's Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history. And for those few days they were more than trawlers and fishing boats, and they could put up with all kinds of trials because they had a purpose. You can have the same thing happen in your life. It's the gospel that gives us purpose that we're part of something much bigger even in our trials.

There's a second truth that kept Paul going. Honestly, this one could blow us away if we really understood it.

Two: That the church is part of something bigger

Not only did Paul see his life as part of something bigger, but he looked around and saw that as the mystery of the gospel was being revealed, God was accomplishing something that boggles our minds. He writes:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11)

This is going to blow our minds. The very existence of the church, Paul wrote, has a much higher purpose than we realize. It's an amazing thing that spiritually dead people are raised to new life, and that former enemies become family with each other within the church. This is such a big deal that it is the way that God has chosen to reveal his wisdom in its reach variety. Think for a minute of all the ways that God could show to angels and demons that he is wise. The human genome shows that God is wise. Scientists are unravelling all the ways that information is stored in our DNA that makes us who we are. It's amazing. The universe shows God's wisdom. I could think of many ways that God could choose to show angels and demons his wisdom.

But look at how God has chosen to reveal his wisdom: through the church. As somebody has said, the history of the Christian church has become a graduate school for angels. Demons thought they had Jesus killed once and for all. All of his followers were scattered. But he rose from the dead. But then he left. You can't expect much from a small group of followers who had never amounted to much. But then Peter - yes, that Peter - got up to preach, and thousands joined the church. Satan and demons threw everything they could at the church, but the church continued to spread all throughout the Roman Empire, so that this obscure, marginal movement became the dominant religious force in the western world for centuries.

The very existence of the church is a sign to demons that their authority has been broken, and that their final defeat is imminent. God shows through the church that his purposes are being fulfilled and they're moving toward their climax. F.F. Bruce says that the church is "God's pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future." God has chosen to display his wisdom in all its dimensions through, of all things, the church. It blows my mind.

By the way, this has huge implications for how we see church. A lot of us try out a Christianity that's all about us and Jesus and has nothing to do with the church. But that doesn't fly as you read Ephesians. The church, according to Paul, is central to history. It's central to the gospel. "The church is good news of a new society as well as of a new life," says John Stott. The church is a showcase to the entire universe of God's wisdom in all of its variety. This makes all the difference in how we see the church.

And because Paul saw his life as something bigger, and the church as something much bigger, he was able to write in verses 12 and 13:

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Because of all of this, we have access to God that's unhindered by hostile powers. We can have assurance that our sufferings have a purpose, and are actually tied to our glory. Understanding the gospel gives us confidence and hope in our trials.

I don't know what you're going through this morning, but I know that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, that you are part of something much bigger, and this can give you confidence and hope even in the middle of your trials. And if you're not yet a follower of Christ, then the good news is that the gospel is about taking people just like you and making them part of something much bigger, something that can give a prisoner, a cancer sufferer, a divorcee, a doubter, a struggler, a sinner hope confidence and hope, even in the middle of trials.

From Exclusion to Embrace (Ephesians 2:11-22)

One of the worst feelings you will ever experience is that of feeling excluded. Just this past week, a mother wrote to an advice column in a major newspaper:

Dear Amy: My daughter is in elementary school. Over the past few years, she has experienced some unfriendly behavior from other girls, mostly in the form of obvious exclusion. There are times when she has addressed these issues, and times when I have contacted a teacher or a parent.

Last year, a good friend stopped speaking to her. She was devastated. It went on for months. I know the parents, but I didn't speak with them about it...

I cannot force this kid to like my daughter, but should I try to contact the parents and find out what is up? Am I over-involved?

Perplexed Mom

You can feel that mother's pain as you read the letter. Most of us can remember what it's like to be excluded as a child at school. But exclusion isn't just a school-age problem. Exclusion happens to adults. At work, it can take the form of "incivility, yelling, spreading gossip or lies, insulting employees, as well as hostility, verbal aggression, and angry exchanges" - or just a cold shoulder. In can also take place in families as one person begins to turn the shoulder on each other. It happens within people groups. In Rwanda, the exclusion of one people group (the Tutsis) by another resulted in the slaughter of over half a million people in just a hundred days.

Exclusion is horrible. Yet there's another type of exclusion we rarely think about: spiritual exclusion. This is very real. Here are a couple of examples, although I have to admit they're extreme. The son of a prominent Hamas family recently became a Christian. He's said, "I know that I'm endangering my life and am even liable to lose my father, but I hope that he'll understand this." He's been told by some to change his name and facial identity for his own safety. In August, a young woman was found guilty of converting to Christianity in Saudi Arabia and was burned alive by her father, a member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Against Vice.

I told you that these are extreme examples, but you almost have to think of this type of exclusion as you come to the passage we're looking at today. Paul is writing to a church, particularly one that is full of Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Jesus Christ. The division between Jews and Gentiles in that day was one of the most fundamental divisions in the first century world. These tensions would have been felt as Jews and Gentiles came together in the church as followers of Jesus Christ.

Let me give you a bit of a taste of what the tensions were like between these groups. In the Jewish temple, signs were posted at the barrier separating the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Israelites. They've found two of these. The signs said: "No foreigner is allowed to enter within...Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death." Some believed that Gentiles were made as fuel for the fires of hell, and that it was wrong to help a Gentile woman give birth, because it would bring another heathen into the world.

Gentiles were also suspicious of the Jewish people. Plato said said barbarians (non-Greeks) were his enemies by nature. Closer to the time that Ephesians was written, a Roman historian wrote, "The Greeks wage a truce-less war against people of other races, against barbarians." The tensions between the two groups would have been monumental.

Because these tensions aren't part of our world. it's tempting to think this passage has nothing to do with us. But this passage still about us: most of us are Gentiles, so this is about us, even if we don't feel it. Not only that, but our world is still full of these types of divisions. The world is divided into two groups: people who are like us, and people who aren't. We feel these divisions in society when we're with someone who's from a different group than us. These tensions can spill into the church in all kinds of ways as well when different kinds of people come together as followers of Jesus Christ.

This is also one of the most significant passages on the church in the entire New Testament.

So what do we learn from this passage? Three things: we learn how significant these differences are; how the gospel applies to these differences; and what this teaches us about the church.

First, Paul tells us about how significant the differences are.

We've already seen how Gentiles and Jews viewed each other. Besides the tensions I've already mentioned, Paul lists five ways that we as Gentiles were excluded not only from Israel but from God. The background to this passage is that God had chosen Israel out of all of the nations of the world. This was great news for Israel, but really bad news for everyone else. In Deuteronomy 7:6 Moses said to Israel, "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession." This means that Israel had something that no other nation enjoyed: a covenantal relationship with God.

Paul explains what this means to those of us who are not Jewish. He writes in verses 11 and 12:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)— 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.

If you look at this, there are five things that separate those of us who are Gentiles from the covenant God made with Israel:

  • "separate from Christ" - When we read this, we think "Jesus Christ," when we really should be thinking "Messiah." Israel had the expectation of a coming Messiah who would triumph over all their enemies; Gentiles had no such hope.
  • "excluded from citizenship in Israel" - God had chosen to known by Israel and no-one else. If you were non-Jewish, you were excluded from all of God's blessings unless you became Jewish. None of God's blessings for his chosen people were yours.
  • "foreigners of the covenants of the promise" - God made all kinds of promises in the Old Testament on the basis of his covenants with Israel. The Gentiles - that's us - had no share in these promises.
  • "without hope" - As bad as things got in Israel, the faithful always had God's promises. They believed in the promised messianic salvation. Gentiles had no such hope.
  • "without God in the world" - Gentiles had gods, but they didn't have the one true God. So it's like Israel had the one true God and the rest of us had fakes.

Put this altogether and you have a picture of our exclusion: cut off from the Messiah, cut off from God as king, as well as all of his promises; cut off from hope, and from God himself. Paul wants the readers of this letter to feel the significance of their exclusion, not only from Israel but their exclusion from a covenantal relationship with God and all of its benefits.

Paul's telling us that we need to see the enormity, the significance, of our exclusion, both from Israel and from God. Part of the reason is that perhaps the recipients had forgotten the gravity of the situation and had forgotten the Jewish heritage of their faith - something that is probably very true of us as well.

One of the major themes of the book of Ephesians is God's eternal purpose to bring all things together under Christ. Paul wrote in chapter 1 that God purposed "to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). What Paul writes here is significant not only for the Jewish/Gentile divide, but also for all the ways that people are excluded, even within the church. Most of us are tribal by nature. We divide by class, race, economics, age, music. This is true not only in society, which is very fragmented. It's also true within the church.

Paul says that we need to understand - not only understand, but feel - the significance of these divisions.

But then Paul applies the gospel to these differences.

You may be thinking, "What does the gospel have to do with any of this?" There's a lot of confusion about the gospel today. We tend to think it's about how someone becomes a Christian. For Paul, though, the gospel is much more comprehensive than that. The gospel isn't just about individual souls going to heaven. It's not just that God has reconciled us to himself; he's also reconciled us to each other.

Read what Paul says in verses 13 to 18:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Paul is clear: the solution to exclusion and alienation and division is nothing less than Jesus Christ and his work at the cross. Peace is found in a person: Jesus Christ. That's why verse 14 says, "He is our peace." He has overcome every division that separates Jews from Gentiles.

And you can't miss this. Before, the world was divided into two kinds of people: Jew and Gentile. But Paul says now there are three kinds of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church. "His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two..." (Ephesians 2:15). There's a new category of people now. God has already begun to bring together people who would otherwise have nothing in common, and make them into a new people. In other passages, Paul make it clear that this obliterates all that separates us and makes us one in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is the good news that God reconciles us to himself, and also to one another.

This means, by the way, that whenever we separate in the church according to our distinctives - age, class, culture, economics, music - we're acting contrary to the nature of the gospel. One of the purposes of the church is to show to the world what it's like when God's reconciling power brings people together who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other. We're like a pilot project showcasing God's reconciling power. Tullian Tchividjian writes:

Plainly stated, building the church on age appeal (whether old or young) or stylistic preferences is as contrary to the reconciling effect of the Gospel as building it on class, race, or gender distinctions. Negatively, when the church segregates people according to generation, race, style, or socioeconomic status, we exhibit our disbelief in the reconciling power of the Gospel. Positively, one of the prime evidences of God's power to our segregated world is a congregation which transcends cultural barriers, including age.

The Gospel is the good news that God reconciles us to himself, and also to one another. It breaks down all the barriers and makes us into a new humanity in which all the divisions that separate us are destroyed.

Let's close with what this means for the church.

Verses 19 to 22 say:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

We're tempted today to think that the church is an optional extra. What matters is our relationship with God. Here, Paul challenges that view. He wants us to see who we really are. He gives us three images, and each one is more intimate than the one before:

  • We're citizens in God's nation. We're not second-class citizens. We're part of his kingdom, part of his new society.
  • But then it gets even tighter: members of his household. We're related by blood. If you're a fellow citizen, you're still distant. But if you're family, the ties are intimate and the bonds are tighter. We're related to each other. God has brought us into intimate relationship.
  • But then it gets even tighter. We, together, are the temple in which God lives. You're a living stone in God's dwelling place; we're part of where God has lives all throughout this earth. Alone you're just an isolated stone; together, we are where God himself has chosen to live.

Eight in ten Canadians say that you don't need to go to church to be a good Christian. Seventy percent of Christians say that their private beliefs are more important than the church. But that's not what Paul says. It's not private, and it's not even going to church. It's much more than that. It's that you become family, and together with other Christians, where God lives. You can't do that alone.

The Gospel is the good news that God reconciles us to himself, and also to one another. He's made us fellow citizens, family, and the dwelling place of God.

This all comes together as we come to the Lord's Supper this morning. What we're about to celebrate has different names. Eucharist means giving thanks; when we think of what Christ did at the cross for us, we have many reasons to give thanks. Communion refers to the communal nature of this meal.

In his sermon "The Sinner's Feast," Lee Eclov describes what this means:

This table is different. This table of the Lord isn't where sinners find Christ but where sinners celebrate being found ...

Maybe some morning, instead of solemnly passing these trays, we should dance for joy. Maybe we should sing every born-again song we know. Maybe we should tell our "homecoming" stories and laugh like people who no longer fear death. Maybe we should ask if anyone wants seconds and hold our little cups high to toast lost sisters found and dead brothers alive.

Let's celebrate communion this morning.

But God (Ephesians 2:1-10)

If you're like me, you've had a debate with yourself about when to go to the doctor and when not to go, because things will probably clear up on their own. I had something just the other week. I finally made an appointment after months of procrastination. Charlene said that it was great I finally made an appointment, but by the way things looked I'd probably be dead by Friday, the date of the appointment.

Not knowing when to go has terrible consequences. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says, "Thousands of Canadians die from heart attacks every year because they don't get medical treatment quickly enough. Learn to recognize the signals of a heart attack, so you can react quickly to save a life." People die because they think that they're only experiencing some other type of pain, when they're really experiencing something far more serious.

A similar thing happens spiritually. John Piper says that the passage we're looking at today contains a number of things that nobody really believes. If the passage before us is right, then a lot of us have misdiagnosed our condition, and the consequences can be fatal.

So let's look at what this passage says, first about our condition; then about the remedy; and then about the implications.

First, what is our condition?

Read verses 1 to 3 with me:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

In these first three verses, the apostle Paul gives us a true picture of the human condition. It's something that we're going to struggle with. This is a repugnant teaching, and for years people have objected to this. Ever since the Enlightenment, people have argued that children are born innocent, and we mess them up with our culture and education. Blaise Pascal, who is smarter than anyone I know, struggled with this doctrine but in the end had to say, "Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine, and yet, but for this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible to ourselves." Without understanding what Paul says here, we will remain incomprehensible to ourselves. We won't be able to make sense of our own lives, never mind the world around us.

So what is the human condition? Paul unpacks it in three ways. First, he says, humanity is dead. "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins." We are spiritually dead. We are not in danger of death; we are not half-dead; Paul says we are actually dead. To quote Piper again, we're in the morgue, not the doghouse. In the doghouse we can whimper, say sorry, and throw ourselves on God's mercy. But what can you do in the morgue? Nothing. This is the human condition. We are completely dead in our sins.

There are really three views of human nature out there. One is that humans are well, and there's nothing really wrong with us. They talk about the greatness of human potential. Some have believed this, but it's getting harder and harder with wars and guns and poverty and genocide. You can't really pick up the newspaper, or even look within our lives, and say that humanity is well, and there isn't anything wrong with us.

The second view of human nature is actually the most popular. It's the view that humanity isn't well; it's probably sick. We are capable of great evil, but with the right education, the right upbringing, we'll be okay. We're capable of choosing good or evil, and with the right effort and training we can choose to be good most of the time.

This is by far the most popular view, not just in the world but probably also in the church. If you believe that we're only sick, then what we need is someone to be our example or our teacher.

This leads to what is called Pelagianism, which is our default way of thinking, but it's also dead wrong. Pelagianism was originally taught by a man named Pelagian, who lived from 354 to about 420. He taught that Adam's sin set a bad example, but it didn't affect the rest of us. Human nature is fine, and we can choose good or evil ourselves. Some of you may remember being taught this in the Flintstones, if you used to watch it. Somebody would be whispering in one ear to do the right thing, someone else in the other ear to do something bad, and we get to choose.

There's another view, by the way, that's similar. It's called Semi-Pelagianism. It's the view that salvation is a joint effort between us and God, and that once we make the first move toward God, God does the rest. We don't have to remember the names Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism, but we have to remember that it's a serious mistake to think that we can contribute anything to our salvation, or even make the first move. It's far too serious for that.

But here Paul says that we're not well, and we're not even sick. There's nothing we can do. We can't make the first move; we can't do anything. We're dead. We're completely hopeless. Theologians call this total or pervasive depravity. Ever human has been affected in every area life, so that no part of the human person - mind, emotions, conscience, will - is unaffected by sin. Paul says that this is our condition. We're not well; we're not sick; we're actually dead in our sins.

It gets worse. You may be wondering how it could possibly get worse. Paul says that humanity is not only dead; humanity's enslaved. Verses 2 and 3 say:

...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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

It's bad enough that we're spiritually dead, but the news gets worse. Humanity is enslaved to three forces over which we have no control:

  • One is the world - "the ways of the world," Paul says in verse 2. We're all influenced, far more than we think, by the society's attitudes, habits, and preferences. We're products of our culture - fashions, newspapers, and so on. But many of our culture's values are alien to God and his standards.
  • We're also sabotaged by the devil, "the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." This is even more important for us to realize, because we often underestimate the power of the spirit world. Some overestimate Satan's influence; we probably ignore it too much. Satan has been defeated by Christ, but doesn't surrender without a struggle. He's a murderer and a liar, and he still continues his work.
  • Then there's our flesh - what Paul calls "the cravings of our sinful nature...following its desires and thoughts."

So humanity isn't sick, it's dead. And it's not just dead. It's in bondage to the world, the devil, and the flesh. But wait - it gets worse.

Paul also says that not only is humanity dead and enslaved; it's also condemned. Verse 3 says, "Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath." We read this and think, "You've got to be kidding. God's wrath?" Yes, wrath. Last weekend I got news that the daughter of a Fellowship pastor was murdered. I felt a lot of emotions, but one of them was wrath. Granted, it was not a completely just wrath. When you see the awfulness of sin, then it's completely just and reasonable that the holy wrath of God should be against it. God's wrath is consistent, just, controlled, and judicial. Paul says that by our very natures, we are all deserving the wrath of God.

This is very bad news. This isn't about a particularly bad segment about the population; this is about all of us.

As John Piper says, nobody really believes this:

The first thing I want to stress today is that these three things are not what you will find out about yourself in the newspaper or TIME or NEWSWEEK. They are not part of our cultural assumptions about mankind. Virtually no one, outside a fairly small group of evangelicals, seriously believes

  1. that without a Savior all people are dead in sin and incapable of any spiritual good; and
  2. that without a Savior all people are captured and blinded by an evil, supernatural person named Satan; and
  3. that without a Savior all people are under the wrath of God and sentenced to eternal torment in hell.

There are two fundamental reasons why these things are not believed:

  1. because they are unflattering to human nature, and
  2. because they have to be learned from God not man.

Because we don't believe this, we're open to superficial solutions that never really deal with how serious our condition is. If we misdiagnose our condition, then the results are disastrous.

The late Jack Miller, a pastor from Philadelphia, used to say, "Cheer up, you're worse than you think you are." The reason that Jack Miller could say this is because he knew what was coming next. What's coming next could be the two greatest words in the whole Bible. Paul has told us what our condition is. We need to ask:

Second, what is the remedy?

Verses 4 to 7 say:

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

There are the two greatest words in all of the Bible: "But...God..." They're especially great when you realize that God didn't have to do anything. He could have left us in our natural state: dead, enslaved, and condemned. But then come these amazing two words. One of the best sermons that you could ever listen to comes from the Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He preached on these two words and said, "These two words ["But God"], in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel." They tell us what God has done, and how he has intervened in what would otherwise be a hopeless situation.

What has God done? He has "made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions." Notice when this happened: when we were dead. It's not like we were in the middle of getting our lives back together, or after we had made the first move. It's while we were still dead that God raised us into new spiritual life.

Verse 6 also says that we've been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places. What Paul is saying is that we share in Christ's resurrection, ascension, and his reign. We were dead, enslaved, and condemned; now we're alive, free, and enthroned.

Why did God do it? Notice that it is not because of anything related to us. It wasn't prompted by our merits; it's entirely prompted by his own character. That's why we read about his love, mercy, grace, and kindness in this passage. We are saved entirely because of the undeserved favor of God, who has responded to us despite our desperate condition.

Remember what Jack Miller said? Let me give you the rest of what he said. "Cheer up: you're worse than you think you are, but God's grace is greater than you could ever imagine!"

I want to close with just two implications for us.

The implications come from verses 8 to 10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just two things as we close. Paul says repeatedly in these last verses that all that we have in Christ is by grace. If we've been made right with God, it has nothing to do with us. Paul even says that the good works that we do as believers are a result of God's initiative. We can't take credit for them either. They are what God prepared in advance for us to do.

He applies this to us by saying that nobody can boast. Since we can take none of the credit, we can do none of the boasting. Those of us who trust Christ don't have to pretend we're better than we really are. We can face the truth about ourselves, because in our sin we have found God's grace, and that is more than enough. We can't take any credit.

One last thing. You see how we are saved: "by grace...through faith." Even our faith here is a gift from God; it's not anything we can take credit for. What is faith? I'll put it as simply as I can: belief and trust. If you believe what we've talked about today - that we're naturally dead, enslaved, and condemned, but that God has acted through Christ to save us because of his grace and mercy - then that's good. That's belief. But you also need trust. Trust is a heart response. It means responding to this message, casting yourself upon Christ, and accepting his work on your behalf.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:

It is the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work. He wants you alone...God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! The message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. (Life Together)

So come.