The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)

Big Idea: The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let's use it.


If you’ve watched The Princess Bride — and I hope you have — you would remember the scene called “the greatest swordfight in modern times.” It’s an epic scene that takes only a few minutes to watch, but months of work to produce.

The author, William Goldman, spent months researching sword fighting, and referred to specific defenses and styles based on 16th and 17th century books. Cary Elwes, the actor who played Westley, had taken some minor fencing lessons at acting school, but they had told him that he was hopeless, and that it was something that he couldn’t learn. “I wasn’t just a novice,” he writes. “I was clueless.”

When he began training for the movie, he thought, “How hard could it really be?…It didn’t seem all that difficult. A few quick thrusts, some fancy footwork. More like dancing than combat.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. He began training with people renowned for sword-training. He trained eight hours a day, five days a week. The actor who played Westley writes:

Even though I had the finest teachers in the world, and a costar whose unwavering commitment pushed me to a level I thought unattainable, I began to realize that the art of fencing is exponentially more difficult to master than it appears to be. And if you are completely new to this, even if you’re training several hours a day to achieve at least the appearance of proficiency, it’s almost impossible. I don’t care if you are the fittest guy on the planet with the dexterity of Yoda.

I may be many things, but I am certainly not a quitter. So I kept going to the studio, day after day, and thankfully, after a while things began to get a little easier. Slowly but surely, my muscles adjusted to the tasks expected of them. Inadequacy began to give way to competency…We’d train and train, learning one sequence at a time. They’d teach us the first five moves, then add another five moves, and then another set…and so on and so forth, until we finally had the basic outline of the whole fight.

Finally, after months of practice, they began filming. They originally hoped to film the swordfight in a day, but filming stretched out to almost a week. The result, though, was great.

Here’s what I learned from the swordfight in The Princess Bride: It takes months to even know how to describe a good swordfight. Sword fighting looks easy, but is anything but. It takes rigorous discipline and hard work. And that’s not even for a real swordfight. That’s just for a movie. The same is true as we look at today’s topic, the sword of the Spirit. It looks easy, but it’s not. It will take rigorous discipline and hard work. But it’s absolutely essential.

We’re coming near the end of a series called Stand. The premise of the series is that we’re in a fight. Ephesians 6:12 says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

But here’s the good news: God has given us armor that we can use in this battle, and if we use this armor, we will be able to take our stand in the battle. Paul writes:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

So we’ve been looking at the six pieces of armor that Paul tells us to take up. Today we’re looking at the last piece of armor before we wrap up next week. The final piece of armor is unlike all the others, because it’s good for both defense and for offense. It’s the sword. Paul tells us to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

There were two types of swords that soldiers would have used in Paul’s day. One was the long broadsword. That’s not what Paul refers to in this passage. He refers to the other type of sword that every infantryman would have carried: a short, double-edged dagger or short sword, no more than a foot or two long. It would have been used in close combat.

Paul doesn’t leave us guessing what the sword refers to. He calls it the sword of (supplied by) the Spirit. It is the word of God. The word that Paul uses for “word” isn’t the normal one that you’d expect. It’s not logos, for the written word of God. It’s rhema, for the spoken word of God. It probably refers to taking and speaking a particular passage of Scripture — not so much Scripture as a category, but a particular, specific portion of God’s Word. It’s not the Bible in abstract; it’s the Bible as it’s used and proclaimed. Paul wants us to know and use Scripture in our fight against Satan.

So I want to look at this today. I want to look at the sword: the word of God. Then I want to ask how we can use it, both defensively and offensively.

First: let’s look at the weapon, the word of God.

This is important. Before we use the weapon, we need to look at the weapon and understand it. It reminds me of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, who once held up a football on the first day of training camp. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

So let’s talk about the Bible, the word of God.

It’s completely unique. Amazon sells over three million books, with a new one added every five minutes. According to Google, nearly 130 million books have been published. But the Bible is completely unique. There’s no other book like it. It’s actually not a single book but 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, with 40 different authors. And yet it forms a unified whole.

There are some things that really set the Bible apart, such as its:

Authorship — I mentioned that the Bible was written by 40 different authors. It reflects their personalities and styles. And yet Scripture is also the word of God himself, so that “the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own” (Wayne Grudem). This is so much so that Jesus spoke highly of Scripture as being God’s word. He said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-19)

In John 10:35, Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken.”

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” 2 Peter 1:20-21 says:

…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

What does this mean? It means that the Bible is God’s very word to us. That makes it like any other book.

Authority — It also means that the word of God has authority. It means that when we open the Bible, we’re not just reading a human book. His word is powerful and authoritative. It means, as our statement of faith says, that “the Scriptures serve as our final authority of faith and practice.” It means that we yield to Scripture, rather than expecting Scripture to yield to us. You may have heard of the two battleships assigned to trainmen exercises. The captain noticed a light, and that his ship was on a collision course with that other ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’“

Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’“

“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

The captain changed course.

The Word of God is like that. We don’t ask it to change course; we change the course of our lives according to its authority, or else we get into trouble.

Sufficiency — Not only is the Bible authored by God, and authoritative, but it’s also sufficient. By that I mean that it has all the words of God that we need. We don’t have to look for more revelation; we have everything here that we need for salvation, trust, and obedience 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All of this leads to a major practical implication:

Priority — When we see the authorship, authority, and sufficiency of God’s word, it leads to one major implication. It means that God’s word has priority in our lives and in this church. It means that we see God’s word as the source of life and health, individually and as a church. According to a Canadian study, only one in five Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives a few times a week. If this is really God’s authoritative and sufficient word to us, then that’s crazy. We need to be in this book all the time. Many churches and preachers use this book, but sometimes use it as a platform to get to their own thoughts and agendas. Again, that’s crazy. We need to commit to listening to God’s word, letting it set the agenda, and allowing it to shape our lives.

The health and growth of the church depends on the hearing, reading, and expounding of God’s Word. It’s central to what we do as a church. The New City Catechism says:

How is the Word of God to be read and heard?

With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.

Friends, that’s why the Word of God is so important, and different from every other book that’s been written. 

I was reading a book by Rosaria Butterfield recently. Butterfield was a professor in a New York university who wanted nothing to do with Scripture. She began reading it, and as she did she found herself challenged.

I started…reading the Bible in earnest, with pen in hand and notebook in lap. I read the way a glutton devours…I started to read the Bible the way that I was trained to read a book, examining its textual authority, authorship, canonicity, and internal hermeneutics…I read the Bible like that the first year, arguing with its gender politics and its statements about slavery. But I kept reading it. Slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and meaning that startled me. Some of my well-worn paradigms no longer stuck. As I studied the Bible, I found answers to my initial accusations. I delved into its canonicity, its hermeneutics, and its opposing theological approaches. My PhD training ably prepared me to know what a book says, to assess the integrity of its textual history and canonicity, and to make a call about its authority. God used this singular nerdy skill in the most important book study of my life.

The Bible simultaneously encouraged and enraged me….

After years and years of this, something happened. The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might…

I had read the Bible many times through, and I saw for myself that it had a holy Author; I saw for myself that it was a canonized collection of sixty-six books with a unified biblical revelation.

And one day:

My hands let go of the wheel of self-invention. I came to Jesus alone, open-handed, and naked. I had no dignity upon which to stand. As an advocate for peace and social justice, I thought that I was on the side of kindness, integrity, and care. It was thus a crushing revelation to discover that it was Jesus I had been persecuting the whole time—not just some historical figure named Jesus, but my Jesus, my Prophet, my Priest, my King, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Friend. That Jesus. (Openness Unhindered)

What I love about her story is that she came to the Bible with all of her doubts, arguments, and assumptions. She wrestled with Scripture. But as she did so, she gradually discovered that the Bible is like no other book. The Bible began to take on a coherence and life that was greater than her life. She fought, but Scripture overpowered her. With all of her education, brilliance, and strength, she was no match for the power of Scripture.

What I love most about her story is that her wrestling with Scripture brought her to Jesus. The Bible is not just a book; it’s a book that leads us to a person. It’s a book that leads us to Jesus. Not just a historical person, either, but Jesus. Our Jesus. Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Redeemer, Friend.

That’s why we have the Bible. That’s why it’s unlike any other book that has ever been written. It’s why Paul says it’s essential in our spiritual warfare. We can’t go into war without it. Get rid of every other book, but never get rid of the Bible. I love how Charles Spurgeon put it:

All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.

Before we move on and look at how to use Scripture, I want to pause and make two applications.

First: I want to encourage you to do what Rosaria Butterfield did. If you are here today and skeptical about Scripture, then begin to read it. Wrestle with it. Understand it. Don’t be someone who opposes Scripture without having ever wrestled with Scripture. Come to it, and begin to allow it to speak on its own terms. Begin to read it and understand it. It is unlike any other book that you will ever read.

Second: As a church, we want to make a big deal about Scripture. God’s word is the source of life and health for our church. We need to be in the Word, here on Sundays, in our Grace Groups, and also in our individual lives. I want to ask you to do one thing. Bring your Bibles with you to church, either on your phones or tablets, or even on paper. The reason why is that we want to recognize that the preacher has no authority apart from the word of God. One of the ways we can show that is by opening our Bibles — apps or paper — and make sure that everything is rooted in explaining and applying God’s word. It’s a visible statement that we take the Bible very seriously.

The word of God is unique. It’s unlike anything else. Wrestle with it. Take it seriously.

But it’s not enough to just understand what the Bible is. Paul tells us to take it up as a sword. We need to take it up as a weapon. So for the rest of this morning, I want to look at how we can use Scripture. I want to talk about how we can use this sword, both defensively and offensively.

Second: Let’s look at how to use it.

I want to get very practical here and give you some ways that you can use the word of God in your life both defensively and offensively. You can use it both to ward off Satan’s attacks against you, and to also go on the attack against him.

We have to use it defensively, because Satan will come against us with lies. Jesus called Satan a liar and a murderer:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

One of Satan’s greatest tactics against us is the use of lies, which is why the truth of Scripture is such an effective defensive weapon. He is a master strategist who uses lies and half-truths. He wants to attack and destroy our faith. He constantly calls into question everything that God says is true. We need the Scriptures if we are to win this fight. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We are not to fight the devil in our own strength or power, or with our own ideas; we are to fight him with this Word that the very Spirit of God Himself has produced…When you consider the strength and the power of the enemy that is against us you will see the importance of realizing the strength and the power of this particular weapon.”

How do we use it defensively? One of the greatest examples of this is what Jesus did when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. As Satan tempted him over and over, Jesus responded with God’s word. “It is written,” Jesus said. He was able to quote exact selections of Scripture that applied to the lies that Satan used. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, the almighty God, wielding the sword of the Spirit to resist Satan. He didn’t use Scripture as a concept or category. He used particular Scriptures. He had them ready. He knew how to use them. If Jesus used the word of God like this, how much more do we need to rely on Scripture and use it against Satan’s attacks?

But we can also use it offensively. Every time we open the word of God as a church, and every time we take the gospel to an unbeliever, we are going on the offense against Satan and his reign of terror. When we sing the word of God in our worship, we’re going on the offense against Satan. I love what John Piper writes: “Spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing…Satan cannot bear the singing of the saints. You can drive him away with song.” He quotes Amy Carmichael, who said, “I believe truly that Satan cannot endure it and so slips out of the room—more or less—when there is a true song.”

The word of God has power. Use it in your life. Donald Whitney, who has written a lot on the spiritual disciplines we need to grow, says this:

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how God wants us to live, and what brings the most joy and satisfaction in life. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God  — intimately.

Here are some practical things you can do:

Read it. One of the most important things you can do is simply to regularly read the Bible for yourself. We have so many printed Bibles and electronic options with amazing reading plans of every kind. We live in a golden age of Bible resources. The greatest advice I can give you is to read it regularly and systematically. In other words, don’t just pick it up and randomly open to whatever passage of Scripture you happen to find it. Read it, even a small amount at a time, and absorb it into your life. Make it your aim to read it from cover to cover, even the more difficult parts. It’s a great way of getting God’s word into your heart and mind. It’s something I try to do every day, over and over again.

Meditate on it. Don’t just speed read. That is good and important, but we also need to slow down and chew on Scriptures. Spurgeon says:

A man who wants to see a country, must not hurry through it by express train, but he must stop in the towns and villages, and see what is to be seen. He will know more about the land and its people if he walks the highways, climbs the mountains, stays in the homes, and visits the workshops; than if he does so many miles in the day, and hurries through picture galleries as if death were pursuing him. Don’t hurry through Scripture, but pause for the Lord to speak to you. Oh, for more meditation!

He compares it to a dog chewing on a bone. A dog will take a bone and work that until every morsel of meat has been worked off the bone, and then work on it some more. Do this with Scripture. Take it. Chew on it. Work every scrap of meat off the bone.

Memorize it. This is another way of meditating on Scripture and internalizing it. It helps to shape our minds. It prepares us for the day that we need God’s truth, when we need to recall what God has said in the middle of counseling someone else or fighting sin. Somebody has compared it to making a deposit to an account for tomorrow, while using it as an asset for today at the same time. If you learn a verse a week, it adds up quickly.

Pray it. Use the Bible in your prayers. Use words that originated in the mind of God; circulate them through your heart and mind back to God. Allow his words to shape your heart and mind in prayer. 

Consult it. A few years I wrote a post called “Do not put the Bibles away.” I thought of it again as I prepared this sermon. My point was that we open our Bibles for sermons and small groups, but put them away the rest of the time. What if we had our Bibles open during business meetings, during counseling sessions, and throughout the week? What if we were always dipping into Scripture and how it applies to every situation that we face?

The bottom line is this: Open your Bibles Get to know your Bibles. Master your Bible, and let it master you.

The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let’s use it.

I began the sermon by talking about “the greatest sword fight in modern times” from the movie The Princess Bride. But the greatest sword fight in modern times is not one from any movie. It’s the fight that occurs when we take up the word of God and use it defensively and offensively in our lives. It’s a fight in which we not only learn the content of Scripture, but come face to face with Jesus and what he has done for us. Reading Scripture brings us before the throne of the one who lived and died for us, and sits at the right hand of God. It brings us face to face with our Savior.

Almost a year ago, Monty Williams was fired as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans two weeks after his team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Reporters asked him about the firing, and he replied:

God has always been in control of my life. . . . Romans 8:28 is in my heart. All things work out for people who are called by Jesus Christ. . . . God’s brought me through too much to complain and be bitter.

Just a couple of weeks ago, his wife and three of his children were in a head-on collision with a car that crossed the center line and hit their SUV. Tragically, his 44-year-old wife was killed.

At the funeral, he asked for prayer not only for his family, but of the family of the driver who hit his wife’s car. He said:

What we’ve gone through is pretty tough, and it’s hard, and we want an answer, and we don’t always get that answer when we want it, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us, and that’s what my wife [lived to], and that’s what I try to, however badly, exhibit on a daily basis. . . . He loved me so much that he sent his Son to die for my sins…

The Bible says Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. America teaches us to numb that, and [says] that it’s not true. But it is true. This will work out. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard or painful. What we need is the Lord.

Reflecting on this, someone said:

This man appears to have walked with God such that when his wife was suddenly ripped away, he had the resources not only to suffer well, but to summon the world to his Savior. His grief doesn’t resound with self-pity or bitterness, but with strong and resilient hope and selfless compassion.

As he clings to his God and to the gospel, his loss declares and displays the power and the beauty of the cross.

When going through the toughest experience of his life, Monty Williams used the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. It gave him the resources to suffer well, to repel the attacks of the evil one, and to draw near to his Savior.

Let’s do the same. That’s the greatest sword fight in modern times. The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan. Let’s use it.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Shield of Faith (Ephesians 6:16)

Big Idea: Defend yourself from Satan’s attacks by trusting, at a practical level, what’s true about God.


Four years ago, we began one of the biggest trials in our lives. There was little warning. Out of nowhere, our lives were turned upside-down. I thought that I would be doing great things for God, but found that it was a good day when I could get out of bed, survive the day, and go to bed again at night. The trials continued like that for the better part of a year, and we are still occasionally dealing with parts of that pain.

What do you do when it feels like you’re under attack and you can barely survive? I’m talking about things like temptations, fear, oppression, doubt, despair, discouragement, worry, as well as external events that cause you to want to give up. When you’re under attack, and you want to give up, we need some defense. Today I want to look at a great defense that’s been given to us.

The passage before us tonight says:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one… (Ephesians 6:16)

So I want to look at what the shield of faith is, why we need it, and how we can use it.

First, let’s look at what the shield of faith is.

If you’ve seen movies about Roman warfare, you’ve probably seen a Roman shield formation. There were two kinds of shields. One was a small, handheld one. The other — the one that Paul is talking about — was larger, almost as big as a door. It was usually about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. It was typically made of two layers of laminated wood, and then covered with linen, and then with hide. It was bound at the top and bottom with iron, and then it had an iron ornament on the front. It was big enough that you could crouch behind it and be completely protected.

The beautiful thing is that happened when soldiers used these shields in formation. Soldiers would stand together and hold their shields to create a wall of shields in front of them, beside them, and on top of them. They could then advance against the enemy and advance, even when under attack. The shields offered protection, and allowed the soldiers to advance even when they were being bombarded with missiles.

The apostle Paul tells us in this passage to take up our shields, which he calls the shield of faith. So what Paul is saying is that faith is our defense when we’re under attack. Faith is what will protect us when missiles are coming at us. Faith is what will help us advance even when we’re under attack. If we’re going to survive the attacks that are coming at us, then we need faith.

So what is faith? It’s important that we understand what faith isn’t. One theologian said that faith is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary, and I think he may be right. Faith isn’t hoping or wishing. Faith isn’t believing something that is true even though it may not be. When you apply for a job and you’re pretty sure that you didn’t get it, somebody may say to you, “You’ve got to have faith!” That’s not what the Bible is talking about when it talks about faith. That kind of faith will never be a defense. When you’re under attack, wishing that something is true will never give you the defense that you need.

When the renowned missionary John Paton was translating the Scripture for the islanders in the South Pacific, he found there was no word in their vocabulary for believe or faith. He had no idea how to communicate it to them since they didn’t have a word for it. One day he was working in his hut translating, and a local came running in and just flopped himself in a chair. He said to Paton, “It’s so good to rest my whole weight in this chair.” John Paton said, I have my word. Faith is resting your whole weight on God. That became the word that he used in his translation, and that brought many of those people to faith in Christ. Faith is putting your whole weight in God, and saying that if he said it, then it’s true, and I’ll believe it.

Here’s how John Piper defines faith. “The essence of faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ.” It’s not just an assent to truths. It’s a “heartfelt valuing and treasuring of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.” I like that.

Let’s put all of that together and say this: Faith is putting all our weight in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It’s believing what God says is true of us, but it’s more than that. It’s laying hold of what God says is true of us — all his promises and resources, along with who he says we are in Jesus — and living out of that reality. That’s what the shield of faith is.

I remember watching a movie about a Roman battle scene. When the Roman soldiers made their shield formation, I thought, “Those other guys don’t have a chance.” Their defense were impregnable. They were able to advance, and they were completely protected from enemy attack. Paul says that when we put our full weight in what God’s done for us in Jesus, that’s what we’re like.

So let me remind you what God has done for us in Jesus, so that you can put your full weight in this reality, based on the first few verses of the book of Ephesians:

  • He’s blessed us — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” This is a summary of everything that God has done for us. His intention for us is completely that of blessing us, giving us what we don’t deserve.
  • He’s chosen us — “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” If you have put your faith in Christ, it’s because God graciously chose you long ago, before this world even existed. He chose you not because you deserved it, but simply because of his grace.
  • He’s predestined and adopted us — “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” You’ve been given God’s family name, and have all the rights and privileges of being his child.
  • He’s redeemed and forgiven us — “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” You’ve been released from captivity. Your freedom has been purchased by Jesus Christ. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus has made a way for all of your sins to be forgiven.
  • He’s lavished grace on us — “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” God isn’t stingy with his grace. He lavishes it on us. He loves to give us more grace than we can imagine.
  • He’s made his intentions known to us — “in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” We’ve been given insight into what Gods purposes are for us and for the world.
  • He’s given us an inheritance — “In him we have obtained an inheritance…” You will inherit the kingdom of God and the eternal life. They are yours in Jesus.
  • He’s sealed us — “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” God has put marked you with his seal. You belong to him, and you’re protected by him. You’re sealed with the Holy Spirit, who lives within you and is a downpayment and a foretaste of what’s coming.

This is just a sample of what God has done for you. One hymn says, “What more can he say than to you he has said?” In other words, what else could God have done for you? God hasn’t held anything back. He’s given us everything that we could ask for, including Jesus Christ.

Paul says that when when we put our weight on all that God has done for us in Jesus, then we are protected just like the soldiers were with their shields. Put your weight on what God has done for you, and you will be able to survive the attacks of the evil one, and even advance when under attack.

Let’s look at why we need the shield of faith.

So why is the shield of faith necessary? Paul says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). You’ve probably seen the movies. Ancient soldiers would often dip their arrows in some kind of flammable liquid, and then light it on fire before firing the arrow like a missile. Paul says that this is Satan’s strategy with us as well. Our enemy will launch repeated volleys of blazing arrows at us at every opportunity. Jesus said of Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies “ (John 8:44). 1 Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Here’s why you need a shield of faith. Satan is a lying murderer who would love to devour you. He wants to destroy you, and he’ll use any means possible in order to do so.

Thomas Brooks, who lived in the 1600s, did us all a big favor by writing a book called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. In this book he lists some of the ways that Satan loves to attack us. These are some of the “fiery darts” that he will lob our way every chance that he gets:

  • He will try to get us to sin by presenting the bait but hiding the hook, and by making sin look really, really good.
  • He will try to get us to ignore the means that God has given us to strengthen our faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, and fellowship.
  • He will try to get us into a sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable condition.
  • He will get us to believe lies, like that our sins are too great to be forgiven, or that God is unwilling to forgive.

This is a very helpful breakdown of some of Satan’s tactics. There’s nothing really innovative about his approach. He’ll try to get us to sin, to ignore things that will help us, he’ll make us miserable and doubting, or he’ll get us to believe lies about God.

What I want you to see is that these are attacks that you have faced this very week. Maybe even today. Who knew that we were under attack? As I review the past week, I can see that I’ve faced almost all of the attacks that Thomas Brooks described. This is our everyday reality. We’re always under attack.

But we’re not just under attack individually. We’re under attack as a church as well. There are at least three ways that I can think of that churches can come under attack:

  • Satan will try to get us to believe false doctrine. He will get us to believe lies about God that will poison our faith. He will inject falsehood any chance he can get. But he’s sometimes more subtle than that. Sometimes he will stop short of getting us to deny the gospel. He’ll settle for getting is to assume the gospel, which is only one step away from actually losing the gospel.
  • Satan will try to destroy our unity. Satan loves it when we don’t get along. He knows that all he has to do to stop a church is to get it fighting or gossiping. Even better, he loves it when a culture develops that includes fighting and gossiping. So many churches are stuck here. I was fascinated to read this paragraph from Revivals in Religion:

It is an instructive and solemn fact, brought out in the history of more than one revival, that when a whole neighborhood had been well watered with the showers of grace, no drop of blessing has descended there where a spirit of controversy and strife had obtained a footing. The Spirit of God hovered around but fled from the scene of discord as from a doomed region where his dove-like temper could find no resting-place. Ever remember that “his work is sown in peace of them that make peace,” and no dwelling can be more distasteful, no vessel more unsuitable to him, than a heart which delights itself with matters that provoke contention and strife.... Labor with all diligence to keep your own minds in the peace of God, and in your intercourse and connection with others ever to strive for 'the things which make for peace. (The Revival of Religion: Addresses by Scottish Evangelical Leaders delivered in Glasgow in 1840)

  • Satan will try to get us to settle for maintenance Christianity. Sure, Satan will get us to try to believe false doctrines, and to destroy our unity. But he doesn’t even need to do that. He would love to get us to settle for maintenance-level Christianity, just checking in like we don’t really expect anything to happen, going through the motions. He wants to deaden our hearts without us even knowing about it.

When I look at these forms of attack — making sin look good; ignoring prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship; doubting and questioning God; tempting us to wallow in guilt and shame; believe falsehood; get us annoyed and gossiping about each other; getting us to settle for going through the religious motions — I realize that we’re under attack all the time. In other words, the flaming darts of the evil one are coming our way every single day. That’s why we need the shield of faith.

So let’s look at how we can use it.

Given these attacks, what do we do?

Faith is putting all our weight in what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. This is the shield that we need to “take up” when Satan lobs the darts of doubt, unbelief, and deadness our way. So here’s the essence of what we need to do. When we’re tempted to doubt, disbelieve, grumble, or drift, put all your weight in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Remember what’s true about God, and don’t just think about it. Lift up the shield of faith by actually leaning into what you know is true about God.

For instance: What would it look like if we put all of our weight into believing the following truths (from Tim Chester’s You Can Change):

  • God is great— so we do not have to be in control. He controls all things, and knows exactly what we need. We can give up our roles as general managers of the universe and trust in his sovereign control. We don’t have to try to manipulate people or circumstances. Even when things seem out of control, we can know that God is working everything out according to his plan.
  • God is glorious— so we do not have to fear others. We don’t have to be trapped by our need to win the approval of other people, which can result in being overly eager to please others, being concerned with our self-esteem, being over-committed, telling lies to make ourselves look good, and comparing ourselves to others. We already have all the approval we could ever need. We couldn’t be more accepted in Jesus Christ. We can be free to serve others out of love, rather than out of a sense of earning or inadequacy. We can seek his glory, rather than trying to promote our own glory.
  • God is good— so we do not have to look elsewhere. If we look for meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment anywhere but in God, we’ll be disappointed. Because God is good, we don't have to look anywhere else for our joy, contentment, security, and satisfaction. Only God can satisfy the desire of every living thing He has created, including you — and he’s happy to, because he’s abundant in love. We don't need to resort to our idols of food, sex, games, drugs, or laziness, because they’ll never give us what only God can offer our hungry souls.
  • God is gracious— so we do not have to prove ourselves. We don’t ever have to earn God’s love when we sin or fall short. We don’t have to worry that God has changed his mind about us, or that we have to jump through hoops to get right with God. We never have to worry about not making the grade, and we don’t have to put others down to feel good about ourselves.

These four truths — God is great, glorious, good, and gracious — are things you may already believe. But what would it look like if we put our weight into these truths about God? When Satan lobbed fiery darts at us, we could value with all of our hearts what we know to be true about God.

How do we raise this shield of faith? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it well:

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. . . . You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”— instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way, and then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and . . . what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.

It’s not going to be easy, but we all need to do this. We need each other to do it for us. Preach to yourself. Remind yourself of God. Arrange your life so that you’re in the path of grace as much as possible — reading Scripture daily, praying, fellowshipping with others. Know where you’re vulnerable. And look to God, who will grant you the strength that you need. Then put your whole weight in what we know to be true about God.

Remember the Roman shield formation? It’s one thing to be a single soldier with a shield. Something much better happens when we come together with faith. As we create a shield-wall of faith, we’ll be able to advance even when we’re under attack. That’s what I want for us as a church.

William Gurnall, the English puritan who wrote the definitive book on the armor of God, give us this advice:

Keep your faith and it will keep you and all your other graces. You stand by faith; if that fails, you fall. Where will you be then but under your enemies’ feet? Be aware of any potential danger to your faith; be like that Grecian captain who, when he was knocked down in battle, asked as soon as he regained consciousness where his shield was.

You’re not going to get out of here today without a fiery dart coming your way. The moment we drop our shields, those darts can do great damage. But here’s the flip side: “No battle was ever planned by hell’s most gifted strategist which can conquer faith. All its inflamed and terrible darts fall harmless as they strike against the shield of faith” (E.M Bounds).

Defend yourself from Satan’s attacks by trusting, at a practical level, what’s true about God.

Where are you being attacked? What fiery darts are coming your way? What truths about God — his greatness, gloriousness, goodness, and graciousness — can you lean into today?

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Breastplate of Righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)

Big Idea: Protect your heart with the righteousness that God provides, and the righteousness the Spirit produces.


“If you are a true believer, Satan hates you.” That’s the way the book Fighting Satan by Joel Beeke begins. He hates you. He wants you back. You have an enemy, and that enemy is “a living, intelligent, resourceful and cunning enemy who can outlive the oldest Christian, outwork the busiest, outfight the strongest and outwit the wisest” (John Blanchard).

This is why we’re studying Ephesians 6 right now. It’s for two reasons. First: Satan hates you. He wants to bring you down, and he will use every trick in the book in order to defeat you. Second: Satan hates Liberty Grace Church. He hates that we exist. He hates churches, and he hates church plants. He would like nothing better than to shut this church down.

That’s the bad news, but here’s the good news: we have a defense. Although Satan hates us, and although he’s powerful, God has provided a way for us to take our stand against him. The passage we just read says, over and over again, that we can stand against our enemy:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore… (Ephesians 6:11-14)

That’s the bad and good news: we’re under attack, because Satan hates us, but we can stand and prevail.

Tonight we’re going to look at a critical part of our defense.

So let’s review a little bit.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about this reality, found in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

We talked about the fact that we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare. You live in a war zone. It’s a very serious war. It involves God, humans, angels, demons, principalities, powers, nations, and antichrists. We have enemies, and the enemies have tactics, and the fight is up close and personal. The warfare is going on right now, and you’re part of it whether you know it or not, and we’re all involved. But here’s the good news, and it’s very good news: we can stand. Over and over again in this passage, Paul tells us to take our stand. We need to pay attention to what he says in this passage so that we know how to stand.

Last week Nathan helped us look at the first piece of armor: the belt of truth. Here’s the essence of what the belt of truth means: knowing and living the truth is where our defense begins. One of Satan’s main tactics is deceit, and Paul says that we must begin by knowing the truth, and by bringing our lives in line with that truth. Truth is the first line of defense against the attacks of Satan.

But we don’t need just one thing. Paul tells us to take up the whole armor of God. The truth alone, important as it is, isn’t the complete picture. So tonight we’re coming to a second piece of armor: the breastplate of righteousness. It’s actually linked pretty closely to the belt of truth. Paul writes, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

As we look at the breastplate of righteousness, we can learn three things:

  • Where we can expect attack
  • How we can defend ourselves
  • How to put on the breastplate of righteousness

First: Where we can expect attack

The image that Paul gives us isn’t hard to understand. Soldiers would wear breastplates — a layer of metal or very tough leather that covered the soldier from the neck to the thigh. It would usually come in two pieces: one to cover the front, and the other to cover the back. It was really like the ancient version of a bulletproof vest. If you wore the breastplate, then your vital organs like the heart would be protected, especially from thrusts from the short sword. You wouldn’t think about going into battle without wearing a breastplate.

It’s interesting that Paul talks about the breastplate so early on, because it shows us where Satan is prone to attack us. He’s going to come after our hearts. When you think about spiritual attack, many of us think about all kinds of weird things like you see in horror movies: lights flickering, doors slamming, rooms becoming cold, and cupboard doors opening and closing by themselves. That’s the horror movie version of spiritual attack, but it’s not how spiritual attack usually happens. One of the most common ways that Satan attacks us is by going after our hearts. He knows that if he get to our hearts, he can inflict a mortal wound.

What is the heart? The heart in Scripture represents our inmost being, the essence of who we are. One scholar says this:

The Bible uses the heart and reins to refer to the seat of the thoughts and the deep motives and emotions of men. People in Paul’s day believed that organs such as the heart and the liver were the center of affections. Emotions such as joy or anger originated in these organs. The apostle Paul used this understanding, unscientific though it was, to teach important spiritual lessons. He said believers must put on the breastplate of righteousness to protect the vital parts of the inner man and its faculties against the attacks of Satan. In their conflict with the invisible powers, believers are most vulnerable in their thoughts, motives, and emotions. They need strong protection—a breastplate of righteousness—to keep from being wounded in their inmost being. (Joel Beeke)

This is where we can expect attack:

  • Satan will attack our thoughts. He will try to entice us to think wrong thoughts about him and about us. If he can twist our thinking, then he can poison our relationship with God and lead us into error.
  • Satan will attack our motives. He will try to entice us to do the right thing for the wrong reason. He will try to capture us at the level of desires so that we want the things that God doesn’t want. If he can get us to desire anything more than God, then he’s got our hearts. He will have made us idolaters.
  • Satan will attack our emotions. Our emotions are a great gift from God, but they are also an area that Satan can attack. He can use our emotions to carry us away from God. Your moods don’t come from nowhere. They come from something that you believe. “When we are angry, discouraged, depressed, anxious, self-pitying, fearful, or irritable, it is likely because we are believing something very specific” (Jon Bloom). He can use our emotions as a means of doubting God’s love. When emotions and truth are in sync, it can be a powerful thing; when our emotions are out of sync with reality, then we’re in great danger.

This is so important, because we’re not usually aware that this is how Satan attacks. This gives Satan a huge advantage, because we’re not on guard. 

The heart is the essence of who you are. In the Bible it represents all that you are, the entirety of your inner person. Paul says that Satan is going to come after it. We mentioned that we’re in a war zone. Do you know where the front of the battle is? It’s in your heart. It’s in your thoughts, motives, and emotions. Satan’s out to get you. Satan is going to come after your heart. It’s going to be the first place that he attacks. He’s going to attack the core of your being, because he knows that if he gets your heart, then he can fatally wound us. Satan knows where we’re most vulnerable, and if he can get us here, then we’ll live with guilt, fear, depression, and discouragement.

This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.  There’s no better place to attack, and so the breastplate is absolutely needed if we’re to survive.

So that’s where Satan is going to attack. Let’s look next at how we can defend ourselves.

Second: How we can defend ourselves

So how can we protect our most vulnerable area, the heart? We need the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is like an ancient version of a bulletproof vest. You wouldn’t think of going into battle as a soldier without a breastplate, and Paul says that we shouldn’t think about going into life without the breastplate of righteousness as well.

So whatever this breastplate of righteousness is, we need it. So what is it?

There are really three main theories of what the breastplate of righteousness are:

  • One theory is that it’s the righteousness that we get from God through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s Jesus’ righteousness that becomes ours when God saves us. In other words, the best defense against Satan is to remember that when you become a follower of Jesus Christ, you are pardoned, forgiven, and justified because of what Jesus has done for you at the cross.
  • Another theory is that it’s the righteousness that characterizes our lives as we follow Jesus. When God saves us, he sends the Holy Spirit to live within us and to change us from the inside out. So when Satan attacks us, we can increase our defenses against him through the transformation that the Spirit is working out in our lives.
  • A third theory is that Paul is talking about both. Paul wants us to defend ourselves with the righteousness that’s ours in Christ, and the righteousness that the Spirit is producing within our lives.

Which one is right? I think the third view is. I like how one person (G. G. Findlay) put it: “The completeness of pardon for past offense and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable mail.” Paul is telling us to take up the gospel (what God has done for us through Christ) and the effects of the gospel (the change that the Spirit is producing in us) together as a defense when Satan comes against our hearts.

Let’s talk about how this works.

Jesus’ Righteousness as a Defense (Imputed Righteousness)

We need the breastplate of righteousness to protect our hearts. One of the aspects of this breastplate is the righteousness of Jesus that’s given to us the minute that he saves us.

One of the ways that Satan attacks us is to accuse us. He says, “What? You sinned again? You’re no good. God could never love someone like you.” That’s one of the key ways that Satan attacks our hearts. He’s our accuser. Revelation 12:10 calls him “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God." He loves to point out our flaws. And here’s the thing: he’s kind of right. We are sinners. We do have lots of flaws that he can point out.

When Satan attacks us this way, we need a righteousness that doesn’t come from us as our primary defense. If we try to argue with our own righteousness, we’re doomed. As one preacher said, our “integrity at its best is but as wax before the devil” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). A wax shield just isn’t going to do it. In fact, the more you grow as a Christian, the more aware you are that you have no righteousness of your own. The more you grow in your faith, the more you know that your own righteousness is no defense before Satan.

So what do you do? You put on the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness. I want to illustrate with one of my favorite stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s an unusual passage, but it’s so profound. It’s found In Zechariah 3 in the form of a vision.

Joshua, the high priest of Israel, is in heaven standing before God. What you need to understand is that the high priest only came before God once a year on the day of atonement. Weeks of work would take place to prepare for this day, and to ensure that the priest was cleansed and ready to stand before God to represent the people of Israel.

But look what happened when Joshua the high priest came before God:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him…Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. (Zechariah 3:1,3)

Zechariah sees Joshua appear before God after weeks of preparation. Satan is there too to accuse him. And we read, “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel” (Zechariah 3:3). In the original it says he’s in clothes that are covered with excrement. It’s a picture of how we must look to God as we come before him in all our righteousness. He’s there on the Day of Atonement, but there’s big trouble because he’s unclean. There’s no way he can stand before God, and Satan is there to accuse him. It’s a disaster. It’s a good picture of our condition before God apart from Jesus. Even after all the preparation we can do, no matter how much we try to make ourselves clean, we show up covered in excrement, and Satan loves to point it out.

But look what happens when Satan accuses Joshua:

And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zechariah 3:2-5)

I absolutely love this picture. It’s a picture of what happens to us when God saves us through Jesus Christ. Before Satan can even speak, the angel says, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And then the angel says to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (Zechariah 3:4). God strips away his uncleanness and provides clothes that he couldn’t provide for himself. He’s reclothed in God’s presence and even given a turban, which at that time would have signified royalty. He comes before God covered with excrement, and in God’s presence he’s given ceremonially pure garments as a sign that God accepts him and the people that he represents.

This is a great picture of what God does for us. It’s a great picture of the righteousness that can be our defense when Satan comes after our hearts. God has taken away our filthy clothes, and has clothed us with a righteousness that’s not our own.

2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Satan accuses us, and we have no righteousness of our own to defend us, we can remind Satan that we’re clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Remind yourself, and Satan, that Jesus has died for your sins. Realize that the only way you can stand before God is based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ — and you have that. It’s enough. In Christ, you have been pardoned, cleansed, and perfected. It’s what theologians call imputed righteousness — that God has credited to us all the righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith. It’s not about our righteousness; it’s about Jesus’ righteousness. And Satan can’t attack Jesus’ righteousness. When we put on that breastplate, he can’t pierce it to get through to our hearts.

As one old hymn says:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.

Or another:

Well may the accuser roar
Of sins that I have done
I know them all and thousands more
Jehovah knoweth none

So let me ask you: have you done this? You won’t stand against the attacks of Satan if you’re trusting in your own righteousness. Have you looked to Jesus for the righteousness that he provides? Is it your defense against the attacks of the evil one?

Let me push a little bit more. Even if you’ve trusted in Jesus’ righteousness, is this the breastplate that you wear when Satan comes after your heart? It’s possible to have trusted in Christ, and to functionally live as if it all depends on you now. That’s a recipe for failure in the Christian life. We need to preach this gospel to ourselves everyday. That’s what Paul means when he says that we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Everyday we need to remind ourselves that we don’t stand based on our own record; we stand because we are in union with Jesus Christ. We stand because of the work of Jesus Christ that cannot be undone. And when Satan comes after our hearts, we can stand with courage knowing that the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness can handle any attack that Satan brings against it.

But there’s another element of the breastplate of righteousness that we need to consider.

The Spirit’s Work in Us As a Defense (Imparted Righteousness)

One of the ways that Satan attacks us is through accusation. And the way that we can deflect that attack is through the finished work of Jesus Christ. In him, we are completely righteous. This is what the theologians call imputed righteousness.

But there’s another type of righteousness that’s important, and theologians call it imparted righteousness. When God saves us, he doesn’t just pardon us. He also goes to work in our hearts and begins to change us from the inside out. He begins a renovation project so that we’re not just forgiven, but we are gradually changed to become like Jesus. This is slow and gradual work, and it’s not done yet. But God never separates the two. If he forgives you, he also begins to change you. He frees us from the penalty of sin, and he’s also freeing us from the power of sin.

This type of righteousness is also something that we can put on. As we are changed by God, and as we begin to think his thoughts, and desire the things that he desires, we will be strengthened to resist the attacks by the evil one against our hearts.

Now I want you to hear me. Never base your standing before God based on your own righteousness. That will fail, because all of us still struggle with sin. Our own righteousness will never be enough to serve as a defense when Satan accuses us. At the same time, our growth in holiness will help us take our stand when Satan attacks. The Spirit’s work in our hearts, growing us in our holiness, is also part of our defense against the evil one.

That’s why Paul writes things like this in Ephesians:

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)

…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-10)

It’s not hard to see how this works. If Satan attacks us in our thoughts, motives, and emotions, then a growth in holiness will help us to have holier thoughts, motives, and emotions. When we’re not living holy lives, we make ourselves easier targets for Satan’s attacks. So pursue holiness. Remember who you are in Jesus Christ. Live out that identity. Cast yourself on him every day and ask for his help. Worship together; confess your sins; fellowship with each other; get into the Word. As you grow in your holiness, you will grow in your ability to stand when Satan attacks your heart.

Just one word of caution before we go on. Never separate your imputed righteousness from your imparted righteousness. God never separates the two. We need both faith in Jesus Christ and good works, but as someone has put it, one is the root and the other is the fruit. Our good works grow out of our faith in Jesus. Don’t ever think you can grow in your holiness without centering on what God has done through Jesus Christ to save you. If you aren’t trusting the gospel, you will never grow in your holiness. Never stand based on your own righteousness, but seek to grow in your holiness and righteousness as you trust in the righteousness of Jesus.

This is what it means to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Put on Jesus’ righteousness, and based on that, strive to grow in your own holiness before him.

Finally: how to put on the breastplate of righteousness

How do we put on the breastplate of righteousness? You do it by preaching the truth to yourself. If Satan is coming after your thoughts, motives, and emotions, then the way we counter his attack is to bring our thoughts, motives, and emotions in line with the truth. It’s crucial if we are going to stand when Satan attacks. “To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget” (Joe Thorn).

Last week Nathan talked about the belt of truth. It’s like a belt or leather apron that hung underneath the armor and protected the thighs. A belt holds everything in place; without it other weapons will fall apart in disarray. So what Paul is saying is that the truth, in a way, is crucial as we put on the rest of the armor.

The truth about who Jesus is and what he’s done for you are going to help when Satan comes after your heart. One preacher (Tim Keller) illustrates how this plays out in our lives.

  • When you’re disappointed or bitter — When we’re bitter, it’s usually because we are trusting in something that hasn’t worked for us. We are looking to something other than Jesus to cover us, to show that we’re okay. We’re looking to our career, or our accomplishments, or a relationship to give us what only Jesus can give us. When we’re bitter, we need to repent of making something else our way of salvation other than Jesus. We need to put on the breastplate of his righteousness as our defense.
  • When you’re guilty — We know what it is to feel guilty. There’s a good type of guilt, a godly type of guilt, that drives us to Jesus. But then there’s the wrong type of guilt that accuses you and causes you to doubt God’s love for you. It says that because you’ve sinned, you’re unworthy. It accuses you and puts you down. Look to Jesus. Say, “What you’re really doing is insulting the magnitude of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. You’re insulting the completeness of his righteousness, and I won’t have it. Go ahead and insult me. Tell me I deserve to be rejected. I already know that. But don’t you dare tell me I’m not worthy of going before the Father, because what that is doing is saying that Jesus’ righteousness is really insufficient.”
  • When you’re working too hard — Don’t base your righteousness on your own efforts. A lot of people who work too hard are trying to build their own righteousness. They are building a righteousness out of their careers and achievements. Remind yourself that’s not where your righteousness comes from. No matter how well you do in your life, it will never be enough to serve as your breastplate. Put on Jesus’ righteousness instead.
  • When you’re self-conscious — When you feel inadequate, when you feel like you don’t measure up, then it’s a good sign that you aren’t putting on the breastplate of righteousness. If God says you’re okay in Christ, who cares what anyone else thinks? Who needs the approval of the servant when you have the approval of the King? Sometimes even your own conscience can condemn you when it shouldn’t. 1 John 3:20 says, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” When you feel inadequate, remind yourself that you are a son or daughter of the King, and that you have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and you can stand.

In short, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves and to each other. As we do so, we'll be putting on the breastplate of righteousness that we need.

Satan hates you. He wants to attack you, and he wants to attack this church. He’s going to go after your heart: your thoughts, your emotions, and your motives. If he can get you there, he knows he can inflict a fatal wound.

So what should we do? Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Protect your heart with the righteousness that God provides, and the righteousness the Spirit produces. When he attacks your heart, and you stand in the truth of what Jesus has done, and what he’s doing in you, then you can stand. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Stand (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Big Idea: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.


On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool. Almost 2,000 people were on board, including 95 children and 39 infants. It was an amazing ship: fast, comfortable, luxurious, and beloved.

But this voyage was to be its last. Days before the ship had left New York, The Imperial German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including some in New York:

NOTICE!

TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY

Washington, D.C., 22 April 1915.

Despite that ad, people embarked on the Lusitania, and you can still watch the film of the ship leaving port on its last voyage with people waving excitedly, before going to their first-class cabins and enjoying all the food and amenities that the ship had to offer.

On May 7, near the end of her 202nd crossing, a German U-boat spotted the ship. At a 700 meter range, orders were given for one torpedo to be fired. The torpedo — a single torpedo — hit the ship. Seawater drenched the passengers; children jumping rope on the deck stopped jumping. Within seconds, the ship rolled to the right. 18 minutes later, the ship sank, killing almost 1,200 of its passenger and crew. Never before had an attack on a civilian ship taken place like this. When you enter a war zone, even when you’re on a luxurious civilian ship, you may experience the worst that war can offer.

It’s important for us to realize this as well. We’re in a very similar position. A declaration of war has been issued. We’ve been told to expect attack. Yet it’s easy for us to think we live in peacetime conditions, and to be surprised when we find ourselves embattled and attacked. I don’t know how many times I’ve been surprised when it feels like I’m under attack. We live in wartime, but we expect peacetime conditions.

I read think of this quote by Charles Spurgeon often: “When you sleep, remember that you are resting on the battlefield; when you travel, suspect an ambush in every hedge.”

That’s why, for the next eight weeks including today, we’re going to be looking at what it means to not just survive the battle, but to take our stand. We’re going to begin today by looking at Ephesians 6:10-13. There are just a few things that we need to learn from this passage today, and here’s the first one:

The reality: We’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare.

Read verses 10-13 with me:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Here’s the first thing we need to see: The Christian life is a battle. Some people think that the Christian life is peaceful, and I know where they’re coming from, but the Bible is clear that when you become a follower of Christ, you’ve entered a war. In this passage, Paul uses an extended military metaphor to help us understand what the Christian life is like. He says we need armor, and the reason is that we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare on the side of God against the devil. We’re at war.

Here’s what we learn about the battle:

We have enemies. Verse 11 talks about the schemes of the devil. He is the head of the demons, the fallen angels who are enemies of God. Jesus called him a liar and a murderer. He’s out to get us, to deceive us, and to rob us of our very lives. And he’s not alone. Verse 12 says that he’s joined by “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There’s not just one spiritual being who’s our enemy, but a whole range of evil spiritual forces. They vary in rank, authority, and capability, but they’re all opposed to us.

We don’t know all the details of these beings that are against us. We don’t have enough information to figure out every detail of how the hierarchy works. But we know enough to realize that a battle is going on with unseen spiritual forces against us. They’re powerful, wicked, cunning, and invisible. If our fight was against other humans, we’d maybe have to worry, but at least we’d have a chance. We have no chance on our own against these unseen spiritual enemies, which is why Paul is going to tell us what to do to stand under the attack of these spiritual forces against us. Don’t be surprised when you feel like you’re under attack.

So we learn that we have enemies. Then we learn that:

They have tactics. Paul tells us that we’re to stand against the “schemes of the devil.” What is a scheme? It’s a strategy designed by a careful strategist to defeat us. It means that the devil and his forces will use every scheme possible to turn us aside from pursuing Christ and achieving the goals that God has for us. Beneath the surface, there’s a battle going on. One preacher says:

He has been honing his methods for millennia. His emissaries visited the church councils at Nicea and Chalcedon. He sat in on medieval faculty meetings. He is an accomplished philosopher, theologian, and psychologist. He has had thousands of years to study.

I am no genius at mathematics, but even with my limited capabilities I could be terrific at math if I worked at it for 100 years (maybe!). If I labored hard at it for a 1,000 years and read all the learned theories, I would be a Newton or an Einstein. Or what if I had 10,000 years? Given that time, any of us could become the world’s greatest philosopher or psychologist or theologian or linguist (we could curse or preach in a thousand languages). Satan has had multiple millennia to study and master the human disciplines, and when it comes to human subversion, he is the ultimate manipulator. (R. Kent Hughes)

When you read this passage, you may have pictures of wild spiritual battles and direct spiritual attack. But there are a variety of ways that he can come after us. Clinton Arnold has listed some of the schemes or tactics of Satan:

  • interjecting an image into our minds of something enticing but sinful (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8)
  • exploiting a sinful tendency, such as anger, and causing it to flare out of control (Eph 4:27)
  • inspiring others to create a principle, teaching, or idea that sounds plausible, but is wrong and dangerous to our souls (2 Cor 11:3, 15)
  • afflicting us with a physical illness or condition (2 Cor 12:7)
  • sending a horrible dream or demonic manifestation during the night that produces fear (Job 4:13–16; Ps 91:5)
  • enticing us to lie (Acts 5:3)
  • instigating a series of horrible “natural” calamities, e.g., the death of a loved one, loss of one’s home, or destruction or loss of property (Job 1–2)

Most of the time, Satan and his demons don’t use a direct attack. What we experience most of the time is much more subtle than that. That’s why the devil’s so wily. Satan doesn’t usually tip his hand. He likes to use trickery and subterfuge. As one person said, “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap” (Klyne Snodgrass).

One of his most effective tactics is simply to get us to question God’s goodness. He tries to tempt us to think that God is holding back on us. He causes us to question God’s Word. He loves to deceive us, and he knows what works. He’s been at it for thousands of years. We have an enemy, Paul says, and he has tactics.

One man reflects on the battle as he’s faced it, and says this of a defeat:

I was a fool. I believed lies, which led me to tell lies.

This is why temptation is so tempting. It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things.

That captures it all. Remember that Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a deceiver. Satan gets us to believe lies, and uses these lies to get us to doubt God and do destructive and evil things. He has tactics, and one of the main tactics is deceit.

We learn one more thing about the battle:

The battle is up close and personal. Paul says, “We wrestle…” The word for wrestle is more of an athletic one than a military one. When you wrestle, you’re in close contact with your enemy. Paul uses this image to help us realize that this isn’t warfare that takes place with drones and joysticks. It’s close and intense. The battle takes place in our minds and hearts. It couldn’t be closer and more intimate than it is.

So this is the first thing we learn in this passage: that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics and are up close and personal. We need to expect that we’re at war. We can’t be like the passengers on the Lusitania. We can’t forget the fact that we’re at war.

Paul also wants to tell us what to do about it.

What to do: Be strong by putting on the armor of God.

It’s important that we understand that we’re engaged in warfare. But the way to win at the war isn’t to focus on the enemy. It was C.S. Lewis that said:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

The way we win at this battle isn’t to excessively focus on our enemy. Paul tells us what we should do:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-11)

“Be strong in the Lord.” Paul doesn’t say just to be strong. We’re too weak to be strong. Self-sufficiency is a killer in this battle. He says we need to be strong in the Lord. This whole passage is about that. We need God’s strength in verse 10. We need God’s armor, in verses 11 and 14 to 17, and we need open lines of communication with God in verses 18 to 20. We need God’s help.

I want you to notice a few things:

We’re not alone in this battle. You could easily read this passage and miss this, but Paul isn’t writing to us as individuals. He’s writing to a church. I had lunch with a friend this week, and we talked about this passage. He said, “The thing that bothers me is that everyone preaches this passage and applies it to the individual. What kind of person goes to war alone? Would you send one soldier to war in Iraq?”

He’s got a good point. The context for this battle is the church. Given that the Christian life is war, it makes no sense to try to do it alone. We need strength and encouragement from others if we’re going to make it. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other if we’re to survive. These are instructions for the church collectively to put on God’s armor, and stand as one person in battle.

We can be strengthened. Verse 10 says, “Be strong in the Lord.” It’s hard to see in the English, but it’s passive. It means that we receive strength from an outside source: from God. It’s not, “Make yourself strong.” It’s, “Receive from the Lord what you need in order to be strong.” It’s tricky, because there’s a command for us to follow, but the command is to receive. We must take action, and the action is to seek God and present themselves to him for filling with his power.

When Paul says “in the Lord” here, he’s talking about Jesus. It’s here that we’re reminded of the words of Martin Luther in his song A Mighty Fortress:

Did we in our own strength confide, 
our striving would be losing, 
were not the right man on our side, 
the man of God's own choosing. 

It’s only because Jesus is on our side that we can be strengthened.

Tim Keller gives an illustration that helps me with this. Picture being sent into a battle in which you’re vastly outnumbered. You know that there’s not a chance that you can win against the enemy. You’re about to be slaughtered. But your commander says, “Tomorrow you’re going to go and attack that fortification.” But then he says, “Remember that as you attack that behind you, over you, and all around you will be this vastly superior air power. Charge, but count on the fact that you won’t be alone. If you don’t charge, you won’t beat them. But if you charge and trust that what I tell you is true, then you’ll be okay.”

We’d like to see the air power first, but that’s not how it works. Our job is to fill our minds with the magnificence of the power that we have all around us, and then to go out and battle like we believe it’s true.

Here’s what this means for us. We must fill our minds with what God has done for us. We’re going into battle, but we need to remember that God has already defeated Satan through Jesus Christ. I want you to think of three verses in particular:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:4-6)

As a church, we want to keep coming back to the reality that Jesus has done for us what we can’t do. We want to keep coming back to the gospel. We want to fill our minds with what he’s done, and then live in that reality.

The great news is that the weakest among us can be strong in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished at the cross. Jesus has accomplished everything that we need. We can trust in his work, and believe that he has abundant strength for us. He has everything we need. We can draw on that strength continuously. We can know the greatness of his power and live in that reality.

One of our values as a church is that we are dependent: apart from God, we can do nothing. I really want us to push into this. The only way that we can stand as a church in the battle is if we stay connected with God, as we fill our minds with what he says is true. The only way we’ll be ready to rush into battle is if we believe that we have air support all around us. It’s why prayer is so critical to what we’re doing as a church.

There’s one more thing I want you to notice:

There are things we can do. Paul describes the armor of God. In addition to taking advantage of our relationship with Christ, there are some things that he says we should do. He calls us to appropriate some gifts and to cultivate some virtues that are going to be important. We’re going to need all of it. He says to put on the whole armor of God, not just one or two pieces. We’re going to talk about this over the coming weeks.

Okay, let’s summarize what we’ve covered so far. We’ve looked at this passage and learned that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics, and who are up close and personal. We’ve also learned that we can be strengthened together by taking advantage of the resources that God has provided for us.

I want to finish today with some good news. Here it is:

The good news: We can stand.

Here’s the good news that I want to leave us with today: we can stand. Verse 13 says:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

Here’s the great news. Paul says that if we strengthen ourselves in God, and take up his armor, then we will be able to stand against the enemy of our souls. The word “stand” repeats itself four times in this passage:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

Stand therefore… (Ephesians 6:14)

Stand means that we hold our position. It means that the devil doesn’t gain an inch in our lives, or move us off course. When the devil advances, we are to hold our position and refuse to be moved. It doesn’t mean that we only play defense; it can mean that we take an aggressive stand against Satan. It means that we take up defensive positions, and also that we “stand like an oak against the winds of Satan’s lies that would sway us, against the floods of his temptations that would sweep us away, and against the leeches of his accusations that would deprive us of grace” (Stanley D. Gale).

Here’s what I want you to hear today: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.

A hundred years ago, passengers were warned that a state of war existed, and that they could expect attack. It was probably hard to remember this completely in the first class accommodations, and tragically, hundreds lost their lives.

We too have been warned that a state of war exists. We have powerful enemies who employ sophisticated tactics to try to defeat us. But we’ve been given strength by God through Jesus Christ so that we can stand.

Friends, let’s not forget that we’re at war. And let’s fill our minds what all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ so that we can stand. Let’s remember that we’re not alone as we go to war. We can “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

You and the Church (Ephesians 3:1-13)

Big Idea: God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church.


There is only one cause in all the world today that will still matter a bazillion years from today.  You can be involved, and on terms of grace.  You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end.

That’s how Ray Ortlund Jr. began a sermon recently, and it’s a good way for us to begin today.

We’re concluding a series today on the church. Over the past three weeks we’ve talked about our strategy as a church. God wants us to go deeper into the gospel, deeper into fellowship, and farther into mission. That’s it. Everything that we do is going to be one or more of these things. There isn’t anything that we will do that doesn’t fit into one of these categories. This is what God is calling us to be and do as a church.

Today I want to finish with one simple question: Will you bring your weakness, and be part of what God is doing through the church?

My sermon is simple today. I have only two points, and then I want to ask you if you’re going to play your part. Here’s my first point.

God uses unlikely people.

Read verses 1 to 7 again with me:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:1-7)

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 see 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, or an entrepreneur, or a church planter, we can see ourselves servants 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.

Here’s what I want you to know: You matter. You. Not extraordinary you. I’m talking about ordinary you. Let me quote Ray Ortlund again:

Don’t waste your life in the false peace of worldly comfort and small ambition and being cool.  Jesus is looking for gospel hooligans who want to get messy and relevant and involved.  He wants to use you for the advance of the gospel.  Don’t miss out.  Don’t settle for a life that won’t matter forever.  Do you want people to say at your funeral, “What a nice person,” and that’s it?  Your life can count for many people forever.  All he asks of you, all you can do, is keep listening to him moment by moment and then take your next step, whatever that might be.  You provide your weakness and need.  He provides his strength, his wisdom, everything.  And if we will together live that way on mission, we will experience what only God can do.

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. It didn’t involve warships and destroyers. It involved trawlers and pleasure craft. 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.

God can use you, friends. Don’t waste your life. Be part of what he is doing. And that leads me to my second point.

We get to be part of something huge: the church that God is building.

God uses ordinary people, but what he does with them is extraordinary.

Look at verses 10 to 11 with me. 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.

John Stott says:

It is as if a great drama is being enacted. History is the theatre, the world is the stage, and church members in every land are the actors. God himself has written the play, and he directs and produces it. Act by act, scene by scene, the story continues to unfold. But who are the audience? They are the cosmic intelligences, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation. Thus ‘the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels’

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, us, his church.

You know what this means? As Liberty Grace Church takes shape, demons are getting schooled. We are a tangible reminder to demons that their authority has been broken, and that Jesus Christ is victor, and that he is on the move. The progress of the gospel will not be hindered. God is on the move, and he uses us — us! — as proof to the spiritual realm that his kingdom is victorious.

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. We can know that even though we’re ordinary, our lives are part of something that is far from ordinary. This church, as God builds it, is part of God’s eternal purpose. It matters, and it will matter for eternity.


The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year’s in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ…Lift up your eyes, O Christians! You belong to a society that will never cease, to the apple of God’s eye, to the eternal and cosmic church of our Lord, Jesus Christ. (John Piper)

Most of us live with little to no awareness to the drama going on around us. Our lives, and this church, have cosmic significance.

Your gift may seem small. Your life may seem small. But it’s not. It’s part of something bigger, and it’s part of what God is doing in the world. Don’t ever think that God can’t use you. Your weakness and God’s power are a perfect match. How can you take part? We’ve just covered it. Go deeper in the gospel. Get deeper into community. Go farther into mission. Repeat.

We’ve covered and started a lot this past month. I want to ask you to do three things.

First, take this strategy card. Internalize it. Put it into practice. This isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s the DNA of our church. Help us translate this card into reality. Someone has asked a good question about church mission statements and strategies: It’s hanging on the wall, but is it happening down the hall? Let’s resolve to work this so it’s happening. We’re off to a good start, but let’s keep going. Master this. Work it. It’s what God is calling us to do.

Second, join this church. If you have been coming out, and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, we are asking you to commit to this church. We want you to identify with this expression of the church, and say, “I’m in. I’m committed.” I’ve given you a membership covenant today. I’d like to ask you to take it, read it, and to return it. You can be part of what God is doing in this church. “You can bring your weakness to the table, and the risen Christ brings his Spirit to the table, and you walk away clothed with power from on high to promote a kingdom that has no end” (Ortlund).

Finally — Would you believe that we are part of something bigger? You are, and we are together. It’s not because we’re anything special. It’s because God uses unlikely people, and they get to be part of his church. It isn’t just you and Jesus; it’s you and the church. Enter into what God wants to do with your life. Walk in weakness, obedience, and humility before him. And he will use you in ways you can’t even imagine for his glory. Don’t waste your life.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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."

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.
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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.
Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

2 Comments

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

1 Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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.

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

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)

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.