The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: April 2018

Don’t Quench the Spirit!

The following article appeared on the desiringgod.org website April 28th.  Read it and hear, pastor!  Hear, church! . . .

if the apostle Paul himself had not warned us about quenching the Spirit, who among us would have thought it was possible (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22)? To suggest that the omnipotent Spirit of God could ever be quenched, and thus restricted in what he might do otherwise in our lives, and in the life of the local church, is to tread on thin theological ice.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God has granted to Christians the ability either to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the life of the local church. The Spirit comes to us as a fire, either to be fanned into full flame and given the freedom to accomplish his will, or to be doused and extinguished by the water of human fear, control, and flawed theology.

“God has granted us the power and authority to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the local church.”

How many of us pause to consider the ways in which we inadvertently quench the Spirit’s work in our lives individually and in our churches corporately? Do we church leaders instill fear or courage in the hearts of people by the way we speak and preach and lead? Do we so repeatedly pepper our sermons and small group Bible studies, even our personal conversations, with such dire warnings of charismatic excess that we effectively quench the Spirit’s work in their lives? Or, after listening to us and observing how we conduct ourselves in Christian ministry, do they find themselves encouraged, courageous, and confident to step out and take risks they otherwise might not take?

The Spirit obviously desires to work in your life and in your church. To use Paul’s metaphor or analogy, the Spirit is like a fire whose flame we want to be careful not to quench or extinguish. The Holy Spirit wants to intensify the heat of his presence among us, to inflame our hearts and fill us with the warmth of his indwelling power. And Paul’s exhortation is a warning to all of us lest we become part of the contemporary bucket brigade that stands ready to douse his activity with the water of legalism, fear, and a flawed theology that, without biblical warrant, claims that his gifts have ceased and been withdrawn.

Seven Ways We Quench the Holy Spirit

1. We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely decisively on any resource other than the Holy Spirit for anything we do in life and ministry.

Any attempt to conjure up “hope” apart from that power which is the Spirit (Romans 15:13) is to quench him, as well as any effort to persevere in ministry and remain patient with joy by any other means than the Spirit (Colossians 1:11). Any effort to carry out pastoral ministry other than through “his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29) is to quench the Spirit. Any attempt to resolve to carry out some good work of faith through a “power” other than the Spirit is to quench him (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

2. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his personality and speak of him as if he were only an abstract power or source of divine energy.

Some envision the Spirit as if he were no more than an ethereal energy, the divine equivalent to an electric current: stick your finger of faith into the socket of his “anointing presence” and you’ll experience a spiritual shock of biblical proportions! The result is that any talk of experiencing the Spirit is summarily dismissed as dishonoring to his exalted status as God and a failure to embrace his sovereignty over us rather than ours over him.

3. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress or legislate against his work of imparting spiritual gifts and ministering to the church through them.

Every gift of the Spirit is in its own way a “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit himself (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Spirit is made manifest or visibly evident in our midst whenever the gifts are in use. Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression in the way we do ministry.

“Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression.”

Does this mean that the doctrine of cessationism is a quenching of the Spirit? Whereas I don’t believe cessationists consciously intend to quench the Spirit, I do believe the ultimate consequence of that theological position quenches the Spirit.

Most cessationists desire for the Spirit to work in whatever ways they believe are biblically justified. They simply don’t believe that the operation of miraculous gifts today is biblically warranted. Thus, the unintended, practical effect of cessationism is to quench the Spirit. By means of an unbiblical and misguided theology that restricts, inhibits, and often prohibits what the Spirit can and cannot do in our lives individually and in our churches corporately, the Spirit is quenched.

4. We quench the Spirit whenever we create an inviolable and sanctimonious structure in our corporate gatherings and worship services, and in our small groups, that does not permit spontaneity or the special leading of the Spirit.

Twice — in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 — Paul refers to “spiritual songs,” most likely to differentiate between songs that are previously composed (“psalms” and “hymns”) as over against those that are spontaneously evoked by the Spirit himself. I believe the best explanation of what Paul meant by “spiritual songs” are unrehearsed, unscripted, and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses extolling the beauty of Christ. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.

Could it be that we quench the Spirit’s work either by denying the possibility that he might move upon us in spontaneous ways like this or by so rigidly structuring our services that there is virtually no allowance for the Spirit’s interruption of our liturgy?

In addition, we read in 1 Corinthians 14:29–31 that the Spirit may well reveal something to a person at the same time another is speaking. This spontaneity is not to be despised or scorned but embraced, as Paul counsels the person speaking to “be silent” and give room for the other to communicate whatever the Spirit has made known.

5. We quench the Spirit whenever we despise prophetic utterances (1 Thessalonians 5:20).

No matter how badly people may have abused the gift of prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture — in other words, a sin — to despise prophetic utterances. God commands us not to treat prophecy with contempt, as if it were unimportant.

“We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely on any resource other than him for anything we do in life and ministry.”

Rather than quenching the Holy Spirit by despising prophetic utterances, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test everything” — meaning examine or judge all prophecies. Paul doesn’t correct the abuse of this gift by commanding disuse (as is the practice of many today). His remedy is biblically informed discernment and only “hold[ing] fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Such discernment should be applied to all spiritual gifts.

6. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his activity that alerts and awakens us to the glorious and majestic truth that we are truly the children of God (Romans 8:15–16; Galatians 4:4–7).

In both of these texts, the experiential, felt assurance of our adoption as the children of God is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. To whatever extent we diminish this experiential dimension of the Spirit’s work, we quench him. To whatever extent we fail to lead people into the conscious, felt awareness of their adoption as God’s children, we quench the Spirit.

7. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress, or legislate against, or instill fear in the hearts of people regarding the legitimate experience of heartfelt emotions and affections in worship.

I find it instructive that Jesus, as he extolled the Father, is described as rejoicing “in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). Affections for God such as joy, peace, love, zeal, desire, and reverential fear are an essential dimension in Christ-exalting worship. How often do we orchestrate our corporate gatherings and issue strict guidelines as to what is “proper” in times of worship and in doing so inadvertently quench the Spirit in people’s lives?

“No matter how badly some have abused prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture to despise prophetic utterances.”

John Piper says it best: “the vibrant fullness of the Spirit overflows in appropriate expressions like singing and making melody from the heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18–19). And if you don’t like those expressions and you resist it, fold your arms — ‘I am not going to do that sort of thing; I am not going to sing’ — you are quenching the Holy Spirit.”

May I urge you to carefully search your own heart and assess the possible ways in which you may have quenched the Spirit in your own life and in the experience of your local church? Yielding to and making room for the Spirit’s work in our midst is not to be feared but fostered. May God grant us both the wisdom and confidence in his goodness to facilitate a greater and more life-changing experience of the Spirit’s transforming power.

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The Walking Dead

Based on a comic book series, the TV program “The Walking Dead”  portrays life in the aftermath of “a zombie apocalypse”.  A sheriff’s deputy falls into a coma after being shot, then awakens to a dangerous new world overrun by “the undead”.  Pressure to survive drives the deputy and others to the depths of human cruelty.

From Paul in the Holy Scriptures . . .

 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4).

The words hit like a sudden slap in the face.  Paul’s just finished bursting out praise for God’s goodness in Christ, thanking God for the faith and love of his readers, and interceding for their enlightenment.  Suddenly, he turns: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . “  A condition not unlike The Walking Dead.

For a year, I owned a carpet-cleaning franchise (!).  We were encouraged to always sell the customer an “add-on”.  If she hired us to clean three rooms of carpets, we might offer  a fourth at a reduced price “since we’re here”.  She didn’t need that fourth room cleaned; but she’d probably feel a little better about her house if it was.  Unless we let Ephesians 2:1-4 “slap us in the face”, we may think of Jesus as little more than an “add-on” to us basically good people.

With “you”, Paul’s addressing Gentile Christians in the church.  With “All of us” and “we”, he includes believing Jews.  “Like the rest”  includes us all.  The description is dark—walking dead dark.

  • “Transgressions” means we overstepped God-set moral boundaries. (Pick any of the Ten Commandments!).  That we were “dead” implies walking “off limits” was our way of life.
  • “Sins” means we fell short or missed the mark the holy God, our Creator, demanded.
  • In what way were we “dead”? Not physically, mentally or emotionally.    Dead to God.  Unresponsive to him.  George Whitefield (“Christianity Today” calls him “probably the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century”)– https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/george-whitefield.html)  said:

“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on the top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him. Ah! How he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound entombed, stinking carcase, is but a faint representation of thy poor soul in its natural state: for, whether thou believest or not, thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchred in flesh and blood, is as literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave. Was he bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulchre, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without all doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigour, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘Take away the stone’, and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ also quicken you (quoted in John Gerstner, A Predestination Primer).

  • Once we followed the world’s ways. Our behavior was determined by society’s attitudes and habits, which are alien to God.
  • Once we followed “the ruler of the kingdom of the air”.  Paul is referring to “the rulers . . . the authorities . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • ” . . . the spirit . . . now at work in those who are disobedient”.  Not only did we follow this spirit; but this spirit was actually working in us.
  • We lived to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature, however “good” we might have appeared outwardly.
  • ” . . . by nature children of wrath”.   God’s wrath is his righteous hostility toward every thing unholy.  God loves purity and so reacts in anger toward anything or anyone who defiles it.  By nature (not merely by acts or thoughts, but by nature) we were “children of [God’s] wrath”.   J.I. Packer (Christian theologian) explains: “Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect? Surely not. But it is precisely this adverse reaction to evil, which is a necessary part of moral perfection, that the Bible has in view when it speaks of God’s wrath” (Knowing God, 136-37).

+ + +

Honestly, this is hard to swallow.  Sure, school shootings, terrorism, gang violence and Middle East wars make the world a brutal place.  And some people are jerks.  But most seem “normal”, ordinary folks doing their jobs and raising their families–not to mention the “heroes” like good cops, medical researches seeking cures, and all the doctors sincerely trying to improve or save human lives.

Then there’s me.  I was 10 when I trusted my life to Christ.  Up to that moment, I was an ordinary “good” kid–riding my bike, playing with friends, fighting imaginary fights with my little rubber cowboys.

Was I–are these “good guys” noted above–really “dead in trespasses and sins”? 

Hard to believe.  But believe we must, because this is Paul’s Spirit-inspired diagnosis.  And it’s what makes the next words “But God . . . ” all the more breathtaking:  “The Walking Dead” become the risen and ascended in Christ!

 

 

 

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Alfie Evans

The case about which Dr. Albert Mohler (president Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes makes me angry (who does the government think they are to run roughshod over parents’ natural rights and let Alfie die “in his best interests”?) and frightened (how far will this kind of government travesty spread?) and sad (that Alfie, after surviving days without life-support, finally died.

Follow the link below for Mohler’s blog.

https://albertmohler.com/2018/04/27/life-balance-liverpool-alfie-evans-not-alone

Here are articles related to Alfie’s death.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/live-alfie-evans-dead-tributes-12416526

 

 

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Praying for an Enlightened Heart

Are my prayers tiny?  Too temporal?  Next to Paul’s, they seem almost trifling.

After greeting the Ephesians and west Asia churches, Paul bursts into unparalleled praise to God for giving in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (1:1-14).

Even imprisoned in Rome, he’s received good reports about the churches, so he tells them how he thanks God for them . . .

“Therefore I also, knowing the faith in the Lord Jesus and the love to all the saints that is among you, do not cease giving thanks on behalf of you, making mention in my prayers . . . “ (Ephesians 1:15,16).

Let’s not miss the implication here.  While Paul is grateful for his readers’ faith and love, he knows that ultimately that faith and love are given by the God whom he thanks.

Calvin comments . . .

“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. . . If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Ephesians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore that everything comes from God.”

“ . . . in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in a full knowledge of him . . . (Ephesians 1:17).

Many versions (NIV, NRS, NKJV, ESV) translate pneuma with a small “s”.  They suggest Paul is asking God to give the Ephesians a quality or disposition of wisdom and revelation.

But I think Dr. Gordon Fee’s reasoning prevails. He says, first, Paul’s words seem to derive from Isaiah 11:2 where the prophet declares:  “ . . . the Spirit of the LORD will rest on [Messiah]– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding . . . “.  Paul is praying for that same Spirit for the Ephesians.  Second, Paul here emphasizes “revelation”.  That’s the Spirit’s work.  Third, one might have a “wise spirit” or “wise disposition”; but how can one have a “revelation spirit” or a “revelation disposition”?

Two additional points should be made.  First, Paul’s readers already know God.  Paul prays that they might enjoy a fuller knowledge of him.  Two, Paul’s readers already have the Spirit.  As believers, they are his “temple”.  But the Spirit’s work goes on, often in ways we don’t perceive.  So Paul prays that the Spirit might do a deeper work, or a “fresh” work, or an increasing work in them.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church that preached “the baptism in the Spirit” as an experience subsequent to salvation.  Once one “had it”, there was little more to “have”.  But the Spirit’s work should be ongoing, like a wind that may change direction and decrease or increase, but never dies out.

 “ . . . having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you should know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19a).

The Spirit enlightens the “eyes” of the heart.  Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says the heart is “the core of both the spiritual and mental life of a person, including emotions and will.”

Specifically Paul prays for the Spirit to give understanding and insight regarding their future.  That they should know “what is the hope of his calling”.   “Hope” doesn’t mean “when I wish upon a star”.  It means “the expectation of a God-provided future to which he has called us”.

Paul wants the church to know “what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints”.  If this means what I think, it’s staggering.  We are God’s inheritance—redeemed, sanctified, glorified. (For the concept of our being God’s inheritance, see Deut. 4:20; 9:26,29; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51,53; Ps. 28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 106:5,40; Isa. 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer. 10:16; 51:19).

Finally, Paul wants the church to know “what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe”.  Hostile powers oppose them, but even now God’s power is theirs—now and on into eternity.

“ . . . according to the working of his mighty strength, which he has worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name being named not only in this age but also in the coming one; and all things are subjected under his feet, and he was given to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him which is filling all things” (Ephesians 1:19b-23).

This “excelling greatness of his power” proclaims “the working of his mighty strength” with which he raised Christ from the dead and exalted him with power and authority to reign over the entire universe forever.

Paul declares that the exalted Christ is both the church’s head and the Father’s gift to the church.

By the “fullness” of Christ,  Paul is probably referring to the glorious revelation of Christ’s presence and power.  The church embodies Christ’s presence to the world.

Christ’s sovereign reign (his “fullness”) pervades all humanity, the angelic realm and the evil powers, bringing all to their God-appointed end.

So Paul’s prayer-report to his readers trails off into his ecstasy over God’s power revealed in Christ–a power that is for us who believe.

* * *

O God, our Father and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how small my prayers seem compared to Paul’s!  Yet my small prayers reveal my heart’s concerns–for me, for Lois and for my family.  When I pray for their salvation and my healing, I know I’m asking for big things, things I think are in line with your will. Still,  I want to pray like Paul. 

Since retiring, I’ve seldomly thanked you for the church.  But today I give you thanks for your church all over the world–for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for one another.  I thank you how together they embody Christ in the world, however imperfectly. 

I intercede for them.  Give them (and me), O God, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we will know you fully.  Enlighten the eyes of our  hearts so we may know the certainty and glory of the hope you’ve called us to.  So we may know the wonder of how you are making us your inheritance.  And so we may know the excellent greatness of your power toward us who believe.  May we not only know Christ’s resurrection as a glorious historical event; may we know the same power that raised and exalted Christ to reign, is for us now and fully forever.

This prayer glorifies you because it centers in what only you could have done and will yet do.  But this prayer is also good for me.   It lifts my heart’s eyes from temporal trivialities to the eternal significant acts of your grace.  It reminds me I have a future that you’ve called me to.  It reminds me I’m part of a group of justified sinners who will one day be glorified and become (how can this be?) your inheritance.  And it reminds me in my abject weakness of your power toward us, the power of the Spirit in me that will explode and raise my body from the dead to live in eternal wholeness!

I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and exalted.  Amen.”

 

 

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Longing to Die to Be with Christ

Theologians call it “the intermediate state”.  It’s that temporary time between our dying and Jesus’ Second Coming.

That’s what I started writing about–about what that intermediate state is like.  Then I read one of the few texts telling about that time.  And it pulled me in a different direction.

Before looking at that text, let me explain my interest in the intermediate state:  simply, if we’re Jesus-believers  and we die before he comes again, that’s where we’re going.  So I want to know what it’s like.  Now if I were God, I’d provide photos in the back of our Bibles.  Instead, all we have are slim texts from which to infer a picture.  I started with the one below–and it pulled me away.  Maybe blew me away is more accurate.

” I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . . ”  (Philippians 1:20-23).

The writer is Paul.  He’s in a Rome house, chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, awaiting trial before Caesar.  Here’s what Paul reveals about the intermediate state.

1.  Wen we enter the intermediate state through death’s door, we gain.  It’s “better by far”.  Unnormal thinking!  I sit here musing on what I’ll lose– my wife, my children, my grandchildren, other significant relationships, and a thousand  things I’ve enjoyed here.  But Paul, on the other hand, looks ahead, forward to the gain that awaits.

2.   When we pass through death’s door, we believers are immediately with Christ.  Anthony A. Hoekema (20th century professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary) explained: “Analysai (to depart) is an aorist infinitive, depicting the momentary experience of death.  Linked to analysai by a single article is the present infinite einai (to be).  The single article ties the two infinitives together, so that the actions depicted by these two infinitives are to be considered two aspects of the same thing, like two sides of the same coin” (The Bible and the Future, p. 104).  Depart and be with Christ.

3.  “[W]ith Christ” is what makes dying gain.  “Christ”  makes the intermediate state “better by far”.  Christ is such gain that Paul admits, “I desire to depart and be with Christ . . .”  Paul longs to die to be with Christ.

This is where I’m pulled away.   Think.  What fuels Paul’s longing?  What makes him count dying gain? “For to me, to live is Christ.”  Dr. Gordon Fee writes, ” . .. since Damascus [Road), Christ became the singular pursuit of his life.  Christ–crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming King; Christ, the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship to God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.”

Paul himself expounds on this  . . .

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians3:7-14).

Again, Fee comments: “Thus if Paul is released as he expects, he will continue (now as always) in full pursuit of knowing Christ and making him known. Likewise, if he is executed, the goal of living has thus been reached: he will finally have gained Christ.”

Can you see why I was pulled?  I started to search for a picture of what the immediate state is like.  I ended up with a picture of what my life should be now.

I admit I’ve been pursuing healing more than Christ.  Somehow, by God’s grace, by the empowering of his Spirit, I have to change my aim.  I can still pray for healing.  (At this point, I can’t not.)  But pursuit?  That must be singular.  That must be Christ.

And for that I need no photos of the intermediate state.

 

 

 

 

 

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More Feast

Full from the first feast (http://theoldpreacher.com/feast/–Ephesians 1:3-6)?  There’s more coming.  We’re not only chosen in Christ.  Not only adopted in Christ.  But . . .

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding(Ephesians 1:7,8).

“In [Christ] . . . ”  Paul uses that phrase (or some form of it) 10 times in 12 verses.  Every spiritual blessing that God has given is “in Christ”. They are not in whatever we believe God to be.  They’re not dropped from heaven by angels.  They don’t come through our sincerity or religious practices.  They are in Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood . . . ”   In the movies, a man “redeems” himself by righting a past wrong.  Real redemption, though, runs deeper. The Greek word Paul uses is apolutrosin–“release from slavery by a ransom payment”.

Harmonizing with redemption is “the forgiveness of sins”.  Whoa!  Sin is an archaic non-issue, right?  We admit to “not being perfect”.  But we’re certainly not slaves to sin—slavery from which we need a Savior to ransom us!  Forgiveness, like redemption, is God’s work, for we all have sinned against him—and couldn’t stop if we tried.  We need Christ to release us from sin’s slavery by paying the ransom for us ”through his blood”.  Even God couldn’t just pronounce us forgiven.  Justice demanded a ransom be paid.  We have that “through [Christ’s] blood.”

This, Paul explains, is in accordance with “the riches of [God’s] grace [unmerited favor] that he made abound (Greek, perisseuo—“gave excessively, bestowed in extravagant quantities”) toward us.”

Lois loves to give Christmas gifts, especially to our grandchildren.  So when the family gathers to celebrate, she has presents piled under the tree and, not all fitting there, stacked around the room.  That’s how God is with his grace in Christ—lavish.

And, writes Paul to the church, God made his grace abound to us “in all wisdom and prudence”.  This is the manner God gave us his grace—wisely and prudently.

“And 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 will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:9,10).

“[M]ystery (Greek, mustayrion)” refers to something long hidden, but finally God-revealed. This mystery of God’s will is God’s purpose or plan “in Christ”.  And, writes Paul, God was delighted to make this mystery of his will known.

What is this “mystery of his will”?  It is “ . . . to bring all things together under one head, even Christ”.                      “ . . . bring” translates the Greek anakephalieo-o.  It means “to gather everything together under the control of one person, unify, make into one”.  Thus the NLT says, “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth”.

But revelation of God’s will isn’t execution of God’s will.  Only “when the times will have reached their fulfillment” will God put this mystery into effect.  F.F. Bruce comments:  “ . . . when the time is ripe for ‘the consummation of his purpose’, in his providential overruling of the course of the world, that consummation will be realized.”

Paul is telling the church that God is in charge of human history.  He’s orchestrating and administering events and direction to fulfill his purpose. And his purpose is to unite all things under the control of Christ.

Herman Bavinck (19th century Dutch Reformed theologian) wrote . . .

“’Round about us we observe so many facts which seem to be unreasonable, so much undeserved suffering [such as child abuse], so many unaccountable calamities, such an uneven and inexplicable distribution of destiny, and such an enormous contrast between the extremes of joy and sorrow, that anyone reflecting on these things is forced to choose between viewing this universe as if it were governed by the blind will of an unbenign deity, as is done by pessimism, or, upon the basis of Scripture and by faith, to rest in the absolute and sovereign, yet however incomprehensible wise and holy will of him who will one day cause the full light of heaven to dawn upon these mysteries of life.”

“In him we were also chosen, {Or were made heirs} having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11,12).

We have been chosen in Christ.  We have been made heirs of an eternal inheritance in Christ.  Though both are true, the Greek in this sentence is unclear.  Whichever Paul meant we were “predestined” for it.

And this predestination is “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.  This is a breathtaking clause.  God has a plan (Greek prothesis—purpose, design).  According to that plan, God works out all things “in conformity”(Greek, Boulay—counsel, resolve) with his will/purpose.  It’s an echo of Romans 8:28,29 . . .

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God is sovereignty.  And his sovereign purpose is clear:  “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”  By “we, who were the first to hope in Christ” Paul means Jews who believe in Messiah Jesus.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13,14).

Consequently, “you also were included in Christ” refers to Gentiles who “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”.   Gentiles “believed [and] were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit . . . ”  The “seal” is the “Holy Spirit” who identifies believers as belonging to Christ.  Furthermore, the Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession . . . ” 

As a “deposit”, the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers, is a portion of the total purchase price paid in advance, a promise that the full payment will come in due time.  When Lois and I bought our house, we deposited 20% of the total price—the balance (plus interest) was to be fully paid in 30 years (we did it!).

John Eadie, 19th century Scottish theologian comments . . .

“The earnest (deposit) , though it differ in degree, is the same in kind with the prospective inheritance. The earnest is not withdrawn, nor a totally new circle of possessions substituted. Heaven is but an addition to present enjoyments. Knowledge in heaven is but a development of what is enjoyed on earth; its holiness is but the purity of time elevated and perfected; and its happiness is no new fountain opened in the sanctified bosom, but only the expansion and refinement of those susceptibilities which were first awakened on earth by confidence in the Divine redeemer. The earnest, in short, is the ‘inheritance’ in miniature, and it is also a pledge that the inheritance shall be ultimately and fully enjoyed.”

Paul here writes of “redemption” as our future experience, as he does in Roman 8:23 . . .

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

The fullness of the inheritance will certainly bring great joy to us.  But God’s ultimate purpose is “the praise of his glory”.

* * *

The heavenlies hold blessings belonging to God the Holy Spirit.  They’ve come to us in Messiah Jesus.  How foolish that sounds to unbelieving ears!  How narrow!  God’s blessings fall from heaven like snowflakes on everyone who needs them!  No, they’ve “fallen” in Christ.

We, who believe, who know these blessings have come in Christ, don’t appreciate the feast we have.  That’s why we have to prayerfully, thoughtfully read this gospel again and again.  It’s like studying how the feast was prepared–so that, when we sit down to “eat”, we don’t presume it’s cheap fast food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today’s “Briefing”

I often listen to Dr. Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing”–a daily look at world events from a Christian worldview perspective.  Mohler first looks at Planned Parenthood.  It’s an organization I’ve come to despise because of its abortion and baby-part-selling industry–one we help support with our tax dollars!

By the way, the recent budget passed by both Repulican houses of Congress and approved by President Trump continues that massive support.

I suggest you listen to the first “look” and the other two as well.  Mohler, as usual, is insightful and clear about how our Christian worldview stands in stark opposition to non-Christian view.  This is almost a must for thinking believers in Christ.

https://albertmohler.com/2018/04/13/briefing-4-13-18/?mc_cid=e5e818b0cf&mc_eid=1095c65c2c

 

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Feast

When our family celebrated Easter, all the women contributed food.  Which meant our dishes were overflowing.  I think of that when I read Ephesians 1—so much blessing, it overflows.  Taste after taste of delicious gospel truth.  Hard not to make a meal of each sentence.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul begins by nearly exploding with praise—long praise (one sentence, verses 3-14, 202 words in the Greek text!)  “Worthy of praise (meaning in context of the Greek eulogaytos) is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

What has God done to deserve such praise?  God “has blessed us (graciously lavished his favor on us—meaning of euloyaytos in context) with every spiritual blessing (a blessing coming from the Holy Spirit) in the heavenly places (literally, in the “heavenlies”).

According to Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City), “‘the heavenlies’ are where Christ is, where we are (in spiritual union with him), where demons are, and where God is revealed! In other words, ‘heavenly realms’ does not refer to a physical location but to a spiritual reality, God’s world, in which believers have a share and which evil forces still seek to attack . . . It is a way of saying that this world is not the only reality”.  From that spiritual reality, Christ came to open the way for believers to be blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Note:  These spiritual blessings in the heavenlies that come to us are “in Christ”.  Just as God is not whomever we make him to be but the God who is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” so God’s blessings can be found in only one source—Messiah Jesus.

 Nor are “spiritual blessings” vague or merely emotional.  Paul lists them, beginning with what theologians call “election” . . .

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4a).

 God chose (Greek, eklego) us in Christ before the creation (Greek, katabolays—“foundation”) of the world “that we should be holy and blameless in his sight”. 

Since God chose us before creation, no created thing or person had any bearing on God’s choice.  No merit, no circumstances affected God’s choice. He  didn’t choose those who now believe because we merit it or because circumstances demand it.  Storms writes, “We must still believe in Jesus, but our belief is itself the historical and experiential fruit or effect of God’s pre-temporal elective decree (see Eph. 2:8). The religious implications of this are profound, for either a person thanks himself for his faith, because it resulted in his election, or he thanks God for his election, because it resulted in his faith.”

God’s choice came with purpose: “that we would be holy and blameless in his sight.” 

Paul may be thinking of the present as the Spirit progressively sanctifies.  But Ephesians 5:25b-27 suggests his purpose will ultimately be fulfilled at the end of the age . . .

 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.”

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (Ephesians 1:4b,5).

Having chosen us believers before the world’s creation, God destined us “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”. Adopted”—a powerful, emotional, life-changing experience.  And God adopted us “[i]n love.  Adoption is especially staggering given that by nature we were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:2,3).

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12,13).

 Paul explains that God not only desired (“will”) to adopt us, but it was “his good pleasure”.  As a father is delighted to bring a hurting child into his family, so God was delighted to destine us for adoption.

 “ . . .  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

Here stands God’s ultimate purpose in choosing us sinners to be made his holy and blameless children:  that the glory of his grace might be revealed, and revealed, praised.

Note: God freely gave the glory of his grace “in the One he loves”—that is, in Christ.

Just last night we watched a TV show where a wayward young lady was convinced she was going to burn in hell for the wrong she’d done.  The minister’s wife in the story assured her, “God’s not like that.  He’ll forgive you.”  But God is only “not like that” in Christ.  We can’t trust God to forgive us, only God in Christ.

* * *

So we believers  sit at a feast.  A table filled to overflowing with every blessing of the Spirit in Christ.  Chosen by God before anything else existed, so that corrupting, killing sin would be undone by holiness and blamelessness.  Can we wrap our minds around that?  Before we were born God chose us.  Did he look down a mental list of names and check us off?  (By the way, our faith in Christ Jesus is proof of our election.)

Then he was delighted to predestine us for adoption as his children (not everybody’s a child of God).  God’s not only God, but our Father.  Among other things that means we’re joint-heirs with Jesus of an eternal inheritance in a new creation with new immortal bodies.

Illness now leaves me feeling impoverished, a beggar without a crust of bread.

But when I read Ephesians1:3-6, I realize God has welcomed me into a table heavy with a lavish feast fit for a child of the King.

 

 

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Dear . . .

“Dear Reverend. Dear Allan.”  Letters or emails, I always gloss over the salutation.  We do the same over New Testament letters’ salutations, too.  On to important stuff—the letter’s body!   But, wait!  The salutation’s important, too.  Look . . .

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1a).

Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” An apostle (Greek, apostolos) is a “sent one”, a “messenger”, an “envoy”, a “commissioned representative”.  In the New Testament, the apostle represents Christ and is charged with planting and establishing churches.

The New Testament uses apostolos of the Twelve (11 plus Mathias replacing Judas)–a unique, closed group.  It also uses it of Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), Andronicus (Romans 16:7), Junias (Romans 16:7), as well, of course, of Paul.

By what authority does Paul claim to be an apostle?  Victor Furnish (Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Southern Methodist University) explains . . .

“When he describes himself as ‘an apostle by the will of God,’ he is not emphasizing his own obedience or response to a divine call. He is, instead, emphasizing the call itself, God’s sovereign initiative in establishing him in an office to which he was destined even before his birth (Gal. 1:15) and for which, apart from the grace of God, he is in no way qualified. The apostolic authority about which he reminds his readers is based not in any personal merit of his own but solely in the grace of God which had been given to him.”

John Stott (20th century English Anglican priest and acknowledged leader of the worldwide evangelical movement) commented on “by the will of God”:  it means we “must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility. For we must regard its author neither as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church’s greatest missionary hero, but as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’, and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes”.

“To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1b).

As he describes all believers, not just an elite few, Paul addresses his readers as “saints” (Greek, hagiois)–“holy ones”.

And he calls them “faithful”, meaning not that his readers are reliable, but that they are full of faith.

They are saints and faithful “in Christ Jesus”.   I view “in Christ Jesus” to be the realm in which Paul’s readers are both “saints” and “faithful”.  He is the power in which they are transformed.  His Spirit, his character, his purposes shape their lives just as being “in sin” once shaped their lives .  Here’s what Paul wrote later in this letter about in- sin lives . . .

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.  All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are no longer “in sin”.  The realm of our life is “in Christ”.

Now, a point about manuscript. A manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of a Bible text.  The New Testament boasts over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, far more than any other ancient work.   The point?  “in Ephesus” doesn’t appear in the best manusripts.  This has led to the general consensus that  Paul is writing an “encyclical”—a letter he wants shared with all western Asia Minor churches.   Of course, now in God’s providence, it has gone global.

 “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:2).

Paul’s greetings are more than form.  “Grace to you . . . ” is Paul’s sincere prayer for “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” to pour out favor and power into the lives of his readers.  Listen to John Piper’s comment . . .

“Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read — ‘grace [be] to you.’”

“ . . . peace” reminds Paul’s Jewish readers of the Hebrew “shalom”, an inner sense of wholeness and tranquility.”  Again Paul is praying for his letter to be the conduit of peace to his readers “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 *  *  *

Much is in a salutation, if we pause to look!  But, what shall we do with it?  Pray . . .

God our Father I pray that as we read this letter you will pour grace upon us.  May we hear Paul’s words as Christ’s.  May your unmerited favor be lavished on us through this letter.  And may the peace that passes understanding guard our hearts and minds in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In his name and for his glory I ask, amen.

 

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Take a Look at This Beauty!

You visit a dealership to buy a car.  You’re welcomed (accosted?)  by a salesman who leads you to a shiny new vehicle and  points out the car’s best features.  That’s what we’ll do today with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians—introduce it by pointing out just a few important features .

We left Paul in his rented house in Rome chained to a Roman guard around the clock awaiting his trial before Caesar.  While there, Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (60-62 A.D.)

Paul had evangelized in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1) fall 52 A.D. to spring 55 A.D.  In that city, he received the most violent opposition yet (Acts 18:23-41; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).  But among a population  of at least 250,000 he planted several house churches, with more in villages not far from the city and larger churches in Asia Minor cities like Laodicea, Pergamum and Sardis.  Scholars generally agree Paul intended Ephesians to be circulated among all those churches—a considerably large body of believers.

Ephesus, though, was the recognized center of religious and political life in the area of the Roman empire.  The imperial cult was everywhere present in the city—temples of Claudius, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, and Augustus for Romans to pay homage to their emperors.

The temple of Diana (or Artemis) stood as the largest building in the region and the city’s primary religious site. The platform on which it was built measured more than 100,000 square feet, the temple itself was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. Made entirely of marble with pillars overlaid with gold and jewels, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Not surprisingly, Ephesus was a center for magical arts and various occult practice, the chief of which was “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata), six magical terms said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.

One popular story told of an Ephesian wrestler unbeaten in the ancient Olympics because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankles.  Officials discovered and removed them—the wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.

Among Diana’s attributes was power over demons of the dead.  Her followers invoked her authority to raise the dead, heal the sick and protect the city.

Perhaps the presence of pagan temples and belief in a goddess like Diana led Paul to write that well-known text, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul explains our “struggle” (Greek–palay, “wrestling, conflict, fight”) is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  What struggle?  The fight of faith, the fight of obedience, the fight of living a life worthy of our calling, even the fight of living a moral life as an unbeliever.  We are opposed and that by spiritual powers of evil.  “Bad things” can’t be ultimately caused by “bad people.”  More than human wrongdoing accounts for “wrong” in the world.  We might say there are ghosts under our beds.  And only Christ can defeat them.

During and after Paul’s ministry in Ephesus Gentiles joined the Jews in the house churches.  Coming from popular pagan religions, they needed grounding in the gospel and in Christian living. The influx of Gentiles also created tension in the churches, especially since Gentiles didn’t particularly value the Jewish heritage of the faith and Jews treated them as outsiders.

That situation likely prompted Paul’s powerful words . . .

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:12-22).

Racism remains a cancer in America. Paul announces it can overcome (Jew/Gemtile; black/white; etc.P not by educatio, or protests, or government programs, but by Christ’s transforming work that makes all believers “one new humanity . . . thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”  The local church should be the body where all races find unity in their new Christ-identity.

John Piper has called Romans “the greatest letter ever written.”  If so, Ephesians is a close second.  It’s been called “the crown of St. Paul’s writings” and “Pound for Pound . . . may well be the most influential document ever written.”  Sounds like we’re in for a mind-stretching, soul-feeding, Christ-exalting walk through a breathtaking letter.

With that in mind, the most excellent way to end this brief introduction  is by praying one of Paul’s magnificent Ephesians prayers–a prayer I pray God will answer in part through our study . . .

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (1:17-19).

 

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