The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Author: Allan Babcock (page 2 of 75)


The Father attentively sees
even small sparrows.
Jesus said so.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground
apart from your Father.”

If the Father doesn’t want
a sparrow to fall,
he’ll hold it up.
If he wants it to fall,
he’ll let it fall–
but he’ll be there.

Jesus is speaking of sparrows to disciples,
who have reason to fear.
Enemies to Jesus have become enemies to them.
They could be killed.
But fear must not be misplaced.

“So do not be afraid;
you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Did Jesus say that with a smile?
Was he stating the obvious?
He wanted them to know
that if the Father values tiny sparrows,
the Father values them far more.

Stating the obvious.
But when we fear for our lives,
we need to hear it.
And not lose sight of the amazing fact
that our Creator-Sovereign-Father
sees sparrows,
and he is present for their flying or falling.

Yes, sparrows fall.
Father, reach out your hand
to catch every falling bird.
Father, reach out your hand
and catch me.
Enemies persecute me
Illness invades,
death comes.
He doesn’t catch me–
not every time.

Every time
that’s a children’s story.
Every falling bird caught.
every illness healed,
every death denied.
A for-now children’s story.

For now in the “real” world
birds fall and die,
pain wracks bodies without pity,
illnesses end in death.

No promise
to save every sparrow.
Or every disciple.
The first disciples
died martyrs.

But, Jesus warned . . .
“Do not fear those who can kill the body,
but cannot kill the soul.”
Kill the body.
The worst enemies can do
–be they persecutors or plague.
Kill the soul.  Only God can do that.
Fear him.
Trust him.
Honor him.

Sparrows fall and die.
But not without the Father.
He is there ruling, caring.
We fall and die.
But not without the Father.
He is there—ruling, caring
And welcoming home.

(Watch the video!
Well, I like it.)


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Faith and Love: Hope’s Fruit

Diminished hope equals diminished faith and love.  Fervent hope fuels faith and love.  Paul tells of it in Colossians 1:3-8.

Below is the NAU’s translation.  As you can see, it’s one long sentence.  The NAU held true to the original Greek.

“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of you faith in Christ and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of God on our behalf, and he also informed us of you love in the Spirit”.

Having greeted the Colossian church (1:1,2), Paul tells them he thanks God when he prays always for them.  Here, by the way, is insight into Paul’s relationship with the churches:  when he wasn’t with them, he prayed for them.

Paul never visited Colosse; but he heard of their faith and love.  For those two virtues, Paul thanked God.  We have to ask ourselves, “Why thank God for the Colossians faith and love?”  Obviously, because God was the source of their faith and love.

Paul identifies God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Thus Paul establishes the relationship between their Lord (Jesus Messiah) and God.  He will make more extreme claims about that relationship a little later.  With this identity, God is no whomever we believe him to be, but “the Father” of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Colossians’ faith is “in Christ.”  They believe in him.  Trust him.  Stake their lives on him.

Paul had heard, not only of the Colossians’ faith, but their “love . . . for all the saints.”  This implies that Paul heard, not only of their confessions of faith, but their acts of faith—that is, their “love . . . for all the saints”.  Implicitly, their faith “worked” in love.  And that love was not selective.  It was for “all” God’s holy people.  We can assume some were less “lovable” than others; but none were unloved!

Why such faith and love?  As we said above, God was the source.  But God didn’t just drop faith and love in their heart.  They had faith and practiced love, “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you.”  This hope isn’t a wish; it’s an expectation promised in that the gospel.

  The Colossians “heard the word . . . ”  It was spoken and they heard it.  So today the gospel must be verbally proclaimed.  And it’s not any word; its “the word of truth”.

We, of course, have “evolved” to the point of my truth and your truth.  No objective, absolute truth, except when it serves our purposes.  But when Paul uses it, he means “reality”–the way it really is.  If he’s speaking of our hope through Christ’s resurrection, he means historical reality.  My truth versus your truth would be completely foreign to him.

To [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (1:26,27).  This gospel hope:  glory.

They had heard the gospel first from Epaphras–” just as you learned it from Epaphras”.  Paul calls him, ” our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of God on our behalf, and he also informed us of you love in the Spirit.”

* * *

Holding onto faith is hard.  When prayers go unanswered.  When God’s presence feels absent.  Loving others is hard.  When it  calls for giving you can’t afford.  When your brother seems undeserving.  Paul says we keep believing and loving because of the hope of glory reserved for us in heaven.  In other words, that hope produces persevering faith and sacrificial love.  That hope makes faith-despite-disappointment worthwhile.  It makes loving sacrifice now worthwhile in the long run.

The hope of “glory”.  Glory is a word that expresses the inexpressible.  Therefore, its definition is not definable.  Dr. George Boudreau writes of the day we will become “beautiful with the beauty of God, rich with His wealth, holy with His holiness, and happy with his unutterable happiness.”  That’s the hope of glory.  And it moves us to live with persevering faith in Christ and sacrificial love to our brothers and sisters.

To put it another way,  the hope of this future shapes how we live in this present

To help hold onto hope, speak Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 to your soul . ..

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and  my God” (42:5,6a).

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

Give your soul a good talking-to.  Sit down.  Open your Bible.  Tell you soul all of both psalms.  And hold onto hope:  it produces faith and love.







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Grace and Peace to You

We begin Colossians.  Pondering Paul’s greeting.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:1,2).

Paul’s introduction (“an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”) is familiar, but audacious.  Sent by the authority of Messiah Jesus?  The Jesus crucified almost 30 years ago?  Sure, resurrection rumors recur.  But most think them just that.  Yet, here’s Paul claiming to authoritatively represent him–and this “by the will of God”!  So, we’re obliged to listen.

While Paul’s a prisoner in Rome, Timothy is with him.  The younger man occupies an increasingly important place in Paul’s life and ministry.  In a few years, Paul will write two letters to Timothy, the latter the last we have of Paul’s letters.  Here Timothy is his “brother”, both in the faith and in the mission.

Paul addresses ” . . . the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse”.  ” . . . holy” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek hagios.  Many Bible versions translate this “saints”.

” . . . in Christ” ;  that is, their union with Christ by faith and the Spirit, sets them apart to Christ.

They are “faithful brothers”.   Though commentators are divided whether pistos should be translated “faithful” or “believing”, “faithful” better suits the context, because a problem is growing in the Colosse church.  Gnosticism, though not an organized system of belief until a hundred years later, is already influencing thought.  The doctrine taught that the world was created by Christ, who was a lesser deity and an emissary of the far-off divine being.  “Insider” knowledge (gnosis) of him brought redemption to the human spirit from the evil material world.  To the church, the danger was not rejection of Christ, but a diminishing of him.

To counter that, Paul boldly writes of Christ . . .

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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, 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 1:15-20).

” . . . faithful”, then, is Paul’s way of encouraging the believers who hold fast to the gospel of Christ, not mixing in gnostic ideas.

Colosse sat about 100 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  It was part of an important trade route that included the cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea.  Once a large, populous city, Colosse had become a small town when Paul writes to the church there.  The town was largely Gentile.  But estimates of a Jewish population reach as high as 50,000.

Related image

“Grace and peace to you”, as always, isn’t just first-century-letter-form.  It’s Paul’s blessing for the church–that the church might enjoy a greater abundance of the Father’s unmerited favor in Christ and, from that, enjoy fullness of  well-being from him.

With that, Paul’s greeting to the Colossians ends.

* * *

Grace . . . to you”.   A welcome blessing pronounced.  A greater gift of grace.  The Father’s unmerited favor.  Love undeserved.  Sins forgiven.  A grace greater than our sins.  Estrangement reconciled.  Sufficient power perfected in weakness.  Embrace of us who are nothing by the One who has the supremacy in all things.  And, therefore, . . .

” . . . peace to you”.  Reconciled to the holy Father by the blood of the Son shed on the cross.  War ended.  Sinners surrendered and welcomed.  Distance bridged.  No sin held against graced sinners.  A pervasive sense of well-being in the soul.

This I say to us as we begin Colossians:

“May grace and peace
from God our Father
overflow to us longing sinners
as we ponder the inspired words of the apostle
in this majestic letter.”





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Love Wins?

A friend emailed the following suggestion for the old preacher’s response:.

“Author David Brumfield defends the postmortem view, that God continues to evangelize to people after they die (1 Chron.16:34; Isa. 9:2; Matt. 12:32; Rom. 8:35-39; Eph. 4:8,9; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6).  The main problem with the traditional view—and one that has never been satisfactorily addressed—is how can one “accept Christ” if they have never heard of Christ or were unable to understand the message (i.e., too young, mentally handicapped, etc.)”.

Here are the Scriptures to which Brumfield refers . . .

 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

“This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” (Ephesians 4:8,9).

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water . . . “ (1 Peter 3:18-20).

“For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit” (1 Peter 4:6).

Brumfield is a Christian Universalist.  Universalism, is “a school of Christian theology based on the doctrine of universal reconciliation–the view that all human beings will ultimately be ‘saved’ and restored to a right relationship with God” (quote from Wikipedia).  Universalism was founded by John Murray and made contemporary in a recent book  by Rob Bell, Love Wins (,

Christian Universalism shares major doctrines with historic Christianity, but with at least two exceptions.  One, if hell exists (there’s disagreement), it’s remedial and temporary.  Two, as stated above, all humans will be saved.

If I understand it, Brumfield is arguing that these cited Scriptures teach a love of God that saves beyond the grave.  The argument is reinforced by Christ preaching “to the spirits in prison”—which, of course, says nothing about them being saved.  Furthermore, the God’s-love Scriptures, in context, are addressed to believers, assuring them of God’s steadfast love.  To make them apply to unbelievers beyond the grave is a bridge too far.

Here’s one example. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . . “ Read through the rest of the chapter (which I’ll not take space to quote here) and it’s obvious that the admonitions and promises are addressed to those “in Christ Jesus” by faith.  So Brumfield’s use of Romans 8:35-39 does not apply to his premise.

Universalist Founder John Murray  wrote, “In regard to Jesus, he taught that in him God became the Son for ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost are no more than different exhibitions of the self-same, existent, omnipresent Being.’  He taught that all men would be ultimately saved through the sacrifice of Christ, the basis for this being the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam, and therefore partaking of the benefits of his sacrifice.”

Murray seems to deny the doctrine of the Trinity (three Persons in One, not merely “different exhibitions of the self-same, existent, omnipresent Being”).  But more to our purposes, he claims that “He (?) taught that all men would be ultimately saved through the sacrifice of Christ . . . ” and that “the basis for this [is] the union of all men in Christ, just as they were united with Adam . . . “.   Romans 5 does teach all humans united with Adam.  But only believers in Christ are united in Christ.

If we take Scripture seriously, we have to reckon with Jesus’ statements that some people will go to hell . . .

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Passages like this contradict a remedial hell and the idea that all will ultimately be saved.  In Matthew 25:46 above, Jesus says punishment will be “eternal”.

Brumfield suggests that the “traditional” view has never been satisfactorily addressed.  I think he means “to his liking.”  Take the next two links for instance.

I think the arguments above are sufficient to show that so-called Christian Universalism contradicts Scripture and is at odds with historic Christianity, no matter what it claims to the contrary.

Thank you, my friend, for raising this issue.  While it may seem irrelevant to many of us, anything that helps confirm biblical truth is always welcome.


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War Prayer

P.AllanNow that we’re all “armored up” (Ephesians 6:10-17), pray !  Actually, sooner.

 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 saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

Prayer isn’t an activity separate from putting on God’s armor.  “ . . . on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and request” suggests Paul wants us to put on “the belt of truth” while praying, to put “ , , , the breastplate of righteousness in place” as we pray, etc.

Paul urges us to “ . . . pray in the Spirit”.  In this armor-context he means engage the enemy in prayer.  Pray empowered by the Spirit.  “Be alert” in prayer, like a sentry on duty against the enemy, realizing that evil spirit powers are on the prowl against “all the saints”.  This isn’t “grocery list” praying; this is “warfare” prayer.

Dr. Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) offers six forms such prayer might take . .

“1, Praying for ourselves and others to be given insight and understanding into who we are in Christ and what is ours through faith (Eph. 1:15ff.).

2, Prayers of resistance and rebuke of the enemy. E.g.,

‘Satan, I rebuke you in the authority of Jesus Christ. I declare your works in my life destroyed. Jesus triumphed over you in the wilderness, on the cross, and in the grave. His resurrection has sealed your fate. I triumph over you now in the strength of his name. I resist and rebuke your efforts to oppress, afflict, or deceive me. I remove from you the right to rob me of the joy and fruit of my salvation. Through the power of the blood of Calvary, I command all powers of darkness assigned to me, sent to me, or surrounding me now, to leave. Go where Jesus Christ orders you to go, never to return’ (Tom White, 116).

3, Prayers of protection, to shield, guard, support,, etc.

“Lord, I commend and entrust _______ into your watchful care. May your glory surround and protect him/her. May you drive away the enemy and deliver him/her from all evil and temptation and every attack of the evil one.”

4, Prayers for the places where you go, stay, live (especially when traveling or in a strange location). E.g.,

‘Lord, I claim this place for your purposes. I stand on the truth of your Word: ‘The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous’ (Ps 125:3). I believe you have given me this place. I dedicate it to you, and ask you to fill it with your holy presence. I separate myself from any iniquity that has occurred here in past times. I apply the power of Jesus’ blood to remove any desecration of God’s name in this place. I ask you, in Jesus’ authority, to set watching angels around this property for your purposes, protecting your servant from the work of the evil one’  (White, 118-19).

5. Prayer for the demonized when you are ministering to them. E.g.,

(l) that the demons may be cut off from all communication and help from other demons and Satan,

(2) that the demons would be confused and weakened in their hold on the person.”

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:19,20).

Paul accepts his imprisonment as God’s will.  He doesn’t ask his readers to pray for his rescue but to pray that fear won’t silence him.  Even in chains making the gospel known is paramount.  Paul turns his readers’ attention from his suffering and their conflict to the need for the gospel to be proclaimed in the world’s darkness, where the evil one works.

After 25 years of gospel-preaching and church-planting, Paul’s reliance on prayer is remarkable.  Pray that words may be given me.  Pray that I may declare the gospel without fear.

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.  Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:21-24).

Tychicus was one of Paul’s companions on the way from Corinth to Jerusalem.  He will deliver this letter to Ephesus, tell the church how Paul is, and encourage the believers.

When Paul wishes peace, love and grace to the church, he’s not just writing nice words.  He expects the Holy Spirit to actually convey those blessings “to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It’s an implication that, though caught up in spiritual war, the church will prevail through her Lord’s resources.

* * *

I find that focus on God’s sovereignty dims my view of the evil one’s work.  God’s in control, so why pray against Satan?  Paul’s call to prayer here, however, implies that this prayer is necessary if we’re to walk in victory.  William Cowper (18th century English poet and hymn writer) wrote . . .

“Satan trembles when he sees
the weakest saint upon his knees.”

May Satan tremble at our prayers!  May we walk in the light of victory over the prince of darkness because, like soldiers on alert, we are praying!



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The In-Between Place

P.AllanChristians will spend eternity in heaven!  Right?  Wrong!  Heaven is an in-between place, what theologians call “the intermediate state.”

Our ultimate hope is the new creation . . .

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”–2 Peter3:13).

There we will live in a resurrected body . . . “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1

What about the Hollywood version?  You know, colorless white, harps, angels, clouds, George Burns,      What about my mansion on the corner of Gold Street and Diamond Boulevard?  Well, first, when have you known Hollywood to produce anything true to the Scriptures?  And second, Jesus uses metaphorical language in John 14     and John does in Revelation . . . This runs counter to some popular thinking about “heaven”.  The Hollywood version is all white with clouds, harps, angels and (in some cases) George Burns or       .  Wrongly interrupting John 14:   , we presume to be ushered to our mansion set beside a gold road.  A (rather moving) song from a few years ago celebrated, “If they could see me now, I’m walking streets of gold . . . ”  It implied that when we die, that’s where we go.  But the new, restored or remade earth comes at the very end, not when we die.  So where do we go when we die?

“We must agree with Berkouwer (a 20th century leading theologian of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands) that what the New Testament tells us about the intermediate state is nothing more than a whisper” (quoted in The Bible and the Future, Anthony A Hoekema).  If I had written the Bible . . . Oh, well . . .

From the Old Testament, it’s clear that death doesn’t annihilate us.  For example, Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah (Psalm 49:14,15).  And And I– in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (Psalm 17:15).  Our soul or spirit continues  on until Resurrection Day when we receive new immortal bodies like Christ’s.  The New Testament fulfills the Old, though, as Berkouwer wrote, only in “whispers”.

Whisper One—Luke 23:42,43.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Ed Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Whisper Two—Philippians 1:21-23.  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 . . .

Whisper Three—2 Corinthians 5:6-8Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Edenic paradise.  Gain which is better by far than here in his body.  Away from the body means at home with the Lord for his people.


I prefer photos.

But whispers must be enough.  Enough for our imagination.  Enough for or hope.  Enough for our faith, which will turn to sight.

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Christian Soldiers

“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968).  “The Exorcist” (1973).  “The Shining” (1980).  Dated, but still- popular horror movies.  Evil powers, however, aren’t limited to the silver screen.  They exist in the real world.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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).

But, according to the Scriptures, God exalted Christ to reign over them.  “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church . . . ” (Ephesians 1:19b-22).  His triumph is “already”, so we believers need not live in fear of them.  But it’s “not yet” finalized; so we must be equipped by Christ and the Spirit to hold our ground against them.

To do that Paul urges us to, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).  In 6:14-17 Paul names the parts of the“full armor”.

“the belt of truth”

The Roman soldier’s “belt” was really a leather apron that protected his lower body.

The Christian’s “belt of truth” is the truth that Jesus revealed in himself and in his word.  Paul wants us to stand against Satan’s lies about God and our identity in Christ with “the truth that is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

“the breastplate of righteousness”

The soldier’s “breastplate” reached from the base of his neck to his upper thighs, covering his body’s trunk.

Paul wants us to stand against the evil one’s temptation by doing what is right in God’s sight.

“feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”

The soldier’s military sandal was studded with hobnails underneath for stability.

Evil powers seek to undermine our peace with God and sow division between believers.  Paul wants us ready to speak the gospel that promises reconciliation with God and with one another.

 “the shield of faith”

Roman soldiers carried a wooden shield about 4 feet by 2 feet.  It was covered with linen, then hide, and bound on top with iron.  They used it to defend against arrows dipped in pitch, then set on fire and shot.

Paul urges us to block the evil one’s most incendiary attacks by trusting in the truth of God’s word and in the trustworthiness of God himself.

“the helmet of salvation”

The soldier’s helmet was iron or bronze lined inside with a sponge.

Evil powers attack our minds, especially to cause us to doubt our salvation.  Paul urges us to stand our ground with the assurance of God’s saving work in Christ.  Romans 8:31-38 will help in the fight.

“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”

Roman military carried a 12-14 inches straight sword for close combat.

Paul exhorts us to the offensive (all the other armor parts being defensive).  In the power of the Spirit we are to pierce this fallen world’s darkness by proclaiming the light of the gospel.  Paul usually uses the Greek word logos (the content of the word); but here he uses rayma (speaking the word).  “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

* * *

Okay, I know, we shouldn’t give evil powers undue prominence.  But we have to recognize they’re real, though restrained by Christ.  Even so, we’re urged to “put on the whole armor of God.”  That armor, however, is not some extremist costume.  It’s speaking the truth Jesus revealed.  Doing right before God in a fallen world.  Talking the gospel that brings peace.  Believing God’s promises and trustworthiness.  Filling our minds with the assurance of God’s salvation in Christ.  Openly speaking the word of God in this evil-dark world.

Sounds easy.

But it seems to me we don’t take “the spiritual forces of evil” as seriously as we ought.  We don’t really live as if we’re caught up in a spiritual war.

I see a TV commercial with a couple walking the beach on ocean’s edge.  How I’d love it to be Lois and me!  I have a long list of those “how I’d love it to be’s”.   They nag at me.  My wheelchair depresses me. Unanswered prayers plague me.  I’m tempted to believe God has  sovereignly chosen a hated path for me.  What good is praying?

Paul reminds me that somewhere in my despondency evil powers lurk.  My choice to believe or disbelieve is not just my battle.  It’s  part of spiritual war in the heavenlies fought on earth.  It’s not just about me. Choose unbelief and Satan wins the battle.  Choose faith and God is glorified.

This hymn may sound archaic; but that just reminds us that the battle’s been raging for thousands of years.  Time to get dressed, get in the fight and sing it again . . .








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Stand in the Evil Day

The charismatic movement was sweeping through North Jersey when we planted a church there.  Talk of demons erupted everywhere.  Fascination with “casting them out”  made me uncomfortable.  I believed that “spiritual forces of evil” were real, but held no relevance in my life.   Paul’s final remarks in Ephesians reprove me.

“Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. . . (6:10).

Paul is reaching the end of his letter from imprisonment in Rome to the Ephesus church.  “Finally”,   he writes. Because his words about evil spirits come last they’re not unimportant.  In fact they may signal our greatest danger.

Paul piles up power words–“be empowered. . . in the strength of his might“.  Again and again, Scripture points us to God’s might for us . . .

  • “He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
  • “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1).
  • “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?  It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:31,32).
  • “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.  O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (Psalm 59:16,17).
  • “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,  which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:18-22).

Elsewhere Paul refers to God as his enabler . . .

  • “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).
  • “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1 Timothy 1:12).
  • “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:17).

Here he urges us to be “strong in the Lord”,  Why? So we can “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (6:11b).   As Christians, we’re caught up in a “struggle”.  How can we be strong in the Lord?  Pray devotedly.  “Train” in the Scriptures daily.  Participate in the life of the church.  Engage in Holy Spirit-present worship.  And . . .

 “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).

This we have to do.  God doesn’t.  We have to put on the armor.  And so we are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”.

Paul may have taken his armor-idea from his guards.  I can see him eyeing the soldier’s armor.  “Put on the full armor of God . . .” Paul urges us.
With ” . . . so that”, Paul introduces the purpose for putting on God’s armor  The devil “schemes” against us!  The Greek word is methodeia“craftiness, cunning attacks, deception”.  With multiple attacks, he tempts us, accuses us, fosters division in the church, stalks us to undermine our faith, and more.

We must ” . . . take [our] stand” against the devil’s schemes.  Greek histayme–“hold one’s ground”.  Andrew Lincoln, British New Testatment scholar, comments . . .

“The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won. It is because this victory has been won that believers are involved in the battle at all. They are in a decisively new situation in contrast to their previous condition described in 2:2,3, where there could be no battle or resistance because they were in total bondage to the enemy. So the call to the readers to stand against the powers is also a reminder of their liberation from the tyranny of these powers. The major victory has been achieved, but the eschatological tension with its indicative and imperative characteristic of Paul’s thought remains. Believers must appropriate what has already been gained for them and do so against continuing assaults, and this is not automatic. Indeed there may be minor defeats along the way; hence the urgency of the imperatives. [Paul’s] focus, however, is not on the possibility of such minor defeats but on the ability of his readers to make the assured outcome of the overall battle their own by standing and maintaining the ground that has been won”.

“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.  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” (Ephesians 6:12,13).

Paul explains why we must put on God’s full armor:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.  ” . . . struggle” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek palay–literally, “wrestling”.

Wrestling was popular in the Ephesian athletic games.  Like  “flesh and blood” wrestling, we believers in Christ “wrestle” against spiritual powers.

This was certainly true in Ephesus.  The city was famous for magical arts, especially the so-called “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata). These six magical terms (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, and aisia) were said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.

One story told of an Ephesian wrestler who was unbeatable in the Olympic because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankle.  Officials discovered and removed it.  The wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.

Paul says our struggle “is not against flesh and blood”.  He means behind human opponents work “rulers . . . authorities, powers of this dark world . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.  Paul does two things here.  First, he piles up terms to show us the overwhelming nature of these spiritual powers.  Second, he implies that the present world order is organized in rebellion and under the dominion of these powers.  Christ’s appearance on earth caused an outbreak of activity by them.  But his coming, as they feared, sealed their doom.  In fact, he triumphed over them, so they’re already beaten . . .

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

By putting on God’s armor in faith,we can make his victory ours.

” . . . the evil day” is this present evil age which may contain certain “hot” days of evil.  Paul explains our fight in the evil day  is to “stand [our] ground.”   Paul wants us unshaken and steadfast when the enemy attacks.  As Lincoln explained above, “The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand . . . ”

* * *

Looking for demons everywhere is extreme.  But so is presuming they have no relevance in my life.  If I doubt God’s promise that even in my old-age-illnesses he’s working for good, Satan lurks, urging me on in my self-pity and unbelief.  I can sit up straight in my wheelchair, put on the full armor of God and resist his lies.

In this evil day I can stand.











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Household Codes

“Household codes” are Paul’s teachings about how the Christian household should relate.  Wives should submit to their husbands.  Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Children should obey their parents.  Slaves should serve their masters as if their masters were the Lord, and masters should treat their slaves as if they were the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-6:9).

To some churches these “codes” are embarrassing.  So they explain them as cultural relativism–relevant in the first century, no more in the twenty-first.

True?  We’ve already unpacked Paul’s instructions for husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33).  He calls for conduct that he compares to Christ.  In other words, the husband-wife relation flows out of the Christ-church relationship.  In fact, it images it.  Doesn’t sound like cultural relativism, does it!

Let’s unpack the last of Paul’s “household codes” here (Ephesians 6:1-9).

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

Paul began his “household code” in 5:21.  Household members should submit to one another.  Wives to husband, husbands to wives (by loving them) (5:22-32).  Now children to parents (by obeying them), fathers to children (by rearing them in the training and instruction of the Lord), slaves to masters (by obeying them), and masters to slaves (by treating them as if they were the Lord).  Submit “out of fear (awe, reverence) for Christ”.  To not submit is to rebel against Christ, who himself submitted to the Father to the death for us.  As in husband-wife instructions relationships within the Christian family are defined by Christ.

For added clout, Paul cites the fifth Commandment.  Obedience honors, attributes worth to parents.  Honoring is an attitude, but it must issue forth in obedience.

Quoting the promise of Deuteronomy 5:26, Paul asserts that if a child honors his parent it will “go well” with him and he will “enjoy long life on the earth”.  How are we to understand this?  We’ve all seen a good life cut short.  But the principle holds. Think of it like this.  Father says, “Don’t hang out with thieves who try to steal someone’s credit cards.  You may lose your life. Avoid a prostitute who may give you a disease. Work to provide for yourself, so you won’t suffer want”.  In each case, obedience will cause “things” to go better with the son and probably give him longer life.

Father is the household authority.  In Roman households, absolute authority.  He could imprison his child, beat him, keep him working long in the fields, or kill him.  Against that cultural backdrop, Paul’s instruction rings loud and clear.  Fathers must not abuse their authority by provoking their children to anger.  Instead, they are responsible to teach them the basics of the Christian faith.

“ . . . obey your parents in the Lord”.  Not all parents are Christians.  If they call children to do something contrary to God’s revealed will, they’re not “in the Lord” and not to be obeyed.  John Calvin said, “If our parents spur us to transgress the law, we have a perfect right to regard them not as parents, but as strangers who are trying to lead us away from obedience to our true Father”.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.  And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. 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” Ephesians 6:5-9). 

More radical Christian conduct can hardly be called for!  Christian slaves are to obey their masters “with respect and fear” and “with sincerity  . . . just as you would obey Christ . . . not only when their eye is on you . . . Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord . . . ”  We apply this to Christian employees, and it sounds extreme!  How must it have sounded to slaves?

Why didn’t Paul condemn slavery instead of just calling for masters to treat their slaves “in the same way”?  One factor:  Paul is not addressing race-based slavery, as that in pre-Civil War America. Anyone who tries to justify race-based slavery from Scripture is a heretic. African-American slave-holders argued that their slaves weren’t fully human.  Black-skin meant one was a descendant of Ham, and thus under God’s curse.  Paul would have seen race-based slavery as a moral outrage.

When Greece and later Rome conquered other people, they often brought back the conquered as slaves.  Some were made laborers on Rome’s massive and continuing civil engineering projects.  Others became household servants, often treated as family members.  Paul’s instructions for Christian masters are far kinder.

As with husbands and wives, Paul says the child-parent relationship and the slave-master relationship connect to the Christ-church relationship.  The issue is not cultural relativism but gospel theology.

* * *

Most of us have authority over someone–parents over children, employers over employees, for instance.  Here’s a take-away from our text:  treat them as Jesus would.  Or in Paul’s words,  with respect and fear, with sincerity of heart, serve them, do what is good to them, don’t threaten them or show favoritism.  And parents, we must bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Pray with them and teach them and show them Jesus in how we live with them.  Make our home “a little church”.   For our children, it’s the most important church in the world.















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Baking Cake

These are days when the free exercise of religion is being challenged in America.  We need to be aware. So below is a blog by the Kleins (forced by Oregon to close their shop) commenting on a recent decision by the Supreme Court.

Oregon Forced Us to Close Our Cake Shop. Here’s What the Masterpiece Decision Means for Us.

Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined $135,000 by the state of Oregon after declining to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding due to their religious beliefs. (Photo: First Liberty Institute)

We are thrilled for our friend, Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who recently won his case at the Supreme Court.

Like Jack, we know what it is like to be treated unfairly by a state agency and mocked, threatened, and abused by critics. We can only imagine the relief Jack is experiencing.

At the same time, we wonder what the future holds for our case, our lost business, and our family. Ours may be, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, the case that allows “further elaboration in the courts.” And we are encouraged to know that seven justices of the Supreme Court agree that a state’s hostility to the religious beliefs of its citizens will not be tolerated under the First Amendment.

In one sense, Jack’s case is very similar to ours. We too declined to create a custom cake that would have required us to express a message our faith teaches against. And, like Jack, we faced a commissioner—Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry at the time—who was hostile to our religion and biased in his consideration of our case.

At one point, before we had even had our day in court, Avakian told the media, “Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that folks have the right to discriminate.” He also went on Facebook to advocate “one set of rules,” saying “Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean they can disobey laws already in place.”

The Oregon Constitution allows religious exemptions from laws that are generally applicable, but Avakian ruled that out from the very beginning. Can he really be presumed to be fair and neutral when he said our business was unlawfully discriminating before he had even heard our case?

In the same interview about our case, Avakian revealed what may be his true motive for punishing us: “The goal is to rehabilitate.”

Well, his actions led to the closing of our business. That hardly seems like rehabilitation. But, is it really the state’s job to determine whether or not our religious beliefs need to be rehabilitated?

We agree with Kennedy who wrote of Jack’s unfair commissioners that such anti-religious “sentiment is inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of [a state’s] anti-discrimination law.”

But in another sense, our case is not exactly like Jack’s case. We were penalized $135,000 for the “emotional damages” we caused by politely explaining our religious convictions and why we could not create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex ceremony.

The outrageous magnitude of that penalty—based largely on the fact that we dared to quote in our business the scriptures we hold sacred—is, we think, the type of anti-religious bias Kennedy had in mind when he determined that Jack’s commissioners “violated the state’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”

We hope the justice system will undo the damage Avakian’s lack of respect and neutrality has inflicted upon us. When the government acts with hostility to someone’s religion or religious beliefs, citizens take that as license to treat one another with even greater hostility.

While Avakian was publicly judging our religious beliefs, Nicole B. voiced her opinion on Facebook: “I hope your shop burns and you never make another cake, wh—.”

Matthew M. wrote: “If being a Christian means being a prejudiced, stupid piece of s—, you both are great Christians!”

But Briana T.’s was one of the most painful to read: “We hope your children get cancer and die … . You are worthless.”

Beyond that, our business was shut down, our vehicles were vandalized, our home was broken into, and we have received more death threats than we care to count.

We recognize that good people will disagree with each other from time to time, but we agree with Kennedy that, whether before a state agency or in the court of public opinion, “these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs.”

America’s commitment to free speech and religious liberty has provided space for each of us to disagree with one another, but, at the end of the day, to coexist peacefully as neighbors. It is this tolerant respect for the varied beliefs and opinions of our neighbors that makes us such a great country.

For now, we wait and hope that, like Jack, one day a court will correct the religious hostility we suffered at the hands of Avakian and recognize, as Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurring opinion, “[t]he Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.”

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