The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Word (page 2 of 34)

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.

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“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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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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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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Holy Marriage

Archaic.  Smells of male superiority, female inferiority.  Opens the door to wife abuse.  Maybe okay 2000 years ago, but not now in the 21st century when women are well educated and proven leaders.

Here’s the text this is all  about . . .

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as 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 this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:22-32),

Hold on!  This is a bone-rattling ride.  CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE IMAGES CHRIST’S “MARRIAGE” TO HIS CHURCH.

Twice the church is referred to as the “bride” and “wife” of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7; 21:9) . . .

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.'”

Paul describes that relationship this way . .

  • Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • To make her holy
  • Cleansing her
  • To present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
  • Christ feeds and cares for the church

Now Paul draws  comparisons between Christ’s relationship to his “bride” and Christian marriage . . .

  • Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord.
  • For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church—its Savior.
  • Wives submit to their husbands in everything as the church submits to Christ.
  • Husbands love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy . . . and to present her to himself as a radiant church.
  • Husbands love their wives as their own bodies . . . no one ever hated his own body but . . . feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church.

In other words, Christian wife and husband, ponder Christ’s “marriage” to his church and relate to your wife/husband like that.  This is Christian marriage.  This is holy marriage.  This is staggering.

Human marriage is messy.  Routine days.  Moments of passionate romance and foolish, “little-things” wars.  Dish-washing, laundry doing, house buying, children raising, illness enduring.  And in the midst of all that, as the husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ, their marriage images Christ’s marriage to his church.

This marriage, writes Paul, is “a profound mystery”.  Why “mystery”?  Marriage’s deepest meaning has been partly hidden but is now being revealed: marriage images the relationship between Christ and his church. “If you want to understand God’s meaning for marriage,” says John Piper (founder and teacher of desiringgod.org), “you have to grasp that we are dealing with a copy and an original . . . ”  The original is Christ’s “marriage” to his church; the copy is a Christian man and woman united in marriage.

But how do we love like Christ and submit like the church?  How can we carry out Paul’s admonitions?  Do we draw up specifications, rules?  I (the husband) make all major decisions.  You (wife) decide where to grocery shop.  Or, you (wife) get a decision every three weeks.  Or, if we disagree, I (husband) win, no matter your (wife) input.

Well, this text often comes down to decision-making.  But, of course, Paul’s teaching is broader than just decisions and deeper than rules.

Here’s how Lois and I did it.  We heard Ephesians 5 preached.  Periodically read it.  Understood I was to love selflessly like Christ.  She was to submit respectfully like the church.  We trusted the Holy Spirit to work in us the love and submission he wanted.  Then, we just did it.  Oh no, not perfectly.  In fact, in the first few years I was pretty immature, not the model self-giving lover.  Still, Lois submitted.  Fifty-five years later, we’re still at it–still loving, still learning.

Still leaning (harder; we’re older) on Jesus.

Leaning, because every day I fall short of loving like him.  Yet, by his grace, he causes our marriage to (somewhat) image his to his church.  That’s not only holy.  It’s a wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Being Filled with the Spirit

“ . . . we’ve all seen what goes on in the revivalist’s tent or on [the Trinity Broadcasting Network].  Sadly, being ‘filled with the Spirit’ is easily equated with the shoddy theology and gimmickry of modern Pentecostalism . . .”

That’s how a well-known California pastor begins his Ephesians 5:15-21 sermon.

My brother, I know you’re calming your church’s nerves about Paul’s command to be “filled with the Spirit; but you’re painting with a way too-broad brush.  You imply every revivalist’s tent has shady stuff going on.  And that all Pentecostals have shoddy theology and use gimmicks.  I’m a Pentecostal.  Without a tent.  My theology’s not shoddy.  And I don’t use gimmicks.

With that introduction, Ephesians 5:15-21 demands unpacking . . .

Therefore be careful how you [live], not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.   And do not get drunk with wine, for that is [reckless, immoral, wasteful living] but be [being] filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (NAS).

Paul fills Ephesians chapters 4-6 with exhortations.  “ . . . lead a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1) is the banner hanging over all.  The others define how to lead a worthy life.  “ . . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do . . . ” (4:17) . . . “Be imitators of God, as beloved children . . . ” (5:1) . . . “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (5:15).

Wise, careful-living Christians understand that the days are evil.  They’re not looking for a demon behind every bush.  But they know that “our struggle is not against enemies of 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).  Evil powers are out there.

It’s interesting that evil days are the context for “be filled with the Spirit”.  That’s the positive part of Paul’s command.  The negative:  “ . . . do not get drunk with wine . . . ”  Not, “do not drink wine”.  But, “do not get drunk with wine”.  Why?  Because if you get drunk, you’re living recklessly, immorally and wastefully.  And that’s foolish and unworthy of your calling.

“ . . . but be filled with the Spirit”.  John Piper says (half-jokingly) Paul meant to write “be drunk with the Spirit.”  In other words, don’t put yourself under the influence of wine.  But, if you insist on getting “drunk”, get drunk with the Spirit.  Paul’s not trying to create Christians who stagger around the room with slurred speech, or fall on the floor making animal noises.

He wants Spirit-influenced worship!

Dr. Gordon Fee (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies Regent College Vancouver) says God wants Christians whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit “that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other”.

The apostle Paul put it this way . . .

” . . . speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

. . . singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord,

. . . always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father . . .”.

That’s the fruit of Spirit-empowered worship.

I’ve used the New American Standard translation for this text, because it’s true to the original Greek.  The NIV, for instance, says, “Speak to one another . . . ” and “Sing and make music . . . “.  It makes “speak” and “sing” commands, while the Greek is participles.  Why the grammar lesson?  Because participles aren’t commands; they reflect action.  What action?  Results.  From being filled with the Spirit you (church) will be speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  From being filled with the Spirit you will be singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.  From being filled with the Spirit you will always be giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.

“ . . . be filled . . . ” is Greek present tense, implying “go on” or “keep on” being filled with the Spirit.  Theologians from different camps argue about the number of times we can be filled with the Spirit.  Is it one, at regeneration?  Is there a “second blessing”—the baptism in the Holy Spirit?  Paul says, “Keep on being filled with the Spirit!”  In other words, we seek multiple fillings.

How?  Pray.  Study the Word.  But I suggest Paul’s three participles signal not only results of Spirit-filling, but means.  Get in a congregation where Christians are singing for others to hear.  Where they’re singing and making music with their hearts to the Lord. Where they’re always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.  And in that worship, you’ll be filled.

Can this kind of worship be both results of being filled and means?  Grammatically that’s hard to prove.  Logically it seems a stretch.  But the Spirit, like wind, blows where he wants (John 3:8).  So he can affect both results and means if he wishes.

What’s this got to do with not living foolishly in evil days?  First, it clarifies Paul’s prohibition:  don’t get drunk with wine and live a dissipated life.  Don’t get caught up in the crowd who drink too much and influence you to go along.

Second, it offers us Paul’s counsel to be better equipped for living in evil days.  Spirit-empowered worship is that way.  It’s the kind of worship that leaves us sensing we’re standing on holy ground in the presence of the Holy One together with fellow-worshipers.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sleeper, Wake Up!

Six of us sit around the table.  Three are on cell phones.  It’s innocent.  Texts probably.   Helpful.  But it’s also a living parable of how invasive the world has become.  Cell phones certainly aren’t sinful.  They are wonderful, useful tools. But like “social media” they can be subtle carriers of what Paul calls “evil days”.

So can blogs.  I read one this morning that glamorized actor Robert DiNiro shouting, “F. . . you, Trump!” at the Tony Awards in New York City.  Enough crude language in the ear eventually escapes the mouth.

Paul’s concern in today’s text (Ephesians 5:7-17) is that we “wake up” to the sin around us and not let it shape our actions, rather expose it as the sin it is.

“Therefore do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:7).

Paul warns his readers (and us) not to partake “with them”.  “[T]hem? The people he’s just referred to in 5:5,6—the “immoral, impure or greedy”. Don’t “throw in your lot” (NJB) with them.  Why?  First, “because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient”.  Second, . . .

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

Once you were “darkness”—without moral and spiritual renewal, under the dominion of the devil and demons.  But now you are “light in the Lord”—have been morally and spiritually renewed, under the dominion of the Lord.

So Paul urges us to put into practice what we have become in Christ.  Live what we are now in the Lord.   That means producing a willingness to give and share (“goodness”).  It means doing justice, doing what God requires (“righteousness”).  It means loving truth, loving reality as opposed to pretense (“truth”).  “ . . . find out what pleases the Lord”.  Our lives are to have a new goal:  to find out what pleases the Lord.  This comes from studying his Word.  And from Spirit-led discernment in the “thick” of living.

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

The Greek welegcho (translated “expose”) means to call what someone’s done a sin and urge him to stop and ask God’s forgiveness.  Paul says it’s not enough not to participate in “fruitless deeds of darkness”; we should “expose” them.

This takes grace.

Twenty-two-year-old Joe was zealous for the Lord.  I think he fancied himself a prophet, quick to point out others’ sins.  He did it, I’m sure, for good, so that Christ would shine on the Christian who was sinning.  But he came across as judgmental, as harsh and legalistic.  Most people whose sin Joe “exposed”, instead of repenting, reacted against Joe.  “Who does he think he is telling me what to do?”

“Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Christians in Ephesus (and surrounding west Asia Minor cities where Paul’s letter will circulate) are a small outpost among an overwhelming population of pagans.  It’s no time for careless living.  Live carefully, live wisely in Christ-pleasing ways and you will be “making the most of every opportunity” to show that there’s an alternative lifestyle to “evil days”.  Don’t live senselessly.  Gain insight into what the Lord wills for you living among pagans in evil days.

* * *

Sexual intercourse before marriage has become common–at least if we believe the movies.  In fact, movies promote it.  And sure enough, we yield to our natural sex drive and do it.

Because I watch the news most evenings, I hear politicians spout half-truths–or no-truths.  We’ve come to expect it.  Now we can hear half-truth-telling on many lips.

Wake up, sleeping Christian!  Call sin sin.  Don’t let it sneak up on you.  And Christ will shine on you.

 

 

 

 

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God-Imitators

I decided to buy an imitation leather Bible.  Not the quality of genuine leather, but considerably cheaper. That’s what I think of when I hear ” imitation.”  But Paul doesn’t hesitate to use the verb form here . . .

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1,2).

” . . . therefore” points us to what preceded (Ephesians 5:17-32), especially ” [be] forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (5:32b).  But “therefore” also points forward.  ” . . . ” [be] forgiving one another as dearly loved children . . . as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . “.  Reasons fueling Paul’s imperative.  For these reasons “Be imitators of God”.  Gaze deeply into who God is and what God’s done and imitate him.

“Imitators”.  I think it a strange word.  A pretend word.  God’s the “real thing”.  We’re to be play-actors mimicking him.  But, no, not a strange word at all.  God is our Father through Jesus Christ.  We are dearly loved children.  As such, we must try to walk as our Father walks, love as our Father loves.

That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it–God the Father as our model.  But he’s revealed himself in Christ.  And in him we have more than imagination; we have the written Word that reveals him.  And imitating God means to “live a life of love”.  There can be no vagueness about that love.  It’s self-giving for others.  It’s sacrificial to God.

That last point must not be missed.  “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  Christ gave himself up for us, but “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  It was Christ’s worshipful obedience to the Father.  It was Christ’s wrath-satisfying-sacrifice to the Holy One.

Now we who believe, we who are like dearly loved children:  “live a life of love”.  Primarily, love one another in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6).  But Scripture stretches love to include neighbors.  And yet more–enemies.  It’s easier to say, “Live a life of love to everyone”.  Thus, having been loved by God in Christ, we are to imitate God in Christ.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3,4).

 While love must permeate the church, vices must not.  ” . . . there must not be even a hint” .  “Hint” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek onomazo–“be known, be named”.  “Hint” captures well what Paul warns against.  Pornaya must be absent from the Body of Christ.

  • ” . . . pornaya” (sexual immorality”) refers to any kind of extramarital or unnatural sexual intercourse.  Paul placed it first in his warning perhaps because unbelievers worshiped the goddess Artemis in her magnificent temple through prostitution.  The so-called oldest profession was a most-honored and lucrative profession in Ephesus.
  • “. . . akatharsia” —moral uncleanness, indecency
  • ” . . . pleonexia”–covetousness, avarice, a disposition to have more than one’s share
  • ” . . . aioxrotays”–obsenity, dirty talk
  • ” . . . morologia”–foolish, silly, or useless talk
  • ” . . . eupareleea”–coarse joking, vulgar talk

These vices are anayko–not fitting, not proper “for God’s holy people”; that is, for people God has set apart to himself through Christ.

“Obscenity , foolish talk and coarse joking” about sexual things are also “out of place”.  Instead, God’s holy people should give him thanks for sexual gifts.

I suspect Paul’s warning against sexual immorality after just calling for love is this:  we confuse love with lust.  In the first century A.D. sexual immorality was accepted.  A man should have a mistress.  And we know that the great temples were staffed by hundreds of sacred prostitutes.  It was argued that young men should have the love of a prostitute.

But Paul forbids it–explains why we must treat his warnings with the utmost seriousness . . .

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person– such a man is an idolater– has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:5,6)..

Paul’s explanation is blunt.  “For of this you can be sure”.  Paul piles two Greek words on top of each other, both meaning “to know”–oida and ginosko.  This you can know with certainty.  No one who practices immorality, impurity or greediness “has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”.

And Paul’s warning is clear:  Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him” (The Message Bible).

* * *

Our model for living is God.  God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.  Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  So, our model calls, “live a life of love”.  This is how we imitate God.

Are we presumptuous to even think we can imitate God?  No.  We know imitations have less “quality”.  We know that we can love selflessly, but not to the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice.  But to not give ourselves to imitate God, to not give ourselves to love like Christ–even though we fall short–is to not live in a manner worthy of our calling (4:1).

Imitations are less.  In this case far less than the Original.  But churches of God-imitators show the world a bit of what God is like and of what Christ has done.  And they are “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.

 

 

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“Wait ’til your father gets home!”

Not infrequently did I hear that warning from my mother.  Some behavior was off limits for a young boy–especially the same disobedience again and again.

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord:  you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17).

In other words, you Gentiles (that’s us) who are now Christians, must no longer live like Gentiles.  You must not let them influence your conduct or thinking. They (non-Jesus-believers) live “hopelessly confused. Their closed minds are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They don’t care anymore about right and wrong, and they have given themselves over to immoral ways. Their lives are filled with all kinds of impurity and greed” (Ephesians 4:17b-19, NLT).

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way” (4:20).

The Greek says literally, “But you did not learn (manthano) Christ in this way.”  To “learn Christ” means, not to learn information or knowledge about him, but to have our lives shaped by our relationship with him.

“Personal relationship” is so familiar it’s lost its clout.  Think:  we’re claiming to have a personal relationship with a Jew who lived and was crucified (but claims resurrection) 200 centuries ago!  And this relationship shapes the way we live—not just because we follow his teachings, but because his Spirit actually lives in us.

“Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:21-24).

“Surely” is the NIV’s translation of ei ge.  It expresses confidence that we “heard of [Christ]” when we first heard the gospel.  Furthermore, we “were taught in him”.  That is, we  have received ongoing instruction of Christ’s teachings.

We were taught “in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus”. “ . . . the” truth.  Not “my” truth.  Not truth “as we perceive it to be.”  But “the” truth.  It’s found in Jesus.  Any “truth” that contradicts his isn’t.

Paul reminds us what we were specifically taught “with regard to [our] former way of life”.  It comes in the form of three infinitive phrases in Greek. . .

  • to put off your old self”
  • “to be made new in the attitude of your minds”
  • “to put on the new self”

The men, ready to stone Stephen, “laid down their garments . . . ” (Acts 7:58).  Paul uses the same Greek word here—apotithayme.  We were taught to “take off and lay down” what?  Our “old self.”  What we were before—unbelievers with futile thinking, darkened understanding, alienated from God’s life, ignorant and hardhearted, with sensitivity lost, given to immorality and sensuality and always lusting for more.  Here Paul adds another characteristic:  corruption (moral depravity) by deceitful desires (desires that hide the truth). 

The fact is that, even though we’ve trusted our self to Christ, our old self is still around.  We’re forgiven, declared right with God, gifted with eternal life, but still clothed with the “old man”. Take him off and lay him down, urges Paul.  When enticed to lie, to commit adultery, to act selfishly, throw off the “old self” like filthy, smelly old clothes.

Secondly, regarding our new way of life:  “ . . . be made new in the attitude of your minds”.  Literally, the Greek reads “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”.  Here pnewma o nous refers to our way of thinking in our inmost being.  The voice is passive.  Renewal is what God the Holy Spirit progressively does. So for what is Paul calling?  A conscious dependency on the Holy Spirit to renew our thinking.

Thirdly, “put on the new self”.  The imagery remains.  Take off the old self.  Put on (like new, clean clothes) the new self.  Paul isn’t calling us to become “the new self”, but to live out the new life we already have in Christ.

“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 objects of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

In distinction from “the old self”, “the new self [is] . . .  created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”.  That is, “righteousness and holiness” according to the truth we’re learning.  This new self is “created to be like God”.  The image of God that from the beginning sin corrupted is being restored in this “new creation”.

Let’s not pass quickly over “created to be like God”.  It harmonizes with “ . . . God . . . made us alive with Christ” (2:4).  Our bodies, sadly, are yet the same old bodies.  But our inner being has literally been created new.  We, who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, are new creations!

Here, demands Paul, are some ways to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” . . .

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold.  He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Off:  falsehood
On:  truthful speaking to one another

Off:  nursing anger
On:  anger quickly overcome

Off:  stealing
On:  work to be able to share with the needy

Off:  unwholesome talk
On:  talk that builds up and benefits hearers

Off:  bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice that grieves the Spirit
On:  kindness, compassion, forgiveness as God in Christ forgave you

* * *

 When I drove my mother to mouth that frustrated warning, I was just acting out of a young boy’s nature.  I “had it in me” to stubbornly–or sometimes thoughtlessly–disobey.  Paul won’t allow us to behave that way now.  But, Paul didn’t include my mother’s warning . . .

  • Because my new self is a reality.  The Spirit of Christ really lives in me!  I have what it takes to live “new”.  But not without a struggle.  It’s like learning to walk all over again.  Sometimes I wobble.  Sometimes I trip over myself.  Sometimes I fall.  And sometimes I don’t even try.  But my new self will progressively prevail.
  • Because when our Father “comes home”, he’ll spank no bottoms.  Jesus already took our “spankings” for us.

 

 

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