Monthly Archives: July 2015
Welcome to yet another book! In Philippians 1, I think that Paul gives us some great perspective on related what it means to be with Christ.
Php 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Php 1:22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
Php 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
Php 1:24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
Paul had no fear of dying. He did not need to worry about it because he understood that being with Christ was the best possible experience. At the same time, he did not want to leave Earth because he was helping the Philippian church among others.
I think this is a great perspective. On one hand, it is always positive. No matter what happens, there is something good we can be doing. As we live, we live for Jesus. If something happens along the way, we get to be with Him for all eternity. There is really no bad option.
I wonder if this is a message that might resonate particularly strongly with our world today. We have people who are obsessed with youth, and they are afraid of the fact that life might someday come to an end. For Christians, then there is no reason to be afraid of that. Actually, we should look forward to that event. It makes me think of the line at the end of The Last Battle by CS Lewis.
“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Ephesians 6 is obviously well known for telling us about putting on the whole armor of God.
Eph 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Eph 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
There are a few important things that stand out about this prelude to the description of the actual armor.
Evil is not simply confined to one person. After World War II, evil did not die because Adolf Hitler was dead. There were plenty of ways that evil continued to exist. We do not wrestle with simply a person, but there is a spiritual dimension as well that we cannot remove from earth. There is never a shortage of bad news, and that is simply because we live in a fallen world. There are forces that are rulers of the darkness, and they do a very good job of spreading that darkness.
However, notice that when we put on the full armor of God, we will be able to stand. That is the important part of this passage. Yes, the darkness is powerful, and we cannot fight it on our own. However, by putting it on, we will be able to withstand the evil. We will not become victims, but we will triumph.
I think that we need to remember this conclusion that Paul gives us. If we are following the will of God, we are going to triumph. We on the winning side. Evil is going to pass away, and God will reign forever. Why do we always live like we are so afraid then?
I certainly do not believe that salvation comes through our good works because if that was true, I think most of us would be in a lot of trouble. However, I do believe that good works are evidence of the Christian life. Therefore, it is not that works bring about salvation, but if someone claims to be a Christian, you would expect to see them moving in a direction of conforming to Jesus Christ. Paul speaks to that in Ephesians 5.
Eph 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
Eph 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
Eph 5:10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
Eph 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
We’re supposed to walk as children of light. Walking involves action. We are not supposed to simply talk about being children of light, but it seems to be the case that we’re supposed to be doing what children of light do.
This is a very difficult thing for us to do naturally. We are still human, and we’re still going to make mistakes. Nevertheless, walking in the light is what we are called to do. As a result, we need to make sure that we are moving in direction that God would want us to be moving.
How do we know what direction that is?
I was reading in my devotional the other night about three relevant questions we can ask about any decision we face. Can I thank God for it? Can I do it in Jesus’ name? Can I glorify God through it? I think that is a pretty good outline. When you combine them with praying for discernment from God to make the right decision if there are multiple good decisions, our conduct will reflect our calling in a greater capacity which is definitely a better thing.
I find it interesting that Jesus Himself spoke about the necessity of people coming to Him as children, but in Ephesians 4 we receive the encouragement from Paul to grow up in our faith.
Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Eph 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
There’s nothing wrong with being a child, and we all started out that way. However, there is something wrong with the picture when a 40-year-old is acting like a seven-year-old. There is a natural development to our physical lives here on earth. As we get older, we become wiser ideally, and we certainly become more mature. Although I’m sure it does happen, you do not see very many adults throwing temper tantrums in the grocery store. The time for being a child, while entirely necessary, has passed, and our hypothetical 40-year-old needs to grow. He does not become a new person, but he does develop.
I think about that in our spiritual lives. Yes, we need to come to Jesus Christ as children with faith, and that will always be part of our identity. However, there needs to be development. Then needs to be maturity. We don’t want Christians who don’t know how to be Christians. As Paul said, we want to understand our doctrine so that we don’t get deceived.
Obviously, people will develop at different rates, and it is not a question of salvation. However, it is a part of our natural development in Christ. Just like we grow up in our physical bodies, our spiritual lives should develop as well. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to worship God with our minds along with our hearts and souls.
Ephesians 3 seems to provide us with a contradiction about our perspective on the love of God.
Eph 3:14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Eph 3:15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
Eph 3:16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
Eph 3:17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
Eph 3:18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
Eph 3:19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
We bow to God the father, and because of our faith, we have Jesus Christ in our hearts. As a result of that relationship we simultaneously know the love of Christ and also recognize that it passes knowledge. That almost seems like a contradiction. After all, how can we have knowledge of something that goes beyond what we know?
I think about this in relation to a human relationship. Think about your best friend. It would be safe to say that you know your best friend. Simultaneously though, there are parts of that friend that you don’t know. I think about my friends, and I think I would be able to say what any of them had for dinner last Tuesday. No one has perfect knowledge of anyone else’s life, but that does not stop us from claiming that we know people.
I think the same is true with the love of God. We might not always understand it or know everything about it, but we understand that it does exist because we have experienced it. This might appear to be a contradiction, but it doesn’t strike me as a particularly difficult one. We can know the love of God without knowing everything about our infinite Creator.
Obviously, churches are more than physical buildings, but it is interesting that in the Ephesians 2, Paul uses the illustration of a building to describe the church and the people who make it up.
Eph 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Eph 2:21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Eph 2:22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
The foundation was laid by the apostles and prophets. Those who have gone before us have been building a foundation that we are now able to build upon. Think about mathematics. If I want to do a particular problem, I do not need to do the formal proof to show that every theorum they used is valid. I don’t need to prove the Pythagorean theorem; I am able to use it because of the foundation that has been made.
I find our life in the church at the same way. If you think about someone like Thomas Aquinas, he developed his five ways. I am able to benefit from what he has done, and then I am able to build on it. It is great to have a foundation of thought in the church.
However, it is also important to remember that while we certainly do have this foundation from others who have gone before, Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. He is the part that holds everything together. After all, with that Jesus Christ, what would Christians believe anyway? Therefore, while it is awesome that we have such a great intellectual tradition in the church and it is incredibly important, we can’t forget about our most important part. Jesus Christ is what the entire church is also upon.
At the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul gets down to the final point about where we really should find our value.
Gal 6:12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
Gal 6:13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
Gal 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Gal 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
Paul recognized that our value did not come from our works. Our glory comes from God rather than our works. To be honest, that is a really good thing. It can be hard for us to recognize this however. We like cause-and-effect. We like the idea that if I do so many good things, I am going to get a certain amount of glory because I earned it.
However, that’s not how God seems to be working here whatsoever. Any glory we have is a direct result of what God has done for us. That’s it. All of our works ultimately don’t count for very much because our true value comes from the fact that Jesus Christ was willing to lay down His life for us.
When you think about it though, it seems to me that we are actually very valuable then. After all, when someone makes a large sacrifice for me, I recognize that they must really value me. If Jesus Christ was willing to die for us, He must really value us.
That’s the point that then really matters. If we find our value anywhere else, we’re going to be disappointed. If we find our value in what God has done for us, it seems to me that we will find satisfaction.
Galatians 5 is pretty popular thanks to the inclusion of the fruit of the Spirit. However, I want to talk about what immediately follows that classic passage.
Gal 5:24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
Gal 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Gal 5:26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
It interests me that there is a differentiation between living in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit. The verse seems to imply that it is possible to live in the Spirit without walking in it. How does that all work out?
I think about employment. As a hypothetical example, I work for a company. I am on their roster of employees, so in a sense I am living that. It is part of my existence to be an employee of that company. However, if I am going to walk as a member of that company, I am also going to actively do my job. It is not just enough to be a member of the company, but I am actually going to take part in the mission of the company.
As Christians then, it is possible for us to be Christians, but Christians do not always follow what God wants obviously. We do make mistakes, and we don’t always act in accordance with the will of God. Paul is urging us to avoid that deviation. If we are followers of Christ, then we should act like it.
This is not a works-based salvation by any means. It already implies that we are in the Spirit. We are already in the family of God, but like the immediately preceding verses about the fruit of the Spirit, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then there will be evidence of that in your life.
This is of course a process for all of us because none of us are perfect. However, this call is clear. We are not in bondage under the law as Paul explicitly emphasizes that the beginning of the chapter, but there ought to be evidence of following Jesus Christ. Paul is encouraging us to show that.
It is incredibly easy for us to take our relationship with God for granted. Intellectually, we understand what Jesus did for us, but I don’t know that we always appreciate what an impressive and gift that is. In Galatians 4, Paul points out how important our relationship is with God.
Gal 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Gal 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
Gal 4:5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Gal 4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
This is clearly an intimate relationship. It is not a relationship where God is in some far-off place entirely inaccessible to our prayers. We are children of God. As much as children have relationships with their parents, we can have a relationship with God. That is a privilege.
I call it a privilege because I don’t know any reason why God would necessarily need to relate to us. As the Creator, He obviously can have this relationship with us, but it does not seem to be the case that He would have to. As a result, it seems to be significant to me that God not only wants to have a relationship with humanity, but He also wants to have the type of relationship where we can call Him Father.
If we are that close to God, why do we take it for granted? I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times where I don’t take advantage of this opportunity. For example, if If I am anxious about something, I should be thrilled that I can bring that before God, but I know I don’t always do that.
Maybe we need to reevaluate.