Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Husbands (5:21-33)

In the previous section Paul as stressed the importance of being filled with the Spirit and we noted how he showed how this was worked out in public worship. Now Paul moves on to consider how believers should be controlled by the Spirit in other areas of life – marriage, family, and work. In this reading I will consider the first of these, the husband’s role in marriage.

The role of the husband is both a calling from God and a command by God. Husbands are to imitate Jesus in his care of the church. How can they do this?

The husband’s love should be sacrificial. Paul does not have in mind that a husband should merely give up a hobby in order to spend time with his wife. That is not how Jesus loved the church, by giving it a few hours a week out of his other activities. Rather it was total dedication, involving everything he possessed. 

The role that the husband is called to fulfil is not an easy one; it requires the help of the Holy Spirit in order for it to be realised. Therefore it is essential that the husband be a man of prayer, that he has a healthy devotional life with God. He needs to be filled with the Spirit.

When a husband does this, he will be respected by his wife and she will accept his headship gladly. A spiritual woman will acknowledge her husband’s headship, but it is better when she also respects him because she knows that he cares about her growth in grace. 

How long does the husband have to do this? As long as he lives. His love is to be expressed in this way constantly and does not depend on the wife’s response. Obviously it is easier to do it when things are going well, but he is to do it continually, because that is how Jesus does it.

This kind of home life is essential for the health of the church. Recall that the preparation for eldership is in the home. If a husband does not practice this type of dedicated love to his wife, then he will not show real concern for the church.  

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Psalms, hymns and songs (Eph. 5:19)

What does Paul mean by ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.’ Some commentators try to find the reasons for the distinction in the meaning of the words. One meaning given is that psalms refer to songs to be sung to an instrument, hymns refer to songs without an instrument, and spiritual songs refer to praise items that a person sang under the influence of the Spirit. Another suggested meaning is that psalms refer to joyful songs, hymns refer to songs sung to a divine being, and spiritual songs are about sacred matters. A common view today is that psalms refers to the Old Testament psalms, hymns refers to Christian songs in general use, and spiritual songs refers to spontaneous outpourings of praise. 

Personally I don’t agree with these suggestions, for three reasons. Firstly, what we should always ask regarding any biblical statement is, What would these terms have meant to Paul’s original readers and was there anything available at that time that was called by these names? There was a collection of praise items at that time which was called by these names, and that is the Book of Psalms. When Mark says that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn on the night of the first Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:26), the reference is to the psalms that were sung at Passover time. Many of the titles of individuals psalms say they are songs. 

Secondly, in the Greek of this clause, the word ‘spiritual’ probably governs psalms and hymns as well as songs. The term ‘spiritual’ means ‘from the Spirit’, and refers to songs that have been divinely inspired. Therefore, Paul here is advocating that they use inspired material in praise offered in their public meetings.

Thirdly, in a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16 (Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord), Paul equates these songs with the word of Christ and as a suitable and authoritative basis for teaching and admonishing. Only biblical material has this authority. 

So Paul is telling his readers that when they come together for public worship they should sing from the Book of Psalms. The impression is given today that the reason why we believe in exclusive psalmody is merely traditional. But that is not why we limit our public praise to the psalms. The reason why we do so is because we believe the Bible requires it.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Evidences of being filled with the Spirit (5:19-21)

Paul here mentions two types of evidence of being filled with the Spirit. One concerns prayer and praise in the public gatherings of believers, which indicates that when Christians do not take part in such occasions they are showing signs of not being filled with the Spirit. The other evidence that Paul mentions is in verse 21 and concerns mutual submission. Both these practices indicate that participation in Christian fellowship is the purpose of being filled with the Spirit.

In verse 19, Paul mentions ‘speaking to yourselves’. He does not mean that a Christian speaks to himself; rather he means that Christians are addressing one another when they offer praise to God. When we sing in church, we are not only singing to God, we are also exhorting one another to sing to God. For example, when we sing, ‘come, let us worship him,’ we are to have an awareness that we are addressing one another. (I will explain tomorrow what I think Paul means by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.)

There is an obvious similarity between a group of drunk people and a group of Spirit-filled Christians and that is that they both love to sing. But the singing of Christians is to be about real matters that involve God and the spiritual life.

Paul also says that a Spirit-filled Christian will sing from the heart. This does not merely mean that he will sing loudly; rather it means that he will sing appropriately with suitable feelings. The apostle also indicates that a Spirit-filled person, when he sings, will have the Lord Jesus in focus. When Paul says that they should make melody ‘to the Lord’, the title ‘Lord’ is a reference to Christ.

Paul then mentions another evidence of a Spirit-filled person, and that is thankful prayer. Gratitude is an essential attitude in a healthy Christian outlook. It is possible that Paul here is reminding his readers that they should be thankful for one another, which fits in with singing to one another (v. 19) and submitting to one another (v. 21).  

The final evidence that Paul gives of a Spirit-filled person is mutual submission (v. 21). This verse is a hinge verse in that it is connected to what precedes it (submitting is a participle connected to ‘being filled with the Spirit’) but also introduces what follows. The way that Paul expands the concept of submission in the following verses indicates the importance he gave to it, and reminds us that practical Christian living must be based on doctrinal understanding. Marriage relationships, parental relationships and work relationships, as far as Christians are concerned, require the filling of the Spirit. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Filled with the Spirit’

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? There are two ways in which the Greek term is translated, and each of them contributes to our understanding.

One way in which the term is used was when the wind filled the sails of a ship and blew it along in the right direction. I think we can see the relevance of that imagery for the way the Spirit can empower Christians to proceed quicker in the right direction.

The other way in which the term is translated is with the meaning of ‘control’. For example, Paul writes that Jesus was exalted that he might fill all things; in that example, Paul means that Jesus was exalted in order to be in control of everything (Eph. 4:10).

The combination of these two images of empowering and ruling over is what Paul means by being filled with the Spirit. It is a question of who is in control of my heart, my mind and my life.

We see an example of this in the life of Jesus. After his baptism, he was filled with the Spirit who compelled him to go into the wilderness to face the temptations of the devil. The filling equipped his humanity with power and direction as he stepped forward to fulfil his calling as Messiah (Luke 4:1).

Another example is Barnabas, who is described as a good man who was full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:23-24). He gave sacrificially, he was an encourager, he was a wise pastor, and he was a man who realised his limitations when he went and asked Paul to help him in Antioch.

Stephen also was filled with the Spirit, which enabled him to be a faithful witness as well as a person willing to look after feeding of widows (Acts 6:3-5).

Paul’s language concerning being filled with the Spirit is in the form of a command. He is not making a suggestion nor a recommendation; he is giving a command that he expects will be obeyed. Further, Paul uses a plural form, which tells us that this filling is not limited to special Christians; instead it is a duty and a privilege required of all. Again, Paul uses the present tense, so this experience is not a one-off event; rather it is an ongoing, daily, hourly experience.

We will think about more aspects of the filling of the Spirit next time.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Redeeming the time (5:15-18)

Paul here contrasts a foolish lifestyle with a wise way of living and says that it is important that we make a wise use of time and are also self-controlled concerning alcohol. We would all agree that wisdom is an essential aspect of a Christian outlook. Wisdom is not the same as being informed or as possessing intellectual abilities. It means the ability or discernment to do not only what is right but also what is best, based on the information one has.

The Bible in many places urges us to ask God for wisdom. In this passage, we are told about two aspects of walking in wisdom – our use of time and our self-control.

Concerning time, Paul says that the days are evil, and our response may be to want to become detached from them, to opt out. One does not have to enter a monastery in order to become a monk. What does it mean to make the best use of time?

Paul is using the illustration of purchasing a slave (which is why older translations had 'redeem the time'). While he did not approve of the practice of slavery, he realised that it could teach spiritual lessons, with the most obvious one being his frequent references to Christians as slaves of Jesus Christ.

We have to redeem the time that we have, which means that we have to be selective, choosing always the best option. Jonathan Edwards is famous for many things, one of them being a set of resolutions he put together to govern his life. When he was twenty he resolved ‘never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way that I possibly can’. It is important to remember that each opportunity only comes once.

Linked to redeeming the time is Paul’s emphasis on self-control, seen in his rebuke of those who drink too much wine. But we will miss the point of the reference if we conclude that Paul is only speaking about wine. What he is saying is that we should not be so under the influence of something that it controls us, whatever that something is. The biggest dangers to us are usually not illegitimate things but an over-emphasis on legitimate things. A person can be controlled by materialism, sport, hobbies, gardening, all legitimate things that take up our time. Paul is reminding us of the need of discipline in our use of time.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Walk as Children of Light (5:8-14 )

The powerful imagery of light and darkness is a common one in both the Old and the New Testaments for illustrating the differences between Christians and unbelievers. 

Paul does not view either of these states as static. His readers once had not only been influenced by darkness but were also extenders of darkness. The features of spiritual darkness include ignorance of God, of the gospel, and of grace. Similarly, when he describes the Christians as ‘light in the Lord’, he means that in addition to being recipients of light they are givers of light.

Paul highlights three features of light that will be transmitted by believers: goodness, righteousness and truth. These details are the result of the shining presence of the Spirit of life in their hearts. Perhaps Paul is using the well-known fact that a tree only bears fruit because there is light. 

How do believers become light-projectors? It is by being light-receivers in the sense that they receive from Christ through using the various means of grace. They are given light through meditation on the Bible, through answered prayers, through fellowship with God’s people. 

In verses 11-14 Paul deals with the witness of the children of light to the world. He says there is a threefold approach: reproving, revealing and resurrecting – and they represent a threefold strategy for Christian witness. 

When Paul tells his readers to reprove sinners, he does not mean ‘in the sense of admonishing or rebuking. It means to convince by evidence’ (Charles Hodge). It is not enough to say to a person that their conduct is wrong; they must be shown why it is wrong. 

Paul describes the effect of such reproving. When unbelievers have such an encounter with a Christian, it is for them an encounter with light. Just as light shines in a dark room, so the words of a consistent Christian shine in the minds and consciences of non-Christians. They begin to see the nature of their sin and the mercy of God. In a sense, meeting such a Christian is like meeting with Jesus.

This leads on to the third stage, that of resurrection, described in verse 14. This is a description of a command to an unbeliever to arouse himself and come to Christ. The change is likened to a resurrection, which it is. The person who is in the state of spiritual death becomes alive.

As we think of our interaction with the world, several ideas come to mind. First, there is the need for carefulness in how we live. We are to make sure that there are no dark spots spoiling the shining of our light.

Second, there is the necessity of compassion in the way we point out people’s sins to them. We don’t approach them as judges but as those who once were sinners, who once were also in darkness.

Third, there is the possibility of confidence that the Lord can use us a means of bringing others to himself. This threefold strategy is not our method, but his. When we speak as children of light, we spotlight the darkness around us, in other people and in the world.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thanksgiving (5:3-7)

Paul begins verse 3 with a conjunction, which means that his comments are linked to the command in verse 2 to walk in love, a lifestyle that gives a pleasant fragrance. The sinful details he mentions in verses 3-7 – immoral behaviour and speech and covetousness – give off an unpleasant odour when they are practised. Instead of a perfume factory, they describe a sewer.

Paul wrote these words in an age when the common form of communication was by speech. But his advice does concern reading about such things, whether in the newspapers, magazines and books or watching them on television or video. We should have nothing to do with anything that causes immoral and covetous thinking. 

Instead Paul reminds his readers that they should be marked by thanksgiving. Covetousness indicates a sense of dissatisfaction with what one has, and jealousy concerning what another has. Thanksgiving includes gratitude for what one has and for what others have. 

As believers, we should be thankful because we have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. This inheritance has present as well as future aspects. We belong to a kingdom with a never-ending supply of all that we need (Phil. 4:19). Our King is committed to the welfare of each of his subjects because these subjects are his brothers and sisters. 

Thanksgiving is the result of contemplation on all the blessings that God has given us. Further, it should be the outcome of meditation on all the promises that God has made. 

Thanksgiving should be comprehensive. Paul instructs believers to give thanks in every situation (1 Thess. 5:18). That does not mean that we give thanks for every situation but it does mean that we see every situation through the teaching of God’s Word. It is easy enough to see how we should be thankful in good times, but we are also to be thankful in bad times. The knowledge that God is with us in these situations and will work them for our good should result in thanksgiving for his faithfulness.

Thanksgiving should be ceaseless or continual. It is not to be limited to formal occasions of prayer and worship but should characterise our lives. Gratitude is the only way to live the Christian life. We love him because he first loved us. Our daily obedience is an expression of gratitude. 

Thanksgiving is an expression of consecration. Thanksgiving expresses our dependence on and devotion to God. It strengthens our humility because we realise we are dependent on him and it stimulates our devotion because we know he can supply more than we need.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Walking in love, like Jesus (5:1-2)

Paul calls Christians to imitate God as dear children. How do we do this? Thankfully, we have the perfect example, God's Son, who walked in love in order to rescue us from our sins. What was his walk of love like and where did it take him?

The love of Jesus for us was an active love. It was active in his determination to seek out sinners, for example, the woman of Samaria or the impotent man lying at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus sought Philip and drew him to himself and taught him patiently to become his follower. Jesus also displayed his love in his many acts of kindness and in the miracles that he performed. There are numerous other examples in the Gospels. And we also know many whom Jesus has sought out in his love for them. They are with us in church each Sunday.

The love of Jesus for us took him to the cross, a place of great agony for him. There was physical agony as every nerve suffered increasing pain; there was spiritual agony as he endured the sense of loss of God’s gracious presence and entered the darkness of abandonment. He did it all because he loved sinners. There on the cross he was a substitute for sinners, paying a debt that they owed but could not pay. He endured the Father’s wrath against sin because he loved sinners.

Paul tells us in our text that the offering of Jesus pleased his Father. Although others despised it, the Father regarded it very highly, and still does. Although our actions of love are very small in comparison with what Jesus did, we also can know the Father's appreciation of what we do as long as we walk in love for God and one another. 

We should ask ourselves, 'Am I walking in love at this moment? Is what I am doing at this moment done out of love to God and to others? Is that why I pray? Is that why I read the Bible? Is that why I go to church? Am I active in love, willing to endure the pain that love may bring because of my actions?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Father’s Forgiveness of His Children (4:30-31)

As we think of God’s forgiveness as Father, we can do so initially through what Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer. In that model prayer that he taught his disciples, Jesus mentions two important details, each of which shows that this type of forgiveness is conditional. The first important aspect of this refers to our need of daily cleansing from our sins. In order to receive this forgiveness, we have to confess our sins.

When we sin as Christians, we cause disruption in our fellowship with God. This fellowship will not be restored until we confess our faults. In Psalm 32:3-4, David describes some of the feelings he had when he refused to confess his sin: ‘For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.’ Given that we sin in all that we do, it is inevitable that we should confess our sins continually as part of lifelong repentance.

The second aspect concerns our need to forgive other Christians when they sin against us.  Here is the way we have to forgive one another: comprehensive, continual and complete. We are to forgive all kinds of sins that others commit against us, we are to spend our lives forgiving them, and we are not to resurrect them once they have been confessed. What happens if we do not forgive? Our prayers will not be answered and our worship will not be accepted.

But is Christian forgiveness unconditional? Jesus says in Luke 17:1-4 that forgiveness of another believer follows his repentance for his sin. I think the best way to understand this is to recall that forgiveness is both an attitude and an action. Believers are always to have an attitude of forgiveness but they cannot give forgiveness until the person repents. Sin is not primarily against my feelings; instead it is against God. Imagine a Christian who refuses to repent of a sin. God will not forgive him in a fatherly sense until he does repent. If we say that a Christian should always forgive, without waiting for an expression of repentance, then we are acting differently from God.

But God’s forgiveness is invaluable. In Psalm 103, when David lists God’s gracious benefits, the first one he mentions is forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness is the first of two spiritual benefits that Jesus taught us to pray for (the other is for divine protection).

Monday, 22 October 2012

The forgiveness of God (4:31-32)

When we think of God’s forgiveness, we have to distinguish between two ways in which he forgives. God forgives as a Judge and he forgives as a Father: under the first he deals with sinners as criminals who deserve punishment; under the second, he deals with his people as children who received chastisement. Today, we will think of God’s forgiveness as Judge and tomorrow of him as Father.

God’s forgiveness was costly. In order for him to forgive us, he had to send his Son as the sinbearer. The cost to God was great. .

God’s forgiveness is comprehensive. There are some sins that are more heinous in God’s sight than other sins. Yet he does not only forgive the lesser sins, he forgives them all.

God’s forgiveness is continual. Once he has forgiven a sin, he does not mention it again. They are cast behind his back. He does not make them barriers to future blessing or reasons for preventing a relationship with him. These aspects show us the greatness of God’s grace.

God’s forgiveness is conditional. Before we can receive God’s forgiveness, we have to confess our sins. Until we do so, we will not be forgiven. This is a reminder of the necessity of repentance, which is the twin of faith in Christ.

God’s forgiveness is complete. When a person trusts in Jesus, all his sins, past, present and future are forgiven as far as God’s justice is concerned. It is true that failure to confess sin affects the Christian’s enjoyment of God’s blessings, but even such a sad attitude does not negate God’s complete forgiveness as judge. As his children, we lose much when we are disobedient, but we never lose the declaration of pardon. This is connected to our justification. Remember the Shorter Catechism definition of justification: ‘Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.’

When we see the greatness of God’s forgiveness, we should have certain responses. First, we should rejoice. Our sins were the greatest barrier to our entrance into heaven. We could not remove them. But God has done so. We are pardoned. Second, we should respect such a great God. One way in which we do so is by refusing to take part in sin. Forgiveness obligates us to fight with sin. Third, we should retell to others the story of God’s great forgiving mercy.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Why we need forgiveness (4:31-32)

We have observed in recent readings how Paul has stressed the importance of Christians not having certain traits that mark the ‘old man’, or fallen society. These traits concern the way we interact with one another and we noticed the emphasis that Paul puts on speech as the evidence of what is in a person’s heart. He continues this emphasis in verse 31 where he lists several wrong attitudes. 

Labelling an item is very important. The advertisement industry realises it. For example, the sellers of hamburgers and French fries don’t tell you that they can increase your body weight if you eat too many. Fortunately, most people realise that is the case and they can treat the advert with a laugh. But sometimes, advertising can be fraudulent and people end up in trouble because the truth was not told.

Labelling is not limited to products, for it is also found in attitudes. For example, we are told to stand up for yourself, insist on your rights, express yourself, let it all out. Of course, these may be neutral terms, but often they are used to cover wrong responses. Each of the attitudes and actions that Paul lists in verse 31 can be given a different label when we want to defend our use of them. 

If we change the imagery from labelling to that of a garden, we may see a better picture. In a garden, there can be weeds and flowers. In the garden of our soul, there are also weeds and flowers. The weeds are described in verse 31 and the flowers in verse 32. Some weeds look very nice, depending on what we call them. Each of these products has a gardener, whom we employ as we see fit at a particular time. Sometimes, we let in the devil as the gardener, usually because he comes in the guise of giving us a good garden, and we don’t realise who he is. But when he enters, he does his best to make the weeds grow and prevent the flowers developing. At other times, we call on the Spirit, and he helps the flowers grow and reduces the potency of the weeds.

Paul himself is using the imagery of old and new clothes. There are certain types of dress that we are not wear, but are to put away, not to a second-hand shop, but to the rubbish dump. No matter what label is on them, we have to get rid of ‘all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and slander’. Perhaps our wardrobes need a clearout.

The basic root of these weeds is sin, but the usual cause of them in a Christian is self-righteousness which manifests itself in pride, resentment and envy. We should search our hearts to see if any of these things are there. Bitterness involves resentment and animosity; wrath is sudden anger whereas anger describes a steady hostility; clamour describes quarrelling that is marked by shouting; evil speaking refers to slander or spiteful gossip. The attitude that covers them all is malice. This is the name of the garden or the designer label. And it is why we need forgiveness.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Recovering from grieving the Spirit

When we grieve the Spirit, he does not run away, feeling rejected. Rather he will work to restore us. For that restoring ministry of the Spirit, we should be thankful. Although our love has diminished, our liberty has been abused, and our God-given resources ignored, he does not give up on us.

The path of restoration involves chastisement in one way or another. This is not a pleasant experience, but it is a profitable one. We may have to learn through wilderness experiences; we may suffer a few divine corrections until we return in repentance.

Repentance is the way of restoration, and it is the only way. We are used to hearing unconverted people being urged to repent because they have to. But it is the same for Christians; we cannot get back on to good terms with the Spirit by resolving to do better. We have to come to God and confess our sins, our follies, with no excuses, and ask him for restoration. And he will give it. It rejoices him to do so.

How can we continue in a lifestyle that does not grieve the Spirit? Obviously we need to depend on him, and this is exhibited by ongoing prayer for his involvement in our lives. But there are some other responses that also help us. 

The first is thankfulness for salvation. Thankfulness to God for his mercy should be a clear feature of each Christian’s outlook.

The second is contemplation or meditation on the full redemption that is going to be ours when Jesus returns. We should think about it, and if we do that we will speak about it. And our speaking about it and anticipating it delights the Spirit and he will not only stimulate longings for it, he will give foretastes of it. 

The consideration that the Spirit is in us as the seal and as the foretaste of the state of glory should be incentives to cause us not to grieve him.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Preventing grieving of the Spirit (4:30)

The Holy Spirit is fully aware that we are sinful. So his disappointment is not connected to our failure to be perfect. Rather it is connected to our not continuing in the path of sanctification. How can we keep on the right path?

The most important area of self-examination concerns maintaining a relationship of love with the Holy Spirit. When Paul refers to the grief of the Spirit, he is not only indicating that the Spirit’s holiness has been affronted, but also that his love has been wounded. This is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is a person and not just a power.

How wonderful is the love of the Spirit! He was there in the eternal community of love in the Trinity as each of the three persons anticipated their involvement in our salvation. The Father looked forward to our being adopted, the Son to our being redeemed, and the Spirit to our being sanctified. Each looked forward with equal love.

The love of the Spirit was seen in his making of the universe, and he was grieved when Adam sinned, just as he was grieved at his rejection by the people of Noah’s day. His love was seen in the way he led the Israelites, and again he was grieved by their behaviour.

The love of the Spirit was seen at Pentecost, when with great delight he came in greater fullness to his church. His love was seen in the way he pursued you through your years of rejecting him, and it is seen in the way he has blessed you as a believer. How sad, and strange, to grieve such a Lover!

A second important area, connected to the previous one, that prevents this sad development, concerns the right use of Christian liberty. It is not likely that a backslider begins the process by disobeying a clear command of God. Rather, his decline often begins in what can be called neutral areas. When that happens, the problem is that Jesus is not first, and the Spirit has been grieved. The lesson is, watch out how you use your liberty as a Christian. You could lose your spiritual fire.

A third crucial area for preventing this sad situation is the right use of the means of grace. Means of grace are the various channels that God uses to bring blessing to his people. God has provided some means that are individual and other means that are corporate. We need both and one cannot be used instead of the other.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30)

The first aspect to note is that ‘grief’ is a concept that involves emotion. It is linked with sadness and disappointment. This imagery of a grieving Spirit should cause us to realise the sensitivity he has concerning the sins of his people. One emblem of the Spirit that fits with the possibility of grieving is when the Spirit is likened to a dove. Since the Spirit indwells all believers, it means that the person sinning can grieve him and he may also be grieved in the person that has been sinned against. At an elementary level, the sense of horror that the recipient feels is evidence of the grief of the Spirit. The least sin grieves the Spirit.

What are the consequences of grieving the Spirit? I suppose that there are many, but I will mention three areas that are among the most important. In doing so, I want to connect them with the Spirit in his role as comforter or helper.

First, we lose his help in providing us with assurance that we are the children of God. In Romans 8, Paul writes that the Spirit witnesses with our Spirit that we are the children of God. What he means is that the Spirit strengthens our own weak sense of assurance. A Christian can deduce he is converted because of God’s promises or he can deduce he is reborn because of his obedience to God’s will. Both types of assurance need constant divine strengthening by the Spirit. When we grieve the Spirit, we don’t have that strong sense of belonging to God.

Second, we lose his help in obeying God’s commands. Sadly it is possible for a Christian to go through the motions outwardly, with no awareness that he has lost the Spirit’s enabling. This was the case with the church in Ephesus later on when it lost its first love (Rev. 2:4). Much of the Christian life can be carried on outwardly without the help of the Spirit. Also there can be strong inner compulsions for truth that have nothing to do with the Spirit. We see that in the case of David when Nathan told him the parable concerning the rich man who used the poor man’s lamb – David was furious with the rich man (2 Sam. 12:1-6), but his fury was not from the Spirit because he had been grieved for David’s sin.

Third, we lose his help in our prayer lives. The Spirit in a healthy Christian causes him to live in a spirit of prayer. Such a Christian talks to God about everything and talks to him all the time. But when the Spirit is grieved, prayer becomes a dry formality, which a Christian discovers he can do without. There is no longer a joyful interaction with God.

We will consider other aspects tomorrow of grieving the Spirit.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The new man’s clothes (4:21-29)

As with the old man, Paul describes the new man as clothes. He mentions four of them: speak the truth, moderation of anger, share of one’s things, and wholesome talk.

Speaking the truth is connected to members of the church. Taking the illustration of the body, imagine the confusion and mess if the eye did not tell the hand all it could see, or if the ear did not convey the danger it heard to the rest of the body. Such is the effect of lying and pretence in the church. It destroys any corporate spiritual progress.

Anger is a dangerous attitude, even when held righteously because it is so close to wrong anger.

Sharing one’s things is not to be an add-on in Christian living. The word that Paul uses for ‘labour’ (v. 28) means work to the point of exhaustion. It is the response of the person who sees a need and determines to do something about it. We live in a society where the state deals with most financial and bodily needs, but there are believers in other countries in real poverty. The words of John are very searching: ‘But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love  abide in him?’ (1 John 3:17).  

Wholesome talk refers to the content of our speech. ‘Corrupt’ here is a different word from that used in verse 22; here it has the meaning of ‘worthless’. Perhaps this is the biggest problem today when Christians meet. They often speak about everything but the things of God. 

Each of these features requires thought beforehand. The wrong alternatives are discovered by self-examination and the replacements are also enabled by right thinking. Truthful speech is a result of a resolve to ensure there are no lies; desires for revenge and vindication are given to God once we have thought about the situation; seeking to help others is done after discovering information about them; edifying speech comes out of a heart that thinks of these things.

If these features are lacking, it is because we are not renewing our minds and being in a spiritual state in which we can put on the new man. The remedy is not merely to resort to prayer, but also to think as a Christian. Such thinking will be prayerful, but prayer cannot be made a substitute for thinking as a Christian should.

As we think of the new man, two comments can be made. First, it means increasing in Christlikeness. Jesus, as a man, had all these features in balance and fullness. He always told the entire truth, he did not retain his anger but committed his case to God, he shared with others, and he never spoke unhelpful words. 

Second, the old man behaviour should not be seen in the church. As we noted concerning verse 17, Paul regarded walking like the Gentiles as the biggest threat to unity; so behaving as the new humanity maintains the unity of the Spirit. How often in church troubles are the negatives Paul mentions brought to the fore. Disputes sometimes are inevitable, but in our dispute let us make sure that we continue to tell the truth, curb our anger, share our possessions and speak edifying things, for the opening will be there to do otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The new man (4:20-29)

Yesterday, we thought about Paul's use of the description, 'old man'. He contrasts it with what he calls 'the new man'. What does he have in mind? There has been a lot of discussion about what he meant, but here is what I think he was saying.

The new man defined. If the old man is fallen humanity in Adam, then the new man is the new humanity in Christ. Jesus is the head of the new race, made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe in him. Together, they are the new humanity.

The new man described. As with the old man, there are past, present and future states. Paul told the Roman Christians that they have already put on the new man when they were converted (Rom. 6:6). In the future, they would be perfect members of the new humanity when Jesus returns. 

The new man’s dress. But in the present they have to ensure they have the right clothes on, which Paul describes as righteousness and holiness, features seen in God in their fullness. It is not clear if there is a distinction between these two terms; some think righteousness refers mainly to behaviour towards others and holiness is behaviour towards God. It is unlikely that such distinctions were in Paul’s mind. Righteousness is acting justly and holiness is separation from evil.

What we have here is the restoration of the image of God in humans. At the beginning of history, humans were created in the image of God. This image involved both character and function. The character was righteousness and holiness, and the function was to rule on God’s behalf. Neither the character nor the function are fully attained in this life, but they will be when Jesus returns.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The old man (4:20-29)

We can use the adjective 'old' in many ways. So too does the Bible. What does Paul mean by 'old man' or 'old self' in this section of his letter? Lots of suggestions have been made and here are mine.

The old man defined. Paul does not mean here what is often called ‘the old nature’. What he means by the old man is humanity in Adam. We can perhaps see its meaning in connection to the way Paul has already used the illustration of a man in verse 13, when he said that the glorified church would be a perfect man. When Paul speaks about the old man, he means sinful humanity.

The old man described. Paul describes sinful humanity as ‘corrupt through deceitful desires’. The word ‘corrupt’ means rotten, a vivid picture of the spiritual death that sin has brought into the human race. This degradation is brought about by desires marked by illusions. Their desires were based on what was false, with no satisfaction or fulfilment. 

The old man discarded. Paul reminds the Ephesians that their past behaviour had been the same as everyone else in the sinful humanity. But that humanity has to be discarded, and its removal occurs in the three stages. When Paul writes to the Romans about the old man (6:6), he tells them that they have already put it off, which occurred when they were taken out of the old humanity and were united to Christ at conversion. In the future, they will lose all trace of the old humanity when they are made perfect in holiness. But in the present, because we are still sinful, we have to be careful that we do not live like the world, the old humanity.

Paul here is not speaking specifically about an inward battle. His illustration of putting off clothes indicates that it is visible, an outward thing, and indeed he goes on to give four examples: don’t tell lies, don’t retain anger, don’t steal, don’t have unhelpful speech. 

These four features were and are seen in the old humanity. We are to put them off, but how. Paul gives the answer: by the renewing of our minds, in other words by thinking differently from fallen humanity. Initially, this renewing occurs at conversion, but it continues throughout one’s Christian life. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Taught by Jesus (Eph. 4:20-21)

What does Paul mean when he refers to learning Christ? Most of his readers would not have met Jesus bodily, so he does not mean a physical listening. But it is important to note that Paul does not say that they learned about Christ, as if he was thinking of historical details about the Saviour’s life, but that they learned Christ. What he is stressing is knowledge that comes from a relationship, in which Jesus is the subject that is taught.

Paul uses verbs connected to the instruction process when he says that his readers had heard Jesus, had been taught by Jesus, according to the truth that is in Jesus.

First, since they had not met Jesus physically, when did they hear him and when were they taught by him? The answer is that they heard him and were instructed by him through the scriptures being explained by Paul and other preachers. The same idea is expressed by Paul in Galatians when he writes that they had seen Jesus Christ crucified among them – not literally, but through the preached message. This is why it is important for believers to listen to preaching because it is Christ, as the prophet of the church, who speaks through it. This does not justify poor preaching, but it should cause us to value preaching as a very important means of grace.

Second, where did Jesus teach them? The answer Paul gives is that they were taught ‘in Jesus’. The meaning has been expressed in this way, that Jesus is the school as well as the schoolmaster and the subject. Believers are united to him, are surrounded by him, and within this atmosphere Jesus teaches believers about himself.

Third, if ‘Jesus’ is the overall curriculum that Christ teaches, are there specific subjects within that curriculum? The answer is yes, and Paul here focuses on one connected to the putting off the old man and putting on the new man. If we were to give it another title, we could call the lesson ‘Becoming like Jesus’.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Walk Not as the Gentiles (4:17-19)

The main problem with the behaviour of the Gentiles was not their outward practices, although these practices were evil. These practices were the visible symptoms of an inner disease. Paul describes a movement from how they thought, to how they felt, to how they behaved.

He describes their minds as empty, darkened and ignorant. The reason why their minds were like this was the blindness of their hearts. The word that is translated ‘blindness’ has the idea of hardness and callousness. The term ‘heart’ does not refer to one’s emotions, which is how we use the word today. Rather it refers to the entire inner man, which Paul divides here into mind, feelings and choices. It was the depth of rebellion against God within each person that was the major problem.

Obviously Paul does not mean that their minds were a total blank, incapable of thinking. Instead he means that the Gentiles did not think of God. It is common in the Bible for idols to be described as vanity and this is probably what Paul has in mind when he says the thoughts of the Gentiles were futile. They worshipped false gods who did not exist. 

When a person thinks of God, it gives solidity, insight and information to their minds.  As Leon Morris put it, ‘There is far more to being a Christian than intellectual achievement, but we should be clear that being a follower of Christ means using the brains God has given us to their fullest capacity.’ 

But it is not only their minds that were affected by sin. Paul comments that the Gentiles had lost insensitivity with regard to their behaviour; they were shameless, indicating that the Gentiles were not embarrassed by their sins. 

This is what life becomes without knowledge of God, of his character and of his purposes. And Paul’s description is not limited to his own day, for it also describes ours. We live in a society that loves to sin openly and continually.

The main reason for people’s behaviour is the gods they worship. In our society, self-indulgence (when pleasure becomes god) and materialism (when things become god) dominate many lives. There are many more such gods and no doubt you can list them for yourselves. But our minds and hearts were made for higher experiences, of knowing God experientially through Jesus.

The remedy is to learn about Jesus and from Jesus. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Speaking the Truth in Love (Eph. 4:14-16)

Paul is concerned that some believers will not develop as they should. He suggests a remedy – speaking the truth in love.

Speaking the truth in love requires not holding back what the truth is. It means that we cannot be selective. Speaking the truth in love takes account of the needs of the other person. It means that we have to be sensitive. Speaking the truth in love requires ensuring the other person understands the truth. The truth should not be stated in an obscure way, otherwise there will not be any growth. Therefore we have to be simple and clear. Profound truths can be stated simply and elementary truths can be present obscurely.

Speaking the truth in love means that we do not use scripture truths in order to get our own way. It means we all speak the truth with the good of others in mind. We spread the gospel because we want people to be saved. We repeat divine promises because we desire people to be comforted. We mention other promises because we want wanderers to return to the fold. We give warnings because we do not want them to fall.

The obvious demand of this requirement is that there must be fellowship between Christians when they will lovingly speak truth to one another  (Mal. 3:16). 

The outworking will be growth. Paul says that the church develops when the believers live and speak the truth out of love. I would mention three details of his illustration.

First, doing this gives us deeper appreciation of our union with Christ: we ‘grow up in every way into him who is the Head’. This means that we get to know Jesus progressively and draw out of his resources increasingly, which is unity in action. For growth to be consistent, there has to be an ongoing right relationship with Jesus.

Second, doing this enables the church to function. Each Christian is likened to a joint in a body, with each joint fitly framed together. Some joints are bigger than others, but each joint receives life from the Head in order to function appropriately. Paul uses a word that means abundant supply. What is being supplied is grace by the Holy Spirit, but it is grace given through the words and lives of fellow believers. 

Third, when each Christian does what he or she should do (when each part is working properly), a community of love is the result, which is unity in action. Not only must there be a right relationship with Jesus, there must be a similar relationship with his people.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Man United (4:13)

Yesterday we looked at one of the three features that Paul says will mark the complete unity that God’s people will have in heaven. The first feature was the knowledge of the Son of God. We will look at the other two features now and Paul calls them ‘a perfect man’ and ‘receiving from the fullness of Christ’.

A perfect man
When Paul uses the illustration of a perfect man he is not referring to believers as individuals in a perfect state of sanctification. Rather he means that the entire people of God will be a perfect man. I think he is referring back to his ‘one new man’ in chapter two which he used to describe the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ. Not only will the sin of racism have disappeared, but so also will all other sinful barriers to true unity.

Of course, the concept of the church as a body is also in this illustration of a perfect man. This fits in with Paul’s focus in this passage on the role each person has to play in the church, using their God-given gifts and personalities for its benefit. In the eternal state, their personalities will be perfect, no longer affected by sin. The gifts, given to release their potential, will be fulfilled. This suggests that each of us will retain our unique personalities, although perfectly sanctified and contributing wholly to the joyful state of heaven.

Receiving from the fullness of Christ
In this third description of the eternal state, Paul says that we will have reached a particular stature (the word he uses can depict either age or size, but indicates full development). Each believer has already received out of the measure of Christ (v. 7) and heaven will be its completion; each has part now and fullness then. This does not mean that every one in heaven possesses the same amount, for there are degrees of glory. But it does mean that every one in heaven will be full of Christ. It is like filling a cup or a huge urn with water; both are full and cannot take any more, although the urn contains a lot more.

We may ask, what makes the distinction? At one level, the difference is due to the sovereignty of God, as can be seen from the parable of the talents in which one person was given ten and another five. But at another level, it is connected to our devotion to Christ and his kingdom in this world. We are encouraged by Jesus to lay up treasure in heaven. If believers live for the things of this world and allow their focus to drift from Christ’s cause to the achieving of worldly satisfaction, they will get to heaven but they will be cups and not urns. If we want more of Jesus in heaven, make more of him while you are here on earth.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Union at last (Eph. 4:13)

It is obviously the case that we should make progress in the Christian life, but personally I don’t think that is what Paul is saying in this verse. Rather I think he is pointing his readers forward to the experience of complete unity that they will experience at the second coming of Jesus. There are three benefits of the final state of union mentioned here. 

The first one is ‘unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God’. ‘Faith’ refers to doctrine, to what we believe, and this is a reminder that doctrine will be taught in heaven. Our understanding that we have about God and Christ will be enlarged throughout the eternal ages. Doctrine is not dry, although sadly it can be presented dryly, although it may also be the case that we perceive doctrine as dry because our souls are dry as a consequence of grieving the Spirit. I am not referring to intellectual awareness of doctrinal opinions at the moment. What Paul has in mind is teaching by the Holy Spirit and there is coming a day when that teaching will be appreciated fully by all the people of God. 

Paul focuses on one teaching of the faith in particular – the knowledge of the Son of God.  We  will know more of Jesus increasingly in heaven. Perhaps we have heard about the desire of Philip Melanchthon on his deathbed, that he was looking forward to understanding in heaven the relationship of the two natures in the person of Christ. The knowledge of Christ will also be more immediate, because we will be physically in his presence, glorified and made like him. But we will still need to be instructed by Christ and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

The word that Paul uses for ‘knowledge’ is a strengthened form and so means experimental knowledge. Paul himself had first known Jesus after the encounter on the Damascus road. Three decades late we find him still wanting to know Jesus (Philippians 3:10: ‘That I may know him [Jesus], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death’). This life is a growing appreciation of what Jesus has done for us and does for us. I suppose it could be likened to a poor girl who marries a king and discovers it will take all her life to appreciate the extent of his riches and power. We discover that Jesus is forgiving, compassionate, caring and sweet. But what we discover of him in this life is but a foretaste of our knowledge of him in the eternal world.

There is a beautiful story told of John Owen, the Puritan theologian. It happened that he had just finished his book called The Glory of Christ when he suffered an illness from which he died. The proofs of the book were brought to him the day before he died by a minister called Payne. Owen told Payne that he was glad to hear that and then said, ‘But, O Brother Payne, the long looked for day has come at last when I shall see that glory in a manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world.'

Of course, our knowledge of Christ in the eternal world will be constant, unlike now when it is often interrupted by the world, the flesh and the devil, or by necessary factors of life. It will also be comprehensive, in the sense that it will be balanced and we will have insight into every aspect of his person and work. Further it will be both corporate and individual, because we will share the benefits he brings to all his people and also enjoy them at an individual level. The manner of appreciating Christ will be contemplative in the sense that we will behold him with our eyes, our minds and our hearts, a contemplation that will be both immediately transforming (when we shall see him we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is) and increasingly bring heavenly joy and delight.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Called to ministry (Eph. 4:12)

Who is the minister in our congregation? What a silly question, you may say, because the answer is obvious. And in any case, what does that question have to do with Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:12? Well, he does refer to the ‘work of ministry’.

In this verse we are continuing to reflect on Paul’s exhortation concerning unity. We have seen that unity requires correct attitudes and beliefs. It is also enhanced by the giving of gifts by the ascended Christ to his people. Now Paul reminds all of us regarding what we should do in our local church life. The pastor, in teaching the congregation, serves by equipping the believers to serve one another. So what will serving one another look like? 

An illustration of what is in mind here is to liken the church to an orchestra and Jesus as the conductor. The harmony of the orchestra depends on each gifted musician playing his or her instrument when the conductor indicates they should. Some of these individuals are more gifted than others in the orchestra, but the less-gifted have also to play in order for there to be harmony. So in the church: Jesus directs it by giving particular gifts; some, such as pastor/teachers, are more public; the others are also needed. Harmony is only achieved when all of them practise their roles. 

The word that is translated ‘serve’ was used for those who served at tables, who gave to guests the food that had been prepared for his master’s guest(s). Later it was extended to all who engaged in various kinds of service in which the servant’s position as a lowly person was obvious. It described a person who worked hard.

Paul makes it clear that ministry in a congregation is shared service – all the believers are to be involved in this activity and no-one is allowed to opt out. A balanced, healthy Christian life must have a corporate dimension. The fact that it is shared service indicates that the spiritual gifts we have been given were given for the common good. There will not be disunity in a congregation composed of hard workers in Christ’s cause.

This service is also self-effacing service. It should not be difficult to see the crucial importance of this attitude. Humility means that a person will neither think too highly of himself or too lowly of others. A humble believer delights to benefit from other Christians and to serve God with them. There is no disunity in a congregation composed of humble members.

The consequence of such service is growth of the body, both numerically and in spiritual stature, as it continues to serve Christ together. Realising this means we have to change our opening question to, ‘Who are the ministers in our congregation?’ Or perhaps to, ‘Who is allowed not to minister in the congregation?’

Monday, 8 October 2012

Pastor-teachers (Eph. 4:11)

How many gifts are there in this verse? If it is not read carefully, you might think there are five gifts, and if you count the uses of the conjunction ‘add’, you will come up with the figure ‘five’. But there are only four gifts, which you can identify by the word ‘some’ which occurs before each gift. The phrase ‘pastors and teachers’ describes one gift.

The gift of pastor-teachers is termed an ‘ordinary’ gift in contrast to the ‘extraordinary’ gifts of apostles, prophets and evangelists. By ‘ordinary’ is meant the idea that pastor/teachers will be in the church permanently. Pastor is not the only term used to describe such people: they are also soldiers, farmers, slaves and servants.

The term ‘pastor’ means shepherd and is a reminder that believers are a flock; the term ‘teacher’ is a reminder that believers are learners. Both these pictures of the Lord’s people are reminders of unity.

A pastor/teacher attends to the needs of the flock of Christ. This involves two things in particular: feeding and protection from spiritual wolves. The primary way of accomplishing this task is by preaching and teaching the Word of God. Paul reminded Timothy about the sufficiency of scripture: ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

A pastor/teacher teaches similar to how Jesus would do it, if he were present physically. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus describes how he did this task: humbly and gently. Jesus, the almighty king of heaven, delights to teach the poorest of his people. He does in a kind, sensitive, tender manner, never crushing those under his care.

A pastor/teacher is accountable to Christ for his oversight. This will occur at the day of judgment. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul refers to the possibility of a pastor erecting a building made of wood, hay and stubble, which will be burnt up although he will be saved, though as by fire. Of course, the accountability works both ways. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers to ‘Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation’ (Heb. 13:7); then he says, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you’ (Heb. 13:17).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What was an evangelist? (Eph. 4:11)

When we use the term evangelist, we think of someone such as George Whitefield or Billy Graham, a person who travels to different places preaching to non-Christians. But that is not how the term was understood by previous generations. For example, the Form of Presbyterial Government, a document adopted by the Church of Scotland when it adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, says: ‘The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased. Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons.’

The older view was that ‘evangelists were ordained persons (2 Tim. 1:6), whom the apostles took as their companions in travel (Gal. 2:1), and sent them out to settle and establish such churches as the apostles themselves had planted (Acts 19:22), and, not being fixed to any particular place, they were to continue till recalled, 2 Tim. 4:9’ (Matthew Henry).

Only two people are described as evangelists in the New Testament: Philip (Acts 21:8 8: ‘On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him’) and Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5: ‘As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry).

Albert Barnes, the nineteenth-century commentator, wrote of evangelists: ‘What was the precise office of the evangelist in the primitive church, it is now impossible to determine. The evangelist may have been one whose main business was preaching, and who was not particularly engaged in the government of the church. The word properly means “a messenger of good tidings”; and Robinson supposes that it denotes a minister of the gospel who was not located in any place, but who travelled as a missionary to preach the gospel, and to found churches. The word is so used now by many Christians, but it cannot be proved that it is so used in the New Testament.’

A recent supporter of the interpretation that the office of an evangelist was found only at the beginning of the church was Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He says: ‘Sometimes he was sent ahead of the apostles, as Philip was sent to Samaria, but generally he followed the apostles…. He thus supplemented the work of the apostles and extended it and caused it to spread and to become established. Thus the evangelist was a man whose office was temporary, and as the churches were established and became more settled, that office likewise disappeared.’

As you can perhaps deduce, I don't know what an evangelist was in Paul's time. And it looks as if not many others do either. Whoever they were, they were important because they were gifts of Jesus to his church. If evangelists in this sense of the word were temporary gifts, then here we have a reminder of the sovereignty of Jesus who decides when certain gifts are needed for the benefit of his people. So while he may no longer give this particular gift, we can deduce that he will give the exact gifts that we need.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Apostles and prophets (Eph. 4:11)

The first gift that Paul mentions here is apostles. He has already referred to them in his letter as part of the foundation of the church (2:20), in the sense that they were directly commissioned by Christ with special authority and who received supernatural revelation from Christ; an example is the apostle John in Revelation 1. That was two of their qualifications; another was that they had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1). They were also able to perform miracles or what Paul calls ‘the signs of an apostle’ (2 Cor. 12:12). No-one today has all these qualifications.

Then Paul mentions prophets. They too are described as part of the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), which means that this type of prophet only existed at the beginning of the church period. From what the New Testament says about them, it seems that they were individuals who were given supernatural revelation and were similar to apostles, except they had not received a direct commission from the risen Christ.

Because they were foundation gifts, there are no apostles and prophets in this sense today, and if anyone comes saying that they are, do not believe them. We have the teaching of the apostles and prophets in the Bible, and we should be very thankful to God for giving it to us. This is not to say that the Lord may not at times reveal secrets to particular individuals, but we are not to call such by terms that the Bible gives to foundation gifts.

Tomorrow we will say something about the next gift Paul mentions, that of evangelists.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Christ who ascended (Eph. 4:8-10)

Paul in these verses asks believers to remember two details concerning the ascension of Jesus. First, we need to understand the previous descent before we can truly appreciate the ascension.

In this regard, there is an element of continuation in that it is the same person that is being referred to. What were the outstanding features of the descent of Jesus? There are several that could be mentioned, but I will limit the choice to three: humility, obedience and love. Jesus’ humility was seen in his willingness to become a lowly human; his obedience was seen in his delight to obey his Father’s will; his love was seen both in connection to the Father’s will and in connection to his people lost in their sins. And although he has ascended, these three features of humility, obedience and love are still to the fore.

But while there is continuation between the descent and the ascent, there is also contrast. The difference is between the state of humiliation and the state of glorification. Jesus no longer lives in the same environment as he did when here on earth. He is now glorified by the Father. The Son chose to enter a world marked by humiliation, the Father rewarded him with the exaltation to the highest place, and bestowed upon him the supreme name of Lord (Phil. 2:5-11).

Second, we need to see that the growth of the church depends on the ascension. One of the benefits of the ascension was the coming of the Holy Spirit, and one of the happy consequences of the Spirit’s coming is the bestowal of spiritual gifts on the church. We will look at the topic of spiritual gifts in subsequent readings. All I want to say now is that they should also be called ‘gifts of the ascended Christ’ as well as ‘gifts of the Spirit’, and Jesus gave them in order for his church to grow.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

What the Ascension means for believers (Eph. 4:8-10)

First, it means that their eternal inheritance has been secured for them. Jesus went to heaven as the forerunner of his people. The idea behind this word is of a person who goes ahead to lay claim on the land that would become the possession of his family. Because Jesus is there, we know that the land is ours. We can imagine an emigrant in the nineteenth century going off to Canada or Australia to find a better home for his family. He makes the journey and claims his territory. Then he writes home and tells his wife and family to come and join him. Although she cannot hear his voice, she can depend on the letter from the one who loves her. That is similar to what Jesus has done. He has gone to claim an inheritance for his bride or for his brothers and has sent word (in the Bible) to come and join him. And we are able to look ahead to the guaranteed inheritance, despite the problems of the journey.

Secondly, because Jesus has ascended to heaven, it means that he can send to his people samples of the life of the heavenly world. The emigrant in our illustration could send samples of the wealth of his new country in order to help his wife and family. And Jesus, by the Spirit, enables us now to taste of the fruits of Paradise.

Thirdly, because Jesus has ascended to heaven, he will be there to meet us as we enter at the end of our lives. Not only will he meet us, but he will greet us with a warm welcome. This will be a wonderful experience, one to which we should be looking forward. When the wife and family reached the inheritance, would they want to see first the inheritance or her husband? The answer is the husband. It is the same with us as Christians – we want to see Jesus, our eternal Lover.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Unity and the Father (Eph. 4:4-6)

The work of the Father is concerned with his authority over and presence with his people. We noted previously that the consequence of addressing Jesus as Lord is that all believers see themselves as his servants, so the consequence of addressing God as Father is that all believers see themselves as equal members of his family, which is an obvious statement of unity. 

Paul mentions three areas in which the Father’s activity should result in an enhanced unity among us. First, he is above all, that is, he is sovereign over his family. Second, he is through all, which means that he fulfils his purpose by using each of his people to bring it about; he does not ignore the contribution of any of his people and neither should they. Third, he is in all, which refers to his intimate involvement with each.

Here are some other matters connected to the unity of believers:

Christian unity should be a reflection of the unity that exists in God. The three persons of the Trinity work together, with each contributing to the one purpose.

Christian unity involves spiritual life. The indwelling of the Spirit is essential for maintaining unity. Therefore, when we grieve the Spirit we hinder the progress of unity.

Christian unity involves solidarity with Jesus Christ. Unity is known to the degree that Jesus is honoured. 
Christian unity is expressed as sonship, as members of God’s family. We are to show to the world that we belong to the one family.

Therefore, Christian unity is something for which we depend on God. We look to him for its increase, for his ongoing enabling in order that we will live in harmony despite our sins and failings.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Unity by the Son (Eph. 4:4-6)

The work of the Jesus in bringing about unity is seen in the title he has, which is Lord or Sovereign. There can only be one ultimate Lord, for by definition it means a person who has unrivalled authority. Since Jesus is Lord of the church, it means that everyone in it is a servant. When they see each other as servants of Christ, then they will have unity.

Paul mentions two other aspects of Christ’s work that bring about unity – faith and baptism. The term ‘faith’ can have an objective meaning and a subjective meaning. Objectively, it refers to the set of beliefs that Christians have; subjectively, it refers to the trust that believers have in Jesus. Both meanings stress unity, whether it is unity regarding what we believe as Christians or unity regarding the Saviour we believe in.

Probably Paul is referring to both ideas; Hendricksen, who favours subjective faith, comments that ‘the subjective and the objective cannot be separated: when a person surrenders himself to Christ as his Lord he at the same time also accepts the body of truth with reference to him.’

Paul also mentions baptism when he refers to the contribution of Jesus to unity. Often when we think of baptism we wonder if Paul is referring to baptism with water or baptism with the Spirit. I doubt if that distinction would have crossed Paul’s mind because baptism with water symbolised baptism with the Spirit. Baptism instead was the mark that separated believers from the world. It was a badge that they all shared, that told everyone who they were. So it gave them a sense of unity.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Unity by the Spirit (Eph. 4:4-6)

Paul here connects the work of the Spirit to the body of Christ. This metaphor for the church obviously highlights the concept of unity because a body is made up of various parts joined together. Paul uses this metaphor several times in his letters. In using it here, he is referring to the people of God from every period and from different places; although separated by time and space they are united together. Of course, the image of a body reminds us that the unity is expressed through variety of functions and uses and not in uniformity.

This living union is achieved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is what each Christian has in common with every other Christian. They differ in social status, in spiritual gifts, in Christian growth and in many other aspects of their lives. But the same Spirit indwells each. He has regenerated each of them, he sanctifies each one, he leads them all to become holy, he is producing his fruit in each of them, he enables each of them to have access to the Father. So the connection to unity is obvious. Each believer has to respect other believers because the Holy Spirit indwells them.

Further, this spiritual union is expressed by a shared outlook for the future, the hope that is stimulated within them by the Holy Spirit. Earlier, in Ephesians 1:13-14. Paul said that the Spirit is both the earnest (foretaste or sample) and the guarantee of the heavenly inheritance for all Christians. The Spirit can give this assurance of the future to all believers. We know that there are varying degrees of this assurance, but this distinction should be regarded as an encouragement to have more confidence rather than an acceptance that we should have less. Anticipation of their shared future encourages Christian unity in the present.