Bible Studies For Life
October 6, 2019
1 Thessalonians 4:3-12
People are relational. I believe that is part of the image of God in which we were created. God is relational…and so are we. Relationships help define us, motivate us, and fulfill us. But when relationships are complicated by excess “drama” (or outright sin!) those same relationships confuse us, depress us, and tire us. The simplified life does not limit relationships; it guards them. In this week’s text, the guiding principle for making and maintaining simple, healthy relationships is purity. God emphasizes this principle in three different ways.
God’s will (vv. 3-5). Paul had spent some weeks in Thessalonica before he and his companions were forced to leave the city (see Acts 17:1-10). After he was safe and sound in Athens, the apostle sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the fledgling church they had planted there. The good report he received prompted Paul to pen this letter. First Thessalonians was written both to instruct and encourage this new congregation of believers who faced the ire of legalistic Jews on the one hand, and immoral pagans on the other. God’s will in every case was the same: sanctification on their part (v. 3). The term sanctification means purity or holiness. This is accomplished in two ways, as illustrated in verses 3-5. The first way is by ceasing that which is evil, and the second is by learning to do what is right. The rather blunt command to “abstain from sexual immorality” (v. 3), reaches to the depths of human depravity. If one can mortify those base temptations (see Col. 3:5), one can exercise control over every other physical desire. That kind of self-discipline distinguishes believers from those who “don’t know God” (v. 5).
God’s call (vv. 6-8). Along with God’s will that believers be pure, Paul mentions God’s call to do the same (v. 7). The command not to sin against a brother in this matter (v. 6) indicates that the problem of sexual immorality had been all too common among the city’s residents. The use of the word brother indicates that the sin—in this case adultery—had been all too common within the church. Against this immorality stood God’s vengeance, a coming judgment about which they had already been warned (v. 6). For this reason, those who failed to take control of their immoral impulses were rejecting the clear teaching of God, who, through His Holy Spirit had both inspired the teaching (see Ex. 20:14, for example) and brings conviction to guilty offenders (see John 16:8-10).
God’s teaching (vv. 9-12). As opposed to the lustful desires that characterize the lost (v. 5), believers should demonstrate a pure and genuine love for their brethren instead. In the case of the Thessalonian church, Paul was thrilled that such genuine affection was already present in the new congregation (having been taught by the same Holy Spirit mentioned in verse 8), and that their brotherly concern was already spreading in the surrounding region (v. 10). But rather than settle for the initial sanctification that accompanies the new birth, Paul encouraged them to “do even more.” The suggested attitudes and behaviors that are to follow demonstrate a deeper personal conformity to Christ while building a sound standing in the outside community as well. Rather than producing further animosity in an already hostile city, the church people were to settle down and carry out their calling. The overall goal depicted is a quiet, productive church-life that would gently separate itself from the lost society from which it came, while at the same time exercising a positive influence upon it.
October 13, 2019
GOD’S WILL AND MY WILL
Romans 11:33–12:2; Ephesians 1:4-6
Understanding who God is is difficult enough. But understanding how God operates is even tougher. We know that God is sovereign; that He is God and as such does what He wants. Yet we also know He is not some maniacal dictator who acts apart from (or without regard to) His creation. As such, God is intentional; He is purposeful in carrying out His will. Yet He is personal in dealing with us. The first step to understanding His will is to understand some things about His essential being.
The mystery of God’s sovereignty (Rom. 11:33-36). If any man could know the mysteries of God, it would be the apostle Paul. How ironic that the one who knew Him so well would be the one so overwhelmed by the immensity of His greatness! As Matthew Henry put it, Paul searched for the limits of God’s being, “and despairing to find the bottom, he humbly sits down at the brink, and adores the depth.” The passage is reminiscent of Ephesians 3:18, which applies the widest of dimensions to God’s love. The grammatical construction of verse 33 allows for three areas of awe rather than two: “Oh the depth of the riches, of the wisdom, and the knowledge of God!” In any case, the idea is that the treasury of God’s resources is limitless within Himself. Because His wisdom and knowledge are inexhaustible, His judgements (“decrees,” “decisions,” or “determinations”) are beyond our abilities to even investigate; and His ways (“methods” or “manners of carrying out His plans”) are beyond our comprehension. The challenge issued in verses 34 and 35 is meant to establish the relative distance between God and man. The verses remind us of God’s harsh confrontation with Job at the end of his book (Job 38-41). Paul needed no such rebuke…he fully realized that all glory belongs to the Lord, to Him alone, and to Him forever (v. 36).
The mercy of God’s sovereignty (Eph. 1:4-6). Perhaps no passage of Scripture speaks more strongly about God’s elective purposes than Ephesians 1. And perhaps no biblical doctrine invites more debate than the same. Generations of good, solid Baptists have nearly come to blows over whether or not the saved were pre-ordained to be so. One might not understand the doctrine of predestination, or like it, or even agree with it. But how foolish it would be to simply deny it! This beautiful and moving text reminds us that God set His affections upon us and chose us to be His adopted children before the world was even formed. His motive was love, and His purpose was to make us holy and blameless in His sight (v. 4). What a tremendous demonstration of His mercy and grace! This was done by an act of His divine will, and according to His good pleasure (v. 5). Do people still need to respond to Christ in repentance and faith? Absolutely! (see Acts 2:40; Rom. 10:9-10). But our responsibility to respond to Him does not nullify His divine election of us in the first place. Simply put, it’s “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19); not the other way around.
Our response (Rom. 12:1-2). Now that we see the magnificence of God’s being, and the wonder of His sovereign election, what is our response? That brings us back to Romans. The “therefore” marks a turning point. The doctrinal teachings of the apostle regarding God’s redemptive work through Christ (specifically the theme of “justification by faith”) now move toward practical applications. The first is that we become living sacrifices. In the same way that the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament depicted the act of atonement, so the life of the believer is to depict the effects of atonement. The presentation of our bodies indicates this not only involves the inward, spiritually transformed mind (as depicted in v. 2), but includes a full-blown, total, inward and outward manifestation of God’s redemptive work. The key idea here is consecration. The first step to discerning God’s will, then, is to consecrate oneself as an acceptable vessel, a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
October 20, 2019
GOD’S WILL AND THE BIBLE
There’s an oft repeated proverb: “When all else fails, read the directions.”
Those who believe that life doesn’t come with an instruction manual are simply wrong. God gave us His Word not only to tell His story of redemption, but how to live the life of the redeemed. God’s will for our lives is contained in the Bible, and it’s always His will that we obey it. Jesus Himself said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). In Psalm 19, David extols the benefits and blessings of God’s Word.
The essence of God’s Word (vv. 7-10). In this section, David uses six different labels to describe the essence of the Scriptures and the subsequent benefit associated with each label. The terms are lofty in their usage, but profound in their meaning. The word “instruction” (v. 7) is the basic Hebrew word torah. It refers to the law, teaching, or doctrine of the Bible. Here, it is said to be perfect (flawless). The older translations say it is “converting” the soul, but the better word is renewing (or refreshing) the soul. In other words, God’s instruction brings new life back to the soul. “Testimony” (v. 7) broadens the picture. God’s witness—contained in His teaching—is a testimony that is trustworthy and true. Even the simplest among us gain wisdom by attending to Him. “Precepts” (v. 8) are more specific. They refer to rules and policies. David says they are “right;” they are straightforward and correct. The result? Those who follow them find joy in them. His “commandments” are “pure” (v. 8; KJV). The newer translations take into account the light of the eyes mentioned in the phrase that follows. In other words, His commandments have no impurities that might fog the perception. The light of His Word illuminates the eyes of the hearer with understanding. The “fear” mentioned in verse 9 is the reverence and respect toward Him as a result of the power of His Word. That it is pure (or “clean”) means that the reverence one feels toward God because of His Word is morally upright; it won’t lead the believer astray. The word for “ordinances” (v. 9) is the term for “judgements,” and most often applies to the entirety of God’s commandments. In every way, His Word is trustworthy (“reliable”) and His decisions are absolutely just. Verse 10 moves away from the descriptions of God’s Word, to the value of it. The believer who is committed to God’s Word finds His teachings more valuable than gold and more delectable than honey. In both instances, the imagery moves from precious, to even more so. His Word is worth more than gold…even an abundance of the best. It is more delectable than honey…even the sweetest which drips directly from the comb.
The effectiveness of God’s Word (vv. 11-14). Besides the glories of His Word, David mentions the practical benefits of obeying God’s Word. First, there are warnings to be heeded. Bible commentator Matthew Henry rightly pointed out that His admonitions reach in both directions: “God's word warns the wicked not to go on in his wicked way and warns the righteous not to turn from his good way.” But more than just avoiding trouble, there is great reward for obeying God’s commandments. The language allows for both a future reward (the result of obeying God) as well as a present reward (the act of obeying God.) Like Paul in Romans 7, the profundity of his revelation now sends the writer to his own knees. Understanding the perfections of God’s law makes even the noblest ask, “How can I ever live up to this?” The final phrase in verse 12 provides the answer. “I can’t.” What the psalmist (and hopefully we as well) realizes is there is mercy and forgiveness for all who sin (see Rom. 5:20). The final verse of the psalm is a reflection and response to the enormity of the truth just revealed. The words that spill out, as well as the thoughts that produce them…might they be acceptable to the Lord.
October 27, 2019
GOD’S WILL AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
God’s Word contains truth. But the Holy Spirit imparts truth. The Bible, read simply as a book, remains only that: a book. When Philip approached the Ethiopian official in Acts 8, the man was reading from Isaiah 53. When Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, the man answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). Thankfully, we have a guide to help us understand the mysteries of God: His Holy Spirit.
God’s wisdom is different (vv. 6-8). Paul already pointed out to the church at Corinth that his teaching and preaching lacked the “brilliance of speech” and “wisdom” they must have expected (see vv. 2, 4, and 5). What they expected from the apostle was an educated eloquence that the philosophers of the day were known for. Paul’s response? “You are hearing wisdom…but it’s God’s wisdom, not man’s.” Three distinct differences are mentioned in verse 6. First, unlike man’s wisdom, the wisdom of the gospel is for the “mature.” In other words, it makes sense to those who are spiritually attuned and progressing in their walk with Christ. Second, it’s an eternal, unchanging truth, unlike the flimsy philosophies they were used to hearing. Third, God’s truth is not like the political or military slogans that were thrown about by rulers to influence their people. Such sayings “come to nothing;” they produced no lasting results. No, God’s wisdom is different. The construction of verse 7 is difficult, but certain points are clear: God’s wisdom, though eternal, had been thus far hidden. The grace displayed in Christ’s substitutionary death was revealed in small preparatory lessons bound up in sacrifices and laws. But: “when the fullness of time had come, “God sent forth his Son” (see Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 1:1-3). In verse 8, Paul proves his point: the religious rulers of this world never understood the nature of the gospel of grace; for if they had, they would have rejoiced at Christ’s coming, rather than crucifying Him.
God’s wisdom is divine (vv. 9-11). Verse 9 is a loosely worded quote of Isaiah 64:4. But while the words are not exact, the meaning is clearly preserved. The human eye has never been able to see what God is up to; the human ear has never been able to understand it; the human intellect has never been able to imagine it. Such is the mystery of our God! That which He has in store for His children far exceeds the limits of mere human comprehension. Does this principle apply to heaven? Certainly! But it applies to all that God does. In the immediate context of this passage, it applies to the wisdom of the Divine. Yet God has given us a glimpse of His inner workings through the Holy Spirit (v. 10). This too, demonstrates God’s wisdom. The Spirit of God is Himself God, so who better to reveal God’s mysteries? Verse 11 illustrates it in human terms. No one knows a person better than the person himself. Hence, no one knows the person of God any better than the Spirit of God.
God’s wisdom is discerned (vv. 12-16). The overarching principle of this section is simply this: only spiritual people can perceive spiritual truth. I used to get so frustrated when lost people didn’t grasp the simplest of spiritual teaching. But I eventually came to understand this concept so clearly stated in verse 14. And here Paul explains why. First, God designed it that way. Spiritual truth is aimed at believers, so that they can discern what God has “freely given” to them (v. 12). Second, God’s Holy Spirit must be present in us to impart the truth that God gives to us (see also John 14:16, 17, 26, et al.). Lost people, devoid of God’s Spirit, don’t welcome spiritual truth. In fact, they think it is foolishness. In reality, the lost couldn’t understand spiritual truth if they wanted to! Like an AM radio trying to pick up FM signals, they simply lack the equipment necessary to do so: in this case, God’s Holy Spirit. But believers do have the Holy Spirit (v. 15). As a result, we can discern the spiritual truth God gives and owe no lost man an explanation or justification.
Explore The Bible
October 6, 2019
Relationships are tricky because they involve people who are very different from one another. In marriage, a couple is committed to each other yet, in their lives together, tensions arise because they see and understand some things very differently. In these squabbles a common love and commitment to fight preserves them when disaster would otherwise be inevitable. The same is true with respect to the community of the church. In the church, we are not only related to Christ but to one another and because we are all very different furthers complicates matters. Now add to that the fact the our oneness is opposed by an enemy whose very purpose is to broker, foster and sustain tensions of division and ypu get a situation that could become messy quickly. Paul, having stated the doctrinal reality of our unity with Christ and with one another (Ephesians 2-3) now begins to show in chapters 4-6 how this unity is to be fleshed out, practically, in community.
WALKING WORTHY (Ephesians 4:1-3)
When we speak of the idea of calling too often we think of specific tasks or roles one occupies in the life of the church. In reality when Christ saves us He also commissions us (calls us) to reflect His glory and honor in the world in all that we do. Paul begins this chapter by identifying himself as a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1). The Ephesians understood this to mean that Paul was bound in a Roman jail without the ability to do as he pleased. This may be his physical predicament, but his reality is that he is bound to Jesus and must walk in the ways that Christ commands, not free to do as he would please. From this perspective of being bound to Christ he urges the Ephesians to see themselves in the same way and to walk in a manner worthy of the calling (Ephesians 4:1-3). They may free (not in prison) but they, too (and we ourselves) are prisoners bound to the will of the Lord! To walk worthy of the Lord does not merely mean walking in a holy manner before the world. It means that, but Paul’s chief point is this: learn to relate to others the way Christ has related to you. Note the virtues Paul lists: humility (denying self for the spiritual good of another), gentleness (being controlled in emotions), patience (trusting God’s timing and purposes), and bearing with one another (the strength to put up with others). The virtues he lists are not accidental but reflect the way of Christ toward us. Thus, to walk worthy of the Lord is not only to walk like Christ with His people but to do so with eagerness to maintain the unity the Spirit of God has created among the saints (Ephesians 4:3).
LIVING UNIFIED (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Paul, knowing the pluralistic context of Ephesus, highlights central beliefs that form and guard the unity of believers. We are one body (Ephesians 4:4). In Christ our culture (race) becomes second to our oneness in Christ. There is one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Though there are many teachers there is one voice (the Spirit) and He teaches one truth, guiding the church in its unity and life together. There is one hope (Ephesians 4:5) – eternal life with the Lord, made certain by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This is our singular hope. There is one Lord (Ephesians 4:5) - Christ alone. There is one faith – belief in Christ’s work and death as a sufficient sacrifice for sin, apart from works, is the divine way of salvation (Ephesians 4:5). There is one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) This refers to visible sign of unity with Christ through immersion – the outward expression of the inward reality of union with Christ. There is one God who over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:5) who, only through faith in the Person and Work of Christ, is truly known. Paul lists these core beliefs to protect the unity of the church from cultural take-overs. Jews and Gentiles are very different people and come from very different backgrounds. These differences, however, are not erased when one believes in Christ and, therefore, they must be suppressed and give way to the core truths that maintain our unity. In our cultural climate it is easy to drift in a direction in which unity is driven by social convention. We may have many differences be we are truly better when the “one’s” of our unity become our singular identity.
ENJOYING VICTORY (Ephesians 4:7-10)
This passage can be a bit complicated given the words of verse 9 that He descended to the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9) being taken to mean that Christ preached in hell. While this interpretation has been challenged in recent years the essence of Paul’s words are this: Christ has conquered and now reigns and rules over all (Ephesians 4:10). He descended, referring to the time of His incarnation when He took on the flesh of humanity, preceded His ascension or return to the place of His glory (John 17:5). Paul says that these two acts of Christ represent His victory (and now ours) over the penalty and power of sin. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that Christ sat down (Hebrews 1:4) signifying the finality of His work. That Christ ascended and descended represents the two great bookends of salvation: God has come on earth to war in Christ’s descension and God has won the war in Christ’s ascension.
OCTOBER 13, 2019
The church is an organism meaning that it is designed to grow. The Lord has equipped the church with gifts which, when operating in love and truth, bring about fruitful saints, equipped to demonstrate the life of heaven on earth. This growth is not only to bring about the kingdom of God upon the earth but, to build and strengthen faith. Effective witness of the gospel to the world always follows effective in-reach where advancement in faith, unity and community encourage believers to live out their faith with evident distinction.
EQUIPPERS GIVEN (Ephesians 4:11)
The enthroned and reigning Lord is present among His church through the gifts given for their edification and maturity. The church cannot become like Christ without the proper functioning without these specific four-fold gifting. In our day there has been the emergence of those who call themselves apostles and or prophets. According to the scripture, however, these two gifts are no longer necessary since their purpose was, by the Spirit, to establish the authoritative Word of God (Ephesians 2:20). One can and do act prophetically (speaking boldly the Word of God) and operate in the spirit of an apostle (being sent or commissioned by the church to spread the gospel where it is not known – see Acts 13:1-3). Yet, in each of those instances neither is designated as one who is a prophet or an apostle since no one can add to the foundation – the Word of God (Ephesians 2:20). Another point that challenges those who would be apostles is found in the criteria used in selecting Judas’ replacement which no one in these days could fulfill (Acts 1:21-22). Evangelists (those who are gifted in proclaiming the gospel effectively to the lost), as well as pastors and teachers (those gifted in caring for the saints as well as preaching and defending the gospel) are the gifts that are present within the church today. Apostles and prophets were moved to communicate the Word of God while the evangelists along with the pastor-teacher were given to spread the gospel throughout the world and to guard as well as equip the saints to grow in doctrine and practice.
TO MOVE BELIEVERS FORWARD (Ephesians 4:12-14)
The church is to be mobilized to impact the world with the gospel and this is the purpose of the gifts given in verse 11. Christians are created to move, not sit. They are created for ministry – works of service within and without the church. Those who are gifted to accomplish this must understand they are equipped for God’s glory as well as for the health of the church and not their own fame. Growth is not to be viewed merely in numbers but in the mobilization of the saints in laboring for the advancement of the kingdom of God and unity in the body (Ephesians 4:12). This work of the evangelists, pastors and teachers is not complete until believers are united in faith or doctrine (Ephesians 4:6-7) and evidence Christ likeness in the whole of their lives and relationships (Ephesians 4:13). This goal of Christlikeness can only be achieved in the Spirit, is to be the singular purpose and focus of the leadership of the church. Paul teaches that the measurement of our effectiveness must always be in believers shaped in the fullness of Christ. Internally they are experiencing an ongoing transformation of desire and delight in Christ which enables them to remain strong in devotion to Christ and truth amid the temptations of deceit and false teaching (Ephesians 4:14). The proof of this devotion is seen in the saint not merely imitating Christ but being like Christ in the church and society.
AS A BODY (Ephesians 4:15-16)
One aspect of the Body is that we are united in love – a common love of Christ and for Christ. Yet, love for one another must mark the church’s engagement in community. Deception characterized not only false teaching but also immaturity (Ephesians 4:14). Unity in the body is only preserved by a commitment to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). No one in the church can grow in maturity without genuine, Christ-centered relationship with those in their faith family. Christ will not receive individuals; He will receive His Bride – the whole of the church. For that reason, our desire to grow is to be seen in connection with the growth of those in the church we belong. Paul strengthens this argument saying that growth happens when each part is working properly (Ephesians 4:16). That is, when the present gifts of leadership given by Christ to the church are working properly the Body grows and matures in Christ likeness. This can also be applied to every member in the church. God has gifted all of us for the purposes of being blessings to our local congregations. If we are not operating in our gifts, in love (working properly) we not only are being disobedient but are also in danger of being hindrances to the growth of others within the body.
OCTOBER 20, 2019
The church has been called by one scholar, a contrast society. Distinctions matters. Those born again, changed, and transformed by the sovereign, reigning Lord, have been spiritually uprooted from this earth and empowered with the ethic of heaven. Christians, then, are to live according to the Kingdom of God, ethically contrasting the values, norms and passions of this earthly kingdom. Paul has already laid out the theology of our unity – our unity with Christ and with one another (Ephesians 1-3). Now he is teaching what this unity is to be in life and society. As we study this section of the letter, we should do so asking to answer the question of how we, the church, must live in contrast to this world?
THE OLD (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Paul begins with the warning: I say this and testify in the Lord (Ephesians 4:17). Living distinct from the world is not a small matter. Paul invokes the Lord to heighten the need to heed the instruction that follows. Ephesus was a particularly immoral place and the Gentile believers who came out of that society were more inclined to be enticed and influenced to return to it. Paul says that they should no longer live as the Gentiles live (Ephesians 4:17) in the futility of their thoughts (Ephesians 4:18) and darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:18). This is what used to characterize the morality of the Gentile believers and signified the time when they were excluded from the life of God because of ignorance and the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4:18). Paul is teaching us that immorality begins – in the mind and the heart which informs how we live. To be redeemed and born again is to have our minds impacted by truth. Instead of being captivated and captured by immorality by giving themselves over to promiscuity (Ephesians 4:19) they should be a contrast society - captivated and compelled by the Lord and holiness living contrary to immorality of the culture.
THE CHANGE (Ephesians 4:20-24)
Paul calls the Ephesians to leave the old way of life precisely because they learned in the school of Christ how to live and behave as people quickened by the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:20; Ephesians 2:4-5). Contrary to the ignorance, darkness and futility that once characterized them (Ephesians 4:18), they have been taught truth and should reflect this in their lives. In reality they know better! Paul continues by saying assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him (Ephesians 4:21). The church at Ephesus was like many churches today filled with a mixture of people: those who profess and practice the faith and those who merely profess. The evidence of salvation is not mere profession but the practice of taking off the former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by evil desires (Ephesians 4:22). Daily, in other words, believers should consciously be changing their moral clothing. Though we are saved by grace alone apart from any works (Ephesians 2:8-10) grace is not alone. Saving grace is evidenced by continual growth illustrated by the removal (taking off) of every evidence of the old way of life: in act and or affection. All of this takes place when we are renewed in the spirit of your minds (Ephesians 4:23). When our minds are governed by truth not only will we take off the old, but we will be empowered to put on the new - self (Ephesians 4:24). Believers should never be satisfied with being unlike the world by removing or stopping a certain sin. We should not simply labor to be unlike the world but to be like Christ, actively and consciously putting on the new man created in Christ’s righteousness and purity of the truth (Ephesians 4:24).
THE NEW (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Christians are not lifted out of society but transformed in order to transform. Paul teaches that putting on Christ involves discipline in specifics virtues. First, we must put away lying and speak the truth (Ephesians 5:25). Christians must be known by the contrast of commitment to always being truthful and never deceptive. Next, we must learn the distinction of possessing righteous indignation against sin without being sinful in our emotional response or reactions. We do this by keeping short accounts by addressing issues of anger quickly and, secondly, to keep in mind the enemy’s design to use anger as a weapon to disrupt unity (Ephesians 4:26, 27). Believer must also be diligently industrious, providing for themselves, as opposed to operating in deceit and thievery. Christians should work so that they might be able to demonstrate the grace of giving and sharing, not being lazy or dependent on deceitful means of gain (Ephesians 2:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). Another contrast involves the intention of our speech. Believers should never speak to destroy or to condemn, but with the grace of God to build up and edify (Ephesians 4:29-30). Corrupt speech not only harms others but grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). A final contrast is with respect to attitudes. Christians should live under the truth that, in light of the forgiveness experienced in Christ in spite of our sin, we ought to be characterized by our willingly forgiving sins against us. This must be our internal disposition towards others (Ephesians 4:32) rather than that of bitterness, anger or wrath (Ephesians 4:31).
OCTOBER 27, 2019
WALKING IN LOVE
What would you do for love? This question identifies love as an emotion that every individual stands in need of. While it is true we were made for love I want to pose a different question in light of this section of Ephesians. My revised question is this: What will you do with love? In these verses Paul is telling the church how love looks in practice – with one another, the world and in our personal lives before the Lord. Love is an affection but it is much more than this. It is acting in obedience to the Lord with lives yielded fully to Him for His glory and fame calling darkness to light. The love Paul calls us to is redemptive, showing forth the life of the Lord in the Work of Jesus Christ in our lives as a billboard of His grace. This is why we are called to “Walk in Love.”
IMITATE (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Having called the Ephesians to be people characterized by a heart of forgiveness and to thereby reflect the gospel through their lives, Paul now turns to the heart of forgiveness: love. As Christians we must see the purpose of our lives as being imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1). The word imitate means to mimic – literally to live in a way that resembles the sacrificial nature of the love of God for us in Christ (Ephesians 5:2). The sacrificial nature of God’s love had nothing to do with humanity deserving it or even seeking it. Rather, God chose to love the unlovely because it was what we needed. In the same way, to imitate God in love means that we should not demand, nor require others to warrant love before we give it. Rather, like God, we love in spite of their actions towards us knowing that love is the ethic of the kingdom of God that alone can transform hearts and overcome sin and division. That we are to love sacrificially means that loving like God will hurt. In fact, it may rightly be said that if in loving we do not feel the pain of sacrifice, it may be that we are not loving like God. Loving those who love us is easy, undemanding and without reward (Matthew 5:48). Gospel love is sacrificial because it calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who treat us with spite and shame (Matthew 5:44; Romans 5:8). To imitate God, then, is to pour ourselves out in love for those who give little care to our sacrifice or our Lord seeking their eternal good.
ISOLATE (Ephesians 5:3-7)
Imitation of God’s love means loving God by isolating ourselves from actions and affections that would contradict God’s character. Paul mentions three specific qualities that must not only be dealt but should not even be heard among you, as is proper for saints (Ephesians 5:3). Sexual immorality refers not simply to sex outside of marriage, but sexual perversion of any kind be it physical, cyber, or verbal such as foolish talk and crude joking (Ephesians 5:4). Seemingly out of place is the activity Paul’s calls us to in contrast to sexual perversion – thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). What can be easily missed is that thanksgiving – the continual disposition of being in awe and amazed at the grace of God in our lives, is a significant practice that keeps our minds focused on matters of the kingdom of God and not this world. When I fail to be thankful it is because I have failed to contemplate the wonder of God’s love for me and the danger is that I leave my mind open to the influence of culture and society (being thankful for unworthy things). Paul also mentions greed (the act of coveting) as a heart habit to be slayed (Ephesians 5:3). Greed represents more than a desire for money. Biblically greed is the heart hungry for getting what it wants, when it wants it and how it wants it. In a word, it is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5) - the heart’s worshipful pursuit of something or someone for satisfaction and pleasure. Another key thought to be considered is that Paul teaches that isolation from these vices also requires that we isolate ourselves from those who practice, promote and condone them (Ephesians 5:6,7).
ILLUMINATE (Ephesians 5:8-14)
Isolation is an act of refusing to allow certain vices and people to have no sway or space in our hearts, minds and lives. Yet, Paul is not calling us to live holy in this world by simply rejecting or being isolated from sin and those who promote it. That is one side of the coin, but it is not the whole story. In verse 8-14 Paul calls the church to an active, almost militant, posture towards darkness. We are to walk in the light, consciously and with consistency because in Christ the darkness of sin has been eclipsed and banished by the light of truth and the love of God (Ephesians 5:8). In this way, we are to always seek to know (spiritually discern) in every aspect, decision, relationship, etc., what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:10). Our lives, in imitation of God, must be so distinct from the world that they expose darkness - make it visible – by the light of our lives (Ephesians 5:13). Our lives preach the gospel as we obey the Lord and this obedience will bring light that exposes and awakens the spiritually sleepy (even within the church) to see that the light of God’s character in our lives. The gospel preached with our lives can be used powerfully to open eyes to the beauty, truth and reality of God (Ephesians 5:14, Matthew 5:16).