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Beliefs Matter: It Really Does Make A Difference What We Believe About the One Body – Ephesians 4:4; Romans 12:3-8


* Appreciation to Marvin Bryant

We receive from God’s Word much instruction on HOW we should live and WHAT we should believe.

An example of that is found in Ephesians 4:1-6. Verses 1-3 show us the how: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
3  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Verses 4-6 show us the what: 4  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—
5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Sometimes we might tempted to think we’d like more of the HOW and less of the WHAT. I don’t know which way that may go in your life, but the fact is that God has given us both of them.

In order for us to be a genuine people of God there is a certain life we need to live and also certain belief matters we need to share. Our lifestyle is tremendously important, but in this series we are focusing on the belief matters.

God gives us 7 belief matters that we need to hold on to in order to be a part of God’s true people—these are beliefs that really matter. Today we are going to look at the first one he mentions, the one body, which is a reference to the church.

Every true believer is a part of God’s one church.

(Matthew 16:13-18 NIV)  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” {14} They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” {15} “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” {16} Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” {17} Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. {18} And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The One Body is the church that Jesus built in the 1st century.

Chrisian means “one who belongs to Christ,” and that should be our primary identity as individuals. The primary group identity is that we belong to the one body.

More than any other identity I may have as an individual, I see myself as “Christian.” Church refers to the group of all those who belong to Christ and that should be our primary group identity. More than anything else that gives me identity, I am a Christian, part of the body church.

Secondarily I may be right-handed, good-looking and funny or maybe not. Maybe I’m rich, liberal, democrat, Republican, Lithuanian, basketball player, from Montana or Tennessee, a guitar player, who loves quiche, but all that is secondary to my main identity as a Christian, a part of the church.

Because I am a believer and if you are a believer—we have a unique relationship to all others who are also part of this one body.

Let’s turn to Romans 12 for a few moments. There’s a little verse there that might “get next to you” a little. Some of the things we see in this series are going to “rub us wrong.” They have that tendency in my life, unless I take on a particular mindset. But it’s only fair that if it “bugs” me I ought to inflict some of that one you!

Being a part of God’s one church includes having a unique relationship and connection with everyone else who is a part of this group:

(Romans 12:4-5 NIV)  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, {5} so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Did you notice anything there at “rubs you wrong?”

You’ll notice that the phrase “belongs to all the others” differs from the independent spirit Americans value, but American is not my primary identity—that’s secondary to this.

We have this God-created connection even with people who are different from us and with whom we might not otherwise associate:

(Galatians 3:28 NIV)  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Besides, those identities are secondary:

  •  But this does mean, like it or not, that we have that special connection with those Christians whose secondary identity is Democrat and those whose secondary identity is Republican.
  •  You & I belong to those believers whose secondary identity is liberal & to those whose secondary identity is conservative.
  •  You & I belong to those Christians who also, secondarily, could be described as poor, middle class, or rich.
  •  We are all one & we all belong to each other. Not all of these will meet together in the same worship assembly, due to distance certainly, sometimes due to differing languages & perhaps sometimes due to different cultural matters, but never due to barriers that are secular and fleshly.
  •  But even in circumstance when we don’t all meet together, we are all still a part of the one people of God.

As we continue to go through a list of our oneness with people of all kinds of secondary identities, at some point we may begin to wonder whether all those people are a part of God’s church….or if we can be comfortable in some associations.

It is true, according to Jesus, that not everyone who claims to belong to him really does :

(Matthew 7:21 NIV)  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

There will be times when we will have to come to some conclusions about who is part of the one body. How do we come to those decisions? We let God and His Word tell us! If we should begin a process to add shepherds to the leadership of this congregation, we would want to use God’s definition to make certain they are Christians, wouldn’t we?

While it will never be my place (or yours) to decide on the eternal fate of anyone, we will be called upon from time to time to let God’s word define and clear up some matters as they relate to our ministry here at Parkway or in the community.

According to Jesus, you know by their fruit, the way they live their lives. According to Eph 4, beliefs matter also, at least some certain core beliefs.

As we go about involving people in our various ministries and having fellowship with others, we will sometimes have to make some decisions about whether we think a person in fact is a part of God’s people, but we need to remember those decisions are not definitive. God knows who his people are; we too will often know, although not perfectly.

In this one group of God’s people, not only are we different in that we have a great variety of secondary identities, we are also different in gifts. In this way we are similar to a human body—many parts to our bodies, and each part has a different function. That’s how we are in the body of Christ.

So what? We are all a part of God’s one church, we all belong to each other, even with people who have a secondary identity that’s really different from us, and we all have different gifts/functions. So what? Well, what we really believe about these matters will affect the way we live. It’s easy to say we agree with these truths God has given us about the one body, but the test of whether we really do believe them is how we live our lives, especially how we live them in relation to the other parts of the one body

Some lifestyle matters that test whether we really believe in the One Body.

Attitude toward other members of the One body

(1 Corinthians 12:14-16 NIV)  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. {15} If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {16} And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. (if you believe you are inferior to others in this one body, I am not so certain that you truly believe in the one body of Christ.)

(1 Corinthians 12:21 NIV)  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (if you believe you are superior than someone else in this one body, I am not so certain that you truly believe in the one body of Christ.)

(1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NIV)  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, {25} so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

If you believe in the one body, you know we are equally special and important!

(Romans 12:15 NIV)  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

(1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV)  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

When someone is hurting, to say “don’t cry” or “get over it” contradicts the word of God. To rejoice at someone’s misfortune contradicts the word of God. To be disappointed when someone is blessed or rewarded contradicts the word of God. If we do such things, it calls into question whether we really believe we are all part of the One Body of Christ.

Attitude toward and use of our gift(s) in the One Body.

Respect the diversity of gifts. Don’t insist everyone be like you. Do you have the misshaped idea that everybody ought to be involved in the ministry you are involved in…rather than realizing that we have different interests and talents…and we need all of them!

Don’t seek to have a gift you don’t have for wrong reasons: the ones you may humanly perceive to be more prestigious or powerful or self-gratifying. That’s not what these are about.

Whatever gift or gifts we do have, we are to use them to serve & edify the One Body.

(Romans 12:6-8 NIV)  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. {7} If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; {8} if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

(1 Corinthians 12:7 NIV)  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV)  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

What God has enable us to do is not about me & my gift & making a name for myself; it’s about using the gifts God has entrusted to me for the benefit of others.

Whether we respect the diversity of gifts & use ours for others, indicates whether we believe in the One Body.

If we think “this thing we do called church” is primarily about attendance, I question whether we believe in the One Body.

Love for other members of the One Body.

(1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)  But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

When it comes to my relationships w/ all the other members of the One Body, am I … (vv. 4-7)? Paul is painfully specific about what it means to be “lovers of the one body!” You don’t hear Paul saying “well you have to love them but you don’t have to like them.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)  Love is patient…kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. {5} It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. {6} Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. {7} It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Whether we love all the other members of the body indicates whether we believe in the One Body.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2020 in Church, ephesians

 

Guidelines for parents in developing your child’s self-esteem


  1. low-self-esteem1. Try to improve your own mental health. In dealing with your children, you teach more by      what you are than by what you say. Ask yourself such questions: Since God  accepts me, why can’t I accept myself? Who am I to question God? Since I  forgive others, why can’t I forgive myself? Am I easy to be around? Perhaps there is something in me that is worthwhile.
  2. If you are married, establish a healthy marriage. Unhealthy marriages develop unhealthy patterns of interaction in your home which affect your children. If your family ‘health’ us not the very best, get some help in making it so. It isn’t a sign of weakness to see your own faults and to try to overcome them…rather, it’s a sign of maturity and strength! Weak people try to      avoid such reality.
  3. Provide for your family’s needs: physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual.
  4. Spend much time with your family. You as a parent are often not only busy but tired and need rest yourself. Your children must be a priority, especially while they are young. Eat as many meals as possible (that means sitting down together at one place and talking, sharing, caring). No distractions should normally be allowed.
  5. Teach them proper values. Children will pick up your values; if they see your emphasis for money and prestige, they will value those things, too. If they see you laying up treasures in heaven, they will usually value heaven (Matt. 6:19-21). God, Jesus Christ, church, family, responsibility, and Christian character: what could possibly rate above those things?!
  6. Let your children be children.
  7. Focus upon strengths rather than weaknesses. Be realistic, but recognize strengths. Morris      Rosenberg in Society and the Adolescent Self-Image found that high self-esteem children tend to have mothers who are satisfied with average or below average performance. This mayselfesteem appear to go against the grain, but pushing our children to hard is more harmful. The key: don’t create      unrealistic expectations for them. We should help them overcome setbacks and compete in honest ways. We should provide encouragement and support in all efforts they choose…but keep God, Jesus, and the church first in all things!
  8. Discipline your children with love. Set certain limits and enforce them but don’t over-do it. Be HIGH in love and standards (the model used toward us by God).
  9. Encourage achievement in school: motivate, help, maximize his/her potential, yet accept them for that they are and not for what you wish them to be.
  10. Try to avoid over-protection and dependence.
  11. Explain changes that will occur at puberty.
  12. Forgive them.
  13. Don’t be partial to one child over another. Realize they are different!
  14. Learn to show affection.
  15. Help them to belong.
  16. Help them to develop a strong faith in God, the source of our true value.

Adolescents need attention and they will find a way to get it. It IS easier to get negative attention than positive attention: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Teens often ask “why not” to get you as a parent to change your mind. They really are not wanting to know. They are just wanting you to acquience. You as a parent have a right to say “no” because you are “uncomfortable saying yes.”

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2020 in Encouragement, Family

 

Accepting authority…greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you, it consists in doing things for others…and the greater the service, the greater the honor!


Our world is fast becoming a madhouse, and the inmates are trying to run the asylum. It is a strange time when the patients are writing the prescriptions, the students are threatening to run the schools, the children to manage the homes, and church members—not the Holy Spirit—to direct the churches

The descriptive phrase has long caught my attention: Sons of Thunder. It is the signature title given to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, two of Jesus’ apostles.

They were in the fishing business so they knew what it meant to work long hours. They were able to stay up late, concentrate on a given task, and certainly usually had dirty hands.

But they longed for something more grandeur.

They were quick to follow our Lord when He called them. They were among the inner three (along with Peter), And they were faithful to their calling, dying for the cause of Christ after denying self and living for him in their life.

They revealed their ambition and were taught a valuable lesson following a request likely presented on their behalf by their loving and devoted mother (Matthew 20:17-28): “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

The incident recorded in this section happened while Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem for the last time, journeying via Jericho, from Ephraim in the wilderness.

The ambitious request for the chief places of honor in the kingdom was therefore made little more than a week before their Lord was crucified. How little must they have dreamed what was coming!

Jesus spoke about a cross, but they were interested in a crown. They wanted reserved seats on special thrones! There were several things wrong with their request. To begin with, it was born in ignorance. “Ye know not what ye ask,” Jesus replied. Little did Salome realize that the path to the throne is a difficult one. James was the first of the disciples to be martyred, and John had to endure hard days on the Isle of Patmos. These three believers wanted their will, not God’s will, and they wanted it their way.

Another factor was their lack of heavenly direction. They were thinking like the world: James and John wanted to “lord it over” the other disciples the way the unsaved Gentile rulers lorded it over their subjects. Their request was fleshly (sensual), because they were selfishly asking for glory for themselves, not for the Lord. No doubt they felt relieved that they had gotten to Jesus with this request before Peter did!

Finally, the request was not only of the world and the flesh, but it was of the devil. It was motivated by pride. Satan had sought a throne (Isa. 14:12-15) and had been cast down. Satan had offered Jesus a throne and had been refused (Matt. 4:8-11).

Satan magnifies the end (a throne) but not the means to that end. Jesus warned Salome and her sons that the special thrones were available to those who were worthy of them. There are no shortcuts in the kingdom of God.

The result of this request was “indignation” on the part of the other disciples—probably because they had not thought of it first! The wisdom from above always leads to peace; the wisdom of this world leads to war (James 3:13-4:3). Selfishness will only result in dissension and division.

This disagreement gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a practical lesson on leadership. In His kingdom, we must not follow the examples of the world. Our example is Jesus, not some corporation president or wealthy celebrity. Jesus came as a servant; therefore, we should serve one another. He came to give His life; therefore, we should give our lives in service to Him and others.[1]

William Barclay offers a three-fold observation. It sheds light in three directions. First, it sheds a light on the disciples. It tells us three things about them. It tells us of their ambition. They were still thinking in terms of personal reward and personal distinction; and they were thinking of personal success without personal sacrifice. They wanted Jesus with a royal command to ensure for them a princely life. Every man has to learn that true greatness lies, not in dominance, but in service; and that in every sphere the price of greatness must be paid.

That is on the debit side of the account of the disciples; but there is much on the credit side. There is no incident which so demonstrates their invincible faith in Jesus. Think of when this request was made. It was made after a series of announcements by Jesus that ahead of him lay an inescapable Cross; it was made at a moment when the air was heavy with the atmosphere of tragedy and the sense of foreboding. And yet in spite of that the disciples are thinking of a Kingdom.

It is of immense significance to see that, even in a world in which the dark was coming down, the disciples would not abandon the conviction that the victory belonged to Jesus. In Christianity there must always be this invincible optimism in the moment when things are conspiring to drive a man to despair.

Still further, here is demonstrated the unshakable loyalty of the disciples. Even when they were bluntly told that there lay ahead a bitter cup, it never struck them to turn back; they were determined to drink it. If to conquer with Christ meant to suffer with Christ, they were perfectly willing to face that suffering.

It is easy to condemn the disciples, but the faith and the loyalty which lay behind the ambition must never be forgotten.

Out in the world, said Jesus, it is quite true that the great man is the man who controls others; the man to whose word of command others must leap; the man who with a wave of his hand can have his slightest need supplied. Out in the world there was the Roman governor with his retinue and the eastern potentate with his slaves. The world counts them great. But among my followers service alone is the badge of greatness.

Greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you; it consists in doing things for others; and the greater the service, the greater the honor. Jesus uses a kind of gradation. “If you wish to be great,” he says, “be a servant; if you wish to be first of all be a slave.” Here is the Christian revolution; here is the complete reversal of all the world’s standards. A complete new set of values has been brought into life.

The strange thing is that instinctively the world itself has accepted these standards. The world knows quite well that a good man is a man who serves his fellow-men. The world will respect, and admire, and sometimes fear, the man of power; but it will love the man of love. The doctor who will come out at any time of the day or night to serve and save his patients; the parson who is always on the road amongst his people; the employer who takes an active interest in the lives and troubles of his employees; the person to whom we can go and never be made to feel a nuisance-these are the people whom all men love, and in whom instinctively they see Jesus Christ.

John Fletcher recounted a situation worthy of our consideration, teaching an obvious lesson: One day having offended his father who threatened to correct him, he did not dare to come into his presence but retired into the garden. When he saw him coming toward him, he ran away with all speed. But he was presently struck with deep remorse, and said to himself: “What! Do I run away from my father? Perhaps I shall live to have a son that will run away from me!” And it was several years before the impression which he then received was worn off.

You may have read about the Ohio college graduate who placed a contraceptive on his mortar board as he went forward to get his degree – and had a stuffed parrot on his shoulder.

Now I know a lot of people get a kick out of graduation. But the following Monday this graduate was to report to the Great American Insurance Company in Cincinnati for a $35,000-a-year job as an internal auditor. The following Monday he was summoned to the office and fired for showing “a total disrespect for authority.” Out of control. [2]

When Toyohiko Kagawa first came into contact with Christ-ianity, he felt its fascination, until one day the cry burst from him: “O God, make me like Christ.” To be like Christ he went to live in the slums, even though he himself was suffering from tuberculosis. It seemed the last place on earth to which a man in his condition should have gone.

Cecil Northcott in Famous Life Decisions tells of what Kagawa did. He went to live in a six foot by six hut in a Tokyo slum. “On his first night he was asked to share his bed with a man suffering from contagious itch. That was a test of his faith. Would he go back on his point of no return? No. He welcomed his bed-fellow. Then a beggar asked for his shirt and got it. Next day he was back for Kagawa’s coat and trousers, and got them too. Kagawa was left standing in a ragged old kimono. The slum dwellers of Tokyo laughed at him, but they came to respect him. He stood in the driving rain to preach, coughing all the time. ‘God is love,’ he shouted. ‘God is love. Where love is, there is God.’ He often fell down exhausted, and the rough men of the slums carried him gently back to his hut.”

Kagawa himself wrote: “God dwells among the lowliest of men. He sits on the dust heap among the prison convicts. He stands with the juvenile delinquents. He is there with the beggars. He is among the sick, he stands with the unemployed. Therefore let him who would meet God visit the prison cell before going to the temple. Before he goes to Church let him visit the hospital. Before he reads his Bible let him help the beggar.”

Therein is greatness. The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant. His assessment is quite simply-how many people has he helped? [3]

Colin Urquhart understood that if you accept the authority of Jesus in your life, then you accept the authority of his words.

Self-chosen authority is an impertinence. Jesus said that the great ones in this world exercise authority but that in his kingdom it is not so; no one exercises authority over another because in his kingdom the king is servant of all. If a saint tries to exercise authority, it is a proof that he is not rightly related to Jesus Christ. [4]

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Be Series…Matthew.

[2] Ben Haden, Changed Lives

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew.

[4] Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

 

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2020 in Encouragement

 

What is our greatest need?


If you’re sick, you may think, “My greatest need is to be healed of this illness.” If you’re unemployed, you may think, “My greatest need is to get a good job to provide for my needs.”

If you’re single, you may think, “My greatest need is for a mate.” If you’re in a difficult marriage, you may think, “My greatest need is for harmony in my marriage.” If you have a child who has become ensnared by drug abuse, you may think that your greatest need is for your child to be free from this addiction.

While all of these are important needs, none of them are your greatest need. The greatest need of every person, whether he recognizes it or not, is to have God forgive his sins before he dies and faces God’s eternal punishment.

        Mark 2:1-12 (ESV)
1  And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
3  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
4  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
5  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
7  “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
9  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
10  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—
11  “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
12  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Mark encourages us to notice the crowd in this house, or the four men who cared enough about this man to go to a lot of trouble.

What did Jesus see? NOT a man with physical ailments, BUT someone who needed his sins forgiven!

Don’t miss this point! Our greatest need? Forgiveness of sins.

Health, adequate money, and a happy family are wonderful blessings, but if you die without God’s forgiveness, these blessings will be useless. Your greatest need is to know that God has forgiven your sins and that you are reconciled to the holy Judge of the universe.

The subject of knowing and experiencing God’s forgiveness of our sins is so important that the enemy of our souls has worked overtime to sow seeds of confusion and error. Our modern pagan society often deals with the problem of guilt by telling us that we don’t need to worry about it.

In other words, since guilt doesn’t make me feel good about myself (which is my aim in life), when my conscience condemns me, tell it to take a hike. Rather than being ashamed about our sins, we now celebrate them under the guise of being “true” to ourselves.

Another ploy of the devil is to get us to invent a god who is not perfectly holy and to view ourselves as basically good people. This god is tolerant and loving. He couldn’t possibly condemn a nice person like me!

Of course, I’m not perfect, but compared to terrorists who blow up innocent women and children and perverts who abuse little children, I’m not so bad. So I can excuse my relatively “minor faults” and dismiss my need for God’s forgiveness.

Satan also sows confusion about God’s forgiveness under the guise of religion. All of the world’s non-Christian religions, some branches of Christianity, and all of the cults that claim to be Christian teach that we must do something—fasting, prayer, penance, self-denial, good works—to help pay for our sins and to earn God’s favor. Often religious people base their hope of forgiveness on the fact that they have faithfully performed certain religious rituals for many years.

Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)
3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
5  he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
6  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
8  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
9  making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
10  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
13  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  14  who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Paul is saying, In Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the abundant forgiveness of all our sins.

re·demp·tion   [ri- demp-sh uhn] NOUN

  1. an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
  2. deliverance; rescue.
  3. Theology. deliverance from sin; salvation.
  4. atonement for guilt.
  1. repurchase, as of something sold.

Before we consider the meaning of Paul’s words here, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of these truths for your life. If you try to seek God’s forgiveness in any way other than what Paul here states, you will waste your time and endanger your soul.

If your hope of heaven rests on anything that you must do to earn it, you will hear, “I never knew you; depart from Me” on that great day. If, as a Christian, you do not understand and live daily in light of the truths that Paul here sets forth, you will not grow in godliness. You will be defeated by sin and guilt. So these truths are vital for a healthy Christian walk.

In Christ we can have redemption.

So, if you lack redemption or forgiveness of your sins, you will not find it anywhere except in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

REDEMPTION MEANS THAT CHRIST PAID THE PRICE TO FREE US FROM THE PENALTY AND POWER OF SIN.

We use words such as “redeemer” or “redemption” as religious terms. But when the man of the first century heard them he immediately thought in non-religious terms.” It brought to mind the common picture of a slave being purchased and then set free. Redemption meant release from bondage by the payment of a price. Every Gentile in the Roman world would have thought of this when he heard the word, “redemption.”

The word also has roots in the Old Testament, which refers to a “kinsman-redeemer.” For example, in the Book of Ruth, Naomi’s family property, due to debt, had fallen into other hands. Because she had lost her husband, she could not afford to recover it. Boaz was a near relative who had the right to redeem the property by paying the price, which he did.

In other Old Testament contexts, God is seen as the one who redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exod. 6:6). As you know, the Jews had to put the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their homes. It was a picture of our redemption through the blood of Christ.

Paul uses the word in a spiritual sense to refer to Christ’s paying the price of our sin by His sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf. We were helplessly, hopelessly enslaved to sin and under God’s just condemnation. But with His own blood Christ paid the penalty to release us from bondage. We now belong to Him.

Implicit in the biblical doctrine of redemption is that God did something for us that we could not do for ourselves. We were enslaved to sin and had no power or means to free ourselves. God did not need our help in paying the price. In fact, it is an insult to Christ if we think that we can add anything of our own to the great price that He paid.

If someone offered you a gift that was worth thousands of dollars and you reached in your pocket to give him a penny to pay for it, you would insult him. Jesus graciously paid it all. We can do nothing except to receive His gift and then live every day in light of what He so graciously and generously did for us.

WE CAN KNOW AND ENJOY OUR REDEMPTION RIGHT NOW.

Paul does not say, “In Him, someday we hope to be redeemed.” Nor does he say, “We’re working at obtaining redemption, but we don’t know yet if we’ll get it until we see whether our good works tip the scale.” Rather, he says, “In Him, we have redemption.” It is our current possession and experience.

Knowing that should fill us with joy and gratitude and love for Christ. It should remove any fear of judgment and fill us with hope beyond the grave. It should motivate us to be holy. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as the payment for your sins, God wants you to know and enjoy the fact that He has redeemed you from bondage to sin.

So the issue is, either you trust in what Jesus Christ did on the cross as the full payment for your sins, or when you stand before God at the judgment, you must pay for your sins through eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

There will be no second chance (Heb. 9:27). That is why making sure that you have redemption through the blood of Jesus is your greatest need! Paul goes on to elaborate on what such redemption means:

Redemption through Christ’s blood is according to the riches of God’s grace, which He lavished on us.

The word “lavished” may be illustrated by ocean waves. They just keep coming and coming and coming. They never stop. God’s forgiveness is like that for those who are redeemed through the blood of Jesus. If you have trusted Christ as your sin-bearer, and responded to Him through faith that culminates with an immersion in water in order to have sins forgiven, Paul wants you to experience the extravagant, lavish undeserved favor of God in forgiving all of your sins.

We sometimes sing the old hymn, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Either that’s true or it’s not. If the blood of Jesus does not wash away all of our sins completely, then we’re all in a lot of trouble, because we all have a lot of sins to deal with.

If it only atones for minor sins, what good is that? “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.” Thank God that is true! Cling to it and live it each and every day!

Exodus 34:6-7 (ESV)
6  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 (MSG)
6  GOD passed in front of him and called out, “GOD, GOD, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—
7  loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. Still, he doesn’t ignore sin. He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.”

We read and quote John 3:16 (ESV) all the time: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

But we also need to take to heart verse 17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

———————————–

When A. J. Gordon was minister of a church in Boston, he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously. Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”

The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”

Gordon offered to buy them, and the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well.”

Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”

The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and to save the lost—paying for them with His own precious blood. “That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!”

 

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Sermon

 

A Turtle on the Fence Post Ephesians 2:1-10 


If someone handed you a couple of pills and said, “Swallow these,” would you do it? Not likely. However, if you were in a medical office and the person speaking was a doctor who had just told you that you would die unless you took the pills, you would be more likely to do so. 

Sometimes you have to know how bad the bad news is before you can appreciate the good news. Paul tells us how bad the bad news is: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

This is God’s spiritual evaluation of one outside of Christ.

Dead. Not sick, not dying, not having an off day— dead. What can dead people do to help themselves? Not much . . . in fact, absolutely nothing. That is why God, in his mercy, had to reach out to us in his unfathomable love: a love that would sacrifice his only Son for us.

God has given us our diagnosis. Have you understood it? He has also given you the remedy.

The root meaning of “transgressions” suggests a fall or lapse, while the root meaning of “sins” implies an innate state of corruption. Both words reveal people’s inability to please God and live as they should. The plural of both words further emphasizes the natural tendency of humans to continue in sin. Unbelievers’ constant sin and rebellion against God portray their spiritual death.

2:2 You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. NLT

Paul described three marks of unbelievers:

  1. They lived like the rest of the world. This refers to the world’s accepted, but immoral, lifestyles and godless motives. Jesus warned his followers: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” ( John 15:18-19).
  1. They followed the mighty prince of the power of the air. This prince is Satan. The passage focuses on Satan’s reality as an evil power with a certain amount of control in the world. The Bible pictures Satan as ruling an evil spiritual kingdom—the demons and those who are against Christ.
  1. They were enslaved to “gratifying the cravings of [the] flesh” ( 2:3). This is the third mark of unbelievers, described in the following verse.

2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us. NKJV

16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Behind those two words lies a cosmic plan so huge in scope and so vast in love that the human mind cannot fully comprehend it—all we can do is humbly receive it. Instead of leaving sinful humanity to live worthless and hopeless lives ending only in death, God acted. How God acted and why He acted is explained in this verse and in 2:7.

God acted on behalf of humanity because he is rich in mercy.

What is “mercy”? The word has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed. Mercy was seen as a basic attribute of God, sometimes called “lovingkindness” or “compassion.” This word describes the outworking of God’s love toward people and is shown in his lovingkindness toward them even though they do not deserve it ( Psalm 51:1; Jeremiah 9:24; Hosea 2:19; Jonah 4:2).

God not giving us what we deserve. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.

God also acted on behalf of humanity because of His great love. The Greek word for love, agape, is used. It means the selfless love that seeks the best for others. While God could have simply destroyed all people because of their sin, he chose instead to show mercy and love.

Sinful people cannot even approach the holy God, but God extended his love to them, knowing that only he could give salvation to them. Such love is “great” and beyond human understanding.

This love was directed toward us, meaning Jews and Gentiles alike. God’s riches of grace, mercy, and love were meant for all kinds of people from the beginning—Jews and Gentiles—and all people are offered salvation and life in Christ.

2:6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. NIV In addition to being “made alive” ( 2:5), believers are also raised . . . up with Christ. Christ was raised from death and left the tomb—an act accomplished by God’s power alone, as Paul explained in 1:20. Believers have also been “raised.”

We conduct this new life in obedience to God, and thus it is totally different from the life the world offers. As Christ was raised from physical death, believers too are raised from spiritual death to an entirely new kind of life. Believers will experience physical death, but we are assured of resurrection from that death and eternal life with God.

Finally, believers are seated . . . with him in the heavenly realms. Christ has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father, indicating his finished work and his victory over sin. Christ has been exalted by God’s great power ( 1:20). Christians have tended to see this seating with Christ as a future event, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 as well as other verses that point to our future reign with Christ (such as 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:4; 22:5). Yet Ephesians teaches that we are seated with Christ now. We share with Christ in his victory now. This view of our present status should help us face our work and trials with greater hope! Believers, as heirs of the kingdom along with Christ, are spiritually exalted from the moment of salvation. We have a new citizenship—in heaven, no longer just on earth: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 3:20 nkjv). The power that raised and exalted Christ also raised and exalted his people. That same power works daily in believers, helping us live and work for God during our time in the world.

Being made alive, being raised, and being seated in heaven occurs in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus was the forerunner—without his sacrifice for our sins, his resurrection, and his exaltation, humanity would still be without hope. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know that our bodies will also be raised from the dead ( 1 Corinthians 15:12-23). Our eternal life with Christ is certain because we are united in his powerful victory. We have been given the power to live as Christians now ( 1:19), not in conformity to the world and its standards, but in obedience to God ( Romans 12:2). This metaphor pictures God sharing his glory and victory with his people, giving them the privilege and authority of shared kingship. Believers can claim their royal status now, for they are children of the King!

2:7 That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. NKJV Here is the final and definitive reason for God’s action on behalf of humanity, his reason for making us alive, raising us, and seating us along with his Son in the heavenly realms. God wants quite simply to show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us. The Greek word for “show” (or “show forth”) comes from legal terminology. God closes the case by presenting the astounding evidence of his church, his people. The church could only exist by God’s love; the fact of its existence, the fact that people have been offered salvation, reveals the abundance of God’s grace and kindness (see also 1:7; 2:4). Again, this was accomplished only in Christ Jesus. Without Christ’s sacrifice, there would be no hope for a relationship with God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” ( John 3:16 nkjv). The result? Eternal praise from those whom he has saved (see 1:6, 12, 14).

To whom does God “show” this? Obviously the believers are experiencing God’s grace and kindness. But the believers, the church, show God’s grace and kindness to an unbelieving world. The phrase “in the ages to come” refers to future ages on earth. Throughout history, God will continually demonstrate his work. As time goes by, his grace will be fully shown.

There is an expression: “When you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself.” It’s obvious that someone had to put the turtle up there. In a very real sense, Christians are turtles sitting atop fence posts, put there by the grace of God.

It’s as if someone asked God, “How can I be sure you’re as loving and gracious as you say you are?” His response is simply to display the church—flawed, sinful, capable of stupidity and faithlessness—as Exhibit A, demonstrating his infinite patience and mercy.

How else would a group of such obviously fallen men and women get together and do anything for the glory of God?

Who else but God would use people like us? You are a display case for the grace of God. Demonstrate his great kindness to you by sharing it with others. Use his patience with you to witness to others.

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. NKJV Elaborating on the statement in 2:5, this verse repeats that it is by grace that anyone is saved. Salvation includes being made alive, raised, and seated with Christ as described in 2:5-6, and that occurs only because of God’s kindness toward undeserving people. “Grace” refers to the multifaceted gift that God makes available to us despite our unworthiness. Not only does God mercifully withhold the judgment and punishment that we so clearly deserve, he grants instead the almost unbelievable gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. God’s grace requires faith because the moral and legal case against us leads to an inevitable verdict—guilty. “Grace” means the forgiveness of our sins. It cannot be earned by works or by any goodness in us. It is free and undeserved favor on us by Christ’s faithful act of redemption.

Our salvation comes from God’s grace alone. “Through faith” could refer to: (1) God’s faithfulness to his promises, (2) Christ’s faithfulness in his obedience to God by dying on the cross, or (3) people’s faith in accepting salvation. In light of Paul’s references to the Ephesians’ faith in 1:1 and 15, he most likely meant “faith” to refer to people’s faith (#3 above). The way people obtain salvation is through faith—simple acceptance of God’s gift of salvation (see also Romans 3:22, 25; Galatians 2:16).

And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. NKJV Lest anyone should think that “faith” is a necessary work that people must perform in order to receive salvation, Paul added this phrase. It is unclear whether that refers back to “saved,” “faith,” or to the previous section. It is most likely that Paul is referring back to his entire explanation of salvation in 2:4-8, thus including “saved” and “faith” in his one word “that.” Thus, “faith” is also a gift. In any case, Paul is firm that absolutely nothing is of our own doing (not of yourselves)—not salvation, not grace, not even the faith exercised to receive salvation—everything is the gift of God. Salvation does not come from our self-reliance or individualism but from God’s initiative. It is a gift to be thankfully accepted (see Romans 3:24-28; 1 Corinthians 1:29-31; Galatians 2:16).

William Temple: The only thing that a man can contribute to his redemption is the sin from which he needs to be redeemed.

2:9 Not of works, lest anyone should boast. NKJV Salvation is “not of yourselves” ( 2:8), and it is not of works. In other words, people can do nothing to earn salvation, and a person’s faith itself also is not to be considered a “work” or grounds that anyone should boast.

People find it difficult to accept something so free, so willingly given, so available to anyone. We want to feel as though we did something, that we somehow earned our salvation by our merit. That was how the Judaizers (false teachers who said Christians had to obey all the Jewish laws) regarded their laws and why they tried to impose them on the Gentiles—there had to be a certain amount of law keeping and goodness on people’s part in order for them to receive salvation. But Paul’s words are unmistakable—if salvation is by God’s grace and is accepted through faith, then it is “not of works.” If salvation could be earned by good works, then people would, by nature, “boast” about their good works, compare the goodness of their works to others’ good works, and do good only to boast about it. Then, what would be “good enough” for salvation?

But no one could ever be good enough to please a holy God. He casts aside all human effort and pride by offering salvation for free to all people by simple acceptance. People are given salvation on the grounds of God’s grace alone.

2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV But wait, there’s more. We are God’s workmanship (work of art, masterpiece, new creation). Salvation is something only God can do—it is his powerful, creative work in us. People are re-created into new people, and those new people form a new creation—the church.

Why would God do it? Why would he sacrifice his only Son for sinners like us?

Ephesians 2:10 gives one reason: so that we could be living, breathing pictures of his grace and mercy. Not only does he change us radically into new creatures, he also wants to use us as display cases for his artistry.

According to this verse, believers are his workmanship, his masterpieces. That would be an arrogant claim to make about ourselves if God hadn’t already said it.

This statement also carries some significant implications about how we ought to see ourselves and how we ought to treat one another. God’s masterpieces should not lower or degrade themselves with sinful attitudes, words, or behaviors. Nor should we devalue his other works of art: our brothers and sisters in Christ. Treat fellow Christians as God’s masterpieces.

Out of gratitude for this free gift, however, believers will seek “to do good works”—to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness. While no action or work we do can help us obtain salvation, God’s intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.

We are saved not merely for our own benefit but to serve Christ and build up the church ( 4:12). This solves the so-called conflict between faith and works. Works do not produce salvation but are the evidence of salvation.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2020 in Church, ephesians

 

“Does It Really Matter What One Believes” Ephesians 4:1-6


*Appreciation to Marvin Bryant for many great thoughts…

A few years ago a man and woman in Long Beach, California stopped and bought some fried chicken for a picnic. When the clerk took their money she somehow, mindlessly, enclosed a large stack of the cash register’s money in with their food. When they arrived at the picnic spot and found the money, the man instantly said they had to return it, which they did.

The frantic manager was thrilled to meet someone of such honesty. He wanted to call the newspaper and have the man’s picture and story printed. The man refused, which is even more impressive as long as you think it was due to his humility. But the story turns sour when you find out the reason he didn’t want to call the newspaper is that the woman he was picnicking with wasn’t his wife but was in fact someone else’s.

That sick feeling you have right now is why we need to be genuine as God’s people…this “thing” we’re doing here is not about ritual or numbers, but we’re seeking to be a church that belongs to Christ…individuals who want a high moral standard that includes lifestyle, attitudes & beliefs.

From the front page of some website:

“…is part of a fellowship of independent congregations known as the churches of Christ, with roots in the Restoration Movement. We seek to shed our individual differences and unite on the simple truths of the New Testament. We are far from accomplishing this ideal, but we do seek to follow God’s word in an open and authentic way.
   “We are not a perfect church. We are a church where imperfect people can connect with a perfect God, where people can grow together, learn together, and serve together. We are each unique members of Christ’s body, using the gifts His Spirit provides to build each other up, lift up Jesus Christ in this community, and reach the world with the Good News! We’d love for you to join with us on this journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”

 Beliefs matter.  Jesus confronted the Sadducees regarding their disbelief on the subject of the resurrection in  Matthew 22. He stopped their ‘trap’ but he also exposed the error of their belief.

When Apollos began to preach the word of God in Acts 18-19, he was “off” on the subject of baptism and it was corrected.

We are to use wisdom and grace in building people up and bringing people into the “way of the Lord more perfectly” (Acts 18:24-28; Col. 4:5-6; Eph. 4:29).

(Acts 18:24-28)  Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. {25} He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. {26} He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. {27} When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. {28} For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) 5  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
6  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) 29  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Which beliefs matter? Is it what the elders offer as “official church policy?” Do you have to follow lock-step with everything the preacher or favorite Bible class teacher presents? Of course not!

We will have our own ideas about many subjects, but on some subjects there can be no real discussion, if it fits in the area of God’s Word and it is clearly given by direct command, necessary inference, or is based upon the teaching in the 1st century of the apostles of Christ.

Right doctrine is essential to right living. It is impossible to live a faithful Christian life without knowing biblical doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching, and there is no way that even the most sincere believer can live a life pleasing to God without knowing what God Himself is like and knowing the sort of life God wants him to live.

When people say, “Don’t talk to me about doctrine—just let me live my Christian life!” they are revealing their ignorance of the way the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer.

“It makes no difference what you believe, just as long as you live right” is a similar confession of ignorance. It does make a difference what you believe, because what you believe determines how you behave!

The main idea in these first sixteen verses is the unity of believers in Christ. This is simply the practical application of the doctrine taught in the first half of the letter: God is building a body, a temple. He has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to Himself in Christ. The oneness of believers in Christ is already a spiritual reality. Our responsibility is to guard, protect, and preserve that unity.

Most denominational members would be surprised to discover that their chosen religious affiliation is less than 500 years old. Many people assume that the church of which they are members is ancient in origin, divinely ordained, and a part of the church revealed in the New Testament.

It doesn’t always occur to them that there were no denominations in New Testament days. When the church was established in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, there was one church with Christ as the head and the apostles as pillars of faith as they did exactly what Jesus had trained them to do.

That church was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence. The kingdom came with power (Mark 9:1) when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 1:8).

The gospel was preached, sinners responded to that resurrected Savior, they repented, they were immersed in water for remission of sins, and they began the Christian walk.

How simple! And how tragic today that so many have changed that simple beginning with their own ideas and teachings. How thrilling it is to find people in the Ukraine (for instance) who were given Bibles in years past and began reading it and with little or no help from outside teachers, became New Testament Christian and began worshipping in ways God approved through the apostles and first century Christians.

 At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

Jesus prayed that His followers would be united (Jn. 17:21-23).

(John 17:20-23)  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 Those who cause factions are to be rejected

(Titus 3:10)  Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.

Men who cause dissensions are to be avoided

(Romans 16:17)  I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

Tim Stafford (OCC professor) tells of a minister who used a jar full of beans in teaching. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar, and on a big pad of paper writes down their estimates. Then, next to those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he reveals the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see which estimate was closest to being right.

He then turns to the list of their favorite songs. “And which one of these is closest to being right?” he asks. The students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste. And the teacher agrees.

But then he asks, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, and amazingly, he gets the same answer, from old as well as young: they say choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song than knowing the # of beans in the jar.

IF that is true, then what we believe has more to do with what we like or what we will not accept. The issue of God’s authority is taken out of the equation!

One of the main reasons that cults in our day have had such an impact on the world is their unity. Disharmony is not tolerated. Though misguided, misused, and often totalitarian, such unity is attractive to many people who are tired of religious uncertainty, ambiguity, and confusion.

Few of us who have attended church for a number of years have not been in or known of a congregation where there was a split or at least serious quarreling. The problem has existed in the church from New Testament times. The Corinthian believers fell short of the Lord’s standards in many ways, and the first thing for which Paul called them to task was quarreling.

Quarrels are a part of life. We grow up in them and around them. Infants are quick to express displeasure when they are not given something they want or when something they like is taken away. Little children cry, fight, and throw tantrums because they cannot have their own ways.

(James 4:1-2)  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? {2} You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.).

What the Lord laments and opposes, Satan applauds and fosters. Few things demoralize, discourage, and weaken a church as much as bickering, backbiting, and fighting among its members. And few things so effectively undermine its testimony before the world.

The church we see in the New Testament was planned (Eph. 3:10-11), prophesied (Isaiah 2:2-3), prepared (Matt. 3:1-2), and promised (Matt. 16:18) before it existence.

At Pentecost, every person obeyed the same gospel, became members of the same body, and ultimately wore the same name.

God is much more desirous of people being saved, than of their being condemned

(Ezekiel 18:23)  Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

 (John 3:17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Church, Doctrine, ephesians

 

Living Outside the Camp Hebrews 13:9-16


“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. {10} We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. {11} The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. {12} And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. {13} Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. {14} For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. {15} Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name. {16} And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:9-16

Keep these thoughts in mind when you talk to our young people, who are hearing that they should ‘never be in a position to feel uncomfortable.’

There are alarm­ing signs in our fellowship which raise questions about our ability to survive as a community of faith. Congrega­tions should be disturbed at the attrition rate of young people. We should also be concerned with the long-range effects of the diminishing influence of religion in our society on the survivial of the church. [1]

The seriousness of these problems became especially are apparent when we look at small churches in the nation’s largest cities. Many of the adult members were transplanted from smaller cities which were far less secularized than their new home. They were never really “at home” in the city, but the church was one place where they felt comfortable.

Their children, however, had quite a different experi­ence. They had few memories of life anywhere else. They had grown up in this very secular environment. And by the time they became teen­agers, they recognized that their religious life made them very different from their peers. They held beliefs that were largely unintelligible to their friends, and they were expected to main­tain a lifestyle and a set of moral standards that were radically different from others. This sense of being different—of belonging to this “strange sect”—threatened their Christian identity.

I do not recall seeing anyone give up the faith because intellectual problems became too un­bearable. They did not drop out because they had examined the evidence for Christianity and found it unbelievable. But I did see several young Christians struggling to hold a set of beliefs which “no one believes anymore.” Unfortunately, in too many instances it was a losing struggle.

I mention this not because it demonstrates the hopeless spiritual condition of some Ameri­can cities. I mention it because it describes a con­dition in which we may all find ourselves. Many of us recall when it was easier to keep the faith because religion was more popular than it is today. The people in our neighborhood went to church on Sunday morning as we did. Christian moral standards were understood and appreci­ated. References to the importance of religious faith were often made in school and by govern­ment officials. This popularity of religious com­mitment served as a prop to help us survive. Survival was never very difficult where religion was socially acceptable.

AN ASSAULT ON CHRISTIAN VALUES  — But most of these props have been removed, and secularization characterizes major Ameri­can cities. The media consistently undermine Christian values. We wonder whether the wave of bizarre sexual relationships portrayed in the movies is creating a new set of values or simply reflecting the prevailing standards of our soci­ety. At any rate, it portrays a style of life that is an assault on Christian values.

We may begin to believe that the lifestyle on the screen is normal behavior. When we see a standard of sexual behavior where fidelity is considered a thing of the past, we may begin to question our own beliefs. The effect of constant exposure to these assaults on Christian values leaves us vulner­able and wondering if we are out of step with the rest of the world.

Sociologists report that much of what we believe and know comes from society around us, not from our own investigation and analysis. From earliest childhood we come to believe cer­tain things about the world because “everyone knows it is that way.” We believe them because it seems silly to question what everyone knows is true. If you hold to a point of view that is largely unacceptable to the larger group, you begin to question any view that is contrary to “what everyone knows.”

One of the gravest threats to the survival of the church, I believe, is not that some new piece of scientific evidence will shatter our convic­tions. It is the experience of holding to a set of views that are unacceptable to the majority of the people. Like the psalmist, we may be asking, “How do you sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Do we have a strategy for survival?

We can learn from another minority group which faced these same problems centuries ago. The early church never enjoyed the props of respectability and social acceptability. The proc­lamation of a crucified Savior was “folly” to the majority of the people of that time. Early Chris­tianity took its shape at a time when the Chris­tians were not to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).

The readers of Hebrews never knew the props of respectability and acceptabil­ity. Their situation was more extreme than our own. They faced persecution and suffering (10:32). Apparently, this situation of being “out­side” public acceptability led some of the mem­bers to give up the faith because some had ceased to attend the worship. The author told the entire church that they needed endurance, and he gave them a strategy for survival.

JESUS DIED OUTSIDE THE CAMP  — In 13:12 the author reminds his people that Christianity did not begin with the protective arm of public acceptance. Jesus never received any medals as “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” in Jerusalem. There was no “eternal flame” for Jesus at the Jerusalem National Cemetery. There was no state funeral, nor any kind words from a chief of state. The author reminds his readers that Jesus died “outside the camp” at Jerusalem.

Jesus died at a place “near the city” (John 19:20) where criminals were executed. No expe­rience could have been further from public ac­ceptance. The author states that Jesus endured shame (12:2) in His crucifixion.

People trained in the Jewish tradition recall that the remains of the animals which had been sacrificed were burned outside the camp (Leviticus 16:27), and that those who burned them also became unclean. “Every­one knew” that Jesus had died a shameful death.

Early Christians were probably uneasy about declaring that their Savior had died on a cross because it was the ancient equivalent of the elec­tric chair. “Everyone knew” that good men did not die on crosses.

Paul said, “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The story of a crucified Savior was “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

George McDonald wrote in Only One Way Left: “I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmanship is about.”

 “LET US GO OUT TO HIM, BEARING HIS REPROACH”  — If Jesus died “outside the camp” of respect­ability, it would be absurd to imagine that the Christian would be spared the experience of sharing His fate. The life of faith has always involved bearing reproach (11:26) for the sake of Christ. Jesus said that each of us must “take up his cross” (Mark 8:34).

The readers of Hebrews had already suffered on account of the faith: (Hebrews 10:32-34)  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. {33} Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. {34} You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

The striking thing about the advice in 13:13 is the reminder that our legitimate place is outside the camp. Christ is our pioneer who calls us to fol­low Him to the cross. When our lifestyle weds us too closely to prevailing standards, we have not accompanied our pioneer “outside the camp.”

There is no other strategy but to follow Jesus “outside the camp.” If we were to decide that the appropriate thing to do is reflect the values of our society, we would discover that the church would be offering nothing which could not be found elsewhere. A church that chose always to be “inside the camp” of public acceptance would not survive. It would have no word to offer.

We are not asked to be alone! We have a com­munity that nurtures and supports our Chris­tian values. When we worship and study to­gether, we encourage each other (3:13; 10:25) and provide the help that allows us to survive. It may be difficult to maintain our beliefs if we must maintain them alone. But we do not have to survive alone because we go “outside the camp” together.

“WE SEEK THE CITY WHICH IS TO COME”  — If all of our efforts to keep the faith were certain to come to nothing, we certainly would never survive. Nothing is more futile than a lost cause.

Viktor Frankl, a physician who spent years in a Nazi concentration camp, said, “We can bear almost any ‘how’ if only we have a ‘why.’” We need to know that something lies beyond our suffering. Frankl describes his own battle for survival in Man’s Search for Meaning. The hope that the concentration camp was not the end gave him the will to survive. The glimmer of hope that he might outlive the terror and con­tinue his research helped him survive. If a goal is at the end of our struggles, we can endure almost anything. If we are sacrificing for a lost cause, though, we will not endure long.

The world’s values might lead us to believe that the things of life are within our culture and the standards of the day. But we can go outside the camp of this culture because we know that the really “abiding city” is not here at all. The lost cause is the standard of our society that looks inviting. Thus Christians share the loneliness of Jesus because His cause is not lost.

We do have a strategy for survival. It does not include accepting the lifestyle and values that are constantly placed before our eyes. We will be able to survive by being “outside the camp.” And by going “outside the camp” to­gether we can support each other along the way.

[1] Appreciation is given to Dr. James Thompson for his writing on this issue.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Encouragement

 
 
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