Thursday, June 23, 2016

We have access - Ephesians 2:17-19

"And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near: for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." (Ephesians 2:17-19)
Jesus came to preach a Gospel that was not for the Jews only, but for all who would receive it; the Jews being those who were near and the Gentiles being those who were far away. In Christ, all distinctions vanish. There are none who are more chosen than others. All prior preferences, privileges, and blessings that resided with the Jew are now freely distributed upon all people. Paul writes, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:28-29) Previously, only the Jews enjoyed the promises and blessing of being decedents of Abraham, but now, all who believe are his descendants and inheritors of all the promises made to him by God.

Jesus did not come to call us to become Jews or to become Jewish, He came to make us all, both Jew and Gentile, one in Christ and one body before God. What matters is not who we are, Jew or Gentile, what matters is whose we are, that we are sons and daughters of God. We are no longer known by our natural ancestry and our birth according to the flesh, but we are know by our adoption by our heavenly Father. Paul writes, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) Where once we were of the household of men, we are now of the household of God and brothers and sisters with all who believe.

Where previously, the admission price to fellowship with the Father was the Law, now, though Jesus, we all have free access to Him; not by keeping the law, but through faith in Jesus. Those who had the Law failed to keep it and those who were without the Law were lost in their ignorance and sin, but now, a new way has opened up for us to approach and know the Father. The writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22) All other means and mode are to be abandoned that we might truly know the Father throuh the way He has made for us through Christ. Therefore, let us cast off every vestiage of Law and leagaism that we might know the Father in truth, liberty, and freedom.

David Robison

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We've been brought near - Ephesians 2:13-16

"But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Previously, God had a chosen people, the Israelites, to whom He revealed His law, sent His prophets, and ordained some of them as priests unto God. It was through them that the revelation of the one true God was preserved throughout the generations; starting with Abraham and continuing down to those who lived in Jesus' day. They were a nation among whom God dwelt in His tabernacle and, later, His temple. They were near to God and God was near to them. How different was their existence when compared to that of the gentiles who lived without prophets, the revealed law of God, and were separated from the very presence of God. However, all that changed with the coming of Jesus.

What Jew and Gentile alike failed to understand was that, one day, there would be no chosen people, no privileged nation, for in that day, all would be chosen, all would be brought near, and all would be invited to enjoy the privileges of a heavenly citizenship through Jesus Christ. Even those who were far off, separated from the commonwealth of God, and alienated from God have been invited to come near and be reconciled to God.

When speaking of the enmity that separated us, I do not believe that Paul was speaking of a divide between Jew and Gentile, but a divide between Jew, Gentile, and God. The Law in commandments and ordinates did not separate the Gentiles and the Jews, but separated both of them from God, for neither could fulfill the entirety of the law. The Law shut up both Jew and Gentile in sin and delivered a sentence of death upon both. The Law was hostile to us because it formed an impenetrable barrier between us and God; a barrier we were unable to breach. It was not that the Law was defective, but rather ourselves who were steeped in sin and unable to keep the law. The peace Jesus came to bring was not peace between Jew and Gentile but peace between all mankind and God.

Here is the bold statement of Paul: the law which was against us has been abolished though the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The Law, having been taken out of the way, can no longer condemn us and can no longer separate us from God. We are no longer under any obligation to keep the old Law nor are we to be judged by it; either by God, ourselves, or others. Paul confidently declares, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4)

In Christ, all distinctions that divide us been abolished. Whatever benefits had previously accrued to one people are now available to all. We are no longer Jews and Gentiles, we are now all children of God and none more privileged than the other. Any distinctions we imagine among us is a figment of our own minds and prejudices and not from God. Jesus came to unite all unto Himself, why then should we seek to divide that which God has united? We are all one, therefore, let us start living as if it were really true. Let us set aside all divisions that are of our own making and learn to enjoy the blessings of unity and the oneness we all have together in Christ.

David Robison

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Strangers and aliens - Ephesians 2:11-12

"Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands —  remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." (Ephesians 2:11-12)
In the early centuries, Christianity was viewed, especially by the Romans, as a sect of Judaism. In the sea of people who made up the Roman empire, Jews represented a very small segment and Christians an even smaller segment of the population. Few Romans really understood the Jews and fewer of them had any inclination in joining them in their religion and peculiar laws. Some, when viewing Christianity, saw it as just another reset on Judaism which held little significance for them or their countrymen. The Jew/gentile divide was real and few who were gentiles wished to become Jews and their prejudice made it hard for them to understand a new religion that came out of Judaism but was not tied to the old Jewish ways. Furthermore, even after becoming Christians, some still struggled as to how they aught to relate to the Jews and the Law as they attempted to live out their new found faith in Christ. Was it necessary for them to become as Jews? Were they indebted to keep the old Jewish law? Must they become circumcised to be accepted by God and the Jews from whom was the Christ?

Paul wrote to them that, while there was enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, and while they were rejected by the Jews for their uncircumcision and their gentile birth, they were not rejected by God. Circumcision was a mere work of men, performed in the flesh by human hands, but God was working something greater in their lives, a work in their soul performed by the Spirit of God. What was done by hands was not to be compared to that which was being performed by the Spirit.

That being said, the redemptive history of God ran straight through the lineage and history of the Jews. In many ways, the Jews did have an advantage over the gentiles. Paul lists four specific ways the Jews were benefited by their birth verses that of the gentile.

First, they, the gentiles, were separate from Christ. This does not mean that they were rejected by Christ, but that when Christ came, He came somewhere else, somewhere far removed from them. The Greek word has the idea of an expanse of space between two things, Christ came, lived, and died and they were completely unaware. They missed His teachings and His miracles. They missed the blessings of His daily presence and ministry among the people. What advantage did those have who actually lived, saw, and listened to Jesus as He walked this earth.

Second, they were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. The be excluded is to be an alien or to be alienated from something. Furthermore, the Greek word for commonwealth is the same word from which we get our word for polity. The idea is that we were outsider and excluded from citizenship of the nation of Israel; the nation which God chose to place His presence in and through which He sought to bring forth His salvation. Two thousand years of history, culture, and citizenship had passed to which the gentiles were excluded. They missed out on all the benefits of citizenship the nation of Israel had to offer.

Thirdly, they were strangers to the covenants of promise. It's not so much that they did not have know them, but even in knowing them, the covenants and promises were not for them. These covenants and promises were to the Jews and to the "seed" of Abraham through which all the nations of the world would be blessed. They were foreigners to the covenants because the covenants and promises spoke to someone else.

Finally, they were without hope and without God in this world. What other nation had God living in their midst? What other nation could promise ts citizens forgiveness through its religion, laws, and ceremonies? What other nation had God so near to them as the nation of Israel did? The Greek and Roman gods were distant and offered no hope to the people. In fact, they were often the source of their troubles and their life was often spent trying to appease their gods and trying to advert the calamity they brought upon mankind.

This was the state of the gentiles before Christ came, but oh how things changed after His coming!

David Robison

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grace and works - Ephesians 2:8-10

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
When Luther made his first translation of the Bible into German, he translated such verses from Paul as stating that we are saved by faith alone, stipulating that, while the words "alone" as not in the Greek text, it was implied by the Greek language which Paul used to write his letters. This is further justified in that no where else did Paul even hint that our salvation required anything from us other than our faith. However, this translation, and the adding of the word "alone", became an opportunity for calumny from the Roman Catholic church in declaring him a fraud and heretic; accusing him of perverting the translation with added words to further his heresy. For centuries this debate between the necessity and the role of faith and works has raged on. Paul, seeming to have foreknowledge of this debate, addresses both faith and works in this one passage to the Ephesians.

First, faith. Paul makes and emphatic statement that we are saved through faith and that this salvation is a free gift that requires no corresponding work on our part to receive it. This gift comes to us through the gracious favor of God and there is nothing we can do to earn it, nor is there anything we can do to merit it. It is offered to us for no other reason than God delights in offering it to us. Some say they are too lost or too sinful to be saved, but this merely demonstrates the exceeding richness of God's grace towards us in that no matter who we are or what we've done, His grace is still offered as a free gift for our taking. Some say that faith itself is a work, but even our faith is from Him and not of ourselves. Paul writes that, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." (Romans 12:3) The only act required from us is that we receive this gift of salvation. It is only by receiving it that it becomes ours in all its richness, benefits, and promises for the future. I could offer you a gift of one million dollars thus making you very rich, but unless you take the one million dollars, you will stay just as poor as you are already. To many this free gift is offered, but far less choose to receive it unto themselves.

How does one determine when their attempt at salvation is through faith or works? If, in the end, you find something you've done that is worth boasting about, then you are operating in works. Under the Law, there was always opportunity to boast; boasting in one's obedience, will power, and one's strength and persistence in keeping the commands of the law. One could be proud of what they accomplished in regards to the measuring stick of the law. Unfortunately, all those works, while great in and of themselves, did not serve to win anyone salvation or the right to eternal life, When it comes to salvation, works are useless. There is no work that can merit us salvation and, consequently, since salvation can only be received as a free gift, there is nothing we can boast about in possessing it.

So what about works? To say salvation is by grace through faith and not by works does not mean that there is no place for good works in our lives. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, "Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share." (1 Timothy 6:18) Works are important, they just don't earn us salvation. In fact, until we are delivered through salvation and are born again by the Spirit, then we are bound up against good works by our slavery to sin. God created us for this very purpose, for good works; for the working of faith through love. Even much of the Law was given to teach us how to live in love towards one another. To perform good works is to live the life for which God created us. However, even here we lack all reason to boast. Not only has God created us for good works, but He has also gone before us, preparing those same good works that we might walk in them. God creates us for works, then gives us the works to do, and simply calls us to be obedient.

So what about works? Works are the natural fruit of a life that has been reconciled to God and restored to its rightful condition of living. It is only through salvation that we are set free to fully engage in good works. The key is understanding the order of events: faith leads to works, not works to faith. In the end Luther was right, salvation is by faith alone. However, and what every reformer also testified to, living a Christian life is a life spent in good works.

David Robison.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

But God - Ephesians 2:4-7

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Paul had just got done telling his audience the truth about our lives and the world we live in, and it wasn't good news. We are all sinners and that sin is working death in us every moment we are alive. We live in a fallen world ruled by a malevolent dictator who desires our destruction and lives to inflict harm, loss, and eventually death upon us. All this is due to our own devices; it is the fruit of our own sin and trespasses. Little is left to us to hope for. We are sinners and we are receiving our just deserts. However, Paul continues, "But God!" What two words could impart so much hope, so much joy, and so much anticipation in a life that is otherwise consumed by death? Things may be bad, but we are not left alone and there is still one who can rescue us and give us back the life we lost to sin. What we could not do for ourselves, God did on our behalf.

God's benefit on our behalf came to us through His great love for us by which He loved us. God did not just love us, that love for us was translated into action. God did not just sit in heaven thinking loving thought towards us, He came down in the person of Jesus Christ and demonstrated His love for us by bring about our salvation and our deliverance from this world and its sin and death. God's love is shown in action. Consider perhaps one of the most familiar verses in all of scripture. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Some have understood the phrase "so loved" as referring to the amount or height of God's love for us, as, "For God soooooooooo loved us!" However, in the Greek it refers to the manor in which God loved us, as "For in this way God loved us, that He gave" God's love moves Him to action on behalf of the very ones He loves.

Paul also tells us that God's benefit towards us was not out of compulsion, but out of grace, mercy, and compassion. God did not have to save us; He did not have to die to free us from our sin, guilt, and death. God was not forced to intervene in the affairs of a fallen world full of sinful men and women, rather He chose to. Between love that is a feeling and love that is an action, is love that is a choice. God chose to intervene, not because He had to, but because He wanted to out of His surpassing love for us. Furthermore, His choice towards action was not predicated on our own merit, worthiness, or value towards Him or anyone else. What merit could we ever offer Him, seeing that we were already dead in a life full of transgression and sin. In another letter Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:8-10) Far from being fiends of God, we were His enemies when He chose to rescue us thought His own death on a cross; not because we merited it, but simply because in His grace He chose it. How great is His love for us!

Paul uses three interesting words that all begin with the same Greek prefix that means together or with. He says we have been made alive with, raised with, and seated with Christ in heavenly places. One could interpret this as meaning we have been made alive, raised, and seated together with other believers or that we have been made alive, raised, and seated with Christ. Under the first interpretation it is hard to understand what it means to be seated in heavenly places while we are yet still alive. However, if we understand these words in relationship to our union and identification with Christ then it makes since. I believe what Paul is saying is that we have been united with Christ and have been brought into vital union with His live, resurrection, and glorification. What Jesus wrought for Himself is also ours in our unity and identity with Christ. Paul speaking on us being united with Christ says, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." (Romans 6:4-7) All that is Christ's is now ours including our regal position in heaven where we too will be granted to sit with Him on His throne.

All this God did out of His love for us, but He also did it with a plan and a purpose in mind. God is kind, loving, and gracious, but how does He show that and make it know to the creation He has made? How can God show the full extent of His grace and kindness to the angels and men who are looking on? God can say that "I am gracious" but how do we come to understand what that means and what the depths of that grace is in Him? He does so by showing us that grace and by demonstrating the richness of that grace towards those to whom it is extended. God chose us that He may be gracious towards us so that, in that grace shown to us, others may come to see and understand the unbounded and limitless grace of God. What a privilege to be chosen to serve as a reflection of God's grace, reflected through our lives as we first-hand experience His grace and love towards us. This being said, we must pause to consider how, when we leave faith to try and achieve the will and purpose of God through our own strength and the power of our will, we only serve to frustrate and obscure the true grace of God; that very grace that God has shown us that it may too be shown to the world? What greater offence can we offer to His rightful glory that to pretend that the grace we have received is some how due to our own merit, work, or worthiness? Leaving faith for works not only nullifies the grace of God in our lives but also misrepresents God to others. We must never forget that this salvation in which we stand comes to us completely by grace and is in no way effected by any merit of our own. Praise be to God who not only did what we could not do but also did what we did not deserve.

David Robison

Friday, June 10, 2016

You were dead - Ephesians 2:1-3

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Death is not just the judgment of sin, it is also the present and ever increasing consequence of sin in our lives. Sin represents not just acts of disobedience, but also a progression in our lives where its effect on us grows, like leaven, over time until it fully consumes us. James writes of the progression of sin. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." (James 1:14-15) This death he speaks of is not just a physical death, although that is certain, but it is also the corruption the works in our lives as sin works to destroy all semblance of decency, morality, and propriety in our lives. It also eats away at our relationships, both with God and with each other, destroying all that is good and right in our lives. In the end, it leaves us as nothing but an empty shell. We may look fine on the outside, but sin has destroyed all that is within.

This death, this decay of the soul, is the natural outgrowth of our trespasses and sins. The Greek term for trespasses refers to lapses in our morality and/or deviations from what is normal and right. These lapses may be unintentional or intentional, but left unattended, will work their work of corruption in our lives. Sin, however, can be more pernicious. The Greek term means to miss the mark or to come up short. It is the gradual decline into dissolution, a path taken by many small, and seemingly insignificant, deviations into disobedience. One may not die from the sting of one bee, but the stings of a thousand can kill. One sin may not seem too bad, but over the course of our lives they take their toll and leave us just as dead no matter how small the sins first appears. Death is the proper desert for our sudden acts of departure and our slow life of decline.

This life of sin and death is the natural course of this world; we are born into it, we live in it, and we will die in it. No one is exempt, all have sinned, and all are partakers of death, both now and in the end. Furthermore, it is not only our own propensity towards sin that drives us on, but we also live under the rule of a spiritual master who is actively at work in our lives to drive us to sin and towards destruction. He exercises his power in his energetic working in the lives of those over whom he claims dominion. Not only are we weak in our flesh, but the death of our soul, being found in our separation from God, has left us under the control and influence of one who hates us and desires our destruction. Jesus said of him, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) Our need is not only to be free of sin but also to be free of him.

This is the life, as Christians, that we used to live and the life many around us still live today. It is a life controlled by our lusts rather than by our rational mind as expressed through our morals, ethics, and principals. We live by what we want not by what is right. Paul speaks of the lusts of the flesh and the desires of the flesh and mind. Lust is an inordinate desire, often for what is forbidden, that leads us into transgressions; lapses of judgment and moral resoluteness. The desires of the flesh and mind speaks more to their decisions, will, and desires. They represent a more systematic decline into sin; following after what the flesh wants, wills, wishes, and desires. Lusts lead us to impulses, desires form and molds the course of our lives.

The end results is not only death, but the assignment of our lives unto wrath. When Paul speaks of us being children of wrath by nature, he is describing what is the natural growth and production of our lives. Jesus said, "For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart." (Luke 6:43-45) We were born of bad seed, the offspring of a bad tree. We have grown up a bad tree and the natural fruit of our lives is bad. As such, we are not a tree to be desired, but a tree upon which the wrath of God resides. The only hope for our lives, in the end, is wrath and punishment. This is, or was, the sorry state of our lives and the lives of those around us, "But God..." (Ephesians 2:4)

David Robison

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The fullness that fills - Ephesians 1:22-23

"And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Jesus has not only conquered the world, but all things have been placed beneath Him and subjugated in obedience to His power and authority. Of all that is of this created realm, Jesus has been made preeminent and the supreme ruler over all. Whatever powers and authorities there were previously, all have been placed in submission under Him. The Father, in His own wisdom and plan, has provided for an administration of His rule and authority through a dispensation where Jesus, because of His death and resurrection, has been exalted to have first place and supremacy over all of His creation, until a time of full restoration, when all things will, once again, be placed into subjection to God. "When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28) However, for now, it is unto Jesus that all must yield and submit as both their Lord and the very source of their life.

The devil no longer has any claim, authority, and right to our lives for His authority and rights have been superseded and trumped by the right and rule of Jesus. We no longer have to fear the devil or man any longer for there is one who rules who is higher than any one of them and His rule is just and fair. What great solace and comfort this knowledge gives us; knowing that we are not left to the caprice of the world and to forces set against us. Our elder brother, the one appointed by His Father and ours, is the one who reigns and commands our life. We are no longer left to bondage but have been liberated, by or appeal unto God, into a new Kingdom and unto a new King.

Perhaps no where more certain should the universal and unconditional lordship of Jesus be on display than within the church. While there are still detractors and enemies yet to be subdued, in the church we should expect to see the union of those who have willingly submitted to Him and who have pledged their obedience, fidelity, fortunes, and lives unto Him, His service, and His kingdom. Unfortunately, there are some who view the church apart from its head. They see the church as a vessel through which to achieve their own purposes and goals. They seek to take the helm of the church and to direct it and to make it into their own image and vision, as opposed to that of its head. However, it is only from the head that the church find's it meaning, expression, and substance. "holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God." (Colossians 2:19) We must not be quick to stamp the church with our own mark, or to build in a way as to see our own reflection in the church that bears His name.

Paul describes the church as a body; the Greek word indicating a unifying whole. In the body there are many members (or parts) that all perform their function for the good of the whole. Each member has its function and receives the benefit when other members similarly perform their function as well. However, there is only one head. This view of the body leaves no room for a pontifical office where the headship of the entire church in organised and resides on one man. It must also be understood that our bodies are not organized hierarchically, and neither is Christ's. All parts have a unique and individual connection and relationship with the head from which they get their orders. The individual parts relate to one another functionally, but not hierarchically where one part presumes to preside over another. Churches whose organizations are merely structures to organize and convey levels of authority and rule seem at odds with the metaphor Paul uses to describe the church. Furthermore, Paul speaks of one body, not many. While our relationship with other members of the body may be cloistered here and there, these relationships do not negate or obviate our membership in the one universal body of Christ.

Paul further describes the Church as the fullness of Him who fills all. The church universal is the fullness of Christ; meaning that it is the full expression of His nature, will, mind, and purpose. From this we learn two important truths. First is that we alone are not the fullness of Christ. We only represent a part of who Jesus is and only a part of His wisdom, grace, and truth. We need each other to fully express Christ in every situation and in the world around us. Paul writes that he was made a minster of the Gospel so that, "the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 3:10) Notice that it is through the church that the many-sided wisdom of God is revealed to the world, both visible and invisible. This should give us comfort knowing that we ourselves are not responsible for revealing all of who God is; we are only a part and it is as part of a whole that God is revealed through us. It should also motivate us to join in vital communion with other believers so that in proper relationship one with anther we might be seen as the body of Christ.

Secondly, we must understand that when God seeks to fill the world with His wisdom, knowledge, and glory, He seeks to do so through His church. Solomon prays, "And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen." (Psalms 72:19) Three times in the scriptures do we see the glory of God fall from heaven to fill the Earth. The first time was in the tabernacle of the wilderness. "Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces." (Leviticus 9:24) The second time was at the temple of Solomon. "It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." (1 Kings 8:10-11) The third and final time was when Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to fill His church. "And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." (Acts 2:2-4) God is filling the Earth with His glory and He is doing so by filling His church which is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. If we are separated from His church; if we remain isolated and not relationally connected with other members of His body, then we will miss out on the fullness of that which God is filling. To truly partake of His fullness we must be a part of what He is filling; we must become part of His body.

David Robison

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The working of power - Ephesians 1:19-21

"These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." (Ephesians 1:19-21)
Paul had prayed that we would not only come to know the greatness of God's call on our lives, but that we might also come to know His power that is able to bring that calling about. God not only calls us for heavenly things, His power also works in us that we might arrive at and actually receive those things for which we were called. God does not just set out great and wonderful things before us and then says, "Go ahead and get them," rather He calls us to inherit heavenly things then works in our live to bring us to the point of actually receiving them. One is a call to work and trust in our our strength, the other is a call to embrace the work of God in our lives and to trust in the strength and grace He provides.

So what is this power God provides and what are the limits of its work and ability in our lives? God showed us just a measure of that power when He rose Jesus from the dead. It is a power that can give life to the dead and that can transform our lowly bodies and life into new and heavenly ones. It is a power that can impart immortality to our mortal existence and fit us for life evermore in the very presence of God. A power as great as this, is certainly powerful enough to heal us, comfort us, strength us, lead us, and protect us in our daily walk with God. A power that can raise the dead is a power that is limitless in what every circumstance and situation we might find ourselves today. Those who have such power resident within them are those who have nothing more to need.

God's demonstration of this power was more than in raising Jesus from the dead, it is also shown into where He was raise to. Jesus was raised to the right-hand of God and, in so doing, was seated above all else that lay below Him. Specifically, Paul mentions five things that the power of God raised Jesus above. First is all rule. This Greek word refers to all those who rule and who have first rank above men. This can be of those who rule in the natural and of those who rule in the spiritual realm as well. Jesus is now first, both in rank and effect, above all others.

Secondly is authority. This Greek word carries the idea of the privilege one has to act that flows from their ability, mastery, and natural strength. It is not the typical Greek word for "power," as some have translated it, but brings forth the ideas of authority, right, privilege, and ability. Some may claim the right to rule, but Jesus right is demonstrated through His resurrection and His claim to eternal life.

Third is all power. This Greek word is the same word from which we get our word, "dynamite." It speaks of an explosive power; a power that is able to leave an effect. There are many great and powerful men and many forces of nature that can be described as powerful, but Jesus' power extends over them all. There is no force that His power cannot contain, alter, direct, and modify for His pleasure and great purpose.

Forth is dominion and speaks of that over which one has control or influence. Our lives may be regulated by the dominion if the US government, but there is one whose rule is even over them. No matter whose domain we may live within, they themselves live within the domain of Christ. We may give our natural governors our loyalty and obedience, but our obedience and loyalty towards Christ will always trump that which we hold towards them.

Lastly, He has been raised far above every name that can be named both in heaven and on earth. Even more so, not only is His name above all other names now, but even in the age to come His name will continue to be exalted. Often we align our lives with the name of someone we wish to emulate. Names are also use as monikers of beliefs, principals, agendas that we find in common agreement with ourselves. We name ourselves in many ways: I am an american, I am a Republican, I am a charismatic, etc. However, far and above any other name or appellation we might use to describe and align ourselves, there is no other name more worthy and glorious than that of Jesus. First and foremost, it is His name under which must be born, aligned, associated, and classified with for, in the end, His name is the only name that really matters.

David Robison

Saturday, June 04, 2016

This I pray for you - Ephesians 1:17-19

"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." (Ephesians 1:17-19)
It is interesting to note what Paul prays for regarding the believers at Ephesus. Paul does not pray for any immediate need or benefit that they might desire, rather he prays for those things that will benefit them over a life time. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with praying for immediate needs and wants, such as, finances, healing, encouragement, joy, and the restoration of relationships. However, Paul understood that there are works of the Spirit that produce in us something more than immediate satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness. The work that the Spirit works is to change us so fundamentally that our life will never be the same. The change He works not only changes us now, but also changes our future. It is like the old adage, "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you will feed him for a life time." There are those things that bring joy in the moment, but there are those works of the Spirit that produce in us a life style that that continually bears fruit unto God.

First, Paul prays that they would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. When speaking of a spirit, Paul is not necessarily speaking of an actual spiritual being. The Greek word for "spirit" (as well as the Hebrew word) means both spirit and breath, and the breath can speak to the manor, mode, and character of the life we live. For example, to say that someone has a spirit of gentleness does not mean that they are possessed by such a spirit but rather that their entire life is characterized by gentleness towards others.

It is unclear if Paul is asking for a spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might know God better, or if he is asking for a spirit of wisdom and revelation that comes from knowing God. I personally believe the later as, knowing God, produces in us a life that is characterized by wisdom and revelation. We cannot properly understand life and the world around us until we first come to know and understand God, for it is God who created this world, gave us life, and set all things to be according to His will and good pleasure. When we come to know God, we come to understand His love for us and all of mankind. When we come to know God, we come to understand His plan and purpose for us and for all of mankind. When we come to know God, then everything else comes into focus and begins to make since. When David was in a hard place, he tried to make since of all that was happening around him, especially how his enemies were thriving and growing stronger. However, David had a revelation. "When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction." (Psalms 73:16-18) It was only when David perceived God, when his knowledge of God came more fully into view, that he understood what was going on and the world began to make since to him again. It is the knowledge of God that brings about wisdom and revelation, not the other way around.

Secondly, Paul prays that God would illuminate our hearts. The idea from the Greek is that God would let light shine into our hearts and give us the light of illumination to know and understand what we previously could not known and understood. There are many things we know as truth, but that touch our lives very little. For example, there are many people who know that Jesus died on a cross, but that knowledge has little or no effect in their lives. They know the truth, but the truth is impotent within them. There are people who know that they have a Father in heaven, yet they continue to live as orphan here on Earth. They know the truth that God is their Father, but the mere knowledge of the truth has yet to transform their lives to the point where they actually live in the reality of that truth. Some things that we believe about the world and ourselves are so deeply rooted in our lives that mere truth is not enough to unseat them from our hearts. We know that God loves us but our heart still refuses to believe it and to give up its belief that we are unloved and unlovable. Sometimes we need more than truth, we need illumination; we need the pure rays of God's light and truth to shine into our hearts is such a way that it transforms all we have believed and thought about ourselves, the world around us, and God Himself. Only such illumination can change some of the darkest places of our hearts.

First, he prays that we would know the hope of His calling. The Greek word for "calling" can also be translated "invitation". This calling is not a ministerial calling, but a calling into our new life in Christ. Also, the Greek word for "hope" is not wishing but anticipating. The hope of our calling is not a wishing for great things, but the certainty, anticipation, and patient waiting for them. Great is our anticipation of the things that accompany our faith in God. We have the anticipation of salvation, righteousness, resurrection to life, and an eternal life with God in heaven. Such hope gives us courage to endure the difficulties of today. Minor difficulties and troubles cannot compare to the eternal hope we have in Christ.

Secondly, Paul prays that we would understand the riches of the glory of our inheritance in Christ. Paul did not pray that we would understand the riches of our inheritance, but that we would understand the riches of the glory of our inheritance. There was a story when, after the battle of the five kings, Abraham returned and was met by both Melchizedek, the priest of Salam, and the King of Sodom, both offering present to him for his victory. "Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand." (Genesis 14:17-20) Both offered gifts to Abraham, but the gifts of the King of Sodom were not to be compared to the gifts of Melchizedek. The world has its own inheritance to offer us just as God does, but the inheritance of this world pales in comparison to the inheritance of God. Knowing the riches of the glory of the inheritance of God, what could ever induce us to desire the inheritance of this world?

Finally, Paul prays that we would know the surpassing greatness of God's power towards us. Most religions, and even the Old Covenant Law, are based on man's ability and power to perform the requirements of their laws and codes. If a man (or woman) is able, in and of themselves, to keep the requirements, then they are accepted and approved by God. However, if they are not able, then they are rejected and cast aside. However, the proof of human history is that no one is able to keep all the requirements of religion. We are all sinners and sinning is what we do. However, Jesus brought about a new way to righteousness, one not based upon our own efforts and merit. Paul writes, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4) Now, instead of relying on our own strength and will, we relay on God's strength and the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us to aid us in our daily walk. Now, weakness is not our condemnation, but our entry way to true strength. Paul wrote, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) It is God's power that works within us, "both to will and to do." (Philippians 2:13 NKJV) By ourselves, we are helpless, but with the power of God, nothing is impossible and all things are within reach. In Christ, our hope and confidence is not in our own strength, but in the power of God which is able to save, transform, keep, and finally resurrect us to new life.

David Robison

Friday, June 03, 2016

Having heard of you - Ephesians 1:15-16

"For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers." (Ephesians 1:15-16)
The reason Paul is referring to here is the predestined purpose of God that we should stand holy and without defect before Him. While Paul understands that God's purpose is predestined, our individual participation in that purpose is not always certain. It is one thing to be called, it is another to actually arrive at our calling. Paul understood the importance and need for the grace of God in the process and also his purpose in asking the Father for such grace upon all who believed. He understood both the grace of God and his co-laboring with God through prayer in releasing the grace of God upon others. It is an odd thing, and yet a great honor, that, while God could do all things by Himself, He has invited us to labor with Him through our prayers for others.

There were two things that Paul saw among the Ephesians that convinced him of their participation in the salvation of God. First was their faith in Jesus and the seconds was their love for one another. In all of Paul's writings there is an inseparable link between our love for God and our love for the people of God. There is no separating our belonging to God and our belonging to the church of God; at least in Paul's mind. It can be very easy, at times, when disappointment, offenses, and even personal fears take hold of us to allow ourselves to drift away from others; to become content with being alone and to shield ourselves from others with a "God and me" mentality. Similarly, it is easy in the church to circumvent relationships by dividing them along ministerial lines. We have those who give and those who receive and what is exchanged is done so with limited relational investments, Even the practice of praying for one another can be stripped of its relational nature by relegating such prayer to "professional" or "trained" teams who pray for people without the relational investment in them that often aids us in our prayers, Such isolation, both personally and corporately, are at odds with how Paul understood faith, Christianity, and the church.

Paul not only prayed for the Ephesians, but He also thanked God for them as well. Prayer can be a burden. Paul spoke about this when he said, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2 Corinthians 11:28-29) When our focus is always on the needs of others, we can begin to see them as burdens as well. We can quickly be overcome by the needs of others and begin to regret the burden and pressure their needs place upon us. We all know people who are very needy; who always need prayer, always need counseling, always need encouragement of one sort or another. If all we do is focus on their need for prayer, than we can easily grow tired, weak, and disgruntled even in our prayers for them.

One of the easiest ways of warding off such feelings is to mix our prayers for them with prayers of thanksgiving for them. When we learn to give thanks to God for other people, then our appreciation for them will increase and our burden of prayer for them will become a little bit lighter too. We cannot consistently give thanks for someone in prayer without simultaneously fining a growing appreciation for them in our hearts. Thanksgiving can be our life-vest when we find ourselves floating in a sea of burdens. It will keep us afloat and help us to keep others at float as well.

Paul also reveals something very important about praying for others. He says that he "makes mention" of them in his prayers. The Greek word means to have a mental remembrance of someone or something. It's when, in your mind's eye, you see the person; remembering them, their value to you and to God, and their pressing needs in this life. With this mental image, we cry out to God, "Remember them". There are many people whom I am not in daily contact with. I do not always know what they are going through or what their present needs are, but I do remember their importance, relationally, to both me and to God. It is in this remembrance, without knowing the particulars, that I can ask God to bless, help, and strengthen them. Prayer for others does not always have to be long and full of words when it issues our of a kind and warn remembrance of them.

David Robison