Sunday, July 31, 2016

All the fullness of God - Ephesians 3:19

"that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:19)
Our lives are determined by that which fill them. Our lives are like vessels which are filled to overflowing by the things we allow to be poured into them. Some of what fills us we pour in ourselves, others consist of that which we open ourselves up to receive from our circumstances and our relationships with those around us. Either way, what fills us defines us.

Paul spoke of those who were filled up evil, "being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful." (Romans 1:29-31) However, here he prays that the lives of the Ephesian believers would be filled with something more preciousness; something of greater worth and purer power in our lives. Paul prays that we would be filled with all the fullness of God.

So what is the fullness of God? Paul gives us a hint when He says, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10) Similarly, John reminds us that, "God is love." (1 John 4:16) To be filled with the fullness of God is to be filled with the love of God, not a love that is focused inwardly, but a love that flows out to others; that we might love others even as Christ has loved us. Furthermore, when Moses asked to see God's glory, God passed before Him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." (Exodus 34:6-7) To be filled with the fullness of God is to be compassionate, gracious, patient, loving, kind, forgiving, and generous. In short, to be filled with all the fullness of God is to be conformed into His image. To the degree to which our lives reflect the nature of Christ, to that degree our lives have been filled with the fullness of God.

A few things are essential to being filled with the fullness of God. First, is that we must empty ourselves of our old life and nature that we might be filled for a new life and nature. If our lives are filled with the carnal sins of the flesh, as Paul wrote to the Romans, then there remains little room for the fullness of God to take up residence within us. We must first empty ourselves that we must be filled. This often takes assuming a new posture towards God. Jesus said, "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved." (Matthew 9:17) Often times, old ways, dead religion, corrupting relationships, and inherited patterns of life are insufficient to hold the new wine God desires to pour into us. To receive the fullness of God we must first shed our old winskins and present to God new wineskins which may hold His new wine. This starts with our regeneration that comes through repentance, faith, and baptism which washes away our old life of sin. After that, it is required that we grow up in our faith, ever growing that we might be ever filled to new levels of the fullness of God. Part of this growth comes when we submit in fellowship with other believers and receive the ministry of Christ from others. Such ministry is  intended to grow us up and to make us worthy of the full stature of Christ. Speaking of the ministries that God has place within His Body, which is the Church, Paul says, "And He gave some... for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13) We cannot grow to obtain the fullness of God by ourselves, we can only achieve this goal in communion and submission with other believers in Christ. There we will find the encouragement, relationships, and equipping that will help us grow, along with other believers, into full-frown men and women of God who posses in great degree the fullness of Christ in their lives.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rooted and grounded in love - Ephesians 3:17-19

"that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Paul uses two metaphors as he continues to pray for the spiritual lives of the Ephesians and, in both of these, it is the love of Christ that is shown as the transformative force in our lives. The first metaphor is that of being rooted. The idea is of a plant that, in order to grow upwards, sends its roots downward, into the soil, that it might receive the nutrients needed to sustain its upward growth. The second is that of being grounded. This particular Greek word can refer to a substructure that is built upon the foundation, upon which the more functional parts of a house are built. It is the same word which Jesus uses to describe those who build their lives upon a strong foundation. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock." (Matthew 7:25) Here the word "founded" is the same Greek word translated as "grounded" in Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

Paul prays that we would be strengthened in our inner man. While that strength is something that God provides, it often comes to us through that, and upon which, our lives are rooted and grounded. Unless we find our lives rooted and grounded in Christ's love, we are, to a large degree, cut off from the source of that strength of which our inner man desperately needs and depends upon. The quality, nature, and stature of our lives is determined by that upon which we draw our sustenance from and upon the quality and nature of the substructure on which we choose to build our lives. What is interesting here is that Paul side steps those things which we usually consider as key to building a successful Christian life, such as, theology, doctrine, disciplines, study, prayer, law, sacraments, etc. While such things may be helpful, they are not the things upon which our lives should be rooted and grounded. What is of first importance is that our lives should be rooted in love, that love should be that from which we draw our daily nourishment and food to sustain our upward and outward growth, and that we ought to be founded upon love, love being the source and motivating factor is all we desire, will, and do. When Christ dwells in us by faith, and our lives are rooted and grounded in love, then the true righteousness of Christ will be seen in and through us. Paul puts it this way, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6)

Paul prays that we might be able to comprehend the full depth of the love of God. We typically think of comprehending as a mental activity, but the Greek word means to seize or to possess. Comprehending is more than having a passive knowledge of a subject, it is an active acknowledgment and understanding that brings the reality of a concept into effect in our lives. It's not that we just understand the concept of the love of God, but that this understanding so permeates our lives that it transforms us and bears fruit in our lives. There are two things that are key to fully comprehending the love of God. "We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us." (1 John 4:16) As we build our lives upon the love of God, we build upon both experiencing and believing in His love. There must be a balance between faith and experience. One who lives by experience alone may stumble and fall during times of drought where those experiences are few and far between. One who lives by belief alone may understand well, but their lack of experience in the love of Christ hinders them from accepting and receiving it and in expressing that same love to others around them. We need both faith and experience to properly grow in the love of God.

God's love is limitless. Though we may try to explore the distant limits of His love, we will never exhaust the limits of His love towards us. It is interesting that Paul refers to four dimensions of God's love: breadth, length, height, and depth. The first three refer to the normal spatial dimensions of any object, but the fourth refers to the depth of the character and nature of love. It can be translated as "profundity" and can refer to the hidden depths of a mystery. There is that which can be measured, and there is that which is beyond measure, a depth of God's love that can never be exhausted. Though we search endlessly, we will never come to the limit of the depth of the profundity of God's love. However, what a joy it will be to spend an eternity trying!

David Robison

Monday, July 25, 2016

In the inner man - Ephesians 3:14-17

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Ephesians 3:14-17)
Paul finally returns to the thought he started thirteen verses ago. The, "for this reason," is two fold. It is because the mystery of God has finally been revealed, that being that salvation has to come to all mankind, not just a select few. Salvation was not just for the Jews, but for the gentles as well. The promise made to Abraham that, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed," (Genesis 22:18) had finally come to pass. Additionally, not only was all mankind now invited to salvation in Christ, but God was setting about to build and knit together all believers into one body in Christ. We have not only been saved, but we have also all been called to unity and communion in one universal body of Christ. We are all together, one  body and one temple of God in the Spirit.

Because of this, Paul chooses to pray. Paul was a man of incredible gifting and anointing. As an apostle, he was called to the equipping of the saints. His job was to teach and instruct in such a way that those who heard him were equipped and furnished with all they needed to live a christian life and to perform the work of ministry that Jesus had called His Body to perform. Paul was also anointed for the impartation of spiritual gifts to those among whom he ministered. Paul wrote of his desire to come to the Romans saying, "For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established." (Romans 1:11) However, in spite of all this, Paul realized that there were something that he simply could not provide or impart to those among whom he ministered. For all the anointing, giftings, and grace he possessed, there was that which was needed that he was wholly incapable of providing; there are some things that only God could provide.

We must always remember that we are not always the solution to the needs and problems or others, There were something Paul could impart through teaching and gifting, but there were other things that people needed that only God could provide. We are not always the answer to what people need and we must not become puffed up in our estimation of ourselves as if we have all the answers and all the goods that others need. We must never neglect the importance of prayer and supplication to God that He might perform in others what only He can do. We must do what we can, but we must also trust and believe God for what only He can do in the live of others. This revelation can bring us great comfort and peace knowing that we do not have to be all things to all people. We are not responsible for all things in the lives of others. We must do our part, but we can also rest in the knowledge that God is working even where we cannot.

Paul's prayer was that our inner man would be strengthened so that, through faith, Christ might richly dwell within us. The Christian walk is not always easy and it takes strength and endurance to live it out day by day. This strength is to be found in the inner man and is a strength that only God can provide. It is also a strength that is based on faith and not on law, works, or external ceremony. Paul understood that for our salvation to be genuine it had to touch us deep within, conforming our inner man to the image of Christ. It is not enough to outwardly appear to be Christ-like, we must be so in truth in the depths of our heart. For some, religion is merely outward conformity to a system of laws and ceremonies. Salvation comes through an external act, such as baptism, and then the life is sustained through a passive participation in ritual where the real acts of religion are performed for us by a select few. Such religion is outward and ignores the true need of our souls for salvation. Paul's prayer was not that we would be strengthened for the observances of external religion but for the sustaining of faith and hope, through which Christ dwells in us through His Holy Spirit.

Finally, Paul acknowledges that, though we differ in many ways, we are all one family, one race, and one people before God. Paul teaches us that, "He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." (Acts 17:26 NKJV) All of mankind was created from "one blood." Externally we may appear to be different, but we are all the descendants on one ancestral family. We all share a common ancestry thus making us all one. God does not see race, ethnicity, or nationality. He sees only men and women; the common ancestry of that which He created; that which He created and that which He loves. The message of the Gospel is that there is only one family of mankind. No matter how we look on the outside, we are the same on the inside and equally loved and cared for by God. The message of the Gospel unifies us rather than divides us. Such a message is good news and has the power to bring healing to the world around us.

David Robison

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Do not lose heart - Ephesians 3:13

"Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory." (Ephesians 3:13)
When things are going well, everyone wants to be a part of what is going on, but when trials and difficulties come, it is only natural for people to begin to wonder what they've gotten themselves into. I've seen this at work. When the company is growing and thriving, everyone is excited to be there, but when difficult times come and people start to leave, it is easy to question if you've hitched your wagon to the wrong horse. We all want to be part of a winning team, but even winning teams go through hard times every now and again. The same is true of the church. When revival is raging, people flock to the church to be a part of what is going on, but when persecution and trials arise, many leave discouraged and confused because of the change of fortunes.

The believers in Ephesus came to the Lord in joy but they were rattled by the reports of persecutions that we breaking out among the believers. Paul was in prison and others were dying for their faith. Their joy was turned into concern and questioning. Was all this really worth it? Was Christianity real or was it just a passing fad that would be extinguished by the fires of persecution. Paul wrote to them to encourage them to remain strong and to not lose heart. Paul understood that trials and persecutions were part of living a righteous life in this world, but they were in no way a true reflection of the value and worth of the kingdom which we've chosen to align ourselves with.

When difficult times come, there are two things that are important to remember. First, is that we must always see our lives in light of the bigger picture and not become consumed by the passing difficulties of life. Paul writes, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) Afflictions, in their time, never seem momentary and light, but in view of eternity and the reward that awaits us in heaven, they are just a passing blip in an eternal life filled with the blessings and joys of Christ. Sure Paul was in prison, but the Gospel was still progressing, still concurring, and still bearing fruit in the world. Paul wrote, "for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things." (2 Timothy 2:9-10) Things may be tough, but God is still at work. It is like Jonah in the belly of the great fish; though things were bad, the fish was still on course to deliver Jonah to the very center of God's will for his life. We must never let the monetary difficulties of this life distract us from our confidence, boldness, and hope in power of the eternal Kingdom of God.

Secondly, we must remember, when we are going through difficult times, not to let our difficulties negatively impact others. Paul was in prison, but he was not whining and complaining about it. Rather, he was encouraging other to remain strong even as he was remaining strong in his imprisonment. There was a time when I realized that my standard response to the question, "How are you?" was "I'm really tired." I began to realize that my constant negative response was a burden to others and did nothing to encourage them in their daily life. Positivism is contagious, but so is complaining. People want to know that this Kingdom "stuff" is real and that there is real hope during times of difficulty. Our confession can encourage them or confirm their worst fears that things will never really change. So I began to believe and confess, when asked how I am, that I am well. This is not hypocrisy of fakeness, but it is a confession of what is really true. I am blessed in Christ. I am an over comer in Christ. I am a winner in life through Christ. Solomon said, "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered." (Proverbs 11:25) When we confess the truth of the Kingdom to others, even in disregard to the difficulty and trouble we are facing, not only will they be blessed, but our lives will also be watered with the truth; a truth that cannot help but bring forth fruit in our lives.

David Robison

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The eternal purpose - Ephesians 3:11-12

"This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him." (Ephesians 3:11-12)
Paul's calling as an apostle, the revealing of the mystery of Christ, and the making known of the manifold wisdom of God were all part of God's eternal plan which He accomplished through Jesus Christ. Our view of history is very short. We tend to see only on immediate history which includes, at best, the sum total of the memories of our own life. To us, history is what is happening to us right now. However, God sees our lives from outside of time. God has a much larger view of history; a view that extends back to when time was not yet created. God sees and purposes on a grand and large scale that takes all of history into account in a single glance. To us, history is a series of wins and losses, ups and downs, joys and disappointments, but to God it is a continual process of the expression of His purpose upon creation and especially upon mankind.

What is important to understand from all of this is that, no matter what happens or comes into our lives, God has a plan and a purpose to deal with it. Even when Adam and Eve witnessed the introduction of sin into God's creation, God already had a plan for its eradication. This can offer great comfort to out lives in that, when facing hard or difficult times, we can trust in the eternal purpose and wisdom of God and know that, no matter how bad it may be, God has a plan for our lives. How comforting to know that, even before the unfolding of our lives, God had a plan which tends to our good.

This eternal purpose was carried out in Christ, but what was this purpose? Paul gives us a hint when he says that we now have "boldness and confidence" to appear before God by faith. The purpose of God is, and has always been, to bring His creation into close relationship with Himself. We saw this in the Garden of Eden where it was said, "They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." (Genesis 3:8) This was not a one time event but a regular occurrence and experience for Adam and Eve until the day they sinned. Prior to sin, God fellowshiped with His creation and mankind was in intimate relationship with His God. However, after sin, thing changed and a wall went up between God and mankind. This is the wall that Paul refers to when he speaks of "the dividing wall... which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Ephesians 2:14-15) and the reality that Isaiah describes when he says, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) However, in Christ, this wall is removed and we are once again invited into relationship with God.

God's eternal purpose is that we would be in right standing with God and in intimate relationship and fellowship with His spirit. This knowledge should give us boldness, not to run away from God, but to run to Him knowing that He will receive us and forgive us and welcome us back into His family. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us saying, "therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16) Where ever you are, whatever your circumstances, run to God. Do not be shy or cowardly, but take boldness and confidence and come unto Him. If you do, you will find a welcoming God, one who from all eternity has been waiting for you and had destined you to be His child.

David Robison

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Manifold wisdom - Ephesians 3:10

"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)
No one person can, by themselves, fully express the full depth, breadth, and completeness of the manifold wisdom of God. The Greek term "manifold" refers to the many faceted nature of the wisdom of God. Each of us, in tern, are appointed to reveal some aspect of God's wisdom, but it takes a many member body to fully express every aspect and nature of God's wisdom. The truth is that we can only ever be but a part of what God intends for His church upon this Earth. We ourselves are not the fullness. The fullness of the expression of the many faceted nature of God is only revealed by the fullness of the many faceted church of God. We are only a part and we need each other to complete the mission and purpose of God and to fully reveal God to the world around us. It is only when we learn to live in unison and harmony with other believers as the church of Christ that together we are able to express and reveal the fullness of God to the world, both seen and unseen, around us. One person cannot do it, it takes a church.

While Paul was sent to preach and to bring to light the mystery of Christ, it is through the church that the wisdom of God is to be revealed. The revealing of the wisdom of God is not done through preaching, doctrine, or even dogma but is shown through our everyday lives we live as born again and regenerated believers in Christ. It is not our teaching and creeds that reveal God's wisdom to the world, but the lives we live as Christians. Many may wonder "where is God is such a world filled with sorrow and suffering," but when they see the wisdom of God as demonstrated through the salvation he has provided for all who would believe, and when they see the power of His Holy Spirit who lives within us and teaches and enables us to live a new life in Christ, then they see His wisdom in all that has transpired through out history to bring us to this place. When we see the salvation of God it all makes since. All that went on before was to prepare us for the salvation of God that was to come, and now that we have received this salvation, it continues to work in our lives to conform us into the image of Christ. Our doctrine will never convince the world of the wisdom of God, but our lives lived in Christ will.

This manifold wisdom of God is not only revealed to this world but also to the rulers and authorities in the spiritual realm. This, to me, is an odd statement. Why would God need to reveal His many faceted wisdom to the spiritual powers in heavenly places? Can they not already see it through His creation and His constant watching and care over all He has made? Being created from the beginning, have they not already seen and learned of God from all He has done? I believe what Paul is driving at in this statement is that, through the Church, God is revealing to those who have sought to destroy us that, though they have tried, God has won. From the very beginning, the Devil has sought to destroy all that is God's, but God's wisdom was greater than his plans. In the end, God always wins. Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) This is the manifold wisdom of God. The Devil sought to destroy but God had a plan to bring salvation to all mankind and to thwart the work of the enemy. All who receive His salvation and learn to live in His grace and truth, reveal this wisdom to the world around them, both seen and unseen.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To the Gentiles - Ephesians 3:8-9

"To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:8-9)
Paul was not only given a ministry, but a sphere of ministry. Upon his conversion, God spoke concerning Paul, "he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16) While Paul was more than willing to preach the Gospel to the Jews, he understood that his primary ministry was to the gentiles. Speaking of himself and Peter, Paul readily acknowledges the differing spheres of ministry given to each of them, "for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles." (Galatians 2:8) For Paul and Peter, it wasn't a competition between the two of them. They each had their own calling and they each had their own sphere of ministry where they each labored according to the grace of God given to them.

It is important not only to be called, but to understand to where we are called. We must always remember that we are not "the whole enchilada," but we are only a part of the greater body and ministry of Christ. Our job is not to do it all, but simply to do our part. In doing so, we must be content with the part God has called us to play and not strive to be like someone else or to press into areas and spheres of ministry to where God has not called us. Our focus must always be on what God had called us to do and not to boast or try to infringe on what God has called others to do. Paul wrote, "But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord." (2 Corinthians 10:13-18) Contentment is a powerful virtue in Christ; to be content in what God has allotted to us, whether in blessings, possessions, or callings.

The phrase, "the administration of the mystery" is a bit difficult to understand in its translation into English. The word "administration" is sometimes translated steward, stewardship, or dispensation. The idea is that the revelation, and distribution, of the mystery is entrusted to a steward to be delivered to those for whom it is intended in its proper time. For a long time, God kept this mystery a secret, but now God has announced the administration of this mystery when He commanded his disciples, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) The mystery was that all mankind was to be reconciled and invited into right relationship with Christ. Salvation was to come to all, not just the Jews, but all mankind. The administration of this salvation was first to the Jews, but subsequently also to the gentiles. Paul was called as a steward to deliver and proclaim this mystery among the gentiles; that they too were invited into the salvation of God. Salvation is not  the private possession of a few. It is not for a select few who are chosen while the rest are rejected. It is for all, for as many who are near and for as many who are far off. All who will receive Him, He will save. This includes and most certainly extend even unto us!

David Robison

Thursday, July 07, 2016

According to - Ephesians 3:7

"of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power" (Ephesians 3:7)
This verse if a bit difficult to properly understand from the Greek, in that the Greek text has no capitalization or punctuation. The New King James version translates this verse as, "according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power" (Ephesians 3:7 NKJV) using "by" for the second "according to". Darby translates it this way, "according to the gift of the grace of God given to me, according to the working of his power" (Ephesians 3:7 Darby) inserting a comma between the two "according to" phrases. I think what is important to understand is that Paul realized that there were two things at work in his ministry.

First was the grace of God who called him and appointed him a minister. Paul did not choose to be an apostle, God chose him, and his choosing was not because he was the most qualified or the most worthy for the calling. In fact, it was just the opposite. He saw himself as the last one who should be chosen for such a ministry; a realization that made the grace of God all the more precious to him. God chooses us not because of our ability or our worth but because of His ability and His worth. What ever ministry we have been given, had given to us by the free and unmerited favor of God. Therefore, we have no reason to boast in ourselves, as if we ourselves in anyway merited it. Our boasting is only in the Lord.

Secondly, there is the working of God's power in our lives. The Greek word for "working" is the same word from which we get our word for "energy" and the Greek word for "power" is the same word from which we get our word for "dynamite." When the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us, there is an explosion of power in our lives that enables us to work the works of God. God's energy is deposited in our lives for effectual service through the power which He provides. God does not just call us through His grace, He also gives us the strength and ability to live out that calling. Paul wrote, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (1 Corinthians 15:10) Paul labored with incredible energy and power to bring about the effect for which Christ had sent him to minister, but it was not in his own strength, energy, and power that he labored, but in the energy of the power of Christ that resided within him. God does not merely call us to ministry, he also gives us everything we need to accomplish that for which He has called us. If there is any fruit or success in our ministry, it is not ours to boast about, as if we had done it in our own strength. Our boasting is only in the Lord.

Paul describes himself as a minister. This Greek word is the same word from which we get our word for "deacon" and means to be a servant or an errand boy. Sometimes we view ministry as an elevated position within the Body of Christ. Because of our predisposition to see church as a hierarchy of ecclesiastical positions, we tend to see ministers as being above the congregants, To be a minister is to be elevated above the flock. However, this is not how Paul saw it. Paul understood that he was called to a lower place, to the place of a servant, to a place of serving the needs of others. Paul understood what Jesus said about what it meant to be great in the Kingdom of God, "Abut the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:26) Perhaps if we started calling ministers "servants" it would help transform how we think about ministry and how we think about the construction and organization of the church.

David Robison

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Has now been revealed - Ephesians 3:5-6

"the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel," (Ephesians 3:5-6)
Paul refers to the mystery of Christ. This Greek word for "mystery" is a derivation of another Greek word which means to "shut the mouth." It means to remain silent and to hide a fact or knowledge through silence. While in previous millenniums, God prophesied of a coming savior, there was an aspect of His coming and His ministry that was hidden, kept silent, and not revealed until His actual appearance upon this Earth. The Jews understood and looked forward to the Christ's coming, but the mystery of what His coming would mean to the world was hidden from them. They only understood Him to be their savior from the oppression and tyranny of their overlords; to be a political and national deliver from their captors and enslavers. To them, He was a natural savior for they failed to understand the spiritual aspect the ministry He was to perform when He did arrive to deliver them.

This mystery of Christ was that He was to come and free all men from oppression, slavery, and servitude; not from the oppression and slavery of men, but the oppression and slavery of sin and death. Jesus came to free us from what we ourselves could not, and this deliverance from sin and death was not only for the Jews, but for all of mankind. In times past, gods and religions were the possession of nations; each nation having its own gods and its own religion that regulated every part of their lives. Never before had there been a savior or a religion that crossed national boundaries and brought all of mankind together as one. Even the Romans, as they conquered nation after nation, left them to server their own national gods as long as they added the roman gods to their worship. Jesus came, not only for the Jews, but for all of mankind, to unite us all as one thought our common salvation in Christ.

In describing the gentile's participation in the salvation of Christ, Paul uses three Greek words that all begin with the same prefix which implies a union and common participation in the described action; they are co-heir, co-member, and co-partakers. As gentiles, we have been brought into familial relationship with God and have been made co-heirs with the Jews to the promises and blessings long foretold by God. All the blessings and promises that were the Jews through their descendancy from Abraham are now offered to all who find their new lineage through Abraham by faith. We are also co-members of one body with all who believe and have faith in Jesus and His Gospel. No one is to be excluded. All who believe are now invited into the union of one body in Christ. We are no longer separated from one another by nationality, ethnicity, gender, or any other dividing classification, we are all sons and daughters of God and members of His singular body. Finally, we are co-partakers of God's promise in Christ. Here Paul refers to the promise in the singular form. I believe that what Paul is referring to are not the multitude of promises and blessings that are our in Christ, but the promise of everlasting life with Christ. In Christ, eternity comes to light and we begin to understand that this life is but a precursor to the eternal life that awaits us in heaven. This eternal life is not the sole possession of the Jews, but is now freely offered to all who will believe. All who believe are equal partakers of this promise; this promise of eternal life. How blessed is this mystery which has now been revealed to us!

David Robison

Friday, July 01, 2016

Was made known to me - Ephesians 3:1-4

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles —  if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." (Ephesians 3:1-4)
Paul, like any great preacher, was not immune to rabbit trails and digressions. He starts out saying, "For this reason," but it will be fourteen more verses until he returns and completes this thought. We see the same thing in his letter to the Philippians where twice he says "Finally." How can there be another "finally" after the first "finally"? So the next time you hear a preacher wondering around and following rabbit trail after rabbit trail, just remember good old Paul.

Paul begins to speak briefly of his ministry and how he came to become an apostle. He references a former letter to the Ephesians where he wrote in more detail on this subject. It is a shame and a loss that this letter has not been preserved down to us. However, Paul expounds on three important aspects to his ministry which he received from the Lord. 

First he says that he was given a stewardship of God's grace. In our modern world, we may find it a bit hard to accurately understand what Paul means by a stewardship. However, in Paul's day it was well understood as it was in other times past. This Greek word refers to an administration within a large house. In previous times, those who had large houses and estates employed domestics to help with the everyday chores and the running of the household. You can think of them as a butler, cook, maid, or other domestic help. Stewards were entrusted with not only the proper running of the household but with the distribution of goods as needed within the household. Paul was a member and a servant in God's household. He was given stewardship over a measure of God's grace that he might properly distribute it among the members of the household as needed. He was not the possessor of the grace, he was not the originator of the grace, but he was entrusted with grace that he might distribute it to others, in this case, specifically the gentiles.

One time, while I was praying, I saw this image where I was holding a box, and on the box was the label "Grace." As I went about I was reaching into the box and grabbing an item of grace and giving to others as they needed it. To one, the grace of healing, to another the grace of encouragement, and to another the grace of forgiveness. I did not own the grace, I was not the originator of the grace, I was but a distributor of the grace. This is what Paul meant when he said he was a steward and that a stewardship had been given to him.

Secondly, Paul says that his stewardship was a stewardship of grace. Grace can be thought of as the favor of God. Paul was not the steward of knowledge, belief, or a new religion but he was a steward of the favor of God. The goal of Paul's ministry was to being people into, and to dispense unto them, the grace and favor of God. In our own personal ministries, we must be careful in what we are attempting to minister. Some minister in a way to make people agree with them or to make them into their own image, some minister to convince others of their own brand of theology, and others seek only to minister hell-fire and damnation because, at heart, they are really just angry people. We must be careful to always minister in a way, and with the aim, to deliver and bring others into the favor of God. This should be our aim and the end result of our ministry. If our ministry is not doing this, then perhaps it is nor from God.

Finally, Paul says that this mystery which he was to make know was made know to him by revelation. This is key and is at the heart of what it means to be an apostle. Paul writes, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1) What makes an apostle an apostle is that they have received a personal revelation from Jesus Himself. Jesus appeared to Paul and personally taught him His gospel. The message Paul came to preach was not his own but was taught directly to him by Jesus. When we listen to the words of the apostles, we are not listening to the words of men but to the teaching of Christ as He personally taught them to the apostles. John makes this clearer when he said, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life...what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also." (1 John 1:1, 3) We have confidence in the teaching of the apostles because they themselves were taught by Christ. Their message is not hearsay, it is not philosophy and the thoughts of men, but it is the very word of God delivered to them which they in tern delivered unto us.

David Robison