Sunday, August 28, 2016

That you walk no longer - Ephesians 4:17-19

"So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness." (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Most often, when we read the word "Gentile" in the scriptures, we think of non-Jews. However, here Paul is not writing to Jews but to a Gentile people warning then to not walk as the Gentiles do. In this verse, the word "Gentile" may more appropriately be understood as "nations", "heathens", or "other tribes". Here, Paul is not speaking of non-Jews but all peoples who live outside of the commonwealth of Christ. When we come to Christ, we are made part of a new nation; we are joined to a new people. We no longer maintain our old allegiances and the culture of who we once were but are now joined with other believers as a new nation and a new people having a new culture that is distinctively their own. Peter tells us that we are, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for  God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Paul exhorts us to make a break with our former lives, to lay aside our former manor of living, and to adopt a new lifestyle, one that is befitting of the kingdom into which we have been saved. We are no longer to walk as the rest of the nations do but rather to walk as people of God, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. The life of the nations is characterized by futility and darkness. Futility, or vanity, represents the emptiness and worthlessness of our lives spent in worldly pursuits. Much of our lives are consumed with the pursuit of the temporary, those things that have no lasting value. We live our lives for the moment, living only for this life and ignoring the live yet to come. In the end, we are left with nothing and, when this world comes to an end, so will all we have worked so hard to obtain. Peter reminds us that, "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Peter 1:17-19) Christ came to save us so that we might no longer walk as we used to, that we might lay aside the futile way of living that has been passed down from generation to generation. In living the Christian life, we cannot depend on the patterns and customs we received for our fathers but must learn a new way of living from Christ.

Similarly, we must come out of darkness and into light if we are to live our new life in Christ. The term "darkness" can also be translated as "blindness". However, this is not physical blindness but blindness in our understanding. If we are to come out of darkness we must first admit we are blind and then seek the true light to fill our understanding. Jesus said, "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23) There is no darkness greater than the darkness one believes to be light. As long as we claim light, and yet that light be really darkness, we will continue to walk and stumble in our darkness. It is only when we confess our darkness and turn to Jesus for true light that our blindness will be turned into seeing and our understanding will be flooded with light. Paul writes, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God... For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:3-6) It is only in turning to Jesus that our darkness can be turned into light.

When we live in futility and darkness, we become estranged from Christ and from His kingdom of love and power. This estrangement progresses in degrees. First it starts with ignorance; ignorance of God, ignorance of who we are, and ignorance of who we are called to be. In our ignorance, we turn to those things that do not profit us; living a life of futility and empty pursuits. We readily adopt the ways of our fathers without even understanding that there is a better way to live. We live in old patterns not knowing that Jesus has made a way for us to live in newness of life. As ignorance grows, we become hard in heart. This word for "hard" can also mean "stupidity" or "blind" of heart. We no longer care for each other or for the needs and wants for our fellow man. We becomes consumed with our own wants and desires and begin to pursue a self-centered life. In the end, our hardness of heart turns our love cold, both our love for God and our love for one another. Jesus warned us that, "because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12 NKJV) As our cold heart shuts our our cares for everyone other than ourselves, we become callous towards God and others. This word for "callous" can also be translated "past feeling" or, literally, to "grieve out."  Our consciences being seared, we find little or no restraint left to keep us from our sinful and destructive ways. We throw our lives fully into every form of pleasure, fulfilling every lust and given over to greed and avarice. In the end, we are left with nothing but death inside us. It is time to break free of this empty life. It is time to find a new way of living. It is time to come to Christ that He might teach us how to truly live; that we might find the truth of what he said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 NKJV)

David Robison

Saturday, August 27, 2016

We are to grow up - Ephesians 4:15-16

"but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The idea of speaking the truth in love goes far beyond just our words and how we speak to each other, it includes our whole manor of life; how we conduct ourselves in the truth and in love. It is a speaking that is done, not only with words, but with deeds and actions. It is a speaking that encompasses the whole conversation of our lives. Others have translated this verse as, "holding the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15 Darby) "being true in love" (Ephesians 4:15 YLT) "But doing the truth in charity" (Ephesians 4:15 Douay-Rheims) Our words are of little consequence if our deeds do not reflect the truth we confess.

Paul conflates the ideas of truth and love, showing them to be inseparably linked together. Truth without love degrades into legalism where we use the truth as a weapon to divide and condemn others. Love without truth is easily perverted into self serving emotions and the continual pursuit of self-love. Paul writes of the knowledge of the truth saying, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1) Knowledge is good but without love it lacks direction and purpose. Truth is only valuable when we are able to express it and speak it to one another in love. Similarly, Paul writes of the importance of loving according to knowledge, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ." (Philippians 1:9-10) By truth we learn to love what is truly lovely and to abstain from what is base and corrupt. By truth we learn what love really is and that truth becomes a judge of our own thoughts, emotions, and intents; showing if they are truly according to love or by the deception of what the world calls love. It is by holding both of these, in equal portions, in our hearts that we find grace form God. As John said, "Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love." (2 John 3)

Paul also shows us that there are two fundamental aspects of our relationship with Christ; one being our individual relationship with Him and the other our corporate relationship with Him through the body. Our personal growth in Christ is our responsibility. It is not our parents, it's not our pastors, and it's not the church's responsibility to grow us up. Certainly God has given others within the Body of Christ to help us in this journey, but the final result is up to us. Speaking of the judgment at the end of the age, Jesus said, "I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:43-45) Notice He did not say, "Your church did not visit me" but rather, "you did not visit me." In the end, we alone will be called into account for what we did and did not do with the truth and love we've received from Christ. Did we use it to learn and grow in Christ or were we like the unfaithful servant who, "dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money." (Matthew 25:18) We are the ones who are responsible for our growth and the ones who should be diligent to put into practice the truth God has taught us through love.

The second aspect of our relationship with Christ is found in our relationship with His body. There are three key aspects to this relationship. First, we must always remember that it is Christ who is the head of His body and it is from Him that all things flow to her. The body is the body only to the extent that each individual member has a relationship with the head and comes under the lordship of the head. There are many good social and community groups that exist today but only the church has Jesus as its head. It is in our common fellowship with Jesus that we are drawn together as a body. We must always remember Paul's words, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not 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 2:18-19) The body is only the body when it holds fast to the head.

Secondly, the body is more than a collection of people, it is a connected group of people who have been brought together in Christ to represent Him to the world. The phrase, "fitted and held together" implies that the individual parts are driven together and form a compact unison of believers. A group of people attending a Sunday service together are not necessarily the Body of Christ. The Body has cohesion and connections with each other that hold us together as one. Furthermore, these connections are defined though the relationships we have with each other. A joint is the place where to parts meet and cooperate in common purpose for the movement and functioning of the body as a whole. You may not be connected to everyone within the Body of Christ but you must be connected to someone to be an effective member of the Body. These relationships become effective when each member if functioning properly towards each other member. We all have a part to play and it is only when we all do our part, serving one another with the gifts and graces God has given us, that the body is made whole and grows up in Christ.

Finally, the Body is to build itself up in love. There is that which God does in bringing us together and uniting us as one in Him, but there is that which we ourselves must do in growing up the Body of Christ. Without the participation of the Body in the work of Christ, the Body will not grow and will remain forever an infant, or worse, a scatters array of body parts. Through love we must all seek the growth and health of the Body, supplying to each other what God has given us. Many people are accustom to complaining about the state of their church and blaming others for its condition, but it is our responsibility to work together for the good of the body. It is only when we combine truth and love that the body will grow up into the fullness of Him who has called us together as one body.

David Robison

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tossed here and there - Ephesians 4:14

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)
One of the hallmarks of maturity is stability. The full-grown man and woman of Christ is one who is not quickly shaken, not given to every impulse or new idea, one who maintains a straight path in their walk with the Lord. Children follow their whims are are easily lead astray from what they ought to do, but adults live by principal, reason, and accumulated wisdom; ignoring the fanciful thoughts and suggestions of others that they might live a life that is true, upright, and worthy of their calling in Christ.

The picture Paul paints for us is of a ship drifting upon the ocean, tossed by the waves and blown about by the wind; not given to any real direction or steerage by the pilot, but being left to the capriciousness of the wind and waves. Such a person may feel safe in their boat, but their final destination is no longer up to them as they are driven by forces external to themselves, driven to destinations unknown and undesirable. This is no way to live a Christian life.

In describing the forces that seek to drive us from our stated destination, Paul lists three prime actors. First is the "every wind of doctrine." Paul speaks of the Athenians saying, "Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:21) Some, not content with what they have or know, are always looking for something new; some new revelation, some new and exciting teaching, some new ministry that is promising new freedom in Christ. Such people are like those who chase the wind; always searching and never finding. The problem with chasing the wind is that we never arrive at a firm foundation upon which to build our lives. Furthermore, we never establish the sure faith of God in our hearts and minds that would allow us to judge and discern each new wind of doctrine as to whether it be from God or from men. Jesus told us that the best defense against the winds of this world is a sure foundation. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 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 7:24-25) We should give our priority to that which is true rather than that which is new.

The second actor seeing to derail us from our consistency in Christ is the "trickery of men." This Greek word had at its root the word for dice and can imply gambling or trickery. It is like the common shell game where a ball is hidden under one of three cups. Then the cups are moved around and the passer by is asked to pick which cup the ball is under. However, the gamed is rigged and the guesser always looses. Peter writes of such men, "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:18-19) The secret to any good trick is misdirection. Having the audience look in one direction while the truth of the trick is performed in another direction. Peter writes of those who promise people freedom, yet if you looked closely at their own life you would see that they themselves are also"salves of corruption." A mature man or woman looks not only to the doctrine someone brings but to the fruit that doctrine has born in their lives, for it is by their fruit that we will know them.

Third is the "deceitful scheming" of men. Darby translates this as, "in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error." (Ephesians 4:14 Darby) There are two ideas that Paul brings forth here. First is the idea that these are "cunning" men. This Greek word can be translated as "adroitness" and means to be cleaver and skillful, especially with one's hands and words. Here Paul is not speaking of the garden variety heretic or some simple charlatan. These are men who appear wise, confident, and certain of their beliefs. They are skilled orators and command attention when they speak. They have a natural ability to convince and win over their opponents with their words. The appear polish, professional, and learned. They draw people through their personal magnetism and the show they perform as they spew their own brand of heresy. Many are they who are drawn in by such a show.

The second idea is that of a "systematized error" or "deceitful scheming". The Greek word translated here as "systematized" and "scheming" is the same word from which we get our word for "method" and the Greek word for "error" and "deceiving" means to be lead astray. These teachers have built up a complete theology, but not one that leads to Christ but one that leads to destruction. They have their methods, they have their systematic theology, but they do not have life. This is why sound doctrine is so important. Life is a long journey and requires accurate navigation to make it safely home. Even the smallest of deviations can, over a long period of time, lead us to where we do not want to go. The problem with systematized error is that it is made up of many small deviations from the truth; none of which in their own right appear to be too erroneous or too harmful in the immediate, but when taken together and lived over a life time they will bring us to a place of loss. One small error may not seem too bad, but its compounding effect on our life can be disastrous. This is why we must be sure of our foundation and sure of what we build upon that foundation. Paul writes, "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) We must be careful not to build our lives upon the latest method or teaching of men, but upon what we know to bee true; building with gold and silver not wood, hay, and stubble.

David Robison

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Until we all - Ephesians 4:13

"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 4:13)
God has placed certain men and women within the Body of Christ as gifts to the Body to equip and build us up in order that we might attain to all that God has called us to. These gifts exist in and for the Body and will continue to exist until we all arrive at the perfection of Christ. Specifically, these ministries exist to achieve four specific outcomes within the Body.

First is that we might all attain, or arrive at, the unity of the faith. This does not mean that we all arrive at a unanimous agreement on specific formulas of faith, but that our faith leads us to unity with one another. The NIV translates this verse as, "until we all reach unity in the faith." (Ephesians 4:13 NIV) What unites us is not our common agreement on creeds, formulas, and dogmas, but our common faith and trust in Jesus and His Gospel. It is our faith in who Jesus is, our faith in what He did for us on the cross, and our faith in the promises of Christ yet to come that unites us all as one. Polycarp wrote to the Philippian church reminding them of faith "which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.'" (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3) He calls faith the "mother of us all." We are all born again by a common faith and it is this common faith that makes us all part of the universal Body of Christ. When we come to the place where we recognize that we are all His through common faith, then we will also recognize that we are all one in Him.

Second is that we might all come to the knowledge of Christ. It is not the knowledge of theology that transforms us but the knowledge of Christ. Theology is important, but it lacks the ability to show us how we ought to live. Later, Paul will speak of the difference between the Gentiles and the believers when he reminds the Ephesians, "But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus." (Ephesians 4:20-21 NKJV) To learn Christ is to learn to be like Him. God spoke to the Israelites saying, "'Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?' Declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 22:15-16) It is God who is just and righteous, it is God who pleads the case of the afflicted and needy, and when we do these things too, then we demonstrate that we know God. To know God is to be like God, to be conformed to His image and His likeness. When we all come to the knowledge of Christ then we will all begin to reflect His life, His character, and His image.

Third is that we might all obtain to the mature man. Darby translates this as, "[the] full-grown man." (Ephesians 4:13 Darby) This particular Greek word means to arrive at a goal or to hit the mark. It is the bulls-eye in the middle of the target we are aiming at. It represents a journey from one place to another; the leaving of a lower place to arrive at a higher place. This journey and destination that Paul is talking about is a journey from childishness to maturity. Paul, speaking of himself, says, "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." (1 Corinthians 13:11) When we are born again, we are born as babes in Christ. Much of what we knew prior to our new birth we still retain. Many of our previous habits and ways of thinking remain and are not immediately obliterated by our conversion in Christ. However, as we grow in Christ we learn new patterns of behavior and new ways of thinking and, gradually, these new ways replace the old ways in our lives. As we grow we transition from childhood to maturity in Christ. With each passing day we are called in greater ways to leave behind childishness and to become mature in Christ.

Finally, these gifts to the Body are given to help us attain to the full stature of Christ. Stature refers to our standing before men. It was said of Jesus, "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:52) Stature speaks of a man height but can also refer to his estimation among men. It was said of the early church, "But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number," (Acts 5:13-14) The people recognized the change in the lives of the new believers and, even though they were reticent to associate with them, they held them in esteem because of the quality of life and character they saw in them. Though they did not agree with them and may not have even wanted to be like them, they respected them for the new life they were living. We are all called to the full measure of the fullness of Christ. To have the fullness of Christ is to express and reveal the life and light of Christ through our daily lives. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15) We are not only called to an inward maturity but also to an outward radiance by which we show forth the life of Christ. Our stature in this world is not defined by our own personal achievements and abilities but by the quality of life we live before others. When we live the life of Christ before men, then we have truly arrived at the full stature of Christ.

David Robison

Monday, August 15, 2016

He gave some as - Ephesians 4:11-12

"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Paul continues to interpret for us what David prophesied when he said, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men." (Psalms 68:18) To Christ has been give some among men whom He has called to a particular function within the Body of Christ. These men and women He has then, in turn, give back to the Body as special gifts for their equipping and maturing in Christ. It is because of this receiving and giving that Paul interprets David's prophesy as saying, "and He gave gifts to men." (Ephesians 4:8) This does not mean that these men and women are somehow superior to other believers, or that they comprise a separate class of believers, but simply that they have been chosen for a particular task and function within the body of Christ. In their function, their ministry is particularly directed to other believers rather than to the world at large. While we are all called to the work of ministry, they are specially called to minister to the Body of Christ in a way to help us all to grow in our own individual walk and calling in Christ.

In describing these particular gifts that God has given to His church, there are several thing that we should take note of. First, as we have said before, the gifts He has given are the gift of men and women. Notice He does not say that the gifts He gave were apostolic gifts, prophetic gifts, pastoral gifts, etc. but men who function as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The gifts God has given are people not abilities. We should learn to respect, honor, and love the people more than the gifts they carry for it is them, not their anointing, that represent God's gift to the church. Some say we should honor the gift more than the man, but I believe that God intends it to be the other way around. We should honor and love all those God had placed among us for who they are and honor God for the gifts He has given to us in one another. If we learn to see people in the Body of Christ as God's gift to us, then many of the problems we face in the church today would disappear.

Secondly, the gifts God has given to the church are not offices but functions. Those He gives as apostles, prophets, etc. are not those who fulfill some ecclesiastical office but those who fulfill a special function within the Body. Consider your own body. There is not the office of an eye or an office of the heart, rather there are members of your body who fulfill the function of an eye and the function of a heart. While there are particular entities, their significance is not because of their name or designation but because of the function they perform. I personally do not believe that God has established offices within the church of Christ. I do not believe that there is an office of an apostle, and office of a prophet, an office of a pastor, and so on. An office exists whether or not there is someone to fulfill it. When an office is vacant, it can be filled by any qualified candidate. However, with the gifts God gives He gives them at His own discretion and those gifts remain as long as those men and women who are the gift remain. The reason we have prophets and pastors and other ministries is not because we have such offices that are filled and executed, but because God, in His own economy and timing, has give such men to function as such within our midst. This may seem like a small distinction but the fact is that such ministries are not made by men but rather given by God.

Thirdly, these gifts are given for the specific purpose of equipping and building up the Body of Christ. In so doing, their work is two fold. First they are called to build up the Body of Christ. The Greek word for "build up" refers specifically to a structure and a building. These gifts are specially concerned for the structure of the church. They are concerned with its foundation, its architecture, and its strength as determined by the materials used in its construction. While most members of the Body are concerned with ministering to the needs of individuals, both inside and outside of the church, these gifts are concerned with the church as a whole. They exists for its benefit and their scope is not local but rather global. Secondly, their  calling is not to do the work of ministry, but to equip others to do the work of ministry. Their goal is to see the maturation of all believers that each one of us might be equipped and prepared for the work that God has called us to. In our modern Christianity we have become content to let our paid professionals do all the work of the ministry. We hire pastors, worship leaders, counselors, etc. to do the ministry we ourselves ought to be doing. However, we are the ones called to the work and these special gifts to the Body are called to equip us to do the work to which we have been called. The Greek word for "equip" means to perfect or to furnish. We are all called to the ministry but we must first be made ready for that ministry. It is the function of these enumerated gifts that Paul mentions to impart to us that which we need to be successful and useful in the things which God has called us to. They exist to furnish in our lives that which we need for the work we have been called to. In this sense, they are not superior to the Body or even served by the Body, but they are called to take a lower place, to honor others above themselves, and to give their lives that others might be equipped, trained, and released in their own ministries and calling in Christ. How precious are the gifts God has given to His Body!

David Robison

Sunday, August 14, 2016

He who descended - Ephesians 4:9-10

"(Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)" (Ephesians 4:9-10)
In this parenthetical thought, Paul continues to help us understand what David meant when he wrote in psalm, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives." (Psalms 68:18) Paul is telling us that, in speaking of He who ascended, David is also prophesying about He who descended; not only to Earth to live among us and to die a substitutionary death on our behalf, but of He who also descended into Hades to free all who had and will die in faith. Jesus speaks of Himself as the one who descended that He might also ascend back to the Father after redeeming all of mankind. "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." (John 3:11-13) Isaiah prophesied of the one who would, not only descend to Earth but also descend to the lowest parts of the Earth, here referring to Sheol or Hades as it was know in the Greek language. "Shout for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout joyfully, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into a shout of joy, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it; for the Lord has redeemed Jacob and in Israel He shows forth His glory." (Isaiah 44:23) Finally, the writer of  Hebrews speaks of Jesus as being the one who, not only descended into Hades, but who also then ascended through the heavens to the Highest place to sit at the right hand of the Father. "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." (Hebrews 4:14)

Some may ask, why did Jesus need to descend in order that He might ascend to where He once existed with the Father? The answer is two fold. First, David said of Jesus, in ascending, "You have led captivity captive." (Psalms 68:18 NKJV) The captivity that He led captive were those who had died in faith and, in Sheol (or Hades), awaited the savior who would free them from their captivity and raise them up with Him to dwell in the glorious presence of God. We are told by Matthew that, after Jesus's resurrection, many of the saints who had died in hope were also raised with Him and were seen alive in Jerusalem by many. "The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:52-53) Jesus descended so that those who had died in hope of the resurrection might finally receive the reward of their hoped and faith.

Secondly, Jesus descended to the lowest parts and then ascended to the highest might in order that He might show to us that He is the one who fills all in all. There is no place we can go, not place that we can be committed to, where God is not. In our lowest lows, in our highest highs, God is there. David sang of the Lord, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,' even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You." (Psalms 139:7-12) Stop and think about this for a moment. We all have times where we feel lost, far from God, and alone in this world, but even in our darkest despair, God is with us. We may feel so far from God that we are sure He does not see us, hear us, or care for us, but even in that very moment, God is nearer to us than our very breath. Where ever you are, what ever you are facing, take this moment to turn to God and you will find that He is closer than you ever imagined and that through it all, He never left your side. What comfort, what joy, what strength to know that in all times and in all places, God is with us. Let us always remember what God spoke when He said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV)

David Robison

Saturday, August 13, 2016

To each one of us - Ephesians 4:7-8

"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men" (Ephesians 4:7-8)
Much of modern Christianity has become largely a spectator sport. We have those who perform their religious duties and those who sit idly by watching them and either approving or disproving their performance as it suits their mood. We have pastors who teach for us, worship teams that worship for us, prayer teams that pray for us, and professional ministers who do the work of the ministry that we ought to be doing ourselves. Church life has become largely passive: we come, we sit, we listen, we leave. In all of this we have bought into the lie that there are those who minister and those who are ministered to; there are those who are gifted and those who depend upon the gifted ones for the spiritual well being. How we came to this place is a story of almost two thousand years of history and too long to recite here, but we must acknowledge that we have deviated far from the ideal of everyone being gifted and every one being called to the work of ministry as tough by Paul.

To each one of us, grace (or favor) has been given and, through that grace, we have been given gifts and callings through which we might serve God and enrich His body. This grace is given to us according to the measure of Christ's gift, but what is this gift? Jesus, in talking to the woman at the well, said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'" (John 4:10) This living water is none other than the Holy Spirit whom Jesus was to pour out upon all believers after His resurrection and ascension on high. Furthermore, when Simon offered money to the apostles that he might be able to impart the Holy Spirit as they did, Peter rebuked him saying, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" (Acts 8:20) Here, Peter identifies the "Gift of God" as the Holy Spirit into which we, as believers, are baptized. It is through the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, the favor of God, that we are empowered to work the works of God and to perform the work of ministry for the common good; not only for the church but for the world at large.

In setting up what Paul will be discussing after a brief digression, Paul quotes an Old Testament psalm. "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell there." (Psalms 68:18) However, Paul quotes this psalm as "He gave gifts to men" as opposed to our common translations of the psalm being, "You have received gifts among men." This can be troubling. How can we trust Paul's writings if and when he misquotes the scriptures he claims to be divinely inspired? We could say that Paul was quoting from memory and just got it wrong, but that doesn't help much when we expect the scriptures to be true and accurate. How can we understand this apparent disagreement between the Old Testament scripture and Paul's rendition of it in his letter to the Ephesians? The key is to understand what David meant when he said, "You received gifts among men." Darby translates the psalm as, "thou hast received gifts in Man." (Psalms 68:18 Darby) Here we understand that the gifts Christ received were men. We can think of this as saying that Christ was "paid in men." Men were the prize and gifts he sought to win through His death and resurrection. The Bible in Basic English translates this verse as, "you have taken offerings from men." (Psalms 68:18 BBE) Here indicating that Jesus has taken an offering of men and women and called them for special purpose and function within the Body of Christ.

What we can see is that Paul was not misquoting the scripture, but rather he was interpreting it in light of the Gospel of Christ. A few verses later, Paul will say, "And He gave some as apostles..." (Ephesians 4:11) Christ received an offering of men and gave them back to the church as gifts for their growth, establishment, and equipping. The gifts He gave to the church were not offices, powers, or special abilities, the gift He gave to the church were men, We will have more to say on this later, but the idea Paul is trying to get across is that, when we think about the gifts God has set within the Body, we need to look past the actual ministries, abilities, positions, and powers that are manifested through each of us who have received grace, to the person manifesting these beneficial gifts. For the true gift is not the ability or the ministry, but the person in whom these ministries and abilities dwell. If we begin to look at the gifts in the Body as people, then it will revolutionize how we related to others and to the gifts God has deposited in His church.

David Robison

Friday, August 12, 2016

There is one - Ephesians 4:4-6

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Our faith was not meant to divide us but to unite us as one in Christ. It is a shame that, through the centuries, we have allowed our varying beliefs, practices, and loyalties to divide us into competing camps of Christianity. Oftentimes, the very things that Paul enumerates here as being the source of our oneness, are the mountains upon which we stake our claim as being different and which we use as weapons to separate ourselves from one another. Paul reminds us that love "is the perfect bond of unity." (Colossians 3:14) When we choose division over unity, we are choosing to walk in something other than love. We may feel ourselves justified in asserting our superiority over other believers, but our claims of superiority come not from love but from other more carnal motives. When we use the things of God to divide the Body of Christ then we do harm both to Christ and His body and, ultimately, to ourselves.

Of the things that testify to our oneness, there are three that deserve special notice. First is our oneness of faith. Faith is not a creed or a statement of belief printed on the back of a church bulletin. Faith is our belief and trust in Jesus, His life and substitutionary death on the Cross, and the promise of everlasting life which He has declared towards us. Polycarp, a disciple of John's, wrote to the Philippian church, exhorting them in studying the letters of Paul, saying, "And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.'" (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, Chapter III) Polycarp describes faith as the mother of us all, and this before there were any creeds or formulas to test one's faith. Jesus told us that, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) Our faith in the Gospel is far different than our faith in theology. One unites and one tends to divide. While we may differ in theology, if we hold a common faith and hope in the Gospel, then we ought to find common ground to unite us as one around our common savior who is the "the author and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

The second thing that unites us as one is our one baptism in Christ. I grew up in a church whose roots went back to the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. While there is much to admire about the Anabaptists, their five hundred year history is one of division after division, often centering around the mode and means of baptism. In our church you were baptized by immersion three times forward, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. Other offshoots of the Anabaptists require you to be baptized in flowing water. In our town they would even break the ice on the river in order to baptize people in flowing water. When considering what Paul wrote here, I'm not sure that Paul is speaking of the physical act of baptism. Consider what the writer of Hebrews wrote considering the foundations of Christian faith, "the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." (Hebrews 6:1-2 NKJV) Notice he enumerates here "baptisms" in the plural, not baptism in the singular. Speaking of baptism, Jesus said, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 11:16) Describing a baptism that was not by water but in the Holy Spirit. When Paul went to Ephesus for the first time, he asked the believers there, "'Into what then were you baptized?' And they said, 'Into John's baptism.' Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying." (Acts 19:3-6) Here there were three baptisms, the baptism of repentance, the baptism in the name of Jesus, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Three baptisms in which only two involved water. Finally, Paul writes the Corinthians reminding them that, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:13) Here their baptism was by, or through, the one Spirit of God, not by water. The point here is that, while we may think our doctrine and practices of baptism are so important, I'm not sure they are that important to God. Its not the physical act of baptism that yields salvation and grace to the one being baptized, but the Spirit that is at work during the act. The form and formula of the physical act is not as important as the grace imparted to the believe through faith during the act of baptism. I firmly believe, that when it comes to baptism, we need to look beyond our petty differences in the act itself to the reality of the Spirit who works His grace in our live and unites us as one in Himself.

Finally, while not mentioned here, is the issue of communion or the Eucharist of Christ. Paul writes, "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:17) One of the greatest shames in the progress of Christianity is that we have allowed the common table of the Lord, that one table that was meant to unite us, to be a point of division; separating us from our common fellowship as believers. With arrogance, we approach the Lord's table, claiming unity, while we bar other believers from joining us in partaking of the bread and wine simply because we find disagreement with them in their doctrine and their failure to submit to our rules and creeds. Where we ought to be "one Body", we find ourselves in hostile opposition towards one another, rejecting dissenting believers in Christ, and forbidding them to commune with us at the table of the Lord. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul rebukes them concerning the Lord's supper saying, "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep." (1 Corinthians 11:29-30) What does it mean to judge the body right? In part, it means understanding and acknowledging that, though we may differ in some of our beliefs and practices, we are all still all one in the Body of Christ. When we deny the table of the Lord to others whom we judge less worthy of it than ourselves, then we are not judging the body rightly and we eat and drink to our own judgment. We must return to the ancient and apostolic belief that it is especially at the table of the Lord that we declare our oneness in Christ and not use it as a weapon of division and a claim to superiority over other believers. We need to start honoring that which makes us one instead of using it to divide us into many. He who divides the Body of Christ cannot love the body which he seeks to divide. Let us learn again to live in love with one another and honor our oneness over our differences.

David Robison

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Walk worthy - Ephesians 4:1-3

"Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Let's start off by considering at what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that we must first show ourselves worthy before we can embrace God's calling on our lives, nor is he saying that our worthiness for God's calling is determined by our works done in our own effort. Paul's plea that we should walk worthy is not a call to return to the Law and to works as if we could earn God's calling by our own actions and efforts. Paul is calling us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling because God has already made us worthy. We have already been called, the blood of Christ has already made us worthy, we have already been adopted as sons and daughters of God, therefore let us walk in the reality of who we really are. Our worth is not found in our actions and works but in whose we are. If we have truly become sons and daughters of Christ, then let us no longer live as orphans and as sons and daughters of the world, let us assume and live out our new identity by walking in light of who we really are.

The Greek word for "worthy" is translated in the since of  living "appropriately" or "as becomes". In other words, it is the object that follows that should determine our behavior. Our behavior is not to earn our calling, but because we are called, we ought to walk in a way that is appropriate to, or as becomes, our calling. To help us, Paul lists some of those things that are appropriate, or befitting, of our calling. What is interesting is that he lists none of the typical spiritual disciplines that we would normally think of when contemplating a religious life, such as prayer, fasting, study, meditation, and attendance at church. Those things which Paul adjures us to do are all relate to our behavior towards one another. The Christian life is a life of relationships; our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. We cannot focus on one to the detriment of the other. If we love God but treat each other with contempt and indifference, then we really have not fully come into the fullness of our life with Christ. John goes so far as to say, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." (1 John 4:20-21) Those things which Paul lists are all acts of love by which we show the love of Christ to one another.

To walk worthy of our calling is to walk in love towards one another. Our bond of unity comes not through our agreement on theology nor our loyalty or affinity to a particular minister or ministry, but it comes through the bonds of love which we share with one another. Paul commands us, "Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." (Colossians 3:14) It is our love for one another than produces unity among us, but this love must not be internal only, it must be expressed through our actions and deeds towards one another. Solomon reminds us that, "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed." (Proverbs 27:5 NKJV) It is not enough to be loving towards one another, we must live out that love through our deeds and actions. It is not enough to feel love, we must express our love through humility, gentleness, forbearance, patience, and forgiveness. Only when we learn to do this will our lives truly express the full character of our calling by which we have been called by God.

David Robison

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Abundantly beyond - Ephesians 3:20-21

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Too often, we limit God by viewing Him through the lens of our own weaknesses, limitations, and powerlessness. Our estimation of God is limited by what we can perceive, imagine, and by what we count as reasonable and possible. Instead of viewing God as greater than ourselves, we view Him as one of us; subject to the same limited possibilities as we ourselves are. This limited view of God often effects our hope, faith, and prayers. For example, when faced with difficulties and trials, we often pray for relief and for a cessation of the trials we face. However, God is able to do so much more, not only to bring an end to our suffering but to even rise us above our circumstances and to cause us to rule and reign in life through Christ. We just want to feel better but Christ wants us to overcome and live a totally victorious life. Sometimes we need to dream bigger, believe greater, and hope further than our minds can conceive of imagine. We need to begin to practice believing in the "more abundantly" of God.

This super abundant ability of God is exercised through the limitless power of God that dwells within us. This power within is more than mere human effort and strength of will, it is of divine origin and is representative of the very person and nature of Christ. Paul refers to this power when he speaks of, "the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. 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." (Ephesians 1:19-20) This power that dwells within is nothing other than that same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Within us is the same resurrection power that was in Jesus when He concurred the grave and rose to everlasting life. When we consider the great quality of this power within, we must admit that there is no problem, no need, no want that this power cannot provide or overcome. Regardless of what our need is, the resurrection power of Christ is more than sufficient to meet it and surpass it. God desires not only to meet our needs, but to fill them with resurrection life!

This power within us is more than the sum of our spiritual gifts and the power to effect change and work miracles in the live of those around us. It is the power to change us and, through our changed lives, to change the world around us. Paul speaks of this transformation when he says, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2) Here, the Greek word translated as "transformed" is the same word from which we get our word for metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. It represents a whole and complete change from one thing into another. The power of Christ that dwells within dwells that we might be totally transformed from the inside outward until we fully and plainly reflect Christ with our lives. It is for this transformation that we have been saved. Paul reminds us that, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son." (Romans 8:29)

This power and this transformation are for His glory; that He might be glorified for the work of power that He works in and through us. Not only is He to find glory in us, but also in His church that consists of those who likewise possess this power within and who are also be transformed into His image day by day. This begs the question, in what do we glory in our church? To what do we point to as the glory and power when describing our church to others? Is it our worship, our pastor, our doctrine, or our services and outreaches to others? What do we see as the defining characteristics of our church? Paul says that that which we ought to glory in is Christ. When we look at our church it ought to be the power of Christ working in, through, and among us that ought to give us pause to glory. It is this power of Christ that we ought to point others to as the reason we join together as one body in Christ. Everything else ought to be secondary to our glorying in Christ. In the end, it is not our preaching, our services, our worship, or even our doctrine that will change people but the power of God that is ready to indwell them. It is to this that we ought to point their attention, not the trappings of men.

David Robison