Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How I long for you - Philippians 1:7-8

"For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:7-8)
It is only right that Paul feels in what way towards them? Is it in feeling that God will perfect them until the day of Christ Jesus as mentioned in the previous verse, or is it in feeling such intense love for them as mentioned in the next verse? I believe it to be the latter. Also, in what way is it right for him to feel this way? Is it out of faith or out of some other motive? What is interesting is Paul's next thought, "because I have you in my heart." Darby translates this thought in a unique way among all the other translators. He translates it as, "because ye have me in your hearts." (Philippians 1:7, Darby) Personally, I believe that this translation makes more since, at least as to how the sentence is constructed, and it helps the sentence to flow better and to yield a simpler meaning. It is right and just for Paul to have such love for then since, after all, they have expressed such love and concern for Paul and for his work. More than that, in all that Paul has been through, they too have endured, and as his love for them has endured through his hardships, so has their love for him endured throughout all of their own hardships.

They, Paul and the Philippians, have a special bond one with another, not just a bond of love, but a bond of community; a bond that is formed through shared experiences. His hardships and theirs has taught them a level of grace and has brought them close though their mutual participation in that grace. It is easily to feel bonded with someone who has gone through things similar to you and who has found their strength, endurance, and joy in the same place and person(s) as you have. You both knew what it meant to suffer and you both understood, through experience, what it means to be sustained by the grace of God,

This word for partakers is a contraction of a word that means "union" and one that means an "associate" or "companion." It implies that they are more than friends, companions, associates, and fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. It implies that they have joined together for a common cause, a common experience, or a common suffering in Christ. It is one thing thing to have friends in Christ, it is another to join with them in a common pursuit, vision, and purpose in Christ. This was who the Philippians were to Paul. While they were all believers in Christ, they were united in their common mission and suffering for the Gospel. We often talk about unity in the Body of Christ. Perhaps the unity is best achieved when we use the grace of God to participate together in the development and growth of the body among us and in the advancement of the Kingdom of God around us. Perhaps, if we feel isolated and at disunity with one another, it is because we are not invested with each in the common work of Christ. Paul said that it is through our union in purpose that the Body grows and bears fruit to God. "From whom [the head] 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 4:16) Unity can only be found in action, not in being.

David Robison

Saturday, November 26, 2016

will perfect it - Philippians 1:3-6

"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:3-6)
In Paul's greeting to the Philippian church, Paul is emphatic about his love and care for each and every one of them. Paul uses the same Greek word (or their derivatives) four times in repetition to emphasize his point. He says that his love and care for them is in "every remembrance," at "every time," with "every prayer", and for "every one." Paul was fully invested in the Philippians, not only as an apostolic worker on their behalf, but as a fellow participant in the Gospel and kingdom of Christ. Paul's letter is more than a momentary show of concern, it is the result of a daily remembrance of them, unceasing prayer for them, and an enduring love for them individually and corporately.

Paul and the Philippians had very little in common. Paul was a Jew, raised in the strictest observance of their laws and traditions. Paul was raised to believe that he, and his people, were the only chosen ones and that the gentiles were to be forever excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. The Philippians were gentiles, raised without any benefit of the understanding of God's previous revelations in the scriptures and prophesies made before Christ. They were godless in their morals, ethics, and philosophy. Their God's were many and bore little resemblance to the one true God. However, even given all these differences, Paul found commonality and unity in the Spirit with these gentiles because they had something in common that was of greater significance than their differences: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our participation in the Gospel breaks down the walls that divide us. In the Gospel, though we are different and our heritage is varied and unrelated, we are made to be one people in Christ. We, who were many, have now become one. We have been joined together in a Gospel where,  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:28-29)

When we first come to the Gospel, God begins a "good work" within us. What is important to understand is that, our salvation experience, is not the end of that good work, but only the beginning. Salvation is not an event that happens and then we go our merry way, but it is the beginning of a journey and a process of being transformed into the image of Christ. While being born again is essential to our new spiritual life, it alone is not sufficient to bring us to where God desires to take us. Salvation alone is not enough to bring us to "the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at [the] full-grown man, at [the] measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ; in order that we may be no longer babes," (Ephesians 4:13-14 Darby) Salvation is just the beginning and, once having started His good work, God wishes to bring it to a conclusion.

This conclusion of the good work God has started will take a life time of walking with God. We will spend the rest of our lives learning of God, learning from God, and learning obedience to the things He asks of us. This process is begun by God, sustained by God, and completed by God. However, it's beneficial aspects in our lives also requires our participation with God in the process. Paul reminds us to, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13) While God initiates the process, our participation in it is required if we are to reap the benefits of the process. Our spiritual growth does not happen without our participation in that growth. It is essential that we work with God as He works in us to produce in us His image and His likeness.

David Robison

Sunday, November 20, 2016

bond-servants of Christ Jesus - Philippians 1:1-2

"Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:1-2)
Paul is writing from a prison cell in Rome. His apostolic partner, Timothy, is with him, although not in prison himself. Some have described Timothy as being a young pastor of one of the early churches. However, there is no evidence that Timothy was ever a "pastor" or a local leader of any of the early churches we know of. Eusebius, in his book on ecclesiastical history, never includes Timothy in any of his lists of bishops of the early churches. As far as we can tell, Timothy was an apostolic worker with Paul in Paul's ministry to the churches in Asia Minor. Later, when we read Paul's letters to Timothy, where He says to Timothy, "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith." (1 Timothy 1:3-4) we understand that Paul did not leave him behind to "pastor" the church but to complete the apostolic teaching in the church that Paul himself did not have time to complete.

Paul describes himself and Timothy as "bond-servants" of Christ. This is interesting in light of Jesus' words to His disciples. "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15) While Jesus says He does not call us slaves (the same Greek word Paul uses that is translated, "bond-servant"), Paul calls himself and timothy bond-servants. How can, or should, Paul call himself a bond-servant when Jesus does not but rather calls him a friend? The key to understanding this is to understand an Old Testament tradition. "If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for  six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment... But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently." (Exodus 21:2, 5-6) Paul and Timothy's subjugation to Christ as a bond-salves was not by coercion, force, or duty but rather voluntary our of their love for their master. While the love of God had set them free, their love for God bound them to Him in eternal servitude. They had committed their lives to serving their master out of the their boundless love for Him and His boundless love for them.

Paul writes to those who are in Philippi and, almost as an after thought, to the overseers and deacons as well. It is important to note that Paul does not write to the leaders of the church, although he includes them in his letter, but he writes to the church in general. I have know churches where any prophesy or spoken words, other than simple encouraging words, had to be first submitted to the leadership for judging before being presented to the church as a whole. However, this does not seem to be Paul's approach to addressing the church. It is interesting that in addressing those who ruled over the church that he does not call them leaders or pastors but overseers. The role of the rulers of the church were not so much to lead as it was to oversee. The church functioned according to the "proper working of each individual part" (Ephesians 4:16) while the elders in the church simply oversaw what went on. Their job was not to control but to watch and to step in when some correction of protection was needed. It seems to me, in many of the churches I have been involved with, that we have become so enamored by leadership that we end up losing sight of the body itself. Everything is delegated, or abnegated, to the leadership and little is left for the body to do as little authority is left to the body to exercise. I wonder at times, if our leaders became overseers, how that might change our churches and restore purpose and responsibility back to the body itself?

David Robison

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Peace be to the brethren - Ephesians 6:21-24

"But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love." (Ephesians 6:21-24)
We live in a highly connected world. Sometimes it is hard to remember that back then they did not. It could be months in between communications and years between visits. Many people to whom Paul wrote had never met him or had met him only once. Having heard that Paul was imprisoned, many people prayed and hoped for his safety with out ever knowing if their prayers were having an effect or if their prayers had found the object for which they prayed. For them, it was a great joy to receive Tychicus and hear the report of how Paul was fairing.

Paul closes his letter by praying that they would find peace along with love and faith. It is interesting that Paul often holds these two virtues together: love and faith. Love without faith is weak and often misdirected. Faith without love can actually be destructive to those to whom it is directed. Both are required and necessary. They are as two sides of the same coin. More precisely, one is the action and the other its conduit, as Paul says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) Love is to be the conduit through which faith works.

Finally, Paul speaks of those who love our Lord with a love that is incorruptible. An incorruptible love is one that does not fade, grow cold, or diminish by degrees. Some people start out read-hot but end up lukewarm, or worse, stone cold dead. Our love for God should ever be increasing and is something we should guard as precious treasure. Anything of value must be tested, and so with our love for God. Our love will be tested but it need not fail. Our incorruptible love for God is at the center of our life with God and our life with each other. It is what sustain us and gives us the power to love others, even the unlovely and unlovable. Let us not grow cold in love but ever be those who stoke its flames to a full burning fire.

David Robison

Saturday, November 12, 2016

With all prayer and petition - Ephesians 6:18-20

"With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." (Ephesians 6:18-20
We are to be constant in prayers and petitions. Many of us know this, but few of us do this. Moreover, how does one pray at all times and with all prayers in our busy and jammed pack lives? The key is in understanding what Paul means by "all times". The Greek word used here for "time" does not mean the sequential passing of seconds, minutes, hours, and days but refers to discrete moments or opportunities in time. Darby translates this verse as, "praying at all seasons, with all prayer and supplication in [the] Spirit." (Ephesians 6:18 Darby) God is not asking us to fill every waking moment of the day with prayer, rather, when opportunities arise or when the situation requires it, to be ready and prompt to pray. Each opportunity we face, each decision we must make, and each movement of testing that comes our way are to be filled with our prayers and supplication,

Paul speaks of "all" as in "all prayer and petition" he means to indicate that there are various forms of our relationship with God of which prayer and petition are but two. Paul is encouraging us to use all forms of voicing our needs and concerns to God, be they asking, begging, or something else. Prayer is not to be rote or simply a static discipline we have with the Father. Payer should be dynamic and applicable to the need at hand. All forms of communing with the Father are to be pursued as needed. In fact, the Greek word for "prayer" can also imply "worship". Worship is a powerful force with God for it says, "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, To bind their kings with chains
And their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written; this is an honor for all His godly ones." (Psalms 149:6-9) Worship can be a powerful weapon in our time of need. Furthermore, we must elicit the help of the Holy Spirit, praying in the Spirit, for it is the Spirit who "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." (Romans 8:26) In our time of need we have not been left alone but have the agency and help of the Holy Spirit within us who not only enables us to pray but also prays for us as well.

When Paul says, "with this in view," he is speaking of our need to prayerful in all seasons and in every occasion. Another translation would be, "With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:18 NIV) Knowing our need for prayer, we must always be on the alert, ready to pray, and praying with all perseverance. The Greek word for "alert" means both to watch and to keep awake. The opposite of sleeping is not being awake but watching. Remember what Jesus asked his disciples when He found them sleeping while He was praying, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:37-38) Those who are asleep have no idea of what is going on around them nor the battle that is raging against them. We must be people who are awake and who are watching in prayer that we might see the reality around us and perceive the things that require our "all prayers and petitions." This take a decisive action to watch and a perseverance in prayer. Those who slumber will not do this but those who are awake will not be caught off guard. Some of us need to hear the works of Jesus when He said, "Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die." (Revelation 3:2) Now is not the time for sleeping.

Our prayers are not only to be for us but for all who are seeking to live Godly in Christ. We are in this together and we need each other. We all need the encouragement, love, and support of each other. We need, not only our prayers, but the prayers of others on our behalf. Praying for each other helps to divert our focus from ourselves and helps us to grow in relationships with our brothers and sisters. Far too often, instead of praying, we judge. I remember one time I was staying with a couple and saw their family situation and thought, "What a mess!" That night, as I lay in bed, God spoke to me and said, "If you loved them you would pray for them." I was convicted that, while I was good at judging other people, I was not very good at praying for them. We all go through difficult times. We all have issues and areas in our lives that still need the sanctifying power of God to cleanse us. However, what we don't need is the judgment of others. What we do need is their prayers. Let us be people who not only pray for ourselves and then judge others, but people who love and pray for all.

Finally, Paul asks for prayers for himself. However, instead of asking that his chains be removed, he asks that he might have the strength in God to fulfill the mission God had called him to. In praying for our needs and wants, we must not forget to pray for the things God wants. What is it that God wants in the Earth? What is it that God wants in our lives? These are the things we too should be praying and supplicating God for. We must pray, not only in the will of God, but for the will of God. Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven;" (Matthew 6:10) not our will or kingdom but God's will and kingdom. We must learn to pray outside of ourselves; for our brethren and also for what God wills. This is the kind of prayer that delights God and that moves mountains.

David Robison

Friday, November 11, 2016

that you will be able - Ephesians 6:13-17

"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:13-17)
Once again, Paul encourages us to take up the panoply of God; taking unto ourselves the full armor, utility, and instrumentality of God. What is important to understand is that the time to do this is not when you find yourselves in the mist of the evil day. When everything is assaulting you, it's not the time to be looking for your armor. Armor must be put on prior to the battle, not in the midst of it. Also, the armor is not something you put on and take off. We are to be continuously robed in the armor of God. Only then we will be properly prepared to meet whatever may come our way. It is also interesting to note that our call is to stand. I have known some people who always seem to be looking for a spiritual fight. They are always assaulting something or trying to cast something out. Paul is not telling us to be running head-long into the battle we think we should be fighting, but rather to be prepared to stand should the battle come our way. Paul's words to us are like the Boy Scouts' motto, "Be prepared." You needn't go looking for a fight. Trust me, it will find you. Therefore, be prepared.

To gird oneself is to be ready for action and for service. Jesus tells us to always be prepared for whatever may come our way. He also tells us to be ready at a moment's notice to obey our master's wishes. "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately." (Luke 12:35-36 NKJV) Truth is essential to our preparation to act. Without truth we are easily lead astray. Without truth we fail to understand the true nature of life and the world we live in. We fail to understand the importance of being ready and what is at stake by our obedience to Christ. To properly see the world and to be ready to answer God's call we must shed the lies of the world and surround ourselves with the truth of the Gospel.

While, here, Paul references the breastplate of righteousness, in other places he refers to it as the, "the breastplate of faith and love." (1 Thessalonians 5:8) I believe that this is because faith and love equal righteousness. Remember the words of Paul when he said, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) Righteousness is nothing more than faith working through love. It is also interesting to note that righteousness can be a defensive weapon.Remember when Jesus said, "the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." (John 14:30) Righteousness removes all the hooks in our heart by which the enemy can grab and yank us around. The enemy comes around looking for those in who he has place, but righteousness closes the door and keeps him out. How powerful is righteousness to our ability to stand!

The phrase, "the preparation of the Gospel of peace" has always been a bit enigmatic for me. Is the Gospel of peace the preparation or are we to shod our feet as the preparation for the Gospel of peace? Here are two alternative translations that may help us to understand this verse. "Be ready with the good news of peace as shoes on your feet." (Ephesians 6:15 BBE) "as well as the shoes of the Good News of peace-- a firm foundation for your feet." (Ephesians 6:15 Weymouth) Along with these translations, we have the prophetic words of Isaiah, "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7) I think what Paul is saying is that we should ever be ready to share and take the Gospel of peace to those who need it. To "be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2) Furthermore, we must always remember that it is a Gospel of peace and not one of condemnation and alienation. We are to bring the message of reconciliation and peace with the Father that is for all who place their hope and trust in Him.

The shield Paul refers too is a large shield the size and shape of a door. It is meant to protect our whole person. So what are those fiery darts, or missiles, we are to protect ourselves against? Primarily they are the lies and accusations of the enemy. Jesus told us, "Whenever he [the devil] speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44) Similarly, the angel tells John that the Devil is, "the accuser of our brethren." (Revelation 12:10) Faith enables us to recognize the lies of the enemy. It helps us to distinguish the false accusations of our enemy from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. In this case, faith is more than trust, it is a belief and an acknowledgment of the truth we have been taught by Christ. When we believe His truth, we will not be so quick to buy into the lies the enemy tries to send our way. This is critical to our life with God because, "the truth will make you free" (John 8:32) while the lies of the enemy only brings bondage.

Paul speaks here of the helmet of salvation while in another place he identifies it as, "a helmet, the hope of salvation." (1 Thessalonians 5:8) The key here is that a helmet is meant to protect our heads and, in this case, our thoughts and reasoning. Our hope is empowered as we fill our understanding with the truth and knowledge of God. As we meditate on the salvation of God, we crowd out the other thoughts that diminish us and that bring worry and anxiety to life. Many people get caught in the cycle of replaying over and over in their minds the slights, worries, failures, and fears of their life. This constant rehearsing gives power to those thoughts and can for a stronghold in their mind that is difficult to tear down. This is why Paul encourages us, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8) These are the things that accompany our salvation and, even while we may not see them presently in our lives, they are the hope of our salvation. These are the things we should fill our minds with, not the lies and deceit of the enemy.

Finally, Paul tells us to take up the sword of the spirit. In both the Greek and Hebrew language, the word for Spirit is the same as the word for breath. This verse can also be translated as the "sword of the breath." As odd as this might sound, it is a perfect picture of what John describes in revelations as he sees, "From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron." (Revelation 19:15) Truly the sword of his breath. What is important to note here is that, as important as it is to think right, taking up the helmet of salvation, it is equally important to speak right, using the sword of His breath. If we speak doubt, fear, and resignation, then we give place to those things in our life. However, if we speak the truth with all its hope, faith, and assurance, then we empower the truth we believe to become effective in our lives and the lives of those around us. Solomon tells us, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21) Our words are seeds that produce either life or death depending on the seeds we sow. When we take up the sword of the word of God and learn to speak the same things as God speaks then, not only do we reap a harvest of life, but we also plant seeds of life on others as well. Our speach is powerful and we should use it as the weapon it is.

David Robison

Monday, November 07, 2016

Our struggle is not - Ephesians 6:12

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)
There are many things that seek to rattle our cages. As we go through each day, we often find things that seek to oppose us and derail us from our faith and consistency with Christ. However, far too often, when we try and war against these forces, our contention is misdirected and aimed at the wrong actors. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Your enemy is not our spouse, your coworkers, your neighbors, or those of your family. Far too often these people become the recipients of our war against those things that seem to upset us, but they are not the problem, They are the unfortunate ones who are the closest to us so they are the ones who receive our frustration, our rebuffs, and our aimless flailing against our ever present opponent. Our unfortunate misdirection of force only serves to hurt those near us and perpetuate the influence of the enemy in our lives. We need to learn that people are not our enemies but rather our enemies are more powerful, unseen, and ready to exploit any weakness that may be in us for their own ends.

Paul mentions four things, or classes of influence in our lives, which we do and ought to struggle against. The first is rulers. Darby translates this as "principalities". These are chief rulers; those given authority over specific domains. They were created as rulers, given both permission and empowering to rule by their authority. They hold sway over large areas and large groups of people. They may even be seen to govern over specific sins, such as drunkenness, and certain maladies such as leprosy and mental illness.

The second is powers. These are those who have been given power and authority to act by the principalities they server. Darby translates this word as simply "authorities." There exists a host of minions doing the work and bidding of various principalities. We can think of these as the many demons who serve and work under the authority of higher ranking and ruling principalities of demons. These can be compared to the little foxes that Solomon refers to. "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes." (Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJV)

Third are the world forces of darkness. Darby translates this as "universal lords of darkness," The Greek word for "world forces" is a combination of two Greek words. The first is the word "kosmos" which indicates all of this created realm, and especially this world. The second word can be translated "to seize or retain". I believe that this phrase refers specifically to Satan as the ruler of this world. It is curious that this word is translated in the plural and perhaps includes the many antichrists of which John says, "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." (1 John 2:18)

Lastly, Paul names "spiritual forces of wickedness." There is a whole host of non-corporal beings that are at work in the unseen real whose mission is wickedness. It is not simply that their mission is to spread wickedness, but their mission is to menace, scheme, and agitate those who are seeking to live a godly life. They are bent on our destruction and our derailment from the abundant life God has for us. What is most important to learn is, these forces are not seen but invisible. Those we can see are not the enemy. If we live our lives fighting against people, we will one day find that we have been fighting the wrong forces and we will only fight to provide the enemy greater access and place in our lives. Our fight against people will only serve to increase the influence of wickedness in our lives. We must look beyond the human origins of our disturbances to see the unseen forces at work behind them. Then we must learn to fight a spiritual battle while we leave unmolested the people around us whom we previously accused as the source of our agitation. We must learn to fight the right fight and to oppose the real source of power that is against us.

David Robison

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Finally, be strong - Ephesians 6:10-11

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." (Ephesians 6:10-11)
The Greek word used her in "be strong" means to be empowered or to acquire or increase in strength. It implies a process where by we go from weakness and inability to strength and ability. What is important to note is the means by which we are to grow in strength and to be empowered in our inner-man. We are to be empowered in the Lord. It is only in relationship with the Lord that we can be empowered to face and defeat the forces that are bent upon our destruction. We cannot find such strength in ourselves, our material possessions, or in anything this world has to offer. Our only hope of victory, our only source of strength in the battle, it found in and flows from the Lord.

God's strength is to become our strength, The Greek word used for the "strength" of God's might implies action. It can be translated vigor. The word used for God's "might" can also mean forcefulness. The strength of God is shown in action, It is not enough to be strong, but we must use that strength to overcome the schemes of the Devil. We are strong in the Lord, but we must put that strength to work in our daily lives. At times we must be vigorous, forceful, deliberate, and active in our stance and opposition to the enemy. As we learn to be strong in the Lord we must also learn to use that strength to be forceful.

The Greek word for "full armor" is an interesting one and one from which we get our word "panoply" which Webster defines as "a group or collection that is impressive because it is so big or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things." Here its application is made in reference to the full armor worn by the Roman solders, but its application is wider than that. It can refer to the full instrumentality of God. It is the full tool-box or complete set of skills we have in Christ. Here Paul gives a list of some of those things. However, I believe that this list was not meant to be exhaustive but simply an illustrative list. For example, for some they could add scripture memorization to the list. Others could add worship. Still others, fasting. The point is that we need to take the sum total of God's armor, the tools He has given us, and the skills we have developed along the way that we might apply them to the wiles of the enemy so that we might continue to stand in our faith. We need all God has to offer us. This may mean learning new skills, taking up new tools God has for us, and putting on more armor to protect our lives. All of it is needed and we need to daily dress ourselves in the panoply of God.

We need the panoply of God to guard against the wiles, scheming, and trickery of the Devil. The idea is that we do not always know when and how the enemy will attach. He uses trickery, slight of hand, and surprises to try and catch us off guard. Therefore, we must always be ready; always dressed in our armor; always having the tools and instruments of God in hand and ready to use, It reminds me of the scene in Nehemiah where they were building the wall while under constant threat of the enemy. It is said that, "those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon." (Nehemiah 4:17) They did their work with one hand while carrying their weapon with the other, Even while working they were prepared to fend of the enemy if necessary, In the same way, we must live our life always ready, always having our weapons in our hands, to stand our ground against our enemy.

Finally, we are called to stand. We are not called to chase after the enemy or to look for demons under every rock. Fear not, you need not search him out, he will find you. Our focus must be on our own lives. We need not worry about the devil. We need not be so consumed with looking for him that we loses sight of the life God has given us to live. We must live our lives, but live them prepared. When trials and temptations come, we will be ready for them and able to meet them with the strength and panoply that God provides. Our life is not meant to be a life of constant battle, but a life constantly prepared and ready for battle. In the end, we are called to stand; stand firm in our faith and continuance in God.

David Robison

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Masters, do the same - Ephesians 6:9

"And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him." (Ephesians 6:9)
When Paul instructs masters to "do the same" what is he talking about? Certainly not obeying their slaves. The "same things" are those things that are done "with good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men." (Ephesians 6:7) Masters should live their lives towards others, including their slaves, with good will. They should be kind and considerate of the needs and dignity of those they master over. Specifically he mentions giving up threatening them. This Greek words means to be a menace to someone else. Other places Paul instructs them to be fair and just in the treatment of their slaves, "Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven." (Colossians 4:1)

At the heart of Paul's instruction are two important concepts. First is the Golden Rule. Masters are to treat their salves as they themselves would be treated, with kindness, consideration, fairness, and justice. We would not like having someone over us yelling and threatening all the time so why should we do it to those under us? When we do wrong, we would like mercy for ourselves so why are we so quick to want to punish those under us when they do wrong? The Father has told us that, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) In other words, love others in the same way you would like to be loved.

Secondly, while we may be masters over slaves, we ourselves are the slaves of our heavenly master and He will judge us as slaves the same way they judge and treat our slaves. How can we plead mercy from God when we don't extend it to others? How can we require obedience from our slaves when we don't offer it to our master in heaven? Just because we are masters does not mean that God will judge us differently from our slaves. In this since we are one with our slaves and even greater than them in judgment. If they fail to obey human masters they will receive temporal punishment, but if we fail to obey our heavenly master, our punishment is eternal. We can only rule over and mange other people correctly when we understand our master and allow ourselves to be properly managed and ruled by the supreme master of the universe. We too have a master and we too are slaves, so let us not think of ourselves as being superior but as being in common with all other humans in receiving grace and mercy from the one who rules the universe.

David Robison

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Slaves, be obedient - Ephesians 6:5-8

"Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free." (Ephesians 6:5-8)
In Paul's day, slavery was a well established social institution. However, slavery in the Geek/Roman period differed from our own period of slavery in some very significant ways. First, slavery then had little or no relationship to racism. Those who were enslaved were not enslaved because their masters believed them to be inferior or created for slavery, they were most often enslaved as the result of being conquered in war. Part of the spoils of war was then the right to enslave those you concored. This is also the second major difference between slavery then and that of the past several centuries. The slave trade that supplied slaves to America and other nations was itself supplied by black tribes in Africa who would kidnap those of a rival tribe and sell them to the white Europeans for transport and sale to America. In Paul's day, slaves were made slaves through what was then a noble act of war and the right of the victor to enslave the conquered, where the slave trade of recent past was the result of the complicity of both Africans, Americans, and Europeans in the lustful pursuit of money. In saying this, I am in no way justifying slavery, but we must be cautions not to judge and understand slavery in Paul's time based upon our own recent experience with slavery.

Similarly, Paul is not justifying slavery. He is acknowledging it as the normative state of the world he and many believers lived in. Slavery existed and it would be centuries before it would pass away. Many of the first converts to Christianity were slaves and Paul's main focus in these verses is not to address the issue of slavery but to address those who were slaves and those who were masters and to give them instruction as to how they should relate to each other; both in the context of their existing relationship as slave and master and in their existing relationship with God. To Paul, it was more important to address the spiritual condition of the individual first, before addressing the ills of the culture around them, for Paul knew that, if you changed the heart of the individual, then eventually you would change the culture in which they lived. Today, there are few of us who remain as slaves. However, there is much we can learn from Paul that can be applied to our work lives where we serve the will of our employers.

In instructing slaves, there are several things that Paul teaches, all which address issues of the heart. First is that they should obedient. This Greek word means to listen to. Slaves should be attentive to the commands and direction of their masters. This involves an active listening that turns into corresponding action. A useful slave does not need to be instructed in every last detail of what he is expected to do. He hears and understands what his master is saying and then proceeds to carry out his commands. For example, there were times when I asked my kids to do the dishes. When I came back, the dishes were done but the kitchen was still a mess. Some people only do the letter of what was asked, but others understand the bigger picture and the fuller since of what was wanted. These are those who are most useful to the masters and to those who employ them.

Secondly, Paul encouraged  slaves to have sincerity of heart. This Greek word means to have a singleness of purpose. Why do you do the kind of work that you do? For some, their work ethic is a calculated attempt at "climbing the corporate latter." The importance of their work is not as important to them as the importance of their getting ahead in life. They don't work to achieve the collective goals and purposes of the company, they work for their own individual goals and purposes. Their obedience is not singular, that being for the welfare of the company, but duplicitous, doing their work primarily for their own personal gain. If we work with singleness of heart, as unto the Lord, then our own growth and promotion will not come from our own efforts but from the Lord.

The Greek term for "eye service" refers to someone who must constantly be watched over. I remember a time when I asked someone at work to accomplish a task. A while latter I came to check in on them and they were just sitting around doing nothing. I asked them about the task and they said they said they had an issue that they did not  know how to resolve, but instead of asking or trying to resolve the issue, they just stopped working and did nothing. Some people I can give a task to and I know they will find a way to get it done. Others I must constantly watch over to make sure they are on task and focused on the job at hand. The useful slave is the one who works even when no one is watching.

Men-pleasing is the constant focus of those who seek to ingratiate themselves in the estimation of others. They do this not for a noble reason but for their own personal gain. To them, the work is not as important as their own personal gain. In my company, it is important that people take ownership in their work; that they buy-in to the vision and mission of the company. That they see their labor as being important in the overall operation and function of the company. They need to see themselves, not just as an employ, but as a need and valuable part of a larger enterprise. The useful slave is not one whose only interest is themselves but one who finds meaning and purpose in their participation as part of a large whole. They work, not only for themselves, but for the good of all involved in the corporate enterprise.

Finally, Paul encourages slaves to perform their work with good-will towards those who benefit from their labor. For us this would be our companies and our customers who use our goods and services. One of the hardest places to find yourself at work is to be disgruntled in your labor. It is hard to perform our work well when we are bitter, angry, and dissatisfied with our bosses, our company, and the work we are asked to do. This is where we must ask God for strength and grace to do well at our jobs and to do well with a good heart. This can be extremely challenging and I have faced these challenges more than once in my carrier. One of the keys to overcoming disgruntlement at work is to understand that we not only labor for men but that our service is unto God. When we labor well, it is the same as if we labored for the Lord. We may not receive the rewards of our good labor from our bosses and our company, but we will from the Lord. We must not place our hope on our bosses kindness, the comfort of our jobs, or the corporate culture of our companies, our hope and joy must be always in the Lord. Whether or not our earthly masters recognize us, reward us, or treat us kindly, if we labor as unto the Lord, we will receive our reward.

David Robison