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Archive for the ‘Ephesians’ Category

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A lot has been written on the sanctification debate – how do we grow in holiness – and I haven’t got anything to add. My main conclusion is simply that it’s complicated… and yet our temptation is to try and find the silver bullet, the one thing that encapsulates everything that’s important to say about Christian growth and the fight against sin. Many of the books I’ve found most helpful on sanctification have tended to focus on one means or aspect of sanctification – perhaps future-focused faith or gratitude for the finished work of Christ for sinners – and those books are absolutely brilliant… until they start to suggest that this is the heart of the matter, the engine, the one thing you need to know.

DeYoung reminds us that there is not a singular motivation for holiness:

Jesus is the Great Physician… The gospel is always the remedy for the guilt of sin, but when it comes to overcoming the presence of sin, Jesus has many doses at his disposal. He knows that personalities and sins and situations vary… Jesus has many medicines for our motivation. He is not like a high school athletic trainer who tells everyone to “ice it and take a couple ibuprofen.” …The good news is that the Bible is a big, diverse, wise book, and in it you can find a variety of prescriptions to encourage obedience to God’s commands. (The Hole in Our Holiness, p. 56-57 emphasis added)

DeYoung then goes on to list 40 different motivations which, as he says, are not even an exhaustive list. So sanctification is a multifaceted thing. Partly because our sinfulness is horribly complex, partly because the gospel of Christ is beautifully complex.

So how does sanctification work? How does the gospel of grace relate to a life of obedience?

  • It’s about being who we are. Identity.
  • It’s about seeing the vastness of our debt and the costliness of our forgiveness and so forgiving others infinitely smaller debts.
  • It’s about seeing in the Scriptures the beauty of Christ and being captured by that better vision.
  • It’s about understanding and experiencing union with Christ. Growing in a marriage relationship.
  • It’s about wanting to please the Bridegroom.
  • It’s about a fear of the Lord.
  • It’s about godly sorrow.
  • It’s about joy.
  • It’s about submitting to a Kingly Saviour Lord.
  • It’s about knowing the sinfulness sin.
  • It’s about tasting the goodness of the ways of God and the Law of Christ.
  • It’s about waiting for Christ’s return, longing for him, hoping in a better and lasting possession and the work that springs from that eternity-focused faith and hope.
  • It’s about living as a beloved child of God. Adoption.
  • It’s about desperate dependence on the Spirit who alone can change us.
  • It’s about doing all this together, as a community of God’s people, rebuking, correcting, encouraging, urging, praying, preaching, singing.

It’s about all these things and more. It’s complicated.

One suggestion

The more I think about this the more I wonder whether the answer isn’t simply to preach the Word – to go through the chapters of the Bible letting God tell us how to grow in Christlikeness. For example – why not simply preach through Ephesians 4-5? We would find there all sorts of different motivations and means and imperatives and gospel logic (including many of those listed above) that just come straight out of the text and flow and mesh together in a way better than any of us could put it. Or how about preaching a series through Leviticus or Ezekiel or Hebrews where we are taught deep rich truths about sanctification through imagery and language that is extraordinarily powerful. Why don’t we just let our holy (complex) God himself teach us how to become holy as he is holy?

 

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Fidel: This year we will be doing nothing but seeking to give you confidence in the Word of God. #Back2TheWord

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And some more notes and links:

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From Job 32-37, the long speech of Elihu, we started to see how suffering is a far more complex issue than the ‘comforters’ had made it, with many possible purposes beyond punishment and linking to God’s concerns to speak to us, perfect us, call us to himself and above all his glory.

Discussing marriage and parenting (Ephesians 5:22-6:4) we saw many striking differences between the gospel-shaped family and the more common models in our cultures. We agreed that the husband’s role, laying down his life for his wife like Christ for the church, is the more challenging one; we thought about what it meant for practice for Jesus to serve the church including suffering and shame (and going into the kitchen!); and questioned the common assumption that submission in marriage is mutual (does Christ submit to the church?).

With Sammy we looked at how to stay mission-minded, servant-hearted and Steadfast in the workplace. Including questions like ‘Can a Christian work for a brewery or tobacco company?’

As the second year apprentices discussed the challenge of liberalism the two big issues that came up were women in pastoral ministry and divorce/re-marriage – the latter seeming to be increasingly common even among pastors.

In all these things the big challenge was – do we go with our personal experiences, our culture, our feelings or ‘logic’ or do we honestly look at the Word and stick with that.

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Also today:

 

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Even non-Anglicans might be interested to know that there was a large world conference of orthodox Anglicans (they do exist!) in Nairobi last October. A few resources that are well worth checking out:

  • William Taylor preaching from preaching from Ephesians 5:1-6:9 (full text) – very strong on not being in partnership with certain people, on what it means to be filled by the Spirit, on the basis of Christian ethics, and brilliant on marriage (see esp. pages 8-11 and 25-42).
  • Mike Ovey on The Grace of God or the World of the West (video & full text) – brilliant analysis of the Western church, Western society, cheap grace, entitlement, narcissism – important for us here in East Africa to the extent that Western culture is impacting and being absorbed here (increasingly).
  • The main GAFCON website.
  • The never-dull blog, waanglicana, is worth checking out too.

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Ephesians 6 on children and parents

Next:

work

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Recently a businessman was telling me that he finds Christian organisations are the worst at paying his invoices. Another said that Christian employees tended to be lazy and produce poorer quality work. And then still another chipped in that he would never again work in a Christian organisation because of the culture of mediocrity and dysfunctional relationships. That’s obviously only anecdotal evidence. I know many wonderful exceptions to those generalisations. But if there is some truth there, what is the root problem? Well we’re all sinners. But surely Christian organisations should be the best places to work in and work with, the best employers with the best employees?

In a great article (here), Graham Hooper, notes that most talks and books on ‘being a Christian in the workplace’ tend to focus on ethics, evangelism or excellence:

  • Ethics: “don’t fiddle your expense accounts and tax returns and don’t steal pencils form the office”
  • Evangelism: “how to turn a chance encounter at the photocopier into a conversation about Jesus”
  • Excellence: “be the very best accountant/advertise/architect you can be”

While all three are hugely important he points out something more fundamental is often neglected – relationships. In particular, Ephesians 6:5-9 (and the parallel passage in Colossians 3:22-4:1) emphasises vertical and horizontal relationships:

  • The vertical relationship – The employee’s primary relationship is with the Lord Jesus. He is a “servant of Christ” (v5). It’s an immensely privileged position (servant of the Lord) and a very humbling one (servant of the Lord). And in exactly the same way the employer is also a slave of Jesus (v9). The gospel levels us all out. It doesn’t matter where we are in the company hierarchy, how long our job title is, we are all simply fellow servants of Christ whose job every day is to do his will, with a passion for him, seeking to please him who loved us and gave himself up for us.
  • The horizontal relationship – Ephesians is amazing here – we are to serve others as if those others are Christ! (v5,7) My service of Christ and service of others are not separate things they are one – I serve Christ through serving my boss as I would Christ. And – even more amazingly – it’s true of the boss as well – “do the same to them” (v9) i.e. do good to your slaves and employees, serve them, as if you were serving the Lord and not men. A servant leader. How radical would that have sounded 2000 years ago? And how radical now? How would our workplaces be different if we were serving each other as if we were serving Christ?

This is what God is concerned about in the workplace – relationships. As Hooper says:

I’ve found that building relationships with people is often the biggest test for the Christian. Relationships at work raise many challenges for us: how we exercise authority; how we respond to authority; how we handle conflict. In these areas our professed faith is tested every day. But, every time we face a work situation where we seek to respond in a way that honours the name of Jesus, then our work is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. In becoming an act of service to the Lord himself, it becomes something of eternal significance, part of our worship of God and not ‘in vain’.

And He is at work in us. As our commitment to do our work for the Lord is tested, so we learn to rely on God and so we grow. At work we have to deal with long hours, pressure, difficult people, difficult customers, failure when things don’t turn out well. It is in the pressure cooker of work, in the rough and tumble of life, that God moulds us into the people he wants us to be.

It is out of this ‘rough and tumble’, out of the and messiness of relationships, out of the fusion of vertical and horizontal, eternal and mundane, that the fruit of ethics, evangelism and excellence comes.

You can listen to Graham Hoopers’ talks for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity here.

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?

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Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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father and son

At the last Ministry Training Course we got through the first five chapters of Ephesians but (frustratingly for some of us who like to complete things) we didn’t have time to cover the last chapter. So we’re going to have a go at that here starting with the first bit of Chapter 6:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Well that’s plenty to be getting on with for now. I won’t attempt to unpack all of this. Thousands of full length books have been written on these verses, and some of them are very good. A few resources that we’ve found particularly helpful:

There are various questions we might want to ask about application of this passage, particularly in our East African context:

  • Who is a child? For how long does the obedience relationship continue?
  • Where do you draw the line in terms of a parental command which goes against the qualification ‘in the Lord’?
  • Which is a greater danger in our context – disobedience to parents and rebellion or over-submissiveness and bondage to the expectations of parents? Or both?
  • To what extent are parents, and particularly fathers, aware of their responsibilities as the primary teachers of their children in the Lord?
  • What are the primary goals of Christian parents for their children?
  • How much is our (subconscious) understanding of God shaped by the parenting we received as children?
  • And how much does our understanding of God shape our own parenting style?
  • Do we value parenting and children’s ministry as much as the apostle Paul?

I don’t know the answers to those questions but I throw them out there. I just want to mention two things that puzzled me and then helped me from this text [this is a work in progress so feedback very welcome]:

1. Why does Paul promise obedient children a long life?

“This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth”. Has Paul suddenly become a legalist, a pragmatist, a prosperity preacher? Why is he going back to the Law and saying do this and you’ll get a nice long life? Surely Paul remembers that Jesus died in his early 30s. Surely he remembers holding people’s coats while they stoned the young Stephen. Surely he’s seen Christian children and young people die of accidents, diseases and persecutions all round him. So why is he giving children this promise?

Some commentators suggest maybe he is thinking corporately. I.e. not every individual obedient child will live to 70 years but you would expect a society with strong families to have a higher life expectancy than a society full of rebellion and broken families. Perhaps there’s some truth in that (though the UK??) but it hardly seems enough to inspire the child sitting in the church in Ephesus listening to Paul’s letter being read out.

On reflection I think Paul is thinking of eternal life – life that begins now and continues in resurrection bodies in the new creation into eternity. A few reasons:

  • In Ephesians, death is only spoken of as a past event (Eph. 2:1, 5). For Christians, death is past and we have been raised with Christ. Completely secure in Him, with every spiritual blessing, we await only more grace in the coming ages (Eph. 2:7).
  • In Eph. 1:14 Paul uses the words ‘inheritance’ and ‘possession’, words that in the OT would have always suggested ‘The Land’, to talk about the New Creation / glory.
  • From Paul’s letters and the NT more generally you get the impression that the early church was completely focussed on eternity. They were expecting Jesus to return imminently. In the meantime they were expecting persecution and that they might well have to die for their faith.  Their big Hope and encouragement was the coming of Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 4). They knew that the current age was a valley of tears and pain. It seems that as they read the OT their instinctive hermeneutic was to see the promises and blessings as referring to the resurrection / new creation life (e.g. 1 Peter 3:9-12 in the context of the letter). Completely opposite to us whose default is to apply it all to this life.

There is still a question here about why Paul quotes command and promise – almost as if he is endorsing some kind of salvation by works. He obviously can’t mean this because he’s just made one of the strongest statements in all Scripture of grace not works (Eph. 2:8-9). It could be that the link is not meant to be taken as formally causal (obedience results in eternal life) but more that obedience accompanies salvation, it is fitting, it is ‘worthy of the calling’ (Eph. 4:1), “it is right” (Eph. 6:1). So obedience is a sign that you are on the path of eternal life. Another possibility is that the link is causal as it appears but is more about quality of eternal life – “that it may go well with you” – i.e. eternal rewards over and above simply eternal life (cf. Eph. 6:8).

I think there is another way to resolve it which has to do with the content of what the parents are teaching which the child is to obey. I’ll get on to this in the next point. But for now maybe it’s just worth noting that the obedience of children is supposed to be in light of eternity. Paul sees children as responsible moral agents who are capable of understanding Scripture and fixing their sights on eternal things and being inspired by that vision.

2. Why is provoking to anger contrasted with bringing up in discipline and instruction?

I see a contrast in verse 4. The question is why contrast these things? You might expect, ‘provoke to anger’ to be contrasted with ‘love’ or ‘listen’. Discipline and instruction sound like just the sort of things to provoke anger not allay it.

One answer is that children without any boundaries or discipline almost always end up not only wild but very insecure and depressed. Without boundaries they have no sense of right and wrong, up and down, their place in the world. At first they rejoice in the freedom but eventually they find that a lack of discipline is communicating a lack of concern and love on the part of the parent. They become angry, aggressive and resentful towards parents, authority, themselves.

That’s all true and important. But to go a bit deeper… another way to approach this would be to think more about the content and context of the discipline and instruction. The context is “bring them up”. The word is ‘nourish’ – as in Eph. 5:29. As you feed and cherish your own body; as you feed and tend a tomato plant; so carefully feed, tend and raise your children. This is the parent as servant leader. Just as the husband to the wife, the pastor to the church, Christ to his church – he gets down on his knees beneath his little children to serve them, spoon feed them.

And what is he to feed them? How is he to tend them? “Discipline and instruction of the Lord”. The first word means practical training. It would include physical chastisement but it is much wider. The hands-on service and on the field practical gospel ministry training that we want the iServe Africa apprentices to experience could be captured by this word translated ‘training’ (NIV) or ‘discipline’ (ESV). It is what Timothy was getting as he got blisters on his feet, walking the roads of Asia Minor, serving with Paul in gospel ministry (Phil. 2:22).

When we get to “instruction” I wonder whether we instinctively think of laws and commands. Do this, don’t do this. But how does Paul instruct his spiritual children? Look at Ephesians and his other letters. He teaches them the gospel! There are commands but they are flowing out of the gospel. He is encouraging his children with the gospel, rebuking them with the gospel, inspiring them with the gospel. To obey Paul is simply to swallow more of this gospel.

If you look at the book of Proverbs we find a similar thing. Much of the book is the impassioned appeal of a father to his son. It is a worked example of Eph. 6:4. And look at his commands: “Hear”, “Do not forget”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Get wisdom”, “Do not go down this path that leads to death”, “Go down this path and find life”. The father is not laying a whole load of laws and moral demands on the son he is simply pleading with him not to lean on his own understanding but to lean on the Lord and cling to Wisdom. To obey the father, to receive his words, is simply repentance and faith.

One more example. Ruth chapter 3. Here is a mother-daughter relationship. The mother gives precise commands to the daughter. The daughter obeys precisely. But the commands are very similar to those of Proverbs really: go to the one who will give you Rest, throw yourself at the feet of the Redeemer, ask him to spread his wings over you. To obey these commands is like obeying Jesus’ command in Matt. 11:28. It is faith. (Which maybe makes sense of the instruction and promise to children in Eph. 3:1-3.)

So coming back to my parenting. Am I laying heavy loads on my children that I and my fathers have not been able to bear? Am I hitting them with the Law? (So that like the early Luther they end up angry with God.) Or am I pleading with them to come to Jesus and give him their sins and take his easy yoke? Am I serving my children with practical gospel training and passionate gospel pleading?

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