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Archive for the ‘Ephesians’ Category

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We all love the armour of God. It’s such a great visual aid. Perfect for Sunday School sessions and all age services. Just Google a Roman soldier, find a worksheet to colour in, dress someone up. Perfect.

The armour of God is also a delight to commentators, whether scholarly or devotional. Each piece of armour invites pages of extrapolation on how the particularities of first century Roman armour help us to understand the spiritual point that Paul was driving at.

But what if the armour of God isn’t really about Roman soldiers?

  1. The armour of God is the Old Testament armour of God. As most commentators observe, the clearest allusion made by Ephesians 6 is to Isaiah 59:17 where the LORD God himself puts on his battle garments including righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation. The LORD has a sword (Isaiah 34:5-6; 66:16). Also in Isaiah the Coming Christ has faithfulness (truth) as a belt around his waist (Isaiah 11:5) and a mouth like a sharpened sword (Isaiah 49:2). Looking at the wider OT we find that the LORD is often found giving himself to his people as their shield (Gen. 15:1; 20x in the Psalms), even as their shield and sword together (Deut. 33:29).
  2. The armour of God is Christ the LORD. William Gurnall who wrote 1700 pages on the armour of God put the matter very succinctly when he commented: “By armour is meant Christ.” Paul’s whole letter to the Ephesians, as all his letters, has been dominated by Christ. Christ is the truth (John 14:6). Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Christ is our salvation (Luke 2:30). This is in continuity with the OT where we find that the LORD is our salvation and our righteousness (Ex. 15:2; Jer. 23:6) and it is perfectly consistent with Paul’s thought that we should put on Christ and clothe ourselves in him (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27).
  3. The words for the pieces of armour in Ephesians 6 are not technical terms for pieces of Roman armour. The word ‘belt’ is not actually there in verse 14. The phrase ‘girding round your loins’ has a Hebraic flavour and suggests getting ready for action. Breastplate (v14) and Helmet (v17) use common Greek words found 10 and 9 times respectively in the LXX (the Greek OT), including where they both appear together in the key passage Isaiah 59:17. Commentators are confident that the shoe Paul has in mind in verse 15 is the caliga, the Roman soldier’s battle boot, but Paul doesn’t actually mention boots. He says simply, ‘feet shod with readiness’ – the word readiness calling to mind the ministry of John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3-4; Luke 1:17,76; 3:4-6). The shield might make us think of the famous rectangular red scutum of the Romans, used in their famous tortoise formation, but Paul uses a common word for shield found 19 times in the LXX (e.g. the shield of King Saul – 2 Sam. 1:21). The word for sword is one of two common Greek words for sword, both of which are used extremely frequently and often interchangeably in the NT and LXX. Sometimes a distinction is made between the short stabbing battle sword (machaira) of Eph. 6:17 and the long sword of justice but it is the machaira which appears in Rom. 13:4 as the sword of justice and in Isaiah 27:1 (LXX) as the sword of the LORD himself.
  4. Paul was probably not chained to a Roman soldier in battle armour. While it might be tempting to imagine Paul dictating his letter to the Ephesians while looking at the different pieces of Roman armour, Stott comments, “…it would be unlikely that such a bodyguard would wear the full uniform of an infantryman on the battlefield.” Certainly battle boots and a huge shield would have been strange for a prison guard. If Ephesians is written from Paul’s house arrest in Rome described at the end of Acts then it seems it was not a deep dark dungeon confinement. It may be that the chains are more a way of expressing his legal status and restriction of his freedom and liberty than literal iron chains (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9). There is a danger that we read the situation of Peter in Acts 12:6 into Paul’s references to his chains.

This is not to say that it is impossible that Paul was not thinking at least partly of the Roman soldier or that his first readers might not have thought of a Roman soldier. But it is to say that the most important background to Ephesians 6:10-20 is not the first century imperial legionary or centurion but the Old Testament and also Pauline and NT thought.

So what?

  1. Scripture Alone. Scripture interprets Scripture. You don’t need to be an expert in first century Roman warfare to understand Ephesians 6. Certainly the Bible was written by humans in particular cultures at particular times but again and again we find that all the background we need to know is in the Bible itself. We know what we need to know about Ephesus from Acts 19. We know what we need to know about the armour of God from the OT. Even the flaming arrows of the Deceiver are there (Prov. 26:18-19). The approach that leans heavily on external sources and historical reconstructions a) takes us into uncertain territory (Which expert do you believe? Which rank of Roman soldier are we talking about? Did they all have plumes in their helmets? What if another historical source turns up that changes our understanding of the context?); and b) takes authority away from the text and the reader and gives a dangerous amount of power to the ‘expert’ as he tells me what I could never have known on my own. This has even more important implications in other parts of the NT where the historical reconstructions of liberal scholars tell us, “I know that it looks like the Bible is saying this but if you really know the culture and politics in first century Ephesus then you would know that it actually means the opposite of what it looks like it means.” Scripture is our guide to Scripture.
  2. Grace Alone. The Roman Soldier analogy tends slightly towards seeing the pieces of armour as passive instruments with the soldier (me) as the active fighter. In contrast, if we see the armour of God as the OT armour of God – The LORD himself, Christ the Lord – then it is closer to the mark to see us as the passive ones and God as the active one. He is giving us his armour, he is giving us himself. He is surrounding us as a wall of fire and a fortress and shield. Yes there are imperatives to ‘Put on’ and ‘Take up’ and ‘Stand’ – we need to walk in the calling we have received (Eph. 4:1) but it is first and foremost something received, gift. So let us not turn Ephesians 6 in to a series of things for us to do. That is fig leaf armour. We need the armour of God. We need to put on Christ and glory in his sovereign grace. “According to Ephesians 6 believers need to be armed with God’s own righteousness if they are to be protected against the blows and arrows of their spiritual enemies… The position of power and authority with Christ to which they have been raised is greater ‘than that possessed by their mighty supernatural enemies’. As they appropriate this salvation more fully and live in the light of their status in Christ, they have every reason to be confident of the outcome of the battle.” (Peter O’Brien)
  3. The Church of God. The Roman soldier analogy tends towards making us think of an individual centurion or an army of individuals each putting on their own armour. But the letter of Ephesians has been about the church. In Ephesians 6, as throughout the letter, the address is second person plural (it comes out better in Kiswahili than in English). It’s not addressed to the Lone Ranger solo Christian. It’s not little me being called to stand firm and put on my armour and fight. It is the whole church being called to clothe themselves in the gospel armour. The song, O Church Arise gets it just right. The one new man (Eph. 2:15) – the Church – must put the armour on. The armour of God himself. So that, as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD will surround his people, both now and for evermore (Psalm 125:2).

Much of what has been written and taught from the illustration of the Roman soldier is spiritually true and edifying. But let’s say the right things from the right texts. And let’s rejoice in what Ephesians 6 is clearly saying about the divine armour that we the church have been given and let us put on Christ.

 

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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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