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Daily Bible thoughts 808: Friday 6th February 2015: Ephesians 6:21-24

Ephesians 6:21-24 (click here for passage)

This ‘pearl’ of an epistle concludes with a ‘pearl’ of an ending. See in it:

  • A remarkable loyalty (21, 22): ‘’Tychicus’’ was not Paul. He was not nearly so well known as Paul. But he played his part lovingly and responsibly. He did not get to shine ‘centre-stage’, but he shone in the shadows. The important thing is that he was a bright light, and he didn’t hide what he had under a bucket. Not everyone will stand in the spotlight, but everyone can be spotted as a light! You may never become ‘famous’ in the Christian world, but if you can play ‘Tychicus’ to someone else’s ‘Paul’, that’s a big deal. If you can truly be regarded as a ‘’faithful servant’’; if there is someone who regards you as a ‘’dear brother’’ (or sister); if there are people you ‘’encourage’’, that is no small matter. The job Tychicus was entrusted with may seem mundane, but it was important. It needed doing well. I thank God for those who are willing to pick up jobs that don’t dazzle and do them without fanfare. Where would the church be without them?
  • An intelligent relationship (21, 22): While nosiness into the affairs of others is not a welcome trait, fellowship (sharing the same thing) demands a certain transparency from each of us. Paul had been asking the Ephesian Christians to pray for him (18-20). If people are to pray intelligently, they need to know how we are and what we are doing. It may not be wise or helpful to divulge everything that is going on. What to say, when to say it, and just how much to share in any given moment is a judgment call. But to truly experience ‘fellowship’ with you, I have to be willing to let you into my world. It is at the heart of Christian fellowship that we know and are known. Authentic relationships are not built on hiding and lies. One of the ways we receive encouragement is by hearing how the people we pray for are getting on. When we see and hear answers to prayers in their circumstances our spirits are buoyed.
  • An inexhaustible supply (23, 24): You repeatedly see in Paul a strong desire for the churches under his influence to grow spiritually. ‘Ephesians’ closes with what is essentially a prayer for the recipients of his letter. He has asked for their prayers. As we have already seen, he prayed for them; big prayers! His closing prayer is for qualities such as ‘’Peace…and love with faith…’’ Such characteristics can only flow from God the Father and His Son Jesus. They are marks of ‘’Grace’’. So that is why Paul prays. He is asking for something only God can do. When He does it, there is ‘’glory’’ to God ‘’in the church and in Christ Jesus…’’ (3:21). We add our own ‘’Amen’’ to that.

Prayer: Lord I ask that you will form my life into a pearl. Make me beautiful for you.

Daily Bible thoughts 807: Thursday 5th February 2015: Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20 (click here for todays passage)

When you become a Christian you not only have new relationships with people. You also have changed relationships with evil powers. At one time you were playing on their team, even if unwittingly. But now you’ve been ‘’transferred’’ (Colossians 1:13, 14). You are kicking the other way. It’s war! (This new antagonism is expressed in the word ‘’against’’ (11, 12).

A freshly minted Christian said to the famous preacher, Spurgeon: ‘Mr. Spurgeon, now that I am a Christian, how much of the world must I give up?’ The wise Christian leader replied, ‘Don’t worry; the world will give you up!’ Someone pointed out that when you become a Christian you make a whole lot of new friends, and that’s good. At the same time, you make a whole lot of new enemies, and that’s not so good! Not all those enemies are in ‘earthly’ places, although it might often feel like they are.

We Christians are in a war that is more real, more vicious, and more savage than any fight between nations or people groups. I sometimes think that we would be shocked if God were to lift the veil of time, and give us a peek at what is happening behind the scenes.

Thank God, we have all the strength we require to stay standing in this spiritual battle, and not be knocked off our feet. (You will notice this emphasis on standing in verses 11, 13 and 14). We find our strength; this ‘’mighty power’’ (15), ‘’in the Lord’’ Himself. Essentially, to ‘’Put on the full armour of God…’’ (11 and 13) is to put on God (see also Romans 13:14). The armour is made up of characteristics of God and His Christ. It is unusual weaponry for an unconventional war. (See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, and think about David’s sling and stone!). So, yes, the ‘’struggle’’ (12) is real, but so is the armour God supplies. We have to choose to ‘’put on’’ these spiritual qualities, day by day and even moment by moment. It’s been said that no-one will ‘drift’ into holiness. Nor will they drift into victory. There are regular choices to be made to resist the devil and be like God and His Son Jesus. We choose, by God’s grace, to be people of truth (integrity), righteousness, faith and peace who take the good news of the gospel into the world. We determine to live as saved, prayerful people of the Word. God will help us to make the right choices and fend off the evil one.

It has been pointed out that prayer may not be a piece of the armour, so much as the ‘atmosphere’ in which we put it on. But that seems something of a technicality. Every Christian who has got hold of prayer and used it knows what a mighty weapon it is. It is instructive that Paul regularly asked for the prayers of his fellow-believers, and these requests were by no means a formality. He believed that the prayers of other people would make a material difference in his own life and ministry. He was almost constantly in trouble, and often in danger. He knew he needed courage and that the intercessions of others would help him be a brave soldier of Christ.

Prayer: Help me to pray today like it will make a difference, for I am led to believe that it will.

Daily Bible thoughts 806: Wednesday 4th February 2015: Ephesians 6:5-9

Ephesians 6:5-9 (click here for todays passage)

The call for Christ-centred relationships continues in this passage about slaves and masters. These principles also carry over into the contemporary workplace, and we can apply them to employees and employers.

‘’…just as you would Christ.’’ (5);

‘’…but like slaves of Christ…’’ (6);

‘’…as if you were serving the Lord, not men…’’ (7);

‘’…their Master and yours…’’ (9).

Paul says that slaves should treat their masters as they would Christ, for He truly is their Master. They really are His slaves. Ultimately, He’s the One paying the wages! (8).

If that seems revolutionary, think through what he says, by inference, to Masters (9). The message is, ‘You and your slaves are employees in the same company, and you have the same Boss!’ If Christian slaves were accountable to Christ so were Christian masters. They could only ever be ‘middle-management’, for they had Someone over them. (This is also true of non- Christian masters/bosses, even though they may not be aware of it. They are answerable to a higher authority.)

‘’Servants, respectfully obey your earthy masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ…And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Masters, it’s the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them.’’ The Message.

If the question should be asked, ‘Why did the early Christians not campaign against slavery, as William Wilberforce was to do in later years in the U.K.?’ The answer probably is that they couldn’t! They didn’t live in a democracy, but under an iron-fisted dictatorship. They couldn’t protest effectively about anything. However, it can be argued that teaching like this undermined the institution of slavery and sowed the seeds for its eventual destruction.

Prayer: Thank you Lord Jesus that knowing you and wanting to serve you makes all the difference in every area of life. You change everything for good.

Daily Bible thoughts 805: Tuesday 3rd February 2015: Ephesians 6:1-4

 Ephesians 6:1-4 (click here for todays passage)

In the church, there are new relationships. We have already looked at Paul’s Christ-centred approach to marriage. Here we see the centrality of Christ in the home. Note especially the expressions ‘’in the Lord’’ and ‘’of the Lord’’. Whether he is addressing parents or children, Paul has in mind what Jesus would want. Let us adopt his mind-set: ‘What would Jesus do?’ ‘What is most likely to please Jesus?’ ‘What do I believe Jesus wants of me in this situation?’

He begins with the children (1-3). His key message seems to be to remind them that they are ‘’in the Lord’’, therefore they should ‘’find out what pleases the Lord’’ (5:10) with regard to their parents. The implication is that being ‘’in the Lord’’, they will be enabled to become like Him and do his will. We should always honour our parents. There is no age limit on this. We should do so because it is ‘’right’’. We should do it because it is commanded. There is an incentive to do it because is ‘’the first commandment with a promise’’. And because we are ‘’in the Lord’’ we will find the strength to do the right thing, even in difficult circumstances. Children, look to the Lord for your example, teaching and power, whatever your age. Jesus Christ is your Lord.

He goes on to speak to the fathers (4). Clearly Paul saw that the man has an important leadership role in the home. But as someone said, ‘Children are wet cement.’ It’s easy to leave the wrong impressions on their souls if we are too harsh with them. We are not to leave our hefty boot prints all over their soft hearts. We can crush their spirits if we are unnecessarily over-bearing. Christian fathers are to always remember Christ. Here are some of the implications in Paul’s words:

  • Pray for your children – above all you want them to be taught by Christ;
  • Be an example of Christ-likeness to them. Show them the Jesus way in your behaviour;
  • Teach them Christ’s Word. It’s not about laying down your law but lifting up Christ’s Word;
  • Be gentle in your leadership: ‘’Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.’’ The Message.

If you know that you have failed as a child, or as a parent, there is no need to carry that heavy backpack of guilt wherever you go. You can repent; you can apologise, and determine to be different. Jesus will help you, and He will be pleased that you want to change in order to delight and honour Him.

‘’Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…’’ (Hebrews 12:2)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in every relationship, help me to be like You. I know that I am so unlike You, but I also know that You are changing me. I’m a work in progress and I praise You for your grace.

Daily Bible thoughts 799: Monday 26th January 2015: Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33

To follow John Stott’s outline, ‘Ephesians’ is about ‘New life’, ‘new society’, ‘new standards’, and finally ‘new relationships’ God gives people new life, forms them into a new community, and in it they hold to new standards and have new relationships.

In conducting all our relationships the main issue is Jesus (21). How can we please Jesus? What behaviour on our part will honour Jesus? How would Jesus want me to be with this person? It’s about seeing Jesus in people and serving Jesus in people.

The first part of this section on relationships relates to marriage (22-33), and Paul has particular things to say to both husbands and wives.

First of all he says that the relationship of a wife to a husband should be like that of the church to Christ (22-24). It should be one of complete submission. I attended the wedding of a friend some years ago, and in the ceremony she made a commitment to her husband ‘to love, honour and follow your spiritual leadership.’ I think that gets pretty close to what the apostle is calling for here. (Don’t forget that verse 21 precedes these verses. I know that sounds like stating the obvious, but it is important. Paul has called for mutual submission across the church. Husbands need to listen to their wives humbly and courteously, and there will be times when they need to adjust their thinking and behaviour accordingly.)

Secondly he says that the relationship of a husband to his wife should be like that of Christ to the church (25-33). It is hard to conceive that any woman would not want to follow a man who loves her like Jesus. A Christian husband should love his wife:

  • Sacrificially (25): He will lay down his own life for her sake;
  • Beneficially (26, 27): She should be a better person; more holy and godly, more radiantly Christ-like, because she is united to this man in the mystery of marriage;
  • Thoughtfully (28-33): He must treat her like he would treat himself; he is to love her as he loves himself. In a sense she is his body, for they are ‘’one flesh’’ (31), just as the church is Christ’s ‘body’ and one with Him (29, 30).

Mention of the creation order for marriage (31) forcibly presses home the point that God’s original intent was for a man and woman to come together and unite. The Bible knows no other starting point for marriage. There’s nothing else on the drawing board other than one man leaving one father and one mother to be married to one woman.

‘’It’s all about you Jesus.’’ Properly understood, marriage is all about Jesus. We are called to be like Jesus. We are called to behave like Jesus we are called to do all that we do as husbands and wives for the honour of Jesus. What a calling! Without the fullness of the Spirit (18) we can’t be the people we are intended to be. But with His freely available help we can rise to great heights of loving service.

Prayer: Let me see you in everyone I meet today Lord Jesus, and serve you in them.

Daily Bible thoughts 798: Friday 23rd January 2015: Ephesians 5:8-20

Ephesians 5:8-20

Have you ever seen those ‘before and after’ photos from slimming groups and the like? The Christian’s story is one of ‘’…once…but now…’’ (8; see also 11). Paul’s call for new standards in this section is based on the fact that Christians are new people. They are not what they once were; they are not who they were. They should now live in keeping with who they are; they have to be what they are. Paul tells the Ephesians to live out of who God has made them; who He is making them to be. Here are some things about the new life they are called to. They are to:

  1. Live fruitfully (9): In union with Jesus such a life is possible (John 15);
  2. Live thoughtfully (10): They are to be sensitive towards the Lord’s feelings and seek to please Him;
  3. Live brightly (11-14): This is a morally ‘dark’ world, and Christian people used to be dark themselves. But they have been brought out of darkness into ‘’wonderful light’’ (1 Peter 2:9). Christ, the ‘’light of the world’’ (John 8:11) has raised them (2:1-11) and shone upon them. They are now to reflect His light in the world (Matthew 5: 14-16) They cannot expect to be popular when they ‘’expose’’ the ‘’fruitless deeds of darkness’’ (11). There is no place for compromise (11a). Christians need to put distance between themselves and sin. So they must also
  4. Live carefully (15, 16): The world is not only dark, it is also dangerous (‘’evil’’ ). It will take great wisdom to seize the opportunities that come our way for witness/service in such a hostile environment. (I heard the results of a survey this morning, revealing that half the men in the U.K. say they are atheists or agnostic. If this is even only partially true, it speaks about the great challenge we face);
  5. Live insightfully (17): Ask God for the wisdom to know how you should live your life day by day (James 1: 5-8);
  6. Live powerfully (18): This is a command, not a suggestion. The idea is ‘always be filled’. D.L. Moody was asked, ‘Why do you pray so often to be filled with the Holy Spirit?’ He replied, ‘Because I leak!’ In an age where Christians generally feel more liberated about alcohol, it is important to remember that the Bible forbids drunkenness. Don’t let your liberty become license. (I got a picture of my life when I was praying just the other day. I saw a sea cave, and I felt that the Lord was saying to me that He wants to wash in; flood in with the waves of His Spirit. But He also wants to wash things out. I know this picture is not just for me);
  7. Live thankfully (19, 20): When should Spirit-filled people give thanks? Always, in all circumstances and for all things. Only the fullness of the Spirit can make this possible. Let’s be careful about what we say to each other. We should seek to lift one another up as much as possible with joyfully constructive words.

This morning, when I came into the office, it was still dark, so I needed to put the light on to be able to see. It is an unusually dark and snowy morning. A couple of times I tried turning the light off, but there still wasn’t sufficient natural light in the room. In a few minutes I will try again. It is impossible to see to do anything without light. Let us be that light in God’s World, giving people reason to be glad that we are there.

Prayer: Lord, you have changed me. You are changing me. Help me to live out my new and true identity in this dark world.

Daily Bible thoughts 792: Thursday 15th January 2015: Ephesians 4:25-5:7

Paul has established that because this radical thing called conversion has taken place, and we have put off the old life and put on the new (20-240, we must no longer live as we used to. He is insistent on the point (17-19). This is not ‘up for debate’. As he goes on to now spell out some of the practical implications of this, it becomes clear that the ‘putting off’ and ‘putting on’ continues. It’s an ongoing process of taking off our ‘dirty clothes’ and putting on ‘clean’, fresh ones. Here are some of the things he says:

  • Put off dishonesty and put on truthfulness (25). The reason is because we belong together in ‘’one body’’. ‘’In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.’’ The Message
  • Put off sinful anger and, by inference, put on reconciliation and peace-making (26, 27; see Psalm 4:4). The wrong sort of anger can ‘’give the devil a foothold.’’ Many married couples have spoken about the importance of applying these verses to themselves; sort things out before you sleep. ‘’Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life.’’ The Message.
  • Put off theft and put on generosity (28). It is true that you work to support yourself and your family, but the reason Paul mentions here is in order to help other people who are in genuine need. That’s an interesting perspective on why to earn a living.
  • Put off bad words and put on those that benefit others (29). ‘’Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.’’ The Message.
  • Put off bad attitudes and actions and put on good qualities (4:31-5:2). Another way to state this is to say, take off everything that is not like Jesus, and clothe yourselves with Christlikeness and Godliness. ‘’Forgive one another as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.’’ The Message. Paul shows that there are ways of thinking and feeling and behaving that can actually cause pain to the Holy Spirit who is in us, with whom we have been ‘’sealed for the day of redemption.’’ (30; see 1:13). The Holy Spirit is God’s ‘mark of ownership’ upon us. He has bought us and one day He is going to come back and take us home. On that day our ‘’redemption’’ (4:30) will be completed. Remember that salvation is in three tenses: we have been saved (4:20-24); we are being saved (4:25-5:7); we are yet to be saved (4:30). ‘’Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.’’ The Message
  • Put off immorality (and everything unbecoming for God’s people) and put on holiness (5:3).
  • Put off dirty and trivial talk and put on thankfulness (5:4) ‘’Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, Christians have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.’’ The Message.

Our passage for today concludes with serious words. The kind of ‘lifestyle’ we are called to put off is really a clear indicator of not being part of God’s Kingdom and under His rule. People who consistently behave in these ways are surely not in the process of being saved from sin, but are heading for judgment (5-7).

Prayer: Lord, help me to put off today the things that displease you, and put on what delights you.

Daily Bible thoughts 790: Tuesday 13th January 2015: Ephesians 4: 17- 1

In John Stott’s break down of the structure of ‘Ephesians’, he says that God gives people new life, bringing them into a new society in which they have new standards. The section dealing with these ‘new standards’ starts here at chapter four verse seventeen and goes through to chapter five verse twenty.

When you are in Christ you are supposed to live differently (17), and along with the apostolic insistence about this, we are going to see that there is also a divine infilling (Ephesians 5:18) to make it possible. The Christian life begins with repentance which is an ‘about turn’. The word to repent literally means to change your mind. It’s a change of mind leading to a change of behaviour. It is a fact that ‘’futility of thinking’’ lies behind all pre-Christian conduct, and the Bible always connects the dots between the way we think and the way we behave. As we think in our hearts, so are we! That is why you have to repent in order to live the life God is calling you to.

It is imperative to live a new life once you are in Christ. Paul’s language is strong. But his insistence is not his own, but Christ’s: ‘’…I …insist on it in the Lord…’’ The new standards are set by Christ. Indeed they are shaped by who Jesus is. We are intended to be a reflection of Him (20, 21) The call to Christian discipleship is not on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis. We are under orders to live differently. Jesus Christ is ‘’Lord’’ (17).

So before someone becomes a Christian they are ‘’separated from the life of God’’ (18). This is at the heart of being spiritually ‘’dead’’ (2:1); it is to be cut off from God. Someone in that state has a problem with their ‘’thinking’’ (18) and ‘’understanding’’ (18). They are ignorant regarding the most important matters. And not only do they have blind minds, but they also have hard hearts (18b). Most of all this is hardness towards God, but it often shows itself in hard-heartedness towards people. But the loss of ‘’sensitivity’’ is particularly God-ward in direction, and shows itself in doing things that displease Him (19) and wanting to do ‘’more’’ of them.

It’s been said that the last words of (19) could be engraved on the tomb of every materialist: ‘’…with a continual lust for more.’’ Materialism is like drinking sea (salt) water; the more you have, the more you want!

When God raises you from death with Christ, He makes it possible for you to live in a way that is totally different (2:10), and He ‘insists’ that you do.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for setting me free from that old, futile, sin-dominated way of thinking and living.

Daily Bible thoughts 784: Monday 5th January 2015: Ephesians 4: 7-16

In his commentary on ‘Ephesians’, John Stott makes the point that not only is there ‘saving grace’, by which we come to faith in Christ; there is also such a thing as ‘serving grace’ by which we express our faith in Christ in particular ministries (7). I believe we could paraphrase this verse by saying, ‘But to each one of us gifts have been given…’ Each part of the body of Christ has a job to do (16). In an atmosphere of honest love, the church grows, and ‘’builds itself up’’ as each member is fully and appropriately employed (15, 16). But it all comes ‘’From him…’’ i.e. the Lord Jesus who is ‘’the Head’’ of the church (15). In the earlier part of the passage it is made clear that the victoriously ascended Lord Jesus gives these ‘grace gifts’ to the church. The Jesus who ‘’descended’’ in the incarnation has also ‘’ascended’’ and His presence fills ‘’the whole universe.’’ (9, 10). The quote in verse 8 is from Psalm 68:18. That psalm pictures God returning to the heavenly sanctuary following the overthrow of Israel’s enemies. Because He is the conqueror, He has a booty; a largesse to distribute. These words are applied by Paul to Christ. They clearly are significant in what they say about Paul’s view of the identity of Jesus. He is none other than God. He has come through death victorious, and the gifts He gives are the spoils of victory. (It’s interesting to note that when a Roman General returned from battle as a winner, he would have a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. The streets would be thronged with cheering crowds. His defeated foes would walk, heads bowed in shame, behind the conquering army, and the General would throw out the booty, the spoils of battle to the people on both sides of the road. What a picture this is!)

In particular, Paul speaks about the ascended Lord Jesus giving the gift of leaders to His church (11). There are a variety of leadership gifts. These people all lead, but not necessarily in the same way. They don’t all do the same things. But here is the key point. Why have they been given to the church? The answer is in (12): ‘’to equip the saints for the work of the ministry’’ as one translation puts it. Stott says that leaders are not given to the church to monopolise the ministry but to multiply the ministries. Leaders are there to help God’s people detect, develop, discipline and deploy their gifts. As they use them the body of Christ, the church, will be ‘’built up’’ (12).

What will it look like for the church to be ‘built up’? It will mean two things in particular: unity and maturity. The unity is ‘’in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God…’’ As the spokes of a wheel get closer to the hub, the closer they get to each other. So it is with Jesus and the church. The maturity is about Christlikeness – the church becoming more and more like Jesus.

When David Watson was rector of ‘St. Michael Le-Belfrey in York, he was one of the most famous clergymen in the United Kingdom. But he told his congregation, ‘’When people come in here and ask who the minister is, say ‘We all are’.’’ Such a comment beats in time with the rhythm of this passage.

Jesus is Lord and He is building His church through the ‘spoils of war.’ Praise God for all His gracious gifts. We go from victory to victory as we use them in the power of the Spirit.

Prayer: Thank you Lord Jesus for giving my life such eternal significance.

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