Build My Life

Scriptures: Luke 6:46-49; Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:43-49

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • I will build my life
  • Worthy of every song
  • Holy, there is no one like you
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

When we were training for ministry our Greek lecturer, Brian Smith, told us how most people in churches learn their theology from the hymns and songs they sing in church each week

  • Theology sounds like an impressive word but really it just means thinking or talking about God.
  • Whenever you think or talk about God you are doing theology 
  • Brian’s point was that the songs we sing in church have a profound influence on the way we perceive God
  • When words are put to music they tend to stick in our memory better – they also make a connection with our heart
  • We find ourselves unconsciously singing worship songs in the car or in the shower – and the meaning we attach to the words shapes our relationship with God

With this in view, today we begin a new sermon series called ‘Anthems’

  • In this series I plan to look at the lyrics of one hymn or Christian worship song each week to see how that song informs our theology and how it connects with Scripture and the history of our faith.
  • The purpose is not to find fault with the words but to guide our thinking and help us to interpret the songs in the best possible light

I like what N.T. Wright says about worship…   

“Put it this way: if your idea of God, if your idea of the salvation offered in Christ, is vague or remote, your idea of worship will be fuzzy and ill-formed. The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship belong together. The one isn’t just a head-trip; the other isn’t just emotion.”

Some of the songs we will look at are old and others relatively new. Most you will be familiar with and others are less well known

  • Today’s song is Build My Life, written by Pat Barrett

Verse 1:

Worthy of every song we could ever sing.
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring.
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you

Verse 2:

Jesus, a name above every other name.
Jesus, the only one that could ever save.
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you…

Chorus:

Holy, there is no one like you,
There is none beside you,
Open up my eyes in wonder.

Show me who you are
and fill me with your heart
And lead me in your love
to those around me.

Bridge:

I will build my life upon your love,
It is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in you alone
And I will not be shaken.

I will build my life:

Build My Life was released in 2016, so it is a fairly new song, but it is based on some quite ancient ideas

  • Pat Barrett is a singer/songwriter and worship leader from Grace Midtown, a church in Atlanta, Georgia
  • He has written a number of Christian songs including “Good, Good Father”. Barrett is married with three young children.

Pat Barrett said the song, Build My Life, came to him over a number of years, at a time when he was looking for steadiness in his life, because he was going through quite a bit change and uncertainty.

The bridge is the heart of the song, and it also happens to be the first part of the song that Barrett wrote, so we will start with that…  

I will build my life upon your love, it is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.

In an interview Barrett said, life rarely behaves with our plans. It is usually the uncertainty, the not knowing, the trials that reveal what we’ve been standing on the whole time (and by ‘standing on’ he means, what we’ve put our trust in)

  • Metaphorically, when you sing this song, you are looking up to worship God but at the same time you are also looking down to keep your footing
  • What am I standing on? Is it my career, my image (or persona), is it money? Those things aren’t steady – they don’t provide a firm foundation
  • The invitation from Jesus is to put your feet on the rock and find strength in him

Please turn with me to Luke chapter 6, verse 46, on page 85 toward the back of your pew Bibles

  • Barrett says he had this passage from Luke 6 in mind when he wrote the words of the bridge. This is what Jesus says from verses 46-49…

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet don’t do what I tell you? 47 Anyone who comes to me and listens to my words and obeys them—I will show you what he is like. 48 He is like a man who, in building his house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. The river overflowed and hit that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But anyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a man who built his house without laying a foundation; when the flood hit that house it fell at once—and what a terrible crash that was!”

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s Word for us

In Jesus’ day building a house was a strenuous exercise. They didn’t have heavy machinery (like diggers) to excavate the foundations and so everything had to be done by hand. It required an enormous effort [1]

They couldn’t really build during winter because it was too wet so they had to build in summer

  • The problem was the high clay content in the soil combined with the heat made digging extremely hard going
  • It would have been tempting to simply build on top of the clay soil
  • The ground certainly seemed hard enough in the heat of summer
  • But when the winter rains came the soil went soft and washed away
  • So if the foundations didn’t go down deep enough (all the way to base rock) the house would fall.

The clay soil which seems hard in summer but washes away in winter represents the lies we sometimes believe and build our lives on

  • While the bed rock represents the teaching of Jesus – steadfast & true

Jesus says in this parable that those who hear his teaching and obey it are like the man who does the hard yards and digs down to lay his foundation on rock

  • The implication being that it is not enough simply to hear and agree with what Jesus says – we also need to do what Jesus says
  • And doing what Jesus says – loving our enemies, not judging others, being honest with ourselves, and forgiving – all of that is the hard part
  • Like digging down through baked clay it is difficult
  • Difficult yes – but also necessary if we don’t want to come to ruin.

One of the more obvious things to note in this parable is that there is a storm and it hits both houses

  • The implication is that when we follow Jesus and align our lives with his teaching, we still face storms, we still suffer in a whole variety of ways
  • The difference is that God brings us strong through the storm

But this is not all there is to the parable. Jesus’ Jewish listeners would have heard more…

In Isaiah 28 God says through the prophet…

  • I am placing in Zion a foundation that is firm and strong. In it I am putting a solid corner-stone on which are written the words, ‘Faith that is firm is also patient.’ Justice will be the measuring-line for the foundation, and honesty will be its plumb-line.

Zion is a reference to Jerusalem

  • In the temple in Jerusalem (in the holy of holies) there was a special foundation stone on which the Ark of the Covenant used to sit
  • When the ark was taken away the priests put a fire pan on the foundation
  • The fire pan burned incense – a symbol of the people’s prayers to God.

When Jesus told the parable of the two builders he was really saying…

  • I am the firm & strong foundation stone promised by Isaiah
  • Build on me and my words and you will not be shaken

Now this was an incredible thing to declare

  • Jesus was saying that the new temple, promised by God 700 hundred years earlier, was not going to be a building but a person and that he (Jesus) is that person 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the apostle writes…

You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.

When we build our lives on the firm foundation of Christ, we too become part of that new temple promised by God

Think about that for a moment – it is a profound idea

  • The temple is a place of reconciliation – a place where sacrifices are offered and peace is made  
  • The temple is also the place of God’s presence – a place where his Spirit dwells and people are close to God
  • When we build our lives on Christ we become God’s sacred and holy people.

Returning to Pat Barrett’s song. Some of you will have noticed that the words in Pat’s bridge don’t exactly mirror the words in Jesus’ parable in Luke 6

  • The foundation Jesus had in mind was his teaching or his ‘words’, whereas Pat Barrett describes the foundation as, ‘your love’, meaning God’s love for us in Christ
  • Although Barrett is using a bit of poetic license here, he gets it right – Jesus’ teaching is an expression of his love.
  • In fact, Jesus’ message (his word) was, love God and love your neighbour
  • Before we can do what Jesus teaches we must first know we are loved by God – love and grace come before obedience
  • Our obedience to God’s word (as embodied in Christ) needs to grow out of love for God, not out of fear or guilt

The idea of God’s love being a firm foundation on which to build our lives is found in Ephesians 3, where Paul talks about putting our roots down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love

  • So we can sing this bridge with confidence, knowing it is based in the wisdom of Scripture.

Worthy of every song:

What about the verses then – what meaning can we glean from them?

  • Well, if the bridge is about looking down to keep our footing then the verses are about looking up to worship God.

Verse 1 repeats the word worthy three times

  • The term ‘worship’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘worth-ship’. Worship is about ascribing worth
  • We make the effort to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and come to church to sing songs of praise to God because he is worth it
  • Francis Chan is quoted as saying…
  • His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate.
  • I love the last verse of the gospel of John, where the apostle says…
  • Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.   

Worthy of every song we could ever sing

Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring

  • That’s a way of saying, our words can’t contain God; our praise can never really do justice to God; even the whole world would not have enough room for all the books that could be written about the Lord’s deeds.

And for those who may be thinking, ‘Yea, but worship is more than singing’, Pat Barrett is way ahead of you, because his very next line is…

  • Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you.
  • The idea here is that worship isn’t just something we do in church on a Sunday. Worship is like breathing – it is threaded through all of life.
  • Worship is primarily about how we live

We live for you, picks up Paul’s thought in Romans 12 where he says…

  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
  • We try to live our lives in a way that pleases God because he is worth it
  • Living for God ties in with what Jesus was saying in Luke 6, about obedience to his teaching
  • ‘We live for you’ Lord is another way of saying, ‘I will build my life on your love’.

One of the things I like about this song is way it uses both plural and singular pronouns

  • The words, we live for you, reminds us that worship isn’t just an individual thing. It’s something we do in community with other believers
  • At the same time the words in the bridge, I will build my life, remind us that worship involves a personal commitment.
  • Worship is both we and I – it is both public and personal   
  • I’m not sure if Pat Barrett intended all this meaning but it’s what I glean from it.

Verse 2 begins…

  • Jesus a name above every other name.
  • Jesus’ name is both his reputation and his integrity
  • This is a direct quote from Philippians 2, verse 9, where the apostle Paul writes about imitating the humility of Christ…

In your relationships with one another, have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The thing that makes Jesus’ name great, the reason God gave Jesus a name that is above every other name, is that Jesus was obedient to God.

  • The foundation of Jesus’ life was loving obedience to God the Father
  • Once again this connects with the bridge of the song – the building of our life gets it integrity, it’s strength, from loving obedience to Christ.

The second line in verse 2; Jesus, the only one that could ever save, is a reference to the Christian doctrine that salvation from sin and death is found in Christ alone (Solo Christo)

  • This doctrine comes from Martin Luther, the great church reformer of the 16th Century, who got it from his understanding of the New Testament
  • For example, where Jesus says to his disciples…
  • “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • Salvation through Christ alone is an unpopular belief in our contemporary society – so verse 2 is quite a provocative line to sing

Holy, there is no one like you:

And so we come to the chorus

  • If the verses look up in worship of God and the bridge looks down at where we are standing, then the chorus looks both in to the heart and out to our neighbor.

Holy, there is no one like you, there is none beside you, open up my eyes in wonder…

The word holy means ‘set apart’. To be holy is to be different, special, sacred

  • Jesus is unique. He is beyond compare.
  • Holiness goes together with wonder
  • Wonder is a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar – something holy in other words

The thing is, not everyone recognizes Jesus’ holiness

  • To many of the people of his day Jesus appeared to be like anyone else
  • Jesus’ holiness, his glory, is hidden at first – we need our eyes opened in wonder so we can appreciate just who he is.

In John chapter 1, Philip says to Nathanael, ‘Look, we’ve found the Messiah. Come and meet him. He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’

  • And Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
  • I imagine Nathanael was a bit like Mr Darcy, he despised anything false or pretentious. He had no patience for the games people play and wasn’t too bothered by who he offended, so long as he spoke the truth
  • People like Nathanael don’t make great diplomats – they may come across as a bit rude, a bit blunt, and are therefore often misunderstood
  • Nevertheless, Nathanael goes with Philip anyway.
  • When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him, “Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!”
  • Jesus could see into Nathanael’s heart and that touches Nathanael – he says to Jesus, “How do you know me?”
  • Perhaps for the first time in his life Nathanael felt truly understood and accepted for who he was. Jesus gets me.
  • Jesus’ wise insight and acceptance opens Nathanael’s eyes in wonder
  • Nathanael declares, “Teacher,” you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

G.K. Chesterton once said, ‘We are perishing for lack of wonder, not for lack of wonders.’ 

  • I suppose Chesterton meant that God is doing wonderful things all the time, all around us, we just don’t have the sense of wonder that is needed to appreciate them 
  • The wonder of God, the beauty of his holiness, his goodness, is the inspiration for our worship

The second part of the chorus reads…

  • Show me who you are and fill me with your heart,
  • And lead me in your love to those around me.

‘Fill me with your heart’ is a significant thing to say

  • To be filled with God’s heart is to be filled with His love – while God’s love is a good thing, to be filled with it is also a painful thing. God’s love comes with suffering – so this is a brave line to sing
  • To be filled with God’s heart is also to be filled the Spirit of Jesus
  • These words are talking about intimacy with God, through Jesus
  • It is as we abide in Christ (the vine) that we bear the fruit of love for our neighbours
  • It is as we build our life on Christ that we find the strength to love those around us.

Conclusion:

  • Whatever storm you may be facing, whatever uncertainty you may be going through, Jesus provides a firm foundation.   

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. Listen to the song, ‘Build My Life’, by Pat Barrett.  What are you in touch with as you listen to this song? (What connections, memories or feelings does it evoke for you?) 
  2. Discuss / reflect on the significance of the parable of the two builders in Luke? For example; What does it mean to build your life on Jesus’ teaching? How might Jesus’ original Jewish audience have understood this parable? What foundation are you building your life on?
  3. How does the line in the song, “we live for you”, connect with Romans 12:1? What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
  4. Why does God give Jesus the name that is above every other name? How does Jesus redefine greatness?  
  5. What does it mean to ask God to fill us with His heart?
  6. Do you still have a sense of wonder? Take some time this week to notice and appreciate the wonders of God all around you. Lose yourself in wonder, awe and praise of the what God has accomplished in Christ.

[1] Many of the insights on Luke 6:46-49 were gleaned from Kenneth Bailey’s book, ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, pages 321-331.

Body & Spirit

Scripture: Ephesians 6:18-24

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Praying in the Spirit
  • Praying in the body
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Cyril Bassett was New Zealand’s first Victoria Cross recipient

  • Cyril was a sapper in the NZ Engineers during World War 1
  • His job was to lay communication lines so the allies could talk to each other
  • Because of his short stature Bassett was initially rejected for military service but he persisted and they let him in, assigning him to Signals
  • Bassett served in Gallipoli and was noted for his bravery in laying telephone wires under heavy fire early in the campaign
  • Some months later, when the NZ Infantry was attacking Chunuk Bair, Corporal Bassett found himself in the heat of the battle once more laying communication lines on the exposed hill slopes
  • He braved continuous gunfire during broad daylight armed only with a revolver and a bayonet.
  • A bullet struck his boot and two more passed through the fabric of his tunic during the fighting, but he was not wounded
  • For his efforts he was awarded the Victoria Cross 
  • Afterwards Cyril Bassett had this to say…

“I reckon there must be some guardian angel looking after me, especially as one man was shot dead in front of me and another wounded just behind.”

This morning we conclude our series in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, focusing on chapter 6, verses 18-24

  • Last week we heard about the armour of God and the need to stand firm in the battle against evil  
  • In the same vein of thought Paul continues from verse 18 encouraging his readers to stay alert and to pray
  • Prayer is essentially about establishing and maintaining lines of communication with God and other believers
  • In praying we are doing the spiritual equivalent of what Cyril Bassett did
  • From Ephesians 6, verses 18-24 (in the NIV) we read…  

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. 23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

Paul started his letter to the Ephesians with a prayer and now he concludes it by encouraging the Ephesians to pray.

  • They are to pray in the Spirit and in the body.

Praying in the Spirit:

When you read a book you need to be in the light. If you are in the dark, it is very difficult to read

  • When you are sailing a boat you need to make sure your sail is trimmed to catch the wind. If your sail isn’t in the wind your boat won’t go far

In verse 18 of Ephesians 6, Paul says we are to pray in the Spirit.

  • That’s ‘Spirit’ with a capital ‘S’, as in God’s Spirit
  • Praying in the Spirit parallels what Paul says earlier in Ephesians about being in Christ
  • What then does Paul mean by praying in the Spirit?
  • We pray in the Spirit sort of like we read in the light
  • Just as we can’t really read all that well in the dark, so too we can’t really pray without the Spirit
  • Praying in the Spirit is also like hoisting a sail to catch the wind
  • Just as we can’t really get our boat moving without putting our sail in the wind, so too our prayers don’t provide any movement without the wind (or energy) of God’s Spirit

The Spirit of God communicates God to us. Through the Spirit we receive all the gifts and empowering we need from God [1]

  • True prayer in the Spirit isn’t about technique – it’s about relationship
  • True prayer in the Spirit involves engagement with God
  • If you want to cook a roast dinner, then you need to put the meat and veges in the oven 
  • Say you are having roast chicken. You might make a nice basting sauce and rub it all over the raw bird.
  • You might make a sage and onion stuffing just like your grandmother used to make
  • You might put potatoes and pumpkin all around the chook
  • Then you turn the oven on and let it warm up to the right temperature
  • But if you leave the chicken and veges on the bench – if you don’t put them in the oven – then you are going hungry that night 
  • Praying in the Spirit is like putting our prayers and requests in God’s oven. Without the Spirit of God our prayers are inedible
  • Praying in the Spirit nourishes us

Praying in the Spirit then is about praying in relationship with God

  • Simply reciting words without our heart being in it, or without directing those words to the person we call ‘God’, isn’t that effective
  • Praying in the Spirit is like pouring water into a cup – it requires focus and intention
  • I could throw handfuls of water around the room and some of it might, by chance, end up in the cup – but mostly it will just make everyone around me wet and annoyed
  • Praying in the Spirit fills the cup of our personal relationship with God

Praying in the Spirit is also like singing in a choir. It is prayer led by the Spirit and in harmony with God’s will.

  • Like choristers, we know the words & parts and we keep our eyes on the conductor, staying alert, listening as we sing (and by sing I mean pray).

Paul says to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Praying in the Spirit is comprehensive prayer, diverse in form and woven throughout all the circumstances of our lives.

  • If you come from a charismatic background you might think praying in the Spirit means praying in tongues and while it can mean that it isn’t limited to that
  • Praying in the Spirit can include lament & tears as well as laughter & praise
  • Praying in the Spirit can include meaningful liturgy read from the heart as well as spontaneous conversation with Christ as our close friend
  • Praying in the Spirit can include sitting alone in silence as we meditate on Scripture, our hearts open in a posture of listening to God, but I can also include singing songs in worship with other believers
  • We can pray in our heart for the person sitting next to us on the train during the week or we can intercede out loud in church on a Sunday for the things in this world that grieve God’s heart and ours
  • I could go on but you get the point, praying in the Spirit is not an occasional act – it is more like breathing
  • The Spirit of God is the atmosphere in which we breathe (and by ‘breathe’ I mean pray).

Alongside Paul’s instruction to pray in the Spirit we also find his encouragement to pray in the body

Praying in the body:

A few weeks ago I was talking with a sports fan about the rugby. He was telling me how the top rugby teams are really good at off-loading the ball before the ball handler is tackled and goes to ground

  • The more often a team takes the ball down in the tackle the quicker that team runs out of steam
  • But if you can keep your momentum by passing the ball you tend to make more ground with less effort
  • The All Blacks are brilliant at the off load pass. You often see them passing the ball out the back door, without even looking
  • When they throw the ball back they trust their team mates to be alert and in position to catch it   
  • They don’t work as individuals – they work as a unit, supporting each other

Throughout Ephesians Paul has talked about the church in various ways

  • The church is the wisdom of God, the church is the temple of God and the church is the body of Christ
  • Paul wants to underline the connection believers have in Christ
  • He wants us to think of ourselves, not as a group of individuals (alone together), but as a unit, a single body made up of different parts
  • We need to remain alert, supporting each other spiritually, ready to receive the off load pass.

In the second part of verse 18 Paul says: With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

  • While it is okay to pray for yourself our prayers shouldn’t be self-centred
  • ‘Praying in the body’ means being mindful of other believers in the church – remaining alert to the joys and sorrows, successes and trials of others
  • Praying for others actually gives us a break from thinking about ourselves
  • Not only that but it helps us to feel more connected, less alone
  • If you pray for someone long enough you start to care about them  

In verse 19 Paul goes on to ask the Ephesians to pray for him also

  • Interesting here that Paul has the humility to ask for help from others. He doesn’t try to do the work on his own. He realises he needs prayer support. 
  • The other thing to note is that Paul doesn’t ask the Ephesians to pray for his freedom, even though he is chained to a Roman soldier night and day.
  • Instead Paul asks for the clarity and courage to make known the mystery of the gospel.

The word ‘mystery’ here doesn’t refer to a puzzle to be solved but rather to something that was not known before but has now been revealed by God  

  • ‘Mystery’ refers to the unfolding of God’s plan – new light shed on an old word
  • Before Christ came Paul read the Old Testament Scriptures in a certain way – much of the meaning was hidden from him
  • But since encountering Jesus, Paul now reads those same Old Testament Scriptures in a whole new light
  • Before he saw a stern and angry God who was out to destroy sinners; now he sees a loving God full of generous grace for all
  • Before he saw himself as better than others; now he realises the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

Paul wants the Spirit’s help to preach the gospel about Jesus with clarity and courage – he wants others to understand all of the gospel, the rough with the smooth

  • The word ‘gospel’ means good news. But when we read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) we find there is actually a fair amount of bad news as well
  • The gospel talks about suffering as a prerequisite to glory; it talks about forgiveness with repentance; salvation for some but judgement for others
  • It can be tempting as a preacher to leave out the unpopular parts of the gospel but the Spirit of Jesus is a Spirit of grace and truth
  • Most people are happy to hear the nice bits, the grace-full bits, but the truthful bits require some courage to say      
  • Paul doesn’t want to edit his message. Paul wants to be open and honest in his presentation of the gospel.

Those who proclaim the word of God need clarity and courage

  • This morning the children in the Flock Sunday school are learning how God spoke to the boy Samuel at the temple in Shiloh
  • Samuel slept in the temple near the ark of the covenant – the symbol of God’s presence with his people
  • One night Samuel hears a voice calling his name
  • At first he thinks it is the priest Eli calling him but every time he goes to Eli, the old man tells him to go back to bed
  • Eventually Eli realises that Samuel is hearing the Lord’s voice, so he instructs Samuel to respond by saying, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’. Samuel does as he is told.

The next morning Samuel seems to be avoiding Eli, so Eli sits Samuel down and asks the boy to tell him what the Lord said, without leaving anything out

  • The message is one of judgement against Eli and his family
  • ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’
  • That’s a heavy message for a child to give a grown man
  • To his credit Eli accepted the message saying, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’   

The gospel message Paul preached wasn’t so harsh. Paul was able to say, ‘The good news is; your guilt is atoned for by Christ’s sacrifice, but you still need to change your ways and repent. God’s love is not a license to do what we want.

Eli may have been accepting of what Samuel said but not everyone was accepting of what Paul had to say and as a consequence he found himself under house arrest, chained to a Roman soldier day and night

  • Most people in the ancient near east would have been ashamed to be in chains, but not Paul. He is not an Instagram star, ‘showing the best and hiding the rest’. Paul doesn’t hide the reality.
  • By being open like this Paul owns his suffering. He doesn’t let it own him.

We are talking about praying in the body

  • Perhaps one of the reasons Paul was able to cope with being in chains is that he saw himself as part of the body of Christ, so it didn’t all depend on him
  • Sure, he couldn’t visit the Ephesians himself, but he could send Tychicus, his assistant
  • Tychicus was Paul’s hands and feet – he could deliver Paul’s letter
  • When Paul went down in the tackle of house arrest, he could off load the ball to Tychicus, so the momentum wasn’t lost.       

Tychicus wasn’t just a letter carrier though – he was someone who knew Paul and could pass on personal news of how Paul and the others were getting on

  • It is so easy in the culture I come from to think of prayer as a disembodied thing – a mental exercise – just words you say in your head
  • But true prayer is embodied and relational  
  • Prayer in the body isn’t just the communication of words and information
  • Prayer in the body involves being physically present
  • Prayer in the body conveys warmth and emotion
  • Prayer in the body communicates encouragement and comfort
  • Tychicus’ visit did this – his going to see the Ephesians in person was prayer in a bodily form.

When our youngest daughter was about two years old she caught rota virus and had to go to hospital. This was before I became a minister, when we were living in Tauranga

  • While we were in hospital the pastor of our church came to visit. He didn’t stay long, just popped in, spoke to us, said a short prayer and then went on his way again
  • I don’t remember the words he prayed but I do remember feeling comforted and encouraged by his presence
  • I had never been visited by a pastor before. Greg simply showed up embodying warmth and this made me feel cared for and connected to the rest of the church. That’s an example of prayer in the body (of Christ).

Now in talking about prayer in the body I don’t mean to convey the idea that this is somehow different from praying in the Spirit – body & Spirit go together

It must be over twelve years ago now our family went on holiday to Christchurch

  • On about the second day our youngest daughter had an accident and had to go to hospital
  • They put her is this tiny room with no windows, no view outside – it was an awful environment – we were supposed to be on holiday, having fun
  • To make matters worse the words I prayed to God didn’t appear to make any positive difference – our daughter just got worse
  • When you are in a strange city, with a sick child and God isn’t answering your prayers it makes you feel incredibly isolated and vulnerable – we were powerless really.

But in that situation God was still present, just not in the way we were expecting

  • Some friends we knew in Christchurch looked after our well daughter for us so she wasn’t stuck in hospital all week
  • When the church here in Tawa heard what was happening they arranged a gift basket for us and one of you asked his sister (who lives in Christchurch) to come and visit us in hospital. That meant a lot to us.  
  • Then, when we had to stay longer than our accommodation was booked for, the Ronald McDonald House gave us a room for a couple of nights

My prayers in that situation didn’t bring about a miraculous healing but we were very aware of God’s providence

  • On reflection I am conscious of the Spirit’s intercession for us 
  • In Romans 8 Paul writes, ‘…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…’ 
  • I had prayed for our daughter’s healing thinking that was what was needed, but at a deeper level (a level I wasn’t conscious of) what we really needed was to know that we were not alone – loneliness, isolation, alienation, these are the real sicknesses of our society today 
  • The Spirit of God knew what we really needed and interceded for us with groans that words cannot express and God answered the Spirit’s prayer to comfort us in the loneliness and isolation we felt with practical, embodied help through friends and strangers.
  • Prayer in the Spirit goes hand in hand with prayer in the body.

Conclusion:

Paul concludes his letter with a prayer of blessing for the Ephesians

  • Four key words we notice in his benediction. Paul wishes his readers…
  • Peace, love with faith, and grace.   

Praying in the Spirit and praying in the body are not meant to be separated – they go together

  • In a few moments we will share communion.
  • Communion holds together body and Spirit
  • It is a celebration of the peace, love, faith and grace that are ours in Christ

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. What does it mean to ‘pray in the Spirit’? Can you think of a time in your life when the Spirit interceded for you with groans too deep for words?
  3. What are some of the ways you prefer to pray? Are there some new ways of praying you could try?
  4. What does it mean to ‘pray in the body’?
  5. Have you ever experienced prayer in body and Spirit? Perhaps share your experience with someone you trust or write it down in a journal. 
  6. What affect does praying for other believers have on us?  
  7. Why did Paul ask for clarity & courage in preaching the gospel?
  8. How does Paul own his suffering? How might we own our suffering?
  9. Take some time to slowly read Paul’s benediction in verses 23-24 of Ephesians 6. Receive this blessing into your soul.

[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, page 344.

Stand

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-17

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Stand against evil
  • Put on God’s armour
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Theodore Roosevelt is considered by some to be one of the five best presidents of the United States

  • He is still to this day the youngest, becoming president at 42, serving from 1901 to 1909
  • One saying attributed to Roosevelt is: Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
  • I understand this to mean we need to keep looking up to that which is lasting and beautiful and true, without losing touch with reality
  • The stars are a reliable source for navigating our way through this world
  • And keeping our feet on the ground is about humility, having a right understanding of yourself in relation to God and His creation

Today we continue our series in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

  • Ephesians is, in many ways, a letter that encourages us to keep our eyes on the stars and our feet on the ground.
  • It holds up some pretty lofty ideals but today’s passage has its feet firmly on the ground
  • From Ephesians 6, verses 10-17 (in the NIV), we read…

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

Stand against evil:

Winston Churchill is another well-known and well respected leader

  • He didn’t always get it right and he struggled with his own personal demons, but he knew how to stand his ground
  • His stubbornness was just what Britain needed during the war
  • We all know his famous speech about never, ever giving in except to convictions of honour and good sense
  • In a similar vein he also said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Personally, I don’t like having enemies. Some people enjoy a fight. I don’t want anything to do with them. And yet, when one becomes a Christian, one picks a side in a very ancient conflict and when you pick a side you get some enemies.

In today’s reading Paul makes it very clear that our enemy is the devil and other evil spiritual beings

  • The ‘rulers and authorities’ Paul mentions in verse 12 don’t refer to the Roman government – Paul is not talking about flesh and blood authorities
  • He’s talking about spiritual authorities organized against God and his people.
  • We can’t see the enemy because it operates in the ‘heavenly realms’.
  • Right at the beginning of this series in Ephesians I explained how the expression heavenly realms doesn’t refer to heaven as such but rather to the spiritual realm
  • The spiritual realm is sort of like another dimension all around us that we don’t normally see

Dogs can’t see orange or green, like we do, but they can see blue and yellow, so if you throw a bright orange ball across a green lawn a dog will struggle to see it because the orange & green look the same greyish colour to them.  

  • When it comes to the spiritual realm we are a bit like dogs (no offence)
  • We don’t see all the colours – spiritual things are camouflaged to us
  • This means there is more to reality than meets the eye
  • Our enemy is not physical flesh and blood. It is spiritual evil, hard to see.

Now some of you may be struggling with this idea of a devil and demons and evil forces. I understand. For many years it seemed weird to me as well.

  • Not everything can be blamed on the devil – human selfishness, greed, fear and the choices people make do account for some evil, but not all.
  • We would be arrogant to discard the ancient wisdom handed down to us in the Bible. Jesus did not deny the existence of the devil
  • Nor did Paul or the Ephesians
  • Whatever we modern readers might think, for Paul and his first century readers, the devil was a personal being, an external centre of evil – not a myth or metaphor to be explained away psychologically [1]
  • Acts 19 tells us how some of the Ephesian Christians used to practice magic before their conversion and actually burned their spell books publicly when becoming followers of Christ – you wouldn’t do that if you thought the devil was just a metaphor.  

Speaking from my own experience in life and ministry I am of the view that the spiritual battle is real

  • When you become a Christian your life gets better in some ways, but in other ways it often becomes harder
  • If you are standing on the side lines watching the game you don’t have much to contend with
  • But if you are on the field, running with the ball, then you are likely to be tackled.   

This is not to say we need to be afraid. We don’t need to fear because Jesus has defeated the devil and the forces of evil

  • We just need to be aware that, despite their defeat, the forces of evil are still at large and refuse to surrender – so we need to stand, not in our own strength but in the strength of the Lord’s power (verse 10).

Now when we think of power we tend to think of a substance or a thing, like muscle or money or an engine or a long life battery or electricity

  • But this is not what Paul means by power. For Paul, power is relational. We stand in the strength of our relationship with God
  • So, in a Christian understanding, strength and power has to do with quality of connection  
  • For example, the branch of a tree is strong and fruitful when it remains fully connected to the main trunk
  • Likewise, the tree itself is strong when it is planted beside a stream, where it’s roots can be in close relationship with the water of the stream
  • Children and young people tend to be stronger (or more resilient) when they have a number of stable adults in their life.
  • We are strong, spiritually, when we are close to Jesus.

Verse 11 mentions the devil’s schemes

  • Our enemy, the devil, doesn’t usually disclose his evil upfront or straight away. Paul says, in 2nd Corinthians 11, that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
  • So we need deliverance from evil that doesn’t look like evil at first
  • When Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness, he quoted Scripture making his proposal sound like a harmless thing, even a good thing
  • ‘If you’re the Son of God turns these stones into bread’ – surely there’s nothing wrong in that
  • ‘If you’re the Son of God jump off the roof of the temple; God’s angels will catch you’ – could be good for your PR
  • But Jesus saw through the devil’s schemes and stood his ground
  • Jesus refused to give the devil an inch.

Our enemy is invisible and deceptive. That’s why we need to stay close to Jesus. We can’t handle the assault of the evil one on our own.

Four times in today’s reading Paul uses the verb ‘stand’

  • Verse 11: Take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
  • Verse 13: …so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
  • And verse 14: Stand firm then…

The emphasis here is with ‘holding our ground’ as opposed to attacking the enemy or doing a runner. I like the poetic way C.F. Moule puts it…

  • Stand suggests not a march or an assault, but the holding of the fortress of the soul and the church for the heavenly King [2]

You see, Jesus has won the ground for us.

  • That ground or territory is our soul and also our relationships together as participants in the church  
  • We need to occupy the ground Jesus sacrificed himself for and hold it.

When we do manage to hold our ground against evil God often does incredible things. “Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” 

In order to stand though we need the armour of God.  

The armour of God:

On the wall here is a picture of a platoon of Roman soldiers. Soldiers don’t normally fight alone. They usually function as a unit or a team.   

If you have grown up in an individualistic society, as I have, then you are probably more inclined to read these verses in Ephesians 6 as if they were addressed to individuals – so we tend to think things like…

  • ‘Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, personally’
  • Or, ‘I stand alone against the devil’
  • Or, ‘I need to put the armour of God on myself as an individual’
  • And while Paul’s instructions are certainly relevant for us as individuals the imperatives used here are plural, which means Paul is instructing the church collectively to stand and put on God’s armour.

Earlier in Ephesians Paul referred to the church as the body of Christ

  • Which means we don’t stand alone against the devil – we stand as a unit, like a platoon or a company of soldiers who have each other’s backs.
  • Likewise, it is the body of Christ (the church) who is to wear God’s armour together, collectively.
  • And when the devil attacks he doesn’t just attack our mind, he attacks our relationships and tries to drive a wedge between people in the church.
  • The evil one wants to destroy community as much as he does individuals.
  • When we read these verses as applying to us collectively, as the church, then we feel safer and more secure, less alone.

In verses 14-17 Paul lists six pieces of protective armour in the order they would ordinarily be put on by a soldier.

  • The use of a military metaphor like this is not meant to imply actual violence against people – our enemy is spiritual, not physical.
  • What’s more, the armour is mostly defensive
  • Paul may have been inspired to use this metaphor because he was literally chained to a Roman soldier while writing to the Ephesians.  
  • Besides this, the prophet Isaiah also talks about the armour of God. [3]

Can anyone tell me what this logo stands for? [Wait]

  • Yes, that’s right. This is the Under Armour logo
  • Under Armour is a brand of sports clothing

In verse 14 Paul says, to the church collectively, Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…

  • The belt in a Roman soldier’s uniform was their under armour – that’s why it went on first. 
  • A belt gives you a sense of security. It holds everything together and enables you to be hands free.
  • Truth here could have two meanings. It could refer to Biblical or doctrinal truth, like ‘Jesus has risen from the dead’
  • But it could also refer to ‘truth in our inward parts’, meaning integrity
  • Integrity is our moral under armour

Some of you may have grown up with mothers who were very concerned that you always put on clean underwear

  • The belt of truth is like clean under wear. No one really sees it that much and yet without clean under wear we stink.
  • A truthful community is one in which people are genuine – they are the same on the inside as they are on the outside.   
  • A truthful community is more concerned with authenticity than image
  • When we don’t pretend to be something we are not – when we are honest with ourselves and sincere with others, we enjoy a certain freedom
  • The belt of truth gives us freedom of movement.

Next we have the breastplate of righteousness

  • A breastplate protects the body’s vital internal organs, like your heart and lungs and your liver and kidneys
  • One of the things about a breastplate is you usually need someone to help you put it on. Righteousness is not something we do alone
  • Righteousness is about relating to others in a right way – it includes being both just and merciful.
  • A righteous community is not one where anything goes.
  • A righteous community has clear boundaries, it has certain standards and values that it expects its members to live by.
  • This is not to say that a righteous community is a perfect community
  • When someone messes up and does something wrong the instinctive response of a righteous community is to encourage that person to clean up their mess so they can be restored to the community.  

Last week we heard about Onesimus, the runaway slave. Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to take Onesimus back.

  • Paul was acting in a righteous way, seeking to restore the Christian community, not just to the way it was before, but to better than before.
  • Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother

In verse 15 Paul instructs the church (collectively) to fit our feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace

  • Another translation puts it this way: Let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you a firm footing. (NEB)

There are a number ideas held together in this verse:

  • Firstly, there is the idea of readiness or being prepared
  • We prepare ourselves (or we put on the shoes of peace) by making ourselves familiar with the gospel about Jesus
  • In our context this involves studying the Bible together and listening to sermons.
  • We need to know the content of our faith so we are ready to share it and apply it.

Also in this verse there is the idea of peace

  • The gospel is good news because it shows us how to have peace with God, through faith in Jesus.
  • Peace with God is the foundation really.
  • Peace with God gives us a firm footing
  • When we know (deep down) that God is our friend, fear and anxiety lose their hold on us. 

At their meeting last Thursday, the deacons spent 10 minutes listening to a podcast by the Barna Group (courtesy of Daryl)

  • The Barna group are a Christian organisation that do research on the church and society
  • In the podcast they interviewed an Australian pastor, Mark Sayers
  • Mark made the comment that people generally feel secure when they can see the pathways they are to walk on.
  • But all the cultural markers of our society, all the signs which tell us where the pathway is, are changing really quickly at the moment
  • This rapid change creates an ‘ambient anxiety’ because we don’t know where we stand anymore – we don’t know where the path is.
  • Freedom is good, up to a point, but too much freedom fosters anxiety.

When they asked Mark Sayers how the church is to respond to this, he said…  

  • Christians need to be people of peace.
  • The world today needs the church to be a non-anxious presence in society
  • Being hectic and manic and busy only makes things worse.
  • When the church has a firm footing in the peace of the gospel then we are ready to provide a steady place for people to stand.

Verse 16 reads: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

The sort of shield we are talking about here is the big rectangular shield, as opposed to the smaller round shield

  • The Roman shield was made of wood and leather with metal edging on the top and bottom – it must have been pretty heavy to carry
  • You wouldn’t want to be without it in a fire fight but the rest of the time I expect it would have been an inconvenience.
  • Our faith isn’t always convenient, is it? But when the chips are down we are glad for it. Faith provides a refuge for us.    

Faith, in this context, could mean trust in God or it could mean ‘the faith’ in the sense of what we believe about God

  • So, for example, when the evil one shoots off a flaming arrow of false guilt, Christian believers protect themselves from that assault with the belief that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Or when a fellow believer dies, we shield ourselves from the flaming arrow of despair with the belief that we will see them again at the resurrection to eternal life.
  • Or when we are doing our best but everything seems to be going wrong, we shield ourselves from the flaming arrow of discouragement with the belief that God is faithful and just – he works all things for good.
  • Or when we are tormented by some weakness or infirmity and feel inadequate to the task, we shield ourselves from the flaming arrow of self-reliance by recalling that God’s grace is sufficient for us.

The next item of armour is the helmet of salvation

  • The helmet of salvation is about hope – ‘keeping our eyes on the stars’.
  • Hope is the capacity to imagine a good future
  • Hope produces the positive energy of joy 
  • We, the church, put on the helmet of salvation by keeping in mind that, whatever conflict or hardship or loss we might face in the present, ultimately we are on the winning side.
  • We are justified by faith in Jesus and if we share in Christ’s sufferings we will also share in his glory.

Finally, Paul tells us to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

  • The Roman soldier’s sword was a short blade used in close combat.
  • We don’t use God’s word to attack people, rather we use God’s word to defend ourselves when evil comes close, perhaps in the form of temptation or some other intense pressure.
  • Jesus used Scripture to protect himself when the devil tempted him in the wilderness.

The sword is a symbol of power

  • The word of God is mightier than the sword – it has an authority all of its own. God’s word is quietly powerful.
  • At the right moment, the moment of the Spirit’s prompting, we need to raise God’s word, without shouting and without anger.
  • As Rumi says, ‘It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder’.    

Conclusion:  

All of this armour: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, is given to us by God

  • We don’t create the armour, we simply put it on together and stand our ground in the strength of our relationship with Christ.

Let us pray…

  • Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, you are our General. Strengthen us to stand firm in the fray. Amen.

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. Why would we be unwise to explain the devil away psychologically? How does the devil tend to operate?
  3. What does Paul mean by power, in Ephesians 6?  What makes us spiritually strong?
  4. What does it mean to stand our ground against spiritual evil?
  5. What difference does it make (to our interpretation of these verses) knowing that Paul was giving instructions in the plural? 
  6. Discuss / reflect on each of the six pieces of the armour of God and their relevance for our spiritual life.
  7. How might we (the church) put each piece of armour on? (I.e. how might we apply Paul’s armour metaphor in our lives collectively and individually?)

[1] Refer Ernest Best, Ephesians, page 317.

[2] Refer Francis Foulkes’ commentary on Ephesians, page 171.

[3] For example, Isaiah 59:17.

Roots of Freedom

Scripture: Ephesians 6:5-9

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Slavery then and now
  • Personhood, purpose and power
  • Onesimus and Philemon
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Last week someone gave me a book called, Church Signs Across America

  • As the title suggests it’s a book with photos of church signs, like this one
  • The sign reads: “To win in a relationship don’t keep score”

Today we continue our series in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

  • We are at that point in Ephesians known as the household codes, where Paul talks about the various relationships in Christian homes
  • Last week we heard how wives and husbands are to relate
  • This week we focus on the relationship between slaves and masters
  • From Ephesians 6, verses 5-9 we read…

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

Slavery then and now:

A few months ago we were on holiday in Taupo and went for a walk around the lake. In some places the tree roots had grown under the footpath and were lifting the cobbles – not quite as badly as in this picture but enough to be a trip hazard.

  • Today’s reading is like tree roots – over the centuries it has quietly lifted and broken our concrete thinking on slavery and employment relations

Now when we hear the word slavery we might think, ‘How is slavery relevant to us today? Wasn’t slavery abolished in the 19th Century?’

Well, laws were passed in the 19th Century to say that people can’t buy and sell other people anymore, but slavery still exists in the form of forced labour, child soldiers, sexual exploitation and forced marriage

  • There are estimated to be around 40,300,000 people in some form of modern slavery in the world today
  • And it’s not a problem confined to poorer countries either – there are thought to be about 15,000 people in Australia currently engaged under conditions defined as Modern Slavery, and approximately 3,000 people in New Zealand in the same situation. [1]

Although slavery still exists today, it should be noted there are a number of differences between slavery in the ancient world and slavery now

  • As many as one third of the population in Greece and Rome were slaves
  • Slaves did most of the work – without slaves nothing would get done
  • We are used to associating slaves with a particular race of people – like the African Americans of the 19th Century, picking cotton in the fields or harvesting sugar cane 
  • But slaves in the ancient world were all variety of races and served in all sorts of roles, both skilled and unskilled
  • A slave might be white or black, a doctor or a farmer or a business manager or a cook or even a prime minister
  • What’s more, many slaves in the ancient world gained their freedom after the age of 30 – so it wasn’t necessarily an all of life thing [2]
  • The treatment of slaves in the ancient world was mixed – some were treated with kindness but many were abused and mistreated

Ok, if slavery is a bad thing then why does the Bible seem to accommodate it?

  • I mean Paul doesn’t say to the masters, ‘set your slaves free’, nor does he call the slaves to revolt against their masters.
  • To the contrary Paul instructs slaves to do their best for their earthly masters and to have a good attitude about it    
  • This almost sounds like Paul is condoning slavery but actually, he’s not
  • Paul is, in fact, sowing seeds that would eventually grow into roots that would undermine slavery and set people free

The Bible makes it clear that slavery falls well short of God’s intention for humanity – it is not what the Lord wants for people

  • God is free and we are made in God’s image – slavery does not fit with being God’s image bearer  
  • Christ came to set the captives free and, as Paul says elsewhere, in Christ there is no longer slave nor free

While that sounds lovely, the reality is, we don’t live in a perfect world do we. We live in a fallen world and suffer the ill effects of sin

  • God understands this and so he meets us where we are at
  • He comes to us in the form of Jesus, a human being who we can relate with, and he says, ‘Follow me’
  • God’s word, in the Bible, addresses the realities of this world, like slavery, not to condone them but to lead us out of them
  • So when the Bible talks about slavery it’s not holding up an ideal to aspire to – rather it is providing some guidance on how to manage a less than ideal situation by providing restraint for masters and protection for slaves – sort of a first step in the right direction.

It’s remarkable how people’s attitudes change

  • For many years we accepted lead in petrol as normal and even necessary until we realised that lead is toxic and now we wouldn’t dream of using it
  • Same thing with plastic supermarket bags – for years we used plastic bags without a second thought to what happened to them when we threw them away, but now we’ve banned single use plastic bags

The ancient world, that Paul lived in, did not see slavery as an evil thing like we do today

  • For them slavery was simply accepted as a normal and necessary part of the economic system – sort of like we accept having a mortgage as normal and necessary to buying a house – or like we used to accept leaded petrol and plastic bags. 

It would have been foolish for Paul to advocate revolt against slavery

  • The early church was not politically powerful – they were in no position to dictate to the rest of society how people should live
  • The church needed to be moderate in its approach to show the Roman authorities they posed no threat to the peace of the empire
  • Consequently, slavery and other social issues were not Paul’s main focus – he and the other apostles were simply trying to get the message of the gospel out there and establish Christian faith communities 
  • Paul’s approach was wise – he sowed seeds of thought that would eventually grow to undermine and break up slavery
  • You see, slavery isn’t the underlying problem – slavery is just a symptom
  • Paul sought to address the deeper more fundamental issues – in particular: personhood, purpose and power.

Personhood, purpose and power:

On the wall here is a picture of a drill

  • A drill is a tool, it helps a tradie to do their job quicker and easier
  • A drill is a slave to the person operating it
  • It is in your interests to take care of your drill because if the drill breaks the job will be held up and you’ll have to buy another one
  • But you don’t treat your drill with same respect you would a person
  • Slaves tend to be treated like drills – they are not usually acknowledged as people in their own right
  • Slaves are seen as tools for getting things done, for making life easier or for making money

So the first seed Paul sows in these verses is the seed of personhood

  • Paul has just addressed wives & husbands and children & parents, now he addresses slaves, as people, alongside their masters.
  • Given the historical and cultural context in which slaves were thought of and treated as living tools (and not as human beings) it is remarkable that Paul addresses them at all
  • By including slaves in this way Paul is acknowledging their personhood and giving them dignity  
  • It indicates that slaves were accepted members of the Christian community and that Paul regards them as responsible people (like their masters) to whom he can make a moral appeal. [3]

Taking this thought further, Paul gave honour to the role of a slave by identifying himself as a slave of Christ.  

When we look at verses 5-8 of Ephesians 6 we notice that Paul keeps referring to Jesus

  • Verse 5, slaves obey your earthly masters… as you would obey Christ
  • Verse 6, obey them… like slaves of Christ
  • Verse 7, Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men
  • Paul is saying here a person is not defined by their job or their master
  • A person is defined by Christ
  • What’s more, our value and identity as persons do not derive from our social standing or our circumstances but from Christ.

Paul gives slaves the dignity of personhood – and when we see other people as persons (not as tools) we start to value them better.

Another underlying issue Paul addresses in these verses is that of purpose or motivation in a slave’s work and life  

Albert Camus, the famous existentialist writer once said, ‘Without work all life goes rotten. But when work is soulless life stifles and dies.’

  • Albert Camus was talking about purpose or motivation in working
  • For your work to have soul you need to have a good purpose, an intrinsic motivation in doing it
  • You need to feel your work fits with the values you carry in your heart
  • You need to have a sense that you are fulfilling a higher calling
  • Without a good purpose, without an intrinsic motivation, work becomes soulless and life stifles and dies

A few weeks ago I told you about my misspent youth studying business management. It wasn’t a total loss though. There was one case study, from the course on organisational behaviour, which I found meaningful…

  • In the 1920’s researchers carried out some tests on factory workers in America
  • The test involved changing the level of lighting in the factory to see if workers’ productivity was effected
  • As they gradually increased the lighting the workers produced more
  • The researchers thought they might be on to something until they dimmed the lights and found that workers’ productivity continued to increase – which was puzzling and counter intuitive
  • When the illumination studies finished and the researchers left the factory, workers’ productivity slumped
  • Apparently the level of lighting had nothing to do with the workers’ productivity – it was the presence of the researchers themselves that was effecting productivity. Why was that?
  • Some say the workers were more motivated because of the interest being shown in them by the researchers
  • Going a bit deeper though, I think there was more to it than simply being observed – I wonder if the presence of important people doing important stuff gave the workers a greater sense of purpose in what they were doing
  • I wonder if the researchers’ presence gave soul to the workers’ jobs
  • With the researchers there the factory workers weren’t just assembling radios on a production line – they were in fact serving a higher calling; they were part of something bigger and more lasting.
  • Whatever the reason, it became known as the Hawthorne Effect

In verse 6, of Ephesians 6, Paul addresses the deeper issue that we all face in our work, whether we are paid or volunteer, and that’s the issue of purpose

  • What is your ‘why’ for working?
  • What is it that gives your work soul so that life thrives?
  • Paul makes it clear that the purpose (or motivation) for obeying earthly masters is not just to win their favour, when their eye is on you, but to do the will of God from your heart
  • Paul is advocating for an intrinsic motivation
  • Your manager may not always show an interest in you
  • Your boss may not always appreciate your work but God does and his interest in your work, his appraisal of you, means more than your boss’

God sees the good we do in secret and he rewards us

  • But that reward is not necessarily measured in dollars
  • The reward God gives is that of a meaningful purpose
  • God makes our work serve a higher calling – he has the power to give our work soul, so that life thrives.

Personhood, purpose and power

  • The slave / master (employee / employer) relationship is traditionally a top down relationship – it involves the use of power

In verse 9 Paul says: And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.

  • This is a reminder to both slaves and masters that power ultimately rests with God
  • God may delegate his power to certain people for a time but that power is only ever on loan from God – it always returns to him

Do not threaten them, means don’t try to control people with fear – use encouragement – the carrot is usually better than the stick    

And the instruction for masters to treat their slaves in the same way, is a reminder of the mutual submission that Paul described in chapter 5, verse 21

  • If slaves are to serve their masters as if they were serving Christ and masters are to do the same for their slaves, then we have a relationship in which the master is using their power for the well-being of their slave
  • In fact, the master / slave relationship is transformed so that the slave becomes family

Paul was a wise man – he didn’t try to change the legislation or rebel against the authorities – he addressed the underlying issues of slavery by restoring to slaves (and masters) a sense of personhood, purpose and the right use of power.

Philemon & Onesimus:  

Reading Ephesians 6 I am reminded of Paul’s letter to Philemon

  • Philemon was a Christian, someone Paul had led to the Lord
  • Philemon owned a slave called Onesimus
  • It appears Onesimus may have stolen from Philemon and run away
  • This was pretty serious stuff back in the day – Philemon could’ve had Onesimus killed for that sort of behaviour
  • But, in God’s providence, Onesimus found his way to Paul who was a prisoner in Rome at the time
  • Paul led Onesimus to the Lord and then went about reconciling him to Philemon
  • Let me read to you some of Paul’s letter to Philemon
  • Notice how Paul presents Onesimus as a valued person (not as a tool)
  • And how he persuades Philemon to use his power to show mercy and forgiveness
  • Paul reminds Philemon that to win in a relationship we don’t keep score
  • From verse 8 of Philemon we read…

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favour you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

We don’t know what the outcome was in this situation

  • We do know that if Paul had his way then Philemon would have taken Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother.
  • The letter to Philemon shows us God’s intention to abolish slavery  

Conclusion:

Thankfully, most of us are unfamiliar with slavery, although in working for wages or a salary or having to pay off a mortgage we do have some idea of what it feels like to have someone own our time 

  • What Paul says in Ephesians about slaves and their masters can be applied to the employee / employer relationship  
  • Workers are not tools; they are persons of dignity to be valued
  • Likewise, employers are people too – so employees shouldn’t try to stick it to the man
  • Give your best – work for your boss as if you were working for Christ and God will reward you
  • Whatever our station in life, our purpose is to do God’s will
  • Any power we have is temporary and needs to be used in a way that pleases God.      

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. Why did Paul instruct slaves to obey their masters (rather than rebel)?
  3. In what ways was ancient slavery different from modern slavery? In what ways are they the same?
  4. What deeper underlying issues does Paul address in Ephesians 6:5-9?
  5. Where does your personal sense of identity (or personhood) and value come from?
  6. What is your ‘why’ for working? What gives soul to your work?
  7. How are masters/employers to use their power? 
  8. How might Paul’s instructions to slaves and masters be applied today in employee / employer relationships?
  9. Take some time to read and reflect on Paul’s letter to Philemon this week. What does this letter reveal to us?  

[1] https://www.onestaff.co.nz/blog/modern-slavery-in-new-zealand-addressing-a-widespread-issue/

[2] Klyne Snodgrass, NIVAC ‘Ephesians’, page 327

[3] John Stott, Ephesians, page 252. 

Love & Marriage

Scripture: Ephesians 5:21-33

Sructure:

  • Introduction
  • Wives and husbands
  • Christ and the church
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Today we continue our series in Ephesians. From Chapter 5, verse 21 (in the NIV) we read…

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

On the wall here is a picture of a ‘four strand square sinnet’ – a type of braided rope. Many years ago (before wireless technology) they used to braid telephone cords in this way.

  • Today’s reading is like a cord of four strands. Paul weaves together the relationship of wives and husbands with that of Christ and church.
  • First let us consider what Paul has to say to wives and husbands.

Wives & husbands:

Last week I was reading a collection of short stories by James Runcie and I came across a word I had never seen before: Uxorious.

  • I asked Robyn to look up the meaning for me on her phone and she very kindly submitted to my request.

Uxorious means to have or show a great or excessive fondness for one’s wife.

I thought to myself, that describes me, but I didn’t say anything to Robyn at the time. She’s intelligent enough to figure it out for herself.

Uxorious can be taken positively or negatively, depending on the context in which it is used, but I’m using it today in the positive sense.  

Our reading starts with the verse, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. You may remember from three weeks ago that mutual submission is one of the behaviours of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Verse 22 goes on to say: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  

  • Now some people hear that and it gets their heckles up – it’s not popular these days to talk about women submitting to men.
  • Submission has almost become a swear word and we can understand why. This verse has sometimes been misunderstood and misused to control or even oppress women – so an explanation is needed.

Firstly, the context is one of mutual submission (it goes both ways)

  • Paul gives three examples of mutual submission within Christian households in Ephesians: that is, between wives & husbands, between children & parents and between servants & masters.
  • So women are not being singled out here; mutual submission is an equal opportunity thing – all Spirit filled Christians are supposed to do it.

If anything, there seems to be a greater emphasis in this text on the husband’s responsibilities. For example…

  • Verse 25: Husband’s love your wives just as Christ loved the church…
  • Verse 28: Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. And,
  • Verse 33: Each of you [husbands] must love his wife as he loves himself.
  • Love involves the submission of oneself for another.

With this in view Paul is describing the ideal in Christian marriage.

  • Wives submit to your husbands assumes a marriage in which husbands are uxorious (in the best possible sense) – they love their wives.
  • So wives are essentially being invited to submit to their husband’s love.
  • This is not like Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, where Petruchio treats his wife (Kate) badly in order to make her obey him.
  • Wives are not expected to submit to a husband’s violence or meanness.
  • Nor are they expected to submit to a husband when he is asking them to do something ungodly. We are to submit to one another as to the Lord.
  • If the Lord Jesus wouldn’t ask you to do it then you don’t need to submit.

Another thing to keep in mind here is what Paul does not say

  • For example, Paul does not say wives must obey their husbands.
  • For years the traditional marriage vows included a line about wives promising to obey their husbands. I’m not sure where that came from?
  • Nowhere in the Bible does it say that wives are to obey their husbands.
  • It does say that children should obey their parents and servants should obey their masters, but wives are to submit to their husband’s love.

Furthermore, this passage does not say that all women everywhere must submit to any man they come across. Women and men have equal value in God’s sight.

  • Nor does it say anything about women in leadership.
  • This passage is talking about husbands & wives and Christ & the church.  

What about that line, in verse 23, about the husband being the head of the wife?

  • To a 21st Century mind that sounds just as offensive as submitting.
  • Well, before we take offense, we need to understand what is meant by ‘headship’.

In the English language being the ‘head’ of something is associated with authority or being the leader, the one in charge, the one responsible.

  • We talk about the heads of government, for example, or the head of a corporation.
  • Verse 23 says: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.   
  • Now husbands are not the Saviour of their wives. Christ is our Saviour.
  • But husbands do have a leadership responsibility in the family.
  • However, that leadership, that headship is not defined by the standards of the world – it is defined by Christ.
  • As we know from the gospel, Jesus’ leadership was a servant leadership (it was not a dictatorship) – Jesus led in a way that served the interests of the people, he submitted his life to save us.
  • So that’s the kind of headship that husbands are supposed to demonstrate, sacrificial, self-giving leadership.  

The Bible’s idea of headship does not mean that wives just need to suck it up and accept whatever the husband says. Paul is saying husbands are the ‘head’.

  • So a good question to ask is: What does a head do?
  • I head looks, listens and thinks, then makes a decision which is in the interests of the body. The head is there to look after the body.
  • So guys, we have a responsibility to listen to our wives – listening is the first duty of love
  • And when I say ‘listen’, I don’t just mean listen to your wife’s words, I mean listen to her heart, get close to her, try to understand what she is feeling.  
  • Being the head means thinking about your wife’s wellbeing; and listening gives you a few clues as to what her well-being might look like.

A husband’s headship then is to be modelled off Christ who doesn’t boss people around but rather woos and wins people over with his love.

  • Just as Jesus lovingly thinks about our wellbeing, so too husbands are to lovingly think about how best to care for their wives.

Let me give you an example of what headship and submitting to a husband’s love might look like…

  • Ladies, imagine you are married with young children and you’ve had a really hard day – maybe the kids were grizzly or sick or maybe you had some difficult things to deal with at work.
  • Whatever it was, you are exhausted and at the end of your rope.
  • Your husband comes home and asks you how your day was.
  • ‘Hard’, you reply. You want to say more but it’s not the right time – your head is pounding, the kids are screaming and you need to think about what to cook for dinner.
  • Your husband is still for a moment, which tells you he’s thinking. He always looks a bit blank when he’s putting things together in his head.
  • Then he comes over to you, puts his arms around you and gently kisses you on the forehead. You hold each other for a moment, then he says…
  • ‘Why don’t you go and have a bath. I’ll sort the kids and the dinner.’
  • You are about to protest, to play the role of the martyr, and then you remember what the pastor said in his sermon last Sunday, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands’.
  • ‘Ok’, you say meekly and take yourself off for a soak in the tub.

As you are lying there in the bath you remember the way you and your husband have always been there for each other.

  • You care for one another in a hundred small ways but also in bigger more significant ways.
  • Like the time he agreed to shift cities for your job
  • And the time you supported him when he wanted to go back to university to finish his masters.
  • As you think about these things a profound sense of thankfulness fills you – you are thankful for your husband yes, but also thankful for Jesus, who has had such a good influence on your husband.

You emerge from the bathroom 40 minutes later, having washed the worries of the day off, feeling more relaxed.

  • The kids are doing their homework or colouring in and dinner is nearly ready – chicken parmigiana for you and him, chicken nuggets for the kids
  • You smile to yourself because that’s what he used to cook for you before you were married – it’s his specialty, his ‘I love you’ meal.
  • He hands you a glass of Sav (so thoughtful, he knows you well). You take a sip and feel it go down.

After dinner you both put the kids to bed, then you settle down together in the lounge and share the contents of your day.

  • After listening to your heart your husband goes still and quiet again – you know that look, he’s thinking.
  • ‘Why don’t we have a weekend away? Just the two of us. We can leave the kids with your parents’, he says.
  • And you reply, ‘I would like that. Let me organise it.’     

We are talking about mutual submission and headship – not living solely for ourselves but thinking about each other.   

You know, if you are married and a Christian, then the primary context for discipleship (the most important place for learning to be like Jesus) is your marriage.

  • It is as a husband and wife submit to and love one another that they learn the way of Christ.

Christ and the church:

Woven through his instruction on how wives and husbands are to relate to each other, Paul also talks about Christ’s relationship to the church, which is a bit like a loving marriage.

  • Two things in particular we note about Christ and the church:
  • Christ is one with the church,
  • And Christ loves the church, like an uxorious husband.

In verse 23 Paul says that Christ is the head of the church, his body and in verse 30 he says, we are members of Christ’s body.

  • The head and the body are not separate – they are one, a unity.
  • There is a mutuality between the head and the body.
  • In the same way there is a oneness between Christ and the church.

Paul alludes to this oneness again in verses 31 & 32 where he talks about the profound mystery of a husband and wife becoming one flesh.

  • The image here is of intimacy between Christ and the church, not sexual intimacy as such but an intimacy of spirit.   

I like what Eugene Peterson writes in his commentary on Ephesians…

  • Mystery is beyond our control. Paul named the relation between husband and wife [and between Christ and the church] a mystery. In order to enter a mystery we have to submit, to be humble before what is other and more than us. The precondition for apprehending mystery is letting go…
  • Spirit is the unseen ‘between’ where relationship is born and matures. [1]

Christ and his church are one – we are one with Christ like a head and a body are one, or like a husband & wife are one.

  • That sort of intimacy requires letting go.
  • Letting go is an act of trust – it takes courage and vulnerability.
  • We call that mysterious closeness (that unseen between) ‘spirit’
  • Spirit is like a wireless connection between people and between Christ and his church. Spirit is where relationship is born and grows.

Alongside this reality of Christ’s oneness with the church (and inseparable from it) is Christ’s love for the church.

  • Christ’s love for the church is greater than even the most uxorious husband’s love for his wife. Christ’s love has the power to transform.

Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, sang a song called Natural Woman.

  • It was written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin, one night after they had put the kids to bed.
  • On the face of it Natural Woman is a song about a woman who feels valued and appreciated by her husband for who she is. Her husband makes her feel like she can be herself (a natural woman).
  • It’s got some great lyrics. We’d like to play it for you now…   

Looking out on the morning rain I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind. But you’re the key to my peace of mind.

‘Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman (woman)

When my soul was in the lost and found you came along to claim it.
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me ‘til your kiss helped me name it.
Now I’m no longer doubtful, of what I’m living for. And if I make you happy I don’t need to do more.

‘Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman (woman)

Oh, baby, what you’ve done to me (what you’ve done to me). You make me feel so good inside (good inside). And I just want to be, close to you (want to be)
You make me feel so alive.

You make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman (woman)…

Aretha seems to be singing about the ideal husband, the perfect man.

  • …you’re the key to my peace of mind.
  • When my soul was in the lost and found you came along to claim it.
  • You make me feel so good inside
  • I’m pretty sure there’s only one man who could live up to this ideal.
  • (So ladies, you probably can’t expect this of your husbands all the time)
  • In Ephesians 5 Paul describes Christ as the perfect husband of the church.

From verse 25 we read…

  • Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

The image here is of Christ claiming the church’s soul from the lost and found

  • Restoring the church, making her beautiful again, but not beautiful in a superficial or artificial sense – beautiful in a natural sense – holy.
  • To be holy is to be set apart, to be special.
  • Holiness is also about wholeness and integrity.
  • Holiness does not require us to be something we are not.
  • Holiness sets us free to be who we truly are – to live in our soul and be our natural authentic self. Holiness is naturally beautiful, without trying. 

Jesus takes away our sin, our shame and our guilt so we can be who God created us to be.  

  • cleansing by the washing with water through the word could be a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Water is often associated with the Holy Spirit and the word of God can only be understood and applied with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When we look at ourselves and at the wider church in the world today we don’t always see the beauty of holiness – the church is less than perfect at times.

  • But Paul’s focus here isn’t so much on the earthly church as it is on the church in the heavenly realms.
  • We can’t see it yet but Jesus (by His Word & Spirit) is making us holy, naturally beautiful, as we submit to his love.

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard how husbands and wives are to relate with each other and, by analogy, how Christ relates to the church

  • Jesus is both the head of the church, which is his body
  • And he is the groom of the church, which is his bride. 
  • Unlike any ordinary groom though, Jesus’ love has the power to transform his bride and bring out her natural God given beauty. 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. How are we to understand Paul’s instruction for wives to submit to their husbands? What might mutual submission (in marriage) look like? Do you have a story of mutual submission you could share?
  3. What does Paul mean when he says that the husband is the head of the wife? What does a head do?
  4. If you are married, when was the last time you really listened to your spouse?
  5. Discuss / reflect on the mystery of the oneness of Christ and the church. What images does Paul use for portraying Christ’s oneness with the church? What are the implications for us?
  6. How is Christ’s love for the church different from a husband’s love for his wife?
  7. What does it mean that Jesus makes the church holy?
  8. How might we submit to Jesus’ love?

[1] Eugene Peterson, ‘Practise Resurrection’, pages 248 & 249.

Grace

Scripture: Various (see below)

Title: G.R.A.C.E.

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • God                   (Romans 5:6-10 & Luke 10:30-36)
  • Realisation        (Luke 18:9-14 & Luke 15:11-24)
  • Acceptance        (John 13:6-10 & 2nd Corinthians 12:7-9)
  • Change              (Luke 3:7-14 & Matthew 18:23-35)
  • Evangelism       (Luke 8:26-39)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Hi everyone

  • This morning we are taking a break from our series in Ephesians for a one off sermon on grace. The word grace simply means gift.
  • We can’t earn grace; we can only receive it, like soil receives a seed or like a baby receives her mother’s milk.
  • Grace is a good gift, a beautiful gift, a valuable gift, a treasure.
  • God’s grace is also a process, but it’s not an entirely easy process.  

God:

Not surprisingly God’s grace starts with God Himself.

  • Grace is always God’s initiative and God’s grace is often at work long before we are even aware of it. In Romans 5 Paul writes,

You see, at the just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.  

These verses are saying; God’s grace was at work to save us when we were still enemies of God, long before we were even aware of our need for God’s help.

  • God does this because that’s who God is. He saves us out of his goodness and love. When God shows grace He is simply being true to himself.  

Many of you will be familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

  • You know the one; where some poor bloke got mugged and left for dead on the side of the road.
  • Most people of that time were easily identifiable by what they wore.
  • You could tell who was Jewish and who was Roman and who was Samaritan and who was Greek by their clothes.
  • But the man who had been beaten up wasn’t wearing anything because the robbers had taken his clothes.
  • The Samaritan had no way of knowing whether the stranger was a friend or foe.
  • Maybe the wounded man was Jewish, a sworn enemy to the Samaritans.
  • But that didn’t matter, his need trumped everything else.
  • The Good Samaritan showed grace and mercy to that man, even though he didn’t know the guy.

Jesus is like the Good Samaritan and we are like the stranger, unconscious and bleeding out in the gutter.

  • Jesus shows us mercy and grace while we are helpless to save ourselves and indeed, while we are still concussed and unaware of how vulnerable we really are.
  • So often we can only see God’s grace in the rear-vision mirror.

Realisation:

The next step in the process of grace is realising our need.

Have you ever had the experience of losing your keys, needing to find them in a hurry and frantically searching everywhere for them?

  • Robyn has and I’ve been the mug frantically looking with her.
  • After about a minute or two, when it becomes obvious the keys are not in any of the usual places, we realise our desperate need and start praying, asking God to help us find the keys.     
  • Then, when they finally turn up, we are very relieved and thankful. 

Of course, looking for lost keys is a frivolous example, at least in hindsight.

  • Realising our need can be far more painful and difficult, but it’s necessary if we are to become aware of God’s grace
  • Without realising our need, we can’t really accept, let alone appreciate, God’s grace.

They say, ‘You can’t trust someone who has never lost anything’ and its true.

  • In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story of two very different men, a Pharisee and a tax collector.
  • The Pharisee, who is at the top of the pecking order in his society, has never lost anything – he isn’t aware of his need for God and consequently he looks down on others.
  • He thinks he is better than everyone else and reminds God of all the good things he does.
  • The tax collector, on the other hand, knows loss all too well – he is somewhere near the bottom of the social ladder and is acutely aware of his need.
  • He stands at a distance, not daring to look up to heaven, beating his chest saying, “God, have mercy on me a sinner”. 
  • Jesus concluded his story by saying it was the tax collector who went home justified by God.

Before God’s grace can find its home in our heart, we have to realise our need for it.

  • When life is tickety boo and everything is going along fine we usually aren’t aware of our need for God – we tend to think we can manage on our own, without God.
  • It’s not until we are faced with our need that we cry out for help
  • We come to a realisation of our need for God by having our heart broken.
  • To paraphrase Richard Baxter, ‘God breaks every person’s heart in a different way.’
  • Perhaps through illness, maybe through the loss of a loved one, sometimes through betrayal or our own failure or in some other way.
  • But having our heart broken isn’t enough in itself – we also need to reflect on our situation.
  • Reflection (thinking time) helps us to join the dots. Reflection allows the penny to drop.

The problem is, many of us don’t take the time to reflect – we don’t sit with our pain long enough.

  • We find some way to distract ourselves or we numb the pain with alcohol or by keeping busy.
  • Not all pain is good, but sometimes pain is God’s messenger if we would only listen to it.   
  • Having said that, we need to find the right balance between reflection and action.
  • We don’t want to spend so long sitting with our pain that we become stuck, feeling sorry for ourselves.    

The prodigal son, in Luke 15, didn’t come to his senses (he didn’t realise his need) until he hit rock bottom and became so hungry he would have eaten the food he was feeding to the pigs.

  • But it wasn’t just being hungry that made him realise his need – it was also honest reflection.
  • As the younger son thought about how well his father’s servants were treated he realised his best bet was to return home and ask for help.

If God’s grace is a sapling plant and our heart is the soil, then realising our need is the spade which opens our heart to receive God’s grace.

  • Or if God’s grace is a wholesome meal, then realising our need is the hunger which opens our mouths to dine on God’s grace.
  • The same God who breaks our heart also heals our heart.

Jesus said, Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  • The poor in spirit know their need for God’s grace and they’re not too proud to ask for help.

Acceptance:

After we have realised our need, the next step in the process of grace, is accepting God’s help.

  • This might seem obvious and it might seem like the easy part but it is neither obvious nor easy. Accepting God’s help can be humiliating.
  • The problem is we often want to stay in control. We want to accept God’s grace on our terms. But that’s not how grace works.

The night before he died Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and when he got to Simon Peter, Peter refused because he thought it was beneath Jesus to do this. [1]

  • Perhaps Peter meant well but it’s not for us to set the terms of grace.
  • Jesus said, if you don’t let me wash your feet (if you don’t accept my grace on my terms) you have no part in me
  • Peter couldn’t argue with that and neither can we.

We don’t dictate the terms of God’s grace. All we can do is accept or reject what God decides to give or withhold. 

  • In 2nd Corinthians 12 Paul talks about two of God’s graces given to him.
  • Paul was given a wonderful vision or revelation but then, to stop him becoming conceited, he was also given a thorn in the flesh.
  • Paul writes; Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
  • The vision and the thorn were both forms of God’s grace.
  • The vision was pleasant and the thorn wasn’t.
  • Paul would rather not have had the thorn, but we don’t decide the terms of God’s grace.
  • We are not God. We are his creatures and our part is to come to terms with God’s grace for us – to learn to accept what God gives, as Paul did.

When it comes to God’s grace we may also have a hard time accepting what God does for others.

  • Returning to the parable of the prodigal son, in Luke 15, the older brother certainly had a hard time accepting his father’s grace for the younger son.
  • We see his resentment at the father welcoming the prodigal home with a party.

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look, all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.    

God’s grace for others requires us to be gracious too and that can be difficult.

The process of GRACE starts with God. Next comes the realisation of our need, followed by acceptance and then change.

Change:              

Sometimes we long for change don’t we. Other times we prefer to keep things as they are.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy, for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow… Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

Those were Bonhoeffer’s words.

  • Grace requires change. The technical words for the change grace requires are repentance and sanctification.
  • Repentance means a change of mind and a change of behaviour.
  • And sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ.
  • Repentance goes hand in hand with forgiveness and sanctification should follow justification.
  • We can’t expect God’s grace to leave us unchanged or untouched.
  • We can’t say, ‘Thank you God for your forgiveness. I’ll be on my way now to live as I please.’

In preparing the way for Jesus (the Messiah) John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t mince his words.

  • Here’s a sample of John’s preaching from Luke 3…

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

John preached costly grace and so did the apostle Paul. In Romans 6 Paul says,

  • What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

I said before that we were taking a break from Ephesians but actually today’s sermon, about the process of grace, follows the pattern of Ephesians.

  • In the first part of Ephesians Paul talks about what God has done for us in Christ (all the good gifts that are ours because of Jesus).
  • And in the second part of Ephesians Paul talks about the change God’s grace should effect in us.

Now in saying that grace requires us to change we need to know that God is not asking us to be something we are not.

  • The change is from our false self to our true self.
  • It also needs to be said that God is willing to help us change.
  • Sometimes we want to change but we can’t, at least not on our own – we are stuck, frozen like statues. We need the help of God’s Spirit.
  • God’s grace comes with truth to set us free from the lies that trap us.   

The ultimate test that God’s grace has changed us (made us more true on the inside) is our willingness to forgive others. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

Jesus told some chilling tales – real horror stories. One of his scariest parables, in Matthew 18, was told as a warning against cheap grace.

  • The story goes that a servant racked up an incredible debt with the king. We might say a billion dollars in today’s currency.
  • I don’t know how this man did it. Maybe he had a gambling problem or maybe he just liked fast cars and expensive parties.
  • Anyway, when he was brought before the king and asked to give account the servant fell to his knees begging for more time to repay the debt.
  • The servant thought he could set the terms of grace and buy his way out.
  • The King (and everyone else) knew the servant had no hope of repaying the money and yet the King did more than the servant asked for – he forgave the entire debt outright.

Now, you would expect the King’s generosity to change the servant.

  • Sadly, the servant went out, found someone who owed him about $50, grabbed the man by the neck and demanded payment.
  • When the man begged for more time the first servant refused and had him thrown into debtors’ prison.
  • The other servants were extremely upset and told the King.
  • The King, who was a just man, became angry saying, ‘I forgave you the whole amount, you should have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you’.
  • Then the King sent that servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back every penny.
  • And Jesus concluded: ‘That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart’.

God’s grace may be free but it’s not cheap. We need to be careful not to forfeit it. The real proof that grace has done its work in changing us is our willingness to forgive others.  

God, Realisation, Acceptance, Change and Evangelism – spells GRACE.

Evangelism:

Evangelism simply means, passing on good news.

  • Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
  • True evangelism is the fruit of a thankful heart – a heart that has been touched and changed by God’s goodness.

I remember as a kid my grandparents had a Newton’s Cradle, like this one, only bigger. [Hold up Newton’s Cradle and set it going]

  • When you lift one metal ball and let it fall, the energy passes all the way through the row causing the metal ball on the end to swing up.
  • The device is named after Isaac Newton because it demonstrates one of the laws of physics; the conservation of momentum and energy.

God’s grace is an energy – it must find release or expression somehow, somewhere. Evangelism and praise are two natural ways in which the energy of God’s grace is released.   

  • If the process of God’s grace is like a Newton’s Cradle, then God’s goodness is the metal ball on one end and evangelism is the ball on the far end. [Set the Newton’s Cradle going again]

Often when Jesus healed or forgave or delivered someone, that person would then tell others what Jesus had done for them.

  • Even when Jesus warned them to be quiet they couldn’t help themselves; the positive energy of his grace needed to find release and expression.
  • Sometimes though Jesus did instruct people to pass on the good news.

In Luke 8, Jesus crossed over to the other side of the lake with his disciples to Gentile territory.

  • No sooner had they stepped off the boat and they were confronted with a man who was possessed by a legion of demons.
  • This man was so troubled, his life in such chaos, that he used to live among the tombs.
  • People tried to restrain him, for his own safety and their own, but he broke the shackles and lived like a wild animal. 

Jesus commanded the demons to leave the man. The demons were afraid of Jesus and begged him not to send them into the abyss.

  • So Jesus showed them grace and let them enter a herd of pigs, which promptly ran off the side of a steep bank and into the lake. 

When the villagers saw the man sitting with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind – his dignity (and humanity) restored, they were frightened.

  • The grace of God is a powerful energy and divine power can be terrifying.
  • Because of their fear the people of that region asked Jesus to leave.
  • Jesus is meek (strong & gentle at the same time) so he did what they asked of him.
  • As Jesus was leaving the man who had been delivered begged to go with him, but Jesus said; Return home and tell how much God has done for you.

Here we see the wisdom of God’s grace.

  • The man had been estranged and alienated and lonely for a long time.
  • He needed to belong again – to be restored to his community.
  • The man was a Gentile. If he went with Jesus, back to Jewish territory, he would be excluded all over again.
  • The man also needed to find expression for the energy God’s grace had created within him.
  • By sending the man back home with the task of telling his story of grace, Jesus was releasing the man.
  • So the man went away and told everyone in town how much Jesus had done for him.   

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard about the process of God’s grace.

  • Grace begins with God’s goodness, before we are even aware of it.
  • But for grace to do its work we must realise our need for God.
  • Once we have realised our need we must accept grace on God’s terms.
  • Then comes change for good; personal repentance, proven in the crucible of forgiveness.   
  • Eventually though, the energy of grace must find release in evangelism, and praise; telling others the good things God has done for us.

This process of God’s grace isn’t just a one off thing though – it is a cycle which repeats itself, going deeper and deeper into our soul each time, until we reach maturity in Christ-likeness.

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading these Scriptures and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. Thinking back over your life, can you recall a time when God’s grace was at work before you were aware of it? (When have you seen God’s grace in the rear-vision mirror?)
  3. Can you recall a time in your life when you realised your need for God? What happened?
  4. Why is it important for us to reflect on our situation when things go wrong?
  5. What has been your experience of accepting God’s grace? Is it similar to that of the prodigal son, or of Peter having his feet washed or of Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Or is it different to that?
  6. What is the difference between cheap grace and costly grace?
  7. What change has God’s grace brought in your life?
  8. How can we release the energy of God’s grace?
  9. Is there someone who would benefit from hearing about the good things God has done in your life?
  10. Take some time this week to reflect on the different times God has led you through His cycle of grace. Where are you at in the cycle of grace right now? What are the next steps for you?    

[1] John 13:6-10

Wise Living

Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-21

Title: Wise Living

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Making the most of our time
  • Discerning the will of God
  • Being filled with the Spirit
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

The year before we started training for ministry at Carey Baptist we went to check the College out and meet some of the students

  • To make conversation I asked the students assigned to us what subjects they were majoring in and one of them said ‘moral & practical theology’
  • I didn’t know anything about theological education so I naively said, ‘Moral & practical theology aye. Is there any other kind?’
  • I thought, surely you wouldn’t want theology (the study of God) to be immoral or impractical. They graciously overlooked my ignorance.
  • The next year I learned that there is another branch of theology called ‘systematic theology’
  • Systematic theology is the theory, the big ideas, the framework and history of thinking about God
  • Whereas moral and practical theology is more the application of the theory to real life, things like ethics and pastoral care

Today we continue our series in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, focusing on chapter 5, verses 15-21

  • In the first half of Ephesians Paul provides his readers with some big picture thinking about God and Christ
  • Then, in the second half, Paul focuses more on moral and practical theology – the application of life in Christ
  • This morning’s passage forms part of the application.
  • From Ephesians 5, verse 15 we read…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing and making music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

In a nutshell, these verses are about wise living. Paul draws our attention to three things that wise people do

  • Wise people make the most of their time
  • Wise people discern the will of God
  • And wise people are filled with the Holy Spirit, not booze

 

Making the most of our time:

When we were young, my friends and I got involved with white water slalom kayaking. A slalom course normally includes about 18-25 gates which you have to manoeuvre your boat through

  • Green & white stripped gates you must pass through going downstream and red & white gates you go through paddling upstream
  • When we did it they also had gates you were required to go through backwards but they don’t do that anymore
  • If you touch a gate you get 5 seconds added to your time as a penalty
  • And if you miss a gate it’s a 50 second penalty
  • The competitor with the fastest time wins.

Slalom paddling requires quite a bit of practical skill and accuracy

  • You have to plan your approach to each gate carefully, putting yourself in the best position to pass through the gate quickly and cleanly

 

In Ephesians 5 Paul writes

  • Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise…

For Christians, living in this world is a bit like navigating a white water slalom course – it requires practical wisdom and close attention

  • We can’t afford to blunder our way through life without thinking about what we are doing – we need to think strategically and act carefully
  • Or as Jesus put it, ‘Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.’

One of the things a wise person does is make the most of every opportunity

  • A wise person uses their time well
  • The Greek language has two words for time: chronos and kairos
  • Chronos is the word used for the time of day – as in chronological time
  • Whereas Kairos is the word used for describing the opportune moment
  • Returning to our slalom analogy – the chronos time is the total time it takes to get through the course
  • Chronos time is punctuated with Kairos moments. Each time you pass through a slalom gate, that’s a Kairos moment, a critical moment, when you are careful not to touch the gate.

The word that is used here, in verse 16, is Kairos

  • Literally this verse could be translated ‘redeem the time’
  • This doesn’t mean try and pack as much into every moment of the day that you can (because it’s not talking about chronological time)
  • It means, redeem every opportunity you can for good.

To be able to redeem the time (or make the most of every opportunity) we need to have our wits about us

  • We need to be alert, like a slalom kayaker, because the days are evil
  • We are not floating down a slow, lazy river
  • We are navigating our way through a fast moving, constantly changing and sometimes bumpy environment which could tip us over at any moment

Not all the water in a river flows the same way

  • Close to the river bank the water is usually relatively still or even flowing upstream
  • A wise kayaker reads the river – they look for eddy lines and use the current of the river to their advantage
  • They also avoid the back wash behind rocks so they don’t get sucked under or stuck in a hole
  • In the same way, a wise Christian reads the current of the society in which they live
  • We think strategically to make the most of the time and avoid getting sucked into holes

To put this idea of making the most of opportunities into more concrete terms let me give you some examples from the life of our church

  • A few years ago now we used to be involved in delivering CRE (or Bible in schools) to various Primary schools in Tawa
  • But then schools became less receptive to the work and so we considered what else we might do to connect with and serve our community
  • As it happened the principal of Tawa College attends Tawa Baptist and was wanting to start 24-7 youth work in his school
  • We had the personnel and the willingness to help so we entered into a partnership with Tawa College – it made sense, it was a good fit
  • Who knows, without the Principal in that role we may not have had the opportunity to get 24-7 started.

Or take another example. Several years ago there were some earthquakes in Christchurch which caused us to consider the seismic rating of our buildings

  • We have some very capable engineers in our congregation so it seemed wise (an opportune time) to draw on their expertise in guiding us through a process of strengthening our buildings.

Another example. About 3 or 4 years ago one of the Bible study leaders was considering what Bible study material to use with her small group

  • She didn’t want to infringe any copyright laws or have to reinvent the wheel herself, so she asked me if I would create some questions to go with my sermons each week that she could use in her Bible study
  • I was happy to do this – it made sense
  • It was a way of making the most of the opportunity and redeeming the time I put into sermon prep – getting more mileage out of the message.

We are talking about the wisdom of making the most of our time. An example from the Bible. This morning the kids in the Flock Sunday school are learning how Jesus called his first disciples, in Luke 5

  • When Jesus came to earth he didn’t bring anything with him from heaven, except the Holy Spirit
  • Jesus was more inclined to use what was available to him on earth
  • In Luke 5, a crowd gathered to hear Jesus speak
  • Jesus saw an opportunity and made the most of it by using Simon Peter’s fishing boat to preach from
  • Then he called Peter, James and John to be his disciples (his apprentices)
  • Jesus knew his time on earth was limited and wisely used the time to create a community of people to carry on the work after he had gone.

I could give other examples but you get the idea – wise people redeem the time.

  • They make the most of the opportunities they are given for promoting God’s purpose
  • This doesn’t mean trying to do everything yourself
  • It doesn’t mean being so busy you can’t think straight
  • It means stepping back and taking time to discern God’s will and then getting on with it

 

Discerning the will of God:

Which brings us to our second point: wise people discern God’s will

  • In verse 17 Paul writes…

 

  • Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The word translated as ‘foolish’ in this verse relates specifically to moral folly –we make good moral choices by understanding or discerning the Lord’s will.

 

Some of you might be into cray fishing or at least eating crayfish. If you are then you will know that crays under a certain size must be thrown back

  • For males the minimum tail width is 54mm and for females it is 60mm
  • Taking under sized crayfish is not only illegal, it is also morally foolish because it puts future crayfish stocks at risk
  • When you measure a cray you don’t guess, you use a standard measure like this one
  • The Bible is the standard or the measuring stick for discerning God’s will.

Now, while the Bible is good in providing a general guide for God’s will, it won’t always provide us with the answers we might want

  • When it comes to specific situational things, like what career path to take or who to marry or whether to stay single or whether the church should support this cause or another; we need a number of tools in our tool kit for discerning God’s will.

Paul doesn’t explore how to discern God’s will in these verses but whenever I am faced with a particular decision (one the Scriptures don’t obviously prohibit) I usually try to follow a common sense process…

  • Common sense avoids rushing in. It is important to be able to make the decision while we are not under pressure.

Praying about it is also a wise thing to do.

  • Say to God this is what I’m presented with.
  • This is what I’m thinking and feeling about it.
  • What do you want in this situation? Guide me in your will.
  • Open the doors you want us to walk through and close the doors you don’t want us to walk through.

A common sense process also involves reflecting on the probable consequences of taking a particular course of action. For example…

  • How will this affect God’s Kingdom and His reputation?
  • How will this affect my family?
  • How will this affect the church?
  • Do I have the capacity (the time, energy and skill) to embrace this?
  • Just because something is intrinsically good doesn’t mean we should do it
  • If you give yourself to every good cause that comes along you end up spreading yourself a too thin.
  • So you have to ask, how does this fit with my personality and values?
  • Can I live with this decision long term? Can I fulfil my commitment?
  • Is there someone else better suited?
  • They are the sort of questions we ask ourselves.

In discerning God’s will we might look for signs or clues in our circumstances or in the things that people unwittingly say to us.

  • Sometimes God reveals his will to us in dreams, but not all dreams are necessarily God speaking to us.
  • Sometimes God may give us a very specific verse of Scripture which shines a light on the way to go.
  • But, with all these things, we need to be careful.
  • Sometimes we can read what we want into our circumstances or dreams or Scripture, but if we talk it through with someone who knows us well, they can help us see our blind spots.
  • There is wisdom in seeking the advice of two or three people you trust and not trying to solve it on your own.

There are times, aren’t there, when we wish that God would just send us an email or a text telling us clearly what to do, but He doesn’t operate like that

  • God is not always directive. He often gives us options with the freedom to choose. We don’t get to see the full plan in advance
  • Mostly it feels like we are walking through the bush in the dark with only a torch – the light is just enough to see one or two steps ahead, but not enough to see any further down the track.

 

When I was younger I didn’t always make good decisions but God is gracious and He often finds a way to redeem our mistakes, to make the most of our time

  • When I left school I made the mistake of studying business management and accounting – it seemed like the right thing at the time (and I’m sure it is right for a good many people) but it wasn’t ideal for me
  • Nevertheless, God used my mistake for good – I still draw on those skills even now in pastoral ministry.

Discerning God’s will can be time consuming but if your heart is to honour God and do right by Him, He will point you in the right direction and use the choices you make to serve His purpose.

 

Okay, so wise people make the most of the time and they seek to understand God’s will – both His general will and His specific will

  • Wise people are also filled with the Holy Spirit

 

Being filled with the Spirit:

From verse 18 of Ephesians 5 we read…

  • Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

In the normal course of events there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation – unless you are an alcoholic or unless your drinking would be unhelpful to someone else’s faith

  • The problem is with drinking to excess. Apparently alcohol abuse was a plague on society in the ancient world as it still is today
  • A wise person exercises self-control. Alcohol impairs our decision making function and robs us of our self-control.
  • Therefore, getting drunk is a foolish moral choice because it puts us on a bad path

Being filled with God’s Spirit, on the other hand, enhances our decision making function and helps us to better control ourselves – The Spirit makes us wiser.

  • Where it says, be filled with the Spirit, the tense of the verb is present continuous – which means we don’t just get filled once, we are to go being filled with the Holy Spirit
  • We need the Spirit regularly, like we need oxygen or water.

So how do we get these regular fillings of the Holy Spirit?

  • Well, Paul doesn’t say in these verses, but we know from elsewhere in Scripture that we can’t manipulate the Spirit
  • Being filled with the Spirit isn’t like filling up your car with petrol – we don’t fill ourselves up, we are dependent on the Spirit to fill us.
  • The Spirit fills us like wind fills a sail
  • We can’t make the wind blow or control which direction it blows from; but we can trim our sail to catch the wind
  • Of course, there’s nothing wrong with praying for God to send His wind and asking the Spirit to fill us,
  • Given that Paul has just talked about being in Christ, earlier in Ephesians, we could expect the Spirit to go on filling us as we remain in Christ; much like the branches of a tree continue to be nourished as they stay connected to the main trunk

 

Having instructed his readers to be filled with the Spirit, Paul then goes on to mention four behaviours that are consistent with the Spirit’s activity among us

  • speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
  • Singing and making music in your heart to the Lord,
  • always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • And, Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

 

These are not the only signs of the Holy Spirit’s activity

  • In Galatians Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
  • And in John’s gospel we read how the Spirit of Jesus is a Spirit of grace and truth

 

Returning to Ephesians though, the first Spirit inspired behaviour Paul mentions is speaking and the language we use to communicate with each other

  • A community that shares a common language has a strong sense of identity and a shared understanding
  • Our language is not to be peppered with obscenities and innuendo, it is to be full of the language of the psalms and of praise for God.

 

Singing has to do with gathered worship and making music in your heart has to do with integrity in worship

  • There needs to be a harmony between what we are saying about God with our mouths and the intention of our hearts – our hearts need to be in it.
  • Two things happen when we sing and make music in our hearts to the Lord:
    • Our attention is shifted off ourselves and onto God, so we become less self-centred
    • And, we learn theology – we learn how to think about God

 

Giving thanks for everything is qualified by in the name of Jesus

  • It’s easy enough to give thanks for the good things (the pleasant things) but what about the yucky stuff?
  • Well we don’t need to give thanks for evil
  • If we are speaking words from the psalms to each other then we are free to lament evil because the psalms are all about being honest with God
  • This means we don’t have to pretend to be thankful for something we are not – Paul isn’t suggesting we say, ‘thank you God for this headache’.
  • Giving thanks for everything, in the name of Jesus means giving thanks on the basis of who Jesus is and what he has done. [1]
  • So, when someone dies and we feel sad, we don’t have to pretend to be happy. We don’t have to give thanks for their death.
  • The wise thing is to feel our grief but, in our sadness, to give thanks that Jesus has conquered death – ‘where oh death is your sting’.

Jesus encouraged thankfulness with his beatitudes

  • Blessed (lucky) are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven
  • Blessed (lucky) are you when people insult you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.

 

The fourth sign that the Spirit is active in a community of faith is the willingness of people to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

  • The Greek word for submit literally means ‘arrange under’ [2]
  • We are to arrange our lives under Christ
  • We are to think of others as better than ourselves
  • We are to treat each other with reverence as we would Christ
  • (If you can recall the story I told a couple of weeks ago about the monks – the Messiah is among you)
  • At times we may be required to sacrifice what we want for others
  • Mutual submission requires a high level of trust
  • In submitting to others we are trusting they have our best interests at heart and will in turn submit to us
  • For mutual submission to work our lives need to be governed by the love of Christ – self-giving love – it requires us all to reach maturity in Christ.

 

Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (in John 13) is a picture of submission

  • Even though Peter is uncomfortable with it he still submits to what Jesus is doing. Mutual submission is not easy

Abraham giving his nephew Lot the choice of the land (in Genesis 13) is another example of what submitting to others might look like

  • Lot chose what appeared to be the best quality land and Abraham submitted to Lot’s choice
  • I’m not sure Lot understood what his uncle was doing – the submission may have been one way in that instance

 

What I notice as I reflect on Paul’s four signs of the Spirit, in Ephesians 5, is that each one is more challenging than the one before – they are like a progression or a staircase

  • Speaking to other believers with psalms and spiritual songs is relatively easy
  • Singing together, with integrity in our worship, that’s a bit harder
  • Always giving thanks for everything in the name of Jesus can be even harder still, especially when we are suffering in some way
  • And as for submitting to one another – that’s top shelf, its advanced stuff.

 

The other thing we notice in these verses is the presence of the Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

  • The community of the church is modelled off the community of the God head.

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve been talking about wise living

  • Wise people make the most of their time
  • Wise people make the effort to discern God’s will
  • And wise people are filled with the Spirit – it is the Spirit of God that makes moral and practical wisdom possible.

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
  • Why do you think this stood out to you?

2. What does it mean to make the most of our time?

  • How are you using (or redeeming) the time?

3. How do we discern the Lord’s will?

  • Think of a time in your life when you have gone through a process of discerning God’s will. What was your process? What was the outcome?

4. What is your attitude to and practice regarding alcohol?

5. What does Paul mean by being ‘filled with the Spirit’?

  • How might we trim our sail to better catch the wind of God’s Spirit?

6. Discuss / reflect on the four signs of the Spirit’s activity mentioned in Ephesians 5

  • To what extent is each of these part of your experience with other believers?
  • Which one(s) to do you find more difficult? Why?

7. Imagine Paul was in the room with you now. What would you ask him concerning Ephesians 5:15-21? What do you think he might say?

 

 

[1] Refer Klyne Snodgrass, NIVAC Ephesians, page 291.

[2] Ibid, page 292.

Love & Light

Scripture: Ephesians 5:1-14

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Live in love
  • Live as light
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Today we continue our series in Ephesians

  • In some ways the letter to the Ephesians is like a river – it flows from a single source (God’s grace for us in Christ) and then, down-stream, the letter issues into a variety of moral & ethical applications for daily life
  • Like a river, Ephesians forms a continuous whole
  • Because of limits of time and concentration we aren’t able to adequately preach on the whole of Ephesians at once
  • We have to break it into smaller more manageable pieces
  • The problem with this though is that we can miss the bigger picture; we can lose the thread of the whole
  • We are now looking at the moral & ethical implications of life in Christ – but in doing this we need to remember that Paul started his letter with God’s grace – grace comes first
  • Although we have covered chapter 4 already, I’d like to start from the end of Ephesians 4 to give a sense of connection with what has gone before.
  • From Ephesians 4, verse 32 we read…

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s Word for us

The headline of today’s Scripture reading is ‘Imitate God’

  • We can’t imitate God in every respect but we can show kindness, compassion and forgiveness toward others, as God shows us
  • God is love and God is light
  • When we live our lives in such a way as to reveal His love and the light of His truth, then we are imitating Him
  • What then does it mean to ‘live a life of love’?

 

Live in love:

Well, the kind of love that is in view here is self-giving love – let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean

Years ago now, I watched an old short film in black and white. I don’t remember what it was called but the story was about a husband and wife who were about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary

  • They loved each other very much and wanted to give one another something special as an anniversary present
  • Being young and newlywed though, they didn’t have much money
  • The wife had beautiful long hair, it was smooth and silky to touch and smelled divine
  • The husband thought to himself, ‘I know just the thing’
  • The husband had an old pocket watch handed down from his grandfather
  • He really loved that watch, because it reminded him of his grandad
  • His wife knew exactly what she would buy him

The day of their anniversary came and the husband & wife exchanged presents

  • The wife opened hers first and there it was, a beautiful silver comb for placing in her long hair. At once she burst into tears
  • When the husband asked, “What’s wrong my love”, the wife took off her head scarf to reveal a crew cut – all her hair had been cut off
  • The husband gently kissed his wife on the forehead and said, ‘I love you’
  • ‘Even with my bald head?’ she gasped between sobs
  • ‘Yes, even with your bald head. But why did you cut it? You loved your hair’

The wife silently handed her husband his present, as if to say, ‘Here’s your answer’

  • As the husband unwrapped the parcel he realised all at once how much they loved each other
  • Inside was a silver chain for his grandfather’s pocket watch
  • ‘Do you like it my love?’ the wife asked
  • ‘Yes, it is very fine indeed’
  • ‘Then why the long face?’
  • ‘I sold my grandfather’s watch to buy the comb for your hair’
  • The wife reflected for a moment and then said, ‘And I cut my hair to buy a chain for your watch’
  • At that moment they smiled at each other and started laughing
  • ‘You loved me enough to sell your grandfather’s watch’
  • ‘And you loved me enough to sell your hair’
  • Self-giving love you see

 

The Bible gives us plenty of examples of self-giving love

Joseph, the dreamer, showed self-giving love by forgiving his brothers who had sold him into slavery. He had them in his power to do with as he wished. But he didn’t take revenge. He treated them with generosity and grace

Moses showed self-giving love in leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He didn’t really want the job at first. He would have preferred the quiet life of a shepherd. But instead, he put aside what he wanted and took on the responsibility of leading God’s people

Ruth showed self-giving love to Naomi. After Naomi’s husband and sons had died Ruth made a solemn commitment to stay with Naomi and take care of her, even though Naomi’s prospects didn’t look good

Joseph, the carpenter, showed self-giving love in his treatment of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It must have been hard for Joseph to learn that his fiancé was pregnant with someone else’s baby. But he didn’t want to subject Mary to public disgrace. When Joseph learned the truth he went ahead and married Mary, in obedience to God and love for Mary

Jesus showed self-giving love by leaving his glory in heaven, becoming a human being, going to the cross and giving up his life for our salvation. He wrestled with it you know, in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood. The prospect of facing separation from God wasn’t easy. But Jesus went through with it so we could share in the life of God. Self-giving love pleases God.

Now, when I give you all these examples of people showing self-giving love it sounds romantic and heroic, but I can tell you from experience that the reality of self-giving love is hard yacker. Day in, day out, it’s not easy or glorious.

  • Self-giving love is changing nappies in the middle of the night, doing housework, transporting children, coaching sports teams, working double shifts, leading Sunday school or youth group, caring for aging parents, being patient on the road and a million other mundane little things, all of which we do to imitate God, because God is worth it

Self-giving love stands in contrast to self-indulgence and self-gratification

  • From verse 3, of Ephesians 5, Paul describes the sort of lifestyle the followers of Jesus need to avoid…

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Sex is not a bad thing – sex is a good gift from God, which the Lord intended for husband and wife to enjoy exclusively in the context of a loving marriage

  • Sexual immorality and impurity cover every kind of sexual sin; basically all sexual intercourse outside of a God ordained marriage [1]
  • Greed is wanting more and more – it’s an unhealthy desire
  • It could be greed for sexual encounters, or greed for money, or greed for something else. Greed is the opposite of generosity
  • Sexual immorality is a behaviour. Greed is the attitude, or motivation of the heart, which leads to immorality

As well as not practicing sexual immorality, Paul is saying there shouldn’t even be any hint of it among God’s holy people.

  • That means no crude jokes and no sexual innuendo in our talk
  • It’s not that humour is bad. Nothing wrong with a good clean joke
  • The problem is, when we make light of something we make that thing more acceptable
  • Joking about sexual immorality makes it easier to go down that path
  • Thanksgiving, on the other hand, puts us on a path to enjoying God and being content with our life

 

In verses 5-7 Paul goes on to explain the spiritual danger of immorality and greed…

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be partners with them.

I’m not sure about you but I find these verses a bit disturbing. Paul’s words here are prone to misunderstanding; they need some explanation.

An idolater is someone who worships something other than God

  • Whether that is a statue of wood or stone or money or their career or their reputation or sex or whatever.
  • Idolatry is the opposite of imitating God
  • Idolatry goes hand in hand with immorality and greed
  • Idolatry begins with us thinking we are in charge – but then we find out (often too late) that we have become slaves to what we worship

The kingdom of God is a place where God alone is worshipped

  • In God’s kingdom, God is in charge – he’s the boss (not us)
  • Therefore, God’s kingdom is a place where God’s will is done (His subjects obey Him willingly)
  • There is no immorality or greed in God’s kingdom because obedience to God rules out those things
  • By definition God’s kingdom is a place of self-giving love & generosity
  • God doesn’t want to exclude anyone from His kingdom
  • Anyone who is willing to submit to Christ is allowed into God’s kingdom
  • But if we refuse to submit to Christ, if we carry on living a greedy or immoral lifestyle, then we exclude ourselves

God’s wrath refers to God’s righteous judgement or anger against sin

  • Sin is that which separates us from God and ultimately destroys us
  • God is slow to anger but, because God loves His creation, he won’t tolerate sin indefinitely
  • Paul doesn’t specify exactly what he means by God’s wrath, in these verses, but the wider Biblical text indicates that God’s wrath can find expression in a number of different ways
  • If we think of sin as a forest fire, destroying trees, then God’s wrath is like a drenching rain putting the fire out
  • Or if sin is a time bomb, then God’s wrath is the bomb disposal unit
  • Other times God’s wrath is more of a hands off thing; where He stands back and lets people pursue their desires and learn by the consequences of their own actions
  • In any case, God’s wrath is fair – it is just & right, controlled & measured

Another point of clarification is needed in regard to verse 7, where Paul says, do not be partners with them

  • This does not mean we have to cut all ties with those who live an immoral lifestyle or who are greedy
  • The point is, as Christians we are not to participate in an immoral lifestyle
  • So long as an immoral person is not going to lead us astray we can still have a normal social relationship with them [2]
  • We separate from sin, not from people or society
  • And we remember that we ourselves are not perfect. There is good and bad in everyone. We are all sinners and we are all sinned against.

 

To the parents out there who feel uncomfortable with the lifestyle of their adult children, I want to say, you are not responsible for the choices your kids make. There are many influences on our children

  • Where possible we need to stay in right relationship with our kids and do our best to imitate God’s self-giving love for them

And if you are worried about someone you love who might be living an immoral lifestyle, then remember that God is good. His wrath is fair and just

  • This means, the worst we can expect from God is justice (getting what we deserve)
  • But, when we are in Christ we can expect mercy and grace (being treated better than we deserve)

Now there may be some here who have had sex outside of marriage and are wondering, does that mean I’ve blown it, that I’ve excluded myself forever?

    • No – not necessarily
    • Fornication, greed, adultery, sexually abusing others, all of those sins can be forgiven and the slate wiped clean, so long as we repent
    • Repentance means being sorry for what we have done and stopping the immoral behaviour
    • Once we’ve repented and been forgiven we don’t have to revisit it – we don’t need to feel bad anymore.
    • If God has forgiven you, you can forgive yourself
  • As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far He has removed our transgressions from us

 

We are to imitate God – that means living a life of love and living as light

Live as light:

Yesterday, as I was reflecting on verses 8-14 of Ephesians 5, I came up against a block – I couldn’t quite get a handle on what Paul was trying to say with his image of light and darkness.

  • Sometimes the Scripture doesn’t yield its meaning easily
  • When that happens I need to get out of my office for a bit and find some creative inspiration
  • So I went to Caroline Hollow’s art exhibition at Redwood Kitchens, on the Main Rd here in Tawa – it’s still on this afternoon until about 4pm
  • Most of you will know Caroline because she has worshipped here at Tawa Baptist for many years
  • Caroline’s exhibition is called A Transformed Landscape.
  • There’s one painting there called Ideal Wellington.
  • It’s a landscape of the Wellington harbour without the impact of man, without a city scape intruding on the environment
  • Among other things, Caroline’s work shines a light on the effect human beings have had on the land

As part of her exhibition Caroline produced this little booklet which contains a number of quotes. One quote, by Michael Bonnet, leapt off the page to me. Michael writes…

“The anthropologist Gregory Bateson notes how when faced with a changing variable we tend to focus on modifying our environment rather than ourselves.”

It’s true. We human beings have put so much energy into changing the environment to suit ourselves, and in the process (of trying to make everything revolve around us) we’ve done a lot of damage to the planet

  • If we spent more time letting God’s Spirit change us and less time trying to modify the environment, the rain forests in South America (the lungs of the world) might not be burning now
  • Jesus came to earth to save all of creation but his strategy was to begin by changing the human heart, from the inside out
  • The problem isn’t with the environment. The problem is with us. We have a tendency toward idolatry; we are inclined to worship ourselves.
  • If we let the Spirit of God change our heart, the land will heal

As I was walking back from Caroline’s exhibition it occurred to me what Paul was trying to say in Ephesians 5

  • Verses 8-14 are about the transformation that God’s light brings
  • Light has the power to effect change
  • What we notice though is that the change Paul is talking about is not so much a change to the environment but a change to ourselves
  • A change to our minds and our behaviour

 

In verse 8 Paul says, For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light

    • Jesus is the light of the world so when we are ‘in Christ’ we too become light. That’s not a change to our environment. That’s a change to us
  • Likewise, in verse 14 Paul says, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

 

  • This is some kind of quote used in the early church
  • Our former condition is described in terms of sleep, death and darkness
  • Christian conversion is nothing less than waking out of sleep, rising from death and being brought out of darkness into the light [3]
  • Once again, that’s not a change to our environment. That’s a change to us

 

Verse 9 talks about what the change within us looks like

  • (for the fruit of light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  

 

  • The image here is of a tree bearing fruit
  • Without light a tree can’t bear any fruit. Left in the dark a tree will die
  • But with the right amount of sunshine the tree bears good fruit in season
  • The light of Christ produces the fruit of changed attitudes and behaviour
  • Instead of the lie of idolatry, we are set free by the truth about God (and the truth about ourselves)
  • Instead of being motivated by greed, we are motivated by goodness
  • And instead of living an immoral lifestyle we live in righteousness (or right relationship) with others

 

The power of God’s light, to change the human heart, is developed further in verses 11-13 where Paul says…

  • Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.

 

This is a green crayon. I have here a dark piece of paper and a light piece of paper

  • If I make a mark with this crayon on both pieces of paper, which one do you think will be more visible? [Wait] Ok, let’s try it and see
  • [Make a mark on both pieces of paper, then hold them up]
  • Which mark is easier to see? That’s right. The one on the light paper
  • Light exposes things. Light makes things more visible
  • When we live as children of light we can’t help but expose the truth

What does Paul mean by exposing the deeds of darkness?

  • Wrong doing is like a mushroom – it thrives in the dark but shrivels in direct sunlight
  • Exposing the deeds of darkness means shining a light on them
  • We shine a light by our example of a good lifestyle and by speaking up
  • Sometimes the presence of someone who lives a good life is enough to make a wrong doer feel guilty for their secret sins and change
  • Other times though exposing the deeds of darkness may require us to speak up, like reporting child abuse to the police so they can investigate
  • Light is truth and the truth brings change by setting people free

 

Conclude:

This morning we’ve heard how we are to imitate God by living a life of self-giving love and living as light

  • Let me conclude with one more illustration to sum things up…

[Hold up a large candle]

  • This is a candle – actually it’s the Christ candle that we light on Christmas Eve. [Place the candle on the table and light it]
  • This is just a little tea light candle
  • Imagine the larger candle represents Christ and the little tea light candle represents you
  • Christ shines a light on what God is like
  • The goal is for us to imitate God and, because Jesus shows us what God is like, that means imitating Christ
  • Repentance is the journey of moving closer to Christ – becoming more Christ-like
  • This is what it means to be ‘in Christ’
  • [Move to the table and light the smaller candle off the larger one]
  • ‘Everything that is illuminated becomes a light’

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?
  2. In what way(s) can we imitate God? In what sense can’t we imitate God?
  3. What does it mean to ‘live a life of love’?
  • Do you have a story of self-giving love? Who would benefit from hearing your story?

4. What does Paul mean by ‘sexual immorality, impurity and greed’?

  • How are the sexual ethics of the New Testament different from the sexual ethics of western society today? How are they similar?

5. How are we to relate with those who don’t share our values or moral beliefs?

6. Discuss / reflect on Gregory Bateson’s comment that human beings tend to focus on modifying their environment rather than themselves.

7. What does it mean to live as children of light?

  • How might we expose the deeds of darkness?

8. Light a large-ish candle and put it in the centre of the room. Take a smaller, tea-light candle for yourself. Spend a few minutes in stillness as you contemplate what you want to say to God. Maybe something you are sorry for. Maybe something you need help with. Maybe someone you are concerned for. Maybe something you are thankful for. Say a quiet simple prayer to express your feeling and intent. After you have prayed, light your tea light candle from the larger candle in the centre of the room. Take a moment to be still again. Is God saying anything to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Refer John Stott, Ephesians, page 191.

[2] NIV Study Bible, footnote to verse 7.

[3] Refer John Stott, Ephesians, page 201.

Honour

Scripture: Ephesians 6:1-4

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Christ among us
  • Children honour
  • Fathers nourish
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Today we continue our series in Ephesians

  • Ordinarily we would be up to chapter 5 by now but, because it’s Fathers’ Day, we are jumping forward to chapter 6 where Paul talks about how children and parents are to relate with each other
  • From Ephesians 6, verses 1-4, in the NIV we read…

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 exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

 

Christ among us:

There was once an old monastery secluded in a forest, miles from any towns or cities

  • People used to travel out of their way to spend time in this monastery
  • In recent years though fewer and fewer people made the effort to come

The Abbot of the monastery was in the habit of meeting with his good friend, a retired Jewish Rabbi, for a game of chess on the first Monday of each month

  • Noticing that the Abbot was a bit distracted (taking longer between moves) the Rabbi asked, ‘What are you in touch with my friend?’
  • So the Abbot poured out the contents of his soul…
  • ‘Our monastery used to be a place of peace. I remember there was a warmth and stillness there that healed the soul. You could see a visible change in the people who came for spiritual retreat. I don’t see that change anymore. We used to be a well that people would come to for refreshment, but it seems now the well is dry’
  • The old Rabbi listened to the Abbot’s heart and when the Abbot had finished speaking he paused for a few moments
  • After the silence had done its work the Rabbi said to the Abbot, ‘Last night I received a vision. In my vision I saw the Messiah among the brothers in the monastery. Christ is among you.’

After their game of chess, the Abbot returned to the monastery, the Rabbi’s words resting softly in his mind

  • One among their own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who?
  • When he shared the Rabbi’s vision with the other monks a stillness descended as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah?

From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Joseph and Ivan forgave the past and started talking again

  • Peter, who always seemed to find his way out of doing chores, started helping others with theirs
  • Naidu, who was often heard complaining about the Abbot behind his back, started appreciating the Abbot’s better qualities
  • The monks began smiling more, singing more and looking for opportunities to help passers by
  • They treated each other with greater reverence and respect, as to the Lord

When one traveler, then another, found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place.

  • People once again took the journey to the brothers and found themselves renewed and transformed.
  • The well had been filled, all because those monks knew that Christ was among them.

In Ephesians 5 & 6 Paul encourages his readers to live in light of the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, is among them

  • As Eugene Peterson observes, the repeated phrase that redefines who we are in all the complexities of household and workplace is ‘as to the Lord’ and ‘in the Lord’… [1]
  • When we love Jesus and realise that he is in our relationships with others, and therefore affected by the way we relate with each other, it causes us to treat people with greater reverence and respect, as it did the monks

 

 

There are essentially two aspects to this morning’s reading from Ephesians

  • There is Paul’s instruction to children as to how they are to relate to their parents and there is Paul’s instruction to fathers as to how they are to relate with their children
  • In both cases it is ‘in the Lord’ or ‘with the Lord’

 

Children honour:

Who knows how to play the game ‘Simon Says’?

  • Good. For those who need a reminder, whenever I say ‘Simon says…’ you follow the instruction but if I don’t say ‘Simon says’ then you don’t do what I say. Let’s see if we can do this
  • Simon says put your hands on your head
  • Simon says put your finger on your nose
  • Simon says put your hands in the air
  • Simon says shake your hands
  • Fold your arms
  • You are too good

 

In verse 1 of Ephesians 6 Paul says, ‘Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.’

To the people of Paul’s day, whether Christian or not, it was standard wisdom for children to obey their parents – nothing strange or counter cultural about that

  • The idea here is that parents have a delegated authority from God so, in the normal course of events, it is right for children to obey their parents because parents are God’s representatives
  • Parents are there to protect and provide for their children therefore, most of the time, obeying your parents is in your interests
  • Luke 2, verse 51, tells us how a 12 year old Jesus was obedient to his parents, Mary & Joseph, and that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man
  • It is God’s design that children obey their parents

 

But does this mean, children should always obey their parents no matter what?

  • Well, not necessarily. There are exceptions to the rule
  • Paul qualifies the cultural norm of his day by saying ‘obey your parents in the Lord
  • In the Lord is sort of like Simon says
  • Whenever parents ask their child to do something that is within what Christ wants, that’s like saying ‘Simon says’ – you do it
  • But if a parent asks their child to do something which is outside of what Christ wants then that’s like dropping the ‘Simon says’ – it’s not binding
  • The idea here is that while children have a duty to obey their parents they have a greater responsibility to Christ

 

In verses 2 & 3 Paul continues his instruction to children saying, 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.

 

God’s command to honour our parents is the fifth of the ten commandments

  • The Jews divided the ten commandments into two sets of five
  • The first five commandments are about our duty to God and the second five are about our duty to our neighbour
  • Honouring our mum and dad, therefore, is part of our duty to God
  • Irrespective of whether we think our parents did a good job or not, we still honour them out of respect for God
  • It’s not easy being a parent. God doesn’t want us to add to our parents’ grief; He wants us to add to their peace and joy

 

Now we are best to understand the promise there, about things going well with you and enjoying long life, in a general or collective sense

  • The promise of long life and well-being is not so much to individuals
  • The promise relates to the social stability that a community enjoys when children collectively honour their parents
  • A strong family life leads to a healthy society [2]

 

To honour our parents is not exactly the same thing as obeying them, although there is some overlap

  • When our parents ask us to do something that is ‘in Christ’, like take care of your little brother, then obeying them is honouring them
  • But if they ask us to do something that is outside of Christ, like conceal or collude with some kind of evil, then we honour them by not obeying them
  • It is unlikely though that a parent would ask a child to do something evil

 

In the normal course of events honouring our parents has to do with the way we speak to them, the way we talk to others about them and the way care for them, especially as they get older

  • The ideal is to care for our elderly parents ourselves, as they become less able; this might mean supporting them to live in their own home or having them come to stay with us
  • But when that isn’t possible (or wise) we must do the best we can to ensure someone else cares for them, and that includes staying in touch; making time to phone and visit in person
  • We see the way Jesus honoured his mother, Mary, even as he hung on the cross, giving responsibility for her care to someone he trusted, his disciple John

 

Now everyone’s situation is different

  • If your parents were abusive to you and it became unwise or unsafe for you to remain close to them, then what does honour look like?
  • Well, in a word, forgiveness
  • Forgiveness does not mean pretending the abuse never happened
  • Forgiveness requires us to face the truth of what happened, without denial and without exaggeration
  • Forgiveness also requires us to face the truth about ourselves – children can hurt their parents too – we have to take the log out of own eye in order to see clearly
  • Forgiveness does not mean you have to automatically trust the person who hurt you
  • For trust to be restored the other person must change and we can’t change other people, only God can do that
  • Forgiveness is essentially about release – letting go of the hurt and ill feeling we have toward the person who has harmed us
  • Most of the hurts we sustain in family life are small (little cuts) which, if untreated can become infected
  • Whatever the nature of the hurt, there is honour in forgiving it and, where possible, being reconciled
  • Forgiveness honours our parents, it honours our soul and it honours God

 

Let me tell you a story to illustrate what honouring your parents, honouring your soul and honouring God might look like. [3]

  • This story is about a 15 year-old boy we’ll call Jim
  • Jim’s family had never stepped inside a church but Jim had a friend who invited him to youth group
  • Jim enjoyed youth group, mainly because of the food and the girls
  • Then he went to Easter camp. It sounded like it would be fun and his parents were happy to get him out of their hair for the weekend
  • While he was at Easter camp Jim had an encounter with Jesus and became a Christian

The day after he got home Jim said to his parents, ‘Mum and Dad. I’ve met Jesus and I’d like to get baptised.’

  • His parents were alarmed to hear this and told him with raised voices, ‘That’s not going to happen while you live under our roof.’
  • So, in an act of defiance, Jim stomped out of the house and went straight to church

It was the Tuesday following Easter and the youth pastor happened to be there, drying out tents and washing the bus

  • Jim didn’t say anything at first but the youth pastor (as tired as he was after a long weekend with not much sleep) could see the storm on Jim’s face and asked if everything was okay
  • ‘Not really’, said Jim. ‘I told my mum and dad that I wanted to get baptised and they spat the dummy. They think I want to join a cult. I don’t know what to do?’
  • The youth pastor stood still for a moment, looked Jim in the eye and said,
  • “Jim, your parents love you. They might not understand the experience you had at camp, but they still love you.
  • It is good that you want to be baptised but why don’t you wait for a bit; respect their wishes for now, give them a chance to get used to the idea
  • Don’t get baptised in anger against them. Build trust with them. Let them see Jesus in you. Who knows, maybe in a few years they’ll come round. But if not, you can always get baptised when you are bit older.”

Jim wasn’t quite sure he understood everything the pastor was saying, after all he was only 15, but he followed the pastor’s advice, went home (feeling a bit calmer) and respected his parents’ wishes

  • A few weeks later the youth pastor visited Jim’s parents and this gave them assurance that their son wasn’t being brainwashed
  • Jim found it hard to articulate his faith in words to his parents but the new respect he showed them spoke volumes
  • Three years later, at the age of 18, Jim was baptised and his parents and sister came to the service in support
  • During the service Jim gave his testimony and in it he paid tribute to his parents, thanking them for their love and care for him over the years
  • Both his mum and his dad were choking back tears
  • Jim honoured his father & mother, he honoured God and he honoured his own soul

 

Children at any age (whether minors or adults) are to honour their parents and parents (especially fathers) are to nourish their children.

 

Fathers nourish:

I was very fortunate as a child to have both sets of grandparents and I got to spend a fair bit of time with them

  • One Saturday I was at my Nana and Pop’s house and a child (who we didn’t know) came to the door
  • This kid may have been selling raffle tickets or asking to be sponsored for something at school, I don’t remember now, but I do remember my Pop supporting whatever it was they were doing
  • When the child had left my Pop turned to me and said, ‘You never knock a child back’
  • My Pop had received a lot of knocks, as a kid, and it had made him compassionate with children

On another occasion I was at the dairy with my other grandfather – he was buying me an ice-cream

  • While we were there my grandfather noticed a kid waiting outside the door – he was obviously part way through his paper round
  • Even though the paper boy was a complete stranger, my grandfather bought him an ice cream too, a really big one
  • I think my grandfather saw something of himself in the paper boy and wanted to take care of him, to nourish his spirit, to encourage him
  • Now you probably wouldn’t be able to do that today (people might think you were bit creepy) but in the 1970’s that was still an acceptable thing to do, it was considered a kindness

Neither of my grandfather’s went to church (at least when I knew them) and yet they both treated children as the Messiah among us

 

In Ephesians 6, verse 4, Paul changes the focus from the children’s responsibility to the father’s responsibility

 

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

 

Paul’s advice for children to honour and obey their parents was not counter cultural – it was the accepted wisdom of the day

  • But his advice to fathers did challenge the culture
  • William Barclay tells how a Roman father of the first century had complete power over his children [4]
  • He could decide whether they lived or died, he could sell them as slaves or put them to work for himself
  • What’s more, a Roman son never came of age; they were subject to their father’s rule as long as he lived
  • This is not to say that all Roman fathers were abusive – I’m sure some (perhaps most) treated their children with care and consideration
  • The point is, in Paul’s day, fathers held all the power and power invites corruption and abuse
  • Paul’s instruction to fathers is to limit their own power; to control themselves and treat their kids with fairness and tenderness

 

Our society owes a great debt to the influence of Christ and Paul and the church. Without Jesus’ teaching we would probably still be treating children like the Romans did

 

If you are a father, being ‘in Christ’ means not provoking your children to anger, not exasperating them by being unfair.

  • Children have a built in sense of justice – they know instinctively when something isn’t fair
  • Parents are God’s representatives to their children – we need to do all we can to show our kids the goodness of God
  • If we mistreat our children, then we are misrepresenting God to them – we are taking the Lord’s name in vain

 

Now, as I reflect on the cultural context, it occurs to me how different it is to be a father today in NZ, compared with first century Ephesus

  • Roman fathers may have had complete power over their families but NZ dads don’t
  • There has been rapid social change in NZ over the past few decades and, as a consequence, men have had to reconsider (and redefine) their identity and role in the family and in society
  • What does it mean to be a man and what does it mean to be a father?

 

What would Paul say to fathers in NZ today?

  • Perhaps he would say: don’t abdicate your responsibility, don’t bail out, don’t abandon your family, don’t leave it all to mum or the internet
  • You have an important role to play – your kids need you and what they need from you will change as they grow and develop
  • Be present, be patient. Listen to your kids but be honest with them too
  • They need to learn that it is not all about them
  • The Spirit of Jesus is a Spirit of grace and truth; your kids need you to embody that grace & truth

 

The verb ‘bring them up’, in the original Greek, literally means to nourish or to feed. Paul is saying, it is a father’s responsibility to nourish their children so they grow well

  • ‘Nourish’ means feeding a child’s body with wholesome food but it also means feeding a child’s mind with wisdom and their spirit with encouragement (in the right direction)
  • Don’t knock a child back with bad advice or caustic criticism

 

The training and instruction is to be ‘of the Lord’

  • In a nut shell this means parents are to teach their children to love God and to love their neighbour as they love themselves
  • Jesus Christ is the one who shows us how to do this

 

There is another challenge to the cultural norms of Paul’s day in verse 4

  • Notice that Paul uses the gender neutral term children
  • Most writers of Paul’s day would have said ‘bring up your sons’ because girls did not normally receive a formal education; girls were taught household duties
  • Paul was encouraging fathers to teach their daughters as well as their sons at a time when girls were not valued by society
  • In doing this Paul was following the example of Jesus who encouraged equal opportunity, in education, for women
  • In Luke 10 Jesus made room for Mary & Martha to sit at his feet and learn like the men

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard how children are to honour and obey their parents, while parents (particularly fathers) are to nourish their children, body, soul and spirit

  • But we can’t do that on our own – we need God’s help
  • God has provided help in the form of His Son Jesus
  • We need to keep before us a vision of Christ in community
  • We need to understand that the Messiah is among us

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon? Why do you think this stood out to you?

2. What difference does it make to realise, the Messiah is among us?

3. Why does Paul say it is right for children to obey their parents?

  • When should we obey our parents?
  • When should we not obey our parents?

4. What does it mean to honour our parents?

  • How did Jesus honour his parents?
  • How do you (personally) honour your parents?

5. Is there a wound in the relationship with your parents (or children)?

  • Do you need to forgive your parents (or children)?
  • Do you need your parents (or children) to forgive you?
  • How might we release the hurt and cleanse the wound?

6. Do you have a story of something good (something nourishing to the soul) that your father or grandfather did? Share your story with someone you trust.

7. What is the role and responsibility of fathers today?

 

[1] Eugene Peterson, ‘Practise Resurrection’, page 233.

[2] Refer John Stott, Ephesians, page 241.

[3] John Stott’s examples in his commentary on Ephesians (page 242) provided the inspiration for the story about Jim

[4] William Barclay’s commentary on Ephesians, page 208.

Balance

Scripture: Psalm 8

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Security
  • Love
  • Responsibility
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Yippee, Wha-hoo, Go you good thing, On ya mate, Well done, Tu Meke, You are awesome, That was amazing

  • These words and phrases are different ways in which we express praise
  • Some of these words and expressions you won’t find in a dictionary but that doesn’t matter – the words themselves are not the main thing
  • It’s more the feeling we give to those words, the positive intention and energy behind them

This morning we take a break from our sermon series in Ephesians to focus on Psalm 8 – a psalm of David

    • In this song David pours out his praise for God’s creative activity – in particular for the security, love and responsibility God gives, which makes our lives functional and meaningful
  • From verse 1 we read…

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have established, 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  5 Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.   9 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

[Listen to a recording of children laughing and playing]

Security:

That was a recording of children laughing and playing and having fun

  • Let’s listen to it again
  • [Replay the recording of children laughing and playing]
  • This is what praise sounds like out of the mouth of babes
  • Children make those sorts of happy sounds when they feel safe and secure – security is the foundation really

Psalm 8 begins and ends with the words…

  • O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In the original – the word LORD (all in capitals) – actually translates as Yahweh

  • Yahweh is God’s personal name
  • It means something like, I am who I am, or I am with you and for you

The LORD is our Sovereign

    • A Sovereign is a King or a Queen – the ruler of the realm
    • God’s name is God’s reputation & integrity; His greatness and goodness
    • David is saying that Yahweh is King of the whole earth – second to none
  • This is basically a statement of adoration and allegiance

One of the main jobs of the King is security – keeping his people safe

  • The subject of security is pretty big in the psalms
  • Whenever you hear a word like ‘strong hold’ or ‘high tower’ or ‘shepherd’ or ‘bulwark’ or similar the psalmist is talking about security
  • Verse 2 reads…

2Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

It’s interesting that Psalm 8 (a hymn of praise) comes after 5 other psalms where David calls out for help and deliverance from his foes

  • David’s praise for the security God gives wasn’t just a theoretical thing
  • David knew God’s security first hand as someone who lived in a dangerous world and had actual enemies who wanted him dead

The praise of children and infants is pure because children possess a certain innocence

  • In Matthew 21, after Jesus had cleared the temple of the merchants, we read how the blind and lame came to Jesus and he healed them
  • Children witnessed this and shouted praise to God because of Jesus, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David”
  • When the religious leaders heard the children’s praise they were indignant, so Jesus quoted this verse from Psalm 8 to them
  • The Pharisees were the foe; they wanted to kill Jesus but the praise of children was Jesus’ defence, his stronghold
  • God silenced the religious leaders, not through brute force
  • Not through an overwhelming demonstration of his power and strength
  • But through the praise of children and infants; through what appears weak and of little account

Just a few days after that the religious leaders conspired to murder Jesus

  • There was no defence for Jesus on Good Friday, but that was God’s plan
  • To defeat strength with weakness
  • Jesus silenced the foe (sin) and the avenger (death) not with overwhelming force – but through his own suffering and humiliation
  • What looked like Christ’s defeat (on the cross) was actually God’s victory

From 1st Corinthians chapter 1 we read…

  • For the message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God’s power…
  • For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Now here’s the thing; when what we thought was strong is defeated by what we thought was weak, it has the power to completely change the way we think, so that what we fear most no longer has a hold on us

One of the things children need from parents is security – they need to feel safe

  • Parents give security to children in a number of ways
  • In the first two years of life children learn security by the presence of at least one adult who is consistently there for them to care for their needs
  • In the normal course of events a baby will cry for one of four reasons:
  • Either they are hungry or they have a dirty nappy or wind or they’re tired
  • You take care of those four things in a timely way and they will feel safe and secure and learn trust (as opposed to fear)

As kids gets older they still need to be fed but they also need boundaries to make them feel safe and secure; rules and routines that are kind and fair

  • And if they cross the line then they need to know that it’s not the end of the relationship, that there is a way back
  • For every mistake there is a remedy

God gives us security and we reveal to our children what God is like by giving them security and love

Love:

Some years ago now our family went to Opito Bay in the Coromandel for a summer holiday (Robyn’s aunty & uncle let us stay in their bach up there)

  • I have this enduring memory of lying on the concrete at night, with one of our daughters, looking up at the stars
  • The concrete was still warm, having baked in the sun all day, and the stars were bright because there isn’t much light pollution in Opito Bay
  • The star light we saw may have been billions of years old and who knows, perhaps some of the stars we were looking at had burnt out thousands of years before we were born
  • When you think about the vastness of time and space it makes your problems seem very small; it takes your focus off yourself and puts things in proper perspective
  • The person who looks up to God seldom looks down on other people

In verses 3 & 4 David describes feeling both small and cared for as he gazes up at the stars…

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have established, 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

This is poetry – it’s not science. We are not to conclude that God literally made the moon and stars with his fingers

  • It’s a metaphor in which God is portrayed as an artist carefully arranging the heavens
  • Fingers are for fine work – they are for taking care of details
  • Fingers are gentle and skilled
  • The fact that God handles the moon and stars with His fingers shows us how big and strong God really is
  • It also speaks of God’s control over the heavenly bodies
  • Our lives are not controlled by the moon and stars or the horoscope
  • God is in control of the constellations, and this should help us to feel secure despite our smallness

The Lord is mindful of us and cares for us

  • When you love someone they populate your every thought (whether that’s your husband or your wife, your son or your daughter, your friend your sister, brother or whoever); you are mindful of them
  • You remember them in your prayers, you remember what they asked you to get at the supermarket, you remember their birthday and you send them text messages when you’re not with them
  • Likewise, when you love someone you care for them – you are affected by what happens to them so that if they cut their finger you feel their pain
  • Care isn’t just a feeling though – care is something practical that we do to help make those we love more comfortable

Children need love – they need people in their lives who are mindful of them and who care for them in practical ways

  • When a child is very young they aren’t able to separate themselves from their mother – they have just spent 9 months in the womb and haven’t developed a sense of their own identity yet
  • This means that they are very sensitive to the way dad treats their mum
  • If dad is kind to mum and treats her with thoughtfulness and care, then they will feel loved by dad
  • But if dad mistreats mum then they will feel hurt and not worth much
  • So the first way for parents to love their children is to love one another

As the child gets older, and is able to differentiate themselves from their mother a bit more, love is given in other ways – mainly through time spent together

  • I don’t remember many of the toys I was given as a child; but I do remember the quality time my parents spent with me
  • We want to give our kids as many good memories as we can

Responsibility:

God provides us with security, God loves us and God trusts us with real responsibility

Some years ago now I read Bill Bryson’s book, ‘A short history of everything’ in which Bryson describes the ‘Goldilocks Effect’

  • The goldilocks effect is a metaphor for how everything is ‘just right’ for sustaining life on earth
  • The earth is just the right distance from the sun, just the right distance from the moon, just the right size and therefore the right gravity
  • With just the right amount of oxygen in our atmosphere, just the right amount of salt in our oceans and so on
  • This planet is held in a wonderfully intricate balance – if any one of thousands of different factors was even a little bit out, planet earth wouldn’t be habitable.
  • Some people say the Goldilocks Effect is just random luck; but there is no hope (or truth) in thinking like that
  • The Bible teaches that God took great care in making this world just right for sustaining life
  • When we think of it like that, we begin to realise there is meaning and purpose to life on earth; our lives are not random, they matter

Not long after I first started at Tawa Baptist I conducted a survey. It was a way of getting to know the congregation

  • One of the questions at the end of the survey had to do with how we contribute to the well-being of others especially in the wider world
  • And I remember R answered in a way that no one else did
  • R said, “I ride my bike to work” and in brackets he wrote ‘pollute-less’
  • R was doing his bit to keep the balance in our world – he was taking care of the environment
  • But I think also that R really likes riding his bike
  • Given R’s love of cycling I had to include a bicycle illustration in the sermon – so please wait for a moment. I’ll be back…

[Go back stage and return with a bicycle]

How long do you think I can keep my balance on this bike? [Wait]

  • Okay, let’s test my balance – let’s see how long I can stay upright

[Try to balance on my bike while not moving]

That wasn’t very long was it. Why couldn’t I keep my balance for more than a few seconds? [Wait]

  • That’s right, because I wasn’t moving. To keep my balance, I need forward momentum, I need positive purpose

Returning to Psalm 8. In verse 5 David talks about the dignity God has given humanity, saying…

5 Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.   

Verses 5-8 of Psalm 8 come from Genesis chapter 1

  • There (in the first chapter of Genesis) it tells how God created order out of the chaos and how God made us human beings in His own image

To be crowned with glory and honour is a privilege

  • To have dominion (or stewardship) over the animals, the birds and the fish, is a responsibility
  • As God’s vice regents, as His representatives, His deputies, it is our job to help maintain the balance

The position we have in creation is a position of trust

  • And it’s not a position or a trust that we have earned – it has simply been given to us
  • God shared his glory & honour with us before we had a chance to do anything at all
  • This means that we did not become the dominant species on planet earth by natural selection
  • Our place in the natural order is not the consequence of survival of the fittest. We have dominion over other creatures by divine selection

This means our royal status and authority over creation is subject to God

  • We don’t have free reign to do whatever we want
  • We are to use our authority and power in ways that serve God’s own purposes and reflect God’s own practices
  • God is mindful of us and cares for us, therefore we need to be mindful of the rest of God’s creation and care for it, both human and non-human
  • We are dependent on God to help us keep the balance – we can’t do it without Him
  • Trying fulfil our responsibility as human beings, without God, is like trying to ride a bike without forward momentum; God gives us the positive purpose we need to stay upright

So how are we doing with our responsibility?

  • Not so great. There is a huge disparity between the vision of humanity in this psalm and the reality of human history
  • Our dominion has become domination
  • Our stewardship has become slavery
  • Our rule has become ruin
  • We have dragged God’s reputation through the mud
  • We have become the foe and the avenger
  • And all creation groans as it waits for its salvation

One of the tasks of parenting is to teach our children responsibility

  • We want our kids to grow up to be responsible adults
  • As human beings, made in the image of God, we have a responsibility to care for our neighbour, to care for the environment and to care for ourselves

Responsibility is like riding a bike – it requires balance

  • If our sense of responsibility is too great, then this creates problems:
  • Like we might feel guilty when we don’t need to
  • Or we might keep coming to the rescue when others don’t need rescuing
  • Or we might feel like we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders and life loses its joy
  • Or we find ourselves becoming resentful because we always seem to be the one who does the work while others keep letting us down

On the other hand, if our sense of responsibility is too light or missing altogether, then that creates a different set of problems:

  • Like we make a mess that others have to clean up
  • Or we throw away our plastic so sea birds eat it and die horribly
  • Or we indulge ourselves at the expense of others, causing them trauma and pain

The prodigal son didn’t feel enough responsibility – he was reckless

  • Whereas his older brother carried too much responsibility and he became resentful
  • Responsibility is a balancing act and we teach children to manage the balance by living a balanced lifestyle ourselves
  • By avoiding extremes and excesses
  • Having a time for doing chores, a time for rest and a time for play
  • Having a consequence for misbehaviour that is fair and not too heavy handed
  • By balancing involvement in church with involvement in the community
  • Having time alone and time to socialise
  • Being good to others without neglecting our own needs
  • Being mindful of the products we buy and how we dispose of our waste
  • I could go on but you get the point: being responsible means keeping a healthy balance and the key to keeping our balance is letting God be the boss of our lives because God is the one who gives us the forward momentum of a positive purpose

Conclusion:

While we have failed in our responsibility, Jesus is our Saviour (He has taken responsibility)

    • Jesus is the one who fulfils Psalm 8’s vision of humanity
    • Jesus shows us what God originally intended
    • In Christ we find security.
    • In Christ we experience God’s love
    • And in Christ we learn to balance responsibility

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

  1. What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?
  • Why do you think this stood out to you?

2. How do you feel when you hear children laughing and playing happily? (What memory does this evoke for you?)

3. What is your experience of the security God gives?

  • How might we give a sense of security to those close to us (especially children)?

4. Have you looked up at the stars at night and contemplated like David did? What happened within you as a consequence of doing this?

5. Who do you love? (That is, who are you mindful of, who affects you, who do you show care for?)

  • How might we show love to those around us (especially children)?

6. What does it mean to have dominion over the animals, birds and fish? (What does it mean to live responsibly?)

7. What do we need to keep our balance?

  • What are some of the symptoms of having an over developed sense of responsibility?
  • What are some of the symptoms of having an under developed sense of responsibility?
  • Thinking about these symptoms is there anything you need to do to restore the balance of responsibility?