January 20, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Second Sunday after Epiphany



Morning - Ps. 17, Prov. 4:20, Eph. 4:17
Evening - Ps. 18:1-20, Ezek. 12:21, Jn. 3:14-21

Commentary, Eph.4:17

Those who are gathered into Christ as members of His Body and Church, are gathered into a new identity and way of life.  They no longer live according to the patterns and values of the godless people and cultures around them (4:17).  Nor do they live and act merely on the basis of their own desires and ideas, which have been corrupted by human pride, greed, and a general inclination to go our own way instead of God's.  Instead, they put off their own ways, called the old man in verse 22, and put on the new man of righteousness and holiness, which is created in them by God (4:23-24).  The rest of chapter 4 (vss. 25-32) shows just what they have put off and what they have put on.  The verses give a word picture of discarding a wardrobe of rags (our sin) and putting on a new wardrobe, given by God, and consisting of righteousness and of the character of God Himself.      



Morning - Ps.23 &24, Prov. 6:12-19, Eph. 5:1-14
Evening - Ps. Ps. 25, Ezek. 13:1-9, Jn. 3:22

Commentary, Eph. 5:1-14

The heart of today's reading is found in Ephesians 5:1 & 2.  Following God, as His dear children gathered into Christ, walk in love.  Love is not a nebulous feeling.  It is primarily an attitude of doing good for others as Christ has done for us.  These verses remind us that we have strayed from God like lost sheep, offended against His holy laws, left undone much good we ought to have done, and done many things we ought not to have done.  In Biblical language, we have sinned against God.  But, part of God's plan of gathering together all things in Christ includes calling a people out of their sin to live in restored fellowship and harmony with Him, He accomplished this by becoming a Man taking our sins upon Himself and dying for them in our places on the cross.  This is the great expression of Divine love.  It is also our example of real love, and the way we ought to love one another.  The rest of the reading contrasts works of hate with those of love.  Fornication, uncleanness in thoughts and deeds, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and jesting, and other evils listed here are sins and are out of character for those gathered into Christ.  They are so far out of character that the person who habitually lives in them shows that he has no part in the inheritance of Christ (4:5) but is still outside of God and remains among the children of disobedience and under the wrath of God (4:6).  "Be not ye therefore partakers with them" (5:7).



Morning - Ps. 28, Prov. 8:1-11, Eph. 5:15
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezek 14:1-11, Jn. 4:1-14

Commentary, Eph.5:15

The Christian home is a sacred place.  It is almost, as Matthew Henry said, "A Church in the House," for a Christian home is a place where God is loved and worshiped daily and where Christian living begins each day.  God's plan for the family begins with Biblical faith in Him as Lord and Saviour, and one of the primary tasks of parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Baptism, Confirmation, daily prayers, and the fellowship of the Church are the minimum children can expect from parents, and the family is the first mission field of every Christian.  Ephesians 5 & 6 refers to the relationship between family members under the assumption of real, Christian love in each heart, operating on the principle of mutual submission rather than individual assertion.  In other words, it is the role of each member of the household to exalt the others by serving them in Christ.  Any authority given to any member is the authority of service, not lordship.  Christ is Lord, and the overall goal of the home is to honour Him.
The husband/father is called to the role of lead servant.  He bears the responsibility of leading the family into the Word and ways of God.  The wife/mother is his helpmeet and completer (Gen. 2:18). These two willingly submit their goals and wants to the other's, and to the overall goals of God and the needs of the family Together, they are one in mind, heart, values, goals, and faith.  They are partners in the task of ordering their home and family under God.  Young children are obedient learners, who by their obedience and learning exercise considerable influence over the direction of the home.   Young adults still living at home are responsible partners in the home, and the spiritual climate of the family is one of their primary goals.  Happy is the home where Christ is Lord and all in the family gladly work together in His service.



Morning - Ps. 30, Prov. 8:12-20, Eph. 6
Evening - Ps. 33, Ezek. 14:12-20, Jn. 15:26

Commentary, Eph. 6

Ephesians closes appropriately with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord (6:10).  This is followed by several verses describing the Christian faith in terms of the armour of a Roman soldier.  It has often been noticed that armour is protective in nature, designed to keep the soldier safe in the deadly field of battle.  The soldier's weapon is the sword, which, for the soldier of the cross, is the Scriptures, the Word of God (6:17).

The reason for putting on the armour is stated in verse 12.  We are at war with powers of darkness that oppress and destroy souls and cause the havoc and destruction that so characterises life on earth.  We are also at war with the forces of evil in our own lives.  We wrestle against the inclinations and temptations that attempt to draw us back into the darkness of sin and hate.  We wrestle with forces that attempt to prevent the fulfillment of God's purpose in our own lives and in all creation.  "Wrestle," refers to hand-to-hand combat, a life or death struggle that Christians face daily in the service of God.  We must expect to fight.  We must be prepared for battle. We must stand our ground at the approach of the foe (6:14).   This is our part in the eternal purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ. 



Morning - Ps. 32, Prov. 8:22-35, Phil. 1:1-11
Evening - Ps.40:1-16, Ezek. 18:1-23, Jn. 4:27-42

Commentary, Phil. 1:1-11

It is the nature of people to associate themselves together, and a word is often used to reflect the nature of their relationship to others in the group.  A sorority or fraternity might speak of sisterhood or brotherhood.  People who have shared important experiences, such as war, may see themselves as "a band of brothers."  There is great meaning in this.  Such words convey an intangible bond that unites them in a way that is so strong and enduring it is similar to the relationship and unity found in the closest and most loving families.  They are bound by shared values, commitments, goals, respect, love, and experience.  They are bound together by these things into something that is bigger than they and more important than all of them.  Their relationship is something suggested by the title of J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Fellowship of the Ring.  "Fellowship" captures the meaning and the goal of most of our associations.

Philippians 1:5 speaks of "fellowship in the gospel."  God is saying here that the Gospel of Christ is not merely an historical fact or theological doctrine.  It is a bond that brings us into a deep and profound relationship to all other believers.  It gives us shared meaning, shared goals, purpose, experience, values, respect, and love.  It means we have a share in Christ.  He is part of us.  He dwells in us and we dwell in Him.  It also means we are part of each other.  We are in this together.  What happens to one of us happens to all.  We bear each other's burdens and sorrows and joys. We have the same Heavenly home. We strive to have the mind of Christ.  We strive to love Him above all else, and to love one another as we love ourselves.  But fellowship means also that we do not have these things in isolation.  We have them in fellowship and communion with one another.  We have them in the Church.



Morning - Ps. 36, Prov. 9:1-18, Phil. 1:12-26
Evening - Ps. 34, Ezek. 18:26, Jn. 4:43

Commentary, Phil. 1:12-26

Our readings for this morning bring us to one of the most important verses of the entire Bible.  Reading it is not always comforting.  It follows St. Paul's comments about suffering, and, even death in the service of Christ.  In this passage he declares the principle that guides his thoughts and his actions, that "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death" (Phil. 1:20).  Then follows the great verse which I have called one of the most important in all of Scripture; Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." 

Are you living for Christ?  I do not ask if you call yourself a Christian or go to Church.  I do not ask if you know the Bible and theology.  I ask if it is your stated and deepest desire to live entirely for Christ, so much, that like Paul, you can say, "For me to live is Christ."  If you cannot answer this question, "Yes!" then I ask another; why not?  What holds you back?  Is it attachment to your own comforts and pleasures?  They will pass from your grasp one day, and what will you have then?  It is fear of sacrifice?  It is for good reason that following Christ is called taking up your cross; there are many sacrifices to make.  It is very costly to walk the way of the cross.  But, while the cross lasts for a life-time, Heaven is forever.  Is it money?  Is it possessions?  Is it power?  Is it fame?  What keeps you from complete surrender to Christ?  It will pass away, but He will endure forever.

I ask another question.  If you cannot say, "For me to live is Christ," what are you doing about it?  Are you playing the ostrich, ignoring the shortness of life and the coming day of reckoning?  Are you simply convincing yourself to be content with half-hearted faith, convincing yourself you are good enough and close enough to God already, therefore you don't need to do anything more?  Or are you applying yourself daily to the means of grace, and working diligently to replace sinful habits and attitudes with Godly ones? God will not be content with anything less than first place in your life.  He must be first, above all position, power, and possessions, even above your own life.  Do that, and for you to live is Christ.  Fail to do it and for you to live is you. 

Sermon, Second Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 99, Zechariah 8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Second Sunday after Trinity
January 20, 2013

Most of the Bible's teachings oppose what people would naturally expect of God.  For example, we naturally expect to make peace with God through our own efforts.  We think we can make ourselves good enough for God and atone for our sins by countering them with good deeds, like charitable giving, going to church, receiving communion, or doing acts of penance.  There are other ways people attempt to blot out their own sins, but the point is that all these are human efforts, and man naturally tends to believe he can accomplish his own peace with God through his own efforts.

The Bible presents a different view.  the Bible says peace with God is a gift.  It is something God accomplishes for us, and gives to us free of charge.  It has to be a gift because none of our good works could ever atone for our sins.  Let me use a financial example.  You owe God complete obedience.  Failure to pay Him 100% obedience is to default on your debt, and any banker will tell you you cannot make up for missing this month's mortgage payment simply by paying next month's.  Likewise, you can't make up for not paying God all of what you owe, simply by paying Him part of what you owe.  That won't make up for your sins.  Only God can atone for your sins.  You can only receive atonement as His gift.  That's why it is called, "forgiveness."

The Church is a similar example.  People naturally assume church membership and attendance is a personal choice and voluntary action.  In our minds, our relationship to God is entirely personal and private.  Every other person's is too.  It is nice for people to form associations in which to worship, or pray, or attempt to persuade others to become Christians, but such associations, often called churches, are purely a matter of personal choice, convenience, and preference, and every Christian is free to join and attend, or not, as he or she sees fit.

Once again, the Bible gives a different view.  The Old Testament Church, Israel, did not consist of individuals who happened to believe in the God of Abraham.  Israel was a nation, a people, a family.  Israel was the family of God.  The same is true of the New Testament Israel, the Church.  In Matthew 16:18 Christ Himself said, "I will build My church."  In Matthew 28:19 the Apostles were commissioned to teach the Gospel to all nations, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Baptized converts were not just baptized and left to be their own individual faith.  They were baptized into the Church, for Acts 2:47 tells us "the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved."  Colossians 1:18 says Christ is the head of the Church.  Titus was placed in Crete by the Apostle Paul for the purpose of ordaining pastors of local congregations, and bishops to oversee them (Titus 1:5-9).  Unto whom did Paul write the letters we now treasure as Scripture?  "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2); "unto the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:2); to the saints, bishops and deacons in Philippi (Phil 1:1); and "unto the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1).  Even when he doesn't use the word, "church" as in his letter to the Romans, it is clear throughout the book that he is addressing a particular congregation of believers, as part of the larger body and Church of Christ.  And the New Testament assumes throughout that every Christian believer is baptized into Christ through the Church, and carries out his faith and worship within the context of the Church through its local manifestation in the local, particular churches.

The reading from Zechariah 8 tells of God bringing people together into the holy mountain of God.  Jews will come, so will Gentiles. Strong nations, and men of other languages will be made one with faithful Israel.

1 Corinthians 12 teaches the unity that is to be of the essence of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Corinthians weren't very good at keeping the unity.  In fact they are a sad example of how not to be a church.  They had adopted heretical views and practices, and had made ecstatic experiences  the essence of being a Christian.  Thus, for many, worship was all about having, and being known, to have an experience.  Speaking in tongues or prophesying, singing a song or anything to be seen by the rest of the congregation to make them think you were filled with the Holy Spirit became the objective.  It needs to be noted that ecstatic experiences did happen in Apostolic times.  It also needs to be noted that they were not the norm.  In fact they were very rare.  Divine healings were much more frequent than tongues, for example, and even healings seem to have become rare just a few years after Pentecost.  So the Bible does not talk about healing services and tongues as the normal way of worship.  It talks about preaching and hearing the word, prayer, the sacraments, loving one another, and holiness.

1 Corinthians 12 talks about valuing one another as part of the body of Christ, rather than attempting to impress others with your spirituality. It uses the illustration of the body, making the point that the feet are just as important as any other part of the body.  I have often heard people compliment someones beautiful eyes, but I have never heard anyone compliment another person's feet.  Yet no one would say the feet are not important.  We take care of our feet.  I've heard people say they're going to sit down and put their feet up, but I've never hear anyone say they're going to sit down and put their tongue up.

Here is the point, and this is what I am trying to say in this sermon.  First you are a part of the Church.  It is not an option.  Your only choice is to be a good member or a bad member, and if you choose to be a bad member you have reason to doubt the validity of your faith in Christ.  You are a member of His Church, so act like one.  Conduct yourself with the humble dignity, obedience and love you would expect of people of such a high calling in life.  Attend, support, and love a Biblical church.  Take it seriously, God does.  Second, every other Christian is just as much a part of the Church, and just as valuable to it as you.  You need to treat them as though they are.  You need to treat one another with a sense of reverence, and address one another with respect and humility.  We would treat the actual, physical body of Christ with great respect, and we would conduct ourselves with great care and discretion in His presence.  We should have a similar attitude toward the spiritual body of Christ, and every member of it.  God grant that it may be so.