October 23, 2016
Hos. 11, Jn. 6:1-21
Hos. 12, Eph. 3
The great and ultimate goal of all the work of God in this world is to gather all things together in Christ. Everything He does, from creating us, to giving His Word and means of grace, to entering into history and dying on the cross, and even His daily providential care and guidance in our lives, is done primarily to achieve that goal. Most Christians have wrongly been taught to believe God's ultimate goal is our salvation, and that everything He does is done to save us from Hell. In reality, our salvation is a means to accomplish the end of gathering all things together in Christ. It is all about Christ, not about us.
It is for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ (1) that Paul has been made an Apostle and sent to the Gentile people. His calling is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ as heirs of the promises of God and full participants in them with the Jews (6).
It is for this purpose that God has brought His people together into the Church (10,11). The Church is the people already brought together. The Church Family will ultimately and fully inherit the Kingdom of God, and, indeed, is already dwelling in it. Those not in the Church will still be gathered together in Christ, but in a much different way. They will be gathered together to face His wrath, while the Church is gathered to receive His grace. If we think of the Kingdom of God as a great Castle, the Church is the people who have been elevated to the status of courtiers and friends. Those outside the Church are also gathered, but they are the enemies of God and they are gathered into the dungeon. One day the entire land will be gathered under the authority and reign of the King. Many people will become His friends and will be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Castle. Others will persist in rebellion and hate. They will be thrown into the dungeon. Either way, the King will gather all things together and will reign over all.
Verse 10 again uses "church" to refer to the entire body of Christ rather than a local congregation. In the time of Paul, the Apostles were still living and considered the Church one organisation.
Verse 14 begins a great prayer to the Father of whom the whole family is named (14, 15). That family is the Church, and it includes those in Heaven and those on earth. Paul prays that the Church will be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man (16). This "might" is power which enables us to know what God wants us to know, be what God wants us to be, and do what God wants us to do. What God wants is then given in verses 17-19 culminating in the phrase, "that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." Yes, the ultimate purpose of God is to gather a people for Himself, a people to exist in Christ and glorify Him forever. But those blessed to be part of that People, are given the highest gift God can give to any created being, the gift of living forever in such closeness, fellowship and love with Him it can only be described as being perpetually filled with the fullness (greatness and presence) of God. This fullness will ultimately only be realised in Heaven, but we can know some of it here and now by the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of grace.
Note again the reason why Paul prays for these things for the Church. It is not just for the benefit of people. It is "For this cause" (14), the very same cause Paul has been writing about throughout this Epistle; the cause of gathering all things together in Christ.
Hos. 13, Jn. 6:22-71
Hos. 14, Eph. 4
What does all of this talk about the fullness of God and His gathering a people together in Christ have to do with us in everyday life? Everything! If we are a part of that people, and if we are called into that people gathered into Christ, we are to live our lives in conformity with the will and nature of Christ. As Ephesians 4:1 states the issue, ""walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Thus, being the people who live for and in the glory of God is every Christian's vocation. It is your life's work. The remainder of Ephesians is about how to live worthy of your vocation.
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 (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 (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.
Joel 1, Jn. 7:1-31
Joel 2:1-14, Eph. 5
The heart of chapter 5 is found in verses 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. Verses3-7 contrast 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 (5) but is still outside of God and remains among the children of disobedience and under the wrath of God (6). "Be not ye therefore partakers with them" (7).
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 and 6 refer 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.
Joel 2:15-, Jn. 7:32-53
Joel 3, Eph. 6
Ephesians closes appropriately with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord (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 (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 (14). This is our part in the eternal purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ.
Amos 1, Jn. 8:1-20
Amos 2, Philippians 1
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 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.
Our reading for this morning brings 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.
October 28, St. Simon and St. Jude
Simon and Jude were Apostles who helped establish and extend the Lord’s Church. Little is known of them, but an ancient tradition says they took the Gospel to the Tigris Euphrates valley, where they established churches and shared the words of life in Christ until martyred for their service.
"Mind," in verse 5, refers not to intelligence alone, but to the way intelligence is used. How remarkable the mind of Christ is. He was God, from eternity to eternity, yet He became a man. He was Lord of all, yet He became the servant of all. He was the Great Law Giver, yet He humbled Himself and lived by His own rules. He was the One in whom all faith rests, yet He lived by faith instead of by sight. He was perfect righteousness, yet He became sin for us. He was the Lord of life, yet He gave Himself up to death on the cross. He was the One to whom all things belong, yet He came to give all things to us. We can never possess the intelligence or power of Christ. We can never own the eternal being of God, be Lord of all, become the center of faith, or be perfect righteousness through our own power. These things belong to God alone. We can have the attitude of Christ. We can use our intelligence the way He used His. We can have humility. We can serve others as we serve God. We can live by faith. We can devote our lives to God. These things are within our grasp, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Are they things to which you aspire? Are they things to which you apply yourself day by day and hour by hour? "Let this mind be in you."
Paul, a prisoner in Rome as he wrote to the Philippians, was more concerned about their needs than his own. He desired to send someone to them to help provide the pastoral care of the congregation. But who could he send? There were many self appointed "preachers" in Rome (Phil. 1:15). But of real ministers, called of God, ordained by the Church, gifted with a pastor's love for the flock, and possessing the knowledge and ability to preach the true Gospel, Paul said Rome had only one; Timothy. Pray that God will raise up faithful ministers for His people today. Pray that His people will recognise and treasure them.
"That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth accordingly;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord."
"That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit;
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord."
~ The Litany, 1928 Book of Common Prayer
Amos 3, Jn. 9
Amos 4, Phil. 3
What will get us into Heaven. It is not our own righteousness. It is not our natural goodness or our good deeds. These are all useless when we stand before the absolute perfection of God. It is the righteousness of Christ alone that makes us fit to abide in the House of the Lord. Everything else is loss compared to this great prize (1-9).
Complacency in following Christ is foolishness. Satisfaction with our progress in grace is folly. Even St. Paul acknowledges the inadequacy of his own life. Far from satisfied with himself, he presses on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ (14).
The need for fellowship and association with Godly people is stated in verses 17-19. We will emulate those with traits and tastes we admire. If we admire Godliness, we will seek Godly people and follow their example of faith and piety. If we admire worldliness, self-indulgence, and sin, we will find others who admire the same things. If their end is destruction, what will our end be if we imitate them? (9).
But our Lord Jesus Christ is able to subdue even our stubborn wills, and to change us into the likeness of His glorious body. This is our hope and goal.