14. Freedom in Christ – Obedience releases freedom

 

Review

One of the main messages of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus was to be found IN CHRIST.  This includes all the spiritual blessings that he highlights in the first three chapters.  In the practical outworking of Christian faith, Paul highlights another foundation for the believer, to live a life CONSTANTLY FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.  Being found In Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit is powerful for the believers in Ephesus, and for us today. 

 

With these truths in mind, Paul speaks to the church – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).  The was a culture smashing statement for the Roman Empire and those within the Jewish faith.  The Emperor was the Head of the Empire and this headship was pagan, abusive in its authority, and self-gratifying.  Unfortunately, this idea of headship was promoted in the relationship between husbands and wives.  The Jewish leaders also had twisted views in relation to home life.  A practicing Jewish male believer would recite 13 blessings every morning.  Here are three of those blessings:

·      Blessed are You that You did not make me a non-Jew.

·      Blessed are You that You did not make me a slave.

·      Blessed are You that You did not make me a woman. 

 

The idea of submission to one another was a huge shift in thinking.  A wife submitting to her husband was a big step up in status, both for the house-hold code book for the Roman family and for the Jewish faith.  A husband loving his wife as Christ loves the church puts headship into a Biblical mindset, challenging the culture of the day, whether pagan or Jewish.  And Paul ends this section with a great verse – “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 5:33).

Children and Parents

The next topic of discussion for Paul and the church of Ephesus in parental – Eph 6:1-4 - “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  The Spirit-filled life is foundational for parenting in a secular society like Ephesus and especially today. 

·      The idea of obedience being formed in the hearts of children is essential for growth and maturity and part of them experiencing the fullness of freedom at home and IN CHRIST.

·      In the same way as wives submitting as to the Lord, children are to obey their parents as in the Lord.  The whole idea of submitting one to another and children obeying their parents is summed up as Christ submitted to his Father in everything.  (Phil 2:5-11)

·      “Honour your father and mother” is actually the fifth commandment but the first commandment with a promise attached to it; the first four commands are directed towards one’s relationship with God.  Honouring your father and mother is being respectful in word and action and having an inward attitude of esteem for their position; parents are not perfect.  The Greek word for honour means “to revere, prize, and value.” Honour given towards parents comes with a promise of blessings received in life.

·      One of the challenges for fathers in Ephesus was that of parenting in anger.  Can any father relate? Do not exasperate means to make angry or provoke.  So how do father's make sure their children are at peace?  Father's need to be in a healthy relationship with the mother, to control their own attitudes and anger, grow in learning and loving as a father, admit mistakes, be secure in their fathering, insecurity breeds a controlling atmosphere in the home, be free from addictions whatever they may be, addictive behaviours produce fear in the home for the spouse and children.

·      Lastly, fathers need to be well-informed in the ways of God to instruct, train and warn their children.  The training isn’t simply head knowledge but a practical understanding of the ways of God in life; in other word, fathering is hands on. 

Slaves and Masters

Now Paul looks at the interaction between Slaves, Masters and Christ in Eph 6:5-9.  Slaves, in Roman times, were often prisoners of war and could earn their freedom within a decade.  At other times, people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debt or to increase one’s social or economic means.  In Jewish culture, there were slaves, male and female who served their masters under Jewish Law (Deut 15:12-15); in the seventh year slaves were set free. 

 

Slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world.  The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was often the result of war and based on economics. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters.  This is in stark contrast to the slavery under “colonialism” during British and American rule where slavery was forced upon people and was a lifetime sentence and (black) slaves were believed to be inferior human beings. The Bible does not condone race slavery, or man stealing.

 

With this understanding, Paul now speaks to slaves and masters who had faith in Jesus.  Obedience was required by slaves towards their masters, with the thought that they are ultimately under Christ’s authority – “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Eph 6:5).   Obedience has certain characteristics that Paul highlights; be respectful just as towards Christ, and fearful, not slavish terror, but an eagerness to do your duty.  Paul mentions the idea to be sincere and to serve wholeheartedly.  This kind of Spirit-filled slavery carried with it reward and freedom IN CHRIST, and possibly from slavery itself. 

 

Paul also addresses 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 favoritism with him” (Eph 6:9).  In other words, masters were to handle their slaves with kindness and respect, as if submitting one to another and to Christ.  This was unheard of in Roman culture.  Sometimes Christian slaves had non-Christian masters, and this would be very challenging for the slaves.  Sometimes Christian masters had non-Christian slaves, and this was an opportunity to win them for Christ.  And Christian masters with Christian slaves were to treat each other just like they would treat Jesus Christ; brothers and sisters IN CHRIST.

In conclusion

One of the challenges we face today is this.  How do we display the culture of the Kingdom of God in a secular and pluralistic society?  How do we submit one to another?  How do Christian children obey their parents?  How do parents’ parent?  What about slavery?

 

We must understand that the Bible is the foundation upon which God evaluates our lives.  The Bible is the source of knowledge for wives, husbands, children and parents living in the home.  Our home life is to be saturated with the infilling of the Holy Spirit, in contrast to the all the stuff secular society offers… 

 

Slavery is something that needs to be addressed in our broken culture.  It is estimated that there are over 27 million people in the world who are subject to forced slavery: forced labour, child slaves, sex trade, etc.  We have been redeemed from the slavery of sin, as followers of Jesus Christ should be the foremost champions of ending human slavery in the world today.

 

Paul’s hope for the church of Ephesus is simple, he wants them to experience the fulness of their freedom in Christ.  He gives the church in Ephesus several keys to live by in contrast to Jewish and Roman culture of his day. 

·      First, they must come under the Headship of Jesus Christ. 

·      Secondly, them must be spirit-filled. 

·      Thirdly, they must be respectful and submissive to one another because of their love for Jesus.  Many of these verses underline love and selflessness, which results in harmony, and is evidence of the Spirit’s work in the home with wives, husband and children, as well as between slaves and masters.

 

Just as there are practical challenges to living out our faith IN CHRIST, there are spiritual forces that are in opposition to the body of Christ.  That is where Paul takes us next in Ephesians. 

 

Let’s pray…

13. Freedom in Christ – Submission releases freedom

 

Introduction

In our last few studies on Ephesians we have seen the importance of living appropriately before God; living in holiness, love, light and wisdom.  The Apostle Paul now brings it “home”, so to speak, and describes how freedom was designed to flourish in family life.  The last idea Paul presented was to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit.  The work of the Holy Spirit is essential to enjoy our freedom in Christ and with each other.  It is somewhat easy to live a Spirit-filled life for one or two hours a week on Sundays, but it is a different story in our everyday relationships between wives and husbands, children and parents and slaves and masters.  In each of these three relationships the first person mentioned is called to submit or be obedient in the case of children and slaves, whereas the second person is to show love and care for the other.  And all people involved are to live out their faith as service to the Lord.

 

It is important to understand the context of the culture of Paul’s day in Ephesus.  Women, children and slaves were seen as inferior and often uneducated.  Male authority was dominant in Graeco-Roman world; it was a patriarchal society.  There were household rules for conduct that the Roman Empire operated on that we not fully Biblical.  Submission in Paul’s day has a different practical outworking in present day culture.  We will look more at that are we carry on in our study.

Submit to one another

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 2:21) is the last thought of being filled with the Spirit and the first thought of the Christian household.  Submission needs to be understood in several ways as we look at the Scripture today.  Submission often carries with it the sense of authority, i.e. - “submit” is one-directional.  Submission speaks to coming under someone with greater power or authority.  In Paul’s time it was someone who is lower in age, position, or even gender needs to submit; wives and children were seen as the responsibility of the husband.  So, what does Paul mean when he says, “submit to one another”?  How can husband and wife both submit to the other?  Do husbands and wives each have authority in the home?  We seem to have an oxymoron.  In one sense, Paul adheres to social norms by requesting that wives be subject to their husbands, but at the same time he subverts social expectations by calling all believers, including husbands, to submit themselves to everyone—not just those in positions of leadership.  This is the Upside-Down Kingdom of God confronting the Greek and Roman leaders and philosophers of Paul’s day.  There are passages of Scripture that are less offensive but communicate similar characteristics of submission:

·      Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4).

·      Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10).

·      Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Rom 15:2).

 

Paul is instructing the church of Ephesus in a new “household book of conduct”.  In it he elevates wives to come alongside of their loving husbands (not authoritative or dominant), children are not servants but sons and daughters of the household who learn freedom through obedience and both slaves and masters need to remember Christ in their dealings with each other.  Submit one to another because you are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Wives and Husbands

Paul now speaks to wives and husbands and their relation to each other in Christ.  The cultural model for marriage in Ephesus and the Roman Empire was male patriarchal leadership.  The theology of Ephesians is all about being IN CHRIST, and now Paul makes this practical for wives and husbands.  So how do wives submit in the context of the church in Ephesus?  Wives, submit 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 Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Eph 5:22-24).

·      The wife’s submission, which was expected by Graeco-Roman values, is placed in the context of spiritual submission to Christ – as to the Lord.  In other words, submission to Christ is a good thing bringing with it freedom, love and care. 

·      “Head” is an often misunderstood term.  In Roman culture the Emperors were the Head of the Empire and were often unrighteous and vile; they abused their authority and served themselves with selfish pleasures.  In contrast, Paul uses this term in Ephesians and it applies first to Christ as the head of the Church (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23) and then to husbands as the head of the wife-husband relationship.  For sure Jesus has authority over the church but never used this authority to abuse or dominate his followers.  This is the context for Headship in the home; husbands are to be like Jesus to their wives, serving them as a Saviour not as an Emperor, not demanding their service and submission. 

·      A wife’s submission to her husband “in everything” refers back to as the church submits to Christ.  Jesus would never violate or be unfaithful to his church in any way, so the wife can have confidence in submitting to her husband with the same understanding and confidence. 

 

Now let us look at husbands in the home.  “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 his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body” (Eph 5:25-30). 

·      In the Greco-Roman household codes, husbands were to make or force their wives to submit, but they never listed love as a duty of the husband.  Paul breaks the mold when he instructs husbands to love their wife.  This was a culture shock for husbands in the same way of submitting to one another. 

·      Paul then defines this crazy love.  Die for your wife.  Serve your wife in spiritual matters.  Serve your wife in practical matters.  In other words, love is totally unselfish, which would be a huge culture shock for the pampered Roman husband. 

 

Paul affirms this new model to the church in Ephesus by using an Old Testament passage; “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph 5:31; Gen 2:24).  One of the key passages that sum up the marriage relationship between a husband and wife is this – “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Eph 3:33).  This is the constantly being filled with the Spirit link between a husband and wife; love and respect. 

In conclusion

The entire teaching today on submission and love as related to wives and husbands is empowered by the constant filling of the Holy Spirit.  We must remember that Paul begins this entire section with this culture smashing statement – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).  Lording it over someone was one of the problems of religious leaders in Jesus and Paul’s day.  The abuse of authority was rampant in the Roman Empire.  The rich and wealthy took advantage over the poor and needy.  Paul’s hope for the church of Ephesus is simple, he wants the marriages to experience the fulness of their freedom in Christ. 

In Application

Many of the verses studied today underline love and selflessness, which results in harmony, one evidence of the Spirit’s work.

 

Here are the key points that apply to every generation of Christian. 

“Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18).

 

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21)

 

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Eph 5:33).

 

Let’s pray…

 

 

12. Freedom in Christ – Living in Wisdom

Freedom in Christ – Living in Wisdom

Introduction

We have been looking at the theme of Freedom in Christ in the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians.  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places; chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and filled with the Holy Spirit.  These are our benefits of being IN CHRIST as believers who are a part of the family of God, Jews and Gentiles.  In the first few chapters Paul is teaching, instructing and giving knowledge to the saints in Ephesus; he is helping them to learn who they are IN CHRIST.  Then the Apostle Paul also exhorts the believers to walk or live out their faith in Jesus in Eph 4-6.  He states to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Eph 4:1), to not live as the Gentiles live (Eph 4:17), to live a life of love (Eph 5:2), to live as children of light (Eph 5:8).  Now Paul speaks to live in wisdom (Eph 5:15).  

 

Biblically speaking, knowledge and wisdom often go hand in hand, but are not synonymous.  Knowledge is about gaining facts and ideas through life experience, research and study.  Whereas, wisdom in the ability to put knowledge into action with discernment and accuracy to your life.  Knowledge can exist without wisdom, but not the other way around.  One can be knowledgeable without being wise.  There are some in their pursuit of knowledge have become puffed up or proud (1 Cor 8:1) but Paul tells us the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:18-19). 

 

The Scriptures tell us that wisdom and knowledge and understanding have their origin in the Fear of God; awe, respect and reverence for God Almighty. 

·      Prov 1:7 - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

·      Prov 9:10 - “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

·      Prov 15:33 - The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour.

Living in Wisdom

Paul begins this teaching on wisdom by saying, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph 5:15-17).  The church of Ephesus was blessed IN CHRIST, and yet lived in a darkened society.  Therefore, they needed to be reminded to be careful, prudent, watchful so that they live rightly before God and each other.  Wisdom and folly are contrasted over and over in Proverbs.  Paul tells them not to be foolish, lacking wisdom or common sense, but to understand and comprehend God’s will. 

In one sense, Paul has in the previous verses highlighted God’s will; live well before God, and live in God’s love and light, avoiding the lifestyle of the Gentiles who were trapped in sexual sins and greed. 

Do not get drunk

Now Paul speaks to another area of life to be careful with – drinking alcohol.  The city of Ephesus was like many pagan cities, there was an abundance of alcohol to drink. The same is true today.  I am not here to debate whether or not Christians can drink alcohol.  But I am here to say that the Scripture clearly states “DO NOT GET DRUNK”; inebriated, stupefied, or excited by alcohol.  Drunkenness leads to debauchery which is reckless and foolish living that destroys life; angry drunk, immoral drunk, driving drunk etc…  A drunken person acts abnormally.  Rather than controlling himself (wisdom), the wine controls him (foolishness).  This kind of lifestyle does not glorify God.

Instead, be filled with the Spirit

In contrast, Paul speaks of being filled with something other than alcohol – the Holy Spirit.  There are two terms in the Scriptures that are similar and relate to the Holy Spirit, baptism and filling.  Although the terms are related there are real differences between the two.  There are passages of Scripture that affirm the truth of the Holy Spirit and baptism and salvation:

·      We are told in Mark 1:8 that “Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”; as well this language is used in Acts 1:5

·      For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Cor 12:13).

·      for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). 

·      Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

 

The Scripture teaches us that there is only one Spirit baptism - at salvation, but there are many fillings that keep us walking in the Spirit’s power to live a life pleasing to the Lord.  I believe that Paul highlights both these experiences in his letter to the Ephesians. 

·      (Baptism) - Eph 1:13-14 - And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. 

·      (Filling) - I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Eph 1:17).

·      (Filling) - Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

 

This leads us to Eph 5:18 - Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  The Greek language here speaks of “being continually filled”, moment by moment, with the Holy Spirit.  A foolish drunk always wants their drink topped up.  The wise Christian is to be topped up with the Spirit to the overflowing.  In other words, wisdom is found in constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit?

There are no shortcuts in the journey of faith with Jesus Christ, the same is true of Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ life and ministry were opposed by religious people who spoke of him being demon possessed.  Satan has waged the same kind of war against the Holy Spirit in relation to the church; he has confused it, opposed it, and surrounded it with abuses and extremes. 

 

Even though there is not step-by-step manual for the filling of the Holy Spirit, I would say that the Scriptures do give us some understanding as what to do in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  

·      One must be baptized with the Holy Spirit; in other words, you have to be a Christian.  Not a religious person or someone who goes to church.  Paul has described for us what genuine Christianity looks like.  Someone who thinks rightly about God and themselves and someone who lives well before God and his fellowman; they are surrendered and obedient to God.  This Spirit-filled life is not for superstar Christians, but it meant to be the way born-again believers live before God and each other.

·      In relation to the Holy Spirit, the Bible also tells us to ask our Father in heaven for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).  We must desire to be filled with Holy Spirit and let him take control of our life.

·      A key Scripture is Rom 12:1-2 – we must be ready to present our body (mind, emotions, your personality, your all. 

·      Faith is key…  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2).

In Conclusion

The Spirit-filled life is marked by “Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Singing and making music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20).  Oftentimes, well-meaning believers are more affected by what is going on around them circumstantially.  Paul is teaching them to be “filled with the Spirit” and from the inside out bring joy and song into the world.  In other words, let’s sing spiritual songs not drinking songs.  The same way we are to be continually filled with the Spirit, we are to always be thankful… 

In Application

Today, I would like us to pray for each other to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Maybe there are areas where we are filled with doubt and unbelief.  Or maybe we are struggling with obeying God.  Maybe our spirit tank is half-full.  Or maybe we are full of hunger and desire for more of God.  Our lives vary from person to person; however, the good news is that we can be filled with Holy Spirit today.  We can be filled to the overflowing with the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. 

 

Let’s pray…

 

The Holy Communion – God’s Channel of Divine Health

 

Next to being saved from hell of eternal destruction, divine health is the greatest blessing we can have.

Some people might say, “No!  It would be great if I had lots of money.  Then, I can do so many things.”  I’m sure there are people who have lots of money but not able to do anything with it because of health issues. 

If someone is on his deathbed, I do not think he would say, “I wish I had made one more million.”  I believe he would be thinking, “if only I could have my health back.  There are so many things to do, so many people to say, ‘I love you’ to.”

You can also have a great family with wonderful children, but if you are sick, and cannot run around and play with your kids, that would be sheer misery.  That is why I believe that health is the greatest blessing we can have while we are still here on earth.  Without it, there is no way we can enjoy the blessings of God.

You will find that when Jesus walked on earth, most of His miracles were in the area of healing.  That is because His nature is to heal.

The Bible says that Jesus “…went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)  He did not walk on water all the time, He did not calm storms all the time, but He healed all the time.

When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land, He made sure that none of them were sick.

Psalm 105:37 He brought them out with silver and gold, and there was none feeble among His tribes.

In Cecil De Mille’s production of the Ten Commandments, a blind old man shuffled out of Egypt with a walking stick.  That is how Hollywood dramatizes the Holy Word.  But it is incorrect.

God’s Word says that there were none feeble so that old man could not have been blind or bent over.  Bible scholars estimate that there were about 2.5 million Israelites who left Egypt healed, healthy and whole.  That was and still is God’s will for His people today – all healed, healthy and whole.

If it is God’s nature to heal, have you wondered why many Christians are sick?  I am not referring to minor ailments like a cough or cold.  I am referring to serious life-threatening illnesses.

Now, if the people of the world are sick, it should not surprise us.  They do not have Jesus Christ as their protection, so it is not wonder they are sick.

But when believers are sick, I want to know why.  And I do not want to draw my conclusions from human experience, I want an answer from God’s Word.

You might be surprised to know that the Bible gives one and only one reason why Christians are weak and sick, and die prematurely.

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, said, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”  Sleep here means death, not bodily rest.  For Paul said, “For this reason…”  He did not say, “for these reasons”.  He was pointing us to one singular reason Christians become weak and sick, and die before their time.

And what is “this reason” that Paul was highlighting to us?  He said, “… not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason….”  So the reason the Corinthians became weak and sick was their failure to discern the Lord’s body.

If we discern the Lord’s body we will walk in His health and wholeness.

It means that they did not know why they were partaking of the body when they came to the Table.  They had no idea why there were eating the bread.  And this was the reason they were not receiving the divine life of their Saviour, causing them to be weak and sick, and to die prematurely.

Since truth is parallel, it means that if we do discern the Lord’s body, we will walk in His health and wholeness.

This is only logical.  The same can be said of, what is the opposite of short?  Tall.  Or what is the opposite of small?  Big.

So it follows that if Paul said, “…not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep”, then it must be that when we do discern the Lord’s body, we will be strong and healthy, and live long.

You would have thought that Christians would study this passage so that they can walk in divine health.  After all, Paul had singled out this one reason as the cause of sickness and, ultimately premature death for many Christians. 

Yet, it seems that most people in the body of Christ choose to focus on food and exercise as the key to living a healthy life. In fact, one of the best-selling themes in Christian bookstores is food.  There are all kinds of books on what to eat and what not to eat.

I am not knocking these books.  What I am saying is that God does not want us to focus on food or exercise as the key to divine health.  He does not want us to put our trust in natural means to stay healthy.  2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal…”

Some people think that they will walk in divine health if they are on a Mediterranean diet since that was Jesus’ diet.  But let me remind you that the majority of the people whom Jesus healed were on a Mediterranean diet.  They never had pork or prawns or any of that high-cholesterol stuff.  Yet, they were still sick because natural solutions can only go so far.

By all means eat well and exercise.  I watch what I eat by staying away from too much sugar.  I do like desserts and will have them when offered.  I also try to exercise but my trust in not in my own feeble human efforts.  My trust is in God to keep me healthy.  And God has ordained the Holy Communion as a key channel of health and wholeness for His people.

The early church believed this.  That is why “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  They majored on the majors.  They made a big deal of those things that God made a big deal of.

They took God at His Word.  It is no wonder that they experienced God’s power.  In Acts 2:43, 46 we read that they broke bread from house to house, and many signs and wonders were done through the apostles.

Although the body of Christ today understands the importance of doctrine, fellowship and prayer, few in the church truly understand the significance of the breaking of bread (or the Holy Communion).  That is why many are weak and sick, and die before their time.

Down through history, powerful doctrines like “justification by faith” have come under severe attack by the devil.  This is what happened to the Holy Communion.  The devil has pushed the church to two erroneous and extreme interpretations of this truth.  On one side are the believers of transubstantiation and, on the other, are people who have reduced the Holy Communion to a mere ritual.

“Transubstantiation is the alleged process whereby the bread and wine offered up at Communion are changed to that of the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.

I believe that God wants to restore the true meaning and power of the Holy Communion to the church so that His people will rightly discern His body when they come to the Table.  This will cause them to become strong and healthy, and to live long.

The Holy Communion will add years to our lives and life to our years.

The Lord has made special provision for our health and this is all found in the death of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, when we come to partake at His Table.

It is one of my greatest passions in life to see the body of Christ receive every single thing that our Saviour suffered and died to give us.  And I know that when God’s people are correctly taught about how healing is dispensed at the Lord’s Table, health and wholeness will follow.  It will add years to our lives and life to our years.

When we recognize that the Holy Communion is God’s channel of health and wholeness for His people and we teach the church to rightly discern the Lord’s body when they come to His Table, God’s people will be healthy and strong, and will live long.

Having established that the Holy Communion is God’s channel of health and wholeness for His people, it is time to find out how to experience that divine life that comes through discerning the Lord’s body.

Notice that Paul said that it was not a failure to discern the blood, but a failure to discern the body that caused the people to be weak and sick, and to die before their time.

1 Corinthians 11:29-30

For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.

When I used to take communion I did not understand the importance of the two elements and the significance of them.  God has since shown me that the body and blood is a two-fold application in the Communion.  The wine, which is His blood, is for our forgiveness.  And the bread, which is His body, is for our healing.

The Corinthians, like most Christians today, had no problem discerning the blood.  Paul’s epistles make it very clear that the blood of Jesus brings forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:14

In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

Ephesians 1:7

IN Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…

Because the Son of God paid the penalty for your sins with His spotless blood, you can go scot-free when you put your trust in His blood to save you.  When you partake of the wine, know that you are forgiven and have been made righteous.  The blood of Jesus has given you right standing before God, so that you can come boldly into His presence.  And when you pray, you can be sure He hears you.

That is how you discern the blood and most Christians understand that.  But not many know how to discern the Lord’s body.

To do that, we must first know what the bread represents.  Jesus established that the bread, which is His body, is for our healing.  How do we know that?  When he spoke to the Syro-Phoenician woman regarding her daughter’s healing, He called healing “the children’s bread”.

Mark 7:26-28

The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  But Jesus said to her, “let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”  And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

Notice that when she asked Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter, He said that is was not good to give the “children’s bread” to the “little dogs”.  What does “bread” refer to?  It refers to the healing that she was asking for.  And what do “dogs” refer to?  They refer to non-Jews or Gentiles like herself.

So Jesus was actually saying that healing was only for God’s covenant people and not for Gentiles who were not included in the covenant then.

Now that we know what Jesus meant it should also be noted that the bread is referred to healing and not deliverance.  The Bible treats disease and demon possession as the same thing since they both originate from the devil.

Acts 10:38 says that Jesus went about doing good and “…healing all who were oppressed by the devil”.  Notice that disease is due to the devil’s oppression.  This, disease and demon possession are both the results of oppression by the devil and we need God’s healing for these problems.

From this incident, it becomes clear that Jesus sees healing as the children’s bread.  The woman put her faith in that little crumb, and that act released power to drive the demon out of her daughter.

So the bread, even a small crumb, which is His body, is for our healing since we are now God’s children and fully entitled to the healing bread.

I believe that when Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26;26), the disciples did not need any explanation like the one I just gave.

They knew that He wanted to impart to them His life, health and wholeness.  These men were with Him every day and not once did they see Him sick.  Not once did they see Him come down with a flu, fever or stomachache.  He never had to say to them, “Can one of you preach the Sermon on the Mount for me?  I don’t feel up to it today.”  The Lord was never sick.

More than that, He was vibrant, full of life and full of health.  When those who were without hands and feet were brought to Him, they were made perfectly whole.  The body parts they needed were imparted to them from the heavenly store when they touched Him.

And his body was so filled with life that even His clothes were soaked with His health.  The Bible says that a woman with an issue of blood for 12 years came to Him knowing that He was her only hope. (Mark 5:25-34)

She had spent all her money and suffered many things from many physicians.  And what was the result?  She was not better, but instead, became worse!  Yet, with just one touch of the hem of His garment, she was immediately healed of the affliction.

If the hem of His garment could be soaked with His health, can you imagine His body?

No wonder Luke said, “And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.” (Luke 6:19)  When a doctor, and Luke was a doctor, says this, you know that it is for real.

There was no need to tell the disciples that when He said, “Take, eat; this is My body,” He was imparting His life, health and wholeness to their bodies.  They knew better than anyone else that taking the bread meant ingesting His health into their mortal bodies.

The matzah, a flat bread eaten during the Passover, is a good object lesson of what Jesus’ body symbolizes.  The Mishnah or Jewish oral laws gave instructions on the preparation of this bread. 

According to these laws, the bread was to be unleavened, baked, pierced with holes and striped.  No leaven was used because leaven in the Bible represents sin, and Jesus is the perfect, sinless Son of God.  That is why He is able to take our sins upon Himself.

His body was burnt because the full fury of God’s wrath against our sins fell on Him.  This fire was supposed to fall on us and our families, but it fell on Jesus instead.

His side was pierced and He bore those merciless stripes on His back so that our bodies might be made whole.

As you partake of His broken body, know that His body was broken so that yours can be whole. When you partake in this spirit of faith, something happens to your body.  You become strong, healthy and you will live long.

By now it should be clear that the blood and the body have two different applications.  This is consistent throughout the Bible.

The prophet Isaiah said, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…”  (Isaiah 53:4)  Griefs and sorrows in the Young’s Literal Translation states that “Surely our sicknesses He hath borne, and our pains – He hath carried them…”

Matthew 8:17 says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses”. 

In the Greek, “infirmities” means bodily weaknesses.  So we can see very clearly that Isaiah was saying that the Messiah would take upon His own body, our bodily weaknesses, sicknesses, and pains.  In other words, Jesus bore not just our sins, but also our bodily weaknesses, sicknesses and pains.  This is what some hymn writers of old called the “double cure”. 

This double cure is evident in the Passover.  The Lord’s Supper was first celebrated on the same day as the Passover because it is the true Passover.

Luke 22:15-20

Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  Likewise, He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup in the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

The Old Testament is the shadow, the New Testament is the real substance.  Jesus is the true, perfect, unblemished, holy Lamb of God.  So the Passover is a type of the Lord’s Supper.

During the first Passover, they killed the lamb and put the blood on the doorposts.  This caused the destroyer to pass over their families because God said, “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you…”  (Exodus 12:13)

The blood was for the people’s forgiveness.  The blood covered the people’s sins and appeased the righteous requirements of God.

But what did they do inside the house?

Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

They ate the roasted lamb and the unleavened bread.  This was to give them strength for the journey.  It was not natural strength that they received.  It was supernatural.

That is why there were “…none feeble”.  (Psalm 105:37)  It takes a supernatural work of God for 2.5 million people to all be healthy.

We know that this lamb was a mere shadow of the real substance.  So if the body of a “shadow lamb” could bring such supernatural results, how much more the body of the true “substance lamb” our Lord Jesus Christ!

Here again, the double cure was at work – the blood was for forgiveness, and the body and bread were for divine strength.  No wonder when they left Egypt, there were none feeble.

David described the double cure this way, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases”.   (Psalm 103:2-3)  Notice that His benefits include the forgiveness of our sins as well as the healing of our diseases.

Healing, like forgiveness, is not a promise.  It is the blood-bought right of Christians.

When Jesus took our punishment on the cross, it did not just bring us forgiveness, it also brought us healing.

Most people, when asked whether they are sure of their forgiveness, say they are.  They know that God has already forgiven them because of the cross.  But when asked if they are sure of their healing, they say they are not.

I want you to know that at the cross, Jesus bore our sins and our sicknesses.  And so healing, like forgiveness, is not a promise.  It is the blood-bought right of Christians.

Because of what He did at the cross, we do not just have forgiveness, we also have healing.  Forgiveness and healing go hand in hand.  The faith that you have for forgiveness is the same faith that will bring your healing.

Healing through the Holy Communion can also be gradual.  That is how it is working for me.  I have suffered so much over the years with sinus issues, eczema; (suffered for 3 months with severe itching day and night), headaches, sleeplessness. 

As I partake I am getting better and better over time.  I will even do it at work.  I believe that I am healed and I am realizing that it has nothing to do with me but putting my faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  When he said, “It is finished”!  I believe by faith that my healing is complete. I may have symptoms of it still being there but they are lying symptoms.  The devil wants me to believe that I will suffer with these things for the rest of my life but I know in my heart that that is not the truth.  The truth is I am healed of all my afflictions.

One other lesser known aspect of the Holy Communion is the power of proclaiming the Lord’s death.  Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”  (1 Corinthians 11;26)

You might ask, “What about the Lord’s death are we proclaiming and to whom are we proclaiming it?”  Paul said it another place, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”  (Colossians 2:15)

So when we remember Jesus’ death, we are also proclaiming to the principalities and powers that they have been disarmed because He has triumphed over them.

Psalm 25:5   You prepare a Table before me in the presence of my enemies.

When you have Holy Communion you are proclaiming to demon spirits that Jesus reigns.

And when you release your faith in the finished, complete and perfect work of Jesus at the cross, every knee must bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  This means that every demon has to flee. 

HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!

Jesus told us to have Communion often.  So there must be something powerful about it.  Do you think that He would make us do something often without having our blessing in mind?

Those who believe in the power of that one perfect sacrifice on the cross know that His blessings of health, wholeness, and preservation abound at His Table.

Once you are a believer, you are a priest. (1Peter 2:9)  So you can partake of the Lord’s Supper and even minister it to others.  You do not need a pastor to do it.

In the church, pastors do it because they are the spiritual authority over the people, and there must be order in how things are conducted.

But outside the church, you, as a royal priest, are qualified to partake on your own.  Do as Jesus said – have it often.  “How often?”  you might ask.  As often as you need to.  It depends on how much you want His health and wholeness.  I’m not saying that you must partake every day.  But if you are sick, I would recommend that you have Holy Communion daily.  There are people who are so radical that they take it like medicine – three times a day.  And you know what?  They get radical results.  So partake because the Holy Communion is God’s channel of health and wholeness for you.

God has truly made it easy for His people to walk in divine health.  We just need to come to His Table, put our faith in His broken body for our healing and partake.  It is so simple, yet so powerful.  This is not the time to examine yourself to see if you have sin in your life.  When Jesus rose from the grave you automatically became the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  You have sin but God does not see it.  When He looks at you all He sees is Jesus because you are in Christ.  When you partake of communion know that you are forgiven of all your sins, past, present and future.  Know that you are healed because of the stripes that Jesus bore on His back.  Every stripe that He was given He saw you and those things that are afflicting you today.  This is a time to celebrate what Jesus did on the cross and what happened when He rose from the grave. 

11. Freedom in Christ – Live in the Light

 

Introduction

This is the fourth time Paul uses the idea of living or walking in the ways of God.  The practical fruit that he is calling the church of Ephesus to live by is rooted in the spiritual truths found in the first three chapters of Ephesians.  In essence Paul is wanting the believers in Ephesus to live out their faith IN CHRIST in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Eph 4:1), not as the Gentiles (Eph 4:17), but to live in love imitating God (Eph 5:1-2). 

Children of light

One of the problems believers faced in Ephesus is deception.  Even though they were spiritually blessed new creations IN CHRIST and seated in heavenly places, their old nature was still clinging to them.  That is why Paul spoke to them about learning to put-off sin and Satan and put-on Jesus Christ.  Paul encourages them by saying, “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8)

In this verse Paul contrasts darkness and light to the church.  This would have specific meaning to those coming out of pagan temple worship.  There was spiritual darkness due to the practice of sin and the presence of Satan.  Paul already addressed those who were darkened in their understanding, separated from life and ignorant of heart (Eph 4:18-19).  There was also the practice of sexual sins done in darkened rooms of pagan temples.  Suffice it to say, darkness was not meant to be part of the believer’s life; that is why Paul prayed for the “eyes of your hearts to be enlightened” (Eph 1:18).   Now he reminds them that, “you were once darkness” but now you are light in the Lord. 

The spiritual blessing for the church in Ephesus and for us today is this – we are light in the Lord.  This is the truth of Chapter 1-3 of Ephesians.  We are full of God’s light (IN CHRIST) because of all that Jesus has accomplished for us.  Therefore, Paul’s exhortation is to “live as children of light.”  Paul gives us three words - goodness, righteousness and truth describing how to live in the light.  We bear fruit because we are rooted IN CHRIST and in his love.  In other words, as we stay in the light and love of Jesus bearing fruit is natural to his children. 

The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian believers around 2,000 years ago, and even today, we understand the difference between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light.  The culture in which we live gets it.  The whole Star Wars epic was basically a story about the conflict between “the Darkside” and “the Force.”  The Lord of the Rings trilogy was based upon the same conflict — the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron and the hobbits, elves, and wizards who represented good.  These pop culture ideas tend to see as the struggle between darkness and light as equal.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, takes a more Biblical approach where the good King Aslan defeats the wicked witch. We know from Scripture that Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world (John 8:12) has completely defeated sin and the forces of Satan (Eph 1:19-23).  The so-called struggle is not between equal kingdoms (dark and light) but is the ongoing expansion of the Kingdom of God, full of life, light and love, even though there is ongoing resistance by mankind.  The key thought for us to understand is this – IN CHRIST we are on the winning team that is bearing fruit and expanding.  We are light in the Lord and choose to live in the light. 

Living in Freedom requires discernment

Another characteristic of being a child of light is to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10).  I love the simplicity of this verse.  This is a small verse with big implications.  Find out carries with it a meaning of seeking and discovery, testing and approving.  How is this possible – through discernment.  Discernment can be defined as

·       the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is hidden

·       it is an act of perceiving something

·       a power to see what is not evident to the average mind

·       the ability to accurately see the truth

·       spiritually it is the ability to tell the difference between truth and error, right and wrong and angels or demons

Paul doesn’t answer this statement for the believers but leaves it opened ended so that they can find the joy of bringing pleasure to God.  I am sure we can all remember going on a treasure hunt as children.  It was great fun to run here and there trying to find what was hidden followed by the joy of discovery.  In this case we are discovering what brings pleasure and satisfaction to God.  Paul is trying to help the church of Ephesus to grow in their desire and passion for God and what makes him glad.

We are to discern and discover what brings pleasure to God.  However, on the other hand, we must “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph 5:11).  Paul has concern for the believers in Ephesus because darkness often leads to deception.  Just as there is righteous fruit that brings pleasure to God there are fruitless and useless acts that bring harm.  We are told to have no participation, association or fellowship with individuals who choose to walk in darkness – the sphere dominated by evil, sinfulness, and ignorance of God and his ways; understood as the absence of light.   There is a shame associated with the sinful practices of people trapped in darkness. 

We must remember that we are not in a tug-of-war between the kingdom of darkness and light.  Jesus, Light of the World, has overcome the darkness.  Light influences darkness not the other way around.  Darkness is simply the absence of light, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible…” (Eph 5:13-14).  Even though we light in a world under the stimulus of the enemy, we are light in the Lord and shine our light everywhere we go.  Paul was wanting the church in Ephesus to be the influencers in their darkened society.  He wanted the church to wake up and let Christ shine on and through them.  The same is true for us today, we are children of light shining in the darkness. 

In Conclusion

Living in the light means continuously receiving the light.  In the natural we need our daily dose of vitamin D, spiritually speaking we all need to get our SON TAN in Jesus.  We are light in the Lord and now choose to live as children of light.  Throughout my Christian walk there are times when the Holy Spirit has said to me – “this or that needs to be put-off”.  There was something dark that was attached to my life and I needed to discern between right and wrong, I needed to find out what pleases God.  In those moments I chose to walk in the light.  This reminds me of 1 John 1:7-9 - But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

In application

Our theme over the last few months has been Freedom in Christ.  The last few messages have been about learning how to put-off those sinful issues, whatever they are, and to discover how to put-on Jesus Christ.  Today, Paul’s message it is all about putting off darkness and putting on light.  We must allow the light of Christ to shine into all areas of our thoughts and emotions and actions in order to live in the fullness of our freedom. 

One inspiring verse for me in today’s passage is this – “find out what pleases the Lord.”  All too often I can find myself focusing on what needs to be put-off in my life.  This verse changes my paradigm from putting-off to discovering what makes God happy and putting this into my daily living for God.  We are all individuals with various likes and dislikes so as we find out what pleases God our discoveries will vary.  It is a wonderful thing to bring pleasure to God and see joy on the faces of his people. 

            Take a moment and think about your walk with God and what you could do to please him? 

Let’s pray…

 

10. Freedom in Christ – Live in Love

Introduction

We are in the midst of our study on Christian freedom.  Paul has given the church in Ephesus a solid foundation of belief and now he is helping them to understand the little things of life that are worth living for.  He helps them to comprehend the difference between “becoming a Christian” (justification – Eph 1-3) and “becoming Christian” (sanctification – Eph 4-6).  In other words, since we are chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit, we ought to live in a manner worthy of the calling and grace we have received.  We are looking at several aspects of living in ways that honour God.  We should not live as the Gentiles live in darkened understanding and behaviour.  We should be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit by lying, being anger, stealing, unwholesome talk and bitterness.  As believers we practice right thinking and put this Christ thinking into action and freedom becomes our daily bread.  Today’s message highlights the importance of living in love. 

Imitators of God

            The Apostle Paul uses the idea of imitation as the premise for living in love.  Paul was not shy about exhorting believers to follow his example as a leader.  Paul tells the church of Corinth to imitate himself (1 Cor 4:16).  He states, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).  Now to the church in Ephesus he gives a strong command – “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1).  In much the same way a child grows and learns by imitating their parents, Paul is saying we can do the same with God.  The word in the Greek language speaks of mimicking the words or behaviour of another.  This is the opposite of hypocrisy where we pretend to be someone we aren’t.  One of the safest ways of living in love is to imitate God, in all he says and does. 

Living in Love

            In applying his doctrines to the Ephesian believers, Paul now uses for the third time the word “live” in the NIV.  As God’s children we are to walk and live in unity with God and each other, in holiness, and now “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).  We are all familiar with John 3:16 – “For God so loved…” God’s love is sacrificial in the giving of his only Son with the foresight of Jesus’ death on the cross.  The Apostle John clarifies this truth in 1 John 3:16 – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  I believe there are several key points Paul wants the believers to practice.

·      Living is all about loving behaviour.  So, what does love look like?  We are told that “Love never gives up.  Love cares more for others than for self.  Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.  Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.  Love never dies” (1 Cor 13:4-8).  In other words, love is something that can be measured and practiced to all to see. 

·      Secondly, Paul reminds us of Jesus’ example of love in that he “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2).  True love is considerate of others often at the expense of one’s own wellbeing.  Just look at how Jesus lived; Phil 2:5-11 reminds us of Jesus’ live, death and resurrection.  Jesus was brought to the greatest state of freedom by loving others more than himself.  This was fragrance upon fragrance to his Father in heaven.  Love is in the air in Ephesians – 1:4-6, 15; 2:4-5; 3:17-19; 4:1-2, 15-16; 5:1-2; 25-33; 6:23-24.

Living in Love not lust

The Apostle Paul now addresses an area in the city of Ephesus that many were in bondage to – sexual sins.  Artemis (Greek) was the prominent pagan goddess of worship in Ephesus (Diana was the Roman counterpart) and was known as the goddess of fertility.  One of the aspects of her worship was rampant sexual sins; they worshipped their goddess through sex and prostitution and money.  The believers in Ephesus would have been confronted daily by ungodly sexual practices and their demonic influences.  Paul understands they need great freedom in this area.  “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. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph 5:3-4)

·      Living in love means we should treat sex with purity and thankfulness.  We should not pull sex out of its proper setting of a loving marriage between and man and a woman. We should not treat sex as common or unholy or ugly or lustful.

·      So, should the Christians at Ephesus say sex is wrong?  Not at all.  In the midst of this struggle for freedom, Paul says to the believers to be thankful for sex the way God intended.  It is a wonderful gift, but not to be cheapened or abused.

 

Paul makes sure the church in Ephesus understands the seriousness of these temptations. 

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5).  Living in idolatry disqualifies their inheritance in the kingdom of God; those are very somber words.  The challenge in Paul’s day is the same challenge in our day; sexual sins are rampant, pornography is at our fingertips, and greed permeates our society.  And in the midst of such blatant sin, there are those who want to tell us it is OK revealing their hardened hearts trapped in deception. 

In conclusion

In our pursuit of freedom, we must be enlightened IN CHRIST.  The love of God fills our hearts and minds as we become a Christian; we are chosen, adopted, redeemed and filled by the Spirit of Jesus.  However, becoming Christian doesn’t happen by accident.  The Christian life has to be learned from Christ and then lived out in a manner worthy of our calling.  It’s learning to live a life of love and purity in the midst of secular society.  The power of right believing IN CHRIST leads to a life of love and holiness.  Living in Love is essential to fully being free as followers of Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray with each other - Eph 3:14-21…

 

 

9. Freedom in Christ – Live NOT as Gentiles

 

Introduction

The Apostle Paul carries on with his practical discourse on how the believers in Ephesus should live and walk in Christ.  His letter to the church of Ephesus was not simply to be read but put into practice.  In other words, one of the reasons the Bible was written so that we could learn to obey God and not simply to study God.  Paul laid a wonderful foundation of study in Eph 1 – 3, but he is now interested in putting our faith into action.  How does he do this?  He uses the word to walk or live to emphasize we are not to practically put our faith into action.  Eight times in Eph 4 – 6, Paul uses “therefore” (NKJV – Eph 4:1, 17, 25; 5:1, 7, 14, 17, 25) to remind them what Christ has done for them.  Therefore… the believers ought to live in ways that honour God.  James tells us we are to be doers of the word not merely those who hear the word (James 1:22). 

Live not as Gentiles

            There are times in our Christian walk where we must NOT do certain things, the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit affirm this to us.  Paul’s second therefore starts with a negative attached to it, So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Eph 4:17).  Christ had set the believers in Ephesus free from their past ways of sinful living (Eph 2:1-3).  Now Paul insists, implores and testifies to them there is a wrong way of living and a right way of living.  One of Paul’s emphasis here is thinking or understanding.  Christians are to live and think differently than unsaved people.  Their minds are to be controlled and directed by God and not to be futile or aimless.  Futile thinking carries with it darkened understanding, separation from God, ignorance, loss of shame and sensitivity, extreme immorality, and reckless sexual sins.  The pagan temples of worship were hot beds for this kind of empty thinking and immoral lifestyle.  Paul exhorts the church of Ephesus to no longer engage in the negative existence of the Gentile world.

Put off – Put on…

             Salvation begins grace and faith IN CHRIST, and moves forward with repentance, which is a change of mind and heart.  The whole outlook of a person changes when he trusts in Christ, including his values, goals, and understanding of life.  This is what Paul addresses next.  He reminds the church – “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. (speaking of Gentile thinking) 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus” (Eph 4:20-21).  Disciples or learners of Jesus are taught truth, both Biblical and historical, which affects their thinking.  In other words, we take on the mind of Christ and become like Jesus in our thoughts, emotions, and our actions.

Paul uses put-off and put-on to instruct the people with regards to repentance and renewal.  This reminds me of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11; the grave clothes would have to be removed and new clothes given to Lazarus. 

“To put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” is a picture of grave clothes being set aside.  This putting off is our responsibility as believers, this is the work of repentance, intentionally setting aside our old way of thinking and living.  We must put off the corruption of our former life which is dead and decaying…  We are to be made new in the attitude of your minds; this is renewal, to be reestablished like-new in an improved way.  The word for attitude is “pneuma” or spirit in the Greek language.  It is the Spirit of God that transforms how we think in relation to the Word of God that is active in our life.  “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 12:5-6).  As the Spirit takes control of our minds, because we are willing, we put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 

This put-off and put-on has been described this way.  We put off our grave clothes and put on our grace clothes.  Putting off and putting on is a description of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as seen in Rom 5 – 8.  As Christians we have not only changed our minds but have new citizenship in heaven. 

Therefore, put off…

            This brings us to Paul’s third therefore.  In this passage of Scripture Paul brings the believers to an application.  He is not like some preachers who speak of God’s grace while missing the practical responsibility of the people.  He desires us to fully understand our salvation IN CHRIST as well as how to live it out.  To experience our freedom in Christ only in spirit and not in practice is heresy. 

            Paul begins with another put off message, but it is directed towards five areas of sin. 

1.     “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour” (Eph 4:25) – do not lie to one another.  There are different ways to lie to people.  We tell half-truths or exaggerated truths.  We change the facts.  We intentionally deceive.  We must remember that Satan is called the father of lies (John 8:44).  The reason we are not to lie is that we are members of the same body.  In other words, lying to others damages my own relationship to the body of Christ.

2.     “In your anger do not sin” (Eph 4:26-27).  Anger is an emotion caused by something that upsets us.  In itself, anger is not a sin, because even God can be angry.  However, anger unchecked or unresolved leads to sin in various forms.  We explode in anger and hurt people.  We simmer in anger and scare people.  The key is to deal with anger in the moment and not let it carry over to another day.  Make amends with people.  Forgive one another.  If we don’t Satan robs us of our freedom or takes away our confidence.

3.     “He who has been stealing must steal no longer…”  Stealing is the 8th of the Ten Commandments; stealing is never to be a part of our Christian walk.  Stealing was a problem in Paul’s day among the slaves who were not always treated well.  They would steal to get ahead in life, so to speak.  Paul tells them to work and to work so that they can help those in need.  We must be careful not to steal in our modern society.  Steal from employees, from the government or even our neighbours.  We are not to be like Satan who was a sneaky and dirty thief (John 10:10).

4.     “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” …  Corrupt speech is a problem in the Body of Christ.  Have you ever encountered a person with bad breath?  That is the word used here in Greek – unwholesome, bad, worthless or rotten words have no place in the church; put them off.  “Watch the way you talk.  Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.  Say only what helps, each word a gift” (Message).  Our words must be graceful and help in building up others according to their needs.  We must remember that our words come out of our hearts.  So, let’s make sure our hearts of full of love and kindness and forgiveness.  Bad speech grieves the Holy Spirit.

5.     “Get rid of all bitterness” …  Bitterness refers to an established hostility that poisons the whole inner man; unresolved hostilities lead to bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice.  Remember that Jesus broke down the wall of hostility in order that we can live in peace with one another.  We must put off bitterness before it poisons the entire body.  We must put off bitterness because it saddens the Holy Spirit.  Holding onto grudges or unresolved issues robs us of our freedom in Christ.  We must empty our backpacks of bitterness and learn to forgive and enjoy freedom.

Therefore, put on…

Our Christian walk is more than repentance or putting off our old nature.  After the Apostle Paul clearly speaks of certain sins that the believers in Ephesus were to put off, he ends this section with several attributes to put on.  He speaks of being “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).  True Christianity is not simply managing our sins and temptations, it is the putting on of the life of Jesus Christ, it is transformation that begins with on the inside because of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  So, we must clothe ourselves with kindness and compassion and forgiveness towards each other as a result of being forgiven ourselves. 

This is the same idea as when Jesus speaks of a demon being expelled from a person.  If the demon comes back and finds the house swept, clean and in order but not filled they come back with even greater vengeance (Luke 11:24-26).  In other words, as we put off sinful behaviour we must put on righteousness; putting off must always be followed by putting on…

In conclusion

            Keeping in mind our theme of “freedom in Christ”, Paul reminds the church of Ephesus to not live in their old patterns of living, or not as Gentiles.  He exhorts them to be true to the foundations of faith as in Eph 1 – 3, by putting off the sin and putting on Jesus.  This is how their freedom would be experienced.  The putting off of sin is not performance-based Christianity, it is not to be done in their effort, but it is the result of what Jesus has done for them.  Because of the forgiveness of Jesus, the church of Ephesus could walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel and no longer live in their old Gentile ways but could live with their minds renewed and put on their new self.  They were no longer sinners but saints, who were “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24).

In application

Here are several key questions to answer with regards to this morning’s message?

·      What kind of thoughts come through my mind on a daily basis?

·      What are some areas of my life that I need to put off?

·      What should I be clothing myself with in relation to my thoughts, emotions and actions?

Let’s pray…

“The Power of Right Believing” -

 

This morning Pastor Larry wanted me to share with you the book that I have been reading called “The Power of Right Believing” by Joseph Prince.  In this book I learned some truths that have revolutionized my walk with the Lord.  These truths I want to share with you because God is not into behavior modification.  He is into HEART TRANSFORMATION.  And the way to the heart is through the mind. 

Romans 12:2 in the Living translation says: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (and then believe).  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The first truth that I want to share with you is that JESUS LOVES YOU! 

Romans 8:35, 37-39   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?   Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, not height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ  Jesus our Lord. 

The key to this is: for I am persuaded.  This morning I would like to persuade you about the truths that God has shown me.

There is a disciple in the bible who believed that Jesus loved him.  It says in John 13:23   Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.   

Now Jesus loved all the disciples but it was John who believed that Jesus loved him.  He is the only one of all the disciples who BELIEVED that Jesus loved him.  You won’t find that in any of the other gospels. 

For Peter he declared his love for the Lord.  Matthew 26:31-35   Then Jesus said to them.  “All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written:  I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”  But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”  Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!”  And so, said all the disciples.

Jesus was about to tell them while they were all sitting around the supper table who was going to betray Him.  Peter asked John to ask Jesus who it was.  Then John asked Jesus.  It seems that Peter had a distant relationship with Jesus.  He asked John to ask Jesus who was to betray Him instead of asking Jesus himself.  Where was Peter when Jesus was hanging on the cross?  Gone!  He had denied Jesus three times with cursing.  Where was John when Jesus was hanging on the cross?  John 19:25-27   Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdelene.  When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

 Jesus had given John spiritual employment.  When you believe that Jesus loves you things change on the inside of you and in your circumstances. 

There is a story of a minister from Oregon who was assigned to provide counselling in a state mental institution.  His first assignment was to a padded cell that housed deranged, barely clothed patients.  The stench of human excrement filled the room.  He couldn’t even talk to the inmates, let alone counsel them – the only responses he got were groans, moans, and demonic laughter. 

Then the Holy Spirit prompted him to sit in the middle of the room and for a full hour sing the famous children’s hymn that goes, Jesus loves me!  This I know, for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong.”  Nothing happened at the end of that first day, but he persisted.  For weeks he would sit and sing the same melody with greater conviction each time:  “Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so.”

As the days passed, the patients began singing with him one by one.  Amazingly, by the end of the first month, thirty-six of the severely ill patients were transferred from the high-dependency ward to a self-care ward.  Within a year, all but two were discharged from the mental institution. 

When you believe that Jesus loves you good things happen and you can face any challenge thrown at you because you have a brother and a Heavenly Father backing you up.  If God is for you who can be against you. 

Every day I thank my heavenly Father that He loves me.  I make it very personal.   My ABBA DADDY loves me.  At first it felt uncomfortable but now it’s what I believe with all that is in me.  Because He loves me I can now love Him back. 

 

The next truth I want to share with you is the gift of righteousness.   2 Corinthians 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ Jesus). 

Righteousness is a legal term.  It means to have right standing before God.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words defines righteousness as “that gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. “  In other words, your right standing before God is based upon Jesus’ right standing before God.

When you asked Jesus into your heart you automatically became righteous.  You are not a sinner.  You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  You are in right standing with the Father.  You are saved and made righteous by grace through faith.  As a believer, you will still make mistakes, you will still fail, and you will still be tempted.  From time to time you will fall into sin.  But having sinned doesn’t turn you back into a sinner.  You have been purchased and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and in Christ, you are still the righteousness of God even when you fail.  Why?  Because your righteousness is not a result of your right doing – it is a result of your right believing.  It is a gift of God, not something you can earn through your obedience, right doing, and sinless perfection.  That is why you can have eternal security, knowing that you are saved by Jesus and not by your own works! 

Romans 5:17  For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 

Today, instead of seeing ourselves reigning in life, we see more evidence of death reigning in the world.  The Bible tells us that is was because of “one man’s offense” – Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden – that death began to reign.  It is important that you realize that our lives are wrapped up in those of our ancestors.  You wouldn’t exist if there hadn’t been your grandpa.  So we are sinners not because we sin, but because of Adam’s sin.  Many believers still think that they become sinners by committing sin, but that is not what the Word of God says.  What it says is that we are sinners because of Adam’s sin.  By the same token, we are made righteous in the new covenant not because we do righteous deeds, but because of one Man’s (Jesus) obedience on the cross. 

The next truth I want to share with you is the gift of forgiveness:  Isaiah 53:5   But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 

There is another reason we can rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus has borne the punishment that was due us: forgiveness and healing go hand in hand.  The Bible says that He who never broke a single law of God”… was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed”.  Do you see how healing and the price for our forgiveness are so closely intertwined in God’s Word?

Many today are struggling to heal themselves from their sicknesses, diseases, mental dysfunctions, and addictions.  I want to announce to you today that our part is to receive forgiveness from Jesus and to believe that we are forgiven every single day.  The more forgiveness-conscious we are, the more easily we will experience healing and liberty from every bodily ailment, mental oppression, and destructive habits.

One of my favourite psalms goes like this: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:  Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases” Psalm 103:1-3.  Now which comes first?  The consciousness that all your sins are forgiven precedes the healing of all your diseases!

And the operative word here is ALL.  Some of us are comfortable with receiving partial forgiveness in certain areas of our lives.  But we refuse to allow Jesus’ forgiveness to touch some dark areas – areas that we can’t let go of and that we can’t forgive ourselves for.  Whatever those mistakes may be, I encourage you to allow Jesus to forgive you of all your sins and receive healing for ALL your diseases.

My friends, let the past go.  Let the mistakes go.  Allow yourself to be free, and learn to forgive yourself by receiving with an open heart Jesus' total and complete forgiveness today.

 

The next truth I want to share with you is the gift of no condemnation – John 8:2 – 11   Jesus demonstrated something very important in the account of the woman caught in adultery.  What enables someone to have the power to overcome sin?  The threat of the law obviously didn’t stop the woman from committing adultery.  But receiving Jesus’ acceptance – knowing that even though she deserved to be stoned to death, He did not condemn her – that gave her the power to “go and sin no more.”

Let’s take a step back to examine what Jesus did.  Jesus saved the woman righteously.  He didn’t say, “Don’t stone her.  Show mercy to her.”  What He said was, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  And on their own accord, the Pharisees and religious mob all left one by one.

Notice how, after that, Jesus did not ask the woman, “Why did you sin?”  No, what He asked was, “Where are those who accuse you?  Has no one condemned you?”  It seems as if Jesus was more preoccupied with the condemnation of the sin than the sin itself.  He made sure that she walked away not feeling the condemnation and shame.  Let’s not reverse God’s order.  When God says something comes first, it must come first.  What God puts first, man cannot put last.  God says “no condemnation” comes first, and then you can “go and sin no more.”

Christian religion has it in reverse.  We say, “Go and sin no more first, then we won’t condemn you.”  What we need to understand is that when there is no condemnation, people are empowered to live victorious lives, lives that glorify Jesus.  This is where our empowerment comes from.  Grace produces an effortless empowerment through the revelation of no condemnation.  It is unmerited and completely undeserved.   But we can receive it – this gift of no condemnation – because Jesus paid for it at the cross.

Truth be told none of us could have cast the first stone at this woman.  We have all sinned and fallen short.  Our confidence today is not in our ability to keep God’s laws perfectly, but in the only one, Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law itself.  In Christ, we are all on equal ground.  If a brother or a sister gets tangled in sin, our place is not to judge them, but to restore them by pointing them to the forgiveness and gift of no condemnation that is found in Jesus.

The only person who is without sin and could have exercised judicial punishment on the woman was Jesus.  Only He was qualified to cast the first stone, and He did not.  Jesus was in the flesh to represent what was in God’s heart.  It wasn’t judgement.  His heart is unveiled in His grace and forgiveness.  Let’s put it this way when describing what happened as the Pharisees waited to stone the woman:  The Pharisees would if they could, but they could not.  Jesus could if He would, but He would not.  That’s our Jesus.

In God’s kingdom if you want to see His glory in your life you need to believe in order to see.

The most humble thing you can do is take your place as a child of God.  When the enemy comes at you like a roaring lion seeking to devour you that’s when you stand firm in your faith and declare that I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, I am forgiven of all my sins, past, present and future and there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. There is only one true lion and that is the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ (Rev 5:5)

My friends I want to highlight one more verse in Matthew 3:16 – 17    When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Do you know that Jesus had not yet performed one miracle.  God loved Jesus for Jesus. 

He is saying the same thing to you today.  You are His beloved son or daughter in whom He is well pleased. 

Preached by Sue Weiler

8. Freedom in Christ – Live a Life Worthy

 

Introduction

The Apostle Paul has laid a foundation for the believers in the church of Ephesus to stand upon.  These truths relating to all the spiritual blessings that are ours IN CHRIST bring together both Jews and Gentiles.  We are now a part of the Body of Christ and seek to be like Jesus on earth.  We are the church and the family of God where we learn to relate as one to each other.  We are the temple of God where holiness is to abound making followers of Jesus as distinct from the world in which we live. 

All of Paul’s letters contain a beautiful balance between doctrine and duty, and Ephesians is the perfect example.  In Ephesians 4-6, Paul begins to emphasize how believers should live.  He urges Christians to fulfill their responsibilities while resting on our Christian grace and blessings.  The exhortations of this part of Paul’s letter (Eph 4-6) are built on the spiritual blessings mentioned in the former part (Eph 1-3).  There are numerous points connecting both sections…

 

Eph 1:5

Adopted as children

Eph 5:1

Eph 1:7

Forgiveness

Eph 4:32

Eph 1:8

Wisdom

Eph 5:15

Eph 1:13

Holy Spirit

Eph 4:30

This morning we will look at Eph 4:1-16, where Paul calls believers to live a life worthy of the calling they have received. 

Eph 4:1-6 – Let’s Live Well

On the basis of chapters 1-3, Paul urges the believers in Ephesus to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1).  The concept of their “calling” speaks not only to their salvation but also the unity of Jews and Gentiles together.  As a result of this, they are to live or walk out their faith IN CHRIST in a worthy manner.  Worthy is an interesting word to consider; in means to be proper, fitting or to have equal weight, in other words, one’s calling and conduct must correspond appropriately and be in balance. 

Paul then begins to list a few opening aspects of living well before God and each other.  Humility and gentleness and patience are the expected results of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Both the Jews and Gentiles faced challenges of being humble towards one another; they both thought they were right in regard to their cultural faith but Paul confronted their misunderstandings and brought their faith together IN CHRIST.  They were at times hostile therefore they needed gentleness and patience and love.  As these are practiced the result will be preserving of the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:2-3).

The church of Ephesus was steeped in false mystery religions with many gods.  To confront this Paul reminds the believers that there in ONE – body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism and God and Father of all (Eph 4:5-6).  As Paul begins to describe how we should live, he strongly underscores the importance of unity; unity of what we believe and the unity of how we should live as one body.  It has been said that unity can make or break a church; not only what we believe theologically but also how we live out what we believe.  Therefore, Paul begins with a strong emphasis on unity.

Eph 4:7-13 – Let’s Live in Unity

Paul begins this passage by reminding the believers of their individual grace as given by Jesus Christ.  It is interesting to note that the grace comes by measure through Christ.  This is similar in thought when Paul speaks to the believers in Rome about their “measure of faith God has given you” (Ro 12:3).  This begs the question, what measure of grace and faith do we have as individual members of the Body of Christ?  Or can we increase grace and faith in our lives?  The answer is yes:

·      The disciples asked the Lord to increase their faith (Luke 17:5).  

·      We increase God’s grace and faith in our lives when we read God’s word (Rom 10:17).

·      We increase in grace and faith when we obey God’s word (James 1:22-24).

 

The verses found in Eph 4:8-10 – This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)  speak of grace and gifts in the context of the religious climate of Ephesus.  In mystery religions their gods ascended and descended in the spiritual realms.  Here Paul clarifies what Jesus accomplished when he descended through his incarnation (Son of God born in human flesh), descended into death only to ascend to the highest place.  Phil 2:6-11 - Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  9 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

It is my belief that unity and freedom in Christ cannot be fully realized without understanding authority.  Paul tells us the gifts God gave brought leadership and authority to the Body of Christ – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11).  These “Gift-People” are not to Lord it over, but to lead by example; “to prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph 4:12); prepare means to equip, train, to make adequate, to furnish completely and to make full.  All this preparation is to help the church of Ephesus to be strengthened and built up (construction term in the Greek). 

The goal of living a life worthy of the Lord is that of reaching “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).  When the Body of Christ comes to unity in the faith and in the Spirit and becomes mature, then believers have the opportunity to experience the fullness of freedom in Christ.  Maturity speaks to me of being free from sin and Satan and being full of Jesus Christ.  Our minds are clean and clear.  Our emotions are in order and our actions are loving and righteous.  

Eph 4:14-16 – Let’s Grow up

This passage speaks to the need of growth in the Body of Christ at Ephesus.  There were pagan temples of worship as well as Jewish religious influence that the believers were confronted by.  This challenged the Ephesian believers with “every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14).  It is Paul’s desire that they no longer think or act like infants but grow up IN CHRIST.  Charles H. Spurgeon tells us, “Many Christians remain stunted and dwarfed in spiritual things, so as to present the same appearance year after year. No up-springing of advanced and refined feeling is manifest in them. They exist but do not grow up into him in all things.”  He uses the analogy of a seed planted in the ground which grows and becomes a full ear of corn.  Growing up is something that is inherent in creation.  Paul uses the analogy of a body “joined and held together by every supporting ligament, (which) grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16). 

In Conclusion

Chapter 4 introduces the living or walking out our faith.  It is founded upon our right thinking about God from the previous chapters.  However, freedom is to be more than just mental believing of truth, but an active expression of one’s faith.  We must learn to overcome hostility as the church in Ephesus did by living in humility, gentleness and patience.  In other words, our minds and emotions and actions are not to be plagued by anger, or any other sin for that matter. 

We are to live well, in a manner worthy of Christ by being united with each other.  This involves the leaders and laity within the Body of Christ.  Leaders leading by example and equipping the saints to serve God.  The relationships within the body are to promote growth and maturity as we speak to one another in love. 

However, sometimes we look at the lost world and are burdened by the need for evangelism.  Or we look at the poor and injustices and try to fix the problems.  We may see those who are suffering and attempt to care for them.  Then as a local church we program one or more of these tasks, whether evangelism or social welfare involvement.  While these activities can make us feel better, like we are doing God’s work, we must remember the first function of the body is to build itself.  In other words, the church is not a bunch of programs, it is a living organism, made up of people who need to grow IN CHRIST and in freedom.

In Application

Healthy things grow – that was the message of Paul to the ekklesia in Ephesus; Live well, Live in unity and Live and grow and mature IN CHRIST.

 

Let’s pray together…

 

7. Freedom in Christ – Prayer of Freedom

Introduction

There were new converts to Christianity in the church at Ephesus.  They came with character flaws and various experiences within their relationships, good and bad.  They had spiritual questions about gods and mysteries.  They needed a spiritual theological framework from which they could live in a manner worthy of the gospel.  With this in mind Paul leads the believers in one of my favourite prayers in the Scriptures.  

Many of these issues of spirituality are very true in our day and age.  We have spiritual questions about God.  What is he like?  What is his character like?  What about the afterlife?  Angels and Demons…  Do you remember the movie “Aladdin”?  What would you ask for if you found a genie-in-a-bottle and were granted three wishes that were bound to come true?  As Christians, we know that there are no genies in a bottle.  However, we have the awesome privilege to kneel before our Heavenly Father in prayer to ask him for what we need.

I believe that Eph 3:14-21 is one of the most beautiful transitions in the Scriptures.  In the Greek text, Eph 3:14-21 is another of Paul’s long sentences (1:3–14, 15–23; 2:1–7; 3:1–13, 14–19; 4:1–7, 11–16; 6:14–20).  Paul has laid a foundation for us IN CHRIST.  As followers of Jesus we are spiritually blessed.  There are amazing riches of God’s grace made available to those who call upon Jesus; this grace is revealed in our being chosen, adopted, redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom and revelation.  Having preached to the church in Ephesus about grace and mystery, and that Gentile are now recipients of God’s grace IN CHRIST, Paul now prays that they may be united experientially. He desired that they might genuinely know and experience Christ’s love and show Christ’s love toward each other.

Eph 3:14-15 – Personal Prayer

We must remember that our study is one of “Freedom” as followers of Jesus Christ.  As a result of the foundation of that Paul has laid – “For this reason”… Paul now gives the Ephesian believers a model of prayer that is key for their circumstances.  He begins by stating – “I kneel before the Father (Eph 3:14).  There is a personal aspect to our pursuit of Jesus.  Paul states I kneel or bow or worship before our Father in heaven; this reminds me of Matt 6:9“Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name”.  Paul’s bowing was not aimless but directional as described in Greek; it was a kneeling and facing towards the Father…  In the various pagan temples of Ephesus, the believers would bow and face their god.  He is using the very aspects of pagan worship to draw these new believers into a personal prayer encounter with the true God of Christianity.

The second point Paul is highlighting here follows on his thinking of Christian unity; God’s “whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph 3:15).  Paul has been affirming the unity between the Jews and Gentiles in the previous verses.  In other words, by prayer he reminds them that they are of God’s household; it is a safe and peaceful family that they belong to and freedom is their daily experience. 

Eph 3:16-19 – Power Prayer

In the previous chapters Paul has given us the “theology of freedom” and now he is praying for the believers in Ephesus to experience “Holy Spirit freedom”.  There were rich people in Ephesus who would parade their fame and wealth for others to see.  Now he petitions the Father “out of his glorious riches”, in other words, there is an abundance of material wealth and resources that is glorious, heavenly, and exceeds the norm of a particular group and which can have a negative connotation.  Paul does not want these riches, which has both spiritual and natural applications to possess the church of Ephesus but to “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being”.  Paul is praying for an empowering of the Spirit on the inside because there will be resistance to gaining true freedom, which begins inwardly then expresses itself outwardly.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives is absolutely essential to Christian living and freedom.  It is the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers that continues the ministry of Jesus on earth.  He uses these beautiful word couplets, riches and glory, strength and power, to inspire these new converts to faith in Christ – “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”; this dwelling speaks of to settle down and be a home. 

Now Paul’s prayer highlights one of foundations of true freedom – love.  Just as he desires Christ to live and dwell in our hearts, he now speaks of “being rooted and established in love”.  Again, Paul uses two words in the Greek language to emphasize the importance of love – rooted deeply like a tree and established firmly like a building.  Even though the church in Ephesus could experience glorious riches and strength and power, without the foundation of love their freedom would be tarnished.  Paul speaks of the significance of power and understanding, Biblical freedom requires both as seen in verse 18.  The power of right believing is essential, and he speaks of this in chapters 1-2; Paul want them to think rightly about the concepts of God.  Now he is praying for them to “have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.  I find it interesting he uses dimensions to describe Christ’s love.  Why?  Because the Temple of Artemis was the temple with the biggest dimensions in all of Asia Minor.  Now is Eph 3:19 he speaks of knowing – “to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” 

Why is this verse so important?  The knowledge of Christ’s love was not to be an intellectual fact only but an experience in life.  The apprehension of verse 18 is conceptual knowledge. In verse 19, this conceptual knowledge passes into experiential knowledge as the saint experiences in his life that comprehension of the love of Christ for him in the sphere of his earthly life. 

Word Picture: surpass, to throw beyond, excel, exceed. 

Eph 3:20-12 – Praise Prayer

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  When we consider these few points that Paul speaks of to the church in Ephesus we should be inspired to know God and fulfill his dreams.  Paul wants us to experience the personal and powerful aspects of prayer.  But he does not stop there. 

Paul states that GOD IS ABLE, God is powerful and competent, to do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine”; beyond the furthest degree…  Word Picture: overflowing…  This is so true, especially to the believers in Ephesus who were hostile towards one another; now they are at peace with each other experiencing freedom as brothers and sisters IN CHRIST.  The importance of praise towards God cannot be overstated.  Praise takes our eyes off of our troubles and places them on Jesus Christ.  This results in freedom in ways that are beyond what we can ask or imagine.  This is good news. 

In Conclusion

This prayer holds the Book of Ephesians together.  On the one hand Paul gives great instruction to the foundations of our faith in Jesus Christ.  He helps the believers to understand all the spiritual blessings available.  But he wants our theological understanding to lead us to the experience of God’s love.  Therefore, Paul prays…  A preacher was once asked, “do you think we should pray for even the little things in our lives, or just the big things?”  The preacher, G. Campbell Morgan replied, “can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?”  In other words, we should be in prayer all the time, big or little, God is interested in our lives.  Paul leads by example in personal prayer, power prayer and then praise that is due to God. 

 

Application

This is a great prayer to pray one for another.  Our freedom comes from the power of right believing about God, but this knowledge is experienced as we pray.  All of us need to know our Father personally, and to know that we are part of his family, therefore we pray.  The depth of God’s love in our hearts determines our encounter with freedom, therefore we pray.  Because God is able to accomplish his will in our lives we pray. 

 

Here are three prayer points for us this morning:

1.  Pray that we find our place in God’s family.

2.  Pray that we know and experience the Love of Jesus.

3.. Pray that we encounter our God who is able to accomplish great things for our lives. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the Prayer Summit

 

History:

There have been a number of Prayer Summits in Saskatoon over the last Twenty-six years.  Originally around 50 Christian pastors and ministry leaders gathered together for 4 days of worship and prayer seeking God.  There were other prayer summits and times of seeking the Lord together and in later years business leaders were included.  Some of us may ask what is a “prayer summit?”  “A Prayer Summit is a prolonged, typically four-day, life changing worship experience. It is attended by a diversity of Christian leaders from a specific geographic community. Their sole purpose is to seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness. The expectation is that God will create and guide them through a humbling, healing, uniting process, which will lead them to a unity of heart, mind, and mission and qualify them for the blessing of God.” - Dr. Joe Aldrich, founder of International Renewal Ministries.

 

This past week, 27 local pastors and Christian ministry leaders met for this four-day life changing experience.  I would like to share some of my thoughts and insights both personally and collectively for our churches and the believers in Saskatoon.

High-Five

One of the illustrations used to instruct during the Prayer Summit was a high five.  In coming to a prayer summit there really is “no agenda”; there are no prepared sermons, personal advertising is not allowed.  The prayer summit is really about connecting with God and each other.  There is a desire within the heart of the attendees to experience God in fresh and reviving ways.  There were lots of questions asked of the group.  One of the questions was -

“What would it take to see a move of God initiated and sustained for the years ahead?”  Over the years as the prayer summit developed five statements were formulated:

1.     Coming into Worship and the Holy Presence of God.  Experiential

2.     Humility before God and each other.

3.     Unity with God and each other.

4.     True community

5.     Impact when we return to our home and churches…

Face to Face

One of the Scriptures that God gave to me was Ex 33:7-23; the Tent of Meeting and the Glory of God.  The prayer summit was an extended “tent meeting” where we encountered God’s glory.  There was seeking, inquiring, worship and the Presence of God.  In the midst of this Moses asks, “show me your glory.”  God’s response is wonderful, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”.  Our encounter of worship in God’s Presence was overwhelming.  Our worship wasn’t musical, although was sang, but was out of a devotion of heart and surrender.  Our worship wasn’t man-made, although we had facilitators, but was carried along by the Holy Spirit. 

What is the state of your heart?

In light of our worship of God and the encountering of his holy Presence we were asked the question – “What is the state of your heart?”  At the start of the gathering we went around the circle of 27 and shared the answer to this question; struggling, addicted, fearful, transition, worried, pain, rejection, and so on.  The depth of honesty and humility was staggering.  We were exhorted over and over through the Scriptures led by the Holy Spirit. 

 

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name (Psalm 86:11).

 

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).

Communion

One of the highpoints of the prayer summit was the depths of unity that we experienced in the group of 27.  We came from all different denominational backgrounds, Protestant or Catholic.  And we came together around the Lord’s Supper or Communion. 

·      The first communion was preceded by a sweet time of communion and worship in God’s Presence, but not everyone participated and this was like a white elephant in the room. 

·      The second communion time was preceded by the reading of Scripture during the day (Psalm 25; 1 Cor 1 – 2) and in the evening, the Communion Table was set before us but we did not partake because we were not in unity – Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.  We lamented, grieved and confessed our sins of disunity to one another and the Lord.  This non-communion was a somber reality of our sins but also a phenomenal time of unity as we remembered the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23 - “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  

·      The third communion experience was a time of prayer and blessing around the “bread and wine”.  As the Lord led we went to each other and shared the elements, blessed one another and prayed.  There was a profound sense of peace in the Holy Spirit as we focused on Jesus while praying for each other.

Community in the making

True community is so much more that putting on our spiritual faces.  We had our times of deep spirituality while sitting together in a circle.  But we also enjoyed eating together, playing hockey out on the lake, going for walks, sharing rooms to sleep at night, eating together some more, playing table tennis etc.  I believe that because we encountered God in genuine worship and humbled ourselves together, and strove for unity during our times of communion, we were poised to enjoy true and heartfelt community.  The first day of our prayer summit as story was told of a “boys club” that met in a tree house in a backyard.  Boys can be boys and there were lots of struggles and wrestling amongst themselves, and sometimes someone got hurt.  So, they came up with a club house rule: “anyone who enters this fort cannot be too high, they cannot be too low, just medium.”  I can honestly say that out of all 27 pastors and ministry leaders present at the Prayer Summit, we all were just medium. 

Where do we go from here?

On the last day before we left we were again asked the question, “what is the state of your heart?”  The answers were very different; satisfied, full, at peace, forgiven, directed by God, acceptance, courageous…  I was so encouraged to hear these praise reports from my fellow labourers in God’s vineyard. 

 

The final question asked was this, “what is God saying to the church of Saskatoon?” (in the similar context of God speaking to the churches in Rev 2 – 3).  We all took time to listen to God and consider the question.  After a while, some people read their ‘letter from God to the church of Saskatoon’.  There were some affirmations and blessings spoken out…  there were some admonitions and exhortations spoken out… there were some corrections spoken out…  The end result was a strong belief that God wants to impact our city for His Glory. 

 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes… 

In Conclusion

I must say that this was one of the most personal and enlightening experiences of my 10 years of pastoring here is Saskatoon.  I believe that the Lord has a plan and purpose for each one of us as his children.  I also believe that God wants to impact Saskatoon through his Body as we worship in the Presence of his holiness, as we humble ourselves before God and each other, as we unite ourselves together fulfilling the prayer of Jesus, and as we engage in true community. 

 

There is so much to share that it is not possible to speak on behalf of the other 26 people at the Prayer Summit.  Suffice it to say, God is moving and his Kingdom will be established on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).

 

Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings.  14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  2 Co 13:11–14.

 

Amen!!!

 

 

 

 

6. Freedom in Christ – Grace and Mystery

Freedom in Christ – Grace and Mystery

Introduction

In our pursuit of Jesus, we have discovered that freedom is one of the spiritual blessings that is ours.  Ephesians 1 -2 gives us a solid foundation for our study of God and now in Ephesians 3 we begin our transition from the theology of Jesus to the practical expression of our faith in Christ found in Ephesians 4-6.  This chapter is pivotal for several reasons.  First, Paul tells us of his complete devotion to the person of Jesus Christ and to his calling.  And secondly, he ends the chapter with a beautiful prayer of freedom that is ours to know and experience. 

Paul’s Ministry

The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed Paul’s life forever.  It was more than Paul coming into intellectual understanding of the Scriptures as related to the Messiah.  It was not just passing emotion or a supernatural experience.  He tells us it was a vision of heaven to which he was not disobedient.  Now in Eph 3:1, Paul introduces himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”.  Paul was once a persecutor of the church and had thrown many people in prison and now he is a prisoner.  Paul gave up everything for Jesus Christ; in other words, he was a prisoner.  That is where he found he freedom.  Not in ministry, relationships, visions, but in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s prison is not one of bars but total surrender to his Master.  This leads Paul to describe his “administration of God’s grace” – the teaching and preaching of the gospel.

Grace

In essence, Paul is summing up what he has stated in the two previous chapters by using the word “grace”.  There are different definitions of grace that have been given over the years.  Biblically speaking grace refers to the favour of God freely given to mankind and is realized in one’s salvation.  Grace cannot be earned.  Grace allows for second chances and more.  And grace is our means to salvation, which Paul describes in Eph 1:3-14; we are chosen, adopted, redeemed, and filled with the Holy Spirit. 

 

The is a powerful record of God's grace touching the life of Abram in Gen 15.  God comes to him in a vision to make covenant; Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward” (Ge 15:1); this is the extension of God’s favour and grace.  Abram enters into conversation with God in the vision and bemoans the fact that he is still childless.  God tells him that his descendants will be a numerous as the stars.  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6); this is grace in action.  And then we have an incredible picture of grace in action.  Abram prepares a sacrifice but then falls into a deep sleep and while he was sleeping, resting, doing nothing, God spoke covenant grace over him and passed between the sacrifice as fire.  In other words, it was the favour of God freely given to Abram thereby confirming covenant.  God wants us to rest in grace just like Abram did. 

 

This is the stewardship of grace that Paul is speaking to the Church in Ephesus about.

Mystery

Paul also uses the word – “Mystery” seven times to the church of Ephesus in describing Jesus and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Why is this important?  In Greek and Roman spirituality, there were “mystery religions” that gave new converts secrets, special knowledge, wisdom or revelation.  One would have to advance through different levels in the spirit realm to gain more insight into their mysteries.  This is often true of the cults of our day where one has to advance to new stages of spirituality.  Paul uses the word mystery which had significant spiritual meaning in his day and gives it new meaning.  This [mystery] is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6).  The mystery of Christ is made known by revelation and grace, not by the fanaticism of the mystery religions.

 

The mystery religions of Paul’s day saw the spiritual realm as truly significant.  They believed that in order to get to their “gods”, little g, you had to pass through the various levels of lessor gods in the heavenly realms.  Paul desires to preach the gospel of grace to them by again using a catch-phrase that the Gentiles would understand – “In heavenly places”.  I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this [mystery], which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:7–11).  Here is what I believe Paul is saying.  Paul is committed to his task of preaching the gospel of grace and now he is telling the believers it is their turn.  The ekklesia in Ephesus was to make known, (declare, pray, worship, and live as we will see in Eph 4-6) to ruler and authorities, which refers to the spiritual enemies of God (Eph 1:21, 6:12).  

In Conclusion

We have looked at grace and mystery and in heavenly places and we may have forgotten that the theme is Freedom IN CHRIST.  The next verse again captures freedom for us…  “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12).  Paul has laid out before us systematic theology, right thinking about God and our relationship with him.  We must know God by grace through the Faith of CHRIST – the mystery of revelation – and be with God in freedom and confidence.  True freedom in Christ is bold and confidant in the Presence of God.  We know that we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed and filled by the Holy Spirit and have purpose in life. 

 

As he leads us into Eph 4-6, Paul uses prayer as a bridge between these two sections.  Theology and practice are often wrestled out in prayer where our head knowledge becomes heart knowledge and something that we experience in our relationships in life. That’s next week’s message.  Let’s pray…

 

5. Freedom in Christ – Peace in God’s House

Freedom in Christ – Peace in God’s House

Review

Here is a quick review since our last message on Freedom in Christ was last year.  There are many spiritual blessings made available to believers, we are chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee in life here and in eternity.  Each of these truths must come to us personally through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation; there is a big difference between head knowledge and the heart of a believer.  One of the by-products of having a relationship with God “IN CHRIST” is freedom.  Freedom in Christ involves liberty from our sins and Satan’s influence.  Jesus is the answer and we have been “made alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph 2:5).  Salvation has come to us by grace through faith, not by efforts on our part, so that the glory goes to the Lamb of God who was crucified and bled and died for us.  With these thoughts in mind, Paul tells us “we are God’s workmanship” (Eph 2:10), God’s story or poem, so that in life we can reveal God’s love through good deeds. 

Introduction

Ephesus was established by the Greeks in the 10th Century BC, and around 550 BC the Temple of Artemis was completed which brought in 100’s of worshippers daily.  As well, there was an established Jewish community.  Around 129 BC, the Roman Empire took over Ephesus building the Library of Clesus and a 25,000-seat theatre.  Ephesus was a port city engaged in lots of trade and was also a rich banking city that drew in money from both individuals and surrounding nations. It is in this backdrop that Paul uses words such as citizenship, body, family, household, and ONE to confront the institutions of his day.  In other words, the family of God, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women and children, is the true temple for God in Ephesus; the church is a living organism in contrast to Ephesus being the religious center for the province of Asia.

One in Christ

In Eph 2:11-18 the Apostle Paul highlights another important aspect of our freedom “IN CHRIST” – unity.  Paul speaks to the oneness that both the Gentiles and Jews can now experience which was unheard in their day.  There were things that separated the Gentiles from God, there were non-citizens and foreigners to God’s promises.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13).

In New Testament times, there was great hostility between Jews and Gentiles.  The Jewish people saw the Gentiles as uncircumcised heathen with all kinds of ungodly practices.  And the Gentiles saw the people of God as proud and arrogant in their faith and righteousness.  Kind of sounds like the world in which we live today. 

 

Paul’s answer was simple – Jesus Christ, not an expression of the religious institutions of his day, but a person to be followed, loved and obeyed.  Peace is a wonderful companion of freedom.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace – “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph 2:14-18).

Unity, peace and freedom

The trinity of unity and peace and freedom is wonderful to experience.  Believers “IN CHRIST” know the Presence of God as one.  This unity with God touches our thoughts and emotions and brings about great peace because we know by revelation that we are chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven and filled by the Spirit of God.  What a joy it is to walk in this experience of freedom.  However, more often than not, when we are struggling in life with temptations, sinful habits or the attacks of the enemy, believers isolate themselves for various reasons.  Maybe like Adam and Eve we hid ourselves away from God hoping he won’t see us or we cover ourselves hoping to avoid any shame.  Maybe we separate ourselves from our Christian friends because we fear rejection.  Maybe we think we can fix the problem ourselves which is really just our pride in action.  Whatever the reason, we find ourselves out of unity with God and the family of God, lacking peace within our hearts which results in a lack of true freedom… 

 

The challenge is too stay in relationship with God and the family of God.  We must learn to change our ways, ask God for forgiveness, allow the Holy Spirit to deliver us from evil.  We need to learn three important words when struggling in relationship with others, “I am sorry”.  After all we are part of the family of God…

The Family of God

Family is at the core of God’s design for mankind.  A healthy and caring family is a joy to be a part of; unity, peace and freedom abound.  Being born or adopted into a loving and caring family is the desire of God for you and me.  The “one body” truth that Paul highlights is foundational for our freedom “IN CHRIST.”  As a result of Jesus’ death on the cross, You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home” (Eph 2:19–22 The Message).  It is interesting to note that the Temple of Artemis has its own cornerstone, a meteor that fell from heaven; “The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Fellow Ephesians, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?” (Acts 19:35).  In contrast, Paul uses Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone of the Temple of God.

 

And so, as part of God’s family, we inherit much: the kingdom of God (Matt 25:34), and the spiritual blessings highlighted in Eph 1:3-14 – chosen, adopted, redeemed, filled by the Spirit of God).  As earthly children, we eventually inherit what our parents leave behind for us after their death. But in God’s case believers are already reaping the rewards of our salvation – unity and peace and freedom “IN CHRIST”. 

In Conclusion

The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians is important for Christians to study today.  It helps us to discover our unity “IN CHRIST,” and to understand the peace and freedom that can be ours in the family of God. We are not to think of our churches in religious or institutional terms; such as buildings or programs, policies and procedures.  We are a part of Jesus’ Body and are being built into a family and dwelling that can be inhabited by God.  It is in this Temple of God that we can discover, experience and enjoy our freedom.

 

Here are a couple of questions to ponder?

 

What is keeping me from giving my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?

 

What is hindering unity with God in our lives today? 

 

Where peace is lacking in my heart?

 

By answering these questions honestly, we can then begin to discover for the first-time true freedom or rediscover freedom once again. 

In Application

Let’s contemplate these questions and listen to “No Longer Strangers” …