Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You're Richer Than You Think

Part 2 of a series through the book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Richer Than You Think? 

Scotiabank’s slogan is “You’re richer than you think.” (Scotiabank’s net income in 2011 was $5.27 billion. Perhaps their slogan should be “We’re richer than you think.”) However, according to the Canadian Payroll Association, almost 60% of Canadians are living from paycheque to paycheque. Many Canadians are poorer than they think.

Sometimes I check coats at my home for lost money. (I think I found a $5 bill once. Usually, though, I only find pennies.) Searching under couch cushions is probably a better way to find money.

A poor rancher in West Texas named Ira Yates became a millionaire when a giant oil field was discovered on his property. The Yates Oil Field has produced more than one billion barrels of oil. Before the oil was discovered, Yates was having trouble paying the mortgage and taxes on his ranch. He was richer than he thought!

We’d all like to believe that we are richer financially than we think. If you are a Christian, you’re richer spiritually than you think.


Rich Because of God 

In Paul’s letters he usually begins by thanking his readers. But in this letter Paul starts by praising God (1:3-14). In the original Greek 1:3-14 is a one long sentence of 202 words. Scholars refer to this sentence of praise as a eulogy. (A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing.) Paul’s eulogy praises all three persons of the Trinity: Father (vv. 4-6), Son (vv. 7-12), and Holy Spirit (vv. 13-14). Verse 3 is a summary of the whole eulogy. In this verse “bless” appears three times (eulogetos, “blessed”; eulogeo, “blessed”; eulogia, “blessings”).

1. God is to be blessed. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3a).

“Blessed” means “praised.” “The concept of blessing with reference to God is not expressing a wish, ‘blessed be God,’ but rather a declaration, ‘blessed is God’” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 162). Two other NT eulogies begin the same way (2 Cor. 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3). In the NT eulogetos (“blessed”) is used eight times, and it is never of humans but only of God (Mark 14:61; Luke 1:68; Rom. 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3).

Why should God be blessed? 

 2. God has blessed us in Christ. 

Who has blessed us in Christ (1:3b).

“Us” refers not only to Paul and his original readers, but to all of God’s people. The blessings Paul is talking about were not given to us because of who we are or what we have done. We have been blessed by God because we are “in Christ.”

By birth, we are in Adam (the head of the human race). “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). By grace through faith, we are in Christ (the head of the church). “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Those who are in Adam are cursed, but those who are in Christ are blessed. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

How has God blessed us in Christ? 

3. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. 

With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (1:3b).

God has blessed us with “spiritual” blessings. “Spiritual” could mean that these blessings are not material. However, “spiritual” probably indicates that these blessings are from the Holy Spirit. God has not merely given us some spiritual blessings. He was given us “every” spiritual blessing. These blessings are products of God’s grace. They include election (v. 4), adoption (vv. 5-6), redemption (v. 7a), forgiveness (v. 7b), revelation (vv. 9-10), an inheritance (vv. 11-12), and sealing (vv. 13-14). Notice that three times in this eulogy, Paul emphasizes that God deserves to be glorified because of these blessings: “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v. 6); “to the praise of his glory” (v. 12); “to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).

These spiritual blessings are “in the heavenly places.” This phrase is used five times in Ephesians (1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). “[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (1:20). And God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Christ is “in the heavenly places” and we are “in Christ Jesus.” This world is not the only reality. There is an unseen realm. In this realm Christ is already exalted as Lord. In this realm we are blessed. The world might not see us as blessed, but “in the heavenly places” it is evident that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

In Ephesus there was widespread worship of the goddess Artemis. (The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.) The first temple of Artemis contained a sacred stone that had fallen from the sky (cf. Acts 19:35), probably a meteorite. Perhaps Paul is contrasting the worship of Artemis with the worship of Jesus. The believers in Ephesus have something better than a rock that fell from the heavens. They have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”


Richer Than You Think! 

Compared to most people on earth, we are richer financially than we think. According to Global Rich List (globalrichlist.com), if your annual income is $20,000, you are in the top 11.6% richest people in the world! If your annual income is $35,000, you are in the top 6.36% richest people in the world! If your annual income is $50,000, you are in the top 1.78% richest people in the world!

Of course, financial riches are temporary. (Steve Jobs had a lot of money, but he didn’t take any of it with him when he died.) But spiritual riches are eternal. If you are “in Christ,” you are richer than you think. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” All of these blessings have been given to us by God’s grace. Our lives should bless God each day because of all of the blessings from him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Introduction to Ephesians

Part 1 of a series through the book of Ephesians



Introducing Ephesians

A brief introduction to the book of Ephesians:

The author: Paul. Paul refers to himself by name in 1:1 and 3:1.

The date: around A. D. 62. Paul probably wrote Ephesians while imprisoned in Rome (cf. 3:1; 4:1).

The recipients: the Ephesians. Ephesus was an important city in Asia Minor (present day Turkey). Paul knew the Ephesians well (cf. Acts 20:17-38). Many scholars claim that Paul could not be the author of Ephesians because of its impersonal nature. However, Ephesians could have originally been a circular letter (intended for several other churches in the area). The words “in Ephesus” are missing from a few early manuscripts.

The purpose: to teach proper theology and behavior. Ephesians is about our riches (chaps. 1-3) and our responsibilities (chaps. 4-6). “The whole letter is thus a magnificent combination of Christian doctrine and Christian duty, Christian faith and Christian life, what God has done through Christ and what we must be and do in consequence” (John Stott, God’s New Society, 25).

The genre: letter. 


Grace, Not Religion 

The book of Ephesians praises God for His grace, not us for our religion. “Grace” means “undeserved kindness.”

Religion is about what I can do. Grace is about what God has done

Even the opening of Ephesians reveals that Christianity is all about grace, not religion.

1. Because of God’s grace, Paul was an apostle. 

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (1:1a).

An “apostle” is “one who is sent.” In the NT, the term “apostle” is used in three different ways: (1) office (the original Twelve who had been with Jesus during His earthly ministry and had seen Him after the resurrection, Acts 1:21-22), (2) gift (men like Barnabas, Acts 14:4, 14; 1 Cor. 9:5-7), (3) Paul (an exception to the rule, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, [Jesus] appeared also to me,” 1 Cor. 15:8). As an apostle “of Jesus Christ” Paul possessed authority. “An apostle was an official delegate of Jesus Christ commissioned for the specific tasks of proclaiming authoritatively the message in oral and written form and of establishing and the building up of churches” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians, 136).

Paul was an apostle “by the will of God.” He didn’t pursue the office of an apostle. The first time we find Paul (Saul) in Scripture, he is present at the stoning of Stephen. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1; cf. 22:20). “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3; cf. 22:4-5). “I [Paul] not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them” (Acts 26:10). When Paul was converted, he was one his way to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 8:1-9). A persecutor of the church (cf. Gal. 1:13, 23; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13) was the least likely person to be an apostle. Paul declared, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:9-10; cf. Gal. 1:15).

2. Because of God’s grace, the Ephesians were saints. 

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus (1:1b).

“Saints” are not a special class of Christians (Catholicism). Every believer is a saint. “Saints” are “holy ones.” But we don’t become saints by being holy. We are saints because we are “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “in Christ” (or the equivalent) occurs nine times in 1:3-23 and 164 times in all Paul’s writings (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 6). We are united to Christ (head/body), so what is true of Him (holiness) is true of us. Because we are holy by our position, we should be holy in our practice. In other words, saints should act saintly.

3. Because of God’s grace, sinners can have peace with God and believers can have peace with one another. 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:2).

Grace is the cause. Peace is the effect. Without God, were are helpless and hopeless. We needed to be rescued.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Story

You can listen to this sermon here.


[This sermon was based on the booklet The Story by Spread the Truth Ministries.]


The Bible Is the Story

This past December I watched the classic Christmas movie White Christmas. I had seen the ending a couple of times, but had never watched it from start to finish. When I watched the whole movie, the ending made sense.

“Many people know stories from the Bible but do not know the story of the Bible. That’s like having a handful of pearls with no string to link them together.”—Colin S. Smith, Unlocking the Bible Story

The way you view the Bible determines the way you look at life. Christians tend to view the Bible one of two ways: the reference book perspective and (2) the one single story perspective.

“And [Jesus] said to them [two discouraged disciples], ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). The disciples had the wrong story. Jesus had to show them that the whole Old Testament told the story that the Christ would suffer first and then be exalted.

“The Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done…. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see, the best thing about this Story is—it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”—Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible 

The Bible’s story answers four crucial questions: How did it all begin? What went wrong? Is there any hope? What will the future hold?


How Did It All Begin?

1. The Creation 

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Ps. 90:2).

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).

Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). At the beginning, Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with God, creation, and each other.

God’s purpose for mankind: to fill the earth with worshipers. 

But something tragic happened… 


What Went Wrong?

2. The Fall

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Gen. 3:6).

Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).

The entire world is guilty before God (Rom. 3:19 NLT). 

None is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10).

Humanity is now broken spiritually (disconnected from God), physically (disease), socially (conflicts in families and marriages), emotionally (skyrocketing need for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication), and morally (overflowing prison system).

God’s purpose replaced: man chose to worship other things. 

Can anything be done? 


Is There Any Hope? 

3. The Rescue 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world (Gal. 1:4 NLT).

“Religion is man’s attempt to make things right with God and takes on infinite forms, but ultimately it translates into man’s independent effort to return to right standing with God.”—George Robinson

The first mention of the gospel is in Genesis 3:15. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Bible is one long detailed answer to one short and crucial question: Who is that Seed who was promised to come?

God’s purpose made possible: Jesus rescues man from the bondage of sin. 

“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.”—Timothy Keller, The Reason for God 

But the story doesn’t end there… 


What Will the Future Hold?

4. The Restoration 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:1, 3-4).

“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

God has promised a complete restoration for humanity. We will be restored spiritually, physically, socially, emotionally, and morally. 

God’s purpose fulfilled: to fill the earth with redeemed worshipers. 


Your Part in the Story

The question for each of us is this: Am I living my life from the story I’m crafting for myself, or am I living life based on God’s redemption found in Christ and the story He is crafting through-out history?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Resolved

You can listen to the sermon here.



Goals and Resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Popular resolutions include losing weight, quitting smoking, getting out of debt, learning a new skill, and reading through the Bible.

According to an article a recently read on lifehacker.com, there is a difference between goals and resolutions. A goal is a specific achievement. A resolution is a permanent change It could be said that resolutions help us reach goals.

[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). 

The goal: Become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. 

Numerous NT passages show us that this is God's desire for all believers.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order than he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

“And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” (Phil. 3:12-15a).

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a). The goal of the Great Commission was that people be saved and eventually be spiritually mature.

Of course, the goal of full devotion to Christ is not possible in this life. Does that mean we shouldn’t bother trying? No. It’s often said, “Practice makes perfect.” However, in reality, no amount of practice can bring perfection. A guitarist can become better with practice, but he will never reach the point where he no longer makes mistakes. But this doesn’t cause the dedicated guitarist to give up. The same should be true of us. We won’t reach spiritual perfection, but we can progress closer to the goal each day.


Progressing Toward the Goal 

Make three resolutions to help you progress toward the goal:

1. Resolve to be a growing follower of Christ. 

How can you be a growing follower of Christ? (1) Demonstrate your commitment to Christ by being baptized. (2) Show your commitment to other believers by joining the membership of a church. (3) Strive to increase in the knowledge and obedience of Scripture. (4) Regularly pray. (5) Love others.

2. Resolve to be a giving follower of Christ. 

How can you be a giving follower of Christ? (1) Use your unique personality, abilities, and spiritual gifts to serve. (2) Be a generous, joyful giver of your God-given resources.

3. Resolve to be a going follower of Christ. 

How can you be a going follower of Christ? (1) Build authentic relationships with unsaved people. (2) Share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the unsaved.