Salvation,Revelation and Life in the Spirit: some thoughts from Ephesians


The Apostle Paul in writing his letter to the Ephesians shows that salvation is an act of God’s amazing grace, firstly he looks at the the plan of salvation, he then turns to prayer. Paul’s prayers tell us a great deal about what he wanted for Christian people. I want first of all to look at the prayer in chapter 1.

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. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  (Eph 1:17–2:1).

Firstly Paul prays that the believers might be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation. He wants these believers, and indeed all Christians to be open to the Holy Spirit, so that he might open their spiritual eyes. It is so important that we realise that is meant for all Christians. Look at the way he describes the power that is given to us it is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. He describes the Church here as the body of Christ, the people of God not isolated individuals. He describes something of the greatness of Christ as the one who fills everything in every way.

In Chapter2 he outlines for us the wonder of our salvation,

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Eph 2:1–11).

In this passage we see what we are delivered from and the richness of God’s grace toward us. He stresses that salvation is a gift of God but he also teaches that salvation is meant to transform lives. We are called to do good woks for the glory of God and out of gratitude for his grace. But even here we see that he has prepared these things for us. Thank God that he provides all that we need to live the life that is pleasing to him.

In chapters 3 and 4 he shows more of the richness of God’s grace and he calls us to be united in Christ and once again he prays one of his amazing prayers.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 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. (Eph 3:14–4:1).

Once again we see the desires of the Apostle being expressed as he prays for the Church, which is God’s family. He wants believers to be rooted and established in love so that we might have power with all the saints. Notice here his emphasis that the power is given to the Church so that they might understand the richness of salvation. He tries to describe the power of God for his people. He then goes on in Chapter 4 to describe the Spirit filled life. He calls us to live a life worthy of our Lord, a life of unity in the church and because of that an openness to the gifting of God.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Eph 4:30–5:2)

Paul shows in many practical ways how the Christian should live the Spirit filled life but let me stress once again how he applies that to our church life. We are to be people who forgive and do not harbour resentment in our hearts. We are called to walk in the way of love. In Chapter 5 he continues his description of the Christian life.

17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ(Eph 5:17–21)

His call for us to be filled with the Spirit is followed by practical guidance about marriage and family life. Sometimes we divorce the two but Paul never does, he stresses over and over again the need to see the relationship between them. In chapter 6 he continues this theme but applies it to spiritual warfare as well.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Eph 6:10–18).

We are called here to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power and he shows us how to do this by putting on the spiritual armour prayerfully.

This last passage remind us once again that we are saved to serve and in that service we need God’s power and prptection. We need to use each part of the armour wisely. Paul ends this letter in the same way he started by reminding them of God’s grace,

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Eph 6:24).

Paul has emphasised throughout this letter that God’s grace is one that transforms the believer and leads them into a life of receiving God’s revelation as they pursue their calling. And throughout he is aware of the spiritual war that is going on. As we live this life may we reflect the glory of the risen Christ to a needy world.

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The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: The call for unity and love


Every time the Apostle Paul gives any extended teaching about the gifts of the Holy Spirit he also teaches about love and preserving unity in the fellowship. We can see this in extended teaching in 1Corinthians 12-14, as well as in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Paul is passionate about the fact that gifts are given to build up the body of Christ, they are not a matter of pride but rather they call for humility and love. As we are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit we will find ourselves tempted to be proud of our gift but we must acknowledge that a gift in no way makes us superior to others. The emphasis in the New Testament is on the fact that any gift that we have received is a gift of God’s grace. Gits are given to show how gracious God is not how good we are. Even the gifts that some look at as superior  such as the apostle,prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are given to equip the body not to inflate the ego of those who are gifted. let look at some of the passages that I have mentioned, starting with Ephesians 4.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
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.) 11  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13  until we all reach 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.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:1–16).

We often concentrate on the gifts,but the apostle Paul is looking here at the importance of unity in the body of Christ. Paul shows that every gift is given so that God’s people will be equipped to serve him, they will show at the same time their love to each other. TheChurch will not grow all the time there is disunity and a lack of seeking the gifts that God wants to use in his church. notice that the ministry gifts are given to equip people to serve the Lord, the ministry gifts are not given so that someone else does all the work but rather to equip God’s people to grow. Paul therefore starts the chapter with calling us to have the right attitude to one another. We are to be humble, loving people who realise that God’s church is united in Christ, but we are a diverse bunch of people who show forth the grace of God. Anyone reading this letter will know how important prayer is for Paul. Chapter 3 closes with one of his prayers and this shows us once again that we need to lead a life of dependence upon God, realising that we need God to empower us by His Holy Spirit. Talking about love, humility and patience reminds us that we are meant to be bearing the fruit of the Spirit as well as using the gifts of the Spirit. Romans 12 illustrates this clearly to us.

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Rom 12)

Notice the sequence of this chapter first of all we are called to be living sacrifices dedicated to God, we are then called to use our gifts for the benefit of the church.

Paul then moves into a section teaching about the importance of love and not only are we to love one another, but we are to love our enemies as well. This links in with the teaching Paul gives when he is writing to the Church at Corinth. We often read 1Corinthians 13 out of context as a wonderful description of love (which it is) but fail to connect it to chapter 12 and 14.  We need to see that in the context it functions to show us how our gifts should be used. We need to read this chapter carefully and prayerfully.

The purpose of the gifts is to see that the church of Christ is built up, to show forth the unity of the body. And also to exhibit before a watching world the glory of the grace that is given to us through Jesus Christ.

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When theSpirit comes, so does the opposition


So often when we see God working powerfully we expect everything to go well. Although we would not adhere to the prosperity gospel we expect to find blessing and constant victory and we shout and scream when it does not work out well. Yet the Biblical record and Church History show us that w God works in a special manner opposition arrives. We wonder why things go wrong just as are about to do something we are sure that the Lord has called us to. Sometimes we speak of spiritual warfare but very often we forget how mundane spiritual warfare is, Satan will use anything to distract us from God’s purposes. We see this pattern constantly in the Gospels and the book of Acts, when Jesus performed aa miracle, there was always opposition. Jesus was forever being found fault with, it was not plain sailing for him and as we follow him it will not be for us.  This is why in the letters we find so much teaching about trials, troubles , persecution and the need to persevere. We need to remember that the letters were written to help people going through difficult times, each of the letters shows that the church was under pressure in varied ways. Books as different as Galatians and Hebrews were written to keep God’s people being gospel people. The pressure on the early believers to conform to their culture was immense. Family pressure would have been a great problem for many believers both from Jewish and Pagan backgrounds, the pressure to just compromise a little was always there. But the same things that motivated them to keep on keeping on can motivate us too.

They were motivated by the truth of the Gospel, they knew that Jesus had won the ultimate victory on the cross which had been proven by the resurrection. They also knew the presence of the risen Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. They not only knew about God they knew him in a dynamic way. We believe that same gospel, we know the same Lord and the Spirit indwells us. When we see the pattern of the scripture we will realise that although opposition is to be expected, we serve the Lord of heaven and earth who will gain the ultimate victory. We sometimes think that because we are opposed we must have done something wrong but the Word of God tells us time and time again, that opposition comes when we have done something right.

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Celebrating the faithfulness of God the creator.


So often when we speak of God’s faithfulness we speak in terms of salvation and spirituality but our God is the one who created all things and sustains all things by his word of power. We need at times to stop and wonder at the diversity and artistic design of our creator.  When we look at the sea, rivers,hills, mountains, animals and birds do we not see much to praise God for. Then when we contemplate the individuality of each human being we see again the richness of God’s creative nature. It is interesting that that in OT te people of Israel were commanded to celebrate the harvest and they were to do it at the beginning of harvest and at its conclusion, these commands remind us that God cares about the world he has created but also that he wants us to enjoy the world. Sometimes because we concentrate on our salvation we forget that our Saviour is also our creator.

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

13 Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. 15 For seven days celebrate the festival to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
16 Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you. (Dt 16:9–18).

This passage from Deuteronomy gives us a glimpse of what god wants from us, he wants us to rejoice in his presence celebrating his goodness. No one is to be left out of this celebration and we know that the harvest laws provided for the poor and the needy as well as for the landowner. It is something of this that we need to regain, because we need to realise that our creator God is the sovereign Lord over all things and he should be honoured and worshiped because he is such a great God.

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Marriage and Divorce in the New Testament: some thoughts


Marriage is seen as a lifelong commitment throughout the Bible and divorce is seen as a sinful necessity in some situations. Modern divorce laws and indeed the attitude to divorce in our culture are alien to Biblical thinking. It is at this point that we have to wrestle with many difficult situations in a spirit of love. We must never compromise the biblical standard but on the other hand we cannot erect a wall around ourselves that would prevent us loving the sinner. We find ourselves facing many difficult situations pastorally and we need to respond in grace and love. One added problem is that at times it is difficult to understand the full implications of what is written in Scripture. Biblical Scholars differ among themselves on this issue and we cannot claim that we are sure that we 100% right.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:31-32

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”(Mt 19:3–12).

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mk 10:2–12). .

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Lk 16:18).

In these gospel accounts Jesus in Matthews gospel alone speaks of a reason for divorce and this is given in the context of the call to faithfulness, the one flesh relationship is meant to be lifelong. Mark and Luke do not speak of the reason for divorce but rather spell out the consequence of divorce and remarriage is seen as committing adultery.

The teaching of Jesus should make us reluctant to accept easy divorce and indeed we should be promoting the biblical view of marriage as a covenant of love. Pastors often wrestle with the issue of whether they should remarry divorced people and there are complex questions that need to be answered. Some believe that it is better for those repenting of past failures to marry and try to live out by God’s grace faithfulness in marriage. Other people feel in good conscience that they cannot support any remarriage under any circumstance.

There are pastoral issues like spousal abuse which call into question whether the marriage vows are being kept, in these situations restoration of the marriage relationship should be the priority, but at times that proves impossible and I would personally lean in favour of divorce in these circumstances. The problem comes when considering remarriage because we do not want to disobey the Lord and I find myself unable at this time to provide a coherent answer to the question.

The Apostle Paul also speaks to the problem of divorce in 1 Corinthians 7.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.(1 Co 7:10–17).

Paul again makes divorce a hard option but he allows that a person who has been married to an unbeliever will be free if the unbeliever divorces the believer. In the missionary situation sometimes one partner would become a Christian and the other reject the faith, even in that situation the believer is called to maintain the marriage if at all possible, but if it the unbeliever leaves the believer is free. I take this to mean that the believer is free to remarry, but believers should only marry other believers which can be seen from the clear teaching on this throughout the Bible.

This summarises the difficult problem that faces us when considering marriage and divorce, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in marriage, to uphold his high standards but there are situations when marriage is destroyed by one party committing adultery, in this case divorce is permitted. Divorced people who are divorced by an unbeliever because of their faith are also permitted to remarry. But the majority of divorced people in our culture do not fill either of these requirements and this leaves us with some knotty problems that at present I don’t know the answer to.

 

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Discipleship:Following the Lord Wherever he leads


When we talk of discipleship we often think of discipleship courses and gaining knowledge and although that is important that is not the heart of discipleship, a disciple is a follower of the Lord. When we start to look at this way we realise that we are talking about a personal relationship with the living God, this means that we are not talking about abstract ideas but living in the real world in the presence of God. Here I believe is the link between a living relationship with the Lord and knowledge about him, when we enter any relationship we want to get to know that person better and this should apply to our relationship with the Lord. The early believers in the book of Acts were people who were committed to the Lord in every way possible, listen to how Luke describes that in Acts 2;42ff,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The disciples showed their commitment by devoting themselves to 4 key marks of a disciple, 1st The Apostles teaching,2nd The Fellowship,3rd the breaking of bread and 4th prayer. Very often we think of discipleship in terms of just the first being devoted to the apostles teaching, this indeed is important but the teaching is not just about abstract things but rather lays the foundation and the direction of the Christian life. It is vital that we see the wonder of salvation by grace alone, but knowing about it is useless without a relationship to the living God. We need to know more about the God we worship so that we might honour him and enter more fully into all that he for us. We need to be passionate about truth not just as a system of thought but by pursuing truth we can serve God better. The authority of the Scriptures must never be displaced and we must submit our lives to its teaching. This is where the second point comes in discipleship is never solitary but rather takes place within the fellowship of the people of God, we need our fellow believers to stimulate us as we follow the Lord. We can learn so much from Christians who have more experience of the Christian life than we do. When I was a young Christian an elderly couple invited me to their home most Sunday evenings, we shared about our life experiences, we read the word of God and we prayed together. I am sure that those two lovely Christian people helped me to grow in my knowledge of God. As long as we live we need the fellowship of others to encourage us and at times to correct us.

The Disciples were also devoted to the breaking of bread, in the communion service we realise the presence of the risen Christ as he applies to us his finished work, we set before us the bread and wine, these elements remind us of the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation and godliness. We need to remember that Christ is at the centre, we follow him and we belong to his body the Church. It is in the context of the church that our lives are lived out when we put Christ at the centre.

The 4th thing they were devoted to was prayer, this is absolutely vital as this is the way we manifest our dependence upon God. The Lord’s prayer is a pattern of prayer that honours God and seeks first his kingdom. Without prayer discipleship is a farce, an outward show that has not the reality of godliness within. But a life that depends upon God and seeks his face in prayer will be a life that is transformed from one degree of glory to another.

So then when we think of discipleship we must think in terms of following Christ being in fellowship with him and his people and by our prayerful dependence upon him we will grow more and more into the image of Christ.

 

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Honouring God in our Worship


I believe most Christians would affirm that worship should be God centred but in practice we often evaluate our worship time by how much we enjoyed it. subtly self creeps to the centre. We know that this is not how it should be but somehow we find ourselves asking the question “was the worship time a blessing to me?”. The central question in our worship time should be “do I honour and glorify God?” It is interesting how this can affect our worship, many years ago I was at a conference designed to bring evangelicals from different backgrounds together, when the worship started it was obvious that we were divided. The Chairman of the conference had the wisdom to stop the worship and remind us that we were worshipping the Lord and he asked us to allow one another to worship our God in the style that we felt comfortable with. When the worship leader resumed leading it was as if a burden had been lifted from our shoulders, as we concentrated on the Lord we were able to allow others the freedom to express their worship in different manners. all the time we were concentrating on ourselves we were divided. When we all concentrated on the Lord we had a great freedom in worship which established a spirit of unity.

It is strange how we allow ourselves to be moved from honouring God to wanting something for ourselves. Now I don’t want to appear to be saying that we will never receive anything but rather that our concentration should be on honouring our God. Indeed I believe that we will find that as we worship God giving him the glory and honour due his holy name we will taste real joy and know great blessing. Indeed if we were to follow thje pattern of the Lord’s prayer we will be putting God first and this will naturally lead us to ask him for things that are in accordance with his will. The Lord’s prayer honours God in every clause and gives us a model as to how we can honour God, this prayer gives us an example of how to pray and God is honoured  explicitly at the beginning, but he is also honoured when we confess our dependence upon for our daily needs.

When we realise the greatness of our God, we will have great joy as we worship him, our Puritan forefathers got it right when they said “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”, when we glorify God and see the wonder of who he is, we will enjoy his presence.

Worship is also to recognise the glory of the Triune God, We come to the Father through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We must come to worship knowing that we can only worship the Father as we realise his grace to us in Christ Jesus and to be able to do that we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of worship is our God, it is not about styles of worship as such but rather honouring our great and glorious God with our whole being.

Posted in almighty God, Charismatic, Church, faith, Faithfulness, filled with the Spirit, God, grace, Greatness of god, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, praise, THE CHURCH, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God’s Omnipresence: Some insights from the nineteenth century


I am currently carrying out research into the whole area of what we call divine immanence and divine transcendence. I found that the way most nineteenth century evangelical theologians spoke on these issues gave a slightly different perspective and below I share a few examples of this.

Omnipresence and immensity.
When the idea of immanence was advanced many writers said it was an improvement on the old doctrine of omnipresence, immanence was perceived as articulating a more intimate connection between God and his creation. In 1930 W H Griffith Thomas made this rather tantalizing statement,

So that the Divine attributes are Omnipotence, Omniscience, Transcendence, and Immanence, the last named being perhaps somewhat more than the old Omnipresence.

This statement by Thomas shows that by his time there was still an acknowledgement of the old omnipresence, but the new categories are seen as a better way to explain things. This statement is typical of others that I have read by other authors who do not explain why they think it is an improvement on the old language, other than the reasons noted above. It will be helpful to see how a number of theologians used the old category. What is striking is that in the Evangelical Systematic Theologies from the nineteenth century that I have consulted both Reformed and Arminian Scholars speak in terms of omnipresence and in some cases are aware of work done by those they normally oppose on other issues.
Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Hodge was one of the most influential Reformed theologians in the nineteenth century and His Systematic Theology was published towards the end of his life, the three volumes were published from 1871-1873. The way Hodge articulated the doctrine of omnipresence was affirmed not only by reformed Scholars but also by A M Hills the Wesleyan Theologian. It should be noted that Hodge articulated his view of omnipresence in the period when more and more were speaking in terms of immanence. Hodge was very carefully in the way he articulated his theology and was highly respected in his day. It is also important to look at Hodge because of the lasting impact that his theology has had on Reformed theology up until today. Hodge says in volume 1 of his Systematic Theology,

The Bible teaches the infinitude of God, as involving his immensity and his omnipresence, in the clearest terms. He is said to fill all in all, i.e., the universe in all its parts. (Eph 1.23) “Am I a God at hand saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord (Jerxxiii.23.24) “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm cxxxix.7-12) It is “in Him we (i.e all creatures) live, and move, and have our being.” (Actsxvii.28) everywhere in the Old and New Testaments, god is represented as a spiritual being, without form, invisible, whom no man has seen or can see; dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, and full of glory; as not only the creator, and preserver, but as the governor of all things; as everywhere present, and everywhere imparting life, and securing order, present in every blade of grass, yet guiding Areturus in his course , marshalling the stars in a host, calling them by their names; present also in every human soul, giving it understanding, endowing it with gifts, working in it both to will and to do. The human heart is in his hands; and He turneth it even as the rivers of water are turned. Wherever, throughout the universe, there is evidence of mind in material causes, there, according to the Scriptures, is God controlling and guiding those causes to the accomplishment of his wise designs. He is in all, and over all things; yet essentially different from all, being over all independent, and infinitely exalted. This immensity and omnipresence of God, is the ubiquity of the divine essence, and consequently of the divine power, wisdom, and goodness. As the birds in the air and the fish in the sea, so also are we always surrounded and sustained by God. It is thus that He is infinite in his being, without absorbing, all created beings into his own essence, but sustaining all in their individual subsistence, and in the exercise of their own powers.  ( Systematic Theology, Volume 1, pages 884-885)

Hodge here clearly shows how he and most earlier nineteenth century theologians believed about the omnipresence of God and yet he seems to able to clearly define his subject because he sees both immensity and omnipresence as being aspects of the infinity of God as a result he does not speak of paradox or being balanced as people often do with the immanent/transcendent terminology. His view articulates closeness to creation by the creator yet always maintaining the creator/creation distinctive. I think that those who speak of radical transcendence would have or should have fewer problems with the way Hodge articulates the subject.

J L Dagg (1794-1884). J L Dagg was an influential Baptist theologian; he published his “Manual of Theology” in 1857 which was to have a great influence in Southern Baptist Circles. His comments on God’s omnipresence are helpful and constructive, yet Dagg is quick to remind us of the limitations of our own understanding. He is very aware of the greatness of God and he wants to honour that, at the same time he tries to make his teaching as clear as possible, the following quotation illustrates this.

When we deny a material omnipresence of God, as if his essence were divided and diffused; and when we maintain that the whole deity is everywhere present by his energy and operation, it is not to be understood that we deny the essential omnipresence of God. In whatever manner his essence is present anywhere it is present everywhere. What the mode of that presence is, we know not. We know not the essence of the human mind, nor the mode of its presence in the body; much less can we comprehend the essence of the infinite God, or the mode of his omnipresence. To that incomprehensible property of his nature, by which he is capable of being wholly present at the same moment, with every one of his creatures, without division of his essence, and without removal fromplace to place, the name immensity has been given. The essence of god is immense or unmeasured, because it is unmeasurable. It is unmeasurable because it is spiritual, and therefore, without such dimensions as be measured by feet and inches; and because in whatever sense dimensions may be ascribed to it, these dimensions are boundless.(A Manual of Theology pages 61-62 (Gano Books, Virginia 1982)

What is striking about the way Dagg presents the doctrine of omnipresence, is the way he sees omnipresence as demonstrating the immensity of God, God is omnipresent because of his immensity. Here there is no talk of a paradox as in the immanence and transcendence languagebut rather he clearly sees the relationship between the two. Omnipresence for Dagg is an aspect of God’s immensity. If Dagg is right at this point perhaps we need to revise our way of articulating any aspects of divine transcendence and divine immanence or perhaps we should abandon that terminology.

 

Miner Raymond (1811-1897): Raymond was the first American Methodist to write a systematic theology, it is interesting to see the continuity of thought between this Wesleyan theologian and his Reformed contemporaries. Here we see an insistence upon immensity and omnipresence being one aspect of that immensity. Once again we see a clear distinction between God and his creation. This is just a part of his stament of the doctrine of divine omnipresence,

It is useless to say that the infinite is incomprehensible; all know this, and clearly recognize it in thought. No one but God himself has an exhaustive conception of unlimited presence; no one has apprehension of the mode or manner of the divine existence—how it is, or how it is possible that a person should be every-where, no finite being can tell. To the finite the infinite is past finding out; and yet it is not to be conceded for a moment that the confidence and trust of piety in the ubiquity of God is unfounded, or that the apprehensions men have of the divine omnipresence are mere negations or nullities; as far as they go they are truthful concepts of a well-known reality. Such assumptions as are inconsistent with the Bible representations and the common apprehensions must be rejected. For example, if it be affirmed that God is every-where present by extension or diffusion, so that it may be said that a part of God is here and a part of God there; or if it be said that God is present every-where solely by his knowledge and his power, such views are to be rejected, since truth requires us to conceive that the divine essence is unlimited as fully and as perfectly as are the divine attributes. God, as to all that is God, is every-where always; the infinite essence is incapable of division and separation; essence and attribute, immutably inseparable, fill immensity; all of God every-where, is a truth cognized both by piety and sound philosophy.( Systematic Theology, Volume I (325–328). Cincinnati; New York: Hitchcock & Walden; Nelson and Phillips.)

Raymond clearly teaches that God is everywhere present and yet this does not in any way distract from the Greatness of God, rather it affirms that greatness in the strongest possible terms.

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Pentecost: Church Tradition or a Lived Reality?


On Pentecost Sunday millions of Christians will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early church. we gather and we pray,hear the word read and preached from and we sing our hymns and songs,but what does it all mean? Are we just celebrating a historical occasion that was very important for the foundation of the apostolic Church?

Perhaps we say that we are celebrating the empowering of the church for mission, in practical terms what does that mean?

But perhaps the biggest question is, does Pentecost have any relevance to my daily living?

It might help us to look at one or two of the hymns and songs associated with Pentecost to answer my questions.Look at Charles Wesley’s prayer in this great hymn,

O Thou who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
Upon the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
[or, Unquenched, undimmed, in darkest days,]
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

Here we see that Wesley really expected something to happen, he was looking to God the Holy spirit to work in his life, you can sing this hymn just as a religious act or you can sing it in a prayerful manner, expecting God to work in your life. I use this hymn because it is one that God has used to help me express my heart’s desire. If no other song is associated with my life, I hope this one will be. To sing this hymn is to make ourselves vulnerable before a loving and gracious God, being open to all that he has for us.

In Charismatic circles we may sing words like these,

Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me.

But what do we expect? we say that we are open to the Holy Spirit but are we really open?

The Holy Spirit is often feared by Christians because they fear that he will make them weird, the bible clearly shows us that the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to make us more like Jesus. Jesus as a man shows to us what a Spirit filled life can be like, a life of love and fruitfulness and a life that knows the presence and direction of Father God. When we look at Jesus, we see a wholesome life, the Holy Spirit wants to impart that same life to us. The Holy Spirit gives us both his fruit and his gifts to carry on the ministry of Jesus. Jesus himself taught this in John chapters 14 -16, read these chapters prayerfully and you will see that when we receive the Spirit, we will be equipped,changed and empowered to live a life for the glory of God. When we search the Scriptures with an open heart we will realise that we should welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives, to do what he wants to do.

Sometimes we pray for Revival, we want to see large numbers coming into the kingdom but are we prepared to seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit and to walk in his ways. Revival will never come to a church that observes Pentecost in a religious way, it will come to those who are prepared to be open to him. Our hearts desire should be to see God glorified in the Church,this will only happen as we open ourselves to the Holy spirit and all he has for us.

Posted in Baptism of the Holy Spirit, body of Christ, faith, filled with the Spirit, gifts of the Holy Spirit., holiness, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, Pentecostal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conforming to the World or Maintaining God’s Purpose For Us


There is a temptation that is common to all Christians and that is the temptation to conform to the world and its mindset. This has been a problem since mankind fell into sin. The world calls on us to be more compassionate and not so old fashioned. Paul told the Roman Christians,

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.(Rom 12:1–2).

Much earlier in the history of God’s people, we see this same problem raising its head when the leaders of Israel asked Samuel for a king, they wanted Israel to be like the other nations, rather than being distinct as God’s people, under God’s government. We can learn quite a lot from the way Samuel handled this whole Situation. We might have some sympathy with the Israelite leaders as they describe the problem, but their solution only makes things worse because they left God out of the solution. Let us look at ho the Bible describes the situation.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sa 8:1–5).

Samuel’s sons were not at all like him and they had turned after ungodly ways but the solution proposed by the leaders of Israel  was one that meant turning its back on giving God the highest place in government instead they had their own solution that meant a revolution in the way they thought and acted because they wanted to deny their uniqueness as God’s people and become like the other nations. At that time the notion of having a powerful king to lead the nation was a popular one, but for Israel this should not have been an option because the Lord was their king. They should have found a way forward by seeking God’s will but instead they went their own way. Samuel’s response is instructive for us,

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. (1 Sa 8:6).

Samuel was displeased, but he didn’t go to his friends for advice or to any other person, the first thing he did was pray. He needed to know what the Lord had to say in the midst of his own feelings of rejection. When the Lord speaks he shows Samuel that it was not Samuel that the nation had rejected but himself. We could avoid many problems in the Church and in Christian organisations if we were to follow Samuel’s example.  We so often go to other people and rally support for our perspective without seeking the Lord in prayer. Samuel knew that he needed clear guidance from the Lord as to what to do and how to do it, In Baptist circles we often say that the church meeting is to seek the mind of the Lord, but in reality it often is reduced to seeking the mind of the majority. Democracy does not come into the matter when considering the work of God, the question should always be what does God want? Samuel knew this and therefore in his displeasure he turns to the Lord for his guidance. Samuel receives very clear guidance as to what to do and this is not going to be an easy task.

And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”(1 Sa 8:7–9).

The Lord clearly shows that the root of the problem is not rejection of /Samuelbut rathe that they have rejected the Lord. And this is only to be expected because of their continued rebellion since the days of the Exodus, the very action of appointing a king shows distrust in the Lord and an inclination to follow after other God’s. Samuel is also to show them the consequence of this decision and the injustice that it will herald. A move away from the Lord is also a move away from his standards. The nation had been founded in such a way that there was to be a measure of economic justice incorporated into law, but this would bring an end to all of that. The next part of the chapter shows very clearly the consequences of having a king.

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”(1 Sa 8:10–18).

This is not a pleasant picture but despite this clear warning the people decided to go against the warnings, they are even told that when they find the oppression too much they will cry to the Lord but he will not answer them. The Lord’s warnings are not taken seriously because the people want to go their own way.

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”(1 Sa 8:19–22).

The people refuse to listen to Samuel and are determined to have their own way, they want to keep up with the other nations, they want a strong leader who will lead them into battle. But Samuel takes all of this back to the Lord in prayer, The Lord sees the peoples desires and he grants them the desire to have a king but he has already warned them of the consequences so they would not have any reason to complain when this was fulfilled.

Samuel boldly stands for truth and God’s purposes in the midst of a generation that did not want to hear the word of God, will we do the same?

 

 

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