This week, let’s look at Ephesians 3:16 (through verse 19).
16[I pray] that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. [I pray that] you, being rooted and firmly established in love, 18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and width, height and depth, 19and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God is omnipotent. If you’ve grown up in church, you’ve probably heard that so much that its meaning is often taken for granted - it’s just one of those three “omni” words you had to learn in Sunday School (the others being omnipresent and omniscient, for those who didn’t grow up going to Sunday School). God has all power, and He has promised to give it to us!
Before Jesus went back to heaven, He promised that He would send the Holy Spirit to help us do the things He wanted us to do.
8"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So, this means that we already have the power, right? One would think. Check out this video, though.
How often are we, in a spiritual sense, like those people? We’re “stuck on an escalator,” not realizing that we have the power to change the situation we’re in. How do we get out of that cycle? Paul tells us in the remainder of the passage above.
One of our pastor’s favorite things to say is that “victory is not you overcoming sin, it’s Christ overcoming you.” We don’t have to look within for this power - what God commands, God supplies! Look at the last part of verse 17 into verse 18; we should be “grounded in love.” What does that mean? There are a couple of ways to look at it. You could think of it the way a tree is grounded - its roots are in the ground, and it gains its nourishment from the ground. You could also thing of it the way an electrical circuit is grounded - a way for things the circuit can’t handle to be directed away from it, so they do not damage it. God’s perfect love can do both these things - it can be the source of our growth, and our protection.
But it’s not even limited to those two things. Paul prays that the Ephesian church will know the “breadth and width, height and depth” of God’s love. We know in our heads that each of these dimensions is infinite, but do we know it in our hearts? Do we really believe that God’s love and power are infinitely deep? Way back in 1917, Frederick M. Lehman penned the words to the hymn “The Love of God.” Here are verses one and three.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Finally, Paul says that they need to be “filled with all the fullness of God.” To be filled with God, we must empty ourselves of us. The more we cling to our plans, our desires, and the way we think things ought to be, the less room there is in us for God to reveal His plans, His desires, and the way He wants things to be. When we are willing to surrender ourselves to His leading, He can guide us.
If you still feel powerless, perhaps it is because you’re trying to do the wrong thing. As a teenager, I felt a call that my life should be given to full-time Christian service - becoming a pastor was the way I thought it was going to work out. However, I began working during high school, and to save money, I attended a community college once I graduated. I became distracted from my calling, and really struggled. I bounced from job to job, not really feeling contentment in anything. A few years later, I determined that I hadn’t been succeeding at much of anything, although the effort I was putting forth should have been bringing much more success. That’s when it occurred to me - maybe I wasn’t being successful because I wasn’t doing that at which God wanted me to succeed. I decided to go to a Christian university (Bob Jones University) and follow the call I had received, majoring in Youth Ministry.
The first day of classes, I met this really nice lady named Michelle, who became my wife at the end of that school year. Through talking to an Air Force Chaplain recruiter on campus, I decided to check out the Air Force, where I’ve had a successful 11-year-and-still-going career. I’m not a pastor, obviously, and I’m not even working with anything related to the ministry in the Air Force. However, I have used the training I received during that year of college; I’ve been able to study my Bible more effectively, I can put together a sermon or Sunday School lesson if needed, and I’m a Cub Scout leader. But, even if I hadn’t gotten anything else from that year at BJU, the family God has given me with Michelle is an overwhelming blessing.
The above is my testimony (the short version). By no means have I arrived - I still find myself struggling with things, and often I’ll ask myself “why are you struggling with this so much?” Sometimes, the answer is to not try so hard to do it myself, but let go of it and let God work it out. He’s much better at those things than we are!
My prayer for you this week is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church. I pray that we will live grounded in love, and that we will be able to shed our impotence in favor of God’s omnipotence, and allow His spirit to overwhelm us.
In this case, I believe that some context would help. Philippians 3:14 is a very popular verse, but let’s look at verses 12 through 16 to get the full picture.
12Not that I have already reached [the goal] or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also. 16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.
Paul was a traveling evangelist, and the last person to see Jesus face to face (Acts 9:1-7). If there was anyone on this earth who would have achieved “perfect Christian” status, it would have been Paul. But, here in verse 12, Paul tells the church that he is not a fully mature Christian - he still struggles to grow in Christ. In verses 13 and 14, he tells them that he doesn’t think that he’s arrived, but that he pushes on every day, reaching towards that goal.
In verse 15, Paul encourages the church to adopt his mindset. And, we should adopt it as well - none of us will ever know everything there is to know about the Christian life, and the blessings that God has in store for us. And, notice what Paul says will happen to us when we do this - if we “think differently about anything,” God will correct our errant thinking.
This brings us to verse 16. Whether we’re striving towards the goal, or we’re content to sit stagnant in our current level of knowledge and fellowship with God, we are responsible for living up to the knowledge we have. As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have been given knowledge and power by the One Who has all the power and knowledge in the universe. We are definitely responsible for discharging this power and using this knowledge the way He wants us to.
When Jesus was on earth, He told a parable about a servant who had been given responsibility while a master was away, and what happens when that servant does not faithfully use what he has been given.
42The Lord said: "Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? 43That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 44I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. 48But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
Notice verses 47 and 48 - the one who knew what he was supposed to do and did not do it would be punished severely, while the one who didn’t know what he was supposed to do would be punished much more lightly. In the case of us knowing God’ Word, though, knowing that God expects us to study and learn the Bible means that we know our Master’s will.
So, then, our responsibility with regards to Philippians 3:12-16 is two-fold. First, we must strive to know God on a deeper, more intimate level, and the way to do that is by studying His Word. Second, we must live up to the knowledge that we do have. While ignorance of the law does not necessarily make one’s actions illegal, knowingly violating the law not only makes one’s actions illegal, but shows a lack of respect for laws and the ones who have made them. The same principle applies spiritually - knowingly disobeying God’s laws shows contempt for the One who has made them.
I pray that each of us will gain knowledge and understanding, and, having gained it, be able to live up to its expectations in our lives.
This verse shows us how to really have church - how to join together with others in worship. The Bible is clear that we’re not supposed to be “Lone Ranger” Christians, but we are to connect with other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says…
24And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Let’s break this verse down phrase and phrase. What does it mean to “let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you”? The Gospel (the message about the Messiah) is a treasure, the depths of which we will not understand while we are here on this earth. However, the more we do learn about it, the fuller our hearts and lives will be. It should completely fill our hearts, to the point where we can see every thing that happens in our lives in the context of the freedom we have because of what Jesus has done for us.
How do we do that? That’s what the rest of this verse tells us. The first aspect is “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” As we study the Bible for ourselves, there are two aspects that come together. First, we associate what we’re learning with what we already know, and the experiences that we have been through - this is our perspective. Second, we understand as God gives us discernment - a “Word from God” directly for us. When taken together, the perspective and discernment of each person is somewhat unique.
When we get together with other believers, who are also studying the Bible, we can learn from their perspective and discernment, and they can learn from our perspective and discernment. Listening to a traditional sermon from a man of God who has studied the Scripture regularly over the course of several years can be very enlightening. Sitting down together with a small group of believers and discussing a passage of Scripture can also be enlightening - God will use others’ viewpoints to help the entire group gain a deeper understanding of His Word.
The next way is “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” Music has been a part of worship as long as worship has existed. The Bible says that the angels sing in heaven, and both the Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of music being used in worship. The book of Psalms is, in word form, the hymnbook of the Israelite church. Paul sang hymns regularly, whether he was in jail or in an established church. And Jesus even sang hymns! Notice what happened after He instituted the Lord’s Supper…
26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.”27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. 28For this is My blood [that establishes] the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.”30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The way to do all of this is “with gratitude in your hearts to God.” As we learn more about Jesus, and begin to live an abundant Christian life, this gratitude should flow naturally from our hearts. But, even if we’re not “feeling it,” we should still express gratitude to God for all that He has done for us. Our continued existence on this planet is a testament to His protection, grace, and mercy; how much more should we be grateful for the blessings we have been given on top of that?
Some people think that they don’t need church - besides, it’s just full of a bunch of sinners anyway. Well, they’re partially right - Christians are nothing but saved sinners, and from time to time, they still sin. That Christians can know what sin is, believe one shouldn’t do it, but still do it anyway yet remain Christians, may be one of the most misunderstood parts of the Christian life. While some see it as hypocrisy, we know that it is the spiritual warfare, that struggle between the old man and the new man for cont`rol of our lives. However, just as one would not go into battle alone, we as Christians should not try to wage this spiritual battle without the company of our fellow warriors.
When group worship follows the guidelines given in Colossians 3:16, it becomes so valuable to us that we wouldn’t think of trying to make it on our own. I pray that, for each of us, our church experience will grow to approach the description Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.
This is part of the passage that Paul wrote to encourage the believers not to worry about those who had died. Here is the entire context, verses 13 through 18.
13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
I remember this being read at one of my grandmother’s funerals, and it was comforting, even though I was a young child at the time. However, in this passage, there are two ways out of this world before the apocalypse. (We’ll not debate eschatology here today; as my pastor said a few weeks ago, “I’m going on - if you’re staying, send me a postcard.”)
The first of these is through death. Death is not a happy topic for anyone - the end of life on this earth means that we will accomplish no more, and that those who remain alive will no longer have the companionship of the one who has died. However, for the believer, death is not “the end,” but a transition to a new phase of life. That doesn’t make those left behind any less lonely, but it does encourage them that they will see their loved ones again. Also, as we age, many of our bodies begin to wear out, often in painful, debilitating ways. While it’s not something commonly said at the time a loved one dies, sometimes death is a gift from God, His way of saying “you’ve endured enough - come on home!”
The second of these is through being caught up in the air while still alive. For those alive when Jesus returns, this will have to be the biggest rush imaginable - better than any thrill ride at any amusement park! There have been many who have written stories about what this may be like; the best-selling of those is the Left Behind series from Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye. But, the truth is, we can read Revelation for ourselves, and try to guess at what certain things might be, but we won’t know until we’re observing it from a very, very safe distance.
There is a catch, though; these two ways to escape are only for believers. The Bible paints a much more grim picture for those who do not escape. From the seal judgments described in Revelation 6 and the first part of Revelation 8, to the trumpet judgments described in Revelation 8, Revelation 9, and the end of Revelation 11, to the bowl judgments in Revelation 16, the three-and-a-half years after the Rapture are not going to be pretty. For those who have not accepted Christ, this is the only choice they have.
So, then, we see that there are two paths, but only one Way. Accepting Christ as your Savior is the only way to avoid these things. As Jesus said,
6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I pray that each of you know Jesus, and have accepted Him as your Savior. He is the only way to heaven; His payment for your sins is free, but it is a gift that must be willingly accepted. If you want to learn more about this, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation.
This is an end-of-the-letter salutation from Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Paul began and ended most all of his letters by talking about the “grace and peace” of our Lord, and his hope that it would remain with those to whom he was writing. This theme of peace is one that is woven throughout the Bible. The word “peace” (or some form of it, like “peacemaker”, “peaceful”, etc.) is found in 266 verses in the HCSB. We’re not going to look at the other 265 verses, but we’ll look at a few of them.
Peace was used as a greeting to Gideon…
23But the Lord said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
In these four verses, we see a common theme - the source of peace is God, through His Son Jesus. But how to we get this peace? Ask God for it! According to Peter, the disciple of Jesus who went on to lead the early church…
10For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, 11and he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, 12because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Paul wrote this to Timothy after going over the qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The standards Paul laid out are not easily attained. Paul completes the discussion, though, by telling Timothy that he has written these things so that he will know how people in the family of God should behave, and then writes the verse above. This last verse gives us insight into Jesus’ life, which Paul believes will help us live up to the standards that God has set out.
First, Paul says that “He was manifested in the flesh.” Jesus came to earth as one of us - a human being Who encountered all the temptations we will ever encounter, yet He remained without sin. He eventually gave up His life on a cross, so that through His sacrifice, we can escape Hell and obtain Heaven. However, He did not stay dead - three days later, He resurrected! Just this part is a great “mystery,” but it should inspire us to do what we can to make sure that His sacrifice is as effectual as it can be. Whenever one person accepts His finished work as payment for their sins, it does not diminish the grace remaining for everyone else; just like the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” says, “Though millions have come, there’s still room for one.”
Second, Paul writes that He was “justified in the Spirit.” During the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, He was in the Spirit, taking our punishment. He was separated from God (the only time that has ever happened or will ever happen), being tormented for our sin. Through this, He was justified, and we can be justified as well. This payment is complete.
Third, Paul writes that Jesus was “seen by angels.” Wouldn’t that have been great to see - how the angels must have welcomed Him! I’m not sure if this is talking about the angels that stayed behind in the now-empty tomb, or if this was the host of angels in Heaven who saw Him. But, either way, I’m sure they must have been excited to see Him alive again. He had done what had been promised more than 4,000 years prior, and through it defeated Satan for good.
Fourth, Paul says that He was “preached among the Gentiles.” This was important for Timothy, as it is for most of us reading this. As John wrote…
The Jews of that day, for the most part, rejected Him. But, He still came to earth to not only save the Jews, but to extend that salvation to the rest of us (Gentiles) as well. He Himself preached among Gentiles, and after He ascended back to Heaven, He continued to be preached to Gentiles.
Fifth, Paul says that He was “believed on in the world.” This shows that, even though Paul was writing to Timothy early in the life of the church, many had already believed on Jesus, and accepted His payment for their sins. It’s always encouraging to have an example, someone who has come before you and accomplished the same thing you want to accomplish. Paul is encouraging Timothy and the believers at his church, letting them know that others have believed on Him, and already obtained the forgiveness they desired.
Finally, Paul says that He was “taken up in glory.” Jesus did not stay on earth once He had resurrected - He returned to Heaven. This is important, and it ties in both with what Jesus said, and with what Paul had written to others. Jesus said…
2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.
So, how do you understand mysteries? I don’t know. :) There are still things about what Paul has written that I don’t understand. But, what I do know is that we can understand the parts of this mystery that Paul wrote to Timothy. Each of these parts points back to a central theme - Jesus’ finished work of salvation. Because we have received this salvation, we should live as those who have been forgiven, and encourage others to accept this gift as well.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.