From an Apostle to the Saints

Ephesians

My recent wanderings through the sovereignty of God led me to study the book of Ephesians in my quiet time. I am not certain if this will turn into a series, but it is such a rich letter with so much to explore that I’ll no doubt write a few posts about it.

In fact, in my study time, I’m still in chapter 1, which has more than enough to keep me occupied!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

Like any letter, Paul begins by introducing himself. We often skip over these opening verses to get to the “meat” of the letter, but by doing so, miss out on important things.

Paul not only gives his name, but his role as well. “Paul, an apostle…”

An apostle is simply “one whom is sent,” but in the church context it is one of the founders of the church – often a church planter or one who has seen the Risen Lord.  The role of apostle was mentioned as one of the five-fold ministry gift or positions, which we will later encounter in Ephesians.

While “role” is one word, another is calling. Paul is not just some self-appointed saint, but is an “apostle by the will of God.” I’ve thought a lot lately about the will of God, and we will see in this first chapter of Ephesians that it comes up time and again. We cannot escape or resist God’s will.

We are sometimes a bit obsessed with our calling. We ask people, “What is your ministry?” or “What is God calling you to do?” While these questions have their place, I think sometimes we spend our lives searching for some grand call on our lives instead of getting on with the business of life.

Am I saying that calling is not important? Certainly not. I believe all Christians have a calling and should live it out as best we can. For many, if not all of us, we can summarise our calling as follows: we should glorify God in our life right where we are.

Certainly we should be listening to God for His direction, and this also should come from our relationship with Him. God is not a stone idol we pray to with nothing in return. Our prayer life should be two-way, and too many of us are talking when we should be listening.

It can be hard to achieve of course (regular and constant communication with God), but I believe life is to be lived with Him. Set times of extended prayer are definitely important, but so are moments of prayer throughout the day. Living like this, we can serve God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

So we see this letter is from Paul, but to whom is it written?

The saints at Ephesus

It may be that this letter was in reality a circular which was shared among several churches. Some manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” and the lack of personal greetings suggest this. The letter was likely written around AD 60 while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Some scholars dispute the date, believing it to have been between AD 80-100, and also that Paul was the author at all.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament epistles are always written to “saints,” “holy people,” or “consecrated ones.” We never see a letter written to the “sinners in Ephesus,” or the “heathen in Rome…”

This is an important point because I often feel we misunderstand our identity.

We sin, no argument from me, and we did so both before and after we gave our lives to Christ. Sin is a critical issue for the world at large, and is indeed the whole point of Christ’s coming.

Some churches focus too much on sin, and too little on the completed work of Christ. Other churches focus too little on sin, and fail to instruct their people on the dangers of committing “sins” and the overall effect of “sin” on the world.

Christ is the cure for sin. If we continue to think of ourselves as “sinners” after the work of the cross, then we are in danger of making that work of little effect. What do sinners do? They sin. And what ought we not to do in our lives? Same answer.

Rather, our identity (in Christ) is not as an old sinner saved by grace, but rather as an imperfect saint. When we give our lives to Jesus, God puts a new heart inside of us. That is the born again experience. That new birth is something which happens inside of us (in our spirits, not our internal organs). From that time on, we are re-training our mind, will and emotions (sometimes called “the flesh” or “sinful nature”) to come into line with what God has done in our spirits.

If you are still just a “sinner” then what has the cross achieved for you?

I appreciate this is partly down to semantics, and may not seem a point worth labouring, but I think it helps in our reading of the rest of this chapter. Paul emphasises what is ours in Christ, and that must begin by us accepting we are transformed in Him.

As we work through chapter one, I will point out some of the things that belong to us in Christ. Not things we have earned, but rather things which were bestowed upon us because of God’s great grace.

Grace is where Paul begins his letter, and it’s where I’m going to draw this post to a close. He wishes the saints both grace and peace from God. A deeply meaningful greeting and opening to his epistle.

Likewise, I pray God’s grace and peace on you this week.

One Day’s Dream is Another Day’s… (PoW#14)

Pearl of Wisdom #14

What is now in the junkyard was once somebody’s lifelong dream.

Life is a funny thing, and is so often dictated by the drive to gain material possessions. It is not wrong to have things, and indeed we need many of them, but it ought to shock us to realise how much of our lives are driven by the pursuit of “stuff”.

It is even more humbling when we consider that whatever we gain in life – materially that is – cannot come with us. Whatever you believe about the afterlife, surely you will agree that none of these possessions we worked so hard to get can come with us.

Think about what you will one day leave behind. Your dream, whatever it was and no matter how long it took you to build, will ultimately age, breakdown or be thrown away.

Junkyards and rubbish dumps are full of things that were perhaps once someone lifelong dream.

I don’t say any of this to depress you! But I’ve learned that life is very short compared with eternity, and we only get one shot at it. Don’t waste your life working for something that will one day be trashed.

Work out what is really important and start building a lasting legacy.

The Next Generation

I had the immense privilege to become a godparent again a few weeks ago. It really is a privilege to be a godparent at a child’s baptism, and it’s my honour to pray for and support Abigail (who is far too young to read this!).

As well as being godparent, I was also asked to share a reading with the church. I didn’t choose it myself, but what a fantastic reading it was (the text I mean, not my delivery!).

I want to share it with you here, and point out a few key points.

It was from Psalm 78.

A psalm of Asaph.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

Psalm 78:1-8 (NLT)

The psalmist, in this case Asaph and not David, begins by encouraging us to listen to what he has to say. Perhaps there’s no great revelation in this, but how often do we not listen to important things said to us?

I will speak to you in a parable

In verse two, he uses the phrase “I will speak to you in a parable” which is an echo of Christ in the future. Jesus taught using parables, and there came a time when he would only speak to the crowds in these illustrative stories.

 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

Matthew 13:10-13 (NLT)

So we see that parables are a way to share truths, but only to those whom understanding is given.

Truths from our past

Asaph goes on to explain the importance of sharing stories from our past. He says that these stories, which were passed down orally from generation to generation, will not be forgotten.

When our daughters were born, we got them a 100-year diary. It’s a diary intended to cover a lifetime (although i’m believing they live well past 100!). As well as recording key events in life, there are sections for family members to record things – such as grandparents. This gives them (the grandparents) to share important things or just to share what life was like for them.

Imagine what will be contained in those pages after a lifetime. I imagine that diary being passed down to my children’s children so that they too will know what life was like for the generations that went before them.

It is so important that we do not lose lessons that were learned in the past. We see from history time and time again that lessons are not learned, and the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

Life does not have to be that way. We can learn from those who went before us, and more importantly have the guidance of God in our lives. We don’t have to learn by trial and error, we can seek the Holy Spirit who will show us things to come (John 16:13).

Whether parents or grandparents or neither, we have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the wonders of God

You may not have children yourself, but I don’t believe that absolves us of responsibility. We all have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the things of God. Whether that is in our own homes, with friends or family, or in our church.

In the UK, it used to be the norm that everyone went to church on a Sunday. The next generation heard the truths of God. But not so anymore. It is now the exception if you go to church on a Sunday (or any other day) and so many children now know nothing of God or his wonderous works.

Today’s Sunday schools ought to be filled with tomorrow’s church

I can’t pass over verse six without picking up that almost throwaway point about – the children not yet born. Here, Asaph is speaking of the future generations, those children who would come in the future and hopefully be taught about God and His ways.

The Bible makes many references to children not yet born, or those being knit together in their mother’s womb. Clearly  the Bible values those not yet born into the world.

This part of the psalm closes with Asaph encouraging the hearers to teach their children so that they would not be like their ancestors. As I said above, he is telling them not to make the same mistakes their forefathers made.

Because their ancestors did not learn the lessons of the past, they became stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, and ultimately refused to give their hearts to God.

Sadly, this is true for us in the modern world. So many have not been taught the Word of God or His ways, and now many are rebellious against God altogether. Very few now give their heart willingly to Jesus.

But it’s not too late.

The result of not sharing these truths with our children is that they don’t know God. It hasn’t taken many generations for this to happen, but the good news is it only takes one generation to put things right.

As the church of Christ, each one of us can begin to share the truth of God with the children in our lives. I’m not suggesting you go up and preach to every child you see, as your authority does not extend that far. However, you can be a witness to Jesus in every situation.

For those children in your care, you can tell them how great God is. You can tell them the stories written down in the Bible and show them how they can live to please God.

If you are a Christian parent or grandparent trying to share your faith with the children in your life, or if you are a leader in a Sunday school or junior church – can I say a huge thank you! God is watching what you are doing and He is so pleased you are spending time and effort to share with the next generation. May He bless you in your work!

I hope what I have said has made you think, and encouraged you if you are working with young people. I leave you with Asaph opening words:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,

Psalm 78:1 (NLT)