Blessed 2x

Ephesians

Many months ago I began writing about the book of Ephiasians. You can find that post here – From an Apostle to the Saints.

For various reasons, I did not write more on the subject but I am very pleased to return to it today. I did promise you it might not be a series… and I make no further claims now!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”

Ephesians 1:3 (WEB)

After Paul’s introduction, he wastes no time and dives straight in! Blessed! Blessed be God! You can feel the power of his words leaping from the page as you read this. Before he says anything else on any other subject, he starts with praise.

It’s a great place to start a letter, and it’s a great place to start a prayer. In fact, it’s a great way to start anything really! Whatever you’re doing, be it work, washing up or watching TV, always start with a word of praise.

Praising God has many effects on us, which we can consider in a moment, but praise isn’t about us at all. It is about God Himself. We turn our attention off of ourselves and our own lives, and we focus as fully as possible on the One who made us. Worship is our reason for being, and on days when I feel I achieve little else, I want to be able to say I fulfilled my created purpose by praising the God of Heaven today.

Imagine the effect on us, if we uttered words of worship prior to any activity. Take the TV example above. How different might our TV viewing choices be if we were to spend a moment thanking and worshipping the Father before picking up the remote.

Paul identifies God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in that. There’s also a nod towards the Trinity here, so see if you can spot the Holy Spirit’s presence also. If not, I’ll pick up on that in a moment.

The word “Blessed,” appears twice in this verse, although they are slightly different Greek words. The way we read it naturally in English is how it was intended. The first “blessed,” is referring to God being blessed, or praised, and the second, refers to the blessing of God or invocation of God’s blessings on people.

What Paul says next is astonishing to me. He says, “who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Read that again before you continue.

God has blessed us, which is wonderful. To simply say we’ve been blessed though, is something of an understatement!

God has “blessed us,” and we must first notice the tense. This is not a blessing we will get in the future, but something we hold right now.

What have we been blessed with exactly? “Every spiritual blessing,” That word translated as “every,” is the Greek word – pas – and means “every,” “any,” and “all.” That’s every spiritual blessing! Not some of them, not half, not most, but all of them!

You might not be feeling all that blessed at the moment, in fact, you might be looking at a stack of bills or a doctor’s report feeling anything but blessed. This verse shouldn’t be interpreted as “God is going to give me whatever I want…” as I don’t think that’s true. We do the Word and God Himself a great disservice however, when we diminish a verse like this and explain it away not accepting what it says.

You are more than just your body, and your life is more than just your bank balance. We must not limit the blessings of God to the physical realm. The spiritual world is far more real than this physical one, and came first. There was “spirit” long before there was any earthly matter.

Paul calls it “spiritual blessing,” and some therefore limit this to refer to things of the spirit such as sanctification, justification, salvation etc. And of course, all these are included. But the blessings here are “spiritual”, I believe, not because they are spiritual in nature, but because they are given by the Spirit of God. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, that’s what makes them Christmas gifts, not because the gift itself has anything to do with Christmas (although it certainly might do).

Thus in this one verse Paul has pointed us to God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

My point is that this blessing given by God is no small thing. It’s not limited to things of the spirit, although we would do well to focus on the eternal things more than the temporary.

So where is this blessing exactly? We find it in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. You might be thinking you’d rather have the blessing down here on Earth than locked away in heaven with Christ. Yet if the blessing is in Christ and Christ dwells in us then the blessing is not as far away as we might think.

We are too often guilty of thinking that blessing relates to money possessions or things this world holds so dear. Paul goes on to talk about many wonderful spiritual blessings in the next few verses and we will examine these another time.

The take home message today is really to think about what we mean by being blessed. If we ask God to bless us are we asking for something God has already done?

What we have as believers and adopted children of God is far greater than anything this world can offer. Our eternal hope is held securely in Christ and God can do no more than He already has to enable us to access heaven forever.

It is truly humbling to think about what God has done for us.

But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (WEB)

We in no way deserve “every spiritual blessing” but it is ours because of what Jesus did at the cross. That is grace. And I join with Paul in saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen!

TV Reality

Do you ever watch reality TV? It is really anything but reality, and if not entirely scripted, then it’s heavily edited to give a very narrow view of what actually happened.

Instead of reality TV though, today I want to discuss “TV Reality”.

I started thinking about this the other day at a party. A dad was playing with his children, and it was great to see them all having such fun. To be truthful though, I felt a little guilty and questioned my own meager attempts at parenting . They seemed to be having such a good time, and I couldn’t imagine them ever having a falling out or a cross word.

They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and appeared the perfect family.

That’s not reality though.

It is so easy to look at others and not see the problems that they face. It is all too easy to think we are the only ones having problems, or the only one going through a difficult time.

We glimpse the “perfect” life of another, and think it’s their day-to-day reality. It’s no more real than reality TV – in fact, it’s TV reality. TV Reality (my own idea) is where we see the portrayed reality put out into the world and believe it, whereas behind the scenes real life is going on and isn’t as good as it seems.

Social media makes this all the more problematic. No one ever puts their real life on Facebook, but only selected highlights. if you are scrolling through your Twitter feed thinking, “They’re all having such a great time, and I’m struggling!” Then you are not seeing the truth.

It is important to remember this, because when things get tough, it can be all too easy to believe the grass is greener on the other side. How many marriages broke down when things got tough, because one or both partners believed life would be better on the other side?

The Bible tells us to consider ourselves with sober judgement.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3 (EVS)

To consider yourself with sober judgement means to be honest. It means we ought not to look on others, and believe all things are rosy for them, when it’s hard for us. Sober judgement means not being harder on ourselves than we should, or excusing our mistakes either. We beat ourselves up over our sin at times, and then at others gloss over it!

The big problem is comparison. We compare ourselves to each other (often on social media feeds) and no good can come of it. I’m not saying we can’t learn from each other, far from it. But comparing ourselves with each other only leads to disappointment.

The only true measure of our lives is against the Word of God. In His Word, God sets out the way He wants us to live. He tells us what to do and what not to do. More importantly, it points us to the only One whose opinion really matters – God Himself.

If we compare against another person, we either judge ourselves better or worse than them. Neither is a good place to be.

Don’t look to others’ TV realities and focus on everything that’s wrong in your life. Don’t waste your time and energy keeping up with the Jones’ or being jealous of others social media lives.

Look to God’s Word for reality, and when you do, you’ll realise you come up rather short. Don’t despair though, God knows we cannot meet His standards and that’s why He sent Jesus to meet them for us. Instead of pouring your precious energy into living up to false realities, pour it into your relationship with Jesus. It’s a whole lot more satisfying!

R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

Hears and Delivers

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17 (WEB)

 

If you are like me, when you read this verse you ask yourself “Am I righteous?” Or rather, “Am I righteous enough?” You may even start to question whether God hears your prayers, thinking you don’t qualify for the help He promises in this verse.

Righteousness however, is not about our performance nor is it something we earn.

Righteousness simply means to be in “right standing with God.” That is, to be in a good place with Him or to have a good relationship with Him. This is not something we can earn, but something we are gifted through the work of Jesus at the cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB)

We are righteous not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because we’ve put our faith in Jesus. He exchanged His own righteousness for our sin, and now we can approach God in freedom through His blood.

So, in short, you do qualify!

If you are a follower of Christ and in relationship with Him, then you are righteous and can be assured that God does indeed hear you when you cry out. This isn’t the only verse to make such a claim, and so you can be sure that your prayers are heard.

This verse also says God delivers us from our troubles. This is a great promise, and I have no wish to limit it. I think we do need to carefully interpret it however.

If you turn on Christian TV, you might find a preacher claiming that Christians should never have another problem or that God will wave His hand over your life and all your troubles will disappear. The really unscrupulous ones may even suggest you exchange your money for such a result.

To put it plainly, that’s not biblical!

So am I saying this verse is a lie then? Not at all!

God does indeed deliver us from trouble. But that does not necessarily mean He takes it all away. Often, God will give us the strength we need to endure through a problem. We may pray that God will take it away, but He would rather we pray for the strength to endure it with a good attitude.

I am not aware of any New Testament prayer that asks God to remove all obstacles out of our way. Rather, saints like Paul prayed for inner strength, power, knowledge, peace, and more, and all to the glory of God.

Don’t misunderstand though, I am not saying God is limited or unwilling, and cannot help. The Creator of the universe is still in control, and very much looks out for the good of His children. We forget sometimes though that god’s primary concern is not our comfort, but His glory.

Whatever you are facing right now, you can trust that God not only hears your prayers, but is ready and willing to deliver you. If you’re stuck in the valley, you might want a helicopter ride out, but be prepared to push on one step at a time. God is with you!

Where To Draw the Line

Last time, I wrote about how to defend yourself against deception. This time, I want to think about where we draw the line when it comes to Bible teachers we disagree with.

What I mean is, no single teacher has everything 100% correct. And if you are looking for a theologically perfect teacher, then you will be searching for a very long time. All of us are on a journey, including those with a gift to teach, and so there may be elements of their teaching which is not quite correct.

Myt question, therefore, is where do we draw the line?

Clearly if someone is teaching blatant heracy, we should avoid them like the plague. You probably don’t need me to tell you that! If they teach that Christ is not the only way to God, or that we can earn our way into heaven (as examples) then have nothing to do with them.

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 (WEB)

Usually however, false teaching is rarely so obvious.

I was listening to a sermon the other day and was learning from what was being said. At one point however, the speaker made a comment about God’s Sovereignty. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and so I was perhaps more attentive to such a statement than I might otherwise have been.

What they actually said is not relevant here, but it suggested they had a more liberal view of what God’s Sovereignty actually meant. It was a passing remark, and not a full statement of their beliefs. What if though, they had a mistaken or false view of God’s Sovereignty? Should I abandon the teaching altogether and forget all that they said?

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, like some others, is a critical doctrine and so likely affects all other aspects of our faith. If we have a wrong belief about such a foundational truth, then that will likely have a knock effect on what else we believe.

There are some issues in the Bible which I think are fundamental. I mentioned some of these above, but would also include the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. There are other matters however, which are perhaps less clear cut and there is space for believers to disagree (agreeably).

So how can we decide if we should listen to and accept one Bible teacher’s lessons over another?

There is no easy answer I’m afraid. I cannot give you a single formula where you can plug in certain factors and get out a Yes or No answer.

We must start with what I discussed last time. We must attempt to gain a systematic and complete view of Scripture. The better we understand the Bible as a complete message, the easier it will be to detect false teaching when we encounter it. And by “false teaching” it could be mistaken teaching rather than deliberately deceptive.

As I said last time, we must interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. We must not take individual verses and make a new doctrine out of them. Context helps us understand what the message is meant to be.

Secondly, i think we should take each case in its own right. There may be a difference between us listening to a single message from someone, and us choosing to regularly sit under their teaching. A single message may be fine, but when we sit under someone’s teaching for a length of time, we will inevitably be learning more about their perspective and theology.

While of course we need to be on guard, I also don’t think we should be closed minded. Within reason, I try to listen to a variety of teachers in order to try to gain a wider perspective. That’s not to say I swallow any and every teaching that comes along, but if you only listen to one teacher, you only get that one perspective.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must take everything back to God in prayer and His Word. If you encounter a teaching which you are not sure about, then take the time to see what the Bible says about it. Instead of just listening to a teacher, discuss it with the Teacher. Be a Berean!

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17:11 (WEB)


But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

John 14:26 (WEB)

Understanding the Bible is not an easy or simple task. It is a complex book, but it is meant for believers. If you know the Lord and are seeking to follow Him with your life, then the Bible is there for you. Speak to God about it and He will teach you from it. It may take a lifetime to learn, but it is worth every effort you put in.

I hope this has been helpful.