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!

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.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

In my last blog post, I began to explore the above verse and what it means. As I said last time, I’ve usually heard this taught as a call not to go to bed on an argument. Good advice this may be, but not necessarily what Paul is getting at.

We considered how the first part – Be angry and sin not – isn’t just an instruction not to let your anger get the better of you, but could also be read as a command to be angry.

You may have read this verse a hundred times in the past, and perhaps each time you read it, your brain said “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…” But what does it actually say?

It says – don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Or to put it another way, don’t let your anger ever go out and grow dull.

I know this may seem like an odd idea, as surely the Bible teaches us to be loving and not to get angry. Can it really be a command to get and stay angry?

As we explored a little last time, anger is sometimes a right response. In the event of injustice or sin, we ought to be angry. Like God, we ought to hate sin and its effects on humanity. And while our sin may result in other people getting hurt, ultimately we are the ones who hurt the most as a result of sinfulness.

To truly love the good, we must also hate the bad. We must stand against sin in all of its forms. To do that, we need a holy anger, and one that does not go out.

Am I taking this verse out of context though? Is it correct to interpret it this way? I believe it is, but understand those who may disagree.

Context is always important when reading the Bible, and we ought never to take a single verse out of its proper context and form a doctrine out of it. Falsehood lies down that path.

Scripture should be interpreted in the light of other Scripture.

For some doctrines, we need to examine the entire Bible in order to see a complete picture. Of course we don’t have time or space to do this here, but lets look at this verse with it surrounding verses to get at least a small idea of context.

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (KJV)

Verse 25 is a clear instruction to put away lying, and to speak truth to each other. This can actually be quite difficult at times. “Do you like my outfit?” or “What do you think of my new hairstyle?” More importantly, when it comes to questions of advice or big decisions, “Should I take this job?” or “Do you think I should marry them?” an honest answer is not always easy to give, and often not the answer the asker really wants to hear.

So often we seek validation from others to agree with what we have already in mind to do. To give an alternative view can be tough.

Similarly, Paul could well be talking about correcting each other in a loving way. Often we leave it to the pastor or minister to address such matters, but indeed there is a role for each of us as part of a church family.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not giving you permission to walk up to just anyone in church and give them a lecture about how they ought to live – we must earn that right through a trusting relationship or as a loving member of church leadership.

But we must tackle sin. We must not just get by with it. So in speaking truth to one another, there may be times when we need a little righteous anger to stir us up to confront an issue. Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should get angry at people; rather we should be angry at sin.

Verse 27 is short and not so sweet. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Could it be that by not following the “command” to be angry, we somehow give the enemy a route into our lives?

It is a narrow path, with ditches on both sides. Err in either direction, and you’ll end up off the road!

What i mean is this. Anger which is uncontrolled or directed at people or things, can certainly give the devil a chance to wreck our lives. How many lives have been destroyed in one single moment of uncontrolled anger? How many men and women find themselves in prison for one slip of judgement allowing their temper to get the better of them?

I’m not giving anyone an excuse to be angry in an ungodly way here.

Equally though, when we reuse to be angry at sin or to have a righteous anger, we give the devil a foothold. If we co-operate with him, the enemy can destroy our lives. If you follow every temptation to do whatever you want, to commit adultery or murder or to steal or rob, your life will come to ruin.

We need to get angry at the devil

Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.

James 4:7 (ISV)

James says that we must resist the devil. Often we ask God to do the resisting, but in reality it must be us who do so. We do that through prayer, our words and our actions. But notice, submission to God must come first. There is no sense in trying to resist the enemy if you are not submitting your life to Jesus.

Likewise, Jesus said:

From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it,

Matthew 11:12 (ISV)

The kingdom from heaven is forcefully advancing…

Christians ought not to be passive, weak or downtrodden. We are children of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. We should be advancing God’s kingdom with passion and determination. Not in our own strength, and certainly not without persecution but always pressing on.

So, Paul tells us to be angry and to never let the sun go down on our wrath. Are you advancing or just barely holding on? Do you need some righteous anger to take a stand against the enemy and resist his influence in your life?

Ask God to stir you up. Pray that He will help you to have a controlled anger that is pointed at the right things. Renew your mind in God’s Word and learn who you are in Christ. Don’t just put up with the enemy, resist him!

Don’t let the sun go down.

Be Angry

Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set while you are still angry,

Ephesians 4:26 (ISV)

I like the ISV Bible, but here’s that same verse from the KJV.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

The KJV has a certain grandeur to it which other translations can lack at times. For every day reading however, I prefer a more contemporary version than the KJV with its “thee” and “thou” wording.

In this case, I find that the KJV is one of the closest to the Greek language. Many modern translations render this verse slightly differently, and even stray into interpetting it for us the reader.

Whenever I have heard this verse taught in the past, it goes something like this:

If you get into an argument with someone, try to settle the matter before you go to bed…

This is not bad advice at all, but I’m becoming less convinced that this is really what Paul was saying here.

Some translations actually bring forth the idea that we should deal with our “heated debates” before bedtime, and again, while that may be good advice, i’m not so sure that’s what the Scripture is really all about.

Take the Amplified Bible for instance, which is one I find very helpful at times. It says this:

Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down.

Ephesians 4:26 (Amp)

The first part of the verse is very similar to the KJV – advising us not to sin while angry. It specifies the kind of things we ought to be angry about, such as injustice. The latter part of the verse advises us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.

In some respects, this is a contradiction. The first part appears to be encouraging us to “be angry” and then tells us not to “be angry” when the sun goes down. So what’s happening here?

I think this verse is going beyond advising us not to be angry during night hours.

Let’s work through this verse logically, and study the text itself rather than our usual interpretation.

Anger is not a sin

The first thing to note is that anger is not a sin. This verse clearly indicates that we can be in a state of anger, but without falling into sin.

Jesus Himself – who was without sin – got angry. He got very angry. In fact, He was so angry that He turned over tables and even had a “weapon”.

 In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as moneychangers sitting at their tables.  After making a whip out of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, including the sheep and the cattle. He scattered the coins of the moneychangers and knocked over their tables.

Then he told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

John 2:14-17 (ISV)

So we see clearly that Jesus was angry, and yet did not sin even once. This tells us that anger alone is not a sin.

The problem comes when our anger is directed at the wrong things, or gets out of control.

As the Amplified Bible expanded this verse, it showed that the target of our anger ought to be things such as injustice or sin. That’s why we were given anger in the first place – to take action when we recognise that someone or something is unjust.

When a child is killed by a drunk driver, or an elderly person is robbed at gunpoint, it is perfectly acceptable to be angry about such things.

The issue is when we direct that anger against the slow checkout attendant or the person who didn’t see us and cut us off in traffic. Frustrating as those things may be, they are not real reasons to get angry.

The way to test is to examine our selfishness. Chances are that if we are angry because of a selfish reason (such as having to wait) then that is not a righteous anger. Righteous anger is directed at ungodliness, sin or the devil. Other unrighteous anger is usually a result of our own selfishness.

Anger is a secondary emotion. No one ever gets angry without reason, there is always something that comes first. It may be offense, humiliation or fear that triggers it.

Perhaps you have children and get angry at them at times. Ask yourself why. It may be because of fear – they did something daft and were in danger of hurting themselves. It may be that they interrupted something you were doing, and “self” didn’t like it. If my anger is kindled against my children, it is often because “I” just want to sit down, or “i’ve” had a tough day. It is rarely anything to do with them.

Be Angry

While the verse is often interpreted as “don’t sin when you get cross,” it goes even further than that. Rather than just don’t sin, it’s a command to be angry.

Actually this is a quote from Psalm 4:4 –

Be angry, yet do not sin. Think about this[b] when upon your beds, and be silent.
Interlude

Psalm 4:4 (ISV, emphasis added)

Psalm 4 is a passionate plea to prayer. David starts off crying out to God, then to man, then to God about man and finally to man about God.

Paul grabs hold of this passion and says, “Be angry, and sin not.” One of the problems in the church today is that it is afraid to stand up and call sin by its name. We compromise our position, accepting the world’s way and either ignoring or dismissing the Bible, and people outside don’t always know what the church stands for.

It’s not enough just to love the good things, we must also hate the bad.

I once heard someone say that love and hate are two separate ends of the same stick. To truly love something, you must also hate the things that come against them. I don’t know if i wholeheartedly agree with this or not, but i certainly do understand that loving good is not the same as hating evil.

When we try to love good without hating evil, we end up accepting everything and standing for nothing. We end up with watered down doctrines and a church that looks like the world instead of the Word.

So Paul’s command to be angry is not by accident. This post has already gone longer than I planned, and I haven’t yet addressed the issue of going to bed while you are still angry! Let’s pick that up next time.

For now though, perhaps you are someone with a temper and you know that you need to bring it in line. Perhaps though, you are on the opposite end, and actually need to stir yourself up and start getting angry at sin and injustice. Perhaps – slightly confusingly – you are both, and need to redirect that temper towards the right things.

Do you need to be more or less angry this week? (At appropriate things of course) Do you need to have a serious think about the things that make you angry, and the things that don’t?