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Prayer: Ephesians 3:6-7 – Effective Working of His Power

Prayer: Ephesians 3:6-7 – Effective Working of His Power

As we prepare to close out this section of Scripture, I want to remind you that the seven verses that begin Ephesians 3 are all one long sentence.  Therefore, it is difficult to understand the whole without examining each individual part.  And it is equally difficult to understand the various parts, or verses, unless we first have a grasp of the entire meaning of this single sentence.  It seems this sentence has at its beginning and end two bookends displaying both the humility of Paul and the grace given him by the Lord.  We find these two bookends revealed in the word: given.

Paul begins with the “dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Eph. 3:2) and ends with “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me” (Eph. 3:7).  In both instances, Paul humbly reflects he was nothing more than the blessed recipient of something from God given to him for the sake of someone else.  In this case, the Gentiles.  But he ends by stating the gift given him, his calling into the ministry, was only accomplished by “the effective working of His power” and for no other reason (Eph. 3:7).  So both the gift and the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry, is all according to God, and not of any inherent merit of Paul.

Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power – Ephesians 3:7.

Paul claims his calling to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gift from God.  He never ceased to be amazed that God took someone like him, a murdering, vile, angry, detestable, blaspheming Pharisee, and turned him into not only a believer, but one called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).

Paul understood everything that happened in his life was because of grace.  God gave him the grace of revelation to be able to tell the Gentiles about the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).  But God also called him into service as a minister of Christ and a servant of others, which gave his life more meaning and purpose than anything else, ever.  His old life as a Jew, “born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law” (Acts 22:3) meant nothing now.  Compared to the Lord’s gift of ministry and revelation, Paul considered it, like all things, “rubbish” – save for the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).


His Power, Not Ours

But the most profound statement Paul makes in this section of Scripture is that he became a minister of Christ for no other reason, and by no other means, than “the effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).  The word translated “effective” (enérgeia) means “operative, active power or ability.”  It’s where we get our word, energy.  And the word for “power” (dúnamis) means “mighty deeds, miracles, or achieving, explosive power.”  Paul clearly understood it was only because of what Christ had done and the gift he received, that he was anything at all.

As believers in Christ, sometimes we wonder how God can save the most unsavable and disinterested of our family and friends?  Is it done by our proper diction, our eloquent use of our best English, or our ability to present the gospel in a way they will understand and be able to relate?  Is it by the teaching in our current church culture that strives to make the gospel less offensive and bring seekers into the church to somehow, by osmosis or good works or lattes before the praise band starts, lead them to Christ?  I think you know the answer.

The only way someone can come to Christ is through the new birth; through regeneration.  It is not by making a decision, nor by joining a small group, nor by reading a book by Beth Moore.  It is only by the Holy Spirit, or the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7)

Some sermons are preached by the most learned and eloquent of men, and nothing happens.  And other sermons are preached by those who have limited education or a difficult accent to understand, or maybe they have a speech impediment, and yet revival breaks out.  What is the difference between these two?  It is the power of the Holy Spirit, the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).

Paul spoke about this in his first letter to the church at Corinth.  He said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

And there’s no greater demonstration of the “Spirit and of power” than changed lives.

God also called you to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We’re not necessarily talking about a clergy position in a church.  But we are talking about each of us having a ministry to serve others as we serve Him– which makes you, and every other member of His body, a minister who is to proclaim the good news.  You may not be a pastor or have a seminary degree, but you are just as much a minister for Him as anyone else.  And the spiritual fruit we are blessed to bear, the lives we live as light in darkness in front of our family and friends, and all those in our sphere of influence, are affected by the “effective working of His power” in us.


Time to Pray

Please know, nothing is standing between you and all God wants you to be other than your desire to yield to His Spirit.  He’s given you the gift of the Holy Spirit, not in part, not miserly doling it out to you like Ebenezer Scrooge, but He’s given you all of Himself in full.  So much so that Colossians 2:10 says, “you are complete in Him.”  Therefore, as a minister of Christ, let our prayer be for us to move out of the way so the Holy Spirit can do His work through us by the “effective working of His power” (Eph. 3:7).

And that all begins by simply asking Him.

Lord, I thank You for giving me the Holy Spirit who has “sealed” me in You and is the “guarantee of my inheritance” as Your child (Eph. 1:13-14).  I confess I have often been afraid of the Holy Spirit and, because of my fear, have relied on my strength and resources more than I have the Spirit You left in me.  Please forgive me?  And Holy Spirit, I ask You to forgive me for grieving You (Eph. 4:30).  I believe You are equally God, the Third Person of the Trinity, and I thank You for choosing to make Your home in me.  Please show me how to yield my life to You in a way that brings glory to the Father, honors the Son for His sacrifice for my sin, and allows You to change the lives of others through me.  The glorious work You did in my heart in salvation, I pray You will use me to do in the lives of my family and friends.  I ask You to fill me to the point of overflowing for the sake of others and for the glory of God.  In Jesus’ name, I pray.  Amen.

Until tomorrow.

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Prayer:  Ephesians 2:19 – Saints, Part 1

Prayer: Ephesians 2:19 – Saints, Part 1

As we get ready for another Sunday, let me encourage you to prepare your heart this morning to meet with the Lord. Remember, how you worship in church with others is just an extension of how you worship with Him alone.  So begin today with just the Lord and worship Him by prayer and adoration.   And then, come and worship with the rest of the “called-out” ones this morning.

To help focus your prayers we are looking at Ephesians 2:19 and especially this strange description the Holy Spirit calls each of us: saints.  Read it for yourself.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God – Ephesians 2:19.

Note the transition from the many to the few.  We go from “citizens” to members of a “household.”  Note also the description of those who are also citizens with you, the “fellow” part of this verse.  They are called saints or, literally, “holy ones.”


Saints!  Really?

The word translated saints (hágios) means “holy, with the idea of separation, consecration, sanctification, and devotion to God.”  It is the go-to name in the New Testament for believers.  And that also makes it the go-to term that describes you and me.  The Scriptures teach we are saints, those redeemed and set-apart for God and God alone.  I know, it seems the terms saints is reserved for people who lived long ago and whose images now adorn stained-glass church windows.  But that’s not how the Lord sees it. In fact, you are a saint in His eyes. Let me explain.

Watch, for example, how Paul describes those in the various churches to whom he writes:

To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints – Romans 1:7.

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours – 1 Corinthians 1:2

To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia – 2 Corinthians 1:1.

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus – Ephesians 1:1.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons – Philippians 1:1.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse – Colossians 1:1.

Get the point?  He calls fellow believers, fellow “citizens” and “members of the household of God” saints.  But there is more.

Just in Ephesians, look at how the Lord inspired Paul to use the term saints to again refer to believers like you and me.

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints – Ephesians 1:15.

The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God – Ephesians 2:19.

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ – Ephesians 3:8.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God – Ephesians 3:17-19.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11-12.

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints – Ephesians 5:3.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – Ephesians 6:17-18.

That’s who you are.  You are a saint.  Not the way we define that word today, which usually means someone of impeccable character that God used in a mighty way.  Although that’s a pretty good description of a Christian.  But God calls you to be a saint, a member of His body, the church, and one in which the Holy Spirit now resides.  That’s you.


Time to Pray

But there is one more thing before we pray.  As we have noted, the word saint literally means “holy ones”.  In essence, holiness is their nature, their primary characteristic, just like it is for our Lord.  But if you are like most believers today, your behavior is often anything but holy.  Ok, maybe a bit holy on your best day.  But on most days, would you describe your life as holy?  Or would you use terms like “not too bad” or “could be better” or “better than I used to be” or “pretty good” or something like that?  I know that sounds good to us, but still falls short of holy.

What can we do about that?  How can we live up the standard of the name the Lord calls us everyday?  How is that possible?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at that very issue.  But for today, thank Him for seeing you through His eyes, as holy and beloved and as a saint, and not through yours.  Because that is one of the greatest blessings of all.

Until tomorrow,

PS: Go through these verses above and, as you read them, every time you see the word saint, replace it with “holy ones”.  If you do, it will forever change your perception of what the church is all about.

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Profiting from the Holy

Profiting from the Holy

In Exodus 30 the Lord gives Moses, in great detail, instructions about how to make the holy anointing oil (Ex. 30:22-33) and the incense (Ex. 30:34-38) to be used in temple worship.  And He gives specific commands about each.  For the anointing oil He said:

Exodus 30:25-30 – “And you shall make from these a holy anointing oil, an ointment compounded according to the art of the perfumer.  It shall be a holy anointing oil.  With it you shall anoint the tabernacle of meeting and the ark of the Testimony; the table and all its utensils, the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense; the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the laver and its base.  You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them must be holy.  And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister to Me as priests.”

God then tells His people the importance of what He has just commanded them to do.

Exodus 30:31 – “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations.’ “

But there’s a warning.  What has been deemed holy by the Lord is not to be used for personal pleasure or gain.  Man is not to benefit from what is reserved for God alone.  He said, “This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me (not to you) throughout your generations” (Ex. 30:31).

The Lord knew then, as He knows now, how easily we can turn worship into something we like and forget about the One it’s designed to honor.  We play the worship music we enjoy, preach the sermons that make us feel good, and anoint anything we feel like anointing.  Our times together to worship the Lord often digress into something that makes us feel better about who we are and not about Who we belong to.

Listen to the warning God gives about making a profit from what belongs only to Him.

Exodus 30:32-33 – “It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition.  It is holy, and it shall be holy to you.  Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.”

You are not to pour My oil out on whom you desire nor make some for yourself using the recipe I have given you.  This is for Me and Me alone.  “It is holy, and it shall be holy to you” (Ex. 30:32).

God gave the same command and warnings about the incense.  After detailing the specific combination of spices He desired, God then tells His children exactly where to place the incense and why.

Exodus 30:36 – “And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you.  It shall be most holy to you.”

This incense is to be placed where God has chosen to meet with His people— a most holy place.   And “it shall be most holy to you.”  It is not to be used in your home, sold on Amazon, or used in any other way God has not specifically prescribed.  Why?  Because its purpose is to prepare a place for God to meet with man— a most holy place.  And not to make your car smell better.

Again, there’s a warning.

Exodus 30:37-38 – “But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition.  It shall be to you holy for the LORD.  Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”

You are not to make any incense for yourself for any reason.   Why?  Because “it shall be to you holy for the Lord.”  It’s not for you, just for Him.  And what happens if we choose to ignore His warnings and commands and personally profit from what belongs for Him alone?  He says the person who does this “shall be cut off from his people.”  They will no longer be covered under His covenant.  They shall be as a foreigner, an outcast to Him.


Cut Off From His People

Take a few minutes this Sunday and watch a couple of church services online.  Especially from a mega church.  How much of what you see is designed to glorify and worship the Lord?  And how much is planned to make the congregation feel comfortable and want to come back next Sunday?

Then go look at your own service this Sunday.  How much of what is done is for the benefit of you, or for the adoration of the Lord?  Is the “special music” for your enjoyment, or for His?  And speaking of music, do you even know what kind of music the Lord enjoys?  Is it traditional?  Contemporary?  Psalms only?  With or without instruments?  Does He enjoy loud guitars and a light show?  Or is that just for us?

And the message?  Does it lift up Him and His glory and attributes?  Or is it more about you and your problems and how the Lord can “get you through to the other side?”  Are you encouraged to verbally proclaim the beauty and majesty of the Lord or to turn to your neighbor and say, “You look good today?”

What kind of worship truly worships the Lord?  What type of service would He design if we ever took the time to ask Him?

These are some questions I hope you’ll think about before you head out next Sunday for church.  Because it’s supposed to be all about Him, and not about us.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

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Day Fifteen:  Proverbs 15

Day Fifteen: Proverbs 15

These are just a few of the encouraging truths found in Proverbs 15.  I pray they will be a blessing to you today.


Truth One: God is Sovereign

In your times of trouble, remember these encouraging words:

Proverbs 15:3 – The eyes of the LORD are in every place (He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and so much more), keeping watch (beholding, guarding as from a high tower) on the evil and the good.

After all, He is sovereign. And nothing catches Him by surprise.  As someone once said, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God?”  Rest in this truth today.


Truth Two: Actions Matter

How important is prayer and a life of striving to live righteously before Him?  It’s the key to becoming the beloved and delight of the Lord.  Consider the following:

Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice (offering) of the wicked is an abomination (disgusting, unclean, wicked, horrendously offensive) to the LORD, but (by contrast) the prayer of the upright (straight, just, pleasing, in a moral and ethical sense) is His delight (pleasure, will, deemed acceptable).

It gets more intriguing.

Proverbs 15:9 – The way (path, journey, manner of life) of the wicked is an abomination (disgusting, unclean, wicked, horrendously offensive) to the LORD, but (by contrast) He loves him who follows (to chase, run after, pursues) righteousness (blameless in conduct, integrity).

Note the distinction.  The difference between becoming His delight or being horrendously offensive to the Lord is the condition of your heart.  Wickedness brings pain and rejection.  Living upright, holy and righteous, as He is upright, holy, and righteous, bring His pleasure and delight.  And He loves the one who pursues, in both actions and attitude, His righteousness.  You see, actions do matter.

And just in case you’re not yet convinced your actions and attitudes have eternal consequences, look at who gets their prayers heard:

Proverbs 15:29 – The LORD is far (distant, remote, far away) from the wicked, but (by contrast) He hears (to listen, have regard for) the prayer of the righteous (just, those blameless in conduct both morally and ethically).

God hears the prayers of those who live like Him.  But for the wicked?  He’s moved on, out of town, not interested.  That’s scary.


Truth Three:  We Don’t Have All Day

Looks like it’s a choice we make to determine which team we want to play on:  the righteous or the wicked.  I don’t know about you, but my desire is to live righteously for Him and to become His delight.  Is that your desire also?  Are you chasing after Him in hot pursuit?  Then let’s get to it.  We don’t have all day.

Maybe this will give you something to shoot for this week.  After all, nothing else really matters, does it?

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Jude:  How Can Grace Become Sin?

Jude: How Can Grace Become Sin?


How Can Grace Become Sin?

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation,
ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the
only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude 1:4

In this verse, Jude tells us four things about these “certain men who have crept in unnoticed” in the church: (1) their condemnation or judgment was determined long ago, (2) they are ungodly, (3) they turn the grace offered by our God into a license to sin, and (4) they deny the Lord Jesus Christ.1

This is the inevitable outcome of someone who only sees one side of God’s character— grace.  When we only believe the nature of God is grace alone, we tend to see Him as an all-forgiving Father who puts up with the sins of His children and is either too afraid, weak or insecure to confront their behavior.  He becomes nothing more than a Get Out of Jail Free card whose only purpose is to clean up our mess, pay for any damages, and continue to give us access to His unlimited American Express to fund our carefree lifestyle.

He becomes, in effect, a bad parent by showing only grace to the willing sins of His children and not demanding repentance, accountability, responsibility, and retribution.

But God is anything but a bad parent.

When Jesus confronted the woman caught in the act of adultery, He first offered her grace, then repentance.

John 8:10-11 – “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, (grace) “Neither do I condemn you; (repentance) go and sin no more.”

Grace is only one side of the character of Christ.  The other side has to do with the consequences of rejecting grace.


Wrath of the Lamb

There is a chilling verse in the Revelation that should strike fear in those who take the grace of God for granted and use it as an excuse to sin.  This verse shows a different side of Jesus.  There’s no more “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” as the children’s song goes.  Jesus, referred to as the Lamb of God, now comes with something we’d never expect from a lamb— wrath.

Revelation 6:15-16 – And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”

Did you catch that?  Those under condemnation for the sin and rejection of the truth were trying to hide from the wrath of the Lamb, the wrath of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said, “the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

Jesus, with His judgment, also brings wrath.

And He brings His wrath explicitly on those who take His marvelous, undeserved grace and turn it into lewdness.  The word for lewdness is asélgeia and means “debauchery, sexual excess, the absence of restraint, perversion, having an insatiable desire for pleasure.”2  It speaks of unrestrained vice, the very worst of sins.3

Jude was compelled to warn us to watch out for those who will embed themselves in the church, under the cloak of darkness, like a satanic sleeper cell, to turn the church away from the purity of holiness and run after lust, sexual sin, and deviance.  And the bait is a perversion of the grace of God.  It goes something like this:

“You can do anything you want because God loves you and must forgive you if you ask Him.  You can go and sin to your heart’s desire just as long as you remember to say your prayers when you go to bed and ask God to forgive you for what you did today.  As soon as you say ‘I’m sorry’ BAM!— your sins are forgiven and your slate wiped clean.  Then go and sin all you want tomorrow and say ‘I’m sorry’ and you’re forgiven.  You can do it again the next day. And the day after that.  As long as you say, ‘I’m sorry’ you can do anything you want. It’s all grace, grace, grace from a pushover God.”

This perversion of grace now becomes our motivation to sin— which is the very thing that nailed Jesus to the cross.


Repentance

Grace offers us the blessings of forgiveness.  And for forgiveness to take place, there must be repentance.  True repentance always, without exception, involves a change of behavior.  In other words, if there’s no definite change in action and attitude, there is no true repentance.  The grace we’ve been given to have our sins forgiven, when we repent, must include righteous living.  Otherwise, it’s just mere words.  Verbal garbage.  Smoke and mirrors.

But it gets worse.

Those who turn the grace of our Lord into an excuse to sin also “deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).  They mock His sacrifice, pain and suffering He endured to bestow grace to us.  Because of Christ, we have unearned, undeserved and unmerited favor with God who gave us His only Son to die in our place.  And then to twist this grace into an excuse to partake of the vilest of sexual sins is the reason Jude calls them “ungodly men” (Jude 1:4).  In fact, the term denotes a moral outrage against God and not just disbelief.4  We see more of them in vs. 15 where Jude uses the word “ungodly” four times to describe their shameless deeds and again in vs. 18 where he speaks of their “ungodly lusts.”5

Please understand, if Jude was warning the church in his day of this danger, he is also warning the church today.  There are these same ungodly men who have slipped in under the radar of your church and, by their actions and words, are attempting to amplify the lust in each of us to draw us away from the holiness of God and tempt us to do what we deem right in our own eyes (Jud. 17:6).

Be aware.  Guard your heart (Prov. 4:23).

And as “He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

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Notes

1. Schreiner, T. R. (2003). 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 37, p. 437). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
2. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (p. 270). Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
3. MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (p. 161). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
4. Davids, P. H. (2006). The letters of 2 Peter and Jude (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
5. Green, M. (1987). 2 Peter and Jude: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 18, p. 187). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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