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Be Strong in the Lord

May 27th, 2019

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. (Ephesians 6:10)

In this passage about spiritual warfare, the God-inspired author’s first words include in capsule form all else that follows on this topic. The only hope that any of us have in spiritual warfare is God’s help to us.

Midgets among Giants

A fundamental fact about people and spiritual powers is that we are clearly overmatched. We may hold sway over one another and achieve great things in our lifetimes, accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and possessions, and we may hold numerous titles, receive countless tributes, and even have wonderful friends. But all that we are in this world’s estimation, and all that we might ever become, fades into powerlessness in the face of the most diminutive demon. We are like intoxicated spiritual midgets with marred souls and fundamentally flawed character stumbling out into a demonic street that we are completely unprepared for.

We should always remember that whatever rules we hold to about “fighting fair” the devils do not. We fight on two dimensions, if even that, while they fight in four or five. We are muddled in our allegiances, unclear about our loyalties, at least some of the time, but they are never such. We want to wage thumb wars, but they fight for our very souls. The height of any human foolishness has always been, and will always be, to enter into this spiritual battle in our own strength.    

And did I say “to enter into,” because we have already entered into it the moment we were born. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil have been set against us and against every human since the sin of Adam and Eve. Spiritual warfare is a constant in our lives, not mere random events. 

Hence the Command, “Be Strong!”

So Paul spends little time here trying to explain why this matter of being strong in the Lord is so important. He is here like a seasoned veteran soldier about to lead new recruits into their first real fight.  The dawn is about to break, the new soldiers nervously grip their rifles while wondering about what terror awaits them, the troop ships stop bobbing in the sea and hit solid ground, and just before they leap into the surf and directly engage the enemy the seasoned sergeant utters a few last words of instruction, and every soldier that has any sense at all listens carefully. This is the spirit of these verses.

Can you envision here that there are always some personal effects that raw recruits might want to take with them to battle – things that the experienced commanders would say, “Leave that behind.” Every useless or even sentimental item becomes another weight that slows the soldier down, something that competes with essential equipment. And in life, for every yes, there is also a no. For every acceptance there is also a rejection. 

Be Strong in the Lord

So the wise Christian travels light in personal affections and loads up his soul with the things of God. The first meaning that this verse has is the importance of a relationship with God, that we have trusted in Christ and know God as our Father and Christ as our Lord. There is spiritual strength that if we will have it we may only gain it through faith and dependence on God. The words “Be strong” clearly puts some responsibility on our own shoulders to believe and to align our affections toward God and toward Christ. 

The word in Greek is endunamoo and here it means to gain strength and courage by focusing upon the promises of God. It was used for Abraham “who did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith” (Rom. 4:20). It means to put aside your doubts and the things that cause you to stumble, to trust in Christ and from that trust to step forward to the duties into which God has called you. 

The second meaning is to know the “power of His might,” and here is a practical command, to be able to translate God’s promises into your circumstances. The word “power” is kratos in Greek and includes the idea of “dominion” as well as power. The power of God’s might is available only to those who recognize Him as Lord and surrender to His rule in their lives. Oh, but there is real power for the Christian to experience here, and to do any other thing, even to try and be neutral in this spiritual war, is render ourselves powerless.

Know and Love the Lord

So the entire passage from Ephesians 6:10 to 6:20 is introduced by this summary statement. If we will experience success against the schemes of the devil, we must be in a relationship with God, and we must be surrendered to Him as our Lord. We must know Him and love Him, things that we may only do as He calls us to Himself through Christ. We are utterly dependent on God taking this initiative and saving us through Jesus Christ, but thank God that is exactly what He does in this world. 

There is an apparent danger that someone may miss this point about faith in Christ, and try to simply memorize a few prayers, or a few scripture verses, or carry a religious artifact, thinking that these along can substitute for personal relationship. They cannot. Scripture and prayers and religious symbols are powerless without personal knowledge of God through Christ. God must come and rescue us by His grace in Christ. All we can do is to respond to Him in repentance and in faith and in surrender. 

Ephesians, Spiritual Warfare

Leadership in Ephesians

April 9th, 2019

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence. In love He predestined us for adoption as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. (Ephesians 1:3-6 BSB)

It is telling that in the letter that Paul says the most about leadership in the church, in the family, and in life, he starts out by emphasizing the common grace we share. He first lays a strong foundation of the equality of all the saints in terms of the choosing, blessings, planning, and working of God through Christ. And only after he has laid such a wonderful theological foundation for the equality of all believers does he venture into the areas of leadership. 

He deals with five key relationships in this epistle: (1) Christ and the church; (2) gifted people and the church; (3) husbands and wives; (4) parents a children; and (5) employers and workers, or masters and servants.  The first and most important is the relationship between Christ and the church. There is no question that Christ is a gracious and loving Savior, who died to redeem us and who has given His Spirit to mark us as His, who also wishes to display for all eternity His great love and our great redemption.

I ask that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope of His calling, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe. He displayed this power in the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. (Eph. 1:18-21)

But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-8)

The astounding truth is that despite the disparity that exists between the believer and Christ, despite His greatness and our fallenness, that God will still raise us up and seat us with Him in the heavenly realms as demonstrations of His great grace and kindness. 

So when the letter says that “God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church” (Eph. 1:22), Paul has more greatly emphasized God’s love and grace to us and His blessings to us. There is no question but that Christ is Lord, and that we should bow down before Him in surrender and submission, but the tone of the letter much more strongly conveys His love and the blessings of grace than the terror of Christ the Judge. 

So, upon that example and those principles, Paul then simply teaches about leadership in these other areas. What leader cannot read this epistle without being touched? This teaches us that the leaders of the church are not to lord it over their brothers and sisters, neither is the husband to lord it over his wife, nor is the parent to cruelly exasperate his child, nor is the employer to harshly disrespect his worker. It does not dismiss the leader’s role, not in the church, nor in the marriage, nor in the family, nor in the work place. But it does paint it the color of grace and respect. 

The Christian leader is the one who is most like Christ, who knows when to chase the money changers out of the temple, who knows when to ask the tough questions, who knows when to rebuke the sinner, but who also is willing to die for the ones he leads, who is willing to suffer disgrace and embarrassment if others will be blessed, who seeks to lift up and strengthen those he leads. The Christian leader is not the one who puts others down, but the one who lifts them up, that they might become more than he is. 

In whatever capacity God has given you the opportunity to lead others, seek to lift them up and not to tear them down. There may come a time for rebuking, but God never rebukes that He does not also plant a seed of hope and explain how things can be put right. Remember that the word of God is inspired and useful “for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The last part of that quote from 2 Timothy, “that the man of God may be complete,” does not refer only to the preacher or to the teacher or, for our purposes, to the Christian leader. It also is relevant for the one who is taught or led by the Word, that the word of grace lifts us up from our failures and Christian leadership should fully equip the saved for every good work.   

Ephesians, Leadership, Marriage