Not a walk in the park
Ephesians 6: Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.
Several years ago a popular song included the phrase “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.” Know what? That’s life in general and, in light of this passage, the Christian life in particular. Paul writes this passage from jail. He warns his readers that they have an enemy who’s intent on destroying them. Their spiritual journey is no game and how they live in the here and now has eternal consequences. If a person starts out living for the Lord thinking it’s going to be a stroll in a rose garden they’re in for some unpleasant surprises. The Apostle focuses on spiritual adversaries, unseen but real. It’s not unreasonable to add the common inconveniences and out and out tragedies of life to this mix. I’m not to be naive about all this. There are times when it becomes clear that I’m up against far more than I can handle. Happily, the Lord hasn’t put us out here in real life without some resources. Paul urges us to take advantage of many powerful resources that are at our fingertips. He reminds us that “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words.” He directs us to God’s Word and prayer. It’s no rose garden, but I have everything I need to live a victorious, overcoming life.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but it’s important to remember the Lord’s faithful provision for us.
Paying attention to the big deal of life
Ephesians 5: Observe how Christ loved us.
So what does a thoughtful, genuine Christian life look like? What examples are good ones for me to study and then apply to my life? Paul says the place to start is by looking upward. As a child of God I study his behavior, doing all I can to make true the proverb, “like Father like son.” If I want to see those attributes “with skin on them” I look to Jesus. Whatever I see in Jesus, I attempt to copy into my life. And what do I see? I see extravagant love. Out of love my Lord gives of himself without reservation. He doesn’t use God for his own purposes. Rather, he reflects the loving compassion of the Father in all he does. The Apostle says that I get chances to live like that. Opportunities to love selflessly come my way and I need to make the most of those opportunities. Some folks miss that boat and rather than filling their lives with Christ-like love they let other things dominate their lives. I understand the problem. Everyday a thousand voices cry out to me. Like carnival front men they invite me to try their game. If I’m not careful, I wander off into their diversion. Today, I’m reminded that love is the thing. When all is said and done in my life, the big deal will be love. Have I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind? Have I loved my neighbor as myself? This passage reminds me to “make the most out of every chance I get.”
Take Away: Love is the thing.
A secret to the victorious Christian life
Ephesians 4: I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that leads to nowhere.
God never calls people to be half-hearted, costing along, distracted followers. He’s given us everything we need, in fact, abundantly more than we need to live victorious Christian lives. With this in mind we’re to take it all and run with it. There’s no need for fits and starts, stumbling and struggling back to our feet. Rather we’re to confidently move forward on our spiritual journey. Some folks don’t get it. Rather than moving forward they wander along, taking detours in which they’re in real danger of totally losing their way. So, how can I best get on and stay on track? The Apostle frames it in terms of relationships. He describes the victorious Christian life as one filled with “acts of love” and in which things that strain our connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ are quickly recognized and resolved. After all, he reminds us, we’re traveling this road together and we’re connected in our mutual love for our Master, Jesus. If I fail to love and allow little things to fester in my relationships with God’s people, I become one of those half-hearted, distracted Christians who are in danger of wandering so far from the path that I become lost in the darkness.
Take Away: We really do need each other.
In over my head
Ephesians 3: So here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head.
It was hidden in plain view. Throughout the ages the Lord God has intended to save all people. Some considered to be insiders are no more “inside” than those assumed to be outside the saving work of God. It was always there, easy enough to see, but missed by most. Now, the secret is out and throughout the Gentile world people are responding to the way made clear by the work of Jesus, the Son of God. The Apostle Paul is amazed to find himself in the middle of things. He, more than most anyone, had been blind to God’s intention, at one point actively fighting against it. In fact, Paul has been twice surprised: first, by the fact that all along God intended to save all who will come and second, by the fact that he, Paul, has a role to play in the revelation of this plan. The Apostle considers himself to be, of all people, an especially unlikely candidate. Still he finds himself uniquely equipped for the work, with words and ministry flowing out of his life. He knows that the Source of all this isn’t in him at all, but, rather, is the result of God’s doing through him what he could never do otherwise. Paul’s experience is, of course, extraordinary and a person who wants to lay claim on any similarities had better tread carefully. Still, it’s important for preachers and teachers and professors to get their heads around this. On one hand, believing God has chosen us and uses us in surprising ways lends us a sense of spiritual authority and self-assurance in our service of the Lord. On the other hand, knowing that none of it actually comes from us grounds us in real humility. Otherwise, we end up thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and the possibility of our ministry being used of God is greatly diluted.
Take Away: When God calls and uses a person that person must never lose sight of the fact that their usefulness is the Lord’s doing and not theirs.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.
The Church: Christ at work in the world
Ephesians 1: The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world, the world is peripheral to the church.
Paul’s writing is filled with superlatives as he begins his letter to the church at Ephesus. God’s people, he tells us, have within our grasp “the immensity of this glorious way of life” and it’s with “utter extravagance” that the Lord bestows his gifts on his people. He tells us that all this comes from one Source: Jesus Christ. Jesus makes all the difference in (and out of) the world. It’s not “here and there” or “them and us.” The glorious plan and possibility is that in Christ everything comes together. This great Unifier works through and with a specific group of people who have made him Lord of their lives. That group, we’re told, is the Church. Obviously, Paul’s not talking about a denomination here and he’s certainly not thinking of some local body of believers. This is the “capitol-C” Church. It’s through this body, “his body,” that Jesus is bringing everything together. As I look at the Church today, it’s a mistake for me to only focus on its failings. Jesus sees the Church as his body and as the hope of the world. Even as I acknowledge its failures, I’d better remember its purpose and the source of its power and authority in the world.
Take Away: God has chosen to work through the Church to bring salvation to the world.