How quickly we forget the most important truth

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. – Acts 13:38-39

And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. – Acts 13:43

So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. – Acts 14:3

And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  – Acts 14:27

Ruins in Antioch in Pisidia

When Paul jumps into his letter, it begins with “how quickly” the Galatians were deserting the God who called them in the grace of Christ. And it was quick.

One key to understanding Scripture is context. Not only the language of the specific passage, but all that surrounds it. To grasp Galatians, we need to go to the book of Acts. Galatians was written, according to reputable scholars, between Acts 14:28 and 15:2. Paul preached in Galatia during his first missionary journey which ended at Acts 14:28. The Galatian part of his trip is found in Acts 13:14 – 14:23. His first missionary journey took place in about AD 46-47. He wrote Galatians in AD 48, within the first year after completing the mission trip.

The critical issue in Galatians is the whether or not it is necessary for Gentiles to become Jews first and then become a Christian, or in other words, whether or not Gentiles (and Jews for that matter) are obligated to the whole law of Moses as well as faith in the work of Jesus. Let’s look at what happened in Galatia. (more…)

How to make sure you don’t miss out on grace and peace

The simplicity of the gospel

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10

The letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia has a distinct tone. It does not contain his usual congenial warmth we see in his other letters. There is no thanksgiving section in which Paul thanks God for his work among the letter’s recipients. Galatians is rather stern in tone. You might say Paul is ticked off. (more…)

Thoughts on the elements of spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

It seems that throughout the history of the church, and now is no exception; there are two extremes when it comes to the topic of spiritual warfare. There is the denial of the devil and his demons, an attempt to relegate them to the annals of ancient myth. This position is certainly not supported by Scripture. The other extreme is convinced there is a demon behind every rock and hidden in every closet. That too is a false extreme. But, spiritual warfare is real. The devil is real, and we need to be properly apprised of the situation. (more…)

The superpower for successful Biblical leaders and followers

The power of an undivided heart

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.  – Ephesians 6:1-9

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

Fathers and Masters (Employers) are leaders. Children and Bondservants (Employees) are followers. This may be simplistic, but it gets my point across. We can learn a lot from both the explicit application of this passage to Children and Fathers, Bondservants and Masters and the implicit application to the broader categories of leaders and followers.

This passage is one that cuts across the grain of contemporary American culture. I believe it is vital that we come to grips with the fact that America is no longer a Christian culture. Culturally, we Americans are pagans. Biblical Christians in America are on the mission field. We don’t have to go overseas to be on mission. This is a paradigm shift I hope to influence among American Christians. As a Christian, how one is to live as a child, father, employee or employer is vastly different from the contemporary pagan American culture. (more…)

Why do Biblical standards for marriage matter?

The model for how marriage is to work

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:1; 21-33

When our brain is disconnected to some degree from our bodies, we become disabled. A complete breakdown between of communication between the brain (or head) and our body causes us to become a quadriplegic.

When my body acts against my brain, we refer to the condition as things like auto-immune disease, or aphasia, or epilepsy.

Our brain naturally acts to protect our bodies from pain and harm. If I accidentally place my hand on a hot stove, my brain has an automatic reflex reaction to remove my hand from the source of pain rapidly. My brain protects my body if it is functioning normally. If my body is functioning normally, it will always obey the direction of my brain. If the body and brain are working extremely well together, it results in excellent eye-hand coordination. For a guy, he may be a great hitter in baseball.

Paul is using these facts about the relationship between our brain (our head) and our body to illustrate two other relationships, that of Christ and the church and that of a husband and wife. We can learn volumes from these analogies.

First, Paul makes it clear that the real objective of this section is not marriage, but the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is the head (or brain, in modern parlance) and the church (we who are Christ-followers) is his body. He has such care for his body that he died for it to save it and protect it from ultimate pain and destruction. When the communication system between the head and the body is functioning properly (we are listening to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit) we are kept from the pain and destruction of sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit functions like our nervous system; he communicates the commands from the head to the body. Every analogy is limited, so stick with me, it isn’t perfect, but hopefully, it will get the point across.

The function of the head is to love, that is to care for, the body, The function of the body is to obey, that is revere and honor, the head so the whole person can behave in a coordinated fashion and not in a spastic fashion. Paul then takes this analogy from the church and applies it to marriage. The husband is analogous to Christ, the head or brain, and the wife is analogous to the body or church.

It is because of this analogy that the husband is called the head of the wife and is called to love her in a manner analogous to Christ’s love for the church. A husband is to lay down his life to provide for, protect and love his wife, that is what Christ does for the church. The wife is to revere or respect her husband in a manner analogous to the church’s call to fear God in Christ.

There are several lessons to be learned from this picture.

  1. Jesus had given himself fully for us both corporately as the church and individually as member of that body of Christ.
  2. Jesus continually gives himself on our behalf as he dispatches the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to purify us as his bride.
    1. The responsibility of a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. Fellas, this is a tall order. It sounds impossible and probably is, but it is still the standard given to us for how we are to love our wives.
    2. A secondary lesson is that our loving our wives like Christ loves the church is not contingent on having a perfect wife. Christ loves an imperfect church. Therefore, we are to love an imperfect wife.
    3. One result of loving our wives as Christ loves the church is that it will bring our wives closer to being the perfect wife we would like to have just as Christ’s love of the church brings us to a place of being holy and without blemish.
  3. Maintaining this standard will keep us humble in our love as we find ourselves regularly falling short of the mark of loving with the kind of love Christ demonstrated in his love for the church. There is no place for an arrogant, self-righteous husband.
  4. The responsibility of a wife is to revere, respect or fear her husband. I use the word fear here for a couple of reasons; first because that is one proper translation of the Greek term. It is used many times in the New Testament regarding the fear of God. It is the fear of reverence, not the fear of being beaten. Second, this underscores that there is an analogy between the role Christ has to the church and the role a husband has to his wife.
  5. The one thing a man most needs from his wife to be a happy man is her respect. A man can endure lots of failure in life if he comes home to a wife who demonstrates her respect for him.
  6. No matter how successful a man may be in his career, if he doesn’t have the respect of his wife, he will never be a happy man. Many other desirable traits may be missing in a wife, but if she demonstrates her respect for her husband, I will almost guarantee he will love her and treat her well.

It is critical that husbands and wives only concern themselves with fulfilling their responsibility to love and to respect.

Husbands, never, and I mean never, try to “enforce” submission and respect from your wife. If you do, respect is the last thing you will get.

Wives, never, and I mean never, try to “enforce” the kind of love you want and Christ demonstrates, from your husband. You will never get it.

Guys, if you feel your wife doesn’t respect you, take a look at how you love her. Are you acting with love like Christ toward her? Do you live as a self-sacrificing man? Let’s be really practical. Do you ever run the vacuum or wash the dishes?

Wives, if you feel you aren’t being loved as you should ask yourself, are you genuinely respecting your husband? Of course, he may not be the breadwinner you expected when you married him. Or, he may not be the handyman you want around the house. If you show respect rather than contempt, you are much more likely to find him attempting to meet your expectation.

A beautiful, harmonious marriage is one in which the head and body are well coordinated. The head is caring for (loving) the body and the body is working in submission (revering) the head. It takes practice and submission to the Lord and his word to get this right, especially if we haven’t seen it modeled by our parents. Our model for how marriage is supposed to work is not Mom and Dad, but Christ and the church and it is found in Scripture and applied by the Holy Spirit in prayer and submission to God. It’s a beautiful thing.

How can I write with authority on this subject? I have over 52 years of making mistakes in my marriage and failing to properly love and getting to repent and get it better next time around. I still have quite a ways to go, but I am on my way. I am also blessed to have a wife who is wise enough to show respect for me even when I don’t deserve it.

Overcoming sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness

Stuff we don't like to talk about

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:1-21

 

As we read these sections of Scripture that speak to our conduct we must remember that Paul is writing to the same folks he addressed with the words, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

Paul hits hard in three areas, sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. All three speak directly into our culture and unfortunately into the church in many cases. It is because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. I take the phrase “sons of disobedience” to refer to those who are not Christ followers, those who are in rebellion against God and his gospel. It is of note that Paul admonishes the Ephesians, and us, to not let anyone deceive us with empty words, the empty words that attempt to refute the wrath of God and say it doesn’t matter. This conduct should not even be named among Christ followers. Sadly, we fall short and are in great need of the grace of God.

Studies indicate that many in the church, both men, and women, are addicted to pornography. Covetousness, which is idolatry (one translation reads “worshipping wealth”) also holds many in its grip and seems to be the goal of many when the sign of great faith is great wealth. We, the church, have much from which to repent.

How do we deal with this?

“Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,  submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Alcohol filled debauchery feeds these sins, so we are not to be foolish and participate in that. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, fellowship, worship and rejoice with fellow believers. Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord with thanksgiving.  The affirmative action to take in order to either be delivered from or avoid these sins is to intentionally, actively, regularly participate in the fellowship of the local church.

John wrote, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:3-4) To have fellowship with believers is to have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. There is no substitute for the church; I need it, you need it, everyone needs it. Let the joy rise!

How we grow from grace to grace

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:17-31

Paul began this letter to the Ephesian church with encouraging words about their exalted position in Christ. If all we read were the first three chapters, we could well walk away with the thought that the only problem at Ephesus was the division between Gentile and Jewish believers. And that is easily solved, Christ has made us one. Right? That would be a distorted picture of the real Ephesian church. (more…)

The paradox of perfection and performance

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-24

We who have been told that we are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, chosen before the foundation of the world, holy and blameless, are also told to put off the old self and put on the new self. We who are “perfect in Christ” are still in process. These are paradoxical truths that apply to all of us who are in Christ. (more…)

A pipe dream or a Divine decree?

Until we all come to the unity of the faith

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:7-16

The equipping/mending/restoration of the saints is to enable us to serve and in that service build up the body of Christ. Paul puts a time limit on this service; it is to continue “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.”

This unity of the faith is either a pipe dream or a Divine decree that is humanly impossible but divinely decreed and will come to pass. (more…)

Mending what is broken

How God wants to heal your life

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

When Jesus ascended into heaven after his death and resurrection, he gave gifts to humanity. Specifically, he names them as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers often referred to as “ministry gifts.” It’s not my purpose today to delve into the many questions about these gifts, “Are there four or five?” “Are apostles and prophets extant in the church today?” etc. Rather, how do the bulk of us who do not see ourselves in the role of one of these ministry gifts view their function in our lives? (more…)