Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Ephesians 5

Key verse: Ephesians 5:18
Big idea: The gospel gives us access to the Holy Spirit. 

There are no substitutes for presence. Someone can send a card, call you on the phone or give you a gift, but when you love them, there is nothing as good as being together. If we have learned nothing else from the coronavirus pandemic, it is probably that. We need to be together and need the strength that other people provide. So what is the greatest gift God can give us? Himself. He gives us many gifts, but nothing more precious than choosing to live with us and in us. The gospel gives us access to His Spirit, to empower and direct us. 

The people we are around have a profound impact on us. Some people bring out the best in us and others bring out the worst. The intensity of the effects of people vary; some people touch us only superficially and others reshape us. But God is of course more intense than any human. Paul here compares the influence of being filled with the Spirit to drunkenness: like someone drunk has lost control of their lives to alcohol, the influence of the Holy Spirit completely reshapes our decisions and mindset.  But unlike alcohol that smothers our best selves, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be the people we were born to be.

Older kids: Who in your life brings out the best in you? Do you have any friends that undermine your attitude or your good habits? 

Those filled with the Spirit sing in their hearts to the Lord, encourage one another, give thanks to God for everything, and submit to one another. It is a life totally transformed in our relationship with God, other people and our overall attitude. The closer our relationship with God goes the more transformed we are. 

Discussion idea: How does the presence of the Holy Spirit empower you to do more than you could ever do on your own?
Prayer focus: Ask God to help you demonstrate the influence of the Spirit in your life. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Ephesians 3

Key verse: Ephesians 3:10
Big idea: The unity of the church reveals the glory of the gospel. 

Paul was a Jew, yet he sat in jail because he refused to quit carrying the gospel to Gentiles. Despite the deep cultural prejudices he had been raised under, he sat in jail with their best interests on his mind. It was a mystery. His message that the Jews and Gentiles should be one body and share the inheritance and the promises of God was incredibly strange. But it was a central part of God's plan. Jesus' redemption of the world is pictured by Paul as having three parts. First, He created a new humanity in His death, by becoming the second Adam and breaking down the barriers between us. Then, He rose again from the dead to present this new humanity to God. Finally, He ascended to Heaven to be enthroned and awaits making His enemies His footstool, ending the rebellion in the heavenly places when the new heavens and new earth are formed. 

The united church is a living sermon. It proclaims to the world that the God who is strong enough to overcome social, political and racial barriers is the same God that overcame the barrier between sinful humanity and a holy God. It proclaims to the angelic powers that God is a reconciling God and what He is beginning, He will complete when He puts Satan under His feet. When we are who God intends for us to be, serving one another in love, we proclaim His wisdom and glory by our very existence! So Paul says to these Gentiles, "faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." The face a Jewish man would suffer for Gentiles was glorious: the wisdom and power of God on display. It is in our love for one another ("with all the saints") that we can begin to understand the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen!

Discussion idea: Why do churches so often fail to cross the cultural barriers that the gospel overcomes? 
Prayer focus: Ask God for the opportunity to demonstrate the unity we have in the gospel.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Ephesians 2

Key Verse: Ephesians 2:16
Big idea: In Christ, we are reconciled. 

Webster defines reconcile as "to restore to friendship or harmony." It is the kind of positive thing which can only take place after something negative. Our relationship with God was shattered in the fall of man by our choice of sin and that relationship could never be restored by us. We needed to be reconciled. But who could serve as a mediator? Who could absolve our guilt? We needed someone to go between us and God, to bridge the gap between the holy and the sinful. Ephesians tells us that Jesus came to break down the barriers between people, as a new Adam creating a new human race. We are no longer Jew or Gentile (or anything else) if we are in Christ: we are simply His. We are part of his family and fellow citizens of His Kingdom.

When Jesus died on the cross, He killed the hostility of sin. Once He reconciled us to each other through His cross, fulfilling the Law and taking the penalty for sin, He rose again triumphant, to reconcile His people to God. This reconciliation is not just a passive tolerance. We are not just around each other but are being built into a holy Temple, as interconnected as bricks in a wall. Our relationship with God is not just the absence of conflict - it is the active access to the Father to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Here is real reconciliation, the restoration of a ruined relationship. 

Probably the greatest Christmas hymn is "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Wesley wrote: "Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled!/Hark the herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn King." In Christ, and in Christ alone, we have reconciliation with God. We have a relationship restored and divisions dissolved. We have forgiveness, fellowship, and the privilege to worship. It is already done, we need only to accept it by faith.

Discussion idea: What areas in our society need reconciliation? Is it possible apart from Christ?
Prayer focus: Lord, help us to recognize the reconciliation you have already accomplished by the cross and help us to live worthy of it. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Ephesians 1

Key verse: Ephesians 1:10

Big idea: In Christ, we have peace.

The world is a mess. I am not sure if you noticed. But families are in shambles, political division is near historic levels, and people are depressed, anxious, and isolated. We are a wealthy nation, with a lot of comforts and a lot of power. In fact, the only thing we don’t have is peace. There is no peace between us and God, there is no peace between us and each other and there is no peace within us. Is it any wonder that we have problems? At the root of all of our conflict is our sin. It separates us from God and each other. It puts turmoil into our hearts and puts all of our relationships in peril.

God’s plan is not merely to escort us out of the world and take us to dwell disembodied in Heaven forever. He is going to fix the chaos on a much deeper level than that. When the time is ripe, Jesus will put all of the pieces back together again. By His incarnation, His death and His resurrection, He overcame the barriers which prevent peace. Our sin’s penalty has been paid and the power of sin has been broken in our hearts, so we are no longer enslaved to it. The divisions of age, race, class and nationality are irrelevant when we all come to God through the cross.

But God is not through. Heaven and Earth will be brought together in Christ too, when He comes again. The tabernacle of God – the heavenly Jerusalem – will come down to the earth and we will dwell with Him forever, Heaven and earth collided. Our peace now is just a foretaste of the total peace when Jesus returns and sin is abolished once and for all.

Practically, there is a very important point to be made here. If we are in Christ, we already have peace. It is not something we need to strive for, just to recognize. The secret is to realize that peace is not in ourselves or our efforts, but in Christ. When we look for peace, we will only find more chaos. But when we rest in Christ, we will have peace. Charles Spurgeon put it well: “I looked at Christ, and the dove of peace flew into my heart; I looked at the dove of peace, and it flew away.”

 Discussion idea: What does it mean when it says that Christ came at the “fullness of times”? Is the meaning the same as Galatians 4:4?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to rest in You and find all of my meaning and satisfaction in You. Help me to trust that you are bringing all things together in Your Son and that we can have peace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Galatians 6

Big idea: In the gospel, we are a new creation.

Key verse: Galatians 6:15

In 2009, the US government launched a $3 billion program called the “Car Allowance Rebate System.” It was better known as “cash for clunkers.” A $3500 or $4500 voucher was given for old, fuel-inefficient cars, to go toward the purchase of a new vehicle. The idea was to stimulate the economy and remove old cars from the roadways; upgrading them would cost more than they were worth. The program was very popular with the public: the initial $1 billion allotment was exhausted in just 6 days.  Sometimes it is better to just scrap the whole thing and start over.

The gospel includes some shocking news: our hearts are clunkers. They do not need a fresh coat of paint or some new tires. We are what your insurance agent would call totaled and it is time for a total replacement. The Law, whether circumcision, a restricted diet or observance of special holidays, cannot repair the wreckage. Going to church, being baptized or reading your Bible every day are all about as effective as a baby’s arm floats on a grown man. The burden is simply too great: we need to start fresh.

Thankfully, that is exactly what God offers us. In the gospel, we are promised that the cross of Christ has crucified us to the world and the world to us. We are made new creatures, transformed by the power of the Risen Jesus. If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior and have been gnawing at the edges, it is time to realize that your life does not need a make-over, but a do-over. If you have been born again, do not fall into the Galatian foolishness of believing that what God started with a radical transformation you are now going to finish by your works.

The whole thing is by God’s grace. As a cost of much greater than $3 billion dollars, He has purchased us to transform us fundamentally. We are new creatures, made fit for the new creation. The works of the old creation, the strength of our willpower or the might of our flesh, are already passing away. Everything that matters is ours by faith in the Risen Son.

Discussion idea: Why do you think people want to believe that their lives can be fixed by behavior modification? What does the need to be born again do to our pride?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for making me new. Teach me to live like the new creation that I already am, not so that I can earn your favor, but in love for you because I already have it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Galatians 5

Key verse: Galatians 5:13

Big idea: The freedom of the gospel is the freedom to love.

What does it mean to be free? For many people, freedom is the ability to self-indulge without being stopped. Freedom is no bedtime, no rules and no obligations. You see this worked into our political discourse all the time; I am not free unless I can do whatever I want. But the Bible calls this freedom slavery. Sure, we are not slaves to someone else in this scenario, but we are slaves to a much harsher, crueler master: ourselves. When every craving and lust is satisfied like an itch, we are carried around with the same kind of superficial liberty that an animal has. To look at it another way, if a fish more free in a tank or on a table? In one sense, the fish on the table can go anywhere and do anything, while the fish in the tank has restrictions. But the restrictions are what allow the fish to live and thrive. The appearance of freedom in this case ultimately means the loss of choices.

Paul offers a better way. God has set us free from the Law! We are no longer bound like children to all of the regulations that apply to the outside. But if we think that freedom means that we should now follow our flesh into every temptation, then we have traded a harsh but good master for a lenient but evil one. We are free, but our freedom is a chance to serve, not a chance to sin.

If you parents made your sister share a toy with you, there is some joy in that: you get something that you want. But how much better is it if on the relationship of love, your sister choses to do what she does not have to do? Some marriages are more like business partnerships, with strict divisions of labor by common agreement. But how much better is it to have a marriage where I am free to do what I wish, and I choose to lay my freedom down for the sake of love? Legalism, adding requirements to the Word of God as if they are Scripture, leaves no room for love. Libertinism, saying I can do whatever I want whenever I want, disregards love. Both are failures for the Christian and both are yokes of bondage that forget Christ has set us free.

Freedom means that the way I resist evil is by choosing to walk in the Spirit. Although the flesh may offer me a carrot to entice me to sin and the Law threatens with a stick, the Spirit calls me to choose self-denial voluntarily, not because I must but because I can.

Discussion idea: When was the last time you did something that you got no benefit from, just because of love? What opportunities do you have to do that this week?

Prayer focus: Pray for God to help you avoid temptation by walking in love.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Galatians 4

Key verse: Galatians 4:7
Big idea: The gospel sets us free!

When you were a child, you probably had some precise rules. “Don’t touch that! Don’t go there!” As you grew older, those rules changed. The earlier rules may have seemed reversed, but with hindsight, you can see they always had a particular trajectory. “Stay away from the stove” gradually turned into learning to cook with less and less supervision. It is not that your parents were randomly changing their minds, but that we need more detailed instruction when we are children than when we are mature.

Older kids: What are some rules you used to have which have changed form? How do they follow the same intention?

Today’s text refers to a Roman custom where children were under the care of “tutors and governors” until they reached adulthood. The child did not have freedom but answered to a servant who, in modern English, was something like a nanny. His job was not to explicitly teach the boys but to discipline them and prepare them for adulthood. The child was free, and in some sense, the servant belonged to him, yet he was under the servant’s authority. So sons were treated like servants until they grew up.

Paul explains that the Law was like that. Perhaps the clearest example was when Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man. There is no Law without humanity, so in some sense, the Law exists to serve us, not the other way around. Yet, for a period,  God’s people were placed under the Law until the time to grow up came. The goal was never to stay under the rule master forever, but to grow up.

Jesus, the very Son of God, became a slave to the Law Her had made so that He could redeem us from the Law. There is no need to act like a child; the full blessings of heirs are ours. A Christian being bound by the requirements of the Law is like an adult chewing on a bottle or climbing into a crib. Jesus has set us free by the gospel, so we should not be entangled again.

Discussion idea: Why would Christians want to place themselves back in bondage? What kind of wrong thinking was leading the Galatians astray?

Prayer focus: Pray for the maturity to follow God, not by Law but by the gratitude of grace.