We often talk about “trusting” God, that salvation is by “faith,” but I have often wondered how much people are really able to understand those words. I got to hear my nephew preach this morning, and he did a great job of explaining Eph 2:8-9 (although he never referenced it) using Isaiah 6. God reveals himself as a holy God. Isaiah’s appropriate response was to see the great chasm between himself as God and cry out, “Woe is me.” Isaiah is forgiven by merely receiving God’s atoning gift of the burning goals. Salvation, Dave preached, has to do with seeing God for who he is, with seeing myself for who I am, realizing that there is nothing I can do to move from being a sinner to being holy, and yet also believing that the holy God has done what only he can do in reaching out and offering forgiveness to us. “Faith” is believing that God has extended the fires of forgiveness. – Bill Mounce
But the unbelieving Jews [at Iconium] stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 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 14:2-3
To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18-20
I can’t imagine Paul being any bolder with the gospel than he was in Iconium. Those who heard and rejected his message stirred up others against him so what did he do? He remained there for a long time speaking boldly. He didn’t know how to take “No!” for an answer.
So then, what’s up with the Ephesians’ quote? That was written years after his first trip to Iconium, did he start to wimp out in his later years? There’s no indication of that happening. As Acts progresses he seems to be just as bold, maybe even more so since he appealed to Caesar and to Caesar he went. So why does he ask the Ephesians to pray for him? Because he knew that his boldness and his success didn’t come from himself. He knew that any progress he was seeing was only because God was at work in and through him. More than once Paul mentioned how unworthy he was because he had persecuted the Church. That wasn’t cheap crape paper window dressing humility either. He really lived with the sense of his own worthlessness and great confidence in what God was doing through him. That’s a great balance to maintain, one I wish I could manage better. When things are going well, I begin to think I’ve done something to really impress God or that I’m just in a good grove. It’s about me. What I need, what we all need really, is to fight for that tension between our absolute uselessness and God’s mighty power at work in earthen vessels.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7
On 8/14 I preached at LifeSpring on Ephesians 4:1-16 on unity in the church. What I found fascinating as I prepare the message is how central the message of unity is to Ephesians. In verse 3 we’re told “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And they way that happens is seen in 7-13. It is through the gifts God gives to his church. The end result is that we grow up in the faith and bear with each other as we gather the nations. To get the full message, have a listen:Unity In the Body of Christ
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. – Ephesians 4:29, KJV
Don’t cuss. Don’t have a filthy mouth. Don’t use those words which in English are offensive. Don’t use double entendres with a wink. Don’t tell dirty jokes. Don’t speak of things that are unseemly. All of that is true and those are things we shouldn’t do. But I don’t think that goes quite far enough. It is possible to violate this command while at the same time using squeaky clean language and an equally squeaky smile.
The context of Ephesians takes our speech beyond just dirty words or concepts. “But speaking the truth in love…” Paul commands in 4:15 as he is calling us to unity. Not unity devoid of truth but unity in truth. To abandon truth is to violate 4:29. Likewise employing truth like a cudgel is equally a violation. Or speaking the truth at a time and in a situation or into an ear in which it isn’t appropriate does the same thing. Normally, that’s called gossip. If you spread something that isn’t true, that’s flat out lying and slander.
In chapter 5, Paul also says, “Let no man deceive you with vain words”. Bad doctrine violates Ephesians 4:29. In chapter 4 Paul wants us to be unified and says that God’s gifts to the church ensure that unity. According to 4:11 those gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Those who call the church and instruct the church. They are the gifts Paul cites so that we might be “no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. It is important that we be very leery of new doctrine, of things we haven’t heard before. The latest thing to blow in from the internet or Oprah might just be the thing that violates 4:29.
So don’t talk dirty. But also don’t speak or teach dirt either. None of that builds up the church nor does it preserve unity.
Into the lower parts of the earth. 1 “For ‘the lower parts of the earth,’ they may possibly signify no more than the place beneath; as when our Saviour said, (John viii. 23,) ‘Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world;’ or as God spake by the prophet, ‘I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath.’ Nay, they may well refer to his incarnation, according to that of David, (Ps. xxxix. 15,) or to his burial. (Ps. lxii. 9)” – Pearson These words mean nothing more than the condition of the present life. To torture them so as to make them mean purgatory or hell, is exceedingly foolish. The argument taken from the comparative degree, “the lower parts,” is quite untenable. A comparison is drawn, not between one part of the earth and another, but between the whole earth and heaven; as if he had said, that from that lofty habitation Christ descended into our deep gulf. – Calvin’s Commentary on The Epistle to the Ephesians, commenting on Ephesians 4:9
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|1.||↩||“For ‘the lower parts of the earth,’ they may possibly signify no more than the place beneath; as when our Saviour said, (John viii. 23,) ‘Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world;’ or as God spake by the prophet, ‘I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath.’ Nay, they may well refer to his incarnation, according to that of David, (Ps. xxxix. 15,) or to his burial. (Ps. lxii. 9)” – Pearson|