Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Paul is praying here, for the Ephesians, a very similar thing as he prayed for the Colossians. “Christ in you,” (Colossians 1:27-29) was the driving force behind all his ministry. Here he is praying that Christ would dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians through faith. Does that seem like an odd prayer to pray for Christians? It shouldn't. The goal of the Christian life is indeed that Christ be formed in us.
Here in Ephesians 3, Paul prays that this dwelling of Christ in our hearts would so root us in His love that we would have power to lay hold of that love, that we too would be filled to the measure of the fullness of God. This isn't merely a prayer that we would know it, but rather than we would live it.
I wonder if Paul placed the word “deep” or “depth” (depending on translation), at the end of the list for emphasis. I am much more inclined to think of how wide and long, or how high the love of Christ is, especially if I am thinking of how I am to live it out in my own life toward others. But it is the depth of the love that I am less amicable toward. But it is the depth of Christ's love that seems to be the crux of the matter. It is almost as if I hear a pause after “deep” so that I might take it in when I go through that verse.
It was from the depth that we needed to be rescued (Psalm 69:14). And it was to the depth that Christ had to descend when He came to “the lower earthly regions” (Ephesians 4:9-10). In fact it is in the depth of Christ's love that the height of His love is really discovered.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name... (Philippians 2:6-9)
We are called to proclaim the glorious love of Christ, and we are called to grab onto the depth of the love of Christ: humbling ourselves, laying down our lives, taking up our cross and following Him. No doubt it is because of this very reason that Paul had finished his previous prayer of Ephesians 1 by asking that we would see “his [God's] incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like 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...” (19-20). We are indeed going to need to know the power that raises the dead, and see it clearly by faith, if we are going to grasp onto the depth of the love of Christ in our living the Gospel to others.
It is there, in the depth of the love of Christ that we will be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” And it is rooted in this prayer that Paul can immediately say,
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:2-3)
It is our grasping on to the depth of the love of Christ that will produce the community life to which the church is called. Without it, we only have the self-life; the self-life somehow enhanced by a religious idea of Jesus, but the self-life nonetheless.
It is our grasping on to the depth of the love of Christ that will bring a harvest of souls through the Gospel. Just as Jesus told Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” I believe Christ is calling us to put out into the depth of the love of Christ, and there we will find our nets being filled with a catch.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel
Monday, May 3, 2010
“...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places... (Ephesians 1:17-20)
What is wisdom? At one level it is the practical application of knowledge. Not just knowing stuff, but knowing what to do. When we arrive at the book of Proverbs (where we are currently doing a series at Gulf Coast Community Church), we find that it is, in a manner of speaking, how to live out God's rule in the affairs of life; obedience to God, rather than following “the way that seems right to a man.”
In fact, the book of Proverbs is set as a contrast to the lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden. There, “Did God really say...” and “You will not surely die,” are a direct assault on the wisdom of God. There, for the first time, folly masquerades as wisdom by questioning the truth of God's word, and denying the reality of God's judgment. If God actually didn't forbid eating (“Did God really say...”), there is no reason to fear disobedience; if there are no consequences to fear (“you will not surely die”), again, there is no reason to fear disobedience, even if God did prohibit eating. The serpent's attack was directly aimed at the fear of God.
The path to Wisdom begins right where the path to folly began. It is at that same “fork in the road”.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)
Here, knowledge is used to summarize the whole first paragraph of the book. This knowledge is “knowing wisdom and discipline...understanding words of insight...acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair,” it is the “prudence...knowledge and discretion” that the young and simple need. (Proverbs 1:2-4) In short, it is another word for Wisdom. This Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord just as the original folly began by losing the fear of the Lord.
The book of Proverbs begins by describing Wisdom in the ultimate sense... that which saves us from destruction and death. Then it moves toward the practical sense of how to apply its foundational truths to every day life. The Wisdom of Proverbs (in the ultimate sense especially) very strongly points to the Gospel. It really is the kind of wisdom needed for “saving our soul” rather than “gaining the whole world.” (Luke 9:25)
Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17-20 brings our understanding of Wisdom up a notch. Paul prays that we would be given a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. How? By having the eyes of our hearts (of course, not the organ which has no eyes, but our unseen person, our inner person) enlightened to know two things. First, that you would know “the hope to which he has called you,” and then he amplifies that a little, “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Second, that you would know, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” and that if then defined as, or compared to, “the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
The Gospel defines Wisdom, what is practical in walking out our obedience to God, by its relationship to eternity. If I were to view hardship, or suffering, I might not find much “wisdom” in it, if I am merely looking on this side of the grave. Because Paul understood the relationship between his present circumstances and the hope to which God had called him, the riches laid up for him in heaven, Paul could say,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
The Gospel not only defines wisdom by its relationship to eternity, it also defines it in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the same power available to us. For instance, humbling myself before others may not be wise because they may take advantage of me or loose respect for me, if I think in merely worldly terms. Treating another person who has wronged you with kindness, may seem to make myself a rug, which looses all sense of wisdom in the practical sense.
How often, when someone talks about Jesus' instructions to love our enemies, give to those who ask of us, or to forgive those who ask us to repeatedly, do we hear something like, “but we really have to use wisdom in this.” The implication is, “What Jesus said is all well and good, but it surely isn't very wise, so you need to balance this impractical advice of Jesus with some practical advice from some other part of the Bible.” Of course, no one comes right out and says it that way, but that is a rough paraphrase of what we are thinking.
The problem is, we don't yet have the wisdom that sees the exceeding greatness of his power for us who believe... the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places. We need to see that, because when we see that, it suddenly makes sense of what Jesus said. Yes, humbling myself, treating kindly those who have wronged me, giving to those who ask of me, or forgiving those who continually sin against me, may cause my demise, my suffering, my difficulty, or even my death. But if I know that the power that raised Christ from the dead is there for me, and when I see the outcome for Christ, I realize that there is no folly in Jesus' instructions. Jesus' teaching is not in need of being balanced by wisdom at all, it is in need of being brought into focus through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
It may be that we are often, wisely called to be “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despair even of life,” wherein “we feel the sentence of death”. But it may well be that “this happens that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (from 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.) That is Gospel defined wisdom! Trust in the Lord with all your heart (even if in means He would have to raise the dead), and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)