Category: Ephesians

An Off and On Faith

The recent U.S. election campaign that seemed to run for about 6 years sadly did a great job of illustrating what Christianity looks like to many people.

The campaign focused almost exclusively on the problems the candidates saw in the country, in the world, and most of all, in the other person. Too often the church communicates a similarly negative message. In fact, many Christians combine the two messages and seek to create legislation that mirrors their beliefs about morality.

I have no problem with Christians condemning certain behaviours. I believe God does this also.

I do have a problem with this message drowning out the more important messages of the Christian faith.

The biggest problem those outside of Christ face is not that Christians criticise their sexual ethics. Their biggest problem isn’t that they drink too much alcohol. Their biggest problem isn’t racism. Their biggest problem is that they reject Jesus. That’s the problem that Christians need to speak up about.

Another point many Christians seem to neglect is that the parts of the Bible condemning sexual immorality, lying, theft, gossip, slander, anger, and violence are usually written to Christians, not pagans.

angry-man-pointing

When Christians point the finger at other segments of society, rather than ourselves, we communicate that we don’t face those issues. This is why Christians are so often called hypocrites. Rather than growing our own spiritual maturity, we’ve spent too much time and effort pointing out the flaws of others. Just as a negative election cycle failed to generate much enthusiasm, so negative churches will fail to share the Gospel.

I was excited to find in Ephesians 4:17-5:2 how Paul encourages the church not just to put off sinful behaviour, but also to put on godly attitudes and behaviour. Look at these snapshots:

  • Put off your old self… put on the new self, created to be like God…
  • Put off falsehood… put on speaking truthfully to your neighbour.
  • Put off stealing… put on working to share with others.
  • Put off unwholesome talk… put on building others up.
  • Put off bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice… put on kindness, compassion, forgiveness…

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Christianity is an off and on faith. It inspires us to put off one set of behaviours and attitudes in order to put on another.

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be known for the things I’ve put on. I want to be truthful, generous, encouraging, kind, compassionate and forgiving. I want to hold others to those godly expectations also.

Most of all, I want to walk in the way of love.

Something has gone terribly wrong when the world only hears half the message and the half they hear is terribly off putting.

I’ll give the final word to the apostle Paul. I love how in Romans 8 he takes the negative commandments from the 10 Commandments and reframes them in a positive way. We don’t have to tell people what NOT to do. We can tell them instead to “love their neighbour” and that takes care of everything.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet, and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Romans 13:8-9

 

The Church Isn’t a Corporate Ladder

I’ve been preaching through Ephesians and stressing a movement in the letter between chapters 3 & 4. In the first three chapters Paul dwells on the believers understanding of God. He describes God. He describes God’s vision for the church. He reminds the disciples what God, through Christ, has done for them.

In chapter 4 the letter transitions to discussing more practical issues for the church to implement. In the first part of the chapter the emphasis is on unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.  But unity doesn’t mean uniformity and the chapter moves to describing differences among members of the body.

corporate-ladderVerse 11 contains a list of apparent roles or positions within the church:

  • Apostles;
  • Prophets;
  • Evangelists;
  • Pastors; and
  • Teachers.

We need to clearly grasp that this verse doesn’t describe a career path. Too often I feel there’s an expectation that people work their way up this ladder and that becoming an elder or deacon is a perk of congregational longevity. Rather, Paul here outlines the functions the early church needed to become mature. The gifts and roles listed here are not comprehensive and all served a function in equipping the church and promoting unity and peace.

Apostles were witnesses to the resurrection: since the resurrection is the foundation of the church, the testimony of those who had seen the risen Jesus was the first Christian preaching. Early Christian prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, guiding and directing the church especially in the time before the New Testament was written. Evangelists announced to the surprised world that the crucified Jesus was risen from the dead, and was both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. Pastors looked after the young churches ; teachers developed and trained the understanding of the first churches.
N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (2004, p49)

The images of unity in Ephesians 4 explain why at Lawson Rd we make a big deal when people place membership in the local congregation. It’s exciting when people respond to the calling of Christ in baptism and a commitment to live for God, but Scripture consistently describes new converts participating in local congregations committed to each other. It’s possible that God’s given someone the gift of teaching described here, but when people don’t commit to the other Christians they worship with, they leave uncertainty about their commitment to unity.

Or on the other side, placing membership in a local church lets the elders, deacons, pastors and teachers know the person wants to be equipped by them. It’s difficult to challenge people to grow in Godly maturity when the leaders don’t know clearly who they’re leading. In 1 Peter 5:2 elders are told, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…” Who is the flock under their care? It’s not defined, but membership is way of knowing whether a person is under the care of Lawson Rd elders, or leaders at another local congregation.

While there’s nothing specific in this passage distinguishing between the local church and the universal church, we need to remember that this letter is written to a local congregation, so the teaching it contains is to be applied in that context unless otherwise noted.  The call for unity applies to the Ephesian church and the various tensions they experience to divide. The spiritual gifts and leadership roles listed here apply to the local church. Life as a Christian is not about having the right birth certificate, being baptised in the right way, at the right place or by the right person. It’s about living as healthy part of the body of Christ.

While some church leaders (such as Paul) traveled from congregation to congregation, in general, the leaders at one congregation did not have responsibility for the Godly growth of another congregation. Their task of equipping God’s people for works of service relates to those who are part of that church family.

My last blog post asked, “Who benefits from your faith?” or  “Who were you saved for?” This week the text builds on that thought. God has gifted you for the work of equipping others so that the unified body of Christ may be built up. Are you exercising your gifts and talents for the benefit of others?

Who Benefits From Your Faith?

faith-borders-01

I have no regrets about my faith upbringing. My family and small church nurtured and encouraged my faith. They gave me opportunities to ask questions, exercise gifts, and participate in the mission of God.

However, somewhere along the line I began to assume the idea that there was one correct answer to every faith question. If my answer was “I don’t know”, that was acceptable, but it meant that I didn’t know the correct answer.

As my faith has grown I’ve come to appreciate that the bigness of God often means that limiting ourselves to just one correct answer sells God short.

One example of narrowing an answer too much concerns our salvation. Why did I become a disciple of Jesus? My standard answer sounds something like, “I became a Christian because I didn’t want to spend eternity in Hell and I wanted my sins forgiven.”

I’m confident millions of other Christians through the years have responded to the Gospel for similar reasons.

While in an ideal world people would respond to the Gospel as a loving response to the love of God our motives are usually much more self-centred than that. But we don’t need stay that way.

In Ephesians 3:1 Paul describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” Most scholars agree that Paul probably wrote this letter from a Roman prison. They also agree that he was imprisoned as a consequence of his ministry. However, it’s notable that Paul doesn’t describe himself as “the prisoner of Rome…“, but as the prisoner of Christ Jesus.

As a prisoner of Christ Jesus, Paul was committed to the person and mission of Jesus. In Romans 6:19 Paul describes how we’re all captive slaves to something,

 Forgive me for using casual language to compensate for your natural weakness of human understanding. I want to be perfectly clear. In the same way you gave your bodily members away as slaves to corrupt and lawless living and found yourselves deeper in your unruly lives, now devote your members as slaves to right and reconciled lives so you will find yourselves deeper in holy living.”  (VOICE)

By calling himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” Paul  references his status as a disciple of Christ. With that in mind the next phrase challenges our generally accepted understanding of salvation.

conversation-coffee-01Paul is a prisoner of Christ, a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles.

We might not describe ourselves as followers of Jesus for the sake of ME. But when escaping hell is our primary reason for accepting God’s salvation, then it really is all about me.

The problem here is not that I need forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to spend eternity with God than without God. The difficulty arises when our primary reason for relationship with God revolves around my well-being.

This naturally brings us to the vital question, “For whose sake are you a prisoner of Christ Jesus?”  “Who benefits from you being a Christian?

Jesus lived his life for the benefit of others. Paul lived his life for the benefit of others.

  • Who do we live to benefit?
  • Who does our church exist to bless?
  • Who notices our faith?
  • Who would miss God’s presence if we weren’t present?

Too often it seems Christians feel like prisoners of Christ, trapped in a list of wrongs and right. How that picture changes when we’re prisoners of Christ Jesus for the sake of our neighbors.

 

Are You Preaching Peace?

No other New Testament passage addresses race relations in the church as directly as Ephesians 2. In verses 11-22 Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians urging them to adopt an attitude of humility. Both groups depend upon Christ for their salvation and in that truth both groups should find unity.

The key verse found in this passage is verse 15b-16,

His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. (VOICE)

For most of my life I have focused upon the role Jesus’ death on the cross plays in allowing God to forgive our sins. Forgiveness and restored relationship with God epitomise the cross.

So when I read these verses in Ephesians 2 I’m forced to expand my understanding of the cross. We’re told here that Jesus died to break down walls between Jews and Gentiles. To welcome them both in to the kingdom of God.

This is where the Bible gets tough for us. If Jesus died to remove barriers and dividing walls. If Jesus came to preach peace. Then this is an element of the Gospel that we must proclaim also. If God could make one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles, what can he do with us?

The church doesn’t have the luxury of preaching oneness in Christ and peace with God while having nothing practical to say to our society caught up in racial tension in cities across the country. However, the church has a credibility problem. We want to tell Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Ferguson, San Diego, etc that Jesus brings peace and removes the “dividing wall of hostility”, but in too many cases the church is as segregated, or more so, as our communities.

light-rainbow-01If Jesus died to remove barriers between people so that people could be reconciled to God, then what are we doing about that?

As a first baby step we challenged the church to make October a “Month of Hospitality”. Over the next 30 days we propose to remove some barriers by having each member enjoy a meal (or coffee, etc) with another member on the other side of a common dividing barrier:

  • Racial divisions;
  • Age divisions;
  • Education divisions;
  • Income divisions;
  • Political divisions;
  • Marital status divisions; and
  • Others.

Why only apply this challenge to members in the church? Because, if we can’t overcome the barriers that exist within the church, we have no credibility to tell the world that we bring a message of God’s peace and reconciliation. 

What will you do to live out the Gospel that breaks down barriers?

Worship: When Words Trump Silence

Shortly after encountering members of the Church of Christ I was introduced to the sound of silence. Specifically, I met the silence of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. I was informed that because these verses don’t mention musical instruments Christians are not authorised to include instruments in their corporate worship. We know this because someone determined that silence in Scripture is prohibitive.

While I’ve spent most of the last 20 years worshiping without instrumental accompaniment, I’ve never found silence to be a very good teacher. Arguments over how we should interpret silence seem largely ironic.

breaking the silence 01

I have come to appreciate the words found in these verses and their implications for the worship of the church. Today, I’ll focus on Ephesians 5:18-20.

As I spent time in these passages I first observed that both passages describe worship to God motivated by gratitude. “Sing… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…“. How would our worship practices and experiences change if we committed to “start with gratitude“? I believe focusing on thanksgiving would help us avoid the consumeristic mindset of approaching worship with questions such as, “How does it make me feel?” “How does it benefit me?”

The next discovery I made was that my worship isn’t only directed toward God. I don’t know the percentage distribution, but verse 19 tells us that we “speak to one another” with our songs while singing to the Lord. I’ve previously expanded on this point in this blog post.

Most recently in reading A Gathered People I realized that these three verses in Ephesians make an audacious claim concerning the church’s worship. I’ve written previously about the special presence of God when the church assembles to worship. I now feel like I have a greater appreciation for what this means.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:18-20 NLT)

According to Ephesians 5:18-20, we come to worship filled with the Holy Spirit. We sing to Jesus our Lord. We give thanks to the Father through Jesus. The whole Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is present and involved in our worship each Sunday morning.

Worshiping God with my church family isn’t a Sunday routine or obligation I roll out of bed each week to fulfill. When the church assembles each Sunday morning God in three persons pervades the room, filling all the spaces within and around his people. We gather with God’s people not only to offer worship to God-up-there, but to experience the presence of God-among-us.

God’s presence doesn’t overwhelm us. His presence among us isn’t confirmed by fire, smoke, or a brilliant light. His presence doesn’t begin when the song leader steps to the mic.

No, we bring God’s presence with us as we live Spirit-filled lives that include times of corporate worship. We experience God’s presence in worship as His people encourage us, as our songs speak to us, as Christ serves us at His table, and as His Word challenges and soothes us.

For these reasons I find the words of Ephesians 5:18-20 far more compelling than the silence of those verses. What a tragedy we experience when we allow debates over silence to drown out the wonderful teachings of the words!

whydoweworship

Why do you come to worship God with your church family each week? There are many possible answers, but I hope that one of your reasons is to experience the wholeness of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And having worshiped the Three, May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

Why You Might Be Worshiping God Too Much

stars aurora borealisShout praises to the Lord!
    Shout the Lord’s praises
    in the highest heavens.
All of you angels,
and all who serve him above,
    come and offer praise.

Sun and moon,
and all of you bright stars,
    come and offer praise.
Highest heavens,
and the water
above the highest heavens,
    come and offer praise.

In Psalm 148 Creation explodes with praise for God. In v13 we’re told, “The glory of God is greater than heaven and earth.” Creation cannot contain the praise due God and the psalmist calls upon the angelic hosts and the highest of heavens to join in the chorus of praise.

Yet it’s possible that you might be worshiping God too much.

(While I’ve previously written about expanding worship beyond the Sunday morning worship service, in this context I’m focusing upon the church’s corporate worship.)

As a minister in a Church of Christ, I’ve heard all the arguments about instrumental vs a capella singing in worship services. Many of the arguments are drawn from Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.

Over the years I have noticed that so much time has been spent discussing the spaces between the words that we’ve forgotten what the words actually say!

Examine this phrase from Colossians 3:16, “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit“.

Here are some questions I wish we’d spend more time discussing about this verse,

  • “But I thought our worship was always directed to God?”
  • “How is singing teaching?”
  • “How is singing admonishing?”
  • “How can we make our singing more instructional?”
  • “What does it mean to have wisdom as we sing?”
  • “Can hymns not written by apostles be ‘from the Spirit’?” “Does this mean they’re inspired like the rest of the Bible?”

In my experience, churches have focused so much on singing toward God that we overlook the way the words and music impact the emotions and faith of those hearing the singing.  (Although, even as I write this I can think of many worship leaders who carefully consider how particular songs, lyrically and musically, fit specific places within the worship service.)

How can we better consider one another while singing?

When we direct our entire focus toward God during congregational worship, we fail to allow the songs to challenge the status quo in our lives. I believe this is one of the strong arguments supporting the inclusion of solos or other “performances” into our worship. Often people are quick to dismiss these as entertainment rather than worship, but I believe this step overlooks the need for us to listen, not only during prayer and preaching, but also to our singing.

The instruction to “speak to one another in song” requires that we also “listen to one another’s songs”. Sometimes this listening requires us to stop singing, to focus on the words and experience the music.

When we listen to our songs they often challenge the way we relate to those around us. A regular favorite at my church is the song “Love One Another”. Yet I wonder if singing that songs prompts us to look around the room and consider who needs to know they’re loved today. We sing songs of throwing out lifelines, but do we then make a point of talking to guests?

When we sing, “Bless the Lord O my soul… For all Your goodness I will keep on singing, ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.” and we know the man in front of us lost he wife last month and is struggling to think of one reason to keep on singing. Do we put a hand on his shoulder? Do we let him know afterwards that we know it must be tough for him to sit through that song?

What if we set a goal every Sunday of having each song prompt us to think of a specific person? Would our worship experience be different? Would the worship experience of others be different, richer?

I wonder if we don’t too often picture a profound experience of worship as eyes closed, hands raised, just me and God, feeling his love. No doubt there’s a place for that. But just as worship must encompass more than Sunday, Sunday worship must encompass more than “me and God”.

  • For another resource on “Why we sing in church”, check out a book review by my friend Frank Bellizzi HERE.
  • Coincidentally, another friend, Jonathan Storment wrote a blog this week titled “3 Big Reasons to Sing In Church” that you can read HERE.

Game of Thrones – End Game

The nature of preaching means that over the course of a year all preachers will preach sermons we know are important, but we don’t feel passionate about them. This past Sunday I was blessed to preach on a subject I feel strongly about.

The celebration of both Easter and weekly Lord’s Supper emphasise the death and resurrection of Jesus. I quickly run out of superlatives when trying to describe the importance of these events. [Apparently it’s not good writing to repeat the word “very” 127 times in a row.] As vital as these events are within the panorama of history, within the story of God, and to both the world and to Christians, they are not the complete story of Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the absence of Christmas.  I fear that many Christians have come to accept the picture of Jesus painted by Renaissance artists and children’s story books. Generally speaking, this is a portrait of a wimpy Jesus. This portrait of Jesus might be accompanied with terms such as: Gentle, tender, kind, compassionate, gracious, merciful, caring, and mild-mannered. These are all wonderful words. They all describe Jesus accurately and I value each of them immensely in my relationship with Christ. However, the majesty of Jesus requires more than one set of words to accurately describe him. When we stop the story of Jesus at the Resurrection we lose the image of Jesus currently seated on a throne at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. This was a truth that in Acts 7 that Stephen died proclaiming. This is a truth that we often confess at baptism today when we affirm the statement that “Jesus is our LORD and our Saviour”. Sadly, most of our teaching at the time of our baptism focuses on Jesus as Saviour while the implications of calling him Lord are glossed over. Ephesians 1:21-22 describes Jesus currently as,

far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things.

In Revelation 1 the apostle, John, graphically describes Jesus as anything but gentle.

His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame.  His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead.

This is not a cuddly Jesus. This is a powerful, awesome, drop at his feet, Jesus. This is the Jesus that calmed the storm. This is the Jesus who taught with authority because he had authority. This is the Jesus who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness and sent him running. This is God the Son. And He’s not a wimp. This is the Jesus who will be returning to Earth in the future to judge us all. This is the Jesus who will return and ultimately destroy Satan and all forces of evil. This is the Jesus who is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” I’m not discussing this in order to change the artwork in children’s picture Bible’s. Our image of Jesus has deep implications for how we relate to Him and how we live our lives. king jesus 01When we approach life with the image before us of Jesus ruling all powers and dominions, we will live with confidence. We will live with assurance that our setbacks, hurts and struggles will not alter the final outcome. We will live with the knowledge that “our side” has already won. We will pray, believing that “God’s will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We will not take the teachings of Jesus complacently because we acknowledge the power and authority he possess. Yet we will still approach his throne with confidence because we also experience his grace, mercy, love, kindness, and gentleness. Here’s my plea to all you preachers and teachers out there… When you summarise the Gospel, please don’t stop at the Resurrection. Let’s commit to talking about the Death, Resurrection and REIGN, and RETURN of Christ. The Good News is not just related to what Jesus did in the past. It’s the story of what Jesus does today and will do tomorrow. As I was preparing for this sermon I was surprised how often the biblical writers mention the reign of Jesus in their Gospel summaries. I’ll close with a few examples:

Hebrews 10:12-13 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Romans 8:34 “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 1 Corinthains 15:3-5, 24-27Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.For he “has put everything under his feet.”

New Testament sabbath

You can read Part 2 of this discussion HERE.

Should Christians observe the Sabbath? I attended a small Baptist high school that believed Sunday is the Sabbath. I remember a friend getting chewed out on a school trip for buying some chewing gum on a Sunday. Seventh Day Adventists believe Christians should continue to observe the Saturday Sabbath as the Old Testament describes. So what are we to do?

  • Read Hebrews 3:16-4:13 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here soon.

The Sabbath has a couple of curious attributes that have made it a polarising debate topic as the positions described above illustrate. All my life I have been taught that Christians do not need to observe the Sabbath as it is the only one of the 10 Commandments not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. BUT, it is also the only one of the 10 Commandments included as part of God’s creative work in Genesis 1.

IMG_0051Here’s a little table I’ve put together to provide a rough interpretative matrix by comparing the Hebrew practices of Sabbath and tithing and how the church interacted with them. I recognise that some of the points are a little strained and the match with tithing is not exact, but I hope it demonstrates how we can retain principles from the Mosaic Law while dispensing with the details.

TITHE SABBATH
Precedes Sinai Law  Abraham (Genesis 14:17-20) Creation (Genesis 2:2-3)
Codified at Sinai Deuteronomy 14:22-29 Exodus 20:8-11
About the Heart (These verses describe ungodly motives.) Amos 4:4 Amos 8:4-5
Jesus affirmed the principle Give to God (Matt 22:21) Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8)
Adapted by the church cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7) Eternity = Sabbath-rest (Heb 4:9)

At this point I want to define my understanding of the Christian principle of sabbath. I do not believe that God commands Christians to take a particular day of the week and avoid all work on that day. Rather, I believe God intends for his people to integrate periods (lunch breaks, or entire days or weeks) of sabbath-rest into our lives. The simplest distinction I can make is that the capital changes to a lower-case “s”. Christians do not need to observe all the Sabbath rituals described in the Mosaic Law, but we can extract enough principles from that holy day to still describe our practice as “sabbath”.

In creation we find rest at the core of Sabbath. On the seventh day God rested. In Exodus 20 the 10 Commandments provide some commentary, “...he rested on the seventh day. Therefore he blessed the Sabbath day…“. The Sabbath is synonymous with rest.

However, it would be wrong to focus entirely upon rest without also considering how sabbath impacts our relationship with God. Over time, the Israelite practice of Sabbath increasingly included components of personal and organised worship. So when I come to define or describe the concept of sabbath-rest for the church I can’t think of a better place to begin than with the example of Jesus.

Mark 1 :21-34 contains one description of Jesus’ Sabbath. Note the various elements:

  • v21 – attend synagogue and teach [study] the Scripture;
  • v23 – respond compassionately [exorcise] to a person in need;
  • v29 – return home;
  • v30 – respond compassionately [heal] to a person in need;
  • v30 – spend the afternoon eating and fellowshipping;
  • v32 – after the conclusion of Sabbath at 6pm, Jesus again begins his public ministry of healing and casting out demons.

In her book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity Keri Kent points out that since the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening, it begins with food, fellowship and rest, followed in the morning by more structured worship. We see all of these in the passage above. Sabbath provides an opportunity to restore our souls by creating space to:

  1. Rest;
  2. Love God through the practice of other spiritual disciplines; and
  3. Love others by prioritising time with people over time fulfilling tasks.

In Mark 3:27 Jesus made the famous statement that, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” In my experience many Christians have taken this to mean that sabbath is an optional practice that we can disregard if it gets in the way of the rest of our schedule. When we adopt this attitude, we really read the verse as saying, “The Sabbath was made for your convenience, not to get in the way of your scheduled life.” Nothing could be further from Jesus’ intent!

In this verse Jesus makes the point that God made Sabbath for the benefit of people. When we dismiss it, or crowd it out of our lives we reject God’s gracious gift. Jesus criticises the Pharisees who had created an elaborate list of rules regarding the Sabbath that actually made it a chore to keep. However we integrate sabbath into our lives we must keep it beneficial.

On some occasions sabbath-rest may mean gardening, or just breaking from the busyness of life to relax and refresh. For other people their sabbath-rest may involve intentional time communing with God. Others will best experience sabbath around a table with friends or a board game with family. At its most basic sabbath is not concerned with how we fill that time, but what we leave behind.

However, to gain maximum benefit from sabbath-rest we need to make it intentional. Sabbath is not just a “mental-health day”, or a lazy day bumming around in our PJ’s. Just as many people take a day off work for Memorial Day without remembering anything, the temptation exists to take a sabbath with zero intentionality. Sabbath should restore and equip us for whatever comes next.

In God on Monday Benny Tabalujan  summarises Watchmen Nee’s book Sit, Walk, Stand which is a study in the book of Ephesians. He writes,

We are first called to rest and sit with Christ (Ephesians 2:6); then we are exhorted to walk in a manner worth of Christ’s calling (Ephesians 4:1); and finally we are roused to stand firm against the evil one (Ephesians 6:11). Implicit in this is the proposition that if I am not first rested and comfortable in my new identity in Christ, then I will not be able to draw on his strength to walk righteously or to fight against evil valiantly. Or, to put it in another way, being precedes doing and rest precedes work. (Tabalujan, 37)

Our culture makes it increasingly difficult for us to rest and refresh ourselves. We see this demonstrated in the familiar comment, “I need a holiday to help me get over my holiday.” We often return from our vacations which we intended as renewing retreats only to find ourselves in about the same place we were before we left. Our consumer culture entices us to cram as much as possible into any time we have available. Tabalujan provides this helpful table to illustrate the distinction between sabbath-rest and leisure.

Biblical Rest

Modern Leisure

Dominant activity Reflection Consumption
Impact on person Restorative Tiring
Relationship to work Gives meaning to Provides escape from

Finally, I want to close by summarising sabbath over the scope of Scripture.

  • God created sabbath-rest at Creation. If it’s good enough for God we should not dismiss it too quickly.
  • God codified the sabbath at Sinai.
  • Jesus clarified the sabbath during his ministry removing the burdensome obligations and restoring its original purpose.
  • The church looks forward to an eternal sabbath-rest with God. (Hebrews 3:16-4:13)

God’s intends for his people to experience rest. Yes, in this life we also participate in the mission of God, but we equip ourselves for that mission first through rest. Then we have eternal rest as the goal of God’s mission. That’s not to say eternity will promote laziness. God’s original design in the Garden of Eden included work for Adam and Eve. Rather, God’s promise provides relief from sin, and rest from turmoil and chaos.

For some additional reading, Jonathan Storment recently wrote a good blog post on the topic of sabbath that you can read HERE.

  • This post is a lot longer than I usually write. Does it make sense to you, or am I just rambling?
  • Does any particular point above resonate with you particularly strongly?
  • How do you currently integrate sabbath-rest into your life? I’d love some examples!!

The Gift of Faith

  • Read 1 Corinthians 12 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

I Corinthians 12 contains this teaching that poses some big questions for me, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the one Spirit distributes them. To one there is given through the Spirit… faith, to another…” (12:4, 9a) Faith here appears in the middle of a list with other gifts. But the passage essentially says “the Holy Spirit distributes more faith to some people than to others.”

Since faith connects us directly with God’s salvation the consequences of this gift appear weightier than some other gifts. Consider these verses:

  • For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:10)
  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. (Ephesians 2:8)
  • But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)

If the Holy Spirit gives more faith to some people than others, is he giving them unfair access to salvation? I don’t believe so. Remember that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to Christians. My understanding of the concept of Spiritual gifts is that these are additional gifts God gives people who are already Christians. The Holy Spirit does not hold sway over the lives of those who reject his influence. So we should not equate the gift of faith with the gift of salvation.

Having said that the entire reading of Ephesians 2:8-9 provides a curious perspective when read in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 12. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is a gift of grace that we accept by faith. However, I’d be very cautious about equating these two verses.

Although these verses both contain the words “faith” and “gift” their context is very different. In Ephesians 2:8 “gift” expands the description of “grace”. While in 1 Corinthians 12:4 “gift” has a meaning closer to “blessing” and describes virtues including teaching and wisdom.

I think it would be equally unsettling to me if the Holy Spirit gave some people a gift of extra faith to help them get through times of difficulty while others were deprived of the gift and had to journey through their darkness with less blessing. I doubt that’s the purpose of this gift.

A key interpretive verse for me when considering Spiritual Gifts is 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.” This leads me to ask, “How can my gift of faith benefit others?” We usually think of faith as a relationship between God and ourselves. How do we include others in this relationship?

In Sunday’s sermon I suggested that we can exercise this gift by speaking “words of faith” to those who need them. (This may overlap with the gift of encouragement.) Those who have received the Holy Spirit’s gift of extra faith can share with others how their faith has benefited them. They can testify to God’s faithfulness.

Even more important than just sharing our faith stories with others our “word of faith” can point others toward God. On a basic level faith involves trusting God to work despite evidence to the contrary. Speaking faith to others involves reminding them how God sees them. More than that it requires that we see others as God sees them and treat them accordingly. We need to remind them how God sees their circumstances. We need to remind people that God is always bigger than whatever situation we find ourselves in, or whatever feelings we experience. A word of faith reminds others that our limitations are not God’s limits.

Perhaps Ephesians 4:29 particularly applies to those with the Gift of Faith. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Those with the Gift of Faith may be characterised as people who build others up in a manner that addresses their needs. These people take the time to consider others needs and then speak uplifting words into their lives.

When we point people toward God in this way they benefit from our gift of faith. This is my best understanding of this spiritual gift.

  • Have you ever considered that some people in the church may receive an extra serving of faith from God?
  • Is this idea reassuring or disturbing for you?
  • How have you benefited from the faith of others?

Gifts of Leadership

I’m very happy to share with you some comments by Dr James Nored on the topic of spiritual gifts/roles found in Ephesians 4:11-16. James is the minister at the High Pointe Church of Christ located in McKinney, a northern suburb of Dallas. He is also the founder of the Missional Outreach Network, and designer of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory and resources found at www.YourSpiritualGifts.com.

James, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

In his books, The Shaping of Things to Come, and The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch emphasizes the five fold gifts of Ephesians 4:11–apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

Apostle – the entrepreneur or mission leader who is asking, where are new mission fields?  Who has not been reached?

Prophet – the questioner of an organization or church who is probing, pointing out what is wrong, calling the organization/church back to its purpose/God.

Evangelist – the salesperson of the organization/church, who asks, who can I share the good news with?

Pastor – the HR, caretaker person of the church/organization, who asks how to bring peace and stability and healing to the organization/church

Teacher – the systemitizer of the church/organization, who seeks to deepen understanding, asking, how does all of this fit together and make sense?

Hirsch theorizes that the five fold spiritual gifts draw upon these parallel natural gifts found in any healthy organization. It is an intuitive argument that I agree with and have witnessed. I believe that it also has a biblical/theological basis. I would love for someone to do more statistical research on this.

Hirsch advocates that a healthy church will have each role represented in its leadership team. He also says that it is the nature of institutions–and churches–to be dominated by the pastor-teacher role. The apostle, prophet, and evangelist roles all are “disruptive” to the system, and the nature of pastor-teacher roles is to keep peace and prevent disruptions, making sure things get back to “normal.”

On the organization side–who in the record business wanted to have a prophetic voice telling them that they might soon be out of business with the advent of tape cassettes? Or who at Blockbuster wants to hear that it would go bankrupt unless it changed its business model? Think how hard it is for Microsoft to think beyond its cash cow of Microsoft Office on personal PCs to a cloud based Office model that might be less profitable–but in the end, might allow Microsoft to survive the Internet age.

On the church level, think of the bus ministries of the 1970s. They disrupted the local church, and despite the fact that they did reach a lot of people, many local churches were too disrupted by these ministries to continue them.

Hirsch says that the APE gifts (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist) of the APEPT Eph. 4:11 gifts become marginalized in the local church. They have little voice in leadership and the “system” pushes them out due to the disruption they cause. So those with this gifting usually go overseas on mission trips, go into church planting more recently, or become a part of para-church organizations that focus on feeding the hungry, taking care of the homeless or battered women, reaching out to minority groups, etc.

If those with APE giftings are not “in the room” when decisions are made (which historically, has often been the case), then the PT giftings (Pastor, Teacher) will dominate and always advocate the least disruptive path–which will inevitably lead to the church’s or organization’s slow decline and eventual death (businesses do fail and individual churches do close, even if the Church will always continue).

So what do you think?

  • Do you agree that church leadership lives with a natural tension between disruptive and soothing voices?
  • Have you seen people with APE spiritual gifts squeezed out of leadership, or at least have their voices muffled?
  • How can churches launch and maintain “disruptive” ministries while still keeping “peace” within the congregation?
  • What characteristics must a church adopt or emphasise to support these “disruptive” leadership gifts?