Tuesday prayers from Gina Risby
Welcome everyone to this weekly time of prayer. We give thanks to God that regardless of our very different circumstances we are able to come together for prayer and wholeheartedly welcome His presence amongst us.
From The Message, the Bible in contemporary language.
I bless GOD every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.
I live and breathe GOD;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
GOD met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.
Look at him, give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.
When I was desperate, I called out,
and GOD got me out of a tight spot.
GOD’s angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.
Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good GOD is.
Blessed are you who run to him.
Worship GOD if you want the best;
worship opens doors to all his goodness.
I’m not quite sure why I turned to The Message for this time of prayer, or to this particular Psalm, but it has certainly filled me with an enthusiasm, excitement and energy I had been missing to approach this particular task. For me the present restrictions in life have given me ample time to spend in prayer and sometimes I spend it wisely and I feel a real, living connection with the Father and Son and sometimes it just doesn’t happen like that and I get bogged down with self-imposed ritual, the words of others and habit. I am just so grateful when coming upstairs to my study and praying for inspiration for the task ahead, The Message and this Psalm was put into my mind. It has rejuvenated me and lifted my spirits. I hope it does for you too.
Perhaps you are feeling a lack of inspiration, not just for prayer, which is what I miss especially the physical company of other people praying alongside. If so you may care to try things completely new, where may this take you? It can take courage but the rewards can be great. And the Lord is with us as He says to Moses in Exodus 4:12 “So, get going. I will be right there with you - with your mouth! I’ll be there to teach you what to say!”
So I invite you to pray on how you may shake up your prayer life, even if it’s only to discover that you like it as it is. But have courage, perhaps thinking of it as enriching not subtracting.
To change the direction briefly I ask for your prayers for the ambulance crew and the young woman with severe mental health issues with whom they spent 2 hours trying to get her into their ambulance and to a place of safety and she was back in the street in the middle of a wet night, shoeless and penniless by the time they had sanitised their ambulance. It would break your heart if it was someone you knew. In our community these problems are posing a much much larger problem than COVID and the average effective working life of a paramedic before they begin to suffer from “burn out” is just six years. They do it for us. They do need our prayers.
I would like to finish with a prayer written by Richard Rolle (1300-1349) from the Methodist daily Prayer Book. He was an English hermit, mystic and religious writer who composed devotional prose in the vernacular (i.e. not Latin) for women readers.
Come to us O Christ, as the wind that blows the autumn leaves, as the song that soothes the troubled child, as the melody that lifts the anxious spirit. Fill us with affection for you that is unbounded desire for you, that is unrestrained and a yearning for you that throws caution to the winds, and this for your own love’s sake. Amen.
May God bless us all until we meet again.
‘The Advent Hope’
It may surprise you to know that the Christian Church has had a calendar from early days. Today, for our benefit, not just a calendar but a lectionary is produced each year for the benefit of all Christians, especially preachers. The purpose: for discipline, so that none of the great themes are omitted, difficult and demanding though they might be.
The Christian year begins with Advent, followed quickly by the Christmas festival, Epiphany soon afterwards; Jesus’ baptism; Lent; Passion Sunday; Palm Sunday; Holy Week; Good Friday; the Easter Festival; Ascension Day; Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. Although there may be slight variations, any congregation following the lectionary would hear a full proclamation of the Christian Faith.
The Advent season covers the four weeks up until Christmas. The theme ‘Advent’ covers images of judgement and hope that have to be wrestled with, beginning in the Old Testament; Advent covers the four Sundays leading up to Christmas but, most importantly, reveals the coming of God, not only at Christmas but also at the end of time. Advent is an important time for Christians as it is the commencement of the Christian Year.
Reading the Old Testament, we often find alongside the pain and persecution of God’s people there is a message of hope. Even though judgement is taking place, there in the midst of it is the promise of hope for the future,
Read Isaiah 51:1-11
Exercise: How do you read this passage, what is God saying here?
God’s people, the Israelites, are captives in Babylon; Jerusalem is largely in ruins. Through the prophet Isaiah, their God, Jehovah, offers them a word of encouragement. In the past, God made Israel a great nation through Abraham, his friend. Sadly, through their disobedience, ignoring His laws, they distanced themselves from Him. Judgement had been passed upon them, Jerusalem, their homeland, had been destroyed and they were enslaved in a foreign land, however, He still calls them His people, His nation. He calls upon them to give ear and listen to what He says. His promise is: “My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way,” (v.4). His promise is to rescue them from their oppressors. Notice also, in that same verse, that the Lord says, “my arm will bring justice to the nations.” Not just Israel!
In verse 9, the prophet is calling to God on behalf of the nation, Israel: “Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old.” He then recalls some bygone events where the mighty arm of God acted in their favour. He is about to escort His people back to their beloved city, “They will enter Zion with singing; ...everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (v.11)
The prophet, Jeremiah, now an old man who remained in Jerusalem, had a word from the Lord regarding His people exiled in Babylon. Read Jeremiah 29:4-7.
The false prophets predicted a swift return but Jeremiah sees the situation differently, advising the exiles to settle down in the land and live normal lives, they are to build houses for themselves, marry and have children; to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city.” It will be seventy years before they return to their homeland. (v.10)
The people of Israel may have had all kinds of reasons for not being able to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land”, as they sat by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137), but hope is not lost because Isaiah brings encouragement through another prophecy. Read Isaiah 52:7-10.
Exercise: Does anything stand out to you in this prophecy?
‘The Advent Hope’ cont.
Whilst God promises to bring His people back to their homeland and the restoration of Zion – Jerusalem -, there is something else that stands out. We see it in v. 10: “The Lord will lay bare His
holy arm in the sight of all the nations and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”
In his book ‘Looking At Advent’ p.25, Brian Haymes writes: “It is not, of course, the actual return that the prophet is describing. He is delivering the all-important message that the King is coming. God has set out. He is on His way. Who knows how long this journey will take? The important point, however, is that He is coming. That is the truth of the matter and everything must now be seen in that light. Life is to be lived in the knowledge that out of the future, the Saviour is coming.
The message of hope comes through Jeremiah at the nation’s darkest hour. When all seemed lost, God promises forgiveness, restoration and a future (chapters 30-31).
Read Ch. 31:1-14; 31:15-20.
There is also the promise of a new covenant that would replace that made on Sinai, which they had broken. Only this time He would give them power from within that would enable them keep the new covenant: Read Ch. 31:31-34.
In a sense, both Isaiah and Jeremiah are not only speaking of the near future, in the short term, the return of the exiled, but are also looking beyond that to the new covenant that will be brought in by the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Himself, when his ”arm will bring justice to the nations. and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”
There are many more pointers in the Old Testament but we must leave it at this point, suffice to say that God is going to fulfil His promise to Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 22:18, “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” The Messiah is coming, God’s personal Saviour for all mankind. His people must prepare themselves for His arrival! God’s activity in the past ensures hope for the future, out of the future God will come!
The last prophet in the O. T. is Malachi, whose name means ‘My Messenger’. Here, in this prophecy, lies the final link. Read Malachi 3:1.
Read John 1:1-8.
John, at the very beginning of his gospel message, declares that the messenger, who is to prepare the way for God’s coming to earth, will be another John. Luke informs us that he was the son of a priest, Zechariah, and Elizabeth, his wife (Luke Ch. 1).
Read John 1:9-18.
Exercise: What do you think John, the writer, is saying in his prologue, introductory verses?
John declares that the Word was God; that He took on human form and became one of us; He was of one being with the Father. He was with the Father in the beginning, the Creator of all things. He was the source of life. God had come to earth. J. R. Dummelow writes: “He is the inward Word of God, because He exists from all eternity ‘in the bosom of the Father,’ as much one
with Him as reason is one with the reasoning mind. Nothing is as close to a man as his own thought. It is within him, and is in a very real sense himself. So nothing is as close to God as His own eternal Word. It is within Him, it is one with Him, and it is divine like him. (vv. 1, 2, 18). Christ is also God’s outward Word. He expresses and explains and reveals to the world what God is. It was He who created the world.” (The One-Volume Commentary p. 774).
‘The Advent Hope’ cont.
So the promised Messiah arrives. John, known as the Baptist, baptises Him and His ministry begins. He, who was promised to Mary by the angel Gabriel, arrives as a babe in Bethlehem. Conceived through the Spirit of God, He becomes flesh, God has arrived on the scene in human form. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the Christ begins. Through Him God will reconcile mankind to Himself but first, He must gather together a band of disciples to assist Him in His ministry, and continue it after He returns to His rightful place. His ministry on earth will last only three brief years, until, for the sake of the human race, he will be offered up as a sacrifice for their transgressions, thus fulfilling Isaiah, the prophet’s proclamation.
Death could not hold the eternal Word because life and death were His creation. Jesus, the Christ, returns to His rightful place. Read Daniel 7:13-14.
Here we see the first reference to the Son of Man, a title which Jesus applied to Himself. “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
True to the angel’s word, the new King, Jesus Christ, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and of King David’s line arrived and the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. Yet, even though the nation was looking and waiting for His arrival, When He came He was despised and rejected by the very people He came to save! However, God has raised him up and seated Him at His right hand in glory, where He intercedes for us. The consequence of this King’s eternal reign will be the transformation of all creation. We have a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7) who will not only bring in the promised ‘new covenant’ but will do so through His shed blood.
Read Hebrews 8.
In Acts 1:11, a promise made by the angels to Jesus’ disciples was: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” However, not until the appointed time, which is known only to the Father.
Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-11; 5:12-24.
The apostle, Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians speaks of a second Advent, when Jesus Christ will come from heaven at the trumpet call “and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Then comes more words of encouragement from Paul: “and so we will be with the Lord forever.” This particular event is often called the ‘rapture’, the joyful ecstasy, the transportation into the world of Light, where Christ reigns and there is no darkness whatsoever. Where, in His presence, we can gaze upon His face, safe and secure forever more.
Paul makes a wonderful statement, 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
Read Revelation 19:1-10.
Exercise: What do you glean from these verses?
The Bridegroom is coming for His Bride, the Church. The invitation has gone out! Who will come and partake in the Wedding Supper? The Bride is clothed in purity and grace, awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom, whose appearance is imminent.
Read Revelation 22:1-6.
‘The Advent Hope’ cont.
In his vision, the apostle, John, describes heaven-on-earth, concerning the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, for the redeemed of the Lord to enter and enjoy. Nothing will spoil it because God’s
presence will always be there; sin has been banished. Nothing this world offers can compare with what is yet to come, the glorious splendour and shining radiance, ultimate peace, freedom and security in the presence of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. Nothing will be able to spoil because all will have reached ‘perfection’s height’.
Read vv. 12-17.
One day John’s vision will come to pass. Christ’s coming is imminent! The root and offspring of David will suddenly appear and all who make up the Church must make themselves ready, so that the Bride, in all her beauty, will present herself as holy and blameless before Him.
Like the disciples of old, we, as Christians, are not called to conform to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This we can do by the help of Holy Spirit promised by Christ Jesus, Himself, to His disciples (John 14:15-18). What do we have to do? Simply reach out and touch the hem of His garment, reach out and believe. Like the faithful of old, embrace Him, let him have control and be prepared to be transformed into His likeness.
George Rawson puts it beautifully in his hymn (19 Hymns & Psalms): “Renewed by thy Spirit, redeemed by thy Son, Thy children revere thee for all thou hast done. O Father! Returning to love and to light, Thy children are yearning to praise thee aright.”
Jesus Christ is coming again to receive His Bride, the Church. Again, the question is: Am I about the Father’s business, ready, watching for the Bridegroom’s return; or is my heart set on other things?
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” and let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17).
Read Revelation 22:18-20a
We say together: vv. 20b-21:
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
Heavenly Father, we come to you in distress.
The whole world is in a mess
and we have much to confess.
We have not looked after our planet as we ought
even though we have been taught.
We continue to ignore your guidance, and distort
nature`s balance and flow.
We act as if we are the ones who know
just how everything should go.
Forgive us we pray.
Creator God, we lift these troubled times to You.
We do not really know what to do –
when – or what - or how - or who?
There seems to be no satisfactory solution
to the rapid advancement of pollution.
We all need to make a firm resolution
to humbly bring our mistakes back to our Creator.
There is nobody greater
to deal with mankind – the great dissipator.
Please help us today.
Loving Saviour, we come, knowing that you are near,
and that you will always hear
as we bring to you our troubled minds and our fear.
For too long mankind has looked away from God and His laws.
Awaken our souls we pray that we may not give you cause
to punish us further. Help us to find time to pause
before the Cross,
and to acknowledge that we are offered a new start because
the price was paid by Your blood loss.
Keep us on the Narrow Way.
Immanuel, as we continue, down your road
remind us of your Presence in hidden mode,
helping us to carry life`s load.
We do not know what lies ahead
and can only ask for daily bread.
Give us the courage to firmly tread
into the future sharing with joy
the Peace that nothing can destroy –
THE PEACE THAT NOTHING – NOT EVEN A VIRUS - CAN DESTROY!
Acts Chapter 28, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship.
We now come to the triumphant conclusion of Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles. After a miraculous escape from the perilous sea, with no loss of life, they reach land on the island of Malta.
May God be gracious to you and bless you richly, as you read and study this closing chapter.
Acts 28:1-6. Q.1. What sort of welcome did Paul and those who were on the ship receive on the Island of Malta?
Q.2. What was the reaction of the islanders after the viper bit Paul’s hand?
Acts 28:7-10. Q.3. Why do you think the governor of Malta welcome them into his home?
Q.4. How did Paul act out the gospel message and what was the affect of his action?
Acts 28:11-16. Q.5. Some Christians gave Paul an invitation. What was it?
Q.6. What amazing thing is recorded in this passage?
Acts 28:17-22. Q.7. What was ‘the hope if Israel’?
Acts 28:23-28. Q.8. What does Paul spend a whole day talking about and why?
Q.9. What did the Holy Spirit declare to the prophets?
Q.10. What does Paul’s quote from Isaiah, say to you?
Q.11. Give your reason why Paul closes his address with verse 28?
Acts 28:30-31. Q.12. What is amazing about these closing verses?
EPHESIANS SESSION 8
“FINALLY, BE STRONG IN THE LORD”
Paul’s message throughout, so far, is that Christians have been chosen by God and adopted into His family, that they, us included, are made alive because of what Christ has achieved through His death on the cross. We have access to the Father by the one Holy Spirit, that all nationalities are equal in His sight. He makes known the mystery “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Whilst we may have different gifts, given by the one Spirit for our mutual benefit, we are to build up the body of Christ, who is the head. Therefore, Paul urges them and us “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received ... Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
To achieve this one has to live in the light of Christ, which means putting one’s old life, with all its sinful desires, behind one, making sure that one does not grieve the Holy Spirit, “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The only way this can be achieved is to “Be imitators of God.” who is love, pure and unadulterated love. The wicked things of one’s past must be completely discarded and Christians must learn to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Christians must encourage each other by giving thanks and praise “to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Loving as Christ loved because love is the greatest cleanser and purifier of all life and must be sought by every disciple of Christ in the kingdom of God.
As we come to the last chapter in the Letter to the Ephesians, we discover how much the Christian faith did for women and children. READ EPHESIANS 6:1-4.
EXERCISE: What do you think was behind Paul’s thinking when he wrote those words?
In pre-Christianity, children were often ill-treated and looked upon as objects, rather than people who needed to be nurtured and loved. It was bad enough in the Jewish community but in Roman civilisation it was even worse! A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could put them to work wherever, punish them as and when he wished, He could sell them as slaves or even inflict the death penalty. In fact, as long as he lived, he had complete control over his children, if he so desired, even in their adulthood.
William Barclay records (Letters To The Galatians And Ephesians pp. 208-209): “There was the custom of child exposure. When a child was born, it was placed before its father’s feet, and, if the father stooped and lifted the child, that meant that the father acknowledged the child and wished the child to be kept. If he turned and walked away, it meant that he refused to acknowledge the child, and the child could quite literally be thrown out. ... A Roman baby always ran the risk of being repudiated and exposed.” Especially if it was a girl!
Apparently, it has been computed that, at one time there were in the Roman Empire 60,000,000 slaves. So when Paul was writing to the Christians in Ephesus, a very large number of them would have been slaves. Slaves would have made up practically all of the work force, as work was beyond the dignity of a Roman citizen. People in high positions were often slaves who served their masters diligently, some because they feared the consequences should they not! Although, in some cases, they were good masters and there was a deep bond of affection between the two; however, basically the life of a slave could be terribly grim, some probably took their own lives as the only way of escape.
READ EPHESIANS 6:5-9.
EXERCISE: If slavery was the accepted, why did Paul write in this way?
EPHESIANS SESSION 8 cont.
Barclay writes (p. 213): “Aristotle lays it down that there never can be friendship between master and slave, for master and slave have nothing in common; ”for a slave is a living tool, Just as a tool is an inanimate slave.” (Although in some cases, certain slaves were appreciated.) ... Old slaves must be thrown out on the scrap heap to starve. When a slave is ill it is sheer extravagance to issue him with normal rations. The old sick slave is only a broken and inefficient tool. ... If the slave ran away, at best he was branded on the forehead with the letter ‘F’ which stood for ‘fugitivus’, which means runaway, at worst he was killed.”
All servants were slaves. What Paul is saying here, is that a disciple of Christ must be obedient and serve his earthly master just as he would serve Christ, the master of his soul. The power of Holy Spirit in one’s life will bring this about, if one is true to one’s calling in Christ Jesus and the kingdom of God. Not just because one is being watched but because one is anxious to be the best that one can be as Christ’s disciple, pleasing one’s earthly master is part and parcel of serving Christ in this world.
Likewise, Paul is saying to Christian employers, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way.” Respect them for they too are human beings of God’s creation, are loved by God and equal to you in His sight. You are all part of the same body with Christ as your head. He is no respecter of persons. In Him you live and move and have your being. Since you are all, slave and free, loved by God, so you must love one another. Such thought was revolutionary in those days, that all people were equal in the sight of God, that Christ came to save and deliver people from the yoke of slavery, that master and slave could sit down together and share fellowship in Christ Jesus.
EXERCISE: What are the advantages of sharing fellowship together in Jesus Christ?
READ EPHESIANS 6:10-18
EXERCISE: Why do you think Paul is writing in this vein?
The clue is in vv.11-12. Paul is saying that the battle Christians have to fight is not against their neighbours, fellow country-men and women, or people from other lands and nationalities, but against the devil and his wicked schemes. Spiritual forces, that are out to destroy the kingdom of God and of His Christ. The battle has been there since the fall of the human race. Paul, therefore, writes, not just to the Christians in Ephesus but to Christians throughout the world who face the same battle: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It may surprise you that we have to fight against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But it is not until the end times that these evil forces will be cast out of heaven.
READ REVELATION 12:7-12
Nothing less than the full armour of God will suffice against these super human powers because we have no armour of our own. It is only when we come to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and are born of God that we begin our training, as it were, in Christ’s army. Christians rely wholly on the Spirit of God to train them in ‘Spiritual Warfare’ and it begins the moment we recognise and accept Christ, not just as our Saviour but also as our Captain, giving Him Lordship of our lives. Jesus Christ was tempted by Satan but He withstood all the temptations that the devil aimed at Him. He was tempted just as we are but without sin. He supplies the armour necessary for our battles; we must be prepared to wear it “so that when the day of evil comes” we may be able to stand our ground. The temptations of this world will attempt to draw us away, but we stand firm in the strength of Christ.
Remember Charles Wesley’s hymn (719 H&P):
EPHESIANS SESSION 8 cont.
Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armour on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies through his eternal Son.
Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in his mighty power,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.
Stand then in his great might, with all his strength endued;
But take to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God;
That, having all things done, and all your conflicts passed,
Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone, and stand entire at last.
Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul;
Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole:
Indissolubly joined, to battle all proceed;
But arm yourselves with all the mind that was in Christ, your Head.
From strength to strength go on, Wrestle, and fight, and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down, and win the well-fought day;
Still let the spirit cry in all his soldiers: come!
Till Christ the Lord descend from high, and take the conquers home.
READ AGAIN EPHESIANS 6:13-18
The Apostle is preparing the Christians at Ephesus for a battle which is already raging. He desires that none loose their inheritance and he knows, because of persecution, that the easy way out would be to give up, or even compromise their faith. Somehow they must stand firm and Paul knows, from experience, that it means they must wear the full armour God, supplied through His eternal Son, if they are to withstand the fiery darts of Satan, the devil; so Paul uses the imagery of a soldier to make his point.
The belt of truth (the righteousness of the Messiah) must be in position. The prophet Isaiah says: “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” (Isaiah 11:5). Paul also speaks of the breastplate of righteousness being in place, in reference to Isaiah 59:17: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate and the helmet of salvation on his head.” A person clothed in righteousness is impregnable. There is only one who is righteous and that is Christ Jesus. Thank God, His righteousness covers our sin. A Christian should always be prepared to take the gospel to others. The gospel shoes should always be on our feet because the gospel we take to others is good news for all, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and goodwill to all people.
In ancient warfare, one of the most dangerous of weapons was the fiery dart or flaming arrow; a shield was essential to protect one from it. Paul calls it the shield of faith. Without faith we don’t stand a chance. Faith with Paul is complete trust in Christ. I am reminded of William Cowper’s hymn (494 CMP): “O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavenly frame, a light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb.” Faith is when one puts one’s hand into the hand of God and walks along with Him, when one is willing to be led by Him at all costs.
The helmet of salvation is our living hope, what Christ has promised to all who follow Him, our heavenly heritage, the prize kept in heaven for all who are faithful to the only Saviour, Christ Jesus, Himself. Remember Paul’s words: (READ EPHESIANS 1:13-14.)
EPHESIANS SESSION 8 cont.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. Remember, our Lord Jesus was tempted just as we are, yet without sin. He used the sword of the Spirit to defeat the enemy, Satan himself, before He began His ministry. READ LUKE 4:5-13.
We are called to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, to use the word of God to defeat the evil one. The Spirit of God and His Christ, Holy Spirit must guide, inspire and lead us, if we are to stand on the victory side.
But there is more. Paul’s instructions are: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph. 6:18). We are not in this alone! We are on a journey together, we need each other! Each of us must have the interest of others at heart. We are responsible for one another’s welfare as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. In the London Marathon and also in The Olympic Marathon, There was a television recording of a competitor who almost collapsed near to the finish line, in both cases another competitor stopped and helped the ones who were in a state of collapse over the line. If it hadn’t been for the goodwill of the stronger, the other would not have completed the race. Likewise we are called to help one another in our discipleship, thereby ensuring that we complete the race of life together. “Keep praying for all the saints”.
EXERCISE: What are your thoughts on this?
Prayer is the greatest weapon of all for the Christian, constant, sincere, daily prayer for others with their difficulties and struggles; amazingly from which one receives great strength one’s self. Barclay writes (Letters To The Galatians And Ephesians pp. 218-9): ‘“The Jews had a saying, “Let a man unite himself with the community in his prayers.” “I think that often our prayers are too much for ourselves, and too little for others. We must learn to pray as much and as intensely for others and with others as for ourselves.”
READ EPHESIANS 6:19-20.
Finally, Paul asks them to pray also for him, not for comfort or ease, neither is it for freedom nor peace but that he will continue to “make known the mystery of the gospel, for which” he is “an ambassador in chains.” He continues: “Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” He is deeply conscious of his need for prayer
After this comes the final greetings and blessing. Tychicus was obviously an experienced minister in the Lord, one on whom Paul knew he could depend to encourage the Ephesians in the faith. Paul’s desire, that the church established in and around Ephesus might prosper and grow despite all opposition and become strong in the Lord. He then closes his letter with a blessing, the blessing of peace. The peace he is blessing them with is the highest one could afford. The peace Jesus gave to His disciples when he stood among them on the evening of His resurrection and declared, “Peace be with you!” This peace is complete only when trusting and resting in Christ alone.
READ EPHESIANS 6:21-24.
Notice: “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”
Close with 1072 CMP:
In Christ alone my hope is found ... Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!
EPHESIANS SESSION 7
‘TO BE LIKE JESUS, THIS HOPE POSSESSES ME’
Here in chapter 5 the apostle, Paul, sets before his hearers the highest possible standard in the whole world. READ EPHESIANS 5:1-2.
He is not just challenging them he is telling them how to please God, their heavenly Father. If they want to please God, they must imitate Him!
EXERCISE: How does one do that?
We, as they, are dearly loved by our heavenly Father. In fact, He loved us so much that He came in the person of Jesus Christ, despised and rejected by the very ones He loved, was beaten ever so severely, nailed to a cross of wood and in deep humiliation was left to die a cruel and barbaric death. The amazing thing is that He did it out of love! Love for you, me and all humanity. His final cry from the cross was: “It is finished!” It was a cry of triumph, meaning ‘I have accomplished it!’
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1John 4:10) Charles Wesley proclaimed “Amazing love! how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!” (CMP 33) It is beyond human understanding. Paul is saying, that’s how you should love. “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It leaves that nagging question: How does one do that?
This imitation can only be in one direction. One must imitate the love and forgiveness of God, love and forgiveness go together, they cannot be separated. Hard, though it may be, if I cannot forgive, I do not love. The “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” that Paul speaks of, was none other than the sacrifice of the beloved Christ. Strangely enough, it was a sacrifice in which God took delight. Both the Father and His Son had one aim in view: to save a lost race! Here we see displayed absolute love, love in its entirety. Knowing how much Jesus Christ would be ridiculed and suffer at the hand of those whom He loved, with an everlasting love, those He wanted to redeem from sin and the power of Satan, He did not hold back but willingly came to die in their place so that they would be set free to worship the Godhead. READ ISAIAH 53.
Those who choose to follow Jesus Christ are no longer under the yoke of bondage because they have been set free by the His priceless blood. Charles Wesley put it like this (805 H & P):
To save what was lost, from heaven he came;
Come, sinners, and trust in Jesus’s name;
He offers you pardon, he bids you be free:
If sin be your burden, O come unto me.
Then let us submit his grace to receive,
Fall down at his feet and gladly believe;
We all are forgiven for Jesus’s sake;
Our title to heaven his merits we take.
Paul is saying, just as God loved and continues to love you with a perfect love, so you must learn to love others as He loves you. You must have the same kind of love, firstly for Him and secondly for others. One cannot love others completley, until one loves God. To do this one has to be like Christ Jesus, prepared as Studdert Kennedy wrote: (588 MHB). “To give, and give, and give again, what God hath given thee; to spend thyself nor count the cost, to serve right gloriously the God who gave all worlds that are, and all that are to be.”
I am reminded of a little song that I haven’t heard for a while, and I don’t know who wrote it:
‘To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.
In every thought and deed, this is my aim, my creed.
EPHESIANS SESSION 7 cont.
To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.
His Spirit helping me, like Him I’ll be.’
Therein lies the secret, only by His Spirit can a Christian be like Him. His Holy Spirit brings with Him the power and authority to live life in the fullness of God. Only then can we love as He loved. Only then can one reach one’s full potential as a disciple of Christ Jesus.
READ ACTS 1:4-8.
Paul’s letter is a wake-up call, to the Christians in Ephesus, some of who are drifting back into their old ways. Having experienced the cleansing power of God, in Christ Jesus, they are in danger of loosing their inheritance because they are reverting back to the things and way of life from which God, out of his abundant grace, had delivered them.
READ EPHESIANS 5:3-7.
William Barclay, in his commentary, ‘Letters to The Galatians And Ephesians’ (p.191) writes: “It is certainly true that the ancient world regarded sexual immorality so lightly that it was no sin at all. It was the expected thing that a man should have a mistress. In places like Corinth the great temples were staffed by hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes, and whose earnings went to the upkeep of the Temple.” Barclay goes on to say, speaking of brothels, common place in those days: “and with the profits of the new trade a new temple was built to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Nothing could show the Greek point of view better than the fact that the Greeks saw nothing wrong in building a temple to the gods with the proceeds and profits of prostitution.” This was their way of life and reflected the custom of the day.
So, in a way, it is understandable, to a point, how, in Paul’s absence, many tried to combine their old way of life with the new. Paul is telling them that these long established habits and immoral attitudes have no place within the church, they must be abandoned or they will incur God’s wrath. They are totally out of bounds! READ EPHESIANS 5:8-21.
The apostle reminds them of the state they were in before they discovered and walked in the Light of Christ, the time when they stumbled and fell in the darkness of sin. Their lives have been illuminated by Christ, why fall back into darkness after they have experienced for themselves the light of the love of God in Christ Jesus? Paul encourages them to “Live as children of the Light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
ERERCISE: What does one have to do to find out what pleases the Lord?
Behave wisely, is what Paul is saying, “Be filled with the Spirit”, encourage one another in your worship, give thanks to God always, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Learn to submit to one another, having each other’s interest at heart.
“The Spirit lives to set us free, walk, walk in the light;
He binds us all in unity, walk, walk in the light.
... Walk in the light of the Lord.”
This, surely, is what Paul is saying.
“The Spirit lives in you and me, walk, walk in the light;
His light will shine for all to see, walk, walk in the light.
... Walk in the light of the Lord.”
(Composed by Damien Lundy, 664 CMP)
Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus preaching and teaching the Good News about Jesus Christ and it was far from easy, he was severely tested, especially at first; however, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit he gained a following.
EPHESIANS SESSION 7 cont.
READ ACTS 19:1-7.
The Church was established there and for 3 months, in the synagogue, he spoke about the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, because there was much opposition to his preaching, he went to a lecture hall nearby, where he was heard, taking the new disciples with him. READ ACTS 19:8-12.
Some Jews there, tried to imitate Paul. We’ll read about it and the result in ACTS 19:13-20.
About the time Paul decides to move on, there is a riot in the city. READ ACTS 19:23-41.
Paul’s intentions are to go to Jerusalem and then on to Rome; when Paul arrives at Miletus he sends for the elders of the church at Ephesus, there he addresses them in a farewell speech.
READ ACTS 20:17-38.
The apostle knows that Ephesus is a hard place. What will happen now he is absent? Evil crouches near and because of this Paul advises them: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” With this understanding he commits them to God: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul knows that he’ll never see them again.
It was whist under house arrest in Rome, Paul heard the devastating news that many who began to follow Christ Jesus, have been deceived by some and are compromising their faith and some of them have turned away completely. This is why he is writing the way he is in Ephesians 5, that they will rediscover what the Lord’s will is, “to be filled with the Spirit” and to encourage each other by giving thanks to God and “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
READ EPHESIANS 5:22-33.
EXERCISE: What is this passage saying to you?
Unfortunately, there is a school of thought that believes Paul to be giving authority for the husband to have control over his wife in all things, that, at all costs, she must be controlled by him; however, this is not what Paul is saying.
Matthew Henry writes in his Commentary (p.654): “There is a mutual submission that Christians owe to one another ... Where there is mutual submission, the duties of all relations will be the better performed.”
Whilst the husband may be the head of the wife, Christ is the head of the Church and, therefore, of the husband. It is the duty of the husband to love his wife, just as it is the duty of the wife to love her husband (mutual submission). In a marriage ceremony the two become one that is one body in Christ, who is the head. In such a promiscuous society as Ephesus, where anything goes, Christ’s disciples are to be faithful to and have love and respect for each other. They are to love as Christ loves. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy ... For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” This is what submission means for the Christian, often swimming against the tide, and remaining faithful to one’s calling in Christ Jesus, who binds us together in the perfect love of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to His praise and glory!
Use Samuel John Stone’s hymn (515 H&P) as a prayer to close
“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;”
EPHESIANS SESSION 6
‘GROUNDED FIRM AND DEEP IN THE SAVIOUR’S LOVE’
In the first three chapters of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul deals with the central truths of the Christian faith and the purpose of ‘The Church’ in God’s great design of things; the purpose for which it was conceived and executed. Although, regarding Ephesus, mainly made up of Gentiles, we also discovered God’s intention to mould both Jews and Gentiles into one body with Christ Jesus as its Head. The apostle has in view the ideal relationship between Christ and His people.
“Paul now turns to the practical outworking of this ideal in everyday living. His writing takes on a practical purpose as he sets before his readers the guidelines of Christian conduct and deportment in the world. But before he gets to grip with details he must first give an over-all picture of what is to be the church’s calling in the world. This is the theme of vv. 1-16.” (New Bible Commentary Third Edition p.1115).
‘The Lion Handbook to the Bible’ makes a good point (p. 606):”Christian unity is a fact. We are bound together by a common faith, a common life, common loyalty, common purpose. We serve one Master. He is the head; we are the limbs of a single body. ... But we are not identical in temperament, personality or gifts. We must constantly cement the bond by a loving forbearing attitude to one another, and by using our different gifts for the common good. We have to grow up together until we are all Christ wants us to be – until we are really like him.”
READ 1 CORINTHIANS 12:7-31
So God, our loving heavenly Father, desires that all disunity, disharmony, mistrust and all such things that destroy good relationships should be abandoned, walls of separation destroyed, differences abolished. His desire is that in Christ Jesus humanity discovers a new togetherness, what one might call ‘a sacred oneness’ in Christ.
EXERCISE: How can this be achieved?
Barclay states (p. 157): “The Church must be the body through which Christ acts and the voice through which he speaks. The Church must be Christ’s instrument in bringing this divine unity into the world. But if the Church is to succeed in that great task, the people within the Church must be a certain kind of people. And now Paul turns to the character of the Christian which is necessary if the Church is to fulfil her great task of being Christ’s instrument of universal reconciliation between man and man, and man and God within the world.”
When a person joins any organisation or fellowship that person is expected to abide by the rules; not to disregard them, bringing disgrace upon the society concerned. Paul is in effect saying, Christian, don’t sell Christ short! Watch your conduct and be true to your calling.
READ EPHESIANS 4:1-6.
The Ephesians have been called by God to be Christ-like and Paul is urging them to live up to their calling. They must make every effort to do so. It should be no different for us, indeed, for all Christians everywhere.
READ PHILIPPIANS 2:1-11.
Meekness, to a Greek, was a second-rate virtue; lowliness was classed as no virtue at all; however, Christ changes things. Paul is saying that every Christian’s attitude should be like that of Christ Jesus. Are we humble enough to swallow our pride, to stop judging others and get on with the task of living in unity? The question posed by Paul to the Ephesian church is: are you prepared to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”? Nothing less will do! “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Michael Frye wrote (1076 Complete Mission Praise):
Jesus, be the centre, be my source, be my light, Jesus.
EPHESIANS SESSION 6 cont.
Jesus, be the centre, be my hope, be my song, Jesus.
Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in these sails,
Be the reason that I live, Jesus, Jesus.
Jesus, be my vision, be my path, be my guide, Jesus
Be the fire in my heart, be the wind in these sails,
Be the reason that I live, Jesus, Jesus.
Therein lies the answer to the problems Christians find today, as it did those to whom Paul wrote originally. Jesus has to be the centre because all things centre round Him and find their fulfilment in Him. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” Just to remind you, our one hope is the glorious future all believers share in Jesus Christ, kept for us, eternal in the heavens. The one body consists of the believers who make up the Church; the one Lord being Jesus Christ the Head. The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit who inspires the one faith in God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. The one baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, who brings with Him all the gifts and activity necessary to be an active and influential force in the body of Christ that inspires Christian living, thus extending Christ’s kingdom on earth. (Although there is a line of thought that sees the one baptism as water baptism on confession of faith.)
EXERCISE: What are your thoughts on Paul’s statement (Ephesians 4:4-5)?
READ EPHESIANS 4:7-18.
God‘s amazing, abundant grace has been poured out upon all people through Jesus Christ’s sufferings, death and resurrection. Many have rejected God’s offer; however, all who receive what Christ has done and embrace Him will receive grace upon grace, both in this life and beyond. He equips His body, the Church, with all the gifts necessary to proclaim and extend His kingdom to the nations. These gifts operate best when His redeemed “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” When Christ ascended into heaven, He did not leave His disciples as orphans.
READ JOHN 14:15-21.
Jesus Christ fulfilled His promise to His disciples and returned with the rich gift of the Holy Spirit, His spiritual presence! READ JOHN 14:23-29.
Following His ascension Christ gave gifts to mere mortals. In the words of Charles Wesley (924 Methodist Hymn Book) “Christ whose glory fills the skies, Christ, the true, the only Light,” is shining brightly in today’s world and inspiring his body, the Church, with spiritual gifts that have transforming power. Power and authority in His name, He has given to preach the gospel in its entirety. READ MATTHEW 28:18-20.
Back to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:11-13, where Paul is saying: “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ.”
All Christians have been given gifts by a loving heavenly Father, through His Holy Spirit. True some are called to a particular ministry but every Christian, who truly believes and receives God’s Spirit, is equipped as a disciple of the Lord Jesus and is expected to be about His business of building the kingdom of God.
EXERCISE: What gifts do you think God has given you? How might you use those gifts?
EPHESIANS SESSION 6 cont.
READ EPHESIANS 4:17-24.
Having discussed unity and maturity as twin goals for The Church, which God brought into existence through the death of Christ Jesus, Paul goes on to show that purity is essential to all who belong to Him. In these verses he is appealing to his converts, in fact insisting, that they leave their old, sinful way of life behind them and keep to the new way that they have discovered in Christ Jesus. Some of them seem to have drifted back in their ignorance, their minds have become darkened and they have begun to revert back to indulging in their sinful nature. I am certain that Paul is saying, Beware, lest you slip back into heathen ways and get swallowed up in the insatiable lust of your desires, be careful lest you become a slave to your old way of life and your hearts become hardened to the real things of God. One can become so dominated by sin that shame is lost and decency forgotten. That way certainly does not fit in with the life of Christ your Master. Such people alienate themselves from God.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Vv. 22-24).
The old self is no longer acceptable. Falsehood, vindictiveness, anger, theft, bad language, deception, retaliation, such things are of the old nature and must be rejected at all costs, if one is to walk in the Light of Christ. READ EPHESIANS 4:25-29.
Paul is, in effect, saying: The filthy rags of the old nature must be rejected for the sake of the ‘Body of Christ’, God has entered your life because of what Christ has done and you have pledged yourself to Him, live in the manner you ought, seek to please the Christ in whom you have come to believe and whom you serve. Serve Him faithfully and stop being double-minded.
READ JAMES 1:2-7.
I am certain Paul would be the first to agree with James’ comments. Some of these Ephesian Christians were unstable trying to keep a foot in both camps. This simply cannot go on they are becoming stumbling blocks to each other, and to the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth! Worse still, they are grieving the Holy Spirit by whom they were sealed, guaranteeing their inheritance “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Ephesians 1:14).
In the closing verses of chapter 4, Paul reminds them of this again. READ EPHESIANS 4:30-32.
Those who have turned to Christ must make Christ the centre of their lives. They are called to walk in His ways, to emulate Him, to let His light shine through them unhindered, so that Christ can be seen in their actions and attitude to life in general. Christians are on a journey, like little children they take a step at a time, have to be corrected when mistakes are made and, if following their heavenly parent, they will act in like manner. This they will do if they have been born of the Spirit of God because the Holy Spirit will lead and guide them in the way they need to go, if they are to bring glory to Christ Jesus and His cause, which is to extend the kingdom of God in the hearts of people of every nation and every tongue. They are distinguished from others who have rejected God’s free gift of salvation and given preference to a worldly life, pleasing only themselves where almost anything goes, clinging to old habits and rejecting God’s ways.
Christians, reflecting the Light of Christ, have given up selfish ways and seeking unity in the bond of peace have entered a new life pattern as disciples of the living, victorious Lord Jesus Christ in whom they have the victory. Paul is implying that the love of God, implanted within them, will inspire them to greater things as they are held together by the power of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Only by His Spirit will we be able to love and serve others as Christ Jesus loves and serves us. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!
Acts Chapter 25, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship
Festus, some might say a more upright man than Felix, arrives in his province in approximately A.D. 59. After a few days he went up from Caesarea, the seat of government, to Jerusalem to meet the high priest and the Sanhedrin, a two-day journey, of approximately sixty miles.
May the Lord bless you, as you explore further.
Read Acts 25:1-5. Q.1. What was the Sanhedrin’s request and what were it’s members hoping for?
Read Acts 25:6-7. Q.2. Why could the Jews not prove the charges they brought against Paul?
Read Acts 25:8-12. Q.3. Why do you think Festus wished to do the Jews a favour?
Q. 4. Why did Paul appeal to Caesar?
Read Acts 25:13-22. Q.5. What was the Roman custom?
Q.6. What was the dispute about?
Read Acts 25:23-27. Q.7. This was not a judgement, so why were so many people gathered?
Q.8. What was Festus’ predicament?
Q.9. Does anything else stand out to you in this chapter?
Acts Chapter 24, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship
The next three chapters of the book of Acts may seem quite repetitive. They contain trials or hearings of Paul’s case. The first hearing is before Felix. Paul has been kept under guard in Herod’s palace for five days before his case begins.
The Lord bless you as you explore further.
Read Acts 24:1-4. Q.1. Who was Tertullus?
Q.2. In what manner did Tertullus present the case against Paul before Felix?
Read Acts 24:5-9. Q.3. Was this accusation true or false?
Read Acts 24:10-16. Q.4. What did Paul admit to?
Q.5. What should we strive for?
Read Acts 24:17-21. Q.6.What was Paul’s main purpose for going to Jerusalem?
Q.7.What did Paul think might have been the reason for bringing him before Felix?
Read Acts 24:22-23. Q.8.Why do you think Felix was so generous towards Paul?
Read Acts 24:24-26. Q.9. What caused Felix to stop the interview and why?
Read Acts 24:27. Q.10.What was the long-term result? Give your reason.
Acts Chapter 23, Tuesday Afternoon Bible Fellowship
We now see Paul, like his Master the Lord Jesus Christ, appearing before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. This is not one of their regular meetings, but a special meeting that has been called to deal with Paul’s case.
May the Lord bless you as you explore further.
Acts 23:1-5. Q. 1. Why do you think Paul called Ananias a ‘whitewashed wall’?
Q. 2. At first Paul didn’t recognize Ananias as the high priest. Give reasons why you think that might be?
Acts 23:6-10. Q. 3. What stirred up the members of the Sanhedrin, and why do you think that was?
Acts 23:11. Q. 4. The Lord stood with Paul in his time of crises. Can you describe times when He stood by you with words of comfort and assurance?
Acts 23:12-15. Q.5. What do we discover here, regarding humanity?
Acts 23:16-22. Q.6. How important was Paul’s nephew and why?
Acts 23:23-24. Q.7. How did the commander react and what action did he take?
Acts 23:25-30. Q.8. How would you describe the contents of the commander’s letter to Felix?
Acts 23:31-35. Q.9. How did Felix react when he received the letter, and why?
Q.10. What impressed you most in this session, and why do you think that is?
EPHESIANS SESSION 5
‘THE MYSTERY MADE KNOWN’
One needs to remember that Paul wrote this letter whilst a prisoner in Rome; however, he had certain privileges, although he was under arrest in his own rented accommodation and guarded by Roman soldiers, he was allowed visits from his friends. During this time Paul was chained night and day to a soldier, who was his guard, and whose business it was to see that he never escaped. All this time Paul was waiting for the Jewish prosecutors to arrive with their trumped up charges against him. The apostle, however, takes advantage of their delay by writing letters to the Christians in the various churches that he has managed to establish throughout his preaching ministry.
Paul holds his mission to the Gentiles in high regard; in fact, he sees it as a privilege and a necessary responsibility given him by Christ, Himself. Paul knows the reason Christ Jesus revealed Himself to him on the Damascus road was that he might carry the name of Jesus Christ to “the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Even though he would preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead, ascended and glorified, and would be an important tool in his Master’s hand by bringing many lost souls back to God, he would suffer much in doing so.
READ ACTS 9:15-18.
The Gentile members, as well as Jewish, have therefore become members of the ‘Body of Christ’, equal in every respect, in whom ‘God lives by His Spirit.’ Born by the Spirit, they must learn to live as one by the Spirit, so Paul is content with his current situation.
READ EPHESIANS 3:1.
George Matheson wrote a hymn to this effect (714 H&P):
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conquer be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It wants the needed fire to glow, it wants the breeze to nerve;
It cannot freely move, till thou hast wrought its chain;
Enslave it with thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.
My will is not my own till thou hast made it thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne it must its crown resign;
It only stands unbent, amid the clashing strife,
When on thy bosom it has lent and found in thee its life.
EXERCISE: What are Paul and the hymn writer implying here?
Paul chooses to obey Christ Jesus in spite of all opposition. He was indeed held captive by the Romans but he chose to be imprisoned in Christ’s arms of love, he wanted to be enslaved by the matchless love of his Saviour. Captivated by Jesus Christ, he could only display that love to all with whom he came in contact. However, Paul breaks his train of thought after verse 1 in an attempt to explain ‘the mystery’.
READ EPHESIANS 3:2-6.
We know that before Christ came God’s promise had been confined to the Jews and that His purpose for the rest of the world had remained a secret, except that the prophets prophesied that “the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9b). Also, King David in Psalm 72 says “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” (v. 17b) – This promise goes back to Abraham, see Genesis 22:18.
EPHESIANS SESSION 5 cont.
READ PSALM 72.
The apostle had also written to the church at Corinth, briefly, on the mystery made known to him by the Holy Spirit. READ 1 CORINTHIANS 2:8-16.
As Christians, we too need to understand spiritual truths if we are to make right judgements about things. If the Spirit of Christ lives in us, as Christ promised He would, then “we have the mind of Christ.” The mystery is only made known by divine revelation!
Thankfully now, as Roy Turner wrote (18 CMP):
All over the world the Spirit is moving, all over the world as the prophet said it would be;
All over the world there’s a mighty revelation of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
All over His Church (v. 2) & Right here in this place (v. 3).
EXERCISE: What are your views on the mystery that Paul is making known?
Paul has just told the Ephesians something of God’s secret plan that has been revealed to him, a plan that was not known to previous generations, that in and through Christ Jesus God was reconciling the world unto Himself. The scope of His purpose is breathtaking, there is no class or distinction regarding those who are in Christ, all are heirs of the promises. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6).
READ EPHESIANS 3:7-13.
In these verses Paul expands the greatness of his special mission, explaining that it was all by grace. How by God’s amazing grace he, who was so unworthy of the calling, was called to the task of bringing the gospel of salvation to the Gentile world. He sees himself as “the least of all God’s people.” once the enemy of Christ. Yet God chose him and Paul sees it as the greatest of privileges. (Like Paul, we all need the gift of divine grace, if we are to succeed in the Lord’s business. This grace of God only comes by faith in Christ who baptizes us in His Holy Spirit, equipping us for the work in hand. One cannot ‘make’ disciples until one is willing to be discipled.)
So Paul, far from being proud, humbly confesses his inadequacies, then, rejoices in God’s power which enables him to complete the task to which he has been called, taking the gospel message, the good news of salvation, to the Gentiles so that they too may experience God’s abundant grace and be included in the ‘Body of Christ’, the Church universal. To this end Paul preaches “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain the mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” God’s plan, once concealed, is now brought to light. Through this plan, the devil no longer has control over the destiny of the human race.
William Barclay in his commentary p.147 writes:
“for he who serves Christ can never think of making others look at himself and praise himself; he must make them look at Christ. The tragic fact in Churches is that there are so many who are more concern with their own honour and prestige than with the honour and prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen.”
The apostle emphasises that God’s “intent was that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. This was His intent from the beginning of time and was accomplished in Christ Jesus, the Son that He loved but for your sake and mine He did not spare! God has achieved what seemed impossible, reconciling and uniting not only Jew and Gentile but all the nations of the earth as one body, His Church, through which and in whom He displays His eternal wisdom.
EPHESIANS SESSION 5 cont.
Dummelow writes, in his Commentary, (p. 963): “It is an amazing thought that, by means of the Church, God’s varied wisdom in the scheme of redemption is made known to heavenly beings. ‘Angels desire to look into’ ‘the manifold grace of God’.” (End of Quote). Paul, in addressing the needs of the Ephesians, is saying: God has accomplished your salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and that “through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Don’t let my situation discourage you because my present sufferings are for your Glory.
EXERCISE: What do you think Paul meant by this? (v. 13)
It appears that Paul continues, in the fourteenth verse, where he left off in verse one in prayer for the people he loved and cared for. READ EPHESIANS 3:14-19.
Paul has painted an amazing picture of the Church; with the world in chaos! Although the whole world owes its Fatherhood to God, its creator and sustainer; in contrast the nations rebel against the Father who loves them and desires to be loved by them. All the riches of His grace are at their disposal if only the people in this fallen world would turn from their wicked ways and come back to Him. Paul sees the need of the Church, the ‘Body of Christ’, to witness to the amazing grace of God, the Father, as experienced in Jesus Christ, the Son, in and through whom He has made atonement for their sin.
The Church as the Body of Christ must faithfully go about her business, which is to illuminate the way to the Father. This can only be achieved if the Christians to whom Paul is writing will take their discipleship to Christ Jesus seriously. Paul is desperate for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ, the good news of the Father’s offer of forgiveness through the shed blood of His Son. To this end Paul kneels before Father God, pleading for the followers of Jesus Christ, pleading “that out of his glorious riches” God would strengthen them with power through his Spirit in their inner being. He continues: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That they will be rooted and established in love; their roots must go down deep into the soil of God’s love if they are to have “power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and high and long and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
For the Christian the secret of strength is the presence of Christ within our lives, reflected by the way we live. The empowering of the Spirit of God is essential if Christ is to be seen working His purpose out in one’s life. There’s a 15th century hymn, 62 in The Methodist Hymn Book:
O Love, how deep, how broad, how high! It fills the heart with ecstasy,
That God , the Son of God, should take our mortal form, for mortals’ sake.
He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame Himself, and to this lost world came.
For us to wicked men betrayed, scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death, for us at length gave up His breath.
For us He rose from death again; for us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
To Him whose boundless love has won salvation for us through His Son,
To God the Father, glory be, both now and through eternity. Amen.
PRAYER OF COMMITMENT
Use Ephesians 3:20-21 by way of blessing each other.
EPHESIANS Session 2
‘SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS IN CHRIST’
In our introductory study, we saw how the Apostle Paul’s life was completely turned around. No longer was he in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ Jesus. Chosen by God, he was transformed into a vehement supporter and preacher of the good news that he previously fought to destroy. He had discovered that Christ Jesus was the true and perfect way to God, that in Him his sins were forgiven because of God’s abundant grace and that he had peace with God through Jesus Christ his Saviour and Lord. Jesus Christ had become the ‘centre’ of Paul’s purpose for living. His sole desire was to spread what we know as the Christian Gospel and he pledged himself to its cause. Realizing that he, on his own, was far from perfect, Paul sought to strive towards the goal of perfection, knowing that he was chosen by Christ Jesus for this purpose and that if he was successful a reward awaited him in heaven.
READ PHILIPPIANS 3:12-14.
EXERCISE: What does this passage say to you?
It begs these questions: For what purpose did Christ take hold of me? Why should He bother with me, I’m not worthy of Him? It also speaks of a new start, a new beginning. Why is there a need for me to begin again? What is the prize set before me? No doubt there are others.
Paul knows why Jesus Christ broke into his life that day on the Damascus road, to be His chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15b).
One of the great truths that Paul has discovered is that the Church, which includes everyone who has come to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, is the Body of Christ. Another is that the Church, trusted with the message of salvation to the world, is God’s chosen instrument of reconciliation. Barclay states (The Letter to the Galatians and Ephesians p.80): “No man has ever had a greater vision of Christ than this vision which sees in Christ the one centre in whom the disunities of life are gathered into one. No man ever had a greater vision of the Church than the vision which sees in the Church God’s instrument in that world-wide and universal reconciliation. And we believe that no man other than Paul could rise to a vision like that.”
EXERCISE: What do you think regarding the suggestion that a Christian is a person who always
lives a double life?
It has been suggested that each Christian has two addresses, a human address and a divine address. Every Christian has a battle to be fought. On the one hand the Christian seeks to please Christ; however, every Christian lives in a fallen world, where temptation is rife. To say the least, mistakes are made. READ EPHESIANS 1:3-4.
In this passage Paul is giving praise to God for His wondrous grace revealed in Christ Jesus and the way the people at Ephesus have received Him. They, he says, have been blessed abundantly. They are such privileged people to have been chosen by God to serve Him in their day and to do His work. He includes Himself with them. Together they have received the blessings of heaven. God has called them through His Son and opened the heavens and poured out His Holy Spirit upon them.
No human being will ever come near to fully understanding the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet of this I am certain, in recognizing one’s own short comings one feels the need to cry out ‘more grace, Lord, more grace!’
Daniel Webster Whittle (1840 – 1901) wrote that beautiful hymn (279 CMP), loved and appreciated by many down through the years:
EPHESIANS, Session 2, cont.
I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me has been made known;
nor why – unworthy as I am – He claimed me for His own.
But, ‘I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.’
I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart;
Or how believing in His word wrought peace upon my heart.
But, ‘I know ...’
I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the word, creating faith in Him.
But, ‘I know ...’
I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me –
Of weary ways or golden days before His face I see.
But, ‘I know ...’
Paul would have approved of that Hymn; and, whether we realised it or not, all blessings come from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Spiritual blessings from heaven are the best Christians can possibly receive. These are not temporal blessings but spiritual blessings from “the heavenly realms”, blessings from the Father above. These blessings are in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, the joy of sins forgiven, a new beginning, the transformation from sinner into saint, the assurance of a heavenly kingdom prepared through Christ, the knowledge that one day we will live in His presence for evermore, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. In the meantime there is the promise that His abundant grace will be sufficient for all our needs through the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit in our daily living. As Fanny J Crosby put it (59 CMP):
‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine: O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God; born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
READ REVELATION 21:1-8.
So our Father God actually chose us in Christ Jesus “before the creation of the world to be blameless in his sight.” Before time began, before creation! The mind boggles! In fact, even more incredible, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”.
READ EPHESIANS 1:4-10.
God’s purpose for you and me is that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. We might be able to learn from others certain trades and skills, yet because we live in a fallen world and because of our fallen nature, we cannot teach ourselves to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. We were born sinful! Therefore we remain sinful; it is the law of nature! Children mimic and thereby learn from their parents and it is amazing how quickly they fall into the same habits. (Illustrate: a young lad who kicked a ball through a neighbour’s window. – His mother had brought him up to always tell the truth, which as far as we know, he did. When kicking a ball around with some friends, he accidently kicked it through a window, and immediately owned up. I was asked to replace the broken glass, which I did. Whilst I was doing this, his mother came to me and said, words to this affect, “For once I wish he wasn’t so truthful.”) The only way we can be transformed into holy and blameless people is for God to transform us and, of course, that is His desire; however, He will not force us against our will, we must want to be transformed. The trouble is our sin has separated us from our heavenly Father and there is no way back that we can devise because the barrier of sinfulness separates us from Him.
Our holy God, in His wisdom, has, Himself, provided a way by which we may be reconciled to Him: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace,” How has He achieved this? Paul tells us
EPHESIANS: Session 2 cont.
that He has done so out of the abundance of His glorious grace. Such is God’s love for His fallen
children that, even before the creation of the world, God had decreed that He would come into the world as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ and take, on Himself, the punishment for their sin and that all who turn to Him, in true repentance, would be forgiven completely and pronounced holy and blameless.
I am reminded that under Jewish law any animal offered for sacrifice, first had to be inspected. If any blemish was found, it was rejected as unfit as an offering to God. God had to provide the perfect sacrifice. Paul tells us that this was planned even before mankind was created.
Paul says in Ephesians 1:9-10: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
Perhaps for us to understand how this was to happen, we need to read and understand, to the best of our ability, JOHN 1:1-5, 10-14. (READ)
So, the ‘Word’ who was in the beginning with God, was God and “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” came to us in the flesh as a vulnerable and helpless babe, yet, as the Saviour promised long. The disciple goes on to say (v.18) “No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” A little further on we read the following in John 3: READ JOHN 3:16-21.
Exercise: What does this extract from John, the disciple’s writings, mean for you?
Jesus Christ becomes what none other could ever become, the ‘Lamb of God’. Faultless, holy and blameless, the ‘Perfect Sacrifice’. On the rugged altar of the cross, on Calvary’s hill, just outside Jerusalem, the perfect sacrifice was offered up by God the Father of us all and as that sacrifice, Jesus Christ cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30b) the veil of separation was torn apart and access to our heavenly Father opened up to all people of all nations for all time!
READ EPHESIANS 1:11-14.
Not all are predestined, only those who acknowledge that Jesus Christ has died in their place, who in true repentance turn to Him with the desire to serve Him, who willingly become His disciples. Although of a fallen nature, but now because of the abundant grace of a loving heavenly Father, have been given the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, their Redeemer and Lord. God decreed that all who turn to Him, through Christ, would be predestined to all the Spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.
Paul’s message to the Ephesian Christians is the assurance that they “were included in Christ” when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel of” their “salvation.” He goes on to say, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” The Holy Spirit living in you and me is God’s seal on your life and mine, guaranteeing our inheritance, not just of God’s presence in this life but of our inheritance set in heaven, to be received when Christ Jesus comes to receive unto Himself all, who through adoption, chosen by God, are predestined to eternal life through their faith in Christ Jesus. A new heaven and a new earth awaits the faithful in Christ Jesus, where holiness, purity and grace are the order of the day, where “only those whose names are written in the Lambs book of life” (Rev, 21:27b) will see him face to face and enjoy His presence for evermore. What greater blessing could one have than that!
Exercise: How do you feel about your adoption?
(See 128 CMP, composed by Ian Smale: ‘Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist’)