1 Peter 4

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Is Suffering the Will of God?

1 Peter 4

The subject of suffering can be a source of conflict among believers and non-believers alike. Within the Church there is a wide variety of passionate opinions on the topic, and a tendency to want to choose sides. I’ve experienced many teachings from various perspectives that leave me asking questions:

Is suffering caused by our own foolishness and decisions made in our flesh?

Is suffering caused by the broken, fallen nature of the world in which we live?

Is suffering caused by Satan and his demonic forces who wage war against us?

Do we suffer at the hand of a sovereign God who does with us what accomplishes His purposes in and through us?

To be honest, this is a subject that I personally wrestle with. I do not have all the answers to this, because, frankly, none of us can fully comprehend Almighty God. I propose that the answers are:

yes,

yes,

yes,

and

yes!

Let’s look together at what scripture says and then we can continue to pursue God for answers and clarity as we grow.

Suffering because of the sinful flesh

1 Peter 4:15 exhorts us: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” This leads us to understand that some suffering is caused by our own actions and decisions made in the sinful flesh. James chapter 1 lays it out pretty simply:

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15 NLT)

Suffering as a result of the fallen state of our world

From the time that sin and death entered the world, all of creation has suffered. Although as believers in Christ we are redeemed to God and no longer subject to the curse of the fall, we will continue to deal with sickness, death, and persecution, to a name a few, because of the unredeemed nature of the world in which we live.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering (Romans 8:19-22 NLT).

I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

Suffering because of Satan

We have a very real adversary. And he is waging a very real war against us. Oftentimes our suffering is caused by a direct attack from a supernatural enemy.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:8-10).

Suffering by the will of God

Whether we like it or not, and whether we can logically make sense of it or not, our God is sovereign over all. He accomplishes His purposes, even through suffering.

I create the light and make the darkness.

I send good times and bad times.

I, the LORD, am the one who does these things (Isaiah 45:7 NLT).

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Suffering

A Faithful Creator. This is the only time is scripture that this name for God is used and interestingly within the context of suffering according to His will. The bottom line for me is, even though I don’t always understand suffering, and I may not ever have all the answers, I serve a God who created me.

He is a faithful Creator.

When He created this world, He did it for love. He said it was good. And I don’t believe that it was His heart for His creation to suffer. For now, we must choose to know Him and trust Him in the midst of a world where Satan prowls, where sin is ever-present, and where death is inevitable. But there is a coming a day when our Creator God will make all things new and restore it to its original perfection!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

 

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1 Peter 1:13-25

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For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:8-10

We know that the gospel is all about grace – receiving something we could never deserve because of the eternal love of our Creator God and the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. That grace is the foundation for a divine tension between God’s initiation and our responsibility. I believe with my whole heart that God is the initiator and the pursuer of His children. I believe that even the faith we have to believe and cry out to Him for salvation comes from Him. I also believe that He has created us for good works – things that require action on our part. Therein lies a massively beautiful relationship.

Studying through 1 Peter we see some of the ways in which we are exhorted to live. In the first chapter alone we are commanded to:

-prepare your mind for action (1:13)

-be sober minded [sober in spirit] (1:13)

-set your hope fully on grace (1:13)

-conduct yourselves with fear (1:17)

-love one another earnestly (1:22)

As the book goes on, the commands only get harder and more invasive! I encourage you to take the time to go through 1 Peter and write down every imperative given. Trust me, it’s overwhelming! How can any of us really live this way?

The truth is, there are no formulas. Our God works in transcendent ways that we cannot predict or presume to dictate. His process for preparing each person for good works and then moving them into the works He has prepared is beautifully unique. But what is our part to play? How do I live a holy life, my conduct pleasing to the Lord, without simply following rules?  Is holiness about more than doing certain things and not doing other things?

as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16

True, lasting, holy conduct can only become a reality when we have had a true encounter with our holy God. The holiness of God is a divine quality of “other-ness”, the weight of which I don’t think we will be fully be able grasp until we stand before His throne.

But His call to be holy because He is holy stands as an invitation to know Him.

We will be holy, because He is holy. Our holiness must begin with His holiness. And so our primary desire in walking in holy conduct must be to encounter God in His holiness.

Let’s look at Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God, from Isaiah chapter 6.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of His glory!”

4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

When Isaiah saw the Lord, he immediately responded. And I don’t think it was a matter of protocol for him! When Isaiah cried out “Woe is me!” I can only imagine that his knees hit the ground! His posture became one of humility, and his heart was broken for his own sin and the sin of the world around him.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

At the moment of Isaiah’s awe-inspiring encounter with God, and the removal of his guilt (which happens to us now at salvation), Isaiah’s commission was a “no-brainer”. He had seen the holiness of God. He knew he belonged to this God! Giving of his life to God’s purpose was not merely a “good work” but a passionate privilege.

When we gaze upon the holiness of God we will respond with worship. And worship is not just singing songs together on Sunday morning, it is all of life surrendered in adoration of God because of who He is and what He has done.

be holyWhen we live this way there are no more lists of dos and don’ts. There is only a life lived in a posture of humility and surrendered to the will and leading of our holy God! Then, in times of suffering in this world, we will not be tempted to abandon our faith or run away. Instead, we can steady our feet on the rock of the eternal word of God and bear up under the weight of adversity with joy. We have seen our holy God! We have set our hope fully on His grace! We have an imperishable inheritance that will not fade away! We are His and nothing can snatch us out of His hand!

Isis killing the 21

This month we have seen 21 examples of living a holy life. These men were not perfect. They were broken vessels just like you and me. And yet, the evidence of their holy surrender flows red in the Mediterranean Sea. As they partake now of the Heavenly inheritance prepared for them, may God grant each of us the same image of Himself, that will compel us in His name, even unto death.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who is seated on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

~Revelation 4:8-11

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

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The Accuser: Ephesians 6: 10-24

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.com

 

The Accuser

He lurks in dark corners of neglected rooms

Often his presence goes unnoticed

Though the cold of imprint of his power doesn’t easily fade from memory

Just when I think he has vanished for good…

He crawls out from behind veiled thoughts

Slowly, subtly, barely noticeable

Waiting for the moment

With defenses down and weakened state

He attacks

He jabs his claws deep into wounded flesh

He is not easily shaken off or dismissed

His weapons are fear, guilt, shame, regret

His aim is strong and precise

His dark presence is all consuming

I feel him suffocating my hope

I can’t breathe

Drowning

Too weary to fight, I choke out a whisper   

“You will not win”

Like a brave warrior of old, shot with many arrows

I stammer, limp, stagger; finally struggling to shaking feet

I stand to fight once again

A strength not my own wells up with assurance of hope

I find my voice from deep down in the caverns of my soul

I bellow this time with gleaming sword of truth held high.

“You will not win”

The accuser is silenced

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As we see in Ephesians, our battle is not against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We sometimes forget that we are in a battle. Do not stop fighting. You are on the winning team!

Hugs,

Julie

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Five Things Biblical Submission Is Not- Ephesians 5:22-33

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.comMy family members claim that I came out of the womb with my hands on my hips. I am a leader; passionate, ridiculously verbal and, on my not so good days, bossy and opinionated. For personality types like me, submission in marriage is neither a natural nor easy command to understand or accept. It takes a conscious effort which consists of processing, wrestling and surrender- the evidence in my life continues to be a slow evolution. As God works to mature me in Him, I learn more and more with each passing year just what Christ-like yielding looks like for me. That being said, in my almost 15 years of marriage, I have learned five important things biblical submission is not.

#1 Submission is not suppressing my God given personality.
I was created in God’s image with distinct personality traits that, when reigned in and controlled by the Holy Spirit, contribute uniquely to the building of the kingdom of God. But because all of life is marred by sin, things get real ugly relationally when my strong personality goes unchecked. It is vitally important that I remain tethered to Christ, constantly submitting my will and relying on His strength to obey His commands- one of which is submitting to my husband in marriage. But in doing so, God never intended me to become someone I’m not, someone different than who I was created to be. In fact, even passive, quiet, type B personalities can be far from submissive by using manipulation or passive aggressive behavior to undermine their husband’s leadership. True Biblical submission is not about personality, it’s about humility.

#2 Submission is not a position of powerlessness.
Contrary to common worldly beliefs regarding submission, we need only look to our ultimate example in our Lord Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, who is our example in all things, came not to be served but to serve. He willingly laid down his own deserved glory and power to submit himself to the will of the Father. That is the very opposite of powerlessness. It required incredible strength and control.

In my own life, submission to God, to authorities and to my husband require a spirit of constant reflection, caution and restraint. Like Jesus, I must draw near to my Father daily so I am able to hear His still small voice of guidance and receive His strength to surrender my own will. Biblical submission is a voluntary relinquishment of power. In God’s economy, that is far from weakness, it is true strength.

#3 Submission is not abdicating responsibility.
While some of us struggle with issues of trust and surrender, others have no problem releasing control. Conversely, it comes as a relief! So much so that there can be a pendulum swing in which we are tempted to completely “check out” and abdicate our responsibilities as an active participant in the marriage. But as an equal partner in a God ordained union, our opinions, beliefs and desires are just as important as our husbands. While he is ultimately responsible as the head, I believe it is our responsibility and privilege to contribute to decision making in the relationship.

Many times in marriage we must acknowledge and speak the hard stuff when we’d prefer to keep the peace by remaining silent. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love so that we will become more like Christ“! Ultimately, love is acting in the best interest of our beloved. In the relationship with the person we are supposed to love the most in this world, it would never be in his best interest if we turned a blind eye to unwise choices, unhealthy behavior, sin, and certainly not abuse.  In marriage God uses us as a part of our spouse’s sanctification process because, “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17.

#4 Submission is not an opportunity to master the art of manipulation.
In the bumbling, fragile hands of sinful humans, our best efforts to obey such lofty, holy commandments so often morph into destructive actions. Serving becomes penance. Discernment becomes judgement. Rule keeping becomes legalism. Submission becomes manipulation. This one is hard because it’s so easy to rationalize, excuse and talk ourselves out of acknowledging our intentions for what they really are. It’s especially hard when we are dealing with someone who is clearly unreasonable and downright wrong! (Or so we think.)

What we proudly claim to be submission can easily be distorted into the art of secretly and unfairly influencing another person to get what we want. Instead of sharing openly and honestly and then trusting God with the results, we might use tears, pouting, half-truths, persuasive arguments or even subtle threats of repercussions to manipulate our husbands so that we get our way. It is deceitful and it is anything but submissive. Only a brave, teachable heart open to the Lord’s loving correction will repent from the sin of manipulation and ask God for the strength to surrender control.

#5 Submission is not about my husband.
Ultimately, submission has nothing to do with my husband at all. Instead, it has everything to do with my hidden life in Christ. My marriage is a primary workshop in which I am made more like my Savior. Likewise, God’s command in the same passage that my husband both submit to me (“submit therefore to one another“) AND to love me “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” is a critical means of his sanctification, an integral part of working out his salvation. Fundamentally, submission is a radical opportunity to demonstrate trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God. It confirms to the core of my being that God is FOR ME. When I choose to surrender control, I am affirming my belief that He will work all things for my good and allowing Him to transform me more and more into the image of His Son, walking in the footsteps of my Savior.

The mystery of the gospel is that it flips everything on it’s head. 1 Corinthians 1:18 tells us “it is foolishness to those who are perishing.” The paradoxes of “the least shall be the greatest” and “the first shall be last” are tremendously difficult realities for us believers to wrap our minds around, much less the lost who are blinded to the kingdom of God. The world will never, ever understand it. While there are incredibly poignant expositions on the meaning of biblical submission in marriage which are well worth examining, at the end of the day, it is a mysterious means of my sanctification. And I can rejoice in anything that makes me more like my Savior!

Held by Him, 

Leslie

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Ephesians 5:1-21: Looking in the Mirror

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.com

So I’ve got to be honest for a moment. I would prefer to not spend too much time looking in the mirror these days. Five kids and several years have led to more pounds, more stretch marks, and more wrinkles. I would much rather get dressed quickly, slap some make-up on, and move on with my day. Or at least get ready in dim lighting;) Put me in a department store dressing room? No. Thank. You.

So when I first read this passage in Ephesians. I thought “this is a contrast between those in darkness (apart from God) and those in the light (adopted through the saving grace of Christ), THANK GOODNESS I’m not like that anymore.” Shut my Bible and move on with my day. But then the light of God’s truth started shining up into a whole bunch of dark places and folks- it wasn’t pretty! Like being in a department store dressing room with some high beams on. Paul gives us a reality check. As it states in verse 11 “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

Let’s REALLY look in the mirror. I love the way this passage is paraphrased in the Message:

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.

 You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.

Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.

You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

 Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

All of these directives take us back to verse 1: BE IMITATORS OF CHRIST AS DEARLY LOVED CHILDREN

What precious, profound words.

Not 20 ways to make yourself a better person… Or 15 rules you must follow for God to love you… But as dearly loved children, we get the privilege of being with our loving, merciful Father…. And He will mold us to be more and more like Himself.

Wake up, O sleeper. Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.- Ephesians 5:14b

Dear Lord,

Please expose those areas in my life that have remained in darkness for far too long. I want to wake up from the lull of sin and the mirage of prideful complacency. Keep me on the wise path and away from the foolish temptations of self- gratification. May the meditations of my heart and the words that I speak be those of praise and thanksgiving. May my one desire be to imitate the loving life of your son.

Amen

When God looks at me through the mirror of his amazing mercy, he doesn’t see all my sin and failures. He sees his perfect Son who lived the life I never could.

And that my friends, is glorious grace!

Hugs,

Julie

Questions to ponder:

1. What from this passage struck you as an area you need to become more like Christ?

2. How can you draw closer to Christ this week, “drinking from him”?

3. Is there something God is calling you to surrender so that you can spend more time learning a life of love from him?

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Wearing clothes that don’t fit- Ephesians 4:17-32

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.comSo I have these pair of skinny jeans that have been getting tighter and tighter as of late. It must be my dryer;)! I can still manage to dance and jump my way into them, but they are terribly uncomfortable. I long to get home after a day of wearing them and peel them off in exchange for some yoga pants. Truth be told, they don’t really fit me anymore.

In this passage, Paul exhorts his readers 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.” As Christ followers, who have been made alive by the glorious grace of Jesus, some things just “don’t fit” our new nature anymore. Oh sure, we can squeeze into them. But they will not be comfortable. As new creations indwelled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to put on an entirely new wardrobe.

In verses 25-31, we are instructed to “put off”: falsehood, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness, rage, anger, slander and “put on”: kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

In Colossians 3, Paul uses stronger language, calling us to “put to DEATH therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth… and PUT ON then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

If only if it were as easy as loading up all my “sins” into trash bags, heading on over to Goodwill, and then getting a shopping spree like they do on “What Not To Wear” to buy all the designer outfits of Holy Spirit Fruit Company. But the change doesn’t happen that instantaneously.

It is the daily, moment-by-moment choices to put off the flesh, to flee from temptation, to turn the other way, and walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Each step, however slow, on the path of wisdom leading us to righteousness. The more we walk in a way worthy of our calling, the more we will hear God whisper, “That doesn’t fit you any more as my beloved child. Wear this instead. It is a gift for you. You will be much more comfortable in the garments I have designed for you to wear. Do you need some help getting them on? I am here and have given you my power. Trust me.”

And we look forward in faith to the day when we won’t need to “put off” and “put on”. The day when we will be clothed in spotless robes, that will always fit and never be tarnished by our own sin. We will lay down our crowns at the feet of the One who made it all possible.

And that my friends, is glorious grace!

Questions to ponder:

1. What from your old self are you struggling to “put off”? What do you need to “put on” instead?

2. Who can you share this struggle with to pray for you and keep you accountable to stay walking in step with the Spirit?

Hugs,

Julie

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Healthy and Growing and Full of Love – Ephesians 4:1-16

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.comTherefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

7However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 8That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.”

9Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

11Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Therefore!

As a young person, I was taught that when you see a “therefore” in scripture, you must go back and figure out what it’s “there for.”  In this case, as we look at the book of Ephesians as a whole, we can see that this first word of Chapter 4 is a huge “Therefore”!  Paul has just spent 3 chapters telling us all about what unimaginable riches we have been given in Christ, and why.  Now, Paul is shifting to begin to tell us how to apply all this knowledge.  How do we live in light of who we are and with all these blessings?  How do we lead our lives? 

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling.

In the following chapters Paul will tell us how to walk personally, how we should walk in friendships, marriages, parenting, and work relationships, and finally, how we deal with Satan. 

But first, he begins by teaching us how to walk as the body of Christ.  I believe this is an important point.  First, we are His body.  Even before we are husbands or wives, parents, or employees, we are members of the body of Christ.  This shouldn’t come last and only on Sundays.  Leading a life worthy of our calling in Christ in all areas should have its foundation in the fact that we are the Church.  This should be where we learn and grow and are encouraged and built up, so that all our other relationships reflect what we are learning.  As I’m sure you realize, I am not speaking here about only our local church bodies.  We are talking THE Church.  Christ’s one body.  His bride.  Each of us is a vital part of this body.

LOVE

First, a little instruction on how we are to conduct ourselves.  We love each other.  Love is paramount to the body of Christ. 

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  Colossians 3:14

Christians are not perfect people.  As imperfect people who love each other, walking this life together as Christ’s body, we must always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

For further detail on what love looks like, check out 1 Corinthians 13. 

UNITY

We come next to Paul’s exhortation for unity in the body of Christ, and more specifically, the difference between unity of Spirit and unity of faith. 

3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit

The fact that Paul says we must keep ourselves united in the Spirit indicates that we already have unity of the Spirit.  “There is one church” was the mantra of our home church back in the U.S. and I believe it echoes this truth.  We, as believers in Jesus, have the same Spirit of God living in each one of us.  We believe in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and the glorious hope for the future – all the core doctrines that make us Christians. This unity is something that is given to us as we enter the family of God, I believe.  And this is what we must make every effort to keep.  We are a family! 

Jumping down to v. 13 (after Paul describes the 5-fold ministry given by Christ to the church):

 12Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Unity of the Spirit has to do with what we are all given at salvation, as we enter into the body of Christ, as we become part of the family of believers.  Unity of the faith has to do with the end result of what we are all learning as we grow in our knowledge of God and our experiences with Him.  I believe that the body of Christ suffers because we elevate the importance of unity of faith above unity of the Spirit.  We should love each other above all else, bind ourselves together in peace, protect one another, and celebrate the fact that we are one body. 

If we disagree on issues of faith, it should not bring division, but rather should drive each of us to seek God more deeply and to trust the Holy Spirit working in each other as we all grow to maturity.  We can and should serve the Lord together, even if we don’t agree on every facet of doctrine.  If you are like me, you know that in any family there are things individuals disagree on.  There is usually a crazy uncle or a cantankerous old granny or an opinionated sibling with whom we struggle.  Because we are family, we love and protect each other despite our differences.  It should be the same within the body of Christ.

I believe we are each growing in different ways, at different times, as God brings us along in our faith.  That’s why we need each other.  There is something that I can learn from you, and something you can learn from me as we are all walking this journey with the Lord.  That’s the body.  That’s making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit as we all grow in unity of the faith.   

SPECIAL GIFTS

To help us grow to maturity in Christ, God has given each of us special gifts, special grace!  Did you catch the “each one”?  That means you!  No one is passed over in the giving of gifts.  And there are many gifts.  Some are given as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  These are not necessarily just the guys who are standing up in front and leading services on Sunday mornings.  These people are found throughout the body.  Their job is to equip God’s people for works of service for the building up of the body.  And they will continue this equipping until we all reach maturity in Christ. 

14Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church

That is where I want to be – growing in every way more and more like Christ!  We need each other, to benefit from the gifts God has given within the Church, to get there.   

16He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow

This is very exciting to me!  My prayer is that each of you will understand how vital you are to the body of Christ.  Each person has a part, a special work, and each one is needed to help the other parts grow.  There is no part that is dispensable.  No part that can be done without.  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly!  If you’re unsure of what your gifting is, ask God to show you, and ask others what they see in you.  Also, resist the temptation to compare your gift to someone else’s.  God has designed each of us exactly as He meant to, for the benefit of the whole body and for His glory. 

15Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1 Corinthians 12:15-20

It is thrilling to me to think of the body of Christ living and functioning as it should.  It is overwhelming to think that God designed and created us in such a way that we will help each other grow into the fullness of Christ.  We are a body, a family, and God’s promise through Paul is that when we live in this way the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

 What about you? 

Do you believe that you are a vital part of the body of Christ? 

Are you in a community of believers that is healthy and growing and full of love?

Do you understand the gifts that God has given you and how to walk in them?

Have you cut yourself off from other believers based on unity of faith differences? 

What has God been teaching you that you can share to help others grow in their faith? 

My prayer is that we will each begin to grasp more and more clearly how God has created us to fit into His body!  

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

 

 

 

 

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Ephesians 3:1-13

Ephesians Bible Study Lent calledforsuchatime.com

My Good and His Glory

Ephesians 3:1-13

It is beautiful to me that Paul, formerly called Saul and a persecutor of Christians, stopped right in the middle of his first sentence to speak about God’s grace.  Although imprisoned, he didn’t forget the grace that was bestowed upon him.  And Paul still considered it grace that kept him in chains.

“1  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… Paul actually stops here. mid-sentence

2  Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you.”

The grace of God and the love of God are almost synonymous.  Grace is the love of God in action, coupled with His power, forgiving our sins, transforming our lives, nurturing us in the new life, guiding us in His service, preserving us for eternity.  We see grace most clearly in Christ’s saving work for us.  (Disciples Study Bible)

The grace Paul is speaking of is not only God’s gift of his personal salvation, but also of the knowledge which God gave him of the Divine plan for the conversion of the Gentiles.

Paul made three long missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire, and at the time of this writing was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial because of his missionary efforts on behalf of the Gentiles.  He did not view himself a prisoner of the Roman Government, but a prisoner of Jesus Christ (as stated in verse 1).  Because he knew Jesus was the Lord of his life, and God was in control, he knew his circumstances were part of God’s plan.

I am humbled when I think about Paul’s positive attitude toward his unfavorable circumstances. Paul seems genuinely honored to be IMPRISONED for the sake of his Lord. He possesses TRUE JOY.

Would I feel the same way if I were in Paul’s position?

Do I feel joy when:

  • finances are tight?
  • my marriage gets tough?
  • my child gets hurt?
  • my life takes a turn I hadn’t anticipated?

The answer, unfortunately, is sometimes no.  I don’t feel joy.  I can have a tendency to forget that:

 God is in control.

My circumstances are not unbeknownst to God.

God has a plan.

And let me clarify, God loves me more than I could ever imagine; His plan is for my GOOD. Not for my harm. In my limited capacity as a human being, I simply do not understand all that God is doing in the heavenly realms.  For my GOOD and His GLORY.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:9

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.  Psalm 147:5

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

In verse 3 Paul speaks several times of the “mystery” made known to him by revelation. Paul wanted them to know that he did not come up with this on his own.  He was speaking on behalf of God the message of the gospel to bring the Jews and Gentiles together.

This was God’s plan for all of history which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:11

The gospel is for everyone.  Those who trust in Christ become heirs to the throne of God, regardless of their race, color, gender, or language.  This is part of the “mystery” Paul speaks of.

Before Jesus came, the Jews and Gentiles did not realize that all people could come to Christ.  As used here in Ephesians 3, the word “mystery” does not imply something that remains unknown.  It means it was hidden and now has been revealed.

From the beginning of time, God has loved every one in the world.

It was always His plan to send His son to be the Savior of the World.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence

Ephesians 3:12

Every person who trusts in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior has equal access to God. Those who trust in Jesus can go to God without fear or shame, because their identity is in Christ. Prayer is done in freedom and confidence.

Lastly, I want to reflect upon verse 13.

I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.  Ephesians 3:13

Paul did not want the Ephesians to be discouraged, or lose heart. Paul was still making himself available to be used for God .  He trusted that God had a plan. He wanted the Ephesians to understand that.

I wonder if Paul, even for a minute, wondered how being locked in a prison would be more useful than going town to town spreading the gospel.  I wonder if Paul ever thought about just sitting around and feeling sorry for himself or complaining about his circumstances.

In my flesh, I can come up with many ways to serve God. I think I am steps ahead of God and plan out exactly how I’m going to do work FOR God.  When things don’t go my way, I am tempted to give up or I get angry at God for making my life so difficult.

It has been in God’s grace that He has taken me through some pretty tough circumstances. In some ways a prison cell made just for me.  A place I did not want to be and never imagined I would be.  Initially, a very dark and terrifying place.  An unfamiliar place.  A very lonely place.

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In God’s grace, He spoke to me gently and never abandoned me during my darkest hours. I called out to him and he answered. Every time. I prayed for wisdom and strength and he provided it.  While I still experienced great sadness over earthly losses, I genuinely possessed a JOY that could only be described as FROM GOD.  My prison became a workshop in which God CHANGED ME from the inside out.  The only plan I know of for certain is that God didn’t leave me in the spiritual shape I was in before things got bad.  He plucked me out of my seemingly happy circumstances and placed me squarely into a 4×4 cell with the only thing I needed. HIM.

And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The gift He gave me was a more intimate relationship with Him. A deeper understanding of his love and mercy.  It was His plan that I experience a specific hardship at a specific time so that I could live in greater surrender to Him and greater freedom in Him.  I am so thankful. I am so very thankful that He didn’t leave me where I was.  In His grace, He scooped me up and placed me somewhere for my GOOD.

And I believe scripture that it will be ultimately for his GLORY. 

Maybe my circumstances are being used in God’s eternal plan. FOR HIS GLORY.

Paul was being used for God’s eternal plan.  His Roman imprisonment produced the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.  These books continue to spread the gospel throughout the world today!

In the same manner, each of us has a place in the service of God’s eternal plan.  Knowing this and working toward it is a great guard against losing heart in the midst of tribulation David Guzik

I encourage you to trust that God has a plan for you.  I pray that you will have joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Whatever prison cell you find yourself in, I ask you to consider that God has placed you there for a reason. I invite you to believe that your prison is a workshop where God does MIGHTY things in and through you.

Dear Lord,

Help me to be like Paul. Help me to remember that YOU are in CONTROL. When my circumstances seem to be too much, I pray that you will remind me of your presence and your promises. Thank you, Lord, for hardships that have drawn me closer to you.  I want to have a servant’s heart like Paul. I want to remain focused on YOU.  I can not do it on my own. I realize it is only through the power of your spirit that I will be changed.  I ask these things in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Living in Grace,

Lisa

 

 

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