God’s Grace & Suffering, part 3

Peter continues to unpack how God’s grace relates to the suffering Christians experience. In 1 Peter 4.7-19, Peter hones in on what it means to suffer as a Christian, i.e. suffering for the Name of Christ.

Suffering as a Christian (4.7-19)

As Christians suffer they must love & serve their siblings & glorify God by continuing to do good.

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

The end of all things is at hand: Given the Noah reference earlier (3.20), it seems best to understand this as when God makes an end of the wicked who are causing the suffering of these Christians; as in Noah’s day when God brought about “the end of all flesh,” so for the Christians in Asia Minor God would bring an end to all the things they suffer from wicked people. However one interprets this phrase (see Special Study), Peter intended to exhort these Christians to consider the impending judgment which Christ’s coming would bring and live accordingly.

Nowhere does the Bible ever endorse or condone date setting. Rather, the doctrine of the end times is intended to encourage to faithfulness, in a perpetual state of readiness to meet the Lord regardless of when He returns. The Bible also does not advocate for withdrawal from the world into isolation in anticipation of the end. We live in the world as elect exiles; time is short so we must make the most of it. This is the urgency of the imminence of Christ’s return. Also note that there is no call for extraordinary or unusual behavior as we live in light of the end. Peter exhorts us to normal Christian behavior. Indeed, if every day is to be lived in light of the end, then would it not be business as usual for Christians. So pray, love, speak, & serve “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (verse 11).

Therefore be…your prayers: self-controlled has to do with controlling the thought life so that the body acts in a God-glorifying way. Sober-minded or “watchful” (NKJV) emphasizes the calmness of mind & disposition, settled in mind for the purpose of prayers.

When faced with persecution our recourse is not political activism but prayerful action. This is the first thing Peter invites Christians to do in light of the judgment of God upon the wicked & His deliverance of His people. Clear-headed, serious prayer. Acknowledge His abiding presence & providence, confess shortcomings, express gratitude for mercy & grace, offer up our desires & hearts, intercede on behalf of others, including those persecuting us. Prayer is the first duty & essential work of true religion unto God. Prayer is to religion what breathing is to life. When it hardest to breathe in this life is when we must devote ourselves to serious, sober supplication.

Special Study— “The End of All Things”

Several possibilities for understanding this verse have been offered:

1) Destruction of Jerusalem: Just a few years away, these Christians were living with before God brought judgment upon the Jewish through the Romans. But one must wonder why a predominately Gentile church in Asia Minor would need this information.

2) The End of Time/Last Day: The final judgment when rewards & punishments are meted out. The problem with this view is “at hand” means soon to take place & we are nearly 2,000 years since Peter wrote this.

3) The End of Suffering/Wicked: Christ would bring deliverance from their suffering & the evil surrounding them when He came.

4) The End of Their Lives: Barnes & Barclay make similar points that this could be Peter’s meaning.

8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Above all: More than anything else for “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13).

Keep loving…earnestly: Jesus warned that with the coming end of the age “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24.12). So Peter reminds these exiles living under empire of the priority of love for their brethren. Keep (pres. Part.) indicates this must be the habitual practice of Christians. Earnestly indicates the intensity of this love, a theme repeated from 1.22.

Once more Peter exhorts Christians to not merely love one another (which we are), but to love one another “earnestly” or intensely. “Fervently” says some translations. This cuts right to the heart of the “love, but don’t like” fallacy of the world. “Well, I know God commands that we ‘love one another,’ but I don’t have to like the person I love.” While it may true that you start here or end up here because of circumstances, through willful obedience to the expressed command of God & by the shaping of our feelings by the Holy Spirit within us, the fervency of our love is impacted and changed. The depth & degree of our love is influenced by God working on our hearts so that we not only love someone objectively (an overarching desire to see Christ formed in them) but also subjectively (a positive disposition toward a person so that you enjoy treating them lovingly).

This “love, but don’t like” lie has a negative impact on Christian fellowship. If “love covers a multitude of sins” but I don’t even like a person, then whatever forgiveness I extend will be given begrudgingly at best. “Where love is lacking,” says Grudem (173), “every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.” Further, when a Christian brother or sister does not even like a person or persons, the suspicions, misunderstands, & conflicts are only further intensified & constant. The absence of a positive disposition toward another (or others) so that you enjoy treating him/her in a loving way is akin to the “root of bitterness” which the writer of Hebrews wrote about – not liking someone will spring up & cause all kinds of problems. If this is true, one who “loves, but does not like” another is “defiled” (Hebrews 12.15). Only God’s grace will enable us to overcome the bitter root of “love, but don’t like” which desires to spoil our relationships with one another.

In marriage, this lie takes an even uglier 10-word turn: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” How many marriages have been dealt a death-blow by this worldly double-speak? Or “I fell out of love with him/her.” These kinds of statements are the most unloving things one spouse could say to another. “I have love for him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her.” These are worldly statements that even Christians adopt. Those men & women who have heard these words know just how hurtful & cutting they are. Mourning & lamentation accompany these words. Modern psychology tells us when these words are spoken, the end is near because it is next to impossible to reinvigorate the relationship. But “with God all things are possible.” Only through God can a loveless marriage be redeemed, saved by His grace.

Since love…sins: cf. Proverbs 10.12. Since (Gk hoti) gives the reason for earnest love: this kind of love covers a multitude of sins. Without love, fear, mistrust, & suspicion abound to the devil’s delight.

9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Show hospitality to one another: In light of the present persecution & God’s impending judgment upon the wicked, “offer hospitality” to fellow Christians. Perhaps Peter’s readers were growing weary of hospitality; it happens (Galatians 6.9). So Peter says that one way Christians express earnest love to one another is through the ministry of hospitality—opening our homes, sharing our resources, putting roofs over one another’s heads.

Hospitality has a rich heritage in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the faithful, showed hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18); Lot showed hospitality to the two angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19.1-3); Job made sure strangers & travelers had a place to stay (Job 31.32). Hospitality was enjoined upon the Israelites throughout Torah (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Leviticus 19.33). The kind of fasting which pleases the Lord is when His people “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” i.e. show hospitality (Isaiah 58.7).

Hospitality is a key mark of the Lord’s church (Romans 12.13; 1 Timothy 3.2; 5.10; Titus 1.8; Hebrews 13.12). Indeed, it was a noble, worldwide custom to provide for strangers (e.g. Acts 28.7, Publius on Malta “received us and entertained us hospitably for three days”). The stimulus for showing cheerful hospitality was altogether different for Christians. Religion, philanthropy, philosophical ethics, the threat of punishment in the underworld for inhospitality, & a reward in returned hospitality drove hospitality in the world-at-large. This is contrasted with Christian ethics.

A core element of our Lord’s teaching was hospitality toward those who cannot pay you back (Luke 14.12-14) as patterned after the eternal condescending hospitality of God to helpless sinners (Luke 14.16ff). True, Christians have similar reasons for showing hospitality as “outsiders” (e.g. punishment for failure to follow Christ’s commands). However, Christians were to show hospitality not based on a natural sympathy for fellow man (although philanthropy based on love for people is a derivative of “love your neighbor as yourself”) nor for the expectation of reciprocation (“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”), but based upon a theology of hospitality. God through the Son creates a habitable world full of glory & grandeur where we have lodging, food, drink, & plenty that we need, then He invites us to make ourselves at home. Which we do & promptly make a mess of things. Then God through the Son prepares a great banquet where everything we have messed up is put back to order, what we have ruined He has put back to right, & He invites us to come & eat at His table (“taste my banquet,” Luke 14.24). With such an extravagant & generous God how could His people be anything but hospitable? And cheerfully hospitable at that!

Without grumbling: or complaint (NASB) about how hard it is, how much time it is taking, or how much it costs. The Lord loves cheerful hospitality & is Himself one who shows cheerful hospitality to men in their misery (Luke 14.16-24). Cf. Philippians 2.14.

“Without grumbling” or “complaint” (NASB) indicates the Christian is to show hospitality to their brethren with a cheerful disposition. There is to be no secret murmuring in the heart about how difficult it is, how long it is taking, how you wish they would just go, how much they are eating, how you regret ever opening the door or answering the call, or the inconvenience of the whole ordeal. Murmuring robs hospitality of beauty. “Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances” (Grudem 174). When we grudgingly or unwillingly show hospitality to others, especially to our brethren, we “drive out faith, thanksgiving, and joy.” At a deeper level, when God shows us hospitality, in creation first then in the gospel, He did so without complaint or grumbling. He gladly prepares a world then a table for our enjoyment & His good pleasure.

10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

As each has received a gift: The Giver of a gift (Gk charisma) is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.8-9). Received (aorist tense) points back to a specific point in the past, i.e. baptism. So at baptism the Holy Spirit gave each of these Christians a spiritual gift.

At the baptistery every Christian in every church is given a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit that God intends for us to use & develop into a ministry for the church at-large. No one is exempted or overlooked. The purpose of the gifts is not for self-congratulations or mutual back-patting as we congratulate how well we serve to stroke our ego or boost our self-esteem. Rather, the gifts are given for ministry – to serve, edify, strengthen, & help other members in their walk with Christ. This is how we are “good stewards” or use God’s gifts responsibly.

There are five lists of spiritual gifts found in the New Testament. In Romans 12.6-8, the gifts listed are 1) prophecy, 2) service, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leadership, 7) mercy showing. In 1 Corinthians 12.8-10, the gifts listed are 1) wisdom, 2) knowledge, 3) faith, 4) healing, 5) miracles, 6) prophecy, 7) distinguishing spirits, 8) languages, 9) interpretation of languages. Later, in 1 Corinthians 12.28-30, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) teachers, 4) miracles, 5) healing, 6) helping, 7) administrating, 8) languages. In Ephesians 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, 4) teaching shepherds. In 1 Peter 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) proclamation of God’s message, 2) serving by God’s strength. 1 Corinthians 7.7 could be added which includes celibacy & possibly marriage (called charismata by Paul). No list contains all the gifts & no gift shows up on all the lists.

Use it to serve one another: The purpose of God the Holy Spirit gifting each member of the church is to equip Christians for service to the body (see Ephesians 4.12). Serve (Gk diakonountes) touches both speaking & duty roles of Christian service (v.11). Thus, the service rendered could be counsel, advice, & preaching (speaking) or rendering assistance, help, or aid in menial tasks (duty).

As good…grace: or “the manifold grace of God” (NASB, NKJV). This means there is a rich variety to God’s grace. So also there is a wide variety of spiritual gifts God gives His church by His Spirit. The Christian’s responsibility is to be found as good stewards. That is, Christ needs to find Christians building up others with God’s gifts, not building themselves up.

11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Functionally, Peter breaks spiritual gifts down into two (2) categories: speaking & serving.

Whoever speaks…of God: The speaking done here includes both the formal setting of public instruction as well as an informal setting of private conversation among saints. Whatever the occasion the speaking should be in accordance with what the oracles of God—Holy Scriptures—say.

Whoever serves…God supplies: The service rendered includes both service on a large scale to many members as well as in a private one-on-one setting among brethren. Whatever the service it must be rendered in accordance to the strength God makes available & provides.

Given that this epistle was for a 1st century audience gifted with the miraculous demonstration of the spiritual gifts, the speaking & serving in view may be miraculous in nature. For us, while the spiritual gifts may not be miraculous, they are nevertheless supernatural (i.e. they are not mere natural abilities). Thus, the Holy Spirit is the originator & enabler of the exercise of each gift. As such, we must be willing participants who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit so that our speech is God’s speech & our service rendered with God’s strength. In this way, God will get the glory through Christ Jesus.

Breaking this down a bit further, we can see how all spiritual gifts fall under either of these two categories & that all Christians are addressed here. If we speak wisdom or knowledge, it must be wisdom or knowledge which accords with God’s word. If we serve giving or helping, it must be giving or helping which comes from God’s strength. Each gift could be examined in this way, but these suffice to show that all gifts fall under these categories & therefore all Christians addressed.

It should be noted that while Christians are to speak the oracles of God, neither the original audience nor we should view our utterances as part of the revelatory account, i.e. God’s revealed word. Rather, our speech is in accordance with or is in line with the revealed word of God, esp. the gospel. Further, Christians must never rely upon our own power to serve others, but must minister with & in the power God provides. One key way we do this is through prayer where can appeal for & tap into the power of God.

In order…Jesus Christ: This is the grand, glorious purpose in the exercise of spiritual gifts, indeed, in everything that Christians do: God glorified through Christ. As Christians prayerfully await the end of all things, loving one another & showing hospitality while serving & speaking to one another, they make known the wisdom, power, holiness, sovereignty, & riches of the gospel of Christ which produces honor & praise to God the Father.

The guiding principle in the life of every true Christian is the glory of God the Father through Christ the Son. Every sober-minded prayer, every occasion in which we exercise self-control, every sin covered by brotherly affection, every time we open our homes with gladness, every word we speak, every act of service, every breath, everything – it all down to bringing God glory through Jesus Christ.

To Him…ever. Amen: Him seems to refer to Christ. So just as “all things” are “through” & “for” God (Romans 11.36), glory is through & belongs to Christ forever & ever. This is the goal of the cosmos: glory to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit. Christ also has dominion, which is the power to rule. Indeed, Christ is King of Kings & Lord of Lords. Amen shows Peter’s agreement.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Beloved: Peter loves these brothers & sisters. The command to love is more than talk for Peter.

Do not…test you: cf. 1.6-7. These Christians may be surprised that God would allow His “chosen people” to endure intense trials & tests, but Peter assures them this is not unusual nor unheard of. In fact, the persecution of the church seems normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). But the fires of persecution would burn off the dross & impurities, as gold in the refiners fire.

As though…to you: Strange is the noun word for surprised which is the same word for the pagan reaction in verse 4 (“they think it strange”). The pagans think it strange Christians do not join in their wicked works & therefore “they malign you;” Christians should not think it strange when pagans return evil for the good they are shown.

Sometimes when Christians today endure trials & hardship they will question, “Why?” “Why me?” They will lament as though something strange is happening to them. They are surprised that God would allow the trials & testing to come upon them. This is the very opposite reaction we should have according to Peter. No matter how intense the trials or testing may be, nothing strange or unheard of is occurring. In fact, it is par for the course as we live as Christians in the world. It should be expected. Suffering for Christ is a common motif in the New Testament (e.g. John 15.18-21). Darkness hates light, the world hates holiness. When Christians walk with their Father in holy light they become the targets for the hatred of the wicked. Nevertheless, the fires of trials are the testing of our faith.

It should be noted that Peter gives no theodicy, no explanation for the suffering in the world, especially the suffering experienced by Christians. We ask “Why?” Philosophers & theologians have offered answers. However, in Scripture no answer is given as to why an all-powerful, all-kind, all-knowing God would allow His children to endure intense & severe persecution. We are told it is normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). We are told that it is cause for joy as we reveal His glory (4.13, 16). But a detailed theodicy explaining the presence of evil & suffering in the world is not given. One thing is certain: the intense sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence, but of His purifying presence. He is with His people as they suffer.

13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

But rejoice…Christ’s sufferings: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Rather than surprise, these Christians must rejoice. How can a Christian rejoice in “fiery trials”? They share Christ’s sufferings. These are sufferings which are the result of pledging allegiance to Christ (cf. Acts 5.41). The present tense indicates the ongoing habitual practice of both of these: insofar as you keep on suffering with Christ, keep on rejoicing.

Suffering for Christ is a clear indicator that we are Christ’s. To “share His sufferings,” “suffer with Him” are reasons to rejoice because as we experience suffering we are experiencing the presence of Christ. Indeed, we stand in His place as His representatives. Saul of Tarsus was asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was breathing murderous threats against the disciples, dragging men & women off to prison for their allegiance to Christ, but it was ultimately Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. So also when we suffer for the Name it is Christ who suffers with us.

That you may…revealed: Lit. “you might rejoice being glad.” This is nearly verbatim from the lips of Jesus regarding the reward for enduring persecution for His Name (Matthew 5.12). The revelation of Christ’s glory is nearly universally assumed to be His future return by commentators. “The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future” (Schreiner). However, glorifying God in Christ’s Name is the present aim & reality of Christians (v.17). Glad-hearted rejoicing occurs when Christians realize that Christ’s glory is being revealed in their suffering.

How we respond to suffering is likewise a clear indicator of whether we truly belong to Christ. Some who claim the name of Christ have turned their back on Him when they experienced even a modicum of pain & suffering. But it does not have to be full blown apostasy; some grumble & murmur, complain about the suffering. But to rejoice in suffering, praising God for the pain…this is foreign to our Western sensibilities.

14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

If…: In light of present context & overall context of the book, this is better understood as “since.”

You are insulted for Christ’s Name: Insulted is unjustified defamation & reviling. Much of the persecution these Christians faced was verbal abuse (2.12, 15, 23; 3.16).

[You are] blessed: The bliss of God belongs to insulted Christians. “The harsher the reproaches, the sweeter this heavenly verdict” (Lenski).

#blessed. American Christianity says you are blessed if you have a nice place to live, a reliable car, a good job, overachieving kids, and/or things are just going swell all-around. Peter says that the blessed life is one of insult for our devotion & allegiance to Christ. When is the last time someone update their social media with an account of how they were insulted for Jesus’ sake? Most of us would not consider that a blessing. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our values. This is why God has given “the Spirit of God’s glory” to rest upon us – so that we might hold to a proper perspective regarding suffering, pain, persecution, & insult.

The insults Peter refers to are unjustified verbal assaults. When’s the last time someone cussed you out for being a Christian? I’m not talking about them verbally chastising you for being obnoxious with your faith; that might be justified. I’m talking about the backlash that occurs like when The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical coalition, released the Nashville Statement in August 2017. With reverence & in humility the coalition issued the statement. The statement was essentially a creedal statement affirming 14 beliefs about human sexuality, all of which are based on Scripture. Evangelical Christians were castigated as hateful bigots, homophobes, &, as one tweet reads, the statement “is the most unchristian piece of garbage I’ve read in a long time.” The (pagan) internet ruthlessly insulted & disrespected Christians who believe what the Bible teaches about marriage being exclusively between a man & woman, human sexuality, & gender.

Another instance: I do not agree with hardly anything that comes out of his mouth, but an example of what we are talking about occurred during & shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. All over social media Joel Osteen & Lakewood Church where he is pastor were being heavily criticized for closing their building due to flooding. Twitter erupted in outrage expressed in less than 140 characters. Memes circulated accusing Osteen of being a money-grabbing selfish religion killer. Quasi-investigative reporters took to the streets with video camera in hand to show that there was no flooding at Lakewood Church. The (pagan) internet insulted this man mercilessly for his “unchristian” behavior.

Because…upon you: cf. Isaiah 11.2. Isaiah’s prophecy has now been fulfilled in Christ & the church. As the Spirit rested upon “the root of Jesse” (Jesus), so He rests upon Christ’s persecuted followers. In contrast with the inglorious insults, Christians have the glorious indwelling Spirit, even the Spirit of God. God’s glorious Spirit who comforts, strengthens, & blesses abides with & in these Christians.

See Isaiah 11.2. The world heaps insults, but the Spirit rests upon us. The world counts us foolish, but we have the Spirit of wisdom. The world counts us dimwitted, but we have the Spirit of understanding. The world counts us ill-informed, but we have the Spirit of counsel. The world counts us weak-minded, but we have the Spirit of might. The world counts us ignorant, but we have the Spirit of knowledge. All of this is ours because we fear & revere God & He delights in resting His Spirit upon us.

15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

But let none…as a meddler: cf. 2.19-20; 3.17. Peter’s constant refrain has been that Christians must not suffer for evil, but for good. Peter lists four (4) evils by which men may suffer: murder (premeditated taking of innocent life), theft (taking other people’s property), evildoing (or “criminal” [NIV], general term for bad behavior), & meddling (intruding into other people’s affairs). Christians must not suffer for any of these.

People suffer for evil; they suffer punishment from the justice system as well as the affliction of the conscience, esp. if unrepentant. Suffering deserved as punishment for wrongdoing is inglorious. This is not how Christians are to suffer. Of course Christians should not suffer for serious criminal offenses like murder & theft (both of which are prohibited throughout the Bible) & Peter knows Christian people would never engage in such evildoing, but the temptation to pry into other people’s business is a very real possibility. So he rhetorically sets major violations against something very much in the realm of possibility: annoyingly intruding into other people’s business. This would cause someone to be considered a pest worthy of mistreatment.

Martyr’s complex – some people can turn just about any event into an occasion for suffering. They are the victim of some injustice, even if they are the perpetrator of some offense. It is so easy for people to rationalize deserved punishments as suffering “as a Christian.” Peter addresses this complex here – suffering is neither invented nor is it self-caused for bad behavior. If you live as a Christian, suffering will find you.

“Meddler” – stay in your lane! While the exact meaning of this word is difficult to nail down because of its rarity (used only here & two other places in 4th & 5th century documents), it seems to be a term describing someone who involves themselves into the affairs of others, inviting themselves into issues not their own. A buttinski. In Spanish, entrementido. Suffering for being a buttinski is beneath a Christian. Stay in your lane!

Notice the company meddlers keep – murders, thieves, criminals! Strange company, right? Well, not really. A meddler can assassinate the character of another; they can rob a person of their good name & reputation; their practice is in line with evildoers. May meddlers be banished from Christ’s church!

16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Yet if…a Christian: Believers “were first called Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11.26), a name which probably originating among the unbelievers. Suffering as a Christian would be to endure persecution as a follower of Christ. It seems this was a term of ridicule rather than respect, a label used for believers by those outside looking in.

Don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name! The name “Christian” was a derogatory term in Peter’s day. It was the equivalent of “holy roller” or “Bible thumper” today. These are intended to make us feel ashamed, to make us feel bad for being a follower of Christ. Peter is telling us: don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name. Peter has already told us that the main thing is “that in everything God may glorified through Jesus Christ” (v.11). “Foolish people” will “speak against you as evildoers” (2.12, 15). They will “revile your good behavior,” & cause you to “suffer for doing good” (3.16, 17). “Do good & suffer for it” (2.20). When all this happens glorify God. Focus on His Name & exalt it, confess it, praise it, lift it up, glorify Him.

Let him not be ashamed: Even though society at large treats Christians in an undignified & disgraceful manner, the Christian need not feel shame. Unlike the murderer, thief, evildoer, or meddler, there is nothing shameful in bearing the name of Christ. Rather…

But…in that name: By bearing the name of Christ publicly & bearing whatever reproach society heaped on them, these believers would honor & praise the glorious name of Christ.

Only by “the Spirit of glory…of God” are we able to endure the mistreatment & abuse of the world and find joy in glorifying God in that suffering. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to endure suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit supplies the necessary means to cope with suffering (“the fruit,” Galatians 5.22-23), if we let Him. He is the promised Helper, but we must willingly submit to His direction.

17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

For…household of God: household of God is the “spiritual house” made of “living stones” “precious” in the sight of God (2.4-5), i.e. the church. While Peter borrows OT allusions (see Ezekiel 9.6; Malachi 3.1-5), his whole meaning is shifted. The judgment of God upon God’s house is not intended to be for condemnation, but for purification, i.e. refinement through trials leading to glorification of God (1.6-7; 2.12; 3.14, 17; 4.16).

How we as Christians view the trials & suffering we endure matters. Notice that it is not “punishment” which begins with the “house (family, NIV) of God” but judgment. Christ has suffered our punishment & therefore when we experience pain & persecution in the world, God is not punishing us for our sins. Christ did that. He endured the wrath of God. Rather, judgment begins from the house of God (lit.); God’s people are the jumping off point, the point of departure for God’s judgment. Seeing we have “ceased from sin” (4.1) He moves on to those who are not His family, that is, “those who do not obey the gospel of God.” Worse affliction will be visited upon the unbeliever, specifically exclusion from the presence of God.

And if…us: There may be a parallel to Jesus’ own description of the judgment which begins with the sheep (saved) & passes onto the goats (lost). Yet even now this judgment has begun.

What will…gospel of God?: those who do not obey the gospel are unbelievers. “All unbelief leads to disobedience” (Schreiner). The order of righteous first then the unrighteous is maintained from Malachi 3.1-5 & through Christ (Matthew 25.31-46). This rhetorical question is answered…

18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

And “If…saved”: Quoted from Proverbs 11.31. Scripture is offered as proof positive of what Peter is saying: God’s judgment in the end will be worse than any suffering Christians face from unbelievers. In fact, unbelievers will have it worse due to their disobedience. Scarcely does not point to the uncertainty of a Christian’s salvation; rather, the word can also mean “with difficulty.” This echoes the preaching of Paul & Barnabas in Acts 14.22. Salvation is with difficulty because of the suffering, trials, & persecution Christians endure from unbelievers.

“What will…the sinner?”: Ungodly refers to a person who does not love God nor do they worship Him. Sinner is one who scoffs at God’s self-evident laws & violates them. What will become of such individuals? The reader is to supply the obvious answer: they will be lost.

Never underestimate the value of the Word of God in the midst of suffering. Peter quotes Proverbs to help his readers maintain an eternal perspective & to help their theological viewpoint. God is the final Judge, not man. Those opposed to Christians are opposed to Christ & will face the eternal consequences of their rejection of Him. Many Christians will suffer the loss of their work but preserve their soul at the end. Many Christians will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3.15). Therefore, “the righteous are scarcely saved.” So it will be worse for “the ungodly & sinner.” We enter by the narrow gate; it snags us, catching at our clothing. Since this is so, the ungodly sinners who refuse to obey God’s gospel & so be saved only have eternal punishment to face.

Taken together, verses 17 & 18 bring clearly & unmistakably the awful terror of the final fate of the wicked. The righteous endure difficulty in this life, but it is with the promise that these are temporary trials of this world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, “can reasonably count on nothing but unmixed misery, everlasting perdition” (Brown 3:175). The reasonable expectation for those who do not obey God’s gospel is eternally worse than anything a Christian would experience in this world. Just as certainly as our entrance into God’s kingdom comes with many trials & suffering, so it is certain that eternal punishment awaits the ungodly sinner. Just as it is God’s will we suffer, so it is God’s will that the wicked be shut out of His presence eternally.

19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Therefore…God’s will: those who suffer according to God’s will are Christians who suffer because it is what God has willed. While at first blush this may seem harsh, it is actually intended to bolster faith. The duration & intensity of suffering is under God’s control. What Christians suffer is for their good because it is according to “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2).

Suffering according to God’s will means to “share Christ’s sufferings” (13), to be “insulted for the name of Christ” (14), & to glorify God by suffering as a Christian (16). God’s will is not that we suffer as an evildoer (15). Christ’s suffering in the flesh is the model for Christian suffering. Nothing happened to Christ apart from the Father’s sovereignty & love. This means that nothing that befalls us happens independent of God’s sovereignty & love. He is in control of everything. Any suffering we endure is not the result of an uncaring & indifferent universe randomly selecting us for pain. Our suffering is not accidental nor the result of dumb luck. Suffering is not purposeless but purposeful. Our suffering is under the watchful & loving eye of sovereign God. Our suffering is “according to God’s will,” that is “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).

Entrust…faithful Creator: Just as Jesus entrusted His spirit to His Father at death (Luke 23.46), Christians are to entrust their souls to a faithful Creator for care in this life. That is, we give our souls to God for safekeeping so that no matter what happens in this life, that part of us which lives on after death is kept safe by the power of God (cf. 1.5).

So then Christians should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” God is our Creator – He has created us body & soul. He is the Father of our spirits who saw our unformed substance (Hebrews 12.9; Psalm 139.16) as well as the One who forms our inward parts & knitted us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139.13). Further, in Christ Jesus we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). This means we belong to Him body & soul. We are His own possession & God takes care of what is His. Therefore, He is a faithful Creator. Who better to entrust the keeping of our souls than the One who not only crafted them, but also redeemed & saved them? Our lives, even our very souls, are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).

…while doing good: How does a Christian show that they are trusting God? By continuing to do good. They do not stop doing good. Acts of loving service & mercy. This not merely a duty, but a privilege rendered not only to other people, but ultimately to God. Retaliation may be the response from the flesh. By God’s glorious Spirit who rests upon us (v.14) we resist that impulse so that we may do good to all men. Doing good is a common refrain in this epistle (2.15, 20; 3.6, 11, 17).

“So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment.”
(2 Peter 2:9, NLT)

God’s Grace & Submission, Part 1

The earliest charge against Christians as social rabble-rousers was that they said “there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.7). Therefore, Christians, it was alleged, are bad citizens, prone to disorderly conduct & disregard of civil authorities. No doubt the question of whether God’s people should obey their pagan rulers was a pressing one for Peter’s audience. It was especially pressing when they were spoken of as “evildoers” & persecuted. Peter has already said that Christian’s are to conduct themselves honorably (v.12) & he begins with honorable conduct before the state.

Submission to the State (2.13-17)

God’s will is that Christians submit to & honor governing authorities which are established by Him.

13Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,

Be subject…to every human institution: Submission & obedience to governing authorities is typical of ethical instructions found in the NT (cf. Romans 13.1-7; Titus 3.1).

For the Lord’s sake: This may be Peter’s way of echoing Paul’s “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13.1). Contextually, the glorification of God through our submission to the authorities He put in place is the theological basis.

Whether…as supreme: The Roman emperor was the one who exercised continuous control over the empire and so was supreme. Considering the emperor at the time of Peter writing was Nero it seems this principle is binding even when rulers are neither Christian nor moral.

Peter addresses not only what Christians are to do related to governing authorities, but also gives the why: be subject (what) for the Lord’s sake (why). For Jesus’ sake is reason enough for Christians not to be anarchists or insurrectionists.

  1. Submit (13-14) – to governing authorities high & low
  2. Silence (15) – ignorant foolish people
  3. Serve (16-17) – everyone high & low

14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

Or…do good: sent by him may be referring to the emperor in his authority establishing local governing bodies to keep the peace or may refer to God (i.e. Him, cf. Jn 19.11) & once again we have tones of Paul (see Rom 13.3-4). Their function in the various Roman provinces was to punish delinquents and to praise the virtuous.

While Christians certainly have obligations to the state motivated by our theology (“for the Lord’s sake”), the state likewise has obligations to the people. The state is supposed to punish evil-doers & praise do-gooders. Paul says of the emperor, “he does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13.4). No whatever that means, it certainly means that governing authorities are to be “an avenger who carries our God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (verse 4). Meanwhile, those with good conduct “receive his approval” (13.3).

Our society seems to have this all backward. Those pursuing a Christian ethic are punished while those engaged in behavior contrary to God’s will are applauded. Refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple and you could face stiff penalties. Make the Bible your state book and it’s only a matter of time before you will hear about it. A Chicago church fired their music director who came out as homosexual and now they are facing litigation. Good is evil and evil is good & Caesar grins menacingly.

15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

For this is the will of God: God’s will for His people is that they submit in order to silence…

That…foolish people: Peter calls the Gentiles foolish not to denigrate their intelligence, but rather as an allusion to wisdom literature where the foolish one who does not fear God or walk in His ways & is thus morally debased (Psalm 53.1). The Gentiles ignorance springs from their irrational claims of Christians as evildoers. All of the ignorance & folly can be silence by Christians living morally upright & virtuous lives (i.e. doing good).

Here is our obligation to society at-large – live the life excellently. Live it so excellently that they are actually muzzled when they open their mouths to accuse us. People want to know what is God’s will for their life; here Peter spells it out explicitly. Do so much good that you shame to silence the stupid & silly accusations spoken by fools. This seems to be what Jesus did. There came a point where no one dared ask him any more questions (Matt 22.46). He was good & He silenced the ignorance of the foolish teachers of His day.

16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

[Live] as…free: Live is supplied in most English versions, however, what Peter says here is a continuation of verse 13 & “be subject.” Christians are “called to freedom” (Gal 5.13) & at the same time, as Peter emphasizes, Christians are God’s slaves.

America is the land of the free. So we truly know what it means to live as free people. But this freedom cannot & must be used to justify moral evil. Some think that we are free to do whatever we want. “Free country,” scoffs the ner-do-well. But as social critic Os Guinness says, “Liberty requires restraint, but the only restraint consistent with liberty is self-restraint.” Said another way: Liberty requires virtue. Where does virtue come from? “Add to your faith virtue,” says Peter. Therefore, without faith we cannot have virtue; without virtue it is only a matter of time before we are without liberty.

Not using…evil: “Christians do not have freedom to do wrong” (Grudem 121).  “Genuine freedom liberates believers to do what is good” (Schreiner).

[Living] as servants of God: This is the inward motivation for the actions here commanded—Christians are God’s slaves. So Christians live under another King who wants us to submit to human rulers He has established.

17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Honor everyone: Christians are to attribute high status & value to all people. Why? Though Peter does not specify, it seems best to understand that God created everyone in His image.

Love the brotherhood: Present tense so continue to love all Christians.

Fear God: Present tense so continue to render  reverential awe & respect to God (see Ecc 12.13).

Honor the emperor:  So the emperor is placed on equal footing with everyone.

We are inclined to honor the great & powerful. Those with money (Bill Gates), athletes with exceptional skill (Michael Jordan), the very intelligent (Stephen Hawking) – I think we look upon these people as having some position of honor. This seems particularly true in the political arena. For example, if you received an invitation to the White House, you would no doubt recognize that as a great honor. Whether you like the guy or not, you respect the office. Peter does something interesting – “honor everyone.” All people are worthy of our honor, not just the emperor. I don’t know that Peter drags the emperor down to the common man’s level so much as he elevates everyone to a position of honor. Every person is someone who was created by God in His image & therefore is worthy of honor.

Special Study: The Christian & Government

Peter’s admonition for Christian submission to governing authorities must be understood in light of the instances of civil disobedience found elsewhere in the NT. There are times when the apostles, with Peter as their spokesman, refused to comply with the orders of civil authorities because they were in opposition to the orders of God (see Acts 4.19-20; 5.29). These appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Submit to (good) government, unless they seek to force Christians to violate God’s will. Then obey God.

God’s Grace & Salvation, part 2

Peter has focused his reader’s attention on their salvation & the grace which is theirs, spiritual treasures which prophets search intently for & angels strongly desire to see (3-12). With this firmly in mind, he will now exhort his readers to think & act in a holy manner.

Holy Living – By God’s Grace (1.13-2.3)

God’s grace enables Christians to a live a holy even under a hostile empire.

13Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Therefore: Due to the greatness & glory of salvation explained in verse 3-12…

Preparing your minds for action: lit. “gird up the loins of your mind” (so NKJV), a phrase lost on most modern readers, but a common practice in ANE culture where long robes were worn. In order to engage in vigorous activity (running, fast walking, etc.), the robes would have to be pulled up into their belt allowing them freedom of motion. In modern English, we might say “roll up your sleeves.” Peter is telling his audience to get ready for intense mental activity (your minds).

I have been saying that the church needs to be a thinking & thoughtful community. Peter exhorts even us to prepare for intense mental activity. Even as Elijah “gathered up his garment” and outran Ahab’s chariot, so we too must roll up the sleeves of our minds so that we can outthink culture & society with the Truth. Even our Lord has said, “Stay dressed for action” or “Let your waist be girded” (NKJV) – it’s the same idea.

Being sober-minded:  Not merely by abstaining from alcohol, but also do not let your mind wander to other mental intoxicants & addictions.  Things that belong to “the futile ways” (v.18).

We must also be clear-headed, not intoxicated by the thoughts of the world. With 24-hour news, non-stop social media, open-letter, politics, sports, etc. Just as surely as alcohol will impair your judgment, so too will intoxicating worldly thoughts carry away our minds from soundness to paranoia, fear, anxiety, worry, depression, defeat, etc.

Set your hope…revelation of Jesus Christ: Peter combines both the now & not yet aspect of our grace. First, we hope fully on this grace, that is, we are to have a very strong confident expectation of grace at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We look forward to His return when grace will be fully realized. But also, the grace “is being brought” (present participle) to you. Grace is already on the way, indeed, “the immeasurable riches of His grace” are ours in Christ Jesus (Eph 2.7). Yet, there is still more to come at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

14As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

As obedient children: As points to their present actual character before God, namely, obedient children or lit. “children of obedience.” Formerly, these were “children of disobedience” (cf. Eph 5.6), but now they are those who seek to please their heavenly Father by their holy character.

Do not be…former ignorance: Conformed is used by Paul in Romans 12.2. Here, as there, an apostle is exhorting Christians to avoid the pattern or mold into which the world would press us. This is a lifestyle that the audience was familiar with since is was their former ignorance. They did not know God’s ways, but instead gratified their passions.

“Christians must live as God’s children and be obedient to their Father” (Black & Black 45). Before our conversion to Christ we were supremely selfish; now we seek to serve others because saved people serve people. Before our conversion we lived to gratify our own desires; now we seek to do what God desires and so please Him. Before Christ, while we may have regarded basic decencies of life and sought some measure of health or reputation, we still did not regard God’s will; now, without regard to our own reputation or health, we seek to uphold God’s will. Before conversion we conformed to the culture & opinions around us; now we seek to influence culture for Christ and destroy every lofty opinion set up against the knowledge of Christ.

“Now [Christians] are to be governed by a different rule, and their own former standard of morals and of opinions is no longer their guide, but the will of God.” (Barnes)

15but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,

But as He…is holy: But is strong contrast. Holiness is an inherent attribute of deity (see Ex 15.11; Isa 6.3). God is separate from, even other than, all that we know in His majesty & glory. Notice: holy God called Christians, i.e. He initiated salvation through the gospel (cf. 2.9, 21; 3.9; 5.10).

You also…all your conduct: Christians have been called to be holy. All your conduct captures every thought & action of every day. This is total holiness, inward & outward conformity to the pattern of holiness (i.e. God Himself). The impetus for our holy conduct is the holiness of God.

“What God asked of Israel when he made that people his own he now asks and must ask of us whom he has called by Jesus Christ.” (Lenski) We imitate His moral character, His holiness, which is the ultimate basis for ethics. God’s holy moral character is the reason there are moral absolutes. Why are certain things right and certain things wrong and they are always right or always wrong? Look no further than the holiness of God. He delights in those things which reflect His holiness (moral character) and hates that which is opposed to His holiness. See Psalm 15.

16since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Since it is written: As is always the case, Scripture is the sole authority for doctrine & practice.

“You…I am holy”: Quote from Leviticus 11.44-45; 19.2; 20.7, 26. So both Testaments require holiness from God’s people & both ground this imperative in God’s holiness.

Since God is holy and we profess to be His followers, we must be holy. All that intense mental effort Peter just wrote about is to be devoted to holiness. A purging of the mind of all that is low, base, corrupt, wicked, & evil must take place. Even the heavens are not pure in His sight (Job 15.15)! Nevertheless, we flawed, fallen creatures of dust must roll up the sleeves of our minds, be self-controlled, & hope completely, perfectly upon His grace both now and forevermore. Eager, earnest effort is what is required of committed Christians. We are saints only if we pursue holiness with all that is within. And we do because we know “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14). It is not just the big sins which weigh down the soul so that we do not progress in holiness (murder, fornication, etc.). A thousand little one pound sins will just as surely crush the soul. Stop using the world’s goods on yourself alone (selfishness). Cease thinking evil about other people, esp. your brethren (malice). Put away the idolatry of worry and pride. Then cultivate Christ-like behaviors & attitudes: help others, love others, esp. the unlovable. Do good to people, esp. your enemies. Not only have you shed those things which God hates, you are allowing His holiness to be reflected in you. Herein is true religion: the imitation of Him we worship. Holiness is imitating God.

17And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

And if…[work]: Or “and sincebecause this is a continuation of what Peter has been saying & no doubt these Christians do call the impartial judge of all Father. God called them to be obedient children, so they call Him Father. But He is also He Who judges (present part.) or more accurately “the one judging.” So in view is not final judgment (although this still applies, cf. 2 Cor 5.10), but the idea Peter expresses here is that God is presently weighing our actions & thoughts without prejudice or favoritism (lit. not receiving face). Our “work” summarizes all our actions & thoughts.

Conduct…your exile: Since God is an ever-present judge who weighs the heart, since we live in His presence and He knows our personal “work,” reverential awe & respect (fear) is the appropriate response during our earthly lives (i.e. the time of our exile).

Is our work holy unto God? Most people jump immediately to the final judgment. However, God is an ever-present judge, either excusing or condemning our life’s work. He “judges” or is judging right now. Either He pats us on the back or head and says “atta boy” or He shakes His head and “Why?” We need to maintain this holy fear derived from a deep sense of God’s presence realized by faith. We cannot even offer acceptable worship without godly, reverential fear of our God (Hebrews 12.28-29). Some (many?) in Christendom are of the opinion that the OT preaches fear, but the NT teaches nothing but love. Jesus and the NT writers bid us fear God.

18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,

Knowing…your forefathers: here is what prompts that reverential fear: knowledge of redemption. These Christians were slaves of the empty & useless lifestyle passed down to them by their ancestors. But in Christ they have been liberated from those ways. The contrast between how they conduct themselves now versus how they conducted themselves before is drawn. They were ransomed from (Gk ek) or out of the sphere of sinful ways to the sphere of obedience to God. The hereditary chain of sin is broken by Christ’s blood.

We tend to think of the spiritual aspects of redemption (saved from sin), but Peter points out the practical nature of redemption (saved from a former lifestyle). How many people today are caught up in the empty lifestyle passed down to them from the previous generation? How many people today know all too well the futility of their lifestyle? The hereditary chain of partying; the hereditary chain of drinking; the hereditary chain of smoking; the hereditary chain of drug abuse; the hereditary chain of pride; the hereditary chain of anger; the hereditary chain of foul language; the hereditary chain of hatred; the hereditary chain of worthlessness. Christ’s blood and only Christ’s blood can break all these chains. We here know this, just as the 1st century audience knew it: had it not been for God & the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we would still be in bondage to that former futile lifestyle. But God and Christ change lives.

Not with…silver or gold: Silver and gold cannot liberate anyone from spiritual captivity. No physical, earthly object(s) could buy back these people from their former sinful manner of life.

19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

But with…Christ: But is emphatic (Gk alla). The impetus for holy conduct as exiles under empire is the ransom price: Christ’s precious blood. Only Christ’s blood could pay the ransom price.  Unlike gold & silver which will ultimately perish, Christ’ body did not see corruption (cf. Acts 2.31).

Not bling but blood. Not coins but Christ. The blood of Christ is so precious, so valuable to God. We must never take lightly the extreme cost of our redemption. The moment we do is when the evil has opportunity to snatch us away from Christ. To lightly esteem or underestimate the value of Christ’s blood in our redemption is a root of all kinds of evil. It is at the heart of every fallen away Christian. If we truly esteemed Christ’s blood as precious, as supremely valuable, we would never walk away from Him, but cling to Him more closely.

Like that…blemish or spot:  Some see here a Passover connection however it seems better to understand this more broadly since frequently the requirement under the Law was for a lamb “without blemish” (Lev 3.6; 4.32; et al). Christ of course was without sin—pure & undefiled. Thus Christ is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices under the Law. Specifically here, He was sacrificed in our stead to free us from bondage of the former life.

20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

He was foreknown…the world: Before time existed, in eternity, God knew that man would sin & rupture relationship with Him and need to be ransomed. So Christ, the Son, was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13.8). It was the plan before time began.

But was made manifest…you: With the cosmic, eternal foreknowledge of God before them, Peter says that all of the scheme of redemption was “for your sake” (NIV). From the timeless realm of eternity comes the Lamb into human history (time & space) in the last times, i.e. “the end of the ages” (1 Cor 10.11). In light of such a great revelation of God’s Son, live appropriately.

21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Who through Him as believers in God: Through Christ those to whom Peter wrote had become believers, that is they came to put their trust in God. Their faith is based upon historical facts…

Who raised…Him glory: i.e. the resurrection & ascension of Christ by the power of God.

So that…in God: By the resurrection and glorification (exaltation) of Christ, God has a laid a firm foundation upon which the Christian can build his/her faith. Further, he/she can have confident expectation of their own resurrection and glorification someday.

22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

Having purified…love: Having purified (perf.) is used here in a spiritual sense to indicate consecration to God’s service. Their souls, i.e. their whole persons, are set apart for service unto God. Purification happens “in obedience to the truth” (NASB) and is for (Gk eis) a sincere (lit. unhypocritical) brotherly love (Gk Philadelphian). So Peter’s focus is on the rationale behind love: they love their siblings because they have purified their souls by obeying the truth.

Peter’s first specific application of his command to live a holy life is for Christians to love one another. This then is the first mark of genuine Christians who are in pursuit of holiness: deep, earnest love for their fellow Christians. This is testimony to the power of the gospel. Even the most hard-hearted individual might have their affections changed dramatically & permanently.

“Love one another” – why this command to these people? Certainly the temptation to just survive with fellow Christians, gathered together & rubbing shoulders like so many marbles in a sack. But that Peter has to command this implies they were a) growing lax in fulfilling this “new command” or b) former relationships with non-Christians were being rekindled. It would have been easy for these persecuted Christians to just fall back into old patterns of life, relapse due to these old connections. How many Christians does this same thing happen? Old relationships with people who know you became a Christian but themselves do not want a part of Christ have dragged many backward. But we have exchanged the flesh for the Spirit! Saved people love other saved people.

Love one another…heart: “As [these Christians] face persecution and distress from without, it is vital that they maintain mutual support from within” (Black & Black 51). Earnestly includes not only intensity but also duration (i.e. without ceasing). A pure heart is a prerequisite for Christian love.

This is all the more reason why our new relationships with fellow Christians must be all more “earnest” and spring from a “pure heart.” This is all the more reason why love must be “unhypocritical,” that is, genuine & without show. This is not a call for Christian glad-handing & hand-patting. Love is not smarmy. This is not a call for “working the crowd” or “pressing the flesh.” Love is not political. This is not a call for self-exaltation – “What would you do without me, brother?” Love does not boast (excessive praise). This certainly is not a call to pretend to love your brother to their face, & then tear them down behind their back to someone else. Real, genuine, sincere love is not duplicitous. “God is love” and He is none of these things.

Genuine Love: Romans 12.9; 2 Cor 6.6. Love from a “pure heart” – that is it is unmixed, i.e. not because of what you can do for me or “what have you done for me lately?” Not because it gives me some benefit or pleasure. Not because you belong to my church. “Even sinners do that!” That’s worldly love, but genuine love from a pure heart is unmixed with worldly love. “Earnest” or fervent – it is hot! “Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of YHWH. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (Songs 8.6-7).

23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

Since…born again: cf. v.3. Single word in original (perf. Pass.). Christians were born again and stand born of God as His children. Here is perhaps the highest argument for strong love for one another: we are all children of the Father, all born again.

The use of two perfect tense words (“having purified” [v.22] & “having been born again”) is interesting. The first is active; the second is passive. Said another way, the first states what we are able to do, the second what God did. The first goes back to the second. In other words, because God has caused us to be born again, we have been & are purifying our souls by our obedience to His truth.

Not…imperishable: Or “not of mortal seed (i.e. parentage) but of immortal.” The contrast is between natural birth (by a human father) & spiritual birth (by the heavenly Father).

“The seeds are the thoughts of God, the truth of God; and they are seeds out of which the life of holiness must burst and grow” (Caffin 59).

Through the…word of God: It is through His word that God causes people to be born again. The word is identified as “the good news” (v.25). “It is the uniform doctrine of the Scriptures that divine truth is made the instrument of quickening the soul into spiritual life” (Barnes). The word is living and abiding of course because Jesus said “My words will never pass away” (Matt 24.35, et al).

24for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,

For…: This introduces the quotation from Isaiah 40.6, 8 as confirmation of what Peter has said.

“All flesh…flower of grass”: All flesh speaks all human beings, mankind. All its glory is a reference to man’s accomplishments, beauty, strength, intelligence, riches, & greatness. Peter says all mankind & all of the greatness of mankind is like grass…the flower of grass. In this comparison, Peter is pointing out the frailty of mankind.

“The grass…falls”:  Lit. “withered the grass, fallen the bloom!” It is emphatic. These earthly, natural elements fade away and perish. So too is human life & glory transitory, given only a certain amount vitality & endurance before it gives out.

We know how brief this life is. It is theme constant in Scripture (James 4.14, et al). When a brother or sister, a loved one, a close friend dies we are reminded yet again by our experience of the transitory nature of this life. Both Scripture & experience affirm what Peter is saying here.

25but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

“But the…forever”: Now the contrast—while everything in the natural world is transitory, the word (Gk rhema) of the Lord (LXX of God) is permanent. The world fades, but the word is fixed. Christians have an eternally abiding nature (2 Pt 1.4) because we have been born again by “the living & abiding word,” the forever-word of God.

“The Word of the Lord Abides Forever” – this world is going out of business. But God’s word is “living & abiding,” that is, it lives and continues to lives. Men & women, like grass & flowers, wither and pass away. But when the eternal word of God is uttered and they hear it with open ears and open heart, eternal life is imparted to the obedient. Everything in this world gives out except the spoken word of God contained in the gospel today.

And this word…preached to you: Word (Gk rhema) is the spoken word of God. It is the “good news” of Zion & Jerusalem (Isa 40.9), fulfilled in Christ, preached to you & imparting life & grace.

1So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.

So…: Since you have obeyed the gospel, been born again, & are to love one another…

Put away: Or stop doing what you are used to doing. Same word Paul uses in Ephesians (4.22) in speaking of putting off the old self. Indeed, these Christians have been ransomed from the former lifestyle and in Christ have a new lifestyle to live before their Father & with one another.

All malice: Every bit of hateful feelings toward others is to be abandoned. Malice is a disposition or spirit which holds ill-will & thinks evil of other people. Stop thinking evil of others, esp. siblings.

Malice eats churches alive because it eats too many members alive.

All deceit: Or “guile” (KJV, ASV). This is trickery & treachery, fraud & falsehood. Brethren ought not lie to each other, nor express with their lips what is not in their hearts.

Is it deceitful for us when we greet each other to respond “fine” when life is anything but fine? “How are you?” “Fine.” But you’re really not. Is that a form deceit?  Lenski says deceit is “to mislead other to their own hurt and to our own supposed advantage.”

Hypocrisy:  Lit. hypocrisies (pl). Pretending to be what we are not. The word originally was for stage actors in a play who wore masks & pretended to be someone else. Appearing religious, pious, Christian, when we never intend to truly be such. Plural because there are so many ways to be fake.

Barnes says the hypocrisies are toward both God and man:

hypocrisy to God is, when persons profess that which they have not, as love to God, faith in Christ, zeal for religion, fervent devotion, and sincerity in the worship of God; and do all they do to be seen of men, and appear outwardly righteous, and yet are full of all manner of iniquity: hypocrisy to men is, pretence of friendship, loving in word and tongue only, speaking peaceably with the mouth, but in heart laying wait; a sin to be abhorred and detested by one that is born from above; and is contrary to that integrity, simplicity, and sincerity of heart, which become regenerate persons, the children of God, and brethren one of another:

Envy: Envies (pl). Or “jealousies” (cf. NCV). Hating others because of some advantage (real or imaginary) or possession they have which we do not.

All slander: or “evil speaking” (NKJV).  This all kinds of unkind talk which seeks only to run down someone else. Defamation of character, false accusations, backbiting,

Note; all of these vices are not in keeping with the character of those who have been begotten of God and infused with a new divine nature. Those who have experienced the grace of God must themselves learn to be gracious to others, esp. toward brothers & sisters.

“All these sins aim at harming other people, whereas love seeks the good of others” (Grudem 94). All of these sins likewise will hurt the Christian, hinder his/her growth, and quite possibly jeopardize their salvation unless abandoned immediately. We must take off this robe of many sins

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

Like newborn infants…: Infants would be free from all of the vices mentioned in v.1. As those “born again” by the Father they must “be infants in evil” but mature in their thinking (1 Cor 14.20).

Long for…spiritual milk: Long is an imperative and expresses a desire for something. As they get rid of the impure desires of v.1, they are to “crave” (NIV) for the pure spiritual milk of God. These would be the spiritual truths & doctrines of God which are “without guile” (contrast v.1).  Indeed, “the commandment of YHWH is pure” (Psalm 19.8).

Irenaeus, early church writer, in talking about heretics in his day that they mixed the pure spiritual milk with chalk. How many today do the same thing with the pure, unadulterated gospel of God? They gag & choke on the polluted, theologically shallow gospel!

The milk is “spiritual” (Gk logikon from which we get “logic”) or “reasonable” or “rational.” Hence, all of the sins mentioned in v.1 are unreasonable & irrational behaviors for the child of God. Flee to the reasonable, rational shores of pure love for one another & for God.

That…salvation: Putting away sinful attitudes & practices while filling ourselves up with the love & purity of God & His words is vital for spiritual growth. “The soul which feeds upon the pure milk of the Word [grows] continually unto salvation” (Caffin 69).

3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

If indeed…is good:  Cf. Psalm 34.8. If would better be understood as “for” (RSV) or “since.”  Peter does not doubt these Christians have tasted the goodness & kindness of God. Rather, assuming they have tasted the Lord’s goodness, they will crave even more & fuller tastes.

You know how sometimes you try something which you are not sure you will like. As a kid you are coerced into trying stuff which was unappealing to you with the phrase, “You might like it.” Well, Peter knows that those who taste God’s goodness will like. And having tasted it…mmm…Yes, I would like more please! “The first experiences of the Christian life stimulate God’s people to further efforts” (Caffin 69).

There is some neat word play here: the word for Christ is Christos and the word for good is chrestos. In fact, early church writers like Tertullian adopted the confussion of heathens: Christos chrestos, Christ is good. Indeed, Christians follow the good Christ.

The Great Benefits of Our Gracious God – Psalm 103

A career with benefits. Some of you have a job which has benefits (perks) which you enjoy: maybe a company car, expense account, retirement stuff, bonuses, etc. Maybe you don’t have a career with benefits and want one. As Christians we have a career with benefits: our career is our Christian walk which we daily engage in and the benefits are manifold from our gracious God. Someone has called Psalm 103 “Heaven’s benefits package.” Our gracious God is worthy of praise for His great benefits He gives. What are the various benefits of our gracious God? In Psalm 103, David highlights several benefits YHWH provides His people.

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

The Psalmist calls on “all that is within me” to remember “all His (Gods) benefits” (1-2). “God’s all cannot be praised with less than our all” (Spurgeon 2: 276).

Benefit #1: Salvation (3-5)

3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

Forgiving (3a): certainly God has forgiven in the past, but He continues to forgive (pres. Tense). It’s continual – He is still forgiving. The scope of forgiveness is “all iniquity.” All wrongdoing is removed. From His immense steadfast love (v.12) He removes all our sins, transgressions, and iniquity (v.13).

Healing (3b): the term “diseases” is used figuratively (poetically) for the sickness of sin. Further, the parallelism of this verse combined in the larger context of v.3-5 and Psalm 103 generally points to spiritual sickness & healing.

Note: I do not, though, wish to minimize the healing power of YHWH, the God of health. “Among the greatest blessings which we receive of God is recovery from sickness” (Pulpit 8.2.382). Whether by natural or supernatural means, God is able to work healing (See Psa 30.2). That’s why, when we one of us gets sick, we pray. And there is NT precedence for this (James 5.14).

4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

Redeeming (4a): “redeems your life from the pit” seems to be language that would be familiar to the Jewish mind concerning the patriarch Joseph. God redeemed Joseph from the pit thru the Ishmaelites. Rescue by ransom.

Adorning (4b): with steadfast love and mercy. More in #2…

5who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Satisfying (5): “good” things come from our good God and He “satisfies” us with them. The people of God are the only satisfied people on earth. While unbelievers search in vain for satisfaction, Christians have found true satisfaction from the only source of satisfaction. See 1 Timothy 6.17.

Benefit #2: Steadfast Love (4b, 8, 11, 17-18)

Intentionally in the middle (of the sermon) because this is the lynch-pin to this Psalm.

4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

The Crown of Steadfast Love (4): exclusively reserved for His people who enter into covenant with Him (“us”). Not a crown of jewels and gems, but of grace and “lovingkindness” (ASV, KJV). This is something which God continues to do (“adorning”), He is continuously pouring our His steadfast love (and mercy, too!) upon our heads.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

The Cornucopia of Steadfast Love (8, 11): He’s got lots of it! So great is His is love, it is inexhaustible! Like the horn with all the food and vegetables coming out we often see at Thanksgiving, so God’s love is pictured as overflowing. What’s it like David? Verse 11.

17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

The Conditions for Steadfast Love (17-18): 1) Fear YHWH – that reverential awe and respect of the one true Creator. 2) Faithfulness (keep covenant) – even as God keeps covenant; God says, “I will be your God” to which the people say, “We will be you people.” Involved in this is a standard of conduct shaped by principles and values established by God. 3) Obedience (remember commandments) – perhaps some parallelism here; we remember His commandments when we keep covenant.

Note: Nelson Glueck on Heb. Hesed “in its secular usage as ‘conduct in accord with a mutual relationship of rights and duties’; he also emphasized the mutual or reciprocal and the obligatory character of the term in its religious usage for persons in relation to each other and to God.” “Israel understood God to be committed to the community in covenant relationship as the One who provided for all needs, yet One also always free and uncoercible.” This Hebrew term “compactly incorporates all three of these dimensions (commitment, provision for need, freedom) in a single word” (ABD 4: 377). Unconditional? Hardly! See Ex 20.5-6, 2nd commandment.

Benefit #3: Slow to Anger (8, 13-16)

Does He get angry? Oh, yes. We read about the wrath of God. But of His slowness… 2 Peter 3.9; Romans 2.4

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

YHWH the Father (13): While Jesus would come to show us God the Father, even in the OT, the concept was there. David recognizes the paternal patience of YHWH, like a father is patient and compassionate with his children.

YHWH the Creator (14): He knows and remembers certain things about us (our frame, we are dust). How does He know these things? He’s the one who created us! And since He knows us, He knows we are “frail children of dust” (esp. seen in 15-16) and cannot withstand His holy, righteous anger.

Since God is the Father and since He is the Creator, He is slow to become angry. He treats us, His children, with compassion, mercy, and grace.

It’s the greatest benefits package in the world. And it’s ours! So it’s no wonder David closes this with a doxology of praise to God. Everything needs to praise God because He’s given us salvation, shows us steadfast love, and is slow to anger.

WORKS CITED

Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1996. CD-ROM.

Spence, H.D.M. and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary. 23 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962. Print.

Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David. 2 vols. Nashville: Nelson, n.d. Print.

Longing for God – Psalm 63

God “has put eternity in man’s heart.”

Man has this built-in craving, longing for the eternal, esp. for God. If nothing else, one has a sneaking suspicion that there is more to all this than meets the eye. Some stifle & suppress this, but it never goes away. When a person becomes a part of the people of God this appetite for the Almighty is augmented & must be fed regularly. Sadly, some Christians starve this appetite and is one reason we see people walk away from the Lord. But those few happy souls who hunger & thirst for righteousness & are satisfied so that they might hunger for more, for them…

God is the singular desire of the searching, thirsty soul.

What does it look like to long for God? Psalm 63 captures this craving which Christians today ought to have.

The Soul’s Longing (1)

1O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Seeking God: Even “my God,” its personal. 1) Earnestly: With eagerness, zeal. I’m going to do this now, immediately; I can’t wait. 2) Early (KJV): First thing I’m going to do even before the sun comes up, I gotta find you. The pillow is despised & the coolness of the AM embraced so that sweet communion with God might be enjoyed.

The Thirst for God: “My soul…my flesh” – everything about me, my whole being craves God. All of me longs for Thee! Notice that God is the object of this thirst; not creeds & confessions & councils; not religious leaders & preachers; not even religious exercises & practices; GOD alone can satisfy this craving. And God is of such a nature that He will grant this request…

It seems that just about every night after the boys are scrubbed, their teeth washed, they’re in their pajamas, prays have been said, & the light turned off that I will hear from the boys’ room, “DAD!” And when I go in there they invariably ask the same thing, “Can I please have a drink of water?” Good dad that I am, I get it for them. So here is David on his bed (v.6) saying, “GOD! Can I have a drink please?” The Father is of such a nature that He readily fetches it for him. And for us!

The Soul’s Looking (2-4)

2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

In the Sanctuary (2): David wasn’t at the sanctuary (the tabernacle in his day) to see the crude structure; nor if the temple had been built in his time would he have gone there to see the wonderful stones & wonderful buildings; whenever he went up to the sanctuary it was to seek “my God,” esp. His power & glory. This is what David longs for in the wilderness.

3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

God’s Love > My Life (3): God’s covenantal, steadfast, unending love is better than life, or rather, “lives.” God’s love is better than 10,000 lives! Life is dear, but God’s love is dearer. Life is valuable, but God’s love is supreme. Why? Because life is temporary, but God’s love is eternal. Oh, that more people today understood what the saints of old knew.  Too many people view their life as all important, as tho this is all there is. Indeed, some Christians do likewise. No! God’s love is eternal and the thing we are to reach out for.

4So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

Worship (4): Praise from his lips (3) will flow from his mouth as long as he lives. My whole life is given over to the lover of my soul. The lifting of holy hands (lit.) was an outward manifestation of the inward disposition – as the soul reached out for God so the body too reached to the heavens (or Jerusalem) in an attempt to grasp His presence. Here is the summation of man’s creation & purpose & destiny: the praise of God’s glory.

The Soul’s Living (5-6)

5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

Satisfaction (5): “fat & rich foods” are the best of the best, the choice cuts of meat and freshest vegetables & fruit…but remember, this is a spiritual feast provided by God. This “hidden manna” brings spiritual refreshment as we eat with the lover of our soul. It is the food we eat which the world does not know, living water to drink which the world refuses to drink.  So it has been that the saints of God have always been sustained & satisfied by the spiritual.

6when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

Meditation (6): Although David misses Jerusalem, he acknowledges that he doesn’t have to be in Zion to enjoy a spiritual feast. Right here on his bed as he recalls & ruminates on God, His glory & power (v.2), he fares sumptuously. “If day’s cares tempt us to forget God, it is well that night’s quiet should lead us to remember him” (Spurgeon). We see God best in the dark.

The Soul’s Lodging (7-8)

7for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

“Shadow of Your Wings” (7): The top of the Ark of the Covenant was called the mercy seat and this is where God’s presence abided. There were two (2) cherubim on either side of the ark with their wings outstretched and touching over the mercy seat, defending God’s glory. David alludes to these wings and in their shadow where God dwelt is where David finds His help & joy.

8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Intimacy with the Almighty (8): The word “cling” or “follows close” (NKJV) is the same word used for when a man leaves father & mother and “clings” or “cleaves” to his wife. It denotes the close, sacred union of the soul with its God. It means we are glued to God, the lover of our soul. So the soul clings to God & God clings to the soul with His right hand. Even as a husband’s “right hand embraces” his wife (Song of Sol 2.6; 8.3). This is close, personal, active love.

All of me longs for Thee! It should be, ought to be, must be the earnest desire of every Christian to see & enjoy more & more of the power & glory of God. We must long for deeper intimacy with the Almighty, even as our flesh craves food & drink. Only God can satisfy the souls appetite for Him.

Stay thirsty my brethren!

Conclusion – Ephesians

“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7.8). Paul closes this epistle with a final farewell of blessing and benediction (6.21-24). The general language and lack of personal greetings would indicate that this epistle was intended as a circular letter, the target audience being not just those in Ephesus, but Christians throughout the Cayster River valley (see Introduction).

Blessing (21-22)

Paul is sending Tychicus to these saints to bless them with encouragement.

21So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.

So that…what I am doing:  Both concerning his physical situation (in chains in Rome) as well as his spiritual condition (personally as he preaches under house arrest and also how the church in Rome is doing). These brethren want to know & Paul wants them to know how he is. (cf. Col 4.8)

Tychicus…tell you everything: Tychicus was an Christian from Asia Minor who accompanied Paul (along with Trophimus) on his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20.4).  He was probably a native of Ephesus or Colossae. He no doubt acted as courier of this epistle as well as Colossians & Philemon. Paul calls him a beloved brother and faithful minister (Gk diakonos) in the Lord (key phrase). This loveable and faithful brother would make known all that these Christians wanted to know about Paul.

Would Paul say about us what he says about Tychicus – that we are not only beloved brothers or sisters, but that we are faithful ministers? We need to love one another and also be loveable ourselves. Every Christian is a minister, a servant unto the Lord (not just the preacher). We need to be found faithful in our service to our God. Like Tychicus…

  1. We need to be devoted to the service of Christ
  2. We need to co-labor with our brothers in Christ
  3. We need a disposition which seeks to encourage brethren

22I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

I have sent him…encourage your hearts: cf. Colossians 4.8. Paul purpose in sending Tychicus is the same as why he sent him to the Colossians: so that these Christians would know not just Paul’s well-being, but that of those with him (how we are) and that Tychicus might encourage or “comfort” (NASB) these brethren with how God has preserved Paul, even in chains.

Our lives are open books to one another. Paul was eager to share news of the wonder work of God in his life with these brethren knowing that this news would strengthen their hearts. Comforted, they themselves could pursue ministry bolstered in their faith.

We need more Tychicus’ today – those who heal the hearts of saints by the good word and encouragement they share. There are too many Christians who are sour faced curmudgeons, killjoys who believe their sole purpose is to point out how others are doing things “wrong,” and by wrong they mean they are not doing things the way they think it should be done. Tychicus was not a wet blanket saint, a Debbie Downer who only dragged people down. He called people up and built the brethren up. He sought opportunity to share a gracious word with God’s people. He told of the grace, love, and peace God brought to Paul and that imparted grace, love, and peace to His fellow brethren. Yes, we need more people like Tychicus in the church and fewer with Debbie Downer syndrome.

Benediction (23-24)

Paul offers a final prayer of peace, love, faith, and grace for these saints.

23Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peace be to the brothers: This was the usual and common form of salutation of the time, especially among the Jews (Heb. Shalom).

Love with faith: Love is the fruit of faith, both of love to God and love toward one another. Where peace exists among brothers, love can flourish, stimulated by faith.

From God…Jesus Christ: The Father is the source of all these virtues and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the mediator of our peace & love. Both are the objects of our faith.

As Paul has detailed (2.13-17), Christians have peace with God thanks to the blood of Christ and peace with one another due to the same means. Further, God shows us His faithful love by sending Christ into the world to die and into our lives to live. All these virtues come from God: we love because He first loved us; we know peace because He gives us peace; we have grace because He is gracious.

24Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Grace…Jesus Christ: Whereas verse 23 is a specific benediction (“to the brothers” of the local church), here it is more general aimed at all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul seeks the grace which he has spoken so often of in this epistle to be with all Christ-loving Christians.

With [love] incorruptible: or “with undying love” (NET, NIV). Here is the kind of love every Christian should have toward Christ. This is a rare word used only a handful times in the New Testament and typically in association with the resurrection (Romans 2.7; 1 Corinthians 15.42; 2 timothy 1.10). Used here it speaks of the abiding, unfailing love for Christ that marks genuine Christians. It “is not a passing gleam, like the morning cloud and the early dew” (PC 261).

The riches of God’s grace is immeasurable (2.7). But if we have no love for the Lord, this grace eludes us. No wonder Paul says elsewhere “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor 16.22). When you are outside of the grace of God because your love for Christ has died there is only a curse! So it is no wonder Paul has prayed for these Christians to know the unknowable love of Christ (3.19); when we know His love then our love for Him can flourish and grow. There will be no decrease or decay in it.

Note: all four (4) of these virtues have been discussed throughout this epistle: Peace (1.2; 2.14, 15, 17; 4.3; 6.15), love (1.4, 15; 2.4; 3.176, 19; 4.2, 15, 16; 5.2, 25, 28, 33), faith (1.1, 15; 2.8; 3.12, 17; 4.5, 13; 6.16, 21), and grace (1.2, 6, 7; 2.5, 7, 8; 3.2, 7, 8; 4.7, 29).

Grow in the Word of God, part 1

Paul closed the previous section of this epistle by explaining that Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit will submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (5.18-21). Now Paul will explain what is entailed in this mutual submission with frequent appeals to the Old Testament.

Paul begins with the family (5.22-33). When Paul penned the words of this epistle, the pagan family unit was in deep degradation. Someone has noted, “One found in the pagan family neither purity nor love.” Even when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish family was threatened by unholy conduct and standards. One rabbi advised, “Don’t talk much with women” and another was quick to add, “Not even with one’s wife” (Snodgrass 302). The ancients thought the two best days of woman’s life were the day someone married her and the day he carried her body to the graveyard! Into this context of devaluation comes the clarion call of a higher love (agape) in the family & mutual respect.

God’s Word to the Married (5.22-33)

Husbands & wives have mutual obligations to one another in order to grow as a couple.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Wives…husbands: cf. Col 3.18. Submit is supplied from verse 21 since Paul is explaining the practical manifestation of Spirit-filled life through mutual submission. John Piper writes, “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts” (This Momentary Marriage 80).

As Adam Clarke puts it, “The husband should not be a tyrant, and the wife should not be the governor.” When the wife elevates herself to assume what is not hers, we end up with either 1) a two-headed monstrosity or 2) the wrong head with everything upside down. Many Christian marriages end up looking like the “unwise” of the world who in their folly think themselves wise (v. 15; Rom 1.22). Tragically, these wreck their marriage or at best wreak havoc on the relationship.

As to the Lord: This could mean 1) in a similar fashion as their submission to the Lord, 2) as if their husband was the Lord, 3) as part of their submission to the Lord. Option three seems best. The submission she expresses to her husband is based upon her submission to the Lord.

23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

For the husband…wife: For (or because) is explanatory: the wife submits to her husband for he is her head. Some read head to mean “source,” however, leadership is how this term is best understood. According to John Piper, “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.” “The husband has a leadership role, though not in order to boss his wife or use his position as privilege. Just as Jesus redefined greatness as being a servant (Matt 20.26-27), Paul redefines being head as having responsibility to love, to give oneself, and to nurture. A priority is placed on the husband, but, contrary to ancient society, it is for the benefit of the wife” (Snodgrass 295, emphasis original).

Even as Christ…the church: Christ’s relationship to the church is the model for headship. So then what is in view is servant leadership (Mark 10.43-45). “All the instructions concerning human relationships are rooted in the foundational relationship of the Christian to Christ…The Christian’s relationship to Christ is the basic, foundational relationship that colors every other relationship” (Malone 83). One significant reason that the world is messed up – in the home & everywhere else – is because it does not know Christ. So long as a man or woman remains outside of Christ, they will always be one down in the home, on the job, wherever. When the foundational relationship with Christ is missing, every other human relationship suffers: husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee. “The church becomes a pattern for all social order” (Patzia 268). Without Christ, the pattern is deficient and chaos ensues.

His body…Savior: Since Chris tis the head the church is His body. He acts as Savior when He “gave Himself up for her” (v.25) by dying on the cross. How is the husband the wife’s Savior? Certainly not in the same sense in which Christ is Savior of mankind. However, through his self-denying as protector the husband it can be said the husband is “Savior.”

24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Now…to Christ: The church is composed of those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ. Christians honor & affirm His leadership as well as look to Him for provision of all things.

So also wives…husbands: Once again submit is supplied for it is understood in the context. Wives should submit themselves (voluntarily) to their husbands. In everything means all things lawful & acceptable to God. Anything criminal or against God’s will should be avoided. Of course, a husband who is demonstrating Christlike headship would never ask his wife to engage in those kinds of things.

The tragedy of tragedies is when God’s word is twisted in order to justify cruel & abusive behavior. The unfortunate reality is that some men have read “Wives, submit…” and “The husband is head” disconnected from its context and thereby have produced unhealthy and ungodly circumstances for their marriage and family. Then little Jimmy watches how daddy has treated mommy growing up and what do you think he does when he gets married? Yes, even the in church this pattern is all too true. “Men in more conservative denominations with traditional views of marriage are more likely to abuse their wives” (Snodgrass 313). Books like Battered into Submission have been written documenting this kind of abuse.

By the way, we are not merely talking physical abuse; emotional, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse is just damaging. Demeaning your wife is symptomatic that you have misunderstood and misapplied this text.  Christ would never do this to His bride. This is why it is so critical that we never disconnect headship from Christ. If we do, we end up with harsh, authoritarian manhood which is the kind of manhood resulting from the curse rather than redeemed from the curse.

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Husbands, love your wives: Love (Gk agapao) “means to subordinate one’s own interests, pleasures, and personality for the benefit of someone else” (Patzia 270). The husband looks to the needs, interests, and concerns of his wife, eager to understand and meet them. If wives are to submit to their husbands, then husbands must love their wives. When husbands love their wives as they ought, it is easy for a woman to affirm & honor his leadership in the home. Though he may not manifest this kind of Christlike love does not mean the wife is free from her obligation to submit; it just makes it more difficult.

It is not the deep sexual passion (erao) which Paul enjoins upon men. Nor is it familial (storgeo) or friendship (phileo) love. It is that selfless kind of love which puts the other person’s greatest good above your own (agapao). When it comes to Christians, even Christian couples, the greatest good of the wife which the husband should be in constant pursuit of is that she look like Christ. Husbands, this should be our overarching, singular desire when it comes to our wives.

As Christ…for her: The husband’s love for his wife ought to correspond to Christ’ love for the church. Christ’ loved the church to the uttermost when He gave Himself up for her on the cross. He supplies His bride with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” (1.3) in His sacrifice.

Some have argued that the greater responsibility is upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. If nothing else, “The husband’s commitment to his wife and to home responsibilities is certainly no less demanding than that asked of the wife – but the two are different, and complementary” (Foulkes 164).

26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

That He might sanctify her: or “to make her holy” (NIV). This is the glorious purpose of the atoning death of Christ: a bride set apart unto Himself.

Having cleansed…with the word: Sanctify and cleansed are both aorist (snapshot) tense indicating that a single event is in view when the washing of water with the word took place: baptism. With the word (Gk rêmati) could point to either instruction or confession before baptism.

Some see here an allusion to the pre-marriage bath a bride would take the day before her wedding. Then, cleansed and in splendid clothing, she was presented to the bridegroom and he would say, “Behold, you are sanctified to me.” Perhaps this imagery in behind this and other texts (2 Cor 11.2). In which case, when we are baptized, we are cleansed – “our hearts sprinkled clean” (Heb 10.22) – by the blood of Christ and He says to us, “Behold, you are set apart unto me.”

27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So that…in splendor: Lit. “in order that He Himself might present to Himself the glorious church.” Some see a possible allusion to Psalm 45.13-15 here. Note that the key difference here is that the bride can do nothing to make herself clean or beautiful; Christ cleanses & beautifies her.  Our splendor or glory or honor or beauty is all the result of His work.

Without…any such thing: A spot would be a stain or defect; a wrinkle could be related to clothing or skin (i.e. age); any such thing would be any offending deformity. Freedom from all these things contributes to the splendor or glory of the bride.

That she…blemish: cf. 1.4. Here is the goal of the Lord’s work in cleansing us. This has been His aim & purpose since “before the foundation of the world.” Christ sees His church with all her weaknesses & failures and still loves her, seeking her sanctification. So husbands, love your wives.

Imagine a bride in her flowing white gown with a ketchup or mustard stain right on the front of the dress. Or picture a bride who looks like she just pulled her dress out of the hamper. Now think of a woman who, because of years as a chain smoker, has deep wrinkles and leathery skin on her face and hands. Or suppose there is a woman who, due to a birth defect or a tragic accident, is missing a limb or has some abnormality. When I was growing up my dad knew a guy who had moles all around his neck, I mean all around his neck! Because he abused drugs, he didn’t bathe regularly and so those moles were caked with dirt, sweat, and all kinds of grossness. These are all illustrations of the defilement of sin and transgression. That’s what sin is like and that’s what Christ has cleansed us from spiritually speaking. All the spots, all the wrinkles, all the various defects – gone! Washed away, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. And now all He sees is His beautiful bride; nothing else.

28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

In the same way: Just as Christ loves His bride and seeks her sanctification…

Husbands…own bodies: Indeed, Adam said of Eve that she was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2.23). Also behind this seems to be an application of “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19.18), though this is more profound in marriage.

Here is why spousal abuse is a sin not merely against the (civil) law, but also against nature. When a man & woman are married, they become “one flesh.” That is, she is “his own body” for they are one body.

He who…loves himself: Husband & wife are “complimentary parts” of a single personality. “His wife is part of himself” (PC 212).  It is a lower manifestation of Christ’s union with the church.

29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

For no one…own flesh: For a man to hate his wife is as irrational as to hate his own flesh. Paul uses flesh (Gk sarka) rather than “body” (Gk soma) no doubt in anticipation of the coming Genesis 2.24 quotation (v.31).

The notion of a husband hating or neglecting his wife is as strange as hating or neglecting oneself. While it is true that some people (male & female) engage in self-mutilation (e.g. cutting), we readily identify that kind of behavior as abnormal. In a similar fashion, a husband who hits his wife or abuses her verbally or emotionally is likewise abnormal.

But nourishes & cherishes: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Nourishes (or “feeds,” NIV) means to provide food for over a period of time to sustain growth and maturation. Cherishes (or “cares for,” NIV) means to provide what is necessary. A man will naturally feed & clothe himself!

Just as Christ does the church: This is what Christ does for His bride! He nourishes us with His Word & provides everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1.3).

Another wrong turn men make is viewing their wives as someone they can control and order around. Once again, this is an abuse of headship. Authentic manhood/headship patterned after Christ is not about control. Paul does not say, “Husbands, control your wives.” He says, “Love your wives.” Husbands who love their wives with this kind of love will not have to worry about his wife submitting herself to him; she will want to affirm and honor his leadership in the home.

30because we are members of his body.

We are…His body: Here is the reason Christ loves, nourishes , & cherishes us: we are part of His body. As the branches are part of the Vine (John 15.1-6), so members are part of the body, the church (v.23). “Of His flesh and of His bone” (NKJV, KJV) is not supported by the earliest manuscripts. As Eve was taken from Adam & given to him, so the church was taken from Christ & given to Him.

The imagery of bride and body are admixed. As the church, we are both the bride of Christ & and the body of Christ. Every individual Christ – be it Paul the apostle or you or me – is a member of the glorious body of Christ. “Because” of this wonderful fact, He, as the Head, takes special care of us, nourishing & cherishing us, yes, even lavishing upon “every spiritual blessing” in Himself. You are special to Him; don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise!

31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

“Therefore…one flesh”: Genesis 2.24 is quoted (from LXX) as application of Paul’s argument concerning Christ & the church (v.32): how He left His Father’s bosom to woo unto Himself a Bride (the church) out of the lost world. Simultaneously, Paul has in view the husband/wife relationship, of which Christ and His church are the perfect model.

Hold fast to his wife: Literally the husband is glued to her. Like anything which is glued, tearing the two glued pieces apart, though possible, will render permanent damage to the glued pieces.

The two shall become one flesh: This speaks to the profundity of the union between Christ & His church and husband & wife.

When it comes to Genesis 2.24, “No one verse speaks more strongly for the sacredness and permanency of the marriage bond and for fidelity within marriage” (Patzia 273). This is the primary text against such things as polygamy, fornication, and divorce, rightly so!

32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Note: The Latin Vulgate reads “sacramentum hoc magnum est” for “This mystery is great.” This has become the sole basis for the Catholic Church making marriage a sacrament (“an external sign of something sacred” or an outward sign of inward grace – Catholic Encyclopedia).

This mystery is profound: As profound as the union between a husband & wife is, it is but a miniature, dim reflection of the original which is Christ & the church. Mystery here (as in 3.6 refers to something hidden before, but has now been revealed, namely…

And I…the church: Christ’s relationship to His church. The mystery is not about marriage, per se, as much it is about the union between the Redeemer & His redeemed, the Savior & the saved.

Marriage is an important, a holy, a noble, a pure institution, altogether worthy of God; but it does not thence follow that marriage was designed to be a type of the union between Christ and the church. Paul’s emphasis, which should be our emphasis, is Christ & the church. He is the Head and we, the church, submit to His Lordship. We have no agenda, no mission save that which He established and modeled while on earth. If we could grasp that truth and seek His higher purposes rather than our petty squabbles, we could move past so much useless junk and move forward & upward to what God in Christ has called us.

33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

However: Pauls’ final word will be a practical one for husbands and wives.

Let each…as himself: Love (Gk agapato) “pure and simple, but transcendent,” because it mirrors the love of Christ toward His bride, is the husband’s calling in marriage. As himself captures “as their own bodies” from verse 28.  After all, they are “one flesh.”

And let…her husband: Respects (Gk from phobeo) is literally “fears” but is not, of course, servile or slavish fear (cf. 1 John 4.18). “Reverence” (KJV) or “holy respect” (PC 213) toward her husband, as connected to “submission” from verse 22, is the wife’s divine calling in marriage.

However profound the mystery of Christ & His church, there is no mystery as to the duty of each party involved in marriage: husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands. If the husband withholds love, he is wronging his wife and subverting the relationship. If the wife withholds respect/submission, she is wronging her husband and subverting the relationship. The marriage suffers unless both parties fulfill their God-given calling.

Grow in Your Walk with Christ, part 2

Grace and maturity. There is a need for both in this fallen world. The need for a mature body has not gone away; the world needs to see authentic, mature Christianity in the lives of Christ’s follower. There is the ever-present need to mature the body; every member of the church must strive for and be moved toward maturity. Thus, we still need the grace of Christ, spiritual gifts, in order to attain unity, maturity, even the full measure of Christ. In verses 7-16 of Ephesians 4 Paul unpacks the grace Christ has given His body that it might be moved toward maturity.

A Mature Walk (7-16)

Christ gives gifts to His church so that she matures and grows up into Him.

7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

But grace…each one of us: The church is unified by the preceding seven (7) ones (4-6), but she is not uniform. Each one of us has a unique contribution to the body due to the grace…given us by Christ. In view is not saving grace but spiritual gifts Christ gives His church.

Saving grace is the same for all; this grace given according to Christ is measured and different for each Christian. Each member has received his measure from Christ. But no one member has all the various spiritual gifts. This is by design so that we are dependent upon one another.

According to…Christ’s gift: Measure (Gk metron) indicates that some get a larger measure, others a smaller measure. But everyone gets some amount. Cf. Matthew 25.14-30.  The gifts come from Christ and are for the same purpose—building up & maturing the body (v.12-16).

Each Christian has received grace (a spiritual gift) to build up the church of Christ. Therefore, every member of the body is vital to the healthy function of the body. There are no spare or unimportant parts. Christ doesn’t come to the end of building his church and have extra parts like we sometimes do when we put together a piece of furniture.

8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.

“When He ascended…to men”: Universally, scholars identify this as a quote or allusion to Psalm 68.18. However, it differs slightly from the Hebrew text (2nd person changed to 3rd person; different last phrase). Why? See “Special Study” below. Paul says that was written in Psalm 68 was ultimately speaking of Christ, the triumphant King, leading principalities & powers captive (1.21-22).

While there are those who would seek to destroy faith by pointing to texts such as this and saying there is a contradiction, there are good answers as to why there is a difference in readings here and in the Psalms…

Special Study—Did Paul Misquote Psalm 68?

Even a cursory comparison of Ephesians 4.8 and Psalm 68.18 show that they differ somewhat. In the Psalm, the nouns are in 2nd person; in Ephesians, the nouns are 3rd person. Also, does the subject “receive” gifts (Psalms) or “give” gifts (Ephesians)? Various suggestions have been offered to explain these differences. There are those who say Paul made a mistake and misquoted (intentionally or unintentionally) the verse. This simply will not do since the Holy Spirit is ultimately the author of both texts. John Stott says the two passages are essentially the same with no contradiction (since one would “receive “ in order to “give”). Others say this is a rabbinic exegesis. The explanation which several point to is a Targum (Aramaic paraphrase) which is virtually identical to how Ephesians reads. In the Targum, it is Moses who gives gifts, specifically the Law, from Mount Sinai. So Jesus, the second and greater Moses, gives gifts. Thus, Psalm 68.18 is Messianic and finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Also, this could be an early Christian hymn using the language of Psalm 68. Either way, neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit have made a mistake.

9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?

In saying, “He…the earth: Paul begins to explain the quotation from Psalms. The key to understanding it is in the phrase the lower regions, the earth. Does it mean “the lower parts of the earth” (NKJV, NASB) or the earth itself (ESV, NIV)? If the former, it means Hades. If the latter, three possibilities: 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ’s death on the cross, or 3) Christ giving the Spirit at Pentecost. Due to Paul’s usage of a similar phrase elsewhere (Rom 10.7), it seems he has Christ’s death in view (cf. Psalm 69.15, “the deep” & “the pit” being poetic for death/the grave).

10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

He Who…also ascended: After His death, burial, & resurrection, Christ ascended back to the Father’s right hand (Acts 1.9; 2.33). This is “the highest honor and glory possible” (Foulkes 124). Having attained that lofty position, He gave (spiritual) gifts to men, specifically, the church (v.12).

Far above all the heavens: The Hebrew idea was that there were three (3) heavens (cf. 2 Cor 12.2). Ancient cosmology thought there were seven (7) heavens. However many there are, Christ has been exalted above “all the heavens” to the very throne of the Father.

That He might fill all things: “That he might be the fountain whence all blessings might flow” (Clarke). Christ fills “the whole universe” (NIV) with His glory.

11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,

And He gave…: The triumphant King disperses gifts to His citizens.

[some] apostles: typically we think of the Twelve, however, generally, those “sent ones” of the church. Barnabas is an example of the latter (Acts 14.14).

[some] prophets: not so much foretellers of the future but forth-tellers of the Word of God to the people of God.

[some] evangelists: good news tellers. While some may be esp. gifted in this, every Christian is an evangelist (Acts 8.4).

[some teaching-shepherds]: those given to the church to feed, bind, nourish, heal through teaching ministry.

By no means exhaustive, we get a glimpse of the diversity/variety of the gifts Christ gives His church. Christ qualifies the Christian and gives him/her to His church. So all members of the church, in their respective ministries, are God’s gift to the church.

12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

To equip…work of ministry: The aim of Christ giving gifts to the church is that the saints would have the equipment they need for ministry (Gk diakonias). Since it is the work of ministry it will require zeal, labor, & effort.

For building…body of Christ: The figures of building and body are combined here. Here is the target at which we are aiming: body building—quantitatively, qualitatively, and structurally.

Can you imagine a football team showing up to the game without helmets and pads? Or what about a baseball team showing up without bats and gloves? To play the game you need the necessary equipment. Christ has graciously provided the equipment we need to get on the field and play ball. Further, every member must participate in the process or else the body will be deficient in spiritual and numeric growth.

13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Until we…the Son of God: In v.3 we “maintain the unity of the Spirit;” here Christians attain (reach for with the goal of arriving at) unity in two areas: 1) faith & 2) knowledge. The goal of unity of the faith is that Christians believe the same thing about the Son of God (cf.v.5).  The goal of unity…of the knowledge is that Christians enjoy the deepest levels of fellowship with the Son of God (cf. Phil 3.10).

There are no spiritual Rambos or Chuck Norrises in the church. We are together to work toward unity in faith & knowledge. Together we work toward spiritual growth and maturity rather than just individually doing our own thing, striving for spiritual growth apart from the body.

Another important note is that these are goals we are to reach for (“attain”), striving together for them. It is ideal that we believe everything alike. But do we? Not on everything. But in the essentials, it is imperative that we agree. We can have liberty in non-essentials. And in everything, we need to love one another. Further, it is not just knowing about Christ, but (relationally) knowing Christ which is the emphasis of faith & knowledge.

To mature manhood: the body is to move from spiritual infancy to a full grown man.

To the measure…fullness of Christ: Even as we are to be flooded by God Himself (3.19), so we are to flooded by Christ and ultimately look like Him in measure & stature, i.e. in every way.

Even as children are not intended to be babies forever, so babes in Christ are to grow up into Christ. Members of the church who are equipped and continually edified have attained the measure of adulthood. Does that mean there is no room for improvement? No, it means your no longer an infant being tossed about by various & contrary winds. You fill up what is lacking and attain the measure of the stature that belongs to Christ

14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

So that…children: Children here is juxtaposed with the “mature man” of v.13. While we are to be “infants in evil,” but mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14.20).

Tossed…by every wind of doctrine: Maturity in our thinking will keep us from being like storm tossed ships, following after ear-tickling speakers and listening to dangerous doctrines.

By human…schemes: human cunning of “trickery of men” (Gk kubeia, from which we get our word “cube”) has to do with dice playing. The metaphor is that these men are deceptive since dice players sometimes cheat to win. Their craftiness was merely specious wisdom wrapped in lies (deceitful schemes). There must have been some scheming heretics Paul had in mind, though he decided to leave them unnamed. His original audience would have known them.

We still have scheming heretics today, don’t we? Men who are rolling the dice on their own spiritual well-being and causing others to roll the dice on their spiritual lives. Mature and stable churches, no longer children, allow the wind (Spirit) of God to fill their sails. Those who love truth and speak truth to one another (v.15) are able when error rears its ugly head to identify it for what it is.

15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Rather, speaking the truth in love: Lit. “truthing in love.” The word for speaking the truth implies both being honest, following truth, & telling the truth. “But truth must be inseparably married to love” (Pulpit Commentary 150). Good news spoken in a harsh manner is not good news. The winsomeness of truth can be adversely affected by a negative spirit. Furthermore, in love stands in juxtaposition with the craftiness in deceitful schemes of the preceding verse.

Notice two things – 1) Truth must be spoken. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. & 2) Truth must be spoken in love. There are other ways of speaking truth. It is sometimes spoken in a harsh, crabby, sour manner, which does nothing but disgust and offend. When we state truth to others, it should he with love to their souls, and with a sincere desire to do them good. When we admonish a brother of his faults, it should not be in a harsh and unfeeling manner, but in love. Where a minister pronounces the awful truth of God about depravity, death, the judgment, and future woe, it should be in love. It should not be done in a harsh and repulsive manner; it should not he done as if he rejoiced that people were in danger of hell, or as if he would like to pass the final sentence; it should not be with indifference, or in a tone of superiority (Albert Barnes).

Some congregations have “all truth” but are lacking in love; others may have a loving spirit but are deficient in truth. Both are needed otherwise we end up with harsh legalism or soft liberalism.

We are to grow up…into Christ: Notice that the primary audience of truth is we, i.e. Christians. We are to speak truth to one another in love for edification. Truth will enable the body to grow up in every way into the Head. In fact, the aim of growth is that we draw closer to Christ.

16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

From whom the whole body: i.e from Christ the whole church grows. Growth is directly connected to our relation to Christ. Severed from the Head, the body will die.

Consider the human body since that is the figure Paul uses to address functional unity in Christ’s church. We have the various bones – arms, legs, head, ribs, etc. – which are held together by connective tissue – muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc. Every member of the church should contribute something to the prosperity of the whole. He should no more be idle and unemployed than a nerve or a blood-vessel should be in the human system. What would be the effect if the minutest nerves and arteries of the body should refuse to perform their office?. Langour, disease, and death. So it is in the church. The obscurest member may do “something” to destroy the healthful action of the church, and to make its piety languish and die. (Barnes)

Joined and held together: Joined and held together are present tense verbs indicating that this is a continual process. The individual members are fit exactly together in their respective places (joined) and are united together (held together or “knit together”) Harmony and solidarity are pictured. In addition, these words are passive voice which means that the various members are acted upon to bring about this cohesion in the body. Though unnamed, no doubt the agent of this is Christ.

By every joint…equipped: The means by which Christ accomplishes this functional unity is every joint with which it is equipped (or “what every joint supplies” [NKJV]). What seems in view are the various gifts Christ gives His church (v.11) which are the equipment of the saints (v.12). Through the several ministries of the gifts, especially teaching, Christ joins and holds together His body.

When each part is working properly: Every member is dependent upon the other members. No one member can write-off another member as useless. Every part has a role to perform in the body of Christ. Each member has their respective ministry and must labor in it for the Lord.

Makes the body…in love: Makes…itself is the verb and indicates that the growth is from within while dependent upon the energy of Christ. The atmosphere for growth is one of love wherein each member will seek the edification of all.

Spiritual increase is the primary focus of Paul in this section. If & when the church engages the process of fostering an atmosphere of love, depending upon the strength & power (energy) of God, relying upon Christ to unite and bind us to one another, and speaking the truth in love to one another, she will grow in faith, knowledge, and love. No doubt where there is a loving community of believers, numeric increase is sure to follow.

Grow in the Will of God, part 3

Having explained what the mystery of God is (3.6) and his role as well as the church’s role with regards to that mystery (3.7-13), Paul offers prayer on behalf of these Christians, closing the first half of this epistle.

The Appreciation of the Mystery (3.14-21)

Paul prays for Christians to be filled with the fullness of God in their inner being.

Ephesians 3:14–21 (ESV)

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

For this reason: Paul resumes his previous train of thought to conclude what he began in 3.1. Since the Gentiles are partakers of grace with the Jews according to the manifold wisdom of God, Paul lifts his voice in prayer. There is a similarity here to 1.15; there he prayed for knowledge, now he prays for love. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine.

Paul prays to God that his brethren not only know (1.15ff), but that they live out what they know. Our knowledge is the basis for life. We need to live out what we know. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine. When you know God, you will love God’s family, the church.

I bow my knees before the Father: Knelling is a typical posture for prayer (Luke 22.41). Father  is a term used often in the NT to describe God. No doubt it derives from Jesus who taught His disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6.9) and Himself prayed “Abba, Father” (Mark 14.36).

Posture in prayer: Kneeling is typical (Luke 22.41; Acts 20.36; 21.5), but not the only posture for prayer; standing (Mark 11.25), sitting (1 Chronicles 17.16), and prostration (Matthew 26.39) are also found in Scripture. “One may pray in any position, even with only a groan or in silence; but the positions noted have come to mean much in the church and for the individual. Careless, thoughtless attitudes of body are not good. Formalism is no more to be feared than the thoughtlessness of meaningless attitudes.” (Lenski 490)

15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,

From whom…is named: There are a couple of ways to understand this phrase. 1) God’s Fatherhood is over saints (on earth) and angels (in heaven); 2) God’s Fatherhood is over everything, everybody in heaven or on earth (cf. Eph 4.6). He is the Creator and Progenitor (Originator) of all things. Hence, He is Father of all, over all, through all, and in all. The former seems to be in view; God is Father of His Fatherhood or Family (esp. the church) which bears His name. Paul has presented the cosmic Christ (1.22-23) & the cosmic role of the church (3.10-11); now he presents God as the cosmic Father.

Deism is merely a theology of atheism. It is atheism with a god. The notion that a god set in motion the universe, got it off the ground, then stepped away to focus on…whatever it is a deity like that focuses on is simply another brand of atheism. Further, that kind of god is not worthy of reverence or respect (i.e. worship). Why would I want to know a god who does not seek to know me? In fact, the God of the Bible is closely involved in His creation. It is true that God is with us, Christians; Matthew’s gospel makes this clear (1.23; 28.20). It is equally true that all humans live, move, and have their being because of God’s involvement in the world (see Acts 17.26-28). So in a general sense, God is the Father of all; however, in a specific sense, only His family (i.e. church) derives its name from Him.

16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,

That according to the riches of His glory: Paul is not asking that God give from or out of His glory, but according to His glory, which is His essence. Thus, there is no limit to His giving.

He may grant…in your inner being: The verb strengthened is passive voice, i.e. this is something God does. He makes us strong, healthy, vigorous. He does this “through His Spirit.” How this occurs is not addressed nor is it Paul’s point. This is spiritual strength/enrichment for it happens “in the inner being.” We must be willing/attentive souls. Where the Spirit is, there is power, life, vitality. Absent the Spirit, the Body is dead.

Paul prays for these Christians to be empowered, strengthened by the Spirit of God. But if the Spirit does this, why don’t we experience it more? Why does it seem the church is so ineffective today? Two possibilities present themselves:
1) The theology is wrong: Yes, that is what Paul said, but that is not what he meant. This reduces the Christian life to a purely humanistic striving with only our might and power to help. It is too anthropocentric, focused on me and my ability to keep the law of God perfectly. Further, this view means that God is neither able nor willing to work.

2. The theology is right, but we abort the process: Yes, the problem is with us, not with God. He said what He meant when He promised spiritual strength in the inner being, the “moral might” (as Avon Malone calls it) we need to engage in glorious battle with the spiritual forces of darkness, forces that if we attempt to face on our own will slaughter us. “The real problem is that we do not care enough. We do not have the necessary discontent within ourselves that will lead to change. We like the privileges without the bother” (Snodgrass 185). The Spirit seeks out willingness to hear and allow ourselves to be transformed. By the way, transformation is the work of God, not ours. Even as this strengthening is God’s work, so is transformation.

17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

So that Christ…through faith: Paul prays that Christ may dwell in the hearts of these Christians. To sum up the Christian experience, we are to be absolutely soaked, permeated with Christ in our lives – inside, outside, all-around. He takes up residence in and redefines us, shaping and strengthening at the core of our being. Faith is the key to keeping Christ in us.

In the NT, we find the constant struggle to describe the Christian life. In some instances, we are called to “put on’ Christ; in other instances, the Christian is described as being “in Christ” (throughout Ephesians). Then there are those rare occasions (5 total in NT), where Christ is said to live in us. If Christ lives in us, those cherished American ideas of independence, self-determination, and self-fulfillment must be abandoned. As to independence, we are independent of everything but Jesus Christ; indeed, we are wholly dependent upon Him. As to self-determination, self has died and we are totally determined by Him. As to self-fulfillment, we seek only to fulfill Christ’s will which brings true fulfillment to us. Self is dead; Christ lives in me. See Galatians 2.20.

That you…in love: The presence of Christ in the heart of the Christian means love. Rooted is an agricultural term; like a tree, love is the soil by which Christians are nourished. Grounded is an architectural term; like a building, love is to be the foundation upon which the Christian life is built.

18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

May have strength…all the saints: Knowing the love of God is not the exclusive privilege of a few enlightened ones; the whole church (all the saints) needs the strength which comes from God to understand what has previous been hidden, namely, Christ’s love (v.19).

Spiritual comprehension and the ability to spiritually discern especially the love of Christ is only realized in the context of the holy church. Outside the church, one will lack the strength and ability to apprehend Christ’s love. The reason is because it not merely intellectual but also experiential. Absent the church, the body of Christ, one will fail to experience the love of Christ expressed through His body. “God knows nothing of solitary religion” (John Wesley).

What is the…depth: Some have found different shades of meaning in these words. For example, Jerome says Christ’s love reaches up to the angels, down to even the demons and evil spirits, it’s length covers all men and the breadth covers even those who drift and wander. Some see the cross which points up, down, and toward the horizons. Some think it could stand in contrast to the temple of Diana which was one of the wonders of the world. It seems best to understand these as a unit communicating the infinite & intense love of Christ with us in the center of that love.

Picture Paul as he writes of Christ’s love in the center of an enormous sphere or cube which represents Christ’s love. He can see how high and deep and wide and long it is and yet it is unfathomable just how great the structure is. It is breathtakingly grand. And to know Christ is to know His love.

19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

To know…surpasses knowledge: Such a vast love surpasses knowledge and is therefore unknowable. Yet the apostle calls Christians to know Christ’s unknowable love. It exceeds our capacity for comprehension. Still Christians must be ever in pursuit of knowing Christ’s love.

On knowing the love of Christ: “To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will promote us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world” (Albert Barnes).

That you may be…of God: “Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest” (Clarke). To be filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the fullness of God even better; but to be filled with all the fullness of God is incredible. Paul is praying that the church would be filled and flooded by all the fullness of God Himself. Again, this is a passive voice verb, i.e. God fills His people with His fullness. This is “the richest, best gift of God to man” (Barnes).

Though we can never fully know Christ’s exceeding love, how can we come to know Christ’s love? “It must find expression in experience, in sorrows and joys, trials and sufferings, in ways too deep for the human mind to fathom, or for human language to express” (Morris 114). I would add that it is also related to our connection to the community of believers, i.e. the church. As we sing, “Sometimes we laugh together, sometimes we cry,/ sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs” (“God’s Family” chorus). When we “rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” we are experiencing the surpass love of Christ.

20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

Now to Him…we ask or think: This is not something yet to happen nor is it something no longer happening. He is still able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” He is able to do “superabundantly above the greatest abundance” (Clarke). Or He is able to do “to the extent which we cannot express” (Barnes). God is able to do “beyond everything” (Lenski). Trying to describe His ability is like chasing the wind.

According to the power at work within us: These are present tense verbs, i.e. God is still able and is still working. His power is working in us. Connect this with v.16, “power through His Spirit in the inner being” (same word for “power”). To the degree we are willing/yielding to be transformed and allow that power to work is the degree to which we will mature/grow, & be the NT church as God/Christ envision.

The power to grow lies in God’s power, not ours. If the foregoing is so – the Father is over all, through all, and in all as the Father of the whole fatherhood; Christians are powerfully strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, permeated with the perpetual presence of Christ, called to know the unknowable love of Christ, and are filled with fullness of God Himself; and we serve a God who can do more than we could ever ask of imagine – then how could we ever look at the plan and purpose of God for His church and call it anything but possible, achievable, wise, and right? This leads to another question…

Why don’t we experience this in the church today? Two answers can be given: 1) the theology is wrong; it sounds nice, but God is neither able to nor at work. 2) the theology is right, but we abort the process. Which leads to still another question…

Are we willing to allow God to work through and in us to accomplish His purposes?

21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

To Him be glory…forever and ever: This final exclamation is emphatic – to Him and Him alone the glory! It always was, is, and will be His. In the Body as well as the Head! “The song of praise, begun upon earth, and protracted through all the generations of men, shall be continued in heaven, by all that are redeemed from the earth” (Clarke). God is glorified in Christ and the church for all eternity. Amen means so be it

Paul shows us from both this prayer and the previous prayer (1.15-23) that prayer must be intensely theocentric (centered on God) and Trinitarian (include the whole Godhead). Father (14), Son (17, 19), and Holy Spirit (16) are all mentioned in this brief prayer. This prayer begins and ends with God (14, 19) and God is mentioned throughout. It might be worthwhile to determine what Paul does not pray for (sick, safe travel, freedom from persecution, etc.) contrasted with what he does pray for (spiritual strength by the Spirit, rooted in love, knowledge of Christ’s love for His saints, etc.)

Rejoicing in Prayer to God

After the customary introduction (verses 1-2), Paul begins to pour forth a description of his prayer life (1.3-11).

The Joy of Praise (1.3-6)

Paul explains how partnership in the gospel of grace produced thanksgiving in his prayers.

3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

I thank my God…of you: characteristic of all of Paul’s epistles (except Galatians, 1 Timothy, & Titus) Paul begins with thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is especially warm and earnest since no could of doubt darkened the apostle’s confidence in the Philippians. Paul could have remembered Philippi for the hostility faced there (beating and imprisonment); perhaps that is on his mind too. But in spite of that, he offers thanks (Gk eucharisto, gratitude for blessings and benefits) to God upon every memory of the Philippian church.

4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

Always in every prayer of mine for you all: prayer is literally “supplication” (Gk deesei) which carries the meaning of petition, entreaty, or request. Thus, every time Paul hits his knees to make petition to God he always remembers his Philippian brethren. Note the repetition of “all” with “you” throughout the letter; Paul is declaring his love for all of these brethren, refusing to recognize any divisions which may exist among these Christians.

Making my prayer with joy: Joy is a key word in this epistle. Suffice to say that making petition to God is a joy to Paul. It causes his heart to dance.

Note: Paul’s supplications are continual (present tense participle and “always”) and comprehensive (“for you all” embraces the whole fellowship).

5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Because of your partnership in the gospel: here is the reason for Paul constantly thanking and petitioning God—the fellowship (Gk koinonia, a sharing of common objects) of Philippian church in the gospel. Their faith in Christ (which would bring them into fellowship with God, Christ, the whole Christian church including Paul) manifested itself and was embodied in their generous contribution to the apostolic ministry of Paul. As the “real circumcision” (3.3) they knew the what counted was “faith working through love” (cf. Gal 5.6).

From the first day until now: cf. 4.15, “in the beginning of the gospel.” Since the establishment of the church in Philippi (when they first put their faith in Christ) they have been willing to contribute to Paul’s work. Faith prompted action right from the first.

6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And I am sure of this: perfect tense participle—Paul came to know and continues to know

That He who began a good work in you: God is “He who began” this “good work.” “Began” is an aorist tense verb (snapshot) pointing these Christians back to the very beginning of their Christian life: baptism. It is at baptism that God begins the good work of redemption.

Will bring it…Jesus Christ: In view here is the day of judgment, that final day. It is on that day when God finishes the good work of human redemption. This brings into view the scope of God’s good work: it is not individualistic but holistic. “Each brick in the wall only then attains its destination and goal, and fulfils its purpose, when the whole building has been completed and is dedicated” (Muller 42).

The Joy of Passion (1.7-8)

The Philippians’ partaking of the grace of God with Paul promoted powerful feelings in him.

7It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

It is right…in my heart: the confidence that Paul experiences (v.5) is founded upon good reason. “I hold (or have) you in my heart” is idiomatic of Paul’s affection for this church based on his “feeling” (or lit. concern) for these brethren.

For you are all partakers with me of grace: Lit. the Philippians (every last one of them) are “joint-fellowshipers” in God’s grace with Paul through their sympathy and support.

Both…of the gospel: whether in prison or proclamation, the Philippians were (seemingly) right there with Paul even though they were separated by time and space (“Pauline paradox”).

8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

For God is my witness:Let God take the witness stand and testify to this fact. Almost as though he can’t find words to express his affection for these brethren so he calls on He who knows the hearts of all men and is the righteous Judge to testify to how he feels.

How I yearn for you all: Paul has a love for all of these brethren (every last one).

With the affection of Christ Jesus: or the “tender-mercies” – lit. the inward parts. The viscera or inward ward parts were considered the seat of emotional life. “He is so united with Christ that he feels with the heart of Christ, he loves with the love of Christ” (Pulpit Commentary 3). “Paul was willing to suffer for them as Jesus had suffered for them” (Lipscomb 160).  He desperately desired to see Christ formed more fully in them—so he prays.

The Joy of Petition (1.9-11)

The following is prayer to the God of glory poured out of Paul for the Philippian’s love, knowledge, discernment, and righteousness so that they be more Christ-like.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

And this is my prayer: Gk. proseuchomai, the common word for prayer (speaking to God). The present tense indicates this was Paul’s habitual practice in prayer, his continual prayer.

That your love may abound more and more: Even as Paul’s love abounds. Love is objective—it is the overarching desire to see Christ in others. They presently have this; Paul wants that desire to overflow from these brethren all the more. Literally, Paul wants their love to Christ, His church, one another, and the lost to keep on overflowing, “a perpetual flood of love.”

With knowledge and all discernment: lit. in full knowledge (Gk. epignosis) and all (spiritual) perception, the latter of which can be cultivated (see Heb 5.14). The word used for “knowledge” is stronger than the usual word for knowledge (Gk gnosis) and denotes a deeper, more advanced knowledge of God and His ways which comes from Christ (cf. Col 2.3), Who fills us with it (cf. Col 1.9). “Discernment” has to do with (right) judgment and moral discrimination (NIV depth of insight) which will guard love. “The love of believers must accordingly be able to know rightly and to sense clearly and to distinguish correctly” (Muller 46). Why? Verse 10…

10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

So that you may approve what is excellent: involved in the idea of approval is to examine and test a thing to determine if it is good or worthwhile. Coupled with the notion of things which excel, Paul prays that the deep knowledge and spiritual perception involved in love will enable these Christians to distinguish between good and evil, but even more what is good, better, and best.

And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ: Present tense, continue to be pure and blameless. Pure (NKJV sincere) is literally “unmixed, unsullied” and is a rare word in the NT (only other usage is 2 Pt 3.1). Originally it meant to test something by the light of day—held up to the light the object would be seen to be pure, unstained, or clear. When held up to the light of the Son Christians ought to be unmixed and unsullied by the world having pursued that which is excellent. Adam Clark best explains blameless when he writes, “Neither offending God nor your neighbour (sic); neither being stumbled yourselves, nor the cause of stumbling to others.” The day of Christ is that Great Day when all shall be judged at the final coming of Christ.

11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Filled with…through Jesus Christ: “Filled” is a perfect passive participle—passive for it is God who fills and perfect tense means they were filled (past completed action) and continue to be full (present continuing results). These Christians were made full and stand full of the fruit of righteousness. “The fruit of righteousness is sanctification, which springs from justification, and manifests itself in holy living” (Caffin 4). Simultaneously in view is 1) that right standing before God attained for us through Christ and 2) the evidence of such relationship through morally upright living (a life empowered by Christ, see John 15.4-5).

To the glory and praise of God: everything that Paul prays for these Christians is aimed at this sole and solemn purpose: God’s glory and praise. Compare Jesus’ desire (John 15.8). God is honored and praised when Christians by His grace seek to live like Christ.