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.