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 & Suffering, part 1

Peter starts to close this epistle by beginning a final major emphasis he wants to impress on his readers: suffering. This section will carry the reader nearly to end of the book (3.8-5.11). Interwoven in this section on suffering is how God’s grace relates to it. These are Christian people who are suffering for doing good on Christ’s behalf, yet they are suffering. Peter puts them (and us) in mind of God’s grace when we are suffering.

Suffering for Doing Good (3.8-17)

Christians are blessed if they suffer for doing good & continue to live graciously toward all.

8Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

Finally, all of you: Some read finally as a summation of the material covered beginning in 2.11. Peter is summarizing and proceeding forward in to new material. All of you indicates this is address to whole Christian community. Peter uses five (5) adjectives to describe the church…

“All of you” who claim to be Christian, who claim Christ’s name for yourself. Thus, every Christian has an obligation to cultivate obedience in all five of these areas put forward. Obedience in each of the areas marked out by Peter here will promote peace in the local congregation and smooth relationships among church members. Though he does not repeat the word, the proper expression of each of these characteristics requires submission – the theme Peter has expounded on as primary for Christians (2.13, 17; 3.1). Unwillingness to submit ourselves to one another will result in failure to manifest each of these characteristics.

Have unity of mind: Gk homophrones (unique in NT). Lit. “same-minded.” Like minded. This is a characteristic which would bring “harmony” (NIV) to the church & family.

Sympathy: Gk sumpatheis. (unique in NT) This is feeling with others in their joy, sorrow, & needs.

Brotherly love: Gk philadelphoi. (unique in NT) Brother-lovers, i.e. love for fellow Christians.

A tender heart: Gk eusplagchnoi. Cf. Ephesians 4.32. The distress & affliction of others should touch a Christian’s heart. As is sung, “His heart is touched with my pain.”

A humble mind: As opposed to a proud heart. Attitude & outlook should be humble.

Each characteristic is elsewhere enjoined on Christians in Scripture:

  1. Unity of mind: Romans 15.5; Philippians 2.1-2
  2. Sympathy: Romans 12.15
  3. Brotherly Love: John 13.34-35; Hebrews 13.1 [this is the lynch pin which holds these together]
  4. Tender-heartedness: Ephesians 4.32
  5. Humble-Mindedness: Philippians 2.3-4

These are the backbone to healthy relationships among brothers & sisters, yes, even a healthy church. Where these are absent, division, bitterness, & hard-heartedness abound. When these characteristics are absent from the church, repayment of evil rears its ugly, sinful head. So v.9…

9Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

Do not…reviling: Evil is all-around bad behavior, bad actions, even abusive actions. Reviling is focused on the slander which is spoken; abusive & harmful speech. This injunction or a similar form of it is all over the New Testament (Romans 12.17; 1 Thessalonians 5.15).  Of course, Christ is the example of this (2.23).

As Acappella sang: “Don’t be talking ‘bout friends when they’re not around,/ Don’t be cuttin’ their hearts and puttin’ them down,/ Don’t be temptin’ the Lord and makin’ Him frown,/ Don’t be talkin’ ‘bout friends when they’re not around.” Beyond words are our actions, which typically speak louder than words. The flesh desires to get people back. If someone has slighted us, our flesh wants to slight them back. It does not have to be to a greater degree (though if we can get them back more, great!); it could be to a lesser degree. Someone did something untoward to you & now you ignore them. Maybe they wave at you across a room but you just turn your head & ignore them like they don’t exist. Is this not repaying evil for evil? Treating a fellow creature of the Creator as if they do not exist is bad enough; how much worse is it when they are your brother or sister!

But…bless: On the contrary is an emphatic contrast. It is not merely enough to not repay evil; we must invest goodness. Once again, Christ is our example. His teaching (Luke 6.28-29) & life are a testimony to returning good for evil. Following His example, Christians desire God to show grace to those who have caused them to suffer.

“Bless,” says Peter. “When reviled, we bless,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 4.12). And this is not the tepid and usually sarcasm filled “God bless” or “Jesus loves you” which is plastic and phony. Can we imagine Peter or Paul ejaculating a fake “God bless”? Can you imagine Paul or Peter spitting out “Jesus loves you” through gritted teeth? No, this is calling upon God to show those who have injured or insulted us His grace & favor. And to really mean it! And bless not merely in word or talk, but in deed and in truth. Let your actions bless those who revile you and persecute you. “Do good to those who hate you.” This is profoundly personal. One personal was to do good to someone which will also adjust your attitude toward them so you might move past how they hurt you is to pray for them. Talk to the Father about them & speak of them to Him.

  1. Send an encouragement note, appreciation card, thank you note
  2. Speak a kind word of appreciation
  3. Visit them when they get sick

For to this…a blessing: Christians have been called to emulate Christ in returning evil for good. The purpose of this is to obtain a blessing. Most commentators say the blessing is eternal life since the text Peter quotes from in v.10-12 mentions “life.” The blessing is ambiguous , though, and no doubt includes present blessings in this life. God blesses godly behavior now & in the life to come.

10For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;

Psalm 34.9 is an exhortation to “fear YHWH.” Peter has already exhorted his readers to “fear God” (2.17). Psalm 34.11 tells us these verses which Peter quotes (v.12-16) are instruction concerning the fear of YHWH. Just existing is not life. “Life is real! Life is earnest!” Living well (& dying well) eludes many because it abides in the realm of living for God. Many people can live a long life (70 or by reason 80); but to live a full, happy life begins with, continues in, and ends in the fear of God.

For…good days: For (gar) links this to v.9. Peter quotes Psalm 34.12-16 to make his point. The quote is from the Septuagint with the second person changed to third person. The blessings (love life and see good days) are for this present life, strengthening the argument that the blessing in v.9 is for the present life. Love life speaks to enjoying life (present & eternal). Good days is a way of speaking of God’s favor in the life of the faithful person. Basically, this is a full & beneficial life.

Let him…deceit: The keys to this kind of blessing are two-fold: controlling the mouth (v.9b) & seeking goodness (v.10).  Controlling the tongue includes abstaining from evil speech, especially deceit (cf. 2.1). Truly a heart & mind free from evil intentions (v.9) would have a mouth free of evil.

James tells us that “no one can tame the tongue” & it is “full of deadly poison” (James 3.8). Jesus tells us we will give account for every word – thoughtful or thoughtless – we utter & our words will justify or condemn us (Matthew 12.36-37). No wonder Peter, quoting David, exhorts us to cease from speaking evil & deceit. A happy life is interrupted by evil speech & deception. Indeed, life with God is interrupted when our lips are full of evil.

11let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

Let him…do good: Like Job (1.1), the Christian is to stay away from evil actions & behaviors. Rather, Christians are to a be an active, positive force in society following the example of Christ who “went about doing good” (Acts 10.38).

Evil is close at hand, nor far from each one of us, desiring to have us. All evil is to be shunned, avoided, turned away from. Evil companions, evil words, evil works, evil thoughts, evil people, every appearance of evil is to be abandoned.

“Do good” is Peter’s two word exhortation for how Christians are to live. This exhortation is all over this epistle: 2.12, 14, 15, 20; 3.6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17; 4.19. It is juxtaposed with doing evil: 3.9, 12, 17; 4.3-5. Of course, the motivation for doing good is that “the Lord is good” (2.3). He is the source & reason for any goodness from us.

Let him…pursue it: Seeking peace would involve the desire to be at peace in one’s spirit knowing that one is right with God as well as peace with fellow man. Pursue denotes intense effort exerted to chase down a thing, in this case peace. There is diligence & eagerness involved in the quest for peace.

12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

For…[the] righteous: Or “The Lord’s eyes are on those who are righteous.” The all-seeing eye of God is a theme prevalent in the Bible (e.g. 2 Chronicles 16.9; Zechariah 4.10). It denotes His omniscience. He sees all & knows all. It echoes what Jesus promised in Matthew 28.20.

What comfort to know that God is watching you. When you suffer, He knows. When you hurt, He knows. When you resist temptation, He sees. As we strive for a godly, holy life, He sees & knows and is there to provide for us when we cry out to Him (see Psalm 34.17-18).

At the same time, what a fearful thing to know that God is watching. When you gossip about someone, He knows. When you tear someone down, He sees. When you think unholy thoughts, He knows. Let us avoid these practices lest we sow a habit of sin and incur God’s displeasure so that He turns away and turns against us.

His ears are open to their prayer: What a marvelous blessing which accompanies a life lived to honor & glorify God—He hears our prayers. See Psalm 34.17. For Christians suffering persecution this is a much needed assurance that God’s ear is open to their plea for help.

But…do evil: A regular theme in the Bible is that God sets His face against ungodly people for their wicked behavior (Leviticus 26.14-17; Jeremiah 21.10; Ezekiel 15.7). It is judgment language. The rest of the verse in Psalm 34 says God will “cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

13Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

Now…what is good? A possible Old Testament allusion (cf. Proverbs 16.7; Isaiah 50.9). Certainly this question is rhetorical anticipating the answer “no one.” But this was not these Christians’ experience. No doubt they already were deeply committed to the One who is good & doing what is good. Yet they were suffering injury & hurt for their devotion to goodness.

It’s embarrassing to talk about suffering in an American context when we really do not know persecution like the 1st century church. We are actually the proof of this proverb: no one harms you if you eager to do good. However, these Christians in Asia must have thrown their hands up & rolled their eyes while uttering an exasperated “Really, Peter?!”

14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,

But…you will be blessed: Peter has Jesus’ voice ringing in his ears (cf. Matthew 5.10). But (Gk all’) introduces the potential scenario. Righteousness seems equivalent with “zealous for what is good” in v.13. If you should suffer is in the rare optative mood, a form used if the possibility was unlikely. Yet even if such should happen or even is happening in Asia Minor, those who experience such persecution are blessed. Hence, no harm can really befall the Christian since God blesses (He sees & hears, v.12; cf. Psalm 34.15).

Knowing that these Christians are suffering for the sake of righteousness, Peter reminds them of the eighth beatitude Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. For the coming increase in persecution he wanted them ready to face it. The bliss of God belongs to those suffer for being a Christian.

Have no fear…troubled: Quoted from Isaiah 8.12. The context in Isaiah is preparation for the coming Assyrian invasion. Here the context is assurance during & preparation for persecution. Lit. do not fear what they fear. Also, though different, Peter no doubt has in mind the words of Christ: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Fearless & courageous living is what Peter calls these Christians to be. Christians are not to fear impending circumstances or threatening opponents.

Christians are not to fear what the world fears. We do not fear ISIS or Russia or Saudi Arabia. We do not fear the creeping infringement of our rights by the government. We are fearless while the world is fearful. We are courageous while the world is cowardly. Why? Back in Isaiah (8.12-13), he was not to fear the advancing armies of a foreign foe; he (and we) are to fear YHWH, leader of angelic armies of heaven. By quoting that text in relation to Christ he puts Jesus on the same as YHWH, rightly so. Christ the Lord is God & it is Him we reverence though the world retreat.

Should the whole world turn against & Christianity be illegal (as it has been in years long past), we will not fear their threats by which they seek to instill fear in us. We will not fear their attempted fear inducing slander or hate-speech. We will not be emotionally or psychologically shaken or disturbed. While it shouldn’t be that we suffer for good (v.13), even if does happen we will trust Christ, come what may.

15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

But…as holy: Peter continues the quote from Isaiah 8 but makes a significant change: whereas in Isaiah the one to be revered as holy was YHWH, that same reverence is now to be rendered to Christ who is the Lord (even YHWH, thus Christ is God). This is a typical move in the NT: Christ deserves the same honor & reverence as YHWH. No doubt Peter intends for his readers to “let Him be your fear and let Him be your dread” (Isaiah 8.13b). Peter wants his readers to fear Christ and fear no other. How? By having & holding the Holy One in their hearts.

Always being…in you: Christ in us is the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27), that is, anticipation of resurrection & eternal life. Christians ought to be in a state of readiness to make a defense (Gk apologian), i.e. a verbal response & answer. Asks is actually more of an urgent, even demanding request for explanation. Anyone is any person who sees Jesus in us but does not know Christ. All of this indicates that people ought to be able to see Christian hope on display in the lives of Christians.

Yet…respect: When Christians offer a word of explanation for the hope in them, it must be with gentleness & respect. Gentleness is how we are treat our fellow man. It requires humility. Respect (Gk phobou) is our attitude toward God. We hold Him in reverence. Christians who fear God & walk humbly before Him & others will treat people the way they want to be treated—with dignity & understanding. Proper perspective of God will enable Christians to respond properly to non-believers.

This is a key text for our evangelistic efforts. Four factors for evangelism – 1 Peter 3.15

  1. The Sanctified/Holy Factor – “sanctify Christ in your hearts as holy”

First, what Christians need to do before they engage anyone in rational, religious discussion: “set apart Christ in your hearts as Lord.” If we do not do this first, we have no business telling others (denominational or otherwise) about Christ the Lord “who can change your life.” Unless He has changed our life first, we hamstring any (every?) effort we may attempt in reaching out to anyone. That is why Christ is set apart “in your hearts.” The heart is the source of our behavior (cf. 1.22; 3.4). Everything we do comes from the heart. The inner self cannot be separated from the outward person. This is why we must be holy as He is holy inside & out.

  1. The Preparation Factor – “always be prepared”

Second, if we would engage anyone (denominational person or non-believer), we had better “always be prepared to make a defense.” Christianity is not a “blind leap.” Instead, it is based on historical facts, “evidence which demands a verdict” (as Josh McDowell puts it). So we need to arm ourselves with these facts which bolster our faith. By the way, these facts are contained in our NTs: the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as well as the emergence of the 1st century church. Now this can go as shallow or as deep as you want to take it. But the point remains: Christians are a prepared people who can “give an answer” or “make a defense.” While not every Christian need be a skilled apologist (a la Josh McDowell or William Lane Craig), every Christian should have a firm grasp of the essentials & why Christianity is true.

  1. The Obvious Factor – “to everyone who asks you about the hope”

Third, it should be so obvious that we are a Christian, that people are asking about our faith. “…be prepared to make a defense to anyone who ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” One author calls this “permission evangelism.” People want to know what makes you different. And if you live differently than the world (a key tenent of the Christian faith, btw), people will take notice. Specifically, this is related to our “hope,” that is, our anticipation & expectation that “every little gon’ be alright” and even now is being made right through us & how we respond to circumstances. Ask yourself this: if being a Christian were against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If not, something is wrong. Not only that, don’t bet on anyone asking you about your “hope”; chances are you may not have any!

  1. The Attitude/Gentle Factor – “with gentleness and respect”

Fourth, when someone asks you (and they will), give your answer/make your defense “with gentleness and respect.” There’s no need to beat someone to death with the doctrine stick; most people, however, respond very well when we approach them with the mentality that we’re all trying to find the truth and it is contained in the Bible, which is God’s word. Together, let’s see if we can find it. That’s gentleness – not compromising (since we are pointing them right back to the Bible). But also, understand that this person is coming to the study/discussion with a lot of presuppositions. in other words, time, culture, and environment has affected the way this person views the world. Respect that, but also don’t be afraid to challenge them with what the Scriptures say. Great cross reference – 2 Cor 10.5: “we destroy arguments…take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Having a good conscience: conscience is the minds ability to distinguish between right and wrong. One maintains a good conscience when 1) one maintains clear views of what is good & bad and 2) one obeys the dictates of the conscience. In this evangelistic context, there is a right & wrong way to “make a defense” and one’s conscience is kept good when one seeks to do that which is right & avoid what is wrong in giving reasons for their inner hope.

So that…put to shame: cf. 2.11-12, 15. A good conscience is the result of good behavior in Christ. Slander is silenced and slanderers shamed when Christians live the Christian life well. The aim of shame is that those who slander & revile would themselves consider the gospel & believe.

Someone has said, “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.” Barclay calls the Christian life “the only unanswerable argument for Christianity” (274). Once more Peter is calling to live the life excellently. So excellently that “those who revile your good behavior in Christ” are ashamed they opened their mouths in the first place. The aim of shame is not shame in & of itself; the aim is that our enemies and persecutors are embarrassed they misunderstood Christian conduct, regret what they have done, repent & trust Christ.

17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

For it is better…than for doing evil: cf. 2.19-20; 4.15. It must be for doing good that a Christian suffer. If suffering is deserved for doing evil (e.g. the penalty for crime), it is not good or better; it is merely justice. But when suffering is unjust (i.e. for good Christian behavior) yet according to God’s will, it is superior, better, indeed, Christ-like (v.18).

If…God’s will: Lit. “If the will of God should will it.” If this happens in some instances (optative), strange though it may seem, when it happens, it is better to suffer for good rather than evil.  Cf. 1.6.

When we grumble and complain and accuse of injustice when we are caused to suffer, we spoil the whole thing. Instead, there are lessons in suffering; we rob ourselves of these by 1) avoiding suffering at all costs or 2) complaining about what we are suffering. Peter wants us to know what a “better” thing it is to suffer at the hands of evildoers for our doing good. In fact, it is most Christ-like.

Deliverance: The Prophet Runs to God (Jonah 2.2-10)

Throughout the first chapter, the word “cry/call out” (Heb. ûqĕrāʾ) was used several times (vs. 2, 6, 14) and will be used again later in Jonah (3.2, 4, 5, 8). It is a key word in Jonah. It denotes (1) Jonah’s mission to proclaim in Ninevah God’s message or (2) petitioning God or gods for special favors. Chapter two begins with Jonah crying out to Yahweh “his God” in prayer from the belly of the fish (2.1). His prayer, though, is not so much a petition for deliverance as much as it is a prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh for hearing his prayer and saving him from calamity.

The prayer begins (2.2) with a definite affirmation that Yahweh “answered” and “heard” Jonah’s prayer. Jonah describes his situation as “distress” in “the belly of Sheol.” Later in the prayer he says that Yahweh his God “brought up my life from the pit” (v.6). In this way Jonah is acknowledging that had it not been for the power and grace of Yahweh, he would be as good as dead. It is as if he has come back from the dead, from sheol, i.e. the unseen realm of the dead. But Yahweh heard and answered his prayer and so Jonah was saved.

Jonah leaves no doubt about his fate had Yahweh not intervened. He faced certain death and he uses several images to describe it. Though it was the mariners who throw Jonah overboard, he recognizes that they were merely the instruments of divine judgment when he says, “you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas” (3a). Once in the waters Jonah was overwhelmed by “the flood…your waves and your billows” (3b). He is so deep in the sea that it is as if Yahweh cannot see him (4a, “I am driven from your sight”). Jonah laments that he will “never again see your holy temple” (4b, NET).[1] His life was threatened when “the waters closed in over” him (5). Down and down he went into “the deep” (5), to “the roots of the mountains,” even to “the land whose bars closed upon me forever” which is language used to describe the subterranean fort of sheol (5b-6).[2] Thus, his life was “fainting away” (7). That is, he was drowning. Taken together this is a description of a man who was doomed to die.

As death crept over him was when Yahweh came to save him. Jonah “remembered Yahweh” (7), implying up to that point he had forgotten Yahweh. To remember God is to repent of having forgotten Him. So with repentance Jonah sought Yahweh in prayer and he was heard. Jonah says his prayer came to Yahweh in His holy temple (4). This is the language of sacrifice. It is as if Jonah pictures his prayer as the sweet aroma of an offering wafted not necessarily to Jerusalem, but into the sacred temple in heaven, into the presence of Yahweh.

The chapter concludes (2.10) with the word of Yahweh coming to the fish that had swallowed Jonah. Yahweh “spoke” to His instrument of salvation and it responded with obedience. This is still another instance of God’s sovereign control over His creation. Jonah is “vomited” out onto dry ground. While graphic the translation is accurate. Thus concludes the miracle of the great fish.

[1] While most English translations favor a vocalized reading of ’kh (ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASV, et al), both internal and external evidence favors the reading found in the NET (cf. RSV, NRSV). First, the surrounding context (3-6) is Jonah lamenting his plight in the deep. A declaration of confidence in seeing the temple once again simply does not fit this motif. Second, both the Septuagint (LXX) and the Dead Sea Scrolls read this in agreement with the NRSV as a rhetorical question anticipating a negative response: “Shall I indeed look again toward your holy temple?” It is the wistful plea of a man wondering if he will live or die.

[2] Sheol is said to have “gates” (Isa 38.10) and “bars” (Job 17.16), hence the fortress language.

Practical Atheism – Psalm 10

Statisticians have long been forecasting the rise of secularism in America. George Barna in his book The Seven Faith Tribes sets the number of Spiritual Skeptics at 11% – atheists (9%) and agnostics (2%) (99). When one factors in the number of “nons” you end up closer to 1 in 5 or 20% of the American population being somewhat skeptical of God, the Bible, & religion in general. All of these numbers are figures which have nearly doubled in size in the past 25 years. The 24 hour media cycle does not help. Every moment there is more bad news. Turmoil & tumult are the order of the day. It appears that evil is winning. Satan’s kingdom is advancing. What can the righteous do? Enter Psalm 10. The message of this Psalm is simple: Though it seems like evil wins in this world, God ultimately wins. What do we do when evil is winning? Psalm 10 provides insight concerning what we do in troubled times.

The Perplexity of Theism

1Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Why is God Silent? Verse 1, why is God far off and hidden? We are inclined to think that 1) if we are God’s people, He would never allow us to fall into the hands of our enemies or 2) if we are oppressed by evil men, God will be quick to rescue. However, the psalmist’s own experience does not bear this out. Surely you can identify with this to some degree. There is the creeping influence of secularism with the growing acceptance of ungodly practices; there is the threat of radical, militant Islam which largely goes unchecked though they broadcast their violent videos; maybe in your own life you have experienced some kind of oppression from evil people. Where is God in all of this? Why does He tolerate it?

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

Why Be an Atheist? Verse 13, why do the wicked renounce God? And they do! 1) They deny there is a God (v.4); 2) They deny God sees their actions (v.11); 3) They deny God will judge them (13). Even today there are many who a) reject God & Christianity outright or b) claim the name of Christ while living their life as though He does not exist, what one writer calls “Christian Atheism.” Why would anyone exchange the safe shores of sanity which is theism for the roaring waves of insanity which is atheism, practical, Christian, or otherwise? Well, verses 2-11 will serve to explain why many choose this course.

The Practice of Atheism (2-11)

Contained in these vs. is a lengthy picture of human wickedness & as terrify as any found in all the Bible.

2In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

3For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

4In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Pride (2-4): One reason people choose atheism is pride. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him,” i.e. God. Arrogance births & nourishes godlessness. The arrogant, prideful boaster shows contempt for God and for his fellow man, seeking to create & devour the permanent underclass (“pursue the poor”), exploiting & crushing the weak in their greed.

5His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

Prosperity (5): Herein lies the rub – the godly might expect God to strike down the practical atheist. Instead, though, “His ways prosper at all times.” In fact, his prosperity makes his continued atheism possible. The practical atheist 1) has no need for God’s moral code (“judgments” or “laws”), they are “out of his sight” & 2) he makes fun of us for upholding God’s standard of conduct (he “makes fun of his enemies”). So worldly wisdom says, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world; survival of the fittest; God won’t help you.”

6He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

Protection (6): The phrase “he says in his heart” is key – this is the language of self-deception (cf. Psa 14.1). His pride & prosperity have so deceived the practical atheist that he believes he is guaranteed security. He’ll never be moved nor will adversity come his way. Not even God Himself can touch him!

A vivid illustration of this happened during WWII. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was shot at & nearly killed. He laughed it off: “The bullet has never been made that can kill me.”

7His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

Profanity (7): This is vile, destructive language; wicked words. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” says the Lord. See Matthew 12.34-37. Our language matters to God. But if you don’t believe in God or believe He will hold you accountable, well, you will say whatever you please.

8He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

9he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

10The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.

11He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Persecution (8-11): Three images are employed to paint the vivid picture of the practical atheist’s violence: an assassin, a lion, & a hunter. The parallel between all three is that all stalk their prey, hiding in wait for their victim.

The practical atheist does all this under the self-deluded idea that “God has forgotten…He will never see.” This is a very bad, wicked person.

The Prayer of Theists (12-18)

As NT Christians, we would expect “Love your enemy” or pray for them. Even under the Law, “Love your neighbor.” However, that is not the chord struck by the Psalmist at all…

12Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Do Something! (12): Don’t just stand there…do something! Do not sit on your hands… “Arise…lift up your hand!” Talk about coming boldly to the throne of grace! Lift up your hand and take vengeance, which is God’s alone.

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

14But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Don’t Let Them Get Away With This! (13-15): “The Way of the Wicked Will Perish,” cf. Psa 1.6. Verse 13, they think they are getting away with it. “There’s no judgment, no hell.” This side of Calvary Peter ran into similar thinking, 2 Pet 3.1ff. There’s the New Testament update. There is a God who will judge the world. Verse 14, and God does see & while put to right all wrongs. God sees the schemes of the oppressors and the grief of those oppressed. Verse 15, the arm was the symbol of strength. So break his strength, take away his ability to do evil. Don’t let him get away with it!

16The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.

17O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

18to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

YHWH is King (16-18): When evil is winning, and sometimes that happens, always keep in mind that YHWH still rules over all. No one will ever dethrone Him. Further, the weak ones have His ear; He inclines His ear to hear the oppressed. God has had the sovereignty & will always rule.

The bottom line is God is faithful, cf. Habakkuk 3.17-19. It is Habakkuk who also uttered, “The just shall live by faith” which is quoted all over the New Testament. Yes, when surrounded by ungodliness & godlessness, when all the news is of oppression & violence, the just must live by faith; faith in a faithful God who ultimately wins.

Grow for War Against Darkness

Since the beginning of recorded history, only 8% of that time has been peace time. In 3,100 yrs., only 286 have been warless and 8,000 treaties have been broken. What is intriguing to me is that in nearly 2,000 yrs. of church history, there has never been a single year where there has been peace between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. There’s a war going on in the spiritual realm and every Christian is in it.

As Paul prepares to close this epistle, he makes a final grand & sweeping declaration of war (Ephesians 6.10-20). Christians are engaged in a war as old as time as the forces of light wage war against the forces of darkness. Nevertheless, God has equipped with everything we need to wage war victoriously. The Christian has been endued by God with strength and armor for battle.

Forces Against the Godly (10-12)

The war Christians wage is spiritual in nature, against the forces of darkness & evil.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Finally: Having laid out the doctrines & duties of Christianity, Paul has one more admonition…

Be strong in the Lord: Lit. be strengthened by the Lord. Christians are empowered constantly by the Lord. The Lord does the strengthening; He makes us powerful. There is no other source which can provide the Christian with the strength he/she needs to live in this world. Cf. 3.16

In the strength of His might: This is God’s might and by faith it becomes ours. To be strengthened is our duty; to be weak is our sin. In a single verse, Paul uses three (3) different words for power. While each has a subtle distinction, the message is that God’s power enables Christians.

There’s a war going on and only the Lord can provide us with the help, the strength we need to be victorious. Depending upon our power, our own strength will have disastrous results.

11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Put on the whole armor of God: Put on as we would the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13.14), perhaps eluding to baptism (aorist). The whole armor (Gk panoplian) will be listed in detail (v.14-17) and every piece is vital. God is the One who supplies & provides the Christian with this armor.

That you…the devil: the schemes (Gk methodeias) or “wiles” of the devil are the various tricks the our great enemy will use to deceive us unto sin. Elsewhere Paul says we know his tricks (2 Cor 2.11) and here he says we stand against or face off on the battlefield of life with him.

Put on your armor because life is a battlefield (not soft with ease; hard conflict with foes within and without); put on your whole armor, you need every piece for protection. Why? Because we have a cunning, cleaver enemy, an artful adversary who wants to mount our heads above his mantle in the high halls of hell! He will use all his stratagem and tactics, every trick in his book to get us. But clothed in the armor of God, we can stand against his attempts.

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

For…flesh and blood: “flesh and blood” (reverse order in Gk.) is a Hebraism for men or human beings. This denotes the weakness of men and points to the strength of these real, spiritual enemies. In antiquity, wrestling was a contest in which opponents tried to throw/hurl the other to the ground and victory came when one could hold the other down by the neck.

“Wrestle” is found nowhere else in the NT. This description of the Christian is unique. These spiritual forces of darkness have not gone away. These are the minions of Satan who assail the Christian, trying to pin us down to the ground by the throat. This is life and death. They want to take you down and choke you out! Cf. Matt 13.7, 22. These are still active and are a constant threat to the believer. Neutrality is not an option for the child of God.

But…the present darkness: cf. 1.21; 3.10. While some scholars attempt to make a distinction between each of these classes, New Testament usage does not lend itself to noting significant distinctions between these forces and powers. Only cosmic powers is new here. This was a title applied to pagan gods (Patzia 286) but here seems to be a special designation for the devil & special forces of his. Their power is limited to this present darkness, i.e. this world.

Against…heavenly places: The spiritual forces of evil is a comprehensive way of speaking of the Christians foes. While there is no place in the world where their influence is not found, our battle is waged in the heavenly places where we are seated with Christ (2.6).

Full Armor of God (13-20)

The Christian has access to the panoply of God as well as the ear of the Father in prayer.

13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Therefore: Since we have so great a host of foes who seek our destruction…

Take up…of God: In v.11, it was “put on;” now it is “pick up” the armor God provides. Neglecting the armor of God will leave us vulnerable and open to attack from the evil forces.

That you…to stand firm: Our active resistance to the spiritual forces of darkness (withstand) is dependent upon our wearing God’s armor. Concerning the evil day, “any day the evil one comes upon us in force is an evil day.” Having done all means having conquered or overcome.

Most commentators say that Paul’s mind was stimulated by his daily encounters with Roman soldiers to whom he was chained. Morris is typical: “Day by day the apostle, at this time of his confinement (see on v.20), was in all probability chained to a Roman soldier. His mind must often have turned from the thought of the soldier of Rome to the soldier of Jesus Christ, and from the soldier to whom he was bound to the heavenly warrior to whom his life was linked by more real, though invisible, bonds” (178). If that is the case, Paul used a contemporary figure to illustrate transcendent truths. I wonder what this would sound like if he used a modern-day figure…

  1. Belt:
  2. Breastplate: Put on the Kevlar vest of righteousness, bulletproof against the bullets of guilt, shame, and anger that sin shoots.
  3. Feet: put on the combat boots of the gospel of peace.
  4. Shield:
  5. Helmet: Take up enhanced high-strength polyethylene combat helmet of salvation.
  6. Sword: Pick up your M16A4 rifle which is the Word of God

14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

Stand therefore: v. 11, 13 (2); four (4) times Paul exhorts Christians to stand victoriously. “Stand against” (v.11), “withstand” (v.13), “stand firm” (v.13), “stand” (v.14) are all related by the same root. Gk antihisthemi, Eng. antihistamine; a histamine is an amine (C5H9N3) which is released from mast cells as part of an allergic reaction in humans. It stimulates gastric secretion, causes dilation of capillaries, constriction of bronchial smooth muscle, and decreased blood pressure. An antihistamine blocks these reactions. Paul pictures the devil as an allergen the Christian resists, stands against when in the armor of God.

Having…belt of truth: The belt which was tied around the waist would be the 1st item a soldier would put on. So truth (i.e. sincerity, integrity) even in “the inward parts” (Psa 51.6) is essential.

Having…breastplate of righteousness: cf. Isa 59.17. The breastplate protected the heart of the warrior. So the righteousness (i.e. right standing and actions) of God protects our heart from the guilt sin brings. The Christian is to belt and clothe himself in truth & righteousness (middle voice).

What stands out in the description of the armor is the tenses – all of them are aorist tense. These are definite actions which enable our standing (also aorist tense). We belt, clothe, and shoe ourselves with truth, righteousness, and the gospel.

15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

And, as shoes for your feet: “The Roman sandal was furnished with nails that gripped the ground firmly, even when it was sloping or slippery” (PC 259). Without shoes a soldier could not gain traction for the fight and stand against his foe.

Having put on the readiness: or “preparation” (NASB, NKJV). Readiness could mean the Christian soldier is prepared to march forward with the gospel. However, the context (“stand”) indicates that what is in view is firm footing for the conflict so the Christian is unmoved by the enemy.

Given by the gospel of peace: Even in the midst of war the Christian has peace in heart & life due to the gospel.

Ready in mind and willing to share the gospel with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Perhaps Paul has Isaiah 52.7 in mind when he writes these words. The message the Christian brings into this “holy war” is one of peace with and from God. Peace for those who are far off and near (2.17).

16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;

In all…shield of faith: In all circumstances or “above all.” The shield the Romans carried was 4 ft X 2½ ft, and was designed to protect the combatant fully. Faith (in God, Christ) is that shield which round about encompasses the Christian (Psalm 5.12).

With which…the evil one: Though Satan hurl the whole hoard of hell as flaming darts (common practice of antiquity in battle), by faith we extinguish them.

The metaphor here is one where thoughts or ideas “dart” into the mind which inflame lust, pride, anger, revenge, even guilt & shame or any other evil feelings. Should a fire-tipped dart hit the Christian, the danger is the flame spreads and consumes him. Eph 4.27. The painful experience of every Christian is when these kinds of thoughts and ideas suddenly enter our mind despite our efforts to keep them. In moments like these we are no doubt thankful for the shield of faith to quench those darts. By consciously focusing on the abiding presence of Christ, by remembering His love & sacrifice, by resting upon His grace, by recalling the promises found in Scripture, we can extinguish those fiery darts.

17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Take the helmet of salvation: Take may imply that these items are handed to the soldier after he has dressed for battle. The helmet protected the head of the Roman soldier. So salvation protects the mind of the Christian. Knowing God’s salvation is a blessing which guards the mind.

“Take” is what is called a middle voice verb which means the subject (in this case “you,” i.e. the Ephesians) is participating in the action directly or indirectly and yet the action is also upon the subject. So what that means is that the Ephesians receive or take hold what is being given to them by God. God gives the helmet/salvation and the sword/word; the Christian accepts them, receives them, takes hold of them.

The sword of the Spirit: The Roman had two different swords. The sword (Gk machairan) spoken of here was the short sword or dagger which was used in close combat. It is the same kind of sword Peter used in Gethsemane (Matthew 26.51-52). This is the only offensive weapon mentioned.

Don’t let anyone tell you the Spirit is the Word; the Spirit is God, the sword we yield is the word which is supplied by the Spirit. The Spirit inspired the Word (Bible) and when you put the sword in the Spirit’s hand (fill yourself up with God’s word and allow the indwelling Spirit to work), powerful things will happen in your life.

Which is the word of God: The word (Gk rhêma) is a single unit in a discourse (i.e. a quote) or a spoken word or saying.

Connect this spoken “word” with what Jesus does in Matthew 4: when tempted He said, “It is written…” and then shared a quote from Deuteronomy 6 or 8. They are just brief quotations but sufficient for the occasion. Here Jesus is showing us how to wield the dagger of the Spirit. See we sometimes make the mistake that what is needful is to memorize huge chunks of Scripture; what is sufficient and all that you need is a short saying. We need not think on the big scale when memorizing Scripture; if you can great! But we do need the dagger, the short saying and it is enough. Jesus shows us that.

18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Praying…in [the] Spirit: There is debate about whether prayer is the final piece of armor. Grammatically, it is not or else keep alert would have to be also. However, properly using the armor in glorious battle requires a disposition of prayer at all times. In [the] Spirit speaks to the Spirit’s role as our helper in prayer (cf. Romans 8.26).

True prayer is spiritual (see Rom 8.15, 26; Jude 20). The Spirit is in us (1 Cor 3.16; 6.19, Eph 3.16: Acts 2.38) and He helps us. “The ordinary habit of the soul should be prayerful, realizing the presence of God and looking for his grace and guidance.”

With all prayer and supplication: Paul uses two different words for prayer (Gk proseuchês & deêseos). While each has it subtle meaning, Paul intends merely to emphasize prayer.

To that end…perseverance: Keep alert is a metaphor from staying awake & not falling asleep. The idea is a Christian is to make an effort to watch for potential threats. Coupled with perseverance the idea of intense constancy comes to the forefront.

Making supplication for all the saints: i.e. for all Christians. Christians ought to be mindful of the needs of other Christians and be constant in seeking God’s grace for them.

Prayer must be unceasing (“at all times”), intense (“keep alert with all perseverance”), and universal (“all the saints”). We cannot spend our entire lives in quiet with God, but we can & should live in continual communion with God through prayer.

Pray for all Christians. We should do this: (1) because they are our brethren – though they may have a different skin, language, or name. (2) because, like us, they have hearts prone to evil, and need, with us, the grace of God. (3) because nothing tends so much to make us love others and to forget their faults, as to pray for them. (4) because the condition of the church is always such that it greatly needs the grace of God. Many Christians have backslidden; many are cold or lukewarm; many are in error; many are conformed to the world; and we should pray that they may become more holy and may devote themselves more to God. (5) because each day many a Christian is subjected to some special temptation or trial, and though he may be unknown to us, yet our prayers may benefit him. (6) because each day and each night many Christians die. We may reflect each night as we lie down to rest, that while we sleep, some Christians are kept awake by the prospect of death, and are now passing through the dark valley; and each morning we may reflect that “today” some Christian will die, and we should remember them before God. (7) because we shall soon die, and it will be a comfort to us if we can remember then that we have often prayed for dying saints, and if we may feel that they are praying for us.

19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,

And also for me: The great apostle who was in constant prayer for the saints asks for their prays.

That words…the gospel: Of all the things Paul could request prayers for he seeks prayers for boldness in speaking the gospel to others. Paul employs a rabbinic phrase (Lit. in the opening of my mouth) to describe the gravity of his ministry. Due to his sober calling, Paul desired for God to give him words (Gk logos) in order to proclaim or “make known” (NKJV, NIV) the mystery of the gospel, i.e. Jews & Gentiles in one body reconciled to God (cf. 3.4-6).

Throughout this epistle, Paul’s emphasis on prayer has been instructive. Once again Paul realigns the prayer lives of the saints by seeking not freedom from prison or good health or safe travel or for the guards to be nice to him; he prays for boldness in speaking the gospel! When is the last time you heard someone pray that God would give us the words we need in order to speak the gospel with boldness?

20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

For which I…in chains: It was because of his preaching “the mystery of the gospel” that Paul was not in chains, i.e. in prison (3.1; 4.1). But even in prison he was an ambassador or a representative of a dignitary or ruling authority, in this case the King of kings. Some see a play on the idea of ambassadors who, during festive occasions, wore ornamental chains as a mark of prestige.

That I may…speak: Paul’s chief concern was not that his chains be loosed but that his tongue be loosed for the sake of the gospel. He seeks to take unto himself the confidence and freedom to speak that only God can give. He knows how he ought to speak and so the double request for boldness.

Do you know how you ought to speak? Paul tells us it should be confidence. Do you speak this way with folks about the gospel? If not, have you prayed for boldness? Herein lies another key to praying in the Spirit: it involves engaging God and going beyond our immediate concerns (i.e. prison). Also, we should note the use of plural nouns and verbs. In other words, prayer must be a church-wide emphasis – we pray for one another but also we get together regularly and often to pray about BIG things like our mutual need for boldness in evangelism. Remember the other things (health, travel, etc.), but keep the main thing the main thing.

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.)

Grow in the Will of God, part 2

Paul has just defined what the mystery of God is (3.6) and now turns his attention to his role in making known God’s mystery as “a minister.” He will also give special attention to the church’s cosmic role in relation to the mystery as well.

The Propagation of the Mystery (7-13)

The church is steward of the mystery and makes it known in both the physical & spiritual realms.

7Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

Of this gospel…gift of God’s graceMinister (Gk diakonos) is the word from which we get “deacon.” It was by grace that Paul was a servant of the mystery of the gospel.

It is still by the grace of God that we 1) have our current work for the kingdom & 2) carry out our ministry to the glory of God. The task to which Paul was called “needed no mere human strength and patience and power of endurance” (Foulkes 103). So too with us we need the power and grace of God in all our labor for the kingdom. Far too often we depend upon our own strength and power. What does that look like? Well, perhaps it shows up when we are grateful we survived another year of VBS without tearing off someone’s head. Is that really what we’ve been called to in the church? To survive? Or to thrive? And to actually enjoy comradery with one another as we rally around a common cause in a spirit of love. When we depend upon our own power, we merely survive thru church functions; when we rely upon the power of God, we thrive together being built up in love.

Which was…His power: “Paul gratefully acknowledged that all the power of his ministry was God’s, not his own” (PC 105). This is true both in the equipping for and the exercise of it (Col 1.29). “By the grace of God he was called and received as a servant of the gospel, and by the power of God he did all that was effective in that service” (Foulkes 103-104).

8To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

To me…grace was given: Paul makes a similar statement about his unworthiness in 2 Corinthians 12.11. Here Paul emphasizes all the saints, i.e. he is least in the church at large. This attitude is born out of his reflection upon the marvel of God’s grace working in his life.

There are too many Christians who view themselves as the greatest gift God gave His church. Barclay puts it like this, “The tragic fact in churches is that there are so many who are more concerned with their own honour and prestige than with the honour and prestige of Jesus Christ; and who are more concerned that they should be noticed than that Christ should be seen” (147). To which I say, “Please, hear Paul on this.” He calls himself the least which is not false deprecation. I believe he meant it and truly viewed himself as least. But when you really adopt the role of a servant and the mind of Christ, naturally (or supernaturally) you become least.

To preach…riches of Christ: Grace is not merely something to be received but to be shared with others and so Paul evangelized to the Gentiles with the glorious gospel of grace. The riches of God’s grace in Christ are unsearchable or “unfathomable” (NASB). That is, they are beyond comprehension and understanding. Yet Paul sought to search out the unsearchable. Cf. Job 5.9; 9.10.

9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

To bring to light…the mystery: In addition to his preaching, Paul was enlightening everyone (Jew & Gentile) to the plan (Gk oikonomia, same word as v.2) of God in the mystery. So Paul’s function is to explain how God has dispersed His grace to both Jews and Gentiles through Christ.

Hidden for ages…all things: The mystery had been kept secret for ages, inaccessible because it was in God. God’s role as Creator is mentioned to not only affirm the existence of God or deny Darwinian evolution, but to indicate God’s purpose was hidden during those past times from creation until the New Testament church age and prepares us for the next verse…

Textual Note: Some mss have “through Christ Jesus” at the end of this verse, however, many of the ancient mss do not have these words, though it is a Biblical concept (see Hebrews 1.2).

10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

So that through the church: Now Paul addresses the church’s glorious mission and role in the grand scheme of redemption. This is the purpose of the church now established through the gospel.

The manifold wisdom…made known: In the blood bought body of Christ God’s wisdom is manifested in a myriad of differing ways. God is putting His genius & intellect on display not only for men, but for…

To the rulers…in heavenly places:  Every created being is watching what God is doing in the church, being enlightened concerning His work in human redemption. While the church’s responsibility is to evangelize the world, the emphasis of this verse is on the spiritual relam. So God’s “master plan” has unfolded throughout this section: first, it was made known to Paul (v.3); then, it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (v.5); next, everyone was enlightened to the plan (v.9); finally, it was made known to the spiritual forces in the unseen heavenly realms (v.10). So Paul brings us full circle from where he started in 1.10: Christ uniting all things in heaven and on earth.

Some might ask, “Why wait?” Why did God wait until the NT times to reveal His master plan? Simply, to glorify Himself. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth has now focused on what God is doing through the church, uniting Jew & Gentile, all of them redeemed by the blood of Christ. But this work continues in history as God unites Sunni & Shiite Muslims, American capitalist & Chinese communist, slave & free, black & white, educated & illiterate, democrat & republican – all men into one holy body, the church. And the angels marvel. And the demons shudder. Because this God is so wise. Romans 11.33.

11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

According to the eternal purpose: Literally, this is the “purpose of the ages.” It answers to v.9 “hidden for ages;” though hidden, God was still in history working out His purpose and putting on display his “manifold wisdom.” “Behind all the events of this world’s history there is an eternal purpose being worked out” (Foulkes 106). This is the reason some suggest we call it His-story. All of human history was driving toward the glorious entrance of Christ. Since it is the eternal purpose, it extends from eternity before time began to eternity when time is no more.

In just a few brief words, Paul puts to bed whatever notions premillenialism has concerning the church being merely an afterthought, a Plan B, a parenthesis, an audible called at the line of scrimmage. Christ’s church has always been Plan A in the “eternal purpose” of God. According to Paul in Ephesians, God planned a work and worked His plan; God purposed a purpose and accomplished that purpose in Christ and the church. See Job 42.2. Maybe Left Behind left out that verse!

He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord: Jesus is the agent by which God “accomplished” (NIV) His eternal purpose. From eternity, God purposed that human redemption would be realized in the cross of Christ (cf. Rev 13.8). If the plan is both eternal and Christocentric, then Christ Himself is from eternity. Indeed, the three-fold name speaks to His eternality: Christ indicates his preexistence, Jesus points to His incarnation, & Lord shows His exalted position in the universe. This enhances our understanding of His work.

What an awesome love God has for His people that before He created time, He loved man. Knowing full well man would rupture that perfect relationship in the beginning and turn his back on God and fall helplessly into the hands of Satan, He loved us. And He loved us so much He devised to save us through Christ. However we say it, it is the greatest love story ever told.

12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

In Whom…with confidence: Here is a practical benefit of the eternal purpose of God: prayer. Lenski calls this the “crowning gift.” We have is indicative of the Christian’s present reality in addressing the Father. Though He is Almighty God whose purpose & plan encompasses time and eternity, heaven and earth, He is not aloof and far off, but we have His ear. Christ is our access to the Father (cf. 2.18). He is the reason we can have boldness (freedom to speak, even in intimidating circumstances) and confidence (the trust of being heard). There is no fear or shame for either Jew or Gentile to approach when they are in Christ.

Note that the word for “access” was a word used of the High Priest when we entered the Holy of Holies. So all Christians have what a scant few had under the Old Covenant: direct access to the holiest of all, even the throne room of God. This is the whole thrust of the epistle to the Hebrews, but see esp. 4.16 & 10.19.

Through our faith in Him: “Obedient trust in Christ is the condition upon which the blessings of boldness and confidence become reality” (Malone 47). In Christ “we have redemption through His blood” (1.7) and experience “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (2.7) which makes possible our access to the Father.

13So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

So I ask…for you: Implicit in this request of Paul to his readers is that they were becoming or had become discouraged because the apostle to the Gentiles was imprisoned for preaching the gospel to them (cf. 3.1). So Paul makes a heartfelt entreaty to them to realize that his suffering is to their gain. Note: Some see here a prayer of Paul to God for these brethren.

Think of all the brethren the world over who are suffering for the sake of the gospel. Imprisoned, beaten, tortured, etc. for Christ. Like Paul, they are prisoners and yet are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. What can we do? Lobby Washington to urge their release immediately? Sign petitions to be hand delivered to the respective ambassadors of the countries where these brethren are held? Pray for their release? Perhaps Paul could enlighten us: Eph 6.18-19. All Paul wanted from these brethren was that they pray that he would have boldness to speak when opportunity afforded itself.

Which is your glory: Paul’s suffering imprisonment for the Gentiles is the Gentile’s glory inasmuch as it shows 1) God’s immeasurable love for the Gentiles, & 2) enables Paul to rejoice in suffering for Christ (cf. Col 1.24). The Gentiles hear the gospel and Paul preaches Christ. Herein lies a glorious activity.

Grow in the Wisdom of God

Following the opening doxology (3-14), Paul launches into a prayer for his readers (15ff).  Like the doxology, this text is theocentric and Trinitarian, i.e. it is all about the Godhead.

Know His Purpose (15-18)

Paul prays for Christians to realize to what God has called them.

15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

For this reason: The ground upon which Paul predicates his prayer (v.16) is the wealth of the spiritual blessings lavished upon these Christians by the Father (3-6), the Son (7-11), and the Holy Spirit (12-14). Based on what God has done through, for, and in Christ he lifts his heart in prayer.

Because I have heard…all the saints: cf. Colossians 1.4. The language seems to indicate that Paul had never met these saints (unlike the Ephesians with whom he lived for three years). Perhaps a larger audience than the Ephesians was the intended target. Nevertheless, Paul had heard of the fruit of the faith. Perhaps someone like Epaphras or Tychicus brought him a report of the progress of their faith and love toward all the saints.  Or their “love toward God’s people as an outgrowth of their faith in Christ” (Patzia 165). The triad of faith, hope, and love appear here (v.12, 15, 18).

16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

I do not cease…for you: Paul was constant in his praise and thanksgiving for these brethren. Paul was frequently and regularly giving thanks for these Christians “love with faith” (6.23).

Remembering you in my prayers: Imagine the apostle Paul praying for you! He regularly made petition (Gk proseuchon) for these Christians to God. Specifically…

17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,

That the God…Father of glory: Two theological principles are found here in Paul’s prayer for these Christians. First, he addresses the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His human nature God is God of Jesus (see v.3). To us Jesus Christ is Lord. Further, Jesus reveals God as Father (see John 14-17). Second, he describes God as the Father of glory. That is, He is the Author or Source of glory. Following the Incarnation, the Father glorifies the Son (John 17.5).

Concerning God…Father Lenski says: “Both terms of this double designation pertain to the blessings which Paul requests for the Ephesians. Since God is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may freely ask of him, as Paul does, all that God has provided for us in our Lord Jesus Christ; and since he is the Father of the glory, we may freely ask him to help us to see and to realize this glory of his as it manifests itself in our exalted Lord for our salvation.”[1]

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937). 392-93.

May give you a spirit of wisdom: Like “a spirit of holiness” (Rom 1.4) or “a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6.1), this is a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit of wisdom. Apart from the Holy Spirit, there can be no distribution of wisdom and understanding. God…the Father will through the Holy Spirit give them spiritual wisdom…

And of revelation…of Him: some writers explain this as the capacity to apprehend the wisdom given by the Spirit (e.g. Blaikie 6). Most connect this verse with Colossians 1.9.  What is revealed is the [full] knowledge of Him (i.e. God). These Christians are to be marked by wisdom derived from God’s revelation of Himself.

Burton Coffman says, “There is still a need for Christians to pray that God will help them to understand the revelation of the sacred Scripture, because most of its marvelous teachings require more than a little application and serious study to be clearly understood.” We come to know God and are made wise unto salvation. We should pray that God continue to make known to us Himself by His word to us and through the Holy Spirit living in us.

18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Having the eyes…enlightened: This stand in contrast with being “darkened in their understanding” (4.18).  God does the enlightening (passive voice) and illumination occurred at the baptistery (perfect tense; cf. 1 Peter 2.9). We are the illuminated and God desires to illuminate all men (cf. 3.9, “making known”). “The eye is the instrument by which we see; and in like manner the understanding is that by which we perceive truth” (Barnes). Since this is the “heart” (sing.) of the body, we are talking about something spiritual, in the “inner being” (3.16). This enlightenment leads to knowledge of three (3) things…

That you may know…He has called you: Here is the first illuminated truth Paul desires for his readers to know: The Christian’s hope. These Christians possess the Holy Spirit as a guarantee(v.14) and are aware of God’s faithfulness. Thus, when He calls people to something, hope can be said to be “confident expectation.”  Paul wants these Christians to know the glorious enjoyment awaiting us in heaven.

What are the riches…in the saints: Here is the second illuminated truth: God’s rich inheritance. Paul prays that these Christians would have a deeper understanding of what it means to be God’s possession. As God’s heritage, walk in the wealth of His glory.

The church is a thinking community and should stand in stark contrast with our society which has largely stopped thinking. Failure to think breeds ignorance both in secular spheres and sacred. “The church should first of all be a community of thinkers – not thinking in distinction from action, but thinking as the basis for action. Ignorance is an ethical issue” (Snodgrass 88, emphasis original). We should have the reputation of people who think. Historically, this has been the case; presently, it should be. Further, we used to be known as “people of the Book.” We could give book, chapter, and verse for what we believe.  Are we still known by the moniker and if not why not?

Barnes says: The idea here is, that Paul not only wished their “hearts” to be right, but he wished their “understanding” to be right also. Religion has much to do in enlightening the mind. Indeed, its effect there is not less striking and decisive than it is on the heart. The understanding has been blinded by sin. The views which people entertain of themselves and of God are narrow and wrong. The understanding is enfeebled and perverted by the practice of sin. It is limited in its operations by the necessity of the case, and by the impossibility of fully comprehending the great truths which pertain to the divine administration. One of the first effects of true religion is on the understanding. It enlarges its views of truth; gives it more exalted conceptions of God; corrects its errors; raises it up toward the great Fountain of love. And nowhere is the effect of the true religion more apparent than in shedding light on the intellect of the world, and restoring the weak and perverted mind to a just view of the proportion of things, and to the true knowledge of God.

Know His Power (19-22)

Paul prays for Christians to know God’s unknowable power in Christ Who is head of all things.

19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

What is the immeasurable…us who believe: Here is the third illuminated truth: God’s limitless and unknowable power. God is omnipotent, possessing all power (see Isa 45.7). It is by that power that He 1) secured the means of redemption, 2) safeguards the Christian’s future reward, & 3) secured His eternal inheritance. This power is available exclusively to the Christian community (“us who believe”), i.e. the Church.

According to…His great might: lit. according to the energy of the power of His strength. Paul uses four (4) words to express God’s power. The emphasis here is that nothing is impossible for God, specifically in conjunction with the resurrection and exaltation of Christ…

“LITTLE do men imagine what power is necessary to effect the salvation of their souls.”[1] Paul prays these Ephesian Christians would know that power; it might as well be our prayer today. Oh that we could come to know the unknowable power of God – to save, sanctify, and glorify us! Teach us, Father!

The power Christians have is not intrinsic power, something they have in themselves, but a power that comes from God. [2] The resurrection of Jesus as well as His consequent exaltation to the right hand of God are demonstrations of that fantastic power. God’s power is manifested in the various parts of a Christian’s life:

  1. In the Beginning – at conversion. Remember, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation
  2. In progress – our sanctification. See 1 Peter 1.5
  3. In Glorification – Phil 3.21

When we know the excessive greatness of this power, nothing will ever disturb our hope. Other men also hope; alas, their hopes are built on air, there is no power to fulfill their hopes, to bestow that for which they hope.[3]

[1] Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 17: Galatians-Ephesians (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833). 283.

[2] Snodgrass 91.

[3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937). 397.

20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

That He worked…from the dead:  In the historical event of the resurrection of Christ God put His infinite might on display. The miraculous event included not merely the reanimation of the dead body, but the transforming of that body. That same power works in the Church.

Seated Him…the heavenly places: Paul continues by explaining that God’s “mighty strength” is on display not only in the resurrection of Christ, but in His exaltation to the right hand of God in the heavenly places. Cf. Psalm 110.1. “The right hand is the place of friendship, honor, confidence, and authority” (Clarke). Christ is exalted to a position of authority—from the tomb to the throne; from “a worm and not a man” to King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Psa 22.6; Rev 19.16).

21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Far above all…dominion: Jesus declared He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28.18). The general sense of this phrase is that Jesus has been exalted to the highest conceivable authority. While there is debate about whether Paul has earthly or ethereal governments here, since Jesus’ ascension was into the heavenly realms and thereby into the spiritual realms, it seems best to understand these generally as spiritual forces (cf. 2.2; 3.10; 6.12). Specifically, rule is one order of spiritual beings, authority  is another,  power another, and dominion still another. While some scholars attempt to make a distinction between each of these classes, New Testament usage does not lend itself to noting significant distinctions between these forces and powers. What is heightened and deepened is the universal lordship of Christ.

Above every name that is named: Scholars believe this is directly connected to the Ephesian cult practices. “This particular phrase is loaded with significance for exorcism and magical incantation both in Judaism and the pagan world…Supernatural ‘powers’ were called upon by name through these means [amulets, charms, or gems] by one who desired access to their power and assistance” (Arnold 54). Paul is emphatic—no conceivable spiritual force is beyond the sovereign domain of Christ. After all, He created them (Col 1.16).

Not only…the one to come: Jesus’ Name is above all names in this world and the one to come.

Special Study – Ghosts, Ghouls, & Other Ethereal Beings

I’ve been asked by several people – young and old – about ghosts and demons. I once took a call where for an hour this man explained that he was having demons run around his house. Young people are usually asking about ghosts. I once spent the afternoon with a member’s sister who was a medium – she could contact the dead and had been used by local law enforcement to track down dead bodies.

My initial advice to everybody: stay away from that stuff. There really are spiritual forces of darkness and last time I checked we’re at war with them (Eph 6.10ff). So stay away from Ouija boards, witchcraft, spells, dark arts, etc. Indeed, Isaiah 8.19. They are consulting something, but it isn’t a dead loved one. When a person dies, their soul goes to the hadean realm, i.e. the unseen realm of disembodied spirits. But if you knock on the devil’s door long enough, do be surprised at who answers!

Here’s the point: if Jesus is greater than the whole horde of the spirit realm, why would we pursue the lesser thing? Further, if Jesus has triumphed over these spiritual forces and we are in Christ, then what have we too fear? Spiritists, mediums, witches, and the like cannot lay a finger on the redeemed of God because we have Him who has been seated “far above” all the spiritual forces of darkness.

22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

He put all things under His feet: cf. Psalm 110.1. Christ is the victor in His conquest of all spiritual forces. He is rule is sovereign over everything—visible and invisible, material and immaterial, animate and inanimate, hostile and friendly.

Gave Him…[to] the church: Note: this verse does not explicitly say Jesus is head of the church; it says Jesus is head over all things and He assumes this role as Head over everything for His Bride. Lenski calls this “a gift of grace to the church”  for it speaks of Christ being in control of everything for the benefit of His body.

23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Which is His body: lit. she is His body. Implied is that Christ is the head (see 5.23).

The fullness of Him who fills all in all: The church is the Filler’s fullness. He is the Onw who fills all things, everything. Yet, even as He fills everything in every way, Christ is filled (lit. complete) with His body. Physically, the head needs the body. In a similar fashion, the spiritual Head needs His body. As it was not good for Adam to be alone, so it is not good for the 2nd Adam not to have His body & bride—the Church.

“Christ is the head; the Church is the body. A head by itself is no use; a mind, a brain by itself is of no use. The head must have a body which it can direct; the brain, the mind must have a body through which it can work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ’s work, feet to run upon His errands, a voice to speak His words.” (Barclay 108).

There is sense in which the Savior is incomplete without somebody saved, the Redeemer is lacking without someone in distress to rescue. It was Augustine who said, ““Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”” But perhaps it can also be said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and your heart is restless until we find rest in Thee.” If we properly understand this verse, it is both humbling and dignifying – humbling that we complete the Filler’s fullness and dignifying as presenting us with the purpose of our existence.

Rejoicing in Peace from God

As Paul nears the end of this epistle, he has some final exhortations concerning certain members of the Philippian congregation and for the members in general, especially pertaining to joy (4.2-9).

Peace in the Church (2-3)

Paul requests for the church to help two sisters agree in the Lord.

2I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

I entreat Euodia: a lady who is a member of the Philippian church whose name means “fragrance.” Unfortunately, it seems she is not spreading the fragrance of Christ since she is involved in a divisive dispute with her sister in Christ.

I entreat Syntyche: another female member whose name means “good luck.” Some suggest these ladies may have hosted (rival) house churches—one Jewish, the other Gentile. However, this is mere speculation for precious little is said about who exactly these women were. What we do know is that Paul earnestly pleads with these two women to…

Agree in the Lord: This is something which needs to characterize the entire Body of Christ (1.27; 2.2, 5). Employ the mind and think the same thing. Whatever it is that is causing this friction, bury it. Both are “in the Lord” and the double “entreat” may indicate both are at fault.

3Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Yes, I ask you also, true companion: or Syzygus (ESV footnote). Scholars differ over whether this is a proper name or not. Many ideas exist as to who this person is: Paul’s wife (though this is a masculine noun with masculine adjective), some leader among the Philippians, a husband or brother of the two ladies (Chrysostom), Timothy or Epaphroditus or Lydia (if not a proper name). The Philippians and the person himself knew who Paul meant.

Help these women: “Help” indicates that both the women will do their best to work for peace in addition to what “true companion” will do. Indeed, he merely joins work in progress.

Who have labored…the book of life: These women played a prominent role in the spread of the gospel in Philippi. In the face of opposition, the locked arms with the apostle and his co-workers and advanced the kingdom. Clement, someone known to the Philippians (why name him if they didn’t), could verify this. Indeed, Euodia and Syntyche have their names written in the book of life, “the roll of the citizens of the heavenly kingdom” (Caffin 156; see also, Ex 32.32; Dan 12.1; Rev 3.5; 13.8; 17.8; et al).

Peace from God (4-7)

All anxiety and worry is to be given to God in prayer so that God’s peace can permeate our entire life.

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Rejoice in the Lord always: cf. 3.1; 1 Thess 5.16. Paul returns to the central theme of this epistle. Only “in the Lord” can people find true joy—Christ in us and we in Him. Since Christians have fellowship with God and God lives among and with us, joy abides with us as we keep these objective truths ever before us. It comes down to what we think (see 4.8).

Again I will say, rejoice: Paul “never wearies of repeating that holy joy is a chief Christian duty” (Caffin 156). “The purest, highest, truest joy is to fill the Christian life like sunshine” (Lenski 874). “I will” is future tense—this will be Paul’s constant theme in life.

5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Let your reasonableness…to everyone: or “gentleness” (NIV, NKJV). This is a characteristic of Christ (see 2 Cor 10.1). It is an attitude of gracious forbearance which does not insist upon it’s own rights or way. Refusing to retaliate when attacked is allowing the joy of the Lord to shine forth. “Everyone” indicates that more than just church is in view; non-Christians need to experience (root Gk ginosko) the magnanimity of Christians (cf. 2.15).

The Lord is at hand: Psa 119.151. Cf. 1 Cor 16.22 (“Maranatha”); James 5.8. Proximity or parousia? Either. God is present with His people, ever mindful of them as they live with gentleness toward all. Also, He is coming back one day and this should be a motive of our magnanimity. Further, His nearness promotes within the Christian the incentive to pray (v.6).

6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Do not be anxious about anything: present imperative (command), “stop being anxious.” Worry “betrays a lack of trust in God’s care” (Martin 171).  Lit. the word means to have a divided mind, pulled in different directions. “Anything” (lit. nothing) means any man, any woman, anything (ex. Spouse, kids, job, health, bills, economy, etc.).

But in everything…known to God: “But” (Gk. Alla) is a sharp contrast. Not worry BUT prayer. “Prayer is the cure for care” (Spurgeon). “Everything” menas…everything. Develop the habit of referring all things, both great and small, to God in prayer. Four (4) prayer words: 1) prayer (Gk proseuche) is general invocation of God; 2) supplication (Gk deesei) is a request as a result of need; 3) thanksgiving (Gk eucharistias) springs from the remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy; 4) requests (Gk aitemata) are specific things asked for. We can talk to the cosmic sovereign Ruler of everything about everything.

7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And the peace of God…understanding: Here is the result attached of taking all things to God in prayer: He gives us His peace. The God of peace (v.9) gives peace; the Son left His peace (Jn 14.27); the Holy Spirit produces peace (Gal 5.22). The entire Godhead is at work to bring us peace which eludes the minds of natural men, but floods the mind of the spiritual.

Will guard…in Christ Jesus: “guard” is a military term which would conjure an idea familiar to the Philippians who lived in a garrisoned city. They were used to seeing Roman soldiers on guard. That is what the peace of God does to the hearts and minds of Christians (“in Christ”).

Peace of Mind (8-9)

Pondering and practicing things which bear the eight (8) characteristics listed will bring peace of mind to the Christian and invoke the presence of God.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Finally, brothers: Paul seeks to conclude his letter to these Christians in Philippi. Some see a continuation of thought—if peace would abide then certain steps must be taken.

Whatever is true: as opposed to false. Things honest and in keeping with historical fact.

Whatever is honorable: or noble. Things of dignity, respect, and reverence.

Whatever is just: or right. Things that duty demands. Same word for righteous.

Whatever is pure: clean things, thoughts, words, deeds. Free from moral defect. Unmixed.

Whatever is lovely: used only here in the NT. Things pleasing, beautiful, or winsome.

Whatever is commendable: Things well spoken of and praiseworthy.

If there is any excellence: A word used by Peter (1 Pt 2.9; 2 Pt 1.3, 5) which seems to denote anything which the Philippians would find best and good morally.

If there is anything worthy of praise: anything generally or universally deserving praise. Anything which Paul might have missed but are morally excellent and praiseworthy…

Think about these things: NKJV “meditate on these things.” Present imperative. Reflect upon these virtues and allow them to shape your conduct. Keep on thinking about these things with logic and in detail. Give careful attention and study to them. “Let these be the considerations which guide your thoughts and direct your motives” (Caffin 157-158).

9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

What you have…in me: Cf. 1 Cor 11.1. Paul had lived among these brethren for a short time but his example lingered in their minds. They had been taught both formally and informally; the traditions had been passed on; they had heard his preaching; they had witnessed his life.

Practice these things: present imperative. From contemplation to transformation. Reflection should produce a response. The Philippians were to put into action the pattern Paul had given in his words and deeds. These things should comprise their habitual practice (career).

And the God of peace will be with you: God lives among people who are holy in thought and holy in lifestyle.  Herein lies the incentive to ponder and practice holiness. Not just His peace, but God Himself “will be with you.”

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.