Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 7

Ephesians 5.15-21 contains a verse much disputed in the church. Verse 19 is a passage used to prohibit the use of musical instruments in worship services. Intensive word studies, exhaustive exegetical articles, and not a few early church essays have been written on that single verse. Frankly, it is a tragedy that the rest of the context surrounding this verse tends to be ignored. It is rich with how to wisely navigate life in the Spirit.

A Wise Walk (5.15-21)

Living with Christ means seeking His wisdom & will.

15Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,

Look carefully…walk: Then indicates that Paul is continuing his exhortation to these Christ to be what they are in Christ. They do that by walking carefully or “circumspectly” (NKJV). A careful walk is one which includes strict attention to detail & complete obedience to the standard.

To “walk…carefully” carries the idea of accuracy, precision, & diligence. It is a life lived in strict conformity to the Christian ethic. Half-hearted or lackadaisical discipleship is more in line with the unwise behavior of the world than it is with the heart & desire of God. A Christian’s walk is to careful not carefree.

Not as unwise but as wise: This is once more a contrast in cultures: the heathen culture is unwise whereas the Christian ethic is wise. Cf. Colossians 4.5

We teach our children to “Stop, look, and listen” when crossing the street. How much more is this true when living the Christian life? We must be intensely vigilant as we walk with Christ knowing that there are deadly consequences to evil actions. Armed with that knowledge, we can wisely navigate our lives.

One word of caution: There may be a threat toward legalistic rule keeping. This is not what Paul is advocating at all. He is saying, “Do not walk loosely, without fixed principles of actions; but make sure that you rules are of the true kind” (Pulpit Commentary 210). Many people are very strict & rigged but they are not wise in that rigidity. They have rules, very strict rules, but they are not good rules. So that is a key difference between what Paul is exhorting us to and legalism which Paul would never be in favor of.

16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Making…the time: Lit. “Redeeming the time.” Several scholars see here an allusion to the marketplace: a merchant would buy up the good articles & products. So the Christian must seek the precious pearls of time and purchase those, i.e. use every opportunity for good.

And so we sing, “Your empty, wasted years/ He will restore;/ and you iniquities/ remember no more.” As Longfellow has said, “Life is real; life is earnest/ and the grave is not its goal./ ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest,’/ was not spoken of the soul.” Life is urgent! We must consider how we spend our time, what little we have left. Paul seems to be saying, “embrace every opportunity to glorify God, save your own souls, and do good to men.” (Clarke) “How wise, then, to seek to make out of every passing moment eternal gain!” (PC 236) Why?…

Because the days are evil: there was trouble & temptation all around. These Christians lived in a very pagan world with much immorality.

The more things change, the more they stay the same – the days are still evil! In fact, as Paul says elsewhere, “evil people go from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3.13). Or as one country preacher once put it – “evil people go from worse to worser!” So in 2,000 years since Paul penned these words, our world has gone from bad to worse, worse to worser. Society progresses further into secularism. Evil is good and good is evil. Religious formalism where the letter of Law stifles the Spirit of the Law permeates much of Christendom. Philosophical skepticism which for the most part is anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-supernatural has a choke hold on many people. So if ever there was a time when Christians need to make the best use of their time, it is now.

17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Therefore, do not be foolish: Therefore here has a summation quality of the foregoing context. Since you are to be imitators of God (1-2), children of holiness (3-7) & light (8-14), do not be “senseless” or “unthinking.” Again, this is old self & “outsider” behavior.

But…Lord is: But (Gk alla) is a strong, sharp contrast. Those “in Christ” make it their career to understand (pres. Imp.) the Lord’s will. This is more than just hearing and knowing. Involved in understanding is careful consideration and private pondering so as to take it to heart.

Here is the purpose-driven life – understanding God’s will and walking accordingly. Any other life is “foolish” & “unwise,” purposeless & aimless. But a life devoted to the pathway of God which He has marked out by His stated will revealed by His word has purpose, direction, and progress. We will spend the rest of lives seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” The present tense indicates this is a lifelong pursuit, the ongoing practice of every wise saint.

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

Do not get drunk with wine: Some pagan religious cults would become intoxicated during their worship (ex. Dionysus) in order to express spiritual elation (usually in erratic behavior). That kind of pagan revelry should not mark the Christian. In fact, we have a better way (i.e. the Spirit).

“Intoxication with wine has a degrading effect; intoxication with the Spirit (cf. Acts 2.13) can have an uplifting effect upon Christian community” (Patzia 264). We are to be filled with the Spirit not drunk on spirits. Getting drunk is not wise (Proverbs 20.1).

For that is debauchery: “Both the wastefulness and the lack of self-control implied by [debauchery] are things which should not be seen in the lives of those who have found in Christ the source and the way of wisdom” (Foulkes 158).

A word about drinking: Drunkenness is categorically condemned in Scripture (Deut 21.20; 1 Cor 5.11; Gal 5.21). Especially if you were a leader in the church it is condemned (1 Tim 3.3, 8; Titus 1.7; cf. 2.3). Granted, total abstinence is not mentioned except in the case of special vows (for example the Nazarite vow, Num 6.3). Hmm… but aren’t we people who have taken a special vow? Drinking is a habit which sends everything to wreck and ruin.

But be filled with the Spirit: In typical fashion, Paul replaces the negative with the positive. Be filled (present passive imperative) indicates 1) this should be the ongoing lifestyle of the Christ, 2) it is God (with the Holy Spirit) who fills the Christian, 3) every Christian must be filled with/by the Holy Spirit.

19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Addressing one another: One another indicates that this “speaking” (NASB) is an expression of our being filled with the Spirit. Though some are quick to apply this to the worship service (almost exclusively), “the meetings would seem to have been for social Christian enjoyment rather than for public worship of God” (PC 211). Context bears this out since the overall lifestyle of the Christian is what Paul has been discussing (5.1-18).

Psalms…spiritual songs: Some have found subtle distinctions between these words, however, Jimmy Jividen says, “There is no evidence in the New Testament or the writings of the early church that distinction is to be made between psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Worship in Song 11).

Singing…your heart: All worship (in the assembly or not) is always directed to the Lord. Jividen finds no distinction between singing and making melody, both referring to the melodic utterance of words. He does note that your heart is the only instrument for our singing (Worship in Song 11, 62).

While certainly applicable to the assembly of the saints every Lord’s Day, what is view here is any expression of worship in which saints engage in. Our whole lives are music of a specific kind to the Lord. Be it a small group study, and in-home Bible study, or just sitting around the campfire, we can address one another and worship our Lord in song from the heart. It is the heart not the harp which is the appropriate instrument for our worship.

20giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Giving thanks…Jesus Christ: Contextually, we do this by and in our singing. However, that is not the only avenue by which we give thanks to God. It is always (at all times) and for everything (all things) that we give thanks to God the Father, Who is Himself the source of all blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our mediator to the Father.

“Spirit-filled Christians live in a continual attitude of gratitude for everything” (Patzia 264). At its core, sin is basically ingratitude. We need to affirm that all that we have is from God. When we truly give thanks, from that will flow ethics and right behavior. Further, thanksgiving has a transformative effect. It is nearly impossible for a person to be both spiteful (harboring resentment) and grateful, giving thanks unto God. When we realize we have been set free from our old self and have been infused with the life-giving Spirit, how could we not be thankful?

21submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Submitting…for Christ: The habitual practice of Christians is willing submission to each other. Mutual Christian submission is born out of  “fear” (Gk phobos, respect & awe) for Christ.

Here is still another key factor to living a Spirit-filled life. Pride in a Christian is an oxymoron. Pride is the heart leaves no room for the Spirit of God. Pride kills fellowship. Thinking of ourselves as better or too highly is destructive to true, authentic Christian fellowship. “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” and look “to the interests of other” (Phil 2.3-4). So humble mutual submission is the key to unlocking how to live as husband & wife (5.22-33), parenting effectively (6.1-4), and how to behave on the job (6.5-9).

Submission for all Christians is the divine calling upon our lives to honor & affirm Christ’s leadership and serve Him according to grace He has given to each one of us. The word “submit” was a military term used to describe the various soldiers under the command of their leader. It is interesting that Paul ends this epistle utilizing the military motif (6.10ff). Further, this word had a non-military usage for voluntarily giving in and cooperating to carry a burden. It is to voluntarily yield ourselves to Christ in love. This kind of mutual submission is illogical when disconnected from Christ. Only through the cross can we proper express submission. By uniting with Christ and dying to self we can submit as we ought to His lead.

Grow in the Wealth of Christ

Composed of one long run-on sentence in the Greek, Ephesians 1.3-14 presents the gospel of grace in which each person of the Godhead plays a vital role: the Father (3-6), Son (7-12), & the Holy Spirit (13-14).

Rich in Blessings (3)

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Blessed be the God…Lord Jesus Christ: cf. 2 Cor 1.3. The Father, being the 1st person of the Godhead, is God of the man Jesus Christ (see John 20.17, “my God”) and Father of God the Son. As the fountain-head from whom springs forth the grand purposes of redemption and salvation God is worthy of praise (see Psalm 103.1-5, 20-22). In the NT, the word “blessed” is used only of God; He alone is worthy to be blessed. People are blessed when they receive His blessings.

Who has blessed us in Christ: The Blessed One blesses “us.” “Us” are Christians, i.e. those “in Christ” (cf. 1.1). Indeed, only “in Christ” is there any spiritual blessings. This is an aorist participle, which may refer to a particular occasion in the past when those blessings were first received, i.e baptism. When we entered the Family of God by the new birth, the Father lavished rich blessings. No less than 10 times does Paul use the phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” in this opening doxology. As Lenski says, “Christ is the golden string on which all the pearls of this doxology are strung.”

With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places:  the dominate theme of the epistle is introduced right away. Both Paul & his readers, being in Christ, have access to all spiritual blessings. They are “spiritual” as opposed to material. Several blessings will be named by Paul in the following verses: from the Father—election (4), predestination (5), grace (6); from the Son—redemption (7), wisdom (8), knowledge (9), inheritance (11); from the Holy Spirit—seal (13), guarantee (14). “Every blessing” is all that the Father can bestow, all that the Son can provide and all that the Spirit can apply. Thus, the resources of all three of the Godhead conspire to bless the church.

Rich in Love (4-5)

4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

Even as He chose us in Him: very theologically loaded word in the Greek. It simply means, God “selected, chose, picked some out.” Hence, Christians are “the chosen-out ones.” We are chosen out of the world. Paul sheds more light on this in 2 Thess 2.13: we were chosen to be saved “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” This election takes place the same time as the calling, for Paul continues in 2 Thess 2.14: “God called you to this (The selection) through our gospel.” However, in the mind of God, this moment of selection takes place in eternity with God simultaneously in time with us. Since God lives in the present tense, there is no time difference to Him: the moment I chose Him is the same moment He chose me.

Before the foundation of the world: The foundation is the kataboles, the “laying or throwing down,” the beginning. So before God “threw down” the universe, he had chosen us inasmuch as God is outside of time. This selection took place before the foundation of the world (i.e., not after creation or the fall of man). Even before the foundation of the kosmos, mankind presented himself to God as lost; the work of redemption was planned and its details arranged from all eternity.

That we…before Him: This selection does two things for us, one stated positively the other negatively: we are “holified” is the first thing. Literally, we are chosen in Him, that is Christ, that we be holy, set apart. No longer set apart for the works of darkness, we are now set apart for the work of God (Eph 2.10). Further, we are without blemish, or blameless. We are free from faults, just as the sacrificial animals of the OT were free from spot or blemish.

Special Study—Predestination

Predestination has more to do with the thing to which we are predestined to than the person(s) being predestined to something. Hence, we are predestined for/to a thing (adoption in v.5 or an inheritance in v.11) once we have been added to the body of Christ. It can also be said that God has predestined all men to be adopted as sons by providing sinful man with the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, predestination to “divine sonship” can be and is rejected by many. Thus, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they reject God’s purpose for their life (Luke 7.30). In Ephesians, Paul is showing us the “manifold wisdom of God” by demonstrating that God predestined the marvelous “mystery,” that is the salvation of Jew and Gentile into one body .

5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

In love He predestined us for adoption as sons: In love is to be taken with verse 5, i.e. God’s love for mankind. Out of His infinite love, He predestined us for (or unto) adoption. See “Special Study” for predestination, but see also Acts 4.28; 1 Corinthians 2.7; Romans 2.28. Suffice it to say, in eternity past God “marked out beforehand” His eternal plan to save man. It would be through Jesus Christ (and Him only) that we would be adopted as sons. This is an idea which is found elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Romans 8.15, 23; Galatians 4.5) and denotes relationship and standing, highlighting privileges and responsibilities which accompany a change in household (se 1 Timothy 3.15). God loved us and adopted us as sons. Our obedience is the loving obedience of sons.

There is a weighty discussion to be had about predestination: does God predestine people for a certain destiny or did He predestine a person and a plan? In the movie A Knight’s Tale, Heath Ledger’s character as boy is confronted with a hard decision. He lives with his father, a poor beggar, when one day a knight offers to take young William to be his apprentice. Naturally, little William wants to stay with his dad. His father explains to him, “As long as you stay with me you will always be a poor beggar. Change your stars, William.” By going with the knight, he will change his stars, change his destiny.

We are poor (spiritual) beggars. All have sinned. No good thing lies within me. We all deserve hell because of sin. So with us the knight has come with an offer to change our destinies. Our Father bids us to go with Him and change our stars. He has predestined the man (Jesus Christ) and the plan (redemption) to change our destiny (heaven).

Through Jesus Christ: and only through Him according to the foreordained plan of God.

According to the purpose of His will: “The spring or motive to the selection is solely in God, not in man” (Pulpit Commentary 3). It pleased God to act to save man (hence, “good pleasure,” NKJV, NIV).

Rich in Grace (6-7)

Through the blessing of His glorious grace God has redeemed us by the blood of Jesus.

6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

To the praise of His glorious grace: The ultimate aim of election, predestination, adoption, etc. is the glory of God as revealed in His grace (unmerited favor). As Israel under the Old Covenant was a living, breathing declaration of God’s praise (see Isaiah 43.21; Jeremiah 33.9), so the New Testament Church is a living, breathing manifestation of God’s glory and grace.

With which…in the Beloved: He has blessed is a form of the word from which we get “grace” (Gk echaritosen). Hence, the NIV “freely given.” God has graced us with grace in the Beloved (perf. Participle). This is a phrase which denotes the love the Father has for the Son from eternity. It reaches into the past and extends into today and forever. When God demonstrates His grace to us in Jesus, the beloved Son, He is putting His glory on display in us.

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

In Him…through His blood: Behind the word redemption is the concept of slavery or bondage. In Christ (“Him”), and only in Christ, do we have (present tense) redemption for only His blood can rescue us by ransom or buy us back from slavery to sin. Christ’s cross takes care of our unpayable debt a frees us from slavery to sin, Satan, and death (cf. Romans 6.17-19). His blood, shed on the cross, purchased His church (Acts 20.28).

The forgiveness of our trespasses: Trespasses are those false steps and failures we make in relation to God’s law.  All of these serious offenses are forgiven, that is, removed and taken away (Psalm 103.12). They are sent away, never to return or be remembered.

According to the riches of His grace: How is redemption from and forgiveness of all sin possible? Because God is rich is grace beyond human ability to comprehend!  We neither deserved nor earned it, but God sent the Savior and accomplished His marvelous plan to save man and teach us to live by grace (see Titus 2.11-12).

Rich in Wisdom (8-10)

8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

Which He lavished upon us: or “which He made to abound toward us” (NKJV). Lavished denotes “the overflow as of a fountain from a deep and abundant source” (Foulkes 59). Out of the deep spring of God’s heart comes His grace to us.

In all wisdom and insight: There is little distinction between the two words (though some commentators see some distinction). Taken together they communicate not only the genius of God in devising the grand plan to redeem man, but also the execution of the scheme of redemption in history. As one commentator notes, “The height of wisdom is shown in God’s way of making his grace abound toward us” (Pulpit Commentary 4). Even from the darkness which is man’s earliest insights into God he knew that wisdom and understanding belonged to God (Job 12.13). Much more in the sunshine of the New Testament enlightened men know that “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2.3). It is out of the depths of His wisdom and insight that  He dispenses His grace upon His saints.

9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

Making known…His will: cf. Colossians 1.26. The will of God which was kept secret for ages past has now been fully disclosed, revealed in the coming of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel (see 6.19). This goes hand-in-glove with God’s lavishing us with His grace (v.8). In the Old Testament, a mystery was something which was revealed by God (see Daniel 2.19). Extra-biblical writers believed mysteries prepared in heaven would be made known at the end of time. Perhaps Paul leans upon this rich Semitic history. Probably he has the mystery cults in mind when he snatches this term from them since they were so prevalent in Ephesus.

According to His purpose: or “good pleasure” (NIV). The whole reason for human history and the grand plan to redeem man is summed up here. It pleased God to save man in Christ. He is the driving impetus and force behind all things.

Which He set forth in Christ: set forth is aorist tense (snapshot in the past). When did God formulate His course of action? In eternity “before the foundation of the world.” Then He made it known in history (time). “God’s mystery would be made known on his own terms, as he in Christ had purposed and determined” (Lipscomb 23). Again, the prime mover is God.

10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

As a plan for the fullness of time: plan or “dispensation” (KJV, NKJV) is the word from which we get “economy” (Gk oikonomian).  It has overtones of stewardship. So Christ is the steward though whom is working out His plan to save man. Time is plural (so “times”) indicating “a series of epochs” (Robertson). The reason for the seemingly long delay for the revealing of the mystery is that God’s investment in Christ was not mature for withdrawal. It was not the right season so the fruit was not ripe for harvesting.

To unite…on earth: To unite or “the summing up of all things” (NASB) was used in rhetoric at the end of a speech to sum up everything into a single principle. Coupled with plan in the preceeding phrase, another term used in rhetoric to indicate “the disposition of the parts of a speech” (Nichol 259), we might understand history as God speaking at different seasons for various purposes relative to His Christological purposes until the coming of Christ in which He sums up His speech in a single Principle or Person—Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 1.1-2). The summation and unification of all things under the headship of Christ is God’s ultimate plan for history (see also 1.22).

Special Study—Mystery

Ancient mystery religions had secrets which were exclusive to the initiated and were not to be communicated by cult members to ordinary mortals. In Scripture (especially the NT), the musterion is the eternal counsel of God kept hidden from man for generations until the times had reached their fulfillment. With the establishment of the church came the proclamation of the gospel message to all men worldwide (Matt 28.19; Mark 16.15). Jew and Gentile both gained access to God through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name and united in one body, the Church. This is the “mystery” which Paul speaks of in Ephesians (see 3.6). It was not known for generations, but is now revealed for all to see and hear. It was God’s purpose from before the foundations of the world, carried along in human history through the seed line and finally made known in and by the first century church.

Rich in Inheritance (11-14)

Those sealed with the Holy Spirit are guaranteed an inheritance in accordance with God’s will.

11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

In Him…an inheritance: “in Him” means “in Christ.” When elected by God, adopted into the Family, forgiven our sins, and redeemed by His blood, we obtained (aorist, passive) an inheritance in Christ. God gives the inheritance to those who are in the Son. Further, we became His inheritance, Like Israel in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 4.20; 32.9).  “All that God was to Israel of old he will be to his Church now” (Blaikie 4). Christ is the reason we are the inheritance of God.

There are two (2) popular views among scholars concerning how to understand the “inheritance.”

  • We were made partakers of the inheritance.
  • We were made an inheritance.

Both fit the context however most scholars lean toward the latter though most translations render the original as the former. Both concepts are Biblical, even in this same chapter (see v.18). The double or mutual inheritance (We inherit God & He inherits us) is found in the Old Testament in the relationship of Israel and YHWH – see Jeremiah 10.16; 51.19

Having been…the purpose of Him: God’s purpose from eternity was that all who would be “in Christ” would become His inheritance and gain an inheritance. This was determined in eternity.

One idea connected with “inheritance” is that of having a portion assigned by lot (casting). In back of the word is it usage of the distribution of the land of Israel by casting of lot (Josh 18.6). So the Christians in view are being described as appointed to their position as if by lot. However, the chance element of casting lots is taken out when we consider Proverbs 16.33 – every decision of the lot is from the Lord. When I think of that, I think of the scene in Star Wars Episode 1, when Qui-Gon Jinn is bargaining for the boy, Anakin Skywalker, from his owner, Watto. To decide if Qui-God will get the boy or his mother, Watto rolls a colored die. Using the Force, Qui-Gon makes sure he gets the boy by causing the die to roll to the appropriate color. So with God, our election to our inheritance is by “the purpose…[and] counsel of His will.”

Who works…the counsel of His will: God “energizes” everything (Gk root energeo) to accomplish His purposes. God planned a work in eternity(v.9) and then worked His plan in time. Everything went according to plan and that plan continues to unfold in history.

Nothing is left to chance as God “energizes” everything to accomplish His will in history. “The God of the chosen is the God of the universe; the purpose which is the ground of our being made God’s heritage is the purpose that embraces the whole plan of the world” (Nichol 264). He was at work in everything, either front and center or behind the scenes, overriding and conspiring to bring about the fulfillment of His grand scheme of redemption.

12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

So that we…to the praise of His glory: most commentators see Paul making a distinction in verse 12-13 between Jews and Gentiles (which he will do in extended form later in the epistle, ch.2). We refers to the Jews (Pual includes himself) and they were the people to whom the gospel was proclaimed first (cf. Romans 1.16). Since the gospel was first proclaimed to them, they would naturally have been the first to hope in Christ by their obedience to the gospel (cf. Acts 26.6-7). They had the promise of Messiah and when Christ appeared and they believed on Him, they became the praise of His glory. This is the purpose of their allotment (v.11), to show forth the nature, character, and glory of God. From Abraham and throughout their history, they declare God’s praise.

13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

In Him you also: Here is the pronoun shift. You are the Gentiles who also had the gospel preached to them and believed after the Jews (see Acts 13.46-48; Romans 1.16).

When you heard…your salvation: cf. Romans 10.14, 17. The word (Gk logos) of truth is the message of God’s ultimate reality in the Son. This is synonymous with the gospel of your salvation, that is the good news of salvation not only for the Jews but for everyone (universal).

And believed in Him: These Gentiles heard the word leading to faith in Christ which manifests in obedience to Him. Faith is always accompanied by action in the Bible (see Hebrews 11). Hearing and believing belong together and lead to the sealing.

Were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit: The coming of the Holy Spirit was promised in prophecy in the Old Testament (Isaiah 32.15; Ezekiel 36.27; et al) and the New Testament (John 7.37-38; 14.16-17).These Christians “heard the Word,” “believed” in Christ, and “were sealed.” This is the normative experience of every Christian. The sealing takes place at baptism (aorist tense). When a person hears and obeys the gospel, God gives him/her some of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This shows us He will give us our inheritance (v.14) – what a deal! “[The Holy Spirit] is the guarantee that some day we will enter into the full possession of the bliss and the blessedness of God” (Barclay 101).

In the ancient world, a “seal” was used when mailing things: the owner pressed his signet ring into melted wax to seal letter. The intention was to prevent tampering during transport – if the letter got to its destination with a broken seal, the recipient would know the letter had been tampered with. In NT times, certain religious cults would have their new initiates tattooed with the cult emblem indicating that they were sealed into that cult. Of course, the Jews had circumcision which was a seal of their covenant with God (cf. Romans 4.11).

The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s seal. By the Spirit we are kept “intact” until finally delivered into our heavenly abode. Unlike the mystery cults whose seal was physical, ours is a spiritual seal “in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1.22). Our experience of the Holy Spirit along with the demonstration of His presence in our lives to others verify and prove that we belong to God and He will deliver on His promise to us.

Inward Effects of the Spirit

  1. Contentment with Christ as Savior
  2. Drawing out of our hearts love, joy, etc.
  3. Conforming our will to God’s Will

Outward Effects of the Spirit

  1. Contrasted change from former life
  2. Demonstration of fruit of the Spirit
  3. Active interest in the Lord’s work

14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Who is the guarantee of our inheritance: Notice the switch back to the 1st person plural pronoun indicative that Paul, Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians are all in view here. All who hear the gospel, put their faith in Christ, and through obedience have God the Holy Spirit living in them have the promise of a home with God. Guarantee was a commercial term used of money which would act as a down payment or “deposit” (NIV). “It always implies an act which engages to something bigger” (TDNT). So the Holy Spirit is for Christians 1) a foretaste of glory divine & 2) the promise of the full future bliss of salvation. God is faithful and will complete the transaction. Our inheritance is typically equated with heaven. So renewal and regeneration of the soul is the beginning of heaven. We have some of it now, but there is a whole lot more to come. The presence of the Holy Spirit is but the firstfruits of what is to come. More is in store for Christians.

In modern Greek, the word arrabon is used for engagement rings. For the Christian, 1) Assurance of future salvation: God is faithful. Look back and look forward. “I am baptized” – Martin Luther. 2) Nothing minor: we tend to think of a down payment as a small thing. But this is very significant – God lives in us! Note the power: 1.19; 3.16

Until we acquire possession of it: Literally “unto the redemption of the possession.” While Christ has redeemed by His blood (1.7). There is a  “day of redemption” (4.30) yet future when is realized the full “redemption of the body” and soul (Romans 8.23). Again, God will complete the transaction when He comes in glory. He is the Great Redeemer who will accomplish the redemption of His possession in full someday. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our anticipatory sample whetting our appetite for more.

John Gill says the “day of redemption” “will be a redemption of them from the weakness, corruption, and mortality of the body; from their present state of absence and pilgrimage; from the body of sin and death; from all sorrows and afflictions, both inward and outward; from the reproaches and persecutions of men; from a tempting devil, and an unbelieving heart; from all doubts and fears; and from death and the grave.”

To the praise of His glory: One day we will enjoy the riches of our inheritance while the Father enjoys His inheritance in the saints (i.e. His possession). Until that time “we ourselves…groan inwardly” waiting for that day of redemption. Our very existence is to be for God’s glory (cf. John 17.4). When that day comes, “the consummation of redemption will be the highest tribute to God’s glory—his infinite excellence will be wonderfully manifested thereby” (Blaikie 6).  “Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1.12).

Watch Your Mouth! part 3

James has explained about the importance of the tongue (v.1-2) and has provided several dynamic illustrations to communicate the truth about the tongue (v.3-12). Now James will give instruction about wise use of the tongue. Still working in the context of teachers (v.1), James will address the difference between earthly wisdom and ethereal wisdom.

James 3.13-18 (ESV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Earthly Wisdom (v.13-16)

James begins by asking a very pointed question: Who is wise and intelligent in the church to which he is writing? Every reader or hearer of this epistle should have asked “Am I wise and intelligent; do I lack wisdom?” Wisdom here is pertaining to the tongue and the ability to bridle and restrain it by the power of God. Connected with this is the idea of intelligence or understanding which is the knowledge that an expert would have, in this case an expert teacher. Anyone like that “among you,” James asks. He then tells them how the wise and understanding can be identified – “By his good conduct.” The wise and intelligent teacher’s conduct will be a manifestation of the works of wisdom done in meekness. This kind of good behavior the wise man will put it on display daily. Meekness is not weakness; rather, meekness is strength under control. It is a mild and calm disposition which exercises patience and self-restraint. These are all marks of true or heavenly wisdom. False wisdom would be none of these.

One great Old Testament illustration of “the meekness of wisdom” is Moses. Scripture tells us that he was “very meek, more than all people who were on the face of earth” (Numbers 12.3). Here is one of the meekest men to ever live and yet when he comes off the mountain with the Ten Commandments and finds the people engaged in gross idolatry, his “anger burned hot” and he ground the golden calf into fine powder, dumped it in the water, and made the people of Israel drink it (Exodus 32.19-20). Is that wisdom’s meekness? One commentator put it this way: “Moses was very meek in his own cause, but as hot as fire in the cause of God” (Pulpit Commentary 50).

The greatest illustration of “the meekness of wisdom” is the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the wisdom of God incarnate, come from heaven to dwell with man. He says of Himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11.29). Yet we find Him on more than one occasion turning over tables and driving out money changers from the temple (John 2.13-19; Matthew 21.12-16). Is that wisdom’s meekness? With Jesus as with Moses, the answer is yes. The teachers of James’ day who were in the church to which he writes were hot as fire for their own cause and very meek for the cause of God. They had it all wrong and so James’ admonition is that if teachers are not going to display true meekness of wisdom in their daily life, then they are not wise and understanding and ought not to be teachers.

The Substance of Earthly Wisdom (v.14). We get a glimpse of the heart of the teacher who is displaying earthly wisdom. In the heart of the worldly wise is “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.” First, the word for jealousy (Gk. zealon) is the word from which we get the English words “zeal,” “zealot,” and “zealous.” While not always a bad thing, coupled with bitterness or resentment it is an ugly thing. It is a conceited, contemptuous, contentious spirit which is unkind. Second, the idea of selfish ambition is rooted in the practice of electioneering or running for office. One wants to get as many votes as possible so he is put forward and seeks to win men over to his party. Here is what the unwise teacher does – he seeks to win people over to his party and is therefore divisive and factious. Unity is not his goal which puts him diametrically opposed to Christ who desires for His people to be united (John 17.20-21). This is an unhealthy desire to be preeminent and first. James says that if that is what is “in your hearts,” they should not boast against and lie against the truth. It seems James may be making a point about how these unqualified teachers were treating the truth and distorting it to their own destruction. James could be read as telling his brothers to not despise even (by) lying against the truth. In other words, the truth does not fit their agenda to promote themselves so they hate it and seek to degrade it (as though they could) and part of that process is to lie against and speak falsely toward the truth (or Truth, i.e. Jesus Christ). This is the nature of these teachers.

The Source of Earthly Wisdom (v.15). But what is at the root of lying against the truth? The origin of this kind of earthly wisdom is not from the mind or heart of men. While it may take up residence there, earthly wisdom originates in the pit of hell. Every good and perfect gift is from above (cf. 1.17) but this earthly wisdom is not from above. It is first earthly. It takes its origin from this world. Go to any non-Christian and you can find this wisdom. Even the heathen possesses this so-called wisdom. It is next unspiritual. Some translations say “sensual.” The idea is that it originates in the physical realm, even in the flesh. The spiritual realm did not birth this worldly wisdom; man did. It is then demonic. Here we have the final true source of this earthly wisdom. Even as the tongue is set on fire by hell (v.6), so the heart of these teachers is aflame because of this wisdom. This wisdom is demon-like, not God-like or Christ-like. “These three adjectives correspond to our three great spiritual enemies. Earthly wisdom has its origin in the world; natural wisdom, in the flesh; demoniacal wisdom, in the devil” (Pulpit Commentary 51). True wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 2.6) and clearly based upon the description of James the wisdom these teachers have is not from the Lord.

The Side-effects of Earthly Wisdom (v.16). James spells out the consequences of such wisdom from such teachers. “There will be disorder and every vile practice.” These are not marks of a healthy church. Instead, these are traits of a dying church which is a synagogue of Satan (cf. Revelation 2.9; 3.9). Riotous rebellion to the authority is a result of earthly wisdom taught in the church. It begins by unsettling the hearts and minds of Christians. Unsettled Christians will lead to tumult and turmoil in the congregation. Eventually, this tumultuousness gives way to full blown abandonment of the faith and every vile practice. Wickedness slips in unchecked even to the point that the church becomes offensive to the world because she allows activity that even pagans would not permit (cf. 1 Corinthians 5.1). Moo says, “Where the hearts of individual Christians are wrong, an unlimited variety of sins will be found also” (134).

Ethereal Wisdom (v.17-18)

James has shown that the teachers about whom he is writing are not only a danger doctrinally but also stand morally and motivationally wrong. What is needed is wisdom which comes from above. Not a base, earthly, rationalistic, physical, even devilish wisdom. True wisdom from God must be and is greater than that. The origin of true wisdom is God. “The LORD gives wisdom” said Solomon (Proverb 2.6). James has instructed his readers that if they lack wisdom, pray (1.5). God hears that prayer and gives liberally. True wisdom from the ethereal realms will produce Christian character. True wisdom also brings peace.

Holiness (v.17). To demonstrate that God’s wisdom will promote a holy life, James gives seven (7) characteristics of wisdom from above. First, wisdom from above is (indeed) pure. The Greek word (hagne) for pure has the same root as the word for holy (hagios). This is moral and ethical purity. This stands in stark contrast with earthly wisdom. The pure wisdom from God is free from everything earthly, carnal, unspiritual, and demonic. Second, God’s wisdom is peaceable. It seeks peace among men and peace between men and God. It loves and brings peace. Next this wisdom is gentle (NIV “considerate”). This is forbearance and courteousness. It is equitable, mild, and fair. Also, this wisdom is open to reason (NASB “reasonable”). This means it is willing to listen and ready to obey. It should be noted this is the only time this word appears in the New Testament. In addition, this ethereal wisdom is full of mercy and good fruit. Mercy has been called “practical help” (see A. T. Robertson on this verse in Word Pictures of the New Testament). This wisdom has mercy in abundance and is constantly engaged in helping those afflicted ones. Further, this wisdom is full of good fruits. No doubt this is in connection with the mercy aspect. John Gill says this is “compassion and beneficence to the poor; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the widows and fatherless in their affliction; and doing all other good works and duties, both with respect to God and man, as fruits of grace, and of the Spirit.” The wisdom from above is impartial (NASB “without wavering”). God does not show partiality (Luke 20.21; Romans 2.11) and therefore His wisdom would not either. It is free from prejudice and never divided. Note also that this is the only time this word is used in the New Testament. Finally, God’s wisdom is sincere (KJV “without hypocrisy”). It is genuine in character and “never wears a mask” (Lenski). It should go without saying that those who possess this ethereal wisdom will likewise possess these qualities.

Harvest (v.18).  As mentioned, the true wisdom of God will produce peace. Man’s earthly wisdom produces strife, tumult, and chaos. Therefore, God’s heavenly wisdom is needed for that alone can cause strife to stop, turn tumult into tranquility, and cause chaos to cease. The notable absence of peace among these brothers was also a tell-tale sign that wisdom from above was likewise absent. The “harvest of righteousness” or “fruit of righteousness” does appear elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Proverbs 11.30; Amos 6.12; Philippians 1.11). Here James seems to have in mind the beatitude from his half-brother’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5.9). This harvest of righteousness is contrasted with “every vile practice” and seems to sum-up all the qualities listed in verse 17. All this righteous fruit will belong to those what pursue peace by sowing in the atmosphere of peace they promote.

The Paradox of Prayer

James 1.5-8 (ESV)

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;
8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

The Paradox of Prayer (1.5-8)

Building on this foundation of faithful vs. faithless, James brings the Christian to the realm of prayer. Introduced is the second paradox: prayer without faith. Later in James (5.15), he will talk about the “prayer of faith” but first he addresses a faithless pray-er.

Ask Who? The Giving God (v.5). James says Christians (“you” Christians, v.5) ask God if we lack wisdom. In other words, wisdom is not developed but requested. Certainly the Jewish mind would instantly spring to Solomon who himself asked God for wisdom in how to govern the people of God (1 Kings 3.5-9, esp. v.9). It is in that context that we find a definition of what is wisdom: a mind of understanding and the ability to discern good from evil. God is “the giving God” (Gk. tou didontos theou). We ask of God on a regular basis (present tense) and He hears and “gives generously…without reproach” to all His children (who “ask in faith,” v.6). God’s undivided, single-minded intent as well as His benevolence free from reminding His children of past failures are highlighted in these terms.

Truly, this wisdom is needed if we would see the value of the various trials that come upon us. The world looks upon this joy in trials as sacred sadomasochism; the Christian who has asked for and received wisdom from God can understand the great value of a faith tried and triumphant in trials. To get this point across, James points the Christian back to the preaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt 7.7a). James in addressing specifically the need for wisdom says, “Amen!” God will give it for He is the giving God.

Ask How? The Convicted Christian (v.6, 8). James says we are to “ask in faith, with no doubting.” So we must be convicted of something. What that thing is debated by scholars. Some say it is the conviction of God hearing His child. Other say it is the conviction that God will answer. We might sum those previous two up as conviction in the promises of God (God hears and answers). Still others say it is the conviction of God’s very existence. So what is it?

Perhaps this speaks to all of these. In 1 Kings 18.20ff, there is the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah asks the people a question: “How long will you go limping (or wavering) between two different opinions?” That’s the idea here in James. Wavering between belief in God and unbelief in God. Wavering between believing that God hears and God not hearing. Wavering between God answering and not answering. James is indicting his readers about “wavering” (KJV) between two differing opinions about the character and nature of God. This is double-mindedness and instability (v.8).

James also illustrates what it is like when a Christian is doubtful: this wavering person is pictured as being a wave in the ocean “driven and tossed by the wind.” The idea is of the constant changing and shifting of the water, ever in motion and never firm. Here is the one who doubts in prayer. His soul is turbulent. His mind is torn asunder. In fact, he is literally “double-souled” (v.8, double-minded), trying to balance on the fence between faith and unbelief. This instability spills over into “all his ways,” that is, his whole life is consumed with doubt. He is left clinging with one hand to earth and heaven with the other, yet he can have only one.

How many double-souled Christians occupy a pew every Sunday? They are trying to live their lives facing in two directions – toward God and toward something else. They are trying to serve two masters (cf. Matt 6.24). “Teach me your way, O LORD,/ that I may walk in your truth;/ unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86.11, ESV, emphasis mine). An undivided heart is essential to asking God in faith for wisdom.

Ask Why? The Receiving Rule (v.7). The double-minded, unstable, wavering, person who does not ask in faith will not receive “anything from the Lord.” The faithless may be heard, but wisdom is not granted. And here is where the paradox is so striking: this man has enough conviction to ask for wisdom but lacks the faith to be confident in receiving his request. Faithless prayer is not rewarded. Jesus mentioned something like this – here is the man who puts his hand to the plow but looks back (see Luke 9.62). This person is unfit for the kingdom of God and unworthy to receive “anything” from the Lord Jesus, especially this gift of wisdom from the giving God. God is single-minded in giving; we must be single-minded in receiving.

Greater than John

I can remember as a boy wanting a Robocop outfit. Complete with the Robocop gun and mask, it was every young boy needed in order to combat the bad guys. So that was what I asked Santa Clause for Christmas: a Robocop kit, with mask and gun. Christmas day finally rolled around and excitedly I ripped through the gifts until I got to one that was rather square and was just the right size that a Robocop kit would be. I tore it open and there it was. With great joy I remarked, “Wow, Santa Clause really did get it for me!”

Looking back, I can remember that it wasn’t really a genuine Robocop outfit; it was the generic kind but kids don’t really notice that. What mattered to me was that I got what I had for so long asked for (at least to a kid Christmas takes forever to finally arrive). That is kind of what we find in Luke 7.18-35. For so long, Israel has been asking for their Messiah. Indeed, John the Baptist, who is locked away in prison (see 3.20), has preached the good news that the time for the Messiah is upon the people.

However, when Christmas day arrives and when they open their package from heaven, they sort of stare at it with confusion. And perhaps the disciples of John if not John himself are asking whether or not they have received a ‘generic’ Messiah instead of the real deal. Therefore, it seems necessary for John to send some messangers to Jesus , the so called Messiah, to see if indeed he is the real deal.

The Request of John

We can only assume that John was an honest doubter. It is he who calls his two messangers together and gives them the message. But certainly his opinion could have been swayed by the reports he had been hearing and perhaps some commentary from those who brought the message. “He’s not doing what we think the Messiah should be doing, John.” “Are you sure this is the right guy, John?” Thus, he sends messanger to ask in what one commentator calls “a vague messianic expression” whether Jesus is the one who was to be sent. If not, are we to expect the “name brand” Messiah at some later time?

The Reply of Jesus

Jesus does not become angry, at least there is no appearance of anger in his reply or the text. What we are seeing, then, is a Lord who is gentle with those who doubt and ask questions. He doesn’t say, “Well, if he wasn’t sure, why did he even preach about me being the Messiah. He shouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t sure.” Instead, we find Jesus very gently giving John the proof he needed in order to come to his conclusion. And certainly, John being familiar with Old Testament prophecies, would readily recognize that Jesus is in essence quoting from the Old Testment in order to say one thing: I am the Christ. All the miraculous signs Jesus is performing are evidence that Jesus is who John said he is.

The praise for John. Once the messangers leave, Jesus breaks forth in praise for John. John was not a reed shaken in the wind; instead he was a pillar who stood for truth and a preacher committed to righteousness. He was not a man dressed in ‘soft clothes;’ he was a man who was rugged and did not indulge the sinful nature. John was a prophet in the truest sense of the word. He spoke the word of God by the power of God for the glory of God. He was the fulfillment of prophetic mandate. But even in this exalted position, “the greatest among men,” there is a position which is far greater and that is “least in the kingdom.” Certainly following John was good and important, but of even greater importance is living in the kingdom. Jesus is putting the kingdom in perspective: it is the most important thing man can ever attain to. Certainly John the Baptist did the same thing when he uttered the words, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Therefore, pursue entrance into the kingdom. John fulfilled his role and function in prepare the way for the King. But now that the king is here, he inaugrates something greater for man.

The People and John. John came preaching the kingdom. It was the best news Jews who have been waiting for the kingdom of God could ever hear. It is the still the greatest news ever to fall on sinful ears. Therefore, the purpose of God was fulfilled in some people. The “acknowledged God’s way was right” and were baptized with John’s baptism. However, there were a group of people who refused God’s purpose for their lives. Note that, God’s purpose for a person can be rejected. This utterly smashes to peices the idea of predestination. Certain men are not born simply to stoke the fires of hell. God has a purpose for them and that is salvation. “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and knowledge of the truth.” The Pharisees characterize people who refuse to be obedient to God and therefore reject God’s purpose for them and stand condemned, not because God made that way, but based on their freewill decision to not accept the free gift of life.

The Prejudice against John. Not only did they refuse God but they cast off His prophet, John. And not only did they refuse to join in the dance, but when weeping broke out they refused that as well (v.32b). Be it John coming in utter poverty and deprivation or Jesus coming and eating with tax collectors and ‘sinners,’ these self-righteous men will not join either. However, the wise man can the see the wisdom of God in both the actions of John and Jesus. God’s way is always right and those who are truly wise will pronounce it to men who will accept it.

We always want to avoid becoming like the Pharisees. I don’t think there are many more sadder statements than v.30. God’s had a purpose for his people, but because of their “stiff-necks” and their “sinful, unbelieving hearts,” they refused it. But also we should walk away knowing that we serve the true Messiah. Jesus was the one to come “once for all” and by acknowledging this truth, we are not only children of the King, but we are children of wisdom, proving right the judgments of God. Finally, we should also acknowledge our lofty position and “take heed, lest we fall.” There is always the danger of rejecting the purpose of God. We can fall away into apostacy and must always be cautious of our walk with God. We hold the greatst position men could ever hold for we stand in the kingdom of God. We are sitting at the banquet of the King, enjoying the riches of his blessings in the heavenly realms.

Note: The above outline was adapted from The Outline Bible.