The verses we are going to look at today are some of my favourite verses in the Bible. Right after Paul told us yesterday that God was working through him despite his sense of being unqualified, Paul goes on to reinforce that God is behind all we do. Paul prays this prayer over the Ephesian elders. This prayer is for you too. I’ve posted it in 3 different versions. Read each one slowly and carefully and soak in what it says.
This prayer is for you!
Ephesians 3: 14 – 21
(New Living Translation)
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”
(New American Standard Bible)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”
Perhaps you could reread one of the versions and put yourself right into the prayer. For example, using the NLT version, you could say something like this:
Father, you are the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. Empower me through your strength by your Spirit from your glorious, unlimited resources. Make your home in my heart. Help me to trust you and grow into your love. Help me to be strong. Help me to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep your love is for me. I want to know you so much more. I want to be complete with the life and power that comes from you. I will give you all the glory for all that you do with me. Glory to you and Christ Jesus forever and ever.
If there was an idea that God was whispering to you yesterday as you read the devotions, once again, wrap your head around the fact that God wants to work in and through you. He loves you more than you can ever comprehend. Be brave. Trust him. Go!
Our song for today is Strength of My Life by Vertical Worship
“This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.
4-6 As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.
7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!”
Why is Paul in jail? Actually, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. That would be much more doable than being in the atrocious jails of that time. But I think we “pandemic folk” would understand why being confined to a house all the time would be considered jail. Being there literally all the time would be horrendous. Charles Swindoll in his Ephesians’ commentary (Living Insights) sums up the reason Paul is in jail:
“The Jews had accused him of being a rabble-rouser, a disturber of the peace, and the promoter of an illegal religion. His big problems began in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused by Jews from Asia of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the inner courts. In the midst of the ensuing riot, Roman soldiers actually rescued Paul from his Jewish attackers by arresting and chaining him. When given an opportunity to address the crowd of Jews, Paul recounted his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He then took his testimony a step further. He shared a vision he had of Jesus, who had explicitly instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem, saying, “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles”. (Acts 21: 27 – 22: 21)
Upon hearing this the Jewish crowd responded in rage: “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” So infuriated were the Jewish religious Zealots over Paul’s preaching of the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles that several Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed him. Clearly, the Jews were unimpressed by Paul’s God-given mission to the Gentile church. Eventually, after several years of being shuffled around in the custody of the Roman government, Paul ended up under house arrest in Rome, having exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. To the chagrin of Paul’s Jewish opponents, his message to the Gentiles never let up. While detained in Rome, he wrote four letters that continue to shape our lives to this day: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.” (page 213)
Paul’s determination to figure out how to continue his mission of reaching Gentiles and others really speaks to me. For a year now, we’ve been shut down and feeling isolated in this pandemic. Especially now that it’s winter, we’re not even seeing friends that much unless they want to go for a walk outside. Thankfully, we have Zoom, Google Messenger or Meets, etc. so we can talk face to face, but it’s still not the same. So, in this year of isolation, how have we continued to demonstrate our faith to those around us? Have we looked for creative ways to reach out to people, to help people?
But, there is another thing about what Paul says that brings home a message to me. I could look at Paul and excuse myself, because I’m not the amazing person that Paul was. Yet, look at what he says about himself. “I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head,” (v. 8) Paul didn’t think he was ‘Superman’, not at all. He felt totally unqualified.
Is that how you feel when you hear about something that needs to be done? Perhaps, it’s something that needs to be done around our church, or something you’ve heard about in the community. You’ve heard the Downtown Mission needs help, or the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, or Matthew House. Maybe it’s as simple as helping someone in your neighbourhood – making a phone call, or dropping a small gift off at the door, or helping shovel sidewalks. Maybe you stay isolated because it frightens you to reach out. What if what you think can do is not enough? You feel unqualified.
How did Paul do it? How can you do it? Let’s see what Paul says: “It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.” (v. 7) “God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.” (v. 8) “My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!” (v. 9 – 13)
God does it! Did you really understand that? God does it! God works in you and through you! It’s not your qualifications that are required for God to use you in some way. It has to do with “the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ” (v. 8) One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years, is that God whispers to us about things he would like us to do. Some idea keeps popping up in your head about doing something, helping somewhere, getting involved in some ministry, etc. What I’ve also realized is that when I act on those ‘whispers’, I discover exciting things. I realize that God wants me in that situation, and he provides the ability to do it.
So, is the Holy Spirit nudging you lately? Is there an idea of how to help someone, or some situation that keeps running through your mind? Remember that it’s not your qualifications as you think they might be – it’s God working in and through you.
“When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go.” (v. 13) Got it? Believe it? Go!
Our song for today is Strong Enough by Matthew West
“It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”
This passage is describing how both Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ alone and not only that, how they are reconciled to each other. I really like the way this passage is paraphrased in The Message because it brings the concepts much closer to our context when it describes “the circumcision” and “the uncircumcised” as “insiders” and “outsiders”. Those terms strike a chord with me after living half of my life in other countries. I know what it feels like to be an outsider, especially in the early years of our life in the Czech Republic. There were a lot of things I “didn’t know” — like how to tell the nurse at the doctor’s office that I was there for my appointment when the door didn’t open from the outside and the sign on the door said “Don’t knock!”. Often, I “hadn’t the faintest idea” what the punchline was that everyone at the small group was laughing about. I “hadn’t a clue” why that clerk was angry with me. I often felt “out of it altogether” because of language and culture. If you’ve ever felt like that, felt like a stranger and alien, you know that words like “in on everything”, “no longer strangers”, “belong”, and “home” sound really attractive.
As I’ve thought about that passage, I’ve realized that our job as missionaries is to willingly become cultural outsiders so that others can become spiritual insiders. The Message paraphrases Paul as saying in Ephesians 3:1, I’ve “taken up the cause of you outsiders,” and goes on to say in Ephesians. 3:6: “The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.” (MSG)
Even after living for years in the Czech Republic, I still often feel like an outsider, but the place I can easily feel at home is at church among believers, while a Czech unbeliever can easily feel like they are in foreign territory, listening to a foreign language when it comes to anything having to do with the church, or the Bible, or God.
Here is what one commentator, Albert Barnes, wrote about the phrase from Ephesians 2:12 which we are used to hearing as “without God in the world”: “Greek “ἄθεοι” “atheoi” – “atheists;” that is, those who had no knowledge of the true God. (The pagan) lives, and feels, and acts, as if there were no God. He neither worships him in secret, nor in his family, nor in public. He acts with no reference to his will. He puts no confidence in God’s promises and fears not when he threatens; and were it announced to him that there “is no God,” it would produce no change in his plan of life, or in his emotions.…And, if so, what is man in this beautiful world without a God? A traveller to eternity without a God! Standing over the grave without a God! An immortal being without a God! A man with no God to praise, to love, to confide in; with no altar, no sacrifice, no worship, no hope; with no Father in trial, no counsellor in perplexity, no support in death! Such is the state of man by nature. Such are the effects of sin.”
That is such a sad, but fitting description of the vast majority of Czech people—God just doesn’t figure into their lives and worse, they are hopeless, fatherless and alone. This is becoming a more and more accurate description of Canadians and Americans, as the culture around us continues down the same road to losing any knowledge of the Bible or the biblical foundations of our countries that post-Communist, post-modern Czechs have already travelled.
Whatever our nationality or ethnicity, those of us who are insiders in the kingdom of faith (and especially those of us who have spent our whole lives in the kingdom), can find ourselves increasingly separated and on opposite sides of a wall used to keep us at a distance from those who have no knowledge of the true God. We consider them to be outsiders who will always remain outsiders. I’d like to suggest to you that our job as believers is to remember (or imagine) what it feels like to be an “outsider” spiritually, so that we’re motivated to show people who are far away how satisfying it is to be at home and at peace with God, to belong and to no longer be strangers and aliens to God’s kingdom. We need to take the first step to bring them near and help them learn what it means to be an insider with God. This month before Easter is an excellent time to be asking the Holy Spirit to show us what that step will be, and to give us the determination to follow through with it. What can we do in our neighbourhood and at our church to welcome outsiders so that they can be new bricks and stones in the temple God is building? Here is one suggestion: https://www.goodseed.com/what-are-christmas-and-easter-all-about.html We need to each take up the cause of a spiritual outsider, even if that means feeling like an outsider in some way ourselves, or giving up some familiar ways of doing things, in order to show them that they, too, will find the most fulfilling sense of “at homeness” and belonging only in a personal relationship with Jesus.
What were we like before God intervened? I’m going to have you read the first 3 verses in 2 different translations since the wording in both gives us a clearer picture.
“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (New Living Translation NLT)
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (New American Standard Bible NASB)
That answer to what we were like before God intervened is very blunt – dead! We may have looked like we were alive, but inside, our spiritual selves were dead and controlled by Satan. Verse 2 couldn’t be any clearer “obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world”. Our reason for living was to live life for ourselves. That started in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam decided they wanted to be like God Himself, and followed Satan’s suggestion that they eat the forbidden fruit. If you are ready to admit it, you know that your first inclination in life is make sure what you want is what you get – what you want for your emotions, your physical body, and for your mind. Me first.
But … what did God do for us?
“But God” (v. 4)
“ But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”
God loved us so much that He sent Christ Jesus to earth to show us what God is like, and most importantly to provide a way that we can be united with Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus took the punishment for our sin and self-centredness, and demonstrated victory over death. This is only because of “the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us”.
How can I know that God has saved me? What do I need to do?
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
It’s simple – you believe what is said in these first verses in Ephesians. Period. Apart from believing, there is nothing you can do – nothing! Because of our sinful nature, our focus is on ourselves; we tend to think there must be something we can do – that somehow we need to prove to God that we are sincere and trying hard. But we can’t earn our salvation in any way – it’ a gift from God! Sometimes I think we have a hard time accepting this. We think there must be more to it than that. We’re not sure what, but somehow we think we need to do more. God just doesn’t accept us only because we believe that Jesus died and rose again for us. That seems too simple. But that’s exactly it – “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (v.9)
So … is that it?
“10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Actually, there is more. When we believe that what God has done through Jesus is enough, we are “created anew”. Another verse tells us the same thing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” There is a transformation in our lives when we believe. In Romans 8, Paul tells us this: “10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. … 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”
We do not become God’s children by doing good works. We can’t earn our way into God’s family. But once we are adopted/renewed by God, God has good things for us to do. We are now part of God’s plan for this world. That’s exciting, and Ephesians will go on to talk about some of those practical things in the coming chapters.
As you have read through these verses today, you may have been nodding your head and saying – ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I believe. Thank You so much for saving me’. Or you may have been thinking – ‘Is that all there is? Don’t I have to do more?’ I want you to reread these verses, and ask God to help you to truly understand how much He loves you.
“ But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”
Proverbs 1:2 says, “Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.” (NLT) This verse explains the purpose of proverbs. They are to teach wisdom and discipline so that people will receive help to understand the insights of the wise. God used and guided King Solomon to write the book of Proverbs. He was guided by the Holy Spirit to impart to us truth filled with advice and wise counsel. The question we need to ask ourselves is, will we follow His words and seek His discerning voice to instruct our children?
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (NLT) Other ways this verse is translated or paraphrased are…
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (NIV)
“Train children to live the right way, and when they are old, they will not stray from it.” (NCV)
“Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it.” (TLB)
“Point your kids in the right direction—when they’re old they won’t be lost.” (The Message)
Direct, start, train, teach, and point are words used to describe a parent’s role and responsibility to guide their children on a specific life course. Most, if not all, parents want their children to move through childhood in the right direction so that, when they are adults, they are not misled in a way that can be detrimental to their well-being. Isn’t that how parents think and feel? Isn’t that how you feel. We as parents don’t want our children to leave the path, turn from it, stray from it, or get lost. We want them to remain on it. I believe that is the heart of most parents and needs to be the desire and goal of all parents.
I’m thankful that my parents wanted this for me. They sought to raise me in a way that would allow me to be successful. They enrolled me in school, took me to church, and allowed me to play sports…all of which benefited me incredibly. They encouraged me, supported me, disciplined me. They taught me the importance of trusting in Jesus as my personal Savior and growing in my faith. And when I became an adult, they released me to further my education, pursue ministry, and marry an incredible lady.
One of the most important things they did was pray for me. I knew that they were committed to lifting me up to the Lord on a regular basis. In Judges 13 we read about a father who cared so much for his unborn son, Samson, that he prayed for help from God on how to raise him. In verse 8 it says, “Then Manoah prayed to the Lord, saying, “Lord, please let the man of God come back to us again and give us more instructions about this son who is to be born.” They had just received counsel and begged God for the man of God to return and give further instructions. And God answered his prayer. I encourage you to read the whole chapter to get the full picture.
My challenge for you is to regularly pray for your children. Pray for them when they’re in the womb, infants, toddlers, and school age. Pray for wisdom and discernment on how to best raise them and, in addition, be an example to them regarding how to live a God honoring life. This is how we as parents best serve our children and point them to God. Then, when they become adults, they will more than likely not stray from God or, if they do stray, will return to Him. Remember, proverbs are not promises but rather wise insights. Although, I believe there is greater likelihood for our adult children to follow God if you pray for them and lead by example.
That’s my hope and prayer for you and me. God’s best to all parents because He is a good, good Father. Listen to this song by Chris Tomlin and be encouraged because we can lean on God to provide us with help to raise our children if we ask Him.
Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”
Today as I comment on this passage, I’m going to use several quotations from Charles Swindoll’s Living Insights; New Testament Commentary – Galatians/Ephesians. Paul begins his prayer by thanking God for the Ephesians’ “strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people”. (v. 1)
Swindoll says, “Today, many Christians tiptoe gingerly through the Christian life, afraid of stumbling, unsure about whether the path of faith on which they’re travelling might lead them into danger. When they hear strange noises, they cower. When darkness sets in, they hesitate. And when obstacles fall in their path, they panic. But not the Ephesians, – with the illuminating light of faith, they marched forward, bold and strong, advancing in the Christian life toward spiritual adulthood.” (page 176)
Swindoll also comments about the need to love God’s people everywhere. “At this point, I need to emphasize something that is often overlooked. Bible-believing churches need both fidelity to the truth and unconditional love for fellow churches. Without abandoning doctrinal purity on the essentials of the faith, we need to foster unity between churches and between Bible-believing denominations. Our loyalty to Christ – who is the head of the whole body of Christ worldwide – must work itself out in practical, observable love for one another. A church that has truth but lacks love is not a church; it’s a giant Bible class cultivating cliques, leading to a clannish mentality, and producing cult-like attitudes of pride, superiority, and exclusivity. That must stop! We need to pray for other Bible-believing churches, partner with those of genuine faith, and learn from evangelical teachers with backgrounds different than ours. In other words, we need to follow the example of the Ephesians and demonstrate love for “all the saints.”’ (page 176)
Paul goes on to pray for some very specific things:
That God will give them “spiritual wisdom and insight” so the will know God better (v.17)
That they will understand the “confident hope” that God has given us (v. 18)
That they will understand the “incredible greatness of God’s power for us” (v. 19)
Those three things are actually quite amazing! If we truly understood that God gives us wisdom and insight, that we can be confident of God’s promises, and that God’s power is available for us – wouldn’t we live in a much more positive way? Instead of worrying about all sorts of things, we would be confident that God is at work and has things under control. That is really something to think about – and pray about – if we confess that in reality we trust mostly in our own ability.
The last three verses state strongly why we can be confident as God’s children and members of God’s church. Let’s read those verses over again, and as we read, let’s soak in who we belong to. Soak in why we can live in confidence.
“This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”
Our song for today is How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin
“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, (or we have become God’s inheritance) for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”
Paul is writing Ephesians from where he is under house arrest in Rome. I’m not surprised that he starts off this book with praise to God. Once again, he wants to underline to that new church that God is supreme. The worship of Artemis and all the culture and wealth that brings to Ephesus has nothing on our God. They are not to feel like the underdogs. Just look at who they belong to.
Let’s look at what we can praise God for:
God loved us before He even made the world. This idea of God being omniscient is hard to wrap out finite minds around. Let’s look at the definition from dictionary.com:
“having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things”
Before God created the world, He knew what was going to happen. His creation would reject Him, and would need to be redeemed. Yet He went ahead with the creation plan. God loves each one of us, and He always has.
God decided to adopt us into His own family. We belong to Him! This is what God wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure (v. 5) Great pleasure! Isn’t that just amazing!
God’s love for us was so great, He was willing to “purchase our freedom with the blood of His Son” (v. 7) In fact, He chose us in Christ “to be holy and without fault in His eyes” (v. 4) This is something I find very hard to comprehend. If I had a child who decided to leave home and ignore me because he/she thought they were much smarter than me, that would create a huge rift. But then if that child actually did things to harm me? Would I be willing to sacrifice a huge part of myself – even my life – to get that child back on track? I suspect I would be very hurt by what had happened, but would also think that child needed to ask for forgiveness and make some amends before I would make any sacrifices on my part. I am soooo thankful God is not like me!
“He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding” (v. 8) Again we can be so thankful that God imparts His wisdom to us. Can you think of a time when you were unsure about what to do? You prayed and thought over principles given in the Bible as you tried to come to a decision. As you prayed and thought, a decision came to you that you felt was the right one – and in retrospect, you realize was the right decision. That is God showering you with his wisdom and understanding.
God has a plan for this universe. “He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth” (v10) We are part of this plan. If you are anything like me, you have probably experienced times in your life when you wonder why. Why has something happened? Why do I feel like life is so much dull routine? Does God have something for me to do? Verses like this one help me realize that God does have a plan, and I am part of that plan. So when you experience that unrest, turn to God and ask for His leading on what He wants for you next.
Paul goes on to say that that the Jews and Gentiles both belong to God through Christ. The Jews can no longer claim special status.
Finally, we can praise God for giving us the Holy Spirit. “And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.” (v.13 – 14)
As you think back over these verses posted today, I want you to think about specific reasons you can praise God for. It may be just repeating some of the facts given in today’s verses. But also think of some special moments in your life where you know God stepped in and loved you. Then praise Him for that, and all the special moments that lie ahead for you.
Our song for today is Who You Are to Me by Chris Tomlin
Paul left Ephesus, and travelled around Asia and Greece over the next few months. Our scripture passage today starts as Paul asks the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, a city about 30 miles from Ephesus.
Acts 20: 17 – 27 NLT
“17 But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.
18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.”
Paul is an apostle, a special ambassador for God. His primary purpose is to spread one message – “the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus” (v. 21) and “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (v. 24). Although churches were formed, Paul’s mission was to spread the Word. In chapter 19 we read, “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (v. 10) Verse 20 says, “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”
Paul begins his meeting with the church elders by talking about his own commitment to spreading the good news. He talks about the difficulties he faced – which they would know about – and that nothing could stop him for carrying out “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus” (v. 24). It looks like Paul is telling the church elders that they should follow his example. God has put them in charge of this church, and they need to take that calling seriously.
I also think it is interesting that there are a group of elders. Today, many churches tend to leave the leadership of a church to a pastor. He/she does have elders or deacons to help as well as other staff members or volunteers, but the pastor seems to ‘run the show’. At Ephesus, there is a group of elders that are responsible for the church. Perhaps that plurality of leadership leads to a more unified group of believers, as the elder group seeks the Holy Spirit’s leading in all areas of the church. In case you are wondering, our new pastor believes church leadership is for staff, elders and volunteers.
Acts 20: 28 – 38
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
32 “And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them.37 They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. 38 They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.”
Now Paul turns to practical advice. First of all, make sure what you believe is true/right. Paul cautions that people from outside the church will try to convince believers that they are wrong. They will come into the church with false teaching. He also warns that people within the church who most believers would trust will also distort the truth. It appears the motive behind that is “to draw a following” (v. 30) – ahh – popularity and prestige. So for those elders in charge of that church, they are to be on guard about what is taught, and make sure they aren’t motivated by wanting to be liked/popular.
Paul’s next advice hits home to us in the 21st century. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We are so consumed with getting ahead, and acquiring beautiful things – the next gadget. You name it! At the beginning of Acts 18, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, and ends up staying with them because he had the same trade as them – tentmakers. (18: 1 – 3) Later in the chapter, Paul convinces Aquila and Priscilla to come with him as he begins his second missionary journey. In verse 19, we read that Paul left them in Ephesus.
In chapter 19, we discover that Paul has been in Ephesus for 2 years, and in the verses today, we discover that he has been working at his trade to support himself- and even the needs of others who were travelling with him. Sometimes we think that Paul was just travelling and preaching. He was also working! Just think about that! Imagine the energy it takes to earn a decent living, support others, preach and counsel this new church.
And … he tells us that we need to be most concerned about helping those in need. Wow! What an example for us to follow!
Tomorrow, we’ll start reading through Ephesians. Paul begins with doctrinal statements – the truth we need to know. Then he will give us practical applications of those truths. Get ready to hear what might shake you up a bit.
Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham
Today we are going to start reading through Ephesians, but before we do that, I want you to understand the background of this book. Paul was writing to the new church at Ephesus, a city with quite the history. The first information I’m going to share is from The New Inductive Study Bible, with comments from staff at Precept Ministries overseen by K. Arthur.
“Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, was the home of the temple of the goddess Artemis, sometimes referred to as Diana. Of all the deities in Asia, none was more sought after than Artemis.
But by the time of Paul, Ephesus’s position as a centre of trade was lost because the harbour became unnavigable. From that point on, the worship of Artemis became the city’s means of economic survival. The tourist trade and pilgrim trade associated with Artemis made many people in Ephesus wealthy. Silversmiths made their living selling images of this goddess and her temple. Innkeepers and restaurant owners grew rich from the large influx of worshippers who travelled great distances to see the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple treasury even served as a bank loaning large sums of money to many, including kings. And since Artemis was the patroness of sex, prostitutes sold their bodies without condemnation in the two-story brothel on Marble Road. Although Artemis was the main attraction, all sorts of magic and sorcery were conjured up in Ephesus.”
Paul stayed briefly in Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18: 18 – 21). On his third missionary journey Paul stayed in Ephesus for over 2 years. Chapter 19 tells us quite the story of what happened during his stay there, and that is what I want you to read today.
Acts 19: 1 – 7 (NLT)
“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul travelled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. 2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.
“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 “Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.
And they replied, “The baptism of John.”
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”
5 As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.”
Paul finds some men in Ephesus who have a garbled picture of Christianity. They are likely Jews who heard about John the Baptist, and realized that this new message was more important than the rituals they experienced in the traditional Jewish faith. After talking with Paul, they understood that Jesus was the complete sacrifice for sin, and faith in who Jesus was, and what Jesus had done was the crucial belief. Paul lays hands on them and there was evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling as they spoke in various languages. I’ve included an excerpt from the Inter-varsity Press New Testament Commentary Series about why the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, etc. were common in the early church and not so common now.
“As we reflect on conversion experiences at Pentecost, in Samaria and at Caesarea with Gentile God-fearers, what is unique to the various first-century situations and what is normative for all time? Unique items, given to demonstrate to various groups and to Jewish Christian observers the direct incorporation of various groups of non-Jews into the body of Christ, are the apostolic laying on of hands and the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, speaking in other languages and prophecy. Necessary precedents having been set, there is no need in God’s economy for their normative repetition in every Christian’s experience (Acts 15:7-11). But “repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit . . . belong together and are universal in Christian initiation” (Stott 1990:305; Lk 24:46-47; Acts 2:38-39).”
Acts 19: 8 – 11
“8 Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.
11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.”
This is the early church. The apostles had amazing power given to them by God to validate what they were saying about Jesus. Paul refers to this power in Romans as well: “Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.” (Romans 15: 18 – 19 NLT)
Acts 19: 13 – 22
“13 A group of Jews was travelling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honoured. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practising sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.
21 Afterword Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.”
Now that is an interesting story. We see some Jews blending mysticism, Jewish beliefs, and some Christian ideas as they gained a reputation for casting out evil spirits. God obviously decided to put a stop to this. The result was amazing! The message about Jesus ‘spread widely’.
Acts 19: 23 – Acts 20: 1
“23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:
“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshipped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheatre, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia.30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheatre.
32 Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. 34 But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. 36 Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess.
38 “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. 39 And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. 40 I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” 41 Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.
Acts 20: 1 (NLT)
When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia.”
This chapter in Acts has given us a picture of life in Ephesus. It was a culture dominated with idolatry and the occult, also with an emphasis on wealth and power. Anything that threatened those things created a fuss. I want you to stop a moment and think about our culture and values. What do we think are the important things in life in Canada? Can you think of 5 things that we value? Do those things clash at all with our Christian values and faith?
Tomorrow we are going to look at Acts 20 when Paul says good-bye to the elders and leaders of the church in Ephesus as he leaves for Jerusalem, and a future that he is concerned about. What does Paul say to them? What is he concerned about the most?
Our song for today is Keep in the Moment by Jeremy Camp
The thought of pitching a tent can evoke wistful memories or a certain nostalgia about camping trips in the past, or perhaps excitement and adventure while preparing for an upcoming trip. Often it involves travelling to new places, getting used to different surroundings, and honing skills that are not part of our everyday lives. For many people in Bible times, and for some people groups around world today, the tent is a primary or secondary dwelling and a means of existence. Living out of a tent can also represent for some a rootless, exhausting, and sometimes even homeless existence. Church-planting missionaries like us know firsthand what it means to be sojourners and exiles in this world (1Pe 2:11). Even though we do experience God’s lasting presence in our hearts and in our church fellowships, we know that we are still only pilgrims on this earth.
Perhaps we can give Jabal credit for inventing the tent; after all, he was the father of those who live in tents and have livestock (Gen 4:20). For the patriarchs, the tent was not only a dwelling; it was also a place to meet with God. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each pitched their tents at the same places where they erected altars to worship the LORD (Gen 12, 26, and 33). Made from the skin of sheep or goats, their well-worn tents foreshadowed a future glorious hope: Abraham went to live in the land of promise … living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:9-10) We can all relate as we often groan in the temporary, earthly “tents” of our bodies, longing for our permanent, eternal home in heaven (2 Cor 5:1)
The place where the LORD met with his chosen people was in a tent: The cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34). When the cloud or pillar of God’s presence moved, the twelve tribes surrounding the tabernacle packed up their tents and belongings, only to set up camp once again as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Meanwhile, only the priests were allowed to enter this mobile house of worship, and later the temple, on behalf of the people. But our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, or “pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14), has prepared the way for us into God’s very presence: Through the greater and more perfect tent, he entered once for all into the holy places… thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb 9:11-12).
As we plant churches in the Czech Republic, and as church planters around the world establish new local express-sions of the Body of Christ, we are “incarnationally “pitching our tent” among the people that God has called us to serve. This involves learning the language and culture, living among them, sharing the good news of Christ with them, inviting them to begin a relationship with God, and then gathering them together to grow in faith. The spiritual “tent of witness” (Acts 7:44) may initially be the church planter’s living room or a rented facility in the target area, and often involves moving several times to accommodate for size, financial needs, or other external conditions. God wants his church to have great expectations despite any adverse circumstances. Sometimes this means enlarging the existing “tent” and at other times it involves pitching new “tents” in the regions beyond (2 Cor 10:16).
Perhaps the most well-known proclamation in the Scriptures about tents is the word of the LORD in Isaiah 54:1-4. The barren woman is promised even more children than childbearing women; her offspring will spread to the left and the right; they will possess the nations; and the desolate cities will become populated. God is getting ready to do something that will simply amaze us. As we fulfill Christ’s Great Commission call by winning worshippers from all nations, God is saying to us, “Get ready!” How do we do this?
Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (Is 54:2)
God wants us to get ready for the “ingathering” of a vast multitude of new brothers and sisters from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages (Rev 7:9) into the family of God. Let’s enlarge the place of our tent and stretch out the curtains! Let’s reach new regions, plant new churches, make new disciples, and train new leaders – don’t hold back! With a bigger tent comes longer cords – praise God for the rope-holders in supporting churches like LSA who intercede on behalf of new tent-pitching initiatives around the world. Lengthening the cords, holding the ropes through prayer and support, is what allows this gospel advancement to continue. And by pounding our tent pegs even further into the soil, by strengthening our stakes, we are trusting in the rock-solid promises of God and the foundational truths of Scripture as we see Isaiah’s prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. Are you ready?
Mark and Gretchen Potma are missionaries with TEAM in the Czech Republic, planting churchesin one of the most atheistic countries in the world. They have four young adult children.
We’ve looked at how to love and care for our brothers and sisters in the church. What about caring for our community outside of the church? How do we do that?
Some people, like me, are called to move to a foreign country and care for the people there. Many people are called to care for those in their home country, those in their own towns and cities, those who are neighbours and acquaintances.
Scripture is descriptive and straightforward with instruction of how to care for those around us. It is illustrated well in Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT),
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ 37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ 41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[g]42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ 44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
How are we to care for our communities? Give generously. Give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, be hospitable, visit the sick and those imprisoned. Scripture also talks about caring for the widows and orphans, the injured and the homeless.
Sometimes, when we look at the many needs of those around us, it can be overwhelming and so we do nothing at all. We may think we don’t have enough money or time or resources to help all those who are suffering. We become discouraged and think there is nothing we can do. But that is not true.
We can donate clothes that we no longer wear. We can buy a few extra canned goods at the grocery store to take to the food bank. We can give a sandwich to a homeless person begging on the street. We can volunteer at an after-school program for at risk kids. We can help sort food or clothing at donation centres. We can serve a meal at a soup kitchen. We can drop off a meal at a local shelter. We can buy an extra toy or two at Christmas so a child living in poverty can have Christmas gifts too. We can sponsor a child overseas.
The possibilities of what we can do to love and care for our communities are endless. And we have no idea how God may use our generosity. Perhaps someone we help today will go and help two other people tomorrow. Then those two other people will help four more people the next day. And so on.
Our gifts are never wasted. Our generosity is never wasted. Our effort is never wasted. We may feel that we can do very little, but God can do so much! God can multiply each act of compassion, each act of service, each act of love.
So, I encourage you to do whatever you can to love your community. It can be as simple as offering a smile to someone who is having a bad day. Or instead of going out for lunch again, pack a lunch from home and give the money you would have spent to a food bank. Every little bit matters. Every little bit helps.
Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! -Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)
We have spent time in one of the most well-known scripture passages in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which tells us what love is and what it is not. Now that we have reminded ourselves of what love is, how do we apply it in our relationships within our church family?
We are told multiple times in scripture that we are to love one another as God has loved us. In fact, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Matthew 22:39 (NLT).
John 13:34-35 (NLT) says:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
What are practical ways to love well within the church? Again, we look to scripture for direction.
Colossians 3:13(NLT) says:
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
We must forgive one another for our transgressions and faults, just as the Lord forgives us. We are all sinners. We all make mistakes. We all have days where our temper is short, where our patience runs out, and where we speak before we think. We have all said or done things that we deeply regret. But Jesus died so that we can be forgiven for our sins. He sacrificed himself so we can be saved. Therefore, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from our brothers and sisters.
Forgiving someone who has hurt or wronged us is difficult. It can take time. It involves reconciliation, and sometimes confrontation, which we tend to shy away from. Most people do not like conflict, so we find it easier to pretend everything is fine. But when we don’t offer forgiveness, it builds bitterness and resentment.
Forgiveness is an opportunity to show God’s love and mercy, a love and mercy that is so incredible! It’s healing, it’s kind, it’s compassionate, and it is a testament to the mighty power of our Lord.
Scripture also commands us to show kindness and tenderness to one another. It tells us not to judge or condemn each other.
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 (NLT)
Do not judge or condemn others. How many of us are guilty of this? I know I am. We are often quick to judge and quick to speak words behind the back of another. People love gossip; they love a scandal; they love to feel superior. But scripture is very clear. We are not to pass judgment on one another. That is only for our Heavenly Father to do.
Scripture tells us to be other-centred, to regard one another as more important than ourselves. We should be humble in our interactions and not selfish. We must not be conceited. We must look out for the needs of others.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Philippians 2:3-8 (NLT)
The Bible is clear about how we are to treat our brothers and sisters. So, how do we apply these instructions in practical ways? How do we care for and love the people in our church?
Let me list some ideas I have for this and I encourage you to write down your own too:
Visiting/Calling elderly members of the church who live alone.
Buying groceries for a family who is struggling financially.
Making food for someone who is sick.
Inviting a new church member over for dinner.
Hosting or leading a Bible study in your home.
Talking to someone who has hurt you; often things are simple misunderstandings.
Welcoming every person who walks into the church, no matter how different they may act or look.
Providing a listening ear to someone who needs to talk.
Giving a hug.
Volunteering to serve.
Many of the above apply to a non-pandemic world when we are going to church and not practising social distancing. I do have faith we will be back to that again. However, given that we are in the current Covid era, here are some options for that:
Call elderly and single members of the church who may be feeling quite lonely.
Deliver groceries to the doorstep of the elderly who fear going out in public.
Leave meals on the doorstep of anyone who is sick.
Play a game together online or over video chat.
Start an online Bible study or book club.
Have a coffee & chat time on FaceTime/Zoom/Google Meet
Buy a grocery gift card for someone who has lost their job due to the pandemic
I encourage you, especially in these Covid times, to reach out to each other often. Pray for each other. Offer support. Listen. The are so many ways to show one another love.
Love one another as the Lord loves each one of us.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proudor rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
I Corinthians 13:7 NLT
I think everyone would agree that these verses about love are beautiful. Who doesn’t read them and desire to experience love like that? Who doesn’t read them and realize they fall short both in loving and being loved by any human like this ideal?
We most often think about these words in the context of marriage, and I’d like to tell you a true-life story about three marriages in their last days. (This isn’t meant to leave out single people because you and society also benefit when marriages stay strong through love like this, so keep reading). The first two married couples are my parents and my husband’s parents. Both of our moms were caregivers for their husbands for many years. My dad had Parkinson’s disease and my husband’s dad had Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t need to describe for you the care required and the patience and faith and hope and endurance that our moms needed in those circumstances. They stuck with the hard jobs they had been given until our fathers passed away and neither of them have any regrets. They loved with a triumphant fortitude; “not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise.” (William Barclay)
The other marriage is that of an older couple we became acquainted with several years ago. In fact, they were the same generation as our parents. When we met them, they were warm and outgoing, eager to talk about their children and grandchildren, to share stories from their past, their community and church involvement over the years, the trips they took together, the house and hobbies they shared. Not much different from our parents’ lives. They seemed like a couple not planning to do anything but live out their lives together. They were genuinely interested to know what we meant when said that we were missionaries and we worked on finding ways to tell them more about Jesus. During the last few years, while we were in Prague, things changed for them. We heard that the husband had some severe health difficulties and her existing health problems got worse. Adult children even moved in with them to help out. After we returned to Windsor last summer, I had a couple of opportunities to talk to the wife, outside of course. She wanted me to know exactly where things stood with her and her husband. Health issues had taken a toll, as well as years of unresolved hurts and misunderstandings and she was done with it. In her loneliness, she had found someone else through an online game she liked to play. She traveled to meet him and then she went to live with him for a few months and now was making plans to make a permanent move to another city. “It’s weird, Gretchen,” she said, “the way life has turned out. I never went looking for it, never thought this would happen.” She had come to the conclusion that her husband never really loved her during their 60 years of marriage, at least not in a way that met her need to feel loved (and she made sure I knew he was an awful grump to live with too) and now not even the grandchildren really needed her. So, she was wrapping her marriage and going to someone who would hold her hand and call her sweetheart. Enough of loneliness and heartache, that was not how she was going to live the rest of her life.
The conversation was a shock. I did my best in the moment to tell her without being judgmental that God wanted her to feel loved, but that her new friend’s love, as good as it felt now, would someday fall short too, but God’s love would last. I spent a lot of time in the following weeks pondering what to say that might help her stick with her marriage, but I only saw her once more before she moved away a few months ago and the conversation was about her cataract surgery rather her marriage or her eternity. A few weeks ago, we were surprised and saddened to learn that she had passed away suddenly in her new city.
But, I can tell you what I pondered and hope that I can encourage someone to not give up, to not lose faith, to have hope and to endure. What would keep me going if I were in the same situation? What kept our moms going during the last years of their husbands’ lives? It has to be the hope of heaven and meeting Jesus. The world and even this lady’s own children applauded their mother that she was “true to herself.” It’s true we can easily imagine that her last days on earth were happier with the new man than they would have been with her cranky old husband, but as believers, we have the hope of far greater satisfaction and eternal happiness that outweighs the temporary pleasures of earth.
God motivates us to feel and to do what we should by calling to our minds (Lamentations 3:21) the way he has shown love to us in the past and his promises of future love, near and distant.
We look back and are motivated to love as we see how God has loved us in forgiving us through Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
We look forward to the next day and are motivated to love by the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
We look forward into the distance and are motivated to love and to do what is right because our reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:12) and we will be rewarded at the resurrection for our costly love (Luke 14:14).
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7) NLT
“Love keeps no record of being wronged”. Even Solomon had that figured out. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9 NLT) You know that for sure as well, don’t you? You NEVER remind someone of something they did that you didn’t like. Or have you?
There are some sides to forgiveness for wrongs done that are really serious. When a partner or friend does something to smash trust, it’s hard to forgive. It takes a long time to trust again – if ever. If that is the situation in your life, then I’d strongly recommend seeing a counsellor.
Just like all the other qualities of love in these verses, this ability to forgive and forget comes from our Heavenly Father. If He wasn’t forgiving, we’d all be doomed. His patience is so special. He forgives and forgets as we make the same mistakes over and over again. There is a psalm that I love, but right now I want to focus on verses 8 to 14.
Psalm 103:8-14 (NLT)
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.”
I love those verses. “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west”. God doesn’t make a list of wrongs that He keeps in the back of His mind so He can remind us of how pathetic we are. In fact, He has forgotten completely about them. And the reason for all that is that God loves us. His love “is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth”.
It’s when I ponder on those verses, that I know deep down in my soul that I need to be more like that. I know I’m human (and so does God – “For he knows how weak we are”), and so I will mess up, but my goal is to become more like Him, more like Jesus. So, I need to be willing to forgive and not carry grudges. Sometimes, God reminds me of this, when I’m fuming over something someone has done. In my head I’m going over how many times this person has ‘ticked me off’. It’s usually when I’m fuming the most, that the sudden reminder comes into my thoughts – Audrey, you are forgiven. So what are you going to do about this?
I’m going to leave you to think about how much you make lists in your mind of the wrongdoings of your friends, and especially of your partner. And, realize that those lists separate you, not bring you closer together.
What comes to your mind when you think of Valentine’s Day? Chocolate, flowers, dinner, cards or candy hearts…remember those? I do. I remember they tasted chalky and read “BE MINE” or “COOL DUDE”. Today’s updated messages say, “BFF” or “TEXT ME” and the chalky texture is a thing of the past. Maybe the word that comes to your mind is friendship, love, commitment or sex. Whatever words you thought of, they came to mind because they are associated, in some way or another, with Valentine’s Day. They may differ depending on your age, gender, marital status, or secular/sacred beliefs but they all connect to this annual observance in February.
The scripture that came to my mind as Valentine’s Day 2021 approached was Ephesians 5:21-33 (NLT), more specifically verse 33. It says, “…each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband”. This is from the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus about marriage. He began his focus on the marital relationship in verse 21, which says, “…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It’s important to note this because it emphasizes the importance of both, man and woman, submitting to each other. Paul’s point is that mutual submission is essential in marriage. Then, in the final verse, he accentuates the importance by using the word “must”. He clearly articulated that love and respect in the marriage relationship is not optional but is required.
It’s like Nike’s slogan says, “Just do it”. Just obey God’s word. Show love and respect in response to the counsel of God. By the way, did you know that the slogan that preceded “Just do it” was “Let’s do it”? Interesting and very fitting because “let’s” is plural while “just” can be singular or plural. My point is, the marriage relationship must to be lived plurally not singularly. Either partner shouldn’t demand that the other “just do it”. They must have the attitude and commitment to “let’s do it”.
A few questions to ponder: Are you demanding your spouse to do something? Or, are you working together on doing something? Put more succinctly, are you husbands loving your wife and you wives respecting your husband?
In 2004 Dr. Emerson Eggerich wrote the book, Love & Respect. The tag line on the cover read, “The Love She Most Desires – The Respect He Desperately Needs”. In the book, he continues to uncover the relational significance between a women’s need for love and man’s need for respect. He addresses how a couple can get on the “crazy cycle” and find themselves withholding the very thing their partner desires and needs. This is not to say that a woman doesn’t need or shouldn’t be respected or that a man doesn’t need or shouldn’t receive love. Both men and women need and deserve love and respect. But when examining Paul’s words, it’s clear that there is something connected to a woman being shown love and a man being shown respect. There are many aspects to the marriage relationship but love and respect must be a priority.
I’ll wrap up by asking one final question. What comes to mind when you think of Valentine’s Day 2021? Maybe you’ve struggled to figure out what you’re going to do. Or, maybe you’re glad that you don’t have to figure out something to do. What came to my mind was “it’s going to be different and that’s okay”. COVID has demanded we do life differently. Our choices have been reduced significantly. But, please hear what I’m saying through my words today, we still have choices and, as they relate to Valentine’s Day, we can choose to do something. So, what will you do this weekend? My hope is that, if married, you will sincerely and intentionally show love and respect to your spouse. If you’re not married, I hope you will show the proper love and respect to the person to whom you are in a relationship. And finally, I hope those of you who are not presently involved in a relationship truly know and understand how valued you are as a single person. God cares about you and wants nothing more than the best for you when it comes to your relationships, as He does all of us. I’m so grateful that God cares equally about all people.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” NLT
(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7)
Love is not jealous. That’s the New Living Translation. The New International Version uses the word envy. Love does not envy. My first reaction to that characteristic is disbelief. Who would be jealous or envious of someone they love?
When our children were very young, I was jealous of my husband, and that didn’t create a very good atmosphere in our marriage. There was a lot of petty criticism on my part, and I became an expert at “suffering without saying anything” – how annoying is that! At the time I didn’t realize I was jealous. I thought the problem was that he was too busy and needed to spend more time with me and our young family. It was all his fault, of course.
Now that I look back, I realize that I was angry because I resented the fact that he got to go out to work every day, and his routines hadn’t changed. He got to have fun with the challenges of his job, and set his own schedule. I was at home, and discovering that parenting little ones creates chaos and fatigue. Putting it bluntly, I was jealous. The Bible tells us that jealousy or envy is a destructive quality. Proverbs 14: 30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”. (NIV) A longer passage of scripture in James goes into more detail about the results of jealousy.
James 3: 13 – 18 NLT
“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honourable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”
So if you’re finding yourself grumbling to yourself about how easy life is for your partner or your friends, and how you seem to get the harder end of things, realize that love is not jealous, and that jealousy only leads to a worse situation.
Learn to pray all through the day. When you start feeling irritable with your partner or circumstances, breathe a prayer asking God to help you calm down and stay peaceful. Take a good look at what your expectations are. Are you actually feeling jealous because you think you have to carry the load on your own – or at least most of the load on your shoulders? Are you frustrated because things are not going the way you think they should? Take some time to think these angry feelings through, and pray about them. How do I need to change? Ask God for clarity and help.
1 Peter 5: 7 NLT
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
Our song for today is Our God is Love by Hillsong.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7 NLT)
Love is “patient”. Patience is one of the qualities that God wants to give us, and it is a characteristic of God Himself. It’s actually thinking about God’s patience with me, that gives me the incentive or motivation to be patient with others. How can I accept God’s patience without extending that to others? The apostle Paul talks about God’s patience with him as he writes to his student pastor, Timothy; Paul says that God demonstrated His patience in choosing Paul for the important job of bringing the Gospel to the Gentile world. Prior to becoming a Christian, Paul’s goal in life was to exterminate the Christians. He travelled from place to place with his government and Jewish-faith supported troops to find them and put them in jail or to death. I Timothy 1: 16 says, “But God had mercy on me (Paul) so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life”(NLT). Paul realized that God’s patience was amazing; God didn’t let him continue on his anti-Jesus path, but turned his life right around. God is patient even with His enemies. And God is patient with you. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4 NLT)
Since Valentine’s Day is coming, I’ll ask – how does patience play a part in your marriage? You chose your life partner because he/she was the perfect one for you … and then you lived with them for a while. I first met Wayne while we were at university, and to get his attention, I started going to the university library to study at a desk not far from where he sat. I can remember being so impressed with how focused he was while studying, and with how smart he was
What I didn’t realize, until after we were married – he was a very focused person all the time, and doing an excellent job was a priority thing for him. So, when we bought our first home and started painting and decorating, I found out that there were perfect ways to do the job that I had never heard about. I discovered that taping the baseboards and trim was a great job for me, and then he did the rest of the work. If we invited someone to come over on short notice, I discovered that I shouldn’t ask him to tidy and vacuum the living room. When he vacuumed, all the furniture got moved and he found things that might even need to be fixed. That’s not good when the company is arriving in a few minutes. Living with a perfectionist is … interesting … and that required me to develop some patience. BUT wait a minute! I know he needed patience too. Would you like to live with someone who said “that’s OK with me” all the time when you knew it was not OK?
Love is patient, and we’re not perfect, so patience is something we all need to work on in a marriage. All couples are made up of two very different people. In fact, there is a saying that “opposites attract”. But those opposites together make a great team if they are patient with each other. The funny thing is over the many years Wayne and I were together, we moved more to the centre on that perfectionist issue. He became a lot more relaxed, and I tried to do things well.
In this pandemic time, I suspect that being patient is even more challenging. We don’t have the opportunity to just get out of the house and visit with friends. Or have an evening out at a restaurant, or at the movies, or a concert – doing something we really enjoy. We have kids at home doing their schoolwork online, and that can be very frustrating. A lot of students don’t do well with this type of learning. I think that sets us up for being more impatient.
I want you to think about the patience issue with your partner/your family. What is the thing that irritates you most? Do you need to look more carefully at your own expectations? Do you have to decide that “whatever it is” is just who they are, and it’s something you need to be patient about and accept? Maybe you need to figure out a compromise which means YOU have to do some changing. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of how patient God is with you. Think about it.
Proverbs 25: 15 “Patience can persuade a prince, and soft speech can break bones.”
Psalm 40: 1 “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.”
Romans 12: 12 “Rejoice in confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying.
Our song for today is Everlasting God (We Will Upon the Lord) by Chris Tomlin
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
We’re going to start a series on this chapter of 1 Corinthians. Valentine’s Day is coming soon, so we’ll look at how God defines love. Today, I want to look at the ideas in all the verses except for verses 4 through 7. Those verses specifically describe the qualities of love, but the rest of the chapter talks about the importance of love. Tomorrow we’ll start looking at those often-quoted middle verses that give us a standard to see how we’re doing in the “love department”.
I can’t think of anyone who would say love is not very important; however, in our culture I’m not sure people would consider it as the most important thing. It would definitely be up there if you could rank important things. But look at the comparisons this scripture gives us to emphasize how important it is.
Just think about how famous you would be if you could literally speak every language known on earth. You’d certainly be paid big bucks for your translation ability, and likely be consulted by the UN during any global negotiations. What if you were the smartest person on the earth – so smart that you actually knew what God was doing? (Bill Gates – move on over!) What if you could foretell the future (prophecy) accurately? I mean, if you knew God’s secret plans, you’d know the future for sure. What if your faith in what you were doing was so great, it actually could make huge events happen – like moving mountains? If you could do any of those things, you would be one of the most sought-after persons in the world. We admire intelligence and the ability to get things done in our culture.
But to love extremely well? You might be famous and admired, but you wouldn’t have much influence on global affairs. I think perhaps Mother Theresa would be an example of someone who loved extremely well. She was definitely admired and anyone who can read or follow media reports would know about her, but I don’t think many people would want to follow in her footsteps or encourage others to do so. Sacrificial love is admired, but in our culture, we really don’t want to go there. BUT, that’s where God asks us to go.
God tells us that we could be the most linguistically fluent person ever, the smartest person ever, or the most powerful person ever, but that would mean nothing if we weren’t a loving person. Right now, we live on earth as humans, and we have limited intelligence and power. But there is a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, and someday in eternity, we will see things from His perspective. When we do, we’ll understand just how important love is.
And God proved it to us already. John 3: 16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. The one being in this entire universe and in universes beyond ours, who has all knowledge and power, loved us so much He became a human with all its limitations, and died for us so we could have a loving relationship with Him. Is that not important? Really important?
Our devotions today focuses on the foundation of the Christian faith, not so much on how to apply it to our lives. Application will come, but I think it’s really important for us to stop and realize how important love is, and how important it is to our Heavenly Father. Because that is what will give us the inspiration to love others well when it’s personally difficult to do so.
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
Our song for today is Without Love by Stacie Orrico
Holding on to the little things throughout the day are what can give us peace and contentment. Even in a season when things don’t feel so significant, having a daily regime or plan can create calmness. We are reminded to drink our water for optimal health, take in 30 minutes of exercise, and eat more vegetables. Perhaps your current daily routine is simply surviving online schooling with your kids, or perhaps you are retired and have a whole lot more time than you ever envisioned. Sticking to a rough routine can keep your mind fit and anxieties at ease. As we are creatures of habit, revolving our days around some elements of sameness can be a great way to power through a goal, or simply draw in contentment during a pandemic.
My days have been scheduled around my 14-month-old daughter. Bedtime, nap-time, snack time and bath time are all expected daily routines in our home. From an early age, studies show that children respond well to routine; with the expectation of what comes next, there is a feeling of safety and security that comes with schedule. As we grow into adulthood there can be pressure to becoming and doing something significant with our lives. As we all know, comparison is the thief of joy. It’s easy to feel as though your life, or season isn’t as glamorous as the next person’s, as we observe what others have accomplished. I’m reminded that it is the little things that we do each day that matter – our disciplines, our faith, our manners, our resiliency.
“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.” ―William Martin
To be content whatever the circumstances, is the challenge today, and what I’ve spoken over myself as I take a small break from writing our devotions. On a personal note, ‘our little things’ will be a new baby that my husband and I will be welcoming into our family in several weeks – and we’d welcome your prayers as we deliver during this pandemic. I’m grateful for the love and support our church community continually gives our family, and the contentment of home this during this season. I look forward to continuing in this writing role later in the year. Yet, for this season, I’ll be stepping back to make room for a joy-filled, stay-at-home routine in our household!
I encourage you to keep pressing on, and taking each day in strides. Our mission field is where we find ourselves now, and each day has significance. Don’t lose hope.
“… have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 NIV
“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”
The Book of James has been a very practical guide to Christian living. James hasn’t wasted any words telling us how to live. Looking back over the past month as we’ve read through James, he has told us so many things. We don’t have to be considered important in our world for God to use us. God often grows us by helping us through difficult situations. We need to learn to act practically because of our faith; it’s not just something we believe in or think about. It requires action. We need to listen before we speak. When we speak, we need to be careful about what we say. We definitely shouldn’t be criticizing or speaking ill of people in our faith community. We shouldn’t be prejudiced – more willing to associate with people we think are okay, and avoiding people we think aren’t as good. In fact, we need to be careful that we don’t value monetary or fame success more than our relationship with God. We need to realize that we should seek God’s plans for us, not our own. Three words that stand out as we read through James are love, humility and patience.
Now James closes with a request for us to lend a helping hand to fellow Christians who have turned away from the faith in some way. I don’t think he is telling us to be judgmental and confront people with what we think they are doing wrong. That totally goes against all his advice in James which is accomplished by being loving, humble and patient. It is sad when we see a fellow believer disappear, and perhaps with this pandemic, we will discover once church gets back to a more regular routine, that people have disappeared. I’ve talked with so many people who have mentioned this feeling of disconnect with their churches, and I wonder if that means returning to church may not happen. Whatever the reason for “wandering” is, we need to reach out in a loving, patient way.
Occasionally, we hear about Christians being very critical, quick to condemn the actions of others. Although God wants us to speak the truth, we need to realize that God is a loving and patient God with us personally. As we seek to put God first in our lives, and listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, we develop these characteristics:
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians: 22 – 23)
James gives us high standards for being Christ followers. We can be so thankful that the Holy Spirit works with each of us to bring us into alignment with our heavenly father. As we reach out to others, we do it in gratitude and humility because of what God has done for us.
Our song for today is Humble Heart by Matt McChlery