Monday, January 28, 2008

Grow Up! (Ephesians 4.14-16)

January 27, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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For the last two weeks we have been talking about gifts, specifically God’s gifts to us. From Ephesians 2 we talked about “the great gift” of God’s grace, whereby God made us alive, raised us, and seated us with Him out of love and a desire to show us that love. Last week we talked about additional gifts God has given us, providing for each Christian to be equipped for works of service and the building up of the community of Christ. Paul used the image of a body, with Christ as the head, to help us envision what the Christian community was supposed to look like.

And in today’s text, he continues this analogy and these thoughts. Verse 14 begins, “As a result…” and all this that has gone before is what stands behind that. As a result of God’s great gift, as a result of the gift of being equipped to worship and serve, and as a result of the gift of being in the body-like community of Christ, Paul continues with verses 14-16. As a result of all this, and to say it bluntly, Paul says, “Grow up!... Don’t settle for being baby Christians, stunted and stuck in your spiritual development, but grow up!” God has provided all you need for this, even as He has designed the human body to grow up from childhood to maturity. This is a message for the Church, for the gathered Christian community; it is a message for us.

No Longer Children…

There are two parts to Paul’s message here. The first is that “we are no longer to be children.” Now remember, Paul is not just describing individual Christian maturity, but the related maturity of the gathered Christian community, which is a kind of inter-related sum of the parts. He is challenging us individually and corporately to not remain contentedly stuck as an under-developed body.

He describes this state using another analogy. The immature church is “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind” (v. 14). The image is one of a small boat at sea, tossed and blown about with little to no control or direction. The result is one of helplessness and lostness. Specifically, the winds and waves of his metaphor are false teaching, deceit, and human scheming. One of the primary ways that spiritual immaturity misdirects the church as a whole is when its members are captive to every new fad and novel idea that blows through our culture. One thinks of “The Secret” and motivational speakers on TV who glob together multiple religions with a healthy dose of self-help and pop psychology. One also thinks of the spiritual elites within the church sub-culture who hold up a single verse or theological point to the neglect of the whole of Scripture to declare the “true way” and exclude all but the “true believers.” We are so anxious to find heroes that we will follow after human peddlers of truth rather than after God’s Truth.

Grown-Ups

In stark contrast to these diversions and distractions, Paul provides the mature alternative: “BUT, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up…” (v. 15). The first phrase sets off the key difference between immaturity and maturity. Immaturity is distracted and diverted by what is false, but perhaps alluring; maturity is signaled by an earnest desire to speak and hear truth, recognizing that the chief motivation for truth is love. Truth and love are not always the easiest path – indeed, often they are the hardest, like rowing a small boat through pitching waves and strong winds (to maintain the metaphor). But it is striving for loving truth that develops a mature and healthy Christian community, both individually and corporately.

Any parent should recognize what Paul is saying here. While dinners of candy and ice cream would seem to produce happy children, a truly grown-up parent recognizes that feeding children this way is not the loving thing to do, but is actually a cruel thing to do. This example is simple enough with young children, though even then the looks one gets for making children “eat their vegetables,” “brush your teeth,” and “drink this medicine” are enough to melt the strongest heart. And it only gets more challenging from there. Every parent and teenager struggles through the heart-rending storm of boundary-setting, losing and gaining trust, and wanting to give in to what is easy over what is right. These examples hint at what is involved in growing up spiritually. One of the hardest things to speak and one of the hardest things to hear sometimes is the truth. And yet this is what God says is spiritual growth hormone! Loving truth is what grows us up and trains us not to go running after easy lies. And this is why Paul mentions it in this context: there is no more supporting and safe place to do this than in the family of God.

At least that is God’s design for the Church. Churches can, of course, be just as dysfunctional as families. But that’s exactly Paul’s point here. God’s design and desire for us is that we grow up to be a mature expression of Christ’s body. And the point of verse 16 is that as goes the health of the parts, so goes the health of the whole. The way the Church works is not like 250 worker bees… each adding a little to the overall total. Rather, we are like the human body, with many necessary parts. With Christ as our head and the Holy Spirit working in and through us, God has knit us together as a functioning (or semi-functioning!) whole.

What that means is that each one of you is vital for the health and growth of this church. If you are not connected or plugged in or participating or exploring and doing personal ministry and mission, then we are not “one man down,” we are running a race with a broken leg! Look carefully at the end of verse 16 – I had to re-read this several times to see it. Do you see the phrase “causes the growth of the body?” What is it that causes the growth of the body? You might say, “God,” and you’d be partly right. God designed the body for growth, whether the human body or the church body. But it is the proper working of the parts with the whole that God has made to cause the growth. To compare this to the human body: God designed us to grow, but we must exercise, rest, eat, and take care of the body for it to grow properly. So it is with the body of this church. God designed us to grow and function as Christ’s body. But in order to do that, we must feed, rest, exercise, and care for THIS body.

This is why, for the past month, we have been singing the song, “I Need You to Survive.” It is taken from this passage in Ephesians. The point is not that we don’t need God to survive; that is foundational and true. But God has designed us to need each other to survive and to thrive as a church… as His body.
I need you, you need me; we’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me, agree with me; we’re all a part of God’s body.
It is His will that every need be supplied
You are important to me; I need you to survive.
The song also picks up on the part about “speaking truth in love”:
I pray for you, you pray for me
I love you; I need you to survive
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth
I love you; I need you to survive.
Dwell on those words – we need to soak in those and take them to heart.

Can You Picture It?

Can you envision our life together as a fully grown body? I’m not saying that we are not partway there… we are. Many of you have discovered your role in the body of Christ. Yet, we continue to be distracted by the waves and wind. We continue to view church as one commitment among many rather than as our IDENTITY in Jesus Christ. Hear God’s Word to you today: we need you to survive; we need you to grow up; God needs you to find your ministry and mission and connect to this body as living tissue connects the parts of your body.

I want to give the same invitation I did last week. If you are not already plugged into a ministry or mission of this church, read the Voice or talk to me about how God might use you as part of this Body. If we are not doing something that you think God wants you to do, come tell me and we’ll do it! A number of our exciting new ministries have started because people did exactly that. Shannon loved yoga and had completed instructors’ class and she wanted to integrate her Christian faith with that and reach people in the church neighborhood. So we’re doing it. John has always loved water coloring and wanted to encourage others to explore, develop, and use their artistic gifts for God’s glory. We’re doing that; you can see some of that artwork out in the gathering area. Vicki wanted to offer Zoe, other church children, and neighborhood children something that would build community and character in a safe, Christian environment, so we started the Daisy Troop. Come explore with me. We need you, not to be a church doing lots of things, but to be healthy and to survive.

May God grab hold of your imagination, heart, and mind, and not let you go! Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Presents for You! (Ephesians 4:7-13)

January 20, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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Last week we talked about “the Great Gift” of God. In a word, Paul described this great gift as grace. But, he also explained that grace. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world so that we who were spiritually dead might be made alive, raised up, and seated in Heaven with Christ. God did this because He loves us and in order to show us that He loves us.

Today we are going to focus on verses 11-13 in Ephesians 4. There is more gift-giving from God to us! That very language connects this passage to what we talked about last week. Listen to vv. 7-8:
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore [scripture] says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”
Literally, that reads, “He took captivity captive.” The best commentators I have read say that this is describing his defeat of sin and death. Jesus broke out of their captivity (for they hold humanity captive) and he not only was free, but took sin and death captive, binding their ultimate power over us. This Old Testament quotation, which we read in the Call to Worship, describes the ancient practice of the victorious hero sharing the spoils of war with his army. That is the scenario Paul is setting up for us for the verses that follow.

God’s great gift came at the expense of Jesus’ life and through his victorious defeat of sin and death. God has not only raised us up to life and assured us of a home with Him, but Jesus has also shared gifts with us that result from his victory over our former captors, sin and death.


What Other Gifts? (v. 11)

Look at verse 11. It begins, “And he gave…” What follows is just a sampling of gifts Christ has given. He mentions four in terms of a person or leader in the church. The first three exercised leadership broader than a local church. These included apostles, who were specially appointed heralds of news, in this case, the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Prophets were spokespersons for God, not unlike Apostles, but without the special rank and authority of the Apostles. Evangelists were also messengers, bearing the Gospel message in particular, and often traveling to spread that news. The last two items, pastors and teachers, are probably referring to a person or persons who shepherded a local church. These leaders used both gifts in teaching and caring for their “flock.”

The real point of this passage, however, is not to list and define various leaders in the Church. Rather, it is to talk about the gift of Christ, and specifically gifts that Paul says in verse 7 are for each believer.

Does this mean that every Christian is supposed to have one of these gifts, like we sometimes say about other “gifts of the Spirit?”

No, this passage, at least, is saying something different. Look at two important words – “each” in v. 7 and “some” in v. 11. What it is saying is that God has provided some leaders for the whole Church. Paul makes the same distinction we make when we say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the pastor is the earthly shepherd (little ‘s’). God has raised up Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, to lead His Church in these times, and that is how God has given a gift to every Christian.

Really, the focus here is not on these leaders. This is not a sermon to highlight the work of pastors or ask you to see me as a “little Jesus.” It’s what comes next that describes the gift that is for each of you.


Why These Gifts? (v. 12)

In verse 12, Paul explains WHY God raised up some to bear and teach the Good News. There are two reasons:
…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service
…to the building up of the body of Christ
This is the part that is most about you. That’s because YOU are the saints – the holy ones, the ones called out of the world to be the Church. And YOU are the body of Christ, the Church, with Christ as the Head of that body.

These are my primary marching orders as a pastor-teacher, because it describes what God wants to accomplish in you through my ministry here. My job is to equip YOU (the saints) and build YOU up. And it’s specific. I’m not just to equip you with sports equipment, so we can have a good softball team. I’m not to build this up into a mega-church.

I am to equip YOU for the work of service. Service is a biblical word that has multiple layers of meaning. First and foremost, it is worship. It is loving God with all you are and all you have. And worship is work. It started when God put Adam in the Garden to cultivate and keep it, and it continues today. The work of service is also the ministry of love and compassion that is “love of neighbor” and we do that as we get up and get out of the walls of the church and engage the world and neighbors around us. The work of service is joining God in the work He is doing. Chief among what God is doing is seeking and saving the lost.

I am also to build YOU up as the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean grow a humongous church; it means teach you to understand what it means to be part of Christ’s body. Next week, in the subsequent passage, Paul will help us understand that even more. But, my job is to remind you of who you are in Christ, so that you will function more and more like his body. This is like what I said last week. God loves you and wanted to show you He loves you. This is so what is true will become real in your lives. In the same way, it is true that you are already the body of Christ. My job is to teach and exhort and prod and push on you until each of us sees that truth as real in our own lives.

Enough about my job… all that is to say, using last week’s illustration, that God has more under the tree for you than the “great gift.” The great gift would be more than enough, but there is more for you! Today’s text lists two more presents: the opportunity to share with God in the work He is doing in the world and the opportunity to live as part of Christ’s body. [Okay, briefly back to pastors – our job is to help you unwrap those presents!]

In a word – well in two words – these are what “lighthouse” and “searchlight” are all about. It’s about realizing that we are the body of Christ and getting about the work God intends for us. Those are not dreadful duties; they are joy-filled presents from God!


How Long Must We Focus on This? (v. 13)

If you find yourself asking, “How long is he going to harp on this idea,” verse 13 answers that question:
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Paul began chapter four talking about unity… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Unity of the faith is not only theological agreement, but perhaps more importantly, it is unity of vision and purpose, with Christ at the head. This is why Paul keeps using the body imagery for the Church. Even in this last verse he does: we are to attain to “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Do you remember being a young teenager as your body started to grow? (You may be there now!) Sometimes your arms and legs would spaz out and head different directions. That’s what the Church is like sometimes. I know, too, in old age the body doesn’t obey us; but that’s not what maturity means here. Maturity is the Greek idea of the fully developed person – body, mind, and spirit. And Paul bends that secular notion to his Christian letter to say that God’s desire is for us – the Church – to grow up and get past the everybody-go-their-own-direction stage so that we can be unified in heart, mind, and purpose… not with me, but with Christ.

God has set the presents before you, in love and to show you are loved. My job is to unwrap the present and excitedly remind you, “This is for you!” God’s invitation to you is to come experience the reality of what He has already declared to be true: in Christ you are alive, raised, seated, loved, called, unified, directed, sent, and blessed. As we shine with the light of Jesus Christ and live into these truths, we will grow up into the Church and the people God wants us to be.

We have worshiped God in Spirit and in Truth. Come, let us respond with confession and thanks, then get up and get out to do the work of service that joins God in His mission to our neighbors and the world.

Talk to someone about Jesus – tell your story. We’re being equipped for that on Wednesday night.

Come ask me about what we are doing in the neighborhood – VBS at Brighton Place this summer; mentoring at Old Providence Elementary School; building relationships with the baseball league families; having a community drama for children.

Come tell me what you would like to do in your neighborhood or the church’s. We’ve begun yoga, girl scouts, water color classes, and more – all with an explicit intent to have Christ at the center and all because some member of this church got excited to participate in God’s work in and around us.

Some presents you get are all for yourself; others are something you share with the whole family. That’s what God has given you and he delights to see you open and use it! Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Life and Death (Ephesians 2:1-10)

January 13, 2009
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today we are looking at an amazing description of what God has done for us through His son, Jesus Christ. This passage follows an extended description of God’s goodness and graciousness in chapter one, where Paul describes a number of “spiritual blessings” and “gifts in Christ” and then prays for us to understand and know those blessings and gifts.


In Ephesians 2, Paul goes on to explain the ultimate gift of God and why God gave it. If you think back to Christmas, two very important things you want to know about every gift are “What is this?” and “Who gave this to me?” Those are the questions Paul answers in this morning’s text.

Ephesians 2 is really an extended answer to these questions, with Paul exploring three ways of describing God’s great gift through Jesus. Later in the chapter Paul will discuss how God has brought near those who were far away. He will also discuss how God has made family out of those who were strangers. In the opening verses that we are looking at, Paul discusses how God has given life to those who were spiritually dead.

Today we are going to focus on the two questions, “What is this gift?” and (not who gave it) “Why did God give this gift to me?”


What God Has Done

To understand what God has done (that is, what the gift is), first we have to understand the situation prior to the gift. That’s where Paul starts:
You were dead in your trespasses and sins… (v. 1)
Would anyone debate that? It depends on whether you think people are inherently good or not. One common understanding in our culture is that people are inherently good, but the situation of the world (poverty, lack of education, etc…) causes them to do bad things. The Bible teaches a different perspective. It teaches that like Adam and Eve, we choose from the beginning to act selfishly and turn away from God. Paul puts some language to this:
…you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to… the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (v. 2)
That’s how he describes the course of the world and those living in it. We are “children of disobedience.” And he gives some specific examples:
…we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind… (v. 3)
The last part of that verse is most telling. Not only does Paul characterize all who do not know Christ as “children of disobedience,” he describes them as “by nature children of wrath.” (v. 3) That means that human beings, inherently disobedient, live under God’s wrath. That’s not a popular message, but if it were not true, there would be no point in the Christian message. Jesus would have no one to save! There would not be spiritual death in need of resurrection and life.

You can disagree with the biblical message and say that you believe in another version of reality, but I’d rather you do that than misread the Bible as the story of a God who watches passively over a world full of good people. I just don’t see how one would get that out of this Bible.

All that is to say that Paul is setting the stage for the great gift. He is reminding us that all were once spiritually dead and separated from God because of our own sin and disobedience.

Then, in verse 4, it’s like pulling the great gift out from under the tree. Paul says, “But God….” Spiritual death is not the end of humanity’s story. Being children of wrath is not our fate or destiny.

If we focus on the main clauses, we see that God did three things. This is Paul’s basic description of the great gift:

God made us alive together with Christ (v. 5)
God raised us up with Him (v. 6)
God seated us with Him in the heavenly places (v. 6)

The big contrast is between “you were dead” and “God made us alive.” Paul even repeats it right before this three-fold description of the gift. Again in verse 4 he says, “…even when we were dead in our transgressions… God made us alive….”

While Paul goes on later in the chapter to offer other explanations, none can be more of a contrast than this. This is the bedrock truth of what salvation is. As much as I like the rescue-the-drowning-man illustration, that falls short. It’s not even enough to change that to do-CPR-and-resuscitate-the-drowned-man. God says that we were dead-dead, with no earthly or natural hope of life. And God made us alive with Jesus Christ, the one God raised from being three days dead. That’s why we are “made alive together with Christ.” God is doing in us what He did once and for all in Jesus: conquering sin and death so that human beings might know what it is to be spiritually alive and reconnected with God.

That would be enough. That is so much already. But there’s more. That’s why Paul goes on at such length in Ephesians 1 about the “riches” of God’s gift. It’s over and above anything we could ever come up with.

The other two parts of the great gift are not just that we are given spiritual life and connection with God during our short stay on this planet, but that we are “raised up” and “seated with” God in the heavenly places. That is, we are given life and a home with God forever. We are joined to Jesus Christ, adopted into God’s family, and given a name, a place, and a home.

What a contrast to being dead in sin! What hope and Good News! This is God’s great gift to us in Jesus Christ. That this news is ho-hum to so many of us I think belies the fact that we don’t understand what is at stake and what God has done. We hear about this great gift – as if unwrapping it – and we just don’t know what it is. We’ve had some presents for our kids like that. We as parents are so excited for them to open it, but they just don’t recognize in the packaging what it is or what they can do with it. It takes us opening it and showing them how to use it. That’s just what God did through Jesus! He came to be one of us and die so that God could make him alive, raise him, and re-seat him in Heaven. The Bible unwraps this great gift for us, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.


Why God Has Done It

We’ve looked at the question of “What is this (gift)?” But why has God given it to us? This passage gives two answers. The first is in verse 4:

…because of God’s great love with which He loved us…

That’s one of the most basic things that even small children can say about God. God loves you! But how do we know that? Is it just because that’s our picture of what God should be? No, we know because of the second answer Paul gives here. God gave us the gift of lasting life…
…in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)
God gave us the great gift of lasting life because He loves us and to show us He loves us. God is not a remote, uninvolved deity. God is not even just a beneficent and kind Creator. God is a loving Father who has demonstrated the extent of His love through Jesus Christ.

God loves you. But not everyone knows or has experienced that. Do you understand the gift of lasting life given to you in Jesus Christ? If and when you do, then you will experience the love of God. You will experience what is true to be real.


Some Implications of Grace

Paul ends this passage with a short excursus on “grace.” Grace is how he describes in a word the great gift given in love and meant to show God’s love. All that is wrapped into the word “grace.” It is here in verse 8 that he equates the two:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
So here’s a wonderful definition of grace: Grace is God making you alive when you were spiritually dead, raising you up and seating you with Him because He loves you and in order to show you He loves you.

Paul also briefly addresses the topic of “good works.” For some reason, we human beings are wired to think that we must earn God’s favor. Indeed, we were created to be in relationship with God and to know the joy of living in His favor. But sin and disobedience destroyed all that, beyond human hope of repair.

After describing the great gift of God in terms of eternal life, Paul is now focusing on this earthly life to say that God’s resuscitation and revival of us from death to life impacts our life in the here and now as well as in eternity.

We are made alive for good works, not because of good works.

We are made alive because of God’s love, which He intends for us to experience.

And God has prepared for us not only an eternal home with him, but also a place in this world.

We’ve talked in the last year about participating in God’s mission in the world and this is what Paul is describing here. God is even now showing His love to the world through what Jesus has done. And God has prepared work for us to do – to “walk in” – to speak and show that love and bear witness to who God is.

I believe 2008 is the year that God would turn our focus truly outward, that gathering to worship and look and listen to God, we will consistently then get up and get out to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our neighborhoods. I’m not talking about beefing up a mission or local service program. I’m talking about us grasping God’s amazing love for humanity and becoming a part of communicating that love to those who are dead spiritually.

There are those who feel dead inside. There are those who know they need something. There are those who are very successful and don’t know what they are missing. But without knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, a person is spiritually dead. And so once were each of us.

I challenge you and charge you, to see as God sees and love as God loves. That is the church I believe God would have us become. Amen.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Open the Eyes of Our Hearts (Ephesians 1:18-23)

January 6, 2008
Sermon by: Kathy Larson
[audio not available]

The message of this text is fairly simple and yet it is something that is so difficult to do. It’s not really anything new or anything you haven’t heard before, but I think it’s something we all need to hear again. Every day if necessary. Raise your hand if you think you completely understand God, everything about Him – His power, His majesty, His strength, how He made the world, why He does everything that He does. AND if you live every moment of every day as if Christ is your King. If you didn’t raise your hand, the message from this morning’s passage is for you.

If you don’t already have them open, let’s open our Bibles to Ephesians 1:18 so we can follow along with the text.

Verse 18 – I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul is praying for the Ephesians and indirectly also for us. It is the responsibility of our pastor to pray for us. It is the responsibility of our Sunday School teachers, our youth advisors, our Bible Study leaders, our parents, anyone in spiritual authority over us to pray for us. If you think that gets you off the hook because you are not any of those things, this passage also shows us that any of us who are “enlightened” – meaning any of us who know the Lord – it is also our responsibility to pray for those who are not yet enlightened – those who don’t know the Lord.

What is Paul praying for for his people?

…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened

In Acts 26:15, Jesus tells Paul that his mission is to open the eyes of the Gentiles, to turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to the dominion of God. Without God, our hearts are hardened (2 Corinthians 3:14), our understanding is darkened. Scripture says that before we know God, it is like we are stumbling around in the dark and coming to know God is like turning on the light. We can suddenly see. We can TRULY understand the world around us and see things the way God sees them.

How are our hearts enlightened? In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Scripture says that the unbelieving are blind – they have been blinded by Satan – and only God can open the eyes of their hearts to see the Truth. In Reformed Theology, which is the Presbyterian way, this concept is called Total Depravity. In Romans 3, it says that there is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who seeks after God. Left to our ourselves, we are sinners who want to do our own thing, we don’t want to come to the Lord. It takes God changing our hearts to bring us to Him. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that even our faith is a gift from God, not something we were able to do for ourselves.

When our hearts are enlightened by God, when we become believers, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can see the world the way God see it. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can interpret Scripture properly. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can even believe that Scripture is true. It’s all about God, it’s not about us. And those who don’t know God don’t understand these things. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says that because we have received the Spirit, we are able to know the things of God, having not human wisdom, but spiritual wisdom. But a natural man, one who does not know the Lord, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them.

You all know people whose hearts are hardened towards God. Who think that the things of the Lord are foolishness. People who don’t understand why you give 10% of what you make to the church, who think you’re insane for using a week of your vacation time to go on a mission trip to New Orleans, or can’t believe you won’t tell a few little white lies to get ahead at work, or even simply think you’re stupid or ignorant for believing that there is a God.

So, what it takes then to become a Christian or live the Christian life is being enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are blind and our hearts are hardened to think only about what we want, what will make us happy. And what’s the only way we can tap into the Holy Spirit? Prayer! So, just as we said above, just as Paul is doing, if you know someone whose heart is hardened, start praying!!!

What does Paul want our hearts to be enlightened to know?

First, the hope of His calling

This is another tenet of Reformed Theology – that there are those who have been chosen and called to be Christians. Romans 11:7 says that those who were chosen were enlightened to the things of God and obtained the inheritance, but the rest were hardened. We have hope in knowing that we are His called, His chosen, those whose hearts have been enlightened and this means not only will we be given eternal life, we have been given eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand THIS life. Those who know the Lord have been given a wisdom that is beyond what the world can ever understand – what man can ever know on his own. Again, this is something that we have been GIVEN, not something we have earned or come to know ourselves. It’s all about God. Our hope is hope in God and in His power, not hope in ourselves. And we know we can have hope in His calling because of what the rest of this passage says about God and about Christ.

Secondly, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints

What is God’s inheritance? Think about the richest man in the world and what kind of inheritance his only son has to look forward to. Then multiply it times infinity. That is the greatness of our inheritance in Christ. I once heard a story about a man who was dying and coming to heaven and he asked God if he could bring just one bag with him to heaven. Humoring him, God said sure. So he fills his suitcase as full as he can of gold bars and goes on up to heaven. When he’s passing through the pearly gates, they of course check his bags and he promises that God said he could bring something in and they check it out and God backs him up, so they open the suitcase to search it, like a good security guard would do and seeing the gold bars, the security guard says, “are you planning on building a new road?” the man responds, “What?” and the security guard holds up the gold bars and says, “Why else would you bring pavement?” The most valuable things we have here on earth are like asphalt in heaven.

What is God’s inheritance? It is not earthly riches that most men strive after their whole lives. It is so much more. It is salvation, eternal life, peace, joy, love, hope, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control – the ability to have a relationship with God and to allow Him to rule your life. Things that are beyond what money can buy. Just as the Bible says in Matthew 6:20: “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” which will never rot or decay or could ever be taken away from you. Paul wants us to understand just how worth it it is to give up a self-centered life to live a Christ-centered life. How rich a Christ-centered life really is. And he shows us this by what he says next.

Thirdly, the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe

What is God’s power towards those who believe? It is said right here in the passage:

a. The strength of his might which he brought about in Christ:

God raised Christ from the dead – through which he saved us from our sin and gave us eternal life and His Spirit to enable us to live rich Christ-centered lives here on earth. Also, when God raised Christ, he gave Him ultimate power and authority over everything in the world and also made him head of the Church – His body, the fullness of Him, who fills all in all. Though Christ fills everything and is sovereign over everything, it is the church which is the fullness of Him. It is the church which is His body. It is those of us who have the Holy Spirit and let His Spirit shine through us which reflect His nature to the world.

So what does all this mean for me?

First of all:

If you are not one of the enlightened, if your heart is hardened towards God OR if you’re not sure where you stand or what you believe, if you have questions about the Bible, if you need illumination, pray about it. Ask God for His Holy Spirit. Ask God for Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask for Him to open the eyes of your heart. And don’t wait, do it today! The longer you wait, not only will you not be certain of where you will go when you die, but you will have a more difficult, painful, sad and lonely time on this earth. People whose don’t know the Lord may seem happy at times. Maybe they have more money or a nicer house or more friends or more of the transient things, but the peace and the joy and the love which come from knowing God are those irreplaceable treasures in heaven that make your life extraordinary. It is the treasure of peace that makes a woman who is dying of cancer not worry about herself, but spend her time comforting her family in her last days. Is it the treasure of joy that makes an impoverished man in the third world’s smile more beautiful than any supermodel’s, even though he is missing most of his teeth. It is the treasure of love that makes a child who has been abused by her earthly father and her earthly family feel comforted by her Heavenly Father and her church family in a way that defies understanding. These are the treasures that are worth having, not better clothes or a nicer house or a fancier car. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart. And do it today, don’t waste another minute on the treasures of earth that moth and rust can destroy and that thieves can break in and steal.

But I warn you, if you ask the Holy Spirit to come to you, you have to be ready to have Him change your life. To reign in your life. For this is what the last section – verses 20-23 are all about. Galatians 5:25 says that if we have been saved by the Spirit, then we owe the Spirit our lives – if we can let God save us and give us all these wonderful treasures, then we also need to let Him reign in us. Not only because it is what we owe Him for His great lovingkindness in our salvation, but because it is the best way for us to live – the best thing for us. Which we finally understand when the eyes of our hearts are opened and we are enlightened to the TRUTH.

Now I’m going to speak to the enlightened, those whose hearts have been softened and their eyes have been opened to see the truth. There are three things in this passage for you:

First of all:

If you are one of the enlightened, it is your job to pray for those who are not enlightened. Pray that their hearts will be softened, that the Holy Spirit will intercede for them. You know the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. There is a verse that has a similar bent to it in Scripture – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. It says that we can plant a seed in someone’s heart, we can even water a seed that has been planted by someone else in their heart, but ONLY GOD can make that seed grow into a plant which bears fruit. Verse 7 says, “so then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” – it is all about God. God is the one who causes growth and change in people’s hearts. Only God can save. Only God can soften hearts. So therefore, spend just as much time, no spend MORE time, praying for your friends as you do arguing with them about religion. Spend more time praying for those who don’t know the Lord than you spend judging them for their actions. And that goes for people you know and people you don’t. Don’t just write letters to the network about Jamie Lynn Spears being taken off the air, pray for her. Don’t just boycott “The Golden Compass”, pray for Phillip Pullman. Don’t just not let your kids go over to that “bad kid”’s house to play, pray for that kid and his family. Pray fervently, knowing that your prayers are the way you communicate with the Holy Spirit, the source of this power. Prayer is how you can join with God, who, it says 1 Timothy 2:4, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth”.

Secondly:

If you are one of the enlightened, pray for YOURSELF. Paul is praying here for the Ephesians, who are believers – they have been enlightened to know God and yet he prays for them to be enlightened even more. To grow even more to know God and Christ and to recognize His power and dominion and majesty. Pray and ask God for His Spirit to continue to open the eyes of your heart to see Him for who He is, that you may grow more in your understanding of the God whom you love. There is not one person here, myself included, who fully comprehends the awesome power and majesty of Christ. I could study the Scriptures for the rest of my life and never come to a full, complete understanding of God, of His awesome divine nature. If I completely understood God, He would cease to be God for me – part of the reason that He is worthy of our worship is because He is divine, He is other, He is unfathomable, His infinity is more than our finite minds could ever truly understand. For those whose hearts are hardened this is a truth that they cannot accept, do not want to accept. This is something that makes them hate God. For those whose hearts have been softened, we understand that it is because of this very fact that we worship God, that we stand in awe of Him and that we want to know Him more. I urge you, no matter how much you think you know about God, no matter how well you think you know God, continue to seek to know more. Read, study, scour the Scriptures daily. This book is the insider’s guide to understanding God. And when you read it, PRAY. Pray for the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture for you, pray for Him to reveal to you true wisdom about these words. There are many scholars who study this book for their entire lives and are never able to see or understand what it says about God. Because their hearts are hardened. Because they read it and study it in unbelief. They use it as a weapon against God, they use it to try to disprove God’s existence, or to show that God is a sadistic monster, because that is what they want to believe. Because if they can say that God doesn’t exist or even worse, that God is evil, then they don’t have to do what He commands.

In my 9 years of ministry I can tell you that every single person that I have known who has denied faith in God or tried to disprove the existence of God, when we got down to the real root of the problem, when they were being truly honest with themselves, the reason they wanted to not believe is because there was something they wanted to do that they knew God commanded against – whether it was sexual sin or some sort of addiction or simply because they wanted to live their lives for themselves and not for God. I would even venture to say that the root of atheism really is just plain old selfishness – self worship, the original sin of Adam and Eve in the garden – you can be your own god. And that my friends, is the definition of those whose hearts have been hardened, who are not enlightened to understand the truth. The truth is that I don’t want to be my own god. I shouldn’t want to be my own god. Being my own god would not be good for me.

Imagine your four year old who all he wants to eat is candy, he never wants to eat his vegetables or meat or real food. Do you let him do that? Of course not. Because it’s not good for him. You know better that he does what is good for him. Well, compared to God, we are all four year olds who just want to eat our candy. We only want good things to happen to us – or things that we think are good in the moment. We are an instant gratification culture, an instant gratification race. We want the quick and easy way out. We want get rich quick schemes. We want fast food and then fast diets or even fast surgery to get rid of the consequences of the fast food. We never want to have to go through anything painful. We never want to have to deal with death or pain or suffering, because we don’t truly understand that it is suffering that makes us grow.

Those of us whose hearts have been enlightened KNOW that what God commands is what is best for us. We understand with a spiritual wisdom which comes not from human logic, but from the Spirit of God, that healthy food is better than candy, that exercise is a better energy high than caffeine, that suffering makes you stronger, and that God’s way is not only the right way, but the best way for us. This is what leads us to the final message of the passage.

Lastly, for those of us who are enlightened:

This is what I think the passage is really all about. The supremacy and authority and dominion of Christ. If your hearts have been enlightened, if you really know and understand who Christ is, you will not only recognize that He is King and ruler of the universe, but you will want Him to be King and Ruler of your life. It is not enough for Christ to simply be your Savior. If He is your Savior, He is also your Lord. I want Christ to be my lord. I don’t want to be my own god. When I’ve done what I wanted with my life, I’ve just messed things up. It’s when I’ve listened to God that things have turned out well.

Let’s look at what this passage says about Christ –

God seated Christ far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet.
Christ is ruler over all. The whole world, everyone. Philippians 2 says that one day, at the end of time, all men will have to face this fact. One day, every knee will bow on heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Whether they want to confess it or not, they will. That is a fact, that is an absolute truth. Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

And then secondly, the passage says that God gave Christ the church and made him head of the church.

So, we who are enlightened have Christ as our head, our authority, our Ruler. He should reign supreme in our lives. I think it is difficult for us to really understand in 21st century America what it really means to be subject to a King. We fought very hard to get our freedom and still fight today for democracy – to maintain our personal freedoms as independent citizens. Our immediate thoughts about a monarchy are that it is oppressive, that it’s unfair to have one person in charge and everyone else serve that person. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But think for a minute with me if our King were not a human being, who could be corrupted or selfish or tyrannical, but a LOVING, merciful God who as King would rule with absolute power, but with absolute love and grace. If you were subjects of a good king, a perfect king, a servant king, who wasn’t trying to use you to make his Kingdom bigger or to gain more land or more power, because He already had everything He ever wanted. A King whose only concern was loving you. A King like that would provide for His people. You wouldn’t have to worry about food or shelter. You would be protected from your enemies. If there were ever a disagreement among His subjects, this king would judge fairly and rightly – justice would always be done. It would be better for you than a democracy. Living as a servant of a good king would be better than freedom.

Now imagine that you are not just a servant of that good king, but you are a son or a daughter. You are a prince or a princess. You receive an inheritance in this Kingdom and you rule and reign with your Father. If you are one that has been enlightened, you are a prince or a princess of the great king of Kings.

Those whose hearts are hardened to the Lord will one day have to admit that He is King of Kings and will bow down to Him. But those whose hearts have been enlightened bow down to Him now and enjoy a better life on earth and will reign with Him forever in the age to come.

I join Paul in prayer for each one of us, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, so that we will know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe. May the Holy Spirit guide us. May Christ reign in our hearts and in our lives. Amen.