Archive for the ‘Ephesians’ Category

father and son

At the last Ministry Training Course we got through the first five chapters of Ephesians but (frustratingly for some of us who like to complete things) we didn’t have time to cover the last chapter. So we’re going to have a go at that here starting with the first bit of Chapter 6:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Well that’s plenty to be getting on with for now. I won’t attempt to unpack all of this. Thousands of full length books have been written on these verses, and some of them are very good. A few resources that we’ve found particularly helpful:

There are various questions we might want to ask about application of this passage, particularly in our East African context:

  • Who is a child? For how long does the obedience relationship continue?
  • Where do you draw the line in terms of a parental command which goes against the qualification ‘in the Lord’?
  • Which is a greater danger in our context – disobedience to parents and rebellion or over-submissiveness and bondage to the expectations of parents? Or both?
  • To what extent are parents, and particularly fathers, aware of their responsibilities as the primary teachers of their children in the Lord?
  • What are the primary goals of Christian parents for their children?
  • How much is our (subconscious) understanding of God shaped by the parenting we received as children?
  • And how much does our understanding of God shape our own parenting style?
  • Do we value parenting and children’s ministry as much as the apostle Paul?

I don’t know the answers to those questions but I throw them out there. I just want to mention two things that puzzled me and then helped me from this text [this is a work in progress so feedback very welcome]:

1. Why does Paul promise obedient children a long life?

“This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth”. Has Paul suddenly become a legalist, a pragmatist, a prosperity preacher? Why is he going back to the Law and saying do this and you’ll get a nice long life? Surely Paul remembers that Jesus died in his early 30s. Surely he remembers holding people’s coats while they stoned the young Stephen. Surely he’s seen Christian children and young people die of accidents, diseases and persecutions all round him. So why is he giving children this promise?

Some commentators suggest maybe he is thinking corporately. I.e. not every individual obedient child will live to 70 years but you would expect a society with strong families to have a higher life expectancy than a society full of rebellion and broken families. Perhaps there’s some truth in that (though the UK??) but it hardly seems enough to inspire the child sitting in the church in Ephesus listening to Paul’s letter being read out.

On reflection I think Paul is thinking of eternal life – life that begins now and continues in resurrection bodies in the new creation into eternity. A few reasons:

  • In Ephesians, death is only spoken of as a past event (Eph. 2:1, 5). For Christians, death is past and we have been raised with Christ. Completely secure in Him, with every spiritual blessing, we await only more grace in the coming ages (Eph. 2:7).
  • In Eph. 1:14 Paul uses the words ‘inheritance’ and ‘possession’, words that in the OT would have always suggested ‘The Land’, to talk about the New Creation / glory.
  • From Paul’s letters and the NT more generally you get the impression that the early church was completely focussed on eternity. They were expecting Jesus to return imminently. In the meantime they were expecting persecution and that they might well have to die for their faith.  Their big Hope and encouragement was the coming of Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 4). They knew that the current age was a valley of tears and pain. It seems that as they read the OT their instinctive hermeneutic was to see the promises and blessings as referring to the resurrection / new creation life (e.g. 1 Peter 3:9-12 in the context of the letter). Completely opposite to us whose default is to apply it all to this life.

There is still a question here about why Paul quotes command and promise – almost as if he is endorsing some kind of salvation by works. He obviously can’t mean this because he’s just made one of the strongest statements in all Scripture of grace not works (Eph. 2:8-9). It could be that the link is not meant to be taken as formally causal (obedience results in eternal life) but more that obedience accompanies salvation, it is fitting, it is ‘worthy of the calling’ (Eph. 4:1), “it is right” (Eph. 6:1). So obedience is a sign that you are on the path of eternal life. Another possibility is that the link is causal as it appears but is more about quality of eternal life – “that it may go well with you” – i.e. eternal rewards over and above simply eternal life (cf. Eph. 6:8).

I think there is another way to resolve it which has to do with the content of what the parents are teaching which the child is to obey. I’ll get on to this in the next point. But for now maybe it’s just worth noting that the obedience of children is supposed to be in light of eternity. Paul sees children as responsible moral agents who are capable of understanding Scripture and fixing their sights on eternal things and being inspired by that vision.

2. Why is provoking to anger contrasted with bringing up in discipline and instruction?

I see a contrast in verse 4. The question is why contrast these things? You might expect, ‘provoke to anger’ to be contrasted with ‘love’ or ‘listen’. Discipline and instruction sound like just the sort of things to provoke anger not allay it.

One answer is that children without any boundaries or discipline almost always end up not only wild but very insecure and depressed. Without boundaries they have no sense of right and wrong, up and down, their place in the world. At first they rejoice in the freedom but eventually they find that a lack of discipline is communicating a lack of concern and love on the part of the parent. They become angry, aggressive and resentful towards parents, authority, themselves.

That’s all true and important. But to go a bit deeper… another way to approach this would be to think more about the content and context of the discipline and instruction. The context is “bring them up”. The word is ‘nourish’ – as in Eph. 5:29. As you feed and cherish your own body; as you feed and tend a tomato plant; so carefully feed, tend and raise your children. This is the parent as servant leader. Just as the husband to the wife, the pastor to the church, Christ to his church – he gets down on his knees beneath his little children to serve them, spoon feed them.

And what is he to feed them? How is he to tend them? “Discipline and instruction of the Lord”. The first word means practical training. It would include physical chastisement but it is much wider. The hands-on service and on the field practical gospel ministry training that we want the iServe Africa apprentices to experience could be captured by this word translated ‘training’ (NIV) or ‘discipline’ (ESV). It is what Timothy was getting as he got blisters on his feet, walking the roads of Asia Minor, serving with Paul in gospel ministry (Phil. 2:22).

When we get to “instruction” I wonder whether we instinctively think of laws and commands. Do this, don’t do this. But how does Paul instruct his spiritual children? Look at Ephesians and his other letters. He teaches them the gospel! There are commands but they are flowing out of the gospel. He is encouraging his children with the gospel, rebuking them with the gospel, inspiring them with the gospel. To obey Paul is simply to swallow more of this gospel.

If you look at the book of Proverbs we find a similar thing. Much of the book is the impassioned appeal of a father to his son. It is a worked example of Eph. 6:4. And look at his commands: “Hear”, “Do not forget”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Get wisdom”, “Do not go down this path that leads to death”, “Go down this path and find life”. The father is not laying a whole load of laws and moral demands on the son he is simply pleading with him not to lean on his own understanding but to lean on the Lord and cling to Wisdom. To obey the father, to receive his words, is simply repentance and faith.

One more example. Ruth chapter 3. Here is a mother-daughter relationship. The mother gives precise commands to the daughter. The daughter obeys precisely. But the commands are very similar to those of Proverbs really: go to the one who will give you Rest, throw yourself at the feet of the Redeemer, ask him to spread his wings over you. To obey these commands is like obeying Jesus’ command in Matt. 11:28. It is faith. (Which maybe makes sense of the instruction and promise to children in Eph. 3:1-3.)

So coming back to my parenting. Am I laying heavy loads on my children that I and my fathers have not been able to bear? Am I hitting them with the Law? (So that like the early Luther they end up angry with God.) Or am I pleading with them to come to Jesus and give him their sins and take his easy yoke? Am I serving my children with practical gospel training and passionate gospel pleading?

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The church is Jesus’s body on earth. So we should be continuing Christ’s ministry on earth. Feeding, healing, blessing, lifting up the broken and marginalised. We are his body. Not just preaching at people – that would mean the church is just one big mouth – we need to be Jesus’ hands and feet to go to go to the needy and hungry and broken and care for them. That is the church’s mission.

Is that true?

Well there’s plenty of good sentiment in there about having compassion for the needy and marginalised. As John Piper said at the last Lausanne conference if we don’t care about physical suffering we’ve got defective hearts. We should be like our heavenly Father who sends rain on the just and the unjust and like the Son who blesses even his persecutors (Matt. 5:44-45). I find that very convicting.

But are we right to say that this is the church’s mission? I.e. what we are commissioned to go out into the world to do not just as children of God but as a church? In particular, can we draw this mission stuff out of Paul’s teaching that the church is the body of Christ?

As I’ve looked at the ‘body’ passages over the last week or two I’ve noticed that they have particular purposes:

  • Romans 12:3-8 – Do not be proud. There is diversity and unity. Use your gifts. (Most of the gifts seem to be for use within the church. ‘Ministry’ and ‘mercy’ are probably also within the fellowship given the immediate context (v9-13) but could be outside (v14,20) or both.)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 – Your bodies are members of Christ. Do not unite with a prostitute.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:17 – Unity in our communion with Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – There is unity and diversity. Jews and Greeks are one. In your diversity of gifts do not have an inferiority complex. Do not be proud. You are needed by one another within the fellowship (v21-22). There should be care for one another within the fellowship (v25-26). (And in chapter 14 we find that the diversity of gifts/members is for building up the church (14:4-5,12,19,26 cf. 12:7)
  • Ephesians 1:22-23 – The headship of Christ for the church. The exalted position of the church in union with Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:15-16 – Reconciliation with God and with one another – Jews and Gentiles – through the Cross.
  • Ephesians 4:11-16 – The five-fold or four-fold (whichever you prefer) Word-teaching gifts are for equipping the whole church for works of ministry – not ministry out in the world so much as to build up the body of the church (v12). And this building up means not so much numbers but unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son and corporate Christlikeness (v13-15). Each part of the body is to work together to build up the body/church (v16).
  • Ephesians 5:23-32 – Christ saving, loving and nourishing the church.
  • Colossians 1:24-25 – The church suffering as the body of Christ. (cf. Acts 9:4)

The main ways the body picture seems to be used are:

  • Union with Christ, salvation
  • Union with one another, unity in diversity, serving one another and building one another up

I don’t see much mission here. Nothing about being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Paul could easily have extended the metaphor in that direction but he doesn’t. The only explicit mentions of contact between the body and the outside world are about sin and persecution. When Paul talks about his mission – it’s all about preaching the gospel (Rom. 15:14-21; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16; 2 Cor. 4:1-6; 5:20; Col. 1:25-29; 4:3-6). When he talks about us doing mission together he uses metaphors of farming, building, business and warfare (1 Cor. 3:6-15; Phil. 1:5, 27; 2:25; 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:2-6) but not the body. Which is not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in alleviating all kinds of physical suffering etc. but it’s a reminder:

  1. that we need to be careful about our categories and vocabulary (esp. ‘mission’) and not press justifications for social action from texts not talking about that;
  2. that we need to look for the purpose of biblical metaphors and be careful not to cut them free of their context and run with them in all directions.

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Praise God for a good final day.

As we looked at Ephesians 5 on marriage we found something very counter-cultural, very different to pragmatic marriage, the husband as unconditionally loving, sacrificial servant leader, Oneness, a parable of the gospel.

In the workshop on evangelistic preaching (notes here) we had quite a discussion about the content of the gospel – is it “Jesus transforms” or “Jesus died”?

The highlight for me was Sammy concluding the Book of Job for us:

  • Patience is not passive – crying out to the Lord, desperately desiring to meet with him (James 5:7-11 cf. Job 23:2)
  • Satan is God’s dragon on a tight leash (Job 41 cf. Rev. 12)
  • Job sees the Lord high and lifted up and he is humbled and justified in his presence (Job 42 cf. Isaiah 6)
  • The solution for sinners is a suffering substitute (Job 1:5; 42:8)
  • The end comes at the end (Job 42:10-17)

Please give thanks for a good five days. Kweli Yesu amekuwa mwalimu wetu wiki hii.


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Bonface & Daniel MTC April 2013

Some of today’s highlights:

Very fruitful time discussing pastoral ministry – looking to God’s Word and listening to Benard Kariuki and Joel Mutea sharing their wisdom and experience in wisdom. Lots of helpful things came out:

  • The Calling and Ministry are for every member of the church (Eph. 4:1, 4, 12)
  • Who is equal to pastoral ministry? (2 Cor. 2:16)
  • The movement into pastoral ministry comes about through a number of things:
    • Passion, desire (1 Tim. 3:1), a “fire in the bones” (Jer. 20:9)
    • Character, ability, family life, maturity and repute affirmed by others in the church (1 Tim. 3:2-7)
    • Trial and error – test the water, try out different careers – God will get you where he wants you in the end
  • The need for great humility both in receiving correction and in correcting others
  • ‘Community sermon development’ – instead of the man of God with the definitive word from God, sermon preparation becomes a humble, accountable, communal activity
  • Challenges in our context – including the paradox of pastor-worship and at the same time a despising of the path of pastoral ministry

The falseness of Job’s comforters:

  • “The believer should not suffer like this, suffering is proof of sin”
  • using arguments of ‘spiritual’ experiences and extra-biblical revelation (Job 4:12-16) and the wisdom of the elders (Job 8:8-10)
  • a trite superficial use of Scripture – their words are packed with biblical allusions but it is a selective twisting and claiming of Scriptural ‘promises’ ignoring the more difficult portions (e.g. Ps. 88) and the big shape of the Bible story
  • gaps in their theology – the deep fallenness of the world, the reality of Satan (God’s bulldog), the eternal view (Ps. 73), the reality of innocent suffering (Abel, Joseph) and the place of innocent/sacrificial suffering in the plan and character of God himself (sacrificial system à Cross)
  • they speak of God but not to God

James Wainaina on Luther:

  • The big test of doctrine = does it have suffering at the centre? Luther found in the Psalms a theology of the Cross not a theology of worldly glory.
  • True grace – salvation is not a transaction but a gift – all top-down – the only and necessary qualification to come to the table of salvation is to be a sinner – we are always only beggars.
  • Theology is not just for the head but for experience.

And from the story of Festo Kivengere this great quote:

It was a temptation to develop some special revival message such as ‘brokenness’, something that belongs to our mission – how terrible! – and forget that the answer is found only in, “I, when I am lifted up… will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32)


Please pray:

  • For a revival in faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership in our land and that God might be pleased to raise up gospel workers for his harvest field even from amongst iServe Africa.
  • For Sammy as he continues to take us through Job, for Lydia Maingi encouraging us with the life of Gladys Aylward and for me as I teach the second years on eschatology.
  • That as the apprentices study Romans and Ephesians the Spirit would be producing gospel convictions, gospel-shaped character and gospel-shaped living.

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Covered all sorts of stuff today. Praise God for teachable humble engagement with the Word. The theme that seemed to emerge through the day was about our wretchedness and Christ’s wonderful salvation.

“Daily I abhor my sin. Daily I adore my Saviour.” (John Stott)

“I remember that this: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.” (John Newton)

In the morning Bible studies we were encouraged by Paul’s Christian experience in Romans 7: “Wretched man that I am! …Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Then in Isaiah 6 we saw the prophet having a similar experience: “Woe is me!” (cf. the 6 woes in the previous chapter) as he see the Lord (Jesus) high and lifted up (cf. John 12) in the place of atonement.

In Job 2:11-3:26 we saw the wretchedness of Job – this time not a wretchedness from guilt but suffering as the blameless servant of God – an honest window into the dark night of the soul and ultimately a picture of Christ in Gethsemane with his useless comforters, of Christ on the Cross, enduring the forsakenness, the hopelessness of hell, suffering worse than death.

Christine introduced Augustine in 30 minutes and it came out clearly that most of the heresies the great pastor-theologian fought (Manichaeism, Donatism, Pelagianism) had an insufficient appreciation of human (and Christian) sinfulness (and there are certainly assumptions in that direction in our Kenyan context). Augustine, through his reading of the Scriptures and his own experience knew the true wretchedness of the human condition.

Then Harrison led the most meaty session of the day as we grappled with the doctrine of salvation, especially from Ephesians 2, seeing again the wretchedness of our natural state and the wonder of our sovereign deliverance in Christ – from hell to heaven. (Harrison’s paper on the doctrine of salvation written when he was an apprentice himself in 2006 is here).

After a Jinsi Ya on Interview Preparation Skills, Sammy gave us some very helpful guidance on being Steadfast in the workplace.

Finally we looked again at Ephesians and found that Paul’s mission was…

  • simply “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8);
  • inextricably linked with the Church – the spectacular wisdom of God, the body of Christ, the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:10);
  • inextricably linked with suffering (Eph. 3:1, 13).

Pray for today (Wednesday):

  • That these doctrines would not puff us up but do their real job of completely humbling us and turning us to rejoice in Jesus.
  • For James Wainaina, myself and others speaking on Pastoral Ministry, Shaping a Sermon and lessons from Luther and from the East African Revival.
  • That the apprentices would be seeing things for themselves from the Word.
  • That there would be plenty of relaxation and fun too (we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously!)

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Just in the last week I think God’s been teaching me a number of things in a number of ways from different directions: a) that death can come very quickly and violently and horribly; b) that the world and its values are sick; c) that the evil spiritual realm is very real and very dangerous and very scary (and very hard to distinguish and disentangle from sin and weakness); d) that I am full of uncleanness and contradictions; e) that the Bible does speak of a God of wrath and an unimaginably terrible alternative to his grace.

Which is why the gospel of deliverance is such good news.  Ephesians 2 is brilliant on this. Writing to people who were far from the true God and wrapped up in all sorts of occult practice, Paul says they needed delivering from five things:

  1. Death – “you were dead”
  2. The world – “following the course of this world” (v2)
  3. The devil – “following the prince of the power of the air” (v2)
  4. The flesh – “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (v3)
  5. The wrath of God – “by nature children of wrath” (v3) – this is the Big One.

The Deliverance:

What happens if we forget…

  • …deliverance from death (“alive” v5)? We will still be scared (Heb. 2:15).
  • …deliverance from the world (“among whom we all once lived” v3)? We will either separate from the world and have no unbelieving friends or we’ll conform – in both cases failing to see that we have already been separated – a holy people, citizens of heaven, in the world but no longer of it.
  • …deliverance from the devil (“all things under his feet… seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ” Eph. 2:22; 3:6)? We will continue to fear the devil and his demons and we will seek continual deliverances – failing to see that the great deliverance has already happened (Col. 1:13), the great victory has been accomplished at the Cross (Col. 2:15).
  • …deliverance from the flesh (“once lived.. in the flesh” v3)? We will repeatedly seek an elusive ‘total consecration’, complete surrender, exhaustive confession, ‘final’ victory over the sinful nature – failing to see that our sinful nature has already been crucified in Christ, dead and buried (Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:12).
  • …deliverance from the wrath of God (“you have been saved” v8)? We’ll never really understand what it means to ‘be saved’ – what our big problem is – we’ll think it’s about a boost of grace to fight sin rather than a gracious rescue from the blazing anger of God through the Son of God being burnt up in our place (Lev. 9:24; Rom. 3:25) – and we’ll think that every time we sin God’s anger needs a fresh propitiation – failing to rejoice that there is now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

But don’t we still sin and suffer and slide? Don’t we still feel the pull of the world, the flesh and the devil? Don’t we need to keep fighting the unholy trinity? Yes, absolutely – but the answer is not a new ‘deliverance’. The answer is to ‘know’, ‘remember’, ‘stand in’, ‘put on’ THE Gospel Deliverance (Eph. 2:18; 3:19; 4:32-5:2; 6:10-11).

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Be thinking

The titles to John Piper’s books are so good you almost don’t need to read them.  Take ‘Desiring God’, ‘Future Grace’, ‘This Momentary Marriage’, ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ (I just want to frame that one and put it on my wall) or one his most recent title, ‘Think’.

What a helpful imperative.  Like a reviving bucket of cold water over the head.  “Think!” 

The great conspiracy is this: The world, the flesh and the devil don’t want us to think.  The cults and the false teachers effectively say, ‘Don’t think, trust me, I’ll think for you, just believe.’  In contrast, true faith involves not blind belief but the opening of the eyes to Reality.  We are called not so much to ‘Believe, believe, believe’ but to ‘Look, look, look – the Lamb of God’, to ‘Think over these things’ (2 Tim. 2:7).  In our perversity we shut our eyes and suppress the truth and our thinking becomes futile (Rom. 1:21 cf. Eph. 4:7). 

As we were discussing in this blog recently, anti-thinking is an important aspect of animism – in which we include Western secular societies just as much as traditional religions.  As Darrow Miller, in Discipling Nations, helps us see, cultures might have well-developed education systems but not ones that encourage deep critical thinking, certainly not concerning issues of ultimate importance.  They might have impressive communications technology but still a myopic focus on me, my family, my group, my horizon.  The members of animistic cultures (traditional and postmodern) might work very long hours but not actually achieve very much that will last more than a year, let alone into eternity.  Why?  At the very bottom of its worldview:

Animism… sees the universe as mysterious, unknowable, and irrational, a cosmic lottery driven by randomness, luck, or fate.  In animism, ignorance is a virtue…  In Thai Buddist culture… Ya kit mak, is a popular phrase.  It means, “Don’t think too much!”

This anti-thinking is in the church – both North and South.  Even in churches dominated by middle-class educated professionals there is a resistance to meaty doctrinal sermons and to Bible studies which push us to really ‘think over these things.’  

But conversion and transformation are in large part a matter of our thinking.  Ephesians 4:

17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is not to turn Christianity into intellectualism or scholasticism or Gnosticism as if we can think our way to God – No, this knowledge and transformed thinking is a gift of grace – the Father has hidden these things from the ‘wise’ and revealed them to children – but the call of grace is still clear: Think!

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