No More Delay.

1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Revelation 10:1-7 ESV

John sees yet another angel. And while some have conjectured that this particular angel must be a representation of Jesus, it seems to make more sense that it is as John says, just “another angel.” It is a mighty angel, but an angel nonetheless. The Greek word translated as “another” is allon, and it means “another of the same kind.” In verse five, John describes this angel raising his right hand and swearing “by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it” (Revelation 10:5 ESV). Since Jesus played a major role in the creation of all things and is Himself God, it would make no sense for Him to swear to Himself (see John 1:2-3).

As has been the case before, John describes this powerful angel in dramatic terms. He is “wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head” and his face was as bright as the sun, and his legs shone like pillars of fire. All of this imagery is important and tells us something, not only about the angel, but about the nature of his mission. He comes down out of heaven, a clear indication that he has been sent by God. He is operating under the sovereign authority of God. And he is wrapped in a cloud. The Greek word is periballō, which literally means “to wrap oneself with.” He is surrounded by a cloud. It is the same kind of scene Jesus says will take place when He returns,

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” – Luke 21:27 ESV

Clouds are closely associated with Jesus and His return. In verse seven of chapter 1, John provides a powerful reminder to the seven churches, telling them, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.” When Jesus had given His disciples their final commission, He departed from them, and Luke records, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9 ESV). And the angels assured the disciples, that He “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV). So, this angel arrive wrapped or cloaked in a cloud as a not-so-subtle reminder that Jesus is coming. It is a preface to the greater moment to come. And the rainbow over the angel’s head is a symbol of God’s faithfulness and mercy. His feet and legs appear to John like twin pillars of fire, indicating God’s purifying judgment. He stands with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, creating a contact point with all of God’s creation. There is no region of earth that will not be impacted by what is to come. And from his position of authority and divine power, he calls out in a loud voice, like a lion roaring. It is loud and fearful sounding. And accompanying the voice of the angel are the sounds of seven separate thunders.

This is yet another one of those indescribable, yet unforgettable scenes that John is given the privilege of witnessing. It is awe-inspiring and intended to be attention-getting. Something big is about to happen. While John has already witnessed and described some of the most unbelievable scenes imaginable, there is more to come. And John stands ready to record what he sees and hears. But something strange happens. As John stands poised with pen in hand, a voice calls out from heaven, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down” (Revelation 10:4 ESV). Evidently, John is able to discern the messages in the seven different thunders. but is forbidden to write them down. Instead, he’s told to seal them. The Greek word is sphragizō, and it conveys the idea of sealing with the intent of concealing. This poses an interesting dilemma. Did John write them down and then seal them? It would seem from the text that John was about to write them down, when the voice had sounded. So, if he never had the opportunity to write down what he heard, what was it he sealed? It would appear that John was forced to keep the content of the seven thunders sealed in his own mind. He had heard their message, but was not allowed to convey their content. 

And there is another aspect to John’s vision that is easily overlooked in the fantastic imagery surrounding the angel’s arrival. In his hand, the angel held a biblaridion, a little scroll or book. But its content is never divulged. It most obviously contained information, but we are never told what it was. And as far as we can tell, the message contained in that little book is never revealed to us anywhere in the book of Revelation. It remains a mystery. And while the entire book of Revelation can easily come across as one giant mystery, there is much that God reveals to us in its pages. He graciously conveys to us His once-hidden plans for the future of the world. But there are still things that God keeps hidden from our view. He does not divulge all that He knows or all that He has planned. We are still His creatures and, as such, we are incapable of comprehending all the mysteries of God. And it should cause us to cry out with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV).

We may not know the content of the little book or the messages behind the seven thunders. but we do know the purpose behind the angel’s vow or oath sworn before God. He pledges that there will be no more delay. The mystery of God is about to be fulfilled. Things are about to heat up and speed up. The coming day of God’s final judgment is nearing. Everything John has seen up to this point has been nothing more than a precursor to the main event. And all the anticipation and expectations of creation will be met. Paul tells us that even nature longs to see this day’s arrival:

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. – Romans 8:20-22 ESV

There is yet one more trumpet to sound and, with it, the end will be ushered in. The long-anticipated day of the Lord’s return will arrive, and He will bring the judgment and justice of God to bear on the earth. There will be a grand climax to all the calamities befalling earth and its inhabitants. The judgments will end with one final, irrevocable judgment. And the mystery of God will be fulfilled. There is much about God we do not understand or know. There are aspects of His divine plan that have remained hidden from our view. And while John has been given the privilege of looking into the heavens and seeing the things that are to come, there is much that remains unknown to him and us. But one thing we do know about the mystery of God is that our future is secure. Our judgment by God has already taken place, because we have been restored to a right relationship with Him due to our faith in His Son’s finished work on the cross. Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV

We have already been redeemed. We already enjoy complete forgiveness for our sins. We are already united with Him. But the day is coming when all of creation will be restored and redeemed. God will fix all that is broken. He will judge all who are worthy of condemnation and place upon them the sentence they deserve. God’s righteous wrath will be finally and fully unleashed on a disobedient world, meting out His divine justice on all. And all in keeping with the prophecies provided by God thousands of years before. Daniel wrote of this very day.

And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the stream; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished. – Daniel 12:7 ESV

We can look at all that is about to happen from two different perspectives. We can see it from the viewpoint of helpless mankind cowering under the hand of an angry, all-powerful God. We can stand back and wonder at the sheer terror of the coming days of God’s judgment. Or we can recognize that all of this is the outpouring of the sovereign will of a loving, holy, gracious and merciful God. He has been more than patient. He has given the world ample time. He sent His prophets and they rejected their messages. He sent His Son and they killed Him. And as we have seen, He will one day send His judgments, and they will long for death, but they won’t turn to Him. And yet, through it all, God will continue to bring to Himself a remnant of mankind, whom He will redeem and restore. He will keep His promises to His people throughout the ages, including His church and the people of Israel. He will remain faithful and true. He will do all that He has promised. And one day, the mystery of God will be completely revealed. No more secrets. No more wondering about what comes next. And John will be given a glimpse into this day, which he will share with us, for our encouragement and edification.

6 “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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The Hope of Israel.

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Acts 28:11-22 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

After their shipwreck on Malta, the Roman centurion and his troops who had been assigned the task of delivering Paul to Rome, determined to spend the winter on the island. In the early spring, when the weather made safe travel possible, the centurion booked passage on a ship headed to Italy. Luke makes an interesting observation, commenting that the ship that would carry Paul on the last leg of his journey has a figurehead on the bow that represented the twin gods. This was a reference to the Greek gods, Castor and Pollux. We can’t be sure why Luke chose to include this information, but it’s almost as if he is trying to convey the irony of the situation. If you recall, back in chapter 14, when Paul and Barnabas had gone to Lystra and had healed a man with crippled feet, they were immediately lauded as gods, with the people shouting, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11 NLT). They claimed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Well, Castor and Pollux were the sons born to Zeus as a result of his relationship with a human, Leda, queen of Sparta. According to Greek mythology, Zeus transformed his two human sons into gods and gave them the responsibility of providing for he safety of sailors. So, perhaps Luke found humor in the fact that the figurehead on the ship to carry Paul (Hermes) to Rome represented the two sons of Barnabas (Zeus). On top of that, these two gods (Castor and Pollux) were supposed to be the ones who protected sailors from the storms at sea. Considering all that Luke and Paul had just endured on their journey to Rome, all of this would have come across as more than a bit ironic.

When the finally set foot on Roman soil at the port of Puteoli, they were greeted by fellow believers. We’re not told how these people came to faith. But we know that, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, there had been individuals from Rome in the crowd that heard them speaking in foreign languages.

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” – Acts 2:9-11 ESV

These visitors from Rome and elsewhere in Italy, were most likely Jews, who had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover and the feast of Pentecost. And we know that more than 3,000 people came to faith as a result of Peter’s impromptu sermon. It’s likely that some of the visitors from Rome and other regions of Italy were among those who came to faith. So, they would have returned to Rome, ready to share the news of the gospel with their friends and family members. Regardless of how these people had come to faith, Paul and Luke found themselves surrounded by fellow believers as soon as they stepped off the ship. And they stayed with them for seven days.

Upon arrival in the capital city of Rome, Paul and Luke were once again greeted by fellow believers. This must have been a tremendous encouragement to these two men, who were far from home and who had just endured a great deal of pain and suffering to make it this far. What a powerful reminder this must have been to Paul of the unstoppable power of God’s sovereign plan. Paul had grown used to arriving in a town and being the lone Christian, responsible for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people who had never heard His name before. But here he was, in the heart of the Roman empire, where no apostle had been before, and God had already been there. The gospel had already arrived and the Spirit had begun His work.

One of the things we learn about Paul in this passage is his relentless desire to share the gospel with the Jews. Just three days into his stay in Rome, he called the leaders of the local Jewish congregation, desiring to share with them all that had gone on and why he was there. Paul was getting ahead of the game, preempting the Jewish leadership from Jerusalem, who had surely sent a contingent to Rome to represent their case against Paul before Caesar. Paul wanted to make sure that the local Jews heard his side of the story before the opposition had a chance to poison the well. And so, he related all that had happened in Jerusalem, assuring them of his innocence, and clearly presenting the basis for his imprisonment and presence in Rome: “it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain” (Acts 28:20 ESV). Once again, he tied his arrest and imprisonment to the claim that Jesus was the hope of Israel: The Messiah. These Jews would have known that Paul was referring to the Messiah. The arrival of the Messiah was something all Jews hoped, wished and prayed for. Even Jews living as far away as Rome, would have longed for the day when their long-awaited Messiah showed up and returned the people of Israel to their former state of glory. Those Jews living in the capital of Rome would have been in the minority, surrounded by the power and paganism of Rome. They had no temple. Every day they faced reminders of their own oppressed state and the weakened condition of their own nation. They were no longer a force to be reckoned with, as in the days of David and Solomon. The Romans and their gods were the bullies on the block.

It would have been hard for these people to maintain their hope in the Messiah while living so far from Israel. Their sense of anticipation would have been beaten down and driven from them by the daily affairs of life. With each passing day, their hope would have diminished and their resignation would have increased. But Paul came bearing good news, and they desired to hear more. They admitted that they knew nothing of Paul’s confrontations in Jerusalem and had received no visitors bearing news or words of ill will against Paul. But they expressed their desire to hear more, telling Paul, “we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). They had heard about Jesus, but to them, he was nothing more than the martyred leader of a religious sect that had a less-than-ideal reputation. And yet, they were interested. Their curiosity had been piqued. Here was Paul, the messenger of the good news to the Gentiles, being invited by the Jews in Rome, to tell them more about Jesus, the hope of Israel. God works in mysterious ways.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Chosen by God.

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

Peter was one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus. The name he uses in addressing the recipients of this letter was the one given to him by Jesus. When Jesus had called him as a disciple, he was known as Simon Bar-Jonah or Simon, son of John. But in Matthew 16:18, we have recorded the occasion when Jesus changed Simon’s name, using the Aramiac word for “rock” – Cephas. From that day forward, Simon would go by the Greek version of his new name: Peter, which also means, “rock.” From all we can read about Peter in the gospels, he was a somewhat impetuous, quick-spoken individual who was anything but shy. He was a natural-born leader who assumed a position of authority among the other disciples and who was always the first to speak up, usually without much in the way of forethought.

On the night that Jesus celebrated His last Passover meal with the disciples, they left the upper room and were on their way to the Mount of Olives, when Jesus warned them that they would all eventually desert Him. Peter quickly spoke up and claimed, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT). But Jesus responded to Peter with news that must have caught him totally by surprise. “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me” (Matthew 26:34 NLT). But Peter was insistent, he boldly countered, ““No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 NLT).

Peter was the one whom Jesus ignominiously called, “Satan.” It was earlier in their relationship and Jesus had just told the disciples that He was going to be going to Jerusalem where He would “suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT). And Peter, always prone to put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged, spoke up, saying: “Heaven forbid, Lord. This will never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 NLT). And that was when Jesus shockingly called Peter, “Satan.” His actual words were, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT).

This well-intentioned young man would eventually betray Jesus, just as the Lord had predicted. But he would also go on to become one of the most out-spoken and evangelistically minded leaders of the early church. His fiery sermons, preached under the influence of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, would lead to the salvation of countless individuals. Peter was an impulsive, flesh-focused fisherman who was radically transformed by his relationship with Jesus and, when filled with the Spirit of God, became a force with which to be reckoned in those early days of the New Testament church. Peter became the missionary to the Jews, while Paul was commissioned by Jesus to minister to the Gentiles. Both had highly effective ministries.

Peter refers to himself as an “apostolos” – a Greek word that refers to “he that is sent.” Like the other disciples, Peter was a messenger of the gospel, the good news regarding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They were deliverers of the divine plan for man’s salvation. Jesus was the resurrection and the life. He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and it was the job of Peter and the rest of apostles to make that news known. Peter took his job seriously. And in this letter, he addresses “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1 NLT). The Greek word Peter uses when referring to these individuals is parepidēmos and it can be translated “pilgrims” or “strangers.” He wanted his readers to see themselves as aliens, not residents. They needed to understand that, as followers of Jesus Christ, they had become citizens of a new Kingdom. This world was no longer their home. He refers to them as the diaspora or scattered ones. This was typically a term reserved for referring to Jews who had been dispersed and scattered from their homeland of Israel. But in this case, Peter is probably using it to include both Jewish and Gentile Christ-followers who find themselves scattered throughout the various provinces he mentions: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s letter was intended to be an encyclical, to be circulated throughout the various regions listed. It would have been delivered to each and every church located in this provinces, read out loud, and then delivered to the next closest congregation on the list. The recipients of this letter would have been relatively new converts to Christianity who found themselves living in difficult circumstances, surrounded by unbelievers who would have been hostile to their newfound religion.

Peter refers to his readers as “elect exiles.” The Greek word he uses is eklektos and it can mean “elect” or “chosen.” This will be an important theme throughout Peter’s letter. He wanted his readers to understand the incredible significance of their status as children of God. This had been God’s going. He tells them that they were chosen by God, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). Peter is not saying that God somehow looked into the future and saw those who would accept Christ as their Savior. No, Peter is saying that God chose them because He had already determined to do so, even before they were alive. God had pre-determined their status as His children. The apostle Paul supports this view.

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 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. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. – Ephesians 1:4-6 NLT

This was a game-changer. What Peter wanted the believers to whom he wrote to understand was that their status as sons and daughters of God had not been up to them. It had been the foreordained will of God Himself. He had chosen them, not the other way around. And that distinction would be important when it came to any suffering they may find themselves encountering along the way. Peter knew they would find themselves tempted to give up their faith when the going got tough. They would face difficulties in life that would lead them to think that walking away from God would make things easier. But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had been God’s decision and they were His, whether they liked it or not. Their position as His children was permanent because it was based on Him, not them.

And Peter wanted them to know that part of God’s purpose behind His choosing of them was their ongoing sanctification or growth in godliness, made possible by the shed blood of Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. God had supplied them with all that they needed to increase in spiritual maturity and grow in Christ-likeness. And Peter asks God to fill them with more and more grace and peace. Even those two things were going to have to come from God.

 

Peter is preparing his audience to understand the radical significance of their God-ordained salvation. It had not been a matter of personal choice, although each of them had made a decision to follow Christ. This was a case of divine selection. And this viewpoint was important, because the believers to whom Peter wrote were suffering greatly because of their faith. If their “Christianity” had been their choice, it would be easy for them to “choose” to leave it behind, in an effort to make their lives easier. If choosing to become a Christian had resulted in suffering, then choosing to walk away from Christianity made sense. But Peter wants them to know their Christianity wasn’t up to them. It had been God’s choice. They belonged to Him. And any suffering they endured was part of His plan for their lives. Rather than give up, they needed to wake up to the reality that they were the recipients of God’s gracious, undeserved merit and favor. And they would need even more of His grace and peace in the days ahead.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Taking Every Thought Captive.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. But Paul’s experience was just the opposite. His long-distance relationship with the Corinthians had created some significant leadership issues for him. While he had been away, a variety of different individuals had shown up who questioned his apostolic authority, accused him of heavy-handedness, painted him as a coward, and labeled him as weak. A good portion of this letter contains Paul’s defense of his actions and authority. He felt compelled to defend himself because, ultimately, an attack on him was an attack on the very gospel he preached. And he saw the battle as a spiritual one. This wasn’t just a case of one man’s opinion over another’s. This was about the integrity of the gospel.

Paul uses military terms to describe what is going on. And he indicates that the conflict is taking place behind the scenes, in the spiritual realm. So those who were attempting to raise doubts about Paul’s integrity and undermine his ministry were actually being used by Satan himself to damage the cause of Christ. And Paul makes it clear that the attacks against him called for something other than a “fleshly” response. He was human (of the flesh), but his actions were anything but fleshly (according to the human means). He says, “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3b ESV). Paul wasn’t going to resort to human means to fight a spiritual battle. Manipulation, deceit, slander, lying, self-promotion, power-grabbing, and hypocrisy had no place in a battle that was spiritual in nature. Paul’s enemies were waging war according to the flesh. They were using any means possible to tear down Paul and destroy his influence among the Corinthians. They spread rumors about him. They raised questions about his integrity. They insinuated his lack of trustworthiness. They flatly denied his apostleship. They accused him of timidity when he was present with them, but of an arrogant boldness when he was writing his letters from a safe distance.

But Paul has a different fighting technique. He says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). He knows the source behind the attacks of his enemies, and it is none other than Satan. What Paul was facing was more than a battle of words and whits. He describes the verbal attacks of his enemies as “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5a ESV). When these people attacked Paul and his ministry, they were really speaking against God Himself. And like Satan himself, these pawns of the enemy were really attempting to cause people to doubt the veracity and reality of God and His offer of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. The NET Bible translates verse five as, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” Paul wasn’t going to let the false opinions and deceptive teachings of his enemies just slide by. He was going to attack them and make them his captive, forcing them to surrender to the sovereignty and Lordship of Christ.

Paul was ready to come and clean house. But he wanted to make sure that the Corinthians were obedient to the will and Word of God. His primary concern was their obedience. Once that was taken care of, he would do business with the rebels in their midst, punishing their disobedience once and for all. Paul was anything but politically correct or tolerant. He did not operate on the notion that everyone is free to have their own opinion. At least not when it came to the message of the gospel. And since the gospel, including man’s salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification, was what Paul’s entire ministry was all about, he was anything but tolerant of those who claimed to teach a different version of the gospel. He was not going to put up with those who questioned the validity of his claim to have been commissioned by Christ Himself. There was too much at stake.

The phrase, “Taking every thought captive” has often been construed to mean that believers are to manage their thought lives. They are think right thoughts and to control the inner workings of their minds. And while this is true, it would seem that Paul’s point has nothing to do with our thoughts, but with those of the enemies of God. We are to do battle with these false teaching and vain philosophies, taking them captive, like prisoners at the end of a victorious battle. We are to force those thoughts to submit the Lordship of Christ, like captives kneeling before a conquering king. They have proven insufficient and inadequate to overthrow the King of kings and Lord of lords.

In order to stand for the truth, you must know it. If we are to do battle with the false teachings and the subtle lies of the enemy, it is essential that we know what the truth is. We can’t spot the counterfeit if we don’t know what the real thing looks like. Our familiarity with the truth is what gives us the ability to stand against falsehood. And our commitment to that truth is what motivates us to fight against the lies, no matter what form they may take. Exposing the lies of the enemy is one of our primary functions as believers. Paul was at war and he knew he was on the winning side. He was willing to go out swinging, never letting up or giving up, until the Lord called him home. Which is why he could write to Timothy and say, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NLT).

 

 

Hope Until the End.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. – Hebrews 6:1-12 ESV

Spiritual maturity is not the result of human effort, any more than our salvation was the result of anything we had done or deserved. When the writer tells us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity,” the Greek word he uses is pherō and it has the idea of being carried along, like passengers in a boat. It is in the passive voice and does not convey effort as much as reliance. We are to allow the Holy Spirit of God to move us by His power into maturity. That does not alleviate us from any responsibility or effort, but it lets us know that the end result is a work of God, not man. The Holy Spirit indwells believers in order to assist them in their quest of becoming increasingly more like Christ. But clearly, there is an expectation that believers in Christ should grow up in their salvation. The recipients of this letter did not need further instructions on faith versus works or repentance from performance-based efforts to achieve a right standing with God. It was time to move on. It was time to grow up. The author refers to washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. These were all teachings or beliefs related to Judaism. They all had their counterpart in Christianity, but there was a need for the Jews to whom this letter was addressed to understand this foundational truths in a new way. Ritualistic washings, as practiced in Judaism, had been replaced by New Testament baptism – a one-time act that was symbolic in nature. The laying on of hands in Judaiasm was part of the sacrificial ritual, but it had new meaning in Christianity. The teachings regarding the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment had been expanded and given new meaning since the death and resurrection of Jesus. All of these doctrines, while elementary for the typical Jew, would have required additional insight and instruction for the believer. There was no room for resting on your laurels or relying on old truths.

The real issue here has to do with spiritual stagnancy, which can result in a drifting away or a regression on the part of believers. Earlier in his letter, the author warned his readers “So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1 NLT). He also told them, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 NLT). He is clearly speaking to believers, those who had placed their faith in Jesus, but who ran the risk of regressing in their faith because they were not pressing on and moving forward spiritually. He knows the very real possibility of believers falling away and describes them as those who “have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come and who then turn away from God” (Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT). He warns that “it is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame” (Hebrews 6:6 NLT). It would seem that the writer of Hebrews is dealing with extreme cases of apostasy, when believers turn away from and reject Christ. He is not referring to what many of us call backsliding or periods of spiritual doubt. The seriousness of his warnings convey the idea that he is dealing with cases of an extreme nature. His point seems to be that if you fail to grow, you will leave yourself open to apostasy. You will be vulnerable to false teaching and the possibility of turning away from the truth. This was not uncommon in the New Testament. Paul warned Timothy not to follow the example of two individuals who had wandered from the truth. “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus. They have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way, they have turned some people away from the faith” (2 Timothy 2:16-18 NLT). Paul also warned Timothy, “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT). 

The author of Hebrews is legitimately concerned that his readers grow. Why? Because lack of spiritual growth can have dangerous consequences. He is not saying that believers can lose their salvation. But the longer a believer wanders from the truth, the more difficult it will become for them to repent. And ultimately they will reach a point where they are living and acting as an unbeliever, and their return to Christ will appear as if His saving work was insufficient the first time. It will be like crucifying the living Lord all over again. Apostasy makes a mockery of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. That is why we are to grow. Apostasy is the very real result of complacency. Paul tells us that when the church is equipping its people and they are ministering to one another, we all grow and “we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT). We are to keep on growing in Christ-likeness, allowing the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to change us from the inside out. “Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance” (Hebrews 6:12 NLT).

 

Full Measure.

But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.” – Titus 3:4-6 ESV

How much Holy Spirit did you receive at salvation? According to Paul, you received a full measure of the Spirit of God. No partial fillings. No half-full Christians. No second filling to come. Why is this such an important distinction? Because God’s salvation is full and complete, not partial. He sent His Son to die so that we might live. He sent His Spirit to live within us so that we might be made new. Jesus didn’t undergo a partial death. He gave everything He had to give. And we don’t receive just a little bit of the Holy Spirit. We get all of Him – all at one time. So if we have a full measure of the Holy Spirit, why don’t some of us experience a full measure of His power in our lives? Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book, He That Is Spiritual, writes, “To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when He placed Him there. To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit, it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.

The filling of the Spirit has nothing to do with the quantity of the Spirit we possess, but it has everything to do with the degree to which the Spirit possesses us. It is all about control. That is why Paul told Titus to remind the believers under his care to live their lives in such a way that it would be clear that they not only possessed the Holy Spirit, but that He possessed them. His control of them would show up in their behavior. They would willing subject themselves to rulers and authorities. They would model obedience, and be ready to do good works. They would refrain from negative behavior like slander, instead living in peace with others, extending courtesy and exhibiting a gentle spirit to all people. Before Christ they had been known for being foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to their own lusts and pleasures. Their lives were full of evil and envy, and marked by a mutual hatred for one another. Not a pretty picture. But then Jesus came and changed all that. He offered them salvation, based not on works of righteousness they had done, but based on the mercy of God as exhibited in the death of His own Son.

And after His ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to provide regeneration and renewal. Regeneration refers to our new birth in Christ. We were once spiritually dead because of sin, and the Spirit, the Spirit of Life, brought us to life again. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:4-5 NLT). Paul writes in Romans, “And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT). Later on, in the same letter, Paul writes, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). We experience the new birth through the power of the indwelling Spirit. But we also experience renewal. Paul tells us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). We have experienced a new birth and we are able to live a new life – all because of the Spirit who lives within us. It takes a full measure of the Spirit to get the full effect of what God intended at our salvation.

And because we have the full measure of the Spirit of God living within us, we have all we need to live radically different lives. Not only do we have the hope of eternal life somewhere out there in the future. We have the power to live godly lives in the here and now. Paul tells Titus that believers should devote themselves to doing good, but not in their own strength – in the power of the Holy Spirit. God, in His mercy, saved us. God, in His mercy, is transforming us. It is not something we accomplish in our own strength. It is the full measure of the fully present Holy Spirit that fully transforms us into the likeness of Christ. God saved us. God is sanctifying us. And God will one day glorify us. All according to His grace, love and mercy. You and I have all the Spirit we need to do all that God has called us to do. We don’t need more of Him. We simply need to give Him all of us.

Convicting Power.

And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. – John 16:8-11 ESV

Jesus had just told His disciples that it would be to their advantage if He went away, because when He left He would send them the Holy Spirit to indwell them. So in place of Jesus’ physical presence, they would have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. Then Jesus told them one of the aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry: He would convict the world. What is important to remember is that Jesus had already told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would live within them, not just among them. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). I think it is essential to keep these two thoughts together as we examine this passage. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came He would indwell His followers. But He also said that same Holy Spirit would convict the world (the lost) concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

It would seem that Jesus is saying that the power of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the lives of believers would have a convicting influence on the lives of the lost. The Spirit within us provides us with the power to live free from slavery to sin and capable of living righteously and rightly before God. The very presence of Christ’s followers living in the power of the Holy Spirit gives proof of the gospel and brings conviction on the lost. Paul echoed this thought when he wrote, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 ESV).

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul told them, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). But how were they to expose them? Paul provides the answer. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, Awake, O sleeper,and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:13-16 ESV). Our lives should have a convicting influence on the lost living around us. Our God-given capacity to live righteously, provided by the Holy Spirit within us, will expose the sin and unrighteousness of those who do not yet know Christ. We will live out the truth of the gospel, giving proof of its efficacy.

But our lives, as a result of the Spirit’s presence within us, will also convict the lost world of righteousness. The Greek word Jesus used in this passage was elegchō and it means “to bring to the light, to expose.” It can also mean “to refute” and “to show one his fault.” It would seem that Jesus is saying that the righteousness of His disciples, made possible by His coming sacrificial death and the Spirit’s indwelling presence, would expose the false righteousness of the world. Self-righteousness can never measure up to Christ’s righteousness. And it is only Christ’s righteousness that makes us right with God. It is not what we do as Christians that makes us right with God, but what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our positional righteousness before God, made possible by Christ, and our practical, everyday righteousness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will convict the lost of their false righteousness. Which then leads to the Spirit’s final point of conviction: Judgment.

Without the righteousness Christ provides, the lost have no hope. They are condemned and destined to an eternity separated from the love of God. But our presence among them provides proof that forgiveness is possible and the gift of grace made available through Christ’s death on the cross is free to all who will accept it. But those who refuse will suffer judgment. One of the primary ways in which the lost will be convicted of sin, righteousness and judgment is through the sharing of the gospel. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been commissioned to spread the good news regarding His death, burial and resurrection and the free gift of salvation He has made possible. What makes the gospel “good news” is the fact that it stands in direct opposition to the “bad news.” Man is sinful, unrighteousness and stands condemned and convicted of rebellion against a holy and just God. He has no way of fixing his problem, apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. As we share the good news regarding God’s love as revealed in His sacrifice of His own Son, it will bring conviction on those who hear. And as we live out the life-transforming reality of that message in our daily lives, we will be light, exposing the darkness and convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

Ephesians 5:1-14

Bright Lights In the Darkness.

Ephesians 5:1-14

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:8-9 NLT

The believers in Ephesus were surrounded by darkness. These people had come to faith in Christ and been placed into the family of God, but still found themselves living in a pagan culture where all kinds of ungodly activity and influences surrounded them. While they were now part of the body of Christ, that did not mean that they were free from external pressures or the temptations to go back to their old ways of life. Paul had helped found this church and had spent over three years with the believers there, so he knew their situation well and had a deep concern for their ongoing spiritual well-being. He had seen first-hand the transformation that had taken place in their lives. Once they had been “full of darkness.” They had lived like the other Gentiles around them, whose “minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him” (Ephesians 4:16 NLT). Those among whom the Ephesian believers lived, “have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:19 NLT).

So Paul reminds the members of the church in Ephesus that they have a responsibility to live differently and influentially in the midst of the culture in which they find themselves. They are to live as people of light. Paul loved the imagery of light. So did Jesus. He described Himself by saying, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12 NLT). Paul had written to the believers in Corinth, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT). Paul was reminding his readers that they had been radically transformed and enlightened by the very presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. And that light within them was to shine from them, impacting and influencing everything and everyone around them. Light shines in the darkness. Light and dark cannot coexist. Darkness is simply the absence of light. So the more brightly the light within them shone out of them, the less darkness would be present in their midst. That’s why Paul wrote, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and course jokes – these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT).

Light dispels darkness. It doesn’t attempt to cozy up to it and tolerate it. As soon as a light is turned on, the darkness goes away. The same should be true in the life of the believer. The brighter the light of Christ shines in our lives, the more the darkness will recede. The more the light of Christ shines out of our lives, the less influence the darkness around us will have on us. The believers in Ephesus were just as prone as we are to tolerate sin, to excuse it and justify it. There will always be those who try to excuse sin and find a way to make it acceptable. But Paul warns, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 NLT). Tolerance and compromise have no place in the life of the believer. We are not to take part in the things that are done in darkness. “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!” (Ephesians 5:8 NLT). Light refuses to tolerate darkness. Instead, it exposes and expels it. Paul starts out this chapter by saying, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children” (Ephesians 5:1 NLT). That’s quite a challenge. But it is simply a reminder that we are no longer of this world. We have a new family and a new Father. We have been adopted and placed into a new home with a new set of standards. We should live in such a way that our actions please our heavenly Father. Rather than take part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness, we should expose them. We shouldn’t even talk about them. Paul writes, “It is shameful to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:12-13 NLT). That light resides in believers, so our very presence in the world should expose the darkness around us. Our existence on this planet should make everything visible, providing a stark contrast between what is pleasing to God and what is acceptable in this world. We are lights, but we need to shine. “No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house” (Luke 11:33 NLT).

Father, may the light of Christ shine out of us, not just inside us. May we learn to live as lights in the darkness, exposing sin and expressing the love of Christ for those whose lives have been dominated by darkness for far too long. Our lives are to be different and distinct. We have the Light of the world inside us, now help us to let it shine through us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Ephesians 4:17-32

New, Not New and Improved.

Ephesians 4:17-32

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT

Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross so that you could enjoy a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. And yet, that’s exactly the view held by a lot believers today. The term used to explain this version of salvation is “behavior modification.” It basically means that by coming to faith in Christ, we have been given a capacity to change the way we live by making a few alterations to our daily habits and attitudes. The formula goes something like this: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we try to stop doing some things and start doing others things – all in the hope that it will make us more acceptable to God. But Paul pulls on the emergency break when it comes to that kind of mindset. Why? Because it’s unbiblical and not helpful. Yes, he tells us to “throw off our old sinful nature and your former way of life,” which sounds a whole lot like removing bad behavior. Then he tells us to “put on your new nature,” which sounds like he’s recommending that we add some good behavior. Paul goes on to give a pretty comprehensive list of things to STOP doing. Stop telling lies. Stop letting anger control you. Stop going to bed angry. Stop stealing. Stop using foul or abusive language. Stop grieving the Holy Spirit with the way you live. Stop being bitter, raging, using harsh words, and slandering one another. As a matter of fact, stop all types of evil behavior.

But is Paul simply giving us a list of things to stop doing? Is it all up to us? Is he providing us with some helpful self-improvement tips for a better and more holy life? I don’t think so. Paul is reminding the Ephesians that a life in Christ is a life marked by incredible change, both inside and out. Our new life in Christ should be characterized by new behaviors. We have been given a new nature by God that is designed to be like Him – holy and righteous. Lying, stealing, slandering, hating, cursing – all reflect our old nature. So when they show up, they are evidence that we are living according to our old nature and not our new one. Those things are not godly, holy or righteous. But when we live under the influence of our new, God-given nature, the results are markedly different. Rather than stealing, or taking what doesn’t belong to us, we will work hard and give generously to others. Rather than allow words that abuse and tear down to come from our lips, we will say those things that are good, helpful, and encouraging. Instead of grieving the Holy Spirit by living according to our old nature, we will please Him by allowing Him to control our actions and attitudes. We will live lives that evidence kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. And those things are not self-manufactured, they’re the evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives. He produces them. The love He produces in us isn’t just our human capacity to love on steroids. It’s a completely different kind of love. It’s selfless rather than selfish. It’s sacrificial rather than self-centered. It’s divine, not human. It’s impossible and non-replicable. In other words, you can’t manufacture this kind of love on your own. It’s humanly impossible. In fact, this entire list that Paul provides is impossible if attempted on your own. The key is found in verse 23: “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” It all begins in the mind. That’s the battleground. And the renewing of our minds involves a change in the way we think and perceive. When we come to Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and, along with Him, a new perspective on life and eternity. He begins in us a slow, steady process of internal transformation that works its way out in outward behavior modification. So selfishness gets slowly replaced with selflessness. Self-centeredness gets replaced with sacrifice. Love of self gets replaced with love for others. As our minds are renewed, our behavior begins to change. And that renewal is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God. Paul told the Romans, “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 NLT). He goes on to say, “Don’t think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT). God gives us the capacity to look at ourselves honestly and realistically. His Spirit and His Word combine to provide us with a new way of seeing and thinking about life. And it should change the way we live our life.

God is out to radically change and transform us, not just slightly improve us. A slightly improved version of the old you is still not good enough. So God gave you a new nature and a new power to live differently and distinctively in this life. We can “throw off” our old way of life with all its sins, habits and hangups. We can daily put on our new nature, which has been created by God to mirror His own character of holiness and righteousness. Simply trying to change our behavior is like putting a new set of clean clothes on top of our old, dirty ones. It doesn’t change anything. It’s a facade, a cover up – that only hides the reality within. God wants to change us from the inside out. So He begins with our thoughts and attitudes. As we learn to think differently, we will begin to live differently. We will understand our need for the Spirit’s presence and power each and every day of our lives. We’ll understand our need to know the will of God by spending time in the Word of God. We will come to recognize the difference between the deeds we perform in our own flesh and the fruit that flows through is as a result of the Spirit of God’s work in us. And the new, God-designed version of us will be far more successful than the slightly improved version could ever be.

Father, I want to be radically changed by You each and every day of my life. But I know I have to have my way of thinking radically changed through time spent in Your Word and through submission to Your Holy Spirit’s leading. I don’t want superficial, non-sustainable change. I want to real thing. And only You can produce it in my life. Continue Your inner transformation of my heart and mind, so that my outer behaviors will give evidence of all that You are doing in me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Romans 15:14-22

You Have What It Takes.

Romans 15:14-22

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:14 NET

While Paul has spent a great deal of time critiquing the behavior of the Christians in Rome, he begins to close out his letter with some words of encouragement. He wants them to know that they not only have within them the power to live lives that are different and distinct from those around them, they are actually pulling it off. His letter was not meant to depress and demoralize them. He was simply doing what God had called him to do as a minister of the Gospel. And that sometimes included having to say and write difficult things. But his goal was always the same: “that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16 NET). Paul wanted them to live lives that were set apart, different and distinct from the way they used to live. He wanted their lives to be marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – who alone can make a life of holiness possible. Paul knew that they had what it takes to live holy, set apart lives because he knew they had the Holy Spirit residing within them. As a result they were “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14 NLT).

Paul uses the term “goodness.” It is the Greek word, agathōsynē and it means “uprightness of heart and life.” It is the goodness that comes from God and reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence. In other words, it is an inner quality that shows up in our character and our interactions with others. Paul uses the word in three other places in his letters and it is always associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is not of human origin, but is divine. In Galatians 5, Paul includes it in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that they are full of light and, as a result, they should live as people of light. For the light that resides within them only produces “goodness” – spiritual and moral excellence. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul prayed that they would be make them worthy of His calling and fulfill for them every desire they had for “goodness” and every act that was prompted by their faith. Paul wanted to see the power of the Holy Spirit “fleshed out” in their lives by the way they lived their lives and interacted with one another. They had it in them, but they had to live it out.

The key for Paul was dependence upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit. His life was marked by a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s direction. He did what he was told to do. He went where he was told to go. He preached what he was told to say. In spite of opposition, difficulty, set backs, his own apprehensions, fear, physical illness or any feelings of inadequacy or inability. Again, Paul was simply doing what the Holy Spirit had directed and empowered him to do. “I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16 NLT). Anything he had accomplished through his life had been done by the Spirit, not him. His life had been marked by “goodness” – spiritual, moral excellence. By allowing himself to be used by the Spirit, Paul had been able to see lives changed, and the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. The power of God had been “fleshed out” in Paul’s life, making a difference in not only his own life, but the lives of thousands of others. The goodness of God had done a good work in and through Paul. And Paul wanted to see that same thing happen in the lives of the believers in Rome. Having the Spirit of God living within us is great. But the key to living the Christian life is learning to let the Holy Spirit reveal His power through us. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Our darkness has been penetrated by the light of the Gospel and the presence of the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Now we need to let that light shine. He describes us as fragile clay jars. We are weak and worthless, and yet God has placed His Spirit within us, so that His power might flow from us – revealing and testifying to His life-changing presence in our lives. But if the Spirit’s power never shows up, if the “goodness” of God never reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence in our lives – God doesn’t get the glory and the darkness around us remains unchanged. We have what it takes. Now we have to take what we have and let it out.

Father, too often we live in our own power and fail to reveal Your power that resides within us. Show us how to let the power of the Spirit within us out of us. May His light shine through us, proving that we truly are Your sons and daughters. May Your goodness flow from us in acts of kindness, works of faith, and the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org