The Search for Satisfaction

If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 ESV

As Solomon looks back on his long life as the king of Israel, he reflects on the many life lessons he has learned and, in this section, presents them in the form of a series of proverbs. These short, seemingly unrelated maxims, most often utilize comparisons to drive home a point and to present time-proven truths in a manner that makes wisdom practical and applicable to everyday life.

In verses 8-9, Solomon readdresses the issues of injustice and the oppression of the poor, which he initially covered at the beginning of chapter four. The presence of these problems within a society should not shock or surprise us. The wealthy and powerful, driven by a desire to maintain and even increase their social standing, will be tempted to use their power and influence to take advantage of the less fortunate. And in these verses, Solomon points out that every high official who takes advantage of the poor or practices injustice must answer to yet a higher official who wields even greater authority. In other words, there is a chain of command that ultimately leads to the king.

The more powerful always control and take advantage of the less powerful. It is the nature of things. Injustice and oppression, abuse of power, and unethical leadership seem to be inevitable outcomes of human government. It is unavoidable. But Solomon seems to conclude that a monarchy is preferable to anarchy. Even with its potential for abuse, the government provides a semblance of stability and control that results in cultivated lands. In other words, the very presence of governmental structure and hierarchical authority can result in abuse of power and lead to injustice, but it can also produce corporate benefits that all enjoy.

Underlying so much of what Solomon says in this book is the undeniable reality of sin and the fallen condition of the human heart. Even good men are prone to do bad things. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

In verses 10-12, Solomon addresses a related topic: The love of money. Solomon flatly states, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NLT).

Wealth is not only illusive and hard to come by, but even when you get it, you can never seem to have enough. The pursuit of money can become addictive, and it can be accompanied by a fear of losing what you already have. Money makes conspicuous consumption possible, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes as “lavish or wasteful spending thought to enhance social prestige.”

But as Solomon warns, it doesn’t work. It never satisfies. The primary reason we pursue wealth is in order to satisfy our desires. But we tend to find that, with our newfound capacity to acquire and accumulate, the one thing we can’t get our hands on is contentment. Paul warned Timothy against the dangers of making money our master.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

Increased wealth tends to come with an increase in responsibilities. The more you have, the more you must take care of and maintain, and that requires help. And no one knew this better than Solomon. The book of 1 Kings provides a glimpse into Solomon’s vast wealth and allows us to imagine just how extensive a retinue of servants was required to care for all that he owned.

The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry.

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.

Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses. – 1 Kings 4:22-26 NLT

Back in chapter two, Solomon described his vast and expanding network of servants, slaves, employees, and concubines.

I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:7-8 NLT

He had everything his heart desired, yet he lacked contentment. You can almost sense the philosophy that drove his life: Enough is never enough. And with his addiction to conspicuous consumption came the relentless requirement to feed and care for all those who worked for him. This is what led him to write, “The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT).

Solomon had it all, yet he could afford a good night’s sleep. When he states that “the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep”, he is not referring to indigestion, but to insomnia caused by constant worry over wealth. What you own ends up owning you. You become a slave to that which was intended to serve you. And yet, in contrast, “People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much” (Ecclesiastes 5:12 NLT). 

With his next proverbial statement, Solomon addresses the fleeting nature of wealth. He describes a “grievous evil” that he has witnessed in this life, and it is likely that he is speaking from personal experience, not objective observation. He had first-hand experience with this kind of misfortune, having had his fair share of bad business deals and risky investments.

There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. – Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 NLT

All the money and material assets we have worked so hard to accumulate can disappear virtually overnight. They can disappear in an instant, leaving us in poverty and our children with no inheritance. And even if we are able to maintain a hold on all our assets to the bitter end, we face the grim reality that we can’t take any of it with us. When we die, our wealth remains behind. And as Solomon stated earlier, “I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NLT). 

When all was said and done, Solomon was left with one observation that allowed him to extract a bit of hope from all the meaninglessness and despair of life. He saw that man had been gifted by God with the ability “to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT).

Not exactly a cheerful observation, but for Solomon, it was the only thing that kept him from being frustrated, discouraged, and angry. He had resolved to enjoy life as best as he could in the time he had on this planet. Because no one really knows what comes next. What Solomon concludes must be closely examined.

And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 NLT

There is a degree of truth to be found in these statements, but we must not fail to recognize that Solomon is speaking from a position of resignation and, in some ways, resentment. He is frustrated by all the inequities and injustices that come with a life lived “under the sun.” He has tried everything to find satisfaction and significance in life but remains discontented and disappointed. And when he states that the only thing left to do is to enjoy your work and accept your lot in life, he is speaking as one who has resigned himself to accept less than what he had hoped for. There is no joy in his statement. He describes God as a divine taskmaster who keeps us busy in order to distract us. If we compare the words of Solomon with those of his father, David, we see a marked difference in how they both perceived life and the God who made it all possible.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. – 1 Chronicles 29:11-15 NLT

David seemed to understand that this life was a preface to something far more meaningful to come. He was a man who believed in the hereafter. But his son had become obsessed with the here-and-now. Solomon had been on a lifelong quest to discover meaning and significance on this side of death. But David knew he was nothing more than a visitor and stranger here. The best was yet to come. This led David to write, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

Solomon had resolved himself to live for the moment, while his father had decided to live with a more eternal perspective. David’s faith was in God, while Solomon’s hope was in the things that God had provided. He put all his emphasis on this life. And nowhere is this more evident than in a prayer he penned in the book of Proverbs.

…give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:8-9 NLT

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.

Nothing Satisfies Like God

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 ESV

As the king of Israel, Solomon had the God-given responsibility to perform the role of a judge on behalf of his people. That required him to take his place each day at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, where he would hear and try the cases brought before him. This would have exposed him to all kinds of unethical, immoral, and unjust actions, perpetrated by one human being against another. And it is likely that Solomon witnessed many examples of injustice, as the poor and oppressed brought their cases to him, hoping for some form of protection and righteous representation.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon recorded the words of the mother of King Lemuel, reminding her son of his God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and to protect the rights of those who suffer at the hands of others.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

As King, Solomon must have seen his fair share of abuses and injustices, and no matter how many times he might have judged rightly and justly, the next day would reveal yet another case of the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. He had seen it all, which is what led him to say, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV).

He had a front-row seat to the feature film that is human life. He had watched the tears of the oppressed, as they stood before him helpless and hopeless, with no one to plead their case or protect their lives from the powerful and ruthless. The oppressors had money and authority on their side. It was a mismatch, with the oppressed usually getting the short end of the stick. And for Solomon, it boiled down to a simple, yet sad conclusion: The poor are better off dead because then they no longer have to suffer anymore. And the only thing more preferable would be to have never lived at all because you would never have to experience the pain and suffering that comes with life under the sun.

It seems that Solomon, in his daily dealings with the injustices of life, saw a pattern. The oppressors were people who were motivated by greed and a desire for wealth. They were addicted to acquiring and retaining and would do anything to get what they wanted, even if it required the oppression of others. And, as far as Solomon could tell, the driving force behind their actions was nothing but normal, run-of-the-mill envy.

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.– Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the following words in the letter that bears his name and they seem to describe the kind of civil cases Solomon was forced to judge.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

And for Solomon, it all added up to yet another example of the futility of life. “But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT).

The poor get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful and end up with nothing to show for it but tears and greater poverty. The rich get richer, but their lives end up empty, and their lust for more remains unquenched. Enough is never enough. More never satisfies. It’s a dead-end street with no outlet. So, what should be the proper response?

Is accumulating wrong? Are hard work and a drive to have more inherently sinful? Well, if you fold your hands and do nothing, you may keep from hurting others, but you’ll ultimately destroy yourself. So, Solomon seems to conclude that the answer is somewhere in the middle. You have to make a compromise. Do something, but be willing to be content with less.

Better to have one handful with quietness
    than two handfuls with hard work
    and chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 4:6 NLT

After sharing his objective observations regarding the suffering of others, Solomon seems to turn his focus inward. He takes a look at his own life as judge and king. The next section of verses seems to be a personal reflection, outlining Solomon’s assessment of his own life. The book of Ecclesiastes was written when Solomon was at the latter stages of his life and reign. He was older and facing the realization that his life was not ending well. His kingdom was full of the idols to false gods that he had erected on behalf of his many pagan wives. Over his life, Solomon had accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines, all in direct violation of the law of God.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And if there’s any doubt whether Solomon’s disobedience had impacted his life, the book of 1 Kings clears it all up.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-5 NLT

In Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon paints the picture of a man lacking companionship. He describes this individual as “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 ESV). He is alone and lonely, and this is likely Solomon’s assessment of his own life. Yes, he was the king of Israel and was surrounded by thousands of servants, slaves, concubines, wives, and administrative personnel. And yet, he couldn’t escape his sense of isolation. He was isolated and understood just how lonely life can be at the top.

Solomon writes in the third person, describing an anonymous individual who “works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT). And Solomon’s own personal experience requires him to conclude: “It is all so meaningless and depressing.”

Solomon knew what it felt like to be alone. Despite the crowd of individuals who filled his royal palace, he lacked true companionship. He had no one to walk alongside him and to be there for him when he fell. Even with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he knew the lonely feeling that comes with sleeping alone and unloved. Solomon recognized that friendship and companionship are vital to human flourishing and longed to experience both.

The final four verses of this chapter appear to be blatantly autobiographical. In them, Solomon describes himself as “a foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice”, and compares himself to “a poor and wise youth” (Ecclesiastes 4:13 ESV). At the beginning of his reign, Solomon was young and had yet to accomplish anything. He was poor in the sense that he had not accomplished or accumulated anything on his own. Everything he possessed had been given to him by his father. Yet he had wisdom. And by the end of his life, he had accumulated wealth beyond measure but lacked the ability to take wise counsel.

Solomon seems to compare his life to that of his father. It was David who had been in “prison” – living as a fugitive, constantly pursued by his predecessor, King Saul. But David had moved from prison to the palace, from living in caves to sitting on the throne. And Solomon would become the “youth who was to stand in the king’s place” (Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV).

Solomon succeeded his father on the throne, and while he ruled over a great land, and enjoyed the subjection and adoration of the people, he sadly concludes that “those who come later will not rejoice in him” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). In other words, his 15-minutes of fame would one day end. Another generation would rise up who would no longer recognize or remember him as king. With that thought in mind, Solomon can’t help but come to the same pessimistic conclusion he has reached before: “Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). 

Even the man at the top, who has everything going for him, including money, power, and influence, will one day find himself rejected and replaced. He is no better off than the poor person seeking justice at the gate or the lonely person desperately in need of companionship. It is lonely at the top, and there is no position or any amount of power or possessions that can remove the futility of a life lived under the sun, but without God.

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

The Insatiable Thirst For More

1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Pleasure, laughter, wine, work, possessions. Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for meaning in life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of being able to afford all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. Enough was never enough. Despite all of his purchases, possessions, and pleasures, he remained discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction.

So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the contributing factors to Solomon’s dilemma was likely the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a time in Israel’s history when the nation enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation, and his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he went on a building spree. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built a temple for Yahweh, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon didn’t stop there.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects brought him lasting satisfaction. So, he set his sights on the pursuit of pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism. His pleasure quest was well orchestrated and the byproduct of an inquiring mind. Like a scientist in search of a cure for a deadly disease, Solomon was looking for the source of man’s satisfaction and significance.

Being king was not enough. He had discovered that great wealth and unparalleled wisdom were insufficient sources for providing satisfaction. So, he attempted to fill the void with pleasure. He dabbled in wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to satisfy his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers.

Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived by the motto: “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it brought lasting satisfaction. He describes his efforts as producing nothing more than vanity or futility. It had no more profitable than trying to chase and capture the wind. It had all ended in a dead end of frustration and futility. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but the void in his life remained. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but Solomon was a lonely and discontented man.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was probably satisfying, for the moment. But the satisfaction didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content.

Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation are lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign were marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant and began to fill his life with everything but God. He even began to worship other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them.

Solomon forgot God and he lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. The minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like a man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awestruck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that possessions always end up possessing their owner. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus, a descendant of Solomon, would speak these powerful words of warning:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and made the fateful mistake of placing his hope in anything and everything but God. He found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ends in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Fatherly Advice

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
    observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies,
    for they are deceptive food.
Do not toil to acquire wealth;
    be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
    for suddenly it sprouts wings,
    flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
    for he will despise the good sense of your words.
10 Do not move an ancient landmark
    or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
    he will plead their cause against you.
12 Apply your heart to instruction
    and your ear to words of knowledge.
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike him with the rod,
    you will save his soul from Sheol.
15 My son, if your heart is wise,
    my heart too will be glad.
16 My inmost being will exult
    when your lips speak what is right.
– Proverbs 23:1-16 ESV

Solomon’s collection of 36 wise sayings appears to have been intended primarily for the benefit of his sons. As the heirs of his vast estate and formidable fortune, these young men would enjoy great privilege and power, but Solomon knew that it would come with great responsibility. Their ability to manage their assets and their actions would require wisdom. So, Solomon compiled this list of three dozen simple, yet profoundly beneficial maxims that he had gathered from the world’s sages.

Solomon knew that his sons would be exposed to a culture where the allure of wealth, power, and influence would be constant. As sons of the king, they would be a part of high society, rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the land. But Solomon knew that hobnobbing with the privileged class came with certain risks, and he wanted his sons to be aware of them.

First of all, they would need to maintain an air of self-control and humility. Entry into the upper echelons of society can be a heady experience. The accouterments of privilege and rank can be tantalizing. The fine food and expensive delicacies that wealth makes possible can be highly enjoyable but they can also prove to be a dangerous trap. An overabundance of food can easily expose a propensity for overeating and a lack of self-control. That is why Solomon warns his sons:

While dining with a ruler,
    pay attention to what is put before you.
If you are a big eater,
    put a knife to your throat;
don’t desire all the delicacies,
    for he might be trying to trick you. Proverbs 23:1-3 NLT

Solomon understood that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Anything done to excess can be extremely dangerous. That is why self-restraint is so vital. An inability to control one’s physical appetites can lead to the sin of gluttony. And just a few verses later in this same Proverb, Solomon records yet another warning against excess.

Do not carouse with drunkards
    or feast with gluttons,
for they are on their way to poverty,
    and too much sleep clothes them in rags. – Proverbs 23:20-21 NLT

In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recorded another dire warning against gluttony and the lack of self-control among those of privilege and power.

What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
    the land whose leaders feast in the morning.
Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
    and whose leaders feast at the proper time
    to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 NLT

An inordinate obsession with food and alcohol can be dangerous, but how much more so is the insatiable desire for wealth. Solomon knew that, for the well-to-do, enough was never enough. There would always be the temptation to acquire more. So, he warned his sons to moderate their appetite for accumulating ever-increasing wealth.

Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
    Be wise enough to know when to quit.
In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
    for it will sprout wings
    and fly away like an eagle. – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT

And Solomon was well-acquainted with the problem of avarice. He even wrote about his own struggle with dissatisfaction and his constant attempt to increase his portfolio of material possessions.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

And his assessment of his never-ending quest for more was far from optimistic.

Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT

Chasing after wealth can be exhausting. It’s like running on a treadmill; no matter how hard or fast you run, you never really get anywhere. More wealth doesn’t bring increased happiness. Riches can never deliver satisfaction or contentment. And yet, Solomon understood the temptation to make much out of acquiring more – of just about anything. So, he warned his sons that the failure to control one’s desires for power, prominence, and pleasure could be a dangerous and deadly trap.

And, along with curbing their appetites, they were going to need to manage their relationships well. They would need to develop discernment and become adept at judging the character of others. The world is full of people who will feign politeness and hospitality but all the while their intentions will be less-than-sincere.

Don’t eat with people who are stingy;
    don’t desire their delicacies.
They are always thinking about how much it costs.
    “Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
You will throw up what little you’ve eaten,
    and your compliments will be wasted. – Proverbs 23:6-8 NLT

Solomon describes the highly unpleasant experience of dining with someone whose overtures of kindness are nothing more than poorly veiled hypocrisy. They put on an impressive display of hospitality but the whole while they are counting the cost to their bottom line. Their false show of hospitableness is nothing but a ruse and enough to make one sick. The whole affair will end up being a waste of time and energy.

Next, Solomon warns his sons against associating with fools. Not only should they avoid the company of fools, but they should also refrain from trying to correct their behavior.

Don’t waste your breath on fools,
    for they will despise the wisest advice. – Proverbs 23:9 NLT

In a sense, Solomon is saying, “Save your breath!” A fool has no desire to hear what you have to say and no intention of putting your advice into practice. So, don’t waste your time.

With the next wise saying, Solomon revisits a topic he has already covered: The illegal and unethical movement of property boundary markers.

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers;
    don’t take the land of defenseless orphans.
For their Redeemer is strong;
    he himself will bring their charges against you. – Proverbs 23:10-11 NLT

It is almost as if Solomon is giving his sons an example of someone who is acting like a fool. He is telling them, “Don’t be this guy.” He wants them to understand that there are certain laws that God has established that are not up for negotiation or debate. To act like a fool is to ignore the word of God and to behave as if His laws don’t apply to you. But Solomon warns that God will hold all men accountable for their actions.

Solomon doesn’t want his sons to be fools, gluttons, greedy, or ungodly. That’s why he pleads with them to listen to the words of wisdom he is sharing. He wants them to take these truths to heart and apply them to their lives.

Commit yourself to instruction;
    listen carefully to words of knowledge. – Proverbs 23:12 NLT

They were to never stop learning and growing. And they were to take what they had learned from their father and pass it on to their own children. But knowledge alone would not be enough. There would come a time for discipline because children can be stubborn and disobedient.

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And, as Solomon stated in Proverbs 3, the model for this kind of loving instruction comes from God the Father.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

And as a loving father, Solomon conveyed his desire that his sons would continue to grow in wisdom and integrity.

My child, if your heart is wise,
    my own heart will rejoice!
Everything in me will celebrate
    when you speak what is right. – Proverbs 23:15-16 NLT

He longed for each of them to become godly men whose lives displayed wisdom and discernment. His great wealth and power were nothing when compared with the hope of seeing his sons exhibit a love for and obedience to God. His greatest desire was that his sons would choose the right path – the one that leads to joy, fulfillment, and purpose.

Choose a good reputation over great riches;
    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Spirit-Filled, Not Self-Obsessed

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Wake up and live carefully. That’s Paul’s simple but straightforward admonition to his readers. He is alerting them to their need for wariness and wisdom as they attempt to conduct their lives in this world. He has made it clear that their behavior was to be markedly different than that of their unsaved peers. They were to have discarded their former lifestyle of sin and replaced it with the Spirit-empowered capacity to model Christ-likeness and imitate God. Paul has already urged them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV).

Their lives were to be characterized by love, moral purity, selflessness, and obedience to the will of God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, their lives were to appear as shining lights in the prevailing darkness that engulfed the city of Ephesus. Their very presence would provide a stark contrast to the immoral and godless behavior plaguing the city, exposing sin and providing living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ was powerful and transformative.

But they would have to remain constantly vigilant and eager to discern the will of their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:10). That would require wisdom and insight. It would hinge on their willingness to submit their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of every day was to be considered an opportunity to walk in lockstep with God. But to live in keeping with God’s will they would need round-the-clock input from the Spirit of God. They were surrounded by evil. Their community was plagued by wickedness and their fellow citizens were enemies of God who had “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). The small band of Christians who made up the church in Ephesus found themselves surrounded and outnumbered but they were far from helpless. But the key to their survival was knowing and obeying the will of God. That’s why Paul told them, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

The wisdom of God was going to be essential to their success. And Paul asserts that failure to understand the will of the Lord is tantamount to foolishness.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17 ESV

It is almost as if Paul has in mind Proverbs 1, where the author personifies wisdom as a woman crying out for someone to heed her offer of knowledge and counsel. She offers everyone the opportunity to become wise but she can find no takers.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

And later in the same Proverb, the author paints a sad picture of the fools showing up too late for the party. Having spurned wisdom’s original offer so they could live according to their own wills, fulfilling their own desires, they find the window of opportunity has closed.

“When they cry for help, I will not answer.
    Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.
For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
    Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
But all who listen to me will live in peace,
    untroubled by fear of harm.” – Proverbs 1:28-33 NLT

For Paul, the key to knowing the will of God is submission to the Spirit of God. Unlike the image painted in the Proverb where wisdom calls out to the people from the street corner, Paul portrays wisdom as having taken up permanent residence in the believer’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Paul reveals a vital point regarding the Spirit’s presence within the life of the believer. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that, upon His death and resurrection, He would send the Holy Spirit to live within 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

According to Jesus, the Spirit’s presence would be complete and permanent. Earlier in his letter, Paul reminded the Ephesians that their salvation had been accompanied by the sealing of the Holy Spirit “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). But later, in chapter four, Paul stated that they could “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). The indwelling presence of the Spirit is guaranteed and permanent in nature. But that doesn’t mean that believers always live in obedience to the Spirit. That’s why Paul warned the Galatian church about the need to live in faithful reliance upon the Spirit’s leading.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. – Galatians 5:16-18 NLT

Like the woman portrayed in the Proverb, the Holy Spirit cries out, offering to believers the wisdom they need to live in keeping with the will of God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit provides all the power necessary to make obedience to the will of God possible. And in order to describe this reliance upon the Spirit, Paul uses the metaphor of intoxication. Oddly enough, he compares obedience to the Spirit with drunkenness.

To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol. Once consumed, it dictates one’s behavior and virtually eliminates any capacity for self-control. A person who is drunk on wine, says and does things that are contrary to his normal behavior. His actions and attitudes change, usually for the worst. And Paul is suggesting that the filling of the Spirit should produce a kind of altered behavior that reflects the Spirit’s control.

“The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to Christ’s body. The filling of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul attempted to portray the contrast between being filled with or under the control of the Spirit and living according to our sinful nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

When the believer ignores the Spirit, he ends up “drunk” on the influence of his own sinful will and the outcome is anything but pretty. But Paul goes on to reveal that the one who submits to or comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit produces a completely different set of outcomes.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

And to the Ephesians, Paul portrays this filling of the Spirit in terms of its corporate or communal aspect.

be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-20 NLT

The filling of the Spirit produces unity, joy, gratitude, and a spirit of worship. His indwelling presence flows out in praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done. The one who gets drunk on wine is ultimately self-consumed. He cares nothing about how his behavior will impact those around him. He is driven by his own desire for self-gratification and personal pleasure. But the one who allows the Spirit to fill and control him is under the influence of God’s will, which is always other-oriented. To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) is to live a life of selfless, sacrificial love for others. It is to put the needs of others ahead of your own. And this will set up the next section of Paul’s letter, where he provides practical examples of what a Spirit-controlled life should look like. It all begins with submission to the Spirit but it shows up in submission to others. That’s why Paul prefaces what he is about to write with the sobering statement: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT).

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Grieving Rather Than Growing

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

Paul wanted the Ephesians believers to live in the present and not the past. They were to embrace their new identity in Christ and to to consider the deceptions and lies that had characterized their former lives as dead and discarded. Those things had been “put away” (apotithēmi) or “cast off,” and replaced by the truth of the gospel. And because they had been equipped by the apostles,  prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers God had provided, they were able to build up the body of Christ by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 5:11-15).

As members of the body of Christ, they were to dwell together in a spirit of mutual love that was based on the reality of the life-transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their lives were to be characterized by truth and not lies. There was no place in the family of God for deception or falsehood. Christianity was not to be a competitive sport or a comparative religion where spiritual  status was measured by merit or social standing. It was to be a community of undeserving recipients of God’s grace, who had been filled with His Spirit, and equipped with spiritual gifts intended for the good of whole body.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

What Paul describes in verses 25-32 is a lifestyle of radical change. The characteristics that marked their old lives were to be done away with. Lying, anger, stealing, and abusive language had no place within the body of Christ. And the Ephesians were not the only congregation to have received that message from Paul. He penned the very same sentiment to the believers in Colossae.

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:8-10 NLT

Paul used comparative language to make his point to the Ephesian church. Rather than lie, they were to tell the truth. Instead of allowing anger to consume them, they were to resolve their disagreements quickly. Those who had once made a living from theft were to earn their way and share their resources with others. Foul and hurtful language was to be replaced with words that were helpful and encouraging. Again, Paul was calling them to do an about-face, to make a radical change in their behavior that reflected the revolutionary alteration God had made to their nature.

For Paul, a believer whose life failed to reflect the change brought about by the saving work of Jesus Christ was an anomaly and an unacceptable probability. That is why he continually stressed his expectation of tangible transformation in the lives of those to whom he ministered. .

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

According to Paul, not only would failure to experience life transformation result in a lack of fruit and effectiveness, it would also end up bringing sorrow to the Spirit of God.

…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4:30 ESV

One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to empower and equip the believer for a life of godliness. It is the Spirit who makes possible the believer’s sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness. So, when a believer fails to experience or exhibit life change, it grieves (lypeō) or saddens the Spirit of God. His greatest desire is to continually transform the believer into the image of Christ. The Spirit is a permanent resident in the life of every believer and will accompany them all the way to their ultimate glorification. He acts as God’s seal of approval, ensuring that the believer’s future status as a citizen of the coming kingdom is assured. Or, as Paul put it to the church in Corinth, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of all that is to come.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

…we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5;4-5 NLT

And Paul shared this incredible news with the Ephesians as well.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. – Ephesians 1:14 NLT

That’s why Paul insists that the Spirit would be grieved by their failure to submit to His  life-transforming power. While glorification is the ultimate outcome of the believer’s faith in Christ, God wants to begin the process in this life. That’s why Paul insists that their present conduct should reflect a hope in the promise of their future state. They have the Spirit of God within them and the power of God available to them. So, their lives should reflect that reality even now. Paul would have fully agreed with the words of the apostle Peter:

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Petition for Continued Transformation

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Paul had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). The mystery Paul was tasked with revealing was the church, the body of Christ that was to be comprised of people from all the nations of the earth. It would combine both Jews and Gentiles into a single, unified family of adopted sons and daughters of God. And the Jews and Gentiles who made up the church in Ephesus had been woven together into God’s glorious, multicolored tapestry of redemption.

And with that thought in mind, Paul offers up a powerful prayer on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. He knew that their unity was under assault. He was well aware of the pressures they faced, living in a pagan culture where their faith in Christ made them outliers and, at times, social pariahs. Followers of Christ were often considered counter-cultural and even a threat to the status quo. Many of the believers in Ephesus had walked away from their former faith systems and, in doing so, had alienated family and friends. By placing their faith in Christ they had turned their backs on the false gods of the prevailing culture and were attempting to trust their lives to a Savior they had never met and a God they couldn’t see.

So, Paul shares with them the content of his prayer for them. In doing so, he lets them in on another secret or mystery. While they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), redeemed through His blood, forgiven of their sins (Ephesians 1:7), promised an inheritance (Ephesians 1:10), saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16), they were not yet complete.

Their salvation, while fully paid for by Christ and sealed by the presence of the Spirit of God, was to be constantly evolving. Their faith in God was to be constantly increasing as their knowledge of Him continually grew. Salvation was not a static, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but a dynamic process that resulted in the ongoing transformation of the believer’s life into the likeness of Christ.

There was to be a progression from immaturity to maturity and spiritual infancy to adulthood. Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In the very next chapter of this letter, Paul states virtually the same thing. He describes the role of Christ-appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. – Ephesians 4:12-14 NLT

For both Peter and Paul, faith in Christ was about growth in Christlikeness. It was not enough to simply know about Christ. The Christian was expected to become like Christ – to bear His likeness. In fact, the first time the term “Christian” is used in reference to Christ’s followers is in the book of Acts.

For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Acts 11:26 ESV

The Greek word for Christians is Χριστιανός (transliteration: Christianos; phonetic pronunciation: khris-tee-an-os’) and combines Christos (anointed) with the suffix meaning “follower”; i.e. follower of Christ (Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). So, Christians were followers of the anointed one. But Jesus expected His disciples to do far more than follow Him. At one point He told them, ““A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25 ESV).

C. S. Lewis described this Christ-emulating behavior as only he could

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christ is simply nothing else.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But Paul knew that growth in Christlikeness was impossible without divine aid. That’s why he prayed that God, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV), would empower the Ephesian believers “with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16 NLT). Paul makes it clear that Christlikeness is the work of the Spirit of God. It can’t be self-manufactured or produced through human effort.

Belief in Christ was to result in behavior that emulated that of Christ. But that kind of behavior modification was only possible through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. His power alone could transform mere mortals into sons and daughters of God whose lives reflected the character of Christ. It began on the inside, in the inner being. It was not about outward modification of behavior but about the transformation of the heart. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesians might know what it was like to have Christ dwell in their hearts through faith. Unlike other religions, Christianity is focused on the “inner” man. It is not about adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts or keeping a codified compendium of rules and regulations. No, Christianity is about the power of God transforming the hearts of men so that they might model the life of Christ – from the inside out.

ultimately, Paul wanted the Ephesians to know just how much God loved them. They had been given the Holy Spirit so that the nature of Christ might be revealed in them and the fullness of God might be experienced by them. Their God was not distant and unknowable. He had saved them so that He might have an intimate and personal relationship with them. And it all began with His Son. Paul told the believers in Colossae, “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10 NLT). And Christ had taken up residence in their lives through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to grasp the full significance of their salvation and to experience the full force of God’s love for them. Paul didn’t want them to settle for less. His prayer was that they would “experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully”… and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

And he closed out his prayer by declaring his firm assurance that God was ready, willing, and able to do all that he had requested.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of whether God could or would answer Paul’s prayer. The whole purpose for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was so that the children of God might be transformed into the likeness of the Son of God – all for the glory of God. And that’s why Paul ends by declaring, “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:21 NLT).

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Power to Spare

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV

After having summed up all the blessings that come by God’s grace through the gift of His Son and guaranteed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Paul expresses his profound joy for the faith of the Ephesian believers. They have been blessed by God and Jesus Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV). They have been chosen by God and predestined for adoption as His children. They have been redeemed, forgiven, and have obtained an eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of God. And they had received the Holy Spirit as a seal and a guarantee of that inheritance, all because they had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed” (Ephesians 1:13 ESV).

With all that in mind, Paul tells the Ephesians how grateful he is for the faith and love they display because it gives evidence of their salvation. Their lives provide ample proof that they have been set apart by God, but Paul declares that he constantly prays that God will give them spiritual wisdom and insight so that they might continue to increase in their knowledge of God. Paul’s persistent prayer for them was for a growing understanding of who God was and all that He was doing in their lives. God had revealed Himself to them through His Son but there was so much more they needed to know. Even their knowledge of Christ was limited and in need of constant development.

Paul knew that their rudimentary knowledge of God and His Son had been sufficient for them to understand the nature of salvation. But there was so much more they needed to know if they were going to fully appreciate and appropriate their access into God’s presence. There was a natural and necessary progression that needed to take place in their relationship with God. And Paul continually prayed for God to do what only He could do: Make Himself known and knowable.

“To know God personally is salvation (John 17:3). To know Him increasingly is sanctification (Philippians 3:10). To know Him perfectly is glorification (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).” – Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

Paul’s request entailed far more than mere mental assent. He was not interested in head knowledge, an academic understanding of God, and His attributes. No, Paul was praying for an intimate and intensely personal knowledge of God that would result in greater faith and an ever-increasing willingness to obey His will. Those who fail to get to know God well will always have difficulty trusting and relying upon Him. Their perceptions of Him will remain one-dimensional and prone to misunderstanding and susceptible to misrepresentation. Those who hold a shallow understanding of God will tend to have a faith that lacks depth and breadth.

Paul’s prayer included three specific requests. First, he asked that God would help them grasp the significance of the hope to which they had been chosen. God had elected them for a purpose and He had great things in store for them. And while their redemption and forgiveness of sins were remarkable gifts from God, there were far greater blessings awaiting them. This life was not all there was. Their current state would not be their final state. For Paul, the good news concerning Christ always included the initial gift of salvation but also the reality of the believer’s ongoing sanctification, and the hope of future glorification. Those who have been saved are in the constant state of being saved until God completes the process with the final act of their salvation – their glorification.

Secondly, Paul constantly prayed that they would understand their status as God’s inheritance. Not only would they inherit all the blessings God had in store for them, but they would one day be received by God as His inheritance. They belonged to God because He had purchased them with the blood of His Son. And yet, as long as they lived on this earth, they were physically separated from their adoptive Father. But Paul wanted them to know that the day was coming when they would be ushered into the very throne room of God and greeted with open arms by their Heavenly Father. The apostle John describes this marvelous scene in the book of Revelation.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 3:3-4 NLT

Third, Paul prays that they will come to “understand the incredible greatness of God’s power” (Ephesians 1:19 NLT) available to all those who have placed their faith in His Son. Once again, salvation from sins is a marvelous gift from God, but He has so much more He wants to do for His children. He has provided them with access to the full scope of His power and might through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. This was the “power from on high” that Jesus promised to give His followers (Luke 24:49).

In a sense, Paul is emphasizing the divine enablement available to all believers through the gift of the Holy Spirit. God has saved us from our past – delivering us from condemnation and death. He has guaranteed us our future – promising us the hope of eternal life. But He has also provided us with the power to preserve us for the present.

“By making us His inheritance, God has shown His love. By promising us a wonderful future, He has encouraged our hope. Paul offered something to challenge our faith: ‘the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe’ (Ephesians 1:19).” – Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

The Ephesian believers had already experienced the love of God, as expressed through the gracious gift of His Son. And they had hope for the future because of the unwavering promises of God. But as they lived their lives in the present, Paul knew that they would need to avail themselves of the power of God so that their faith in God would continue to increase. Paul understood that faith, hope, and love were each essential to the Christian faith. That is why he wrote to the believers in Corinth, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).

He prefaced this statement with an entire chapter on the preeminence of love. Spiritual gifts practiced without love were meaningless. Power displayed without love was potentially harmful, and not helpful. Knowledge of the secret things of God may be impressive but it would prove worthless without love. Faith that could move mountains but was unmoved by love for others was of no value. And then he added, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT).

The day will come when the believer’s knowledge of God will be complete and perfected. But in the meantime, Paul desired that every child of God would grow in their knowledge and understanding of God and His ways. Paul wanted them to avail themselves of God’s power so that they might grow in their knowledge of His goodness and greatness. The very same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead was present in each of the Ephesian believers in the form of the Holy Spirit. They possessed all the power they needed to live the Christian life. That is exactly what Peter meant when he wrote, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

And Paul reminds the Ephesians that when Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God’s Spirit, He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, as a result of His resurrection and ascension, Jesus enjoyed unprecedented authority, “far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come” (Ephesians 1:21 NLT). And the power that Jesus wields is for the benefit of the church, His body.

Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand that the power of God, delegated to His Son, was available to them through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. And the place where that power was to be on constant display was right here on the earth. The resurrection power of the Spirit of God was at their constant disposal. And every time the church avails itself of that power, the resurrection of Christ is visualized and God is glorified.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Dreams, Nightmares, and Visions

1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” – Genesis 40:1-15 ESV

To understand the events recorded in this chapter, it’s essential to remember that Joseph was imprisoned in “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). In a sense, this was a prison reserved for those whom we might consider guilty of committing “white-collar” crimes. This doesn’t mean their offenses were minor in nature, but that they were not petty criminals. As an official member of Pharaoh’s administration, Potiphar had been able to have Joseph confined to this minimum-security prison where he was surrounded by others who had been charged with crimes against the state.

And it was in this environment that Joseph would come into contact with two additional “officers” from Pharaoh’s court. One had served as Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer while the other had held the title of chief baker. Both of these men had committed offenses against Pharaoh that landed them in prison, where they awaited notification of their fate. Like Joseph, they had no way of knowing how long they would remain imprisoned or whether they would ever see the light of day again. And neither of these men had any way of knowing that God was going to use them as part of His sovereign plan for Joseph’s eventual release and meteoric change in social status.

Moses ended the previous chapter with a revealing statement regarding Joseph: “the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23 ESV). While it would be easy to view Joseph’s presence in prison in a negative light, Moses wants his readers to know that Joseph was under the gracious and all-powerful care of the sovereign God of the universe. This young man, who had been falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, was right where God wanted him to be. And God was providentially overseeing every aspect of Joseph’s life, pouring out His unmerited favor and ensuring Joseph’s ultimate success. 

So, it should come as no surprise that God had preordained for the cupbearer and baker to be incarcerated in the very same prison as Joseph. And, not only that, but He had arranged for both of these men, on the very same night, to have their sleep disturbed by a dream. And when Joseph saw them the following morning, he could sense that something was wrong. Their countenance revealed that something had greatly disturbed them and he inquired as to the nature of their distress. When they revealed their desire to know the meaning of their dreams, Joseph offered to act as their interpreter.

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”  Genesis 40:8 NLT

Joseph was familiar with dreams. After all, he had experienced a few of his own. And he knew from personal experience that the meaning behind a dream could produce some pretty serious consequences.In one of his own dreams, Joseph had envisioned he and his brothers as bundles of grain. And in the dream, all of the other “bundles” had bowed down before his. It was his brothers who had assessed the meaning of the dream, stating, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” (Genesis 37:8 NLT).

And this dream had been followed by a second one that Joseph eagerly shared with his brothers, and with his father and mother.

“The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

And as before, Joseph was given the interpretation, along with a stern rebuke from his father.

“What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:10 NLT

So, for Joseph, discovering the interpretation of a dream didn’t seem to pose a big problem. If God was behind the dream, He could easily provide its meaning. Joseph wasn’t claiming to have the gift of dream interpretation. He simply believed that if God was behind the dream, its meaning would not remain obscure or hidden. After all, his father and brothers had managed to interpret his dreams without a problem.

Anxious to discover the meaning behind his dream, the chief cupbearer spoke first.

“In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”  – Genesis 40:9-11 NLT

And almost as if he had done this a thousand times, Joseph boldly and confidently declared, “This is what the dream means…” (Genesis 40:12 NLT). Then he promptly shared his interpretation of the rather cryptic and surprisingly disturbing dream. Without batting an eye, Joseph stated, “The three branches represent three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer” (Genesis 40:12-13 NLT). And that news was like music to the cupbearer’s ears. Much to his relief, whatever he had done to deserve imprisonment was not going to  result in his death or further confinement. In fact, within three days time, he would be released and restored to his former position.

Having delivered the good news, Joseph took the opportunity to appeal to the cupbearer’s sense of fair play. Since Joseph had given the cupbearer a new lease on life, he asked that the man show his gratitude by putting in a positive word for him to Pharaoh. Joseph explained that he was an innocent victim, having been sold tin slavery by his own brothers and then unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Joseph was hoping that a good word from the cupbearer might prompt Pharaoh to intervene on his behalf. He desperately wanted to get out of prison but it’s unlikely that Joseph believed he could be released from his status as a slave. Perhaps Pharaoh could find him a place to serve in the royal court. ”

But Joseph’s interpretation skills were still required. The baker, having witnessed the positive outcome of the cupbearer’s dream, eagerly divulged the content of his own personal nightmare. But his high hopes would soon come crashing to the ground as Joseph shared the less-than-promising interpretation of his dream.

But through it all, God was speaking, leading, working, and orchestrating every facet of Joseph’s complicated and highly conflicted and life. Nothing escaped His attention. No one was outside His range of influence. Even the dreams of men were subject to His sovereign authority. The cupbearer and the baker were in the prison because of their own crimes, but the timing and the place of their captivity had been completely up to God. The slowly unfolding story of Joseph’s life continues to point to the faithfulness and omnipotence of God.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.