The Unbreakable Bond Between Belief and Behavior

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel: Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be forgiven, cleansed, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And after His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. In Greek, the phrase is pistos logos. It means that these are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope.

The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers living on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but His death also makes possible their ongoing spiritual transformation. He doesn’t just provide them with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt they owed, but He also makes it possible for them to live righteous lives. So, Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven someday. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic when declaring man’s non-existent role in salvation.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling the preordained plans God had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime rhetoric. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present, and Paul lived his life that way. This is why he could so boldly state:

I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” ªRomans 6:6 BSB). He regularly experienced the reality of his own teaching in his own life.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of all believers to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to believe and behave in a way that displayed their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live according to their old natures? God had new things for them to do. He had a radically different lifestyle in mind for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

But the sad reality was that many of the believers on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. As such, they were to reflect the character of Christ. They were to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracted from the objective was to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorted or took away from that goal was to be rejected for being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting and perverting the trustworthy words of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to be avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and the believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had prepared for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst. As Paul warned the believers in Galatia, there was no place for tolerance or complacency when it came to anything that threatened the truth of the gospel.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes virtually impossible when wrong doctrines are allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church. The church must always take the truth seriously and deal with falsehood decisively. The world may be filled with lies, driven by deception, and motivated by selfishness, but the church of Jesus Christ is to be the rock-steady foundation of God’s truth. And Paul was providing Titus with the same powerful reminder that he had given Timothy, so that both men might “know how each one must conduct himself in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 BSB).

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.

Teach, Train, and Typify

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:6-16 ESV

Our lives are meant to make a difference. But not in the way that the world would have us believe. In this age, the sign of significance is measured in assets, popularity, job title, income, the neighborhood we live in, the kind of car we drive, or even the number of friends and followers we have on Facebook or Twitter. We live to impress. We exist to consume. We long to make a difference in the world, but the terms by which we measure the success of our contribution can be shallow and exceedingly temporal. Paul would have Timothy use a different standard. He wanted this young man to keep his eyes focused on what really mattered, so he gave him a few basic tips for living a life that truly makes a difference.

First, he tells him to teach. Paul wanted Timothy to take what he was learning and share it with those all around him. Knowledge that is never shared is wasted. Wisdom that is never passed on to others ends up being self-centered and senseless. But Paul’s letter to Timothy wasn’t meant for him alone. Paul’s intention was that Timothy teach the truths contained within it to those under his care. He told him to “explain these things to the brothers and sisters” (1 Timothy 4:6 NLT). He challenged him to “teach these things and insist that everyone learn them” (1 Timothy 4:11 NLT). The truths of God’s Word are meant to be shared, not to be horded. We are to pass on what we learn.

Secondly, Timothy was to train. And Paul was quite specific when it came to the kind of training he was talking about. Paul said, “train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7 NLT). The Greek word Paul uses is gymnazō and it means “to exercise vigorously, in any way, either the body or the mind.” It is the word from which we get our English word, gymnasium.

Paul was expecting Timothy to put effort into his pursuit of the spiritual life. Godliness was to be his goal in life, not material success, financial reward, physical health, or personal fulfillment. Paul reminded Timothy that he would receive far greater benefits from the pursuit of a healthy and vibrant spiritual life than he ever would from getting physically fit. Godliness has both temporal and eternal ramifications for the life of the believer. We benefit in the here and now as well as the hereafter.

Third, Paul tells Timothy to typify what a believer looks like. He was to be an example of godliness to those around him – in every area of his life – through his speech and conduct, in his demonstration of love and faith, and through living a life of purity. Purity includes sexual purity as well as integrity of heart.

The Christian life is to be a holistic life – with no compartmentalization. In other words, there are no hidden or secret areas where the light of God’s transformative power does not shine. Timothy’s godliness was to touch every area of his life and it was to be a clear model of Christ-likeness to all those around him. And Timothy’s young age was never to be a hindrance or used as an excuse. Timothy’s chronological age was to have nothing to do with it because godliness is ageless. It has nothing to do with the number of years we spend on this planet. But it has everything to do with the amount of time we spend in the Word, with the Lord, and submitted to the Holy Spirit. Godliness is to be lived out for others to see.

Paul gives Timothy one final charge: “Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15-16 NLT).

Timothy was to teach others, train himself diligently, and typify the life of a believer. And he was to throw his entire energy into making this a reality in his life. The pursuit of a godly life cannot be done half-heartedly. It’s a full-time job that requires our constant attention. We have to regularly examine how we’re doing and constantly assess our spiritual well-being. There is no room for complacency or contentment. And Paul modeled this lifestyle of constant commitment to excellence.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

There will be always distractions along the way. We will be tempted to become satisfied with where we are and how far we’ve come. But Paul warned Timothy that the goal will not be realized on this earth. Our salvation will be consummated in heaven, not here. This life is not to be all there is. This world is not our home – we’re just passing through on our way to somewhere better. Our salvation awaits our glorification. That is to be our ultimate goal and objective. That’s why Paul told Timothy to train himself for godliness. Eventually, our godliness will be complete. We will be done with all the training. We will have completed the race. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

That day is coming. But in the meantime, we are to teach, train, and typify. So let’s get busy!

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.

Living With the End in Mind

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

It is believed that Peter wrote this letter sometime around 64 A.D., and most likely while residing in Rome. This fisherman from the little village of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of the Sea Galilee, had come a long way. Three decades had passed since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. During that time, Peter had spent his life faithfully carrying out the commission Jesus had given to him and his fellow disciples. Immediately after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter had proven to be a powerful witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching boldly to the Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. – Acts 2:22-24 NLT

His message proved to be convicting and convincing, leading to the conversion and baptism of more than 3,000 individuals. Through the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, this man who had denied even knowing Jesus had been transformed into a bold and unapologetic messenger of the Kingdom of God. He would become one of the leading figures in the New Testament church, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Yet, as he wrote this letter, Peter was nearing the end of his life and, according to the words of Jesus, his own martyrdom.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” – John 21:18-196 NLT

According to the oral traditions of the early church fathers, Peter was put to death during the reign of Emperor Nero, and his manner of death was crucifixion. But it is believed that he chose to be crucified upside down, deeming himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord and Savior. To his death, Peter remained a faithful follower of Jesus, dedicating his life to the proclaiming of the gospel but also to the ongoing edification of all those who came to faith in Christ. It was to that purpose he wrote this letter to the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

These people were living in difficult circumstances. They were most likely Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and were now suffering the unexpected consequences of their decision. Much to their surprise, the “good news” of Jesus Christ had produced some fairly bad outcomes. They were experiencing significant trials and persecution that had begun to produce doubt and despair. They were confused to find that their salvation had been accompanied by suffering. But Peter would remind them that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9 NLT).

So, as he opens up his letter, Peter attempts to refocus their attention on the core message of the gospel.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation – 1 Peter 1:3 NLT

Their problem was that they had taken their eye off of the prize. They had become obsessed with their current circumstances and had lost sight of the future hope that Jesus died to make possible. Jesus had died, not to give them their best life now, but to guarantee the hope of eternal life to come. His death and resurrection had made possible “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). That was to be their “great expectation.”

Peter’s letter is eschatological in nature. In other words, it focuses on the end times – the age to come. His readers were living in Asia Minor, but he wanted them to remember that they were “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11), whose real home was somewhere else. They were having a difficult time understanding all that was going on around them and happening to them. The predominant culture in which they lived was pagan and antithetical to their faith. Many of them were suffering oppression and ostracism. Because of their decision to follow Christ, they had become social pariahs, facing the rejection of both family and friends.

But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had a now, not yet aspect to it. Yes, when they had placed their faith in Christ, they had been immediately saved from their enslavement to sin and been provided full pardon and acceptance by God. But there was a future aspect to their salvation as well. And Peter reminded them that “God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:5 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus was the key to their salvation, but it would be His return that would fulfill its final phase. In the meantime, God was protecting them through His divine power. He would preserve them till the end. 

The trials they were suffering could do nothing to change the outcome of their salvation. Their current circumstances were a lousy barometer of God’s faithfulness and power. As the author of Hebrews wrote:

For God has said,

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

That’s exactly the message Peter was trying to convey. In fact, he provided his readers with some rather strange-sounding advice:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” –1 Peter 1:6 NLT

Peter’s counsel sounds eerily similar to the title of the 1986 song by the band Timbuk 3: “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” But to people who were undergoing intense personal persecution, his words must have come across as insensitive and unhelpful. They were having a difficult time seeing anything remotely bright about their future. The day-to-day affairs of life were weighing them down, and the constant pressures of living in a fallen world were taking their toll.

Sound familiar? It should. Because that is the all-too-familiar lot of every follower of Christ. Even now, we find ourselves wrestling with a steady diet of trials and tribulations that can leave us disheartened and disenchanted with the “good news.” A global pandemic, ongoing world strife, a steady decline in moral standards, and a growing anti-Christian sentiment have left many followers of Christ disillusioned and questioning the veracity of their faith. But Peter’s words are meant for us as well. He wants us to understand that “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). He encourages us to endure because the outcome of our faith will far outweigh any loss we may suffer in this life.

…when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT

The problem is that we live our lives as if this world is the end game. We mistakenly assume that Jesus died so that we might experience heaven on earth. We take His promise of abundant life (John 10:10) and turn it into a guarantee of a joy-filled, trouble-free existence right here, right now. And when He doesn’t deliver on our expectations, we begin to waiver in our faith and waffle in our commitment to His calling. But Peter would have us remember that our faith is meant to be focused on the end that God has in mind – “on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).

And like the believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia in the 1st-Century, we have not seen Jesus. Yet Peter states, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). We claim to believe in a man we’ve never seen. Yet we struggle believing in the future He promised to provide. And Peter reminds us that our trust in Him and our hope in the truthfulness of His promise will not go unrewarded.

The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:9 NLT

Peter was not negating or dismissing the reality of our suffering. He was simply refocusing our attention on the joy to come. Our time on this earth is temporary but our future is eternal. That is why the believer must live with the end in mind. Our inheritance is secure. Our destiny is assured. And, as difficult as things may get in this life, we can rest on the words of the apostle John.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 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.

 

Despised by the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27 ESV

From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus faced opposition. It began immediately after His baptism when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus, who had just received the blessing of His Heavenly Father, found Himself in a face-to-face confrontation with the prince of this world.

God had just pronounced Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but Satan saw Jesus as a powerful enemy who had to be distracted from His God-given mission or be destroyed. Satan attempted to disqualify Jesus by offering Him tempting alternatives to the will of God. He proffered a range of attractive options that were designed to distract Jesus from His ministry objective and render Him useless to God. But Jesus did not take the bait. As the author of Hebrews states, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). 

But while Jesus had won the battle over Satan in the wilderness, the war was far from over. Satan simply shifted his tactics. Almost immediately, the enemy implemented a new and less direct strategy that utilized guerrilla warfare tactics. He called upon all the weapons at his disposal to wage war against God and His Son. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah and had been sent by God to free humanity from their life of bondage under his merciless rule. This was, as Paul made clear, a spiritual battle of epic proportions.

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

But that does not mean that the battle remained invisible and relegated to the spiritual realm. This spiritual conflict quickly spilled over into the natural world as the enemy put into play those human agents who were under his control. The gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus faced human opposition to His ministry. And His most formidable and vehement foes proved to be the religious leaders of Israel. It is no coincidence that Jesus labeled these men as the sons of Satan.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

These men were revered by the common people as icons of righteousness and virtue. Yet, Jesus saw through their pious-looking facades and recognized them for what they were: deceptive hypocrites who stood opposed to His mission because they were enemies of God. Jesus exposed them for what they were.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from GodAnyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 8:42, 47 NLT

They may have fooled the people, but Jesus was fully aware of their true identity and intentions.

“You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him.” – John 8:52 NLT

And His exposure of them only enraged them further. The more they saw of Jesus, the more angry they became. His messages and miracles failed to impress or persuade them. Ironically, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and under the influence of Satan. And their growing revulsion to Jesus turned into an obsession to kill Him. They would stop at nothing to see to it that this madman from Nazareth was put to death.

Now, just hours from that perverted wish becoming a reality, Jesus informs His disciples that they could expect more of the same. As if all He has told them so far had not been enough, Jesus reveals that their relationship with Him has put a target on their backs. They were guilty by association, and they would find themselves hated for His sake. And while Jesus refers to the world as the source of that hatred, He is speaking of the same Jewish religious leaders who would orchestrate His death. And these men were representatives of the nation of Israel at large. That is why John opened his gospel account with the statement: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).

Throughout this passage, Jesus uses the pronoun, “they.”

“…they will also persecute you…” – John 15:20 ESV

“…all these things they will do to you on account of my name.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:23 ESV

“…they have seen and hated both me and my Father. – John 15:24 ESV

Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus reveals the identity of these individuals.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies. – Psalm 69:4 ESV

The “world” to which Jesus was referring was the nation of Israel. His own people hated Him without cause, and they were out to destroy Him. So, He wanted His disciples to know that they would suffer the same treatment because of His name.

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

The battle that had been raging since the beginning had always been about the identity of Jesus. That is what He means by “my name.” Jesus was the Son of God and everything He had done from the day of His baptism until that very moment had been intended to reveal His identity as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the disciples, because they would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus in His absence, would find themselves facing the same level of animosity and opposition.

And because Jesus would later command them be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), they would face even greater opposition as Satan turned the entire world order against them. The disciples would eventually take the Gospel to the non-Jewish world and discover that the enemies of God were made up of Jews and Gentiles. While they would find those eager to hear and accept the message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they would also encounter fierce opposition. It is believed that all of the disciples eventually died as martyrs, after having faithfully spread the good news concerning Jesus to the world.

But as the disciples stood in the darkness of the garden, listening to these foreboding words from Jesus, they must have been filled with fear and trepidation. Jesus had just told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). This must have brought to mind an earlier warning He had given them.

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” – Luke 21:12-13 NLT

What Jesus was describing was unsettling and disturbing. It must have filled His poor disciples with despair and disillusionment. But Jesus wanted them to know that their relationship with Him had dramatically altered their lives for eternity. Nothing would ever be the same. Just three years ago, they had each been minding their own business, when an unknown and unimpressive Rabbi from Nazareth made their acquaintance. And their lives would never be the same. Little did they know at the time, that in choosing to follow Jesus they were leaving the world behind. Yes, they would still live in it, but they would no longer be part of it. By becoming friends with Jesus they had become enemies of the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

The Jewish religious leaders would turn their hatred for Jesus onto the disciples and any others who chose to follow Him. And as this small group of men and women grew in number and spread their influence from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth, Satan would throw everything in his arsenal against them. But little would he know that he was fighting a losing cause. The victory had been won. With Jesus’ death on the cross, He would bring an end to Satan’s vice-like grip on humanity. Jesus would conquer sin and death, bringing salvation to all those who would accept it.

And, anticipating His disciples’ sense of fear and foreboding, Jesus reminds them once again that they will not be alone.

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15:26-27 NLT

They were going to face intense opposition, but they would do so in the power of God. The world would hate them, but the love of God for them would protect them and flow from them. They would pick up the mantel of ministry given to them by Jesus and proclaim His name with boldness and joy – even in the face of persecution and the threat of death.

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.

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

What Will You Do?

 

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” – 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

David is old and bed-ridden. His days on this earth are numbered and, once again, one of his own sons is plotting to take his kingdom from him. When David should be enjoying his final days in peace and quiet, he is suddenly confronted with yet another looming disaster. Until he breathes his final breath, David is still the king of Israel and he must deal with the situation facing his kingdom and protect the right of his son, Solomon, to rule in his place. But the only problem is that David knows nothing about what is going on. He is oblivious to the danger facing the kingdom. He is safely ensconsed in his bed within his royal chamber, being cared for by Abishag the Shunammite. He is completely unaware of the actions of Adonijah, Abiathar and Joab. But Nathan the prophet is on top of all that is going on and sends Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon, to inform David of the gravity of the situation.

One of the problems seems to be that David had made no preparations for his succession. It would appear that Adonijah, as the oldest living son (his three older siblings had all died), assumed that he was the legitimate heir to the throne. He was simply taking advantage of David’s old age and speeding up the transition process. But God had clearly told David that Solomon would be his successor.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign. He is the one who will build a Temple to honor my name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will secure the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

And yet, it seems that David had done nothing to ensure that the transition of power to Solomon would take place. Once again, his inaction had produced some very negative consequences, and could even result in the death of Solomon, should Adonijah’s coup succeed. So Nathan sent Bathsheba to David, encouraging her to prompt him to take action. And she did just that. She not only informed him of what was going on, but warned him that all the eyes of Israel were on him. He was being watched and the people were waiting to see what he would do. Despite his old age, David was going to have to take action. What he did next was going to secure the future of his kingdom and that of his son, or seal Solomon’s fate.

Nathan saw the gravity of the situation and told Bathsheba, “let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon” (1 Kings 1:12 ESV). He knew there was no time to waste. Something had to be done and David was the one who had to do it. But he would need prompting and support. So Bathsheba’s job was to bring David up to speed and to beg him to do something about the situation. Then Nathan was to come in and corroborate her story and provide much-needed counsel to David. He was also to act as a second witness to anything David decreed in their presence.

Bathsheba was blunt with David. This was not a time for pleasantries and politeness. She knew that her son’s life was in danger. She even reminded David, “If you do not act, my son Solomon and I will be treated as criminals as soon as my lord the king has died” (1 Kings 1:21 NLT). And she was not going to leave David’s side until he took action. So, she boldly challenged him, saying,  “And now, my lord the king, all Israel is waiting for you to announce who will become king after you” (1 Kings 1:20 NLT). There was no time to waste. Inaction was not an option. And just as planned, Nathan followed Bathsheba into the king’s presence, confirming her words and challenging David to do something about this dire situation. The entire nation was waiting on pins and needles, wondering what David would do. A line had been drawn in the sand. Sides had been chosen. Adonijah had put together his team and secured what he thought to be his future. The only one who is conspicuously absent from this whole affair is Solomon himself. He had not been invited to Adonijah’s feast with all their other brothers, for obvious reasons. But he was also not present when Bathsheba and Nathan met with David. His fate was in their hands. His future and that of his kingdom was completely in the hands of his father. He would have to trust that his father would do the right thing. Solomon was at the mercy of David. He does not appear anywhere in the passage. He doesn’t show up, begging David to keep his word and give him the kingdom God had promised him. Perhaps Solomon was not aware of the word that God had spoken to David. But we will see in the next section of this chapter, that Bathsheba knew, and it is doubtful that she kept this news from Solomon. He most likely knew that he was the God-appointed successor to the throne, but he was not demanding his rights or whining about his fate. He had to have known what Adonijah was up to and that all of his brothers were at the feast, enjoying Adonijah’s hospitality and shouting along with all the other guests, “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25 ESV). But Solomon simply waited in the wings. Like all the rest of the people of Israel, his eyes were on David. What would he do? How would he respond?

So often, we can find ourselves in similar, if not quite as dire, circumstances. We can come to a place where a decision is required, an important, potentially life-altering decision. And others are watching us to see what we will do. Perhaps our family is waiting on us to act, wondering how we will respond. Maybe our co-workers are anxiously watching to see how we will handle a difficult situation in the workplace. There are always others watching us, depending upon us to do the right thing, to make the right decision, and to give them peace and confidence that we can be trusted. Even the world is watching us. The church of Jesus Christ is to be salt and light in the midst of all the decay and darkness surrounding it. As the secular world presses in and the enemy continues his assault on the will and the ways of God, the world is watching to see how the church will respond. Will we do nothing? Will we be marked by inaction and complacency? Are we confident enough in the Word of God that we will confidently take our stand against all the forces lined up against us? What David did next was a matter of life and death. The future of his kingdom and that of his son were at stake. All eyes were on him. What would he do? But what about us? The world is watching and waiting to see what we will do?

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.

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

Living His Way.

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:7-11 ESV

Paul understood well the necessity of marriage. He knew it was ordained by God and, when treated properly, could provide believers with the full benefits of their sexuality as intended by God. As far as Paul was concerned, marriage was the only appropriate context for sexual expression between a man and a woman, because that was how God had planned it. But Paul had a personal appreciation for singleness. Evidently, Paul was unmarried at the time this letter was written. We do not know if he had ever been married. But when he writes, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” he is stating a personal opinion, not the will of God. He is in no signifying that singleness is better than marriage. He simply knew that marriage required a great deal of commitment and sacrifice, requiring each person in the relationship to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. For Paul, being single allowed him the freedom to dedicate all his time and attention to the spread of the gospel and for ministry to the growing number of churches around the world.

For Paul, singleness was a gift from God. He believed it was God who had given him the self-control to live as an unmarried man and to not, as he put it, “burn with passion.” He had a supernatural, God-given capacity to resist the temptations associated with lust. Even Jesus alluded to the existence of this gift. One day He was confronted by the Pharisees and asked whether it was “lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause” (Matthew 19:3b ESV). Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus replied, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 ESV). Jesus went on to explain that “whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Marriage was a binding covenant. This statement led one of the disciples to state, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). And Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this statement. Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12 NLT). Jesus Himself never married, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). 

Singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry. But it is not for everyone. So Paul goes on to address those who were married. He speaks to the women first, reminding them that they should not divorce their husbands. Paul was simply repeating the words of Jesus. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12 NLT). Paul knew, just as Jesus did, that just because divorce was prohibited, it would not stop it from happening. So they both commanded no remarriage after divorce. To do so was to commit adultery. Paul states that if a woman divorces her husband, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11a ESV). And then he adds, “and the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:11b ESV). Jesus seems to have given only one exception to His no-divorce mandate. When He stated, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9 ESV), He appears to present sexual immorality on the part of one of the married partners as the only grounds for divorce. In that case, it would seem that the offending partner has broken the covenant of oneness. But Paul emphasizes that whoever finds themselves divorced for whatever reason, should remain single or be reconciled to their partner.

It is important to remember that Paul is calling the Corinthians believers to live out their faith in the midst of a dark, pagan culture where virtually anything was considered acceptable behavior. Divorce was commonplace. Sexual immorality was rampant. Sexual sins of all kinds were prevalent and regularly practiced. He is demanding that the Corinthians live lives worthy of their calling as followers of Christ. They are to be distinctly different in their actions and attitudes. Their approach to life was to be determined by their faith, not their feelings. They were to be driven by a desire to please God, not their own desires. It is highly possible that there were some in the church in Corinth who were divorcing their spouses in order to escape having sexual relations altogether. More than likely, these individuals were influenced by the philosophy of dualism that flourished in Greek culture. It led them to believe that anything associated with the body was evil. Divorce allowed them to experience “freedom” from involvement with sex altogether. But their views were unbiblical and un-Christlike. While the culture around them was distorting God’s views on everything from marriage to human sexuality, Paul was reminding them that they were the church of God, “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV). Like the Corinthians, we have been called to live lives that are set apart from the world. We are to be holy, different and distinct. We exist to bring glory to God. We are His children, His workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

 

When Judgment Is Justified.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV

Evidently, Paul had written another letter to the church in Corinth that was sent prior to this one. In it he had made it quite clear that they were “not to associate with sexually immoral people.” That one command makes their toleration of the sin within their midst all the more egregious. They had turned a blind eye to the individual in their fellowship who was having an incestuous affair with his stepmother. Rather than confront this man about his sin, they were willingly tolerating it, even bragging about it. And yet, according to these verses, it seems that the believers in Corinth were isolating themselves from the unbelievers in their city. They were practicing a form of isolationism, refusing to have anything to do with the lost, probably out of a sense of moral superiority.

But Paul wants to make himself perfectly clear. In his previous letter, he was in no way promoting a brand of monasticism or spiritual isolationism. To attempt to eliminate all contact with unbelieving sinners would require that they leave the world. It is impossible to disassociate oneself as a believer from all contact with the lost. In fact, to attempt to do so would go against Jesus’ call that we be salt and light in a world filled with moral decay and spiritual darkness. Jesus Himself was accused of associating with sinners. He went out of His way to spend time with those who, in His day, were deemed the worst of sinners. If we adopt a policy of spiritual isolationism, it will be difficult to “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 6:15 NLT). Had Paul determined to have nothing do with the immoral, greedy, swindlers, and idolaters, no one in Corinth would have ever come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. In the very next chapter, Paul writes,

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people — none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

As Christians, it is so easy to judge the world and to view ourselves as somehow morally superior because of our faith in Christ. But we should never forget that, prior to the gift of grace given to us by God, we were sinners, condemned, unclean. We“lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). But God showed us mercy and graciously revealed to us the message of hope found in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son. We were lost, but God found us. We were spiritually blind, but God gave us sight. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God gave us new life through Christ.

We have no right to judge the world. But Paul would say that we have every right and responsibility to judge one another as believers. The Greek word Paul uses is κρίνω (krinō) and it has a range of meanings. It can mean “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong.” It can also mean, “to pronounce judgment, to subject to censure” (“G2919 – krinō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). There is a sense in which we are to judge one another’s actions. But our judgment is not to be arbitrary or subjective. It is not left up to our own opinion. We are to use the Word of God with the help of the Spirit of God to determine whether the behavior of a brother or sister in Christ is in keeping with the will of God. Our first goal should be restoration. Paul told the Galatians, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT). James wrote something very similar: “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (James 5:19-20 NLT). If we judge or determine that a fellow believer is living in sin, we have an obligation to lovingly confront them. Our goal is to be repentance and restoration. But in those cases where they refuse to repent, we have a responsibility to the body of Christ to practice a form of tough love. We must remove them from our midst. Paul says, “not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NLT). Their lifestyle choice does not match their professed belief in Jesus. By their actions, they are bringing shame and dishonor to the name of God. They are a cancer in the body of Christ, and our refusal to remove them allows their sinful, disobedient mindset to infect others.

It is our willful tolerance of sin in the camp that causes the body of Christ to be weak and anemic. We are more than willing to judge the world, pointing our fingers at their sinfulness and pridefully claiming the moral high ground. But when it comes to the blatant sins of our own, we are more than willing to turn a blind eye and act as if nothing is wrong. That is exactly what the Corinthians had done. There was sin in their midst and they had chosen to ignore it. Like so many of us today, they were probably saying, “Who am I to judge?” Or they were basing their lack of judgment on the words of Jesus, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:1-3 NLT). But what Jesus was saying was that we are not meant to pass judgment on those whom we have no authority to do so. The context to Jesus’ statement is hypocrisy – judging someone else when you have not effectively dealt with your own sin. It is judging and condemning the “speck” of sin in someone else’s life while ignoring your the “log” of sin in your own.

Judgment is appropriate and right when done with the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ in mind. We have a responsibility to protect the integrity of God’s household, removing those who refuse to repent. The fact is, we all sin. But we are to confess our sins and turn from them. When we do, God is faithful to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But if we choose to remain unrepentant, our brothers and sisters in Christ have an obligation to step in and call us out. As Paul so clearly puts it: “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NLT).

 

No Solitary Soldiers.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 18b-20 ESV

Paul ended his description of the armor of God with a call to prayer, strongly advising his readers to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT). Constant communication with the Father is essential for our spiritual survival. Prayer is not simply a tool we use to get what we need from God. As Paul will show, it is not to be used for our own selfish desires either. Throughout this letter, Paul has been addressing the great doctrine of the church. In chapter one, Paul addressed Christ’s headship over the church, having earned that role through His sacrificial death and resurrection. “And he [God] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22 ESV). And all believers are members of that body because they share a common faith in Christ, and that faith was a gift provided to them by God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). The church was the mysterious or previously hidden idea of God, miraculously joining Jews and Gentiles into one body, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14 ESV). 

It was God who has made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). And it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would “know the love of Christ” and be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Paul knew that God had a divine plan for the church. He also knew that the future success of the church, including all those who would become a part of it through faith in Christ, was totally dependent upon the work of God and for the glory of God. That is why he ended his prayer in chapter three with the words:

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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

The body of Christ, the church, is a powerful force, but only as long as it remains dependent upon God. It is a God-ordained agent of change in the world, but only when it stays committed to the will of God and connected to the power of God made available through His Spirit. When we lose sight of the fact that God saved us and placed us within the context of the body of Christ, and begin to see our salvation as something individualistic and isolated, we miss the whole point. A self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me attitude has no place within the body of Christ. Even the armor of God, is of little use to the Christian, if worn in isolation and utilized as a one-man army. As Christians, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in this battle together. Even the best equipped, most highly trained army, without unity, will fall to its enemy. And without constant communication with and obedience to its commander, even the mightiest army will fail. So Paul calls Christians to prayer. “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 18 NLT). There is a sense of camaraderie and unity in his words. We are to pray not only for ourselves, but for one another. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet is living in the power of the Spirit and according to the will of God. The body of Christ requires members who are healthy, whole and committed to the cause of Christ. That is why Paul even asks for prayer on his behalf. “And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT). Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the saints in order to stay committed to the call given to him by God. He coveted their prayers. And he longed that they would pray for one another.

What more selfless, loving thing can we do than pray for God to protect, guide, strengthen, and embolden our fellow believers. We must realize that our strength, while provided by God, is found in our unity with fellow believers. It is together that we form the powerful force that can dramatically alter the landscape of the world in which we live. Solitary soldiers, even though well-armored, will have little impact “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So we must pray. We must seek God’s face, determining to know His will, lifting up our fellow soldiers, and resting in His divine strategy for ultimate victory.

Children of Light.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:3-14 ESV

Darkness is the absence of light. It is what happens when light is removed or unavailable. The term, “darkness” is used by Paul and others to describe the moral and spiritual state of mankind apart from God. Without God, they are left in a state of darkness. The apostle John explained it. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God brings light into the world. He illuminates and eliminates darkness wherever His presence dwells. So the spiritual darkness in which mankind finds itself is the result of an absence of God. And John goes on to say,  “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). In other words, our relationship with God should impact our conduct. That is why Paul tells us: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). As children of God, we have been exposed to the Light, Jesus Christ. As John wrote in his gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5 NASB). Darkness and light cannot coexist. So when Jesus, the Light, came into the world, He illuminated and exposed the darkness all around Him. John goes on to say, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13 ESV). There were those, living in darkness, who preferred darkness over the Light. John tells us the sad news: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” John 3:19 ESV).

But some turned to the Light. They received Him. Their sins were exposed by Him and their need for a Savior was made clear to them for the very first time. It is interesting to note that John says, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” The Greek word John used is φωτίζω (phōtizō) and it can mean to “to give light” or “to enlighten, spiritually, imbue with saving knowledge” (“G5461 – phōtizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Obviously, John was not indicating that every man was saved as a result of Jesus coming into the world. But His message of salvation came into the world, exposing every man and woman to the truth. Some received it, while others rejected it.

Paul’s message in today’s passage is addressed to those who have received the Light. He is calling them to live lives that reflect their new standing as “children of light” – “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). Notice that Paul does not say, “you are in the light,” but “you are light.” They have been transformed. At one time, they were not only living in darkness, they were darkness. Their lives were characterized by the deeds of darkness. But the Light, Jesus Christ, had penetrated their lives and they had become children of light. And Paul was simply calling them to lives as who they were. This meant a change in behavior. Children of light were not meant to live like children of darkness. And Paul was very explicit in what he meant. “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3 NLT). And just in case his audience got a bit prideful and puffed up, thinking they had no problem with those particular sins, Paul dropped a bombshell on them. “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes — these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT). These are those “little” sins that so many Christians excuse as somehow acceptable to God. But Paul says, “these are not for you.”

It is so easy to rationalize our behavior as Christians. We can find it so tempting to justify certain behavior as somehow not so bad. But Paul lumps obscene stories, foolish talk and course jokes in with immorality, impurity, greed and idolatry. They are all deeds of darkness. And Paul says, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 NLT). Those are not the characteristics of those who have become light. They mark the nature of those who are children of darkness. That is why Paul goes on to adamantly demand:

Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT

Instead, we are to determine what brings pleasure to God and to do those things. We are to live differently than all those around us. The light within us is to produce what is good, right and true. Rather than participate in the deeds of darkness, we are to expose them. I don’t think this means that we are to walk around pointing our fingers in judgment at those who sin, but our very presence as light is to provide a dramatic contrast. Paul says, “their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT). Our very presence among those living in darkness and death will provide a convicting influence on their lives. In essence, when children of light live as light in the darkness, our lives become a call to those in the dark to experience the grace we have received: “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14 NLT).

Filled, Directed and Protected.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 4:1 ESV

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:12-13 ESV

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. – Luke 4:1-2 ESV

These three gospel accounts provide us with a composite picture of what happened immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John. Matthew simply says Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. Luke indicates that He returned from the river Jordan and then was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. But Mark indicates that the Spirit immediately drove Him out. Mark had a love for the word “immediately,” having used it 46 different times in his gospel. But regardless of how each of these men chronicled the events surrounding Jesus’ wilderness experience, they all clearly state that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. The 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness were part of God’s plan for His life. And Jesus, determined to obey the will of His Father, listened to the promptings of the indwelling Holy Spirit and did as He was commanded.

What amazes me about this entire story is the very fact that Jesus, the Son of God, was filled with the Holy Spirit and followed the Spirit’s direction in His life. Why would Jesus, as the Son of God, need to the filling of and direction from the Spirit of God? We must always remember that Jesus came to earth as a man. He took on human flesh. In order for the sins of man to be paid for, a sinless sacrifice was required. And while the sacrificial system God had ordained in the Old Testament could provide temporary forgiveness for sin, it was impermanent and incomplete. The write of Hebrews tells us, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 ESV). The sacrificial system was a shadow of something far greater to come. The death of bulls and goats could never fully satisfy the justice that God required. It would demand the death of a man – a sinless man. “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 ESV).

It was essential that Jesus become a man. The sins of mankind demanded a payment. But because God is holy, only a sinless sacrifice would satisfy His justice and righteousness. Just as goats and bulls acted as substitutes for the people in the Old Testament, a man would be required to act as scapegoat for the sins of mankind. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV). So Jesus became a man. He took on human flesh. And when the people of His day looked at Him, that is what they saw – a man. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus was fully human and full divine. He was the God-man. But to the disciples and every other individual, He appeared to be just a man. That is why His baptism is so important. As a man, He followed the will of God. At His baptism, He received the indwelling Holy Spirit, confirming His divine Sonship, but also indicating God’s coming plan to fill every child of His with His presence and power. Jesus, as man, was filled by the Spirit of God. He was led by the Spirit of God. He was protected by the Spirit of God.

Why would God require His Son, the Savior of the world, to undergo 40 grueling days without food and water, facing the relentless attack of Satan? Why couldn’t Jesus have just launched into His earthly ministry without having to endure this painful experience? It was essential that Jesus prove Himself to be morally qualified to act as the substitute for the sins of man. It was not enough that He be human. He must also be sinless. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness would prove His worthiness. But His ability to withstand the temptations of Satan was not self-manufactured. It was divinely provided. It was the Spirit of God who gave His humanity the strength to say yes to God and no to Satan. In this experience we have a foreshadowing of the same divine power that each of us as believers have received. What Jesus did during those days was made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God. And we have that same Spirit within us. That does not mean that you and I can live sinless lives. The key difference between Jesus and us is that we have a sin nature inherited from Adam. Jesus did not. He had no earthly father. Jesus was born without a sin nature. But we can still say no to sin. We can still live in obedience to God, rejecting the temptations of the flesh, the world and Satan. Why? Because we have the Spirit of God living in us. But we must let Him lead us. We must allow Him to empower us. We must daily depend on Him to protect us. Jesus showed us the vital necessity of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. He also demonstrated the victory that comes when we willing submit to His leadership in our lives.