I pray for power

It’s finally. After all that has been said …

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Ephesians 6 v 10

Lord Jesus, if the Apostle could write those words while he was in prison then in my circumstance I also know I can have confidence that you will protect me and strengthen me.

If he knew what it was to suffer like the persecuted Church today and if he went through stoning to the point of nearly dying and found he could rely on you, then so can I.

If he didn’t know what tomorrow would bring though he knew it involved pain and if he could focus on being strong in the Lord then I can certainly face my tomorrow.

If he instructs the Church (in a city where witchcraft and worship to Artemis was rife) to demonstrate the power of the Lord then in my locality I can ask for the power of the Lord to triumph over all powers.

Finally, after all he has already said about the power of resurrection (1: 19-20) may that same power which raised Christ from the dead be in me today.

Finally, after all he has already said about the power that transforms (3: 7) and how the gospel had radically changed him then I have confidence in that same gospel today.

Finally, after all he has said about the power of love (3: 18-19) I pray that people will see Jesus in me today. Help me see Jesus in other people and in the circumstances of my life.

Amen

I and Slaves

I don’t think there has been a year quite like this year in my lifetime. The pandemic and then issues like identity and race have become a very important discussion point in our society and Churches.

If this is the Apostles household code then it is at first reading uncomfortable reading. Words like submission cause a reaction, obedience in the home between children to their parents have also responses of the many horrible stories of abuse and now slavery? Surely Paul will call for the emancipation of slaves? It doesn’t even appear the thought had crossed his mind.

I think perhaps Paul is not trying to devise a new way of life but how the Spirit would help us in the one we are in.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.” Ephesians 6 v 5-9.

Slavery seems to have been universal at this time. There are estimates of up to 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Many were well-treated and many were abused. They included not only domestic slaves and manual labourers but educated people as well. Nobody challenged this constitution.

Paul is not looking to a new world but with the filling of the Spirit our lives are then changed and charged with purpose so that whatever we are doing we are really serving Christ. Behind their master is Christ, maybe hard to imagine, but the Spirit can help you find the face of Christ even in the worst of places.

But again, slaves have rights according to Paul. Masters are given 3 principles to live by:

  1. Do the same as slaves. That is if you hope to receive respect then show it; if you hope to receive service then give it.
  2. Don’t threaten. They are not to misuse their position of authority.
  3. Realise that Jesus is the Master. He is over them as much as they are over the slaves.

The Spirit impacts our church relationships, our marriages, our homes and our work places. That’s why we need to go on being filled.

I and Family

The family in the home is one of the basic centres of the Kingdom of God. Before there was a Church there was a family, before there was anything created there was a family, before God was Creator or Saviour He was Father.

The home and the family was instituted by God, it is exalted in the Bible, it is the symbol of something greater, it is one of the main foundations of society and it is the primary influence on character development.

Yet we live today in a society where the family is threatened from all sides. The home is threatened.

Yesterday one of my Pastors was telling me of how a teenage boy was just in the words of his mum ‘uncontrollable’. The boy could not be kept inside the home, he would jump through windows and then go on a destructive plan of action and now about to be charged for criminality. We know this isn’t anything new nor shocking to our world today.

The Apostle continues in the context of being filled with the Spirit …

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.“Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers,do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6 v 1-4

Obedience to parents was very much part of the covenant law of Moses (Leviticus 19: 203). It was God’s intention for children to submit to their parents.

But as with marriage it is set in the framework of partnership. Children have rights and that is their fathers should not provoke them, which is the meaning of exasperation. They should train them and instruct them but do so in the manner that Christ is the one who is training them. To berate them angrily due to the child’s lack of self-discipline isn’t exactly demonstrating self-discipline.

Is this possible? Are we setting ourselves up to fail? Who has the perfect family? No one.

The filling of the Spirit spills out into the home and He invades the relationships there and again it is to reveal Christ. Obey …in the Lord; bring them up … of the Lord.

One of my Pastors drove through the night get to the hospital bedside of his mother who is critically ill. He is there this morning as I post this, being the son he is called to be, honouring his mother. It is a beautiful image and one that will be repeated throughout the world today. Children who were taught so early on to grab hold of the security of their parents hands are today placing the hands of their parents into theirs to bring peace and assurance. It is the circle of life. The circle of love that God ordained. It speaks of Christ.

I think we are understanding that for Paul this is all about Jesus.

I believe in collaboration

Together is better. Each doing what we are called to do is better. Whether that be married or single.

Think of the Godhead and the submission there. Father, Son, Spirit, all submitting to one another. Not one higher or lower. Co-equal, the same essence and substance, different but the same, the oneness.

Think of the Church. Can we see the Godhead?

Think of the marriage. Can we see the Godhead?

“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5 v 32-33

Paul draws this little section to a close. “Ah he’s actually talking about Christ and the Church. He’s not really talking about marriage. What a relief!” As if he is correcting that thought he uses the word ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless’. “What I’ve said about marriage I do hold to.”

In this final sentence (if we haven’t already realised this) there is an assumption that as the husband will love his wife she in turn will respect him. This is the partnership. If his love is lost or marred then it will become so difficult for her to respect him and vice versa.

He is to love her like he loves himself. Isn’t this open to abuse? Will he become a doormat? Under the thumb? The potential for abuse only shows how potentially beautiful he could be.

She is to show respect. The word is actually fear and probably why the translators thought it not wise to use that word because it isn’t what Paul is saying. It is profound honour. Isn’t this open to abuse? Will she become a slave? The potential for abuse only shows how potentially beautiful she could be.

That is the partnership. It doesn’t really work without both partners involved. It is collaboration. No one higher than the other. Each submitted to one another. A oneness.

How is this possible?

It is a work of the Spirit. Be being filled with the Spirit. The only way.

I find it easier if everything is about Christ

Easier because knowing that my life is always about Christ helps to make sense of it.

The Apostle commanded us to be continually filled with the Spirit. Then he shows us how the Spirit is demonstrated in our lives with our relationships, within Church community, marriages, parent/child and master/slaves. The latter ones which we are yet to discover.

The motivation to be the best I can be in any one of those settings isn’t enough if I just want to be a model citizen. However, knowing it is about my discipleship and about the place I give Christ in my life is the reason I keep trying. Does that mean I don’t love people and it is just a life of obedience shackled to my responsibilities? Of course not. But I do find it easier when Christ is the centre of my life.

Let’s read a section we have been discovering over the last several days and focus on where I have underlined: It’s from chapter 5 v18-32.

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 

If this is just a household code by Paul then we may well be right to react and kick back against it. As he continues to talk about the relationships of parent/child and master/slave, we may wonder how much is cultural, what do the instructions really mean, how do we interpret submission for example?

But it is easier if we see everything in our life is about Christ. We are either a mirror of Him or we are demonstrating through our relationships His beauty towards us.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5 v31-32

For this reason, a man will leave his parents in a switching of loyalty, he will cleave, glue himself in a uniting way to his wife so that they become one person not two individual separate beings. It is profound, a mystery, a creation mandate hidden in Christ to be discovered. But it is a mirror for I am talking about the relationship between Christ and the Church.

Does that mean I have to stay if I am abused? To suggest it is an anathema to me.

Does that mean I only do my part if others are seeing Christ in the same way? If your friend/partner/spouse etc are not following Christ then all the more reason to do your part.

Does that mean I have to keep working at my relationships? Yes it is a discipleship journey.

Make it about Christ and there is no fight. Well, not with each other anyway.

I think a Holy Spirit life is a self-less one

In this section of the prison letter Paul is writing of the impact of being filled with the Spirit will have on our lives.

He has already said that because of the Spirit a) our mouths will worship and encourage, b) we will be thankful c) we will submit to one another d) the wives will submit to their husbands e) husbands will love their wives.

He is ultimately speaking of the task of the Spirit which is to build the relationship between Christ and the Church. Let’s read:

“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” Ephesians 5 v 28-30

There are some who find this difficult but the majority of us have no problem in loving ourselves. What does that mean? Here’s a list which is not exhaustive but just to help us understand:

  1. We satisfy our own desires.
  2. We go where we want to go and do what we want to do.
  3. Make our own decisions.
  4. Gentle with our own failings and quickly forgive ourselves.
  5. We react defensively against any attack on anything we might have said or stand for.
  6. We don’t let others forces us to be who we are not.

Just think of how Jesus has responded to you throughout your relationship with Him. Read that list again.

He has satisfied you; He has given you freedom to go and be and make your way in life; when those choices have led to failure He has been gentle and quick to forgive and heal you; He has defended you strongly and has enabled you to be the best version of yourself not by force but by encouragement. It has been a beautiful partnership.

The Apostle says it is the duty of the husband who is copying Christ to love his wife in this same kind of way. Read the paragraph above again.

Yes I do think wives should submit to their husbands. But which wife wouldn’t want to in the context of living with such a husband? He restores the word submission into something beautiful as he lays his life down for her.

Is this some impossible dream?

Paul says it is only possible because of continually being filled with the Holy Spirit.

And for those who are not married as we presume Paul wasn’t then it still applies because ultimately this is about Christ and the Church. It is about you and others submitting to Christ the head, the leader of the body, the Church.

I want to Copy Christ

We live in a world where if as an individual you want to live your life according to what is written in the Bible then no one is going to comment, you will be permitted.

However it is going to become increasingly difficult for the Church to have a ‘household code’ because of so much hurt that has been caused to innocent victims of oppressors. We need to totally rescue and support the abused and at the same time still uphold the beautiful concepts found in the Bible. But it will become difficult also because offence comes far more easier today in our world which is divided by opinion.

I wonder what the Apostle would write today. What would his household code be? Would it cover race, sexual identity and poverty? Whatever the changes I believe he would still be writing about the same person and that everything in this world of ours, all our relationships, activities, problems and challenges, successes and victories are only illustrations of a greater relationship that we have with this person:

Jesus Christ.

Paul says in our next verse, “In this same way, (husbands) ought …). Ephesians 5 v 28

In the same way or “So …”

The word refers to what precedes.

And what has preceded is of course a description of the love and submission of Christ for us.

So ….

Submit to one another, wives submit to your husbands and husbands love and submit to your wives. Why? Paul will spell it out soon when he tells us he is definitely thinking about our relationship with Christ. But for now, ‘in the same way …’

Almost 30 years ago I wore a bracelet, WWJD. What would Jesus do? It was a campaign to encourage us all to copy Christ.

What would he do if he walked my life? He does.

What would he say if he was behind my mouth? He is.

Let’s demonstrate Christ today.

Let’s copy Christ.

I believe Success is when the Best is brought out.

Firstly, here’s a few things we shouldn’t say to bring the best out of someone:

“I can’t believe you would say (or do) that!”

Don’t believe it then. Believe in them even if they get it wrong. Believe in them even if they fail to believe in themselves.

“We’re so different!”

That’s good. There are so many missed opportunities because we cannot see past our own biases or hurts to spot something so different, unique and precious.

“I told you so!”

They will know you did. The outcomes of life are crucially important for us to learn and develop and they can be robbed from us by some know-it-all-expert on everything.

The Apostle’s readers know that he is drawing on the Jewish marriage culture as he speaks of what Christ has done for His Church: Laying His life down, washing with the Rhema (spoken life-affirming words) …

“… and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. “ Ephesians 5 v 27

The Message says, “Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her …”

Paul’s readers are not seeing this through the filter of a woman dressed in white walking down the aisle to meet her husband.

Steeped in their cultural context is the system of presenting sacrifices to the gods/God. The priest had to present himself and then the sacrifices were to be offered without fault so that the gods/God would be pleased. Paul uses the word ekklesia (church), it means to be called out. The radiant called-out ones.

Their thoughts of marriage would be their Jewish customs where the groom prepares a place for His bride and the bride prepares herself for his return so that she can look her best.

The Apostle says that whilst the Church is waiting for Jesus, the Groom, through the Holy Spirit He brings the best out of us, dealing with the stains, wrinkles and blemishes by His Word.

Christ brings the best out of the Church.

Husbands bring the best out of their wives.

Let each one of us single or married bring the best out of one another.

That is success.

I Am Energised by Life-Affirming Words.

(There are many who live with verbal abuse either in their relationships or through social media messages that range from name-calling, condescension, criticism, demeaning and manipulation. No one should feel trapped inside those relationships and should be rescued. No one should have to read such comments on social media and need to be encouraged to delete and block those people.)

The Apostle’s readers know that he is drawing on the Jewish marriage culture as he speaks of what Christ has done for His Church.

“ … to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” Ephesians 5 v 26

Christ laid his life down to sanctify the Church and has made her ready for Him by washing her with the word.

Paul is speaking of Christ and the Church but is using Jewish marriage as an illustration. This is so important for the many single people who do not need to skip over this passage thinking it doesn’t apply to them. It does. It is about Christ. Marriage is used as the example so that we have better understanding.

Just before their wedding the brides (and some grooms) will immerse themselves in a pool of water, the mikveh, usually in the synagogue, to cleanse themselves spiritually and prepare for their married state. Many will install a mikveh (this is an addition to a shower/bath) in their homes today so that throughout the marriage Jewish women will ritually immerse themselves each month and especially after childbirth.

We may now only have the images of the mikveh but also of Christian baptism but hold that thought because Paul speaks of washing through the Rhema.

Rhema is the spoken word.

For example, Jesus says, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63)

Whereas Logos would be the entire Word, that is the Bible, Rhema is a portion of it. It is when verses leap off the pages and impact our lives. It is also the Spirit’s voice in our hearts. It is the speaking, the action, this can be harmful but it can also be beautifully life-affirming which cleanses and energises our lives.

On Friday someone messaged me through social media to explain how every day she sends a message to someone the Holy Spirit shows her simply to encourage them. That day the Holy Spirit showed her it was me! The timing was perfect. The message was Rhema and it was life-affirming and I was indeed energised by it.

The Apostle is speaking of Christ and the Church.

He uses the husband who is modelled after Christ as the illustration.

Is the wife energised by the husband’s life-affirming Rhema words?

Of course you don’t need to be a husband to do this. Today we can be instruments of Christ’s life. And how people need that in the days we live in!

I think the Husband should love his wife the way Christ loves the Church.

Failure, disappointment, or betrayal from any loved one is always difficult to manage. But when a husband is abused and according to experts there are many, many husbands suffering silently then what do they do? Where do they turn? How do they raise their complaint? Do they just ‘take it like a man’? No not at all. All forms of abuse are wrong and the victim rescued.

As I have done throughout the last few days on this sensitive issue of husbands and wives I acknowledge the hurt that husbands have had when their wives are not being who they should be.

However, I still believe that what the Apostle says is true:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  Ephesians 5 v 25

With the Husband’s model being Jesus Christ then it is easy to see how they are called to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.

And again for any single men, relationships and marriage is not the utopia, relationship with Christ is. Your relationship with Christ is more important than if you haven’t got a relationship with a woman.

How does Christ love the Church?

  1. Christ loves first. He came to and for us. He initiated and participated which is the meaning of the word submission.
  2. Christ’s love is the destination. Christ didn’t just come to take us into eternity though that is our destination. The prayer of Jesus in John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” His love brings us into the experience of knowing Him.
  3. Christ’s love is not necessarily reciprocal. It is not coming based on the discovery of beauty or value, but it comes out of its own nature.
  4. Christ’s love never disappears. At all times and in all circumstances the love of Christ flows so that nothing can separate us from it other than we choose not to abide in it.
  5. Christ’s love heals the wounds. To be healed is to a) know we are loved; b) know we belong; c) know how to live for Him.
  6. Christ’s love is replicated. We love Him and we love others because we have received love. We are not thinking of ourselves. We mirror Him.

This is how Christ loves the Church.

This is what we must see in the Husbands.