God returned to the Garden

In Genesis, God walked in the garden with his creation, mankind. This intimacy and fellowship between Spirit and flesh were ruptured by sin and the fall. No more walks, no more intimacy as man went his own way. The gardeners forsook their duties.

All that changed, when God came to earth as a man. The God who once walked and talked with man in intimate union, now walked and talked as man in hypostatic union. He came to live, to die, to rise, to ascend. He came that, through his sacrifice, the Holy Spirit could be given to indwell his people, calling us back to the garden.

First man and woman tended the garden. New men and women restore the garden. God once again walks, not only among us, but within us.

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Eager For Unity

Ephesians 4:1-7 begins with a command. Paul urges the reader (including us today) to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they (including us) have been called. We’ve all heard this command preached on more than one occasion. It’s a favorite, especially in holiness circles. We are commanded to walk (to live our lives) in a manner (a way) worthy (equal to, fitting to) the calling to which we have been called. Paul goes on to define this worthy walk.

This walk, worthy of the calling, is defined by Paul with three nouns and two participial phrases. He describes it as a walk (way of life) marked by humility, gentleness and patience. These are the three nouns. Interestingly, if one’s walk is marked by these nouns, it would be safe to assume that walk would demonstrate the details given in the following participial phrases. These phrases tell us to “bear with one another in love” and to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It seems if one is humble, gentle and patient, there is no need to include these last two. However, Paul is dealing with something the church has dealt with throughout her history—disunity. We easily find excuses to divide. Paul is adding some detail to give greater emphasis to the unifying side of the worthy walk.

I want to zone in on this last part for this blog post. Paul includes in a worthy walk being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” Some translations lose something here. The NIV, for example, translates this as “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” But this merely means doing everything involved in keeping the peace. It misses the element of drive, push or haste. Let’s say I have a project to accomplish. I can expend every effort to accomplish the project and do so simply out of a sense of obligation. I would do everything needed to accomplish the project, but not really care if it works or fails—“It failed, but I did my part.” I can also not care how long the project takes, because there is a lack of haste or passion in my actions. In the same way, the NIV translation of this make it sound like Paul is saying to do what is needed or appropriate to maintain unity, without any reference to our drive, passion or zeal. It seems to reduce it to nothing but an action commanded. But the passage is much more powerful than this. The HCSB translates this as “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit.” This, at least, gives some of the emphasis Paul places upon the command.

Paul is not just telling us to work at being united. Paul is not just including such unity as part of our walk. He is telling us to strive for, to be eager for, to diligently desire and work to maintain that unity. Unity of the body to which we are called (the Church Universal and the local expression of the church, where he has placed us). We should desire unity more than our own way. We should eagerly seek to keep the church together—even if it means giving up our own way and our own desires. That , after all, is part of the humility which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire unity even if it means dealing with our imperfect fellow Christians—even when it hurts. That, after all, is part of the patience which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire and work toward unity even when it would be far easier to attack and drive out those we find difficulty. That, after all, is part of the gentleness which he earlier used to describe the worthy life.

Paul commands us (God commands us through Paul) to bear one another’s burdens and eagerly strive to keep the church together as a united whole. We are not to drive those out or separate ourselves from our fellow believers. We are to strive to keep the church together. The only reasons to ever drive one out of the church is heresy (2 John 1:10) or discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5). Even that is meant to bring them back to repentance and back to the fold as fully restored members (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).

Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This command (σπουδάζοντες) tells us to do this quickly, with haste, without waiting. When some action or behavior disrupts our unity, or breaches the bond of peace, we are commanded to quickly (eagerly, with haste) strive for restoration. This is a direct command to each of us—me, you and everyone else called to salvation by Christ.

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Every Good Blessing

It’s just after midnight and I find myself unable to sleep. Things keep flowing through my mind about my church, the Lord, things I want to say and things the Lord wants to change in me. I decided to go to my desk and journal a bit, while also reading the Word of God for a bit and spending some intimate time with God. As often happens, I struck upon a verse where God spoke to me and I feel a driving compulsion to share it. The easiest way for me to do it is with a blog post.

I simply opened my Bible to Ephesians 1 and was dumbstruck by verse 3, even though I’ve read and studied it a thousand times. The verse says (ESV) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,…” It goes on to say that this was done “even as he chose us” and predestined us (verses 4f). The “even” in that passage (Greek: καθὼς) means “just as,” or “inasmuch as,” or it can also mean the two happened at the same time (Mounce, 2006). So, our being blessed in verse 3 is very closely related in manner, degree and/or time to our being chosen and predestined. The blessing is not severable from these. Just as from the foundation of the world he chose me to be blameless and holy and predestined me to be adopted as his son, he blessed me with every spiritual blessing and did this through Christ.

Now, let’s dig deeper into this blessing. When Paul speaks of “every spiritual blessing” the word for blessing is εὐλογίᾳ. This is the word from which we get our “eulogy.” This is from the same root as earlier when Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father…” He is telling us the Father is worthy of blessing (literally: good speaking). He deserves our praise, our blessings for what he has done for us. Just as he deserves our “good speaking” about what he has done, “good speaking” is a fitting description of what he has done for us. Don’t forget that Jesus is the Word (λόγος) of God. God’s Word (Jesus) was powerful and when he spoke the world into being, it was the Son (the Word) who created (John 1:3). In the same way, when God “speaks good” into our lives and upon us, it is a creative and active event. He has spoken all good into our lives.

Don’t take that last sentence the wrong way. This does not mean He has determined that I will have all things I consider good. This is not some backdoor magical Name-it-and-claim-it prosperity atrocity. This is not saying that He has declared I am to have everything I ever desired. This means everything he knows to be good, he has spoken into our lives. He has made pronouncements in our lives, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, these pronouncements are all sure and irrevocable as our being chosen and predestined.

It does say “he has blessed us […] with every spiritual blessing.” So, there are no spiritual blessings he has withheld from us. To use the word “every” is to create a container into which all items which are defined by God as a blessing are placed. None are withheld. “Every blessing” means there are none he is yet to declare. He never said, “This is a blessing, but I will withhold this from them.” Of course, as I write this I know some will claim, “Well, there is one blessing he has withheld. He has not revealed to me the time of the return of Christ since scripture says he has even withheld that knowledge from the Son.” This assumes such knowledge would be a blessing—a good thing spoken into our lives. I contend that such knowledge would be far too great for man and, in this way, would become a curse. He withheld no blessing from us. If you feel he has withheld one from you, then check your definition of blessing.

Finally, he says he has spoken these good blessings into our lives, he has given us these blessings—all of them—“in Christ.” No blessings, no “good speaking” of the Spirit, no active, creative pronouncements of God come through any other route but the Son of God—Jesus Christ. He gives us all blessings. He holds none back. The only restriction to them is that they will all be given through (in) Christ Jesus. We are to look for them nowhere else. We are to expect them from no other source. They are found in no other place. They are offered in Christ and Christ alone.

 

References

Mounce, W. D. (Ed.). (2006). Mounce’s complete expository dictionary of Old & New Testament words. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.

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Selfish Coercion

In Galatians 6:12, Paul speaks of the legalists as those “who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (ESV). This describes many of the events that happen in church today.

The legalists were not so worried about the actual spiritual condition of the uncircumcised. Their concern was not that the uncircumcised could not be saved. They were worried about what their own people would think if they tolerated the gentiles remaining uncircumcised. But, according to Paul freedom from circumcision (and the rest of the law) was a fruit of the cross of Christ. This means they feared being persecuted by their own people for allowing gentiles to rest in the cross alone. In other words, their fear was that they themselves would look bad if these others were not brought into conformity.

There is an interesting dynamic that can be lost if we just stop here. Notice they were willing to force the conformity of others to prevent their own persecution. Their actions, like so much in church today, was spawned by selfishness.

Legalism and license are different sides of the same selfish coin.

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