Luke 11:14-23 – If You’re Not For Him, You’re Against Him

The Plundering of Hell by Jesus, Lincoln Cathedral, England

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed, but some of the people said, “It is Beelzebul, the chief of the demons, who gives him the power to drive them out.”

Others wanted to trap Jesus, so they asked him to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him. But Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said to them, “Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart. So, if Satan’s kingdom has groups fighting each other, how can it last? You say that I drive out demons because Beelzebul gives me the power to do so. If this is how I drive them out, how do your followers drive them out? Your own followers prove that you are wrong! No, it is rather by means of God’s power that I drive out demons, and this proves that the Kingdom of God has already come to you.

“When a strong man, with all his weapons ready, guards his own house, all his belongings are safe. But when a stronger man attacks him and defeats him, he carries away all the weapons the owner was depending on and divides up what he stole.

“Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who does not help me gather is really scattering. (Good News Translation)

Watching the Green Bay Packers on television does not make one a professional football player. Voting in an election doesn’t make somebody a politician. Paddling around on a lake does not make anyone a duck. And just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make someone a car, so sitting in a church worship service does not make someone a Christian. 

Responding to criticism about casting out demons, Jesus summarized his actions and the actions of others by saying that whoever is not with Jesus is against him, and whoever does not gather with Jesus, scatters.

Jesus was all about the kingdom of God breaking-in to this mixed-up fallen world and giving it a thorough transformation. So, that meant Jesus was going to push back hard on the kingdom of darkness. 

Participating with Jesus in his kingdom enterprise is a watershed test of whether someone is genuinely following God, or not. There are a million armchair quarterbacks who will freely give their advice and opinion about how things should have gone and what those playing on the field ought to be doing. Jesus was, and still is, calling people out to get off their butts and follow him. To merely watch him is to be against him, not for him.

Faith is not a checklist of beliefs to affirm and mark off. Rather, believing in Jesus is a dynamic participation with him in his great kingdom influence for the world. Christ calls us to leave the critical spirit, haughty attitude, and selfish expectations in the bleachers. We are to get on the playing field. To simply have our hands in our pockets is to actually work against Jesus. 

Are you willing to gather with Jesus? How does God want to you to serve? Are you only a fan of Jesus? Do you play armchair preacher on Monday morning? 

God is presently working to bring all things under the authority of Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler of the universe. Unlike so many present kingdoms of darkness on this planet, Christ’s reign is a kingdom of light, bringing benevolent grace to all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20, NLT)

The kingdom of God has come upon us. Let us follow Jesus and participate in the renewal of the world so that truth, kindness, grace, mercy, goodness, and peace will shine.

Mighty God, Jesus is the strong man who has bound Satan and is ushering in a new kingdom. Let me be a part of what you are doing in this world so that my faith is confirmed, strengthened, and used for your gracious and benevolent purposes, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 John 5:13-21 – We Know

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (New International Version)

In a world of constant change, the need for people to experience meaning and stability in their lives is more pronounced than ever. 

COVID-19 currently grips the world in a terrible reality of disease, death, and disruption. Just when we think there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, new strains of the virus arise. Meanwhile, life goes on with all it’s typical changes, losses, and devastating natural disasters.

There are people wondering if they will have a job tomorrow – or if they will ever get called back to one. Many parents are anxious about what kind of world their kids will have when they become adults. Others feel adrift in a fast-paced society, glutted with so much news and information that they have little sense of what is real or true. Discouragement and/or depression may seem to never end.

Whenever there are uncertainties all around us, it’s necessary to return to the knowable, to hang our hat on some solid bedrock certainties we are convinced are always there. That’s why the Apostle John wrote his letter, to remind the church of the known and the knowable:

  • “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
  • “If we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
  • “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”
  • “We know that we are children of God.”
  • “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.” 

In English, we have only one word for “know.” Yet, in the ancient Greek of the New Testament there are two different words for “know.” Throughout today’s lesson, the Apostle consistently uses one of those words, then shifts to another at the end. 

All of the “knows” John used refer to an objective knowledge – an information-based understanding which anyone could discover, learn, or know. Then, the Apostle switched to a different word at the end – to know him (Christ) who is true. That particular word has to do with a subjective or experiential knowledge. In other words, it is an inner witness and knowing of objective knowledge.

In American society, we frame the distinction between the two words by saying we need to know something in our heart (subjective knowledge) and not only in our head (objective knowledge).

Cerebral understanding, combined with heartfelt experience, results in a new confidence in prayer, a new attitude toward the world, and a new awareness of God. These are the impact of knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Knowing God takes both the head and the heart. Only being concerned for sound doctrine creates theological eggheads who dispassionately connect with God and others as if they were merely brains on a stick figure. Conversely, only being concerned for how religion makes us feel causes a kind of spiritual schizophrenia which is unstable and constantly seeks for a new or better experience in worship.

Love and obedience are the sacred pathways to personal and corporate knowledge and peace. Whenever the supreme ethic of love takes place in the believer’s life, through receiving it from God and giving it to others, it brings a sense of divine assurance in a sea of worldly uncertainty. 

Security in God will always outdo the insecurities of life.

Loving God, I know that you listen to me. I pray your love and assurance will fill me to such a place that I have peace amidst the vicissitudes of this life. May I rest in Jesus Christ through the work of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ephesians 5:15-20 – Speak to One Another with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. 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. (New International Version)

As you likely well know, an inebriated person tends to say and do things that they do not typically say or do when they’re sober. The Apostle Paul’s point about being filled with the Spirit is that, instead of doing and saying stupid things, we are so filled with God that we do things and say things that we would not typically do and say if we were not filled with God – that is, good things. 

Apart from being full of God’s Spirit, we tend toward mumbling, not singing; worry, not making music in our hearts; and complaining and arguing, not giving thanks. Half-filled Christians practice a half-hearted Christianity. They’re only half-baked in their service and devotion to Christ.

Why sing? 

Because singing is part of being filled with the Spirit of God. Singing happens when we experience God’s overflowing grace in our lives through the blessings of being chosen, adopted, and redeemed into God’s new community. (Ephesians 1:3-11)

Music is powerful. It’s not only a means of expressing praise and commitment to Christ and each other, it is also a powerful means of being impressed. For example, when we first teach kids the alphabet, we teach it in a song. Trying to teach letters in a rote fashion typically doesn’t work well for pre-school kids. Words set to music is why we still remember words from old TV shows, because those words were set to a catchy tune.  Music is why an Alzheimer’s patient cannot remember her daughter’s name but can flawlessly sing all four verses of Amazing Grace.

Singing is an offering and a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). And singing is also a vehicle whereby we are taught, encouraged, and built up in the community of believers. We sing to God, one another, and even ourselves.

Church music, then, is to be both a means of praising God and a practice of encouraging each other. We do it through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Psalms

The word “psalm” helps us rightly think of the biblical book of Psalms. Singing the psalms is an ancient practice, going all the way back to the Israelites singing psalms in the temple and synagogue. The early church maintained this practice, especially as a means of being faithful to praying without ceasing. 

However, over time, medieval congregations began neglecting the practice. In fact, the congregations eventually gave up most singing altogether. Almost all the singing was done by church choirs and professional musicians employed by the state (no separation of church and state) to write, compose, and perform in worship services. 

Five-hundred years ago, with the Reformation, Martin Luther reinstituted congregational singing. He gave music back to the people. One of the results of this change was putting the book of psalms to song – the Psalter.  For many Protestant denominations, the Psalter became the primary means of singing. The Psalter chiefly set prayers to song. It was both a means of expressing prayer to God and learning Scripture.

 

Hymns

There have always been hymns in the church. Yet, it was not until the Reformation that hymns began to be written and sung by congregations. For the Reformers, hymns were used to teach sound doctrine and theology, as well as a means of confessing the faith together

Spiritual Songs

Spiritual songs are the present day equivalent of praise and worship choruses, or what some refer to as contemporary songs. These are songs purposefully designed to be emotional expressions of praise to God and to give powerful testimony for what God has done or is doing.

So, what?

Quick review:

  • Psalms are used to pray and learn Scripture.
  • Hymns are used to teach us sound doctrine and confess the faith together.  
  • Spiritual songs are an important way of expressing praise to God and being encouraged in the faith. 

Therefore, church music is to serve as both a revelation from God, and as a response from God’s people.

There are two important deductions from this verse:

  1. A variety of songs is inferred and expected.
  2. Paul commanded their use.

The reason worship style is such a hot topic in a lot of churches is because we all have our personal preferences.  And yet, if we are to be faithful to today’s New Testament lesson, we will not just lock in on what I want. 

Truth be told, we are selfish people when it comes to music. We want what we want, and we don’t care what somebody else wants. And we will persist in that self-absorbed spirit until somebody calls us on it. That somebody is the Apostle Paul. The Word of God calls us to encompass psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs – all three of them – in our worship.

I have a good friend who is an accomplished church musician and worship pastor. I once asked him how I can lead a worship service among such a variety of preferences concerning music. He answered my question with a question: “How highly do people, including and especially your musicians, value the unity of the church?  Do they love each other so much that they can allow for a wider range of style, and do so without vocally complaining about it?”

My friend went on to say, “When I arrived at one church as their pastor, some people were in a rather bad habit of saying very openly, ‘Oh I hate that song,’ or, ‘If I hear this song one more time I’m walking out.’ What I tried to do was teach people that this is not the most loving or mature approach and does little to build up the rest of the Body of Christ.”

If a group of people are being faithful to Scripture, and doing their best musically, then – if the music seems lifeless, dull, or strange to us – the real issue isn’t style but our hearts.       

Is that heart filled with the Spirit of God? If it is, then we will speak to one another using the Psalter, using time-honored hymns, and utilizing fresh contemporary praise songs. And the result will be the Body of Christ, the Church, built up in the faith.

Gracious God, give us grace to take to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions about music.  Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may from this time forward be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of peace, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – We Are Blessed

Hallelujah by Mike Moyers

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (New International Version)

God has blessed us. The word “blessing” comes from the same word for “giving thanks.”  So, when, we consider the ways God has spiritually blessed us, it leads us to effusive gratitude and praise.  And this was exactly the case for the Apostle Paul.

In writing these words, Paul was so excited to share with the church at Ephesus about the blessings of God that he could not stop. In our English translations we have broken these verses up into several sentences and two paragraphs. But Paul originally penned this as one sentence!

More than anything, Paul wanted the church to know the wonderful blessings of God to them. Throughout the book of Ephesians, Paul’s constant theme to the church is reconciliation and restoration. In fact, that is the end game for God. God has cares about reconciling people to himself, and others. The Lord deeply cares about restoring the entire world to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

To accomplish this gigantic feat, God intervened into humanity by giving the church three main blessings: election, redemption, and inheritance.

Election 

The word “chose” and “chosen” in some English translations is the Greek word ἐκλεκτός (eklektos) or “election.” This is where it all begins for us. Even before the creation of the world, God had the end of the story in mind. Divine decisions were made about outcomes and results. 

This approach, by the way, is how we are to engage ministry in the church. That is, we begin with the end in mind of what we want to accomplish. Then, we gather the people and begin making the needed decisions to see that end purpose realized. Too often, churches begin with a group of people and wonder about what they should do – which is backwards from how God does it. 

In eternity past, in love, God predestined us to be adopted as his children. You and I are so loved by God that we were special to him before we were even ever born! Election means God has a purpose for us. On the human level, we elect candidates so that they may serve the common good and put their energies into accomplishing some noble cause. 

Likewise with God. We were not elected or chosen by God solely to go to heaven when we die.  Although that is true and shall happen, the reason we were chosen by God was for us to be holy and blameless, to be for the praise of God’s glory. We are not in some sort of holding pattern on earth, impatiently waiting for the afterlife. Rather, we are to be active in accomplishing God’s purposes for our election. And what is that purpose?

We are to participate with God in the grand scheme of reconciling and restoring all of creation back to the original design. Therefore, every act of forgiveness, grace, love, and kindness; every overture of faith and communication of the gospel to others; and all steps of obedience are small movements toward the great restoration story God is writing. 

For example, the book of Acts ends on a dramatic note with no resolution to it. That’s because the story is still being written. We are chosen to be a part of it.

Redemption 

To be redeemed means to be delivered by a payment of a price. In the ancient world, slavery was an entrenched part of the society. The picture of the slave market provided a means for Paul to communicate a spiritual blessing: We have been redeemed from the slave market of sin through the payment of Christ’s blood, and so now, we enjoy the freedom from and forgiveness of sin. 

This is not just redemption from something (sin, death, and hell); it is also redemption to reconciliation and restoration. God elected us to receive redemption so that the grand design of bringing all the earth under the lordship of Christ will happen. God has and is creating a new society, the community of the redeemed, that will realize the original design of unhindered connection with God and others. 

Inheritance

We are receiving an inheritance. It will be put into effect when God’s timing and purpose is accomplished – and Paul spells the purpose out: To bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ. 

Here is how Paul envisions what is coming: The chosen and redeemed of God will one day die, then they will go to be with Christ. But that is not yet the end because the entire world still needs redemption. This is why the preacher of Hebrews could say about the great heroes of the faith:  

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NIV)

There is not just life after death; there is life after life-after-death. All those people of faith, including our believing friends and relatives who have gone before us to be with Jesus, are waiting. They, along with us, have not yet received all the promised blessings of our inheritance. 

We are waiting for the reconciliation and restoration of all things, a new heaven and a new earth in which we will be together as sons and daughters in the kingdom of God with Jesus as King over us. The possession of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that this is the case, and it will happen. 

Conclusion

Our blessings of election, redemption, and inheritance are all activated by faith. Belief is the switch that turns on the blessings to us in a real and actual way. The electricity is there in the person of the Holy Spirit. The light bulb is there, and it is us. 

So, the question for us today is: Are we turned on and shining brightly, or is the switch off?  We must access our blessings by belief in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

God is on a mission to reconcile and restore the world. Our salvation is part of God’s plan to make that happen. God is a missionary. The Lord has chosen us to be emissaries to a world that needs redemption and restoration. 

The church is like no other institution on earth – existing for the life of the world, and not for itself. Like a mighty army, we are to train ourselves for godliness so that we can engage an invisible enemy and see the kingdom of God come and the will of God done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. 

The camaraderie we enjoy as fellow soldiers is not the end purpose – restoring enemy territory back to its original government is. So, we care for our wounded and do everything we can for them. There are yet more spiritual battles to be won and hearts captured for King Jesus. 

May you and I, then, give thanks with grateful hearts for the great spiritual blessings of election, redemption, and inheritance so that God’s benevolent and merciful rule might spread everywhere to everyone.

God our Savior, you desire that none should perish, and you have taught us through your Son that there is great joy in heaven over every sinner who repents: Grant that our hearts may ache for a lost and broken world. May your Holy Spirit work through our words, deeds, and prayers, that the lost may be found and the dead made alive, and that all your redeemed may rejoice around your throne, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.