Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Realizing Unity and Peace through Humility

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (New International Version)

In the economy of God, unity isn’t a privilege but a necessity. Unity is not an ancillary or side issue to the real work of the Church and the Christian life; it is very much at the center of Christianity. 

Christians have been fashioned through the Holy Spirit into a single harmonious religious community of redeemed people, called to exemplify a counter-cultural presence in the world. 

There is a solid theological reason for this: God is one. Just as the triune God exists as one deity in three persons, so the church is to reflect God’s image through its unified oneness.

Although unity has been accomplished through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, the practical implications must be daily worked out. This is why we are to strive, or to put significant effort into, having unity. 

Simply getting along outwardly with someone or some group, while inwardly harboring animosity toward them, is not unity. Just because two people are not at each other’s throats does not mean there is peaceful unity. 

Unity only occurs when the Body of Christ works together in its diverse gifts toward a common goal of knowing Christ and making him known… with humility.  

In yesterday’s blog post on Ephesians 1:17-19, I laid down the challenge of praying chapter one’s prayer daily for two weeks. To up the ante on the prayer, try doing it with another person in the church. Having a common unity of purpose in mind and heart through prayer is a beautiful thing. 

In fact, if there is to be any sort of church revitalization, personal renewal, and national revival, it will begin in the prayer rooms of unified believers who share a common love for God and neighbor, a similar attitude of humility and gentleness, and a shared commitment of showing patience toward others.

This is the way of unity and peace. And it requires a great deal of effort to unpack these gracious spiritual gifts which have been mercifully given to us.

Unity is at the center of the earliest ecumenical creeds of the Church. The early church fathers (and mothers) wisely discerned the great importance of a unified faith and striving toward peace with all believers.

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father….

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son….

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. – The Nicene Creed

There is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so, we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons….

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man. – The Athanasian Creed

Since God is one, we are to be one people. This is the path of peace. One God. One people. There cannot be unity and peace apart from humility.

Invalidating a person’s feelings or thoughts does no one any good. It happens because of pride and a profound lack of humility.

Imagine going to see a doctor who turns out to be arrogant. He doesn’t really listen to you. He just gives a quick exam and offers his diagnosis with a regimen of more pills to take. You’re left sitting there while he’s off to another patient, colonizing another person’s mind and emotions with his expertise.

I’m not giving doctors a hard knock. I know many physicians, and they do wonderful compassionate work. Yet, it’s likely that you, like me, have had that occasional experience of the doctor, all full of themselves, having all the right answers on your pain and situation.

You may have also had the unfortunate experience of having a pastor, therapist, or counselor assess your situation with little information and even smaller compassion. Like writing a script for pills, they give you a few Bible verses and tell you to quit sinning and live obediently.

If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is humility. No matter who we are – whether doctors, pastors, laypersons, patients, or whomever – we are meant and designed by our Creator God to live a humble life.

Humility is the cornerstone to the unity and peace we desire. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human kindness with one another is grounded in humility.

The beauty of a humility-based existence is that multiple people discover together how to grow, thrive, and flourish in a situation where it isn’t currently happening. Breakthroughs occur in the soil of humility when all voices are heard and given weight.

We live with the confidence of the Psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right and teaches them the way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, it’s a common commitment to exercise humility which realizes unity and enjoys peace.

May it be so, to the glory of God and for the sake of the world.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom I serve, may your church on earth be one as you are one. I pray our unity of love and purpose will transform individuals, churches, organizations, systems, and the entire world for the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-19 – Receive the Spirit

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and you will understand the hope given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all God’s people.

I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. (Contemporary English Version)

I meet a lot of people in my line of work. And I cannot recall anyone ever telling me they want to be a weak and foolish ignoramus without hope in this world. No, but I do listen to the longings of people to be wise and knowledgeable, who yearn to brim with hope and be a blessing to others.

Unfortunately, many folk live with regrets. They didn’t seek the good, the true, and the beautiful when they had the chance to do so. They failed to realize that the kind of life they really want requires receiving, opening, and applying. I’m talking about the gift of the Spirit.

The Spirit is graciously given, so we must receive and utilize this ultimate resourceful Person.

Wisdom, knowledge, hope, blessing, and strength are the qualities and virtues which the Spirit of God develops within people. They are accessed by faith and prayer.

Today’s New Testament lesson, on the heels of Pentecost, is a heartfelt prayer of the Apostle Paul to the Church. He desperately wanted the Ephesian believers to experience the fullness of the spiritual power which was available to them.

It’s still a prayer to be prayed by believers everywhere and at all times. In fact, all the prayers in Holy Scripture are meant to be prayed by us, and not left as ink on a page, only to be gazed at a few times in life. Here are a few observations about this biblical prayer: 

  • Praying this biblical prayer makes every Christian a “Pentecostal” believer, whether you are a in a Pentecostal Christian tradition, or not. The Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, the distinguishing mark of a believer.
  • Praying this prayer is what God wants us to pray. The Holy God desires that the Holy Spirit provide us with spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we will experientially know God’s great power for us who believe. Out of all the things we might pray, this is a doozy of a prayer to pray!

Here is an invitation for you: Pray this prayer every day for two weeks, beginning today. Yes, every single day. Maybe even multiple times in the day. Pray it for yourself, your church, your family, your friends, and even for those who do not yet know they need Jesus. 

Pray for the Spirit to be manifested in all of life. After fourteen days, see if there is any change in your life, in your church, your neighborhood, your workplace, and in your relationships. 

There is no need to keep bemoaning the state of religion and the lack of spirituality in this world when we have such a prayer as this to pray. More praying and less complaining, please. Try it and see the difference it makes.

I highlight the need for intentional prayer because asking for the Spirit to show up isn’t always our reflexive response to most things. Instead, we tend to immediately rely on our instincts, abilities, ingenuity, common sense, or our relational connections, and even Google for answers to our most vexing issues.

In Old Testament poetry, the Spirit is sometimes likened to a wise woman for whom we need to pursue in gaining understanding. She will never disappoint but freely gives to all who will humbly ask.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
    when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
    her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
    nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
    with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
    her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
    Hold her tight—and be blessed! (Proverbs 3:13-18, MSG)

It would be great if we could simply fall asleep at night listening to someone talking positive thoughts, and then, wake up and be full of strength and wisdom. But it doesn’t work that way. The spiritual life is far from a chemical-like process of osmosis in which all the negative and stupid stuff gets filtered out with some positive thinking.

The blessings of wisdom and strength come through dogged pursuit, of going hard after Madame Insight and sticking very close to her. The Spirit is available. It’s just a matter of whether we will avail ourselves of God’s mercy, placed right in front of our faces.

Mighty God, I receive your Spirit. May the light of your gracious gospel flood my heart so that I will experientially know all of the blessings of Christ’s redemption and the incomparably great power available to me because of his finished work on the cross. Amen.

Luke 1:26-38 – The Holy Spirit Will Come on You

Pentecost by Jen Norton

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (New International Version)

It is good that the Daily Lectionary has us considering these verses of Scripture outside of the Advent season. In this time of year, in which we focus on the Spirit, we need to remember that these stories, and our faith, are meant to be held throughout the entire year.

Most of life is lived in the mundane, even in times of uncertainty. For the most part, our everyday lives involve going about our business and dealing with the daily grind. That’s because we are common ordinary people. So, we can especially relate to Mary because she is rather plain. 

To put Mary’s life in our contemporary vernacular, at the time of this encounter with the angel, she is of junior high age but has never attended school. She wears mostly clothes from Goodwill, and occasionally can get some from Wal-Mart. She cannot read because girls of her day rarely did.

Her parents make all the decisions that affect her life, including the one that she should be married to an older man named Joseph. We don’t know if she even liked him. Mary lives in a small town that most people cannot even point to on a map. 

One night, into the bedroom of this young girl comes the brightly beaming divine messenger Gabriel whose name means, “God has shown himself mighty.” Mary stands there in her ratty old flannel nightgown, her life very quickly moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The juxtaposition could not be more pronounced: a mighty angel and a plain teen-ager; a messenger of the Most High God and a girl barely past puberty; a holy angelic light which beams in a simple candlelit bedroom; an awesome power encountering complete vulnerability.

Mary, compared to Gabriel, is defenseless, fragile, and overwhelmed. She’s in way over her head. That’s why we can relate to her. We can get our human arms around Mary. She is like us. She has faced life with little power to make it turn out the way she planned. Forces beyond her have rearranged her life and altered it forever.

Descent of the Holy Spirit by John Lawson

Mary is the Matron Saint of the Ordinary. We can totally understand why Mary responds the way she does. Mary’s initial reaction to the angel Gabriel was to be greatly troubled. She was disturbed and shaking in her hand-me-down slippers.

The angel confidently told Mary that she had found favor with God. This scenario didn’t happen because Mary had some extreme spirituality. Instead, God simply chose her to be the mother of Jesus.

Mary needed to come to grips with what was happening to her. This was well beyond anything she could have expected.  Becoming pregnant with the Savior of the world was not even remotely on her radar. 

She immediately sensed the crazy disconnect between what was being told to her and who she was. After all, she was a plain ordinary girl from the hick town of Nazareth and was being told that she would raise a king.  Maybe somebody in heaven screwed up. Maybe Gabriel got the wrong girl. Maybe his Google map sent Gabriel on a wild goose chase.

Relating to Mary, we can totally understand that she would question how in the world all this was going to happen. Not only is Mary ordinary and far from royalty, but she is also very much a virgin. Nothing about any of this made any sense.

But, then again, this is the very sort of thing that the wild and seemingly reckless Holy Spirit would do.

The angel let Mary know that God specializes in the impossible. There is nothing outside of God’s power. There’s nowhere we can go, no place on earth, no situation whatsoever, that is beyond God’s ability and reach to affect divine power.

We very rarely get straightforward answers to our questions about God. Yet, Mary asked a question and got a straight answer: She really can be pregnant with Jesus because the Holy Spirit will come upon her, will overshadow her with power.

If the story were to end there it would be a great story. However, the Spirit’s work goes well beyond effecting the miraculous. The Spirit also brings about faith.

God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.

Romans 5:5, GNT

Mary believed the message and submitted herself completely to God’s will. We may completely understand if Mary simply said in her plain ordinary way that she was not prepared for this. We would totally “get it” if Mary pushed back on what the angel said to her. We could relate if Mary just dismissed the angel’s presence as a hallucination from using some bad chickpeas to make the hummus.

Yet, Mary not only believed; she also humbly submitted herself to what was happening. And this is what I believe we need to relate to most about Mary – not her being just a plain ordinary person in a non-descript village but stepping up to the calling she received.

We, too, have received a calling in our lives. We, too, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are ordinary people who have been given a very extraordinary task. 

Our response today can be the same as Mary all those centuries earlier: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

The Church is pregnant with possibilities because of the Holy Spirit.

We know the end of Mary’s story. She gave birth to Jesus and raised him in her plain ordinary way. She watched him grow up and embark on a ministry to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Mary didn’t always understand what Jesus said or what he was doing. And she experienced every mother’s nightmare in seeing her beloved son killed in a terribly gruesome manner right in front of her eyes. 

Yet, just as the Holy Spirit was with the birth of Jesus, so the Spirit was with Jesus at his resurrection from the dead. Jesus lived an ordinary life in a very extraordinary way. Furthermore, today Jesus invites us to do the same.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Jesus (Acts 1:8, CEB)

Because Christ accomplished his mission of saving people from their sins and establishing a kingdom that will never end, he has given us the same Holy Spirit to follow him forever and call other people to follow him, too. 

To trust and obey is God’s only way to live into the life of Jesus. The Christian life may often be difficult, but it isn’t complicated. It’s rather simple, just like Mary.

Mary responded to God’s revelation with faith, choosing to fully participate in what God was doing. “I am the Lord’s servant” is our confession, as well. Along with Mary we declare, “May it be to me as you have said.”

Good and gracious God, thank you for giving us your Son, the Lord Jesus. Draw us into the mystery of your love. Join our voices with the heavenly host, that we may sing your glory on high. Give us a place amongst all of your saints so that we may experience your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, in the splendor of eternal light, God forever and ever. Amen.