18 July 2018

“To follow thee more nearly.”

Ephesians 1.15-23.

Humans are creatures of extremes. It’s why American churches are likewise creatures of extremes. Either we pursue God with all our might, and strive to make sure our teachings are accurate and solid… and ready to pound into the heads of newbies, skeptics, people of other church traditions which aren’t as up-to-speed as we. Or we pursue godly behavior with all our might, strive to behave ourselves and help the needy… and feel incredibly guilty when we don‘t.

I know; why can’t we get this stuff right? Why can’t we pursue accurate teaching without turning into insufferable know-it-alls? Why can’t we pursue good works without turning into legalists? Why can’t we do both bible study and charitable works—why do we have to pit these behaviors against one another? More than that, why must we insist on pretending to do one or the other, yet use compromise, loopholes, and excuses to do neither? What, are there just too many chainsaws to juggle?

Well. Paul, upon hearing of the Ephesians’ good behavior and faith, prayed God’d grant ’em more wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and power. Partly because knowledge is power; partly because God gives us access to supernatural power, and we oughta learn how to tap that, and minister more mightily.

Ephesians 1.15-19 KWL
15 For this reason I too—hearing the about your trust in Master Jesus and the acts of love towards all the saints—
16 I don’t stop giving thanks for you, working my memories of you into my prayers
17 so the God of our Master, Christ Jesus, the Father of glory,
might give you the spiritual wisdom and revelation to understand him—
18 flooding your hearts’ eyes with light, so you’d understand.
It’s the hope of your calling. It’s the saints’ glorious inherited riches.
19 It’s the over-and-above greatness of God’s power for us believers, through the energy of his powerful strength.

Ephesians is the rare letter where Paul doesn’t have to spend a lot of time correcting the church for its misbehavior. To be fair, this may be because Ephesians is a form letter (as I explained previously) so Paul couldn’t offer customized correction to any one particular church. Not that this hasn’t stopped commentators from leaping to the conclusion Ephesus was the one church in ancient Christendom which was following God properly. I expect they made the same mistakes as every Christian does. But I also expect they were getting a lot right—otherwise Paul would’ve felt the urgent need to write ’em something custom. But he didn’t. He wrote this.

And in it, he prayed the church and its Christians would grow. He made a regular practice of such prayers. He knew from experience they’d need the help. Ephesus especially: They lived in a city which manufactured new religions on a daily basis. (Some of which featured really bizarre versions of Jesus.) They needed to know the truth and hew to it, lest someone lead them astray with some strange but appealing novelty. You know… like nowadays. ’Cause Americans are so easily led astray by churches which claim God promises us a safe, comfortable, unchallenging, prosperous life.

God doesn’t want his kids to be stupid.

Knowledge of God is every Christian’s birthright. That’s part of God’s riches. Not material wealth. Spiritual wealth.

See, we Christians are wrong about God, which is why we need to stick to Jesus and keep following him. But this access to Jesus means we’re gonna be more correct about God than anyone else. Pagans don’t know squat about God, and teach all sorts of untruths—their hangups about organized religion keep derailing them. Heretics and cults as well. But Christians have the Holy Spirit to correct us when we’re wrong, and point us in the right way. Assuming we listen to him, and not popular Christian culture.

’Cause popular Christian culture keeps giving us feel-good platitudes instead of truth. Fr’instance:

  • “GOD DOES EVERYTHING FOR A REASON.” True. But God didn’t necessarily do all the things we claim he did. Determinists insist God did everything, even though the scriptures clearly state no he didn’t, and not everything happens for a reason.
  • “GOD’S WORD WON’T RETURN VOID.” True. But this doesn’t mean what we do when we misquote this scripture: God’s word does as God intends. Not necessarily what we intend when we just quote it at people. We expect magic to happen. God’s motives are much different.
  • “GOD KNOWS THE PLANS HE HAS FOR YOU.” Yes he does. They’re not necessarily the same as the plans he had for the Babylonian Jews. So don’t assume prosperity and safety from harm are among them. Your destiny might be martyrdom.
  • “GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES.” Not always. And stop mixing up Benjamin Franklin’s proverbs with the bible.

In general God doesn’t intend for his kids to passively wander through our Christianity, refusing to study what he has to say about the way he wants things to be. Live in that kind of ignorance, and nature is gonna smack us around like a fat kid who can see through his blindfold tears into a piñata. It’ll be the consequences of our own actions, but we’ll foolishly respond, “God’s teaching me a lesson.” No he’s not. Ignorance has consequences. Don’t fall into them by being willfully stupid. Claim your inheritance. Learn from God.

God has much better lives in mind for us. Every supernatural blessing in the high heavens. Ep 1.3 Confirmation as sons and daughters. Peace and prosperity in spite of tribulation. Power.

Why don’t we live this way? Not because we don’t claim these blessings. Loads of us claim ’em. Claim ’em till we’re blue in the face. But for the most part, God’s blessings have a string attached: We gotta follow God. We don’t just get them by default. We gotta obey the Holy Spirit, pursue God’s kingdom instead of our own, and stop presuming already we know best. Being saved doesn’t automatically mean we’re always right. We still have some growing to do.

So pray for growth. Pray for other Christians’ growth. Pray regularly that God reveal himself to us. And through this revelation, let’s learn who he really is, and what he really wants for us.

Look at what God did for Jesus!

Lest anyone get the idea God’s power is only gonna make our lives slightly better, or a little more powerful, or vaguely greater, perhaps we oughta take a good hard look at what this power did for Christ Jesus. ’Cause it wasn’t nothing.

Ephesians 1.20-23 KWL
20 God exerts this strength in Christ, having raised him from the dead,
and sat him at his right hand in the highest heavens—
21 greater in rank than all leaders, experts, forces, governments,
and every name that’s named, not only in this age, but afterwards as well.
22 Everything was submitted under Christ’s feet and he was made head over the whole church,
23 which is his body, the full form of he who fills everything in everything.

Jesus died, you recall. That’d be the lowest position in the universe. Dead, gone, wrapped in moist bandages and left to decay in a dark sepulcher. His soul snuffed out; his spirit waiting for resurrection.

God took him from that, to the highest position in the universe. The highest heaven. The Pharisees believed there were 10 heavens. Clouds, stars, the dead, angels and spirits (including evil spirits) inhabited the bottom nine. When Paul listed “leaders, experts, powers, governments, and every name that’s named,” Ep 1.21 certain Christians don’t believe Paul was speaking of earthly political authorities, but dark spiritual ones. These authorities inhabit the other nine heavens. But the LORD, and his Messiah, are now in the tenth heaven, above them all.

Okay. Certain Christians don’t believe Paul was speaking of earthly authorities; I’m not one of them. The tip-off is how he refers to these authorities as temporal: “Not only in this age, but afterwards.” Ep 1.21 These authorities aren’t gonna last. Others will take their place. They’ll have successors. Whereas evil spiritual forces will all be overthrown by Jesus, with no successors.

So these are all human authorities, folks:

  • LEADERS (Greek arhís/“firsts,” KJV “principality”). Anyone who’s in charge, like a mayor, chief, general, governor, president, or king.
  • EXPERTS (exusías/“abilities,” KJV “power”). Anyone who’s demonstrated mastery in their field, like successful businessmen, skillful athletes and artisans and artists, clever inventors, insightful scientists. People we respect for what they can do.
  • FORCES (dynámeos/“forces,” KJV “might”). Anyone with the ability to get stuff done, or get what they want. Anyone with power. The wealthy, the connected, the strong, the clever, those who lead mobs, those with lots of guns.
  • GOVERNMENTS (kyriótitos/“mastery,” KJV “dominion”). Organized power. Not necessarily the governments of a nation; could just be a really influential social order. Whatever keeps people in check—or oppressed.

You know, all the stuff Jesus is gonna overthrow on his return, then set up his own leaders, experts, forces, and governments. Everything must go under his feet.

Including the church. That’s his body. That’s us. We’re under his feet. And at the same time, assuming we’re properly under our head, we are his feet. We’re part of the new system Christ Jesus is implementing. When we follow Jesus, we’re “the full form of he who fills everything in everything.”

Plenty of Christians have tried, and are trying, to create this “full form” without actually following Jesus. We’re trying to do it through politics, presuming our party is his party. Presuming he approves of us gaining and using any power other than the Holy Spirit’s. Presuming our will is really his. Or we’re trying to do it through positive thinking, naming-and-claiming ourselves a buttload of material possessions and worldly positions… supposedly for the kingdom’s benefit, but really for our own.

Such people are earthly-minded, not heavenly-minded. When we truly follow Jesus, we don’t care about that crap. We only care about Jesus—and the people whom he loves. That’s about it.