Friday, January 29, 2021

God's Gifts to the Church

For years I missed it when reading the passage from Ephesian chapter 4.  It says that grace was given to each of us according to measure of Christ's gift.  This is not the grace God extended to us that led to salvation, but the grace that God extends to his people for ministry.  It is the same type of grace Paul speaks of in Ephesians 3:8, where he declares, "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ..."  It is the grace Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 4:10 where he writes, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  This reminds me that grace moves from salvation to service in the name of Christ.

What I missed for a long time in Ephesian 4 was the nature of the gifts God gave to the church.  After declaring that Jesus "gave gifts to men," the text goes on to say in verse 11 that, "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints..."  God's gifts to the church are people who equip the church for her calling!  I had to ask myself if I give thanks for God's gifts, or do I, like Israel in the wilderness, complain about God's gifts?

I have been focusing on the gift of apostleship because this may refer to more than the twelve.  After all, the Ephesian church was likely never equipped by the twelve.  Apostolos is an untranslated Greek word, which might lead to confusion on its meaning.  Greeks used this word to refer to an envoy sent by an authoritative figure.  It was not an inherently religious word.  In Luke 6, Jesus chose 12 of his disciples and designated them his "Apostles."  As his apostles, he conferred authority on them, which is why they were able to do many of the same miracles he did, and why their teaching carried the authority of the master.  Paul became an apostle of Christ directly from him.  This is why Paul introduces himself in Galatians 1 as, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father..."  Paul differentiates himself from others who are also designated as "apostles," such as Barnabas in Acts 14:14; Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25, or the brothers who traveled with him in 2 Corinthians 8:23.  In the latter two references, "apostle" is usually translated as "messengers," which obscures the fact that the text uses the word, "apostle."  Epaphroditus is not an apostle of Christ such as The Twelve or Paul.  Like Barnabas who was sent by the church in Antioch, Epaphroditus was an apostle of the Philippian church.  "Apostle of whom?" is a significant question.  The twelve and Paul are in a different class of apostleship and authority because they are apostles of Christ.  Everyone else is an apostle of the church.  Our word today for this is usually something like "missionary."  Tent-maker and Church-Planter fall in the same category.  I used to think that "missionary" is not a biblical word, but perhaps "apostle" in the generic sense could translate legitimately to "missionary."   Therefore, "apostle" in Ephesians 4:11 could refer to more than The Twelve and Paul.

How does a "missionary" equip the church?  It involves equipping the church for fulfillment of Jesus' commission in Mark 16:15 to "proclaim the Gospel to all creation."  In this sense, the entire church has received apostleship.  Romans 1:5 says that "we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith..."  The church is not just the called-out, but the sent-to.  Hebrews 3:1 says that Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was sent by God into the world.  Jesus then sent the Spirit to the church when he left.  The church in turn, is sent by our Lord and empowered by the Spirit to continue his mission in the world. 

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Think On These Things

“January 1st is just another date on the calendar.”  I have heard several people repeat this phrase as last year concluded.  However, the challenges, issues, and problems do not suddenly disappear when you throw out the old calendar and hang up a new one.  It is understandable that there is a sense of renewal when the old year ends with short days and the new year gradually brings longer days.  But the events in the world around us are a reminder that all that has happened was a changing of the calendar.  Little else has changed.

We should be encouraged at some of the things that have not changed.  Jesus is well and alive yesterday, today, and forever.  We worship and serve he who was, who is, and who is to come.  Our Lord inclines his ears to the prayers of his godly ones.  Our Lord is with us even to the end of the age.  He who began a good work in us is continuing to complete it. His Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and the gates of Hades have not and will not prevail against it.  With the rising and falling of nations throughout history, his Kingdom continues to thrive.  He will set up his heavenly kingdom after he has abolished all rule, authority and power.  We will reign with him forever and ever.

Jesus said this in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Amid the world’s troubles, which are to be expected, we have peace.  We are not ruled by fear, but by faith in our King who has overcome the world.

I am reminded of a letter Paul wrote while he was in prison due to his commitment to Christ.  Being in prison for doing the right thing could potentially be faith destroying without the right perspective.  But we need to remember that Jesus said we will have trouble in this world, and that he has overcome it, bring us peace.  The letter Paul wrote from prison to the Philippians is full of joy and rejoicing.  Paul was not weakened, but strengthened due to the perspective our King on his throne gives us.  Here is his instruction:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4-9).

Two phrases stand out.  “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Thanksgiving as a discipline shapes our outlook on life.  It is a reminder that our blessings always outweigh the problems.  It gives us the ability to focus on hope and to take hold of the joy that strengthens us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is not escapism but is merely standing back and looking at the true and larger picture.  If all we do is focus on the tiny smudge at the edge of the plate, we miss out on the magnificent feast that our Lord has prepared for us. 

The other phrase that stands out is, “…if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  This goes hand in hand with thanksgiving as a discipline.  Another word for thinking is meditation.  Meditate on this passage.  In order to do so, it is necessary to turn of the T.V. and put down the newspaper and pick up God’s word.  It will remind us that we are and always will be blessed in the Lord, not in the world.  We need to as Paul said in Thessalonians, encourage one another with these words.

Our Tent

One of my memories growing up was staying in a tent.  My father used to take us on road trips.  Instead of staying in a motel, we always stayed in a tent.  My Dad had purchased a large canvass Coleman tent.  Sometimes we traveled for the purpose of camping.  At other times, we traveled to get from point A to point B.  Regardless of the reason, we stayed in a tent.  I can remember waking up to frigid mornings as well has hot and humid ones.  I also remember meals coming from either a grill or campfire.  After we were finished, we literally pulled up stakes and packed everything back up in the trunk of the old, blue, beat up '69 Chevy Bell Air that served as our family car.  That tent served us for several years.  However, like so many other things, it became old and worn out.  Eventually, the tent was no longer serviceable and had to be discarded.  

Even though we had fond memories of trips with the tent, we would not have wanted to live in a tent.  A tent is not intended to be a permanent home.  It is portable and temporary.  It is quite different than a house built on a foundation.  When we lived in Vermont, we went shopping for a home.  I was struck by the age of some of the houses we looked at.  I used to think that a house built in the1920's or 1930s was old, but there were houses for sale that were built in the 1800's or even older.  They were older than myself, my Dad, and even my grandfather.  They were still very solid homes despite their age.

A passage of scripture I have been reading brought back memories of the tents and old dwellings of the past.  In John 1, after stating that the Word was with God and was God and created all things, it states, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

There is more than one word that can translate to "dwell, remain, abide, etc." from Greek.  This particular word, skēnoō, means to pitch a tent, or dwell in a tent.  This is an interesting word choice to describe what Jesus did when he left Heaven and came to earth to live among us.  It is a remember of what God did when he made a covenant with Israel at Sinai.  He gave instructions to Israel to build him a tent as his sanctuary.  After construction of the tabernacle, his glory came and dwelt in the tent, which was pitched in the midst of the camp.  God had come down to dwell among his people.  The reason it was in a tabernacle was so that it could be portable.  God and his people moved from one place to another together at temporary lodging places until they arrived at their permanent home. The same is true for Jesus.  He pitched a tent for a time and lived among us.  This was not his permanent home.  After his death and resurrection, he ascended back to the Father.  

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that we also are living in a tent.  Even though the tent will wear out, we have a permanent home built by God in Heaven.  The tent that this text is referring to is our body.  Our bodies, like any other tent, wears out over time.  The text says that while we are living in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  This becomes more apparent as the years go by and the tent continues to wear out.  Our stay in this tent is only temporary.  Like Abraham in Hebrews 11:10, we are looking for a home with foundations.  Our Lord has gone to prepare this home for us.  This tent is not our home, we are just passing through.