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25th May 2016
The apostle Paul's last instruction to the Ephesian church was to be strong. He was reminded them that what we contend with is not just physical, but also spiritual, and we have a real enemy.
These were his closing remarks, where he didn't want the church to be focused on the here and now, but on the spiritual realm. He stood like a sergeant, giving instructions to the troops. He told them to be strong because they're in a fight (verses 10-13), to be prepared and put on their armour (vv14-17), and to be prayerful because it makes a difference (vv18-20).
The decision to be strong is not something God does in you – it's a decision that you make to stand and be strong. All the way through the Bible, there are commands for God's people to be courageous. We have a personal responsibility to take what God has given us and to stand strong. It's not with our own resources, but with God's – with His might.
Courage is an internal quality, but the way we are strong is we put on armour, fortifying our souls. Paul says that we have got a real enemy – the devil exists – and this passage in Ephesians 6 tells us that he is a powerful foe. He's defeated, but he's powerful. He's also evil. He wants to ruin your life. He's not neutral. He is against you and he has schemes to take you down: he knows how you're wired and wants to seduce you into compromise and deceive you into error.
This is why we're told to be prepared by putting on the whole armour of God. That's how we stand firm when the devil tries to trip us up. We are to fasten around ourselves truthfulness and uprightness in our behaviour. One of the first things we put on is being truthful in our way of life – you know how vulnerable you are when there isn't an integrity in your life. Make sure that you're the same on Sunday as you are on Wednesday.
We're also told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. We gain the righteousness of Christ when we come to Him and confess Him as Lord, but as well as that, if you want to stand firm, living a righteous life is critically important. If you are dabbling in sin, you will not be able to stand. It's like a wide open door for the devil to shoot through.
Shoes are also a key part of the armour. We are to be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. When we are ready to tell others about our faith in Jesus and display something of God's love, there's an opportunity here for us to not just be defensive against the devil, but to go on the offensive as well.
In all circumstances, we're to take up the shield of faith. Hardly a day goes by when we don't feel fiery little darts coming against us – doubts, fears, lies. How do I extinguish them? I take faith – I go through the memory bank of the Bible and what God has done and I cling hold to His promises. When I wake up in the morning, how I handle the first half a dozen thoughts that come into my head sets the tone for the rest of the day. I need the shield from the moment I wake up!
The helmet of salvation is placed as a guard after my mind and my heart. How familiar are you with your salvation? How much do you love what God has done for you? Worship is a wonderful way to enjoy your salvation.
The only offensive weapon mentioned is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The Romans didn't throw their swords – they were used in close combat! Likewise, we're to confront our problems close up, taking the words of the Bible that specifically address them, and then we jab the promise of God right through the heart of our fears and anxieties and we kill them! That's how it works.
We need the Holy Spirit to make the word of God effective in our lives. We need to be filled with the Spirit, because He illuminates the Bible. In order to fight, we need to know the word of God.
We also need to pray. Sometimes when we are really struggling, it's because we're not really seeking God for breakthrough – we're not going after Him in prayer. This passage says we should pray "at all times"! Take opportunities to pray, whether you're washing up, travelling, whatever you're doing, learn how to be prayerful. It makes a difference!
We've got people to talk to about Jesus, sick people to be healed, oppressed people to be set free, the Kingdom to advance. We're to take ground, not hide in a bunker. We need to stand and fight!
Posted by Paul Mann
8th May 2016
Work is such an important part of many of our lives. It may fill you with dread, or maybe you aren't able to work at the moment, or you're retired, but there are principles we can apply from Ephesians 6:5-9, whatever our situations.
Our attitudes to work are shaped by many things, such as our upbringing, our biblical understanding, our experiences. My parents had a very strong work ethic, so I was taught at an early age that I would need to work, to provide for my family, to work hard.
We worship a God who works. In Genesis 1 and 2 we read about God working and the pause that was built into His work rhythm. God wasn't tired, but He took time to enjoy His work. God sets the pattern for us that work is not supposed to be all-consuming, but we're to take time to stand back and rest and look at what we've done.
God created us to work. Even before the Fall, work was part of life. It's not something to be endured, but to be enjoyed.
John Stott puts it like this: "Work is not a result of the fall, to be endured until we get to the new heaven and the new earth. Work is a creative activity that is a reflection of the creative work that our Father does."
But we read in Genesis 3:17 that, as a result of the Fall, work was spoiled and became hard. So there is a frustration and a challenge that comes with work now, but at its heart work is still something that we were created to do. We work because we have been created in the image of a creator God who works too.
Works brings many benefits to us. It's a means of earning money and providing for our families. Earning and creating wealth is not inherently bad. When we talk about creative roles, some of the most creative are those business people who had an idea, developed it, creating wealth for themselves but also jobs for many and contributed to society. So work is very important in the provision of our daily needs, but we must not let chasing after greater and greater rewards trap us in a job that has other negative effects.
There is a benefit to society that comes from the work that we do. It's important to have a right perspective on the work we're doing and the contribution we're making. For example, you can see yourself as a BT engineer who's sorting out wiring problems where someone has messed up, or you can see yourself as a BT engineer who's helping a family to have a reliable internet connection for their kids who need it to study and keep in contact with their relative on the other side of the world.
Work can become a negative area in our lives for many reasons. These can be related to our attitude to work, our dissatisfaction with work, the impact of work stress on us or the absence of work. Clearly the first thing is to try to make sure that our heart attitude is a right and godly one. But there may need to be other responses as well. We need to recognise that our self-worth comes not from success in the work we do, but from the fact that we are sons or daughters of the King of kings.
Perhaps you can’t find work or are physically unable to work as you used to. My encouragement to you is, as the Bible says, “don’t be idle”. Think about what you can do, which may mean getting involved in something on a voluntary basis. Remember that work is an inherent part of who we were created to be, and ask God to help you find a way of working that out.
In Ephesians 6:5-9 the apostle Paul writes about slaves and masters. This is in no way condoning the type of slavery that forces people into prostitution or labour. It wasn't written in that context. It does have some work-related principles that can help us.
The first principle is about accepting authority, which doesn't mean we don't question or try to influence, but that we still function under the authority of those senior to us.
The second principle is about working wholeheartedly, and not just when someone's looking. We are called to be imitators of Jesus, with integrity and diligence, working hard, not gossiping, not back-biting. We should be exemplary in the way we do our work. We should not be those taking short cuts, cheating on our time sheets, even easing off when no one is looking.
No, we work for a higher authority. And that's the third principle: we work to please God, not people. We work not just for a pay-check, but for the "well done" from our Father in heaven. Our role is to bring the Kingdom of God into the place where we work.
And if you are the boss, you're to be like Jesus too, working to please your Father in heaven and to reflect Him to those around you in your workplace.
We're made in the image of God and our work is a creative activity that is a reflection of the work that our Father does. Work is designed to bring satisfaction and to serve the community. Paid work enables us to provide for our family needs. We're called not to be idle or lazy, but to be salt and light in our workplaces.
Posted by Steve Young
8th May 2016
Being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I started out thinking I was going to be the best parent ever, but the older my four boys get, the more I realise my need of God’s grace. My children reveal my character, my flaws and my sin.
Parenting can be a huge area for comparison and condemnation. Most of us are on a journey, and we need real wisdom when we make changes to our parenting.
This subject is hugely important because there are 18.6 million families in the UK today (12.5 million of them were married couples). 3.7 million children were living below the poverty line (nine in every 30). It is estimated that there were 36,000 sexual offences against children in the UK last year and 50,000 children have been identified as needing protection from abuse.
In Ephesians 6:1-4, it starts with the words: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” It’s very simple, but very challenging.
The first side of this coin is that this instruction is clearly addressed to children – the apostle Paul is saying that children are to take off disobedience and put on obedience, in the same way as God’s people are called to take off and put on various other kinds of behaviour. This is not a moral code. It’s for those who follow Jesus, in order that they might reflect Him.
Obedience can sound like a cold word, but it’s very much part of the New Covenant. All Christians – adults and children – are called to obey Christ. Jesus is the ultimate example of obedience. He clearly linked love and obedience, saying: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)
Obedience is not a dirty word, but one that needs to be rediscovered, because there is freedom in obedience.
But if that is one side of the coin, the other is that parents require obedience from their children. Children aren’t supposed to just obey their teachers, the police, the flight attendant, etc. The Bible says that children are to obey their parents, which means that parents are to require obedience from their children.
Parents play the critical role in discipling their children. If your children do not learn how to obey you, they will not learn to obey anyone else’s instructions. It says in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
In Roman and Jewish culture, fathers had the ultimate responsibility for raising their children.
Fathers, what a high calling we have. We have this unique role to bring understanding and shape the behaviour of our children.
We have this amazing opportunity to reflect the Father’s love to our children in how we act, talk and behave. Your example is more powerful than your words. You are always training them.
As parents this is our most important assignment. We have various seasons of life with our children but they are limited in time. Invest your time, energy and emotion into your children.
Here are 10 keys that I’ve picked up:
1. You should lovingly require obedience – this develops as they grow, but starts from the youngest years.
2. Parents you are not helpless at your toddlers tantrums and disobedience. You are bigger than them and assigned by God to be their chief discipler!
3. Requiring obedience takes time and effort, which parents do not always feel they have! But it is so important to invest – it will produce a good harvest.
4. Require obedience in small un-important things in private, so that they will respond positively to big things in public.
5. Although it's right to require obedience, we mustn't provoke our children to anger by being harsh, demanding, or overly picky.
6. Parent from neither passivity or anger: there is a middle road. Don’t parent as a reaction to how your parents were to you. Don’t explode with anger; don’t sit back and do nothing; parent in partnership and walk the middle road.
7. Remember 1 Corinthians 13 – that’s where we parent from. Be patient and kind, but require obedience.
8. Remember that to a small child you represent God as a parent. Your parenting will affect how they view God as Father. It's an honoured position.
9. Children whose parents require obedience are happier. Who wants to be around a demanding, moody, selfish person?
10. Goal of parenting is to equip them to live adult life well and point them towards Jesus.
As children, the primary way we honour our parents is with obedience, but what does it look like to honour our parents when we are adults?
Firstly, we honour them with our words. Our words are powerful. I decided to thank God for my dad, who died five years ago, remembering all of his strengths and how God had made him. He wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to thank God for about him.
Secondly, we respect them, which can involve time and listening. Thirdly, we care for them. As a follower of Jesus, we should look to provide all the help that is possible. There is a blessing that we receive as we honour those who are our parents.
God is aware of broken families and He is aware of broken parents. In actual fact, every parent is broken, and in Matthew 7 when Jesus described parents he called them evil by comparison to God.
The first step in honouring is forgiveness. It is impossible to honour if you haven’t yet forgiven. God can give you grace to forgive.
Posted by Paul Mann
1st May 2016
The letter to the Ephesians was written to those who follow Jesus. It's not a morality code for humanity. It's for those who follow Jesus. So when we come to passages about marriage, we read these as God's grace for His children.
Right at the start of history, God created men and women. He said that it wasn't good for Adam to be alone, so He took a rib from his side – not from his head, but from his side, so that they would stand side-by-side. God's plan for men and women was that they would be completely equal in worth, value, love, and importance before their Creator.
Marriage is also a covenant. It isn't a contract that can be easily broken. It's about two people that are fully and wholeheartedly binding themselves together.
Men and women were created equal, but different. We're going to be looking at submission and headship. We don't like these words because they've been horribly distorted and abused, but we're going to look at what they really mean.
God's perfect design for marriage is that wives submit to husbands, but it's so important that we have a really good understanding of what this means, what it looks like and what it doesn't, so that it doesn't get distorted or abused. We start by looking at the person and character of Jesus. We're all called to mutually submit to one another. Jesus lived a life of submission to God that wasn't weak, that wasn't passive, that wasn't inferior. It was beautiful and brave; it was sacrificial, motivated by faith, hope and love.
It says in Romans 12 that the Church gives itself fully to Christ in response to his love and mercy. Likewise, in response to our husband's love, we give ourselves completely – it's a willing, yielding to another. What does it look like? It means making a choice to give up our individual rights in order to bless and grow our marriage. It's motivated by faith and hope and love. It's a humble recognition that I am no longer independent.
Biblical submission is not slavish or abusive in any way. And it doesn't mean that wives are passive and weak. It doesn't mean San gets to pull rank! When we were deciding to go to Manchester, San didn't tell me it was happening and tell me to get on board. It is a dialogue from start to finish.
The way wives treat their husbands is "as to the Lord" – it brings glory and honour to God when I honour San. When San loves me in a Christ-like way, it's easy to follow him. But even if he's not loving me like that, it still brings glory to God when I work to bless my marriage. Esther in the Old Testament is a great example of honouring her ungodly husband.
San and I aren't in competition with one another: we're one flesh, a partnership, working together with God at the centre.
How do we work this out, practically?
The Bible talks a lot about love. 1 Corinthians 13 says love is patient and kind. I find it hard to be patient in the mornings! And difficult to be kind when I'm hurt. But it says in Colossians that we put on love – it's a choice I need to make in advance, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
My ability to be respectful towards San starts with me looking after my own character. As soon as I get locked into San's weaknesses, it all starts to go wrong. I am all for honest communication, but I want to be respectful and kind. I don't want to belittle my husband.
I want to champion my marriage in every way that I can – that's what it really means to 'help' your husband. I love the example in Proverbs 31, where who the woman is on the inside helps her husband.
There is brilliant fruit in a godly marriage. It glorifies God; it achieves the purposes of God through the co-working of the husband and wife; it is a blessing and a sanctuary to those around us; it witnesses to people who don’t know Jesus; it blesses and grows the next generation; and ultimately it will be a blessing to us individually.
The Bible says that the husband has been given authority and leadership in the home, but it says that means loving and sacrificing like Jesus. How does Jesus express His headship, His leadership? Through domineering control? No! Through harshness and brutality? No! Jesus came to serve. His life was defined by humility, kindness, compassion, mercy, love and sacrifice. This is what true leadership looks like. There is no greater love demonstrated to humanity. Why would we not willingly follow this head?
Just as submission looks like Jesus, so headship looks like Jesus. True biblical headship is expressed through love. It's not "I'm the boss"; it's "I'll lay down my life". The responsibility is on me, but I don't get to call all the shots! Jesus is Lord of the cosmos, but He doesn't lord it over anyone! He woos us towards Him, so we'll follow Him. Husbands are called to do the same.
The Son of glory gave up His life for me. That's why I willingly follow Him. Jesus' headship was servant leadership. True biblical headship is all about love – that's where the authority and authenticity comes from. My role is to lead and love like Jesus. It doesn't mean I dictate what happens, when, where and how. Not at all! It's got nothing to do with who calls the shots. We're a partnership working this out together. By taking responsibility, I believe that it's my role to ensure that everyone in my family is flourishing.
The Fall of humanity distorted everything, particularly relationships, and especially marriage. Husbands can become bullies or tyrants, or they can become passive and withdraw. When I re-read my marriage vows, I'm reminded that 14 years ago I promised to lead by loving Emma, honouring her, forsaking all others for as long as I live, to love and to cherish until death separates us. That's the call on my life – to love like Jesus.
Emma and I are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we are actively pursuing each other's hearts.
The Church is known as the bride of Christ, so no one gets left out. Regardless of life experience, we each get to stand before our Creator, knowing that we are fully united with Christ, bound in a covenant with Him that can never be broken. We can never be separated from His love for us.
Posted by Santino & Emma Hamberis