8. United by Spirit

Meditations in Colossians 2: 8:  United by Spirit

Col 2:5   For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is

A number of times in this letter Paul has given reasons why he is writing to this church he has never visited. He had heard about them from Epaphras (1:7,8) and had heard about their faith and love (1:4) and from the moment he had heard about them he had been praying for them (1:9) with his apostolic heart yearning for them to built up in their knowledge of God’s will (1:9) so they can grow and be fruitful (1:10), and so he wants to extend to them his knowledge of the mystery of God (1:25-29) which he always wants to impart to the church, whether people he has met or not met (2:1) in order to encourage, strengthen unity and build greater understanding (2:2).  He may be away from them in the physical sense – “absent from you in body” – but his spirit is with them – “I am present with you in spirit” – and so rejoices in what he hears of them – “ and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is“ which, again, is why he writes.

We perhaps do not realise fully the wonder of the Holy Spirit within us and the unifying effect he has between us. A number of years ago I had the privilege of being able to teach in churches in Borneo, in East Malaysia. On one occasion I and my small team flew into a small landing strip somewhere deep in East Malaysia where, being the only Westerners on the plane, we were clearly recognised by some locals who signed to us to follow them. They took our luggage and again signed to us to follow them and we trekked a mile into the jungle until we came to a village where they deposited us in a large house on stilts. For the next few hours, while we waited for an interpreter to arrive, everything was carried out by sign language. We were given bedrooms, we were ushered into a room with a single long mat spread down the middle of it and were invited to eat from the many plates of food laid out. Now here is the thing: these men (and they were all men) were clearly Christians. Maybe it was their demeanour and the way they treated us but I realised for the first time – really realised – that we all had the Holy Spirit within us and He united us. It was a strange and, for us, a unique experience and I found myself bursting to want to communicate with these brothers in Christ because I was so aware of the unity there between us. It was the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship is a unique experience to Christians. It doesn’t happen between a Christian and an unbeliever and it doesn’t happen between two unbelievers. There may be a unity of thinking and so on but ‘fellowship’ is a coming together of two Spirit indwelt believers and it is the unity that is there because He indwells us both.

But there is another dimension to this fellowship and what Paul feels for these believers he has never seen; it is our past Christian experience. We are united by our common experience. We all know that we came to the end of ourselves, we surrendered to Him, we were forgiven our sins, we were adopted as God’s children and we received the indwelling Holy Spirit and were born again. This has not happened to my non-Christian neighbour.

But there is also our present Christian experience. Because we are each indwelt by His Holy Spirit we know His guidance, His teaching, His help, His enabling, His empowering. We enter into expressly Christian experiences – we pray we read His word and receive revelation and understanding and we worship. My unsaved neighbour does not do this.

But is it also about our future Christian experience. Our goals ‘in Christ’ are to grow in him and be available to serve him, until one day He takes us to be with Him in heaven. This is not the experience and hope of my unbelieving neighbour.

The apostle Paul indirectly referred to these different experiences when he taught the Corinthians, Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” (2 Cor 6:14-17) I always feel very sad when I see young Christians disregarding this warning and marrying an unbeliever. Yes, God in His grace does sometimes bring the unbelieving partner to the Lord but often I see Christians struggling with the anguish of their partner not having the unity we have been talking about in this study.

But look at these verses in the light of what we have been saying: we have unity as believers, a unity in light, a unity in Christ, we are each a temple of the Holy Spirit with the Lord living in us. No wonder Paul was able to speak about how they were present with him in spirit. Again when I have travelled I have been thousands of miles away from my wife and yet sense that unity in the Spirit. It doesn’t matter how may miles divide us, it doesn’t matter if language divides us, all these other things unite us, and especially the presence of His Holy Spirit in us. Isn’t that wonderful!

13. Past History

Ephesians Meditations No.13

13.  Our Past History

Eph  2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

We’ve seen so much already in this letter that perhaps we should have a recap here before we move on. After the initial greeting (1:1,2), Paul praised the Lord for all the blessing He has brought us through Christ (1:3) having chosen  and predestined us, given us redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and revealing the mystery of His will (1:4-10). He did all this so that we might be the cause of praise to God (1:11,12) and gave us His Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee (1:13,14). This provoked in Paul prayers of thanks (1:15,16) and a request that God would allow them to ‘see’ the wonder of His work in them (1:17-19) and how He has made Christ head of all things for the church which is his body on the earth today (1:20-23).

Now, when we come to chapter 2, it seems as if Paul realises that he strayed from speaking about their salvation to speak about the wonders of Christ and now wants to come back to focus on Christian experience again as he starts, “As for you.” Having declared the great truths of calling, predestination and redemption, it is as if he now wants to go back to basics to remind us from where we’ve come in order to emphasise the wonder of where we now are as Christians. Hence these three verses are all about the way we lived before we came to Christ. In other words he is reminding us of the need that we had for salvation.

He starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Here is a fundamental truth. Before we came to Christ and before God placed His Holy Spirit in us, we were spiritually dead. Oh yes, we see people showing some signs of interest in spiritual things but that is only because they are responding to God’s promptings in the first place. Moreover, they seem to struggle in the dark. The Bible seems a dead book and God seems a million miles away. Oh yes, He prompts them but without them receiving His Holy Spirit, they are totally lifeless (dead) in respect of God. It even needs the Holy Spirit to convict them of the truth of their plight (Jn 16:8) for they cannot see it on their own. Before we came to Christ we were spiritually dead and our lives consisted of ‘transgressions’ and ‘sins’. We ‘transgress’ when we slip off the path. It describes our more casual drifting away from God while ‘sins’ are specific acts of wrong. Most of the time we didn’t think about the nature of what we thought, said and did, but these were all acts of self-centred godlessness.

Now this wasn’t just an occasional thing. Oh no, these were things, “in which you used to live.” It was our lifestyle; it was how we were! But because we hadn’t surrendered our lives to God it was, “when you followed the ways of this world.” Yes, the truth is that the whole world is in the grips of sin, ever since the Fall, and so it is a case of having to come back to God, and until we have done that, we are just going the same way as everyone else who have also not yet come back to God. What we didn’t realise though was that the godless world is under the control “of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” i.e. Satan. John ratifies this in his first letter: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5;19). The world mocks the thought of Satan and demons and makes him a fun creature, not realising that they are blind to the truth that, because they have given themselves over to self-centred, godless living, they are open and vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions and directions as he seeks to reinforce that state and keep them from God.

Now, in our foolishness, we sometimes try to justify ourselves and pretend that we were never like that. Paul doesn’t let us get away with that! “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” No, that included every one of us without exception. We had no idea of our true state. Paul spoke of Satan and our state when he said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4). The world doesn’t realise it, but submitting to Satan’s rule (his dominion – Col 1:13) means that people make Satan their god. How terrible was our plight, and we didn’t realise it!

But there was a further aspect of it: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” ‘Wrath’ here simply means God’s controlled and unemotional anger against sin. If you had painted a wonderful work of art, and then someone came along and spoiled it by drawing on it with a pencil, you would be rightly angry that the wonderful beauty that you had created had been spoiled. It is a natural and good reaction which emphasizes the beauty of the work, and the evil of the wrong that spoiled it. This anger is directed against the sin, and then subsequently against the person who perpetrated it, until they say sorry. God’s controlled and unemotional anger is a simple determination to deal with the sin and the sinner unless they come to their senses, and He spends the whole of their lives calling to them. If they refuse to heed him up to the point of death, then they have purposefully declared their desire not to spend eternity with God and that declaration is honoured! The moment a person responds to that call of God and turns to Him, His Holy Spirit is able to show them their true state, and they are convicted and call out for forgiveness, and so the work of salvation is brought.

That’s what we were like before we came to Christ and the more we realise the truth of that state the more we realise the wonder of our salvation and the lives we now have. So, if you’ve been in a defensive self-justifying state about yourself, don’t worry; just come into the light of God’s truth and face what you really were like and then rejoice at the wonder of what He has now made you. Be blessed!

8. A Verifiable Jesus

Lk 24:36-39   While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
One modern crusading atheist complained in his book that modern preachers have to spend so much time explaining that there must be something wrong if they have to go into such convoluted explanations. It is possible, if you have been reading these resurrection mediations (or studies) over the past week, that you might be feeling that this is exactly what I have been doing.  If that is so, let me explain. It is just because of these crusading atheists – who I believe have done us a favour by stirring up questions. It seems that, so often, they make shallow comments indicating that they have neither read the text nor, if they had read the Gospels, done their homework and looked into why it was so written and what the culture was behind it. For just those reasons I have written these particular studies, looking at the background or style and comparing the Gospel texts. I hope I have shown that when we do that intelligently we find we have little to be concerned about. Yes, there are lots of question marks over what happened because, as I have taken pains to show, there are big gaps where we wished there were none, but they don’t undermine the story, only add interest to it.
We arrive now at the point, late in the day, when the two disciples get back from Emmaus and meet with the others who are still gathered together in one house. They have been discussing what seems to have happened in the day. Yes, Peter had seen him, the women had seen him, Mary Magdalene had seen him, and now these other two disciples had seen him. But each of their encounters had been fleeting and so, at the end of a tiring day, their minds are wondering did they each dream it. Was it all just wishful thinking? Some questioners today ask, was it really a form of mass hysteria, was it something they all deep down so wanted to happen that they convinced themselves that it was Jesus they had seen. It was made worse by Mary confessing that at first she had thought he was simply the gardener, and then the two from Emmaus confessing that not until the end did they recognise him. There are doubts and possibilities flying around the room.
Perhaps those who didn’t want to doubt came up with the logical answers. It couldn’t have been mass hysteria because mostly they were alone or in small groups. Mass hysteria is something that is usually worked up, and none of them had just been through an experience where they had been emotionally worked up.  If anything they were emotionally drained. As for wishful thinking, they had been so certain that he was dead that there was no question of such a thing. In fact they had struggled in their minds to believe what their eyes and their ears were telling them. No, none of those explanations fitted the circumstances. Oh yes, doubts and questions were surely flying round the room. Why am I so sure of this? I’m sure of it because of what immediately followed.
Suddenly, without any warning, with no knock on the locked door, no sound of a door opening, Jesus is standing in their midst. Do they, after their experiences of the day, after their discussion or debate, welcome him with open arms and celebration? No they do not! They were scared silly because, despite all that has gone before, they think they are seeing a ghost – and yes, they are all seeing it!  They were clearly ‘troubled’ and they clearly ‘doubted’ and Jesus sees that and confronts it. In modern parlance he would say, “Guys, get cool, get real, it’s me, look at me, touch me, feel me! Ghosts can’t be touched and felt!” If we read the text, he then asks for something to eat and eats some fish in front of them. It is the most ordinary, down to earth action he could have done. Then he reminds them of what he had taught them previously, about how he would die and then come to life again to fulfil all the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament. We’ll stop the account there because we have one more of these studies about the resurrection appearances to do tomorrow before we finish this mini-series.
But take note of what has happened. The disciples doubted all that had gone before and so Jesus came to them and stood in their midst and acted perfectly normally to convince them. You want your past experiences to be verified? That’s what  he basically asks them. Then touch me, encounter me, and you’ll know.
Now I keep finding sceptics saying, tell me what you believe, tell me what this evidence is you keep talking about, show me some means of verification to convince me! OK, we’ve been examining the evidence for this past week. Anyone who will examine the evidence of the Gospels with an open mind will be convinced. There are many people who said they were sceptics – until they read the Gospels. In the first meditation we referred to Frank Morison, a lawyer who started out to debunk the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and ended up being utterly convinced of the veracity of the story. A similar person was J.B.Phillips who started out in the middle of last century to produce a fresh translation of the New Testament. He ended up writing a book called Ring of Truth, because that is what he concluded the Gospel accounts had.  Examine the evidence as you would any other historical documents and you find there is more there than you ever believed before.
But what about today, my sceptical friend asks? Very well, I reply, put aside all your stereotypes of Christians that you have been fed, and come and meet the people of my church, and of many other churches that I know. Talk to these down to earth ordinary people, experience their love, acceptance and compassionate concern. Listen to their testimonies and you’ll find something unnervingly similar in all of them. They heard the good news about Jesus Christ and it seemed real to them. They responded to what they had been told and they prayed and asked God, on the basis of what they heard about Jesus, to forgive them and give them new lives. Without exception they will tell you about how their lives were transformed. They aren’t perfect but they have been mightily changed. Now they keep coming up with stories about how God has helped them or spoken to them and how their lives have been getting better and better.
This is normal Christian experience and it can be repeated millions of times over. You can test it against lots of other possibilities but none of them ring true for all the cases. The only one that satisfies is the one we’ve just put forward. Yes, it IS verifiable; you only have to come to the same place where you are willing to check out Jesus, seek God for forgiveness for your self-centred, godless life so far, ask for His power and direction to give you a new life – and watch out!  Why is it so difficult to believe? Why do we keep on looking for escape alternatives so we don’t do that? Think about it – and be honest. Jesus verified his reality to his disciples when he was still on earth. He still does it today by his Spirit and millions can verify that!