44. Human Praise

Short Meditations in John 5:  44. Human Praise

Jn 5:44  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God

Ways of bolstering self-esteem almost comprise an industry in the modern age. There are books and there are courses galore and books how to achieve success are always best sellers. The bookshop beats Amazon in that you can see before you shelves and titles and can get almost overwhelmed at the profusion of the expressions of men’s wisdom (and some women too), but although I know people who are into these things in a big way, and even employ personal trainers, I still watch the frailty of human life struggling to achieve.

The Jews of Jesus’ day (and it is probably the same today) got their kudos from pats on the back from others, whether it was the High Priest who received awe and exultation from the religious establishment, or a more lowly Pharisee who received acceptance from others in ‘the club’. Little has changed. Today politicians, business leaders, academics and, yes, even top religious leaders achieve their kudos from their status, their position in the pecking order, their fame of achievement. Celebrities – actors, singers and in the UK soccer players, and the US, football or baseball players – have the adoration of their fans. At the top of the pile a Lear jet or the big yacht is the sign of achievement, possibly with homes scattered around the world.

And then one day they look around and it is all gone and they are conscious of standing before Almighty God as little naked children.  But I am a CEO of one of the world’s biggest corporations. So? Doesn’t that count for something?  Did you ever give any thought to me and my Son, Jesus? Well, no, I was a bit busy with the world. My world. Is it… was it? Ah!

Praise from God? Who does God praise? “ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ (Mt 25:21) The servant for using the gifts given to him in Jesus’ parable of the talents. Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Mt 8:10) Praise for the centurion for his faith level. I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mk 12:42) Praise for the poor widow for her giving heart. ““Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Mt 15:28) Praise for the Canaanite women for her faith. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:17) Praise for Peter for his listening ear. Each of these become challenges to us – do I get God’s praise for my faith, my generous heart, my listening ear?

58. A Life of Praise

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  58.  A Life of Praise

Heb 13:15   Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.

We will jump the verses on leadership because there are more later and we’ll take them all together. Instead we will pick up on the two exhortations in verses 15 and 16 which complement the two ethical exhortations we have just considered in verses 4 and 5, in that they are about the Christian’s general outlook on life. First of all we’ll consider verse 15 and the life of praise and then in the next study, verse 16, a life of goodness.

Praise, a Bedrock: We have commented before that there have been a number of instructions about very basic things in the life of the Christian, and this is certainly true of this present verse. In fact one might go as far as to say that how the individual reflects and lives according to this particular verse will say a great deal about them. I have entitled this study ‘A  Life of Praise’ because when the writer uses the word ‘continually’, he does not mean every second but that we have a general outlook that is filled with praise for God. It is more than just an occasional thing, because as Christians we have so much for which to praise God that is should be the very bedrock of our lives.

Through Jesus: Now we could praise God for being the Creator of all things and that would be legitimate and right, and I often do that, but that can be a little impersonal and so there are two little words at the beginning of the verse that we could miss but which are important – ‘Through Jesus’. Now there are two things to be said about those two words. The first is that who Jesus is and what he has done for us, provides a rich treasury from which praise should flow, and of course that is more personal because it applies to us; it is what he has done for me. The second thing is that the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, always seeks to honour and glorify the Father. Praise for what He has done through His Son Jesus, always glorifies Him.

Definitions: Now perhaps we should pause up to define the language we use.  Praise means to acknowledge achievement, and it honours and congratulates a person for what they have done.  Thankfulness is about gratitude, appreciation, thanks, and so there is a difference between praise and thanksgiving. Praise is more objective in that it highlights a person’s activity and achievement in general and then praise focuses that achievement on how it has personally blessed or changed us through what has been done and expresses our personal thankfulness for it.

Now in our verse above there is another word we should note – sacrifice. This very simply acknowledges it is all of God and not me and, as in the Old Testament they brought animals to say thank-you, we simply bring as our ‘sacrifice’ or ‘offering’ praise, the acknowledgment that all else has been done so we need to nothing to put ourselves right with God, Jesus has already done it.  It is that awareness, I would suggest, that should bring praise to our lips every day. This isn’t to make you a better Christian or anything like that, but it just acts as a reminder to me,, and to the onlooking powers and principalities, that I am what I am because of what God has done through Jesus on my behalf.  This stops me striving to be something – for I already am, His child! It also stops me trying to appear great in the eyes of others, for it reminds me that I was lost and helpless and hopeless and so what I am today is not a result of my efforts but of his.

Reasons we don’t & effects: A failure to bring this daily offering of praise can be by casual indifference (which indicates an insensitivity to the Holy Spirit) or specific ignorance (we haven’t ever given real thought to it), and it makes me vulnerable to enemy attacks, for he will try and either make me feel a guilty failure because my efforts to become holy and good are inadequate, or he will drive me to ever greater self-efforts and make the Christian life seem drudgery – which it is not!!!!

Jesus focus: If the beginning of that verse focuses us on Jesus, so does the end: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Confess his name? We who are Christian believers, we alone are the ones who can praise God for the work of Christ on the Cross and of the Holy Spirit applying it into our lives. The rest of the world remains silent, self-absorbed and godless, for they have never come to a realization of just who it is who brought this world into being and who upholds it by the word of his power and who has provided a path back to heaven if they will only take it.

The OT Support: The Psalmist summed it up well in one of his exhortations: “Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.” (Psa 117) God is WORTHY of our praise and so when we fail to give it, we reveal our own poverty of knowledge and vision. Why praise him? The psalmist says it well: “For great is his love toward us.” That is the starting place and all that followed in time-space history flowed out of His love. Moreover, “the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”   i.e. He is utterly unchanging and so His love and the things He has done to restore us to Himself will remain there, valid and for the taking for ever, although we now there that there is a time limit, because one day Jesus will return as a conquering king to wind it all up, but until then we can utterly trust Him and for that we should praise Him AND give thanks.

3. A Living Hope

Meditations in 1 Peter : 3 :  A Living Hope

1 Pet  1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Peter bursts into praise. It is praise to God who is also the Father of Jesus. But Peter doesn’t speak casually about Jesus as he might have done years previously while Jesus walked on the earth and Peter walked alongside him. Then he probably would have referred to ‘the Master’, the rabbi who taught them to become fishers of men. But much has happened since those days. His master had been arrested and crucified and then he had come back from the dead and then he had ascended to heaven. Oh yes, he was no longer merely ‘the Master’ for they now recognised him for who he was – their Lord. We take this word ‘Lord’ for granted when it is used in respect of Jesus but it means he is our ruler, our owner, the one who has rights over us, our king! This is who Peter now knows Jesus to be, but it isn’t Jesus he focuses on, it is God the Father, the Supreme Ruler, the Almighty One, the One who has a plan that He is working out in the earth that involves eternity. All of these descriptions will come out in this letter. This is the One who is worthy of our praise.

When you ‘worship’ someone you bow down before them acknowledging their great superiority over you. When you ‘thank’ someone you express your gratefulness for what they have done for you or given you. When you ‘praise’ someone you extol them for what they have achieved. That brings us to the heart of this verse, Peter’s praise of the Father for what he has achieved. If we are Christians who have known the Lord a long time we may have come to take these things for granted and so we need to ask Him to bring them alive to us again. There are wonderful things being written about here!

Because of the nature or character of God He has done something wonderful. He has given us ‘new birth’, He has given us a new life; He has made us anew. We talk about it and preach about it so easily but it is truly a wonderful thing, that God has come to us and re-energised us by the power of His Holy Spirit and given us the ability to be different people, godly people, people in a living relationship with Him, receiving His guidance and direction and wisdom and enabling to be good!

The concept of being born again was brought to us by the apostle John in his Gospel (Jn 3:3) as he reported the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. He had already referred to it in his opening chapter: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) but it is clearly a teaching of the early church for Peter is saying the same thing: God has made it possible for us to start life again on a completely different basis and with a completely different power and motivation.

What was so incredible about this was that we didn’t deserve it. In fact there was nothing in us that merited this; it was a pure act of mercy on God’s part. Mercy is kindness or forbearance that is not deserved. Perhaps we’ve never seen it like this but mercy is an expression of love. John tells us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Now love is benevolence or strong benign feelings for another and everything about God is this, we are told. For this reason (which we are unable to explain any further than John says) God expresses mercy to whoever will receive it. It is a benign or benevolent attitude which is expressed in benign or benevolent actions.

Thus God did not condemn us but drew us to Himself and poured out His love on us in the form of forgiveness and adoption and empowering with the Holy Spirit and thus we were ‘born again’. All it required of us was to believe in Jesus, that he is the Son of God who died on the Cross for us, attested to by his resurrection from the dead. That confirmed who he was and what he had done.

But there is yet something more to consider. This new life, having been ‘born again’, is described by Peter as a living hope.” In the world hope is a very vague thing. “I hope it won’t rain tomorrow.” or “I hope I’ll get a pay rise next month.” Mostly these are vague wishes, things we’d like to happen. However, when we come to Scripture ‘hope’ is a very strong thing, a certainty based upon God’s promises. Hope is always about tomorrow, about what is yet to come. In the Christian walk we have a number of such things. For example whatever goes on in life, God will always be there working to bring good out of it for us (Rom 8:28). We also know that in the walk we have today and tomorrow He will always be with us (Heb 13:5b). Moreover, this walk will not end with death for we have been promised eternal life (Jn 3:15,16), a life that will never end.

In fact as we go through the New Testament we find it is filled with such promises, such declarations from God that say “Tomorrow will be a good day because God has said He will do this and carry on doing it.”  This hope is not just academic based on things God has said (although that is true), but it is living in the sense that it is verified by the living presence of God within us, His Holy Spirit. It is an ongoing, daily experience, Him in me, teaching, convicting, correcting, guiding and empowering for change. I know this will be like that tomorrow because it is like it today and it was like it yesterday. Some days we are very much aware of it, others not, but it is true. This is the wonder of the life that God has brought us into! Hallelujah!

32. Forked Tongue

Meditations in James: 32 : Forked Tongue

Jas 3:9-12      With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

We don’t seem to have many Western films these days, especially those showing American Indians, now referred to as native Americans, but when I was young it was the day of the Western and the ‘Indians’ were both warlike and noble. Thus they had codes of honour and truth was one of them.  When they encountered a white man who they believed was lying to them, they spoke the immortal phrase, “White man speak with forked tongue.”  The picture of a tongue that speaks two different things is a good picture and it’s one that James now picks up on in his teaching about the use of the tongue.

He has spoken of the tongue being the thing that directs our path through life, a thing that though small has the potential to wreak havoc, and yet a thing that is impossible to tame, and now he focuses on the ability we seem to have of being able to speak good and bad from the same mouth.  He starts off pointing out that Christians have this awful ability to praise God one minute and curse people, who are part of God’s design, the next.  Here we have our Christian on a Sunday morning, singing for all their worth, joining in the worship whole-heartedly and, in some circles, raising holy hands and perhaps even dancing.  When you look at them you think what a spiritual person they must be.  But follow them home, follow them into the school, college or workplace the next day, follow them through the week and watch what they do and watch what they say. Here they are in a discussion at home about the neighbours who they are roundly condemning for a variety of reasons. True, these may not be Christians they are talking about, but they are still part of God’s creation, and the sadness it that they haven’t come to know Jesus as their Saviour yet, but we don’t see it like that and so we demean them in our conversation.  It’s tantamount to cursing them.

Then there’s the conversation in the classroom or office about someone senior in the place.  We don’t like them, or they’re not very good at their job, and in our talk we pull them down.  We don’t feel sorry for them and we haven’t prayed for them, we just pull them down in our talking, and it’s tantamount to cursing them.

This, says James should not happen, and to put weight to that declaration he illustrates it.  Stop and think about it, is what he is implying.  If you have a spring of water, can pure water and salt water come out of the same spring? No, of course not!  And if we still haven’t got the message, he adds in a further illustration. Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? No of course not.  These things go against nature.  They are not designed that way, and so it should be with the mouth. We should not be saying good things one minute and bad the next.

Solomon gave us an interesting proverb: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov 18:21).  First of all he notes the power of the tongue.  With your tongue you can bring either ‘life’ or ‘death’.  You bring life by leading someone to the Lord, or by sharing His love with them.  That person is blessed by what has happened to them because of what you have said.  But you can say wrong things and lead people into low places of depression, anxiety, fear or even temptation.  You can lead them into a place of spiritual or even literal death, by the use of your tongue. But implies Solomon, depending on the direction of your heart, you will love that use of your tongue and as a result of using it in that way you will reap the fruits of that – either life or death.  If you joy in bringing blessing to other people by the use of your tongue, you will be blessed. If you enjoy using your tongue to pull down others, you will be cursed and will pull yourself down. But Solomon saw it as one or the other.  You cannot joy in both things, and in that he is saying the same as James.

Perhaps there is one further facet of this we should consider to ensure we are wise in our understanding.  Equated with this are truth and lies. For instance Solomon said, He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” (Prov 28:23). He saw that sometimes rebuking a person is a good thing. Telling someone off or pulling them up, for having done something wrong, is a good thing. We shouldn’t see the good use of the tongue as being only saying nice, comfortable words, because sometimes those words are not appropriate. If you flatter someone and in fact they have been doing wrong, then your words were not appropriate. Truth is a key element to be considered with our words. We should not be speaking truth one minute and untruth the next. Somehow we are to speak truth all the time. Perhaps that is why Paul refers to speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Perhaps there are times when we need to seek the Lord for His wisdom (Jas 1:5) to know how we are to say corrective things that build up rather than pull down.

These are just a variety of ways that we can let ourselves down and fail the Lord. These are things He wants us to think through and work on. The tongue, as we have been seeing, has the potential to guide us, or bring destruction. It is only changed when our heart of changed and it should not be bringing good one minute and bad the next. Our tongue has the capability of speaking truth with love and bringing the wonderful love of God, and therefore His blessing in to many people’s lives. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” (Prov 10:11). May it be like that with us all the time! Ask the Lord to help you be that each day.

43. Wine & Spirit

Ephesians Meditations No.43

Eph  5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So often we lose the impact of what Paul is saying in these verses because we focus on the wine-debauchery-Spirit part at the beginning, whereas the thrust of the verses is upon us having a thankful outlook on life. This, he is surely suggesting, is to be the nature of the Christian life experience – it is to be a joyful experience that is full of praise and thanksgiving and joy.

His starting point is a negative warning: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” which harps back to our old lifestyle before we came to Christ. In that respect this is an extension of the lists of things not to be seen in the Christian’s lifestyle, yet he is using it as an illustration and contrast to what he does want to point us towards. An excess of wine leads to a reducing of inhibitions, a releasing of the tongue and exuberant outward behaviour. Now that is exactly the same sort of behaviour that accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit. The classic example, of course,  is the day of Pentecost when the Spirit first came upon the believers together and they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4) and their tongues were released. However their behaviour was so free that some of the onlookers, “made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:13) which prompted Peter to reply, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:15-17).

Sometimes in the Christian world, we have been so concerned to avoid any appearance of impropriety that we have been afraid to face the truth that indeed the filling of the Spirit brings a freedom which is accompanied by joy, and which can be misinterpreted by onlookers! Paul contrasts being drunk when he puts the positive instruction before them: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” This comes in the present tense and so speaks of an ongoing repeatable experience but please don’t be afraid to note that it is an experience that marks out people. When God’s Spirit turns up in power and in filling, people are changed even more than at their initial conversion, and this is supposed to be an ongoing Christian experience, this being filled and empowered and released by the Spirit.

I think a personal testimony is in order here. In my younger days as a Christian, I did experience this filling with the Spirit and experienced great joy and freedom. It was not something I sought, but something that was just given on one occasion when I was seeking the Lord. It was unexpected and inexplicable and I floated a few inches off the ground it seemed (not literally!). Unfortunately in months following I came under the influence of those who would be more serious and sober and I actually came to question the experience. This questioning carried on for a year during which time I can only say that I become more and more spiritually dry. (It’s the only way I can describe it.) Then on one particular day, the Lord in His grace allowed me, at three different times in the day, to encounter three different Christians who were clearly filled with the Spirit and full of His joy. After the first one, I went away muttering about ‘frothy Christians’ and after the second one I grumbled about so many shallow Christians. After the third one I came to my senses and acknowledged that they had something that I once had but no longer had. I sought the Lord and sought His forgiveness for my foolishness and was immediately filled afresh with the joy and freedom of the Lord. We normally disparage these things out of fear or insecurity. Knowing the Lord, Paul is saying in today’s verses, is to be a bubbly, effervescent, joy-filled freedom. Remember Jesus likened it to new wine (Mt 9:17).

Thus Paul continues, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Please note he’s not saying do this all the time, every minute of your life but when you come together. Use music, he is saying, because music is an expression of a freed heart. Have you noticed that when you are happy and free you sing? Perhaps many of us don’t sing (outside of church services) because we haven’t got much to sing about or, being Christians, we’ve forgotten how much we have got to sing about. Part of this, the motivation if you like, is thankfulness. When I was filled with the Holy Spirit I became immensely thankful. On the day of Pentecost, the onlookers heard them, “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11) That’s what we do when we are thankful; we declare the wonders of God in our own way.

Perhaps what this should leave us doing is reflecting on the nature of our own personal Christian experience. Is our experience simply one of ‘religion’ which is cold and somber? Surely the real article helps us see the wonder of God, the wonder of what He has done for us in and through His Son, Jesus, and that wonder should almost overwhelm us with joy when we see the reality of it. If the world has quenched or quashed that reality, we need to be filled with His Spirit, to realise and experience afresh (or for the first time) the shear exuberant wonder of His glorious presence. May it be so!

7. A Plan

Ephesians Meditations No.7

7. A Plan for Added Glory

Eph 1:11,12 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

Sometimes it is helpful when approaching Scripture, particularly some of Paul’s profound writings, to try to put our already translated text into simple language, which is what the paraphrase-version writer does. So let’s have a go at that with these two verses, phrase by phrase.

“In him we were also chosen.” A Bible note suggests an alternative – “In him we were made heirs.” Our version: “God used Jesus as the standard by which we would be chosen to be His heirs, or the receivers of all his goodness.”

“having been predestined to the will of him.” Our version: “This is how God determined, within the way He had decided to work, who would come to Him.”

“him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Our version: “Yes, this is God who works and weaves within everything that happens to bring about the objectives that He has on His heart, His will.”

“in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Our version: “And He did this so that we, who have already come to know Him and put our trust and hope in Christ and his salvation, would actually add praise to the glory that is His already.”

Now let’s put it all together: “God used Jesus as the standard by which we would be chosen to be His heirs, or the receivers of all his goodness; this is how God determined, within the way He decided to work, who would come to Him. Yes, this is God who works and weaves within everything that happens to bring about the objectives that He has on His heart, His will. And He did this so that we, who have already come to know Him and put our trust and hope in Christ and his salvation, would actually add praise to the glory that is His already.” It’s rather long, but read it again and catch the wonder of what Paul is saying. Now let’s pick out some key points in it.

One of the things I believe stands out in these verses is the strength of declaration about God’s sovereign will. Paul said we have been ‘predestined’ which suggests this is what God determined to do. Paul spoke about God’s plan. History isn’t random chance. God is working, in the midst of human free will and sin, to bring about specific objectives. As Joseph once saw, very often when we observe the affairs of mankind and no doubt the working of Satan in it all, “You intended …. harm … but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20). God is working for a purpose.

The second thing that stands out in two simple phrases in Paul’s words – “in him” and “in Christ” – is that this plan, as executed, is all about Jesus. Jesus is the ‘measuring stick’ if you like, that God uses to assess those who He will forgive and accept. If we accept and receive Jesus, we show we have understood our plight and also the wonder of God’s way of dealing with that plight. When that becomes clear, then God declares us forgiven, righteous and His adopted children, and He puts His Holy Spirit within us. But Christ is not only the ‘measuring stick’ to ‘assess’ us that God uses, he is also the focus for us, the one who shows us God’s love and God’s means of salvation, and therefore the one who provides hope for us.

The third and final thing that stands out in these two verses, is that the end result is praise for God. Now God already has glory in His very existence. Whenever He is revealed His glory is evident. He IS glorious. Now in simplistic terms we might just say He is wonderful, but whenever that glory is actually seen it is seen as a bright light. He shines, He stands out in all His wonder. So in one sense, He is complete in Himself in who He is, but there is another dimension to be added when humanity is involved and specifically when it is redeemed humanity. Whenever we ‘see’ what He has DONE (which is in addition to His existence), then if we see in reality, it WILL evoke praise in us. We’ve already noted in an earlier meditation that praise is what we give someone for what they have done or achieved. Now when we come to Christ, it becomes obvious (or will as the eyes of our hearts are opened, as Paul goes on to say in verse 18) that God is worthy of our praise and the praise of all the heavenly watchers (as Paul will say in 3:10 ). Praise is an element of salvation. It is a result of salvation and an expression of salvation.

So here we have it, God’s sovereign plan, worked out through Jesus that results in our salvation, and that brings praise to God, the natural conclusion to His work which, if you like, proves or confirms it. He is worthy of our praise because of what He has done for us and is doing in us. Praise Him!

4. Adopted

Ephesians Meditations No.4


4.
Adopted for Praise

Eph 1:5,6 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

In the previous meditation we focused on the fact of us being ‘predestined’ by God but verse 5 also contains another word that is very important – adopted. See the parallelism with the previous verse: “he chose us…..to be holy and blameless in his sight…. he predestined us to be adopted as his sons.” (v.4,5) There we have two initiating acts of God in His choosing us and predestining us, and two outcomes – holy and blameless and adopted sons. Before we rush by, do you regularly praise and thank God for the wonder of these truths, that you are holy and blameless in God’s sight NOW, and you are an adopted son.

What does ‘adopted’ mean? It means that God has taken legal steps to declare you legally part of His family. Jesus is The Son of God by his very nature, he is God, but we are sons of God because God has declared us legally so. In case this is new to you, take it in. The ‘legal action’ that God took was first of all Jesus dying on the Cross to take your sin. Your ‘signing the legal document’ was you surrendering your life to Him, confessing your sin, seeking forgiveness and committing your whole future life into His hands for Him to be your Lord (which took place at what you call your conversion). God’s seal of the legal adopting agreement (as we’ll see later in this chapter) was Him putting His Holy Spirit into you so that you were ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3), but He did that so that you too are not only adopted by ‘legal action’ but are now a being who also is a son by nature, because you are a God-person, a person with God in you!

Those who are sensitive about gender might say, why a son? Why can’t I be a daughter? Well of course you are, but the imagery of being ‘sons’ goes back to the life of the Old Testament people where a ‘son’ was the one who inherited the property and, more importantly, took on the father’s business, together with all the responsibilities that went with it. Thus when we are adopted as ‘sons’ it indicates that we are not only part ‘part of the family’ but we are also inheritors of the Father’s business, which of course is to bless mankind!!!

Note also that here we have the sixth reference to Christ in these opening verses. We are what we are ONLY because of the work of Christ on the Cross, and thus we are “adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” Jesus made all this possible and without him it is not possible; that is how important he is in history.

But Paul adds a further rider to all this: “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” He is very much aware that this is all because of God, not us! It was because God initiated all this, even before He created anything. It was part of His plan right back then. Note that it wasn’t a hard thing. He didn’t say, “Oh dear, I suppose I’ll have to do this.” No it was a pleasure. He saw that with free will and with the presence of Satan, sin would come into the world with all of its consequences and that would mean that man was separated from Him, yet He had created mankind to enjoy them and have pleasure from them (us). Are you not sure about that?

Read Solomon’s revelation in Proverbs as he personifies wisdom, which was in reality Jesus, the Son, sharing in the creation work with his Father: “Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Isn’t that beautiful! Jesus was not only delighting in his Father’s presence but he also delighted in the wonder of the first man and woman that they had made. But all that was lost when sin separated us from them, and so the work to reinstate that relationship was a pleasure to the godhead.

Listen to what Jeremiah heard: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and …. I will rejoice in doing them good ….” (Jer 32:40,41) This is God’s plan for His redeemed people, this is His pleasure and His will. Similarly Zephaniah caught something of the Lord’s delight when His people return to Him: “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)

So God rejoices over us, takes pleasure in us. How wonderful! What is the other side of the coin, our part? Paul says it: “to the praise of his glorious grace.” Praise is the natural response to all of this. Remember we said earlier in a previous meditation that praise is the acknowledgment of achievement. Praise is a sign of relationship, of recognition of goodness. Paul had started this paragraph with praise: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.3) and the paragraph is all about what we have to praise God for. This is all about His grace, and when we ‘see’ it, we cannot but help praise Him for the wonder of it. If need be, read back over this paragraph in Paul’s letter and take in the wonder of what we have seen so far and then praise the Lord for it all. Don’t let it be academic, let it move your heart.

2. Praise & Blessing

Ephesians Meditations No.2

2. Praise & Blessing

Eph 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

God is worthy of our praise and worship. The fact that most of the time we don’t praise and worship Him is simply a sign of our spiritual blindness. The fact that people even deny God or speak badly of Him is an even greater sign of foolishness. It was the psalmist who said, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psa 14:1). Paul was elsewhere to condemn sinful man in that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” (Rom 1:20,21). Paul, now in this letter, has things on his mind that he wants to convey to the Ephesians, and the very thought of these things evokes praise in him.


He has just greeted them with a blessing: “To the saints in
Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He has described the believers as ‘saints’ which simply means ‘holy or consecrated ones’ which is what all Christians are. He has desired grace – God’s power or ability for us to live out our lives as His children – and peace, which comes through that relationship. Instantly these are things where there is an interweaving between God and man. This book is all about that. It isn’t about ‘God out there’ and it isn’t about us on our own. No, it is all about the coming together and interaction of God and man that results in transformed and changed men and women who form a ‘called out people’, the church, and it is all the work of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus when he asks for grace and peace for them, it is from both the Father and the Son, for it is a joint activity.


But now, as we’ve already noted, he praises God. Praise automatically rises within him when he thinks of what God has done. Praise is about acknowledging someone’s achievements. Worship is about acknowledging God’s greatness, the fact of Him being infinitely greater than us, but praise focuses on what He has done. We praise our children when they have done well. We praise God for what He has achieved.


Do you notice how he links Father and Son: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” He wants to remind us at every turn that Jesus is God’s unique Son and that God is uniquely his Father. But he’s not just ‘Jesus’, he is ‘our Lord’. Paul is quite clear; Jesus is our Lord, because he is the Christ or the Messiah, the anointed one sent by God to save us. Every word is significant. Paul is quite careful in the way he uses each word, and we shouldn’t miss the significance of each word therefore.


But now comes the reason for Paul’s praising God: who has blessed us.” A frightening number of people never seem to see this, that God’s intent is to bless us. Now the word ‘bless’ is not a word commonly used today but in the Bible it is very significant and used a great deal. When God ‘blesses us’ He ‘decrees good for us’ and when God decrees something it IS done. So Paul is praising God because of what God has done and the outworking or end product of what He has done is that He has been able to decree good for us.


But there seems a condition on this blessing as far as it is being mentioned here: who has blessed us in the heavenly realms.” Now to catch the meaning of this we have to look at the other four times that Paul uses this phrase in this letter (and nowhere else). The next reference is, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (
1:20) which clearly refers to heaven as a place. Then comes, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (2:6) which suggests us being linked to Christ who is in heaven. This is followed by, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (3:10) and “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12) both of which suggest that there is a spiritual dimension of which we need to be aware.


Putting these together we can therefore suggest that our being blessed “in the heavenly realms” means that our origins have been settled in heaven and God decrees good for us from heaven now, and in heaven in eternity. It also suggests that in the spiritual world, where we (knowingly or unknowingly) interact with angelic forces or demonic forces, God decrees good for us. As the Bible indicates that this spiritual realm also impacts the material realm, it is also a suggestion that God decrees blessing in every aspect of our lives.


Every spiritual blessing in Christ”? Yes, everything that is good that can be considered as part of the outworking of Christ’s work on the Cross, is for us! Perhaps a shorthand for this is the sense of Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 8 put as, “God is for us(Rom
8:31). Yes, all of God’s intents, attitudes, call them what you will, in respect of us, are GOOD. Be blessed! Praise Him!

Talk of the Town

Lk 1:65-68   The neighbours were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel , because he has come and has redeemed his people.
  
It seems to me, as I read Scripture, that it is almost as if there are three levels of information given. First, there are things we are just not told. Quite often you read and wonder about various things that the writers were obviously just not concerned about. Then at the opposite end, there are things that are clearly written about and there is plenty of detail. Finally, in the middle, there is sketchy information given that makes you want to ask the writer for more. This passage today falls into that middle group.
    
It starts out simply enough: The neighbours were all filled with awe. These events had left them wondering, the people immediately in their vicinity who knew Zechariah and Elizabeth. They knew this elderly couple, they knew this elderly priest who served in the Temple not far off. They were a nice couple, a god-fearing couple who clearly adhered to all of God’s Law, good people. But they didn’t have any children and that had left people wondering. What had they done not to receive God’s blessing of children?  Through the years the comments had been made, but now they were old and people accepted that that was just how it was.
    
Then the old man comes home from serving in the Temple and he seemed struck down with something that has left him dumb. That really had people talking. Then those who lived nearest and who knew Elizabeth well, almost certainly the women, started wondering. There’s something about Elizabeth that seems different. She seems almost radiant. Is she… no she can’t be… she is…. she’s expecting a baby! How incredible after all this time! Then comes the naming ceremony and they name him John and suddenly Zechariah breaks forth in praise and prophecy. Wow! What is this? John? John is short for Jehohanan which means ‘God’s gift’. Those really close had told the story that Elizabeth had shared. They met God, God gave them this child, What then is this child going to be?
    
So yes, there was awe. The people knew that God had turned up. After all this time with not a sound from heaven, God had spoken and acted. In my lifetime? That I should hear of such a thing? What might He do next? The sound barrier has been broken. God has come. There is a God-given child. This has echoes of the past to it. Back in their distant history there had been poor Hannah who could not conceive and then the Lord gave here Samuel. Have we got another Samuel here? What is going on?
    
And where was all this happening? the hill country of Judea. How vague is that! I wonder why Luke didn’t bother to tell us where they actually lived? Presumably he knew but just didn’t consider it important. All he knew was that the Lord’s hand was with him, and the ‘him’ is John. If God’s hand is on someone the implication is that things are going to happen, and that was the sense that was among the people: God is here, something is going to happen. Now this is what followed these amazing events, the outcome of them if you like, but Luke hasn’t finished with the events themselves yet; he returns to them.
    
Zechariah’s tongue has been released and he has praised the Lord, and now he prophesies. The prophesy flows out of the praise. The praise flows: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Everything in him wants to praise the Lord, but there is a specific reason: “because he has come and has redeemed his people.What? He has redeemed his people? We don’t seem to be redeemed; we’re still under the oppression of Rome. What does this mean? Check it out; it’s prophecy Luke says, and prophecy speaks of what will be as if it has already happened, because once God declares it, it is as good as if it has already happened. God is going to redeem His people and He’s going to use John, quite obviously, and it’s as good as done!
   
No wonder the people were talking, no wonder the word was spreading like wildfire. This dumb man, this man who had been silent for nine months, suddenly breaks forth with a declaration from heaven. It can be nothing less than a word from God. This is the first word to the people for over four hundred years. No wonder they are talking! God is coming, He’s coming to deliver us; His word has come through a dumb priest who’s just had a prophetic son. Expectation! Anticipation!
       
Have you clued into something else here? When God wants to communicate with His people, He sometimes does it in spectacular ways that will have the people talking. Have you seen the other reason why Zechariah had been dumb? It’s all about communication. Give the people something to talk about. Create suspense, and then release it all and they’ll be talking even more. I suggest that this is all part of God’s communication strategy!
   
Unfortunately it would be thirty years before they saw the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption and even then, those who were around, probably didn’t realise what was happening. In thirty years, it’s easy to forget what happened, but nevertheless, the truth is that God spoke and declared His intentions. You may have to wait a while, but if He’s said it, it WILL happen. Don’t be put off by long delays; try and hold on to the excitement of the day when the word came, because it will come to pass!