It’s All About That Grace!

 

ReDiscovering The Bible Online Radio Show

Episode 25 – Ephesians

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Notes:

So glad to be back after some time away. I didn’t expect to be gone quite so long, but life is full of surprises. More experienced podcasters have a few episodes in the bank so that when things come up, they don’t have a gap in broadcasts. I’m not that smart, but I thank you all for your patience and I’m back in the saddle.

This week we’re looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and it’s especially interesting because the Ephesian Church may well be the congregation Paul had the strongest relationship with. It was certainly the place he stayed the longest, a full 3 years.

You can read all about the dramatic founding of the Church in Ephesus, including the miracles, growth, and opposition in the 19th Chapter in Acts. In fact, that chapter is so exciting, I encourage you, if you’re in a place to do so, pause the show right now and go read Acts 19. If you can’t do so at the moment, go back and do so at your earliest opportunity.

This Church is so important to Paul, that later, when he is on his way to Jerusalem, he summons them to join him for a meeting at Miletus (about 38 miles south of Ephesus) when his ship docks there for a short time.

During that meeting he shares many insights with the elders and in 20:15 he mentions that they will they will never see each other again. After that statement, Paul warns them about false teachers and other trouble makers who will try and break up the Church.

At the end of Paul’s speech, there is a great deal of weeping as they pray and say their goodbyes. Verse 38 says the thing the Ephesians were most sad about was that they would never see him again.

I find that one of the most tender passages in the New Testament. Paul loved these people very much and they loved him just as much.

Sometime after Paul leaves, probably around AD 63, Paul writes the letter we call the Book of Ephesians.

It appears that following Paul’s death, Ephesus becomes one of the most prominent Churches in the Kingdom., certainly in the province of Asia. After Paul’s death, it becomes the home of the Apostle John. According to some traditions, when John moved there, Mary, the mother of Jesus was still alive and moved with him.  John did his writing from Ephesus (and maybe some on Patmos) and Ephesus was the first of the 7 Churches Jesus dictated special letters to in the Book of Revelation (see chapter 2).

Ephesus is no little backwater place like Galatia, but rather the most important city in Asia Minor. Over time, it had replaced Troy (troas) and was a prominent port, trade, education and religious center. It’ a large and influential place.

As we look through the book, we find some of the most important and central doctrines of Christianity within it’s 6 small chapters.

It also contains a few verses (Chapter 1, verses 4-7) that are among the most contentious verses in all of Christianity. So let’s take a quick look at those verses and see if we can’t clear up some of the misunderstanding.

Most of the confusion comes from verse 5 and the word ‘predestined’. It says, ‘He predestined us us for adoption as sons…’ That word connotes for many people an assumption that God individually selects certain people for salvation and others to miss out. Entire denominations and ‘Theologies’ have been built around that concept. Millions have feared they are left out or that loved ones are left out because of ‘predestination’. Many have turned away from Christ because of the idea that this would either negate the loving nature of God, or that it eliminates the free will of man.

If we look a little deeper, however, the explanation is much more hopeful and inclusive. This kind of misunderstanding is what comes from focusing on a single word pulled out of its context with the rest of the Bible.

Let’s put it back in context and see what happens. Back in verse 4 Paul writes that ‘he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world….”  Keep in mind, Paul has already addressed this in a letter he wrote to the Church in Rome some years before this one. In chapter 8, verse 29, he wrote, “Those He foreknew, He predestined.”

Here he is saying the same thing.  God knows everything. Before we were ever born, God knew that millions would be willing to accept that we are sinners and turn to Him, so, in His Grace, He created a plan of redemption that He Implemented even before the world was created. That’s all that’s meant by predestination here. It isn’t that God selected some and not others. He selected ALL who would follow Him by creating an avenue of redemption. So in verse 5, (everything is plural). When He is talks about Predestination he is referring to the Church as a whole.

Remember, Paul is writing to the whole congregation and explaining that our salvation is God’s work, not ours. He planned everything from before the beginning. We didn’t create it and we don’t deserve it. It’s a gift of His Grace.

It’s all explained in Chapter2. We must always remember that chapters and verses are not a part of the original, so we shouldn’t let them divorce us from the way the entire message fits together.

In Chapter 2, Paul zooms in on this subject by highlighting Grace as the source of salvation. The decision to offer forgiveness is God’s alone,

BTW, This is the chapter that provides the verses that led me to title this episode, “It’s all about that Grace”.

In verses 4 and 5 Paul talks about God’s mercy and His grace, which are the heart of His Salvation. In verse 4 God’s love for us, despite all our rebellion and screw ups is the motivation behind salvation. Wow.

Let’s take a quick side road for a minute. It’s not unusual for us to hear about God’s Mercy and Grace and not think about the difference between them. Understanding that difference can make us really appreciate what God has done for us.

Mercy is God withholding from us the punishment we deserve. Jesus took that in our place.

Grace,on the other hand, is God giving us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness and new life.

Verse 8 is the key to the whole chapter. Let’s read it. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

There is nothing you or I can do to gain salvation. We can’t pray enough, work enough, preach enough, be baptized enough, give enough or any enough. Salvation is by God’s favor upon us, pure and simple.

Salvation is by Grace, period. Yes, we must respond to His Grace, but we have nothing to do with creating it or making it available. Grace. Period. That’s the list. The end.

Just one more thought before we go. Neither grammatically nor contextually is there a comma after saved in verse 8. The emphasis in verse 8 and 9 is not comparing faith to works, but comparing grace to works. And also, grammatically, it is Grace that is the gift of God. Not faith that is the gift of God. The entire section has grace as its focus. There are several denominations that make Faith the gift, but grammatically and contextually, that just doesn’t fit.

When all is said and done, I’m so glad our Salvation is in God’s hands, rather than ours, because I would screw it up like I do everything else. Instead, I am confident that the one who made me, loves me, and sustains me is the one who guarantees my hope. I hope you’re glad about that, too.

Moving on, the heart of the book, from chapters 3 on are dedicated to instructions for living. They are incredibly practical and straight to the point. Some of the things, particularly in chapter 5 about families are controversial in our post modern 21st century, but remain a basic part of Christian doctrine and practice, at least in Bible Believing Churches.

Before we go, I want to spend just  minute in Chapter 6. Paul is getting ready to close, but just before asking for prayer and offering final greetings, Paul reminds the Ephesians that we are at war. Our battle is not merely a political or physical one, but is spiritual. He reminds them that if we are at war, we need to be prepared. So he advises them, and by extension, us, to put on ‘the full armor of God

I love it as he paints a word picture of a Roman soldier and uses the soldier’s armor as a model for our spiritual war.

He begins with the belt of truth which gives us flexibility and mobility.

The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts

The Gospel is on our feet as shoes laced up for movement. The Gospel is meant for going, not standing still.

The shield of faith, puts out the flaming arrows launched our way by the Enemy.

Salvation is described as our helmet. The truth of our hope in Christ isn’t just something we feel, it’s something we KNOW. It is part of our intellect and not merely emotional.

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God is the Scripture. Our great weapon is for hand to hand combat and is the only weapon mentioned. Our defense and our offense is not primarily built on our testimony, but on the Bible.

This analogy about armor is key to our understanding of how to be prepared to deal with opposition.

And that’s all I’ve got. As always, please do your own homework. Use the comments section on the show notes at samburtonpresents.com to share your thoughts and questions. Or…email me: samburtonpresents@gmail.com.

Next week we’ll take a look at Colossians and “The God Particle”. Until then, be blessed, and, be a blessing.

 

 

The Day The Apostle Paul Told A Bunch of Preachers to Go To Hell

Podcast Episode 24 – Galatians

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Show Notes

Galatians –

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Galatians is one of the easier New Tesament letters to understand. That’s why many Bible Study groups study this book early and often. It’s a great option for inexperience Preachers who want to begin preaching directly from the Bible rather than trying to come up with topics on a week by week basis.

Which brings me to my first rabbit trail today. It’s relevant but it really is a side road. This podcast was created to help you study through the Bible and understand it better so that you can make the Bible an integral part of your daily life. That’s why we’re going through the Bible Book by book. I’ve been reading lately, though, that some popular preachers are abandoning a through the Bible approach for a more current event or current issue methodology. One very popular mega church preacher has called this through the Bible teaching, Cheating.

I beg to differ. Yes, he has a huge congregation with many campuses. Yes, this guy has a huge platform and his word carries some weight in the Theological World, especially among younger Evangelicals and Millennials.  A large platform, however, doesn’t make one right. If I stick to going through the Bible, I know I’m on safe ground.  It’s when I digress from the Holy Spirit inspired scripture and going out on my own that I risk the thin ice of heterodoxy. Heterodoxy, now there’s a good preacher word for you.  It just means mixed doctrine. It’s kind of a gentle synonym for heresy.

But I digress.  Unlike the other letters Paul wrote to Churches, this one is to a group of Churches rather than to a single congregation. It’s kind of an open letter, or a round robin one. The Primary Churches are Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, with probably a few smaller congregations in between. None of the towns are huge like Corinth or Athens or Rome, but they are special to Paul because they are among the first churches he planted during his first missionary journey. He cares about them enough that he makes a quick stop back by on his second journey.  This is when Timothy joins the team.

Paul writes to these Churches to call them back to the simple truth of the Gospel of Salvation by grace through faith. That theme permeates the Galatian letter. It’s s message that never gets old.

Shortly after Paul leaves Galatia, a group nicknamed,  the Judaisers come to town and start telling the Jewish believers to stop associating with gentiles and the tell the gentile converts that they must obey the law of Moses, including circumcision and the special dietary laws.  Paul is outraged and, just as he will do with the Corinthians and Philippians he minces no words and takes no prisoners when dealing with these legalists.

In chapter one, he calls it a ‘different gospel’ and ‘no Gospel at all’. He suggests anyone teaching false doctrine should be sent straight to hell. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

In Chapter 3, the Apostle concludes they must be under a spell to believe such garbage. He uses the word, “Bewitched”.  Later on, he likens it to slavery instead of freedom.

As you read through Galatians, you’re going to see that the theme of grace being superior to law is the overwhelming theme.

But I want to spend a few minutes in Chapter one because, Paul has some very strong things to say about false teaching that sound incredible contrary in our new world of tolerance.

  1. He openly rejects this ‘different gospel’ and calls it no gospel at all. No ‘many paths to God’ for Paul.
  2. If that’s not strong enough language, he says anyone preaching a different Gospel should be ‘cursed, cut off from God’. In the original, that word is ‘anathema’. You’ve probably heard that word and maybe even used it. We kind of think of it as meaning something is a ‘no-no’, but it literally means, cut off from God with no hope of return. Paul could not have chosen a stronger expression of disdain. He says in essence, they can go to hell and rot.’ That kind of language will make you go viral on social media these days, and not in a good way. But, when eternity is at stake, sometimes we have to use strong language. We’re talking about people souls here. Paul is on a rescue mission for some of these Galatian Christians. He has no time to fool around.

The question is begged, How can we determine whether or not someone is preaching ‘a different doctrine’.

I’ve come up with 4 criteria that I use to determine whether or not a gospel, denomination, or even a religion is ‘different’.

Does it have a different:

God: Here Oh Israel, the Lord your God is One. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship him in Spirit and in Truth. I know, for example, a major religious group, that many Christians are slowly accepting teaches the God is an exalted man and that we may one day be gods and goddesses of our own worlds. Their statement is, As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.

Jesus: Christianity believes Jesus is the Word (God) made flesh, virgin born, perfect, crucified, buried, raised, ascended, seated at the right hand of the Father and is coming again.  Some groups teach He did not die on the cross. Others that Jesus was not literally raised from the dead. Some teach he was married, even a polygamist.

Scripture: The Psalmist says, ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” In fact, the whole 119th psalm is about the value of the Bible. In the New Testament, Paul wrote to Timothy that the Bible is ‘God Breathed’, or inspired. But some groups have different scripture in addition to the Bible. Some have changed the Bible because the Bible doesn’t teach their doctrines.

Plan of Salvation: The Bible is very clear that Salvation is by Grace through faith. Some, however, teach we have to practice certain rituals, or perform specific functions, or give a certain amount, or that Jesus blood doesn’t cover all your sins.

There is some really weird stuff going around out there, and its not all OK. I’m not going to pretend that it is. Here’s the bottom line: If a teaching has a different God, Jesus, Scripture, and or Plan of Salvation, it is NOT Christian. I’m not trying to be hateful, I’m trying to be truthful. Some things are ok to have different opinions about, but some things are either right or Anathema.

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Episode 20- Romans Made Easy

Rome

 

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Romans is the most difficult book in the New Testament for me. After all these years, I still struggle with making sense of parts of it. So what I decided to do was back out and look at it from a higher altitude, so to speak, and look at the big picture. Doing this, helps me a lot.

Lets face it, one of the big mistakes in Bible Study AND Bible teaching is trying to zoom in too close and draw conclusions from the minutiae rather than get the big picture right first. Looking ahead, that is frequently one of the problems we’ll deal with when we get to the book of Revelation. By looking at the big picture we gain perspective.  That’s how I’ve approached Revelation for years, so I decided to use that same approach with Romans, and it’s helped me a lot.

Traditionally, Paul wrote the book from Corinth, shortly before his third missionary journey and trip to Jerusalem where he was arrested. He gives strong indication of this time table towards the end of chapter 15.

Ok, let’s look at the themes Paul covers in Romans. Keep in mind he’s never been to Rome. He’s writing to a Church he’s never visited and has only heard about. That’s why he sticks to more general themes than say, in his letters to the Corinthians.  As a preacher, I will usually approach a message differently when I’m at a congregation I am unfamiliar with than I will in a place where I know the congregation well and where I am well known. You can feel a sense of formality in Romans as compared to the way he writes to congregations where he is better known.

After his introduction, Paul goes into the text of his letter where he addresses some universal truths

  1. The sinfulness of Sin and God’s hatred of it.
  2. The Universal lostness of the human race – We’ve all sinned
  3. Jesus has provided a remedy for our predicament
  4. Paul takes a diversion to deal with the Judaizers and Explains Israel’s Predicament as well as his personal love for his own people
  5. Chapters 12-14 have advice for practical Christian living ( Finding our personal gifts and ministry, dealing with secular authorities, and how to relate to legalists and people with differing social mores as they relate to acceptable behavior.)
  6. Finally, Paul spends time in personal greetings to people in the Church he is familiar with. You can almost feel his desire to be with them.

So, in essence, the Paul’s letter to the Roman Church is a presentation of the Gospel, but from the perspective of someone already a Believer rather than as a message trying to convince a skeptic or seeker to follow Christ.