We Are Greatly Blessed
Paul's letter to the Ephesians is a tremendously joyful celebration.
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. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship 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 him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Eph 1:3-7 NIV)
I encourage you to read chapter one and count the individual blessings that are now ours through Christ. It's not just the ones that have been listed, Paul says; every spiritual blessing is ours and has been given freely to us. There may be times when we don't feel particularly blessed, we may be going through struggles or hardships and feel that life has become a bit of a fight. That's ok! Our inheritance is not dependent on our earthly circumstances but has been secured for us and held safe in the heavenly places. If you like, they're in our heavenly bank account.
We are blessed in such an extravagant way simply because we belong to God, not as a chattel or piece of property but as sons and daughters. Before the creation of the world the Father wanted a family and that family included us. We are joint heirs together with him.
In our western understanding the word 'adoption' creates an image of someone who didn't belong who then became a part of the family. That's not the way it is for us; we've always belonged but got lost along the way. Perhaps, instead of adoption, being redeemed back into our sonship is a better way of looking at it.
The greatest blessing of all is the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and we have been made right with God. How wonderful that he chooses to lavish his love and grace on us.
Clothed In Love
The Father wants each one of us to wear a completely new garment, the garment of love. Too many people take a small bit of the new and try to attach it to what already exists. It doesn’t work.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 2:6-7, 3:1-3 NIV)
Paul tells us in Colossians 2:9 that all the fullness of the Godhead lives in Christ. That means in Jesus we see the fullness of the Father and the complete life of the Spirit all revealed through the Son of God who became a man, someone we could know, see and touch. That alone is an incredible thing - the Trinity being revealed to mankind through a man. In some ways that would be enough. However, there is more.
Through our new birth we are taken into Christ and so our lives become planted in him. He becomes the source of our life, everything we need can be found in him. His love and his life become our life-giving source, we draw everything we need from him.
The fullness of the Trinity lives in Christ, we are in Christ and therefore the overwhelming conclusion is that the fullness of the Trinity is ours. That’s what Jesus encourages us to be fully clothed with a new garment, the garment of love, rather than settling for a small patch to mend our existing way of life.
“Remain in my love so that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11
Finding The Joy Of The Lord
Philippians is a very upbeat letter as Paul is full of joy for his friends. His overwhelming joy exudes through the chapters and verses and it becomes contagious. You feel good as you read Paul's exhortations.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now... (Philippians 1:3-5 NIV)
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (3:1 NIV)
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (4:1 NIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (4:4 NIV)
Today's encouragement is simple.
Over the past few weeks we have discovered our home is in Christ and that we are with him where he is. That leads us to the place of contentment where we experience a peace which goes beyond all our understanding. It's no wonder Paul could rejoice even in the midst of suffering. When we have a simple, childlike trust on our Father we become aware that our security is in him and not in our own strength.
This gives us something to rejoice about. The joy of the Lord can indeed be our strength.
Absolute trust will lead us to the place of contentment. Contentment: to know (and live in) the peace that goes beyond all of our understanding. What a gift!
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:10-11 NIV)
That's a challenge! To be content whatever the circumstances!
We spend a lot of time, money and energy seeking to have more, to be more or to do more. A new phone comes out: better camera, more data, more storage, faster processor etc - we have to have it. Why? Because we're told we won't be content unless we do. We work harder at work in order to be noticed - we want to be seen to be someone. Frankly, we're not content and as a result we lose our peace and become caught up in the never-ending cycle of seeking more.
Contentment is deeper than possessions, ministry, titles or function. Contentment is the state of our heart so we, like Paul, can say whether we're in need or have plenty, that we are content. We find the secret of being in Christ. We can trust our Heavenly Father because he will meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory (Phil 4:19).
Trust sounds simple, yet for many of us it is the complex process of letting go. It's recognising that we can't do it on our own, all of our striving will lead to frustration and us being robbed of our peace. Trust says that our Father is bigger and more able, he knows what is best for us and our only response is to have a childlike heart of rest and dependency on him.
Knowing Who We Are
If we are to fully trust the Lord, then we have to let go. Letting go is not easy, nor is it always our natural inclination. It's taking the step of believing that our Father knows what is best for us and that he knows this better than we do. For many that can be quite a challenge.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV)
I'm always inspired by the life of Paul, who, despite his natural abilities and background, chose the path of humility. He trusted completely in the eternal goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. Not only did he let go of everything but he also considered it to be rubbish. He had seen the better and the best which was to know Christ and to be found in him.
To us, it seems that Paul was a long way into this personal journey. Despite that, he knew that he had not arrived. He did not pursue ministry or function or gifting but he pursued a greater intimacy and depth of relationship with Christ. He had discovered that his citizenship was in Heaven, his home was in Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. He knew he was loved as Jesus is loved - that is what it means to be "in Christ".
I pray, today, that we will all discover a greater revelation of this truth and, as we do, it will cause us to let go and trust.
It's Not About Us
Today we continue our theme of trust as we look at the book of Philippians. Trust, our trust in God, will expand our horizons beyond ourselves and will help us look outward.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 1:1-4 NIV)
Being like-minded - what does Paul mean? I think he is referring back to what he has been talking about in chapter one which was finding the power and security of knowing that we are "in Christ" - a recurring theme throughout all of Paul's letters. We are in Christ and therefore our home is where he is (John 14:3). We are encouraged to imitate Paul and make our home in Christ. We are drawn into that intimacy through the comfort of his love and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When the focus of our love is on him we will be drawn into a greater intimacy with the Trinity. Not only do we become secure in our relationship with Him but we are secure enough to begin to turn outward. We can trust God enough to start considering others. We have the mind of Christ which is not selfish but takes the path of humility. We stop prioritising our own needs because we know and trust that our Father will take care of them for us.
As sons and daughters, we know that we have a Father who cares for us and who provides all we need (Matthew 6:25-34). Walking as Jesus walked, trusting the Father's goodness, will cause us to channel that goodness to a world that is in desperate need. The outworking of us being loved is that we love and care for others.
The Father's Purpose
The book of Philippians is about trust. Do we trust the Father enough to allow ourselves to come to a place of rest where we can rely on the peace that passes all understanding? Do we trust enough to believe that he will work his purpose out for us, rather than us having to try and make it happen?
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. (Psalms 138:8 ESV)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
At the end of Philippians, Paul talks about being content (and we'll look at that in a few week’s time). That contentment can only flow from us receiving and living in the assurance of these promises. He has started something in our lives and he will make it happen. His purpose is not so much the journey we might take but it is the end result, it is the destination. Proverbs tells us that we make plans but God has a purpose that will stand forever (Prov 19:21).
Sometimes our journey is not linear. We make mistakes, we take diversions, we wonder where we are going and what is happening. The twists and turns of life's journey can sometimes be confusing and maybe we begin to doubt. We doubt ourselves, we doubt God.
He is not bothered about our diversions because his purpose is bigger and goes beyond our plans. His purpose for us is rooted in eternity and he has promised to accomplish it. That's where trust comes in - can we trust him enough to lay aside our plans and allow him to lead us? He will complete what he has started. That's my prayer today.
The Main Thing
Every now and then it's good to remind ourselves of the main thing. The substance of love which is being poured into our heart through and by the Holy Spirit. Not only do we need reminding, we also need to give ourselves the opportunity to receive.
And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us! (Romans 5:5 TPT)
Jeremiah tells us we are loved with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3). All of the love that was in the Father's heart before the creation of the world, all of the love that runs through time and all of the love that will run through eternity future is being poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit. That's a lot of love. It's very reassuring for us as this means there has never been a time when we've not been loved nor is there anything we can do (or not do) that will take us outside the love of God.
Sometimes we doubt God's love. Sometimes we feel condemned and unworthy of love. Other times we feel that our sin stops the flow of love until we prove ourselves through our works. All of those feelings are real to us and they affect what we think or believe. They don't, however, determine what God thinks or feels. He does not change; he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Our behaviour may not be in accordance with his will but it does not change the fact that we are loved.
Most translations say the love of God is 'poured' into our heart. I like the Passion Translation's use of the word 'cascade'. It describes a generous and constantly flowing torrent of love. It's similar to John who writes 'see what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God' (1 John 3:1).
Let's make the main thing the main thing. Why not enjoy being loved today! Let the Father lavish or cascade his love into your heart.
Entering Our Rest
Last week I ended by encouraging you to discover the resting place of the Father's love. I am convinced that the enemy seeks to rob us of two major parts of our inheritance: our rest and our freedom. Of course, these are interwoven; the more at rest we are, the freer we are and vice versa. Rest is our inheritance and I'm not talking about sitting on a couch and doing nothing. I'm talking about the stillness and peace in our heart.
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:9-11 NIV)
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28 NIV)
An inheritance is a gift, it's not a right. A gift is given, but for it to be a gift it has to be received. We are promised a life of rest but we have a choice whether we receive the gift or not. The writer of Hebrews is very clear: we can continue a life of works and religious duty or we can jump from the hamster wheel of works into the resting place of his love. In fact, the writer of Hebrews thinks that this is really important for us to do as he says 'make every effort' - some translations say 'strive' or 'be diligent' to enter your rest.
Paul's pretty clear about this, as he, too, reminds us not to focus on the results of our own works (Eph 2:9) but rather to seek out those things which God has already prepared for us to do (Eph 2:10). This is the point of what Jesus said in Matthew 11. "Come to me, take my yoke upon you, you will find rest for your souls".
What has been stolen can be restored. As we look to him he becomes the source of our life. We begin to live like Jesus, only doing what the Father gives us to do. It's then that our heart finds its resting place.
Heart To Rest
We are made alive in Christ! (Eph 2:4) What a glorious statement and its impact has clearly caught Paul's attention. He's so excited about this revelation that once again he pauses and launches into another of his famous prayers. A prayer for us. Just as we saw last week he starts off with the words "for this reason". Because we are made alive in Christ...
"...I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)
Our salvation is a gift, it is not achieved through our works - if it were some would inevitably score more highly than others. No, our salvation is a gift which comes to us through our faith in him. Even our own faith is not self-generated, that, too, is a gift. Everything we need is made available to us and we simply need to appropriate it for ourselves. We are no longer distant but have been brought into the Godhead through Jesus. Not only joined to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but being joined, as a family, with one another.
This is the backdrop for Paul's prayer. This divine revelation of unity leads to our hearts being strengthened by the Holy Spirit in order that it can become a place for the Father to live. It's a home of love where our heart comes to rest. This love is immeasurable yet it is strong. It becomes the foundation of our lives and therefore everything we do comes from and out of love.
The Passion Translation puts it like this: Then, by constantly using your faith, the life of Christ will be released deep inside you, and the resting place of his love will become the very source and root of your life. (v17)
Today, I encourage you to make his love your resting place. It is safe and secure.
Eyes To See
What an amazing list of blessings Paul gives at the start of Ephesians chapter one. As you read this list (and I encourage you to take some time to do so) you feel his excitement and joy as he recites the goodness of the Lord. At the end of this great list he pauses for breath before launching into his famous prayer which starts with these words: "for this reason". Because of all these great blessings...
"...I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people." (Ephesians 1:16-18 NIV)
Paul asks that we would receive two things which will enable us to live in the blessing he's just recounted. First though, we need to note to whom Paul is praying, who is the Giver? Paul makes it very clear that the Giver is the Father. And so he asks that we would receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation which will enable us to know the Glorious Father better than we do at present. Secondly, Paul asks that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened in order that we would know who we really are! The word enlightened means to see with understanding - this prayer is about our heart understanding something profound which has previously been hidden.
When we read this prayer in the context of the whole passage, we see that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is also our Father and that (from before the creation of the world) we were meant to live as sons and daughters. We can only see this by revelation and, thankfully, the ability to receive revelation is a gift from the Father. This is not an intellectual understanding but an encounter that touches and changes our heart. We see, and understand, with our heart.
We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing simply because God is our Father and we are his children.
My Peace I Give To You
All too often peace seems in short supply. We live busy lives with so much going on, we face the everyday challenges of the world (which these days seem pretty immense) and on top of that we have to cope with all the internal stuff going on in our heart and mind. It can all feel very unpeaceful!
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus recognises that trouble will come our way. He knows how easy it is for us to lose our peace and to be caught up with the turmoil of the world. Trouble, hassle - whatever word you choose to use it's inevitable, we are never going to be immune from it.
Along with the recognition that trouble is heading our way there is the wonderful assurance and promise, that in the midst of it we can find peace. A calmness and rest that is a supernatural gift. Jesus lived in peace despite everything that was going on around him and it's that same peace that he gives to us. Not only does Jesus give us his peace but he reminds us that he has overcome the world; he has done what we're unable to do.
It's a peace that takes our fear away. It's a peace that is not based on worldly qualities or events. It's a peace that goes beyond our understanding.
It's the peace that flows from the heart of the Father, it's part of his nature. Today that gift of peace is available to you.
An Open Heart Brings Change
Last week I looked at how comfort helps us to keep an open heart. Today I'm taking this a step further as a comforted heart brings change in us. It enables us to walk as Jesus walked.
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV)
There are two kinds of sorrow. Godly sorrow which leads to life and worldly sorrow that leads to death. How are they separated?
Paul's exhortation does not come from a judgemental or critical heart. He comes to the church in Corinth with an overwhelming desire to encourage them and to lead them back into a right relationship with God. He wants them to know that God is a Father to them and they are sons and daughters. For them to enter into this reality they need to change, they have to allow the sorrow Paul feels to bring them to a place of repentance through which they will have an encounter with the Father.
Too often when we deal with other people we do so from a critical heart and all that does is judge and condemn. That's the worldly sorrow that leads to death, not life. It goes back to the two trees in the garden: one brings life, the other death.
Godly sorrow will lead us to repentance, it will restore relationship and it will bring us to an encounter with the love of God where we know that he is being a Father to us. It brings life! We don't have to fear repentance or change as it takes our heart deeper into love.
Living With An Open Heart
I've been reading through 2 Corinthians and have seen how the apostle Paul has a soft, tender heart towards the church in Corinth. Despite everything that he's been through he has not allowed his heart to become hard; in fact, his circumstances have not made him rely on his own strength but rather he has discovered the power of comfort and weakness.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children —open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NIV)
Paul has had to write to the Corinthians about some pretty major things and, no doubt, it would have been easy for him to be judgemental or critical. That, however, is not his posture. He appeals to them to change, "to come out from them and be separate" (verse 17), he appeals to them to open their hearts in the same way as he and Titus have opened their hearts to them.
I have often wondered how Paul managed to maintain an open heart after he had been through so much hardship. The key is found in the first few verses of chapter 7: he is greatly comforted. Paul had found the power of living from a comforted heart. He receives that comfort once again as Titus visits him and is able to comfort him with the comfort that he himself has received. The fruit of a comforted heart is also seen in Titus - he has been refreshed by being with them.
Comfort is contagious! When we are comforted we are able to comfort others. I believe we receive, first and foremost, because we need to be comforted. We don't principally receive comfort in order to give it out although that is the natural consequence. Comfort restores us, it encourages us, it enables us to face the hardships of life and, importantly, it is the key to us keeping an open, tender heart.
The Father's Comfort - III
Comfort, what we desperately need and yes, it is possible for us to find and receive it. What has been devastated can be transformed and made beautiful. The emptiness and desperation can become a place of joy and gladness.
The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 51: 3&11 NIV)
This is our hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies are new every morning. This is the only thing that gives us true hope in the midst of our suffering. As we allow ourselves to be comforted (for as long as it takes) our heart will undergo a transformation. What we felt was barren or had become like a desert will be transformed into a beautiful garden. Where there was sorrow and sadness there will be joy and gladness. There will be life which Jesus promised was life in all its fulness.
How do we receive comfort. It's different for everyone but let me give one or two suggestions. Trauma often occurs suddenly, comfort comes more slowly and gently. We feel like our life has become a wilderness, we may need to go to the wilderness for our healing: not literally, but we may need to withdraw and have time alone (that can be difficult to plan and arrange but it will be worth it). We need friends, not like Job's but those who will sit, say nothing, do nothing (well, maybe make a cake or some coffee) - who are just there for us when we need them.
Above all we need to turn our heart to the Father of all comfort who will comfort us in all our troubles. Here is a soaking video you may wish to put on and simply ask the Father to pour his comforting love into your heart. He is faithful and he will do it.