Monday, January 18, 2021

The PreacherCast (Episode: January 18, 2021)

The PreacherCast is a discussion of Christianity, the Church, and Life in Christ. This is the January 18th, 2021 edition of THE PREACHER CAST, and today we'll be looking at a number of items in the news, answering listener questions, considering a deep theological topic, discussing a preacher tip, and offering a book recommendation. This week's question is: "What classic Christian books (outside of the Bible) would you recommend and why?" This week's theology section considers "What does it mean that we are growing in sanctification?" I will share with you my "preacher tip." This week's tip is learning to balance people and paper. This week's recommended book is "What the Bible teaches about Worship" by Robert Dickie. As always, today's discussion will be rooted in the Holy Bible, the inerrant and infallible word of God.

Chosen By God

"For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight? (Ephesians 1:4).

Paul in Ephesians deals with the depth and richness of the doctrine of God, and that means that he deals with predestination. We cannot avoid predestination when we read the Bible because it comes up time and again. Every theologian and every system of theology has some kind of doctrine of predestination and election, and from now until the end of the month of January, we shall try to grasp what the Bible says about it.

In Ephesians 1:4, Paul says God chose us in union with Christ, regarding us as the recipients of the salvation earned by Christ. In part this means that we are the reward God has given to His Son for His work of saving the world. Moreover, Paul writes, we were not chosen by God simply to be “the elect.” We were saved to be holy and blameless, and we are called to manifest that holiness. We are elected for service, not simply for salvation.

Paul goes on to say that because of His love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons in union with Jesus, the only-begotten Son. The doctrine of predestination links the love of God and the salvation we receive in Christ. As sons of God we are united with Christ, and God gives us grace and gifts because He withholds nothing from His Son.

What is the basis of this predestination? Paul says in verse 5 that it is “in accordance with His pleasure and will.” He simply asserts that it was God’s pleasure to save us. He does not say anything else. Since not all people are saved, it seems that God was not pleased to predestinate everyone to salvation. God has chosen to save some and to bypass others, leaving them in their sin. We will learn more about this in the days to come.

For now, notice that this whole discussion of predestination comes at the head of Paul’s list of things for which to praise God (1:3). We don’t often think of election and predestination in this way. Most Christians who believe in the doctrine of election tend to keep quiet about it because they don’t want to offend those who don’t believe in it. Paul, however, deals with this controversial matter right at the outset.

Whenever God’s people have openly and joyously received the truth of predestination, the kingdom of God has gone forth and changed the world. Meditate on God’s sovereignty and make Paul’s praise your own today.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Two-Way Blessings

"Praise [blessed] be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul begins the body of his letter with a long sentence (1:3–14) that is usually broken up into several shorter sentences in the English translations. In verse 3, we find the word blessed used twice. Paul writes, “Blessed be God,” and then says that God has “blessed us.”

Paul amplifies what it means for God to bless us by saying that He has given us “every spiritual blessing,” including redemption, forgiveness, lavish riches, wisdom, and understanding (1:7–9). But how do we bless God? What can we give Him? Clearly, what we give God is praise, which is why most English versions substitute the word praise for blessed at the beginning of Ephesians 1:3. God does not need anything from us, but He has chosen to ask for our praise; we on the other hand, need everything from Him. He gives us everything, and asks our thanks and allegiance in return.

What does it mean that God has blessed us “in the heavenly realms”? The idea seems to be that we have become participants in heavenly things through Christ. He is seated at God’s right hand, and in union with Him so are we. Usually we think of the Spirit’s coming down from heaven to us in order to bridge the gap between us and heaven, but here in this passage the idea is that in some profound and mysterious sense, we are drawn up into heaven by the Spirit to be present with Jesus and the Father.

Our ascension into heaven is not an experience we have “by sight,” though some day we shall physically ascend with Christ. It is by faith that we have access to the heavenly realm through prayer and praise, and the work of the Holy Spirit makes this access possible for us.

When Paul writes of “every spiritual blessing,” he does not mean invisible blessings or otherworldly blessings, or blessings that we somehow “feel in our spirits.” The reference is to the Holy Spirit. We could capitalize the s in spiritual. The blessings are transmitted by the Spirit, who is the author of all spiritual gifts and graces. The Spirit blesses us with the things that are “in Christ” by sealing us in union with Him.

We are united to the heavenly realm, but we live on earth. The reason is clear: We are to act so that God’s “will is done on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven God is praised; so it should be here. In heaven God is feared and obeyed; so it should be here. Think of a specific thing that you can do today to manifest heaven on earth.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pauline Authorship of Ephesians

"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:1).

Today we continue to refute the foolish assertions of unbelieving scholars who maintain that Paul did not write Ephesians. Their second argument is that Ephesians 2:20 says the church is built on a foundation of apostles and prophets, whereas elsewhere Paul says that the church is built on Christ. Can you answer this from the New Testament? Certainly. Jesus is the Chief Corner-stone in the foundation; the rest of the foundation is made up of apostles and prophets.

The most potent argument advanced by the higher critics is this: When we compare the sentence structure in Ephesians with all the rest of Paul’s letters, we find that the sentences in Ephesians are strikingly longer and contain many more dependent clauses. In other words, the overall style of Ephesians is different from the rest of the Pauline letters. There are obvious explanations for this feature of Ephesians.

As we have seen, it is likely that Ephesians was designed as a circular letter. If you write a letter to friends, you will write rather informally. If you write to people you don’t know, you will probably adopt a more formal style. This by itself would account for the longer sentences in Ephesians.

In Ephesians, Paul frequently breaks into prayer and praise. This is part of the content of the letter, and so we should expect Paul to use a slightly different style. The very content of the letter has caused him to write in a more exalted manner. Similarly, a theologian may write technically for a theological journal, worshipfully when preparing a liturgy for church use, and informally when writing for a church newsletter or magazine. Ephesians is highly theological and also highly doxological (full of praise), and thus contains long, complex sentences. Thus, the “most potent argument” of the critics is really quite impotent.

It is remarkable that educated people—and the higher critics are educated people—could advance arguments like these and expect to be taken seriously. It is a sad commentary on the state of the Christian church today that so many people are influenced by such silly assertions.

As you prepare to study Ephesians, take the time to read Chapter 1. Read it out loud. Notice the abundant praise Paul offers up to the Lord. From the outset, Paul directs his readers to the glorious grace of the Savior. Meditate on the rich blessings of Jesus Christ and offer up praise to Him today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Answering the Higher Critics

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:4–5).

Though most scholars now think that Ephesians was a letter written to circulate throughout Asia Minor, nobody is proposing to change the name. We shall continue to call it “Ephesians,” both for tradition’s sake and because Ephesus was obviously one of the cities that received the letter, perhaps the primary one.

We turn today to a problem of a different sort. Remember that on Monday we distinguished so-called “higher criticism” from “lower” or “textual” criticism. There are “higher critics” who insist that Paul did not write this letter. From a Christian standpoint, this is not an issue, because all manuscript copies of Ephesians from the ancient world unite in including the word Paul in Ephesians 1:1. Thus, we could simply bypass this question and get on to studying the book.

But Proverbs 26:4–5 tells us that we need to address this question. We say, “Ephesians is God’s Word. God’s Word says Paul wrote Ephesians. Case closed.” When we say this, we are refusing to answer the fools according to their folly, and we are not being like them. They are fools who reject God and His Word (Psalm 14:1); we are being faithful to God and His Word.

Yet we must also answer them, so that they do not become high and mighty in their own eyes. So then, what can we say to these self-proclaimed higher critics? We shall have to listen to their foolish arguments so that we can refute them. We’ll begin doing that today and finish in tomorrow’s lesson.

First, then, the critics point out that there are nearly fifty words used in Ephesians that are unique in the Pauline writings. Thus, they say, Paul did not write Ephesians. But, (a) we only have a few letters by Paul. Who is to say how wide his vocabulary was? Did a man as brilliant as this have only a few thousand words at his disposal? Moreover, (b) many of these unique words are simply compounds of words Paul does use elsewhere. Finally, (c) the unique words in Ephesians can easily be accounted for, case by case, by the fact that Paul deals with some matters here that he does not deal with elsewhere. Thus, this argument is foolish and nonsensical.

It should encourage us to see how weak and worthless the arguments of “higher critics” are. That is one reason we should answer them. The better prepared we are, the better we are able to stand firm. Study His Word that you may stand firm in the face of tools.