Ephesians: Living Out Unity in Oneness (4:1-6)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:

Conforming

When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.

It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Prisoner for the Lord (Again)

First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.

This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.

But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?

We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!

Walk Worthy

So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.

There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

The Believer’s Calling

This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).

So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?

How to Live Worthy

Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:

Humility

Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.

But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.

Gentleness

If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.

Patience

I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.

Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?

Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”

Forbearing Love

The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).

To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).

I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?

The Unity of the Spirit

We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.

Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis

Oneness

So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4-6).

Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.

So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.

One Body

Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.

There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.

One Spirit

I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.

One Hope

There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.

One Lord

There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.

One Faith

This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Baptism

There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?

One Father

We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?

We Must Live in Oneness

We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.


1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).

 

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You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness” Mean (Matt. 5:6)?

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the beginning section is what is known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and they are a description of true Christian characteristics. In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s a strong desire, a passionate force inside the soul. It’s not something that just comes and goes—it means a hungering that keeps on until it is satisfied. Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification.

For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make.

Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you.

For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ?

 

For further reading, please consult: Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst 

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst

Sermon on the Mount: Those Who Hunger and Thirst (Matt. 5:6)

You’ve seen the late night commercials. Footage of children in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia who are malnourished and suffering due to severe hunger. According to World Food Programme, when it comes to the world population as a whole, “The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.” And for children, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.” (1) Hunger is a major problem today, and there are hundreds of organizations that exist to feed those who are hungry throughout our world. Hunger is a result of our broken and depraved world, and we need to support relief for those who are hungry by donating our time and resources, and we should always pray for them. But would you ever think of hunger as being commanded by Jesus? That’s right. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Of course, this is a different kind of hunger than the starving state of so many countries in our world. But I wouldn’t dismiss those images of the starving just yet. Because if you’ve ever seen someone who was truly starving, they have a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get their attention. This is the spiritual hunger and thirst about which Jesus is talking about. Let’s look at this further:

The Text: Matt. 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

The Meaning of Spiritual Hunger

So far in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount there have been three Beatitudes that have lead up to this point. The first is the recognition of spiritual poverty apart from God (Matt. 5:3), the second is the necessary result of that recognition of lowliness: godly mourning (Matt. 5:4). And then is humility in the way we interact with others (Matt. 5:5). What then, is the meaning of hungering and thirsting for righteousness? What is Jesus telling us about spiritual hunger? Jesus is talking in a way that we can relate. “Hunger” and “thirst” represent the necessities of physical life. In the physical realm, we hunger because we lack nutrients and food that our bodies know they need to survive. Food contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for our survival and functioning. So our stomach aches with hunger pains to notify us that we need food. It’s a natural desire. We hunger because we desire; we desire because we lack; we lack because we have not that which we need. It works the same way with thirst. But does Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for food and water”? No, He says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” So Jesus’ analogy demonstrates that just as a hunger for food and water are necessary for physical life, so hungering for righteousness is necessary for true spiritual life. Without the righteousness of Christ, you cannot be saved (2 Cor. 5:21). John MacArthur writes, “This Beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul.” (2) Similarly, “This hungering and thirsting after righteousness is not a passing feeling or desire—it means something that keeps on until it is satisfied.” (3) Unlike Israel’s love for God in Hosea that was just coming and going: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4). What do morning clouds do? They go away. What happens to dew? It goes away. It doesn’t remain. Our hungering and thirsting for righteousness will not just come and go, and the way to true happiness, the way to being truly “blessed,” is the way of spiritual hunger and thirst.

The Object of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that we are to hunger and thirst “for righteousness,” and righteousness is twofold here. The goal of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is both hungering and thirsting for salvation, and for sanctification. For Salvation. First of all, without a hunger/desire for salvation, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures say, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Without Christ, we are in a state of spiritual depravity and dead-ness (Eph. 2:1-3). And as sinners, we are naturally bent towards sin and evil. We will always choose evil over good; sin over obedience. It’s not that we are as sinful as we could be, but every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. So when it comes to the choices we make, we are always going to choose evil. It’s not that sinful man doesn’t do some good, but even that good he does is with wrongful intentions. In any moment of decision, your greatest desire (in that moment) will determine the decision you make. Let’s imagine that you walk in to McDonald’s for lunch. You realize that you haven’t been eating very healthy lately, so when you look at the menu, you have a desire to get a salad. But you also notice how delicious looking that McDouble is. Your desire to eat that McDouble is now greater than your desire to eat salad, so you order a McDouble. Even if you choose not to eat at all, still your strongest desire in that given moment determines the choice you make (your desire to not eat at all is stronger than choosing a McDouble or a salad). Everything that sinful, unregenerate man does in his rebellion against God, is sin. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Since we are so depraved, God in His grace must give us a spiritual appetite for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. No one has ever got up one morning out of bed and said, “Today, I think I am going to become a Christian!” Since man is prone to sin, God must give man spiritual hunger for the salvation that comes from the Lord. That hunger will lead to an acting on that hunger: repentance and faith, which is also by the grace of God. If you have a sincere desire to know God, you need to act on that desire; God gave it to you. For Sanctification. Not only should we hunger for salvation, but also sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we become more and more like Jesus Christ. It’s the goal of our Christian lives. We should desire to know God more, to love God more, to be more for God. Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Similarly, Paul says “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). Do you hunger to be more for Christ? 

The Result of Spiritual Hunger

Jesus says that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness. . . shall be satisfied.” God will satisfy our hunger for Him. It is that very satisfaction from God that makes us want more. Think about your favorite food. Why is it your favorite food? Most likely you enjoy that food because of the satisfaction that it brings. You continue eating it because you delight in the satisfaction that it brings. Similarly, what Jesus is saying here is that the more you are satisfied by God the more you will want to be satisfied by God. John Piper has labored more than all to bring this truth out, and he is worth quoting at length:

“The more you know him, the more you want to know him. The more you feast on his fellowship, the hungrier you are for deeper, richer communion. Satisfaction at the deepest levels breeds a holy longing for the time when we will have the very power of God to love God. . . Yes, the more you know him and love him and trust him, the more you long to know him. . . The great old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Enjoying God is the way to glorify God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (4)

Are we hungering and thirsting for God? Are we being satisfied by Him or by the temporary things of this “world [which] is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17)? Let us cry out with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). Let us continue to be satisfied by God and the things of God and let us cease from dining at the table of the world where there are only worthless scraps.

The Testing of Spiritual Hunger

1. Dissatisfaction with Self

If you are satisfied with yourself, you will not be spiritually hungry. Again, this can be worked out in two ways: with regards to salvation, and with regards to sanctification. In salvation, the man who is satisfied with himself, and his own righteousness will not see the need for God’s. The great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “He has most need of righteousness that least wants it.” But the hungering sinner will be dissatisfied with himself and will seek after God.

But in regards to our sanctification, and our lives as Christians—if you are hungering for God, you will always want more. No matter how many Bible studies you go through—no matter how many fine sermons you hear—no matter how many chapters of the Bible you read daily—no matter how many times you serve in the local church—no matter how often you pray . . . You will always want more and more of God and continue to cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7:24). It’s not that God wont’ satisfy your longing for Him, but you will always be dissatisfied with yourself in the sense that God is the only One you recognize to satisfy you—and you will always want more of Him.

Are you dissatisfied with yourself? Are you wanting more of God? Sounds like to me you are hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

2. Freedom from Dependence on External Things for Satisfaction

Think about this: A hungry man cannot be satisfied by an arrangement of lovely flowers, by great riches, beautiful music, or pleasant conversation. Anyone hungry must have what they truly need to be satisfied. We understand that—but we are fooled by sin’s deception to think that we need more and more of it to be satisfied, when it is not sin that we need—but God and His righteousness. If you’re not free from depending on other things for satisfaction, you might want to let a little of His grace in and change a few things in your heart.

3. Craving for the Word of God

The Word of God is the most basic spiritual food God provides His children. The more you hunger for God, the more you will want to devour Scripture. Do you have a craving for the Word of God? If you’re hungering and thirsting for righteousness—you will for the Word.

4. Pleasantness of the Things of God

Do you find pleasantness in the things of God—or do they turn you away? What about when He disciplines you? Does that bring satisfaction—well it should; it’s assurance that you belong to Him.

5. Making No Conditions

When our spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness is genuine and sincere—we will make no conditions on finding it—in whatever ways God chooses to dispose it to us. If His righteousness is in the Word of God—we will go to find it there, without making excuses. We will make no excuses or conditions for fulfilling our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Conclusion

In 1908-09, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three of his friends attempted to travel to the South Pole. They set off with four houses to help carry the load. Within weeks, the horses died, their food had ran out, so they tried to get back to base. Altogether, miraculously, they traveled for 127 days total. Sir Ernest recorded this story in a book called The Heart of the Antarctic, and in it he talks about how much time was spent talking about food—elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, plentiful menus. As they staggered along, suffering from hunger, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating.

Well, Sir Shackleton made it back—and as you could imagine, ate like never before. We can understand his obsession with food, when he didn’t have any. Are you like that with spiritual hunger? Is God all you can think about because you are so hungry for Him? Jesus tells us here about a hunger more important than hungering for food—let’s feast on God and His righteousness like we’ve never had it before—and God will keep satisfying us.

Are you hungering for God?


1. World Food Programme, Hunger: Hunger Statistics (www.wfp.org/hunger/stats).
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 177.
3. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 1119-1128.
4. John Piper, Five Points (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 7-8.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” Mean (Matt. 5:3)?

Jesus says in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Similarly, Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit

Sermon on the Mount: The Poor in Spirit (Matt. 5:3)

What’s your idea of happiness? What things make you the most happy? For you it might be time with family, being successful at work, watching Captain America with your girlfriend, or playing football with your buddies. Because we’re all different, there are different things that make us happy. For me, I am happy when I get new books, have good theological discussions, or write college papers on systematic theology (I know, I am a nerd).

But let me just say from the beginning: Jesus’ idea of happiness is a lot farther from ours than we’d like to think. The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount is a section known as the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:2-12). In them, Jesus describes true happiness on His terms. He presents the possibility of people being genuinely happy, but the conditions and their corresponding blessings do not seem to match. He says that the humble will be saved, the sad will be comforted, the gentle will inherit the earth, and the like. By normal human standards, things such as these are not the stuff of which happiness is made. “The world says, “Happy are the rich, the noble, the successful, the macho, the glamorous, the popular, the famous, the aggressive”—John MacArthur (1). But the message from Jesus is just the opposite because His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). And so the first description of true happiness in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about humility.

The Text: Matt. 5:1-3

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Meaning of Poor in Spirit

The word “poor” here is from a Greek verb ptochos meaning “to shrink, cower, or cringe,” as beggars often did in that day. Classical Greek used the word to refer to a person reduced to total destitution, who crouched in a corner begging. As he held our one hand for alms he often hid his face with the other hand, because he was ashamed of being recognized. The term did not mean simply poor, but begging poor. Jesus is speaking here of spiritual poverty. To be poor in spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God.

What is Our Spiritual Poverty Apart From God?

The Scriptures have much to say about our spiritual poorness apart from God. Just to name a few, Romans says that we are haters of God (Rom. 1:30), not seeking Him or doing any good (Rom. 3:11). The prophet Ezekiel says that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20, KJV). If that’s the case (Rom. 6:23), then who has sinned? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Ephesians probably describes our depravity with the most vivid picture: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Further, Paul describes there that we walked with the world, followed Satan, and were “sons of disobedience” (2:2); that we lived in the passions of our sinful flesh, and were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). Similarly in Colossians, we were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). This is only a brief examination of our spiritual poverty apart from God, and being “poor in spirit” is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what his education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or spiritual knowledge.

That is the point of the first Beatitude. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. They know they have no spiritual merit, and they know they can earn no spiritual reward.

Proud or Poor?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gather to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Jesus says that “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13). The Pharisee was listing his spiritual accomplishments, and considered himself to be self-righteous, while the tax-collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven! The Pharisee was proud in spirit; the tax-collector was poor in spirit.

Who are you like most in this story? The proud, self-reliant Pharisee or the humble tax-collector?

Why is Poor in Spirit First?

Why do you suppose that humility is first in the Beatitudes? The Beatitudes are not haphazardly presented. Jesus didn’t just say what Christian characteristics He could remember like “Oh yes, and being pure in heart is also important.” They are in obvious order. Each one suggests the next, and leads to the next. That is why poor in spirit/humility is first. It is the basic element in becoming a Christian. Until a soul is humbled, until we truly realize who we are without Christ, we will not recognize our need for Christ. “The door into His kingdom is low, and no one who stands tall will ever go through it”—John MacArthur (2). Being poor in spirit is the first Beatitude because humility must precede everything else. No one can receive the kingdom until he recognizes that he is unworthy of the kingdom. James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Where self is exalted, Christ cannot be. Where self is king, Christ cannot be. Until the proud in spirit become the “poor in spirit,” they cannot receive the King or the kingdom.

How to Achieve Being Poor in Spirit

How then, do we become poor in spirit? First of all (with respect to salvation), it cannot start with us. It isn’t something we can accomplish in our own power. We are already down; humility simply recognizes this truth. The fulfillment of that recognition depends on God’s saving work at conversion. We are so corrupted by sin that we will never recognize our lowliness and depravity apart from the grace of God. That is why salvation “depends not on human will or exertion (physical or mental effort), but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Humility (being poor in spirit) is not a necessary human work to make us worthy, but a necessary divine work to make us see that we are unworthy and cannot change our condition without God.

But with respect to our Christian lives, we need to strive to attain humility (again, this too is not apart from the grace of God):

The first step in experiencing humility is to turn our eyes off ourselves and look to God. When we study God’s Word, seek His face in prayer, and sincerely desire to be near Him and please Him, we move toward being “poor in spirit.” It is the vision of a holy God in all His greatness, splendor, majesty, and perfection that allows us to see ourselves as sinners by contrast. 

Second, we must starve the flesh by removing the things on which it feeds. You’ve probably heard it said before, “What you feed will live; what you starve will die.” And that is what we must do with our flesh. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Third, we must continually ask God for it. With David we should pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Also, as with every good thing, God is more than willing to give than we are to ask for it, and He stands ready to give it.

The Result of Being Poor in Spirit

What does Jesus say is the result of those who are poor in spirit? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who come to the King in this humility inherit His kingdom. Those who come to the Lord with broken hearts do not leave with broken hearts: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). In giving up their own kingdom, the poor in spirit inherit God’s. Are you poor in spirit? If not, why not?


1. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 145.
2. John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7/ John MacArthur . (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1985), 148.

Theological Reflections: Why Studying Theology is Absolutely Necessary

“Many Christians expect the world to respect the book they neglect.”— E. C. McKenzie

Theology matters. It’s the study of God. It’s been said before that, “What you believe about God is the most important thing about you.” Every Christian in the world is a theologian. That sounds overboard, I know—but think about it for a moment: every believer has an idea of what God is like. Every believer has an idea of the nature of God and what He requires of us. And that is the essence of theology: it is the study of God.

It seems today, however, that if you mention the words theology or doctrine that you get quite a few negative reactions. Few, it seems, want to be seen as “theologians.” Aren’t theologians, after all, just impractical people given over to fussing over Bible trivia, and engaging in doctrinal hair-splitting? If you have harbored such thoughts like that, then what I am saying may be a surprise to you. But as children of God, it only makes sense that we should strive to know all we can about our heavenly Father, His ways and His will for our lives. Taking a casual approach to our beliefs nearly guarantees frustration and misunderstanding in our relationship with God. That’s why theology is important. “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.”—C. S. Lewis (1)

With that being said, why is studying theology absolutely necessary? (2)

1. The Basic Reason

Theology cannot “improve” on the Bible by doing a better job of organizing its teachings or explaining them more clearly than the Bible itself has done. We get our theology from the sufficient Word of God. Still, Jesus commanded His disciples and now commands us also to teach believers to observe all that He commanded. He said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

In order to teach all that Jesus commanded, is simply to teach the content of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the gospels (Matthew-John). But in a broader sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes the interpretation and application of His life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after His resurrection: “I [Luke] have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). “All that Jesus commanded” also includes the Epistles of the New Testament, since they were written under the inspiration and supervision of the Holy Spirit and were also considered to be a “command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thess. 4:15; 2 Peter 3:2; Rev. 1:1-3). So in a larger sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes all of the New Testament.

Additionally, when we consider that the New Testament writings entirely endorse the absolute confidence Jesus had in the authority and reliability of the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s words, and when we realize that the New Testament epistles also endorse this view of the Old Testament, then it becomes evident that we cannot teach “all that Jesus commanded” without including all of the Old Testament (rightly understood, that is) as well.

The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes not only evangelism, but also teaching. And the task of teaching all that Jesus commanded us is, in a broad sense, the task of teaching what the whole Bible says to us today. Therefore, for us to learn what the Bible says, it is necessary to employ theology (the study of God). The basic reason for studying theology, then, is that it enables us to teach ourselves and others what the whole Bible says and teaches, thus fulfilling the second part of the Great Commission (which cannot be divorced from the first part).

2. The Benefits to Our Lives

Of course, the basic reason for studying theology is that it is a means of obedience to our Lord’s command. But there are some additional specific benefits that come from such study:

1. First, studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas. If there were no sin in our hearts, we could read the Bible from cover to cover and, although we would not immediately learn everything in the Bible, we would most likely learn only true things about God and His creation. But with sin in our hearts we retain some rebelliousness against God. At various points there are, for all of us, biblical teachings which for one reason or another we do not want to accept. The study of theology helps us overcome those rebellious ideas. It is helpful for us to be confronted with the total weight of the teaching of Scripture on a particular subject, so that we will more readily be persuaded even against our initial wrongful inclinations. So studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas.

2. Second, studying theology helps us to be able to make better decisions later on new questions of doctrine that may arise. We will not know what new doctrinal controversies will arise in the churches in which we will live and minister ten or twenty years from now. But they will arise, and when they do, Christians will be asking, “What does the whole Bible say about this?” Whatever the new doctrinal controversies are in future years, those who have learned theology well will be much better able to answer the new questions that arise. For example, if you read the older books on systematic theology, there is no addressing of the sinfulness of same-sex marriage. There would be a defining of what the Bible teaches about right marriage, but for the days of older theologians writing these books, same-sex marriage was just not an issue. Today however, you cannot avoid the obvious problem of same-sex marriage. There are denominations even today who have shaky, wrong theologies, and thus approve of same-sex marriage. Who knows what doctrinal controversies will arise in the coming decades/years? Because the Bible is related to every area of life, those who have studied theology well will know what the whole Bible teaches on these controversies.

3. Thirdly, studying theology will help us grow as Christians. The more we know about God, about His Word, about His relationships to the world and mankind, the better we will trust Him, the more fully we will praise Him, and the more readily we will obey Him. Studying theology rightly will make us more mature Christians. If it doesn’t, then we aren’t studying theology rightly. In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in Christian living: Paul speaks of “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3), and says that his work as an apostle was “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1).

Conclusion

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He did not give options, as if we could love God with heart or soul or mind; the command requires all of the above. Loving Him with our minds will naturally entail finding out as much as possible about Him. Just as in any relationship, love compels us to know and understand what He is like, how He works in the world and in us, what He loves, what He desires, what offends Him, and what delights Him. Doing so requires our full attention and our diligent study of theology.


1. Cited in David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006), 18.
2. This is adapted from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 27-30.

 

You’ve Got Questions: Were the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible Transmitted Accurately?

You’ve Got Questions: Were the Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible Transmitted Accurately?

When discussing the Bible with non-Christians, one might hear the objection: “Yes, the Bible reads that way now, but everyone knows that it has been changed.” Does this objection have any substance to it? How do we know that the Bible in our hands is a faithful transmission of the words that the inspired authors originally wrote?

The Old Testament originally was written in Hebrew, with a few Aramaic portions, between 1400 and 430 B.C. The New Testament was written in Greek between A.D. 45 and 90. The original copies of the ancient biblical texts are called autographs. All autographs of biblical books have been lost or destroyed, though we have thousands of ancient copies. The process of studying and comparing these copies to reconstruct the wording of the original is called textual criticism. This area of study flourished in the 16th Century with the introduction of the printing press, the revival of learning in Europe, and the Reformation. Since then, this science has continued to develop, reaching new heights with the discovery of many ancient manuscripts in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Most scholars agree that text criticism has served to confirm the reliable transmission of the Old and New Testament manuscripts. Furthermore, no text in question even affects Christian doctrine. Most unsolved textual issues have little or no doctrinal significance.

Our culture today is very accustomed to technology and advanced methods of communication, so sometimes we have suspicion towards more ancient methods of literature production. However, it should be noted that ancient Jewish rabbis and early Christian scribes usually exercised great precision in the copying of biblical texts. Jewish scribes followed detailed systems for counting letters in manuscripts and checking for accidental variations. Likewise, Christian scribes showed great caution, often having multiple correctors read through their copies to check for errors. Inevitably, all hand-copied manuscripts have some variations, but striking accuracy is seen in most ancient copies of our Old and New Testaments.

Old Testament

Have you ever heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In 1947, the first part of a cache of ancient Jewish documents was discovered in caves near the Dead Sea. A young Arab goat herder investigated a cave after throwing a rock in and hearing a piece of pottery (a scroll jar) break. The documents discovered in these caves apparently belonged to a Jewish sect, the Essenes, who lived in a separatists community in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. In addition to the various sectarian documents and other extra-biblical literature found in the caves, scholars have found portions of all Old Testament books except Esther and Nehemiah. These manuscripts, which date from roughly 250 B.C. to A.D. 50, have come to be called the Dead Sea Scrolls. We have had significant Old Testament manuscripts before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, like the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1008) and the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 900), but the Dead Sea Scrolls (which are nearly identical to the later manuscripts of the Old Testament) pushed the Hebrew manuscript evidence back a millennium earlier. The Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed that the Hebrew books of the Bible were meticulously and faithfully copied.

In addition to ancient Hebrew texts, we also have ancient copies of the Old Testament translated into several other languages: Greek, Latin, Syriac, etc. Ancient translations of the Old Testament sometimes help in the deciphering of a difficult Hebrew word or phrase. More importantly, these texts sometimes can serve as helpful witnesses to variant readings in the ancient Hebrew.

New Testament

Even within the Bible itself, we find evidence of New Testament documents being hand-copied and circulated (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Peter 3:15-16). As of right now, we have nearly six thousand ancient manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of the New Testament. The oldest extant fragment of the New Testament, which is John 18:31-33, 37-38, comes from about A.D. 130. Here’s why is it important to note that we have this many ancient manuscripts: No other ancient text comes even close to having this amount of early textual evidence. F. F. Bruce brings out this truth and is worth quoting at length:

“Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant MSS (manuscripts), but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Live (59 B.C.-A.D. 17) only thirty-five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty manuscripts of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. A.D. 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of his two great historical works depends entirely on two manuscripts, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant manuscripts of his minor works (Dialogus de Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century. The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C. ) is known to us from eight manuscript, the earliest belonging to c. A.D. 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-438 B.C.). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest manuscripts of their works which are of any use are over 1,300 years later than the originals.” (1)

About 95 percent of textual variants in the numerous manuscripts are accidental; the unintentional variations introduced by tired or incompetent scribes. There were errors of sight, errors of hearing, writing, and poor judgment. But the remaining 5 percent of textual variants resulted from intentional activity on the part of scribes. Such changes like revising grammar or spelling, harmonizing similar passages, or conflating the text. (2)

Of course, with so many ancient texts at our disposal, we can dismiss most of the variants listed above, and therefore there is no need to cite the majority of variants in modern English translations. The Bible has proved over the centuries to be reliable and trustworthy, and is indeed “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16b-17). Let us say with the psalmist David, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6).


 

1. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable6th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 11.
2. Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 52-54.

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?

Before answering this question, it’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will a be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means:

Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness.

Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness.

David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness.

Jesus. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek

Sermon on the Mount: The Meek (Matt. 5:5)

“The Christian is altogether different from the world. He is a new man, a new creation; he belongs to an entirely different kingdom. And not only is the world unlike him; it cannot possibly understand him.”—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1)

In our consideration of the Beatitudes, we have already seen that Jesus turns the world’s ideas upside down. The world thinks in terms of strength, power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But Jesus says just the opposite in the third Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Think about what a shock this statement was to the Jews of Jesus’ day. They had ideas of the kingdom which were not only materialistic but military also, and to them the Messiah was the One who was going to lead them to victory. So they were thinking in terms of conquest and fighting in a material sense, and immediately Christ dismisses all that.

The Text

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

The Meaning of Meekness

It’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.

What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”

The Manifestation of Meekness

Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means.

Cooperate with me on this. I am going to present you with various scenarios. Read them and imagine yourself as the person described in them. Then think about what you would do in that situation:

1. You own a lot of land. You have a distant in-law who depends on you for their welfare and their safety. They have all they need from your rightful land, but they are not content with it. What would you do? 

The same thing happened to Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness. 

2. The world is without food and is in a great famine. Before the famine, your own family sold you into brutal slavery. Soon you become the king of the only nation with food. Your family comes to you in need, what would you do?

The same thing happened to Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness. 

3. If someone had tried to kill you multiple times, and they were right “underneath your nose,” and you had the ability to kill them, what would you do?

The same thing happened to David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness. 

4. You are the founder of a great company. You know more than your employees, you make more than your employees, you are way more powerful than your employees. They mess up your company and destroy everything up and the only way they will live is if you become an employee, give all your power away, and then die a humiliating death. Would you do it?

Similarly, Jesus experienced the same thing. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)

The Result of Meekness

Jesus says that those who are meek “shall inherit the earth.” The person who is meek already inherits the earth in this way: A man who is truly meek is a man who is always satisfied, he is a man who is already content. The person who is not satisfied never has enough, he always wants more. On the other hand the satisfied person is happy to enjoy all things. He possess all things and yet those things do not possess him. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). But the phrase “shall inherit the earth” also has a very future implication. The meek person also knows that everything is in the hands of God—his rights, his cause, his entire future. One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children through faith in His Son will rule that domain with Him. “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). We may not always have earthly blessings, but we have the promise of one day ruling and reigning with Christ.

The Necessity of Meekness

What then, does the Bible say about the necessity of meekness?

It is commanded. “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD” (Zeph. 2:3). Similarly, James writes to the believers of the Jerusalem church, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Those who do not have a meek/humble spirit are not able even to listen rightly to God’s Word, much less obey it.

Essential for church unity. Meekness is necessary for living in church unity: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:1-2). Paul commands the Ephesians to live in a way that is worthy of their great calling. How are they to do that? “With all humility and gentleness.” Those are the first characteristics mentioned in Paul’s list of behaviors necessary to live out church unity.

For effective witnessing. Meekness is necessary for witnessing: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter tells the believers to be prepared to defend the faith and to be verbal about their faith. . .”yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Direct fruit of the Spirit. Meekness is necessary evidence of walking in the power of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Conclusion

Are we living in true meekness? Let us face this Sermon on the Mount with all honesty, let us meditate on this statement about being meek; let us look at the examples; above all let us look at Jesus Christ Himself. Let us be finished with ourselves so that He who has bought us at a great price may come in and possess us wholly.


1. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the MountKindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1959-60; Reprinted 2000), Kindle Locations 866-867.

 

Colossians: Christ’s Sufficient Reconciliation (Col. 1:20-23)

The following message was delivered  May 4, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church in Ballard County, KY:

Our Position as Believers: Reconciled

Our position as believers is truly remarkable. There are many terms that describe our position as believers in relation to God and in relation to man as well. The Bible says that we are justified (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24; Titus 3:7), forgiven (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9), adopted (Gal. 4:5-7; Eph. 1:5), and redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). While there are many other descriptions, one of the greatest of those terms to describe who we are in Christ is reconciliation. That’s what Paul’s theme is in our text. The way Paul uses the term in Colossians pictures a thorough, full, and complete reconciliation. Let’s read it together.

The Text: Colossians 1:20-23, ESV

“20 And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

God’s Plan of Reconciliation

Let’s look first at v. 20: “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You may have noticed that our starting place in today’s text is a bit awkward. The reason for starting in v. 20 is because of the language-change. You see that Paul has changed his language from v. 19 in speaking about Christ’s preeminence to v. 20 talking about reconciliation and the first thing he tells his readers about is God’s plan of reconciliation.

Paul writes that “through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God] all things.” That’s a very heavy statement. All things? Paul says here quite clearly that through Jesus Christ, God’s plan is to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. But why would “all things” need to be reconciled to God? If God’s plan is to reconcile all things to Himself, then there must be some type of separation involved, creating the need for reconciliation. For separation is the opposite of reconciliation. What created that need? Well, you remember the creation story in Genesis, don’t you? Do you remember what God said concerning His creation? “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). About light, day, the moon, sun, stars, plants and animals, you read that God said that it was good. But when God looked and saw everything altogether that He had made, including man, He saw that it was very good.

But what happens two chapters later? The Fall. This is where sin enters the world. When evil and sin entered the world, God’s good creation was marred. It was defiled. Sin destroyed perfect harmony between creatures, and sin affected the entire creation. Paul describes this vividly in Romans 8: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (v. 20), creation, Paul says, is in “bondage to corruption” (v. 21), and, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (v. 22). We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe all because of sin.

Now what is to be said of the beauty that we still see in creation? What about the rocks, trees, fish and lakes? This beauty is owing to God’s common grace. That is, God has still continued to allow creation to display forth beauty and greatness even though it is subjected to futility and corruption. There’s a reason animals kill each other. There’s a reason plants and animals die. There’s a reason that creation is not in exact harmony: sin.

But as you know, the Bible gives us the wonderful promises that God will again restore creation. He will recreate and “God will make friends with creation again” (1). Tremendous, dramatic, glorious changes will take place in that time. Paul says again in Romans 8 that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). God and the creation will be reconciled—the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. Finally, “after all is said and done,” there will be a new heaven and a new earth:

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:2).

God will make everything new and will reconcile all things to Himself. That’s the aim Paul is taking here when he says, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (1:20a).

A Word About Universalism

Now some have seen this as a path into the heresy known as universalism. This teaching holds that it doesn’t matter what happens in this life, one day everyone who has ever lived will be saved—God has no real wrath against sinners and one day everyone will be reunited with Him forever and there is no such thing as hell or the lake of fire. That’s a lie straight from the pits of hell and you’d be surprised, utterly surprised, at the number of professing Christians who hold to this view of God and eternity. But those who hold to this view say that this text indicates that even fallen angels and unbelieving sinners will be reconciled to God. Paul cannot mean here that there will be ultimate salvation of everyone. Not everyone is going to be saved—we know that. That’s one thing Jesus taught: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). And Christ will one day say to unbelievers, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then in v. 46 of that chapter, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are no second chances for those who go out into eternity without Christ. It’s against the Scriptures and everything that the Christian faith stands for if you identify with something like universalism. So where do unbelievers and fallen angels fall into this category of reconciliation? They will be reconciled to God in the sense of getting their final judgment. Only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

This all happens through Jesus Christ—this is the extent of the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ; this is God’s plan of reconciliation—“to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).

The Opposite of Reconciliation

It is God’s grand, glorious plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus, but now Paul focuses on his readers in a special way. Before Paul talks about God’s central purpose in reconciliation—reconciling men and women to God, he reminds them of their state of being before reconciliation. He describes the opposite of reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (v. 21).

Paul focuses on his readers here. “And you who once were. . .” Paul is talking about something that these readers were, not something that they are now. And he describes the Colossians’ pre-Christian state in a three-fold way:

1. Position: “you . . . once were alienated” (1:21b).

The Bible actually talks about aliens more than you think. When you think of aliens, however, you probably picture the little green guys trying to abduct humans for research. Or possibly more relevant, illegal aliens, are those who come over to our country illegally. But why do we call the fictional green characters aliens, and why do we call illegal immigrants aliens? Because they are strangers. Aliens would be strangers because they’re not from our planet. Immigrants because they are not from our country. And when it comes to Paul’s readers, this is their position apart from God: strangers. To be alienated is to be cut off from God, a stranger to God, a non-participant in the things of God.

Speaking of those who do not know Christ, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Sin is what separates us from God. Sin is what alienates us from God and creates that need for reconciliation back to our Creator. God is holy and we are not—and that is a problem for us. The Scriptures attest about Him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV), “The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth” (Psalm 34:16), “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV). God is holy and our depraved position apart from Him is alienation/separation. And if nothing’s done about it, it will lead to eternal separation one of these days in the lake of fire where, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). The reason that it is an eternal hell is because sin is an offense against an eternal God. Our position depraved and apart from the saving grace of God is one of damnation: we were once alienated.

2. Intellect/Thinking: “you . . . once were . . . hostile in mind” (1:21c).

Not only alienated, but the Colossians had also been hostile in mind. This literally means that they had a hateful attitude towards God. According to Paul here in this verse, even our intellect is infected by sin. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). The Scripture teaches that the unbeliever’s mind is even corrupt and affected by sin. It doesn’t mean he cannot think, it doesn’t mean that he cannot be philosophical, it doesn’t mean that he has no logic—but it does mean that his mind is corrupted by sin and will not willingly submit to God or the things of God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Our mode of thinking was entirely against God.

There’s an interesting passage in the New Testament about this truth. It’s in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Paul says here that their minds are blinded. Wait a minute. I thought being blind meant that you couldn’t see? That’s the point here. Satan so darkens the minds of unbelievers that they cannot see the light of the gospel—they are blinded; even by their own minds. So don’t be under the impression that you can win people over with philosophy, or even theological discussion. You cannot save a single soul. Only God can regenerate a sinner who is that depraved. Only God can transform a man.

3. Actions/Deeds: “you . . . once were . . . doing evil deeds” (1:21d).

Not only were they alienated from God, and their minds hostile to Him, but they were doing evil deeds. If they are already so depraved that they are separated from God and hostile in their thinking, then it would follow that their actions would result in “doing evil deeds.” Jesus confirms this fact: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). Everything man does in His rebellion against God is sin: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

Indeed, we are in an extremely depraved condition apart from Christ. Your predicament, if you are an unbeliever, is very heavy. We are not as sinful as we could be—God by His common grace restrains some evil in the world. But the Scripture teaches that everything about us, our minds, hearts, and wills are all inclined and bent towards evil and that every faculty of our being is corrupted by sin. The New Testament is replete with passages about who we are before Christ:

“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents” (Rom. 1:30, KJV)

“Dead in trespasses and sins,” “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3).

“We were enemies” (Rom. 5:10).

“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12).

That’s the magnificent thing about salvation. God doesn’t just leave us in our depraved condition. He’d be just and right in doing so. God is not obligated to give grace to anyone—that’s why it’s called grace. It’s undeserved. God reserves the right to give grace to whoever He pleases—He doesn’t have to give grace to any sinner. But thank God He gives grace! God did a great thing on our behalf.

Why is this important to know? Why does the Bible place so much emphasis on our condition before Christ? Well, you will not appreciate your present salvation without remembering your past condition—you will not fully be grateful for your present relationship with God without remembering your past separation from God. If someone has a cold and they take some Mucinex to take care of it, do they normally rejoice, and hop up and down because they no longer have a cold? Not normally, unless they are just a happy person (and probably had too much Mucinex!). But if someone has had a terrible, life-threatening cancer and they receive treatment and beat the cancer. . . Oh there is rejoicing alright. They are very, very thankful. It works the same way in the Christian life. If you do not realize the depth of your sinful condition before Christ, then you will not even begin to realize how great a miracle your salvation actually was!

Too many believers treat their position before Christ like a fake threat. Like they were not in any real danger. It’s like the lady in the circus who spins on the wheel while the knife thrower pretends to throw knives around her. If you ask her at the end, “Don’t you feel glad that’s over? Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?” And she says, “It’s just a trick. The knives pop out of the wheel. What’s to get excited about? It’s just a fake threat” (2).

They say, “Nobody is perfect.” While that’s true, that’s not even scratching the surface of what you were before Christ. Read what the Scripture says about who you were before Christ, because when you recognize who you really were before God transformed you, then you will so much more appreciate your salvation now. Paul even says in Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that at one time you were without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God in the world.”

How often do you ponder what your life was like before Christ? How often are you brought to tears of joy before the presence of Almighty God for saving you from such a depraved position? How often do you allow these things to grip you?

The Means of Reconciliation

Paul never tells us who we were before Christ, without also telling us who we are now in Christ (or what God has done for us to transform us). He never tells us to remember what we are now without remembering what we once were. So Paul has talked about the Colossians’ depraved sinful state and the complete opposite of reconciliation. Now he talks about the means of reconciliation: “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v. 22a).

If we have a need for reconciliation to God then how is that accomplished? Paul says, “He has now [this is present tense] reconciled in His body of flesh by His death.” This is talking about Jesus. Jesus Christ is the one who has brought us to God. All the members of the Trinity work actively in your salvation. The Father initiates your salvation, He plans it. The Son accomplishes your salvation on the cross. The Spirit applies your salvation through regeneration. Now, Christ did a lot of things while He was here on this earth, but the main reason He came was to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are reconciled to God through His death. Your reconciliation to God is owing completely to the death of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t because you were good enough, it wasn’t because you did or said the right things, it was because Jesus died for you! “You contribute nothing to your salvation, except the sin that made it necessary”—Jonathan Edwards.

Are you reconciled today? Are you reconciled to God through Christ?

The Aim of Reconciliation

Paul has talked about God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and now he talks about the aim of reconciliation: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (v. 22b).

In contrast with their three-fold depravity, Paul describes the three-fold aim of Christ’s reconciliation work on behalf of the Colossian believers:

1. “in order to present you holy” (1:22b)
2. “in order to present you . . . blameless” (1:22c)
3. “in order to present you . . . above reproach” (1:22d).

The Evidence of Reconciliation

Paul has described God’s plan of reconciliation, the opposite of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of that reconciliation, and now he concludes this section by speaking on the evidence of that reconciliation. “If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23a).

Paul says here that “continuing in the faith” is evidence that you have been reconciled: “Christ reconciled you in order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him . . . if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast.”

Paul is not saying here that “continuing in the faith” is necessary to your salvation because you are lacking something that Christ didn’t do. It’s necessary in order to prove your salvation, but not necessary because Christ isn’t enough. Christ is mighty to save, He saves to the uttermost, He is able to reconcile fully, completely, and thoroughly—salvation was not just made “possible” for you at the cross—but it was made actual for you at the cross. Christ actually accomplished, bought, and secured your salvation.

So, “continuing in the faith” is the necessary response and the “out-working” of a life that’s been reconciled to God. And the Scripture teaches that if your life does not show evidence of being reconciled to God, then you are not reconciled to God and you are still “alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds,” and you are not saved.

One of the most sobering truths of the Bible is that not all who profess to be Christians are in fact saved. Christ warned us about it: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). And John writes in his epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

No, you can never “lose” your salvation, but there will be a great falling away of those who were never truly saved. Look at Hebrews 6:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of god and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6).

Paul says here in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, we continue to be faithful to Him, continue to serve Him and love Him, if we remain steadfast and stable that it shows forth evidence of our present reconciliation with God.

Are you continuing in the faith? Does your life show evidence that you have been reconciled to God? Can you think of some ways in which God has shown His grace in your life? If not, then heed the words of 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”

The Ministry of Reconciliation

In addition to Paul talking about the evidence of reconciliation, he speaks briefly in this section about the ministry of reconciliation. He writes, “[this gospel] which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (v. 23b).

Paul was made a minister of the gospel. We are all ministers of reconciliation. We are to tell others about Jesus Christ like Paul did. There’s a great passage of Scripture about that:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

We owe people the gospel’s message this side of hell. The proper response to such a great gospel is joyfully sharing it with others. So who are you ministering to? Who has God placed in your life that you need to minister to? “You may be the only Bible people are reading.”—Billy Graham

Conclusion

We’ve seen today: God’s ultimate plan of reconciliation (1:20). Our state before Christ, the opposite of reconciliation (1:21). Christ’s present, real reconciliation work on the cross (1:22). The aim of Christ’s reconciling work (1:22). The evidence of Christ’s reconciling work (1:23). And how we are all made ministers of that gospel (1:23). Where is God stirring in your heart today? In the commands we found in the Scriptures, which are you not obeying? The gospel gives you the power to carry out those commands in obedience, so what are you waiting for? I pray we will be obedient to God and heed the truths gleaned from Colossians concerning this great position we have as believers: reconciled. 


1. John MacArthur, Colossians/Philemon (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1992), 58.
2. Adapted from John Piper, Remember That You Were Hopeless (Desiring God, 1981).