Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ephesians 4:17-32

Prison Epistles
Living As Children Of Light
Ephesians 4:17-32

SEARCH FOR AN HONEST MAN — I love this story which reportedly came from Sports Illustrated (I do not know which issue):
The game was played in Wellington, Florida.  In it, a seven-year-old first baseman, Tanner Munsey, fielded a ground ball and tried to tag a runner going from first to second base.
The umpire, Laura Benson, called the runner out, but young Tanner immediately ran to her side and said, "Ma'am, I didn't tag the runner."  Umpire Benson reversed herself, sent the runner to second base, and Tanner's coach gave him the game ball for his honesty.
Two weeks later, Laura Benson was again the umpire and Tanner was playing shortstop when a similar play occurred.  This time Benson ruled that Tanner had missed the tag on a runner going to third base, and she called the runner safe.  Tanner looked at Benson and without saying a word, tossed the ball to the catcher and returned to his position.
Benson sensed something was wrong.  "Did you tag the runner?"  She asked Tanner.
His reply: "Yes."
Benson then called the runner out.  The opposing coaches protested until she explained what had happened two weeks earlier.  "If a kid is that honest," she said, "I have to give it to him."
It may be that no Christian characteristic has suffered more in our society than honesty.  It's lacking in the workplace, it's lacking in many of our marriages, it's lacking in our government, and sometimes it's even lacking in our churches.  Like Diogenes of ancient Greece, we sometimes feel the urge to take our lantern and begin our search for an honest man.
There is something about Christians that should stand out like a neon sign on a dark night.  Jesus wants his people to be known as a people of truth.  We should establish a reputation, like Tanner, for speaking the truth even when it would benefit us to do otherwise.  Then, and only then, will those around us trust what we say without hesitation, without wondering whether we really mean what we say or not.
"Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." (Ephesians 4:25)
May God help you to be that person of truth that Diogenes was looking for (and God still is, too).

Opening Questions — Get Us Thinking:
· What determines our actions?

Instructions for Christian Living — Ephesians 4:17-32
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds;24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Research Questions — “Dig Deeper” to find God’s Will
1. Paul "insisted on it in the Lord" so what is he really saying to them and us today?
2. What does it mean to be "darkened in understanding"?
3. According to verses 17-19, how do the mind, heart and conscience influence the actions of non-believers? How are Christians to deal with these realities?
4. In verse 20 Paul starts with a contrast, is the picture Paul presents of the world gloomy pessimism?
5. How does Paul describe his readers' past life when they walked "as Gentile" or the behavior of the "old" self? The "new" self? v. 22
6. How would you compare moral standards today with the moral standards in Paul's day?
7. How do you go about "putting off" and "putting on"? Can the Christian ever attain a complete transformation in this life?
8. How important is truth, and how evil is falsehood? v. 25
9. Anger -- what is it, why is it, how do you overcome it?
10. Stealing -- how does it feel to experience theft? What should we be doing?
Reflective Questions — Live it today.
1. What are the positive and/or negative motives which prompt you to live a Christian life? Where do you feel you are making progress in your Christian life?
2. According to verse 29, what should come out of our mouth?
3. How do we avoid grieving  the Holy Spirit?
4. Of the challenges Paul gives to the Christian in the last two paragraphs, what are the top two you need to work on?
5. What have you learned about forgiveness?
6. How does this equip us be a better disciple and help empower us to “make disciples”?
 Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.
 -- Proverbs 16:32

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Ephesians 4:1-16

Prison Epistles
Church Family — Unity
Ephesians 4:1-16

Years ago John Gipson wrote this on UNITY —  No principle is more clearly urged in the New Testament than the unity of the body of Christ-the church. This is insisted upon in the most earnest manner. Listen to the prayer of Jesus in John 17, or read Paul's letters (especially 1 Corinthians and Ephesians).
We all should rejoice when unity is taken seriously. As Jesus knew, divisions among His followers lead to unbelief rather than faith. No wonder then the Bible calls upon us to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This exhortation is immediately followed by the words, "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 us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). This description of unity is comprehensive and unique, composed of seven elements
It is troubling when men willfully ignore God's plan, or pare down these basic requirements for oneness. While applauding the concern for unity, the method of achieving it without regard to these seven elements seems very presumptuous.
To think of one or two items in this list being "essential," while culling out the others taught by the same Holy Spirit is to elevate our frail, limited selves to sit in judgment on the works and ways of the Lord.
Since when have we become so wise that we know better than God?

Opening Questions — Get Us Thinking:
· What is your favorite team sport?

Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ — Ephesians 4:1-16
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why ita says:
 “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 
9(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regionsc ? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Research Questions — “Dig Deeper” to find God’s Will
1. How important does this passage say "unity" in the church (the body of Christ) is?
2. Calling brings about responsibility? How responsible do you feel towards unity and what can you do about it?
3. Would you say the church Jesus wanted has more "servants" or more "masters"? Why?
4. What is going on in Ephesus? From what Paul says, what are they doing? Not doing?
5. How do the qualities or attitudes in vv. 2-3 promote unity? How does viewing God as our Father add to our unity?
6. Is Jesus Lord of your belief system? How vital are the doctrines Jesus has given us? vv. 4-6
7. How should one view the grace of God? v. 7
8. How does Paul view the leaders in God's church as a gift? vv. 8-11
9. Why are there no apostles today?
10. What is the real purpose and goal of these gifts? vv. 12-13
11. How would you describe a mature Christian. v. 13
12. Will the entire Christian church ever be unified on earth? v. 13 What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us?
13. What kind of disciples are being developed? How can we be better disciples and make more disciples? vv. 14-16
 Reflective Questions — Live it today.
1. Are you living up to the "calling you have received" v. 1      In your work? Your home? Your relationships?
2. According to v. 15 what must be spoken? How must it be spoken?
3. Are you more likely to "speak the truth" or "in love" try to keep the peace at any price? To achieve a balance, what do you need to learn?
4. How does this equip us be a better disciple and help empower us to “make disciples”?

Mark Twain said once that the church is a place where a nice respectable person stands in front of other nice, respectable people and urges them to be nicer and more respectable. If that is all the church does, it is leading people down the wrong path.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ephesians 3:14-21

Prison Epistles
Prayer — Privilege and Power
Ephesians 3:12-21

 A 60-year-old couple was celebrating their 40th year of marriage.   During the celebration, a genie appeared and said, "Because you have been such a loving couple all those years, I would like to give you each one wish."
The wife quickly chimed in, "I want to travel around the world."  The genie waved his arms and, POOF!,  she had the tickets in her hand.
Next, it was the husband's turn.  He paused for a moment, then said shyly, "Well, I'd like to have a wife 30 years younger than me."   The genie waved his arms and, POOF!, he was 90.
We seem to be fascinated by stories of magic genies granting wishes (why is it usually three wishes?).  Which of us hasn't sat and wondered at some point in time, "If a genie granted me three wishes, what would I wish for?"
God is not, as some imagine Him, a magic genie waiting at our beck and call to give us everything we ask for (see James 4:3).  But there is certainly that level of power and ability at His disposal.  Listen to these words of Paul:
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV).
God is able to do more than I ask of Him.  That's pretty amazing, considering that I have some pretty difficult requests.  Furthermore (and this is really mind-boggling), God is able to do more than I can even imagine!  I don't know about you, but I can imagine quite a bit.  Yet, Paul assures us that God is not only able to do all that we ask or imagine -- he is able to do more, immeasurably more!
When things in life are beyond my control, I find comfort in knowing that God has such power -- not the power of an imaginary genie but the power of a living awesome Father.  Sometimes we offer to pray for others saying, "It's the least I can do."  How wrong we are.  Considering the power of God, it's the most we can do!

Opening Questions — Get Us Thinking:
· What do you really and truly want deep inside your soul?

Paul’s Prayer for Church’s Spiritual Growth— Ephesians 3:12-21
12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love18may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
 Research Questions — “Dig Deeper” to find God’s Will
1. Paul’s prayer for strength and insight resumes from his thought broken off in v. 1 and reports his prayer for the readers to understand God’s power. Do you find it difficult to pray without giving your thoughts of perspective? Why?
2. What frame of mind should we have when we pray? Vv. 12-13
3. What is Paul asking God to do? Why does he use the terms “Father” and “family”?
4. How does the Holy Spirit strengthen the inner man with power? v. 16
5. In this passage, who is the lover? Who is being loved? How would you describe this love?
6. Although God’s love for us cannot be measured by any comprehensible standard, God wants us to know this ocean of love. John 3:16 When have you felt overwhelmed by the love of God?
7. Looking at verse 18, when does this happen? What will this “Strength” enable us to do?
8. How much of God is in you? How can we be completely “filled” if we feel we are on empty?
9. What are some observations you make about prayer from this passage? What are some things you have learned about prayer in your lifetime?
10. What does the promise in verse 20 mean? How have you seen it to be true?
 Reflective Questions — Live it today.
1. If a person knew only rejection and pain in their relationships, how can this person come to understand the love of God in a personal way?
2. What is our “power source”? 2 Timothy 1:7
3. Reflect on Christ's love is WIDE enough to include every person, LONG enough to last through all eternity, DEEP enough to reach the worst sinner, and HIGH enough to take us to heaven. Can we fully explain the love of Christ to a sinner? 1 John 4:8
4. How is it that in prayer we usually receive more than we ask? Psalm 55:17 Someone said, “what if you only had today what you thank God for yesterday.”
5. How does this equip us be a better disciple and help empower us to “make disciples”?
 For the church to function effectively, God’s dynamic and unlimited love must be its driving force. Paul talked about it, so as we learn how much God loves us, we will realize anything is possible with God. He is able to do far more  than we can ask...then we will discover His restoration and healing in our lives and relationships.