“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

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“In the Lord”: Children, Obedience, and the Gospel (Ephesians 6:1–3)

In Ephesians Paul calls the church to walk in wisdom by the power of the Spirit. This includes children. And in this week’s sermon, we saw how children in the Lord (believing children) are motivated to obey and honor their parents.

Indeed, in only three verses (Ephesians 6:1–3) there are a lot of things to consider, especially with the way Paul uses Exodus 20:12 to motivate children to obey their parents. Take time to listen to the sermon online, as it considers how the promise of inheritance in Exodus 20:12 is applied to believing children. You can read the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below.  Continue reading

Living Long in the Land: Reading Ephesians 6:1–3 through the Lens of the New Covenant

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Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
— Ephesians 6:1–3 —

In preparation for this Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 6:1–3, I have spent considerable time thinking about the way Paul is quoting the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12 LXX). And in my week of study, I have not found a satisfactory answer to the question of how he’s applying the law to the new covenant people of God. Many believe Paul is directly applying the law without change; others suggest he is altering it as he leaves off God’s specific promise of land to Israel; still others, just develop principles from Ephesians 6 without consideration of the covenantal structure of the Bible.

In all, no one I found wrestled with the way in which the commandment to honor father and mother was and is changed by the finished work of Christ. Therefore, in what follows I want to consider Ephesians 6:1–3 in light of the shift from the old covenant to the new.

But to do that, it is important to see how Paul’s words build upon the matrix of wisdom, righteousness, and reward (i.e., inheritance) that are outlined in the law and especially in the Proverbs. In the context of Paul’s letter, he gives instructions to wives and husbands (5:22–33), children and fathers (6:1–4), and slaves and masters (6:5–9); these are all application of Spirit-filled wisdom (see Ephesians 5:15–21). Likewise, his instructions continue to apply the righteous standards of God’s people outlined in Ephesians 4:17–5:14. And finally, he seeks to motivate children by the promise of inheritance, a long and well-pleasing life in the land. In short, like the Proverbs wisdom, righteousness, and blessing are found together in Ephesians.

From these contextual observations, then, it makes sense to turn to Proverbs.In Proverbs, “sons” are called to walk in the way of wisdom and righteousness, such that they might enjoy the blessings of the covenant. That is, inheritance promised in the law is conditioned on wise and righteous living. Therefore, to grasp the fullness of what Paul is saying in Ephesians 6, I believe we should spend ample time considering what Proverbs says (with a little help from Psalm 119) about wisdom, righteousness, and reward.   Continue reading

How to Apply the Land Promise to Children: A Case Study in Ephesians 6:1–3

aaron-burden-236415In Ephesians 6:1–3 Paul calls believing children (i.e., children in the Lord) to obey (v. 1) and honor (v. 2) their parents. In verse 1, Paul gives the motivation, “for this is right,” and in verses 2–3, he motivates children with the fifth commandment, ‘the first commandment with a promise.’ And importantly, the promise says, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land [or, on the earth].”

Because this promise is rooted in the covenant Yahweh made with Israel at Sinai (see Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16), it’s worth asking, “How should we apply this to the church today?” This is especially worth asking, when we see how Paul has applied the work of Christ to Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11–22) and how he has intentionally left off the words “that the Lord your God is giving you”—words that specified this promise for Israel.

Indeed, as many commentators have observed, Paul seems to be enlarging God’s promise to Israel for all those who are in Christ—both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, we are helped to see how Paul cites this verse, as it sheds light on this passage to children, and it helps us to better read our Bibles.

Therefore, with that in mind, I share a handful of quotations that help us think carefully about this passage.   Continue reading

Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Canonical Reading

bill-williams-3302And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
— Genesis 1:28 —

Few commands in Scripture are more important than the first one: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

In Genesis 1 we learn God made mankind in his image and after his likeness. The purpose of this “imaging” is disputed and multi-faceted (as I’ve described here). However, it is clear that the first command is to be fruitful and multiply, a pregnant command if there ever was one.

In fact, from the placement of this command—the first chapter of the first book in the Bible—we see how programmatic this command is. It is fundamental to being human, and therefore it applies to every one of us. At the same time, from a canonical reading of Scripture we learn how this phrase repeats and develops, so that it bears significance for more than just having babies. In other words, though it never loses this meaning (child-bearing is an implicit part of humanity), the progress of revelation also shows how fruitfulness relates to the Word of God, regeneration, and the Great Commission.

So, in what follows, I will list out many places where this language (“be fruitful and multiply”) occurs, with a few comments along the way.  Then, I will list four ways that reading Genesis 1:28 canonically helps us understand this verse and the whole structure of the Bible. Continue reading

Grasping the Covenantal Love of Psalm 136

zoriana-stakhniv-347480Psalm 136 is a glorious, antiphonal Psalm detailing the steadfast love of God with the various actions of God’s redemption throughout history. A brief reading of the Psalm notices the Psalm’s uniqueness, where every attribute of God or demonstration of power is followed by the refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) or “for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (NASB).

In all, the Psalm praises God for who he is (vv. 1–3), what he has done in creation (vv. 3–9), what he has done for Israel in redemption (vv. 10–22), and what he has done for “us in our low estate” (vv. 23–26). The last four verses seem to reflect a move from history to personal experience.

Certainly, in these 26 verses, the Psalmist is using repetition to stress the covenant love of God. Yet, it is tempting to skip over the refrains,  thinking I’ve read this before. But this is to miss the force of God’s love, if the reader replaces “his steadfast love endures forever” with some kind of mental “ditto.” Indeed, this repeated explanation for God’s action reveals much about God’s love and works powerfully to impress his love on our hearts.

Therefore, lets consider five truths about God’s covenantal love, that may help us better hear Psalm 136 and give praise to God. Continue reading

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8

Today I preached Matthew 5:8, which promises that the pure in heart will see God. In truth, everyone will one day see God. The question becomes, Will that beatific vision be a reason for rejoicing? Or, will it be a moment of terrifying judgment?

I pray for all who read these words or listen to this message, that seeing God would be the pinnacle of joy, and that God would purify your heart so that you might see Him. In this sermon, I considered three points

  1. What does it mean to see God?
  2. What does the Bible say about the heart?
  3. How can you have a pure heart?

If you long to see God, ponder the words of Matthew 5:8 and ask God to make your heart pure as only he can.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Spirit-Empowered Service is a Mark of True Obedience

For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked.  Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath.  However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens.  Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient.  In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words.  Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).

It is striking to see how this people has changed.  Which makes me ask: How?  How did they become obedient?  And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?

Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.

The Power of the Spirit

One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle.  Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work.  Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.

This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40.  In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit.  We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men.  They needed God’s help.  Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit.  I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit.  Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say?  Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.

So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit.  Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit.  God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation.  In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.

To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle.  Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended.  In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.

So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience?  My answer is that it was the Spirit.  Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word.  But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.”  That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.

Traversing the Covenantal Divide

So how might Christians apply this reality today?

Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively.  As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples.  He is no longer restricted to Israel.  Rather, He  is given to everyone for whom Christ died.  Likewise, his work is more interior.  He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells.  He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.

In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today.  For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally.  While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.

With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work.  Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.

Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


The Wisdom of God is Seen in Intended Obsolescence

If God is the architect of the Old Covenant, and the Bible says that the Old Covenant failed (Hebrews 8), the question may rightly be asked: Did God create something that did not work?  Did the sovereign, omnipotent God make a lemon?  Was the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-13) a repair job?

Hardly!

The relationship of the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, shows the unfathomable riches of God’s wisdom! (Rom 11:33-36).

On this challenging subject of covenantal relations, Barry Joslin gives an inspiring (but not inspired) vision of the way God wisely designed the first covenant with “purposed insufficiency.”  God’s plan did not fail.  It was designed to break down, so that Christ’s better covenant could be installed for eternity.  Professor Joslin explains,

The inadequacy of the first covenant espoused in verse 7 centers on the inabilities of its sacrificial system to deal with sin and in the “rebellious hearts” and “stiff necks” of the people (recall [Hebrews] 3:7-4:13 and the indictment of Ps 95).  The criticism here [Heb 8] comes from God, the speaker.  This is significant given that he was responsible for making the first covenant.  God, the covenant-maker, established a covenant which he knew to be anticipatory and limited in its abilities.  He knew that it would be insufficient and that its sacrificial system would ultimately not be acceptable to him in order to take away sin (9:1-10:18). Therefore one must pause and make the assertion that God had, in this manner, always planned for a [New Covenant] that would be superior to the old, and one that would consist of the blessings both to take away sin as well as to make obedience a hallmark of the NC People.  Thus [Hebrews] 8:7 reinforces the point that the first covenant was not a failure, but was insufficient due to its built-in insufficiencies that anticipated a new arrangement.  Therefore the [Old Covenant] fulfilled its divinely-ordained anticipatory purpose (Barry Joslin, Hebrews, Christ, and the Law: The Theology of the Mosaic Law in Hebrews 7:1-10:18, 183-185).

From before the foundation of the world, God had planned the salvation of his people, and from Genesis 1:1 until the cross of Jesus Christ, God’s history was being worked out according to his sovereign and wise plan.  The intended obsolescence of the Old Covenant is just one feature of God’s perfect wisdom refracted through redemptive history.  It is for this reason that all the redeemed should study the works of God (Ps 111:2), so that they may praise with Paul,

Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has know the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Amazed at the wisdom of God in redemptive history, dss