Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews 11’

Ephesians – Beginning of a Bible Study

So I’ve decided to start going through the book of Ephesians and do a study, taking it slowly and really trying to digest what God’s Word says. So I may end up posting all of my learnings on here, or I might just post from time to time when I think something is really cool. I was impressed with God pointing me to this book by what my NIV Study Bible said regarding the theological message of Ephesians: “Unlike several of the other letters Paul wrote, Ephesians does not address any particular error or heresy. Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.” While I know I definitely have sins in my life that need working on, this sounds right up my alley based on where I am spiritually.

I decided to take it super slow and start with just Ephesians 1:1, and I was amazed at how much I was able to get from this seemingly innocuous verse.

Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.” An apostle is to be one who not only follows, but also does the work of; there is not reason I can’t be an apostle of Christ in the same way that Paul was. However, in doing so I must admit great responsibility and great failures in sin, because I can’t be ready to do the work unless my own heart is prepared.

The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important. We, as apostles, must align ourselves with Christ. This is what separates us from everyone else, because plenty of other religions and cults, even worldviews, believe in some form of God. But it is our understanding that Jesus Christ is also God and worthy of the same type of honor as the Father that sets us apart. We are Christians because of Christ, so to talk about who God is to someone who doesn’t believe is too broad, because I can talk to someone about God and a Muslim can talk to someone about God, and that person will be confused because “how do you separate the two?” It is Christ, the mediator between the Father and man, that is the difference, so we must be firm in our alignment with our Savior.

Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase, but when I read it in this context it was just another affirmation that nothing can be done outside of God’s purpose and plan. God will only call apostles as He has intended to call them for all of eternity. What’s more sobering is that if we have that responsibility placed on us, there’s really no way of getting out of it. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and basically all I’ve done is run away from God. But if it’s like a game of tag, I can’t forever avoid being “it.” God will catch me, because He is so much greater than me. But if I let myself be tagged, or even run to God to let Him tag me, how much sooner can I start the work, and how much greater could the potential benefit be?

Those in Ephesus are called “saints.” The study notes in my Bible say that this word carries the idea of dedication to a deity. A cross reference to Romans 1:7 and I get this description: “The basic idea of the Greek for this word is ‘holiness.’ All Christians are saints in that they are positionally ‘set apart’ to God and are experientially being made increasingly ‘holy’ by the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that all of this connotation of Christians happens before Paul explains sanctification, and it looks like the words “sanctification” and “saint” probably come from the same root in the Greek. So those in Ephesus were already on the journey down this process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, and I can relate. It is living within the will of God and separating yourself for the relationship with Him. I guess it’s also this separation that allows us to clearly understand what it is we’re supposed to do, since we are focused on God and not on the world, so it’s easier to hear His voice.

These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.” We studied the word “faithful” in Bible study last week as it relates to God’s character, and it is a statement of keeping the promises made, or keeping the covenant. So in a sense, Paul is applauding the Ephesians for continuing to hold fast to God’s promises, although what’s interesting is that the covenant God makes with us doesn’t really get affected by us. God will keep His promises, whether we act or whether we rebel. But the Ephesians were demonstrating the “confident hope” laid out in Hebrews 11, and only in doing that does it seem like we can develop serious spiritual growth.

As part of being “in Christ Jesus,” they have the privilege of being included into the reward of His inheritance through the death of Christ. Notice the difference between “of Christ Jesus” and “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “of Christ Jesus” means we are to be aligned with Him, just like President “of the United States” shows where the President’s allegiance lies. However, “in Christ Jesus” means that we are not just aligned with Him, but part of the family. It is an inclusive statement, meaning we share in His joy, His love, and all of the things that make Him God. This includes the holiness and graciousness that are a part of His nature, so it ties right back to the idea of the “saints” and a common theme that runs through this book.

My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this. In a way, I have been sort of frustrated with God, because I’m having to use arguments that have the potential to swell up my pride, and as I read last night in “Mere Christianity,” “Pride comes directly from Hell.” It is the devil’s sin, and it is my greatest weakness. From this all of the other sins I fail at daily arise. God, I need Jesus to lean on in these discussions. I need to make sure I see these people through His lens, and He loves these people so dearly that He has a deep desire to see them be exposed to His truth. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of that, but I feel so weak. But the verse God keeps reminding me of is that “Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” So I will answer the call, but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

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Hall of Faith – Jephthah???

Most people who either actively read their Bible or attend church on a regular basis have probably heard a reference to the “Hall of Faith.” For those who may not know, this points to Hebrews 11, where the author of Hebrews calls out by name some of the Old Testament believers who exemplified great faith, and in some cases specifically where this faith showed its nature.

I recall recently talking about Samson and how he continually let Delilah and the Philistines attempt to take him down, and how he never learned. A friend made a comment in the vein of, “Yeah, and yet he’s mentioned in the Hall of Faith. Strange, isn’t it?” So I went back to the Hall of Faith chapter to see what exactly it was that earned Samson a place of recognition among the greats. Unfortunately, he is just listed in a series of names, so there is no exact specification for his inclusion, but it was the name after his that got me thinking. Jephthah?!

For starters, WIFE and I just finished the book of Judges in our attempt to read through the entire Bible in a year. After actually reading through the whole book, it’s evident to me that Judges is a book filled with chaos. People attacking people and not listening to people and breaking promises and making promises they don’t really intend to keep. Indeed, the common phrase running through many of the verses of Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Which brings me to Jephthah. We find this man in the midst of all of the chaos of Judges, yet like Samson he is included in the Hall of Faith. Why? A little background on Jephthah might help.

Jephthah was born the son of a prostitute (which isn’t terrible; after all, Rahab –called out by the author of Hebrews as a prostitute– is also mentioned in the Hall of Faith), and his brothers basically ostracized him from the family, saying he was not one of the real brothers. After the people of Gilead (Jephthah’s father) were attacked by the Ammonites, they called on Jephthah (referred to first as “a mighty warrior”) to lead them.

After scorning them for their treatment of him and making sure he would be their leader if he helped, he sent a message to the leader of the Ammonites, asking why they were attacking and after a couple of back-and-forths, is basically ignored by the Ammonite king. So Jephthah leads his men and defeats the Ammonites.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and may be the reason for his name in the Hall of Faith. Jephthah made a vow to God that if God would grant him the victory, He would sacrifice (as a burnt offering; Judges 11:31) the first thing that came out of his house when he returned in triumph. As luck would have it, the first thing out of the house was his only daughter. Jephthah, as any father would be, is distraught and tears his clothes. However, here’s the test of the man–he informs his daughter of the vow, she understands and agrees and after two months to spend with her friends, he goes through with the sacrifice!!!

Wow. As a new father, I know that if I made such a vow, I would probably say, “Um, OK Lord, what else can I give you instead, because You’re not getting my daughter.” Even Abraham, when told to sacrifice Isaac, didn’t actually have to go through with it. How strong a man of faith was Jephthah, not only in trusting the Lord to deliver the Ammonites into his hand but following through on a vow that cost him the life of his only daughter.

I’m sure Jephthah is rejoicing with his daughter in heaven now, but it is such faith that people today should strive to achieve. That no matter what happens, what we promise to the Lord is sacred, and we need to treat it as such, because He knows better than we do why He gives us the things he does, be it possessions, wealth, suffering or anything else.

Jephthah might not have been the smartest cookie in the jar, but he without a doubt was one of the most faithful and God-honoring, so I not only support but now understand why his name is mentioned in Hebrews. No doubt the recipients of the original letter of Hebrews did also. Hopefully modern-day recipients will observe and take note.