You are hereENTRY 228: DEC 13-16 Paul’s Answered Prayers, House Arrest, Wrap Up Of The Book Of Acts Acts 20:3-38; Acts 21-28; Colossians; Ephesians
ENTRY 228: DEC 13-16 Paul’s Answered Prayers, House Arrest, Wrap Up Of The Book Of Acts Acts 20:3-38; Acts 21-28; Colossians; Ephesians
This entry covers FOUR days of reading and is full of insights into PAUL’S PRAYER LIFE, GOD’S WISDOM IN ANSWERING PRAYERS, TRUSTING IN GOD AND HIS ULTIMATE SOVEREIGNTY, PAUL’S LEADERSHIP, COMMITMENT & DEDICATION, EXALTING GOD, PRAYER, FIGHTING PAGAN THINKING WITH SPIRITUAL THINKING, GOD’S LOVE, LIVING AS CHILDREN OF THE LIGHT, SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIPS, and THE ARMOUR OF GOD.
By the way,
are you wondering
what to buy your friends for Christmas?
The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order,
also known as The Daily Bible, by F. LaGard Smith,
published by Harvest House Press, is one of my favourite Bibles.
I have been using it since 1984. It’s available in many bookstores and at Amazon. I don’t get a commission – I just to love to share
my favourite things!
That’s my attempt at a Christmas tree ha ha!
In this entry, we are picking up in Acts 20:3b, which Dr Smith presumes to have taken place in the spring of AD 58. First off, Luke informs us that Paul had planned to go one way, but because of persecution, he went another.
Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.
Look at all the insights in that small paragraph:
- • Paul made some plans, but he trusted in God’s leading to direct him to his final destination.
- • God can use persecution for the good.
- • Paul picked up guys to train from most of the towns he visited, and they followed him to learn from him, later to be sent back to their own areas or to lead other churches.
These insights are convicting and also encouraging to me as I look for ways that the Holy Spirit is leading in my life and leadership. I am also reminded that, no matter what stage I am at in life, I need to be sharing with younger women to help them keep on carrying the torch to the next generation.
The following section of scripture surely doesn’t describe a humorous situation, but it has brought a smile to many a minister’s face – Paul’s preaching made someone fall asleep! Wow – a two thousand year old tradition! (Perhaps you can quote that to someone the next time you nod off during a sermon…) Of course, in this case, Paul had been preaching for hours and the poor guy only fell asleep at midnight. Unfortunately for Eutychus, he was seated at a window, and fell three stories! But fortunately for Eutychus, an apostle with the ability to heal was the preacher, and the young man’s life was restored! You have to love Paul’s optimism, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Ha ha! You can bet that was one Sunday service no one forgot! And it woke everyone up that Paul kept on preaching until daylight! Good grief! Someday, we can look for Eutychus in heaven and get his version of the story!
The next few verses give us a glimpse of “a day in the life of Paul”, and help us to see his work ethic and his great love for the people and his mission:
We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus.
Luke tells us that Paul walked from Troas to Assos on foot while Luke and some of the others went by boat. Now here is a guy who spent days walking to Troas (see verses 3-6) even though he could have taken a boat, just so he could go through Macedonia, then on his last night there, he preached all night, not to mention raised someone from the dead – surely he was exhausted! However, he chose to continue traveling by foot so that he could encourage disciples along his journey. Perhaps Paul knew that it was the last time he would see these folks on earth, but even then, it shows how much he loved them. What a heart… Paul was a true servant leader!
Even though Paul wanted to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, he couldn’t bear to pass by Ephesus without spending time with the elders there. Again, what love! Luke was so moved by Paul’s last moments with those men that he recorded it for us – more insights into Paul’s big heart!
Some insights about leadership from this passage:
1-Hands-on Leadership – Paul taught night and day, both publicly and house to house, and worked hard to “help the weak”.
2-Christ-centered Leadership – Paul kept his message simple, urging others to “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus,” and committing them to “the word of His grace”.
3-Bold Leadership – Paul didn’t hesitate to preach anything that would be helpful, in fact, “the whole will of God”.
4-Sacrificial Leadership – Paul, who had already been quite persecuted, knew that even harder times were coming, but he kept going, determined to “complete the task”.
5-Realistic Leadership – Paul didn’t sugar coat the fact that some brothers would fall and try to poison others. He just warned the elders to “be on (their) guard.”
6-Emotional Leadership – Even though Paul was logical in his writings, he was no “Mr Spock”. He preached passionately and wept openly, especially when saying goodbye.
7-Unselfish Leadership – Paul didn’t abuse his position in order to gain materially from others. Instead, he led by example in order to pass on the teaching of Jesus that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
8-Prayerful Leadership – We know from reading Paul’s letters that he prayed for the churches and that he prayed constantly. This passage shows us that he found it important to pray with others as well.
In the days following the brief hiatus in Miletus, Paul and his companions made a beeline for Jerusalem, stopping over at various ports in the Mediterranean. They stayed in Tyre for a week, presumably to rest, as well as to strengthen the church there. It is heartening to see how close Paul was to the disciples everywhere, including the women and children. The next place Paul stopped to rest was in Caesarea, where he stayed in the home of Philip the Evangelist, presumably the same Philip who had converted the Ethiopian eunuch. Luke recorded that Philip had “four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” God loves to use single women in the kingdom, perhaps even more than married women, since they are less distracted by the worries of this life (see I Cor 7). The prophet, Agabus, traveled all the way to Caesarea to foretell of Paul’s coming arrest and imprisonment and how Paul would ultimately be handed over to the Gentiles. The disciples there begged him to not go on with his journey (just as the disciples in Tyre had plead with him also) but Paul had already accepted his fate and told them that he was ready to die for Jesus in Jerusalem. The disciples surrendered with “The Lord’s will be done,” and accompanied him to Jerusalem, where he stayed in the home of one of the early converts.
The first week in Jerusalem went well, and we can see how close Paul and his gang were to James and the Jerusalem elders. Luke wanted his readers to know how Paul went the extra mile to “practice what he preached”, or rather, what he wrote, in 1 Corinthians 9:20,
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in the 21st century, all it takes is a few negative people to cause a firestorm, and the same old angry Jews from Asia who had been
persecuting Paul since his first missionary journey were still following him around causing trouble! Of course, they only had a case if they spread lies, but it is easy to incite “follower-types” with unproven accusations, half-truths and heated emotional arguments in the name of defending one’s religion. Poor Paul – after he had gone out of his way to not offend the Jewish Christians, he was being dragged and beaten yet again! Fortunately, the Holy Spirit arranged for the Roman troops commander to be there and to stop the crowd from killing Paul. Assuming that there was a reason behind the outrage, the Roman leader arrested Paul and put him in chains. Paul, who still managed to have his wits about him in spite of the beating, wisely spoke to the commander in Greek, and then spoke to the whole crowd in Aramaic, once more showing his ability to be all things to all men.
Paul then told his conversion story. He began by telling how he was a trained Jewish leader and how he had persecuted Christianity himself, even putting others to death. However, his life changed on the road to Damascus, when he heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul told of how he was struck blind, and how he obeyed Jesus’ command to go to Damascus, and wait for further instructions. Then Paul told how Ananias restored his sight, gave him his charge, and baptized him.
The crowd listened to this captivating story until he got to the part about it being God’s will for Paul to preach to the Gentiles – then they exploded in anger, threw their cloaks in the air, stirred up dust, and cried out, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
In order to pacify the crowd, the Romans decided to flog him. At that point, Paul pulled out his Roman citizenship card, asserting that he was born a citizen, which made the military man nervous (especially since the commander had needed to buy his own citizenship). He decided to call off the flogging and do some actual investigating – what a concept! He brought Paul before the Sanhedrin, thinking that this would help him get to the bottom of things. Paul, in fulfilment of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10 about how the Holy Spirit would tell them what to say when they were in front of kings, etc., spoke up about the resurrection, since he knew that would divide the Pharisees and Sadducees. This caused the Sanhedrin to break out in violence (sounds like the Taiwanese Parliament!) and the Roman commander once again had to rescue Paul from the so-called religious right! Later, the apostle got an encouraging shot in the arm from Jesus himself:
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The next morning, more than 40 Jews took an oath not to eat or drink until they killed Paul. Wow! That is what I call getting personal! They went in cahoots with the chief priests and elders – it was a true conspiracy! But God is more powerful than even a bunch of starving angry zealots, and the Holy Spirit worked it out so that Paul’s nephew got to know about the plot and informed Paul. After what they had been through the past few days, Paul had some confidence in the Roman commander, so he made sure the information got to him. By this time, the commander also had probably realized that Paul was much more sensible than the crazy people that were trying to kill him, so he not only believed Paul’s nephew, but he also called for a huge contingent of soldiers to protect Paul! God certainly has a sense of humour!!
The commander, who we discover was named Claudius Lysias, wrote a letter to the Governor, Felix, explaining the situation. It is always fun to see how God uses government officials to fight for his servants! The governor kept his new prisoner under guard in Herod’s palace until Paul’s accusers showed up in person. (I bet they were hungry!)
As Dr F LaGard Smith wrote in his narration, Paul had three opportunities to present his defence and preach the gospel to the Roman authorities in Caesarea: first to Felix, who apparently knew enough about Christianity to know that the charges against Paul were baseless, and he was perhaps a bit convicted by Paul’s message!
He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
However, his greed was stronger than his conscience and he became angry at Paul for not giving him a bribe, so he left the apostle in jail for two years! (Secular history indicates that serious riots and charges against Felix by the Jews prompted his recall to Rome.) Next was Festus, who replaced Felix. He didn’t see what all the fuss was about and wanted Paul to go home and be tried locally by the Sanhedrin, but Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. Go Paul! Before sending Paul on to Rome, King Agrippa visited Festus, and asked to hear Paul’s case himself. Festus was grateful, since he was hoping that Agrippa would help him know what to write on the charge sent to Rome. (One couldn’t very well send a prisoner to the emperor in Rome without specific charges against him!)
Paul gave much the same speech as he had originally in Jerusalem, telling of his original persecution of Christianity and his subsequent conversion. This time, however, he became a bit more personal, as this was his last chance to convert the local royalty.
So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles...What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do. Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
I love Paul’s boldness, and his trust in God. Awesome! What a great example for us today. Not surprisingly, the two leaders agreed that Paul was innocent, but since he had appealed to Caesar, they sent him on to Rome!
Luke accompanied Paul on this journey, as did Aristarchus, and the good physician recorded the details of the near-disastrous voyage. Julius, the Roman centurion put in charge of Paul and some other prisoners, acted kindly toward Paul and allowed brothers and sisters at various ports to care for his needs. Describing the conditions in nautical terms, basically Luke wrote that they shouldn’t have sailed in that weather! Paul warned Julius of the loss of cargo and lives that would come if they continued, but, as usual, money talks, and the owner of the ship proved to have the louder voice. They set out for Crete and were hit with a hurricane, causing the sailors to throw out the cargo (so much for making money) and even the ship’s tackle! Verse 20 says it all: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” That’s what I call dire straits!
Paul remained strong in the Lord, as always, and told everyone of a vision – they would all make it alive, but they would lose the ship. The sailors almost mutinied, but the soldiers stopped them – what a drama! Then after they hadn’t eaten for 14 days, Paul urged them to eat and gain strength for the swim ahead. Paul broke bread in front of them and gave thanks to God – I bet he won a few converts that week! Everyone on board was encouraged and took some food. By daylight, they saw land, and eventually all 276 made it safely to shore. (Some idiots wanted to kill the prisoners to keep them from escaping – what were they thinking??!! – but good ole Julius put a stop to that plan.)
We always think of Paul’s faith, but keep in mind that Luke was writing this section of Acts in the first person – he was there, too! His account of what happened next is priceless:
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honoured us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
What a fun story to tell his grandchildren, eh? Indiana Jones has nothing over on these guys! They stayed in Malta for three months until the winter storms were no more a threat. Then over the next week, they stopped at various ports until they reached Puteoli, in Italy. They spent a week with some brothers there and travelled to Rome by foot, and were met by some Roman disciples who travelled outside of the city to meet Paul and escort him in. Luke’s words are beautifully understated: “And so we came to Rome... At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”
Now remember from the entry on Romans that I said we would take a look at Paul’s prayers and see how they were answered in the book of Acts? Now’s the time! (I stole this insight from one of my husband’s sermons!)
First, let’s go back to Romans 15:30-33
“I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
This was a three-part prayer request. Paul asked for the Romans to pray:
(1) that he would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea,
(2) that his service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there, and
(3) that he would come to Rome in joy and that they would all be refreshed.
Now let’s look back at the chapters we have just read in Acts to see how God answered those prayers.
Prayer One - that Paul would be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea. Yes, Paul prayed to be rescued, but little did he know that God’s way of rescuing was going to be by sending two Roman centurions with “a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight,” who would also provide a horse for Paul so that he would get to Governor Felix safely! Sometimes when we say a little prayer, God does something amazing! Take a moment to reflect on some of your past prayers that God answered in an unbelievable way…stand in awe and be amazed!
Prayer Two - that Paul’s service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints there. Now this prayer was answered only in a very average way – James and the elders had welcomed Paul, as did some of the other brothers there, but his service to the church in Jerusalem was short lived. Sometimes we pray a prayer and it gets answered in a way that is just nice but not that noticeable.
Prayer Three - that Paul would come to Rome in joy and that he and the Roman Christians would all be refreshed. Well, when Paul asked the church in Rome to pray for this, you can bet that there is NO WAY ON EARTH he thought it would get answered the way it did. Did God answer it like he did prayer number one? Did Paul get on a magic ship and sail straight to Rome from Jerusalem? NO! Did God answer it like he did prayer number two? Did Paul get to go to Rome on horse back after escaping from the Jews? NO! God answered this prayer in the most bizarre, roundabout way imaginable – by having Paul be arrested, put in chains, receive serious death threats from over 40 fanatics, be at the mercy of corrupt officials, left in jail to rot for over two years, be put on trial over and over, sail through a hurricane for several weeks, barely live through a shipwreck, almost be killed by soldiers, and survive a poisonous snake bite! Now that’s one heck of a way to answer a simple prayer, God! But you know what? When Paul finally got to Rome, and when he finally saw those brothers, do you think he was refreshed? You bet your life! Now look at the last few years…have you had some hard times? Have things been difficult spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially? Maybe God has just been answering one of your prayers HIS way! You never know!
This happened in my life when I prayed to be able to help one of my neighbours to become a Christian. Simple prayer, right? However, what ensued was anything but
simple. First, we moved to a cheaper apartment. I fell in love with it and told my husband that I wanted to rent it for the next six years, until the kids were teens, and therefore, we should paint it and make curtains for it, etc. (We didn’t usually spend our own money fixing up rental apartments.) John agreed, and we spent about $6000 on paint, furniture, and curtains. Within a month of moving in, my husband, my daughter and one of the church administration employees who worked from our home contracted dengue fever, a potentially fatal mosquito-borne illness that has many symptoms. My daughter wasn’t hospitalized but had fever and vomiting and was exhausted. My husband and friend, Pat Low, were both hospitalized, one with liver problems and one needing a blood transfusion. John’s fever got so high he became delirious. It took him a month to get well. To help John and Sonia recuperate, we went to a town in Malaysia for a week and while we were gone had our house completely fogged inside and out for mosquitoes. We even had our car professionally cleaned! A month later, I got dengue fever and was also hospitalized with low blood pressure and horrific skin problems. At this point, we had lived in our new place for three months. Our so-called dream house had become a nightmare. As soon as I was well enough to ride in the car, we drove to a neighbourhood that we knew didn’t have dengue mosquitoes. (We couldn’t risk getting it again because dengue fever gets worse each time you get it and John had already had it twice.) We found a nice apartment. It was a smaller place, but new and nice. However, I had a bit of an attitude toward God – I was thinking, God, I have moved 25 times since I have been married! And I moved into that previous place cause it was cheaper! And I liked it, a lot! I wanted to live there a long time! I spent money fixing it up! Why did we have to move out? What’s going on? Well, the real estate agent who helped us get the new place happened to also live in the new complex. And after spending time with her just once, my husband and I thought, “I bet she becomes a Christian one day!” I remember crying in the shower, thinking of how loving God is, that He will go so far to save one soul. Amazingly, six and a half years later, my neighbour, was baptized during the month that the Singapore church celebrated its 20th anniversary! And it was all worth it…Hope that inspires you to pray…
So Paul has just arrived in Rome. Luke’s writings tell us few specifics about what happened there, but we do get some insight into how Paul was given the freedom to work out of his home. (One writer speculated that this was a time when Paul was living with “plenty” as opposed to the times he experienced “need” because apparently a house in first Century Rome big enough to meet with a house church would have had a hefty rental price. See B. W. Frier’s, “The Rental Market in Early Imperial Rome”.)
As in other cities where he had preached, Paul experienced mix reactions when ministering to the Jewish community. However, the apostle took it in stride, and continued on for two years with his cosy living arrangement, sharing the good news, training leaders, and writing letters to strengthen both churches and individuals. Obviously it didn’t end well, because eventually he was truly imprisoned and then killed, but more on that later. For the time being, Luke chose to end on a high note.
30For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
During this period, between 61-63AD, it is assumed that Paul wrote his four “prison” epistles: Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon. This entry will cover the first two books. Sometimes known as the “twin epistles” because of their similarities, Colossians was probably written first, and was delivered by Tychius and Onesimus, who is the subject of the letter to Philemon.
Instead of writing about Colossians and Ephesians separately chapter by chapter as I have done with Paul’s other letters, I will write about both books at the same time, by topic.
In the same fashion as with the book of Romans, Paul began each of these books with theology – the exalting of Christ, then summarizing how God’s eternal plan is revealed through Christ, etc. The second half of both books focuses more on the practical side of Christianity, and how one who has the correct understanding will put his faith into practice in relationships and in moral decisions.
Paul and Timothy wrote Colossians, but only Paul’s name is present at the beginning of Ephesians (perhaps Timothy was his editor, hence Ephesians is longer!) Paul thanked God for the faith of both congregations, and shared his prayers for them. The study of these prayers alone could make for a whole chapter. I will leave it by encouraging you to meditate on all the things Paul gives thanks for in Col 1 and Eph 1 and then pray only for those things for one week! It is hard! But it will put a smile on your face!
Even when Paul was lifting up the brothers and sisters, he did it in a way which exalted God. Why did he pray such prayers? So that they might please God. Why should they give thanks? Because God is the one who forgave them and brought them into the kingdom of the Son He loves! What about Him? Well, let me tell you, Paul seems to say,…He is the image of the invisible God… And in case you forgot, YOU were dead in your transgressions, and it is only by grace through faith you have been saved, so that no man can boast…and on and on Paul goes. It’s like he is just waiting for any chance to boast about his wonderful God. This is God-focused preaching from a man who understood God!
To the Colossians, who had not met Paul face to face, he shared personally in verses 24-29, ending off with the well-known We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. Paul shared how he was interested in them, as well as the congregation in Laodicea. During this personal interlude, Paul hints that he may have had word from Epaphras about the extreme paganism there, because for the next paragraph or so, he is very concerned with making sure the Colossian disciples are not led astray.
As Dr Smith wrote in his narration:
In paganism, virtue was not associated with religion. Religious practice was for the purpose of warding off demons and evil ancestors – not for the purpose of becoming a better person. Paul saw that this notion of religion could influence even Christian worship in which slavish adherence to supposed spiritual standards misses the point of one’s being transformed into the likeness of Christ. To Paul, the Christian life was more than simply giving up bad habits. It was acquiring a newness of mind, which came from setting one’s heart and mind on Christ Jesus, the image of the invisible God. Only a person with the mind of Christ can truly overcome the sins of the flesh and live according to the Spirit.
Paul wanted them to know that focusing on religious days and rituals missed the spirit of Christ, and that instead, they needed to focus on being spiritually minded!
In the corresponding section of Ephesians, Paul continued to focus on Christ as the cornerstone, the mystery of Christ, and then the wisdom of God working through the church. He ended up with a beautiful prayer, an extra prayer for the Ephesians, if you will, that is completely centred on the love of Christ. In fact, it is so beautifully written, I cannot help but to include it here.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 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.
This is another prayer that if you just prayed this prayer for everyone on your list for one week, amazing things would happen!
Paul then segued into what we in the church should be like. First of all, we should live worthy of our calling. There is a standard. Secondly, we should be humble. How humble? Completely humble (and completely gentle – aaarrgghhh!) Then we are to be patient. Who is this guy writing to? Does he think we are all perfect? No, he wants us to become like Jesus! He ended off the impossible sentence with “bearing with one another in love.” If you ever think you ARE perfect (in other words, if you are having an arrogant and deceived day), just read Eph 4:2. That will stop you in your tracks!
Paul branched into a discussion on unity, and on how the church works together. (Did you ever thank God for giving the evangelist to you as a gift?) God wants His body to be built up. That is the job of the appointed leaders. (If that is not happening, you must respectfully and humbly and gently go to someone and find out why! Don’t stop til you get answers…)
The analogy about maturing the church here is great. We see the picture of immature un-fed Christians, blown about by waves like a rudderless dinghy, in contrast with the mature well-led Christians, who are speaking the truth in love to one another, growing, and connected by ligaments to a healthily working body. Awesome! I know which picture I want to be a part of.
Back to Colossians, we left off with Paul having told them that the answer was in spiritual thinking (as opposed to religiosity). Therefore, he pointed the way in Colossians 3, which is one of my favourite passages of all times! (So is Eph 4, coincidentally!) He told them to set their hearts (emotions) and minds (thoughts) on things above, not on worldly things! If we would just remember to practice that one thing, most of our problems would be solved! The way Paul phrased it in Ephesians is slightly different but carried the same idea:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Practically speaking, how do we do this? By being in the word! By reading it, studying it, praying about it, trying to practice it, reading books about it, talking about it with our spiritual friends, and loving it! This is how we change our thinking. This is how we change our “belief system”. This is how we become like God!
In both books, as Paul talked about changing their hearts and minds, he admonished them to put off their old way of thinking and acting – no more lying, lust, evil desires, greed, etc, but instead, they should be putting on the good stuff:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Paul went on in a bit more detail with the Ephesians, warning against acting in anger, stealing and laziness, before adding in one of my personal favourites:
Do 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.
How many times have I quoted THAT to my kids?!! And others during conflict resolution! (and sometimes to myself!)
Paul reminded the Ephesians for the second time in just a few verses that the goal is to like God. He specifically said here that they should be imitators of Christ and live a life of love! Try this for your accountability – “have you loved anyone this week?” Who could get mad at that?
Paul told the Ephesians that they were to be so righteous that there wasn’t even a HINT of ungodliness in their lives. This is a hard teaching. Sometimes we want to have our cake and eat it to. Remember in 1 Corinthians? “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial”. In Proverbs, Solomon said it a different way, “Can a man scoop hot coals into his lap without getting burned?” That is why Jesus commanded us to stay as far away from sin as possible – Mark 9 (“if your eye causes you to sin…”)
From there, Paul wrote even more about what it meant to live as “children of the light”. He wrote in both books that singing had something to do with it – people who love God’s word will be filled with the spirit, they will sing to each other with spiritual songs and they will be thankful/grateful!
Getting more specific about the relationships Christians should have with one another, Paul began to talk about marriage and parenting. The Colossians version is short and sweet. I get the feeling that when Paul was writing the Ephesian version, he had just had a great Quiet Time! (An aside for women, Paul was the first ancient writer to say that women were on equal footing with men, that men should love their wives, and that the love should be as Christ loved the church! Go Paul!) As far as parenting goes, we should expect our children to obey us, and we should bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, being careful to not exasperate them. (For info on the nine ways parents most often exasperate their children and how to avoid doing it, see our book, Good Enough Parenting.)
Paul even told us how to care about household servants and slaves. Although we can’t relate to this exact kind of relationship, we all have situations where we are either the employee, student, employer, boss, teacher, or a combination. Don’t say, “church is church but business is business.” Live like a Christian at work and at school. As Paul wrote, “there is no favouritism.”
Colossians ends with a call to prayer, an exhortation to share one’s faith, and personal greetings. Ephesians’ ending is more grandiose (hence my theory about the quiet time) – Paul started talking about “the heavenly places” and dark powers, and our struggle against that which is not “flesh and blood”. He told the Ephesians that the only way to stand against such schemes was to wear spiritual armour. Paul ended with a beautiful verse about loving Jesus with an undying love, but I will end this entry with the quote below, in hopes that it motivates you to carry on fighting in this struggle which is not against flesh and blood.
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.