Expose the Unfruitful Deeds of Darkness

November 25, 2018 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Communion, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Heart, King Jesus, Marriage, Meditations, Responsibility, Sexuality

Ephesians 5:8–12 (NKJV)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

Paul reminds us in our text that when the Lord saves us, He delivers us from darkness and brings us into the light. Whereas we once walked in darkness, subject to the prince of darkness and in bondage to our own sinful nature, God in Christ has brought us out of Satan’s kingdom and made us part of His own. He forgives our sins and renews us in the inner man, giving us a new heart by the power of His Spirit. He makes us to be children of light.

As those adopted into His family and made citizens of His kingdom, He now summons us to walk as children of light. The Lord of Light pours out the Spirit of Light upon children of light. And the Spirit so works in the hearts of those who have truly believed that they practice, in Paul’s words, goodness, righteousness, and truth. The Spirit bears rich and abundant fruit in the lives of His own. He causes us to walk in God’s commandments.

Consequently, those who have been saved want to have open lives. They want to dwell in the light and to have the vestiges of darkness removed from their lives. In Paul’s words, they have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. They don’t hide their emails or their phone conversations. They don’t engage in filthy speech or coarse jesting. They don’t look at pornographic pictures or develop intimate relationships with persons other than their spouse. They cultivate a love for goodness, righteousness, and truth.

While the calling to expose the unfruitful works of darkness is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is our duty to do so. We have just welcomed the —- household into membership. I now have the sober duty to announce that the elders are publicly suspending —- from the Lord’s Supper for the sins of adultery and deceit. For several years, —- has been living in sin, preying on several different women, some of whom have attended our congregation. He has been deceiving his wife and others and has been repeatedly unfaithful to her. Thankfully, —- is professing repentance. However, given the length of time he has lived a life of deceit regarding the nature of their relationship and his own walk with the Lord, the elders have determined to suspend him from the Supper until he manifests fruits in keeping with repentance.

We know that this will come as a shock to you even as it has come as a shock to his family and to the elders. We had believed that —- was walking faithfully with the Lord and that he was faithfully loving his wife. The truth, however, is that he has been deceiving us all. He has been having fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness rather than exposing them. Thankfully the truth emerged this last weekend and there is now opportunity for genuine repentance and change.

So please pray for the —-. Pray for —- – that he would truly repent and repudiate the unfruitful deeds of darkness that have bound him for the last several years; that he would seek out help and, by the power of God’s Spirit, break with the sin that has enslaved him. Pray for —- – that she would continue to lean on the Lord, entrust herself to His loving care, and treasure her daughters. Pray for their children – that they would know the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ, experience the comforting presence of their Heavenly Father, and love and obey their mom in these trying times.

Moments like this should cause each of us to reflect on the treacherous nature of our own hearts and the deceitfulness of sin. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (17:9) That judgment pertains to your heart and to mine. It was to forgive the guilt of our sin and to transform our hearts that Jesus gave His life on the cross and then rose again from the dead. So if you are in sin, ensnared by the darkness, come to the light before it is too late. Confess your sin in Jesus’ name and seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

Sobered by the pervasiveness of sin, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Lips of the Wise

September 2, 2018 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Tongue

Proverbs 10:18–21 (NKJV)

18 Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool. 19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise. 20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; The heart of the wicked is worth little. 21 The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of wisdom.

Throughout Proverbs and the rest of Scripture we are frequently exhorted to keep watch over our tongues. Though the tongue is small, it has immense importance and tremendous impact. So we must learn, as God’s people, to control our tongues.

So take note of the contrasts in our text today. On the one hand we have the tongues of the wicked and the fool. Not all fools are wicked; but all wicked men are fools. We are told two things about the tongue of the wicked. His tongue speaks lies and it speaks lies because what comes out of his mouth emerges from his heart. And, Solomon tells us, the heart of the wicked is worth little. The heart of the wicked is corrupt and so their lips speak corruption. For their part, fools spread this slander. They pick it up from the wicked and then spread it abroad rather than locking it away. Rather than restrain their lips, they repeat whatever they hear. They are fools.

On the other hand, we have the tongue of the wise. The wise man restrains his lips. He exercises self-control over his tongue. He is aware that just because he knows something, or feels something, or thinks something, that doesn’t mean that those things need to be shared. Before speaking, the wise man weighs matters in his heart and so he speaks with discretion. Consequently, his tongue is as choice silver. His words have value because he chooses carefully when and what to speak.

Notice, therefore, that while the tongue of the wise feeds others, the tongue of the foolish can’t even sustain the fool himself. The lips of the righteous feed many – the lips of the righteous bring blessing, encouragement, and edification to those they meet – but fools die for lack of wisdom ­– the lips of fools bring discouragement and destruction, blight and famine in their wake so that fools no longer have relationships, food to sustain themselves.

So what of you? How have you used your tongue this week? Have you wickedly slandered others? Have you foolishly repeated the slanders of the wicked, listened to their lies and shared them with your neighbors? Have you multiplied words without knowledge? Or have you restrained your lips and considered carefully in your heart each time you speak? This is the mandate Paul gives us, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (4:29).

Reminded that we are called to exercise self-control over our tongues that we may give life to others, let us acknowledge that we often speak when we should be silent and that, even when we should speak, we often tear down what is good rather than build up others in the truth. We often behave like fools and so sin in the multitude of words. Reminded of this, let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able.

The New Has Come!

December 31, 2017 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Faith, Glorification, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This morning we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we prepare to enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.

So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. So let us consider the significance of Paul’s words. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So who is this God to whom Paul is giving glory? He is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads. God’s power is infinite. He is Almighty God. Dream big.

Second, Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, then the omnipotent God, who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. As we will see in Psalm 37 today, God’s favor is toward His own and the meek shall inherit the earth.

You see, Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in wisdom and maturity and the way we grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done and is doing and promises yet to do for us in Christ. So note that Paul gives glory to God in the Church by Christ Jesus. Note that the glory to God is by Christ Jesus – Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Glory to God by Christ Jesus.

But note that this glory that is by Christ Jesus is in the Church. In other words, Paul wants glory to abound to God’s Name in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of Satan and his minions when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop. God wants to display the wonder and the power of His grace in your life. Are you looking for a proof that God exists? Look for it as you grow in faith and godly character.

So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ, those urges are from the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord on the cusp of a New Year, let us confess that we have often failed to believe Him, failed to trust Him, and let us seek His forgiveness through Jesus Christ that He might empower us as His humble people to bring glory and honor to His Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

God and our New Year’s Dreams and Resolutions

January 1, 2017 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Sovereignty of God
Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
This morning we enter into a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words here in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.
So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. So let us consider the significance of Paul’s words. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So who is this God to whom Paul is giving glory? He is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads. God’s power is infinite. He is Almighty God. Dream big.
Second, Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, then the omnipotent God, who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. As we saw in our study of Psalm 29 last week, Yahweh, the God of the Storm, is the very one who promises to give His strength to His people. David sings, The Lord will give strength to His people… In Christ, by the Spirit, that promise is fulfilled. God has granted His strength to us.
You see, Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in wisdom and maturity and the way we grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done and is doing and promises yet to do for us in Christ. So note that Paul gives glory to God in the Church by Christ Jesus. Note that the glory to God is by Christ Jesus – Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Glory to God by Christ Jesus.
But note that this glory that is by Christ Jesus is in the Church. In other words, Paul wants glory to abound to God’s Name in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of Satan and his minions when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop. God wants to display the wonder and the power of His grace in your life. Are you looking for a proof that God exists? Look for it as you grow in faith and godly character.
So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ, those urges are from the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord this New Year’s Day, let us confess that we have often failed to believe Him, failed to trust Him, and let us seek His forgiveness through Jesus Christ that He might empower us as His humble people to bring glory and honor to His Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

What is Worldliness?

February 28, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Confession, Creation, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification
Ephesians 2:1–3 (NKJV)
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
For these first three Sundays in Lent, we are addressing our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we are outside of Christ, these forces dominate our lives and compel us to sin. Consequently, God must act to deliver us from their hold. And it is this that He has done in Christ. Listen again to Paul’s words: And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh… The world, the flesh, and the devil are a deadly trio. So what is meant by “the world”?
Unfortunately many Christians throughout history have misconstrued this warning against “the world” as a repudiation of creation itself. Worldliness, in this view, is any attachment to the created order or physical things: marriage, food, beauty, drink, sexuality, technology, etc. To be “heavenly-minded”, therefore, to escape worldliness, is to reject created things. But this is to misconstrue Paul’s understanding of worldliness. After all, Paul reminds Timothy, that “every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). The created order is not the problem.
So what is worldliness, then? “Worldliness is,” David Wells has written, “anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal.” It is anything that makes righteousness look strange and sin look normal. The “world”, therefore, is not the created order or mere physicality; the “world” is the collection of assumptions, practices, and desires embraced by our broader community or culture that run contrary to the Word of God. It is the assortment of unbiblical values that strive to have preeminence over God’s values. It consists of ideas, institutions, and vocations that marginalize God and His law.
It is from this “world” that we have been delivered by God’s grace; and it is against this “world” that we are to do battle through the preaching of the Gospel. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds [institutions of the world], casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God [ideas of the world], bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” We are to do battle against “the world.”
But in order to do battle against the “world” out there, we must first do battle against the world “in here.” We must root out unbiblical manners of thinking and acting that characterize us individually and that characterize us as a congregation. We must strive to resemble not the kingdoms of this world but the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And one of the first characteristics of the kingdom of God is humility – a willingness to confess our worldliness. There are many who would come here today and be asked to kneel and confess their sin and worldliness and recoil. “That is strange,” they would say. But in God’s kingdom, kneeling to confess sin is not strange, it is normal. “Worldliness is anything that makes righteousness look strange [like kneeling to confess sin] and sin look normal.” So reminded of our calling to fight against the world, let us kneel and confess that we often fail to do so.

The Sin of Drunkenness

June 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Holy Spirit, Meditations
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Today we continue to study Paul’s catalogue of sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us through Christ. These sins damage and distort the image of God in us, destroy our humanity and subvert community. Hence, God’s intention in Christ is to deliver us from such things. Today we consider drunkenness.
Throughout Scripture wine in itself is considered a gift from God, one of the blessings that He has given to the sons of men. The psalmist reminds us that God has given wine to make glad the heart of man. God created it to give joy and delight; this is its design.
As sinners, however, we often misuse the good gifts that God has given; rather than use wine for joy and refreshment, we misuse it for drunkenness, laziness, and destruction. So the Scriptures routinely command us to use and not abuse this gift of God. Solomon writes in Proverbs 23:29-32:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
In his list of qualifications for elders and deacons, Paul writes that no officer may “be given to much wine.” Likewise, he tells Titus to command the older women to “be reverent in behavior,…not given to much wine.” Drunkenness is the opposite of reverence and honor.
Paul commands us in Ephesians 5:18-20, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [a lack of self-control]; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart ot the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s words reveal that drunkenness dulls not only our physical senses but also our spiritual senses. And so the opposite of drunkenness is being filled with the Spirit – and how does being filled with the Spirit manifest itself? In singing. Drunks sing in folly; Christians sing in joy, delight, and self-control.
So what of you? Are you given to much wine? Are you misusing the good gifts of God? Or are you using these good gifts of God so that you might become more strong physically and spiritually?
Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, And your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, And your princes feast at the proper time— For strength and not for drunkenness!

Reminded that drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us kneel and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for abusing the gifts of God.

What is our only hope?

February 12, 2015 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Cross of Christ, Election, King Jesus, Newsletter

This last week our catechism questions centered on the universal sinfulness of humanity. As David declares, “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps 53:2-3). David’s assessment is sobering, is it not? But his assessment agrees with that of Paul – by nature we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3). So is there no hope?
 
Well no – at least there is no hope from the human level. If salvation depends upon us as human beings, then we are lost. There is no way that we can be acceptable in the sight of God – for we have sinned against God and, what’s more,we want to sin against God. There are none who understand or seek God.

So what then? What is our only hope? Our only hope is if God Himself should come and rescue us. And this God promised to do: “I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me” (Is 63:5). This, my friends, is the message of the Gospel: what we could not do because of our sinful nature, God did in sending His own Son to rescue and redeem us. Praise to the Lord!

And what our catechism question this week reminds us is this: this action was the fulfillment of God’s plan in all eternity. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; love us while we were yet sinners; saved us apart from any merit on our own part – for we had and have none. So all glory goes to God alone.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God, having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

Giving Thanks Always

November 27, 2012 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Meditations, Thankfulness

Ephesians 5:17, 18b, 20
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is… be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
This last week we had opportunity as a people to celebrate Thanksgiving – remembering God’s faithfulness in our past and petitioning His grace for the future.
Today I would like us to reflect on why such feasts are fitting – and the reason they are fitting is that they express the will of God for us. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians that we are not to be “unwise” but are to understand the will of the Lord. So what is the Lord’s will? The Lord’s will is that we be filled with the Spirit. And what does it look like to be filled with the Spirit? Part of the answer that Paul gives is that when we are filled with the Spirit we will be giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note carefully Paul’s words.
Paul writes that we are to be giving thanks always. He excludes no times – we are always to give thanks. When the car starts right away in the morning, when the car won’t start at all; when there are six inches of snow on the ground, when it fails to snow at all; when we’re feeling robust and well, when we have the stomach flu; when work is going well, when we have trouble with employees; when our children obey, when they disobey. We are always to give thanks.
How is this possible? Because the One to whom we are giving thanks, God the Father, is Sovereign over all. Nothing happens apart from His will. No one and no thing can say to him, “What have you done? Or why has your hand determined thus?” Our God is in the heavens – he does whatever he pleases. So if there is calamity in the city, will not our Lord have done it? God is the Lord – He raises up and He puts down. And so our calling as the people of God is to render thanks to Him – precisely because this One who is Sovereign, who is God, is also our Father – He cares for us and works on our behalf. So we can give thanks always. Our demeanor should be one of grateful acknowledgment of the wisdom of our Father – not just when it appears wise to usbut when it is in fact wise, namely, always.
But not only are we alwaysto give thanks, we are also to give thanks for all things. All things, we ask? Surely Paul didn’t mean to say it quite that way. But I’m afraid he did. For all things that enter our lives come from the hand of our loving Father who has orchestrated them for our good and for His glory. Thanking Him – for the kind and the hard providences – is the key to glorifying him in the midst of both. And this, to some extent, explains why we are to give thanks “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” – for he too gave thanks to God while suffering. So do we thank the Father for the hard providences, the failure of the crops, the loss of our job, the rebellion of a child, the loneliness of singleness, the frustration of working at a job we don’t enjoy? According to Paul we ought to. Why? Because God is the one who has brought this into our lives for a very good, distinct, and just reason. Therefore, we are to abound in thanksgiving.
And so, reminded that rather than abound in thanksgiving we frequently complain and grumble, let us kneel and confess that we are an unthankful people.

Our Father,

We have failed to be thankful for the gifts and graces which you have freely bestowed upon us. You have treated us much more graciously than we deserve – and yet we grumble and complain at your graces. Not only do we refuse to thank you in hard times, we forget to thank you in good ones. So too our culture. We refuse to give you thanks. We act as though we are entitled to the things we receive; we demand more; insist that what You have given is not enough. Forgive us for the sake of Christ and enable us to abound always in thanksgiving in all things.
AMEN.

Ascension Sunday

May 21, 2012 in Ascension Sunday, Bible - NT - Ephesians, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
7
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” …11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
Today is Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday celebrates – along with Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost – one of the most pivotal events in the life of Christ and, hence, in the history of the world. On this day, Jesus ascended into heaven and took His seat of authority at the right hand of God Almighty, ruling there as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And from this position of authority, He sent forth His Spirit upon His disciples – an event we shall celebrate next week in Pentecost.
In our text today, Paul indicates one of the implications of the Ascension for the people of God. When Christ ascended on high, was enthroned in state, sat down at the right hand of God Almighty, he was then the victorious conqueror, in a position to distribute spoil among his followers. “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”
And what is the nature of the gifts he bestows upon His retainers? Ah his gifts are numerous and glorious – for His gifts are not merely objects but persons. He gave apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers – from other places we learn that he has given helps, works of mercy, humility, joy, contentment, peace, self-control, wisdom, virtue. Glorious gifts He has bestowed on His retainers.
Why? Why has he given these things? Here is the startling message of Paul. He has given them “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, the gifts that Christ has given to us are to be given in turn for the benefit of the whole body, for the Church.
So what does Ascension Sunday mean for us? First, we must take note of the gifts that our great King has granted to us. What gifts has the exalted and enthroned King bestowed upon you? He does not leave anyone out. If you have been baptized into Christ then you have a gift bestowed upon you by your heavenly King. Second, having acknowledged the gifts, our first response should be to thank the Giver. Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out gifts upon the Church; he has poured out some gift on each of us; and so our calling is to thank Him both for the gifts which He has given me personally and for the gifts He has given to my neighbor– our Lord Jesus thank you for calling the Twelve and giving them to the church; thank you for Paul, for Athanasius, for Clement, for Gottschalk, for Helena, for Ethelberga, for Zwingli, Bullinger, Peter Martyr. And coming closer to home, we say thank you for George and Freddy and Sally and  – for the gifts you have given them so they might bestow them on the body. Having recognized the gifts and given thanks to Him for the gifts that He has bestowed upon us and upon the rest of the body, our final task is to use the gifts He has given us for the body. Our calling is to imitate our King and give gifts in turn. We cannot serve Christ in isolation; we cannot serve Him apart from being integral members of a local church where we can use our gifts to bless our brethren.
But frequently our attitude and actions are far from this. Frequently, we complain that we have not been given the gifts that others have received and we endeavor to horde the gifts, increasing our own cache rather than blessing the body. Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.