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May 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 24, 2015 – Psalm 139:1-6

Reflective Meditation

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Psalm 139:1-6

Intro: We have started collecting tools and skills for spiritual journey

Last week we went over Analytical Meditation
– a close reading of the Scriptures that rigorously follows logical rules
• today I will talk about meditating on mysteries
– this form of meditation can also be approached rationally
• but at some point intellectual methods and processes will give out
◦ then we must switch to another mental activity
◦ the psalmist came to end of his knowledge and understanding, but not his poem or meditation
• there’s more than one way to use our minds in med
◦ some truths require a different approach than rational analysis
◦ some insights are caught rather than taught

Meditation on mysteries leans more on reflection than analysis
– the goal of reflective meditation is not to:
• solve a problem
• explain a concept
• unravel a complex system (like taking apart a car engine)
– rather, it is interested in exploring the dimensions of a thing — its breadth and depth
• more interested in an encounter with wonder
• more interested in fascination than inadequate explanations
• reflective meditation welcomes feelings, emotions and symbols

You’re probably familiar with the term “hard science”
– it refers to the natural or physical sciences – experimentation, dissecting and quantifying
• the “soft sciences” are the social sciences
◦ until fairly recently, the methods of research were different
◦ and the distinction between categories were less clear
• if analysis is “hard meditation,” then reflection is “soft meditation”
– the analytical med is closed – it excludes subjectivity
• what I feel about a text is irrelevant, knowing its precise meaning is all that counts
• it also excludes what is not immediately relevant
– reflection is open – it looks everywhere for insight
• even in areas that may seem irrelevant

A research paper was recently published by Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and a graduate student researcher. They ran an experiment in which they gave subjects two learning tasks. Between the two tasks, they were left alone to rest. What they discovered is that “the ones who used that time to reflect on what they had learned earlier in the day fared better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped. Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before. [emphasis mine]

• reflection roams freely from one field to another, discovering unexpected patterns and similarities

C. S. Lewis, wrote an essay entitled “Meditation In A Toolshed” that begins:

“I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.”

– then he moved and looked into the beam
• the shift yielded a different experience
◦ now the toolshed disappeared as he looked through leaves outside to the sun
• he described this as the difference between looking at and looking along
◦ looking at something from outside of it and looking from within
– he used an illustration in which a neurologist explains pain
• neurons along a patch of skin are stimulated, which, through a network of chemical and electrical processes, transmit a message to the brain where the “feeling” is interpreted as pain
◦ but we might ask the neurologist, “Have you ever felt pain?”
◦ should he say,  “No,” we could say, “Then you don’t know pain”
• he may know the mechanism of pain, but not the experience
◦ reflection is experiential – knowing from the inside


“Mystery” is a truth we can’t prove or even explain

One place to begin is to reflect on God himself

read more…

May 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 17, 2015 – Matthew 7:24-27

Analytical Meditation

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall. Matthew 7:24-27

Intro: This is the famous conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount

Afterward, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (v. 28)

I imagine the disciples saying, “Lord! Look at all the people coming to hear you. Think of the impact You have on all these lives.” But I also imagine his response, “Yes, the crowds have arrived, but if you could see into their hearts you would not be so enthusiastic. We can not build the kingdom of God on lives that do not have an adequate foundation. ”

• this is the meaning of Jesus’ parables of the seed and the soils (Mt. 13:3-9 & 18-23)
• not everyone derives the same value from his word
– a common theme in the parables is the contrast Jesus draws between two types of characters
• a Pharisee and a tax collector, wise and foolish virgins, an obedient son and a disobedient son
◦ they illustrate failure and success among those that profess to know God
• there is a listening to God’s word that goes nowhere

But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, “Come now and hear what the [word] is which comes forth from the LORD.” They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. (Ezek. 33:30-32)

◦ there is another listening that takes us to the path that leads directly to God

I am going to walk your through “analytical” (or “discursive”) Meditation
– this is a rational approach to exploring a verse or passage of scripture – the “text”
• it is not as light as Bible reading nor as heavy as Bible study
• and it is definitely not memorizing verses
◦ research has shown that memorizing verses improves one’s ability to memorize
(memorization has little effect on how people respond to real-life situations)
◦ memorization does not get to the substance of a text or make it ours
◦ meditation involves more thought processes than memory: alertness, attention, noticing, etc.
– we need to give our intellect something !!

The opening of Your words gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.
(Ps. 119:130, “opening” translates a Hebrew word that can also mean plowing or drawing out–e.g., water from a well)

• analytical meditation is a way to ingest and absorb God’s word (into our minds and hearts)

Your words were found and I ate them,
And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart . . . (Jer. 15:16)

John Chapman had this to say regarding usual religious the many books that must be read during one’s religious training, “But if you don’t meditate, you get nothing.”
• we need to give our intellect something, but eventually won’t be enough
◦ our rational minds can be full while our spirits starve
◦ so in coming weeks we will look at other forms of meditation

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I can’t focus my attention enough to meditate like this”
– you can and you already do

read more…

May 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 10, 2015 – 2 Kings 4:8-10

Gear and Skill for the Journey

Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food.
She said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. Please let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be when he comes to us, that he can turn in there. 2 Kings 4:8-10

 

Intro: When my Scott started his current job, I let him have my Volvo

That was a mixed blessing, because it gets him to work but needs a new transmission
– and that would cost more than the car is worth
• one reason it is so expensive is because the car was designed to require unique tools for repairs
• without the necessary tools and skill to use them, there is no “do it yourself”
– this is not the case with every car or every repair, but even then it helps to have the right tools
• this goes for lots of things besides fixing cars
◦ rock climbing, house cleaning, building a doghouse, or performing surgeries

For a few weeks, we’ll go over the gear and skill required for our spiritual journey
– I begin with simplicity, because in my reading last week this passage caught my attention
• otherwise, the order of the items we will consider is not important
• spiritual exercises and disciplines are not like stair steps, in which you must climb one before the next
– we learn (or encounter) them in the order God chooses
• our hearts usually tell us when we’re ready
• for example, a book that was once boring, I find today enlightening and inspiring
◦ I was not ready for it the first time I attempted to read it


A little walled upper chamber

In other words, the couple in Shunem provided Elisha a small apartment on their rooftop
– they furnished it with “a bed . . ., and a table and a chair and a lamp” (lamp: menorah – candlestick)
• there’s a reason why I find these spartan accommodations so pleasing
◦ and not because I’m a minimalist
– once, when visiting a hermitage, I was provided a small room
• it was also furnished with no more than a bed, a desk, a chair and a lamp — oh, and a heater
• one morning, between vigils and lauds, I sat in the chair with my Bible open on my lap
◦ unexpectedly, I found myself filled with a sense of intense contentment
◦ I could have died and been utterly at peace — and it required a lot less stuff, than one would have imagined

This what saints have been saying for centuries
– that contentment can be found in simple things

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Tim. 6:6-8)

• and regarding food and clothing, Jesus told us not to worry about them (Mt. 6:25-33)

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
Henry David Thoreau

read more…

May 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 3, 2015 – Ephesians 6:21-24

Common + Unity = Community

But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Ephesians 6:21-22

Intro: Most of you know that I enjoyed a brief friendship with a Benedictine monk

Because our conversations were recorded, many of you have experienced them for yourselves
– the first time I shared the DVDs of Fr. Romuald it was with twelve people in our home
• these were men and women who wanted to know where God was leading me
• when we came to the eighth DVD, they began asking, “What are we going to do next?”
◦ I had not planned on any “next,” but the question haunted me
– what I then realized, was that we had become a community 
• how had that happened?

In 2002, I was invited to a pastor’s conference in St. Louis
– the topic I was asked to address was “Community”
• it seemed to me that there was a trade-off: the choice was between having a large church or being a community
◦ large churches are more like cities than communities — food courts in no way resemble Agape Feasts
◦ of course, mega-churches frequently attempt to create communities, but usually fail because:

  1. They seem contrived because people are grouped by artificial criteria (such as zip code).
  2. The design of curriculum for home groups is not to free their thinking, but indoctrinate them.

– anyway, I researched the subject, gave it lots of thought and came up with a few “theories”
• but with the group in our home, community occurred spontaneously
◦ no one had tried to create it and we had no intention or design for it
• so how did it just happen?
◦ we were asking questions from a deep place in our souls that had been unlocked
◦ we had become open to new ways of thinking
◦ our interactions had been intimately personal and real
◦ we were free to bring up and discuss anything without fear of being silenced
◦ we had grown together spiritually
◦ we cared about each other

It was more than a year later that we began meeting on Sunday nights
– in St. Louis I had argued, “The apparent design of the church in the New Testament is a spiritual community”
• but that is not how many “churches” look from the outside
• they look like organizations, corporations, institutions
◦ that is why we refer to Reflexion as a spiritual community
– we have gone through Ephesians, exploring Christian spirituality
• our last lesson from this sublime letter is that Christian spirituality thrives in community
• this is not to say we cannot deepen in God in solitude and without a community
◦ but a great deal more enters and enhances our lives in Christ through community

Throughout the letter, community has been a behind-the-scenes reality
– occasionally breaking through the surface (as in 4:2-13, etc.)
• so even if in these verses Paul is merely signing off, they still have something important to teach us


Vv. 21-22, Spiritual community involves us in personal knowing

read more…

Apr 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 26, 2015 – Ephesians 6:14-20

Dress For the Occasion

Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:14-17

Intro: One skill that characterizes excellent teachers is their use of analogy

A good analogy is a key to learning and understanding
– the human brain learns by associations
• a good analogy: clear parallels to what it explains and memorable
• Jesus’ style of teaching (e.g., Mk. 4:33-34) “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
◦ he could not say what it is exactly — we would not have understood him
◦ the kingdom isn’t bread dough or mustard seed, but it’s like bread dough, etc.
– the Bible’s use of analogy suggests to us how to think about God
• it isn’t always helpful to come at it directly–e.g., the “science” of theology
◦ analogy may be the only way to get God’s truth into our heads, heart and soul
• the book in Bible that brings us closest to God’s realm is Revelation
◦ it is full of images, symbols and word pictures
◦ we can’t read it without using our imaginations

Paul’s best known analogy is the armor of God
– it meets the criteria of apt parallels and it is definitely memorable
• at first, we may be uncomfortable with “armor,” with its warlike implications
• I hope we will find it helpful and relevant as we work our way through this


Let’s ease into the passage with a simple observation

When it comes to shopping, shopping, men buy clothes and women buy “outfits”
– and the outfits are chosen for specific occasions — running errands and so on
• what is the “occasion” behind this passage?
A. W. Tozer observed, “The world is not playground, but a battleground”
• I think it is both playground and battleground
(only sometimes the play can be pretty rough)
– we’ve been receiving junk mail for “the active senior in your home”
• (I give these to Barbara)
• this outfit is for the active spiritual life
◦ the contemplative life is one-side of Christian spirituality, the active life is the other
◦ that we’re issued bullet-proof vest speaks for itself


Paul’s analogy illuminates the essentials of the Christian life

Truth, righteousness, faith, etc. are our soul’s breath, its food and drink
– these are the items we use to gauge our spiritual health

read more…

Apr 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 19, 2015 – Ephesians 6:10-13

Spiritual Self-Defense

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
 Ephesians 6:10-13

Intro: Ephesians begins with an awesome portrait of Christian spirituality

This way of being in God was designed “before the foundation of the world”
– our access to it and “success” in it is guaranteed by “every spiritual blessing”
• these blessings do not spring from the earth, but from “heavenly places in Christ”
◦ i.e., they transcend the fluctuations of our lives’ circumstances
• God has revealed to us enough of “the mystery of His will” for us to know:
◦ how he has adopted us and what he is making us to become
◦ what we have going for us
◦ how our lives are secured in him by his Spirit
◦ and, most important, to know him 
– all in all, this is a life that is lived “to the praise of His glory”

But we also encounter a sinister and dangerous spiritual dimension
– those who ventured deep into Christian spirituality were not afraid to talk about it
• as humans can surrender to God for good, so they can yield to other spirits for evil
• Paul has alluded to this diabolical influence in world (Ep. 2:2; 4:27)
◦ but he has saved a more detailed insight to it for now
– we can think of this as biblical raining in spiritual self-defense

If I had chosen to skip a passage, this would have been it
– not for what is here, but for the way some authors and speakers have used it
• I am referring to people who presume to be experts in “spiritual warfare”
◦ for some, their only credentials are a personal history of satanism and the occult
◦ they imagine Christians to be in daily combat with demons
• with dire warnings, they have believers thinking evil spirits are lurking everywhere
◦ e.g., a national men’s ministry has so emphasized this sort of spiritual warfare that the husbands they’ve trained constantly suspect a demonic influence over their wives
◦ we do not need to be looking demons, but for what God is doing–and join him
– the Bible–especially the Hebrew Scriptures–plays down demonic forces
• C. S. Lewis’ famous observation is still very relevant

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Do we appreciate the fact that in these verses Paul is working with a metaphor?
– chained to a literal soldier (v. 20), Paul saw a spiritual parallel in a Christian’s life
• he also made metaphors around an athlete, a farmer, a contractor, and so on
• we need to be cautious regarding our use of military metaphors
– the metaphor here is used to bring us close to a reality that is elusive
• it appears in our peripheral vision but is never seen clearly in its true form
• the soldier’s conflict and gear helps us conceptualize an invisible threat


V. 10, “Power Up” — It’s important to see this as an introduction

Paul makes clear that he is beginning to a new thought
– the first thing he says is that whatever challenge we face, we can be empowered
• not that we “power up” ourselves, but we find strength “in the Lord”
– Paul needs more than one word to make his point, so he uses:
• power, might and force
• this is the most important truth to remember
◦ the balance of power is radically tilted


V. 11, “Suit Up”

What is Paul getting at with the armor metaphor? Take your situation seriously

Many years ago I officiated a funeral for a young man who when in high school contracted a crippling disease. During his long stays in various hospitals, everyone who worked with him came to love and admire him. He put up a banner in his hospital room that read, “Life is hard–get a helmet”

• that’s what Paul is saying — the conflict is intense
◦ but don’t run from it, just remember to wear your helmet and pads
– “full” armor, or “all” the armor–in other words, don’t leave anything unprotected
• this was the reason Mom or Dad would pray over us before we left school each morning

Now we come to our primary concern, that we will be “able to stand”
– a term that when used in a military context meant, “hold your position”
• it’s not only a matter of keeping our balance
◦ it’s taking a stand against any force that could knock us down
◦ gravity, a strong wind, an uneven surface, and so on
• here, it is “schemes” – today we would say scams or cons
– Paul told the Corinthian believers to extend forgiveness so someone in their group
• otherwise they might be “outsmarted by Satan”

for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:10-11)

• the Greek word translated design suggests a contest of moves and counter moves
◦ as C. S. Lewis said, the devil is like “a good chess player”


V. 12, “Wise Up”

What, precisely, are we up against?
– not “flesh and blood” – nothing human or physical
• this is either ignored or forgotten by many Christians
◦ a lot of believers have been wounded by “friendly fire”
– our opponent is not anyone we can see with our eyes
• we do not engage this fight in our four-dimensional universe
• these adversaries do not respond to logic and bullets would pass through the

They are rulers, authorities, world-powers of this darkness, and spiritual evil
– some of the spiritual warfare experts assume Paul refers to ranks in devil’s army
• I’m doubtful that is what he had that in mind
• his concern was not how evil is organized, but how it comes at us
◦ how we experience it
– all these terms suggest domination and control

If not flesh and blood, then where is the “theater of operations”?
– “in heavenly places” – this is one of our difficulties with these verses
• but it also helps to understand why Paul used metaphors
◦ we know so little about the spiritual realm
• the “heavenly places” would seem like a save and secure realm (Ep. 2:6; 3:10)
◦ but evil follows us even there
◦ perhaps “stand” means, “Hold your (heavenly) ground” (Mt. 6:19-21; Col. 3:1-2)
– when attacked, where are we assaulted?
• what ground does the enemy attempt to take?

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

“speculations . . . knowledge of God . . . every thought”
• when Jesus was tempted, the devil planted ideas in his mind
◦ each one had a rational element — one even included a biblical quotation
◦ the devil would have succeeded if Jesus entertained those thoughts
“If I am the Son of God, why go hungry?”
– at times we receive impulses or intuitions from  God’s Spirit
• e.g., to call someone who comes to mind
◦ only later, we realize it was God who planted that thought

Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD (Je. 32:8)

• our minds can be infiltrated by other spiritual influences — sinister “inspirations”
◦ “resent this person,” “be anxious,” “try it once
◦ the objective is that we fall under control of something other than God


V. 13, “Buck Up” — Paul reiterates what he said in verse 11

Reduced to it’s most simple form, our strategy is to:

  1. Resist (withstand), put up a fight
    – the word “evil” also means bad in the Greek translation of the Old Testament
    • it does not always have the moral significance that evil suggests
    • so, resistance in the day of “trouble” is not unlike,
    “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”
  2. Do “everything” – all that is expected of God’s child (cf. Ep. 2:10)
    – all that calls for our active response or participation
  3. Stand – hold your ground

Conc: I want to reassure you, that experiencing this conflict

When your head is filled with thoughts of everything but heaven
– or you realize you’ve been distracted from anything spiritual for days (or weeks)
• or you feel exhausted with resisting all that is appealing yet wrong
• you are not going backwards, but this is the normal state of affairs
◦ as much as it may feel like failure, it means you’re still swimming against the stream
– spiritual self-defense is awareness, readiness and confidence in God
• that even if we lose contest after contest, nothing will separate us from him

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Apr 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 12, 2015 – Ephesians 6:1-9

Cradled In God’s Will

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3]

Intro: Paul is helping his readers figure out the will of God (5:17)

Paul provides them with a general idea of God’s will
– but leaves it to them to work out the specifics
– the place to begin living God’s will is also the most difficult: our home
• in the New Testament, “household” refers to more than the immediate family
◦ it could include a steward who managed household affairs and other servants
• Paul groups people and addresses them according to their position in the family
◦ nevertheless, it is possible to hear a personal tone in his instructions

It is important to note Paul’s underlying optimism
– this is how the ideal Christian household functions
• the strong protect and provide for the weak, the older care for the youngest, etc.
• real life is more complicated than the simple outline given here
◦ and the dynamic relations and interactions of many families are often twisted
– an obvious weakness of endorsing hierarchy (in home, church, etc.) is the potential for abuse
• inflexible authoritarian structures can be used to legitimize oppression or violence
• roughly 90% of the population in the Roman empire were subject to exploitation
– we need to keep in mind that Paul covers the rule and not the exception


Children, obey your parents

I wish it was this simple

read more…

Apr 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 5, 2015 – Acts 25:18-19

Intro: We are going to drop into a story already well under way

The Apostle Paul is in custody in Caesarea
– his case has already been heard twice before two Roman governors
• both have found him innocent of any crime “worthy of death or imprisonment” (Acts 23:29; 25:25 & cf. 26:31)
• so, though he’s innocent, he’s held over for political reasons (Acts 24:27; 25:9)
– as Roman citizen, Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar, which he did
• that created a problem for Festus, the current governor
◦ he needed a substantial charge against Paul — and he did not have one
• King Agrippa–“an expert” in the customs and issues among the Jews–visited Caesarea
◦ Festus told Agrippa about his frustrating situation with Paul
◦ perhaps Agrippa could provide legal help in putting together a formal charge

Festus’ description of what he learned during Paul’s trial went like this:

When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive. Acts 25:18-19

– here is the story of Easter boiled down to its essence

a dead man, Jesus, whom his followers affirmed to be alive

• I love this simple, blunt assessment of Paul’s message as presented by an outsider

read more…

Apr 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 29, 2015 – Ephesians 5:21-33

The Family’s Unseen Depths

. . . and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:21-24

Intro: This brief passage requires more background than we usually devote to a text

INTERPRETIVE BACKGROUND
God’s eternal word enters temporal human cultures (Isa. 40:8)
– not only do cultures come and go, but every culture changes over time
• messages specific to a culture or time can suffer a loss of meaning elsewhere
◦ I doubt anyone here has ever returned an enemy’s stray donkey
◦ but that doesn’t make Exodus 23:4 irrelevant; it makes it require special handling
• changing cultures require dynamic processes of interpretation
◦ we need God’s Spirit to enlighten us to fresh ways of seeing the ancient text
– a common sense way to finding relevant meaning in culturally conditioned texts:

  1. When a commandment is specific to a time or situation, generalize it
    • look behind it –
    what is the guiding principle for this commandment?
    ◦ Paul does this in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10
    (he generalizes “do not muzzle the ox . . .” to humane care for servants)
    • then a specific application will appear for our situation
  2. When a commandment is general, specify it
     look within it – figure out its specific application to our current situation
     “You shall not steal” is a general commandment
    ◦ we have to determine how it applies to modern notions of theft
    ◦ for example, laws regarding copyrights and intellectual property

• Paul wrote to Christian communities in the first century Mediterranean world
◦ his instructions to husbands and wives made perfect sense to his intended audience
◦ but we need to review our interpretation of our current situation in which

  • women have the same education as men
  • women enter the workplace and share careers with men
  • a woman can not only survive but thrive without a husband

CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND
Let’s pull out our map again to see how this passage fits into the rest of the letter
– Paul took the Ephesians on a sublime tour of Christian spirituality (Ep. 1:23)
• we find ourselves seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ep. 2:6)
• in chapter 4, Paul began addressing spiritual practice
◦ how we live in the world and heavenly places at the same time
◦ we begin by adopting a lifestyle consistent with our spiritual status (4:1)

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. (Col. 3:1-2)

– more immediate context of the previous verses, Paul stressed knowing God’s will
• in verse 21, the transition is from speaking to submitting
◦ but the context is still practice and knowing God’s will
• mutual submission is a recognition of “spheres of influence”
◦ all the members have their calling and gifts
◦ we learn to defer to their areas of “expertise”

PAUL’S OBJECTIVE
What is Paul trying to accomplish in this section?
– a wide spread scholarly opinion is that he intended to produce a household code

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Mar 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 22, 2015 – Ephesians 5:14-20

God’s Will? It’s Quite Simple

Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
 Ephesians 5:14-16

Intro: The Hebrew Scriptures contain a rich diversity of content and style

There are stories, commandments, poetry, riddles, parables and so on
– biblical scholars refer to a particular classification of style as wisdom literature
• in general, the purpose of the wisdom literature is:

To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion . . .
To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles. (Pr. 1:2-6)

• the wisdom embodied in these writings is practical
◦ it demonstrates how people improve or ruin their lives by choices they make
– Proverbs chapter 9 is a parable involving two women, Prudence and Folly
• both call out from the heights of the city to anyone who will listen
◦ both invite the naive into their homes to feed on what’s been prepared for them
• but the consequences of entering one home are opposite those of the other
◦ in the home of Prudence is life and a continuous journey in understanding
◦ in the home of Folly is death and the path to Sheol (the grave)

Paul’s goal in this Ephesians’ passage is to guide his readers to path of wisdom


Vv. 14-16, We take a step back (v. 14) to mark the transition

To what and Whom do we awake?
– we awake to this present moment and we learn to do this by practice

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