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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Of all the spiritual topics in the Bible, there are few that are more difficult to discuss in our society than the subject of submission in marriage.  Americans never have been particularly submissive people to begin with, and in the decades since the Sexual Revolution, most traces of an older patriarchal culture have been obliterated.  People who accept without batting an eyelash that there are 30 different genders will explode with outrage at the thought that wives ought to submit to their husbands.

In our study of submission, our goal is not to be conformed to the America of 2021.  However, neither is it to be conformed to the America of 1950, nor indeed to the worldly ideas of any time and place.  Instead, we want to be transformed to become unlike the world and to be conformed to the image of Christ. 

In this, our greatest enemy is not our society but ourselves.  All of us who are married, husbands and wives alike, know the temptation to put ourselves first instead of our spouses.  The selfishness within us is the foe we must defeat.  With this in mind, let’s consider what the Bible has to say about submission.

This morning, we’re going to confine ourselves to the discussion of marriage in the latter half of Ephesians 5.  However, we’re going to start this study slightly earlier than is usual by considering what the Scriptures reveal about WHO MUST SUBMIT.  Paul lays this out in Ephesians 5:18-21.  This is one of the places where paying attention to a verse’s immediate context is vital.  Yes, women are told to submit to their husbands in the next two verses, but 5:21 makes clear that submission isn’t a woman thing.  It’s a Christian thing.  All of us are to submit to one another, and that’s emphatically true of both spouses in a marriage!

Indeed, I think it’s appropriate to read v. 21 as a subject heading for everything from 5:22-6:9.  Paul is telling spouses, children, parents, servants, and masters what submission looks like in their particular situation.  We all are in different positions, but all of us are to share in the mind of Christ.

For that matter, it’s worth paying attention to the context of v. 21 too.  “Submitting” is actually the last of three instructions that are given to us in a series, and all of them are expressions of a spiritual state.  We are supposed to submit for the same reason that we sing and that we give thanks.  All three of those are products of our choice not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit, back in v.18.  Even though we’re not in Galatians 5 here, it’s completely legitimate to say that submission is a fruit of the Spirit.

With this in mind, let’s pause to notice the complete absence of asterisks in Ephesians 5:21.  Nobody’s Bible says, “Submit to one another in the fear of Christ, except when. . .”  As long as submission is not literally sinful, we are required to submit.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t want to or don’t like it.  Either we fear Christ, or we don’t.

After this, Paul begins his series of applications by discussing SUBMISSION FOR WIVES.  This appears in Ephesians 5:22-24.  The first thing to note here is that Paul is speaking to wives about how they should behave, not to husbands about how their wives should behave.  None of us should feel triumphant about how the Scriptures stick it to our spouse.  Instead, all of us should feel humbled and ashamed about how the Scriptures stick it to us. 

Paul’s instruction to wives to submit is, to say the least, not popular.  A lot of Christian women try to opt out of this command by comparing their husbands to Christ, to the inevitable detriment of their husbands.  The battle cry is, “As long as he is treating me like this, I don’t have to submit to him!”  Brethren, let me tell you straight.  The behavior of our spouses has nothing to do with our obligation to obey God.  Even if your husband is the most obnoxious, rude, insensitive jerk on the planet, you married the guy, so you have to submit to him!  Fundamentally, submission in our marriages is submission to God, and the only way to opt out of the commandment is to opt out of obedience to Him. 

When Clay and I were asked to preach this sermon series, the requesters asked for examples of how these principles should play out in real life.  When it comes to the submission of the wife to the husband, the number of applications probably is infinite, but there are three in particular I want to point out.

First, being submissive means acknowledging your husband’s right to have the final say.  Though the amount will vary from marriage to marriage, I don’t think it’s ungodly for a wife to disagree with her husband.  Lauren disagrees with me frequently!  Sooner or later, though, every disagreement must be resolved, and it is fundamentally the responsibility of the head of the family to make those decisions.

Second, being submissive means honoring your husband’s decisions, even when you disagree.  Submission that passive-aggressively shuts down the argument, then sneaks around doing what it wants, isn’t truly submission at all.  Nor, for that matter, is grudgingly offering the minimum amount of cooperation you think you can get away with.  Submission must come from the heart.

Third, being submissive means speaking respectfully of your husband to others.  The church exalts Christ.  It doesn’t go around running Him down behind His back.  Gossip is a sin, and gossiping about your husband is doubly a sin.

Finally, let’s consider SUBMISSION FOR HUSBANDS.  Paul explores this subject in Ephesians 5:25-33. The first thing I want us to notice here is that this section is much longer than any of the others we’ve studied this morning.  Apparently, the Holy Spirit thought the husbands of the church in Ephesus needed much more persuasion than the wives did!

Second, as with the instructions of the previous few verses, these verses provide a command for husbands with no exceptions.  The wife is to submit to her husband, no matter what.  The husband is to serve his wife with self-sacrificing love, no matter what.  Even if her behavior is utterly horrible, that does not change our obligation one little bit!  Christ gave Himself for us, so we must give ourselves for our wives.

It’s interesting, though, that in the second half of this context, Paul drastically changes his rhetorical tack.  The first part is an appeal to selflessness—be like Christ!  The second part, though, is an appeal to selfishness—care for your wife, because you’re really caring for yourself. 

Brothers, truer words were never written!  Yes, we can put ourselves first in our marriages.  Yes, we can trample all over our wives.  However, if we do, the price that we will pay will be far higher than we can possibly imagine.  The fruit of our bad behavior will embitter our entire lives.

As I did for wives, I want to close with three concrete examples of what submission for husbands looks like.  The first of these is that we must make every decision for our wives’ benefit and happiness.  As we do this, we must remember that the best guide to our wives’ benefit and happiness is. . . our wives.  Beware of constantly rejecting what she wants and telling yourself it’s for her own good! 

Second, take the suffering in your marriage upon yourself.  Christ suffered for the church, not vice versa.  If someone in your marriage is going to be inconvenienced or hurt by a decision that you make, make sure it’s you every time.

Last, be the one to offer reconciliation.  Every marriage, no matter how good, will have problems in it because all of us are imperfect people.  When Wife is in the kitchen, mad, thin-lipped, not talking, and Husband is sitting in the recliner in the den, mad, thin-lipped, not talking, who should be the one to reach out?  Who should be the first to swallow their pride a little bit, to apologize, to acknowledge wrongdoing rather than finding fault?  The Biblical answer here is clear.  Christ was the first to reach out to us, so husbands should be the first to reach out to their wives.

Elders in Every Church

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

In our Bible reading for this week, there appears a passage that is easy to read past but has profound implications for the organization of our churches.  It is Acts 14:23.  From it, we learn that on the return leg of the first missionary journey, Paul appointed elders in every church that he had established.  This took place mere months, if not weeks, after the gospel first was proclaimed in these places. 

Clearly, Paul, and indeed the Holy Spirit, placed a high priority on having elders!  Sadly, it is not at all apparent that churches of Christ in the 21st century share this priority.  Though I’m not aware of any official statistics on the subject, my impression is that only about a quarter to a third of congregations are led by elders. 

Brethren, this is a serious problem.  Indeed, I believe it is the most serious problem facing churches today.  More than a godless society, more than porn, more even than strife among brethren, God’s sheep are getting slaughtered for lack of shepherds.  This evening, then, let’s contemplate the importance and implications of having elders in every church.

In this regard, we first must set our hearts on FOLLOWING THE PATTERN.  We see God’s pattern for the first-century church set out in Philippians 1:1.  Here is how the church is supposed to be organized:  elders, deacons, and ordinary saints.  As all of us know, sometimes churches can’t follow this pattern.  They lack a plurality of qualified men to appoint.

I understand that.  What I struggle with is the way that so many brethren have become so comfortable with belonging to a congregation that is not organized according to the pattern.  This kind of complacency is spiritually dangerous, and it can arise for at least two reasons.

The first is loyalty to the building more than to the Bible.  Consider, for instance, a county in which there are three sound churches, each one with an attendance of about 50 on Sunday mornings.  Not surprisingly, none of these congregations have elderships.  Congregations of that size usually aren’t able to sustain them.  However, each congregation does have one man who is qualified to serve but can’t in the absence of qualified fellows.

Now, if the Christians in these congregations were really determined to be part of a congregation with an eldership, they could have one.  They could merge their three congregations into a single congregation of 150 people, appoint three elders, and serve God according to the pattern.

In real life, though, even though this situation exists all over the country, I have never heard of churches joining together so they can have an eldership.  Everybody wants those other churches to close up shop and come worship with them, but nobody wants to leave their building, even if holding on to the building comes at the cost of following God’s pattern.  I believe that congregations are authorized to own buildings, but when it comes to elders in every church, our buildings do us no favors!

The second reason that I see is that people seek a church without elders because they don’t want to be under the authority of elders.  Sometimes, they literally drive by a sound congregation with elders on the way to their church that doesn’t have them.  Maybe it’s that these people can’t become elders themselves but love having a voice in business meetings.  Maybe it’s that the elders in that other congregation wouldn’t do things just the same way they would prefer.

Regardless, the tragedy here is that all of these people would insist proudly that they are committed to following God’s pattern for the church, but when it comes to their own deviation from the pattern, they are blind.  May all of us have the humility and wisdom to seek the leadership of elders wherever possible!

Second, we must focus on SUBMITTING TO ELDERS.  The Holy Spirit tells us to do this in as many words in 1 Peter 5:5.  This is not a popular concept in our society because Americans are rugged individualists who don’t believe in submitting to anybody!  Nonetheless, when God’s word conflicts with our cultural inclinations, it is culture that must give way.

This text does not mean, of course, that we must submit to elders who ignore or override the word of God.  God instituted the office of elder, not the office of pope!  The role of the elder isn’t to establish doctrine anyway, though they are responsible for defending it.  Instead, they are responsible for exercising good judgment in areas where the Scriptures do not speak clearly.

When they do this, we are responsible for deferring to their judgment.  This does not mean that they are necessarily right every time we disagree with them.  It does mean, though, that we should behave as though they are.  It’s not a sin to have bad judgment, even if you’re an elder.  However, stirring up trouble in the congregation is a sin, and anytime members loudly express their disapproval of the elders’ decisions, trouble is the inevitable result.

Once again, remember that serving as an elder is one of the most difficult and thankless jobs imaginable.  How would you like to live with the knowledge that you will have to give an account for every single soul at Jackson Heights?  Every malcontent, every backslider, every dumb kid (and every dumb grownup too, for that matter)—if you are one of the elders here, every one of them is your problem.  Your job is to try to get every one of them to heaven, even if they show no apparent interest in going, because Jesus died for the malcontents and backsliders and dumb kids, and God loves them.  How would you like to carry that burden around with you, everywhere you go, every single day?

Brethren, these men serve us at the cost of tremendous heartache and suffering.  The least we can do is to make their work as easy as possible.

Finally, we need men who ASPIRE TO SERVE.  Consider the spirit expressed in 1 Timothy 3:1.  Now, given what I just finished saying about the difficulty of serving, we might find ourselves wondering why on earth anyone would want to become an elder. 

Of course, that’s exactly the point.  There is no earthly reason, and men who are motivated by the flesh do not want to become self-sacrificing shepherds.  However, there was no earthly reason for Jesus to become flesh and die in our place either.  To the same extent that our spirits are stirred by the desire to imitate His humility and selflessness, we also should desire the office of elder.

It is vitally important for this congregation that there be younger men here who feel this way, and younger women who desire to support their husbands in this work.  I love and honor our elders, but they’ve all got a serious problem.  Every last one of them is mortal, and sooner or later, whether through death or incapacity, all of them will reach the point when they can no longer serve.  When that happens, either younger men will have prepared to take their place, and the eldership here will continue, or those younger men haven’t, and we are in big trouble.

In the Lord’s church, we have a bad habit of preaching on the eldership only when we’re about to appoint elders.  Brethren, that puts the emphasis in the wrong place.  Recognizing a man who is qualified is relatively easy compared to becoming a man who is qualified!

This week, then, if we think we might want to serve someday, or if we have husbands who might want to serve, let’s pause to take stock.  Let’s look up those character portraits of the elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Let’s use those portraits as a mirror.  Let’s look to see where we measure up and especially where we don’t.  Then, let’s ask where we need to change in order to prepare ourselves to take up the burden of leadership.

Jeremiah 29:11 in Context

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

If there is any passage that has attracted our country’s attention for the past five years or so, it is Jeremiah 29:11.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a meme on Facebook that says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 29:11 is everywhere, from coffee mugs to T-shirts.

Now, I’m certainly not opposed to the quoting of any Bible passage, but the sad truth is that this one frequently is misapplied by the quoters.  When we look at the isolated verse, it is so vague—talking about plans, a future, and a hope—that it could mean nearly anything.  Not surprisingly, the way that people use it often says much more about their plans for themselves than about God’s plans for them.

However, I’ve also seen people react to the memeification of this verse by denying that it has any applicability to us whatsoever:  “If you weren’t alive in 583 BC, this verse is not for you!”  I don’t think that’s right either.  This morning, then, I’d like to find a middle ground by considering Jeremiah 29:11 in context.

Even with a limited view of context, looking only at the few verses immediately around the passage, several deeply significant spiritual lessons emerge.  The first of these is that SIN HAS CONSEQUENCES.  We see this laid out in Jeremiah 29:10.  God tells the Jews that he is going to restore them to the promised land—but only after they spend 70 years in exile in Babylon. 

Though this might seem cruel, it is 100 percent the Jews’ fault.  God warned them repeatedly through the prophets that if they did not repent of their idolatry and greed, they would be taken into captivity.  To these warnings, the Jews did not listen in the least little bit.  They dared God to punish them, so He did.

Even in this, though, God’s purpose is instructive.  By allowing them to experience the horrible consequences of turning their backs on Him, He is giving them one last chance to learn their lesson.  Once they have learned it, He will return them to the land.

Our Father still teaches us this way today, just as we do the same for our children.  Some parents, sad to say, are more concerned with their children’s happiness than their children’s character.  Every time the kid fails or gets in trouble, there Mom and Dad are to rescue them from themselves and make it all better. 

If you do that, though, you end up with a spoiled, selfish kid with no capacity for handling adversity.  Instead, hard as it is, there are times when all parents have to let their kids fail, when we have to watch them suffer the consequences that come from doing what we told them not to do.  Sometimes, misery is the only thing that will penetrate that thick skull!

So too for us, of course.  God warns us repeatedly that sin is bad for us, that the devil hates us and wants to destroy us.  Sometimes we listen to the warnings; sometimes we don’t.  When we don’t, sooner or later, we will get a taste of how miserable sin is.  Sometimes, as with the Jews, the consequences of our sin last for decades. 

When God does this, though, when He teaches us through pain, we need to pay attention and mend our ways.  If we don’t, we may prove to be beyond all help.

Second, if we want to experience God’s plan and hope and future, we need to remember that REPENTANCE COMES FIRST.  This point appears in Jeremiah 29:12-13.  God is going to listen to the Jews, but only if they call to Him and come and pray to Him.  God will allow the Jews to find Him, but only if they seek for Him with their whole heart.  He isn’t going to restore them to the land because the time limit has run out.  He’s going to restore them to the land only once they come to terms with their spiritual failures.

Here’s where lots of people go wrong with Jeremiah 29:11.  They like the thought that God has a plan for them, but they don’t realize that we have the plan in book form, and it’s called the Bible.  They like the thought that they get to have God’s hope in their lives, but they don’t recognize that hope only comes from humbling themselves at the feet of Jesus.  They like the warm fuzzy meme that doesn’t demand anything from them, but they refuse to see that if we want anything from God, we have to surrender everything first.

In short, if we want to take comfort from the fact that God has a plan for us, we’ve got to stop acting like we have a plan for God.  He is not going to follow our plans.  He is not concerned with our wealth or our earthly happiness.  He is concerned with our holiness and obedience because he knows that those things are best for us. 

This week, then, let’s all of us ask ourselves a difficult question:  “Where do I need to repent?”  Where are we falling short from putting God’s plan to work in our lives?  Where are we keeping ourselves from the fullness of the blessing He promises by stubbornly clinging to our sin?  I guarantee you, that question has an answer for every person in this room.  When we are willing to confront the spiritual ugliness in our own hearts, His work of restoration can begin.

Finally, though, we see that GOD WILL DELIVER.  Let’s read Jeremiah 29:14 together.  Look at the promises here:  “I will be found.”  “I will gather.”  “I will restore.”  This is all the more impressive in its historical context.  If you glance at the beginning of the chapter, you’ll see that Jeremiah wrote this during the reign of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, after Jeconiah, the previous king, and many of the nobles and artisans of the land already had been carried captive. 

In other words, Judah at this point is almost completely under the control of the Babylonian superpower.  Indeed, God already has warned them that even the people now remaining in the land will go into exile too.  Once that happens, there is no earthly reason to hope that the Jews ever will return to the land or that they even will continue as a distinct people.

However, God promises this pathetic, doomed remnant that they will have a future and a hope, and so they do.  The Babylonian tyranny is overthrown, and the exiles return to the land of their fathers—all on the timetable that God foretold.  What would have been impossible for any human agency was nothing to God.

The same holds true for us.  Many of us struggle with burdens that seem impossible for us to overcome.  We’ve had a rotten relationship with that spouse or family member for decades, and we can’t imagine that it ever will get any better.  We feel like we’ve made such a mess of our lives that there’s no way that we can ever get things put back together.  We’re fighting a battle against sin, and we feel like we’re constantly losing.

You know, we might be right.  Those things might be impossible for us, but they are not impossible for God.  He is the great Deliverer, and nothing is impossible with Him.  He provides the strength we need to overcome in our struggles, and He provides the grace we need to overcome in our failures.  Judah hoped in Him and was not disappointed.  If we hope in Him, we won’t be disappointed either.

Guided to Christ

Friday, February 12, 2021

In this congregation, we are committed to imitating the simple faith and the simple practices of the church of the first century.  There are some things that distinguish our time from theirs.  For instance, none of us have miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the essentials of our faith remain unchanged.  The same gospel that saved them still saves us, and it operates on the human heart in the same way.

There are many passages in the New Testament that illustrate this timeless truth.  Today, however, we’ll be examining a text from this week’s Bible reading.  It is Acts 8:26-39, and it tells the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. 

There is a miracle in this narrative, but interestingly, it happens after the eunuch obeys the gospel and has nothing to do with his decision to do so.  Everything that Philip did to bring the eunuch to the Lord is something that we can do too.  This morning, then, let’s see how we can learn to be more effective personal workers as we consider how the eunuch was guided to Christ.

There are three main elements in this story that lead to the eunuch’s salvation.  The first of these is AN OBEDIENT DISCIPLE.  We see the obedience of Philip described in Acts 8:26-29.  The Holy Spirit tells him to go hiking out into the desert.  He does.  The Spirit tells him to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.  He does that too.

We might read this story and think that personal work would be a whole lot easier if we too got instructions from the Holy Spirit.  Of course, the thing is that we have received instructions about evangelism from the Spirit!  Just as Philip had to obey if he wanted to save the eunuch’s soul, we have to obey our instructions if we want to save the souls of those around us.

The first of these, according to 1 Peter 3:15, is that we have to be ready at any time to give a defense of the hope that is within us.  In some ways, this is easier for us than ever before.  As long as we’ve got our phone with us, we’ve got a Bible with us too. 

The question is whether we can use the word of God to teach others how to please God.  If we go out to eat after services, and somebody recognizes that we came out of church and asks us to explain the Bible to us, would we be able to do that?  Could we show them book, chapter, and verse that explains who Jesus is, what His death means, and how people can be saved from their sins through Him?  Brethren, if we can’t do that right now, we aren’t ready, and we need to study, study, study until we are ready.

Second, we have to be opportunistic.  As Colossians 4:3 shows, we have to pray for opportunities and have the love for others and zeal for the Lord to walk through those doors when they open.  Everywhere Paul went, he found opportunities to teach because he was looking for them.  If we have a heart like his, we will find opportunities too.

Our second main element in the salvation of the eunuch is AN EAGER SEEKER.  Let’s keep reading, in Acts 8:30-35.  Both in this section and in the context preceding it, the eunuch comes across as a stand-up guy.  He has several characteristics that add up to him being open to the gospel.

The first of these, and something that always will be present in those who come to the Lord, is zeal for God.  When the text tells us that the eunuch came from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship, we read right through that, but it’s actually really impressive. 

Anybody know how far it is from the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia to Jerusalem?  I didn’t either, so I looked it up on Google Maps, and it’s a little over 2000 miles, about the same distance as from Nashville to LA.  This is long before the days of planes, trains, and automobiles, too, so we’re looking at something like a month of hard, dangerous travel, one way.  The eunuch did all this to worship at Jerusalem, even though they wouldn’t even let him in the temple because he was a eunuch!  As if that weren’t enough, we see him spending his time on the journey back by reading from Isaiah.

Equal to his zeal, though, was his humility.  Despite his zeal, he doesn’t act like he’s got it all figured out.  Instead, he knows what he doesn’t know, he’s willing to ask Philip for help, and he doesn’t dismiss the truth about Jesus because of his preconceptions.

Now, this might seem like a fairy-tale prospect, but let me tell you—the vast majority of the people I’ve brought to the Lord have been like this.  They cared enough to learn, and they were humble enough to learn.  If either one of these attributes is absent, we aren’t going to get anywhere. 

The final element of our conversion story is IMMERSION IN WATER.  Let’s finish up our reading for the morning with Acts 8:36-39.  The first thing that strikes me about this story is that as Luke tells it, the one who introduces the subject of baptism is the eunuch.  Somehow, somebody who didn’t understand that Isaiah 53 was about Jesus now knows that he has to be immersed in water.  How’d he figure that out?

Once we ask the question, the answer is obvious.  In the course of preaching Jesus to him, Philip also tells him about baptism.  From this, we must conclude that it’s impossible to preach Jesus without preaching baptism, and that somebody who doesn’t preach baptism isn’t preaching Jesus.

Second, this passage is vital to our understanding of the nature of Bible baptism.  The eunuch is traveling through the desert.  It’s safe to assume that he had water with him.  If not, he’s not going to make it back to Ethiopia!  Nonetheless, in order to be baptized, he waits until he sees a body of water by the side of the road, goes down into the water with Philip, and comes back out of the water.  Despite the misuse of the word “baptism” today, that doesn’t fit with sprinkling or pouring.  It only fits with immersion, burial with Christ under the water.

Now, I’m sure that many of you have heard, as I have, that you can prove that Bible baptism is immersion by looking at the Greek word for “to baptize”, which is baptiz┼Ź, and means “to immerse”.  That’s true, but I don’t like using that argument, just as I don’t care for proving any point by arguing from the Greek.

Let me explain why.  None of us are ever going to study with a non-Christian who is fluent in koiné Greek.  As a result, they have no way to determine whether we’re telling them the truth or not.  Even if they believe us, their faith will be in us and in our Greek dictionary instead of in the Bible. 

However, we can take them to Acts 8 and show them the eunuch going down into the water and coming up out of the water, and they can understand that for themselves.  When we teach them that way, we’re not only teaching them the truth.  We’re teaching them how to find the truth in the word of God.

Let There Be Light: Wisdom Over Folly

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

One of the most unusual accounts of the creation in the whole Bible appears in Proverbs 8:22-31.  The speaker claims to have been with God since before the beginning, but it isn’t Jesus, and it isn’t the Holy Spirit.  Instead, as is true throughout Proverbs 8, the speaker is the personification of wisdom.

As Clay pointed out last week, when God said “Let there be light,” it was an orderly act.  However, we see here that it was a wise one too.  Ultimately, it is God’s wisdom that underlies God’s order.  Any foolish toddler can destroy, but only the wisdom of God can give structure to the creation.

Even today, God’s light operates in our world to enlighten us.  This is true in a physical sense.  It’s much easier to walk through the woods at noon than in the middle of a pitch-dark night! 

However, it’s also true spiritually.  As Psalm 119:130 says, “The revelation of Your words brings light.”  Our physical eyes can’t see the light radiating from the Bible, but the eyes of our heart can!  This morning, then, let’s consider how the light of God brings us the wisdom to overcome folly.

If we want God to illuminate us, the first thing that we must do is to CHOOSE THE RIGHT SOURCE.  Consider the contrast that Paul draws in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7.  Here, he distinguishes between two kinds of wisdom:  the wisdom of this age and its rulers on the one hand and the hidden wisdom of God on the other.

This is vital for us to recognize.  It warns us that not everything we encounter that claims to be wise truly is wise.  There’s the wisdom of God, which is genuine, but there’s also the wisdom of earth, which is a demonic counterfeit. 

I guarantee you, brethren—the devil is constantly trying to get every one of us to buy into counterfeit wisdom.  We hear this counterfeit wisdom on the lips of worldly people.  We see it on the screens of our TV’s and computers.  The more we pay attention to those things, the more we set our hearts on the concerns of this life, the more the devil will be able to reduce our wisdom to foolishness.

The only way to counteract this constant erosion of wisdom in our lives is to replenish it from its divine source.  We need to pray for wisdom, constantly, and we need to seek out wisdom in God’s word. 

Speaking of God’s word, I want to challenge you to find some wisdom in our daily Bible reading this week.  For the first time this year, it will take us away from Acts—into James, in fact.  When first I noticed that, I was a little perplexed.  “Why did Clay put that there?” I asked.  Then, after I finished the reading, I understood. 

I’m not going to tell you why he did that.  Instead, this week, as you’re going through the reading, try to figure out what James has to do with the early part of Acts 8.  I think you’ll find that it puts some familiar passages in a whole new light!

Second, if we want to benefit from God’s wisdom, we must LET THE EYES OF OUR HEART BE ENLIGHTENED.  Look at Ephesians 1:17-19.  First of all, notice the connection between light and wisdom here?  Receiving a spirit of wisdom is the same thing as having our hearts be enlightened.

In order to understand this passage, though, I think we also need to unpack the Greek concept of the heart.  This isn’t about the blood pump in our chests, nor is it even about our emotions, the way that we use “heart” metaphorically in English today.  Instead, the Greek “heart” is a concept that our language really doesn’t have.  It refers to the times when our feelings and our thoughts come together.  In English, we might call it our mind-and-heart.

Thus, when Paul says that he is praying for them to know the hope of their calling, the wealth of their inheritance, and the greatness of God’s power, he’s not praying for them to develop some disembodied intellectual understanding.  He’s praying for them to get those things, so that those concepts are not only intellectually interesting but also emotionally powerful. 

Our second assignment for the week, then, is to spend 15 minutes meditating on a passage, trying to get it.  Meditation, of course, is a perfectly Scriptural concept.  There’s nothing New-Agey about Bible meditation.  It’s just taking a text and dwelling on it, turning it over and over in our minds, savoring it.  We can do this in the shower, when we’re out for a walk, or even when we’re sitting on the couch right before bed, thinking about the day’s events.  Anytime can work, really.  It’s a no-big-deal process, but it can help us to enlighten the eyes of our hearts.

Finally, we can choose the light of wisdom in our lives by WALKING THE BRIGHT PATH.  This comes from Proverbs 4:18-19.  By the way, if you want to pick a passage to meditate on but don’t know which one to choose, this one would be an amazing choice! 

Notice the contrast here between two walks:  a bright walk and a dark walk, a wise walk and a foolish walk.  The path of the righteous gets brighter all the time, so that constantly you can see more clearly.  However, the path of the wicked stays completely dark.  As a result, you remain ignorant of what’s in front of you and trip over all kinds of stuff.

This idea should be familiar to us.  We all know the layout of our own homes, and when the lights are on, we walk around without any problems.  However, turn those lights off, and suddenly home becomes a minefield.  In my own house, I will generally still know where all the major items of furniture are, but if the kids left out a stool or a pair of shoes or, heaven forbid, a pile of Legos, I might end up crippled for life!

That’s what it means to be a Christian.  We walk in the light instead of the darkness.  We see.  We know.  People in the world don’t know because they don’t have their pathway lit by God. 

This week, then, when you encounter some difficulty or problem, pause to let God illuminate the solution.  Pray about it.  Ask yourself if the Bible offers any guidance.  If we will only look for God’s wisdom in this way, I think we will be amazed at how problems that seem insoluble and complex suddenly become very simple.  The devil loves darkness and confusion, but God brings clarity and light.

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