Monday, October 22, 2018

Be Strong in the Lord – Ephesians 6:10-13

The apostle’s final exhortation is both a stirring appeal and a solemn warning.  Though it is found in verses 10-20 of the sixth chapter, at the very end of this epistle, it is probably the most well-known of all the verses in this short letter.  John Bunyan almost certainly was strongly influenced by the imagery of the apostle here when he wrote his famous book, Pilgrim’s Progress.  William Gurnall, the Puritan, wrote over 1000 pages on these verses alone, in a book with an equally long title: The Christian in Complete Armour; A Treatise of the Saints’ War against the Devil: Wherein a Discovery in made of that grand Enemy of God and his People, in his Policies, Power, Seat of his Empire, Wickedness, and chief design he hath against the Saints.  A Magazine Opened, From whence the Christian is furnished with Spiritual Arms for the Battle, helped on with his Armour, and taught the use of his Weapon: together with the happy issue of the whole War.  When D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached through the book of Ephesians, he preached 26 sermons (of the 232 total!) on these verses.  So history has shown that even the most experienced believers have found the instructions in these verses a rich treasure of spiritual refreshment.  Throughout the ages, Christians have found spiritual encouragement and strength again and again in this inspired call to arms.

But as we approach these verses, we must begin by asking some fundamental questions.  First of all, what is the function of this appeal in the epistle?  Where does it find its place in the overall argument of the epistle?  Secondly, why the military metaphor?  Up to this point, the apostle hasn’t invoked war and combat as a way to illustrate the spiritual struggle.  Why now?  And thirdly, why frame this combat entirely in terms of a struggle with spiritual forces?  We live in a brick and mortar world; why tell believers to fight against beings who inhabit the “heavenly places”?  And then, finally, what does this imply about the Christian life and the struggles that we face and how we face them?  These are the questions that we want to consider this morning.

First question: What is the function of this appeal in this epistle?  It clearly functions as a closing appeal.  We see this in the opening word, “Finally, my brethren . . .” (10).  But why put it here?  There are exhortations all over the epistle; why end on this note? 

I think the clue is in the opening exhortation: “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (10).  From the beginning of this letter, the apostle has several times pointed the believers at Ephesus to the power of God for them.  Not just the power of God, mind you, but the power of God which is appropriated for the day-to-day life of faith.  Think back to chapter 1; there the apostle encourages them to know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (1:19-20).  In fact, the apostle uses the same words here and in chapter 6 to describe the power of God.  And then you have the mention of heavenly places which also shows up in 6:12.  So you might think of these two passages as sorts of bookends for the epistle. 

And then, right in the middle of the epistle, there it is again: Paul prays that God “would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (3:16).  Again, we have this prayer for spiritual strength, and the source of this strength is the power of God. 

Now this is tied to the overall theme of the epistle, because I think if you could sum up the overall theme of this epistle, it would be in the two words, “in Christ.”  The apostle is reminding us of the spiritual blessings that we have in him (cf. 1:3).  Everything we have that will bring us to heaven in the end comes in and through the person and work of the Son of God.  We do not have eternal life because of who we are or what we have done.  We have eternal life because of who Christ is and what he has done.  It is an astonishing reality: we have union with God through Christ.  And this means that the power of God is now available for every believer.  It is not only available, we wouldn’t even be believers apart from the power of God raising us from spiritual death.  But the point is that that same power is available to every believer, no matter where they are on the sanctification ladder.  We may (and rightly so) feel our weakness and inability, but in Christ we are no longer alone.  Yes, without him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), but through him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13). 

So when the apostle ends this epistle, it should not surprise us that he comes once again to the issue of union with Christ and the result of this union in being empowered with the power of God for daily victory over sin.  “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”   Union with Christ is not just an abstract doctrine to be believed and defended and admired.  It is to be appropriated in our daily life through faith in Christ.  What the apostle is essentially saying is this, that if we really believe the truths of this epistle, if we really believe that we have union with Christ, we are not going to sit down in defeat and gloom and despair.  No, rather we are going to stand against all our foes.  This epistle has reminded them of what God is doing for them and in them and through them.  They are not alone.  The grace of God has gone before them in election, was there at the beginning of their spiritual walk in regeneration, and is a constant aid in Christ.  He is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.

In summary, the apostle ends with these words because in doing so he is showing them how to take the great theme of this epistle, the wonderful truth of union with Christ, and put shoe leather on it, how to put it into practice.  We live out the reality of being “in Christ” when we are strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, when he face down our spiritual enemies without running or giving up.  Show me a Christian who really believes the truths of Ephesians, and I will show you a courageous man or woman.  Theology matters, because theology, properly appropriated by faith with humility, puts fire in the bones and courage in the step.  So this exhortation is a fitting conclusion to this epistle.

But that brings us to the next question: why the military metaphor? Well, one answer to that question is that this is one of the Prison Epistles, and no doubt as the apostle was under house arrest, he had a lot of opportunity to converse with Roman military personnel.  This probably led to a lot of thought on the apostle’s part about how the military and warfare illustrate key realities in the Christian life.  Certainly, the apostle uses the metaphor of warfare a lot in his epistles.  For example, in writing to Timothy, he says, “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).  And then, referring to himself, he writes, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). 

I think next to theology, I enjoy reading military history most.  And I think one of the reasons it is so appealing to me is because of this connection between military life and the life of faith.  There are so many. 

But the question is, exactly how does this military metaphor tie in to the message of this epistle?  I think it does so in the following way.  In this epistle, the apostle Paul is telling us, in not so many words, that God is building an army.  Think back to chapter 2.  How are we described?  We were dead in sin, unable to take one step toward God, prisoners of lust, of the world, and of the devil.  “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)” (2:4-5).  And then, he not only gives us life, but he begins to equip us for battle.  First of all, he gives us a new nature, makes us new men and women in Christ (4:20-24).  Our allegiance has changed.  Once we were the willing servants of Satan and of sin, but now we willingly follow our new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then he equips us, gives us spiritual gifts and builds us up as part of the one body of Christ (4:1-16).  Yes, Christ is building a new society, but he is also building an army. 

I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of the vision of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37).   God takes these dry bones which were scattered all over the place, puts them together, brings sinews and skin upon them, and then breathes life into them.  The result?  “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and the lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (37:10).  That is what the apostle says has happened to the Ephesians.  They were once no different, spiritually speaking, from a collection of dry bones.  But God has brought live to them and they are now part of “an exceeding great army.” 

That is one reason.  But there is another reason I think the apostle uses military language in addressing the believer.  When we think about the glorious privileges that are ours as men and women who are united to Christ, it is easy sometimes to forget that we are not in heaven yet.  It is easy to think that once we are believers that our life should no longer be hard anymore.  In particular, it was easy for them to faint at the tribulations the apostle had to experience for the sake of the Ephesians and other believers (cf. Eph. 3:13). 

But the reality is that union with Christ, though it is a reality right now, does not make the road to heaven any less hard or any less narrow.  It is a road beset with enemies who are determined to bring you down.  And that is why the apostle ends on this note.  It is a reminder that our salvation does not take away the fact that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  We are opposed by an enemy who will fire upon you, fix your position, and being maneuvering on you.  And if you are not prepared, you are going to be brought down.  You are not going to stand if you are not ready.

And it is hand-to-hand combat that the apostle is preparing them for.  That idea is embedded in the word “wrestle” in verse 12.  Some commentators have wondered why the apostle didn’t use the word “war” or “battle” instead of “wrestle” there.  But the reason is that in the first century, you didn’t defeat your foe unless you engaged them in hand-to-hand combat.  The apostle is talking about soldiers who are fully engaged here; they are not sitting back firing missiles from miles away.  This is up close and personal.  And if you are not prepared, you are not going to come out of that unscathed.  So you need to be ready.

In verse 13, the apostle says that we need to “be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”   That expression, “the evil day,” is an interesting one.  It refers to a specific event in the believer’s life when their faith is under siege and they are on the verge of breaking spiritually.  We don’t experience this every day, but we have all experienced times in our life when it is far more difficult than others to keep following Christ, to say no to sin, to push back against the bitterness and unbelief.  The apostle is saying that you need to be prepared for that.  It will come, if it hasn’t already. 

And evil days come even when we have successfully weathered previous evil days.  Think about how the devil attacked the Lord.  He didn’t come at him at all times.  We are told that after the wilderness temptation, “when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13).  He attacks, and if he is not successful, he will try again.  He may depart, but it will only be for a season.  The evil day will return.  So we shouldn’t become complacent.  You haven’t “done all” (13) just by winning one battle.  The devil isn’t finished with you.  So you need to be constantly on your guard.  You need to be like the builders on the wall of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day, who worked with a tool in one hand and a sword in the other.

So the military metaphor is here to remind us who we are (we are the army of the Lord, and he is our Captain) and what we are doing (we are fighting a war that can be brutal and difficult).  Now the difficulty doesn’t mean we should despair, because our Lord has already defeated the forces of evil on the cross.  The final victory is sure.  And we can stand as long as we are strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  There is no reason for despair, for defeatism.  But there is still every reason for caution and preparedness. 

But who are we fighting?  That brings us to the third question, which was: why frame this combat in terms of fighting spiritual forces?  For in verse 11, Paul warns us against the “wiles [stratagems] of the devil,” and in verse 12 he goes on to say, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  These are just different ways of describing wicked spirits, demons, who operate under the command of the devil, Satan.  Paul is saying that this spiritual warfare we are to prepare for is a warfare against this particular foe.

And this is in contrast to “flesh and blood.”  In other words, the enemy of the Christian is not the atheist, not the persecutor, not progressive secularist.  People are not our enemy.  Non-Christians are not our enemy.  People of other faiths, like Islam, are not our enemy.  And we are not to be fighting them, we are to love them, serve them, and preach the gospel to them.  Rather, our enemy, our opponent, our antagonist on the battlefield, are not people but evil spirits.

What does the apostle mean by this?  Well, he of course doesn’t mean that people can’t be the source of great evil.  There are false prophets, for example, who lead people astray.  But what the NT teaches is that people are not the ultimate source of false teaching and false living.  Behind every false prophet is a demon or demons, as in 1 Tim. 4:1 - “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.”  Or, I think of what Paul says to the Corinthians: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves in to the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  If people hurt us, it is because they are being used by Satan to do so.  He is the real enemy.  And no wonder, because before our conversion, we ourselves were also servants of the devil (Eph. 2:2).  He works in the children of disobedience.  That doesn’t take about the responsibility of sinners, but it does point us to our ultimate foe.  The reason why the church suffers and is attacked is because there is a devil in this world.  He is the accuser of the brethren.  He is our enemy.

Which ought to tell us that the goal of standing is to stand against the devil.  He wants, above all things, to destroy your faith (cf. Luke 22:31-32).  Yes, he can attack you on a physical level, like Job.  But the only reason he did that was to get at his faith and to cause him to blaspheme God.  So to stand against the wiles of the devil, is to not give in to unbelief, to not give in to the sin that will separate you from God.  Think about what the apostle says in 4:27 – “Neither give place to the devil.”  In other words, don’t let anger dominate you, because then that becomes a means the devil can use to get a place in your heart and to start turning you against God.  He did that with Judas: “the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (Jn. 13:2).

In other words, since the warfare is against spiritual beings, the warfare has as its aim spiritual goals.  The goal is to stand against the attacks of the devil so that you faith is intact no matter how often or how hard he levels his assaults against you.  The battle the church fights is not a political battle.  It is not a battle to win elections.  It is a battle to maintain the faith.  It is a battle to maintain allegiance to Jesus Christ.  It is a battle to win souls for Christ.  It is a battle to be holy in an unholy world.

It is why James exhorted his readers this way: “Submit yourselves therefore unto God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jm. 4:7).  The one who occupies the battlefield at the end of the day is the one who wins.  The one who resists the devil is the one who will stand and occupy the battlefield.  But it is important to remember that the context of that passage is the battle against worldliness (ver. 1-6).  That is one of the ways the devil tries to get at you; by alluring you to be a friend of the world.  Resist him, says the apostle.

Or think of what Peter said: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).  Here, the idea is that the devil is behind the persecutions God’s people often have to endure.  Again, the purpose of this is to overthrow their faith, which is why the apostle exhorts them to resist the devil “steadfast in the faith,” because it was precisely at that point that the battle was engaged.

So the apostle draws our attention to a spiritual foe, because that is ultimately the source of our greatest danger.  The stakes in this battle are matters of the soul; it is a spiritual battle in which we are engaged and in which we must stand.

Now what does all this imply about how we live out our lives as Christians?  Here I want to come back to the first point we started with; namely, the fact that this appeal is grounded in the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ.  The overall command here is to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (10).  But that is not all that he says. We are not only told to be strong in the Lord, we are also told to “put on the whole armor of God” (11), to “take unto the whole armor of God” (12).  It is only as we do this that we will be able to “stand” (11) and “withstand” (13).

Here you have two realities that are simultaneously true.  One reality is that we can do nothing apart from the power of God.  That is the basis of the exhortation to be strong in the Lord.  All our power for defense or offense comes from the Lord.  In ourselves, we have nothing, no power, and no strength.  But on the other hand, we are told to do something.  We have to put on the armor of God.  We are to stand.  These are things that we have to do.

And it is very important to keep these two things together.  For there are some who teach that the essence of the Christian is to “let go and let God.”  Now, I agree that we are desperately in need of God and that without him we can do nothing.  But you have gone beyond Scripture if you take that to mean that spiritual victory is only won when we simply do nothing and commit the whole battle to God.  That is simply not what text teaches!  God is not one fighting here; the believer is.  It is the believer who is to take the armor and put it on.  Why?  Because they are going to have to fight!  Hand-to-hand! There is no passivity here.  If we are going to stand in the evil day, we are going to have to fight, to wrestle with demons!

Now, on the other hand, there are those who give the impression that God is simply waiting for you to do something for him.  In other words, it really is up to you.  But this mindset is also contradicted by the passage.  The overall command here is to be strong in the Lord.  Yes, you are to fight, but not in your own strength, but in the strength that God gives. 

The doctrine of union with Christ, does not mean that daily victory over sin is automatic in virtue of our connection with the Lord.  What it does mean is that we have been given spiritual life and power, and that it is in virtue of our connection to Jesus Christ that we are now able to fight and stand.  So, it is not that God does everything and we do nothing.  Nor is it that we do everything and God does nothing.  Nor is it that we do some things and the Lord does other things.  Rather, the Biblical teaching is that every act of faith is an act in which we act and God acts, simultaneously.  So we can’t take credit at the end of the day for our victory over sin, because the power in which we fight and live out the live of faith is all from God, not from us.  But neither can we sit back and be okay with doing nothing, for the power of God is operative in the acts of the believing Christian.  This is confirmed in many, many texts (cf. Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:12-13). 

Now it ought to encourage us that this is the case, for it implies that when we step out on faith, in obedience to our Lord, no matter how hard the task may be to which he is calling us, we can yet be sure that God will empower us to obey.  Again, it is not our own strength that will bring us through but the power of God.  If the Lord calls you to step out onto the raging sea, you can do so because you serve the one who walks on the waves.  We so often falter and are ready to fall down in the evil day because we are focused on our own inabilities and inadequacies.  And they are many!  We need to be more like Abraham, who “being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, that he had promised, he was able to perform” (Rom. 4:19-21).  This is the perfect picture of what the apostle is calling us to do.  You see, Abraham could not do the first thing to bring about God’s promises to him.  Neither can we.  And yet, God was calling him to live a life of faith and it was as he lived out that life of faith that God brought his promises to fruition.

This is all possible ultimately because of what Christ did on the cross.  Are we called to fight principalities and powers?  Very well, we can fight them because Christ has on one level already vanquished them: “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14-15).  On the cross, he destroyed “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver[ed] them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).  Christ’s death and resurrection guaranteed the ultimate destruction of Satan.  We are fighting him and his legions in the shadow of his defeat and in light of the final victory that we have in Christ.  We have therefore every reason to be encouraged.  We have every reason to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  There is no reason why we should not take up the whole armor of God, for the battle is the Lord’s and he never loses.  Let us therefore fear not and follow Christ, for he has defeated death, hell, and the grave.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Christian Work Ethic: Ephesians 6:5-8

Back in chapter 4, we noted that the apostle commends and commands labor.  In other words, he speaks to the morality of labor: “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands that thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (4:28).  In the verses before us this morning, Paul speaks to the manner of and the motivation for our labor. 

Now it is true that he is speaking to bondservants in verses 5-8.  However, there are principles here that apply to all of us who, like the bondservant, work for others.  And even if you are self-employed, these principles still apply.  On some level, all of us are working for someone else.  If you are not self-employed, that someone else is your boss.  If you are self-employed, that someone else is your customer. 

But these verses don’t just apply to you and me because we, like the bondservant, are working for someone else.  The main reason they apply to us is because we belong to Christ and all our work is ultimately to be work for Christ.  It is not just the slave who must be conscientious of this fact; it is something that all who embrace the Lordship of Christ over their lives must live out on a day to day basis.  These verses are a specific application of the general principles laid out in verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”  Or Romans 14:7-9, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”  And so the apostle commands the servants to do their work, “as unto Christ” (5), “as the servants of Christ” (6), and “as to the Lord” (7).  In other words, the underlying principle here is that believers, as the slaves of Christ, are to do their work to and for him.  It is that principle we want to explore this morning.  In particular, we want to explore how this should affect how and why we do our work.

How does being the servant of Christ affect how we do our work?  Well, first of all, it means we are to do our work by respecting the authorities that God has placed over us.  I take this from the overarching exhortation of verses 5-8: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh” (5).  Now you don’t have to be a slave for this verse to apply to you.  If you have a boss to whom you are accountable, the same principle applies to you.  He or she is over you and you are to respect that authority.  You are to carry out their instructions, you are to obey their commands.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you obey unlawful or wicked directives.  But it does mean that you are not at liberty to do whatever you please on the job.  You are not at liberty to disregard your boss’s instructions just because you think they are ludicrous or because you think you know a better way to do something.  You may in fact know a better way.  In that case, you share (respectfully) your ideas with your boss; if he or she agrees with you, great.  If not, you drop it and do what they want you to do.  The bottom line is that you are obligated to obey your boss even if you don’t like what they are telling you to do.  It is a terrible witness to your employer and your fellow employees to disregard the wishes and directives of those who are over you.  Such an attitude does not spring from godly principles.  More likely, it springs from pride, and it poisons not only your relationship with your boss but also your witness to them.

Even if you are self-employed, there is a principle here that can apply to you.  Every time you enter a contract with someone, you are effectively binding yourself to the person through certain promises and expectations.  As a Christian, you are obligated to follow through on those expectations.  You are not to back down from your obligations or to renege on your contractual promises.  Again, it is a terrible witness when a Christian does something like this.  We are to be men and women of our word.

We must always beware of interpreting our freedom in Christ to mean that we can or should do whatever we want.  That is never what Christian liberty means.  We are always to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet. 2:13).  Nor does freedom in Christ mean that we are free from responsibility.  It does not mean that we are free to pursue our every whim and desire.  It is no indication of spirituality that we are free to do whatever we please.  Nor is it any indication of a lack of spirituality that we are bound by certain earthly responsibilities and obligations.  Obedience to earthly masters is not a hindrance to spiritual flourishing; neither will being self-employed necessarily promote godliness.  I say this because there is in certain quarters of the church an idea that to be tied down in any respect to external authorities is antithetical to spiritual advancement.  Such an idea finds no place in the Scriptures.  Obey your masters!

Now how does this work itself out in our respective areas of employment?  This leads to the second point.  We are to do our work, the apostle says, “with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (5).  Whether or not you have an earthly master, whether or not you report to a boss or employer or board, the Christian ought to do his or her work “with fear and trembling.”  What does this mean? 

When you compare this to other verses where this phrase appears, it is clear that it refers to what Charles Hodge calls “conscientious solicitude.”[1]  In other words, we are to care about the quality of our labor.  The effort we put into our work is not something we are throwing away.  We are not to look at it as something that does not matter.  It matters: we are to do it “with fear and trembling.”

The apostle is not referring here to the servile fear that many slaves had of their masters.  This again, is clear from a comparison to similar passages.  For example, Paul uses this phrase when he exhorts the Philippian believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  He is not saying that the Christian is to grow in grace because they are afraid God will squash them if they don’t dot every “i” or cross every “t” to God’s satisfaction.  That would be servile fear.  But that is not what the apostle is commending there.  Rather, he is saying that they ought to show a great deal of concern and care about their spiritual condition; they are not to take spiritual growth lightly – they are to work at it with fear and trembling.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the apostle should use this same phrase with respect to spiritual growth and service rendered to earthly masters!  It shows just how abominable it is to think that it is mark of spirituality when we abandon our earthly responsibilities in order to pursue spirituality.  God does not command us to go out of the world; he commands us to be in it though not of it, and part of being in it means doing our work well.  We are not to do our work in a slipshod manner; we are to do it with fear and trembling.

Remember what the apostle said to the Thessalonians: “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us.  For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:8-10).  You see how the apostle worked: “with labor and travail” – that is the outcome of doing it with fear and trembling.  Now the reason he had to say this to them was because “we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies” (ver. 11).  For whatever reason, some were simply not working.  Far from being Christian, it is wicked: “Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (12).  Refusing to labor in this world is never commended to the Christian, even under the most spiritual of pretenses.

It doesn’t matter where you work, how long you plan to work there, or what your particular job is, as long as it is labor that is consistent with the Lordship of Christ over your life.  You are to do it, whatever it is, with fear and trembling, with conscientious solicitude.  You are to do your work well, to the best of your ability, whatever you or others may think of it.  You are to care about what you do.

Third, the apostle says that we are to labor “in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (5).  Have you ever known someone who couldn’t do their job because their mind was always someplace else?  We are to be single-minded, not double-minded, in our work.  I think the apostle is referring to people who are so discontent with their position and work that they are always dreaming about being somewhere else and doing something else; as a result, they are simply unable to do their work “with fear and trembling.”  It would have been easy for a bondservant to fall into this mindset, but it is equally easy for you and me.  If we will do our work well, we must give our full attention to our tasks, we are to be single-minded.

We must at this point ask: why do all this?  Paul is not talking to missionaries on the mission field – he is talking to slaves many of whom were laboring at menial tasks.  What was the point?  Why give your full attention to such things?  Why do it with fear and trembling?  Surely such earthly and menial tasks are not worthy of the Christian’s full attention!  The reason is given at the end of verse 5: we are to give our obedience to our masters and attention and care to our work, because all our work is rendered ultimately for Christ.  All work can and does have eternal significance when it is done as a servant of Christ and when it is done for him.  You don’t have to preach a sermon or go on a mission trip to serve Christ.  You can wash cars and serve Christ.  You can collect garbage and serve Christ.  You can serve on a city council and serve Christ.  You can teach or mow lawns or do art and science and a million other things and serve Christ.  This is why the care and concern we have for our work is not a function of its cultural value, whether that culture is defined by the church or by the wider secular society in which we live.  It is a function of the one we serve: Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t just call preachers; he also calls electricians. 

Of course we need men and women who are willing to do explicitly Christian work, who are willing to go to the mission field and labor and die there.  The church needs pastors and teachers.  But the fact of the matter is that we may not be gifted for such work, and then it is no lack of spirituality when we go into a job that is not explicitly tied to Christian ministry.  In fact, like the slaves to whom Paul was writing, there may be circumstances beyond our control that dictate the avenue we take in life, an avenue that was not one that we wanted.  But that does not mean that God, in his providence, has no purpose for you there, or that you have failed in life.  I think of John G. Paton’s father in this connection.  He desperately wanted to be a missionary, but for whatever reason, was unable.  Instead, he spent his life as a humble weaver, laboring at this work day in and day out in what must have seemed like menial labor compared to the mission field.  However, it was his godliness at home that certainly played an enormous role in the spiritual formation of his son, who later went on to be a missionary in the New Hebrides, leading an entire island to the feet of Christ.  Over and over again, Paton calls attention to the role his father played in his own spiritual development.  His father wasn’t called to go to the mission field – instead, God called him to so live his life as a weaver that his son would go to the mission field with God’s great blessing and success.

It is also a poisonous and completely unchristian idea that unless you get your dream job, you have failed in life.  It is wrong to assert that unless you have achieved the “American Dream,” are making lots of money, have a large retirement, you have wasted your life.  That is completely false.  You have only failed in life when you fail to serve Christ in whatever place he has put you.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that much what you have done in this life, but rather how you have done it, and to whom you have done it.  Are you living your life for Christ and to Christ?  That is the mark of true success.

Thus the apostle goes on to that we are to work, “not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (6).  This is a consequence of serving Christ; our aim is to please Christ in our work.  The idea is more than that we are to do good work at all times; as if what the apostle is condemning are those who work just when the eye of the master is upon them.  Of course this should never describe the way the Christian does his or her work.  But what the apostle is saying here is that we are to work in our job, knowing that ultimately our master is in heaven, not in the office down the hall.  We are to seek to please Christ in our work, whether or not our boss acknowledges us or not.

There are some people who will only labor well and do excellent work as long as they are acknowledged by the people over them and around them.  If they don’t get that plaque on the wall, that trophy, or that raise, their productivity goes down.  The apostle is saying that the disciple of Christ ought never to approach their work in that way.  It’s not about recognition from men; we are to work knowing that we owe our Lord excellence in all that we do.  We don’t do it to please men; we do it to please the Lord.

And that means that we don’t just do our work because we have to; we do it because we want to, and the reason we want to is because we are doing it unto the Lord: “doing the will of God from the heart.”  As John Murray explains, “It is the same vice [that of men-pleasing] that explains the lack of pleasure in work; labour is boredom and about all that is in view is the pay-cheque.  This evil that turns labour into drudgery is but the ultimate logic of eye-service and men-pleasing.”[2]  It might perhaps be surprising that a consequence of doing work to the glory of God is finding fulfillment in our work, but that is certainly an implication of what the apostle is saying.  Unlike men, God looks at the heart.  He cares about our motives.  Therefore, if we are laboring for the Lord, we are not going to be content to merely perform well, but are also going to consider the motives behind the performance.  If we glorify God when we enjoy him, then we can only glorify God when we find pleasure in the tasks that we do for him.  This again does not merely apply to explicitly spiritual exercises like Bible-reading and prayer, but also to our work.

And how can working for God not bring with it its own reward?  When we labor for Christ, we have elevated our work and given it “the character of a religious service, because the motive is regard to divine authority, and its object is a divine person.  It thus ceases to be servile, and becomes consistent with the highest mental elevation and spiritual freedom.”[3]

This point is so important that the apostle essentially restates it in the following verse: “With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (7).  The word “goodwill” here also connotes the idea of zeal and enthusiasm.  The point is that it is always possible to be enthusiastic in our work when it is done with an eye to the glory of God, and from a heart of thanksgiving for his loving lordship over our lives.

In doing this, we follow Christ, who himself came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).  As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).  It is “to this infinitely exalted and infinitely condescending Saviour, who came not be served, but to serve, that the obedience of every Christian, whether servant, child, wife, or subject, is really and consciously rendered.  Thus the most galling yoke is made easy, and the heaviest burden light.”[4]

But the reward that the Christian eyes is not an earthly reward.  We may or may not be rewarded or recognized for our work in this life.  That is why the apostle goes on to say: “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”  I know that some people argue that it militates against the grace of God in salvation to recognize the possibility of rewards in heaven.  But I simply don’t know how to interpret verses like this apart from some doctrine of future reward.  And the reward is not just that we get to go to heaven when we die.  The reward the apostle is speaking of in this verse is specifically tied to things they have done in this life: “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.”  The Lord will recognize all work done for him in the age to come.  Our reward is future, not present.

But that makes it all the more better.  Any reward given now can only be temporary and marred by effects of our fallen world.  But the reward in the age to come is eternal and unmarred.  It is sweetness without any bitterness.  It is wealth without worry.  It is undiminished good.

Does this mar the doctrine of grace?  I don’t think so.  Any reward in the age to come is not a reward based on merit; any reward will be a gift of God’s grace.  But it has pleased our Father to recognize the labors of his children in this world (which they accomplish in the strength of his grace) by lavishing gifts upon them in the next.  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).  We do not receive them because we deserve them; we receive them because God has ordained them for us in his mercy and grace.

And this reward does not depend upon your status in this world: “whether he be bond or free.”  The reward does not depend on the amount of fame you acquired in this world, or riches, or achievements.  It is graciously given to those who faithfully served Christ, whether or not they were noticed by men.

Here is the bottom line: you will work most fruitfully and with more fulfillment, when your eye is not on men (your boss or the customer) but on Christ; when your reward is not the paycheck but the glory of God; when your example is Christ and your Lord is Jesus.  He sweetens every task and enlarges every field of labor when we do it for him.  For the Christian, there is no such thing a secular work, for all that we do is religious in the sense that it is done for Christ.

If you are a Christian, your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  Because he died for us, and because we have eternal life in him, our entire life belongs to the Lord of the universe.  Our calling is noble because we serve the King of heaven. 

If you are not a Christian, the most you can hope for is for you to find some significance in your work.  But that turns your work into a cruel taskmaster, one to whom you must devote everything, without ever being sure that it will not turn on you in the end and cheat you of the meaning you were so desperately trying to find.  As the hymn puts it: Nothing of this earth is sure; vain hope soon dies; things of the Lord endure – Christ satisfies.  You work cannot give you the one thing you really need: peace with God.  Only Christ can give that to you.  But the wonderful thing is that he freely offers his grace to all who come to him.  So come to Christ, embrace him as your Savior and Lord, and in embracing him, find eternal life and new significance in every earthly task.

[1] Charles Hodge, Ephesians.
[2] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 88.
[3] Hodge
[4] Hodge

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The NT Attitude toward Slavery - Ephesians 6:5-9

Before we come to expound these verses, I think it is important to step back for a moment and to consider their overall import.  In the KJV, it might be easy to miss the fact that Paul is addressing slaves and slave-owners in this text, where the terms are translated “servant” and “master.”  However, the terms are the terms for “slave” and “lord,” and thus this brings us to the question of the NT attitude toward slavery, and the apostle’s in particular.  The problem comes down to this: why didn’t the apostle command the slave-owners to free their slaves?  The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t do this; instead, he tells them to treat their slaves with the same respect and dignity that they would want to be treated.  To Philemon, he studiously keeps from pressuring him to free Onesimus, appealing to him instead.  From these facts, it seems to me that it is an inescapable implication that the apostle clearly did not see the institution of slavery as it existed then as fundamentally immoral; otherwise, he would have demanded the masters to free their slaves.  But this is a problem, and an embarrassment, to the modern evangelical sentiment, especially in the West.  Even the famous evangelical pastor and commentator John Stott accuses the apostles with being “mealy-mouthed” in their treatment of the issue of slavery.  What are we to say about this?

This is especially important because the issue of slavery in the NT is a reason that many people give for either (1) rejecting the authority of the Bible wholesale, or (2) refusing to admit its inerrancy in its totality.  This is the primary reason I want to speak to this issue.  I believe the Bible is the word of God and is worthy of your total confidence and trust.  I want you to love it and to live it out in your lives.  I don’t want you to be embarrassed about any of its contents.  So for that reason I think it is important to speak to the issue of the apostle’s attitude towards slavery.

There is another reason, as well.  Recently, there has been quite an uproar in the evangelical world over the issue of social justice and its relation to the gospel.  I know there is some unease over the smuggling of unbiblical categories of thought into the church as it struggles with various social concerns.  But the larger issue is how to think about the relative importance of these issues in light of the gospel.  In what sense are social justice issues a gospel issue?  How does believing and holding to the gospel affect the way we seek to solve social justice concerns?  I think this passage indicates how the apostle would speak to these issues as well.

Why doesn’t the apostle condemn slavery and command masters to free their slaves?  As we try to understand this, the first thing we need to do is to recognize that our own country’s history affects the way we think about this problem.  In other words, when we think of slavery, we automatically think of slavery as it existed in the antebellum South.  It is hard to imagine anyone today wanting to condone that institution.  I certainly would not.  But here’s the thing: I believe the apostle Paul would have condemned that institution as well.  If that is true, then we have to separate in our minds the institution of slavery as it existed in first century Christian households and the institution of slavery as it existed, say, on an 1850 Mississippi plantation.

Why do I say that?  I say it because Paul, being steeped in the Mosaic Law, would have known about Exodus 21:16, which reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (ESV).  You can’t kidnap someone from their home and sell them into slavery; under OT law, that’s worthy of capital punishment.  But the reality is that, whatever exceptions there might have been to this, the institution of slavery broadly speaking, as it existed in the Americas, was fundamentally based upon kidnapping people from their homes in Africa, putting them on slave-ships against their will, and selling them into slavery.  Therefore, the institution was fundamentally immoral, and I think it is the responsibility of every Christian to condemn it as such.

Another reason I think the apostle would have condemned slavery, as it existed in our country before the Civil War, is that it was race-based.  Slavery in the NT era was certainly not race-based; in fact, if you had walked down the streets of first century Ephesus or Rome, you would probably not have been able to tell the difference between a slave person and a free person.  One of the reasons why race-based slavery is so insidious is that it inevitably ties the color of a person’s skin with their worth.  Race-based slavery in the US led to white people looking at black people as less human than themselves, simply because their skin was darker than their own.  This in turn led to all the awful by-products of such an attitude in the Jim Crow South that held on even a hundred years later (and in some places, even to the present day).

Let me underline again why it is so important to clarify this.  When we are addressing Paul’s attitude towards slavery, we have to realize that NT household slavery was not the same thing as American slavery.  You simply can’t read Ephesians 6:9 and conclude that the race-based, kidnapped-from-their-homes-based slavery in the pre-Civil War US was okay.  Some Southern theologians tried to do just that, but they were not justified in their conclusions.  This is simply because the apostle was not addressing the same thing they were trying to justify.

But be that as it may, it is still troubling to many that the apostle seems to justify slavery, even if it wasn’t the same thing as that dreadful institution that used to exist in our country.  Slavery, after all, in whatever form, is still one person owning another person.  How could the apostle be indifferent to that?  What is behind his exhortations to slaves and masters in the text?  I want to try to answer this question as best I can, and I will do so in stages, in a series of observations.

Here is the first: The apostle does not commend the institution of slavery in these verses.  It is very important to note that just because the apostle does not overtly condemn slavery, neither does he indicate his approval of it.  His instructions to masters are no endorsement of slavery as an institution; rather, it was his attempt to make an inherently dehumanizing institution as humane as possible by commanding the masters to treat their slaves just as they would want to be treated. 

In fact, his attitude towards slavery comes out a little clearer in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he gives this advice to those believers who found themselves in servitude: “Art thou called being a servant [slave]?  Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.  For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.  Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants [slaves] of men” (1 Cor. 7:21-23).  The last sentence in that text could mean nothing more than those who are slaves should not think of themselves ultimately as the slaves of men, when they are the slaves of Christ.  However, I think what the apostle is really saying is that the position of slavery to men is fundamentally incompatible with our identity as servants of the Lord, and therefore they should avoid slavery at all costs.  You might think, “Duh,” but the reality is that many people in the first century sold themselves into slavery to better their lives (another way that first century slavery was different from 19th century American slavery!).  People would sometimes sell themselves to a wealthy family where they would be taken better care of, educated in some skill, and then emerge some years later as a free person in a better position.  Sometimes slavery even led to a man gaining Roman citizenship.  So there were all sorts of reasons why a person in Paul’s day might actually choose to become a slave.  What Paul is saying to the Corinthians is, “Don’t do it!  You are Christ’s servants, so don’t become the servants of men.”

This attitude is actually duplicated all over the Bible.  Yes, it is true that in the OT there are all sorts of laws on slavery.  But these laws weren’t implemented to encourage the practice of slavery, but rather to govern it and to curb its abuses.  The same thing was true with respect to divorce.  God tells us that he hates divorce, and our Lord tells the Pharisees that from the beginning it was not so, but then our Lord goes on to say that God gave Moses laws that governed the dissolution of marriage because of the hardness of men’s hearts, not because God approved of divorce.  The same thing could be said with respect to polygamy.  So it’s pretty clear that you can’t just look up the OT legislation on slavery and then say, “Aha! God likes slavery.”  When you build a wall around a tiger so that he can’t get out, you are acknowledging the reality that there are dangerous and evil things that will happen if that tiger gets out.  When God built walls of legislation around the institution of slavery, he was telling everyone that there are inherently dangerous and dehumanizing things about that institution.

The fact of the matter is that in the OT, the ultimate evidence of God’s blessing upon his people is that “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:4; cf. 1 Kings 4:25).  This is not the picture of a man who is another man’s slave, but a freeman every one.  Slavery is therefore something that is incompatible with the fullest expression of God’s blessing upon a people and a nation. 

Nowhere in the Bible is slavery seen as an ideal institution.  Nowhere are we justified in painting slavery as anything less than an institution whose tendency is toward dehumanizing other human beings.  Nowhere are we justified in wanting to hold on to such an institution.  It was a good thing that slavery eventually went away in the Roman Empire (well, sort of…it was eventually replaced with medieval serfdom, which was not all that different).  It was a good thing that it was outlawed in our country at the end of the Civil War.  Neither the apostle nor the Bible in general approves of slavery as an institution; neither should we.

One other observation on this point before we move on: there is a significant difference between the way the apostle speaks to slavery and the way he had spoken to marriage and parenting.  Now it is not because the relationship between masters and slaves isn’t in the same category as 5:22-6:4.  It does belong in this section because Paul is speaking to household slaves.  There were other types of slaves in the Roman Empire, but the only type of slave to whom the apostle address himself is the household slave.  It is therefore part of his instruction on the home; in the NT world, a house was often not only made up of moms and dads and kids, but also their slaves.  So the apostle addresses himself to such.

But there is a difference.  When he speaks to husbands and wives, he grounds their relationship in the relationship that Christ has with the church.  And when he speaks to the parent-child relationship, he quotes the Fifth Commandment.  He does no such thing here.  He does not ground the institution of slavery in Scripture, nor in any other theological reality.  Again, here is evidence that the apostle thought differently about slavery than he did about marriage and parenting.  Clearly.

But here is the second observation: The apostle’s exhortation to the masters contained the seeds of slavery’s demise.  So when people argue that the apostle should have exhorted slave-owners to free their slaves, they are missing the fact that ultimately that is what happened in the long run because of the principles set forward in these words, especially verse 9: “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”  Now I’m not aware of any law that was passed in Christian Rome that outlawed slavery; however, I don’t think it’s disputable that slavery did become more and more rare, and surely one reason for this is that Christianity teaches the equal dignity of every human being.  In other words, the fact that the apostle speaks to slave and slave-owner on the same terms, as equally valuable in the sight of God, as having the same rights to justice, must be one reason why Christians have found it so difficult to enslave others.  And that is not in spite of texts like Eph. 6:5-9, but because of texts like Eph. 6:5-9.  Therefore it should not surprise us that the main proponents of abolition even in modern times were not unbelievers but Christians.  The leader in Great Britain against the slave trade and slavery in the 19th century who almost single-handedly took it down was not just a Christian, but an evangelical Christian, William Wilberforce. 

Now all this still doesn’t quite answer the question: Why didn’t Paul command the masters to free the slaves?  So that leads me to the third and fourth observations.

Paul almost certainly didn’t command the masters to free the slaves because he cared for the slaves.  This may seem counterintuitive to modern sensibilities.  But we must realize certain things about slavery in the ancient world.  The slaves in a Christian household would have been treated well; they would have enjoyed a certain amount of freedom even (in the first century world, it was even possible for slaves to own slaves!).  In Roman society, slaves could aspire to professions such as law and medicine; whereas as freemen they would have remained uneducated and unskilled.  In other words, you shouldn’t think of the household slave as a field-hand who worked from sunup to sundown and then went to bed in a ramshackle hovel.  Rather, the household slave would have worked side-by-side with his master, and would have enjoyed similar accommodations as the rest of the family.  On the other hand, to tell a man to set his slaves free would be to enslave them in hopeless poverty.  The modern man, from his comfortable couch, might loudly proclaim his preference for poverty to slavery; I doubt many first century household slaves would have echoed this sentiment.

Again, this doesn’t mean that slavery is an inherently desirable institution, nor that we shouldn’t be glad it doesn’t exist (in the West, at least).  Nor do I mean to paint slavery as less severe than it was.  What I said about household slavery above does not describe what happened in general.  Slaves were often abused, branded, mistreated, and robbed of justice; that was the reality of their condition.  However, it is also important to recognize what the apostle surely saw; that at the time, for many slaves, their condition was an economic necessity, and that to demand their freedom would have been a crushing blow to many people, to the slaves as well as to their masters.

Now my fourth observation is this: Paul wasn’t as concerned with changing existing societal structures as he was with preparing people for heaven.  I think this is ultimately the reason Paul didn’t get on the abolitionist bandwagon.  There were so many things wrong with the Roman Empire of Paul’s day.  At the very top sat the infamous and immoral Nero.  When we look at how Paul was treated during his imprisonment, we see how inadequate the judicial system was in his day.  But Paul does not spend his time wringing his hand over how to correct the abuses of society at the political level.  Rather, he spent his time seeking to make men and women disciples of Christ so that they would know God and go on to enjoy his fellowship forever in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Of course, as people change and become salt and light, society will reflect their influence.  But that was not Paul’s immediate or primary aim; his aim was to introduce men and women to God through his Son.

There is a crucial distinction here that I think is often missed.  It is not the job of the Church qua Church to restructure the political and economic life of societies.  The job of the Church is to make disciples of all the nations.  It is to bring men and women into a relationship with God and to encourage that relationship through discipleship.  The Church is to remind men and women that we are on a journey, that we are just passing through this world and we are being ushered into the world to come.  With the Lord, the Church reminds people that they are on a road.  It is either the broad road or it is the narrow road.  Right now, the broad road is easy and the narrow road is hard.  Each road ends, but what they end in does not end.  The life that is at the end of the narrow way is a never-ending life, and the destruction that is at the end of the broad way is “everlasting punishment” (Mt. 25:46).  People need to hear that, and it is the job of the Church to say clearly and consistently.

However, that does not mean that individual Christians should not apply their Christian consciousness in this world and seek to affect it in positive ways.  John Newton was right to discourage Wilberforce from entering the ministry and instead to seek to use his influence in Parliament to end the slave trade.  Of course we try to exert our influence in this world and to change the way things are if the way things are is wrong.  Moreover, the Church must speak out against the wrongs of society and its injustices.  In our day, this would include abortion and racism and homosexuality and all the unbiblical categories with which people want to redefine who we are as male and female.

But again, the reason behind this is not so that we will have a better world in the here and now.  The reason is because people can’t come to Christ unless they repent of their sin.  And it is the job of the Church to clearly enunciate what the Bible says about sin, in order that people repent, in order that they might get right with God.  My concern with all the social justice rhetoric is that the Church is in danger of losing its focus upon the eternal, which is infinitely more important than all the temporal inequities.

The bottom line is this: the Church should so preach the gospel so that the focus is upon the eternal, and upon man’s broken relationship with God, and the need to be restored to that fellowship through the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ.  That doesn’t mean we retreat from society.  It doesn’t mean we don’t try to be salt and light in our world.  It doesn’t mean we don’t try to change things that are wrong.  But it does mean that we remember that this world is not our home.  It is far more important to be right with God than anything else.  Nothing else must ever eclipse our greatest need. 

It’s really a question of emphasis.  When we communicate the gospel to the world, what comes through most clearly?  That abortion is wrong?  That gay marriage is wrong?  That racism is wrong?  This is all very true, but if that’s primarily or all the world hears, then we are sending the wrong message of what the gospel is.  What the world primarily needs to hear from the Church is that men and women are sinners in the sight of God and are in danger of justly suffering his wrath forever, but that God offers his mercy now through Jesus Christ to all who repent and turn to Christ in faith.

So when Paul looked at the institution of slavery, it’s clear to me that he didn’t like what he saw.  But he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life trying to undo a less-than-perfect institution when the main thing to do was to build the church and preach the gospel.  He only had so much time.  His perspective was eternal not temporal.  And he knew that the gospel sweetens every heart and home to which it comes and would go very far in ameliorating the more painful aspects of servitude.  That should also be our focus, both as individuals and as a church.  Believe the gospel.  And then live out the gospel in ways that are appropriate to every relationship in which you find yourself.

How to be blessed by the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1-4)

I have heard it said that if you were to poll the average Christian on which book of the Bible they most want to study, the answer would be ...