Ephesians: Our True Identity

Armor, 5 November 2023

Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 6:7-24

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
Today we’re finishing our series on the book of Ephesians! We’ve been looking at this letter written by Paul to a church in modern day Turkey, and it’s a doozy! If we could embrace even a fraction of the instructions, we would be a healthier, more fruitful, and more satisfied congregation…so let’s pay attention!
Two weeks ago we looked at this gem:
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
We saw how that related to husbands and wives, submitting to one another. Last Sunday Sue shared how this relates to parents and children—children are to obey and fathers are to avoid provoking their children to anger. The next section relates to slaves and masters, though it’s not exactly the Civil War era antebellum slavery we imagine, but rather servants who often had to work off a debt. In our context, a parallel would be workers and bosses.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. 7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8, NLT)
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. (Ephesians 6:9, NLT)
Masters and slaves are hardly equals, but they are both worthy of dignity and respect if they are followers of Jesus. We could devote an entire sermon to this, but we must move on to our subject today, the Armor of God.
The Bible is filled with metaphors, parables, and images designed to help us understand spiritual concepts through the lens of physical objects. Paul’s final teaching in Ephesians introduces a battle motif.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, NLT)
We all want to be strong. Action movies are filled with men and women with bulging muscles, powerful weapons, and a mission to conquer the bad guys. Notice Paul doesn’t stop with “be strong,” but continues “in the Lord and in his mighty power.” None of us have what it takes to do battle on our own. It’s only in the LORD and in His power that we can stand a chance against the forces of sin, evil, and destruction.
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11, NLT)
The devil is our enemy. He’s powerful. He’s very powerful. We see it in the news every day. Death. Abuse. Hunger. Corruption. Racism. Injustice. Violence. The list goes on and on.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
This is where I want to focus. You can’t see the enemy, but the enemy is real. There are spiritual forces that want steal, kill, destroy, and lie and they are powerful. It says they are mighty powers. We often refer to them as demons. I’ve always found it interesting that more people believe in angels than in demons, but both are realities according to the Bible. The enemy is real, but unseen. The enemy is not flesh-and blood. That means…
-       Our government leaders are not the enemy
       The gang leaders are not the enemy
       Drug dealers are not the enemy
       Sex traffickers are not the enemy
       Abortionists are not the enemy
They are all masterpieces created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth…broken by sin, pawns of the enemy, at times, but not the enemy.
Family, we must get this. I must get this. Every time I look into the eyes of another human, I’m looking at a masterpiece. Sure, they need work. They need restoration. So do you and I. It occurred to me there may have been times when I was a pawn of the enemy, falling into temptation, failing to love others, thinking impure thoughts, dishonoring the God I claim to love and serve. Put another way, there’s a beautiful lyric in the musical
Les Miserables that says, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I need to linger here for a moment, especially during election season. It’s so tempting to demonize the other, whoever or whatever is the other. I expect the world to be arrogant, disrespectful, and filled with hate, but
real Christians don’t hate. Real Christians love. Who has ever changed their mind about something because someone yelled at them…or worse?
Can I be real with you? I’m so sick of politics. I’ve got people telling me we’re too political and others telling me we’re not political enough. I refuse to talk partisan politics because we serve the Lion and the Lamb, not an elephant or donkey. Here’s the bottom line: we need to follow Jesus and do what would bring him glory.
This means caring for and protecting life, from the womb to the tomb. This is why we support the fine work of Bella Vita and the Pregnancy Center, who not only provide alternatives to abortion, they equip parents with the resources they need to thrive.
This means caring for the least of these—the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor. This is why we support the fine work of Water for Ishmael, Cherry Street Mission, and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission.
This means speaking up for those whose voice is not heard, whether it’s the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, or the disabled.
Do you want me to continue? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir!
This means loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves…in every circumstance.
Family, sin is rampant in our world, but
people are not the enemy. They are pawns in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Should you vote? Absolutely. It’s a privilege. But do your homework. Don’t blindly believe a tv commercial or lawn sign. Stand up for what is good, beautiful, and true. But no matter the results of the election, God is on the throne, fear not, and love your neighbor…and enemy.
But there’s so much more we can do…so much more we need to do…
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:13, NLT)
We need to put on every piece. An hour on Sunday is not enough. A quick prayer before bedtime is insufficient. We’re in a war, family!
War is not a hobby or part-time endeavor. It’s a lifestyle.
Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14, NLT)
We need truth, righteousness (not self-righteousness!), justice. The Christian message isn’t true because it works, but it works because it’s true. Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. (Ephesians 6:15, NLT)
We have good news to proclaim: King Jesus is LORD! The Prince of Peace will return soon, and sent the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and peace in the midst of the chaos in this world. We bring the gospel of peace wherever we go.
In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. (Ephesians 6:16, NLT)
These aren’t just arrows from the archery range. They’re fiery! We need faith to guard against temptation, despair, adversity, lies, hateful thoughts, pride, etc.
Back in the day, the shield was made of wood, covered with leather, and about 2’ by 4’. It was common in the day for soldiers to bring their shields together, forming a wall and even a covering to defend against flaming arrows.
Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17, NLT)
The helmet protects the mind, where our actions begin. The sword of the Spirit is the one offensive weapon, piercing the heart. It brings healing and life…except when we cripple the enemy. Note there’s no covering for the back side. That means we’re to advance…never retreat! We must be strong…in the LORD…and in His mighty power!
These images are great, especially with children. Sue is probably dressing them up right now in Glass City Kids! God has given us the armor, the tools, but we must wear them. We must use them. When you put it all together, it sounds a lot like king Jesus. He is the Truth, our righteousness, our peace, our salvation, the Word of God, the faithful one. We are “in Christ” and we are to put on Christ each day, living for him and his glory, never our own. Now Paul gives us the real secret sauce.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. (Ephesians 6:18, NLT)
At all times. On every occasion. For all the saints. The real battle is fought on our knees.
Paul wrote to his apprentice, Timothy…
Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, NLT)
We need to fight the good fight of faith with armor…on our knees.
I want to invite you to Zoom Prayer, weekday mornings at 9 AM.
I want to invite you to Sunday morning prayer here at 9:30 AM.
I want to invite you to pray with your Life Group, your spouse, your family.
I know many of you are fearful of the future. Let me restate the big idea of my first sermon here eight years ago: Fear not. Fear God.
Remember, what you fear most is your god.
Consider these profound words from one of Jesus’ three best friends…
But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4, NLT)
We’re on the winning side! We know how the battle ends. There will be casualties. There will be losses, especially if we’re not alert and armed. But we win! Our God is greater, our God is stronger, the enemy is a fraud! He has power, but can’t hold a candle to King Jesus. He proved that on resurrection Sunday!
Fear is a powerful motivator, and media is filled with hype and alarm. That’s how they make money! When you feel afraid, get on your knees and do something about it!
Paul continues…
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20, NLT)
When we go through a book of the Bible, I like to make sure every word is read, so here are Paul’s final greetings.
To bring you up to date, Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. (Ephesians 6:21-22, NLT)
One of the things I love about the Bible is it’s a library of books written by real people in real places.
Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. 24 May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 6:23-24, NLT)

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

The "S" Word, 22 October 2023

The "S" Word
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 5:21-33

Series Big Idea: The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Although my primary identity is found in Christ, I’m a citizen of the United States. I love this country. There’s a spirit of creativity, innovation, and risk-taking that has made us a world leader in business, education, science, military, and entertainment. But every strength has a weakness, and one of the negatives about our pioneering spirit is we are almost certainly the most individualistic nation in the history of the world. Rugged individualism has value, but also a huge downside. You may recall God said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone” in Genesis. Is it any wonder so many today are lonely? Cancel culture has run amok, divorce has split many families, and in our “pursuit of happiness,” we are tempted to ignore those around us.
As we continue in our series on the book of Ephesians—a letter written by Paul to a church in modern-day Turkey—we will see what is possibly the most offensive word in our individualized culture.
Before we dive in to our text, I want to remind you of the ending of Pastor Mike’s text from two weeks ago.
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20, NLT)
This is all possible when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, controlled by the Holy Spirit, surrendered to the Holy Spirit. Now we begin.
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
There it is! Did you see it? Submit! How does that make you feel?
The original Greek word, hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) means, “to subordinate; to obey; subdue unto, submit self unto.” In other words, it means what you think it means!
Submission is not popular in our culture. It was hardly popular 2000 years ago in the midst of the Roman Empire when Paul was writing. Although racism and discrimination are very real today, we live in a nation that, at least in writing, believes “all men are created equal.” There was not such philosophy in Rome. Abuse was rampant. Women were slaves. In fact, going much farther back to the opening chapter of the Bible we read,
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. (Genesis 1:26a, NLT)
Notice the Trinity, the plural, us…one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created the first man, Adam (which means “man” in Hebrew) and woman and all was well until the Fall when Adam and Eve sinned. Hierarchy emerged after the Fall when God said to Eve,
And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16b, NLT)
Do you see the tension? Ever since, men have been trying to domineer over women (and men). Women have been striving to even the score. Humans have been trying to get others to obey, to submit. We love power and control, don’t we? Sin is so common, we often don’t even recognize it when we commit it.
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21, NLT)
But notice Paul didn’t just say, “Submit!” In fact, he didn’t even say, “Submit to God.” He says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
We’re going to see how this related to marriage in a moment, but note this verse is not addressed to couples. It’s for all of us. We don’t blindly submit to one another, but in our quest to glorify God and revere Christ, we love one another and submit to one another. The Greek word for reverence, phobos, is where we get the word “phobia.” It means to be put in fear, alarm or fright, to be afraid. This doesn’t mean to avoid, but to recognize the power of, to be in awe of, to revere. We are to be in awe of Jesus, to make him LORD and Master of our lives. To fear someone or something often involves terror, causing us to run away. Fear of the LORD means awe and wonder, drawing us closer to God like the awe and wonder of the Grand Canyon. To put it simply, what you fear is your God.
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, NLT)
Did I see some women wince? Remember, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Yield to each other out of love. It’s not about hierarchy or power but bringing God glory in and through our relationships. One commentator says, “All it asks is that wives give up self-centeredness, take seriously their mutuality with their husbands, and promote the benefit of their husbands.”
In Paul’s day, women were considered not only inferior to men, but also impure.
For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:23-24, NLT)
Tragically, this passage has been abused by men seeking power. Ladies, this does not mean be a doormat, tolerate abuse of any kind, or engage in sinful behavior (which would not be out of reverence to Christ).
Listen to N.T. Wright on this text:
Paul assumes, as do most cultures, that there are significant differences between men and women, differences that go far beyond mere biological and reproductive function. Their relations and roles must therefore be mutually complementary, rather than identical. Equality in voting rights, and in employment opportunities and remuneration (which is still not a reality in many places), should not be taken to imply such identity. And, within marriage, the guideline is clear. The husband is to take the lead - though he is to do so fully mindful of the self-sacrificial model which the Messiah has provided. As soon as 'taking the lead' becomes bullying or arrogant, the whole thing collapses.
I fully realize Paul is not politically correct, but is our culture offering a better model for men and women? It seems that our world is plagued by broken homes, broken marriages, broken relationships…could it be that we have abandoned God’s design for family? This is not an attack on those of you who are not in healthy marriages—far from it—but I wonder if we would embrace our differences, celebrate them, and submit to one another if we wouldn’t be vastly better off.
As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Tragically, this passage has been abused by men seeking power which I believe is what started the rejection of God’s design for marriage. I’ve heard so many stories of women rejecting and even hating men after suffering evil abuse. Ladies, if you find it hard to imagine submitting to a man, consider the next verse.
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her (Ephesians 5:25, NLT)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Husbands, Jesus died for the church. Are you willing to die for your wife? That’s the point. Such dedication would never make selfish demands. It would never harm or abuse. Godly husbands love sacrificially, making submission a joy.
Husbands, Jesus is to be your role model. Not Hugh Hefner or Lebron James, Neil Armstrong, Nelson Mandela, or Bear Grylls. Jesus was not married, but the church is his bride, the king’s wife. He gave us his life for her and we are to give up our lives for our wives (hey, that rhymes!).
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…unto death!
A few years ago I was speaking with one of our senior saints and asked him, “How many times have you ever played the submit card?” In other words, how many times did you take charge, telling your wife to obey? He paused and said, “Zero!”
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Paul elaborates:
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28
(Ephesians 5:25-27, NLT)
This is a beautiful vision of what Jesus has done for us, the church. Hallelujah!
In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:28-30, NLT)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
One of my favorite passages to read at wedding says,
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3, NLT)
This isn’t rocket science. Jesus summarized the entire Bible in two commands: love God and love your neighbor (or spouse) as yourself. You take care of your body. You eat. You bathe. You see a doctor when you’re in pain. Imagine what would happen if spouses cared for one another like they care for themselves. Of course, this need not be restricted to marriages. This verse applies to all of us, a brilliant vision of life together. Warren Wiersbe notes,
When the Christian wife submits herself to Christ and lets Him be the Lord of her life, she will have no difficulty submitting to her husband. This does not mean that she becomes a slave, for the husband is also to submit to Christ. And if both are living under the lordship of Christ, there can be only harmony. Headship is not dictatorship. “Each for the other, both for the Lord.” The Christian husband and wife should pray together and spend time in the Word, so that they might know God’s will for their individual lives and for their home. Most of the marital conflicts I have dealt with as a pastor have stemmed from failure of the husband and/or wife to submit to Christ, spend time in His Word, and seek to do His will each day.
To conclude, Paul goes all the way back to Genesis 2:24:
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. (Ephesians 5:31-32, NLT)
There’s two things going on simultaneously here. Do you see it? A husband and wife are united into one. This is true of Jesus and his bride, the Church.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Family, I’ve seen two extremes. I’ve seen men rule over their wives which is clearly not submission. I’ve also seen men afraid to exercise servant leadership, so passive that they become doormats.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
God’s design for marriage is a man and woman complement one another…different yet equal. We don’t need to embrace societal stereotypes that say the man does the outdoor work and the woman does the inside work…unless that’s what is agreed upon mutually. I’ve heard some preachers say the women must stay home with the kids while the man brings home a paycheck…but I’ve seen healthy examples where the roles are reversed…if that’s what is agreed upon mutually. Obviously our economy makes it challenging—but not impossible—to live on one income. But you need to find what works for your marriage.
As a simple example, we decided early in our marriage that whoever cooks, the other cleans. For 33 years I do dishes about 360 days a year! Some men love to cook, which is great. Do what works for you. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33, NLT)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It’s worth noting the man is to love his wife and the woman is to respect her husband. For further reading on this, see loveandrespect.com (not necessarily an endorsement!). I believe the overarching point is men and women are different…by design.
A husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I’m sure this is how Adam and Eve originally behaved before the Fall. We need the Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus, filled with sacrificial, agape love for one another. When we love or respect one another, it fuels the spouse to reciprocate. Tragically, when one is not loved or respected, it can short-circuit the relationship. In other words, when a wife shows respect to her husband, he is more likely to respond with love and vice versa. The challenge when you’re stuck is who goes first?
Honor Marriages
Celebrate Singles
Jesus was single. Paul said it’s better to not marry.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ in love.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

One, 17 September 2023

Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity

Ephesians 4:1-16

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus Christ is to be one family, united not in our politics, ethnicity, age, or income but in faith, all loving and serving together for God’s glory.
One of the six core values of First Alliance Church states,
Family. We are a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together. (1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Romans 12:10; Revelation 7:9)
I love mosaics. The don’t usually look all that great up close. In fact, most individual pieces are anything but attractive, typically broken glass fragments. When an artist is able to bring together a variety of shards of glass, the results can be stunning.
We’re in the middle of series on the book of Ephesians, finding our true identity. Whether it’s due to Hollywood, social media, our families of origin, or the expectations of ourselves or others, it’s easy to be confused about our identity. Who are we? Whose are we? Why are we? Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus in modern day Turkey addresses these questions, and today’s text in chapter four is packed with compelling instructions on what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ, the family of God, the Church…a mosaic of people loving God and doing life together.
What’s the first thing you think of when I say the word family? Is it positive or negative? We’ve all seen various families portrayed on tv and the movies, whether positively or negatively. What are some famous families?
Regardless of your own family of origin, it’s possible to imagine some of those ideal families, whether they’re realistic or not.
My personal experience with family is quite positive, but I must admit there are no perfect families, and even the best of them can be complicated and messy. Where two or more are gathered together…there’s the potential for conflict! The very thing that makes relationships interesting—diversity—is also the source of our tensions. How boring would it be if we all looked, dressed, voted, and behaved the same? Yet many of us have been taught to question or even hate those who are different.
God created you unique and special, with dignity, value and worth. He knew you in your mother’s womb and He sees you, He hears you, He loves you. I believe somebody needs to hear that today!
We all have a lot in common, yet we’re all different. Our theme today is one…unity…not uniformity, but unity. It wasn’t long ago that I heard unity and diversity are the two words that form the word university…a place where different people and opinions can come together (though that’s not always the case!).
As we noted three weeks ago, there was a huge divide between Jews and Gentiles which Jesus died to remove, unifying them into one family. We are one in Christ. It’s a spiritual reality we need to guard and protect. It’s also fragile which is why unity is one of the four prayers I pray regularly for First Alliance Church (echoing the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17).
Are you ready to dive in?
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (Ephesians 4:1)
What’s the therefore there for? The first three chapters of the book are about doctrine, right beliefs, orthodoxy. The second half of the book is about duty, about right actions, orthopraxy. It’s not enough to know the right things if you can’t apply them.
Our enemy, satan, knows the truth. He believes in Jesus and saw him before and after the resurrection. He probably knows the Bible better than you or I.
We’ve been invited into God’s family. If you receive the invitation, you become an adopted son or daughter of the Creator of the Universe. The King of kings. The LORD of all. Paul says if this is true, if you are now royalty, if you are on God’s team, act like it! Lead a life worthy of your calling. Our faith cannot stop with our head. It needs to transform our hearts and hands, too.
I get so frustrated when people claim the name of Jesus but act nothing like him. Christian means “little Christ.” So what does that look like?
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
I didn’t say this was easy!
Always be humble and gentle. Has anyone mastered this? I. haven’t!
Before we go any farther, let me remind you that this behavior is not the result of trying harder. It’s about surrender and letting the Holy Spirit take over. This may look like daily times of Bible study, prayer, silence, reflection, and simply saying, “Holy Spirit, take control.”
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like slow and quiet. I like to go, produce, succeed, get ‘er done! Sabbatical interrupted my rhythms…and lowered my speed! When I get busy and excited, I find it harder to be humble and gentle. I want people to notice me and my accomplishments, and I’m tempted to tell everyone how right I am about everything! This may be fine if I’m alone, but as soon as I’m with another person…
This is why Paul says to be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your…love. Because of God’s love in you. Again, it’s not about trying harder. It’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit, emptying ourselves of our pride, selfishness, and sin and being open to God working in and through us.
If we could master this one verse, it would only be a matter of time before our campus would be overflowing with people. Humble and gentle? Patient? Who does this? Jesus followers.
Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. (Ephesians 4:3)
United. Unity. One. That’s the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. (Ephesians 4:4)
One. That’s our theme today. Many broken pieces of glass together form one beautiful mosaic. Many parts form one body. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one. Again, not uniformity, but unity.
I’ve told the story before, but on my wedding day, I was excited to watch my beautiful bride walk down the aisle to meet her groom (me!). If the same woman came down the aisle in pieces (eyeballs rolling, foot hopping, hands wiggling), it would’ve been horrifying! Same parts, just not one. The biblical vision of the Church of Jesus Christ is one body of diverse parts joined together not by our politics or skin color or favorite football team, but rather by the LORD.
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6          one God and Father of all,
            who is over all, in all, and living through all. (Ephesians 4:5-6)
I like to say we’re all related by blood…the blood of Jesus. Likewise, we’re all equal at the foot of the cross. We all need Jesus.
However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,
            “When he ascended to the heights,
                        he led a crowd of captives
                        and gave gifts to his people.” (Ephesians 4:7-8)
This is a quote from Psalm 68 and likely referring to Jesus’ victory through his death and resurrection, setting us free from the law of sin and death. We’ll get to the gifts in a moment.
Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10)
Jesus descended from heaven to earth about 2000 years ago, ascended into heaven and promised to return…soon! In the meantime, the Holy Spirit came (and you can read about that in Acts 2) and is alive in our world today, living in every believer, though many seem unaware of His presence and the command to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, continually surrendering our will and desires and pursuing His. Jesus’ mission is to rule over everything. He is King of kings and LORD of lords.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11)
Some have called this the fivefold ministry, though others see pastors and teachers combined. A frequent acronym is APEST: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd or pastor, and teacher. Let’s look at these gifts.
In the New Testament, the Apostles were a special group of people who spent time with Jesus. Obviously, none of them exist today, but apostles (small a) are sent ones, entrepreneurs and church planters that think about new ways to reach new people with the good news of the gospel.
Prophets are not necessarily future tellers, but forth tellers. They know God’s will and bring correction and challenge, questioning the status quo. Biblical prophets were generally not popular, and not much is different today!
Evangelists recruit, communicate good news, and introduce people to Jesus.
Shepherds or pastors care for people, protecting the flocks and leading others toward maturity.
Teachers teach! They communicate God’s truth.
In our culture, professional Christians who may fall into one or more of these categories are typically given the title pastor or reverend or clergy, which kind of defeats the distinction of the fivefold gifting of APEST, of church leaders. Why are the gifts given?
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)
Their responsibility is not to do the ministry, but to equip God’s people to do the ministry. Do you see this? One of the most important things I want you to understand is
you are called by God to be a minister, a disciple-maker. It’s not just for professional Christians! Ministry is acts of service to bring glory to God, which could be plumbing, lawn care, factory work, whatever…it can all be done for God’s glory. When Paul was writing, there weren’t paid and unpaid Christians. There were leaders and followers. One of the greatest strategies of our enemy is to make people think only the clergy can do ministry. That’s wiping out 99% of the army of God!
Imagine if a football team thought the job of the coach was to play on the field while the players sat back and watched! Do you think any football coach by himself or herself could beat an entire football team? Of course not! It’s the job of the coach to equip the team to win the game. Likewise, it’s my job and the job of our staff to recruit and equip you to win the game, to make disciples, to launch Life Groups, to serve the poor, to disciple our children and youth, to lead worship, to care for our physical campus, to manage the finances, to lead people to Jesus, and all of the other things involved in restoring God’s masterpieces.
This idea is known as the priesthood of all believers, and a few years ago one of our elders at the time, Doug Oliver, alerted me to the reason it’s such a challenge. As you may know, the King James Version of the Bible has been influential since its translation in 1611. It says
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12, KJV)
It says it’s the job of the pastors and clergy to do the work of the ministry. It was corrected in the New King James Version which states:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-12, NKJV)
It’s the difference between a semicolon and a comma, and it makes a huge difference! If I had to do all of the work of the ministry, I would burn out like so many clergy have done in recent days. If our job as staff is to equip you (which we do through Sunday gatherings, Life Groups, online resources, discipleship Huddles, Right Now Media, and other tools), we can all get in the game, loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and making disciples of all nations. Let me say it again,
you are called by God to be a minister, a disciple-maker. First Alliance isn’t about a Sunday gathering. It’s about an army of love getting equipped to be Jesus with skin on 168 hours a week.
It's worth noting there are other parts of the New Testament which speak about spiritual gifts such as healing, hospitality, and tongues, but in this case Paul mentions people…people to equip the body.
13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
There it is again. Unity…in Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
I could preach another sermon just on those verses, but here’s the big idea:
The Church of Jesus Christ is to be one family, united not in our politics, ethnicity, age, or income but in faith, all loving and serving together for God’s glory.
We’re different. We need one another. We need apostles like Will Henderson to start new churches like LEAD Community Church. We need prophets like Jason Horton to challenge us and make us uncomfortable through the proclamation of God’s Word. We need evangelists like Hollywood to share the good news of Jesus with people who are not yet following Christ. We need pastors and shepherds like Pastor Donald and his wife, Joyce, who can visit the sick, care for the needy, and love on people. We need teachers like Pastor Mike and the others on our teaching team to instruct us in the Bible and show us what it means to follow Jesus.
Paul is talking about the rule of Jesus over everything, and to do so he has given the church leaders to equip his people to serve and glorify him and make him known everywhere, all the time, not just in a building on Sunday morning.
We’re all different…by design. That can be challenging, at times, which is why Paul began by saying,
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)
Family, let’s surrender to the LORD, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through each of us as we restore God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory. He is worthy of our worship, our praise, our time, our talents, and our treasures. Amen!
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

How to Live, 1 October 2023

How to Live
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 4:29-32

Series Big Idea:
The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
Who are you?
We’ve been going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter sent to a church in modern day Turkey that reveals our true identity…in Christ! Tragically, many draw their identity from their job, politics, education, net worth, sexual orientation, friends, addiction, worst mistake, or even family. Those things contribute to who we are, but our primary identity should come from being in Christ. Thirteen times in the NIV translation of Ephesians, the phrase “in Christ” is used. Paul used the idea more than 200 times in his writings. Do you know what those two words mean? One pastor wrote,
“As Christians, we live from our identity, not for our identity. We are defined by who we are in Christ, not what we do or fail to do for Christ. Christ defines who we are by who he is and what he’s done for us, in us, and through us. Understanding this information is the key to your transformation.”
We are in Christ or in idolatry…anything that takes a higher priority. I’m saying all of this as an introduction because we’re about to read some challenging words which we cannot follow, at least not on our own. We need a higher power. We need God…because life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. (Ephesians 4:29a, NLT)
What does this really mean? The New International Version translates it this way:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, (Ephesians 4:29a, NIV)
Foul language. Abusive language. Unwholesome talk. The entertainment industry has assembled a list of words that it deems inappropriate, at least for children. They can change a G-rated movie into a PG, PG-13, or even an R just by those words alone.
When our kids were younger, we had some good conversations about language. Why are some words acceptable and others not? Are “Christian swear words” ok? Is it really such a big deal when everyone is saying it? How did some words that even appear in the Bible become profanity?
The issue isn’t so much the articulation of one word or another. It’s about the meaning of the words. A word in one culture may have a different meaning in another. I infamously used a word in a sermon years ago with multiple meanings, one of which was unsuitable for a sermon…or any other usage! I had no idea and went on an apology tour the next week!
In college, I went on a trip to England where I used a particular word which I was told meant something quite different across the pond than it does in the USA!
The thing about language is it’s a communication tool. What are you communicating? What do you intend to communicate? What is in your heart…and will it be received that way? The verse continues…
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
My parents used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think that’s generally good advice, and the point Paul is making to this church. Let every word that comes out of your mouth be good, helpful, and encouraging. The message isn’t simply, “Don’t cuss.” It means don’t gossip. Don’t be unnecessarily critical. Or as we used to joke in youth group, “Edify, stupid!”
That was only a joke, but that reminds me of something my dad used to tell me all the time when I got in trouble: it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it. Some researchers believe 60-70 percent of human communication is non-verbal…loudness, pitch, style, tone…to say nothing of eye contact, gestures, and body language. There’s a huge difference between a child (sweetly) saying, “I’m sorry” and (yelling) “I’m sorry!!!”
Human speech can communicate virtually any emotion, and be constructive or destructive in the process. Do you remember the old line, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but…words will never hurt me”? What a lie!
Words can be devastatingly toxic…or they can transform a life for the good. 
I imagine most of you can recall something said many years ago that was encouraging or destructive. Maybe it was a parent, teacher, or friend. To this day, my mom still offers encouraging words to me, while others I know never knew such positivity, struggling to even believe they are loved…by God or anyone else.
Jesus literally got to the heart of the matter in one of his famous interactions with the religious Pharisees.
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34, ESV)
Let’s take a look at a bit of the context:
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:33-37, NLT)       
Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Communication is built through them. Yet today, it seems harder and harder to find words that are good, beautiful, and true. From fake news to racist song lyrics, from profanity saturated tv shows and movies to slander and lies online, Paul’s letter sounds almost prudish, if not unimaginable.
Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29b)
This is another example where Christ-followers can live the ultimate alternative lifestyle. When people tell inappropriate jokes, we need not repeat them. When music contains parental warnings, we can opt to listen to something else. When “everybody’s doing it,” we can choose to consume and produce the good, helpful, and encouraging.
It sounds simple, right? I can’t say I’ve heard much profanity on Sunday mornings here, but what about Monday morning? The message is not simply, “stop cussing.” Jesus said out of the heart the mouth speaks, so get to the heart of the matter. Fill your mind and heart with the good, beautiful, and true. But know growth and maturity take time.
One of the great myths of the Christian faith is you need to clean up your act in order to come to Jesus. What a lie from the pit of hell! The amazing thing about our faith is all are welcome…come as you are…but don’t stay there. Grow! We’re all on a journey. Where you are today is less important than where you’re headed…what you’re becoming…how you are growing. My twelve week-old grandson
should be filling his diapers…but if he’s wearing them when he’s twelve years old, we’ve got a problem! If you’re new in your faith, of course you’re going to sin and screw up, but hopefully as you spend more time with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, your head, heart, and hands will begin to change.
The book of Romans offers us a glimpse at spiritual maturity regarding the mouth.
Before Christ,
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Romans 3:14)
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
A changed heart will result in changed speech…from profanity to praise, from gossip to glorifying God, from hatred to holiness, from bitterness to blessing, from…you get the idea! The Bible is filled with examples of transformation, which is why we believe people can change. We
know people can change! Masterpieces can be and are being restored. Hallelujah! But as I often say, it’s not about striving, but surrender. It’s about letting the Holy Spirit fill you with good fruit and gifts. But it’s also about making good choices.
It has been said you are your friends. Choose wisely. Garbage in, garbage out. If you hang out with people who encourage and bless, chances are you’ll do the same. If you fill you mind with trashy entertainment, don’t be surprised if it leaks out of you. Jesus said,
A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:17-18, NLT)
The word
bad used here in the original Greek referred to rotten fruit. It might not be poisonous, but it’s worthless. We need to fill our hearts and minds with Jesus, with the truth of the Bible, with the encouragement of godly friends, and with that which is good and beautiful. The overall message of verse 29 is not to have a swear jar to penalize yourself every time you say a bad word. It’s to fill your heart with good fruit, good ideas, good words, constructive messages to bless others. For more on the tongue, see James chapter three. Our words are powerful, for good or bad. Let’s re-present Jesus well with our lips.
Now that we’ve finished the first verse of today’s sermon, let’s continue!
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30, NLT)
Some translations say don’t grieve the Spirit. This reminds me of the parent who said to their child, “Whatever you do is a reflection upon our family.” People are watching us…even if you don’t have a fish on the rear bumper of your car! When you surrendered your life to Jesus—if you have, and I urge you to do so if you haven’t yet—you became his. Jesus wants to be LORD, Master, not just buddy or consultant. We are Christ’s ambassadors. We’ve been called to re-present God to the world. If our words aren’t constructive, we give God a bad name.
We can grieve or glorify God by the way we live. If you have more than one child, you know that awful feeling when your kids don’t get along, fighting and arguing. You may also know the joy of seeing them get along. Imagine our Heavenly Father and what He feels when He sees how we live with one another.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4:31, NLT)
Bitterness. It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die! I read an amazing story from Warren Wiersbe.
A handsome elderly man stopped at my study one day and asked me if I would perform a wedding for him. I suggested that he bring the bride in so that we might chat together and get better acquainted, since I hesitate to marry strangers. “Before she comes in,” he said, “let me explain this wedding to you. Both of us have been married before—to each other! Over thirty years ago, we got into an argument, I got mad, and we separated. Then we did a stupid thing and got a divorce. I guess we were both too proud to apologize. Well, all these years we’ve lived alone, and now we see how foolish we’ve been. Our bitterness has robbed us of the joys of life, and now we want to remarry and see if the Lord won’t give us a few years of happiness before we die.” Bitterness and anger, usually over trivial things, make havoc of homes, churches, and friendships.
Bitterness, rage, anger (which is not necessarily a sin, by the way). Paul has already spoken about our words. If our actions and words aren’t enough, he throws in “all types of evil behavior.” Stop it! How? Begin spiritual habits, simple rhythms. Join a Life Group. Read a chapter a day in the Bible (maybe start in Ephesians or John). Invite someone out for coffee to engage in a spiritual conversation. Access the free Right Now Media subscription resources. Download the YouVersion app and begin a Bible reading plan. Take one small step toward growth. If all else fails, send me an e-mail and we’ll discuss it together.
Remember, though, “spiritual formation is slow, incremental, over time, with others, and for others” (Richard Bush).
We’ve seen the negative list. Here’s a positive vision for how Christians are to behave.
Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
What a vision! Who wants to be a part of a family like that?
Perhaps the opposite of bitterness is forgiveness, and this is a radical thing in our culture where we are prone to either cancel someone or take them to court. There may be a time and place for that, but forgiveness takes things to another level. We can’t forgive people on our own strength, but when we see how God has forgiven us, with His power we can forgive. The most famous prayer in history states, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Paul is echoing that here in verse 32. What if we don’t forgive? First, it will probably harm us more than the other person.
We all love the idea of forgiveness…until we have someone to forgive. Who do you need to forgive? They don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is never earned. It’s a choice you make to set them—and yourself—free. It doesn’t mean you trust them. It doesn’t mean everything goes back to the way it used to be, but it means you’re done with bitterness. You’re letting go.
Family, we’re always going to hurt one another. Hopefully there will never be harmful intent, but where two or more are gathered, there is bound to be conflict. If you hurt me, you want forgiveness, right? We need to be a community of faith, hope, and especially love filled with grace and forgiveness. We need to silence the lie of the enemy that wants us trapped in the pain of the past and press on toward the abundant life Jesus promised us. This is not easy. It might involve professional help. The wounds will take time to heal. But we can choose, declare, decide God will be the judge and we can forgive them because we’ve been forgiven so much by God. Let it go! For God’s sake, forgive!
I would love to stand in front of you each week and encourage, sharing good news. The reality is, sin is a part of each of our lives. We need to be reminded of the bad and the good, the prohibitions and the positive instructions.
Life in the Kingdom of God is radically different than in the world around us.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Mission of Peace, 27 August 2023

Mission of Peace
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 2:11-22

Series Big Idea: The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
Earlier this year, I did some work with a counselor, a coach. One of the exercises we went through was called 10 Most Painful Life Events. I’ll spare you the details, but one of the things it revealed was my childhood was relatively easy and trauma-free. There are few things I remember that were painful, but one constant involved my athletic abilities…or lack thereof. I was slow. I am slow. This was evident for all to see on field day, and often when teams were being picked for team sports. Can you relate? Do you remember wanting to be picked on a particular team…and hoping you weren’t the last one picked?!
Throughout the Bible, there are two groups of people—Jews, God’s chosen people, and everyone else, known as Gentiles. Needless to say, they didn’t always get along with one another. You could almost think of them as two rival teams. A major part of Jesus’ mission while here on earth was to bring those groups together. Most of us today are Gentiles, and while our text will probably not have the impact it did on first-century Gentiles, the message and mission of peace is both relevant and timeless.
Before we get into today’s text, I want to highlight two things. First, we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter written to a church in the city of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. I’ve been there, and it’s one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the world, complete with a 25,000 seat coliseum! The Bible is not a book of fairy tales, but rather an historical document written by real people in real places. Paul, a highly decorated Jew, had a remarkable encounter with Jesus which resulted in a mission for him to preach to Gentiles, hardly a politically-correct assignment! Nevertheless, Paul obeys.
We’re in Ephesians chapter two, beginning at verse eleven, but I must first go back to verse ten. Ephesians 2:10 is a very special verse for First Alliance Church as it contains an important element of our church mission statement.
We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.
Ephesians 2:10 says,
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul uses the Greek word poiema, which literally means God’s poetry. When poiema is translated as “handiwork” or “workmanship” it misses the following important point. Poetry in scripture does not rhyme sounds; it follows the Hebrew pattern and rhymes thoughts. This means that as God’s poetry, our thoughts can rhyme with our Heavenly Father’s. That is amazing! How can it work? We know that as we become intimate with someone, we begin to finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. In a deep, authentic, mutual-mind state, we actually don’t know where our thoughts stop and the other person’s thoughts begin. This is exactly what can happen between God and us too. A mutual-mind state with God results in an emulation of His character and heart; we are showing the world the poet behind the poetry. As our mutual-mind state becomes stronger, we are able to live out our purpose of being created for good works. It is important to note here that our “good works” do not save us. Good works flow from thinking like our Creator; we rhyme God’s actions and not just His thoughts.
-       Wilder, E James; Kang, Anna; Loppnow, John; Loppnow, Sungshim. Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel
Isn’t that beautiful? OK, now we begin today’s text!
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. (Ephesians 2:11, NLT)
One of the marks, literally, of a Jewish man is circumcision. It dates back to Abraham, a command of God still practiced today. It was meant to be an outward symbol of an inward commitment to Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Like many Old Testament practices, circumcision is not required of “New Testament Christians,” though many Gentiles are circumcised today. Jews were forbidden in the Old Testament from eating pork, yet that is no longer the case for Christians since the New Testament.
The point of this verse is racism has been a part of our world for thousands of years. Paul is reminding the Gentiles in Ephesus that they used to be outsiders, mocked, despised by the proud Jews. Jesus changed all of that.
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Ephesians 2:12, NLT)
What a bleak existence! It’s been said you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 40 days without food, but only one second without hope. I can’t imagine a second without God or without hope. Tragically, there are billions of people today who live without God. We have the privilege of introducing them to Him! Gentiles were without God and hope…
But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, NLT)
Hallelujah! We are all related by blood…the precious blood of Jesus!
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT)
The cross is obviously a symbol of the death of Jesus, but many have noted its two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. This execution device is a reminder of the work of reconciliation done by Jesus on it, reconciling us to God (vertical) and to one another (horizontal).
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is more than the absence of violence. It’s wholeness, harmony, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It’s greater than tolerance. It’s blessing.
It’s hard to appreciate how radical this coming together of Jews and Gentiles was two thousand years ago. Today, both groups have been united into one family of Jesus-followers, but it was almost unimaginable in the first century.
Perhaps the closest analogy would be to imagine Republicans and Democrats united, working together to serve the American people! That would be a miracle, right?!
Jesus created one new people from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles. It’s worth noting there are two types of Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus). There are Messianic Jews who engage in Jewish practices such as Passover and Yom Kippur…and others who would simply call themselves Christians, detached from Hebrew traditions like kosher eating. Regardless, all followers of Jesus are one. This is, in many ways, the realization of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:9-11, NIV)
Later in the chapter, Jesus prays for us…”those who will believe.” In a world with over 40,000 Christian denominations, I wonder how much more divided we would be if Jesus wasn’t praying for our unity! Back to the text.
He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:17-18, NLT)
Here we see again Jesus’ mission of peace. It’s a mission of unity. He wants all of us to get along! We all have the same Father. We all have Jesus as our brother. We all have the same Holy Spirit. Unity does not mean uniformity. We are different and we can celebrate our differences, but we must remember we have more in common than not if Jesus is our LORD.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19, NLT)
Family, isn’t it great to be a part of God’s family? Earthly families can be messy. It’s been said some put the fun in dysfunctional! Seriously, though, because we’re human, we hurt even when we don’t mean to harm. We fail one another. No child or parent is perfect…except when it comes to our heavenly Father.
I’ve always loved the story of Little Orphan Annie, going from rags to riches (not that riches themselves bring true satisfaction). This girl living in an orphanage is chosen, embraced, loved, and given a new family. That’s a picture of all of us, spiritual orphans adopted into God’s family. We are all children of the King. Those of us who are Gentiles have been grafted into God’s holy people.
 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
Where is God’s house? Right here (us). He no longer lives exclusively behind a curtain in a special place. That curtain was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. Hallelujah! We are his dwelling place. When people encounter you, they should be encountering God.
This is why our bodies matter. If God lives in us, we must care for the temple. When Jesus said to pick up our cross and follow him, he meant we are to die. Your body is not yours if you follow Jesus. It’s his.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)
Paul wrote these words to another church. This is why our sexuality matters. We can’t just do whatever we want with whomever we want. We are to be a holy temple for the LORD. We are to love the LORD with all of our strength…our bodies. Wellness, nutrition, exercise, …these things matter. You can’t fulfill your mission of making disciples if you’re six feet under! Some have been mistakenly taught that our bodies are bad and evil, a heresy known as Gnosticism. Others have made idols of their bodies, seeking to glorify themselves in the process. Worship the LORD with your bodies, don’t worship bodies (or anyone else’s!).
Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
The thought of God dwelling in us should be both encouraging and challenging to all of us. Notice it says, “together, we are his house.” We are joined together in Jesus. To restate the theme of today’s text, Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
I want to close with another writing from Paul, this one to the church in Galatia, also in modern Turkey.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)
There are no second-class citizens in the family of God. You are welcome, regardless of your family of origin, skin color, zip code, or income bracket. We are all united at the foot of the cross. We all need to die to our selfish desires, surrendering all of our heart, all of our souls, all of our minds, and all of our strengths/bodies to the LORD. When we do, we create a beautiful house for God to dwell and bear witness to His goodness, presence, and power in our world for His glory. May we be one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library