A Study of Ephesians 4:11-16

This blog post is a summary of our group’s three week study on Ephesians 4:11-16. We had studied Ephesians 4 in part previously as we were studying Biblical unity. This time we approached this passage with several questions about the “equippers” listed in verse 11. We had questions about the Biblical definitions of these gifts and roles and how they are identified and operate within a local church body. So for our first week’s discussion we tackled the definitions: “What are the Biblical definitions of these roles: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers?”

When we gathered to discuss the definitions, we uncovered some differences in perspective, even among our small group of women. This reflects the fact that there is significant disagreement within the church today on the definitions of these gifts. In fact, it may be that much conflict between different denominations in the area of spiritual gifts may stem from the fact that these terms are defined differently. The best place to start is to understand how the writers of the Bible might define these words. The first step in understanding any passage of Scripture is to get at the meaning the original author intended for the original audience. Only then can we begin to apply these truths to our lives. We understand that some of today’s theologians spend their entire careers on these matters and still disagree with other theologians. We definitely do not have all the right answers, but we believe that by obeying God’s call to search the Scriptures, we can better understand the Biblical answers ourselves rather than just accepting a theologian’s answer.

Apostle

Strong’s definition of the Greek word “apostolos”: a delegate; specially, an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ (“apostle”) (with miraculous powers):–apostle, messenger, he that is sent.

Bible dictionary definition: a messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent

Lessons from Scripture regarding apostles:

Apostles performed signs and wonders and mighty works:

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. (2 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)

Apostles are among those who equip the saints for the work of ministry:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

The household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)

Paul touches on this concept again in 1 Corinthians, where he states that he (Paul) laid the foundation, but the foundation is Jesus Christ.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV)

In both the Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 3 passage, the tense would suggest that the foundation of the church has been laid or built — past tense. The structure is being joined together and continues to grow, but the foundation has been built.

Apostles carry the commandments of Jesus and had the authority to speak and write the words of Jesus that would become Scripture:

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37 ESV)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles (2 Peter 3:1-2 ESV)

In the New Testament, apostles carried the authority to speak and write the words of God — that which became Scripture. There are two examples in Scripture suggesting that having seen the risen Christ (a witness to His resurrection) is one of the qualifications of the title “apostle.”

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:21-26 ESV)

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1 ESV) (written by Paul)

Another qualification for an apostle that can be supported by Scripture is one who is sent by Christ as His messenger to carry His teaching.

The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10:2-7 ESV)

But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16-18 ESV) (Jesus speaking to Paul)

Jesus Himself was referred to as an Apostle by the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1 ESV)

The apostle term seems fitting for Jesus, as the Bible repeats the idea of the Father sending the Son on several occasions, especially in the gospel of John. Jesus was the Father’s messenger, sent to carry the gospel and to fulfill the gospel.

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. (John 5:36-38 ESV)

The number of men called apostles in the New Testament were limited. The twelve disciples that Jesus called during His ministry were repeatedly referred to as apostles. The Scripture listed above from Acts 1 tells of calling Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas. In Acts, Barnabas was referred to as an apostle:

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd (Acts 14:14 ESV)

Paul also calls James, the brother of Jesus, an apostle:

But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19 ESV)

Finally, Paul refers to himself as an apostle:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:3-9 ESV)

When Paul says “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me,” does “last of all” refer to Paul being the last man to see Jesus before His second coming? Or the last man to be called an apostle? Or is he referring to himself as last in this list? The answer to that question would have a great deal of impact on whether Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this) anticipated future leaders gifted as apostles in the same way that he defines himself and other early church leaders as apostles.

So we have 15 men definitely labeled as apostles in the New Testament — eleven remaining from the twelve that Jesus called during His ministry, Matthias, Barnabas, James, and Paul. There is not evidence in Scripture that Barnabas saw the risen Lord, but Barnabas could have been among the 500 witnesses Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Paul does make it very clear that James was an eyewitness of the resurrected Lord in this passage.

Are there other Scriptures that identify additional apostles? The first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, when read as a whole, suggest that Paul may consider Apollos to be an apostle. There is also a reference to apostles in Romans 16:7 which has different interpretations when translated:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (1 Corinthians 16:7 NKJV)

“Who are of note among the apostles” is also translated as “well known to the apostles” (ESV) and “highly respected among the apostles” (NLT) and “noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles” (HCSB). It is uncertain whether Andronicus and Junia were known as apostles or known to the apostles. In 2 Corinthians 11-12 Paul uses a term “super-apostles,” but that seems to be a sarcastic term, referring to those who “proclaim another Jesus than the one we proclaimed.”

There are several occasions when “apostolos” is used to refer to a group of leaders without naming specifically who is in the group (such as our main text in Ephesians 4:11). These instances may give us more information about what apostles do without helping us to know exactly who they were. There are only two places when the word “apostolos” is used in the New Testament where it clearly introduces a new definition. In Philippians 2:25 and 2 Corinthians 8:23 the word is used as a reference to messengers communicating between different churches. This version of apostle does not carry the significance or authority of an apostle that Jesus appeared to in person and called to carry His words to the world. The word “apostolos” is used 83 times in the New Testament and only two of them are clearly not referring to those who meet the requirements of having seen the risen Lord and being sent by Him as His messengers of the gospel. Those two requirements, along with the signs and wonders mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:12, seem to be the defining experiences of a true apostle. While allowing for a different, much less frequent definition of apostle, it seems that in Ephesians 4:11, Paul is most likely using the term to describe a true apostle.

While there are differing opinions on whether the gift of apostle exists in the church today, it seems that if anyone is going to use that word to designate a role in today’s church, they must be very careful to distinguish the role from that of a New Testament apostle such as Paul or Peter. These men carried the authority, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to speak and write the inerrant Word of God. There is no leader in the church today that carries that authority.

Prophet

Strong’s definition of the Greek word “prophetes”: a foreteller (“prophet”); by analogy, an inspired speaker; by extension, a poet:–prophet.

Bible dictionary definition: spokesperson for God through a direct prompting of the Holy Spirit or other direct revelation from God

Lessons from Scripture regarding prophets:

Old Testament prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, the very words of the Lord and, if the message did not come to pass, it was proven to not be from the Lord.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” And if you say in your heart, “How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?”—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-22 ESV)

Old Testament prophets had no room for error. They were obligated to speak what God called them to speak:

Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” (Numbers 22:38 ESV)

Just as Jesus is called an Apostle in Scripture, He is also called a prophet. It is a term that He uses for Himself in Luke :

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. (Luke 4:24 ESV)

Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 13:33 ESV)

As we studied under the definition of apostle, the New Testament version of the Old Testament prophets — the men who spoke the very truth of God and had His authority to write Scripture — were the apostles. Paul wrote about this authority in Galatians:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 ESV)

The New Testament version of a prophet does not carry the same authority as the Old Testament version, as the apostles carried that authority. There are several pieces of evidence in the New Testament that prophecy was not necessarily the very word of God. Prophecies were imperfect:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10 ESV)

Prophecy required review, including identifying true prophecy from false prophecy:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV)

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV)

Prophecies are subject to the authority of apostolic teaching:

If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38 ESV)

Despite these limitations, prophecy is to be earnestly desired and is used to build up the church:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy… The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:1,4 ESV)

Based on our Ephesians text, prophecy is another gift among those which equip the saints for the work of ministry:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV)

Prophecy is based in a spontaneous prompting or revelation from the Holy Spirit:

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). (Acts 11:28 ESV)

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ (Acts 21:10-11 ESV)

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 ESV)

Along with the apostles, prophets are part of the foundation of the church. It may be worth mentioning that there are several views among Bible scholars about the use of “prophets” in the following verse. Some would say that, since the foundation of the church is already laid, there are no prophets today (more on that below). Others argue that this is a special group of prophets that were closely tied to the apostles of the New Testament or the apostles themselves acting as prophets, similar to the role of the Old Testament prophets who spoke the words of God. Still others think that this use of “prophets” may be referring to the Old Testament prophets.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20 ESV)

There are many Christian teachers who instruct that, along with the gift of apostle, the gift of prophecy was only for the early church. However, a careful study of 1 Corinthians 13 applies here:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 ESV)

These verses do teach that prophecy will cease. Yet the time when the gift will cease is “when the perfect comes,” when we see “face to face,” and when “I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” These verses make a very strong case that prophecy will cease when we see Jesus face to face, which certainly has not happened yet.

A New Testament definition of a prophet as one who applies the truth of God (the Word of God), under the direction of the Holy Spirit, in specific ways and under specific circumstances to build up and encourage the church and equip the saints for the work of ministry, is a role that is very much active and needed in the church today.

Evangelist

Strong’s definition of the Greek word “euaggelistes”: a preacher of the gospel:–evangelist

Bible dictionary definition: proclaimer of the gospel — the good news of Jesus Christ; one who seeks and saves the lost

All Christians are called to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20), but some have a gift making them more effective. There is not much detail in Scripture on the role or gift of evangelism. Paul charged Timothy with the role:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5 ESV)

In this letter to Timothy, Paul seemed to be passing his own role on to Timothy, which would then be passed on to others:

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

Included also in the letter are specific instructions about what has been entrusted to Paul that he is now entrusting to Timothy:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)

Paul proclaimed the gospel and he charged Timothy and others to proclaim the gospel. Every one of us who follows Christ should proclaim the gospel. Yet the Ephesians 4 passage makes it clear that some are gifted to proclaim the gospel in a way that especially equips the saints for the work of ministry.

Shepherd

Strong’s definition of the Greek word “poimen”: a shepherd (literally or figuratively):–shepherd, pastor

Dictionary definition: to tend as a shepherd; to guide or guard in the manner of a shepherd

Shepherd is used interchangeably with pastor in different translations of Ephesians 4:11. Therefore, both seem best defined by a description of what a shepherd does. A shepherd watches over sheep. He protects them from outside harm, makes sure none stray from the flock, and leads them to pastures where they find food and water. A pastor watches over the people of his church, protecting them from false teaching and harm from outside the body of believers. He makes sure none of the people stray to false doctrine. He leads them to satisfy their hunger and thirst in God and His Word.

Some translations and commentators read the Shepherd/Pastor and Teacher as one role in Ephesians 4:11. There is a different conjunction (“kai”) between shepherds and teachers than between the rest of the roles in the list (“de”). It seems that if Teachers are separate from Shepherds, they are a specialized form of shepherd/pastor that is gifted for instructing people in God’s word.

Teacher

Greek word “didaskalos”: an instructor (genitive case or specially):–doctor, master, teacher.

Teaching is explanation or application of Scripture. Prophecy is a more subjective experience in which the Holy Spirit spontaneously reveals something to be disclosed to the body for edification. Teaching is more objective, based on the written word of God. Neither prophecy nor teaching can add to or alter God’s Word, and there is Scriptural evidence that both prophecy and teaching should be evaluated against God’s Word for confirmation (1 Cor. 14:29, Acts 17:11).

One goal of teaching is encouragement and hope:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

Scripture is the basis for the teaching:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Teaching should agree with the words of Jesus:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV)

Believers should be teaching one another, as they are allowing the word of Christ to dwell in them:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

Older women are called to teach younger women:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5 ESV)

All five of these “equipping” roles listed in Ephesians 4:11 are based in the Word. Apostles had the authority to speak and write the very words of Jesus. Prophets in the Old Testament spoke the very words of God, and in the New Testament the prophets speak what is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, subject to Scriptures and the teaching of the apostles. Evangelists preach the gospel, or good news, primarily to those who are lost. Shepherds protect the flock from false doctrine and keep them from straying, while teachers instruct from the Word of God. The equipping of the saints starts with these gifted individuals rightly handling and distributing the truth of God. This prepares the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ into maturity. Note from verse 15-16 that in Christ the body makes the body grow itself up. The equippers listed in verse 11 bring the truth of the word and the body does the work of ministry, building itself up in love.

One of the most significant things that we noticed about these gifts/roles listed in Ephesians 4:11 is that every one of them is a role that Jesus filled. Hebrews 3:1 refers to Jesus as an apostle. In His incarnation he definitely acted as a messenger, sent by the Father. Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet in Luke 4:24 and Luke 13:33. Though Scripture never refers to Him as an evangelist, it is quite clear that he was the first to proclaim the gospel — the good news of God’s salvation — and He Himself fulfilled the gospel. Jesus was “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) And many referred to Him as “Teacher” in His ministry (Matthew 8:19; Mark 4:38). Anyone with these gifts who is called to these roles need look no further than Jesus Himself for the model and the power to fulfill what He has called them to do.


During our study of Ephesians 4:11-16, two of our members brought documents written by Christian leaders on this passage. One of the documents was written from a more Pentecostal perspective, the other from a more conservative perspective. The documents and their authors are not as important as the process of digging into Scriptures ourselves to see the truths presented there. Our second week of study on the Ephesians 4 passage caused us to study these two documents and check them against Scripture.

One significant observation we pulled from this discussion is the balance between the objective and subjective experiences of the Christian walk. The written Word of God tends to be a more objective experience — there are truths there that all Christians across all cultures and time can share. On the other hand, there is the subjective experience of being led by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit gives me a valuable insight, conviction, or lesson from my life or in my individual study of God’s Word, it is a more subjective experience that another person cannot quite see the same way that I see it. Yet both objective and subjective are vital in the Christian walk. There is a balance between the objectivity of God’s Word and the subjectivity of the Holy Spirit operating in a believer’s heart — a balance that a believer must be aware of and consciously seeking after. A believer who follows God’s Word and does not allow for guidance from the Holy Spirit may tend towards legalism. A believer who follows the Holy Spirit and is not grounded in the truths of God’s Word may be led astray by feelings that are not necessarily from the Spirit of God. Studying the Ephesians 4 passage through the eyes of a Pentecostal and through the eyes of a conservative evangelical caused us to be more aware of the need for balance.

What really matters in this passage? Is it the definition of “apostle” or whether that gift exists in the church today? Or is it the call upon all saints to exercise their gifts in unity, under the authority of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, with the end goal of building up the body of Christ, under the headship of Christ, leading to maturity in Christ? Let us all look to Jesus as the One who leads us and unites us. There are many gifts in the body, all essential to its function and maturation. We all have to fit together the way Jesus designed us to fit in order to grow to maturity together. We will all lead in different ways with our different gifts. Let us not overemphasize miraculous gifts like physical healings and other signs and wonders. Let us not underemphasize the miracles of the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit — joy in the face of pain or physical illness, love in the face of mistreatment, and peace in the midst of chaos. Let us be certain to “examine the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11) to see if the things being taught to us are true and in alignment with the Word of God. And let us “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)

Ephesains 4:1-16 is a crucial passage covering unity, spiritual gifts, and maturity in the body of Christ. There is so much to study here. As a final exercise in our study of this passage, our group took on the challenge of paraphrasing this passage, incorporating what each of us individually learned through our study, allowing for each of us to include our own gifting and perspective on the passage. The results are by no means inerrant Scripture, but the challenge forced us to organize our thoughts on the passage. Here are a few of the results:

Ephesians 4:11-16 paraphrase 1

God is the one who appoints equippers of His people.  He wants His children to be ready to take up their place in the battle as people who have character that is bent on love.  This kind of character does not pick fights by lying about being in pain.  In fact, this kind of character wants the whole heart to be in the light…all the time.  It doesn’t make judgments about a person’s motives because this kind of character knows there is only One Judge and that He alone can determine what a person should see about him/herself.  This kind of character does not withhold good because it does not determine by another person’s performance whether or not he/she deserves worth and kindness.  This mature character is not self-righteous because it does not determine when change should happen in another person’s life.  Only an equipper will have allowed God to have processed him/her into a place where Jesus’s blood is enough.  There will be a high cost for this person to be refined and ready.  He/She, in this place of maturity will have no confidence in the flesh and will be ready to lead God’s people out of self-deception as well as the world’s deception.  When this Godly order is in place, the unleashed equipper will have no agenda, but God’s.  He/she will live and die for helping others become like Jesus so that the Kingdom might have darkness pushed back both relationally and vocationally.

Ephesians 4:1-16 paraphrase 2

Jesus, he himself who descended in order to take into captivity the captive (Isaiah 49:25) then ascended on high so that he might fill all things by sending us the Holy Spirit. As he promised (John 16:5-7) by ascending into heaven the Helper would come and he the Spirit will bring truth through the apostles, (John 16:13), whatever the Spirit hears he will speak through the prophets and he will disclose to you what is to come.(John 16:13). Sometimes through evangelists he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment, many will be saved  and the ruler of this world will stand condemned. (John 16:8, 1 John 5:6). Many will also be saved through our testimony and witness. Not necessarily through word of mouth but how we live out our faith, through our walk. This is why he has gifted some to be apostles, prophets and evangelist. The Holy Spirit will also put overseers over the flock as shepherds and teachers to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)  Let us therefore be willing to put aside our stubbornness, selfishness and all that hinders us (Hebrews 12:1), and with humility, gentleness (Ephesians 4:2) and love for our King, be intentional and grow up to full maturity in Christ. How do we grow into the full maturity? We diligently seek Him, yielding to the Holy Spirit and his Word, he then rewards us by increasing our faith and producing in us godly fruit which pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6). Then through our maturity, not acting as children who are easily deceived, but knowing truth we begin equipping the saints ourselves. We have not been left alone as orphans but Jesus himself asked the Father to send us the Spirit of Truth and he lives with and in you.  Jesus said “Because I live you will live and I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:16-20) Now we can have unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God because he has sent his Spirit he also gifted others to fulfill the needs of the Body of Christ. Jesus finishes the job and the work goes on for us and through us for the beloved bride of Christ till his return. (Philippians 1:6)

Ephesians 4:1-16 paraphrase 3

Because of all that I have written in this letter — because we have salvation through faith, hope, unity and peace in Christ, and the revealed mystery of the gospel — I am urging you all to live the way that you have been called. Everything that I have taught about the gospel is yours through faith and you should live your lives in response to that. Live with humility, gentleness, patience — in fact, live in all the fruit of the Spirit. Remember that love is over all and this life can only be accomplished in the power of the Spirit. Be excited about the unity that is brought by the Spirit and brings peace, which acts as a bond. There is only one body of Christ and one Holy Spirit, with all of us called to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one God and Father, who is over all of us and works through all of us and is in all of us, as people of faith. We are all working together in unity toward the same purpose, which is the very purpose of God, and He is the one calling us to work together and empowering us to work together at the same time.

Jesus Christ has given gifts to each of us in a perfect measure, gifts of grace that we do not deserve. He has graced us with Himself in different ways and different portions through the different experiences that we have in this life and the way he comes alongside of us and equips us in those experiences. He is from above, from the heavens, God Himself, and he desires to fulfill all things He has promised by working through His people graced with His gifts. The perfect measure of gifts that He has given includes leaders like apostles, who He has founded the church on; prophets, who He has also used as the foundation of His church and He still uses to build up the church; evangelists, who He uses to proclaim the gospel to the lost; Shepherds (pastors) to watch over the people and protect them from false teaching; and teachers to explain the application of His Word. These gifted people all have Jesus Christ to look to as an example, because He filled all of these roles in His ministry. The source these gifted people should use is the Word of God. The purpose of these gifted people is to train the rest of the Christ-followers to do the work of ministry the way God intended. And the way God intended is that the ministry will build up the body of Christ — His church — so that we all become united in the faith the way that He intends and united in the knowledge of Christ, which comes from the Word of God that is being used to equip the Christ-followers. As we are being built up, reaching unity in faith and knowledge, we become like one mature man, under the authority of Christ as our head, matching up our fullness under His. We don’t want to be like naïve children spiritually, being moved around in our beliefs by changing doctrines and those who would deceive us and lead us astray. Being well-grounded in knowledge of God’s Word through the leadership of those who speak and teach God’s Word prevents us from being swept up in false doctrine.

Instead, we should always speak the truth of God’s Word, wrapped up in His love, to one another. The goal is to grow up to be like Jesus and to be the body that matches up with His head. This body of His, which we make up, is held together by the gifts and graces that he has given each of us. When each part — each of us — is working properly, we are tightly held together and maturing together and building each other — and the body as a whole — up in the love that He first gave us.

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What does Jesus mean by “the truth will set you free,” and what does that freedom look like?

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Our group’s main text for this study was in John 8 (most of the chapter is included for context):

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Being a disciple of Jesus includes abiding in His word (verse 31). Trusting in His Word and resting in its truths brings freedom (verse 32). First, we are freed from the consequences of our sin at the point of belief and salvation; that is we are freed from the wrath of God. But this freedom is about more than our salvation and going to heaven. This freedom is also for this life. We are gradually freed from the rule of sin in our lives as we understand the gospel, allowing it to impact our lives and produce obedience in us. Seeking freedom is a continuing journey throughout our lives on earth. The more we know the gospel truths (His word) and trust in them, the more we can realize our freedom. Slavery results when we feel we need to do something to contribute to being justified before God, as the Pharisees were trying to do in the John 8 passage.

Just after creation, Adam and Eve were living in a state of freedom in the Garden of Eden. God’s creation was good (Genesis 1:31) and Adam and Eve were living without shame (Genesis 2:25). When they chose to disobey God, they introduced death and slavery to sin into the world (Genesis 2:17, Romans 5:12-18; 6:16). When Moses brought the law from God, the law acted as a guardian, protecting the heirs of God, though those heirs were still enslaved (Galatians 3-4). But when Christ came, He redeemed those under the law so that, through faith, we can receive the full rights as sons and heirs of God (Galatians 4:5). Jesus refers to this freedom for sons and heirs in our John 8 text (verses 34-36) and also in Matthew:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27 ESV)

There was a tax obligation among the Jews to support the temple. When Peter was approached regarding this tax, Jesus pointed out to Peter that sons are free from tax, presumably referring ahead to our status as sons of God and the freedom that comes with that status. We are no longer slaves to sin. We have died to sin (Romans 6:7). We have been set free from sin and death in Christ. The old self was crucified, along with slavery to sin (Romans 6:6). We have been raised with Christ to live in freedom (Romans 6:4-5).

What does that freedom look like? When we were in slavery to sin (without Jesus), our hearts were ruled by sin. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). Jesus sets us free at the point we trust in Him for salvation by transforming our hearts. There is still sin in the human condition, but the Spirit enters in to bring truth and light and life. Sin no longer dominates a heart transformed by faith. The Spirit gives us power to obey (Galatians 5:16-17). The more deeply we understand the gospel and the more we treasure Jesus, the more we can function in our freedom — freedom from the guilt of sin, the penalty of sin, and the power of sin.

This is the continuing journey of moving toward freedom. And that journey begins with abiding in Jesus’ word so that we may know the truth (John 8:31). What does it mean to “abide?” The Greek word used in this passage is “meno.” This means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry. This sounds like a bigger commitment than just reading the Word. It sounds more like a commitment that we simply can’t live without it.

We also noted that, elsewhere in John, Jesus told us to abide in Him.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4 ESV)

Abiding in His word is believing, continuing and living in all that Jesus is and all that He taught. The way He reveals Himself to us is through His word. If we want to know Jesus, it requires knowing His word – the Bible. When we live a life centered on His word, we will know the truth. Jesus Himself stated (in prayer to the Father), “Your word is truth” (John 17:17) In fact, Jesus described Himself as the truth (John 14:6) and John referred to Jesus as the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Jesus, the truth, and the word of God are connected in some very deep ways. Knowing and trusting Jesus and His word gives us the freedom to choose to obey Him out of our love for Him. That love comes from a full understanding of the gospel — that the freedom we enjoy in Christ is free to us through faith, but Jesus paid a very heavy price for us. Our freedom is only possible because of His sacrifice (Romans 6).

Part of the freedom of the gospel is remembering that all the truths of His word apply to other believers as well. Others are also free from condemnation — not only from God, but from us as well. Faith in Jesus and the transformation the gospel brings allows us to release others to live under the gospel. We can be free from seeking condemnation and judgment for others who have wronged us. Forgiving others leads to a tremendous amount of freedom.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 ESV)

During our study of John 8 we noted from verses 51-53 that Jesus did not define death the same way the Pharisees did. Jesus says, “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (There’s the importance of His word and our obedience again). The Pharisees argue back that Abraham had died. They obviously don’t understand death the way Jesus does. Death is separation. When a loved one dies, the living family members are separated from that person. The deceased is actually living on beyond this earth, but the separation is real. In the same way, we can be physically alive, but spiritually dead, and therefore separated from God (Romans 6:16). Paul’s discussion in Romans 6 presents death as a separation from the power of sin and from slavery to sin.

In 2 Corinthians Paul states:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord resides in us as people of faith (1 Corinthians 6:19). And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom which transforms us:

  • Freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1)
  • Freedom from guilt and regret (2 Corinthians 7:8-10)
  • Freedom from sin (Galatians 5:16-17; Romans 8:2)
  • Freedom from spiritual death (Romans 6:23; John 8:24,51)
  • Freedom from the old covenant (the law) (Galatians 5:18)
  • Freedom from blindness to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:10-13; John 8:12)
  • Freedom from Satan’s lies (John 8:32,44-47)
  • Freedom to rest (Hebrews 4:9-11)
  • Freedom to forgive others (Luke 6:37)

To experience this freedom, we need to be abiding in Jesus and His word. This has to include a posture of humility before Him. The Pharisees relied on their laws and their status as descendants of Abraham for justification before God. But Jesus called that slavery. When we slip into operating out of self-reliance rather than relying on Jesus and what He has done for us, we are not continuing in His word, and therefore failing to walk in the full freedom Christ has granted us. We can only enjoy full freedom when we are fully humbled before Him and His word.

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What is our role as women in helping to protect the flock?

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The Bible refers to “protecting the flock” in the sense of protecting those in the church from false teaching. There are also examples of leaders acting as shepherds, most notably Jesus Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10).

Paul addressed the elders in the church in Ephesus:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30 ESV)

Peter then writes to the Christians dispersed in Asia:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

It is clear that there is a Biblical mandate for church leaders to lead, care for, and protect the flock. Given the design that God has set up for male leadership throughout the Bible, is there a role for women in protecting the flock? Peter’s exhortation includes some guidance that applies just to leaders (“shepherd the flock”), but there is also guidance that could apply to anyone who has been charged with leadership, even a mom in leadership over her kids: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Clearly, all of us who trust Jesus as Savior can be a godly example to others. And Peter charges everyone to clothe themselves with humility toward one another (verse 5). These are steps that women can definitely take to protect the flock from false teaching — humbly act as an example for others of obedience to Jesus.

Paul’s letter to Titus gives more instructions for protecting the flock:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 1:5–2:5 ESV)

Paul opens this passage with a description of the qualifications for elders in the church, followed by some of the roles of elders — giving instruction in sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict the sound doctrine (verses 9-16). These false teachers will identify themselves by their works, which will not be displaying the fruits of the Spirit. It is interesting then that Paul moves directly into guidelines for older men and women. These passages are directly linked by verse 1 of chapter 2: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” That is a repeat of verse 9 of chapter 1 (“give instruction in sound doctrine”). It seems then that the following instructions to older men and older women is tied to the idea of maintaining sound doctrine in the church. The older women are to “be reverent in behavior” and to “teach what is good.” The goal is to train younger women in essential characteristics such as love, self-control, purity, kindness, and submission — all under the banner of sound doctrine. Taken with our role from the 1 Peter passage, it sounds like we women are charged with being humble examples of the fruit of the Spirit and protectors of sound doctrine at least among the younger women and our children. This is a huge responsibility!

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV)

Our group spent some time studying this passage in 1 Peter. Peter is addressing wives in relation to their husbands, not necessarily men in general. However, there are some important guidelines here for women. Peter tells wives that even if their husbands are not obeying (“believing” in other translations) the word, the wives can win them over “without a word… when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” A woman’s beauty to God is not external, but comes from the heart in a gentle and quiet spirit. Holy women adorn themselves by submitting to their husbands. And holy women hope in God, not themselves or their husbands. That hope and trust in God produces a woman who does not fear the future (verse 6). Her submission to her husband comes out of obedience to God and is evidence of her trust in God. If a woman spends effort in trying to direct her husband, she may be getting in the way of what God is doing in him. The divine order of a wife submitting to her husband is patterned after Jesus’ submission to the Father:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV)

Even within the Trinity — a divine concept of three-in-one that our human minds cannot fully appreciate, — there is divine order of relationship. God is Christ’s head, and at the same time, Jesus was equal with God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV).

Jesus being equal with God, yet in submission to the Father can be reflected in a wife being equal with her husband, yet in submission to him. As our culture blurs the lines between the roles of men and women, we dilute the power of both the male and female role. Men are robbed of the opportunity to lead and love like Christ and women are robbed of the courage and beauty that come from submission. If women become stronger in the Biblical roles we are called to, we are coming into alignment with the Savior who knows and loves us. This is when we can truly see God work and place our hope in Him.

A woman’s role definitely includes partnering with her husband to raise children that love the Lord, follow Him, and obey Him. Through this role, mothers have the hope of influencing the next generation. Even women who do not have children themselves can help train younger women to display the fruit of the Spirit (Titus 5). Teaching sons to love and protect women while teaching daughters to respect men as they lead can raise up a generation of believers filling the roles that God designed for them, reflecting the order that God designed. In addition, teaching our children to respect and honor older men and women and follow their godly example can also move the next generation toward godliness. Training our children in God’s Word, prayer, and helping to lead them into a life transformed by the gospel is huge. We can protect the flock by raising up a generation that has the truths of God’s Word written on their hearts before they ever leave our homes. God has given us women significant responsibility!

None of this is to say that either men are more important than women or that women are more important to men. We are all one in Christ and made in His image:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28 ESV)

Scripture gives evidence that God has designed different, complementary roles for men and women. But in our role as women, is it possible for us to have a humble voice as part of a community of believers pursuing Jesus? One example in Scripture of a woman in the Old Testament being used by God to speak His word to His people is Deborah. She judged God’s people and spoke God’s timing for battle to Barak, the military leader of Israel (Judges 4-5). The results were a blessing: “the land had rest for forty years” (Judges 5:31). The book of Acts also commends certain women for their efforts at protecting the Word of God:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12 ESV)

This passage commends the Bereans for examining the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching them was true. Note that “many of them” (the Bereans examining the Scriptures daily) included “a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” Scriptures teach God’s design for male leadership, but that does not prohibit women from checking the teaching against Scripture themselves. What if this scene was repeated in today’s church and those that are searching the Scriptures daily find that the things being taught are not so? What if a woman sees, from her unique experience and gifting, unbiblical teaching or leadership that is not demonstrating the gospel in action? What should we do?

One answer is definitely to pray for leadership, as this is a pattern that is shown in the Bible:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4 ESV)

However, as we have addressed in our last two studies on speaking the truth in love and receiving correction, there is a Biblical pattern set up for any member of the body to approach another in humility with questions to clarify an issue which seems to be in error. And there is a Biblical pattern for receiving this correction in humility, understanding that God uses all parts of the body and no member is indispensable.

The story of Esther is a great example in the Bible of a woman submitting to her husband, the king, yet still raising a crucial issue that needed to be addressed — an issue that would greatly impact the people of God.

Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. When the king held out the golden scepter to Esther, Esther rose and stood before the king. And she said, “If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.” (Esther 8:3-8 ESV)

Women today who are confronted with errors in leadership, whether intentional or out of ignorance, would do well to follow Esther’s example. Esther came before her husband, the king, and “fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him.” She began her request with, “If it please the king… and if the thing seems right before the king…” These actions and words show her humility, giving honor to his place in leadership over her. Note also her patience, waiting for the timing of the king: “when the king held out the golden scepter to Esther.” She then appealed to her own character: “if I have found favor in his sight… and I am pleasing in his eyes…” The assumption is that she has already proven her character to the king in their relationship. She then makes a short, direct request of the king: “let an order be written…” She finishes with her vulnerability: “For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” This seems to be the perfect model of bringing a mistake to the attention of leadership in a way that acknowledges the position of leadership and the submission of the one bringing the information. Esther has chosen to submit herself to the king.

How can a woman approach a man in church leadership who seems to be in error, according to God’s Word? We believe that a woman’s emphasis in this case should be to first evaluate that the matter of error is significant enough that it could be damaging to the flock. Next, she should be approaching the matter in love and humility. She should enter into the conversation with questions, seeking to understand the situation. And she should be prepared to be humbly corrected in the process if she is in error herself. All of these steps would be true of either a man or a woman. However, unique to a woman, she may find it helpful to enter into that conversation with leadership partnered with her husband or a spiritually mature man. It is our experience that some men in Christian leadership may be more receptive under these circumstances. This humble action of partnering her female perspective with male insight shows respect for the male leadership structure that God has established for His church.

There is no shortage in Scripture of examples of the tenderness and respect that Jesus showed to women. There were women that He commended for their faith (Matthew 9:20-22; Matthew 15:22-28). And there is at least one example in which Jesus turned a whole town upside-down through the testimony of a broken woman. Let’s close with that story (bold emphasis mine):

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:1-42 ESV)

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What does it look like to receive Biblical correction and, if the correction is not brought in love, are we still responsible for the truth brought?

Last week our group discussed speaking the truth in love, as described in Ephesians 4. We explored what that would look like, both as a way of life and if there is a need to bring correction to a fellow believer who is not walking in truth. This week we wanted to emphasize the other side of that relationship — what would be a Biblical process for receiving correction?

One of our members brought up a story in Exodus for us to study regarding the entire concept of speaking the truth in love.

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. (Exodus 18:1-27 ESV)

Jethro, who is Moses’ father-in-law, has joined the Israelite camp. These are men of the same family, in relationship with one another. They clearly cared about one another and Moses showed him respect, going out to meet Jethro and bowing before him. The next statement is small, but shouldn’t be missed: “they asked each other of their welfare.” Amidst all other pressing concerns and the responsibilities that Moses held of leading an entire nation, these two men slowed down to check in on each other. How often could we avoid confrontation and conflict if we just asked each other genuinely, “How are you? What’s going on right now?” Is it possible that the thing that we think needs correcting would diminish in importance once we genuinely check in with one another from the heart? Isn’t this what love is? James had some words to say about listening before speaking:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

Notice also that Jethro and Moses are rejoicing with one another (verses 8–11), they worshipped together, and they ate together, along with the elders (verse 12). The top priorities for these men was to connect with each other in relationship and praise and worship God. This reminds one of the words of Jesus:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV)

The next day, all day, Moses is busy with his duties judging disputes among the people of God. Jethro observes this and notes that it is a burden too heavy for Moses. As an outside observer, Jethro can see that continuing in this will wear Moses out. But when Jethro approaches Moses, he starts with questions (verse 14). He wants to understand the situation better before advising. How often do we ask questions first before assuming we know a situation? Now Jethro is in a position to give Moses advice and correction. Jethro has already championed Moses and what God is doing in him before challenging Moses in how to lead better. Even while giving the advice, Jethro suggests that Moses carry it out under the direction of God. And the goal was to benefit all the people (verse 23). Out of a relationship of love and respect that both men had for one another, the truth was spoken in love. Moses listened and did all that his father-in-law suggested (verse 24). Moses must have been acting out of humility, realizing that he could benefit from another’s wise advice. It is interesting that although Moses had a direct line of communication with God, God used another man to speak wisdom into Moses’ life.

A valuable lesson from Moses’ example is echoed in the same Ephesians passage that we have studied parts of for two weeks:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

Jethro, as he spoke the truth in love, and Moses, as he received the advice and correction, both lived out the humility, gentleness, and love that Paul urges.

Following our discussion of this great example of building one another up in relationship, we addressed the second part of our question: if we are receiving correction, and it is not brought in love, are we still responsible for the truth brought?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3 ESV)

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV)

Here are examples in Scripture where we are to admonish or rebuke one another and there is no mention of how perfectly the admonishment or rebuke must be presented. As we discussed in our last meeting (and blog post on speaking the truth in love), the Matthew 18 process of correction can and should have a maturing effect on both parties. It seems that the one being rebuked can receive the truth of the rebuke and also admonish the one bringing the rebuke that it was not brought in a loving way. Everyone wins if all parties are growing into love, gentleness, patience, and humility.

This is not to negate the truth we explored last week that our goal is to head into relationship in love. This is to underscore that none of us loves perfectly, but we are called into relationship anyway. And those relationships can be the very things that refine us, teach us how to better love, and bring us toward maturity.

As followers of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), our desire is to know the truths of God as He reveals them to us. Can we ignore truth if it is not brought in love? What is the value of the truth?

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 ESV)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV)

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV)

Love… rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV)

God’s truth sanctifies us and sets us free. Obedience to the truth purifies our souls. Love rejoices with the truth. It seems that truth is something for a Christian to value and hold in high regard, no matter its source. Yet we do need to keep in mind that the Word of God is our ultimate source of truth, not the ideas of men.

Proverbs has a lot to say about receiving correction:

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. (Proverbs 8:33 ESV)

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. (Proverbs 10:17 ESV)

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV)

Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored. (Proverbs 13:18 ESV)

A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5 ESV)

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. (Proverbs 15:32 ESV)

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. (Proverbs 19:20 ESV)

Who wouldn’t want the wisdom that is brought by the insights of others who are also growing into Jesus? Why would we waste energy trying to determine others’ motives and the degree of love, when there is so much to be gained by pursuing the truth of what others can see in us? Our group concluded that we should not miss the opportunity to engage with and learn from each other. We cannot control the hearts and attitudes of another and there are times that we need to leave them to God and His discipline. But we always want to be in a place of humility to receive the truths of God as they are brought to us in any form.

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How do you move forward in faith when the answer to your prayer is “no” or there seems to be no answer?

IAM

As many ways as we looked at this question, for all of us, it came down to the key word, “faith.” Do we trust God’s ability and wisdom to answer our prayers? This is especially hard when we are contending for our children. It is hard enough to experience our own pain and suffering, but next to impossible to witness pain and suffering in our kids. Often the question simmering under the surface of difficult circumstances is, “Why?”

Why, for example, would someone who is acting in obedience to God face defeat? We looked at a story in Judges. An innocent woman from Israel was murdered by some men from the tribe of Benjamin in a city called Gibeah. The Israelites united in war to stand against Benjamin’s wickedness and unwillingness to bring justice to the murderers.

The people of Israel arose and went up to Bethel and inquired of God, “Who shall go up first for us to fight against the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Judah shall go up first.”

Then the people of Israel rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah. And the men of Israel went out to fight against Benjamin, and the men of Israel drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. The people of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and destroyed on that day 22,000 men of the Israelites. But the people, the men of Israel, took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day. And the people of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until the evening. And they inquired of the LORD, “Shall we again draw near to fight against our brothers, the people of Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against them.”

So the people of Israel came near against the people of Benjamin the second day. And Benjamin went against them out of Gibeah the second day, and destroyed 18,000 men of the people of Israel. All these were men who drew the sword. Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And the people of Israel inquired of the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”

So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. And the people of Israel went up against the people of Benjamin on the third day and set themselves in array against Gibeah, as at other times. And the people of Benjamin went out against the people and were drawn away from the city. And as at other times they began to strike and kill some of the people in the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, and in the open country, about thirty men of Israel. And the people of Benjamin said, “They are routed before us, as at the first.” But the people of Israel said, “Let us flee and draw them away from the city to the highways.” And all the men of Israel rose up out of their place and set themselves in array at Baal-tamar, and the men of Israel who were in ambush rushed out of their place from Maareh-geba. And there came against Gibeah 10,000 chosen men out of all Israel, and the battle was hard, but the Benjaminites did not know that disaster was close upon them. And the LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. (Judges 20:18-35 ESV)

The Israelites asked for instructions from God. They obeyed the instructions from God. And 22,000 Israelites died the first day. The second day the Israelites inquired of God again. They followed His instructions. That day 18,000 Israelites died. On the third day they asked for instructions from God again. This time the Lord gave them victory. Why, when they were seeking His will, did they have to suffer two days of defeats and 40,000 lost lives before He gave them victory? Here is Biblical evidence that, when we seek the Lord in prayer, we are not always given immediate victory.

So, can we still move forward in faith? If we stood among the Israelites on the morning of the third day, would we still trust God’s answer? In the following verse, Jesus is speaking to Martha just before raising her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40 ESV)

Can we move forward in faith even when He chooses not to raise someone from the dead? Will we still see the glory of God even if it is not displayed by a “Yes” answer to our most heartfelt prayers? One member of our study group is gifted with a faith that claims this John 11 verse and believes. Two members of our study group have had to bury a child. That experience is the greatest possible test for a mother’s faith as she attempts to move forward, trusting God for the good of her family.

We looked at some places in Scripture where God says “No” to others. Paul talks about at least two such examples in 2 Corinthians.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV)

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

Our affliction, pain, and suffering makes us rely on God, rather than ourselves. It keeps us from boasting in ourselves and allows Christ’s power to be made perfect in our weakness. But it also comes with His grace, which is sufficient. Even Jesus, the Son of God, faced a “no” answer from the Father.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:36-54 ESV)

Three times Jesus asked God if it was possible to let the sorrow and distress of the coming crucifixion pass from him. All three times, Jesus yielded to the Father’s will. His statements to those who would fight to prevent His arrest also show that He understands the will of the Father — if the Father wanted to fight to prevent Jesus’ arrest, twelve legions of angels would be sent for the battle. Maybe the problem with our prayers and petitions is that we expect the answer to be “yes,” rather than accepting an answer that is God’s perfect will. The gospel of John records another scene as Jesus was arrested in the Garden.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:1-6 ESV)

This account emphasizes both the deity and the power of Jesus. The group that came to arrest Jesus included Judas, a band of soldiers, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were armed with lanterns and torches to find Him and weapons to subdue Him. Yet He simply spoke, “I am he,” and they fell to the ground. Falling to the ground is a common reaction when humans have a divine encounter (Ezekiel 1:28, Daniel 8:18, Acts 9:4, Revelation 1:17). The overwhelming power and glory of an almighty God before a frail, fallen human leaves no human worthy to stand. Jesus’ wording, “I am he,” is no accident and a clear reference to His divinity, as compared to God stating His name to Moses:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14 ESV)

I AM. There is so much about God’s character built into those two words and the fact that it is God’s chosen name for Himself. We could spend a week studying those meanings. For now, it may be enough to recognize that Jesus identified Himself also as “I AM” and that Paul was told by “I AM” that “My grace is sufficient for you.” “I AM” stands alongside us through every trial. “I AM” provides His power and grace to hold us up. Every challenge in life — every “no” answer when God does not step in and remove the challenge — is an opportunity for us to draw closer to Him in relationship and seek His power and grace, or to push Him away. The choice we face is whether or not to believe “I AM” and His power.

We touched on some other verses to hold close when God chooses not to intervene in our difficult circumstances:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

These words were written by Paul in the context of a passage teaching about righteousness that comes from God through faith and about suffering alongside Christ and identifying with Christ, thus experiencing the power and love of the Savior.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5 ESV)

“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

Taken together, these verses make clear our need to trust a God whose ways are beyond our comprehension. We are not going to understand His ways. He has a higher understanding and He is doing new things that we simply cannot perceive.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14 ESV)

Again, we return to the idea that it is all about God’s will, not ours. Again and again we find verses that show that He absolutely hears our prayers and that He will grant them according to His will. And we don’t fully understand His will.

Let’s look at an example in Scripture where Jesus says “no” when people make a request of Him.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:32-39 ESV)

Jesus healed many, but He had a higher purpose than just healing. Simon Peter came looking for Jesus on behalf of the masses when Jesus had departed to pray. But Jesus had more to do than just heal. If all we see of Jesus are His healing and His miracles, we are seeing something good, but we are missing His best. He is our everything, not just our healer. If He heals everyone, does that turn our faith into presumption? Isn’t there more to prayer than just making requests of God? We also pray to be in communication with God, in relationship, out of thankfulness.

There are problems when our own selfish desires preface our prayers to God. We see God’s answer to our prayers as “yes” or “no.” In fact, His answer to our prayers is relationship, which is His will. His grace is sufficient for us. Satan would like us to believe lies that we aren’t good enough when God does not give us what we ask for in prayer. But if we come into prayer as a relationship with our heavenly Father, recognizing that His will and understanding is beyond ours, and that His grace and power are sufficient for us, all of our answers are “yes.” Not “yes” to our wishes at all times, but “yes” to relationship, “yes” to His grace, “yes” to His power, and “yes” to His presence in our lives. These are the things that we need to move forward, pursuing a life serving God. Let’s put Satan’s lies behind us and press toward the goal of walking in relationship with “I AM,” trusting that He is sufficient.

Part of the beauty of a Bible study like this — where we have a small group searching the Scriptures for answers to very real questions about our faith — is that we all come in with different life perspectives. God has walked us through different circumstances, giving each of us His grace and power and love in different ways. When we share this with one another, we get to experience different views of who God is and how He meets with us.

Another perspective with which one can approach this question of “How do you move forward in faith when the answer to your prayer is ‘no’ or there seems to be no answer?” is a perspective of the question of the goodness of God.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

Jesus teaches in these verses in Matthew that, if we ask for good things, God will give us good things. When we ask for something which appears from every angle to be good and we don’t get it, is God still good? What makes God good? What is God’s definition of good?

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5 ESV)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18 ESV)

You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (Psalm 119:68 ESV)

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 106:1 ESV)

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

What makes God good? The things that God does that are good are not what make Him good. He is good. It is part of the essence of who He is. Part of His character. Doing good does not make Him good. When He does good, it demonstrates His goodness to us. But those of us who live in faith and believe the Word of God to be true should be ready to accept in faith that He is good, just based on His promise that He is, even if He doesn’t demonstrate it in His actions.

Everything that is good comes from God. Every bit of goodness that exists outside of God came from Him. God defines good. He defines good in the sense that He has infinite wisdom to know what is good (remember, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts), but He also defines good in the sense that He is goodness Himself. If everything that is good in us comes from God and He has defined goodness, how can we possibly presume to know what is good above God?

You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:16 ESV)

We simply do not know enough to thoroughly know and define “good.” God is inherently good and just His promise that He is should be enough. But He also blesses us by allowing us to see His goodness. There is no other event in all of history that can better demonstrate the goodness of God than the death of Jesus on the cross. If we ever begin to doubt His promise that He is good, just returning to the cross and its message of God’s love and willingness to take on the penalty of our sins and give us His perfect righteous record — that is the ultimate demonstration of His goodness.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

One demonstration in the Bible that God’s definition of good is different than ours is in the story of Mary and Martha:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 ESV)

Martha’s definition of good was serving others, including the Lord. It does seem to be good. But Jesus says that Mary has chosen the “good portion” — sitting at His feet and listening to His teaching. Sometimes what we see as good is good, but we are missing the best.

So what is God’s definition of good?

Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. (Isaiah 60:21 ESV)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 ESV)

God’s end-goal is His glory and conforming us to the image of Jesus. That is how He has defined good for us. We often quote Romans 8:28 and leave off verse 29. The “good” of verse 28 is being “conformed to the image of His Son” in verse 29.

Sometimes God chooses not to step in and make the way easier for us so that we can become more dependent on Him and His perfect strength. This process conforms us to the image of the Son of God. Our difficult circumstances are opportunities for Him to display His glory. Clearly, He has a better idea of how to display His glory than we do. (Refer back to our notes on John 11:40 in this post).

So, How do you move forward in faith when the answer to your prayer is “no” or there is no answer? Recognize that God’s wisdom is far above our wisdom. Seek out His presence. Rely on His love and grace and strength. Allow the difficult circumstances to deepen your relationship with Him. Have faith in the promises that God is good and that He is displaying His glory and conforming you to the image of Jesus. Trust in the great “I AM.”

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“How do we speak the truth in love? How do we, as the body of Christ, build someone toward maturity if there are aspects of their walk in which they seem to be choosing not to follow Jesus?”

speaktruth

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1–3, 11–16 ESV)

Last week as a group we studied unity in the body of Christ. That included some time considering Ephesians 4. Out of that, grew a question: “How do we speak the truth in love?” This week, that is the question we addressed. The first observation made was that speaking the truth in love does not have to mean confrontation or correction. The members of our group agreed that we have usually heard this phrase taught in the context of Biblical correction. And it does appear after verse 14, which describes an immature walk. However, speaking the truth in love should be a way of life at all times for the believer, not just something to pull out when someone appears to need correction. We should remember that we are all on a journey toward maturity, all displaying some characteristics of an immature walk, and all having some distance to go to grow up into Christ. If we all practice speaking the truth in love in all of our relationships and interactions, we will all be well practiced when the time comes for correction in our lives and another’s.

Another general observation is that we are speaking the truth. We are believers in the Bible as the inspired Word of God, the source for ultimate truth. Therefore, speaking the truth in love should not refer to correcting someone for something that is not addressed in the Bible. A life conviction that one has developed, such as which movies are permissible to view, is not a Biblical truth. Therefore, it is not something we can put onto another believer to follow. This would not be speaking God’s truth, but only our own version of the truth. More on that later.

Finally, before diving into other Scripture on this topic, let us be reminded that speaking the truth in love as described in Ephesians 4:15 is preceded by Paul’s call in verse 2 to “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” These attributes, available to the believer living by the Spirit, should precede any interaction or relationship in the body of Christ.

Having started with these thoughts, we returned to the question of correction. There are clear Biblical examples of discipline occurring in the church. Obedience does matter. Carrying the name “Christian” comes with some responsibility towards glorifying the name of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17) How do we best keep each other accountable to this? The first Scripture we studied was Matthew 18.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17)

What does it mean to have a brother sin against you? One of our members brought a definition from a commentary by Matthew Henry:

“If your brother trespasses against you, by grieving your soul (1 Cor. 8:12), by affronting you, or putting contempt or abuse upon you; if he blemishes your good name by false reports or tale-bearing; if he encroaches on your rights, or be any way injurious to you in your estate; if he be guilty of any of those trespasses that are specified, Lev. 6:2, 3; if he transgress the laws of justice, charity, or relative duties; these are trespasses against us, and often happen among Christ’s disciples, and sometimes, for want of prudence, are of very mischievous consequence.”

There is a lot of trespassing going on in the body of Christ. We all do it. Each of us is a hurt person in some way and hurting people hurt others. Ephesians 4 describes an expectation that we are on a path to maturity, but we all need to live in acceptance of the fact that we are not there yet. Thankfully, God has shown us a way out in these verses in Matthew 18. The first step when someone hurts us is to go to the person directly. Tell him what happened and how you were hurt. If he listens and responds, “you have gained your brother.” The process is over and reconciliation is complete. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others along with you, that “every charge” may be established by witnesses. If he refuses to listen to that, take it to the church. Note that isn’t the end. If he refuses to listen to even the church, “let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Keep in mind this is Jesus teaching. This was before the gospel was fulfilled with His death and resurrection. Gentiles were not allowed in the Jewish temple. And tax collectors? Those were Jews, living in Israel, who were working for the Roman government and for themselves, at the expense of other Israelites. They took their own profit from the taxes, in addition to what the Romans took. Tax collectors were despised, not welcome amongst the Jews and, apparently, they were not allowed into the temple either. If someone is refusing to listen to anyone in this Matthew 18 process, they should be asked to leave the church. God has a process for reconciling His people with each other and this is it. Isn’t that a little harsh? Throwing someone out of the church? Aren’t we supposed to love one another?

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV)

This 1 Corinthians verse is addressing the issue of a man in the Corinthian church caught in sexual immorality. Paul is telling the believers of Corinth to send him out of the church. Why? “So that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” It seems that sending the man out of the church, where he is no longer under its protection or family environment, is not a form of punishment, but a mechanism to save the man from himself.

By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:19-20 ESV)

Here Paul is writing about some false teachers in the church who have rejected their faith and good conscience. Again, they are to be handed over to Satan (put out of the church). This time the goal is that they may learn something. This does seem pretty rough, being handed over to Satan for discipline. To put it in perspective with Paul’s own experience, we took a look at 2 Corinthians:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV)

It seems that Paul had some experience with being harassed by Satan and having God use it for discipline or instruction in his own life. When we keep that perspective of Paul in mind, the process of sending someone out of the church as a means of discipline seems like it could be a gesture of love, not punishment.

As we studied more Scripture regarding discipline, more insights became clear about how love and discipline meet.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us… If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:6,15 ESV)

The goal here is shame, again something that seems harsh. Yet the definition of the Greek word used here for “ashamed” is: “to turn one’s attention to in a riveted way. This term is also used of recoiling (turning away) in shame, at times of a wholesome shame which leads a man to consideration of his condition.” This, in combination with “warn him as a brother,” suggests an attitude of love with a goal of leading him to repentance, as seen in the following verses from 2 Corinthians.

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 ESV)

The goal of this shame or grief is repentance that leads to salvation without regret. In other words, the shame should not last past the repentance.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

In this Matthew 7 passage, a picture begins to emerge of an attitude of humility required for speaking the truth in love. A judgmental attitude does not help. The one who feels grieved and humbled over his own sin (the log) can help remove the speck from others. In addition, that log in our own eye is so big that it completely obscures our vision to help others. We found more evidence of the need for humility in this process in Galatians.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1-3 ESV)

“You who are spiritual” refers to those who have more maturity and experience in the Christian life, living and walking according to the Holy Spirit and displaying the fruit of the Spirit required for this process. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted… For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” These verses refer to a spirit of humility. Anyone involved in guiding another to restoration should have the attitude, “I am capable of the same sin.”

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1-2 ESV)

The goal is to build up the weak. A person driven by a gospel faith in Jesus Christ has maximum regard for strengthening others, not to magnify or please himself. Do we love Jesus to the extent that we will yield our own wishes for the sake of His body? The strong believers ought to love others who don’t have the capacity to love until the weak get to a more mature place where all get to see the piece that they bring of who God is.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)

Notice that God grants repentance, our words of correction do not. The listener has free will to follow Jesus or not. The goal is never to get someone to agree with us, but to get us all to agree with Jesus. This concept can apply to believers and unbelievers alike and is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 13.

Love… does not insist on its own way. (1 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)

At this point in our group discussion, we were driven back to Matthew 18.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16 ESV)

We wondered whether God’s infinite wisdom in this process has one or two others brought in as witnesses for the benefit of both parties. More often than not, difficult relationships involve hurt going in both directions. Is it possible that the witnesses are there, not to just act as witnesses to the failure to listen by the original offending party, but also to hold the offended accountable for communicating in love as well? Has God designed this process so that all parties learn something about themselves and grow as a result? This is convicting to one who has always seen this Scripture as a way to correct the other, not oneself.

From here, we moved on to an example of God’s discipline:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13 ESV)

God disciplines the ones He loves — those who are adopted as sons. Discipline is a privilege of being a son of God. God’s goal in discipline is to make us holy and healed. Any discipline that the church undertakes should be patterned after this example.

The final direction we took in our discussion was to look at the examples in Scripture of Jesus correcting those who had wrong thinking and actions. There are many examples.

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:14-17 ESV)

Jesus put Matthew (Levi) on the right path simply by calling him to follow Him in relationship. Note that Matthew was a tax collector and remember that the Jews did not think highly of tax collectors — tax collectors took advantage of them. Matthew became Jesus’ disciple without any recorded evidence of being rebuked or corrected.

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:5-9 ESV)

The Pharisees tried to correct Jesus and His disciples for not obeying the law. Jesus confronted their hypocritical religion — they were basing their correction on the traditions of men, not God’s law. Jesus turned around and rebuked them for their upside-down thinking! Here is a clear example for us that we have no place correcting others based on our additions to God’s truth. We are called to uphold God’s truth, not our supplements to it.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:13-23 ESV)

Jesus corrects Peter, rebuking Satan operating in Peter for “not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.” This right after commending Peter, blessing Peter and telling him that he is the rock on which Jesus will build His church. Discipline for those He loves, but discipline in the context of a loving relationship.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22 ESV)

In this story of the rich young ruler, Jesus gave him truth in the instructions to sell all he had, which would allow him to have a heart focused on God (keep in mind that Jesus could see his heart perfectly, while we cannot do the same). Jesus also loved him. Jesus offered truth and grace, but the man was not ready to accept. He exercised his free will, but went away in sorrow. Note that Jesus respected the man’s free will. Jesus did not run after the man, insisting that the man follow Him.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11 ESV)

Again, Jesus offers love and grace (“neither do I condemn you”) and truth (“go, and from now on sin no more.”) The law of Moses allowed for her to be stoned, but instead Jesus called each of the accusers to look at their own sin.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9 ESV)

Jesus confronted Saul the murderer with truth (“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”) and sent him forward with instructions to follow Him in grace as Paul, who carried the gospel to the world. For three days Paul was blind and went without food and drink. That was all that was recorded of the discipline he received for playing a role in the murder of Christians. (see Acts 22:3–5; Acts 26:9–11 for Paul’s own account of his persecution of Christians.)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:17-20 ESV)

After three days, Paul received his sight, the Holy Spirit, baptism, and immediately started preaching about Jesus! What would our reaction be if a proven member of ISIS who had murdered Christians had an experience like Saul did, repenting of his sin and converting to Christ? What would the man’s discipline be within the church? How would we treat him? (Please note that this is not an argument against justice. Romans 13 clearly outlines the responsibility of government as an authority to judge those who do wrong. This is an argument that God’s example for the church is that, once repentance takes place, fellowship should be restored.)

Another observation from one of our members on this passage was that we are called to be like Ananias. Ananias resisted going to Saul, having heard about the persecution and evil that Saul had led. But Ananias obeyed the Lord and went to minister to Saul, playing a role in his establishing Paul as God’s servant.

Jesus seems to have a very different way of confronting religious leaders who are putting on an appearance of righteousness as opposed to others He encountered that were caught in sin. His goal in the confrontation always seems to be to lead the person into right relationship with Him. Church discipline should always be aimed at repentance and renewing discipleship. Correction should happen in the context of relationship, characterized by love and humility and spiritual maturity, with the goal of repentance, restoration, and building each other up. It should be based in God’s truth, not our supplements to His truth. And those of us who would correct others must be prepared to be corrected ourselves in the process. Speaking the truth in love is a key ingredient in the process of the body of Christ working toward unity and maturity. It is our hope that this Bible study will be an environment to build relationships displaying love and humility as we grow toward spiritual maturity in Christ.

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What does Christian unity look like in the Bible, especially as it applies to this study going forward?

Our group began our study of unity in Ephesians 4:1–16.

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16 ESV)

We discovered these verses have a wealth of powerful information about the source of unity and the goal of unity in the body of Christ. The importance of unity is immediately obvious as Paul uses the word “one” seven times in one sentence (v. 4–6).

  • One body
  • One Spirit
  • One hope
  • One Lord (Jesus)
  • One faith
  • One baptism
  • One God and Father.

We observed that Paul started this discussion of unity by listing some fruit of the Spirit — humility, gentleness, patience, and love — as part of our calling. This is our first clue that we can only do unity by asking God to do something in us — a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. It would seem then that surrendering to the Holy Spirit rather than self helps to lead to unity.

Let’s start by exploring love, which seems to command some emphasis here by being mentioned repeatedly (v. 2, 15, 16). 1 Corinthians 13 also makes a clear case for elevating love above other virtues:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV)

What would it look like in a Christian community if everyone was pursuing love above all other actions? What would it look like if all Christians entered into relationship seeking to hear and understand the other person, rather than trying to first promote our own point-of-view? What if all of our words were spoken as a blessing, trying to encourage and build each other up?

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
(Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

These verses clearly give responsibility to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints and build up the body of Christ. However, do these verses, or any other Scriptures, suggest that those with these gifts are the only ones who equip and build up the body?

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV)

In the above verse, Paul is addressing all of the believers in Corinth with instructions to build up the church.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
(1 Corinthians 12:24-25 ESV)

It seems that all of these Scriptures taken together suggest that the responsibility for building up and equipping the body is carried first by those gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers and, second, by the whole body. As we continue to look into Ephesians 4:11-13 as a call to leaders and the body in general to equip and build one another up, we must continue to keep at the front of our minds the call to love. Verse 15 returns us to love (“speaking the truth in love”). We return to the emphasis that everything we do in pursuing maturity and unity must be covered in love. Maturity and unity cannot be achieved unless all parts of the body, especially leaders, are operating out of love rather than self-protection.

As we continue to progress through this Ephesians 4 passage, we see the ultimate goal of maturity and unity — to “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” Christ is at once our source for unity and our goal in unity. There is a divine order with Jesus as the head — the brains, if you will — and the rest of us as the body, joined together, each working together to do the part we were designed to do. No part of the body can function without the head. Not a single muscle in the arm can move with purpose without a signal from the head. And not a single one of us can accomplish anything towards God’s purposes without a constant connection to the Head, Jesus Christ.

The contrast to this divine order with Jesus as the head is described in verse 14:

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:14 ESV)

This verse describes disorder, chaos, and an immature body that is led away from the truth. This entire Ephesians 4 section concludes in verse 16 with a “so that.” What is the “so that?” So that the body builds itself up in love. The building cannot be done without love.

This image of the church seen as a body working together in the way the human body works together is central to the next passage our group turned to — 1 Corinthians 12.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:4–31 ESV)

This passage exists within the context of a discussion on spiritual gifts. But is it only about spiritual gifts? There is a profound message about unity in this passage — a unity that grows out of our differences. It is significant to start looking into this passage in verses 4–6. First of all, these few verses mention gifts… service… and activities. This is one clue that this passage may apply more broadly than a strict discussion of spiritual gifts, stretching to a discussion of all the things we do as believers. Yet the real eye-opener in these few verses is the reference to the Trinity. Note that in verse 4 the gifts are paired with the Spirit; in verse 5 service is paired with the Lord (Jesus); in verse 6 activities is paired with “the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” The full cooperation of all the Trinity, working in perfect unity, oversees our gifts, services, and activities as the body of Christ. No member of the Triune God operates outside of this united relationship with One another.

So that is the backdrop for moving into a discussion on how we followers of God operate as one body with many members. Just try to imagine for a minute a disembodied hand trying to function in this world on its own. Comical, right? That’s what we look like when we try to do this Christian life on our own. Even if we partner with our closest friends, we might not be doing much more than living as a disembodied hand and arm. How about the eye and ear and mouth getting together to try to accomplish something? How will they get anywhere without hands and feet? We need the whole body! Joined together! We have absolutely no Biblical grounds to live like we have no need of another member of the body of Christ. People are not dispensable.

Now take a really close look at this verse in 1 Cor. 12.

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:22 ESV)

Indispensable. Pick someone who you think may not be as strong a Christian as you are — maybe someone not quite as far along on the maturity scale. That person is indispensable to you. Pick a believer that has hurt you deeply, maybe even with a grievous sin. That one is indispensable too. The attitude of members of the body of Christ as we approach every other believer should be, “This person is indispensable to me and I cannot do what Christ has called me to do without this person.” What if leaders, who we presume to be the strongest, had the attitude that they cannot be the leaders that God has called them to be without the input of the weakest believer in their church? And what role does that indispensable person play? Is it just an act of service like putting away the chairs or serving the coffee? Or could it be valuable insight into the Scriptures?

As our group sought a Biblical answer to that question we looked at this verse of 1 Cor. 12:

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)

Is there an example in the Bible of this verse put into practice? This is the Apostle Paul, writing a letter to the believers in Corinth. In this verse, he is writing about unity and about suffering. Wouldn’t it be great if there was another place where Paul went into more detail about what it actually looks like to suffer in unity? As it turns out, Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians and he did just that.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
(2 Corinthians 1:3–7 ESV)

The word “comfort,” in its various forms, appears ten times in this passage. The Greek word used here is “parakaleo.” The word means more than just coming alongside to give solace. It has meanings such as beseech, exhort, entreat. This begins to look like urging someone to do something. As we study this 2 Corinthians passage, we need to keep this meaning in mind. When we suffer affliction, God draws near. He draws near to help carry the burden, but He also provides exhortation — urging to some action. We learn something from Him. When we receive “parakaleo” from God, we are able to provide “parakaleo” to others. When we are afflicted, it is for the “parakaleo” of others in the body. Others share in our sufferings so they can share in our “parakaleo.” Now bring that concept of comfort and exhortation back to 1 Corinthians 12:26 ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” This also takes us back to the equipping and building up in Ephesians 4. Again, we have to ask, doesn’t it seem that the equipping and building up responsibility falls to all the members of the body? And shouldn’t we be looking to even the weakest and lowliest members of the body for some of the equipping and building up?

As one of the members of our discussion group stated, she has observed that one who suffers due to personal sin or the sin around them is “marked for the circumstance, but not honored for the exhortation that you can give from what you have learned.” Is that the way the body of Christ should operate, based on these Scriptures?

As we discussed these various Scriptures, we began to see a picture they paint of a body that is moving toward unity and maturity in love, strengthening one another because each member has a piece to share about how God has comforted and exhorted them. As we share these testimonies (stories) about what God has done in us, we build each other up, driving us closer to unity and maturity. The goal of our stories should always be pointing others toward growing up into Jesus (Ephesians 4:15), sharing how our stories are a part of His story.

In summary, it seems that achieving unity and maturity takes a tremendous amount of hard work and discipline. It also requires us recognizing our own immaturity where it exists, allowing each and every member of the body permission to comfort and exhort us. Above all, it demands hearts filled with love which can only come from the Spirit of God working in lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This discussion opened up a number of new questions for us to pursue. It also reinforced for us the need to grow and work together in community in the Body of Christ, which is the reason we have come together for this Bible Study. And it keeps us open to the viewpoints of other members of the body of Christ who would like to have a voice in our conversations, either by meeting with us weekly or by following our blog and replying with thoughts of their own, speaking the truth in love.

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