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The Vine | March 2018

Walking in Love

Paul had related to the Ephesian Christians the great and glorious works of God: every blessing has been given to believers in Jesus, predestination, election, adoption, an inheritance, the Spirit; all were lost in sin, but God showed great love, grace, and mercy in Christ; in Christ God killed the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and reconciled them into one body; the mystery of the Gospel is the inclusion of the Gentiles (Ephesians 1:1-3:12). Paul had prayed for the Ephesian Christians to have their hearts enlightened to perceive the great love God has manifested in Jesus according to the power at work in them (Ephesians 1:15-20, 3:14-21). On account of all this Paul encouraged the Ephesian Christians to walk worthily and consistently with this calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, building up the body of Christ, the church, turning aside from the ways of darkness, renewing the spirit of their minds, dedicated to honesty, kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward one another (Ephesians 4:1-32).

Paul continued his exhortation to the Ephesian Christians: imitate God and walk in love as Christ has loved us and gave Himself as a pleasant offering before God (Ephesians 5:1-2). God has given us of His image in Jesus, and the love we are to share is not abstract or disembodied but manifest in what Jesus did for us, understood by Paul according to the sacrifices offered before God according to the Law of Moses (cf. Leviticus, John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15-21). To this end Christians can no longer participate in sexually deviant behavior, reckless behavior, greed, foolish talk, or any kind of unprofitable talk, since they are now saints; they ought to give thanks to God instead (Ephesians 5:3-4). Indeed, those who participate in such forms of wickedness have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God in Christ; anyone who would suggest otherwise attempts to deceive Christians, for God’s wrath comes upon the disobedient on account of these things (Ephesians 5:5-6). Christians must not share in such ungodliness, for they must walk as children of light, not of darkness; Christians ought to expose such dark and evil deeds to the light of God in Christ in the Gospel (Ephesians 5:7-13). Paul then quoted a declaration known to the Ephesian Christians, perhaps as some part of hymn to Christ, exhorting the sleeper to awake and arise from the dead so Christ can shine on him (Ephesians 5:14). Thus Paul warns the Ephesian Christians against participation in the common transgressions of the Gentile world around them, encouraging them to recognize such behaviors as darkness and to resist them.

In order to imitate God and walk in love Christians must watch how they walk, and walk wisely (Ephesians 5:15). Christians must redeem, or make the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16); life is short, and we must make the most of what God has given us. Christians must not be foolish, but to understand the will of the Lord: to not be drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in song, giving thanks to God, submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus (Ephesians 5:17-21). God does not intend for the Christian to be filled with distilled spirits but with His Spirit; Christians manifest the Spirit when they speak to one another in song, communicating the message of God to each other as the people have God have done since time immemorial, thanking God always for what He has done in Jesus, and considering the needs of each other as equal or greater than one’s own needs in mutual submission (cf. Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:16-18).

In what follows Paul will speak of husbands and wives in terms of Christ and the church, and Christ and the church in terms of husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33); the beginning of the discussion is dependent on Ephesians 5:21, and we are to understand that Paul continues to speak regarding the will of the Lord and in light of the imperative of mutual submission. The wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord just as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). People today bristle at such instruction, imagining its abuse and distortion. These verses have unfortunately been used to justify abuse; we must emphasize that Paul does not command the husband to make his wife submit, but that the wife’s submission is a freewill decision and offering which ought not be coerced. Ephesians 5:21 does not contradict Ephesians 5:22-24, and vice versa: wives are to submit to their husbands while both mutually submit to one another in reverence toward Christ.

While people bristle at the suggestion of wives submitting to their husbands, few bristle at the prospect of the church submitting to Christ: it is understood to be natural and expected, since Christ deeply loves the church, having given Himself for her, and has rescued her from sin and death (Ephesians 5:22-24); in a similar way husbands are to love their wives, as Christ has loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Any discussion of the wife’s responsibility to the husband without noting the husband’s responsibility to the wife is incomplete and distorted; the husband is called upon to sacrifice himself, to absorb whatever hostility or invective comes his way, and to willingly give himself for the wife of his youth. Paul presumes a level of self-care: no one hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, and thus the husband should nourish and cherish his wife as his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-29). Paul summarizes his instruction by exhorting the husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). In this way Paul identified the woman’s greatest need as love and the man’s greatest need as respect; the husband who loves his wife as himself and gives himself for her does well, and the wife who submits to her husband and respects him does well, and those who resist such things will struggle and fall short.

While Paul speaks regarding responsibilities within the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33, his primary concern is Christ and the church. The church submits to Christ in all things, for He has proven Himself loving and faithful, the Savior of the body, suffering and dying for her, having cleansed her through the washing of water (baptism) with the Word (Gospel), presenting to Himself the church in splendor, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:22-27). The purity of the church does not derive from its own effort but the cleansing received from its Lord; nevertheless, the church must preserve that purity, and have excised from itself all those who would remain in sin without repentance (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Christ loves the church as His own body, and thus nourishes and cherishes it; the life of the church is sustained and upheld by Jesus (Ephesians 5:28-30; cf. John 15:1-7). Paul quoted Genesis 2:24, in which Moses establishes God’s purposes for marriage, and called it a profound mystery, referring to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32): as a man and woman join together and become one flesh in marriage and intercourse, no longer two, but one flesh, so Christ and the church are to be “married” and become “one flesh,” to share in full relational unity (cf. Matthew 19:3-6, John 17:20-23). Paul envisions marriage and its intercourse as a dim physical shadow of the relational unity which is manifest in God Himself and which God not only desires to have with the redeemed in Jesus but expects the redeemed to have with Jesus in the church (cf. Revelation 21:1-11).

Paul has much to say about imitating God, walking in love, and understanding the will of the Lord, and we should pay strong attention to it. We must avoid the works of darkness, love one another, be filled with the Spirit, singing the songs of the people of God, thanking God for all He has done for us in Jesus, submitting to one another in reverence for Christ, serving the Lord in the church as His bride and in our marriage relationships accordingly. May we walk in love as Jesus has loved us, suffering with Him so that we may be glorified in Him, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry
Walking in Love | The Vine
Walking in Love | The Vine
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The Vine | February 2018

Walking Worthily of Our Calling

Paul’s powerful presentation in Ephesians 1:1-3:21 no doubt had its effect, overwhelming the Christians who heard or read it. Paul had set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Christ: election; a great salvation, not by works but through grace and faith displayed generously in Christ; access to God in Christ, provided equally to Jew and Gentile who were made one man in Christ; the presence of the Spirit, in whom they had been sanctified; joint participation in the church of which Jesus was the head, a temple for the Spirit, in which all have equal standing before God as members of His household. Paul had wished for them to come to an understanding in the heart of the greatness of the love God has displayed in Jesus; God was able to do well beyond whatever Christians could ask or think.

God had done all of these things or had provided for them in Christ. Paul then turned to speak of how Christians ought to respond in light of all of these wonderful blessings. In short, Paul expected Christians to walk worthily of this calling they had received from God (Ephesians 4:1). He would set forth what walking worthily looked like in Ephesians 4:2-6:20, the “exhortative” or “practical” half of the letter to the Ephesians.

Paul began with a strong emphasis on unity (Ephesians 4:2-6). He had already explained how God secured unity among Christians through the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-3:12); Christians must strive to maintain that unity (Ephesians 4:3). They do so by remaining humble and meek,patient and tolerating one another in love, as if constrained by the peace secured for us through Jesus’ work (Ephesians 4:2-3; cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). Paul stressed the “oneness” of Christianity: one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one body, one baptism, one hope (Ephesians 4:4-6). Polemically this unity can be used to argue against factionalism and divisiveness; yet Paul’s point is to reinforce the importance and power of unity. God is one in relational unity; God has provided one sufficient sacrifice on our behalf; God has set forth one way for salvation: thus Christians must strive to maintain that unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. Sadly, for the most part, “Christendom” is far from the unity Paul here emphasizes. Too many are content with a surface-level unity which is really declaring victory in defeat. Real unity takes hard work, humility, and trust in the Lord Jesus, and we do well to strive to be Christians only, preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and upholding the one faith in the one body of the one Lord from the one Spirit to obtain the one hope.

But maintenance of unity is not only the responsibility of the individual Christian. God has freely given gifts in Jesus as is written in Psalm 68:18: Jesus descended in death and ascended far above the heavens to fill all things (Ephesians 4:7-10). Within the church God has given various people fulfilling different roles, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). They serve the body of Christ, equipping Christians for the work of ministry (and accomplish their work of ministry themselves), building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). This work would continue until all would obtain maturity in Christ, no longer troubled by various teachings and doctrines, but having grown up into Christ the head from whom all the body is joined together, would work together to build up one another in love by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:13-16). No more beautiful passage can be found in the New Testament regarding the work of the church than Ephesians 4:11-16: we have the words of the Apostles on which to ground our understanding of Christ and His purposes, the words of the prophets to exhort us to faithful conduct, evangelists to encourage people in the Gospel, and shepherd teachers to provide instruction to apply the Gospel to life, allowing for all Christians to grow and mature and build each other up in their most holy faith to glorify God and strengthen one another.

If one would walk worthily of the calling in Christ and seek to maintain unity and build up the body of Christ, one must give thought to how one is living and how they relate to others, and Paul continued in Ephesians 4:17-32 to this end. Christians must no longer walk as the people of the nations do, alienated from the life of God, hard of heart on account of sensuality; such is not how the Ephesian Christians learned Christ and the truth in Him (Ephesians 4:17-20). The Ephesian Christians were mostly Gentile; Paul uses “Gentile” in Ephesians 4:17 as we might use the term “pagan,” with all of its negative connotations. The Ephesian Christians could not follow Jesus and live according to their former patterns; instead, they were to put away that previous way of living, reckoned as an “old man” corrupted in deceit, and to instead be renewed in the spirit of their mind, putting on the “new man” created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24). Paul then shifts to speak of specifics: since Christians are now one body, they should stop lying to each other and speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25; cf. Zechariah 8:16); they may have cause to be angry at times, but they should not allow it to fester into sin and give an opportunity for the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27; cf. Psalm 4:4); those who stole should cease and instead work to have something for those in need, to cease being a drain on others and become a source of support (Ephesians 4:28). Paul addressed matters of conversation and relationship: Christians must not speak corruptly but to speak well to edify and give grace to those who hear; not grieving the Spirit of God in whom they were sealed; putting away bitterness, wrath, anger, and slander, being kind to one another, disposed to feel for one another, and to forgive one another, as God has forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32). The Spirit is grieved when we do not work to maintain unity in Him, speaking that which is false, giving vent to anger which destroys relationship, undermining trust, and refusing to grant the forgiveness to others we so desperately seek for ourselves.

Christians do well to walk worthily of their calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Such requires great effort in love, humility, compassion, and kindness, looking for opportunities to build up and strengthen, and resisting the impulse to vent spleen and corrode relationships. May we walk worthily of the way of Jesus, putting on the new man, renewed in the spirit of our minds!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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The Mystery of the Gospel | The Vine

Paul did well at encouraging his fellow Christians with reminders of all the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ, praying they might be able to understand the greatness of the salvation they obtained in Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 1:1-23). Paul explained the nature of that salvation, how all had sinned and yet God showed love, grace, and mercy through Jesus to provide a means of salvation so Christians could be full of good works (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul made it known how this salvation was offered to Gentiles, those of the nations: the hostility which had existed between the people of God and the nations was killed by Jesus on the cross, and He can now make all into one man in one body (Ephesians 2:11-18). Anyone can now be a fellow-citizen of the household of God and become part of the holy temple of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

On account of these great blessings and salvation, Paul would again pray on behalf of his fellow Christians, but not until he explained the mystery of the Gospel regarding which he had already made many allusions (Ephesians 3:1-13). Paul envisioned his current imprisonment as a benefit for the Christians to whom he wrote, for it is to their glory (Ephesians 3:1, 13); he is imprisoned for his work in proclaiming among the Gentiles the mystery which God revealed to him, something not made known to previous generations of God’s people but now manifested in what God has accomplished in Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-5). It is easy to think of “mystery” in terms of either a “whodunit,” a crime story in which a sleuth uses all the clues to ascertain and indict the criminal, or something vague, unknown, and unknowable, yet Paul came out with a full explanation of this mystery: Gentiles can be fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers in the body and promises of Christ (Ephesians 3:6). It is not as if this mystery came without any warning or previous information: all of what Jesus accomplished had been prophesied in the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). Yet the hand of God is evident in the story of Jesus, for while all He did was prophesied, people would not of their own invention or volition put the story together the way in which it came to pass in Christ. Thus the mystery of the Gospel was unveiled in the work which God accomplished in Jesus and communicated by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:1-6)!

Paul proclaimed the Gospel among the Gentiles by the commission of God in Christ who saved him despite his unworthiness, having been a persecutor of the church (Ephesians 3:7-8; cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16). God hid this mystery prepared before the beginning of the world until the time of Christ, and now not only can all men hear and see it, but the manifold wisdom of God as manifest in the church is displayed to all the powers and principalities of heaven (Ephesians 3:9-10). The wisdom of God manifest in the church was the eternal purpose He established in Christ, through whom we now have boldness and access in faith to God (Ephesians 3:11-12). An eternal purpose continues perpetually in at least one direction; therefore, God’s purposes in Christ remain as active today as they did when the Lord Jesus arose and the Apostles walked the earth. Furthermore, Paul established the high level of importance God places on the church: it is no mere accident, “Plan B,” or holding pattern, but the ultimate realization of His wisdom. The church represents many groups of people who otherwise would be at odds with each other but have become one body in Jesus, and that is a powerful testimony to the working of God in Christ to all the powers and principalities which have worked to keep mankind divided. Thanks to Jesus we can have boldness before God in access in faith; we do not deserve any standing before God because of what we have done, but Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us and allows us to stand before God and make our requests known.

Paul then got around to making the prayer which he planned on making: that God would strengthen the Christians with power through His Spirit in their souls to comprehend the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, having been filled with Christ and the fullness of God and rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:14-19). Paul praised God as the One able to do beyond what Christians could ask or think according to the power at work within them, seeking that He might be glorified in Christ and the church for eternity (Ephesians 3:20-21). This prayer may seem confusing: how can Christians come to any kind of understanding of something that surpasses knowledge? This is precisely Paul’s point; he wished for Christians to realize the vastness of God’s love for us in Christ and to be continually humbled by and thankful for it. Paul also invited Christians to consider the greatness of that power of God: He is able to do anything beyond our imagination, and does so by the power at work within us, but only if we ask. Do we ask to obtain that power from God to accomplish His purposes? Do we limit what God is able to do through us because of a lack of imagination or willingness to ask for mighty things to be accomplished? Do we truly believe that God is as willing to do such things as we profess confidence in His ability to do so?

Paul thus laid out the mystery of God in Christ: Jesus lived, died, and was raised again in power, and now serves as Lord. All have sinned but can find salvation in Jesus; in Jesus can be found spiritual blessings beyond imagination, and God is at work advancing His purposes in Jesus and the church in full display before the powers and principalities in the heavenly places. May we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in God and His power to accomplish great things through us to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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The Vine | November 2017

The Family and Nation of God

Paul had spoken powerfully regarding all the spiritual blessings with which God had blessed Christians in Jesus, having been elected and predestined to obtain the hope of salvation and righteousness in Christ, superabundantly receiving grace and mercy in Him (Ephesians 1:1-14). Paul prayed for Christians to gain understanding from God in the heart to know the great hope in which they have been saved and His great power at work in those who believe, since Christ has been established above every authority, especially over His body, the church (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul would go on to explain the nature of this salvation and how it came about, first to Israel, and then to all who would come to God in Christ.

Paul continued his theological explanations by establishing the need and value of salvation secured in Christ, and man’s purpose before God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul did not shrink from laying out the ugly truth about the need for salvation: all were dead in their sins, having walked in the way of the prince of the powers of the air, living according to lust, as children destined for wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God, rich in mercy and love, made believers alive in Christ and raised us up with Him to sit in the heavenly places in order to continually demonstrate the riches of His grace, for Christians are saved by grace through faith, not because of anything they have done to earn it (Ephesians 2:1-9). And yet Christians are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This whole message works together for a reason, just like in Titus 3:3-8: Christians need continual reminders about their need for salvation and God’s display of grace and mercy in Jesus so that we may be productive in good works. We cannot imagine that we are superior to other people; we have sinned and deserved condemnation like all the rest. But God loved us, would not give us the condemnation we deserve (thus showing mercy), but would give Jesus and salvation, we did not deserve (thus showing grace). We did not, nor could not, earn or merit this salvation, but are called upon to receive it humbly through faith and trust in God in Christ. We can then serve God and encourage our fellow man in good works so as to glorify God.

Paul then specifically focused on God’s welcome of Gentiles and how it came about (Ephesians 2:11-18). He identified Gentiles as the uncircumcision, those separated from the covenant between God and Israel, the nation of Israel, and as without God or hope in the world; such is the state of mankind without God, and it is quite unpleasant (Ephesians 2:11-12). And yet through the blood of Jesus Gentiles who were far away could draw near, for Jesus in His death broke down the wall dividing the Jews from the Gentiles, the Law (Ephesians 2:13-15a); one is given reason to imagine the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem, an actual, physical wall cordoning off Gentiles from coming any closer to the Presence of God. But it is not as if the Gentiles would become Jews: Jesus has created one new man in Himself, and in this way makes peace, killing the hostility which existed between Jews and Gentiles, preaching peace to those near and those far off (Ephesians 2:15b-17). Both Jewish and Gentile Christians now have access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We must appreciate the radical nature of what Paul is suggesting: for 1,500 years, Jewish people identified themselves in contrast to those of the nations. In response, those in the nations tended to look upon the Jewish people as oddities and best, and with contempt and hatred at worst. The only way to eliminate the hostility was to kill it, and Jesus did so on the cross, giving the Jewish people no more right to presumption of election and giving Gentiles equal access to God in the Spirit. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish while Gentile Christians remained their various ethnicities, but the faith and hope they shared in Christ was of far greater value and consequence than their worldly identities; no earthly division ought to separate them. So it remains to this day, and not merely between Jewish people and Gentiles: all people have access to God in the Spirit through Jesus, and there is no worldly division which ought to separate the people of God, for what they share in Jesus is greater than any challenge, difficulty, or division in the world.

Paul had formerly spoken of the church as the body of Christ, given to Jesus under His authority (Ephesians 1:22-23); having established the means of salvation for all people, especially the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-18), he now affirmed that Gentile Christians were no longer strangers or aliens, but fellow-citizens and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Mixing his metaphors, Paul considers that household as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:20-22). Through these powerful metaphors Paul reinforced the instruction he had just provided and explained for those who would hear how the people of God are to view one another and their relationship with God. As citizens of God’s Kingdom they are to uphold their responsibilities to accomplish His purposes (cf. Philippians 1:27); as fellow members of God’s household, they consider each other as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father, equal in standing before Him, and restored in relationship with Him and each other (cf. John 17:20-23, Romans 8:11-17). Temples are places in which it is believed that a deity himself, or a manifestation of a deity, is present; thus, Christians are to consider themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit individually and collectively, and are therefore to conduct themselves in holiness so God, who is holy, can maintain His presence in their midst (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:13-16). The temple is founded upon the teachings of God in Christ as made known by the apostles and prophets; the cornerstone, providing alignment for everything else, is Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). In this way Christians are to be a holy family of people who love and care for one another and seek to do good for all people, always cognizant of their need for salvation and thankful that God has provided it in Christ. May we all participate in God’s household in the Kingdom of Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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We've started another great fall at The Vine Bible Study!

UCLA students: we'll be meeting in Boelter 5514 from 7-8pm on Tuesday evenings during the fall quarter.

West LA College students: we're meeting in A9-912 from 2-3pm on Wednesday afternoons, studying in Ephesians.

See you there!
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Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ | The Vine

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

The Apostle Paul felt compelled on many occasions to set forth various doctrinal truths about God in Christ to his fellow Christians to warn against false teaching. The time had come to provide a full, coherent picture of his understanding into the mystery of the Gospel; we find such a portrayal in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

While Paul’s letter to the Ephesians features the same doctrinal positions seen in other letters, it seems very impersonal. Ephesians does not contain the same kind of personal details about Paul or the Christians to whom he wrote as can be found in all of his other correspondence; “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 is not found in all copies of the manuscripts. For these reasons Ephesians is often considered an “encyclical” letter, intended to be distributed among many local churches. Regardless, it is hard to assume much about the condition of the church in Ephesus on the basis of what is written in Ephesians.

After his standard greeting (Ephesians 1:1-2), Paul began his letter with a broad, sweeping, and majestic sentence glorifying God for all the spiritual blessings with which He blessed us in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14). Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the New Testament: while English translations generally wisely break it down into many sentences for clarity, we must remember they all represent the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed the Ephesian Christians, and by extension all Christians, in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

God has chosen Christians in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy before Him; God predestined Christians to adoption to the praise of His grace freely bestowed on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6). Paul had no desire to deny human freedom or volition; Augustinian Calvinist notions of God predetermining who would be saved and condemned arbitrarily must be imposed on the text. Paul instead sought to encourage Christians: their standing in Christ is no accident. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and inauguration of His Kingdom were not a hastily concocted “plan B” when everything else failed. Instead, from before the beginning, God had determined to create the universe, redeem mankind through His Son, and provide a way of holiness in Him. Paul would also speak of adoption as sons of God in Romans 8:11-15; a man or woman submits to adoption in order to gain the inheritance of the father, and in this way Christians gain standing in order to inherit the eternal promises God has made in Jesus.

God secured redemption for Christians in Jesus according to the riches of His grace; God’s grace abounds for Christians, who have learned of the mystery of God’s will now manifest in Jesus and His Kingdom (Ephesians 1:7-10). Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins represents the ultimate gift God has given mankind (cf. 1 John 4:7-11); God continues to bestow gifts of grace upon His people in Jesus and yearns for Christians to consider His presence and life as the greatest gift of all (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). We think of “mystery” as something unknown, a problem to be solved; in the New Testament it is an “unveiling,” something manifest only through the revelation of God. Later in Ephesians Paul would elaborate more upon the mystery (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11); here he centered the story on God’s good purpose in Jesus whom He made the sum of all things.

Whereas Christians inherit the blessings of life and salvation in Christ, God obtains Christians as His heritage, having predetermined them as His praise in His glory, and who has given them the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance until the final day of redemption (Ephesians 1:11-14). Paul began to make a contrast between “we who had hoped in Christ” and “you” his Ephesian audience, perhaps as between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We would again be remiss to impose Augustinian Calvinist views on the text; in Ephesians 3:1-11 Paul will explain how God manifested His wisdom and eternal purpose by bringing Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ in the church. Paul instead stepped back to appreciate the beauty of what God has accomplished in Jesus. God is praised in the redemption of Jewish Christians in Christ who had hoped in the coming Messiah and proved willing to recognize him in Jesus; God is praised in the redemption of Gentile Christians who are welcomed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was given to Christians both as a seal of their redemption and as a down payment on their salvation; throughout Ephesians Paul will speak of how God worked through His Spirit to build up and strengthen Christians.

Having set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Jesus, Paul gave thanks and prayed for the Ephesian Christians in another lengthy sentence (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul gave thanks for the Ephesian Christians, having heard of their faith in Jesus and love for their fellow Christians whom he calls “saints” (Ephesians 1:15-16). Christians do well to be encouraged by Paul’s example: we should never take the faith of others for granted, but ought to thank God for them.

Paul prayed for God to give the Ephesian Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation of knowledge to enlighten their hearts to know the hope of God’s calling in Jesus, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the great power of God working on behalf of Christians (Ephesians 1:17-19). Paul did not pray for God to give the Ephesian Christians head knowledge; he already recognized their faith in Christ, and expected them to have intellectual recognition of the truth of these things. Instead Paul prayed for God to give them heart knowledge, confidence in the hope of salvation in the resurrection, the majesty of the glorification of the Kingdom by God on the final day, and the great power which God presently would work for, in, and through them. It has been said that the greatest distance in the universe is between the head and the heart; we Christians intellectually recognize the truths of God in Christ, but have they been imprinted on our hearts so that we trust deeply and are strengthened to overcome any trial by keeping our faith fixed on the glory awaiting us?

God’s power is manifest in Jesus, raised from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, ruling over everything, made head over all things to the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). God has great power and He has given it over to Jesus. Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth is the foundation of the Gospel call to obedience to His purposes and empowers the Christian’s resistance against the idolatrous claims of the forces of darkness and the nation-states empowered by them (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-15:4). Yet all of this power has been given to Jesus for the sake of His body, the church, the people who assemble to praise and glorify His name and encourage each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). How many great and powerful things could God do through us if we would only trust extravagantly in Him and pray for Him to accomplish His glorious and majestic purposes in us?

Adoption, redemption, an inheritance, the Holy Spirit, access to God, participation in God’s work in Christ: all these blessings, and many more, Christians receive through Jesus Christ. May God give all of us in Jesus Christ a spirit of knowledge and wisdom to enlighten our hearts so we may know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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Student Christianity Question

Q: On what basis can we believe that Christianity is true and therefore other religions are not?

How would you answer? In a little while we will post the answer we discussed in our study.

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Student Q&A: Christianity
Student Q&A: Christianity
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We'll be meeting at 7pm tonight at UCLA, discussing your spiritual questions and continuing our study with 1 Peter 2:18 and following! See you then. :)
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Hell | The Vine | February 2017

“Hell” is now more of a curse word to most people than a fearful potential future reality. A robust number of people still believe that there is a hell; they seem equally confident that they will not go there. We generally do not like to think or talk about hell; we are quite concerned about and skeptical of those people who do. Hell has become more of a stumbling block to Christians than any point of concern: so many wonder how a loving God could send anyone to hell, and what the Bible says about hell is generally an embarrassment to many. And yet, of all people, Jesus of Nazareth spoke more about hell than anyone else in the pages of Scripture. If Jesus discussed hell, then those of us who would seek to follow after Him do well to explore what He had to say about it.

Most instances of “hell” in the New Testament translate the Greek term Gehenna (so Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, Luke 12:5, James 3:5-6). “Gehenna” itself translates Hebrew for the “Valley of the Sons of Hinnom,” a valley outside of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8). Unfaithful kings of Judah built altars to Molech and offered their children as sacrifices to that god there (2 Chronicles 28:3, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:6; 32:35). Later Jewish people considered the place cursed; they deposited and burned their trash there. The sight and stench must have been particularly awful; the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom therefore provided an extremely powerful and visceral image to describe a place of suffering and torment. Just as one would go to great lengths to avoid falling into the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, so Jesus encouraged those who heard Him to do whatever it took to avoid being cast into Gehenna, or hell.

At other times Jesus spoke of “the outer darkness,” often noting how it is a place of “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12, 22:1-13, 25:14-30). In each of these passages Jesus indicated that disobedient members among the people of God would be cast there. The imagery fits the audience: “outer darkness” would be a place well beyond any light; God is the light, and in Him is no darkness (John 1:4, 1 John 1:5); therefore, the “outer darkness” involves complete and thorough separation from God. How awful it would be for those who presumed to be near to God to learn they are to be cast as far from Him as possible! This darkness is not a “neutral” place; it is a place of trauma, vividly illustrated by “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth.”

In a similar vein Jesus envisioned a day when those who performed iniquity would be cast into a furnace of fire, in which would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:36-43). Jesus showed John a vision of the day of judgment in this way: all those whose names were not found in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire along with Satan and his minions (Revelation 20:10-15). The lake of fire also features brimstone, as a place of constant torment; the second death, final separation from God and all that is light and life.

All of these images point to a similar place; it is a place where fire is not quenched, where people suffer and gnash their teeth, a place of darkness, separated from God. Each of these images tells us something about the nature of hell; above all things, it should dissuade us from taking any chances lest we get sent there!

The Scriptures also testify regarding who will be cast into hell: those who do not know God and who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). They are those who have committed sin and iniquity and did not repent (Matthew 13:36-43, Romans 2:8-9, Revelation 21:8). Believers cannot become complacent, confident their belief alone will rescue them; not a few warnings about hell are directed specifically to believers who do not actually do what the Father says (Matthew 7:21-23), and who prove to be unproductive servants (Matthew 25:14-30). God will judge impartially (Romans 2:5-11).

While Jesus spoke many times regarding hell, and has provided richly evocative imagery, much has been left unrevealed. Much of what people today imagine regarding hell derives more from later flights of imagination and Dante’s Inferno than anything recorded in Scripture. Hell is not controlled by Satan and a host of demons; as seen in Revelation 20:10, Satan and his demons themselves are cast into hell in God’s judgment. We are not told exactly how those who are in hell experience their suffering and torment. Dante vividly described how he imagined the tortures of hell were meted out; a contrasting view would be C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of people ever resisting the good inherent in God as seen in The Great Divorce. Therefore, what most people reject about hell are matters of belief not found in Scripture. We do well to remember how we imagine hell is just that, our imagination, and the reality might be quite different from what we might expect. Yet, above all things, we hope and pray that none of us find out what hell is like!

While the concept of hell may seem unpleasant to Westerners, a spiritual world without at least the potential for the existence of hell would be much worse. People might declare how they cannot believe a loving God could send anyone to hell. Would they really want to serve a God who had no hell to which to send people like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, or other heinous sinners? How could God be serious about justice if there is no actual penalty to be paid for transgression? The existence of hell is a reminder of God’s justice, a witness to the importance of doing the right and forsaking the wrong, and confidence for all who suffer oppression and degradation that God will call their oppressors into account and justice will be satisfied. In truth the argument is a matter of degree: most people can not only imagine but even expect God to cast the “truly wicked” into hell; they just imagine that God will not send people like them to hell. Such people too quickly absolve themselves of their evil and iniquity, having been deceived into doing so (Hebrews 3:13); we all deserve condemnation, for we have all transgressed the will of God, but thanks be to God that a way of rescue from condemnation has been offered through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20-28, 6:15-23).

Furthermore, how can God be “loving” while forcing those who wanted little to nothing to do with Him as manifest in their thoughts, words, and deeds to spend eternity with Him (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Revelation 21:1-22:6)? C.S. Lewis rightly noted that there will be two types of people on the day of Judgment: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.” God will not compel or coerce; if people wish to live in ways contrary to God’s purposes, then they will spend eternity with the consequences.

Hell is a most unpleasant place; we should not wish it upon our worst enemy. God does not want anyone to go to hell but for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9); those who would follow God do well to maintain the same posture toward their fellow man. Jesus’ warnings about hell were not designed to extend further condemnation for those already aware of their sinfulness; instead, Jesus condemned the very religious people who were the quickest to condemn others (e.g. Matthew 23:33)! Nevertheless, we ought not trifle with the concept of hell. We should want to avoid hell and exhort all with whom we come into contact to avoid it as well. Those who suffer torment would want those whom they love to avoid that torment above all things (cf. Luke 16:27-28)! May we seek to serve God in Christ, see to ourselves, and encourage all to live so as to avoid the hell of fire!

Ethan R. Longhenry
Hell | The Vine
Hell | The Vine
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Jesus' Resurrection | The Vine | January 2017

It seemed that everything had gone wrong. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed forever. Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed was the Christ of God, was crucified. Then, when the disciples were in despair, attempting to figure out what went wrong, they hear that Jesus of Nazareth was alive again, resurrected from the dead (cf. Luke 24:19-24). The tomb was empty. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. While Jesus’ birth, life, and death are significant in and of themselves, without Jesus’ resurrection, they are all ultimately meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19). The Christ crucified and resurrected was the theme of the message of the Apostles, and the resurrection was the basis of the future hope of transformation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. After Jesus died, His soul went to Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), and His body was sealed in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-cut tomb after it was wrapped in linen and covered with seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes. On the third day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the women came to finish the anointing of the body of Jesus, and found the large rock in front of the tomb rolled away. Two angels were there, informed the women of what has taken place, and told them to go and make it known to the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw it empty with the linen cloths carefully folded to the side. They believed; they just did not know what happened! Mary, meanwhile, spoke to someone whom she believes is the gardener, wanting to know where the body of Jesus was taken. He responded to her; He was no gardener, but Jesus Himself, resurrected from the dead!

The idea of resurrection in the New Testament is not merely life after death; instead, it involves “life after life after death.” Mary and the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus in a bodily form (cf. Luke 24:39). Nevertheless, Jesus’ body is not the same as it was before since He can now transcend space and time restraints; it has been transformed somehow. The resurrection therefore involves the re-animation or re-creation of the physical body, the return of the soul to it, and the transformation of that body into something “trans-physical” or something of the sort.

Jesus will later appear to Simon Peter, two disciples walking to Emmaus, ten of the disciples, all eleven disciples, James His brother, and 500 brethren at one time over the period of forty days after His death. He instructed them regarding Himself and the mission for the Kingdom that they would soon begin. After that forty day period, Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). At that point Jesus, as the “one like a Son of Man,” received an everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14); Stephen, in a vision, saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God when he saw Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:55-56); Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and based on it considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 9:3-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:4-9). In the 60s CE, long after Jesus’ ascension, Paul spoke of Jesus as still presently human (Greek anthropos, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus therefore remains fully God and fully man, having died never to die again (Romans 6:8-11): He remains in the resurrection body, and thus remains the Son of Man and Son of God, and will return thus one day (Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:11).

The Bible’s claims regarding the resurrection of Jesus are startling, and yet they represent the foundation of the belief that Jesus really is Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Since Christianity stands or falls on the legitimacy of the resurrection, many throughout time have attempted to discredit it by positing alternative explanations. Those explanations, however, never account for all of the evidence. Both the “swoon theory” and the “wrong tomb theory” require more faith to believe than the Bible’s claims. The “hallucination theory” cannot explain why people would claim to see Jesus only during a forty day period. The “stolen body theory” is inconsistent with the transformation of the disciples and the testimony of their lives. The “spiritual theory” cannot make sense of the claim of the empty tomb. In the end, the only story that makes sense of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the transformation of the disciples is that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by the power of God!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles proclaim that God made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus conquers death through the resurrection, giving us hope that we also can conquer death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). With sin and death defeated through Jesus, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything! Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond doubt that there will be a day of reckoning for all mankind (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection shows that Jesus is the first fruit: as He was raised from the dead, so we now can look forward to the day when we also will rise from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). In the resurrection, a new creation is able to burst forth into the old: even though we may still suffer on account of sin and death, we can spiritually die and be raised again through baptism and be new creatures in Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately we cherish the hope of our own resurrection based on Jesus’ resurrection: on that day we will be like Him, and will abide with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 John 3:2).

Jesus, in His resurrection, demonstrates that death is not the end. Hope is able to spring anew. Jesus is Risen! Let us praise God, and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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