Sunday, April 14, 2019

TWO RIVERS BECOME ONE

Content Despite Our Limitations

In last Sunday's post, I alluded  to some of the smaller mountains that I have climbed in places of the world where I have lived. Each time I hiked up the side of a mountain, as I got higher on the trail, my perspective of the surrounding countryside became clearer. Sometimes however, as I sat down to rest and to take in the view, it became apparent to me that I would have to wait until I was on the top of the summit until I would have a complete perspective of the land that was surrounding me.



In the first place of course, this was because from my present perspective I could only see the countryside on one side of the mountain. The other side was still hidden from my view. Secondly however, even that which I could see on that one side was incomplete. There was much that was beyond my vision. For instance, I could not see how the river that flowed in the valley below could eventually join the larger river beyond some hills in the distance.

It is much like this for us at this point in Paul’s writings. When we begin the next chapter of the book of Ephesians, we shall climb a little higher. Hopefully, some of the things that seem contradictory now will become a bit clearer. Nevertheless, in fairness I must say that our perspective of God’s total plan will always be limited in our present life. We may be able to see a lot from a mountain peak, but we can see more if we are in an airplane flying over the entire mountain range.

In a similar way, our perspective here on earth will always be limited. Hopefully however, as we continue through these first verses, some matters will become clearer. For the rest, we can wait. God will one day make all clear. 

What Predestination Means for Evangelism


Although Paul speaks of predestination and of God choosing us as being a fact, we must also note that he also views God’s work as something that nevertheless also greatly involves us. Some people may assume that if certain people have already been chosen by God for regeneration and glorification, then our actions in evangelism mean little.

This is not how Paul viewed it. Here is what he says about his own ministry: 

For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10 NAS) 

Interestingly, rather than seeing election as a disincentive to evangelize, Paul saw it as a motivation. He was eager that those who had been chosen by God quickly learn of their life in Christ and be rid of their slavery to the world. The reason that Paul labored so hard in his ministry was “for the sake of the chosen.”

When Paul was in the city of Corinth for the first time, he met with much opposition, especially from the Jewish leaders. It is true that we do learn that the ruler of the synagogue, a man named Crispus, along with his household, came to believe in the Lord. There were also others of the city who believed the message of God. Nevertheless, generally speaking, so great was the antagonism against Paul, that he might well have given up on the city entirely.

However, one night the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10 ESV).

This is actually quite an interesting statement by the Lord. Certainly many had already been converted in that city. We have noted Crispus and his household, and we also learn that Paul was staying at the home of a Gentile named Titius Justus, “a worshiper of God.” Besides these, many others of the Corinthians believed Paul’s words and were baptized.

However, when the Lord spoke of “many who are my people,” it seems God had many more who would believe the message once they heard it. Paul did not assume that, since they evidently had been chosen by God, they would be saved whether he stayed there or not. In fact, the apostle stayed there “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” This was longer than Paul stayed in any one place, except, interestingly enough, in the city of Ephesus.

Despite Paul’s belief that God’s people had been chosen from before the foundation of the world, here is what he wrote: 

How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching?... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17 NAS) 

These are not the words of someone who sees our actions in telling the message of Christ as being meaningless. Paul saw our role in evangelism as being crucial. 

The Rivers of Predestination and of Self-Determination

I was once climbing a mountain, at the foot of which ran two rivers. One flowed on one side of the mountain, and the other on the other side. I had looked at a map of the area before I began the climb, and I knew that the two rivers eventually converged and became one river.

However, from where I was on the mountain where I could first see them, it did not seem possible. One of them was flowing almost straight north, and the other was veering off toward the west. In between them was a high ridge, and the ridge seemed to continue far enough to send both waters off in their own directions.

On that climb, the need to see how it was possible for these two to become one gave me incentive and drove me on when I became exhausted. Driven on, I continued to climb. As I got higher, I became a little dismayed so see clouds begin to form in the valleys surrounding the mountain.

I prayed to God, “Let me see where those two become one!”

At last, as I topped one of the smaller peaks, far in the distance and despite some cloud cover, I could see where the two rivers met. I could not see the entire routes of either river. I did not know where they first had to flow and what obstacles they had to wind around before their eventual meeting, but I could see where they met.

I suppose that spiritually speaking, we could say that there is a river called Predestination, and another called Self-Determination. At the moment, it seems that these two can never become one. It seems to us that it must be that if God has indeed predestined everything, then our choices at this time must not matter at all, at least choices of any significance.

Viewed from the opposite perspective however, it seems if we actually have the ability to make choices of significance, then it must mean that God has not predestined everything. We are the masters of our own destiny.

But it only seems that way because we have not yet climbed high enough. From our perspective at this time, it seems impossible that the two could ever become one. But if we continue our climb upward in spiritual understanding, we will eventually see how these two are not mutually exclusive, but that they are actually complimentary to one another.

I do not think that we will get that perspective in this life. These are matters of eternity. For now, we are restricted in our vision by time. However, when viewed from the perspective of eternity, we will be able to view the two flowing together in one mighty river which has its source in the grace of God. 

The Future is Now

As Paul continues this long, introductory sentence, he again links predestination with future promises. However, we should avoid thinking that future promises will only be revealed in the future. One of the major teachings of the letter to the Ephesians is that the chosen people of God should live with the promises of God always on their mind.

Paul writes: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12 ESV).

In last Sunday's post we read in the book of Romans how those who are adopted as children refer to God and call Him in a manner that only his children can, saying, “Abba! Father!” (Abba is the Aramaic word for Father).

Paul again uses that phrase in yet another one of his letters in talking about the inheritance given to the chosen ones of God. This one is found in the book of Galatians. It is much the same message that he wrote to the Ephesians regarding the promise of God. He tells us that while we may not see much of the reality of our inheritance at the present moment—that does not mean that it is not secure. Here is part of what Paul wrote to the Galatians: 

The heir, as long as he is a child, is not different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything…But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1, 4-7 ESV) 

To the Ephesians, Paul’s message concerning the Holy Spirit in regards to our inheritance is much the same. That which we see in this present life is not normally a good indicator of what is promised to us.
Like a small child who is heir to a great fortune, our lives at the present may not be much different than the household servants. In fact, we may even be placed under the authority of the servant. However, that does not change the fact that we are indeed heirs to great promises given to us by God.

How are we to know this? Paul tells the Ephesians that the Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance. It is as if we have received written confirmation of what has been promised to us. This promise is sealed by the Holy Spirit until the time when we will take possession of it. We can live with this assurance because God has given us his Holy Spirit, who enables us to know that we have a child/Father relationship with God.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16 BSB). We also can call God, “Abba! Father!”

A major problem and confusion of very many Christians in these days is that they try to be just like the world. They want to be accepted by the people of the world, so they try to be like them. The sooner that we understand that we actually are different, the better it will be for us.
We are not of the world. We are inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
 
The Purpose of Blessing – The Administration of Christ

Verses nine and ten of this first chapter of Ephesians contains a phrase that is central to understanding what God’s intentions are as He blesses us. They read like this: 

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10 NAS) 

Crucial to understanding what God is doing is to grasp the importance of what Paul is telling us here: God means to bring all of creation under the administration of Christ. This phrase, “the administration of Christ,” deserves some comment.

The word administration is the translation of the Greek word oikonomia. It literally means “household management,” or “the rules of the house.” It is, by the way, where we get our English word economy, as in the study of economics.

In other places of the Paul’s writings, this same word is translated as stewardship (1 Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25 NAS), which also captures the idea of the word. God’s eternal purpose is that all of creation will be under the household management or the stewardship of Christ. In everything that we see God doing, we must realize that it is with this central purpose in mind. It is to this end that God is working.

I earlier quoted some verses from Galatians, chapter four. These are the verses that speak of a child being under “guardians and managers” until the date set by the father (Galatians 4:2 NAS). The word managers, in this sentence, is also a form of the same Greek word oikonomia. Paul uses this word to show that mankind, before the coming of Christ, was under the administration of those things of the world that are more elementary, more rudimentary.

Primarily, Paul is talking here about being under the Law of Moses. At that time in the Old Testament, the Law of Moses was the best demonstration of the “rules of the house of God” that mankind had.

This changed, however, with the coming of Christ. Paul writes, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 NAS). This all happened with the first advent of Christ.

However, here in Ephesians, we learn that even though Christ has already come, the full and complete administration of Christ is yet to be realized in time. In Ephesians, we read of the coming day when we shall see “the administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.” Paul is now speaking about a time that we have not yet seen. This completion of events we will see in the future.

Like the child who is the heir to great wealth, we await the date that is set by our Father.

The Fullness of Times

Do you see that for both stages of the building of the completed administration of Christ, Paul uses the phrase, “the fullness of times?” Christ was born when the fullness of times had arrived, and the full administration of Christ likewise shall arrive when the fullness of times for that event to occur will arrive.

For reasons that are unknown to us, God did not send Christ to be born of a woman immediately after sin entered into our existence in the Garden of Eden. Christ came in this way only after some thousands of years.

In the same manner, for reasons unknown to us, this second stage on the perfection of the establishment of the administration of Christ did not happen immediately following Christ’s death and resurrection. We have yet to see it completed.

But Paul tells us that we will see it. We will see the summing up of all things in Christ. We will see all things unified in Him.

When will this be? It will be in the fullness of times. That is, when all has been made ready by God.

So central is this to God’s purpose that even the blessing of our own inheritance is based upon it. God even had this in mind when he predestined us to be his people. We are the beneficiaries of this purpose of God. It was with God’s “kind intention” (Ephesians 1:5, 9 NAS), that he also included us in this purpose. Christ is and will be exalted, and because of this, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. 

To the Praise of His Glory

It is clear that Paul was simply astounded by all that God had done and all that he had promised. But even with all that he saw and was able to understand, it was not the deeds and the promises of God that were really the object of his astonishment. Paul’s center of astonishment remained God himself. Three times in this opening sentence of Ephesians, Paul expresses praise to God:

“To the praise of His glorious grace.” (Ephesians 1:6)
“To the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:12 and also in 14)

Interestingly, this praise to God also appears to be what God is seeking in all that he is doing. God wants us to praise him. He is seeking his own praise.

As people, we see the desire to seek praise as being self-serving and conceited. But God is not a man. He is not motivated by pride. The difference is that when we are praised as men and women, or when we seek praise for ourselves, we seek something that is not rightfully ours.

One of the central points to this introductory sentence to the book of Ephesians is that everything that we are and everything that we possess is because it has been given to us by God. When we accept praise unto ourselves, we accept something that should instead have God as its object.

Praise to God is simply the acknowledgement that he is the origin of everything. It is no more than that. God wants people to praise him not because he needs his ego bolstered, as a man might want. His purpose is different.
He is the creator and the first cause. All that there is exist because of Him. People must acknowledge that fact. That is why it is not only acceptable to give praise to God, but it is essential. 

The View from the Top 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV) 

Let’s stop and take a breath. That is Paul’s sentence in its entirety. It was a tough go, coming up this mountain. We may have stumbled a few times, but we made it to the top, at least to the top of this particular mountain.

Now is the time to find a nice comfortable rock on which to sit and lean back in the sunlight. Now is the time to take our breaths slowly, making use of any oxygen that we can. Now is the time to feel the coldness of the altitude upon our faces. Now we take in the scenery.

We may not have a complete understanding of how Paul’s teaching of predestination works together with our own ability to choose, but having made it this far, we hopefully have at least a little better perspective.

Earlier I gave the illustration of sitting high on the side of a mountain and seeing two rivers that from the perspective where I was sitting at that moment on my trek up the mountain, I could not see how they could eventually join and flow together. From that lower height, it looked as though they were each sent off flowing in their own directions.

But I had climbed a mountain specifically so that I could see a confluence of the two rivers. It was at the pinnacle that I finally gained that perspective.

In a similar way, although we cannot yet see how the fact of predestination eventually will flow perfectly with our own free wills, Paul seems to have no difficulty with telling us that both remain true.

Remember, this is only the introductory sentence to this letter of Paul’s. There are more insights in the pages that follow.

We may not understand everything completely at this time. However, what I take away from Paul’s words about predestination and everything else is not a negative response to his explanation. After all, these are eternal matters. Can we expect to comprehend anything of an eternal nature in its entirety? We are bound and restricted by time. We fall far short of understanding anything outside the province of time.

When we think that we can begin to explain the details of eternity, we make the mistake as did the man Job of ancient days, after which he said, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3 NAS).

In a sentence, and not one as long as Paul’s, what I take away from his explanation is this: “God is sovereign, and if I place my confidence and trust in him, then the truly important matters of life are secure can never be in question.”

That mountaintop view will be given to us in due time.

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