Sunday, May 12, 2019

THE SPECIFICS OF HOPE


As I wrote in the previous post of this series, the way in which the Bible uses the word hope is not as we commonly use it in our everyday language. We use it to express a wish that may or may not be realized.
However, the hope that comes from God is not a mere yearning or a desire. It is an inevitable goal that is promised to us. This promise gives us strength to persevere under extreme circumstances.


The Apostle Paul says that because this hope from God is secure we can “exult” in it. Paul then continues from the verses with which I closed the previous chapter by saying: 

Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. (Romans 5:3-5 BSB)

These verses speak specifically of our growth in Christ, and are actually part of a summary of a process of salvation and commitment to Christ that Paul expands upon in the entire letter to the Romans. The subject of hope is woven throughout this process, and each time we can see that Paul intends for it to have the meaning of a secure goal.
 
 The apostle also writes, “For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see? But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24-25 BSB).
 
One of the most important purposes of Scripture is to show us the hope that we have in Christ. Paul further writes to the Romans, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NAS).

Then, and as some of his parting words to the Romans, he writes, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NAS).

In all of this, we see that when Paul speaks of hope, he has in mind something that is a definite and secure goal for the believer. Thus, when he writes to the Ephesians about the hope of our calling, and to the Romans of the hope of the glory of God, he is writing about the inevitable purpose of their faith.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19a NAS). 
 
The Hope of Inheritance
 
The first phrase that speaks of the specifics of hope that Paul had for the Ephesians is concerning “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”
 
In our daily lives in the world, if someone speaks of “riches of inheritance,” our minds immediately jump to images of luxurious mansions, expensive cars and weighty portfolios. These are the things that indicate riches in our world. As you might expect however, with the riches of the inheritance of the saints, these things mean almost nothing at all.
 
Concerning our spiritual birthright, Paul mentioned the nature of these riches earlier. In verse 14 he writes, “In him you…were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
 
But if our inheritance does not involve property and money, what exactly does it consist of?
 
Actually, it could be said that our inheritance does partially involve property, for Jesus told his disciples that his Father’s house had many places to live and that he was preparing a place in that house for each of them (John 14:2-3). We will have an actual physical place to live in the kingdom of God.
 
However, property is only a minor part of “the riches of the glory of His inheritance.”
 
The Mysteries of God
 
As we have by now seen in our study of Ephesians, the apostle Paul also wrote on similar subjects to other churches that were part of his ministry. Concerning the riches of glory, he wrote also to the church at Colossae in the book of the Bible we call Colossians. To this church he told of a “mystery” of God that had been hidden for ages but which now was being revealed to the saints.

We have read of a mystery earlier in the book of Ephesians, when Paul told us about the mystery of God’s will in the administration of Christ (1:9-10). We have also already learned that Paul uses the word hope in a way that we do not. Likewise, he uses this word mystery in not exactly the same way that we do.

Reading of the mysteries of God is not like reading an Agatha Christie novel. It is not like Colombo asking “just one more question,” until he puts together all of the obscure clues to solve a baffling case. I am afraid it is not unlocking some meticulously shrouded and secretive numbering system of the Bible to discover the “hidden meanings” in it.

The mysteries of God are not a puzzle that we try to solve. Rather, they are eternal truths that have not before been known by men, but which in their proper time are revealed to us by God. We cannot “solve” these mysteries by using our deductive powers of reasoning.

They are eternal truths that we can know only by the revelation of God. We cannot understand them by any other means.Paul writes to the Colossian church that he had been given the stewardship[1] of working in the church to fully make known the word of God.  This ministry included explaining to the churches the mysteries of God’s purposes as they concern both time and eternity.
 
The Mystery of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Paul writes to the Colossians, “God chose to make known among the Gentiles how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

These are the same “riches of God’s glorious inheritance” and “the hope of glory” about which Paul wrote to the Ephesians. The wealth that Paul speaks about is the fact that Christ is in us—that is, he has placed his Holy Spirit within us, as his chosen ones.

In writing what he did, Paul may have made known to us this mystery of God, but we must admittedly say that in most regards, this all remains to us a great unknown. We cannot fathom how this is possible, nor can we completely appreciate the consequences of this truth.

Christ has chosen to live even within us!

This certainly is a concept that was almost completely unthinkable in the Old Testament times. The Jews of that era saw God as being completely separate and apart from them, and so he was and still is.

But Paul teaches us that with the coming of Christ to the earth, and by Christ’s death and resurrection, he opened up a new era in God’s relationship to his people. Jesus gave the promise to his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, which he did at the next day of Pentecost. In fact, the text tells us that the disciples were “filled” with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:4). 

The Old Testament Understanding

I said that this concept was almost unthinkable to the people of the Old Testament, because it was not that it was completely outside of God’s revelation to them. The prophet Ezekiel was instructed to give the Old Testament Jews this message regarding the future:  

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NAS) 

We cannot blame the people of that day if they did not understand what Ezekiel told them, since even today we do not grasp the enormity of these words. However, Paul gives a little more explanation of the meaning. 

Immeasurable Power

The apostle Paul tells us that part of this inheritance comes about because of an immeasurable power that becomes available to those who believe. Again, as in the case of our thinking of inheritance, our ideas of the powers that we see on earth are not adequate representations of what Paul is saying.

He is not speaking about possessing great weaponry, nor is he talking about becoming super heroes, flying through the sky and fighting crime. Actually, what the apostle is saying goes far beyond that.

Perhaps the first insight into this immeasurable power comes from some words of Jesus Christ Himself in the same verses that I referred to just a few moments ago. Jesus, appearing to the disciples in his resurrected body after rising from the dead, told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). As I said, this was a prophecy that was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

What this power of the Holy Spirit means to us now can be perhaps best understood in relation to our work for the Gospel here on earth, but ultimately, it is much more than this. This we can see as Paul continues this thought to the Ephesians. The power is: 

In accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21 NAS)

As we can see, Paul is talking about a power that is far superior to any that we know in our earthly existence. This is power not only to raise the dead, but also to be seated at the right hand of the very God of all creation, and placed above all and every authority in all ages past and all ages that are to come.

These are not positions that will be given to any man, for they are reserved for Jesus Christ alone. However, what Paul wants us to know is that the same great and mighty power that secured all of this for Christ is also working on our behalf. I before spoke of the message of security that Paul gave through the teaching of predestination, and here again we see security. How is it possible to doubt the ability of this great power working on our behalf? 

The Power Displayed in the Church

As marvelous as these things are for Christ, there is also a sense that we are included even in the promises of this same destiny. This is the thought with which Paul closes this second lengthy sentence. 

And He (God) put all things in subjection under His (Christ’s) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 NAS) 

That Christ should be over the church is not surprising to us, but what is astounding is how Paul concludes this sentence. We, as the church are called the body of Christ, and not only that, but that we are the fullness of Christ! Speaking of mysteries as something that has not yet been fully revealed, we must say that here is another one.

Some of what this means we can understand. We can understand, for instance, that today on the earth and in this age, we represent the physical presence of Christ. We are, so to speak, the hands and the feet of Christ, as we bring the gospel and minister in his name.

But it must also be said that we, as a church, do not readily recognize the power that is available to us. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is something that Jesus once told his twelve disciples when he sent them out to minister to the people of Galilee.

Jesus instructed them, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8 NAS).

There is indeed much that could be said about these instructions of Jesus to his disciples, but the main point as it relates to our present discussion is that the disciples, being sent out as representatives of Jesus to announce the arrival of the kingdom of heaven, would also be receiving the power of Jesus to do so.

The almost casual way in which Jesus instructs them about healing the sick and raising the dead astounds us. Later, Jesus sent out seventy-two[2] of his followers with much the same announcement and with the same accompanying signs. When the seventy-two returned, they exclaimed to him, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17).

In most of our churches today, we do not see this level of display of the power of God. The reasons for this are several. However, a principle reason is that the proper intention of this type of demonstration of God’s power is usually and especially for the purpose of calling attention to the kingdom of God in places where it was theretofore and previously unknown.

It is important to see that the power came by way of the name of Jesus and that it was meant to call attention to what Jesus was doing. All must be done so that Jesus is revered. It must be so, since the church is to represent Christ in his fullness. This includes demonstrations of Christ’s power where he deems it necessary.

This is what brought amazement to the seventy-two disciples as they saw healings accomplished in the name of Jesus. The kingdom of God was being proclaimed, and the works of Satan were being exposed and defeated.

Jesus said to the disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

This is a gift that still remains in the church. We still represent the fullness of Christ—or we ought to. We still have this gift of healings and authority over the demons.

Jesus continues, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you.”

We are amazed at these words, and unfortunately, it has caused us in the church to misuse this aspect of the fullness of Christ. We have had an unhealthy perspective of God’s power. It is from this unhealthy misapplying of what we purport to be the power of God that we often see many apparent healings being carried out in this present day. The appearance of healing is there, but it is usually questionable and it is often even doubtful if there is any true healing at all.

Additionally, even though the name of Jesus is used, the person carrying out the healing is often mostly calling attention to himself and to get people to join his ministry and to send support money to him. The announcement of the kingdom of heaven has a minor role in all of this, if any role at all. This at least has been my experience.

This does not represent the fullness of Christ. This is performing acts of “wonder” for reasons other than proclaiming the name of Jesus.

That is why Jesus concluded his statement about having power over the evil one by saying, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20).

These gifts are not to be used in any manner for self-serving purposes. Indeed, if we are children of God, there is nothing that we need or lack. Our names are written in heaven, and that is all that we need. 

The Power of the Holy Spirit in Ephesus

This point was especially relevant as a teaching for the people at Ephesus. When Paul first came to the city, he found some who had already become disciples of Jesus and were part of a group of believers who would become known as “The Way.”

However, before the coming of Paul, these believers had not heard of the Holy Spirit. When Paul laid his hands upon them and the Holy Spirit came to them, the result was much like it was on the day of Pentecost. “They began speaking in tongues and prophesying” (Acts 19:6).

After that, God began doing other “extraordinary miracles” by the hand of Paul. Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched the apostle were carried away and placed upon people who were sick. We are told that “their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out from them” (Acts 19:12 ESV).

This display of power caught the attention of some itinerant Jewish exorcists, who thought of the power that they witnessed as little more than a new magic formula. They thought this same power could also be available to them, even though they were not followers of Jesus Christ. Thinking this, they also invoked the name of Jesus, according to what they thought was the “correct formula.” It was done, of course, without proper understanding or motivations.

Especially mentioned as doing this were seven sons of one Sceva, who was a Jewish high priest. Standing over someone who was possessed by demons, these seven said, “I adjure you by the name of Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”

With this, the man in whom was the evil spirit, leaped to his feet to fight these pretenders and overpowered them all. The evil spirit within the man answered, “Jesus I know and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” The seven sons of Sceva fled out of the house where they were in, naked and wounded.

When this became known in the city, a great fear fell upon the inhabitants, so much so that many of the new believers came forward in order to confess their own aberrant practices. Also, in the face of such a display of power from the Holy Spirit, a number of other people, ones who had previously practiced “magic arts,” brought their books together to burn them all (Acts 19:13-19).

The outcome of all of these events was that “the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled,” and that “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19: 17, 20 ESV). 

Equipped to Live in Enemy Territory

The first chapter of Ephesians closes with the words, “And God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

It is important that we realize that we possess the fullness of Christ, since we live in an environment that is largely opposed to everything Christ stands for.

We will look into this in the following post, as we begin to look at the second chapter of the book of Ephesians. 


[1] This word stewardship is our same word oikonomia that was translated “administration” in verse 10 (NAS)
[2] Perhaps it was seventy (Luke 10:1, footnote BSB)

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