Sunday, October 31, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/31/10

CRYSTAL UPDATE: Crystal is having good days and some bad days. But, overall, her recovery is progression with no major complications. Thanks, again, for your prayers, concern, and support.

Today is Reformation Sunday. By grace alone! Through faith alone! According to scripture alone! In Christ alone! To the glory of God alone!

We have a good day of worship at Shiloh today.

Grateful for the guests we had in worship today. I even met a guest who watches our services from Canada. Way cool.

We sung “Come Thy Fount Of Every Blessing” as a congregation this morning. Glorious!

Our women’s chorus led the music today. They did a great job. And Gloria sung one a song that I love, “I Believe God.” God be praised!

I continued my new series on James with a message of James 1:5-8 entitled, “Praying for Wisdom.”

I argued that God freely provides wisdom to face life’s trials to all who come to him in believing prayer.

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church today.

Studying James is renewing my spiritual passion.

Next Sunday’s sermon: “The Great Reversal” (James 1:9-11).

My USC Trojans put up a good fight Saturday night. But it was not meant to be. At least they were beat by the #1 team in the nation.

The Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely stomped down my Dallas Cowboys 35-17. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/24/10

CRYSTAL UPDATE: Thanks for your ongoing prayers for Crystal. She still cannot move around much. But there have been no complications from her surgery. And her recovery is coming along as scheduled. Praise God.

Good day of worship at Shiloh yesterday.

Our youth and young adults led the music yesterday. Good job.

Thankful for all of our guests yesterday.

God bless the families who participated in our parent-child dedication yesterday.

I began a new series on the Epistle of James yesterday. I preached from James 1:1-4 and called the message, “Taking Advantage of your Trials.”

I have been looking forward to preaching the book of James for many years now. I hope to learn a lot from it. And I pray that my labors will bear fruit in the pulpit.

I had been working on an introductory sermon on James. I decided Thursday evening that was not the best way to go. So I had to bunker down to do an exegesis of verses 1-4. It wiped me God. But I am glad I did.

I am really looking forward to the study of James and pray that it will mark a special time of growth and fruitfulness in the life of Shiloh.

Next week’s sermon: “Praying for Wisdom” (James 1:1-4).

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church.

Sunday afternoon, I preached for my friend Brodes Perry at the Philippi Baptist Church here in Jacksonville. Brodes is a godly young pastor and a faithful preacher. I was glad to be there. I preached Romans 8:28. Thanks, Shiloh, for your presence. You’re the best.

I did not realize it until Brodes mentioned it to me, but yesterday was the third straight Sunday afternoon I have preached.

Congratulations to my friend, John Fils-Aime, on his pastoral installation yesterday in New York.

The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers are going to the World Series It should be absolutely boring without the New York Yankees.

It seems no one wants to be #1 in college football. But who cares, since the USC Trojans are nowhere near the top.

I am not a UFC fan. But I was absolutely shocked by the news that Brock Lesner was knocked-out in the first round of his match Saturday night.

The Jaguars were beat up pretty bad by the Chiefs.

My Dallas Cowboys MUST defeat the New York Giants tonight! Are you ready for some football!!!

Can you believe the movie "Back To the Future" is 25 years old?

How’s Lido! Lido, our family dog, got a haircut this weekend. He is feeling good and looking good.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/17/10

Thank you to all of you who have been praying for my family this past week. Crystal surgery this weekend was a success. I brought her home late Saturday night. Please continue to pray for her that she will have a full and speedy recovery.

Thanks, again, for all of your kindness and concern.

Two of Crystal’s adopted mothers – Beverly and Lisa – came to town from Los Angeles to be with her. I am grateful for what their presence has meant to Crystal.

Praise God for those who were baptized today.

Our music department was on fire today. What a blessing!

Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church is a great place to preach. I am grateful for the privilege to feed and lead this wonderful congregation.

I basically preached a “devotional” message today from a text I had been meditating on this week – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. I called the message, “We Do Not Lose Heart.”

I love 2 Corinthians.

The “melodic line” (R. Kent Hughes) is that our weakness is a platform for God’s strength and our suffering is a platform for God’s glory.

I read this week very helpful sermons online on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 by John MacArthur, John Piper, and Ray Pritchard. Praise God for those who are generous enough to share their hard work for the benefit of others. May their tribe increase!

I wanted to stay with Crystal today. But she made me got to church to preach. I am glad she did.

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church today.

This afternoon, I preached for Pastor Jeffrey Robinson and the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church of Daytona Beach. I was wiped out. But the Lord was kind to give me strength to preach again. It was a good time of worship and fellowship.

I plan to begin a new Sunday morning series on the Epistle of James next Sunday. Please pray for my preparation and for the presentation of the word to forth with faithfulness, clarity, and power.

The NCAA football rankings are in absolute chaos. And I love it! May the #1s keep going down.

The Dallas Cowboys lost to the Minnesota Vikings 24-21 to fall to 1-4 for the season. Please, Jerry Jones, fire somebody. Please!

May the Jaguars whip the Titans tomorrow night!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Assembly Required" (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Acts 2 records the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 believers who were assembled in the Upper Room. It also records the growth process of the infant church. On the Day of Pentecost, about 3000 people believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and were baptized as followers of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And the last sentence of Acts 2:47 reports, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Notice that God did not add people to the church without saving them. And God did not save them without adding them to the church. This organic union of personal salvation and church membership is the unchanging pattern of the New Testament. And throughout church history, whenever biblical Christianity has been practiced, Christians have had a high view of the church. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the day and times in which we live.

There are many today – both unbelievers and professing Christians – who question the necessity, relevance, and importance of the local church. And our generation has created a new category that biblical and historical Christianity never conceived of: UNCHURCHED CHRISTIANS. In contrast, the position of historic Christianity can be summarized in the words of CYPRIAN who said, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” In other words, the biblical answer to the question “Who needs the church?” is this: Whoever wants to be saved. This does not mean that church membership, attendance, and participation can save you. God forgives our sins by grace alone through faith alone because of Jesus Christ alone. But God has made the church the stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So a person can be a church member without being a Christian. But I am not sure a person can be a healthy, growing, fruitful Christian without being a participating member of a local church. Christian assembly is a biblical requirement for Christians. Hebrews 10:24-25 gives four biblical reasons why Christian assembly is a requirement for every follower of Jesus Christ.

THE CONFESSION OF SALVATION REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. The Epistle of Hebrews was written to a group of at-risk Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ because of severe persecution. The anonymous author of Hebrews wrote this letter to challenge them to persevere in their faith. He does this by emphasizing one word: BETTER. He wants them to know that what they have in the Lord Jesus Christ is better than what they had in the religious system of Judaism. In Hebrews 10:19-21, the writer summarizes the argument he has been making since chapter three; the Lord Jesus himself is our great High Priest and perfect atoning sacrifice, who has established for us a new and living way to God through his own blood. Then, on the basis of the Person and Work of Christ, he calls the readers to hold fast to Christ with three commands that begin with words “Let us.” THE FIRST COMMAND RELATES TO GOD. Verse 22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” THE SECOND COMMAND RELATES TO SELF. Verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” THE THIRD COMMAND RELATES TO OTHER BELIEVERS. Our text, says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” What do you say to a person who is ready to give up on Jesus? This chapter gives divinely inspired instructions for those who are ready to throw in the towel. Specifically, our text teaches that you need to commit yourself to some local assembly of believers, so that you can submit to the accountability and responsibility that will help you to persevere in faith. Then verses 26-27 issues a warning about apostasy: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

This warning about apostasy does not mean that it is possible to lose your salvation. God’s preserving graces ensures that every true believer is eternally secure, which means that true believers will not apostatize or fall away from Christ. They will endure until the end. But the perseverance of the saints is not only tied to the preservation of the saints. It is also tied to the partnership of the saints. Church membership, corporate worship, and Christian fellowship are primary means through which God’s preserving grace sustains true believers. This refutes those who say that church does not have anything to do with salvation. The fact is that it has everything to do with your salvation. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The pillar and foundation of a building hold it up. If the foundation gives or the pillars fall, the building will not stand. Likewise, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your faith in the truth of the gospel will not be able to stand without the church in your life. Or as WILLIAM WILLIMON puts it: “The gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense.” The confession of salvation requires Christian assembly.

I learned about the spiritual epidemic called “MORBUS SABBATICUS.” In laymen’s terms, it is known as “Sunday Morning Sickness.” The symptoms are quite interesting. It never interferes with the appetite or affects the eyes. The Sunday newspaper can be read with no pain. And watching television seems to help the victim. The only symptom is that you cannot get up and go to church. Strangely you usually do not feel it on Saturday. But it hits when the morning comes. And it never lasts more than 24 hours. About the time Sunday morning services are over, the patient feels better. Monday morning, the patient is able to get up and go to work. But it has a way of striking again the next Sunday. And after a few weekly “attacks,” it may become chronic. I am talking to someone who suffers from MORBUS SABBATICUS. And I stand to tell you that you need to ask the Great Physician to heal you today, once and for all, from the dreaded disease that can strike a deathblow to your faith walk with Jesus Christ.

THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. California redwood trees are the tallest and oldest trees in the world. They stand hundreds of feet high and some of them are said to be over 2,500 years old. As a result, you would think that redwoods have tremendous root systems reaching deep down into the earth. But compared to other trees, redwoods do not have many roots and they do not go very deep. Yet the redwoods have stood for centuries, because their roots are intertwined and interwoven with each other. So when the winds blow, the redwoods stand, because they are linked and locked to each other, holding one another up. That is the way Christians stand against the storms of life that assault our faith in Jesus Christ: We hold each other up. THE APOSTLE’S CREED refers to this as “the communions of the saints.” It is the internal disposition and external demonstration of Christian fellowship that is succinctly summarized in verse 24: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”

THE INTERNAL DISPOSITION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. Verse 24 commands us to consider one another. The verb “consider” means to perceive clearly, understand fully, or consider closely. It is the same word used in Hebrews 3:1, which says: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” You must set your mind on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ if your faith is to be strong, stable, and secure. But our text teaches us that Christians should also set their minds on one another. And this verb “continue” is in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual or repeated action. Literally, the reading is, “And let us constantly consider one another…” Just as we are to always be thinking about Jesus, we also are to always be thinking about one another. The important point to get from this term is that Christian fellowship is – primarily, essentially, and ultimately – an internal reality. Fundamentally, our fellowship is not geographic, social, organizational, institutional, or programmatic. It is an internal disposition of care, concern, and compassion for one another that results in words, decisions, and actions that express the love of Jesus Christ.

1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” True Christian love will not only lead you to attend and participate in corporate worship, it will also lead you to prayerfully consider the needs, growth, and concerns of your brothers and sisters in Christ even when you are not physically together.

This biblical emphasis rebukes those who would say, “Well, I read Christian books, watch religious television, and listen to teaching tapes. Doesn’t that count?” NO! Do not misunderstand me. Those things can be helpful supplements to what you receive by being a participating member of a local church. However, if you are able to get up and out, you must make sure that supplements to corporate worship do not become substitutes for corporate worship, because your fellowship with God must never be self-centered. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” And Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.”

THE EXTERNAL DEMONSTRATION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. After commanding us to consider one another, verse 24 tells us why we should do this: “to stir up one another to love and good works.” The church is to be marked by love and good works. However, love and good works are not automatic parts of church life. Every Christian is called to love and good works. But you cannot fulfill this calling on your own. You need others to “stir up” love and good works in and through you. The KJV uses the term “provoke.” The NASB uses the word “stimulate.” The NIV uses the word “spur.” These different terms translate a Greek term from which we get our English term “PAROXYSM.” It refers to a sudden outbreak of sickness, symptoms, or spasms. Usually, this term has a negative connotation, meaning something like “irritation” or “exasperation.” In fact, the only other time it is used in the New Testament, it is used negatively. Explaining Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, Acts 15:39 records, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.”

But while Luke says that paroxusmos caused Paul and Barnabas to separate from one another, our text says that paroxusmos ought to bring Christians together. Yet the negative connotations of the term should not be dismissed here. If need be, we should irritate one another to love and good works. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” You do not sharpen iron by hugging, caressing, or pampering it. You sharpen iron by getting another piece of iron and rubbing it the wrong way. Likewise, your true friends are not the people who always agree with you, cosign your agenda, and stay out of your way. Your best friends are the ones who make you better. That involves times when friends put a supportive arm around your shoulder and times when they put a scolding finger in your face. You need both the comfort of tender love and the confrontation of tough love. You need to be with brothers and sisters in Christ who think enough of you to stir you up to love and good works.

This command to stir up one another to love and good works confronts those who may say, “Church is boring. I don’t really get anything out of it. It doesn’t meet my needs.” SO WHAT? If you practice a spiritual discipline solely for personal benefit, you pervert the discipline, rob yourself of its true benefit, and God is not pleased. That includes corporate worship. Football has been described as 22 men on a field in desperate need of rest, being watched by 22,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise. The sad fact is that most churches operate just like that. But corporate worship is not a spectator sport where you simply show up, receive the ministry of others, give an offering, greet a few acquaintances and friends, and then go home thinking and talking about how whether the service suited your tastes, touched your emotions, and met your needs. Corporate worship is three-dimensional. God blesses us and we bless God. But it doesn’t stop there. In corporate worship we also bless one another by saying and doing those things that stir up love and good works.

THE COMMAND OF SCRIPTURE REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. Verse 25 teaches us that, if you are a follower of Christ, your presence and participation in corporate worship are mandatory.

YOUR PRESENCE IS MANDATORY. If you were to ask me for one verse that commands to go to church, I would give you Hebrews 10:25. But the truth is that this verse does not technically command us to go to church. It commands us not to forsake Christian assembly. Yet in commanding the reader not to forsake the assembly, the text assumes a previously established commitment to corporate worship. So it tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The word “neglecting” is emphatic and intensive, meaning to totally abandon or to utterly forsake. This term is used in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, where Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 4:9, where he describes himself as “persecuted, but not forsaken.” It is also used in Hebrews 13:5, in the promise of God that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And the writer uses it in our text to tell us that we are not to forsake, abandon, or desert the gathering together of the church. Every Christian should be marked present when the church assembles on the Lord’s Day.

This call to weekly corporate worship attendance may sound legalistic, pedantic, and impractical. But such a high view of corporate worship is warranted in light of verse 25b: “as is the habit of some.” Some people had already started missing the meetings. And the word “habit” tells us that their habitual absence had become customary. Remember why some people were missing the meetings. They were facing persecution because of their faith in Christ. Their lives were on the lines every time they met together. But God still said to them, do not neglect to meet together. If God did not excuse these ancient believers, even though the may be martyred if they showed up, then I know that God does not excuse us for the sinful, selfish, silly, and superficial reasons we come up with for missing church. Does this mean that you should attend every meeting, function, and service the church holds? Let me answer that by laying down a principle: If you are absent, and others do not know where you are, but they are not surprised by your absence, you are probably out of the will of God on this matter. If you can miss church without being missed at church, something is missing. And if you can miss church without missing church, something is missing.

An elderly saint had lost his hearing and his eyes had grown dim with age. But he never stopped attending church. One intrigued individual finally asked the obvious, “Why do continue attending church when you can’t see or hear what’s going on?” The old man replied, “I want to show everybody whose side I’m on!” And that ought to be your attitude. You presence in corporate worship ought to show your family and friends whose side you’re on. Your presence ought to show neighbors and coworkers whose sign your own. Your presence ought you show the principalities and powers in the unseen realm what side you’re on.

YOUR PARTICIPATION IS MANDATORY. Notice verse 25 again: “not neglecting to meet to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Note that the contrast is not between showing up and not showing up. It is between not neglecting the meeting and encouraging one another. This text calls for more than just your presence in the meetings of the church. It calls for your participation. Consequently, there are those of you who have forsaken the assembly, even though you attend the worship meetings on a regular basis. You neglect the meeting when you show up late and leave early every week. You neglect the meeting when you get to church and hang outside, rather than coming in. You neglect the meeting when you show up with a bad attitude. You forsake the assembly when you are inhospitably, critical, and irreverent. You neglect the meeting when you spend the service sleeping, walking, talking, or passing notes. You neglect the meeting when what you have on or don’t have on distracts others from worship. You neglect the meeting when you are filling out an envelope during prayer or reading the bulleting during the sermon.

God demands your presence and your participation in the worship meetings of the local church. Unfortunately, many Christians are ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you’re one your own! I may even sue you.” That is the way many people treat the church. They say, “You worship. You serve. You give. You pray. You support. And if you do it well enough, I’ll come along for the ride. But don’t expect anything from me. And know that if things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” But I submit to you that it is not God’s will for you to be a church-hopping hitchhiker. God want you to be a participating member of a local assembly. Many churches buildings have signs that say, “Enter to worship; depart to serve.” But that is a false dichotomy. We are to enter to worship and serve and then we leave to keep on worshiping and serving.

THE COMING OF THE SAVIOR REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. In every congregation, there are those who believe the church meets together too much. And from a carnal-minded, flesh-dominated, self-centered point of view, that may be true. But notice verse 25 one more time: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While some would say the church meets too much, God says that we need to assemble even more than we do, so that we might encourage one another. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You may think it is too much to go to church every Sunday. But the Bible says you really need Christian exhortation every day, so that sin does not harden your heart. As we see the Day of the Lord’s return drawing near, we need to meet together as much as possible to exhort, encourage, and admonish one another to remain faithful.

One survey reports that 66% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth someday – yet one third of those people say they never attend church. That is a blatant contradiction. The imminent return of the Lord Jesus is biblical motivation for being faithful to Christian assembly. In fact, the word translated “meet together” (or “assembling”) in verse 25 is only used twice in the New Testament – here, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul speaks of “the coming of tour Lord Jesus Christ and our bring gathered together to him.” Those who expect to meet Christ in heaven ought to be meeting with other Christians on earth. Here’s why: The closer we get to the Lord’s return, the worse things are going to get for the church in this world.

There are those who talk about a great end time revival. But they do not get that from scripture. The New Testament consistently speaks of end time apostasy among those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, God gives you strength to persevere. But God gives that strength by using other believers to come alongside of us to help us hang in there. So he says we are to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word “encouraging” (or “exhorting”) means, “to call alongside.” The noun form is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus as our Advocate with the Father. It is also used in John 14:16 to refer to the Holy Spirit who is our Helper or Comforter. Just as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit come alongside of us to help us, we as brothers and sisters in Christ are to come alongside one another to exhort one another.

Usually, when I am preaching away from home, I stay in my room reading and resting until time for church. Except for those special times when I am preaching for a pastor that I really enjoy spending time with. That’s what happened on one occasion. So much so, that my host talked me into to working out with him just hours before preaching time. After giving me a general tour of the facilities, he marched me to the weight-lifting area. Now, I can sit on a stationary bike and read with the best of them. But I don’t mess around with weights. So honesty, fear, and pride forced me to be tell him straight out, “I really don’t do weights.” But, again, he talked me into it. For my sake, he started with lighter weights. And I stood back and watched, and he bench-pressed the weights effortlessly. When he finished his reps, he got up and I got on the bench. But rather than standing back and watching, my host went on the other side of the bars to “spot” me or watch me just in case I needed help. And I did it. And when he added more weight, I lifted that too. In fact, everything he lifted, I lifted, even though he was a much bigger man than I am. I had no idea that I was that strong. And I never would have known it, had it not been for this brother who came alongside to help me. And you will not ever know how strong you are spiritually if you don’t have other believers who will come alongside to exhort, encourage, and admonish you.





Monday, October 11, 2010

Notes from Sunday - 10/10/10

Good day of worship and fellowship at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Grateful for all the guests who joined us in worship.

Our children's choir led in song during our 10 AM service.

Our mass choir looks beautiful in their new robes.

Carlton Burgess led the song of preparation at 10 AM. His medley of old hymns was moving.

Praise God for those who were baptized.

I preached a message from Hebrews 10:24-25 that I entitled "Assembly required."

I argued that Christian assembly is required for all Christians.

I am very passionate about this subject. I believe that growing Christians much be participant members of a local church.

"The gospel does not make sense without the gospel that does not make sense." - William H. Willimon

Praise God for those who were saved and aded to the church.

In two weeks, I plan begin a verse-by-verse exposition of the Epistle of James. Please pray for my preparation.

Saturday afternoon we worshiped with the Abyssinia Baptist Church to celebrate the 13th pastoral celebration of Dr. Eugene Diamond.

I am a sucker for a church that loves its pastor!

I preached from one of my favorite verses, Galatians 6:9. I needed that message more than anyone else.

The Jaguars beat up the Bills 36-26. That's two in a row for the Jags. 3-2 for the season.

My Dallas Cowboys lost to the Titans 34-27 to go 1-3 for the season. It seems like the only way my boys will make it to the Super Bowl is to get free passes. At Cowboy Stadium!!!

The USC Trojans lost to Stanford 37-35. Well, at least we do not have to worry about going to a bowl game this season.

Thanks for the concern and kindness you have shown for my wife Crystal. Please remember my family in your prayers this week.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Count Your Blessings


Ephesians 1:3-14 records what is called THE HYMN OF GRACE. It is so because scholars tell us that these verses record an actual hymn of praise that was sung in worship by the early church. Whether or not this is true, the content of this passage is still accurately labeled a hymn of grace. In the original Greek text, these twelve verses comprise only one sentence, even though no English versions translate it that way. In some remarkable way, this complex passage was one simple exclamation of praise in Paul’s mind. And this high praise is offered to almighty God for the sovereign grace by which he gives sinful people a new position in Christ. Verses 4-6 praise God the Father for choosing us for salvation. Verses 7-12 praise God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for purchasing our salvation with his own lifeblood. And verses 13-14 praise God the Holy Spirit for sealing our salvation.This passage is a careful explanation of the God-centered, God-exalting nature of the Christian message of salvation. But this explanation begins with a celebration. Verse 3 says: “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.”

What does it mean to be blessed? This is one of the fast-growing list of words in the Christian lexicon that is often used, seldom explained, and very misunderstood. Consequently, there are many believers who spend their energy chasing down the seemingly-elusive blessings of God. And there is much jealousy, rivalry, and disunity in the church, as children of God quietly compete for supposedly bigger and better blessings. And then there’s the great cover-up of breaking news that we do not really talk about; namely, that the material and financial things we so desperately crave as blessings from God do not really satisfy. In the process, God’s sheepfold has become a zoo, filled with professing Christians whose view of life is no different than the people of the world who do not know God. So I raise this question with confidence that the right answer can change our lives, revive our church, and strengthen our witness. What does it mean to be blessed? Ephesians 1:3 provides a clear and comprehensive answer: “Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Chris who has bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

I submit to you that every person who is united to Christ by faith is already richly blessed. Notice that this verse does not promise that God will bless us. And it does not announce that God is in the process of blessing us right now. It declares that God has already blessed us. It is a done deal, a settled reality, and an unimpeachable position. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are sovereignly, abundantly, and eternally blessed. TOM JULIEN writes: “Some seek blessings and miss Christ. Others seek him and find both.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are richly blessed beyond measure. Now, I did not say that you will always feel blessed. The fact is that there will be times when you will feel abandoned, frustrated, hurt, neglected, and overwhelmed – anything but blessed. But your changing feelings have absolutely no affect on the reality, prosperity, and security of your blessed position in Christ. My wife has a sign on the refrigerator door that says, “I’M TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED.” But that’s not my testimony. I’ve discovered that you can be blessed and stressed at the same time. And the only way to handle some stressful situations is to remind yourself that you are blessed in spite of the stress. JOHN OATMAN JR. gave us some wise advice when he wrote:


R. KENT HUGHES rightly asks, “The Devil may curse us, but if God blesses us, what does it matter? If you are united to Christ by faith, you are already richly blessed of God. And Ephesians 1:3 highlights three dynamics of the blessed life that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.


What is the proper response to the blessings of God? There are several ways to respond to God’s blessings on the believer’s life. For instance, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Or, it would have been proper for this declaration of blessing to say, “Serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” But Paul did not choose these or any of the other legitimate responses to the God’s blessings we could mention. Instead, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote: “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.”

The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION translates this verse: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in order to avoid the potential confusion of the repeated use of the word blessed. But in so doing, it robs the reader of the beautiful play on words here. Literally, the verse says that we ought to bless God because God has blessed us. This word “blessed” literally means, “to speak well of” someone. It is the Greek term from which we get our word “eulogy.” Paul says that we ought to eulogize God! We ought to speak well of God. We ought to declare good things about God in grateful praise to him. In Mark 10:18, Jesus declares, “No one is good except God alone.” And since God alone is truly good, he is supremely and exclusively worthy of our highest expressions of praise. We ought to bless God with our praise for all his blessings toward us.

The same root word for blessing is used throughout this verse. But there is a difference between how we bless and how God blesses us. When God blesses us, it is both gracious and effectual. It is gracious in that God does not speak well of us because we deserve it. God blesses us because he is good and in spite of the fact that we are not good. Likewise, his blessings are effectual. When God declares his goodwill on us, his sovereign authority fully accomplishes everything he decrees. Paul affirms this by calling him “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In calling him God, Paul declares that he is our SOVEREIGN CREATOR. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” God is our sovereign Creator. And note that Paul says he is “the God,” meaning that he is God all by himself. But not only is God our Creator; he is also our SOVEREIGN REDEEMER. Paul calls also him “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 2, he is “our Father.” But now he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This description states the unique relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It declares Jesus Christ to be the only and eternally begotten Son of God. And God loved us so much that he sent his son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, adopt us into his family, and qualify us for eternal blessings.

So when God blesses us, it is gracious and effectual. However, when we bless God it is deserved and useless. It is deserved in that we speak well of God because he is worthy to be praised. Or as WALTER WINK defines it, “To worship is to remember who owns the house.” And to say that it is useless is to say that our blessing God does not contribute anything to God in any way. We are wrong when we speak of magnifying God, exalting God, or lifting him up in any way that suggests we make God bigger with our praise. If God needs us to make him bigger, then he is no God at all. The biblical idea of magnifying God is that we are to treat God with the glorious magnificence that he rightly deserves. MARVA DAWN calls worship “a royal waste of time.” By this she means that worship is not a means to an end; it’s an end in itself. God alone is the SUBJECT and OBJECT of true worship. And we ought to bless him for blessing us.

This doxology teaches us much about true worship. First of all, it teaches us that true worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered. Real worship is not about who you are, what you have, or how you feel. It’s about who God is and what God has done for you through Jesus Christ. So when our worship begins to lapse, we really cannot blame the preacher, the music, or the atmosphere. When you find it difficult to worship God, it only means that we have forgotten what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. If you consider the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, you can praise God no matter what. John 4:24 says: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That is, true worship must be with head and heart. We see that here in THE HYMN OF GRACE, where Paul is filled with both joyful exuberance and theological reflection. Likewise, our worship will have a proper balance of God-entranced joy and God-centered truth when we learn to bless God for Jesus Christ. May our prayer be:



Again, Ephesians 1:3 declares: “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.” That phrase, “in Christ,” is a succinct statement of the dominating theme of THE EPISTLE OF EPHESIANS. It, or some variation of it, is used more than thirty-five times in this letter. This phrase, “in Christ,” is theological shorthand that describes the believer’s spiritual union to, intimate relationship with, and new identity in Christ. In fact, the early Christians would begin their answer to the question, “Who are you?” with this simple phrase: EN CHRISTO – “in Christ.”

This phrase is, first of all, a statement about Christ himself. On one hand, it affirms the exclusivity of Christ. ST. AUGUSTINE was right: God is more anxious to bestow his blessings on us than we are to receive them. But God’s blessings can only be received in Christ. Note that Paul did not say we are blessed in Christ and something or someone else. Christ alone is the only means to spiritual blessings. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus Christ is the only way to the blessings of God. On the other hand, this phrase also affirms the sufficiency of Christ. That is, if you are in Christ, you already have full and free access to the God’s blessings. There is absolutely nothing lacking from your salvation. But this phrase is also a statement the Christian. It tells us that if we you are in Christ, you don’t have to be governed by your past, haunted by your mistakes, bound by your limitations, afraid of your weaknesses, or handicapped by your pain. You have a brand new identity in Christ.

In his book, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, JOHN POWELL writes of asking that question in a classroom. “Do you want my answer?” asked a student.” “Yes, of course I do,” responded Dr. Powell. “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”

In the same way, many of us find it difficult to live authentically before others out of fear that others people will not like who we are. In fact, some of us are afraid to live authentically with ourselves out of fear that we will not like ourselves. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If you are in Christ, you have a brand new identity. You are blessed in Christ. Verse 3 is a celebration of our blessings in Christ. But verses 4-12 are an exposition of our blessings in Christ. Verse 4 says you have been chosen by God. Verse 5 says you have been predestined and adoption. Verse 6 says we are blessed, accepted, graciously endowed by God. Verse 7 says you have been redeemed and forgiven. Verse 13 says you have been sealed. And verse 14 says that you have received the guarantee, the down payment of the Spirit. In Christ, we are richly blessed.


The infinite scope of our spiritual blessings in Christ is described three ways in this verse.

OUR BLESSING IN CHRIST IS SUFFICIENT. In verse 3b, Paul declares that God is the one “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Even though most versions translate this phrase to read “every spiritual blessing”; the original text actually reads all, not every. The intended idea is that there is one blessing that God gives the believer in Christ of which there is nothing lacking. It’s not that there is a series of individual blessings that God promises to give. There is no first, second, or third blessing that God gives us in Christ. There is just one blessing that is first, full, and final. MATTHEW HENRY wrote: “Those whom God blessed with some he blesses with all spiritual blessings.” Our blessing is Christ is sufficient. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Colossians 2:10 says: “and you have been filled in him.” And 2 Peter 1:3-4 says: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Our blessing in Christ is sufficient.

A faithful but struggling missionary candidate finally raised enough funds to purchase a ticket overseas on a cruise ship. And when he packed his bags, he includes enough cheese and crackers to get him through the entire trip. And at every mealtime, while the rest of the passengers went to the dining room to eat, this missionary would go to the deck of the ship and eat cheese and crackers from a brown paper bag. Every meal, he would sit on the deck eating cheese and crackers. Finally, some one asked him why he kept sitting on the deck eating cheese and crackers during each meal. He explained that he barely had enough money to purchase his ticket. He definitely didn’t have the money to pay for the expensive meals that they were serving in the dining room. And he was shocked to discover that once he had paid for the ticket; the meals were provided for free.

I submit to you that we don’t really know how blessed we are. You can tell it in how we pray. We often pray for spiritual blessings that already ours in Christ. We sometimes pray for the love of God. But Romans 5:5 says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” We sometimes pray for peace. But in John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We sometimes pray for joy. But in John 15:11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Sometimes we pray for strength. But Philippians 4:13 declares, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

WE HAVE A SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, verse 4 declares that God has blessed us in Christ with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This word spiritual has two implications. First, it means that our blessings in Christ come from the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 says: “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.” The wonderful Holy Spirit is the agent who delivers, affirms, and secures our spiritual blessings in Christ. But this term spiritual is also a reference to the nature of our blessing in Christ. That is, the blessing in Christ is spiritual, rather than material. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God promises material blessings to the obedient children of Israel. If the members of the old covenant kept God’s law, the Lord would reward them with long life, a large family, abundant crops, and protection from their enemies, among other things. But the obedient Jew could only enjoy certain spiritual blessings.
But in the new covenant, God does not promise Christians guaranteed or uninterrupted health and wealth. But he does bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Now, this is not to say that God does not bless his children materially. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 declares: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And Philippians 4:19 is true: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Now, God doesn’t promise to supply all of your greeds. But God will meet your needs. In fact, let me stop here give some advice to someone who may be having a hard time with limited resources:


God can, does, and will bless you materially. However, even more than scripture promises God’s material blessings, it warns us about the spiritual dangers of material prosperity. In Luke 12:15, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In a letter to his followers from prison, former televangelist JIM BAKKER wrote: “There is no way, if you take the whole counsel of God’s Word, that you can equate riches or material things as a sign of God’s blessing.”

WE HAVE A SECURE BLESSING IN CHRIST. Again, this verse declares that God has “blessed us in him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This phrase “the heavenly places” (or the heavenlies) does not refer to heaven itself, the glorious dwelling place of almighty God. It speaks of a real environment of spiritual activity that is beyond the physical ordering of the created universe. JOHN R.W. STOTT calls it “the unseen world of spiritual reality.” And that may be the best definition for the heavenly places. It’s the place of spiritual reality beyond the physical realm. And Paul introduces us to it in the verse to declare to us that our blessings in Christ are secure. They are secure because Ephesians 1:20 says that God has raised up Christ 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 above every name that is name, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And Ephesians 2:6 says that God raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And Ephesians 3:10 says that through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Now, this does mean that the believer can enjoy a life without any struggles. Ephesians 6:10-12 says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I must warn you that if you determine to walk in the spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ, the devil will fight back. However, the good is that God has already provided everything you need to stand in victory. Ephesians 6:13 says: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” You can stand firm with the spiritual armor that God has given you in Christ.