Ephesians 2:11-22

11Therefore remember when you were formerly Gentiles in the flesh, called “uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands. 12For you were at that time separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having not hope and without God in the world. 13But you in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, Who has made both one and has broken down the barrier of the dividing wall, having abolished in His flesh the hostility, 15the law of commandments and rules in order that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, so making peace, 16and that He might reconcile both in one flesh to God through the cross, having killed the hostility in Himself. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, 18because through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners but are fellow-citizens with the saints and the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which the chief cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself, 21in Whom all the building is joined together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord…22in Whom you are also built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.

 

Paul continues the “story” of redemption, recalling for the Ephesians how they as Gentiles were formerly divorced from righteousness and covenant with God. This covenant relationship with God is significant; it is the common thread in Old and New Testaments regarding God’s relationship with Mankind. Originally, God established a promissory covenant with ethnic and national Israel; now, through Jesus Christ, His covenant has gone international. Paul explains to the Ephesians that they formerly had been excluded from the benefits of citizenship (πολιτειας, 12) and were strangers and aliens to God’s people (ξενοι, from which we get our English word “xenophobia,” or “fear of aliens,” 12). In fact, one of the primary features of the Mosaic covenant is that there were many laws of ordinances and rules that kept Jews and Gentiles separated, so as to remind Israel of their cultic purity to the one true God. The primary emphasis of the Law had been a reminder of the “separateness” of Israel from the pagan nations they had displaced, and the Levitical codes helped enforce this concept of purity. This was so rigidly enforced, moreover, that when the temple was eventually built, a dividing wall was placed in the outer courtyard beyond which no Gentile was to enter. It contained an inscription that Gentiles would have only themselves to blame for their deaths if they passed into the inner courts. What Christ accomplished, of course, was the complete abolition and obliteration of this wall. The “wall,” in Paul’s view, isn’t literal—it’s the metaphorical tendency to racially separate. Christ obliterated this. In fact, according to Paul, Jesus actually abolished—at the same time as this “wall”—all of those laws and codes that continued to keep the Jews and Gentiles separate. This is why Paul forbids the continued observance of cultic rites and purification rituals and calendar dates, etc, in Galatians. That stuff was literally abolished (καταργησας, 15) by Jesus Christ. Now, Gentiles and Jews are brought into one body in Christ. They have access to the same Father by the one Spirit. Moreover, when they are corporately gathered together, they are an habitation of God. Consider what one scholar said about this new temple: “it is the actual beginning fulfillment of the latter-day temple prophecies from the Old Testament” (Baugh).

 

There is no getting around that others are different than we. There is no avoiding the obvious reality that some of our fellow Christians are of a different racial or ethnic background than we. But segregation is not Christlike; in fact, Christ’s work on Calvary actually demolished not only the veil of access to God—thereby granting us access to Him personally—but also demolished the wall that keeps races and ethnicities separate. The curse of Babel has been reversed in Christ, and in the church we see all mankind being brought together as one. If you truly want to see the image of God in man, you will see it in diversity. As long as the church remains a place of racial segregation, it will remain an abomination that we shouldn’t be surprised to see suffer. We should behave as though we truly believe this passage of scripture. How can we do that?

 

First, we can learn to embrace the other. We can start the hard work of inviting others to our church who aren’t like us. This is the tough (even impossible) work of evangelism, and it is high time we Americans put away our infamous narcissism and did it. Next, we can recognize that what Paul writes about the habitation of God applies to us, as well. You want to be in God’s presence? Come to church. Be devoted to church. It is in our corporate gathering that we are truly the temple of the Lord.

 

God considered the church so important that He sent Jesus Christ to die for her, and the Spirit to shape her and grow her and prepare her. To what extent is she important to you?

 

Leaders: when you are gathered with God’s people in the local church, are you overwhelmed with the “chores” that we must do to bring God’s word to His people? Are you snowed under with anxiety or stress about something you forgot or something last-minute? You are probably missing out on the sweetness of God’s presence—He is truly present in His habitation, the local church, when she is gathered corporately. Let’s not let Sunday or Wednesday become a time of stress. Let’s remember that His presence is there, and He is enjoying us. Why not enjoy Him?

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Ephesians 2:1-10

1And you were dead in wrongdoing and your sins, 2in which you formerly walked after the course of this world, after the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom we all lived formerly in the lusts of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and the mind, 4and were by nature children of wrath like the rest. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive with Christ—by grace you are saved—6and raised us up and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7to show in the age to come what are the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of you—it is a gift of God. 9It is not of works, lest any should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, in order that we might walk in them.

 

 

This pericope tells the story of our salvation, showing what we are saved from, what enables us to be saved, how we are saved, and for what purposes we are saved (Roberts). Paul sets up a contrast between the Ephesians’ “dead” past and their “alive” present and future. He speaks of their prior identification with “the course [or age] of this world” (τον αιωνα του κοσμου), and this refers to the fallen world system (2). He reminds them that they once walked with Satan, the “prince of the power of the air.” He includes himself in their number, confessing that “we were by nature children of wrath” (και ἡμεθα τεκνα θυσει ὁργης–4). In other words, being sinful was in their (“our”) nature. This was the status of death. The fallen world system meant that not only would they suffer physical death, but that they were damned to spiritual death as well. But the good news is that God had made the Ephesians alive again—in fact, Paul claims that He “co-made us alive with Messiah, co-raised us and co-seated us with Him” (6-10). He had done this because of His great love for the Ephesians (and all men). He had raised them up with Christ (συνηγειρεν–6)—not just elevated them to heavenly places, but raised us up from the dead (dead in their sins and actual physical death). In fact, they were described as already being seated in the heavenlies with Christ. How is this possible? Well, Christ is there—and the Ephesians were in Christ. That’s how. He mentions in verse 8 that this incredible, love-driven power of God had accomplished something powerful for them: they had been “saved.” The verb that is used is σεσωσμενοι, which is a perfect passive participle that indicates an action that has already happened in the past, and the effects of which are still ongoing. So just as Paul speaks of Christians in 1 Corinthians as “we who are being saved,” he speaks here of Christians as those who “have been saved.” It’s already happened, and it’s not yet completely happened. Moreover, the Ephesian Christians are His workmanship—His trophies toward the dark powers in the ages to come. The Church is the ultimate victory over this prince, because despite His best efforts she is evidence of God’s unfailing love and power.

 

There is much here for us today. God’s great love for us has already lifted the curse against us. Though we are sinful by nature, we have been saved and raised with Christ. The same resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us, raising us from both spiritual and physical death. This wonderful love of God paid the ultimate price to win us back to Himself; why do we despair, as though He has forgotten us? He has made us to be alive—both now and forevermore—and to reign with Jesus Christ. Why would we question His loyalty to us? Why would we question his power over the darkness in our lives, knowing what He has already accomplished? As new creations, we are His trophies. We are the new work of art that He shows off to the dark powers that seek to destroy—He points at us and says “You think you’re powerful? Well, get a load of this!”

 

Sometimes, the Christian walk seems like a long slog through a rainy jungle, like an infantry platoon just trying to keep one foot in front of the other and make forward progress. But we need to be reminded that God has rescued us with a great power. It cost Him a great deal, and He did so out of an unbounded love for us. How in the world could He ever forget us? Perhaps what we need in our daily “slog” is a jolt of confidence. The same God Who raised Christ from the dead is at work in our lives, whether or not we “see” it. He is raising us up. We are the trophies He points to in victory over the enemy who seeks to destroy us. He has already won, and by virtue of being Christ we have won, too. Walk with confidence today. Whatever darkness is before you, it is a mere mirage in the presence of the omnipotent God Who has banished it in the light of His Son’s resurrection.

Ephesians 1:15-22

15For this reason, because I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not stop giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge of Him, 18having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling of you, what are the riches of His glory and calling in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power to us who believe according to the working of His great might, 20which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and let Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rulers and authorities and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And He has put all things under His feet and given Him as head over all things in the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.

 

 

Paul begins this section with the phrase δια τουτο, which is “for this reason.” In so doing, he connects this pericope with the previous one. The fact that the Ephesians have received the down payment of the Spirit and are heirs with Christ of the glory of God has encouraged him, and he now moves to describe his prayer life on their behalf. Their spiritual growth has encouraged him. He intercedes for them by name, and is constantly thanking God for them (16). He trusts that God will enlighten them, or illuminate the darkness that always threatens them (17-18). He emphasizes Christ’s humanity by referring of God the Father as HIS God, which expresses the exclusive mediation of Christ as the only way to the Father. His use of knowledge (ἐπιγνωσει) here refers to the object of knowledge Himself as God the Father—he is literally praying that the Ephesian church come to know God even more and more. This knowledge, as Paul understands it and speaks of it here, is not static and fixed—it is not merely learning catechetical facts and bullet points about God. Rather, it is an ongoing journey deeper and deeper into God Himself as He has revealed Himself. His ultimate revelation, of course, is in the incarnate Christ (“if you have seen the Father, you have seen Me,” John 14.9). He wants the Ephesians to learn to see with their hearts. He also trusts that, as they continue on that journey, the same power that raised Christ from the dead will be at work in them—both as individuals and as a corporate body. After all, God has placed all things under Christ, including the Church, which is His body, and the fullness of Him.

 

When I think of how much time Paul had spent developing the leaders of the church at Ephesus, and how much time he’d spent there, and how much of his heart and soul he’d poured out on the people as he taught them to grow in the knowledge of God, I am convicted. As I read his prayer for these dear friends, I feel sheepish and a little embarrassed that I don’t pray like this. Here is a man who prays for his staff by name and with a consistency that overshadows the other chores in his life. He prays that they will receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in order that they may know God better. And he’s thankful for them in all things. I really need to learn to pray like this.

 

The people in the church want to know God. They want to experience Him. They want to grow deeper in Him. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to the church today. Am I praying that they experience it? Am I stepping aside so that they may experience it? Am I prioritizing it the way that God wants? As I pray that our staff grows deeper in their knowledge of God, I also pray that I grow, too, so that we are not growing in Mike but in God.

Ephesians 1:3-14

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4insofar as He chose us in him from the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He chose us beforehand for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of His will, 6to the praise of His glorious grace which He bestowed freely on us in the Beloved. 7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of wrongdoing according to the riches of His grace, 8which He lavished on us in all wisdom and insight, 9making known the mystery of His will, according to His purpose put forth in Him, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, uniting [summing up] all things in Christ—things in heaven and things on the earth. 11In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been chosen beforehand according to the purpose of Him Who has accomplished all things according to the counsel of His will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Hm, were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, 14Who is the down payment of our inheritance until He redeems His possession, to the promise of His glory.

 

 

This passage, at first glance, seems quite dense. There is a ton of theology in here that informs our practice, but the bigger issue is the syntax. If Paul were in my English or Composition class, he would get a failing grade for his absurd sentence construction. This appears to be one sentence, modified by tons of clauses. However, we must also remember that Paul didn’t speak English, didn’t write this in English, and didn’t intend it for an English audience per se. Instead, the early Church HEARD the text being read to them verbally, and first-century rhetorical tradition had indicators in the Greek text that showed readers where to pause and breathe. So in its original form, being read to the congregation, this would sound like nine sentences, not one. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to Paul as an English writer.

 

The central focus of this passage is on the God Who is both the Author and Hero of this story. The passage has a Trinitarian focus on God the Father, the Spirit (through the adjective “spiritual”) and the incarnate Son. The Incarnate Son is the center of God’s redemptive activity in history. The opening lines are a blessing, just like the Old Testament blessings of old. However, in this context, “blessed be the LORD God of Israel” has become “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which intimates Someone more international and universal. This blessing is an opening worship to the God of the universe, not just one people. And in Christ, this God is demonstrating His love for all nations and ethnicities—for all mankind. This is not a denial of Christ’s divinity but an emphasis on His humanity. The adjective “blameless” is a freedom from guilt incurred by transgression, and this is telling. Ephesian Christians would have understood purity. Artemis Ephesia was portrayed in antiquity as a virgin huntress born to Leto and Zeus, and one had to be pure to enter her temple (Baugh). God is even more pure—He is the living God (“I am who I am”) who chose his people before the foundation of the world. Here is the Author of the story sending the Hero, Christ, to buy back His beloved human beings from the bondage of sin and death. In Christ, all of creation is “summed up” (10, ἀναχεφαλαιωσασθαι). Through this action, God has been at work on our behalf since the beginning of time, writing the story, executing the story, choosing, buying, saving, redeeming. He adopts us as coheirs with His natural firstborn Son, in Whom the whole creation is “summarized” (10)….we are to co-rule over all things with Him in the heavenlies. Not only are we purchased and adopted and purified—we are sealed. In the first century, people marked their possessions with seals. God has sealed us for Himself, and that seal is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is also the down payment of the glory and hope that God Himself has designed for us; we have a bit of it now, and will have the full amount later.

 

At the core of this passage is the astounding conclusion that we must reach: God REALLY, REALLY loves us. This is why He’s done all of this. This is why He’s paid the terrible price He’s paid. This is why He brings us along in hope and faith, day by day, moving inexorably toward our ultimate destiny of victory and hope. I know how hard it is to love someone consistently over time; God makes it look easy, and has completely defeated the enemy on our behalf with His superb authorial actions. The down payment of the Spirit that I’ve received is a down payment of my ultimate salvation: my healing from both disease and sin. He has purchased it, and it is sure.

 

That fires me up. No wonder Paul begins the pericope with a word of praise! He’s praising God the Father for sending the Son and sealing us with the Spirit—for these actions have marked us as His permanent possessions, children, and beloved. When you think about this, doesn’t this change the way you go about your day? Doesn’t this help you begin the day with worship? With thanksgiving? With confidence? He has already acted on our behalf, and He continues to act. How can we lose?

Ephesians 1:1-2

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus thought the will of God to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The epistle to the Ephesians has occasioned argument for years regarding its authorship. For the first 1700 years of the Church, no one questioned Pauline authorship. But the Enlightenment brought with it the age of Modernism—the hermeneutic of suspicion, the denial of miracles, the dominance of reason over revelation. However, the rise of evangelical scholarship in the 20th century led to sharp criticism of this criticism, and the evidence of Pauline authorship is substantial. There are many great works that detail this 200-year-old debate, and time will prevent us from going into that detail here. However, the position that we will take, based on this evidence, is that the apostle Paul wrote this letter. This devotional will employ my own translation from the Aland Greek Text, 4th Revised Edition, and will be in dialogue with the following voices throughout the family of Christ:

  • Multiple commentators from the first 7 centuries of the Church, compiled and edited by Thomas Oden in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol VIII (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians).
  • Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Harold Hoehner)
  • Ephesians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Francis Foulkes)
  • The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 12: Ephesians-Philemon (William W. Klein)
  • The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians (Mark D. Roberts)
  • Evangelical Exegetical Commentary: Ephesians (S.M. Baugh)

The story of this book begins in Acts 19, when Paul first visits Ephesus in in AD 53 in Asia Minor (19.1), and preaches there in Jewish synagogue. However, some refuse his message and become obstinate (19.9). So he moves to a private lecture hall and proclaims the gospel for 2 years. Many Jews and Greeks hold Jesus’ name in high honor because of miraculous deeds done in His name (19.17). After establishing a church, developing leadership, and shepherding them through crises that make them stronger, Paul continues his “planting” travels. Later, when he is in jail for his first Roman trial, he writes this letter to the church at Ephesus; the time is around AD 60-62.

 

His letter begins with a standard salutation: he identifies himself and his addressees, and then pronounces an apostolic benediction for grace and peace. Though this is epistolary literature (a letter), Paul is nonetheless contributing to the major story of God’s dealings with man, and embedded in the prayer of blessing in today’s readings is evidence of that story. If you look closely, you will see the story of what God has done, beginning “before the creation of the world” (1.4) and ending in eternity (1.10, 6.24). God, who is identified as our Father and the Father of Jesus Christ (1.2-3), is the primary actor in this story. A major theme of Ephesians is the togetherness of all of us in this mission (Roberts 14). This concept is introduced in the first two verses.

 

Paul identifies himself as an apostle, or (“one sent,” ἀποστολος). He highlights the divine nature of this appointment when he adds the phrase δια θεληματος—“by the will of God.” This is classic Paul; he references his apostolate in nine of his letters, and in doing so here he gets in front of any potential smarty-pants false leaders who might want to argue about any of the stuff he’s writing in Ephesians. It is telling that he carries such a high view of authority in the local church; that is almost a foreign concept in modern American evangelicalism. He writes this letter to the “holy ones” or “saints” (ἁγιοις) in Ephesus. This term means that they are separated for God’s use. They are born-again believers who are set apart for God’s purpose; they no longer live for their own purpose. His identification of God the Father as OUR Father should be seen as the most extraordinary privilege imaginable. Marius Victorinus writes that “grace and peace remove contention. They convey the will of God. Since therefore they were in the grip of error, grace was first sought on their behalf, in order that they should know God and fully obey God and Christ, putting all trust in Christ and nothing else…then he also adds ‘peace from God.’ The one who wills ungraciously creates severe discord.” (Epistle to the Ephesians 1.1.2).

 

You and I belong to a very big family called the Body of Christ. This Body has many members, called “churches.” Each member behaves in faithfulness the same way that the big Body behaves in faithfulness. We are part of one another, and we live not for our own purposes but for His. He has set us apart from the rest. Jude warns Christians to stay away from those who “are their own authority,” and that pretty well describes the state of American evangelicalism today. If we truly affirm our fallenness as human beings, why would we trust ourselves to hear the truth of God, when we know that our egos will always get in the way? That’s why God has set us in community with one another. The enemy’s paradigm is “I’m my own authority.” God’s way is the opposite—witness Paul reminding the Ephesians that they should listen to what he has to say because he is a legitimate authority (1.1). Moreover, if we are part of one family and God is our Father, our dealings with one another should be in grace and peace, rather than strife and division.

 

To what extent are you living as one who is set apart for God’s purposes today? The answer to that is another question: to what extent are you living as a member of a family, rather than a temporary visitor who is guided by his own authority? Another great applicational question to ask from this passage is: to what extent does grace and peace mark my presence in the lives of others in my family? Paul prayed for grace and peace to be upon his brothers and sisters. When I am dealing with the church, does my presence leave them with grace and peace, or stress and anxiety? This might be an area of growth for me.

 

Be honest with yourself about these questions. One major theme of Ephesians is the “togetherness” of us in this moment. Are we truly “together?” Or, like Jude warned, are we of that tribe who “reject authority” and “rely on dreams” and generally reject the established revelation of the historic faith, once handed to the saints (Jude 1)?

 

 

Galatians 6:11-18

11See with what large letters I write to you with my own hand! 12It is those who wish to make a good showing in the flesh who would have you be circumcised, only so that they would not be persecuted for Christ. 13For those who are circumcised do not observe the law but want you to be circumcised, in order that they may boast in your flesh. 14Far be it from me to boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation. 16And as for those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy on them and on the Israel of God. 17From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

 

Paul now closes his letter, and his abrupt ending, though anticlimactic, drives home his point. Those who teach the legalism stuff have a vested interest in being the Galatians’ religious progenitors. They are taking some sort of perverse pride in having the Galatians in their “conversion tree.” They see the Galatians as being their spiritual children and a legitimate source of pride. Paul, by contrast, has no dog in this hunt; he argues that the only thing he cares about is the cross, and he doesn’t attempt to use the Galatians as a source of spiritual pride or boasting. The law’s code is meaningless, he argues, and the real point of the Christian religion is the fact of a new creation. Those who wish to walk in this newness are wished peace by Paul—and he is even careful to include the nation of Israel, which the Judaizers would no doubt have claimed to love more. He calls out the Judaizers for their moral cowardice; after all, their commitment to legalism doesn’t make them a threat to anyone, and they can thus avoid persecution. Paul, however, bears the marks of one who is standing for the true gospel. The contrast couldn’t be clearer: on one side, a group of legalists who are trying to avoid persecution and want to see the Galatians as extensions of themselves. On the other, a man whose devotion to the true gospel has almost cost him his life, and who has real apostolic authority to teach truth. It should be clear to the Galatians which source has true authority. He closes with a wish of Jesus’ grace.

 

That contrast is clear to us today, as well. Those who seek to make us “clones” of themselves are seeking a glory that is not biblical. Those who wish to make us obey codes of righteousness are avoiding the troublesome mess of real religion. Those who believe righteousness is a function of obedience are slave merchants—making Christians to wear chains. Meanwhile, those committed to the true gospel are not in “discipleship” for themselves, but for the good of those they disciple. They celebrate the freedom which Christ’s sacrifice provided, and they walk in it. They teach a true discipleship, which is predicated on a mutual pressure toward maturity that emanates from a two-way love for one another. Over time, they are new creations, not modern Pharisees.

 

Which do you trust as models? The best way to answer this question is to imagine yourself as one of the two models. Which would you prefer to be? Walk in that path.

Galatians 6:1-10

1Brothers, if any man is caught in some wrongdoing, let you who are spiritual restore such a one by gentleness of spirit, paying attention to yourselves, lest you be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Let each examine his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not his other. 5For each must bear his own load. 6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will reap from the flesh corruption, and the one who sows to the spirit will reap form the spirit eternal life. 9Let us not tire of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. 10So then while we have opportunity, let us work good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.

 

 

As Paul gets ready to close his letter, he gives some instructions to the Galatians. He references “you who are spiritual,” and we recognize this as a level of maturity in Christ. He orders them to engage in the central work of the gospel: reconciliation. Restoration when one has slipped is one of the gifts of the church….we help others through the process of discipleship. As we can see in this pericope, Paul wants restoration to be prioritized, and it should be done in a spirit of gentleness. This sort of thing works best in the church, where relationships are foundational to receiving and giving correction. It is in the church where people know you well enough and have loved you practically enough that you can take their gentle nudges toward maturity. One of the Eastern fathers, John Chrysostom, taught that “you should identify with the transgressor if you want to help him.” That’s precisely what Christ did. In fact, that’s why Paul refers to this as the “law of Christ,” which is the law of love. Humility always curbs self-deception. As my old professor Dr. Stanley Toussaint said, “conceit keeps you from bearing others’ burdens.” Each Christian, according to Paul, also has his own calling and must be about it. He must prioritize that (7-8), and never grow weary in doing good for others. He emphasizes the shortness of time—which is an implicit call to manage one’s time responsibly and maturely (10)—and he also teaches that the good works that the Church must do should prioritize those in the church first (10).

 

It is not surprising that Paul gets around to teaching communitarianism in the church; he does this so frequently that it’s a safe bet. His emphasis here is on the mature members of the church helping guide the newer ones into maturity. No one is left alone in Paul’s ecclesiology. There is no “minding your own business.” There is no “live and let live” in proper Christian ecclesiology. There is, rather, the gentle nudging toward growth and maturity. That maturity doesn’t just mean preaching credentials or number of years spent in a pew…it means maturing in the ability to handle a scriptural text….maturing in the ability to forgive others…maturing in the ability to keep a secret, rather than gossip about it. All of these are functions of spiritual maturity. The priority is to bear one another’s burdens, and to prioritize those burdens within the church ahead of those without.

 

If you’re not doing this Christian walk with someone else, you’re doing it wrong. Think about how impossible it would be to live out the imperatives in this passage of scripture today, apart from fellow members of the local church. You need relationships that do this. We all need truth in our lives, and God sends that truth through the Word, corroborated by the Church. Your Christian faith isn’t much if it isn’t maturing, and it isn’t maturing if you’re not discipling someone and being discipled. Invest in others today.