Ephesians 6:10–20 (NRSV)
The Whole Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
When we began this series in Ephesians I am sure we learned many new things. The first being that the letter was not written to a Gentile majority but largely focused on Jewish people from an Essene perspective. But I hope that the main thing that we have learned is that there are always things that seemingly divide a group, but that in Christ we can come together and see the kingdom of God built around us.
As I have studied this letter the past few weeks it has been as if I have read it for the first time again. For the first time in a long time it is as if the words Paul wrote so long ago have spoken directly to my heart, causing me to look at things from a different perspective. The Ephesian Church is a church that is on the verge of a complete and total split. The members are lining up along one side or the other, looking at those around them and casting judgement on things that have little to do with the church, but mainly focused on differing perspectives. One side is focused on a three hundred year heritage built on tradition, while the other seeks to open the doors up to an emerging future. The Ephesian church has found itself at a cross road of history, the ending on one age and the beginning of another.
This is why I find it so fresh and new as I have been studying it these past few weeks, because I can imagine myself in the midst of the conflict. I can see myself on either side of the issues holding fast to the ancient traditions or embracing the exciting future. I can imagine myself from the perspective of either faction within this ancient church because there are aspects of these very struggles that we face today. The future is often cloaked in a fog, we only get a glimpse of it through the misty waves as the Spirit moves like the wind. But Paul tells them that we are not at war with one another because we are all the same, he reminds both Jew and Gentile that we are all born into the same condition and remain in that place until the community seeks to bring us in. Paul reminds them that the struggle should not be between Jew and Gentile but instead we should be laboring to bring people into the community through the power of God that has been given to us by the Spirit through Christ.
I want us to consider this struggle as we reflect upon this passage. I want us to remember just how tense and raw the emotions can be when a church is on the brink of splitting in two. I want us to remember this because Friends we have been there, I may very likely say that we are there right now. We can identify with this ancient church because we too are struggling to find our way into this cloudy future, a future that so many people throughout our society claim is post Christian. Paul knows that this ancient church is in the middle of a fight and that is why he writes the way that he does. Put of the armor of God!
I want us to stop for a moment right there because I want us to just consider how out of place this passage really seems. For the past five chapters Paul has encouraged this church to live in the love of God with each other because we are all members of one another, because we have all been joined together through Christ, he has urged us to sacrifice ourselves, give ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, and then he speaks about putting on armor for a fight? We have all read this passage out of context for probably our entire lives. Many of us have grown up coloring pictures of the armor of God thinking it is just wonderful, maybe we have even made costumes and dressed up in the armor claiming to be soldiers for God going out to do battle in the world. But I really think if we read this passage in light of the rest of the letter we would see it for what it truly is, a literary play on words that should cause us to think.
I say this because Paul begins this segment by saying, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Many, if not all of us, totally forget the first sentence of the passage, because we are too busy arming ourselves to fight. We are too busy and too focused on the struggle before us to actually listen to the words being said. We are so busy trying to demonize those that might have a differing view, or we might think has a different view that we totally miss the most important statement of this entire passage. Be strong in the Lord. This passage has very little to do with battle. It in fact is telling us to be clothed in Christ.
When we look at this passage from this perspective, we can begin to see things a bit differently. But why would Paul use such imagery if he is merely speaking about putting on Christ and not gearing up for battle, you might ask? For the very same reason most children stand amazed when they see a convoy of military vehicles driving down interstate or see a formation of jets pass overhead. The image of power and strength is great. But he again reminds us that this struggle is not between us, it is not between flesh and blood. We are not at war against our fellow human beings, the battle is more abstract. He says put of the armor of God because our struggle is against rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers.
It is very easy to misunderstand what these three things are, especially when two of the three are pretty much synonyms in our language. The word that is translated rulers is actually a term in the Greek that means the supernatural forces that are behind the unexplainable. The word authorities is the governing systems that can be just or unjust, systems of human behavior that encourage or exploit. And cosmic powers refers to the forces of nature. When we understand what these forces are it basically proves that the armor of God has very little to do with warfare and everything to do with our ability to survive in a seemingly crazy world.
Back to the armor. I mentioned that imagery of the military power is striking. It catches our attention and leaves us standing in awe. I remember attending an airshow at the air force base in Wichita as a child, being able to climb up and look into the cockpit of a jet, to touch a round that would be fired from one of the massive machine guns, and hearing the sound of the engines after I saw the plane pass quickly before my eyes. There are very few things that can show the strength more than these weapons of war. But Paul is telling us to put on Christ, which is an armor that is far more powerful than these.
If you want to move beyond these petty struggle and stand firm against the evil forces at battle all around us we must clothe ourselves in Christ. And it begins with a belt of truth. This idea of truth is not just facts. It is a lifestyle of truthfulness, a lifestyle of integrity. We should be centered on reality and authenticity, not playing games and putting on a show. If we want to see the kingdom of God being expanded throughout our community it begins with each of us being honest, humble, and vulnerable with one another. This is one of the foundational aspects of the Christian life, and one of the most important pillars in the Society of Friends.
Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is one of the most visible and largest of all the pieces of armor in ancient days. But what is righteousness? In past generations we understood this to be holiness, and holiness can quickly morph into legalism. But righteousness is loving justice. The most visible aspect or the Christian life should be focused on the most visible aspect of the life of Christ. Jesus was all about justice. He was all about loving those around him and encouraging them to enter into a better lifestyle. The breastplate of righteousness is living a lifestyle of encouraging those around us to live the love of Christ with others. It is standing up in the defense of the exploited and helping those in need. It has more to do with right actions than right answers. And those outside of the community should be able to see this in all that we do.
Shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace. There are several things wrapped up in this aspect of armor. Simplicity so that we are able to move freely and readily. As well as a testimony of peace, meaning that we value the life of all people and seek unity instead of conflict. But most of all the gospel, the good news which is the message of reconciliation and access to God. To put on the shoes of Christ we position ourselves to hear the voice of the Spirit and move to act upon His leading.
A shield of Faith. Is more than just protection, but the assurance that though we may face trail we are on the right path. It is the ability to believe, trust and entrust our lives fully to God, moving forward into the valley of shadows and doubt without fear. Coupled with this shield is the helmet of salvation which like faith points to deliverance. Placing our trust not in ourselves but entrusting every aspect of our lives into the hands of God carry us though.
And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I want us to think of this for a moment. Paul is telling us to put on Christ, to reflect Christ. All of these aspects of armor are visions of protective strength. Absolutely none of it is from ourselves but is the Lord, and His strength. Then we come to the sword the only actual weapon. Friends this is not our sword we do not wield this sword, just as we are not the armor but all of which is God. We do not convict, we do not judge, we only go where God calls us and bear witness of him as we reflect his life though ours. The Spirit is the one that wields the knife.
We are struggling but it is not against each other and it is not against other human beings either. The battle is against things beyond our control, so we cannot wield the weapon because we do not know how to use it. We only bear the armor. Living lives of integrity and truth, showing and being the love of Christ to others as we stand against injustice and stand for righteousness. Living lives of simplicity so that we can freely and quickly move into action as we share the gospel of the kingdom and promote unity and the sanctity of all life. And walking forward with our lives fully entrusted in the hands of God. If we bear the armor in the world of darkness the Spirit will do its work, God himself will take down the rulers, authorities and tame the cosmic powers that threaten humanity. And we bear this armor if we live the lifestyle that Christ taught us. A lifestyle where we withdraw often to the isolated places to pray, where we make it our customer to join together to worship and encourage one another, and go out into the world to minister to the needs of our community.
Putting on the armor of God is nothing more than living the lifestyle of Christ. It is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. As we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy I pray that we will realize that the battle is not ours to fight, that we are not enemies but members of one another, that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that if we are willing to live wearing and reflecting the life of Christ in all we do we will see His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Ephesians 4:1–16 (NRSV)
Unity in the Body of Christ
4 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
There is much talk about the future of the church. Are we seeing the beginning of the end or just a renewal? I find that the book of Ephesians really speaks to this transitional period. As we learn more about the time and people that first received this letter, we learn just how much this letter speaks to our current condition as well. As scholars have dug into the writings we know as the Dead Sea scrolls we find that the religious order known as the Essenes taught things very similar to that of Jesus, and that these teachings eventually made their way to the dispersed people of Israel. The city of Ephesus was a city that became the home for many of these dispersed people. For over three hundred years Jewish people lived, worked and taught alongside people who followed the cult of Diana. The teaching of the Essenes intrigued the pagan people, it opened the doorway to uniting the people of Israel and the Gentiles of the empire. The first couple of chapters of Ephesians were written to the Jewish people, letting them know that according to the teachings of the Essenes all people were born as Gentiles that all people, including those that came from the roots of Jacob, are born uncircumcised and must be joined into the community. From the third chapter on, Paul teaches both the Jews and the Gentiles together, because he teaches that all people are equally in need of hope that is found through Jesus.
What then is the purpose of the church? This is the question that we all ask as we approach the future. This is the question that we as a community ask ourselves. Just as the Jewish people of the first century looked at spiritual landscape around them and saw that things were changing, we too see things around us changing. The things they once knew were changing, they were once known as the chosen people, yet as they were dispersed throughout the empires of Greece, Persia, and Rome that standing took on different meaning. The teachings of the prophets made their way to their scattered communities, which taught them to live within the world, to lay roots, to work for the good of the people around them. This is a different pathway, a different way to consider the world they lived than what they had known before. These teachings made it to the very heart of the empires. The prophet Daniel was held in high regard by the leaders of Babylon and Persia, these empires profited from their wisdom. Though this wisdom was given through the chosen people but it was not for them alone.
As the people made their way back to the land of their ancestors they brought with them the cross cultural forms of faith, expressions of faith that emerged when there was no temple and no sacrifice. Those that lived in Jerusalem returned to former ways of life but those that lived outside took hold of the teachings of the exiled because they too were people of exile.
It was the Essenes that taught that not even the Jewish people were righteous enough to enter into the kingdom, they set their communities up on the eastern banks of the Jordan, they taught about cleansing the body and the soul of unrighteousness. They taught the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans all who would listen and all who would repent.
It is from this school of thought the people of Ephesus began to see the church emerge. The church welcomed all people who believed in God and who repent. The church, the community was filled with Jew and Greek, but it was divided. The lines that were drawn revolved around outward expressions of faith expressions, physical expressions. Paul writes to them that this is nonsense. We were all born of the same essence, born uncircumcised. Division, Jew or Greek, Male or female, slave or free. This division was killing the emerging church. This division was cutting the very heart of the church apart, slicing away the very essences of its purpose.
Paul pleads with them, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Listen to that plea. Hear the words that the apostle writes, feel the tears and anguish in which the pen carves the words into the paper. The community of God fearers was ripping itself apart, they so early forgot what and how they were brought together in the first place. The Jewish people listened to the words of the prophets yet failed to hear, the gentiles listened yet they too out of pride failed to hear the spirit behind the words. The Spirit that says from the cross, “forgive them for they know not what they do.” They fail to hear because they are too busy, they are too busy seeking their own ways instead of submitting to the ways of the one who does the calling.
Lead a life worthy of the calling. Consider that statement for just a moment. Every one of them and every one of us are not worthy of the calling that we have received. None of us are worthy of the title child of God. Each of us in some way have failed to live a life worthy of that call. Why then do we divide and try to prove which of us is better than the other. Through our struggle to prove who is right we end up cutting off part of the body off and leaving ourselves crippled and unable to move forward. That is the church of Ephesus. The church that the apostle John penned the Revelation of Jesus to. Honoring them because they had toiled and endured, how they were intolerant of evil among them, yet condemning them because they abandoned their first love. All their toil, all their correct doctrine all their righteousness was seen as empty because they had removed their heart, the source of their love leaving only a cold shell behind. Yet Paul pleads with them to lead a life worthy of the calling, to live in humility, gentleness, patience and love.
Paul’s heart is bleeding for these people, his tears are running down his cheeks and falling on the very paper he wrote these words, he cries. He knows the passion of the Jewish people wishing to keep the faith pure. He knows the hope of the Gentile that was grafted into the community through the blood of Christ. He knows both sides of this community and that the future of the community is in unity.
Unity is the goal that every community should seek. That is the calling that Paul hopes to spark in the hearts of this community. Unity is the point and the purpose of the gifts that the Spirit gives us. These gifts are given to bring hope to the hopeless, and to encourage and bring healing to the hurting. The Spirit of God is calling each of us to participate in the uniting of the community. He is calling us to do this through humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
Live a life worthy of the calling. We all have an idea of what that is supposed to look like. The question is if our ideas of a life worthy of the calling of Christ is filled with unity or division? What are our ideals of the holy life filled with? If we were to step back and examine our lives for a moment would they be filled with humility, with gentleness, with love?
The past few months I have really considered this in my own life. In my dealings with those around me am I being humble or am I making people think too high or low of me? In my dealings with those around me am I gentle? Am I listening to their spirit and encouraging them to take steps of faith forward or am I in my righteousness putting them in their place? You know what I find when I examine my life, when I ask those questions of myself and allow the Spirit of God to answer them for me? I find that all too often I am not who I think I am. Because to be humble, gentle and to act out of love in the efforts of making peace and to promote unity means that I have to step back. When we are able to take that step back something begins to happen, we begin to hear.
Several years ago we as a community were faced with an uncertain future. That future is still uncertain in many ways, but we did something at that time. Our meeting was dividing, it was being split in half and before we did anything we prayed. We opened the meeting house and pleaded that we pray together. Something amazing happened when we prayed. We got a brief glimpse of what Paul pleads the church of Ephesus to take hold of. Out of our prayers we prayed that God show us who we really are and what He wants us to be. For a year we discussed this and we it wrote down as our mission. “Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the love of God with others.” That statement of who we are and what we are doing is important because there is no gray area in that mission. You are either doing it or you aren’t. The same can be said about the church of Ephesus. They are called to live a life worthy of the calling that they have been called: a life of humility, gentleness, love, and peace. You see there is no gray area you are living it or you aren’t. We can try to justify our actions all we want but if we want to be honest if we justify our actions we have already admitted that we failed.
We are living in a time of uncertainty. We are living in a time where the things we once place our hope seem to be failing all around us. Could it be that we have divided ourselves to such a degree that we have removed the very essence of who we were supposed to be. Could it be that we and our community are without hope because we do not even know where to find hope anymore? Paul wrote this letter to a divided church, a church that was split between Jew and Gentile. For so long we assumed he wrote this only to the Gentiles to give them hope in Jesus, but no he wrote it to all people. To all people that live a divided life. A life that is split between work and family, secular and sacred, and countless other factions. He tells them that we are all the same, born without hope destined to fail but there is one who can speak to our condition. There is one that left His throne in the heavens to live among mankind, one who took on himself the division allowing it to rip his very heart in two, and one that rose again to give hope to each of us. There is only one body, one Spirit, one hope to which we are called, One Lord, one faith, one baptism which truly cleans, one God and father to us all. He is not the God of the Jews, He is not the God of the Gentiles, it is not the faith of the Catholic or the Quaker but it is one. You cannot live divided it will consume you, we cannot live divided because it will consume us from the inside out. Division causes fear and hopelessness, Jesus is calling us to something more. He is calling us to unite in love and live a life worthy of that calling. He is calling us to be people loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. There is no division if that is our vision and our mission personally and as a community. As we enter a time of open worship and holy expectancy I pray that that vision will become ours today and for all eternity.
7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Although I am sure everyone’s minds have pulled various directions this week due to the topics on the news, I would like us center down for a moment and focus on faith, truth, and the holy rhythm of life that Jesus taught us. I challenge each of us, including myself to center on this because if the holy lifestyle of Christ is not at the center of our lives every moment of every day we will look at current events, and every other aspect of life there skewed lenses of personal perception.
Paul wrote these words to a community that was saturated with icons of entertainment and luxury. A culture that was devoted to commerce, athletics, sensual pleasures, and religious devotion. I want us all to remember the last statement I mentioned the most. Corinth was a devout city. Their entire culture revolved around their religious devotion. It permiated every aspect of their lives and livelihoods. Their athletic games were religious celebrations, their commerce was a blessing of their deity, and they gained great pleasure at their places of worship. They in many ways were not unlike us. The main difference was the deity they honored.
They lived and breathed their faith, it was something that affected every aspect of their lives. And Paul visited them and shared the Gospel of Christ. When he spoke to them, he spoke to them in terms that they would understand. He likened the holy lifestyle of Christ to the training an athlete would engage in while preparing for the games, a life of discipline and devotion. Not one that is easy but requires sacrifice and work. He then went deeper letting them know that this holy lifestyle we know as being a disciple of Christ focuses on loving God, embracing the Spirit’s leading and gifts, and living the love of Christ with others. He begins to speak with a language that they understand and then he goes deeper and deeper until the rhythm of God has so saturated their being that it begins to flow out of them to others.
Our mission in this Meeting is similar to that of Jesus and Paul, of all the apostles and the Church throughout the world. Our mission is to completely saturate individuals in the love and devotion to Christ to the point that that love will ooze out of us and flow to others within our community. This is why we considered our mission statement with careful consideration and discernment. Our mission statement, the statement we declare each week is, that we are a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. It was not something that came out of worldly leadership manuals, but it emerged among us as a group through prayer, careful consideration, and discernment. And that mission is constantly being supported though scripture.
I declare to you that our mission has not changed, and it will not change. I will continue to encourage everyone I meet to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and to live the love of Christ with other where ever I am and with whomever I am with. It is a mission centered on building the relational kingdom community that Jesus began centuries ago and pass on to those that follow him, first in Jerusalem, then to Judea, and to the ends of the Earth.
I say that this is our mission statement, but it really is not ours alone. It is the vision of Christ, it was the mission of Christ, with the foundations that go down to the very beginning of time. It has always been God’s mission to bring mankind back into relationship with him, to restore and redeem the world that was once launched into chaos by our first parents, when they sought to be gods instead of living life with God.
I say all of this because Corinth was a devoted city. Paul introduced the gospel of Christ to them and many embraced the Holy lifestyle that Paul showed them through his life and ministry. Yet they veered off course. They allowed the things to distract them. They once lived with a holy rhythm but they allowed that rhythm to get out of sync, and the beatings of their hearts stopped mimicking that of Christ and began instead to reflect something else entirely. Their heart beat with rhythms of commerce, games, and pleasure once more yet they still held to religious devotion.
Paul tells them, “[You] excel in everything – in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” These people were amazing people. Ancient myths speak about great kings that could turn everything they touch into gold, well these people could do this. They excelled in everything. If they had a goal set before them they could make it happen. That is what built their city, and their culture, if they decided to do something they did not just do it, they did it in such a way that it was great! Paul tells them this because he knows and they know that it is true. But with that statement he challenges them too.” [We] want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” The undertaking he is challenging them with is to devote all of that excellence into supporting the continued ministry of Christ.
In many ways Corinth pulled away from the larger church, they pulled away from engaging the culture in which they lived, and their message began to suffer because of it. They pulled away from the church because they had issues that they needed to deal with at home. In the first letter Paul sent to them he called them out on many areas of their individual and communal lives that had strayed from the rhythm of Christ. Because of this they tightened their belts and used their excellence to become a more devote church. They focused on making themselves better, exceling in speech, in knowledge and eagerness live correctly. Paul and the Church as a whole loved them for their devotion, but through this excellence they neglected a very important aspect of devotion to Christ, they neglected living the love of Christ with others. We might see that as being a minor thing. They had excellent worship services, they had excellent theology, excellent dedication to right living we might say they turned themselves into the model church after being the example of what not to do. But in all that excellence they dammed up the flow of grace to the world.
When we neglect living the love of Christ with others we cause the grace of God to become stagnat and the church fails. We fail because the church is not about perfect worship, it is not about perfect theology it is about His will being done on Earth as it is in Heaven. His will is to redeem and restore all of creation back to harmony with each other and with God once again, uniting Heaven and Earth through the hearts of mankind. Paul is saying to them join with us in this generous undertaking. Join with us as we allow the grace to flow to the people God loves and gave his Son to redeem.
As I reflect on this passage my mind wonders to the Gospel of John and the third time Jesus, well the third time John records Jesus meeting with the disciples. Peter and the other fishermen decided that they were done with waiting around in the upper room and return to their fishing boats. They labored all night with no return and in the morning Jesus calls out to them from the shore and tells them to throw the net over the right side. They were each struck with a case of Déjà vu, and they come to the shore to eat with him. After the meal Jesus talks with Peter, asking if he loves him and peter answers three times that he does. With each answer Jesus encourages Peter to feed his lambs, tend His sheep, and to feed His sheep. This story is the very passage that God used to call me into the ministry I have pursued for the past thirteen years. And it is the passage that often Jesus brings me back to when He again reassures me that I need to continue down this path. But as I reflect this week I am drawn to the encouragement that Jesus gives to Peter, feed the lambs, tend the sheep, and feed the sheep. This is a call to get involved personally, and generously with the people. Feed, tend, and feed some more. This is a calling to live the love of Christ with others.
Paul, like Jesus to Peter, is challenging the people of Corinth with the question “Do you Love me?” He is not commanding that they participate in the outreach ministry of Apostles, but he is challenging them to consider their faith, devotion, and love for Christ. If you were to read the verses prior to this section you would find that Paul mentions the ministry of the churches in Macidonia and the way they had greatly advanced the kingdom even though they were impoverished, and Paul then asks the people of Corinth if their faith and love for Christ compares to theirs. They had and still have nothing yet they gave it all. Is your love any less?
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks his disciple. “Do you love Him?” Paul asks the people of Corinth. Do we love him, do we trust and believe to such a degree that we would be willing to not only love God and embrace the Holy Spirit, but to live the love of Christ with others? Do we not only love but do we trust Him? Do we entrust into his care our very lives and livelihoods? Will we be willing to give all that we have to excel in this generous undertaking?
All have sinned, all have been distracted from God, and all including each of us have allowed things both righteous and unrighteous to disrupt the holy rhythm of our lives with God. Yet while we were still and in some cases are still sinners Christ died for us. He left his lofty thrones in heaven to dwell among mankind on earth. He lived among us showing us what life with God looks like, and he did it while living in poverty. He grew up living and working with a handy man, he entered ministry after an entire career in that line of work, and he did it to show us how to live. And then he took on our sin, our guilt, and our shame hanging them on a cross and then burying them within a tomb. The wages of sin are death, but Christ came so that they may have life and have it abundantly. We are dead in sin but in Christ we are alive, made new, and have the hope of heaven even when we are on earth. Paul asks us, “do we love him, is our love for him any less than theirs?” Paul then encourages them to finish what they started. Finish strong like an athlete that has been well trained and disciplined for the race. Finish it. Do not let the world distract us from our vision and our mission. Let our vision be centered on Christ, and let our mission continue driving us to be a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Let us finish what we started…what He started in us, let us join and finish with excellence the generous undertaking set before us, sacrificing everything so that the world might see life in Christ.