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Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians’

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

When we look at St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we see that Christians do bad things and are often indistinguishable to the world from those who are not Christians.

“Good people” and “bad people” are categories of this world, and by this world, I mean those things which we pledged at Baptism to renounce – the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Satan wants us to think of ourselves as good people and other people as bad people.  He wants us to feel justified in our own skin.  He wants us so comfortable with our ways that we don’t reach out to God and get our own skin saved – he wants that because he wants our skin for himself.  He is a dangerous adversary who wants us to rely upon ourselves, to think that we are okay right where we are, to think that our walk with God is just fine.  The devil desires that we get so complacent that we don’t reach our hands out to our loving Father.  Satan wants us to go it alone, because when we face death, there is only one who has defeated death, has bound the devil, has entered Heaven to prepare a place for us, and has sent the Holy Ghost, and that is Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He alone is the propitiation for our sins.  Satan does not want us to enter into a living relationship with our Lord.

Looking at our neighbors, the devil wants us to look down our nose at the man whom the world casts off as criminal or trash or no good.  He wants us to close our fist and not be generous.  We might be entertaining angels unaware, and the devil would rather us welcome his demons and not those angels of God.

You see, we do not deserve Christ.  We do not deserve to be Christians.  We do not deserve the Seven Sacraments provided by Christ’s Body the Church.  We do not deserve good things.  We have sinned against God and our neighbors.  We have earned and deserved the wrath and separation from our God and our fellows.  It is only for Christ’s sake that God has forgiven any of us and each of us our sins.

Today, St. Paul addresses four of our sins:  greediness, anger, stealing, and corrupt communication.

The word translated as greediness in verse 19 is sometimes translated as covetousness and other times as adultery.  These three words are all vices of self-assertion.  Desiring more for ourselves, desiring the possessions of another, and desiring the wife of another have putting ourselves before others as the root of them all.  The ruthless, merciless, surrender to our own impulses, which involves trampling upon the persons and rights of others, lies at the heart of these vices.  And this word, greediness, is attached to uncleanness and alienation from God.

St. Paul writes, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.”  Some of us are aware of what we are feeling and keep in mind that emotions may sway our actions and thoughts.  Others do not recognize how we are feeling and what effect that our emotions might be having.  We may be led to places we never intended.  Anger is a powerful emotion.  Scripture shows that feeling anger in a holy way is very difficult.  Jesus could do it when he cleared out the Temple of buyers and sellers, but He was God and always in control.  When we let anger get the upper hand on us, we become tools for evil.  God created us good, but we tend to want to do our own thing.  If we combine that tendency to do our own thing with a good solid feeling of anger, each one of us can do some terribly ugly things to our brothers and sisters.

St. Paul admonishes us to limit this anger.  “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”  If we wake up the next day with the same anger, chances are we are cherishing that anger.  We should only cherish lovely things, like sacred hymns, the smell of autumn in the forest, or the waves lapping against the sand.  We ought not to cherish things which lead us to chase after the Evil One.  St. Peter refers to the devil “as a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.”  Anger will devour you.  Anger tempts you to turn your brother or sister into your enemy.  When it happens, perhaps it is okay to let yourself feel that anger, but heaven forbid if you nourish it, cherish it, let the sun go down upon it, and call it your friend.  You will end up enslaved to the Father of Lies if you do.  I know it is a hard thing, but your Lord Jesus is there for you.  Speak to him in prayer.  Use the sense God gave you and think about something else.  Create a positive memory to replace the ugly one you have in your head.  What helps me the most is to remember that the Glorious God of Heaven and Earth, the God who pours his Holy Spirit upon us, made this person I am angry with and loves this person just like he loves me.  I remember then that this anger I feel is a small pitiful thing to a loving God who is just as present with the person I am angry with as he is with me.  When I get angry, I feel small.  And I don’t like that.

St. Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more.”  We are bound by Apostolic doctrine to welcome with open arms all criminals and violators of the social order.  Christ’s Church is not for respectable people; mystical communion with the Body of Christ is for all people, no matter what they have done with their lives.  The Church is neither a club nor a sports team; the Church is a vital organism which is the body of our Risen Savior.

St. Paul also says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”  Holy speech is speaking the truth and avoiding contortions that contaminate clear communication between members of the Body of Christ.  Holy speech is part of being a Christian.  We ought not say everything that pops into our head, like that anger which needs to be put down by the end of the day.  Indeed, a Christian ought to be listening more than speaking.  But we must speak to each other in ways that we can each understand, edifying each other with the companionship reserved for those who are joined to Christ, loving each other and caring for each other and looking after each other.  We do not do this because we belong to the tribe of Christians or Anglicans, but because we are more brother and sister to each other in Christ than we are brother and sister to our natural siblings.  Hateful speech is a sin and must be repented of, which means it must be confessed to God and then action must be taken to avoid that sin in the future.

When we consider these sins, we see that they are sins of fellowship.  These sins of fellowship carry a dreadful penalty for those who abuse or vaunt themselves over the brethren:  Grieving the Holy Spirit of God.  Our seemingly little crimes against our fellows touch the biggest, deepest, and mightiest parts of our relationship with God.  Our love of God and our love of neighbor relate more intimately than a holy scholar with a mountain of books and a lifetime of study can possibly understand, yet it can be realized by the loving widow living a lifetime of prayer and faithfulness.

At the end of the epistle St. Paul says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  Speaking forthrightly to our brothers and sisters and letting not the sun go down upon our anger are parts of a larger and more fundamental whole.  It is almost as if St. Paul understands what parish life is like.  He is an apostle of Christ, and he knows the human heart.  He knows our willingness to be led astray, he knows our tendency to nurture our hurts, he knows our tendency to treat our neighbors and brothers and sisters with ugliness, dishonesty, hurtful words, and gossip.

The relationship of loving neighbor and loving God works the other way as well – God’s love is the example and source for our love of neighbor, no matter how he lies, rages, and steals.  Our love is no more to be based on the merit of the one we love than the love of God is based upon our merit.  We can never be worthy of God’s love, but that does not mean that God is a hard, judging, vengeful father.  It means that divine, wondrous, and life-giving love is priceless – we cannot imagine the price of such love, as it is too high for our dim understanding to contemplate.  Real love, true love, godly love is a gift that is free for the taking, and a gift which transforms the giver into the likeness of God.  By giving the gift of love and forgiveness unconditionally to those who do not deserve it, we grow closer to our good God and closer to love itself.

One puts off the old sinful man or nature we are born with and puts on the new holy man made in the image of God in the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the gateway to new life in a relationship with our Lord Jesus.  The new man is the ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  Studying the Bible and trying to live an upright and moral life are nothing but paths to Hell without that ongoing fellowship with God in Christ.  The thief, the murderer, and the adulterer who gain that fellowship or communion with God are better off than those who try to do it themselves.  Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican?  It is far better to be a horrible and notorious sinner who repents to God than to be a moral and learned man who relies upon his own understanding and sense of self-worth.  Our minds and hearts are clouded without that regular and renewed fellowship with the Person of the God-Man Jesus Christ the Righteous.

But the soul who comes to Jesus to join in fellowship to God is held to a higher standard than ordinary folk.  This could seem unfair until we recall the Parable of the Talents – to those to whom much is given much is expected.  Once again, fellowship and communion with Christ and His body the Church provides the holy strengthening we Christians need in the form of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  A Christian who is baptized but not confirmed is missing out.  The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost given in that good and holy thing assist us in our living.  Regular confession – alone at night or in the morning, during the Offices or the Holy Eucharist, and in private with a priest – clears the sins off the soul but imposes the duty to strive hard to stay free of the sin from which we have been saved and redeemed.  Christ did not die on the Cross to save us just so we break free from his loving embrace and dive right back into the muck!

Sin tempts everybody in this fallen world of death.  Only Jesus Christ provides the antidote to sin and victory over death.  Sin is the opposite of communion with God.  Death is the opposite of life everlasting, the result of communion with God.  Outside of communion with God, there is no remedy for sin and death.  God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ so that we might have communion with him and live in holiness.  Without accepting the good gift of God in Jesus, there is no communion with God.

And there is no communion with God without communion with all those who have communion with God.  If you are part of Christ, you are a member of His Body.  One part of the Body cannot hate another part.  Christians must – not ought, not should, but must – put away lying words and falsehoods, not steal from each other, and put far away all corrupt communication.

Every moral teacher and most people can imagine a world in which “all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice”.  What all the moral teachers in the world cannot do by themselves is bring us to that world.  But Jesus can.  Jesus forgives us our sins because He is the same God we have offended with our sins, and that forgiveness gives us heavenly power from above to forgive others and live a life of love and not of sin.  No one other than Jesus can do this.  We are not special because we are Christians; Jesus is special because He is God.  Jesus does not profit from the sacrifice of His Passion and His death on a tree, but we do.  The ultimate law of God’s universe is to love one another.

 

“Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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