[This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 20, 2011.]
Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Ephesians. Ephesians, chapter 4, we’re in a series entitled “Following Jesus in a Spiritually Hostile World.” Today we come to verses 7 through 10, and of course, next week will be Sean Smith [evangelist and author based in San Ramon, California; learn more at http://seansmithministries.com/] and then, Lord willing, we will follow that with verses 11 and following which talks about the five-fold gifts in the church and their purpose. Today we’ll look at the verses before that, verses 7 through 10. Would you stand with me please as we look together to God’s Word?
Verse 7: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
[Prayer] Father, we thank You for Your Word today. We thank You for Jesus. We want to exalt Him today. Lord, we are so grateful for all the gifts that You give, for the grace that You give. I pray today that we will appreciate and realize more than ever what You have done, who You are, how gracious You are. Come Holy Spirit, anoint the Word to every heart. Make it individual for every person. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ Name. Amen, amen. You may be seated.
Yesterday I had the privilege of uniting Josh Berkheimer and Megan Hartley–now Josh and Megan Berkheimer–right here, and what a privilege it is every time, a couple who know the Lord, love the Lord, the Lord has brought them together and to see two become one, two become one. And as I was down here and I’m reading the vows–I, Joshua, take you, Megan–and I was going through the vows and kind of thinking of this message today. I thought how those vows that we take when we get married are not minor vows. They are not, “I’ll try my best to be with you when I can and hope. . .you know. . .we’ll see how it goes.” Those vows are very strong promises. And couples, when they get married, who are in love, there is no hesitation. As I look in their eyes, [there is] no hesitation of making those very strong vows to each other. And I think as a pastor, a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, will they be fulfilling those vows that they made? Will they be as relevant and meaningful then as they are right now? Most marriages–it’s more than good intentions—they do fulfill those vows, maybe not perfectly, but the spirit of them, most marriages do, and we celebrate those that reach the 50-year mark or beyond. My in-laws, very soon 60 years that we’ll be celebrating.
There are keys to making it easier to fulfill those vows. This past Wednesday, in the Men’s Fraternity as we are winding down this year the 24 sessions that we have, we had a week where Robert Lewis presented, by video, 25 tips for men to be a servant-leader at home. And after he went through that list–it’s a very practical list–I said to the men, “Is anybody else here in the room feeling like, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me this 20 years ago?’ ”, because it was gold. I mean, I’m talking Brinks truck filled with bars of gold. You see gold advertised on TV. This stuff is gold.
And I thought, you know, Lord willing, if Jesus tarries we are going to offer it again next fall, but why should I make men wait for such helpful counsel as what we received last week? This is kind of a summary for wife and children. Manhood is broader than that, and so the 24 weeks goes into all kinds of stuff. This is a copy—front and back, two pages—“Twenty-Five Ways to be a Servant Leader”, and we’ve made enough copies for the men here. It’s going to be available at the information desk as you leave. It’s free to you. Pick one up and go through it. And I don’t want any women getting this for a man [women laugh immediately], okay? Unless the man is paralyzed, he’s a quadriplegic. [uttered sardonically] Yeah.
I’m looking forward to chapter 5. By the way, Arline [his wife] and I are going to do that together when it comes to husbands and wives. And it’ll be the first time we have ever team-taught together. I’m really looking forward to that. And it’s going to be wonderful, and you are going to be blessed by what she has to share. But this is for men [holds up the paper again] and so it’s available to you today. Pick it up as you go out today. If we run out of copies, we’ll make more for you.
I look at number 12 here. A servant leader is what a man should be at home, a servant leader like Jesus. A servant leader prays with his wife on a regular basis. Now I push this a lot. If you’ve been around for many years, you know that. And I probably haven’t mentioned it. Last week we talked about keeping the spirit of unity—verse three—spirit of unity in the bond of peace, so this week, I want to do a bridge for the benefit of the students who were away and anybody else who was away for Spring Break, we are going to do a bridge from last week to this week. Keeping the spirit of unity in the home is a spiritual enterprise. These tips are all grounded in spiritual truth in God’s Word. But the most important thing you can do, I think, is what here is listed as number 12, that’s to pray on a regular basis. So I am going to ask, how many men pray with your wife daily? I mean, you may miss one or two days a month, but on the norm you pray with your wife daily. How many men? Would you raise your hands? [About 50 hands go up, in a congregation of about 650 this morning.] Good, okay, that’s a better number than we had years ago. It’s still not even close to where it should be but we’re making progress. Men, you’re courageous. You are willing to go out on the battlefield and defend your family or whatever. I want the men who raised your hands, I want you to come up here, and I’m not going to embarrass you. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do, but I’m asking those men. Would you come up here and just stand across the front here, and I’m going to ask you to do something in a little bit. And with these men, I am going to ask for a male teen volunteer. I’m going to ask you to do something, to say something. Who would just trust me and you’ll step out? Thank you, Jake. Jake, if you’ll just get down on this end. [I think Jake is placed to stage left.]
This is the men who pray with their wives every day. Not all the men in the congregation. This is the guys that raised their hands, right? Boy, it looks like more up here than it did back there. Isn’t that great? [Congregation breaks into applause.] We have made progress! It’s used to be like half a dozen, maybe six or eight. Praise God—that’s part of why we are being blessed. [then to one man just coming up] Yeah, just push your way in there, maybe next to Bill. Okay, most of you men don’t like to speak in public and this is not a chance to brag on yourself, but just tell us, for the other guys, what does that prayer look like? So obviously, we don’t have time for everybody to speak, maybe three or four of you. So who is willing to share? And I am not going to go to Pastor Buck or Pastor Harry or Pastor Zac because you are going to write them off right away, saying “Ah, they’re pastors.” So tell me what that looks like. What does that look like? Frank, what does it look like?
[Frank Elliott] Pretty commonly, my prayers are kind of a standard prayer. Diane [his wife] fills in all of the details, so. . . [the congregation laughs].
[Pastor] Okay, tell me a standard prayer. What do you pray for?
[Frank] We standardly thank God for all of our blessings and for giving us more than what we need, and pray to help us in ways of peace and harmony in the house, and that sort of thing.
[Pastor] Do you hold hands when you pray?
[Frank] Generally, yeah. And especially in the morning, before the kids go to school, we also will do a family hug and a family kiss, if we can get some of the kids in a bunch.
[Pastor] Did you hear that, “Ahhhh?” Was that men or women that did that? [Congregation laughs.] Let me ask, was that men or women? It was women. Men, do you want to win points? This is so easy, right? This is so easy. Okay, somebody else. What does that look like when you do it at home? Bill?
[Billy Baughman] I usually pray that Gail would have a blessed day and that she would be walking in the favor of God and that she would be safe as she drives, because she drives for CATA [the local bus service], and that God would open up opportunities for her to minister to people that are placed in her path.
[Pastor] Okay. [to his teen volunteer] By the way, Jake, I’ll give you a minute to think about it. Your assignment is to imagine what my prayer with Arline would sound like. [Congregation laughs.] Okay, just imagine, if you were me, what would that sound like? You’ve got a minute to think about it. You still willing to give it a shot? You’re a brave man. Okay. We’ll get back to you. [back to the line of men] Anybody over here? What does it look like, when you pray for your wife? If someone was there with a video camera, what would it look like?
[Bill Comly] This is what I feel led to say, so I’ll just say it. The family that prays together stays together.
[Pastor] Sure, but you do it, so what does it look like, when you pray with Emilie?
[Bill C.] What does it look like? It looks like two people from the Kingdom of God praying together to stay together.
[Pastor] Okay, okay. Somebody else. What do you say? I mean, do you say the same thing every day? Is it a long prayer, is it a short prayer? How ‘bout one more, one or two more? Anybody else? Yeah, thanks.
[Foster McClellan] I’m usually the one who does the praying at home and we have devotions every day. The Lord brought my wife and I together many years ago at an Assembly of God church, so we’re very blessed. And what do we pray for? Well, we pray for each other; we pray for our family, our grandchildren. We do it on a daily basis; we ask for God’s protection, for God’s favor to be upon us and our family, and that’s important. I learned that from my mother, who prayed for me many, many years ago. We pray for people in the church. We pray for the body of Christ. We pray for the body of Christ to come together in the church, and for us to pray for one another and be closer to one another. My wife is a teller at a bank so on a daily basis, she has me pray that her cash box comes out to the penny. [Congregation laughs.] One day she came home and she said, “Did you pray for me today?” And I said, “I prayed for you ten minutes after you didn’t come out from the bank.” She said, “I thought so. My cash box was off today.” [Congregation laughs again.] Thank you.
[Pastor] Is there one more? Okay, down here, Dave.
[David Wagner] Thank you. My wife is the real prayer warrior in our partnership. But I’ve come to understand that it’s my responsibility, really, to be the spiritual leader of the house so that’s been my motivating factor. We have five children, one on the mission field, and I think a lot of the times we pray for our kids and we pray for our grandkids, of which we have 12, but it’s really our desire to see them all come to Christ and to be blessed, so thank you.
[Pastor] Great, great. Okay, Jake, are you ready? You are Pastor Grabill; what does it look like?
[Jake] It looks like, “Dear God, Thank you for what we have, and for everything that you’ve blessed us for, each other.” And then it gets to, “I pray that you would expand how we could be used and bind us together closer.” Stuff like that, and some King James talk, and then you’re done. [Pastor laughs out loud, a real belly laugh, and the congregation joins in.]
[Pastor] I love it! “Some King James talk and then you’re done,” he said. So, some day when you get married, you’re gonna do it, right? You’re gonna do it. How about a standing O for these guys? Yeah, thank you, you can go back. Thank you! [Congregation is on their feet, applauding wildly.]
You’re doing it; you’re everyday heroes, everyday heroes. That’s keeping. . .you see, when you get married, Christ makes one; that’s the bond of unity. He makes two one and then we’re told to keep the spirit of unity in the bond of peace. Last week stressed unity; this week begins a portion of this text, in chapter 4, that talks about diversity. God makes both unity and diversity. Snowflakes are all snowflakes, right? But every single one is different. Seven billion people on planet Earth. We are the same in some ways, and yet we are very different. Every single one is unique, and how God does that is amazing, is amazing.
So you marry somebody different than yourself, on purpose. We’ve talked about this before, right? You don’t want to marry yourself. I just heard yesterday of a man said that he’d been married 26 years and he discovered that the woman he married was actually a man, after 26 years. He said, “I made a mistake.” I think it goes beyond a mistake [congregation laughs]. I don’t know how you do that; I just don’t. [I could not find this incident to which he is referring.]
Well, Christ is, as it were—He’s not married yet, because we have the marriage supper of the Lamb—He is engaged to the church, and we are the same and yet we are different than Him, you with me? He became human so He felt what we feel. He was tempted in every way like we are tempted. He was touched with the feelings of our infirmities; He knows what it’s like to suffer as we have suffered. And yet He is different because He is divine and we’re not. And as He came, He died for us, and after He rose again, He ascended. Today we are going to focus on: He is the ascended and exalted Christ. And when He ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit and He gave gifts to us.
Now, verse 7: But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Grace has been given. This word, grace, I mean, we could spend the rest of the year talking about grace, such an important word. The word does show up in the Old Testament a few dozen times, but it is a huge word in the New Testament because we are under grace, not under law. 155 times in the New Testament the word grace is used; 100 of those 155 times it’s in the Pauline Epistles, when the Apostle Paul is writing. And he would often say–it would just be part of his greeting– “grace and peace be to you” or “grace to you”. Or to Philemon he said, “Grace be with your spirit”. The word grace is the [Greek] word χάρις [pronounced charis], which by the way, I think would make a beautiful girl’s name. There are many girls named Grace, but the Greek word for grace, χάρις, is such a pretty word. χάρις is where we get charisma. That person has charisma, we say. That means they’re gifted, especially gifted. And it’s where we get the word charismata, which means spiritual gifts, and that’s the focus in I Corinthians 12 through 14.
So χάρις means “grace”, but it means “gift”, and we often say grace means “unmerited favor”. We didn’t earn it; God just gives it to us. Amen? Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve. Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, and He has given us grace. There is common grace for everybody. How many of you made your eyes to be able to see color? You know? Imagine a black and white world compared to a world of color. I mean, we’re rejoicing, the shoots are coming up out of the ground in front of our house, the green shoots. Spring is coming, amen? The beautiful colors that God has made, water, oxygen, food, the common grace that God gives to all, no matter how they treat Him. I heard there is a new Broadway hit in New York that’s selling out. In this Broadway hit, the group of actors raise their middle finger to God and curse God in the most vile way you can imagine [title purposefully left unmentioned], and they are packing out the house. And yet, they’re not zapped. Common grace that God gives even to those who blaspheme, or curse Him, or hate Him.
And yet, there is the grace of His favor that He gives to His children, and that’s the kind of grace that the apostle Paul here is talking about. And that word, grace—the concept is a gift—it’s like we are gifted with a gift. To each one of us, gifts are given, a gift is given. The word “given” there is δοθεί [pronounced do-thea], so we have χάρις and δοθεί. It’s an emphasis on giving. We serve a giving God who wants to give us even more than He has already. And as He ascended on high, He gave gifts to men, gave gifts to men. You can’t even be a believer without grace, [Ephesians] chapter 2, verse 8: for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Hebrews 2:9, it tells us that God is seated on the throne of what? Grace. Even His throne is called grace. Boy, this is an important concept and what we don’t want to do is miss grace that God has for us.
I was talking not too long ago to someone who is a pastor who is really big on submission teaching, and he thinks life is, basically, you decide who’s in charge and everybody submits to them, and it’s that simple. Boy, I wish marriage was that simple. It’s not. Pastoring is not that simple. I’ve discovered that the key to life is not so much submission. I believe in Biblical submission, I really do. But the key to life is the giving and receiving of grace. Think about it. The grace that we’ve been given and we give to others, when you extend grace to others, it creates a bond like the bond that we have with Christ. It creates a bond, the giving and receiving of grace, whether it’s in a church or in the home, that is like the oil that lubricates what drives the engine of life. And God is the ultimate source of that grace.
Now, there are two people, two kinds of people that I encounter all the time, that tend to exclude themselves from receiving grace. Number one is the “I’ve done nothing wrong” person. I’ve done nothing wrong. I see more of this [now] than years ago. Years ago, we made fun of people getting saved every Sunday. They’d run to the altar to get saved every Sunday, or every year at youth camp, or every year at convention, they’d get saved all over again. We’re saying, “you’re not getting saved all over again.” That’s true. But I grew up in a time when people’s hearts were sensitive to God, and when they did anything that offended God, they wanted to make it right with God. And I’m afraid we’ve lost a lot of that, because I hear Christians saying often, “I’ve done nothing wrong.” Well, guess what? If you’ve done nothing wrong, you don’t need grace. Grace is for those who have done something wrong. Those who say, “Lord, forgive me,” like David [see Psalm 41:4 and 51:4], “I have sinned against You. I need Your grace and Your mercy.” [referring back to the first type of person] “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The second group that really worries me is the group that says, “I’m going to do what I know is sin, but I know God will forgive me on the other end.” That’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, called “cheap grace”, because he saw it in Germany and I see it in America. And that is, “I’ll do whatever I want to do, and if it’s wrong, I know God will forgive me. So no matter what I do, it’s going to be okay because Jesus died for me and there’s sufficient grace for any sin that I commit.” But they go with an attitude that Paul condemned. “Shall I sin more so that grace may abound?” [Romans 6:15] He said God forbid that we would live life that way, with that kind of attitude. It’s a relationship, so we love Jesus, He loves us, and we don’t want to offend Him.
Imagine; now, Arline is one of the most gracious women I know—I just got a point there. [Congregation laughs as he refers back to the servant leader list.] Number 20, a servant leader honors his wife often in public. There you go. [Congregation applauds.] I got two out of 25 today so far. The day is young. I bet I’ll get to five or six, at least, by the end of the day. [back on track] She is, and you know that she is. So what would you think of me if I said, “I’ll do whatever I want. She’ll forgive me. She’s always forgiven me before; she’ll forgive me again. So why don’t I just live the way—do whatever I want?” What would you think of me, and what would you think of our relationship? These two groups tend to remove themselves from being able to receive God’s grace, not just forgiving grace, but grace to be used by Him. I’ve done nothing wrong; or I’ll do what I want, He’ll forgive me anyhow. This should not be our attitude.
This passage talks about some deep stuff in verses 9 and 10, that Christ descended into lower earthly regions, descended and then ascended. I Peter talks about Jesus and the time that His body was in the grave, that He was preaching to the souls that had died up to that point [I Peter 3:19]. And He led those who had faith in God like the Abrahams, and the Moseses, and on and on. And He led them and took them from what we call Paradise to Heaven. Some of that is not fine-tuned; it is not a major theme of Scripture. We’re not sure exactly how that all looks. But this is what we do know. The Jesus Who died–brutally beaten, scarred, nailed to the cross–that Jesus ascended higher than the Heavens, at the right hand of the Father. He is the One we are to exalt. And sometimes we quote. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” [John 12:32 KJV] Do you know what He was talking about? He was talking about the cross. But Jesus is not on the cross anymore, and I don’t recommend wearing a crucifix because it is like Jesus is still on the cross. Oh, I realize that that was the most important day in history. But the Jesus I serve is not on a cross; He is on a throne. He is exalted, He is ascended, He is glorious, and He is in all and through all.
I wish we celebrated Patrick, the Apostle Day, because that’s what Patrick was. Four hundred years after Jesus, Patrick, who had been taken in slavery—he was British—to Ireland, and made to serve as a slave in Ireland, he escaped, went back to Britain and God—Jesus–grabbed ahold of his heart and said, “I want you to go back to Ireland and I want you to win that country for me.” And he did. He established thousands of churches. He saw miracles, healings, salvations, deliverances, all over the place. They say that he prayed a daily prayer, according to Ephesians 6. They called this “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”. You can look it up. [There are several web sites on which it appears.] I’m not going to read all of it to you; it’s kind of his daily prayer. He was single; he wasn’t married. They say he prayed this every day. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Some say this was written later. I don’t know, but I’ll tell you, it’s a great prayer.
Let me read part of it to you: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness”– there’s unity and diversity—“of the Creator of creation. I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, through the strength of His resurrection and with His ascension, through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom. I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me from snares of devils, from temptations of vice, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in multitude.”
Look at this New Testament view that he had. [Back to quoting St. Patrick’s Breastplate] “I summon today all of these powers between me and these evils, against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of pagan dung, against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry, against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul. Christ to shield me today, against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come to me abundance of reward.” And here is the jewel within the jewel: [back now, his volume rises with each phrase] “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” IT’S JESUS, THE RISEN CHRIST. HE IS EXALTED. LET’S PRAISE HIM TODAY. HE IS WORTHY TO BE PRAISED. HE IS WORTHY TO BE PRAISED. [Congregation applauds.]
Would you stand with me please? I felt the Lord told me this morning, if we would take time, the Holy Spirit, I believe, wants us to exalt Jesus. We’re not going to pray a prayer of dismissal this morning. We’re going to sing some songs that exalt and honor the risen Christ. We’re going to focus on Him. He is the One who has given grace. He’s the One who has given every gift that we have received. He is the one worthy of praise and honor today, and while we exalt Him, if you want to come forward, you want to dance before the Lord, I encourage you to do so. Don’t hold back. We’re going to take some time to just love and praise and worship Jesus, amen? Is that okay with anybody? Amen, amen. Let’s do it, let’s do it. [The Praise Band begins to play “Your Grace is Enough”, words and music by Chris Tomlin, copyright 2004.] If you need healing today, receive it! Just be lost in Him! Whatever you need, He will give to you, He will give to you today! Receive it today, in Jesus’ Name! Amen!