Regarding All Sentient Beings…

So begins a prayer chanted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the 1994 John Main Seminar in London. This yearly seminar is sponsored by the World Community for Christian Meditation, and was the first time that the Dalai Lama had been invited to comment publicly on the Gospels of Jesus Christ. It was truly a momentous occasion, captured in detail in the book The Good Heart, A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. I share this prayer – not only because it is poignant and lovely – but because it vividly describes the view that I believe a Christian should have of his fellow man and the world. In Buddhist terms, it beautifully reflects Christ’s example of humility as described in Philippians 2:1-8:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

“When His Holiness resumed his place on a straight chair in the center of the raised platform, the lights were dimmed in the auditorium. He tucked and folded various ends and corners of his robes, shifted and settled his body into a quiet position, took out his beads, closed his eyes, and began to pray. It must have struck many members of the audience who have Catholic mothers and grandmothers how the Dalai Lama’s small preparations and especially his completely familiar, comfortable, easy, and tender way with the beads seemed to cut across the divisions of culture and language. The chant itself did not sound at all like a Hail Mary, but the reverence with which it was sung and listened to was unmistakable.

Regarding all sentient beings
as excelling even the wish-granting gem
for accomplishing the highest aim,
may I always hold them most dear.

When in the company of others
I shall always consider myself the lowest of all,
And from the depth of my heart
Hold them dear and supreme.

Vigilant, the moment a delusion appears,
Which endangers myself and others,
I shall confront and avert it
Without delay.

When I see beings of wicked nature
Overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering
I shall hold such rare ones dear,
As if I have found a precious treasure.

When others, out of envy, treat me with abuse,
Insult me or the like,
I shall accept defeat,
And offer the victory to others.

When someone I have benefited
And in whom I have great hopes
Gives me terrible harm,
I shall regard him as my holy spiritual friend.

In short, both directly and indirectly, do I offer
Every benefit and happiness to all sentient beings, my mothers;
May I secretly take upon myself
All their harmful actions and suffering.

May they not be defined by the concepts
Of the eight profane concerns,
And aware that all things are illusory,
may they, ungrasping, be freed from bondage.

To Buddhism and Back Again

Ah, Buddhism. Where to begin? I’ll just say it.

I am a Christian and I love Buddhism. But don’t turn the channel just yet! I promise I am going somewhere with this.

Those close to me know that I began to study Buddhism in my mid-20’s during a time when Christianity just didn’t make sense to me anymore. I had been raised in a Christian family, went to Sunday School, knew all the big Bible stories (remember the little felt board with Jonah and the Whale?), and had been a good church-going girl, fundamentalist even. But imagine the good church-going girl who leaves her tiny Missouri town, heads to the liberal arts university, starts taking classes in feminist theory and world religions, and BAM. I thought my world was suddenly too big for the God I had grown up with.

Enter the Buddha.

My journey into Buddhism would last for over 10 years, and eventually led me all the way to Mongolia to work alongside monks and other fellow travelers on the restoration of a beautiful Tibetan Buddhist monastery that had been laid to waste during the occupation of Mongolia by China and Russia in the early 1920’s. It was an amazing experience. Working on clearing rocks and rubble to uncover statues and relics during the day and sleeping in a traditional ger (“yurt”) at night. Rising in the morning to the sounds of the cows munching grass outside the door (Mongolia is a land without fences) and walking quietly in the dark to sit in meditation and chant morning prayers.

The deeper I delved into Buddhism the more I felt both comforted and incredibly lonely. The teachings spoke to my deepest being but it always seemed like I was opening up a beautiful treasure box that was disappointingly empty inside. Any Buddhist would tell you that maybe this feeling of emptiness was actually a glimpse of the non-attachment that is the goal of true enlightenment. I don’t know. It just felt empty.

One afternoon a work colleague took me to lunch and asked me very simply, “Why Buddhism?” I recall stumbling and stuttering over an answer. Shortly after that, a Christian girlfriend invited me to a Bible study at her house. My Bibles had been packed away in boxes for so long I didn’t even know where they were, but I found them and I went. Mostly to see what it would feel like, if it would be familiar again to me, or if it would feel empty too.

That was 12 years ago. I believe now that Jesus knew I would choose to spend time apart from Him, and He knew that I would return. My soul belongs to Him but He would not prevent me from seeking and knocking on other doors. Through His servant Paul He tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 12b-13) God promises: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a) I am confident that we should never be afraid of the search.

This post represents the first of what may likely be many posts on “to Buddhism and back again.” I hope to share a humble Christian perspective on the teachings of the Buddha. I hope this will engage and not alienate. I hope to grow in the awe of a sovereign God who is ultimately restoring all things in creation to Himself, including the Buddha.

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 6

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

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This commandment is simple and to the point, yet Christians continually struggle to determine what exactly this commandment means for us. Does it mean “to kill” or “to murder”? Does this commandment apply to animals? Suicide? War? Does it apply to the accidental killing of another person? Does it apply to the government’s killing of a convicted criminal? Does it apply to the unborn? These are extraordinarily difficult questions that many people believe are not up to our government to decide.

God ordains and even orders the killing of others in many stories of the Old Testament. Is He allowing Israel to break the fifth commandment? According to Hauerwas and Willimon, “All life is God’s. In the Bible, when killing is done, it is done under the agency of God, not by individuals or in service to the state, for only God is to kill and to make alive.” (page 80)

How is this commandment fleshed out further in the person of Jesus Christ? Jesus makes no attempts to soften or simplify this commandment, but makes it more comprehensive by including anger, insults, and demanding reconciliation from the offending parties. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser…” (Matthew 5:21-25a)

The women of Grace Chapel were asked the following question: “How can you be guilty of breaking this commandment without killing a person?” Here are some of their answers:

  • You can murder someone’s reputation, hate them, wish they were dead, or even simply dead to you and out of your life.
  • The New Testament says that hatred of someone is equivalent to murder.
  • Hate kills a relationship. Then love can’t be shown as God would have you do.
  • You can take a person’s reason for living or his livelihood, or demean him.
  • You can be hateful towards someone in thoughts, words, or actions.
  • If you hate someone you have already committed murder in your heart.
  • It is possible to “kill” the image of God in others without slaying the person.

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For Week 7, please read Chapter 6 on the Sixth Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Why is sexual conduct taken so seriously by God?
  2. What does this commandment prohibit besides adultery?
  3. How can you break this commandment without being married?
  4. Why does our culture make this commandment so hard to keep?
  5. What does this commandment mean to those who are single?

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 5

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:8-12)

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Our parents were the first ones to love us, the first ones to teach us about Jesus, and the first ones to teach us about what it means to worship God. They kept the Ten Commandments while we were watching them with a child’s eyes.

Yet before our parents loved us, God loved us. The fourth commandment reminds us of this, and also that we must love our parents and obey our parents as we love and obey God. We can understand all notions of fatherhood and parenthood from what God tells us about his Father in heaven.

It is important to see the relationship between the commandment to obey the Sabbath and the commandment to honor our father and mother. “Even as the third commandment tells us that we must live in time as a gift, rather than as an arena of our achievements and assertions, so the fourth commandment commands us to live as those who know their very being is a gift. Our lives are not self-derived. The self-made man or woman is a lie.” (Hauerwas & Willimon, page 69)

Here are thoughts from the women of Grace Chapel on what it means to honor our parents: show them respect, be dutiful in taking care of them, respect them and love them even if you don’t agree with them, obey them always as long as it doesn’t go against the word of God, submit to them as an act of humility, pray for the will of God to be active in their lives, remember their authority over you, love them because they are the parents God gave you.

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For Week 6, please read Chapter 5 on the Fifth Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Why did God give us this commandment?
  2. How does anger fit into this commandment?
  3. Is this a simple commandment? Why or why not?
  4. How can you be guilty of breaking this commandment without killing a person?
  5. What is the key to keeping this commandment?
  6. Does this commandment relate to suicide? War?

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 4

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

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Sabbath is God’s gift to humanity. With the sabbath, God has given us back time because time is not our own. God intends for us to have consecrated time to remember who God is and to remember who we are – part of His creation…part of His original work. On this day we are called to remember, recall, recollect.

Sabbath is tied to Creation. God rested from His work of creation on the seventh day to designate the work as good, and to recognize the goal of perfect rest – reflection, perfection, recognition of God’s intention for life. “The third commandment is a reminder that we have been created for no higher purpose than the worship of God.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, page 58)

Observing the sabbath faithfully is a witness to the world. How we choose to observe the sabbath will set us apart from a world that strives for more work by showing that life must contain a balance of work and rest, and this balance is the gift of a gracious Creator. How we choose to observe the sabbath will teach our children about self-discipline and what it looks like to use our time intentionally to worship God faithfully.

Here are thoughts from the women of Grace Chapel on how to spend the Sabbath day: church, reading the Bible with family, prayer, silence, spiritual conversation and fellowship, meals together, relax, spend time with loved ones, taking a walk and admiring nature, worship, reflection, serving others, volunteering in the church service, Bible study…add your own ideas to the list!

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For Week 5, please read Chapter 4 on the Fourth Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Why did God give us this commandment? What is the need?
  2. What does it mean to “honor”?
  3. What qualities does good parenting require?
  4. What are the benefits of following this commandment?
  5. What does it cost to follow this commandment?
  6. Does this commandment have any limitations? If so, what?

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 3

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. (Exodus 20:7)

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God gave us the gift of His name. This name gives God a tangible identity – He is no longer a mystery, but a God with an identity. This God seeks a personal relationship with His creation and we can no longer make “God” mean whatever we want. The name of God shares His character, nature, power, passion, and authority. Knowing God’s name allows us to honor, worship, and glorify Him in the most appropriate way. This is an incredible and awe-inspiring gift.

Through the second commandment, God is saying that we cannot make Him part of our lies. We can no longer avoid the truth to save our own skin, we can no longer allow our prayers to be insincere, and we can no longer seek to flatter our Christian brothers and sisters because it is easier than discipling them. Christians must not only live truthfully but we must also speak truthfully.

Pride, fear, confusion, selfishness, habit, anger, ignorance — all of these very human qualities cause us to break this commandment. The challenge of keeping this commandment is that we must go against our very nature. We must learn simplicity of speech and integrity of relationship. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain means that we are committed to speaking truthfully to God, to ourselves, and to one another.  (Hauerwas and Willimon, p 46)

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For Week 4, please read Chapter 3 on the Third Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. What is the purpose of the Sabbath day?
  2. How is the Sabbath tied to Creation?
  3. Why is rest so important to God?
  4. What work can’t be avoided on a Sunday?
  5. What activities should we participate in on Sunday?
  6. How is obeying the third commandment a witness to the world?

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 2

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am  jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Exodus 20:3-6)

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God loved us enough to speak to us. He loved us enough to not only tell us His name, but also to own us, call us into relationship with Him, tell us how to worship Him, and hold us accountable. We understand the God of Israel by understanding His commandments, and to understand the commandments “perfectly” is to understand that they cannot be read in isolation from one another.

Through the first commandment, God is saying that He desires our complete and utter devotion. By placing God on the throne of our lives, we open ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit and enable the kind of relationship and communication that God desires with us. We realize that we are not attempting to get something out of God but we are instead “bending our lives toward God.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, p 34)

Our God reacts intensely to those who disobey this commandment. He is jealous because He is sovereign. He has a particular and passionate desire for relationship with us and expects our very particular and passionate worship of Him in return.

Note that this is a commandment with consequences, both good and bad. By following this commandment, we are promised God’s steadfast love to the thousandth generation! By failing to follow this commandment, our iniquity will result in our children being punished to the third and fourth generation.

What are the “costs” of following this commandment? In the western world, the costs are often social — we may not look or sound like those around us. Our behavior may result in our isolation from others who do not know Christ. In other parts of the world, the cost may be death. What are the costs of not following this commandment? Sin itself is the punishment.

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For Week 3, please read Chapter 2 on the Second Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Why did God give us His name?
  2. Why is knowing God’s name such a great gift to us?
  3. How do we rightly or wrongly use God’s name?
  4. What causes us to break this commandment?
  5. How are we hurt by abusing God’s name?
  6. What are the public consequences of keeping this commandment?
  7. How would you explain this commandment to a child?

Ten Commandments Bible Study ~ Week 1

“It is not so much God who reveals to us the Ten Commandments, but the Ten Commandments that reveal God to us.”

We kicked off our study of the Ten Commandments tonight at Grace Chapel! For the next several weeks we will be reading through the book “The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life” by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. This book will challenge us to understand God in a new and powerful way — as a God who loves us enough to not only tell us His name, but who wants us to know how to properly worship Him in speech, rest, parenting, relationship, marriage, speech, and many other ways.

We hope you will study along with us online!

**For women of Grace Chapel – there will be no meeting on May 25 due to the Memorial Day holiday.**

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For Week 2, please read the Introduction and Chapter 1 on the First Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:

  1. Through this commandment, what is God saying He wants from us?
  2. Why is God a jealous God?
  3. What are the benefits of following this commandment?
  4. What is the purpose of following this commandment?
  5. What are the costs of following this commandment?
  6. Why is God so passionate about our obedience?
  7. What are modern idols that people worship?

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 5

We finished up the first half of Ephesians tonight with a great discussion on the “mystery” of Christ as well as the implications of needing strength to understand the full dimensions of Christ’s infinite love. His riches are unsearachable and His love surpasses knowledge! Amen.

Ephesians 3: 1-21

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A.      Digression #2, Intercession #2, and a Doxology

1.       Digression #2

a. God’s power at work in Paul (3:2-13)

  • This is the second digression the author uses to discuss God’s power – the first digression addressed God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22), and the second digression addresses God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul.

2.       Intercession #2

a. Paul intercedes for the Gentiles a second time (3:14-19)

  • This time the intercession is for the Gentile readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit

3.       Doxology

a. Praising God for His power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

  • Doxology: a hymn or verse in Christian liturgy glorifying God

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession 1: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

Digression 2: God’s power at work in and through Christ’s apostle Paul (3:2-13)

Intercession 2: asking God for the readers’ empowerment, enlightenment, and filling with the Holy Spirit (3:14-19)

Doxology: praising God for his power at work in Christians (3:20-21)

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[3:1] For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – [2] assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

“For this reason” refers back to Digression #1, where Jew and Gentile are described as being a new humanity reconciled both to each other and to God through Christ. In verse 1 it appears that “Paul” is going to resume the intercessory prayer for the Gentiles that he began in 1:16b-19, but the prayer is again interrupted in verse 2 with Digression #2.

“Paul” begins the digression with the assumption that the Gentile readers in the region of Ephesus in Asia Minor have heard of him and the specific ministry to the Gentiles that has been given to him by God.

[3] how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. [4] When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,

When did “Paul” write briefly about “the mystery” made known to him by revelation? He is likely referring back to 1:9‑10 (“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for he fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”)

What does “the mystery” mean? In pre-Christian Judaism, “mystery” often referred to something hidden that is revealed by God to or through someone (cf, Dan 2:27-28)

In the New Testament, “mystery” sometimes refers to an aspect of religious tradition about which there is an element of secrecy (cf, Mark 4:11) or something in need of interpretation (cf, Romans 11:25) 

[5] which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. [6] This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The Spirit has revealed this mystery to all of the apostles and prophets, including “Paul” who is now sharing it with the Gentiles.

 What is the Christian mystery to which “Paul” is referring? That Jews and Gentiles are now part of one body making up the household of God. This is made possible through the promises fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[7] Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. [8] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

“Paul” reiterates that his mission to the Gentiles was a gift from God, although he is “the least of all the saints.” Recall that Paul refers to himself as a persecutor of the church (cf, I Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13) and a “blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (I Tim 1:13).

What is this mission? To “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” and to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things”

Why is “Paul” preaching to the Gentiles and revealing the plan for unification of Jews and Gentiles into one body (the “mystery” as defined in verse 6)? So that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

The unification of humanity through Christ is a testimony to all heavenly powers (angels, demons, supernatural rulers and authorities) that God’s wise plans and purposes are being carried out according to His will. Even angels wouldn’t necessarily know this mystery (cf, I Pet 1:12).

[11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, [12] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. [13] So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

 

This universal unification plan is being fulfilled according to an eternal purpose, and this purpose has been realized in Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 reiterates the notion of “access” that was first presented in 2:18 (“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”) This access through the cross of Christ should give us boldness and confidence in our faith.

“Paul” closes Digression #2 with what some scholars refer to as “an exercise in self-praise.” However, this self-praise is not done in an effort to be self-congratulatory. Instead, it is in the context of praising God, recognizing the purpose of ministry to the Gentiles, and raising the confidence of the new Gentile believers.

[14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

After finishing his digression, “Paul” now continues the intercessory prayer begun in Chapter 1. Note that he first clarifies that he has taken the position of bowing his knees in prayer.

What is the nature of “Paul’s” prayer?

The request: that the Gentiles (“you” plural) might be strengthened with power through the Spirit in “our” inner being

The four-fold purpose of the request:

  • So that Christ may dwell in our hearts, rooting and grounding us in love
  • So that we may have strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ (or Christ’s love)
  • So that we may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
  • So that we may be filled with all the fullness of God

As Talbert says, “The goal is that believers be filled up to the level of the fullness of God…The empowering, indwelling, and filling are characterized by the experience of power and love. This is the primary Christian religious experience.” (Talbert, pp 102-103)

In Beth Moore’s study “A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place” she compares the description of dimensions in v 18b with the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:15-17. In those verses, the heavenly city is described as a perfect cube, having equal breadth, length, height, and depth, descending out of heaven from God and having the radiance of God’s glory.

[20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The first half of Ephesians ends with a doxology praising God, acknowledging the power of God at work within us as Christians, and recognizing God’s glory.

The doxology ends with the Hebrew word “Amen” meaning truly, so be it, or truth.

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Wrap-up of “Ephesians Part I”

a. Ephesians falls into 2 main sections: Chs 1-3 and Chs 4-6

  • In Chs 1-3, the blessing, intercessory prayer, and digressions function to prepare the Gentile readers for the last 3 chapters where “Paul” will provide the main teaching of the letter.
  • God was first blessed for bestowing blessing on believers, God was then thanked for the Gentile readers’ faith and love, “Paul” then interceded on the Gentile’s behalf for enlightenment, empowerment, and filling with the Spirit, and the Gentiles have been reminded about God’s power at work in Christ, in Christians, and in “Paul” as a minister of the Christian “mystery.”

 Homework for Week 6:

 Read Ephesians 4:1-16 and consider the following questions:

  •  Scholars refer to 4:4 as stating the “seven unifying realities of the Christian faith. Do you agree with these realities? Do you agree that they are unifying?
  •  The language in 4:9-10 is somewhat controversial in the description of Christ as descending “into the lower parts of the earth.” Did Christ literally descend? If so, where?
  •  How do you see the diversity of gifts among Christian believers as aiding unity in the body of Christ?

Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 4

Tonight we discussed the body of Christ and the reconciliation provided by the cross as part of Grace Chapel’s larger discussion currently going on about community. Ephesians describes how this reconciliation is both “horizontal” and “vertical,” which can help us recognize the many ways that God is reconciling the whole of creation to Himself. Praise the Lord!

Ephesians 2:11-22

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A.      Digression #1

1.       First part (1:20-2:10) – discussed in Week 3

a.        Focus on God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians

2.       Second part (2:11-22)

a.        Focus on Christians reconciled through Christ

  • A result of God’s power
  • Joy in being part of God’s people
  • Realization of hope in Christ
  • The realization of the intercession in 1:16b-19

b.       Christ: “the bringer of peace”

  • Readers of Ephesians in Asia Minor would have been very familiar with the idea of a “bringer of peace” considering the fame of Caesar Augustus who claimed to have brought peace to the entire Roman world. In this portion of Ephesians, “Paul” is intentionally presenting Christ the King as superior to the Caesar.

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:22)

Raised through Christ: victory over sin and evil powers (1:20-2:10)

Reconciled through Christ: victory over alienation (2:11-22)

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[11] Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands –

In the years of the early church, there was a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Jews viewed Gentiles as “the nations” (see also Gal 2:15) and the distinction was based on the physical act of circumcision. “Paul” is emphasizing that this was the case “at one time” (also “formerly” in some translations).

However, we know that Paul sees a difference between the circumcision of the flesh and the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:25-29).

[12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Before Christ, the Gentiles lacked 5 spiritual privileges that were unique to the nation of Israel:

  • separated from Christ
    Before becoming Christians, Gentiles did not share Israel’s expectation of a Messiah.
  • alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
    Gentiles were not part of the people of God.
  • strangers to the covenants of promise
    Gentiles before Christ could not rely on the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3), Mosaic (Ex 20:1-21), or Davidic (2 Sam 7: 12‑17) covenants.
  • having no hope
    Gentiles had no hope of anything after death (cf. 1 Thess 4:13)
  • without God in the world
    Gentiles did not have a relationship with Yahweh, the one true God (Deut 6:4)

All of this has changed with the blood of Christ, which is the seal of the new covenant (cf. I Cor 11:25) that reconciles all humanity to God.

[14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

How has Christ Jesus brought us “who once were far off” near to him? The action is two-fold.

In vv 14-15 we see that the action is horizontal:  he has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” Most scholars regard this dividing wall as the Mosaic law, which caused the Jews to live in direct opposition to the nations in terms of customs and way of life. God intended for Jews to be set apart from the nations in this way.

Christ abolished this Mosaic law through the sacrifice of his flesh, thereby making peace between Jew and Gentile “in himself.” Talbert notes that in this new way, Jews don’t become Gentiles and Gentiles don’t become Jews. A third option is created that both Jews and Gentiles enter into to achieve reconciliation.

[16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

In vv 16-18 we see that the action is also vertical: he is able to “reconcile us both to God in one body…” (cf. Col 1:20) This reconciliation was preached to the Gentiles who were considered “far off” as well as the Jews who were considered “near.”

We have access to the Father by means of the “one Spirit” and we have access to the Spirit “through him” (Christ). Talbert notes that v 18 doesn’t say that Gentiles have somehow gained an access that earlier belonged to Jews alone, but rather that both Jews and Gentiles have a new access.

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can now understand that, by virtue of the cross, the Gentiles (plural “you”) are now both 1) citizens with the redeemed (“the saints”) and 2) members of a family (“the household of God”).

This household of God is further compared to a building in the following ways:

  • built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
    (cf. 3:5, 4:11)
  • Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone
    In antiquity, the cornerstone was the first stone laid and every other stone was lined up to it.
  • the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord
    It is important to note here that the word for temple in Greek is naos does not refer to the entire temple complex, but instead to the inner sanctuary where God Himself dwells.

In v 22, the attention seems to shift from the present to the future. Talbert says, “One is led to envision a completed sanctuary indwelt by God’s presence…This is but the beginning of the summing up of all things through Christ. (1:10)” (Talbert, p. 86)

C.      The Major Issues

1.       How are we to understand the “body of Christ”?

a.        According to Ephesians:

  • Jew and Gentile are reconciled “in one body” to God (2:16)
  • Christ is head over everything for the church “which is his body” (1:22-23a)
  • Gentiles have become “members of the same body” (3:6)
  • Ephesians tells us that there is “one body” (4:4)
  • Christ equips believers for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12)
  • Christ is the head of the church, “his body” (5:23)
  • Christians are members of “his body” (5:30)

Talbert says, “In summary, in Ephesians, the ‘body of Christ’ is to be taken as a corporate entity, the people of God, the whole church.” (Talbert, p. 88)

2.       The concepts of “alienation” and “reconciliation”

a.    What can we take from this portion of Ephesians and apply to the current conversations going on at Grace about community?

  • Grace Chapel’s vision specifically mentions outreach to the “marginalized” in our community. What do you think we mean by this?

Here are a couple of blurbs from the Grace Chapel website:

“While Grace Chapel is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, we welcome all kinds of people regardless of beliefs, appearance, lifestyle, and/or socio-economic status.”

“We welcome people from all walks of life, whether they agree with our particular beliefs or not. We love a good discussion and are seekers of Truth.”

Homework for Week 5:

Read Ephesians 3:1-21 and consider the following questions:

  • Paul was evaluated differently by both Jews and Gentiles. To Jews, he was hated as a traitor. To some early Christians, he was more important than the Twelve. In other circles, he was virtually ignored. Does reading Ephesians influence your view of Paul in any way?
  • What do you think is the aim of the prayer in 3:14-21?