Ninth Sunday after Trinity – August 9, 2020
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Our scripture reading this afternoon is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 3-12. Hear the word of the Lord:
“ In Him you also, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the initial installment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
May the Lord add his blessing to His holy Word. SLIDE 2 -title slide
- Pull out your sermon outlines and open bibles/apps to Eph 1.13-14. We’ve been working our way, verse by verse, through this extraordinary blessing or berekah that Paul recited at the beginning of his letter to the church in Ephesus.
- Today, we conclude this twelve-verse blessing before moving on to an equally remarkable prayer that Paul offers on behalf of the Ephesians. We’ll get into that next Sunday.
- We’ll begin with a quick review of the overall passage that contains this blessing, then consider the details of v.13-14.
Brief review of the overall passage
- The blessing Paul offers in vv. 3-14 makes it clear that our salvation is a shared Trinitarian work. Our salvation comes (note the prepositions) from the Father, in the Son and through (or by) the Spirit. SLIDE 3
- From the Father. Verses 3-6. The Father initiates our salvation through his choosing and adopting of us in Christ in eternity past, before creation. SLIDE 4. So, our salvation if from the Father but comes wrapped:
- In the Son. Verses 7-12. The Son executes or accomplishes our salvation through his life, death and resurrection which made possible God’s redeeming and forgiving of us. Because salvation is “in Christ”, we need to be put “in him” to experience it. The Spirit does exactly that: He puts us “into him” when we first trust Jesus. SLIDE 5 That brings us to vv. 13-14:
- Through the Spirit. Verses 13-14. The Spirit applies our salvation to us (or actualizes it for us) through his work of sealing and assuring. He seals us until the redemption of our bodies (whole selves). And he assures our hearts that we will be finally and completely saved by being the guarantee, the deposit and first installment of the life to come.
- These two actions by the Spirit: sealing us in Christ, and assuring our hearts of our final salvation are the focus of vv13-14. Let’s pray, and then we will walk our way through the text: SLIDE 6
Exposition of 1:13-14
“In Him you also, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the initial installment of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” SLIDE 7
- Verse 13 begins with “In Him” (“in whom” in the Greek: remember one long sentance). We are all now very familiar with this language of “in Christ”. Paul has another “in whom” later in the same sentence. His reason for using this language is to underscore the intensely personal nature of salvation. It’s not a thing we receive. Salvation is a relationship of mutual love and trust that we are invited into. A relationship with the Father and Son in the Spirit. SLIDE 8 Paul continues:
- “in Him you also”; “you” – Paul makes a switch from the first person plural “we” in v.11-12 to the second person plural “you/y’all” in v.13. By “You”, Paul is referring to the believers receiving the letter, in contrast to “we”, the one’s writing and carrying the letter. He will switch back to the first person in v.14 with “our inheritance”.
- The next participial phrase SLIDE 9 describes how these believers were introduced to their salvation:
“having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”
- “having heard” – akouw, (English “acoustic”); can mean more than just hearing (perceiving with ones ears), it often means listening; i.e., paying attention, taking mental notes, internalizing, understanding. That is clearly the intent here. Having heard the message about Christ, they took it to heart. Note how Paul refers to the message of Christ: he uses two descriptive phrases.
- First, he calls it the “the word of truth”; second, “the gospel of your salvation”. These are arranged appositionally: side-by-side, referring to the same thing in different language to highlight a different aspect. The message about Christ is absolutely trustworthy as fact. It is unequivocal and indisputable, corresponding with reality. Therefore, it is the “word of truth.”
- But it is also deeply personal. So it is called the euangelion, the “good news” or gospel of your salvation, your personal deliverance. So, Paul situates the message about Jesus within the largest possible philosophical context: it is the word of truth, and he also frames it in richly relational terms: it is the good news of how the Lord has delivered you from sin, death and ultimate dissolution.
- At the end of the message today I want to return to this idea of “truth” as it concerns our unique moment in history. In the Western World in our day the whole notion of “Truth” is under sustained attack, so it’s important we take a few minutes to see what is going on in our culture and how we might respond to it. SLIDE 10
- Paul then writes, v.13:
“Having believed, you also were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”
- Note that Paul is intimating a three step process: First, they listened to the gospel; they then believed its contents and put their trust in Jesus; then they were sealed by the Holy Spirit in their relationship to Christ. They listened/believed/were sealed. The same is true for all believers.
- This “sealing” is the first of two metaphors that Paul uses to describe the ministry of the Spirit on our behalf. We’ll unpack that in a minute. Before we do, let’s talk about the:
“Holy Spirit of promise”
- These words naturally bring to mind those spoken by Jesus to his Apostles in Acts 1:4-5 SLIDE 11 when Luke tells us:
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’.”
- When, precisely, did the Father promise the Holy Spirit? Several times in the OT. SLIDE 12 To give one example:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
- Other well known OT prophesies promising the Spirit include Joel 2:28, Isa 32:15, Ezk 39:29, and Zech 12:10.
- The Father also promised the Holy Spirit through Jesus in places like John 14:26; John 15:26 and John 16:7-17. One of the more important promises is this one SLIDE 13 from John 14:16-17:
6 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
- In this text, two things really stand out. First, note the duration of the Spirit’s companionship with us: forever. This is an eternal arrangement. Second, note the altered spatial relationship suggested by the two very different prepositions: He now lives with you (alongside), but after Pentecost, he will be in you, and in all subsequent believers. This is a shift of monumental proportions. To have the Holy Spirit in us, not outside of us, but actually residing in us, is a game changer.
- That is a good segue back to our text in Eph 1:13. Paul says that, not only do believers receive the Holy Spirit, but they are sealed by Him. SLIDE 14 What does that mean?
- “Sealed” – is sphragizo, from sphragis, which means a seal created typically in wax, clay and even flesh. In the Roman world, and the ANE, a seal-making die was made of precious metal or stone. SLIDE 15 Here’s a fascinating example: the seal of the infamous Queen Jezebel of Israel, wife of King Ahab, the Phonecian princess who really is credited with having introduced the widespread worship of Baal Hadad.
- In biblical times (middle bronze age through AD 100), seals were used for three main purposes, each of which helps us understand Paul’s use of the term in the present context. SLIDE 16 The first was:
- Security. Before cargo was put on a boat or a caravan to be shipped, the crates would be sealed to deter people from prying open an edge to peek inside and steal some of the contents. An important document would contain a seal to insure it wasn’t opened. This slide is an attempt to show what the scroll might have looked like in Revelation 5 that was sealed with seven seals that only the Lamb of God was worthy to open. SLIDE 17 Or you might think of Pilate’s seal placed on the rock at the entrance to the tomb of Jesus, to prevent the tomb from being tampered with. This seal was the one over Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.
A seal provided security. You can understand why Paul uses this metaphor to describe the Holy Spirit’s ministry in believers lives: God seals us with the Holy Spirit in Christ to prevent our falling out of Christ or being tampered with by Satan. This is the thrust of what Jesus must have intended when he said SLIDE 18 in John 10:27-29: 27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
Main message to us: you are secure in Christ! SLIDE 19 The second use of seals in the ANE were to certify:
- Authenticity. Important documents were stamped by their authors as a certification of their genuineness. We still do this today with diplomas, marriage licenses, passports and other important documents.
In this capacity, the Holy Spirit inside of us vouches for our authenticity as God’s genuine children. Others can see the seal of God in us through our beliefs and behaviors. We can recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ when we detect God’s seal of the Holy Spirit in each other. And we can take comfort ourselves that we are God’s children when we see little evidences of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is an important aspect of the holy Spirit’s work in us, to “bear witness with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:16). By sealing us then, the Holy Spirit authenticates our genuineness as God’s dearly loved sons and daughters. Harold Hoener writes: “The sealing ministry of the Spirit is to identify believers as God’s own and thus give them the security that they belong to him.” SLIDE 20 The third purpose of seals in the ANE was to prove:
- Cattle and other livestock and, tragically, slaves were branded with their owners’ seal, making it clear to everyone whose property they were. The brand was therefore a warning: “Hands off! This belongs to the one whose seal is on it.” In the Revelation of John, the saints bear the seal of God on foreheads of in chapters 7 and 9, to show that they belong to God and thus protect them from being judged along with the wicked. So, ancient seals were a way of delineating property, and the Holy Spirit residing in us demonstrates conclusively that we belong to the household of God. As Clint Arnold writes: “In the new covenant era, the one true God has marked all of his people as belonging to himself by means of a seal.”
- Here’s the bottom line: We are protected, safe, secure, and certified as 100% authentically God’s dearly loved, legally adopted children. That’s the meaning of the Holy Spirit sealing us in Christ.
- Now, it’s important we not confuse the Spirit’s ministry of sealing with His many other ministries. Because there is lots of confusion surrounding the Holy Spirit and his work, let take a few minutes to try to clarify. SLIDE 21 First:
- The Spirit’s sealing ministry is different from his baptizing ministry. Immediately when a sinner puts his/her relational trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit baptizes or enfolds or immerses that person into Jesus and into Jesus’ spiritual body. It is a one-time event that occurs at the moment of our conversion. Every believer in Jesus is baptized by the Spirit into Jesus. SLIDE 22 Paul makes this really clear in places like: Gal 3:27: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” 1 Cor 12:13: “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
All of the “in Christ” language that we have seen in Ephesians and find throughout the NT is emphasizing the result of this initial baptizing/immersing ministry of the Spirit. SLIDE 23 Second:
- The Spirit’s sealing of us needs to be distinguished from his indwelling of us. Through his indwelling, he comes to live inside our tissues as it were, residing in every cell and bone and strand of DNA. He becomes in a sense, fused with us. SLIDE 24 This is the rationale of 1 Cor 6:16-17: “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”
- So, to summarize, the Holy Spirit’s sealing of us differs from his baptizing of us and from his indwelling of us. One way to think of it is like this: The Spirit places us into Jesus (baptizing); He places Himself over us (sealing); He places himself in us (indwelling). Maybe this will help (illustration of sponge in jar of water with sealed lid).
- Now, the Spirit’s baptizing, indwelling, and sealing all occur simultaneously at the time we first put our trust in Jesus. They are once and for all events. Every believer is baptized, indwelt and SLIDE 25 sealed by the Holy Spirit. Rom 8:9 is a good guide: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”
- There are two others ministries of the Spirit we should mention in this connection. These are not one-time events but take place on multiple occasions subsequent to our initial conversion. SLIDE 26 The first is:
- This is different from baptizing. In baptizing, as we’ve seen, we are placed into Jesus Christ once and only once. But being filled by the Spirit or with the Spirit is a daily habit of allowing the Spirit to control us, bear his virtuous fruit in us, lead us and use us for his purposes. We must choose continually to let God’s nature, not our flesh, guide our attitudes and behavior. SLIDE 27 That’s why we find Paul commanding the Ephesians later in this letter: Ephesians 5:18 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.“ Lit: “be being filled with the Spirit”. SLIDE 28 The second is the Spirit’s:
- Gifting/Empowering. Paul makes if very clear in 1 Cor 12 and 14 that, although we are all given spiritual gifts, apparently concurrent with our conversion, we can acquire more gifts throughout the Christian life as the needs arise and as we ask the Holy Spirit. For this reason, SLIDE 29 Paul commands the Corinthian Christians in 1 Cor 14:1: “Eagerly desire the greater gifts (of benefit to the whole church), especially that you may prophesy”. Even after we have walked with the Lord for decades, the Holy Spirit can give us empowerments that build up the body of Christ, so we should always be open to these and ask God for them.
- So, to summarize Paul’s theology of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit seals each believer when he/she trusts Jesus initially. At the same time, the believer is placed or baptized into Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. It is then their responsibility to walk in the Spirit by being continually filled with the Spirit and asking for the Spirit’s various gifts to do ministry that benefits the body of Christ and brings honor to Jesus. SLIDE 30
- Let’s finish up the text with v.14. This will be a lot quicker than v.13. Paul is now going to switch metaphors. He moves away from the analogy of sealing to the commercial analogy of making the initial installment on an item that has been purchased. The Holy Spirit, Paul writes:
“is the initial installment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.”
- This is a complex sentence in the Greek, but it’s meaning is pretty straightforward.
- “initial installment” (“deposit” in some translations) is arrabon, a Semitic loan word, which refers to a large chunk of cash that a buyer would give to a merchant vouchsafing future payments, to be forfeited in the event the purchase is not completed. Andrew Lincoln writes: it “functions as the guarantee that the whole payment will be forthcoming”. Paul uses the term only on two other occasions in NT, in 2 Cor 1:21-22 and 5:5. The first reference is worth quoting because it combines the ideas of sealing and down payment, just as we have here in Eph 1. SLIDE 31
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal on us, and given us his Spirit in our hearts as the first installment of our final purchase.”
- Here’s the idea: The Father bought us back, redeeming us from sin and death, with the blood of his own Son. We belong to him. But our bodies are not yet redeemed: we still have the same bodies we had before we met Christ, bodies that are subject to weakness, disease and the effects of sin. We have the same neural structures in our brains that we had as non-Christians, encoded with sin, habituated to distorted patterns of thinking and behavior. And we will continue to live in these bodies until we die or until Christ comes again at which point we will be given a new, resurrected and glorious body like his. Sometime after his second coming, Christ will then redeem the entire cosmos, which now groans in disorder. So, the Father gives us now His Holy Spirit to live in us as the first installment and guarantee that he will make good on his promise to one day redeem all of us, body included, and the whole of creation. Make sense?
- Another way to understand this is: we have already been set free from sin’s penalty and power. When we are made new and the cosmos is renewed, we will be set free from sin’s presence, forever. As Harold Hoener writes: “We have a little bit of heaven in us, namely the Holy Spirit’s presence, and a guarantee of a lot more to come in the future.”
- Paul concludes v.14 with the prepositional phrase: SLIDE 32
“to the praise of His glory”
- This is the third refrain in the passage (cf: v.6, v.12). Each one coordinates with the praise of the work of one member of the holy Trinity: The Father in v.6; the Son in v.12, and now the Spirit in v.14.
- That concludes our exegesis of the text. I now want to take a few minutes to return to Paul’s claim at the outset, that the message of Christ is the “word of truth”. SLIDE 33 We need to talk about truth.
Brief excursus on “Truth”
- Every age has it’s defining characteristic. In the German language, this is known as the Zeitgeist or “spirit of the age.” The Zeitgeist of our particular moment in history here in the Western World is that of epistemological agnosticism. (Explain) Some prefer the terms post-modernism or post-constructivism. They all mean pretty much the same thing: that the defining characteristic of our day is an acute skepticism with respect to any kind of overarching truth or metanarrative; any sort of coherent rational explanation for the world as it is.
- So, any claim to absolute truth is rejected outright as a non-starter. Paul’s claim in v. 13, then, that the message of Christ is “the word of truth” is a non sequitur: by and large our culture no longer thinks in these terms, so the idea seems to most people counter-intuitive and incoherent. There may be your truth and my truth, but there is no “the Truth”. This presents a special challenge to the church today.
- This kind of epistemological relativism has been taught in our universities since the mid 20th century and is now the dominant paradigm in our primary and secondary schools, government, the media, entertainment, the arts, and other expressions of popular culture. If you’ve ever wondered why you seem to see things so differently from most of the talking heads in the mainstream media, this is the reason. You are working from two entirely different presuppositions.
- We’ll revisit this challenge in the months and years ahead, because we need to know how to communicate the timeless truths of the Gospel in our particular period of history. But for now, I want to cite a single example where we see this worldview fleshed out: the issue of personal identity.
- On the surface, one would think that knowing who and what one is is pretty straightforward. For millenia, humans have believed that our personal identities are a composite our nature as humans; our biological endowment (our sex, intelligence, and other factors) and our tribal, clan, family and, much later, national affiliations. Other considerations like race and religion would also be factored in, but by far the greatest determinant of identity was character, demonstrated by the choices we repeatedly make during the course of a life.
- The result was a relatively stable identity that persisted through ones lifetime, grounded in ones biology and social connections. The benefit was that, not only did you know who you were, but you knew that others knew who they were, because at large was comprised of individuals who similarly had stable identities that were empirically verifiable. You look at a woman and you don’t have to wonder if it is a man or woman. Our eyes tell us.
- Now, enter identity politics through the door of post-modern constructivism. Because all truth is relative, there are no fixed categories informing our self-identity. Gender is seen, not as an expression of our biological sex—male or female—but as a social construct. Binary sexuality is seen as restrictive and reductionist. So, regardless of your plumbing, you are free to define yourself however you wish, independent of anatomical considerations. And you are free to change your identity when and if it pleases you to do so respecting both your gender identity and your sexuality. So you may be born a male heterosexual, but you might decide to be a male homosexual in high school, a male pan sexual in college and a trans-female bisexual later in life (or any one of an infinite variations on these themes).
- The problem is that, when we make self-identity choices not grounded in biological reality, we are working against the fundamental order of things (not to mention God’s will). As a consequence, our choice is disruptive not just to ourselves, but to everyone around us, especially those closest to us.
- SLIDE 34-Little girl Let’s consider just a few well known examples. This 46 yr old Canadian decided in 2015 he identified as a six yr old girl, so he left his wife of 23 yrs and their seven kids to begin a new life as Stefonknee. He now lives with an adoptive family, plays with toys all day with other little girls.
SLIDE 35 – cat man – self-identified as a tigress, so had extensive surgery
SLIDE 36 – dog man– Spot, self-identified as a Dalmatian, others
SLIDE 37 – transabled – Cambridge ed. research scientist
SLIDE 38 – blind – No Carolina, 20 something, got her psychologist poured drain cleaner in eyes
SLIDE 39 – alien – Seattle woman transitioned to a man, then to sexless alien
SLIDE 40 – Houston dragonwoman – former banker, born a man, transitioned to woman, then after $50k in surgeries and tattoos…
SLIDE 41 – elf-Argentine man who identifies as a transpecies
SLIDE 42 – Human Barbie-Moldovan woman
- Here are my concluding questions:
- Do we think for a moment that it is a loving thing to normalize these identity shifts and allow a person with an obviously skewed view of reality to persist in believing themselves to be something they clearly are not?
- Is this a kind, charitable thing to do?
- It this ultimately in their best interests?
- Or would their interests be better served by telling them the truth, even it the truth hurts their feelings for a time, when it fact it may save them from a life of sorrow and regret? Equally important: Is it loving to their families to enable their delusions, when they must bear the brunt of their loved one’s decision to redefine themselves.
- In our day, we have been bullied into thinking that to be loving, we must be accepting, and that we have no right to advise others how to live, even when the choices they are making are self evidently destructive to them and to their families. Because we’re afraid of being labeled as narrow minded, bigoted obscurantists, we go with the flow instead of standing up to the crowd like the brave little boy who dared to say that the emperor had no clothes.
- We Christians bear an additional burden. We don’t want to be known as intolerant fundamentalists, so too often we are reticent to say what we really believe about the absurdities of our culture. Meanwhile, our society continues its long slow slide into moral oblivion, with our children and grand children paying the highest price for our silence.
- Well, it’s time to speak up. And not just about the truth of the Gospel, though that always must be primary. But about every issue that affects human dignity, every lie that enslaves the minds of people made in God’s image and loved by Him. We serve the Lord of Truth. How do we serve him faithfully if we are afraid of speaking the truth? And if, out of a heart of love, the church won’t speak up against the nonsense that is ruining peoples lives, who will speak up? SLIDE 44
- So that’s my challenge for us. God is the truth, and we know that the truth sets people free. As Paul makes clear in todays text, the message of Christ is the “word of truth”. So, speak the truth. Speak it in love with humility and compassion. But speak the truth and be lights in the darkness.
- Let’s pray SLIDE 45
Quick reminders – Tom
- Community group meets Tuesday night at 7pm SLIDE 46
- Can give online or by sending in a check
- Next week, bring message outline, bible, bread and grape juice/wine for communion SLIDE 47
Benediction – Sharon