We are gathering again for the first time since we were 'freed from churchianity'. We met for the second time today, twelve of us. I had been invited beforehand to give a short talk on the two Bible readings: Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46.
Here is a version of my notes.
When I was asked to do the talk today it was suggested I choose between speaking on the Ephesians reading or the Gospel, and we would just have which ever of the readings I chose. When I looked at them I thought well, the Ephesians piece is a really exciting passage. Lots of good stuff to talk about there, whereas the Gospel is one of those challenging passages which it might be more comfortable to skip. However, it quickly became apparent there were things to say about both together. So we had both readings and I am using them both.
I've got 10 minutes, so I'm just picking out a few points. Maybe we can follow through with some discussion over coffee.
Firstly let's consider the Gospel passage. This is one of those very familiar parables from Jesus' teaching. The judgement and separation of the sheep and the goats at the end of times. This final parable in Jesus' final sermon in Matthew brings home the reality of judgement.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ...
In the opening Jesus is named as 'The Son of Man' and then in the second paragraph he is described as 'the King'. Jesus the King is seated in judgement with all the authority and glory of God.
And the judgement seems to be quick and clear cut. Each one is either a sheep or a goat. No hearing of evidence. No advocates pleading the case. No scraping a pass mark with six out of ten on the ten commandments as Robert used to say. And there's no second chance for those with a five!
The Christian obligation to assist those in need is made clear by Christ, who identified love of our neighbour as second in Christian priority only to love of God.
The Bible repeatedly calls God's people to be generous with the poor and needy. In the Old Testament law, for example, we find passages such as Deuteronomy 15:10-11
"Give generously to him [the poor man in your town] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.."
And I think God is looking at our individual attitude and actions. We can't buy off our obligation in a collective way.
I remember when we first came to live in The Netherlands, somewhere in our 'inburgering' (although it was not called that then) it was explained that the NL social welfare system was such that there were in fact no poor and needy people, so we did not have to give to those kind of needs, we had already covered it in our tax and social premium payments. Of course, it does not look quite like that today, (but I did not yet notice my taxes going down).
But the King sitting in judgement is not going to say when he comes to us – "Oh! you're OK, you were living in NL in the last half of the 20th century – 50% tax rate, great social welfare system – you're counted in as a sheep."
Nor is he going to say - "Ah! here's one of the top 100 givers to Compassion – welcome! You're in OK!"
Some commentaries suggest this parable is not actually about meeting the needs of the poor but about receiving the gospel's messengers:
In the context of the surrounding parables, welcoming Christ's messengers probably involves more than only initially embracing the message of the kingdom: it means treating one's fellow servants properly (24:45-49). Unless we "receive" one another in God's household, we in some way reject Christ whose representatives our fellow disciples are (18:5-6, 28-29). (IVP Biblegateway.com)
Either way, whether it means helping others with physical needs, (which seems the to be the meaning on face value) or dealing gracefully with fellow believers and fellow disciples, I think the judgement is focussed on our personal attitudes, the attitudes of our heart and the actions flowing from them. Our personal relations with those in need and our personal relations with our neighbours, those given to us to love.
Paul in Ephesians
The introductory notes to Ephesians in my Bible describe Ephesians as the 'Welcome to the Family' book. We have been adopted directly into the family of God. Just a couple of points I want to pick out.
This passage is from the opening of Paul's letter. He is giving thanks for the believers at Ephesus and reminding them of the Good News they received.
ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (NIV)
v 18 "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened"
I have recently been understanding better what is meant by 'the heart' in the Bible. Been reading John Eldredge "Waking the Dead: the Glory of a Heart Fully Alive"
Our heart is the real core of our person.
"The subject of the heart is addressed in the Bible more than any other topic – more than works of service, more than belief or obedience, more than money, and even more than worship. Maybe God knows something we've forgotten." John Eldredge p39
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV)
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)
These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me. Matthew 15:8
Here in our passage from Ephesians Paul prays that:
- the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know:
- the hope to which he has called you,
- the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
- and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
This is the really amazing part of this passage. (vv18-19) – Paul is praying for the Ephesians that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened in order that they may know God's incomparably great power for us who believe.
And [so that you can know and understand] what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe, as demonstrated in the working of His mighty strength,
So that same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in glory in heaven can be in and for us when the eyes of our heart are enlightened.
Just pause and imagine that – God can release the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in glory in heaven to work in us.
The eyes of our heart need to be opened to see things as they really are. We need to be able to see:
- the incomparable glory of the risen Lord Jesus, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
- without Christ – lost, miserable sinners,
through Christ, through the salvation he brought, we can become
co-heirs with Him, sharing in His glory,
- we really need to see that – we are called and empowered to be glorious warriors in the army of God – we are equipped with the Word of God and the power of the Spirit – with God and one another we are an invincible army
- we really need to see that
- we really need to stand confident in that
When together we believe, we can be empowered to do anything. The power of love conquers all evil. The gates of hell cannot stand against the power of love, the mighty power of the God of love, the God of truth, the God of justice.
Why does God make this possible? I think at least part of the answer is in the last two verses of our piece from Ephesians. In the Amplified Bible they read as follows:
And He has put all things under His feet and has appointed Him the universal and supreme Head of the church [a headship exercised throughout the church], Which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all [for in that body lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself].
We, together, form the church, the Body of Christ. As we look to Him, the Head of the Body, He can empower us, enable us and guide us to fulfil our functions in the Body.
Just one spiritual health warning here – as well as the power of God's love working through us, we also need humility. When we realise our inheritance in Jesus and His power and glory, we need humility in a huge way. But that is for another ten minutes, another time maybe.
And so I think we need to have the eyes of our heart opened and enlightened to see the spiritual reality – the glory and power of God, the fact of God's power and love in us when we believe. We need to know the orientation of our heart towards Him. The core of our being must be focussed on Him, healed by Him (many of us have broken hearts which He can heal). We need to know His Spirit dwelling in our hearts.
We are called to the blessing:
- of being able to see Jesus in one another,
- to being able to act as Jesus towards one another,
- to deeply love one another.
- will we become the people He intended us to be,
- will we be able to fulfil the destiny and mission to which we are called, the mission to declare the Kingdom, fight evil with the love and power of God.
And then, I hope, when we finally come before the judgement throne, Jesus will look on our hearts and know us as His own.
Priorities and Accountability in Times of Crisis, by Albert
Charitable Giving in a World of Need: How Do We Choose?, by Mark D. Roberts
IVP Commentaries on Biblegateway.com
The Student Bible NIV, Introductory notes by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford, Zondervan
The Amplified Bible, The Lockman Foundation,
Waking the Dead, John Eldredge, Nelson