Each week we webcast Lord's Day Sabbath School at 10a, morning public worship at 11a, and p.m. singing and sermon at 2:30p (sermon at 3:30); and the Weds. Prayer Meeting at 6:30p

Saturday, January 02, 2021

2021.01.02 Hopewell @Home ▫ Genesis 42:8–38

Read Genesis 42:8–38

Questions from the Scripture text: Who recognized whom (Genesis 42:8)? Who did not recognize whom? What did Joseph remember (Genesis 42:9)? Of what did he accuse them? What did they call Joseph (Genesis 42:10)? Themselves? Why did they claim to have come? What do they claim proves them honest and not spies (Genesis 42:11)? How does Joseph answer (Genesis 42:12)? What new data do they add in Genesis 42:13 to the claim in verse 11? How does Joseph answer (Genesis 42:14)? By whose life does he speak in Genesis 42:15Genesis 42:16? How does he propose to test them? How many may leave (verse 16)? What will happen to the rest? How long did Joseph put them there (Genesis 42:17, cf. Genesis 40:12–13, Genesis 40:18–19)? What did Joseph claim about himself in Genesis 42:18? How many does he now propose to keep in prison (Genesis 42:19)? What are the rest to do for whom? Whom are they to bring (Genesis 42:20)? Why? What do they now say about themselves in Genesis 42:21? What had they seen? What did they refuse to do? What do they think this has caused? Who answers them in Genesis 42:22? What does he say that he and they had done? What does he say is now happening to them? What didn’t they know (Genesis 42:23)? How does Joseph respond in Genesis 42:24? Whom does he take? What does he do? Before what? What does Joseph command (Genesis 42:25a)? What unexpected additions does he make (verse 25b)? What do they do in Genesis 42:26? To where do they arrive in Genesis 42:27? What does one of them do? What does he see? Whom does he tell (Genesis 42:28)? What happens to their hearts? What do they ask? To whom do they go in Genesis 42:29? Where? What do they tell him? About Joseph (Genesis 42:30)? About what they said (Genesis 42:31-32)? About what Joseph did and said (Genesis 42:33-34)? Now what do they discover in Genesis 42:35? Who sees it with them? How do they all feel about it? What does Jacob say they have done (Genesis 42:36)? What does he say are against him? What does he refuse? What proposal does Reuben make in Genesis 42:37)? Does Jacob accept the offer (Genesis 42:38)? What does he say about Joseph? What does he say about Benjamin? What does he say might happen to Benjamin, and what does he say this would do to himself? What does this imply about the comparative value of the ten other brothers?

Sometimes the Lord uses situations to bring to our attention our need to repent of something about which we have not lately felt guilty. Joseph seems to know this instinctively. He remembers not just one dream but two (Genesis 42:9), so he fully expects a return visit, and he is obviously trying to provoke them.

In verse 9b, Genesis 42:12Genesis 42:14 he repeats the same accusation as an explanation for the number of similarly dressed/looking/sounding men in front of him. Of course he knows exactly why (Genesis 42:8), and it is the very thing they claim in Genesis 42:11Genesis 42:13

For his part, Joseph has been in prison and knows the effect that it can have in giving a man time to think upon God’s doings in his life and his interaction with God. The three days (Genesis 42:17) call us back to chapter 40, where the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants had led Joseph to believe that this was the precise amount of time left for him there.

And three days (not years and years before, and then two more years after) is all it ends up taking to bring out of them the confession in Genesis 42:21. They feel guiltier now than they have for some 20 years: “we are truly guilty concerning our brother.” There is some sense that they are receiving justice: “therefore this distress has come upon us.”

So Joseph continues to provoke them. Now, he not only reminds/reinforces to them that they are all brothers, and not only gives them time to think about their guiltiness before God, but he also presses to them their undeservingness of all God’s goodness to them. Not only does he return their money to them, in addition to the grain, but he adds extra provisions for the journey for which they had not bargained (Genesis 42:25).

Instructively, the thought that God was ultimately responsible for this was no comfort to them—the opposite, in fact (Genesis 42:28)! When you are aware of your wicked guilt before God, it is no encouragement to think that He is actively engaged in your life! This seems to be a mindset they have picked up from their father, who literally thinks everything is against him (Genesis 42:36). 

It has a harmful formative effect to live with grumbling against God’s providence, and Jacob’s pity party has been going for a full twenty years. One wonders how different “bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave” (Genesis 42:38) would be from what they have endured from him for these decades. He basically tells them that they are nothing to Benjamin (“his brother is dead, and he is left alone”), and that they are nothing to him (since if they lived, it would be no comfort to him). He doesn’t even express any interest in retrieving Simeon, who is an acceptable loss if it means not risking Benjamin.

What Joseph has done to the brothers, humanly speaking, God is doing to Jacob: bringing his sin to the surface for us to see it in all its ugliness. We get too accustomed to our sin. Too comfortable with its presence. Too dismissive of its guilt. Too tolerant of its hideousness. It is a mercy when God calls it to our attention—whether through His providence as He often does, or through His Word as He always does. 

This is a family that desperately needs Jesus. In a world that desperately needs Jesus. All the land was coming to Egypt for necessary earthly bread. But it is God’s greatest mercy when He sends all the earth to this family—ugly as it is in this passage—to receive the bread of everlasting life from its special Son the Lord Jesus. Let us be grateful to God when He exposes our need and provokes us to go to Him!

What sins do you easily look over? What are some ways that God’s providence brings your sin to your attention? In what circumstances does His Word bring your sin to your attention? In what way? What do you do about it?

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or TPH341 “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed”

Friday, January 01, 2021

2021.01.01 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 6:17–20

Read Ephesians 6:17–20

Questions from the Scripture text: What is the next piece of equipment to take (Ephesians 6:17a)? What is the helmet? What is next? Whose sword is it? What is the sword? What are believers to do always (Ephesians 6:18)? With all of what two things? In Whom? Being what unto this end with all what? And all what? For all of whom? And for whom else specifically (Ephesians 6:19)? That what would be given to him? In order for him to do what in what way? In order to make what known? What relationship does the apostle have to the gospel (Ephesians 6:20)? Into what circumstances has his ambassadorship brought him? How does he wish to speak? Why?

The Christian’s mind is immensely important. As we battle a world whose days are evil, the way not to be conformed to it is to be transformed instead by the renewing of our mind (cf. Romans 12:2). Here, the apostle tells us what God employs for guarding our minds: His salvation. 

Our minds tend to be wrapped up in ourselves, our circumstances, even our enemies—almost anything but our Savior, the state of salvation into which He has brought and is bringing us, and the saving work by which He has done so.  But these are the very things with which our thoughts ought to be obsessed, if our precious minds are to be protected and preserved! This is the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17a, cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Romans 13:11).

Those who belong to the light and put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12, cf. Ephesians 5:6–15) are those who keep the eyes of their mind sharply focused upon the rapidly approaching completion of that salvation which Christ has won (Romans 13:11). The unassailable reality of who Christ is and what He has done for us guards our minds by the unassailable certainty of what He shall soon have finished doing in us and to us.

This is part of why the helmet and the sword are so closely connected here. With respect to the battle for our minds, we are like David standing over the giant whom he had just knocked down; we have no sword of our own, and must reach instead for that superior sword that belongs to a far superior Warrior (cf. 1 Samuel 17:45, 1 Samuel 17:50–51; 1 Samuel 21:9). The sword of the Holy Spirit Himself (Ephesians 6:17b)!

What’s interesting in the transition to Ephesians 6:18 is the manner in which this sword is to be wielded—really, the manner in which all of the armor is to be worn. 

We have seen in Ephesians 6:14-16 that there is a strong emphasis on the necessity of participation in corporate worship and the specific activities that God has commanded in it: hearing the truth of Word read and preached, addressing one another with it in songs of the gospel of peace, taking up together at the Lord’s table the breastplate of Christ’s alien righteousness and the shield of faith as the corporate meal shows forth His death and affirms the covenant in His blood.

But now in Ephesians 6:18, the apostle highlights prayer as the means by which this armor that is taken up in the public worship is applied at all times. “Praying always.” The main place that the Spirit leads us to employ His Word is before the face of God Himself. Everything that the Bible tells us about who God is, and what He has done, we are to be constantly bringing back before Him in prayer, acknowledging everything that the Bible tells us about who we are, what we are like, what God requires of us, and what we need in order to do so. 

All prayer. All supplication. What God tells us about Himself and about ourselves in the word of God must become the substance of our praying, for this praying is to be “in the Spirit” Whose sword has just now been mentioned in Ephesians 6:17. This is to be the constant condition of the Christian, as he tells us to pray “with all perseverance,” which he calls “being watchful” (literally, staying awake). The one who is not “praying always” from the Word of God, having God as his constant companion and God’s Word as his constant conversation, is asleep in battle! 

And the apostle immediately gives us a couple of examples of what Word-saturated prayer will be like. It will focus upon what God focuses upon: all of His saints. It will be broad and blanketing in its scope, thinking much upon the whole of Christ’s body. But this broadness will also aim with specificity at those things that Christ Himself has highlighted as necessary. 

The apostle’s mention of his chains carries us back to Ephesians 4:1, where he called himself a prisoner. But he doesn’t ask for an end to the chains. He asks for boldness despite them. He understands that them as reminders of his Ephesians 4:11–14 calling to equip, build-up, unify, mature, and stabilize God’s people in doctrinal truth. One of the main things to pray for, whether praying for the church around the world or specifically for ourselves, is that preachers would be given specific words (Ephesians 6:19, ‘utterance’ is literally “a word”) that they would proclaim in the holy boldness of the office to which they have been called (Ephesians 6:19-20).

So, guard your mind by being obsessed with Christ’s finished and ongoing work. Accumulate a thorough knowledge of Scripture, that becomes the substance of a constant conversation with God your constant companion. And pray especially for those who have been called to minister that Word to God’s people in all places.

With what do your thoughts tend to be consumed? How can they be more consumed with Christ? How do your prayers reflect a care for the church as a whole? How do they reflect a focus on Christ’s plan for His church?

Suggested songs: ARP46 “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength” or TPH244 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”


Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020.12.31 Hopewell @Home ▫ Luke 11:14–28

Read Luke 11:14–28

Questions from the Scripture text: What did Jesus do in Luke 11:14? What did some say about it (Luke 11:15)? What did others seek (Luke 11:16)? What did Jesus know (Luke 11:17a)? What point did He make in Luke 11:17b-18? What point in Luke 11:19? What point does He make about the danger of their reasoning in Luke 11:20? What does a strong man do, and with what results (Luke 11:21)? But what can change this, and with what results (Luke 11:22)? Whom is Jesus implying Himself to be, and what binary choice do the people have (Luke 11:23)? About whom/what does Jesus speak in Luke 11:24, and what has happened to it? Where does it go, and what does it find there (Luke 11:25)? Whom does it bring along, and with what result (Luke 11:26)? Who cries out what in Luke 11:27? About whom is she talking? But how does Jesus say people may come into the blessing that He brings (Luke 11:28)?

There was no denying the power of Jesus (Luke 11:14). Those who refused to believe in Him only had the option of trying to explain it away (Luke 11:15). Those who were still resisting asked for a sign (Luke 11:16), but Jesus confronted them with the fact that the evidence that they already had was enough to put them in a place where they had to choose (Luke 11:17-18). Not only had He come, casting out demons, but He had twice sent out (the 12 and the 70) otherwise ordinary men whom He had empowered to do the same (Luke 11:19). This was an event of critical and permanent spiritual moment (Luke 11:20).

But it wasn’t blessing for everyone. Suppose this One, Jesus, stronger than the devil himself came, and Israel did not receive Him? Lost in people’s attempt to understand what Luke 11:24-26 might mean about the mechanics of demon possession is that, as a whole, this saying was an illustration of what was about to happen to the Jews as a spiritual household. 

The Messiah came, astonishingly as God in the flesh, and dislodged the kingdom of the devil (Luke 11:20-21), but His own did not receive Him (Luke 11:25, cf. John 1:11–13). When we read the history of the Jews from Moses to the Messiah, it is deeply sobering to think that Jesus said that their state after His coming is worse than their state before!

Oh, dear reader, there is such a danger in coming face to face with Jesus Christ, the God-Man and Deliverer. You must come away with Him firmly installed upon the throne of your life. He is the Stronger One of Luke 11:22. And you have a binary option: either you are with Him and gathering with Him; or, you are against Him and scattering (Luke 11:23).

The question of Mary’s blessedness was not a question of Whom she had birthed or Whom she had nursed. It was a question of whether or not she trusted in Him as her King and served His kingdom. Have you bowed the knee to Him as your King? Are you gathering with Him?—Serving His kingdom in all that you do? This is the great question of your life, and there is no neutral ground. The only alternative is profound bondage to a defeated less-strong (but stronger than you!) one, and to share in his coming destruction.

In the context, Jesus is identifying Himself as the One stronger than the devil, and Whose arrival and ministry have brought the kingdom of God. Some said that He was doing so by a competitive demonic force. This woman apparently accepts His teaching about His identity but mistakes the manner in which one comes into His blessedness. 

Mary was blessed not so much by her biological bearing and nurturing of her Son, as she was by hearing His divine words about Himself and appropriating them to herself. She heard His Word and kept it. She believed in Him as God Who came to liberate her from the devil and take up residence upon the throne of her life, preserving her as His own forever, by His almighty strength. And this proclamation of blessedness He extends to you, dear reader, who may even now in response to what you are reading, do the same as Mary and be just as blessed as she.

What have you done with the claims of Christ? What place does serving Him have in your moment-to-moment thoughts? How are you making sure to be hearing His Word? How are you seeking to keep it?

Suggested songs: ARP1 “How Blessed the Man” or TPH374 “All Hail the Power of Jesus’s Name”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020.12.30 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Samuel 30

Read 1 Samuel 30

Questions from the Scripture text: To where did David and his men return, how long had they been gone, and what had happened (1 Samuel 30:11 Samuel 30:31 Samuel 30:5, cf. 1 Samuel 27:5–6)? What had the Amalekites not done (1 Samuel 30:2)? How did David and his men respond (1 Samuel 30:4)? Of what did the men speak and why (1 Samuel 30:6)? In Whom does the text mention David strengthening himself (for the first time in a while, end of verse 6!)? For what does David ask (for the first time in a while, 1 Samuel 30:7, cf. 1 Samuel 23:1–13!)? Of Whom does David inquire (for the first time in a while, 1 Samuel 30:8, cf. 1 Samuel 23:1–13!)? What does Yahweh say? How many go with David in 1 Samuel 30:9? How many were left behind and why (1 Samuel 30:10)? Whom do the four hundred find (1 Samuel 30:11)? What do they give him and why (1 Samuel 30:12)? What does David ask, and whose servant does he turn out to be (1 Samuel 30:13)? What does he confirm (1 Samuel 30:14)? For what does he ask in order to help David (1 Samuel 30:15)? In what condition do they find the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:16)? What does David do, and with what success in 1 Samuel 30:17-19? What additional spoil do they take (1 Samuel 30:20)? To whom do they return in 1 Samuel 30:21? What kind of men were among David’s men (1 Samuel 30:22)? What did they want to do? What reasoning does David give for opposing them (1 Samuel 30:23)? What rule does he establish in Israel, upon the basis of this reasoning (1 Samuel 30:24-25)? What does David do with some of his portion (1 Samuel 30:26-31, cf. 1 Samuel 27:10)?

Sometimes, the Lord brings us to the extremity of desperation to snap us back to our senses and grow us in grace. We had noted in chapters 27 and 29—when discerning the Spirit’s opinions on David’s actions as a backdrop for God’s unmerited grace—that during this stint of his life it seemed like everyone but David seemed to be inquiring of Yahweh. 

But the Lord now brings him back to asking the priest for the ephod (1 Samuel 30:7), back to inquiring of Yahweh (1 Samuel 30:8), back to obeying Yahweh (1 Samuel 30:8-9), back to crediting Yahweh for his protection (1 Samuel 30:23) and crediting Yahweh for his prosperity (1 Samuel 30:26). He has gone from “now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul” and simply trying to escape (1 Samuel 27:1) to providing for God’s people and galvanizing support for his coming kingdom (1 Samuel 30:26-31). He was hindered from doing this before by his unbelieving strategy of trying not to let word get out of his helping the people of God!

There is instruction here for what to aim at in terms of maintaining a life of calling upon the Lord (prayer) and seeking His instruction (hearing Bible preaching, reading the Bible, etc.). There is instruction here for living by the wisdom that seeks to serve God and His people as well as possible, more than the mere shrewdness that is involved in trying to protect ourselves and provide for ourselves.

But the thrust of the text seems to be about the extremity to which the Lord brought His servant in order to set him back into these paths. David and his men hadn’t been permitted to participate in the war (1 Samuel 29:10-11), so the exhaustion of 200 warriors in 1 Samuel 30:10 was that of the weeping in 1 Samuel 30:4. Apparently the only thing the men still had energy for at that point was for executing their leader (1 Samuel 30:6). In many other difficulties David had his men, and the comfort of the good and wise women who loved him dearly, but now these last supports had been taken away!

We see what God is sometimes after in the difficulties of our lives. Not trial for trial’s sake, or even just for growth’s sake, but sometimes for repentance’s sake. David was under fire from Saul, but he responded in unbelief (chapter 27). Perhaps he thought he was responding in wisdom (many commentators on 1 Samuel seem to think so!). Then David was under fire from the Philistines, before a king of Gath (1 Samuel 28:1–2, 1 Samuel 29:1-5), and didn’t respond with the former holy boldness with which he had faced a champion from Gath (1 Samuel 17:45–47, as called to mind by 1 Samuel 29:5).

But, until David repented, the Lord kept bringing him even lower. Providence pulled the Amalekite hammer out of the bag and brought it down on God’s wayward servant until he was wifeless, friendless, and under threat from even the men whom he had found dependable in many hard circumstances until now.

We may think, after a sustained streak of hard trials, that the suffering is complete. But, if we belong to God by faith in Christ, He has purposes in all of our trials—including and especially our repentance (cf. Hebrews 12:3–14). So until we arrive at that holiness in which we will see the Lord, let us not be surprised if, however low the Lord has brought us, His wisdom and love deem it necessary to bring us even lower. And, let us always be ready to ruthlessly consider what repentance might yet be necessary in the current state of our heart and behavior.

What great trial have you faced/been facing? Why might it get harder? What is one thing you should be doing in light of it? To Whom should you look for wisdom to do this? At what is He always aiming for you?

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH231 “Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right”


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020.12.29 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 2:4–10

Read Ephesians 2:4–10

Questions from the Scripture text: In what is God rich (Ephesians 2:4)? What caused Him to act? Whom does Paul include among the dead in Ephesians 2:5? What did God do to them? In Whom? By what were they saved? What two things did they do with them in Ephesians 2:6? Together with Whom? What did God want to show (Ephesians 2:7)? In what? In Whom? By what have we been saved (Ephesians 2:8)? Through what? And not of whom? Of whom is it a gift? If it is a gift of God, what is it not of (Ephesians 2:9)? What does this prevent anyone from doing? What are we, according to Ephesians 2:10? What has been done to us in Christ Jesus? For what were we created? From where did these good works come? For what purpose did God prepare these good works beforehand? 

Next week’s Call to Worship, Prayer for Help, Song of Adoration, and Prayer of Confession all come from Ephesians 2:4–10, so that we will see that we are singing God’s thoughts after Him with Amazing Grace.

We sometimes read of people saying that what is “not of ourselves” in Ephesians 2:8 is the grace and salvation, but that somehow the faith does come from ourselves. This kind of thinking completely misses the first “by grace” in Ephesians 2:5. Those who are dead and need resurrecting cannot believe. They must be “made alive” first.

And praise God that He gives this faith according to His rich mercy and great love (Ephesians 2:4)!

And this passage teaches not only the resurrection of the believer in Christ before faith, but the ascension and session of the believer in Christ by that faith. And He “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).

This is how faith works unto justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. It doesn’t just give us credit for merit that belongs to Christ or access to power that belongs to Christ; it is the means by which we are joined to Christ Himself. We are crucified in union with Him. We are resurrected in union with Him. We ascend in union with Him. We sit in union with Him.

Again (cf. Ephesians 1:23), the Holy Spirit says something here that would be a terrible blasphemy if we had come up with the idea. But this is the richness of God’s mercy and the greatness of His love (Ephesians 2:4)—to give us such honors and privileges by means of our union with Christ!

And ultimately, that is the purpose of seating us with Him, and in Him, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” The purpose is, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

The church is like a trophy unto the exceeding riches of God’s grace in His kindness toward us. And Christ Himself, as we have been united to Him, is the great display of that grace. And God has taken His trophy and set it upon the highest pedestal of the highest heaven. Praise be to His grace!

In Ephesians 2:1-7, the apostle wrote about our utter deadness in sin as the black velvet backdrop against which shine so brightly the diamonds of God’s rich mercy, great love, and exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness. Ephesians 2:6 took us back to Christ’s seat, from Ephesians 1:20–23—to the highest height of heaven, whereupon God has placed this dazzling trophy of His grace.

But that is not the only place where it is displayed. God displays the glory of His grace down in the nitty gritty of our lives on earth as well, both in our justification and in our sanctification.

In our justification, God is pleased to display His glory in what we do not do. We do not save ourselves; we are saved by grace. Grace supplies righteousness, because we have only guiltiness to offer. Grace absorbs wrath for us, because we have nothing worthful with which to atone. Grace supplies life for us, because we have only death in us. All of this is supplied in Christ, but we are unable even to produce from ourselves the faith that makes us Christ’s and Christ ours. So grace supplies the faith too; even that is not of ourselves.

In our sanctification, God is pleased to display the glory of what He has done through what we do. Having invalidated all boasting by saving us only through union with Christ, the Lord begins to turn that black velvet into a mirror in which the dazzling glory of Christ’s goodness is reflected. 

Those who began dead in sin actually begin to do good works! Not meritorious, to be sure, but genuinely good. God begins demonstrating His workmanship (us, Ephesians 2:10) by the good works that we do. A Christian is a good-works-doing creature that did not previously exist, created in the same Christ through Whom the original creation was made. 

God is displaying His workmanship when believers submit and learn under their shepherd-teachers (Ephesians 4:7–12). God is displaying His workmanship when believers study doctrine to get it right instead of “celebrating diversity of thought” (Ephesians 4:13–14). God is displaying His workmanship when no church member is dispensable, but the God-assigned role of each is understood to be used by Christ in building up all the others (Ephesians 4:15–16). God is displaying His workmanship when believers refuse to be controlled by desires and feelings, but rather control them with truth (Ephesians 4:17–24). God is displaying His workmanship when believers do good to one another and take care not to offend one another, not to be quick to be offended, and to be quick to forgive offenses (Ephesians 4:17–5:2). God is displaying His workmanship when believers refuse to live in the fleshly or careless way of this dark world, but as the children of light whom they have been re-created to be (Ephesians 5:3–21). God is displaying His workmanship when believing wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22–24). God is displaying His workmanship when husbands give themselves for their wives’ sanctification (Ephesians 5:25–33). God is displaying His workmanship when children honor and obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1–3). God is displaying His workmanship when fathers take the lead in their children’s discipline and instruction as something that belongs to the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). God is displaying His workmanship when employers and employees serve Christ first and foremost in all workplace interactions (Ephesians 6:5–9). And that is why all of these works must be supernaturally sustained by God through spiritual means that He has appointed (Ephesians 6:10–20).

Where is this great glory of God displayed? In the most mundane, everyday lives of those who began as darkness but whom He has created anew as children of light. Good works are essential, even before our needing to be holy for admittance into glory, because God has given them such a central place in displaying His glory in our sanctification. God prepared them beforehand for this!

What happened to you, in Jesus? Where “are” you, in Jesus? What difference does it make? 

What specific good works has God prepared beforehand for you to display the glory of His grace?

Suggested songs: ARP32AB “What Blessedness” or TPH433 “Amazing Grace!”

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020.12.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Ephesians 5:18–21

Read Ephesians 5:18–21

Questions from the Scripture text: What must we not be (Ephesians 5:18)? With what? What does verse 18 call drunkenness? With what are we to be filled instead? Unto this end, what are we to do with one another (Ephesians 5:19)? In what three things are we to speak to one another? In what action are we to do this speaking? Doing what in our heart? To Whom? As we sing to one another, what else are we doing (Ephesians 5:20)? To Whom? In What? As we speak to one another in this way, and we are being spoken to, what are we to be doing to one another (Ephesians 5:21)? In What? 

Almost every reader of these devotionals would immediately join in the command not to be drunk with wine. This is the “put off” portion of command. Drunkenness leads to dissipation, which is the exact opposite of self-control—a recklessness that falls easily into any and every sort of sin.

But the “putting on” is every bit as much as a command. Being filled with the Spirit is not a higher state to which some believers finally attain. Rather, it is a command that is set in parallel cooperation with “do not be drunk with wine.” Our Lord commands every single believer to be filled with the Spirit.

Now, let us not get the wrong idea. Being filled with the Spirit is not something that we can “accomplish.” This is a commandment, but it is a passive commandment. “Be filled.” In other words, we are commanded to something that only the Spirit Himself can do. We might paraphrase it, “let the Holy Spirit fill you.”

Thankfully, in the next three verses, there are several participial verbs by which the Spirit Himself tells us the means by which He fills us, before going on in the next twenty-one verses to describe what that Spirit-filled life will look like.

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19a). Earlier in the letter, the apostle said that the risen, victorious Lord gives gifts to equip every joint to supply something and every member to do its share. What is a great part of that share? Public worship. Singing in public worship. Singing various kinds of Scripture (each of these terms comes from superscripts of different types of Psalms in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that they were using in Ephesus). Since the Spirit Himself fills us through our speaking to one another in the singing in public worship, you are commanded to attend. You are commanded to sing. And the Spirit Himself honors His means by filling you through that singing—not necessarily by making you feel very spiritual, but rather by making His Word to dwell in you more richly (cf. Colossians 3:16).

“Singing and making melody in your heart” (Ephesians 5:19b). Ordinarily, musical tunes energize the singing. We have all felt that. But that is not the accompaniment to the singing in Christian public worship. The accompaniment is the heart of the Christian, more specifically the grace of Christ in the heart (cf. Colossians 3:16). We understand this even better when we realize that it is Christ Himself Who sings through our brethren, and Who speaks through us to our brethren (cf. Hebrews 2:12). When this passage commands us to be filled with the Spirit, part of what it commands us to do is to realize that Jesus has not only given to us what to sing, but that He Himself is powerfully working to make those words of His to dwell richly in us while we sing. The command “Be filled with the Spirit” is a command to have a particular view of congregational singing.

“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). The Spirit wars against the flesh, and as He wars against “fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, […] filthiness, foolish talking, and coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:3-4a), with what does He displace these things that are put off? The Spirit displaces them with the putting on of “giving of thanks” (verse 4b). So, what is the Spirit’s own incubator for this thanksgiving that is to saturate out conversations with one another and to saturate our view of our lives under God? The Spirit incubates this thankfulness in the singing of the congregation, as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself expresses His own perfect thankfulness and joy through our mouths and in our hearts (Ephesians 5:20). 

“Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Who leads worship at your church? In one sense, the correct answer to that question is “the risen, ascended Lord Jesus leads worship from the throne.” Hallelujah! In a subordinate sense, the answer to that question is “the shepherd-teachers whom that Jesus has given for leading and teaching His church” (cf. Ephesians 4:11). But, in a very real and true sense, under Christ and His governance through those elders, the entire congregation is called to lead within the context of the singing. This is one reason that some current trends in public worship music, in addition to profaning the worship of God by offering what is according to the design of men instead of the command of God… these trends harm the congregation’s discipleship by removing this dynamic of each of us leading all the others, and each of us being led by all the others, during congregational song. 

And how dreadful for us to diverge from the Spirit’s directives for congregational song! Here, the Holy Spirit tells us that our submission to one another in this corporate singing is part of how He fills us—part of how we obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So, if we decide instead to sing (or have musical performance) that is according to what feels most spiritual to us, we tragically give up the actual filling of the almighty Holy Spirit for a powerless and worthless feeling of spirituality. In our singing, we can only “submit to one another in the fear of God” if it is that God’s word being sung in that God’s way.

What a marvelous thing is congregational song in public worship! In it, we obey that wonderful command, “Be filled with the Spirit”!

What is happening when your church sings in public worship on the Lord’s Day? 

What are some things that you should be doing during that singing?

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song to the Lord” or TPH400 “Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me”