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Posts Tagged ‘unity’

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…  (Ephesians 5: 25)

 In last week’s lesson from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul reminds the Lord’s Church in Ephesus they all have a vocation from the Lord Himself:  faith by God’s grace in Jesus Christ and so to walk in love as He loved them and us.   The inspired Word says it better:

 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 But immediately he writes to them, and us, regarding sexual immorality, impurity, filthiness, crude joking, covetousness, foolish talk and later drunkenness.  These things should not even be “named among” them. Why?  Our Lord died and rose for us, gave Himself up for us.  Jesus Christ is “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.  In comparison, to the Lord who bore our sins in His own body,  sexual immorality, covetousness etc. stinks, stinks to high heaven. Later in the lesson, Paul quotes Genesis that two become one flesh.  Sermon illustration: Two pieces of paper glued together just as the two become one flesh. If I try to tear them apart, what will happen?  Yes, it’s a mess. Then if I were to glue them to other pieces of paper, becoming one, and then ripping them apart…anyone who has been divorced knows this. And this is what sexual immorality looks like:  we are not made to hook-up again and again. One husband, one wife. There were people back then and now who approve of such in the Church:  God’ll understand, it is said. Yes, He does and that’s what is scary.   Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Imitate God, not the popular culture, as His beloved children in Baptism.  He has called you it says in Ephesians, to a high calling.

Immediately after those verses,  the Apostle  teaches his fellow Christians concerning, submission to another out of reverence for Christ and immediately launches into teaching Christian marriage. He repeats that Christ Jesus gave Himself up for His Church, like a joyous refrain.   What a contrast between marriage in Christ and sexual immorality, impurity, filthiness, crude joking, covetousness, foolish talk and drunkenness! But when  the lesson turns to submission and headship, then in our time all bets are off and this text is considered offensive.  What is really offensive, the goodly and Godly order of marriage in Christ or sexual immorality? 

We are blessed in this little mission with bright and intelligent members.  Most of us, if not all, have gone to college or are so attending or probably will.   But have any of us ever had a course in any school, even a university,  on Marriage?   Maybe “sex education” but not marital education: we can know the mechanics but not the meaning of marriage and the home.

 It is said that the cornerstone of a good marriage is communication.  It has been my experience that I can all together too well communicate to my wife what I am thinking and feeling and usually to her chagrin.  Yes, talking with one another in marriage is important. But cornerstone? Like a cornerstone, the basis of a building, holding it together.  No, I do not think so. Communication is good but communion, the Holy Communion of His Church is the living cornerstone, Jesus Christ for us all.

The cornerstone of a good marriage is love.  Usually, when the words “love and marriage” are linked it means something about love as emotion. So “love and marriage” are the names of two separate volumes.   If love is the basis of marriage, then marriage will not be built  upon a cornerstone but a blown-up beach toy riding on a storm in the ocean.  Love is crucial, love in service, that is, not a feeling alone, which flows from faith and hope and that love, His love in lived in our lives, endures.

The cornerstone of a good marriage is common likes.  Yes, that is helpful but not necessarily needful.  Yes, a married couple may love to go on long hikes but that does not mean they won’t argue on one of those long hikes!  Common likes are important and will draw man and woman together;   but it is the Lord who joins a man and a woman to each other.  Not us. What God has joined together.

So like a cornerstone, which is the basis of the building, holding it together, what is the cornerstone of a marriage?  Answer:   Jesus Christ and flowing from His riven side, water and blood, Baptism and Communion,  His grace, mercy and peace for sinners. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul wrote that the Church’s cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Man and woman is like Christ and His Church.  Christian marriage is a house church. Marriage in Christ is made good by His forgiveness of His baptized man and woman, sinners washed in His Name.  Many people think that the 3 most important words in a marriage are, “I love you”.  Important yes, but even harder:  I forgive you.  Marriage is the house, home and hearth of His forgiveness.  A Christian marriage is a baptized one.  One of the controversial statements I made in a wedding sermon was, Today two sinners are getting married…and they are forgiven in Christ.  Forgiveness is as hard as nails, the nails that pierced His hands as He gave up his life for us.  His forgiveness is as hard as rock, a cornerstone that holds husband and wife together.  He holds you together, married or single.

 In Ephesians 5, a wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord, verses 22-24.  It is the husband, though,  who in particular is subject to the Lord, the Lord made flesh, the Head of His Church:  Jesus Christ.  Submission but not domination… In fact, more verses are spent on the husband’s married service to his wife, as Christ also serves His bride the Church, than the wife to her husband! Verses 25-33.

It is the man, the husband who needs to be so submitted to his Lord!  Not that the woman, the wife, also needs be, but given the nature of literally fallen man to dominate, not serve in his role of dominion in submission to the Lord, it is of greater necessity. Regarding Ephesians 5: 25-33, a feminist quipped after hearing those verses that if followed, there would be no need for feminism(!). In the Biblical sense: there is no such need. Who is the real man? Some guy running around in tights with a mask and a cape? A make-out king? Who is the real man? Jesus Christ.

What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband?  What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave and not with a woman by her own free will?  Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church.(St. Basil)

I think the image here is a great one for marriage in Christ and the Christian home.  Two rings on the cross.  It is to the cross that married and single turn to the proclamation of His forgiveness of us all.

 Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall,
Where Jesus Christ is all in all!
Yea, if He were not dwelling there,
How dark and poor and void it were!

Then here will I and mine today
A solemn covenant make and say:
Though all the world forsake Thy Word,
I and my house will serve the Lord!

 

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“Glorious is God with His saints and angels: Oh, come let us worship Him.”

Almighty God, we praise Your Name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice.  Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About Ignatius: He was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the supreme authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church.  (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

 The Apostle Paul was probably martyred between A.D. 64-67.  Ignatius became the 2nd Bishop of Antioch in A.D. 69.   Antioch was the city from which Paul and Barnabas began their great missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13-14.  Ignatius is a direct link to the apostles and the apostolic doctrine.  (information from The Apostolic Fathers, edited by Jack Sparks)

Reflection:

One of first great crises of the earlier Church was when the last of the 12 Apostles died.  Who could ever replace them?  Already the Lord provided the answer: bishops.   When I hear the word “bishop”, visions of churchly finery come to mind:  croziers, mitres, elaborate vestments and the like.  Not in the 1st  century nor for next 2-3 centuries!  Bishop is the word used  to translate  the New Testament Greek:  episcopos which means “overseer”, one who provides oversight to the doctrine and faith of the congregation.  An “episcopos” preached and administered the Sacraments which means a bishop is  a pastor.  He presided at the Table of the Lord.   

In the Roman Empire, there were many gods and goddesses and their temples and shrines were massive and impressive and they held elaborate and overwhelming services in them.  A Christian episcopos presided over a simple meal of  bread and wine, announcing this is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  He preached the Word of Law and Gospel to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.  Nothing outwardly impressive, yet by such the Lord spread His Word as He had promised He would “to the ends of the earth”.   The Word of Jesus Christ was so spread against overwhelming odds without gimmicks, strategies, mission models, massive denomination budgets, etc.  (insight courtesy of Rev. Prof. Hermann Sasse)

For Ignatius the central  aspect of the Church was unity with the bishop, the pastor in the preaching and teaching of the Scripture and administration of the Sacraments, according to the Apostolic Doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures.:

“…it is fitting for you t run your race together with the bishop’s purpose–as you do.  For your presbytery–worthy of fame, worthy of God–is attuned to the bishop  like strings to a lyre.  Therefore by your unity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.”

The episcopos was to give oversight but not to overlook false doctrine.  Case in point:   Ignatius warns the Church in Smyrna about  the docetists. ‘Docetist’  means ‘appearance’ and they said that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was only God  and so they changed the clear meaning of Scripture and they denied the Body and the Blood.   And so Ignatius warns the Smyrnaens about them and their teaching on Holy Communion:

“They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they do not acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised by his goodness. Those who deny God’s gift are dying in their squabbles; it would be better for them to love so that they may rise. It is fitting to keep away from such men and not to speak about them either privately or publicly, but to pay attention to the prophets and especially to the Gospel, in which the passion has been explained to us and the resurrection has been accomplished. Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils.”

What is the Biblical and evangelical understanding of the Lord’s Supper in relation to our lives and souls in His Church?

“Be eager, therefore, to use one Eucharist–for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with the blood (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 16), one sanctuary, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow slaves–so that whatever you, you do in relation to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10: 31;  Col. 3: 17)

Some have written that Christian doctrine evolved from the original sayings of Jesus  into the Christianity we have today. But given the chronological proximity of Ignatius to the Apostolic era, this can not be so and especially when we read his letters.  In them,  it is clear he and the earlier Church were continuing the apostolic doctrine as taught verbatim by Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and were already combating heretics and their heresies.

Furthermore, the docetists believed Jesus was purely “spiritual” and He could not give us His Body and Blood.  Using an oft-used phrase in our day, they were not religious but ‘spiritual’ Sound familiar? Maybe Ignatius was too negative?  Maybe he should have ‘dialogued’ with them and formed a Bishop’s Study Task Force of Ecumenical Dialogue with Docetism?  Of course not.  Ignatius did a pastor’s work.   The heretics are actually the ones who want Christian doctrine to ‘evolve’, actually devolve into something totally different and more to their liking and their flesh and so it is no longer saving doctrine.   This is the devil’s work.   The only conversation is to warn and  the call to repentance and the true Faith clinging to Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father in His Church. As Ignatius wrote to the  Magnesians:

As, then, the Lord did nothing apart from the Father [cf. John 5:19; 8:28], either by himself or through the apostles, since he was united with him [cf. John 10:30; 17:11,21,22], so you must do nothing apart from the bishop and the presbyters. Do not try to make anything appear praiseworthy by yourselves, but let there be in common one prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope in love, in blameless joy—which is Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is better [cf. John 10:16; Eph. 4:3-6]. 2. All of you must run together as to one temple of God, as to one sanctuary, to one Jesus Christ, who proceeded from the one Father and is with the one and departed to the one [cf. John 8:42;14:12,28; 16:10,17].

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