Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

July 30, 2005

Austin-Sparks on Fullness (2)

The mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit is that such a life is continually and ever more and more occupied with Christ, that Christ is becoming greater and greater, more wonderful as time goes on. The effect of the Holy Spirit's work in us is to bring us to the shore of a mighty ocean which reaches far, far beyond our range, and concerning which we feel: oh, the depths, the fullnesses, of the riches of Christ! If we live as long as ever man lived, we shall still be only on the fringe of this vast fullness that Christ is. That at once becomes a challenge to us before we go any further. These are not just words. This is not just rhetoric; this is truth. Let us ask our hearts at once: Is this true in our case? Is this the kind of life that we know? Are we coming to despair on this matter? That is to say, that we are glimpsing so much as signified by Christ that we know we are beaten, that we are out of this, and will never range all this. It is beyond us, far beyond us, and yet we are drawn on and ever on. Is that true in your experience? That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life.
From The Pre-eminent Mark of a Life Governed by the Spirit, by T. Austin-Sparks

Bitter Fruit

First there was the rain, then there was the rumour. "Those who died had braved the worst natural calamity the city had ever seen, but were fatally trampled by a cruel rumour circulated by a bunch of wicked people."

"For when we were controlled by the sinful nature . . . we bore fruit unto death." Romans 7:5


Barbara Bagshaw is a Christian artist I know. Check out her beautiful work here!

Evil Penguin Update!

Nature can be soooo cruel!

July 29, 2005

Dog Bloggers

Bangkok Street Dogs is the only blog I know that is actually written by a dog. His name is Casanova, and he is a rather sophisticated canine who chronicles the lives of the street dogs of Bangkok. Wonderful!

Then there's Dogblog. Fellow walks around San Francisco, taking pictures of dogs. His witty comments are lots of fun. For example, check out this post, especially the second dog from the bottom!

The Presence

We saw in Paul's prayer for the Ephesians that his ultimate goal for them was fullness. More precisely, that they be "filled with all the fullness of God."

I said that this word, fullness, has everything to do with the presence of God. I defined fullness as "the full realization of Christ's living presence in the church or in the individual Christian."

In his letter to the Ephesians, at the end of chapter 2, Paul puts it this way:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
So the preaching of the Gospel is for the purpose of building a temple--a dwelling place for God. God once had companionship, communion, with Adam and Eve, and walked with them in a garden; but he cast them out of his presence, due to their selfishness and sin, and ever since then His purpose has been to restore that communion.

The book of Exodus ends with God's lengthy and detailed directions for the building of a kind of portable sanctuary in which he, God, might dwell among them. Moses builds it, and God dwells there. It is not, however, as before, in Eden. There, God walked and talked with Adam in a kind of intimacy that is only again seen in the intimacy that Christ has with the Father. No, in the case of the Israelites, his presence is awesome, and yet not intimate. Nevertheless, it is His powerful and guiding presence. The last line of Exodus is:

For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, but fire would be on it at night, in plain view of all the house of Israel, in all their journeys.
Now leap ahead to Ezekiel. The people of God are living in exile in Babylon, due to their persistent and fervent idolatry. And God gives to his prophet Ezekiel an elaborate vision of a restored kingdom, with Jerusalem as its capitol. The key distinction of this kingdom will be the presence of God. The last line of the Ezekiel is:

The name of the city from that day forward will be: 'The Lord is There.'
Finally, there is John's vision of the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, with its streets of gold, its river of life running from the throne of God, on which sits a wounded and yet reigning lamb, and a voice cries,

"Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them."
Indeed, the story of the Bible is the story of God's restoration project. He is not restoring a human kingdom. He is not restoring, in the final analysis, your personal health and well-being (your "heart"). He is restoring a people among whom he might dwell.

As Christians, we live on the very crest of this supernatural wave. We are the first fruits of this new creation. To us he has given His Spirit in power. Our savior is called Emmanuel, "God with us," and we are to go forth in his name, empowered by his Spirit within us, doing his work, being his representatives, his "bond servants." Amazing. It will be a life of labor, even at times of sorrow, and yet it will result in the praise of God for his marvelous and invincible plan.

And this is why the Ephesians, as God's missionary representatives, need the Spirit to dwell in them in power, need a keen understanding of the love of Christ for the world, need to be filled with all the fullness of God.

For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord's will is. And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Eph 5:17-21--all translation from NET Bible]

July 28, 2005

The Full Measure

Biblical fullness has often to do with completeness. It's all about the completion of God's will for his creation. That's fullness. When Paul describes the glorious fulfillment of God's work of redemption, not merely as it relates to you and I as believers, but as it relates to the whole universe, Paul is describing fullness in its highest and richest sense. That is the time when "every knee shall bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." (Phil 2:10-11)

That's fullness. The complete realization of God's ultimate plan for His creation. And it's of course essential to realize that this fullness is through Christ. Paul reiterates this again and again. The creation was subject to rebellion and decay, ending in death. But through Christ our mediator redemption and peace is available to man, leading to life. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Col. 1:19-20)

These are expressions of God's "kingdom come." We yearn for that day, the day of completion, the day when the work of redemption will be fulfilled, every enemy of God will be cast down, every heart will be purified, and we will know the presence of the living God in fullness forever. But of course God's kingdom has in another sense already come. There is available to believers, through faith, a measure of fullness even now. We may think of this in terms of potential. If love is the foremost and characteristic fruit of the Spirit at work within us, we may well pray to God that we might realize the fullness of our potential as lovers: that is, as people who love one another. We shall not, in this life, love one another in the same fullness as we one day shall in the kingdom of God, but even in this life there is, as it were, a reserve of love through the Spirit that we have not even begun to tap into. Rightly we pray, more love, Father. More knowledge of your will. More peace. More joy. More patience. More kindness. More self-control. There is a measure of these things available to us now, by God's design, and to reach that measure is to enjoy fullness.

So you see there is a kingdom come sense of the word fullness, and there is a kingdom now sense. And so we come at last to the reason this matter of fullness concerns me at all. You see, the thing is, I want more. I am troubled by my own lack of these fruits of the Spirit. I am not satisfied with the measure I have reached thus far, and know that God desires me, even in this life, to reach a measure of these things that is far beyond what I have known. The point is, we do not love one another as we should. We do not serve one another in reverence for Christ. We are sometimes filled with bitterness and envy, and we struggle and claw one another, even those we love. And the question is, how do we get to fullness? How do we reach our potential as God's children. I don't ask this now because I have a ready answer. I ask it because I want to use this question as a guide as I walk through the Word, morning by morning. I'll keep you posted.

July 27, 2005

Austin-Sparks on Fullness

There should be in our hearts, in the first place, a very real concern for the fullest Christian life that it is possible to know. Such a concern is a necessary link between us and that which is the Lord's will for us: for you notice that when the incoming of the Holy Spirit is spoken of in the Word, the expression 'filled' is often used. The Lord's thought is 'fulness': it is not just that we should 'receive' the Spirit (cf. Acts 8:15,17), but that we should be filled with the Spirit; not just that we should be 'filled' (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8), but that we should be filled with the Spirit. If, therefore, we are to come into God's thought for us, we need to be deeply exercised about this matter of knowing a life of as great a fulness as the Lord intends it to be.
From The Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Nations, by T. Austin-Sparks

This & That

I'm still thinking about "fullness." I've spent a lot of blogging-time ruminating about Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, beginning at 3:14, which culminates with a reference to being "filled with all the fullness of God."

I thought I was finished with all this, but God keeps stopping me in my tracks. My daily Bible reading has me in Colossians now, where there is yet more talk of fullness. Colossians 2:10 says, "And you too have been given fullness in Christ."

So I'm going to stay here a while, ruminating on fullness. Essentially it means, in the context of Paul's letters, the full realization of Christ's living presence in the church or in the individual Christian. That, at least, is my working definition for now. So expect more from me on this matter.


My son has been praising Andrew Comiskey's Strength in Weakness to the high heavens. I've just begun to dip into it, and so far I like what I see there. So, in the next week or two, when I'm not talking about fullness I'll probably be quoting from this book fairly often. The subtitle, by the way, is "Healing Sexual and Relational Brokenness."


You may have noticed that I've rearranged my blogroll. I started this project on a whim, thinking I'd categorize the bloggers with verses of the Bible. I didn't exactly put a whole lot of thought into it, and so I expect to continue tweaking it, but the two bloggers who have commented to me on the matter (Aron of Some Thoughts and Julie of Faith or Fiction) seem to think I've pegged them pretty well.


Speaking of Julie, she paid me quite a tribute the other day. Julie is all about "strength in weakness," or so it seems to me. She models real confessional honesty in her blog. Some "confessional" bloggers often seem too incessantly self-referential, but the best of them are reaching for, yes, "strength in weakness." Not their own strength, mind you, but the strength of God. Keep at it, Julie. Your path is upward.

July 26, 2005

Just Checking In

For those of you who may be wondering where I've been, well, I've just been neglecting my blogging duties, that's all. I'll be back in a day or two. Ta ta!

July 22, 2005


Keith at Under the Accacias, a missionary blogger in Burkino Faso, once again provides some outstanding blogging advice in Truth and Blogging. All bloggers should digest this carefully.


Another fine missionary blogger is Jenni of Vessel of Mercy. Jenni works on a Mercy Ship in West Africa. Read the story of Mama Victoria in her recent post, Faith and Perseverance, and be inspired.


Scotwise. Simply one of the best, most encouraging Christian bloggers out there. Good example: Committed Christians.


Jared at Shizuka Blog has been doing a series called "Tobacconist Theology." In part 4 he compares our sanctification with "the making, preparing, and smoking of a good cigar." Although the term "a good cigar" seems rather oxymoronic to me, Jared's point is nevertheless well-taken. A brief and beautiful lesson.


Finally, famous 18th century blogger Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said this: "One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words."

July 21, 2005

Fullness (2): The Way There

[Warning, long meandering post ahead!]

In his letter to the Ephesian church Paul states and restates the ultimate goal of God for his creation. At 1:10 he writes:

... to bring all things on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ.
That's fullness. In another place (v.4:10) he says that Christ will fill the whole universe. That's the completion and perfection of God's plan for his creation. Fullness.

Now, the church, the body of Christ, is a foretaste of that fullness in the present. The church is in Him, and it is his body, and its members as individuals have Christ in them, and under His headship they are unified in worship and in love. Together they are being built up into a dwelling for God: that is, they as a body are not yet what they shall be, but they are getting there. No, they have not yet reached the complete and perfect expression of God's purpose for them, but that time is coming when we shall all reach "the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ." (4:13)

That's the goal. The fullness of Christ in the church. At 3:10-12 Paul states one of the purposes of this plan for his children.

His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.

A couple of things to note here:

1) the church is to be a demonstration of the wisdom of God to the heavenly authorities.
2) this eternal purpose has already been accomplished in Christ Jesus

All this is quite amazing to me. We can look around, we church-goers, and judge for ourselves how tragically often the church is a demonstration of the wisdom of man rather than the wisdom of God. But the point I want to focus on is the second one: it has all been accomplished in Christ Jesus.

This is a matter of faith. The natural eye does not recognize this. The purpose of God has already been accomplished in Christ Jesus! The "heavenly authorities" know this. They have seen it. When Christ went to the cross, they saw it and recognized that, yes, it was finished. It was accomplished. Now all who are "in Him" (Paul's favored descriptor for the Christian) are predestined to "grow up into Him who is the head." They are predestined to maturity in Him.

Do you see how Christ is the beginning and the end of this mighty plan. At 2:16 Paul says that we have been reconciled to God "through the cross." There the hostility that we once had toward God has been "put to death." There, at the cross, the love of God was "accomplished"! Now we who have gathered around that cross and taken hold of its promise are being built into a unity that is in a sense the forerunner of God's plan for his creation.

Which gets us back to fullness. Remember the 3 "so thats" of Paul's prayer at 3:14-21. These represent Paul's delineation of the way to fullness. The 1st so that is "Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith." Ah, back to Christ again. We have seen that Christ is the beginning and end, but here He is also the way between. This "dwelling through faith" has a progressive character in our lives. That's why Paul speaks of being built up, of maturing, of getting rooted in his love.

As we are so rooted, we gain a realization of the sheer vastness of that love. This is the second so that. Christ demonstrated it time and again in his earthly life. When he entered the homes of tax collectors, when he kept company with prostitutes, he demonstrated the boundary-busting extent of his love. The Pharisees drew back at this, shocked and dismayed. They could not accept it. But those who knew themselves to be lost and needy rushed to him as the thirsty rush for water. But the ultimate demonstration of his love still awaited its accomplishment. That was at the cross, where he is said to have given himself "for all."

So Christ is the beginning and middle and end. We who are in Him may well pray for increased power to comprehend his amazing love, for that is the nature of our progress toward fullness. It comes from having Christ dwelling in our hearts, from getting rooted in his love, drawing our spiritual nourishment from that love, and by that means growing and maturing in our faith and in our "grasp" of that love. This is the way to fullness.

Back at verse 3:13, after Paul says that the wisdom of God has already been accomplished in Christ, he goes on to say that "in [Christ] through faith we may approach God with freedom and confidence." (3:13) The work was accomplished, and now believers can approach him with confidence, rather than hiding from him (like Adam and Eve) because they fear that their sin has put them beyond the limits of God's love. Instead, they approach him with boldness, with freedom, with confidence. This is the prayer-life of the believer.

Let me put it this way. Since God has accomplished the reconciliation of lost sinners to himself, we who have gathered around the cross and trusted in it may approach God in confident prayer, and thereby we set in motion, here in the earthly realm, what God has already accomplished and demonstrated in the heavenlies. We pray in Christ, we pray out of a heart (an inner being) in which Christ dwells, we pray out of a love which is like Christ's love, in that it comes from Christ, and the Spirit has rooted and grounded us in it, and so we pray in boldness and confidence because Christ after all is the author AND the finisher of the faith that motivates the prayer.

Fullness. When Paul prays for the Ephesians, he prays first for power from the Holy Spirit. And At the end of the prayer he remarks that God is working his will, which by the way is more than we can ever ask or imagine, through His power at work within us. That's fullness. And then he caps his prayer with this:

"... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen!

Fullness. Glory to God forever in the church as well as in Christ (for in the course of things the church will have grown up into Him, so that to speak of the one will be to speak of the other).

So, to put it in a nutshell, fullness is God getting the glory forever in a church which has grown to Christ-like maturity of love and faith and unity. This comes through the indwelling of Christ in the hearts of His people, and their getting rooted and grounded in his love so that Christ-like love is the very essence of all they are and do. Hostility is gone. Gentleness, patience and humility are their hallmark. (4:3) In short, they live lives of love. (5:1) But the way there is through a Spirit-empowered comprehension of the true nature and grandeur of the love of God in Christ. That's the way to fullness.

July 20, 2005


The estimable Broken Messenger (aka Brad) "interacted" with yesterday's post on his own blog by posing a very good question:

For though the text clearly implies that the "so that" is in place that we "may be able to comprehend" the height, width and depth of Christ's love, is such a thing truly and fully knowable? This seems paradoxical to me on both fronts: one being that the text says that we can know the bounds of this love, but yet still implying of the infinite quality of Christ's love.
Well, as Richard Nixon used to say, "Let me just say this about that...."

First, yes, I would say that, we will never have a precise understanding of the full extent of the love of God. Even the meager understanding that we now have through the indwelling Spirit is not what it someday will be in eternity. The issue is "fullness." There is a degree of understanding that will be ours in eternity. Since we will still be finite beings then, we will not have perfect and thorough understanding, but in eternity our "grasp" of the love of God will be such that our awe and wonder will never cease.

I can remember the first time I ever saw the ocean. I was just a boy, and the sight of the Atlantic filled me with wonder, so that I could not stop looking at it, listening to it, filling my senses with it. Now, all these years later, I live much closer to the ocean than when I was a boy. In fact, it's just a short walk from my house. And yet I hardly ever look at it anymore. It's just the ocean. No big deal.

That's not like the love of God. Our grasp of that love will one day be such that, well, the awe will last forever. That's one aspect of Paul's wonderful word, "fullness." Fullness is the full portion of the abundance of God's gifts that we have been predestined for. Fullness, in that sense, is not something attainable in this life, for we are not now what we shall one day be. But, here's the cool thing. The Spirit will provide a foretaste of that fullness even now.

Foretaste is not in itself fullness. But it is a foretaste of fullness. Paul says this in 3:21 and again in 4:13. We get a foretaste, a sample, of eternal things. We need this, because although we may never thoroughly grasp the full extent of the incredible love of Christ, we need at least to enjoy that sense of awe that allows us to say in wonder, "It's much bigger than I'd ever thought possible."

We won't get it by reading about it in books or going to seminary. We can only receive this through the Spirit doing supernaturally in our inner being what is naturally quite impossible. That is, rooting and grounding us in the love of Christ. My notion is that we're all kind of struggling with this second "so that." Our grasp is not so firm as it might be, and can be, and so we tragically underestimate the love of Christ. The consequences of this underestimation include judgmentalism, unforgiveness, malice, strife, envy, etc.

I think that Adam and Eve underestimated the love of God. First when they disobeyed him, and then again when they hid from him and lied to him afterward, trying to cover their guilt. They assumed they had gone beyond the bounds of his love. They assumed that God's love ended at the borders of their obedience. It was not so. They were wrong. But it would take them, and their descendants, a long time even to figure that much out. Underestimating the love of God, its extent and its power, is the source of all human tragedy.

July 19, 2005

The 2nd SO THAT: Grasping the Love of Christ

In yesterday's post I spoke of the unity of Christians, made possible by the cross of Christ. In Christ we have peace and in Him we live peace. This is the Spiritual bond of peace that is indicative of the worldwide communion of saints, as well as of individual saints in all their personal relationships, not least of all their marriages.

That's the ideal. But it will come as no shock to my readers when I say that in reality the saints have fallen woefully short of this ideal. And the fact is, the Apostle Paul knew it would be so. He knew about strife in the church. Like James, the brother of Jesus, he was keenly aware of this disjunction between the Spiritual reality (we are one in Christ) and the fleshly reality (there is bitterness, malice and strife among us).

And yet the fact remains, the sovereign Lord is forming for himself a people who will be united in heart, who together will be a dwelling for His Spirit. Such is his will, and so shall it one day be.

Now, if you saw yesterday's post, you'll remember my brief discussion of Paul's use of the indicative and the imperative moods. Chapter 2 is essentially indicative. It indicates or describes a Spiritual reality of the body of Christ. In sum, you Ephesians are one in Spirit. All the old rationales for hostility and division are now moot, due to the cross of Christ. Then, given this Spiritual reality, in chapter 4 Paul is able to switch to the imperative: Therefore, make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Chapters 4 through 6 are essentially an extended elaboration on that imperative.

But standing between these two closely related sections is a prayer. It is a prayer for "fullness" and it is the hinge upon which these two sections are coupled. Paul's desire is that the Ephesians learn to walk out, in their every day lives, the Spiritual reality described in chapter 2. In chapters 4-6 he will paint a picture of what that walking out will involve, but here in chapter 3, verses 14 to 21, he prays for that which will make it all possible: the indwelling Holy Spirit in the heart of each individual Ephesian believer.

Note: the ultimate goal of God, as described by Paul in the final verses of chapter 2, is corporate. It is a corporate unity of heart so that together the Ephesians might be built into a dwelling for the Spirit of God. But the prayer of Paul in chapter 3 is for power from the Spirit in each individual Christian's inner being. In other words: the goal is corporate, but the means to that end is the heart ("inner being") of each individual. This may seem an obvious point, but I think it's worth our close attention. God will dwell corporately among those in whom he dwells individually. It is by means of the individual indwelling that the corporate dwelling place is built.

Paul has said from the start of this letter that we believers have the Holy Spirit as a downpayment or guarantee, securing us for the day of redemption. But the "fullness" of the Spirit is yet to come. For now, all we have is foretaste. "Fullness" is Paul's characteristic word for the ultimate realization of God's goal, which, again, is to make his people into a fit dwelling for His Spirit eternally. That's why Paul's prayer in chapter 3 climaxes with a restatement of this ultimate goal, but this time as it applies to the individual: "that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God."

Everything that follows this prayer is a description of the life empowered by the Spirit, on its way to that goal. Humility, kindness, patience, living lives of love, living in the light, submitting to one another, encouraging one another, and all this "in reverence to Christ." (5:21) In other words, it is a description of fullness. It is life in the Spirit, on its way to "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (1:23)

And this is why Paul prays as he does. Paul prays with God's ultimate goal for his people clearly in mind. In fact, he restates that goal three times in this prayer. These three statements form a sequence. The Second extends and elaborates the first, and the third extends and elaborates the second: a kind of divine sequence toward the goal of divine indwelling. Each of these 3 statements begins with a Greek word which means "so that." Let's break this out into a simple list. Remember, God's goal is to build the Ephesians into a dwelling place for His Spirit. His word for this is "fullness." So Paul prays for each individual Ephesian "power through the Spirit in the inner being" (v.16):

SO THAT: "Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith." (v.17)
SO THAT: they can "grasp how wide, long, high, and deep is the love of Christ." (v.18)
SO THAT: they may be "filled to the measure with all the fullness of God." (v.19)

Now: the Ephesians are basically struggling with the second SO THAT. If there is any bickering or strife among them (especially in their case as it concerns conflict between Jew and Gentile), then they have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, which extends over all races, ethnicities, tribes and nations. And if they have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, they will not be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.

This is precisely why bickering and strife grieve the Holy Spirit. We modern Christians are in the same place as the ancient Ephesians. We too are struggling with the second SO THAT. If there is disunity among us, not just as church fellowships but in all our personal relationships with brothers and sisters in the Lord, including our marriages, then we have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, and we are grieving the Holy Spirit, whose goal for us is unity through the Cross.

Do you get this? I've been going on about it for weeks, because God has been leading me by the hand through these verses, saying, look again. You haven't understood it fully yet. Keep looking. Keep praying. Keep wondering about my love. Get hold of it. Wrestle with it. Question it. Beseech ME to show it to you in fullness. I will not deny this request?

If you want to walk worthy, if you want patience and humility, growing up into Christ, living as children of light, living lives of love, loving your wives as Christ loved the church, praying in the Spirit on all occasions, then you need to settle the matter of the second SO THAT. How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of God? Through the power of the Spirit he will show you. And He will root you in that love, and it will nourish you unto fullness, the fullness of the Lord, dwelling forever among a fire-refined and holy people.

July 18, 2005

The Bond of Peace

It was in Douglas Moo's commentary on Romans that I first learned about Paul's use of the indicative and the imperative moods.

Indicative: "expressing a simple statement of fact, rather than something imagined, wished, or commanded."

Imperative: "denoting the mood of a verb that expresses a command or exhortation."

(both definitions from the Compact OED)
Paul's imperatives (his commands or exhortations) are always based on an indicative (his statements of fact). In other words, Paul will say something like this: The dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. You are one in Christ. That's the indicative statement. Therefore, make every effort to preserve this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That's the imperative statement.

In the epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 2 through 3:13 is essentially indicative, while chapter 4 is essentially imperative. Chapter two "indicates" a reality about being "in Christ," while chapter 4 exhorts the Ephesians to live accordingly. Do you see how Paul's imperatives hinge upon the reality and truth of his indicatives? If there is no truth in his indicative statements, then there can be no grounds for his imperatives. On the other hand, if his indicatives are true, his impassioned imperatives are all the more worthy to be heeded.

Now, chapter 2 of Ephesians emphasizes the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ. The "dividing wall of hostility" has been broken down. Jesus Christ, Paul says, preached peace to those who were far off (the Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (the Jews). As a result, both groups are now in Christ, and in Him are being built together, joined into a holy structure that is intended to be the eternal dwelling place of God.

This is the essence of the "mystery" that Paul goes on the delineate in the first 13 verses of chapter 3. Then, in Chapter 4 Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live in accordance with this calling to unity that they have all received. Given that call to unity, bickering and strife undermines the very call of God in our lives, not only as individuals, but as a people. Therefore Paul advises, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Now if the cross of Christ has removed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, bringing reconciliation and one-ness, has it not also removed the many dividing walls that continue to exist today between Christian and Christian? I am not speaking here of denominational conflict. I am speaking of a more personal level of conflict. Conflict between Christians (that is, between people who are "in Christ"). Even conflict in Christian marriages, for example.

In the world that Paul knew, conflict between Jew and Gentile was so deep-seated and pervasive, so "expected," that to speak of peace between them, to speak of Jew and Gentile in unity, was to speak of something deeply mysterious. Only God could work such a thing, and through the cross of Christ God did work such a thing.

His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in the one body [that is the collective "body" that is the people of God] to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
God put to death the longstanding historical hostility between Jew and Gentile through the cross of Christ. This being so, has He not also put to death, through the cross, all other forms of hostility that spring up among us who call ourselves Christians, children of God?

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace."

When we strike at one another, when we insult and demean one another, when we curse and thrash among ourselves, seeking advantage, we have grieved the Holy Spirit, whose bond is a bond of peace.

What about Christian marriages? These passages in Ephesians don't explicitly apply to marriage (in chapter 5 he'll get to that), but surely the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace must apply to Christian couples as well as to Christians generally. Let me quote the final verses of chapter 4 as if they were addressed, say, to husbands:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up your wife according to her needs....
Now, just for good measure, let's imagine that Paul's exhortation is addressed to wives:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up your husband according to his needs....
This is not merely ethical exhortation. This is preserving the bond of peace that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is, in other words, a way of honoring your God.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32
Paul says in Ephesians 4:18 that when our hearts are hard our minds are darkened. We become, in other words, unteachable. We do not learn. And so we sink deeper into old enmities and strife. So it is that we have often failed, as the people of God, to preserve, on the personal level, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The Spirit, I am sure, is grieved by the hardness of our hearts. "I will put a new heart in you, a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone," says the Lord God, but how often have we, with pious and high-sounding rationales, rejected His merciful offer?

July 17, 2005

The Reason: Paul's Ephesians Prayer in Context

I'm back on the subject of Paul's mighty Ephesians 3 prayer, beginning at verse 14. Right there at the start Paul says something that is both crucial and easily overlooked. He says, "for this reason." Now, if you're like me, when you see that phrase, "for this reason," you'll want to glance back to the preceding verses, just to make sure that you know what Paul is referring to?

But in this case, the "reason" is not in the preceding verse. Paul, you see, can be a digressive writer. Sometimes he begins to explain something, then drops the thread in favor of an extended aside, only to pick up the original thought thereafter. That happens here in Ephesians 3. Go all the way back to verse 1. There, too, Paul begins a sentence with the words "for this reason." He says: "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles . . ." But this self-identifying phrase, "prisoner of Christ," seems to require explanation. So Paul leaves the sentence unfinished, and takes off on a two-paragraph digression concerning his ministry. Now, it's no ordinary rabbit trail. It's a rich and glorious digression, but only in verse 14 does Paul once again pick up the thread, repeating the words, "for this reason," and then continuing on with the thought he'd begun back in verse 1.

So: what this means is that if you want to know the "reason" for Paul's prayer, the prayer that begins at verse 14, you mustn't look to verse 13, but to the passage immediately preceding verse 1. What, then, is the reason for the prayer? Why does Paul "kneel before the Father," praying that the Ephesians would have inward power, imparted by the Holy Spirit, to grasp the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of God?

Well, let's go to the relevant text:

And [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off [the Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [the Jews]. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .
This, then, is the reason that Paul prays what he prays. The Ephesians, you see, are a part of a massive, a worldwide, building project. The dividing wall of ethnic enmity has been removed. Not only that, but they (the mostly Gentile Ephesians) are being built into "a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." This worldwide building project will result in a people among whom, and in whom, the spirit of God will reside.

And it is for this reason that Paul prays the prayer beginning at verse 14. In other words: Paul perceives that God's goal for his people is that they be formed into a unity, with all rationales for enmity and division now set aside once and for all, through the blood of Christ; a new people, a new tribe, shall we say, is being formed, united not by ethnicity, not by geography, not by political views, but by the very presence of Spirit of God.

All this sheds light on the prayer itself. Since Paul is a Spirit-inspired author, we can be assured that the prayer that he prays here is no wild guess, but a precise and Spirit-led prayer for the God-ordained means to that stated end. It seems clear that Paul perceived that the way God breaks down those dividing walls, the way he brings peace where there once had been strife, reconciliation where there once had been enmity, is by imparting this inward power to grasp the full extent of his love for them. Only in this way will they be rooted in love. And when they get that, when they grasp it, they can begin to be that temple. They can begin to be "filled to the measure with all the fullness of God." And this, the presence of the Spirit in fullness, will be the sole and sufficient ground of their unity and peace.

What do you think that would look like? Ah, good question, and one to be pursued in a future post, I think. What would you expect of a people in whom the dividing walls that normally exist among us had been once-and-for-all removed? Not only that, but a people in whom the Spirit of God dwells? How would they behave? How would they talk, and work, and spend their leisure time? Let's just think about that for a while, shall we?


BTW: My extended (will he ever stop?) musings on the last 7 or 8 verses of the third chapter of Ephesians can be found in the following posts:

Ephesians 3:16-19
I am an Ephesian
Awesome God
Glorious Riches
Inward Power
Inward Power (2)
Breadth, Length, Height, Depth
Breadth, Length, Height, Depth (2)
Pray in Wonder
Pray with Kingdom Purpose
The Consequences of Under-estimating the Love of Christ

July 16, 2005

Just Thinking

Lately praying has been a struggle. What's that all about?


Over the Independence Day weekend I visited my mother in northeastern Pennsylvania. On Sunday morning Laurie and I went to a nearby church called High Point. The assistant pastor preached a sermon on . . . you'll never guess . . . Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 3. [My regular readers will understand.]


We "charis-minded" Christians tend often to focus on the Spirit's gifts in place of the blood of Christ. Perhaps we think we'll win friends if we talk about power rather than weakness, about "overcoming" rather than humiliation. But, as the old song says, "there is power in the blood." And as Paul says, "When I am weak, He is strong."


Speaking of Ephesians, in chapter 2 Paul says that the blood of Jesus has removed the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, bringing reconciliation and one-ness. My question: what about the dividing wall between Christian and Christian? Even in Christian marriages! Which reminds me, of course, that James posed the same question long ago. "What causes fights and quarrels among you?" His answer, in a nutshell: "Friendship with the world." Look it up. [James 4:1-6]


BTW: When we read Biblical passages like this one -- "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" -- do we instinctively think up examples of "the proud" other than ourselves? Well, I do. Which pretty much puts me in the camp of the proud rather than the humble.


Meekness is dangerous. You get stepped on. Who would willingly choose meekness over strength? Given the choice, I mean. No, we don't choose it, we become it, by the grace of God and through the inworking of His Spirit.


Just a reminder: it's not for your sake that God gives you the Spirit. It's for His own. Not for your sake does He save you from the mirey pit, but ultimately for the sake of His glory. That's good to remember.


I've just discovered the blog of Matthew Willey. He's a young fellow from Greenville, NC. Here are a couple of quotes:

God's presence rocks. We can talk about it, study it, sing about it or whatever, but we must SPEND TIME IN HIS PRESENCE. That is what makes the difference. Spend time with God. Even if you're not "doing anything". Just come to God and say, "God, here I am". Put on worship music if you want, or instrumental music, or no music. If you just seek God first, He will lead you to pray or read your Bible or whatever He wants. Be patient. Find God again. Get out of the rut! Break the cycle or life. Seek God. It's worth it.

That's always good advice. Now check this out:

I don't want Your name to be my spiritual 911.
I don't want Your name to be a keyword to gain spiritual power.
I don't want Your name to be on my tongue in vain repetition.
I don't want to pray "in Jesus' name" and not actually think about You.
I want your name to be my best friend's name.
I want your name to bring a tear to my eye... every time.
I want to know the One behind the name - the heart that bring my help and the love that brings the power.
Matthew, that rocks!

July 14, 2005


Todd Bolsinger posted recently under the title, The Gospel and the Church. Here's the money-quote:

You see, once we understand that The Good News is not about you and I GETTING to heaven, but instead about God bringing heaven to us through Jesus, then we’ll understand that the very purpose of the church (the body of Jesus on earth today) is to continue, through the Holy Spirit, the very same Kingdom ministry of Jesus.
And Aron Gahagan at Some Thoughts prays against pride:
Lord, you said that if I have the faith of a mustard seed I could say to a mountain, be rooted up and cast into the sea; I stand now at the foot of Mt. Pride, and my faith wavers. The mountain blocks my view, and I pray that it would be drowned in the sea of your greatness and power. Show me yourself, Lord, that I would tremble in lowest humility. I ask this for your glory and my joy, and on account of what Christ accomplished. “I ask great things of a great God.” In His name and for His sake, Amen.

July 13, 2005

Just Musing

My mother, who has never owned a computer, asked me about my blog last week. What is it? And why would anyone want to read it?

Good questions. I don't worry so much about the second one, though. A little, but not so much. The Chesterton tag-line up above pretty much says it all as an explanation for this blog. It's all about sharing, I guess. I put down the stuff that's on my mind, working out my thoughts and ideas, or I simply share quotes from books or other blogs, or point to websites that I find interesting. When a whole community of people does this, it becomes a kind of conversation. The individual blogger becomes a part of something bigger, and the blogging process takes on a life beyond mere self-referential muttering. That sharing becomes the basis, the ground, upon which connections and thoughtful interaction becomes possible. And I guess that's a big part of the answer to my mother's question.

Well, Mr. Standfast is in a little bit of a summertime lull these days. I think for the time being most of my posts will simply be quotes from my readings. Maybe I'm just in a "gathering" mode right now. In a way that's what the reading life is all about. Here's a metaphor for that life: imagine that writers (and bloggers) are people who make small painted boats and put them in a stream. The boats float along on the current. The current, you see, is the publishing industry or the Internet. And the reader is simply a boy on a footbridge over the stream. He's leaning over the rail, reaching down toward the water, snatching up the little painted boats before they pass under the footbridge and beyond his reach. Sometimes, as a blogger, I'm that kid. I'm snatching up the beautiful objects and saying, "Here, look at this one!"

There is a child-like spirit in us that simply wants to share. That simply wants to say, "Hey everybody, look at what I've found today!" That, I think, is one (though not the only) fundamental motivation of Mr. Standfast.

July 11, 2005

Reading American History

I'm on an American history kick. I decided a while back to read through American history by reading biographies only. So far I've read through three generations:

John Winthrop (1588-1649)
Increase Mather (1639-1723)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Next up:
John Adams (1735-1826).

Anyway, this has proven to be a fascinating way to read through history. I'm hooked! In fact, I think perhaps that after I've finally read through to the present generation, I'll just start over again!

Oh, and I've decided to tweak the rules a little bit (remember, after all, that a foolish consistency is only the hobgoblin of little minds). For each century I'll insert a non-biography into the mix. Something that captures the essence of the time and place. You see, while reading about Increase Mather, I learned a little about the so-called King Phillip's War in New England, and realized I knew almost nothing about this very important episode in American colonial history. Consequently: the next book in the series will not be a biography, but will be Flintlock and Tomahawk, by Douglas Edward Leach. After that, John Adams, and after that, who knows? If anyone has a suggestion (someone born in the first half of the 19th century), I'm listening!

BTW: You'll notice that the links above are not to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other commercial bookseller, but to RedLightGreen, which is essentially a vast but easy-to-use library catalog. With this service you can find a book, and then find out whether any library in your area holds that book. You need to sign up, creating a user-profile, but its a free service, and I just think that I should be promoting library-use here at Mr. Standfast. So from now on, all book-links here will be to RedLightGreen. And if anyone wants to join me in this reading plan, well hey, maybe we can start a group-blog. Call ourselves the bio-bloggers or something!

July 10, 2005

Some Tips

The Christian Arts Festival was a smashing success. A feast for the senses. Some of the graphic art was marvelous, but the highlight of the show, as last year, was Stephanie Powell's In the Spirit Dance Ministry. If your church is interested in dance as a form of worship (and if you're on the U.S. east coast) you may want to contact Stephanie. She and her incredible troupe are willing to travel. They will draw a wow from you, I promise.


Bluefish Project provides links to C. J. Mahaney's talks at the New Frontiers Leadership Conference. I haven't read these yet, but you know they'll be worthwhile. New Frontiers sure seems like a fine organization.


Some Thoughts links to a PBS Interview with D. A. Carson concerning the emergent church.


Shizuka Blog on forgiveness.


Kieth of Under the Acacias provides the most "on target" response I've yet seen to the recent assault on London. I will simply quote it in full:

Lord, have mercy.
Comfort those who mourn.
Strengthen those who serve.
Protect the innocent.
Establish justice.
Keep our hearts from bitterness,
And help us to do what is right.

July 09, 2005

Arts Festival

Light blogging continues. I'm just having a very lazy vacation week, hanging around, reading books, going out for breakfast, that sort of thing. Tonight, though, is the New England Christian Arts Festival, which I will be involved with for the second year running. Graphic arts, music, dance, poetry, in the Christian context. I intend to read a couple of my own poems (A Bronze Sky and Travelers). Also, Laurie (my honey) and good friend Meghan will be singing some original music, and son Tim will be playing his guitar. So that is all simply very cool!

July 08, 2005


Back to blogging after a week away. The news from London is, of course, at the forefront now. Adrian Warnock has been very helpful here. Of course bloggers everywhere are busy with this. Gathering and assessing the news is what many bloggers do, and many of them do it quite well. I will not add to the linking-frenzy here. My prayers are for the families of the victims, of course. We are reminded that mankind is steeped always in his own folly, greed, and bloodlust. Every day men and women reap the unfortunate consequence of sins large and small, personal and cultural, in both quiet and hardly noticed ways, and also in terrible and shocking ways. The Jihadists, of course, must be stopped. But also, and ultimately, we men and women of the so-called Christian West must be looking to the plank in our own eye.