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DEVOTIONS FOR MEN
There are many reasons why certain jobs require specific clothes. Many of them are practical reasons. The scrubs most medical workers wear are durable, comfortable, and easy to clean--and they easily distinguish them from anyone needing their care. Firefighters' uniforms share these same basic characteristics and add fire resistance, reflective tape, and wide-brimmed protective helmets.
Many uniforms are also symbolic. Almost every aspect of military and police uniforms mean something--and even the way they must be maintained represents their wearers' values. To wear a uniform--any uniform--implies that you are part of the group that uniform represents. To wear a uniform implies that you have done whatever that group requires for membership, that you are capable of doing whatever members of that group are typically capable of doing, and that you are somehow in touch with the rest of that group should backup be required. Costumes, however, are all about the wearer, not about a group.
Costumes are usually worn out of respect or honor (the way little boys love to dress up like soldiers, policemen, firefighters, cowboys, and superheroes), but they never look like the real thing, no matter how realistic they are. Other costumes are worn to express derision or prejudice, or simply as a disguise. No matter why they are being worn, however, costumes only speak of the costume wearer, not of whomever the costumes represent.
Don't miss this distinction in Ephesians 4, where Paul is clearly explaining how believers are to live out their faith, how "the mystery of Christ" changes their identity from the inside out, and they truly become part of God's family. Not only that, choosing each day to "put on the uniform" and "do the job" (see v. 22-25 especially) we can grow up and become even more like Christ (see v 14-16). Using Paul's metaphor, believers "putting on" the old, sinful nature is like wearing a costume--or worse, wearing the uniform of the enemy. Our identities have changed. On the other hand, "putting on Christ" becomes a daily ritual of donning the uniform that represents our new identity, our new role, our new team, and our new commanding Officer. Read Ephesians 5-6 in this light, and see if it doesn't open up some brand new things for you--no matter how familiar this passage may seem.
To modern American ears, the phrase "the mystery of Christ" might sound almost quaint. When we hear the word mysteries, we tend to think of crimes to be solved by legendary sleuths like Sherlock Holmes or The Hardy Boys. Worse, when we hear the word "Christ" we tend to think picture the historical person of Jesus Christ more than instantly start contemplating His role as THE Christ. This was not the case for the people of Ephesus.
To the Greeks and Romans in that era, mysteries were deep truths and questions about the unknown and unknowable. If they knew the word Christ, they knew it was a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah and that it meant something about the Savior they were looking for. The mystery of Christ, then, was something deep and unknown about the long-awaited Jewish Messiah that--if revealed--would be a MAJOR revelation. Nothing quaint about that; this was big news. And it was:
Ephesians 3:2-6 (NLT) Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation...in reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Imagine the impact of this passage the first time it was read to a multi-ethnic church made up of Messianic Jews and new non-Jewish converts. Imagine hearing that all the laws and rituals that had once divided them so sharply were merely pictures of the difference between holy and not holy, between those who follow God and those who do not--not practices that were near and dear to God's heart, in and of themselves. Imagine hearing for the first time that such outward, confusing, and exclusive practices as circumcision were not actually as important to God as everyone assumed--that they just represented His desire to set His people apart---that they would be "in the world but not of it."
With all this in mind, please take a moment to click the link below re-read the following passage. (One of the most commonly quoted scriptures, its context is rarely mentioned.) Then, after reading it, pray through Paul's prayer for the Ephesians for someone you love. Ephesians 3:14-21.
All art critics agree that "great" art communicates what the artist meant to communicate and influences and inspires other artists. All well-known masterpieces (the Mona Lisa, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, etc.) meet both of these criteria. So does God's masterpiece.
In the first three chapters of Genesis, we learn that human beings were the pinnacle of God's creation. In their original form, everything about our souls, minds, and bodies was perfect and deeply symbolic, revealing specific things about God. His image was revealed in all the similarities and all the differences between male and female--and in the nature of their union with each other and with Him. Sin vandalized God's masterpiece and nearly obliterated its original form, and most of what remains is distorted, hidden, or destroyed. This is why much of what we believe about being male or female or human--and most of what we believe about marriage and love--barely resembles God's original designs. Still, artists and storytellers have always been inspired by the human body, the human spirit, the human will, the mysteries of love, and everything else that does remain from God's original--vandalized or not.
In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul says that sin does more than distort God's image in us; it kills us. Left to our own devices, he says, what most human beings call living is actually death. Rather than communicate God's perfection and beauty and inspire creative expressions of these ideals, our actions tend to make others doubt His goodness (or even His very existence). On our own, we tend to inspire only selfishness and more sin. But then God, the Artist, steps into His wrecked studio and begins to work again...
God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)
Throughout the rest of this letter, Paul explores this amazing truth: though we are God's masterpiece (which means He alone deserves full credit for anything good in us), He creates and recreates us to DO specific things, to live a certain way. In both its original form and its fully restored form, God's masterpiece (us) exists to communicate His truth and love and to influence and inspire others.
This is the first of a series based on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Before reading the stuff we write, you should take a moment and read Ephesians 1 for yourself. (The link provided takes you to www.biblegateway.com, where you can access multiple translations from whatever digital device you prefer. We also still recommend a printed Bible and a place where you can be alone for awhile. Do what helps YOU connect to God.)
It's impossible to miss Paul's focus on Christ in this chapter. He begins the letter by identifying himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus" who is writing to "faithful followers of Christ Jesus." In fact, He specifically refers to Jesus more than 23 times in the 23 verses of this chapter, clearly presenting Christ as the nexus of God's plan for humanity from before creation and for all eternity. Check out the last few verses:
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe Him. This is is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms. Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else--not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself. (Ephesians 1:19-23, NLT)
Here's the problem: when modern Christians hear that someone is "preaching Christ" or "focusing on Christ," we tend to assume that they concentrate on His death. We love to offer people forgiveness, a hope of heaven after death, and a chance to know God based on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross--and this is not a bad thing. Without Him taking our punishment, we would have no hope of forgiveness or knowing God, so of course we must teach and celebrate that moment. Still, as great as the cross was, it's only a small piece of God's big plan or what Jesus meant when He said He was THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life (see John 14:6).
Re-read the passage above--which completely focuses on Jesus--and notice that the only time it mentions His death is in verse 7 ("He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins") verse 14 ("...He has purchased us to be His own people...so we would praise and glorify Him") and 19-20 ("...This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him...). Everything else Paul says about Jesus in this passage refers to the LIVING Christ.
We miss the whole point of both passages if we believe God's ultimate desire is to forgive us. Jesus did not just die to pay for our sins; He also died so He could conquer death and unleash God's mighty power in our lives. As Jesus Himself said in John 10:10, "...My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."