John T. Willis

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Put Away the Old Self; Put on the New--Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Having emphasized the importance of maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-16), Paul now stresses the importance of becoming more and more like God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The next paragraph, Ephesians 4:17-5:2 develops a contrast between the "old self" and the "new self." The structure of this paragraph is A [4:17-22]--B [4:23-24]--A [4:25-31]--B [4:31-5:2]. Let us follow Paul's thinking here.

I. Put Away the Old Self. Ephesians 4:17-22.
A. God's instructions through Paul here are IMPERATIVE. Paul says: "I INSIST ON" what follows. 4:17a.
B. God's people must no longer live like GENTILES. Note that most of the Christians at Ephesus are Gentiles. But NOW, they are Christians. By God's miraculous grace through faith, God CREATED "one NEW humanity" (2:8-10, 15). Physically, they are certainly still Gentiles; but spiritually, they are "no longer" Gentiles. So they MUST LIVE differently. 4:17b.
C. Paul enumerates four main characteristics of Gentiles--of all sinners:
1. They are "darkened" in their understanding. Satan is their master and lord. He drags them down into the "darkest" possible sins of human beings.
2. They are "alienated from God" because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. Many "brilliant" people are NOT REALLY knowledgable. Rather, spiritually they are ignorant. By repeated sins, gradually, they have hardened their hearts. They are cold to the needs and qualities of genuine human beings.
3. They have lost sensitivity. They are capable of thinking, speaking, and acting the worst possible sinful activities.
4. They have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Bad or Sinful Habits eventually drive a person into a cold, hardened, calloused, insensitive way of life. Everything now focuses on "ME." Such a person can harm anyone, near or far. 4:18-19.
D. But God through Jesus Christ has changed things. God "taught" us the way of life, and we "learned" CHRIST--not "about" Christ or "information" concerning Christ, but Jesus Christ the PERSON. REAL TRUTH [not abstract facts] is IN JESUS. 4:20-21.
E. And WHAT God "taught" us is to "PUT AWAY our former way of life, our old self." That old self was "corrupt" and "deluded by its lusts." Temptation is very strong, and leads us to believe that sinful things are great and fulfilling and rewarding. But this is not true. Hence--Put away the old self. 4:22.

II. Put On The New Self. Ephesians 4:23-24.
A. This requires first "RENEWAL." This renewal can occur ONLY in the inner spirit of the mind. This cannot happen first externally. This is a heart issue. 4:23.
B. This requires "clothing one with the new self." We cannot accomplish this ourselves. It is the result of God's miraculous "CREATION." Paul has emphasized through this letter that God works spiritually by his CREATION--Note especially
2:10, 15. God creates us "according to the likeness of God in TRUE righteousness and holiness." God is the pattern, the model, the standard. We must follow his likeness. We must strive to be "like" God. 4:24.

III. Put Away the Old Self. Ephesians 4:25-31.
A. Paul now returns to his thoughts in 2:17-22. Here he enumerates six specific sinful acts which Christians MUST put away.
1. Falsehood or Lying. Godly people must "speak the truth to their neighbors," because we are members of one another. Hence, we cannot, we must not be "false." 4:25.
2. Control anger. Some anger is justified. The Bible teaches that God himself become angry. But often, human anger is self-centered and uncontrolled. God demands that we control our anger. The devil would love that we lose our anger. 4:26-27.
3. Do not steal. All of us are self-centered. We often desire what others have. We yearn to steal from others. This continues to be a major problem in human life. God requires that we refrain from stealing anything from others: possessions, information, time, etc. The Christlike goal is to work honestly with our hands in order to be able to help other people in need. 4:28.
4. Do not speak evil. The tongue is a little member of the body, but very hurtful. James 3:1-13. God gave each of us a tongue to use it positively to encourage and support others. Hence, Paul encourages God's people to avoid speaking any kind of evil. 4:29.
5. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's gift to use in our hearts. We can grieve the Holy Spirit by living in an ungodly, unholy, unrighteous manner. 4:30.
6. "Put away" all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and malice. This is a heart and tongue issue. Others wrong and persecute and harm us unjustly. But through God's love, we must respond in love. 4:31.

IV. Put On the New Self. Ephesians 4:32-5:2.
A. Finally, again, Paul returns to God's admonition to put on the new self, which he described in 4:23-24. First, Paul specifically states that we must "be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another." God in Christ is the example of this in that he has forgiven us already. A kind, tender, forgiving heart changes the attitudes and lives of others. 4:32.
B. Be imitators of God. This is a great challenge. God has set the example. He has given his laws or instructions or precepts. But before and behind this, God has set the example. As we study and reflect and pray on God's mighty works and teachings and nature, this will set the example we need to follow. 5:1.
C. Live in love, as Christ love us, and gave himself up for us. Christ is the example of love. True love is measured in terms of giving. Christ showed us how to love by giving. True love is a heart matter. Out of the heart, only gifts to others can flow. 5:2.

There is much to ponder in this marvelous text. I hope this passage inspires and motivates YOU. Share YOUR ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, June 25, 2010

Max Lucado

I am overwhelmingly blessed by my wonderful students. One of my former students is Max Lucado.

Max was a very attentive and creative student. While he was at ACU, we was very active in the university ministry at Highland. Along with Terry Cagle and Bryan Gibbs, he taught in our class with hundreds of students in those days.

Max and Bryan joined our team in Rio de Janeiro. During those years, Evelyn and I went to Rio to try to encourage this fine team. Through the years, they have done a great work. Max and Bryan and the rest learned Portuguese, and had and still have a great impact on that part of the world.

Max returned to the USA, and became the preacher at Oak Hills in San Antonio. This church grew to over 5,000 members, and this church continues to do marvelous things throughout the world.

Max and Denalyn and their three children have a great family. I was honored to have Jenna in my class in more recent years.

One year, Max preached at ACU and motivated thousands of students here. This impact was significant.

Max has written many important books. One of his most recent books is FEARLESS. We have used this book in our studies at Highland. READ MAX's BOOKS. His works emphasize the important teachings in the Bible. They addresses issues in ways that touch the hearts of human beings.

A few years ago, the Reader's Digest honored Max and the BEST PREACHER of the year in the United States. Max has spoken at the National Prayer Convention before the President, the US Staff, and the Senate and House of Representatives.

I am so thankful for the efforts and spirit of Max and Denalyn and his family.

Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, June 24, 2010

God's Marvelous Diversified Gifts--Ephesians 4:1-16

Actually, the THEME of Ephesians 4:1-16 [and perhaps the THEME of the entire Letter of Ephesians] is the importance of UNITY. But BEHIND and UNDERNEATH is a deeper ROOT: God's LOVE. True love is measured in terms of GIVING. God is the great GIVER of all gifts and blessings. James 1:17 says: "Every GENEROUS act of GIVING, with every perfect GIFT, is FROM ABOVE, coming down from the FATHER of lights, with whom there is no variation of shadow due to change." The GREAT MESSAGE of the entire Bible is: "For God so LOVED the WORLD that he GAVE is only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:16). Hence, God's GIFTS appear everywhere--especially in Ephesians 4:1-16. This segment falls into three parts.

I. God's SEVEN GIFTS for ALL HUMAN BEINGS. Ephesians 4:1-6.
a. Paul reminds his hearers that he is a "prisoner," not only physically at Rome, but also spiritually "in the Lord." God "controls" Paul's life. Accordingly, Paul summons Christians to "walk worthily" of the calling to which God called them. 4:1.
b. Paul exhorts God's people to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. "Bearing one another in love" is absolutely essential to unity. 4:2.
c. Further, Paul encourages Christians to "make EVERY EFFORT to MAINTAIN the UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of PEACE." God has ALREADY brought the people of God to be in unity through God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. BUT, all Christians must MAINTAIN that prior unity. 4:3.
d. Now, Paul lists SEVEN GIFTS that God showers on all people. 4:4-6.
1. A common BODY--the church.
2. A common SPIRIT--the Holy Spirit. Often, the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as a GIFT of God--see Acts 2:38; 5:32.
3. A common HOPE--1 Peter 1:3 says: "God the Father by his great mercy has GIVEN us a new birth into a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
4. A common LORD--Jesus Christ. Remember that John 3:16 says: "God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son"--Jesus Christ. Jesus is another GIFT of God.
5. A common FAITH--This is not merely an absract set of beliefs to be accepted, but a common TRUST in God--trust in God alone, in none other or thing.
6. A common BAPTISM--Immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins. See Titus 3:4-7; Hebrews 10:19-22. Baptism is a symbol and re-living of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in our lives. See Romans 6:1-7.
7. A common GOD AND FATHER--God offers HIMSELF as a GIFT to be our heavenly Father. See Matthew 6:9-15.

II. God's Gifts to "Gifted" or "Talented" People. Ephesians 4:7-11.
a. 4:7 is VERY IMPORTANT. Note that Paul says: "EACH OF US [every individual is very important] WAS GIVEN [by God] grace according to the measure of Christ's GIFT." We cannot "seize" or "capture" or "create" or "build" the gifts that God has put into the life of each person. 4:7.
b. After Jesus Christ died and was buried and was resurrected from the dead, approximately 50 days later, he was caught up into heaven and sat down on the right hand of God his Father [see Acts 2:32-33]. Then he GAVE GIFTS to his people. 4:8-10.
c. Some of these GIFTS were people. Paul lists as examples: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. 4:11. It is very unlikely that this is intended to be a "complete list." The important point here is that God's gifts are often PEOPLE. Think of people in YOUR OWN LIFE who are obviously GIFTS from God. Perhaps this may be a parent or a sibling or a friend or a mentor or a preacher or a shepherd or an inspiring writer or singer, etc.

III. God's Gifts or Talents or Skills within People. Ephesians 4:12-16.
a. Paul also enumerates several gifts or talents or skills which various people have and should use to glorify God. A study of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 expands on this great reality. First, God uses trained people to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." 4:12. Certainly, not every one in the family of God can do everything. We ALL must have each other to support and sustain each other.
b. In this way, we together come to the unity of the faith, to the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 4:13. But this can occur ONLY if everyone does his talented or gifted part.
c. New babes in Christ may quibble with each other. But soon we must abandon childish ways and become mature in Christ. In this way, we may grow up in every way into Jesus Christ, our head and source and sustenance. 4:14-15.
d. The whole body is joined and knit together by EVERY ligament with which it is EQUIPPED [remember 4:12], as EACH PART [each individual in the church] is working properly. This promotes the spiritual GROWTH of the body, the church, in building itself up IN LOVE. 4:16.

YOU are a GIFT of God. God has given YOU special gifts or talents or skills. Find and use YOUR gifts.

Share YOUR insights and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


While we are in New Zealand, every day we watch oystercatchers wading and eating and playing in the bay new Mount Monganui in Tauranga near the Pacific Ocean. Oystercatchers are in the Haematopodidae family and the Haematopus genus. They appear on coasts throughout the world. They are black on the top parts and white on the bottom, and have orange or red bills.

Until 1843, people called this bird a Sea Pie. Oystercatchers are very noisy. They use their bills to smash or pry open molluscs. Females are heavier than males, and their bills are longer than male bills. Oystercatchers feed on earthworms, insect larvae, bivalves, gastropods, limpets, mussels, chitons, echinoderms, fish, and crabs.

These birds are usually monogamous. They are territorial during the breeding season. Scholars have found that mates have nested at the same site for 20 years. These birds make their nests in the ground and lined and placed in a spot with good visibility. Their eggs are spotted and cryptic. They lay between 1 and 4 eggs. Males and females share the incubation period between 24 and 39 days.

During the 20th century, the Canarian Black Oystercatcher became extinct, and the Chatham Island Oystercatcher and the African Black Oystercatcher are endangered.

I hope YOU have seen, and appreciate Oystercatchers. This is another example of God's numerous creatures. Each creature has its own unique characteristics and usefulness on earth. Far beyond each creature, appreciate and honor the CREATOR of all that is.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paul's Intercessory Prayer--Ephesians 3:14-21

Paul concludes the first half of the Letter to Ephesian Christians with a PRAYER in behalf of the people of God. This prayer has many dimensions. This brief blog attempts to emphasize a few important ideas in this prayer--Ephesians 3:14-21. This prayer falls into three parts.

I. Introduction. Ephesians 3:14-15.
a. Paul explains why he utters this prayer: "For this reason." God, by his grace, had given Paul the opportunity and challenge to carry the message of God not only to Jews but also to Gentiles. This motivates Paul to pray in this prayer. 3:14a.
b. In prayer, Paul "bows down before" his heavenly Father. This is a LITERAL gesture. Gestures are very important. Often, we need to actually, literally "bow down before" our heavenly Father in adoration, submission, and guidance in God's behalf. See Psalm 95:6. 3:14b.
c. Paul declares that since God our Father is the SOURCE of all beings human and divine, "every family in heaven and on earth" takes its name. NO ONE, in heaven [among angelic beings] or or earth escapes the presence of God our Father. 3:15.

II. Paul asks God our Father to do FOUR specific things for the people of God. Ephesians 3:16-19.
A. Paul asks that God GRANT the people of God to be STRENGTHENED in their INNER BEING with POWER through GOD'S SPIRIT. How badly all of us need strength--not just physical strength, but especially spiritual strength to carry out God's work through us and in opposition to the power of Satan and his demonic followers. 3:16. See especially 6:10-12.
B. Next, Paul asks that Christ may DWELL in the hearts of God's people through faith--people rooted and grounded in love. Here, "Christ" is NOT an IDEA, but a LIVING, ACTIVE PERSON. Christ actually, literally "dwells" in our hearts. 3:17.
C. Then, Paul asks God's people may have the power to COMPREHEND what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to KNOW the LOVE OF CHRIST that surpasses knowledge. In one sense, it is impossible for human beings to fully and completely "comprehend" and "know," appreciate and fathom, the love of Christ that Jesus Christ has demonstrated to and for all people. But still, Paul urges us to strive to do this. 3:18-19a.
D. Finally, Paul asks that God's people may be filled with all the fullness of God. We are empty people--physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially--in every way. God alone can FILL our hearts and our needs. Paul prays that God will do just this. 3:19b.
*Before leaving this segment, notice that Paul specifically names God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Often, we try to distinguish between these "three persons" in some way or other. Biblically, they are so entwined that it is very difficult to distinguish each from the other. Biblically, each does essentially the same thing.

III. Finally, Paul emphasizes the GLORY of God. Ephesians 3:20-21.
a. We human beings constantly ASK God for this or that or IMAGINE about this or that. But in reality, God gives us his POWER within us, and thus ENABLES us to ACCOMPLISH ABUNDANTLY FAR MORE than ALL we can ask or imagine. Our so-called "achievements" are MIRACULOUS, surprising gifts of God. Paul reminds us that we need to be thankful daily for what God does WITHIN US. He alone is the source and ongoing power of life. 3:20.
b. Thus, like Paul, we should constantly give God alone ALL THE GLORY--in the church and in Christ Jesus. God has done this in the past. He does this now. And he will do this throughout all generations, forever and ever. Our prayer should be coupled to this thought with a resounding AMEN. 3:21.

What a wonderful prayer!!! We need to ponder this prayer over and over again. I hope this prayer inspired and motivates YOU. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis