Professor Derrick Bell is widely considered the father of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. You can read a bit more about him in his obituary from the New York Times (Oct. 6, 2011):
Professor Bell, soft-spoken and erudite, was “not confrontational by nature,” he wrote. But he attacked both conservative and liberal beliefs. In 1992, he told The New York Times that black Americans were more subjugated than at any time since slavery. And he wrote that in light of the often violent struggle that resulted from the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, things might have worked out better if the court had instead ordered that both races be provided with truly equivalent schools.
He was a pioneer of critical race theory — a body of legal scholarship that explored how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions, even many of those intended to redress past injustices. His 1973 book, “Race, Racism and American Law,” became a staple in law schools and is now in its sixth edition.
Mr. Bell “set the agenda in many ways for scholarship on race in the academy, not just the legal academy,” said Lani Guinier, the first black woman hired to join Harvard Law School’s tenured faculty, in an interview on Wednesday.
At a rally while a student at Harvard Law, Barack Obama compared Professor Bell to the civil rights hero Rosa Parks.
Professor Bell’s core beliefs included what he called “the interest convergence dilemma” — the idea that whites would not support efforts to improve the position of blacks unless it was in their interest. Asked how the status of blacks could be improved, he said he generally supported civil rights litigation, but cautioned that even favorable rulings would probably yield disappointing results and that it was best to be prepared for that.
There has been much criticism lately from the political left about how the attacks on CRT simply do not deal in good faith with the real CRT — the CRT which is highly nuanced, and worthy of everyone’s serious engagement. One of the American new left’s brightest thinkers, Nathan J. Robinson, develops this idea further in a piece that just dropped yesterday, where he states that “the real tragedy is that there isn’t enough CRT in the classroom.”
More specifically, Robinson goes on to say:
The version of CRT being described by Rufo—a neo-Marxist conspiracy to indoctrinate America’s children and destroy the country’s core values—was unrecognizable to someone who had actually engaged in the interesting academic debates over such questions as: do the law’s seemingly neutral principles function in practice to maintain social hierarchies? Is racism the exception or the norm?
But we should be careful not to lean too heavily on the argument that conservatives don’t understand critical race theory or that critical race theory bears “no resemblance” to the caricature. People like Ricketts and Trump haven’t read the literature, of course. But some of the core charges they make against CRT are perfectly true: they say that it accuses the United States of being a racist country, and they say it “rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.” Indeed, the core objection that conservatives have to what they call CRT is that it accuses white people, from the Founding Fathers to the present day, of being racist. And of course, that is indeed one of its claims.
There are a number of critiques that one can make about this “academic” CRT, its focus on race as the lens through which everything is interpreted, in particular. I however find Robinson’s question of whether “the law’s seemingly neutral principles function in practice to maintain social hierarchies?” to be very telling. Everyone can imagine tyrannical powers which oppress certain groups through laws that are clearly against that group. Still, what about normal governing authorities who seem genuinely concerned to create laws featuring neutral principles? Even if you don’t like any governing authorities, ask yourself this: Should they not, in part, want to encourage respect not only for their authority but for authority in general? For the “offices” that they and others hold?
We all know that authorities can be tyrannical, corrupt, and also racist in the traditional sense of that word. Nevertheless, would CRT seek to basically undermine authority in general? And if so, why? This is what I want to get to in this short post.
I have maintained, in spite of the fact that its practitioners might uncover important facts and unique insights, that it is at bottom not an academic program in any real scholarly sense but rather a political philosophy. In other words, in a political science class one might expect to learn about the different kinds of political philosophies ideas and programs that have existed throughout time — you would gain knowledge about what they are. CRT is simply one of those political philosophies put into practice. Western academics have tended to distinguish between theory and practice, where one might really learn something about the former whereas the latter involves action and skin in the game. CRT, like all forms of CT, makes theory and practice one, because one cannot really learn about the world without simultaneously being involved in it.
There is something to this, of course. We all know about people who seem to be all talk and little action. We can understand that there might be some doctors who did great in their academic work and maybe even are socially competent to the nth degree but just aren’t really good doctors. Nevertheless, what “academic disciplines” like CRT do is say that the whole idea of learning about the world is fundamentally flawed. The whole idea that there is objective truth that a person can try very hard to be impartial about, and learn about, is wrong.
Here is where we go to Hegel, and deeper still, to something called historicism. With Hegel, all knowledge and truth is fluid, as the world spirit seeks to increasingly know itself in the consciousness of human beings. Nothing is ultimately solid. Even if he did not intend this (I very much doubt that), all of this goes hand-in-hand with undermining the authority found in God’s creation itself.
And where did Hegel get it from? He got it from the early 18th century Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist Giambattista Vico. What follows are some things that I have written about Vico from past blog posts, and I learned about him from the theologian and historian Martin Nonland, in his 2003 doctoral dissertation, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf von Harnack.
Some clips, with the first serving as a good introduction as well as summary:
In the past, the idea of some things that don’t change and are permanent was a fixture even for intellectuals, while in today’s environment, influential historical figures like Vico, Hegel, Darwin, and Nietzsche have created a highly “liquid” environment, which one must adjust to if one is to effectively communicate and survive.
According to Noland and those he cites (men like Isaiah Berlin, for example), we see the beginnings of this species of thought called historicism with Vico, who also introduced the notion of “mytho-poetical” truth – and how it could explain what had happened among the heathen (note: not Jewish and Christian) nations (p. 102). Like Descartes, Vico wanted to pursue “science” and “general laws” and so did not outrightly reject the scientific mindset like the historicists of the future would (“German thinkers steeped in pietism and mysticism”), who put their focus not only on organic ideas, like Vico, but individualities as well (p. 116, italics mine).
While Descartes rejected the “application of human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles’, to the study of history, Vico argued that human history is, in fact, created precisely through such ideas, which are ‘modifications of the human mind’” (p. 108) – he “asserted the epistemological primacy of the man-made historical world” (Gadamer, in Noland p. 217). In Vico’s mind, methodological error was to be charged towards persons like Descartes, who “apply human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles,’ to the study of nature, which was created by God and so is fully known by God alone” (p. 108)!
I trust one can see the appeal of Vico’s thinking in many ways, contra the ideas and methodologies of men like Descartes. Hence I also wrote this:
And here is where the complaints of many of the “Romantics” vs. the men of the Enlightenment start to really resonate with me. About 250 years ago, George Hamann echoed Vico in saying that “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. Johann Goethe went even further, essentially arguing that “the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia].
We see, however, that while questioning the ambitions of the Enlightenment’s modern scientific and technological mindset, Vico also had in mind to undermine trust in the Christian Scriptures and the view of Providence, history, and moral view of man (traditional “natural law”) which the Bible upheld:
Further, on p. 96 note that Vico, in spite of his belief in a version of Divine providence, contrasted his own view with the “doctrinaires [i.e., the Cartesians], who “judge human actions as they ought to be, not as they actually are (i.e. performed more or less at random)” and who, “satisfied with abstract truth alone” and “unused to following probability” (emphasis mine), do not bother to “find out whether their opinion is held by the generality and whether the things that are truths to them are also such to other people”. While Vico is not dealing with the probability of historical events here, one can see how his idea of human belief and behavior – with the emphasis on generally held opinion and actions “performed more of less at random” – decreases the importance of both particular beliefs in the world and individual human agency(even if it does increase the importance shown to individual “forms” – according to Noland, as the father of “organicism” Vico could say that everything that is ‘made’ is ‘true”” and that “there are no mutations and no aberrations, only manifold potentialities”, p. 103), and with this the importance of character, and with this the importance of loyalty and trust. This seems like it will inevitably lead to even more criticism and dissolution. After all, men are ruled “not be forethought, but by whim or chance” (p. 99). Also note that in spite of his supposedly un-mythical-poetical use of the Bible (he applied the mythical-poetical critique to all the non-Christian/Jewish religions), Vico also did not believe that we were all one in Adam (p. 180).
In the end, with the real “common ground” of life excised, we have nothing left by which to communicate.
on p. 113 Noland says that in Vico one cannot find the historicist principle of criticism (this would be where the historian tries to get behind the text, seeking for a “more credible” story) and yet it seems to me that the roots of this at least are clearly seen in this denial of more classical understandings of the terms “substance” or “essence”, which was certainly encouraged by Vico’s affinity for the Epicurean disciple, the Roman poet, Lucretius [(modern scholarship has evidently demonstrated that Vico’s repudiation of Lucretius, popularizer of Epicurus (whose views about nature and change seem much more compatible with Darwin), was not real but feigned!)]. If there are no stable categories that persons of varying backgrounds can agree on throughout time, can we, or should we, really be confident of anything that we are able to perceive? On what basis? The idea that we can be confident on the basis of a “principle of analogy”, affirming that human beings can know the things they have made (the mind’s awareness of its own productions over time) falls flat for both scientific (see Kant’s critique of this notion in his words vs. Herder) and practical reasons (for example, one simply needs to see all the important questions that historicists disagreed on! Which “self-understanding of the Spirit”???). Thus it is easy to see how the criticism that results in only skepticism without end gets started.
In sum, with the traditional notions of “substances” or “essences” discredited, “Essence” now is tied up with identity, and primarily, racial identity.
“I pray… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith….”
– Ephesians: 3:16-17
At the very end of the book of Ephesians, in the last verse that we read, Paul says:
“Peace to the brothers and sisters,[c] and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love…”
“All who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”
Should that perhaps stop us for a moment and cause us to reflect?
Grace to those with “undying love”….
The original Greek here could mean incorruptible love, immortal love, or perhaps just genuine or sincere love…[i]
Does that really help though?
What about grace for those who do not have such love?
We might wonder: is there any grace for those whose love is failing?
Perhaps this makes you wonder if Paul is talking about how it is the loving ones who deserve grace.
In other words, it is not really faith that receives God’s grace, but love!
Love gives love and responds to love – perhaps we might say love deserves love? – and so maybe it is this kind of love which “deserves” grace!
The early 5th century bishop Theodoret of Cyrus – not the greatest theologian in my opinion – seems to have concluded just this about the passage. He said:
“Grace is not simply bestowed indiscriminately upon all but on those who love the Lord, [those who] keep his life-giving laws…” (ACCS, 216)[ii]
And love of course, as we are told in the Bible, goes hand-in-hand with the Ten Commandments!
And God knows – and we can clearly see – that there are a lot of commandments or “ethical admonitions” (Arnold) in Eph. 4-6![iii]
Let’s recall some of these examples, many which coincide with the 10 commandments! (in no particular order):
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love… Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient….Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
“In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
…there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
… each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God…
Here, one might rightly say: “That looks like undying love to me!”
But does that mean that those who do these things, perhaps, are the only ones one proclaiming God’s word should wish grace upon..?[iv]
Going along with this, commentator Armin Panning asserts that
“[f]aith and love are not essentially different. Love is simply faith in action, and both are produced by the gospel, which alone can win hearts and lives for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So are love and faith not essentially different?
Well, we understand that in one sense love proceeds from faith much like smoke proceeds from a fire, but are these really exactly the same thing?[v]
I don’t think we should say this because while faith or trust might, at times, be informed and strengthened by the love God has placed in a believer’s heart[vi], this is not always the case.
Sometimes faith is born from God showing us our desperate need as well… which would include an abject love-lessness on our part!
…And so making a distinction here is critical!
As we serious Lutherans know all so well, … the well-known passage of Ephesians 2:8-9 – which I’m sure many of you memorized for your confirmation! — makes things very clear for us.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10
Paul, of course, then goes on to say, in verse 10… “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do….”
That is the way that we need to be thinking about these things.
When it comes to understanding our justification before God, our salvation in its narrow sense – that is, our being able to stand before God with confidence, and peace, being justified – it is critical that we remember that we are saved not by love, but by grace through faith!
Not by grace through love!
On the other hand, if we say that faith and love are not essentially different, we might very well get the idea that faith and true works of love, that is real good works, are not essentially different.
And if that is the case, if faith simply equals love, then we might get the idea that it is not faith alone but love that saves that makes us able to stand before God…
…and that that, perhaps, makes us worthy of grace….
For grace, by definition, always comes to us as something we do not deserve…
And so what is Paul doing here then in this final verse of Ephesians?
He is saying that he means God to bless with grace the ones who are growing as they are meant to grow, of whom he considers that entire congregation!
To those who, continually recognizing their sin and ongoing need of God’s grace, are putting off the old and putting on the new, and embracing the fight that is theirs as Christians…
They are those who fight not to become Christians but because they are Christians!
They are those who can “approach God with freedom and confidence” as those who have already received their calling…
So does this not raise an interesting question for us this morning?
Why does the Apostle Paul’s mind here go to wishing grace not to the failing Christian – a category that we all fall into from time to time – but to the Christian who exhibits unfailing love?
I believe it is because in this book of Ephesians – in chapter 3 and verses 14-21 particularly – Paul has labored mightily to convey not only the sacrifice of love atoning for our sin in Christ – but what this great and surprising work is meant to accomplish and is accomplishing!
Paul is simply making it clear that he wants the Ephesians to know he expects them to have an undying confidence – nay, certainty! – in the overwhelming love of God for them and His church!
It is because, as he says in our text for today:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
First, a comment about Paul, the “chief of sinners” (and, who, by the way, is in prison when he is writing this) saying “I pray that you…”
The great 19th century Lutheran theologian George Stoeckhardt wisely said, “We, we Christians, are still very weak, also in our prayers. We are not as yet fully conscious of our real need and blessings, wherefore our petitions are always less than our real necessities.” (176)
Nevertheless note that doesn’t stop Paul from praying – that, in part, is of course why he prays!
In chapter 3, verse 12, Paul spoke about how “in Christ Jesus we have ‘boldness and access in confidence ‘ to God our Father” … so now Paul “leads the public prayer of God’s people, the figurative temple…” (Winger, 404)
And, second, note this: in the very first chapter of this letter he writes to the Ephesians Paul got to the very key of what drives him, and I’d say this goes hand in hand with what we just heard from him….[viii]:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come….”
How about that, huh?
Now… getting back to our original question about undying love…
Who is it, we think, who is going to appreciate grace the most?
We might be tempted to think that it is those who, mired in individual self-focus and self-sabotage, hit rock-bottom.
…who have an experience of total desolation before coming to the Lord…
Many a sinner who has been ostracized by their own society no doubt finds the acceptance of God’s grace amazing, but they are not necessarily the only ones who deeply understand grace.
By ending his letter with His blessing that grace be shown to those with undying love he is not excluding the weak in faith, and those with little love, he is simply exalting Christ’s work in His church in a powerful and thought-provoking way!
We can all know deeply, like a nail forcefully pounded into our very being that:
Love does not deserve grace, for grace is undeserved.
When we don’t get what we deserve, that is mercy.
And when we get what we don’t deserve, that is grace…
The ones who grasp grace know that it is only those who see themselves as unworthy – in whole or in part – who are ready to be made worthy in God’s sight… and not once, but day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, second-by-second…
By receiving the fruit of what Christ won for us in His cross and resurrection… by being given Jesus Christ’s perfect robe of righteousness…
All of us like Joseph in his father’s eyes….
What we can say is that all those who know they have received undeserved grace are those who desire to more deeply appreciate this grace and to live fully from this undeserved gift….
And Paul, we understand, thinks very highly of this congregation at Ephesus, who he urges to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1) and be “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1-2)…
This congregation which exhibits such undying love….[ix]
When Paul would saypassionately things like he did in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Gal. 2:20
He no doubt believed that the Ephesians could wholly identify with him![x]
Again, it is clear that Paul is expecting great things from this congregation.[xi]
So how does the Apostle attempt to strengthen this congregation in his letter?
Does he do it by trying to get them to pump up their own faith?
By focusing on themselves and carefully measuring it day by day?
Taking their spiritual temperature, one might say?
Not at all! You see, Christ is risen and ascended for them! And “No [other] authority figure [on earth or in heaven, in this age or the age to come,] can successfully oppose the risen and ascended Christ…”
And Jesus Christ is now carrying on for us as our Intercessor and Advocate in the heavens![xii]
Even as He also, still as the True Man, abides and works in our hearts!
And Christ has also chosen Paul to pray for them that all God’s gifts might be realized in them!
So, Paul is praying that they would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in their inner man, or their “new man,” that Christ might dwell in their hearts…
This means that the Holy Spirit is doing precisely what Jesus said He would do, which is testify about Jesus Himself (John 15:26), and as that “word of Christ dwells in [them] richly in all wisdom,” as Colossians 3:16 says, Jesus Christ will dwell in their hearts by faith.
But doesn’t Christ already do this – dwell in their hearts by faith – you might say?[xiii]
Again, the point is that he wants them to be filled to overflowing with all the good gifts God means to give them!
And so, Paul is praying that all of what God is doing in them through His word might continue (see 1 Thes. 2:13)
That they might be “rooted and established in love”![xiv]
Meaning that from the riches of God’s glory, God might grant them to be strengthened with His Sprit’s power for their inner man… for Christ to continually and increasingly dwell in their hearts through faith
So that they might be fully enabled to comprehend, and know the love of Christ – it’s breadth and length and height and depth — that surpasses knowledge
So that they might be filled up with “the complete indwelling of Christ” (Arnold, 211) — all the fullness of God![xv]
Of all this, the great Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski said:
Christ takes possession of us in ever greater degree … Christ will take complete possession of [our heart, the center of our being, the seat of intellect, emotion, and will, especially of the latter] as one uses the whole house in which one dwells… (494)[xvi]
And I especially appreciate what the 19th century commentator MacLaren – a Baptist of all people! – says about all this:
“….the Apostle here [speaks to us of] the idea of intensity and continuity. What he desires, then, is not merely that these Ephesian Christians may have occasional visits of the indwelling Lord, or that at some lofty moments of spiritual enthusiasm they may be conscious that He is with them, but that always, in an unbroken line of deep, calm receptiveness, they may possess, and know that they possess, an indwelling Saviour.”[xvii]
And, this morning, all of this is not only for the Ephesians, but for us to!
We who believe – with Christ dwelling in our hearts and who indeed desires to do so more and more – let us persist and go on!
Let us reflect just a bit more about this good word this morning…
On some practical implications for us both as individuals and a community…
I hope that you will agree with me this morning that this is definitely the kind of thing you we would want to fight for.
A man like Martin Luther certainly thought that this was the case, as this kind of teaching, this kind of doctrine, transformed his heart…
When I think of many of the words of a man like Martin Luther, what Matthew Poole said of that final verse in Ephesians about the love in our hearts comes to mind:
“In sincerity; or, with incorruption, i.e. so as that nothing can draw them off from the love of Christ, and so it implies constancy as well as sincerity….”
In a sermon on our very Epistle reading for today, Ephesians 3:14-21, he said this:
“…we should be prepared in such a manner that even if some of us were to fall away in order to flatter the pope or tyrants and becomes liars and knaves, everyone may so firmly have laid hold of the Gospel that he is able to stand by himself and exclaim: Well, I do not believe the Gospel because a certain man has proclaimed and taught it! Let him go and stay where he will! The doctrine is right. This I know, no matter what, in the providence of God, may happen to me and others because of it.
So far I have had to act in this way for myself personally, and I must continue to do so. Otherwise I would have been terrified and tired out when I saw the pope, bishops, the emperor, kings, and all the world opposed to the doctrine which they ought to sustain. Thoughts such as these would have overwhelmed me. See here, after all, they are people too; surely, they cannot all belong to the devil. How can I find comfort and stand firm except by saying: Even if ten more worlds and all that is great, high, wise, and prudent, and all my dear friends and brethren besides desert me, yet the doctrine is right. It stands; nor will it fall as men fall and waver. I will stand by this Word of God no matter what else may stand or fall.” (What Luther Says, 4500, p. 1397).
God’s love is supercharged, producing unshakeable believers throughout the ages, men like Martin Luther included.
And it is love we should never doubt!
For while His love love may be tough sometimes – very tough – it is also both great and magnificent, and, at the same time, unendingly gentle and tender.
To harken back to Ephesians 2:10 this morning – where we see the love of God exploding in believers’ hearts in love-produced “good works” –
His love is also very purposeful and powerful, “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”
Still, I will confess that at times I have doubted in ways big and small…
I have wondered about the wider meaning of Luther’s stand, for example. I have pondered the ongoing relevance of God’s Word for today, and I have had big questions related to the real meaning and purpose of our lives… and, of course, my life.
And so, I can’t think of a better way to end this message than to leave you with an arresting and inspiring picture that really helps me to put things in wider perspective
I read from it from that man, George Stoeckhardt, who I quoted earlier, and I hope that the passage encourages you at least a fraction as much as it encouraged me!
I think he, in short, is beginning to get at the most important aspect of what Paul means when he speaks of God as the One who “fills everything in every way” (see Ephesians 1:23 and context there, also 3:10, 3:19) and correspondingly, what it means for the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…and “to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”
Here it is:
“[God’s Temple…] [God’s] Church extends from the beginning to the end of days. True, compared with the great number of those who remain unbelievers, the Church of all times and of all places is the ‘little flock.’ However, if you could behold in one place all those children of God who are scattered throughout the world, most of whom are not known to us but whom the Lord alone knows to be His, and added to all these also all who have died in the faith and all who will be added to the Church before the end of the end of the world, you would gaze upon a great multitude which no man could number. Just this will be the spectacle which will be presented to our eyes of Judgement Day. Then will our heart be enlarged with amazement, when we see that noble assembly, of which we ourselves are members, as the completed number of the elect together with the choirs of the elect angels, the friends and companions of the saints of earth, standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. But even now the Christians are to give thought to, and to consider the breadth and extend, the depth and the height, of this structure. It is a part of their spiritual life and growth to become more and more impressed with the marvelous ecumenicity and world-encircling importance and purpose of the Church in order properly to estimate and evaluate this superior entity. Just this is to move them to enlarge the place of their tent and to stretch forth the curtain of their habitation…” (174)
Think of the best times you have been blessed to know with friends and family.
You haven’t seen anything yet!
“Peace to the brothers and sisters,[c] and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love…”
Original Word: ἀφθαρσία, ας, ἡ Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: aphtharsia Phonetic Spelling: (af-thar-see’-ah) Definition: incorruptibility Usage: indestructibility, incorruptibility; hence: immortality.
Cognate: 861aphtharsía – properly, no-corruption (unable to experience deterioration); incorruptibility (not perishable), i.e. lacking the very capacity to decay or constitutionally break down. See 862a (aphthartos).
NAS Exhaustive Concordance
Word Origin from aphthartos Definition incorruptibility NASB Translation immortality (2), imperishable (4), incorruptible (1).
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
STRONGS NT 861: ἀφθαρσία
ἀφθαρσία, ἀφθαρσίας, ἡ (ἄφθαρτος, cf. ἀκαθαρσία) (Tertullian and subsequent writingsincorruptibilitas, Vulg.incorruptio (andincorruptela)), incorruption, perpetuity: τοῦ κόσμου, Philo de incorr. round. § 11; it is ascribed to τό θεῖον in Plutarch, Aristotle, c. 6; of the body of man exempt from decay after the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:42 (ἐν ἀφθαρσία, namely, ὄν), 50, 53f; of a blessed immortality (Wis. 2:23 Wis. 6:19; 4 Macc. 17:12), Romans 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:10. τινα ἀγαπᾶν ἐν ἀφθαρσία to love one with never diminishing love, Ephesians 6:24 (cf. Meyer at the passage The word seems to have the meaning purity, sincerity, incorruptness in Titus 2:7 Rec.st). ]
[ii] Full quote: “Grace is not simply bestowed indiscriminately upon all but on those who love the Lord, and especially upon those who, as well as loving, keep his life-giving laws. Let us keep them also. By keeping them our love for him will be confirmed.” (ACCS, 216)
[iii] In a paper titled the “The Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall,” Piotr Malysz points out that the Lutheran Formula of Concord, in its discussion of the controversial topic, does not explicitly say why “God… wills that believers do good works, why he should reward them with temporal blessings, and why the works of the Law should be an indication of salvation.”
His paper, however, gives an answer to these questions, and he begins by starting with the right question: what can best explain the admonitions of the Apostle Paul, which he says are not only “staggering” in their “richness of expression,” but are “quite similar to, not to say identical with…the demands of the law”? “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1), be “imitators of God,” and live “a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2)
[iv] One might suggest that Luther himself does this at the end of his explanation of the 10 commandments in the small catechism:
”God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. Therefore we should fear His wrath and do nothing against these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and willingly do according to His commandments.”
This, however, would be going too far here to conclude this, For example, we can even say that from the perspective of the law, faith in God’s merciful promises – whether we are talking about passively receiving them or actively pursuing them (by pursuing Him and His words to us) – is an act of one’s will commanded in the First Commandment!
Hence what Luther says about the conclusion of the Ten Commandments in his Small Catechism is not primarily meant to “break us” with the law, but is, in fact, describing things as they are….
[v] I believe the great Lutheran theologian George Stoeckhardt, speaking around 150 years ago, does a good job in his analysis of speaking about the importance of love for faith:
“[Stoeckhardt: “At that time when we became believers when we by faith took hold of Christ, then it was that Chirst entered our hearts together with His Spirit. However, we dare not forget that it is important and essential for the life of the Christians that they grow and increase in strength of faith, so that through faith Christ may more and more permeate their innermost being. Every day every Christian is to pray god for this blessing, for if Christ does not continue to live in us, does not grow and increase in control, He will gradually fade again from our hearts.” 170]
Later he says:
“We, we Christians, are still very weak, also in our prayers. We are not as yet fully conscious of our real need and blessings, wherefore our petitions are always less than our real necessities note this was quoted above in the sermon] Cf. Rom. 8:26. God, however, can do and give much more, exceedingly more than we request, and He does that ‘according to the power which worketh in us.’ According to His infinite power, which has awakened us from the sleep of death, given us spiritual life, create faith in us, weak and fragile vessels that we are, he can also assuredly strengthen our faith, preserve it, create all good within us, and fill us with His gifts, virtues, and powers. Wherefore all glory to Him auto n doxa! All this presupposes that God will assuredly do for us and in us what He can do.” (176)
Amen. His word, as Paul, says, is at work in you believers… as I Thes. 2:13 says!
Commenting on being “rooted and grounded in love”:
“Love, the love of the brethren, is the ground and soil in which the Christians are planted and grow, it is, as it were, their territory and home, the ground in which they become ever more deeply rooted, into which they are to strike their roots ever more deeply so that love may become ever more the very habitus and so that all they do is done in love. This is an integral part of the growth of the Christian in spiritual life, that is what the Apostle is asking in prayer for his readers…” (171)”
[vi] Many note all of the past participles – the divine passives! – one witnesses in the book of Ephesians. As George Stoeckhardt notes: “…this ‘rooting and grounding’ in love [in Eph. 3:17] is at the same time the prerequisite for the ability [for believers] to comprehend just what is the breadth, etc. The passive participles indicate just that…” (171)]
[vii] Along with all of those commandments we heard, it is important to note other things Paul says among them:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1),
Be “imitators of God,” and live “a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2)
[viii] Stoeckhardt, quoted above, agrees: the key in this section of Ephesians is knowledge of God, increasingly knowing God.
[ix] Some intriguing quotes from the resources at Bible Hub:
Gill’s: “in sincerity; from the heart, and with all the heart, and without hypocrisy; not in word only, but in deed and in truth; which appears when he is loved, as before observed: and the apostle wishes “grace” to all such sincere and hearty lovers of him; by which may be meant a fresh discovery of the free grace, love, and favour of God in Christ to them; and a fresh supply of grace from the fulness of it in Christ; and a larger measure of the grace of the Spirit to carry on the good work begun in them; as well as a continuation of the Gospel of the grace of God with them, and an increase of spiritual gifts. Grace may be connected with the word translated “sincerity”, and be rendered “grace with incorruption”: or incorruptible grace, as true grace is an incorruptible seed; or “grace with immortality”: and so the apostle wishes not only for grace here, but for eternal happiness and glory hereafter; and then closes the epistle with an Amen, as a confirmation and asseveration of the truth of the doctrines contained in it, and as expressive of his earnest desire that the several petitions in it might be granted, and of his faith and confidence that they would be fulfilled.”
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “in sincerity] Lit., (as R.V.,) in uncorruptness. The word is the same as that in Romans 2:7 (A.V., “immortality”); 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 (A.V., “incorruption”); 2 Timothy 1:10 (A.V., “immortality”). The cognate adjective occurs Romans 1:23; 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:23 (A.V., in each case, “incorruptible” and so, practically, 1 Peter 3:4); and 1 Timothy 1:17 (A.V., “immortal”). Thus the word tends always towards the spiritual and eternal, as towards that which is in its own nature free from elements of decay. “In spiritual reality” would thus represent a part, but only a part, of the idea of the present phrase. The whole idea is far greater in its scope. The “love of our Lord Jesus Christ” in question here is a love living and moving “in” the sphere and air, so to speak, of that which cannot die, and cannot let die. God Himself is its “environment,” as He lives and works in the regenerate soul. It is a love which comes from, exists by, and leads to, the unseen and eternal. “Thus only,” in Alford’s words, “is the word worthy to stand as the crown and climax of this glorious Epistle.”
(17) That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.—What that indwelling power is he now indicates, so passing to another Person of the Holy Trinity. It is (see Colossians 1:27) “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The indwelling of Christ (as here the construction of the original plainly shows) is not a consequence of the gift of the Spirit; it is identical with it, for the office of the Holy Spirit is to implant and work out in us the likeness of Christ. So in John 14:16-20, in immediate connection with the promise of the Comforter, we read: “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” “Ye shall know that . . . ye are in me and I in you.” Hence the life in the Spirit is described as “To me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). Faith is simply the condition of that indwelling of Christ (comp. Ephesians 2:8), the opening of the door to Him that He may enter in.
Paul is expecting great things from this congregation.
By ending his letter with His blessing that grace be shown to those with undying love he is not excluding the weak in faith, and those with little love, he is simply exalting Christ’s work in His church in a powerful and thought-provoking way!
Nevertheless, Paul is thinking about the Ephesians, whom he knows. God has given them a strong faith… and he wholly anticipates that they will be preserved in it to the end.
Suffering? They know that none of the problems that they face or sufferings they endure cannot be transfigured gloriously by God’s grace.
They will beat it, for they know the “crucified one,” descended and now ascended at the right hand of God, reminds them always that suffering is a prominent part of life in this fallen world, and that as He wholly shapes our perspectives and attitudes these will also shape our experiences…
What Armin J. Panning says: “No [other] authority figure [on earth or in heaven, in this age or the age to come,] can successfully oppose the risen and ascended Christ”
…was known and believed by them.
God is both good and strong enough to handle all the problems they might face.
“In Matthew 19:13, [Jesus] prayed for little children. In Luke 22:32, He tells us that He prayed for Peter’s faith to remain strong. And in John 17, Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, He prayed for His followers and “for those who will believe in me through their message” (verse 20). That’s us! Now that Jesus has ascended back into heaven, He still prays for us. His ministry on our behalf continues (Hebrews 7:25).
Jesus is our “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1). An advocate is one who pleads a case for another. Advocates stand in the place of those who cannot speak for themselves. Jesus, as our Advocate, stands in our place before the Father and pleads on our behalf. Jesus’ advocacy is sure to be effectual, because He is the one of whom the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus’ prayers for us are constant, and they are perfect.”
…The tense is the aorist (infinitive), and the idea of the aorist is singleness of act. Accordingly, the Lord is viewed here as not merely “dwelling,” but, in a definite act, “coming to dwell,” “taking up abode.” The question arises, did the Apostle contemplate the Ephesians as all alike devoid of the Indwelling in question, and needing it to begin? It is difficult to grant this, in an Epistle addressed to a large community, and one evidently rich in life and love. Well-nigh every stage of spiritual development must have been represented there. Yet the aorist must have its meaning. And surely the account of it is this, that the Apostle views them each and all as ever needing, at whatever stage of spiritual life, such an access of realization and reception as should be, to what had preceded, a new Arrival and Entrance of Christ in the heart. Local images are always elastic in the spiritual sphere; and there is no contradiction thus in the thought of the permanent presence of One who is yet needed to arrive.
On the other hand there are possible stages of Christian experience in which, practically, the Lord’s “coming in to dwell,” as here, would be a thing wholly new; and many such cases, doubtless, were found at Ephesus. Not only here but throughout the N.T. the saint is viewed as meant to enjoy a prevailing, not an intermittent, intercourse with his Lord in faith and love; on habitual “access,” “confidence,” “peace and joy in believing,” and “fruit-bearing” power. Where such enjoyment does not as yet exist there is still lacking that which is in view here. True, it will be only a crude analysis that will claim to discern and decide peremptorily in such spiritual problems. But this does not alter the facts and principles of the matter in themselves.
in your hearts] A phrase important for the interpretation of the clause. It shews that the Indwelling here is subjective rather than objective; an Indwelling conditioned by the saint’s realization. “Christ” is “in” every genuine disciple (2 Corinthians 13:5), in the sense of the disciple’s covenant and vital union with Him (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:17). But this was certainly the case already with the Ephesian saints. Here then we have to do not so much with fact as with grasp on fact; the reception of the (already vitally present) Lord in habitual realization by the conscience, understanding, imagination, affections, and will. For the “heart” in Scripture is the “seat” of all these: see e.g. Genesis 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:39; Isaiah 6:10; Mark 11:23; Luke 21:14; Acts 11:23; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 2:9; James 1:26; 1 John 3:20. See on Ephesians 1:18.—“Though all of us is a temple for Him, yet the heart is the choir, where He properly sitteth” (Bayne (cent. 17), On the Ephesians).
by faith] That is, trustful acceptance; holy and humble reliance upon Divine promises, such promises as those of John 14:21; John 14:23; Revelation 3:20. Observe that the Indwelling here in view is to be effectuated by means of spiritual action (God-given, as this passage has shewn, but not the less personal) on the saint’s part. And observe that it is not aspiration, but faith, that is the action. Aspiration will certainly be present, as an essential condition; there must be conscious desire. But it is faith, submissive trust in the Promiser, which is alone the effectuating and maintaining act.
Lit., “through the faith”:—i.e., perhaps, “by means of your faith,” faith as exercised by you; but the article must not be pressed in translation, where an abstract principle is the noun.—“The faith” in the sense of the Christian creed is manifestly not in place here, where the context is full of the idea of the actions of grace in the soul.
that ye] Here appears the holy purpose of the experience just described. The Indwelling is to be specially in order to the attitude and the knowledge now to follow.
being rooted and grounded in love] “In love” is highly emphatic by position in the Gr.—Does it mean the love of God for us, or ours for God? Perhaps it is needless to seek a precise answer. “Love, generally” (Alford), is to be the region of this great experience of the soul; a sphere of which the Divine Love and the regenerate spirit’s response are, as it were, the hemispheres. But we may at least suggest, with Ephesians 1:4 in mind (see note there), that the Divine Love is mainly in view. Is it quite intelligible to regard the saint’s love as the soil and basis of his saintship? For observe it is the saints themselves, not this or that in them (“ye being rooted, &c.”), that the Love in question thus sustains and feeds.
The chain of thought will thus be: “I pray that your hearts may so receive Christ as their perpetual Indweller, that you may, in this profound intimacy with Him, see and grasp your acceptance and life in the Eternal Love, manifested through Him.”
“rooted and grounded”:—perfect participles. The second, lit. founded, recurs to the imagery of the Temple and its basis; ch. 2. The first, giving a metaphor much rarer with St Paul (Colossians 2:7 is the only close parallel), suggests the additional idea of derived life and its development. The saints are viewed both as “trees of the Lord, full of sap,” deep in the rich soil of the Love of God (cp. Psalm 1:3; Psalm 92:12-13; Jeremiah 17:8), and as constituent stones of the great Temple which rests ultimately on the same Love.—Colossians 2:7, just quoted, gives the same collocation of ideas, but with differences. The participle there rendered “built up” is present; “being builded upon.” And “in Him” takes the place of “in love.” This latter difference is no discrepancy; “the love of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Such, as to root and basis, is the true saint’s position. It is not created, but realized, when the experience of Ephesians 3:17 takes place in him. And the following clauses dilate on the spiritual use which he is to make of it.
[xiv] Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “that ye being rooted and grounded in love; either in love to God, and one another; for faith and love go together; and love is sometimes weak, and needs establishing; and what serves to root and ground persons in it, are the discoveries of God’s love, views of Christ’s loveliness, the consideration of blessings received, and the communion they have with God, and Christ, and one another, and a larger insight into the doctrines of the Gospel: or rather in the love of God to them; which is the root and foundation of salvation; this is in itself immovable and immutable; but saints have not always the manifestations of it, and sometimes call it in question, and have need to be rooted and grounded in it; which is to have a lively sense of it, and to be persuaded of interest in it, and that nothing shall be able to separate from it…”
[xvi] Larger quote: “The very order of these statements answers the objection that this indwelling is already the sine qua non of our Christianity; for here Paul speaks, not of the first entrance of Christ into our hearts but of the further indwelling that is due to the strengthening we receive through the Spirit by Word and Sacrament. The unio mystica is progressive; Christ takes possession of us in ever greater degree. The aorist denotes full possession… Christ will take complete possession of [our heart, the center of our being, the seat of intellect, emotion, and will, especially of the latter] as one uses the whole house in which one dwells…” (494)
Other arresting quotes here:
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “he dwells in his people, as a king in his palace, to rule and protect them, and as a master in his family to provide for them, and as their life to quicken them; it is in consequence of their union to him, and is expressive of their communion with him, and is perpetual; where he once takes up his residence, he never totally and finally departs: the place where he dwells is not their heads, nor their tongues, but their hearts; and this is where no good thing dwells but himself and his grace; and where sin dwells, and where he is often slighted, opposed, and rebelled against…”
Pulpit commentary: “as warm sunshine is needed to start and advance the life of a plant, so love is needed to start and carry on the life of the soul. Experience of Divine love is a great quickening and propelling power. “One glance of God, a touch of his love, will free and enlarge the heart, so that it can deny all and part with all and make an entire renunciation of all to follow him” (Archbishop Leighton). Ephesians 3:17…”
[xvii] Interestingly, commentating on the being “rooted in love” in verse 17, the very Lutheran commentary Lenski insists that: “’Love’ is to be taken in its broad sense and, unless it is separated from the participles, means our love to the Father, the Spirit, and Christ, for the context has presented only these. Love to the brethren is naturally also involved in this love…” (495)
He speaks of “The power the Father bestows on us [v. 16] is to make us like a solidly rooted tree that is growing massive and strong, like a solidly founded building that is rising high and imposing.”
We are comforted when he nevertheless says “Note the progression: the Holy Spirit (Word and Sacrament) – the faith in our hearts – now love in its full development….”
Alternatively, and surprisingly, the Scottish Baptist MacLaren does not insist that this is only the love of God and neighbor the Christian has (is given) but instead expands on what this love means:
“And the last point is the gifts of this indwelling Christ,-’ye being,’ or as the words might more accurately be translated, ‘Ye having been rooted and grounded in love.’
Where He comes He comes not empty-handed. He brings His own love, and that, consciously received, produces a corresponding and answering love in our hearts to Him. So there is no need to ask the question here whether ‘love’ means Christ’s love to me, or my love to Christ. From the nature of the case both are included-the recognition of His love and the response by mine are the result of His entering into the heart. This love, the recognition of His and the response by mine, is represented in a lovely double metaphor in these words as being at once the soil in which our lives are rooted and grow, and the foundation on which our lives are built and are steadfast….
Where Christ dwells in the heart, love will be the foundation upon which our lives are builded steadfast and sure. The blessed consciousness of His love, and the joyful answer of my heart to it, may become the basis upon which my whole being shall repose, the underlying thought that gives security, serenity, steadfastness to my else fluctuating life. I may so plant myself upon Him, as that in Him I shall be strong, and then my life will not only grow like a tree and have its leaf green and broad, and its fruit the natural outcome of its vitality, but it will rise like some stately building, course by course, pillar by pillar, until at last the shining topstone is set there. He that buildeth on that foundation shall never be confounded.
For, remember that, deepest of all, the words of my text may mean that the Incarnate Personal Love becomes the very soil in which my life is set and blossoms, on which my life is founded.[”]
“…to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ…”
How often do you think about heaven?
“The life to come”…that which now, for the time being, is invisible?
Do you ever think of our current life as not being un-real, so to speak, but not being, in fact, real enough?
Have you thought of this life as that which is finally missing something, that is, the something that is “behind the veil”?
Behind the curtain…
One might think, for example, of how Scripture describes the coming of the Son of Man in judgment, where the sky will be rolled up like a scroll, as the Apocalypse, the Unveiling, the Revealing of the Whole Truth dawns upon us.
Or “[i]n the book of Kings (2 Kings 6), the Bible describes how God provides an army of angels leading horses and chariots of fire to protect the prophet Elisha and his servant and opens the servant’s eyes so that he can see the angelic army surrounding them.”[i]
The veil removed!
Heaven – and the awesome heavenly armies even! – touching earth!
Or think about the story of Jacob’s ladder that occurred at Bethel. While there, he dreamed of a stairway, or ladder that came down and rested on earth, with the top reaching heaven.
…Angels of God ascended and descended upon it and God, from the top, re-iterated the promise that He had made to Abraham to Jacob, and assuring him: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
We go on to hear that:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel…[ii]
Reflecting on all of this, the Heavenly reality seems fascinating, to be sure — but also a bit terrifying.
The unfamiliar and even wholly unknown often is.
One can perhaps understand why some not familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – or especially those rejecting it – might choose to not think about these things.
To not think about a greater Reality… a spiritual Reality…
Yes, many very smart people say they reject such things, but life being what it is, they must, of course, doubt what they choose to believe.
Thinking that there is indeed something about this life is, as we say, “supernatural”… and that there is much that remains unexplained for them…
And that, while the spiritual aspect of life might seem much more evident in non-Western societies….
That they too, nevertheless, can understand the point a former student of mine once made about the issue of exorcisms in our own very secular context:
“When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive [to the devil’s purpose] to keep our minds off of religion…”
The devil is, after all, no dummy.
As Christians, we know and understand that the supernatural and the natural, the heavens and the earth, have not always been separated like they are presently.
In the beginning, of course, we confess that God created the heavens and the earth…
And one of the points of the Garden of Eden seems to have been that Adam and Eve were always deeply aware of the presence of God, and that the place was basically saturated with His Presence.
After Adam and Eve sinned and covered themselves with fig leaves, we even read that:
“…they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden….”
I don’t think that we should assume this was the first time God had walked in the Garden, but simply that this was first time they had been frightened by Him doing so!
And so, until that fateful day when Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – separating man from God, separating man from man, and separating man from the wider creation — the Garden was the place where heaven and earth touched…. were one… and would perhaps, in time, merge more fully together.
That plan however, was disrupted by Adam and Eve’s sin, and so what did God do?
Well, He didn’t destroy them and start over, like I might have done.
Instead, He gave them the promise of the One who would make all things right again, destroying the work of the serpent and delivering them from the death and chaos, the rupture, that they had brought about!
This is why we hear God say to Satan, who was that serpent:
“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Now after God gives this Promise, we also see that there are a number of other places in the Old Testament where we see it being re-affirmed and built upon.
For example, in Genesis 12, after the flood and the Tower of Babel incident, we see that God begins the process of choosing, electing, calling… a special people, a holy nation for Himself (see, for example, Exodus 19:5 and 6).
And so, a little later on in the Old Testament, in Deut. 4:37, we read:
“Because the Lord loved your fathers, He elected their descendants after them.”
And Isaiah 41:8-9 says:
“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.”[iii]
Abraham’s descendants were a special people set aside for God’s purposes…
…to be the ones from whom a very specific Called and Chosen Descendant would come.
Referring to Abraham’s “seed,” in Genesis 22:18, God says “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice….”
At so, again, at the end of the book of Genesis we hear not only about the Offspring of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head… but about the Lion from the Tribe of Judah who will reign as King over all the nations…
…and the book of Deuteronomy also speaks about the Prophet to come whose greatness will exceed even that of Moses…
Another way we see how this Genesis 3:15 promise is re-affirmed and built upon is through the provision of the animal sacrifices, though which the sin that besets us could be atoned for.
These were indications of the grace of God that set Israel apart from the other nations and their all-too-human gods…
And where, by the way, was the key place those animal sacrifices took place?
Why, first the tabernacle, or the “tent of meeting,” and then, post-Solomon, the Temple.
And interestingly, according to one commentator, some of the language used to describe the priestly functions in association with the tabernacle[iv] suggest that they were “reminiscent of humankind’s role in the garden…”
Not only this, but “the lampstand and other parts of the tabernacle make use of garden imagery… demonstrate[ing] that the tabernacle and temple looked back to Eden….”
At the same time, at this time… in this era… during this epoch… the beginnings of a full restoration were definitely not yet!
Cherubim are a special group of angels that are “attendants of God,” and “they bear,” for example, “the throne upon which He descends from His high abode.”[v]
And here, if we pay close attention, we will notice that the presence of cherubim on the curtains of the tabernacle!
This was most likely an “indication that the way to God [was] still barred for sinful humans,” as it was when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and cherubim were placed to guard its entrance from that point on…
Separating the place where heaven and earth had touched….
In other words, even as the Temple pointed to the reality that heaven and earth were to be united once more, it did not fully do the job of restoration! (see here the book of Hebrews, chapter 9!)
Indeed, the law given to Moses was quite different from the Gospel revealed in the New Testament!
While the Temple was surely better than the thunder and threats of Mt. Sinai – and surely even a little comforting at this or that time – it was still no picnic… [vi]
For the effects of the Fall into sin were terrible indeed… The same commentator I mentioned earlier explains to us:
“The temple is needed as a symbol of God’s presence because the reality of God’s presence has been withdrawn due to sin. When the reality is fully restored, then the need for the symbol[, the Temple,] passes away (Rev. 21:22).”[vii]
And when did the need for this symbol pass away?
With the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!
And when we hear in our Epistle reading this morning such expressions as “predestined according to the plan” and “in conformity with the purpose of his will” we should not only think about how God knew and elected each one of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ individually before time began – and He certainly did…
…but also that nothing which occurs comes as a surprise to Him, and that He, as we say, is “in control” as His purposes all unfold according to His plan.
As Ephesians 1:11 puts it, He “works outeverything in conformity with the purpose of his will…”[viii]
Ever since the fall into sin, God has always been about offering reassurance that He is with His people…
That He has not abandoned them….
That He will defeat Satan and the power of death…
And again, we see this most fully in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the “mystery concealed for ages past” (Romans 16)….
So as the book of Galatians says, in “the fullness of time” we are introduced to the One who is the True Temple, the True Lamb of God, the True Manna, or Bread of Life…
Also known, as the book of Matthew tells us, as “Emmanuel”.
That is, “God with us”!
We are told in our Epistle reading for this morning that God’s revealed purposes are “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ…” or perhaps “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”[ix]
The Apostle Paul is primarily concerned about believers, the church, here.
Later on, he is thrilled that in Christ his own race[x], the Jews, and the non-Jews, or Gentiles, are brought together, and so, in Ephesians 2 we read this:
…remember that formerly you who are Gentiles in the flesh and called uncircumcised by the so-called circumcision (that done in the body by human hands)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees. He did this to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace 16and reconciling both of them to God in one body through the cross, by which He extinguished their hostility.
17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The temple, largely occupied only by the Jews even in the best of times, exemplified that old law.[xi] At the same time that is not all that the Apostle Paul had in mind!
After all, in Ephesians 1, right after talking about how Christ unites heaven and earth, he goes on to say:
…[God] exerted [the working of His mighty strength] in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
22And God put everything under His feet and made Him head over everything for the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
And when Christ returns, some will gladly bow, and some will do so reluctantly….[xii]
But we who will gladly do so realize that
The lion, or wolf, is going to lie down with the lamb…
The child will play with the snake without danger…
And we will worship with men and angels. The book of Revelation paints an amazing picture of this:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
And He has planned it all from the beginning…. the Lamb slain from the Foundation of the world….
He is God incarnate, God come down to us…
He is in effect, Eternal Life in the flesh, and more specifically Jacob’s Ladder in the flesh…
…and He’s come down for you!
And He lifts us up to Heaven…
I said earlier that the baptized – which I believe is probably most all of you – are the chosen.
While the doctrine of election or predestination, which we heard about a lot this morning, is confusing, you should not fret about this!
But perhaps you are concerned… and raise some very good questions…
“How is it that God has names written in the book of life from ‘the foundation of the world’ (Rev. 17:8), but that he also says in the book of Exodus ‘whoever sins against Me, I will blot him out of My book?’” (Exodus 32:33)
We need to understand that in Jesus Christ, who forgives their sins, God’s called and chosen people are those who want to fight!
These are the “elect” who do not, and will never fail!
The core question though is if the election of any particular individual—whether we are speaking of one’s initial conversion or one’s final moment of perseverance—is ever determined, in whole or in part, by God foreseeing something good in him or her.
It is not.
For your salvation always comes in our Lord Jesus Christ… from outside of you!
…through the Word of Christ that is preached into your heart, that faith grasps as it hears it!
And man’s salvation in the sense of the full unity promised in Christ is indeed coming!
And here, it does us well to remember that our Lord assures us that we possess this in Him even now… Paul says in Ephesians 4:
I… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We are told here to maintain, or keep, or treasure that unity that we are given by Christ and His Spirit (through His word).
We are not told to create unity in the church. It is a gift given to us in Christ, and Paul urges us to walk both from thisgift and in this gift!
Everything is, in a sense, already ours.
Think of it as existing in embryonic form. The baby has yet to be born, but the consummation of that pregnancy is fast approaching, as the world groans, waiting for the full redemption… (Romans 8)
The contemporary Lutheran theologian Jack Kilcrease, interestingly, points out that throughout the Bible:
“…the movement of the divine Word toward its final fulfillment could often appear as a failure even as it succeeded….”[xiii]
This goes for us too today!
Our lives are hid in Christ. You are a sinner and saint. You may struggle with particular sins… perhaps a sin that you have spent a lifetime fighting…
Again, that is what Christians do!
Because of the grace of God they know… the love and mercy of God known in Jesus Christ.
It is not some cold “I was baptized…” but recognizing, even recognizing now: “I am baptized!
The grace of God has come to me, comes to me, in Jesus Christ!
I am one of those who the Father, through Jesus Christ, gives forgiveness, life and salvation!
…and I am also one who He calls — even in this day! — to participate in the “administration” of this Mystery, so to speak….
Who are we?
We are a heavenly colony on earth called together through God’s word and sacrament and from that word and sacrament by which we live, we desire to bring others into the peace and joy, the unity, we know in Jesus Christ!
In spite of all that you might see and feel around you…. In spite of the fact that it does not look like Christ reigns around us… God is with us![xiv]
I’ll leave you with one more good word from the Apostle Paul’s book of Ephesians:
“19Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2)
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[a] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[b]15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel,[c] though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord[d] will be my God 22 and[e] this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
[iii] Going along with the passages mentioned, where the conceptually meanings of calling and chosen certainly overlap, we also note that in Romans 11 when Paul mysteriously says that “all Israel will be saved” in the future, he goes on to say of the current Jewish enemies of the Gospel that “as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable….”
If God, in His mercy, chose not Esau, but the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bring us the life-giving Seed of Christ, it makes sense that God would desire them to live from this Seed as well, for what is external and determinable to simultaneously be internal and “in the secret” as well (see Rom. 2:29).
These things are no small matter, and we must let the Scriptures form us and not the other way around. When Paul speaks in Ephesians about those chosen and predestined for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” and also, in Romans 9 speaks about Israel’s own “adoption to sonship” are we to assume two completely different and even unrelated things are being spoken of?
See also, e.g. Deut. 7:6, Deut. 10:15, I Kings 8:53, Col. 3:15, and finally, I Peter 2:9. Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces. 8-11, On Creation and Predestination, 190, 191, also points out that “constant examples of proselytes show that they were not excluded absolutely from the fellowship of the church” and that it is not “as if all other nations had been rejected from the church and from participation in salvation by an absolute decree.” Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol 3, 490, says that the purpose of the doctrine of election is
…to confirm and impress on us the sola gratia….This was the purpose also of the Old Testament type of the election of grace, namely, the election of Israel to be the covenant people. Reading Deut. 9:4ff., one gains the impression that Moses in addressing Israel felt that he could not do enough to cure the people of the delusion that they received the land of Canaan because they were better than the heathen…
Or is the purpose of election in Christ before the foundation of the world to save us, by grace alone, from our sin, death, and the devil – and from this, as Deut. 9:4ff goes on to say, to make the unrighteous righteous in Him that they might, in the power of His Spirit, drive out the unrighteousness which remains? Pieper, citing I Kings 19:10, also says that election is meant to be a guarantee of the survival of the church (Vol. 3, 493), but is this a purpose or a corollary of a greater purpose: namely, the promise that those found in the King of Kings will win in glory, and judge the world at the end of time?
[iv] The conjunction of verbs עבד . . . and שׁמר . . .
[vi] Even in the Old Testament, the place where the grace of God was certainly to be seen was a place of condemnation as well!
The theologian Jack Kilcrease writes (see below footnote as well): “This pattern of fleeing from condemnation to grace also continued in the life of Christ. In the crucifixion, God designated Jesus and the sacraments of the New Testament, which flowed from his side (Jn. 19:34) on the hillock of Golgotha, as the new place of grace. Likewise, he designated the Temple mount and works connected with it as a place of condemnation (Gal. 4:25-6). In his resurrection, Jesus insisted that the women flee his tomb (the place of death and condemnation) and instructed them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. In Galilee, Jesus told the disciples look for him now not in the tomb, but in the word and sacrament ministry of the Church (Mt. 28:8-10, v. 16-20).
Opposing the idea that the Garden of Eden was a Temple itself, he also says that “because the reality of God’s presence was found in Eden, Eden was not a temple. The symbol was not needed.”
This theologian goes on to say:
“I think Block rightly captures the proper interpretation:
In my response to reading Gn 1-3 as temple-building texts, I have hinted at the fundamental hermeneutical problem involved in this approach. The question is, should we read Gn 1-3 in the light of later texts, or should we read later texts in light of these? If we read the accounts of the order given, then the creation account provides essential background to primeval history, which provides background for the patriarchal, exodus, and tabernacle narratives. By themselves and by this reading the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved. However, as noted above, the Edenic features of the tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, and the temple envisioned by Ezekiel are obvious. Apparently their design and function intended to capture something of the original environment in which human beings were placed. However, the fact that Israel’s sanctuaries were Edenic does not make Eden into a sacred shrine. At best this is a nonreciprocating equation. (20-21)
In sum, though the tabernacle and temple looked back to the garden of Eden and the loss of the presence of God that occurred with humanity’s exile from the garden, the garden itself was not a temple. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a major difference of interpretation, but it is still worth maintaing precision in our understanding of these foundational parts of Scripture.”
[ix] Romans 13:9: “9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b]
“Brought to a head” also… same word…
Romans 13:9V-PIM/P-3S GRK: λόγῳ τούτῳ ἀνακεφαλαιοῦται ἐν τῷ NAS: commandment, it is summed up in this KJV: commandment, it is briefly comprehended in INT: word this it is summed up in this
Ephesians 1:10V-ANM GRK: τῶν καιρῶν ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι τὰ πάντα NAS: of the times, [that is], the summing up of all things KJV: of times he might gather together in one all things INT: the of times to head up the all things
346 anakephalaíomai (from 303/aná, “up,” intensifying 2775/kephalaióō, “bring to a head, recapitulate”) – properly, head-up, summing up all the parts as a comprehensive (organized) whole.
346/anakephalaíomai (“recapitulate”) shows the head as the “organizing center,” causing all the parts to work together in harmony.
[R. Lenski denies that the root of 346 (anakephalaíomai) means “head” (kephalē), and prefers kephalaion (“sum”) which comes to the same basic meaning. Note that Christ (Eph 1:10) and love (Ro 13:9) relate both to the sum and the head (i.e. both realities).]
[xi] Very interestingly, Luther suggests that it is not so much what Christians believe – in this case about God’s law – that the world finds problematic, but rather its willingness to act on its beliefs, which we all know tends to, uncomfortably, reveal divisions and distinctions among persons. To the idea that Eph. 2:14 suggests the wall destroyed by Christ is his law, Luther responds as follows:
“And here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because they separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and ceremonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction and Jews and Gentiles were made one. But if the Decalogue is referred to, it is well, and it is here removed, and destroyed insofar as it is damnation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (ODE, 123)
[xii] Franzmann, in his commentary on the whole Bible:
Unite = “Put under one head,” i.e., Christ (cf v. 22; 4:15; 5:23). Because Jesus is both God and man, humankind and God are reconciled in Him (2:16;2Co 5:18-20). Because all who are baptized are “in Christ,” they are also reconciled to one another, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Eph 2:14; Gal 3:26-29).
Eph. 1:22-23 – ‘Head over all things for the church…his body.” Head signifies dominion, lordship (not the intellect as with us). Christ’s relationship to His church is more than more power-dominion over it; He is vitally and organically united with His church and functions personally though it. This unique Lorship is expressed by the head-body image (Cf. 5:23; Col 1:18, 24)
“This effective Word of promise pushed the history of Israel inexorably along to its fulfillment in the person of the Messiah, even in the face of human opposition. Nevertheless, the movement of the divine Word toward its final fulfillment could often appear as a failure even as it succeeded. When Moses pronounced the divine Word “Let my people go,” it appeared ineffective to both the Egyptians and Israelites. Indeed, Pharaoh was apparently unmoved by the pronouncement of the divine deed-word and, in turn, increased Israel’s labor (Exod. 5). Nevertheless, it was through Pharaoh’s very obstinacy that God worked his redemption and was finally able to bring a plague so horrific that Egypt expelled Israel. God likewise told Isaiah to speak a word of repentance to Israel that they would ignore, thereby ensuring their suffering in Babylon (Isa. 6:9-13). But Israel’s destruction was be the occasion for their true repentance, something that would prepare them for the grace of restoration and the coming of the Messiah (Isa. 40). Finally, God’s Word of redemption found ultimate fulfillment in the opposition and murder of Jesus by his opponents. By killing God himself, Jesus’ enemies brought about the fulfillment of the very Word of God that they sought to thwart. As Luther’s theology of the cross shows, God works under the form of his opposite.
Likewise, throughout the history of Israel, God’s pattern of attaching his dual words of condemnation and grace to created masks continued. By doing so, the Lord bid his covenant people to flee from the word of condemnation to that of grace. Although Jacob is attacked by God in the night, he demands the name of the shadowy attacker and thereby hearkened back to the promise of blessing that God had made to him at Bethel (Gen. 32:22-32). Moses is also attacked by God on his return to Egypt but flees to the promise of grace found in circumcision of his son (Exod. 4:24-26). God threatened with death those who came near Mt. Sinai, the mountain where he gave his law (Exod. 19:10-13), but promised forgiveness and a share in his personal holiness to those who approached him through the sacramental channels of the Tabernacle/Temple at Mt. Zion.”
This pattern of fleeing from condemnation to grace also continued in the life of Christ. In the crucifixion, God designated Jesus and the sacraments of the New Testament, which flowed from his side (Jn. 19:34) on the hillock of Golgotha, as the new place of grace. Likewise, he designated the Temple mount and works connected with it as a place of condemnation (Gal. 4:25-6). In his resurrection, Jesus insisted that the women flee his tomb (the place of death and condemnation) and instructed them to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. In Galilee, Jesus told the disciples look for him now not in the tomb, but in the word and sacrament ministry of the Church (Mt. 28:8-10, v. 16-20). — https://jackkilcrease.com/the-pattern-of-flight-from-condemnation-to-grace/%5D
[xiv] See Hebrews 2:8 for example, where as much is admitted.