A Victorious Focus
Pastor Cliff Bergman – Pinawa Alliance Church
(Ephesians 2.15 – 23)
How we choose to view our circumstances is critically important in how we relate to them. Or to say it another way, the perspective with which we consider what is happening around us, or perhaps, to us, shapes our response. Such is the counsel we find in,
James 1:2 (ESV) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
Considering trials, as joy, is generally the opposite of our inclination. We typically view trials as obstacles and disruptive and see them negatively. However, in the following verse, James points out a critical benefit of trials, namely steadfastness, which he adds is essential in making us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” If we accept the counsel of the word of God to count trials, as joy, it means at the very least we will seek to respond in a manner that views them as potentially beneficial or helpful to us. The word, count, is rather central in this happening. In its usage here it means to regard, consider, hold to a view, have an opinion, think, believe. The word, count, is also in the imperative mood, hence this is something we are instructed to do, which implies we choose how we will regard, or what we will believe about things that could be categorized as trials, or disruptions, or hindrances for us. The point is, how we view our circumstances shapes our outcome. Will we, or do we, view trials as a means to develop steadfastness and other positive qualities? Our focus is extremely critical in not only successfully navigating through challenges we face, but also our progress towards greater maturity as a follower of Jesus Christ.
This not only applies to our view of the coronavirus and its implications for all of us, but for other things that are also unfolding. For some, COVID-19 has been devastating; we receive news reports of deaths not just of residents in care homes, but also of young people seemingly in good health and unlikely to succumb to this virus. Many have lost jobs or businesses and while the financial aid is helpful, it will not offset their loss. However COVID-19 has not displaced other trials and sources of sorrow that continue to unfold. Long before Aggie passed away last week, her family and friends grieved as they watched her mind slip away, knowing that it signaled her ever nearing departure. The coronavirus took second place not only in Nova Scotia this past week, but in Canada, as a deranged killer senselessly murdered 22 innocent victims. Today families and friends, and Canadians generally, yearn for hope in the midst of this. Many of you could add examples of some of the hardships in your circle of friends, family and acquaintances. Beverley and I follow from a distance as Margaret, a dear friend of ours from decades ago, lies in a hospital bed in Lethbridge as a very aggressive and untreatable cancer, just discovered at the beginning of the year, continues its unrelenting assault. Adding to the sadness and gravity of her impending death is that despite this having nothing to do with COVID-19, her husband Darl, cannot be at her side; the closest he can get is to look in from an outside window and talk by phone. Fortunately she is not alone for the Lord she loves passionately and in Whom she maintains her total trust, is there to nurture her and give her glimpses of heaven as a prelude to the indescribable glories of heaven that await her. But by contrast those who remain will be left with the deepest of loss and sorrow at the departure of someone who was so passionate and joyful and filled with the Spirit.
How we, and others, view COVID-19 and trials we face, is critical. We can choose to allow them to drive us from God, or we can allow them to drive us to God with greater fervor and dependence. It is essential to have A Victorious Focus. Such a focus begins with a desire to view trials as opportunities, as something that can be viewed as a growth opportunity, as an occasion to develop our relationship with the Lord. Long term victory is dependent on fortifying our desire with truths from God’s word which underpin our relationship with Him and His provisions for His children.
In Paul’s introduction of his letter he describes followers of Jesus as saints . . . who are faithful in Christ Jesus. In the following verses are detailed 10 Distinctives of Every Christian, or 10 Distinctives of Every Saint. Those 10 Distinctives are like foundation blocks, or pillars of truth, which detail who we are as Christians. They are pillars of truth God uses to fortify our desire to approach whatever happens in our lives as an opportunity to grow and mature as a follower of Jesus. While it may go without saying, it may nevertheless be important to remind ourselves that these pillars of truth are unique to the saints, to the ones who have not only heard the word of truth, the gospel of . . . salvation, [but have also] believed in him, (Eph 1.13), i.e. to those who have been born-again and whose faith and trust is in Jesus Christ for their salvation. Having been made alive spiritually is an indispensable ingredient to a Victorious Focus. But a Victorious Focus is not automatic, as followers of Jesus Christ we must saturate our minds with these pillars of truth as we press forward, whether in times of trial or triumph. In the last half of Ephesians 1, it is as though Paul steps back and provides a panoramic view through his prayer for Jesus’ blood bought ones such that they might see things comprehensively. We are given a perspective that encompasses our relationship to God Himself, a focus essential to addressing our circumstances through a Victorious Focus.
Ephesians 1:15–17 (ESV) 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
Understandably, we tend to view life from a rather earth-bound vantage point, but in order to successfully navigate through the trials of life and consider them joy, we need a much bigger view. At the outset of his prayer, Paul prays that God might give his readers a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Very simply, that we might know God experientially, that we might move beyond knowing facts about God to dynamically knowing them as part of our personal relationship with Him.
1 Corinthians 2.9 is a quote from Isaiah 64.4:
1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV) But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”
That quote is generally understood to be referring to heaven, the future destiny of every believer; however, it also is undoubtedly intended to encompass the current possession of every believer right now. Namely, that we might comprehend, at least partially, what God has prepared and provided for us right now, in the midst of whatever circumstances He has permitted. It is to that end that the Holy Spirit reveals those intimate truths from God to us so that we don’t miss out on His provisions. Knowledge that God does, and will, care for us when we would otherwise give up is what shores up our decision to count, or consider, trials, joy. Read through the following verses telling us about our intimate relationship with God.
1 Corinthians 2:10 – 11 (ESV) 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
When we were saved, when we were baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12.13), we were made spiritually alive and the Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity, took up residence within us so that we might know God.
Paul prays that we might move beyond merely knowing God lives within us in a factual way, but also in an experiential manner. If that is the case, which it is, that helps us get things in clearer focus, especially when trials cross our paths. Remember there is nothing that comes before a child of God that is a surprise to God. When something like the coronavirus threatens to derail us, its threat diminishes in size, dominance, control, destructiveness, devastation, etc. when viewed through the lens of eternity and the certainty God won’t leave us nor forsake us. When faced with a trial, we need to pause, take a deep breath, and ask God to help us get it in perspective from His vantage point. The first part of Eph 1.18 is so vivid and expressive,
Ephesians 1:18a (ESV) 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
Paul longs that we might see from the depth of our being, that while we remain residents of this earth that we might grasp from within the very essence of who we are, the fullness of our relationship with the Lord, and His provisions for us. To that end Paul asks that God might illuminate our hearts and minds with three specific truths, they are sometimes referred to as Three What’s, that we might know what is,
- The Hope To Which He Has Called Us (Ephesians 1.18b)
Ephesians 1:18b (ESV) that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
God’s goal for His children is far more than them escaping the perils of hell. And His goal for us is also far more than just getting through the coronavirus epidemic or whatever other hardship we may be dealing with. His goal is that we might know Him, through His Son Jesus Christ, and spend eternity with Him.
John 17:3 (ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
A central theme in Ephesians is that believers are in Christ, we are in Him. Paul prays that, that relationship might be increasingly apparent. That the glory of God in us might be reflected as we become more like Jesus
Colossians 1:27 (ESV) To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Consider the objective expressed in
Ephesians 4:12–13 (ESV)12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
That we might attain to the measure of the fullness of Christ. God desires that we might be Christ-like in character,
Romans 8:28–30 (ESV) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Maintaining a Victorious Focus today is only achieved as we look beyond the hardships and struggles of today to encompass the grand goal, the hope God has called us to which culminates in glory. Hope always looks to the future, it sees that which is now invisible as though it was right at hand. Abraham looked beyond the impossibilities of his day to a day beyond the horizon, a day in the distant future.
Hebrews 11:10 (ESV) 10 For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
And remember when you grow tired, the truth
Philippians 1:6 (ESV) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The second of the what’s Paul prays that his readers might realize is:
- The Riches Of His Glorious Inheritance In The Saints (Ephesians 1.18c)
Ephesians 1:18c (ESV) that you may know . . . what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Paul spoke about our inheritance in verses 11 and 14, but here he is praying that we might know what are the riches of His glorious inheritance. He wants us to fathom that we, the saints, are an inheritance to God. Many people struggle with feelings of unimportance and insignificance, but this verse makes it clear that in the eyes of God, those who are numbered among His saints are anything but unimportant and insignificant to Him. Jesus left the glories of heaven to lay down His life on the cross of Calvary for every one of His followers, that in and of itself ought to make the importance and significance of His children abundantly clear. This prayer envisions a day down the road when Jesus will present the saints, the body of Christ, to His Father, and all the trials will become insignificant compared to the magnitude of knowing God.
Consider this, that while God will destroy the universe He has created, we are so precious to Him that we will not only survive, but He will create a New Heaven and a New Earth where we will be clothed with resurrection bodies and He will be our God in the most intimate of ways and we will be His people.
A Victorious Focus includes a realization of who we are in the sight of God – His glorious inheritance, and thirdly, consider
- The Immeasurable Greatness Of His Power Toward Us Who Believe (Ephesians 1.19 – 23)
As you read Ephesians 1.19 – 23 where the nature of God’s power is expanded on, you can’t help but be overcome with awe. When we count, or consider the trials we encounter, joy, it is with the knowledge of God’s power sustaining us in what otherwise would be absolutely impossible. The power of God enables us to persevere when things aren’t unfolding in the manner that we thought or hoped they would. God’s power is what enables us to look beyond the disappointments of today and see hope on the horizon. God’s power gives us courage and determination when we don’t think we can take another step, but in His strength we can press on knowing He holds our hand, and when we become totally exhausted, He will pick us up in His arms and carry us to the other side. Consider the image portrayed in
Isaiah 40:11 (ESV) He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Consider the nature of this power which Paul prayed we might experience. It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and ascended Him into heaven. It is the same power that that is evident in Jesus’ position of authority in heaven. Read the following verses reflectively:
Ephesians 1:20–23 (ESV) 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
None of this suggests for a moment that the challenges and losses people face on earth aren’t important or are insignificant or that people shouldn’t respond to them with anything less than the utmost gravity. Nor does it suggest for a moment that we shouldn’t grieve when we experience loss or feel pain when we encounter trials. How could a person experience the loss of a loved one without deep sorrow and grief? Or how could a person not have concern about the future when their livelihood is threatened or their dreams and aspirations about the future are thrown into disarray? Or how could we not experience emotions as we face disappointment? All those times are ones where a God directed focus is essential if we are to move forward victoriously. The very same God who observes what is going on, yearns to comfort us and care for us as we grieve and become paralyzed by fear and doubt.
Let me conclude with
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (ESV) 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
While this verse addresses our response to a believer who has died, the same principle is true of other losses a believer encounters. Note the verse doesn’t say that a believer doesn’t grieve, it points out that we grieve differently. We grieve differently because we look beyond the grave, or beyond the hardship we face, or beyond the struggle we are journeying through, to the future, a day when we will be resurrected and transition from a life characterized by struggle to one where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21.4)
Allow our hope for tomorrow shape our Victorious Focus today.