E100 Letters of Paul

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Sermon Date: 
3 Feb 2013
Bible Base: 
Eph 6: 10-20, John 15: 12-17
Preacher: 

David Jeans

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For those who are visiting us today I need to explain that we have been looking at the Essential 100 Bible Readings since September, and today we are looking at the letters of Paul. Obviously we are also looking at this in the context of today being the last Sunday here for Viv and myself.
2 weeks ago we began thinking about Paul in the context of the birth of the church. We saw how the story of Acts highlights how the early church marked a new beginning in God’s purposes of blessing all people which is the core story of the whole Bible. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit was nearly always given to leaders. After Pentecost the Spirit is given to all believers in accordance with Joel’s prophecy that your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will have visions, your old men will dream dreams, and the Spirit will be poured out even on male and female slaves. The Spirit will not be bothered about class or gender or age or education. And we looked at the great missionary thinker Roland Allen’s conclusions about Paul, that his method was to preach the gospel, plant a church, appoint leaders and leave. He was able to do this because he trusted the work of the Holy Spirit in his converts. And you can trust the work of the Holy Spirit in you.
I particularly want to add this morning that you can trust the work of the Holy Spirit in the young people in this church. We are blessed with the numbers of children and young people in this church. Trust God to be at work in them. Expect them to have gifts and become leaders; look for ways to give them responsibility. And do it soon. That is how they will grow; that is how they will make the transition to being adult members of the church. You have a great treasure in these young people. Trust the Holy Spirit working in them by listening to their ideas and dreams and give them leadership responsibilities.
Then last week in looking at the travels of Paul we looked particularly at his mission in Athens. It was characterised by him observing the many cultures of Athens, listening to the people, introducing the Gospel to them through ideas from their own cultures, but also challenging them with the Good News of Jesus. Over these last four years we have been consolidating the work of this church. The challenge in the future is to make connections with this community so that you may share the Good News of Jesus with them.
So today we come to look at the letters of Paul. There are so many wonderful passages that we could look at, but I have decided to look at Ephesians 6: 10-20, the famous passage about the armour of God. You may be very familiar with this passage in terms of applying it individually – I think it’s really important today to think about what it means as a church to put on the armour of God. 
It’s important to do that for several reasons – you are entering a time which can be both exciting and difficult. Exciting because you will be thrown back upon God, learning again to be dependent upon him and not dependent upon any person. Exciting because you can trust the Holy Spirit to raise up unexpected leaders among you. Exciting because it’s a spiritual adventure. Exciting because you will see God at work.
But also difficult and possibly dangerous. One of my favourite churches in the New Testament is Corinth. It was full of gifted people. But it was also full of jealousy and division. When God is at work, the enemy will seek to disrupt that work. And the best way to disrupt it is by sowing division between people; the best way to disrupt it is by getting people quarrelling with each other. One of the E100 readings this week was Galatians 5:16-6:10. That reading talks about the works of the flesh which are opposed to the works of the Spirit:-
The list begins with sexual immorality, idolatry and sorcery, but goes on to enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy before concluding with drunkenness and orgies.
At the heart of those works of the flesh are jealousy, rivalries and dissensions. Leaders start emerging – perhaps unexpected leaders start emerging. The temptation for existing leaders is to say ‘who do they think they are’ – the temptation for the emerging leaders is to get arrogant. However, the reading goes on goes on that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And perhaps we should add one other – some of you may remember that a few months ago I had one of those emails from Amazon. You know the ones – David Jeans we have a recommendation for you – Humility. Well my recommendation for you is that you need to expect and ask God to raise up gifted people among you – but you also need to ask God to give you humility. Not the false humility that says that you have no gifts, but the true humility that rejoices in and welcomes the gifts of others.
So if we look again at the armour of God it includes as shoes the gospel of peace. Paul says in Colossians 3 that we should forgive each other as the Lord forgave us and we should let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. I’m sure that during these next months from time to time you will get up each other’s noses. When that happens, let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, being ready to apologise and ready to forgive.
The armour of God also includes the shield of faith. In his letters Paul talks a lot about faith, and particularly of faith in Christ. Now the Greek phrase is ambiguous. It can mean faith in Christ or trust in Christ. It is very important over these next months that you have trust in Christ, trust in the Father and trust in the Holy Spirit. There will be times when you may wonder what is happening, times when it is difficult. In those times you will need that shield of faith.
The second possible meaning of the phrase usually translated as ‘faith in Christ’ is ‘the faithfulness of Christ’. So when Paul talks about being saved by faith in Christ, it can also mean saved by the faithfulness of Christ. We trust Christ because we know that Christ is trustworthy. We can have faith in Christ because Christ is faithful. When we pick up the shield of faith we are not being sheltered by the strength of our faith, we are being shielded by the faithfulness of Christ.
One of the best sermons I have heard on this armour of God passage was given by Bishop Nigel McCulloch, then the new Bishop of Taunton and now Bishop of Manchester. And I still remember the heart of his sermon.
‘the task ahead of you is never greater than the force behind you’. (Repeat)
You may be anxious as you face the next few months (Particularly our wardens Mel and Brian). But the task ahead of you is never greater than the force behind you. This armour that we can put on is the armour of God. Not the armour of the church, not the armour of the vicar, not the armour of the wardens, not the armour of what nice and gifted people you all are – it’s the armour of God. With that armour on as verse 13 says, you will be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, stand firm.
There are one or two other parts of the armour that we could talk about – the breastplate of righteousness, for example. That stresses the importance of living justly and rightly. As that wonderful verse in Micah 6:8 says – ‘what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord your God.’
Paul also talks about the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God – I hope the E100 series has whetted your appetite to get deeper into the word of God; I hope that you will allow its message of the love of God in Jesus, the desire of God to bless all people, and the task you have to be part of that which is at the heart of who you are as individuals and as a church.
But I want to end where Paul himself ends – ‘praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.’ I know much prayer goes on in this church; prayer as individuals, prayer in small groups; the prayer chain; prayer ministry; intercessions on a Sunday. But one of the many things that I could have done better is the encouragement of prayer together as a whole church. I think in the Vacancy (as you know I won’t use the I word) I would encourage you to give priority to praying together as a church, both for the appointment of the next priest-in-charge, but also for your life, ministry and mission together as the people of God in this place.
And as Paul finishes with asking prayer for himself, please do continue to pray for Viv and myself as we prepare for this next part of our journey, and for the next part of our mission. As Christians we don’t retire – we are always seeking to grow more like Christ and to be a blessing to others. That’s my prayer for you as individuals and as a church; and please make that your prayer for us.