* December 14 - 20
Called to One Hope
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Eph. 4:1-6, 11-13.
MEMORY TEXT: "The hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time" (Titus 1:2, NIV).
KEY THOUGHTS: We are encouraged to live a life worthy of our calling. Our calling as Adventists is to the "one hope" (Eph. 4:4). In this hope we are united; we recognize that there is no other way, no other future, apart from God and His promised hope, made certain through Christ's death in our stead. As a result, we work toward this hope together and wish to help others find it, as well.
IN THIS STUDY WE SEE the unifying power of this hope to which we have been called, a hope that leads us to act, not out of fear but out of love. We are to be a "spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men" (1 Cor. 4:9, NIV) as God's ambassadors at the end of time. United in this hope, God's church can rightly represent God to a dying world. As Seventh-day Adventists, we need to be true to this calling, and this means being faithful representatives of the God who wishes to lead all to truths that have given us so much hope. In doing so, our lives need to reflect what we believe, while our church must demonstrate the oneness that this hope brings. As a worldwide community of faith, it is our privilege to call everyone to the unity of faith that looks forward to the soon arrival of Jesus, the completion of the Advent hope.
*Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, Dec. 21.
Sunday December 15
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:1, 2, NIV).
We are all corrupt, greedy, foul sinners (Rom. 3:10-18). Helpless to save ourselves (Eph. 2:12), we are doomedon our own to perish in our lusts (1 John 2:17). Yet, we are saved by the mercy of God (Titus 3:5; Jude 21) because of Jesus, who not only took upon Himself the punishment for our sins (Isa. 53:6) but who offers us the gift of His perfect righteousness, a righteousness that we otherwise could never possess, the righteousness of God Himself, which alone can give us eternal life (Rom. 3:21-26). The point being that we are, indeed, beings totally dependent upon the mercy and grace of God, having nothing in ourselves to boast of.
Keeping the above paragraphs in mind, read again Ephesians 4:1, 2. What calling have we received? How can we, as such helpless sinful beings, live a life worthy of this calling? Why should we be humble, gentle, patient, and bearing with each other in love? What do these things have to do with our calling?
|Humble? Gentle? Patient? Bearing with each other in love? How much easier a life worthy of the Lord would be if all we had to do was eat a more stringent diet, dress more modestly, keep the Sabbath more strictly. How can dwelling on the Cross, what Christ did for us on the cross, and using that as our sole source of motivation enable us, indeed, to live a life worthy of the Lord as depicted by Paul in these verses?|
Read again the verses from yesterday's lesson, focusing on the last part, where Paul says to bear "with one another in love." The Greek word translated "bear" can also mean to "endure,
forebear, suffer." In other words, though we are a people of hope and though through Christ we all share the same hope, we do have brothers and sisters in the faith who at times can be hard to deal with, people who require a little extra grace on our part. Paul says not only to bear with them, which could be hard enoughbut to do so "in love." Perhaps it is only through love that we can bear with them.
Read Matthew 10:8. Though, of course, the context is different, how does the principle revealed in that text help us understand how it is that we can have the strength, the power, and the will to bear with each other "in love"?
Our faith, if it can do nothing else for us here and now, should, at least, make us open and receptive and sympathetic to the needs of others, especially those among us who struggle in hope. Read what Ellen White wrote to someone going through a time of severe doubts and fears:
"I want to say, my sister, you need not cast away your confidence. Poor, trembling soul, rest in the promises of God. In so doing, the enemy's fetters will be broken, his suggestions will be powerless. Heed not the whisperings of the enemy. Go free, oppressed soul. Be of good courage. Say to your poor, desponding heart: 'Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.' I know that God loves you. Put your trust in Him. Think not of those things which bring sadness and distress; turn from every disagreeable thought and think of precious Jesus. Dwell upon His power to save, His undying, matchless love for you, even you. I know that the Lord loves you. If you cannot rely upon your own faith, rely upon the faith of others. We believe and hope for you. God accepts our faith in your behalf."Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 319.
|Study the above statement from Ellen White. Break it down into major points. Though expressed in different ways, what was the gist of Ellen White's words to her? To what did she keep pointing her to? If you know someone now whose faith and hope are fading, take the essence of what Ellen White wrote and rephrase it in your own words and share it. You might even find it will be helpful to you, as well.|
"There is one body and one Spiritjust as you were called to one hope when you were called" (Eph. 4:4, NIV).
Notice what the text specifically says. We are also called to one hope. Not many hopes, but one. As Christians we can hope for many things: hope that our prayers for healing will be answered, hope that the Lord will help our marriages, hope that our witnessing efforts will bear fruit, hope that we will live a "life worthy of the calling we have received" (Eph. 4:1, NIV), hope for victory over sin. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, is filled with promises of all sorts of hope: deliverance from enemies (Ps. 18:3), peace (Ps. 29:11), guidance (Ps. 48:14), and power to overcome sin (1 Cor. 10:13), to name only a few.
All these, as wonderful as they are, are not the "one hope" that Paul was talking about. What is that "one hope," and why, without it, are all the other things we hope for vain, hollow, and ultimately meaningless? Write down your answer and any texts you have that could support it. See, for example, Titus 2:13.
Notice again our text for today and the basic theme. Paul is talking about unityone body, one Spirit, one hope. We are one body (see also 1 Cor. 12:12-31), guided by one Spirit that leads us to this one hope. We are one as we look together for the same hope. Though each of us have our own personal hopes, we are a community of hope that looks expectantly to God for the fulfillment of His promise. We may be made up of many different parts, but hope unites us, motivates us, and gives us direction; we are (ideally, anyway) one in thought and purpose, for our united goal is clear.
|One hope? One body? How can so many different elements such as culture,
language, and ethnicity be brought together in unity? Think about your own
experience: How has your personal hope in Christ's return helped you unite
in one purpose with the church? Or has it?
"One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:5, 6, NIV).
Whatever one wants to say about Paul, he was not a pluralist; that is, he was not someone who believed there were different paths to salvation or that one belief system was just as valid or verifiable as another. On the contrary, Paul displayed a very firm commitment to what he understood as the only path to salvation, a view that would be seen in many contemporary societies as narrow.
Read carefully Ephesians 4:5, 6. What is the basic point that Paul was making? What theme reappears here that we have already been looking at this week?
When we think of what baptism means (Rom. 6:4), why would Paul include baptism in this text? See also Galatians 3:27-29. Why, in many ways, does baptism indicate what the foundation of our unity as a people really rests upon?
God is One; He is "over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:6, NIV; see also Rom. 11:36). God is sovereign, and His intention is to bring all who will come back to Himself through the blood of Christ, shed for the sins of the world. God's plan is that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10, 11, NIV). Here, too, in a strange way, when all creation, even the lost, confess Christ, there will be seen a kind of, if not unity, then certainly a unanimity of thought.
Read 1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV. How does that fit in with the point that Paul is making in Ephesians 4:5, 6? See also John 17:20-23.
The idea of unity is important to God. Clearly, it is not hard to understand why. God is One, His truth is one, the hope is one; thus, His church, that which represents Him on earth, should be one, as well.
|What does Jesus really mean about being oneGod in Him and He in God and He in us? If this is not a literal, physical presence, what was Jesus telling us?|
"So that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12, 13, NIV).
Faiththat is, saving faith, the faith that leads to righteousness (Rom. 4:13)is, of course, a very personal thing. We are not saved in bunches; we are saved by grace through faith that comes from a personal surrender of the soul to God. No one can do this for another; you might be able to transfer blood or a heart or some other organ to another person in need. You can witness for your faith, teach others about it, and demonstrate it to men and angels, but you can never give it to someone else. They can get it only from above, through the individual choice of a sinner to follow the Lord.
However, look at the verses for today. They are talking about a unity of faith centered in the "knowledge of the Son of God," but they do so not so much in a personal, individual sense (the way we are used to thinking about this) but as in a "corporate" sense. The body of Christ (that is, His church) may be built up until "we all reach unity in the faith." Paul isn't talking here just about the individual experience of the believer but the corporate experience of a church uniting around the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Read Ephesians 4:14. Why is Paul saying that unity of faith and spiritual maturity are so important? What do they protect us against?
Unity helps us avoid extremes, as we have the whole body to help keep us in balance. As we demonstrate love for one another, recognizing the grace of God to each of us, then we grow together in oneness. No doubt, a church exhibiting selfless love for each other within the body and love for the lost world without is truly one reaching "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God."
Such unity of the faith does not come about by accident. It comes by making our hope and faith a priority and actively working to bring each other together. "Strive earnestly for unity," writes Ellen White. "Pray for it, work for it."Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 188.
Think for a moment about your own local church as a corporate body. Do you see it maturing in faith in the knowledge of the Son of God as a whole? Has progress been made corporately over the years? Or is it going, in your estimation, backwards? Or stagnating? Whatever your answer, what positive role can you play to help it?
FURTHER STUDY: "Ministers of Christ should be unitedof one heart and one mind. They should counsel with one another. None should require their brethren to labor exactly after their plan, but each should preserve his individuality, and all labor for the good of others, esteeming their brethren better than themselves. It is Satan's work to excite envy and jealousy, to alienate affection, weaken confidence, and engender distrust and suspicion. All this hinders unity of faith in intercession with God for the weak and the desponding, for the grace of Christ, for the conversion of sinners, and thus shuts away the blessing which might be ours.Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, July 10, 1883.
"Jesus, who died for us, loves us with a love that is infinite; and we must love one another. We must put away all selfishness, and work together in love and unity. We have loved and petted ourselves, and excused ourselves in waywardness; but we have been unmerciful toward our brethren, who are not as faulty as ourselves. The Lord loves us, and bears with us, even when we are ungrateful to Him, forgetful of His mercies, wickedly unbelieving; but consider, brethren, how relentless we are to one another, how pitiless; how we hurt and wound one another when we should love as Christ has loved us. Let us make a complete change. Let us cultivate the precious plant of love, and delight to help one another. We must be kind, forbearing, patient with one another's errors; we must keep our sharp criticisms for ourselves, but hope all things, believe all things, of our brethren."Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, April 22, 1884.
SUMMARY: Since we are called to one hope, we must be united and live lives worthy of our calling. Hope brings us to oneness, pointing out our goal that is far more important than the petty things that so often divide us. As we allow God's hope to work in us, we will live to God's glory, anticipating the day when we will be home eternally with Him.
"There is a gate that stands ajar" are words from one of the favorite hymns sung by prisoners at the Windhoek Central Prison in Namibia, in southern Africa. But this is a place where gates are not left ajar.
I first visited this prison several years ago in response to a letter asking for a visit by an Adventist. While I waited, the warden went from cell to cell shouting, "Church, church, church!" Whoever wanted to attend was let out of his cell and herded into the courtyard.
A few months after I began holding worship services in this prison chapel, three brothers joined our group. They were serving seven years each for having killed someone out of revenge. Each of the men became a spiritual pillar in the fledgling church. One made a fine song leader; they all became leaders in the group. These men began distributing Voice of Prophecy enrollment cards, and with their help we formed our first baptismal class.
Soon eight prisoners were ready for baptism. But our request to hold the baptism in the prison was turned down. After many requests, we were at last granted permission. Then the day before the baptism, we learned that the warden had changed his mind; the baptism could not be held.
Discouraged, I asked a colleague for advice. He suggested we "pray a lot and play it low." We placed the baptism in God's hands, trusting Him to open the gates. On Sabbath morning we approached the prison with several union and local church officers. After lengthy negotiations, the ministers were allowed into the prison to officiate in the baptism.
As the baptismal candidates stood to take their vows, I realized that the Lord had indeed touched these lives and opened the gates to a new
life. That day six souls were added to the church of God. The three brothers were released from prison. Two of them returned to their homes, where they serve as local elders. The third brother, Hastings, returned to prison, not as a prisoner but as a spiritual worker.
Birthie Tyers is a layman living in Windhoek, Namibia. He continues working for souls behind prison walls.
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