The Bible repeatedly shows that God’s people often follow the surrounding cultures, leaving the ways of God. What was true of God’s people in the Bible is true of us now.
We thrives on personal advice and personal gurus. Top blogs tell you how to live a happier, more productive, less stressful life. Daytime television shows thrive on giving personal advice. In any given week, the list of best-selling books will almost certainly include a list of personal improvement books or vaguely-spiritually books about how to have your “best life” now.
The church follows the culture. Christians want to see the Bible as God’s personal book of advice. Ministers give in to this, justifying it by saying they need to be relevant or appeal to people’s felt needs. The Bible comes an inspired form of Dr. Phil’s advice. Get your life on track. Listen to the perfect advice for the perfect marriage. Heed the best financial advice that you can receive. And so on.
Yes. The Bible tells us how to have the “good life,” though it is going to define that life in its own terms. (Being killed for the name of Christ is considered the “good life”; denying Jesus in order to live a materially wealthy, carefree life is not the good life.)
But the Bible does not give advice in the way that we want it.
When reading Ephesians (and this is true of many others books in the New Testament), it is tempting to skip the first half because it does not contain any relevant, practical advice. We skip the first chapter because of its cumbersome sentence (1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original language) and Paul’s ramblings about predestination, election, adoption, redemption, etc. We skim chapter two more closely because it has some nice things to say about grace, but we don’t dwell on it, especially when Paul begins talking about the Gentiles being brought into the people of God. We skip chapter three because it has weird talk aobut Gentiles and the mention of mystery.
We finally get to chapters four, five and six. We read attentively because Paul begins to give advice about more practical matters. We get especially excited over the marriage advice and the parenting advice. We think that this is what we really need.
But we are missing out on what Paul does before he gives advice to the church.
Before he addresses the sin in the community or sexual sins, gives advice about your marriage, or encourages parents, Paul writes Ephesians 1:15-23:
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit 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.
Paul begins his letter with a prayer (and Paul’s prayers always teach us so much about God and the Christian life!). And he prays that the Ephesus church comes to see the power of God. He wants them to know the dynamic power of God, the power with which He raised Jesus from the dead.
And he prays for them to know this before he gives them any advice.
The bottom line: before you apply God’s advice for your life, you must see God’s power at work in your life.
If you don’t do that, then you will not see that the advice that might seem difficult or impossible, especially given our sinful natures, is to be carried out by God’s mighty power working in us.
Though our culture loves getting advice, tips, and “life hacks”, the Bible thinks that we first need power. Advice without God’s power to carry it out is useless. The advice won’t produce the Kingdom kind of life that all of us desire, whether we know it or not.
So, before you turn to the Bible for advice on how to live as a Christian, make sure you are working and praying to grasp how God is working in you. Make sure you are striving to understand the Bible’s view of God empowering you through His Spirit.
If not, the Christian life will seem impossible. The advice will be pointless.
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