Relationships and Getting Prepared (Ephesians 6)

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As we all know, marriage is not the only relationship that we have in this life (aside from our relationship with God). We are also sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and slaves and masters. These relationships must also display the same sacrificial love that I spoke about yesterday. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (6:1, NASB). No matter what we are to listen to our parents. It is even one of the big 10 rules God gave us, the Ten Commandments. When we obey and respect our parents, we show our understanding of God’s authority over us. Just like our parents did when we were little, God sometimes asks us to do thing that we don’t quite understand. We must obey what our Heavenly Father is asking of us, in order to show him honor and glory.

Paul then turns his eyes on parents. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (6:4, NASB). I know it says “fathers”, but honestly it can be applied to mothers as well. As parents, we should not intentionally do things to harm our children. In speaking about prayer, Jesus asks these questions to the crowd at the Mount, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” (Matthew 7:9-10, NASB). Jesus is talking about God taking care of us, and having our best interests at heart. This same relationship, should be the one that we have in relation to our own children. Care for them and have their best interests at heart.

Some of you may have given your screen a second look when I said “slaves and masters”. I assure you that this relationship still exists in its most basic form, only today we call it employer and employee (or government and citizen). As slaves, it is our duty to obey the authority placed over us. We get this from another of Paul’s writings, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13;1, NASB), or in Jesus’ own words “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11, NASB). We should treat all authority over us as if it where actually God giving these commands (so long as it aligns with God’s Word). As masters, we are to realize that everyone under our authority is a loved creation of God. We cannot abuse these people and exploit them so that our lives can become a little easier. No matter what, we are not the true masters. Everything has been given to us on loan from the real master in Heaven.

Finally we come to the armor of God. I know that I have heard dozens of sermons and read tons of teachings on the subject of the armor. All I will say is that this armor represents our need to be secure in God, and be prepared for the battles that face us everyday. At some point, we will be questioned for our faith. Someone will ask questions that can shake you if you are not prepared. Knowing who we are in Christ, and knowing what God’s Word has to say to us, is the best thing we can do to prepare for that day. It’s coming, are you ready?

Paul teaches us how to live out our day to day lives in this chapter. No matter what, you have one of these relationships facing you today and the need for preparation for battle. Spend time in the Word everyday. That is my best suggestion I could ever make. Don’t just read your Bible, that doesn’t count. Simply reading your Bible is an intellectual exercise that will barely scratch the surface of what Scripture can do for you. Pray through the Bible. Ask God to show you what you need for the day. Ask Him to enter into your time with Him. This allows us to be prepared for the battles, and helps us to be more like Him in our relationships. It’s hard to be imitators of someone we do not spend much time with. So spend time. I provided some Psalms to pray today if you need some help getting started. But give this practice a chance. It will help you polish your armor and get you ready for the day.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 4-6

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You Before Me (Ephesians 5)

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Paul is calling us to act like God. If we really look at what it means to be a Christian, this makes total sense for our theology. Jesus Christ is God, and we are his followers, so naturally we are trying to imitate God in our daily lives. Paul writes, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (5:1-2, NASB). Paul goes on to describe what this lifestyle looks like; putting away immorality, impurity, greed, filthiest, “silly talk”, foul language, and inappropriate joking and taking up a life of thankfulness. Paul recognizes this to be the way of the world. Christ calls us to be humble and thankful.

I think of a story within Jesus’ life. In Jesus’ time, it was customary for slaves to come and wash the feet of dinner guests, especially for a special dinners. Before the start of Christ’s final meal, he took up a towel and a water basin and proceeded to wash the disciples feet. He humbled himself before them. Being God, he was obviously deserving of all the disciples washing his feet, but he showed them that as his followers they were to take a lowly position so that others may be taken care of. (John 13:5-20)

Paul goes on and shows that our relationships with each other mirror Christ’s relationship to the Church. Paul first shows this through the marital relationship. Just like the wives are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands, so must the Church be to Christ. However, husbands get a much lengthy call from Paul in this letter. Husband are to be sacrificial for their wives. Husbands must give up everything, even their own lives, so that their wives are taken care of. In this same way, Christ died for the Church for her own good.

Can we live this sort of life today?  Let’s sit there for a second. Can we really live out this life of sacrificial love for one another that Christ has modeled for and called us into?

 

Too many times we hear about selfishness and greed ruling the world. Phrases like “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and “we just grew apart” show me that this lifestyle is rarely known in our world. We have been called to stand out in our world. Paul writes in another letter, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB). This world tells us to look out for #1, while Christ shows us to look out for everyone else. Christ died for you and me when he did not have to. God could have chosen to let us all suffer the consequences of the Fall, and many of us do. But thanks to Jesus, we no longer have to suffer that punishment. We should be sacrificial in all of our relationships. Always giving up what we want, so that others may get what they need. I’m not saying that Christians should be in poverty so the rest of the world can prosper, but we tend to get too caught up in our own wants and desires we rarely stop to think about anyone else. Christ modeled a life of sacrifice for us to follow. I suggest that if we want to call ourselves Christians, we stop worrying about ourselves and start worrying about others.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 1-3

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Being Unified (Ephesians 4)

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Today’s chapter is all about us being unified together. This isn’t some misplaced version of solidarity where we have to bicker until one person’s views are accepted above another’s. This unity that Paul speaks of is the Church moving together with one goal. What is that goal you may ask? This goal is Jesus Christ. Above all other things, Jesus must be seen as the loftiest goal for the Church to reach. Paul wrote in Philippians, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NASB).

So how do we, knowing all the different theological stances, move forward in this way? Paul writes, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:2, NASB). We cannot do it combating each other for who is right. Instead we have to let each other believe what we believe so long as Christ is the main focus. If Christ is not the main focus than we have replaced God with a false idol. Anything less than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be in the highest attainable spot in our lives. Theology can take us down many roads, that’s where all these denominations come from. But the Bible teaches that there can only be one pursuit, and that is God through Jesus Christ.

Let me give you an example of how a church looks when Christ is not at the center. Imagine a church that can take a passage of Scripture like Leviticus 18:22, and turn it into a message of hate. This message is so powerful that it becomes the focal point of this church and it is what they are most know for. A message so powerful that it causes them to create signs that read “God Hates F**s”. This becomes what the church is known for. It is associated with hate, and that’s all they are. I’m sure they started out trying spread the gospel, but at some point it became more important to hate people and make outcasts, than to spread the love that can be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus wants us to be unified together, not fighting among each other over who is right. Fighting causes us to get mad, which leads to uncontrolled anger (which we all know is a sin). Paul writes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; don not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.” (4:26-27, NASB). It is true that someone is right, and someone is wrong. That’s just the way of Creation. But is it more important for you to be right, or for you to be seeking Christ?

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 143-146

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The Love of God (Ephesians 3)

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Paul spends most of this chapter reaching out to the Gentiles. His mission that was given to him, by both God and the apostles in Jerusalem, was to minister to the Gentiles. Before Christ, the Gentiles were widely regarded as outsiders by the Jews. Their belief was set around their status as the “chosen people”. This led them to believing that the Gentiles would not be a part of whatever salvation the Messiah would bring. However, Jesus and Paul thought differently. The basis of salvation is not by who you were born to, but is rather based on faith. Paul writes, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6, NASB). This is Paul telling the Gentile and Jewish Christians, that the Gentiles are just as much a part of God’s Kingdom as the Jews.

It would seem that the Ephesians church is having a problem that was very common during Paul’s ministry. This problem was that Jewish Christians would come in and tell the Gentile Christian that they were somehow  of less significance or would have to conform to a Jewish lifestyle before they could be saved. We know this is wrong today, but it was something that many people believed then. Paul’s answer to this is the knowledge of God’s love. He tells them that he is praying for them; specifically he is praying that they learn about God’s love, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (3:17-19, NASB). The love of Christ is so all-consuming, that there would be no way for the Church to focus on things like Jews over Gentiles. Instead their focus would be to love each other, and spread the love to everyone else.

This is a message that I believe still rings true for us today. We can get all caught up in living in a way that honors God that we forget why we do it. Yes, we should live a life that reflects Scripture. We should stand up for our faith, and oppose the things that God opposes. But I feel that there are people, especially some in the media and politics, that portray our faith as a list of rules that if we don’t make everyone follow they will all go to hell. Well I have news for those people; if they don’t believe in Christ, they’re going to hell anyway. No amount of forcing anything is going to help their salvation. As a matter of fact, it will more than likely push them away. Is that really the life that Christ showed us to live? Is that really living a Christian life?

Christ said to the people, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, NASB). People can become weary when they are being told they are wrong all the time, or that their life should actually look like “this”. Jesus wants those people, and so should we. We should not be the cause of their stress. We should take them in and show them the love of Christ. We should take in the teenage mother, and tell her that Jesus loves her. We should hug the homosexual and tell them that God’s loves them. We should spend time with the felon, and share the love that God has given us. The point, I guess, is that God has given us so much love, we cannot contain it; we have to spread it.

Love does not come from following rules, following rules comes from love. If we love God, we will follow the rules. But we cannot force people to follow the rules and say that it is love. Love comes from personal experience. We cannot lead people to that experience if we are constantly pushing them away. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s give “Bible-thumping” a rest. It isn’t helping our cause any. God is love, and we should be wanting to share that with everyone. Only God can “fix” people, so let’s trust Him to do that. We can just share Him with every single person we come into contact with.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 139-142

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Life in Christ (Ephesians 2)

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For a long time, I had a belief that I feel most people have; my sin makes me a bad person. Why wouldn’t I believe that? I had people all over Christiandom telling me that. When I came to Christ, I still felt the same way. If sin was something that is bad, how can my sin not make me a bad person. Over the last year or two, I have heard a new take on what sin does. The crazy thing is that it falls more inline with Scripture than the previous belief, sin makes you dead. Paul writes at the beginning of this chapter, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” (2:1, NASB). He’s saying that because of our sins we are actually dead. This has no moral standing like good or bad, it is simply your state. However we do not want to be dead, so we must seek out how to fix it. This is what the rest of the chapter is about. We can be made alive in Christ!

This belief is not meant strictly for the Church. We as believers are not the only ones that have the ability to be made alive in Christ, just the only ones who have accepted it. In truth, Christ died for all. That’s every single person, EVER. You know that bum that lives down the street? He is included. You know that couple you see holding hands at the park that look a little different than you? They are included. You know the politician on TV that you just can’t seem to understand? He/She is included right along with the rest of us. Christ died in order to bring everyone closer to himself. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (2:13, NASB). Since Christ brings us close, we cannot push people away because they do not conform.

The truth is that sin is everywhere and does not look the same on everyone. As the people of God, who have been made alive, it is our duty to help bring others to life as well. Think about it. When someone is lying unresponsive, who’s going to help them, a living person or a corpse? Our life in Christ gives us the power to make a real difference in the world. We cannot sit high and mighty and dictate how everyone is doing wrong. Jesus did not do that. Instead we should be speaking in love and guiding people to a right relationship with God. Sometimes that does lead to a confrontation, but it should not be how it starts. Let God work on their heart. He can fix their problems, you cannot.

To those who might just now be starting along this path, I want to offer some encouragement. God has rules and they seem pretty intimidating. We all live with sin in our lives, but through Christ we are working to get over that sin. It will never totally be gone, but it gets better. So you maybe sitting there thinking, “It’s too hard, I can’t do it. I can’t get that close to God. I’m unworthy…” I’m here to tell you that there was a day that I felt that same way. There are days now that I feel that way. But God offers us hope and peace in His Word. “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,” (2:17-19, NASB).

 

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The Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1)

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I know that we just came off of a super long Bible Study, which is mostly due to my lack of blogging. But it’s pretty much my policy that if God doesn’t give me something personal to share, than I turn the the Word. So we’ve selected a new passage of Scripture to start.

Paul starts writing this letter from within a prison cell. He has been imprisoned because of his beliefs and for professing them. Yet Paul does not begin his letter by stating “Woe is me. I have been held captive. I cannot believe they arrested me.” Instead He starts his letter the opposite way a lot of people would when they have been arrested for their beliefs, he praises God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3, NASB). This alone should be proof enough that we should be praising God no matter are circumstances, but Paul does it all over Scripture (Acts 16:25-30, Galatians 1:4-5, Philippians 1:11, Colossians 1:3-8, etc.)

But I found myself drawn to certain portion of this chapter, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:12-14, NASB). What I really noticed was the comment “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit”.

I feel like most people tend to forget about the Holy Spirit. Everyone speaks about the Father and the Son, but usually never mentions the third part of the Trinity. I have to admit, the Holy Spirit is a really complicated character. With the Father, we know that He is the one who created us and sits enthroned on high over all of Creation. The Son is also a pretty easy thing to grasp, He was the one that came to earth and sacrificed Himself so that you and me can have our salvation. But what about the Holy Spirit?

Paul is saying in this section that the Holy Spirit is the God that marks us for salvation. Now He also does many other things (ie. spiritual gifts, power to the apostles, etc), but in this section Paul teaches us that God marks us with Himself by the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can receive that “mark” is by receiving God’s gift to us, the blood of Jesus. Paul says that the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge to keep the promises He made for salvation.

We cannot count out the Holy Spirit. More people need to talk about Him as well. Without Him, there would be no salvation, no way to show honor to God, and there would certainly be no Church today. The Spirit is just as important as the rest of the Godhead. It is the work of the enemy to make you believe that any one part of God is less important then the others. The Holy Spirit was present in the beginning, along with Father and Son. We cannot separate the Holy Spirit for the rest of God. To do so, would be to allow the enemy to win a part of our hearts.

How can we maintain the Spirit’s standing as a part of the Godhead? I would suggest, by way of Francis Chan, that we no longer call Him “it”. “It” implies that He is something different and unknown. But God has chosen to reveal Himself as triune and with the male gender. So from now on when we refer to the Holy Spirit, no longer is He “it”. He shall always be “He”.

Then we must learn to understand Him better. Ask your pastor, ask a Biblical scholar you trust, and (most importantly) ask God. Pray and ask God to show Him where His Spirit is present in your life and how to better understand Him. When we forget about a part of God, we choose not to glorify God in the way that He has revealed Himself. Instead, we form our own idols of who think God is. Remember, God is Father, Son, and Spirit.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 133-136

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before…

 

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Continuing with the theme of trust God from yesterday, how should we behave when we are doing things for the glory of God. I remember reading a story of a man walking down the street. He felt that God was leading him to talk to a couple of men standing across the street, about Jesus. He decided to obey and started to walk across the street. Right as he was about to get to them and begin the conversation, they both turned and walked away. I believe this is a story about God testing the man doing His work. He wants us to be bold. “To boldly go where no man has gone before…”

Paul writes at the end of his letter to the Ephesians, “And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20, NLT). When doing God’s work, we can’t be wimpy; we have to bold! Think about it. Is our God timid and shy, or is He glorious and mighty? In proclaiming God, we cannot only deal with other Christians. We have to deal with the world. This is the message for all people, not just the few who have heard it already.

When God prompts us to move, we cannot be shy or timid. We have to stand in the power He has given us, and boldly proclaim His name. I know this isn’t easy. This can be really hard with organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), who do not want us to speak about our God openly. But as Christians, God is a part of us. He lives inside you and me! He gives us the strength to do what He asks of us. All we have to do is get over our doubt, and accept His power.

I pray that we are all able to stand in His power, and boldly proclaim His name to all the world.

 
Psalms to Pray: Psalm 31

The Letter to Ephesus

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So I was really trying to figure out what to start writing about. I felt another series coming on, but didn’t know what to do, then God spoke to me. For the next few days, we will be reading a letter to one of the Churches found in Revelation 2-3. Don’t worry, this isn’t an “End of the World” series (people always seem to think that when you mention Revelation). We are seeking to find what God has to say for us today in his messages to the seven Churches.

The first letter sent out went to Ephesus. This is the same church that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians to. This message, however, is coming several years after Paul’s writing. John writes these letters, under the prompting of Jesus/Holy Spirit, in order to address an issue found within the Church. For the Ephesians Jesus says, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove you lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5, NASB).  I find this statement from Jesus rather curious in light of the way Paul in his letter to them, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:24 NASB). So how did this church leave its first love?

I believe that this Church got to busy being a Church that they forgot what brought them together in the first place, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells them that it is good that they test apostles to find out if they are real and that they had the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans. But all of this is irrelevant if Christ doesn’t remain in the central position.

I feel that many churches today get in this same “rut”. It’s easy to do. The biggest symptom and easiest way to tell if this is happening to you is when asked the question “Why do you do that?”, the response is “Cause we’ve always done it this way”. When the church becomes successful, or even just programming, we don’t want to make changes for fear of losing that something special. Well friends, I’ve got news for you. Christ is that something special and if he stays in the central location for us, we won’t lose him!

But don’t give up if you find yourself in the “cause we’ve always done it this way group”. The people that stand up for change need you to keep them focused as well. People who want to change have the tendency to change for changes-sake. But that isn’t helpful either. Christ didn’t come to abolish the old Law, he came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). The Ten Commandments are still very important to us today. They are the Law of God. Jesus came to change the way is was being enforced.

So the message Jesus has for Ephesus and us, I believe, is that we cannot get stuck “doing” Church. We have to “be” the Church. We have to be sensitive to what Christ wants the Church to do, because He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). Jesus will want us to do the same thing for a time, but then he may change suddenly. He often did that during his earthly ministry; just looked to the disciples and said “We’re moving on”.

What is God calling you to do in your own life, and in the life of the Church? Spend some time in prayer to figure this out, because it may be a time for a change.

Mature Audiences Only

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Sorry about the misleading title, but decided I needed to come up with something catchy.

In the book of Ephesians we find this statement from Paul, “He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, full mature adults, full developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything.” (Ephesians 4:10-15 MSG).

Paul is telling us a few things in the letter, but right here he is calling us to grow in our faith. It is enough for our salvation to accept Jesus Christ as our savior, but it isn’t enough for our lives and ministries. Yes, I said it, as Christians we all live a life of ministry. God passes unique gifts on to everyone to use, but if our mandate is life is to go and make new disciples (Matthew 28:19), isn’t that the main focus of ministry? So welcome to ministry my friends, it’s a blast! So how do we grow as Christians then? I believe it come in three different ways.

First, and most importantly, is worship. Worship is not just Sunday morning church. It is a lifestyle my friends. Worshiping God with your life means to give everything to Him, and do it all for His glory. You have to seek out a connection with the Father, not just simply believe in Him. This is what lead to the uprising of the new contemporary worship style. It’s main focus is to get worshipers to connect with God on a deep emotional level. Yes we all fall in love with the worship leader, the band, the lights, and all the flashy things, but truly we should be seeking to form a deep connection with God that gives Him glory.

Second, we grow through communion with other believers. Once again, not just church! Don’t get me wrong, church is a great place for all these things to happen, but if you are only seeking the Lord on Sunday mornings, are you really a believer? Other believers can be family, friends, fellow church-goers, coworkers, that hobo down the street, etc. We could be farther on our faith journey than they are, or vise versa. But if you have an honest conversation with any believer you will grow in your faith. I will also say this, being with other believers does not have to be face-to-face interactions. It could be reading someone’s book. I have grown a ton from some of the books I’ve read. It can be social media (just like this blog!) or some other type of medium where you can hear from other people.

The third way we grow is through study. I didn’t used to care very much about Bible study. But when I started to become a worship leader, I realized I didn’t know much of anything. So I went and got a degree in Biblical Studies, and now I say to you friends “Study the Scriptures!!!!!!” The Bible is the Word of God, it is the teachings of Christ, it is the best way for us to learn about God. The Bible is the way God chose to reveal Himself to the world. So why wouldn’t you study it?

So don’t just accept Christ and say your done. We all have growth to do. Paul is saying that we should never stop learning about God. We most definitely need to seek maturity and wisdom. These things come from God. The more we know Him, and spend time with Him, the more wise and mature we can become. So let’s get out there and keep learning, if for no other reason then to get to the the reason we have life!