Above It All
Ever met someone who seems above it all? While the rest of us are worried and afraid, these people are calm and fearless. Like David, they face their giants with confidence. I must admit, I tend to be a worrier. I have spent more than my share of sleepless nights awash in a sea of what ifs. Yet, God gives us a way to overcome. We might think the only way to defeat fear is to vanquish that which we fear, but God gives us a higher way. He invites us to live above our worry and anxiety. Let us consider the words of Paul:
This is a favorite scripture for Christians in trouble. The common interpretation of this passage is that no matter what things look like, those in Christ are in charge. We are seated with Christ above any worldly power. It is therefore our right to take authority over anything that stands against Christ, whether it be the Devil or man. I believe there is truth in this understanding, but in this article, I want to broaden our perspective on what it means to be above.
Ephesus was at tough place to be a Christian. It was the largest city in Asia Minor and the worldwide center for Diana worship. (She was the Greek nature and fertility goddess.) The local legends said that a statue of Diana fell from the sky, so of course, they built a temple where it landed.
Diana’s temple took 220 years to build and was one of the wonders of the ancient world. In that day, the building was the largest in existence, measuring 220 feet by 425 feet. One hundred and twenty-seven columns, each 60 feet high, supported it, and the entire structure was made of pure white marble. Sitting on a hill overlooking the city, the temple shone down gloriously, as if to say, “Diana is in charge here.”
There was also a very powerful contingent of Judaizers in Ephesus (the fellows who wanted to kill Paul). In I Corinthians, Paul wrote that he wrestled with wild beasts at this city, and scholars agree that he was not talking about literal animals; he was describing the ferocity of his opponents. It was in Asia that Paul “despaired even of life.” Yet, from the midst of his lowliness came Paul’s great revelation of the triumph of Christ in what we know as the book of Ephesians.
Diana wasn’t the only ruler in town, however. Overshadowing the goddess and the Judaizers was the power of Rome, and the Romans portrayed Caesar as a god. People had to bow to him or face the wrath of the mightiest empire the Earth had ever known. Rome portrayed Caesar as the savior of the world.
In 9 BC, the Romans issued the following proclamation about Caesar Augustus, who was the ruler of Rome at the time of Christ’s birth:
Later in this passage, the writer calls Augustus a god, so it is easy to see why the early Christians had trouble with Rome. Much of what the early believers said of Christ, Rome also said of Caesar. To make matters worse, when Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church, Nero, who was insanely convinced of his own divinity, ruled Rome. The tension between the church and the power that ruled the world was about to escalate.
We might think Paul’s words about the church at Ephesus meant that everything could change if God’s people had faith. If they believed, the Lord would make them in charge of Ephesus. As the book of Deuteronomy promised, He would make them the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13). God’s deliverance would bring a dramatic role reversal. The Lord would humiliate and lower Caesar and the followers of Diana. Not only that, many of the believers in that day were poor, but that would change, too. God would take the riches of the world and give them to the humble.
Was this the objective of Paul’s faith? Did he believe the church’s inheritance was worldly power and earthly treasure? It is tempting to take an Old Covenant perspective on being above it all. In the Old Testament, when God raised Israel, He humbled the pagan nations and made God’s people prosper. As we discussed in earlier articles, many people in Jesus’s day had this Old Covenant paradigm. They believed their messiah would crush Rome and give them the spoils.
We would be hard pressed to say Paul had this mind. He was far more interested in being seated in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6) than being seated on an earthly throne, and worldly treasure was never his desire. In Romans chapter eight, Paul quoted Psalm 42 to describe the fate of many Christians in that day. It, in fact, seems the opposite of the Old Covenant victory. “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet, in the midst of terrible suffering the apostle crowned believers as “More than conquerors.”
Our victory is not always found in the power to turn bad circumstances into good. In this world, we will have tribulation, but the love of Christ is our triumph. No power or authority can stop it. No circumstance or human weakness can diminish it. There is nothing more certain than the love of God. Dwelling in God’s love is dwelling above, and in His love, there is no fear.
To fully live in God’s love, we must see it and understand it. Have you ever thought the Lord really doesn’t love you? If you have, such thoughts no doubt came at some of the worst times in your life, not the best. We doubt Christ’s love when it does not meet our expectations. At such times, we can either turn our back on God, or we can question our expectations. Perhaps we cannot always see God’s love, because we do not fully comprehend it. God’s ways are higher than ours, and to walk with Him we must come to live in that which is higher.
When we were but babes, we had a certain concept of our parent’s love. Mainly, they gave us what we wanted. When we were hungry, they fed us. When we cried, they came running. As we began to get older, our parent’s behavior towards us began to change. They began to introduce deeper things. We found out that we are not always going to get what we want, even if we throw a tantrum. We might have thought our parents love had diminished or disappeared at such times, but now that we are more mature, we know differently. They were leading us to something higher such as self-sacrifice and even love.
Our relationship with our Father in Heaven often takes a similar course. When we are babes in the Lord, we believe God’s job is to turn bad things into good. He delivers us from our troubles and meets our needs and even gives us what we want. Of course, we try to want good things that the Lord approves. We might remind Him that it is all to His glory, thinking that will garner His favor. Likewise, we believe God rewards good behavior, so we need to pray enough, have enough faith, and be good enough. If we do our part, God will do His.
There is nothing wrong with such a relationship with God; just as there is nothing wrong with being a babe. However, there comes a time when the Lord calls us to something higher, and this revelation usually does not come on the day we get what we want. In fact, it comes on the day we have the opposite of what we want. It comes in loss and weakness. Astonishingly, in the hour our natural mind tells us that God’s love has vanished, we gain the revelation of its height and depth.
It is said that home is where the heart is. What we love most is like a dwelling. It is where our heart abides with its desires. It is also where our mind sets it focus. Jesus called what we love most our treasure (Matthew 6:21), and He also called it our master (Matthew 6:24).
We can make our home in the world or in the kingdom of God. Our heart and mind dwells in one or the other. We might think this is simply about behavior. Is our heart set on doing good or doing evil? Yet, Paul suggests another way defining our dwelling. Instead of looking just at good and evil, he looks at the finite and the infinite or what he called the temporal and the eternal.
We can make our home in the seen and the finite. We set our hearts and minds there. If we do, we will look at finite things and finite circumstances to measure our life, whether it is good or bad. If we live there, we will face fear and anxiety often, because finite things are always tentative. Yet, our Father in Heaven’s greatest concern is our heavenly home. His desire is that we abide where He is. In fact, Christ died and rose, so we can know God’s house as our home both is this life and the next. This is a dwelling of the heart and of the spirit. It cannot be shaken. It always is, just like the love of Christ.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much leaving home imagery in the Bible? Noah built an ark, knowing his home in the world was about to be destroyed. Abraham left his home for an inheritance which was from God. Moses led God’s people out of Egypt to the Promised Land. These images foreshadowed our New Covenant journey. Only our journey is one of the heart. It is from the seen to the unseen and from the finite to the infinite. At the end of this journey, Christ is both the measure of who we are and of what we have. Our own good and evil no longer defines us, and our good and bad circumstances no longer define our life.
Consequently, there is a bit of broken heartedness in entering God’s kingdom. It is momentary and light compared to what we gain, but we lose the home we once loved for our home in God’s glory. He becomes our dwelling. In other words, the infinite comes to define our lives more than the finite. The presence of the unseen God makes our life full more than circumstances we can see with our eyes. Transcendence is not just for the afterlife; it is for now. Thus, Jesus said:
Our fears come from not wanting to lose that which we call our life. We are afraid we won’t have anything left, at least anything that the world says is important. It is like the fear God’s people faced when they left Egypt. They couldn’t see the promised land with their eyes, but the only way to get there was to let go of their old home. Likewise, when we let go of what the world calls life, Christ becomes our life. Thus, we grow in the Lord. Christian maturity is not just changed behavior. It is a changed home. It is the journey to the infinite God, and every gain does not come through our own power or strength of will but through death and resurrection.
Therefore, when things are at their worst, and our natural reasoning tells us that God does not care about us. The opposite is actually true. When God shakes the seen world, it is only so he can give us the unseen. He is beckoning us to come live above, seated with Him in the heavenly places. God’s purpose in our suffering is not just to get us through it. It is to give us Himself. So, if you suffer much, you are also loved much. If the world calls you worthless, you are heir to infinite worth in Christ. Being a nobody is merely an invitation to come and know God. If God seems to strip away all the world values, it is because He wants to give you heavenly treasure. We gain through loss.
David was a man after God’s heart. (Acts 13:22). If we look at his life, we might wonder why he earned such high praise. He certainly had his share of weakness and failure. He also had wonderful triumphs. We might conclude that his victories outweighed his defeats, and he gained more in life than he lost. That is the way man tips the scales, but in Christ we throw those scales away. In the 23rd psalm we see that David did just that.
What made David’s cup overflow was not the green pastures of his life. It was the presence of God. Notice this is the constant throughout the Psalm. The Lord’s company made his life rich both beside the still waters and in the valley of the shadow of death. He was happy because his dwelling was the house of the Lord no matter where he was.
Therefore, the key to victory over our fears is not just a strong will. It is not merely confidence that we will make it through the valley of the shadow of death with our earthly home intact or that we will escape unthinkable loss. Remember the early Christians faced such loss, and many did not escape it. Paul, himself, fell prey to a Roman sword. Yet, no peril can steal our heavenly home. Nothing can separate us from God’s presence. There is no greater love than this. God tells us that He has given us the gift of Himself, and He always will give that gift no matter what. He promises that all earthly loss will only lead to gaining the gift in even greater ways. Our victory is God, Himself.
Fear comes when all we see is the view from below. It invades our heart when our mind is set on things that can be seen. We are afraid of what we might lose, and we are afraid we might never have what other people seem to have. The scriptures call such a perspective darkness. We are afraid, because we don’t see. Yet, if we ask, God will give us the view from above, His view. We will see that every finite loss leads to eternal gain, and everything finite thing we don’t have merely helps us see our vast eternal treasure. We truly are above it all.