Posts Tagged 'Ephesians'

Ephesians, Part 6

 

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Some people have the wrong idea of Christians. To some, we’re all hippy-like pacifists, who’d rather sit around a campfire singing “Michael Rode the Boat Ashore” than engage in ambitious, meaning activities. But people who think that way are completely out of step with Biblical teachings about God’s people. For starters, Jesus was no supine hippy. Here was the Man who got so angry with some folks in the Temple that He actually kicked over their tables and chairs and made a shambles of money-changing business. He is known to have said things like this –

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…’” (Matthew 10:34, 35 TNIV)

Paul could hardly be called a Mr Milquetoast. He had more in common with Indiana Jones than with Mother Theresa. Here was an adventurer who was shipwrecked three times, traveled all over the known world, founding and establishing churches, challenging the political leaders and established religions of his day.

There is no teaching in the New Testament that Jesus’ disciples are to sit around and be walked all over by other people or that they should just let things happen without any regard for shaping their own destinies. One of the key teachings of the New Testament runs completely contrary to the notion of the stoner hippy Christian stereotype –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10 TNIV)

Take a stand

Another mistake some Christians make is to assume that salvation in Christ brings an end to all strife and problems in life. Experience teaches us that certainly isn’t the truth, but even Jesus remarked that being His disciple would never be an easy life. Quite the contrary, Jesus taught that following Him would bring difficulty and suffering into one’s life. One time, Jesus likened the Christian life to a king preparing for battle!

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:27, 31 – 33 TNIV)

It’s important for Christians to understand that all around them a battle is raging – a spiritual battle. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, Satan considers you to be an enemy, armed and dangerous. Satan will treat you as the enemy – HIS enemy. And Satan doesn’t fight fairly. He is a spiritual terrorist. He will always hit you when you are down and attack you when you least expect it. In order to win this spiritual battle, Christians need to be powerful; we need to make ourselves powerful and let God make us powerful.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10 – 11 TNIV)

Because Christians are both physical and spiritual in nature, the nature of our conflicts as we live our lives is both physical and spiritual. Human ingenuity and strength will get us only so far but prove wholly inadequate against the dark spiritual forces that constantly bombard us. As God’s people, we need His divine resources operating in our lives if we are to gain the upper hand in this spiritual struggle.

The Greek word for “strong,” endunamousthe, is in what we call the present passive, which suggests two things. First, that believers are to continue to be strengthened by the Lord, and second, that the source of this strength is not in themselves but rests outside – it comes from Christ as we are in union with Him. In other words, as we live in union with Jesus Christ, His resources are our resources; His strength is our strength; His wisdom is our wisdom; His courage is ours. We need these things all the time because Satan doesn’t rest in his attacks against us, hence the notion that we are to “continue” to be strengthened by the Lord.

In verse eleven, Paul sounds more like a commanding officer than a preacher! The verb for “put on” is an aorist imperative, so it should receive the strongest emphasis possible: Put it on! God’s armor is equated with mighty power; once we are have it on, we are powerful.

Paul wrote this letter from a Roman prison and he had seen his share of Roman soldiers. The images of their dress, their weaponry, and their dress formation had been seared into his mind, so in this admonition he takes for his illustration the Roman soldier, decked out and ready to do battle. Our “whole armor” is really one word in Greek: panoply, or a complete suit of armor. Because our spiritual warfare is so serious and dangerous, nothing less than the “panoply of God” will be enough. No Christian has the inherent defense needed to stand against Satan’s power apart from the strength he gains in Christ.

When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. (Psalm 138:3 TNIV)

That’s David writing about his experiences and God was his chief weapon. Our Lord, during His earthly ministry, faced difficult time and Satanic attacks, and what did He do?

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him… (Hebrews 5:7 – 9 TNIV)

Christ’s strength wasn’t in His human nature, but in His relationship with His heavenly Father. Never overlook these things. Victory over the wily attacks of the devil is guaranteed but only if we do what Paul advised in the spirit of David and Jesus: humble submission through prayer and obedience.

The enemy of every believer

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12, 13 TNIV)

The enemy to be defeated in the Devil and his entire demonic army. We can never trust our own unaided strength – we need what the Lord offers. As only Paul could, he parades the army of Satan past our eyes. Christian warfare is never against human forces, but against spiritual ones. Regardless of appearances, our fight is always a spiritual one. And we can’t loose that battle; equipped with God’s armor, we will always win.

As we read what Paul wrote here and elsewhere, it becomes clear that he not only believed in a personal Satan, but also that Satan has an organized power structure at his disposal.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 TNIV)

Satan is the “god of this age.” This present world-order as it exists today is in open rebellion against God and only in Christ can believers win the victory of them and be released from their hold. This was something other followers of Jesus understood –

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19 TNIV)

The “day of evil” is today; it’s this present age –

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16 TNIV)

The age is an evil one because of evil forces that have been vanquished by Christ, yet are still able to exercise control and influence over parts of the world that have not laid hole of the fruits of Christ’s victory.

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4, 5 TNIV)

Christ has won the victory and all those who put their complete faith and confidence in Him may win the victory too. Still, so determined is Satan, the god of this age, to oppose the believer that the believer has no choice but to don the complete armor of God in order to participate in our Lord’s victory.

Victory is assured

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14 – 17 TNIV)

The various pieces of defensive armor are described in Galatians as “the fruit of the Spirit.”

But here in Ephesians, these graces look like this:

The belt of truth. The Roman soldier’s belt tied his free flowing tunic close to his body so that he could move quickly and smoothly. The belt also allowed him to carry his sword, easily accessible and ready to use. “Truth” as it is used here is not objective as we might think, but rather subjective. It refers to the believer’s knowledge of and belief in the revealed Word of God. The Christian soldier appropriates the Word through faith. The Word of God gives the believer wisdom and understanding, but it also becomes his motivation for living. Here’s Paul’s point: Our reason, traditions, education, and philosophical bent may not hold up in the heat of battle, but God’s Word, believed in and lived by faith, will.

The breastplate of righteousness. Paul may have had in mind the words of the prophet Isaiah when he wrote to the Ephesians –

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17. TNIV)

Our “breastplate of righteousness” refers to an upright life; a life of holiness and purity that a relationship with God creates. William Barclay’s thoughts are important:

When a man is clothed in righteousness, he is impregnable. Words are no defense against accusations, but a good life is.

Who would have thought that a “good life” could be a weapon against evil? Paul did!

Shoes of the Gospel. In ancient times, soldiers wore specially designed and fitted sandals which protectEd the feet and gave him a sure step regardless of the terrain. The soldier of Christ be similarly protected. Hodge thought Paul meant something like this:

As the Gospel secures our peace with God, and gives the assurance of His favor, it produces the joyful alacrity of mind which is essential in the spiritual conflict.

Peace with God goes a long way in giving the believer confidence in appropriating the power of God within him as he does battle.

The shield of faith. The shield Paul had in mind was not the small round one you see in the all sword and sandals movies, but the large oblong or oval-looking one which the Roman soldier would carry when the severity of the battle warranted it. It was carved out of wood and was covered with leather so that if the fiery arrows of the enemy should strike it, the fire would be snuffed out. This “shield of faith” carried by the believer has been thought of as his “saving faith” – the faith which procures God’s forgiveness and provides the power to live a new life. But another view sees the “shield of faith” as a complete dependence on the Lord – the faith that trusts in the Lord’s help and deliverance.

The helmet of salvation. This helmet was fitted to the soldier’s head to protect that vital part of his body. The Christian need never fear losing his salvation when he’s wearing the “helmet of salvation.” In fact, going a little further, this salvation is the guarantee of victory in battle. Our salvation carries with it a past, present, and future aspects. We were saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. No doubt.

The sword of the Spirit. This refers to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, an association that is clear in Scripture. The other pieces of armor are largely defensive, but this one is offensive. John Wesley:

We are to attack Satan, as well as secure ourselves; the shield in one hand, and the sword in the other. Whoever fights with the powers of Hell will need both.

The writer to the Hebrews spells out the effectiveness of the Word of God in combat –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12. TNIV)

If we Christians would take the time to clothe themselves completely in God’s armor, we’d never lose. The problem is, most Christians want to do battle by go off half cocked. And they wonder why they stumble and fumble in battle. If we do it right, we’ll always come out on top.

Ephesians, Part 5

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Love was a big deal to the apostle Paul. Some people have the unfortunate view that Paul was all business; that John was all about love. That’s partly true, but that view gives short shrift to Paul, because Paul’s theology of love was all about action; how members of the body of Christ interact with each other. For the great apostle, love was not a poem or a song or sonnet. It wasn’t just a feeling. If one church member treated another church member shabbily, then as far as Paul was concerned, there was no love there.

The admonition in Ephesians 5 is a simple one: Walk in love. Note carefully the word Paul used: LOVE. He did not use the word “familiarity.” And the reason is simple: When we get so comfortable with a person – our spouse, a good friend, whomever – bad things can happen. The love we are trying to cultivate can become a perversion of love if we aren’t careful. As if in anticipation of that, Paul warns his friends –

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3 – 5 NIV)

Love keeps a cool head. Conducting your life in love gives a whole new dynamic to living. Instead be aggravated with a fellow believer, you feel compassion and moved to action. In fact, there is no stronger motive for provoking action like love. However, love can be abused and people taken advantage of. That’s why Paul spends time advising believers not to fall blindly in love, to “walk as children of light.”

Love smart

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8 – 10 NIV)

The change that takes place when one becomes born again is nothing less than astounding, and using language that is striking, Paul describes the change like moving from the pitch blackness of sin into the light of God. Not only are sinners lost and groping around in the darkness, they are literally partakers of that darkness. But once the light of God’s love dawns in their hearts, a complete change necessarily take place. Now they are partakers of the light. Christ is the light and He creates children of light. Paul’s exhortation here is a pretty simple one, and Mackay captures it perfectly:

Let the children of the light express their true nature. Let them live in accordance with it.

How can you tell if you or another believer is living like they should? Paul calls the proof, “living in the light.” Some new manuscripts refer to it “living in the Spirit.” It’s the same idea, and living in the light/Spirit is characterized by three words: goodness, righteousness, and truth. When one is living and walking in the light, their actions and their attitudes will be demonstrably good, right, and true.

There’s no way around it: It the responsibility of every person who has received the light of God’s salvation to be Godlike in the way they think, live, and love.

The judgment of light

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11 NIV)

Here’s a verse that has caused some discussion because, as Bible scholars are wont to find, there is some controversy surrounding just what Paul was trying to say. Is this verse referring to evil people or to their evil deeds? The language of the verse is of little help, but given the context, especially verses 6 and 7, it seems Paul is referring to both –

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. (Ephesians 5:6, 7 NIV)

Christians are not to have fellowship with evil (“fruitless deeds of darkness”), whether deeds or people. Verse 11, as the KJV renders it, is a little closer to the original –

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

The verb behind “fellowship” is synkoinoneite, and it refers to “communing with.” Paul is not necessarily referring to “rubbing shoulders” with “the children of darkness” in the course of day-to-day activities, but rather having close, almost intimate and continuous relationships with them. John Calvin wrote this:

We must beware of joining or assisting those who do wrong. In short, we must abstain from giving any consent, or advice, or approbation, or assistance; for in all these ways we have fellowship.

Well, as was his custom, Mr Calvin may be a tad severe, but his point is well taken. It might be good to moderate his words with these:

If fellowship produces nothing of eternal good, then it is not for Christians.

Instead of abstaining from evil practices and avoiding evil people, believers are to “reprove them.” There seems to be two ways of viewing this. Some scholars look to the verb Paul used, elengcho, and think he is referring to an oral rebuke. Christians, it is thought, need to stand up in protest against evil deeds and people. But others take a more passive view, suggesting by their lifestyle of live and “walking in the light,” Christians are reproving evil in all its forms. In the examples of Jesus and Paul we learn that these two should not be mutually exclusive. Reproving evil deeds and people should be done with a purpose: the redemption of their souls.

The true believer should take a positive and obvious stand against evil. Evil in any form should not be tolerated, but exposed and attacked for what they are. Remember, Jesus said this:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matthew 5:13 TNIV)

Salt is something used to stop or slow down corruption. Christians shouldn’t be so isolated and cut off from the world that they take no interest in their culture or society; that they raise no voice against the wickedness around them.

Wisdom

The sense of verses 15 to 21 is that Christians need to exercise wisdom in their walk with Christ. We shouldn’t let life just happen to us. Note this –

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16 NIV)

Part of walking wisely in the faith is “making the most of every opportunity.” Literally the expression means, “buying up the season.” Paul’s point is this: Christians need to use their spiritual knowledge to live for Christ to such an extent their good fruit will be obvious to all to see. “Buying up” or “making the most” suggests putting forth an effort and taking time. All Christians should be on the lookout for opportunities to manifest Christ-like virtues. But it takes wisdom to look like this. We can’t be self-centered and concerned only with ourselves.

A good marriage = a good witness

With verse 22, Paul transitions into some advice to wives and husbands. It sounds like a whole new topic, unrelated to what preceded it, but it isn’t. In fact, it is so closely related to the foregoing verses that there is no verb in the original sentence. Verse 22 literally looks like this:

Wives, to your own husbands.

If we staple that sentence onto the end of verse 21, it all makes sense and we see that the whole wife/husband section is not a new topic at all –

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your own husbands. (Ephesians 5:21, 22 NIV)

The word “submit” is one of the words that some people would love to ban these days. Bring it up in a discussion of marriage and watch the fur fly. But submission is big idea in the Bible. As verse 21 admonishes, Christians are to submit to each other. There’s no debate on the issue. The idea of Christian submission is to “prefer” the other person; to put the other believer’s needs ahead of your own. That also applies to Christian marriages. But the overall context shouldn’t be forgotten: unity in the Church. Most church members don’t live isolated lives; they fellowship in church, but they have relationships outside the church, too. Usually the most important relationship in life is the one that exists between husband and wife. Mutual submission within the Body of Christ extends to all Christian relationships inside and outside of the church. One of the best, passive witnesses of the Christian faith is a good, solid marriage where mutual submission is the norm.

Paul’s theology of “domestic relations” is marked by two principles. First, mutual submission. Wives may submit to husbands, but husbands face exacting responsibilities within their marriages. The modern mind may find the idea of submission offensive, but mutual submission is living with a Christ-likeness that testifies to true spiritual surrender. Or to put it another way, no wife may feel like submitting to her husband, and no husband my feel like elevating his wife and her needs ahead of his own, but each will do so, in submission to God’s will.

Secondly, all believers will live in mutual submission to each other – husband and wife included – because of their obligation to Christ. When you commit your life to Christ, it’s an all or nothing deal. We owe it to Him to submit to each other.

And Paul’s understanding of submission has nothing to do with obedience. It is NOT, “wives obey your husbands,” it’s submit, which is a word tinged with love. As Paul uses it, submit is a loving, mild word. It means that wives should respond to their husbands as they respond to the Lord. That is, we all love God because He first loved us. Wives are to submit in love to their husbands because their husbands love them. Paul is talking about a Christian marriage where the husband is in submission to the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… (Ephesians 5:25 NIV)

Submission in marriage is a love relationship, and for the sake of order, the husband is to be the head within that relationship. Paul is in no way suggesting wives are “second class citizens” or foolishness like that. In fact, elsewhere in his writing, Paul goes to great lengths to establish the indisputable fact all believers, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, rich, poor, are all one – all equal – in Christ. But for the sake of unity, there must be an order or hierarchy to observed. In the Church, Christ is the head. In the family, the husband is the head. When you look at the Church, does Christ lord it over congregations? Is He like a task master? Of course not. And the husband shouldn’t be that way with his family, either. Within his family, the husband should be the spiritual giant. Not a task master; not a slave owner; but a priest, whose main concern should be the overall welfare of his family – those under his care.

Perhaps one reason why so many Christian wives cringe when they hear the word submission is because their husbands aren’t living up their spiritual and ethical obligations under Christ.

Ephesians, Part 4

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The world is a mess. God created it to be perfect, but when sin entered it, the world became a mess. From harmony to disharmony, the world stopped working the way God intended for it to. God’s answer to the disharmony of the world is Jesus Christ. Through Him, all men become one. These united believers form the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is made up of believers from all over the world, from all time. We are literally all one in Him. That fact goes to the heart of the mission of the Church in the world:

The Church has its place and function between Christ and the world. She is not the mediator of salvation; she is not the savior of the world; she is not even a redemptive community. But she knows and makes known the Savior and salvation.

And part of making the Savior known is demonstrating what unity looks like. The Church, when it manifests unity within its membership, is at the same time manifesting the power, glory, and grace of God in the world.

The call for unity

The premise for unity is based on the call of God –

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 1:1b NIV)

As Christians, we are to “live a life” or, as the KJV so eloquently translates it, “walk worthy” of our calling. The call is to walk on a higher plane commensurate with our position in Christ. And our position in Christ couldn’t be higher –

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6, 7 NIV)

Since God called us and we responded, it’s our duty to live up to our calling. This was an important thing to Paul, which he wrote about elsewhere –

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9, 10 NIV)

In Ephesians, the Greek word translated “live” is paripateo, and as it is used in the New Testament, it means “to conduct one’s life.” It’s an obligation every believer has simply by virtue of their new life in Christ. This is important for a number of reasons. As we conform our lives to the life of Christ, God will bless us. But beyond that, every single believer is Christ’s ambassador on earth, that is, he is representing Jesus Christ to sinners. It behooves all believers to get it right! How offended would Jesus be if the image you presented to your friends was less than He is?

When it comes how the Church of Jesus Christ manifests Godly unity in the world, there are no less than four virtue that must be exemplified –

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 1:2 NIV)

Let’s look briefly at each one of these virtues or graces:

Humility. The Greek, tapeinophrosyne, is translated “lowliness” in the KJV, which is little more descriptive. It refers to “a thankful dependence upon God,” and it’s the exact opposite of pride or arrogance. Humility is the mind brought low. Dr McGee thought so highly of lowliness that he referred to this virtue as “the flagship of all Christian virtues.” The stance of humility is that of a man looking upward.

Gentleness. Again, the Greek word, praotes, suggests “meekness” but certainly not weakness. To give you an idea of praotes really means, you should know that there are two men in Scripture noted for their praotes: Moses and Jesus Christ. That’s right, these two men – one the leader of Israel who led his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for the sins of the world – cannot be considered weak in any way, but they are known for their humility. The word also carries with it the idea of an “unresisting, uncomplaining attitude which enables one to bear without irritation or resentment of others’ faults.”

Patience. Moule defines the Greek word makrothymia (longsuffering) like this:

the enduring, unweariable spirit which knows how to outlast pain or provocation in a strength learnt only at the Redeemer’s feet.

This kind of patience means that when a fellow believer is suffering or has a problem, we are willing to step in and walk beside them; that we are willing to “suffer long” with that person. We don’t lose patience with them just because they’ve fallen and can’t seem to get back up again. The kind of patience Jesus wants us to exercise is the kind that picks up a fallen brother not once or twice, but every time he falls.

Woodrow Kroll made this observation:

The unity that we have in Jesus Christ is a unity of purpose. Our purpose is to be a blessing to one another. Our purpose is to walk worthy of the Lord so that we can build up the Church, so that we a Church can be a blessing to the world.

Bearing with one another in love. This final virtue is the logical outworking of a patient spirit or attitude toward others. It refers to being patient, respectful, and honoring others in spite of their weaknesses and faults.

These four graces or virtues are meant to be exercised within the Body of Christ. In other words, Paul’s intention here is not how Christians should interact with sinner, but how they ought to treat their fellows in Church. How we treat other believers is a testimony to the world of the unity that God desires. It’s a powerful witness to a chaotic world.

It’s about the Spirit

How is all this unity possible, anyway? As if Paul anticipated that question, he wrote this in verse three:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (NIV)

The kind of unity God wants cannot be manufactured or ginned up at a conference or convention. It’s not the kind of unity achieved through movements or denominations. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit and our submission to Him can we enter into the kind of unity Paul is writing about here. But it wasn’t just Paul who was interested in this spiritual unity. Our Lord spoke about it –

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20, 21 NIV)

In fact, whether we feel the unity that exists between members of the Church or not, it’s what happened when we were born again!

For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV)

All genuine believers belong to ONE body, and we need to live like we realize that. The world is watching Christians to see how or if we get along with each other. There is so much disharmony and discord outside of the church, the lost are looking for an alternative whether they realize it or not, and they’re looking at us. What do they see? If they see us behaving like they are, then we aren’t living a life worthy of our calling. Ephesians 4:4 – 6 is simply a striking passage on the unity of the Body of Christ. Count the number of times the word “one” is used –

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)

God is obviously trying to tell us something of great importance here! It’s all about the Holy Spirit in verse four. He is the One who creates the Body of Christ and fills it with peace and hope. Verse five is all about Jesus. He is the Lord of the Church; the very anchor of our faith and into His Name have we been baptized. Finally in verse six, we get to God the Father, who is everywhere, all at once. Our unity as members of the Church should reflect the unity in the Trinity.

To the Roman church, Paul wrote something similar –

so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV)

This unity is a fact – a present spiritual reality, and it should serve as the basis for Christian living within the community of faith.

Some special gifts

We serve a caring and thoughtful God. He wants us to live in unity, yet He also knows our weaknesses. Given those weaknesses, He understands that achieving the kind of unity He desires is, well, virtually impossible. To help us out with that given the Church gifts.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:7 NIV)

Paul used the Greek charisma to describe what believers have received from the ascended Christ. Not all believers receive the same gift, but these gifts are for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will for His Church. The gifts are enumerated in verse 11 –

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers… (NIV)

Apostles. Most scholars believe this to have been a foundational gift. In other words, there are no apostles today. The apostles Paul refers to here would have been The Twelve (the Eleven, really) plus Paul. The text doesn’t give any indication that the gift of apostles would be an ongoing possession of the Church. But the result of this particular gift is remarkable: the New Testament Church.

Prophets. This gift, along with the previous one, seems to have come to an end with the apostolic age. Having said that, this particular gift does not refer to the Spiritual gift of prophecy, which is at work in the Church today. The prophets who would have been gifts to the Church were people like Agabus (Acts 11, 12) and the five men in Acts 21.

The remaining gifts are permanent gifts, manifested in the Church today:

Evangelists. These are the itinerant preachers; people who travel to various churches and groups to preach and teach but who don’t have a congregation of their own. Evangelists are gifts given to the Church as a gift because they do things or say things pastors and elders don’t or can’t.

Pastors and teachers. Some like to separate these two gifts but grammatically they are a single unit. Pastors are also teachers within the Church, but not all teachers are pastors.

These gifts (these are gifts, not just people) were given by Christ for the reasons given in the following verses –

to equip his people for works of service, 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. (Ephesians 4:12, 13 NIV)

All believers, not just the pastor and teacher; not just the evangelist; not just the apostle and the prophet, are to be performing “works of service.” Every believer is expected by Christ to perform some work of service that will strengthen the Church.

 

 

Ephesians, Part 3

grace

The grace of God is one the greatest doctrine of the New Testament.  Augustine, in the fourth century, was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to view the entirety of Christianity through the lens of God’s grace.  For Augustine, the only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the fact of God’s radical grace demonstrated in the work of Christ on the Cross for the benefit of sinners.

Our survey of Ephesians takes us to the second chapter, which contains these famous verses –

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8, 9  TNIV)

If you were to ask the average person, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”, most would answer that they do.  Who would want to go to the other place?  But just how does a person go to Heaven when they die?

Well, according to the Bible, nobody gets into Heaven based on the good things they did while they were alive.  Salvation isn’t attained by works so a person can brag about it.  No, a person gets into Heaven based on what God did for them.  And this is what Ephesians 2 deals with.

Saved By Grace: Regeneration, Ephesians 2:1 – 10

In the first chapter, Paul had laid the foundation for this discussion on the regeneration of believers by explaining God’s plan of salvation and His mighty power which enacted that plan through Christ.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  (Ephesians 2:1 – 3  TNIV)

The second chapter actually begins with the conjunction “and,” so it’s a continuation of Paul’s line of thought in the previous chapter.  He ended that chapter with the idea of God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead.  In chapter two, this exact same power made us, when we were dead in our sins, alive in Christ.

This paragraph, the first three verses of chapter two, describes the true condition of every human being.  Notice it’s all written in the past tense.  We “used” to be like the people in those three verses.  Every single human being who has ever lived, who is alive today, or who is yet to be born, is absolutely dead in sin.  The virus of sin has been passed down from generation to generation at the moment of conception.

It was G.K. Chesterton who responded to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”, this way:

Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.

That’s the truth, as only Mr Chesterton could write it!  Paul would have agreed with him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  (Romans 3:23  TNIV)

The very language Paul used to describe the unregenerate life reminds us of an episode of “The Walking Dead,” and that’s the prefect way describe a sinner, lost in his sins:  a zombie husk, dead but still walking around.  Oh, they may be breathing and eating and functioning day-to-day without Jesus Christ, but they are dead on the inside – spiritually lifeless.  No zombie sinner can ever cure himself of his dreadful condition without the spiritual intervention only God can provide.  The intervention is called salvation, rescue, or even deliverance in the Bible.  And no zombie sinner can earn it or pay for it.  It is offered by God, free for the taking.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4, 5  TNIV)

God made “us,” both Jews and Gentiles alike, “alive in Christ.”  The same power that raised Christ from the dead also raised sinners from their spiritually dead, zombie-like existence.  And, our regeneration is also an act of God’s grace, not just His power.  He exercised that mighty power because of His grace.  That’s the power of the word “but.”  It’s a small word but an important one.  He exerted salvation power only because of His love for us – His mercy and His grace.  Mercifully, not because we deserved it, God saved us.

That phrase, “rich in mercy,” is a profound one because it expresses a fundamental truth about God.  Man is a complete and utter failure apart from Jesus Christ.  That’s the evident truth of the first three verses.  The contrast to the mess man is, is God, who has all this love for man and who is “rich in mercy.”  He’s everything man is not, and God has enough mercy for any sinner.  He doesn’t have just enough mercy, God is drowning in it!  He has a surplus of mercy – He has exactly the mercy any sinner needs.  He has what you need!

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:6, 7  TNIV)

Verse six is another stunner.  Jesus Christ was not only raised from the dead, He actually left the tomb and appeared to His disciples.  Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father.  Both of these events have their counterpart in the life of the believer.  As Jesus was raised from the dead, so we are raised from our spiritual death.  As Christ ascended to Heaven and is enthroned there, so we are enthroned in Christ.  This is a concept difficult to wrap our minds around.  In some way we can’t comprehend, God the Father sees us in Christ, so that Christ’s experience is ours.  He is with the Father, as we are.  Bruce wrote this –

Believers are viewed as being already seated there with Christ, by the act in the purpose of God.  Temporarily, indeed, we live on earth so long as we remain in this body; but “in Christ”; we are seated with Christ where He is.

Now, we were told just a couple of verses back that God made us alive in Christ, but here we are given some more details as to the real reason behind God’s acts of mercy and grace:  “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace.”  That’s right, everything God did for us in Christ, He did to show in successive ages the vast wealth of His grace.  Think about what that means.  In an eschatological terms, our salvation – and we could say everything God ever did for us – will serve as an eternal witness to God’s endless supply of grace.

All from God, Ephesians 1:8 – 10

This marvelous paragraph brings us back to something Paul mentioned in passing back in verse 5.  Believers owe their whole salvation experience to God.  As A. Skevington Wood so astutely wrote –

Grace is at once the objective, operative, and instrumental cause.

He’s right about that.  Man plays no part in his own salvation other than responding in faith to the call of God.  Our salvation from the bondage of sin springs from God’s grace and appropriated by faith is a gift from God that cannot be earned in any way.  Grace means says that salvation is a work of God from the very beginning to the final end.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:8 – 10  TNIV)

From conception to realization, salvation is work of God and a gift from God.  It is not the result of works, which is another way of saying it is “not from yourselves.”  There is just no possible way that any kindly person can do enough good work to move the meter one iota.  Or, another way of putting it, there is not the slightest reason for any man to be glorified apart of a work of grace.  Faith is the complete opposite of works.  It’s not that good works are bad or to be avoided.  Here’s the problem: man is so prone to sin that if works were involved in salvation, man’s predilection toward boasting would ruin everything.  God, being perfect in every way, could never allow even the slightest risk of causing man to sin, so His plan of salvation has nothing to do with man.

If verses eight and nine put forth the fact that God is the author of our faith, then verse ten emphasizes this remarkable fact:  God created us.  No, it’s actually more than that.  The Greek word behind our English “workmanship” or “handiwork” is poiema, or “poem.”  We are God’s poem, or as J.B. Phillips says,

We are God’s works of art.

This idea is both personal and corporate.  Individuals may be considered to be God’s works of art, but taken collectively the church, the Body of Christ, is a work of art created by God.  That’s more than a beautiful sentiment.  It shows the great care and precision with which God created us and re-created us at salvation.  We are not merely creatures.  We are works of art.

But we were saved (“created in Christ Jesus”) for a purpose:  “to do good works.”  By the time we reach the end of this little letter, Paul will tell us how to do this in a way that is acceptable to God.  We may be seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but for now we are living on the Earth, and we should be living in a way that glorifies God.

While we don’t do good works to get saved, once we have accepted God’s gracious, free gift of salvation, we are to do good works.  The order is vitally important: salvation first, works second.  But, and here’s how much God cares about us:  Since we’re on the hook to look for opportunities to do good works, and because of our tendency to sin, there’s that risk of boasting again.  God in no way wants us to sin by bragging about all the good works we’ve done.  This risk is eliminated because – and this is remarkable – God has planned and set up opportunities for us to do good works.  Do you see what that means?  Whatever good works may follow our regeneration, they are the result of the One who created us.

It’s really simple from Paul’s perspective.  We tend to complicate everything, including the Christian life.  But it’s not complicated at all.  Our responsibility is to follow God’s plan for our lives, responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit as He gently moves us to fulfill His will.  All the good works we need to tend to were planned by God in eternity past.  We just need to keep our eyes open and be obedient.


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