Posts Tagged 'Ephesians'



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.

Ephesians, Part 2

Paiul solves a mystery, too.

Paul solves a mystery, too.

Trying to live the Christian life takes a lot of work.  It isn’t easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s down right hard to know what you should do or even how you should think.  Fortunately for us, the Lord has left His final word on things, the Bible.  And yet, there may be moments when we need wisdom beyond our education or understanding.  For that reason, Paul wrote this to his friends in Ephesus:

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.  (Ephesians 1:17  TNIV)

Clearly, God enlightens and empowers His people to, among other things, know Him better and to do His work more effectively.  In the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul had talked about the work of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in his powerful doxology.  A big theme in those opening verses is the election of God.  God chooses to save sinful man; it’s not the other way around.  Following this heavy doctrinal doxology with its emphasis on God’s eternal plan of redemption, Paul moved on to how all this touches the every day lives of his friends.

Revelation, Ephesians 1:15 – 23 

Nothing happens anywhere to anybody unless somebody somewhere is praying about it.  That’s my simple theology.  I think Paul would agree:

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  (Ephesians 1:15, 16  TNIV)

In Paul’s thinking and writing, three things are linked together:  faith, hope, and love.  Even while he wrote tremendous and deep truths about our faith in God, he always linked that heady teaching to hope and love.  God is the giver and initiator of all three.  It’s more than just a passing reference when Paul mentioned that he never “stopped praying” for the Ephesians; he was trying to teach them something very important.  He was encouraging them to keep on living right:  it was the quality of their faith and love that moved him to give thanks to God for them.  It was his way of giving them a spiritual pat on the back.

But also, Paul was teaching them a good habit:  praying for other believers.  Habits are so easy to form, but for most of us, bad habits come so much easier than good ones.  A good habit is to pray all the time for other believers, giving thanks for the positive aspects of their lives, and praying about the other ones that may not be so positive.

It sounds so easy, but this is a difficult thing for modern Christians to do.  Most of us these days are all-too aware of our own needs, often at the expense of the needs for others.  Our prayers are too often very self-centered.  Praying the way Paul did means that you stop worrying about yourself and start actually exercising your duty to God and to other believers.

But, it wasn’t just the state of the Ephesians personally that motivated Paul’s prayers for them.  The phrase, “for this reason,” points back to something he had just written.  The thought of how much God had blessed these believers and Paul himself was the inspiration to pray for them.  The Gospel was bearing the right kind of fruit among these wonderful Gentile believers, and Paul was just tickled about that.

In his prayer, Paul did have some requests on behalf of the Ephesians, and they are significant:

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. 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 people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:15 – 19a  TNIV)

The Ephesians were doing extremely well spiritually, but like the song goes, “everybody needs a little help.”  Look at what Paul was praying for on behalf of his friends:  that they would receive supernatural wisdom and revelation from God; that they might grasp the hope they have in Christ; and that they may understand the power they have as followers of Christ.

All believers need this gift of “spiritual illumination” which comes only from the Holy Spirit.  This kind of wisdom cannot come apart from the Scriptures, but sometimes we need the Spirit of God to help us understand His revealed Word and will.  One Bible scholar expressed it like this:

the sum of knowledge of the Christian believer is the knowledge of God, which always means the knowledge of Him AS God, living and true, and the source of all life and truth – a personal knowledge which involves communion, adoration, and obedience in love.

The kind of knowledge Paul is referencing here is more than “book learning.”  It’s knowledge that comes from personally knowing something about someone resulting from a relationship with them.  It’s not academic and theoretical knowledge; it’s personal.  It is entirely possible to know all the facts and theories concerning God, yet not know Him personally.  Paul prayed that his friends would know God personally and thereby open themselves up to “revelation knowledge.”

The Holy Spirit wants to teach believers today.  One of the reasons why so many Christians are so Biblically illiterate is because they are unwilling to allow the Spirit to teach them.  They’ve become dependent on a preacher or popular Bible teacher.  Good preaching and good Bible teaching are good things, by the way.  But our primary source of spiritual illumination has to be the Spirit of God working through the Scriptures.

All this illumination is supposed to help believers grasp the hope that is theirs in Christ, but also to understand the incredible power that resides within them – the same power that raised Christ from the dead.  This was a common theme in Paul’s writing:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:10, 11  TNIV)

The mystery of grace, Ephesians 3:1 – 13

Paul had been praying that his friends might receive supernatural, revelation knowledge of certain aspects of God; His character and the blessings that result in a personal relationship with Him.  In chapter three, Paul writes about the “mystery of God’s grace.”  Paul was given a revelation of His grace, and he’s going to pass along to the Ephesians some of what he learned.

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, [3] that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.  (Ephesians 3:2, 3 TNIV)

The word “mystery” catches our attention.  A lot of us enjoy reading mystery novels or watching mystery movies on TV.  But as this word is used in the Bible, it’s not quite the same as M Poirot investigating the scene of a crime and making all kinds of incredible deductions using his “little gray cells” that will lead to unmasking the culprit.  Paul uses “mystery” seven times in Ephesians, and he never uses it in reference to a puzzling circumstance or special secrets that only a handful of people know.

He uses the word referencing something previously unknown that he is now making known.  The mystery here in Ephesians 3 is really no mystery to any of us, but back in Paul’s day, it was a real stunner:  both Jews and Gentiles have the exact same access to God through Jesus Christ.  Jews, even Jewish believers, thought they had the advantage over Gentile converts, and we can imagine how that made Gentile believers feel!

But when God is involved, nothing is ever hidden for long.  He graciously showed Paul a “mystery” not ever revealed before:

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  (Ephesians 3:4, 5  TNIV)

It’s God’s truth, so He can choose when and to whom He reveals it.

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 3:6  TNIV)

The mystery the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul was more than merely the fact that Gentiles would be saved.  That was no mystery; it’s a truth that was revealed back in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 11:10 and Zechariah 2:11, for example).  The mystery, essentially, is that when it comes to salvation, one soul is as needy as the next and all come to God the same way, and both are brought into a new body, which is the Church, and Christ is the Head of that new body.  He’s the one in charge.

This is a significant truth that has far reaching ramifications.  Consider this:  From Adam to Abraham there were only Gentiles on the earth.  That’s the way things were for some 2,000 years.  From Abraham to Christ, there were only Jews and Gentiles on the earth, and that was another 2,000 years (approximately).  But from Christ to the present age, a little over 2,000 years, when God looks at the earth, He sees three groups of people:  Jews, Gentiles, and the Church.  Paul made reference to this new three-fold division of humanity in his letter to the Corinthians:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God…  (1 Corinthians 10:32  TNIV)

It was important for the Ephesians, Gentile converts, to know this wonderful truth that was once upon a time, a mystery.  God cares for all His people and He has made special provision through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to teach them what they need to know.

Ephesians, Part 1

What's left of the Temple of Diana

What’s left of the Temple of Diana

Samuel Taylor Coleridge thought that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was “the divinest composition of man.”  As he mentioned several times in this letter, Paul wrote it from prison, probably from Rome around the same time as he wrote letters to the Colossian church and to a man called Philemon.  The date was probably some thirty years after his conversion, the very early 60’s AD.

We can thank a fellow named Tychicus that we have a copy of Ephesians (and Colossians and Philemon) as he was Paul’s personal mailman, delivering Paul’s letters to their destinations.

Coleridge’s high estimation of this letter is shared by many who have read it and studied it.  This survey of Ephesians will try to hit some of its high points and give you a good sense of why Paul wrote it and of its lofty themes.

Acts 19:1 – 10 

Unlike so many of the churches mentioned in the New Testament, we actually have a record of how the Ephesian church began: during the apostle Paul’s third missionary journey.

Ephesus was where the Roman proconsul was located.  It was a city of prominence and power and was the greatest commercial center in Asia during that time.  It was also a “free city,” with its own Senate and Assembly.  But for all its prosperity and influence, Ephesus was a steadfastly pagan city, boasting one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Diana.  It was a huge structure with its 127 columns, 60 feet high, taking up an area of 425 feet in length and 220 feet in width.  It was a hustling, bustling center of heathen activity.

If Paul had thought about planting a church there, he would have had his work cut out for him.  He once made a pit stop there long enough to preach in a local synagogue.

They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.  (Acts 18:19 – 21  TNIV)

Well, it wasn’t for a while, but God did send someone else to lay the groundwork for a church in this pagan city.

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  (Acts 18:24 – 26  TNIV)

Apollos was a stand-up guy; a man who knew a lot about salvation, but he didn’t know the whole story.  Remarkably, he was completely clueless about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Priscilla and Aquila, a power couple if ever there was one, and close friends of and co-workers with Paul, heard Apollos preaching in Ephesus and gently took him aside to teach him a more complete version of the Gospel.  Then he went on to Greece to preach there, and even spent time ministering in Corinth.  The Word of God graciously explained to and accepted by him corrected any shortcomings he had concerning the complete Christian message.

It wasn’t too long after these events that Paul found himself wandering back to Ephesus.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 19:1, 2  TNIV)

So where did these believers come from?  They might have been some of Apollos’ early converts or they may have been some lost disciples of John the Baptist.  But they were genuine believers, as evidenced by this –

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  (Acts 19:4 – 6  TNIV)

Genuine believers, like Apollos and these men, have no problem with being told they don’t have their faith quite right.  They don’t mind being corrected and having their beliefs straightened out.  True believers love to be taught because they are able to recognize or discern the truth when they hear it.

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.  (Acts 19:8 – 10  TNIV)

Three months was a long time for Paul to preach in any synagogue without being kicked out.  It seems like a lot of the Jews in Ephesus were at least receptive to Paul’s ministry and message.  Even when he first visited with them a while back, they didn’t want him to leave.

But it was inevitable that he would rub enough people the wrong way, so the intrepid apostle went elsewhere in town to preach and teach, to a place called the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  Tyrannus wasn’t a dinosaur; he was a man.  So, who was he?  He was a teacher or lecturer who was popular enough to have his own hall.  Most scholars think that Paul would have worked at tentmaking until 11 am, when Tyrannus was finished with his lectures, at which point Paul would take the lacturn.  This carried on for two years and Paul made many converts who in turn became evangelists.

Ephesians 1:1 – 14

That’s the short story about how there came to be a Christian church in Ephesus.  Let’s take a look at how Paul began his letter.  After his customary greetings, Paul dives right into one of the most wonderful doxologies in Scripture.  It’s made up of three stanzas, each concluded by the repetition of a phrase (see verses 6, 12, and 14) and each stanza deals with a different Person of the Trinity.  This incredible piece of writing covers the theology of our redemption, from the election of God to our final inheritance; redemption’s consummation.

First Part:  The Father Who Chose Us, verses 3 – 6 

Some Christians get bent all out of shape when they hear the word “election,” but it is a legitimate Biblical doctrine.  It is not an invention of the Reform wing of the church.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  (Ephesians 1:3 – 6  TNIV)

We’re not told what these “spiritual blessings” are, but they are numerous and they are “in Christ.”  That’s not an unimportant phrase.  The blessings are “in Christ” for those who are also “in Christ,” which refers to a “union of persons.”  The relationship between a believer and His Lord is spiritual in nature and transcends any kind of intimacy that can be experienced in the material world.  When one is “in Christ,” he shares his whole life with Christ and is completely dependent upon Christ for his very existence.

These blessings which are being held in trust for the believer, are a result of a plan established in God’s mind since before the creation of the world. Believers have been chosen by virtue of their being “in Christ” to be redeemed and blessed.  This is what “election” is all about.  Summarized, God’s election looks like this:

  • Election says that it is God, not man, who takes the initiative in bringing about man’s redemption. Salvation is totally a work of God.
  • God’s election is not arbitrary, so that some people are destined to be saved, other damned without regard to the disposition of the individual person. The offer of salvation goes out to all people, everywhere.  So “the elect” are constituted, not by absolute decree, but by acceptance of the conditions of God’s call.  Yet even at that, it is the drawing power of the Holy Spirit that enables a sinner to choose Christ.
  • Those who, by faith, respond to the Gospel are called “the elect.” They are also known as “the chosen” and “the Church.”
  • Part of the election of God involves an ethical purpose: the elect are to be holy and blameless in God’s sight.  Christians – the elect – are to be demonstrably different from non-Christians in attitude and actions.

Second Part:  Christ Who Redeemed Us, verses 7 – 12

The second part of this doxology deals with the job of Christ.  Here, Paul mentions two aspects of His work:  redemption and heritage.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:7 – 12  TNIV)

Paul’s idea of redemption here deals involves a transaction.  Sinners who were enslaved to sin and in hopeless debt to the righteousness of God were redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Further, this redemption secured the forgiveness of their sins.  The essential idea of forgiveness is the removal of all guilt.

The profound thought behind verse 8 is staggering.  Jesus Christ not only provides redemption and forgiveness of sins, but also wisdom.  Wisdom is given from God to His people so that they can discern His will.  This will is for the “big picture,” God’s ultimate management of His universe.  You can’t get this particular kind of knowledge from a book or from a professor, which is why non-believers don’t get it and which is why they are so opposed to things like, creationism or teachings about the Second Coming of Christ.

Further, Christians are predestined to become all that God wants them to become.

Third Part:  The Spirit Seals Us, verses 13, 14

Finally, but by no means least, come the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:13, 14  TNIV)

Up till now, Paul had been dealing with believing Jews.  Now he turns his attention to the Gentiles who have become Christians.  Their spiritual journey took place over three stages.  First, they heard the Gospel – they heard the facts of salvation and they responded.  Hearing the truth, especially spiritual truth, demands some kind of response – obey or disobey.  There is no neutrality when it comes to the Gospel.

Second, they believed in the truth; they believed in Christ.  The Christian faith is not a “blind faith.”  It has an object:  Jesus Christ.  Christians don’t believe in everything, they believe in what Jesus taught.  We know what He said, we know how He lived, and we know what He is like, and we trust Him.

Third. Christians (Gentiles here, but all Christians) are sealed with the Spirit.  This sealing follows believing.  The Greek words suggests a marking, like the mark left by a signet ring in hot wax.  To be “sealed” by the Holy Spirit means to be declared to be genuine.  To be “sealed” by the Holy Spirit also means to be owned outright by the Spirit.  Christians belong totally to Him.

This sealing of the Spirit also involves the believer’s inheritance.  It guarantees the eventual possession and experiencing of all aspects of our redemption.  While it is true that we belong to God now and even now we experience glorious aspects of our intimate relationship with Him, it’s not a full experience; we experience it merely in part.  One day, we will experience the presence of God the Father, the Son, and the Christ in reality, forever.

PAUL: ANOTHER MAN OF PRAYER

Paul, in prison praying.

We don’t often think of Paul as a man of prayer. When we think of Paul, we think of the great apostle, an able missionary, a powerful preacher, the man who started many churches, but we seldom think of him as a man of prayer. Most of us aren’t able to make a list of Paul’s prayers. Yet, Paul was a great man of prayer, and we can learn about effective praying by looking at the prayers of Paul

1. The characteristics of Paul’s prayer

They were motivated by good news, Ephesians 1:15

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints…

More than once, it was good news that moved Paul to pray. For most Christians, the thing that drives us to our knees is bad news, not good news. We pray when we are in trouble, or when we’re sick, or when we’re faced with some kind of crisis. A lot of Christians use prayer like they would use a life preserver: for emergencies only.

Paul often prayed during times of trouble, and so should we. The Bible tells us we should! But Paul also used good news as excuses to pray. When we start to do that as well, we’ll begin to notice something interesting: we’ll be praying more often. And we’ll be looking for good news!

Paul heard the good news about his friend’s faith, and that good news moved him to pray!

They were intercessory, Ephesians 1:16; 3:16

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…

Paul prayed for others; he prayed on behalf of others. Now, Paul also prayed for himself. The Bible tells us to that, too. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about how Paul was so desperate to have his “thorn in the flesh”removed, that he essentially begged God repeatedly to remove it. So, Paul definitely prayed for himself. But, most of his prayers were like those recorded in Ephesians: on behalf of others.

The thing about intercessory prayer is that any Christian can do it. Most of us will never travel to foreign countries, teaching and preaching the Gospel. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit or write a book about the Bible. But all of us are able to pray, and all of us ought to be praying for the needs of others, like Paul did. Intercessory prayer might well be the greatest ministry any member of the church may engage in!

They were brief

Both prayers recorded for us in Ephesians were brief. In fact, it may surprise you know that all the prayers in the Bible are short. William Shakespeare may have said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” but Jesus said this:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

Moses, who we know was a tremendous man of prayer, once prayed a powerful prayer that was a mere four verses long (Deuteronomy 9:26—29). Elijah prayed the prayer of his life and it was only two verses long (1 Kings 18:36, 37). Martin Luther thought that the shorter the prayer the better the prayer.

God is willing to listen to all our prayers. He is never so busy that He wishes we’d hurry up and get to the point when we pray. However, when we pray we are taking up God’s time. When we pray, we need to learn how to pray properly and intelligently. It’s interesting that some of us will read, re-read, re-write, proofread, and have proofread an important e-mail,  letter, or term paper, or whatever, but we so often pray sloppy prayers. We choose our words carefully when we are being interviewed for a job or when we are trying to make a good impression, but we pray like we are the sixth grade.

They were submissive, Ephesians 3:14

For this reason I kneel before the Father…

“Kneeling” in prayer is what we call the “posture of submission.” It’s not so much a physical posture, although it certainly can be, as it is a posture of the heart. When we pray submissively, we are praying that God’s will would be done, not ours. We are recognizing God’s sovereignty.

Most of us aren’t real good at that. We pray—we use many words—with the intention of changing God’s mind or convincing Him that we are right about something instead of acknowledging His sovereignty.

2. The content of Paul’s prayers

They were full of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for something was a big part of Paul’s prayers. He thanked God for all kinds of things:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:16)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

What do you think Paul meant when he used the curious phrase “with thanksgiving?” Does Paul mean that after you’ve prayed for people and things, you should thank Him for past answers to prayer? Does He mean that you should divide your prayers into two parts, one part thanksgiving and one part requests? Or does Paul mean to suggest that you should thank God for answering the prayer you just prayed?

We need to understand a very simple thing: there is NO such thing as an unanswered prayer. God always answers your prayers, so when you pray and when you present your needs to Him, present them with thanksgiving; expect Him to take care of your requests and thank Him in advance for doing that.

The reason why we think God doesn’t answer some of our prayers is that He answers them in an unexpected way: He answers them HIS way, not our way. By the way, given human nature, and given the immaturity of so many Christians, NO is probably the most common answer God gives in response to our prayers.

So, God is going to answer that prayer. Start thanking before you say “Amen.”

They were directed to the Father

This seems like a minor point and maybe an obvious one, but it is important. Paul prayed directly to God, the Father. He did not pray to God, Son or God, the Holy Spirit.

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. (Ephesians 1:17)

For this reason I kneel before the Father… (Ephesians 3:14)

Paul was doing precisely what Jesus said we should do:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23, 24)

Jesus made it clear that we should not pray to Him directly. Jesus is our great Intercessor; that is His ministry today. It is Scriptural to pray to God the Father, not to God the Son. When we pray to God the Father, God the Son will act as our intercessor; we will be the recipients of a wonderful ministry Jesus performs on our behalf.

They were for spiritual understanding

Paul, highly educated in all things theological, often prayed for deeper spiritual insight, for himself and also for his friends. He prayed for other things often, too, but it’s significant that he wanted to know more about God, Jesus, and the Gospel and he wanted those he was praying for to have that same kind of supernatural revelation.

It’s very difficult for believers today to pray for spiritual understanding. We are inundated with secularism day and night. We are prone to be materialistic, not spiritual. We even judge spiritual success by material standards! We so often confuse God’s blessings with success and material prosperity. Paul didn’t always pray for those things, he often prayed for spiritual understanding:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17—19)

Notice what was important to Paul. He wanted the people he was praying for to have deeper understanding and a firmer grasp of spiritual things. This was something he wrote about earlier in his letter:

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. I pray also 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 the saints… (Ephesians 1:17, 18)

This kind of illumination is something we all need no matter how spiritual we think we are. It’s all well and good to pray for good health or for peace or for success for ourselves and for others, but we should never forget the vital importance of spiritual growth. Spiritual understanding surpasses anything else we may be praying for.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10)

The reason why the church needs spiritual understanding so badly today is that there is so much false teaching floating around and finding a home in it. It’s hard to believe how many churches and once trustworthy ministries have fallen prey to false teachers and their teachings.

He prayed for spiritual power

…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength… (Ephesians 1:19)

Paul prayed for his friends to have spiritual understanding and spiritual power. What is this spiritual power?

...which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms… (Ephesians 1:20)

That’s what we call “resurrection power!” Paul once said that he longed to know that power (Philippians 3:10). But what is “resurrection power,” exactly? It is the power that raised Christ from the dead, took Him off the earth in a resurrection body and placed Him at the right hand of God the Father. We are to pray that that power is operating in us. We need to pray prayers backed with that kind of power. Our church services should be full of that kind of power. We should pray as Paul did: for more that resurrection power.


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