Living in the Heavenly Places
by Jim Gerrish
Gustave Doré’s illustrations to the Divine Comedy. Artist: Gustave Doré.
Dante and Beatrice see God as a point of light surrounded by angels, Paradiso Canto 28.
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
This work is affectionately dedicated to our grandchildren.
All scripture quotations in this publication are from the holy Bible, New International Version, except where noted (published by Zondervan Corporation, copyright, 1985).
Copyright © 2006 Jim Gerrish
Ephesians has been called “Queen of the Epistles;” “the Holy of Holies of the New Testament;”1 and “the most sublime and majestic expression of the Gospel.”2
It has been said: “There is no higher point of revelation than is reached in this epistle which shows the believer seated with Christ in the heavenlies.”3 Another adds that we hear in this epistle “things that have never been said before.”4 Obviously the author of Ephesians is painting with bold strokes and the epistle has a loftiness and even a cosmic or heavenly feel about it.
The whole book reminds us of the amazing statement in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “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.”
Just as in the Book of Revelation, Ephesians lets us peek briefly into the heavenly places. As we peek, we are shocked and amazed to see ourselves there “in Christ.” This book assures us that our salvation was no afterthought in the mind of God. Indeed we were chosen in him before the world began. We are now seated with him in the heavenly places.
Thus Ephesians transports us from the drudgery of life on earth, directly to the glorious realms above. It lets us see both life and the world from God’s heavenly perspective. As we carefully and prayerfully read this book it should transform our lives.
EPHESIANS: THE THEOLOGY
A LETTER TO THE SAINTS
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Ephesians 1:1
When we open the book of Ephesians we are immediately introduced to the revelation of several mysteries long kept secret by God. Now in the last days these divine mysteries have been revealed to the apostles and prophets of the Lord. Paul speaks more about this in Ephesians 3:4-5 where he says: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” Now it is also plain that these mysteries are made available and clearly revealed to the church of God, yes, even to the least of God’s saints.
Unfortunately, we Christians have not always troubled ourselves to understand these revealed mysteries. In addition we sometimes, quibble, argue, doubt and even deny the glorious truths given us. Over the centuries our theologians have also been prone to much disagreement over the New Testament, so it is not at all surprising that they would disagree about Ephesians. There are some who even doubt that Paul wrote the book as here stated. These propose that it was written at a later date by a person writing under Paul’s name. Such speculations do not do much for the faith of God’s dear ones.
Admittedly, such things were done in the past. Yet, while we see many pseudonymous works appear before and after the Apostolic Era, there really seems to be no evidence of this type writing in the New Testament.5 On two occasions Paul names himself as the author of the book (1:1 and 3:1). In addition, it is clear that Ephesians was indisputably accepted by the early church as a genuine letter of Paul.6 Obviously, should Paul not be its author, we would have a book on our hands that qualifies only as a deceitful fabrication.
Here Paul calls himself an apostle. To be an apostle is to be sent forth, and in Paul’s case the sending forth was from the Lord himself (Gal. 1:1). Paul was sent forth as an apostle to the Gentiles. We Gentile believers can thank and praise the Lord that he saw fit to include us in his great salvation plan before the earth was ever formed.
When Paul addresses the saints here (1:1) he is not speaking about pious stained glass figures in some cathedral window or perhaps someone who has been beatified by the church long after his death. He is speaking of real people – folks just like you and me. The believers in Ephesus were called “saints” because they were “set apart” by the sanctifying and saving work of the Redeemer. They were separated from the world unto God for his purposes even while they were still alive on the earth.
The root word in the Greek language for being a “saint” or being “set apart for God” is the word hagi. There are apparently two meanings to our being set apart or sanctified. First there is what theologians call “positional sanctification” (2 Thess. 2:13). This is something God does for us from the beginning, and it becomes effective when a person places his faith in Jesus. Second, there is the sanctification that continues as a process until the day we depart this life to be with the Lord.7 This is a work carried on by the Holy Spirit who lives within us and it also includes the washing of the Word of God on a daily basis as we see in Ephesians 5:26 and in 1 Peter 1:2.
Now we need to take note of a very important expression used in Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament. The oft-used phrase “in Christ” seen here (1:1) has been called the “cornerstone and foundation” of Paul’s theology. It is said that this expression or its equivalent appears one hundred seventy-six times in the writings of Paul, appearing thirty-six times in Ephesians alone.8 One writer claims that without doubt, the phrase “in Christ” is the most important expression in this letter.9
Over the years I have sought to better understand what “in Christ” is all about. Once in a Jerusalem sermon I illustrated it with a beautiful silver vase and with a lump of clay. In order to picture “in Christ” I placed the unsightly lump of clay, representing us with our sin, into the beautiful silver vase, representing Christ. No longer could the lump of clay be seen, but only the beautiful vase. That’s the way it is with us Christians. Neither we nor our sins are visible any longer because we are hidden in Christ (Col. 3:3). God looks upon his Son and is well pleased with what he sees (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).
We observe that these saints mentioned here are described as “faithful” (1:1). Faithfulness involves obedience, or some sort of fitting response to this great grace of God that is poured out upon us. Perhaps Paul illustrates this well when he speaks of the “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 and in 16:26. Obedience is really the “flip side” of faith. But in line with the thinking of Ephesians, we see that our salvation, which includes faith, is not something of ourselves, but is also a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).
When the church “in Ephesus” is spoken of in this passage it introduces us to a rather perplexing problem. Apparently the identification of Ephesus did not appear in the oldest manuscripts of the book. It has been pointed out that the ancient and best manuscripts, Aleph and B (Vaticanus), do not contain the words “in Ephesus.” These words were not present in Origen’s copy, and the heretic Marcion even called the book “the Epistle to the Laodiceans” (cf. Col. 4:16). As late as the fourth century Basil speaks of some manuscripts that had no name in the address portion.10
Many have concluded from this that Ephesians was a circular letter. It was sent by Paul with Tychicus at the same time he sent Colossians, and Philemon (Eph. 6:21, 22; Col. 4:7-9; Phm. 1:12-24). Paul was in prison at the time that he sent these so-called “prison epistles” (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). All this information would date the letter of Ephesians to the period of around AD 60-62.
Churches receiving the “Ephesian” manuscript were expected to insert their names in the blank space left for the addressee. Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire and the capital city of Asia. It was a city of great Christian influence and the logical point of entry that Tychicus would have taken into Asia. Thus the letter soon became attached to the great city.
An interesting and supporting fact is that Ephesians is lacking the warm personal greetings that we usually see in Paul’s letters. This is especially strange when we consider that Paul visited the Ephesians on several occasions. He paid a visit to the city on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-21). On his third missionary journey he actually stayed many months in Ephesus making a total of three years there (Acts 20:31). Paul remained longer at Ephesus than he did at any other one place preaching the gospel. 11 Then, as he returned to Jerusalem from his third missionary journey, he met with the beloved Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:13-38). We know that Paul had many dear friends and associates in Ephesus so it is almost unthinkable that he would not send greetings to them, unless of course he was treating this manuscript as a circular letter.
Some commentators see a very close connection between Ephesians and Colossians and that the writer of Ephesians used much of Colossians. For instance, Ephesians consistently uses “church” in the universal sense found in Colossians.12 It has been said that “75 of the 155 verses of Ephesians are found in Colossians.”13 It seems conclusive that Colossians was written first and Ephesians patterned after it.
Ancient letters commonly included prayers or thanksgivings in their headings. Biblical letters followed this pattern as we see here: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). As we consider the words “grace” and “peace,” we note that it is always important that they appear in this order. In other words, we must have grace before we can have peace.14
In classical Greek, the word “grace” (charis) had reference to a favor given freely with no expectation of return. Such a favor was always given to a friend and never to an enemy. The Greek scholar, Wuest, comments: “Right here charis (χαρις) leaps forward an infinite distance, for the Lord Jesus died for his enemies (Rom. 5:8–10), a thing unheard of in the human race.”15
OUR PRESENT BLESSINGS IN THE HEAVENLY REALM
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. Ephesians 1:3
This passage must be one of the most incredible scriptures in the whole Bible. It is wonderful news for poor, tattered and torn saints of God. What is being said here seems almost unbelievable. He tells us that “every” spiritual blessing in heaven is now available to us. We simply must take some time and focus on this important passage.
A few decades ago theologians began to speak of “realized eschatology,” or the possessing of last things or eternal things at the present moment.16 Paul is likely speaking here of this very thing. Even while we live on this earth we are able “in Christ” and through him to possess “every” spiritual blessing in the heavens. After all, heaven has nothing better to offer us than Jesus who is now fully given to us, and who is actually living within us.
So we see here that this great blessing is already available. It is not something we are waiting for or something we are hoping and praying will be given. In fact, Paul’s Greek usage here “points to this blessing or prospering of believers as having occurred in eternity past.”17 We can conclude that by our position in Christ we are even able to participate and enjoy the benefits of the world’s future redemption gained for us through Christ’s
The expression “in the heavenlies” is a very prominent theme of the Book of Ephesians. We moderns through our technology can now have some faint understanding of what is possible for us in Christ. Today a person in a far off land, via computer, can speak with his own family members and actually see them as he shares in the blessings of his home country.18 This is obviously only a bit of virtual reality when compared to the heavenly reality that we already experience in Christ.
We Christians must now stretch ourselves and begin to operate in the spheres of human and divine, visible and invisible. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20); with our names written there (Lk. 10:20); and our Father is also located in heaven. Therefore as Colossians 3:1ff. mentions, it is important that our attention and affection always be centered on heaven and upon heavenly things.19
All this may bring about a great struggle in our lives if we allow it. In one sense, “Christians always have a double life and a double address.”20 Some writers have mentioned this underlying tension as being a struggle between the “already” and the “not yet.” It is a tension between what we already enjoy in Christ and what we still have not fully attained. However, we should rejoice in the fact that for real believers the “already” now far outweighs the “not yet.” 21
Much later, in the Book of Revelation, we are surprised to see that in the last day there will be a large number of overcoming saints who will rise up and fully grasp that which we see here in Ephesians. We learn that they will face the Antichrist. We also learn that they will even have a part in casting Satan down from his heavenly position (Rev. 12:11). The secret of their success is that they will learn to partake of the power and blessings of heaven even while they live out their lives upon earth (cf. Rev. 3:21; Rev.12:5; 14:1-5).
CHOSEN BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world… Ephesians 1:4
Paul now continues to deal with the great mystery that has been hidden with God for ages. That mystery is now fully revealed and waiting for all of us to understand it. It is the mystery of being “in Christ” or “in him.” We have already spoken of this briefly but Paul wants to go deeper. Up to this point I fear that the church has not understood this mystery very well. For instance, even as a pastor I once looked upon the position of being “in Christ” as a sort of goal that mature believers should seek to attain. Obviously I had woefully misunderstood this expression. The glorious truth is that our position of being “in Christ” or “in him” is something we believers had before the world was ever formed. Yes, we were already chosen “in him” before there was a world (cf. Matt. 25:34). This glorious fact should greatly encourage us in our sometimes pitiful efforts at Christian living. So far as God is concerned our salvation is finished in Christ. It is a “done deal.” Truly it was finished and even sealed before the world was formed.
In this passage we also see that “In love he predestined us to be holy and blameless in his sight” (1:4-5). This is likely not just a reflection of sanctification but also a reflection upon the great doctrine of justification. Through justification God has declared us “blameless,” “not guilty,” and “acquitted” of all our sin. In Romans 5:18 we read: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” In 2 Corinthians 5:19 it is said “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Hebrews 10:14 goes on to make plain that by the one sacrifice of himself, the Lord has made us perfect forever. This “forever” justification is made effective in our lives the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. However it was a fact in God’s mind eons ago.
The popular theologian, Dr. J.I. Packer, says: “Justification is decisive for eternity, being in effect the judgment of the last day brought forward.”22 Paul sums it up another way in Romans 8:30: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
There is no question concerning when this blamelessness and holiness originated. It originated before the foundation of the world. Although it was obviously God’s intention to change the moral character of his people, yet in this verse he is not speaking of our achieving this moral perfection but of God crediting it to us.23
All this mystery is based upon God’s foreknowledge. In Romans 8:29 we read: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (cf. Jn. 6:37).
Here we cannot escape the mysterious Christian doctrine of election. There are obviously many views on this subject and folks of faith are prone to heated discussions concerning it. The writer and Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, reports what he once heard a seminary professor say: “Try to explain election and you may lose your mind. But try to explain it away and you may lose your soul!” This same writer also remarks that this glorious election is not something that we are to publicize among unbelievers. He regards it rather as a “family secret” that belongs to the saints of God.24
PREDESTINED AND ADOPTED!
he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ… Ephesians 1:5
We see here that we were predestined to be adopted (cf. Rom. 8:29). It is likely that the adoption mentioned has reference to the Roman custom and not to the Jewish one. In such adoption the person received all rights and privileges of the family into which he was adopted. This was without reference to any merit on the part of the person being adopted.25 The popular commentator, Barclay, adds concerning this adoption:
When the adoption was complete it was complete indeed. The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and lost completely all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law, he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they had never existed.26
It is the good pleasure of God’s will that we be adopted as his sons. This adoption has very little to do with our modern idea of adoption since it pictures the person as being placed in the position of adult sonship.27
We must understand that this adoption, election and predestination are not based upon our goodness or even upon our future good works. We are certainly not able to brag about our worthiness to receive this position. The great reformer, Calvin, says of this glorious predestination, “If men should evade every other argument, election shuts their mouth, so that they dare not and cannot claim anything for themselves.”28
As we see here, when we truly get a grasp on what God has done for us, there is nothing left for us to do but to praise the Lord who has made it all possible.
In response to all that God has done we will want to agree with Paul that grace is truly glorious and praiseworthy (1:6). This freely-given grace makes heaven and earth rejoice (Rev. 5:12-14). This abundant grace should make us want to give glory to our Father, as the Westminister Shorter Catechism has it: “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”29
REDEMPTION AND FORGIVENESS
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace… Ephesians 1:7
When we speak of redemption in the Bible we necessarily speak about blood. Blood was very sacred to the Jewish people of Bible times. In Israel, blood was reserved only for sacrifice, and the sacrifice of animals was a sort of virtual reality picturing a greater sacrifice that was to come in the future. God remarks on the importance of the blood by saying: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:11). Virtually all sacrifices required the blood of slain birds and animals. Hebrews 9:22 develops this by saying: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
In Psalm 40:6-8, the Bible speaks of the true reality or the all-sufficient offering of Christ in these words: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, `Here I am, I have come– it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.'” Here the Lamb of God is saying to his Father that he is ready to make the eternal sacrifice for the sin of humankind. Indeed, he did make that sacrifice on Calvary as he shed his precious blood. That blood was shed forever and is available to this very day as a covering for our sins. Very much in line with the thinking of Ephesians we see in Revelation 13:8 that this Lamb was slain from the creation of the world. By this we realize that God solved the sin problem long before it ever began.
Thus Jesus has made the necessary blood sacrifice for us and we have redemption through his blood as stated here. We can now enter into fellowship with God by believing and accepting this sacrifice for ourselves.
Unfortunately, today much religion has become a bloodless thing. We now have a bloodless Judaism, and surprisingly a near bloodless Christianity. In the Christian world the whole idea of blood sacrifice has all but disappeared in the last two or three generations. A recent quote from a feminist theologian, Delores Williams, illustrates this trend. She says: “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.”30 We have almost quit singing and preaching about the blood and the cross. This modern and postmodern trend is troubling since it is only the blood of Jesus that takes away our sins.
The forgiveness mentioned here is the word aphesis, which means “cancellation” of sins. Other similar words used by Paul are charizomai (pardon) in Colossians 2.13 and paresin (passing over) sin as in Romans 3:25. 31 As Psalm 103:12 says: “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
What a great and splendid salvation the Lord has given us. Paul even says that he has “lavished” it upon us (1:8). Some may think it unwise for God to do such a thing but here the scripture says that God did it with all wisdom and understanding. In other words, God knew what he was doing.
Ephesians assures us the secret is now out. Paul says that God has now “made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ…” (1:9). The mystery God has revealed is unlike the many ancient “mystery religions” or even the secret societies we have today where only a chosen few are initiated. This mystery is available for all Christians to fully understand and enjoy. 32 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 states that although this mystery has been hidden for ages (cf. Rom. 16:25) it is now revealed to each of us through the Holy Spirit who lives within us. The mystery is that Christ is to be the head of everything.
THE DIRECTION OF ALL CREATION
to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. Ephesians 1:10
It is a common teaching of many philosophers today that our world is heading nowhere. They tell us that all is vain, empty and meaningless. Our philosophers probably got this idea from their precursors, the Greek philosophers of long ago. It was their concept of history that it was going on in a meaningless cycle. 33 Such is not the biblical idea of things. “It was a common Jewish belief that history was moving through many stages to its climax, when everything would be put under God’s rule.”34 In other words, history is going somewhere. In fact, it is all “coming to a head” and that head is Christ.
We see this most clearly in Daniel’s vision of the system of Gentile world governments. It is particularly in Daniel where we see the idea of the coming kingdom developed.35 Daniel pictures the four Gentile world empires, Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and Rome, as they came into being. This corresponds precisely to the time that the sovereign nation of Israel disappeared from the stage of world history (586 BC). We have now spent the better part of three millennia under the control of godless Gentile world governments. We can know from Daniel that all these governments will fall in the last days, and that they will all fall at the same time (Dan. 2:35). Thus all the godless principles of these governments are still around and are affecting us. They will continue to do so until the end of the age.
Daniel makes clear that these governments are all experiencing a continual devaluation as time goes on. They devalue from gold to silver to bronze and finally to a mixture of iron and clay. At last they will be headed up by the grossly evil Beast or Antichrist. At this low point, a rock from the mountain (Zion) will crash into this evil system and totally destroy it. The rock (Jesus) and his government will then grow into a great mountain filling the whole earth (the Kingdom of God). At this time of heavenly victory the government will be gained by Christ. He will become the head of everything. Surprisingly, when this happens he then shares this great authority with his dear saints (Dan. 7:18). The Bible says that they shall reign forever and ever. We see that all this glorious kingdom development will be put into effect when “the times will have reached their fulfillment” (1:10).
Thus we learn that all things in heaven and in earth, will ultimately be gathered together in Christ. Some have referred to all this as “cosmic reconciliation.” As this plan progresses, all divisions will be done away with in Christ. This includes the deep divisions that have separated Jew and Gentile in the past. It even includes the division and alienation of humanity from God. It includes the alienation of earth from heaven. 36 Paul in Romans 8:18-22 remarks concerning this:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Thus there is a divine plan and there is only one plan. All things in heaven and earth will be brought into alignment with that vast plan. This is why we were chosen and predestined (1:11), that we might be laborers together with God in his great plan. All this information should certainly change our perspective on life. We Christians have a part in God’s eternal plan. We can help bring other lives into conformity with that plan. Is there anything more important than our laboring together with God in his plan?
Here in verse 11 we see the words “In him we were also chosen.” This brings into focus for the first time something we will see a lot in Ephesians. It is likely that the “we” used here and in the next verse refers to the Jewish believers and the “you” in verse 13 refers to Gentile believers.37 We thus understand that there are two distinct people groups in the divine plan. There are Jews and Gentiles. The rift between these two groups in Bible times was often so great that there was almost no crossing it. However, we will see in this book that the sacrifice of Jesus has bridged this gap, making it possible for these two groups to have unity and peace. This is a big step in God’s plan for cosmic unity and restoration. Indeed it is a step so big that many Christians are still struggling with its implications even to this day. This great plan of God has all been enacted that we all might be “for the praise of his glory” (1:12).
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Ephesians 1:13
God’s great plan of salvation was first extended to the Jews exclusively. In Deuteronomy 7:6 God says to Israel: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” We see just how special this choice is in Psalm 147:19-20: “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws.”
Of course this sovereign divine choice of Israel was not just made so God could play favorites with people. It was made for God’s redemptive purposes so that his salvation could go out to people all over the world. Here we see this salvation now arriving to all Gentile people. We note that salvation comes as people hear the word of the Lord, the gospel of salvation. All this is spoken of in Romans 10:17: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Now through the preaching of the gospel “we” (the Jews) can be expanded to include “you”
We have been speaking so far of the great doctrines of election and predestination. One might think that with such doctrines the church would be able to relax into a sort of determinism regarding salvation. Obviously this is not to be the case. John Stott remarks concerning this: “Let no one say, therefore, that the doctrine of election by the sovereign will and mercy of God, mysterious as it is, makes either evangelism or faith unnecessary.”38 God in his great love and foreknowledge gives humanity the free will to either accept or reject his offer. Of course there are no surprises in the kingdom of God. God has known from the beginning those who would accept and those who would reject his grace. The Bible says: “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (2 Tim. 2:19).
Paul assures these new Gentile converts: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (1:13). This is a seal that every believer must have. The seal that God gives us believers stands for several things. It stands for security (Matt. 27:66; Eph. 4:30), for our authentication and approval (Jn. 6:27), for our certification of genuineness (Jn. 3:33), and for our identification of ownership (2 Cor. 1:22; Rev.
We see in scripture and especially in the Book of Revelation that terrible times will come in the last days. To prepare his dear people for such times the Lord seals them in their foreheads (Rev. 7:3). This seal reminds us of how Noah was sealed in the ark. The Bible says that Noah’s ark was sealed both without and within (Gen. 6:14). He was so protected that God destroyed the whole world with Noah and his family still in it. We learn that in a similar sense the Hebrew children were sealed and protected in Egypt. We see in Exodus 9:4 and 11:7, that they and their animals were protected and delivered from the great plagues that fell upon the land. God made a difference between his people and the people of Egypt (Exo. 8:23). They were also later kept safe from the death angel. They were sealed by the lamb’s blood.
Perhaps it is for such reasons that Paul later warns us in Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
THE DOWNPAYMENT MADE
who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:14
The deposit guaranteeing our inheritance is here called the arrabon. This was originally a Hebrew word that seems to have come into Greek usage through ancient Phoenician traders. In the Modern Greek language it is still used of an engagement ring. Of course in ancient trade arrangements it was seen as a deposit, a pledge, a down payment securing the eventual purchase. 40
Apparently this same ancient word is still used in Modern Hebrew. In Israel when an apartment is leased it is necessary to find a couple of guarantors or arravim. These insure that the renter will make good on all his promises. Such a thing is necessary in Israel due to the great demand upon real estate and because of the extremely high prices.
The basic idea of the arrabon is that it is more than an earnest. It is actually a sample of what is coming in the future.41 We can understand by this that since the deposit itself is spiritual, the rest of our inheritance will also be spiritual in nature. The Bible says that “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). The totality of our heritage is of a spiritual nature and in the spiritual realm because God is spirit. Just as Paul challenges us in Ephesians, we simply must gain a set of spiritual eyes or “eyes of the heart” so that we might see and appreciate this heritage.
The expression “God’s possession” used here (1:14) reminds us of some of the special language God uses regarding his people Israel. As we saw earlier in Deuteronomy 7:6 God says of Israel: “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples… to be his people, his treasured possession.” The word’s “treasured possession” is the Hebrew expression “am segulah.” It is a phrase still heard in Israel even until this day. We see the word “segulah” used again of Israel in Malachi 3:17: “‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.’”
In 1 Peter 2:9 we see that this special favor accorded Israel has now been showered upon the saints of the New Testament, including Gentiles: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
With these things in mind Paul has not ceased giving thanks and praying for the church, thanking God for the faith and love of his new people the Gentiles (1:15-16). Apparently it was Paul’s practice to pray diligently on a daily basis for all the churches, even for those Gentile churches he had never visited (2 Cor. 11:28; Col. 2:1).
TURNING THE LIGHT ON
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
The Book of Ephesians is a book of prayer in that “more than any other New Testament epistle, it has the character and form of prayer.”42 It is therefore not surprising that Paul inserts a lengthy prayer at this point. He also prays later.
When we observe how Paul prayed for people we realize how shallow our own prayers have become. Often when we pray, we quickly go down our prayer list saying something like this: “God bless Joe and Suzy Doaks; God bless John and Mary Smith, and on we go. Paul didn’t pray that way. He prayed for people that the eyes of their spiritual understanding would be opened. When Paul prayed spiritual things happened. Christians grew to the measure, stature and fullness of Christ and triumphant Christian churches sprang up everywhere.
We Christians must remember that we are grafted into the old olive tree of Israel (Rom. 11:17-18). We remember that the olive tree is the tree of oil, of light and thus of revelation. This ancient tree visually represents the spiritual heritage into which we are grafted (cf. Zech. 4:1-3; 11-14).
Thus, through Jesus we have been placed into the revelation tree. The True Light is now shining. It is a shame that sometimes we seem to have so little of this revelation. Unfortunately, the Bible says in Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” This is surely a picture of our society and world today.
When I was a small child I used to wonder why some church buildings were abandoned and the roofs were falling in. Now I understand that these churches simply ran out of revelation. If there had been revelation people would have driven for many miles to attend those small country churches. Let us think for a moment about what revelation did for the early church. In order to do this, let us use our imaginations a bit.
Perhaps one day in a certain early church a young man stood up and said, “Brothers, the Lord has given me a revelation.” The brothers may have said, “That’s wonderful Paul, please share it with us!” Paul may have proceeded with that excited group: “Brothers, you may not believe this, but the Gentiles are going to become fellow heirs with us Jews in the gospel” (cf. Eph. 3:2-6). We can imagine that Paul may have been greeted with a frosty and embarrassed silence. One of the Jewish elders may have finally cleared his throat, then stood up and chided Paul with words something like these: “Brother Paul, now you have just gone too far.” But had he really gone too far?
Can we even imagine what the last two thousand years would have been like had Paul not received and acted upon this glorious revelation? Because of it the early Jewish church exploded into the Gentile world and the gospel has now gone out to all nations, even coming to each of us.
In our churches today we do not need new programs. We need a new revelation from God. We need to pray for each other just as Paul prayed here that our spiritual eyes might be opened and that we might receive that life-giving revelation.
Here Paul also stresses the importance of our understanding the hope that is given us. He says: “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…” (1:18). We are living in a hopeless world. Our pagan philosophers have drained almost every drop of hope out of our society. Everywhere around us we see cynicism, pessimism, depression, and increasing suicide. We are surrounded by a sea of hopelessness. We must remember that the Christian message is one of hope. We Christians enjoy the hope of eternal life, the hope of a bodily resurrection, the hope of Jesus’ appearing or the “blessed hope,” and even the hope of a glorified church. There is also the hope of his calling as we see here. There are many more elements of hope in our lives because of Jesus. We see in Romans 15:13 that we are to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In 1954 the young aspiring American evangelist, Billy Graham, was able to visit Sir Winston Churchill. Of course, Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain, a hero of World War II, and a leading world figure. But Churchill was very despondent concerning his future hope and hope for the world in general. He asked the young evangelist, “Do you have any hope?” In answer to that question Graham pulled his New Testament out of his pocket and responded: “Mr. Prime Minister, I am filled with hope.” Graham then began to recount the gospel of hope to the famous Prime Minister.43
Then Paul goes on here to use a very strange and interesting expression when he prays for us to have spiritual eyes to see “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (1:18). How amazing that part of the riches of his inheritance is in people! If we really understood this statement we should never again be able to look at our fellow saints the same way as before. They are part of our heavenly treasure. They are precious! After all, the scripture does say: “O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psa. 61:5). Psalm 16:6 also says, “surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
In order to see some of the treasures God has given us we have only to look around us. The following story is related concerning the wealthy publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who collected art treasures from all over the world:
One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find them. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had been searching frantically for treasures he already owned! Had he read the catalog of his treasures, he would have saved himself a great deal of money and trouble.44
Today we search for all kinds of blessings and treasures but some of the greatest treasures may be sitting in the church pew near us. Unfortunately today many of these bountiful spiritual blessings remain hidden from our eyes. We must refocus our lives to see and appreciate spiritual things. Indeed it is spiritual truth and sensitivity to that truth that really blesses people.
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength… Ephesians 1:19
Wow! Do we really believe this? Do we have our spiritual eyes open enough to see this great mystery? This mighty power of God is part and parcel of our heritage in Christ. It too is already given to us in him. Because of this it has been said that “there never needs to be a ‘power shortage’ in the Christian life.”45
What a collection of “power” words we have in this verse. First we have the Greek word dynamis from which we get “dynamite” and “dynamo.” Then we have energeian, from which we get “energy.” Next, we have the word kratous, or power that overcomes all resistance. This is a power that leads to dominion. Finally, in this same power-packed verse Paul uses the word ischyos, which has more to do with the idea of strength
We see that this great power is the same power “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…” (1:20). In our wildest imagination can we picture a thing like this? The same awesome and glorious power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in heaven is available for us to help us live our daily lives here on earth (cf. Rom. 8:11). It was this great power that enabled us to believe and gave us new birth in Christ. It is also this great power that shields us until the day of redemption (1 Pet. 1:5). The same power will someday raise us believers from the dead and give us new
and glorified bodies.
The coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus brought the most dazzling and incredible power display this world has ever seen. When John the Baptist was once wrestling with doubt he sent some of his followers to question Jesus and verify whether or not he was the coming one. Jesus didn’t give a direct answer to John. Instead, he replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matt. 11:4-5). This power display was to be proof enough to John that Jesus was really the expected one and that the kingdom had come. In fact, much of Jesus’ ministry, possibly a third or more, was spent in doing these power works. Jesus particularly cast out numerous demons and he presented this as proof that the kingdom of God had indeed come to earth (Matt. 12:28).
The really astounding thing is that Jesus expects his followers to participate on a regular basis in these same power displays. He once said to his followers, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8). Alas, today we try to preach the gospel message but the evidence of God’s glorious power confirming it is often missing from our presentations.
We see that through this great power God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his own right hand in the heavenly realms (1:20). What a display of power before angels and principalities. Not only was Christ raised from the dead and lifted up to a heavenly position but he was seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. The position at the right hand of God is a position of favor and authority. Ephesians goes on to state that he was seated “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (1:21).
In Philippians 2:9-11, Paul also expounds upon this position of power and authority that belongs to Jesus: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus is above all powers, all angels, all principalities, all demonic forces, and above everything else in the universe. All belongs to him and indeed by his powerful word he holds all things together (Col. 1:17). Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch statesman, theologian and reformer, once remarked: “there is not a thumb-breath of the universe about which Christ does not say, ‘it is mine.’”47
Absolutely everything is placed under his feet. God is in the process of seeing to it that all enemies in the heavenlies and in the earth come bowing to him. In Psalm 110:1 it is written: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Not only is he the Lord of everything but he is also “to be head over everything for the church” (1:22).
Indeed we see here that the church “is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:23). From Jesus the church receives light, life and intelligence. We believers are complete in him and filled full with his grace and gifts. The church makes up his visible fullness on earth. The church is the first evidence, the living proof that God is actually bringing all things together under the headship of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10).
The church shares everything with her Lord (Eph. 5:30). The life of the church is his life. She shares his crucifixion, his glory, his fellowship with the Father, his fullness of the Spirit, his glorified manhood. She has membership in his body and his flesh.48
A PLACE IN THE GRAVEYARD
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… Ephesians 2:1
This verse makes a rapid transition to our condition before we knew Christ, or to the condition we all were “BC.” We were dead and there is not so much to be said about a dead person. “A corpse does not hear the conversation going on in the funeral parlor. He has no appetite for food or drink; he feels no pain; he is dead. Just so with the inner man of the unsaved person.”49 This condition indeed applies to the whole human race. The reformer, Calvin, in commenting upon this state says: “we are all born as dead men.”50 There is no part of our fleshly being that has survived the fall spoken of in Genesis. We are defiled and dead in our mind, emotions, conscience, will, etc. This is known by theologians as the doctrine of “total depravity.”
We are actually surrounded in our world by millions of “living dead” (cf.1 Tim. 5:6). Outwardly these folks often seem to defy this truth, in that they are full of energy, plans, hopes, and dreams. Yet in the place where it matters most, in that inner spiritual person, they are dead and lifeless.51 They cannot breathe spiritual air; they cannot feast on spiritual food; they cannot comprehend or respond to spiritual truth or spiritual blessing. Someone has described them like dead fish being carried down the river.
UNDER THE SPELL
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. Ephesians 2:2
In our natural condition we were completely under the spell of the “wicked prince” who is called here “the ruler of the kingdom of the air.” From other places in scripture we know him as the Devil or Satan. With his host of evil spirits he keeps the world in line. He keeps its people chained and following after his diabolical plan.
The people in the ancient world almost universally believed that the heavenly realms were above the earth, that they were turned over the earth in an almost bowl-like fashion. They felt there were several different levels of heaven (usually from three to seven) and that while God and angels occupied the upper levels, Satan and his angels occupied the lower level.52 The lowest level was called aer in the Greek. This locale is described as a realm that is misty, obscure, cloudy and dark. This particular realm is thickly populated with the evil spirits which exercise a great control over this evil age in which we live.53
In Mark 4:4 Jesus refers to these spirits as the “fowls of the air;” evil spirits that are ever-ready to snatch the Gospel from unsuspecting hearts and minds. It is clear that this whole world remains under the control of this evil one who is called in 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age.” So we can see that just as the children of God have one head in Christ, the children of the wicked also have one head in Satan.54
We see that this spirit “is now at work in those who are disobedient” (2:2). With this statement we must ask if it is possible for Satan to work at the same time in the lives of all disobedient people throughout the world. We must remember that Satan is a created being. He certainly cannot be compared to God who is omniscient and omnipresent. This fact accounts for the necessary hosts of evil spirits who must do Satan’s bidding for him as they work in the lives of the unfaithful.55 Later in Ephesians Paul says: “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” (Eph. 6:12). It is by this host of spirits that Satan both controls the world and even seeks to harass the saints of God.
Paul then says: “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 objects of wrath” (2:3). The Bible is replete with evidence that we were all under God’s wrath and that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins (2:1 & Col. 2:13). It is precisely at this point that the Gospel comes to us with the hope-giving word, “but.”
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
This whole section of Ephesians (2:1-10) has been viewed by many as the most expressive and beloved passage describing our salvation to be found in the whole New Testament.56
We see here that our God is rich, and one of the things he is richest in is mercy. He is called a God of mercy. We might understand mercy simply as God’s great love in action. When he appeared to Moses, he declared his name before himself in these words: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6 NKJ). We see that in mercy he led his people forth out of Egypt to their habitation (Ex. 15:13). Perhaps one of the most repeated themes of praise in the whole Bible are the words, “His mercy endures forever.” In Psalm 136 alone, this refrain is repeated 26 times.
Of course, the greatest act of mercy that God has ever demonstrated was to send his Son to die for our sins. In Titus 3:5 we read that “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Mercy was such an important thing to the early Christians that they often included it in their greetings. We see this in 1 Timothy 1:2 and in a lot of other places: “To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians points out that we Gentiles were not a people. We were beyond hope and strangers to his covenant yet God had mercy upon us and saved us. He transferred us from the realm of death to the realm of life. Paul continues with this: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (2:6).
If we could but understand Ephesians, as we have said before, it should permanently change our lives. We would cease groping around in the earthly realm and be exalted to the heavenly realm where Christ dwells. In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul says: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
We saw in Ephesians 1:20 that Christ is seated at the right hand of God. But here we once more see clearly that we are seated there with him. Yes, just as Christ is seated with the Father on his throne, we who are “in Christ” are also seated with him! This is mind-boggling information. We saw in 1:21 how Christ is seated “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” We remember how Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Now we must ask, doesn’t this position also apply to us? Aren’t we also seated far above Satan’s authority?
With all this in mind we Christians should begin to deal with life here on this earth from a “throne position.” God wants us to begin ruling for Christ at this present moment. We see this in Romans 5:17: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
The concept of ruling and reigning for Christ is difficult especially for those of us who live in western democracies. Nevertheless, we see this kingdom concept throughout the teachings of Jesus and we finally see it become reality in the last days.
In the Book of Revelation we are given some glimpses of a large overcoming group of saints, both Jewish and Gentile believers, who are ruling for Christ regardless of the horribly difficult situation around them. In Revelation 1:6, we begin reading the promises that make such overcoming possible. We read that Jesus Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.” In Revelation 3:21 Jesus says “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” In Revelation 5:10 we read again: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Indeed the Book of Revelation virtually ends in 22:5 with these words about God’s saints: “And they will reign for ever and ever.”
Yes, we Christians are destined to rule with Christ. We are “in him” and with him always. “Everywhere in the New Testament, the close connection of the believer with Christ is affirmed. We are crucified with him. We die with him. We rise with him. We live with him. We reign with him. We are joint heirs with him. We share his sufferings on earth, (1 Pet. 4:13), and we share his glory with him on his throne (Rev. 3:21).”57 We must stop looking at ourselves as earthlings, as defeated and half-dead. Christ has removed our “grave clothes” and given us our “grace clothes.”58
TROPHIES OF GOD’S GRACE
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 2:7
Someone might ask us why God would create humankind when he was fully aware that his glorious creation would result in the awful fall of Genesis. One answer is that God had determined to give humanity a greater dignity than even creation could bestow
Barnes, the popular commentator of the past two centuries sums it up this way: “There will be a countless host who were once polluted and lost; who were dead in sins; who were under the power of Satan, and who have been saved by the riches of Divine grace-a host now happy and pure, and free from sin, sorrow, and death-the living and eternal monuments of the grace of God.”60 Yes, God has determined that we the redeemed become living trophies of his great grace. These trophies will be displayed in the heavenly realms as a witness before angels, authorities and powers forever and ever.
Can we even imagine such a picture? God fully intends to “show us off” in the heavenly places because of his great grace to us! Just think, little Raggedy Ann and Andy, poor little Cinderella, will at last be exalted to the heavens, arrayed in garments of God’s righteousness, showered with heavenly splendor and blessings, graced with eternal life. It is just too much for our mortal minds to comprehend!
Paul mentions here the expression “the ages to come.” We ran into this expression in 1:21 and now we see it again. In the Greek language the word is aion from which we get our eon and it can mean “age, world order or eternity.” As we look back in Ephesians 1:21 we realize that the New Testament sees the times as being divided clearly into two different ages. This is important for our understanding of Ephesians, Revelation and the rest of the Bible. There is the present evil age, largely under the control of Satan, and the age to come where Jesus will rule supremely. There are a number of scriptures that speak of this division (cf. Matt. 12:32; Mk. 10:30; Gal. 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:4).
Interestingly a very similar distinction is made among the Jewish people to this day. They speak in Hebrew of “ha olam ha zeh” (the present age) and “ha olam ha ba” (the age to come). The latter is to be a period of heavenly and earthly bliss similar in many ways to the Christian concepts.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Here we are told that our salvation is solely by the grace of God. The Latin words “sola gratia” (grace alone) made up some of the watchwords of the great Reformation. It is still true today that grace alone is the way of salvation. We can add nothing to it. We cannot add our works as a means of salvation, for our works are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). We cannot even lean upon our own faith or take any credit for it.
It has been customary to interpret this verse as saying that our faith is not of ourselves but is a gift of God. While this interpretation of the Greek is incorrect as often used, there is a way in which the statement is correct in a larger sense. Our whole salvation, including our faith, is a gift of God. It in no way comes as a result of our works. 61
Paul then adds: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10). From the Greek word poiema (workmanship) used here we get our word “poem.” God seems to be saying by this that we are his masterpiece, his work of art, his beautiful poem.62
We note that God has prepared in advance the works we are to do on this earth. So it’s true in a very real sense that all our works were arranged before we existed and perhaps before the world began. In light of this there is certainly no way that we can take credit for them. The good works are predestined and we ourselves are predestined. We notice that God is working in our works. In Philippians 2:13 we are told: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” We see here that even our will to accomplish good works is not of ourselves but is from God.
GOD’S NEW CREATION IN CHRIST
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)- Ephesians 2:11
Now Ephesians returns to the theme that has been repeatedly introduced to us. We saw it earlier in the “we” (Jews) and the “you” (Gentile) statements made by Paul. As we mentioned before there are but two people groups and only two groups in God’s great plan of the ages. We all must fall into one group or the other. First, we have God’s ancient covenant people, the Jews, and second, we have the Gentiles.
Here Paul gives a description of the “uncircumcised” Gentile condition, and that condition is shocking. In describing it he says: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (2:12). One writer describes this condition as “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless.”63 To this description we could also add “truthless.”
In Bible times there was such a wall between God’s holy people, Israel, and the Gentiles that it could scarcely be breached. God had actually commanded that his people not mingle with the Gentiles or intermarry with them lest they become defiled by the very prevalent Gentile idolatry. We know from the Bible that it was impossible for a Gentile to approach the temple sanctuary. In fact, there was a wall affixed with appropriate warnings to Gentiles. Two notices from the temple have actually been discovered, one in 1871 and another in 1935. These notices read in Greek: “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death.”64
Jews and Gentiles were separated in many other ways. Jews could not eat common Gentile foods like pork and shellfish. In some ways this was merciful since Greek islanders often ate such foods as octopus, snails, eels, and lizards.65 Jews could not travel or trade on the Sabbath. In time, many rigid ideas developed among the Jews concerning the Gentiles. Some Jews began to feel that Gentiles were merely created to fuel the fires of hell. For some, the feelings were so strong that they were not allowed to aid a Gentile woman in labor, since such an act would help bring another Gentile into the world. Should a Jewish boy marry a Gentile girl a mock funeral was usually held for the boy by his family.66 Some of these feelings persist to the present. For instance, some orthodox Jewish families today still hold mock funerals for their children who convert to Christianity.
It is interesting that the language used in 2:12-19 is the normal Greek and Roman political language. The Greek (politeia) used here and translated as “commonwealth” or “citizenship” is the normal term for describing political realities. As one writer has it: “Fellowship with God is termed citizenship in the political entity of Israel.” 67
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13
Fortunately for us Gentiles we see the glorious words – “But now…” It is only the blood of Jesus that permanently changes our lost and hopeless Gentile situation. It is only the blood of Jesus that covers our sin and places in the safe and glorious position of being “in Christ.” This position seems to be the key for our new covenant relationship and citizenship in God’s kingdom.
It has been suggested that we can make sense of this passage only as we recall Paul’s theology relating to covenant and promise found in Galatians 3:15-18. These verses make clear that it is the “seed” (singular) and not “seeds” (plural) of Abraham who will inherit the promises. Of course, Paul sees that the seed is Jesus Christ. Since it is only Jesus who now holds the promises, it is only as we are “in him” that we can inherit these promises. This is just “another reminder here for us that Jews and Christians are eternally connected. Christians cannot tell their story apart from the story of Israel…we cannot configure our story in such a way that elevates Christians above Jews.” 68
Paul goes on to exclaim, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” (2:14). We must realize that peace used here is not just the cessation of hostility. It is a comprehensive term for salvation and life with God. Also, not only is the old physical barrier gone that used to stand at the temple, but the spiritual barrier is now gone in Christ. This is great news for both Jews and Christians. There is no longer a dividing wall between us. We are now one covenant people. It is a sad, sad story that almost two thousand years have now passed and neither the Jews nor the Christians seem to realize this glorious fact.
I remember as a child on the farm that we used to make a quick pasture for our cattle by stringing up an electric fence. Initially the fence didn’t look too imposing to the cattle. However, when Old Jersey stuck her nose to the fence we knew she wouldn’t do it twice. The cattle became so respectful of the fence that even after it was taken down they would scarcely cross the place where the fence once stood. We are still like that today in our relationships with Gentiles and Jews. We don’t seem to realize that Jesus took the fence down almost two thousand years ago.
So Jesus has become our peace. What a great peace God has given us! We see this great peace reflected in Paul himself. Paul had been falsely charged with taking a Gentile into the temple area at Jerusalem. He was arrested and viciously accused by the Jews. At last he was sent as a prisoner to Rome. Now as Paul sits under house arrest in Rome he can still speak of “peace.” Still from his pen can flow the glorious book of Ephesians, which reflects no bitterness as he speaks of the final unity of Jew and Gentile.
Now Paul gives us the mechanics of how God is bringing forth his new creation or his new man. He is doing it “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,” (2:15). In regard to the law it is not unusual to hear Christians say that Christ is the end of it. However, we know from the whole counsel of scripture that this is not the case. The Bible tells us in Psalm 19:7 that “The law of the LORD is perfect.” In Psalm 119 alone we have three separate verses (144, 152 & 160) telling us that the law of God is eternal and will not pass away. So what has Christ abolished in his flesh?
We know for a fact that Jesus did not abolish the moral law. One would be a fool today to rob a bank or commit murder because those Old Testament moral laws are still powerfully in force. Yet, while Jesus did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behavior he did abolish it as a way of salvation. He abolished its condemnation. It might be rightly said that Jesus did abolish the ceremonial law with all its rules and regulations. He abolished it by fulfilling all the types, patterns and shadows in himself. There is no longer a need to offer sacrifices, participate in ritual washings, etc. In the cross he fulfilled all types and shadows of the Old Testament ceremonial system.
“This then, was the achievement of Christ’s cross. First, he abolished the law…as a divisive instrument separating men from God and Jews from Gentiles. Secondly he created a single new humanity…Thirdly, he reconciled this new united humanity to God.”69
Paul summarizes it: “and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (2:16). In reality this hostility or enmity was twofold. It was an enmity between Jews and Gentiles but it was also an enmity between man and God. Now in Christ it is all put aside.
We see that “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (2:17). After Jesus was resurrected the first words he spoke to his apostles were “Peace be with you.”70 In one of our assemblies in Jerusalem it was customary for the members at times to “share the peace.” At such times the members embraced or extended the hand of peace and blessing to those around. Interestingly that particular assembly was made up of both Jews and Gentiles and had focused on bringing the two together since the mid 1800s. What a marvelous thing Christ has done!
“Early Christians called themselves a ‘third race’ or a ‘new race.’ Early Christians recognized that they were not Jews, not Gentiles, but one new man embracing all who are in Jesus.”71 It is almost beyond the scope of our human understanding to picture this new man that Christ has created. As we mentioned earlier we see our best pictures of this new creation in the Book of Revelation. We see that he is made up of Jews and Gentiles (Rev. 7:1-9). We read that this new man is partly responsible for the fall of Satan out of his heavenly abode. In Revelation 12:11 it is said: “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” This new creation is then pictured as standing victoriously with the Lamb on Mount Zion. We observe that these are undefiled, that they follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev. 14:1-5).
What victory! What glory! What unity with each other and with God! This great unity is a spiritual thing. Paul says “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (2:18). While the word “access” (prosagwghn) used here sometimes had reference to an audience with the king, it is more closely related to the temple ideas of access to God as we see in Hebrews 6:18-20; 10:19-22.72 We observe that the same Greek word used again in Ephesians 3:12.
Today “access” has gotten to be a very important thing in our computerized world. If we have proper passwords we can gain access to all sorts of places and programs on the web. If we do not have proper passwords we are soon discouraged to see “access denied” flash upon our screen. So it is in God’s kingdom. Those who know Christ the Son have immediate and eternal access to God the Father. It is just that simple. As the old saying goes, “It is not what you know but who you know that counts.”
GOD’S NEW HOUSE AND TEMPLE
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household… Ephesians 2:19.
Now Paul is progressing to an even deeper idea, the household of God which indeed grows to become the glorious spiritual temple of God. Still, all this is based upon the position of being “in Christ” or “in God.” Moses once spoke of this in prophecy as he said in Psalm 90:1 “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” How interesting that God is in search of a dwelling with man and man is in search of a dwelling with God.
Paul goes on into the construction of this dwelling place. He says that it is: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (2:20). It is clear in scripture that the Old Testament prophets were deeply involved in this building.73 In 1 Peter 1:10-11 we read that the prophets of old searched intently and with great care as they examined the grace that was to be given us. Also, this new building and its cornerstone were spoken of so clearly by Isaiah who said: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Isa. 28:16).We might mention that these cornerstones were often massive load-bearing stones. Some of the gigantic ashlars in the Western Wall at Jerusalem are around 200 tons in weight. Actually some found in the Holy Land have weighed upwards to 570 tons.74
A number of interpreters see Paul’s words here as a reference to New Testament as well as Old Testament prophets. While we do not have many New Testament prophets mentioned by name it is undeniable that the apostles moved in a great prophetic anointing. Some of the clearest and most astounding prophetic visions in the whole Bible are those shared by Paul here in this book of Ephesians.
We see that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of this new spiritual building. Some have seen Christ as the “keystone” or the topmost piece that holds the rest together. Still it is noted that this does not really fit the image, and would imply that Christ has no place in the building’s beginning.75 It would also not fit the image of Isaiah 28:16 that we have mentioned above, where Christ, the cornerstone, is laid in Zion as a sure foundation.
BEING BUILT TOGETHER
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:21
We should note that the participle “joined together” (synarmologoumenē) used here and in 4:16 denotes that the parts of the building are skillfully fitted together and not just thrown together.76 It is also of note that the Gentiles who were once forbidden even to enter the temple area are now made vital parts of the temple itself.
The ideas of “we” and “you” have now become blended together since the “you” has been included in the holy temple too. Paul says: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:22).
We must take some time to reflect upon this glorious new temple that Christ is building. Many people ask today if the new temple (third temple) is being constructed yet in Jerusalem. Obviously it is not, and to begin construction on it in the natural sense would probably result in a Third World War with the Moslems. Yet, in another sense, we can say with all boldness and confidence that the temple of God is being built. It has actually been under construction for a long time. The only problem is that the new temple is not so visible in that it is a spiritual complex.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, the Apostle asks: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” In this passage and in many others like it, the Bible uses “you” in the plural and not in the singular because it is only together that we make up God’s temple. Simply put, God’s truth “is not apprehended by an individual in isolation but with all the saints.”77 We remember too that Jew and Gentile are now made one together.
Thus, the new temple is being built of people, believing people. In 1 Peter 2:4-5, we read: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus.” At long last, the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman are being completely fulfilled. He said to her “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24).
Thus like living stones we are all being built into a spiritual temple. The problem with living stones, however, is that they wiggle around a lot and get all out of place. Sadly, a temple stone out of place becomes little more than a stumbling block. As the great spiritual temple of God is formed, certainly our brothers and sisters would appreciate it if we would find our place in that temple and lay our lives down so the building can proceed. There is another problem, and that is the matter of our fitting together. We sometimes have rough edges that keep us from joining well with one another. These need to be knocked off somehow. Fortunately, God has people in the body who are skilled at knocking off these rough edges. Thus, we really need each other, even if we do not feel this to be the case.
This assumes relationship. In Matthew 5:23-24 we read: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” The matters of being in one accord and having unity are absolutely essential for the temple’s functioning, because the new temple is made up of people. They are the stones and the walls. They make up the altar, and even the new Holy Place. They are the ministers, the Levites and the Priests (1 Pet. 2:5). We read in Romans 12:1 that they even become a holy sacrifice to the Lord.
Many years ago it was my privilege to be associated with a dear old pastor, Bro. Jim Nochta. He was a special man with a loving heart and a keen gift of prophecy. I learned much from him, but in time, a breach developed between us. Finally, in my pride and self-righteousness, I broke fellowship with this dear man of God. Several years later, the Lord demanded that I go back and try to heal this breach. I did so, and what a wonderful blessing ensued. After my deep and sincere apology, God established a bond between us far greater than any bond we had before. We regularly corresponded about spiritual matters until God took this dear pastor home. I am so thankful that the Lord led me to heal this breach in the body. Surely, there are many other breaches that need healing with all of us. It is a necessity for the functioning of God’s holy temple.
The new temple that God is building is holy. In 1 Corinthians 3:17, Paul says: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” The idea behind holiness is that of being set apart for God. Of course, un-holiness includes all spiritual and fleshly defilements. God wants a people pure in heart, pure in mind and body to make up his holy temple. Later in Ephesians 5:3-4, we will be given some very practical advice concerning this: “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.”
In Hebrews 10:19-25, we have one of the greatest challenges in the world. It is the challenge not only to enter and become fully part of God’s temple but to actually enter the Holy of Holies where God dwells. This was unthinkable in biblical times. Only the High Priest entered this place, and he did it only on the Day of Atonement each year. For a common person to enter would have almost certainly meant death. Now we must understand that this Holy of Holies has become an intensely spiritual meeting place. It is a place that we can only enter as we are in fellowship with others, in Spirit and in truth.
Now the perfect Lamb has been slain for our sin, that is, Jesus (Yeshua), our Messiah. Now the veil has been rent, and the way is fully opened for our entering. The author of Hebrews tells us that we can now have confidence to enter through the veil by his blood (Heb. 10:19-22). We see in scripture that access to God is made possible only by the blood of the Lamb. Our guilty consciences have now been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus just as the holy priesthood was sprinkled long ago (Lev. 8:30; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2).
We are then challenged to draw near, but it is stipulated that we must have a sincere heart (Heb. 10: 22). There are some other things necessary. We must come in full assurance of faith (v. 22). Like the priests of old, we must wash ourselves in pure water. In Temple times, the laver for washing was made of the looking-glasses of the ministering women (Exo. 38:8). This is undoubtedly a picture of the word of God. James possibly alludes to this when he says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (Jas. 1:23-24).
Again we are reminded of our proper relationship with the body of Christ, which makes up this temple. We must spur other people to good works (Heb. 10:24). Also, we must not give up meeting regularly with God’s people (v. 25). We should take seriously the matter of encouraging each other, especially as we see the day drawing near (v. 25). Encouragement is a wonderful thing. We can all remember times when someone “made our day” by giving us a little word of encouragement. Let’s find the good points in each other and compliment each other on these. Let us learn to encourage one another by using the Word of God (Rom. 15:4).
Truly, the temple of God is rising and is nearing completion. True sacrifices are even now being offered to God. There is already the sound of pure worship going up to his ears. Perhaps some have not yet fully become a part of this magnificent structure, but for sure, many others have. Now, we must each decide if we are going in all the way, even into the Most Holy Place. Our success in entering will depend not only on our relationship with the Lord, but on our daily relationship with the other members of his glorious body.
GETTING A GRIP ON A GREAT MYSTERY
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you… Ephesians 3:1-2
Through the Book of Ephesians so far Paul has spoken in an almost breathless excitement. He even strings his remarks with commas and not with periods, giving us some of the longest sentences in all of literature. He has already shared several mysteries but he longs to share more. He begins to pray here, but is detracted by the glory of one great revelation. He simply must stop his prayer and share that glory more fully with us.
We should note that Paul is now a prisoner because of God’s great revelation to him (3:1). He could have lived as a Jew among the Jews with little problem. He could have lived comfortably among the Gentiles. But he could not live very well among either by openly proclaiming the great divine secret in his heart. It was this great truth that made up the essential gospel that he preached. It was this great truth that brought his imprisonment and finally resulted in his death.
Truth is like that. When we really get hold of it, we will find that truth is difficult to handle. When we really find truth, the real truth, it will cost us plenty. If we take a stand for the truth in this truth-denying age it will probably cost us some friends, even some church friends. It may cost us some business associates, or it could ultimately cost us our lives. Yes, truth is such a rare commodity that, in its refined form, it is powerful enough to kill us. Marie Curie helped discover the secrets of radium, but that discovery cost her life. She died from her long exposure to the mysterious substance.
In previous chapters Paul has been leading up to the full revelation of this great mystery that God entrusted to him. Now when we speak of mystery in our western culture we generally think of something that is dark, obscure or even puzzling. The Greek word mysterion has little to do with these ideas.78 Mysterion (3:3) has to do rather with something that has been hidden by God for ages but is now revealed for all to understand. We must realize that in Christianity there are no esoteric, hidden, mysteries that are reserved for the spiritual elite.79 All of God’s revealed truth is available to all of us. As Deuteronomy 29:29 puts it, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.”
Here Paul wants to make a clarification. He wants us to know that he has already introduced this mystery. He speaks of it as “the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly” (3:3). No doubt he is probably making reference back to Ephesians 2:11-22, where he has already spoken about it and developed the mystery to some degree.
PAUL’S UNDERSTANDING OF THE MYSTERY
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. Ephesians 3:3-5
It is important that we understand the critical role of the original apostles and prophets in the matter of revelation. Many of these had been with Jesus in the flesh. They had heard him speak of wonderful things. Others like Paul had received powerful revelations of Christian truth. On one occasion Paul was caught up to the heavens and heard unspeakable things. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, he tells of this great spiritual experience: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know– God knows. And I know that this man…was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (cf. Acts 26:12-18).
It seems that Paul is almost teasing us by dangling this great revelation before us. By this time he almost has us breathless. We are almost standing on our tiptoes asking, “For heaven’s sake, what is this great mystery?” At last he gives it to us in capsule form so that no one can miss 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” (3:6). The first thing we note about this mystery is that there are a lot of “togethers” in it.80 God’s hidden plan was always to make a new creation out of Jews and Gentiles. His great forever plan was to make of the two one new human race, one new household, one new and glorious temple where he could dwell and reveal his presence forever. This is his plan in a nutshell.
In some ways this is not a new plan at all, but an old, old plan. The Bible had taught for ages that God would seek the Gentiles and that non-Jews could join with his people Israel. We see in passages like Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and 28:14 that the blessing of Israel was to go out to Gentile nations. Actually the prophets talked a great deal about Gentiles joining with Israel and about Israel being a light to the nations (Isa. 56:6-7; 49:6). We immediately think of Rahab the Harlot at Jericho who united with Israel (Josh. 6:17-25), and Ruth of Moab who actually became a mother in the messianic line (Ruth 4:13-22). These women were surely types and shadows of what was coming. Also many non-Jews fought valiantly in David’s army. Some were in very high positions of authority (2 Sam. 15:18-22; 18:2).81
Yes, Israel was quite used to the idea that God would bless the Gentiles and that certain Gentiles could even unite with the nation and become a part of it. What is new here is that Jews and Gentiles will now be joined together to form a new humanity, to form one new body. We should note here that Jew and Gentile together will form this new humanity. Some have spoken of this miracle in a generic sense where God will just draw all nations together into a new unity. Such an idea has some truth in it but almost totally omits the Jews and their vital part in this unity.
Now, how are we handling this new and mysterious plan of God? Certainly the Jews have not handled it very well. They relentlessly persecuted Paul and even to this day many Jews mistrust Paul more than they mistrust Jesus. Today, a lot of Jews wish to keep a safe distance from Christians altogether and that with some good reasons. Actually for many Jews, they are probably no longer even aware of Paul’s great mystery.
The church has not handled it well either. In the early centuries of Christianity a subtle anti-Semitism began to slip into church theology and into preaching. As early as the second century famous church fathers like Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus and Cyprian began to make inflammatory statements about the Jewish people. Irenaeus, the renowned Bishop of Lyon (AD 130-202), actually declared the Jews “disinherited from the grace of God.”82 The gangrene spread and was reflected in the great Council of Nicea in AD 325, where the Jews were referred to as “polluted wretches…blinded in their minds…most odious fellowship…parricides and murderers.”83
The infectious plague continued through the centuries. Probably the greatest preacher early Christianity produced was John Chrysostom (347?-407). Yet, he viciously attacked the Jews. For his great oratory he was called the “Golden Tongue” but he used his golden tongue to call the Jews “most miserable of all men” “lustful rapacious, greedy perfidious bandits.” This great preacher ended by saying “I hate the Jews.”84
The dark, dark pages of Christian history bear witness that we have not understood Paul’s mystery and neither do we understand it today. Christian history is full of Christian crusades against the Jews, blood libels, repressions, expulsions, inquisitions and murders. Finally the great Martin Luther with his raving against the Jews set the stage for the Nazi “final solution.” Luther said that their synagogues and schools should be burned, their houses destroyed, prayer books taken away and that their money be confiscated.85 Adolph Hitler was happy to oblige and fulfill all of Luther’s wishes.
Today after a guilty church has stained its hands with the blood of millions of Jews, we are farther than ever from learning Paul’s mystery. In much of the church today there remains a persistent and unexplainable coolness and hardness toward the Jewish people, often even toward messianic Jews. Strangely there is a similar hardness expressed toward the new nation of Israel. We have just not understood. How vastly different the history of Christianity would have been had we understood.
It is time to make this our prayer:
Heavenly Father, open our eyes to see this great mystery that the church has somehow lost. Let us see that Jews and Gentiles must now come together to make one new creation in the Messiah. Show us how to become good stewards in understanding and sharing this mystery, regardless of the personal cost to us. And please forgive us Heavenly Father for all our hateful attitudes toward the Jewish people and toward Israel. In the name of Jesus our Messiah we pray. Amen.
PAUL – JUST A SERVANT
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Ephesians 3:7
Paul has just dealt with some of the most astounding mysteries in all of creation. He has reeled them off to us as if he were reciting the “A-B-Cs.” Such a spiritual genius should want to bask for a while in the glory of all his revelations. Instead, Paul’s desire is just to be a servant. The servant (diakonos) in New Testament times was merely a table waiter who was totally at the bidding of his customers.
The Lord had long before taken care of Paul’s pride by giving him a loathsome “thorn in the flesh,” lest he become lifted up over all these very revelations (2 Cor. 12:7). So Paul is now just a servant, and becoming a servant is such a necessary thing in the building of God’s great body and temple. We remember that Jesus became a servant to Israel and to us. He was even willing to become a suffering servant, to take up the shameful cross and to die upon it so that he could raise up this new temple (Mk. 14:58).
We see here that the apostle has been so thoroughly dealt with by God that he almost loathes himself. He says: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…” (3:8). Here he does something impossible linguistically. He takes the Greek word elachistos meaning “least” or “smallest,” and turns it into elachistoteros, meaning “leaster.” It has been suggested that he might have been playing on the meaning of his Roman name “Paulus,” which does mean “little” or “small” in Latin. Tradition has always held that he was a person small of stature.86
Paul has been given the task of proclaiming the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” This great assignment along with great grace were given to Paul by God. It was not something he attained by his own efforts or discovered by his own wisdom. In his letters Paul makes it plain that the revelation he received was given by the Lord and did not originate through the agency of man (Gal. 1:11-12). He even says in Galatians 1:15-17 that he was set apart from birth for this task as we see spelled out further in Acts 9:15-16.
The “unsearchable riches” conveys the ideas of “unfathomable” or “trackless.” Someone has described it as if we were exploring what we thought was a lake and suddenly realized it was but an outlet opening into a vast sea.87 These unsearchable riches cannot be explored by humans unless God chooses to reveal them to us.
Paul’s task is “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things” (3:9). The word “administration” (oikonomia) is taken from two Greek words, oikos (house) and nomos (law). It is from this that we get our word “economy.” The word in Greek means “the law of the house” and it refers to the matters of stewardship and management.88 Paul was charged with the stewardship of dispensing the Gospel to the Gentiles. We see him use the same word in 1 Corinthians 9:17: “I am simply discharging the trust (oikonomian) committed to me.”
The Apostle has the task of making this mystery plain for all to see. The normal word for preaching or evangelizing is not used here but instead we have the word photizo. The idea behind this word is to “turn the light on,” or to have the eyes of the heart enlightened as we saw in 1:18.89 “It was given to Paul to bring to light the arrangement, the way this mystery was administered, namely, the admission of the Gentiles on equal terms with
Obviously we could all sit in a completely dark room and guess about what items of furniture that were there. We could also guess about the color of the drapes and carpets, or even how large or small the room actually was. However, when someone comes to the door and switches on the light all the guesswork is over. Everyone can see plainly. So it is with the great mysteries of the Gospel. The light is now switched on. All we have to do is open our eyes and take it all in.
GOD’S MANIFOLD WISDOM THROUGH THE CHURCH
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… Ephesians 3:10
The first three chapters of Ephesians illustrate for us the biblical centrality of the church. It has been said that “Ephesians gives more attention to and makes loftier statements about the church than any other letter.”91 We begin to realize that one of the purposes of God all along was to show forth his great wisdom through the church. When we look at the confusion, bewilderment and defeat we often see in the church today we may wonder how God could show anything through us. Still God chooses to work in spite of our weaknesses and even in spite of our many failures.
This wisdom of God is described as “many-colored,” or “variegated” (polupoikilos).God’s wisdom, as shown throughout the creation and the church, quietly weaves a beautiful and glorious pattern. No doubt, parts of this pattern are the many nationalities and skin colors that are brought together through the sacrifice of Christ.
We realize by Paul’s statement that God is in a sense “showing off” his beautiful church to a host of spiritual beings. We see in 1 Peter 1:12 that even angels long to look into the things of our salvation. Indeed they are created to be ministering spirits in regard to this salvation (Heb. 1:14). Paul speaks of the angels watching the activities of the assemblies (1 Cor. 11:10). In 1 Corinthians 4:9, he even speaks of himself and the other apostles as being made spectacles before the angels.
As one commentator put it, “the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels.”92 The cosmic intelligences, principalities and powers in heavenly places are surely watching and learning from the church. “Thus it is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals his glory to humans; but it is through the new creation (the church) that he reveals his wisdom to angels.”93
We might wonder what kinds of things the angels are learning from the church. Wuest suggests that they are pondering all the mysteries of redemption. He suggests that it is only in the church that angels are able to come to an adequate comprehension of God’s great grace.94 In regard to evil angels who may be looking on, we may wonder what wisdom they can gain. For one thing, they may be learning that Satan, their leader, has
What a paradox it is that “unsaved men, including wise philosophers, look at God’s plan of salvation and consider it ‘foolishness’ (1 Cor.1:18–31). But the angels watch the outworking of God’s salvation, and they praise his wisdom.”96
With these things in mind we must always be careful to praise our glorious God just as the angels do and to rejoice in the works of his hands, including perhaps his most mysterious and important work, the church itself. We must remember to lift our voices in witness to our great God. There is a very real sense in which “without our voices the truth remains hidden and even unreal.”97 God is instructing both men and angels “according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:11-12).
Paul has all the marks of a great soul. Although he is in prison he dared not think about himself. His concerns centered in the believers scattered in the province of Asia. We can imagine that if we were in Paul’s place we would have had to share some small complaints about the cold cell, the chafing chains, or the poor food. Instead, Paul has this request: “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory” (3:13). It is amazing that Paul is concerned only about their possible suffering and not about his own.
ANOTHER GREAT PRAYER
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. Ephesians 3:14-15
Paul now resumes the prayer which he left off in 1:23 and possibly started again in 3:1. The Greeks rarely knelt to pray, and it was actually not so common for Jews to kneel.98 We know that in the Old Testament, Jews often stood in their prayers but particularly in the New Testament, Jewish believers knelt. The Hebrew root barak, which has the meaning of blessing, praising or thanking God, also has “kneeling” within the scope of its meaning. In fact it is from this same Hebrew root of “blessing” or “praising” that we get berek, the work for knee. One writer remarks here that when Paul bowed his knees it must have been quite an experience for the Roman soldier who was chained to him.99
It has been noted that this prayer of Paul greatly resembles Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple (2 Chron. 6:1 ff.). We see that Solomon also knelt down before God and before the congregation of Israel. Just as Solomon dedicated the old temple Paul now dedicates the new one.100
We cannot help but notice Paul’s preoccupation with spiritual requests rather than natural ones. While Paul’s first prayer had centered on enlightenment, the focal point of this new prayer is on love. Unfortunately, today much of our praying seems to focus on the natural things rather than on the spiritual ones that Paul dealt with.
Paul mentions that the “whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” from the Father (3:15). This family surely includes the saints on earth and the saints in the heavens. Some go so far as seeing this family including angels who are termed as our “brethren” (Rev. 19:10) and the “sons of God” as we see in Job 38:7. However, this is not a likely conclusion when we take the whole Bible into consideration.
As his prayer continues Paul gets on with his requests regarding inner spiritual things. He says: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” (3:16). In our materialistic age we would naturally think that God would give us some quick cash or some other material benefit from all his glorious riches. Here we see that strength and power deposited by God in our inner beings is much better for us and even more profitable in the long run. This is indeed the true riches. Since this transaction is made through the agency of the Holy Spirit we realize what a very rich deposit the Lord has already given us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Next Paul prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (3:17). The word for “dwell” used here is katoikēsai. This word is made up of oikeō, which means “to live in as a home,” and kata, the word for “down.” Thus what we have here is the idea of settling down and being at home.101 This should be the desire of our hearts that Christ would feel so at ease with us that he wouldn’t just visit us on occasions as some wayfarer might do, but that he would feel comfortable enough to move in with us and stay permanently.
Paul goes on: “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…” (3:17-18). The apostle has been praying that God would give us this inner spiritual power. Now we see that one purpose of this spiritual power is that we might grasp the deep love of our Master. Actually real love requires a lot of inner strength. When we love with God’s love, it causes us to reach out to other people who are many times unlike ourselves and sometimes even repulsive to us. Jesus wants us to be “rooted” and “established” in his love. One writer has described the great dimensions of God’s love in this way:
God’s love is wide enough to include every person.
God’s love is long enough to last through all eternity.
God’s love is deep enough to reach the worst sinner.
God’s love is high enough to take us to heaven. 102
The great apostle desires us to “know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:19). The following third stanza of Frederick Lehman’s beautiful and modern hymn, The Love of God, was actually composed in 1096 by a Jewish songwriter, Rabbi Mayer, of Germany. The stanza so well expresses the cosmic dimensions of God’s love with these words:
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole tho stretched from sky to sky. 103
How can we know the love that surpasses knowledge? This has been called a “glorious contradiction.” Yet by knowing Jesus, who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), and by being in him, we are filled with the fullness of God. What a thought! It is likely for this reason that this prayer of Paul is sometimes called “the boldest prayer
Paul closes his great prayer saying: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (3:20-21). In our requests to God we see that we are not bound just by what we can ask. God is able to do more than we can even think or imagine.
NOTES ON PART ONE
Several sources I have cited here are from the electronic media, either from websites or from electronic research libraries. Thus in some of these sources it is not possible to cite page numbers. Instead I have cited the verse or verses in each chapter of Ephesians e.g.verse v. 2:1 or vs. 3:1-2) about which the commentators speak.
1. Peter Pett, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: A Commentary, Internet Resources, introductory remarks.
2. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible, (www. StudyLight.Org 1997-2003), introduction.
3. C. F. Pfeiffer & E. F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Chicago, Moody Press, 1962), introductory remarks.
4. Lewis R. Donelson, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. 61.
5. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, IL, Victor Books, 1983-85). Introductory comments on Ephesians.
6. Hoehner, Introductory comments.
7. K. S. Wuest, Ephesians in the Greek New Testament: Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,1997, 1984). Remarks on 1:1-2.
8. James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Ephesians: Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament, (Abilene, TX, Christian University Press, 1983-1999). Comments on verse 1.
9. Allan Turner, Commentary on Ephesians, Internet resources. Comments on 1:1.
10. Wuest, comments on 1:1.
11. Albert Barnes, Commentary on Ephesians: Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. www.studylight.org. Introductory comments.
12. Pheme Perkins, Ephesians, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1997), pp. 18 & 52.
13. Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans 1956, 1981), p. 20.
14. Pfeiffer, comment on 1:2.
15. Wuest, comments on 1:2.
16. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), pp.17-18.
While the position of Realized Eschatology has long been associated with C.H. Dodd, Hoekema prefers to call it “inaugurated eschatology.” He says “The advantage of this term is that it does full justice to the fact that the great eschatological incision into history has already been made, while it does not rule out a further development of eschatology in the future.”
17. Hoehner, comment on 1:3.
18. Pett, comment on 1:3.
19. Warren W. Wiersbe, Ephesians, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton, IL, Victor Books 1996, 1989), Logos Research Systems, Comment on 1:3.
20. William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians; The New Daily Study Bible, (Louisville & London, The Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 140.
21. Hoekema, pp. 14 & 71.
22. J. I. Packer, Sola Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification. Web article.
23. Coffman, comment on 1:4.
24. Wiersbe, comment on 1:4.
25. Coffman, comment on 1:5.
26. Barclay, p. 92.
27. Pfeiffer & Harrison, on 1:5.
Wuest also comments on the adoption of adult sons. “The Greek word is huiothesia (υἱοθεσια ), from tithemi ( τιθεμι ), “to place,” and huios ( υἱος ), “an adult son.” Thus, the word refers to the act of God placing these selected-out ones as adult sons.”
28. John Calvin, Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, Internet resources, comment on 1:4.
29. Pfeiffer & Harrison, comment on 1:6.
30. Carl Olson & Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004), p 92.
31. Pett, comment on 1:7.
32. A.R.Faussett, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, (Logos Research Systems, 1871), comment on 1:9.
33. Hoekema, p. 24.
This author says “the Greeks had what may be called a ‘cyclical’ view of history: things occur in endlessly repeated cycles, so that what is happening today will some day be repeated. On the basis of such a view it is, of course, impossible to find any real meaning in history…Time and history, for them, represented the realm from which one longed to be delivered.”
34. Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, (Downers Grove, IL, Inter Varsity Press, 1993), comment on 1:10.
35. Hoekema, p. 7.
36. D. A. Carson, Ephesians: New Bible Commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), comment on1:10.
37. Faussett, comment on 1:11.
38. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Leicester, Eng., Downers Grove,IL. Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), p. 48.
39. Hoehner, comment on 1:13.
40. Stott, p. 49.
41. Pett, comment on 1:13.
42. Stott, p. 19
43. Larry D. Hart, Truth Aflame; A Balanced Theology for Evangelicals and Charismatics, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 411.
44. Wiersbe, comment on 1:18.
45. Guzik, comment on Ephesians 1:19.
46. Hoehner, comment on 1:19.
47. Hoekema, p. 54.
48. Faussett, comment on 1:23.
49. Wiersbe, comment on 2:1.
50. Calvin, comment on 2:1.
51. Stott, p. 72.
52. Keener, comment on 2:2.
53. Coffman, comment on 2:2.
54. Calvin, comment on 2:2.
55. Wiersbe, comment on 2:2.
56. Kline Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary; Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 1996), p. 93.
57. Barnes, comment on 2:6.
58. Wiersbe, comment on 2:6.
59. Stott, p. 39.
60. Barnes, comment on 2:7.
61. Wuest, comment on 2:8-9.
The word “that” is touto (τουτο) in the Greek… a demonstrative pronoun in the neuter gender. The Greek word “faith” is feminine in gender and therefore touto (τουτο) could not refer to “faith.” It refers to the general idea of salvation in the immediate context. The translation reads, “and this not out from you as a source, of God (it is) the gift.” That is, salvation is a gift of God. It does not find its source in man. Furthermore, this salvation is not “out of a source of works.”
62. Guzik, comment on 2:10.
63. Guzik, quoting Henndriksen commenting on 2:12.
64. Stott, p. 92.
65. Robert Brow, Ephesians Commentary, (Odessa, Ontario, J.L.P. Digital Publications, 2002). Comment on 2:12.
66. Coffman, comment on 2:12.
67. Donelson, p. 73
68. Donelson, pp. 74-75.
69. Stott, p. 102.
70. Stott, p. 103.
71. Guzik, comment on 2:17.
72. Snodgrass, p. 135.
73. Pett, comment on 2:20.
In Romans 16.25 he says that the mystery ‘is now manifested, and by the scriptures of the Prophets — – is made known to all’. This clearly links the Old Testament Prophets with the revealing of the mystery, and 1 Peter 1.10 says the Old Testament Prophets ‘prophesied of the grace that would come’ to them. And these Prophets are constantly appealed to (Romans 1.2; 16.26; James 5.10; 1 Peter 1.10; 2 Peter 3.2) while the New Testament prophets are never elsewhere appealed to in this way or put on such equivalence with the Apostles. .. Furthermore it is the Old Testament Prophets who are called “holy Prophets” in 2 Peter 3.2, and the Apostles are directly connected with these Prophets in Revelation 18.20 (compare verse 24).
74. Snodgrass, p. 138.
75. Carson, comment on 2:20.
76. Hoehner, comment on 2:21.
77. Foulkes, p. 104.
78. Guzik, comment on 3:1.
79. Stott, p. 116.
80. Stott, p. 117.
Gentiles are “co-heirs” (synkleronoma), “concorporate” (syssoma) and “co-sharers” (symmetocha) of the promise…To sum up, we may say that ‘the mystery of Christ’ is the complete union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both with Christ. p. 117.
81. Keener, comment on 3:6.
82. Jim Gerrish, Does God Play Favorites? God’s Unique Relationship with Israel, (Minneapolis, MN, Cornerstone Publishing, 2000), p. 182.
83. Gerrish, p. 183.
84. Gerrish, p. 183.
85. Gerrish, p. 189.
86. Stott, p. 119.
87. Guzik, comment on 3:8.
88. Wiersbe, comment on 3:9.
89. A. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. (Oak Harbor, School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Logos Research Systems, Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933, 1997), comment on 3:9.
90. Wuest, comment on 3:9.
91. Snodgrass, p. 124.
92. Mckay, as quoted in Stott, p.124.
93. Stott, p. 124
94. Wuest, comment on 3:10.
95. Wiersbe, comment on 3:10.
96. Wiersbe, comment on 3:10.
97. Keener, comment on 3:14-15.
98. Wiersbe, comment on 3:14-15.
99. Wiersbe, comment on 3:14-15.
100.Clark, comment on3:14-15.
101. Wuest, comment on 3:17-18.
102. Guzik, comment on 3:17-18.
103. John W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, (Grand Rapids, MI, Kregel Publications, 1990, 1996), p. 46.
104. Coffman, comment on 3:19.
EPHESIANS: THE PRACTICUM
THE CHRISTIAN WALK
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called… Ephesians 4:1 (NKJ)
The Greek transitional word (oun) in this verse is generally translated “therefore.” There is an old bit of biblical wisdom that says: “When we see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible we need to stop and see what it is there for.”
In light of the glorious truths Paul has just revealed; in light of our being “in Christ;” and being part of the new household and new temple of God; in light of the unthinkable new unity between Jew and Gentile; Paul begins to make some everyday applications for our lives. He is essentially saying that since all these things are true, “therefore” we must change the way we are living. Paul does this kind of thing in several of his letters. There is first the great theology that often soars into the heavenlies and then he brings us down to the practicum, the earthly, everyday working out of these great scriptural truths in our lives. As one old radio preacher used to put it, “This is where the rubber meets the road.”
So, in chapters 4-6 of Ephesians, Paul deals with the practical application of all his preceding great theology. He wants to make sure we apply the wonderful truths to our everyday lives. There is the story of an encyclopedia salesman who was trying his best to persuade an old farmer to buy his wares. The salesman was enthusiastically telling the farmer all the wonderful things he could learn about farming by just reading the set of encyclopedias. The old farmer at last replied, “Son, I already know a lot more about farming than what I am doing.” Is that where we are today as modern and postmodern Christians?
Here we are told that we must walk worthy of our calling. The New Testament was written by Jewish people and the concept of “walking” was a very important concept to them. In the Hebrew language the word for “walk” is “ha-lak.” One can almost hear the sandal striking the pavement. Since Hebrew is a very poetic and expressive language, the word for walk has come to symbolize a person’s manner of life. It expresses what the person does and how that person lives. In Judaism, the body of commandments and traditions governing the religion has come to be known as the ha-lak-hah. Thus, a person who lives according to halakhah today must be careful to observe all these laws and traditions. For instance, an observant Jew would never eat a cheeseburger, because halakhah forbids the mixing of milk and meat products.
Well, it might surprise us to learn that there is also a Christian halakhah. We see this in 1 John 2:6 where we read: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (NKJ). John stresses that the Christian walk involves loving one another with an abiding love (1 Jn. 3:11). We learn more about the Christian walk in other places in the New Testament such as Romans 6:4, Romans 8:4, Philippians 3:18. But it is here in the last three chapters of Ephesians where it is spelled out most clearly.
The evidence points us to the fact that in New Testament times they didn’t just “talk the talk” but they actually “walked the walk.” Much emphasis was therefore placed upon obedience. In the intervening centuries of church history, that emphasis has become tempered somewhat as theologians have focused more upon grace than upon obedience. This emphasis upon grace is important as we have seen so far in Ephesians, but I dare say that if we were somehow thrust into the Apostolic Era, those early Christians might look upon us askance. They might regard us as a little bit heretical because of our unconcern for obedience and of our practical application of Christian teaching.
We can verify this misplaced emphasis by taking a careful look at our New Testament. It may be shocking for us to learn that there are over a thousand commands in it. This does not count the hundreds of implied commands, or the additional hundreds of teachings. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commands (Jn. 14:15). He also says that if we love him we will obey his teachings (Jn. 14:23). Jesus himself asks us in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
We soon realize that the faith of the Bible was built upon the principle of obedience to God’s commands. Wiersbe comments here: “He does not say, as he did to the Old Testament Jews, ‘If you obey me, I will bless you.’ Rather, he says, ‘I have already blessed you—now, in response to my love and grace, obey me.’”1 We have seen so far in Ephesians that we were chosen in Christ before the world began and even our works were foreordained for us. While we cannot in one sense do good works or keep God’s commands, still now that we are “in Christ,” it is actually Christ who lives triumphantly in us. In this sense the Bible says in Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
While it is true that we are saved by faith, and that even our faith, which is part of salvation, is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9), it is also true that faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26). Faith without works or obedience is a disastrous error and has caused much ruin and lawlessness in the modern church. Peter challenges us not to be swept away with the error of lawless people (2 Pet. 3:17). It is clear in the Bible that the last judgment will catch many by surprise. We see this in the parable of the house built upon the sand (Mt. 7:26-29), and in the New Testament pictures of the last judgment found in Matthew 25:31-46. We must not miss this important truth, that while Christ has foreordained our salvation, he has also foreordained our good works.
It is certainly interesting to see a picture of the triumphant saints in Revelation 12:17. It is said of them that they “obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (cf. Rev. 14:12b). Obviously they have perfected Christian halakhah.
Now the Apostle deals with some great basic words describing the Christian faith. These are the words and concepts that make Christian unity and the Christian walk possible.2
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
We might call this a section of “be-attitudes.” God not only wants to change the way we walk but the way we think and perceive ourselves. First we see the concept of “humility.” Such a concept was almost unknown in ancient societies. It has been said that in the Greek language all words for this concept had some suggestion of meanness attached. In the ancient world humility was a thing to be despised, a thing for slaves. 3 So we see that humility is a pagan concept that was transformed by the early church and in time it became an important Christian doctrine. It has come to be looked upon as a fountain from which all other Christian virtues flow.4 It is one of the necessary ingredients to facilitate Christian love and unity.
My old pastor used to tell a story of a man in a certain church who was very humble. The church realizing this got together and awarded him a medal for his humility. The man was so happy with his award that he pinned it on and wore it to the next church meeting. With that, the congregation quickly voted to take his medal away.
The next great word here is “gentleness.” This Greek word for this (praotes) is also translated as “meekness.” The picture behind this word is that of a wild animal that has been domesticated and trained until it is completely under control.5 There is no idea of weakness in this word. We see in the Old Testament that Moses was the meekest of men (Num. 12:3) and yet he could fling the commandments of God to the ground and break them asunder because of the wickedness of the people. Christ is also described as meek (Matt. 11:29), and yet with great force he drove the merchants out of the temple (Matt. 21:12-13).6 A meek person has been defined as “one who is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.” 7 When we look around us today we don’t see too many meek and gentle people. We need more Christian gentlemen
We read here that the Christian must also be patient. The Greek word is makrothumia and it also has the meaning of “long-suffering.” Perhaps we should spell this word loooooong-suffering. It really means having patience with people. The twenty-first century with its rat race, road rage and numerous other maladies does not produce a good environment for such a virtue to be cultivated or displayed. We are in too big of a hurry for that. In this portion of Virginia Brasier’s poem penned some years ago the idea of today’s rush and madness is expressed very well.
This is the age of the half read page,
And the quick hash and the mad dash,
And the bright night, With the nerves tight…
And the brain strain, And the heart pain,
And the cat naps, Till the spring snaps-
And the fun’s done…
In our patience we are to bear with one another in love, as 1 Corinthians 13:4 has it: “Love suffers long and is kind” (NKJ). When we make an attempt to really love someone we will soon find out that it takes a lot of time as well as patience on our part.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3
It is amazing that the early church had any unity at all. There were many deep natural divisions among these believers. Some were Jews and some were Gentiles; some kept the law and some did not; some kept kosher and some did not; some ate meat and some ate only vegetables; some observed the Sabbath and some did not regard it as special. Yet in all this great diversity there was still great unity. How do we explain this?
These early believers possessed a wonderful ground for unity and that ground was found in the risen Christ. It is also apparent that they did not focus on peripheral matters but upon core matters of the faith. That would be good advice for us today. Probably over 90 percent of our church divisions result from disagreement concerning peripheral matters. Even many doctrinal disputes are not based upon core matters of the faith but upon marginal ones that should never warrant division.
Paul instructs us that we are to keep the unity of the Spirit. We are not responsible for making this unity, but only for keeping it.8 Christ has already brought about the unity by his death on the cross and by his resurrection. Thus we are charged with maintaining the unity. The idea here is that we must “endeavor” or “zealously give diligence” to keep or maintain the unity.9 This can be accomplished partly by each of us walking in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearing, and love as we have seen. We should be aware that “pride lurks behind all discord.”10
Unity does not mean uniformity. Real unity occurs amidst diversity. Many years ago my wife and I were guests in a particular assembly for a whole weekend. We were amazed that in that assembly everyone talked like the preacher; everyone sang like the preacher; everyone acted like the preacher; there was total conformity. That visit was one of the most spiritually disturbing experiences of our lives. Although everyone totally agreed on everything, there was absolutely no real unity or peace in that place. It has been said that “unity comes from within and is a spiritual grace, while uniformity is the result of pressure from without.”11
We can plant perfectly straight rows in our gardens but the vegetables will not long remain in our straight rows. They will grow according to the laws of life and they will grow in almost every direction. While we might be able to perfectly line up tombstones in a cemetery, such a thing will never happen in regard to living things.
SEVEN UNIFYING ELEMENTS
There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called— Ephesians 4:4
Paul now introduces us to seven unifying elements. We see that there is one body. So, there are not many bodies of Christ but only one. It is much like our physical body. If we injure, abuse or destroy that body it is too bad for us because it is the only one we have. If we injure the body of Christ we will have to live with that injury because there is only one body. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 3:17: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”
Today we have the supposed luxury of jumping from church to church. If one assembly is too hard on us we promptly leave it and find another one that is easier. If we hurt someone or they hurt us we can just run away to another church. We have the idea that there are many churches, many bodies, and we can selfishly graze in smorgasbord style from church to church until we find one that exactly suits our fancy. This is not a biblical understanding of the church as the one body of Christ.
Not only is there one body but there is also “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:5-6). The proclamation of “one Lord” was probably the nearest that the early church ever came to having a creed.12 The expression “Jesus Christ is Lord” was indeed their only creed (Phil. 2:11). We saw earlier that God’s purpose was to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph. 1:10) There should be no place on earth where this unifying lordship is more evident than in the church.
In 4:5-6 we see that there must be unity of faith as well as unity of baptism. Unfortunately throughout church history baptism, which should bring unity, has actually brought great division. Here the apostle is not speaking of modes of baptism but the spiritual significance of the ordinance. “Baptism is regarded as a sacrament of unity…There is ‘one baptism’ symbolizing identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, sealing with the Spirit, and incorporation into the body of Christ.”13 Calvin states it well in saying that “baptism possesses such force as to make us one.”14
It is almost impossible to look at these seven unifying elements without seeing the Trinity. Paul closes out these elements with the idea of one God. Interestingly, Paul begins with the Holy Spirit and works his way to the Father. He no doubt does this because he was already dealing with the Spirit in verse 3. 15
GOD’S GIFTS IN THE CHURCH
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Ephesians 4:7
Now Paul moves from the idea of unity in the church to the idea of diversity. This diversity regards the apportioning of differing gifts of grace in the body. The language used here is very much akin to the language and expressions of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12. We see in 1 Corinthians 12:14 that the body is made up of many parts. Also in verse 21 of this chapter we read: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” The body’s members are interdependent upon each other. Paul asks, what if the whole body were an eye? (v.17). One of my seminary professors used to gross out his classes by speaking of a 175 pound eyeball just rolling around staring up at the sky. Obviously such a member would be a helpless monstrosity or worse still, an eyesore.
“In our human body the liver must find the backbone, or heart, or eye, hard to understand, but it serves them. So in a church community we find other members of the body difficult to understand, but we can listen to them and work with them.”16 We must remember not to judge ourselves by other members who seem to have more usefulness, prominence or gifts than we do. Each member is vitally important to the whole body. If one member is honored all are honored. If one suffers, all suffer (1 Cor. 12:.26).
We must refer to passages like Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 to get an idea of the specific gifts given to the members of the body. In Romans 12 we see that gifts include prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership, showing mercy. In 1 Corinthians 12 we see these additional gifts mentioned: messages of wisdom, messages of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues.
“This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men’” (4:8). Here Paul is apparently quoting from Psalm 68:18. It is likely that this Psalm was written at the time when David brought the Ark of the Covenant up from its resting place at Kirjath-jearim to Mount Zion as recorded in 2 Samuel 6:1. Obviously this is a song of triumph celebrating God’s previous victories when the Ark had gone out before the armies of Israel. In the Psalm’s original setting, it probably had no direct connection with the Messiah.17 Still, it has many obvious messianic overtones.
We immediately notice some differences in Paul’s quotation from the Psalm as we have it today. We notice first that while Psalm 68 speaks of God having received gifts, Paul quotes it as God having given gifts. There is also a change from second to third person. It is likely that Paul is drawing on some ancient Hebrew translation or authentic oral tradition which also later appears in the Aramaic Targum and the Syriac Peshitta. Both of these ancient versions read “Thou hast given gifts to men.” 18
This idea would be fully in line with the shift in emphasis from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In the former see that conquering kings demanded and received gifts from men but in the New Testament we see that Christ the King gives gifts to men.19
Of course in the ancient world there were many scenes like the one pictured here. The Romans were particularly fond of celebrating such events of conquest where captives were brought forth in chains. It was customary in such events for presents to be distributed among the conquering soldiers.20
Paul now expands upon his theme by asking: “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” (4:9). This passage has been called: “one of the most eloquent passages in the New Testament touching upon the glorious Christian doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus Christ and of his pre-existence from all eternity with the Father.”21 When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in John 3:13 he spoke of this saying: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven– the Son of Man.”
While this passage is an obvious reference to Christ’s descent to the earth and his later ascension, there may be more involved here. In 1 Peter 3:18-19, we see that Christ after his death descended to Hades and preached to the spirits in prison. We are not immediately told what the proclamation was that Jesus made to these spirits. Yet, in 1 Peter 4:6 we read: “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” There are other scriptures that may shed some light on this mysterious passage. These are Acts 2:25 ff., Romans 10:7, and Philippians.2:10.
In Ephesians 4:8 we read that when “he ascended on high, he led captives in his train.” It has been thought by many in the church, particularly in the Charismatic circles, that Jesus in his triumphal procession led the faithful of old out of captivity. Up to the time of Christ it was believed that the faithful dead dwelt in a place called Sheol or Hades (Lk. 16:19-31). Thus, Jesus led the righteous captives to the heavenly realms to be with him, thereby thoroughly plundering both Satan and his realm of death.
Paul now continues: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (4:10). While there may be differing arguments concerning exactly where he descended to, we know that for sure he descended to earth. His purpose in ascending from the earth was that he could fill all things by his influence and direct all things by his wisdom and power.22
GOD’S GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers… Ephesians 4:11
We have seen so far that God is a gift-giving God. He has already given to us individual Christians many great and precious gifts as we have realized so far in Ephesians. Now, we see that God has also given some gifts to the church as a whole. These are gifts of people, or shall we say “gifts of gifted people.”
Since the Charismatic awakening began in the 1960s we have heard a great deal about these ministry gifts. It is common for these gifts of verse 11 to be referred to as the “five-fold ministry” of the church. Some dispute this terminology and refer to it instead as the “four-fold ministry.” They do so because “pastors” and “teachers” listed in this verse share a single definite article in the Greek, thus indicating a single office.23
However, this idea seems to be clearly overruled in the rest of the New Testament. In Acts 13:1, we see “prophets and teachers” listed together without the mention of pastors. In Paul’s list of ministries in 1 Corinthians 12: 28 he says: “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles…” We observe here that teachers are listed again with no mention of pastors. We see teachers listed singularly in 2 Timothy 4:3; James 3:1; and 2 Peter 2:1-3. Also in 1 Timothy 5:17 we are told that elders who are able to teach are worthy of special honor. Obviously all church leaders were not expected to have the gift of teaching. With this information we must conclude that the “five-fold ministry” seems a valid designation.
Now the question arises as to whether or not all these ministries continue to the present day. For instance, do we still have apostles today? Surely the bulk of commentators think not. However, to this question we can venture to give a qualified “yes.” But in order to give such an answer we need to establish some facts.
First let us clearly say that the twelve original apostles appointed by Jesus were “one of a kind” and their particular calling will not be reproduced. Why do we say this? In Acts 1:21-22, we read that the eleven original disciples felt it necessary to find a replacement for Judas who had betrayed Jesus. At this time they laid out the prerequisites for the one who would fill this position. In stating these prerequisites they said: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” We see by this that to be a disciple in the original biblical sense it was necessary for one to have been present throughout the ministry of Jesus, including his resurrection and ascension. These special men were founders of the church and Paul places them in a very high position.
Second, we see that the group of disciples was not limited to the twelve. There were other apostles who had not met the above requirements. Thus they were foundational disciples of the second generation, so to speak. Although they had not been with Jesus throughout his ministry, they nevertheless had a commission directly from the Lord and had apparently received some type of spiritual experiences with the Lord. We know that Paul and Barnabas were in this group (Acts 14:14). James Dunn lists some characteristics of this group of apostles. He says that they were personally commissioned by the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7; Gal. 1:1). They were also the church founders (Rom. 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:5f.; Gal. 1:15f.). They like the others had a distinctively eschatological role
(1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:5).24
All these original apostles had a difficult task. They had to convey accurately all the teaching of Jesus. We must remember that in these early years there was no compilation of the New Testament books, and so much rested on oral teaching and repetition. At this early time all books had to be written by hand and it would have cost a year’s wages for the average working person to acquire a New Testament had one been in existence. 25 So the work of these original apostles and prophets was of utmost importance in determining and proclaiming sound Christian doctrine.
Third, there were other degrees of apostleship as we see reflected in the New Testament. We realize that certain others were added to the original group. In Romans 16:7 we read of Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7). Then we read of James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19). Hoehner then adds to the list Silas, Timothy, and Apollos (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:7; 1 Cor. 4:6, 9). He mentions that some of these early laborers may have had the gift of apostleship but without the apostolic “office” as such.26 Still Paul tells us that these early apostles had certain marks: “The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Finally we must add that there were still others who later came into the apostolic ministry. In 2 Corinthians 11:13 and Revelation 2:2, we see that there were also “false apostles.” This indicates that there must have been a large group of people operating in the apostolic ministry. Had there only been the original small and select group they would have been easily recognized throughout the church and there would have been no need to warn of false apostles.
In the next verse, Ephesians 4:12, we will see that a part of the mission of the apostle was to prepare God’s people for the works of service and to build up the body of Christ. Obviously these works are very much needed today in the modern and postmodern church. When we observe the condition of the church today we may conclude that apostolic ministries of some sort are needed more than ever. The word apostle (apostolos) simply means “one sent out.” Many are obviously sent out today. Also it cannot be denied that some are doing works that appear to be apostolic in their nature. Whole countries, or vast parts of nations, have been opened up to the gospel almost single-handedly. The great work of Hudson Taylor and his China Inland Mission, should suffice as an
We can do with a word of caution about this whole subject. For the office of apostle to continue in any sense today, real apostolic work needs to be evidenced. Also, the respect of this high office must be maintained by those who feel this calling. It seems that there are many running around today proudly proclaiming themselves to be apostles, but with little or no regard to the dignity of the apostolic office, and producing few if any apostolic fruits. In the early church some of these would no doubt have been branded as “false apostles.”
We also need to remember that the idea of apostleship has caused a lot of grief throughout church history. The papacy in Rome was established due to a flawed understanding of apostleship. The Catholic Church has felt that Peter was the apostle and bishop of Rome and that his holy office has been handed down from generation to generation to the present day through his many papal descendants.27 Another example of apostleship gone astray was the Catholic Apostolic Church founded in London in 1830 by Edward Irving. Irving was a brilliant Scottish preacher with a large following. Suddenly he began to feel that the whole church was in error and that he was the true apostle. Afterward, his movement ended in tragedy.28
Unfortunately, some of our modern apostles are already busy leading the church off into error. Some are saying that the word of God established by the early apostles is less important than the new revelations that they themselves are receiving. Thus, what they are calling “apostleship” might better be described as “apostasy.”
Now let us examine the office of prophet. The prophetic gift had to do with the understanding of mysteries and knowledge. The prophets spoke forth the words of God. They could speak in a predictive sense but this was not always the case. As we have said concerning apostles we also say concerning the original prophets. They were one of a kind and we remember that the church was founded upon these original apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). In this special group of people we have some women represented. There was Anna (Lk. 2:36-38) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).
Because of the mysterious nature of this gift we can understand how it quickly came into disrepute. There began to be many false prophets. The aged John wrote of this saying: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). Peter also wrote about false prophets and false teachers. He warned the church about the destructive heresies that they would introduce (2 Pet. 2:1). Also, in time “the settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets, who often disturbed their congregation.”29
In the Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents, we get some insight about how the early church dealt with both apostles and prophets. This document may have been written as early as the first century. It reads:
Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.30
This early document goes on to describe how the message of the prophet should be received by the church: “Yet not every one that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord. From his ways therefore the false prophet and the [true] prophet shall be recognized.”31 We can readily see that prophets were judged and dealt with rather sternly in these early days.
Now, does this office continue today? Well, we still have plenty false prophets around and this in itself seems to indicate the necessity of true prophets. Again, since the beginning of the Charismatic movement there have been numerous people operating in the prophetic gifts. This includes things like gifts of wisdom and knowledge as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:8. Some of these gifts are rather spectacular and undeniable. It seems foolish to try to dispute them all. We see in Romans 11:29 that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” This verse was originally applied to Israel but can now apply to the church as well. It seems very appropriate to apply it to individual gifts and even to the longevity or continuation of such gifts. We might also remark that the need for these prophetic gifts may well be greater today than it was in the first century.
While the gifts of pastors and teachers are generally understood we may need to say a word about the gift of evangelism. This gift is mentioned on only two other occasions in the New Testament, in Acts 21:8 and in 2 Timothy 4:5. Like the office of apostle and teacher, the office of evangelist is also not a local gifting but one for the whole church. These three gifts of apostle, prophet and evangelist were clearly itinerant or wandering ministries. Now is there such a gifting today? Larry Hart says of this: “The twentieth century has seen some of the most powerful evangelists in the history of the church.”32 Evangelists like Billy Graham of the US, and Reinhart Bonnke of Germany have proclaimed the gospel to millions of people, to numerous large cities and to whole nations. We would certainly have to say that there is plenty of evidence that this gift is still around and operational.
REASONS FOR SPIRITUAL GIFTS
to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… Ephesians 4:12
Now let us review why these special gifts were given to the church. Paul says that they were given “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” The word translated “prepare” might be better translated “equip.” It is the word katartismon, and it is used in other places for setting broken limbs, mending nets or disciplining an offender. The word implies correction, instruction and completion.33 This whole idea seems to deal a fatal blow to the older concept of the professional pastor doing all the ministering in the church. Clearly church leaders are to prepare the members themselves for ministering. This verse also deals a blow to the idea that gifts were only for the first century. The body of Christ still needs to be built up.
We might note that the spiritual gifts God has given are not limited to the ones we have mentioned so far. Stott says: “The five lists given in the New Testament mention between them at least twenty distinct gifts, some of which are very prosaic and un-sensational (like doing acts of mercy, Rom.12:8)… No one list is complete.”34
There is a great purpose in God’s gifts. They are to prepare us “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” (4:13). These gifted leaders have the task of helping us arrive at the unity of faith and to a full knowledge (epiginoseos) of Jesus, that we may become mature Christians. This full knowledge implies precise and correct knowledge.35 Paul says here that we should attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (cf. Gal. 4:19). One of my seminary professors used to illustrate it this way. He said that when we were children we made marks on the wall as we grew taller and taller. Our goal was always to surpass the old mark on the wall with each new measurement. The professor told us that now Christ has made a mark on the wall and our task is to grow upward to meet that mark.
We see here that unity of faith involves the whole community and not just particular individuals.36 We all must grow up together. We also need to remember that this unity is a unity in relation to core matters of faith and not to peripheral matters. As we have mentioned, most divisions in the church concern peripheral matters.
In the church we have not always paid attention to the business of edification or building up the body in love. Smith has said about this “The primary purpose of the church isn’t to convert sinners to Christianity, but to perfect (complete and mature) the saints for the ministry and edification of the Body.”37 Actually until the Body is edified in some measure the church would not be too attractive to sinners anyway.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14
Paul tells us that we should no longer be infants or children. Of course, there are some good qualities of children that the Lord must have been alluding to in Matthew 18:2-3. Children are meek, obedient, trusting, and free of pride. Yet we know that children can have a bad side, and this is indicated here. They can be easily influenced and led astray. 38 This is a particularly frightening concern for parents in our day when many children are being kidnapped by various predators, sexual and otherwise. Here we have the words “cunning and craftiness.” One Greek word used here is kybeia or “dice playing.” By their trickery and deceitfulness the world’s people seek to lead us astray and cheat us.
Today the television and movies abound with such deceit. Christianity is subtly mocked and belittled. The media is rife with many supposed proofs that Christianity is fraudulent.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (4:15). We cannot miss the fact that the idea here is for us to grow up. God may be getting weary of so many spiritual babies all clamoring for their bottles. We are to grow up to the Head who is Christ. We saw earlier in Ephesians how he is becoming the head of all things (1:10). As we become mature we can understand more and more about his vast program and find our place in it.
One of the important ways we grow up is to start speaking the truth to each other. Of course this speech should always be tempered by love. One of the things my wife and I noticed as we lived fourteen years in Israel was that there is little guile in the Israeli people. They quickly speak their minds about almost everything. In our western world we “beat around the bush” in our speaking supposedly to keep the peace. The Israeli would never consider such an approach. The Israeli woman may just blurt out: “That dress looks horrible on you!” While such an approach may be shocking, at least we get the point quickly, and it may save us a lot of time and difficulty in the long run.
Jesus apparently appreciates such a direct approach to things. He once said of his new disciple, Nathaniel, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false” (Jn. 1:47).
As the scripture says “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). Also the Bible says: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19:17). We must remember to mix love with the truth we speak.
Paul tells us that “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16). The church is dependent upon Christ as the Head to guide, sustain and invigorate it. As is the case in our physical bodies the head gives instructions to the whole body. It builds up the body in regards to the operation of every part, in regards to its nourishment and in regards to its growth and maturity.
The interesting thing in this passage is that the Head works through every part of the body in order to supply the whole. It is like we are all conduits of grace to one another. In the human body these ligaments or connections are made up of things like blood vessels and nervous system links.39 Of course, these ligaments would also involve the muscles. It is amazing when we realize that the nervous energy with which we move a little finger comes originally from the brain or the head.40 Paul’s picture of the human body and its operations here makes us wonder if he had not checked out all these details in advance with Doctor Luke.41
This mutual building up of the body is of utmost importance. Indeed it is at the very heart of Christianity. Even the word “religion” comes from the root “ligaments” referring to that which binds us all together.42
We simply must not miss the idea of edification or building up the body of Christ. This is meant to be a primary work of the church and yet in many quarters it is almost totally neglected. In my former denomination there was a great emphasis upon evangelism. We preached only salvation sermons Sunday after Sunday and year after year. Unfortunately the church was not built up and the members often remained as spiritual infants for their whole lives.
OUR LIVES B.C.
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. Ephesians 4:17
We have now experienced the benefits of almost two thousand years of Christian influence in our world. Thus it is virtually impossible for us to imagine the utter moral darkness people experienced in pre-Christian times. It is tragic and unthinkable today that many people in our era yearn for those dark days to return. How true the words of Jesus: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19).
We certainly cannot say that all pagan people are bad, for they are not all the same. However just as there is a “typical Christian life” there is also a “typical pagan life” and these two lifestyles are fundamentally opposed to each other.43
Paul says that the thinking of the typical pagan is futile. First of all it is futile because it is opposed to God, the Creator, and to his plan for the world and for humanity. Second it is futile because such a lifestyle simply does not work, and never did. One of the best evidences of Satan and his activity in the world is the fact that people, after these thousands of years, are still trying to do things that do not work. We would laugh at someone who was still trying to make a square wheel work. Long ago the square wheel was tossed into the trash and folks opted for the more practical and workable round wheel. Unfortunately, people have not displayed such wisdom in the moral realm. After all these thousands of years folks are still trying to make lying, stealing and adultery work. They don’t work, they never did and they never will.
The big problem with the pagans is that “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (4:18). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 we read that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In the natural world around us we have a phenomenon known as “global dimming.” This is a process whereby less and less sunlight is actually getting through to us due to the increase in jet airplane condensation in the atmosphere and other problems. Here we have a global dimming of another sort, due to Satan’s efforts at keeping the light of God from shining into people’s hearts.
Understanding can also become darkened by indulgence in sin. “A man who is intemperate has no just views of the government of the appetites. A man who is unchaste has no perception of the loveliness of purity. A man who is avaricious or covetous has no just views of the beauty of benevolence.”44
The Greek word for ignorance is agnoia. Apparently it is not merely a term of the intellect alone but it denotes ignorance in the realm of divine things (Acts 3:17, 17:30; 1 Pet. 1:14).45 The Gentiles are described as “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (4:19).
The Ephesians were certainly aware of the excesses of paganism. Their famous temple to the Greek goddess Artemis, or Diana, was known for the regular sexual orgies associated with its worship.46 This was a common practice in paganism since it was simply the way people worshipped their pagan gods. It seems that sexual abuses were always at the heart of pagan sensuality and impurity. Some of these abuses were “unspeakable.” Young girls were often initiated into womanhood by being required to spend a night in pagan temples, supposedly offering their bodies to the gods and of course to any others who desired them. Young boys were often introduced to manhood through the sexual abuses of
In the Greek home the wife had a very low position and men regularly maintained mistresses outside the home for their pleasure. In the fourth century B.C. Demosthenes remarked: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.”48 We can easily see that “home” in the western and Christian understanding was almost nonexistent for the Greeks.
The pagans ran to their excesses because they had lost all sensitivity. The Greek word used here for “sensitivity” means “calloused or dead to feeling.” Through their callousness they were able to abandon themselves to sensuality, indecency, and debauchery. “Sin is like anesthesia. At first, it is offensive and our conscience revolts against it. However, if we do not get away from it, it soon becomes less offensive and will finally overpower us.”49 We see in Romans that it is precisely for such reasons that God gives up on
a people (Rom. 1:24).
Today the pagan media is trying to desensitize us and to cause us to become callused. We are told that 70 percent of the television shows today contain sexual content.50 Things that we would have caused us all to blush thirty years ago no longer draw a reaction from us at all. It is much like the old story of boiling a frog. The temperature continues to be turned up and the frog continues to sit in the hot water until it is too late.
OUR NEW WARDROBE
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way… Ephesians 4:20
The content of all early preaching was about Christ personally. It was about knowing him and coming into relationship with him. It was not just about the head knowledge of him. Paul says: “Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds…” (4:21-23).
We learn here that God has given all of us Christians a totally new wardrobe. It is vitally important that we put off our old one so we can put on the new one he has provided. Someone has referred to this as the “rags” and the “robes.” The rags are our old life of sin and the robes are the new clothes of salvation that God has provided in Christ.
Paul adds that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). There is a very interesting story in Matthew 22:1-14. It is the parable of the marriage feast. This particular king gave a great marriage banquet for his son. However many of the invited guests did not bother to come for one reason or another. The man was very angry and sent his servants out into the streets to gather all the people they could find. At last the marriage hall was filled with guests. Unfortunately when the king entered the room he spied a man who did not have on a wedding garment. With that the host was furious and demanded that the man be bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness.
This story almost seems unfair at first. Let us use our imaginations a bit as we try to understand it. Perhaps this man was a poor bum who hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. Here he sits at the table with a big smile on his face and with his fork and spoon firmly in hand. His mouth is drooling as he expects to satisfy his gnawing hunger at this great banquet. The smells of roast beef are tantalizing. Suddenly the king appears, takes one look at him, flies into a rage and has him bound and thrown out into the gutter. Perhaps he is thrown out while still clutching his fork and spoon. Poor guy! Was this fair? The Lord tells us that it was absolutely fair. The man had neglected to do something extremely important. He had neglected to put on the sparkling new wedding garment that the king had provided free of charge to all his guests.
Does this little story have a message for us? It certainly does. It is a message particularly for Gentiles. We were the ones invited to the banquet when the original guests (the Jews) didn’t show up. However, we must remember to clothe ourselves in the garments the Master has provided. What are these garments? We might say they are the garments of salvation (Isa. 61:10). These are the robes of righteousness (Isa. 61:10). These are the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61:3). God provides these robes free of charge but he will not put them on for us. We must do it ourselves. This is one and the same with putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14).
The Lord has called us to a great wedding banquet. We are at once both the bride and the wedding guests. We see in the Bible that it is also up to the bride to put on her lovely garments (Rev. 21:2) and to make herself ready (Rev. 19:7). In every wedding the bride is the center of attention. What if the bride came down the aisle with her hair tied up in a rag and wearing a dirty old apron? Everyone would be aghast. Yet as believers we often do not take pains to prepare for the heavenly wedding that is at hand.
Before his conversion the great saint, Augustine, had lived long in immorality. One day he was seated in the garden as he wrestled with his evil conscience. Suddenly he heard a voice like the voice of a child repeating this phrase in a sing-song manner, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” With this, Augustine hastily took up the Bible and his eyes fell on Romans 13:13-14: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Augustine remarked “No further would I read, nor was there cause why I should; for instantly with the end of the sentence, as by a clear and constant light infused into my heart, the darkness of all former doubts was driven away.”51
Paul gives further instructions: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (4:25). In the ancient world many people didn’t feel that a lie was especially bad. Clarke relays some of the attitudes toward the lie in the ancient world. Meander said, “A lie is better than a hurtful truth.” Darius in Herodotus said, “When telling a lie will be profitable, let it be told.” Plato said, “He may lie who knows how to do it in a suitable time.” Maximus Tyrius said “There is nothing decorous in truth but when it is profitable; yea, sometimes…truth is hurtful, and lying is profitable to men.”52
Even in our modern world there are millions of people who think lying is OK. The religion of Islam holds over a billion people in its grasp. Yet the teachings of Islam are very kind to falsehood. The great Moslem theologian, Al-Ghazzali has said that a lie is not wrong in itself. As a result of such teaching lying has become widespread among the Moslems.53
Actually in our new Postmodern era truth has been given a bad rap. According to the dictates of our new and pervasive Postmodern philosophy there is no such thing as a universal standard of truth. Truth is looked upon as relative and ever changing. Obviously, with such a philosophy a lie would be no big deal.
Such attitudes will not do in Christianity. Jesus is himself the “Truth” and as his followers we must love and follow the truth. “The first test of whether we know the truth and have put on the new man is that we are truthful, especially with fellow-Christians, for ‘we are members one of another.’”54 It is truth as much as anything that builds up the church (4:15). On the other hand “a lie is a stab into the very vitals of the Body of Christ.”55
“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” (4:26). This is a quote from Psalm 4:4 and it seems to assume that some anger is acceptable. We see in the Bible that anger is sometimes even attributed to God. We also see that Jesus got angry (Mk. 3:5) and so did Paul (Acts 13:9-10). These episodes of anger are what we often term as “righteous indignation.”
Although it is sometimes permitted for a Christian to get angry, we should understand that anger is not a thing we can ever take lightly. It is a dangerous emotion. In the medical field doctors sometimes use poisons to help cure an ill. However, they use these poisons with extreme caution.56
We are advised here to never let the sun go down on our wrath. We might define bitterness as a thing that results when we forget and let the sun go down while we are still angry. Wuest remarks, “the word ‘wrath’ is parorgismos ( παροργισμος ), anger that is mingled with irritation, exasperation, and embitterment. Such anger is forbidden.”57
On several occasions the Bible speaks of anger being kindled (Gen. 30:2; Deut. 6:15). This indicates that anger can be compared to kindling a fire.58 We all know how even a small fire can quickly get out of control.
Paul continues, saying “and do not give the devil a foothold” (4:27). All the devil ever wanted was a foothold in our lives. We dare not give it to him. Instead we must take many positive steps in our Christian lives to deny the devil such a foothold. Paul advises: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (4:28). We know that the Bible commends honest work (cf. 1 Thess. 4:11-12). The apostle in another place lays down the rule that if a person does not work that person shall not eat
(2 Thess. 3:10).
We may ask, why do we steal in the first place? We steal for the same reasons we commit most sins. We do it because of our unbelief. The thief cannot believe that God will provide for him just as he does for everyone else. As a result, he steals and takes that which God has provided for others.
The Christian is instructed to stop his stealing and to do some constructive work. We know that all honest employment is beneficial for everyone. For instance, a good farmer feeds many people with his labors and he is beneficial to all.59
We can hardly imagine a world without theft but someday such a world will exist. In a recent year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, victims lost $122 million in Internet-related fraud schemes alone.60 Such loses are growing at an astronomical rate. ABC News recently announced that an astonishing 58 percent of workers have admitted to stealing from their employers.61 Only true and applied Christianity can change all this.
The great evangelist, Billy Graham, relates the following story about one of his foreign crusades in his autobiography, Just As I Am.
One night a friend of ours noted two men who came in and sat near the back. They apparently did not know each other but within minutes had loudly agreed on two things: they did not like Americans, and they especially did not like American evangelists. They had come to see the show, they agreed, just so they could make fun of it. But the Holy Spirit spoke to them both. When the Invitation was given, one of them turned to the other and said, “I’m going forward.” The other one said, “I am too. And here’s your wallet back – I’m a pickpocket.”62
BITE YOUR TONGUE
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
The word for “unwholesome” is sapros in the Greek. It means “corrupt,” “rotten, “unfit for use,” “worthless,” and “bad.”63 The word is also used to describe spoiled fish and rotten fruit.64 Such is the tongue filled with evil words (cf. Rom. 3:13).
Our tongues are a real problem to us, because we just can’t keep them under control. In James 3:8 the Bible says: “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James points out that the tongue is a little fellow but it can cause a world of harm. Let us think of a few tongue abuses.
In these abuses we would have to place guile right up at the top, along with its close companion, deceit. Both guile and deceit are forms of slyness in dealing with others. A person accomplished in guile is able to let someone believe a total lie without actually telling him a lie. Thus, it is a very sophisticated form of lying. The Bible says about this: “Who is the man who desires life, And loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, And your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psa. 34:12-13 NKJ).
After the sin of guile there comes the matter of sowing discord. This is particularly grievous to God when the discord is sown among brethren. In Proverbs 6:19, sowing discord is listed as one of the seven things that the Lord hates most. In the Book of Acts, all God’s people were together in one accord (Acts 4:32), and God was able to do great things through them.
There are many obvious abuses of the tongue that we think of. These include foul speech, cursing, false swearing and dirty stories. All such speech destroys and tears down. The Bible says that we should be careful to edify or build up one another with
our speech (4:29).
In our listing of tongue abuses we do not want to forget gossip and slander. With these abuses the Bible warns us saying: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Lev. 19:16). Why do we do such things? We do them because we have a basic insecurity and lack of faith. We do not have faith to believe that God can elevate us to our proper position in life. We feel that by assassinating the character of another person it will elevate us in the eyes of the hearer. Actually it has the reverse effect. People secretly despise us for relating those juicy tidbits of gossip and slander.
Then there is the sin of flattery, which is an almost opposite sin to slander. If Satan cannot get us one way he will surely try something just the opposite. Again, flattery like virtually every kind of sin is a lack of faith in God. We are afraid to tell people the real truth for fear that they will think less of us, so we “butter them up” with our tongue. Little do we know that flattery can never accomplish our desired effect. The Bible declares, “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue” (Prov. 28:23).
There are the sins of complaining, murmuring, “poor mouthing,” and negative talking. These are serious sins. In fact, it was precisely these sins that got the Children of Israel an extra forty years of wandering in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10).
Our tongues can also offend with threats, outbursts of anger, malicious and abusive language. The world is full of such speech, but this kind of speaking abounds in transgression (Prov. 29:22). Saints of God, these things ought not to be among God’s elect.
Will the list of tongue abuses never end? We cannot omit outright lying. Little “white” lies seem so necessary at certain difficult times in our lives. Yet, the Word of God tells us: “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Prov. 12:19). We also do not want to omit, arguing, proud boasting, foolish talking and jesting (Eph. 5:4). The sensitive Holy Spirit within us will let us know when we are guilty of such offenses.
Perhaps we will end this incomplete list with one of the most prevalent tongue abuses – that of talking too much. Every one of us can probably think of such a person. Perhaps we are that person. It is a strange phenomenon that in the modern church there are more and more people who just seem to talk incessantly – mostly about themselves – with words, words, words! The Bible tells us: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19). In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, the scripture even exhorts us to be quiet.
All these things make up the battle of the tongue. James 1:26 tells us that if we lose this battle, we lose everything. He says: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” However, in James 3:2, we are told that when we get control of the tongue we have virtually gotten control of everything and have come to maturity: “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”
In regard to tongue abuses someone once advised: “Lead your life so you won’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”
GRIEVING THE SPIRIT
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
In the Holy Spirit, God has given us a traveling companion who will be with us even unto the end of the age. Israel once had such a traveling companion but they seriously grieved him and brought themselves much sorrow and loss. In Psalm 106:33 we see that their rebellion became a snare even for Moses: “for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” Ultimately because of their rebellion most of the people fell in the wilderness and never reached the blessed Promised Land.
Through the Holy Spirit God has sealed us so that we may be triumphant and victorious in the days ahead, especially in the days of the Great Tribulation. In this awful time God will judge the wicked of this earth with fire and plague.65 However, those who are sealed in their foreheads (their minds and thinking) will survive (Rev. 7:3). Daniel says that they will not only survive but they will be strong and will firmly resist the Antichrist (Dan. 11:32).
We remember that when God destroyed the world the first time he did so by a world-wide flood. At that time Noah and his family were spared as they were protected within the ark. The Bible says they were sealed without and within (Gen. 6:14). Just imagine, the whole world was destroyed with Noah and his family still in it. This is a beautiful picture of the sealing of the last day. At that time God will destroy the world with fire and plagues but he will enable his overcomers to be totally victorious.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (4:31). Here Paul seems to remember some more of the dirty old rags that need to be taken off. There are six vices mentioned here, some of which Paul has already dealt with. They are bitterness (pikria), anger and rage (thymos), wrath (orge), clamor or loud talking (krauge), blasphemy or slander (blasphemia) and ill will (kakia). Like one who comes out of a long imprisonment or like Lazarus who came out of the tomb we should be anxious to be rid of these dirty and unsightly rags of our old life.
Paul goes on to advise: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). In place of the last old rags that we have discarded God has some more robes for us to put on. We are to put on kindness (chrestos). The early Christians made much of this virtue since phonetically it sounded like the name of Christ.66 Then we are to put on compassion (eusplagchnoi). The Greeks felt the center of emotions was in the internal organs such as the kidneys, liver and larger viscera.67 The idea involved is that we are to feel compassion way down deep in our hearts and tummies. We are also to put on the grace of giving freely of ourselves and forgiving others (charizomenoi) just as Christ has both given and forgiven us.
The great Alfred Lord Tennyson in his play, Promise of May, penned these lines:
For all the souls on earth that live
To be forgiven must forgive.
Forgive him seventy times and seven:
For all the blessed souls in Heaven
Are both forgivers and forgiven.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children… Ephesians 5:1
It was the church father, Clement of Alexandria, who daringly said that the Christian needs to practice being God.68 This seems almost to be the idea here. In fact, Wuest relates that it is from the Greek word, mimesis, used in this verse that we get our word “mimic.”69 The Bible assures us that we are made in God’s image, that we Christians are born of God and that we are to walk as Jesus walked. We are to look like God and act like God as his dear children.
As God’s offspring we are to “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:2). The whole Bible assures us that love is the chief characteristic and identifying mark of God.
God’s love is so vast and so outreaching that he sent his Son, Jesus, to be the propitiation for our sins. While we were yet sinners Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to God on our behalf. He became for us the final sin offering (zebach, or minchah in Hebrew). The sin offering was described throughout the Hebrew Old Testament as a “re-ach ne-ho-ach,” or a quieting or soothing smell in the nostrils of God (Exo. 29:41; Lev. 4:31). It was no doubt a smell that temporarily stayed the wrath of God and covered the stench of human sin and disobedience. Here we see that the final offering of Christ is a pleasant aroma that covers on our behalf the stench of our sin forever.
We can see the idea of a fragrant offering in other sacrifices of Israel. It was apparent in the grain offering, where incense was offered to God along with the grain (Lev. 2:15). It is so obvious in scripture that Jesus “was not merely one kind of sacrifice, or offering, but
“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” (5:3). Why does sexual sin seem so much worse than other sin? We know from the Bible that sin is sin and that if we break one commandment we have broken them all. Yet some sins seem darker than others. While some sins may hurt others temporarily, sexual sins touch not only the individuals involved but also the generations to come, ad infinitum. They also greatly interfere with the overall plan of God related to marriage, childbearing and the family. While the worldly philosophers say that sex is a private matter and one can do as he or she pleases, we see that sex when used wrongly touches the lives of many people and it is certainly not a private matter.
David once fell into sexual sin by lusting after the wife of one of his great military heroes. He then went on to commit adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:2-4). The philosophers would say that this was fine and that absolutely no harm was done. However, in order to hide the pregnancy of the woman and cover up a growing national scandal, David later had this soldier killed. David, the great man of God and king of Israel never quite recovered from this sin. His large and beautiful family was later devastated with sexual sin and with murder. Later his own son rebelled against him, snatched away his kingdom, publicly defiled his concubines and even sought David’s life.
The Bible looks at sexual sin as having a unique power. Both Jesus and Paul hold to the Jewish interpretation of Genesis 2:24. This Jewish understanding saw that sexual activity had the power to make two persons one. It had the power not only to unify but to create life. Such a great power placed in human hands can have dreadful results. For instance, if a believer falls into immorality the body of Christ could conceivably become united with the fornicator or prostitute (1 Cor. 6:15-16).71 The Bible is dead serious when it advises us to flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18).
There must not be even a hint of such things in the Body of Christ. These evil words and concepts should be far from our thinking. The word fornication (porneia) used here reminds us of dark and evil things like pornography. This Greek word is a common and broad term used for fornication and adultery in scripture. The other word used in this passage akartharsia, or uncleanness, may refer to a host of abominable and even unnatural sexual acts such as sodomy and bestiality.72
For so much of the modern and postmodern generation, the understanding of sex has become warped beyond recognition by both Hollywood and the media. We observe that it is all far removed from the beautiful biblical ideals. Indeed, Hollywood’s idea of sex is unworkable, unrealistic and positively unhealthy.
In modern and postmodern lingo these Greek words would describe “sleeping around,” the “one night stand” where there is absolutely no concern for the other person. What is clearly reflected in such relationships is the other word used in this passage, pleonexia (greed). We might say that “sexual sin is the one place where pride, power, and pleasure are inordinately concentrated.”73 It is precisely human greed or lust that fires such abuses. This same word is labeled as “idolatry” in Colossians 3:5. We can easily see how lust and passion can become the god of those who lose control of their desires.
“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (5:4). Paul quickly goes back to the tongue and its abuses as he deals with the deadly sins that Christians should avoid. Here the apostle uses three Greek words that appear nowhere else in the New Testament. They are aiscrothy (filthy language), morologia (foolish talking), and eutrapelia (coarse jesting).74
Again, the reason that most people use such forbidden expressions is that they have a basic lack of faith and wish to gain status with others by using shocking and attention-getting language. Alas, in the end it usually causes the person involved to lose status in the eyes of the hearers.
The Bible cure for all such talk is thanksgiving. We need to get into such a pattern of thankfulness that it saturates our minds and conversations. David had gotten into such a practice and even in one of the worst experiences of his life he could say: “I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (Psa. 34:1). “Thanksgiving is the antidote for sin, for it is difficult to both give thanks and sin at the same time.”75
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person– such a man is an idolater– has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (5:5). If there is one thing for sure, it is that immoral, greedy idolaters will not inherit God’s kingdom. One reason that they will not inherit it is that they would never be happy in heaven anyway. The picture we see in Revelation is a sad one for these sinners. We see that they will not only be locked out of the glorious city that God has prepared, but that they will be consigned to awful and eternal punishment (Rev. 21:8).
Paul says, “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” (5:6-7). Today we are bombarded with such “empty words.” Hosts of worldly “wise men” and “wise women” scoff at morality on the TV, in the movies and in other media. Even many so-called religious people cannot conceive of a God who would consign an adulterer to the blazing fire of Hell. It is rapidly becoming unthinkable for the
WALKING IN THE LIGHT
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)… Ephesians 5:8-9
Christ came as the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). John testified of Jesus saying: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (Jn. 1:4-5). Since Jesus knew he would not remain physically in the world he chose his followers to be the bearers of his light. He said to them in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Guzik remarks here: “Paul doesn’t only say that we were once in darkness. He says we were once darkness itself. Now, we are not only in the light, we are light in the Lord.”76 This is an amazing transition. Paul then commands, “and find out what pleases the Lord” (5:10). We Christians spend a lot of time wondering whether or not certain things are the Lord’s will. If we really are his friends and are really obeying him, we should know what the will of the Lord is (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:17). When we love someone it makes it easier to understand that person and that person’s desires.
One morning many years ago I was in the process of slowly waking up to some country music on our alarm-clock radio. My wife was still soundly asleep at the time. Then the music was interrupted by a commercial from a local jeweler. In the commercial the jeweler was advertising some eternity rings that had just been received. With that commercial my wife, who was still soundly asleep, said in an almost drugged voice, “I want one of those!” It was like a message from heaven to me. I became fully awake in a moment and resolved to get her what she desired. Even though we were very poor at the time I managed to get this diamond ring for her. A few weeks later I made her a very happy wife by presenting the sparkling ring to her on our twentieth wedding anniversary.
The apostle goes on to advise us: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11). The Christian has nothing in common with darkness. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul asks: “What fellowship can light have with darkness?” We know that Christ will someday expose all darkness (1 Cor. 4:5) and we must be about the same work. The deeds of darkness are fruitless. Nothing grows in the dark but slithering, slimy things. However, in the full light of day the earth abounds with indescribable glory, beauty and fruitfulness.
“For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (5:12). Today our modesty is regularly shocked by having unspeakable things spoken of on the TV. It seems that the moral outrages grow worse by the day. Yet, we probably don’t know the half of the depravity that is going on in secret. Most of us don’t even want to know about the other half. It is possible here that Paul may well have been referring to the Eleusinian and Bacchanalian mystery cults. Their practices were so impure and abominable that the Roman senate finally banished them from the city.77
“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible…” (5:13). In the natural world we see that the moon is exposed to the light of the sun. By its exposure it becomes a source of light in itself.78 A similar process happens in our own lives. When we come in repentance and expose our sins to the Lord and to others, we begin walking in the light. Indeed, we become light to others.
The world-renowned Bible teacher, Derek Prince, once remarked that the blood of Jesus only cleanses in the light. As we bring our sins to the light we are washed and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. When we seek to hide our sins in darkness, they remain.79 It is also true that when we bury our sins in the dark it is like burying a seed in the ground. Our sin simply sprouts, grows and bears its ugly fruit.
Paul reminds us: “for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (5:14). It is likely that we have here the remnants of an early baptismal formula. The rising from the dead is figurative, being pictured in the rising from the baptismal pool. We are to arise from the darkness of death to walk in light and in newness of life.
Here Paul returns to the Christian walk or the Christian halakhah that we discussed earlier (4:1 ff.). To walk as wise is to walk circumspectly. This has the idea of “being careful” or constantly taking heed how accurately we are conducting ourselves.
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
The idea that Paul expresses is that we should buy up the time that others seem to be throwing away or wasting. We should buy it up just as a shrewd businessman would buy up a great bargain. Paul’s idea here is that each moment of time is a definite opportunity. The same word (kairon) is actually translated “opportunity” in Galatians 6:10.80
This story is told of the Methodist frontier preacher, Peter Cartwright. It seems that he was once returning from a meeting and was overtaken by nightfall in the Cumberland Mountains. He arrived at an inn only to discover that a dance was being held that night. After receiving assurances of civil treatment he decided to remain. That evening as the dance went on and the condition of the revelers deteriorated Cartwright felt a powerful urge to preach.
At that moment a striking beauty came up and asked him to dance. To everyone’s astonishment and delight he accepted her offer. But as they arrived at the center of the dance floor and as the fiddler raised his bow, Cartwright raised his hand. He explained how he had never taken an important step without first asking the Lord’s blessing. With that, he grasped the woman’s hand as he dropped to his knees and began praying fervently for everyone’s conversion.
There was stunned silence and then pandemonium. Some fled, others wept and still others fell to their knees. The young woman tried to pull away but could not break Cartwright’s grip. Finally she joined him on her knees. Cartwright then exhorted the people to turn from their wicked ways. At last the woman, who was now lying prostrate on the floor began to cry out for God’s mercy. This so encouraged Cartwright that he redoubled his efforts, praying, singing and exhorting all night long.
That night many were converted and revival broke out. From that meeting he organized a society, received thirty-two into membership and appointed the innkeeper class leader. The revival then spread to other areas. Cartwright later mused about this meeting, “Several of the young men converted at this Methodist preacher dance became useful ministers of Jesus Christ.”81 This is a fine example of “redeeming the time.”
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (5:17). Here once more as in verse 10, Paul exhorts us to understand what the Lord’s will is – what pleases him. Perhaps we should stop praying “If it is Thy will…” If we are walking close enough to him and listening carefully to his voice we should know already what the will of the Lord is.
BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18.
Here we have a direct command to be filled with the Spirit of God. This command necessarily brings up the whole subject of Holy Spirit filling and Holy Spirit baptism. This subject has been a most divisive one in the last century and even up to the present time. It is utterly amazing that the subject of the Holy Spirit, who is given to bring unity in the church (Eph. 4:3), ends up by bringing some of the greatest division in all of church history. What can we make of all this? It seems that a lot of the problem is involved with semantics, particularly with the expression “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Some of the problems are also caused by lack of understanding of the historical development of
It is rather surprising when we search the New Testament for the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” that we find only seven clear references to the event. These verses are Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16; and 1 Corinthians 12:13. The interesting thing about these references is that all but one speak of the same thing, of a coming, one-time, historical event. The one that does not speak of this, 1 Corinthians 12:13, seems to be looking back and commenting on this one-time event. It should be pointed out that the historical event appears to have been extended in three distinct and separate stages, for Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles.
This information should help us see that the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” may not be the best expression to describe the Holy Spirit’s coming and work today. It leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion between the one-time historical event and the subsequent work of the Spirit. Much better terminology would probably be the “filling of the Holy Spirit” as we see in this verse, or the common expression “Spirit filled.” While being filled with the Spirit describes our initial Holy Spirit experience at conversion, as in the case of Paul (Acts 9:17), it also describes a common and continuing experience of the Lord’s followers (Acts 4:8; 4:31; 13:9; & 13:52). Wiersbe mentions that the verb plēroō is used in the present tense. Its meaning is that we “keep on being filled.” Since the verb is passive we realize that we do not fill ourselves but we allow the Spirit to fill us.82
We know from the Bible that the Holy Spirit is an absolute necessity in the Christian life. In Romans 8:9 we read: “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Also, as we look carefully at Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus in John 3:5-7, we see that the Holy Spirit simply must accompany the new birth.
So, the Christian life cannot be lived without the Holy Spirit’s presence within. God’s Spirit is necessary for worship (Jn. 4:24), for our walk (Gal. 5:16), for the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:27-31), and for the production of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-26).
We now must ask, how does the Spirit come? Does he come directly from heaven in what many have called a “second blessing,” subsequent to the salvation experience? Or, does this heavenly gift miraculously well up from the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of the redeemed individual?
If we say that the Spirit’s coming is subsequent to our salvation, we open ourselves up to some insurmountable theological problems. For instance, how can a person be saved without the Holy Spirit? We also may even generate some spiritual problems for ourselves if we tend to look upon other Christians who have not had “the baptism” as inferior or even incomplete. This practice disputes the clear teaching of scripture, for we are told not to consider ourselves better than others (Phil. 2:3). This is indeed a source of much tension in the church today and has caused many to show contempt for the Holy Spirit’s work.
It will also help us immensely if we realize that several instances of the Holy Spirit’s coming in scripture are occasions where special problems existed and were dealt with. In Acts 8 we have the story of Philip and the Samaritans. Although the Samaritans were not Jews, they were partly Jewish. God seems to be dealing with them as a separate case, directly pouring out his Spirit upon them through the apostles. In Acts chapters 10-11, we have the story of Peter taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Again, this is a special situation and God pours out his Spirit on the Gentiles just as he did at Pentecost upon the Jews (11:17). In Acts 19 we have the account of Paul and some disciples of John the Baptist. This is also a very special case, in that these men were not actually followers of Jesus, and thus not born again. We should be careful in using these special situations to prove that Holy Spirit baptism comes subsequent to our salvation.
To really gain an understanding here we need to go back to the earlier concepts of the “already” and the “not yet.”83 With these concepts we see that we “already” have the Holy Spirit in our lives because of the new birth. Still, we do “not yet” have the fullness of the Spirit that we desire and need.
We see several scriptures that seem to describe the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us from conversion and welling up within us. In 2 Peter 1:3-4, the apostle says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
We remember that Paul, in our glorious introduction to Ephesians, exclaims: “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” (Eph. 1:3). It is thus quite true that the best of heaven was given to us with Jesus. In Colossians 2:9-10 (NKJ), Paul even says: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him.”
In John 4:14 Jesus says: “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He speaks of it again in John 7:37-38: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’”
To sum up, the Holy Spirit was given in a one-time historical occurrence. This was a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:14-21; Joel 2:28). When Jesus comes to the individual life at our conversion he apparently brings with him, in a seminal form, this heavenly treasure, along with many others. The Holy Spirit and the baptizer in the Holy Spirit now live within us.
Thus those who are waiting and tarrying for years, hoping this gift will be poured out upon them from heaven seem mistaken. The gift is already given and we have it available to us today because Jesus lives within the believer’s life. What we need is a supernatural and miraculous release of the Spirit, so that the Holy Spirit deep within us may become a springing well. We need the Spirit to overcome and break out of the fleshly prison where we have him confined. For sure this is a glorious, miraculous and mysterious process. Since the Holy Spirit is God, we will not be able to fully understand him or his workings within us.
We must realize that the filling of the Holy Spirit is available and necessary for each of us. In Acts 2:39, we read: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Today “much of the weakness, defeat and lethargy in our spiritual lives can be attributed to the fact that we are not being filled with the Holy Spirit.”84
The Holy Spirit’s filling and full control of our lives will thrust us into an entirely new dimension of life and service. So far as the spiritual gifts are concerned, we need to earnestly seek and desire the best gifts that the Lord has to offer (1 Cor. 12:31; 1 Cor. 14:1). We must not be fearful of the spiritual gifts. We must not be fearful even of the gift of tongues. God desires that all these spiritual things flow from our lives.
WALKING IN THE SPIRIT
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord… Ephesians 5:19
One early witness to Christian worship was the pagan philosopher, Pliny. He reports of the Christians that “they sang among themselves hymns to Christ as God.”85 In our church experience most of us are still familiar with hymns. We are not so familiar with the singing of Psalms, but this was a common practice a few generations ago. However, we may not be at all familiar with spiritual songs. We might ask a question here: “When was the last time we spoke to ourselves or to someone else in a spiritual song?” Paul fully expects us to be doing this very thing and doing it on a regular basis.
We could say that the spiritual song might be describing the choruses we often sing or even the new songs we may receive from the Spirit. However, it is likely that Paul has something else in mind. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 he makes this puzzling statement: “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” The context of this passage is that of speaking in supernatural, unknown spiritual languages or tongues.
It is likely that Paul is instructing us to exercise this spiritual gift, not only in our own private devotions but sometimes with others. A spontaneous spiritual song sung in tongues can not only be beautiful but can be a great blessing and inspiration to the Body of Christ. Of course, it becomes a greater blessing if the one singing, or even another person, can also bring the interpretation.
“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). So we see that in everything we are to give thanks. As we mature in the Lord we should learn to be thankful every moment of our lives. Ingratitude is a serious threat to the Christian life. It is like a hole in the dam. That small hole will grow larger and larger until it brings disaster. We must learn to be thankful. We are children of God and he has already given us so much in Jesus as we have seen in Ephesians. We should not disappoint our Father by being ungrateful.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear these tragic lines are spoken:
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous, when thou show’st thee in a child,
Than the sea-monster (1.4.283) …
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child! (1.4.312)
David was a person whose life was full of thanksgiving. On one occasion when he was hiding in a cave and Philistine soldiers were all around, he expressed this longing: “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” (2 Sam. 23:15). Upon hearing this, a few of his brave men broke through the Philistine garrison and brought David water from the well. However David, in his thankfulness to the men and to God, refused to drink the water that had come at such a price. He instead poured it out as an offering to the Lord.
In recent times there has been an interpretation around that we should give thanks even for all the bad things that happen to us. This is not exactly the meaning of this verse. Wuest says: “It is most accordant therefore with the context, to understand the ‘all’ as referring to all the blessings of the Christian, the whole good that comes to him from God.“86 Now obviously, it shows a great deal of spiritual maturity if we can continue to give thanks even in the midst of our trials.
“ONE ANOTHER” SUBMISSION
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ Ephesians 5:21
Paul now deals with the subject of submission. Now that we are filled with the Spirit of God we should be anxious to show submission to each other. 87 We see that real Christian submission is a “one another” kind of thing. For several years certain segments of the Charismatic movement were in the grips of what came to be called “Shepherding.” This doctrine ended up being a hard-line movement toward submission. Unfortunately it was not a “one another” type submission but a “one” type submission. Everyone had to submit totally to the one leader, and that involved even the very small decisions of life. Numerous people were hurt seriously before this movement finally ran its course.
We must understand that no one but Christ has the right to demand total submission of us. On one occasion Paul gave some advice concerning this. He didn’t say “Follow me,” but he said: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This is a good biblical attitude for leaders. With this in mind let us approach a few scriptures that lately have become some of the most difficult ones in the whole Bible.
“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (5:22). There is a prescribed order to things in the world. God made it that way. When we see a flock of geese or ducks there is always a leader. The same is true when we see a school of fish. There is one person who is leader of a country; one general who is leader of an army; one pastor who is leader of a church and one person who is leader of a family. In the case of the family that person is the husband. It has been said that “there never was any kind of effective organization that functioned without a head.” 88
Paul makes it clear that the wife is to submit to the husband and his spiritual headship (cf. Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1). This submission has nothing to do with inferiority, lack of talent or intelligence on the part of the wife. But rather it has to do with mission. There is a spiritual mission to marriage and this mission is involved with bringing glory to God. For this mission to succeed there must be “submission.” 89
So in this sense, the submission in marriage is somewhat like submission in the military. In fact the word used (hupotassō) has the meaning “to be under rank” and is thus a military word. In the military the private may be much smarter than the general, but he is “under rank” to the general, not because he is a person but because he is the general.90 Things can run smoothly in the military, in the nations, in the church and in the family only when there is submission to God’s prescribed order of things.
We should note that this submission is “as to the Lord.” This expression “colors everything else we understand about this passage.”91 This expression makes marriage much different than the military since the husband is also under the authority of the Lord and must act with sincere love toward the wife. The wife submits to the husband because she is submitted to the Lord. Does this mean that the wife must submit to him regardless of what he does? Must she submit to an adulterer; become partner with a thief; be led into sin by him; or to suffer physical abuse by him? She certainly cannot have part in these things precisely because she is submitted to the Lord.92
Submission does not mean that the man can boss the woman around. My old pastor used to say that “Authority is like soap. The more you use it the less you have.” Barnes says “where commands begin in this relation, happiness usually ends; and the moment a husband requires a wife to do anything, it is usually a signal of departing or departed affection and peace.”93
So in the marriage relationship this “one another” type submission is prominent. It is not a hierarchical arrangement of headship. In many ways there is mutual submission. Generally the wife submits to the husband’s mechanical abilities as he repairs the car. While the husband submits to the wife’s motherly abilities as she nurses the baby or prepares the meal.94
There are times when a husband really needs to listen to his wife. Somehow we men don’t hear as well as the women on certain occasions. Someone (a lady) once remarked that every time God calls a man in Scripture he has to call him twice, like “Moses, Moses,” or “Saul, Saul.” There may be something to that.
Paul says: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (5:23). It is clear in the Bible that God has established man as the lord over creation. Creation in this sense would also include the wife.
Obviously many biblical concepts have been turned upside down in the last half-century. Much of this change began with the feminist movement which gained great force in the 1950s. It was at this time that a feminist milestone was reached in the publication of The Second Sex, written by the French existentialist, atheist, and abortion advocate Simone de Beavuoir. Later in 1964, Betty Friedan introduced her bestseller, The
The African-American writer, Star Parker, comments on these publications and the trends that followed. She says: “They had a common goal: the deconstruction of the family to make way for a socialist utopia.”96 The trends in feminist thinking were enhanced by the Equal Rights Amendment in 1971 and the Row v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court in1973. This decision made it possible for a woman to have a first-trimester abortion by only consulting her doctor.97
Many of these changes were devastating for the woman and the family. Women suddenly felt pressed into the workplace and almost overnight home prices doubled to the point that two salaries were often necessary for a family to qualify for housing. From that point on for many women there was no longer a choice for them to stay at home and nurture the children. Delicate women were forced to take jobs that were formerly done by strong muscular men. Women found themselves struggling to deliver sixty pound packages for UPS. They found themselves working long hours often at low pay.
The last 30-40 years have brought an avalanche of changes regarding marriage and the family. Most of these changes have not been positive. The number of abortions has skyrocketed, as well as the number of divorces. Many children must now live in single parent homes headed up by the mother. This works an almost unbearable hardship on the single mother.
Coffman remarks about these developments:
Women will not, in any sense, gain by the change. Apart from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles, the status of woman in society has tended to be lower and lower…Like the poor prodigal who resented the restrictions of his incumbency in the father’s house, but found those of the “far country” to be far more cruel and oppressive, woman may choose to forsake the gains of the centuries in the Father’s house for the fancied delights of “the far country”; but, if so, she will find, as did the prodigal, that Satan is still in the swine business! 98
We don’t have to look far in the Bible to see that God is pro-marriage and pro-family. We see in Genesis 2:23-24 that man spoke these words at the creation of woman:
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
There are certain principles that underlie all relationships between man and woman in the Bible. The first is that man was created before the woman (1 Cor. 11:8). The second is that the woman was taken out of man as we see in the above Genesis reference. The third is that the woman was the first to fall into sin (Gen. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 2:14). The fourth is that deliverance from sin would ultimately come through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).
As in the case with many other doctrines, we find that the basis of relationship between the sexes can be traced back to the book of Genesis and to these foundational doctrines. Now we can dismiss or ridicule these doctrines as many in the world have done and as even many Christian teachers have done. They have done so in their attempt to be “politically correct.” On the other hand, we can accept them and be “biblically correct.” God will give us light and understanding as we accept these principles and meditate upon them.
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (5:24). We will see in the rest of the Bible that the roles of man and woman continue to reflect these basic principles. While there is absolutely no difference between man and woman in regards to salvation or to the degree God loves or accepts each of them, there is a great difference in calling and purpose. God looks to the man to be the head of the family, to provide for them and to answer to him in spiritual matters. This is God’s order. Thus in a spiritual sense man is the head of the woman (1 Cor. 11:3). God looks to him for an accounting and he has a special responsibility to love the wife and to care for her (5:25). In 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 we see the balancing out of this seemingly harsh doctrine: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”
LESSONS FROM JESUS AND HIS BRIDE
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Ephesians 5:25
Now we see the positive side of these principles. A man must love his wife with the same self-giving, sacrificial love that Christ has demonstrated for the church. We have to say that if men loved their wives in such a way it would be much easier for the wife to submit to the husband’s spiritual leadership.
True biblical love can be a wonderful thing. My wife and I have been married fifty years. We have great respect for each other but my wife has always looked to me for the spiritual leadership of the family. When we see people out in the world we feel we have an almost unfair advantage. We have all the things they are seeking, true love, companionship, satisfaction, happiness, and blessings. They will not find these things because they are looking in the wrong places. After fifty years of marriage my wife and I still act like newlyweds. When one of us drives away from the house we still wave and blow kisses to each other.
The biblical pattern is a beautiful thing and it is most advantageous for the wife. Barnes describes it well saying: “It is the duty of the husband to toil for her support; to provide for her wants; to deny himself of rest and ease, if necessary, in order to attend on her in sickness; to go before her in danger; to defend her if she is in peril; and to be ready to die to save her.”99 We must ask, “Why would the woman think all this was bad?”
Paul says that the husband is“to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (5:26). The apostle is here primarily switching the picture to the church. The process of sanctification is that process whereby Christ washes us with the Holy Spirit and with the water of the word of God. However, since the husband is the priest of his house there is a lesser sense in which he also washes his wife and family on a daily basis with the same word of God.
Several commentators have felt that there is an allusion here to the ancient practice of purifying women who were to become the consorts of kings.100 We see in the Book of Esther that this was an extremely long and complicated process. In Esther 2:12 we read: “Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.”
The Lord’s purpose is to “present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (5:27). We see that before Jesus is finished with things, his church will be brought to absolute perfection.101 The completion of this process will likely take place in the last days. Until that time of judgment and refining comes the church will continue on to be a mixture of good and evil. Unfortunately this is the law of the kingdom. We see all over the New Testament. The wheat and tares must grow in the field together until the harvest (Matt. 13:30). Also the good and bad fish are not separated until the net is drawn in (Matt. 13:48).
Someone has mentioned that it takes a hot iron to get wrinkles out. In the great heat and pressure of the end day the Lord will completely purify his church. Wiersbe mentions that spots are on the outside and are caused by outer defilement while wrinkles are caused by decay on the inside.102 In the last day the Lord will cleanse and nourish the church so that both of these defilements will disappear.
Paul says: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” (5:28). “Men care for their bodies even though they are imperfect and so they should care for their wives though they are imperfect.” 103
“After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body” (5:29-30). In the natural sense the man has responsibility to his wife for food clothing and marital rights. (Exo. 21:10). We see other aspects of the marriage requirements in Hosea 2:19-20: “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” Regarding the Lord and his church we realize that most of these things are fulfilled both in the natural and spiritual sense.
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (5:31). This concept is far removed from the modern and postmodern ideas of sex and marriage. As we have seen, sex is now regarded as an impersonal thing that can be done supposedly without any sense of true love, attachment or responsibility. Sex has almost become a social sport. We may well wonder if we have now lost the essential ingredients that make real marriage and its enjoyment possible. We may also wonder if we have now muddled the true meaning of Christ and his bride,
The secular world is further complicating the problem by continuing to minimize the differences between the sexes. The theologian, J.I. Packer remarks about all this with his tongue and cheek assessment: “The ideology of ‘unisex’ which plays down the significance of the two genders, thus perverts God’s order, while the French tag on gender distinction, ‘vive la difference!’ (Long live the contrast!) expresses the biblical viewpoint.”104
Paul says: “This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (5:32-33). In the spiritual sense this “signifies that Jesus left his Father in order to cleave to us so that we may be one with him.”105 He loves us with his divine and heavenly love. The church must respect him as its husband. But in the natural sense the husband is to love and care for his wife in a similar manner.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Ephesians 6:1
Here we have one of the foundational truths of all societies. Children must respect and obey their parents (cf. Col. 3:20). There is the old adage which says that the parent is the child’s first god. There is some truth in this. If the child does not respect the parent there is every probability that the child will not respect God either.
The family is the nucleus of society. There can be no healthy state or healthy church unless there is a healthy family.106 Stott remarks that “virtually all civilizations have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society.”107
We can immediately see the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here. Children in the ancient world had no status. They would normally not be addressed. Yet, we see the apostle addressing them first of all. This is remarkable.108 Paul exhorts: “‘Honor your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise–” (6:2). Some have objected that the second command also has a promise. However it seems that the second commandment only makes a statement or a declaration regarding all the commands of God, and is not a specific promise for any one command.109
The responsibility of honoring parents seems to be part of the natural law and is applicable everywhere and in every time. However we see that to this natural law there is added the revealed law of God. It would include the moral law of Exodus 20:12, plus all the spiritual applications made in the rest of the Bible.
It has been customary for Christians to divide the Ten Commandments into two tablets, one of four commands directed toward God and the other of six commands directed toward man. However the Jewish people insist on dividing them into two tablets of five commands each. This indicates that the command to honor parents is a duty more directed toward God than toward man.110
THE BLESSING OF OBEDIENCE
that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:3
The child that does not obey his parents will likely run amok of other authorities sooner or later. This may well end in much heartache for the child or perhaps even an early death at the hands of authorities or others. In Proverbs 30:17, the author presents a gruesome picture of the end result for such disobedience: “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.” We also remember that in the Law of Moses it was permitted for parents to actually have a rebellious child stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21). This indicates that God views disobedience in a child as a very serious matter.
Barnes remarks concerning this subject: “Obedience to parents is connected with virtuous habits that are conducive to long life. It will make a child industrious, temperate, sober; it will lead him to restrain and govern his wild passions; it will lead him to form habits of self-government which will, in future life, save him from the snares of vice and temptation.”111
FRUSTRATING OUR CHILDREN
Fathers, do not exasperate your children… Ephesians 6:4
In the Roman society of ancient times a father had absolute authority over his wife and children. Under the patria protestas the father could sell his children as slaves; he could work them in chains; he could even inflict the death penalty upon them. He could expose the newborn child if it was not to his liking. Child exposure was, in fact, a very common thing. Certainly sickly or deformed children were often killed as well.112
It was with this cruel background of the Roman culture that Paul advises fathers to show mercy toward children. We can thank God for the teachings of Jesus that turned the cruel world upside down in regard to the proper treatment of women and children.
Here fathers are told not to exasperate their children. How is it possible to exasperate children? We can do so with unreasonable demands or needless severity. We can do so by forcing our own unfulfilled dreams upon our children, by making petty rules, or by
Paul says, “instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). Instead of cruel treatment; and instead of ignoring children; Paul advises parents to bring children up in the Lord’s nurture. This was very much a part of the teaching of Judaism with which Paul was well acquainted. Still to this day Jewish people regularly recite the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It states:
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Jewish parent is very insistent upon teaching children a trade as well as thoroughly teaching them about their faith. This is not left to others. The word “teach” is the Hebrew word “ya-rah.” It has the basic meaning of “shooting an arrow.” Thus the parent has the task of helping aim the child in the right direction. The very word “parent” is the Hebrew “horeh,” and is taken from the same root.113 All this is likely what Proverbs 22:6 has in mind, although the precise word is not used. It says: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” We see that the Greek words Paul uses also convey these ideas. The word paideia (nurture) has the meaning of “upbringing or training” and the word “nouthesia” has the idea of imparting to the child practical skills. 114
How tragic it is that we moderns and postmoderns have virtually lost this important aspect of biblical instruction. We do not realize that if we fail to teach our children the truth, then others will surely teach them error.115
We also see in the Bible that God is careful to discipline his children. Proverbs 3:12 states: “the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (cf. Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). It is clear in the Bible that natural fathers are to follow this pattern and to discipline their children. In Proverbs 13:24 we read: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” The disciplining of children has become a thing passé for our age. In fact, there are countries already where extending the rod of correction to children can result in stiff fines or worse for the parents.
We have become so much wiser than God it seems. Some years ago, the Duke of Windsor made this remark: “Everything in the American home is controlled by switches—except the children!”116 In the Bible we see some very sad examples of children who were not disciplined by their parents. We realize how King David pampered his son Absalom, and that the same son rose up in a nation-wide rebellion against his father. The old priest, Eli, somehow failed to discipline his priestly sons and they later brought great disgrace and defeat to all Israel.117
A WORD TO SLAVES
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Ephesians 6:5
Slavery was a very big problem in ancient times. It is said that in the Roman world there were sixty million slaves. This would have amounted to about a third of the total population.118 While some slaves were in the upper positions of society, such as teachers and even doctors, many slaves had a grim and terrible life. Aristotle had said much earlier that a slave was a living tool. The scholar, Varo, had divided agricultural instruments into these three classes: the articulate, the inarticulate and the mute. By articulate he meant the slaves, by inarticulate he meant the cattle and of course, the mute comprised
Masters had absolute control over their slaves. It is reported that Augustus once executed a slave because the slave had killed his pet quail. Pollio is reported to have thrown a slave into the fish pond to be eaten by savage lampreys because the slave had dropped and broken a crystal goblet. It was quite customary for slaves to have cheeks torn, hair pulled out by cruel masters.120
Against this setting of stark cruelty Paul brings his teaching of love and compassion for slaves. In writing to Philemon he calls the slave Onesimus a “dear brother” (Phm. 1:16). Here he lays down sensible rules for slaves in respect to their masters: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord,
not men…” (6:6-7).
In the ancient world slaves often disobeyed; many were lazy and sometimes they stole from their masters. Here Paul makes clear that the real master for those believing slaves was to be Christ. Slaves must not work to please men but to please the Lord himself.
This advice for slaves can well apply to all kinds of employees in our modern setting. If we could only see ourselves as laboring for Christ and having to please him with our work it would surely change the way we look at our employment. Even as far back as the Old Testament we see that this concept was understood. In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” The Bible makes clear that there is really no division between sacred and secular. In Colossians 3:17 we also read: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In the Old Testament we have a tragic example of a slave or servant that operated very differently when his master happened not to be present. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, although exemplary in his master’s presence turned out to be very greedy and self-seeking person when his master was absent (2 Ki. 5:26-27). This brought the curse of leprosy
Pett remarks that we should work cheerfully and gladly for the Lord and that “Genuine work is as much a spiritual service as worship.”122 Along this line, it is interesting in the Hebrew language that the word for “work” (avodah) is the very same word for “worship.”
The slave should not look to the master for his reward because the Lord himself will reward everyone for the good that has been done, regardless of whether the person is a slave or free (6:8).
A WORD TO MASTERS
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. Ephesians 6:9
Thus we see that Christianity introduced revolutionary changes in the relationship between slaves and masters. As Barnes says, “a slave is not to be regarded as a ‘chattel,’ or a ‘thing,’ or as ‘property.’ He is a man; a redeemed man; an immortal man.”123 Both slaves and masters are now considered servants or slaves (douloi) of the heavenly Master (Rom. 6:17-18). This word doulos (slave) is consistently used in the New Testament to describe the believer.
Some may object that Christianity did not immediately proclaim freedom to all slaves. Of course such a move would have spelled economic disaster for the ancient world. We must remember that Christianity was a brand new religion and not well accepted in the Roman Empire. “For the early church to advocate revolt would have been the death of the Christian movement.”124
On the other hand, the teachings of the Bible and Christianity regarding slavery were the death knell of the institution. We see even as far back as Deuteronomy 23:15-16 that an escaping slave could find refuge in Israel. He must not be oppressed.
This whole matter could be compared to cutting down a very large tree in the forest. We can take a chain saw, cut it down and watch it crash, destroying the other trees and saplings in the process, or we can do it in a more gentle fashion. We can take an axe and cut a narrow ring around the tree. In either case the tree is doomed. The latter may be the more civil way of doing things.
READY FOR THE GREAT BATTLE
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Ephesians 6:10
There is no question that the church is entering into a time of great spiritual conflict. This is the final and important message of Ephesians. Unfortunately it seems that few of us are prepared for such conflict. It is almost as if we were going out to fight the giant, Goliath, with Saul’s ill-fitting armor. We are in fact already facing mighty spiritual powers and we wield but fleshly weapons. In the face of all this God wants us to “put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12), and then, here in 6:10-18, Paul describes in detail the spiritual armor that will protect us and help us to be victorious. We must become familiar with this armor and get it into place as quickly as possible, for the sounds of battle are all around us.
To some, this advice may seem in sharp contrast to the first three chapters of Ephesians. There we were told that we were chosen before the world began and that our salvation is complete in Jesus. Here we are told to get ready for the mother of all battles. How can these passages possibly fit together? Once more we must resort to the understanding of the “already” and the “not yet” that we have previously discussed.125 Already the final battle is won because Jesus defeated all principalities and powers at Calvary. But we do not yet enjoy all the benefits of this great victory. Until the “mopping up operations” are completed we must stand our ground and be good soldiers. The scripture makes clear that in the final stage of this battle the church will almost be overcome. After all, a serpent does the most flopping around after its head has been cut off.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his exposition of Ephesians 6 gives stern warning against what might be called Christian passivity. He says:
Paul has not handed it all over to become a sitting spectator passively “abiding”…We do not just sit back and “look to Jesus” to do it all for us. That is false doctrine…David’s greatest sin, his most terrible fall, in a way resulted from the fact that he was doing nothing. His armies were fighting great battles, but he was at home in Jerusalem with very little to do…There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm… (1 Cor. 10:12). 126
We see clearly in scripture that we are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). God has chosen to fight the battle of the ages with us, not just for us and certainly not without us.
THE FULL ARMOR
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:11
The word for “full armor” or “whole armor” is panoplian. It has the meaning of being complete. It is interesting that this armor seems to be primarily of a defensive nature. The only weapon that could possibly be termed offensive is the sword. It is of note that Paul omits a common Roman offensive weapon, the long lance or pilum. 127 Paul seems to be getting us ready for a final defense against the devil, as the latter thrashes about in his death throes. We are to have the blessed challenge of “holding the fort;” “taking our stand;” or “defending the faith” on the last great day of battle.
We should note here that we ourselves must put on the armor and that it is God’s armor that we are putting on, not ours. This is in agreement with previous pictures that we have discussed from scripture. Earlier we had the picture of the wedding guests, who had the responsibility of putting on the wedding garments provided. We also saw the picture of the bride who had the responsibility of clothing herself with the beautiful God-given garments of salvation. In putting on the full armor of God we are once again putting on Jesus Christ. We are making no provision for fleshly thinking and living, as Paul also says in Romans 13:14: “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
It is said that we are to take our stand against the “wiles” of the devil. The word “wiles” used here is methodeias, and it has to do with Satan’s method, skill or cunning. 128 Guzik remarks here that just as God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives so it is that Satan hates us and has a terrible plan for our lives. 129 The Bible tells us that in order to accomplish his plan “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). We absolutely must not be ignorant of his devices lest he outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11).
OUR SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
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. Ephesians 6:12
We have noticed already in Ephesians that our struggle is against spiritual rulers in heavenly realms (1:21; 3:10). Paul speaks of this in other places such as 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
These world-rulers are called “kosmokratōr” in the Greek. They are the cosmocrats of the darkness and they include Satan and his demons. 130 Hoehner calls them a spiritual “Mafia.” 131 We probably get a better idea of their workings in Daniel than in any other book of the Bible. We observe in Daniel that there is a spiritual prince over the nations of Persia and Greece (Dan. 10:13, 20). The angel of God had to battle with them merely to deliver a message to Daniel. The Bible does little to publicize the activities of the devil or his minions. We are left to guess about their organization and their exact plan of attack.
PREPARED FOR THE EVIL DAY
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.
The Bible speaks often of a final evil day of history. This time period is also known as the “Day of the Lord.” While this time could also refer to any time of judgment or testing in a generic sense, this passage is accepted by some scholars as a reference to the intense time of tribulation at the end of the age (cf. Dan. 12:1; Rom. 8:22-23). 132
We see the playing out of this time period in some detail in the Book of Revelation. During the last years of this awful period the Antichrist will assume power throughout the whole earth. He will bitterly attack the people of God and actually succeed in defeating them for a short period (Dan. 7:21). During this time there will be many martyrs for Jesus but some will also fall away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1). At last, with the appearing of the Lord, the Antichrist will be overcome. Both he and the False Prophet will be judged and confined to an eternal punishment. At that time God’s faithful saints will receive the kingdom
In light of these coming events the scripture challenges us to put on our complete armor.133 I once heard of a lady who had the practice of putting on this spiritual armor each day. She carefully put it on piece by piece with prayer, before she entered into her daily activities. No doubt, this would be a good practice for us all. This passage challenges us to be good soldiers and to endure hardship; to focus on the coming battle and not on our civilian affairs (cf. 2 Tim. 2:3-4).
Although suffering is not a popular theme in the western church today, such suffering is a legacy bequeathed us from Christ himself. The scripture says: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29). So, suffering is God’s gift to us. The scripture also says in 2 Timothy 2:12: “if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us.”
Several of the earliest church fathers comment upon this awful time of warfare and tribulation coming upon the church at the end of the age. Hermas (c. AD 150) says: “Happy are you who endure the great tribulation that is coming. And happy are they who will not deny their own life.” 134 Hippolytus (c. AD 200) speaks of the tyrant who will “reign and persecute the church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains.” 135 Irenaeus (c. AD 180) says: “For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which they are crowned with incorruption – when they overcome.” 136
The picture of the Roman soldier used here was a very familiar one to Paul. The Roman soldier was a common scene throughout the empire. Paul even had a much closer connection with Roman soldiers. He was actually chained to one (Eph. 6:20) and no doubt spent a great deal of time reflecting on the armor of his close military companions.
The Roman armor was undoubtedly the best in the ancient world, as the Romans gained a military dominance throughout the whole known world and kept it for centuries.
THE BELT OF TRUTH
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist… Ephesians 6:14
Just as Roman soldiers wore the belt (cingulum militare), we must wear our belt of truth. It literally holds everything else in place. Without it our sword will surely fall off and our trousers may even slip down in the day of battle, leaving us utterly undone. Indeed, the scripture tells us that we must love the truth if we are to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10). If we do not love the truth we will be sent a strong delusion and will end up believing a lie (v.11).
Today in our postmodern world people are prone to make light of truth. It is a cardinal doctrine of Postmodernism that all truth is relative and that there is no universal standard of truth. Postmoderns say that the pagan’s truth is just as true as the Christian’s truth. It seems that about the only sin, according to the postmodern camp, is for someone to question another’s “truth.” 137
All this of course is utter nonsense and this type thinking needs a good reality check. Those who propose such fantasies would think differently if pagan cannibals were about to boil them and devour them for lunch. At that point they might tend to seriously and anxiously question the pagan’s concept of “truth.”
It seems that many today have done exactly what Paul said they would do in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
Jesus says “I am…the truth” (Jn. 14:6). Thus the truth is a person. Truth is part of the very nature of the Messiah; part of the nature of God. Truth is not relative and truth will not change or pass away. The Bible says: “the truth of the Lord endures forever” (Psa. 117:2 NKJ). When we put on truth we really put on Christ. It is for good reason that we put on this belt first of all.
THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
with the breastplate of righteousness in place… Ephesians 6: 14
Next we must have something to protect us from the deadly darts of Satan. In Roman times this piece was known as the lorica segmentata and was essentially a segmented armor plate around the shoulders, chest and sides. For us Christians this item is known as the breastplate of righteousness. Obviously this piece of armor secures our vitals and shelters our heart. Proverbs 4:23 exhorts us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
We must not think that we ourselves are righteous for we are not. We learn in Jeremiah 23:6 that one of Messiah’s names is this: “The LORD Our Righteousness.” So in essence, Jesus is our breastplate of righteousness just as he is our belt of truth.
However, God not only wants to declare us righteous but he wants to make us righteous through Jesus. He wants us to put on Jesus Christ as we mentioned, and literally wear him into battle. We all know how vulnerable we are when this piece of armor is not in place and we thereby allow some particular sin to pierce our hearts. The idea for this piece of armor has no doubt come from Isaiah 59:17.
FEET SHOD WITH THE GOSPEL
and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15
From history we know that Roman soldiers wore the caligae or half-boot sandal. This item provided them fleetness of foot, plus excellent traction with its hob-nail cleats. Obviously the feet were very important to foot soldiers. If the feet were injured in any way the soldiers could neither march nor fight. It was not unusual for Roman armies to do a quick-march of fifty miles in a single day. By doing so they could capitalize on the element of surprise and show up in an area where they were not expected. 138
Sometimes we see Greek soldiers ideally pictured as fighting naked and barefoot. While this may have happened on some limited scale it was generally not the case. Soldiers of every nationality both in ancient and modern times have needed sturdy foot protection plus all their other armor. We can understand how it would be impossible for a soldier to run across a cactus patch or sharp rocks without good shoes.
Here we see that feet should be shod with readiness of the gospel. There are several things that might be involved in this “readiness.” First of all there needs to be a readiness to witness for Christ. The prophet Isaiah speaks of those who witness particularly in Israel as having beautiful feet: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good new…who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52:7).
Probably another part of this foot preparation is an instant readiness to obey the Master. In 2 Timothy 4:2 it is said: “be prepared in season and out of season.” The idea of bring prepared or “instant” as some translations have it, is the idea of standing ready for service (cf. Mt. 24:44; 25:10; Lk. 12:40; 1 Pet. 3:15).
There is another area of foot preparation. It is a readiness to take up his cross and suffer for Jesus. Actually the soldier’s life was never meant to be an easy one. There was always the very real threat of injury or death in battle. The same is true for the Christian soldier today and we must be ready to walk in suffering or even death if Christ so wills.
THE SHIELD OF FAITH
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Ephesians 6:16
We are told that the Roman shield (scutum) was about 2 by 4 feet (60 cm. x 1.2 m.). It was made of wood that was very similar to today’s plywood and reinforced with metal. It was a sure dart stopper. In fact, after the siege of Dyrachium, a soldier named Sceva counted some 220 darts still sticking into his shield. 139 Apparently, soldiers sometimes dipped their shields into water so as to quench the sizzling incendiary arrows of the enemy.140 It is of note that Roman soldiers often placed their shields closely together to make an impenetrable line of defense against the enemy.
In comparison to this, our Christian shield is said to be of faith. This faith is in God’s Son, Jesus and in God’s word, the Bible. Jesus and his word act much like the Roman shield. They stop the darts of doubt, fear and accusation launched at us by the evil one (6:16). Also, we stand together as the body of Christ we too can make in impenetrable shield against the enemy.
As we have said, our faith is placed first of all in Jesus. Here is his word to us in Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” There is another excellent word in Romans 10:17: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” So, the word of Christ or the Bible is the basis of our faith. We see that the word of God is also the basis for our defense.
Now we want to examine some “dart quenching” words from the Bible. These words of God can be a mighty shield for us when we are under attack by the devil. In Romans 8:1 we see a verse that stops the fiery arrow of condemnation. It reads: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What a wonderful shield is this verse from the devil’s attacks and slanders.
Let us look at some more dart-stoppers. One famous arrow the devil tries to shoot at us is the arrow of guilt over our past sins. We need to remember 1 John 1:9 when we come under this attack: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Often the devil also questions the eternal life that God has so freely granted to us. We need to remember Philippians 1:6 when we feel this attack coming: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (cf. Heb. 7:25). When fear strikes us we can remember 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJ): “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
THE HELMET OF SALVATION
Take the helmet of salvation… Ephesians 6:17
In this end-day battle it is imperative that we know who Jesus is as well as who we are in him. It is very important that our minds be settled concerning our salvation. The Roman helmet, called the galae, covered the head and extended down to cover the sides of the face. This metal helmet was also adorned on its top with colored horse hair as a form of identification. Turner remarks that these soldiers with their helmets and crests may have looked seven feet tall when observed from a distance. 141
Our helmet of salvation not only identifies us as being in the Lord’s army but it is also a much needed mind-protector. Today many minds are being invaded by Satan and unfortunately a lot of these are Christian minds. One tragic example of this was reflected in a recent Newsweek report showing that 40 percent of the clergy now admit to visiting sexually explicit websites. 142 If this is what the shepherds are doing we might wonder what in the world the sheep are doing!
There is much preparation needed in regards to our minds. The scripture says: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled” (1 Pet. 1:13). In 2 Peter 3:18 we read: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We have the sacred responsibility as Christians of growing in the knowledge of Jesus and of becoming like him. In 2 Peter 1:5 we are instructed to add knowledge to our faith as a part of our mind protection. We are told also that we are to let the mind of Christ be in us (Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16). Then and only then are we prepared for battle.
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
The Roman sword (gladius) was two feet (60 cm.) in length, the perfect size to be wielded quickly and efficiently against the enemy. 143 The Bible makes plain that our sword is the word of God and we take note that it is the only offensive weapon we possess. With this sword we can not only defend ourselves but we can put the devil on the run. Perhaps this is what James 4:7 is speaking of when he advises: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Actually, the word of God is the true “weapon of mass destruction” for the enemy. When wielded properly it can send thousands of demons screaming.
We note how Jesus used this sword of the Spirit very effectively against the devil during the time of his own temptation (Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13). Over and over Jesus said “It is written” in answer to Satan’s attacks. At this, the devil fled and angels came to minister to him. We see in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Unfortunately for us and for the whole church, we live in a time when the word of God has been discounted and cheapened. Many theologians tell us that we cannot depend upon the word. For them it is no more reliable than some myth. If we are to be effective soldiers today and defend our lives and the lives of our families, we must regain a biblical respect for the word of God. We find this kind of respect in Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Unlike some theologians of our day, Jesus once said in John 10:35, “the Scripture cannot be broken.”
PRAYER IN THE SPIRIT
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18
Last of all the Christian warrior is to be clothed in and protected by prayer. We read here that we should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” We see that we have the responsibility of praying in the Spirit. This assumes that we have a Holy Spirit filling and that we can exercise spiritual gifts. There is a limit to our natural language just as there is a limit to our natural strength. We are to pray with a variety of spiritual prayers and this assumes a spiritual prayer language.
As Paul began this passage he warned us with these words: “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” (Eph. 6:12). Since we must fight in the spiritual realm we need not only to put on spiritual armor but we need to pray in the Spirit. We need to pray at all times and in all places; we need to pray with all kinds of prayer; and we need to pray urgently for God’s people who are often in the thick of battle. We need to remember the words of Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
We see this combination of warfare and prayer in the case of Moses who went up the mountain to pray, and Joshua who fought the battle against Amalek in the valley (Ex. 17:8-16). It took both aspects of warfare to defeat the ancient enemy. 144
Paul asks: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…” (6:19). We will probably not fully understand the extent to which prayer was used in the early church to expand the ministry of the gospel. As the early gospel soldiers moved out into hostile territory they asked their fellow soldiers to “cover them.” Their concern was not for their personal safety. It was not for their deliverance from suffering or danger. It was for boldness in proclaiming the gospel. 145
He then adds: “for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (6:20). An ambassador in chains is an interesting paradox. Such a thing in the natural realm would not normally become the lot in regard to this prestigious position. Paul’s chains are more closely defined in Acts 28:20. The word here and in these passages is halusis, and it means a short chain which was used to fasten the wrist of a prisoner to a soldier. We see in Philippians 1:12-13 that the whole palace guard had become acquainted with Paul and his message. Perhaps it was because one by one they had all been chained to him. They had to listen to his prayers, to his witness to others, to his talk to the believers. We can see how all this was an encouragement to the church (Phil. 1:14). The palace guard was the Praitorion. It was the Imperial Guard of the Roman Empire, and it numbered about 10,000 strong. In time, the Praitorion became very influential and its members became the “kingmakers” in Rome.
Paul gives his final instructions: “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you” (6:21-22).
It is of note that the instructions relating to Tychicus are almost verbatim to those in Colossians 4:7-8. This section might be the best evidence of the relationship between the two letters. 146 We know that Tychicus was from Asia and that he accompanied Paul with the offering sent by the churches to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). He was a faithful servant and messenger of Paul (Tit. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:12). In all probability, the three letters of Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, were all carried by Tychicus.
Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. Ephesians 6:23-24
This benediction is unlike all others in Paul’s letters. We have already mentioned that there are no individual greetings or blessings. Other letters of Paul do not have “peace” or “love from God” as part of the benediction. 147 The ending expression “with an undying love” is also unique. The Greek expression “en aphtharsiāi,” seems to mean “incorruptness” or “a never diminishing love.” 148 It is not an earthly love but, in line with the whole teaching of Ephesians, it is a heavenly, undying and eternal love.
NOTES ON PART TWO
1. Wiersbe, comment on 4:2.
2. Barclay, p. 155.
3. Barclay, p. 155-156.
4. Coffman, comment on 4:2.
5. Barclay, p. 158.
6. Hoehner, comment on 4:2.
7. Barclay, p. 158.
8. Snodgrass, p. 210.
9. Faussett, comment on 4:3.
10. Stott, p. 148.
11. Wiersbe, comment on 4:3.
12. Barclay, p. 162.
13. Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. II, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing Co., 1978), p. 56
14. Calvin, comment on 4:5-6.
15. Hoehner, comment on 4:5-6.
16. Brow, comment on 4:7.
17. Barnes, comment on 4:8.
18. Gaebelein, p. 57.
Pett also adds concerning this verse: “However the Aramaic Targum (Rabbinic commentary) on the book of Psalms and the Syriac Peshitta ( Old Testament in Syriac) both read ‘you have given gifts to men’ which suggests either a translation from a Hebrew text which contained these words, which was also clearly known to Paul, or an authentic oral tradition.”
19. Barclay, p. 165.
20. Barnes, comment on 4:8.
21. Coffman, comment on 4:9.
22. Hoehner, comment on 4:10.
What is meant by to the lower, earthly regions, literally, “into the lower parts of earth”? The genitive “of” can be taken in three ways: (1) “Into the lower parts, namely, the earth” (a genitive of apposition). This would refer to Christ’s incarnation, His “descent” to the earth. (2) “Into the parts lower than the earth” (a genitive of comparison). This would mean that Christ descended into hades between His death and resurrection. (3) “Into the lower parts which belong to the earth” (a genitive of possession). This would refer to Christ’s death and His burial in the grave. The third view best fits the context because in His death Christ had victory over sin and redeemed those who would be given as “gifts” to the church.
23. Hart, p. 520.
24. Hart, p. 521, citing James Dunn.
25. Barclay, p. 170.
26. Hoehner, comment on 4:11.
27. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier; An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1977), p 187.
28. Lloyd-Jones, p. 187.
29. Barclay, p. 168.
30. Didache, 11:4-6.
31. Didache, 11:8.
32. Hart, p. 522.
33. Faussett, comment on 4:12.
34. Stott, p. 159.
35. Wuest, comment on 4:13.
36. Perkins, p. 100.
37. Guzik, quoting Smith on4:13.
38. Barnes, comment on4:14.
39. Lloyd-Jones, p. 262.
40. Lloyd-Jones, p. 263.
41. Gabelein, p. 60.
42. Snodgrass, p. 215.
43. Stott, p. 174.
44. Barnes, comment on 4:18.
45. Wuest, comment on 4:18.
46. Stott, p. 192.
47. Keener, comment on4:19.
48. Snodgrass, quoting Demosthenes, p. 275.
49. Turner, comment on4:19.
50. Pastor James Kennedy, on The Coral Ridge Hour, March 26, 2006.
51. St. Augustine, Confessions, (Great Britain, Fontana Books, 2nd printing, 1959), p.217.
52. Clark, comment on 4:25.
53. Gerrish, p. 68.
54. Pett, comment on 4:25.
55. Snodgrass quoting Mackay, p. 255.
56. Faussett, comment on 4:26.
57. Wuest, comment on 4:26.
58. Wiersbe, comment on 4:26.
59. Barnes, comment on4:28.
60. Colorado Springs Gazette, May 3 2004.
61. ABC News Report, May 2, 2006.
62. Billy Graham, Just As I Am; The Autobiography of Billy Graham, (New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 1997), p. 230.
63. Wuest, comment on 4:29.
64. Snodgrass, p. 251.
65. Coffman, comment on 4:30
Coffman quotes John Wesley here saying: “This means the day of judgment in which our redemption will be completed.” Pett also remarks on this verse saying: “‘Until the day of redemption.’ Compare Romans 8.23. This is the day when sin will finally be dealt with, when Jesus Christ will come to deliver His own and call men into judgment, and creation will be ‘restored’, the day made possible through the redeeming death of Christ.”
66. Stott, p. 190.
67. Gaebelein, p. 66
68. Barclay, p. 185.
69. Wuest, comment on 5:1.
70. Coffman, comment on 5:2.
71. Donelson, p. 97.
72.Clark, comment on 5:3.
73. Snodgrass, p. 274.
74. Snodgrass, p. 68.
75. Snodgrass, p. 276.
76. Guzik, comment on 5:8-9.
77.Clark, comment on 5:12.
78. Coffman, comment on 5:13.
79. Derek Prince, War in Heaven, God’s Epic Battle With Evil, (Grand Rapids, Chosen Books, 2003), p. 163.
80. Guzik, comment on 5:15-16.
81. Peter Marshal & David Manuel, From Sea To Shining Sea, (Grand Rapids, Fleming Revel, 1986), pp. 88-89.
82. Wiersbe, comment on 5:18.
83. Hoekema, p. 14.
84. Guzik, comment on 5:18.
85. Barnes, comment on5:19.
86. Wuest, comment on 5:20.
87. Guzik, comment on 5:21.
88. Coffman, comment on 5:22.
89. Guzik, comment on 5:22.
90. Guzik, comment on 5:22.
91. Guzik, comment on 5:22.
92, Guzik, comment on 5:22.
93. Barnes, comment on 5:22.
94. Brow, comment on 5:22.
95. Star Parker, Uncle Sam’s Plantation, (Nashville, WND Books, 2003), p.102.
96. Parker, p.102.
97. Parker, p.103.
98. Cofman, comment on 5:23.
99. Barnes, comment on 5:25.
100.Clark, comment on 5:26.
101. Coffman, comment on 5:27.
102. Wiersbe, comment on 5:27.
103. Hoehner, comment on 5:28.
104. J.I. Packer, Concise Theology (Wheaton, IL; Tyndale House, 1993), p. 76.
105. Pett, comment on 5:32-33.
106. Coffman citing Gillis on 6:1.
107. Stott, p. 239.
108. Gaebelein, p. 80.
109. Barnes, comment on 6:2.
110. Guzik, comment on 6:2.
111. Barnes, comment on 6:3.
112. Barclay, pp. 202-204.
113. Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), p. 216.
114. Brow, comment on 6:4.
115. Barnes, comment on 6:4.
116. Wiersbe, comment on 6:4.
117. Wiersbe, comment on 6:4.
118. Snodgrass, p. 83.
119. Barclay, pp. 206-208.
120. Coffman, comment on 6:5.
121. Faussett, comment on 6:6-7.
122. Pett, comment on 6:6-7.
123. Barnes, comment on 6:9.
124. Snodgrass, p. 328.
125. Hoekema, pp. 14 ,71.
126. Lloyd-Jones, pp. 39, 89, 95 & 153.
127. Keener, comment on6:11.
128. Barnes, comment on6:11.
129. Guzik, comment on 6:11.
130. Wuest, comment on 6:12.
131. Hoehner, comment on 6:11-12.
132. Keener, comment on6:13.
133. Wiersbe, comment on 6:13.
In one sense, the “whole armor of God” is a picture of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Truth (Jn. 14:6 ), and He is our righteousness ( 2 Cor. 5:21) and our peace ( Eph. 2:14). His faithfulness makes possible our faith ( Gal. 2:20); He is our salvation ( Luke 2:30); and He is the Word of God ( John 1:1 , 14 ). Wiersbe
134. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 11.
135. Roberts and Donaldson, Vol. 5, p. 217.
136. Roberts and Donaldson, Vol. 6, p. 558
137. Dennis McCallum, ed., The Death of Truth, (Minneapolis, MN, Bethany House Publishers,1996), pp.19-44.
138. Turner, comment on6:15.
Guzik citing Wood also comments here: “On the shoes: ‘Josephus described them as shoes thickly studded with sharp nails . . . so as to ensure a good grip. the military successes both of Alexander the Great and of Julius Caesar were due in large measure to their armies being well shod and thus able to undertake long marches at incredible speed over rough terrain.’”
139. Gaebelein, p. 88.
140.Carson, comment on 6:16.
Snodgrass also says of the shield: “Especially if soaked in water they were effective in stopping burning arrows,” p.343.
141. Turner, comment on6:17.
142. Newsweek, Apr 12, 2004
This magazine reports on page 52 that 40 percent of the clergy have acknowledged visiting sexually explicit websites. The magazine cites a 2000 survey conducted by Christianity Today and Leadership magazines.
143. Turner comment on 6:17.
Roman authorities thought it needful for their soldiers to train for up to five years before they ever saw combat. Often the sword the soldier practiced with was twice as heavy as the one he would actually use in combat.
144. Wiersbe, comment on 6:18.
145. Foulkes, p. 179.
146. Snodgrass, p. 362.
147. Snodgrass, p. 364.
148. Robertson, comment on6:23.
ABC News Report, May 2, 2006.
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Kennedy, Pastor James, on The Coral Ridge Hour, March 26, 2006.
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Marshal, Peter & David Manuel, From Sea To Shining Sea, Grand Rapids: Fleming Revel, 1986.
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