Ephesus was one of the capitol cities of Asia Minor. Located on a main East-West highway, it formed a meeting point for many nationalities and cultures. Eventually the city became a place of great wealth.
The temple of Artemis was located there, one of the great architectural marvels of the ancient world. The temple treasury was so richly supplied, it formed the basis for the banking system of Asia Minor. (It's important to understand that the economy of that region was rooted in the worship of idols. In other words, their economy was built on a demonic foundation. Their financial prosperity flowed from the kingdom of darkness.)
Naturally, the preaching of Christ resulted in converts renouncing cultic involvement and burning books and implements associated with the idols and cults. We read about this in Acts 19:18-20; the price of the books which they burned was 50,000 pieces of silver. When people encounter the true God, there is an instinctive passion to wash away the filthy instruments of our former slavery to false gods. Having encountered the living Christ who reveals Himself as our true and loving Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Provider, Defender and Shepherd, all the treasures of our past religious life appear as nothing more than trash for the burning.
Indeed, the author of this letter, the Apostle Paul, had formerly risen to great prominence in the Jewish religious community, “Circumcised on the eight day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5,6).
Yet the apostle Paul looked at all his past accomplishments and said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish (garbage, dung) so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7,8).
When the people of Ephesus burned their cultic trash, this was an act of spiritual significance — they were being liberated from slavery to demonic forces. But it was also economically significant — they were being separated from a demonically controlled economy. Massive conversions to Christ impacted the demonically oriented economy.
It is no coincidence, then, that this produced a backlash of violence directed against Paul and the young church (Acts 19:23-41). In fact, this was unavoidable.
Christ cannot be peacefully preached among idols. When demons are cast out, lives redeemed and transformed, slave chains broken and souls set free, truth proclaimed and deception exposed, there will be conflict. Spiritual warfare will always be the result when the kingdom of God is preached and demonstrated in the midst of the kingdom of darkness.
The riots which resulted from Paul's preaching were certainly not his goal but neither did they represent a failure. They were the inevitable result of the church being the church. The proclaiming of Christ at Ephesus challenged, confronted and made war on the spiritual and economic foundations of that culture. And it is a matter of historical record that the riots and persecution did not prevent the spread of revival, nor the increase of harvest nor the founding of God's holy church at Ephesus.
In time, the church at Ephesus developed an esteemed reputation. According to tradition, John spent his last years at Ephesus and Timothy was a bishop there.
The letter is related to Colossians in the grandeur of its Christology and also because the bearer of both books was Tychicus (Col. 4:7, Eph. 6:20).
The epistle was written during the time of Paul's imprisonment in Rome, probably between 60-62 A.D. There are several references to prison: 3:1, 4:1, 6:20.
Some have denied Paul's authorship for the following reasons:
1. It appears to be an impersonal letter.
a. There are no personal greetings or messages which would indicate close, familiar relationship with the church. Keep in mind that Paul ministered in Ephesus longer than in any other city — at least three years (Acts 18:9,10). In Acts 20:17-35 we read of the emotional farewell between Paul and the elders of the church. Given the expressions of personal affection in Paul's other letters, it is unusual that he would not include any to a church with which he was so intimately connected.
b. There are indications in the letter that Paul and the readers came to a knowledge of one another by hearsay. "After I had heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus" (1:5). "If you have heard of the dispensation that God gave me in regard to you" (3:2). In other words, it might appear that Paul and the members of the church had heard of one another but had no personal contact.
However, the impersonal nature of the letter may be explained by the fact that it was not written to particular persons in particular churches but as a circular to all the churches of Asia minor. The best early manuscripts do not contain "at Ephesus" (1:1). Paul may well have been writing both to people he knew and people he had never met — the general congregation of Asia Minor. The purpose was not church business, but a deeper revelation of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2. The vocabulary is different from Paul's other letters: there are seventy words in Ephesians not found in the other letters. This may be explained by the fact that Paul was expressing revelation, putting words to Holy Spirit-inspiration which he had not expressed before. Saying what he had not said before, it is not unusual that he would use words he had not used before.
3. The style is undeniably different from his other letters. But no great writer and thinker, especially one receiving revelation from God, can be expected to always write in the same style. Also, Paul was not writing under the busy, heavy weight of church business. He was writing from prison and had ample time to reflect. He was not, as evidenced by the material, dealing with practical matters of church business and relationships. He was writing a theological poem, a hymn of adoration which would become the foundation of our understanding of Jesus Christ.
We are therefore correct in accepting the traditional attestation of authorship to the Apostle Paul. Of course, in the final analysis, it doesn't matter what people have said about the text. What matters is what God has said in the text.
The Focus of Ephesians:
1. The focus of Ephesians is first of all the gathering together or "summing up of all things in Christ" (Eph. 1:10). This fractured world, separated from God and at war with itself, fragmented humanity, separated from God and divided nation against nation, fragmented man and woman, separated from each other and fractured in soul and spirit, finds in Christ alone the point of reconciliation.
It is in Christ that the Lord blesses us “with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” (1:3). In Christ we are chosen “before the foundation of the world” (1:4) and predestined to be adopted as His children (1:5). In Christ, we are redeemed as the grace of God is freely lavished upon us (1:6-8). In Christ the mystery of God’s will is revealed to us, our inheritance is made available and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:9-14).
2. A second focus is the exaltation of Christ who, in His resurrection glory, has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He has put all things under His feet and gave Him as had over all things to the church” (1:21-22).
3. A third focus is God’s mighty work of salvation in which He raised us from spiritual death to life by grace through faith (2:1-19).
4. A fourth focus is the revealing of the marvelous truth that Gentiles are included with Jews in God’s church, the community of faith (2:11-22 3:1-7).
5. A fifth focus is the unity of believers in Christ in His church (4:1-16).
6. A sixth focus is the holy relationship of believers which protects unity (4:17-5:21).
7. A seventh focus is relationship in the family, an institution ordained by God (5:22-6:9).
8. An eighth focus is the reality of spiritual warfare against spiritual powers and the necessity of using spiritual weapons skillfully (6:1-19).
Paul also includes a beautiful prayer for the church, that we would grow in our understanding of all that God desires to do in and through us (3:14-21).
1:1 Paul says 3 things about himself:
1. He is an apostle. Apostolos, messenger, is derived from a verb which means to send out or dispatch. An apostle is one who is sent by someone or some governing body of greater authority and to whom power and gifts are delegated by the sender. In this case, the sender is Jesus Christ and in one sense, we are all apostolos, messengers sent out with Good News. Whatever gifts or resources we possess, whatever authority we have, has been delegated to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. A sent one is a person whose life has purpose. We like Paul, are people on a mission.
However, the word apostolos, as used here, refers to a specific group of men who were used by God to establish the foundation of Christ’s church and to receive the revelation of Scripture.
2. Of Christ Jesus means belonging to Christ. Paul did not belong to himself. He had been purchased with a price. So with each of us. We are of Christ, belonging to Him. We are also from Christ — called, commissioned and sent out by Jesus with a witness about Christ. Christ was Paul's focus, his reason for living: “For to me, to live is Christ” (Phlpns. 1:21).
May it be so with us.
3. Paul was called by the will of God. Paul did not call himself but was fulfilling God's plan and call. We do not decide on our mission in life. We discover it as we walk with Christ but the decision has already been made by Christ.
Jesus said, ”You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you" (John 15:16).
God has purposed our lives and works in us, enabling us "to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phlpns. 2:13).
1:1 Paul says 4 things about His readers. They are,
1. Saints: This is a common New Testament word for believers (hagios). It means holy ones, consecrated ones, called out from sin and separated unto God. Peter said, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Peter 2:9). That's a saint and it's the standard New Testament designation for all who believe in and follow Jesus.
2. At Ephesus: Though we are members of the eternal, universal church, we are assigned by God to a specific place in time and history. If we believe that God directs our steps, then where we live is our assignment, our calling. We are not just called out; we are also called in. Israel was called out of Egypt but called into relationship with God and called to dwell in a particular land and build a holy community there. We are called out of slavery to the world system but called to live in a particular time and place as children of light.
We are not only saints — we are also priests serving at the altars of God's choosing. The time and place of our living is an altar and we are called by God to serve as a priest at that altar. No matter where that altar is, it is made holy by God's presence. It's where our priesthood encounters the high priesthood of Jesus.
Priests offer sacrifices to God and so do we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Priests also pray, intercede and so are we intercessors for the lost citizens of this world system. Priests serve people on behalf of God and so we serve: by blessing, by doing works of mercy, by proclaiming the Good News of the inbreaking kingdom of God. We also serve as we confront and rebuke evil with truth and love.
3. They are at Ephesus but in Christ Jesus. They are in the world but not of it. They are God's witnesses, God's sent out ones, at Ephesus but rooted in Christ. Ephesus is not their life, not their source, not their Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Provider, Deliverer. Jesus Christ is. What does it mean to be in Christ Jesus?
a. It means we are joined to Him by faith: "It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
b. It means we have died with Christ and are now raised with Him (Ephesians 2:5,6).
c. It means that we commune with Christ daily in worship and prayer. We hear from Him in His Word and He disciples us through His Word. We receive Jesus' ministry through the Holy Spirit acting on and in us and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit acting through the church.
4. Faithful in Christ Jesus: God has saved us, called us and separated us unto Himself so that we can serve Him at a particular time and place in history. God is not asking us to be famous disciples or even successful but we are expected to be faithful. We are able to faithfully obey and carry out our assignments only as we allow Jesus to live in and through us.
Jesus said, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26). As we abide in Christ and He in us, He equips us and we are able to be faithful.
1:2 Paul speaks grace and peace to them from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
It is within the authority of a "sent one" to share these gifts in the name of the Lord. It is the Lord who delegates grace and peace to us and we may speak it to whomever we will. In Proverbs we read, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Jesus taught His apostles to speak peace to a household, upon entering.
1. Grace is the favor of God, the blessing which God bestows out of His own goodness, not because we deserve it but because God is good and delights in doing good and lavishing mercy and blessing upon us. Grace is a word that speaks of gifts, mercy, forgiveness, goodness. Paul is saying, "I speak God's mercy to you — the gifts of God for the people of God."
2. Peace, in the Bible, is never simply the absence of conflict or worry or strife but more, a present experience of blessing. Biblical peace is a gift from God, a manifesting of the presence of God, the outworking of the promise of God, the release of the power of God.
Jesus said, ”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it fear” (John 14:27). God's peace is not dependent on outward circumstance, on the recognition or reward of the world, on whether we have met the world's standard for success. Peace is not dependent on our own goodness or merit but entirely on the faithfulness of God.
We could have luxury and wealth but no peace. Yet Paul was living in a prison cell and wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I will say rejoice … Be anxious for nothing …. and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phlpns. 4:4-7).
How do we come to that place where we enjoy the peace of God? By doing His will.
"Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him and He will do it … Rest in the Lord ... But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land” (Psalm 37: 3-5,7,9).
3. "From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Every good gift comes down from above. True grace and peace are gifts from God and Paul desires that his readers experience and enjoy these blessings. May this be our prayer for all the churches and people of God.
1:3 Having introduced himself and blessed the people, Paul now worships the Lord, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. It is God who blesses us. Have we taken the time to bless God?
We bless God as we worship Him:
"Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song and His praise in the congregation of the godly ones. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people" (Psalm 149:1,4).
We bless God as we live lives of holy, worshipful obedience, humbly yielding our lives and serving where God places us (Romans 12:1,2).
All that we do may be done as worship unto the Lord, and therefore, as blessing to the Lord,
“Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31).
2. What is it that inspires Paul's worship? The fact that God has blessed us with every blessing which can be found in heaven.
a. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Has blessed is an accomplished fact — it’s done. As Peter said, "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (I Peter 1:3). All that we need to fulfill the purpose of God for our lives has been granted in Christ Jesus.
b. Every spiritual blessing. These blessings originate in the realm in which God lives and are expressions of God's life. The blessings of God contain and transmit the life of God. These blessings are everlasting and incorruptible because God is everlasting and incorruptible. Every means all that is needed.
c. In the heavenly places (literally, in the heavenlies) in Christ: Our blessings do not originate in this natural order — they are located in Christ. Our blessings flow from the Christ who transcends this natural order, the Christ who is seated above all powers, both spiritual and temporal, who rules over the governments and powers in the spirit realm and those of this world.
Because we share the life of Christ and have been joined to Jesus in spiritual union, therefore, to be found in Christ is to be walking in the blessings of God. The blessings which God has purposed and stored up for us are released to us through our union with Christ and flow like a fountain of living water from Jesus to the believer. Jesus said, "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
In the next verse, Paul says that we are chosen of God. Remember that God always blesses what God chooses. If we are chosen of God then we are blessed of God and our blessings are to be found in the God who has chosen us and called us unto Himself.
1:4 We have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.
1. Chosen (eklegomai): to select out of favor, kindness or love. The great mystery of the faith is not that we chose Christ but that He chose us. Jesus said, "You have not chosen me but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). The basis of our salvation is God's decision from eternity to save us.
The foundation of our salvation is not in us but in the mind and eternal counsel of God. God's choice of us is not based on our merit, faith or actions but in the eternal, mysterious will of God which He purposed before we ever did anything to merit salvation. Our lives are not random circumstance. We are chosen by God. Paul does not attempt to explain this choice. He only gives thanks for it.
2. Chosen in Him: Even as our blessings are found in Christ, so is God's choice of us. From eternity, God chose to set His love upon and work His redeeming purpose in all who will be found in Christ.
3. "Before the foundation of the world:” God did not chose us when we were conceived, nor when we were born nor when we surrendered our life to Christ. God chose us before there was a universe, even before any molecular elements existed. This is not about the pre-existence of the soul. It's about a God who knows all things from the beginning to the end, who existed in eternity before time and determined His purpose before time or creation began. God's choice of us is more secure than the universe itself — older than the universe.
In fact, it is implied that the universe exists only as a stage upon which God is working out the drama of our salvation. The billions of brightly whirling galaxies, enormous stars and tiny nuclear particles, the immeasurable expanse of outer space and inner sub atomic space — these are not the primary players. They are secondary actors. God acting upon lost humanity with saving grace is the principle in this play.
4. "That we should be holy and blameless before Him":
a. To what end were we chosen? What is the goal of God’s choosing? That a choir of transformed creatures will someday stand before God, holy and blameless, and sing with all the hosts of heaven, "Worthy is the Lamb."
b. Our consecration is just as much a part of God's choice for us as is our salvation. We were chosen in Him (in Christ) to be holy. Just as we were entirely dependent on the God who chose us to also save us, so we are dependent on Him to bring about our holiness. God must sanctify those whom God saves. This was accomplished in the same act as our redemption, "We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). That is not to say that we are entirely passive. We must submit our lives to the discipline of holiness. But it is God who transforms us.
c. Holy (hagios) means separate, different. A Christian is to be separate from the world, different from that which is normal in a corrupt, evil world. For many Christians throughout the world and across the centuries, this difference meant that they were hated, persecuted, imprisoned and put to death. Today many who consider themselves Christian are so compromised, so in harmony with the world around them that it is impossible to tell the difference between them and those who do not know Christ. They do not understand the Scripture which says, "Do you not know? Friendship with the world is enmity with (hostility toward) God" (James 4:4).
d. Blameless is a word which Paul’s Jewish readers would have understood. It is related to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. It means unblemished, as an unblemished offering laid upon the altar. That is what our life is to be, an offering laid upon God's altar, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). It is the miracle of the blood of Christ applied to our sinful life and the consecrating power of the Holy Spirit that will someday cause this offering to be holy and blameless.
If you think the virgin birth was a miracle, consider this. Paul said to the church at Corinth, which had come out of terrible sin and immorality, that he would someday present them to Christ as His virgin bride (2 Corinthians 11:2). God’s sanctifying power and purpose is so great that he can take each of us, no matter where we have been or what we have done, and through the cleansing blood of Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, recreate us as holy, blameless members of the someday bride of His Son.
e. God's consecration of His saints is a process, not an instantaneous event. We are not chosen because we are holy and blameless but that we will be someday.
1:5 "(In love) He predestined us”:
1. Paul proclaims the marvelous truth that we were predestined by God to be adopted as His children. Our lives are not random coincidence. We are not forgotten victims drifting helplessly in the tides of history. The loving plan of God, from before time began, has always been to adopt us as His children. It is our destiny to be members of God's family, a destiny established before we were born. The fact that God is able to bring about His choice of us without violating our will is the mystery of grace.
2. Our adoption is through Jesus Christ. Though there is a wideness to the mercy of God, higher than the heavens, the entrance into mercy is narrow. It is only through Jesus Christ.
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13,14).
That narrow way is faith in Jesus, who testified, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).
Because we were dead in our sins and blind to spiritual truth, God must come to us and awaken us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
It is God who chose, in eternity past, to come to us and awaken us to His redeeming grace, chose to adopt us in Christ as His sons and daughters.
3. Our adoption is based on God's kindness. We did not earn, achieve or in any way merit our adoption. We were not yet born when God ordained our adoption and therefore we had done nothing to deserve it. Salvation is purely an act of grace motivated by the mercy of God.
1:6 This marvelous gift of grace, our adoption as children of God, is bestowed upon us in Jesus the Beloved. Wages are earned but a gift is bestowed. Salvation and adoption are gifts and therefore, result in the praise of His grace.
1. Our adoption into God's eternal family should result in praise to "the glory of His grace." There is a glory to grace. Grace, the blessing and favor of God freely poured out upon us, is glorious. The God of this glorious grace is worthy of our praise.
2. Grace was freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, Jesus. Even as our spiritual blessings are available only "in Christ" (1:3); just as we were chosen only "in Him" (1:4); just as we were destined for adoption only "through Jesus Christ" (1:5); so also the grace that was freely bestowed on us is only "in the Beloved.” Every blessing that God has stored up for us is to be found in Jesus and is released through Him.
3. Jesus is the Father's Beloved, "Thou art my Son, the Beloved" (Mark 1:11; this translation is from the International Bible, vol 7, p 653). If we are found in Jesus, the Father's Beloved, then the love which the Father lavishes on Jesus also pours over into our lives.
1:7,8 Redeemed by the blood of Christ:
1. "In Him (Jesus) we have redemption.” Again, as with every other blessing, our redemption is to be found only in Jesus.
What does it mean to be redeemed? It means that we have been purchased, delivered, ransomed out of our hopeless slavery to sin and to a world system characterized by corruption and death. Redemption is the word used for a prisoner of war who is liberated, a slave whose freedom is purchased, a condemned criminal who is released. It is the Greek word for the Hebrew word deliverance, as when God delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. It has to do with a person being set free from a circumstance in which he was powerless to help himself.
2. The means or currency for this redemption was the blood of Christ, the holy Lamb of God. John the Baptist testified of this when he saw Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).
Only the spotless Lamb of God could do this. It was only, "With precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless" that we could be redeemed from our futile ways (I Peter 1:18,19). The infinite riches of a holy Christ were applied to our sin. The justice and mercy of God meet on the cross where the Just One is declared unjust and we, the guilty, are pardoned of all offenses. The Apostle Paul said, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This gift of salvation is entirely free, a gift of grace, yet there is nothing in the universe more costly than the free gift of God. Why was this cost necessary? It is because a holy, just God cannot forgive our sin merely by pretending we never sinned. God cannot overlook that which violates His very character. But neither does a holy and merciful God desire that we perish beneath the crushing weight of our sin.
So Christ took our sin upon Himself and on the cross, offered Himself as the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. The result is, "The forgiveness of our trespasses.” One aspect of this redemption is that our sins are forgiven. This means that the barrier which separated us from God has been torn down and we truly can become members of God's family.
3. "Which He lavished upon us.” The source of this redemption is the rich grace which God has poured out upon us. The infinite riches of God's mercy were poured out on us without restraint. God's mercy is everlasting, abundant, new every morning, reaches to the heavens. If you ever doubt God's love for you, remember these two Gospel truths:
a. Forgiveness cost Jesus His life blood which He poured out "for the joy set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2).
b. That forgiveness has been lavished, poured out abundantly upon us by a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can measure. This lavishing of grace is an eternal act. God chose us in eternity past to be recipients of His grace. In the present moments of our lives, He lavishes grace upon us. But this outpouring will continue forever, as Paul reminds us later in this epistle:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved, and raised us with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).
1:8b,9 “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him” (in other words, according to the purpose which He set forth in Christ).
There are many secrets of the universe which our minds cannot contain and God has not revealed. But it is God's kind intention (good pleasure) to make known to us the mystery of His salvation purpose in Christ. This purpose was formed in God's mind before time began, was hidden but now out of kindness has been made known to us. Notice that the revealing of this mystery is in Christ, as is every other gift, blessing and revelation of God to us.
1:10 “With a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”
An alternate translation: “As a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in Him (in Christ), things in heaven and things on earth" (International Bible, vol 10, p 619).
God’s purpose is that Jesus, the Son of God and second Person of the Trinity, would be born in human form, would die on a cross as a sacrificed Lamb for the sins of the world and would rise from the dead, having disarmed powers and principalities of darkness. Someday all aspects of this divided, warring world will be gathered up in union with this risen Christ.
1. God is moving all of history toward the fulfillment of His purpose. This is the great hope of the Christian, that this world is not a mere mud heap of elements spinning out of control nor is history a random explosion of incoherent, violent, tragic and absurd events. God has a plan and is administrating history, working all things, toward His fulfillment in Christ.
The word administration is interesting here. It is oikonomia which could be translated household management (William Barclay, Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 98) or stewardship. The oikonomos was the steward who saw to it that the household ran smoothly (Barclay, p. 98). God has been managing the household of His universe, the affairs of history and nations, toward the fulfilling of His redeeming purpose.
The purpose of God is simply and grandly this: that all things in heaven and earth will be united in Jesus. All the threads of time and history will be weaved together in Jesus, the One by whom, through whom and for whom all things were created and in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17). All powers and forces of history will be gathered together in Jesus, "Who upholds the universe by His Word of power" (Hebrews1:3). All the many splendored blessings and manifold grace of God will be brought into union in Jesus, “The Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).
As all things are created in Christ, as all things are upheld by Christ and consist in Him, so all the universe proceeds toward Christ and all things will find their unity and fulfillment in Him. History is not an endless passing of days, months and years. There is a summing up point at which there is no further addition. This summary point has a name. His name is Jesus.
The point of unity for every molecule of created matter, the point of unity for every second and century of all ages of time, the point of unity for all events of history, the point of unity for all things in heaven and on earth, is Jesus. All things find their destined fulfillment in Jesus. The Jesus in whom the universe was created is the Christ in whom the universe will be fulfilled.
The warring nations of divided humanity will find their union in Christ. The final union of heaven and earth will take place in Christ and even now all creation groans toward that day of fulfillment (Romans 8:19-22).
2. God waited for the fulness of times in revealing the mystery of His will, waited for the world to prove its inability to heal itself. As one ancient wrote, "We can neither endure our vices nor their remedies" (New International Commentary, The Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, p. 32). But in the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son.
Although the purpose of God was devised from eternity, it is worked out in the history of individual persons, cities, nations. It is an everlasting purpose but revealed and played out in time. This God who has revealed Himself to us is not a far off spectator watching us from a distance. God has stepped into time and history, not merely as an active player but as the ultimate activist.
In Galatians 4:4 we read that Jesus was born "in the fulness of time.” If we measured our lives against the thousands of years of time and the endless ages before and beyond time, we would seem like insignificant specks. But history is not an endless cycling of age upon age. There is a divine purpose and order in time that gives significance to our lives. All of time and history flow toward and from the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. The redeeming work of Jesus is the central event taking place in the fulness of ages and we have been chosen and called to participate in this salvation event.
To us God has revealed His purpose. We are not specks on the micro-cosmic map. We are creatures unto whom the Creator of the universe has revealed mysteries.
Jesus is the fulfilling of all that was created by Him, for Him and through Him. All that He upholds by His word of power, He will fulfill. All things will be placed under His authority and then He will fill all in all. He is the Beginning and He is the End of all things.
1:11 Also we refers to Jewish believers, contrasted with Gentiles, you also, in 1:13. Paul, a Jew, reminds the readers that believing Jews have obtained an inheritance, "Who were the first to hope in the Messiah." Jews and Gentiles have a personal inheritance in this plan. We are all included in the grand, universal scheme of Creator God.
1. Our inheritance includes the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of righteousness in Christ, the promise of everlasting life with God and the unimaginable riches of His grace lavished upon us throughout eternity.
2. Our inheritance is in Christ. God predestined that Jews would be saved along with Gentiles but this destiny is realized only in Christ. It is only in Christ that the treasures of salvation are found. Only by faith in Christ do we obtain and enjoy the riches that God has destined for us all.
3. Notice that our salvation is predestined. Before the universe was created, God ordained that faithless, condemned sinners would be forgiven and declared just in Christ and through His redeeming work.
4. The salvation destiny of Jews is part of the purpose of that God who "works all things after the counsel of His will.” All things, every detail of history is being worked out in conformity to God's purpose. The word works is the word from which our English word energy is derived. The same God who by His power created and upholds the universe, is also by His power working out His redemption purpose in the life of each forgiven sinner and in this world.
The Psalmist recognized this when he said, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and by the breath of His mouth all their host ... For He spoke and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast. The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:6,9,10,11).
1:12 William Barclay translates verses 11 and 12 this way, "It was in Christ, in whom our portion in this scheme was also assigned to us, that it was determined, by the decision of Him who controls everything according the purpose of His good will, that we, who were the first to set our hopes upon the coming of the Anointed One of God, should become the means whereby His glory should be praised" (William Barclay, Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 99).
The ultimate destiny of believing Jews is the same as believing Gentiles, that they "should be to the praise of His glory." Our inheritance in Christ was predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to His wise counsel. The goal of this purpose is that we who have hoped in Christ would live to the praise of His glory. The ultimate purpose of the saving of sinners is that God is glorified and praised by the redeemed.
1:13,14 You also refers to Gentiles who, "After listening to the message of truth, the Gospel of your salvation," believed and were saved. Notice the progression:
1. They listened and were saved. The Gospel inspires faith in those who listen but even God cannot save those who will not listen, who close their hearts and minds to the truth, who refuse God’s command to repent and believe.
2. No one can listen unless someone preaches, testifies, bears witness to the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Roman church,
“Whoever believes in the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:13-15).
3. Those who believed were sealed with the Holy Spirit. The word sealed refers to the identifying mark placed on a contract or letter in Paul’s day. It identified and authenticated the sender. The emperor’s seal on a document attached the authority of the emperor to that document. So with us, the seal of the Holy Spirit identifies and authenticates the Lordship of Jesus Christ in and over our lives. We are declared to be His and His authority is invested in our salvation.
4. The Holy Spirit is God's pledge (earnest, guarantee) of our full inheritance someday. The word pledge was a common business term denoting the first payment on a transaction. The Holy Spirit, given to indwell each believer, is God's first installment on the unlimited riches to be shared with His people in eternity. The greatest of our riches will be that we will see God as He is and live in perfect communion with Him. As a guarantee of the riches of that communion, God the Spirit now lives in each believer.
Again the Apostle says, "To the praise of His glory." As each glorious aspect of the mystery of grace is revealed, the only fitting response is praise. How incredible that the same Holy Spirit who once was reserved for a select few prophets and kings is now being poured out on all who believe in Christ, as Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, "Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
The message of truth, the seal of the Spirit:
1. The Gospel is the message of truth: proclaiming the truth about ourselves, our world and God.
2. Those who believe are given the Holy Spirit:
a. As a seal, proving or attesting that we belong to God (as an official seal on an envelope or package)
b. As a pledge of our inheritance, a foretaste or promise of the life we will someday enjoy in full union with God
c. Though not mentioned here, the Holy Spirit also works in us to consecrate and mature us, to teach and guide us into all truth.
1:15,16 Paul does not cease giving thanks, “Having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints.” Our testimony is not just the words we say at a church service. Our faith and our love testify of us, for good or bad.
Note that their faith in Jesus issued in love for people. Faith in Christ should always result in love for the saints. Faith brings us into union with Jesus and His love for us enables us to love.
Paul reminds them that he prays for them without ceasing. They are prayers of thanksgiving and also an expression of love. When we love people we remember them, share their loss, their hurt, their joy and fear. Their need becomes our need. We remember them before the mercy seat of Christ, praying for them because we love them.
Paul’s prayers are an expression of his faith. We believe in a God who hears our prayers, who though He already knows our needs, releases blessing in response to faithful prayer. A church with faith in Christ and love for the saints will always be a praying church. A praying church will always be a blessed church.
1:17 Paul prays for the release of specific spiritual gifts in the lives of his readers. He prays with confidence, knowing that if we ask according to God's will, we have those things that we request. He prays to "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” This is the God revealed by Jesus, who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He is the God who invites us to call Him Father, yet He is "the Father of glory" whose majesty transcends all earthly bounds.
Paul prayed that the Lord would give the church “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” A spirit of wisdom and revelation points to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit and the need for a humble, teachable spirit in each of us. Of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, "He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
Notice that Paul is not praying that they would have wisdom and revelation in a general or unfocused way. There are many things we do not need to know, many wasteful, deceitful avenues of learning. We can pile up information, facts, theories and still be unwise.
The Bible defines wisdom as the ability to live life skillfully according to the precepts revealed in God’s Word. A life guided by Godly wisdom will fulfill the purpose of God, will glorify God and enjoy true meaning and fulfillment.
Such wisdom is acquired as we grow in our understanding and experience of God. So it is that Paul prays that they would have wisdom and revelation "in the knowledge of Him.” Paul wants the church to grow in relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, the beginning of all wisdom is the knowledge of God.
Jesus is the source and ultimate expression of truth, "I am the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). The fact that wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ does not mean that we cannot find them. To the contrary, reconciled to God through Christ, abiding in Christ as He abides in us, we have full access to the wisdom and knowledge necessary to live this life.
The Apostle Peter said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:2,3).
What has God granted to us? “Everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Everything necessary to live the life God has called us to live is available to the believer.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God … Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (I Corinthians 2:9,10,12).
Paul testifies to the Corinthian church that the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us “the things freely given to us by God.” This is his prayer for the Ephesian church, not that they would have some mystical revelation but that they would have “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,” that they would know the Lord so intimately that they would know all that is available through this communion.
Knowing God, having wisdom to live and fulfill His purpose, arriving at new and deeper revelation in the Lord, these are gifts from God, gifts which God is all too willing to share with those who earnestly seek Him. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).
"And those who seek me diligently will find me" (Proverbs 8:17).
"Call to me and I will answer you and I will tell you great and mighty things which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
God delights in revealing Himself to those who seek Him earnestly. But we must seek. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). However, even the Holy Spirit cannot teach us unless we seek or, to use an Old Testament expression, "Incline our ears.” How do we incline our ears? By bowing the head. That's the posture of a humble, teachable person.
1:18-20 Paul prays that the eyes of their heart would be enlightened. The eyes of the heart are the inner, spiritual eyes, that aspect of our being that allows us spiritual vision, allows us to see into spiritual truth and reality. It is not only that aspect of our being where we receive spiritual revelation but also where we make spiritual choices and enjoy spiritual fellowship with God. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). That is, if there are no impure obstacles in our spirit, we can have not just insight and revelation into the things of God, but fellowship with God Himself.
So the enlightenment of our spiritual being is not simply a matter of receiving facts or truths about God. It is an expanding inner communion with the God who alone gives light and life. "For with you is the fountain of life, in your light we see light" (Psalm 36:9).
Paul prays for three specific blessings in the lives of his readers.
1. Paul prays that we would know the hope of God's calling in our lives.
Taken in the context of this letter, Paul wants us to know that we are called to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (1:3); called as the chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and that we will someday stand holy and blameless before Him (1:4); called as those who were predestined to adoption as children of God (1:5); called to be redeemed from sin (1:7); called to know the mysteries of God in Christ, that all things will be summed up in Him (1:9,10); called to obtain an inheritance to which we were predestined (1:11); called to be sealed with the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance (13,14). Paul prays that we would know the fulness of God's calling and purpose in our lives and in all creation.
2. Paul prays that we would know the riches of God's glorious inheritance in the saints. We are God's rich, glorious inheritance, just as God has an inheritance for us. Christ purchased His inheritance with His life. We sing, “He is all I need." But we are all He wants. We are the apple of His eye. We are the pearl that Jesus purchased at the cost of all He had — taking off His robe of glory, assuming human form and giving His life on the cross to purchase our redemption, that we might be adopted into the family of God.
In the age to come, we will be clothed in perfect holiness and presented by the Father to the Son as His bride. We will be presented by the Son to the Father as the holy community of saints who will worship Him forever. We will pour out our worship on God as the Lord pours out the riches of His grace upon us. But even now, Paul wants us to have revelation of the Father's rich and glorious inheritance.
3. Paul prays that we would know the surpassing (immeasurable) greatness of His power toward us who believe. Here he prays a paradox: that we would know that which cannot be measured, therefore, cannot be contained in the human mind. Yet he prays that God would grant us a revelation of that power which was exercised “when He raised Him (Christ) from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places “(1:20).
He is not praying that we will have power — we already do. He is praying that we will know the power of God which was exerted in raising Christ from the dead, that same power which is released “toward us who believe.” How has the power of God been released in our lives?
It is this power that raised us from death to life, translated us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God and lifted us from corruption and dust into heavenly places where rust does not corrupt. That power is evident in our redemption and in our consecration. The power of God saves us; the power of God keeps us; the power of God transforms and perfects us. We show the power of God in the workmanship of God on our lives.
Note the different words Paul uses here in discussing the power of God:
“The surpassing greatness of His power” (dunamis). Dunamis is miraculous power, mighty work, abundance, strength, the ability to accomplish one's purpose. It is word from which we derive the family of English words: dynamic, dynamo, dynamite.
This word is used in Luke 1:35 to describe the promise of God's working in Mary, "The power of the Most High will overshadow you."
It is used in Luke 9:1, as Jesus gave His apostles power and authority over all demons.
It is used in reference to the promise of the Father to the church, “But you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49 see also Acts 1:8).
It is used in Acts 4:33 to describe the witness of the apostles and in Acts 10:38 to describe the ministry of Jesus. It is used to describe the return of Jesus (Matthew 26:64) and the saving power of God (I Corinthians 1:18 2:5).
"According to the working” (energeia). From energeia we derive the English word energy. It is used here to describe the power of God in the resurrection of Jesus (Eph. 1:19); the power of God enabling Paul's ministry (Eph 3:7); and the power of God building the church (Eph 4:16). Energeia is power at work.
"Of the strength" (kratos). Kratos is might, power. It is used in I Tim 6:16 to describe the everlasting dominion of God. In Hebrews 2:14, it describes the work of Jesus, who, through death, rendered powerless “him who had the power of death.” Kratos is power that conquers.
"Of His might” (ischys). Ischys is forcefulness, might, power. It is used in reference to God’s willingness to strengthen His people for overcoming, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength (ischys) of His might,” (Eph 6:10). It is used to describe an attribute of angels (2 Ptr 2:11). It is used of followers of Christ who are commanded to love God, "With all thy strength" (Mark 12:30,33).
So Paul prays that our hearts would be enlightened to know the surpassing (immeasurable) greatness of God’s dunamis, power, in accordance with the energeia, working, of the kratos, strength, of His ischys, might.
1:20-23 The greatest expression of the power of God is revealed in Christ: in His resurrection, ascension, dominion over creation and Headship over all things.
1. God revealed the greatness of His power in raising Jesus from the dead. It is this power that has been exercised in the lives of believers in raising us from death to life, restoring us to relationship with God, bringing us into the kingdom of God and progressively transforming us in His likeness.
2. God revealed the greatness of His power in seating Christ at His right hand, i.e., the position of authority. This position is "above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named.” This includes heaven or on earth. The authority of Jesus transcends all governmental power in the visible or spiritual planes.
It is "not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The authority of Jesus transcends all bounds of time. The hand that holds all authority in the universe is not the clenched fist of the hateful tyrant but the nail pierced hand of the loving Savior. The stone rejected by the builders is now the chief cornerstone of the heavenly temple, seated at the right hand of power. This is the One who said, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18).
Now all things are under Christ's feet, subject to His dominion. This recalls Psalm 110:1, "Sit at my right hand until I make thine enemies a footstool." Jesus is not only the exalted Christ but, by virtue of His position at the right hand of God, He is also the triumphant Christ. All things have been placed in subjection to Him, under His feet.
The Son of God who humbled Himself in taking human form, who as a baby was laid in a feeding trough, who was crucified on a common cross and buried in a borrowed grave, this Christ is also King of Kings, Lord of Lords and ruler of the universe. This risen, exalted Christ has been given the name above every name in this world and in the world to come that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess His Lordship.
In His triumphant exaltation Jesus is "Head over all things to (for) the church,” which is His body. Headship denotes rulership.
1. He is "head over all things.” Though His authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though many in the world are in rebellion against the royal Headship of Christ, He is still Head over all. And He rules over all things, "To (or for) the church."
2. As head over all things, Jesus is Head of the church in that He rules, leads, directs and blesses the church. However, His headship of the church denotes not only rulership but also union. Jesus is joined to the church and it is His life that vitalizes the church. Apart from Jesus, the church has no meaning as a community, no life and no direction.
We are growing up, "Into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body (is) being fitted and held together" (Eph. 4:15,16). The church is not an organization but a living organism, the body of Christ on earth and Jesus is the head of His body.
We are growing in Christ, because of Christ and toward Christ. We have been raised with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
We are therefore exhorted, "If then, you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).
Since that is so, and since the church is in organic union with Jesus as a body to its Head, then all demonic powers and principalities are to be trampled by a faithful, praying, witnessing church. When Jesus sent the disciples out to minister, they came back rejoicing, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name" (Luke 10:17).
Jesus responded that He had given them authority over the enemy but then He added, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:19,20). That is, don't merely rejoice in shared authority with Jesus. Rejoice in the relationship, the union of our lives to His life and kingdom, from which our authority derives.
3. Jesus is, ”Head over all things to (for) the church,” that is, He rules over all things for the sake of His church. The church is joined in union with the Head of all things. The church that is joined in union with Him is also “raised up with Him and seated” in heavenly places with Him (Eph. 2:6).
4. The church is, ”The fulness of Him who fills all in all." Just as the fulness of God dwells in Christ (Col 2:9), so the fulness of Christ fills His church. Jesus expresses, displays the fulness of His glory through His church.
But more in keeping with the literal text, the church is the fulness of Christ. That is, the church fills out the ministry of Jesus on earth. As Jesus, the Head, provides spiritual life, strength, wisdom, direction and gifts to His church, the church then goes forth and carries out the will of Christ on earth.
5. The church can also be said to be the fulness of Christ in this sense: a deliverer cannot be a deliverer unless there is someone to deliver. A king can still be king without subjects, but he cannot be said to rule unless there is someone to rule. A head will still be a head without a body, but many of the functions of the head will be unfilled. The church is that people whom Jesus our Deliverer delivers, over whom Jesus our King rules, whom the Jesus our Head directs.
6. In another sense, the church is the fulness of Christ in anticipation of all the universe gathered into Him. All the universe flows from Christ and unto Christ: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created by (through) Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16,17). The church, already joined to Christ, points toward that time when Christ will fill "all in all" (Eph. 1:23).
This is not to say that Jesus would be incomplete without His church. God is not dependent on His creatures for anything. But the church is that living organism through which, in holy union, Jesus has chosen to release His power, proclaim His gospel, lavish His grace, display His glory and fulfill His purpose on earth. He provides fulness of life to His church, reveals His purpose to His church. The church then carries out that purpose, fulfilling, the ministry of Christ on earth.
We need humility when we consider the church as the body of Christ on earth. In Romans Paul reminds us that spirit and flesh are often at war. The church has often been fleshly (self willed) and too proud, too corrupt, too bound in dead tradition or too seduced by culture and social custom to obey the spiritual Head of the church.
Though the church is Christ's body on earth, we are not a sinless body and must be careful not to regard every decision and action of the church as an expression of God's purpose. God has in the past chastised His church and will continue to judge His church.
Some forty years after Paul wrote this letter, Jesus said to this same Ephesian church, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Revelation 2:5).
To the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, “Because you say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (Rev. 3:17,18).
“Those whom love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent,” (Rev 3:19).
The Galatian church was the body of Christ but Paul asked them, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?" (Galatians 3:15). He called the Corinthians babies (I Corinthians 3:1). The Bible warns, "Judgment must begin at the house of God" (I Peter 4:17).
Yet for all its history of corruption and imperfection, the church is still Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:27), the "pillar and groundwork of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). As Christ in His incarnation clothed Himself with human flesh, so He continues to clothe His ministry on earth with His church.
One of the early church fathers was bold to say, ”Even as through the body the Savior used to speak and heal, so aforetime through the prophets and now through the apostles and teachers ... And at all times in His love to man God clothes Himself with man for the salvation of men, aforetime with the prophets, now with the church." (Clement of Alexandria, quoted by J.A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, quoted in The International Bible, vol. 10, p 638).
Paul prayed in 1:18-20 that we would understand that the same power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is also at work in us. The apostle alluded to this in Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
This is not just a promise of resurrection someday. It is the reality of God working in our lives now. God raises us from spiritual death to life, unites us with Himself and progressively transforms and matures us. Paul now expands on this truth in Ephesians chapter two.
2:1 "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins."
1. Sin creates death. Sin separates us from God, the Lord and Creator of life. Therefore sin works death in all who sin. "I am the vine, you are the branches" Jesus said (John 15:5). A branch separated from the vine is not in need of reformation. It needs resurrection. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). This is no mere figure of speech. It is the true biography of all sinners, that is, all people that on earth do dwell.
2. In what ways were we dead? Separated from God, we were dead relationally, alienated from God. We were dead in our spirit or soul. Death was working in our physical bodies. We were subject to the physically and spiritually destructive influence of sin.
3. The word which Paul uses for sin is hamartia, an archery word. It refers to an arrow that misses the target. Sin is "missing the mark." God has a purpose for each of us. When we are separated from God, we are also separated from His purpose, we miss the mark of God's high calling for our life.
4. The word which we translate for trespass is paraptoma which can also be rendered as a slip or a fall. It is used of someone who loses his way, strays from the right path when he could have taken the right way; or of someone who fails to grasp the truth and falls away from truth, when he could have known the right thing. Paraptoma has to do with ending up on the wrong path in our journey and therefore, as with hamartia, missing the goal, the destination of life's journey.
2:2 We once walked in sin and therefore in death. What a paradox: as long as we walked in separation from God, we walked a living death. In our life of separation from God, we often spoke of our freedom, how we were liberated from the chains of traditional morality and religion. But in reality, we were not free in any way.
1. We walked "according to the course of this world." Though we believed we were living an autonomous, liberated, self-controlled life, it was not our own path at all. It was a path controlled and determined by the values of a world that is in violent rebellion against God. We were slaves, conformed to the dying ways of this dying world.
2. But it was worse than that — we walked "according to the prince of the power of the air." The life of sin, the life lived according to the course of this world, is lived according to the standards and values of a society which itself is ruled by powers of darkness. The power source enabling the world to conform and control us is demonic. Behind and beneath the political, economic, cultural and moral structures and customs of the world is an evil, living, demonic reality.
The life of sin is a life lived under the dictatorship of the demonic principalities which rule this world. To be ruled by the world is to be ruled by that which rules the world and the world is under the power of the spirits of darkness. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says, "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving." That god is Satan. He manifests in many forms tempting, seducing, deceiving to the point of blindness, promising freedom and life but delivering only slavery and death. He is the god whom this world worships, though not usually directly. He is worshipped through secondary idols of power or wealth or fame or pleasure or greed or lust or national pride or racial prejudice or religious hatred or any of a thousand demi-gods.
3. "Prince" implies rulership and this is what Satan has always desired — to rule and reign, to exercise god-status, to have dominion. In I John 5:19 we are told, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Satan incarnates his values, his malicious personality, into the souls of men and women who, through gates of vulnerability, allow his entrance. These men and women then build the social, economic, artistic and political institutions which influence our lives.
4. "Power of the air" also evokes a sense of dominion and closeness, immediacy. Air is all around us and so is the kingdom of evil. The power structures of this world breathe evil as the human body breathes air and we are as intimately influenced by these powers as we are by air.
5. Satan's presence is also referred to as, "The spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." Though Satan can manifest through physical forms, he normally lives and works in a spiritual realm, not merely acting upon but working in those who disobey God. "Children of disobedience" means those who do not believe in or obey God. By virtue of their separation from God, they have opened themselves to Satan's power. Satan responds by infecting and infesting every aspect of human endeavor. Evil, therefore, not only acts upon institutions, structures and individuals but also acts from within individuals who then build and shape the structures, institutions, laws and customs which define human society.
It is important to note that the Biblical concept of evil is not some depersonalized force or the sum of human error or the deep, dark rumblings of psycho-gas. Evil begins with a personal being, Satan, who has infected and empowered human agencies and institutions. Underneath the evil of human society is a living, personal, genesis fountain of demonic evil.
When people turn from God in rebellion and disobedience, they open themselves to demonic manipulation. This not only takes the form of outward seduction but as the world's demonic values are internalized, evil then works from within.
What a vulnerable, insecure life is the life of sin: separated from God and God's purpose, conformed to the depravities of a corrupt and dying society and ruled by demonic powers.
How ironic that the bold, self-justified sinner will say, "I am free, liberated, not bound by the chains of religion or morality. I am setting my own course as a free, autonomous person.” In fact, that person lives under the most terrible dictatorship and will never be free until liberated by s stronger One than the one who has bound him or her.
2:3 We all formerly lived a life of sin. God is holy, God is love. Whatever our sin, it is an offense to God's holiness and a crime against His love. Until we came to Christ we were only sinners separated from God. Whatever our vocation, level of respectability or success, we were only offenders of God's holiness and criminals against His love.
1. "Among them we too all formerly lived."
We all once lived as subjects to the prince of evil, dominated by the spiritual powers that rule this world. The word lived has to do with conversation. We were on conversational terms, were friendly with the demonic powers that rule this world.
2. "In the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh.”
Flesh does not refer to our physical being but an autonomous, rebellious way of being: life lived apart from God, as if God does not exist. The word lusts does not refer to any particular sin but rather, a life ruled by appetite. It is a self indulgent life — if it feels good, do it, have it your way. (As opposed to a sacrificial life, the life of the spirit — life led by God's Spirit working in and through a reawakened human spirit.)
3. “Indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”
The word mind (dianoia) is actually plural — minds, thoughts. This is a life in which the desires of the mind are indulged, fed, satisfied. Because there is no true God at the core of this self absorbed, self indulgent life; and because if we have no inner anchor, then we are subject to the shifting changes and customs of a turbulent world. It is a life of instability, more than double minded, a life of many minds, many thoughts. As the corrupt world plants corrupt thoughts and temptations in the mind of the sinner, the sinner then acts upon these thoughts without restraint.
4. "And were by nature children of wrath."
Ruled by the prince of darkness and by the corrupt customs of a world in violent rebellion against God, this life is therefore subject to the judgement of God. This supposedly liberated person is in fact a child of wrath, that is, deserving the judgment of God and living under judgment. (As opposed to children of God living under grace.) We are such by nature. In our fallen human state, it is our nature to come under the judgement of God.
David said, "In sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). He was not demeaning his mother but merely stating the truth that he was born with a sin nature.
"All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). Born with a sin nature, we all acted in conformity to our nature, grew into mature sinners, turning from God to go our own way, living as though we are autonomous beings.
Incredibly, as we see in the following verses, this holy, just God who is offended by our sin, is also a merciful God who loves us enough to offer a way out of our self destructive choices.
2:4 The riches of God's grace: "But God, being rich in mercy.”
God is not merely merciful, God is rich in mercy. Because God is holy, God is therefore good, just, pure and perfectly loving. God is predisposed to offer grace, to bless, to save, to meet us in our death and offer us His life. Since God is by nature loving and merciful, it is then natural for God to act mercifully, to express His love toward us in mercy.
If not for the mercy of God, we would have no hope. Evil would triumph in the world and in our own lives. Our foolish attempts at self-liberation and fulfillment apart from God would result in our ultimate loss of life.
"Because of His great love with which He has loved us."
Notice the adjectives: God's mercy is rich, His love is great. It is God who initiates the work of salvation in our lives, awakening us to Himself. His motive is purely and simply love:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
"In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). (Propitiation has to do with satisfaction, reconciliation).
Though God is love, He was under no obligation to express Himself to us in mercy. The God of all mercy is righteous and offended by sin. It is we who sinned against God, we who separated ourselves from Him by our choices. Yet this holy God chose to extend mercy to the condemned, life to the dead. Yet far from violating His nature, this offer of mercy was entirely in keeping with His own loving, holy heart.
Why does God do his? So that through mercy and grace He may display His glory.
2:5 “Alive together with Christ.”
1. We were dead in sins but God "made us alive together with Christ." Jesus said to Nicodemus that he needed to be born again (John 3:3). A person who is dead spiritually does not need to be improved or reformed — we needed to be regenerated, resurrected. The gift of mercy carries with it the gift of life. Salvation is to be made alive with Christ.
We do not need to argue proofs of the resurrection of Jesus. The truest proof is a living church, a church comprised of men and women who once were dead but now have been raised in the resurrection life of Jesus. A doubting world will believe in the resurrection of Jesus when they encounter Him in resurrection people.
Notice again, "With (or in) Christ." All the blessings of salvation are located in, with and through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God offers life.
2. "By grace you have been saved."
Salvation is by the grace of God, it is God's gracious gift to us. It is not the result of anything we have done, deserved or achieved. It is entirely an expression of His mercy and love.
What does it mean to be saved? Saved from what?
We have been saved from the judgmental wrath of God which our sin incurred. Jesus offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God, carried our sin in His body on the cross and died the death which our sin incurred.
We have been saved from everlasting separation from God because in Christ we are reconciled to God. The sin which separated us from Him has been removed by the blood of Christ. We are forgiven of sin’s offense, redeemed from enslavement to sin and death. We are gifted with peace and the promise of everlasting life with God.
2:6 Raised and seated with Jesus:
1. Those who have been made alive with Christ are also raised with Him, that is, we share resurrection life with Him. The verb tense for raised and seated indicates that this has taken place, we are raised and seated with Christ. This is not future expectation, though we will someday see Jesus face to face and share in His heavenly kingdom. But even now we are united with Him, now we share resurrection life with Him, now we commune with Him in heavenly places. Through spiritual union with Christ, we have ascended with Him.
2. We are also seated with Christ. This refers to the communion we enjoy with Jesus which results in shared authority with Him. Where is Jesus seated? At the right hand of God in the heavenlies, "Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:20,21).
We are seated with Jesus, sharing in His triumph and exercising authority in proclaiming the inbreaking kingdom of God. Yes, there is a wonderful someday to the Christian faith. But praise God, there is a glorious now.
3. "In the heavenlies in Christ."
Again, the blessings of being raised with Christ and seated with Him are only to be found "in Christ." It is only in living, spiritual union with a living Savior that we can enjoy the blessings of the Christian life.
2:7 God has raised us from spiritual death to life, has seated us in communion with Jesus in heavenly places, so that in the ages to come He might show the riches of His grace in kindness toward us. Even as God chose us in the eternity before the foundation of the world, so He has also chosen to bless us in the eternity that follows this life. God's motive is love on display, which brings Him glory. God wants to spend forever showing us the riches of His grace and kindness so that we may spend eternity praising His glory.
1. God desires in eternity that His redeemed people would be a showing, a spectacle of His grace and mercy. Our salvation, our life with God, is always a demonstration of grace.
2. Because we have been reconciled to God, living not separated from Him in hell but united to Him in heaven, God will be able to continually show forth His mercy toward us, blessing us, gracing us in ways we have not imagined.
3. The unfolding of this kindness, of course, will be "in Christ Jesus." God created the universe through His Son, redeemed us through His Son and for all eternity will bless us through His Son. To be found in Jesus is to be found in the center of God's creative, redeeming, loving activity.
2:8,9 Grace working through faith
1. “For by grace you have been saved."
Grace, a gift from God, the undeserved, unearned, unmerited favor and blessing of God, is the source of our salvation. We were saved through the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God, not by our own religious means. The knowledge of salvation was communicated to us by God the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, not gained by our own intelligence. The experience of salvation — that is, the experience of God's forgiveness, the breaking of sin's power, our progressive consecration — these are worked in us by the power of God. At every step, salvation is a gift of God, a gracious expression of His mercy. We cannot earn a gift. We can only receive it.
2. "Through faith."
We receive this gift by faith. Faith is believing God, that He is who He says He is and does what He says He does. In Rom 10:9,10 we read, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness and with the mouth confesses, resulting in salvation ... For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 109,10,13).
Faith and confession of faith in Christ is the connection to grace. God offers us this marvelous gift of grace. We receive it by faith. The phrase, “That not of yourselves” refers not only to the grace that brings us to faith, but also, faith itself. Saving faith is a gift of God. Only God can awaken spiritually dead people, convict us of sin, bring us to repentance and plant saving faith in our heart.
3. "Not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast."
None of us can boast that we earned our salvation or deserved it. We did no good works to impress God or motivate God to save us. In fact, the prophet Isaiah said, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (64:6). Our own righteousness based on our own religiousness not only does not impress God, He calls it "filthy rags."
It is not our supposed good works that earn anything with God. It is Christ who offered the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Grace is always God's gift. Faith in Christ is always the only connection to grace.
Forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, everlasting life with God — this is nothing more or less than God's free gift to us. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord" (Rom 6:23). We can never earn God’s gift of salvation. We can only refuse or receive it. And none who receive it can boast, for it is the gift of God.
2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”
Faith in Christ restores us to friendship with God. Now God can work out His plan in our lives.
1. "For we are His workmanship."
Whereas we once were ruled by the demonic powers of the world system, being shaped by the world and subject to the judgement of God, we are now God’s workmanship, God’s poiema (from which we derive the English word poem). This word may also be translated craftsmanship. Having redeemed us from slavery to sin and death, the Lord is crafting us so that we can fulfill the works, the purpose, that He ordained for us in our generation. We are His poem, a living expression of His truth. Or to use another image, God the potter takes a life ruined by sin and refashions the clay according to His eternal purpose.
2. "Created in Christ Jesus."
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold new things have come." God is recreating us, crafting us for particular, unique works of service to God.
3. "For good works.”
We were each created for a purpose. Your combination of talent, personality, experience and opportunity has resulted in a person who is a unique, once in a universe event. God purposed our lives from eternity. However, sin not only separated us from God but also from His purpose. We were powerless to live the life for which we were designed as long as we were alienated from God by sin. But now reconciled to God in Christ, we are also reconciled to the plans and resources which He destined for us.
There are works God wants to do in this world through each of us, gifts God wants to give through us. Jesus said, "You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit and that your fruit would remain" (John 15:16). As new creatures in Christ, we can begin to live the good works which He intended for us from the beginning.
Here is a beautiful truth. All the good works in the world will not put us right with God. But once we are right with God, by faith in His grace through Christ, we are fit for all the good works which God can release into this world through us.
Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). You don't put fruit on a dead branch to make the branch alive. But if a branch is alive, it bears good fruit. So a branch restored to Jesus, the living vine, will bear good fruit. Living works prove a living faith.
However, we are as dependent on God to craft us for good works as we were dependent on God to save us. God the Redeemer must also be God the Consecrator, crafting us, shaping us, restoring and maturing us for His good works.
4. What works? The works “Which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Beforehand, before we were born, before there was a universe, God ordained our lives and our salvation, prepared a purpose for each of us and gifted us in ways that enable us to fulfill that purpose.
We have been chosen in Christ form eternity, destined to be reconciled to God, adopted into His family and crafted, consecrated for works of ministry which, "Proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:10).
How will I proclaim? What will you have me to do Lord? These questions are answered in communion with the Lord who saves us and crafts us. God shows us what He is doing as a way of inviting us to join Him. God's revelation is God's invitation.
Meanwhile, He is crafting us day by day from the inside out, consecrating us, conforming us to His heart — not merely to know His heart but to have His heart.
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," the Apostle said. Yes, but in the following verse He added, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12,13).
2:11,12 Gentiles were at one time separated from God, from God's covenant with Israel and without any hope.
1. They were separate from Christ.
Whereas the blessings of grace are found only "in Christ,” Paul's Gentile readers were at one time entirely separated from Christ (as were we all). Even in their worst days of national defeat, the Jews at least had the hope that someday Messiah would come and deliver them. But the Gentiles, separated from God and from God's covenant of promise, had not even a hope of a someday Deliverer from God.
2. They were excluded from the community of faith.
Gentiles were not only separated from Christ, they were excluded (alienated) from the community of the faithful on earth (the commonwealth of Israel), the only community on earth that had communion with God and received revelation from God.
3. They were strangers, foreigners to the covenants of promise.
God had made covenant with Israel but not with the nations. God had made covenant promises to Israel, promises about their future and destiny as the people of God. To Israel God had said,
"Then I will take you for my people and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7).
”Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples" (Exodus 19:5).
God had made promises to Israel, to make them His covenant people, to bring them into their own land, to watch over and protect them, to give them His laws, to send them priests, prophets and kings and to someday send the Messiah. God had not made those promises to any other nation. The Gentile nations were separated from the covenant and from the promises contained in it. They were strangers to the promises which God had made to Israel.
4. They were without hope. Living outside the promises of God with no expectation of a Deliverer, what hope would there be? For the Jew, "History was always going somewhere” (William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians p. 126). There was a goal, a future, a someday of redemption and glory. But for those outside the revelation of Scripture, history is an endless recycling of tragedy, chaos and mundane events consumed by the fires of time and dispersing like smoke or settling like dust into the ash-heap of history. The Gentile had no expectation of God stepping into history to redeem lost people, no hope of a Messiah establishing the kingdom of God on earth, no hope of resurrection from the dead, no hope of justice or peace in the affairs of nations.
5. They were without God, though they believed in a variety of gods, Gentiles had no knowledge of the one, true God, as the Jews did, no Scripture or holy history of God interacting with people. Not only were they without God, they were, "Without God in the world." What terrible words. Alive in this violent, perverse, dangerous world, alive in all the fragile limitations of mortal human life, alive with the constant knowledge of death overtaking them at any moment, but without God.
Separated from God by sin, the Gentiles would remain separated unless someone would come and do for lost humanity what we could never have done for ourselves: redeem us from our sin and its power, atone for our sin and reconcile us to God.
2:13 Reconciliation to God in Christ Jesus:
1. "But now in Christ Jesus."
Reconciliation with God, as with all the blessings of God's grace, is found “in Christ.”
2. "You who formerly were far off have been brought near.”
“Far off” refers to Gentiles who were, “Separate from Christ ... strangers to the covenants of promise ... having no hope and without God.”
3. “Have been brought near."
The verb tense, "Have been brought,” indicates an accomplished work. We who were aliens, strangers, separated from God, without hope, have now been reconciled to our Creator through faith in Christ. But in a larger sense, this refers to Jews as well as Gentiles, all who were separated from God by sin, are brought near by the blood of Christ.
4. “By the blood of Christ.”
How is this reconciliation possible? The only instrument for this reconciliation is the atoning blood of Christ. Paul said to the Corinthians,
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
How could a holy God not count our trespasses? Paul did not say that God discounted our trespasses. He said that God did not count them against us. God counted our sins against Jesus. It was Jesus who bore our sin and the penalty, the wrath, the judgment, for those sins.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
2:14 Peace in Christ:
1. "He Himself is our peace.” Peace with God, peace within our own soul, peace between people — this is a gift from God. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Only in Jesus can true peace be found.
2. Christ has, “Made both groups into one." This refers specifically to the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile in the New Testament church. But also in a general sense, this speaks of the reconciliation which Jesus can create between all races and cultures, all economic and social classes. Someday all the universe will find its point of unity in Jesus, in whom is “the summing up of all things” (Ephesians 1:10); "In whom all things consist" (Colossians 1:17). The church is called to show the world a picture of that future in our unity.
3. "And broke down the barrier of the dividing wall."
This is a reference to the middle wall in the old Jerusalem temple which separated the inner court, into which only Jews had access, from the outer court of the Gentiles. Jesus broke down the dividing wall
a. which separated Jews and Gentiles;
b. which separated Gentiles from the inner sanctuary presence of God.
The verb tense for broke down indicates a competed action.
2:15 The middle wall in the temple which separated Jews and Gentiles was itself a symbol of the division created by the Old Testament legal system. Jews were separated from Gentiles by many rituals, laws and taboos and this separation created enmity, hostility between Jew and Gentile. It fostered a sense of moral superiority among Jews and anti-Semitism among more than a few non-Jews.
1. Jesus abolished the hostility by offering a way of salvation apart from law and ritual. It is the way of faith, faith in Christ Himself, the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Jesus, in His death and resurrection, abolished the Old Testament sacrificial system, the feasts, the holy days, the ceremonial rituals and dietary laws. He did not abolish the foundational moral principles found in the Law, such as the Ten Commandments, because they reflect the heart of a holy and pure God, because they are written in the hearts of all people and contained within the teaching of the New Testament.
2. Jesus abolished the wall separating Jew from Gentile "in His flesh,” that is, through the offering of Himself on the cross. There is now a church in which Jews and Gentiles, indeed, all ethnic groups and social classes, are made into “one new man” in Christ.
3. There were two Greek words for new. Neo meant new in point of time. A pot just made today is neo, though thousands of pots have been made before it. But Paul uses the word kainos which refers to something that is not necessarily new in time but new in form, quality or nature.
It is the same word Paul used when he said, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the same word John used when he said, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away,” (Revelation 21:1). Kainos is that which God creates, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5).
We are not a new man in the sense that the distinctiveness of race and culture are blotted out. It is not that Africans cease to be African or a Jew ceases to be a Jew. It is not that all nations become one person. But all the nations become a new person in Christ.
The church is a new community comprised of new creatures in which, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). To the Colossian church Paul said, that we have, “Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him, a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian ( a savage, war like people group), slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:10,11).
4. “Thus establishing peace.”
True peace in our own soul and among the people groups of the world is not established through military or political means. But in this new community of faith where Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, man and woman meet as new creations in Christ — there, at peace with God and our own being, we find peace with one another.
2:16 “And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross.”
Through the cross, we have not simply been reconciled to God as individuals but as "one body.” We are reconciled to God as reconciled members of His church. In this new community comprised of new creatures, we see a glimpse of the future kingdom of God in which the redeemed from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation" will stand together before the throne of God as kings and priests and sing, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13).
“Having put to death the enmity (alienation, hostility, bitterness).”
What marvelous Good News that Jesus, in dying, put to death the hostility, the deadly poisons of racial, national and cultural bigotry between all people and nations who come together through faith in Him. How necessary it is, then, to guard against the entrance of anything that would bring division into Christ’s church.
In His High Priestly prayer, only hours before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for the unity of His church, “That they all may be one, even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us … I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity” (John 17:21,23).
We may be certain that the Lord is still interceding for the unity of His church. There are those who dishonor this continual prayer of our great High Priest, who do not "judge (discern) the body rightly" (I Corinthians 11:29), who sow division in the body of Christ. For this reason, Paul urges us to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
The unity of the church does not cancel the uniqueness of its many parts. Unity is not uniformity. On the day of Pentecost, Jews and Gentiles from Asia, Africa and Europe were drawn into the kingdom of God (Acts 2:9-11,41). They did not cease being who they were in their racial and cultural identity but they became something more — the body of Christ.
Paul reminded the church at Corinth:
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ … Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it" (I Corinthians 12:12,27).
Yet in spite of Jesus’ prayers and the apostle’s admonition, how often we see the fragmenting of the body of Christ. The boiling hatred and violence of the world seeps into the church and creates a mindset of prejudice and division. How do we maintain holy union in a disintegrating world?
It must be more than a fruitless parade of conferences, seminars, meetings, doctrinal strategies and theological position papers. Unity is found in our common encounter with Jesus, our common repentance of sin and submission in faith to His Lordship over our lives. As we freshly surrender to Him, He will make of us what He desires, a unified Body which points prophetically to that final day when all the universe will find its unity in Jesus.
2:16 “And might reconcile them both in one body to God.”
The Law of the Old Covenant showed us the distance between sinful man and a holy God, an unbridgeable distance from a human perspective. Only one Peacemaker could bridge the distance between God and humanity, bringing near those who were far off. But now that very thing has happened, the nations have been brought near, reconciled to God, brought into the covenant, by the blood of Christ.
The Law of the Covenant also served to erect barriers between Jew and Gentile. Only one Peacemaker could pull down that barrier. This too has happened. It is Christ Himself who is our peace. He has broken down the division between Jew and Gentile and made us one — that is, one church, one new people.
Just as Christ has reconciled us to God, so He has reconciled us to one another. Again, the only instrument for reconciliation is His cross. Justice and mercy, Jew and Gentile, God and humanity embrace at the cross. The body of Jesus is the point of convergence and a world is invited to come and be reconciled.
At the cross, God is calling into being a new creation of people who are being transformed into the image of God. The church is the theatron, the spectacle, which shows forth this new creation to the powers and principalities.
The church is a community of new creations comprising one great new creation — the Body of Christ on earth. The many new creations are become one new man in Christ.
2:17 Christ came and preached peace "to those who were far" — the Gentiles, and "to those who were near" — the Jews. The word preach has to do with the announcing of Good News. It is Good News that though we are separated from God by our sin, dead in sin and are by nature children of wrath, God has made a way for us to be forgiven, reborn and reconciled to Himself through faith in the blood of Christ. As Isaiah said, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring this Good News, proclaiming peace (Isaiah 52:7).
2:18 It is through Christ that both Jew and Gentile have access to the Father. When Jesus died, the physical veil over the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the Temple was torn, symbolizing the opening of access for redeemed sinners into the holy presence of God (see Matthew 27:51). He who said, "I am the door" has through His own flesh provided a new and living way into communion with God:
“Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19,20).
"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
Paul says that it is through "one Spirit,” the Holy Spirit, that we have access to the Father. Access is a word "suggesting the high privilege of admission to the presence of a glorious monarch" (Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, p 659). The true and living God is truly the glorious Monarch, High King of heaven, into whose presence sinners have no right of access. Sinners cannot enter the presence of a holy, righteous God.
It is the blood of Jesus that provides the cleansing, the righteousness necessary to come into God’s presence and not be destroyed. This access is mediated by the Holy Spirit. What does Paul mean that we have access through the Spirit?
1. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and convinces us of righteousness, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). That is, the Holy Spirit shows us our separation from God and our need for salvation. This happens most commonly when we hear or read the Word of God. The Holy Spirit takes that Word and applies it to our hearts, convicting us of sin and convincing us of our need for salvation and the availability of salvation through Christ Jesus.
2. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth of Jesus. The Lord said, “But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth … He will glorify me ...” (John 16:13,14). The Holy Spirit convinces us through the Word of God that Jesus, in His saving death and resurrection, is entirely adequate to save lost sinners. All we know of Jesus is what the Holy Spirit reveals to us through the Word of God.
3. Once we are redeemed, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).
The Holy Spirit leads us, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
The Holy Spirit bears witness that we are now children of God, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16,17).
The Holy Spirit reminds us of our continual communion with the Father, that we “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
2:19 The new status of Gentile believers is that we are no longer strangers and aliens (foreigners) with no rights of citizenship in the kingdom of God.
1. Now Gentiles are "fellow citizens with all the saints," members with full standing. There are no second class citizens, aliens or strangers in the kingdom of God. All who have confessed Christ are members of the "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession" (I Peter 2:9).
2. Gentiles are members of the household of God, adopted into God's family. The word from which household is derived has to do with a dwelling place. Believers are the dwelling place of God. This is true in a personal sense and in a corporate sense.
First, in a personal sense, the Apostle John said, "Beloved, now we are children of God" ( I John 3:2). Paul reminds us that, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba, Father! ‘Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6,7). Again, quoting God’s words from the Old Testament, Paul said,“And I will be a Father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me, ‘says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18). We are God’s adopted children, indwelt by His Spirit.
We are also the dwelling place of God corporately, as members of Christ’s church. Paul said, “For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them’” (2 Corinthians 6:16). The church as an organic, corporate unity, is the dwelling place of God. We are His body, “The fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22).
The fact that we are God’s household, indwelt by God and dwelling in His presence, should not lead us to pride. Jesus says that if we would be great in the kingdom of God then we must be like children (in our simple ability to trust God); and we must be like servants (in our humble ministry to the world). The more deeply we understand our calling as the dwelling place of God, the more childlike should be our submission to God and the more humbly we should serve a lost and dying world.
Jesus defined leadership in the kingdom in servant terms. In His church, the way up is down. The greatest leader is the greatest servant. But let us also remember that the destiny of this household of childlike servants is that we become kings and priests who someday, with Christ, "Will reign upon the earth" (Revelation 5:10).
2:20 The foundation of this dwelling place:
1. This dwelling place of God is founded upon apostles and prophets. Notice the verb tense, "Having been built" ("are built” in the old King James). The foundation is established but it is not the lives of the apostles and prophets that form the foundation. It is the revealed, inspired Word of God which they preached and spoke which forms the foundation.
2. Jesus is the corner stone but the word corner refers not to the stone upon which the structure rests but the crowning stone , the stone which completes the building. This is not to deny that Jesus is the rock upon which the church is built. Rather, it is a recurring theme of Paul in this epistle, that Christ is also the completion point, the point of fulfillment for the church and all the universe and all of history. All things will be summed up in Christ someday (Ephesians 1:10); even as, “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17).
2:21 A building fitted and growing in Jesus
1. "In whom the whole building.”
Jesus is the unifying power in the church. Only in Jesus can the various parts of the church fit and grow. The Christ "in whom all things consist" (or endure or hold together, Colossians 1:17),
by whose word of power the universe is upheld (Hebrews 1:3), the Christ in whom the entire universe will someday find its point of unity (Ephesians 1:10), is the hub, the center, the foundation and crowning stone, the gravity point for the church on earth. Any church that restricts or excludes the present Lordship of Jesus is a church that is in immediate danger of disintegration.
2. "Being fitted together.”
The church is an organism, not an organization. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). Paul said, "Now you are Christ's body and individually members of it," (I Corinthians 12:27). These are pictures of an organism, a living thing. Only God can fit such a complex organism together, "For the body is not one member but many" (I Corinthians 12:14). “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18).
Jesus, as "head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18), is able to fit His church together.
3. "Is growing.”
Jesus not only gives unity and direction to His church. He also gives life and growth. If a branch is connected to a healthy vine, it will grow. If a body part is in right connection with the rest of the body and the head, it will grow. So with the church.
The most important task of church leadership is simply to hear from Jesus, in order that the whole structure may remain rightly fitted and growing in Christ. The early church made its best decisions when the leaders were able to say, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28 ).
4. "Into a holy temple (sanctuary) in the Lord.”
The purpose and goal of the church is to be a sanctuary, a dwelling place for God. We are not called to do God's work for Him but to welcome Him and provide in our lives and in our community of faith a tabernacle for the Holy One. God will perform His own works, release His life and power and truth and mercy through us as we let Him make of us a holy sanctuary.
2:22 “In whom you also are being built.”
In the Garden of Eden, God spoke to His precious human creatures, walked in the garden, had fellowship with them. God led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt so that He could have fellowship with them in the wilderness. He placed His glory in the tabernacle and in the temple in Jerusalem as a symbol of His presence among them. In John's vision of final things, he saw the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and heard a voice saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men and He shall dwell (tabernacle) among them" (Revelation 21:3).
The church is a living picture of God's original and final purpose, to dwell among us. Toward that goal, we "are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” We are an unfinished portrait of the New Jerusalem.
Notice the difference in verb tense from verse 20. "Having been built” (2:20) refers to the foundation of the church. It is complete, whereas in verse 22, we "are being built.” The work is unfinished, not yet perfected, ongoing.
What is it that is being built? People, a living church. Remember, the early church possessed no buildings for specific religious purposes. They worshipped in homes or out in the open air. They understood with complete literalness that, "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (Acts 7:48); and, "We are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16).
The Apostle Peter said, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is chosen and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” (I Peter 2:4,5). Every believer is joined to Christ and joined to this dwelling place of God, the church. We are living stones built onto the foundation stone of Christ.
We need to continually give place to the Lordship of Christ in our midst, continually repent of our tendency to grasp lordship from Him. In our worship and prayer life, in the teaching of the Word, in our interaction with one another, we must continually surrender our hardened traditions, our prejudices, our sinfulness and shallowness and invite the Lord to make of us completely what we are now only in part — the New Jerusalem.
Unredeemed humanity builds temples and towers, castles and kingdoms, mega cities of glass and steel. Redeemed humanity can even build cathedrals and denominational organizations. But only God can build a church.
The church is God's household, a living temple where all races and cultures come together in unity through Christ Jesus. This is also a picture of God's eternal purpose in bringing the whole universe into unity in Christ. When the church fails to live in unity, we deny the world the opportunity to see what the kingdom of God will look like someday.
In Him the whole building, that is, the people of God, is joined together. In Christ the church is growing into a holy dwelling for the Lord. Paul concludes by repeating this awesome thought, that in Christ we are being built together as a holy dwelling of God in the Spirit.
A dwelling of God in the Spirit is not a dwelling of concrete and steel, doctrines and denominational governments. It is a Spirit-birthed, Spirit-filled sanctuary of God and living souls.
Who is invited to be joined to this building? All who confess with Simon Peter, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16) To that confession Jesus still responds, as He did to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18).
We are reminded of another building begun on the plains of Babel, by which its builders aspired to reach to the heavens with their idolatrous, humanistic, God-denying dreams. The project was frustrated and the builders dispersed in confusion. But God is building a temple of the very lives of the sons and daughters of the fools of Babylon, lives now redeemed and consecrated, a temple which will stretch to the heavens and beyond, which though built in time will extend to eternity.
It is a temple comprised of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Its unity is not a common race or tongue or religious ritual or doctrine or liturgy. Christ Himself is the unifying life-force of the temple. As the life of the vine gives life to the branches, as the wisdom of the Head gives direction to the Body, so Christ the living Cornerstone supports His holy temple, gives life and power and wisdom and direction to His temple.
This temple is His Body on earth, that dwelling through which He releases His ministry of mercy and grace to a lost, broken and dying world. It is a temple which, though built of human stone, contains nothing less than the presence of God. The outbreak of Shekinah glory in the old Jerusalem temple will seem but a dim candle to the glory of this temple's light when Christ truly manifests His presence in His temple, the Church on earth.
3:1 Paul says that He is "the prisoner of Christ Jesus." Although he had been a prisoner for about two years in Caesarea and two years in Rome, he did not consider himself to be a prisoner of the Roman government. He was a prisoner of Christ. God was in control of his life. The hand of God was upon his life, directing his circumstances, ruling the rulers.
This means that imprisonment was not an interruption in his ministry but just another assignment in the fulfillment of that ministry. He was a prisoner for the sake of (on behalf of) the Gentiles. The essence of the Christian life is sacrifice and service on behalf of others, following the example of our Lord who, “Emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus said of Himself, ”The Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
We have been delivered from slavery by Jesus (Hebrews 2:15) yet we are no longer our own, having been bought with a price (I Corinthians. 6:20). Our Servant-Lord has purchased us to serve with Him.
Jesus transformed the cross, an instrument of execution, into the instrument of world wide liberation. He transformed Calvary, a place of death, into a place where everlasting life could be released to all who will receive it. He is able to transform any circumstance, any satanic instrument or strategy, if our lives are surrendered to Him.
Paul allowed Jesus to transform his prison into a continuation of God's plan for his life. Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). If we have died to our own life, if we have truly been redeemed by Christ and made alive with Him, then He will continue to live through us, if we will let Him, no matter what our circumstance.
Keep this in mind — your circumstance is not your jailer. You are a prisoner of Christ and therefore, you are free. You are not a servant to the various powers that rule economies and societies. You are a servant of Christ and therefore, you are always free.
3:2 A stewardship of grace was given to Paul for others.
1. We do not own the grace of God. We are stewards, caretakers of the grace that has been given to us. Yes, we have been chosen by God as vessels of grace. Yes, grace is lavished upon us in Christ. But to enjoy the blessings of grace, we must accept the ministry of grace. That is a stewardship. God has called us, as it were, to the garden of His grace. But to live in that garden we must cultivate grace.
We do not own the grace of God. We do not own the message of grace or the church that proclaims the message of grace. We do not own the property or the furniture or any aspect of the church, physically or spiritually. We are stewards of that which God owns.
2. Paul says that the "stewardship of God's grace ... was given to me for you,” for the Ephesians. God wants to release grace through us into the lives of others. The grace that is lavished upon us must be poured out through us. The Lord brings us up against a hurting, needy world so we can be release points of His grace.
We are not owners of grace. We are stewards. We are not grace banks, grace repositories. We are vessels of grace. If we refuse the ministry of grace, do we not also refuse the greater part of the blessings of grace?
3:3 God had granted Paul revelation. The word revelation has to do with the unveiling of something. What we know of grace or any other mystery of God is only by divine unveiling, divine revelation. We see as God reveals, we hear as God speaks in His Word. History, secular or sacred, makes sense only as God unveils His presence and purpose. Revelation does not remove the tragedy, the pain from our human experience. But in the midst of it all, our eyes are opened to see the pattern of the great I Am in our past, our present and our future. And we are able to continue our pilgrim journey.
3:4-6 Previous generations did not have access to the mystery of Christ but now this is revealed to apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit. (A mystery is truth that was hidden but is now revealed in the New Testament through the ministry of the Holy Spirit). Specifically, the mystery referred to Paul is that Gentiles, non Jews, who once had been "separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (2:12), are now fellow heirs with Jews of God’s gift of salvation, fellow members of Christ’s church and partakers of the promises of Christ.
This mystery revealed is called Gospel, Good News. It is Good News that, "God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting (our) trespasses against (us)" (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is Good News that, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Matthew 19:10). It is Good News that, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). It is Good News that in Christ’s church, there are no longer distinctions of status between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free but we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
3:7 Paul was made a minister of this Good News.
1. Paul was made a minister (literally, servant). We cannot make ourselves into servants or ministers of God’s grace. The calling, gifting and empowerment for ministry is entirely from God. The message and the ability to proclaim the message with clarity and power, are entirely from God.
2. Paul was made a minister “according to the gift of God's grace.” The ministry of grace is a gift of grace. The grace that was lavished upon Paul in Christ also included the calling and the capacity to proclaim grace.
3. This gift of ministry was given “according to the working of His power.” We are effective stewards or ministers of God's grace only as God empowers us. The capacity to function in any area of ministry is as much a gift of grace as the original grace that brought us to salvation. We were saved by grace and we are stewards of grace only by grace.
3:8 Grace was given to Paul ( and to all the redeemed) to share "the unfathomable riches of Christ." We share that which is deeper and higher than any can measure. The word unfathomable (or unsearchable) speaks of an unexplored country so vast that it cannot ever be fully explored; or a mystery so deep, so full of meaning, that it cannot ever be completely understood or conceived. It speaks of treasures too great to ever be counted or measured.
Notice that it is the "riches of Christ." Jesus is the treasure and the source of all treasures. In Christ, "Are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). God has poured His treasure out upon us in Christ, "For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Indeed, heroes of the faith have considered "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:26).
God saved us, “So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7). We then are ministers of grace, servants of the treasures and riches of grace which God has poured out upon us in Christ.
3:9 It was given to Paul to bring to light the mystery of grace which has been hidden in God for all the ages before Christ. "Bring to light" can also be translated, "Make all men see." This was Paul’s commission, to cause all to see the unveiled mystery of grace.
As an apostle, Paul had a special ministry of revelation but now that the mystery of grace is unveiled, now that grace has been lavished upon us, do we not also share in the commission to shine the light of grace? As we share the message of grace, we bring to light the mystery of grace. We share the light of Christ, not merely with our words but especially with our lives.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). He also said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
The light of Christ within us must not be hidden. God will position our lives so that the glorious light of the grace of God in Christ can shine through us into this world.
John said of Jesus, "In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it" (John 1:4,5). When we proclaim Jesus, the light of God shines into hearts, revealing the hidden reality of sin and illuminating the mystery of God and the Good News of salvation. When we lift up Christ, it is not strange that many see and believe. It is strange that some do not. But there is a darkness that does not comprehend Him.
3:10 In sharing the gospel of grace with the world, we are also revealing the manifold wisdom of God to the spiritual rulers in the heavenlies. Manifold wisdom suggests a design, a purpose of glorious beauty and variety. And how truly glorious God's purpose is, that humanity would be created with a capacity to know and worship Him, yet with the freedom to reject and grieve Him.
How glorious God’s purpose, that though we rejected God, He would nevertheless love us while we hated Him, treasure us while we despised Him, choose us while we abandoned Him, pursue us, awaken us, pour out His own life to redeem us from slavery to sin and death and bring us into reconciled fellowship with Himself in the community of saints known as the church.
What is even more astounding is that this manifold wisdom, this glorious purpose of God, is made known through the church in union with Christ to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies. These spiritual rulers are the angelic powers, who, evidently, do not have complete insight into the purpose of God. The holy angels rejoice to see the redeeming purpose of God revealed through the church. Fallen angels, though they will not praise God, see clearly God’s glory revealed in the salvation of lost sinners, in our sanctification and in our preservation in God’s church.
These fallen angelic rulers are not to be feared. Though we must "wrestle" against them (6:12), they have been made subject to Christ after His triumph (I Peter 3:22). Following His resurrection, Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, "Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion" (Ephesians 1:21). All things have been put "in subjection under His feet” and He is "head over all things to (for) the church" (1:22). Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities, having triumphed over them” on the cross.
Because we have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenlies (2:6), we share in His triumph. We do not fear powers of darkness. Rather, God displays His glory to them through us.
In I Corinthians 4:9, Paul says that the apostles are a spectacle to angels and to men. The word spectacle is theatron, from which we derive the English word theater. The ministry of the apostles, and of the church, is not limited to time and space, to what we can see and touch. The church is God's messenger to spiritual rulers as well as to the secular rulers of the world. Through the church God displays the spectacle, the theatrical presentation of His glory.
By the way, what’s playing at your church? Is the glory of God on display through passionate prayer and worship, committed evangelism, sincere love for the truth and sacrificial commitment to one another? What’s playing at your church? Is the glory of God on display?
10:11 That the church would be God's instrument in making His glorious wisdom known is not something the Lord thought up suddenly. It is according to His eternal purpose which He has accomplished through Jesus the Messiah. Eternal purpose can be translated purpose of the ages. It has always been God’s purpose to reveal His redeeming purpose through Jesus and through his redeemed church. Not only has God always intended this but all of history moves toward it. Now, "in the fulness of time,” as Paul says in Galatians 4:4, in Christ Jesus this purpose is realized. Through Christ's church this purpose is proclaimed.
God reveals His glory in loving sinners, in sending a Savior who died an atoning death for lost sinners and in raising Christ from the dead. Now God reveals His glory through the church as we proclaim the Good News with our words, our praise and our lives.
3:12 Every believer lives in union with Christ and through our faith-union in Messiah we are translated into the Kingdom of God and with bold confidence we enter into the very presence of God. We have access into the Holy of Holies:
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
The New Covenant cancels the work of the Fall of Adam and Eve. After they sinned, they hid from God and from their own nakedness. Under the Old Covenant, the High Priest could enter through the veil into the Holy of Holies only once a year. But redeemed in Christ we enter God's presence unashamed:
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).
3:13 “Therefore don't lose heart over my tribulation,” says Paul, or any tribulation. Our trials for the sake of Christ display the glory of God. How do your trials glorify God? Because in your grief and in your suffering, you called on God, looked to God, trusted in His promises and this display of faith brings Him glory. In your weariness you rested in the Lord and your perseverance brought Him glory.
3:14 “For this reason” repeats the opening words of this chapter and refers to the wonderful truths revealed in chapter 2, namely that
1. Sinners, born under judgment, have been raised from spiritual death into new life in Christ by grace through faith (2:1-10).
2. Gentiles, who at one time were separated from God and from God’s covenant, have now been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ (2:11-13).
3. Jew and Gentile have been brought into spiritual unity in Jesus and are now new creations, “one new man” (2:14-17).
4. Through Christ we now have access to the Father and are members of God’s household, a new community built on the cornerstone of Jesus (2:18-20).
5. This new community, the church, is now the dwelling place of God, both personally, as the Holy Spirit indwells each believer, and corporately, God being present in His church (2:21,22).
For this reason, because these truths are so great and wonderful, Paul bows his knees before the Father. This speaks of his humble reverence for the mighty works of grace bestowed on us. These works of grace inspire his prayer.
3:15 “From whom every family in heaven and earth derives its name.” In Acts 17:26 Paul says that God, "Made from one (blood) every nation of mankind.” In a general sense, tracing from Adam, God is the Father of all. But notice that Paul says, “Every family in heaven.” This cannot refer to unbelievers because there are no unbelievers in heaven. Obviously Paul is not referring to the false doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. All humanity can refer to God as Father in the sense of God the Creator, but only the redeemed can refer to God in a personal or relational sense.
Humanity fell from relationship with God. Through Jesus, those who believe are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God, brought into a covenant relationship with Him and adopted into the family of God. In chapter 1, Paul said that those who were chosen for salvation are also predestined, “To adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5). Paul also said that God sent forth His Son, “So that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son” (Galatians 4:5-7).
“Every family” refers to the household of God, alluded to earlier in this chapter. It refers to believers who are alive on earth today and those who have gone to be with the Lord, “In heaven and on earth.” We know that we are members of the household of God because the Spirit of God bears witness in our hearts that we are children of God.
3:16 Now Paul begins the prayer that he started to pray in verse one. He prays that the Lord would grant according to the riches of His glory. God's riches are as great as His glory. Our prayers should not be inspired by our want but by God's glory. Our faith for God’s answer should not be limited by our circumstance but by the infinite riches of the God of all glory.
That God would grant what? That we would be strengthened with power by His Spirit in our inner being. Paul was writing from a prison cell, having endured much tribulation. His readers also had suffered for their faith. Though we are united with God's purpose, still the journey is demanding. We require strength for the journey, an impartation of strength not from our own devices but from and through the Spirit of God.
Strengthened with what? With might or power, dunamis, from which we derive the English words dynamic, dynamo, dynamite. Dunamis is that which Jesus promised to all believers, “But you will receive power (dunamis) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Dunamis is the power of God which is made available to all believers who open their hearts and minds to the disciplined study of the Word of God, in whom God applies His Word. From this Word flows the power of God into the lives of believers, that we would be God’s witnesses in our generation.
Strengthened where? Not in our outer man which is decaying day by day but in the inner man which "is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Our inner man is that part of our being which is, "Being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Colossians 3:10). The inner man is that part of our being which, "Joyfully concurs with the law of God" (Romans 7:22). It is that part of us that thirsts for God, seeks God, receives God.
Strengthened by whom? By the Spirit of God. One of the Holy Spirit's names is Comforter. In earlier English usage, to comfort means to strengthen. The Holy Spirit is God's strengthener.
3:17 We are to be strengthened so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. At the moment of salvation, Jesus comes to dwell within the redeemed. Indeed, it is the Spirit of God within us that witnesses that we are children of God:
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!‘ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
But if the indwelling Spirit of God would truly be at home in us, not grieved by sin, disobedience or rebellion, if He will be truly at rest in us, then we must be strengthened with might by the power of God. The Holy Spirit strengthens us so that we may resist temptation, overcome sin, feed on the Word of God, live an overcoming life and fulfill the purpose of God for our life. If we would grow in the knowledge of Christ, if we would grow in union with Christ, then we must be strengthened by the Spirit of Christ.
If the fruit of the Spirit — love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, (Galatians 5:22, 23) — is to mature in us, we will need to be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can produce the life of God in us.
If we are to produce holy fruit, that is, live productive lives as witnesses for Christ, it is only by the power of Christ and the presence of Christ. Jesus said, "Abide in me and I in you ... apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4,5). As Christ dwells more deeply in our hearts by faith, as we grow strong in union with Him, there is a natural fruitfulness to life. We are more truly rooted and grounded in love. And the truer the roots, the truer the fruit.
How is it that the Spirit of God dwells in us? Only by faith. By faith we received God’s gift of salvation and the indwelling Christ. By faith we continue to trust in Christ’s work in and through us. By faith, we are able to live fruitful lives, self-giving lives, rooted and grounded in love.
3:18,19 Paul prays that we, rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints the height and depth, the immeasurable love of Christ. This is a paradox, to know that love which is not measurable. We cannot contain the love of Christ in its infinite, unbounded fulness. But we can know it, experience it. Paul prays not just that we would comprehend in an intellectual sense but that we would know, experience, the love of Christ.
Notice that we must be rooted in love if we would comprehend the love of Christ. The love of God is the beginning and end of our knowledge of God.
Notice also that we comprehend the love of Christ only “with all the saints.” Our experience of Christ’s love takes place within the covenant community, the faithful, the redeemed, the church. As we worship together, study God’s Word together, experience the joys and trials of life together, go out into the world as witnesses together, we experience the love of Christ.
Paul prays that we would know “the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s immeasurable love. He is referring to the vastness, the eternality, the perfection of Christ’s love. This is the love with which Christ first loved us, before we know Him, while we were yet His enemies, the love which God lavished upon us as an act of grace. This is the love that “surpasses knowledge.” Paul prays that we would be recipients and sharers of this love.
He prays another paradox, that we would be filled with all the fulness of God. It is impossible that the creature could contain the Creator, that the finite would encompass that which is infinite. But there is a sense of what Paul means in Colossians 2:9,10:
"For in Him (in Christ) all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made complete (full)." It is not that we contain the fulness of God but in His fulness we are made complete. It is a fulness appropriate to this time and place of life though surely, in heaven's union with God, our completeness will be of a different order.
What does it mean to be made complete or full in Christ? It means that we are overflowing with the love of Christ, compelled and dominated by the love of Christ. Not that we can understand or comprehend or contain the vastness of God’s love for us, but we can be so immersed in the experience of it that all of our life is controlled by and devoted to this great love of God.
Notice that Paul prays that we would be “filled up to all the fulness of God.” In 4:13, He prays that we would attain to “the fulness of Christ.” In 5:18 He prays that we would be “filled with the Spirit.” As we have said, Paul is not praying that we would contain all of God in our being — this is impossible. He is praying that all of our being would be controlled and directed by God, overflowing with the life and love and power and wisdom and mercy of God.
3:20 Paul’s benediction for this chapter is dependent on the previously stated conditions. If we are “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man”; if “Christ dwells in (our) hearts through faith”; if we are “rooted and grounded in love”; if we “comprehend with all the saints” the vastness of Christ’s love; if we “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” and are “filled up to all the fulness of Christ”; then God is able to do abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine according to the power at work within us.
God’s power will always exceed our petition. God’s resources will always surpass our need. Though we boldly and confidently enter the presence of God in prayer, our requests fall far short of that which God is able to supply. There is no limit, then, to our growth in Christ, to our knowledge of His purpose or His resources for the accomplishing of His kingdom purpose. For the saint in union with Christ, the horizon is limitless.
Where is this power released? Within us.
What power is that? It is the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the living presence of God who dwells in our hearts through faith. The Spirit of the indwelling Christ releases the power resources of God within us.
How much power is that? Power that exceeds not only our request but our imagination.
What kind of power is that? Paul says in 1:19,20 that it is power, “In accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
The power of God working within us is the same power that raised Jesus from death to life, from earth’s tomb to heaven’s throne.
3:21 When God is granting us the riches of His glory, strengthening us with power, dwelling in our hearts by faith; when we are rooted and grounded in love and comprehending with all the saints the love which surpasses knowledge, when God is accomplishing in and through us abundantly more than we ask or imagine through the resurrection power of Jesus — then God can be glorified in His church.
Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
To God be the glory, Paul says. Yes, but God’s glory manifests not only in Christ but also in Christ's church. The church is linked in this verse to Christ in spiritual union. Jesus is the Head, the church is His body. That which is true of the Head is becoming true of the body. It is the purpose of the Father and the Son to glorify one another but also that their glory be manifested in the church, "Which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23).
4:1 “Therefore” links the preceding discussion of our blessings in Christ with the following discussion of our Christian life. Therefore, since we are strengthened with power by the indwelling Holy Spirit; since Christ dwells in our hearts through faith; since we are rooted and grounded in love and are experiencing the vastness of God’s love for us in Christ; since we are filled with the fulness of God and living in union with a God who is able to do abundantly beyond all that we could ask or imagine; therefore, our life should reflect our position in Christ.
Again Paul mentions his imprisonment. It may be his way subtle way of reminding his readers that discipleship can be costly and he knows as well as anyone the cost of obedience to Christ. Prisoner of the Lord could also be translated in the Lord. Paul is speaking, not only of his imprisonment but of His union with Christ, a union which imprisonment cannot alter in any way.
We are exhorted to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Walk refers to our manner of living. Since it is Christ who indwells us, His love controls us and His strength empowers us, we should continually bend our will to the Lordship of Christ.
Calling refers to God’s sovereign, irresistible choice to draw us to Himself, reveal His Gospel to us and save us. Calling also refers to the place, the ministry, the purpose which has been prepared for us from eternity.
This recalls Paul's words, that we are Christ's “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). The ultimate purpose of God in this universe, as we have seen, is the union of all things in Christ. The goal of our ministry, of our works and gifts, then, is to contribute toward, to take our place in, this grand, cosmic design of God.
Paul exhorts us to walk in a manner worthy of our salvation and of the ministry which God has designed for each of us. What kind of walk is that?
4:2 We are to walk with humility, the opposite of pride. Interesting, the word humility is not found in the Latin or Greek vocabularies of that day. Neither was it considered virtuous by Romans or Greeks to give place to others. That was considered to be the attitude of a slave. It may be that Paul or some other follower of Christ coined this word which is reflective of the attitude of Christ,
“Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Our life is also to be characterized by gentleness, which is the opposite of self-assertion; the world says, “Have it your way, take what you want, you have your rights, stand up and assert yourself.” Jesus says, "Blessed are the gentle / meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit — a quality of soul which God produces in His children. However, "strife, outbursts of anger, disputes" are deeds of the flesh which reveal a person who is not participating in the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-23).
We are to exercise patience (or as in the King James Version, long suffering), which is more than mere endurance. This word expresses a sense of hope, of faith that something better will come.
We are to show tolerance (forbearance) of one another in love. It is this love which inspires and quickens humility, gentleness and patience. We are able to bear with others and bear them up. We are to bear one another's burdens, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts.
When did God love us? While we were yet sinners. When did God forgive us? When our sin nailed Him to the cross. We see these qualities of humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance in the life of Jesus and never more clearly than on that cross. It is this vision of a crucified Savior, pouring out the blood of a covenant of grace, that inspires us to surrender daily to the Holy Spirit who is able to create these holy virtues in us.
Some might consider these qualities to be impractical, even dangerous in a fallen world. How can we defend ourselves against evil if we are humble, gentle, patient, forbearing others in love? Possessing Christ-like character does not preclude standing against evil. Jesus, possessing every holy virtue, confronted evil always and everywhere. But the greatest confrontation with evil is in our own hearts — the line between good and evil does not cross between nations, races or economic classes — it passes through each human heart. As we confront evil in ourselves, we are able to confront evil in the world with a Christ-like attitude.
4:3 If the ultimate goal of God is "the summing up of all things in Christ" (or "the unity of all things in Christ” Ephesians 1:10) then surely we must be being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The word translated maintain or preserve means to watch or keep guard over. It refers not only to the guarding of our own words and actions but to our willingness to resolve any issues that threaten the peace and union of Christ's church.
Unity of the Spirit is that unity which God the Holy Spirit creates. Peace is the bond which holds us in unity. Peace is the antithesis of ambitious striving, dissension and jealousy which tear at the church. The Holy Spirit creates unity in the church by cultivating in each of us those virtues of love, kindness, peace, patience, gentleness, self control — the fruit of the Spirit — which enable us to guard unity.
Unity is also an expression of the presence of Christ in our midst. In His High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed repeatedly that His church might be one (see 17:11,21,22,23). He also said, “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). He is the Christ who is not absent but present and surely the Christ in our midst still prays that we may be one.
We must remember, though, that preserving unity does not mean tolerating heresy, immorality, divisive attitudes or any evil in our hearts or in Christ’s church. When we allow these evils, we destroy unity. Therefore, false teachers, those who practice worldly lifestyles, those who divide, those who practice any evil, are to be lovingly warned and prayed for. The goal is restoration of the sinner but if they will not heed the warning, they must be put out.
Paul often had to deal with false teachers, immorality and divisive attitudes in the young churches. He prayed, pleaded and warned. His goal was never banishment but reconciliation and unity. However, if the offending brethren would not repent, Paul removed them.
There are many churches today that have denied the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of Scripture. They make a pretense of love and tolerance, allowing any and all worldly lifestyles, false philosophies and heresies. But they are not preserving the unity of the church (though they say they are). They are, in fact, destroying the true church and building a false church.
Many small churches also tend to allow the compromise of their faith in the vain belief that they cannot afford to lose anyone. They are mistaken. They cannot afford to keep anyone who will not live under the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of Scripture.
We must not compromise truth or holiness for the sake of unity. When we allow false teaching and unholy lifestyles to compromise Christ’s church, whatever remains is not the unity of the body of Christ. It is not the body of Christ at all.
4:4-6 There is one body — one church. It is comprised of every believer from the first Pentecost in Jerusalem to this present day. Though the church consists of many races celebrating in many languages throughout many centuries, it is one church, each member sharing one hope of eternal life with God. We are brought into this unity by the one Spirit of God. Walking worthy of our calling means we allow the Holy Spirit to build us into the unity of the body of Christ.
There is one Lord, Jesus Christ. There is one faith — the body of doctrinal truth revealed to us in the New Testament. There is one baptism, the outward sign of the inner work of salvation. There is one God and Father over all. Note the seven fold use of the word one, speaking of the perfection of unity which is God's design for this universe and for His church.
The unity of the church is related to the unity of God, "One Spirit... one Lord... one God and Father of us all.” Though the Trinity is comprised of three distinct persons, they are one in unity. Paul said elsewhere, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ" ( I Corinthians 12:12). If God is One, and we individually and corporately as His church exist in, for and through Him, then His unity must be expressed in our fellowship:
"Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him" (I Corinthians 8:6).
Notice the phrase, "Above all, through all and in all." Over all refers to the transcendence of God (transcendence refers to God’s existence above, beyond and independent of the universe). Through all refers to the omnipresence of God (present in all places at all times). In all refers to the immanence of God (God present within His creation yet distinct from it). God is wholly other and God is present.
4:7 Paul now moves from the unity of the body of Christ to the uniqueness of each member. As members of the body of Christ, grace has been given to each of us. Grace has been given in a general sense — the grace of salvation. But also, grace is given in a particular sense. Spiritual gifts have been bestowed on each believer according to the measure which seems right to the Lord, "According to the measure of Christ's gift." We do not choose our gifts nor does a bishop or pastor assign any gifts. They are given by the Lord of the church.
In 1 Corinthians 12:7 we read, "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." Each member of the body is gifted in such as way as to enable the ministry of Christ to continue though His church. In that same passage to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul mentioned, “Varieties of gifts ... varieties of ministries ... varieties of effects” (I Cor. 12:4-6). We must not fail to recognize and encourage the wonderful diversity of Christ’s giftings to His people.
Though there is a great variety of gifts implied in this verse, it is written in the context of an exhortation on unity. The gifts are intended to fit and work together even as the members of a physical body work in harmony, the different gifts complementing and completing one another. No gift, no member of the body, is complete without the others. The gift of each must be fulfilled by the gift of all.
We must keep in mind, though, that unity is not uniformity. Uniformity, when everyone looks the same, acts the same, exercises ministry in the same way with the same gifts — that is not true unity. The church that represses the diversity of Christ's ministry does so at great cost to itself.
The church in which few gifts function and those are controlled by the pastor or bishop, where there is a drab grey, monotonous, unchanging, colorless, toneless, inflexible, rigid, uniform sameness to the members and ministries, be it large or small, impressive or unimpressive, this is a church which will accomplish little of Christ's work on earth.
4:8 Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 which in Hebrew tradition was applied to Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the gift of the Law. But Paul now applies the Scripture to Jesus who ascended on high after His victorious death and resurrection, leading a procession of captives. It was common in Paul’s day for a victorious general or king to return at the head of a great procession of spoils and prisoners. So with Jesus. After He conquered Satan, sin and death, Jesus returned to His Father the multitudes of sinners who would be reconciled to God.
What wonderful Good News! We who once were prisoners of sin and death, enslaved to demonic powers, now as prisoners of Christ are set free into abundant life. And more — Christ our conqueror does not plunder us, as do all other conquerors, rather, He sets us free from the plunderer, the thief who came only to kill, steal and destroy. No, Christ does not take from us, except for our sin, guilt and condemnation. But as He leads us captive into everlasting life, He gives us gifts.
The gifts referred to in verse 8 cannot be limited to the ministry gifts of verse 7 but include all the treasure store of grace which has been lavished upon the redeemed in Christ: salvation from sin, reconciliation to God, everlasting life, these are but a few of the gifts which Jesus pours into the lives of these captives set free to be bond servants of the Most High God.
4:9,10 Jesus ascended only after he descended. Jesus' descent is in two senses. First, he descended from heaven to take human form in His incarnation and birth. He also descended into death, the grave and into hell. John in his Gospel uses similar language, "No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13).
Having descended, Jesus then ascended, "That He might fill all things." Jesus' ascension is not merely into heaven but “far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” This refers not only to the omnipresence of Christ but to His headship over all things. There is no limit to His Lordship. This also refers to Paul's theme of the ultimate unity of the universe in Jesus (Ephesians 1:10, "The summing up of all things in Christ" and of Christ's present headship over all, seated as He is, "Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion" (Eph. 1:21).
Having established that the church is the body of Christ on earth and that we should walk in a manner worthy of our calling, protecting the unity of the body; having established that Jesus led us out of captivity and gifted all whom He redeemed; having established that Jesus is Lord of the church; Paul reminds us that the church has been gifted with ministers whose purpose is to equip and prepare the members of the church for the exercise of their gifts.
4:11 Jesus, Lord of the church, assigns gifts and gifted people to His church. First are the apostles. This refers in particular to the 12 apostles who saw the risen Christ (including Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas). Paul is also called an apostle, as he too encountered the risen Christ. These men had 3 basic responsibilities: lay the foundation of the church (2:20); receive, write and declare God’s Word (Acts 11:28); confirm that Word with signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).
There is also a more general application of the term apostle to men such as Barnabas, Silas and Timothy. They are referred to as apostles of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23) rather than apostles of Jesus Christ as the other 13. The apostles who founded the church were not replaced after they died. Theirs was not a perpetual ministry. However, the word apostle, apostolos, means messenger, one who is sent. In a sense, we are all apostolos, messengers, sent to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
Next Paul mentions the prophets. This may refer to an ordinary believer exercising the gift of prophecy. But more likely it refers to the office of prophet, those believers who were confirmed and commissioned to function within the local church. They exhorted the church, sometimes with special revelation from God (see Acts 11:27,28). At other times, they may have expounded on revelation already given (see Acts 13:1, the linking of prophets and teachers).
Evangelists are those who preach the Gospel primarily to unbelievers. They were important instruments of God in the expansion of the first century church and are still greatly used of God.
Pastors and teachers, or more accurately, pastor-teachers, minister primarily in the church. The word pastor is derived from the word shepherd and this gifting is for the shepherding or leading of Christ’s flock.
4:12 Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are God's gift to the church for a specific purpose. They equip the saints for the work of ministry so that the church can be upbuilt. Notice the process:
The word equipping has to do with making something complete or fit. Apostles founded the church. Prophets spoke revelatory direction to the early church. Evangelists proclaimed the Gospel, calling people to Christ and His church. Then, pastor-teachers partner with the Holy Spirit in equipping and nurturing the members of the church. As this happens, the members fulfill their ministries. As ministry takes place, the church grows.
The primary means for equipping the church, making the church complete, is the clear teaching of the Word of God. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and apples it to our hearts where it “performs its work in you who believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13). Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:6).
The church is equipped for, "The work of service" (or ministry). The work of the church is to serve. Jesus said, in response to the desire for power and place among His disciples, "But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45).
The commission of these apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching ministries is not to control, dominate or serve personal ambitions but to serve the saints by equipping them so they may serve according to their assigned gifts and ministries. As the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, the body of Christ is upbuilt. The church is comprised of its people, as a body is comprised of its members. As the members of the church are built up, the church grows as naturally as any other organism in God's creation.
Summarizing verses 11 and 12: The Lord has gifted the church
1. with apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching ministries
2. so that the saints may be equipped
3. for the work of ministry / service
4. so that the church may be upbuilt.
4:13 The goal of that growth is:
1. Attaining to the unity of the faith
2. Attaining to the knowledge of the Son of God
3. Growing to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ
Note the phrase, “Until we all attain." This is a corporate we. We grow in Christ together, as individual members, yes, but as members of a body. The members of a physical body cannot grow apart from the whole body and neither can the members of Christ's body. There is no concept in the New Testament of the Christian life lived in isolation We live in the community of faith known as the church.
Notice that the first goal toward which we are growing is the unity of the faith. The faith to which Paul refers is that body of truth and doctrine which we have been given by God in His inspired Word. This faith, this body of truth, cannot be unified with heresy, false teaching or blasphemy, for “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial (Satan)?” (2 Cor. 6:14,15).
Unity at the expense of truth is false unity. Paul is not talking about being unified with cults, false religions or so-called Christians who deny the foundations of faith.
Paul is referring to unity within the boundaries of Scripturally defined truth. Such unity is both gift and goal. Unity is God’s gift to the church in the sense that God has given us the holy Bible. It is His inspired, revealed Word and therefore is authoritative for our lives. This body of truth, the faith, reveals God’s truth and through that truth, generates a dynamic of unity. However, truth must be guarded by the church. We guard it by teaching it with clarity and power. As we do, we are guarding the unity of the church.
Unity of faith is also the goal of the church, something toward which we grow. There is a constant attempt by Satan to penetrate the church with false teaching which inevitably weakens and divides the church. As pastor / teachers are faithful in presenting the truth of God’s Word, the church will continue to attain to true, Scripturally formed unity.
This does not mean that we all believe each doctrine in exactly the same manner and confess with the same words. This is not about creedal uniformity. There are differences in practice and belief on a variety of doctrines, just as there are differences in giftings and ministries.
However, there are essential, foundational truths which all true followers of Christ confess: God’s revelation of Scripture as His infallible Word, the virgin birth of Christ, His atoning death on the cross and physical resurrection from the dead (to name just a few). Within the parameters of this faith which has been transmitted to us in holy Scripture, redeemed followers of Christ live in unity in Christ.
This is Paul’s second goal, that we attain to the knowledge of the Son of God. This second goal results from the accomplishing of the first goal. As we grow in unity of faith, we are growing in the knowledge of the Son of God. As we study the Scriptures, which reveal Christ, as we pray and worship and discipline our lives to obey the Lord, we will grow in our knowledge of Jesus.
The beginning of wisdom is the knowledge of God. The goal of faith and knowledge is to know Christ. This knowing takes place in union with the body of Christ. We know Christ as we hear His Word taught in His church, as we worship Him in His church, as we meet Him in the gifts and ministries and life of His church.
Thirdly, we are growing to maturity defined as, "The measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ." This is not a maturity which can be gained in isolation from the church. This is not referring to the maturity of an individual apart from the church but rather, of the maturing of the members as the body grows. We experience the fulness of Christ as He is revealed in His Word, as He is exalted in worship, as He is celebrated in the sacraments and gifted ministries of His church. As Christ's church grows in His likeness, so do the individual members who comprise that church.
Our growth is measured against the person of Jesus. We are growing into His fulness. It is in Christ that we live and grow and toward His fulness that we grow. Christ is our beginning and our goal.
Speaking of that goal, the Apostle Paul said, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Perfect or perform, from the Greek epiteleo, means to finish, make perfect; from the root telos, which means the conclusion, ultimate, uttermost. This same word, telos, is also the root of, "You shall be perfect (teleios) even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). The goal of this "good work" which the Lord is performing in us is that we would, "Attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (or perfect — teleios) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
4:14,15 Our growth in Christ is manifested in several ways:
1. We are no longer tossed about like unstable children by every wind of doctrine, by trickery, by deceitful scheming.
Throughout the New Testament the church is warned about false teachers who seduce and mislead with their mistaken, lying, deceptive interpretations of Scripture. There is a stability and maturity that takes place within the refuge of the church, the body of Christ, as we listen to the Word of God taught with clarity and skill. That Word performs God’s work in us — confronting us, correcting, equipping us. Joined to the lives of other believers in Christ, we are able to resist the storms, schemes, errors and deceptions which come our way.
2. We speak the truth.
The phrase, "Speak the truth,” implies far more than mere vocalizing. There is a sense of believing the truth and living the truth. For the Christian, truth is not simply a collection of doctrines which we recite. It is a living, breathing reality which is believed on inwardly and lived outwardly. Jesus said, "I am the Truth." Christ Himself is the truth and the dynamic of His life lived in and through us brings truth to life and is a proof of our growth in Christ.
3. We speak the truth in love.
Godly truth must be lived and spoken in love. The way of Christ's truth is the way of Christ's love, as John reminds us, "Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God for God is love" (I John 4:8).
When we speak the truth without love, the result can be harsh, cold, judgmental sermonizing. When we share love without truth, the result can be greeting card sentimentality with no power to convict or convince. In fact, some churches today are drifting toward cult-like status as they attempt to love the lost while denying the truth of holy Scripture.
4. Speaking the truth in love, we grow up in Christ.
The same Godly truth that penetrates darkness and tears down strongholds also builds us up. The same truth that pierces our hearts, reproves, corrects and disciplines us, also restores us. Growing in Christ means that we are yielded to His Lordship, obedient to His Word in every area of life, allowing His Word to confront us and nurture us.
5. We grow up into Christ our Head.
Jesus is Head of the church in that He rules, leads, directs and blesses His church (Eph. 5:23 Colossians 1:18 ). A deliverer cannot be a deliverer unless there is someone to deliver. A king can still be king without subjects, but he cannot be said to rule unless there is someone to rule. A head will still be a head without a body, but many of the functions of the head will be unfilled. The church is that people whom Christ our Deliverer delivers, over whom Christ our King rules, whom Christ our Head directs.
His headship of the church denotes not only rulership but also union. We are growing up, "Into Him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together.” Jesus is joined to the church and it is His life that vitalizes, enlightens and enlivens the church. Apart from Jesus, the church has no meaning as a community, no life and no direction. We have been raised with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We are growing in Christ, because of Christ and toward Christ.
We are therefore exhorted, "If then, you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:1-3).
4:16 We are built up into Christ from whom the whole body is joined and builds itself up in love. “From whom” refers to the power of Christ released in the believer and in the church. But notice, the body is held together, “By that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part.” We are built up by the power of Christ working through the individual members.
As the life of Christ flows from Him through the church, each part becomes an instrument or minister in the sharing of that life with the other members of the body. As we exercise our spiritual gifts and ministries in submission to Christ and one another, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit and each other, in a context of truth and love, we are being built into the Body of Christ. We are each working parts of a growing whole.
The church is a constantly unfolding miracle. Redeemed people, though still subject to sin, are joined together in holy union in Christ for the outworking of His purpose on earth. The life of Christ released into and expressed through His church is a miracle of incarnation only somewhat less marvelous than that of the first Christmas.
What is required to be part of this church?
A life of repentance is required. We are continually confessing our sins to God and dying to our own, self centered ways, choosing instead to follow our risen Lord in all things.
A supernatural, spiritual rebirth through faith in the risen Christ is required.
A life of resurrection is required. We who have died in Christ have been raised with and in Christ. We confess our sins and receive from the Lord restoring, regenerating grace, rising into new life, new possibilities of gift and ministry.
A life of obedience and submission is required, continually dying to self and living for Christ, by the power of His indwelling Spirit.
A life of reconciliation is required. We continually share forgiveness with one another, lavishing upon each other’s lives the abundant, forgiving grace that Christ has lavished upon us.
In the following verses, Paul continues to exhort the church to live in a manner consistent with our new life, alive in Christ, growing together in Christ.
4:17-19 In 4:1, Paul exhorted the believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Now he restates the exhortation in the negative, that they no longer walk as the Gentiles walk (Gentiles refers to the unbelieving, unredeemed people who comprise the pagan society in which they lived).
Notice that he gives this command, “Together with the Lord.” Paul is not speaking in his own authority. This is God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoken through God’s holy apostle.
We can only live this new life together, as members of Christ’s church and with the Lord, in union with Him. Christ dwells in us personally and among us corporately and it is only in this community of faith, together in Christ, that we are able to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
How can we avoid being conformed to the customs, morality and mindsets of the culture that surrounds us? Because our old nature has been put to death in Christ, even though we are still tempted by sin, we are free not to sin. We are able to resist temptation because the Spirit of God abides in us and strengthens us. We are able to resist because as the Holy Spirit applies the Word of God to our hearts, we are being progressively transformed, consecrated in holiness. We are able to resist because we are members of the church, the Body of Christ, and through the prayers, fellowship, teaching, discipline, encouragement and admonishment of our fellow believers, we are able to overcome.
When we do sin, “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) who intercedes for us before the throne of God. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who applies the Word of God to our hearts, convicts us of sin and leads us through repentance to take hold of the forgiving grace of God.
Specifically, believers are to avoid copying the following characteristics of unbelievers:
1. They live in the futility (vanity, emptiness) of their minds (4:17):
Such is the mind and the life without God. It has no center and no direction. Talent, strength, resources are applied toward goals which in the end prove illusory, empty, without any lasting fulfillment or meaning. They are moving toward a horizon which, in the end, proves to be only a mirage. Theirs is a life ultimately defined by remorse and bitter regret at the wasted, unfulfilled, meaningless passage of years.
2. Darkened in their understanding (4:18):
When the human mind is not enlightened by the spirit of God applying the Word of God, no matter how highly educated, brilliant or talented a person may be, they are without the true moral insight that enables a person to navigate this world. Darkened in their understanding, they are only groping in shadows.
Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:46). Speaking of Jesus, John says, "In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it" (John 1:4,5). Separated from that Christ, one can only live in darkness.
The Psalmist said, "The unfolding of thy words gives light" (Psalm 119:130). If we cannot or will not hear that light-bearing Word, what is there but darkness?
3. Excluded or alienated from the life of God (4:18):
The reason unbelievers pursue empty dreams and the reason they are darkened in their understanding is because they are excluded from the presence of God. Every human being who ever lived was created to live in the presence of God, to know God and to be known by Him, to walk in His light, to bask in His grace, to enjoy His blessing, to receive life from Him moment by moment, as a branch draws life from the vine.
It is not God who chose to separate Himself from us. Beginning with Adam and Eve, we have separated ourselves from God by the offending, dividing wall of sin.
Because God loves the lost, He sent a Savior who came to seek and to save that which was lost. But when people continue to reject God’s offer of salvation, one of the expressions of God’s judgment is that He gives people over to the sin which they have embraced. In Romans 1:24-32, we read three times that God gives people over to the sin which they choose while rejecting the Savior whom God offers.
The greatness of salvation is relationship restored, "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me" (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). The terribleness of hell will be exclusion from the presence of this God who loves us with perfect, immeasurable love.
4. Ignorant and calloused (4:18):
The life lived apart from God is not just spiritually ignorant but hard-hearted. It is a life that not merely lacks truth but is hardened to the truth. The longer we refuse truth, the harder it is to hear it, until finally we cannot hear at all, are beyond hearing. Just as skin can become calloused, beyond feeling, so can the human soul. When God's laser sharp scalpel of light pricks a heart and there is no pang or pain of repentance, indeed, no sensation at all, that is a soul already dwelling in hell's shadows and breathing the vapors of the damned.
But how wonderful that, “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12,13).
There is no heart too hard for God to pierce except the heart that will not acknowledge the merciful sword thrust of redeeming truth.
5. Given over to sensuality and every impurity and greediness.
A life lived in futility, deafened to the light bearing Word of God, alienated from the light bearing presence of God, unresponsive to any approach from God, will in the end be given over to sensuality and all impurity and greediness. In fact, the same God who calls to the lost and died an atoning death for the sins of the lost, also gives the unrepentant sinner over to their sin. God gives the hardened sinner to their choices by removing His restraint. Without the restraining power and light of the Holy Spirit, there remains only a downward spiral of sin.
Notice how this is described in Romans chapter one. Humanity rejected God’s self revelation, suppressed the knowledge of God and refused to give Hm glory (1:18-20). As a result, their hearts became foolish, futile, and darkened (1:21). They then exchanged the worship of the true God for false gods and false religions (1:22,23). God then gave them over to a downward spiral of immorality and death (1:24-32).
Notice the connection between the sensual life and the life abandoned to impurity and greediness. The sensual life is the life centered on one's own senses, desires and affections. It is the self centered, self indulgent life, disconnected from the cries of the poor, the oppressed and even from one’s own personal woundedness. This person may occasionally toss a few words or coins into the tin cup of a favorite charity because it looks good in their mirror and provides a fleeting sense of pleasure or meaning. But there is no depth of self-giving.
Rather, the self centered, sensual life devolves into insatiable craving, an unrestrained free fall into the practice of every impurity with greed, always ravenous for more, running hard for more, trampling the monuments that mark the boundaries, pulling down the stones from the wall of the light house. Elsewhere Paul spoke of these, "Whose god is their belly (appetite)” (Philippians 3:19). They are governed, as by a god, by the prevailing appetite of the moment.
The word impurity has to do with decaying matter, complete corruption. The result of senses and appetites unrestrained is the dying of the senses and corruption of the appetites. In 5:5 of this letter (and in Colossians 3:5), Paul reminds us that impurity and covetousness / greed are expressions of idolatry. To love and pursue anything to the exclusion of God is to worship an idol. "And such were some of you,” Paul says, (were not we all?), "but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 6:11).
4:20,21 The life described by Paul in the preceding verses is not the manner of life we have come to know in Christ, "You did not so learn Christ." Having come to know Christ and having been incorporated into His church, the result is the transformed life. "In Christ" does not merely refer to our personal experience of and relationship with Jesus Christ. It also refers to the life lived in connection with His body on earth, the church.
4:22 What we are now called to do is to lay aside the old ways of living and more than that, to lay aside the old self "which is being corrupted" (literally, "is perishing"). Our old nature, corrupt and dying because it was governed by "the lusts of deceit,” was put to death in Christ and we are called now to a lifestyle of repentance, continually turning from the habits and patterns of the past, resisting, setting aside that which is corrupt and dead.
4:23,24 But we are not only to let go of or put off our old nature, we are also called to put on our new nature, to cooperate with God in the renewal, the restoring of our inner being.
Renewal is both an event and a process. When we accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we were born again, regenerated in our spirit, born as new creatures. "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away, behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Notice the present tense verb: “He is a new creature.” That was a one time event. We are new creatures in Christ and we do not need to be born again, again.
However, renewal is also a process. Salvation is not only union with Christ in His death but also in His resurrection. We have been raised with Him in new life and the Holy Spirit works within us to mature this new person. This requires our active cooperation.
How do we cooperate in putting on this new self? Paul gives clear directions in Romans 12:1,2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world (this age) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
As we present our bodies and minds, our entire being, to God day by day as an act of worship, as we read the Word of God, listen to it skillfully taught and live it, the Holy Spirit uses that divine truth to transform us. As we participate in spiritual disciplines of prayer and worship, the Spirit renews us. As we do works of mercy and justice, the Spirit renews us. As we resist the conforming influences of the world and yield our lives in worship to God, He continually transforms us into this new creature. All of this work of renewal is within the context of the body of Christ, as living members of Christ's church.
Our cooperation with the Spirit is, in a sense, a putting on of that which we have been given — new life in Christ. And it is not only life in Christ, it is the life of Christ we are putting on. The Spirit of God in us is transforming us, "In the likeness of God."
Characteristics of this new life are righteousness, holiness and truth (or in the New International Version, "Righteousness and holiness of the truth" or in the King James, "Righteousness and true holiness"). Contrast these with the former life characterized by corruption and deceit. Not only are we now new creatures in Christ, we are being recreated and empowered by Christ morally and spiritually to live as His new creations.
4:25 New life is reflected in our relationships: falsehood is put away and truth is spoken and practiced. “Members of one another” refers to brothers and sisters in the church. Truth is essential in relating to fellow believers for we are fellow members of the body of Christ.
4:26 There is room for anger. Righteous anger is not unholy or wrong. Jesus was angry at religious hypocrites who harbored sin in their hearts while putting on a religious display. He was angry at religious leaders who placed non-Scriptural burdens on people. He was angry at the priests and merchants who turned the temple into a noisy place of business. In the Old Testament, God expresses anger toward idol worshippers, those who practice immorality, those who oppress the poor, the widow, the fatherless.
Unselfish, righteous anger that expresses love for God, for God’s truth and justice, is not wrong. However, Jesus did warn that violence begins in the heart and it is just as wrong to harbor violent thoughts toward a brother as it is to act violently toward him (Matthew 5:21,22). So we need to evaluate the cause of our anger. Is it righteous anger rooted in love for God and people, or is it selfish anger based on my own preferences? If it is unrighteous anger, I need to repent and ask God to cleanse me of it.
Even if it is righteous anger, we need to resolve it, don't let the situation drag on. That is what Paul means when he says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Today, deal with whatever sin is arousing our unrighteous anger or the problem that is arousing our righteous anger.
4:27 When we fail to deal with the situation that evokes our anger, we are giving place to Satan's strategies to divide and destroy through bitterness and unforgiveness. Don’t give place to the devil — we must resolve the problem as best we can. That may not always be possible but in another letter, the apostle exhorts us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).
4:28 As renewed people we do not steal. Rather, we labor and thereby we have something to share with those in need. Notice the church is not merely exhorted to refrain from evil but also to engage in good. We refrain from theft so that we may engage in mercy.
4:29 The word unwholesome refers to that which is rotten, such as spoiled fruit. We are to be renewed in our conversation, speaking to build up others in grace, not offend, scandalize or tear them down. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). We are commanded to speak life. James reminds us that blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth any more than fresh and foul water can come from the same spring (James 3:9-12). We are to speak blessing, that others are encouraged, instructed, comforted and built up in grace.
We were saved by grace. We are kept by grace. We should communicate grace.
4:30 Do not grieve the Spirit by whom we have been sealed. The Spirit of God indwelling God's people is one of the fulfilled promises of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:25-27, Acts 2:4) and a pledge of our future inheritance. The Holy Spirit is a living Being who can be grieved or pleased. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we resist the Lordship of Jesus in any area of life, refusing to put off the old nature and put on the new.
Our new life in Christ should be pleasing to the Spirit of Christ indwelling us. But note also that the Spirit of God indwells us so we can live this new life in a pleasing way. He shines His light on our sin and brings us to repentance. He opens the Word of God to us and applies the Word to our hearts so that we can grow and be built up. He carries on the restoring work of God in us and empowers us to live the transformed life.
4:31 Paul now summarizes the changes that should be evident in our new life in Christ. We are commanded to put away bitterness, which might be described as smoldering resentment; wrath, which is more like rage. Anger is unresolved hostility; clamor is the noisy expression of anger out of control; slander is to speak evil of others; malice is the intent to cause harm. We are to put all of these actions, and the thoughts that motivate them, away from us.
4:32 Instead we are commanded to practice kindness and forgiveness. Our example is the God, who, in Christ, has forgiven us. Made new in Christ's image means we forgive as He forgives, we love as He loves. Indeed, as Paul writes elsewhere, if I practice great spiritual gifts of prophecy, if I have faith so great as to move mountains, if I am so merciful as to give all my possessions to the poor, if I am so committed to the Gospel that I give myself to martyrdom, "But have not love, it profits me nothing” (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
There is no other motive for the Christian life which God will accept but love. It is not a love which we are called to generate out of our own heart. It is a love which we first experienced and continue to experience from God Himself. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (the satisfaction, the peace offering) for our sins" (I John 4:10).
God’s love is a love which no power in the universe can separate from us. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers not height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38,39).
This love is expressed in many ways but most greatly in forgiveness. We who have been forgiven so great a debt by God should always be able to forgive the relatively smaller debts which others incur toward us. There is no greater illustration of this than in the parable of the forgiven servant who refused to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35). The telling of the parable was motivated by Peter’s question, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (18:21). Jesus’ answer, that we must forgive seven times seventy, means without limit. Isn’t God’s forgiveness of us poured out without limit?
We are called to put off our old life, corrupt and perishing, and put on a new self which is being renewed in the likeness of God. This new life recast in image God's image will be expressed and experienced in our relationship with God and with those around us. If we are truly new creatures in Christ, that will be obvious, as Jesus said, ”The tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33).
Paul described the fruit of the Spirit, "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control" (Galatians 5:22,23). These are qualities of life which are as visible in a man or woman as fruit on a tree. If a tree is healthy, it will produce good fruit. So with the person.
5:1 “Therefore” continues the thought from the last verse of chapter four in which we were exhorted to forgive one another as God has forgiven us. “Therefore, be imitators of God.” The word imitator, mimetes, gives us the English word mime.
We are not called to imitate an abstract idea or a theory of an invisible God. We are to imitate the God who has made Himself known to us in Christ, the God who has reconciled us to Himself in Christ, the God of whom Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
This is the God who has brought us into relationship with Himself as children to a Father. We imitate the God whom we have come to know.
God assists us in this calling. Our sin nature was crucified in Christ, we have been born again as new creatures in Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells us, convicts us of sin, reveals the truth of Christ to us and applies the Word of God in our hearts, leads us in worship, enlightens our minds with wisdom for the ethical and moral choices required in our daily living. In all of this, the Holy Spirit is transforming us in God’s image (2 Cor. 3:18), thereby enabling us to be imitators of God. We are able to imitate, to practice what the Holy Spirit shows us about the character of God, because that character is being cultivated in us.
5:2 Continuing the thought of imitating God, we are to walk in love. What kind of love? “As Christ loved us.” Christly love is sacrificial love, love that gives itself up for the beloved. Again, we are not imitating an abstract ideal. We love as we have been loved in Christ: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction, peace offering) for our sins" (I John 4:10). We have experienced the love of God in a Savior who for us was born in human form, who for us lived and died as a servant, who rose from the dead and lives to make intercession for us.
Love, of course, is only one of the qualities of Christ that we are to imitate. In Philippians 2:5, Paul exhorts us to, "Have this attitude in yourselves (or "let this mind be in you") which was also in Christ Jesus." God desires to cultivate the life of Christ in us that He might express His life through us.
Christ’s sacrifice, which redeemed and reconciled lost sinners to the Father, was a fragrant aroma to God. But we also, bearing the indwelling presence of Christ, growing in His likeness and imitating His self-giving love, are also a pleasing fragrance:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifest through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14,15).
5:3 Another aspect of God's character which we are to imitate is holiness. We are admonished to not let unholy traits even be named among us. Whereas in the previous chapter, Paul decried sins against fellow saints, the sins listed in verses three through five are sins against God and His kingdom. Immorality, impurity and greed must not even be named among the saints. The word saint, holy ones, is a common, New Testament word for believers, those whom God has consecrated, separated and set apart for Himself. We cannot be separated from the world and practicing the lifestyle of the world, both at the same time.
5:4 Thanksgiving, not filthiness or silliness, should characterize our conversation. James reminds us in his letter that blessings and cursing cannot come from the same mouth any more than fresh and foul water can come from the same spring (James 3:10,11). Rather than use our mouths to glorify this passing world and its evil we are exhorted to give praise and thanks to God.
5:5 In particular, Paul names the sins of immorality, impurity and covetousness and declares that those who practice such are idolaters and are outside the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, idolatry, the worship of false gods, was condemned as spiritual adultery. The worshippers were having intimate spiritual relations with gods other than the true and living Jehovah. In the New Testament, physical adultery, covetousness and impurity are condemned as spiritual idolatry because the practitioner is submitting to the lordship of unholy desires. Repeated practice of these or any sins, without repentance, reveals that such a person is living outside “the kingdom of Christ and God.”
The kingdom is the sphere in which Christ exercises Lordship in and over a redeemed saint. Sin separates us from God's rule because it is an act of submission to the rule or lordship of false gods. God wants to bless us but the blessings of His kingdom are found within the boundaries of His kingdom. If we have been redeemed and set apart unto God and for His purposes, we do not practice sin. We repent of sin and practice the disciplines of holiness and faith.
Again, those who habitually practice sin, that is, they live in sin without repentance or shame, cannot inherit the blessing of God's rule because they are living outside His rule, denying his Lordship, grieving Him and mocking His offer of salvation. They cannot inherit the blessing of the kingdom because they have not been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13,14).
5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” The deception is that we can live any way we choose and still call ourselves Christians. Evidently, this lie was being thrown about in Paul's day and in every generation the world tries to deceive the follower of Christ with moral relativism, the lie that truth is relative to one’s point of view, that there is no objective standard of truth, morality or holiness, so have it your way, if it feels good do it.
Paul reminds us that the wrath of God comes upon those who are disobedient. Yes, the blood of Jesus releases God's forgiving grace to us and delivers us from the wrath of God. But it is sincere repentance and faith that takes hold of God's gift of grace. Where people continue to practice sin, there is obviously no true repentance and no true saving faith. Therefore, the judgmental wrath of God abides on that person.
Two young friends went to an altar, prayed a prayer of salvation, signed the commitment card and joined the church. Twenty years later one is serving the Lord, hungry for the Word of God, loves to praise God, is faithful to his wife and serves faithfully in the church. When he sins, he cries out to God quickly for forgiveness and in faith receives God’s restoring grace.
The other friend, twenty years later, cheats on his wife, cheats on his taxes, cheats his customers or maybe none of that. Maybe he appears to be righteous but he seldom attends church, has no hunger for the Word of God, no desire to praise God. When he sins, he doesn’t repent; rather, he practices sin, though secretly. But he says, “Hey, I went to the altar twenty years ago, I prayed the prayer, signed the card, joined the church.”
The first man gives every evidence that he is a redeemed follower of Christ. The second man gives no evidence that he knows or loves the Lord. Rather, he appears to be a deceived religious person, trusting in a prayer or a ritual of membership rather than in Christ.
There is a place for altar prayers and joining the church but these things do not tell us whether a person has been redeemed. A man or woman may or may not be truly saved, though they went to the altar. Jesus said, “For the tree is known by its fruit” (Mathew 12:33). The man who practices sin shows by his fruit that he was never saved. The man who repents of sin and practices a righteous life shows by his fruit that he is saved.
5:7,8 We are commanded not to partake of the things of darkness. We pray for our lost friends and loved ones. We witness to them with love. But we are not partakers / participants in their darkness. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul exhorts us, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
We are not to partake of the deeds of darkness because in doing so, we participate in the kingdom of darkness. We were once slaves in that kingdom but have been ransomed through the blood of Christ, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).
Transferred from darkness to light, we are now to live and walk as children of the kingdom of light. Our life is to be a reflection of the One who said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
Notice in verse 8 Paul does not say that they were formerly of the darkness but they were darkness. Darkness was not merely their dwelling place but their nature; not merely where they lived but that which lived in them. Darkness refers to the moral / spiritual void that exists in the unredeemed person. Because they had been members of the kingdom of darkness, the life of that kingdom had conformed them in its own image. Context produces character.
We must keep in mind that the kingdom of darkness is inhabited by those who love darkness and hate light (John 3:19). It is governed by the rulers, powers and world forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Those who live and die under the lordship of the rulers of darkness will someday be condemned to live forever in outer darkness (Matthew 22:11-13).
Referring to the present state of the redeemed, the Apostle does not say that they are of the light or have been enlightened. He says, "Now you are light in the Lord." The nature and character of Jesus and His kingdom now fill, transform and conform the people of God. "To those who received Him, who believed on His name, He gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12). Even as children grow to resemble their parents, so the child of God grows to resemble the Light of the world.
This transformation is something that God works in us as we daily yield our lives to Him. Only God can produce His character in us but God only does this as we yield our lives to Him daily. In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul exhorts us, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12;1,2).
Scripture testifies of Jesus, "In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it" (John 1:4,5). If Jesus, the Light of the world, has awakened us and redeemed us, if His Spirit indwells us and if we are daily submitting our will to His transforming power and purpose, then we are able to, "Walk as children of light."
5:9 Walking or living in the light means that we are being discipled by the Lord Jesus and there will be visible fruit: goodness, righteousness and truth. Fruit manifests in various ways. There is the fruit of Godly deeds: leading people to Christ, giving sacrificially. There is the fruit of character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). There is the fruit of our lips — holy thanks and praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). Jesus said that the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33). If there is no Christly fruit in a life, how can we say that such a person is walking in the light of Christ?
5:10 Walking in the light, we want to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. The word pleasing or acceptable is often used in reference to a sacrificial offering. So in Rom. 12:1, "I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." The implication is that the life of the Christian is lived on God's altar. The altar is that place where the sacrifice is slain. Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
God's altar is a place of self denial, self giving, worship and prayer. As we place ourselves on that altar day by day, we find not death but life. On that altar, as God progressively transforms us in His image, we, “Prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, (Romans 12:2). We prove what is pleasing to the Lord as we yield our lives to Him.
5:11 "Do not participate" can be translated, "Have no fellowship." Refusing to fellowship with darkness means refusing fellowship with those who practice darkness. We are not only to refrain from practicing works of darkness, we are to avoid relationship with those who do. We cannot avoid doing business in a world dominated by evil but we can choose where and with whom we fellowship, for, "What fellowship has light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14).
Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness" (John 8:12). When anyone rejects the Lordship of the Lord of light, they choose to walk in darkness. This is always a choice, as Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Rejection of Jesus, the Light of the world, is not a theological choice. It is a moral choice.
People choose to reject light, choose darkness, because their deeds are evil.
The works of darkness are unfruitful because they disconnect us from the Lord whose presence flows life and meaning and substance into our being and our time. Jesus said, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:4,5).
A life disconnected from the Lord of life cannot result in meaning or fulfillment. More ominously, a branch disconnected from the vine will not merely cease to bear fruit. It will eventually wither and die.
Not only are we to refrain from participating in the works of darkness, more, we are to expose them. The word expose can also be translaed reprove or correct. Just as light exposes whatever is hidden in darkness, so the Christian living a Godly life will do much to expose and confront the deceptions that bind people in darkness. More than merely expose, our lives should provide correction. Correction is not so much the words we say as the life we live. A Godly life radiates the light of Jesus, as the Lord said,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden … Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16).
This does not mean that we walk around springing puritanical expose's on lost, hurting people. Rather, truth spoken through servant love shines an honest, liberating light into the lives of those bound in the darkness of destructive habits and memories. Truth revealed through kindness, mercy, humility and justice, shines light into dark places and into lives darkened by the lies of a seductive, death-breathing society.
5:12 Again, exposing the hidden things of darkness does not mean that we spend our lives diving into the sludge of scandal and sin, like cheap religious muckrakers. In fact, Paul says that there are sins which are too disgraceful to even speak of. Such conversation can be corrupting.
5:13 Paul shares an arresting thought here. When light shines into darkness, not only does the hidden thing become visible, it becomes light. Light overcomes darkness. Light converts darkness. "In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overpower it" (John 1:4,5).
When we, “Walk as children of light” (5:8), because our lives are filled with the redeeming presence of Jesus, His truth and mercy radiate through us like light. Is this who we really are? A world perishing in darkness is waiting for a church of light-bearers.
5:14 Paul appeals to those who are asleep in the darkness of spiritual death. So were we all, once. When we awakened from the sleep of spiritual death, it was God who awakened us. Repentance, the turning to God, awakening to God, is a gift from God. We are awakened from the darkness of death into the light of Christ. But God awakened us through the testimony of a light-bearing church. Are we that church today?
5:15 Therefore, since we have been awakened from the darkness of death into the light of life, we are commanded to walk carefully and wisely. The Biblical definition of wisdom begins with the proper reverence of God, “The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalm 111:10). Note the linkage between reverencing God and knowing and doing or living His commands. We cannot say that we worship and love God if we are violating His Word. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Conversely, the Biblical definition of a fool is someone who believes that God does not exist, or lives in such a way as to deny God’s existence, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). The word fool does not refer to his intellect but to his unbelief, his sin and his inability to comprehend saving truth (I Corinthians 2:14).
The person who is walking wisely is the person who reverences God and shows reverence by obeying God’s Word. This wise life is marked by holiness, Scripturally defined morality. The unwise person does not reverence God and their lifestyle reveals their irreverence in patterns, habits and attitudes of personal immorality, dishonesty and injustice toward others and callousness toward God.
That person may be considered wise by the world but the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. However, there is a wisdom in Christ, which, though appearing foolish in the eyes of the world, is in fact the power of God (I Cor. 1:18-31). Such wisdom is to be desired more than gold (Proverbs 8:10,19 16:16 Psalm 19:9,10).
5 :16 The word time refers to a fixed, measured season. We are to make the most of our measured season of life, redeeming the time, using profitably the fleeting moments that we have in this life. How quickly the day light passes and then it is night when no one can work. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship and Bible study are not a means of escape from the time and place in which we live. Rather, they are means of grace, strengthening and establishing the disciple for the living of these days.
How do we best live these days? "Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant," (Matt 20:26). A servant's heart will redeem the time.
5:17 We make the most of our time when we understand God's will. The fool wastes time because the will of God is ignored or misunderstood. There is much confusion today about the will of God because so many people are Scripturally illiterate or willfully disobeying what is known. But in the Word of God, holy Scripture, the will of God is revealed to any who truly seek.
5:18 Don't get drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit. We are spiritual creatures living in a physical body. When any part of our being falls out of balance, we instinctively try to fill the empty space. One of the ways that people try to fill their emptiness is through excessive alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse leads to the disintegrating of life, the destruction of possibilities, the loss of opportunity, a numbed, self-absorbed wasting of the time, talent and purpose which God gave us.
Spirit-filled living, life dominated by the life-giving Spirit of God, is a life continually built up and poured out, continually filled, refilled and fulfilled in the giving of itself. On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on the church and every believer was filled, the crowd that gathered thought the Christians were drunk (Acts 2:1-21). No, but they were filled and soon to be poured out in utter fulfillment.
What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit”? Paul is not referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This happens for every believer at the moment of salvation. Spirit-filled living is when the Spirit of God takes the Word of God, applies it to our lives and we choose to live in daily obedience to that Word. It is a life characterized by repentance, as the Holy Spirit shows us our sin and leads us to repent. It is a life marked by the disciplined study of God’s Word and the faithful attempt to live that Word day by day. It is a life of continual surrender to the known will of God and dependence on Him for the enablement to live that purpose. It is a life marked by obedience to what we know to be true, as truth is revealed by God through His Word.
Jesus reminds us that we cannot live “on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). We need the life-creating Word of God and the life-sustaining Spirit of God permeating our being.
The Spirit-filled life is the Spirit-led life. This will always result in life outpoured in the worship of God and service to others.
5:19 The Spirit-filled life is characterized by gratitude and thanksgiving, “Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”
The word psalms is derived from the word psalmos and has to do with the early church practice of singing the psalms, though the word also refers to vocal music in general. Hymn is a musical praise directed toward God. Songs may be sacred or secular so Paul says “spiritual songs.” “Making melody” has to do with the plucking of strings, so it may refer to instrumental music or songs in which the voices are accompanied by instruments. “Making melody with your heart to the Lord” refers to worship as a lifestyle, making a continual sacrifice of praise to the Lord who is both the source and object of our praise.
It is difficult to derive distinctions between psalms, hymns and spiritual songs so we can assume that the distinctions are not important. What does matter is Paul’s insistence that there must be an element of instruction undergirding our praise and worship, “Teaching and admonishing one another.” It is not just that we need to teach the Word so as to instruct the church, though surely that is necessary. The more we teach with clarity the attributes and deeds of God, the more truly the church can worship Him. But more than that, contained within our songs of worship, should be clear, doctrinal truth about God.
For instance, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” provides clear teaching on the incarnation and birth of Christ. “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” contains clear doctrinal truth regarding the resurrection of Christ. “Crown Him With Many Crowns” presents the exaltation of the risen Christ. These hymns instruct us about the Lord even as we praise Him.
5:20 As we have said, Spirit-filled living is characterized by gratitude expressed to God in songs of praise and thanksgiving. This is not merely about music but lifestyle, “Always giving thanks for all things.” All of life can be lived as a hymn of praise to God.
Lack of gratitude to God is a symptom of a potentially fatal spiritual disease. The prophet Ezekiel reveals that in Sodom there was "abundant food and careless ease" but also arrogance and apathy toward the poor (Ezekiel 16:49). In other words, many were prosperous but prosperity did not produce thanksgiving to God, rather, pride, contempt and insensitivity toward those who were not prospering. The later abominations of immorality were outgrowths of the root sin — lack of gratitude to God.
Thanksgiving to God reveals true spiritual focus. We understand that it was not our wisdom or talent that produced blessing. It is the mercy of God, a mercy lavished upon us without any requirement of repayment. The heart focused on God overflows with thanksgiving. The Spirit-filled life is a grateful life.
It is a melody that rises in our hearts, directed unto the Lord but it causes our conversation with one another is to be infused with the spirit of thanksgiving, "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” How transformed our relationships would be if we always spoke and lived this way!
“Always giving thanks for all things” is a demanding exhortation. In I Thessalonians 5:18 Paul exhorted the church, “In everything give thanks.” Yet even in the midst of tragedy, we may thank God that He is with us, understands us, loves us and can someday turn our mourning into dancing. In the midst of crisis, we give thanks to the God who meets us, abides with us and promises to walk with us through the storm.
Thanksgiving in times of hardship or grief reminds us that we walk by faith, not by sight, reminds us that we are living in this age but living toward a greater age to come. Thanksgiving reminds us that even when we cannot see the purpose or presence of God in a crisis event, we trust by faith that somehow, God will turn this into something redemptive, something that brings Him glory.
We may not see the good purpose of God in some events of our lives until we cross over into eternity. But even when we cannot see clearly, we may give thanks to a God whom we know to be perfectly wise and loving.
5:21 “Be subject to one another” is a transitional verse, as Paul moves into the characteristics of a Spirit-filled life revealed in our relationships. The truly Spirit filled life is characterized by mutual submission which is itself an expression of our reverence for Christ. This flies in the face of the modern mind which shouts, "Have it your way. Assert yourself. Stand up for your rights. Grab the brass ring."
Our example is Christ, who, "Did not come to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). He left the glory of heaven with its perfection of beauty and splendor and "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant" (Philippians 2:7). Being submitted to others means we serve them out of love for them; we pray for their blessing before our own; we see no one as inferior to ourselves but regard all fellow believers as standing equal before God.
As Paul said to the Galatian church, so he says to all churches, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). So we are exhorted to, "Always seek after that which is good for one another" (I Thessalonians 5:15). "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in love" (Romans 12:10).
The command to be mutually submitted does not negate the reality of government, of law, of the just and right exercise of authority. We are commanded to submit to governments since they are established by God (Romans 13:1). Peter adds that we should submit "For the Lord's sake to every human institution" (I Peter 2:13). We are to pray for those in authority, respect them, obey their laws and pay our taxes.
However, if a government requires us to deny the Lordship of Christ or deny our faith or silence our proclaiming of the Gospel, we must respond as did Peter and John when the Sanhedrin commanded them to cease speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). Peter, for the Lord's sake, disobeyed the orders of the Jewish governing body and continued to preach.
The Apostles were thrown in prison and again were commanded to cease proclaiming Jesus, to which Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29). There are, then, limits to submission to ungodly authority.
But within the context of governments and authority and law, there is this revolutionary society, the church, with its earth-shaking principle, that whatever one's station in life, whether rich or poor, famous or obscure, powerbroker or dispossessed, male or female, we express our reverence for Christ by submitting one to another. In the following section we see that in family relationships, as in all of society, there is a divine order. But again, it is exercised in a setting of loving submission one to another.
If we approach the subject of leadership in the home from a human perspective, we will miss God's truth. God is not a feminist but He understands the outrage women feel over exploitation and oppression. God is not macho but he understands the pressures that cause men to exaggerate their masculinity.
We must base this study in our experience of God's love for us. God loves us unconditionally and knows us perfectly. Therefore we can lay aside our defenses, our costumes, our disguises. We can be vulnerable and let God speak to us and enable us to grow.
"Be subject to one another in the reverence of Christ," is not only the climax of the preceding section. It is also the prelude to the following. Our life in Christ is a life lived in relationship with other believers. We are members of the Body of Christ, members of a society, members of a family. Jesus is the Head, not only of the church but of all things. As we reverence the presence of Christ in our midst, we learn to submit to one another, whether in the church or in the family.
Submission is not an invitation to domination, control or abuse. Submission is not a passive virtue. Submission is the righteous, vigorous activity of patience and forgiveness while respecting the dignity of each person and every gift.
5:22 Within every relationship there is a divine government. God has a plan and pattern for accountability and leadership in the church, in the home and in every area of life. Wives are to be submitted to their husbands "as to the Lord." It appears that Paul assumes both husband and wife to be Christians (just as Peter, in I Peter 3:1,2, assumes a non-Christian husband), mutually submitted to Christ and to one another as fellow believers.
Submission does not imply inferiority in creation or salvation. Husband and wife stand equal before God as forgiven, redeemed sinners. This is not about superiority or inferiority. It is about government and accountability.
Remember, Paul is writing to members of the church at Rome, redeemed followers of Christ. Submission to a husband whose life is being transformed by the Spirit of the Lord, as the wife also is being transformed, is altogether different from submission to a personality dominated by unredeemed habits and motives.
Also, the wife does not submit with the same sense of reverence, awe or unflinching obedience with which she submits to Jesus whose love, wisdom and mercy are perfect, without measure, whose every act in our lives is perfect. Submission to a mere man, believer though he may be, means submission to a mortal, finite, sinful creature, limited in all his ways. This submission is not unconditional. She will not deny her faith nor allow the image of God, which is being renewed in her, to be destroyed by her husband.
Notice also that Paul says, “Be subject to your own husband.” The wife is in a marriage covenant with this one man and she is submitted to him, not to a multitude of men. This one man has made vows to her; she is submitting to someone who has vowed to cherish, honor and love her.
Notice that she is submitting to him “as to the Lord.” He is commanded to represent Christ to her and she is commanded to submit to the Lordship of Christ exercised through him. The husband is not her Lord but he represents God’s government in that family. She submits to the leadership of her Godly husband in a way that is fitting for two redeemed personalities mutually submitted to Christ (and mutually submitted to one another in Christ, as in the preceding verse).
What if he is an evil, abusive and dangerous husband? The Christian wife is not to submit to violence or evil. She should ask for Godly counsel from her local church. The church should be concerned with her protection while working with the husband toward the goal of his salvation and the redemption of their marriage.
What if he is an unbeliever who is not violent or dangerous? Peter advises her to stay and by her love and prayers lead him to Christ (I Peter 3:1,2). Such submission is not degrading but redemptive. She is a minister of Christ to her unsaved spouse.
What if he is a believer who is not very mature and does not understand the principles of Christly leadership? She should submit in love and by her prayers and loving, Godly example, help him to grow in Christ. She should also be in a church where the Word is taught and practiced, where he can see Godly examples of leadership.
5:23,24 The husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church. There is a governmental order in the home just as there is in the universe, among nations and in the church. But remember that in Ephesians 1:22,23, we saw that the Headship of Christ over His church denotes not only rulership but union. Jesus not only governs His church but also is intimately joined to His church as a Head to a body. So the husband must live in true union to his wife. She is a physical / spiritual being. He must lead from a context of spiritual and physical union.
The wife recognizes that just as Christ watches over and cares for His church, the husband has been appointed to watch over and care for her. He is to represent and make real to her Christ’s unconditional love for her.
5:25 In case we missed that, Paul now defines the leadership of the husband in the highest, most demanding terms. He must love his wife as Christ loves His church. The husband's example in all aspects of his relationship with his wife is nothing less than the model of Christ's sacrificial love for His church. Let's examine that love.
1. Jesus is the sacrificial lover who pours out of Himself for His beloved. He never turned away the hurting, lost multitudes. He never rejected humble, repentant sinners. He continually poured out the mercy of God upon all who called upon Him. Jesus is the sacrificial lover who gives His life for the good of His Beloved, even at the highest cost to Himself. Jesus poured out His life for His church. The Godly husband’s leadership is sacrificial, selfless.
2. Christly love is a love that intercedes for the Beloved. Jesus lives to make intercession for His church, is continually praying for His church (Hebrews 7:25). So the Godly husband covers his wife in prayer.
3. It is a love that listens to the beloved and therefore knows intimately her thoughts, needs, hopes and fears (see Psalm 139:2-4). The Godly husband knows his wife as deeply and intimately as possible, given his limitations.
In summary, Paul says that within the home, God's plan is that husbands would lead and wives would submit to that leading. God defines that leading and submitting very carefully.
1. The wife is submitted to the leadership of a husband who is mutually submitted to her as a follower of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
2. The husband's leadership is defined by Christ's relationship to the church. Husbands are to love and serve their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Sacrificial, Christly love is defined and modeled throughout the Gospels, in I Corinthians 13 and in many other Scriptures. The image here is not of domination but sacrifice, not leadership aggressively asserting itself but humbly pouring out of itself.
5:26,27 Jesus' Lordship over the church is expressed in His saving death and resurrection and as He brings about the consecration and maturing of the church. He is cleansing, consecrating, purifying a church that will someday be His holy Bride.
This is also God's plan for leadership in the home, that the husband would work toward the fulfillment of his wife who, throughout her life, is to grow in holiness, in wisdom, in the fulness of the person of Christ. The goal of his leadership is the consecration and maturity of his wife into the full woman God purposed her to be so that she may accomplish the unique plan for which God designed her. As she submits to this process, responding and relating to him as one maturing believer to another, she is enabling his maturity in holiness.
5:28,29 The husband is commanded to love his wife as he loves his own life. But since his love for her is to be modeled on Christ’s love for the church, which is always a sacrificial, self-giving love, his love for her will be greater than his love for himself. There is also a sense in which his love for her is love for himself since they are one flesh in union together in union with Christ. His love for her will pour back into his life from her.
Paul reiterates that the husband is to nourish and cherish his wife, even as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. To nourish a physical / spiritual being is to care for her health and well being on every level. To cherish means to honor her as a person purposed by God, a person with divine worth and an everlasting destiny. He will put her well-being above his in all things.
5:30 Jesus nourishes and cherishes His church because He is intimately joined to His church in holy union. The church is the body of Christ and Jesus is the Head of the body. His Spirit indwells us individually and His presence fills His church. He seeks continually to build up the church so that the church may glorify Him. If He ceased to care for His church, if He neglected or abandoned His church, He would diminish the glory that He receives from His church and He would nullify the Father’s purpose, to present His Son with a holy bride.
So with the husband. He is joined in holy union with His wife; he nurtures her toward the fulfilling of God’s eternal purpose in her life. In so doing, he is blessed by Christ through her.
Growing in holiness means growing in wholeness, becoming the complete person God intended that we be. The goal of Christ's leadership in the church is that every believer would be presented to God complete, mature in Christ. Reaching that goal requires that people be submitted one to another under the Lordship of Christ. That is also God's plan for marriage, that two people would be growing toward consecrated fulfillment, growing in holy wholeness in Christ. Reaching this goal requires two people mutually submitted to Christ under the Christly leadership of the husband.
5:31 Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24, reminding us that it is God who instituted marriage. The word joined has to do with something being cemented or glued together, emphasizing the permanence that God intended in a marriage covenant.
5:32 In the New Testament, a mystery is something that was hidden in the past but is now revealed in Scripture. This mystery is that the God-ordained institution of marriage is a picture, a representation, of the sacred union between Christ and His church.
There are hints of this mystery in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 31:32, God spoke of Himself as a husband to Israel. The marriage was acted out in Hosea, as the unholy bride was redeemed by her prophet-husband. But the fulness of the mystery is finally revealed in the life of Jesus. He came to earth seeking His Bride. He died on the cross to redeem His Bride from slavery. He returned to His Father but while He is away, He is preparing a place for His Bride and it is for her, and her alone, that He will return someday.
Someday a great multitude in heaven will shout, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:6,7). This is the goal of all history. Everything God does is related to this goal.
5:33 Considering the greatness of this mystery, husbands are to love their wives and wives are to respect their husbands. They are a representation of the spiritual union, the marriage of Christ the heavenly Groom and His covenant people.
In chapter six, Paul counsels the church in 3 categories of life and relationship: Parents and Children, Slaves and Masters, Believers and Spiritual Powers.
Counsel to Parents and Children (6:1-4):
In chapter five, Paul dealt with the relationship of husbands and wives. He now speaks to the relationship of parents and children. What a timely message to the church, for the family is the primary social unit. No society has ever survived the break down of this foundational entity.
In many societies today, militant forces of disintegration are placing families under intense, demonic pressure. When did the trouble begin? In the garden of Eden. The first family on earth was rocked by the first murder as Eve grieved the death of her second son at the hands of her first born. The fall of Adam and Eve was quickly compounded by the fall of one son and the death of another.
Sin’s destructive impact and the anguished wail of fathers and mothers has continued unabated through the centuries. Against this chorus of grief, Paul counsels children to obey their parents and for fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
6:1 The word obey, hupakouo, has to do with listening and submission. Interesting connection. If we are not listening to someone, we have already refused submission.The beginning of obedience is to listen, to be attentive.
Obedience to parents, as with all other acts of obedience, is accomplished "in the Lord." For Paul, all aspects of Christian life flow from our union with Jesus. We are able to render obedience to whom obedience is due because of the life of Jesus in us.
He is the vine, we are the branches (John 15). We share in His vitality, strength, humility, love. He imparts to us the grace needed to live obedient lives. Whether a child or an adult, if we have surrendered to Jesus, He dwells in us and His life rises within us.
“In the Lord” refers not only to our union with Christ but to the governmental system which God has established. There is divinely ordered government throughout the universe expressed in the hierarchy of angels, through secular governments, in the church and in the home.
“In the Lord” also means for the Lord’s sake. Children are to obey their parents as a reflection of their obedience to the Lord.
Paul lists only one reasons for a child’s obedience: “For this is right.” A child in the home is under the authority of parents “for this is right,” meaning that this is the way God designed it. Obedience, submission to the parents is an expression of obedience to God, since God designed the family.
In Colossians 3:20, Paul said, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to (in) the Lord.” The phrase, “in all things,” refers to anything that would not violate God’s Word. Obedience is pleasing to God, whereas, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,” (I Samuel 15:23).
Paul is assuming an idea which is quite revolutionary today, that something is right and we can know what is right and live what is right. We are living in a society which professes that there is no consistent, transcendent standard for truth or rightness. Truth is relative. Right is whatever you think, want or feel.
That is a lie from the pits of hell. God has revealed a standard of truth and righteousness which transcends our culture, our generation, our government, our Supreme Court and our universities. Parents are to teach and live this standard of truth in such a way that their children will be able to internalize it.
6:2,3 Verse 1 dealt with the outward action of obedience. Verse 2 deals with the proper inner attitude and motive that leads to the action: honor your father and mother. There are many motivations for obedience to any authority: fear of punishment, desire for reward or promotion to name just two. We are capable of obedience while despising the very authority we obey. But Paul says that the obedience of children should be motivated by a desire to honor their father and mother. Honor is an expression of love and respect. The word honor, timao, means to value highly.
Paul reminds us that this is the first commandment to include a promise: "That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth" (Exodus 20:12). Right relationship with authority does result in blessing. The family is our first school. It is where we learn our earliest lessons on authority, honor and blessing.
This principle of obedience leading to blessing is found throughout Scripture, for instance, in Proverbs 1:8: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.”
The child who does not learn to honor and obey authority will forfeit many blessings. It will be difficult for that child to experience success in school. Later in life it will be hard to hold a job. A spirit of rebellion can lead to violent, anti-social attitudes, prison and early death.
6:4 As with all relationships under the Lordship of Jesus, there are mutual responsibilities. Just as husbands and wives are mutually submitted to one another in the Lord, enabling the wife’s submission to the husband in the family, parents also have a responsibility to the child.
How can children obey their parents in the Lord if they are not encountering the Lord and learning of Him? Therefore parents must raise their children in the “discipline and instruction (nurture and admonition) of the Lord,” praying for and with their children, teaching the truth and living the truth in front of their children.
The word fathers refers to the male parent but is sometimes used of parents in general. Paul has been speaking of fathers and mothers so he may intend the application of this verse to both parents. They are to refrain from conduct that would provoke anger in a child. The word anger, parorgizo derives from orgizo which means to enrage. Such conduct would include:
1. A harsh or severe attitude that over reacts to mistakes, crushing the child's spirit.
2. A critical, condemning attitude that judges the child as unworthy or inferior
3. Neglect, abandoning the child emotionally, spiritually or physically. Some children are abandoned physically, but there are also many who live with their parents and are still abandoned in spiritual training.
4. Laxness, over indulgence, failure to set boundaries, allowing the child to satisfy or express any and all desires
5. Violating the trust of a child through physical, emotional or sexual abuse
6 Arbitrary justice, discipline which does not appear to be based on any consistent standard but rather, determined by the whim or mood of the parent.
These responses from a parent can create deep rooted rage and rebellion in a child and will harm the child and later, the adult, until or unless these emotions are resolved. In Paul’s day, many Jewish household were ruled by rigid, domineering men who gave little consideration to the well-being of the wife or the children. Paul forbids this in a family living under the loving Lordship of Jesus.
Rather than provoking the child to anger, parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The word discipline, paiedia, has to do with correction. It can be translated chastening, disciplinary correction but it also has to do with nurture, hence, the King James rendering, nurture. The raising of child includes not only correcting his or her mistakes but also cultivating, and nourishing the life and gifts within.
Parents are commanded to instruct, to teach their children. Since "the beginning of wisdom is the reverence of God,” this means systematically establishing the principles of Christian faith and godliness in the child. In Proverbs we are directed, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
This is done not only by verbal instruction but more by the example of godly conduct in the parent’s lives. The most profound truths of faith which a father or mother can communicate to their children will be in the daily living of their own faith. We are living the Gospel day by day in the deeds that we do and the words that we say. Children hear what we say and see what we do — they learn the Gospel according to me and you.
Parents are to be priests in their homes. As priests they are to share the life, love and teaching of Jesus with their children.
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life"( John 6:35). He also asked, "What man is there among you, if his son shall ask him for bread, will give him a stone?" (Matthew 7:9). Too many parents have given their children the dead stones of instruction in sports or business while neglecting to give them the bread of life.
What better gift than to introduce a child at a young age to our Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Provider, Defender, Deliverer — Jesus. What better way of giving this gift than to live the life of Jesus before them day by day. By neglecting this greater gift, many parents have condemned their children to years of wandering in desert places gnawing upon stones and yearning for bread.
Counsel to slaves and masters (6:5-9)
Paul's advice to slaves and masters in no way constitutes Biblical approval of the institution of slavery. Neither did Paul condemn it. Slavery was a primary component of the Roman economy. Any attempt to oppose, condemn or overthrow slavery, at that time, would have been violently crushed.
The church did not have the power to change Roman society in one generation. It did have the power to transform human souls and to open eyes blinded by cruel custom. In doing this, the church did eventually transform Roman and all societies which it has encountered.
In the Roman world, slaves were not seen as persons but as possessions, like furniture or horses. Paul preached a Gospel in which all persons are equally lost and equally redeemable. Free men and slave alike are dead in sin but in Christ, both are made alive. This is, "A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew ... slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11). Those were revolutionary words in first century Rome.
To the Galatian church, Paul said, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27,28). Those who are in union with Christ are also in union with one another. Imagine a church where the wealthy land owner and the slave came and worshipped side by side, brothers in Christ. This is a revolutionary society which eventually had a transforming effect on the Roman world and on all human community since.
In speaking of our equality in Christ, Paul does not mean that our God ordained uniqueness has been obliterated. But in Christ, we are a new community and whatever our racial, economic, cultural or gender distinctions, we who are alive in Christ stand equal before Him as members of His church, the Body of Christ on earth. Each member of the Body of Christ is mutually dependent on and submitted to all other members even as the various parts of the body are interdependent (I Corinthians 12:12-27). In a society defined by two main classes of people, slaves and slave owners, this perspective — equality before Christ, mutual submission and dependence on one another — was a revolutionary way of seeing people.
Since it is true that people create society, then it is also true that transformed people create some level of transformation in their society. This process began ever so humbly in the church of first century Rome. It climaxed centuries later in the continent of Europe liberated from slavery.
6:5 Paul offered inspired counsel to slave and master. Slaves are to serve their “masters according to the flesh” — that refers to human masters. They are to serve “with fear and trembling” — that means with respect.
Here is the revolutionary aspect of this new community, the church. The slave, now a new creation in Christ, is to see his relationship with his master and his work as a way of serving Christ. The slave's work is to be done "as to Christ". Just as all our life and blessing is to be found "in Christ,” so all our work and living can be "to Christ." If our lives are lived in Christ, then we cannot be inferior. If our work is an offering given to Christ, it cannot be useless or meaningless. All people have worth and value in Christ.
6:6 Paul adds that the slave should see himself, not as a slave of man, but as a slave of Christ. Would our life and work be different if we saw ourselves as slaves of Jesus, the Jesus through Whom the universe was created, in Whom all things consist, Who upholds the universe by His word of power — Jesus our Creator, Savior, Provider, Defender?
Further, we are not to see ourselves as merely doing the will of our masters, employers, bosses. Trusting that God is somehow in control of our destiny, we are to do our work "as the will of God,” as if God is directing our life and work. We are to do that work "from the heart,” that is, sincerely, wholeheartedly, not just going through the motions.
6:7,8 Again Paul states his theme, "With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men." He states two principles of service which should govern and motivate our work:
1. We serve as unto the Lord, not men. Not just every true act of ministry, but every act of living, is done unto the Lord, be it small or great, noticed or unnoticed. When we see ourselves living and working unto the Lord Himself, that changes our perspective on all of life. Centuries ago, a man wrote, “I raked out the barn today to the glory of God.” He understood the essence of true worship. It is all that we are in response to all that God is.
Worship is not just a song we sing. It is the life we live, our response to God in every activity of life. Paul exhorted the Corinthian church, ”Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). True worship involves our whole being, all that we are and all that we do giving glory to God. Our entire life can be an offering of praise unto the Lord.
2. Whatever good we do, we will receive it back from the Lord. How often we say, "No one sees the good I do." Someone does see — the living God. "No one rewards the good that I do." Someone does reward, therefore we are exhorted, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9).
Paul reminds the slave and all employees that if we are alive in Christ then we are living in a different economic order. Our payment is not from the whims of the master's benevolence, not from the finances of Rome or whatever branch of the world-system bank is functioning in our era. Rather, "Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord."
Yes, the slave was living under oppressive Roman law, just as we live under laws, both good and bad. But there is a higher law — the law of sowing and reaping. This law is based on a higher economy — the economy of the kingdom of God.
Whatever earthly authority, master, employer or government we are serving under, ultimately it is Christ we serve. Whatever financial system signs our paycheck, ultimately it is Jesus who rewards and provides. Every good act done in His name and for His glory will be rewarded, no matter how small or insignificant it seemed. Remember the promise of Jesus, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).
6:9 Now, in a truly revolutionary statement, Paul reminds the masters that they are to act toward their slaves in the same manner as the slaves toward their master: "And masters, do the same things to them." Masters and slaves are placed on level ground.
The reality of Roman law was cruel and simple: slaves had no rights or power, the masters held absolute sway over their life and death. Abuse was normal, kindness and mercy were rare. But the reality of the kingdom of God is entirely different: all human relationships are defined by our relationship with Jesus and our mutual submission in Him. The Christian master or employer must not threaten or abuse his workers for he too has a Master, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, who will hold him accountable.
That same Lord and King has brought master and slave into relationship with Himself and with one another. Christian master, or employer, and Christian slave, or employee, share a common death, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). We share a common resurrection, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ... and raised us up with Him" (Eph. 2:4,5).
We share a common Master, Jesus, "Both their Master and yours is in heaven ... and there is no partiality with Him" (6:9). Truly, "There is no distinction between Greek and Jew ... slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11).
This new relationship of slave and master is, in fact, an organic union of believers in Christ, causing us to be, “Members of one another," (Eph. 4:25). Whereas both slave and master were once alienated from God, we are now no longer aliens but members, "Of God's household ... built together into a dwelling of God" (Eph. 3:19-22).
Joined in a holy union in Christ, we are to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (5:21). Mutual submission is based on a mutual reverence for Christ. The authority governing this new relationship is not fear of those who hold economic power but the authority of Christ Himself.
The reference point for this new relationship of master and slave is in heaven, not on earth. The true Master of all is in heaven, not in Rome. The grace that brings into fellowship all races and economic classes flows not from senate chambers nor imperial thrones nor financial power centers but from the heart of Jesus.
Slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female have been brought into union with Christ and in Christ (Galatians 3:28). God has, "Raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6). We meet in Christ, not someday, but now. The day of our reconciliation with Christ and one another is now.
As these truths have penetrated and transformed the hearts of men and women in every century, societies have been transformed.
Believers and Spiritual Powers (6:10-17)
6:10 Shifting his thought now to the spiritual warfare that must be waged if souls are to be won for Christ, Paul exhorts his readers to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Our reference point is God's strength, not ours. We measure a task by God's strength and ability, not our own. Not only our strength, but all of life is found in Christ for He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:1-5). Without Christ we can do nothing but as Paul declared, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
The problem is that we so often try to fight a spiritual war with worldly weapons. Paul said to the church at Corinth, “For though we walk in the flesh (in a physical sense), we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful (mighty before God) for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:3,4).
Whether our weapons are military or worldly wisdom and wealth or church growth gimmicks or psychological / emotional manipulation, we will not overcome temptation, persecution nor the manifold assaults against our faith and we will not be instruments of Christ in leading people out of darkness into the light of the kingdom of God, unless we use spiritual weapons.
When Paul spoke of the destruction of fortresses, people understood what he meant because in most cities of that time, there was a military fortress located on a prominent hill. But the fortresses that we are dealing with are located in the spiritual realm and in the hearts and minds of people. Therefore our weapons need to be empowered to deal with and penetrate spiritual realities.
Paul continued to the church at Corinth, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Specifically, the fortresses we are warring against are speculations, that is, thoughts, ideas, philosophies, false religions which are opposed to and exalted against God and His truth. Later in Ephesians 6 Paul lists the weapons of our warfare. There is only one offensive weapon — the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
We assault error with the truth revealed in God’s Word and we do so in the strength of God’s might. This is a Spirit-led, Spirit-filled life and this is a life lived in obedience to the transforming power of the Word of God.
6:11 “Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand.” The word put carries a sense of permanence. This is not something that we lay aside and then put on again. These are life-long accessories of the Christian life.
1. We are told to put on the full armor of God, not just some of it. We cannot pick and choose our armor. We need all of it.
2. Secondly, it is the armor of God. In the Old Testament, God is pictured in battle armor (Isaiah 59:17). We are told to put on that armor — God's armor.
Why? That we may stand firm against the schemes of the devil. The word schemes or wiles is methodeia and can also be translated as method or trickery. The thought here encompasses all temptation to sin, false philosophies, false religions, heretical theology, ungodly customs. These schemes are propagated through the world system over which Satan rules.
They are the schemes of the devil. He is variously referred to as “the ruler of the demons” (Luke 1:15), “the god of this world,” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). He opposes God’s work (Zechariah 3:1), perverts God’s Word (Matthew 4:6), hinders God’s servants (I Thessalonians 2:18), blinds the unbelieving (2 Cor. 4:4), attempts to snare the righteous (I Timothy 3:7), and holds the world in his power (I John 5:19).
We have an enemy. Our enemy has strategies. Evil is not merely the sum total of sinful human choices; there are evil powers at work in this universe, evil personalities exercising evil purpose. But God supplies us with His armor. How humbling this truth, that we are helpless to overcome evil unless God equips us.
The church today, especially in the western world, needs to reacquaint itself with the reality of spiritual war. The New Testament clearly teaches that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (I John 5:19). Endless violence, suffering and cruelty give ample evidence to the enslavement of this world by spiritual powers of evil. Countless millions of souls are bound in chains, not just politically, economically or physically but also emotionally and spiritually. But so-called wars of liberation often only perpetuate and multiply the cycles of violence.
Why is this? Because the root cause of humanity's suffering is located on a spiritual plane where physical wars and weapons have no influence.
New Testament teaching on spiritual warfare can be summarized in this way:
1. God is sovereign, Almighty, and there is no other god.
2. There is a devil, Satan, "The ruler of this world.” The word world refers not to geography but to the ideas, philosophies, religions and values which comprise society.
3. God works through people (as well as through spiritual beings) but so does Satan. There are spiritual powers, principalities, governments, in the spiritual world which incarnate themselves through human personalities and institutions.
Jesus, teaching on spiritual warfare, said that a strong man must first be bound before his goods are plundered (Matthew 12:29). In other words, if we would take back that which has been captured by the powers of darkness, then we must learn how to bind those powers. If the millions of enslaved souls would be liberated, we must learn to make war in the realm of the spirit, using spiritual weapons and tools.
Satan is not all powerful nor omniscient. But he is able to tempt and seduce, not only into sin, but into the more subtle dangers of lukewarmness and compromise, prejudice and pride. He does not materialize before us dressed in a red suit and carrying a pitchfork. But he does incarnate himself through human personalities and through the economic, political religious and cultural systems which people create. Incarnated in this world system, he seduces and arouses individuals, mobs and governments to evil purpose.
6:12 Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a struggle or a wrestling. The word refers to hand to hand combat. Our struggle is not against people, not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers of darkness at work in this world.
Paul provides four designations of our opponents: rulers, powers, world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies. They refer to Satan and the demonic governments through which he oppresses this world.
Although Satan and his demons are spirit beings, we read in 2 Corinthians 10:14 that the powers of darkness find a point of entrance and domination in this world in and through the imaginations of people. Evil is incarnated, birthed into this world, through people who yield their minds, their creative talents and imaginations and their resources to the powers of darkness.
The result is the dictator who seems so powerful as he hangs the truth from his gallows but who in fact has been bought and bound by Satan; the midnight mob with a lynching rope or a mob in Congress or Parliament with legislative lynchings; the demonically inspired artist, musician or film maker who gives creative birth to evil imaginations; the demonically infused culture which socializes injustice and oppression; the demonically perverted judicial system which declares injustice to be the law of the land; the gleaming silver and steel corporation which rapes the land and robs its workers in the name of profit; the sweet sounding religion which blinds and enslaves the worshipper.
Yet the enemy is not that dictator or mob or Parliament or artist or society or corporation or blind judge or false priest. The enemy is the demonic power which seduces and poisons imaginations, talents and personalities.
6:13 If our enemy is rooted in the spiritual realm, then our weapons must also be spiritual. So again we are exhorted to take the full armor of God.
1. Take the full armor. Each church, each denominational movement claims its special emphasis: one focuses on social justice, another centers on evangelism; one lifts up the gifts of the Spirit, another worship or the sacraments. We tend to pick and choose among Bible texts and doctrines. But it must not be so with preparation for spiritual warfare. We must take all the armor, all the tools, doctrines and gifts which God deems necessary for spiritual warfare. Taking the full armor of God means taking the full Word of God and studying it, meditating it and living it.
2. Take God's armor, the full armor of God. The religious left and the religious right will offer their armor. The evangelicals or charismatics or Pentecostals or orthodox traditionalists will offer their armor. Protestant and Catholic will offer theirs. None will be sufficient. We must go to the Lord Himself for the full armor sufficient for the battles of our day. Again, that armor is the Word of God taught with clarity and power and applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit.
Take the full armor of God that we might:
Withstand or resist (doing everything possible) in the evil day. When is the evil day? It is every day since the fall of humanity; every day until the Lord returns to establish His glorious kingdom on earth.
Stand firm. When Moses and the Hebrew people were backed up against the Red Sea, God did not tell them to fight but to stand. So again in 2 Chronicles 20:15-17, when Israel was confronted with an extreme threat. What does it mean to stand firm?
1. Stand in faith, believing that the testimony of God is more true than the testimony of our circumstances.
2. Stand in prayer, knowing that prayer releases the resources of heaven on earth.
3. Stand in truth, shining the simple, penetrating light of truth into the lying habitations of violence and oppression.
4. Stand in mercy, releasing mercy into lives which have been ravished by darkness. Mercy has undone more evil than history can see.
"For not with sword's loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums
with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes”
(Ernest W. Shurtleff, 1862-1917)
6:14 For the third time we are exhorted to stand firm. Whatever the assault against us — temptation to sin or compromise; doctrinal error or disobedience to God; division within the church or persecution against the church — we are to stand firm in our faith.
Paul now tells us how we will stand firm and he uses the example of a Roman soldier.
1. We are to gird our loins with truth — be girded with truthfulness. This refers to the belt worn by a Roman soldier which wrapped about him, held his sword and kept his tunic from tripping him. Combat was hand to hand and a loose robe would be a potentially fatal hindrance. So he gathered up his robe and tightened his belt.
The belt is truth or truthfulness. Where do we find truth? God’s truth is revealed in His holy Word and it is this which must enwrap our life, hold our life in place, anchor us. How do we put on the belt of truth? By bringing the Word of God into our mind as we study it, meditate it, listen to it skillfully taught and commit to live it.
This requires that we allow God to speak honestly to us in His Word, letting that Word penetrate our being. It is, after all, “Living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrew 4:12). We don’t hide from this penetrating Word, don’t run from it. We humble ourselves before the God who speaks to us, agreeing with what He shows us about ourselves, about Himself, about our world.
Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Let’s look at those functions of the Word.
The Word reproves us. This is when the Word exposes and confronts our sin and rebukes us for the purpose of confession and repentance.
It corrects us, restoring us to our proper state of being.
It trains us in righteousness so that we may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
When we allow our minds to be renewed by this Word we are transformed (Romans 12:1,2). For this reason Paul exhorts us, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians3:16).
We encounter truth not only in the written word of God but also in the person of Jesus, the living Word of God. He is the Word of God in human form (John 1:14, 14:6). Paul elsewhere exhorts us to, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:14). We do this as we read His Word, pray according to His Word and worship Him in spirit and in truth.
In a time when many would say that truth cannot be known or, at best, is relative to one's own opinions and values, we may live in union with the One whose name is Truth, by whose Word of truth the universe was created and by the power of whose Word the universe is upheld.
In union with Christ, the life which once was built on the sand of speculation, opinion, myth, unproven theory, deception and lies, is now founded upon the rock of absolute reality, reality that is objective, infallible and everlasting.
2. We are exhorted to put on the breastplate of righteousness.
The breastplate was a piece of armor which the Roman soldier wore over the heart, the most vulnerable part of the body. The heart is often used poetically in the Bible to speak of the inner life of a person — our thoughts, our memory, our desires, our personality, the center of emotional and spiritual activity.
"Guard your heart with all diligence for from it flow the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The breastplate of righteousness speaks of the covering for our personhood.
We guard the heart, not with the breastplate of self righteousness, which leads to death, but with the righteousness of God revealed in Christ. This righteousness is reckoned to believers through grace by faith and imparted. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness. That is, in Christ, when His atoning blood is applied to our lives, we stand before God justified and righteous with the righteousness of Christ.
This is both an act, justification, and a process, sanctification, whereby God progressively transforms us in holiness. But we need to check our armor. Am I living in right relationship with God in obedience, humility and love? Am I walking in grace? Am I living by faith? Am I allowing God to develop His holiness in me? Am I continually repenting of sin?
We must yield our lives daily to the Spirit of God applying the Word of God to our hearts. And we must walk in obedience to this Word, humbling ourselves to the truth. This is the only way we may grow into the righteousness that God has imputed to us.
Wearing the breastplate of righteousness means we live with the knowledge of our continual dependence on the Lord our Shepherd. He alone leads us in the pathways of righteousness, restoring our souls. He alone guides and guards with His rod and staff. He alone sets tables before us in the presence of enemies. He alone pours out His anointing oil upon us. He alone overflows the cup of our life with His blessing and encompasses us with goodness and mercy.
We may pray and trust daily for God's protection over our emotions and identity against temptation, accusation, condemnation. That protection is certain as we daily yield our lives to the Lord in faithful obedience.
We may trust that
our Risen Lord meets us in our dying with His life
meets us in our sin with His forgiveness
meets us in our brokenness with His healing and blessing
meets us in our storms and warfare with His peace
meets us in our need with His provision of resources, guidance and wisdom.
The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that God is able to accomplish what God intends. We may depend on God's power to accomplish what needs to be done, as the Psalmist said, "The Lord will accomplish that which concerns me" (Psalm 138:8). We do not give in to stress or fear because we are depending on God's ability, because we have covered the inner person of the heart with the confidence, the breastplate, of God's ability.
6:15 Standing firm means our feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
We fight this spiritual war resisting temptation, overcoming the assaults of the enemy, accomplishing ministry assignments, in the confidence that we who once were separated from God and under His wrath are now at peace with God, as Paul reminds us, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
We are not only at peace with God but His peace fills and rules our hearts. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you" (John 14:27). We enjoy peace which the world did not give and the world cannot take away: at peace with God and at peace in God.
Peace is God’s gift to us but it is also our choice to receive this gift moment by moment. The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).
We must understand, though, that peace with God means hostility with the world. Therefore, to be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace is to be at war with Satan and a world system which incarnates and reflects his values. The Christian's warfare is to establish peace in the midst of the chaos and suffering of a broken world. We speak truth in the midst of pervasive lies, we overcome evil with good, cruelty with mercy, oppression with justice.
A soldier with his boots on is prepared to march and to fight. A Christian also must be prepared through the Word of God, "Equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). This is a disciplined life, holy, faithful, educated in the Word.
Fighting the warfare of peace requires that we allow the peace of Christ to dwell in us, to settle in us so that we are walking in peace. We must protect our own hearts from that which would rob us of peace, being quick to release forgiveness to anyone who has sinned against us. Being peacemakers begins in our own souls.
6:16 Standing firm means taking the shield of faith.
This word for shield, thureos, formerly referred to a large stone which closed the entrance of a cave. It was later used in reference to the large, oblong shield carried by the Roman soldier (as opposed to the smaller shield). Paul uses it as a metaphor for our faith in God. (In 4:13 he spoke of “the unity of the faith,” faith referring to the full body of Christian doctrine).
Here faith refers to our unshakeable trust in God: His attributes and His promises. We trust that God is always and everywhere who says He is and He does what He promises to do.
This faith quenches the “flaming arrows” of the enemy. “Flaming arrows” are a metaphor for the temptations, accusations and assaults that Satan brings against us. What was the first arrow Satan ever threw at a human being? It was the question he asked of Eve, "Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1). This was followed by the first lie, "You surely will not die" (3:4).
This was the arrow: doubt God’s truth, now believe the lie.
Satan has never changed his tactics; his fiery darts are the same as they were in Eden. The basis of every demonic strategy and weapon is first to entice us to doubt God, doubt His Word, His heart, His faithful mercy, His holy purpose, His wise and loving care. When we accept the doubt, Satan then brings the lie. When we believe the lie and act on it, sin is conceived in our heart and brings forth death.
James expressed the process this way, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then, when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
The process of sin is simply this: Satan tempts us to doubt God’s care for us and to desire that which is not God’s provision for us. Wrong desire leads to sin and sin to death.
The shield of faith is simply believing God, trusting the blood of the New Covenant, the promises of the covenant, the Christ of the covenant.
The Roman shield covered the entire soldier from head to toe. The Christian who walks in faith walks in the confidence that God will never leave us uncovered. As Paul said, "But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Our shield of faith may be flimsy or strong, growing or shrinking. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). People who say they are followers of Christ but never feed on God’s Word are holding an ever diminishing shield. It may be the size of a button.
We can increase the effectiveness and strength of our shield by attending to the Word of God, studying the Word of God, opening our lives to God's truth and continually walking in obedience to that truth as the indwelling Holy Spirit applies it to our lives. We find out who God is as He reveals Himself in His Word and we trust that this revelation is true, we rest in what we know to be true, we stand on what we know to be true.
We position our shield as:
1. We continually place our faith in the God who protects, gives victory over doubts and fears and enables us to overcome.
2. We focus our mind on the Lord, remembering that He is our present help and refuge.
Wisely does the Scripture exhort us, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).
6:17 Standing firm means taking the helmet of salvation.
Although Satan cannot rob us of our salvation, he can assault us with doubt and discouragement which rob us of our peace and our joy and limit the exercise of our gifts and callings. The helmet guards the head and in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul speaks of the helmet as “the hope of salvation.” Figuratively, the helmet of salvation is the assurance that we who have placed our faith in Christ are redeemed to an eternal salvation. We have this strong assurance, this undying hope that we have been reconciled to God in an everlasting relationship.
Also, the helmet represents the progressive reality of transformation in Christ. Salvation results in life lived in union with Christ who is guarding our minds from intrusions and invasions of the enemy and progressively transforming us in His likeness. As we submit our thoughts to Christ, as we open our minds to His Word, as we sing of the blood of the Lamb by which we are saved, we are taking the helmet of salvation.
Putting on the helmet is not a one time event. Salvation is an ongoing process. We are exhorted to, ”Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13).
Putting on the helmet means presenting ourselves daily as living sacrifices to the Lord of our salvation, praising Him for this salvation, allowing Him to disciple us through His Word which results in the renewing of our minds and the transformation of our lives (Romans 12:1,2).
6:17 Standing firm means taking the sword of the Spirit.
The word which Paul uses refers to the small sword, the machaira, 6-18 inches long, which the Roman soldier used in combat. The sword of the Spirit refers to that sword which the Spirit of God wields, which is the Word of God. In Hebrew 4:12 we read, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
God uses the sword of the Spirit to penetrate to the deepest recesses of our inner being, revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart which might lend entrance to evil and darkness, convincing and convicting, transforming and renewing. His Word is our guiding light (Psalm 119:105), nurturing milk (I Peter 2:2), an instrument,Profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
We also are directed to use the sword of the Spirit with people, but only, "Speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Truth spoken in love liberates the captive, heals the broken hearted, releases life into the dying and hope into the disillusioned, exposes and dispels the lies and shadows that blind and bind people in slavery.
We use the sword of the Spirit as an offensive weapon, speaking truth against the temptations, lies, deceptions and snares of the devil which assault us daily. As the Philistines fell back before the sword of Israel, so the legions of hell retreat before the living truth of the Word of God.
Jesus used the Word of God as an offensive weapon against the devil. When Satan tempted the Lord in the wilderness, Jesus responded three times with, “It is written” (Luke 4:1-12). There is no better way to push back against the lies of the devil than to quote the Word of God.
There are those who profess to know Christ but doubt the truth of His Word. They are like a soldier marching into battle with a broken sword and it is no surprise that those doubters win no victories and miss much of what God purposed for their lives.
Taking the sword of the Spirit means we ask the Lord, daily, to open His Word to us and to feed us in it. As we feed on that Word we grow in every gift and grace which pleases God. As we speak the Word and live in obedience to that Word, we are releasing a mighty instrument to the pulling down of strongholds and the overcoming of temptations, deceptions and lies.
6:18 Pray at all times in the Spirit
All of this armor is of no advantage without prayer. Indeed, it is prayer which accesses life and strength and boldness for the soldier of Christ. Not all can preach with the power of Paul, not all sing with the voice of angels but all can pray.
Notice first of all that Paul says to “pray at all times.” There is no time when we do not need to pray. Jesus said, “But keep on the alert at all times, praying” (Luke 21:36). Paul exhorted the church, "Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Unceasing prayer is not praying formulas or vain repetition. It is living our lives in the awareness of God’s presence. We see something wonderful and we pray a prayer of thanks. We are tempted and we call upon the Lord. We encounter evil and we pray. We were redeemed that we might have fellowship with God and prayer is the unending conversation of our reconciled fellowship.
Praying ”with all prayer and petition” speaks to the variety of prayer. The word prayer, proseuche, means requests, prayer in general. Petition, deesis, refers to a more specific prayer. We are to pray at all times with all kinds of prayers: public and private, silent and out loud, written or spontaneous, tearful requests and joyful thanksgivings. We pray in a general sense for the kingdom of God and regions of the world but we also pray tightly focused prayers for individuals, churches, neighborhoods.
Also, we are to pray “in the Spirit.” Praying in the Spirit is the same as praying in the name of Christ, praying in agreement with who He is and what His will is, praying in concert with the Spirit. It also means praying in submission to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our prayer leader and we are to submit to His direction and leading in prayer.
Romans 8:26 says, "We know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The God who knows the mind of the Spirit will hear and answer. The Spirit of God within you prays on your behalf, and He always prays according to the will of God, so that Romans 8:28 says, "All things work together for good." That's not an accident because the Holy Spirit is praying and praying in the Spirit is simply lining up our own prayer consistently with the mind and the will of the Spirit.
How do we do that? By studying the Word that reveals the mind of God; by walking in obedience to the Word of God as the Holy Spirit applies that Word to our heart; by sincerely worshipping the Lord and communing in His presence; by submitting our minds, affections and desires to the Spirit of God so that He can govern our thoughts and shepherd our lives. This lifestyle enables us to pray prayers that are in harmony with the Spirit of God.
We are to “be on the alert (or watch) with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Praying with alertness means that we are aware of the issues and needs in our lives and the lives of fellow believers. We are informed of the issues in the world around us. Praying with perseverance does not require that I inform God and the church of every last detail of my lab test (God already knows and the church doesn’t need to know). It means we stay with it, we are steadfast, persistent, we don’t give up.
Praying for all the saints means that our prayers extend beyond our own needs. We pray for others as they pray for us.
As we pray in this way, the Holy Spirit edifies us, strengthens us. Praying at all times in the Spirit, we are opening ourselves to the power, presence and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We are giving God the opportunity to change us, to redirect our prayer and transform our attitudes.
Prayer then becomes an instrument by which we release the possibilities of God on earth. God is able to release His purpose and blessing on earth through His praying church.
6:19 Paul asks for prayer for himself. What should we pray for Paul?
He doesn’t ask for prayer for his physical needs but for the ministry that he was engaged in. Paul was wrestling against principalities and powers so that he might preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He asks that utterance be given to him. He wants to speak God’s message and this was a matter of prayerful intercession. And he wants to speak with boldness the mystery of the Gospel. Bold, faithful preaching is a gift from God that comes to those who pray. He wants to speak God’s message with God’s power.
6:20 Though an ambassador in chains, he prays to speak boldly "as I ought to speak." Paul knows well that he is called to preach, anointed to preach, gifted to preach but it is prayer that releases the words from his mouth. If it was true in the natural realm that, "Five of you will chase a hundred and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand" (Leviticus 26:8), then surely the apostle is right to enlist the prayers of fellow saints for spiritual battles. Our strength is multiplied in prayer.
If Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, needs this supporting prayer from the church, how much more do we? Chains, persecution, restrictions and hindrances cannot prevent our boldness if boldness is gained in prayer.
6:21,22 Paul sends his close friend and fellow minister Tychicus to comfort the Ephesians with this letter. Paul is writing from his imprisonment in Rome and Tychicus is there with him and since Paul has asked for the prayers of the church, he wants their prayers to be based on accurate knowledge of His circumstances.
6:23 Paul prays that the Ephesians would be blessed with peace, love and faith which come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is God who has blessed us with peace — peace with Himself and peace within our hearts. It is God who has introduced us to love by loving us when we His enemies and pouring His love into our hearts. It is God who has gifted us with faith. Paul prays that the Ephesians would richly experience these gifts of God.
6:24 Incorruptible or undying love is the love with which God loves us. Paul prays that the church would respond to Jesus with the same manner of love with which He has loved us — incorruptible, undying. How can we do this? How can we love God with Godly love?
Only Jesus can supply us with His kind of love, establishing His love in us as a work of grace. Only Christ can live the life of Christ in us and through us. But it is His love which teaches us to love, His life which gives us life.
Ephesians chapter 6 flies in the face of the portrait of modern humanity. We think of our world as educated, sophisticated, morally enlightened. But that portrait was always a lie. In Europe in 1930, the nation with the highest level of adult education and the highest percentage of registered Christians was Germany. Before the decade was over, Germany was committing some of the most barbaric crimes in modern history.
Let’s be clear that a registered Christian is not necessarily a follower of Jesus. Many Germans of that day were merely listed on the roll of a state sanctioned church which was rapidly losing its light and its life. They were as unconverted as people who had never heard the name of Jesus. The point is that highly educated, sophisticated adults, exposed to the teachings of a compromised church but unredeemed, were just as bound by demonic powers as any other barbarian from any other age.
When we study the history of Germany in the 1930s, we see a thorough moral and spiritual decline which no amount of education could reverse. Certainly, a powerless, dying church was unable to prevent the death spiral of the nation.
Looking about us today, we see savagery multiplied in every culture, every society. The modern world is only a violent swarm of barbarian tribes with a more highly developed technology and a bit more knowledge than previous swarms.
America has also been a land of absurd contradictions with liberty's torch pointed toward the heavens, a constitution and Bill of Rights unparalleled in the history of nations. Yet for most of our first two hundred years we denied basic freedoms and rights to millions of citizens while lynching those who raised their voices in protest.
Twentieth century absurdities pale in comparison with the absurdity of first century Palestine. There, Roman law, on which Western law is based; Greek culture and philosophy, which as so profoundly influenced the West; and Jewish religion, the root of Christianity — these three great building blocks of Western Civilization, combined to create a society which did not recognize or honor the Son of God but instead, rejected and crucified Him.
Human history cannot be understood or interpreted apart from these two dominant realities: the corrupting presence of demonic powers and the presence of God. God's response to the evil and sin which have corrupted human relationship and society since the Garden of Eden is to be born in human form, to die on a cross taking sin and evil upon Himself, then to rise from the dead.
Now God calls to Himself all who will repent of their sin, trust in Him and follow in His way. He redeems us from our enslavement to the powers of darkness, empowers us with His life, enlightens us with His light and sends us forth to fight a spiritual enemy with spiritual weapons.